Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Gay & Straight
on: March 15, 2007, 11:22:10 AM
Officials at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Ill., have ordered their 14-year-old freshman class into a "gay" indoctrination seminar, after having them sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to tell their parents.
"This is unbelievable," said Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues for Concerned Women for America. "It's not enough that students at Deerfield High are being exposed to improper and offensive material relative to unhealthy and high-risk homosexual behavior, but they've essentially been told by teachers to lie to their parents about it."
In what CWA called a "shocking and brazen act of government abuse of parental rights," the school's officials required the 14-year-olds to attend a "Gay Straight Alliance Network" panel discussion led by "gay" and "lesbian" upperclassmen during a "freshman advisory" class which "secretively featured inappropriate discussions of a sexual nature in promotion of high-risk homosexual behaviors."
"This goes to the heart of the homosexual agenda," Barber said. "The professional propagandists in the 'gay-rights' lobby know the method all too well. If you can maintain control of undeveloped and impressionable youth and spoon-feed them misinformation, lies and half-truths about dangerous, disordered and extremely risky behaviors, then you can control the future and ensure that those behaviors are not only fully accepted, but celebrated."
He said not only is forcing students to be exposed to the pro-homosexual propaganda bad enough, but then school officials further required that students sign the "confidentiality agreement" through which they promised not to tell anyone – including their own parents – about the seminar.
Barber said that also aligns with the goals of the disinformation campaign being run by those in the pro-homosexual camp. "That's what homosexual activists from GSA are attempting to do, and that's what DHS is clearly up to as well."
The situation, according to district Supt. George Fornero, was partly "a mistake."
He told CWA, the nation's largest public policy women's organization, that requiring children to sign the confidentiality agreement wasn't right and the district would be honest with parents in the future about such seminars. But CWA noted that even after the district was caught, parents still were being told they were not welcome to be at the "freshman advisory" and they were not allowed to have access to materials used in compiling the activist curriculum.
Barber noted the damage being done is significant.
"Until DHS and other government schools across the country are made to stop promoting the homosexual agenda, kids will continue to be exposed to – and encouraged to participate in – a lifestyle that places them at high risk for life-threatening disease, depression and spiritual despair," he said.
It's not the first situation where WND has reported on schools teaching homosexuality to children.
In Massachusetts after a school repeatedly advocated for the homosexual lifestyle to students in elementary grades, several parents sued, only to have the federal judge order the "gay" agenda taught to the Christians.
The conclusion from U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf found that it is reasonable, indeed there is an obligation, for public schools to teach young children to accept and endorse homosexuality.
Wolf essentially adopted the reasoning in a brief submitted by a number of homosexual-advocacy groups, who said "the rights of religious freedom and parental control over the upbringing of children … would undermine teaching and learning…"
David and Tonia Parker and Joseph and Robin Wirthlin, who have children of school age in Lexington, Mass., brought the lawsuit. They alleged district officials and staff at Estabrook Elementary School violated state law and civil rights by indoctrinating their children about a lifestyle they, as Christians, teach is immoral.
"Wolf's ruling is every parent's nightmare. It goes to extraordinary lengths to legitimize and reinforce the 'right' (and even the duty) of schools to normalize homosexual behavior to even the youngest of children," said a statement from the pro-family group Mass Resistance.
An appeal of that decision is pending.
The judge concluded that even allowing Christians to withdraw their children from classes or portions of classes where their religious beliefs were being violated wasn't a reasonable expectation.
"An exodus from class when issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage are to be discussed could send the message that gays, lesbians, and the children of same-sex parents are inferior and, therefore, have a damaging effect on those students," he opined.
"Under the Constitution public schools are entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy," the judge wrote. "Diversity is a hallmark of our nation. It is increasingly evident that our diversity includes differences in sexual orientation."
And, he said, since history "includes instances of … official discrimination against gays and lesbians … it is reasonable for public educators to teach elementary school students … different sexual orientations."
If they disagree, "the Parkers and Wirthlins may send their children to a private school …[or] may also educate their children at home," the judge said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: March 15, 2007, 10:20:50 AM
Second post of the day-- also about Hillary. Its an interview where she gets much more specific about what she would do in Iraq. Apart from the merits vel non of what she proposes, there is the matter of how it will play in her campaign strategy. Although I loathe the woman and regard her as a tremendous threat to America's freedoms and well-being, I must say that on a political level what she says here is masterful political postioning.
WASHINGTON, March 14 - Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton foresees a "remaining
military as well as political mission" in Iraq, and says that if elected
president, she would keep a reduced military force there to fight Al Qaeda,
deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly support the Iraqi
If Elected ...
This is the first in a series of interviews with the 2008 presidential
candidates in both parties about how they would handle the issues they would
confront as president. Future articles will look at the positions of the
other candidates on Iraq and on other national security and domestic policy
In a half-hour interview on Tuesday in her Senate office, Mrs. Clinton said
the scaled-down American military force that she would maintain would stay
off the streets in Baghdad and would no longer try to protect Iraqis from
sectarian violence - even if it descended into ethnic cleansing.
In outlining how she would handle Iraq as commander in chief, Mrs. Clinton
articulated a more nuanced position than the one she has provided at her
campaign events, where she has backed the goal of "bringing the troops
She said in the interview that there were "remaining vital national security
interests in Iraq" that would require a continuing deployment of American
The United States' security would be undermined if parts of Iraq turned into
a failed state "that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda,"
she said. "It is right in the heart of the oil region," she said. "It is
directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to
"So it will be up to me to try to figure out how to protect those national
security interests and continue to take our troops out of this urban
warfare, which I think is a loser," Mrs. Clinton added. She declined to
estimate the number of American troops she would keep in Iraq, saying she
would draw on the advice of military officers.
Mrs. Clinton's plans carry some political risk. Although she has been
extremely critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war, some
liberal Democrats are deeply suspicious of her intentions on Iraq, given
that she voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force there and, unlike some
of her rivals for the Democratic nomination, has not apologized for having
Senator Clinton's proposal is also likely to stir up debate among military
specialists. Some counterinsurgency experts say the plan is unrealistic
because Iraqis are unlikely to provide useful tips about Al Qaeda if
American troops end their efforts to protect Iraqi neighborhoods.
But a former Pentagon official argued that such an approach would minimize
American casualties and thus make it easier politically to sustain a
long-term military presence that might prevent the fighting from spreading
throughout the region.
Mrs. Clinton has said she would vote for a proposed Democratic resolution on
Iraq now being debated on the floor of the Senate, which sets a goal of
withdrawing combat forces by March 31, 2008. Asked if her plan was
consistent with the resolution, Mrs. Clinton and her advisers said it was,
noting that the resolution also called for "a limited number" of troops to
stay in Iraq to protect the American Embassy and other personnel, train and
equip Iraqi forces, and conduct "targeted counterterrorism operations."
(Senator Barack Obama, a rival of Mrs. Clinton, has said that if elected
president, he might keep a small number of troops in Iraq.)
With many Democratic primary voters favoring a total withdrawal, Senator
Clinton appears to be trying to balance her political interests with the
need to retain some flexibility. Like other Democratic candidates, she has
called for engaging Iran and Syria in talks and called on President Bush to
reverse his troop buildup.
But while Mrs. Clinton has criticized Mr. Bush's troop reinforcements as an
escalation of war, she said in the interview, "We're doing it, and it's
unlikely we can stop it."
"I'm going to root for it if it has any chance of success," she said of Mr.
Bush's plan, "but I think it's more likely that the anti-American violence
and sectarian violence just moves from place to place to place, like the old
Whac a Mole. Clear some neighborhoods in Baghdad, then face Ramadi. Clear
Ramadi, then maybe it's back in Falluja."
Mrs. Clinton made it clear that she believed the next president is likely to
face an Iraq that is still plagued by sectarian fighting and occupied by a
sizable number of American troops. The likely problems, she said, include
continued political disagreements in Baghdad, die-hard Sunni insurgents, Al
Qaeda operatives, Turkish anxiety over the Kurds and the effort to "prevent
Iran from crossing the border and having too much influence inside of Iraq."
"The choices that one would face are neither good nor unlimited," she said.
"And from the vantage point of where I sit now, I can tell you, in the
absence of a very vigorous diplomatic effort on the political front and on
the regional and international front, I think it is unlikely there will be a
stable situation that will be inherited."
(Page 2 of 2)
On the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly vowed to bring the war to
a close if the fighting were still going on when she took office as
president. "If we in Congress don't end this war before January 2009, as
president, I will," she has said.
This is the first in a series of interviews with the 2008 presidential
candidates in both parties about how they would handle the issues they would
confront as president. Future articles will look at the positions of the
other candidates on Iraq and on other national security and domestic policy
In the interview, she suggested that it was likely that the fighting among
the Iraqis would continue for some time. In broad terms, her strategy is to
abandon the American military effort to stop the sectarian violence and to
focus instead on trying to prevent the strife from spreading throughout the
region by shrinking and rearranging American troop deployments within Iraq.
The idea of repositioning American forces to minimize American casualties,
discourage Iranian, Syrian and Turkish intervention, and forestall the Kurds'
declaring independence is not a new one. It has been advocated by Dov S.
Zakheim, who served as the Pentagon's comptroller under former Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Mr. Zakheim has estimated that no more than
75,000 troops would be required, compared to the approximately 160,000
troops the United States will have in Iraq when the additional brigades in
Mr. Bush's plan are deployed.
While Mrs. Clinton declined to estimate the size of a residual American
troop presence, she indicated that troops might be based north of Baghdad
and in western Anbar Province.
"It would be far fewer troops," she said. "But what we can do is to almost
take a line sort of north of - between Baghdad and Kirkuk, and basically put
our troops into that region, the ones that are going to remain for our
antiterrorism mission, for our northern support mission, for our ability to
respond to the Iranians, and to continue to provide support, if called for,
for the Iraqis."
Mrs. Clinton described a mission with serious constraints.
"We would not be doing patrols," she added. "We would not be kicking in
doors. We would not be trying to insert ourselves in the middle between the
various Shiite and Sunni factions. I do not think that's a smart or
achievable mission for American forces."
One question raised by counterinsurgency experts is whether the more limited
military mission Mrs. Clinton is advocating would lead to a further
escalation in the sectarian fighting, because it would shift the entire
burden for protecting civilians to the nascent Iraqi Security Forces. A
National Intelligence Estimate issued in January said those forces would be
hard-pressed to take on significantly increased responsibilities in the next
12 to 18 months.
"Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources and operations,
remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq," the estimate noted,
referring to the American-led forces.
Mrs. Clinton said the intelligence estimate was based on a "faulty premise"
because it did not take into account the sort of "phased redeployment" plan
she was advocating. But she acknowledged that under her strategy American
troops would remain virtual bystanders if Shiites and Sunnis killed each
other in sectarian attacks. "That may be inevitable," she said. "And it
certainly may be the only way to concentrate the attention of the parties."
Asked if Americans would endure having troops in Iraq who do nothing to stop
sectarian attacks there, she replied: "Look, I think the American people are
done with Iraq. I think they are at a point where, whether they thought it
was a good idea or not, they have seen misjudgment and blunder after
blunder, and their attitude is, What is this getting us? What is this doing
"No one wants to sit by and see mass killing," she added. "It's going on
every day! Thousands of people are dying every month in Iraq. Our presence
there is not stopping it. And there is no potential opportunity I can
imagine where it could. This is an Iraqi problem; we cannot save the Iraqis
from themselves. If we had a different attitude going in there, if we had
stopped the looting immediately, if we had asserted our authority - you can
go down the lines, if, if, if - "
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 15, 2007, 09:06:40 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Judge's Ouster Causes an Uproar in Pakistan
An extraordinary meeting of Pakistan's military commanders will be held in the next few days, Pakistani daily The News reported Wednesday. Sources told the newspaper the meeting was called to discuss the crisis caused by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's March 9 suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
Musharraf's move against the country's senior judiciary official was intended to help the president secure a second term in September. Musharraf likely was advised by close aides that Chaudhry, who has demonstrated a certain degree of independence since Musharraf appointed him in June 2005, cannot be relied upon to rule in Musharraf's favor should his opponents challenge his re-election bid in the highest court.
Acting on this advice, Musharraf suspended the chief justice on allegations of corruption, misconduct and other wrongdoings, and referred the matter to the country's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). The government expected that, like all of its previous decisions, Chaudhry's suspension would go smoothly. But the government was taken by surprise when the country's legal community sternly opposed the move. The chief justice himself has chosen to fight the decision in the SJC.
Meanwhile, declaring the suspension an attack on the judiciary, lawyers and judges are boycotting courts across the country and have staged demonstrations that police have violently suppressed. The government reportedly has tried to restrict media coverage of the controversy.
The crisis is quickly turning into the most serious challenge Musharraf has faced since coming to power in October 1999. Political opponents from across the ideological spectrum are trying to exploit the opportunity and force Musharraf from office. Chaudhry's lead attorney is Aitzaz Ahsan, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians and a current parliament member.
Though there is a consensus against the ouster of the chief justice, a grand strategy on how to use the crisis to generate enough unrest against the government to force Musharraf from power is still in the works; it is too early to tell just how the strategy will unfold. There also is dissent within ruling political circles, and many of Musharraf's senior civilian allies are critical of his decision to suspend Chaudhry.
Musharraf can do one of two things: He can have the SJC declare Chaudhry guilty and remove him from the post of chief justice. This would not be easy, given the current national uproar and the likelihood that the protests would intensify in the run-up to the September election. The government might be reluctant to take such a bold step when it has very little support on the matter. The second option would involve cutting a deal with the suspended chief justice whereby the SJC acquits him and restores him to his position. This would be in exchange for assurance that the chief justice would not move against Musharraf. This way, the president could demonstrate that he respects the law of the land and thereby undercut his opponents.
This second option, however, assumes that the sacked chief justice would be willing to negotiate. Musharraf also would be dealing from a position of relative weakness, which Chaudhry and his supporters could exploit. Given the adverse effects the chief justice's restoration could have on Musharraf's hold on power, the regime might not be inclined to move in that direction.
It is quite possible that the current situation will not create an immediate crisis of governance for Musharraf, but it could lead to more trouble as the country gets closer to election time. Increasing international pressure on Islamabad to more effectively contain the jihadists would complicate matters for Musharraf all the more.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: March 15, 2007, 08:56:28 AM
While waiting for Doug's answer, here's this:
Today's NY Times
Push to Fix Ozone Layer and Slow Global Warming
By KEITH BRADSHER
Published: March 15, 2007
HONG KONG, March 14 — An unusual coalition of industrial and developing countries began pushing Wednesday for stringent limits on the world’s most popular refrigerant for air-conditioners, as evidence mounts that the refrigerant harms the earth’s ozone layer and contributes to global warming.
The use of HCFC’s is rising in China by as much as 35 percent a year, and the Chinese oppose any new curbs.
In a Test of Capturing Carbon Dioxide, Perhaps a Way to Temper Global Warming (March 15, 2007) The coalition is pitted against China, which has become the world’s leading manufacturer of air-conditioners that use the refrigerant, HCFC-22. Most window air-conditioners and air-conditioning systems in the United States use this refrigerant, as well.
International pressure has grown rapidly this winter for quick action. “We scientifically have proof: if we accelerate the phaseout of HCFC, we are going to make a great contribution to climate change,” said Romina Picolotti, the chief of Argentina’s environmental secretariat.
An accelerated phaseout of the refrigerant could speed up by five years the healing of the ozone layer of the atmosphere. It could also cut emissions of global-warming gases by the equivalent of at least one-sixth of the reductions called for under the Kyoto Protocol.
The United States joined Argentina, Brazil, Iceland, Mauritania and Norway on Wednesday in notifying the Ozone Secretariat of the United Nations Environment Program that they want to negotiate an accelerated phaseout of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFC’s, at an international conference in Montreal in September.
The conference is tied to the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Montreal Protocol, which has reduced emissions of most ozone-depleting gases but left a loophole for HCFC-22 production by developing countries. China has repeatedly said it will honor all current rules of the Montreal Protocol but does not want to add new ones.
Recent studies have shown that steeply rising production of HCFC-22 by China, India and other developing countries has slowed the healing of the ozone layer, which protects humans, animals and vegetation from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet rays.
A report last week by five American and European scientists found that sharp cutbacks in emissions of ozone-depleting gases since 1987 have been far more effective in combating global warming than the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement that was aimed directly at limiting climate change.
HCFC’s and other ozone-depleting gases are extremely powerful warming gases. Gram for gram, the ones used as refrigerants have thousands of times the global-warming effect of carbon dioxide. The ozone-depleting gases are released in far smaller quantities, though, than carbon dioxide, which is emitted when fossil fuels are burned by vehicle engines, power plants and other users.
The report by the European and American experts, published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the Montreal Protocol had proved to be 5.5 times as effective as the Kyoto accord was intended to be in cutting emissions of global-warming gases. The Montreal agreement has been in force much longer and applies to developing and industrial nations alike, while the Kyoto Protocol has binding limits only for industrial nations.
The report has caught the attention of countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans that fear that global warming will lead to a rise in sea levels and a significant loss of their limited land.
“As small island nations, our main concern is that whatever touches the climate has to be dealt with fairly quickly,” said Sateeaved Seebaluck, permanent secretary in the environment ministry of Mauritius, an island nation well east of Africa in the Indian Ocean.
Mr. Seebaluck said that a flurry of news reports about HCFC-22 this winter had been widely e-mailed among specialists and had led to greatly increased international interest in addressing the problem.
The Montreal Protocol currently allows developing countries to keep increasing their production of HCFC-22 until 2016, and then freezes production at that level until 2040, when it is supposed to be halted. But that schedule was devised in the early 1990s, when HCFC-22 was used mainly in industrial nations; developing countries were seen as too poor ever to afford much of the chemical.
The Kyoto Protocol then exempted HCFC-22 and other ozone-depleting substances from production and consumption limits on the grounds that the Montreal agreement had already addressed those matters.
Use of HCFC-22 has soared in the third world with the economic growth of China, India and other countries, along with the sharp drop in air-conditioner costs that has accompanied China’s growing skill in making them cheaply. Mr. Seebaluck said Mauritius’s use of HCFC-22 had risen more than 100-fold in the last six years because of a boom in hotel construction and the rapid expansion of the fishing industry, which uses a lot of refrigeration to preserve freshness.
The use in India and China, far larger markets, has been rising as much as 35 percent a year lately, with specialists predicting that similar growth could last through 2016.
Industrial nations are required to phase out HCFC-22 by 2020, but most are moving faster. The European Union phased it out in 2004. The United States will ban domestic production in 2010 and is considering whether to ban imports then, as well.
Push to Fix Ozone Layer and Slow Global Warming
Published: March 15, 2007
(Page 2 of 2)
China has begun making air-conditioners with more modern refrigerants for the European market. But by continuing to produce HCFC-22 for markets elsewhere, the Chinese have been able to claim hundreds of millions of dollars a year in payments from an obscure United Nations agency.
In a Test of Capturing Carbon Dioxide, Perhaps a Way to Temper Global Warming (March 15, 2007) The payments are to compensate Chinese chemical factories for incinerating a waste gas generated as part of the manufacturing process for HCFC-22. If the Chinese industry switches to modern refrigerants, it would no longer produce the waste gas and so would lose the credits.
India has a large and growing HCFC-22 industry that is also reaping a fortune in credits. But the Indian government has largely stayed on the sidelines in international talks, while China has called for industrial nations to pay even more for the incineration of waste gases from HCFC-22 production; China proposes to spend much of that to develop its renewable-energy industry.
A big problem is that no one has agreed what should replace HCFC-22. The chemicals requiring the fewest changes to air-conditioner designs avoid harm to the ozone layer but are still as potent, gram for gram, in terms of global warming.
Mack McFarland, chief atmospheric scientist at DuPont, which favors an accelerated phaseout of HCFC-22, said the company had developed a chemical that also has little effect on global warming. But the chemical is suitable only for vehicle air-conditioners, not the building air-conditioners that now rely on HCFC-22.
Environmentalists contend that chemical companies and air-conditioner makers are too slow to embrace other refrigerants, like ammonia or carbon dioxide, that may pose technical challenges but could be better for the ozone layer and global warming.
“Industry certainly is somewhat concerned about some of those chemicals because some of them don’t promise a lot of profits,” said Alexander von Bismarck, campaigns director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington advocacy group.
David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that even switching to new commercial refrigerants that are potent global-warming agents could help the environment. Air-conditioners designed for the new refrigerants tend to be more energy-efficient and often do not use as much refrigerant, he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Muslims, Nazis, and far right hate groups echo anti-semitisim
on: March 15, 2007, 06:15:51 AM
Poland honors woman who saved 2,500 Jews
Sendler, 97, was tortured by Nazis, but refused to disclose children's names
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:06 a.m. ET March 14, 2007
WARSAW, Poland - A 97-year-old woman credited with saving 2,500 Jews during the Holocaust was honored by parliament Wednesday at a ceremony during which Poland's president said she deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
Irena Sendler, who lives in a nursing home in Warsaw, was too frail to attend the special session in which members of the Senate unanimously approved a resolution honoring her and the Polish underground Council for Assisting Jews.
The group's members, mostly Roman Catholics, risked their own lives to save Jews from the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Sendler was cited for organizing the "rescue of the most defenseless victims of the Nazi ideology — the Jewish children."
President Lech Kacyzinski said in an address to senators that Sendler is a "great hero who can be justly named for the Nobel Peace Prize."
Sendler led about 20 helpers who smuggled Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto to safety between 1940 and 1943, placing them in Polish families, convents or orphanages.
Tortured by Nazis
She wrote the children's names on slips of paper and buried them in jars in a neighbor's yard as a record that could help locate their parents after the war. The Nazis arrested her in 1943, but she refused — despite repeated torture — to reveal their names.
Anyone caught helping Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland risked being summarily shot, along with family members.
"I think she's a great lady, very courageous, and I think she's a model for the whole international community," Israeli Ambassador David Peleg said after the ceremony. "I think that her courage is a very special one."
In 1965, Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial awarded Sendler one of its first medals given to people who saved Jews, the so-called "Righteous Among the Nations."
She was given the honor in 1983, after Poland's Communist authorities finally agreed to allow her to travel abroad.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: March 15, 2007, 06:12:17 AM
This thread had languished for a while until yesterday's entry. Coincidentally enough, here's another entry today. I'm not sure I agree with every thing in it, but it does shed a lot of light on how things are done.
Gitmo's Guerrilla Lawyers
How an unscrupulous legal and PR campaign changed the way the world looks at Guantanamo.
BY DEBRA BURLINGAME
Thursday, March 8, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
He was the first American to die in what some have called "the real war." Johnny "Mike" Spann, the 32-year-old CIA paramilitary commando, was interrogating prisoners in an open courtyard at the Qala-I-Jangi fortress in Afghanistan when the uprising of 538 hard-core Taliban and al Qaeda fighters began. Spann emptied his rifle, then his sidearm, then fought hand-to-hand as he was swarmed by raging prisoners screaming "Allahu akbar!"
The bloody siege by Northern Alliance and U.S. forces went on for several days, only ending when 86 of the remaining jihadi fighters were smoked out of a basement where they had retreated and where they murdered a Red Cross worker who had gone in to check on their condition. Spann, a former Marine, is credited with saving the lives of countless Alliance fighters and Afghan civilians by standing and firing as they ran for cover. His beaten and booby-trapped body was recovered with two bullet wounds in his head, the angle of trajectory suggesting he had been shot execution style.
One of the committed jihadis who came out of that basement, wounded and unrepentant, was "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, now serving a 20-year sentence in a federal prison. Another who was shot during the uprising and pulled out of the basement along with Lindh was Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi. Today, the 29-year-old is living somewhere in Kuwait, a free man.
The true story of Mr. Mutairi's journey, from the uprising in Qala-I-Jangi to Guantanamo Bay's military detention camp to the privileged life of an affluent Kuwaiti citizen, is one that his team of high-priced lawyers and the government of Kuwait doesn't want you to know. His case reveals a disturbing counterpoint to the false narrative advanced by Gitmo lawyers and human-rights groups--which holds that the Guantanamo Bay detainees are innocent victims of circumstance, swept up in the angry, anti-Muslim fervor that followed the attacks of September 11, then abused and brutally tortured at the hands of the U.S. military.
Mr. Mutairi was among 12 Kuwaitis picked up in Afghanistan and detained at Guantanamo Bay in 2002. Their families retained Tom Wilner and the prestigious law firm of Shearman & Sterling early that same year. Arguably, it is Mr. Wilner's aggressive representation, along with the determined efforts of the Kuwait government, that has had the greatest influence in the outcome of all the enemy combatant cases, in the court of law and in the court of public opinion. The lawsuit filed on their behalf, renamed Rasul v. Bush when three cases were joined, is credited with opening the door for the blizzard of litigation that followed.
According to Michael Ratner, the radical lawyer and head of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the center received 300 pieces of hate mail when the organization filed the very first Guantanamo detainee case in February of 2002. The shocking images of 9/11 were still fresh; it would be three more months until most human remains and rubble would be cleared from ground zero. There was no interest in Guantanamo from the lawyers at premium law firms.
But by 2004, when the first of three detainee cases was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the national climate had changed. The country was politically divided, the presidential election was in full swing, and John Kerry was talking about treating terrorism like a criminal nuisance. The Guantanamo cases gave lawyers a chance to take a swipe at the president's policies, give heroic speeches about protecting the rights of indigents, and be a part of the kind of landmark legal cases that come along once in a lifetime. The Guantanamo Bay Bar increased from a lonely band of activist lawyers operating out of a run down office in Greenwich Village to an association of 500 lawyers. Said Mr. Ratner about the blue chip firms that initially shunned these cases, "You had to beat the lawyers off with a stick."
Mr. Wilner and his colleagues at Shearman & Sterling were the exception, although he has been exceedingly coy about the true nature of his firm's role. Unlike the many lawyers who later joined in the litigation on a pro bono basis, Shearman & Sterling was handsomely paid. Mr. Wilner has repeatedly stated that the detainees' families insisted on paying Shearman & Sterling for its services and that the fees it earned have been donated to an unspecified 9/11-related charity. According to one news report, the families had spent $2 million in legal fees by mid-2004. In truth, Kuwaiti officials confirmed that the government was footing the bills.
How did Shearman & Sterling get tapped for this historic assignment? Speaking at Seton Hall Law School in fall of 2006, Mr. Wilner recounted that he visited the facility at Guantanamo Bay in 2002, months before he met the Kuwaiti 12's families. What was Mr. Wilner doing at Gitmo more than two years before Rasul established the legal basis for lawyers getting access to detainees inside the camp? One of his Gitmo legal colleagues has said that Mr. Wilner was brought into the case by an oil industry client.
It turns out that Shearman & Sterling, a 1,000-lawyer firm with offices in 19 cities all over the world, has substantial business dealings on six continents. Indeed, Shearman's client care for Middle Eastern matters has established a new industry standard: The firm's Abu Dhabi office states that it has pioneered the concept of "Shariah-compliant" financing. In Kuwait, the firm has represented the government on a wide variety of matters involving billions of dollars worth of assets. So the party underwriting the litigation on behalf of the Kuwaiti 12--from which all of the detainees have benefited--is one of Shearman & Sterling's most lucrative OPEC accounts.
Shearman & Sterling did far more than just write legal briefs and shuttle down to Gitmo to conduct interviews about alleged torture for the BBC. In addition to its legal services, the firm registered as an agent of a foreign principal under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA) as well as the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) to press the Kuwaiti detainees' cause on Capitol Hill. Shearman reported $749,980 in lobbying fees under FARA for one six-month period in 2005 and another $200,000 under the LDA over a one-year period between 2005 and 2006. Those are the precise time periods when Congress was engaged in intense debates over the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act, legislation which Shearman & Sterling and its Kuwaiti paymasters hoped would pave the way for shutting down Guantanamo permanently and setting their clients free.
Mr. Wilner, a media-savvy lawyer who immediately realized that the detainee cases posed a tremendous PR challenge in the wake of September 11, hired high-stakes media guru Richard Levick to change public perception about the Kuwaiti 12. Mr. Levick, a former attorney whose Washington, D.C.-based "crisis PR" firm has carved out a niche in litigation-related issues, has represented clients as varied as Rosie O'Donnell, Napster, and the Roman Catholic Church. Mr. Levick's firm is also registered under FARA as an agent of a foreign principal for the "Kuwaiti Detainees Committee," reporting $774,000 in fees in a one year period. After the U.S. Supreme Court heard the first consolidated case, the PR campaign went into high gear, Mr. Levick wrote, to "turn the Guantanamo tide."
In numerous published articles and interviews, Mr. Levick has laid out the essence of the entire Kuwaiti PR campaign. The strategy sought to accomplish two things: put a sympathetic "human face" on the detainees and convince the public that it had a stake in their plight. In other words, the militant Islamists who traveled to Afghanistan to become a part of al Qaeda's jihad on America had to be reinvented as innocent charity workers swept up in the war after 9/11. The committed Islamist who admitted firing an AK-47 in a Taliban training camp became a "teacher on vacation" who went to Afghanistan in 2001 "to help refugees." The member of an Islamist street gang who opened three al-Wafa offices with Suliman Abu Ghaith (Osama Bin Laden's chief spokesman) to raise al Qaeda funds became a charity worker whose eight children were left destitute in his absence. All 12 Kuwaitis became the innocent victims of "bounty hunters."
A Montreal-based marketing firm was hired to create the families' full-service Web site which fed propaganda--unsourced, unrebutted and uninvestigated by the media--aimed at the media all over the world. Creating what Mr. Levick calls a "war of pictures," the site is replete with images meant to appeal to Americans: smiling Kuwaiti families wearing T-shirts and baseball caps, cute children passing out yellow ribbons.
After the Rasul decision, the PR momentum picked up speed and the Supreme Court became, in Mr. Levick's words, their "main weapon," a "cudgel" that forced more attention in what he calls the traditional "liberal" press. Dozens of op-eds by Mr. Wilner and the family group leader (described as a U.S.-trained former Kuwaiti Air Force pilot who cherishes the memory of drinking Coca Cola) were aimed at the public and Congress.
Mr. Levick maintains that a year and a half after they began the campaign, their PR outreach produced literally thousands of news placements and that, eventually, a majority of the top 100 newspapers were editorializing on the detainees' behalf. Convinced that judges can be influenced by aggressive PR campaigns, Mr. Levick points to rulings in the detainee cases which openly cite news stories that resulted from his team's media outreach.
The Kuwaiti 12 case is a primer on the anatomy of a guerilla PR offensive, packaged and sold to the public as a fight for the "rule of law" and "America's core principles." Begin with flimsy information, generate stories that are spun from uncorroborated double or triple hearsay uttered by interested parties that are hard to confirm from halfway around the world. Feed the phonied-up stories to friendly media who write credulous reports and emotional human interest features, post them on a Web site where they will then be read and used as sources by other lazy (or busy) media from all over the world. In short, create one giant echo chamber.
Mr. Mutairi's profile is the most brazen example of Mr. Levick's confidence that the media can be easily manipulated. The Web site describes him as a member of an apolitical and peaceful sect of missionaries, and that he went to Afghanistan in October of 2000 to "minister in the small mosques and schools" in the country's poorer regions.
Everything Mr. Levick did was in partnership with Tom Wilner and the law firm of Sherman & Sterling. It was their joint litigation-PR plan, with the Guantanamo lawsuits helping the PR messaging and the PR messaging helping the lawsuits. All of this may be legal, but it is hardly ethical.
Shearman & Sterling lawyers aren't hucksters crassly promoting a cheap product; they are sworn officers of the court volunteering to represent alien enemy combatants in a time of war, interjecting themselves in cases that affect how American soldiers on the battlefield do their job. It is one thing to take these cases in order to achieve the proper balance between due process concerns and unprecedented national security issues. It is another to hire PR and marketing consultants to create image makeovers for suspected al Qaeda financiers, foot soldiers, weapons trainers and bomb makers, all of which is financed by millions of dollars from a foreign country enmeshed in the anti-American, anti-Israel elements of Middle East politics.
Although a few mistakes were made when some of the Guantanamo detainees were taken into custody in the fog of war, others were indisputably captured with AK-47s still smoking in their hands. Any one of those who have been properly classified in Combat Status Review Tribunals as an unlawful enemy combatant could be the next Mohamed Atta or Hani Hanjour, who, if captured in the summer of 2001, would have been described by these lawyers as a quiet engineering student from Hamburg and a nice Saudi kid who dreams of learning to fly.
How we deal with alien enemy combatants goes to the essence of the debate between those who see terrorism as a series of criminal acts that should be litigated in the justice system, one attack at a time, and those who see it as a global war where the "criminal paradigm" is no more effective against militant Islamists whose chief tactic is mass murder than indictments would have been in stopping Hitler's march across Europe. Michael Ratner and the lawyers in the Gitmo bar have expressly stated that the habeas corpus lawsuits are a tactic to prevent the U.S. military from doing its job. He has bragged that "The litigation is brutal [for the United States] . . . You can't run an interrogation . . . with attorneys." No, you can't. Lawyers can literally get us killed.
We may never know how many of the hundreds of repatriated detainees are back in action, fighting the U.S. or our allies thanks to the efforts of the Guantanamo Bay Bar. Approximately 20 former detainees have been confirmed as having returned to the battlefield, 12 of them killed by U.S. forces. Of the eight detainees who were rendered back to Kuwait for review of their cases, all were acquitted in criminal proceedings, including Mr. Mutairi, who has given press interviews admitting that he was shot in the November 2001 uprising at Qala-I-Jangi.
Only one Kuwaiti, Adel al-Zamel, has been sent to prison for crimes committed before his work with al-Wafa in Afghanistan. A member of an Islamist gang that stalked, videotaped and savagely beat "adulterers," he was sentenced to a year in prison in 2000 for attacking a coed sitting in her car. These are some of the men Tom Wilner was talking about when he went on national television and said with a straight face, "My guys . . . loved the United States."
The guy who really loved the United States stood and fought to protect us from radical Islamists, rather than enable them. In his job application for the CIA, Mike Spann wrote, "I am an action person that feels personally responsible for making any changes in this world that are in my power because if I don't no one else will." We owe our unqualified support and steadfastness to the warriors who take personal responsibility when no one else will.
Allowing lawyers to subvert the truth and transform the Constitution into a lethal weapon in the hands of our enemies--while casting themselves as patriots--makes a mockery of the sacrifices made by true patriots like Mike Spann. If Sens. Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, chairman and ranking members, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee succeed in their plan to turn enemy combatant cases over to the federal courts, we will sorely rue the day that we eliminated "lawyer-free zones."
Ms. Burlingame, a former attorney and a director of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, is the sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: March 15, 2007, 05:57:16 AM
The LONDON TIMES ON HILLARY CLINTON
(Quite a devastating column follows. Bear in mind that this is the London Times, which certainly has no conservative partisan agenda to push. It was published Jan. 31st, 2007. Most interesting.)
Subject: Hillary Clinton's shameless political reconstructive surgery:
You can measure the scale of an American president's troubles by the number of skutniks he deploys during his State of the Union address.
Every year during his big set-piece speech to Congress, the president will digress from the main thrust of his remarks to offer fulsome praise to some member of the audience in the gallery. This person will have been carefully selected in advance by the president's speechwriters as an exemplar of some virtue and placed there for the purpose. The television producers will have been alerted in advance so that at the right moment, as the president talks about the heroics of this American Everyman, her she can rise self-consciously and receive the praise of a grateful nation.
This now obligatory part of a constitutional ritual is called a skutnik' after the name of the first person so honoured. One January evening in 1982, Lenny Skutnik, a government employee, dived into the freezing waters of the Potomac River to rescue a victim of a plane crash. Two weeks later, during his second State of the Union address, with the US mired in recession, Ronald Reagan had Mr Skutnik sit in the gallery and paid a moving tribute to his heroics.
This week, for his penultimate State of the Union, Mr Bush had a veritable galaxy of skutniks - soldiers, military people, firefighter. Whatever you might feel about the wisdom of Mr Bush's Iraq policy or the feasibility of his plans to wean Americans off petrol, you can't help but stand and cheer the good works of a decent person.
But there was something unusual about this year's constellation of ordinary American heroes, beyond the sheer numbers. Usually the skutnik is a presidential privilege. But so intense already is the competition for the 2008 presidential race that others have muscled in.
And so Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had a skutnik of her own. She
arranged for the son of a New York policeman, sick with lung cancer to be there. As it happened, the man's father died that day, and the son's grief became a sad and very visible coda to the event. This little incident, the skillfully choreographed exploitation of a human tragedy, the
cynically manipulated deployment of public sympathy in service of a personal political end, offered a timely insight into the character of the politician who this week launched the most anticipated presidential election campaign in modern history.
There are many reasons people think Mrs Clinton will not be elected president. She lacks warmth; she is too polarising a figure; the American people don't want to relive the psychodrama of the eight years of the Clinton presidency.
But they all miss this essential counterpoint. As you consider her career this past 15 years or so in the public spotlight, it is impossible not to be struck, and even impressed, by the sheer ruthless, unapologetic, unshameable way in which she has pursued this ambition, and confirmed that there is literally nothing she will not do, say, think or feel to achieve it. Here, finally, is someone who has taken the black arts of the politician's trade, the dissembling, the trimming, the pandering, all the way to their logical conclusion.
Fifteen years ago there was once a principled, if somewhat rebarbative and unelectable politician called Hillary Rodham Clinton. A woman who aggressively preached abortion on demand and the right of children to sue their own parents, a committed believer in the power of government who tried to create a healthcare system of such bureaucratic complexity it would have made the Soviets blush; a militant feminist who scorned mothers who take time out from work to rear their children as "women who stay home and bake cookies".
Today we have a different Hillary Rodham Clinton, all soft focus and expensively coiffed, exuding moderation and tolerance. To grasp the scale of the transfiguration, it is necessary only to consider the very moment it began. The turning point in her political fortunes was the day her husband soiled his office and a certain blue dress. In that Monica Lewinsky moment, all the public outrage and contempt for the sheer tawdriness of it all was brilliantly rerouted and channelled to the direct benefit of Mrs. Clinton, who immediately began a campaign for the Senate.
And so you had this irony, a woman who had carved out for herself a role as an icon of the feminist movement, launching her own political career, riding a wave of public sympathy over the fact that she had been treated horridly by her husband.
After that unsurpassed exercise in cynicism, nothing could be too expedient. Her first Senate campaign was one long exercise in political reconstructive surgery. It went from the cosmetic - the sudden discovery of her Jewish ancestry, useful in New York, especially when you've established a reputation as a friend of Palestinians - to the radical: her sudden message of tolerance for people who opposed abortion, gay marriage, gun control and everything else she had stood for.
Once in the Senate, she published an absurd autobiography in which every single paragraph had been scrubbed clean of honest reflection to fit the campaign template. As a lawmaker she is remembered mostly, when confronted with a President who enjoyed 75 per cent approval ratings, for her infamous decision to support the Iraq war in October 2002.
This one-time anti-war protester recast herself as a latter-day Boadicea, even castigating President Bush for not taking a tough enough line with the Iranians over their nuclear programme.
Now, you might say, hold on. Aren't all politicians veined with an opportunistic streak? Why is she any different? The difference is that Mrs Clinton has raised that opportunism to an animating philosophy, a P. T. Barnum approach to the political marketplace.
All politicians, sadly, lie. We can often forgive the lies as the necessary price paid to win popularity for a noble cause. But the Clinton candidacy is a Grand Deceit, an entirely artificial construct built around a person who, stripped bare of the cynicism, manipulation and calculation, is nothing more than an enormous, overpowering and rather terrifying ego.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe
on: March 15, 2007, 05:56:09 AM
Ondiep, a working class neighbourhood in the Dutch town of Utrecht, is in turmoil. After the death last Sunday of Rinie Mulder, a 54-year old indigenous Dutchman who was shot by a police officer, non-immigrant citizens went on a rampage, burning cars, looting shops and arsoning a community centre in “inverted Paris style riots.” According to our sources the police officer who killed Mulder is a woman of Moroccan origin.
The Ondiep residents have been complaining for months about harassment and intimidation by immigrant youths of Moroccan origin. The Dutch mainstream media do not go into much detail about what is going on. Most of them do not mention the ethnicity of the victim and the police officer, though the riots clearly have an ethnic nature.
Apparently Mulder intervened when Muslim youths harassed a pregnant native Dutch woman. He was able to grab the knife of one of the youths. When the police arrived Mulder was shot because he had raised the knife. Witnesses say Mulder was indicating to the police that he had called for them.
Locals claim the police has failed to protect them for years. They say the authorities are afraid of the immigrants and tolerate their criminal behaviour. After the death of Mulder the indigenous Dutch decided they had had enough and started riots which went on for two continuous nights. The police made 130 arrests: 60 of them are Ondiep residents. According to the mainstream media the others are mainly “football hooligans” from other parts of the country. Annie Brouwer-Korf, the Socialist mayor of Utrecht, has ordered Ondiep to be sealed off from the rest of town to keep non-residents out. She expressed some sympathy for the frustrated Ondiep residents. “I understand that residents are sometimes upset about the nuisance around their own house and neighbourhood. That does you no good whatsoever.”
The riots are no surprise. As I wrote last January:
The Netherlands are bracing themselves for more [Parisian style] incidents this year. An official report published last week states that the Government has seriously underestimated “tensions between various ethnic and cultural groups of youths.”
The report says that the Dutch authorities fail to grasp the gravity of the problem. If nothing is done the country will soon witness situations similar to the French riots of 2005 and 2006 which led to the police abandoning immigrant suburbs to gangs of Muslim youths. The result of the French ambivalence is that the same gangs have now taken over effective control of more than 750 French urban neighborhoods.
Ondiep is one of the Dutch urban neighbourhoods which seem to have been abandoned by the authorities. It is hardly a surprise that the natives are beginning to fight back. The same thing happened recently in Britain.
14 March 2007
AMSTERDAM – Seven of the people arrested on Tuesday in Utrecht will be brought before the court on Thursday. The other 128 will be released with a fine.
As the municipality braces for another night of disturbances, and police close off the neighbourhood of Ondiep for another evening, the question remains of why such violent riots broke out on Monday in response to a shooting by police on Sunday.
Several neighbourhood residents spoke to the Volkskrant on Tuesday.
It is clear that there is more going on than just rage and sadness over the death of Rini Mulder, the 54-year-old man shot dead on Sunday. "They just don't do anything about the creeps that are ruining this neighbourhood," says resident Ali Kwarten. "That is frustration number one."
That was the case on Sunday as well, says the man talking with Kwarten. He had been friends with Mulder for "almost 30 years." They were involved in a fight on Sunday against a group of 20 young Dutch-Turks that were hanging about the streets. Rini Mulder had left the house determined to "teach a lesson" to the group hanging out there, playing loud music and intimidating local residents.
He says Rini put his hand in the air when police finally arrived. "But he wasn't threatening them. He wanted to indicate that it was he that had called police."
The officer thought he was being threatened and shot Mulder in the chest. "He should have shot into the air, the bastard," says Kwarten.
"Those cops don't know what they're doing," says Mulder's friend. "They never come when you need them. Just call 112 if things get serious, they say. It's obviously too late then."
The neighbourhood of Ondiep, with a primarily native Dutch population, has been designated by the state as a disadvantaged neighbourhood and there are urban renewal plans in the works that will result in the demolition of most of the homes. Many of the area residents have already moved out.
The neighbourhood is not enthusiastic about the renewal plans. They complain that the new homes planned for the area will be unaffordable for them. "They want richer people here in the neighbourhood," says Willem de Graaf, another resident.
"The neighbourhood is at a difficult point in the renewal," says Rinda den Besten, alderwoman for the neighbourhood." "One in three houses is standing empty at the moment, soon that will be two in three. The situation is going to last for a few months."
Den Besten admits that the neighbourhood will be a mess in the meantime. There is little social control, precisely the kind of situation that plays into the hands of the group that was hanging about the intersection of the Boerhaavelaan and the Thorbeckelaan on Sunday.
The Utrecht neighbourhood of Ondiep is to be sealed off to outsiders for a second night on Wednesday, following two nights of clashes between youths and riot police, a city council spokesman confirmed.
The area has been ringed with fences which will be pulled across all roads later today, closing the area to non-residents. At least 130 people were arrested on Tuesday following a number of incidents in both in the city centre and on the fringes of Ondiep.
Police said the arrests included a number of football supporters from FC Utrecht, Rotterdam’s Feyenoord and Amsterdam’s Ajax who had come to the city looking for trouble. Some 60 people were arrested in Ondiep itself for breaking the ban on public gatherings.
The trouble began on Monday following the arrest of two people when youths went on the rampage after a 54-year-old man was shot dead by police. The police officer said he had felt threatened by the man who had a knife.
However, local residents told TV reporters that the man himself had called for police help after being harassed by a gang of youths.
Ondiep is a largely white, working-class neighbourhood and is the focus of the city council’s urban renewal efforts. Mayor Annie Brouwer is to meet local people again this afternoon.
A police spokesman told ANP that the area will probably be kept under tight control until after Thursday’s march (stille tocht) in memory of the dead man.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: March 14, 2007, 07:59:23 PM
9/11 MASTERMIND CONFESSES IN GUANTANAMO:
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, confessed to that attack and a string of others during a military hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a transcript released Wednesday by the Pentagon.
Mohammed claimed responsibility for planning, financing, and training others for bombings ranging from the 1993 attack at the World Trade Center to the attempt by would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his shoes.
In all, Mohammed said he was responsible for planning 29 individual attacks, including many that were never executed. The comments were included in a 26-page transcript released by the Pentagon, which also blacked out some of his remarks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Native Americans
on: March 14, 2007, 07:57:12 PM
Decorated American Indian Veteran Dies
Associated Press | March 12, 2007
HARTFORD, Conn. - Billy Walkabout, a native Cherokee whose actions in Vietnam made him among most decorated Soldiers of the war, died March 7, his stepdaughter said Sunday. He was 57.
Walkabout received the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, five Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. He was believed to be the most decorated Native American Soldier of the Vietnam War, according to U.S. Department of Defense reports.
Walkabout, who lived in Montville, died of pneumonia and renal failure at a Norwich hospital, said his stepdaughter, Randi Johnson of Norwich. He had experienced complications related to his exposure to the Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam conflict, she said, and he had been on a kidney transplant waiting list and undergoing dialysis three times a week.
Walkabout, a Cherokee of the Blue Holley Clan, was an 18-year-old Army Ranger sergeant when he and 12 other Soldiers were sent on an assassination mission behind enemy lines on Nov. 20, 1968, in a region southwest of Hue. However, they ended up in the enemy's battalion area and came under fire for hours, during which he was seriously wounded. Several of the other 12 men were killed at the scene, while the rest later died of their injuries. Walkabout's citation for the Distinguished Service Cross said he simultaneously returned fire, helped his comrades and boarded other injured Soldiers onto evacuation helicopters.
"Although stunned and wounded by the blast, Sgt. Walkabout rushed from man to man administering first aid, bandaging one Soldier's severe chest wound and reviving another Soldier by heart massage," the citation states.
In a 1986 interview with The Associated Press, Walkabout said his 23 months in Vietnam left him with disabling injuries and memories that refused to fade.
"War is not hell," Walkabout said. "It's worse."
He said he struggled with failed marriages, thoughts of suicide and years of self-isolation when he would spend six months at a time alone. Over the years, however, he found solace in the Native American powwows where he often was an honored guest.
At the time of his death, Walkabout and his wife, Juanita Medbury-Walkabout, lived in a portion of eastern Connecticut that is home to many American Indian tribal members. His family is in the process of requesting a military burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Johnson said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: March 14, 2007, 07:36:21 PM
The Asghari Case: Defection and Damage Control
March 14, 2007 19 52 GMT
By Fred Burton
Ali Reza Asghari, a former Iranian deputy defense minister and Pasdaran commander, went missing from Istanbul several weeks ago. After his disappearance -- which Turkish authorities say could have been as long ago as December but was not reported to them by Iran until early February -- Arab newspapers began to insinuate that Mossad and the CIA were responsible for having had him abducted or killed. These claims were echoed by Iranian officials. Last week, however, the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat independent newspaper reported that Asghari had defected to the U.S. government while traveling in Turkey. This report was confirmed by the Washington Post, which quoted a senior U.S. intelligence official March 8 as saying Asghari was cooperating voluntarily -- and fully -- with Western intelligence agencies.
The United States and Iran have been locked in a covert "intelligence war" that has been raging for some time now. And, as in the Cold War, this war likely will involve the use of tactics ranging from assassinations and clandestine operations to propaganda, disinformation and the use of military proxies. Defectors and agents of influence also have been a feature of such wars in the past -- which brings us back to the Asghari case.
The significance of Asghari's disappearance stems entirely from his background. Not only did he serve as Iran's deputy defense minister under former President Mohammed Khatami, but he also is a retired general who was a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the 1980s and 1990s. Therefore, the Iranians clearly have worried that he might be providing Western intelligence agencies with a wealth of information on the capabilities of the Iranian armed forces, and possibly helping to improve their understanding of the relationship between the IRGC (or "Pasdaran," in Farsi) and Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Iraqi Shiite groups such as the Mehdi Army and the Badr Brigade. Given his background, he also would be in a position to shed light on the Pasdaran's clandestine abilities abroad and perhaps identify other Iranian intelligence officers. In other words, Asghari could prove an important (and timely) catch for U.S. intelligence, especially if he had been working with the United States as an "agent in place" for a long period.
In an intelligence war -- or just at routine levels of good old-fashioned espionage -- the defection of a figure like Asghari can prove useful in more ways than one. To understand this case and its potential twists and turns a bit better, let's take a look at the definitions and specific stages of the intelligence process surrounding defections: vetting, extraction and debriefings.
To begin at the beginning, a "defector" is a person who abandons allegiance to one country in order to serve another. Like other intelligence sources, there are two basic types of defectors: those who are sought, or recruited, and those who volunteer.
Sources who are recruited are approached by intelligence agencies because they are in a certain position in government or society and have access to what is deemed important information. They are people who can provide the information to satisfy key intelligence requirements. While some sources might leave their native countries soon after being recruited, there have been many cases when it was found, after defection, that the person had worked as either an agent in place or an "agent of influence" -- someone who can help to shape government policy, public opinion or even military decisions -- for the recruiting country. Such agents can stay in place for years before "coming in from the cold," or physically defecting, to the recruiting country.
Well-positioned agents in place provide unique insight into the thinking, mindset and planning of the leadership of the government on which they have been spying. They provide crucial insight that cannot be gathered through technical means. In other words, you can use technology to take a picture of a man or listen to his telephone conversations, but those things might not provide you with information or even very good clues about his thoughts and plans. That kind of information comes only from human sources with the right access.
The second type of defector, the one who volunteers, is called a "walk-in" -- because, frequently, they literally do walk into the embassy or consulate of a foreign country and volunteer their services. Walk-ins are problematic because they often appear when they are least expected; therefore, intelligence-gathering operations involving walk-ins are often hectic affairs that must be quickly conceived and implemented. Furthermore, if the person who walks in is not careful, their very presence at a foreign embassy can out them to the host country's counterintelligence forces (which can be expected to be monitoring the embassy). That makes it difficult to retain a walk-in as an agent in place, and adds to the challenges of getting him out of the country when needed for an in-depth debriefing. However, it can be done: CIA officer Aldrich Ames was a walk-in to the Soviet Embassy in Washington but the KGB (and its successor, the FSB) managed to work him as an agent in place for nearly 10 years before he was detected and arrested.
A highly placed source like Ames is a dream come true for an intelligence officer -- and the worst nightmare for a counterintelligence service.
Vetting the source -- to affirm whether he or she is genuine -- is an important part of all espionage recruitment operations, and defectors are not excepted from this rule. Many walk-ins turn out to be "fabricators," "dangles" (people sent into the embassy in an order to identify the nondeclared intelligence officers stationed there) or "double agents" (those who appear to be defectors but who actually are used to spread disinformation and to determine how the opponent's intelligence service functions). While there is not much danger of a source who is targeted for recruitment being a fabricator, there is a danger of that person being a dangle, or a double agent. Vetting of both the source and the information provided by the source is essentially a continuous process; the defector will be closely monitored (and subjected to polygraph exams) throughout his period of employment.
Once a spy has been identified, recruited and initially vetted -- and found to be of value -- the intelligence service must determine the best way to use that person. As noted, the source might be left in place to collect additional information, or whisked out of the country for a debriefing. Either way, the source must eventually be extracted from the country in a clandestine fashion. This extraction process is sometimes called an "exfiltration" -- the opposite of an infiltration.
While some extractions can be dramatic, not all of them are Hollywood productions involving submarines and special operations forces. Because such operations are not only dangerous but also costly, they are carried out only under extreme circumstances. Most extractions are intended to be far more low-key: Quite often, the sneakiest way to commit an operational act is to do it in a mundane fashion, in plain sight. Therefore, it is far more common for defectors to leave their home countries under the ruse of taking a vacation or, as with Asghari, for business reasons. (That said, people are still occasionally smuggled out of embassy parking garages in the trunks of a cars.)
Time is an important consideration in extractions: Generally, the more time one has to plan and execute an extraction, the smoother and more low-key it will be. Location is also critical. Getting a person out of an open society is much easier than getting them out of a repressive society with strict travel regulations.
Once a defector gets to a third country for "vacation" or to "attend a conference," they can be picked up and spirited away. But again, time is a critical factor: If a person is watched closely by his government and cannot stray far from a security officer, or "minder," those planning the extraction will have significantly less time to operate than they otherwise would. Once the defector is in custody, he can be furnished with false documentation and secreted away in much the same way a subject is in an extraordinary rendition. In fact, much of the U.S. government's expertise in handling renditions was derived from its operations to extract defectors.
It is even easier if the third country is friendly to the extracting country. For instance, in the Asghari case, Turkey is known to cooperate with U.S. intelligence and the presence of (heavily trafficked) U.S. air bases in the country would make it quite simple to get a defector from a third country out of Turkey without being detected.
Debriefing a defector can be a lengthy process that often involves specialists from a number of government agencies. In the case of Asghari, the team likely would include members from the Defense Intelligence Agency and Special Operations Command (given Asghari's military background), and the FBI and State Department, since he might have historical information regarding Iranian-sponsored attacks by Hezbollah and other proxies, and perhaps even information pertaining to future attacks.
During the course of a debriefing, the defector would be given a complete medical and psychological exam. The psychological team often can provide important guidance on the defector's psyche and on the best approaches to use in debriefing that person -- and, just as important, subjects to raise and pitfalls to avoid.
Vetting is as important during the debriefing as in other stages of the process. This not only helps to determine if the defector is a double agent, but also can be useful in determining when the defector has run out of useful information. (At this stage, many sources will begin to fabricate information in an effort to make themselves appear to be of lasting value.) The defector likely will endure several polygraph examinations during this phase. The host country's reaction to the defection also will be factored in to the vetting equation, and other sources will be tasked to determine whether he was a double agent.
Once the defector has been completely debriefed, he probably will be resettled and employed by the government as a consultant -- someone authorities can turn to in the future with questions about personalities and events relevant to his background. He also might lead training classes and seminars to teach U.S. and allied personnel about the organization and operations of his former agency.
Of course, given the value of an asset like Asghari, the intelligence services of numerous U.S. allies undoubtedly are clamoring for information from him, and even seeking access in order to conduct their own debriefings.
With the United States and Iran already engaged in an intelligence war, the defection of a figure like Asghari doubtless has provided Washington with a windfall of information regarding the Iranian defense establishment and Pasdaran. However, the Iranian reaction to the defection also could provide an opportunity to gather even more intelligence -- especially if Washington had the time to pre-position additional surveillance assets.
This, by the way, is very likely the reason Iranian authorities did not report Asghari's disappearance to the Turkish government for several weeks. Regardless of whether the defector was thought to be already in enemy hands, Tehran would have wanted to keep its reaction as low-key as possible and information about Asghari's disappearance away from a "hostile" (meaning U.S.-allied) intelligence service until Iranian officials had a handle on the situation.
From the U.S. perspective, the immediate follow-on questions and responses would have followed a set pattern. For instance, Washington would be monitoring Iranian diplomatic and intelligence traffic carefully. How was Asghari's disappearance reported internally? Who did the Iranians contact in Istanbul and Ankara? Were messages sent out to other Iranian missions in Europe or in New York? Have diplomats received any sudden recall orders?
Physically, the United States would use surveillance teams against the Iranian diplomats in Turkey to determine such things as: Who went looking for Asghari? Who in the Turkish government did the Iranians meet with? Did they mobilize any Iranian businessmen or students to assist their search? Such things could provide valuable insight into the Iranian intelligence network in Turkey.
In the wake of the defection, the United States and others doubtless have been watching for other sudden and unexpected departures of personnel from Iranian diplomatic missions worldwide. Such departures could indicate that an officer is with the Pasdaran or another intelligence agency that the leadership in Tehran believes might have been compromised by Asghari.
The Iranians will have to do a thorough damage-control investigation to determine every secret to which Asghari had access. They most assuredly will downplay the significance of Washington's intelligence score by making public claims that Asghari was of minimal importance and had no access to current information. However, in the end, the most crucial question Tehran will need to answer is, "How long has Asghari been working for the Americans?"
If the answer is "a long time," the damage to Iran's national security could be enormous.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: March 14, 2007, 07:33:29 PM
Iraqi Energy: What Might Work
A newly announced Royal Dutch/Shell consortium is likely to launch Iraq's first post-Hussein energy project.
Energy supermajor Royal Dutch/Shell announced March 14 that it has formed a consortium with a number of Turkish energy firms to bid on natural gas projects in Iraq, with the intent of building a natural gas line from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. With Iraq's new oil law edging toward realization, this Shell consortium will likely be the first to launch a successful major energy project in post-Hussein Iraq.
Of the many obstacles to an Iraqi energy renaissance, the most significant are:
The ongoing insurgency that attacks petroleum infrastructure. In the north those attacks cluster around the Sunni Arab city of Baiji, through which all energy output for the Kurdish regions flows.
Turkish opposition to anything that grants the Kurds additional power. Turkey fears that an economically viable, politically coherent Iraqi Kurdistan could spark separatist tendencies among its own -- and far larger -- Kurdish population.
The unwillingness of the world's supermajors to jump into an insurgent-wracked, politically shattered Iraq, where investment would exist in a legal vacuum.
Because it avoids two of these problems, the new consortium will most likely prove to be the first big success project.
First, the project does not aim to tap existing infrastructure but instead export natural gas -- not oil -- north to Turkey. Though the new pipeline will parallel the often-bombed Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, it will only do so for the length that runs on Turkish territory. Shell and its partners will construct the line to avoid Baiji and take a more direct route to the Turkish border that runs exclusively through insurgent-free, and relatively well-patrolled, Iraqi Kurdistan. Incidentally, Saddam Hussein built the oil pipeline through Baiji specifically to frustrate any Kurdish efforts to attain autonomy.
Second, the Turks are involved from the get-go and at a state level. Turkey's energy minister himself has hinted that he has taken part in the negotiations and the most likely partners for Shell are two state companies: oil company Turkiye Petrolleri and pipeline firm Botas. This deal explicitly has involved Ankara directly in the decision making. Additionally, the natural gas will be flowing to Turkey directly, so not only will Turkey be economically benefiting from the deal, it will have legal, economic, political and geographic control over its success. Turkey might still consider grinding the Kurds into dust to be the best option, but barring that, full control over the Kurds' economic fortunes is a close second. Ironically, the deal paves the way for an awkward codependence between the Turks (who will use the natural gas) and the Kurds (who will sell it).
That just leaves the issue of supermajor tentativeness. With the first two issues addressed, Shell seems far more willing to take the plunge, and it certainly sports the technology, experience and capital to make the deal successful. Now the only obstacle remaining is for the Kurds and the rest of the Iraqis to hammer out a final oil law. Though that task is both gargantuan and complex and is not to be belittled, it does not diminish the likelihood that the Shell-led consortium will be Iraq's best bet for a successful and substantial energy project.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 14, 2007, 06:46:46 PM
Second post of the day:
AFGHANISTAN/RUSSIA: Afghanistan is interested in cooperating with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and in purchasing arms from Russia, RIA Novosti reported, citing CSTO officials. After completing a three-day trip to Kabul, members of the CSTO -- comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- said representatives from Afghanistan spoke unanimously on cooperation and joint initiatives to stem terrorism and drug trafficking in the region.
I have often wondered what would happen to our strategy if Musharef were to fall/be killed. Do Pak's nukes/nuke tech fall into AQ/Taliban hands? Things are looking grimmer for Gen M. This piece from today's Financial Times of London looks at the situation more closely than the usual US enemedia.
This article from todays FT is pertinent to your discussion.
Pakistanis fall out of love with Musharraf
By Jo Johnson andFarhan Bokhari
Published: March 14 2007 02:00 | Last updated: March 14 2007 02:00
In the boardrooms of Karachi, Pakistan's commercial hub, multinationals
are grimly reassessing the "key man risk" line of their business plans.
Throughout the country's history, no military ruler has left power
General Zia ul-Haq died in a mysterious aircraft crash in 1988. Field
Marshal Ayub Khan was drummed out of office in 1969 by protests that
paralysed the country, as was General Yahya Khan after Pakistan's
humiliating defeat in the 1971 war with India.
General Pervez Musharraf, the current president, looks unlikely to be an
exception to the rule. Seven years after he seized power in a bloodless
coup, diplomats say he needs a credible exit strategy of his own.
The honeymoon that followed the 1999 coup, based on relief at an end to
venal party politics, is coming to an end.
Yesterday saw intensified nationwide protests against Gen Musharraf's
decisionto suspend Pakistan's chief justice. The move was seen as a
flagrant attempt to pack the Supreme Court with pliable allies ahead of
expectedlegal challenges to his plans to have himself re-elected
president-in-uniform later this year.
At the same time, US lawmakers have weakened Gen Musharraf by demanding
that aid to Pakistan be made conditional on his doing more to crack down
on Taliban forces sheltering in lawless tribal areas along the Afghan
border, and by pushing for democratic reform.
Analysts said that for Gen Musharraf to push troops back into Taliban
strongholds in tribal areas, from which they were withdrawn in a
controversial agreement with local leaders last August, could lead to
such bloodshed that the military might impose full martial law on Pakistan.
While the Pakistani street may be awakening, big business, for the
moment at least, remains overwhelmingly supportive of Gen Musharraf,
whose seven years in power have seen some of the fastest growth in the
"All governments in the past in Pakistan have spoken of privatisation,
but Musharraf has actually implemented it in a systematic way. It has
taken real political will," said H. Reza-ur-Rahim, JPMorgan's
Karachi-based head of investment banking in Pakistan.
"Investors want continuity and political stability. They do not want to
see too much change."
The head of a big international pharmaceutical group said: "The worst
outcome for Pakistan would be a situation where the political parties
exploit the situation and come out on to the street. The rhetoric from
the US in recent days has even alienated liberals in Pakistan.
"How can we have a longstanding relationship with the US based on them
threatening to take out a big stick? . . . No government can be seen as
weak externally and hope to command respect internally," he said.
Islamist politicians said much of their support was based on surging
anti-Americanism. The situation was made worse by Gen Musharraf's
"revelation" in his autobiography that Richard Armitage, the former US
deputy secretary of state, had threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the
Stone Age" if Islamabad failed to help avenge the September 11 2001 attacks.
"Musharraf is associated with America. For ourpeople, US policies are
anchored against Muslims in many countries," said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a
leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of six Islamist parties.
Analysts said that the MMA, which has a share in power in two of
Pakistan's four provinces, would find it easier to harness
anti-Musharraf and anti-US opinion if Pakistan's ruling generals
continued to refuse to allow Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the
leaders of the two main opposition parties, to return from exile.
More destabilising for Gen Musharraf would be a decision by Washington
and its allies to take unilateral action against Taliban forces living
in Pakistani tribal areas.
Western diplomats said that such a scenario, which could trigger a
revolt against Gen Musharraf in the army, was "extremely unlikely".
"Slagging off Pakistan in public is not the best way to solve this
problem," said one western diplomat.
"The US needs Pakistanas a partner in fightingal-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Whatever they do, theywill be at great pains to doit with the support
Even though the temperature is rising in Islamabad, few expect Gen
Musharrafto leave the political scene soon. If he were to do so, the
line of succession, in the short term, seems clear.
General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, an officer with pro-western credentials who
has been the target of assassination attempts by militant groups, would
take over the military.
Mohammad Mian Soomro, chairman of the Senate, would become president.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People
on: March 14, 2007, 12:35:33 PM
Second Amendment Showdown
By TED CRUZ
March 14, 2007; Page A14
Last week's decision, striking down the District of Columbia's ban on guns as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, flowed directly from the text, history and original understanding of the Constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit's decision rejected the Ninth Circuit's "collective rights" theory and embraced instead the Fifth Circuit's holding that the Second Amendment protects individual rights. In so doing, the D.C. Circuit took a major step forward in protecting the rights of gun owners throughout the country.
In some ways, the decision should not be at all noteworthy or surprising. After all, the text of the Second Amendment explicitly protects "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms," and the D.C. gun ban amounted to a complete and total prohibition on citizens owning operational firearms in the District of Columbia. The challenged city ordinances prohibit the private possession of all handguns and also require that all long guns (i.e., rifles and shotguns) be disassembled or have trigger locks in place at all times. This latter requirement has no exceptions -- so that even if a violent crime is underway in your home, removing the trigger lock in self-defense or in defense of your family constitutes a crime.
No state in the union has a prohibition as draconian. Indeed, the constitutions of 44 states, like the federal Constitution, explicitly protect the individual right to keep and bear arms, and the legislatures of all 50 states are united in their rejection of bans on private handgun ownership. Forty-five states go even further, allowing private citizens to carry concealed handguns for self-defense.
So how is it that the District of Columbia could be so out of step with the rest of the nation and nonetheless arguably comply with the requirements of the Second Amendment? The answer that the federal district court seized upon -- like an earlier ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California -- is a theory popularized recently by several law professors and gun-control advocates: Because the Second Amendment refers to "a well regulated Militia," the Constitution protects only the "collective right" of the militia and not the individual right of any citizen.
This creative theory, useful for advancing the policy goals of its advocates, runs contrary to the text of the Constitution, to the debates and original understanding of the Framers, to Supreme Court precedent, and to the widespread understanding of state courts and legislatures for the first 150 years of our nation's history. At the time of the founding, the "militia" was understood to consist of all able-bodied males armed with their own weapons; indeed, the Militia Act of 1792 not only permitted individual gun ownership, it required every man to "provide himself with a good musket or firelock . . . or with a good rifle."
If the "collective rights" theory were to prevail, the result would be that no individual in the U.S. could ever claim any right under the Second Amendment, but rather that inchoate right would exist only collectively and amorphously for state militias. Such an outcome effectively reads out of the Constitution what respected law professor Sanford Levinson famously described as, from the perspective of anti-gun advocates, that "embarrassing Second Amendment."
Because the "collective rights" theory is unfaithful to the Constitution and undermines the individual rights of all Americans, Texas took the lead among the states in supporting the plaintiffs in the D.C. gun suit. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott assembled a collation of 13 states (Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah and Wyoming) who together supported the Second Amendment, and the amici states presented oral argument in the D.C. Circuit in the companion case to this one defending the individual right to keep and bear arms.
Notably, every state, including Texas, believes that some regulations on firearms are both permissible and advisable; for example, the states are united in supporting restrictions on violent felons owning guns. But all of the amici states are likewise united in the belief that the Second Amendment means what it says, that the individual right to keep and bear arms cannot be completely abrogated as under the D.C. gun ban.
The District of Columbia has pledged to appeal, and this case could well find its way before the U.S. Supreme Court. If so, Texas and the rest of the amici states stand ready once again to support the Second Amendment, and we are confident that the Court will in turn faithfully uphold the individual constitutional rights of all Americans.
Mr. Cruz is the solicitor general of Texas. He authored two briefs and presented oral argument for the amici states supporting the Second Amendment in the D.C. Circuit.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
on: March 14, 2007, 12:33:30 PM
VLAD'S NEW BAD
By RALPH PETERS
March 14, 2007 -- AN old joke runs that even paranoids have enemies. But what can we make of the quasi-dictator of a middleweight state who insists on making enemies of those who'd hoped to be his country's friends?
Russian President Vladimir Putin reminds me of the old Soviet Inturist organization: Instead of figuring out how to make a thousand bucks from happy tourists tomorrow, Inturist went to absurd extremes to squeeze an extra fiver out of disgruntled visitors immediately.
Putin just can't wait to restore Russia's great power status. Good luck. Great powers don't exist in isolation. Rather than building useful alliances, Putin has frightened his neighbors into closer relations with NATO and the West, alienated Europeans who longed to hug him - and made even the most gullible Americans wary.
Putin is a classic bully who aches to beat the pocket money out of the class wimp, who judges the entire world by the size of its biceps. He just can't get beyond his KGB past. To him, strategy is a zero-sum game and everybody secretly wants to harm Russia.
In fact, no country in recent history enjoyed as much foreign good will as Russia did after the Soviet Union dissolved. And no country has made more stupid decisions that appalled those who sincerely wanted to help.
If he sees enemies everywhere (and he does), Putin's also impatient and clumsy, though he thinks he's wonderfully clever. For all his icy exterior, he's a calculating, short-sighted peasant out of Gogol. His recent rant at a defense symposium in Germany only reminded the Europeans that the United States really isn't all that bad.
Instead of waiting to completely addict Europe to Russia's natural-gas supplies, he turned off the flow to Ukraine and then Georgia in fits of political pique - interrupting European supplies in the first instance. And leftist posturing is one thing, but no French café philosopher or German professor wants his heat turned off in mid-winter.
Oh, and Russia's selling arms to Iran's mullahs, Syria's Baathists and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
Brilliant move, Vlad. You're really betting on the all-stars.
The Kremlin's also encouraging Serbia to take a hard line against formal independence for Kosovo. Belgrade's been there and done that, but Serbs, like Russian bureacrats, tend to be slow learners.
Thanks for getting the Balkans stirred up again, Vlad. Maybe Russian troops can replay the atrocity-riddled Chechnya war?
The only bright spot is that Russia has stopped supplying nuclear fuel for Iran's reactors. Officially, it's about Tehran's failure to make on-time payments, but it appears that somebody finally showed Vlad a map and pointed out that Russian territory lies within slingshot range of Iran. And Persians and Russians haven't always been pals.
Domestically, Putin has censored the media, staged purge trials of businessmen whose politics he didn't like, hounded out western investors, murdered journalists and dissidents (abroad, as well), done his best to turn the new Russia into a besotted, AIDS-ridden mockery of an Arab oil sheikhdom, moved to stifle academic freedom and generally made a joke of his country's fledgling democracy.
The latest phase in the Kremlin's campaign to restrict political freedom came in the build-up to last Sunday's regional elections. In an Orwellian move, Putin's henchmen built a tame opposition party, Fair Russia, that's allowed to politely criticize certain policies, but whose real purpose is to draw off votes from the old political left, especially the Communists, and to hasten the demise of the half-strangled liberal parties.
Putin does want a two-party system - with his cabal controlling both parties.
Conditioned to do what the czar desires, Russians went for it. Preliminary results show that Putin's United Russia garnered almost two-thirds of the vote, while Putin's Fair Russia finished about even with the Communists, undercutting their base.
Putin isn't a Communist - but, then, neither were any of his predecessors: Russia has always been ruled by autocrats, and one starts to suspect it always will be.
The dream of a free Russia is over. Vladimir Putin destroyed it as we watched, sucking our thumbs (to put it politely). The best for which we now can hope is that, once the Kremlin's done killing democracy, it won't start killing masses of human beings again.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit The Fight."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam in Asia & Africa
on: March 14, 2007, 11:14:36 AM
THAILAND: Muslim separatists ambushed a bus in Thailand's southern province of Yala, shooting dead nine people at point-blank range. Only the driver and one critically injured Buddhist passenger survived. The militants detonated a small bomb about 1,640 feet from the bus, reportedly to slow police trying to arrive at the scene.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: March 14, 2007, 09:03:00 AM
Concerning the previous post, here's an example of some points missed by the NY Slimes:
CAIR’s Blood Money
By Patrick Poole
FrontPageMagazine.com | March 13, 2007
At 12:17 pm on February 26, 1993, a 1,500lb urea-nitrate fuel-oil bomb hidden inside a rental van caused a massive explosion that ripped through the parking garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring another 1,042 – the first large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil by Islamic extremists. The terrorists had intended to topple one of the buildings onto the other, potentially killing tens of thousands of innocent Americans. Sadly, the fourteenth anniversary of that event passed last week with very little discussion by major media outlets, even though that lethal attack by Islamic terrorists ominously foreshadowed the unspeakable horror of 9/11.
At 8:00 pm on June 6, 2006, the Ohio affiliate of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OH) honored one of the unindicted conspirators in that 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Siraj Wahhaj, a Brooklyn, NY imam that had also served as a defense witness at the trial of one of the men convicted for that terrorist attack, the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman (a conviction that CAIR has labeled “a travesty of justice”). More than 400 CAIR-OH supporters gathered at this fundraising banquet.
Following the event, CAIR-OH issued a press release heralding the more than $100,000 that Siraj Wahhaj had helped raise that evening for the organization’s “civil liberties work”. CAIR-OH Director Adnan Mirza attributed the fundraiser’s success to the popularity of CAIR-OH’s agenda with Ohio Muslims. “Our community sent a very clear message that the work we do is vital to the well-being of the Ohio Muslim community and that CAIR-Ohio’s efforts are appreciated,” she said.
Of course, Siraj Wahhaj’s ties to the 1993 World Trade Center terrorist attack may not have been known to the hundreds of CAIR supporters who were in attendance that evening, but they were certainly known to CAIR. On repeated occasions, CAIR officials on the state and national level have not only risen to the defense of Wahhaj, but they have gone to great lengths to embrace the unindicted terror co-conspirator and involve him in the inner workings of the organization, such as having him serve on their Advisory Board. CAIR National spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, has gone so far as to call Wahhaj “one of the most respected Muslim leaders in America.” Curiously, that article by Hooper praising Wahhaj has disappeared from CAIR’s website.
Hooper was defending his terror-linked comrade after Dr. Daniel Pipes had noted the connections between CAIR and Wahhaj, yet without substantively dealing with criticism offered by many noting the inconsistency of an organization that loudly proclaims itself a “moderate” voice representing the American Muslim community and a self-proclaimed staunch opponent of terrorism would so consciously embrace and promote an individual that bore responsibility for one of the deadliest terror attacks in the US prior to Oklahoma City and 9/11.
In that same article by Hooper, he further attacks Pipes:
Pipes continues to promote a spurious distinction between "patriotic" Muslims and "chauvinists" who "want to impose Islamic law and other Middle Eastern ways on this country." Of course Pipes fails to mention even one instance in which CAIR called for the imposition of Islamic law in America.
This is an outright lie, as Pipes has posted on his website a July 1998 news article in which CAIR co-founder Omar Ahmad is quoted speaking to a group of California Muslims expressing his hope of seeing an America under the domination of Islam. In that article, Ahmad is quoted as saying,
Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran ... should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.
It is hardly an extraordinary leap to conclude that Omar Ahmad, who again was one of Hooper’s organization’s co-founders, who is listed on CAIR National’s website as a member of the Board of Directors, and who was addressing the crowd in question in his capacity as a representative of CAIR, was in fact representing the views of CAIR when he called for the establishment of shari’a as the highest legal authority in America, which presumably would also mean higher than the US Constitution. Nonetheless, CAIR deliberately savages any commentator who dares to draw that conclusion.
Years after Ahmad was reported to have made that statement, CAIR began waging a media campaign to attack the journalist who recorded Ahmad’s statement, with Ahmad saying “she’s lying”. CAIR’s protests notwithstanding, the newspaper in question has stood by the journalist’s reporting.
With respect to the “civil rights work” that Siraj Wahhaj was helping CAIR-OH raise funds for, it might be that CAIR will soon start waging a campaign against the Columbus Dispatch to expunge from the public record its report in February of last year where former CAIR-OH president and current CAIR National Board Vice Chairman, Ahmad Al-Akhras, likened the publication of the Danish Mohammad cartoons to a physical assault against Muslims, thus a crime. The Dispatch, which identified Al-Akhras as “an advocate of free speech”, said that he was insulted by a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons depicting the prophet. Most American newspapers, including The Dispatch, have refused to publish the cartoons. "Your fist should stop where my chin is," Al-Akhras said.
This was the same CAIR official who just weeks after the Wahhaj fundraiser had submitted a letter to the editor in the Dispatch saying that the jihad being waged by the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Courts Union against the UN-backed Somali government, and which was beginning to brutally impose shari’a law on the citizens of that country, was “a positive development”.
Ahmad “Free Speech” Al-Akhras, who lives in the Columbus, Ohio-area and is still active with the local CAIR-OH affiliate, was the subject of a FrontPage Magazine article last August (“CAIR, Assault, and Videotape”) for assaulting a local independent journalist who was taping his speech at a rally in support of the Hezbollah terrorist organization. But woe unto those who dare note the support given by CAIR officials to terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah and HAMAS.
I also reported last year (“Kafir-phobia: Americans as Anti-Muslim Bigots”), about the public campaign led by CAIR-OH against non-Muslims in an Ohio community, implying that the community was seething with racial and religious hatred against Muslims in response to repeated acts of arson against a Muslim-owned business. CAIR-OH called on law enforcement authorities to investigate the arsons as hate crimes, even after it was discovered that the business owners themselves were responsible for the acts of arson. In that incident, CAIR-OH issued no apology for inciting hatred and displaying their bigotry against the non-Muslims in the community that they had falsely blamed for the fires.
This is indicative of the “civil liberties work” conducted by CAIR-OH that is being supported with the funds raised in the event featuring Siraj Wahhaj. The organizers of the CAIR-OH event may have believed that the fourteen years that had passed since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing may have been sufficient for memories of Wahhaj’s personal involvement in that terrorist attack to fade, but the support and praise showered on Siraj Wahhaj over the years by CAIR officials only stains the $100,000 he helped CAIR-OH raise that evening with a deeper blood red.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Animal farming practices
on: March 14, 2007, 08:02:48 AM
I am sympathetic to the points this piece makes and draw attention to the point about anti-biotics. Not only does this raise questions about developing drug resistant bacteria in order to maximize farmer profits, but it also doses our bodies when we eat these animals, thus reducing beneficial intestinal flora and fomenting bad flora.
By NICOLETTE HAHN NIMAN
Published: March 14, 2007
WITH some fanfare, the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, recently announced that it intended to phase out certain cages for its breeding females. Called gestation crates, the cages virtually immobilize pigs during their pregnancies in metal stalls so narrow they are unable to turn around.
Numerous studies have documented crated sows exhibiting behavior characteristic of humans with severe depression and mental illness. Getting rid of gestation crates (already on their way out in the European Union) is welcome and long overdue, but more action is needed to end inhumane conditions at America’s hog farms.
Of the 60 million pigs in the United States, over 95 percent are continuously confined in metal buildings, including the almost five million sows in crates. In such setups, feed is automatically delivered to animals who are forced to urinate and defecate where they eat and sleep. Their waste festers in large pits a few feet below their hooves. Intense ammonia and hydrogen sulfide fumes from these pits fill pigs’ lungs and sensitive nostrils. No straw is provided to the animals because that would gum up the works (as it would if you tossed straw into your toilet).
In my work as an environmental lawyer, I’ve toured a dozen hog confinement operations and seen hundreds from the outside. My task was to evaluate their polluting potential, which was considerable. But what haunted me was the miserable creatures inside.
They were crowded into pens and cages, never allowed outdoors, and never even provided a soft place to lie down. Their tails had been cut off without anesthetic. Regardless of how well the operations are managed, the pigs subsist in inherently hostile settings. (Disclosure: my husband founded a network of farms that raise pigs using traditional, non-confinement methods.)
The stress, crowding and contamination inside confinement buildings foster disease, especially respiratory illnesses. In addition to toxic fumes, bacteria, yeast and molds have been recorded in swine buildings at a level more than 1,000 times higher than in normal air. To prevent disease outbreaks (and to stimulate faster growth), the hog industry adds more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics to its feed, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates. This mountain of drugs — a staggering three times more than all antibiotics used to treat human illnesses — is a grim yardstick of the wretchedness of these facilities.
There are other reasons that merely phasing out gestation crates does not go nearly far enough. Keeping animals in such barren environments is a serious deprivation. Pigs in nature are active, curious creatures that typically spend 10 hours a day foraging, rooting and roaming.
Veterinarians consider pigs as smart as dogs. Imagine keeping a dog in a tight cage or crowded pen day after day with absolutely nothing to chew on, play with or otherwise occupy its mind. Americans would universally denounce that as inhumane. Extreme boredom is considered the main reason pigs in confinement are prone to biting one another’s tails and engaging in other aggressive behavior.
Finally, even if the gestation crate is abandoned, pork producers will still keep a sow in a narrow metal cage once she gives birth to her piglets. This slightly larger cage, called a farrowing crate, severely restricts a sow’s movements and makes normal interactions between mother and piglets impossible.
Because confinement buildings are far from cities and lack windows, all of this is shielded from public view. But such treatment of pigs contrasts sharply with what people say they want for farm animals. Surveys consistently find that Americans believe all animals, including those raised for food, deserve humane treatment. A 2004 survey by Ohio State University found that 81 percent of respondents felt that the well-being of livestock is as important as that of pets.
Such sentiment was behind the widely supported Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, which sought to improve treatment of cattle and hogs at slaughterhouses. But it’s clear that Americans expect more — they want animals to be humanely treated throughout their lives, not just at slaughter. To ensure this, Congress should ban gestation crates altogether and mandate that animal anti-cruelty laws be applied to farm animals.
As a cattle rancher, I am comfortable raising animals for human consumption, but they should not be made to suffer. Because we ask the ultimate sacrifice of these creatures, it is incumbent on us to ensure that they have decent lives. Let us view the elimination of gestation crates as just a small first step in the right direction.
Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer and cattle rancher, is writing a book about the meat industry.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Vinyl and latex gloves in food prep
on: March 14, 2007, 07:56:03 AM
Today's NY Times
THE video was dark and grainy, the camera operator anonymous. But the clip, which appeared to show a customer at a popular downtown restaurant extracting a disposable glove from a plate of food, caused a small stir on Monday when a link to it was posted at eater.com, a blog that chronicles the New York dining scene.
IS THE SOLUTION A PROBLEM? Employees at a deli wear gloves as they handle ready-to-eat foods. But latex gloves can cause allergic reactions and vinyl gloves contain a chemical that has been called a carcinogen.
After a series of restaurant closings by the city’s health department, the amateur video raised new concerns about sanitation practices in restaurant kitchens. The very object that is supposed to keep diners safe from germs appeared to be a menace.
The unusual episode hinted at a larger problem. Twenty years after disposable gloves became common in restaurant kitchens, it is not clear that they prevent the transmission of illness. There are some who argue that the gloves themselves are dangerous to health.
“The typical hand contains millions of bacteria, including harmful ones like staph and strep,” said Elaine Larson, associate dean in the Columbia University School of Nursing and an expert on hand hygiene. “Gloves can prevent most of those bacteria from being transmitted to food.”
But only if the gloves are clean. “The problem is that a worker may never change the gloves or clean them, thinking that the gloves themselves are sufficient protection,” Dr. Larson said. “The trick is to make sure that workers are properly trained.”
That is easier said than done. Thousands of United States restaurant workers were surveyed for a study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health in 2005. More than a third said they did not always change their gloves between touching raw meat or poultry and ready-to-eat food.
Moreover, most gloves are made of latex, a component of natural rubber. Particles of latex can cause allergic reactions not only among people wearing the gloves but also among customers eating food prepared by them. As a result, three states have banned latex gloves in restaurants. In New York a bill has been introduced in the Legislature requiring warning signs in restaurants that use latex gloves.
Many restaurants have switched to gloves made of vinyl, but vinyl contains Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, a chemical that some scientists believe can cause testicular damage in infants and young men. It is also classified as a carcinogen in California. In 2001 Japan banned vinyl gloves from food establishments after large quantities of DEHP were found in food prepared by workers wearing them.
But in the United States, because of latex allergy concerns, vinyl gloves are becoming ever more popular.
Andy Igrejas, the environmental health campaign director at the National Environmental Trust, a nonprofit organization in Washington, characterized the switch as “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
But Michael Herndon, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration, said the government is “not now planning any regulatory action.” In 2002 his agency cautioned that “developing males” should avoid exposure to the DEHP in vinyl used in medical devices.
When it comes to food preparation, Mr. Herndon wrote in an e-mail message, DEHP dissolves in oil, “but is not easily soluble in water,” so it should be used in gloves “that are intended to contact foods of high water content only.” He did not elaborate on how restaurants were to follow that advice.
Allen Blakey, a spokesman for the Vinyl Institute, a trade group based in Arlington, Va., said: “We have seen no evidence that vinyl gloves are unsafe. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has reviewed the safety of vinyl toys, and the F.D.A. has reviewed the safety of vinyl medical devices, and both agencies have found little to no concern with the vast majority of vinyl products they’ve reviewed. I think that probably says a lot about the safety of vinyl gloves.”
The practice of using gloves in restaurants was intended to cut down on food-borne illnesses, which sicken tens of millions of Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of those illnesses are transmitted by workers’ hands. Under New York State law, food workers must use gloves, utensils or paper when touching ready-to-eat foods. Most states have similar guidelines.
Rhode Island was the first state to ban latex gloves from restaurants, in 1999; Arizona followed in 2001, Oregon in 2003. The states acted as a result of increases in consumer complaints and in workers’ compensation claims stemming from latex-related allergies. About a dozen states are considering or have considered such legislation.
“I’d be thrilled to see fewer gloves, more washing,” said Sue Lockwood, the executive director of the American Latex Allergy Association in Slinger, Wis., who said latex allergies affect about one percent of Americans. Some sufferers try to avoid restaurants where latex is used, she said, but it is often difficult for them to get accurate information from restaurant employees. One way to be sure, she said, “is to ask to have a manager read the box” the gloves come in.
(Page 2 of 2)
Adam T. Bradley, who represents parts of Westchester in the New York State Assembly, introduced a bill in January that would require restaurants to post warning signs if they use latex gloves. Mr. Bradley said a constituent told him about his grandson, who has a severe latex allergy. “The first step is to warn people who may be in danger,” Mr. Bradley said.
Such regulations are opposed by the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers’ Association. (Malaysian companies make most of the gloves used in this country.) Its representatives in Washington say the anti-latex claims are exaggerated. In 2003 it began what it called a public relations offensive that included pointing out that allergic reactions to latex are rare and claiming that vinyl gloves posed other problems.
Bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food can be safe, said Dr. Donna M. Garren, the vice president for health and safety regulatory affairs for the National Restaurant Association, which represents restaurant owners and opposes mandatory glove rules. But it is safe only if employee hand-washing is carefully monitored. Some health experts agreed that regular washing would be more effective than glove use.
“The reason that workers wear gloves is that they don’t wash their hands as much as they should,” said Denise Korniewicz, a professor at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies who has studied the efficacy of rubber gloves for more than 20 years. “If you walk into any fast-food restaurant and observe people, they use the cash register, they wipe their nose and then they make your sandwich.”
Some restaurant owners are not sure the gloves make anybody safer.
“When your hands are bare you can tell if you get something on them, and you immediately wash,” said Debra Silva, who owns Clem & Ursie’s, a seafood restaurant in Provincetown, Mass. “But if you’re wearing gloves, you might have no idea that you’ve touched something dirty.”
Ms. Silva said she spends thousands of dollars a year on gloves. “I go through a case or two a week,” she said. Each case contains 100 gloves.
Many sushi chefs prepare raw fish with their bare fingers despite the rules requiring them to use gloves, tongs or paper. On a recent night the chefs at a Greenwich Village sushi bar scoffed at the idea of using gloves. One, who did not want to give his name for fear of getting the restaurant in trouble, said gloves would make it difficult to tell, by feel, if the fish was fresh. In that way, he said, gloves could make customers less safe. “You can’t make real sushi with gloves on,” he said.
It was the same story at a sushi restaurant in Midtown. “We’ve been doing it this way for 250 years,” one chef said. “People who make the regulations just don’t understand.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: March 14, 2007, 07:49:25 AM
Today's NY Times:
West Bank Sites on Private Land, Data Shows
By STEVEN ERLANGER
Published: March 14, 2007
JERUSALEM, March 13 — An up-to-date Israeli government register shows that 32.4 percent of the property held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is private, according to the advocacy group that sued the government to obtain the data.
The group, Peace Now, prepared an earlier report in November, also provided to The New York Times, based on a 2004 version of the Israeli government database that had been provided by an official who wanted the information published. Those figures showed that 38.8 percent of the land on which Israeli settlements were built was listed as private Palestinian land.
The data shows a pattern of illegal seizure of private land that the Israeli government has been reluctant to acknowledge or to prosecute, according to the Peace Now report. Israel has long asserted that it fully respects Palestinian private property in the West Bank and takes land there only legally or, for security reasons, temporarily. That large sections of those settlements are now confirmed by official data to be privately held land is bound to create embarrassment for Israel and further complicate the already distant prospect of a negotiated peace.
The new data, updated to the end of 2006, was provided officially by the Israeli government’s Civil Administration, which governs civilian activities in the territories, in response to a lawsuit brought by Peace Now and the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel in 2005. When the courts refused the request, the groups filed an appeal, and the earlier data was leaked to Peace Now. In January, the court ordered the Civil Administration to provide the data, in the form of digitized map information.
The information will be published Wednesday, and a copy was provided to The Times.
Some differences between the new data and the old data complicate the picture. The old data distinguished between private Jewish land, private Palestinian land, state land and so-called survey land, which is considered of unclear ownership.
The new data, provided by the government, makes a distinction only between private land and other land. But in the earlier data, the amount of private Jewish land was small, only 1.26 percent of the area of the settlements.
The second major difference involves the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, which looks like a suburb of Jerusalem, with a mall and a multiplex and an Ace Hardware store.
The Israeli government has said that it will never give up the three main settlement blocks— Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel — inside the West Bank and within the security barrier that Israel built. Information about them is thus extremely delicate, and that was one reason that the government refused earlier requests to provide the data.
The earlier data showed Maale Adumim containing 86 percent private Palestinian land, which seemed very high to its residents. According to the new data, however, only 0.54 percent of the settlement is listed as private land. The single case of Maale Adumim represents much of the difference in the total percentage of private land between the old and new data. Without the new Maale Adumim data, the difference between the old and new data is about one percentage point.
In settlements west of the separation barrier, which Israel intends to keep and which include Maale Adumim, the amount of private land is 24 percent, compared with 41.4 percent in the earlier data.
In settlements that Israel would presumably give up in any peace settlement, the percentage of private land is 40 percent, higher than the earlier data, which was 36.4 percent.
In the two other main settlement blocs that Israel intends to keep, Ariel is now listed as 31.4 percent private, compared with 35.1 percent before. Gush Etzion is listed now as 19 percent private, compared with 25.1 percent before.
In Givat Zeev, a settlement that Israel also intends to keep, the old data showed that the settlement contained 44.3 percent private land; the new data shows the figure to be 49.6 percent.
Dror Etkes of Peace Now, which put together the reports, said the group had asked the Civil Administration to explain the discrepancy on Maale Adumim, but had not gotten an answer.
(Page 2 of 2)
Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Civil Administration, confirmed that his department had given the official data to Peace Now following the court order, but said he had not seen the report so he could not comment on its specifics.
But Mr. Dror emphasized that the settlements themselves make up less than 6 percent of the West Bank; that some of the private land belongs to Jews, some of whom bought the land many years ago or after 1967; and that the issue is complicated, given the various ways land was registered under the Ottomans, the British and the Jordanians.
Mr. Dror said the government has had a group, known as the “blue line team,” studying the data for two years trying to determine the actual limits of the settlements and the land claims around them, and that the new data reflects that work, though it is continuing. “It could take 10 more years for them to finish,” he said.
In a written statement issued late Tuesday night, Capt. Zidki Maman, also a spokesman for the Civil Administration, said, “We were disappointed to see that despite the clarifications made by the Civil Administration regarding the previous report and the database given to Peace Now, the most recent report is still inaccurate in many places, thus misrepresenting the reality concerning the status of the settlements.”
But Mr. Etkes of Peace Now noted that the government chose to provide no details, and refused to hand over data specifying what land was owned by Israelis.
Some of the land listed as private has been seized legally, though supposedly temporarily, by the Israeli military for security purposes. Many settlements were built on such land, even though it is supposed to be returned to its owners. The military simply signs a renewal of the seizure order every few years. But the military keeps secret how much land is under such temporary seizure orders.
In a 1979 court case, the Israeli Supreme Court declared that the seizure of private land for establishing settlements for security purposes is illegal. But the official data shows that 32 percent of the land in settlements established after 1979 is private land.
Peace Now will ask Israel’s attorney general “to open an investigation into the construction of settlements on private land,” Mr. Etkes said. “There’s no way the state prosecutor can be indifferent to lawbreaking on such a scale.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: March 14, 2007, 07:44:31 AM
Concerns about CAIR reach even the NY Times, which for reasons known only to it, thinks the ACLU is a worthy source of comment
and-- surprise-- fails to interview/quote any of "A small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link it to Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, and have gone so far as calling the group an American front for the two." Unsuccessful? As determined by whom?!? Oh well, its the NYT
Anyway, here it is:
Group Advocating for Muslims in U.S. Gets More Scrutiny
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
Published: March 14, 2007
With violence across the Middle East fixing Islam smack at the center of the American political debate, an organization partly financed by donors closely identified with wealthy Persian Gulf governments has emerged as the most vocal advocate for American Muslims — and an object of wide suspicion.
Basim Elkarra of the Council on American-Islamic Relations with Certificate of Appreciation from Senator Barbara Boxer that she revoked.
Chronology of a Souring Relationship The group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defines its mission as spreading the understanding of Islam and protecting civil liberties. Its officers appear frequently on television and are often quoted in newspapers, and its director has met with President Bush. Some 500,000 people receive the group’s daily e-mail newsletter.
Yet a debate rages behind the scenes in Washington about the group, commonly known as CAIR, its financing and its motives. A small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link it to Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, and have gone so far as calling the group an American front for the two.
In the latest confrontation yesterday, CAIR held a panel discussion on Islam and the West in a Capitol meeting room despite demands by House Republicans that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, not allow the event. The Republicans called its members “terrorist apologists.”
Caley Gray, a spokesman for Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat who helped book the room, rejected that label in a phone interview and said CAIR held similar meetings when Congress was controlled by Republicans. Still, Mr. Gray called back to specify that Mr. Pascrell did not endorse all of the group’s positions.
Last fall, Senator Barbara Boxer of California issued a routine Certificate of Appreciation to the organization representative in Sacramento, but she quickly revoked it when critics assailed her on the Web under headlines like “Senators for Terror.”
“There are things there I don’t want to be associated with,” Ms. Boxer said later of the revocation, explaining that her California office had not vetted the group sufficiently.
CAIR and its supporters say its accusers are a small band of people who hate Muslims and deal in half-truths. Ms. Boxer’s decision to revoke the Sacramento commendation provoked an outcry from organizations that vouch for the group’s advocacy, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Council of Churches.
“They have been a leading organization that has advocated for civil rights and civil liberties in the face of fear and intolerance, in the face of religious and ethnic profiling,” said Maya Harris, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Northern California.
Government officials in Washington said they were not aware of any criminal investigation of the group. More than one described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association.
“Of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares,” said Michael Rolince, a retired F.B.I. official who directed counterterrorism in the Washington field office from 2002 to 2005.
Outreach to all Muslims via groups they support is an important aspect of ensuring that extremists cannot get a foothold here as they have in Europe, Mr. Rolince said.
The cloud kicked up by the constant scrutiny is such that spokesmen at several federal agencies refused to comment about the group and some spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
After a brief interview, Ms. Boxer declined to answer additional questions about the commendation to the Sacramento representative, Basim Elkarra. A spokeswoman, Natalie Ravitz, said in an e-mail message that the senator had decided “to put this entire incident behind her.”
Joe Kaufman, who Ms. Boxer’s office said first drew her attention to CAIR’s reputation, is the founder of a Web site that tracks what he calls the group’s extremism, cairwatch.com. Other critics include the Investigative Project, a conservative group that tries to identify terrorist organizations, and the Middle East Forum, a conservative research center that says its goal is to promote American interests in the region.
“You can’t fight a war on terrorism directly when you are acting with a terror front,” said Mr. Kaufman, who advocates shutting down the organization.
Founded in 1994, CAIR had eight chapters at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the group, but has grown to some 30 chapters as American Muslims have felt unjustly scrutinized ever since.
Broadly summarized, critics accuse CAIR of pursuing an extreme Islamist political agenda and say at least five figures with ties to the group or its leadership have either been convicted or deported for links to terrorist groups. They include Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas leader deported in 1997 after the United States failed to produce any evidence directly linking him to any attacks.
There were no charges linked to CAIR in any of the cases involved, and law enforcement officials said that in the current climate, any hint of suspicious behavior would have resulted in a racketeering charge.
Page 2 of 2)
The group’s officials say the accusations are rooted in its refusal to endorse the American government’s blanket condemnations of Hezbollah and Hamas, although it has criticized Hamas for civilian deaths.
Chronology of a Souring Relationship Several federal officials said CAIR’s Washington office frequently issued controversial statements that made it hard for senior government figures to be associated with the group, particularly since some pro-Israeli lobbyists have created what one official called a “cottage industry” of attacking the group and anyone dealing with it.
Last summer, the group urged a halt to weapons shipments to Israel as civilian casualties in Lebanon swelled. In September, it held a dinner for former President Mohamed Khatami of Iran at a time when much of official Washington had ostracized that Islamic republic. In November, the group sponsored a panel discussion by two prominent academics who argue that the pro-Israeli lobby exercises detrimental influence on United States policy on the Middle East.
“Traditionally within the government there is only one point of view that is acceptable, which is the pro-Israel line,” said Nihad Awad, a founder of CAIR and its executive director. “Another enlightened perspective on the conflict is not there, and it causes some discomfort.”
When Mr. Bush visited a Washington mosque in 2001, Mr. Awad was among the Muslim leaders he met. But Dana M. Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Awad had not been invited to any recent iftars, annual dinners to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. She offered no explanation.
This year, when Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales met with the leaders of half a dozen Muslim and Arab-American organizations in his office, no representative from CAIR was invited.
When Karen P. Hughes, the close adviser to Mr. Bush and under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, started interacting with the group, she was criticized as dealing with “Wahhabis,” shorthand for Saudi-inspired religious extremists, a State Department spokesman said.
CAIR has raised some suspicion by accepting large donations from individuals or foundations closely identified with Arab governments. It has an annual operating budget of around $3 million, and the group said it solicited major donations for special projects, like $500,000 from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia to help distribute the Koran and other books about Islam in the United States, some of which generated controversy.
The donations are a source of contention within CAIR itself. Several branch directors said they had avoided foreign financing and had criticized the national office for it.
Officials at other Arab-American and Muslim organizations said there was a decided split between how the national office operated and how the branches did. The branch offices, which raise their own money and operate largely as franchises, concentrate on local civil rights problems and hence develop close working relationships with law enforcement.
When the Southern California chapter threw itself a birthday party last November, nearly 2,000 people packed the Anaheim Hilton’s ballroom to hear guests of honor praise the organization, including J. Stephen Tidwell, the director of the F.B.I.’s Los Angeles office.
“I am very excited to be here,” Mr. Tidwell told a reporter covering the fund-raiser for an Arab-American television news channel, calling CAIR “an important bridge for the F.B.I. into the Muslim, Arab-American community.”
The Washington office, the officials at the other Arab-American and Muslim groups said, tends to fight more image battles because its main staff members have backgrounds in public relations. Still, they said, CAIR’s contrarian image helps with fund-raising both in the American Muslim community and among Arab governments because both believe that the federal government is biased against them.
Some Muslims, particularly the secular, find CAIR overly influenced by Saudi religious interpretations, criticizing it for stating in news releases, for example, that all Muslim women are required to veil their hair when the matter is openly debated.
But they still support its civil rights work and endorse the idea of anyone working to make American Islam a more integral part of society. One Arab-American advocate compared CAIR to “the tough cousin who curses at anyone who speaks badly about the family.”
Some activists and academics view the controversy surrounding the group as typical of why Washington fails so often in the Middle East, while extremism mushrooms.
“How far are we going to keep going in this endless circle: ‘You are a terrorist!’ ‘No, you are a terrorist!’? ” said Souleiman Ghali, one of the founders of a moderate San Francisco mosque. “People are paying a price for that.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Gay & Straight
on: March 14, 2007, 06:44:01 AM
Former N.J. Gov. McGreevey Seeks Custody of 5-Year-Old Daughter, Child Support From Wife
Tuesday , March 13, 2007
ELIZABETH, N.J. —
Former Gov. James McGreevey, who resigned from office after revealing that he was gay and had an affair with a male staffer, is seeking custody of his 5-year-old daughter and child support from his estranged wife.
The revised divorce lawsuit by McGreevey, who resigned in November 2004, does not mention the "matrimonial settlement agreement" that McGreevey originally said had resolved all custody and support issues concerning his daughter, Jacqueline.
McGreevey's wife, Dina Matos, has 35 days to respond to the revised filing.
The papers filed last month in Union County Superior Court ask the judge to assign McGreevey custody, to award visitation to the noncustodial parent and to award him "suitable support and maintenance."
"Dina and I both seek the best interests of Jacqueline," McGreevey said Tuesday. "We're asking the court to determine what's the most appropriate balance in the child's interest."
He would not answer further questions about the exact custody arrangement he is seeking. Any payments to either party would be determined by a family court judge.
Matos and her lawyer, John Post, could not be reached Tuesday.
Matos said last month that the two "continue to have profound differences about what our daughter should be exposed to, and until they are resolved, there will be no agreement."
McGreevey and his wife have lived apart since McGreevey resigned.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 14, 2007, 06:11:09 AM
Today's NY Times
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Along the Afghan border, not far from this northwestern city, Islamic militants have used a firm foothold over the past year to train and dispatch suicide bombers against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani tribal areas are home to both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
But in recent weeks the suicide bombers have turned on Pakistan itself, carrying out six attacks and killing 35 people. Militant leaders have threatened to unleash scores more, in effect opening a new front in their war.
Diplomats and concerned residents see the bombings as proof of a spreading “Talibanization,” as Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, calls it, which has seeped into more settled districts of Pakistan from the tribal areas along the border, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have made a home.
In Peshawar and other parts of North-West Frontier Province, which abuts the tribal areas, residents say English-language schools have received threats, schoolgirls have been warned to veil themselves, music is being banned and men are told not to shave their beards.
Then there is the mounting toll of the suicide bombings. One of the most lethal killed 15 people in Peshawar, most of them police officers, including the popular police chief.
The police, on the front line of the violence, have suffered most in many of the suicide attacks, diplomats and officials say. They are increasingly demoralized and cowed, allowing the militancy to spread still further, they warn.
In Tank, a town close to the lawless tribal area of South Waziristan, where militants have their own Taliban ministate, the police have taken off their uniforms, essentially ceding control to the militants, who now use the town as a logistics supply base, according to one Western diplomat in Pakistan.
“It’s not good,” he said. “You have ungovernable space and the impact is expanding ungovernable space.”
Suicide bombings are not new in Pakistan. There have been several high-profile cases linked to Al Qaeda in which bombers have tried to kill General Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, and singled out foreign targets, French engineers and the United States Consulate in Karachi.
But the indiscriminate terror, sown by lone bombers, with explosives strapped to their chests wandering into a crowd, is a new experience for Pakistanis, and it has shocked and angered many here.
“Are these attacks isolated incidents of fanatic wrath, or is it some widespread coordinated effort to intimidate the state itself?” asked The Nation, a daily newspaper, in an editorial after the latest bombing against an antiterrorist judge in Multan. “Coordinated or not, these are dangerous times to be seen as representatives of the state; the militants are driving home a point.”
The attacks all stem from the tribal area of Waziristan, according to a senior government official, who asked not to be identified because investigations are continuing. There, he said, groups supporting jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, sectarian groups and militant splinter cells have morphed into a kind of hydra.
“They are all there in South Waziristan’s Wana region,” the official said. “It’s no longer an Afghan-only problem. It has become as much a Pakistan problem too.”
Still, it remains unclear if there is a single strategy behind the suicide bombings. Some have been apparently sectarian in nature, part of a decades-old problem in Pakistan between extremist Shiite and Sunni groups.
But militants allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda appear to be behind four of the six most recent attacks, acting in retaliation for military strikes by Pakistani forces against their groups in the tribal regions.
Of those, at least three attacks can be traced back to Baitullah Mehsud, a militant commander based in South Waziristan, who is known to have sent suicide bombers from his mountain redoubt to Afghanistan, police officials said.
Mr. Mehsud, a former fighter with the Taliban, said his main desire was to fight United States-led coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He entered into a peace deal with the Pakistani government in 2005, agreeing not to attack Pakistani forces, as long as he could continue his jihad across the border.
But under increasing pressure from the United States, and acting on a tip from American intelligence, Pakistani authorities sent helicopters to strike at a presumed hide-out of his followers on Jan. 6, killing eight people.
Mr. Mehsud vowed revenge, and several of the recent suicide bombings are believed to be in retaliation.
Page 2 of 2)
A suicide bomb attack on a military convoy on Jan. 22 was carried out by Mr. Mehsud’s men. Another attack by a bomber on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Jan. 26, which killed a policeman, was attributed to Mr. Mehsud as well. So was an attack that killed a policeman in Dera Ismail Khan on Jan. 29, police officials say.
General Musharraf vowed at a Feb. 2 news conference to go after Mr. Mehsud. But the governor of North-West Frontier Province, Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, preferred to send a delegation of elders to talk to him. The militant commander later denied any involvement, but the bombings slowed.
Mr. Mehsud may also have orchestrated the suicide attack here, in the old city of Peshawar on Jan. 27, when a bomber approached police officers on foot and detonated himself as they were organizing security for the Shiite festival to mark Muharram.
Police investigators say the method, grenade lot numbers and other explosives used were identical to those in previous attacks. DNA tests also showed that all the bombers were 17 to 20 years old, they said.
But a security official said other leads pointed more to another militant group, Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi aimed at setting up Shariah, or Islamic law, which is active in the tribal areas north of Peshawar.
The movement closely supports the Taliban and is linked to Al Qaeda. It was almost certainly behind the suicide bombing that killed 44 military cadets in November in Dargai, in retaliation for an airstrike against a religious school run by one of its members in the tribal area of Bajaur.
The group had been training suicide bombers, Pakistan’s interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, said after the Bajaur strike.
The attack on the cadets was a major escalation on the militants’ part. It was apparently aimed at the army as an institution, rather than its top leaders, whom the militants blame for pro-American policies. The target, too, was an easy one — the cadets were unarmed, on an open playing field.
“They are attempting to make it clear to Pakistan’s security establishment that their strength has yet to be sapped,” a private policy group based in the United States, Strategic Forecasting Inc., wrote at the time.
The militant group remains active and may be behind some other attacks in the frontier region, a Western diplomat said. They and other militants are also trying, with increasing effect, to intimidate populations beyond the tribal areas.
A girls’ high school in Mardan was recently warned that the girls should veil themselves or stay home, a tactic typical of groups like Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi. Four English language schools closed for four days last month after the police learned of another possible threat.
“These are acts of terror to psychologically defeat the people to accept the force of the Taliban and the ways of the Taliban,” said Latif Afridi, an opposition politician and a member of the provincial bar association in Peshawar.
The creeping militancy has frustrated government agencies, who disagree over what to do about it, according to one intelligence official.
There is consensus that a large-scale military operation, like the kinds that have failed in recent years, is not the solution. But some diplomats say that the series of peace deals that the government struck with tribal leaders and militants in South and North Waziristan has not worked either.
For instance, according to another Western diplomat, General Musharraf knows the North Waziristan agreement is only 20 to 30 percent effective, but he continues to back it for lack of another plan.
The accord has brought some order to the area’s capital, Miram Shah, according to officials with knowledge of North Waziristan. It has also forced a split among the militants, with the more aggressive followers of Mr. Mehsud and their Qaeda allies congregating in the town of Mir Ali, they said.
Some officials are now arguing that the government should move against the militants in Mir Ali, while supporting the more reasonable ones.
One practical solution is to train local tribesmen to buttress the Frontier Corps, which polices the tribal areas and could be used as a buffer to protect the settled neighboring districts.
Hundreds of recruits from Waziristan are already training in border and customs control, among other things, under a program sponsored by the United States Department of Justice, according to an American diplomat. But it is not clear whether the program will succeed.
While local men would be more acceptable to the tribesmen, their sympathies may well lie with the militants, and the Frontier Corps has been accused of turning a blind eye to the militants’ cross-border activities.
Meanwhile, the problems continue to spread to other part of the tribal areas, and beyond.
“Taliban militants have emerged in Kurram, as well as Orakzai,” said Mr. Afridi, the opposition politician, referring to other tribal regions. “They are trying to emerge in Mohmand.”
“In my area the clouds of Taliban and civil war are in sight,” he added. “We are worried, we really are.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Michael Moore dishonest/a hypocrite? Say it ain't so!
on: March 14, 2007, 05:57:32 AM
By CHRISTY LEMIRE, AP Movie Writer
Sun Mar 11, 6:02 PM ET
AUSTIN, Texas - As documentary filmmakers, Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine looked up to Michael Moore.
Then they tried to do a documentary of their own about him — and ran into the same sort of resistance Moore himself famously faces in his own films.
The result is "Manufacturing Dissent," which turns the camera on the confrontational documentarian and examines some of his methods. Among their revelations in the movie, which had its world premiere Saturday night at the South by Southwest film festival: That Moore actually did speak with then-General Motors chairman Roger Smith, the evasive subject of his 1989 debut "Roger & Me," but chose to withhold that footage from the final cut.
The husband-and-wife directors spent over two years making the movie, which follows Moore on his college tour promoting 2004's "Fahrenheit 9/11." The film shows Melnyk repeatedly approaching Moore for an interview and being rejected; members of Moore's team also kick the couple out of the audience at one of his speeches, saying they weren't allowed to be shooting there.
At their own premiere Saturday night, the Toronto-based filmmakers expected pro-Moore plants in the audience heckling or trying to otherwise sabotage the screening, but it turned out to be a tame affair.
"It went really well," Melnyk said. "People really liked the film and laughed at the right spots and got the movie and we're really happy about it."
Moore hasn't commented publicly on "Manufacturing Dissent" and Melnyk thinks he never will. He also hasn't responded to several calls and e-mails from The Associated Press.
"There's no point for Michael to respond to the film because then it gives it publicity," she said.
"(President) Bush didn't respond to `Fahrenheit 9/11,' and there's a reason for that," Caine added.
The two were and still are fans of all his movies — including the polarizing "Fahrenheit 9/11," which grossed over $119 million and won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival — and initially wanted to do a biography on him. They traveled to his childhood home of Davison, Mich., visited his high school and traced his early days in politics and journalism.
"The fact that he made documentaries entertaining was extremely influential and got all kinds of people out to see them," said Melnyk, whose previous films with Caine include 1998's "Junket Whore." "Let's face it, he made documentaries popular and that is great for all documentary filmmakers."
"All of these films — `Super Size Me,' `An Inconvenient Truth' — we've all been riding in his wake," said Caine. "There's a nonfiction film revolution going on and we're all beneficiaries of that. For that point alone, he's worth celebrating."
But after four months of unsuccessfully trying to sit down with Moore for an on-camera interview, they realized they needed to approach the subject from a different angle. They began looking at the process Moore employs in his films, and the deeper they dug, the more they began to question him.
The fact that Moore spoke with Smith, including a lengthy question-and-answer exchange during a May 1987 GM shareholders meeting, first was reported in a Premiere magazine article three years later. Transcripts of the discussion had been leaked to the magazine, and a clip of the meeting appeared in "Manufacturing Dissent." Moore also reportedly interviewed Smith on camera in January 1988 at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.
Since then, in the years since "Roger & Me" put Moore on the map, those details seem to have been suppressed and forgotten.
"It was shocking, because to me that was the whole premise of `Roger & Me,'" Melnyk said.
She and Caine also had trouble finding people to talk on camera about Moore, partly because potential interview subjects assumed they were creating a right-wing attack piece; as self-proclaimed left-wingers, they weren't.
Despite what they've learned, the directors still appreciate Moore.
"We're a bit disappointed and disillusioned with Michael," Melnyk said, "but we are still very grateful to him for putting documentaries out there in a major way that people can go to a DVD store and they're right up there alongside dramatic features."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: March 14, 2007, 05:48:15 AM
"No idea why earth science is political"? Ha!
My personal breakdown of the issue is this:
This is the fundalmental point: Free market theory requires that the price paid in a transaction reflect all its costs. Pollution is a violation of this requirement. The question becomes what to do about it.
The Dem/socialist model tends towards commands. "Thou shalt not do XYZ" or, to be more precise, "Thou shall do less of XYZ". The Rep/corporatist model simply tends to resist this. "Thou hast lousy science and you are a weenie." This model never really answers what to do about it.
Following a discussion I read years ago in a position paper by, of all people, Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) the Dem model tends towards prohibiting further sources of contaminant X or setting a given level thereof. The net result of this is, as is usually the case with Dem solutions, the opposite of what is intended-- which of course leads to redoubled efforts
The effect is that older dirtier technologies tend to prohibit the entrance of newer, cleaner technologies (less units of Contaminant X per unit of production, mile travelled, etc).
The Dem model often involves setting a standard. Naturally this is a perceived as a matter of values for which only a fascist corporatist would resist. This usually entails choosing a bunch of "their" experts to determine the permitted level -- sometimes with reference to what is technologically feasible and sometimes not. Naturally the Reps seek to have "their" experts chosen. Special interests enter into the political fray and political corruption ensues.
My thinking is to bring market economics to bear. For example, rather than declaring an area in non-compliance for X (e.g. a form of air pollution) and prohibiting new sources of X, the idea should be to tax X because it is an external diseconomy-- a cost not born by buyer or seller, but rather by third parties. Thus he who pollutes less per unit of production (per widget, miles per gallon, etc) will have a cost advantage over he who pollutes more and producers now have it in their own interest to focus on how evolve technologically instead of buying Congressmen and experts for the bureaucratic regulatory/legal wars-- and the Dems have less ways to expand government and make themselves important and powerful.
The more the tax bites, the more this is so. Thus as we increase the tax, the market itself informs us as to the cost-benefit ratio.
What do you think?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: March 13, 2007, 06:25:32 PM
ISRAEL: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might be forced to resign, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing sources in Kadima. The report precedes findings from the Winograd Committee, which is investigating conduct during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, regarding Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mil-blogs: Michael Yon and others (support our troops)
on: March 13, 2007, 06:12:23 PM
My latest dispatch is published on the front page of Fox News. I am both honored and that Fox has agreed to begin publishing my major dispatches on their front page. I am also flattered that Fox has agreed to publish my work unedited.
Please click "Ernie is Dead" to read the latest.
This site remains independent and is 100% contingent on reader support. Thank you for considering supporting my work in Iraq through the end of 2007.
Currently I am searching for a good unit in Baghdad to embed with. I need what Ernie needed: a secure place to live and reliable communications. If you are the commander of such a unit, please contact me.
P O Box 416
Westport Pt MA 02791
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: March 13, 2007, 01:03:58 PM
London, March 13, 2007
Europe Must Decide
by Matthias Küntzel
We stand at a historic crossroads. Disregarding Security Council decisions, Iran's rulers are stepping up their nuclear programme. Will Europe continue soft-soaping the Mullahs or will it show some resolve? Will it accept the fact that, by seeking nuclear weapons, the Iranian dictatorship is escalating its holy war at the gates of Europe? Or will it summon up the will to raise the economic price Iran must pay to a point where the regime – which is facing mounting popular discontent – has to give way?
If any power is still able to get the regime in Tehran to back off without the use of military force, then that power is the European Union. The USA can't do it because it has no trade with Iran . China, Japan and Russia can't do it either, because Iran can get along without them. But Iran needs Europe. Iran gets 40% of its imports from the EU, which in turn takes in 25% of Iranian exports.
While Japan and China are interested in Iran essentially as a source of energy supplies, Germany , Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and France provide the Iranian economy with vital investments. Trading partner number one was and is Germany; as the former President of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Tehran, Michael Tockuss, has explained, "some two thirds of Iranian industry relies on German engineering products. The Iranians are certainly dependent on German spare parts and suppliers."
Certainly dependent! The potential leverage of economic sanctions couldn't be clearer. Since then a study by the Iranian Parliament has stated the obvious: without European spare parts and industrial goods the Iranian economy would grind to a halt within a few months. If anyone is still in a position to use this lever before it is too late, then it is Germany and the EU.
Of course Europe should have done so back in 2003, when Tehran was forced to admit that it had been pursuing a secret nuclear programme for the past eighteen years. Nuclear weapons in the hands of the world's number one sponsor of terrorism? The public was alarmed. But what happened?
Instead of immediately cutting technology transfers to Iran , European exports to Iran rose 29 % to € 12.9 billion between 2003 and 2005.
Prior to 2003, government-backed export guarantees had fuelled the expansion in trade by countries such as Italy, France and Austria. After the exposure of Iran's secret nuclear programme, these export guarantees were not stopped by European governments but generously increased, as we can see here in the case of Germany and Britain .
In its 2004 annual report on export guarantees, Berlin's Economics Ministry dedicated a special section to Iran that captures its giddy exitement about business with Tehran: "Federal Government export credit guarantees played a crucial role for German exports to Iran; the volume of coverage of Iranian buyers rose by a factor of almost 3,5 to some € 2,3 billion compared the previous year," the report said. "The Federal Government thus insured something like 65% of total German exports to the country. Iran lies second in the league of countries with the highest coverage in 2004, hot on the heels of China."
British trade with Iran is relatively small in comparison to Germany. Between 2003 and 2005 Germany's export to Iran was about five times larger than exports from British firms. The governmental policies of both countries, however, are quite similar. In Britain , there is a separate government department, the "Export Credits Guarantee Department" or ECGD that reports to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and derives its powers from the "Export and Investment Guarantees Act 1991". According to the ECGD's annual list of guarantees the British export credit guarantees for business with Iran rose by a factor of 2,6 - from 30 Million pounds in 2003 to an amazingly 77 Million pounds in 2004.
Is this boosting of business with Iran compatible with the ECGD's declared goal "to ensure its activities with other Government objectives including those on sustainable development, human rights, good governance and trade"? Not at all.
Instead this policy was and is a stab in the back for Iranian human rights groups, since there can be no question here of "change through trade". On the contrary. Three quarters of all Iranian industrial firms are in state hands. The export deals are not being struck with the private sector, but with the regime's "Revolutionary Foundations" such as the "Martyrs Foundations" run by Islamist hardliners. These "little kings", as they are known in Iran, are personally appointed by the revolutionary leadership and Parliament has no control over them. Most are or have been involved in terrorism or weapons of mass destruction programmes.
European export support bolsters the Mullahs' nuclear ambitions in three ways. Firstly, a proportion of any money lent to the regime is spent on nuclear research. Secondly, every export deal strengthens the internal position of the hardliners, who are invariably hardliners on the nuclear issue too. Thirdly, the country is getting state-of-the-art technology of a sort that can be used in the nuclear sphere. For example, in August 2003 Siemens – a firm with expertise in the field of nuclear power station construction – signed a contract for the delivery of 24 power stations. To make this deal, Siemens had to commit itself to "technology transfer with regard to small and medium-sized power stations".
2005 marked a further watershed. Now, a hardliner had become President. Ahmadinejad's tirades about Israel, the Holocaust and the Twelfth Iman shed a harsh new light on the special threat presented by Iran's nuclear programme. This was not only a good opportunity, but also a truly compelling reason for a change of export policy towards Iran. Indeed, the OECD raised Iran's rating of the risk regarding possible export guarantees. Exports became more expensive and the mood among exporters worsened. Nevertheless, in 2006 German exports to Iran fell only by 6%. Last year German exports worth € 4.1 billion, made its way to Iran. Austria and Germany – despite the Holocaust denial and threats to annihilate Israel –continued to promote exports as if nothing had happened. In 2006, some 20% of all German export credit guarantees were still being devoted to business with Iran. In Britain , the last ECGD annual report of 2006 shows that here the third largest liability was decided in favour of business with Iran.
The real pan-European support for Iran , however, including the UK, relates to the Nabucco project for a giant pipeline running directly from the Iranian gas fields to the city of Baumgarten in Lower Austria . The final decision on this project is to be made at the end of this year. If this pipeline is built, the relationship between Europe and the Mullahs would change. In this case Iran 's Islamist regime would become Europe's new strategic partner.
It was precisely in February 2006, as the Iranian president's tirades reached their height, that the European Investment Bank decided to put a billion dollars into this project. However, this Bank is an EU body. It gets its capital from the EU member states including the UK. As the EU's financial instrument, it is obliged to pursue the EU's political goals. Propping up the economy of a regime that publicly hangs young women and men for their sexual relationships can hardly count as one of the EU's political goals. Was there ever a public debate or a parliamentary debate in this country about the Nabucco and its long-term effects?
Today, in 2007, Iran is on the verge of being able to produce enriched uranium on an industrial scale. But Europe continues to oppose the establishment of an effective sanctions regime by a "coalition of the willing" going beyond the limits of the Security Council resolutions. On the contrary, three weeks ago, the German government declared, that also today it grants new Hermes export credit guarantees for trade with Iran. The British governmental organisation "UK Trade & Investment", undauntedly beats the drum for more trade with Iran as well: "Iran is one of the most exciting countries in the region for business development … The main opportunity for UK business is in providing capital and equipment to Irans's priority sectors: Oil, gas and petrochemicals, Mining [and] Power."
What do the turning points of 2003, 2005 and 2007 show us? They show the stubbornness with which business and political leaders constantly follow the same paradigm: Iran's nuclear ambitions are treated as a negligible quantity, with "business as usual" taking priority. They act as if it is a matter of secondary importance from the point of view of European interests whether Iran has nuclear weapons or not and are taking their distance from those advocating sanctions. They seem to have fallen prey to the illusion that a nuclear Iran would have no impact on Europe. But there could be no bigger mistake. An Iran with nuclear weapons would be a nightmare not only for Israel, but also for Europe itself.
If Iran were to develop nuclear weapons, the whole of the Middle East would go nuclear too – whether because the Iranian regime would fulfil its promise to pass the technology on to its friends or because the Arab regimes would seek their own nuclear capability in Iran's wake. The specific danger presented by the Iranian bomb, however, stems from the unique ideological atmosphere surrounding it - a mixture of death-wish and weapons-grade uranium, of Holocaust denial and High-Tec, of fantasies of world domination and missile research, of Shiite messianism and plutonium. There are other dictatorships in the world. But in Iran the fantasy-worlds of antisemitism and religious mission are linked with technological megalomania and the physics of mass destruction. For the first time we face a danger that first appeared on the horizon 70 years ago: a kind of "Adolf Hitler" with nuclear weapons.
Does anyone here really believe that Europe would be hardly affected by this? As Angela Merkel informed us recently, "We must take the Iranian President's rhetoric seriously". Quite right! Ahmadinejad is gleefully contemplating the end of liberal democracy as a whole: "Those with insights can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems", as he wrote in a letter to President Bush, reiterating the shared view of the entire theocratic elite. He sees himself and his country as being in the midst of a "historical war that has been underway for hundreds of years" and drums into the heads of his followers that "we must make ourselves aware of the baseness of our enemy, such that our holy hatred will spread ever further like a wave." In order to win this war, the Shahab 5 medium-range missile, which can carry nuclear warheads and strike almost any target in Europe, is being built. In order to win this war, thousands of suicide bombers have been recruited and Hezbollah cells established throughout Europe – cells whose members are under the direct command of the Iranian secret services.
Europe will at once find itself in a new situation if Iran gets the bomb. Whether or not Iran formally declares itself to be a nuclear power is secondary. In the same way as the death sentence on British author Salman Rushdie succeeded in striking fear into thousands of hearts, so will Iran's nuclear option serve to torpedo any prospect of peace in the Middle East and keep Europe in line.
Something has to happen to prevent this scenario from becoming a reality. Which brings me back to the final remaining non-military resort in the conflict with Iran: tough sanctions.
Of course, even outside America there are firms that are behaving responsibly, firms about which it could be said that, even if they perhaps don't always engage in "fair trade", they are at least committed to "terror-free trade", firms that have either totally ceased involvement in Iran or reduced their activities to a minimum. Among them are the Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse, British Petroleum and the Allianz. They no longer want to get their hands dirty.
But then there is the far longer list of firms that want to do business with the jihadists in Tehran, albeit in increasing secrecy, since they wish to keep their partnership with the Iranian regime out of the public eye. Among them are giants like BASF, Henkel, Continental, Bahlsen, Krupp, Linde, Lurgi, Siemens, ZF Freidrichshafen, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Scania, Volvo, MAN, Shell, Total, Hansa Chemie, Hoechst, OMV, Renault and SAS as well as smaller firms such as Stahlbau Schauenberg , Schernier and Wolf Thermo-Module. From now on we should call such firms what they are: silent partners in terrorism.
Tehran is purposely driving on towards nuclear weapons. Time is at a premium. The security environment for the twenty-first century is being decided right now. Tomorrow, will we already be living in the shadow of the Iranian bomb? Or can the international community still stop Ahmadinejad and his regime?
If respect for the victims of the Holocaust still counts for anything in Europe today, then any firm that does business with the antisemitic regime – a regime that promotes suicide terrorism, finances Hezbollah and has explicitly stated its goal of destroying Israel - must be exposed and denounced. If continental Europe's civil societies wish to make good on their claim that they have learned the lessons of history, then pressure must be exerted on their Governments until they do what has to be done to prevent the Iranian bomb. If Great Britain and the EU fail to put prompt and massive pressure on Iran and confront it with the alternative of either changing course or suffering devastating economic blows, all that will remain will be the choice between a bad solution – the military option – and a dreadful one – the Iranian bomb.
Europe must cease to be the sleeping partners of terrorism. We must put a stop to the international competition to see who can make the dirtiest deal in Iran. We must break with an approach that is leading with businesslike efficiency towards catastrophe.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / So that's how Rocky did it , , ,
on: March 13, 2007, 01:01:43 PM
Sylvester Stallone has been charged with smuggling banned bodybuilding drugs into Australia. Customs officials said 48 vials of outlawed human-growth hormone were found in Stallone's luggage during a recent visit to Sydney to promote his "Rocky Balboa" movie.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: March 13, 2007, 01:00:39 PM
ISRAEL AXES NAKED AMBASSADOR: Israel's ambassador was ordered home from El Salvador after he was found naked, bound and drunk in the garden of his official residence - with sado-masochistic sex toys nearby, officials said yesterday. The Foreign Ministry said U.S.-born Tsuriel Rafael - who couldn't identify himself to police until a red bondage ball was removed from his mouth - would be replaced as soon as possible.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: European matters
on: March 13, 2007, 12:31:58 PM
Second post of the day:
EU: A Plan for Energy Efficiency -- and Independence
The EU leadership has agreed to a draft energy plan that aims to kill the whole proverbial flock of birds with one stone. In theory, the policy will increase the use of renewable energy, decrease carbon emissions, diversify the use of biofuels and help Europe reduce its reliance on Russia by 2020. It is creative and ambitious -- and only the first step in Europe's new energy policy.
Some detail-fudging by German President Angela Merkel, the current holder of the EU presidency and host of the ongoing EU heads-of-government summit, appears to have successfully paved the way to an EU-wide agreement on a bold new energy policy.
Under the terms of the deal, the European Union as a whole aims to reduce its carbon emissions by 20 percent, increase its use of renewable fuels to 20 percent of its total energy demand, use biofuels for 10 percent of transport demand, and most critically, reduce total EU energy demand by 20 percent. All of this is scheduled to take effect by 2020, and all is in addition to any progress that implementing Kyoto reductions has already achieved.
The reductions sound extremely sharp because they are, but Merkel has put forward a rather flexible method of attaining the goals. The binding targets will be achieved on an EU-wide basis rather than on a country-by-country basis, allowing richer states with more experience in renewable energy -- Denmark for example -- to shoulder more of the burden.
The biggest hang-up in the negotiations has been a desire by a few states -- led by France and Finland -- to classify nuclear power as an alternative fuel, a move staunchly opposed by non-nuclear states Ireland and Austria. Merkel's compromise was to blur in a new draft text between "alternative" and "low-emissions" technologies and insert fresh text that clearly makes a country's energy mix its own concern and not Brussels'. That move appears to have mitigated objections from both sides and paved the way to a formal agreement.
Other provisions would then be easily agreed upon, including one on pledging EU states to assist each other in maintaining security of supply, unity on negotiating with external energy suppliers and the development of an infrastructure to cushion Europe in the case of any supply shocks.
This document does far more than simply give Europe a green energy policy. The reduction of carbon emissions, the supply security, the increased alternative energy use and the overall reduction in energy demand clauses all serve a double purpose: political insurance. The Europeans, in particular the former Warsaw Pact states, fear the Russians are beginning to use energy exports to Europe as lever to gain influence over European policy. In essence, Russia is using its energy riches as a political tool. This essentially has led the Europeans to use the publicly attractive rhetoric of going green to achieve energy security.
Reducing total energy demand by a fifth -- and then mandating that at least a fifth of the remainder has to be from locally generated renewable sources as well as diversifying into low-carbon energy -- will take a huge bite out of European dependence on any particular petroleum supplier. Additionally, a network of infrastructure that can shuttle energy supplies back and forth across the union in case of disruption will be able to cope with disruptions resulting not just from acts of God, but also from acts of Moscow. Had such a system been in place in January 2006 or January 2007, Europe would not have felt the pinch of the Russian-Ukrainian natural gas tussle or the Russian-Belarusian oil spat.
The union can now get down to the nitty-gritty of two additional steps. The first is to diversify the sources of Europe's remaining petroleum imports. Austrian energy firm OMV is leading the charge at building a natural gas line from the Middle East, and France's Total is working to construct fresh facilities to import liquefied natural gas. This process will be costly and time-consuming, but for states like Poland that are a bit touchy about all things Russian, it will be a task eagerly attacked.
The second task will be the politically tricky one. Remember that the agreement will not spread the changes evenly across the union. It is up to the European Commission to propose -- by September -- specifically how to divide up the burden. Massaging away that little spoiler will require something a lot more creative than Merkel's technical blurring.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Man bites dog: Wash. Post editorial
on: March 13, 2007, 11:44:40 AM
"The only constituency House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ignored in her plan for amending President Bush's supplemental war funding bill are the people of the country that U.S. troops are fighting to stabilize. The Democratic proposal doesn't attempt to answer the question of why August 2008 is the right moment for the Iraqi government to lose all support from U.S. combat units... But aggressive oversight is quite different from mandating military steps according to an inflexible timetable conforming to the need to capture votes in Congress or at the 2008 polls. Ms. Pelosi's strategy leads not toward a responsible withdrawal from Iraq but to a constitutional power struggle with Mr. Bush, who has already said he will veto the legislation. Such a struggle would serve the interests of neither the Democrats nor the country" -- Washington Post editorial.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Kansas seeks market oriented approach
on: March 13, 2007, 11:41:31 AM
From today's Opinion Journal of the WSJ:
Kansas: Heal Thyself
TOPEKA, Kan. -- The eyes of the nation may soon turn to Kansas as conservatives in the state legislature try to cobble together a free-market health care bill to replace Medicaid. Kansas would be the first state in the nation to offer a market-based alternative to California's Arnold-Care and Massachusetts' Romney-Care. "We want the free market, not command-and-control government, to be the driver of this system," says state Rep. Jeff Colyer, the only practicing physician in the Kansas House.
Dr. Colyer says the Kansas health care system is "a wobbly legged stool" consisting of "a shrinking commercial market, government managed care that has grown to 30% [Medicaid], and the uninsured, 11% of the market."
The plan that Kansas will soon take up has several facets. First, it allows families to use pre-tax dollars to purchase health care. This saves families 15% right off the bat. Second, the plan reforms Medicaid by essentially providing a voucher to Medicaid patients and allowing them to purchase private insurance. "This expands, rather than contracts the private insurance market," Dr. Colyer says.
Third, the state would provide bridge insurance to Kansans who are temporarily uninsured, mainly those between jobs. For those who still don't have health insurance, the state would set up health clinics to provide basic care.
The group Kansas Americans for Prosperity believes the Colyer-backed plan could be a model for other states and held a conference this week in Topeka to promote it. Unfortunately, state legislators I talked to here believe that Governor Kathleen Sebelius favors a more conventional approach, with employer mandates and expansions of the antiquated Medicaid system. One proposal is to make Medicaid available to families with incomes three times the poverty rate, which is higher than the average income in the state. This would create a de facto government run health care system in Kansas.
It's pretty clear that the federal government isn't going to solve the health care crisis -- particularly the Medicaid cost explosion. States will have to take the lead and 11 have already received waivers from the feds to come up with their own cost-containment strategies. Kansas now has a plan to do just that but with tax cuts and markets, not what Dr. Colyer calls "the freakonomics of traditional Medicaid."
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: March 13, 2007, 11:36:40 AM
The Force Science News is provided by The Force Science Research Center, a
non-profit institution based at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Subscriptions are free and sent via e-mail. To register for your free,
direct-delivery subscription, please visit www.forcesciencenews.com
click on the registration button. For reprint clearance, please e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
In this issue:
I. IS EXCITED DELIRIUM A FAKE CONDITION INVENTED TO WHITEWASH ABUSIVE FORCE?
A CRITICAL LOOK AT NPR'S RECENT REPORTS
II. WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE--IN PERSON--ABOUT HOW FSRC'S UNIQUE RESEARCH CAN
HELP YOU SURVIVE ON THE STREET & IN COURT
III. KICKIN' ASS! DR. BILL LEWINSKI ACHIEVES A COVETED 5TH DEGREE BLACK BELT
I. IS EXCITED DELIRIUM A FAKE CONDITION INVENTED TO WHITEWASH ABUSIVE FORCE?
A CRITICAL LOOK AT NPR'S RECENT REPORTS
Two perspectives on law enforcement's role in the violent human meltdown
known as excited delirium faced off on National Public Radio recently, in
broadcasts that have themselves become controversial.
On one side in the 2-program report were 2 police critics, a staff lawyer
with the ACLU and the director of a California "watchdog" group called
PoliceWatch. The lawyer denied that ED is a recognized condition and charged
that police are using the term "as a means of whitewashing" excessive force
and "inappropriate use of control techniques" during arrests. The watchdog
rep claimed that law enforcers want to blame "victims" who are
inappropriately "dying at the hands of officers." She said police have a
responsibility to "make sure" that anyone they take into custody "stays
alive, whatever the condition of the person's brain or body temperature or
their agitated state."
Voices on the other side included a neurology professor from the University
of Miami, the former chief medical examiner for San Antonio, and a senior
corporal from Dallas PD with first-hand experience in trying to control
raging ED subjects. The professor said the condition is "definitely
real...the result of a neurochemical imbalance in the brain." The ME said,
"[T]hese people are dying of an overdose of adrenaline" and insisted that
it's wrong to blame the police. And the cop said, "There's no one thing that
simply describes this. One minute a person is fighting and screaming, the
next minute he's dead."
By the time NPR finished its total of less than 13 minutes of air time on
the subject, emails were flying among followers of the ED issue. One
authority, Chris Lawrence, a Canadian police college instructor, a technical
advisor to the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State
University-Mankato, and a columnist for PoliceOne.com, perhaps sums up the
sentiment of many.
NPR's failure to spotlight this thorny topic in depth for its 26 million
listeners, he believes, served only to "stir the pot" of controversy without
illuminating its many perplexities. "No one in the media presents an
in-depth, knowledgeable discussion of this subject even for an hour,"
Lawrence told Force Science News. "A series of sound bites can't do it
justice. It's too complicated. People are left with the impression that no
one knows what's going on, and that's not to anyone's benefit."
If you missed the NPR programs, which aired on more than 800 stations on
2/26 and 2/27, you can read transcripts and listen to the broadcasts atwww.npr.org
. Just conduct an in-site search for "excited delirium" and
you'll get to the appropriate links.
Meanwhile, FSN asked Lawrence, who was not involved in NPR's programming, to
address and expand on some of the more provocative highlights of what was
ASSERTION: In questioning ED as a legitimate phenomenon, rather than
something the police are just making up, the ACLU attorney, Eric Balaban,
said, "I know of no reputable medical organization-certainly not the
American Medical Association or the American Psychiatric Association-that
recognizes excited delirium as a medical or mental-health condition."
NPR's reporter Laura Sullivan added: "He's right. Excited delirium is not
recognized by professional medical associations, and you won't find it
listed in the chief psychiatric reference book. The International
Association of Chiefs of Police hasn't accepted it either, saying not enough
information is known."
RESPONSE: Descriptions of the symptoms that characterize ED have appeared in
medical literature under various names, including Bell's Mania and fatal
catatonia, for more than a century, Lawrence says. "Excited delirium" is
fairly recent terminology, "but it is not a problem that is new."
The literature search that was made when the Psychiatric Assn. compiled its
latest edition of the 980-page Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (DSM-IV TR, "the chief psychiatric reference book" cited on NPR)
was cut off in 1996, Lawrence says--more than a decade ago.
"If you do an online search today at the website PubMed, provided by the
National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, you'll
find at least 20 articles on ED from professional medical journals," the
vast majority of which were published after the DSM cut-off.
"For the last 10 years, the National Association of Medical Examiners has
said ED is real and has recognized it as a problem. They've published a
position paper that repeatedly references it in the context of cocaine abuse
and, in some cases, the failure of mental patients to take prescribed
psychotropic drugs. This is not something we're making up. Saying it doesn't
exist doesn't contribute to solutions for dealing with it."
[For more details of ED in medical literature, see archives of Lawrence's
columns at www.policeone.com
. The NAME position paper was authored by 4 MDs
and a PhD and appeared in The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and
Pathology, Mar. 2004.]
ASSERTION: By blaming ED, authorities in effect "want the victim to be
looked at as the cause of his or her own death," PoliceWatch director Dawn
Edwards charged on NPR. "The bottom line is that these people are dying at
the hands of, or in the custody of, police officers." In her view, it's a
police responsibility to assure that anyone taken into custody "stays alive."
RESPONSE: During one of the broadcasts, the former ME, Dr. Vincent Di Maio,
who has written a textbook on ED, challenged Edwards' position. Civil
liberties groups are wrong in blaming officers for ED deaths, he said. "They
buy into this mode that if somebody dies, somebody's got to be responsible.
And of course it can't be the person who's high on coke and meth," even
though drug abuse appears to be closely associated with many ED episodes.
Lawrence points out that deaths ascribed to ED have occurred even in
hospitals with the most sophisticated medical intervention immediately at
hand. To expect guaranteed life preservation from officers attempting to
deal with an out-of-control offender on the street is wholly unrealistic.
Professionals knowledgeable about ED agree that it needs to be viewed
ultimately as a medical problem, he says. "But this condition is a very
complicated event. It involves multiple body mechanisms. The breakdown of
any one of these by itself could result in death. Even the efforts of a
highly trained physician may not prevent the subject from dying.
"By the time police are called, the ED subject may be deep into mental and
physical distress, possibly at an irreversible intensity. We're dispatching
a first responder who generally has a first aid certificate. He may never
have seen ED before or even recognize what it is. And we're supposed to say,
'Now you handle this very complicated event, with your first-aid skills, and
by the way, we're going to hold you solely responsible if he dies'? How
realistic is that?"
By pointing out certain factors, such as drug usage and mental illness, that
seem commonly associated with ED episodes, Lawrence says, "we're not trying
to blame the 'victim.' We are trying to better understand the person
experiencing excited delirium and to identify things about him that may
assist everyone in helping him to survive."
ASSERTION: NPR's Sullivan stated during the second program that the debate
about ED "becomes more complicated" because TASERs are often involved when
officers try to control physically violent subjects who end up dying. "Civil
liberties groups fear that the diagnosis is being used" not only to "cover
up police abuse" but also to "protect companies like Taser International
from lawsuits," she said. "Taser may have financial reasons to support-and
even encourage-the use of the excited delirium diagnosis."
RESPONSE: In the view of Lawrence, a DT instructor, the deployment of TASERs
is not so diabolical. "Electronic control devices provide a modern, prompt,
humane method of restraint" in many ED situations, he says. "Physical force
and technology that depend on pain compliance tend not to work because these
subjects don't seem to feel pain. Mechanical leverage techniques that lock
up the joints can be difficult to apply because ED people are very, very
strong and they won't let you do it.
"With an ECD, you can cause them to lose control of the muscles that
maintain balance, and they fall down. This can provide a very brief window
of opportunity to quickly get them handcuffed and to secure their legs with
a strap device to minimize kicking and effectively establish some control.
You end up with fewer injuries both to the suspect and to the officers
The TASER is just the latest scapegoat blamed for causing ED deaths,
Lawrence says. He cites the recent testimony of Dr. Christine Hall, a
Canadian ER physician and ED researcher, at a coroner's inquest into the
death of a psychiatric patient who was TASERed while in a highly agitated
Hall testified that when people in this state died while being restrained by
the police in the 1970s, the blame was often placed on baton use. In the
1980s, it was multiple-officer restraint and "positional asphyxia." In the
1990s, it was pepper spray. Now it's the TASER.
"The blame shifts as tactics and technology change and police critics
continue to look for something other than the condition itself as the cause
of death," Lawrence says.
Whatever the mode, the goal of police intervention, he stresses, is to
control dangerous behavior, to get ED subjects "assessed by someone with
more medical training than a police officer has, and to get him transported
to a place of sophisticated medical treatment. You are not going to get any
medical assistance until control has been established. There's no way around
"Even if you could drive a doctor to the scene and say, 'You manage this,'
nothing could be done until the subject is stabilized, and stabilization
requires restraint. At some point someone has to take control of the
individual, unless he somehow gets back to reality on his own and says, 'I'm
going to let you help me,' and that's not a very likely development with
people who are dying in excited delirium."
ASSERTION: The ACLU's Balaban expressed concern that the messages police
receive about ED may actually exacerbate confrontations. If officers are
being told in training that ED subjects "have superhuman strength," he
speculated, officers may treat them "as if they are somehow not human,"
leading "officers to escalate situations."
RESPONSE: The fact is, Lawrence says, that the display of extremely abnormal
strength is one of the characteristics that makes a subject who's
experiencing ED so difficult to control.
Indeed, Sr. Cpl. Herb Cotner of Dallas PD, interviewed by NPR, told of ED
manifesting itself by "someone doing pushups with two 150-pound officers on
their back." He described one ED experience in which the subject smashed
through a plate-glass window, fell from a fence, broke his leg several
times--and still walked 2 blocks to fight with police. Another confrontation
involved a handicapped individual who "dragged us across a parking lot."
Lawrence observes: "That may not be the way the ACLU would like it to be,
but the truth is the truth. Officers must be trained for reality."
Next month [4/07] during a 2-day Force Science seminar in London, England,
Lawrence will present a briefing on ED for European police officials and
attorney Bill Everett, also an FSRC Board Member, will speak on managing the
media during high-profile, controversial incidents, such as a death by ED.
The interest abroad in this topic, "indicates that this is a problem that is
international in scope," says Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of FSRC.
For more information on this program and instructions on how to register for
it, go to: http://www.forcescience.org/training/seminars/
[NOTE: Force Science News has transmitted 9 articles dealing with excited
delirium since this newsletter was founded in 2004. To review them for a
broader understanding of the subject, go to:http://www.forcesciencenews.com/home/search.html
and enter "excited
delirium" in our archival search engine.]
Our thanks to Wayne Schmidt, executive director of Americans for Effective
Law Enforcement, for tipping us about the NPR series.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Georgia, NATO
on: March 13, 2007, 10:37:23 AM
The Russians probably are not pleased , , ,
GEORGIA: The Georgian Parliament unanimously passed a declaration of the nation's desire to join NATO. During the vote, Parliament Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze said Georgia cannot be a neutral state. Georgian party leaders signed a declaration of national accord regarding NATO accession March 12.
And, as a housekeeping matter, I bring this post from another thread of the same name here so as to be able to delete that other thread:
Geopolitical Diary: The Other Side of EU Enlargement
The Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, voted Thursday on the EU accession treaty of Bulgaria and Romania, ratifying their members by a 529-12-10 vote. Though a few remaining procedures still must be completed, such as formal approval by the Danish parliament and the European Commission, German parliamentary approval was the last serious obstacle standing between the two states and full EU membership. Everything else is detail.
The inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in the European club will transform the fundamental character of the union -- more so than the addition of any other members to date -- and help to usher in its downfall as a political grouping.
EU accession, slated for Jan. 1, 2007, will be a highlight in the histories of both countries. Neither has lengthy institutional legacies: The two states emerged as powers only with the Ottoman defeats at the tail end of the 19th century, and then spent the bulk of the next 100 years enmeshed in wars or under Soviet domination. After the Cold War, they were the poorest members of the Warsaw Pact -- a distinction that will not change when they become Members No. 26 and 27 in the much more wealthy European Union. It would be a deliberate exercise in understatement to say that full access to EU markets, not to mention the inflow of structural development funds and agricultural subsidies, will radically transform them.
As for the European Union itself ?
First, the good news. With Bulgaria and Romania admitted, the Balkans will be permanently locked into Western structures -- no small feat, considering the 15 years of ethnic cleansing, war and chaos that wracked much of the region (and that Sofia and Bucharest wisely, and competently, avoided). With this accomplished, the union can digest the rest of that region at its leisure.
Also, despite the poverty of the incoming members, this round of expansion will not carry the sticker shock that the last one did. Bulgaria and Romania have less than 30 million people; the 2004 expansion took in 10 states with a total of nearly 90 million. There will be no collective gasp at the cost among the existing members -- they see this bill coming, and it is not nearly as large as the last one.
Finally, both Bulgaria and Romania border on the Black Sea, which previously was beyond the European Union's purview. Now European economic interests can do something they dearly love: They can seek out new markets -- Ukraine and the Caucasus come to mind -- for their goods.
But there also is a very dark side to this enlargement for the European Union as an institution. It is not that rule of law or judicial effectiveness are subpar in Bulgaria or Romania; it has nothing to do with the lack of integration for their large Roma populations; it is not connected to the states' reputations as smuggling havens. Nor does it involve declining relations with the Russians or the inevitability of the Turks wondering why they, too, cannot be admitted. Rather, it is the simple issue of voting weight.
Until recently, France and Germany were the center of gravity for the European Union -- imposing their collective will on the rest of the union and driving it forward from institutional growth spurt to growth spurt. With only six states in the union this was easy. With 15, it grew difficult, and at 25, it became downright thorny.
But in a union of 27, the fundamental math changes.
The European Union's decision-making mechanism is a system of qualified majority voting: Each state has a number of votes proportionate to its population. Or, to be more precise, a number that is roughly proportionate. As a sop to Europe's many small states, the larger states are given relatively fewer votes, while the smaller states have relatively more. In a union of 25, the French-German axis does not always have its way, but by voting together, Paris and Berlin carry sufficient weight to block any measures they truly oppose. But when relatively pro-U.S. and pro-free market Bulgaria and Romania are added to the mix, that calculus no longer holds. The broadly pro-U.S. and pro-free market states now will enjoy an absolute majority, and the other EU states combined will have the voting power to override a Franco-German veto.
That may sound rather innocuous, but it should always be remembered that France designed the European Union in order to further French political ambitions, and that Germany has always been the biggest economy in the mix and the anchor for Europe's common currency. Paris and Berlin are used to dominating policy of all types, not having it forced on them.
Small EU states have always had to suck it up and convince themselves that the benefits of union membership outweigh the drawbacks. Paris has never had to do that math. And if Paris has never had much of a problem biting its thumb at London or Washington, how will it react once Brussels makes a decision running counter to French interests -- and is able to make it stick?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 13, 2007, 08:57:43 AM
Today's NY Times:
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 12 — The departing American ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald E. Neumann, said Monday that he did not see the Taliban as the big threat it appeared to represent a year or two ago, and that he was leaving feeling “reasonably optimistic” about the state of the insurgency and the country’s progress.
“We spent a lot of last year worrying about this year,” he told a small group of journalists in the refurbished old embassy building, which reopened recently. “We will certainly face hard fighting in the south,” he said, “but I am going away feeling reasonably optimistic.”
More British and American troops had been supplied for the effort, he noted, providing the needed military support for the anti-insurgency effort, especially in the southern part of the country by fighters associated with the former Taliban rulers.
“We will see a hard fight,” Mr. Neumann said, but added, “We have the basics of what it takes.”
The Taliban, who were ousted in late 2001, mounted a strong comeback last year, leading to fierce fighting with American and NATO forces. The Taliban also appear to have joined forces with drug traffickers in Helmand Province in the south.
The NATO troops who took control of southern Afghanistan last year began a large offensive in the area early this month.
Mr. Neumann said he did not believe that time was on the Taliban’s side. “I don’t see where the Taliban are going to increase,” he said.
Comparing the violence to that of Iraq, where he served in 2004 and 2005, he said there were no battleground cities in Afghanistan like Falluja that would require large-scale military operations to secure. In Afghanistan, “We are talking of protecting a town with 50 police,” he said.
“This does not tell me this is a 10-foot-tall movement,” he said. “It’s tough. It’s resilient. It’s dangerous. I just don’t see it as being that strong. It is still a race, but inch by inch the government is getting a little better.”
The ambassador said that the Afghan Army, which initially had been envisioned as a light force reliant on American allies, was being strengthened, with a goal of building it to 70,000 troops, and that it was being supplied with armored vehicles, aircraft and body armor.
The program to develop a police entity was two years behind that of the army, he said, but current plans also call for more support for the police. He said he was confident that Congress would approve the extra money needed for those efforts.
Of Pakistan, which has come under persistent criticism over the past year for its failure to stem cross-border infiltration by insurgents, he said, “We are getting more cooperation, and I think we need more cooperation.”
He said the Pakistani government should impose more control on the tribal areas along the Afghan border. “It will have to be done one piece at a time, and we need to help them bring control in the tribal areas,” he said, adding that he would like to see Pakistan pursue more Taliban leaders believed to be on its side of the border.
Mr. Neumann said people in Afghanistan and abroad should understand that it would take considerable time to see results in the country. It had taken four years to set up a military justice system for the Afghan National Army — from drafting the law to training legal personnel — before the army could hold its first court-martial, he said. Plans to train a civilian judiciary are proceeding, but the effects will not be felt on the ground even in a year’s time, he said.
International commitment remained high, however, and there were no signs of donor fatigue for Afghanistan, he said. Even though nations have been slow to meet their commitments to provide soldiers for the NATO peacekeeping force, none of the countries were talking of pulling out. “Inch by inch we are seeing more commitment,” Mr. Neumann said.
The Afghan government is also slowly moving in the right direction, he said. The new Parliament has been a generally positive addition, and there have been some improvement in the situation with provincial governors, some of whom were warlords who were seen as more powerful than President Hamid Karzai.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: March 13, 2007, 08:50:03 AM
Today's NY Times:
WILLIAM J. BROAD
Published: March 13, 2007
Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore and his three-alarm film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won an Academy Award for best documentary. So do many environmentalists, who praise him as a visionary, and many scientists, who laud him for raising public awareness of climate change.
But part of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.
“I don’t want to pick on Al Gore,” Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. “But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.”
Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made “the most important and salient points” about climate change, if not “some nuances and distinctions” scientists might want. “The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger,” he said, adding, “I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand.”
Although Mr. Gore is not a scientist, he does rely heavily on the authority of science in “An Inconvenient Truth,” which is why scientists are sensitive to its details and claims.
Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.
Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for “getting the message out,” Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were “overselling our certainty about knowing the future.”
Typically, the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe’s recent warming. The question is whether Mr. Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence.
“He’s a very polarizing figure in the science community,” said Roger A. Pielke Jr., an environmental scientist who is a colleague of Dr. Vranes at the University of Colorado center. “Very quickly, these discussions turn from the issue to the person, and become a referendum on Mr. Gore.”
“An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, was released last May and took in more than $46 million, making it one of the top-grossing documentaries ever. The companion book by Mr. Gore quickly became a best seller, reaching No. 1 on the New York Times list.
Mr. Gore depicted a future in which temperatures soar, ice sheets melt, seas rise, hurricanes batter the coasts and people die en masse. “Unless we act boldly,” he wrote, “our world will undergo a string of terrible catastrophes.”
He clearly has supporters among leading scientists, who commend his popularizations and call his science basically sound. In December, he spoke in San Francisco to the American Geophysical Union and got a reception fit for a rock star from thousands of attendees.
“He has credibility in this community,” said Tim Killeen, the group’s president and director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a top group studying climate change. “There’s no question he’s read a lot and is able to respond in a very effective way.”
Some backers concede minor inaccuracies but see them as reasonable for a politician. James E. Hansen, an environmental scientist, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top adviser to Mr. Gore, said, “Al does an exceptionally good job of seeing the forest for the trees,” adding that Mr. Gore often did so “better than scientists.”
Still, Dr. Hansen said, the former vice president’s work may hold “imperfections” and “technical flaws.” He pointed to hurricanes, an icon for Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.
Page 2 of 2)
“We need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is,” Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Gore. “On the other hand,” Dr. Hansen said, “he has the bottom line right: most storms, at least those driven by the latent heat of vaporization, will tend to be stronger, or have the potential to be stronger, in a warmer climate.”
In his e-mail message, Mr. Gore defended his work as fundamentally accurate. “Of course,” he said, “there will always be questions around the edges of the science, and we have to rely upon the scientific community to continue to ask and to challenge and to answer those questions.”
He said “not every single adviser” agreed with him on every point, “but we do agree on the fundamentals” — that warming is real and caused by humans.
Mr. Gore added that he perceived no general backlash among scientists against his work. “I have received a great deal of positive feedback,” he said. “I have also received comments about items that should be changed, and I have updated the book and slideshow to reflect these comments.” He gave no specifics on which points he had revised.
He said that after 30 years of trying to communicate the dangers of global warming, “I think that I’m finally getting a little better at it.”
While reviewers tended to praise the book and movie, vocal skeptics of global warming protested almost immediately. Richard S. Lindzen, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, who has long expressed skepticism about dire climate predictions, accused Mr. Gore in The Wall Street Journal of “shrill alarmism.”
Some of Mr. Gore’s centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe’s warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore’s message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.
It estimated that the world’s seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches — down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.
Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming, said in a syndicated article that the panel, unlike Mr. Gore, had refrained from scaremongering. “Climate change is a real and serious problem” that calls for careful analysis and sound policy, Dr. Lomborg said. “The cacophony of screaming,” he added, “does not help.”
So too, a report last June by the National Academies seemed to contradict Mr. Gore’s portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium. Instead, the report said, current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600, the tail end of a temperature rise known as the medieval warm period.
Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, said on a blog that Mr. Gore’s film did “indeed do a pretty good job of presenting the most dire scenarios.” But the June report, he added, shows “that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.”
Other critics have zeroed in on Mr. Gore’s claim that the energy industry ran a “disinformation campaign” that produced false discord on global warming. The truth, he said, was that virtually all unbiased scientists agreed that humans were the main culprits. But Benny J. Peiser, a social anthropologist in Britain who runs the Cambridge-Conference Network, or CCNet, an Internet newsletter on climate change and natural disasters, challenged the claim of scientific consensus with examples of pointed disagreement.
“Hardly a week goes by,” Dr. Peiser said, “without a new research paper that questions part or even some basics of climate change theory,” including some reports that offer alternatives to human activity for global warming.
Geologists have documented age upon age of climate swings, and some charge Mr. Gore with ignoring such rhythms.
“Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet,” Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. “Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.”
In October, Dr. Easterbrook made similar points at the geological society meeting in Philadelphia. He hotly disputed Mr. Gore’s claim that “our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this” threatened change.
Nonsense, Dr. Easterbrook told the crowded session. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts, he said, were up to “20 times greater than the warming in the past century.”
Getting personal, he mocked Mr. Gore’s assertion that scientists agreed on global warming except those industry had corrupted. “I’ve never been paid a nickel by an oil company,” Dr. Easterbrook told the group. “And I’m not a Republican.”
Biologists, too, have gotten into the act. In January, Paul Reiter, an active skeptic of global warming’s effects and director of the insects and infectious diseases unit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, faulted Mr. Gore for his portrayal of global warming as spreading malaria.
“For 12 years, my colleagues and I have protested against the unsubstantiated claims,” Dr. Reiter wrote in The International Herald Tribune. “We have done the studies and challenged the alarmists, but they continue to ignore the facts.”
Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton who advised Mr. Gore on the book and movie, said that reasonable scientists disagreed on the malaria issue and other points that the critics had raised. In general, he said, Mr. Gore had distinguished himself for integrity.
“On balance, he did quite well — a credible and entertaining job on a difficult subject,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. “For that, he deserves a lot of credit. If you rake him over the coals, you’re going to find people who disagree. But in terms of the big picture, he got it right.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / What's so Funny?
on: March 13, 2007, 08:46:12 AM
Today's NY Times:
So there are these two muffins baking in an oven. One of them yells, “Wow, it’s hot in here!”
And the other muffin replies: “Holy cow! A talking muffin!”
Did that alleged joke make you laugh? I would guess (and hope) not. But under different circumstances, you would be chuckling softly, maybe giggling, possibly guffawing. I know that’s hard to believe, but trust me. The results are just in on a laboratory test of the muffin joke.
Laughter, a topic that stymied philosophers for 2,000 years, is finally yielding to science. Researchers have scanned brains and tickled babies, chimpanzees and rats. They’ve traced the evolution of laughter back to what looks like the primal joke — or, to be precise, the first stand-up routine to kill with an audience of primates.
It wasn’t any funnier than the muffin joke, but that’s not surprising, at least not to the researchers. They’ve discovered something that eluded Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Freud and the many theorists who have tried to explain laughter based on the mistaken premise that they’re explaining humor.
Occasionally we’re surprised into laughing at something funny, but most laughter has little to do with humor. It’s an instinctual survival tool for social animals, not an intellectual response to wit. It’s not about getting the joke. It’s about getting along.
When Robert R. Provine tried applying his training in neuroscience to laughter 20 years ago, he naïvely began by dragging people into his laboratory at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to watch episodes of “Saturday Night Live” and a George Carlin routine. They didn’t laugh much. It was what a stand-up comic would call a bad room.
So he went out into natural habitats — city sidewalks, suburban malls — and carefully observed thousands of “laugh episodes.” He found that 80 percent to 90 percent of them came after straight lines like “I know” or “I’ll see you guys later.” The witticisms that induced laughter rarely rose above the level of “You smell like you had a good workout.”
“Most prelaugh dialogue,” Professor Provine concluded in “Laughter,” his 2000 book, “is like that of an interminable television situation comedy scripted by an extremely ungifted writer.”
He found that most speakers, particularly women, did more laughing than their listeners, using the laughs as punctuation for their sentences. It’s a largely involuntary process. People can consciously suppress laughs, but few can make themselves laugh convincingly.
“Laughter is an honest social signal because it’s hard to fake,” Professor Provine says. “We’re dealing with something powerful, ancient and crude. It’s a kind of behavioral fossil showing the roots that all human beings, maybe all mammals, have in common.”
The human ha-ha evolved from the rhythmic sound — pant-pant — made by primates like chimpanzees when they tickle and chase one other while playing. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist and psychologist at Washington State University, discovered that rats emit an ultrasonic chirp (inaudible to humans without special equipment) when they’re tickled, and they like the sensation so much they keep coming back for more tickling.
He and Professor Provine figure that the first primate joke — that is, the first action to produce a laugh without physical contact — was the feigned tickle, the same kind of coo-chi-coo move parents make when they thrust their wiggling fingers at a baby. Professor Panksepp thinks the brain has ancient wiring to produce laughter so that young animals learn to play with one another. The laughter stimulates euphoria circuits in the brain and also reassures the other animals that they’re playing, not fighting.
“Primal laughter evolved as a signaling device to highlight readiness for friendly interaction,” Professor Panksepp says. “Sophisticated social animals such as mammals need an emotionally positive mechanism to help create social brains and to weave organisms effectively into the social fabric.”
Humans are laughing by the age of four months and then progress from tickling to the Three Stooges to more sophisticated triggers for laughter (or, in some inexplicable cases, to Jim Carrey movies). Laughter can be used cruelly to reinforce a group’s solidarity and pride by mocking deviants and insulting outsiders, but mainly it’s a subtle social lubricant. It’s a way to make friends and also make clear who belongs where in the status hierarchy.
Page 2 of 2)
Which brings us back to the muffin joke. It was inflicted by social psychologists at Florida State University on undergraduate women last year, during interviews for what was ostensibly a study of their spending habits. Some of the women were told the interviewer would be awarding a substantial cash prize to a few of the participants, like a boss deciding which underling deserved a bonus.
The women put in the underling position were a lot more likely to laugh at the muffin joke (and others almost as lame) than were women in the control group. But it wasn’t just because these underlings were trying to manipulate the boss, as was demonstrated in a follow-up experiment.
This time each of the women watched the muffin joke being told on videotape by a person who was ostensibly going to be working with her on a task. There was supposed to be a cash reward afterward to be allocated by a designated boss. In some cases the woman watching was designated the boss; in other cases she was the underling or a co-worker of the person on the videotape.
When the woman watching was the boss, she didn’t laugh much at the muffin joke. But when she was the underling or a co-worker, she laughed much more, even though the joke-teller wasn’t in the room to see her. When you’re low in the status hierarchy, you need all the allies you can find, so apparently you’re primed to chuckle at anything even if it doesn’t do you any immediate good.
“Laughter seems to be an automatic response to your situation rather than a conscious strategy,” says Tyler F. Stillman, who did the experiments along with Roy Baumeister and Nathan DeWall. “When I tell the muffin joke to my undergraduate classes, they laugh out loud.”
Mr. Stillman says he got so used to the laughs that he wasn’t quite prepared for the response at a conference in January, although he realizes he should have expected it.
“It was a small conference attended by some of the most senior researchers in the field,” he recalls. “When they heard me, a lowly graduate student, tell the muffin joke, there was a really uncomfortable silence. You could hear crickets.”