Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Virginia Bill of Rights 1776
on: November 27, 2009, 08:21:55 AM
"[R]eligion, or the duty which we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and this is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other." --Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16, 1776
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude
on: November 26, 2009, 10:26:50 AM
And here's one more-- this one has been running in the WSJ for 48 years now.
The Desolate Wilderness
A chronicle of the Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton
Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:
So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.
When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.
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.The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other's heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.
Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.
Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.
If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.
These editorials have appeared annually since 1961.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / NYT
on: November 26, 2009, 10:20:38 AM
By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: November 25, 2009
Andre Waters, a former N.F.L. defensive back, put a pistol in his mouth, pulled the trigger and — however unknowingly — sounded an alarm on the seriousness of football brain injuries.
It was November 2006. A neuropathologist soon discovered extensive damage in Waters’s brain tissue. For the next three years, as similar cases came to light and the hideous effects of football brain trauma were examined in newspaper articles, television features and one heated Congressional hearing, the N.F.L. and its committee on concussions vehemently fought suggestions that their approach to the injury was at all improper.
The debate did not end on Tuesday, when the league announced several measures that most onlookers called long overdue. The embattled co-chairmen of the league committee resigned — “graciously,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a leaguewide memo, suggesting that they would have been fired otherwise. And the N.F.L. affirmed its plan to install independent experts to bring an uncompromised approach to handling players with concussions.
But the affair did reach a moment of reflection. Even the most hardened skeptics who had fought the league’s approach for years sensed that Tuesday was a moment for détente. Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard football player and the primary advocate for reform in the treatment of sports concussions, joined others involved with the issue in calling Tuesday’s events the most significant since Waters killed himself.
“It means that possibly the most public voice on this issue, the N.F.L., has decided to stop blocking progress and maybe become part of the solution,” Nowinski said.
“Not just the co-chairs resigning, but the message aimed at children, parents and coaches — saying that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed now — will go a long way to protecting kids and players in the future,” he said. “I think it refocuses what’s important, which is developing ways to prevent brain damage in current and future athletes, and treating people who have already been touched by the problem.”
Tempering some optimism was how the N.F.L. announcement — which included the consideration of changes to practice and game rules and the plan for a televised public-service announcement on concussions to make its debut next month — employed much of the same obfuscatory language as dozens of past league statements on the issue.
The release quoted Goodell as saying that the moves would “enhance the substantial progress we have made in recent years” and that “our goal remains to make our game as safe as possible, protect the health and safety of our players, and set the best possible example for players at all levels and in all sports.” The league spokesman Joe Browne wrote on Twitter, “Goodell again shows he’s serious re: concussions.”
This continued a pattern of the league requesting credit for improving conditions without accepting its role in preserving the conditions that required improvement. For example, when the N.F.L. decided in 2007 that players who were knocked unconscious during games could no longer return the same day, the league did not address how published research by its own committee doctors had declared the practice safe. And on the day that Goodell held a leaguewide concussion summit in June 2007 to show how serious the league was on the issue, he fought the suggestion that a player found with brain damage similar to Waters’s had developed it through football.
Goodell insisted that the player “may have had a concussion swimming,” adding, “A concussion happens in a variety of different activities.”
Industries with $8 billion in revenue generally do not court lawsuits, so few onlookers expected the N.F.L. to embrace the suggestion that its past or current practices were subpar. (For example, a player who was cleared to play after being knocked unconscious could attempt to prove he was knowingly mistreated.) But the league took a serious public-relations hit in the meantime, according to Marina Ein, a crisis management specialist based in Washington.
“They were dragged kicking and screaming, when we’re talking about people dying young and losing their cognitive lives,” Ein said. “The resistance to the problem and the cover-up always leads to tragedy and a crisis that ought never to happen. How many players have been submitted to potentially life-altering injuries in the last three years, since the issue was really raised prominently?”
Incongruously, a study that the league commissioned — but immediately discredited — led directly to Tuesday’s events. A University of Michigan phone survey, obtained by The New York Times in September, indicated that N.F.L. retirees were reporting diagnoses of dementia and other cognitive diseases at rates many times the national average.
The league and its doctors dismissed the findings, but news media coverage prompted the attention of Congress, whose hearing on Oct. 28 led to public comparisons between the N.F.L. and the tobacco industry. It took less than a month for Goodell to act more decisively than ever before.
If the league does follow through with meaningful independent care of player concussions, and does actually enact rule changes rather than merely discuss them, the burden of protecting players will continue to shift to the players. As the league has claimed that “all return-to-play decisions are made by physicians,” all involved know that is false; most players with concussions decide to keep playing without a physician’s even knowing, or even having reason to know.
Coaches and the news media will also share responsibility not to glorify “warriors” who get back on the field quickly, and independent research into what can help stem football’s high rates of dementia and other cognitive decline will need funding.
“We’ve failed as a nation to look at this very serious issue,” said Jim Kovach, a former N.F.L. linebacker who is president of the Buck Institute for Age Research near San Francisco. “It has to be all of us looking at this and saying that these could be our kids or friends getting hurt. It’s not just the N.F.L.”
But on Tuesday, as the N.F.L. shed some of its past and announced better care in the future, it was the N.F.L. giving all sides a chance to start a more cooperative era.
“There’s always the possibility of a fresh start,” said Ein, the crisis management specialist. “That’s the beauty of doing the right thing.”
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude
on: November 26, 2009, 10:05:11 AM
George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Count your blessings
on: November 25, 2009, 02:09:16 PM
Count Your Blessings
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." --Thomas Paine
We call the primary gathering place in our home "the warm room" because at its center hearth is a woodstove. This room is where we gather in the evening after the day's tasks and our family dinner.
This past Sunday night, my family surrounded me in our warm room, each of us doing something that we enjoy. I was reading, my wife was checking e-mail, my older son was bantering with my daughter, and my youngest son was assembling his latest Lego creation.
It was the first day of Thanksgiving week, but giving thanks was not really on my mind. I was content just to relax with my family after a good meal.
Then my cell phone chimed brusquely. I was piqued by the interruption, mostly in anticipation that when that phone rings on a Sunday night, there's usually something seriously wrong somewhere that requires my attention.
To my pleasant surprise, when I answered, a familiar voice, although faint due to the satellite connection, was on the other end. It was an Air Force friend stationed in Bagram, in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, calling to say hello and provide an update on his status.
Needless to say, he is far away from his family, who will be without him for Thanksgiving and probably Christmas. And yes, his call prompted immediate gratitude on my part for the casual and cozy evening that I was enjoying, with my family, in the comfort of our home.
The next morning, I returned from a meeting to my SUV, parked on a city street, and found in the dust between the Navy Jack on the rear window and the "Support Our Troops" magnet on the bumper, someone had scrawled, "World Peace!" I am quite sure that the author was misguidedly implying some contradiction between pride in our military forces and achievement of world peace.
Undoubtedly, the poor soul who soiled his pinkie to leave that message has never taken an oath to support and defend our Constitution, much less undertaken any action to that end at risk of personal injury or death. Thus, what this anonymous peacenik fails to realize is that nobody wants world peace more than our front-line soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines -- the very warriors fighting for that peace.
I am grateful for our uniformed Patriots, who, like my friend in Bagram, are defending liberty in places far away, so that we may live in peace at home, and I am grateful for their families, who bear a great burden with their loved one's absence.
But, as I contemplate our national day of Thanksgiving, beyond gratitude for my immediate blessings, I am greatly concerned about the trials that we, as a people, now face in the wake of this unprecedented assault upon our Constitution. For I am certain that the resulting collectivist government policies, left unchecked, will smother our free market system and our legacy of liberty.
You know the story of our First Thanksgiving, the three-day Pilgrim feast of 1621, after nearly half their company had died during the preceding winter. (I have posted an Account of the First Harvest Feast and Thanksgiving for those of you might like to read it to your families before the Thanksgiving meal.)
What you may not know, however, is that, in an effort to improve production at Plymouth Plantation, a collectivist policy was implemented in 1622 which almost destroyed the remainder of the settlement.
Plymouth Colony's governor, William Bradford, recorded in his history of the Colony that, to forestall another failed crop season, he would allot each family a plot of land, and mandate that "all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means" must be forfeited to a common storehouse in order that "all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock."
In theory, Bradford believed that this would be good for the Colony since each family would receive equal share of produce without regard to their contribution.
Unfortunately, then as now, collectivism works only in theory.
Bradford wrote that his plan failed because it undermined the incentive to produce, noting that it "was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort."
After the abysmal results in 1622, Bradford wrote that the Colony leaders contemplated "how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop."
They then decided to trade their collectivist plan for a free market approach, and in 1623, Bradford wrote, "This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any other means the Governor or any other could use. ... Instead of famine now God gave them plenty and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. ... Any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day."
As a direct consequence, the Colony celebrated a much greater Day of Thanksgiving in 1623.
The conclusion was obvious. Given liberty and incentive to be industrious, their Colony thrived. Indeed, by 1624, production was so abundant that the Colony exported corn back to England.
And for generations since, to the extent that men have been set at perfect liberty to establish free markets, to produce goods and services without having profits seized for redistribution, our nation has thrived.
Yet once again, our governors are contemplating collectivist policies of the sort that failed in 1622 and have failed many times since, giving credence to the aphorism, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
My fellow Patriots, never in the history of our country has there been such an acute, coordinated and vicious assault upon our rights and upon the structures established to protect those rights. From individuals, to state governments, to federal institutions initiated at the dawn of our Constitution, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- is sacred to the leftists currently controlling our nation's capital.
But take heart, for as George Washington wrote in the darkest days of our American Revolution, "We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times."
Of such exertions, Washington wrote, "It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors."
So it is that on Thanksgiving Day of this week, we are called upon to pause and take respite; to acknowledge the divine intervention of our Creator in the affairs of this great nation; to recommit ourselves to obeisance of His will; to express our gratitude and give Him all thanks and praise for the bounty which He has bestowed upon us.
We yet live in the land of the free, the home of the brave, that shining city on a hill, and for it, we humbly implore that He protect us and grant us much favor in our coming struggle to re-establish The Rule of Law over the rule of men.
For that and for each of you, fellow Patriots, I am grateful!
Have a blessed Thanksgiving.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / BBC: Rising Sea Levels
on: November 25, 2009, 09:47:32 AM
Rising sea levels: A tale of two cities
By Michael Hirst in Rotterdam and Kate McGeown in Maputo
When people talk about the impact of rising sea levels, they often think of small island states that risk being submerged if global warming continues unchecked. But it's not only those on low-lying islands who are in danger. Millions of people live by the sea - and are dependent on it for their livelihoods - and many of the world's largest cities are on the coast. By 2050 the number of people living in delta cities is set to increase by as much as 70%, experts suggest, vastly increasing the number of those at risk.
To shed light the impact of rising sea levels, we are taking a close look at two very different cities, Rotterdam and Maputo , and their varying responses to the problem.
Glaciers: If the world's mountain glaciers and icecaps melt, sea levels will rise by an estimated 0.5m
Thermal expansion: The expansion of warming oceans was the main factor contributing to sea level rise, in the 20th Century, and currently accounts for more than half of the observed rise in sea levels
Ice sheets: These vast reserves contain billions of tonnes of frozen water - if the largest of them (the East Antarctic Ice Sheet) melts, the global sea level will rise by an estimated 64m
Much of Rotterdam - Europe's busiest port city - lies several metres below sea level, and this vulnerable position has led it to develop some of the best flood protection in the world.
As the capital of Mozambique - one of the world's poorest countries, and one that is already feeling the effects of climate change - Maputo is struggling to provide cost-effective measures to mitigate the effects of the rising waters.
Authorities in both cities know urgent action is needed to protect their populations, and both are trying to rise to the challenge.
Weaker Gulf Stream
A rise in temperatures around the world due to carbon emissions since the industrial revolution means many icecaps and glaciers are steadily melting.
Rising temperatures have also caused ocean waters to expand - the main cause of sea level rise in the 20th Century.
The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected a likely sea level rise of 28-43cm this century, but it acknowledged that this was probably an underestimate, as not enough was known about how ice behaves.
"The fact that sea levels are rising is a major reason for concern and it's a combination of the global average rise together with the natural variability leading to larger regional rises," said Dr John Church, from Australia's government-funded science and research body, the CSIRO.
The weakening of the Gulf Stream coupled with the gravitational effects of being closer to the North Pole mean waters in the northern hemisphere are experiencing the biggest rise.
Rotterdam is promoting the use of green roofs to collect rain water
Off the Netherlands, for example, sea levels rose by some 20cm in the last 100 years. But the country's national Delta Commission predicts they will increase by up to 1.3m by 2100 and by as much as 4m by 2200.
"There is a problem and we have to find an answer," said Rotterdam's Vice-Mayor Lucas Bolsius.
"We need to invest. If we don't put money into this issue we'll have a problem surviving."
The Dutch drew this conclusion from a massive storm surge in 1953, which caused widespread flooding and killed nearly 2,000 people.
They set about defending populated areas with a massive network of dykes and dams, and experts now estimate the country is protected from all but a one-in-10,000-year event.
The story is very different in Mozambique.
Already buffeted by regular floods and cyclones, the problem of rising sea levels is one the authorities in Maputo could do without.
But Mozambique has been identified as one of the countries likely to be affected most by climate change, and the issue will not go away.
Much of what Mozambique would like to do is deemed too expensive
While scientists cannot give an exact figure of how much the sea has already risen in Mozambique, the effects are already obvious.
"I went to the beach a lot as a child, and I've noticed things are changing," said 34-year-old Jose, who lives in Maputo.
"The water is eating the land - little by little it's eating the land."
Mozambique has compiled an action plan, and has been offered help from the World Bank, UN agencies and a plethora of other aid agencies.
But so far little has been done, and much of what the country would like to do is beyond its budget.
"I think people are still at the stage of 'Oh my God - what are we going to do?'" as environmentalist Antonia Reina puts it.
Mozambique will be going to the Copenhagen summit as part of a united African delegation, to ask for help from richer countries - like the Netherlands.
Africa argues that climate change - including rising sea levels - is a global problem, and demands a global response.
While most would agree with that sentiment, the reality is that every country has its own battles to face - and in this series of articles we examine how our two cities are coping, both at an individual and a municipal level, as the waters rise.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Alejandro Ruiz
on: November 25, 2009, 08:24:00 AM
Not that you would know it from reading the MSM, but as I safely type these words there are those who do for us what this man did so long ago:
Soldier stormed Japanese machine gun bunker
By T. Rees Shapiro
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Alejandro R. Ruiz Sr., 85, an Army infantryman in World War II who received the Medal of Honor for single-handedly storming a Japanese machine gun bunker -- twice -- during the Battle of Okinawa, died Nov. 23 at a hospital in Napa, Calif. He had congestive heart failure.
On April 28, 1945, in the last months of the war, Pfc. Ruiz deployed to Okinawa on a mission with his platoon, seeking remnants of a Japanese battalion hiding in fortified emplacements on steep ridges near the village of Gasukuma.
The soldiers were patrolling in a ravine when they were ambushed from a network of concealed pillboxes. Coming under heavy fire, every soldier except Pfc. Ruiz and his squad leader was dead or injured.
Realizing that his standard-issue M1 Garand -- with an eight round clip -- would be insufficient against the more powerful Japanese machine guns, Pfc. Ruiz picked up a Browning automatic rifle and began his solo assault. He calmly walked 35 yards to the bunker. He climbed on top and was prepared to fire into it, but a ruptured cartridge jammed the Browning, according to the Medal of Honor citation.
A Japanese soldier charged him, and Mr. Ruiz beat him down with the broken gun. Pfc. Ruiz tossed the rifle aside and ran back through the grenade explosions and gunfire to where his platoon was pinned down. He retrieved a second weapon, tested it and grabbed some extra cans of ammo before he dashed back.
All of the Japanese guns were now trained on Pfc. Ruiz as he raced back through a hail of gunfire. He was hit in the leg, but he managed to climb back on top of the pillboxes. He jumped from one bunker to the other, spraying bursts of gunfire into the apertures.
Pfc. Ruiz's Medal of Honor citation says that "in the face of overwhelming odds," he single-handedly killed 12 Japanese soldiers and silenced the machine gun nest, saving his fellow soldiers.
President Harry S. Truman gave him the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor, during a ceremony at the White House in June 1946. He also received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Alejandro Renteria Ruiz was born April 26, 1924, in Loving, N.M., to Mexican immigrants. He spent his career in the Army. He also served in the Korean War and retired as a master sergeant in the mid-1960s. He lived for many years in Visalia, Calif., which named a park in his honor. Most recently, he had been living at the Veterans Home in Yountville, Calif., near Napa.
His marriages to Eliza Martinez and Lilia Flores ended in divorce. Survivors include two children from his first marriage, Celia Ruiz and Alejandro Ruiz Jr., both of Berkeley, Calif.; a sister; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Sgt. Ruiz often recounted the circumstances that led to his Army service. As a teenager working in odd jobs for a cattle farmer in Carlsbad, N.M., he had been tasked to drive a cow to another farm when he became distracted by thoughts of a girlfriend.
He drove, with the cow in tow, straight to Barstow, Tex., 122 miles away, to woo the young woman into marrying him. Sgt. Ruiz was detained, and a judge told him that he would either be sent to jail for kidnapping the cow, or he could enlist in the Army to stay out of trouble. He chose the Army.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / NYT
on: November 25, 2009, 08:09:48 AM
By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: November 24, 2009
In the latest indication that the National Football League will redirect its approach to players’ concussions, the co-chairmen of the league’s committee on brain injuries resigned from the group Tuesday, the league announced.
Dr. Ira Casson and Dr. David Viano, members of the committee since 1994 and co-chairmen since 2007, co-authored most of the group’s published research papers whose conclusions regarding head injuries were met with considerable criticism from medical peers. Casson has been the league’s primary voice discrediting all evidence linking football players with subsequent dementia or cognitive decline, drawing criticism from fellow scientists, players and ultimately Congress.
In a memo to all teams on Tuesday in which he outlined several measures regarding concussions, Commissioner Roger Goodell said that Casson and Viano would “continue to assist the committee,” but offered no details of any future relationship. A league spokesman confirmed that Casson and Viano would no longer be official members of the committee.
“The N.F.L. is currently identifying their replacements and additional members who will bring to the committee independent sources of expertise and experience in the field of head injuries,” Goodell said.
On Sunday, the league confirmed that it is collaborating with the players union to identify independent neurologists to work with team medical staffs to treat players with brain injuries.
This is the second time that the league has replaced leadership of its committee on concussions. In early 2007, the chairman, Dr. Elliot Pellman, resigned after strong criticism of his work and indications that he had exaggerated several aspects of his medical education and professional status in official biographical sketches and a résumé prepared for Congress. He was replaced by Casson and Viano.
Messages left for Casson, a neurologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, and Viano, an adjunct professor of engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit, were not immediately returned.
“This is a step in the right direction,” George Atallah, the players union’s assistant executive director for external affairs, said. “We look forward to working with the league to produce a more detailed and firm plan regarding the protection of players.”
As scientific and anecdotal evidence of football brain injuries’ long-term effects grew in prominence in recent years, Casson dismissed outside studies that identified links to dementia and other cognitive decline, citing only their limitations and never their significance. He contended that the league’s continuing study of retired players, which independent experts said had significant statistical limitations and in which he was conducting all neurological examinations, would deliver the first meaningful data on the issue.
In January, when experts at Boston University found that a sixth deceased N.F.L. veteran had developed extremely rare trauma-induced brain damage before the age of 50, Casson responded, “It’s very hard to know if there’s any significance until things are presented in the appropriate scientific manner.” He added, “They might be significant, they might not be.”
In September, when a league-sponsored telephone survey found that N.F.L. retirees were reporting diagnoses of dementia and other memory-related diseases at several times the rate of the national population, Casson said, “What I take from this report is there’s a need for further studies to see whether or not this finding is going to pan out.”
Reports of Casson’s views ultimately eroded outsiders’ confidence in the league’s approach to brain trauma.
“Dr. Casson already had his conclusions drawn before the study was concluded that there was no link between cognitive decline and concussions,” said Representative Linda Sanchez, Democrat of California, who highlighted Casson’s involvement at the Judiciary Committee hearing. “Whoever replaces him should be more apt to apply information from the other studies that are out there.”
The resignations of Casson and Viano cast doubt on the future of the league’s continuing study of retired players. Because Casson personally conducted the neurological examinations of the roughly 60 players (of ultimately 180) that were to be studied, that data will not have the proper integrity, Sanchez said.
“I would call for the N.F.L. to start from scratch, and to make changes to how they’re conducing the study to conform to other aspects of academic studies,” she said.
Viano, along with Casson, was at one point publicly criticized by his own colleagues. The two changed the conclusion of one of the papers they submitted to the journal Neurosurgery without alerting its other co-authors. In the altered section, Viano and Casson wrote that “it might be safe” for high schools to consider the N.F.L.’s practice of allowing players who sustain concussions to return to the same game.
That practice is known to court dangerous consequences in teenagers.
When informed of the change two years later and hearing how the paper had been said to impede proper care of players at the youth level, two of the co-authors were furious.
Casson and Viano stood by their decision. Casson responded: “This paper was aimed at scientists and physicians. If people who are not scientists or physicians are misunderstanding it, then that is not the responsibility of those of us who wrote it.”
Casson’s statements while representing the N.F.L. ultimately raised eyebrows in Congress. When Sanchez learned in September that Casson was overseeing the N.F.L.’s retired player study — and conducting all patient exams personally — she accused the league of conducting research like the tobacco industry.
Casson replied: “I assume that the Congresswoman was not a scientist and not a physician. She is not an expert.”
Sanchez responded by providing the most theatric moment of the Oct. 28 hearing, playing a videotape of an HBO reporter asking Casson whether football had any long-term effects on the brain. “In N.F.L. players? No,” Casson said flatly. As Sanchez noted that Casson was not present to testify himself, it became an indelible image of the hearing.
Casson appeared on CNN later that night, but has receded from public view since.
Most critics said that their primary concern with the N.F.L.’s handling of concussions and research into them was that it often misled the public about the seriousness of football brain injuries.
More than one million youngsters play high school football every fall, with hundreds seriously injured by concussions — often by either not understanding the risks or playing through pain like their N.F.L. heroes.
In the N.F.L.’s announcement Tuesday, Goodell identified other measures designed to improve player safety regarding brain injuries.
He said the independent doctors that the league and the players union were assembling to evaluate players with concussions would have to clear any player before he returned to a game or practice.
Goodell also said that on Dec. 10 the league would begin showing a public-service announcement on head injuries, a strong recommendation of several members of Congress a month ago.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Lots of Smoke Signals
on: November 25, 2009, 07:53:39 AM
Pravda on the Hudson struggles with articulating His Glibness's strategy. There's so many references to "signaling" in the piece and so much blowing of smoke that for me it all blended into "smoke signals".
WASHINGTON—In declaring Tuesday that he would “finish the job” in Afghanistan, President Obama used a phrase clearly meant to imply that even as he deploys an additional 30,000 or so troops, he has finally figured out how to bring the eight-year-long conflict to an end.
But offering that reassuring if somewhat contradictory signal — that by adding troops he can speed the United States toward an exit — is just the first of a set of tricky messages Mr. Obama will have to deliver as he rolls out his strategy publicly.
Over the next week, he will deliver multiple messages to multiple audiences: voters at home, allies, the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the extremists who are the enemy. And as Mr. Obama’s own aides concede, the messages directed at some may undercut the messages sent to others.
He must convince Democrats, especially the antiwar base that helped elect him, and the slim majority of the country that tells pollsters the conflict is no longer worth the sacrifice, that in sending more troops he is not escalating the war L.B.J.-style. In fact, some of those involved in the deliberations on an Afghanistan strategy say Mr. Obama will argue that providing the additional numbers is the fastest way to assure that the United States will be able to “finish the job,” because it will speed the training of the Afghan national army.
But at the same moment, he must persuade Republicans that he is giving the military what it needs to beat back the Taliban and keep Al Qaeda from threatening the United States.
That would be a difficult task even if Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s strategic assessments and troop requests had not been paraded across front pages, including his contention that the task will require 40,000 or more troops if Mr. Obama wants to create true security in the country’s major population centers.
At a time when Mr. Obama is vowing to reduce sky-high deficits, he must make the case that the price tag — roughly $1 million per soldier — is justified. He already faced pre-emptive resistance on Tuesday from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
So it is no surprise that one of Mr. Obama’s senior aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged Tuesday that the forthcoming speech was a “potential minefield.” One of his national security strategists put Mr. Obama’s challenge this way: The trick, he said, will be “signaling resolve to the allies while not signaling open-ended commitment to the American people.”
Both sides of that equation are complicated.
Mr. Obama must signal resolve — and staying power — because the Dutch and the Canadians are both scheduled to be pulling their troops out of Afghanistan just as Mr. Obama is putting more forces in. In quiet meetings over the past month, American defense and national security officials have been trying to forestall those departures, while obtaining commitments of increasing numbers of troops from NATO allies.
So far, the administration has been successful only with the British, who have pledged an additional 500 troops. Germany, Italy and other NATO contributors have been silent, explaining to their American visitors that the war has become so unpopular at home that they can barely sustain the troop levels now in place.
“I think we’ll get there,” said an official who has been sent for those conversations. “But not in time for the president’s announcement.” Others said it may be early next year before Mr. Obama can extract any additional commitments.
Pakistan poses a particularly difficult problem. Mr. Obama has been highly attuned to the need to declare that the United States is not in what he recently called “an open-ended commitment” in Afghanistan.
But for years, throughout the Bush administration and into the Obama administration, American officials have been making trips to Pakistan to reassure its government that the United States has no intention of pulling out of Afghanistan as it did 20 years ago, after the Soviets retreated from the country. Inside the Pakistani Army and the intelligence service, which is known as the ISI, it is an article of faith among some officers that the United States is deceiving them, and that it will replay 1989.
If that happens, some Pakistanis argue, India will fill the void in southern Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan surrounded by its longtime enemy. So any talk of exit strategies is bound to reaffirm the belief of some Pakistani officials that they have to maintain their contacts with the Taliban — their hedge against Indian encroachment.
So the United States is stuck, one official said, between not wanting to suggest it will be a military presence in the region forever and showing enough commitment to encourage Pakistan to change its behavior.
Mr. Obama has a similar signaling problem with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. A parade of Washington officials, most recently Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have traveled to Kabul to warn that continuing American help is dependent on the Afghan government’s meeting benchmarks in tackling corruption and building up credible security forces. But Mr. Obama is not likely to say what will happen if Mr. Karzai fails to deliver, for fear of further alienating the mercurial Afghan president.
At home, the more urgent issues are troop numbers and the cost of the escalation. Here, Mr. Obama will have more room to maneuver. Over the past two weeks, military officials have been expecting a decision that will give them roughly 34,000 additional troops, not far from what was sought by General McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan. At the White House and among the allies, the figure most commonly heard is just under 30,000.
Both figures, and anything in between, could prove right. Counting support troops and “trainers” is an art form in the military. The troops will be dispatched in phases, and Mr. Obama is likely to declare that he will review the deployment next year, to evaluate its progress.
That gives him the flexibility to tell the Democrats that his commitment is limited, and to tell the Republicans that he will do whatever it takes to win what, only three months ago, he called a “war of necessity.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / How did Sex begin?
on: November 25, 2009, 07:30:12 AM
Vive la différence! – but how did it begin?
Did Darwin forget to ask how sexual reproduction evolved?
We have published several articles this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species. MercatorNet has been presenting articles on both sides of the debate. Below, Dorothy Vining wonders if Darwin forgot to ask how sex evolved. Join the discussion on this topic on MercatorNet's Facebook group. In my twenties, I was responsible for indexing Darwin's works for the Great Books Syntopicon under the direction of the well-known philosopher Mortimer Adler. At the time I swallowed the Darwinian "natural selection" scenario hook, line, and sinker. It was so beautiful, so overarching, so all-explanatory. But later on I came to realize that too much was left unexplained.
One question that has baffled me is the origin of sexual reproduction. As far as I can see, this is an unsolved puzzle amongst scientists.
Apparently Darwin did not wonder about it. Either it has not occurred to his followers that they have no explanation for the beginning of sexual differentiation into male and female, or they are deliberately ignoring it.
Evolutionists point out that sexual differentiation has both costs and benefits. They point out that reproducing sexually is costly in that time and energy have to be devoted to finding a suitable partner. There is a risk of remaining unmated. There is a risk of producing offspring less fit than the parent because of recombination. Other things being equal, asexual reproduction is quicker and easier. Asexual reproduction is more common in species little troubled by disease.
On the other hand, sexual reproduction increases diversity and the likelihood of survival in changing circumstances. It purges the species of damaging mutations so that they can evolve new defenses against infections. Some animals actually breed sexually and asexually at different times!
But as to how sexual reproduction originated there is little said. In Why Have Sex? The Population Genetics of Sex and Recombination, (2006) Otto and Gerstein mention some of the reasons for sex listed in the previous paragraph. But they offer no answer as to how it all got started.
Confronted with the fact that sexual differentiation actually does exist in most multicellular animals, we have to surmise that at some point throughout the millenia one of these creatures in the process of cell division just happened to develop a cell with only half the usual complement of genetic material. We might call this a rudimentary egg (oocyte or ovum). Whatever could be the advantage of producing an egg? An egg would be of absolutely no use unless there was a sperm to fertilize it. If this animal found no mate, it would, of course, have been the first and last of its kind!
Well, perhaps another creature of the same species accidentally produced a sperm, complete with a tail. Why do you suppose it would grow a tail when it didn’t have a clue that it would have to go swimming after an egg? And of course it would not be genetically preprogrammed to recognize an egg if it should chance to run into one!
If we accept evolutionary theory we are required to imagine that each animal that today reproduces sexually, in the distant past was going about its business of reproducing asexually, dividing and budding away, when all of a sudden it accidentally produced an egg and at the same time, in the same locale, another animal of the same species just happened to make a sperm cell. Also, simultaneously and independently they each accidentally acquired the apparatus to get the egg and sperm together so they could produce offspring with a full set of genes.
Are you buying this?
If ever there was a case of "irreducible complexity", we have one in the transition from asexual to sexual reproduction. Irreducible complexity means simply that the process cannot be reduced to a series of simple steps one after another. If a number of things do not happen and come together all at once, nothing works. Irreducible complexity has been defined in various ways but I prefer Darwin's own language: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case" (Origin of Species, Chapter VI).
But as far as I can see, sexual differentiation is such a case.
Asexual reproduction results in progeny identical to the parent, unless there is a genetic mutation which will produce some change in the DNA. For an organism to initiate sexual reproduction additional genetic information is required, not only added to one organism but added simultaneously to two organisms of the same type, at the same time, and differing so that the changes will be complementary. There is no point in having a genetically female animal if there is no matching male anywhere around.
Accidental genetic mutations are almost always deleterious and have never been shown to involve an increase in genetic information. Consider that the informational content of the DNA in a single human cell equals that of 30 volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Where did all the new additional information required for sexual differentiation come from?
I have never seen any even remotely plausible explanation of how sexual differentiation might have first evolved in the Darwinian scheme of things. To my mind, the very fact of sexual differentiation necessitates, yes, demands a plan. And a plan demands a planner. "Male and female He created them," not "Male and female they decided to become."
Dorothy Vining once worked for the philosopher Mortimer Adler on the Syntopicon, an index to the ideas in the 54 volume set of The Great Books of the Western World. As her field was the biological sciences, she was assigned to index the biological works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Harvey, Galen, and Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species and The Descent of Man. An enthusiast then, she became increasingly critical of Darwin’s theories. She blogs at Musings at 85.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mercator.net The Future of the News
on: November 25, 2009, 07:21:56 AM
Although I disagree with this piece's conclusions, I find it intelligent and thoughtful:
Natalie Fenton | Tuesday, 24 November 2009
tags : media, newsThe future of the news
The collapse of a viable business model for the mainstream media raises the question of what we want news for and how it can be delivered.
The production and circulation of independent, quality news is a hallmark of democratic societies with a complex history of commercial practices, regulatory controls and technological innovation. The demise of the existing business model of the local and regional press and of broadcast news in the regions together with the struggle for survival of many national newspapers demands a critical consideration of what we want news for and how it can be delivered.
A recent study by Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media ResearchCentre provides empirical evidence that challenges utopian visions of the internet as a brave new world with everyone connected to everyone else, a non-hierarchical network of voices with equal, open and global access. This latest ‘new’ world of ‘new’ media has not greatly expanded the news that we read or hear or changed mainstream news values and traditional news formats; neither has it connected a legion of bloggers to a mass audience. Rather, as the economic model for traditional news production stumbles and falls in the digital age, professional journalism has become the first casualty, the second, if we’re not careful, and pretty close behind will be the health of our democracy.
The research draws on over 170 interviews with a range of professionals from a cross section of mainstream news media, as well as news sources and new producers online including bloggers and people operating in the realm of alternative news; we added to this, 3 newsroom ethnographies and a content analysis of online news across mainstream news media, online alternative media, social networking sites and YouTube.
We looked at the role of structural factors such as commerce, finance and regulation along with the cultural complexities of journalism, journalistic subjectivities and working practices.
And we found an industry and a practice in trouble.
Newspaper circulation and readership levels are at an all time low; there has been a tremendous growth in the number of news outlets available including the advent of, and rapid increase in, free papers, the emergence of 24 hour news and the popularization of online and mobile platforms; a decline in advertising revenue alongside cuts in personnel. With regard to local and international news production, the lack of economies of scale means that it is increasingly commercially unviable.
The Newspaper Society notes that 101 local papers closed down between January and August 2009. In those that are surviving fewer people are doing more and more work. Now I know we may all say that about our jobs, but in journalism what we see is the perfect storm – a history of marketisation, deregulation and globalisation, throw new technologies in to the mix (bringing about yet more speed and space and more need to invest in technical infrastructure). These factors combined have had a negative impact on journalism for the public good and in the public interest.
The working context of news media has increased pressures in the newsroom to fill more space (through the expansion of online platforms), work at greater speed (to fill the requirements of 24 hour news and the immediacy of online communication) with fewer journalists in permanent positions and more job insecurity.
"In the old days you had to get up in the morning and read all the newspapers, listen to the Today Programme [.…] Now, in addition to all of that we also have to keep an eye on websites, blogs of others, just in case stories crop up [.…] As on the Internet what we have to contend with is hugely increased sources of information." (Political Newspaper Editor, National Mid-Market)
"... when you’re under those time constraints, the Internet is fabulous but it’s dangerous as well. And I think that, a lot of the time people get things wrong, particularly on 24-hour news channels, it’s because they’re relying on the Internet." (Political Editor, Commercial Broadcasting)
In this environment there is evidence of journalists being thrust into news production more akin to creative cannibalization than the craft of journalism – as they need to fill more space and to work at greater speed while also having improved access to stories and sources online – they talk less to their sources, are captured in desk-bound, cut and paste, administrative journalism. Ready-made fodder from tried and tested sources takes precedence over the sheer difficulty of dealing with the enormity of user generated content or the overload of online information leading to an homogenization of content as ever increasing commercial pressures add to the temptation to rely not just on news agencies but on all cheaper forms of news gathering.
Given the speed of work, and the sheer amount of traffic and noise that journalists are exposed to every day, it is less easy for ordinary citizens and non-elite sources to make direct contact with reporters in mainstream media. In order for journalists to pick out the important information from the ‘blizzard’ online they are forced to create systems of ‘filtration’ based on known hierarchies and established news values. With so little time at their disposal journalists tend to prioritise known, ‘safe’ sources. So mainstream news on-line has not expanded to include a broader diversity of voices or shifted focus according to information filtered through social media.
And even though there is now a plethora of media outlets, and citizens and civil society can publish media content more easily than ever, there still is a dominance of a limited number of players that control news, information content and public debate. In other words mainstream news matters, maybe more than it ever has done – and most people, most of the time get most of their news from it. Furthermore the organisation of web search tends to send more users to the most popular sites in a winners take all pattern. It seems ever likely that the voices on the web will be dominated by the larger, more established news providers in a manner that, yet again, limits possibilities for increased pluralism.
In some newspapers, the combination of staff reductions and speeded up production schedules mean that only the most established senior, journalists, with the highest level of personal autonomy, have the luxury of leaving the office to talk to people, phoning a number of different people to verify information, or probing for alternative views or contradictions. But its not just the young journalists whose working practices have been transformed:
"They [journalists] don’t even try to talk to you, they just watch breaking news upstairs. I pass them every day when I come in, I pass one of the rooms and I see them watching telly and they’re banging away on the typewriters, all of them [.…] When I first came here [.…] it would be rare for that Lobby not to include some journalists, and sometimes it could be as many as ten or a dozen or twenty. Now, the only people you see in the Lobby are the fellas in the fancy breeches looking after the place [.…] I think it’s the advent of 24 hours news." (Labour MP)
What we’re left with is a contradiction between the transforming potential of new technologies and the stifling constraints of the free market.
The material conditions of contemporary journalism (particularly unprotected commercial practice) do not offer optimum space and resources to practice independent journalism in the public interest. On the contrary, job insecurity and commercial priorities place increasing limitations on journalists’ ability to do the journalism most of them want to do – to question, analyse and scrutinize.
What is the relationship between news media and democracy? A news media that can be relied upon to monitor, hold to account, interrogate power and facilitate and maintain deliberation is critical to a functioning democracy. In a world of one click communication and information overload protecting and enhancing a news media that can aim for this ethical horizon has actually become more important rather than less important. Without it we are left scrambling through the blogosphere, drowning in opinion, with no known serious fact-checking, no requirement to put stories in context, no real way of holding the writer gatherers to account. Where the well resourced and the already powerful are able to shout the loudest, twitter their way to the top of the pile while everyone else whispers in the wind.
How do we preserve it and should government have a role in media structures and behaviour? Any government that truly believes in the basic principles of democracy should be prepared to provide the means by which it can function. This means regulating news media to provide the freedom to operate in the public interest rather than purely for commercial gain. To ignore this is to accept that the market can be relied upon to deliver the conditions for deliberative democracy to flourish. Markets do not have democratic intent at their core. When markets fail or come under threat, ethical practice is swept aside in pursuit of financial stability.
How do we do it? My view is that we need to move towards a system of post-corporate, low profit or not-for-profit news supported by government funding that comes not from the Licence fee but from practices that are popular elsewhere in Europe such as industry levies and the charging of news aggregators that exploit news content.
Natalie Fenton is Reader and Co-Director of the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and Goldsmiths Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy at the University of London. This article has been republished from openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Forstyth: Are Dollar Bears too Bullish?
on: November 25, 2009, 07:15:16 AM
Are Dollar Bears Too Bullish?
By RANDALL W. FORSYTH |
It would be so simple to follow the playbook of the inflationary 1970s. Today's deflationary threat is more dangerous, however.
GOLD SET ANOTHER RECORD MONDAY while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1% to a 13-month high, supposedly based on the cheery thought that the U.S. dollar would inevitably collapse to zero.
Investors faced a barrage of bearish articles about America's fiscal plight, from the front page of the New York Times warning about "Wave of Debt Payments Facing U.S. Government" to the Economist's cover story, "Dealing with America's Fiscal Hole" to the Financial Times posing the question, "Is Sovereign Debt the New Subprime?"
No wonder they wanted to flee the dollar. As Dennis Gartman observed in his Monday morning missive: "It is almost as if one can hear capital saying aloud, 'Let me outta here; get me some gold; or get me some euros, at least get me some blue-chip stocks. Get me anything, but get me out.'"
With the U.S. Dollar Index falling another 0.7%, to 75.10, gold continued its seemingly unstoppable advance to another peak. The active December futures contract on the Comex settled up $17.90, at $1,164.70 an ounce after trading at almost $1,175.
And as if to underscore the public's interest in the latest gold rush, the five most-read stories on Marketwatch.com were all about gold. (Marketwatch is owned by News Corp., which also is the publisher of Barrons.com.)
There's no disputing that America's budget mess poses a long-term threat to the dollar, more so than the Federal Reserve's low-interest-rate policies. That was pointed out here just last week ("A Foolish View of America's Debt, Nov. 18.)
So far, however, there seems no shortage of buyers for the U.S. government's debt, including Monday's record auction of $44 billion of two-year notes, which will be followed $42 billion of five-year notes Wednesday and $32 billion of seven-year notes.
That would contradict the notion of an imminent rerun of That 'Seventies Show, featuring soaring interest rates and inflation. That is, after all, what sent gold to its then-record of $850 in January 1980, the final year of that benighted decade. (And by the way, notwithstanding all the recently published assessments of this decade, it doesn't end until Dec. 31, 2010.)
Would that we could have that rerun? We'd all have the playbook on how to deal with those travails. Don't buy any Pintos, avoid polyester and burn disco records. Just buy gold, dump bonds, borrow and borrow and buy the biggest house you can afford. Maybe the last one didn't turn out so well.
Indeed, Albert Edwards, Societe Generale's global strategist, sees the risks running quite the opposite of the consensus, which has a global recovery on track with a steadily falling dollar. Instead, he looks for a double-dip back into recession leading to a surging greenback, with a collapse of "the China economic bubble" resulting in a double whammy for commodity prices.
Writing in his latest Global Strategy Letter, Edwards points to signs of doubts about the U.S. economic recovery, from the labor market remaining "very sick" with the uptick in unemployment rate over 10% plus the Conference Board's consumer finding showing jobs getting still harder to get. Meanwhile, the ECRI Leading Indicator, which trumpeted recovery earlier in the year, has fallen for five straight weeks.
But what's way out of the consensus is the call for China's massive trade surplus to turn to deficit by Societe Generale's Asian economist, Glenn Maguire, who Edwards writes has been "very right on China this year."
"This is a mega-call and will have major implications for the global financial markets," Edwards declares. China no longer will be accumulating currency reserves at nearly the same pace, leaving less to recycle into U.S. Treasuries. The reduced capital inflow would also slow China's domestic monetary growth and real output, which track each other. Meanwhile, capital outflows from Japan, another source of global liquidity, could be hampered were there a sharp rise in its government bond yields.
A synchronized end to the Chinese and U.S. economic recoveries could play out in increased protectionist pressures, including competitive devaluations, Edwards continues. That could lead to a spike in the dollar as speculative carry trades are unwound, as happened to the yen in 2008. A rise in the dollar would pull up the renminbi, which "may be all too much for a beleaguered Chinese economy."
Then, Edwards says, the U.S. goal of delinking of the RMB from the dollar would be accomplished -- with China devaluing rather than revaluing its currency higher.
Edwards adds, "I am reassured that my views are not totally bananas when two of the deepest thinkers are also concerned about a Chinese economic crash."
Those include Edward Chancellor, who has written extensively about bubbles, including "The Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation," and recently observed the Chinese economy shows symptoms of weakness similar to those after the Greenspan Fed reflated following the bursting of the tech bubble. Meanwhile, Jim Chanos, the famed short seller of Kynikos Associates, thinks he spies manipulated data about China's economy. Chanos, it should be remembered, sniffed out the phony accounting at Enron.
Indeed, there were hints the bubble in China was about to burst, or at least deflated, in the 3.5% plunge in the Shanghai Composite Tuesday. That came after on rumors that China's banks were ordered to raise more capital. Charles Dumas of Lombard Street Research writes in a note to clients this wasn't just a matter of an increased supply of shares, but a move almost certainly on orders of the government for banks to bolster their balance sheets following their lending spree earlier this year. Tightening of monetary policy is likely to follow as the boom produced by massive fiscal stimulus -- equal to 25% of gross domestic product--is generating inflation pressures.
The sort of deflationary crisis, resulting in competitive devaluations, protectionism and contracting world trade, recalls what happened in the 1930s, Edwards concludes. Despite politicians' solemn vows not repeat those blunders, "all I see are more and more protectionist measures being implemented, belying the soothing rhetoric."
The 1930s were indeed very different from the 1970s. In the latter decade, you could just buy gold (though that was more difficult before today's exchange-traded funds) and let your cash earn double-digit yields. The falling dollar battered stocks and especially bonds back then.
Now, cash yields absolute zero but stocks benefit from every drop in the dollar while global investors continue to buy Treasuries, seemingly undeterred by the greenback's steady slide.
But recall a year ago; the dollar soared like the yen with the unwinding of carry trades (which involve the borrowing in those low-yielding currencies) as stocks and other risk assets fell sharply.
Such a rerun seems to be the one potential risk that seems ignored as gold gets bid giddily higher -- a significantly more painful deflationary squeeze than the inflationary surge they see.
At the minimum, China's likely moves to cool its boom could portend outcomes quite different from the what the consensus expects. As Lombard Street's Dumas concludes, "With China's recovery as the leading force in the world recovery, this would mark the end of the stock market, and general risk asset, rebound from last winter's lows."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science
on: November 25, 2009, 07:13:19 AM
That was VERY funny.
Investors Business Daily
The Day Global Warming Stood Still
Posted 11/20/2009 07:46 PM ET
Climate Change: As scientists confirm the earth has not warmed at all in the past decade, others wonder how this could be and what it means for Copenhagen. Maybe Al Gore can Photoshop something before December.
It will be a very cold winter of discontent for the warm-mongers. The climate show-and-tell in Copenhagen next month will be nothing more than a meaningless carbon-emitting jaunt, unable to decide just whom to blame or how to divvy up the profitable spoils of climate change hysteria.
The collapse of the talks coupled with the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to put off the Kerry-Boxer cap-and-trade bill, the Senate's version of Waxman-Markey, until the spring thaw has led Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the leading Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, to declare victory over Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and the triumph of observable fact over junk science.
"I proudly declare 2009 as the 'Year of the Skeptic,' the year in which scientists who question the so-called global warming consensus are being heard," Inhofe said to Boxer in a Senate speech. "Until this year, any scientist, reporter or politician who dared raise even the slightest suspicion about the science behind global warming was dismissed and repeatedly mocked."
Inhofe added: "Today I have been vindicated."
The Ada (Oklahoma) Evening News quotes Inhofe: "So when Barbara Boxer, John Kerry and all the left get up there and say, 'Yes. We're going to pass a global warming bill,' I will be able to stand up and say, 'No, it's over. Get a life. You lost. I won,'" Inhofe said.
Now we have the German publication Der Spiegel, which is rapidly becoming the house organ for climate hysteria, weighing in again with the sad news that the earth does not have a fever so we really don't have to throw out the baby with the rising bath water.
In an article titled, "Climatologists Baffled By Global Warming Time-Out," author Gerald Traufetter leads off with the observation: "Climatologists are baffled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years." They better figure it out, Der Spiegel warns, because "billions of euros are at stake in the negotiations."
We are told in sad tones that "not much is happening with global warming at the moment" and that "it even looks as though global warming could come to a standstill this year." But how can it be that the earth isn't following all those computer models? Is the earth goddess Gaia herself a climate change "denier"?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Chase
on: November 25, 2009, 06:54:50 AM
Print this Page
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
And it was reported to Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled. And he took his kinsmen with him, and he chased after him a seven days' journey; and they overtook him at Mount Gilad....
And Jacob was angry and strove with Laban... And he said: "What is my crime and what is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? ...Twenty years I have been in your employ... In the day drought consumed me, and the frost at night; and my sleep departed from my eyes..."
And Laban said: "...Come, let us make a covenant, I and you." ... And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there upon the heap... And Laban said to Jacob: "...This heap be witness, and this monument be witness, that I will not cross this heap to you, and you will not cross this heap and monument to me, for harm..." And they spent the night on the hill.
And Laban rose in the morning... and he returned to his place. And Jacob went on his way. (Genesis 31:4-32:2)
Each and every creation has at its heart a "spark of holiness"Why does a man who has spent his entire life in the "tents of study" in pursuit of wisdom and closeness to G‑d, leave the spiritual oasis of Be'er Sheva, home of Abraham and Isaac, and go to Charan in Paddan-Aram, the world's capital of idolatry and deceit, to spend twenty years as a shepherd in the employ of Laban the Deceiver?
He is hunting sparks.
Each and every creation, no matter how material and mundane, has at its heart a "spark of holiness." A spark that embodies G‑d's desire that it exist and its function within G‑d's overall purpose for creation. A spark that is the original instrument of its creation and which remains nestled within it to continually supply it with being and vitality. A spark of holiness that constitutes its "soul"—its spiritual content and design.
Entrenched in the physical reality, these holy sparks are virtual prisoners within their material encasements. The physical world, with its illusions of self-sufficiency and arbitrariness, suppresses all but the faintest glimmer of G‑dliness and purposefulness.
The soul of man descends into the trappings and trials of physical life in order to reclaim these sparks. By assuming a physical body that will eat, wear clothes, inhabit a home, and otherwise make use of the objects and forces of the physical existence, the soul can redeem the sparks of holiness they incorporate. For when a person utilizes something, directly or indirectly, to serve the Creator, he penetrates its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its divine essence and purpose.
"The deeds of the fathers are signposts for the children."1 The story of Jacob's journey to Charan, where he spent twenty years in the home and employ of the evil Laban, is the story of our own lives. The soul, too, leaves behind a spiritual and G‑dly existence to preoccupy itself with material needs, to become a shepherd and entrepreneur in the Charans of the world.2 The soul, too, must condescend to deal with the crassness, hostility and deceptions of an alien employer. It must struggle to extract the sparks of holiness from their mundane husks, to deliver the flocks of Laban into the domain of Jacob.
Among the "signposts" in Jacob's journey is the rather strange closing chapter in his dealings with Laban.
Jacob's mission in Charan seemed complete. As he tells Rachel and Leah, Laban's wealth has been "delivered"3 to him—the material resources of this alien land have been sublimated, their sparks of holiness redeemed through Jacob's exploitation of them for good and G‑dly ends. Indeed, the Almighty has communicated to him it is time he came home. Rachel and Leah, too, sense that all opportunities in Charan have been utilized, that there no longer remains "a portion or inheritance for us in our father's house." So Jacob "rose up and set his sons and his wives on the camels. And he led away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had acquired, the possessions of his purchase, which he had acquired in Paddan-Aram, to go to... the land of Canaan."4
But Laban pursues Jacob, and they have a final confrontation on Mount Gilad. Reconciled, they break bread together and camp for the night. Then, each goes his own way, having sealed a mutual non-aggression pact, to be attested to by a pile of stones which marks their respective domains.5
Obviously, there was still some unfinished business between them, some lingering sparks still languishing in Laban's camp. In the words of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch: "Jacob had left behind Torah letters (a kabbalistic term for the "sparks of holiness" imbedded in creation6) which he had not yet extracted from Laban. This is why Laban pursued him—to give him the letters which remained with him. An entire chapter was added to the Torah by these letters."7
To Pursue and to be Pursued
In other words, there are two types of "sparks" that we redeem in the course of our lives. The first type are those which we consciously pursue, having recognized the potential for sanctity and goodness in an object or event within our life's trajectory. Indeed, we human beings pride ourselves on the measure of control we have learned to exercise over our lives: we plan our education, decide whom to marry, choose a community, chart a career and save for retirement. We're constantly manipulating our environment, cultivating opportunities and maneuvering ourselves into the right place and time to properly take advantage of them.
...opportunities representing potentials so lofty that they cannot be identified by our humanly finite facultiesBut every so often, we are confronted with something that is neither of our making nor in our control. Something that seemed so readily in our grasp remains incomprehensibly elusive; something we've done everything in our power to avoid invades our lives. These are "sparks" of the second sort: opportunities which we would never have realized on our own, since they represent potentials so lofty that they cannot be identified and consciously developed by our humanly finite perception and faculties. So our redemption of these sparks can only come about unwittingly, when, by divine providence, our involvement with them is forced upon our by circumstances beyond his control.
Thus our lives are divided into "Charan" periods and "Mount Gilad" events. The bulk of our efforts are conscious and focused: goals are defined, opportunities recognized, endeavors planned and achieved. But then there are the situations we never desired, the encounters which pursue us even as we flee from them. These may aggravate and exasperate us; like Jacob on Mount Gilead we cry, "What more do you want of me? Are my decades scorching days and freezing nights not enough?" But we must never dismiss theses encounters and fail to extract the kernel of good that certainly lies buried within them. Indeed, they contain the most elusive, and most rewarding, achievements of our lives.8
1. Nachmanides' commentary on Genesis 12:6.
2. See Or HaChaim commentary on Genesis 28:14.
3. Thus the verb hatzalah, which means "save," "redeem" and "deliver," is used by the Torah to describe Jacob's success in exacting a profit from Laban's flocks (Genesis 31:9 and 16). The same word is used in connection with the "great riches" with which the Jews left Egypt, "leaving it as a silo emptied of its grain, as a pond emptied of its fish"—a reference to the "sparks of holiness" whose redemption was the purpose of their descent into Egyptian exile (Exodus 12:36; see Genesis 15:14 and Talmud, Berachot 9a-b).
4. Genesis 31, verses 9, 3, 14 and 17-18 respectively.
5. We find a similar phenomenon in the prohibition of a Jew to live in Egypt (Deuteronomy 17:16): having been utterly "emptied" of its sparks, there is no longer anything to be accomplished through one's involvement with the material resources in that corner of the world.
6. The sparks of holiness are referred to in the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidism as "letters", since it is the "letters" of the divine speech (e.g. "And G‑d said: 'Let there be light!' And there was light") which create and sustain each created entity and constitute its soul and essence (see Tanya, part II, ch. 1).
7. Quoted by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch in Ohr HaTorah, vol. V, p. 869a.
8. Based on a talk by the Rebbe, Tishrei 27, 5712 (October 27, 1951); Likkutei Sichot, vol. XV, pp. 260-264.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: November 25, 2009, 06:50:06 AM
Mexico Security Memo: Nov. 23, 2009
Stratfor Today » November 23, 2009 | 2323 GMT
Related Special Topic Page
Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels
La Familia Michoacana Cell Indicted in Chicago
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald announced Nov. 18 that 15 defendants allegedly working for La Familia Michoacana (LFM) had been indicted in Chicago, Ill. The indictment stems from the joint U.S.-Mexican federal law enforcement operation that ended Oct. 22 known as Project Coronado, a 44-month-long operation that netted 1,186 individuals in 19 states along with 1,999 kilograms of cocaine and $33 million.
The indictment charged the individuals based in Chicago for conspiring with an unnamed commander based in Michoacan state, Mexico to distribute large quantities of cocaine and funnel proceeds from drug distribution back to Mexico. The operator in Michoacan formed a command-and-control group to oversee the distribution of drugs in Chicago and northern Illinois, made up of the six charged in the indictment as well as smaller-scale distributors personally approved by the commander. The Chicago cell maintained residential property where it clandestinely stored and transferred cocaine and cash proceeds to and from retail operations in Chicago and other towns in northern Illinois. The cell fronted cocaine to their distributors and were paid once the consumer sales were made — indicating a high level of trust and cooperation between the traffickers and the distributors. Members of the cell also maintained ledgers documenting transactions with their distributors and tracked inventory at the various stash houses. The commander, according to the indictment, required his associates in Chicago to report to him on the cell’s distribution activities and collection of cash proceeds.
The details revealed in the Nov. 18 indictment indicate that LFM has had a deeper involvement in the U.S. narcotics network than previously thought. It was known that LFM was trafficking cocaine through Mexico and even across the border into the United States, but the activities of the Chicago cell show that LFM was also heavily involved in the smaller-scale distribution of drugs far from the U.S.-Mexican border, in addition to their known large-scale, cross-border trafficking activities. This shows that LFM had a reach all the way to the neighborhood streets of Chicago and other U.S. cities, not just the highway networks and metropolitan hubs that facilitate the large-scale flow of drugs throughout the United States.
Unusual Arrests in Cancun
Police arrested 12 members of Los Pelones gang in Cancun Nov. 17 on charges that they were responsible for at least seven murders in the city in recent months. Los Pelones is the enforcement arm of the Sinaloa cartel, and was formed to counter the physical force of rival Los Zetas, whom Sinaloa has fought frequently over territory. Los Pelones has an established presence in western Mexico, where the Sinaloa has its main operations, but this is the first case that STRATFOR is aware of in which Los Pelones members were active in Quintana Roo state, in eastern Mexico.
The Yucatan Peninsula is known to be Los Zetas territory and so the presence of Los Pelones members indicates a challenge to Los Zetas for control over the region. Cancun has typically avoided the large-scale violence seen elsewhere in Mexico due to its importance to the tourism industry and, as a result, a strategic hub for money laundering. The presence of a competing enforcement cell in Cancun could raise the potential for more violence in the resort town but, in addition to facing resistance from Los Zetas, the gang will also contend with the local police, which, due to rampant corruption, may very well be cooperating with Los Zetas
(click here to enlarge image)
Federal police arrested Pedro Cabadas Duran, a U.S. citizen, on the Mexico City-Nogales highway near the border of Nayarit and Sinaloa states (near Tecuala, Nayarit) on suspicion of transporting several firearms illegally. After a routine traffic stop, police discovered an AK-47, two AR-15s and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition in Cabadas’s vehicle.
Soldiers dismantled a drug lab in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco state, seizing approximately 10 kilograms of a substance believed to be methamphetamine.
The body of an unidentified man was found hanging from a footbridge over a highway in San Pedrito, Jalisco state. Police discovered his hands were bound with rope but did not find any identification documents on his body.
Unknown gunmen injured Sinaloa Public Security Director of Protection Services Rafael Gaxiola Penuelas in the Toledo Corro neighborhood of Culiacan, Sinaloa state.
Approximately 500 protesting farmers clashed with security forces near the governor’s offices in Pachuca, Hidalgo state. The protesters demanded the release of two persons and financial support for regional agriculture. Two federal agents were injured in the incident.
Soldiers discovered a drug lab in Chilpancingo, Guerrero state, and confiscated 260 grams of pure heroin, 4.5 kilograms of base heroin and 24 gallons of processing chemicals.
Police arrested former public security chiefs Amador Medina Flores, Alejandro Esparza Contreras and Jose Santos Almaraz Ornelas in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. The three men are suspected of links to drug trafficking organizations.
Police arrested suspected La Familia Guanajuatense section leader Cristobal Altamirano Pinon in Leon, Guanajuato state. Pinon was arrested alongside suspected assassin Humberto Alvarez.
Soldiers detonated two grenades remaining from an attack on the state attorney general’s offices in Celaya, Guanajuato state. The attack was attributed to La Familia Guanajuatense.
Police in Mexico City arrested an officer assigned to the Mexico City International Airport for suspected links to the Beltran Leyva Organization. The officer is suspected of links to several persons transporting drugs between Panama and Mexico.
Five bodies were discovered in an abandoned truck in Culiacan, Sinaloa state. The bodies were not immediately identified and their state of decomposition made it difficult to determine a cause of death.
Police rescued four persons who were tortured and thrown into a sewer by unknown assailants in Acapulco, Guerrero state.
Three suspected drug traffickers injured Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state residents Sada Garza and Rodrigo Martinez Flores after opening fire at the intersection of Yucatan and Lago de Tamiahua Streets in the Independencia neighborhood.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin; Madison; Pulaski
on: November 25, 2009, 06:32:02 AM
"Wish not so much to live long as to live well." --Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1746
"It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe." --James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785
Revolutionary War hero becomes honorary US citizen
In this June 23, 2005, file photo a carving of Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski is shown on the 54-foot … .By WILLIAM C. MANN, Associated Press Writer William C. Mann, Associated Press Writer – Fri Nov 6, 9:48 pm ET
WASHINGTON – Finally, Gen. Casimir Pulaski became an American citizen on Friday, 230 years after the Polish nobleman died fighting for the as yet-unborn United States.
President Barack Obama signed a joint resolution of the Senate and the House that made Pulaski an honorary citizen.
Pulaski's contribution to the American colonies' effort to leave the British Empire began with a flourish. He wrote a letter to Gen. George Washington, the Revolution's leader, with the declaration: "I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it."
Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Polish-American, had been pushing for the honorary citizenship since 2005. He lives in Cleveland, which has many other citizens of Polish extraction.
"Pulaski made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, and he deserves nothing but the highest honor and recognition for his service," Kucinich said then.
Washington had heard of the young Pole from Benjamin Franklin, an urbane traveler who had been Washington's first ambassador to France. Franklin told Washington of Pulaski's exploits that had made him "renowned throughout Europe for the courage and bravery he displayed in defense of his country's freedom."
The revolutionaries' top general let the young nobleman hire onto the brash fight against the European superpower, and Pulaski made a name for himself as a skilled horseman, eventually to be known as the "father of the American cavalry."
He died before the British were driven away. In October 1779, he led a cavalry assault to save the important Southern port of Savannah, Ga., was wounded and taken aboard the American ship USS Wasp. He died at sea two days later.
Americans have honored Pulaski throughout the last two centuries. Counties and streets are named for him.
In 1929 Congress declared Oct. 11 to be Pulaski Day in the United States, a largely forgotten holiday in much of the country. The Continental Congress suggested that a monument be erected in honor of Pulaski, and in 1825 it finally was erected in Savannah.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: November 24, 2009, 02:29:10 PM
Navy SEALs have secretly captured one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq — the alleged mastermind of the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah in 2004. And for their trouble, three of the SEALs, members of the Navy's elite commando unit, are now facing criminal charges, sources told FoxNews.com.
The three have refused non-judicial punishment — called an admiral's mast — and requested a trial by court-martial.
Ahmed Hashim Abed, whom the military code-named "Objective Amber," told investigators he was punched by his captors — and he had the bloody lip to prove it.
Now, instead of being lauded for bringing to justice a high-value target, three of the SEAL commandos, all enlisted, face assault charges and have retained lawyers.
Matthew McCabe, a Special Operations Petty Officer Second Class (SO-2), is facing three charges: dereliction of performance of duty for willfully failing to safeguard a detainee, making a false official statement, and assault.
Petty Officer Jonathan Keefe, SO-2, is facing charges of dereliction of performance of duty and making a false official statement.
Petty Officer Julio Huertas, SO-1, faces those same charges and an additional charge of impediment of an investigation.The three SEALs will be arraigned separately on Dec. 7.
Another three SEALs — two officers and an enlisted sailor — have been identified by investigators as witnesses but have not been charged.
FoxNews.com obtained the official handwritten statement from one of the three witnesses given on Sept. 3, hours after Abed was captured and still being held at the SEAL base at Camp Baharia. He was later taken to a cell in the U.S.-operated Green Zone in Baghdad.
The SEAL told investigators he had showered after the mission, gone to the kitchen and then decided to look in on the detainee.
"I gave the detainee a glance over and then left," the SEAL wrote. "I did not notice anything wrong with the detainee and he appeared in good health."
Lt. Col. Holly Silkman, spokeswoman for the special operations component of U.S. Central Command, confirmed Tuesday to FoxNews.com that three SEALs have been charged in connection with the capture of a detainee. She said their court martial is scheduled for January.
United States Central Command declined to discuss the detainee, but a legal source told FoxNews.com that the detainee was turned over to Iraqi authorities, to whom he made the abuse complaints. He was then returned to American custody. The SEAL leader reported the charge up the chain of command, and an investigation ensued.
The source said intelligence briefings provided to the SEALs stated that "Objective Amber" planned the 2004 Fallujah ambush, and "they had been tracking this guy for some time."
The Fallujah atrocity came to symbolize the brutality of the enemy in Iraq and the degree to which a homegrown insurgency was extending its grip over Iraq.
The four Blackwater agents were transporting supplies for a catering company when they were ambushed and killed by gunfire and grenades. Insurgents burned the bodies and dragged them through the city. They hanged two of the bodies on a bridge over the Euphrates River for the world press to photograph.
Intelligence sources identified Abed as the ringleader, but he had evaded capture until September.
The military is sensitive to charges of detainee abuse highlighted in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The Navy charged four SEALs with abuse in 2004 in connection with detainee treatment.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War, WMD issues
on: November 23, 2009, 10:34:52 AM
To get us to concede East Europe to its sphere again, and to control the gas supplies of Central Asia (the Georgia issue can be seen in this context).
The P-5+1 group meeting in Brussels expectedly ended in stalemate while Iran hosted the Turkish foreign minister in Tabriz Nov. 20. While Iran continues to delay talks and Turkey and Russia exploit the nuclear negotiations for their own gain, Israel is laying the groundwork for more aggressive action against Iran.
Deputy foreign ministers and their equivalents from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China — otherwise known as the P-5+1 group — met Nov. 20 in Brussels to discuss Iran. So far, the only statement following the meeting was a joint expression of “disappointment” in Iran’s lack of response to a proposal to ship roughly 75 percent of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for further enrichment. The P-5+1 members once again called on Iran to reconsider the proposal and engage in serious negotiations. They planned to reconvene in December around Christmas.
The rather lackluster response after the meeting is not surprising. First, deputy foreign ministers typically do not have the authority to seriously weigh in on an issue of this magnitude. More importantly, the members of the P-5+1 group are in no real hurry to act. The Europeans are in no rush to participate in the U.S. Congress’s sanctions regime on Iran’s gasoline trade, the Chinese have no incentive to revise their trade relations while the others are delaying, the Russians are still working on several crucial sticking points in negotiations with the United States and the United States is trying to buy enough time to deal with Russia in order to stave off an Iran crisis. Sanctions apparently were not discussed in any meaningful detail at the meeting and, perhaps in recognition of the fact that Iran does not respond well to deadlines, no new deadlines or punitive measures were announced. As a result, the meeting in Brussels was another opportunity for bureaucrats to negotiate about further negotiations, with no real policy shifts to report.
While the P-5+1 members discussed their disappointment in Iran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Tabriz, Iran. Notably, the Iranians requested this meeting when Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi met with Davutoglu at Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration in Kabul on Nov. 19. The meeting was designed to discuss the Iranian nuclear negotiations and timed to coincide with the P-5+1 meeting. Turkey, a regional power on the rise with plans to consolidate influence in the Middle East and demonstrate its utility to the West, has offered to store Iran’s enriched fuel on Turkish territory, thereby assuaging Western concerns that Iran’s LEU will be diverted toward a weapons program.
Iran is as unenthused about giving the Turks control of its LEU as it was about French and Russian offers to ship the LEU abroad. Though such proposals help Iran to stretch out the negotiations and appear cooperative when it wants to, the Iranian government is unlikely to concede on its demand to enrich and store uranium on its own soil. Iran’s latest delay tactic is to insist on the United States unfreezing Iranian assets to allow the negotiations to move forward — a point that Washington does not believe is even up for discussion unless Iran begins cooperating in the negotiations.
Turkey, meanwhile, has made several public moves to alienate Israel and prolong nuclear negotiations with the West and thus build Iran’s trust in Ankara, but Iran still has deep misgivings about Turkey’s intentions. Turkey and Iran are regional competitors, and Turkey is well in the lead. Though Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party is saying all the right things to hold Tehran’s interest, Iran cannot be confident that Turkey will be able or willing to block Israeli and/or U.S. military action against Iran.
Israel is the main player to watch. The Israeli government never believed these negotiations would elicit real Iranian cooperation and does not trust the Turks to mediate the dispute. Israel already has ruled out any further Turkish mediation in its negotiations with Syria, preferring instead to have France and Saudi Arabia facilitate the talks. The more Iran toys with the Turkish proposal to store its enriched uranium, the more the Israelis can protest to the United States behind the scenes that the negotiations will not lead to constructive results, and more aggressive action is needed. The Israelis have thus been busy running their own diplomatic course apart from the P-5+1 group. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Paris on Nov. 11 to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and will be meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Israel on Nov. 23-25. It remains to be seen just how effective Israel will be in encouraging these key European members to scale back their trade relations with Iran and support sanctions.
Iran’s management of the nuclear negotiations in the weeks ahead will rely heavily on what, if anything, transpires between Russia and the United States. As evidenced by Iran’s daily diatribes against Russia for stalling on the construction of the Bushehr nuclear facility and on the sale of the S-300 strategic air defense system, a major debate is under way in Tehran over the risks Ahmadinejad’s administration has incurred in relying so heavily on Russia for external support. Should Russia and the United States come to a strategic understanding, Iran would have the most to lose. Iran’s paranoia over Russia reached an unprecedented level Nov. 20 when Iranian Parliamentary Energy Commission Chairman Hamid Reza Katouzian threatened to sue the Russian agencies responsible for delaying Bushehr in an international court, depending on the results of a parliamentary investigation into the reasons behind the delay. Though the chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi continues citing technical reasons for the delay, there is no doubt in Iran’s, Russia’s or anyone else’s mind that the reasons are political.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: November 23, 2009, 10:30:43 AM
Brief · Monday, November 23, 2009
"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." --James Madison
Passing major legislation on Saturday night is a symptom of Potomac Fever
"Here's a new maxim: Nothing good ever happens when the Congress is in session on a Saturday night. As you know, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev) cajoled, coerced, and co-opted Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) into adding the 59th and 60th necessary votes to prevent a GOP filibuster of Reid's health reform bill. Reid and Obama Administration officials relied on the time honored method (used by Republicans and Democrats) of getting recalcitrant Members to vote a certain way: Bribery which, in the real world, is a felony but in Washington it is called 'hardball.' In Sen. Landrieu's case the bribe was $300 million in Medicaid benefits to Louisiana. It's not even a close call. According to the website 'Total Criminal Defense,' 'Bribery is an attempt to influence another person's actions, usually a government or public official employee, by offering a benefit in exchange for the desired decision.' Three hundred million in return for a vote to proceed. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... Landrieu is a better bribee than she is an accountant. She said in her floor speech that there was $100 million in the bill specifically to pay for Medicaid in Louisiana and only Louisiana. Talking to reporters afterward, she said, 'I will correct something. It's not $100 million, it's $300 million, and I'm proud of it and will keep fighting for it.' No reports, yet, on how angry White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel was when he found out she had been satisfied with the $100 million and he overpaid by a factor of three." --political analyst Rich Galen
"The 'reformers' in the White House and the House of Representatives have made all too plain their vision of the federal government's power to coerce individual Americans to make the 'right' health-care choices. The highly partisan bill the House just passed includes severe penalties for individuals who do not purchase insurance approved by the federal government. By neatly tucking these penalties into the IRS code, the so-called reformers have brought them under the tax-enforcement power of the federal government. The Congressional Budget Office stated on October 29 that the House bill would generate $167 billion in revenue from 'penalty payments.' Individual Americans are expected to pay $33 billion of these penalties, with employers paying the rest. Former member of Congress and Heritage Foundation fellow Ernest Istook has concluded that for this revenue goal to be met, 8 to 14 million individual Americans will have to be fined over the next ten years, quite an incentive for federal bureaucrats. ... By transforming a refusal or failure to comply with a government mandate into a federal tax violation, the 'progressives' are using the brute force of criminal law to engage in social engineering. This represents an oppressive, absolutist view of government power. ... The idea of imprisoning or fining Americans who don't knuckle under to an unprecedented government mandate to purchase a particular insurance product should outrage anyone who believes in the exceptional promises and opportunities afforded by our basic American freedoms. ... Unless this paternalistic juggernaut is stopped, Americans will lose some of their most fundamental freedoms, and the power of the federal government to impose novel requirements in every facet of our personal lives will have become virtually unlimited." --Brian W. Walsh & Hans A. von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation
"Tragically, this administration seems hell-bent to avoid seeing acts of terrorism against the United States as acts of war. The very phrase 'war on terrorism' is avoided, as if that will stop the terrorists' war on us. The mindset of the left behind such thinking was spelled out in an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, which said that 'Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, will be tried the right way -- the American way, in a federal courtroom where the world will see both his guilt and the nation's adherence to the rule of law.' This is not the rule of law but the application of laws to situations for which they were not designed. How many Americans may pay with their lives for the intelligence secrets and methods that can forced to be disclosed to Al Qaeda was not mentioned. Nor was there mention of how many foreign nations and individuals whose cooperation with us in the war on terror have been involved in countering Al Qaeda -- nor how many foreign nations and individuals will have to think twice now, before cooperating with us again, when their role can be revealed in court to our enemies, who can exact revenge on them." --economist Thomas Sowell
Opinion in Brief
"By the time Obama came to office, KSM was ready to go before a military commission, plead guilty and be executed. It's Obama who blocked a process that would have yielded the swiftest and most certain justice. Indeed, the perfect justice. Whenever a jihadist volunteers for martyrdom, we should grant his wish. Instead, this one, the most murderous and unrepentant of all, gets to dance and declaim at the scene of his crime. [Attorney General Eric] Holder himself told The Washington Post that the coming New York trial will be 'the trial of the century.' The last such was the trial of O.J. Simpson." --columnist Charles Krauthammer
Re: The Left
"In modern America, the guilty are sanctified, while the innocent never stop paying -- including with their lives, as they did at Fort Hood [recently]. Points are awarded to aspiring victims for angry self-righteousness, acts of violence and general unpleasantness. But liberals celebrate diversity only in the case of superficial characteristics like race, gender, sexual preference and country of origin. They reject diversity when we need it, such as in 'diversity' of legal forums. After conferring with everyone at Zabar's, Obama decided that if a standard civilian trial is good enough for Martha Stewart, then it's good enough for the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. So Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is coming to New York! Mohammed's military tribunal was already under way when Obama came into office, stopped the proceedings and, eight months later, announced that Mohammed would be tried in a federal court in New York. In a liberal's reckoning, diversity is good when we have both Muslim jihadists and patriotic Americans serving in the U.S. military. But diversity is bad when Martha Stewart and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are subjected to different legal tribunals to adjudicate their transgressions." --columnist Ann Coulter
For the Record
"[There are] uncanny parallels between George W. Bush and Herbert Hoover: Both were president during a time of economic crisis; both presided over vast expansions of government that helped cause the crisis or at least make it worse than it might have been otherwise; finally both were (inaccurately) portrayed by their political opponents as dogmatic free market advocates, when in fact both were highly statist. After leaving the presidency, Bush is unconsciously imitating Hoover in yet another way -- by rhetorically supporting free markets and criticizing the even more interventionist policies of his Democratic successor (which in both cases built on the expansions of government initiated by the Republicans who preceded them).... Bush's belated support for free markets follows in Hoover's footsteps. After leaving office in 1933, Hoover wrote books and articles defending free markets and criticizing the Democrats' New Deal. Some of his criticisms of FDR were well-taken. Many New Deal policies actually worsened and prolonged the Great Depression by organizing cartels and increasing unemployment. But by coming out as a free market advocate, the post-presidential Hoover actually bolstered the cause of interventionism because he helped cement the incorrect impression that he had pursued free market policies while in office, thereby causing the Depression. Bush's post-presidential conversion creates a similar risk: it could solidify the already widespread impression that he, like the Hoover of myth, pursued laissez-faire policies which then caused an economic crisis. ... The greatest contribution Bush can now make to free market policies is to dispel the impression that he pursued them while in office." --Ilya Somin, Associate Professor at George Mason University School of Law
New! Army Star knit cap
Show your support with this black knit watch cap featuring the Army Star and U.S. Army in yellow and white embroidery! One size fits most.
Faith & Family
"[W]hy is religious freedom such a concern to us as Christians? Freedom of religion is called the first freedom for a reason. Our Founding Fathers recognized that without freedom of conscience, no other freedom can be guaranteed. Christians, in fact, are the greatest defenders of religious freedom and human liberty -- not just for Christians, but for all people. Compare religious freedom in those countries with a Christian heritage to the state of religious freedom in Islamic nations, Communist countries, and Buddhist and Hindu nations, and you will see my point. The reason that Christians place such a high value on human freedom is that freedom itself is part of the creation account in the Bible. God made humans in His image. He gave us a free will to choose to love, follow, and obey Him, or to follow our own way. That free will, given us before the Fall, is part of human nature itself. Perhaps more than anything else, it was this understanding of individual freedom that turned me into the kind of patriot who would willingly give his life for his country. It was the words of the Declaration of Independence that inspired me to join the Marines: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' So this question of human freedom goes to the very heart of who we are as Christians and as Americans." --author Chuck Colson
We Depend on You
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Words And Swords
on: November 23, 2009, 06:57:35 AM
By ERIC ORMSBY
In A.D. 395, Roman Emperor Theodosius I split his realm between his two sons, giving the Western empire—with Rome at its heart—to Honorius, and the eastern half—Byzantium—to his brother, Arkadios. Honorius seemed to get the better deal. Byzantium was a disjointed empire made up of regions scattered across eastern Europe, Asia and northern Africa, and it was vulnerable to attack. Invaders came from all directions—Huns from the steppes, Avars from the Caucasus, the mighty armies of the Sasanian Persians, followed by the Arabs and the Turks and, most disastrous of all, Crusaders from the West.
And yet the Roman Empire, and Rome itself, fell in the fifth century A.D., while Byzantium endured for almost a millennium longer. How was this possible? That question drives Edward N. Luttwak's "The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire." Mr. Luttwak, an inveterate provocateur and the author of several earlier studies of strategy, including the audacious "Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook" (1979), has been pondering this Byzantine puzzle for two decades.
Mr. Luttwak tells his story well. He is especially good on fine detail. Whether describing the lethal "composite reflex bow" used by Hun archers or the complex but surprisingly efficient Byzantine tax system, he is both vivid and exact. Of the Hun bows, for example, he notes that, while they were as powerful as Western longbows, they had a further decisive advantage: They could be shot from horseback "while riding fast, even at a full gallop and laterally or even backward." Though no Hun bows survive, Mr. Luttwak's meticulous descriptions convey their deadly efficiency. It is through such details that a modern reader captures some sense of the sheer terror that those ancient raiders inspired.
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.The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire
By Edward Luttwak
(Belknap/Harvard, 498 pages, $35)
.Even on obscure theological matters, such as the wrangles over "monotheletism"—the proposition that Christ had two natures, human and divine, united by a single will—he is refreshingly lucid. For the Byzantines, even theology involved strategy of a sort. Thus the great Byzantine emperor Herakleios (610-641), who defeated both the Sasanian Persians and the Avars, waded into the controversy over Christ's true nature, a doctrinal matter answered differently by different sects within the empire; it was he who formulated the "monothelite" or "one will" solution. This was a political as much as a theological solution,, by which he attempted to "unify his subjects in extremis by offering a neat Christological compromise," as Mr. Luttwak notes. Such issues seem impossibly removed from us, but Mr. Luttwak is right to include them; they show the Byzantine strategic mentality at its subtlest.
Though Mr. Luttwak draws on sources in several languages—including manuals of strategy (a genre that the Byzantines invented), histories by Arab, Greek and Latin authors, and a wide array of scholarly literature—"The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire" isn't really a conventional academic treatise. Notwithstanding its erudition, this is an impassioned book, and all the better for that. As Mr. Luttwak writes: "The epic struggle to defend the empire for century after century . . . seems to resonate, especially in our own times." Historically remote as they are, the Byzantines may have something to teach Americans about long-term survival.
Sometimes Mr. Luttwak indulges in playful anachronism, not always successfully. It's odd to characterize an early medieval round of negotiation as being driven by "discredited neo-Marxist dogma." Referring to the early Arab conquerors routinely as "jihadi" isn't wholly incorrect, but it's misleading; they were fired as much by desire for plunder as by religious zeal. And to compare Attila with Hitler because they had similarly primitive dining habits, while mildly amusing, is hardly enlightening. Nor is Mr. Luttwak unduly burdened by modesty; he boasts of his own involvement in espionage and other covert activities, though he's coy about the specifics.
Despite these false notes, Mr. Luttwak makes a compelling case. The Byzantine Empire survived so successfully and for so long—falling finally to the Ottoman Turks, though not until 1453—because its rulers understood the value of sound strategy. They endured setbacks, such as the repeated capture of the defensive outpost of Amorium, but they learned from their occasional defeats.
In the fifth century, confronted by the onslaught of the Huns, the Byzantines noted how these swift horsemen maneuvered and skirmished, firing arrows at unprecedented ranges and as abruptly wheeling back in retreat. The Byzantines learned to master such tactics to terrible effect. They also understood that military success doesn't lie solely in improved weapons or novel techniques of combat. Diplomacy is as crucial as force. It was this combination—words and swords—that ensured their survival against often overwhelming odds. They were skillful negotiators but even more skillful manipulators, adept at pitting opponents against one another.
In Mr. Luttwak's definition, strategy is "the application of method and ingenuity in the use of both persuasion and force." Beyond this, the Byzantines knew that strategy demands the long view; they understood that it depends on the ability, even in troubled times, to imagine a possible and desirable future. We would do well to avail ourselves of such a prism in assessing the grandness of the strategies now being contemplated in Washington .
Mr. Ormsby is the author most recently of "Ghazali: The Revival of Islam."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: November 23, 2009, 06:53:13 AM
"Too big to fail" means the end of the free market-- that is why this idea is being pushed so sedulously by the Pravdas:
'We won't have a real market-based financial system until it is safe to let a financial firm fail," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week. He's certainly right, though you wouldn't know it from Mr. Bernanke's own actions the last two years. Meanwhile, the politicians are preparing to give the Fed and Treasury more power to bail out all and sundry companies on an unprecedented scale, and so far without any objection from the Fed chairman.
Reading the pending bills to "resolve" failing financial houses from Representative Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd, the challenge is to conceive of someone who is not eligible for unlimited taxpayer funds. The list of potential bailout recipients under both bills runs from bank holding companies to hedge funds to auto makers, consumer retail chains and just about anyone else engaging in finance of one kind or another.
While most scholarly investigations of the too-big-to-fail phenomenon start from the premise that it's a problem, Messrs. Dodd and Frank appear to view it as the cornerstone of our financial system. This may not be surprising given their history. Mr. Frank is famous for saying he wanted to "roll the dice" with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Less well known is how Mr. Dodd has labored to make Wall Street increasingly eligible for the taxpayer safety net. By raising expectations that bailouts will be available, he has, as much as anyone in Congress, encouraged the risk-taking that took the financial system to the brink of ruin.
During consideration of the 1991 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act, the Connecticut Senator insisted on reducing the quality of collateral Wall Street would need to present when borrowing from the Federal Reserve in times of emergency. Said Mr. Dodd: "My provision allows the Fed more power to provide liquidity, by enabling it to make fully secured loans to securities firms in instances similar to the 1987 stock market crash." He also fought every serious reform of Fannie and Freddie.
In his current bill, Mr. Dodd allows private market participants to receive emergency cash from both the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, without the bailout recipient having to enter either bankruptcy or the vaunted "resolution" process we'll describe in a moment.
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Sen. Christopher J. Dodd
Under "miscellaneous provisions," Mr. Dodd's bill rewrites a portion of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act and allows cash going to depository institutions—i.e., commercial banks backed by FDIC's insurance fund—to also go to nondepositories in an emergency. We see no limit in the bill on what these nonbanks can be.
Similarly, Mr. Dodd rewrites the Federal Reserve Act's section on "unusual and exigent circumstances." Bailouts could now go to "any program or facility with broad-based participation." Mr. Dodd's "resolutions" do not require that firms be liquidated or wound down. Regulators can pump unlimited funds into failing firms and choose to rescue creditors.
Alabama Republican Richard Shelby warns that these multiple paths for large firms to avoid bankruptcy "will undermine incentives for investors and executives to effectively monitor risks. They will likely take even more risks because they know that they will reap the benefits, while taxpayers will have to cover the costs." He adds that the moral hazard created by the bill "could set the stage for an even more severe and more expensive financial crisis in the future." That sounds exactly right.
Over in the House, Mr. Frank gives the FDIC new power to pump cash into both banks and nonbanks that are neither bankrupt nor under government "resolution." As for that "resolution" process, which Mr. Frank has described as "death panels" for nonbanks, shareholders and unsecured creditors could still recover money. In fact, they might recover a great deal, because the FDIC can make loans or buy equity in a failing company or guarantee its debts, among other assistance.
The FDIC may "take such action as necessary to put the covered financial company in a sound and solvent condition." So the government can do more than just prevent a "disorderly failure." It can pump in so much cash that the business becomes an orderly success. This sounds like a mandate to treat even more companies like Citigroup, which has been rescued despite multiple failures and with little discipline for shareholders or executives, much less for creditors.
To fund these bailouts, large financial companies will pay fees until the government has collected $150 billion. Republican Scott Garrett has been warning House colleagues that Mr. Frank's "death panels" really add up to a "permanent bailout authority" that would expand the power of government and taxpayer rescues to historic highs.
Mr. Dodd decided against writing a bipartisan bill with Mr. Shelby, and it shows. For years, Mr. Shelby warned about Fannie and Freddie and the rise of moral hazard, not to mention government-selected credit-ratings agencies and bank capital standards. One might think these warnings would have inspired Mr. Dodd to seek the Alabamian's counsel after the disasters of 2008. But down in the polls and facing re-election, Mr. Dodd wants to pose as a populist reformer even as his bill would entrench moral hazard (and cheaper funding costs for the likes of Goldman Sachs) even deeper into the financial system.
Still, it's not too late to consider a bipartisan approach. This would start with an appreciation that any resolution authority has to include some rules of the road for regulators, rather than let Mr. Bernanke and the Treasury secretary decide who to bail out and when out of their hip pocket.
It must also include the guarantee of punishment for firms that come looking for help. The first step in discouraging excessive risks is that the risk-takers understand they will suffer the consequences of their bad bets. Former SEC Chairman Richard Breeden proposes a special bankruptcy court, like the FISA court for intelligence, where experienced judges with ample resources could handle large financial cases.
This deserves consideration and debate. We think it has potential as a venue if a behemoth like General Electric, with its large finance business, or even a bank holding company like Goldman Sachs, were ever to fail. The FDIC could seize the bank to protect depositors and the rest of the firm could restructure under bankruptcy protection.
Barring such a resolution process, the other way to reduce moral hazard is to limit certain kinds of risk-taking by institutions that hold taxpayer-insured deposits, as suggested by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Bank of England Chairman Mervyn King. This has its own problems. But unlike the emerging plans in Washington, it is credible and would give capitalism a fighting chance to survive regulatory reform.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: GPS and the 4th
on: November 23, 2009, 06:48:03 AM
Tis a rare event that I post a NYT editorial in agreement!
GPS and Privacy Rights Recommend
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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkPublished: November 22, 2009
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., heard arguments last week about whether police should have to get a warrant before putting a GPS device on a suspect’s car. It is a cutting-edge civil liberties question that has divided the courts that have considered it. GPS devices give the government extraordinary power to monitor people’s movements. The Washington court should rule that a warrant is required.
Antoine Jones was charged with being part of an interstate drug conspiracy. The government obtained evidence against Mr. Jones by putting a GPS device on his Jeep. It obtained a court order to install the GPS device, but the defense said the order was faulty, and tried to get the evidence collected by the device thrown out. The government responded that the evidence was admissible because it did not need to get a court order at all.
The Supreme Court has not considered the question of whether the police need a court order to install a GPS device. The government has tried to draw an analogy to a 1983 case in which the court ruled that the police do not need a warrant to use a radio beeper to track a vehicle on public roads, but the circumstances were different. In that case, the police were conducting visual surveillance of a particular suspect’s movements, and a beeper augmented the officers’ senses. A modern GPS device is a far more potent means of tracking people than a beeper.
Lower courts have reached different conclusions. A panel of the Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in 2007 that a warrant is not required for remote surveillance by a GPS device, although it said that if the police began to use the technique on a large scale it might violate the Fourth Amendment.
The highest courts of three states — New York, Oregon and Washington — ruled the opposite way, that their state constitutions prohibit the police from installing GPS devices without a warrant. The New York Court of Appeals, the highest New York court, got it exactly right earlier this year, insisting that permitting police to install GPS devices without judicial oversight would be “an enormous unsupervised intrusion by the police agencies of government upon personal privacy.”
As technology advances, government will continue to acquire new and more efficient ways of monitoring people. It is critical that the privacy rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment keep up with those advances.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Detecting nukes
on: November 23, 2009, 06:43:33 AM
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: November 22, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security has spent $230 million to develop better technology for detecting smuggled nuclear bombs but has had to stop deploying the new machines because the United States has run out of a crucial raw material, experts say.
The ingredient is helium 3, an unusual form of the element that is formed when tritium, an ingredient of hydrogen bombs, decays. But the government mostly stopped making tritium in 1989.
“I have not heard any explanation of why this was not entirely foreseeable,” said Representative Brad Miller, Democrat of North Carolina, who is the chairman of a House subcommittee that is investigating the problem.
An official from the Homeland Security Department testified last week before Mr. Miller’s panel, the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science Committee, that demand for helium 3 appeared to be 10 times the supply.
Some government agencies, Mr. Miller said, did anticipate a crisis, but the Homeland Security Department appears not to have gotten the message.
The department had planned a worldwide network using the new detectors, which were supposed to detect plutonium or uranium in shipping containers. The government wanted 1,300 to 1,400 machines, which cost $800,000 each, for use in ports around the world to thwart terrorists who might try to deliver a nuclear bomb to a big city by stashing it in one of the millions of containers that enter the United States every year.
At the White House, Steve Fetter, an assistant director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the helium 3 problem was short-term because other technologies would be developed. But, he said, while the government had a large surplus of helium 3 at the end of the cold war, “people should have been aware that this was a one-time windfall and was not sustainable.”
Helium 3 is not hazardous or even chemically reactive, and it is not the only material that can be used for neutron detection. The Homeland Security Department has older equipment that can look for radioactivity, but it does not differentiate well between bomb fuel and innocuous materials that naturally emit radiation — like cat litter, ceramic tiles and bananas — and sounds false alarms more often.
Earlier this year, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, part of the Energy Department, said in a report, “No other currently available detection technology offers the stability, sensitivity and gamma/neutron discrimination” of detectors using helium 3.
Helium 3 is used to detect neutrons, the subatomic particles that sustain the chain reaction in a bomb or a reactor. Plutonium, the favorite bomb-making material of most governments with nuclear weapons, intermittently gives off neutrons, which are harder for a smuggler to hide than other forms of radiation. (Detecting the alternative bomb fuel, enriched uranium, is a separate, difficult problem, experts say.)
Helium 3 is rare in nature, but the Energy Department accumulated a substantial stockpile as a byproduct of maintaining nuclear weapons. Those weapons use tritium, which is the form of hydrogen used in the H-bomb, but the hydrogen decays into helium 3 at the rate of 5.5 percent a year. For that reason the tritium in each bomb has to be removed, purified and replenished every few years. It is purified by removing the helium 3.
The declining supply is also needed for physics research and medical diagnostics.
The Energy Department used to make tritium in reactors at its Savannah River Site, near Aiken, S.C., but those were shut after many operational problems. It enlisted the Tennessee Valley Authority to make some tritium in a power reactor, using the same method it had used at Savannah River, breaking up another material, a form of lithium, with neutrons. One of the fragments is tritium. But that project has run into technical problems as well.
Mr. Miller estimated that demand for helium 3 was about 65,000 liters per year through 2013 and that total production by the only two countries that produce it in usable form, the United States and Russia, was only about 20,000 liters. In a letter to President Obama, he called the shortage “a national crisis” and said the price had jumped to $2,000 a liter from $100 in the last few years, which threatens scientific research.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / NYT: New NFL policy
on: November 23, 2009, 06:39:01 AM
N.F.L. to Shift in Its Handling of Concussions
By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: November 22, 2009
In a shift in the National Football League’s approach to handling concussions, the league will soon require teams to receive advice from independent neurologists while treating players with brain injuries, several people with knowledge of the plan confirmed Sunday.
For generations, decisions on when players who sustain concussions should return to play have been made by doctors and trainers employed by the team, raising questions of possible conflicts of interest when coaches and owners want players to return more quickly than proper care would suggest.
As scientific studies and anecdotal evidence have found a heightened risk for brain damage, dementia and cognitive decline in retired players, the league has faced barbed criticism from outside experts and, more recently, from Congress over its policies on handling players with concussions.
The league and Commissioner Roger Goodell have insisted that the N.F.L.’s policies are safe and that no third-party involvement is necessary, pointing to research by its committee on concussions as proof. But after an embarrassing hearing on the issue before the House Judiciary Committee last month in which the league was compared to the tobacco industry, the N.F.L. seems to have begun to embrace the value of outside opinion.
“I don’t want to call it forced, but it’s been strongly urged because of the awareness of the issue these days,” Chester Pitts, a lineman and union representative for the Houston Texans, said in a telephone interview. “When you have Congress talking about the antitrust exemption and them calling them the tobacco industry, that’s pretty big. But it’s a good thing it’s transpiring.”
The league spokesman Greg Aiello offered no details of the new guideline, first reported Sunday on Fox’s N.F.L. pregame broadcast, like when it will go into effect, how the independent doctors will be identified and compensated, or even whether their input must be followed.
But Mr. Goodell, interviewed Sunday on the NBC program “Football Night in America,” referring to the use of independent doctors for concussion cases, said: “As we learn more and more, we want to give players the best medical advice. This is a chance for us to expand that and bring more people into the circle to make sure we’re making the best decisions for our players in the long term.”
George Atallah, the players union’s assistant executive director for external affairs, said in an e-mail message that his organization had been speaking with N.F.L. officials for two weeks about implementing some sort of independent scrutiny for players who receive concussions — perhaps including an outside doctor present at every game. He said that the union’s medical director, Dr. Thom Mayer, “has personally approved and reviewed doctors for roughly one-third of the teams,” suggesting that the union would cooperate on the program.
Mr. Atallah said he did not know when the policy might take effect.
Mr. Atallah added that the union had pushed for the program “with the hope that this example spreads to every level of football.” More than 1.2 million teenagers play high school football every fall, with many getting seriously injured by playing through concussions or not having proper medical care for them.
At the House Judiciary Committee hearing on football brain injuries last month, several members of Congress portrayed Mr. Goodell and the league as impeding proper player care and obfuscating the long-term effects of concussions. The league and a co-chairman of its committee on brain injuries, Dr. Ira Casson, have consistently played down studies and anecdotal evidence linking retired N.F.L. players to brain damage commonly associated with boxers and dementia rates several times that of the national population.
Regarding the care of current players who sustain concussions, in 2007, the league enacted measures that required all players to undergo baseline neuropsychological testing and then be retested before being cleared to play; forbade players who were knocked unconscious to return to play the same day; and set up a hot line through which players could report being pressured to play against a doctor’s advice.
The hot line was in response to the story of Ted Johnson, a former New England Patriots linebacker who said he was coerced by Patriots Coach Belichick into playing too soon after a concussion, and sustained a more serious injury that led to a debilitating case of postconcussion syndrome. (Belichick denied the accusation.) Requiring an independent doctor at games or for follow-up consultation would protect against similar incidents that players say are less overt but nonetheless prevalent in a league without guaranteed contracts.
An independent doctor cannot address what many experts consider the primary area needing reform: the tendency of players who sustain concussions to hide them from medical personnel and endanger themselves. Even Sean Morey, a special-teams player for the Arizona Cardinals who is a co-chairman of the union’s committee on brain injuries, admitted this season that he played a game despite a concussion.
Consulting doctors beyond the team does not necessarily solve all of the league’s conflict-of-interest issues. And it is unclear how guidelines would define who is an independent expert.
The most prominent current — and instructive — N.F.L. concussion is probably that of the Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook. He sustained one major injury Oct. 26, was held out of the next two games by team doctors, and then sustained another concussion Nov. 15.
Given that repetitive concussions are known to cause far more damage than single injuries, the Eagles sent Westbrook to well-regarded concussion specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center last week for a third-party examination. Complicating matters could be that the Pittsburgh group includes the Steelers’ team neurosurgeon as well as the league’s director of neurological testing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT
on: November 23, 2009, 06:35:14 AM
It was drizzling lightly in late October when the midnight shift started at the Owls Head Water Pollution Control Plant, where much of Brooklyn’s sewage is treated.
A few miles away, people were walking home without umbrellas from late dinners. But at Owls Head, a swimming pool’s worth of sewage and wastewater was soon rushing in every second. Warning horns began to blare. A little after 1 a.m., with a harder rain falling, Owls Head reached its capacity and workers started shutting the intake gates.
That caused a rising tide throughout Brooklyn’s sewers, and untreated feces and industrial waste started spilling from emergency relief valves into the Upper New York Bay and Gowanus Canal.
“It happens anytime you get a hard rainfall,” said Bob Connaughton, one the plant’s engineers. “Sometimes all it takes is 20 minutes of rain, and you’ve got overflows across Brooklyn.”
One goal of the Clean Water Act of 1972 was to upgrade the nation’s sewer systems, many of them built more than a century ago, to handle growing populations and increasing runoff of rainwater and waste. During the 1970s and 1980s, Congress distributed more than $60 billion to cities to make sure that what goes into toilets, industrial drains and street grates would not endanger human health.
But despite those upgrades, many sewer systems are still frequently overwhelmed, according to a New York Times analysis of environmental data. As a result, sewage is spilling into waterways.
In the last three years alone, more than 9,400 of the nation’s 25,000 sewage systems — including those in major cities — have reported violating the law by dumping untreated or partly treated human waste, chemicals and other hazardous materials into rivers and lakes and elsewhere, according to data from state environmental agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency.
But fewer than one in five sewage systems that broke the law were ever fined or otherwise sanctioned by state or federal regulators, the Times analysis shows.
It is not clear whether the sewage systems that have not reported such dumping are doing any better, because data on overflows and spillage are often incomplete.
As cities have grown rapidly across the nation, many have neglected infrastructure projects and paved over green spaces that once absorbed rainwater. That has contributed to sewage backups into more than 400,000 basements and spills into thousands of streets, according to data collected by state and federal officials. Sometimes, waste has overflowed just upstream from drinking water intake points or near public beaches.
There is no national record-keeping of how many illnesses are caused by sewage spills. But academic research suggests that as many as 20 million people each year become ill from drinking water containing bacteria and other pathogens that are often spread by untreated waste.
A 2007 study published in the journal Pediatrics, focusing on one Milwaukee hospital, indicated that the number of children suffering from serious diarrhea rose whenever local sewers overflowed. Another study, published in 2008 in the Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, estimated that as many as four million people become sick each year in California from swimming in waters containing the kind of pollution often linked to untreated sewage.
Around New York City, samples collected at dozens of beaches or piers have detected the types of bacteria and other pollutants tied to sewage overflows. Though the city’s drinking water comes from upstate reservoirs, environmentalists say untreated excrement and other waste in the city’s waterways pose serious health risks.
A Deluge of Sewage
“After the storm, the sewage flowed down the street faster than we could move out of the way and filled my house with over a foot of muck,” said Laura Serrano, whose Bay Shore, N.Y., home was damaged in 2005 by a sewer overflow.
Ms. Serrano, who says she contracted viral meningitis because of exposure to the sewage, has filed suit against Suffolk County, which operates the sewer system. The county’s lawyer disputes responsibility for the damage and injuries.
“I had to move out, and no one will buy my house because the sewage was absorbed into the walls,” Ms. Serrano said. “I can still smell it sometimes.”
When a sewage system overflows or a treatment plant dumps untreated waste, it is often breaking the law. Today, sewage systems are the nation’s most frequent violators of the Clean Water Act. More than a third of all sewer systems — including those in San Diego, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, Philadelphia, San Jose and San Francisco — have violated environmental laws since 2006, according to a Times analysis of E.P.A. data.
Thousands of other sewage systems operated by smaller cities, colleges, mobile home parks and companies have also broken the law. But few of the violators are ever punished.
The E.P.A., in a statement, said that officials agreed that overflows posed a “significant environmental and human health problem, and significantly reducing or eliminating such overflows has been a priority for E.P.A. enforcement since the mid-1990s.”
In the last year, E.P.A. settlements with sewer systems in Hampton Roads, Va., and the east San Francisco Bay have led to more than $200 million spent on new systems to reduce pollution, the agency said. In October, the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said she was overhauling how the Clean Water Act is enforced.
But widespread problems still remain.
“The E.P.A. would rather look the other way than crack down on cities, since punishing municipalities can cause political problems,” said Craig Michaels of Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group. “But without enforcement and fines, this problem will never end.”
Plant operators and regulators, for their part, say that fines would simply divert money from stretched budgets and that they are doing the best they can with aging systems and overwhelmed pipes.
New York, for example, was one of the first major cities to build a large sewer system, starting construction in 1849. Many of those pipes — constructed of hand-laid brick and ceramic tiles — are still used. Today, the city’s 7,400 miles of sewer pipes operate almost entirely by gravity, unlike in other cities that use large pumps.
New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants, which handle 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater a day, have been flooded with thousands of pickles (after a factory dumped its stock), vast flows of discarded chicken heads and large pieces of lumber.
When a toilet flushes in the West Village in Manhattan, the waste runs north six miles through gradually descending pipes to a plant at 137th Street, where it is mixed with so-called biological digesters that consume dangerous pathogens. The wastewater is then mixed with chlorine and sent into the Hudson River.
But New York’s system — like those in hundreds of others cities — combines rainwater runoff with sewage. Over the last three decades, as thousands of acres of trees, bushes and other vegetation in New York have been paved over, the land’s ability to absorb rain has declined significantly. When treatment plants are swamped, the excess spills from 490 overflow pipes throughout the city’s five boroughs.
When the sky is clear, Owls Head can handle the sewage from more than 750,000 people. But the balance is so delicate that Mr. Connaughton and his colleagues must be constantly ready for rain.
They choose cable television packages for their homes based on which company offers the best local weather forecasts. They know meteorologists by the sound of their voices. When the leaves begin to fall each autumn, clogging sewer grates and pipes, Mr. Connaughton sometimes has trouble sleeping.
“I went to Hawaii with my wife, and the whole time I was flipping to the Weather Channel, seeing if it was raining in New York,” he said.
New York’s sewage system overflows essentially every other time it rains.
Reducing such overflows is a priority, city officials say. But eradicating the problem would cost billions.
Officials have spent approximately $35 billion over three decades improving the quality of the waters surrounding the city and have improved systems to capture and store rainwater and sewage, bringing down the frequency and volume of overflows, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection wrote in a statement.
“Water quality in New York City has improved dramatically in the last century, and particularly in the last two decades,” officials wrote.
Several years ago, city officials estimated that it would cost at least $58 billion to prevent all overflows. “Even an expenditure of that magnitude would not result in every part of a river or bay surrounding the city achieving water quality that is suitable for swimming,” the department wrote. “It would, however, increase the average N.Y.C. water and sewer bill by 80 percent.”
The E.P.A., concerned about the risks of overflowing sewers, issued a national framework in 1994 to control overflows, including making sure that pipes are designed so they do not easily become plugged by debris and warning the public when overflows occur. In 2000, Congress amended the Clean Water Act to crack down on overflows.
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But in hundreds of places, sewer systems remain out of compliance with that framework or the Clean Water Act, which regulates most pollution discharges to waterways. And the burdens on sewer systems are growing as cities become larger and, in some areas, rainstorms become more frequent and fierce.
New York’s system, for instance, was designed to accommodate a so-called five-year storm — a rainfall so extreme that it is expected to occur, on average, only twice a decade. But in 2007 alone, the city experienced three 25-year storms, according to city officials — storms so strong they would be expected only four times each century.
“When you get five inches of rain in 30 minutes, it’s like Thanksgiving Day traffic on a two-lane bridge in the sewer pipes,” said James Roberts, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.
To combat these shifts, some cities are encouraging sewer-friendly development. New York, for instance, has instituted zoning laws requiring new parking lots to include landscaped areas to absorb rainwater, established a tax credit for roofs with absorbent vegetation and begun to use millions of dollars for environmentally friendly infrastructure projects.
Philadelphia has announced it will spend $1.6 billion over 20 years to build rain gardens and sidewalks of porous pavement and to plant thousands of trees.
But unless cities require private developers to build in ways that minimize runoff, the volume of rain flowing into sewers is likely to grow, environmentalists say.
The only real solution, say many lawmakers and water advocates, is extensive new spending on sewer systems largely ignored for decades. As much as $400 billion in extra spending is needed over the next decade to fix the nation’s sewer infrastructure, according to estimates by the E.P.A. and the Government Accountability Office.
Legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill contains millions in water infrastructure grants, and the stimulus bill passed this year set aside $6 billion to improve sewers and other water systems.
But that money is only a small fraction of what is needed, officials say. And over the last two decades, federal money for such programs has fallen by 70 percent, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which estimates that a quarter of the state’s sewage and wastewater treatment plants are “using outmoded, inadequate technology.”
“The public has no clue how important these sewage plants are,” said Mr. Connaughton of the Brooklyn site. “Waterborne disease was the scourge of mankind for centuries. These plants stopped that. We’re doing everything we can to clean as much sewage as possible, but sometimes, that isn’t enough.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ruell Marc Gerecht
on: November 22, 2009, 11:49:08 PM
By REUEL MARC GERECHT
For those of us who have tracked Islamic militancy in Europe, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's actions are not extraordinary. Since Muslim militants first tried to blow a French high-speed train off its rails in 1995, European intelligence and internal-security services have increasingly monitored European Muslim radicals. Whether it's anti-Muslim bigotry, the large numbers of immigrant and native-born Muslims in Europe, an appreciation of how hard it is to become European, or just an understanding of how dangerous Islamic radicalism is, most Europeans are far less circumspect and politically correct when discussing their Muslim compatriots than are Americans.
A concern for not giving offense to Muslims would never prevent the French internal-security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), which deploys a large number of Muslim officers, from aggressively trying to pre-empt terrorism. As Maj. Hasan's case shows, this is not true in the United States. The American military and especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation were in great part inattentive because they were too sensitive.
Moreover, President Barack Obama's determined effort not to mention Islam in terrorist discussions—which means that we must not suggest that Maj. Hasan's murderous actions flowed from his faith—will weaken American counterterrorism. Worse, the president's position is an enormous wasted opportunity to advance an all-critical Muslim debate about the nature and legitimacy of jihad.
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.European counterterrorist officers know well that jihadists can appear, self-generated or tutored by extremist groups, inside Muslim families where parents and siblings lead peaceful lives. Security officials live in fear of the quiet believer who quickly radicalizes, or the secular down-and-out European who enthusiastically converts to a militant creed. Both cases allow little time and often few leads to neutralize a possible lethal explosion of the faith.
It shouldn't require the U.S. to have a French-style, internal-security service to neutralize the likes of Maj. Hasan. He combines all of the factors—especially his public ruminations about American villainy in the Middle East and his overriding sense of Muslim fraternity—that should have had him under surveillance by counterintelligence units. Add the outrageous fact that he was in email correspondence with Anwar al-Awlaqi, a pro-al Qaeda imam well-known to American intelligence, and it is hard not to conclude that the FBI is still incapable of counterterrorism against an Islamic target.
For the FBI, religion remains a much too sensitive subject, much more so than the threatening ideologies of yesteryear. Imagine if Maj. Hasan had been an officer during the Cold War, regularly expressing his sympathy for the Soviet Union and American criminality against the working man. Imagine him writing to a KGB front organization espousing socialist solidarity. The major would have been surrounded by counterintelligence officers.
A law-enforcement agency par excellence, the FBI reflects American legal ethics. Because the FBI is always thinking about criminal prosecutions and admissible evidence, its intelligence-collecting inevitably gets defined by its judicial procedures. Good counterintelligence curiosity—that must come into play before any crime is committed—is at odds with a G-man's raison d'être. And much more so than local police departments—which are grounded to the unpleasantness of daily life—it is highly susceptible to politically correct behavior.
Powerfully intertwined in all of this is liberal America's reluctance to discuss Islam, Islamic militancy, jihadism, or anything that might be construed as invidious to Muslims. The Obama administration obviously doesn't want to get tagged with an Islamist terrorist strike in the U.S.—the first since 9/11. The Muslim-sensitive 9/11 Commission Report, which unambiguously named the enemy as "Islamist terrorism," now seems distinctly passé.
Thoughtful men should certainly not want to see a U.S. president propel a "clash of civilizations" with devout Muslims. However, clash-avoidance shouldn't lead us into a philosophical cul-de-sac. The stakes are so enormous—jihadists would if they could let loose a weapon of mass destruction in a Western city—that we should not prevaricate out of politeness, or deceive ourselves into believing that a debate between Muslims and non-Muslims can only be counterproductive.
The great Muslim reformers of the last 200 years have all been intellectually deeply intertwined with the West. The West has stimulated every single great modern Muslim conversation. The abolition of slavery, the study of science, public schools and widespread literacy, the widely felt and growing need for constitutional and representative government—and less meritorious subjects like socialism, communism and fascism—came about because of Westernization. The Westernization, moreover, was usually driven by Muslims themselves.
This "globalization" has not always been appreciated on the Muslim side. Britain's imperialistic doggedness against the slave trade was deeply resented by Muslims who, like American Southerners, saw slavery, as sacred. Devout Muslims often go ballistic when Westerners and secular Muslims push hard for an expansion of women's rights. Militant Islam is a response to the unstoppable Westernization of Muslim society.
But unavoidably invidious dialogue is the essence of modernity—it is the lifeblood of autocratic societies that have successfully made the painful jump into a democratic era.
The brilliant Iranian revolutionary-turned dissident, Abd al-Karim Soroush, whose ideas contributed to the pro-democracy tumult we've witnessed in Iran since the June 12 election, has forcefully argued for Muslims to critique themselves unsparingly, to happily import and use the West's rational relentlessness to strengthen the faith. An elemental part of Mr. Soroush's critique is that Muslims are capable of thinking on their own. They can take the heat.
In his Cairo speech in June, Mr. Obama pledged "to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear." Muslims don't need his help protecting Islam from mean-spirited Westerners—or from Western novelists, film directors or scholars who might see something in Islamic history that devout Muslims find insulting.
But Westerners could certainly benefit from Mr. Obama underscoring something else he touched on in his Cairo speech: Muslims should stop blaming non-Muslims for their crippling problems. He could ask, as some Muslims have, why is it that Islam has produced so many jihadists? Why is it that Maj. Hasan's rampage has produced so little questioning among Muslim clerics about why a man, one in a long line of Muslim militants, so easily takes God's name to slaughter his fellow citizens?
Had Mr. Obama asked this, we might now be witnessing convulsive debate among Muslims. He missed the opportunity to start this conversation before what is clearly the first Islamist terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. He will probably get another opportunity.
As it stands now, however, Iranian youth who once so eagerly welcomed Mr. Obama's election by shouting his name in Persian—U ba ma! ("He is with us!")—are now writing the president's likely legacy among Muslims who yearn for a better modernity. Disappointed to see how determined Mr. Obama has remained to engage the regime they despise, they now forlornly chant U ba unhast ("He is with them.").
For Muslims who are on the front lines of Islam's bloody reformation, as well as for American counterterrorist officers who must find holy warriors in our midst, Mr. Obama has come down on the wrong side of history.
Mr. Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: WS profits again, now by reducing mortgages
on: November 22, 2009, 10:57:11 AM
Wall St. Finds Profits Again, Now by Reducing Mortgages
By LOUISE STORY
Published: November 21, 2009
As millions of Americans struggle to hold on to their homes, Wall Street has found a way to make money from the mortgage mess.
Investment funds are buying billions of dollars’ worth of home loans, discounted from the loans’ original value. Then, in what might seem an act of charity, the funds are helping homeowners by reducing the size of the loans.
But as part of these deals, the mortgages are being refinanced through lenders that work with government agencies like the Federal Housing Administration. This enables the funds to pocket sizable profits by reselling new, government-insured loans to other federal agencies, which then bundle the mortgages into securities for sale to investors.
While homeowners save money, the arrangement shifts nearly all the risk for the loans to the federal government — and, ultimately, taxpayers — at a time when Americans are falling behind on their mortgage payments in record numbers.
For instance, a fund might offer to pay $40 million for a $100 million block of mortgages from a bank in distress. Then the fund could arrange to have some of those loans refinanced into mortgages backed by an agency like the F.H.A. and then sold to an agency like Ginnie Mae. The trick is to persuade the homeowners to refinance those mortgages, by offering to reduce the amounts the homeowners owe.
The profit comes when the refinancings reach more than the $40 million that the fund paid for the block of loans.
The strategy has created an unusual alliance between Wall Street funds that specialize in troubled investments — the industry calls them “vulture” funds — and American homeowners.
But the transactions also add to the potential burden on government agencies, particularly the F.H.A., which has lately taken on an outsize role in the housing market and, some fear, may eventually need to be bailed out at taxpayer expense.
These new mortgage investors thrive in the shadows. Typically, the funds employ intermediaries to contact homeowners and arrange for mortgages to be refinanced.
Homeowners often have no idea who their Wall Street benefactors are. Federal housing officials, too, are in the dark.
Policymakers have encouraged investors and banks to put more consumers into government-backed loans. The total value of these transactions from hedge funds is small compared with the overall housing market.
Housing experts warn that the financial players involved — the investment funds, their intermediaries and certain F.H.A. approved lenders — have a financial incentive to put as many loans as possible into the government’s hands.
“From the borrower’s point of view, landing in a hedge fund or private equity fund that’s willing to write down principal is a gift,” said Howard Glaser, a financial industry consultant and former official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He went on: “From the systemic point of view, there is something disturbing about investors that had substantial short-term profit in backing toxic loans now swooping down to make another profit on cleaning up that mess.”
Steven and Marisela Alva say they do not know who helped them with their mortgage. All they know is that they feel blessed.
Last December, the couple got a letter saying that a firm had purchased the mortgage on their home in Pico Rivera, Calif., from Chase Home Finance for less than its original value. “We want to share this discount with you,” the letter said.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Mr. Alva, a 62-year-old janitor and father of three. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘Something is wrong, something is wrong. This sounds too good.’ ”
But it was true. The balance on the Alvas’ mortgage was ultimately reduced to $314,000 from $440,000.
The firm behind the reduction remains a mystery. The Alvas’ new loan, backed by the F.H.A., was made by Primary Residential Mortgage, a lender based in Utah. But the letter came from a company called MCM Capital Partners.
In the letter, MCM said the couple’s loan was owned by something called MCMCap Homeowners’ Advantage Trust III. But MCM’s co-founders said in an interview that MCM does not own any mortgages. They would not reveal the investor that owned the Alvas’ loan because they had agreed to keep that client’s identity confidential.
Michael Niccolini, an MCM founder, said, “We are changing people’s lives.”
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In Washington, mortgage funds are lobbying for policies that favor their investments, particularly mortgages held in securitized bundles. They want more mortgage balances to be lowered, which might help mortgage bonds perform better. Big banks generally oppose such reductions, which lock in banks’ losses on the loans.
In April, about a dozen investment firms formed a group called the Mortgage Investors Coalition to press their case. One investor who is speaking out is Wilbur L. Ross, who runs a fund that buys mortgages and owns a large mortgage servicing company.
Mr. Ross said modifications that simply lower interest rates or lengthen the duration of a loan, as is typical in the government modification program, do not work well.
“They make a payment or two, but then one night the husband and wife will sit down at the table and say, ‘Do we really want to make 140 monthly payments into a rat hole?’ ” Mr. Ross said.
The Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund in New York, is one of the firms at the forefront of picking through mortgages. Fortress created a $3 billion credit fund in 2008 partly to buy loans from banks like Citigroup, which were under pressure to purge loans to raise cash.
“They’re going ahead and they are refinancing them and getting their money out right away,” said Roger Smith, an analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton. “What Fortress is doing is actually good for the borrower.” Congress, however, may not be happy that hedge funds are making money this way, Mr. Smith said.
Fortress, which declined to comment, typically buys batches of loans and works with other companies to evaluate which ones might qualify for F.H.A., Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac refinancing.
Sometimes Fortress works with Nationstar, a mortgage servicer and originator that it owns. Other times, Fortress uses an outside partner like Meridias Capital, a lender in Henderson, Nev., that once originated Alt-A loans, which are just above subprime.
After the mortgage market imploded, Meridias began dissecting portfolios of troubled loans for investment funds.
Because firms like Fortress purchase blocks of mortgages at distressed prices, they are able to reduce the principal amount of the loans. Nick Florez, president of Meridias, calls such transactions an “incentive refinance.” He said he would not agree to take a loan unless he could help the homeowner. He said he was able to reduce the loan amount by 11 percent on average.
“I’m giving money away,” said Mr. Florez, who is a 35-year-old Las Vegas native. “It’s really a feel-good business.”
It is too early to know how the new loans will work.
David H. Stevens, the new commissioner of the F.H.A., said he was monitoring F.H.A. lenders but did not have thorough information about which ones work with distressed investors. So far he has not seen a problem from loans coming from hedge funds.
“They’re helping to protect people in their homes and they’re refinancing people from a distressed situation,” he said.
But he acknowledged that funds have an incentive to aggressively push homeowners into federally guaranteed loans, since the investors get their money back as soon as they complete the refinancing.
Seth Wheeler, a senior adviser in the Treasury Department who specializes in housing policy, declined to say whether the investment firms that are lowering principal for homeowners are altruistic or not.
“Investors are doing it where it both benefits the investor and the borrower,” he said.
Part of the risk may be determined by how the funds compensate the F.H.A. lenders and whether the lenders are beholden to the funds for business.
David Zitting, the chief executive of Primary Residential Mortgage, the company that refinanced the Alva family’s loan, said his company did not receive fees from the hedge funds.
“They have all sorts of motivations that, frankly, we don’t understand,” he said. “We don’t do anything special for them because that’s not fair lending.”
The Alvas had to dip into their savings to qualify for their new federally insured loan, since the biggest F.H.A. mortgage they could get was for $285,000, they said. They paid off $21,000 in credit-card and car loans, and put up an additional $29,000 for their new mortgage, depleting their already meager savings.
Brian Chappelle, a mortgage consultant, said loans to people like the Alvas, with modest incomes and scant savings, could turn out to be risky.
“It does raise risk concerns for F.H.A.,” he said.
The Alvas are grateful for the help. Their home is, Marisela said, a dream come true. “I’m very happy,” she said. “We never thought this was possible.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Afghani militias?
on: November 22, 2009, 10:18:30 AM
As Afghans Resist Taliban, U.S. Spurs Rise of Militias
By DEXTER FILKINS
Published: November 21, 2009
ACHIN, Afghanistan — American and Afghan officials have begun helping a number of anti-Taliban militias that have independently taken up arms against insurgents in several parts of Afghanistan, prompting hopes of a large-scale tribal rebellion against the Taliban.
Members of the Afghan National Police, above, passed an abandoned Russian Army vehicle on a patrol near a village in Kunduz Province.
The emergence of the militias, which took some leaders in Kabul by surprise, has so encouraged the American and Afghan officials that they are planning to spur the growth of similar armed groups across the Taliban heartland in the southern and eastern parts of the country.
The American and Afghan officials say they are hoping the plan, called the Community Defense Initiative, will bring together thousands of gunmen to protect their neighborhoods from Taliban insurgents. Already there are hundreds of Afghans who are acting on their own against the Taliban, officials say.
The endeavor represents one of the most ambitious — and one of the riskiest — plans for regaining the initiative against the Taliban, who are fighting more vigorously than at any time since 2001.
By harnessing the militias, American and Afghan officials hope to rapidly increase the number of Afghans fighting the Taliban. That could supplement the American and Afghan forces already here, and whatever number of American troops President Obama might decide to send. The militias could also help fill the gap while the Afghan Army and police forces train and grow — a project that could take years to bear fruit.
The Americans hope the militias will encourage an increasingly demoralized Afghan population to take a stake in the war against the Taliban.
“The idea is to get people to take responsibility for their own security,” said a senior American military official in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “In many places they are already doing that.”
The growth of the anti-Taliban militias runs the risk that they could turn on one another, or against the Afghan and American governments. The Americans say they will keep the groups small and will limit the scope of their activities to protecting villages and manning checkpoints.
For now, they are not arming the groups because they already have guns.
The Americans also say they will tie them directly to the Afghan government.
These checks aim to avoid repeating mistakes of the past — either creating more Afghan warlords, who have defied the government’s authority for years, or arming Islamic militants, some of whom came back to haunt the United States.
The American plan echoes a similar movement that unfolded in Iraq, beginning in late 2006, in which Sunni tribes turned against Islamist extremists.
That movement, called the Sunni Awakening, brought tens of thousands of former insurgents into government-supervised militias and helped substantially reduce the violence in Iraq. A rebellion on a similar scale seems unlikely in Afghanistan, in large part because the tribes here are so much weaker than those in Iraq.
The first phase of the Afghan plan, now being carried out by American Special Forces soldiers, is to set up or expand the militias in areas with a population of about a million people. Special Forces soldiers have been fanning out across the countryside, descending from helicopters into valleys where the residents have taken up arms against the Taliban and offering their help.
“We are trying to reach out to these groups that have organized themselves,” Col. Christopher Kolenda said in Kabul.
Afghan and American officials say they plan to use the militias as tripwires for Taliban incursions, enabling them to call the army or the police if things get out of hand.
The official assistance to the militias so far has been modest, consisting mainly of ammunition and food, officials said. But American and Afghan officials say they are also planning to train the fighters and provide communication equipment.
“What we are talking about is a local, spontaneous and indigenous response to the Taliban,” said Hanif Atmar, the Afghan interior minister. “The Afghans are saying, ‘We are willing and determined and capable to defend our country; just give us the resources.’ ”
In the Pashtun-dominated areas of the south and east, the anti-Taliban militias are being led by elders from local tribes. The Pashtun militias represent a reassertion of the country’s age-old tribal system, which binds villages and regions under the leadership of groups of elders.
The tribal networks have been alternately decimated and co-opted by Taliban insurgents. Local tribal leaders, while still powerful, cannot count on the allegiance of all of their tribes’ members.
Militias have begun taking up arms against the Taliban in several places where insurgents have gained a foothold, including the provinces of Nangarhar and Paktia.
Published: November 21, 2009
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So far, there appears to be some divergence in the American and Afghan efforts. While American Special Forces units have focused on helping smaller militias, Afghan officials have been channeling assistance to larger armed groups, including those around the northern city of Kunduz. In that city, several armed groups, led by ethnic Uzbek commanders as well as Pashtuns, are confronting the Taliban.
“In Kunduz, after they defeated the Taliban in their villages, they became the power and they took money and taxes from the people,” Mr. Atmar, the interior minister, said. “This is not legal, and this is warlordism.”
Colonel Kolenda said, “In the long run, that is destabilizing.”
One of the most striking examples of a local militia rising up on its own is here in Achin, a predominantly Pashtun district in Nangarhar Province that straddles the border with Pakistan.
In July, a long-running dispute between local Taliban fighters and elders from the Shinwari tribe flared up. When a local Taliban warlord named Khona brought a more senior commander from Pakistan to help in the confrontation, the elders in the Shinwari tribe rallied villagers from up and down the valley where they live, killed the commander and chased Khona away.
The elders had insisted that the Taliban stay away from a group of Afghans building a dike in the valley. When Khona’s men kidnapped two Afghan engineers, the Shinwari elders decided they had had enough.
“The whole tribe was with me,” one of the elders said in an interview. “The Taliban came to kill me, and instead we killed them.”
The two tribal elders in Achin who led the rebellion spoke at length with The New York Times about their activities. At the request of American commanders in Kabul, who feared that the elders would be killed by the Taliban, the identities of the men are being withheld.
Since the fight, the Taliban have been kept away from a string of villages in Achin District that stretch for about six miles. The elders said they were able to do so by forming a group of more than 100 fighters and posting them at each end of the valley.
The elders said they had been marked for death by Taliban commanders on both sides of the border.
“Every day people call me and tell me the Taliban is trying to kill me,” one of the Shinwari elders said. “They call me and tell me: ‘Don’t take this road. Take a different one.’ I am worried about suicide bombers.”
The feud between the Taliban and the Shinwari elders caught the attention of American officers, who sent a team of Special Forces soldiers to the valley. This reporter was unable to reach the interior of the valley where the men live, so it was difficult to verify all of the elders’ claims.
Both the Shinwari elders said that “Americans with beards” had flown into the valley twice in recent weeks and had given them flour and boxes of ammunition. (Unlike other American troops, Special Forces soldiers are allowed to wear beards.)
American officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they intended to help organize and train the Shinwari militia. They said they would give them communication gear that would enable them to call the Afghan police if they needed help.
But that, as well as other aspects of the plan, seems problematic, at least for now. There are only about 50 Afghan police officers in Achin, the district center, and none in the valley. There are no Afghan Army soldiers in the area, and the nearest American base is many miles away.
The hope, of course, is that the revolt led by the Shinwari elders spreads. Each of the elders interviewed leads a branch of the 12 Shinwari tribes. If they survive, both elders said, they believe that others will join them.
“The Taliban are not popular here, not educated,” another Shinwari elder said. “They are stray dogs.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iranian War Games
on: November 22, 2009, 09:25:03 AM
Iran war games to defend nuclear sites.
Iran has begun five days of war games to simulate attacks on its nuclear sites, state media report.
The head of Iran's air defence said the aim was to thwart aerial reconnaissance of the sites as well as air attacks.
Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani said the training would also improve cooperation among different units.
Iran has come under mounting pressure over its nuclear programme, which critics say is intended to produce nuclear weapons.
The US and Israel have not ruled out the prospect of a military attack to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon.
Tehran insists its programme is peaceful, and an aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly warned Iran would retaliate to any attack with a missile strike on Tel Aviv.
"If the enemy attacks Iran, our missiles will strike Tel Aviv," Mojhtaba Zolnoor was quoted as saying by the official Irna news agency.
Brig Mighani told state media the aim of the exercises, which will cover an area of 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles), was "to display Iran's combat readiness and military potentials.
Iran insists that all its nuclear facilities are for energy, not military purposes
Bushehr: Nuclear power plant
Isfahan: Uranium conversion plant
Natanz: Uranium enrichment plant, 4,592 working centrifuges, with 3,716 more installed
Second enrichment plant: Existence revealed to IAEA in Sept 2009. Separate reports say it is near Qom, and not yet operational
Arak: Heavy water plant
Key nuclear sites in detail
A high-stakes game
Q&A: Iran and the nuclear issue
"Due to the threats against our nuclear facilities it is our duty to defend out nation's vital facilities," he said.
The exercises come as the UN Security Council's permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - plus Germany, urge Tehran to reconsider its rejection of a deal that would see some of its nuclear material being enriched outside Iran and returned as fuel rods.
The deal - brokered by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency - envisages Iran sending about 70% of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France, where it would be processed into fuel rods for a research reactor in Tehran.
Such a process would prevent Iran enriching uranium to the degree necessary to make a bomb, the UN says.
Iran has rejected a key part of the deal, seeking further guarantees.
The UN Security Council has called on Iran to stop uranium enrichment and has approved three rounds of sanctions - covering trade in nuclear material, as well as financial and travel restrictions.