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26701  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NY Times: By products of Bio-fuel on: March 11, 2008, 08:58:11 AM
Published: March 11, 2008
MOUNDVILLE, Ala. — After residents of the Riverbend Farms subdivision noticed that an oily, fetid substance had begun fouling the Black Warrior River, which runs through their backyards, Mark Storey, a retired petroleum plant worker, hopped into his boat to follow it upstream to its source.

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Dana Mixer for The New York Times
Nelson Brooke, the executive director of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, walked along an area of the river near Moundville, Ala.

Enlarge This Image
Nelson Brooke
Oil and grease from a biodiesel plant had been released.
It turned out to be an old chemical factory that had been converted into Alabama’s first biodiesel plant, a refinery that intended to turn soybean oil into earth-friendly fuel.

“I’m all for the plant,” Mr. Storey said. “But I was really amazed that a plant like that would produce anything that could get into the river without taking the necessary precautions.”

But the oily sheen on the water returned again and again, and a laboratory analysis of a sample taken in March 2007 revealed that the ribbon of oil and grease being released by the plant — it resembled Italian salad dressing — was 450 times higher than permit levels typically allow, and that it had drifted at least two miles downstream.

The spills, at the Alabama Biodiesel Corporation plant outside this city about 17 miles from Tuscaloosa, are similar to others that have come from biofuel plants in the Midwest. The discharges, which can be hazardous to birds and fish, have many people scratching their heads over the seeming incongruity of pollution from an industry that sells products with the promise of blue skies and clear streams.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” said Barbara Lynch, who supervises environmental compliance inspectors for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “This is big business. There’s a lot of money involved.”

Iowa leads the nation in biofuel production, with 42 ethanol and biodiesel refineries in production and 18 more plants under construction, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. In the summer of 2006, a Cargill biodiesel plant in Iowa Falls improperly disposed of 135,000 gallons of liquid oil and grease, which ran into a stream killing hundreds of fish.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, a trade group, biodiesel is nontoxic, biodegradable and suitable for sensitive environments, but scientists say that position understates its potential environmental impact.

“They’re really considered nontoxic, as you would expect,” said Bruce P. Hollebone, a researcher with Environment Canada in Ottawa and one of the world’s leading experts on the environmental impact of vegetable oil and glycerin spills.

“You can eat the stuff, after all,” Mr. Hollebone said. “But as with most organic materials, oil and glycerin deplete the oxygen content of water very quickly, and that will suffocate fish and other organisms. And for birds, a vegetable oil spill is just as deadly as a crude oil spill.”

Other states have also felt the impact.

Leanne Tippett Mosby, a deputy division director of environmental quality for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said she was warned a year ago by colleagues in other states that biodiesel producers were dumping glycerin, the main byproduct of biodiesel production, contaminated with methanol, another waste product that is classified as hazardous.

Glycerin, an alcohol that is normally nontoxic, can be sold for secondary uses, but it must be cleaned first, a process that is expensive and complicated. Expanded production of biodiesel has flooded the market with excess glycerin, making it less cost-effective to clean and sell.

Ms. Tippett Mosby did not have to wait long to see the problem. In October, an anonymous caller reported that a tanker truck was dumping milky white goop into Belle Fountain Ditch, one of the many man-made channels that drain Missouri’s Bootheel region. That substance turned out to be glycerin from a biodiesel plant.

In January, a grand jury indicted a Missouri businessman in the discharge, which killed at least 25,000 fish and wiped out the population of fat pocketbook mussels, an endangered species.

Back in Alabama, Nelson Brooke of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Black Warrior River and its tributaries, received a report in September 2006 of a fish kill that stretched 20 miles downstream from Moundville. Even though Mr. Brooke said he found oil in the water around the dead fish, the state Department of Environmental Management determined that natural, seasonal changes in oxygen levels in the water could have been the culprit. The agency did not charge Alabama Biodiesel.

In August, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, in a complaint filed in Federal District Court, documented at least 24 occasions when oil was spotted in the water near the plant.

Page 2 of 2)

Richard Campo, vice president of Alabama Biodiesel, did not respond to requests for an interview, but Clay A. Tindal, a Tuscaloosa lawyer representing the refinery, called the suit’s claims “sheer speculation, conjecture, and unsupported bald allegations.” Mr. Tindal said that “for various reasons,” the plant was not now producing fuel.

The company has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it has entered into a settlement agreement with state officials that requires it to pay a $12,370 fine and to obtain proper discharge permits.

Don Scott, an engineer for the National Biodiesel Board, acknowledges that some producers have had problems complying with environmental rules but says those violations have been infrequent in an industry that nearly doubled in size in one year, to 160 plants in the United States at the end of 2007 from 90 plants at the end of 2006.

Mr. Scott said that the board had been working with state and environmental agencies to educate member companies and that the troubles were “growing pains.”

Ms. Lynch said some of the violations were the result of an industry that was inexperienced in the manufacturing process and its wastes. But in other instances, she said, companies are skirting the permit process to get their plants up and running faster.

“Our fines are only so high,” Ms. Lynch said. “It’s build first, permit second.”

In October 2005, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management informed Alabama Biodiesel that it would need an individual pollution discharge permit to operate, but the company never applied for one. The company operated for more than a year without a permit and without facing any penalties from state regulators, though inspectors documented unpermitted discharges on two occasions.

For some, the troubles of the industry seem to outweigh its benefits.

“They’re environmental Jimmy Swaggarts, in my opinion,” said Representative Brian P. Bilbray, Republican of California, who spoke out against the $18 billion energy package recently passed by Congress that provides tax credits for biofuels. “What is being sold as green fuel just doesn’t pencil out.”
26702  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sen. Hutchison on: March 11, 2008, 08:52:31 AM
Pakistan's Progress
March 11, 2008; Page A20

A democratic transition of power is taking shape in Pakistan. Last month, the country held parliamentary elections that were a resounding defeat for President Pervez Musharraf. This week the country's two main political parties worked out a power-sharing agreement. A new prime minister could be named within days.

This is encouraging, but it fuels a debate in Washington over whether the United States should prop up Mr. Musharraf. My view is that we have a better chance of finding a strong ally in the war on terror in Pakistan if a legitimate democratic government takes root.

And make no mistake, we need a strong ally against al Qaeda in Pakistan. The country is fighting terrorism at every level of its society, but its ability to carry on this fight is weakened by the fragility of its constitutional order and the impotence of its governing institutions. Terrorists thrive when a nation can't control its own territory, and when the government is seen as illegitimate by its people -- two conditions that have existed in Pakistan for years as it has exported both terrorism and black-market nuclear technology.

Unfortunately, all of Pakistan's leaders are flawed. Mr. Musharraf took power in 1999 in a military coup. Ali Zardari, head of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), spent time in prison on corruption charges, which he claimed were politically motivated (some have recently been dismissed). Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister who is head of the Muslim League, has a tendency toward anti-Americanism.

However, there are redeeming qualities in all of these men. Mr. Musharraf loosened his grip on power, took off his military uniform, and allowed fair parliamentary elections. He also conceded defeat on election day. He has been a partner in the war on terror. He believes that, above all else, Islamist extremists must be defeated. He is willing to defer to the new parliamentary majority and possibly to step down or slip into a ceremonial and advisory role.

Mr. Zardari succeeded his wife, Benazir Bhutto, as head of the Pakistan People's Party after she was killed in a terrorist attack in December. He has publicly pledged to fight the war on terror and echoes his late wife's calls for a strong democracy, a parliament that represents the people, and improved education and economic conditions.

Mr. Sharif often seems hostile to America. In the 1990s, he supported Shariah law and tended to interfere with the judiciary. When asked who might replace Mr. Musharraf as president, Mr. Sharif once responded with the name of A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb and the chief proliferator of nuclear technology. But even Mr. Sharif now champions the rule of law and an independent judiciary, and defends Pakistan's constitution.

Regardless of who becomes the next prime minister, the issue of how he comes to power is now vitally important. Mr. Musharraf must be allowed enough room to peacefully transition to a strong democracy, and to figure out how to exit the stage with the grace of a leader who recognizes the will of the people.

There is talk of hastening him out the door with impeachment proceedings. The U.S. should caution Pakistani leaders to consider the consequences carefully. Impeachment could destabilize Pakistan and postpone work that must be done to establish an independent judiciary, crack down on terrorists, and jump-start development.

The new coalition has suggested that it might de-emphasize military operations against terrorists along the western frontier provinces where al Qaeda made its stronghold after the fall of Afghanistan. The leaders have suggested dialogue, economic development, and political enfranchisement as the key tools for pacifying Pakistan's frontier. These comments concern many of us who take this as a sign that Pakistani efforts against the terrorists might further flag. But the emphasis on providing services to the population -- from security to running water -- in order to win their participation in the political life of the state is fundamental to starving extremists of popular support. The Islamist parties' dismal showing in the recent election suggests that this strategy may already be working.

As long as Pakistan's leaders support democracy and practice it, we will be their enthusiastic partner. Our security depends on helping them improve internal security and the rule of law, which are prerequisites of popular legitimacy for any government and essential for foreign investment. As support for a secular and democratic government grows, our ongoing efforts to help turn the Pakistani army into an effective counter-terrorism force will start paying enormous dividends. If that happens, Pakistan will emerge as a more effective and reliable partner in the war against terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Ms. Hutchison, a Republican U.S. senator from Texas, recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.
26703  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Spitzer Affair on: March 11, 2008, 08:44:06 AM
I hope Spitzer goes down hard, not because I believe in the criminalization of the behavior in question, but because , , , well, read this from the WSJ:


Spitzer's Rise and Fall
March 11, 2008; Page A20
One might call it Shakespearian if there were a shred of nobleness in the story of Eliot Spitzer's fall. There is none. Governor Spitzer, who made his career by specializing in not just the prosecution, but the ruin, of other men, is himself almost certainly ruined.

Mr. Spitzer's brief statement yesterday about a "private matter" surely involves what are widely reported to be his activities with an expensive prostitution ring discovered by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York. Those who believe Eliot Spitzer is getting his just deserts may be entitled to that view, but it misses the greater lesson for our politics.

Eliot Spitzer
Mr. Spitzer coasted into the Governorship on the wings of a reputation as a "tough" public prosecutor. Mr. Spitzer, though, was no emperor. He had not merely arrogated to himself the powers he held and used with such aggression. He was elected.

In our system, citizens agree to invest one of their own with the power of public prosecution. We call this a public trust. The ability to bring the full weight of state power against private individuals or entities has been recognized since the Magna Carta as a power with limits. At nearly every turn, Eliot Spitzer has refused to admit that he was subject to those limits.

The stupendously deluded belief that the sitting Governor of New York could purchase the services of prostitutes was merely the last act of a man unable to admit either the existence of, or need for, limits. At the least, he put himself at risk of blackmail, and in turn the possible distortion of his public duties. Mr. Spitzer's recklessness with the state's highest elected office, though, is of a piece with his consistent excesses as Attorney General from 1999 to 2006.

He routinely used the extraordinary threat of indicting entire firms, a financial death sentence, to force the dismissal of executives, such as AIG's Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. He routinely leaked to the press emails obtained with subpoena power to build public animosity against companies and executives. In the case of Mr. Greenberg, he went on national television to accuse the AIG founder of "illegal" behavior. Within the confines of the law itself, though, he never indicted Mr. Greenberg. Nor did he apologize.


Read a selection of Journal editorials and op-eds about New York's Governor, including coverage of Mr. Spitzer's tenure as the state's chief law enforcement officerIn perhaps the incident most suggestive of Mr. Spitzer's lack of self-restraint, the then-Attorney General personally threatened John Whitehead after the former Goldman Sachs chief published an article on this page defending Mr. Greenberg. "I will be coming after you," Mr. Spitzer said, according to Mr. Whitehead's account. "You will pay the price. This is only the beginning, and you will pay dearly for what you have done."

Jack Welch, the former head of GE, said he was told to tell Ken Langone -- embroiled in Mr. Spitzer's investigation of former NYSE chairman Dick Grasso -- that the AG would "put a spike through Langone's heart." New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly, who clashed with Mr. Spitzer in 2003, had her office put out a statement that "the attorney general acted like a thug."

These are not merely acts of routine political rough-and-tumble. They were threats -- some rhetorical, some acted upon -- by one man with virtually unchecked legal powers.

Eliot Spitzer's self-destructive inability to recognize any limit on his compulsions was never more evident than his staff's enlistment of the New York State Police in a campaign to discredit the state's Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno. On any level, it was nuts. Somehow, Team Spitzer thought they could get by with it. In the wake of that abusive fiasco, his public approval rating plunged.

Mr. Spitzer's dramatic fall yesterday began in the early afternoon with a posting on the Web site of the New York Times about the alleged link to prostitutes. The details in the criminal complaint about "Client-9," who is reported to be Mr. Spitzer, will now be played for titters by the press corps. But one may ask: Where were the media before this? With a few exceptions, the media were happy to prosper from his leaks and even applaud, rather than temper, the manifestly abusive instincts of a public official.

There really is nothing very satisfying about the rough justice being meted out to Eliot Spitzer. He came to embody a system that revels in the entertainment value of roguish figures who rise to power by destroying the careers of others, many of them innocent. Better still, when the targets are as presumably unsympathetic as Wall Street bankers and brokers.

Acts of crime deserve prosecution by the state. The people, in turn, deserve prosecutors and officials who understand the difference between the needs of the public good and the needs of unrestrained personalities who are given the honor of high office.

26704  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Filipino martial arts schools near Whittier? on: March 11, 2008, 08:42:06 AM
Travis is very good.  I did Sayoc training with him.  He also offers CSW MMA trainiing.
26705  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Vehicle issues on: March 11, 2008, 08:39:50 AM

Terrible.  Folks, lets turn this into a case study.  What did the assaulted family do well, and what could be improved?

1) The man getting punched through the window:  What are the options here?  Rolling up the window may put the teen in prime striking range.  Drive the car backwards out of the parking spot?  If the car was turned off, could you start your car and get it in gear?  How useful is it to point the left elbow in an effort to spike/defang the attacking fist?  What options are there for preparing one's driver area with weapons for just such a scenario?  What are the legal issues of doing so?

2) What about the woman/wife&mother? getting out of the car?  Yes the general rule is stay in the car, but it appears her man was in trouble-- can this action be faulted?

3) One sees the terrible process of escalation.  The teen's mother, having beat up the wife/mother, then sics her husband on the wife mother with brutal consequences and the haole husband, having gotten out the car to defend his woman gets dropped very hard.  How to fight a Samoan when unarmed?  What are the legal issues in Hawaii/our respective states in bringing weapons into play?  Would a folder be enough?  If that is the option at hand and one believes deadly force to be appropriate, what is the best way to go about it?

26706  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams: Laws of Nature and the Creator on: March 11, 2008, 08:19:42 AM

"In the supposed state of nature, all men are equally bound
by the laws of nature, or to speak more properly, the laws of
the Creator."

-- Samuel Adams (letter to the Legislature of Massachusetts,
17 January 1794)

Reference: Original Intent, Barton (224); original The Writings
of Samuel Adams, Cushing, ed., vol. 4 (356)
26707  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gulf States and the Shiite Conundrum on: March 11, 2008, 08:12:26 AM

Geopolitical Diary: The Gulf States and the Shiite Conundrum
March 10, 2008
Kuwait has experienced an unusual series of Shiite protests. The protests in the usually controlled society were sparked by the arrests of Shiite mourners and government members who organized a rally after the killing of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah. The Kuwaiti Shia — who comprise roughly 30 percent of the emirate’s population — rarely organize, let alone rally or protest. The recent unrest has served to remind the government of previous Shiite incidents, such as when militants hijacked two airliners in the 1980s.

The incidents have put the Kuwaiti government in a difficult position. It can’t ignore pro-Hezbollah sentiments among some of its Shiite citizens. But it cannot adopt a tough stance against them either without risking inflaming Shia throughout Persian Gulf Arab states. The Kuwaiti Shia themselves probably will not let things spin out of control, but even so, unrest could spread to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, where 20 percent and 70 percent of the population, respectively, is Shia.

Thus far, Shia in all three Gulf Arab states have not been openly pro-Iranian or Pan-Shia. But simmering Shiite unrest could boil over, given tensions arising over Iraq and Lebanon combined with perceptions of unfairness at home. The Sunni Arab states fervently don’t want this to come to pass, and so far they don’t have a serious problem on their hands. But their fears could prompt action that might produce the very outcome they are trying to avoid.

The present concerns of the Gulf states — which for the most part are all U.S. allies — are dredging up fears from decades past of a potential Shiite fifth column with an Iranian sponsor. Tehran already is causing regional tensions with its support of the Shia in Iraq and of Hezbollah in Lebanon. These tensions could become a conflagration if the Shiite populations in the Sunni states of the Gulf catch fire.

For its part, Iran is delighted at the timing of the pro-Hezbollah sympathies in the Gulf states. Tehran is coming off of an embarrassing week after Washington snubbed the Iranians when they turned up in Iraq for another set of negotiations. The Iranians have since been using excuses such as “scheduling issues” as reasons the Americans didn’t show up. In reality, the United States doesn’t feel it needs to be at the table with Iran at the moment. Instead, Washington is waiting things out with the Iranians, preferring for the moment to make Tehran sweat over a potential showdown between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

This means the Iranians need a lever in their negotiations with the United States. Selecting the Gulf Shia is a great option that scares many of Iran’s opponents in the game, from Sunni Arab states to the United States. But Iran may not proceed too far down this path, since if it does not score a knockout punch with its Sunni Arab neighbors, it will have created new implacable foes for itself. And Iran doesn’t need any more of those just now.

26708  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Press ignore terrorist stopped by armed student on: March 11, 2008, 08:09:37 AM
Press 'ignore' terrorist stopped by armed student
'Yitzak Dadon's apparently well-placed bullets interrupted a rampage'

Posted: March 07, 2008
9:33 pm Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

A gun rights organization in the United States is accusing
the media of trying to conceal the fact that a gunman who
attacked students at Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav seminary
was stopped by an armed student at the school.
Authorities report that Ytizhak Dadon, 40, was a "private
citizen who had a gun license and was able to shoot the
gunman with his pistol," according to a statement released
today by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
In its earlier reporting on the tragedy, WND confirmed, "One
terrorist reportedly was shot to death by a student who was
However, the gun rights organization said "the American press
is downplaying his heroism because it proves that armed
students can stop campus gunmen."
"Yitzhak Dadon is a hero," said Alan Gottlieb, the chairman of
CCRKBA, "and he is living proof that armed students have a
place on college campuses. Thankfully, his quick action was
reported by the international press … so unlike incidents here in
the United States where the press was able to completely ignore
the actions of armed students or teachers, the truth about this
incident will not be suppressed."
He continued, "Mr. Dadon is not going to become a victim of this
conspiracy of silence. Elitist American college administrators, the
national press, nor anti-gun politicians can sweep this incident
under their rug."
The gun rights group said international reports credit Dadon, who
studies at the school, had his pistol available when the shooting
erupted. "When the gunman emerged from a library, Dadon reportedly
shot him twice in the head. The gunman was subsequently shot by
the off-duty soldier," the group said.
"Yitzhak Dadon's apparently well-placed bullets interrupted a rampage,"
Gottlieb said. "What a pity that someone like Mr. Dadon was not in
class last April at Virginia Tech. What a tragedy that anti-gun extremism
would keep him from attending class at Northern Illinois University. He
would never be allowed to teach at Columbine High School, hold a job
at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, or go shopping at Omaha's Westroads Mall.
"America's acquiescence to anti-gun hysteria has led to one tragedy
after another," Gottlieb stated. "This disastrous policy has given us nothing
but broken hearts and body counts, and it's got to end. The heroism of an
armed Israeli seminary student halfway across the world sends a message
that we needn't submit to murder in victim disarmament zones. That's why
his actions are getting such short shrift from America's press. It's a story they
are loathe to report because it affirms a philosophy of self-reliance that they despise."
The organization boasts more than 650,000 members and supporters nationwide,
and is dedicated to preserving firearms freedoms through active lobbying of elected
officials and facilitating grass-roots organization of gun rights activists in local
communities throughout the United States.
WND had reported just days earlier on plans in Arizona, where lawmakers are
considering a way to stem the wave of unarmed students killed in campus
slayings by allowing adults to carry firearms onto the grounds of state universities.
"The police got to both the Virginia Tech murder scene and the New Life Church
[in Colorado] in about six minutes," noted Larry Pratt, the chief of Gun Owners of America.
"At Virginia Tech, 30 people died. At New Life, two died in the parking lot and once
the bad guy got inside the building he was engaged by (armed) security team
volunteers and nobody else died. In fact, he was finished in about 30 seconds."
Pratt noted the circumstances of the two attacks. After killing two people at a Christian
training center in Arvada, Colo., last December, 24-year-old Matthew Murray went to
Colorado Springs intending more murder and mayhem.
Murray shot and killed two girls in the New Life Church's parking lot, then headed inside
the building where thousands of worshippers were concluding a service.
A volunteer security guard, Jeanne Assam, confronted him almost immediately and
fired at him. He fell, and an autopsy later said he had shot himself.
But at Virginia Tech, Cho Seung-Hui, 23, armed himself and went to a classroom
building on a campus where guns were banned. He fatally shot a total of 32.
The latest attack on unarmed teachers and students happened on Valentine's Day,
when Stephen Kazmierczak, 27, walked into a Northern Illinois University auditorium
and shot and killed five people, and wounded 16 others.
The gunman then shot himself.
In Jerusalem, reports said one or possibly two gunmen infiltrated the Mercaz Harav
Yeshiva, located near the entrance to Jerusalem, and fired hundreds of rounds of bullets
at students. One terrorist, who may have been armed with an explosive device, made
his way to the yeshiva's main study room, where about 80 students were reportedly gathered.
Israeli police said eight were killed and nearly a dozen were wounded, some seriously.
26709  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF on: March 10, 2008, 10:14:21 PM

A minister, a priest and a rabbi went for a hike one day. It was very hot. They were sweating and exhausted when they came upon a small lake. Since it was fairly secluded, they took off all their clothes and jumped in the water. Feeling refreshed, the trio decided to pick a few berries while enjoying their "freedom." As they were crossing an open area, who should come along but a group of ladies from town.

Unable to get to their clothes in time, the minister and the priest covered their privates and the rabbi covered his face while they ran for cover.

After the ladies had left and the men got their clothes back on, the minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather than his privates.

The rabbi replied, "I don't know about you, but in MY congregation, it's my face they would recognize."
26710  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: March 10, 2008, 10:09:07 PM
BO may win the Dem nomination with stuff like this, but I think/hope? he loses the general election with it.  If the American people decide that this in C in Chief material truly we are done for.
26711  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Filipino martial arts schools near Whittier? on: March 10, 2008, 10:05:04 PM
Michael Ritz and Greg Moody - Apprentice Instructor
Practical Defense Systems
Chula Vista, CA

James Stacy: Personal Trainer
1250 S. Santa Fe Ave.
Suite H
Vista, CA 92084
phone#  760-758-8500
26712  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Al-Sadr dying? on: March 10, 2008, 01:55:22 PM
Iraq: The Long-Term al-Sadrite Threat
Stratfor Today » March 10, 2008 | 1848 GMT

Iraqi Shia carry a poster of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr during a rallySummary
Rumors surfaced over the weekend of March 8-9 that radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr is comatose in an Iranian hospital. While the sources for this information are dubious and the rumors have not been verified, the announcement comes as al-Sadr’s movement is under pressure to demonstrate its cohesion. If al-Sadr were to die, the repercussions for his movement — and for the United States — would be tremendous.

Rumors surfaced over the weekend of March 8-9 that radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr is in a coma in an Iranian hospital after consuming poisoned food. The sources for this information are dubious and Stratfor has not yet found any evidence to support these claims. Meanwhile, there have been a number of mainstream media reports citing top al-Sadr aides as saying that the maverick Shite leader is still very much in charge of his movement despite a sabbatical in Iran, where he is trying to shore up his religious credentials, and an acknowledgement that many of his erstwhile followers had gone rogue.

Clearly, al-Sadr’s movement is under immense pressure to demonstrate that it is very much a cohesive force despite the massive internal problems in the past couple of years. Al-Sadr has seen many commanders and fighters from within his militia, the Mehdi Army, go rogue and many political figures from within his al-Sadrite bloc also break orbit in the wake of U.S. and Iranian attempts to control the movement. Indeed, since the rise of the al-Sadrite movement after the regime change in Baghdad in 2003, both Washington and Tehran have also encouraged factionalization within the movement, in keeping with their respective objectives.

At the same time, the group needs to compete with rival Shiite groups — especially Iran’s principal proxy, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim; Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawah party; and al-Fadhila, an al-Sadrite offshoot. Its opponents have always tried to marginalize the al-Sadrite movement, calling it politically and religiously amateurish. Considering how rival Iraqi Shiite groups accuse one another of being Iranian agents, al-Sadr’s spending a disproportionate amount of time in Iran is hurting the credibility of his group, which has actually tried to promote itself as an Iraqi/Arab nationalist movement to differentiate itself from most of its rivals, who spent a great deal of time in Iran after Iraq’s Baathist regime fell.

More recently, the United States showered praise on al-Sadr and his group in exchange for his commitment to ending violence. While this gives the group much-needed recognition, it also hurts the al-Sadrites’ credibility. The move to transform his group from a rejectionist group to a mainstream political movement in order to better compete with the ISCI and its Badr Brigades has further weakened al-Sadr. Therefore, al-Sadr’s movement and the Iraqi Shiite community are the intended audience for the recent statements attributed to al-Sadr and those from his key associates that counter perceptions that al-Sadr has surrendered his movement to a U.S.-Iranian arrangement.

Regardless of the al-Sadrites’ current condition, the far more important matter is that of the future of the movement in case of al-Sadr’s death. About a year ago Stratfor discussed how the al-Sadrite movement is in the process of imploding in spite of al-Sadr’s charismatic leadership. However, should al-Sadr die of either natural or malicious causes, the geopolitical and security implications — for Iraq, the United States and Iran — would be massive.

The al-Sadrite group is a family/clan-based movement, and al-Sadr is the only surviving male member of the clan of any worth. His exit from the scene could aggravate the ongoing internal schism within the group and lead to its disintegration. Rival factions would try to take advantage of the vacuum, which would lead to infighting and then to a major shake-up of the Iraqi Shiite political landscape.

Of course, it would be a very important opportunity for al-Hakim’s ISCI to seize upon in order to realize its objective of establishing a virtual monopoly over the Iraqi Shia. But the fragmentation of the al-Sadrite movement would also create security problems and lead to intra-Shia and even Shia-Sunni violence. The Iranians — like their proxy in Iraq — could exploit a fragmented al-Sadrite movement and use it against the United States, but they would have their hands full in trying to maintain control.

For the United States, the repercussions would be the most severe, considering how long and hard Washington has been trying to stabilize Iraq. An al-Sadrite movement without an al-Sadr at the helm could reverse the gains Washington has made during the past year, which has seen significant drops in violence. Given its size, its capability to engage in violence and the fragile nature of its leadership, the al-Sadrite movement is a ticking bomb.

26713  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / microbes= methane? on: March 10, 2008, 01:50:34 PM
Fuel Technology: Geopolitically Significant Microbes?
Stratfor Today » March 10, 2008 | 1109 GMT

Michael Nagle/Getty Images
Genomics pioneer Craig Venter at the American Museum of Natural History on March 12, 2006Summary
A new alternative fuel technology backed by oil supermajor BP would use microscopic organisms to produce methane from carbon dioxide. If the technology proves successful, it could have consequences for countries like Russia, which have large natural gas deposits and thus are massively influential in the current global energy market.

A new alternative fuel technology, backed by oil supermajor BP, could begin to make a dent in the world’s dependence on traditionally sourced natural gas. Most importantly, it could affect the geopolitical dominance of countries like Russia, which have large deposits of natural gas and therefore a major foothold in the current global energy market. The technology is not a sure bet; more work needs to be done to make it commercially viable. Still, it is instructive to look at the geopolitical effects such a technology could have.

The new alternative fuel technology would produce methane (also known as natural gas) from carbon dioxide (CO2) using microscopic organisms, or microbes, that eat CO2 and produce methane as waste. The technology is based on advancements in both genomics and microbiology and is being propelled by U.S. geneticist Craig Venter, most noted for his work on sequencing the human genome. Venter claims that in 18 months his research company, Synthetic Genomics, will be able to produce this nontraditional source of natural gas, but only time will tell how cost-effective this new technology will be in comparison to traditionally sourced natural gas.

The implications of this technological advancement are vast. For one thing, it would provide a new alternative to drilling for natural gas deposits in the ground. Natural gas pockets are finite in number and costly to find — not to mention the cost of extracting and transporting the natural gas to consumers. With the new technology, microbes would be able to produce methane from CO2 in specific quantities wherever it was needed.

From an environmental and policy standpoint, this means that a cleaner-burning fuel could be made by harnessing a greenhouse gas. Furthermore, the explosive hazards associated with pipelines or the shipping of natural gas in liquefied form — which are large inhibitors of natural gas expansion in places like the United States — could largely be abated.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the technology could begin to change the global geopolitical energy balance. Russia is the world’s largest natural gas exporter. As recent events in Ukraine and Europe have shown, Russia takes this power seriously and often uses it as a political lever to ensure Moscow gets what it wants. Europe is already beginning to diversify its natural gas imports — including building new pipelines to places such as Libya and building new import terminals so Europe can accept more liquefied natural gas. Imagine if European countries began to produce their own natural gas and slowly end their tumultuous reliance on Russian energy sources. The new technology could also begin to affect other natural gas exporting states such as Qatar, Algeria, and Indonesia, thus beginning to change the balance of power in those regions.

This energy advancement is not the rogue project of a single mad scientist. BP backs Venter’s firm, and Venter is not the only geneticist using genetic manipulation with the aim of creating organisms that will produce fuel. Nonetheless, there are many steps between here and there, leaving plenty of room for other researchers and corporate backers to compete. These steps include:

Capturing CO2 in a large enough quantity to produce usable amounts of methane;
Producing the microbes;
Scaling the technology; and
Identifying the infrastructure needed to distribute the methane.
The latter step is the most interesting to analyze. Any new technology faces a barrier to entry and a series of trade-offs regarding the benefits of adopting the technology versus the adaptations required for its use. Therefore, applications of new technologies that do not require much change to existing infrastructure are often the fastest to get to market.

In the Western world, the quickest application of the microbial fuel technology could be at the power plant. Microbial fuel could be used as a supplement to traditionally sourced natural gas used at natural gas power plants, or it could run alongside a coal-fired power plant if carbon capture technology gets off the ground, producing methane as a byproduct. Under this scenario, microbial fuel could feed back into a natural gas power plant or transit down the same natural gas distribution lines already in place to reach businesses and homes.

In developing countries, where existing energy infrastructure is minimal, microbial fuel technology could begin to feed a new decentralized electric power system — one that relies on distributed power generators (small generators providing electricity for only a small number of consumers).

Outside of power generation, microbial fuel could be used in vehicles, but this scenario first has a large infrastructure hurdle to surmount. Typically, natural gas vehicles are primarily used as fleet vehicles — buses, heavy-duty trucks and government vehicles — because fleet owners can install their own natural gas fueling stations. However, some automobile manufacturers are beginning to offer natural gas-fueled personal cars that often have the ability to switch from gasoline to natural gas depending on fuel availability. This likely would be the first use of microbial natural gas directly in vehicles, as it would require less change to vehicle fueling infrastructure in the short to medium term. Another avenue for vehicle fuels is gas-to-liquid technology: Through a chemical reaction, microbial gas could be turned into a liquid, which could then be refined into a product similar to gasoline. This avenue would not require much change in fueling infrastructure or in automobile design. If microbial fuel goes down the personal car fuel track, it could not only change the natural gas landscape but also begin to make a dent in global oil demand, because transportation is a large percentage of that demand.

This new technology still has a long way to go until it can actually begin to affect demand at natural gas behemoths such as Russia’s Gazprom; in fact, it might not even be possible. However, the idea that a country can begin making its own natural gas without being naturally endowed with geologic natural gas deposits begins to shift geopolitics in a way that does not happen very often. For instance, Japan is a top natural gas importer, and as such is always concerned about future energy security and global price fluctuations. And Turkmenistan’s economy, for example, is heavily dependent on its natural gas export revenue. In this respect, technological advancements — especially those linked to energy — become an important factor in monitoring the world’s geopolitical balance.

26714  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 10, 2008, 01:43:59 PM
The stunning loss of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's Illinois seat in a special election has Republicans wondering what went wrong. Certainly, national trends and the prickly nature of defeated GOP nominee Jim Oberweis played a role.

But Illinois Republicans, who have not won a major statewide race in a decade, should look in the mirror. Support for Republican candidates in the "collar" counties around Chicago has been declining for a generation. Not helping has been a rash of Republicans caught up in the corruption that seems to be endemic to Illinois politics. Certainly, Democrats bear the bulk of the blame for the state's "corruption tax" (estimated by some at $1 billion in padded contracts and ghost employees). But Republicans lost a great deal of credibility when George Ryan, the last GOP governor, went to prison for accepting bribes. Several GOP figures are also participants in the Rezko scandal, in which Barack Obama's top fundraiser is currently standing trial over a political shakedown scheme. No wonder, as one conservative activist put it, "the hapless and hopeless GOP cannot get traction."

Republicans haven't given up on taking the Hastert seat back this fall, given the district's conservative leaning (President Bush won 55% of its votes in 2004). But the campaign of Mr. Oberweis, who will again carry the GOP banner in November against now-incumbent Democrat Bill Foster, will have to be retooled. Mr. Oberweis needlessly created enemies with the slashing campaign he waged to win the GOP nomination for the special election, earning a condemnation from the Chicago Tribune for a campaign style the paper called "consistently nasty, smug, condescending and dishonest."

Look for Mr. Oberweis to get a makeover as former Speaker Hastert urges him to become more soft-spoken with voters and less confrontational with his fellow Republicans. Even so, Republicans will have an uphill fight taking back the seat this fall, especially if Illinois native Barack Obama is heading the Democratic presidential ticket.


-- John Fund
Reverend Al Enters the Fray

When a leading Democrat starts talking about filing lawsuits over a disputed election in Florida, other Democrats have a right to get nervous. They have too many bad memories of the nightmare of Florida's 2000 Bush v. Gore election fiasco.

That's exactly the feeling that the Reverend Al Sharpton caused this weekend when he began threatening to sue the Democratic National Committee if it counts Florida's rogue primary results for purposes of allocating delegates in the presidential race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The New York Sun reports that Mr. Sharpton is heading to Florida to collect lists of people willing to claim they didn't vote in that state's January primary because they believed the DNC when it said (because of the Florida primary's illicit scheduling) their votes wouldn't count. Mr. Sharpton says millions of Florida voters will have been disenfranchised if delegates selected in an illicit primary (the majority of whom back Hillary Clinton) now are seated at the national convention.

Mr. Sharpton is widely seen as a stalking horse for Barack Obama, who doesn't want the disputed delegates from either Florida or Michigan seated. Mr. Sharpton told Fox News that if Mr. Obama loses the nomination because of "back-room deals" made by superdelegates, "you not only would see people like me demonstrating, you may see us talking about whether or not we can support that [Democratic] ticket."

Democrats are deep in discussions about how to seat delegations from Florida and Michigan without triggering a backlash from a rabble-rouser such as Mr. Sharpton. Over the weekend, a possible solution emerged when two governors who back Hillary Clinton, Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, said they were willing to privately raise half the $30 million it would take to run new primaries in both states.

Whatever the solution, it had better come quickly. The Florida and Michigan dispute is threatening to raise the rancor among Democrats to unacceptable levels. The last thing the party needs is to have its own Rube Goldberg primary rules dominate political news coverage.


-- John Fund

Quote of the Day

"She has no idea how many times I defended her. How many right-leaning friends and relatives I battled with. How many times I played down her shady business deals and penchant for scandals.... She has no idea how frequently I dismissed her husband's serial adultery as an unfortunate trait of an otherwise brilliant man. For sixteen years, I was a proud soldier in the legion of 'Clinton apologists'.... And then she ran for president. She's proven that she cares more about 'Hillary' than 'unity.' More about defeating Obama than defeating the Republicans. She's become a political suicide-bomber, happy to blow herself to bits -- as long as she takes everyone else with her. On Friday, one of Barack Obama's foreign policy advisors, Samantha Power, resigned after calling Senator Clinton 'a monster' during an off-the-record exchange. It was an unfortunate slip, but one that echoed the sentiments of many Clinton apologists like me -- who've watched Hillary's descent into pettiness and fear-mongering with the heartbreak of a child who grows up to realize that his beloved mother has been a terrible person all along. Are the conservatives right about the Clintons? Will they do and say anything to get elected? I don't know. All I know is... I'm through apologizing" -- Seth Grahame-Smith, author of "Letters of Apology for Eight Years of George W. Bush," writing about Hillary Clinton at

Heather Wilson's War

Republican Sen. Pete Domenici is retiring after more than three decades in office and all three of the state's congressmen are running to replace him. Rep. Tom Udall, a Democrat, is virtually assured of winning his party's nomination and is sitting on nearly $2 million in campaign funds. On the right, however, there is a real horse race developing between Rep. Heather Wilson and Rep. Steve Pearce. The latter is a conservative Republican who represents a large swath of rural New Mexico, while Ms. Wilson is a moderate with a more suburban base, as well as strong support from military hawks because of her service in the Air Force and as a defense and intelligence expert.

Ms. Wilson had a near-death experience two years ago when she was challenged by popular Democratic State Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who charged that Ms. Wilson, as a member of the House intelligence committee, should have stopped the invasion of Iraq. With polls showing her trailing by four points, Ms. Wilson pulled off an 800-vote win in an Albuquerque district that boasts more Democrats than Republicans and that went for John Kerry in 2004.

It was an impressive victory under the circumstances, and running statewide plays even more to her strengths. Pollster Brian Sanderoff tells us that the national security vote is especially important because New Mexico is home to the Los Alamos Labs, numerous military bases and a large number of Energy Department employees (many whom handle nuclear-weapons issues). Her GOP rival Mr. Pearce didn't help himself any this month when he carelessly suggested at a campaign stop that England "exports more radical Islamic terrorists today than any country in the Middle East." He couldn't back up the statement and Ms. Wilson quickly pounced, calling it an irresponsible comment that could alienate a key ally in the war on terror and was unbecoming of a would-be senator.

Either Republican would face a steep climb in the fall. Polls show Mr. Udall, who benefits from massive name recognition thanks to his family's heritage in New Mexico politics, leading by 20 points. That should tighten, however, once a GOP nominee is picked and the public gets up to speed on personalities, ideology and issues. And either Republican would also benefit from Hillary Clinton being the Democratic nominee. Recent match-up polls show her lead in New Mexico over John McCain much narrower than Barack Obama's.


-- Brendan Miniter

26715  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Syrian rockets, missiles put all of Israel in reach on: March 10, 2008, 11:35:20 AM

Rockets, missiles place all of Israel within firing zone

By Aaron Klein


JERUSALEM – Syria is in the midst of "intensely" arming itself, placing into position rockets and missiles capable of striking the entire Jewish state, according to an assessment presented to the Knesset today by multiple Israeli security agencies.
The announcement follows a WND exclusive report last month quoting security officials stating Syria, aided by Russia and Iran, has been furiously acquiring rockets and missiles, including projectiles capable of hitting any point in Israel. The officials listed anti-tank, anti-aircraft and ballistic missiles as some of the arms procured by Syria.
Yesterday, Israel's Mossad and Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence chiefs presented an annual security report to the Knesset warning of Syria's armament program.
The chiefs also warned of a possible flare-up at Israel's northern border with the Hezbollah terror group and said in their assessment Iran could cross the technological threshold enabling it to assemble a nuclear bomb by the end of next year.
The assessment came after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced last week negotiations between the Jewish state and Syria should be seriously considered it if would bring an end to Syrian-sponsored terrorism and Damascus' "involvement in the axis of evil."
The negotiations would aim for some sort of Israeli evacuation from the Golan Heights strategic, mountainous territory looking down on Israeli and Syrian population centers twice used by Damascus to launch ground invasions into the Jewish state.

Syria openly provides refuge to Palestinian terror leaders, including the chiefs of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and has been accused of shipping weapons to Hezbollah. Damascus is also accused of supporting the insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq.

'Furious frenzy' to get Russian missiles

Olmert's announcement of Israel's willingness to negotiate followed a WND report in which Israeli and Jordanian security officials outlined Syria's recent armament.

A Jordanian security official said one of the main reasons Damascus did not retaliate after Israel carried out its Sept. 6 air strike inside Syria – which allegedly targeted a nascent nuclear facility – was because Syria's rocket infrastructure was not yet complete.

The official said that after the Israeli air strike, Syria picked up the pace of acquiring rockets and missiles, largely from Russia with Iranian backing, with the goal of completing its missile and rocket arsenal by the end of the year. The Jordanian official said Syria is aiming to possess the capacity to fire more than 100 rockets into Israel per hour for a sustained period of time.

"The Syrians have three main goals: to maximize their anti-tank, anti-aircraft and ballistic missile and rocket capabilities," explained the Jordanian official.

According to Israeli and Jordanian officials, Syria recently quietly struck a deal with Russia that allows Moscow to station submarines and war boats off Syrian ports. In exchange, Russia is supplying Syria with weaponry at lower costs, with some of the missiles and rockets being financed by Iran.

"The Iranians opened an extended credit line with Russia for Syria with the purpose of arming Syria," said one Jordanian security official.

"Russia's involvement and strategic positioning is almost like a return to its Cold War stance," the official said.

Both the Israeli and Jordanian officials told WND large quantities of Syrian rockets and missiles are being stockpiled at the major Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus.

Syria's new acquisitions include Russia's S-300 surface-to-air missile defense shield, which is similar to the U.S.-funded, Israeli-engineered Arrow anti-missile system currently deployed in Israel. The S-300 system is being run not by Syria but by Russian naval technicians who work from Syria's ports, security officials said.

New ballistic missiles and rockets include Alexander rockets and a massive quantity of various Scud surface-to-surface missiles, including Scud B and Scud D missiles.

Israeli security officials noted Syria recently test-fired two Scud D surface-to-surface missiles, which have a range of about 250 miles, covering most Israeli territory. The officials said the Syrian missile test was coordinated with Iran and is believed to have been successful. It is not known what type of warhead the missiles had.

In addition to longer-range Scuds, Syria is in possession of shorter-range missiles such as 220 millimeter and 305 millimeter rockets, some of which have been passed on to the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah.

Israel has information Syria recently acquired and deployed Chinese-made C-802 missiles, which were successfully used against the Israeli navy during Israel's war against Hezbollah in 2006. The missiles were passed to Syria by Iran, Israeli security officials told WND.

Russia recently sold to Syria advanced anti-tank missiles similar to the projectiles that devastated Israeli tanks during the last Lebanon war, causing the highest number of Israeli troop casualties during the 34 days of military confrontations. Syria and Russia are negotiating the sale of advanced anti-aircraft missiles.
26716  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Latin America on: March 10, 2008, 11:31:07 AM
The FARC Files
March 10, 2008; Page A14

Colombia's precision air strike 10 days ago, on a guerrilla camp across the border in Ecuador, killed rebel leader Raúl Reyes. That was big. But the capture of his computer may turn out to be a far more important development in Colombia's struggle to preserve its democracy.

Reyes was the No. 2 leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has been at war with the Colombian government for more than four decades. His violent demise is a fitting end to a life devoted to masterminding atrocities against civilians. But the computer records expose new details of the terrorist strategy to bring down the government of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, including a far greater degree of collaboration between the FARC and four Latin heads of government than had been previously known. In addition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, they are President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

A face-to-face encounter between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe at last week's Rio Group Summit.
Mr. Chávez is said to have been visibly distressed when told of the death of Reyes, a man he clearly admired. He also may have realized that he played a role in his hero's death, since it was later reported that the Colombian military had located the camp by intercepting a phone call to Reyes from the Venezuelan president.

Mr. Chávez rapidly ordered 10 battalions to the Colombian border. Should the Colombian military cross into Venezuela in search of FARC, he warned, it would mean war. That may have seemed like an unnecessary act of machismo. But the Colombia military has long claimed that the FARC uses both Ecuador and Venezuela as safe havens. Now it had shown that it wasn't afraid to act on that information.

There is a third explanation for Mr. Chávez's panic when he learned of the strike: He was alarmed about the possibility that his links with Reyes would be exposed. Sure enough, when the Colombian national police retrieved Reyes's body from Ecuador, it also brought back several computers from the camp. Documents on those laptops show that Mr. Chávez and Reyes were not only ideological comrades, but also business partners and political allies in the effort to wrest power from Mr. Uribe.

The tactical discussions found in the documents are hair-raising enough. They show that the FARC busies itself with securing arms and explosives, selling cocaine, and otherwise financing its terrorism operations through crime. In a memo last month, for example, a rebel leader discussed the FARC's efforts to secure 50 kilos of uranium, which it hoped to sell to generate income. In the same note, there is a reference to "a man who supplies me material for the explosive we are preparing, his name is Belisario and he lives in Bogotá . . ."

Though it is far from clear, Colombian national police speculated from this that a dirty bomb could be in the making. An April 2007 letter to the FARC secretariat lays out the terrorists' effort to acquire missiles from Lebanon. When Viktor Bout, allegedly one of the world's most notorious arms traffickers, was arrested in Thailand on Thursday, the Spanish-language press reported that he was located thanks to the Reyes computer files.

The maneuvers of thugs seeking power are no surprise. The more significant revelation is the relationship between the FARC and Mr. Chávez, Mr. Correa, Mr. Morales and Mr. Ortega. All four, it turns out, support FARC violence and treachery against Mr. Uribe.

According to the documents, Mr. Chávez's friendship with the FARC dates back at least as far as 1992, when he was in jail for an attempted coup d'etat in Venezuela and the FARC sent him $150,000. Now he is returning the favor, by financing the terrorist group with perhaps as much as $300 million. But money is the least important of the Chávez gifts. He is also using his presidential credentials on behalf of the FARC.

The FARC puts a lot of effort toward discrediting Mr. Uribe in the court of world opinion. A September letter from a rebel commander to "secretariat comrades" reads: "As to the manifesto, I suggest adding the border policy and making it public by all means possible to see if we can stop all the world from supporting uribismo [the agenda of Mr. Uribe] in the October elections." He then proposes a "clandestine" meeting between one rebel and Mr. Chávez in Caracas to discuss "our political-military project." Mr. Chávez, the rebels say in a later document, suggested that the FARC videotape any Colombian military strikes in the jungle for propaganda purposes.

In January, FARC leader Manuel Marulanda (aka "Sureshot") wrote to Mr. Chávez: "You can imagine the happiness that you have awoken in all the leaders, guerrillas, the Bolivarian Movement of New Colombia [and] the Clandestine Communist Party with the plan you put forth . . . to ask for the analysis and approval of recognizing the FARC as a belligerent [therefore legitimate] force."

The documents also show why it was a good idea for Colombia not to ask Ecuador for permission before moving against the FARC camp -- even though in the past it had done so when tangling with the rebels at the border. A January memo reports on a FARC meeting with the Ecuadorean minister of security, who said that Mr. Correa is "interested in official relations with the FARC" and has decided not to aid Colombia against the rebels. "For [Ecuador] the FARC is an insurgent organization of the people, with social and political proposals that it understands," the memo reads.

It also says Mr. Correa plans to increase commercial and political relations with North Korea, and that he requests that one of the FARC's hostages be released to him next time, so as to "boost his political efforts." A Feb. 28 letter from Reyes summarizes a meeting with an emissary of Mr. Correa: "He explained the proposal of Plan Ecuador, which seeks to counteract the damaging effects of Plan Colombia [the joint U.S.-Colombian effort against terrorism]."

Where do Bolivia and Nicaragua fit into this collaborative effort? An Oct. 4 letter from a rebel to FARC leader Marulanda reports that a Venezuelan minister has agreed that if there is a FARC summit, "Chávez would come with Ortega, Evo and Correa." All three, the letter said, are with Chávez to the death.
26717  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison, Reagan on: March 10, 2008, 11:26:37 AM
f industry and labour are left to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out.” —James Madison

"Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as
a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be
bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the
new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a
NATIONAL constitution."

-- James Madison (Federalist No. 39, 1788)

Reference: The Federalist

“How can limited government and fiscal restraint be equated with lack of compassion for the poor? How can a tax break that puts a little more money in the weekly paychecks of working people be seen as an attack on the needy? Since when do we in America believe that our society is made up of two diametrically opposed classes—one rich, one poor—both in a permanent state of conflict and neither able to get ahead except at the expense of the other? Since when do we in America accept this alien and discredited theory of social and class warfare? Since when do we in America endorse the politics of envy and division?” —Ronald Reagan

26718  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: March 10, 2008, 11:19:03 AM
It’s over By Dick Morris Posted: 03/06/08 06:02 PM [ET] The real message of Tuesday’s primaries is not that Hillary won. It’s that she didn’t win by enough.

The race is over.

The results are already clear. Obama will go to the Democratic Convention with a lead of between 100 and 200 elected delegates. The remaining question is: What will the superdelegates do then? But is that really a question? Will the leaders of the Democratic Party be complicit in its destruction? Will they really kindle a civil war by denying the nomination to the man who won the most elected delegates? No way. They well understand that to do so would be to throw away the party’s chances of victory and to stigmatize it among African-Americans and young people for the rest of their lives. The Democratic Party took 20 years to recover from the traumas of 1968 and it is not about to trigger a similar bloodletting this year.

John McCain’s nomination guarantees that the superdelegates wouldn’t dare. A perfectly acceptable alternative for most Democrats, McCain would harvest so large a proportion of Obama’s votes if Hillary steals the nomination that he would probably win. Even putting Obama on the ticket would not allay the anger of his supporters; it would just make him complicit in the robbery.

Will Hillary win Pennsylvania? Who cares? Even if she were to sweep the remaining primaries and caucuses by 10 points, she would move just 60 votes closer to Obama’s total of elected delegates. And she won’t sweep them all. Even if Hillary wins Pennsylvania, the largest prize up for grabs, Obama will probably win North Carolina, which is almost as large. He’s likely to win Mississippi and Wyoming and has a good shot in Oregon and Indiana. The most likely result of these coming contests is that Obama will be roughly where he is now, about 140 elected delegates ahead of Hillary.

Suppose that Hillary will carry those states by enough to offset Obama’s delegate lead. The proportional representation system makes a knockout impossible and so mutes relatively narrow victories as to make them almost inconsequential. Little Vermont, with 600,000 people, gave Obama a net gain of four delegates, half of what Hillary won from the Texas primary, a state with 20 million residents. Even after Hillary won big-state victories in Ohio and Texas, she drew only 20 closer to Obama’s total of elected delegates.

Hillary won’t withdraw. That much is for sure. The tantalizing notion that 800 insiders can offset a season of primaries and caucuses will drive both Clintons to ever-escalating rhetoric. Will their attacks hurt Obama? Likely all they will achieve is to give him needed experience in the cut and thrust of media politics.

Left out of the entire equation is poor John McCain. Unable to get a word in edgewise and unsure of which Democrat to attack, he will have to watch from the sidelines as Hillary and Obama hog the headlines. If the superdelegates deliver the nomination to Hillary in the dead of night without leaving fingerprints at the crime scene, McCain’s nomination will be worth having. If Obama prevails, it won’t be worth the paper on which it is written. The giant killer, Obama will have soared to new heights of popularity and McCain won’t be able to bring him back to Earth in the nine weeks that will remain.

Suggestion for Obama:

The next time Hillary uses the recycled red phone ad, counter with one of your own. When the phone rings in the middle of the night, have a woman’s voice, with a flat Midwestern accent, answer it and say, “Hold on” into the receiver. Then she should shout, “Bill! It’s for you!”

Because with Hillary’s complete lack of any meaningful experience in foreign affairs, and her lack of the “testing” that she boldly claims, she’ll be yelling for Bill.
26719  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: World Bank Confidential on: March 10, 2008, 11:12:56 AM
World Bank Confidential
March 10, 2008; Page A14

In January, we reported on a $569 million corruption scandal involving five World Bank health projects in India. Bank President Robert Zoellick called the corruption "unacceptable" and said "the Government of India and the World Bank are committed to getting to the bottom of this." We're now getting a clearer picture of whether the bank is serious, and the early evidence isn't encouraging.

Tomorrow, the bank's governing board will be briefed on the bank's "action plan" to redress the problems. As in past corruption cases, the plan contains promises of better oversight, strengthened safeguards, "smart project design," seminars on fighting corruption and so on. (Read the World Bank report and accompanying Powerpoint presentation.)

All of this might do some good. But as is often the case with the World Bank, the remedial efforts focus on improving systems rather than insisting on accountability. Though the bank promises a "corporate review," none of the bank officials directly responsible for supervising the five corrupted projects has been fired or had his career adversely affected.

Some have gone on to bigger things at the bank. For example, the bank's anticorruption unit (INT) found "a high percentage of procurements showing indicators of collusion, fraud or corruption" in a $125 million "Tuberculosis Control Project." Yet the team leader who oversaw that project is now responsible for the bank's more ambitious $360 million "Reproductive and Child Health II" project.

Most remarkable, Praful Patel, since 2003 the bank's vice president for operations in South Asia, is now the point man organizing the bank's response to the corruption that happened on his watch. This is akin to sending Michael Brown, the FEMA head during Hurricane Katrina, to supervise emergency management reforms.

Meanwhile, the bank says it has "joined forces" with the Indian government to "stamp out corruption." One problem, however, is that the Indian government categorically denies many of the findings in its official response to the INT report. In a conclusion on page four of its response, India even attacks the bank's corruption fighters for "erroneously creating an impression that the health sector delivery system in India is beset with fraud and corruption."

This suggests that whatever mechanisms the bank puts in place to address corruption could founder on India's resistance. On that point, an email from an assistant to Mr. Zoellick says that the bank chief privately agrees with Indian assertions that unspecified "mistakes had been made" in the INT report. To his credit, the email adds that Mr. Zoellick does not want those "mistakes" to divert from the "serious problems" that were exposed.

A World Bank spokesman declined comment on the documents but added that the bank is "committed to addressing its own shortcomings and will take disciplinary action against any staff members found responsible for wrongdoing." Yet so far in the wake of the India report, the only relevant people to leave the bank have been INT Director Suzanne Rich Folsom and her two senior deputies, who had been relentlessly hounded by the bank's bureaucracy.

We're happy to see Paul Volcker's name on the search committee to find a replacement for Ms. Folsom, but otherwise the committee is stacked with bureaucrats who represent the bank status quo. They include Jeff Gutman, who oversaw the Cambodia portfolio while some of its projects were exposed as corrupt; Makhtar Diop, who did the same in Kenya; and Alison Cave, a former bank staff association chair who led the staff coup against former President Paul Wolfowitz.

Mr. Zoellick has faced a difficult management task trying to mend fences after the uproar over Mr. Wolfowitz. But as president of an institution that depends on U.S. tax dollars, he has a larger obligation to ensure that corruption findings have real consequences. We hope the bank's directors demand more accountability tomorrow.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary
26720  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Latin America on: March 10, 2008, 11:05:11 AM
Woof All:

Although the Spanish language forum has various threads for politics and economics in Latin America, this forum has only a thread specificallty on Mexico-US and one on Venezuela.  Latin America was my region of specialization for my International Relations major in college, and I have retained my interest in the region, particularly Mexico.   So, with this thread we begin a catch all thread for anything in the region wihich is not Mexico or Venezuela: 



The Chávez Democrats
March 10, 2008; Page A14
What is it about Democrats and Hugo Chávez? Even as the Venezuelan strongman was threatening war last week against Colombia, Congress was threatening to hand him a huge strategic victory by spurning Colombia's free trade overtures to the U.S.

This isn't the first time Democrats have come to Mr. Chávez's aid, but it would be the most destructive. The Venezuelan is engaged in a high-stakes competition over the political and economic direction of Latin America. He wants the region to follow his path of ever greater state control of the economy, while assisting U.S. enemies wherever he can. He's already won converts in Bolivia and Ecuador, and he came far too close for American comfort in Mexico's election last year.

Meanwhile, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe is embracing greater economic and political freedom. He has bravely assisted the U.S fight against narco-traffickers, and he now wants to link his country more closely to America with a free-trade accord. As a strategic matter, to reject Colombia's offer now would tell everyone in Latin America that it is far more dangerous to trust America than it is to trash it.

Yet Democrats on Capitol Hill are doing their best to help Mr. Chávez prevail against Mr. Uribe. Even as Mr. Chávez was doing his war dance, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus was warning the White House not to send the Colombia deal to the Hill for a vote without the permission of Democratic leaders. He was seconded by Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, who told Congress Daily that "they don't have the votes for it, it's not going to come on the floor," adding that "what they [the White House] don't understand it's not the facts on the ground, it's the politics that's in the air."

Mr. Rangel is right about the politics. No matter what U.S. strategic interests may be in Colombia, this is an election year in America. And Democrats don't want to upset their union and anti-trade allies. The problem is that the time available to pass anything this year is growing short. The closer the election gets, the more leverage protectionists have to run out the clock on the Bush Presidency. The deal has the support of a bipartisan majority in the Senate, and probably also in the House. Sooner or later the White House will have to force the issue.

Our guess is that Messrs. Baucus and Rangel understand the stakes and privately favor the accord. The bottleneck is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is refusing to allow a vote under pressure from her left-wing Members. These Democrats deride any link between Hugo Chávez and trade as a "scare tactic," as if greater economic prosperity had no political consequences. "President Bush's recent fear-mongering on trade shows just how desperate he is to deliver one final victory for multinational corporations," declared Illinois Democrat Phil Hare, who is one of Ms. Pelosi's main trade policy deputies.

These are the same Democrats who preach the virtues of "soft power" and diplomacy, while deriding Mr. Bush for being too quick to use military force. But trade is a classic form of soft power that would expand U.S. and Latin ties in a web of commercial interests. More than 8,000 U.S. companies currently export to Colombia, nearly 85% of which are small and medium-sized firms. Colombia is already the largest South American market for U.S. farm products, and the pact would open Colombia to new competition and entrepreneurship.

Which brings us back to Mr. Chávez and his many Democratic friends. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd's early support helped the strongman consolidate his power. Former President Jimmy Carter blessed Mr. Chávez's August 2004 recall victory, despite evidence of fraud. And then there are the many House Democrats, current and former, who have accepted discount oil from Venezuela and then distributed it in the U.S. to boost their own political fortunes. Joseph P. Kennedy II and Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt have been especially cozy with Venezuela's oil company. If Democrats spurn free trade with Colombia, these Democratic ties with Mr. Chávez will deserve more political scrutiny.

Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both competing for union support. But if they wanted to demonstrate their own Presidential qualities, they'd be privately telling Ms. Pelosi to pass the Colombia pact while Mr. Bush is still in office. That would spare either one of them from having to spend political capital to pass it next year.

Instead, both say they oppose the deal on grounds that Mr. Uribe has not done more to protect "trade unionists." In fact, Mr. Uribe has done more to reduce violence in Colombia than any modern leader in Bogotá. The real question for Democrats is whether they're going to choose Colombia -- or Hugo Chávez.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.

And add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.
26721  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Filipino martial arts schools near Whittier? on: March 10, 2008, 10:48:33 AM
C-Guide Dog includes DBMA amongst his credentials.

Also representing DBMA is Lester "Surf Dog" Griffin who has a school in Hemet.
26722  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Vehicle issues on: March 10, 2008, 10:43:20 AM
Woof All:

This thread is for issues having to due with cars, driving etc. 
This could be dealing with a criminal attack while you are in your car where you can't drive away, where you can drive away, and so forth.

If you have no particular knowledge or experience of driving skills beyond having watched a couple of episodes of "Cops", I have seen this suggested as a good experience to get a sense of what you can do with your car:

26723  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Legal Challenge to Campaign Finance Law on: March 09, 2008, 10:14:43 AM
Conservative Group Challenges
Portions of Finance Law
March 8, 2008; Page A4

A new conservative group has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn some of the most basic parts of campaign-finance law.

The challenge, from a group calling itself, is the latest in a series of attempts to weaken the campaign finance system as money floods into politics in this campaign year.

The suit challenges laws that date back to the 1970s but also fits a pattern of blowback from the restrictions in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. "McCain-Feingold was kind of the last straw for a lot of people," said founder David Keating, a long-time advocate for conservative causes. "No one understands what the law is anymore."

First Amendment Focus

The challenge, which was filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., zeroes in on a requirement that if two or more individuals work together to push for -- or against -- a candidate for federal office, they must submit paperwork to become a political committee and abide by contribution limits. The Supreme Court has said the requirement doesn't apply to individuals acting alone because preventing a person from purchasing airtime to express an opinion about candidates would violate free-speech protections. is charging that the restrictions on forming groups violate First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. The group's detractors say the contribution limits prevent corruption, but even some liberals are finding the case hard to discount completely.

"It's a significant constitutional challenge," said Bob Bauer, who heads the political law group for Perkins Coie LLP and a lawyer for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. "Especially with the courts we have now, the chances of success shouldn't be discounted."

In June, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision set aside federal restrictions on corporate- and union-funded broadcast ads that mentioned specific candidates in the weeks before an election. The Bush-appointed chief justice, John Roberts, gave heart to conservatives by saying that "enough is enough" and that the court "must give the benefit of any doubt to protecting rather than stifling speech."

Mr. Keating, who is moonlighting for while holding down a job as the director of the antitax advocacy group the Club for Growth, quickly found support for his new group from like-minded conservative Ed Crane, founder of the libertarian Cato Institute, and several rich donors.

One donor has even pledged more than $100,000 to, but the group hasn't been able to accept any donations beyond $1,000, the law's threshold for registering as a political committee.

With free legal help from two law organizations, the group is seeking an injunction in district court that would allow it to operate in the 2008 election.

A staff opinion of the Federal Election Commission said the group's plans were illegal under current law, and Wednesday, commission lawyers responded to the request for an injunction by writing that it wasn't warranted because the individuals could act independently.

If granted, the injunction would allow to produce and air attack advertisements against Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican and Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana. The scripts for the ads challenge them for supporting increased campaign-finance restrictions.

"Politicians like Mary Landrieu don't like free speech," a script reads. As a jail cell slams shut on screen, an announcer adds that the McCain-Feingold law can imprison violators. "Hey, Mary Landrieu. This is America, not Russia."

A Landrieu campaign spokesman said the senator voted with 59 others "because she believes power should be situated with voters like ordinary Louisianans instead of with millionaires and billionaires."

The Supreme Court has previously upheld contribution limits with the goal of preventing "corruption or the appearance of corruption."

An individual can spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for or against candidates because the court has said it is a violation of free speech to restrict expenditures for ads or other communications. But once two or more people get together and raise more than $1,000, they can each contribute only as much as $5,000 annually to their group.

In its case, contends that there is no way large donations to it could lead to corruption because the group can't give to, or coordinate with, candidates.

Fred Wertheimer, the president of a group that advocates for restrictions on money in politics, thinks that publicly disclosed donations could corrupt politicians because they would know who had helped them. Also, political-advocacy groups often share officers who come in and out of campaigns and the government, making it easy for politicians to reward people for their support.

"The contribution limits are constitutional," Mr. Wertheimer said, adding that most independent groups are funded by people who used to give to the political parties until those contributions were banned by a law that was later upheld by the Supreme Court.

Mr. Wertheimer's group, Democracy 21, filed a friend-of-the-court brief earlier this week saying shouldn't be permitted to operate. In rejecting's request to prevent Democracy 21's filing, the court Thursday said that the free-speech group's brief to restrict opposition was filed "apparently without any sense of irony."
26724  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma on: March 09, 2008, 09:57:00 AM
OK, lets pair that NY Times fluff piece with this:

If you boil Obama's appeal down to its essential core, most of his supporters seem to like him because he's a relatively young, charismatic, black man who talks a lot about "change," "unity," and the "audacity of hope."
But, what does that tell you about how Obama would behave if he gets into office? Very, very little. After all, pretty much anybody, from Napoleon, to Fidel Castro, to Mickey Mouse could run on a platform of "hope," "change," and "unity" because it's so broad and meaningless.
Of course, that doesn't mean that Barack doesn't have an agenda. He most certainly does have one, but it's just an agenda that he tries to avoid talking about because the better Americans get to know him, the less appealing he's going to be.
So, with that in mind, let me take you through a short tour of some of Barack Obama's radical beliefs. In all fairness, I should note that he has flip-flopped on some of these issues after his Barney the Dinosaur style "I Love You, You Love Me" campaign for the presidency got into full swing. But, experience has taught us that you can put a lot more stock into what a politician says before he starts trying to desperately convince middle America to vote him into the White House, than after.
#1) Weakening America's Military: Barack Obama has pledged, among other things, to make defense cuts during war time, to cut spending on national missile defense, that he won't weaponize space, to slow development of future combat systems, and to seek a "world without nuclear weapons." Is this a man who can be trusted as Commander-In-Chief?
#2) Losing the War in Iraq: Obama is promising to throw away the hard earned gains our troops have made in Iraq by immediately removing combat brigades each month, regardless of the situation on the ground, and by having all of our "combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff publicly warned Barack and, for that matter, Hillary that they could create a "chaotic situation" with their policy that could take the "gains we have achieved and struggled to achieve and turn them around overnight." Come on, Admiral, don't you know that Obama isn't going to listen to what the military has to say about a war when there's an election to be won?
#3) Gay Marriage: Although Barack Obama claims to oppose gay marriage, in 2004 he said that he opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, which is the only thing keeping the courts from imposing gay marriage on the whole country. If you want to see gay marriage become the law of the land in your state, no matter what the voters think, vote for Obama.
#4) Pro-Partial Birth Abortion: It's never a surprise to find a Democrat who's a big fan of abortion, but Obama goes above and beyond the call of duty. He had a perfect rating of 100% from NARAL in 2005, 2006, and 2007, opposes "notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions," and he even opposed banning partial birth abortions. If you want to see as many women as humanly possible in this country putting their own children to death via abortion, vote Obama.
#5) Legalizing Marijuana: Obama, a former (we hope) druggie, who has admitted to using marijuana and cocaine, has said that he favors "decriminalizing marijuana." Perhaps you can't blame him for wanting to make it easier for people to get drugs since, after all, he used them and look how he turned out. If Barack gets into the White House, one day mothers all over America can tell their children that they'll never be anything in life if they use hard drugs and those children can reply, "Well, at least I can be President!"
#6) Handing 845 billion dollars of your money to other nations: Obama's Global Poverty Act would commit the United States to spending, over the next 13 years, 845 billion dollars more than what we already do on global poverty. Obama followed that up with a release that said in part, "It must be a priority of American foreign policy to commit to eliminating extreme poverty..." If Obama actually believes that not only is the United States capable of "eliminating extreme poverty," but that we should actually make that utopian dream a "priority," then he's far too naive to be in the White House.
#7) If you think George Bush is a big spender, you haven't met Obama: Even though the United States is already running a deficit, Obama is planning to push a whole host of new big government programs including a "10-year, $150 billion program to establish a green energy sector," a "$60 billion National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank," and a "nearly universal health care plan (whose annual price tag he low-balls at $50 to $65 billion)." If you're all for tax and spend liberalism and watching the deficit spiral even further out of control, there's no one you should want in the White House more than Obama.
#8) Amnesty and your tax dollars for illegal aliens: Believe it or not, John McCain, the Republican who is most closely associated with catering to illegal aliens, is actually well to Barack Obama's right on the issue.
Obama favors drivers licenses for illegals, wants to give illegals welfare and Medicaid, wants to let them participate in Social Security, opposes making English our national language, and he favors a comprehensive approach to illegal immigration, AKA amnesty, that even John McCain now claims to oppose.
#9) Gun Control: Obama is a perfect example of the stereotypical, liberal gun grabber. Obama has pledged to "Ban the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons," has "opined unequivocally that D.C.'s ban was 'constitutional'," and in 1996, Obama, in a survey, "supported banning the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns." If you're an opponent of the 2nd Amendment, who believes law abiding citizens shouldn't be allowed to defend themselves, Obama is your man.

John Hawkins is a professional blogger who runs Conservative Grapevine and Right Wing News.
26725  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc on: March 09, 2008, 09:23:13 AM
The subject of masks came up on WT forum.  I haven't checked these for myself, but post them here to have the URLs for reference:


Most of the information I've read suggests than N95 masks are adequate for bird flu.

There's a lot of information on the subject available here;

I'd suggest spending some time studying the available information to determine what level of protection you're comfortable with.


There is a single study that has cast some doubt on the efficacy of N-95 masks in a pandemic influenza situation.

This link is from the IAFF, whose leadership I personally feel are no-talent @ssclowns, but worth reading:

Having masks are a valid tactic for pandemic influenza, but betting your life on them is foolhardy at best. During the SARS outbreak, there is strong circumstantial evidence that universal precautions failed in more than one case of direct transmission to healthcare workers.

A surgical mask will beat nothing, a N-95 is better than a surgical mask and not being exposed to airborne particulate is the best solution.

With N-95's, be aware that moisture will likely degrade their effectiveness, so sweating, heavy breathing and high humidity will burn through.
26726  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times fluff piece on: March 09, 2008, 09:18:48 AM
The NY Times really digs deep ono this one  rolleyes

Senator Barack Obama stood before Washington’s elite at the spring dinner of the storied Gridiron Club. In self-parody, he ticked off his accomplishments, little more than a year after arriving in town.

Skip to next paragraph
The Long Run
A Measured Start
This is part of a series of articles about the life and careers of contenders for the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations.

Robert A. Reeder/Washington Post
Mr. Obama poked fun at himself at the Gridiron Club in 2006 with, left, his current chief strategist, David Axelrod, and his communications director, Robert Gibbs.
“I’ve been very blessed,” Mr. Obama told the crowd assembled in March 2006. “Keynote speaker at the Democratic convention. The cover of Newsweek. My book made the best-seller list. I just won a Grammy for reading it on tape.

“Really, what else is there to do?” he said, his smile now broad. “Well, I guess I could pass a law or something.”

They were the two competing elements in Mr. Obama’s time in the Senate: his megawatt celebrity and the realities of the job he was elected to do.

He went to the Senate intent on learning the ways of the institution, telling reporters he would be “looking for the washroom and trying to figure out how the phones work.” But frustrated by his lack of influence and what he called the “glacial pace,” he soon opted to exploit his star power. He was running for president even as he was still getting lost in the Capitol’s corridors.

Outside Washington, Mr. Obama was a multimedia sensation — people offered free tickets to his book readings for $125 on eBay and contributed thousands of dollars each to his political action committee to watch him on stage questioning policy experts.

But inside the Senate, Mr. Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, was 99th in seniority and in the minority party his first two years. In committee hearings, he had to wait his turn until every other senator had asked questions. He once telephoned reporters himself to draw attention to his amendments. And some senior colleagues were cool to the newcomer, whom they considered naïve.

Determined to be viewed as substantive, Mr. Obama kept his head down, declining Sunday talk show invitations for his first year, and consulted Senate elders for advice. He was cautious — even on the Iraq war, which he had opposed as a Senate candidate. He voted against the withdrawal of troops and proposed legislation calling for a drawdown only after he was running for president and polls showed voters favoring it.

And while he rightly takes credit for steering through an ethics overhaul that reformers called a “gold standard,” like most freshmen he did not play a significant role in passing much other legislation and disappointed some Democrats for not becoming a more prominent voice in other important debates.

Yet Mr. Obama was planning for the future. He spent much of his time raising money for other Democrats, which helped him build chits and lists of potential voters. He tended to his image, even upbraiding a reporter for writing that he had smoked a cigarette (a habit he later said he gave up for his presidential bid).

Early on in his tenure in Washington, he concluded that it would be hard to have much of an impact inside the Senate, where partisan conflict increasingly provoked filibuster threats, nomination fights and near gridlock even on routine spending bills.

“I think it’s very possible to have a Senate career here that is not particularly useful,” he said in an interview, reflecting on his first year. And it would be better for his political prospects not to become a Senate insider, which could saddle him with the kind of voting record that has tripped up so many senators who would be president.

“It’s sort of logic turned on its head, but it really is true,” said Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the former senator and Democratic leader who has been a close adviser to Mr. Obama.

“Two things develop the more time you spend here,” Mr. Daschle said. “One is a mind-set that we did it this way before, we should do it this way again, and I think that’s a real burden. More importantly — and Hillary and McCain are the perfect examples of this — the longer you are here, you take on enemies. And these enemies don’t forget.”

Rising to Stardom

If freshman senators arrive as celebrities, it is usually because they are “dragon slayers,” having ousted big-name incumbents. Mr. Obama was not one of those; two serious opponents in Illinois self-destructed, smoothing his path to election in November 2004.

He had been anointed his party’s rising star after delivering a soaring speech at the Democratic National Convention the previous July. His fresh face that fall cheered Democrats demoralized by their failure to win the White House and the defeat of Mr. Daschle, the party’s Senate leader.


Page 2 of 3)

But Mr. Obama knew the Senate scorns a showboat. He had waited to crack open “Master of the Senate,” Robert A. Caro’s book about the legendary legislative career of Lyndon B. Johnson, until after he was elected, wary that he would be photographed — and seen as presumptuous — reading it during his campaign. After he was on the cover of Newsweek the same week President Bush appeared as Time’s Man of the Year, his fellow Democratic senators gently ribbed him at their first weekly luncheon of the new Congress.

He met with nearly one-third of the Senate, from both sides of the aisle, including his future rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, to learn about the institution and solicit advice on how to succeed. That shaped a strategy: work hard, tend to your constituents, and, above all, get along with others. He spent many weekends traveling across Illinois for town-hall-style meetings.

Mr. Obama’s advisers referred to it as “the Hillary model,” patterned after Mrs. Clinton’s approach when she joined the Senate in 2001. But while Mr. Obama expressed admiration for her at the time, he dissuaded reporters from making too close a comparison.

“I wasn’t the first lady, and I didn’t have some of the political baggage of eight years of hand-to-hand combat between the White House and the Republican Congress,” he said soon after he first arrived. “In that sense, she had a harder task.”

Knowing he needed insider help, Mr. Obama cajoled Mr. Daschle’s former chief of staff, Pete Rouse, to lead his office. Mr. Rouse advised Mr. Obama about managing relationships on the Hill and helped engineer hefty assignments, including a Foreign Relations Committee seat. He sought out senior colleagues, traveling to Russia with Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, an advocate of nuclear disarmament. (Later, they passed legislation to reduce stockpiles of conventional weapons.) Mr. Obama also sought tutorials from Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, considered the Democrats’ master legislator.

Some colleagues found Mr. Obama remarkably well prepared, even more so than longtime staff members, in discussions. And his role as the good student earned him the affection of some fellow lawmakers. “I don’t think you can be around him and not come to the conclusion that this is a person of rare quality,” said Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota.

Mr. Obama had visited Washington only a handful of times before taking office, and he was fresh enough to its ways that he bubbled over about his first trip on Air Force One in June 2005. He fretted about getting lost on his first trip to the White House, for a reception the day he was sworn in, and later marveled that there were flat-screen televisions in the Lincoln Bedroom.

But he remained ambivalent about the city and its institutions. Unlike many senators with young children, he did not move his family to the capital. He rarely spent more than three nights in Washington — aides would reserve tickets on several flights to make sure he got home to Chicago after the final Senate vote of the week.

Mr. Obama found the Hill a difficult place to fit in, and it was not always clear that he wanted to. He was 43 when he arrived, younger than most of his colleagues — whose average age was 60 — and even many senior staff members. Unlike senators who come up through the House, he did not have an existing network of friends, and while some members of Congress bunk with others, he lived by himself in one of the nondescript new boxes along Massachusetts Avenue. On the nights he was in town, he typically went alone to a Chinatown athletic club — not the Senate gym — or attended events on the Hill.

And for all his efforts to play down his celebrity, Mr. Obama was exceptional, and it was hard for him or anyone to ignore the aura and sense of history around him. He was only the third black senator elected since Reconstruction. His memoir was on The New York Times’s best-seller list for 54 weeks. And Washington society was eager to embrace him — a Capitol Hill newspaper ranked him as No. 2 on its list of most beautiful people.

Etching a Path

Mr. Obama was also pulling in big money. He created a political action committee, the Hopefund, to increase his visibility and help other Democrats. It raised $1.8 million the first year.

In the Senate, meanwhile, he was discovering the realities of being a senator — that not every bill is perfect (or perfectly unacceptable) and that most votes required balancing the good and bad. Mr. Obama wanted to vote to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. for the Supreme Court, for example — he thought the president deserved latitude when it came to appointments — but Mr. Rouse advised against it, pointing out that Mr. Obama would be reminded of the vote every time the court made a conservative ruling that he found objectionable.

Mr. Obama took few bold stands and diverted little from the liberal orthodoxy he had embraced in the Illinois Senate. His voting record in his first year in Washington, according to the annual rankings by National Journal, was more liberal than 82.5 percent of the Senate (compared with, for example, Mrs. Clinton’s 79.8 percent that year).

He worked with Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma and one of the most conservative in the chamber, to establish a public database to examine government spending after Hurricane Katrina.

But for the most part, he stuck to party lines; there were few examples of the kind of bipartisan work he advocates in his current campaign.

He disappointed some Democrats by not taking a more prominent role opposing the war — he voted against a troop withdrawal proposal by Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin in June 2006, arguing that a firm date for withdrawal would hamstring diplomats and military commanders in the field.
Page 3 of 3)

His most important accomplishment was his push for ethics reform. Party leaders named him their point person in 2006, and when the Democrats assumed the majority in Congress in January 2007, Mr. Obama and Mr. Feingold, a longtime Democratic proponent of ethics reform, proposed curtailing meals and gifts from lobbyists, restricting the use of corporate planes and requiring lobbyists who bundle donations to disclose individual donors.

Mr. Obama’s determination not to back down, Mr. Feingold said, “struck me as an example of someone showing real guts.”

Of course, he added, “He was not any freshman. He was Barack Obama.”

To others, though, the mismatch between Mr. Obama’s outside profile and his inside accomplishments wore thin. While some senators spent hours in closed-door meetings over immigration reform in early 2007, he dropped in only occasionally, prompting complaints that he was something of a dilettante.

He joined a bipartisan group, which included Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and Mr. Kennedy, that agreed to stick to a final compromise bill even though it was sure to face challenges from interest groups on both sides. Yet when the measure reached the floor, Mr. Obama distanced himself from the compromise, advocating changes sought by labor groups. The bill collapsed.

To some in the bipartisan coalition, Mr. Obama’s move showed an unwillingness to take a tough stand.

“He folded like a cheap suit,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, a close ally of Mr. McCain. “What it showed me is you are not an agent of change. Because to really change things in this place you have to get beat up now and then.”

Laying the Groundwork

Early on in his tenure in Washington, Mr. Obama began meeting every few months over late-night pizza with a handful of classmates from Harvard Law School and a couple of senior advisers to discuss his future. Being a 2008 presidential candidate, participants said, never came up. The only race mentioned was for Illinois governor in 2010 — the year Mr. Obama’s Senate term ended — but the group decided to put off considering the idea until at least his fourth year in the Senate.

Mr. Obama chose Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 to step into a more prominent role, speaking to his party’s caucus about the importance of using the disaster to focus the party’s efforts toward ending poverty.

The next February, he appeared on several Sunday shows in a row. “People are getting tired of me already,” he said in an interview.

In fact, outside Washington, people were clamoring for more. He was received like a returning hero in Africa in August 2006. On a book tour two months later, crowds mobbed him, and people urged him to run for president.

During the midterm elections that year, Mr. Obama was his party’s most sought-after campaigner — he helped raised nearly $1 million online in a matter of days that spring for Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the institution’s senior member.

His appearances on the trail helped lay the groundwork for a possible presidential campaign. He earned the good will of some Democrats who have now endorsed him. And most campaign events required tickets, so his staff members collected names and addresses of potential supporters.

Finally, Mr. Obama did what he had done when he first arrived in the Senate, quietly consulting those who knew the institution well — Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Daschle — for advice on whether to run.

They told him that these chances come along rarely. His celebrity was undeniable. And yes, he was green, but that also meant he did not have the burden of a long record.

“For somebody to come in with none of that history is a real advantage,” Mr. Daschle said. “I told him that he has a window to do this. He should never count on that window staying open.”
26727  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: March 09, 2008, 08:12:29 AM
Written with a NY Times agenda, but still worth the reading.

After a Fight to Survive, One to Succeed
They came to New York as “displaced persons” in the early 1950s, Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust. Today, in film and story, such survivors are treated with a kind of awe, and their arrival in America is considered a happy ending. But a very different picture, with an oddly contemporary twist, emerges from the yellowing pages of social service records now being rescued from oblivion at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan.

The files, from a major Jewish resettlement agency that handled tens of thousands of cases, show that many of these refugees walked a gantlet of resistance and distrust: disapproval of their lack of English and need for health care, threats of deportation, and agency rules shaped by a suspicion of freeloading.

An unschooled 19-year-old hoping for an education was scolded for dreaming and sent to work in a factory. A newlywed couple who arrived with four pieces of baggage, “mostly books,” were soon forced to choose whether the husband would keep his job or keep the Jewish Sabbath. An ailing, jobless father of three, facing immigration laws that called for deportation of those who sought public aid, told his caseworker, as her notes put it, that “he was more concerned and more disturbed now than he had ever been in the Warsaw Ghetto.”

Between the lines of these and other case files, chosen at random from the first boxes to arrive at the center for archival preservation, the stubborn resilience of many refugees shines through. Today we know that as a group, over time, they did exceptionally well in America. But in the files, the uncertainty of each case resonates across six decades, and poses a haunting question: What became of these people?

Tracking down the answer can provide more than a bittersweet coda to dusty documents. It can suddenly allow the past to speak to the present.

Take that 19-year-old, whose name was Hersch Wanderer, later Americanized to Harry. He was sent to work in a buckle factory and had to drop out of night school. But reached recently at his winter home in Boca Raton, Fla., Mr. Wanderer, 77, said he had done well enough in business to start two scholarships in New York, “for young people to have the chance that no one gave me.”

It will take two to three years for center archivists to process the hundreds of thousands of records being retrieved from scattered warehouses of the resettlement agency, the New York Association for New Americans, including documentation that spans later refugee migrations. Carl J. Rheins, executive director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, a partner of the center, called the trove one of the most significant additions to the archives in 30 years, and said he was eager to make it available to researchers, students and family members.

“This is an important chapter in American immigration history,” he said. “It’s got to figure in the dialogue about immigration, about keeping the doors of this country open.”

The doors were virtually shut in the 1920s, with highly restrictive quotas that held firm through World War II despite appeals for people fleeing fascism. At the war’s end, polls showed that as many as 72 percent of Americans disapproved of President Harry S. Truman’s proposal to allow more European refugees to come to the United States, largely based on fears of unemployment.

Patchwork legislation eventually allowed for admission of almost half a million displaced persons, as they were called, by 1951. But a cold-war climate also led to increasingly severe measures to exclude, deport and even revoke the citizenship of those who fell short of desired self-sufficiency, morality or political orthodoxy, according to Aristide R. Zolberg, a leading historian of immigration policy.

The files reflect that mood. In one, caseworkers worried that an unmarried young woman whose family had perished in the death camps could be excluded for “moral turpitude.” She was arriving with a 3-year-old child, the son of an American serviceman who had abandoned her when she was six months pregnant.

In another case, a young family was cut off from agency assistance two months after their arrival, for failing to disclose a “secret bank account” containing $138 in loans from friends. The wife, a survivor of three years in a German concentration camp and four years of exile in Russia, had found it hard to live within the agency’s $47 monthly allowance, the file said, because she “never accepts the fact that she just can’t buy as much food as she wants to give to her child.”

Many of the files reflect the families’ fear of deportation if they had to seek public aid or health care. The father of three who had survived day to day in the Warsaw Ghetto, for example, was distraught when the agency cut off aid and told him to apply for welfare in May 1952, a year after the family arrived. Even the agency was uncertain how welfare might affect their future under a pending immigration bill.

“In leaving me today he was quite disturbed and fearful,” the caseworker wrote of the father, a 46-year-old former printer with a dislocated arm, who had been studying English, taking a course in making picture frames, and hunting for night work.

His wife, 10 years younger, worked as a dressmaker at first, but had to stop because of an unplanned pregnancy and complications. The couple had even considered placing the baby for adoption, but could not bear to do it, the caseworker reported.

“He felt that the family needed money immediately,” but that in applying for welfare “he would be besmirching his children’s names,” the file said. “As he talked about this, he moved quickly to a feeling of desperation and wondered whether he would ever be able to be successful.”

An effort to trace that family for this article failed, and under the rules of access to the records, their names cannot be published without their permission. But a file about the family of Lajosh and Alice Pauker, who entered the United States in 1960, led to their two children. Mr. Pauker sought the agency’s help in November 1961, when his wife, an Auschwitz survivor from Hungary, broke down at her factory job in Brooklyn and was taken to a hospital psychiatric ward.

“He had been told to take his wife out of Kings County Hospital immediately, as otherwise she would be deported,” wrote the agency caseworker, unable to deny or confirm what Mr. Pauker had heard from friends. “He firmly believes that her ‘nervous condition’ is the result of her concentration camp experience.”

Instead of asking about that experience, however, the caseworker focused on documenting every penny of the family’s finances. The only help the agency provided was paying for the mother’s psychotherapy and tranquilizers. The father, an itinerant repairman of soda-water chargers, was later chided for not reporting the few dollars that his young son earned fixing bicycles after school. And when his daughter graduated from high school with honors, she had to give up on college to help support the family.

“I’m grateful for what they did, but basically, they were not looking at the overall picture,” said the son, Peter Pauker, now 59, an advertising consultant in Manhattan.

Atina Grossman, a historian at Cooper Union who has written about the displaced-persons camps of postwar Germany, said attitudes reflected in the case files were widespread at the time, shaped in part by pre-Depression ideas about pauperism, and by a mix of pity and contempt for the “D.P.’s,” as they were widely known.

“Nobody is thinking, ‘Oh, amazing, survivors,’ ” Professor Grossman said. “At worst they are human debris, quote-unquote; at best they are unfortunate victims who have to be resocialized. There’s this big concern on the part of the social workers that they are creating a dependent class.”

Walter Ruby, a spokesman for the resettlement agency, said the social workers showed the refugees compassion within the limits of the system. “ ‘America doesn’t take care of you’ — that was what they were telling these people,” he said.

The paradox, Professor Grossman said, was that as a group, displaced persons were very self-reliant.

The newlywed couple offer a striking example. In January 1954, a caseworker suggested they “readjust their thinking” about observing Sabbath at sundown on Fridays if the husband, an engineer, wanted to stay in his profession. The husband wanted to respect the strong religious feeling of his young bride, the file noted, but his boss would not permit a change in work schedule.

The couple, now 80 and 77 and living in Manhattan, have not forgotten the choice they confronted in a new marriage and a new land. But considering what they had overcome, they said it hardly fazed them.

The husband, Mark Kanal, started work at age 11, and was the only one in his family to survive Auschwitz. When he tried to return to his hometown after the liberation, he said, he narrowly escaped lynching by Polish anti-Semites.

So, like many others, he crossed borders illegally to get to American-occupied Germany. Determined to go to college, he used his cigarette allotment from a United Nations refugee organization to pay for tutoring from unemployed professors, and made it into the polytechnic institute in Munich. There he met his wife, Rachel, who had spent the war in Siberia.

“To come to a democratic country like America and not be able to practice your religion there the way you feel you should didn’t feel right to me,” Mrs. Kanal said. Her husband agreed. So he gave up his first American engineering job — and went on to a career as an aerospace engineer, eventually working on NASA’s moon and space shuttle programs.

“This is the real America,” he said recently, recalling how Sputnik ended the gentlemen’s agreements that in his experience had kept Jews out of high technology. “You want to do it, you know you can do it — go, see what you can do.”

Today’s immigration debate often contrasts the achievements of such legal immigrants with the burdens imposed by illegal border-crossers. But that distinction does not seem so clear to people like Harry Wanderer and his older sister, Helen.

In 1951, a caseworker dismissed Harry’s interest in a yeshiva education as “unreal,” and told him “he was expecting the agency to operate as an affluent parent on whom he could lean for support.” She did not know that he was a young child when the Nazis invaded his hometown in Poland, that he had dug potatoes in Siberia to help his family survive, cleaned toilets in a Czech prisoner of war camp for two cigarettes a day that he could trade for bread, and smuggled himself across several borders to reach a D.P. camp — the portal to emigration.

“We were all smuggled across borders,” said his sister, who was 26 when they arrived in New York, and is now a retired Hebrew teacher of 83. “We had to go someplace. America seemed good. And they let us in!”
26728  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action on: March 07, 2008, 12:43:18 PM
My stomach was torn open... so I tucked my shirt in and kept shooting: Amazing stories of the selfless heroes of Afghanistan

They all made a pact before they went to war.

Whatever happened to them in Afghanistan no one - dead or alive - would be left behind.  One night in Helmand Province, that pledge was put to the test.  In a terrifying split second, the close-knit group from one of the Army's most battle-scarred units came under fire from a hail of Taliban bullets and rocket-powered grenades.  Four men were hit and several others temporarily blinded by phosphorus. Their screams of pain cut through the darkness as the ambushed platoon was pinned down by gunfire from two sides.  But the men of 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment knew precisely what they had to do.

And today the extraordinary heroism which allowed the young soldiers to keep to their pledge at any cost can be revealed as they are awarded some of the highest military honours.  The men repeatedly braved enemy fire to rescue their injured and fatally wounded comrades from the hands of the Taliban.  Private Luke Cole, 22, carried on fighting after half his thigh bone was blown away.  When another bullet ripped open his stomach, he simply tucked his shirt in tighter "to hold everything in" - and carried on keeping the enemy at bay until back-up arrived.  Sergeant Craig Brelsford, 25, continued to command his men long after he was critically wounded - and right up to the moment he died.  In a singularly selfless act, he ran to put his body between the enemy and his wounded comrades.  It protected them from Taliban gunfire, but cost him his life.  And the 25-year-old platoon commander, Lieutenant Simon Cupples, led a rescue party into the killing zone to carry the injured to safety and recover the dead - again and again and again.

Their astonishing courage - and that of scores of other British servicemen and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq - is marked today with a raft of 184 awards.  They include the biggest batch of medals since fighting began in Afghanistan nearly seven years ago - a reflection not just of the ferocity of the conflict, but of the conspicuous bravery of British troops.  The ambush near the frontline town of Garmsir underlined the extreme danger that troops face daily in what has turned into a bloody and difficult war. 
It played out into a six-hour pitched battle as both sides poured in reinforcements. But true to the pact, Lt Cupples and his men refused to withdraw until the bodies of two fallen comrades were recovered.

Telling their families back home that no one knew what happened to them, he decided, was "simply not an option".  His valour and dedication is recognised with the award of a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross - the highest bravery medal after the Victoria Cross.

Yesterday he told the remarkable story of that night last September.

The young officer, now a captain, recalled how his men were advancing under cover of darkness when they came under devastating fire from a Taliban trench just 20 yards away, and then from other enemy positions.

"I could tell we had taken serious casualties." he said. "There was screaming from the men around me. Because we were so close to the enemy it was very difficult to withdraw and regroup, but we couldn't leave the casualties.  It was asking a lot for the blokes to run forward into enemy fire like that.  But they did it because their mates were out there. When you live and serve with your men like that it creates a very special bond. You would do anything for those guys. That's what drove the soldiers forward."

Captain Cupples, from Derbyshire, who married his sweetheart, Louise, shortly before deploying to Afghanistan, is due to return with his unit next year.  Also involved in the September firefight was Private Cole, from Wolverhampton, who is awarded the Military Cross.  A Taliban bullet smashed into his right thigh in the first few seconds of the battle, shattering five inches of bone. As he tried to crawl to safety he was shot through the stomach and left hip.  Not realising how badly hurt he was, he managed to drag himself to a badly-wounded friend and give first aid - saving his life - before grabbing his rifle and firing almost 200 rounds at enemy positions to help cover the withdrawal.

"The pain didn't hit me at the time," he said. "I thought it was a flesh wound. But I looked down and it was a mess, to be honest. I knew it was serious but I thought, 'This can't be the way I go out'. So I carried on.  I could see muzzle flashes of the enemy weapons in a ditch behind some trees so I kept shooting and gave my mate first aid when I could.  Then I got shot again. I looked at my stomach and it was cut open, so I tucked my shirt in to keep it together and kept on firing until more lads from the platoon arrived.  I only realised how bad it was when they finally dragged me off into cover."

Medics dug out the bullet from his thigh and he now keeps it in his bedroom at home. Sergeant Brelsford, from Nottingham, who was only days away from his 26th birthday when he died, is also remembered with a posthumous Military Cross.

He was described as "an extremely professional soldier" who demonstrated calm leadership under pressure and "incredible bravery in the face of the enemy". He was killed as he led his men through heavy fire in a successful operation to bring back the body of Private Johan Botha.

General David Richards, formerly Britain's top commander in Afghanistan, congratulated the decorated soldiers at a ceremony yesterday.

"It doesn't surprise me that there is such a haul of medals," he said. "It is the toughest fighting we have seen since Korea half a century ago ... a reflection of the tenacity of our soldiers, and of the enemy.  All these men fully deserve their recognition, but we should remember it is always representative of many others who also showed immense bravery."

Staff Sergeant James Wadsworth

Staff Sergeant James Wadsworth of the Royal Logistics Corps successfully defused the largest roadside bomb ever found in southern Iraq - while his fellow-soldiers fought a gun battle against local insurgents trying to overrun the site.  He is today awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his 'extraordinary, selfless courage.'  The massive bomb containing around 120lb of explosives was spotted buried beneath a pavement opposite a hospital in the centre of Basra last July, ready to flatten the area and cause untold carnage when a British convoy passed.

Staff Sgt Wadsworth, 29, from Cambridge, said: "Normally you would spend three or four hours dealing with a device like that but we were under fire in the city centre. The greatest danger is spending time on the ground. I made it safe in 27 minutes. We only realised how big it was when we came to move it.

"I remember it was 55 degrees in the shade. Our unit was so busy we hadn't slept for days.  I haven't really told my wife about what I did. You just get on with the job."

Lance Corporal Donald Campbell

Lance Corporal Donald Campbell, of the Royal Corps of Engineers is awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for driving an unarmoured and unprotected vehicle into an enemy killing zone "whilst under very intense, accurate fire for a considerable amount of time" - to help bridge a water-filled ditch which was holding up an advance in Helmand Province.

The 26-year-old from the Scottish island of Benbecula, moved his 'front loader' vehicle towards the enemy, offering a huge and vulnerable target, then climbed out of the cab to undo straps so that he could drop a 'fascine' - a huge bundle of pipes - into the ditch allowing armoured vehicles to cross.  He refused to seek cover even when bullets, rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire shattered the windows of the cab and badly damaged the vehicle, missing him by inches.

He said: "My folks are really happy about the award, but I don't think they quite appreciate what the medal means yet."

Private Paul Willmott

Private Paul Willmott, 21, receives the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for taking command of his unit during a battle when his sergeant was shot dead in Afghanistan last year. The young private from the Mercian Regiment watched as a Taliban sniper killed Lance Corporal Paul Sandford near the town of Gereshk, leaving the unit leaderless.  Although other soldiers were more senior he assumed command, laying down suppressing fire as they withdrew, and then stayed to drag his fallen comrade's body to safety. 
Two weeks later he suffered severe head injuries from a rocket propelled grenade, but insisted on returning to his unit after a week of treatment rather than flying home to Britain.

"We were undermanned," he said. "We were down to 13 blokes in our platoon and needed every soldier available, so I asked to go back."

Captain Ruth Earl

Captain Ruth Earl is awarded an MBE for her dogged determination to keep British troops' vehicles and equipment fit for battle, commanding a dusty workshop in the deserts of Afghanistan. The 34-year-old Cambridge science graduate, who was a part-time TA reservist before joining up as a regular officer in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, spent six months working 18-hour days in the 'brutal summer heat' of Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, according to her citation.  She commanded 150 men tasked with keeping essential weapons and combat vehicles in working order in the punishing surroundings of the Afghan desert.

"Despite her junior years and experience, she sustained operations in this theatre in a way that few others could match," the citation reads.

Yesterday married officer from Stoke-on-Trent said she was left 'speechless' by news of her award.
26729  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 07, 2008, 12:35:42 PM
Pardon Me?

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe isn't mincing words about what he thinks of Hillary Clinton's attacks on his candidate's ethics. "Sen. Clinton is the most secretive politician in America today. This has been a pattern throughout her career of the lack of disclosure," he told reporters this week.

Some backup for Mr. Plouffe's statement arrived yesterday when it was revealed that archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are declining to release material on just how President Clinton issued dozens of suspect pardons in the final hours of his administration in 2001, including the infamous pardon of Marc Rich, the fugitive commodities trader convicted of tax evasion and selling oil to Iran in violation of a U.S. embargo.

The archivists acted according to guidelines set down by Mr. Clinton. All told, some 1,500 pages of documents are being redacted or kept secret, including 300 pages on the pardon selection process, including reports on why the Clinton Justice Department opposed certain pardons. Mr. Clinton pardoned two men who each paid Hugh Rodham, Hillary Clinton's brother, some $200,000 to lobby the White House in search of a pardon. One was sought for a drug dealer and another for someone convicted of mail fraud and perjury. Mr. Clinton denied knowing anything about the payments before making his decisions.

While the decision to withhold the pardon materials was made by Clinton library archivists, who work for the federal government, Mr. Clinton had the right to review their decision and have the documents released. But Bruce Lindsey, his former deputy White House counsel, declined to examine them, which means they will remain under lock and key for the duration of this presidential campaign. How convenient.

-- John Fund
Mr. Old School on Mr. New School

Willie Brown is one of the most successful minority politicians in America. A full quarter-century ago he became the first African American to lead the California Assembly as its Speaker. He was only forced out of that job in 1995 by term limits. He went on to be elected to two terms as San Francisco mayor.

Mr. Brown is now making the rounds promoting his autobiography, "Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times." At a recent appearance near California's state capital of Sacramento, he opined on the historic presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. Mr. Brown confessed that his own political antennae suffered a short when it came to Mr. Obama. He recalled being asked to help Mr. Obama when he first ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. "I figured nobody with a name like that's going to get elected to anything," he ruefully noted.

As for the Illinois senator's current success seeking the Democratic nomination, Mr. Brown ascribed it to two factors. Mr. Obama "does not frighten white people" and thus can secure votes from a broad cross-section of Americans. Secondly, while Mr. Obama "does absolutely nothing to address a black agenda, he gets the same support from African Americans that you get if you're Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson -- because we have such great race pride."

Mr. Brown said in admiration that "this guy is absolutely operating in hog heaven without having to do anything for it, and if he can keep it up he may be president." Yet in a comment that foreshadowed this week's defeats in Texas and Ohio, Mr. Brown also warned that November is still a long way off and Mr. Obama's winning streak might not last forever.

-- John Fund
Al Gore's Favorite Cause?

Al Gore was famous for saying there was "no controlling legal authority" over his murkier fundraising activities for the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1996. Now, just as he's being touted as a power broker in the Democratic presidential race, inconvenient questions are being raised about his activities in the private sector.

In January,'s Kevin Kelleher perused the SEC filing for a planned IPO by Mr. Gore's company, Current Media, which purchased a profitable international cable news channel in 2004, transforming it into a cutting-edge, interactive -- and money-losing -- multimedia experience. The company now hopes to raise $100 million by selling stock to the public. Says Mr. Kelleher, "...reading the company's filing, you can't help feeling that it's going public now largely because it's close to running out of cash."

Of course, it's possible to believe that Mr. Gore's new direction and unique leadership will lead to large profits in the future. That is, if Mr. Gore even plans to stick around. Another critic, Ron Grover of BusinessWeek, notes: "In fact, Gore doesn't even have a contract. Six months down the road -- at the end of a lock-up for him to sell his stock -- he could bolt altogether." He adds: "I like Al Gore -- his politics, his steadfast defense of a cleaner environment.... But I am totally bewildered by what possessed a good man to make a bad decision like this IPO."

Al Gore has leveraged his political standing into personal wealth more shrewdly than any former vice president in history. He won an Oscar and Nobel Prize for promoting belief in a pending climate catastrophe, then took a high-paying position with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, whose investments in alternative energy stand to benefit richly from Congressional mandates and subsidies to combat climate change. Mr. Gore makes his money by putting his name on things, not by running companies. Let’s hope no investor is so foolish as to think otherwise.

-- James Freeman
Pondering the Meaning of Jumbuck, Billabong and Obama

Who says conservatives don't have fun? More than 1,000 policy wonks gathered Wednesday evening in a Washington hotel for the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute. They pursued their favorite activity -- talking politics -- over cocktails, a four-course dinner, and the swing sounds of the Eric Felten Orchestra.

But first a singalong: "Waltzing Matilda" -- all eight beguiling verses -- in honor of the evening's special guest, John Howard, who recently stepped down after 12 transforming years as prime minister of Australia. No translation was provided, so it's unclear how many of the bejeweled and tuxedoed assembly grasped the meaning of such Aussie-isms as "jumbuck," "tucker bag," "billabong" and "swagman."

But no matter. The meaning of Mr. Howard's remarks was abundantly clear. This was his first public address since he left office last year after his center-right Liberal Party lost to the Labor Party, and his speech was the former PM's effort to set the record straight about his achievements. These included a soaring economy and landmark reforms in taxation, welfare policy, labor law, deregulation and education, as well as a boost in defense spending and the deployment of troops to Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

But it was his comments on the U.S.-Australian alliance that drew the crowd's warmest applause. Mr. Howard told the story of the first time he met President Bush -- at the White House on September 10, 2001. In the following 24 hours, he said, "the world was turned on its head" and he realized it was "not a time for the United States to have 80-percent allies. This was a time for the United States to have 100-percent allies."

Before and after the speech, conversation turned to John McCain's conservative credentials and George W. Bush's legacy. Opinions varied, to put it politely. And it was noted that Mr. Howard was ousted in November by an antiwar candidate who promised "change."

-- Melanie Kirkpatrick
Quote of the Day

"Arnold Schwarzenegger, secretary of homeland security. Or, perhaps, ambassador to the United Nations. Hey, you heard it here first. As he locks up the GOP nod, John McCain and his deputies are talking boldly this week about redrawing the electoral map into one where California lights up red on Nov. 4 for the first time in 20 years. The Golden State's 55 electoral votes falling into the GOP column would pose a virtually insurmountable challenge to Democrats, no matter who wins that party's nod.... [T]here is one way for McCain to make the Golden State a red state, or at least give it an honest shot. And he's just sitting there in Sacramento, waiting to be asked" -- National Journal columnist John Mercurio.

Bogus Caucus

Is any further evidence needed to show that party primaries are superior to caucuses? It's been over three days since Texas Democrats wrapped up the caucuses designed to parcel out one-third of their state's delegates. But a mere 41% of the caucus sites have reported their results, raising the prospect of massive confusion, possible fraud and lawsuits over whatever results finally trickle in.

Unlike the Texas primary vote, which Hillary Clinton won by four points, the caucus results point to a good showing for Barack Obama, who has 56% of the results that have been released.

But no one knows what the final caucus count will be because, amazingly, the 8,247 precinct officials who ran the caucuses are not required to phone in the results. "Texas is a large state, and this is a voluntary call-in system," says Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto. The official rules only require precinct officials to mail in their vote count. How 19th Century.

Indeed, the caucus system seems an anachronism in a time when voters can get instant information and easily vote by absentee or early ballot if they can't make it to the polls on Election Day. Caucuses this year have too often resulted in confusion and controversy. Nevada's caucuses degenerated into lawsuits and competing claims of voter fraud. In New Mexico's caucuses last month, voting was so chaotic that the results were not known for nine days.

Caucuses also discriminate against voters who can't show up at a specific time and place on Election Day, resulting in vastly lower turnout than a primary. And they tend to be manipulated by political insiders who have the patience to sit in hot rooms on uncomfortable chairs as party officials spend hours going through caucus procedures. The end result can be dramatically different from what a primary would produce as evidenced by the Texas results (or at least whatever portion of those results we currently have).

26730  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: March 07, 2008, 09:06:27 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Ukraine's NATO About-face
March 7, 2008
Ukraine made a radical policy adjustment on Thursday by essentially ending its bid for NATO membership. The move, which would have been unthinkable as recently as a month ago, probably resulted from external forces, namely Russia. Ukraine’s abrupt departure from its long-standing bid indicates the ominous involvement of Moscow. In its effort to maintain its security buffer, Russia probably employed its FSB security services.

Related Special Topic Pages
The Russian Resurgence
Russian Energy and Foreign Policy
States possess numerous tools to cause another state to change tack. These include economic leverage, political influence and/or military pressure.

Economic tools can include fostering closer integration, raising or lowering barriers to trade, embargoing another country, threatening to undermine a country’s financial stability by mass sales of its currency, or by simply shelling out cash. In the case of Ukraine –- and by extension, Western Europe –- Russia frequently has employed natural gas cutoffs.

Political tools are varied, and focus on finding political weak spots for later manipulation. The options include promoting closer integration among citizens with a common heritage found in both of the countries in question. These ties can then be manipulated later. For example, one country can threaten to intervene in the other to protect an allied ethnic group from alleged discrimination. Russia could employ this tactic in relation to ethnic Russians living in Ukraine.

Military tools to influence another state’s behavior include the threat of invasion, conspicuously aiming weapons — anything from artillery to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)— at the other country, or providing military assistance to the government or the opposition groups in the other country. Russia’s Feb. 12 threat to aim ICBMs at foreign forces that might deploy in Ukraine falls in this category.

The 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s subsequent loss of influence in its near abroad and in the West laid the foundation for Russia’s current geopolitical trajectory. Russia’s resurgence under President Vladimir Putin has involved a strong effort to regain the influence, respect and national security it believes it is due. Moscow’s desire is especially keen given previous Russian humiliations — particularly those suffered by the government of the late Boris Yeltsin, when the West encroached on what Russia perceives as its prerogatives. Russia, however, lacks many of the tools the Soviet Union had at its disposal for compelling other countries’ behavior. This complicates Putin’s effort to satisfy the Russian geopolitical imperative of establishing hegemony in its near abroad.

The Russian resurgence took a potentially fatal hit over Kosovo’s Feb. 18 secession from Serbia. This was an issue of minor importance to the United States and most Western European countries, but a major threat to Russia’s effort to demonstrate its return to major power status. For Russia and Putin to survive the Kosovo insult, retribution elsewhere in the Russian near abroad was expected — namely in the Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states.

Ukraine’s dramatic about-face on NATO comes in the context of Kosovar independence. Ukraine’s pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko — who came to power in his country’s 2004 Orange Revolution — was clamoring as recently as a month ago for NATO membership, despite a lukewarm reception from the alliance. Rumor has it that Yushchenko’s sudden change at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels occurred after the Russian president literally ordered him to withdraw Ukraine’s NATO bid, probably reminding him of the aforementioned Russian economic leverage over Ukraine.

Putin likely did not rely on economic coercion alone, however, and we can assume the FSB helped change Ukraine’s mind on NATO. The FSB is quite good at pressuring individuals using threats, intimidation, enticements and even sophisticated assassinations. Yushchenko knows the capabilities of the secret service underworld well, having barely survived a poisoning while seeking office in 2004.

Russia and the FSB probably decided that bringing the existing Ukrainian leadership in line would be easier than introducing a new leadership, allowing Moscow to avoid the pitfalls of Ukrainian politics. Given the lukewarm reception to Ukraine’s membership bid, Kiev could simply have let its application fall by the wayside. Instead, it made an active policy reversal. Compelling Yushenko’s U-turn on Ukraine’s NATO bid thus represents a significant Russian achievement, one that others — particularly Georgia — will observe closely.
26731  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton: Representation, mutual checks on: March 07, 2008, 08:55:49 AM
"The great desiderata are a free representation and mutual
checks. When these are obtained, all our apprehensions of the
extent of powers are unjust and imaginary."

-- Alexander Hamilton (Speech to the New York Ratifying Convention,
June 1788)

Reference: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Cabot Lodge,
ed., II, 60.
26732  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan on: March 07, 2008, 08:32:23 AM
Over the Top
March 7, 2008
An overview:

From the first voting in Iowa on Jan. 3 she had to prove that Clintons Are Magic. She wound up losing 11 in a row. Meaning Clintons aren't magic. He had to take her out in New Hampshire, on Super Tuesday or Junior Tuesday. He didn't. Meaning Obama isn't magic.

Two nonmagical beings are left.

What the Democrats lost this week was the chance to paint the '08 campaign as a brilliant Napoleonic twinning of strategy and tactics that left history awed. What they have instead is a ticket to Verdun. Trench warfare, and the daily, wearying life of the soldier under siege. The mud, the cold, the dank water rotting the boots, all of it punctuated by mad cries of "Over the top," bayonets fixed.

M.E. Cohen 
Do I understate? Not according to the bitter officers debating doomed strategy back in HQ. More on that in a minute.

This is slightly good for John McCain. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama hemorrhage money, exhaust themselves, bloody each other. He holds barbecues for the press and gets rid of a White House appearance in which the incumbent offers his dread embrace. Do it now, they'll forget by the summer. The president does not understand how unpopular he is and after a year on the trail with the faithful neither does Mr. McCain. Mr. Bush confided to a friend a few months ago, as he predicted a Giuliani win, that he'll eventually come out and campaign for the nominee big time. Talk about throwing the drowning man an anvil.

But it is not good for Mr. McCain that when he officially won this week it barely made page three. The lightning is on the Democratic side. Everything else seems old, like something that happened a year ago that you forgot to notice.

How did Hillary come back? Her own staff doesn't know. They fight over it because if they don't know how she carried Ohio and Texas they can't repeat the strategy.

So they figure backward. She won on Tuesday and did the following things in the weeks before, so . . . it was the kitchen-sink strategy. Or Hispanic outreach. Or the 3 a.m. ad. (The amazing thing was not that they lifted the concept from Walter Mondale's '84 run, but that the answer to the question "Who are you safer with?" was, The Woman. Not that people really view Hillary as a woman, but still: That would not have been the answer even 20 years ago.)

Did she come back because Mr. Obama's speech got a little boring? Was he coasting and playing it safe? Or was it that he didn't hit her hard enough? "He hasn't been able to find a way to be tough with a woman opponent," they say on TV. But that's not it, or is only half the truth. The other half is that it has long been agreed in the Democratic Party that one must not, one cannot, ever, refer to the long caravan of scandals that have followed the Clintons for 15 years. "We don't speak of the Clintons that way."

But why not? Everyone else does. Yes, the Obama sages will respond, that's the point: Everyone knows about cattle futures, etc. Everyone knows that if you Yahoo "Clintons" and "scandals" you get 4,430,000 hits.

But what if they do need to be reminded? What if they need to be told exactly what Mr. Obama means when he speaks of the tired old ways of Washington?

But voicing the facts would violate party politesse. So he loses the No. 1 case against her. But by losing the No. 1 case, he loses the No. 2 case: that she is the most divisive figure in the country, and that this is true because people have reason to view her as dark, dissembling, thuggish.

* * *

One Obama supporter on apparently didn't get the memo. That is the great threat to the Clintons, the number of young and independent Democrats who haven't received the memo about how Democrats speak of the Clintons. Writer Mark Q. Sawyer: "If Obama won't hit back, I will. Why aren't we talking about impeachment, Whitewater and Osama?"

What do I think is the biggest reason Mrs. Clinton came back? She kept her own spirits up to the point of denial and worked it, hard, every day. She is hardy, resilient, tough. She is a train on a track, an Iron Horse. But we must not become carried away with generosity. The very qualities that impress us are the qualities that will make her a painful president. She does not care what you think, she will have what she wants, she will not do the feints, pivots and backoffs that presidents must. She is neither nimble nor agile, and she knows best. She will wear a great nation down.

In any case the Clinton campaign, which has always been more vicious than clever, this week did a very clever thing. They pre-empted any criticism of past scandals by pushing a Democratic Party button called . . . the Monica story. Mr. Obama is "imitating Ken Starr" by speaking of Mrs. Clinton's record, said Howard Wolfson. But Ken Starr documented malfeasance. Mr. Obama can't even mention it.

* * *

Back to Verdun. There a bitter officer corps debated a strategy of pointless carnage—so many deaths, so little seized terrain, all of it barren. In a bark-stripping piece of reportage in the Washington Post, Peter Baker and Anne Kornblut captured "a combustible environment" in Hillary Headquarters. They cannot agree on what to do, or even what has been done in the past. And the dialogue. Blank you. Blank you! No blank you, you blank. Blank all of you. It's like David Mamet rewritten by Joe Pesci.

These are the things that make life worth living.

As for the Clinton surrogates, they are unappealing when winning. My favorite is named Kiki. When Hillary is losing, Kiki is valiant and persevering on the talk shows, and in a way that appeals to one's sympathies. "Go, Kiki!" I want to say as she parries with Tucker. But when Hillary is winning they're all awful, including Kiki. By memory, from Tucker, this week: Q: Why won't Hillary release her tax returns? A: It's February. Taxes are due April 15, are your taxes done? Q: No, no, we're talking past years, returns that have already been prepared. A: Are your taxes done? Mine aren't.

Wicked Kiki! This is my great fear, in a second Clinton era: four, eight years of wicked Kiki.

I end with a deadly, deadpan prediction from Christopher Hitchens. Hillary is the next president, he told radio's Hugh Hewitt, because, "there's something horrible and undefeatable about people who have no life except the worship of power . . . people who don't want the meeting to end, the people who just are unstoppable, who only have one focus, no humanity, no character, nothing but the worship of money and power. They win in the end."

It was like Claude Rains summing up the meaning of everything in the film "Lawrence of Arabia": "One of them's mad and the other is wholly unscrupulous." It's the moment when you realize you just heard the truth, the meaning underlying all the drama. "They win in the end." Gave me a shudder.
26733  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Earmarks on: March 07, 2008, 08:23:43 AM

Earmark Nation
March 7, 2008; Page A14
Newly minted presidential nominee John McCain stepped into the Rose Garden this week to receive President Bush's blessing. What the cameras didn't catch were pork-addicted congressional Republicans blowing raspberries from their offices.

With all the talk about how Mr. McCain needs to unify his party, lost has been the question of whether some people will let him. Washington Republicans know he's their best shot at retaining the White House. Yet many remain ambivalent about him -- not because they question his conservatism, but out of resentment that he may get in the way of their earmarks.

This has resulted in a behind-the-scenes brawl, as spend-happy Republicans resist efforts by wiser heads to fall in behind Mr. McCain's anti-earmark message. At best, the spenders risk an embarrassing pummeling by their own nominee that could hurt them in their own re-election campaigns. At worst, they could undercut one of Mr. McCain's more persuasive messages.

They shouldn't count on Mr. McCain cutting them slack. He's always reveled in publicly humiliating pork-barrelers, including those in his party, and seems gleeful at the prospect of using his new podium to continue his crusade. He has no reason to back down now. Unorthodox as he's been on some conservative issues, on earmarks Mr. McCain has the full backing of an American public.

House Minority Leader John Boehner gets all this, and now believes there's more political mileage in thumping his opponents over pork than in retaining it for his party. He's spent the past two months pounding Democrats to agree to an earmark moratorium, even forcing a vote in a budget markup this week (not a single Democrat voted for it). The affair has left Speaker Nancy Pelosi red-faced, as she and her team struggle to justify the very pork they promised to rein in during the 2006 election campaign.

It's been embarrassing enough that even some in her party are refusing to hold ranks. California's Henry Waxman, a powerful committee chairman, recently intoned that "Congressional spending through earmarks was out of control" and announced he'd ask for none himself this year.

This sort of success has helped inspire some doubtful Republicans. At the recent House Republican retreat, several previous worshippers at the earmark church announced they were switching religions. Discussions have started between the McCain camp and the House GOP about areas on which to unify messages. Earmarks is a hot topic, putting spenders on the defensive.

The problem is the Senate, where Republicans have left House colleagues to twist in the wind. Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran, ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, brought home more pork than any other member of Congress -- some $837 million.

The Senate GOP leadership is no better, with former Whip Trent Lott finishing his last year in office with a $311 million haul. Driving this is the old philosophy that bacon is necessary to win elections. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is already running re-election ads in Kentucky boasting about the $200 million he secured for universities, as well as a hefty buyout he secured for his state's tobacco farmers.

The leadership's sop to reform has instead been an earmark "working committee," tasked with developing a set of reforms. Its members? Mr. Cochran, of course. There's also Georgia's Johnny Isakson ($161 million in pork last year); Indiana's Richard Lugar ($131 million) and Idaho's Mike Crapo ($121 million). Mr. McConnell did agree to include earmark antagonist Tom Coburn from Oklahoma ($0), undoubtedly for cover. But the committee is rigged to cater to the lowest common denominator. A better indicator of how many Republicans intend to rally behind the nominee will be how many vote for next week's budget amendment -- sponsored by South Carolina's Jim DeMint and endorsed by Mr. McCain -- to impose a Senate earmark moratorium.

Don't expect many. Earmark reformers have quietly been pushing senators to get in line with the House, and more importantly with Mr. McCain. All they've encountered is pushback. Several have privately fought against greater transparency, much less a moratorium. "We're not going to back [McCain] on earmarks, or on climate change or on immigration," piped one senior GOP aide this week. You read that right: Earmarks now rank among the bedrock conservative principles.

What's left is the price they'll pay, and that's where Mr. McCain comes in. Senate Republicans are facing their most brutal election environment in decades, fighting to defend several dozen seats. Diverging from Mr. McCain on earmarks guarantees it will be a defining issue in their re-election races. Smart opponents will use the split against vulnerable incumbents. Republicans will have to explain why Mr. McCain is wrong to want to shutdown the earmark factory, and their answers will be tragicomic.

Republicans are already getting a taste of this. Alaska's Ted Stevens's re-election bid is mired in an ugly investigation into alleged earmark corruption. Mr. McConnell is getting hit by a liberal clean-government group that says he's a tool of special interests.

The pork-barrelers also risk diluting one of Mr. McCain's winning messages. Hillary Clinton has a miserable earmark record, which Mr. McCain has used to embarrass her over a funding request for a Woodstock museum. Mr. Obama likes to point to Senate work to increase earmark transparency. But he too has asked for plenty of money and refused to release information about his early earmark requests. Either Democrat will want to neutralize this issue.

One way to do it is to point out that even Mr. McCain's own colleagues don't think it's that big of a deal. They can pick up on the lame Republican justifications for all this and throw them back at him. They could point to it as an example of Mr. McCain's inability to unite his party.

Republicans have a choice. They can unite behind the feisty Mr. McCain, and take a position that is true to their small-government principles, popular with the public and a smart political move. Or they can hurt themselves, and possibly their nominee, by sticking with the lard.
26734  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: March 07, 2008, 08:17:40 AM
Irresolution on Iran
March 7, 2008; Page A14
The Bush Administration is hailing as a diplomatic triumph Monday's 14-0 Security Council resolution further sanctioning Iran for its nuclear programs. For its part, Tehran calls the U.N. action "worthless," and unfortunately the Iranians are closer to the mark.

For a resolution in the making for a year, it turns out to be an astonishingly hollow document. It adds a handful of names to the list of Iranians who are subject to travel bans and asset freezes. It calls on states to exercise "vigilance" in dealing with two Iranian banks -- Melli and Saderat -- implicated in Iran's nuclear programs, but falls short of sanctioning them. And it allows states to inspect Iranian-bound cargoes suspected of transporting prohibited items, but only if those cargoes are being moved by Iran's national air and shipping lines. Good luck enforcing that.

This is all the more remarkable given what the U.N.'s own inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are saying about Iran -- that is, the evidence on which the Security Council based its decision. In a report released late last month, the IAEA focuses on what it calls "alleged studies" Iran conducted on nuclear weapons development. For example, it notes Iranian studies of the "schematic layout of the contents of the inner cone of a re-entry vehicle," which the IAEA assesses "as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device."

Elsewhere, the report states that "during the meetings of 3-5 February 2008, the Agency made available documents for examination by Iran and provided additional technical information related to: the testing of high voltage detonator firing equipment; the development of an exploding bridgewire detonator (EBW); the simultaneous firing of multiple EBW detonators; and the identification of an explosive testing arrangement that involved the use of a 400 [meter] shaft and a firing capability remote from the shaft by a distance of 10 km, all of which the Agency believes would be relevant to nuclear weapon R&D."

Iran insists the documents are "fabricated," presumably by the Zionist conspiracy. Yet last week, IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen gave a technical briefing to IAEA member states in which he noted that the information on Iran "came from multiple member states and covered a wide range of activities," according to a U.S. official familiar with the briefing. The official added that Iran "was first confronted with questions on these weaponization activities in 2005, thus putting the lie to Iranian claims that it did not have sufficient time or opportunity to respond to the IAEA's inquiries."

Meanwhile, Iran continues to flout the Security Council's chief demand that it suspend its uranium enrichment program. The production of sufficient quantities of fissile material is one of three key components in any nuclear weapons program, a fact that was relegated to a footnote in December's U.S. National Intelligence Estimate claiming Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.

Nor did that NIE make any mention of Iran's ongoing ballistic missile programs, the second key component. Instead, its chief claim was that Iran had suspended work on weaponization, which by all expert accounts is the least challenging part of a nuclear-weapons program. The IAEA report does not make clear if its own information corroborates the NIE claim about the suspension of this work. But it is a fresh reminder that Iran almost certainly lied about its previous weapons work, and continues to lie today.

That alone ought to be reason for stepped up pressure on the Islamic Republic. Instead, the weakness of this week's resolution, though masked by the show of unanimity, demonstrates that the "international community" has reached the outer limit of what it is prepared to do to stop Iran from becoming the world's 10th nuclear-weapons state. There is no more juice to be squeezed out of this lemon.

It has now been nearly five years since the Bush Administration began pursuing a multilateral track on Iran, a course it has followed patiently nearly to the end of its term. That hasn't done much to assuage its usual critics, and it didn't prevent its own intelligence bureaucracy from torpedoing that diplomacy with the December NIE.

What it has done is give Iran vital time to develop its nuclear knowhow and technical skill, perhaps to a point of no return. For President Bush, whose signature promise has been that he would not allow the world's most dangerous weapons to fall into the hands of the most dangerous regimes, this is not a record to be proud of.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion
26735  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc on: March 06, 2008, 09:28:07 PM
(NaturalNews) The avian flu has undergone a critical mutation making it easier for the virus to infect humans, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

"We have identified a specific change that could make bird flu grow in the upper respiratory tract of humans," lead researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka said.

The H5N1 strain of influenza, also known as "bird flu," has decimated wild and domestic bird populations across the world since it emerged between 1999 and 2002. This highly virulent variety of the flu has been identified as a public health concern because in the past, varieties of influenza have mutated and crossed the species barrier to humans.

Since 2003, 329 humans have been confirmed infected with H5N1, with 201 fatalities. The vast majority of these worked closely with infected birds, such as in the poultry industry.

One of the primary things that keeps bird flu from infecting humans is that the virus has evolved to reproduce most effectively in the bodies of birds, which have an average body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Humans, in contrast, have an average body temperature of 98.6 degrees, with temperatures in the nose and throat even lower (91.4 degrees). This vast temperature difference makes it very difficult for the bird flu virus to survive and grow in the human body.

In the current study, researchers found that a strain of H5N1 has developed a mutation that allows it to thrive in these lower temperatures.

"The viruses that are circulating in Africa and Europe are the ones closest to becoming a human virus," Kawaoka said. But he pointed out that one mutation is not sufficient to turn H5N1 into a major threat to humans.

"Clearly there are more mutations that are needed. We don't know how many mutations are needed for them to become pandemic strains."

"We are rolling the dice with modern poultry farming practices," warned consumer health advocate Mike Adams, author of the book How to Beat the Bird Flu. "By raising chickens in enclosed spaces, treating them with antibiotics, and denying them access to fresh air, clean water and natural sunlight, we are creating optimal conditions for the breeding of highly infectious diseases that can quickly mutate into human pandemics," Adams said. "Given current poultry farming practices, it is only a matter of time before a highly virulent strain crosses the species barrier."
26736  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: 2-4 day DBMA Camp with Guro Crafty on: March 06, 2008, 09:12:32 PM
Woof Bruno:

Try this:

26737  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / James Madison: Free Markets on: March 06, 2008, 10:58:25 AM
"I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and
hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust,
oppressive and impolitic - it is also a truth, that if industry
and labour are left to take their own course, they will generally
be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and
this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the
most enlightened legislature could point out."

-- James Madison (speech to the Congress, 9 April 1789)
26738  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 05, 2008, 11:22:13 PM
I confess I don't see what is so terrible about raising the issue of BO's readiness to be CIC.  His resume is even thinner than Hillary's.  Maybe he should run an ad showing a 3AM phone call asking "Do you know where your husband is?"  cheesy

More seriously though, WTF is Hillary's "experience"?  After she got run over trying to nationalize health care, what did she do?  What substantive international experience did she have?  Would anyone talk of Nancy Reagan's or Lauara Bush's "experience"? 

What twaddle!
26739  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 05, 2008, 12:18:53 PM
Thief vs. Thief

The Clinton campaign was on the warpath last night against what it called attempts by Barack Obama's campaign to steal yesterday's primary elections.

In Ohio, Team Clinton claims that Obama attorneys cherry-picked black precincts in Cleveland in their effort to keep certain polling places open late due to bad weather and long lines. The evidence Mr. Obama presented to a local judge was scant at best, but the judge issued a hand-written note ordering some 21 precincts to stay open. Even Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner was unhappy with the maneuver, but she realized too late what was happening.

In Texas, Bill Clinton himself complained of reports of "canceled" caucuses and sign-in sheets for caucus attendees that were improperly collected before the start of last night's precinct conventions. (Sign-in sheets are only valid if signatures are collected after the caucus begins.) "Some people have been told apparently that there is going to be an effort to sign up in advance and slip the sheets in," the former president told reporters.

Indeed, the Clinton campaign went so far as to hold an 8:45 pm conference call for reporters last night in which Clinton staff members alleged that Obama supporters were locking Clinton voters out of some caucus locations. "It's truly an outrage," claimed Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. "It's really undemocratic."

Mr. Wolfson was interrupted during his complaint by Bob Bauer, the lead attorney for Barack Obama, who intervened in the media call to complain that the Clinton campaign was exhibiting a pattern of trying to restrict access to caucus elections.

"In Nevada, you filed a lawsuit in advance of the caucus.... In Iowa, you threatened various students," the Obama lawyer claimed. Mr. Wolfson dismissed the claims and ridiculed Mr. Bauer for his "vigorous defense of the indefensible" and said Team Clinton was looking "forward to asking our own questions" in future Obama conference calls to reporters.

It's fascinating to see Democrats, who normally deny the existence of voter fraud, choosing between two presidential candidates who hurl those charges against each other with abandon.

-- John Fund
Down and Dirty

Pundits and political reporters decry negative campaigns, but such campaigns can provide useful information about candidates. That's why they often work. Ask Hillary Clinton.

After weeks of dancing around and hesitating to attack Barack Obama directly, Mrs. Clinton challenged his fitness to be Commander in Chief with an ad depicting a 3:00 am. crisis in the White House. She also flooded Texas and Ohio with telephone calls claiming Mr. Obama had told voters he wanted to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal while telling Canadian diplomats that was mere rhetoric.

It worked. One out of five Texas Democrats said they waited to make up their minds until the last three days before the election. Mrs. Clinton carried this group by a stunning 23 points (61-38%). In Ohio, she carried late-deciders by a hefty 11 points.

Team Obama now says it expects an increasingly vigorous attack from Mrs. Clinton and her surrogates, playing up the current criminal trial in Chicago of Tony Rezko, who was once Mr. Obama's top fundraiser. Mrs. Clinton has demanded Mr. Obama answer questions about Mr. Rezko's role in a land deal that enabled the Illinois senator to buy his house. "The vetting of Obama has just begun.... If the primary contest ends prematurely and Obama is the nominee, Democrats may have a nominee who will be a lightning rod of controversy," wrote Clinton strategists Mark Penn and Harold Ickes in a memo to reporters this morning.

For its part, the Obama campaign is no less ready to return fire on Clinton ethics and finances, according to Obama strategist David Axelrod: "I've said before I don't know why they'd want to go there, but I guess that's where they'll take the race.''


-- John Fund

Quote of the Day I

"The first rule of politics is, 'Never count out the Clintons.' Their political conglomerate, Clinton Inc., is like Glenn Close in that bathtub scene in the movie 'Fatal Attraction.' It always comes back to life a second or third time" -- columnist Salena Zito, writing in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Quote of the Day II

"Just when you thought no one watched 'Saturday Night Live' anymore, the show made a star cameo on this year's trail. The Not Ready for Prime Time Players were brutally effective in exposing the fawning coverage of Obama. Never underestimate the power of shame in journalism. 'SNL's' mockery went straight to reporters' insecurities. Being accused of falling 'in the tank' for a candidate is the journalistic equivalent of a nerdish high school freshman getting a wedgie from the jocks. It is no coincidence that the past few days have seen reporters acting tough with stories about Obama's relationship with a Chicago influence-peddler, his sincerity in opposing NAFTA and his stiff-arming of questions from the press" -- Jim VandeHei and John Harris of, writing on the change in tenor of media coverage of Barack Obama.

The 'Superdelegate' Primary

The next big Democratic primary is April 22, when Pennsylvanians will head to the polls. But it increasingly looks like neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama can win enough pledged delegates to clinch the party's nomination before the convention this summer. The real contest now is the race for "superdelegates" -- the 795 prominent Democrats, mostly elected officials, who will enter the convention free to vote for whomever they choose.

In this battle, two trends are breaking for Barack Obama. The first is talk in Democratic circles of orchestrating a mass movement of superdelegates in favor of the Illinois senator. The idea is to create a dramatic signal that the party has settled on a nominee and is closing ranks behind him to prepare for a hard fought campaign against John McCain in the fall. If this mass movement occurs, Mrs. Clinton likely won't be able to wage a successful floor fight at the convention and, in any case, will suffer weeks of intense pressure to abandon her campaign in the name of uniting the party.

Team Clinton recognizes the danger. With last night's results sinking in, her supporters are pushing for superdelegates to preemptively commit themselves to Mrs. Clinton. Her Ohio victory, they argue, proves she’s the best candidate to win in key battleground states in the fall. They also point to exit polls suggesting she’s the best candidate to go head-to-head with John McCain on national security.

But another trend also favors Mr. Obama -- the intense pressure on black superdelegates, especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to line up behind him. One of those leading the push is James Rucker, a 36-year-old former software executive who entered politics in 2003 by going to work for Three years ago he launched his own group,, to pressure black elected officials. He says many black officeholders have become too cozy in power to serve the needs of the black community. His latest strategy has been to collect signatures from black voters aimed at shaming members of the Black Caucus into supporting Mr. Obama.

With 14,000 signatures in hand, Mr. Rucker's biggest success came late last month when Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and African-American leader, dropped his support for Mrs. Clinton and endorsed Mr. Obama. Mr. Lewis is an influential figure in the black community and his defection could yet force other superdelegates to follow his lead. Stay tuned. The superdelegate primary is far from over. Should Mrs. Clinton become the nominee, it has the potential to open a rift with black voters that could hobble the party in November.

26740  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela on: March 05, 2008, 10:12:19 AM
Venezuela is moving what its military commander calls 10 tactical battalions to the Colombian border, especially toward the Venezuelan states of Zulia, Tachira and Apure, El Universal reported March 5, citing Gen. Jesus Gregorio Gonzalez Gonzalez, chief of the armed forces’ strategic command. The battalions comprise equipment and personnel from the navy, air force and national guard. Gonzalez said about 90 percent of the units President Hugo Chavez requested March 3 had already been mobilized.

26741  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Its the dollar, stupid on: March 05, 2008, 09:03:16 AM
It's the Dollar, Stupid
March 5, 2008; Page A17

When the United States broke up the Bretton Woods international monetary system on Aug. 15, 1971, it marked the official end of an era when the dollar was literally "as good as gold." President Nixon's announcement -- that the U.S. would no longer permit foreign central banks to redeem U.S. dollars for gold at the established fixed rate -- shocked Japan and Europe, our main overseas trade partners.

It was the repudiation of a formal agreement hammered out some 27 years earlier at Bretton Woods, N.H., and signed by delegates from 29 participating nations. The whole purpose of the agreement -- which was initiated by the U.S. -- was to establish a stable, post-World War II monetary foundation so that free trade could flourish. Never again would nations shortsightedly cheapen their currencies to obtain an unfair advantage; the nightmare of economic warfare leading to military warfare would be ended.

Today, our trade partners are no longer shocked. They have come to expect domestically focused monetary policy from America. But they are deeply concerned by the demise of the once-dependable dollar and deeply impacted by the economic distortions caused by skewed exchange rates. They are, no doubt, deeply affronted by what they detect as the same cavalier attitude that decades earlier prompted Nixon's Treasury Secretary, John Connally, to quip to U.S. allies: "It may be our currency -- but it's your problem."

Has the U.S. forever given up on the dream of a rules-based monetary order for a global economy dedicated to free trade? Have we abandoned all sense of duty associated with providing the world's key reserve currency?

These days it's easy to forget that, during the Great Depression years leading to World War II, floating exchange rates were not considered the free-market approach to currencies. They were considered the antithesis of global monetary order. Whereas the international gold standard guaranteed a level playing field in the trade arena, facilitating market-based outcomes among well-intentioned competitors in an open global marketplace, a nation that devalued its money against gold -- i.e., floated its currency -- was considered to be cheating.

Monetary manipulation was akin to moving the goalposts, an attempt to increase exports of your country's goods by rendering them less expensive when calculated in foreign currencies. Other nations responded with protectionist tariffs on imported goods and tit-for-tat currency devaluations of their own, strangling international trade and worsening the downward economic spiral.

Historical perspective is critical to understanding where we are now -- and what our nation may be facing even as we evaluate leading presidential contenders.

Money meltdown is not some remote topic to be relegated to abstruse scholarly articles published by universities, think tanks, and global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. (Especially not the IMF, which long lost its mandate to preserve the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates.) The consequences of currency chaos affect the personal fortunes of millions of individual citizens; once unleashed, it can spawn social resentments and political upheavals that change the destiny of whole nations.

We need to ask Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain what they would do -- if anything -- to restore the integrity of the dollar as a meaningful unit of account, a reliable store of value. Would they put forward any new proposals for more comprehensive international monetary reform?

Given that Sen. Obama has garnered the support of Paul Volcker, the highly-respected former chairman of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Carter and Reagan, U.S. voters are apt to get a meaningful and well-considered reply. "I think we are skating on increasingly thin ice," Mr. Volcker noted in the Washington Post in April 2005. He warned that the stagflation of the 1970s was characterized by "a volatile and depressed dollar, inflationary pressures, a sudden increase in interest rates and a couple of big recessions." Mr. Volcker's solution? Act now to comply with "the oldest lesson of economic policy: a strong sense of monetary and fiscal discipline."

On the broader issue of global monetary reform, Mr. Volcker's ideas are less orthodox, more visionary. "My sense is that if we are to have a truly globalized economy, with free movement of goods, services and capital, a world currency makes sense," he stated in January 2000. "That would be a world in which the objectives of growth, economic efficiency and stability can best be reconciled."

Sen. McCain, for his part, suffers from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to economic advice.

One of his chief advisers is former Sen. Phil Gramm, a budget-balancing fiscal conservative with a Ph.D. in economics. Mr. Gramm is a disciple of the late Milton Friedman -- the Nobel laureate who furnished the academic rationale in the 1960s for ditching Bretton Woods and letting currencies float -- and might thus be expected to oppose any sweeping reforms to international monetary relations. Yet he has consistently emphasized the need "to refocus the IMF on its core mission of short-term lending to address financial and monetary instability." He considers protectionism "immoral."

Another McCain adviser, Jack Kemp, champions tax cuts and pro-growth policies over budgetary rigidity. A hero of the supply-side movement whose tireless efforts helped to bring about the Reagan boom of the 1980s, Mr. Kemp has never shied away from bold proposals.

Testifying before Congress in 1999, he criticized protectionist instincts that were misdirected at free and open trade "instead of the real source of the problem -- an international monetary arrangement of floating currencies in which no currency is linked to a stable anchor and all countries are tempted to use currency devaluation as an economic policy instrument during times of economic duress." Mr. Kemp's favored economic scholar is Robert Mundell, who received his Nobel for historical research on the operation of the gold standard and his theory of optimal currency areas. Considered the intellectual father of the euro, Mr. Mundell believes gold could be used as a reserve asset in a reformed international monetary system for the 21st century.

If the reality of a collapsing dollar and foreign exchange turmoil starts to bite consumers where they keep their pocketbooks -- for example, if the U.S. finds it necessary to raise interest rates to entice foreigners to buy the government bonds that finance our deficit -- the affects of currency misalignment could quickly move from the realm of dry treatises to the hyperactive world of live, televised political debate. Media consultants may grow apoplectic at the thought of having to reduce seemingly complex options into clever sound bites: Does the candidate advocate a new global monetary order linked to a universally-recognized reserve asset as a mechanism to guard against tinkering by self-serving governments? ("Gold: Money We Can Believe In.") Or is it possible to defend the existing, do-your-own-thing approach to currency relations, which undermines stable trade and capital flows at the expense of global prosperity? Meanwhile, foreign-exchange market specialists earn big profits by gambling -- some $3 trillion daily -- on where currencies might go next.

It's time the candidates devote less time on the minutiae of configuring the next economic stimulus package, or renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. They should be thinking about how they will confront the imminent global currency crisis.

It's the dollar, stupid.

Ms. Shelton, an economist, is author of "Money Meltdown" (Free Press, 1994).
26742  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams: The people's principles and virtue on: March 05, 2008, 07:22:35 AM

"A general dissolution of principles and manners will more
surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force
of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot
be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be
ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or
internal invader."

-- Samuel Adams (letter to James Warren, 12 February 1779)

Reference: The Writings of Samuel Adams, Cushing, ed., vol. 4 (124)
26743  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion on: March 04, 2008, 03:52:41 PM
Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion

BAGHDAD: After almost five years of war, many young Iraqis, exhausted by
constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they
have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith
that they preach.
In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a
pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and
middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have
narrowed their lives.
"I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day
and their instruction became heavy over us," said Sara Sami, a high school
student in Basra. "Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic
people control the authority because they don't deserve to be rulers."
Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern
Baghdad, said: "The religion men are liars. Young people don't believe them.
Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore."
The shift in Iraq runs counter to trends of rising religiousness among young
people across much of the Middle East, where religion has replaced
nationalism as a unifying ideology. While religious extremists are admired
by a number of young people in other parts of the Arab world, Iraq offers a
test case of what could happen when extremist theories are applied.
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Fingers caught smoking were broken. Long hair was cut and force-fed to its
owner. In that laboratory, disillusionment with Islamic leaders took hold.
It is far from clear whether the shift means a wholesale turn away from
religion. A tremendous piety still predominates in the private lives of
young Iraqis, and religious leaders, despite the increased skepticism, still
wield tremendous power. Measuring religiousness furthermore, is a tricky
business in Iraq, where access to cities and towns that are far from Baghdad
is limited.
But a shift seems to be registering, at least anecdotally, in the choices
some young Iraqis are making. Professors reported difficulty recruiting
graduate students for religion classes. Attendance at weekly prayers appears
to be down, even in areas where the violence has largely subsided, according
to worshipers and imams in Baghdad and Falluja. In two visits to the weekly
prayer session in Baghdad of the followers of Moktada al-Sadr last autumn,
vastly smaller crowds attended than had in 2004 or 2005.
Such patterns, if lasting, could lead to a weakening of the political power
of religious leaders in Iraq. In a nod to those changing tastes, political
parties are scrubbing overt references to religion.
"In the beginning, they gave their eyes and minds to the clerics, they
trusted them," said Abu Mahmoud, a moderate Sunni cleric in Baghdad, who now
works deprogramming religious extremists in American detention. "It's
painful to admit, but it's changed. People have lost too much. They say to
the clerics and the parties: You cost us this."
"When they behead someone, they say 'Allah Akbar,' they read Koranic verse,"
said a moderate Shiite sheik from Baghdad. "The young people, they think
that is Islam. So Islam is a failure, not only in the students' minds, but
also in the community."

A professor at Baghdad University's School of Law, who would identify
herself only as Bushra, said of her students: "They have changed their views
about religion. They started to hate religious men. They make jokes about
them because they feel disgusted by them."
That was not always the case. Saddam Hussein encouraged religion in Iraqi
society in his later years, building Sunni mosques and injecting more
religion into the public school curriculum, but always made sure it served
his authoritarian needs. Shiites, considered to be an alternate political
force and a threat to Hussein's power, were kept under close watch. Young
Shiites who worshiped were seen as political subversives and risked
attracting the attention of the police.
For that reason, the American invasion was sweetest to the Shiites, who for
the first time were able to worship freely. They soon became a potent
political force, as religious political leaders appealed to their shared and
painful past and their respect for the Shiite religious hierarchy.
"After 2003, you couldn't put your foot into the husseiniya, it was so
crowded with worshipers," said Sayeed Sabah, a Shiite religious leader from
Baghdad, referring to a Shiite place of prayer.
Religion had moved abruptly into the Shiite public space, but often in ways
that made educated, religious Iraqis uncomfortable. Militias were offering
Koran courses. Titles came cheaply. In Abu Mahmoud's neighborhood, a butcher
with no knowledge of Islam became the leader of a mosque.

A moderate Shiite cleric, Sheik Qasim, recalled watching in amazement as a
former student, who never earned more than mediocre marks, whizzed by
stalled traffic in a long convoy of sport utility vehicles in central
Baghdad. He had become a religious leader.
"I thought I would get out of the car, grab him and slap him!" said the
sheik. "These people don't deserve their positions."
An official for the Ministry of Education in Baghdad, a secular Shiite,
described the newfound faith like this: "It was like they wanted to put on a
new, stylish outfit."
Religious Sunnis, for their part, also experienced a heady swell in mosque
attendance, but soon became the hosts for groups of religious extremists,
foreign and Iraqi, who were preparing to fight the United States.
Zane Muhammad, a gangly 19-year-old with an earnest face, watched with
curiosity as the first Islamists in his Baghdad neighborhood came to
barbershops, tea parlors, and carpentry stores before taking over the
mosques. They were neither uneducated nor poor, he said, though they focused
on those who were. Then, one morning while waiting for a bus to school,
Muhammad watched a man walk up to a neighbor, a college professor whose sect
Muhammad did not know, shoot him at point-blank range three times and walk
back to his car as calmly "as if he was leaving a grocery store."

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"Nobody is thinking," Muhammad said in an interview in October. "We use our
minds just to know what to eat. This is something I am very sad about. We
hear things and just believe them."
By 2006, even those who had initially taken part in the violence were
growing weary. Haidar, a grade school dropout, was proud to tell his family
he was following a Shiite cleric in a fight against American soldiers in the
summer of 2004. Two years later, however, he found himself in the company of
Young militia members were abusing drugs. Gift mopeds had become gift guns.
In three years, he saw five killings, mostly of Sunnis, including that of a
Sunni cabdriver shot for his car.
It was just as bad, if not worse, for young Sunnis. Rubbed raw by Al Qaeda
in Mesopotamia, they found themselves stranded in neighborhoods that were
governed by seventh-century rules. During interviews with a dozen Sunni
teenage boys in a Baghdad detention facility on several sticky days in
September, several expressed relief at being in jail, so they could wear
shorts, a form of dress they would have been punished for in their
Some Iraqis argue that religious-based politics was much more about identity
than faith. When Shiites voted for religious parties in large numbers in an
election in 2005, it was more an effort to show their numbers, than a
victory of the religious over the secular.
"It was a fight to prove our existence," said a young Shiite journalist from
Sadr City. "We were embracing our existence, not religion."
The war dragged on, and young people from both sects became more broadly
involved. Criminals had begun using teenagers and younger boys to carry out
killings. The number of juveniles in American detention was up more than
sevenfold in November from April, and Iraq's main prison for youth, in
Baghdad, has triple the prewar population.
But while younger people were taking a more active role in the violence,
their motivation was less likely than adults to be religion-driven. Of the
900 juvenile detainees in American custody in November fewer than 10 percent
claimed to be fighting a holy war, according to the American military. About
one-third of adults said they were.
A worker in the American detention system said that by her estimate, only
about a third of the adult detainee population, which is overwhelmingly
Sunni, prayed.

"As a group, they are not religious," said Major General Douglas Stone, the
head of detainee operations for the military. "When we ask if they are doing
it for jihad, the answer is no."
Muath, a slender, 19-year-old Sunni with distant eyes and hollow cheeks, is
typical. He was selling mobile phone credits and plastic flowers, struggling
to keep his mother and five young siblings afloat, when a recruiter, a man
in his 30s, a regular customer, offered him cash in western Baghdad last
spring to be part of an insurgent group, whose motivations were a mix of
money and sectarian interests. Muath, the only wage earner, agreed. Suddenly
his family could afford to eat meat again, he said in an interview in

Indeed, at least part of the religious violence in Baghdad had money at its
heart. An officer at the Kadhamiya detention center, where Muath was being
held this autumn, said recordings of beheadings fetch much higher prices
than those of shooting executions in the CD markets, which explains why even
nonreligious kidnappers will behead hostages.
When Muath was arrested last year, the police found two hostages, Shiite
brothers, in a safe house that Muath revealed. Photographs showed the men
looking wide-eyed into the camera; dark welts covered their bodies.
Violent struggle against the United States was easy to romanticize at a
"I used to love Osama Bin Laden," proclaimed a 24-year-old Iraqi college
student. She was referring to how she felt before the war took hold in her
native Baghdad. The Sept. 11, 2001, strike at American supremacy was
satisfying, and the deaths, abstract.
Now, the student recites the familiar complaints: Her college has segregated
the security checks; guards told her to stop wearing a revealing skirt; she
covers her head for safety.
"Now I hate Islam," she said, sitting in her family's unadorned living room
in central Baghdad. "Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army are spreading hatred.
People are being killed for nothing."
Parents have taken new precautions to keep their children out of trouble.
Abu Tahsin, a Shiite from northern Baghdad, said that when his extended
family built a Shiite mosque, they purposely did not register it with the
religious authorities, even though it would have brought privileges, because
they did not want to become entangled with any of the main religious Shiite
groups that control Baghdad.

In Falluja, a Sunni city west of Baghdad that had been overrun by Al Qaeda,
Sheik Khalid al-Mahamedie, a moderate cleric, said that fathers now came
with their sons to mosques to meet the instructors of Koran courses.
Families used to worry most about their daughters in adolescence, but now,
the sheik said, they worry more about their sons.
"Before, parents warned their sons not to smoke or drink," said Muhammad Ali
al-Jumaili, a Falluja father with a 20-year-old son. "Now all their energy
is concentrated on not letting them be involved with terrorism."
Recruiters are relentless, and, as it turns out, clever, peddling things
their young targets need. Stone describes it as a sales pitch a pimp gives
to a prospective prostitute. American military officers at the American
detention center said it was the Al Qaeda detainees who were best prepared
for group sessions and asked the most questions.
A Qaeda recruiter approached Zane Muhammad, on a college campus with the
offer of English lessons. Though lessons had been a personal ambition of
Muhammad's for months, once he knew what the man was after, he politely
avoided him."When you talk with them, you find them very modern, very
smart," said Muhammad, a nonreligious Shiite, who recalled feigning disdain
for his own sect to avoid suspicion.
The population they focused on was poor and uneducated. About 60 percent of
the American adult detainee population is illiterate and is unable to even
read the Koran that religious recruiters are preaching.
That leads to strange twists. One young detainee, a client of Abu Mahmoud's,
was convinced he had to kill his parents when he was released, because they
were married in an insufficiently Islamic way.
There is a new favorite game in the lively household of the Baghdad
journalist. When they see a man with a turban on television, they crack
jokes. In one of them, people are warned not to give their cellphone numbers
to a religious man.

"If he knows the number, he'll steal the phone's credit," the journalist
said. "The sheiks are making a society of nonbelievers."
Kareem Hilmi, Ahmad Fadam and Qais Mizher contributed reporting.
26744  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / L. Tribe on: March 04, 2008, 12:52:24 PM
Sanity and the Second Amendment
March 4, 2008; Page A16

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument later this month in a politically charged gun-control case from the District of Columbia. The case involves a city resident who contends that the District is violating his rights under the Second Amendment with a citywide ban on handguns.

Gun enthusiasts on the right are all but daring justices who protect a woman's right to choose, nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, to trash the "right of the people to keep and bear arms," enshrined in the text of the Second Amendment. If the Supreme Court does what they fear and reduces the gun right to a relic of the days when all "able-bodied men" constituted each state's "militia," they will use that defeat to suggest that we need a president who will bring us a truly "conservative" Supreme Court.

Those on the left have at the same time challenged a court that they see as already leaning hard right to live up to its conservative principles, follow precedent, and limit the Second Amendment -- as the text of its preamble seems to invite -- to the preservation of each state's "well-regulated militia," ending once and for all the idea that the Constitution enshrines a personal right to wield firearms.

The court would be foolhardy to accept either side's invitation that it plunge headlong into the culture wars by accepting these extreme ways of framing the issue. It is true that some liberal scholars like me, having studied the text and history closely, have concluded, against our political instincts, that the Second Amendment protects more than a collective right to own and use guns in the service of state militias and national guard units. Opponents of the District's flat ban on handgun possession have cited my words to the court and in newspaper editorials in their support.

But nothing I have discovered or written supports an absolute right to possess the weapons of one's choice. The lower court's decision in this case -- the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found the District's ban on concealable handguns in a densely populated area to be unconstitutional -- went overboard. Under any plausible standard of review, a legislature's choice to limit the citizenry to rifles, shotguns and other weapons less likely to augment urban violence need not, and should not, be viewed as an unconstitutional abridgment of the right of the people to keep or bear arms.

For the Supreme Court to go any further than this in overturning the lower court's decision -- for it to hold, for instance, that no firearms ban could violate the Second Amendment unless it were to prevent states from organizing militias in their collective self-defense, as the District appears to urge -- would gratuitously fan the flames of doubt about the court's commitment to core constitutional principles, and would save no lives in the process.

Equally foolish would be a decision tilting to the other extreme and upholding the lower court's decision simply because the right to bear arms is, judicial precedent to the contrary notwithstanding, a right that belongs to citizens as individuals. Such a holding would confuse the right to bear arms with a right to own and brandish the firearms of one's choosing.

Worse than that, it would transform a constitutional provision clearly intended and designed to protect the people of the several states from an all-powerful national government into a restriction on the national government's uniquely powerful role as governor of the nation's capital, over which Congress, acting through municipal authorities of the District, exercises the same kind of plenary authority that it exercises over Fort Knox.

Using a case about national legislative power over gun-toting in the capital city as a vehicle for deciding how far Congress or the state of California can go in regulating guns in Los Angeles would be a silly stretch.

Chief Justice John Roberts, ever since his days as a judge on the court of appeals, has virtually defined judicial modesty by opining that if it is not necessary for the court to decide an issue, then it is necessary for the court not to decide that issue. For this reason, and for the further reason that the scholarship on the reach of the Second Amendment and its implementation is still in its infancy, the court should take the smallest feasible step in resolving the case before it.

Issuing a narrow decision would disappoint partisans on both sides and leave many questions unresolved. But to do anything else would ill-suit a court that flies the flag of judicial restraint.

Mr. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, is the author of the forthcoming book "The Invisible Constitution" (Oxford Press).
26745  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 04, 2008, 11:55:45 AM
Barack Obama demonstrated he can be just as testy as the next politician when uncomfortable issues come up. During a news conference in Texas yesterday, he clearly did not welcome inquiries about his former fundraiser Tony Rezko, who goes on trial this week in Chicago on charges he extorted contributions from companies seeking state business.

NBC's Aswini Anburajan reports that Mr. Obama cut off questions from Carol Marin, a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, after she pressed him on why he had not met with individual Chicago reporters who were knowledgeable on the Rezko scandal.

Mr. Obama repeated an earlier statement that his entering into a land deal with Mr. Rezko that helped the Illinois senator buy his new Chicago home in 2005 was "boneheaded," but maintained "there have been no allegations that I betrayed the public trust."

Another reporter asked Mr. Obama why he wouldn't release information about various fundraisers that Mr. Rezko had held for Mr. Obama and why details about their relationship continue to dribble out. Mr. Obama claimed he would provide more details but added: "What happens is these requests I think can go on forever, and, at some point, we've tried to respond to what's pertinent to the question that's been raised."

A short while later, Mr. Obama was asked about a meeting one of his aides held with Canadian officials over the Nafta trade treaty. At that point, Mr. Obama apparently lost patience with reporters, answered curtly and then walked out. As reporters shouted at him to stay, he yelled back: "Come on guys; I answered like eight questions. We're running late."

I suspect Mr. Obama will end up answering a lot more than eight questions before the Rezko trial is over, as more details of his relationship to the indicted fundraiser and Chicago’s Daley machine continue to tumble out.


-- John Fund
Last Call

If Hillary Clinton gets knocked out of the race today, she will have every reason to wonder if a few more days of campaigning might have produced a different outcome. Between the media's belated interest in the Rezko matter and the revealing Team Obama scheme to send different signals on Nafta to different audiences, Mrs. Clinton might finally be getting some traction with the question, "Who is this guy, anyway?"

After Mr. Obama's chief economic advisor was exposed for apparently telling the Canadian consulate that the candidate's statements on Nafta were just for show, the Canadian consulate began bending over backwards to apologize for any impression that Mr. Obama was back-channeling around voters. "We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect," the Canadians offered profusely.

It's certainly a political first to watch the Canadian government falling over itself to assure Americans that a U.S. presidential candidate really does have Canada's worst interests at heart. For her part, Sen. Clinton seized on the incident to say Mr. Obama was playing the old game of telling ordinary voters one thing while giving the "wink wink" to more sophisticated audiences. Unfortunately for her campaign, she came up short yesterday of embodying all the Obama doubts in a soundbite to help move the needle in the last hours before Ohio and Texas vote. Where's Bill Clinton, author of the "fairy-tale" zinger, when she needs him? Nor did she hit the ball out of the park with her comment to CBS's "60 Minutes" that Mr. Obama is not a Muslim "as far as I know."

Still, Mr. Obama's out-of-character assault on Nafta, which was clearly a calculated strategy to deal Mrs. Clinton a knockout punch in Ohio, may have backfired. Mrs. Clinton didn't play the controversy adroitly, but late polls nonetheless suggest movement in her direction. If she loses anyway, her wheeziness in crystallizing the case against her rival will be the sound of last-minute opportunity slipping through her fingers.


-- Collin Levy
Trouble in Hastertland

Republicans are nervous that they could lose a high-profile special election in Illinois today. A loss would be especially embarrassing because the district was vacated by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and should be Republican, having given President Bush 55% of the vote in 2004.

But a recent Democratic poll found physicist Bill Foster, the Democrat, with a narrow lead over GOP businessman Bill Oberweis. Republicans dismiss the poll and say their man is comfortably ahead. But national Democratic groups have seized on the apparent closeness of the contest and put out a TV commercial blasting Mr. Oberweis for saying he supported President Bush on "almost everything." The ad goes on to link the Republican to "Bush's scheme to privatize Social Security" and claims he supports "staying in Iraq" for another ten years.

Special elections often send signals about the national mood. In 1974, a series of special election losses proved to be a harbinger of the GOP rout in that fall's Watergate-dominated election. In 1994, Bill Clinton's unpopularity resulted in several Democratic defeats in special elections, which proved a good predictor of that fall's GOP takeover of Congress. A GOP defeat in the Chicago district where the last Republican House speaker won ten straight elections would be a devastating blow to conservative morale.


-- John Fund
The Party of Obama

Voters in Ohio and Texas could put an end to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign today. If they do, more than a few Democrats will breath a sigh of relief. At its core, Mr. Obama's candidacy forced a set of uncomfortable questions on Democrats: Will they live up to their rhetoric and support a liberal, black candidate running a positive campaign? Will Hispanics rally behind such a candidate? Or, alternatively, will deep fissures open up within the party that will take years to close up again?

So far, it appears those fissures are not materializing. James Aldrete, who handles much of the Hispanic outreach for the Obama campaign in Texas, including Spanish language ads, tells us he's seen a few surprising things on the campaign trail this year. The first came a year ago when some 20,000 people turned out to hear Mr. Obama speak in Austin, an early sign that the Illinois senator could appeal to large numbers of younger Hispanics. The second came more recently when Mr. Aldrete noticed a lot of new voters turning up in largely Hispanic areas of the state. Along the border, which is 90% Hispanic, early voting indicates that perhaps one-third of the votes cast are coming from individuals who haven't voted in the past three Texas Democratic primaries. In other Hispanic areas, the number is as high as one-half. That's a sign that turnout will be high this year and likely swelled by new Hispanic voters.

The split Mr. Aldrete sees is not along racial lines. "Tejanos," Hispanics who have been in Texas a long time, he told us, share many concerns with African-Americans, including health care, education and so on. If there is a split, it comes in the state's bigger cities -- Dallas, Houston -- and is between Hispanics who are foreign-born and those who were born in the U.S. The more Hispanic voters define themselves as "immigrants," it seems, the more they perceive a clash of interests between themselves and black voters. But Mr. Obama may be rapidly realigning the Democratic Party to put this traditional Hispanic-Black divide in the past.

-- Brendan Miniter

26746  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: March 04, 2008, 11:34:39 AM
Dmitri Medvedev started out with a bang on his first day on the job as Russian president-elect, with European leaders waking up on Monday to the news that Russia had cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine by 25 percent.

Of course, state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom — which Medvedev chairs — said the move had absolutely nothing to do with Europe, and that it was just part and parcel of the insufferable energy issues Gazprom has with Ukraine. But that explanation is unlikely to assuage the Europeans; they heard the same story from Moscow when a Russian natural gas cutoff turned out their lights in January 2006.

Related Special Topic Pages
Russian Energy and Foreign Policy
Gazprom’s Ascent
The Russian Resurgence
In Stratfor’s eyes, though this Russian power play was a long time coming, Russia’s timing could not have been more perfect. In Moscow’s eyes, European recognition of Kosovar independence despite vehement Russian objections represented both a threat to Russia’s regional prowess and an opportunity to reassert Moscow’s authority in the Russian periphery. From the Russian point of view, Europe had to be taught a hard lesson that would be felt where Russia holds the most leverage — namely, in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Ukraine and the Baltic states.

We already are seeing the Russian strategy take effect. Immediately following Kosovo’s declaration of independence, we saw flames in the Balkans as Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia began indicating they might follow the Kosovar precedent and secede to join a Greater Serbia. To the east, the Russian-sponsored Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia began mobilizing troops late last week, spelling trouble for the powder keg that is the Caucasus. On Monday, we saw the Ukrainians get a kick in the pants with Gazprom’s natural gas cutoff. And the Balkans, aware of what is likely heading their way, are simply trying to stay under the Russian radar. All these moves gradually are giving Medvedev the prestige he needs in his symbolic takeover of the Russian presidency.

The country to watch now is Germany. When the Russians turn the screws on Ukraine, the Germans feel the pain. In addition to having 30 percent of its natural gas supplies from Russia transit Ukraine, Germany must fulfill its role as the regional heavyweight capable of standing up to an aggressive Russia hovering to the east. But before Germany can deal with the Russians, it needs to get the European house in order — and that means dealing with the other European heavyweight, France.

France and Germany’s clashing views on Europe are coming to a head for the first time in decades. With France making preparations to take the EU presidency in four months, contentious issues ranging from French debt to immigration to a major French push for a Mediterranean Union now are rearing their heads, threatening the Franco-German harmony that binds the European Union. Fortunately for Moscow, this historic Paris-Berlin fault line has re-emerged just in time for the Russians to exploit.

With the Russians getting ready to rumble, the Germans don’t have time to quarrel with the French. The German priority now is to rally a united European front before it heads into negotiations with Russia, and this is exactly what German Chancellor Angela Merkel had on her mind when she sat down for a hastily arranged dinner with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday night. For now, it appears as if the Germans and the French have made up. Sarkozy and Merkel came out of their meeting with an ambiguous message that they had compromised on the Mediterranean Union project, probably shelving their issues for another day.

Right now, Merkel has bigger fish to fry in Moscow, where she will be traveling this weekend to meet with Medvedev (and though officially not on the agenda, with the real power player, Putin). The message she would like to deliver in Moscow is that Europe is rallying behind her to counter Russia’s payback plan over Kosovo. But the Russians aren’t easily fooled. There is more time for this game to play out, and the Russians appear to be pacing themselves carefully.

26747  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: March 04, 2008, 11:27:05 AM
Iran's Nuclear Threat
March 4, 2008; Page A17

The United Nations Security Council has passed another resolution concerning Iran because its nuclear program is an unacceptable threat. Iran's violations of Security Council resolutions not only continue, but are deepening. Instead of suspending its proliferation-sensitive activities as the council has required, Iran is dramatically expanding the number of operating centrifuges and developing a new generation of centrifuges, testing one of them with nuclear fuel.

Once again, Iran has not made the choice the world had hoped for; once again, the Security Council has no choice but to act. At stake is the security of a vital region of the world, and the credibility of the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as they seek to hold Iran to its nonproliferation commitments.

The latest report from the IAEA states that Iran has not met its obligation to fully disclose its past nuclear-weapons program. On the core issue of whether Iran's nuclear program is strictly peaceful, the report showed no serious progress.

The IAEA presented Iran with documents assembled over a period of years from multiple member states and the agency's own investigations. The documents detailed Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear warhead, including designs for a missile re-entry vehicle, and showed other possible undeclared activities with nuclear material.

Iran dismissed these documents as "baseless and fabricated." But the IAEA does not share that conclusion.

Instead of slogans and obfuscations, the international community needs answers from Iran. The international community must be able to believe Iran's declaration that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes. Iranian leaders must as a first step fully disclose past weapons-related work, and implement additional safeguards to ensure no continuing hidden activities. We agree with the IAEA that until Iran takes these steps, Iran's nuclear program cannot be verified as peaceful.

The latest IAEA report also states that Iran is not suspending its proliferation-sensitive activities.

For almost two years now, the Security Council has required Iran to suspend all of its enrichment-related, reprocessing, and heavy water-related activities. I want to ask the Iranian leaders, "If your goal is to generate nuclear power for peaceful purposes, why do you court increasing international isolation, economic pressure and more, all for a purported goal more easily and inexpensively obtained with the diplomatic solution we and others offer?"

I want the Iranian people and others around the world to know that the United States recognizes Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. They should know that the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany have offered to help Iran develop civil nuclear power, if it complies with the Security Council's demand -- a very reasonable demand -- to suspend enrichment. They should know that the package of incentives includes active international support to build state-of-the art light water power reactors, and reliable access to nuclear fuel.

Iran should do what other nations have done to eliminate any doubts that their nuclear program is peaceful. Many states have made the decision to abandon programs to produce a nuclear weapon. Two of them sit on the Security Council today: South Africa and Libya.

Other countries that have stepped away from past nuclear-weapon aspirations include Brazil, Argentina, Romania, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. These countries did not see their security diminished as a result of their decisions. Indeed, one could easily say their security has been enhanced. Nor did they lose their right to develop nuclear energy. We urge Iran to take the same path these other states have chosen.

The international community has good reason to be concerned about Iran's activities to acquire a nuclear-weapons capability. The present Iranian regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose a greater potential danger to the region and to the world.

The Iranian government has been a destabilizing force in the broader Middle East and beyond. Contrary to its statements, Iran has been funding and supporting terrorists and militants for operations in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. Their lethal assistance has harmed countless innocent civilians. The president of Iran has made many reprehensible statements -- embracing the objective of destroying a member state of the United Nations.

Because of all these factors, the international community cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. If Iran continues down its current path, it would likely fuel proliferation activities in the region, which, in turn, could cause the demise of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime itself.

The U.S. remains committed to a diplomatic solution. If Iran shares this commitment, it will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities and let diplomacy succeed. We call on Iran to engage in constructive negotiations over the future of its nuclear program. Such negotiations, if successful, would have profound benefits for Iran and the Iranian people.

The message from the U.S. to the people of Iran is that America respects you and your great country. We want Iran to be a full partner in the international community. And as President Bush has said, if Iran respects its international obligations, it will have no better friend than the United States of America.

Mr. Khalilzad is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
26748  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Education on: March 04, 2008, 10:44:10 AM
What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?
Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.
February 29, 2008; Page W1

Helsinki, Finland

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.

Finland's students are the brightest in the world, according to an international test. Teachers say extra playtime is one reason for the students' success. WSJ's Ellen Gamerman reports.
The Finns won attention with their performances in triennial tests sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by 30 countries that monitors social and economic trends. In the most recent test, which focused on science, Finland's students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland's combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD's test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch. About 400,000 students around the world answered multiple-choice questions and essays on the test that measured critical thinking and the application of knowledge. A typical subject: Discuss the artistic value of graffiti.

The academic prowess of Finland's students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country's secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. "We don't have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have," says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.

Visitors and teacher trainees can peek at how it's done from a viewing balcony perched over a classroom at the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, a city in central Finland. What they see is a relaxed, back-to-basics approach. The school, which is a model campus, has no sports teams, marching bands or prom.

Fanny Salo in class
Trailing 15-year-old Fanny Salo at Norssi gives a glimpse of the no-frills curriculum. Fanny is a bubbly ninth-grader who loves "Gossip Girl" books, the TV show "Desperate Housewives" and digging through the clothing racks at H&M stores with her friends.

Fanny earns straight A's, and with no gifted classes she sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up. She often helps lagging classmates. "It's fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class," Fanny says. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress.

At lunch, Fanny and her friends leave campus to buy salmiakki, a salty licorice. They return for physics, where class starts when everyone quiets down. Teachers and students address each other by first names. About the only classroom rules are no cellphones, no iPods and no hats.



Every three years, 15-year-olds in 57 countries around the world take a test called the Pisa exam, which measures proficiency in math, science and reading.
• The test: Two sections from the Pisa science test
• Chart: Recent scores for participating countries

Do you think any of these Finnish methods would work in U.S. schools? What would you change -- if anything -- about the U.S. school system, and the responsibilities that teachers, parents and students are given? Share your thoughts.Fanny's more rebellious classmates dye their blond hair black or sport pink dreadlocks. Others wear tank tops and stilettos to look tough in the chilly climate. Tanning lotions are popular in one clique. Teens sift by style, including "fruittari," or preppies; "hoppari," or hip-hop, or the confounding "fruittari-hoppari," which fuses both. Ask an obvious question and you may hear "KVG," short for "Check it on Google, you idiot." Heavy-metal fans listen to Nightwish, a Finnish band, and teens socialize online at

The Norssi School is run like a teaching hospital, with about 800 teacher trainees each year. Graduate students work with kids while instructors evaluate from the sidelines. Teachers must hold master's degrees, and the profession is highly competitive: More than 40 people may apply for a single job. Their salaries are similar to those of U.S. teachers, but they generally have more freedom.

Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says Mr. Schleicher, of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.

One explanation for the Finns' success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.

Ymmersta school principal Hannele Frantsi
Finland shares its language with no other country, and even the most popular English-language books are translated here long after they are first published. Many children struggled to read the last Harry Potter book in English because they feared they would hear about the ending before it arrived in Finnish. Movies and TV shows have Finnish subtitles instead of dubbing. One college student says she became a fast reader as a child because she was hooked on the 1990s show "Beverly Hills, 90210."

In November, a U.S. delegation visited, hoping to learn how Scandinavian educators used technology. Officials from the Education Department, the National Education Association and the American Association of School Librarians saw Finnish teachers with chalkboards instead of whiteboards, and lessons shown on overhead projectors instead of PowerPoint. Keith Krueger was less impressed by the technology than by the good teaching he saw. "You kind of wonder how could our country get to that?" says Mr. Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school technology officers that organized the trip.

Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn't translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: " 'Nah. So what'd you do last night?'" she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely "glue this to the poster for an hour," she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.

At the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, school principal Helena Muilu
Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.

Despite the apparent simplicity of Finnish education, it would be tough to replicate in the U.S. With a largely homogeneous population, teachers have few students who don't speak Finnish. In the U.S., about 8% of students are learning English, according to the Education Department. There are fewer disparities in education and income levels among Finns. Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school. (All 15-year-old students took the PISA test.) Finland has a high-school dropout rate of about 4% -- or 10% at vocational schools -- compared with roughly 25% in the U.S., according to their respective education departments.

Another difference is financial. Each school year, the U.S. spends an average of $8,700 per student, while the Finns spend $7,500. Finland's high-tax government provides roughly equal per-pupil funding, unlike the disparities between Beverly Hills public schools, for example, and schools in poorer districts. The gap between Finland's best- and worst-performing schools was the smallest of any country in the PISA testing. The U.S. ranks about average.

Finnish students have little angstata -- or teen angst -- about getting into the best university, and no worries about paying for it. College is free. There is competition for college based on academic specialties -- medical school, for instance. But even the best universities don't have the elite status of a Harvard.

Students at the Ymmersta School near Helsinki
Taking away the competition of getting into the "right schools" allows Finnish children to enjoy a less-pressured childhood. While many U.S. parents worry about enrolling their toddlers in academically oriented preschools, the Finns don't begin school until age 7, a year later than most U.S. first-graders.

Once school starts, the Finns are more self-reliant. While some U.S. parents fuss over accompanying their children to and from school, and arrange every play date and outing, young Finns do much more on their own. At the Ymmersta School in a nearby Helsinki suburb, some first-grade students trudge to school through a stand of evergreens in near darkness. At lunch, they pick out their own meals, which all schools give free, and carry the trays to lunch tables. There is no Internet filter in the school library. They can walk in their socks during class, but at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis.

The Finns enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, but they, too, worry about falling behind in the shifting global economy. They rely on electronics and telecommunications companies, such as Finnish cellphone giant Nokia, along with forest-products and mining industries for jobs. Some educators say Finland needs to fast-track its brightest students the way the U.S. does, with gifted programs aimed at producing more go-getters. Parents also are getting pushier about special attention for their children, says Tapio Erma, principal of the suburban Olari School. "We are more and more aware of American-style parents," he says.

Mr. Erma's school is a showcase campus. Last summer, at a conference in Peru, he spoke about adopting Finnish teaching methods. During a recent afternoon in one of his school's advanced math courses, a high-school boy fell asleep at his desk. The teacher didn't disturb him, instead calling on others. While napping in class isn't condoned, Mr. Erma says, "We just have to accept the fact that they're kids and they're learning how to live."

26749  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Our Founding Fathers: on: March 04, 2008, 10:24:29 AM
"What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?  The tree
of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of
patriots and tyrants.  It is its natural manure."

-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to William Stephens Smith, 1787)

Reference: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Memorial Edition),
Lipscomb and Bergh, eds., 6:373.
26750  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chavez's War Drums on: March 04, 2008, 09:17:49 AM
Chávez's 'War' Drums
March 4, 2008; Page A16
Colombia's military scored a major antiterror victory this weekend by killing the second in command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and 16 other FARC guerrillas. Venezuelan President and FARC ally Hugo Chávez has reacted by threatening war against Bogotá. But the real news is that the raid produced a laptop computer belonging to the expired comandante that reveals some of Mr. Chávez's secrets.

The raid that killed FARC big Raúl Reyes shocked the terrorists because it happened in Ecuador -- about a mile across the border from Colombia. The guerrillas are used to operating inside Colombia, only to escape to safe havens in Ecuador and Venezuela when Colombia's military is in hot pursuit. This time Colombian officers kept going, and for legitimate reasons of self-defense. (We doubt the U.S. would stop its troops at the border if terrorists were bombing sites in Texas from havens in Mexico.)

Mr. Chávez rushed to insist that Ecuador's sovereignty had been violated, even before Ecuador did. On his weekly television show on Sunday, the Venezuelan bully called the death of Reyes a "cowardly assassination" and observed a moment of silence. He closed the Venezuelan embassy in Bogotá, ordered 10 battalions with tanks to the Colombian border, and warned of war if the Colombian army staged a similar raid inside Venezuela.

Such a conventional war isn't likely. Colombia today has a superior military force, thanks in part to Mr. Chávez's purge of his own officer corp as a way to minimize risks of a coup d'etat against him. The war bluster is especially phony because Mr. Chavez is already waging his own guerrilla campaign against Colombia through his support for the FARC. The FARC's "foreign minister," Rodrigo Granda, was nabbed three years ago by bounty hunters in Caracas, where he was living comfortably, and a former Venezuelan military officer told us years ago that the army was instructed not to pursue the FARC in the Venezuelan jungle.

What may really have upset Mr. Chávez is the capture of Reyes's laptop. According to Colombia's top police official, General Oscar Naranjo, the computer contains evidence supporting the claim that the FARC is working with Mr. Chávez. General Naranjo said Monday that Reyes's laptop records showed that Venezuela may have paid $300 million to the FARC in exchange for its recent release of six civilian hostages. Mr. Chávez had spun those releases as a triumph of his personal mediation.

General Naranjo said the laptop also contains documents showing that the FARC was seeking to buy 50 kilos of uranium, and the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo has reported that the records revealed the sale of 700 kilograms of cocaine valued at $1.5 million. The general added that the military found a thank-you note from Mr. Chávez to the FARC for some $150,000 that the rebels had sent him when he was in prison for his attempted coup d'etat in 1992.

Ecuador, an ally of Mr. Chávez, was slow to express outrage at the Colombian raid but eventually came around. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that the rebels were "bombed and massacred as they slept, using precision technology." He is right about that -- which is why the FARC's friends are so angry.

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