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26751  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics on: February 17, 2007, 01:20:57 PM
Monetary Policy and the State of the Economy
by Ron Paul
by Ron Paul




Statement at Hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, February 15, 2007


Transparency in monetary policy is a goal we should all support.  I've often wondered why Congress so willingly has given up its prerogative over monetary policy.  Astonishingly, Congress in essence has ceded total control over the value of our money to a secretive central bank.

Congress created the Federal Reserve, yet it had no constitutional authority to do so.  We forget that those powers not explicitly granted to Congress by the Constitution are inherently denied to Congress – and thus the authority to establish a central bank never was given.  Of course Jefferson and Hamilton had that debate early on, a debate seemingly settled in 1913.

But transparency and oversight are something else, and they're worth considering.  Congress, although not by law, essentially has given up all its oversight responsibility over the Federal Reserve.  There are no true audits, and Congress knows nothing of the conversations, plans, and actions taken in concert with other central banks.  We get less and less information regarding the money supply each year, especially now that M3 is no longer reported.

The role the Fed plays in the President's secretive Working Group on Financial Markets goes unnoticed by members of Congress.  The Federal Reserve shows no willingness to inform Congress voluntarily about how often the Working Group meets, what actions it takes that affect the financial markets, or why it takes those actions.

But these actions, directed by the Federal Reserve, alter the purchasing power of our money.  And that purchasing power is always reduced.  The dollar today is worth only four cents compared to the dollar in 1913, when the Federal Reserve started.  This has profound consequences for our economy and our political stability.  All paper currencies are vulnerable to collapse, and history is replete with examples of great suffering caused by such collapses, especially to a nation's poor and middle class.  This leads to political turmoil.

Even before a currency collapse occurs, the damage done by a fiat system is significant.  Our monetary system insidiously transfers wealth from the poor and middle class to the privileged rich.  Wages never keep up with the profits of Wall Street and the banks, thus sowing the seeds of class discontent.  When economic trouble hits, free markets and free trade often are blamed, while the harmful effects of a fiat monetary system are ignored. We deceive ourselves that all is well with the economy, and ignore the fundamental flaws that are a source of growing discontent among those who have not shared in the abundance of recent years.

Few understand that our consumption and apparent wealth is dependent on a current account deficit of $800 billion per year.  This deficit shows that much of our prosperity is based on borrowing rather than a true increase in production.  Statistics show year after year that our productive manufacturing jobs continue to go overseas.  This phenomenon is not seen as a consequence of the international fiat monetary system, where the United States government benefits as the issuer of the world's reserve currency.

Government officials consistently claim that inflation is in check at barely 2%, but middle class Americans know that their purchasing power – especially when it comes to housing, energy, medical care, and school tuition – is shrinking much faster than 2% each year.

Even if prices were held in check, in spite of our monetary inflation, concentrating on CPI distracts from the real issue.  We must address the important consequences of Fed manipulation of interest rates. When interests rates are artificially low, below market rates, insidious mal-investment and excessive indebtedness inevitably bring about the economic downturn that everyone dreads.

We look at GDP numbers to reassure ourselves that all is well, yet a growing number of Americans still do not enjoy the higher standard of living that monetary inflation brings to the privileged few.  Those few have access to the newly created money first, before its value is diluted.

For example:  Before the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, CEO income was about 30 times the average worker's pay.  Today, it's closer to 500 times.  It's hard to explain this simply by market forces and increases in productivity.  One Wall Street firm last year gave out bonuses totaling $16.5 billion.  There's little evidence that this represents free market capitalism.

In 2006 dollars, the minimum wage was $9.50 before the 1971 breakdown of Bretton Woods.  Today that dollar is worth $5.15.  Congress congratulates itself for raising the minimum wage by mandate, but in reality it has lowered the minimum wage by allowing the Fed to devalue the dollar.  We must consider how the growing inequalities created by our monetary system will lead to social discord.

GDP purportedly is now growing at 3.5%, and everyone seems pleased.  What we fail to understand is how much government entitlement spending contributes to the increase in the GDP.  Rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by hurricanes, which simply gets us back to even, is considered part of GDP growth.  Wall Street profits and salaries, pumped up by the Fed's increase in money, also contribute to GDP statistical growth.  Just buying military weapons that contribute nothing to the well being of our citizens, sending money down a rat hole, contributes to GDP growth!  Simple price increases caused by Fed monetary inflation contribute to nominal GDP growth.  None of these factors represent any kind of real increases in economic output.  So we should not carelessly cite misleading GDP figures which don't truly reflect what is happening in the economy.  Bogus GDP figures explain in part why so many people are feeling squeezed despite our supposedly booming economy.

But since our fiat dollar system is not going away anytime soon, it would benefit Congress and the American people to bring more transparency to how and why Fed monetary policy functions.

For starters, the Federal Reserve should:

Begin publishing the M3 statistics again.  Let us see the numbers that most accurately reveal how much new money the Fed is pumping into the world economy.
Tell us exactly what the President's Working Group on Financial Markets does and why.
Explain how interest rates are set.  Conservatives profess to support free markets, without wage and price controls.  Yet the most important price of all, the price of money as determined by interest rates, is set arbitrarily in secret by the Fed rather than by markets!  Why is this policy written in stone? Why is there no congressional input at least?
Change legal tender laws to allow constitutional legal tender (commodity money) to compete domestically with the dollar.
How can a policy of steadily debasing our currency be defended morally, knowing what harm it causes to those who still believe in saving money and assuming responsibility for themselves in their retirement years?  Is it any wonder we are a nation of debtors rather than savers?

We need more transparency in how the Federal Reserve carries out monetary policy, and we need it soon.

February 17, 2007

Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.
26752  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Are there Knights? on: February 17, 2007, 01:17:50 PM
Woof All:

I am delighted to see both Maija and Michael Brown joining in.  A hearty woof of welcome to both of you!

I will need a more leisurely moment to put down some thoughts for this thread, but for the moment share an article written by Dog Hig, who is one of our DBMA instructors in the UK.   I gather that this piece will be published in the UK's "Martial Arts Illustrated" or "Combat", so please do not forward it from here.

TAC,
CD
=====================================================

The Spirituality of the Gathering


In the time I’ve been training in DBMA, the question I’ve been asked more than any other has to “Why do you want to fight at the Gathering?”

It’s a question that’s been asked of me by everyone, family, friends, students, people I meet at seminars, someone even asked me it just before the last Gathering in Bern. The reason for them asking the question changes from person to person, some are asking because they want to try it but want to make sure it’s a sane thing to do first. Others just don’t get it, they see the risk but not the reward.
This article is more for the latter.

The first time I saw the Dog Brothers on tape, I had conflicting emotions.
My first feeling was confusion, why would they do this???
I’d been told by my first instructors that the weapons side of the art was so effective, you could never test it. They said to do so would leave both parties badly injured and there was too much risk. Besides everything we were training had already been battle tested by those who had gone before us. There was no need to put ourselves at risk.
Yet there it was on film, a bunch of guys using their skill to defend themselves and putting their health on the line.
My second feeling was anticipation, because I wanted to do it as well.

The path to my first Gathering took me a few years, but looking back on it, the main thing that stopped me going sooner was me. That wasn’t a bad thing, for all the good I have to say about a Gathering, it’s a dangerous thing to do & you need to be doing it for the right reasons. To paraphrase Crafty “Sometimes, especially the first time, you should just watch”

When I got to Switzerland that first time, the fear running through me was immense. On more than one occasion I thought of backing out & had conversations with Guro Crafty & Guro Lonely about the emotions I was feeling. The openness with which they discussed their own pre-fight emotions will always amaze me. It all boiled down to one thing, if you weren’t scared, there was something wrong. It reassured me to realize that despite all their skill and successful experience, the fear was still there and they did it anyway. My own fear, while still a powerful force, started to seem a little less dominating.

The moment of truth came quickly, the fighters had assembled & Crafty said the Magic words “"No judges, no referees, no trophies. One rule only: Be friends at the end of the day. Our goal is that everyone leaves with the IQ with which he came and our goal is that no one spends the night in the hospital. However, only you are responsible for you, so protect yourself at all times. No suing no one for no reason for nothing, no how, no way."”
Guro Lonely got up and put on his mask for the first fight of the day. If I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it. I felt a moment of detachment as I put on my mask and walked to the centre. The Drummers started, we tapped in & the two most spiritual minutes of my life started.

For the two minutes that we fought, nothing else outside existed, my job, my credit card bills, and the fact that my car needed new brakes….
For the fist time that I can remember, I existed only in the moment. Every second that passed was the only second that mattered. Everything except what was in front of me faded in perspective. A man who is extremely skilled in what he does, pushing me to the limit of what he feels I can take (at one point, I could have sworn that Lonely smiled at me through his mask after setting me up beautifully. He swears he didn’t). The only thing to protect me is the stick in my hand, the light gloves & the thin mask on my face. In those two minutes I experienced a feeling of responsibility and self awareness that had been missing in my life till that point.
In day to day life it’s easy to pass responsibility for everything onto everyone else. You trip in the street, someone should have fixed the paving. You crash your car, the other guy should have watched where he was going. You get knocked out or hurt, your corner or the ref should have stopped the fight earlier.

Here was a place where only I was responsible for my actions, I made the choice to come, I did the extra hours at work to buy my plane ticket, I stood up, I put on my mask and if I got hurt, it was due to the choices I alone had made.
If however I grew in some way, regardless of the outcomes of any of my fights, learned a little, matured a little, moved a little bit closer to being the type of man I want be. Then this would be down to how I dealt with the path I’d chosen.
This was and is a very powerful realisation.

The realisation that I solely was responsible for the direction of those two minutes,  and how I chose to deal with any consequences, has passed through to the rest of my life & I hope it will be with me for a long time to come.

There are a hundred other reasons to fight at a Gathering, for one thing you’ll never meet more honest or friendly people. For me though, it’ll always be to again experience those two minutes and rediscover the awareness they teach. That only I am responsible for my course in this life, and anything else is just excuses or fear.

To remind myself, that when it comes down to it, “Only you are responsible for you”


“Dog” Graeme Higgins has been training FMA for the last 10 years and is the first person in the UK to be both accepted into the Dog Brothers tribe and made a Lakan Guro in Dog Brothers Martial Arts.

To Contact Graeme, please visit
www.combative.co.uk or www.myspace.com/elhig   

For more information on Dog Brothers UK, please visit
www.DogBrothers.co.uk or www.myspace.com/DogBrothersUK
26753  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Moderate Muslim intimidated in Tulsa OK on: February 17, 2007, 12:43:32 PM
Moderate Muslim intimidated in Tulsa OK

http://hotair.com/archives/2007/02/16/jamal-miftah-a-moderate-muslims-plight/
26754  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: February 17, 2007, 12:28:34 PM
A Horror Travelogue
by Srdja Trifkovic
Thousands of young Muslims, armed with clubs and sticks and shouting, “Allahu akbar!” riot and force the police to retreat. Windows are smashed; stores are looted; cars are torched. Europeans unlucky or careless enough to be trapped by the mob are viciously attacked, and some are killed.

The scene could be Mogadishu in the aftermath of Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address; or Tripoli during the Danish-cartoons fury; or Karachi, Kabul, Gaza, and countless other cities in Dar al-Islam’s heartland, on any number of occasions. Yet a year ago, such scenes were unfolding, for weeks on end, in places with such names as Clichy-sous-Bois, Argenteuil, and La Courneuve. The trouble in the banlieus finally ended, as various Muslim “community leaders” had claimed it would, only when various levels of French officialdom quietly accepted that there were de facto no-go areas within the country, mini-Islamistans run by the dominant local majority. “Mon Clichy à moi, c’est ça!” just about sums it up, on the official website of Clichy-sous-Bois, whose population is 80-percent Muslim.

In practice, this means that local groceries refrain from selling wine, and young Muslim men feel emboldened to use violence against “sluts”—women who do not follow Islamic ways. Many more French-born Arab girls wear the hijab today than did so a year ago: It is their protection against mutilation and gang rape. Failing to do so makes them fair game for both: A knife slash across the scarfless girl’s cheek from the lip to the ear is especially common and known as a “smile.”

The demand for communal self-rule is not new, and it will be made with increasing frequency in the years to come. Of some 25 million Muslims in Western Europe, the majority already consider themselves autonomous, a community justifiably opposed to the decadent host society of infidels. This demand is but the first step: It will lead to the clamoring for the adoption of sharia within segregated Muslim communities and, finally, for the imposition of sharia on the society as a whole.

Europe’s elite class is prepared for this challenge. Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner—a Christian Democrat—sees the demand as perfectly legitimate and argues that sharia could be introduced “by democratic means.” Muslims have a right to follow the commands of their religion, even if that included some “dissenting rules of behavior”: “It is a sure certainty for me: if two thirds of all Netherlanders tomorrow would want to introduce Sharia, then this possibility must exist. Could you block this legally? It would also be a scandal to say ‘this isn’t allowed’! The majority counts. That is the essence of democracy.”
=============

The same “essence” was reiterated in similar terms last July by Jens Orback, the Swedish Integration [sic] Minister, who declared in a radio debate, “We must be open and tolerant towards Islam and Muslims because when we become a minority, they will be so towards us.” Yes, when we become a minority; the fact that, four months later, both Orback and his Social Democratic government remain in power aptly illustrates Sweden’s political and cultural scene.

Until a generation ago, Sweden used to be one of the safest and most law-abiding countries in the world. Today, in the southern city of Malmö, the authorities are no longer able to deal with the problem of crime among Muslim immigrants, 90 percent of whom are on welfare. They make up one third of the city’s 300,000 people; at the city’s Rosengrad School, of 1,000 students, only 2 were Swedes last year. “If we park our car it will be smashed—so we have to go very often in two vehicles, one just to protect the other,” says policeman Rolf Landgren. Both vehicles are needed to escort Swedish ambulance drivers into certain neighborhoods. Robberies of all sorts increased by 50 percent in 2004 alone, with gangs of young Muslims specializing in mugging old people visiting the graves of relatives. Thomas Anderberg, head of statistics for the Malmö police, reported a doubling of “rapes by ambush” in 2004. Almost all of the increase is attributable to Muslim men raping Swedish women.

Next door in Norway and Denmark, two thirds of all men arrested for rape are “of non-western ethnic origin”—the preferred euphemism for Middle Eastern and North African Muslims—although they account for under five percent of their residents. The number of rapes in Oslo in the summer of 2006 was twice that of the previous summer. All “gang rapes” in Denmark in 2004 were committed by immigrants and “refugees.”

The victims are overwhelmingly Scandinavian women, yet only one in twenty young Muslim men say they would marry one. Their reluctance is explained by an Islamic scholar, Mufti Shahid Mehdi, who told an audience in Copenhagen that European women who do not wear a headscarf were “asking to be raped.” His view is shared by Unni Wikan, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo and a self-described feminist; she holds that “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes” because Muslim men found their manner of dress provocative: “Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and they must adapt themselves to it.”

Swedish courts are adapting by introducing sharia principles into civil cases. An Iranian man divorcing his Iranian wife was ordered by the high court in the city of Halmestad to pay Mahr, Islamic dowry ordained by the Koran as part of the Islamic marriage contract.
In the judicial sphere, Britain has gone even further, legitimizing sharia compliance even in criminal cases. A key tenet of sharia is that non-Muslims cannot try Muslims, or even testify against them; and this has been upheld by Peter Beaumont, QC, senior circuit judge at London’s Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey. Before the trial of Abdullah el-Faisal, a preacher accused of soliciting the murder of “unbelievers,” Justice Beaumont announced that, “[f]or obvious reasons, members of the jury of the Jewish or Hindu faith should reveal themselves, even if they are married to Jewish or Hindu women, because they are not fit to arbitrate in this case.” (One can only speculate what would be the reaction if equally “obvious reasons” were invoked in an attempt to exclude Muslims from the trial of BNP Chairman Nick Griffin for “Islamophobia.”)

The legitimization of sharia has also penetrated culture—both high and popular. In the fall of 2005, British audiences enjoyed a widely acclaimed production of Tamburlaine the Great, Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century classic. Few noticed, however, that several irreverent references to Muhammad had been deleted. An essential scene in the play, in which the Koran is burned, became the destruction of “a load of books” relating to any culture or religion. Director David Farr and Simon Reade, Old Vic’s artistic director, said that, if they had not altered the original, it “would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions.” Both agreed that, in any event, the censored version—produced partly with public funds—was better than the original, making the play more powerful and relevant.

====================

The British Council, another taxpayer-funded organization that sponsors cross-cultural projects, sacked one of its press officers, Harry Cummins, for publishing four articles in London’s Sunday Telegraph. British Muslims took exception to his observation that Muslims had rights to practice their religion in the United Kingdom that were not enjoyed by Christians in the Islamic world, “despite the fact that these Christians are the original inhabitants and rightful owners of almost every Muslim land.” His cardinal sin was to note that “it is the black heart of Islam, not its black face, to which millions object.” Abdul Bari, deputy secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, welcomed Cummins’ firing but expressed “dismay” that the publishing company had not taken action against the editor of the Sunday Telegraph as well.

Public funds were also used to build state-of-the-art senior housing in London’s East End. This housing is to be reserved strictly for Muslim “elders”: English and other white pensioners need not apply. Sirajul Islam, in charge of social services at the local borough of Tower Hamlets, responded to the journalists’ questions about racial and religious equality by stating that a “one size fits all” approach to public services was no longer acceptable in 21st-century Britain: “Tower Hamlets is fortunate to have a diverse mix of communities, and the council strives to ensure that its services are responsive to the differing and changing needs of its residents.”
That these and other fortunes are befalling Britain under “New Labour” is perhaps to be expected, but the revamped Tory Party hardly offers an alternative. Determined that out-Blairing Blair is the only way to regain power, it has, under David Cameron, jumped on the multiculturalist bandwagon and come out in support of retaining and expanding racial, ethnic, and sex-based quotas. Cameron’s colleague, Conservative Party Chairman Francis Maude, claims that immigration has been “fantastically good” for the United Kingdom.

Such inanities are light years away from Churchill’s warning, over a century ago, that “no stronger retrograde force exists in the world” than Islam:

Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science—the science against which it had vainly struggled—the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
Churchill’s prescience could not envisage the possibility that the invader would find his best friends and allies at No. 10, Downing Street, at the European Community Headquarters in Brussels, and in dozens of chancelleries and palaces across the Old Continent. Their joint efforts are helping change the face of Europe. Its southern maritime frontier is as porous as that on the Rio Grande. Boats packed with thousands of migrants from Africa and Asia land somewhere along Europe’s coasts every day. Their numbers are unknown, but the cumulative effect is not in doubt: By 2050, these people will account for one third of Europe’s young residents.
In Germany, mostly Muslim immigrants already account for about one quarter of all teenagers and ten percent of the population as a whole. But mention “integration” to Evelyn Rühle, a teacher in Wedding, a predominantly Turkish suburb of Berlin, and she will murmur, “disintegration, more likely,” with a sad smile. Her students’ Muslim parents routinely demand the separation of girls and boys in sports and take their children out of biology classes. Most students speak poorer German than immigrant children did 20 years ago. Their extracurricular activities are limited to attending Koran classes, and many speak only Turkish or Arabic at home.
The growth of digital television has made a host of Turkish and Arabic-language channels available, intensifying language problems and nurturing identities that are informed more by the situation in Lebanon, Gaza, or Iraq than by the events in Paris, Berlin, or London. Millions of Muslim youths all over Europe live in a parallel universe that has very little to do with the host country, toward which they have a disdainful and hostile attitude.

The elite class responds to hostility with ever-greater inclusiveness. Giuseppe Pisanu, Italy’s former minister of the interior, who is responsible for controlling the country’s borders, declared three years ago that the high fatality rate of North African illegals on the high seas en route to Sicily was “a dreadful tragedy that weighs on the conscience of Europe.” His reaction was paradigmatic of the utopian liberal mind-set. If “Europe” should feel guilty that people who have no right to come to its shores are risking their lives while trying to do so illegally, then only the establishment of a free passenger-ferry service between Africa and Southern Europe—with no passport or customs formalities required upon arrival, and a free shuttle to Rome or Milan—would offer some relief to that burdened conscience. Now that Sr. Pisanu and his boss, Silvio Berlusconi, have been replaced by a leftist government even more deeply committed to tolerance and diversity, this solution may finally become a reality.

The tangible results in Italy are as devastating as the moral and spiritual ones. In Venice, the invaders have taken over the Piazza San Marco. In Genoa, the marvelous palazzi that Rubens so admired have been seized by them “and are now perishing like beautiful women who have been raped.” In the late Oriana Fallaci’s native Florence, a huge tent was erected next to the cathedral to pressure the Italian government to give immigrants “the papers necessary to rove about Europe,” and to “let them bring the hordes of their relatives” to Italy. As Fallaci described it:

A tent situated next to the beautiful palazzo of the Archbishop on whose sidewalk they kept the shoes or sandals that are lined up outside the mosques in their countries. And along with the shoes or sandals, the empty bottles of water they’d used to wash their feet before praying. A tent placed in front of the cathedral with Brunelleschi’s cupola and by the side of the Baptistery with Ghiberti’s golden doors . . . Thanks to a tape player, the uncouth wailing of a muezzin punctually exhorted the faithful, deafened the infidels, and smothered the sound of the church bells . . . And along with the yellow streaks of urine, the stench of the excrement that blocked the door of San Salvatore al Vescovo: that exquisite Romanesque church (year 1000) that stands at the rear of the Piazza del Duomo and that the sons of Allah transformed into a shithouse.

Europe is increasingly populated by aliens who physically live there but spiritually belong to the umma. They do not want to “adapt” to Florence or any other new abode they conquer; offended and intimidated by beauty and order, they instinctively want to remake it in the image of Anatolia, Punjab, or the Maghreb. Their influx, made possible by the Pisanu malaise, is making the transformation irreversible.

A century ago, Pisanu’s class shared social commonalities that could be observed in Monte Carlo, Carlsbad, or Paris, depending on the season. Their lingua franca was French. Englishmen, Russians, and Austrians shared the same outlook and sense of propriety, but they nevertheless remained rooted in their national traditions, the only permanent vessels in which Weltanschauung could be translated into Kultur. Today’s “United Europe,” by contrast, does not create social and civilizational commonalities—except on the basis of wholesale denial of old mores, inherited values, and “traditional” culture. It creates a cultural similarity that has morphed into the dreary sameness of antidiscriminationism. The Continent is ruled by a secular theocracy focused on the task of reforming and reshaping the individual consciences of its subjects.

======================

The fruits are greeted with haughty arrogance by Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, and a grandson of Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ramadan insists that Muslims in the West should conduct themselves not as hyphenated citizens seeking to live by “common values” but as though they were already living in a Muslim-majority society and were exempt on that account from having to make concessions to the faith of others. Muslims in non-Muslim countries should feel entitled to live on their own terms, Ramadan says, while, “under the terms of Western liberal tolerance,” society as a whole should be obliged to respect that choice.

If such respect continues to be extended, by the end of this century, there will be no “Europeans” who are members of ethnic groups that share the same language, culture, history, and ancestors and inhabit lands associated with their names. The shrinking populations will be indoctrinated into believing—or else simply forced into accepting—that the demographic shift in favor of Muslim aliens is actually a blessing that enriches their culturally deprived and morally unsustainable societies.
The “liberal tolerance” and the accompanying “societal obligation” that Tariq Ramadan invokes are key. “No other race subscribes to these moral principles,” Jean Raspail wrote a generation ago, “because they are weapons of self-annihilation.” They need to be understood and discarded. The upholders of those principles must be removed from all positions of power and influence if Europe is to survive.

Foreign-affairs editor Srdja Trifkovic is the author, most recently, of Defeating Jihad.
This article first appeared in the December 2006 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.
26755  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica on: February 17, 2007, 09:14:17 AM
!Que' sorpresa!

=================
NY Times
Chavez threatens jail , , ,

CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 16 — Faced with an accelerating inflation rate and shortages of basic foods like beef, chicken and milk, President Hugo Chávez has threatened to jail grocery store owners and nationalize their businesses if they violate the country’s expanding price controls.

Food producers and economists say the measures announced late Thursday night, which include removing three zeroes from the denomination of Venezuela’s currency, are likely to backfire and generate even more acute shortages and higher prices for consumers. Inflation climbed to an annual rate of 18.4 percent a year in January, the highest in Latin America and far above the official target of 10 to 12 percent.

Mr. Chávez, whose leftist populism remains highly popular among Venezuela’s poor and working classes, seemed unfazed by criticism of his policies. Appearing live on national television, he called for the creation of “committees of social control,” essentially groups of his political supporters whose purpose would be to report on farmers, ranchers, supermarket owners and street vendors who circumvent the state’s effort to control food prices.

“It is surreal that we’ve arrived at a point where we are in danger of squandering a major oil boom,” said José Guerra, a former chief of economic research at Venezuela’s central bank, who left Mr. Chavez’s government in 2004. “If the government insists on sticking to policies that are clearly failing, we may be headed down the road of Zimbabwe.”

For now, Venezuela remains far from any nightmarish economic meltdown. The country, which has the largest conventional oil reserves outside the Middle East, is still enjoying a revenue windfall from historically high oil prices, resulting in a surge in consumer spending and lavish government financing for an array of social welfare and infrastructure programs. Dollar reserves at the central bank total more than $35 billion.

The economy grew by more than 10 percent last year, helping Mr. Chávez glide to a re-election victory in December with 63 percent of the vote. Yet economists who have worked with Mr. Chávez’s government say that soaring public spending is overheating Venezuela’s economy, generating imbalances in the distribution of products from sugar to basic construction materials like wallboard.

Public spending grew last year by more than 50 percent and has more than doubled since the start of 2004, as Mr. Chávez has channeled oil revenues into social programs and projects like bridges, highways, trains, subways, museums and, in a departure for a country where baseball reigns supreme, soccer stadiums.

In an indicator of concern with Mr. Chávez’s economic policies, which included nationalizing companies in the telephone and electricity industries, foreign direct investment was negative in the first nine months of 2006. The last year Venezuela had a net investment outflow was in 1986.

Shortages of basic foods have been sporadic since the government strengthened price controls in 2003 after a debilitating strike by oil workers. But in recent weeks, the scarcity of items like meat and chicken has led to a panicked reaction by federal authorities as they try to understand how such shortages could develop in a seemingly flourishing economy.

Entering a supermarket here is a bizarre experience. Shelves are fully stocked with Scotch whiskey, Argentine wines and imported cheeses like brie and Camembert, but basic staples like black beans and desirable cuts of beef like sirloin are often absent. Customers, even those in the government’s own Mercal chain of subsidized grocery stores, are left with choices like pork neck bones, rabbit and unusual cuts of lamb.

With shoppers limited to just two large packages of sugar, a black market in sugar has developed among street vendors in parts of Caracas. “This country is going to turn into Cuba, or Chávez will have to give in,” said Cándida de Gómez, 54, a shopper at a private supermarket in Los Palos Grandes, a district in the capital.

José Vielma Mora, the chief of Seniat, the government’s tax agency, oversaw a raid this month on a warehouse here where officials seized about 165 tons of sugar. Mr. Vielma said the raid exposed hoarding by vendors who were unwilling to sell the sugar at official prices. He and other officials in Mr. Chávez’s government have repeatedly blamed the shortages on producers, intermediaries and grocers.
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Page 2 of 2)



Those in the food industry argue that the price controls prevented them from making a profit after inflation rose and the value of Venezuela’s currency plunged in black market trading in recent weeks. The bolívar, the country’s currency, fell more than 30 percent to about 4,400 to the dollar in unofficial trading following Mr. Chávez’s nationalization of Venezuela’s main telephone company, CANTV, and its largest electric utility, Electricidad de Caracas.

Fears that more private companies could be nationalized have put further pressure on the currency as rich Venezuelans try to take money out of the country. Concern over capital flight has made the government jittery, with vague threats issued to newspapers that publish unofficial currency rates (officially the bolívar is quoted at about 2,150 to the dollar).

Regardless of efforts to stop illicit currency trading, the weaker bolívar has made imported food, fertilizers and agricultural equipment more expensive. Venezuela, despite boasting some of South America’s most fertile farmland, still imports more than half its food, largely from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and the United States.

Supermarket owners expressed relief when the government this week cut value-added taxes on retail food sales and raised the prices on more than 100 staples in an effort to alleviate the shortages. The announcement included an average 32 percent increase in beef prices and a 45 percent increase in chicken prices.

Following Mr. Chávez’s nationalization threat, supermarket owners were cautious in their public statements. “As long as we are complying with the regulations, I don’t believe there will be any type of reprisal,” said Luis Rodríguez, executive director of the National Supermarket Association.

But many were clearly torn, afraid that their stores could be seized if they complained, but at a loss as to how to continue operating. “If I don’t sell at the regulated price they’ll fine me, and if I don’t sell meat I’ll be out of business,” said a butcher shop owner here.

During his television broadcast, Mr. Chávez said his measures would be laid out in a decree, a power that his rubber-stamp legislature just bestowed upon him. He acknowledged that removing taxes on food sales would deprive the government of more than $3 billion in revenues, higher than the military budget, but he said tax increases on luxuries like beach homes and yachts would make up for part of the shortfall.

Mr. Chávez also said he would raise subsidies for state-owned grocery stores. Economists say such subsidies, together with hefty loans to farmers, have allowed the price controls to function relatively well until recent weeks.

But recent expropriations of farms and ranches, part of Mr. Chávez’s effort to empower state-financed cooperatives, have also weighed on domestic food production as the new managers retool operations. So has the flood of petrodollars into the economy, easing food imports and making some domestic producers uncompetitive, an affliction common to oil economies.

“There seems to be a basic misunderstanding in Chávez’s government of what is driving scarcity and inflation,” said Francisco Rodríguez, a former chief economist at Venezuela’s National Assembly who teaches at Wesleyan University.

“There are competent people in the government who know that Chávez needs to lower spending if he wants to defeat these problems,” Mr. Rodríguez said. “But there are few people in positions of power who are willing to risk telling him what he needs to hear.”

=====================

Rodriguez es una idiota.  Inflacion esta' causado por exceso de circulante monetario-- punto y fin.  Y nunca funciona controles de precio salvo en muy corto plazo.  Siempre llegan a donde esta' Venezuela se encuentra en este momento.  Un gobierno no se puede prohibir la ley de la gavidad (the law of gravity) ni la ley de oferta y demanda.  Tampoco funciona jamas falta de respeto de los derechos de propriedad privada.
26756  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NRA vs. The UN on: February 17, 2007, 08:57:43 AM
A debate between the UN and the NRA.  Shows just how extreme and uninformed the UN/anti-gun position is.
In four parts:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmg_zMuQEDk
26757  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: February 16, 2007, 08:00:55 PM
Iran: A Second Attack in Zahedan
February 16, 2007 22 09  GMT



A strong explosion occurred during the evening of Feb. 16 in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan, in Sistan-Balochistan province. According to the Iranian Baztab News agency, the explosion was caused by a noise bomb that was placed in front of a police car. Iranian security forces reportedly are engaged in a shootout with several militants.

From the initial details of the blast, this appears to be a planned ambush of Iranian security forces. By placing the noise bomb in front of the police car, the perpetrators were able to draw the police to the area of the attack, where they could then fire on the officers. There are no details as of yet on the number of attackers or security forces involved.

This is the second attack in Zahedan in the past two days. On Feb. 14, a Baloch militant group called Jundallah claimed responsibility for a bus bombing that killed 11 elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members and wounded 31 others. In response to that attack, Iranian police detained 65 suspects and aired the confession of one of them during a two-minute broadcast on Iran's state-run Hamoun television. The suspect, Nasrollah Shamsi Zehi, said he escaped to Pakistan after robbing a bank in Zahedan. He was then trained by Jundallah for two months and told he would receive $1,200 for each mission. According to a Baztab report citing an unnamed Iranian security source, the detainees have no connections inside Iran. Instead, they were trained by intelligence agencies and were tasked with assassinating regional Sunni leaders in order to foment a provincial or national crisis.

The Zahedan attacks fall in line with U.S. efforts to supply and train Iran's ethnic minorities to destabilize the Iranian regime.
26758  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Newt on: February 16, 2007, 07:54:43 PM
http://www.newt.org/multimedia/default.asp?mi=408

An audio excerpt from a Newt Q&A.  I must say, Newt continues to impress me.  I hope he will run!

26759  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam & Democracy part three on: February 16, 2007, 07:37:39 PM
The greatest casualties of this broad-brush repression were basic values of tolerance, political pluralism, and free speech that are essential to democracy. The institutions of democracy, like an independent judiciary, free political parties, civil society, and the separation of powers, were undermined. On realizing that the non-violent, democratic path to power or reform was blocked, some felt vindicated in embracing violence as the only way of bringing about change. Polarization, extremism, and political violence all flourished. It is worth mentioning that liberal, pluralistic forms of political Islam have been a particular casualty of this unpromising political climate. On the one hand, they have been subjected to repression by state authorities as undesirable expressions of political dissent. On the other, they have been marginalized by some within the political Islamic movement itself for being utopian and ineffectual.

At the same time as many U.S. allies in the region were stifling democracy (with only token criticism at best from the West), the United States strongly criticized its foes in the region as enemies of democracy and human rights. There is no doubt that the governments of Iran and Sudan and that of the Taliban in Afghanistan were richly deserving of such criticisms, but the violations of human rights perpetrated by these regimes in particular were added to the indictment against Islamism in general. The mostly unspoken accepted wisdom became that U.S. allies in Egypt, Jordan, or Tunisia may have their failings, but we have to choose between them and the Iranian mullahs, the Taliban, and Sudan's National Islamic Front, and that choice is easily made. Human rights also became a vehicle for criticizing other regional foes like Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Hicks asserted that many people in the Muslim world and elsewhere quickly recognized a double standard in U.S. advocacy of human rights and democracy in the region. If the United States is so critical of Iran for not better protecting women's rights, then why is it silent about the abject situation of women in Saudi Arabia? If the Iraqi people deserve to choose their own leaders, then what about the Egyptian people or the Tunisian people? In Afghanistan, the United States was willing to cooperate with the mujahedin, and to call them freedom fighters, during the conflict with the Soviet Union, even though their commitment to democracy was virtually non-existent, Hicks pointed out.

There has been a glaring contradiction between U.S. rhetoric supporting democracy and human rights, on the one hand, and a policy that held major violators of human rights like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to be key strategic allies while at the same time condoning repression by other allies, like Egypt, on the other hand. The perception of double standards was exacerbated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where many Muslim observers thought that Israel was allowed to disregard international law with impunity, whereas Muslim states like Iraq or Libya could be subjected to international sanctions or even armed intervention for their departures from international norms.

U.S. policy, Hicks continued, recognized the importance to regional stability and political development of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first Bush administration and the Clinton administration expended considerable effort in promoting the Madrid process and then the Oslo process. However, even these well-intentioned initiatives, especially in the middle and later phases of the Oslo process, had negative repercussions for democratization in the region. Supporting the "peace process" became an article of faith and the main goal of U.S. policy in the Arab world. Dissent from this orthodoxy was regarded as unhelpful by the United States. U.S. allies claimed that they were taking great political risks for peace by going against the views of their people, and this assertion was generally accepted. U.S. policy did not seem to question what was creating this public mood that was supposedly hostile to peace with Israel and whether more repression was the way to deal with it. In fact, many U.S. allies were fanning the flames of anti-Israeli sentiment and exploiting such feelings as a distraction from domestic problems and as another reason to keep the lid on political dissent.

Out of this morass of contradictions and double standards it is not surprising that some hostility toward U.S. policy developed, and some skepticism about the values the United States claimed to espouse. Indeed, some in the Muslim world expressed open hostility toward democracy and human rights as alien western values, and found an enthusiastic audience in doing so. Hicks asserted that this hostility is largely a reaction to the use to which such values had been put by cynical authoritarian governments and by the West, rather than a lack of identification with common values of justice and human dignity. Unfortunately, a kind of self-fulfilling stereotyping of Muslim attitudes to human rights and democracy has developed, partly as a result of the disaffection expressed by many in the Muslim world towards "democracy" and "human rights" as they have experienced them in practice.

What can be done? Hicks noted that promoting democracy abroad is not something new for the U.S. government, even if there has been less of it in the Muslim world than elsewhere. There are lessons to be drawn from Eastern Europe and Latin America, regions where democratic advances since the end of the Cold War are discernible, and from the former Soviet Union and parts of Africa, where signs of progress are often less apparent. Perhaps the most important lesson is that there is no single prescription that will ensure a transition to democracy. Local conditions vary enormously. In the vast and diverse Muslim world it will be necessary for the U.S. government to develop country-specific plans to promote democracy.

Hicks then offered four recommendations:

Increase substantially both the proportion and the amount of U.S. foreign assistance that is spent on promoting democracy in the Muslim world. It is important to note that simply spending more is not a solution by itself. We can learn from the example of U.S. foreign assistance to Egypt, which has remained at high levels even while foreign aid budgets elsewhere were evaporating. In Egypt the United States has funded democratization projects and supplied hundreds of millions of dollars of other civilian assistance while, by any measure, democratic freedoms have contracted. To succeed the United States must demand accountability from the recipient governments. The question then becomes, is the United States willing to have a more adversarial relationship with regional leaders, and perhaps to see some of them overthrown, as part of the messy process of promoting democracy? These leaders, after all, are valued because they are seen as assisting in the protection of vital U.S. national interests.
Provide governments and other key interest groups in Muslim societies with incentives to encourage democratic reforms. A major commitment to foreign assistance to the Muslim world by the U.S. government would provide an attractive incentive to recipient governments to embark on the path to reform. Foreign assistance should be linked to clear progress in strengthening institutions of accountability. Here domestic interest groups independent of existing power elites take on a particular importance, because existing leaders typically have little interest in diluting their own privileges. When providing foreign assistance, the U.S. government must insist that there be a free press, that the judiciary be independent, and that civil society organizations operate free from governmental interference.
Incentives should come not in the form of aid alone, which inevitably has some patronizing connotations. Real partnerships, especially in the field of trade, but also in a host of other areas, including cultural and educational ones, are also important. The positive impact on democratic reforms of Turkey's accession process to the European Union is a good case in point. Because many sectors of Turkish society anticipate benefits from EU membership, there has been a considerable groundswell of support for the stringent reforms required by the European Commission. The process of change has been and is painful to many entrenched interests. Nevertheless, the business community has put pressure on the government to press forward with political as well as economic reforms. Business elites in other Muslim states, who recognize the benefits of participating in the global marketplace, and who also recognize that the price of entry is compliance with international standards, are a largely untapped resource for democratic change.
Take seriously the existing framework of multilateral agreements and treaties that bear on democratization, such as those in the field of human rights. Since there is skepticism over the U.S. government's motives in promoting democracy in the Muslim world, it is wise to disarm doubters by embracing multilateral approaches with like-minded governments wherever possible. Treaty bodies within UN human rights mechanisms—like the Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture, which oversee state compliance with treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture and other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment—are highly regarded for the integrity of the work of their members, who sit as independent experts. Their work is often favorably compared to the politicized machinations of the UN Human Rights Commission, for example. Yet these effective bodies are chronically underfunded. Members operate with little or no research support and their findings are virtually unknown beyond the world of human rights specialists. It would surely be a sound investment for the U.S. government to lend its financial and political support to the work of these under-appreciated institutions.
Promote regional accountability mechanisms. The Muslim world is lacking in regional accountability mechanisms. The great virtue of such mechanisms is that they cannot be accused of being alien or inauthentic because they are of the region over which they exercise jurisdiction. Again, Turkey provides an example of the merits of such mechanisms. One of the reasons for Turkey's advantage over other Muslim states in its progress towards democratization is its longstanding participation in the human rights mechanisms of the Council of Europe, especially its acceptance of the right of individual citizens to petition the European Court of Human Rights and its agreement to be bound by the rulings of the court. The benefits go beyond the individual cases that have been heard before the court. Turkey's legal community and human rights organizations increasingly know and make use of the fact that there is a functioning mechanism for them to resort to in the face of state violations. The United States should make great efforts to promote effective regional mechanisms of accountability within existing regional institutions like the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States.
26760  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam the religion on: February 16, 2007, 07:35:31 PM
As Khan pointed out, the rise of political Islam has made the concept of Islamic sovereignty central to Islamic political theory and that concept is often presented as a barrier to any form of democracy. The Quranic concept of sovereignty is universal (that is nonterritorial), transcendental (beyond human agency), indivisible, inalienable, and truly absolute. God the sovereign is the primary law-giver, while agents such as the Islamic state and the Khalifa (God's agents on earth) enjoy marginal autonomy necessary to implement and enforce the laws of their sovereign. At the theoretical level, the difference between the modern and Islamic conceptions of sovereignty is clear. But operational implications tend to blur the distinction.

Democracies are seen by some Muslim activists as systems in which human whim is the source of law, whereas Islamic principles are transcendental and cannot be undermined by popular whim. But what many of them fail to understand is that democratic institutions are not just about law. They are also about prevention of tyranny by the state. Regardless of where sovereignty is placed theoretically, in practice it is the state which exercises it and not God. Even though God was supposedly sovereign in Taliban's Afghanistan, it was in fact the Taliban that was sovereign there; Mullah Omar ruled, not God. Sovereignty in fact is always human, whether in a democracy or an Islamic state. The issue is not whether people are sovereign, but how to limit the de facto sovereignty of people, since they reign under both systems. Democracy with its principles of limited government, public accountability, checks and balances, separation of powers, and transparency does succeed in limiting human sovereignty. The Muslim world, plagued by despots, dictators, and self-regarding monarchs, badly needs the limitation of human sovereignty, Khan argued. Many Muslim activists also fail to recognize that Islamic governance is interpreted differently by different Islamic scholars, and hence is not nearly as immutable as they contend.

While sovereignty belongs to God, it has been delegated in the form of human agency (2:30). The political task is to reflect on how this God-given agency can be best employed in creating a society that will bring welfare and goodness to the population both now and in the future. God is sovereign in all affairs, but God has exercised sovereignty by delegating some of it in the form of human agency. God cannot become an excuse for installing and legitimizing governments that are not accountable to their citizens and responsive to their needs.

Khan described a precedent set by Prophet Muhammad that demonstrates how democratic practices and theories are compatible with an Islamic state. This is the compact of Medina, referred to by some scholars as Dustur al-Madina (the Constitution of Medina). After Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Yathrib in 622 CE, he established the first Islamic state. For 10 years he was not only the leader of the emerging Muslim ummah (community) in Arabia but also the political head of Medina. He ruled as political head as a result of the tripartite compact that was signed by the Muslim immigrants from Mecca, the indigenous Muslims of Medina, and, significantly, the Jews of Medina. Although the Medina compact cannot serve as a modern constitution, it can serve as a guiding principle.

The compact of Medina also illustrates, Khan pointed out, the proper relationship between divine revelation and a constitution. Muhammad, if he so wished, could have merely indicated that the truth revealed by God would serve as the constitution and forced this revelation upon both the Muslim and non-Muslim residents of Medina. Demonstrating instead a democratic spirit quite unlike the authoritarian tendencies of many of those who claim to imitate him today, Muhammad chose to draw up a historically specific constitution based on the eternal and transcendent principles revealed to him but also sought the consent of all who would be affected by its implementation. Thus, the first Islamic state was based on a social contract, was constitutional in character, and had a ruler who ruled with the explicit written consent of all the citizens of the state. Today, Khan argued, Muslims need to emulate Muhammad and draw up their own constitutions in a manner that is both appropriate for their specific circumstances as well as based on eternal principles.

The constitution of Medina established the importance of consent and cooperation for governance. According to this compact, Muslims and non-Muslims were equal citizens of the Islamic state, with identical rights and duties. Communities with different religious orientations enjoyed religious autonomy. The constitution of Medina established a pluralistic state—a community of communities. The principles of equality, consensual governance, and pluralism were central to the compact of Medina. Khan noted that it is amazing to see how Muhammad's interpretation of the Quran was so democratic, tolerant, and compassionate, while some contemporary interpretations, like that of the Taliban, are so harsh, authoritarian, and intolerant.




Islam and Human Rights
Muslim views on human rights can be grouped into three broad categories, according to Mahmood Monshipouri. The first group is Muslim conservatives. They tend to look to both the classical and medieval periods for inspiration. Conservatives adopt a communitarian view that sees the individual as part of the community, to which he or she owes certain obligations. Conservatives' emphasis on drawing boundaries around the community is expressed not only in stipulations about dress for women (hijab) and the repression of women's sexuality, but also in the proclamation of a different way of life and of a transformation of mind by bringing the faithful back to the proper practice of the faith and tradition.

These conservatives tend to view the western world's advocacy of human rights as a mechanism by which the West hopes to establish its hegemony over the Muslim world. They have vehemently objected to several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), including Articles 16 and 18, which deal with equality of marriage rights and freedom to change one's religion or belief. They also object to the provisions on women's rights, questioning the equality of gender roles and obligations. Islam, they argue, prohibits the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man. Apostasy (ridda) is forbidden and is punishable by death.

Muslim conservatives challenge the idea of natural reason as an independent source of ethical knowledge. According to conservatives, following past traditions (taqlid) and returning to established norms in times of crisis are two cardinal rules of Islamic orthodoxy. Among the most prominent of the conservative leadership advocating these positions are such scholars as Sayyid Abu al-A'la al-Maududi (1903­79), Hassan al-Banna (1906­49), Sayyid Qutb (1906­66), and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902­89).

Muslim reformists or neomodernists, in contrast, are more receptive to non-Islamic ideas, practices, and institutions, according to Monshipouri. They argue that material progress is necessary to bring about human and economic transformation within an Islamic framework. They stress the need for the continuity of basic Islamic principles but believe that Islamic law (sharia) is historically conditioned and needs to be reinterpreted in light of the changing needs of modern society.

A comparison between two reformist positions helps explain the contending perspectives within this camp. Some reformists have argued that what conservatives call divine law in reality only reflects the interpretation of a few specialists. Abdolkarim Soroush, an Iranian philosopher, has argued that "divine legislation in Islam is said to have been discovered by a few and those discoverers think that they have privileged access to the interpretation of this law" (Soroush and Charles Butterworth at the Middle East Institute, November 21, 2000, "Islamic Democracy and Islamic Governance," www.mideasti.org/html/b-soroush.html). Having questioned the monopoly over interpretation by one group or class, Soroush argues the need for a dialogical pluralism between those inside and outside of religious intellectual fields. Human rights, according to Soroush, lie outside religion and are not solely intrareligious arguments based on jurisprudence (fiqh). Rather, they belong to the domain of philosophical theology (kalam) and philosophy in general (Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush, ed. Mahmoud Sadri and Ahman Sadri, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 128­129). Some values, he argues, cannot be derived from religion. Human rights is the case in point. The language of religion and religious law is essentially the language of duties, not rights.

Sheikh Rached al-Ghannouchi, leader of the Tunisian An-Nahda political party, articulates a different vision and rationale for reform. For Ghannouchi, the central question is how to free the Muslim community from backwardness and dependence on the "Other." Reconciling Islam and modernity, according to Ghannouchi, involves introduction of democracy and freedom, both of which are consistent with Islamic principles. The community not the individual remains the ultimate reality, and democracy and freedom of thought are tools that Muslims should use to achieve their community's goals and defend its interests (Abdou Filali-Ansary, "Islam and Liberal Democracy: The Challenge of Secularization," Journal of Democracy, vol. 7, no. 2, 1996, pp. 76­80).

The third group, according to Monshipouri, are the Muslim secularists. Secular Muslims look to the experiences of the secular West as guiding models in an effort to promote their country's development. Secularists often support policies and programs that are grounded in pragmatic considerations. Muslim secularists are reluctant to replace secular laws with sharia. To secularists, Islamic practices such as shura and bay'a (a binding agreement that holds rulers to certain standards and governs relations between rulers and the ruled) have failed to support individual political participation and to provide a basis for democratic accountability by governments. Secular rule is the prevailing pattern in the Muslim world; with the exception of Iran since 1979, Sudan since 1989, and Afghanistan under the Taliban, the Muslim world is ruled by secular regimes.

The Muslim world is indeed in uncertain transition, with its youth facing cultural disorientation and its political scene dominated by internal power struggles. The greatest threats to human rights in the Muslim world are not religious or theological but political. In a globalizing world, concern has been expressed about whether Muslims will lose the ability to control their own economies, power, and cultural assets. Many in the Muslim world, however, see hope in such a globalizing world. The youth, women's organizations, the press, intellectuals, and Islamic reformers all see great opportunities, especially if they become part of the global civil society.

The biggest question is how to adopt new ideas and policies while maintaining religious and cultural integrity. Monshipouri argues that to maintain such a balance, the Muslim world's elites, scholars, and activists must interpret Islamic values and social norms in a manner consistent with modern and internationally recognized human rights. The western world must treat Muslim masses as partners in the struggle against human rights abuses, while helping to empower reformist voices and civil society.

Despite the degree to which human rights are suppressed in Muslim countries, two grassroots movements are struggling to change this situation. The first is the women's movement and the second is the youth movement. Over the long term they can have enormous impact on human rights in these countries. Women are beginning to effectively assert their rights, and in some countries young people are agitating against governmental oppression and corruption.

Monshipouri concluded his presentation by making three points. First, the greatest threat to human rights in the Muslim world comes not from Islam but from economic, political, and educational forces. Second, human rights struggles in the Muslim world will be lost or won on the national level, not on the international level; it is up to Muslims themselves to decide how much respect to accord human rights. Third, those countries that have weak civil society structures and authoritarian regimes are fertile ground for terrorism. If western countries want to suppress terror then they have to foster civil society and support those movements that express dissenting voices within these repressive political systems. Western countries can also apply economic and political pressure on these authoritarian regimes to encourage fundamental change.




What Can the United States Do?
Neil Hicks noted that while the shortcomings in human rights and democratization of many U.S. allies in the region have been noted in official statements, particularly in the U.S. State Department's annual country reports on human rights practices, policy has tended toward the preservation of the status quo for fear of what might replace it. In the Arab world especially, authoritarian leaders have traded on their self-proclaimed status as bulwarks against Islamic extremism.

For the most part, the United States went along with the fiction that repression in the Muslim world was the best way to prevent Islamism from growing as a threat to the West and to U.S. vital interests. In the name of confronting radical Islam, Hicks said, basic rights and freedoms were virtually extinguished in Tunisia and severely curtailed in Egypt. In Turkey, Malaysia, and Algeria, authoritarian regimes employed anti-democratic measures to suppress Islamic movements that were gaining popular support.

26761  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam & Democracy on: February 16, 2007, 07:33:41 PM
This is an old article, but well worth the read.
 
http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr93.pdf
 
September 2002 | Special Report No. 93

Islam and Democracy
David Smock

 Download full PDF report

Summary
Democracy building remains an uphill struggle in most Muslim countries.
The explanation of why so many Muslim countries are not democratic has more to do with historical, political, cultural, and economic factors than with religious ones.
Nevertheless, many Muslim activists, using broad and sometimes crude notions of secularism and sovereignty, consider democracy to be the rule of humans as opposed to Islam, which is rule of God.
Scholars of Islam agree that the principle of shura, or consultative decision-making, is the source of democratic ethics in Islam. But a great deal more reflection is required to clarify the relationship of shura to democracy.
In establishing the compact of Medina, Prophet Muhammad demonstrated a democratic spirit quite unlike the authoritarian tendencies of many of those who claim to imitate him today. He chose to draw up a historically specific constitution based on the eternal and transcendent principles revealed to him but also sought the consent of all who would be affected by its implementation.
Conservative Muslims tend to view the western world's advocacy of human rights as a modern agenda by which the West hopes to establish its hegemony over the Muslim world, whereas reformist Muslims tend to be more receptive to new ideas, practices, and institutions. Reformists stress the need for continuity of basic Islamic traditions but believe that Islamic law (sharia) is historically conditioned and needs to be reinterpreted in light of the changing needs of modern society. Secular Muslims look to the experiences of the secular West as models in an effort to promote their countries' development.
Despite the degree to which human rights are suppressed in Muslim countries, two grassroots movements are struggling to change this situation. Women are beginning to effectively assert their rights, and in some countries young people are agitating against government oppression.
The United States has generally accepted the fiction that repression in the Muslim world is the best way to prevent Islamism from growing as a threat to the West and to U.S. interests.
Those countries that have weak civil society structures and authoritarian regimes are fertile ground for terrorists. If western countries want to suppress terror then they must foster civil society and support movements that bolster democratic trends within these repressive political systems.
The United States should: (a) increase substantially the amount of U.S. foreign assistance that is spent on promoting democracy in the Muslim world; (b) provide governments and key interest groups in Muslim societies with incentives to engage in democratic reforms; (c) take seriously the existing framework of multilateral agreements and treaties that bear on democratization, such as those in the field of human rights; and (d) promote regional accountability mechanisms.



Introduction
 An election banner in the Spring 2000 Iranian elections reads: "Obtaining Women's Rights, Freedom of Thought, and Social Justice."
Photo courtesy Jon Alterman
Is it true, as some claim, that democracy is basically a western concept and ideology and therefore fundamentally at odds with the values and principles of Islam? If so, then the Muslim world, consisting of 55 countries populated by more than 1.4 billion people, is doomed to dictatorship and oppression. Moreover, Muslims would have to choose between their religion and democracy. In introducing the discussion, Radwan Masmoudi asserted that there is no inherent contradiction between Islam and democracy and that democratic ideals and principles are also Islam's ideals and principles. Thus, the explanation of why so many Muslim countries are not democratic lies in historical, political, cultural, and economic factors, not religious ones. "Not only must we understand these reasons, but we must also find out what needs to be done to correct this situation. What can we as Americans and especially as American Muslims do to promote democratization in Muslim countries?"

U.S. administrations have generally chosen to build strong ties with those regimes in Muslim countries that seem to support American interests, ignoring their records on human rights, accountability, and democracy. "We have been content to support dictators in the Muslim world, as long as they are allies and do what we want them to do. What are the implications of this policy for the Muslim world? Could this policy lead to the growth of political extremism, political violence, and anti-Americanism?" asked Masmoudi. If we want to change our policy and promote democratization in the Muslim world, can we do it without destabilizing the region and allowing extremist groups to come to power? Do we have to choose between democracy and stability? Or is there a way to promote democratization without causing havoc and anarchy?

While these issues have been asked for many years, they have taken on new significance since September 11. Particularly important is the question of whether the lack of democracy in Muslim states has provided fertile ground for the recruitment of supporters for al Qaeda and other extremist groups. Moreover, has the growth of Islamic extremism reduced the likelihood that democracy and Islam can co-exist?




The Problem of Democracy in the Muslim World
Democracy building remains an uphill struggle in most Muslim countries, asserted Laith Kubba. Progress in liberalizing societies, modernizing institutions, and developing infrastructures is generally slow and limited. Worldwide democratic trends have in most cases failed to transform authoritarian and patriarchal political cultures in Muslim countries. Military officers, westernized elites, and tribal/traditional leaders usually keep a monopoly over state power. The weakness of democracy in many Muslim countries is also evident in the many indicators used by western institutions to measure the extent of openness of states and societies. This is most evident in political violence, violations of human rights, and abuse of public office.

Most Muslim countries are at an impasse. Dysfunctional, corrupt, repressive states are neither willing nor capable of reform. Apathy and despair breed radicalism. The failure of secular politics in Muslim countries provides fertile ground for the rise of political Islam. Moderation of Islamic political movements is closely linked to inclusion in the political process, while radicalization is linked to repression and exclusion.

Most Muslim countries, like others in the developing world, are driven by deep needs and a passionate quest for modernity, development, and dignity, Kubba said. For the past several decades, their vision of a better future was anchored in a simple version of a strong central state with a top-down reform approach. That vision was thought to be more likely to succeed than democracy, which offered a complex, multi-institutional participatory system anchored in individualism and liberal values.

Failure of strong secular states to meet the increasing demands of newly educated societies led to soul searching for alternatives. Following the 1979 revolution in Iran, social and political groups became aware of the power of religion in mobilizing public support. Islam, whose ownership, interpretation, and use are open to all, continues to be dragged into the arena as a sharp instrument that may be used by the ruler and opposition alike, by the modernists and conservatives alike, and by groups on the left or right of the political spectrum. Various Islamic groups agree on favoring Islam over secularism but differ on their leanings toward democracy or authoritarianism.

Over the past two decades, as the communist development model failed and models of both secular and Islamic governance failed to deliver solutions to growing social and economic needs, Muslim intellectuals started to advocate democracy and human rights. They did so not only to achieve modernity, development, and dignity, but also to ensure a better practice of Islam.

In Kubba's view the key to understanding the root cause of the democracy predicament in Muslim countries does not lie in the text or in the tradition of Islam but in the context of modernity, politics, and culture. The rather arbitrary use of the term Islamic to describe states, regions, and even people adds to the confusion and blurs the real issues. Although a solution may require addressing Islam and its interpretations, the basic issue is not about Islam but about Muslims. It is not about religion but about modernity. Islam is only one element in the history and culture of the 55 Muslim nations in more than eight distinct regions. Their cultures are influenced to widely varying degrees by the traditions and values of Islam. They are as diverse as the cultures of predominantly Christian nations from Latin America to the Philippines.

Despite the rather bleak situation at present, Kubba noted that there are grounds for hope. Education is having a significant impact. In addition, there are strong pressures toward liberalization, both because the media continuously provide alternative models from other countries and because states in the Muslim world can no longer function without fundamental structural reforms and without more effective partnerships being developed between the government and the governed. "Looking ahead, I am an optimist. We need to watch the discourse taking place among Muslim intellectuals by which they are bringing about authentic Islamic interpretation of how they should govern themselves in modern societies. I have a lot of faith that this debate will lead to democracy and to full recognition of human rights, but it will come with local language and interpretation and it will be approached from a totally different perspective than we are accustomed to in the West."




Compatibility of Islam and Democracy
In considering the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Muqtedar Khan noted, one must recognize that it is false to claim that there is no democracy in the Muslim world. At least 750 million Muslims live in democratic societies of one kind or another, including Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Europe, North America, Israel, and even Iran. Moreover, there is little historical precedent for mullahs controlling political power. One exception is Iran since the revolution in 1979 and the other is the Taliban in Afghanistan. For the preceding 1500 years since the advent of Islam, secular political elites have controlled political power.

Two extremely different groups, one from the West and one from the Muslim world, have been arguing that Islam and democracy are incompatible. On the one hand, Khan pointed out, some western scholars and ideologues have tried to present Islam as anti-democratic and inherently authoritarian. By misrepresenting Islam in this way they seek to prove that Islam has a set of values inferior to western liberalism and is a barrier to the global progress of civilization. This misconception also promotes Israel's claim to be the sole democracy in the Middle East.

On the other hand, many Muslim activists, using broad and sometimes crude notions of secularism and sovereignty, consider democracy to be the rule of humans as opposed to Islam, which is rule of God. Those who reject democracy falsely assume that secularism and democracy are necessarily connected. But secularism is not a prerequisite for democracy; religion can play a significant role in democratic politics, as it does in the United States.

As Khan noted, Muslim scholars agree that the principle of shura is the source of democratic ethics in Islam. While there is considerable truth in this claim, one must also recognize the differences between shura and democracy before one can advance an Islamic conception of democracy based on shura. Shura is basically a consultative decision-making process that is considered either obligatory or desirable by different scholars. Those who choose to emphasize the Quranic verse "and consult with them on the matter" (3:159) consider shura as obligatory, but those who emphasize the verse praising "those who conduct their affairs by counsel" (43:38) consider shura as merely desirable. There is no doubt that shura is the Islamic way of making decisions, but is it obligatory? Does a government that does not implement a consultative process become illegitimate? We do not have decisive answers to those questions.

More and more Muslim intellectuals agree that consultative and consensual governance is best. Jurists, however, are more doubtful or ambivalent. Many jurists depend on non-consultative bodies for their livelihood and are in no hurry to deprive themselves of the privileges that non-consultative governments extend to them. But even if shura is considered supportive of democratic process, the two are not identical, Khan asserted. What is clear is that a great deal more reflection is required among leading Muslim thinkers about the nature of shura and its relationship to democracy, as well as other Islamic principles that relate to democratic practice.

26762  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy on: February 16, 2007, 06:47:56 PM
I had hoped for some commentary, but , , , oh well , , ,

Here's another big picture piece on Russia:

================

Putin and Progress
By PADMA DESAI
February 16, 2007; Page A14

Whatever the West's grave misgivings about Vladimir Putin, they are not widely shared by the Russian people, who consistently give their president 70% approval ratings in opinion polls. Even former Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin, much admired in the U.S., have given a nod of approval to Mr. Putin's "strategic" direction, even though they express reservations about his moves to consolidate federal authority.

Nonetheless, there are two pertinent issues to face. First, would any Russian president succeeding Mr. Putin act differently in foreign policy? Second, is Russia regressing irretrievably into authoritarianism, or is she likely to embrace Western democratic norms despite the zigzags?

The Kremlin's pursuit of national interests in foreign policy, whether we like it or not, reflects a broad agreement among Russians. Indeed, on a whole range of issues ranging from NATO's eastward expansion to Mr. Putin's hardball tactics with the independent states in Russia's neighborhood, the majority of Russians support his decisions. Even Russia's leading reformers regard the neighborhood as Russia's area of interest.

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who successfully carried out a series of reforms during his 2000-2004 tenure, insists that Russians "have special interests and responsibilities" in their immediate neighborhood. "We have a long history of shared problems and common tradition, although the former Soviet republics are now independent states," Mr. Kasyanov told me in a December 2004 interview.

Anatoly Chubais, the legendary privatizer of Russian industry, was even more explicit in his pronouncements, suggesting that Russia should become a "liberal empire." In an interview on Vremya TV, he added, "We must be frank and straightforward and assume this mission of leadership, not just as a slogan but as a Russian state policy. I believe this mission of leadership means that Russia is obliged to support in every way the expansion of its business outside Russia."

In short, unlike Europe and Japan, which share U.S. concerns despite occasional differences, Russia always will have geopolitical interests in its immediate neighborhood, extending its decision-making periphery as far as the Middle East and China. This does not imply that the West should uncritically accept specific decisions in pursuit of these interests, such as the expulsion of Georgians from Russia. But even if Russians were to subscribe to liberal Western values as President Bush desires, their future leaders still might choose to define their interests independently. Moscow would continue to engage the U.S. leadership in win-lose dialogues over Russia's determined foreign policy.

But never mind the likelihood that a liberal, democratic Russia might change its foreign-policy style: What are the prospects of such a Russia emerging in the first place? If it's correct to say that a prospering middle class -- dare one call it a bourgeoisie? -- inevitably leads to the rise of democracy, then Russia fits the bill admirably. The transformative changes in Russia, a remarkable development since Mr. Gorbachev's glasnost, are phenomenal. Russians are acquiring private housing, automobiles and fixed and mobile telephones at a dizzying speed. The overall poverty rate has declined from around 35% in the mid-1990s to about 10% today, and 70% of college-age youngsters receive a higher education.

There has been much angst over Russian muscle-flexing on the pricing and supply of oil and gas. However ham-handed, Moscow has simply used its bargaining power to extract better economic terms in situations of bilateral monopoly. Gazprom, the Russian gas supplier, has sought maximum possible terms from its European customers before they switch to alternative energy sources. At the same time, Ukraine and Belarus have bargained with Gazprom over transit charges because Russian gas must pass en route to Europe via pipelines located in their territories.

Russian industry and energy sectors will increasingly adopt market-economy rules and practices as they learn to interact and integrate with Western business. Recognizing this, German Chancellor Angela Merkel signed with Mr. Putin a 2006 agreement in which Wintershall, the energy unit of German chemical giant BASF, and Gazprom exchanged equivalent stakes in early 2006. More contracts are proliferating with French and Italian partners. Russia's giant power company is poised to raise $10 billion in the next two years and to invite Western companies to supply power generating units, technology and management know-how. Gazprom, according to some reports, is set to raise $75 billion in the next decade for financing a variety of projects. Will American businesses be sidelined from lucrative contracts and a liberalizing, market-oriented mission in a fast growing and diversifying Russian economy?

"There is a definite consensus among Russian society and the elite that Russia needs a market economy," Yegor Gaidar, Mr. Yeltsin's young reforming prime minister told me in October 2004. "By contrast, our struggle to form a robust, functioning democracy has not brought decisive results. . . . I do not think that the educated, urban populations in large countries such as Russia can put up with undemocratic regimes for long."

Ms. Desai, Harriman professor of comparative economic systems and director of the Center for Transition Economies at Columbia, is the author of "Conversations on Russia: Reform from Yeltsin to Putin" (Oxford, 2006).
26763  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Training on: February 16, 2007, 06:43:59 PM
I am reminded of the story of the old boxing trainer who was asked about his fighters having sex during training: "Its not the sex I'm worried about, its the looking for it."

Anyway, here's a piece about ab training:

http://www.chekinstitute.com/articles.cfm?select=12

and here's an interview with author Paul Chek-- a wide range of comments follows:

http://www.t-nation.com/readTopic.do?id=885647
26764  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The English Language on: February 16, 2007, 06:30:57 PM
Time to Put English First
by Newt Gingrich

Posted: 02/12/2007
One of the most frequent complaints I hear when I'm out traveling and speaking to groups is the lack of importance given to English as the language of success in the United States today. Whether it's the government's printing election ballots in other languages or bilingual education, Americans are concerned about the future of English as a unifying bond in our country.

Of course, don't expect to hear a lot of discussion of this topic in Washington. When was the last time you heard a politician talking about the fact that the Rasmussen poll reported that support for English as the official language was 85 percent? Or that the Zogby poll had it at 84 percent? With overwhelming public support like this, you would expect that promotion of English to be on the agenda of every elected official. But it's not. Instead, talking about English as a unifying bond -- and about learning English as the essential precondition for success in America -- is taboo. Why? Because the left labels anyone who talks about the importance of learning English as bigoted against immigrants.

Not 'English Only.' English First.

When the left and the elite media are done with it, any expression of support for emphasizing the importance of English is turned into a lack of support for welcoming new Americans. Those who support "English first" -- that is, those who believe that English should be the language of government, but other languages are perfectly fine in communities and commerce -- are portrayed routinely as supporters of "English only" -- that is, advocates of outlawing all languages other than English.

But historically, nothing could be further from the truth. English is not and never has been the only language in America. My wife's grandmother came to the United States as a young woman speaking only Polish. She learned English quickly, but her children grew up speaking both Polish and English.

For much of our history, the U.S. has absorbed waves of immigrants by helping newcomers assimilate into our culture. After all, there's no such thing as a genetic U.S. citizen. To become an American means becoming an American in values, culture and historic understanding.

Our one nation under God grows and prospers by embracing and welcoming the newly arrived and helping them to adjust properly.

Most Americans support continuing this welcoming tradition. But to do so successfully, we have to ensure that English remains our language of government and public discourse. In fact, to be pro-English and pro-assimilation into American culture is to be pro-legal immigration. If we fail to properly assimilate newcomers into the United States, the American people won't long support continuing immigration.

Australia Switches From Multiculturalism to Citizenship

You don't have to look far to see other countries who have experimented with failing to assimilate their immigrants and lived to regret it.

The Canadian government is currently taking another look at its policy of allowing dual citizenship for immigrants.

In Australia, they recently renamed their Ministry for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to the Ministry for Immigration and Citizenship. What's in a name change? Plenty. The change marks a shift by the Australians from a policy of government enforced multiculturalism -- encouraging immigrants to cluster in the same communities and schools and retain the culture of their old countries -- to a policy of assimilation. The reason for the change wasn't politics, it was profoundly practical. Their policy of multiculturalism had led to the creation of a closed and violent ghetto of Lebanese Muslims.

Instead of making Australia a more culturally rich and vibrant place, failing to assimilate new immigrants had the opposite effect and made the country a more violent place. Congratulations to the Howard government for having the courage to believe in their Australian cultural values and national identity.

English is the Language of American Success and Cultural Identity

We need a similar kind of courage here in America.

English is the language of American success and provides the basis for American cultural unity.

As a part of any comprehensive immigration reform, we should renew our commitment to our cultural values by teaching legal immigrants to speak and read the English language, educating them about U.S. citizenship based upon U.S. history and giving them an understanding of the Founding Fathers and the core values of American civilization. We should continue to encourage those who want to become U.S. citizens, but it is important that we grant citizenship to only those individuals who also want to embrace and assimilate into the culture of the United States.

Action Agenda to Promote the English Language

What can we do to make English the language of government and civic discourse? Three action items top the list:

President Bush should end multilingualism in federal documents. The requirement that federal documents be printed in different languages was created by executive order. President Bush should repeal this executive order.


Make English the language of U.S. citizenship. Return to English language ballots, to a focus on English language literacy as a prerequisite of citizenship, and to an insistence that U.S. dual citizens vote only in the United States and give up voting in their birth nations. These were principles widely understood and accepted for most of American history, and they enabled us to absorb millions of immigrants and assimilate them and their children into an American civilization.


Replace bilingual education with intensive English instruction. We should have a National Program for Intensive English Instruction that would provide highly intensive English and U.S. history and civics training for new immigrants so that they can have the practical skills to become successful U.S. citizens.
It's the Right Thing to Do.

We can be dramatically more successful in helping those who want to embrace American values and culture, and become citizens, to assimilate far more effectively. As we work to reform our immigration policies, especially citizenship reform measures, we must never lose sight of the self-evident truths affirmed at our founding. That we are all created equal -- citizen and non-citizen alike -- because we recognize that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If we are to live out these truths, then we must recognize that every person has an inherent human dignity that must be respected. And that these truths morally bind us to create a workable immigration solution -- founded upon English as the official language of government and patriotic integration as the fundamental model of citizenship for new Americans.


Your friend,

Newt Gingrich
26765  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Emergency Tips and Emergency Medicine on: February 16, 2007, 05:56:07 PM
Woof Dean:

In DBMA we take from Bando "The Three Hs: Hurting, Healing, Harmonizing".   Thank you for for sharing with us your knowledge of healing.  Scratch that itch to your heart's content.

TAC,
CD

26766  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico on: February 16, 2007, 01:38:15 PM
Mexico: The Looming Fight for Control of Matamoros?
Hundreds of Mexican soldiers briefly patrolled the streets of Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas state, Feb. 15 as part of the federal government's response to the seizure on the U.S.-Mexican border of a large weapons shipment that passed through the capital. The contents of the cache suggest an effort is under way to equip or reinforce a heavily armed unit of enforcers for one of Mexico's two main drug cartels. The cartels, in other words, appear to be gearing up to fight for ultimate control of Matamoros.

The Mexican attorney general's office announced Feb. 11 that a tractor-trailer containing weapons and an armored pickup was seized by the Mexican army in Matamoros, just south of the U.S. border at Brownsville, Texas. Among the weapons seized were 18 M-16 assault rifles, including at least one equipped with an M-203 40mm grenade launcher, and several M-4 carbines. Also recovered were 17 handguns of various calibers, more than 200 magazines for different weapons, more than 8,000 rounds of ammunition, assault vests and other military accessories. A Nissan Titan pickup truck outfitted with armor and bullet-proof glass also was inside the trailer.




The semi, which was registered in the United States, entered Matamoros from the south after having passed through both Ciudad Victoria and Valle Hermoso. It is unclear where the shipment originated, though it could have come from Central America, or even the United States along a circuitous route designed to avoid police roadblocks and other anti-smuggling measures. Putting soldiers on the streets of Ciudad Victoria, even for a few hours, might have been President Felipe Calderon's way of telling the cartels that authorities know what is going on there.

Matamoros, however, is where the real battle appears to be gearing up. Matamoros is in territory controlled by the Gulf cartel, the main rival of the powerful Sinaloa federation of cartels -- and it is possible the Gulf cartel's enforcers were attempting to prepare for an expected fight with the Sinaloa federation over control of the city's drug-smuggling operations.

One indication of this is the type of weapons and equipment seized. The identical assault vests, load-bearing equipment and other accessories, along with the standardized nature of the rifles -- exclusively variants of the M-16 -- indicate the shipment probably was meant to equip or reinforce a single heavily armed unit rather than an unorganized gang. Therefore, the Zetas -- former Mexican elite soldiers who work for the Gulf cartel as enforcers -- stand out as the mostly likely intended recipient of these weapons. Given their military background, the Zetas would want to have a high degree of standardization in the weapons and equipment they use, and they also would be more comfortable with M-16s, which are standard issue in the Mexican army.

Matamoros is a vital transshipment point, or "plaza," for the movement of drugs and other contraband into the United States from Mexico. From border towns like Matamoros that sit astride highways, high-ranking cartel members known as gatekeepers control the traffic of contraband across the border, collect payments from smugglers and oversee money-laundering operations for the cartels.

Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas, who had run his operation from a Mexican prison since his 2003 arrest, was extradited to the United States in January, which could hinder his efforts to maintain control of the Matamoros region. The Sinaloa federation, then, might have decided to take advantage of the disruption in the Gulf cartel's command structure to make a play for the plaza at Matamoros.

Although Matamoros has not seen much cartel-related violence recently, that could change as the Zetas move to repel attempts by the Sinaloa federation to assert its influence in the city.
26767  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters on: February 16, 2007, 01:37:33 PM
Mexico: The Looming Fight for Control of Matamoros?
Hundreds of Mexican soldiers briefly patrolled the streets of Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas state, Feb. 15 as part of the federal government's response to the seizure on the U.S.-Mexican border of a large weapons shipment that passed through the capital. The contents of the cache suggest an effort is under way to equip or reinforce a heavily armed unit of enforcers for one of Mexico's two main drug cartels. The cartels, in other words, appear to be gearing up to fight for ultimate control of Matamoros.

The Mexican attorney general's office announced Feb. 11 that a tractor-trailer containing weapons and an armored pickup was seized by the Mexican army in Matamoros, just south of the U.S. border at Brownsville, Texas. Among the weapons seized were 18 M-16 assault rifles, including at least one equipped with an M-203 40mm grenade launcher, and several M-4 carbines. Also recovered were 17 handguns of various calibers, more than 200 magazines for different weapons, more than 8,000 rounds of ammunition, assault vests and other military accessories. A Nissan Titan pickup truck outfitted with armor and bullet-proof glass also was inside the trailer.




The semi, which was registered in the United States, entered Matamoros from the south after having passed through both Ciudad Victoria and Valle Hermoso. It is unclear where the shipment originated, though it could have come from Central America, or even the United States along a circuitous route designed to avoid police roadblocks and other anti-smuggling measures. Putting soldiers on the streets of Ciudad Victoria, even for a few hours, might have been President Felipe Calderon's way of telling the cartels that authorities know what is going on there.

Matamoros, however, is where the real battle appears to be gearing up. Matamoros is in territory controlled by the Gulf cartel, the main rival of the powerful Sinaloa federation of cartels -- and it is possible the Gulf cartel's enforcers were attempting to prepare for an expected fight with the Sinaloa federation over control of the city's drug-smuggling operations.

One indication of this is the type of weapons and equipment seized. The identical assault vests, load-bearing equipment and other accessories, along with the standardized nature of the rifles -- exclusively variants of the M-16 -- indicate the shipment probably was meant to equip or reinforce a single heavily armed unit rather than an unorganized gang. Therefore, the Zetas -- former Mexican elite soldiers who work for the Gulf cartel as enforcers -- stand out as the mostly likely intended recipient of these weapons. Given their military background, the Zetas would want to have a high degree of standardization in the weapons and equipment they use, and they also would be more comfortable with M-16s, which are standard issue in the Mexican army.

Matamoros is a vital transshipment point, or "plaza," for the movement of drugs and other contraband into the United States from Mexico. From border towns like Matamoros that sit astride highways, high-ranking cartel members known as gatekeepers control the traffic of contraband across the border, collect payments from smugglers and oversee money-laundering operations for the cartels.

Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas, who had run his operation from a Mexican prison since his 2003 arrest, was extradited to the United States in January, which could hinder his efforts to maintain control of the Matamoros region. The Sinaloa federation, then, might have decided to take advantage of the disruption in the Gulf cartel's command structure to make a play for the plaza at Matamoros.

Although Matamoros has not seen much cartel-related violence recently, that could change as the Zetas move to repel attempts by the Sinaloa federation to assert its influence in the city.
26768  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: February 16, 2007, 12:27:51 PM
It always worries me when you and I agree  grin

I have no problem with reasonable regulation, indeed I would even consider not extending the legal protection of the corporate form to those who engage in commerce in these items-- but the larger point about live and let live needs to be the guiding principle.
26769  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Inger part two on: February 16, 2007, 12:25:05 PM


MarketCast

(intraday audio-email) remarks were inclined to anticipate revival efforts in-front and after Chairman Bernanke's testimony, but are concerned about this fling that's inclined to reverse virtually anytime. That the market hasn't been 'parabolic' like in 1999-2000 is definitely helpful; but since we're not looking for a secular peak, that's not the structure we're anticipating anyway. Hence; a milder sloping rally can still shift into (described mode). That certain foreign markets dipped -from parabolic- might be a concern transmitted across the sea. That's entirely ignored by panting optimists at current extended levels. Guideline short efforts weren't expected to work until a post-Fedhead time. Our view holds rallies occur, but unsustainable (per ingerletter.com).
Bits & Bytes . . .

provide investors ideas in a few stocks, often special-situations, but also covers an assortment of technology issues (needed for assessment of general factors in tech overall, or as compelling developments call for) that are key movers in the NDX, SOX or S&P, plus ideas ingerletter.com thinks might merit further reflection.
Apple (AAPL); Level 3 (LVLT); Intel (INTC); Texas Instruments (TXN), Microsoft (MSFT); Motorola (MOT); QPC Lasers (QPCI); Whole Foods (WFMI); LightPath (LPTH); Intel (INTC); PURE Bioscience (PURE); InkSure (INKS); Ionatron (IOTN); and Northrop (NOC); a small group commented upon via accompanying audio.

We can't answer detailed questions for you (how could we; companies release what they will when they do; ditto for the Departments of Defense or Homeland Security); but these are topics previously explored as part of our assessment of advanced tech stocks; notably for key reasons: we view Directed Energy Weapons and all related or sector products, of any 'pure play' or high-power solid-state laser-related companies, as new potentially important 'disruptive technologies' to benefit the U.S. defense; they're important as anything else able to shift the world into 21st Century technology.

If you do quote excerpts of our remarks anywhere on the internet, please respect our work; as we request mentioning it came from www.ingerletter.com . At the same time, please realize sending or posting our entire Daily to another investor isn't fair to us or members, unless done rarely only, so as to help enlighten an investor as to our work (that courtesy graciously appreciated). No web site is permitted to repost any Daily Briefing in it's entirety, in any routine way. A financial web site may request to receive a once-weekly partial excerpt of a Daily; frequently available on most Wednesdays.

Members please note:

we have no association with publicly traded firms (never have had; never will) other than as shareholders while trading from time-to-time if deemed necessary for personal reasons; especially once initial targets are reached. We may be right or wrong on a stock, but are not financial PR or IR, and have never, and will never, be compensated by a company, or their representatives, directly or indirectly, for coverage. Our opinions may be valid or invalid, but reflect solely our own views.
Comments are interpretative speculative postulations, provided 'as is with all faults', and all risks, with no assurance about future performance of anything (markets or for stocks) in any way whatsoever. Personal necessity, irrespective of opinion on stocks, may periodically require buys or sells deemed appropriate or required, without notice.

In summary . .

events continue reminding us of risks Allied fighting forces face, given continued attacks on free peoples, by elements including organized terrorist forces in various countries. A world addressing terror threats continues, as domestic issues absorb us less as we focus on the Middle East crisis and World War III avoidance.
Though few generally concurred for three years, our consistent view has been slow but persistent American growth isn't negative, allowing the protracted gradual growth without ancillary significantly high interest rate pressures. There's no truly-restrictive monetary policy; nor is there likely to be one, irrespective of (pressures as reviewed). That is a potential feature developing ahead, maybe late 2007-2009, barring disaster.

McClellan Oscillator

finds NYSE 'Mac' shuffling with intervening rebounds recently at +40 for the NYSE; and +7 on the NASDAQ, with complacency pervading ideas of sustainable extensions. It's also the case markets ignored 'negative divergences' in big-caps once again; preparatory to this key (and probably failing) upside flailing run.
It isn't fair to suggest we dispute bullish fundamentals; in fact we argued this thrust of a friendly monetary policy by the Fed when few others did during the crucial 2001-'02 timeframe. It hasn't changed; but an excess of those joining the chorus of celebrants 'now realizing' this five-year-plus old fiscal philosophy has developed, is what needs correcting. So that's the point here; we're not secular bearish; just desire a correction.

Issues continue including oil, terror; the whole Middle East, Korea, and economics. As assessed for a couple weeks, extended rebounds were showing just exhaustion syndromes , and now without interpretation or forecast, increasingly negative action.

Overall continue to think major Senior Indexes ideally reverse anytime; considerably so maybe; especially if we rebound only to reverse in the wake of Fed 'Hill' testimony. Wednesday bounced immediately because the Chairman's testimony allowed it to by validating the 'Goldilocks' prospects (in theory); but if the argument holds or not, this activity may merely set-the-stage for renewed downside (as ingerletter.com outlines). Again it is not that we disagree about the longer-term (we concur); it's the shorter-run that is so extended that historically not having correction is inherently dangerous. It's preferable that the adjustment occur sooner rather than later, for a bullish longer-term healthy condition to prevail. All the 'terrific' discussion about Fed policy or inflationary moderations are irrelevant if the international situation collapses, or the market does; for which there is precedent, irrespective of the prevalence of an optimistic unanimity. As a matter of historical note it's only when everyone's 'already in', because optimism reigns supreme, that matters can be 'rocked' by events other than a market valentine.

Enjoy the evening,
26770  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War on: February 16, 2007, 12:24:10 PM
In a nearby thread I posted yesterday Col. Ralph Peters' piece about Mookie Sadr's apparent flight to Iran to avoid our surge in Baghdad.  The following piece from an investment letter (which I post in its entirety so as to maintain context) has a very different interpretation and one well worth considering IMHO.

=========================================

Gene Inger's Daily Briefing. . . . for Thursday, February 15, 2007:

Good weekend!

The market's 'Valentine' . . .

based on the Fed Chairman's testimony was no huge surprise, and simply allowed robust relief rallying based on the continued 'perception' of moderating growth amidst mild inflationary pressures, as now being Fed-verified. It was probably assisted by the inability of the 'Valentine's Day' massacre at Chrysler to ruffle feathers much; though there are concerns clearly other than sweetheart issues.
In this regard that combination of factors contributing to rally extensions (Oil inventory reports didn't hurt..more). Nobody reported Switzerland's proposals to Iran essentially resulting in 'nuclear control' that could foster optimism or a sense of relief. However, it was reported that the Shiite leader (Sadr) had departed for Teheran, presumably fear of a JDAM (big precision bomb) falling on his head being a part of that determination.

We suspect there's more to it. While we can't verify that the extreme Shiite zealots of his ilk are fleeing in fear of U.S. retribution (as warranted as that surely is), neither do we dismiss another possibility; that the Western media hasn't considered. What's that one asks? Well, how about extremists being in Iran to assist coordination with Tehran as to how they might expand their mischief in Iraq or alternatively (even concurrently) address any American efforts to interdict their attempts to broaden regional influence.

And does the recent enemy effectiveness against our helicopters mitigate air-cover to our Forces, in a similarity to what happened to Russia against the Taliban after they'd acquired the capability to either knock-down choppers or compel evasive maneuvers. Yes, we say we aren't planning to attack Iran. But what if Iran continues attacking us?

Let's at least explore what might occur should push-come-to-shove, instead of simply accepting the idea of a U.S. disengagement or conversely engagement to protect the region (which the Battle Groups and Patriot Missile battery dispositions suggest likely as this goes forward). Let's presuppose that the road to conflict is underway, though I am not suggesting it's unavoidable. If it goes thusly (and keep in mind though maybe the media highlights General Pace saying that the evidence of Iranian weapons may be mostly circumstantial, that's not to say they're not involved or this won't escalate), it might be of interest to speculate how such a conflict could actually ramp-into-action, and what the implications are for commodities; not least in Oil, and thus to financials.

Yesterday a story surfaced about 'Austrian' sniper rifles in the hands of 'insurgents' at the margin, or in the hands of Iranian agents at the maximum, taking-out Americans, and at considerable distance. If you saw 'Future Weapons' on the Discovery Channel a few days ago, you likely saw this weapon, which is more accurate than the Barrett semi-automatic weapon our forces use, and which was also displayed on that show's comparison. Because the accuracy is unbelievable up to a half-mile distant (think as to how far that is for a sniper's round), the U.S. and UK had protested Vienna's sale a couple years back to Iran for 'policing'. Clearly I see the evidence of where they are. I also find it unconscionable to imagine that the Pentagon will sit-back and sustain this.

Assume America is heading toward war with Iran, inadvertent or otherwise. A picture of how the conflict might emerge, is becoming clearer. In all-out war, basic American military tactics will be air attacks, naval blockades, offshore bombardments, and the destruction of oil and power infrastructure, plus Iran's Persian Gulf naval presence.

Iran presumably will respond with deployment of ground forces on its borders, attacks more likely by their proxy-armies in Iraq against American troops inside Iraq, and also the likely activation of hundreds of trained, well-armed, dormant terror cells peppered from one end of the Persian Gulf to the other; plus possibly proxies in Lebanon etc.

America's visible response would derive from the two Naval carrier groups deployed in the Persian Gulf, supplemented by USAF fighters and bombers from neighboring quasi allies (but infiltrated heavily by Shiites and Islamist sympathizers), like Kuwait, Oman, Qatar -where U.S. Central Command bases operations for that region- plus of course the United Arab Emirates, and possibly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, should all the stops be pulled-out, and the tentative efforts of Sunni terrorists to bring a harmonious theme to both Sunni and Shiite 'jihad' efforts against the West, actually not succeed.

Bases in Europe possibly wouldn't be utilized, excepting Great Britain probably, if it's determined that B2 bombers need to be utilized operating out of bases there (we're in a sense nearly at a point where concerns about 'domestic' Islamic terror must take at best a secondary concern in England, even if there's a likelihood of renewed enemy terror actions in England, which they might anyway; and which this would tend to sort of smoke 'em out, though it will be controversial or surely dangerous). There's no way (in our thinking) to at this point mollify or pacify Islamic threats in England (or France) particularly, short of just doing what's in the 'real' national interests of these societies, come what may; as well as dealing with whatever comes (I suspect if unassimilated groups such as the Moslems in Europe fail to put their adopted homes ahead of old-country views of the world that theoretically they wanted to get away from when they moved to new residence, Europeans will stop putting up with 'victimization' nonsense, and get on with their lives, even if it means upsetting 'political correctness' or certainly perpetrator's lives; something European tradition experienced before if challenged). It thus strikes us that there won't be a risk of 'Eurabia' because Europe will reverse this.

As to an American land invasion of Iran; nonsense. It's out of the question, given Iran has a 1 million-strong army, neighbors won't allow it, and the lack of American troops to carry it out is obvious to everyone. That's dangerous however, because 'perception of impotency' to engage the Iranians may compel things going beyond 'expectations'. To wit; the Iranians could get quite cocky about their ability, thus underestimating us.

Also generally unreported, there have been some increases in opposition to fanatical 'mullah governance' in Tehran. Just today a number of 'Revolutionary Guard' extreme shock troops were killed or injured in an attack on a bus carrying them inside Iran. It's a 'sign of the times', in that at least some younger (that's key) Iranians aren't steeped, to the extent their elders think, in the ways of 'revolution', and/or admire al Qaeda, or even the West, to which they'd like to see a great Persian people re-embrace in time.

We doubt that the CIA is behind these efforts inside Iran. But we see this as welcome and a reason to be very careful how we tread, lest we (in typical Washington fashion) disrupt that which may undermine the enemy without our having to do Herculean type tasks. We suspect that the radical Shiite Sadr is actually in Iran to help Iran figure-out how to suppress and discipline their own 'sects' and population, plus plot adventurism against the forces of stability in Iraq. They may in fact be coordinating an effort not so much to 'ensure his safety' as reported in the news here, but to deny safety to civilian groups and the U.S. military in Iraq. In essence Sadr is the Quisling of this era, so if it is presumed that he is not there simply 'fleeing' (U.S. media oversimplification) then it is conceivable that he's there to help the demagogues plot their takeover of Baghdad.

Should it be shown Iran is plotting a takeover of Iraq (reserved for ingerletter.com) we could find a point where U.S. Special Operations may be pushed into Iran to carry out attacks on the country's prized nuclear research facilities or designated 'hot' or Quds (shock troop) targets. The objective: dismantling mullah command and control of Iran.

We dispute the conventional notion that Teheran's most lethal weapon is manpower, alone. We dispute the simplicity of the argument that destruction of their Air Force or Navy, accomplished in a day or two, would negate the risk from their terrorist forces, very much as they do threaten, numerous parts of the world. But right there, in their neighborhood, we believe the evidentiary use of sophisticated sniper rifles and AEP's (that's my acronym; Advanced Explosive Devices, which are the infrared-triggered as well as totally devastating 'shape charges', so I'm not going to minimize these, calling them simply IED's, because they're not improvised, but advanced munitions) provide ample evidence of surreptitious involvement of the Iranians with the terrorists, and we again believe all these discussions minimizing their capabilities underestimate enemy capabilities, just as was done in the past, and just as was/is done in the Lebanon too.

These jihadist and Shiite guys are professional killers, and they are being supported by a terrorist state: Iran. No ifs ands or doubts here. This is not political correctness; it is simply realistic political assessment. We aren't championing war; but war is coming to us; we have a choice: retreat or respond. Simply: face the music, as it is facing us. While there's valid argument as to whether or not the United States should be or not be involved between roving marauding or dangerous groups of Arabs and Persians, there is no underestimating the dangers as inherent in this situation. We even think that the (wishful thinking whether he's in Iran or still in Iraq) basic idea of Sadr fleeing to Iran misses the point: we believe he's working with the Iranian fanatics, not simply seeking refuge. There's a great difference; asylum versus conspiracy for making war. Or worse, for planning overthrowing the Baghdad regime. Again it's all a reflection of 'desire' (or naiveté) that reports tend to oversimplify all of this. Ingerletter.com hence believes that facing the reality of this before it faces us in devastating ways is the key.

From its army alone, we should point out that Iran can marshal oh, a several hundred thousand troop force along its border with Iraq and Afghanistan to pressure American forces in those countries, and it can call on Syria to inflame its border region with Iraq as well. Or pretend that attacks on the IRG today was not from al Qaeda.. (reserved).

Iraqi Shiite militias (partial remarks reserved for ingerletter.com members). Together, these radicals command some 80,000 to 100,000 men; armed, funded, trained, and possibly planning coordination by Iran right now, via the personage of Sadr's 'visit' to Iran for the purpose of fomenting war, not fleeing. Iran's air defense is modernized; thanks to Russia. Should it prove adequate, it risks downing American pilots, sapping morale and raising more political questions here. Iranian dogma dictates that war will translate into regional upheaval; but it may not if it spooks Sunni's into realizing their perceived enemy (even al Qaeda's) isn't what they thought (the U.S.), but their closer neighbor; Iran. It may actually be demonstrated if Iran targets U.S. Central Command in Qatar and the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet in Bahrain, which has a majority who are Shiite so possibly pro-Iranian. Or in Lebanon, pro-Iranian Hezbollah might fire-up the place, as conceivably would Hamas in Gaza. Only myopic views see these not intertwined.

One way or another, such a war will involve oil production and prices, and not drop oil into the 20's or 30's that so many bulls are expecting to embolden the stock market in the near-term (that's increasingly absurd, even without such a dangerous conflict; just because the 'war threat matrix' quotient keeps prices from dropping like that). A U.S. strategy will need to maximize Iranian pain without setting world oil prices ablaze with fear of supply disruptions. To do this, possibly as a 'blockade' or threat prior to attack, U.S. assaults must freeze Iran's offshore oil platforms while preventing Iran's shutting down everyone else by blocking the Straits of Hormuz to oil export shipping. Perilous.

If other oil producers, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, maintain production and/or exports up, any rise in prices can be contained below a tolerable $85 a barrel in such a scenario. Now we're not advocating such a scenario; but with today's stock market, and the Goldilocks scenario, being bantered about as if there is no alternative to glee (in wartime?), it seems logical to contemplate the other side of the coin just in case.

Daily action . . .

is viewed by certain pundits as being the best of times to now make money; actually the move is the reward for those who already owned. One most risky approach might be the funds that invest in (reserved specifics) that have run-up most lately, while we do not dispute anything Chairman Bernanke said, absent disruptions.
For now, upside momentum continues, and generally sidestepped worrying about a couple other issues that surfaced during the day publicly, but weren't focused on (the Austrian arms showing up in the hands of those shooting at our boys is an example).

Increduously nobody is (yet) focusing on war or Trade Gap issues. Neither are they yet noticing how it's increasingly 'testy' in a military environment (maybe they notice, but they don't think it has meaning for stocks), or are they contemplating implications of what may be a frustration by (of all people) the terrorists and insurgents perceived leading the Jihad adventures, versus Tehran-backed Shiites, who have used certain weakness among the Sunnis to sow discord, and also to usurp leadership roles. This of course relates less to wanting expanded restored Islamic caliphates, we think, but more towards a quest to assert non-Arab-led Persian hegemony in the region. We'll offer the argument that risk is not low, but extremely high, and that this is not a lower risk investment environment because the market went up so much. Au contraire; it's higher and that increases the threat scenario; whether credit default concerns, war(s) or other areas. If the world doesn't fall apart, then the correction (nearly inevitable) is going to be constructive; if the world does fall apart; well then dangers are (reserved).

26771  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology on: February 16, 2007, 12:23:13 PM
Broadband Breakout
February 16, 2007; Page A14
"I love the free market, but the fact is more concentration means less competition, and these markets are less free than they should be. And this Commission is about regulation -- regulators. I always worry a little when I hear regulators shy away from regulation talk."

-- Senator Byron Dorgan (D., North Dakota) addressing members
of the Federal Communications Commission at a recent hearing.

If you're wondering where the new Democratic majority in Congress is inclined to steer telecom policy, look no further than Mr. Dorgan's comment above. Note how he pays lip service to free markets while ultimately favoring more regulation for its own sake.

But more regulation is the last thing today's telecom industry needs, at least if empirical evidence is any indication. As FCC Chairman Kevin Martin reported at a Senate hearing earlier this month, the industry is now taking risks in a way it hasn't since the tech bubble burst six years ago.

"In 2006, the S&P 500 telecommunications sector was the strongest performing sector, up 32% over the previous year," said Mr. Martin. "Markets and companies are investing again, job creation in the industry is high, and in almost all cases, vigorous competition -- resulting from free-market deregulatory policies -- has provided the consumer with more, better and cheaper services to choose from."

Much of this growth has been fueled by increased broadband deployment, which makes high-speed Internet services possible. The latest government data show that broadband connections increased by 26% in the first six months of 2006 and by 52% for the full year ending in June 2006.

Also noteworthy, notes telecom analyst Scott Cleland of the Precursor Group, is that of the 11 million broadband additions in the first half of last year, 15% were cable modems, 23% were digital-subscriber lines (DSL) and 58% were of the wireless variety. Between June 2005 and June 2006, wireless broadband subscriptions grew to 11 million from 380,000.

This gives the lie to claims that some sort of cable/DSL duopoly has hampered competition among broadband providers and limited consumer options. That's the charge of those who want "network neutrality" rules that would allow the government to dictate what companies like Verizon and AT&T can charge users of their networks. But the reality is that the telecom industry has taken advantage of this deregulatory environment to provide consumers with more choices at lower prices. Verizon's capital investments since 2000 exceed $100 billion, and such competitors as Cingular, T-Mobile and Sprint are following suit. So are the cable companies.

It's also worth noting that the deregulatory telecom policies pushed by Mr. Martin and his immediate predecessor, Michael Powell, have accompanied a wave of mergers -- SBC/AT&T, Sprint/Nextel, Verizon/MCI, AT&T/BellSouth. Most of these marriages were opposed by consumer groups and other fans of regulation on the grounds that they would lead to fewer choices and higher costs. In fact, these combinations have created economies of scale, and customers are clearly better off.

The result has been more high-speed connections, along with greater economic productivity, but also an array of new services. The popular video-sharing Web site YouTube is barely two years old. And it wouldn't exist today but for the fact that there's enough broadband capacity to allow millions of people to view videos over the Web.

Increased broadband demand has also been good news for Internet hardware companies like Cisco and Juniper, where annual sales are up by nearly 50%. A Journal report this week notes that "North American telecom companies are projected to spend $70 billion on new infrastructure this year," which is up 67% from 2003.

And prices are falling, by the way. Between February 2004 and December 2005, the average monthly cost for home broadband fell nearly 8%. For DSL subscribers, it fell nearly 20%. Which means that consumers are benefiting from new services and different pricing packages, as well as getting better deals.

The one sure way to stop these trends is by bogging down industry players with regulations or price controls that raise the risk that these mammoth investments will never pay off. Yet that seems to be the goal of Senator Dorgan and other Democrats such as Representative Ed Markey, another "Net neutrality" cheerleader, who is planning his own hearings. Consumers will end up paying for such policies in fewer choices and higher prices.
26772  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: February 16, 2007, 11:13:25 AM
Iran's Smoking Guns
Now Austrian sniper rifles show up in Iraq.

Friday, February 16, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Following the weekend intelligence disclosures about Iranian-supplied weapons killing GIs in Iraq, we predicted Tuesday. that "a large part of Washington will pretend the evidence doesn't exist, or suggest the intelligence isn't proven, or claim that it's all the Bush Administration's fault for 'bullying' Iran." Sure enough, President Bush faced a barrage of questions Wednesday wondering whether senior Iranian leaders were really aware of the weapons transfers, whether he was using "faulty intelligence," and whether the disclosures were part of a strategy designed to "provoke Iran."

So here is the state of our public discourse: American military officials present prima facie evidence of Iranian weapons implicated in killing 170 U.S. soldiers and wounding 600 more, and Washington's main concern is not for the GIs but in refighting the last intelligence war.

Well, here's an item that doesn't seem to have been manufactured by Dick Cheney. According to a report in Britain's Daily Telegraph, U.S. forces in Baghdad have recently discovered 100 high-powered sniper rifles made by Austrian gun-maker Steyr-Mannlicher. The .50-caliber Steyr can accurately fire an armor-piercing round at a range of 1,500 meters. The weapon is good against Humvees, helicopters and body armor.


 

In 2004, Iran purchased some 800 Steyrs, allegedly for use against drug traffickers. At the time, both U.S. and British officials urged the Austrian government to bar the $15 million sale, fearing the weapons would fall into enemy hands. Former Austrian Chancellor Wolfang Schüssel thought otherwise, and let the deal go forward. To better grease the skids, then-Steyr-Mannlicher CEO Wolfgang Fürlinger made the case that the weapons were basically harmless and that Tehran had signed "end-user certificates" guaranteeing they would not be re-sold, according to the German newsweekly Der Spiegel.
Today, the Austrian government pleads that the sale had been "checked very thoroughly," and that "what happened to the weapons . .  . is the responsibility of the Iranians"--which prompts the question of why the Austrians would have bothered with the end-user certificates. The Bush Administration took a less cavalier view and in 2005 banned Steyr-Mannlicher from bidding for U.S. government contracts.

It remains to be confirmed whether the serial numbers on the Steyrs found in Iraq match those from the 2004 sale--if they do, it ought to prompt a top-to-bottom review of all Austrian military contracts. Meantime, is it too much to expect American journalists and Members of Congress to devote as much skepticism to Iran's motives and behavior as they do to Mr. Bush's?

WSJ
26773  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 16, 2007, 10:57:55 AM
As best as I can tell, there is merit to the analysis that says that President Bush really took his eye off the ball in Afghanistan.  Although I supported the decision to go into Iraq, I cannot say that those who said we needed to finish in Afghanistan first did not have a valid point.

Afg in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban seemed to have plenty of warm fuzzies for what we might bring, but now 5 years later much more has happened and the terrain is different. 

Do we have a coherent strategy at this point?

=============================================

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 — President Bush warned on Thursday that he expected “fierce fighting” to flare in Afghanistan this spring, and he pressed NATO allies to provide a bigger and more aggressive force to guard against a resurgence by the Taliban and Al Qaeda that could threaten the fragile Afghan state.

Skip to next paragraph
Multimedia
 Back Story With The Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg (mp3)With American and NATO commanders pressing for more troops and experts predicting that further gains by the Taliban could put the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai in danger, Mr. Bush used his presidential platform to lay out what he said was substantial progress in Afghanistan since 2001, but also a continuing threat.

The remarks, to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization here, amounted to an unusually high-profile acknowledgment from Mr. Bush of the precarious state of the effort to stabilize Afghanistan, a country the administration long held up as a foreign policy success story.

The speech renewed criticism from Democrats that had the United States not been tied down in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan would not have turned dire. At the same time, some Republican lawmakers said Mr. Bush’s new strategy would not do enough to tamp down the Afghan drug trade. Outside experts criticized the president for painting too rosy a picture.

The speech was also a striking effort by the White House to focus attention back on Afghanistan at a time when Congress is debating resolutions criticizing Mr. Bush’s strategy in Iraq and the administration is making a case that Iranian forces are supplying Shiite militants in Iraq with roadside bombs.

“Across Afghanistan last year, the number of roadside bomb attacks almost doubled, direct fire attacks on international forces almost tripled, and suicide bombings grew nearly fivefold,” Mr. Bush said. “These escalating attacks were part of a Taliban offensive that made 2006 the most violent year in Afghanistan since the liberation of the country.”

Mr. Bush said the question now was whether to “just kind of let this young democracy wither and fade away” or to step up the fight.

“The snow is going to melt in the Hindu Kush mountains, and when it does we can expect fierce fighting to continue,” Mr. Bush said. “The Taliban and Al Qaeda are preparing to launch new attacks. Our strategy is not to be on the defense, but to go on the offense.”

Mr. Bush noted that he has already extended the tour of a 3,200-soldier American brigade and called on Congress to provide $11.8 billion more to pay for operations in Afghanistan over the next two years.

The president said his administration had completed a review of its Afghan strategy, and would work to increase the size of the Afghan army from 32,000 troops to 70,000 by the end of next year, and to bring in additional allied troops to support the fledgling army.

“When there is a need, when the commanders on the ground say to our respective countries, ‘We need additional help,’ our NATO countries must provide it in order to be successful in the mission,” Mr. Bush said.

He promised to build new roads that would help spur economic development, to battle an increase in the opium trade and to try to forge better ties between Afghanistan and its neighbor, Pakistan.

At the same time, Mr. Bush pledged to work with President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to root out Taliban and Qaeda fighters who hide in that country’s remote mountainous regions — a situation he described as “wilder than the Wild West.” And, echoing his lament that 2006 was a difficult and disappointing year for Iraq, the president said the same had been true in Afghanistan.

Some critics of the administration’s handling of Afghanistan said Mr. Bush was still understating the difficulties there.

“We underfinanced, undermanned and under-resourced the war in Afghanistan for the last four years, and now we face a serious threat that the Taliban will succeed in destabilizing the country enough in 2007 to make the Karzai government collapse at some point,” said Bruce Riedel, a scholar at the Saban Center for Middle East Studies at the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning research organization in Washington. He called the speech “a long overdue recognition that we need to do a lot more.”

Both Mr. Riedel and Rick Barton, an expert in Afghanistan reconstruction at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Mr. Bush’s new strategy did not do enough to promote security and economic development. Mr. Barton, who published a report in 2005 measuring progress in Afghanistan in that year, is about to publish another, and said the situation has turned measurably worse since his first study.

“We’ve gotten into a situation where things have really turned negative and the average Afghan has lost confidence in both the safety of his country and the ability of the leadership to turn things around,” Mr. Barton said. He said the president “is definitely acknowledging that, but his reality therapy is not as thorough or as complete as I think it needs to be.”

On Capitol Hill, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, released a statement criticizing the speech. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and several other Republicans have been pressing the Bush administration to do more to crack down on Afghanistan’s opium trade; she said the new strategy lacked “practical initiatives to target major drug kingpins and warlords whose trade in opium finances the Taliban’s campaign.”

As Iraq has dominated the American psyche, some lawmakers, most recently the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, have called Afghanistan “the forgotten war.” The Democratic National Committee, responding to Mr. Bush’s speech on Thursday, issued a statement saying, “The Bush administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan.”

But Mr. Bush pointed to what he called “remarkable progress” since the American invasion in 2001: A democratically elected government with a parliament that includes 91 women; more than five million children in school as opposed to 900,000 under the Taliban; and the return of more than 4.6 million refugees.

The president’s speech came after his new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, attended his first conference of NATO defense ministers last week in Seville, Spain. At the meeting, Mr. Gates pressed his allied counterparts to fulfill their commitments of troops in time for a spring offensive against the Taliban.

Currently, NATO has about 35,000 troops in Afghanistan, about 13,000 of them American. The United States has 9,000 more troops in Afghanistan operating outside the NATO mission, handling tasks like specialized counterterrorism work and helping to train Afghan forces. Gen. David J. Richards of Britain, the outgoing NATO commander in Afghanistan, said last month that NATO was 4,000 to 5,000 troops short.

But NATO commanders have been constrained by so-called caveats — restrictions imposed by member nations on how their troops may be used and where they may be sent. The Bush administration has been pressing the allies to lift those restrictions, and the president renewed that call on Thursday, saying NATO commanders “must have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy wherever the enemy may make a stand.”
26774  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ya can't make this up on: February 16, 2007, 10:18:27 AM
Clinton fundraiser Daphna Ziman:

"Hillary Clinton is the right candidate.  The nation is in deep need of a mother figure who will lead the people out of a violent world and back into caring for the poor and the disabled, mostly caring for our children, our future."
26775  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science on: February 16, 2007, 12:52:46 AM
One wishes it might have occured to President Bush to begin expanding the size of the military (thus overruling Secy Rumbo) 3-4 years ago.  Even candidate Kerry was calling for an increase of 50,000 so it would have been easy for Bush to make the call.  Now that he has thrashed our troops and led , , , as he has, now the President sacks Rumbo and asks for 90,000.  It is going to be a lot harder now to build up the numbers than if he had not listened to Rumbo's huibris.
26776  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Euro-Russian Cold War on: February 15, 2007, 08:31:53 PM
Europe, Russia and a New Kind of 'Cold' War
Summary

A Russian oligarch is predicting natural gas shortages in Russia. Europe has good reason to be worried.

Analysis

Anatoly Chubais, CEO of Russian electricity megafirm Unified Energy System (UES), said at a Feb. 15 news conference that planned changes to the country's electricity sector will result in increased demand for natural gas -- which in turn will lead to shortages of the fuel. Those most likely to suffer from the evolution will be European consumers as Russia discovers it has insufficient supplies for export.

After a decade of false starts, the Russian electricity sector is finally beginning its long-awaited reform, which for UES means getting broken up into a large number of regional and local power generating companies -- in theory at least.

One of the many consequences of this will be increased electricity production. Russia's oligarchs currently have to cut deals (and often plead) with UES to make sure they have enough electricity to supply their corporate empires. Now they can simply pay -- through the nose if need be -- to acquire power generation assets for themselves, and add on or modify them as necessary to meet their needs. Particularly in the case of power-intensive industries such as aluminum production, such assets will be constantly run to the red line to ensure full profitability.

As Chubais went on to note, such increased power generation will invariably lead to greater consumption of the natural gas used to produce electricity -- and that is a problem.

Although Russia remains the world's largest producer and exporter of natural gas, state energy firm Gazprom has not excelled at exploring for and developing new natural gas sources. Add in higher electricity demand and an ugly word crops up: shortage. Chubais -- one of the few people in Russia with access to all the data -- projects that in 2007 national demand plus export contracts will edge out supply by 4 billion cubic meters (bcm), ramping up to 40 bcm by 2010.

The results of such a shortfall are fairly easy to predict. Russian electricity and natural gas demand is highest in the winter, when the Russians huddle around their heaters in a desperate effort to avoid freezing solid. Their collective demand for power means that not enough natural gas is left over to meet Gazprom's export contracts. Flows to Europe consequently slacken, as happened for the first time in the early weeks of 2006. Chubais, intentionally or not, is putting Europe on notice that supply interruptions will become an annual affair in the future.

It is probably beyond Gazprom's technical capabilities to turn this situation around without a major change in worldview -- which is not in the cards at the moment. The mammoth firm can do a couple of things, however, to mitigate the coming shortages. First, it can use its political heft -- Gazprom is far and away the most politically powerful firm in the country -- to increase domestic Russian prices. Higher natural gas prices on the subsidized Russian market translate into lower Russian consumption, freeing up more natural gas for export.

Second, Gazprom is working to reduce natural gas' share of the market as an electricity feedstock. On Feb. 8 Gazprom swallowed up (that is: "initialed a deal to form a joint venture with") Siberian Coal Energy Co., which produced about 90 million metric tons of coal in 2006, supplying 30 percent of Russian demand and 20 percent of Russia's coal exports. The deal also brings under Gazprom's control most of the country's electricity generation that is not currently under UES. Gazprom's plan is simple: replace natural gas with coal in as many power plants' fuel mixes as possible.

Both of these strategies are smart and will work, but bridging a 40 bcm gap -- for reference, France uses about 45 bcm a year -- in three years is simply not feasible. Europe will need to learn to get by with less, and even that assumes the Kremlin's political goals do not further limit supplies.

Europe's takeaway should be simple. Regardless of whether European leaders believe Russia's energy policies are politicized (and they are), Russia will soon lack the capability to supply Europe with all the natural gas it wants -- even if the Russians are able to maintain their output levels in the long term (which is in doubt). So, unless Europe wants to feel the cold of winter more keenly, it will need either to find replacement supplies, move its economies away from natural gas, or both.




Other Analysis
Geopolitical Diary: Al-Sadr Lies Low
Russia: Putin's Cabinet Reshuffle
Global Market Brief: The Politics of South African Land Reform
Canada: The Changing Shape of Energy Politics
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26777  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Euro Martial Arts on: February 15, 2007, 02:33:31 PM
Woof Karsk:

Outstanding!

This deserves its own thread.  Would you please repost what you have posted here as a new thread?

TAC,
CD
26778  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: February 15, 2007, 07:29:00 AM
Second post of the morning:

stratfor.com

Geopolitical Diary: Al-Sadr Lies Low

Nasser al-Rubaie, the head of Iraq's Sadrite parliamentary bloc, and other supporters of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr said on Wednesday that statements by U.S. military officials in Iraq alleging that al-Sadr has fled the country for Iran are untrue. An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later said al-Sadr is on a brief routine visit to Iran and would be back shortly. There also are reports that first- and second-tier commanders of the Mehdi Army in Baghdad are in Iran as well in order to evade a security crackdown.

While al-Sadr has visited Iran in the past, and doing so again at this juncture would be reasonable, the leader likely remains based in Iraq -- where he is growing ever more distrustful of his fellow Shia and trying hard to maintain a low profile.

Al-Sadr has lain low, likely somewhere in the holy city of An Najaf, since remarking in January that he feared for his personal safety in the wake of U.S.-Iraqi plans to secure Baghdad and crack down on militias. Since then, he has seen the arrest and kidnappings of Iranian diplomatic officials in Iraq, which surely made him even less willing to risk travel or public appearances.

The Sadrite bloc controls the largest number of parliamentary seats in the ruling Shiite coalition -- the United Iraqi Alliance -- and has several ministers in the Cabinet. Al-Sadr is not about to abandon his movement and flee, especially as his Mehdi Army prepares to face a major government offensive. And if he did, he certainly would not go to Iran.

Contrary to popular perception, Iraq's Sadrite bloc is the Shiite group that is least friendly toward Iran. Al-Sadr cannot completely trust the Iranians, who have strong ties to his main rival, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim -- the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraq's most pro-Iranian Shiite party. Iran could use al-Sadr and his militia as leverage in its negotiations with the United States over Iraq; when the need arises, Iran might pull the plug on the Shiite leader as a gesture of good will toward the United States.

While al-Sadr has long been wary of the threat from SCIRI, he also does not trust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Hizb al-Dawah party. Until now, al-Sadr has maintained a decent working relationship with al-Maliki; however, the prime minister recently abandoned his opposition to a U.S. crackdown on Sadrite militia activities. Al-Sadr knows the Shiite-dominated government is working closely with the U.S. military, and does not want to risk further support for more U.S. operations against him. Even so, al-Sadr reportedly is on the U.S. military's "no-touch list," meaning U.S. forces will not detain him out of fear that his arrest could inflame his supporters and cause them to escalate the overall level of violence in the country.

U.S. statements regarding the Shiite leader's alleged flight to Iran likely are part of psyops designed to weaken him by convincing those within his political movement and its armed wing that he has abandoned them ahead of the impending U.S.-Iraqi crackdown. There already are some indications that al-Sadr does not have complete control over his militia. By playing up the idea that al-Sadr has fled to Tehran, the United States can sow doubts among members of the Mehdi Army before U.S. and Iraqi forces pounce. And confusion about al-Sadr's whereabouts will prove especially damaging to the Sadrite bloc, given its heavy focus on its leader and his family.

Stratfor mentioned in its annual forecast that the coming U.S. surge will focus on containing al-Sadr. For now, Iraq's political and military situation has rendered the Shiite leader quite vulnerable. Whether al-Sadr makes an appearance in order to counter U.S. attempts to paint him as a cowardly captain abandoning his ship remains to be seen.

26779  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants on: February 15, 2007, 05:10:10 AM
WSJ

Awaiting the Dishonor Roll
February 15, 2007; Page A18
Congress has rarely been distinguished by its moral courage. But even grading on a curve, we can only describe this week's House debate on a vote of no-confidence in the mission in Iraq as one of the most shameful moments in the institution's history.

On present course, the Members will vote on Friday to approve a resolution that does nothing to remove American troops from harm's way in Iraq but that will do substantial damage to their morale and that of their Iraqi allies while emboldening the enemy. The only real question is how many Republicans will also participate in this disgrace in the mistaken belief that their votes will put some distance between themselves and the war most of them voted to authorize in 2002.

The motion at issue is plainly dishonest, in that exquisitely Congressional way of trying to have it both ways. (We reprint the text nearby.) The resolution purports to "support" the troops even as it disapproves of their mission. It praises their "bravery," while opposing the additional forces that both President Bush and General David Petreaus, the new commanding general in Iraq, say are vital to accomplishing that mission. And it claims to want to "protect" the troops even as its practical impact will be to encourage Iraqi insurgents to believe that every roadside bomb brings them closer to their goal.

 
As for how "the troops" themselves feel, we refer readers to Richard Engel's recent story on NBC News quoting Specialist Tyler Johnson in Iraq: "People are dying here. You know what I'm saying . . . You may [say] 'oh we support the troops.' So you're not supporting what they do. What they's (sic) here to sweat for, what we bleed for and we die for." Added another soldier: "If they don't think we're doing a good job, everything we've done here is all in vain." In other words, the troops themselves realize that the first part of the resolution is empty posturing, while the second is deeply immoral.

All the more so because if Congress feels so strongly about the troops, it arguably has the power to start removing them from harm's way by voting to cut off the funds they need to operate in Iraq. But that would make Congress responsible for what followed -- whether those consequences are Americans killed in retreat, or ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, or the toppling of the elected Maliki government by radical Shiite or military forces. The one result Congress fears above all is being accountable.

We aren't prone to quoting the young John Kerry, but this week's vote reminds us of the comment the antiwar veteran told another cut-and-run Congress in the early 1970s: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" The difference this time is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha expect men and women to keep dying for something they say is a mistake but also don't have the political courage to help end.

Instead, they'll pass this "non-binding resolution," to be followed soon by attempts at micromanagement that would make the war all but impossible to prosecute -- and once again without taking responsibility. Mr. Murtha is already broadcasting his strategy, which the new Politico Web site described yesterday as "a slow-bleed strategy designed to gradually limit the administration's options."

In concert with antiwar groups, the story reported, Mr. Murtha's "goal is crafted to circumvent the biggest political vulnerability of the antiwar movement -- the accusation that it is willing to abandon troops in the field." So instead of cutting off funds, Mr. Murtha will "slow-bleed" the troops with "readiness" restrictions or limits on National Guard forces that will make them all but impossible to deploy. These will be attached to appropriations bills that will also purport to "support the troops."

"There's a D-Day coming in here, and it's going to start with the supplemental and finish with the '08 [defense] budget,'' Congressman Neil Abercrombie (D., Hawaii) told the Web site. He must mean D-Day as in Dunkirk.

All of this is something that House Republicans should keep in mind as they consider whether to follow this retreat. The GOP leadership has been stalwart, even eloquent, this week in opposing the resolution. But some Republicans figure they can use this vote to distance themselves from Mr. Bush and the war while not doing any real harm. They should understand that the Democratic willingness to follow the Murtha "slow-bleed" strategy will depend in part on how many Republicans follow them in this vote. The Democrats are themselves divided on how to proceed, and they want a big GOP vote to give them political cover. However "non-binding," this is a vote that Republican partisans will long remember.

History is likely to remember the roll as well. A newly confirmed commander is about to lead 20,000 American soldiers on a dangerous and difficult mission to secure Baghdad, risking their lives for their country. And the message their elected Representatives will send them off to battle with is a vote declaring their inevitable defeat.

26780  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Books on: February 15, 2007, 04:17:19 AM
Libertarians in America
Free to choose, and a good thing too.

BY JOHN H. FUND
Thursday, February 15, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Scores of books have been written on the role of communists and socialists in the U.S., dour chronicles of welcome failure. But very few writers have devoted much attention to the role of libertarians, a more appealing and optimistic group of thinkers, political activists and ordinary citizens who believe that respect for the individual and the spontaneous order of market forces are the key to progress and social well-being.

The neglect is strange, given how much libertarians and their limited-government logic have shaped the culture and economy of the U.S. The ideas of John Locke and David Hume animated the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Libertarian principles kept what we think of as "big government" in check for much of the 19th century and well into the 20th, despite tariffs and war. The federal income tax officially arrived, in permanent form, as late as 1913. Coolidge and his Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, took a famously minimalist approach to governing. Of course, we now live in a post-FDR age, with government programs everywhere. Still, the libertarian impulse is part of our political culture. "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism," Ronald Reagan declared.

Today, pollsters find only 2% of people refer to themselves as libertarians, but some 15% of voters hold broadly libertarian views and can be a swing factor. In the photo-finish presidential race of 2000, some 72% of libertarian-minded voters supported George W. Bush. Last November, many of them abandoned the GOP, disillusioned by its profligate ways, and helped hand control of Congress to Democrats.

With "Radicals for Capitalism," Brian Doherty finally gives libertarianism its due. He tracks the movement's progress over the past century by focusing on five of its key leaders--Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman. The emphasis is on their ideas, but Mr. Doherty also takes into account their personal struggles--not least their feuds with other thinkers and their relation to an intellectual establishment that for most of their lives thought they were either crazy or irrelevant or both.





Libertarian ideas have enjoyed a surge of respect lately, helped by the collapse of Soviet central planning, the success of lower tax rates and the appeals of various figures in popular culture (e.g., Drew Carey, John Stossel and Clint Eastwood) who want government out of both their bedroom and wallet. Even so, libertarianism is often not the people's choice. Part of the problem is the inertia of the status quo. "In a world where government has its hand in almost everything," Mr. Doherty writes, "it requires a certain leap of imagination to see how things might work if it didn't." Many people couldn't make that leap when, for example, economists proposed channeling some Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts.
Mr. Doherty introduces us to an entertaining cast of minor characters who kept individualist ideas alive from the New Deal through the Great Society. There was Rose Wilder Lane, the editor of her mother's "Little House on the Prairie" frontier books, and Robert Heinlein, the science-fiction writer who coined the acronym "Tanstaafl" (for "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch"). Howard Buffett, the father of financier Warren Buffett, was a fiery Old Right congressman from Nebraska who compared the military draft to a form of slavery. During World War II, Henry Hazlitt put economic analysis from his friend von Mises into unsigned editorials he wrote for the New York Times, then a far more free-market paper than today.

Mr. Doherty is candid enough to note that not every individualist he sketches consistently respected the rights of individuals. Textile baron Roger Milliken, for instance, required his executives to attend a libertarian "college" in the Rockies but also lobbied for tariffs to protect his products. And other libertarians showed a certain want of personal character. LSD guru Timothy Leary raised money for Libertarian Party candidates but didn't exercise the integrity or personal responsibility he himself said must accompany freedom. Ayn Rand sold millions of copies of her novels but treated her acolytes abominably and "ended up kicking out of her life pretty much everybody."

Inevitably--as with any constellation of like-minded people--there is squabbling and the petty search for heretics. But there is also, Mr. Doherty shows, the great work of fertile, unorthodox minds. Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick abandoned the New Left when he realized capitalism worked best but acknowledged feeling for a while that "only bad people would think so." Hayek, a supreme rationalist, ended his life believing that "a successful free society will always be in a large measure a tradition-bound society." He even praised religion for encouraging restraint and long-term thinking "under circumstances where everyone believes that God will punish all for the sins of some."





Today the Internet has become, Mr. Doherty notes, an efficient way to transmit libertarian ideas and show their practical application. (With its decentralized, free-wheeling ethos, the Internet is itself libertarian without even trying to be.) Jimmy Wales, the man who started the interactive online encyclopedia Wikipedia, believes that "facts can help set the world free." The largest retail market in the world is eBay, which allows anyone to buy and sell without a government license.
Louis Rosetto, the "radical capitalist" who founded Wired magazine, notes that, even if libertarian ideas must now push against a statist status quo, "contrarians end up being the drivers of change." Among the most ornery contrarians, he says, are the libertarians "laboring in obscurity, if not in derision." They have managed "to keep a pretty pure idea going, adapting it to circumstances and watching it be validated by the march of history." Mr. Doherty has rescued libertarianism from its own obscurity, eloquently capturing the appeal of the "pure idea," its origins in great minds and the feistiness of its many current champions.

Mr. Fund is a columnist for OpinionJournal.com. You can buy "Radicals for Capitalism" from the OpinionJournal bookstore.

26781  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Grandfathers Speak Vol. 2: Sonny Umpad on: February 15, 2007, 04:12:09 AM
I know, I know, we've been very bad. embarassed  We have finished the box cover and the Umpad people have approved it.  Cindy is scheduled to put it into the format for the duplication house and send it in tomorrow (i.e. Friday the 16th).  We are hoping to have it ready by March 1.
26782  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The War on Drugs on: February 15, 2007, 04:02:30 AM
All:

IMHO the WOD is a tremendous foolishness that is both counter-productive and counter to basic American values of live and let live. 

We begin this thread with a piece whose title captures a certain something , , ,

TAC,
Marc
================

DEA: More marijuana needed for studies
Judge rules federal supply is inadequate
By Michael Doyle - McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- Medical researchers need more marijuana sources because government supplies aren't meeting scientific demand, a federal judge has ruled.

In an emphatic but nonbinding opinion, the Drug Enforcement Administration's own judge is recommending that a University of Massachusetts professor be allowed to grow a legal pot crop.  The real winners could be those suffering from painful and wasting diseases, proponents say.

"The existing supply of marijuana is not adequate," Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner ruled.

The federal government's 12-acre marijuana plot at the University of Mississippi provides neither the quantity nor quality scientists need, researchers contend.  While Bittner didn't embrace those criticisms, she agreed that the system for producing and distributing research marijuana is flawed.

"Competition in the manufacture of marijuana for research purposes is inadequate," Bittner determined.  Bittner further concluded that there is "minimal risk of diversion" from a new marijuana source.  Making additional supplies available, she stated, "would be in the public interest."

The DEA isn't required to follow Bittner's 88-page opinion, and the Bush administration's anti-drug stance may make it unlikely that the grass-growing rules will loosen.  Both sides can now file further information before DEA administrators make their ruling.

"We could still be months away from a final decision," DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said Tuesday, adding that "obviously, we're going to take the judge's opinion into consideration."

Still, the ruling is resonating in labs and with civil libertarians.

"(The) ruling is an important step toward allowing medical marijuana patients to get their medicine from a pharmacy just like everyone else," said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Based in the California seaside town of Santa Cruz, the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project has been representing University of Massachusetts scientist Lyle Craker.  Since 2001, Craker has been confronting numerous bureaucratic and legal obstacles in his request for permission to grow research-grade marijuana.  An agronomist who received a doctorate from the University of Minnesota, Craker was asked to grow bulk marijuana by a five-member group called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The psychedelic studies group wants to research such areas as developing vaporizers that can efficiently deliver pot smoke.

"This ruling is a victory for science, medicine and the public good," Craker said.

"I hope that the DEA abides by the decision and grants me the opportunity to do my job unimpeded by drug war politics."

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

The latest research made public this week indicated that marijuana provided more pain relief for AIDS patients than prescription drugs did. The Bush administration quickly dismissed those findings as a "smokescreen," and it has remained hostile to Craker's research efforts.  During the trial, for instance, DEA attorneys secured an admission from Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies head Richard Doblin that he has smoked marijuana regularly since 1971.

"Can you tell us the source of this marijuana?" DEA attorney Brian Bayly asked Doblin, before withdrawing the question under objections.

The DEA originally claimed that it lost Craker's research application. Then the agency said that his photocopied follow-up lacked a necessary original signature. After a year, Craker tried again. He then had to wait another year before the DEA started processing the application, in which he proposed to grow about 25 pounds of marijuana in the first year.

Craker sued after the agency rejected his application. That brought his case before Bittner.

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

She oversaw the trial, which featured witnesses such as former California legislator John Vasconcellos.

"People have a right to know more about what might help them in their suffering and pain or illness, whatever it might be," Vasconcellos testified, in words repeated by Bittner. "The more research, the better."

(END OPTIONAL TRIM)

The University of Mississippi has monopolized government-grade marijuana since 1968. The university also contracts with North Carolina's Research Triangle Institute, which runs a machine that can roll up to 1,000 finished marijuana cigarettes in an hour.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

The government-grown pot is too "harsh" and filled with stems and seeds, researchers testified.

"The material was of such poor quality, we did not deem it to be representative of medical cannabis," researcher Dr. Ethan Russo said.

(e-mail: mdoylemcclatchydc.com)

02-13-07

mb-cd
26783  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters on: February 15, 2007, 03:42:09 AM
The Covert War and Elevated Risks
By Fred Burton

Amid a general atmosphere of saber rattling by the United States and Israel, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Feb. 8 that any aggression against his country would be met with reciprocal strikes by Iranian forces inside and outside the country. Khamenei's remarks were merely the latest installment in a drama of rhetoric, arms acquisitions, military exercises and missile launches designed to demonstrate to the United States and Israel that any potential strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities would come at a very high price.

The United States and Israel also have used overt pressure tactics in the hopes of forcing Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions and to help end the chaos in Iraq. Khamenei referred to these efforts as the "enemies' psychological operations" and said they are "an indication of weakness and a state of paralysis." Speaking to an audience of Iranian air force members in Tehran, the ayatollah railed against international sanctions and threats, saying, "Fear and surrender to enemies is a method used by those nations and officials who have not comprehended the power of national resolve, but the Iranian nation, relying on its successful experiences of the last 27 years, will stand up to any enemy and threat."

Clearly, there is a lot of rhetoric flying around. But despite the threats and bluster, it is not at all clear that the United States has either the capacity or the will to launch an actual attack against Iran -- nor is it clear that Israel has the ability to attack Iran's nuclear infrastructure on its own. For its part, Iran -- in spite of its recent weapons purchases and highly publicized missile tests -- clearly is in no position to go toe-to-toe with the U.S. military.

With neither side willing or able to confront the other in the conventional military sense, both will be looking for alternative means of achieving its goals. For any nation-state, its intelligence services are an important weapon in the arsenal -- and it now appears that a covert intelligence war between the United States and Iran, first raised by Stratfor as a possibility in March 2006, is well under way. So far, the action in this intelligence war has been confined mainly to Iraq and Lebanon. However, recent events -- including the mysterious death in January of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, who was believed to have been a target of Mossad -- indicate that this quiet war is escalating, and soon could move to fronts beyond the Middle East.

Intelligence Wars

The covert intelligence war between the United States and Iran now appears to be well under way. As it has evolved against the backdrop of the war in Iraq and Tehran's nuclear ambitions, it has exhibited many characteristics that were notable in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. For example, irreconcilable geopolitical interests and conflicting ideologies prompted the present conflict. The United States appears to be following its tried-and-true Cold War doctrine of containment, and Iran has pursued the Cold War practice of equipping and training proxies to inflict pain on an adversary that is locked in a war -- following the examples set by the Soviet Union in Vietnam and the United States in the Afghan-Soviet conflict. Other similarities include the heavy use of disinformation, propaganda, agents of influence and covert action by both sides.

With its missile purchases, tests and nuclear program, Iran also has started an arms race of sorts in the region. This arms race, along with Iran's support for Hezbollah and controversial and provocative statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, inevitably has pulled Israel into the fray. Iran clearly regards Israel as a pressure point to be used against the Americans. The regime in Tehran also views rhetorical attacks against the Jewish state -- not to mention actual attacks waged by Iran's surrogate, Hezbollah -- as a way to curry favor or gain influence with the Muslim masses. This is, in effect, the same reason the Iraqis launched Scud missiles against Israel during the first Gulf War.

Israel is far from a passive victim of Iranian skullduggery, of course. It has been involved in these types of intelligence wars since the founding of the state -- and, if one counts the Jewish insurgent and terrorist attacks against British forces and Muslims in the 1930s and 1940s, even before. Out of geopolitical necessity, the Israelis cannot take the Iranian threats lightly; they are fully engaged in this current clandestine war.

Of course, Iran is not the first country in the region to have threatened Israel with harsh rhetoric while attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Iraq was in a similar position more than 20 years ago. Thus, beginning in 1980, Israel developed a program of assassinating and threatening scientists who were associated with Iraq's nuclear weapons program. This was followed by the bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor in June 1981. As recently as the 1990 assassination of Canadian scientist and "supergun" creator Gerald Bull, Israel's clandestine hand appears to have been working to thwart Iraqi weapons programs.

A New Salvo?

There is reason to believe that Israel -- whose reputation for conventional military strength was dealt a considerable blow during last summer's conflict with Hezbollah -- now might be dusting off the strategy it successfully employed against Iraq. Specifically, Iranian news sources on Jan. 25 reported the death (a week previously) of Ardeshir Hassanpour, a high-level scientist who is believed to have played a key role in Iran's nuclear program. His death has not been officially explained, but Stratfor sources have indicated that Hassanpour was a target of Mossad. If he was indeed assassinated by agents of Israel, it would mean the Jewish state has raised the stakes in the covert war -- and reprisals could be coming down the pike.

However, the capabilities of Iran's intelligence services today are very different from those of 1980s Iraq. Though the Iraqi service was quite adept at operating domestically -- in torturing, murdering and instilling fear in its own population -- its efforts to strike U.S. targets in Asia and Africa in January 1991 (following the launch of Operation Desert Storm) demonstrated a much lower degree of tactical sophistication and aptitude in operations abroad. The Iraqi operatives blew themselves up, planted IEDs that did not detonate and made naive mistakes, such as dispatching operatives using consecutively numbered Iraqi passports. They were simply too clumsy to wage a nuanced and complex intelligence war.

Iran is a different story. Between the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the special operations elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (also called the "Pasdaran" in Farsi) and Hezbollah, the Iranians have a well-developed clandestine infrastructure that has a history of effectively conducting assassinations and terrorist attacks abroad.

The Islamic Republic's covert capabilities were honed during the revolutionary struggle and became evident soon after the shah was toppled. The revolutionaries' first targets were Iranian monarchists in exile, who were trying to foment a counterrevolution in Iran. Later, after many of these opponents had been eliminated and the threat brought under control, MOIS shifted its focus to exiled dissidents and other opponents of the regime. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, influential leaders of these groups were targeted and killed in a sophisticated campaign that stretched from the Middle East to Europe to the suburbs of Washington.

Iranian agents and surrogates also engaged in overt attacks -- kidnappings, automatic weapons and grenade attacks in public places and bombings. Hezbollah in particular was quite active on this front; notable incidents included the abductions of CIA station chief William F. Buckley in 1984 and U.S. Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins in 1988 (both men died in captivity), as well as numerous hijackings and bombings.

Because Iran's conventional military forces -- though among the best in the region -- are clearly no match for those of the Americans or others, the sophisticated and highly disciplined intelligence service, and its ability to carry out covert campaigns, is a key component of national security. In the past, kidnappings and assassinations -- carried out with sufficient deniability -- have proved an effective way of eliminating enemies and leveraging the country's geopolitical position without incurring unacceptable risk.

Therefore, when Khamenei warned that attacking Iran would result in the attacker's interests around the world being targeted by Iranians, he was referring not only to Iran's conventional military strength but also to its well-developed clandestine capabilities.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity is one of the defining characteristics of an intelligence operation. For example, if a U.S. case officer were to be discovered by the Russians and PNG'd (declared "persona non grata"), it would be quite normal to see the Americans quickly detain and expel a Russian intelligence officer, known as a "Rezident." Similarly, if the FBI perceived that a Rezident was getting too provocative in his countersurveillance routine and decided to break the Rezident's car tail light or slash his tires, the bureau's Russian counterpart, the FSB, usually would respond in kind with an American case officer in Moscow. This principle extends to assassinations: If you kill one of ours, we will kill one of yours.

The concepts of reciprocity and vengeance are also deeply ingrained in the cultures and religions of the Middle East. In a conflict between the Iranians and Israelis, these concepts would figure prominently in any covert strikes -- as they frequently did in the past. To illustrate:


February 1992: Israeli agents assassinated Hezbollah leader Abbas Musawi. A month later, immediately after the 30-day mourning period for Musawi ended, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was bombed.


July 1994: Israel Defense Forces killed dozens of Hezbollah members in a strike at the group's Ein Dardara training camp. Hezbollah's response: the vehicle bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and attacks, eight days later, against the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish charity in London.


March 1995: MOIS carried out a well-planned strike against U.S. consulate employees in Karachi, Pakistan, killing two and wounding a third. It is believed that MOIS staged the attack in response to the killing of an Iranian intelligence officer, for which Tehran blamed the United States.

In short, Khamenei's recent threats of reciprocal attacks, in light of history, should not be taken lightly.

Emerging Risks

With this in mind, it is to be expected that the Iranians would retaliate against the party they believe to be responsible for the assassination of Hassanpour. Precisely which assets would be used in retaliation is an important question. If Hezbollah were activated, for example, one might expect a strike along the lines of the Buenos Aires or London attacks. But if MOIS operatives carried out the strike, it would have a completely different feel. MOIS frequently has employed stealth and deception to get the assassins within close range of their targets -- close enough to kill them with pistols or knives, often in the targets' homes.

If past cycles are any indication, the Iranians would take somewhere between four and six weeks to launch a reprisal -- or, in other words, a strike could come as early as the last week of February. According to source reports, MOIS and Hezbollah have been conducting pre-operational surveillance over the past year or so to collect targeting data in many different locations, so it is likely that a target already has been identified. This activity -- which began before the summer Israel/Hezbollah conflict and continued after its conclusion -- is a strong indication that the Iranians have been thinking about "off-the-shelf plans" that could be executed later as needed to protect their interests. Once plans were prepared, however, it still would be necessary to move operatives into place, acquire weapons and fine-tune details before an actual strike was carried out. This last step would require additional surveillance, so countersurveillance efforts will be crucial, especially for Israeli and Jewish targets, over the next few weeks.



(click to enlarge)

As a rule, the activities of Iranian diplomats in Western countries are watched closely in an effort to determine who among them are likely to be MOIS officers. With international tensions with Iran at their current levels, the activities of these officers will be scrutinized closely in coming weeks. American and Israeli intelligence officers also will be watching the Iranians closely in developing countries -- working with intelligence and security services of friendly countries and on a unilateral basis in locations where the host government is less cooperative -- or less competent. Meanwhile, counterintelligence agents will be taking a keen interest in anyone who meets with suspected MOIS officers -- especially Lebanese or Iranian visitors from out of town. That is because the Iranians have shown a tendency to use "out-of-town talent" to carry out attacks in the past, such as the strikes in Buenos Aires. Monitoring such activity could help to pre-empt any plans for a retaliatory strike by Iran. The Iranians know this well -- it is not a new concept -- and therefore likely would plan any retaliatory actions to take place in a country where, from their perspective, there is less risk of being detected or caught after the fact.

History and Khamenei's statement last week support the possibility that a reprisal attack very well could take place far beyond the Middle East. Countries in Asia, the Americas or Europe -- where MOIS and Hezbollah have conducted operations in the past -- are possibilities to consider. The risks to Israeli or Jewish targets are highest in areas where the Iranians have a diplomatic presence to support the mission, and where the host country's intelligence service and law enforcement officials are corrupt or otherwise ineffective.

If a strike against an Israeli or Jewish target in such a location should transpire, it would differ from a jihadist attack in that there would be no claims of credit by Iran. The attack itself would send all the message required.
26784  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: February 15, 2007, 02:48:31 AM
stratfor.com

Iraq: Ominous Signs of a Looming Sniper Threat
Summary

In a series of raids across Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces seized more than 100 Austrian-manufactured sniper rifles in a 24-hour period Feb. 12-13. The .50-caliber weapons, which were legally exported to Iran in 2006, represent a grave danger to coalition troops.

Analysis

Over the course of the last six months, handfuls of heavy .50-caliber sniper rifles manufactured by the Austrian company Steyr-Mannlicher have been turning up in Iraq. But a series of joint U.S.-Iraqi raids Feb. 12-13 in Baghdad uncovered more than 100 Steyr "HS.50" rifles -- an unprecedented development that bodes ill for U.S. troops surging into the Iraqi capital.

In 2005, the National Iranian Police Organization placed an order for 800 Steyr HS.50s worth more than $15.5 million (nearly $20,000 per rifle). Ostensibly, the rifles were intended for use in interdicting drug smugglers. The U.S. and U.K. governments both protested the shipment in 2006, fearing the rifles would fall into the hands of Iraqi militias. A month and a half after the initial shipment, the first U.S. soldier was killed with one of these Steyr rifles.

A standard practice among Western weapons manufactures is to mark a rifle with its serial number in several locations -- not only the frame but also the bolt and barrel -- and this is the practice at Steyr-Mannlicher. Such marking is especially important for sniper rifles, which are machined to precise tolerances -- a professional would want to keep the bolt and the barrel with the original rifle. Grinding the serial numbers off would negatively affect the accuracy of the rifle.

The Steyr HS.50s found in Baghdad have been traced through Iran back to the 2005 Austrian deal with the National Iranian Police Organization, presumably by using discernable serial numbers on the weapons.

The .50-caliber round is powerful enough to punch through not only the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts (E-SAPI) -- the armored plates worn by U.S. troops -- but also much of the light armor of U.S. vehicles. Iran also appears to have supplied armor-piercing incendiary rounds, which are even more destructive once they get inside the cramped compartments of vehicles. The armor-piercing incendiary rounds would also wreak havoc with a low-flying helicopter if it could actually be struck in-flight.

The Steyr HS.50 and other rifles of its kind are designed to engage targets at thousands of yards. Of course, a rifle is only as good as the marksmanship training of the person holding it. World-class snipers are the product of intensive training, something Iraqi insurgents noticeably lack (there are running jokes within U.S. military units about how terrible Iraqi marksmanship is). That said, a weapon like the Steyr HS.50 used to engage targets at 100 to 300 yards in a dense urban environment has a much larger margin of error and is devastating at such close ranges. Moreover, it is a single-shot, bolt-action rifle more accurate than the semi-automatic M82A3 Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle used by U.S. forces. In the right hands, the HS.50 is capable of a minute of angle beyond 1,600 yards (a measurement amounting to phenomenal accuracy).

Insurgent snipers have been increasingly dangerous in the last two years. In 2003 and 2004, Iraqi sniper fire was inaccurate and sporadic. Since then, however, casualties from sniper fire have been creeping up, and turret gunners are now being taken down with head shots.

That more than 100 Steyr HS.50s were confiscated in a single 24-hour period in Baghdad suggests two things: First, that such a concentration was put in place in preparation for the building U.S. surge into the Iraqi capital and that the cache could represent the bulk of the rifles supplied to Iraqi Shia by supporters inside Iran. But if substantially larger portions of the original 800 rifles have slipped into the capital, it will be costly for both U.S. and Iraqi forces. The only question is: How many did Iran keep for itself?
The second point to consider is this: U.S. troops almost certainly acted on excellent intelligence, suggesting that if there are more large caches, they very well could be found.

Such a powerful weapon in the hands of a single, well-trained professional is trouble enough. But hundreds of these rifles supplied to a large swath of Shiite militias could exact a considerable toll on coalition forces moving into Shiite neighborhoods -- a toll the current level of force protection cannot prevent.
26785  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / DBMA Seminar in Manassas VA on March 17 and 18 on: February 15, 2007, 02:30:29 AM
Woof All:

The Adventure continues!
Guro Crafty Dog

====================================

http://www.teamruthless.com/Event5.html,
Location: Team Ruthless, LLC, 7049 Gateway Court, Manassas, VA 20109     (703) 330-1113
Price: $300.00 For Both Days **To Pre-Pay Click On Registration Link At Bottom Of Page**
Schedule: Saturday: & Sunday: 10:00am - 4:00pm (With 1 Hour Lunch Break)

Contact: Team Ruthless, LLC        Phone: (703) 330-1113     Fax: (703) 935-3070

           E-Mail: info@teamruthless.com

26786  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Emergency Tips and Emergency Medicine on: February 15, 2007, 01:47:09 AM
Woof LoyalOneHK:

Great contributions!

This is an area wherein I feel myself to be sorely lacking and I have resolved to lessen my ignorance.

Please feel free to continue sharing as much as you wish.

TAC,
CD
26787  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Euro Martial Arts on: February 15, 2007, 01:44:49 AM
Woof Karsk:

It sounds like there is a very interesting question lurking in your post, but the meaning of the actual question is not clear to me.  Would you mind taking another stab at it?

TIA,
CD
26788  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 14, 2007, 04:18:46 PM
SB Mig: That post, while interesting, does not belong in this thread.  Please put it in Military Science and then delete it here.  If you can't delete it, then I will once you've posted it there.  TIA-CD
26789  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Romney on gun rights on: February 14, 2007, 04:15:42 PM
From http://www.boston.com/news/local/art...ontrol?mode=PF


Romney retreats on gun control

Ex-governor woos Republican votes

By Scott Helman, Globe Staff | January 14, 2007
ORLANDO , Fla. -- Former governor Mitt Romney, who once described himself as a supporter of strong gun laws, is distancing himself from that rhetoric now as he attempts to court the gun owners who make up a significant force in Republican primary politics.
In his 1994 US Senate run, Romney backed two gun-control measures strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups: the Brady Bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period on gun sales, and a ban on certain assault weapons.
"That's not going to make me the hero of the NRA," Romney told the Boston Herald in 1994.
At another campaign stop that year, he told reporters: "I don't line up with the NRA."
And as the GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2002, Romney lauded the state's strong laws during a debate against Democrat Shannon O'Brien. "We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts; I support them," he said. "I won't chip away at them; I believe they protect us and provide for our safety."
Today, as he explores a presidential bid, Romney is sending a very different message on gun issues, which are far more prominent in Republican national politics than in Massachusetts.
He now touts his work as governor to ease restrictions on gun owners. He proudly describes himself as a member of the NRA -- though his campaign won't say when he joined. And Friday, at his campaign's request, top officials of the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation led him around one of the country's biggest gun shows.
Romney says he still backs the ban on assault weapons, but he won't say whether he stands by the Brady Bill. And after the gun show tour, his campaign declined to say whether he would still describe himself as a supporter of tough gun laws.
"He believes Americans have the right to own and possess firearms as guaranteed under the US Constitution," spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom wrote in an e-mail. "He's proud to be among the many decent, law-abiding men and women who safely use firearms. Like President Bush, he supports restrictions on assault weapons, but Mitt Romney has also worked with gun owners and sportsmen to ease the gun-licensing laws in Massachusetts."
Romney appears to be stepping up his efforts to portray himself as a gun-friendly candidate, though some gun-rights activists in important primary states say his past positions will hurt him politically.
On Wednesday, Romney said on an Internet podcast, "The Glenn and Helen Show," that he hopes states would continue to ease regulations on gun owners, and he expressed enthusiasm for guns and hunting. "I have a gun of my own. I go hunting myself. I'm a member of the NRA and believe firmly in the right to bear arms," Romney said.
Asked by reporters at the gun show Friday whether he personally owned the gun, Romney said he did not. He said one of his sons, Josh, keeps two guns at the family vacation home in Utah, and he uses them "from time to time." The guns are a Winchester hunting rifle and a Glock 9mm handgun, which Romney uses for target shooting . Romney also described himself as a sportsman who learned to shoot as a boy rabbit hunting in Idaho with a .22 rifle. He fondly recalled shooting quail last year at a Republican Governors Association event in Georgia.
"I . . . had a good time and actually knocked down a couple of birds," he said.
Fehrnstrom said Romney had taken steps to support gun rights as governor, including his signing of an NRA-backed bill last year that reduced a testing requirement on certain pistol-makers before they could sell guns in Massachusetts.
In 2002, even as he was pledging to uphold the state's strong gun laws, Romney still garnered a "B" grade from the NRA.
Also, in 2005, Romney designated May 7 as "The Right to Bear Arms Day" in Massachusetts to honor "the right of decent, law-abiding citizens to own and use firearms in defense of their families, persons, and property and for all lawful purposes, including the common defense."
But perhaps the most significant gun legislation Romney signed as governor was a 2004 measure instituting a permanent ban on assault weapons. The Legislature mirrored the law after the federal assault weapons ban, which was set to expire. According to activists at the time, the bill made Massachusetts the first state to enact its own such ban, and Romney hailed the move.
"These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense," he was quoted as saying. "They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people."
The bill enjoyed the support of Massachusetts gun owners because it also encompassed several measures they favored -- including a lengthening of the terms of firearm identification cards and licenses to carry. (Asked about the bill Friday, Romney described it as a "consensus measure" and a "positive step.")
But the NRA and many local affiliates do not support assault weapons bans, arguing that the arms are rarely used in crimes and have a legitimate purpose in hunting, target shooting, and self-protection. Romney's signing of that bill, despite its progun provisions, will be problematic politically, activists say.
"Why don't you just not take away [rights] from us?" Michael Thiede, president of the group Michigan Gun Owners, said last week. He said Romney's support for the assault-weapons ban and the Brady Bill will "absolutely" give him friction.
Gerald W. Stoudemire, president of Gun Owners of South Carolina, agreed, saying Romney has been "basically antigun on some issues."
"They're going to be a big scratch on his record," Stoudemire said. "He's going to have to not just get over them, but show a different direction if he's going to pick up voters."
The NRA officials who led Romney around the trade show declined to discuss his positions. "We meet with candidates all over the country at every level," said Chris W. Cox, who heads the NRA's political and legislative work.
Romney's past positions on gun control have also drawn some attention in the blogosphere, though not nearly as much as his statements in support of abortion rights and gay rights. (He's now antiabortion and takes a harder line on gay rights.) "Wait until the 2d amendment crowd gets a hold of Mitt's views on gun control," one blogger wrote on punditreview.com .
Romney was clearly trying to allay such concerns by attending the massive Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference at Orlando's Orange County Convention Center. Romney, joined by his wife, Ann, and trailed by local television stations and a few reporters, chatted enthusiastically with vendors displaying a wide variety of weapons.
"Let's see your shotguns here," Romney said to Michael F. Golden, CEO of the Springfield-based gunmaker Smith & Wesson. Romney's dark suit stood out in a sea of camouflage, but he gamely introduced himself to anyone in his path.
At one booth, he met exhibition shooter Tom Knapp , who gave Romney some hunting advice: When you miss an animal, pretend you did it on purpose, because you want the animal to breed lots of offspring (read: targets).
"That's a great hunting tip!" Romney said with a laugh.
The trade show illustrated the work that lies ahead for Romney in broadening his name recognition. Though many people knew who he was -- "I was just pitching you last night!" one man said enthusiastically -- many others did not.
"Who is that?" a woman at the Crossman gunmaker booth asked quietly after Romney walked away.
"A governor," someone said.
"Where?" she asked.
"Massachusetts -- may be running for president."
Moments later, a different woman gestured in his direction: "Is that Jeb Bush?"
"No, it's Mitt Romney," Fehrnstrom corrected.
__________________
26790  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Shame on the NFL on: February 14, 2007, 02:56:06 PM
The National Football League refused to run a recruitment ad for the U.S. Border Patrol in last week's Super Bowl program, saying it was "controversial" because it mentioned duties such as fighting terrorism and stopping drugs and illegal aliens at the border.
    "The ad that the department submitted was specific to Border Patrol, and it mentioned terrorism. We were not comfortable with that," said Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the NFL. "The borders, the immigration debate is a very controversial issue, and we were sensitive to any perception we were injecting ourselves into that."
    The NFL's rejection didn't sit well with Border Patrol agents, who called it a snub of their role in homeland security and said it was "more than a little puzzling."
    "The NFL missed a golden opportunity to reach countless patriotic citizens who want to answer the call to help prevent another terrorist attack on American soil," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents the agency's nonsupervisory personnel.
    Border Patrol agents are assigned to protect the country's borders with Mexico and Canada between the ports of entry. The agency is trying to boost its force to 18,000, a goal President Bush outlined last year in a prime-time Oval Office address to the nation.
    Other major leagues have had no problems running the ad, a Border Patrol spokesman said. It has been accepted to run in programs for the upcoming NBA All Star Game and the NCAA Final Four, as well as in Pro BullRider magazine, the spokesman said.
    The NFL's snub came to light last week during Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's testimony before a congressional panel. Mr. Chertoff said the ad was rejected, "much to my chagrin."
    Mr. Aiello said that the NFL offered the department a chance to run a generic recruiting ad, similar to ads the U.S. military runs, but that the league never heard back from it.
    "We proposed a more generic recruiting ad for the department that didn't highlight the borders, which brings up the immigration issue and the immigration debate. That's controversial," he said.
    That position stands in stark contrast to the ongoing debate in Congress, where among all the thorny issues related to immigration, the one that wins near-unanimous agreement is the need for more boots on the ground.
    "Since almost every American favors securing our borders and the overwhelming majority of legislators on both sides of the immigration debate support significant increases in the number of Border Patrol agents, it is extremely difficult to imagine how those issues could be perceived as controversial," Mr. Bonner said.
    He said the NFL's decision appeared to be an attempt to try to avoid upsetting the emerging market of football fans in Latin America.

===========

 The Super Bowl program is produced by the NFL, which printed about 200,000 copies this year, Mr. Aiello said.
    The Border Patrol ad asks for "the right men and women to help protect America's southwest borders." It lists duties as preventing "the entry of terrorists and their weapons," blocking "unlawful entry of undocumented aliens" and "stopping drug smuggling."
    The ad does not mention the ongoing immigration debate in Washington or touch on contentious subjects such as amnesty, a guest-worker program or legalization.
    Mr. Bush has promised to double the size of the Border Patrol, which stood at 9,000 when he took office. His budget proposal calls for funding for 3,000 new agents in fiscal 2008 alone.
    Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham, who oversees the Border Patrol, told The Washington Times last year that an aggressive recruiting effort by the agency had resulted in "no want for applicants."
    Mr. Basham said the ongoing attrition rate for the Border Patrol of about 4 percent was significantly down from previous years and meant that 6,800 new agents would have to be hired and trained to fill the 6,000 slots sought to boost the agency's numbers to 18,000 and to make up for losses from attrition.
    To meet the president's goal, Mr. Basham -- who once led the federal law-enforcement training center -- said the agency had reduced the total number of days trainees attend the academy, "but not the training they receive." He said the overall training schedule was reduced in October from 92 to 81 days.
   
26791  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics on: February 14, 2007, 12:11:12 PM
A Portrait of the Economy
By BRIAN S. WESBURY
February 14, 2007; Page A21

It's the best of times. It's the scariest of times. Last year, U.S. exports, industrial production, real hourly compensation, corporate profits, federal tax revenues, retail sales, GDP, productivity, the number of people with jobs, the number of students in college, airline passenger traffic and the Dow Jones Industrial Average all hit record levels. For the third consecutive year, global growth was strong, continuing to lift (and hold) millions of people out of poverty. From 30,000 feet, heck from 1,000 feet, it sure looks like the best of times.

In relative terms, the first five years of the current recovery have been much better than the first five years of the 1990s recovery. But all this has not softened the pessimism of many pundits and politicians who are either unimpressed or expect the whole thing to come crashing down any minute. That is, unless the government firmly grabs the reins of the global economy and steers it clear of disaster.

Many believe that the debate is over on global warming, nationalized health care, tax hikes, rich-versus-poor, the trade deficit and "obscene" oil company profits. Forgotten in this rush to pass judgment on capitalism is the fact that the last two times government seriously tried to control the U.S. economy -- in the 1930s and in the 1970s -- they made a terrible mess of it.

 
In the 1930s, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act caused a collapse in global trade, while the Fed allowed the money supply to shrink by one-third. Government regulation in the 1920s prevented banks from branching, which caused more than 10,000 to fail in the 1930s, deepening and prolonging the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover's tax hikes were icing on the cake, capping off a perfect storm of D.C. policy mistakes.

It took another 35 years, and a nice run of prosperity, but Washington finally gathered the courage to try this again. Between 1965 and 1981, Great Society welfare and health-care programs, wage and price controls, inflationary Fed policy, 70% marginal tax rates, 50% capital-gains tax rates, and highly regulated energy, airline, banking and trucking industries created severe problems. The Misery Index (calculated by adding inflation and unemployment) rose to 21.9% in 1980 (today it is 7.2%).

One of the worst mistakes of the 1970s was a National Energy Plan. On April 18, 1977, in a nationally televised speech, President Carter said, "World oil production can probably keep going up for another six or eight years. But some time in the 1980s it can't go up much more. Demand will overtake production."

President Carter's White House economists worried about "environmental damage and the risks to national security and to future economic activity posed by energy imports." To fix these problems, the Department of Energy (DOE) was created while the Congress and president pushed forward windfall profits taxes, price caps, subsidies for solar energy, tax breaks for using coal, and direct spending on synthetic fuels.

Not only did all of this fail to stop imports or the use of fossil fuels, it was also the source of economic pain. Part of the problem was faulty forecasts. Rather than peaking in the mid-1980s, the latest DOE estimates predict peak oil production no earlier than 2021, but possibly as late as 2037, 2067 or 2112, depending on assumptions.

The cost of government intervention is always underestimated in the midst of political battles, while the benefits are always overestimated. Impeding the free market alters the course of economic activity in ways that cannot fully be understood in advance. For example, tax subsidies for using existing solar technology diminish incentives for research and development, just like welfare payments undermine the willingness of many recipients to work or go to school. Why give up a sure thing for a future that is uncertain?

The U.S. is subsidizing ethanol, which pulls billions of dollars of investment capital away from other areas of the economy. When government picks what it thinks should be the winner, it saps resources from other ideas and potential advancements. In the 1960s, the U.K. picked coal and steel, while Japan picked consumer electronics, motor vehicles and exports. The U.K. was wrong. The Japanese got it right. But the odds of any government picking the right strategy, industry or technology are no greater than that of a single company or individual.

The power of a free market is that the odds of success are increased. With tens, or hundreds, of thousands of different entities researching, inventing, producing and distributing, successes not only multiply, but their profits generate resources that allow the economy to absorb the cost of mistakes and failure. It's called diversification. When one company fails, those closely involved are hurt, but not the entire economy. When government is wrong, millions suffer.

Unfortunately, the government reacts to market failure by creating more regulation. Think Sarbanes-Oxley. But the costs of this regulation are almost always greater than the benefits; and Congress tends toward denial when it comes to government failure.

One would think that the unbelievably dramatic turnaround in the economy from the malaise of the 1970s to the boom of the past 24 years would prevent the return of big government. But it appears that a growing number of American politicians, journalists and their constituents have forgotten the awful reality of the 1970s economy. Part of the problem is that people younger than 45 don't have even the slightest idea of how bad it was, or what caused it. They also have no idea that when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan turned away from socialism in the late 1970s and early 1980s, continental Europe (Germany, France and Italy) kept going. Then while the U.S and U.K. boomed, continental Europe fell behind.

Moreover, many of the more acute economic problems supposedly facing the U.S. are evaporating quickly. My models of the federal budget forecast a $115 billion dollar deficit this year, just 0.8% of GDP, less than half the size expected by the White House, and $57 billion less than the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Next year, I expect a deficit of $35 billion. A budget surplus in 2009 is likely.

With tax rates low, profits and incomes rising, and strong non-withheld income tax revenues (from IRA withdrawals and capital gains), forecasts of a significant slowdown in revenue growth appear too pessimistic. Many argue that the cost of fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax will reduce revenue growth, but the AMT has been "fixed" in each of the past three years and revenue growth has consistently exceeded expectations. The wild card is spending. My forecast expects $40 billion more in spending than CBO estimates this year, mostly for the Iraq war. But gridlock in Congress should help spending growth to remain in check for the next few years.

Surpluses will change the calculus on tax hikes in dramatic fashion. Any argument to repeal the Bush tax cuts will face a strong headwind. This is great news for investors and the economy. In addition, with unemployment down to 4.6%, and real GDP excluding housing up 4.3% in the past year, many industries face labor shortages. Wages are being bid higher and much like the second half of the 1990s recovery, wage growth should continue to accelerate sharply in the months and years ahead. Data show that this process has already begun.

The economy is still riding a wave of productivity growth, built on the winds of technological change. Computer chips are still getting faster, cheaper and more efficient. Software is becoming more powerful and telecommunication advances are moving at warp speed.

Free-market capitalism is not perfect. But it remains the single most efficient and powerful system for creating wealth, reducing poverty and developing less wasteful ways of organizing output and consuming resources.

With the U.S. seemingly at a political turning point, the next few years are very important. At a similar juncture in 1929, and again in 1965, the U.S. moved toward bigger government. After World War II, and again in the early 1980s, Washington chose less intrusive government. The results speak for themselves. Good times or scary times: It's our choice.

Mr. Wesbury is the chief economist at First Trust Advisors L.P. in Lisle, Ill.
26792  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 14, 2007, 12:02:45 PM
C-Stray Dog:

Interesting how "off the radar screen" OBL has become , , , 

I must say that it looks to me like the Bush Administration really took its eye off the ball here and has allowed what was a promising situation turn into , , , a mess.

Anyway, here's this from today's WSJ. 

-------------

Taliban Spring
February 14, 2007; Page A20
American and NATO military planners in Afghanistan are bracing for what they anticipate will be a major Taliban offensive this spring. Expect more terrorism in Kabul, attacks on positions in and around the key Pashtun city of Kandahar, ambushes on vehicles and attacks on European and Canadian forces, which the Taliban consider, with good reason, to be the weak link in the NATO chain. Expect, too, for the Taliban to be decisively defeated.

The year 2006 was a bad one for Afghanistan. The rate of suicide bombings throughout the country soared. The Taliban found sanctuary in Pakistan's Waziristan province and, thanks to their "truce" with Islamabad, more than doubled the number of raids into Afghanistan. Entire provinces in the country had almost no military or police presence to speak of. And NATO was unable to secure further troop commitments from its non-U.S. members.

Now the picture is brightening. A year ago there were no Afghan troops and no more than 150 U.S. special forces in the southern province of Helmand. Today, there is an Afghan infantry battalion and a British air-assault brigade. The U.S. is deploying thousands of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division while extending the deployment of the Tenth Mountain Infantry brigade in anticipation of the spring offensive. That brings total U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan to 24,000, roughly 6,000 more than this time last year. So much for the idea that the surge in Iraq is starving our efforts in Afghanistan.

The situation with the Afghan military is also improving, though a senior U.S. military official describes the process as a "steep uphill climb." In 2005, the desertion rate was 25%. Today it is 10%. It helps that the Afghan soldier has now had a raise, to about $100 a month. It helps, too, that the U.S. is now investing $8.6 billion over two years to better equip and train the army, and to double its size to 70,000.

Where the U.S. still has significant problems is with its partners in the region. The fighting capabilities of European, Canadian and even British forces continue to lag far behind America's, as does their willingness to fight. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has been under intense political pressure to withdraw Italy's 1,800-man contingent in Afghanistan. This week, a Canadian senate committee recommended withdrawing their forces if other NATO countries don't increase theirs.

More problematic is Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf's recent proposal to mine the border with Afghanistan along the so-called "Durand line" is probably not serious, but if it were it would not be helpful. And while it's true that the Pakistan army lost some 400 soldiers in fighting against the Taliban, it's also true that their September truce represents an abdication of their sovereign responsibility to control their borders.

Still, the combination of more troops and a keen appreciation of last year's mistakes puts the U.S. and Afghanistan in a better position than a year ago to repulse the Taliban's expected spring offensive. We hope our wavering NATO allies feel the same way. After all, isn't Afghanistan supposed to be the "good war" in the broader war on terror?

26793  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: February 14, 2007, 11:54:31 AM
WSJ

The Ever-'Present' Obama
Barack has a along track record of not taking a stand.

BY NATHAN GONZALES
Wednesday, February 14, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Finally and officially, Barack Obama is running for president. His symbolic announcement, in the Land of Lincoln, called for a new era in politics. Obama downplayed his thin federal experience while championing his record on the state and local level, and he talked about the need to change Washington, set priorities, and "make hard choices."

"What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics--the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions," Obama said in his announcement speech. But a closer look at the presidential candidate's record in the Illinois Legislature reveals something seemingly contradictory: a number of occasions when Obama avoided making hard choices.

While some conservatives and Republicans surely will harp on what they call his "liberal record," highlighting applicable votes to support their case, it's Obama's history of voting "present" in Springfield--even on some of the most controversial and politically explosive issues of the day--that raises questions that he will need to answer. Voting "present" is one of three options in the Illinois Legislature (along with "yes" and "no"), but it's almost never an option for the occupant of the Oval Office.





We aren't talking about a "present" vote on whether to name a state office building after a deceased state official, but rather about votes that reflect an officeholder's core values.
For example, in 1997, Obama voted "present" on two bills (HB 382 and SB 230) that would have prohibited a procedure often referred to as partial birth abortion. He also voted "present" on SB 71, which lowered the first offense of carrying a concealed weapon from a felony to a misdemeanor and raised the penalty of subsequent offenses.

In 1999, Obama voted "present" on SB 759, a bill that required mandatory adult prosecution for firing a gun on or near school grounds. The bill passed the state Senate 52-1. Also in 1999, Obama voted "present" on HB 854 that protected the privacy of sex-abuse victims by allowing petitions to have the trial records sealed. He was the only member to not support the bill.

In 2001, Obama voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted "present" on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion. In his book, the "Audacity of Hope," on page 132, Obama explained his problems with the "born alive" bills, specifically arguing that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. But he failed to mention that he only felt strongly enough to vote "present" on the bills instead of "no."

And finally in 2001, Obama voted "present" on SB 609, a bill prohibiting strip clubs and other adult establishments from being within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, and daycares.

If Obama had taken a position for or against these bills, he would have pleased some constituents and alienated others. Instead, the Illinois legislator-turned-U.S. senator and, now, Democratic presidential hopeful essentially took a pass.

Some of these bills may have been "bad." They may have included poison pills or been poorly written, making it impossible for Obama to support them. They may have even been unconstitutional. When I asked the Obama campaign about those votes, they explained that in some cases, the Senator was uncomfortable with only certain parts of the bill, while in other cases, the bills were attempts by Republicans simply to score points.

But even if that were the case, it doesn't explain his votes. The state legislator had an easy solution if the bills were unacceptable to him: he could have voted against them and explained his reasoning.

Because it takes affirmative votes to pass legislation in the Illinois Senate, a "present" vote is tantamount to a "no" vote. A "present" vote is generally used to provide political cover for legislators who don't want to be on the record against a bill that they oppose. Of course, Obama isn't the first or only Illinois state senator to vote "present," but he is the only one running for President of the United States.

While these votes occurred while Obama and the Democrats were in the minority in the Illinois Senate, in the "Audacity of Hope" (page 130), Obama explained that even as a legislator in the minority, "You must vote yes or no on whatever bill comes up, with the knowledge that it's unlikely to be a compromise that either you or your supporters consider fair and or just."





Obama's "present" record could hurt him in two very different ways in his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination and, ultimately, the White House. On one hand, those votes could anger some Democrats, even liberals, because he did not take a strong enough stand on their issues. On the other hand, his votes could simply be portrayed by adversaries as a failure of leadership for not being willing to make a tough decision and stick by it.
Obama is one of the most dynamic and captivating figures in American politics at this time, and he has put together an excellent campaign team. He clearly is a factor in the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

But as Democrats--and Americans--are searching for their next leader, the Illinois senator's record, and not just his rhetoric, will be examined under a microscope. As president, Obama will be faced with countless difficult decisions on numerous gray issues, and voting "present" will not be an option. He will need to explain those "present" votes as a member of the Illinois Legislature if he hopes to become America's commander-in-chief.

Mr. Gonzales is political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.



26794  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Faith based non-proliferation on: February 14, 2007, 11:49:17 AM
WSJ

Faith-Based Nonproliferation
We'll believe it when Kim Jong Il hands over his plutonium.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

So after a couple of decades of broken promises, missile launches and nuclear tests, North Korea's Kim Jong Il has finally decided to give up his nuclear ambitions in return for diplomatic recognition and foreign aid. The Bush Administration will no doubt be praised with scorn for finally being "reasonable" and recognizing "reality," but the exercise strikes us as something close to faith-based nonproliferation.

Perhaps the best thing we can say about the deal is that it is marginally better than the "Agreed Framework," the 1994 accord in which the Clinton Administration agreed to hand over two light-water reactors and 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year in exchange for North Korea's promise to freeze its plutonium program. Pyongyang pocketed the oil, only to demand more compensation within a few years while secretly enriching uranium in a separate nuclear program that it only acknowledged in 2002.

This time there are no nuclear reactors on offer, and North Korea will get only 5% of the promised one million tons of fuel oil and humanitarian assistance up front. The remaining 95% is contingent upon North Korea providing a full accounting of all of its nuclear programs within 60 days, and ultimately agreeing to dismantle the works. That includes nuclear bombs, spent fuel and the clandestine uranium program--which it now denies having but that the Bush Administration insists does exist.





The other difference from 1994 is that China is a party to this accord. Beijing has by far the most leverage of any country on Pyongyang, as its political patron and supplier of most of its energy needs. China was instrumental in getting Pyongyang back to the negotiating table after a three-year absence, and the U.S. is counting on it to help ensure the North's cooperation.
A senior Administration official tells us that there has been a "sea change" in the Chinese attitude toward North Korea since last summer's missile launch--read: Beijing is furious--and that Beijing is now "heavily invested" in making sure that the deal succeeds. We can only hope this is so.

However, Kim has proven he can stand up to China before, and the dictator's habit is to strike an agreement and then try to renegotiate it along the way for better terms. He will have many chances to do so under yesterday's accord, because the commitments and timetables are vague to say the least. His one important specific promise is to shut down his plutonium facility, at Yongbyon, within 60 days.

The accord makes no mention of the plutonium his regime has produced, nor of the eight or more nuclear bombs he is thought to possess. Nor does it refer to his uranium enrichment program, much less specify that international inspectors will be able to roam the country's vast network of underground installations for evidence of where that program might be. Bush Administration officials say that they believe that all of Kim's nuclear activities are covered under the agreement, and that Kim will be expected to come clean in his 60-day declaration.

But if he doesn't? One danger of this accord is that it will start a traditional "arms control" process in which Kim can stall and protest, and the U.S. will be pressured to make even further concessions. We can already see the lineup of South Koreans, Chinese, American media and State Department officials all suggesting that the Bush Administration is being obstinate and "unrealistic" if it insists on intrusive inspections, or on recovering all of Kim's plutonium.

Meanwhile, the immediate effect of the fuel assistance and promises of diplomatic recognition will sustain Kim's regime, allowing him to sell the deal at home as a victory for his missile and nuclear blackmail. The timing is especially ironic given that Kim's position arguably has never been more precarious thanks to U.S.-imposed financial measures against the North's international banking activities.

Treasury's blacklisting of Banco Delta Asia in Macau in September 2005--and the demonstration effect on other banks that did business with the North--essentially shut down Pyongyang's access to the global banking system. The U.S. is now promising to review its Banco Delta Asia action within 30 days. If that results in the government of Macau releasing some portion of the $24 million in BNA's North Korean accounts, it's yet another prop for the regime.





All of which is to say that this is far from the nonproliferation model set by Libya's Moammar Gadhafi in the wake of Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. Gadhafi relinquished his entire nuclear program up front, and only later--once compliance was verified and the nuclear materials removed from the country--did the U.S. take Libya off the terror list and provide other rewards.
Perhaps Mr. Bush feels this is the best he can do in the waning days of his Administration. Or perhaps, in the most favorable interpretation, he wants to clear the decks of this issue in order to have more political capital to control Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran may look at this deal, however, and conclude it has little to lose by raising the nuclear stakes. We'd like to believe this will turn out better, but history doesn't support such faith.
26795  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Euro Martial Arts on: February 14, 2007, 10:47:37 AM
DBMA Association member Marlon wrote this:

http://www.stockkampf.ch/archiv/article01.html
26796  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy on: February 14, 2007, 01:39:47 AM
All:

Once again, Stratfor/Geroge Friedman lay down some deep thinking.  Comments?

Marc

PS:  I am a lifetime subscriber to Stratfor.  What you see here is only a fraction of what they produce.

=========================================

Russia's Great-Power Strategy
By George Friedman

Most speeches at diplomatic gatherings aren't worth the time it takes to listen to them. On rare occasion, a speech is delivered that needs to be listened to carefully. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave such a speech over the weekend in Munich, at a meeting on international security. The speech did not break new ground; it repeated things that the Russians have been saying for quite a while. But the venue in which it was given and the confidence with which it was asserted signify a new point in Russian history. The Cold War has not returned, but Russia is now officially asserting itself as a great power, and behaving accordingly.

At Munich, Putin launched a systematic attack on the role the United States is playing in the world. He said: "One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way ... This is nourishing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons." In other words, the United States has gone beyond its legitimate reach and is therefore responsible for attempts by other countries -- an obvious reference to Iran -- to acquire nuclear weapons.

Russia for some time has been in confrontation with the United States over U.S. actions in the former Soviet Union (FSU). What the Russians perceive as an American attempt to create a pro-U.S. regime in Ukraine triggered the confrontation. But now, the issue goes beyond U.S. actions in the FSU. The Russians are arguing that the unipolar world -- meaning that the United States is the only global power and is surrounded by lesser, regional powers -- is itself unacceptable. In other words, the United States sees itself as the solution when it is, actually, the problem.

In his speech, Putin reached out to European states -- particularly Germany, pointing out that it has close, but blunt, relations with Russia. The Central Europeans showed themselves to be extremely wary about Putin's speech, recognizing it for what it was -- a new level of assertiveness from an historical enemy. Some German leaders appeared more understanding, however: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made no mention of Putin's speech in his own presentation to the conference, while Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Putin's stance on Iran. He also noted that the U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was cause for concern -- and not only to Russia.

Putin now clearly wants to escalate the confrontations with the United States and likely wants to build a coalition to limit American power. The gross imbalance of global power in the current system makes such coalition-building inevitable -- and it makes sense that the Russians should be taking the lead. The Europeans are risk-averse, and the Chinese do not have much at risk in their dealings with the United States at the moment. The Russians, however, have everything at risk. The United States is intruding in the FSU, and an ideological success for the Americans in Ukraine would leave the Russians permanently on the defensive.

The Russians need allies but are not likely to find them among other great-power states. Fortunately for Moscow, the U.S. obsession with Iraq creates alternative opportunities. First, the focus on Iraq prevents the Americans from countering Russia elsewhere. Second, it gives the Russians serious leverage against the United States -- for example, by shipping weapons to key players in the region. Finally, there are Middle Eastern states that seek great-power patronage. It is therefore no accident that Putin's next stop, following the Munich conference, was in Saudi Arabia. Having stabilized the situation in the former Soviet region, the Russians now are constructing their follow-on strategy, and that concerns the Middle East.

The Russian Interests

The Middle East is the pressure point to which the United States is most sensitive. Its military commitment in Iraq, the confrontation with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and oil in the Arabian Peninsula create a situation such that pain in the region affects the United States intensely. Therefore, it makes sense for the Russians to use all available means of pressure in the Middle East in efforts to control U.S. behavior elsewhere, particularly in the former Soviet Union.

Like the Americans, the Russians also have direct interests in the Middle East. Energy is a primary one: Russia is not only a major exporter of energy supplies, it is currently the world's top oil producer. The Russians have a need to maintain robust energy prices, and working with the Iranians and Saudis in some way to achieve this is directly in line with Moscow's interest. To be more specific, the Russians do not want the Saudis increasing oil production.





There are strategic interests in the Middle East as well. For example, the Russians are still bogged down in Chechnya. It is Moscow's belief that if Chechnya were to secede from the Russian Federation, a precedent would be set that could lead to the dissolution of the Federation. Moscow will not allow this. The Russians consistently have claimed that the Chechen rebellion has been funded by "Wahhabis," by which they mean Saudis. Reaching an accommodation with the Saudis, therefore, would have not only economic, but also strategic, implications for the Russians.

On a broader level, the Russians retain important interests in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. In both cases, their needs intersect with forces originating in the Muslim world and trace, to some extent, back to the Middle East. If the Russian strategy is to reassert a sphere of influence in the former Soviet region, it follows that these regions must be secured. That, in turn, inevitably involves the Russians in the Middle East.

Therefore, even if Russia is not in a position to pursue some of the strategic goals that date back to the Soviet era and before -- such as control of the Bosporus and projection of naval power into the Mediterranean -- it nevertheless has a basic, ongoing interest in the region. Russia has a need both to limit American power and to achieve direct goals of its own. So it makes perfect sense for Putin to leave Munich and embark on a tour of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.

The Complexities

But the Russians also have a problem. The strategic interests of Middle Eastern states diverge, to say the least. The two main Islamic powers between the Levant and the Hindu Kush are Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Russians have things they want from each, but the Saudis and Iranians have dramatically different interests. Saudi Arabia -- an Arab and primarily Sunni kingdom -- is rich but militarily weak. The government's reliance on outside help for national defense generates intense opposition within the kingdom. Desert Storm, which established a basing arrangement for Western troops within Saudi Arabia, was one of the driving forces behind the creation of al Qaeda. Iran -- a predominantly Persian and Shiite power -- is not nearly as rich as Saudi Arabia but militarily much more powerful. Iran seeks to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf -- out of both its need to defend itself against aggression, and for controlling and exploiting the oil wealth of the region.

Putting the split between Sunni and Shiite aside for the moment, there is tremendous geopolitical asymmetry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia wants to limit Iranian power, while keeping its own dependence on foreign powers at a minimum. That means that, though keeping energy prices high might make financial sense for the kingdom, the fact that high energy prices also strengthen the Iranians actually can be a more important consideration, depending on circumstances. There is some evidence that recent declines in oil prices are linked to decisions in Riyadh that are aimed at increasing production, reducing prices and hurting the Iranians.

This creates a problem for Russia. While Moscow has substantial room for maneuver, the fact is that lowered oil prices impact energy prices overall, and therefore hurt the Russians. The Saudis, moreover, need the Iranians blocked -- but without going so far as to permit foreign troops to be based in Saudi Arabia itself. In other words, they want to see the United States remain in Iraq, since the Americans serve as the perfect shield against the Iranians so long as they remain there. Putin's criticisms of the United States, as delivered in Munich, would have been applauded by Saudi Arabia prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But in 2007, the results of that invasion are exactly what the Saudis feared -- a collapsed Iraq and a relatively powerful Iran. The Saudis now need the Americans to stay put in the region.

The interests of Russia and Iran align more closely, but there are points of divergence there as well. Both benefit from having the United States tied up, militarily and politically, in wars, but Tehran would be delighted to see a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq that leaves a power vacuum for Iran to fill. The Russians would rather not see this outcome. First, they are quite happy to have the United States bogged down in Iraq and would prefer that to having the U.S. military freed for operations elsewhere. Second, they are interested in a relationship with Iran but are not eager to drive the United States and Saudi Arabia into closer relations. Third, the Russians do not want to see Iran become the dominant power in the region. They want to use Iran, but within certain manageable limits.

Russia has been supplying Iran with weapons. Of particular significance is the supply of surface-to-air missiles that would raise the cost of U.S. air operations against Iran. It is not clear whether the advanced S300PMU surface-to-air missile has yet been delivered, although there has been some discussion of this lately. If it were delivered, this would present significant challenges for U.S. air operation over Iran. The Russians would find this particularly advantageous, as the Iranians would absorb U.S. attentions and, as in Vietnam, the Russians would benefit from extended, fruitless commitments of U.S. military forces in regions not vital to Russia.

Meanwhile, there are energy matters: The Russians, as we have said, are interested in working with Iran to manage world oil prices. But at the same time, they would not be averse to a U.S. attack that takes Iran's oil off the market, spikes prices and enriches Russia.

Finally, it must be remembered that behind this complex relationship with Iran, there historically has been animosity and rivalry between the two countries. The Caucasus has been their battleground. For the moment, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is a buffer there, but it is a buffer in which Russians and Iranians are already dueling. So long as both states are relatively weak, the buffer will maintain itself. But as they get stronger, the Caucasus will become a battleground again. When Russian and Iranian territories border each other, the two powers are rarely at peace. Indeed, Iran frequently needs outside help to contain the Russians.

A Complicated Strategy

In sum, the Russian position in the Middle East is at least as complex as the American one. Or perhaps even more so, since the Americans can leave and the Russians always will live on the doorstep of the Middle East. Historically, once the Russians start fishing in Middle Eastern waters, they find themselves in a greater trap than the Americans. The opening moves are easy. The duel between Saudi Arabia and Iran seems manageable. But as time goes on, Putin's Soviet predecessors learned, the Middle East is a graveyard of ambitions -- and not just American ambitions.

Russia wants to contain U.S. power, and manipulating the situation in the Middle East certainly will cause the Americans substantial pain. But whatever short-term advantages the Russians may be able to find and exploit in the region, there is an order of complexity in Putin's maneuver that might transcend any advantage they gain from boxing the Americans in.

In returning to "great power" status, Russia is using an obvious opening gambit. But being obvious does not make it optimal.
Contact Us
26797  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF on: February 14, 2007, 01:17:02 AM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iIGUGSd3wE

Medievil tech support
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRjVeRbhtRU
26798  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nature on: February 13, 2007, 06:09:57 PM
It is not my intention that this thread be a series of posts about misadventures with nature, but, , , , well , , , here's another one:


Cheetahs Maul Woman to Death at Zoo in Belgium

Tuesday , February 13, 2007

BRUSSELS, Belgium —

An animal lover was mauled to death by cheetahs after entering their cage at a zoo in northern Belgium, authorities and zoo officials said Monday.  Karen Aerts, 37, of Antwerp, was found dead in the cage, Olmense Zoo spokesman Jan Libot said. Police said they ruled out any foul play.

Authorities believe Aerts, a regular visitor to the zoo, hid in the park late Sunday until it closed and managed to find the keys to the cheetah cage.
"Karen loved animals. Unfortunately the cheetahs betrayed her trust,"  rolleyes cheesy Libot said.
One of the cats that killed Aerts was named Bongo, whom the woman had adopted under a special program. She paid for Bongo's food, Libot said.  Animal rights group GAIA called for the immediate closure of the zoo, located 55 miles northeast of Brussels, saying it was unsafe for both visitors and the cats.  rolleyes cheesy

Rudy Demotte, the Belgian minister responsible for animal welfare, sent a team to investigate.
26799  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Emergency Tips, Emergency Medicine, Trauma Care, and First Aid on: February 13, 2007, 11:17:58 AM
Woof All:

In DBMA we use "The Three Hs" of Bando:  Hurting, Healing, Harmonizing.

Healing may refer to keeping our selves healthy, to healing training injuries and the like.  It can also refer to emergency injuries such as knife or gun wounds.  Given DBMA's mission statement of "Walk as a Warrior for all our days", it makes sense that we should seek to grow in our knowledge of how to keep ourselves and others alive while getting proper medical attention.  This thread is for such things.

The Adventure continues,
Crafty Dog
======================

Quick response to bleeding wounds  Submit a Tip
 
Submitted by:
Officer Jeremy Phillips, Trumann (AR) PD
Trumann Police, Arkansas

02/12/2007 



A tip learned in the military a few years back to help stop serious bleeding:

Feminine napkins and tampons, which are super absorbent, are great for helping to control bleeding wounds. Tampons fit bullet wounds (some better than others) pretty well and swell to help stop bleeding. Pads are pretty much, if not exactly the same thing as battle bandages.

Sucking wounds can also sometimes be helped by the plastic wrapper of a cigarette pack or a latex glove. Even a pat down glove or anything you can fit over the sucking wound to stop it from sucking.

Of course, nothing is better than formal training for first aid, but we don't always have those luxuries. Use what you have with you.

Fight to live so you can live to fight. Your wife/husband wants you home, and your partner's wife/husband wants them home.
--------------------------------------

Breaking car windows easily  Submit a Tip
  
Submitted by:
Officer Clifton Chang (ret.), NYPD


01/24/2007  



As a former glazier, I'm aware that all side windows of automobiles are made of tempered glass (baked in an oven) and are weakest on the edges. To break one, simply insert a screwdriver or knife between the window frame and glass and pry! The glass will shatter quietly.

If you're breaking the window to get to a baby in a car seat accidentally locked inside, go to the opposite side to minimize any danger to the child.
 

 
26800  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Bison on: February 13, 2007, 09:08:56 AM
NY Times

2007
MOIESE, Mont. — An effort to have two Indian tribes assist government officials in operating a federal wildlife refuge that is surrounded by their reservation has collapsed amid accusations of racism, harassment, intimidation and poor performance. But top federal officials say they are determined to resurrect it.

The plan for the tribes and the government to jointly run the National Bison Range in western Montana, just north of Missoula, had long been viewed as unworkable by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Interior branch that manages wildlife refuges.

But top Interior Department officials say that despite the objections, they are committed to transferring some responsibility for the range from the wildlife service to a tribal government.

“There’s a shared sense of mission between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the tribes,” said Shane Wolf, a department spokesman.

Representative Denny Rehberg, Republican of Montana, asked the Government Accountability Office and the House Resources Committee in late January to investigate the disagreement and the problems plaguing the range. Among them is whether political appointees at the Interior Department pressured the wildlife service into the pact. The department’s inspector general and its Office of Equal Opportunity are also investigating.

The Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 allows tribal involvement in the management of federal lands, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which have strong cultural links to bison, wanted the authority to manage the refuge.

The Fish and Wildlife Service opposed ceding control over the bison range, and the Interior Department and tribal officials decided to split the mission. The federal government maintained management authority but hired members of the tribes to feed and care for the bison. Federal managers, who did not have authority over the tribal workers, had to ask a tribal manager to relay orders.

The project leader at the range, Steve Kallin of the wildlife service, said tribal employees failed to do their assigned tasks and that this led to the cancellation of the agreement.

For example, Mr. Kallin said, tribe members failed to feed the bison properly in preparation for their transfer to another refuge, at which point, he said, the wildlife service resumed responsibility for feeding.

Tribal employees also did not maintain fences, Mr. Kallin said, allowing bison to wander into pastures that were being rested from grazing.

Wildlife agency employees also said that relations grew strained and that tribal employees started to threaten them. They also said they felt excluded because tribal employees prayed together during work hours. The wildlife agency hired a retired special agent-in-charge of the National Park Service for the Rocky Mountain region, Jim Reilly, to look into the situation.

Mr. Reilly’s findings, which were not made public but appeared on a Web site run by a group opposed to tribal management, supported many of the federal employees’ accusations. Mr. Reilly wrote that work conditions at the range “were as bad as he had ever seen in his career,” according to a letter from the service’s deputy regional director, Jay Slack, to the regional director that cited the investigation.

Tribal officials denied many of the accusations and said they were surprised by the list of complaints. Cancellation of the agreement “came completely out of the blue,” said the chairman of the tribal confederation, James Steele Jr. “We didn’t know until the day that they did it.”

While he was aware of some problems, Mr. Steele said, he thought they were being dealt with.

A lawyer for the tribe, Brian Upton, said tribal officials did not allow Mr. Reilly to interview members who worked at the range “because they never told us why they were investigating us.”

“We do not have any corroborating details for any of the complaints,” Mr. Upton said.

Tribal officials said that the Fish and Wildlife Service never liked the arrangement because it meant that the agency had to cede some control over the range, so the agency always wanted it to fail.

“It was a decision looking for an excuse,” said Clayton Matt, head of the tribal confederation’s natural resources department.

“We work with almost every federal agency you can think of and we have a great relationship with all of them,” he said. State and federal officials have also publicly praised the tribe’s management of natural resources, including the grizzly bears and other wildlife on the reservation.

Regarding praying at work, the tribe’s bison range coordinator, Sheila Matt (no relation to Mr. Matt) said, “When we rode through the bison, I asked the volunteers to pray for our safety and the safety of the bison.”

Critics say the decision to allow tribal management was a political one made by Interior Department appointees who favor reducing the federal role in management of parks and other properties. Such an agreement, they say, leaves no one accountable because authority for the workers lies with a tribe, which is a sovereign nation.

“The evidence of incompetency is overwhelming,” said Susan Reneau, a member of the Blue Goose Alliance, which advocates for wildlife refuges. “They did not perform their duties; they did not do their work. Yet they are not accountable.”

The federal government took control of much of the reservation land from some tribes around the turn of the century and allocated each tribal member 160 acres. The rest was open to settlement, and white settlers moved in. As a result, 30 percent of the reservation is owned by people who are not tribal members and there is longstanding enmity between the tribe and some nontribal residents.

“There’s a deep-rooted fear of tribal control,” a tribal spokesman, Rob McDonald, said.

But Mr. Kallin said he saw the matter from the opposite perspective.

“At what point,” he said, “does the Fish and Wildlife Service retain the ability to manage, according to Congressional mandate?”
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