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26801  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy & Big Brother (both State and Corporate) on: January 02, 2011, 05:41:57 PM
In many circumstances this might be true, but in many others I think not.   

Try an experiment.  Have someone you don't know and whose motives may or may not be known to you follow you around with a camera all the time.  See how it feels.

Requiring posting the presence of cameras seems to me quite a simple and right thing to do.
26802  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / May 14-15: "Dog Brothers Tribal Gathering of the Pack" on: January 02, 2011, 03:43:39 PM
Details , , , soon grin
26803  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty in Seattle April 16-17 on: January 02, 2011, 03:35:10 PM
Hosted by Rob Crowley
26804  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Things are heating up on: January 02, 2011, 02:18:10 PM
26805  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan on: January 02, 2011, 12:16:01 PM
Nice article on MY reposted on his site:
26806  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Scott Grannis comments on: January 02, 2011, 11:59:02 AM
For every flash crash caused by high-speed or automated trading, you can expect to find new automated trading programs that work the opposite way, to take advantage of arbitrary declines in prices. That is the role of speculators, after all: buy when everyone else is selling, and vice versa. I think the concerns over automated trading are overblown. The market will adapt, as smart people look to things like flash crashes as great opportunities to make money.
Marc:  This is true, but little folks like me cannot tell when a dramatic decline is arbitrary and momentary or is a real excrement storm. 
26807  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Electronic trading on: January 02, 2011, 11:23:56 AM
a) It read like venture capital to me.

b) Six months presents no issues for me when the subject matter is not transient.

Here's an interesting piece from today's NYTimes.
A SUBSTANTIAL part of all stock trading in the United States takes place in a warehouse in a nondescript business park just off the New Jersey Turnpike.

Few humans are present in this vast technological sanctum, known as New York Four. Instead, the building, nearly the size of three football fields, is filled with long avenues of computer servers illuminated by energy-efficient blue phosphorescent light.

Countless metal cages contain racks of computers that perform all kinds of trades for Wall Street banks, hedge funds, brokerage firms and other institutions. And within just one of these cages — a tight space measuring 40 feet by 45 feet and festooned with blue and white wires — is an array of servers that together form the mechanized heart of one of the top four stock exchanges in the United States.

The exchange is called Direct Edge, hardly a household name. But as the lights pulse on its servers, you can almost see the holdings in your 401(k) zip by.

“This,” says Steven Bonanno, the chief technology officer of the exchange, looking on proudly, “is where everyone does their magic.”

In many of the world’s markets, nearly all stock trading is now conducted by computers talking to other computers at high speeds. As the machines have taken over, trading has been migrating from raucous, populated trading floors like those of the New York Stock Exchange to dozens of separate, rival electronic exchanges. They rely on data centers like this one, many in the suburbs of northern New Jersey.

While this “Tron” landscape is dominated by the titans of Wall Street, it affects nearly everyone who owns shares of stock or mutual funds, or who has a stake in a pension fund or works for a public company. For better or for worse, part of your wealth, your livelihood, is throbbing through these wires.

The advantages of this new technological order are clear. Trading costs have plummeted, and anyone can buy stocks from anywhere in seconds with the simple click of a mouse or a tap on a smartphone’s screen.

But some experts wonder whether the technology is getting dangerously out of control. Even apart from the huge amounts of energy the megacomputers consume, and the dangers of putting so much of the economy’s plumbing in one place, they wonder whether the new world is a fairer one — and whether traders with access to the fastest machines win at the expense of ordinary investors.

It also seems to be a much more hair-trigger market. The so-called flash crash in the market last May — when stock prices plunged hundreds of points before recovering — showed how unpredictable the new systems could be. Fear of this volatile, blindingly fast market may be why ordinary investors have been withdrawing money from domestic stock mutual funds —$90 billion worth since May, according to figures from the Investment Company Institute.

No one knows whether this is a better world, and that includes the regulators, who are struggling to keep up with the pace of innovation in the great technological arms race that the stock market has become.

WILLIAM O’BRIEN, a former lawyer for Goldman Sachs, crosses the Hudson River each day from New York to reach his Jersey City destination — a shiny blue building opposite a Courtyard by Marriott.

Mr. O’Brien, 40, works there as chief executive of Direct Edge, the young electronic stock exchange that is part of New Jersey’s burgeoning financial ecosystem. Seven miles away, in Secaucus, is the New York Four warehouse that houses Direct Edge’s servers. Another cluster of data centers, serving various companies, is five miles north, in Weehawken, at the western mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel. And yet another is planted 20 miles south on the New Jersey Turnpike, at Exit 12, in Carteret, N.J.

As Mr. O’Brien says, “New Jersey is the new heart of Wall Street.”

Direct Edge’s office demonstrates that it doesn’t take many people to become a major outfit in today’s electronic market. The firm, whose motto is “Everybody needs some edge,” has only 90 employees, most of them on this building’s sixth floor. There are lines of cubicles for programmers and a small operations room where two men watch a wall of screens, checking that market-order traffic moves smoothly and, of course, quickly. Direct Edge receives up to 10,000 orders a second.

Mr. O’Brien’s personal story reflects the recent history of stock-exchange upheaval. A fit, blue-eyed Wall Street veteran, who wears the monogram “W O’B” on his purple shirt cuff, Mr. O’Brien is the son of a seat holder and trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in the 1970s, when the Big Board was by far the biggest game around.

But in the 1980s, Nasdaq, a new electronic competitor, challenged that dominance. And a bigger upheaval came in the late 1990s and early 2000s, after the Securities and Exchange Commission enacted a series of regulations to foster competition and drive down commission costs for ordinary investors.

These changes forced the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to post orders electronically and execute them immediately, at the best price available in the United States — suddenly giving an advantage to start-up operations that were faster and cheaper. Mr. O’Brien went to work for one of them, called Brut. The N.Y.S.E. and Nasdaq fought back, buying up smaller rivals: Nasdaq, for example, acquired Brut. And to give itself greater firepower, the N.Y.S.E., which had been member-owned, became a public, for-profit company.

Brokerage firms and traders came to fear that a Nasdaq-N.Y.S.E. duopoly was asserting itself, one that would charge them heavily for the right to trade, so they created their own exchanges. One was Direct Edge, which formally became an exchange six months ago. Another, the BATS Exchange, is located in another unlikely capital of stock market trading: Kansas City, Mo.

Direct Edge now trails the N.Y.S.E. and Nasdaq in size; it vies with BATS for third place. Direct Edge is backed by a powerful roster of financial players: Goldman Sachs, Knight Capital, Citadel Securities and the International Securities Exchange, its largest shareholder. JPMorgan also holds a stake. Direct Edge still occupies the same building as its original founder, Knight Capital, in Jersey City.


Page 2 of 4)

The exchange now accounts for about 10 percent of stock market trading in the United States, according to the exchange and the TABB Group, a specialist on the markets. Of the 8.5 billion shares traded daily in the United States, about 833 million are bought and sold on Mr. O’Brien’s platforms.

As it has grown, Direct Edge and other new venues have sucked volumes away from the Big Board and Nasdaq. The N.Y.S.E. accounted for more than 70 percent of trading in N.Y.S.E.-listed stocks just five years ago. Now, the Big Board handles only 36 percent of those trades itself. The remaining market share is divided among about 12 other public exchanges, several electronic trading platforms and vast so-called unlit markets, including those known as dark pools.
THE Big Board is embracing the new warp-speed world. Although it maintains a Wall Street trading floor, even that is mostly electronic. The exchange also has its own, separate electronic arm, Arca, and opened a new data center last year for its computers in Mahwah, N.J.

From his office in New Jersey, Mr. O’Brien looks back across the water to Manhattan and his former office on the 50th floor of the Nasdaq building at One Liberty Plaza, and he reflects wistfully on the huge changes that have taken place.

“To walk out of there to go across the river to Jersey City,” he says. “That was a big leap of faith.”

His colleague, Bryan Harkins, the exchange’s chief operating officer, sounds confident about the impact of the past decade’s changes. The new world is fairer, he says, because it is more competitive. “We helped break the grip of the New York Stock Exchange,” he says.

In this high-tech stock market, Direct Edge and the other exchanges are sprinting for advantage. All the exchanges have pushed down their latencies — the fancy word for the less-than-a-blink-of-an-eye that it takes them to complete a trade. Almost each week, it seems, one exchange or another claims a new record: Nasdaq, for example, says its time for an average order “round trip” is 98 microseconds — a mind-numbing speed equal to 98 millionths of a second.

The exchanges have gone warp speed because traders have demanded it. Even mainstream banks and old-fashioned mutual funds have embraced the change.

“Broker-dealers, hedge funds, traditional asset managers have been forced to play keep-up to stay in the game,” Adam Honoré, research director of the Aite Group, wrote in a recent report.

Even the savings of many long-term mutual fund investors are swept up in this maelstrom, when fund managers make changes in their holdings. But the exchanges are catering mostly to a different market breed — to high-frequency traders who have turned speed into a new art form. They use algorithms to zip in and out of markets, often changing orders and strategies within seconds. They make a living by being the first to react to events, dashing past slower investors — a category that includes most investors — to take advantage of mispricing between stocks, for example, or differences in prices quoted across exchanges.

One new strategy is to use powerful computers to speed-read news reports — even Twitter messages — automatically, then to let their machines interpret and trade on them.

By using such techniques, traders may make only the tiniest fraction of a cent on each trade. But multiplied many times a second over an entire day, those fractions add up to real money. According to Kevin McPartland of the TABB Group, high-frequency traders now account for 56 percent of total stock market trading. A measure of their importance is that rather than charging them commissions, some exchanges now even pay high-frequency traders to bring orders to their machines.

High-frequency traders are “the reason for the massive infrastructure,” Mr. McPartland says. “Everyone realizes you have to attract the high-speed traders.”

As everyone goes warp speed, a number of high-tech construction projects are under way.


Page 3 of 4)

One such project is a 428,000-square-foot data center in the western suburbs of Chicago opened by the CME Group, which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It houses the exchange’s Globex electronic futures and options trading platform and space for traders to install computers next to the exchange’s machines, a practice known as co-location — at a cost of about $25,000 a month per rack of computers.

The exchange is making its investment because derivatives as well as stocks are being swept up in the high-frequency revolution. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission estimates that high-frequency traders now account for about one-third of all volume on domestic futures exchanges.
In August, Spread Networks of Ridgeland, Miss., completed an 825-mile fiber optic network connecting the South Loop of Chicago to Cartaret, N.J., cutting a swath across central Pennsylvania and reducing the round-trip trading time between Chicago and New York by three milliseconds, to 13.33 milliseconds.

Then there are the international projects. Fractions of a second are regularly being shaved off of the busy Frankfurt-to-London route. And in October, a company called Hibernia Atlantic announced plans for a new fiber-optic link beneath the Atlantic from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Somerset, England that will be able to send shares from London to New York and back in 60 milliseconds.

Bjarni Thorvardarson, chief executive of Hibernia Atlantic, says the link, due to open in 2012, is primarily intended to meet the needs of high-frequency algorithmic traders and will cost “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“People are going over the lake and through the church, whatever it takes,” he says. “It is very important for these algorithmic traders to have the most advanced technology.”

The pace of investment, of course, reflects the billions of dollars that are at stake.

The data center in Weehawken is a modern building that looks more like a shopping mall than a center for equity trading. But one recent afternoon, the hammering and drilling of the latest phase of expansion seemed to conjure up the wealth being dug out of the stock market.

As the basement was being transformed into a fourth floor for yet more computers, one banker who was touring the complex explained the matter bluntly: “Speed,” he said, “is money. “

THE “flash crash,” the harrowing plunge in share prices that shook the stock market during the afternoon of May 6 last year, crystallized the fears of some in the industry that technology was getting ahead of the regulators. In their investigation into the plunge, the S.E.C. and Commodity Futures Trading Commission found that the drop was precipitated not by a rogue high-frequency firm, but by the sale of a single $4.1 billion block of E-Mini Standard & Poor’s 500 futures contracts on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange by a mutual fund company.

The fund company, Waddell & Reed Financial of Overland Park, Kan., conducted its sale through a computer algorithm provided by Barclays Capital, one of the many off-the shelf programs available to investors these days. The algorithm automatically dripped the billions of dollars of sell orders into the futures market over 20 minutes, continuing even as prices started to drop when other traders jumped in.

The sale may have been a case of inept timing — the markets were already roiled by the debt crisis in Europe. But there was no purposeful attempt to disrupt the market, the regulators found.

But there was a role played by some high-frequency machines, the investigation found. As they detected the big sale and the choppy conditions, some of them shut down automatically. As the number of buyers plunged, so, too, did the Dow Jones Industrial Average, losing more than 700 points in minutes before the computers returned and prices recovered just as quickly. More than 20,000 trades were ruled invalid.

The episode seemed to demonstrate the vulnerabilities of the new market, and just what could happen when no humans are in charge to correct the machines.

Since the flash crash, the S.E.C. and the exchanges have introduced marketwide circuit breakers on individual stocks to halt trading if a price falls 10 percent within a five-minute period.

But some analysts fear that some aspects of the flash crash may portend dangers greater than mere mechanical failure. They say some wild swings in prices may suggest that a small group of high-frequency traders could manipulate the market. Since May, there have been regular mini-flash crashes in individual stocks for which, some say, there are still no satisfactory explanations. Some experts say these drops in individual stocks could herald a future cataclysm.


Page 4 of 4)

In a speech last month, Bart Chilton, a member of the futures trading commission, raised concerns about the effect of high-frequency trading on the markets. “With the advent of ‘Star Trek’-like, gee-whiz H.F.T. technology, we are witnessing one of the most game-changing and tumultuous shifts we have ever seen in financial markets,” Mr. Chilton said. “We also have to think about the myriad ramifications of technology.”

One debate has focused on whether some traders are firing off fake orders thousands of times a second to slow down exchanges and mislead others. Michael Durbin, who helped build high-frequency trading systems for companies like Citadel and is the author of the book “All About High-Frequency Trading,” says that most of the industry is legitimate and benefits investors. But, he says, the rules need to be strengthened to curb some disturbing practices.
“Markets are there for capital formation and long-term investment, not for gaming,” he says.

As it tries to work out the implications of the technology, the S.E.C. is a year into a continuing review of the new market structure. Mary L. Schapiro, the S.E.C. chairwoman, has already proposed creating a consolidated audit trail, so that buying and selling records from different exchanges can be examined together in one place.

In speeches, Ms. Schapiro has also raised the idea of limiting the speed at which machines can trade, or requiring high-frequency traders to stay in markets as buyers or sellers even in volatile conditions. just as human market makers often did on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. .

“The emergence of multiple trading venues that offer investors the benefits of greater competition also has made our market structure more complex,” she said in Senate testimony last month, adding, “We should not attempt to turn the clock back to the days of trading crowds on exchange floors.”

MOST of the exchanges have already eliminated a controversial electronic trading technique known as flash orders, which allow traders’ computers to peek at other investors’ orders a tiny fraction of a second before they are sent to the wider marketplace. Direct Edge, however, still offers a version of this service.

The futures trading commission is considering how to regulate data centers, and the practice of co-location. The regulators are also examining the implications of so-called dark pools, another product of the technological revolution, in which large blocks of shares are traded electronically and without the scrutiny exercised on public markets. Their very name raises questions about the transparency of markets. About 30 percent of domestic equities are traded on these and other “unlit” venues, the S.E.C. says.

For Mr. O’Brien, the benefits of technology are clear. “One thing has surprised me: people have looked at this as a bad thing,” he says. “There is almost no other industry where people say we need less technology. Fifteen years ago, trades took much longer to execute and were much more expensive by any measure” because market power was more concentrated in a few large firms. “Now someone can execute a trade from their mobile from anywhere on the planet. That seems to me like a market that is fairer.”

For others who work at the company or elsewhere in the financial ecosystem of New Jersey, it has been a boon.

“A lot of my friends work here or in this area,” says Andrei Girenkov, 28, one of Direct Edge’s chief programmers, over lunch recently in Dorrian’s restaurant in Direct Edge’s building. “It changed my life.”

But some analysts question whether everyone benefits from this technological upending.

“It is a technological arms race in financial markets and the regulators are a bit caught unaware of how quickly the technology has evolved,” says Andrew Lo, director of the Laboratory for Financial Engineering at M.I.T. “Sometimes, too much technology without the ability to manage it effectively can yield some unintended consequences. We need to ask the hard questions about how much of this do we really need. It is the Wild, Wild West in trading.”

Mr. Lo suggests a need for a civilizing influence. “Finally,” he says, “it gets to the point where we have a massive traffic jam and we need to install traffic lights.”

26808  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Stick Grappling on: January 02, 2011, 10:49:55 AM
 grin grin grin
26809  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH: Computer surveillance smarter than you think on: January 02, 2011, 10:42:00 AM
Hundreds of correctional officers from prisons across America descended last spring on a shuttered penitentiary in West Virginia for annual training exercises.

Some officers played the role of prisoners, acting like gang members and stirring up trouble, including a mock riot. The latest in prison gear got a workout — body armor, shields, riot helmets, smoke bombs, gas masks. And, at this year’s drill, computers that could see the action.
Perched above the prison yard, five cameras tracked the play-acting prisoners, and artificial-intelligence software analyzed the images to recognize faces, gestures and patterns of group behavior. When two groups of inmates moved toward each other, the experimental computer system sent an alert — a text message — to a corrections officer that warned of a potential incident and gave the location.

The computers cannot do anything more than officers who constantly watch surveillance monitors under ideal conditions. But in practice, officers are often distracted. When shifts change, an observation that is worth passing along may be forgotten. But machines do not blink or forget. They are tireless assistants.

The enthusiasm for such systems extends well beyond the nation’s prisons. High-resolution, low-cost cameras are proliferating, found in products like smartphones and laptop computers. The cost of storing images is dropping, and new software algorithms for mining, matching and scrutinizing the flood of visual data are progressing swiftly.

A computer-vision system can watch a hospital room and remind doctors and nurses to wash their hands, or warn of restless patients who are in danger of falling out of bed. It can, through a computer-equipped mirror, read a man’s face to detect his heart rate and other vital signs. It can analyze a woman’s expressions as she watches a movie trailer or shops online, and help marketers tailor their offerings accordingly. Computer vision can also be used at shopping malls, schoolyards, subway platforms, office complexes and stadiums.

All of which could be helpful — or alarming.

“Machines will definitely be able to observe us and understand us better,” said Hartmut Neven, a computer scientist and vision expert at Google. “Where that leads is uncertain.”

Google has been both at the forefront of the technology’s development and a source of the anxiety surrounding it. Its Street View service, which lets Internet users zoom in from above on a particular location, faced privacy complaints. Google will blur out people’s homes at their request.

Google has also introduced an application called Goggles, which allows people to take a picture with a smartphone and search the Internet for matching images. The company’s executives decided to exclude a facial-recognition feature, which they feared might be used to find personal information on people who did not know that they were being photographed.

Despite such qualms, computer vision is moving into the mainstream. With this technological evolution, scientists predict, people will increasingly be surrounded by machines that can not only see but also reason about what they are seeing, in their own limited way.

The uses, noted Frances Scott, an expert in surveillance technologies at the National Institute of Justice, the Justice Department’s research agency, could allow the authorities to spot a terrorist, identify a lost child or locate an Alzheimer’s patient who has wandered off.

The future of law enforcement, national security and military operations will most likely rely on observant machines. A few months ago, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s research arm, awarded the first round of grants in a five-year research program called the Mind’s Eye. Its goal is to develop machines that can recognize, analyze and communicate what they see. Mounted on small robots or drones, these smart machines could replace human scouts. “These things, in a sense, could be team members,” said James Donlon, the program’s manager.

Millions of people now use products that show the progress that has been made in computer vision. In the last two years, the major online photo-sharing services — Picasa by Google, Windows Live Photo Gallery by Microsoft, Flickr by Yahoo and iPhoto by Apple — have all started using face recognition. A user puts a name to a face, and the service finds matches in other photographs. It is a popular tool for finding and organizing pictures.

Kinect, an add-on to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console, is a striking advance for computer vision in the marketplace. It uses a digital camera and sensors to recognize people and gestures; it also understands voice commands. Players control the computer with waves of the hand, and then move to make their on-screen animated stand-ins — known as avatars — run, jump, swing and dance. Since Kinect was introduced in November, game reviewers have applauded, and sales are surging.

To Microsoft, Kinect is not just a game, but a step toward the future of computing. “It’s a world where technology more fundamentally understands you, so you don’t have to understand it,” said Alex Kipman, an engineer on the team that designed Kinect.

‘Please Wash Your Hands’

A nurse walks into a hospital room while scanning a clipboard. She greets the patient and washes her hands. She checks and records his heart rate and blood pressure, adjusts the intravenous drip, turns him over to look for bed sores, then heads for the door but does not wash her hands again, as protocol requires. “Pardon the interruption,” declares a recorded women’s voice, with a slight British accent. “Please wash your hands.”

Three months ago, Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, N.Y., began an experiment with computer vision in a single hospital room. Three small cameras, mounted inconspicuously on the ceiling, monitor movements in Room 542, in a special care unit (a notch below intensive care) where patients are treated for conditions like severe pneumonia, heart attacks and strokes. The cameras track people going in and out of the room as well as the patient’s movements in bed.


The first applications of the system, designed by scientists at General Electric, are immediate reminders and alerts. Doctors and nurses are supposed to wash their hands before and after touching a patient; lapses contribute significantly to hospital-acquired infections, research shows.

The camera over the bed delivers images to software that is programmed to recognize movements that indicate when a patient is in danger of falling out of bed. The system would send an alert to a nearby nurse.
If the results at Bassett prove to be encouraging, more features can be added, like software that analyzes facial expressions for signs of severe pain, the onset of delirium or other hints of distress, said Kunter Akbay, a G.E. scientist.

Hospitals have an incentive to adopt tools that improve patient safety. Medicare and Medicaid are adjusting reimbursement rates to penalize hospitals that do not work to prevent falls and pressure ulcers, and whose doctors and nurses do not wash their hands enough. But it is too early to say whether computer vision, like the system being tried out at Bassett, will prove to be cost-effective.

Mirror, Mirror

Daniel J. McDuff, a graduate student, stood in front of a mirror at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. After 20 seconds or so, a figure — 65, the number of times his heart was beating per minute — appeared at the mirror’s bottom. Behind the two-way mirror was a Web camera, which fed images of Mr. McDuff to a computer whose software could track the blood flow in his face.

The software separates the video images into three channels — for the basic colors red, green and blue. Changes to the colors and to movements made by tiny contractions and expansions in blood vessels in the face are, of course, not apparent to the human eye, but the computer can see them.

“Your heart-rate signal is in your face,” said Ming-zher Poh, an M.I.T. graduate student. Other vital signs, including breathing rate, blood-oxygen level and blood pressure, should leave similar color and movement clues.

The pulse-measuring project, described in research published in May by Mr. Poh, Mr. McDuff and Rosalind W. Picard, a professor at the lab, is just the beginning, Mr. Poh said. Computer vision and clever software, he said, make it possible to monitor humans’ vital signs at a digital glance. Daily measurements can be analyzed to reveal that, for example, a person’s risk of heart trouble is rising. “This can happen, and in the future it will be in mirrors,” he said.

Faces can yield all sorts of information to watchful computers, and the M.I.T. students’ adviser, Dr. Picard, is a pioneer in the field, especially in the use of computing to measure and communicate emotions. For years, she and a research scientist at the university, Rana el-Kaliouby, have applied facial-expression analysis software to help young people with autism better recognize the emotional signals from others that they have such a hard time understanding.

The two women are the co-founders of Affectiva, a company in Waltham, Mass., that is beginning to market its facial-expression analysis software to manufacturers of consumer products, retailers, marketers and movie studios. Its mission is to mine consumers’ emotional responses to improve the designs and marketing campaigns of products.

John Ross, chief executive of Shopper Sciences, a marketing research company that is part of the Interpublic Group, said Affectiva’s technology promises to give marketers an impartial reading of the sequence of emotions that leads to a purchase, in a way that focus groups and customer surveys cannot. “You can see and analyze how people are reacting in real time, not what they are saying later, when they are often trying to be polite,” he said. The technology, he added, is more scientific and less costly than having humans look at store surveillance videos, which some retailers do.

The facial-analysis software, Mr. Ross said, could be used in store kiosks or with Webcams. Shopper Sciences, he said, is testing Affectiva’s software with a major retailer and an online dating service, neither of which he would name. The dating service, he said, was analyzing users’ expressions in search of “trigger words” in personal profiles that people found appealing or off-putting.

Watching the Watchers

Maria Sonin, 33, an office worker in Waltham, Mass., sat in front of a notebook computer looking at a movie trailer while Affectiva’s software, through the PC’s Webcam, calibrated her reaction. The trailer was for “Little Fockers,” starring Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, which opened just before Christmas. The software measured her reactions by tracking movements on a couple of dozen points on her face — mostly along the eyes, eyebrows, nose and the perimeter of her lips.

To the human eye, Ms. Sonin appeared to be amused. The software agreed, said Dr. Kaliouby, though it used a finer-grained analysis, like recording that her smiles were symmetrical (signaling amusement, not embarrassment) and not smirks. The software, Ms. Kaliouby said, allows for continuous, objective measurement of viewers’ response to media, and in the future will do so in large numbers on the Web.

Ms. Sonin, an unpaid volunteer, said later that she did not think about being recorded by the Webcam. “It wasn’t as if it was a big camera in front of you,” she said.


Page 3 of 3)

Christopher Hamilton, a technical director of visual effects, has used specialized software to analyze facial expressions and recreate them on the screen. The films he has worked on include “King Kong,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Matrix Revolutions.” Using facial-expression analysis technology to gauge the reaction of viewers, who agree to be watched, may well become a valuable tool for movie makers, said Mr. Hamilton, who is not involved with Affectiva.

Today, sampling audience reaction before a movie is released typically means gathering a couple of hundred people at a preview screening. The audience members then answer questions and fill out surveys. Yet viewers, marketing experts say, are often inarticulate and imprecise about their emotional reactions.
The software “makes it possible to measure audience response with a scene-by-scene granularity that the current survey-and-questionnaire approach cannot,” Mr. Hamilton said. A director, he added, could find out, for example, that although audience members liked a movie over all, they did not like two or three scenes. Or he could learn that a particular character did not inspire the intended emotional response.

Emotion-sensing software, Mr. Hamilton said, might become part of the entertainment experience — especially as more people watch movies and programs on Internet-connected televisions, computers and portable devices. Viewers could share their emotional responses with friends using recommendation systems based on what scene — say, the protagonists’ dancing or a car chase — delivered the biggest emotional jolt.

Affectiva, Dr. Picard said, intends to offer its technology as “opt-in only,” meaning consumers have to be notified and have to agree to be watched online or in stores. Affectiva, she added, has turned down companies, which she declined to name, that wanted to use its software without notifying customers.

Darker Possibilities

Dr. Picard enunciates a principled stance, but one that could become problematic in other hands.

The challenge arises from the prospect of the rapid spread of less-expensive yet powerful computer-vision technologies.

At work or school, the technology opens the door to a computerized supervisor that is always watching. Are you paying attention, goofing off or daydreaming? In stores and shopping malls, smart surveillance could bring behavioral tracking into the physical world.

More subtle could be the effect of a person knowing that he is being watched — and how that awareness changes his thinking and actions. It could be beneficial: a person thinks twice and a crime goes uncommitted. But might it also lead to a society that is less spontaneous, less creative, less innovative?

“With every technology, there is a dark side,” said Hany Farid, a computer scientist at Dartmouth. “Sometimes you can predict it, but often you can’t.”

A decade ago, he noted, no one predicted that cellphones and text messaging would lead to traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers. And, he said, it was difficult to foresee that the rise of Facebook and Twitter and personal blogs would become troves of data to be collected and exploited in tracking people’s online behavior.

Often, a technology that is benign in one setting can cause harm in a different context. Google confronted that problem this year with its face-recognition software. In its Picasa photo-storing and sharing service, face recognition helps people find and organize pictures of family and friends.

But the company took a different approach with Goggles, which lets a person snap a photograph with a smartphone, setting off an Internet search. Take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and links to Web pages with background information and articles about it appear on the phone’s screen. Take a picture of a wine bottle and up come links to reviews of that vintage.

Google could have put face recognition into the Goggles application; indeed, many users have asked for it. But Google decided against it because smartphones can be used to take pictures of individuals without their knowledge, and a face match could retrieve all kinds of personal information — name, occupation, address, workplace.

“It was just too sensitive, and we didn’t want to go there,” said Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google. “You want to avoid enabling stalker behavior.”
26810  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / One wonders if POTH will realize that on: January 02, 2011, 10:29:22 AM
what it has been advocating all these years leads to this , , ,

Published: January 1, 2011
LECCE, Italy — Francesca Esposito, 29 and exquisitely educated, helped win millions of euros in false disability and other lawsuits for her employer, a major Italian state agency. But one day last fall she quit, fed up with how surreal and ultimately sad it is to be young in Italy today.

It galled her that even with her competence and fluency in five languages, it was nearly impossible to land a paying job. Working as an unpaid trainee lawyer was bad enough, she thought, but doing it at Italy’s social security administration seemed too much. She not only worked for free on behalf of the nation’s elderly, who have generally crowded out the young for jobs, but her efforts there did not even apply to her own pension.

“It was absurd,” said Ms. Esposito, a strong-willed woman with a healthy sense of outrage.

The outrage of the young has erupted, sometimes violently, on the streets of Greece and Italy in recent weeks, as students and more radical anarchists protest not only specific austerity measures in flattened economies but a rising reality in Southern Europe: People like Ms. Esposito feel increasingly shut out of their own futures. Experts warn of volatility in state finances and the broader society as the most highly educated generation in the history of the Mediterranean hits one of its worst job markets.

Politicians are slowly beginning to take notice. Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, devoted his year-end message on Friday to “the pervasive malaise among young people,” weeks after protests against budget cuts to the university system brought the issue to the fore.

Giuliano Amato, an economist and former Italian prime minister, was even more blunt. “By now, only a few people refuse to understand that youth protests aren’t a protest against the university reform, but against a general situation in which the older generations have eaten the future of the younger ones,” he recently told Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper.

The daughter of a fireman and a high school teacher, Ms. Esposito was the first in her family to graduate from college and the first to study foreign languages. She has an Italian law degree and a master’s from Germany and was an intern at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. It has not helped.

“I have every possible certificate,” Ms. Esposito said dryly. “I have everything except a death certificate.”

Even before the economic crisis hit, Southern Europe was not an easy place to forge a career. Low growth and a corrosive lack of meritocracy have long posed challenges to finding a job in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Today, with the added sting of austerity, more people are left fighting over fewer opportunities. It is a zero-sum game that inevitably pits younger workers struggling to enter the labor market against older ones already occupying precious slots.

As a result, a deep malaise has set in among young people. Some take to the streets in protest; others emigrate to Northern Europe or beyond in an epic brain drain of college graduates. But many more suffer in silence, living in their childhood bedrooms well into adulthood because they cannot afford to move out.

“They call us the lost generation,” said Coral Herrera Gómez, 33, who has a Ph.D. in humanities but still lives with her parents in Madrid because she cannot find steady work. “I’m not young,” she added over coffee recently, “but I’m not an adult with a job, either.”

There has been a national debate for years in Spain about “mileuristas,” a nickname for college graduates whose best job prospects may well pay just 1,000 euros a month, or $1,300.

Ms. Herrera is at the lower end of the spectrum. Fed up with earning 600 euros a month, or $791, under the table as a children’s drama teacher, Ms. Herrera said she had decided to move to Costa Rica this month to teach at a university.

As she spoke in a cafe in Madrid, a television on the wall featured a report on the birthday of a 106-year-old woman who said that eating blood sausage was the secret to her longevity.

The contrast could not have been stronger. Indeed, experts warn of a looming demographic disaster in Southern Europe, which has among the lowest birth rates in the Western world. With pensioners living longer and young people entering the work force later — and paying less in taxes because their salaries are so low — it is only a matter of time before state coffers run dry.

“What we have is a Ponzi scheme,” said Lawrence Kotlikoff, an economist at Boston University and an expert in fiscal policy.

He said that pay-as-you-go social security and health care were a looming fiscal disaster in Southern Europe and beyond. “If these fertility rates continue through time, you won’t have Italians, Spanish, Greeks, Portuguese or Russians,” he said. “I imagine the Chinese will just move into Southern Europe.”


The problem goes far beyond youth unemployment, which is at 40 percent in Spain and 28 percent in Italy. It is also about underemployment. Today, young people in Southern Europe are effectively exploited by the very mechanisms created a decade ago to help make the labor market more flexible, like temporary contracts.

Because payroll taxes and firing costs are still so high, businesses across Southern Europe are loath to hire new workers on a full-time basis, so young people increasingly are offered unpaid or low-paying internships, traineeships or temporary contracts that do not offer the same benefits or protections.

“This is the best-educated generation in Spanish history, and they are entering a job market in which they are underutilized,” said Ignacio Fernández Toxo, the leader of the Comisiones Obreras, one of Spain’s two largest labor unions. “It is a tragedy for the country.”

Yet many young people in Southern Europe see labor union leaders like Mr. Fernández, and the left-wing parties with which they have been historically close, as part of the problem. They are seen as exacerbating a two-tier labor market by protecting a caste of tenured older workers rather than helping younger workers enter the market.

For Dr. Kotlikoff, the solution is simple: “We have to change the labor laws. Not gradually, but quickly.”

Yet in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, any change in national contracts involves complex negotiations among governments, labor unions and businesses — a delicate dance in which each faction fights furiously for its interests.

Because older workers tend to be voters, labor reform remains a third rail to most politicians. Asked at a news conference last year about changing Italy’s de facto two-tier system, Italy’s center-right finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, said simply, “You can’t make violent changes to the system.”

New austerity measures in Spain, where the unemployment rate is 20 percent, the highest in the European Union, are further narrowing the employment window. Spain has pledged to raise its retirement age to 67 from 65, but incrementally over the next 20 years.

“Now people are being sent into early retirement at age 55,” said Sara Sanfulgencio, 28, who has a master’s degree in marketing but is unemployed and living in Madrid with her mother, who owns a children’s shoe store. “But if I haven’t started working by age 28 and I already have to stop at 55, it’s absurd.”

In Italy, Ms. Esposito is finishing her lawyer traineeship at a private firm in Lecce. It pays little but sits better on her conscience than her unpaid work for the government.

“I’m a repentant college graduate,” she said. “If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t go to college and would just start working.”
26811  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Danish cartoonists still targeted, but Assange is a lefty hero. on: January 02, 2011, 10:20:50 AM
While WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is celebrating his $1 million-plus book deal on a 600-acre estate and enjoying his status as a lefty fringe hero, former cartoonist Molly Norris is in hiding.

The moral of this column is that in today's world, cartoons, if they target Islam, can be more hazardous to your health than crossing the mighty U.S. government and its allies.

Swedish and Danish authorities arrested four suspected militant Islamic jihadists last week for allegedly planning a terrorist attack before this weekend. Their target was the Jyllands-Posten news bureau in Copenhagen. In 2006, the newspaper became the target of terrorist threats after it printed controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. Authorities say the suspects arrested planned to use the same "swarm" tactics used in the 2008 Mumbai killing spree that left at least 160 people dead.

Kurt Westergaard drew a cartoon that depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Last January, a Somali man wielding an ax and demanding "revenge" broke into Westergaard's home. In 2009, Danish authorities arrested three men for planning to behead Westergaard.

Like Westergaard, Jyllands-Posten Editor Flemming Rose, who commissioned the cartoons, now has round-the-clock security. I asked via e-mail how many planned attacks against his paper and cartoonists have been thwarted.

Rose answered that this latest episode represents the sixth or seventh foiled attack.

In his new book, "Tyranny of Silence," Rose explains that he asked cartoonists to submit works on Muhammad in order to stand up to "my perception of prevalent self-censorship among the Danish media" on the subject of radical Islam. Now he has a target on his back.

When we met in 2008, Rose summarized what summed up "The Cartoon Crisis." "They are basically saying, 'If you say we are violent, we are going to kill you.'"

And: "If you give in to intimidation, you will not get less intimidation, you will get more intimidation."

Back to Molly Norris. In April, the one-time Seattle Weekly cartoonist made the mistake of drawing a cartoon that called for an "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." Norris was reacting to Comedy Central's decision to censor parts of the show "South Park" that depicted a cartoon Muhammad dressed in a bear suit -- wink, wink -- lest showing an image of the prophet offend. The network also bleeped out verbal references to Muhammad.

Norris quickly renounced the idea and apologized to the Muslim community. But that didn't stop American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki from declaring that that Norris should be "a prime target of assassination." Al-Awlaki, you may recall, has been linked to the attempted Times Square bombing, last year's failed Christmas Day bombing on a Detroit-bound plane, and the Fort Hood shootings that left 13 dead.

At the FBI's urging, Norris changed her name and wiped her identity.

As for "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they didn't like Comedy Central's decision to censor their material. To their credit, they risked the wrath of extremists, who made veiled death threats against them.

But they thrive in a system that perpetuates a double standard. Stone and Parker are now working on a new Broadway musical, "The Book of Mormon." In reporting on the musical, Newsday called them "scamps" and "the wonderful troublemakers of 'South Park.'"

Those aren't the sort of terms reserved for Rose, who became something of an international pariah for doing to Islam once what Parker and Stone do regularly to devout Christians. The "South Park" guys know that they can make fun of Mormons without fear of censorship from upstairs or fatwas from abroad.

This new year will bring the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. "Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 30 planned terrorist attacks have been foiled, all but two of them prevented by law enforcement," a Heritage Foundation paper reported in April. And that was before Faisal Shahzad failed to set off a car bomb in Times Square.

As for 2010, it ended with arrests in London, Denmark, Sweden and a suicide bombing in Stockholm.

We don't know the names of the intelligence operatives and law enforcement officials who saved innocent lives by uncovering and stopping these plots, but they are the unsung heroes of the last decade.

As for Assange, his leaks "have made it much harder for those who are stopping attacks to do their jobs," according to former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. "The countries we rely on for information must increasingly be unwilling to share it with us for fear that it will be exposed in the next set of leaks. Next time an attack is successful, those who are applauding WikiLeaks today will give not a second's thought that they contributed to it."
26812  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: January 02, 2011, 09:50:34 AM
Well, I have respect for you, so I will give it another look-- but I really do hold Time in great contempt.

, , ,

Just looked and my contempt remains unchanged cheesy  

The bias is systemic to the publication.  For example, the BP oil spill piece is phrased to let BO off the hook; where for example is the mention of the skimmers from the Dutch and other countries that BO refused because it would have annoyed certain US maritime unions?  Or the Somalia story making the rise of the Islamo Fascists our fault?  Or the portrayal of concern over Islamic immigration simply as xenophobia?  All this on top of the utterly specious analysis of Iraq , , , tongue

For my idea of stuff worth the time, I will email you Stratfor's Top Ten stories of the decade smiley

26813  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: January 02, 2011, 12:35:05 AM

When I saw it was Time magazine I pretty much stopped right there.   My disrespect for this publication is such that I cannot be bothered to say why.  Its like when someone asked Louie Armstrong what jazz was, he is said to have answered "If you have to ask, I can't tell you."  cheesy

I will say that I seethe quite a bit that the same folks here in the US who did their very best to sabotage and undercut our efforts there complain that it did not go well.   This is not to say that there was not a loyal opposition; it is only to say that there was a very disloyal one too and that the damage it did was incalculable.
26814  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Stick Grappling on: January 02, 2011, 12:17:17 AM
Woof Peter:

In addition to #5 in the Real Contact Stickfighting series which focuses on the fang choke and counters to the head lock, I would draw your attention to the "Attacking Blocks" DVD.  Also, in the "Kali Fitness" DVD Guro Lonely Dog shows some nice getting up from the ground movement at one point.  I gather from what you write that you focus is on street application for yourself, so may I also suggest something that is not exactly stickgrappling?  "Die Less Often" and DLO 3 are quite focused on street application including getting behind people and clinch work against an armed man. 

That said, none of these DVDs focuses on stickgrappling.  For members of the DBMA Association, there is a Vid-Lesson that does focus on stickgrappling.

Does this help?
Crafty Dog

PS:  Kudos are still having at it at 65!  I am only 58 but I look to still be at it for many years to come.
26815  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Mutual fund Retirement investment strategies - is it different this time? on: January 01, 2011, 02:02:12 PM

I'm going to lock this thread to protect you from yourself  grin
26816  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Stock Market on: January 01, 2011, 02:01:34 PM

I really like what you are bringing to this thread!
26817  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Top 10 downloads on: January 01, 2011, 01:51:56 PM
26818  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Stock Market on: December 31, 2010, 06:49:05 PM

I just took a quick look at that page.  Thanks for the tip, it looks interesting. 

In general, I note that common assumptions of 8% average returns are looking pretty fg fantastical.
26819  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China on: December 31, 2010, 10:45:31 AM
Exactly so, but lets take this conversation over to the new "US-China" thread that I just started.  Indeed, would you be so kind as to paste the Popular Mechanics article there as well?
26820  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: December 31, 2010, 10:44:06 AM
"So Marc, the basis of your argument is that because circumstances are different, blatant public racism and discrimination justified?"

Not quite.  You have already quoted this passage from a previous post of mine

"Although I am distinctly uncomfortable with what I read here, I really can't say I see it as anywhere near comparable to what Jews have been subjected throughout the mid-east (indeed often glossed over is that essentially as many Jews who emmigrated to Israel did so from Arab countries as Europe) or what the Christians of Iraq are suffering as we have this conversation here." 

So, no I am not saying it is justified, nor I am saying it is not.  I am saying it is glib to evaluate by the same criteria/analytical framework that we apply here in the US and that doing so has the practical real world consequence of enabling those who seek to blur moral distinctions in order to create a perception of real politik that will lead the US to change its alliance and friendship with Israel so that Israel and its jew will be destroyed.

26821  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US-China (& Japan, South China Sea-- Vietnam, Philippines, etc) on: December 31, 2010, 10:35:40 AM
Woof All:

Just as we have a "Russia" thread and a "US-Russia" thread and a "Russia-Europe" thread, for purposes of thread coherence and improved research/search function relevance, we need to have a "US-China" thread to accompany the existing thread on "China".

Please post accordingly.  For example, I've asked GM to paste here his Popular Mechanics article here and I note that the Rare Earth Elements story, which we have discussed previously in the China thread, continues to bubble along.  As I recounted there, I made a very nice chunk of change in very short order with the two US rare earth plays MCP and REE.  I sold them in the aftermath of the apparent "resolution" of matters between Japan and China, (MCP at 28.xx and REE at 8.xx) but since then China has further tightened its export restrictions and both MCP and REE have shot up dramatically since then.

26822  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China on: December 31, 2010, 10:32:51 AM
I thought that a good article; it brings into play all variables that have engaged my attention (e.g. killer satelliites, cyber disruptions of our communications, etc).
26823  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Malkin: Public unions and privitazation on: December 31, 2010, 10:18:50 AM
ligent English farmers of old once shared a motto about the blessings of work: "Industry produces wealth, God speed the plow." Indolent New York City union officials who oversee snow removal apparently live by a different creed: Sloth enhances political power, Da Boss slow the plow.

Come rain or shine, wind, sleet or blizzard, Big Labor leaders always demonstrate perfect power-grabby timing when it comes to shafting taxpayers. Public-sector unions are all-weather vultures ready, willing and able to put special interest politics above the citizenry's health, wealth and safety. Confirming rumors that have fired up the frozen metropolis, the New York Post reported Thursday that government sanitation and transportation workers were ordered by union supervisors to oversee a deliberate slowdown of its cleanup program -- and to boost their overtime paychecks.

Why such vindictiveness? It's a cold-blooded temper tantrum against the city's long-overdue efforts to trim layers of union fat and move toward a more efficient, cost-effective privatized workforce.

Welcome to the Great Snowmageddon Snit Fit of 2010.

New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, R-Queens, told the Post that several brave whistleblowers confessed to him that they "were told (by supervisors) to take off routes (and) not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner. They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file."

Denials and recriminations are flying like snowballs. But even as they scoff at reports of this outrageous organized job action, the city sanitation managers' unions openly acknowledge their grievances and "resentment" over job cuts. Stunningly, sanitation workers spilled the beans on how city plowers raised blades "unusually high" (which requires extra passes to get their work done) and refused to plow anything other than assigned streets (even if it meant leaving behind clogged routes to get to their blocks).

When they weren't sitting on their backsides, city plowers were caught on videotape maniacally destroying parked vehicles in a futile display of Kabuki Emergency Theater. It would be laugh-out-loud comedy if not for the death of at least one newborn whose parents waited for an ambulance that never came because of snowed-in streets.

This isn't a triumphant victory for social justice and workers' dignity. This is terrifying criminal negligence.

And it isn't the first time New York City sanitation workers have endangered residents' well-being. In the 1960s, a Teamsters-affiliated sanitation workers' strike led to trash fires, typhoid warnings and rat infestations, as 100,000 tons of rotting garbage piled up. Three decades later, a coordinated job action by city building-service workers and sanitation workers caused another public trash nuisance declared "dangerous to life and health" in the Big Apple.

New Yorkers could learn a thing or two from those of us who call Colorado Springs, Colo., home. We have no fear of being held hostage to a politically driven sanitation department -- because we have no sanitation department. We have no sanitation department because enlightened advocates of limited government in our town realized that competitive bidders in the private sector could provide better service at lower cost.

And we're not alone. As the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan reported: "The largest study ever conducted on outsourced garbage collection, conducted by the federal government in the 1970s, reported 29 to 37 percent savings in cities with populations over 50,000. A 1994 study by the Reason Foundation discovered that the city of Los Angeles was paying about 30 percent more for garbage collection than its surrounding suburbs, in which private waste haulers were employed. A 1982 study of city garbage collection in Canada discovered an astonishing 50 percent average savings as a result of privatization."

Completely privatized trash collection means city residents don't get socked with the bill for fraudulently engineered overtime pay, inflated pensions and gold-plated health benefits in perpetuity -- not to mention the capital and operating costs of vehicles and equipment. The Colorado Springs model, as city councilman Sean Paige calls it, is a blueprint for how every city can cope with budget adversity while freeing itself from thuggish union threats when contracts expire or cuts are made. Those who dawdled on privatization efforts in better times are suffering dire, deadly consequences now.

Let the snow-choked streets of New York be a lesson for the rest of the nation: It's time to put the Big Chill on Big Labor-run municipal services.
26824  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Communicating with the Muslim World on: December 31, 2010, 02:23:54 AM
This evening I was watching the Bret Baier Special Report on FOX (my idea of a good news program FWIW).  My 11 year old son was reading and my eight year old daughter was playing on the living room floor.  A piece on Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was on and my daughter started asking some serious questions.  How fascinating to watch an empty cup mind engage with questions-- as is the experience of answering the questions honestly judgemental way (everything is not relative/morally equivalent/arbitary.) yet also establishing open mind thought patterns.

The next piece was on Afpakia and the complex dance there of the Whackostans, the Afghans, the Paks, and the US. 

Again the questions came.  How to explain to an eight year old?  huh  I tried talking about religous crazies and what they did to people in the name of God.   The concept was hard for her to grasp.  I tried explaining that they kill girls who want to learn to read and kill their teachers too because they think God says so and will reward them with heaven when they kill go impose God's word.

"But Dad, then the girls won't be educated!"

"They say God does not want the girls educated.  They like bossing them around."

"Well, if they want someone to boss around, why don't they get a golden retriever?  They like learning to take commands."

26825  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: December 31, 2010, 02:03:11 AM

Please address the central point:  In the US whites are not surrounded/outnumbered by people who want to drive them into the sea, who send suicide mass killers, who cheer the death of white women and children etc and who ally with Iran and others who seek to wipe out the Jewish state altogether even as they kill Christians in Iraq, in Egypt and disrespect their holy places in Gaza.  Its not just the jews in Israel, it is anything that is not Muslim that is the problem for "the group mind" of religious fascism.

The real conditions one the ground in the US and Israel are radically quite different.  As was said here in the US by a Supreme Court justice "The Constitution is not a suicide pact" and it is foolishness both glibl and specious to assert that Israel should do exactly as we do in very different circumstances.

Your argument simply is , , , useful to those who seek to assert moral parity as a means to sabotage Israel's chances of survival.
26826  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: December 30, 2010, 07:29:08 PM
That reads as soundly reasoned and well-explained to me.

I would only add the danger of mingling with a population that outnumbers and surrounds you, a large percentage of whom are dedicated to driving you into the sea but will smile in your face until they get the chance to do so is a very tricky proposition.  If it were your butt that was on the line, you might understand this point better; but they are there and you are here.
26827  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Sheep wanted on: December 30, 2010, 01:42:57 PM
BATTLE GROUND, Wash.—Sue Foster knew what she needed to do when her border collie, Taff, was expelled from puppy school for herding the black Labs into a corner.

She rented some sheep.

Then she bought another border collie and rented some grazing land. Then she bought some sheep of her own. And a third border collie. Now, like the old lady who swallowed the fly, Ms. Foster keeps a llama to chase off the coyotes that threaten the lambs that go to market to finance the sheep that entertain her dogs.

Once upon a time, Americans got dogs for their sheep. Now they get sheep for their dogs. "I never dreamed it would go this far," says Ms. Foster, 56 years old.

Border collies, first bred along the frontier between England and Scotland, are compulsive herders, with instincts so intense they sometimes search for livestock behind the television when sheep appear on screen, says Geri Byrne, owner of the Border Collie Training Center, in Tulelake, Calif. Left unoccupied, they'll dig up the garden, chew up the doggie bed or persecute the cat.

Herding experts—yes, there is such a thing—say it's increasingly common for people who get border collies as pets to wind up renting or buying sheep just to keep their dogs busy. "It's something that's snowballing all the time," says Jack Knox, a Scottish-born shepherd who travels the U.S. giving herding clinics.

Each day, an average of 18 dogs visit Fido's Farm outside Olympia, Wash., their owners paying $15 per dog to practice on the farm's 200-head flock of sheep. Herding revenue at the farm is up 60% over the past five years, says owner Chris Soderstrom, who bought the farm in 2004.

"We get many people sent down here from the dog park in Seattle," says Ms. Soderstrom, 63 years old. "They need to get their dog a job." Newcomers get a 30-minute herding evaluation, to weed out biters and ovinophobes. One crucial test: Does the dog instinctively know it should circle around the sheep, not charge into the center of the flock?

Ms. Soderstrom runs the sheep-rental operation on the honor system. Owners sign in, noting how many dogs they brought. A map on the wall of a shed shows where flocks can be found that day—perhaps grazing in the clover field or the east lambing pasture.

Bob Hickman, a 69-year-old retired Army officer, is a regular at Fido's Farm. Mr. Hickman drove a Volvo station wagon and was living in Tacoma when he got his first border collie. Now he has four border collies, a house in the country and a 23-foot camper trailer he uses to transport his dogs to herding competitions.

"I try to come early to beat the crowd," he said during a recent visit to Fido's.

With that many dogs, his sheep-rental bills were getting so high that he cut a deal with Ms. Soderstrom to swap fence-building, deworming and other work for time with the flock.

Mr. Hickman trains his dogs at a variety of sheep-rental outfits. He doesn't want his dogs getting too accustomed to particular sheep. Sheep that spend too much time being herded become "dog-broke," nice for novices but boring for a more experienced dog and owner who want the challenge of wilder stock.

 When faced with the reality that herding is deep in their dogs' DNA, many owners of border collies wind up on a farm, renting -- or buying -- their dogs some sheep. WSJ's Michael M. Phillips reports.
.Mr. Hickman likens herding to his old hobby, golf. Both are addictive, he says. And he wouldn't just play the same course over and over. "You get very good at that course, but if you leave that course you might not be able to handle it," he says.

Border collies, usually svelte, black-and-white dogs with pointed muzzles, control sheep with a relentless stare.

Using whistles and voice commands—"come by" for a clockwise run and "away to me" for counterclockwise—Mr. Hickman typically sends Mojo, his best herder, on a long, fast sweep to the far side of the sheep. The dog then turns back and approaches the flock in a crouch, head down and tail low, dropping to her belly if the sheep get too frightened. Gradually, she pushes the sheep back to Mr. Hickman.

A well-trained dog such as Mojo can split a few sheep off from the flock, drive them through gates and corral them into pens. A novice will send them fleeing in all directions, or even grab a mouthful of wool. When the work is done, Mr. Hickman quietly releases Mojo with the traditional command: "That'll do."

At sheepdog trials, handlers compete for cash and glory. The dogs have simpler needs.

"You don't have to treat the dogs with food," says Ms. Foster, 56, an expatriate Briton. "Their reward is the sheep." When Dot, her youngest dog, misbehaves by running straight into the flock, Ms. Foster penalizes her by standing between dog and sheep.

"They're my sheep—not hers," Ms. Foster explains.

Border collie
.Ms. Foster and her friend Karen Combs, whom she met outside of a PetSmart store, now own 48 sheep between them. They pay $500 a year to rent seven acres of grazing land, selling a few lambs to help defray the cost of feed and rent.

Ms. Combs, 64, owns a border collie-Australian shepherd mix and five border collies, one of which, Tex, she says suffered a nervous breakdown at six months of age. He was being drilled on challenging maneuvers and simply shut down, refusing to leave his handler's side. "He lost his confidence," Ms. Combs says. It took months for him to recover his will to herd.

More common are physical injuries, from unseen holes or collisions with sheep. Lisa Piccioni, an Oregon veterinarian certified in animal chiropractic, travels to sheepdog trials and clinics, adjusting canine spines as she goes.

"They're going to blow through the pain and not stop for it," she says.

Border collies appear willing to herd until they drop. In fact, they never appear to grow bored of organizing sheep. If they do, for an extra $5 dogs at Fido's Farm can also herd ducks.

Write to Michael M. Phillips at

26828  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Stock Market on: December 30, 2010, 01:29:35 PM
Some excellent questions there CL.

Opinions are like noses, everyone has one.  FWIW IMHO the long run bond bull market is over.   IMHO interest peaks are going to rise faster and further than anticipated.  If this is so, then bonds are no longer a safe investment.  Gold may well not be a safe investment at this point either.  Working from memory, the gold bubble of the Carter years burst when Volcker drover up interest rates.  The idea you raise about puts, LEAPS, etc. is an interesting one, but as you note, the empirical track record does not support the notion.
26829  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Education on: December 30, 2010, 01:24:24 PM
May I interject that in my experience it is often helpful to preface a post, particularly one with which one may disagree in part or whole, with some sort of comments as to why one is posting it.  Answering posts with articles without attendant explanation/context/commentary is often easily misunderstood as well.
26830  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Israeli Gas on: December 30, 2010, 01:08:28 PM

I think you gloss over the issue of danger to Israel here from 5th column type issues and drift into moral equivalence territory.  Although I am distinctly uncomfortable with what I read here, I really can't say I see it as anywhere near comparable to what Jews have been subjected throughout the mid-east (indeed often glossed over is that essentially as many Jews who emmigrated to Israel did so from Arab countries as Europe) or what the Christians of Iraq are suffering as we have this conversation here. 

Anyway, here's the article I came to this thread to post:
TEL AVIV—Two years ago, Ratio Oil Exploration LP, an energy firm here, employed five people and was worth about half a million dollars.

Noble Energy
Operations in Noble Energy's Leviathan gas field, the world's biggest deepwater gas find in a decade.
.Today it sits at the center of a gas bonanza that has investors, international oil companies, Israeli politicians and even Hezbollah, Israel's sworn enemy, clamoring for a piece of the action.

Ratio's market capitalization now approaches $1 billion. The rally at Ratio is thanks to the company's 15% stake in a giant offshore gas field called Leviathan, operated by Houston-based Noble Energy Inc.

On Wednesday, the frenzy got fresh fuel: Noble confirmed its earlier estimates that the field contains 16 trillion cubic feet of gas—making it the world's biggest deepwater gas find in a decade, with enough reserves to supply Israel's gas needs for 100 years.

It's still early days, and getting all that gas out of the seabed may be more difficult than it seems today. But Noble and its partners think the field could hold enough gas to transform Israel, a country precariously dependent on others for energy, into a net-energy exporter.

Such a transformation could potentially alter the geopolitical balance of the Mideast, giving Israel a new economic advantage over its enemies.

Even before Wednesday's announcement confirming the size of Leviathan, the big field was causing a ruckus in Israel and the region.

Leviathan, named after the Biblical sea monster, and two smaller gas fields nearby have kicked up a broad speculative craze.

Israel's Gas Bonanza
View Interactive
.More photos and interactive graphics
.The energy index of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange rose 1,700% in the past year. In recent months, energy stocks accounted for about a quarter of trading activity on the exchange, once mostly the domain of real-estate companies.

It's also shaken regional relations. Lebanese politicians are trying to lure companies to explore their nearby waters, while the two countries—still technically at war—have threatened each other over offshore resources.

A minor diplomatic furor has erupted between Israel and the U.S., which is lobbying hard against Israel's plans to raise taxes on energy companies, including Noble.

Leviathan sits some 84 miles off Israel's northern coast and more than three miles beneath the Mediterranean's seabed. Noble began drilling its first exploratory well in the field in October.

Even before Leviathan, a series of finds had put the so-called Levant Basin, stretching offshore in the Mediterranean, on the international energy map.

In March, the U.S. Geological Survey released its first assessment of the zone, estimating it contained 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of gas. That's equal to half the proven gas reserves of the U.S.

The finds also exposed a grittier underside to Israel's financial sector. A string of criminal investigations launched by Israeli authorities into share-price movements and company disclosures have dogged some of the bonanza's highest flyers.

And a long-running shareholder fight at Ratio spilled into the public this fall, featuring a cameo appearance by a man wanted by U.S. authorities on racketeering and conspiracy charges.

 Israel's recent discovery of offshore gas fields has Lebanon, its northern neighbor, looking to do the same to help feed its growing electricity demands. WSJ's Don Duncan reports from Lebanon.
.Except for the occasional small oil and gas find in its early years, Israel has searched in vain for energy. Big Oil shied away, worried about antagonizing Arab and Iranian partners.

A hardy group of Israeli explorers kept at it anyway. Ratio was one of them. In the early 1990s, Ratio's chief executive, Yigal Landau, from a family of infrastructure magnates, and Ligad Rotlevy, whose family textile business goes back 80 years, formed the company to search for oil onshore.

By then, companies were also venturing offshore. In 1998, another Israeli energy firm, Delek Group Ltd., persuaded Noble, one of the first independents to operate offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, to start looking in Israel's slice of the Mediterranean.

Noble drilled its first Israeli well in 1999, and quickly scored two modest finds. Financial firms and local businessmen with little energy experience began snapping up offshore leases from the government.

Thanks to a 1952 petroleum law still on the books, Israel offered some of the world's best perks to energy companies, including low royalties and corporate taxes on exploration.

Ratio tried to buy into the offshore projects that Noble and Delek were pursuing, but was rebuffed. Instead, in 2007, Messrs. Landau and Rotlevy put up $40 million and took a gamble on the rights to an offshore license neighboring the Noble and Delek fields. It would eventually become the Leviathan field.

Armed with promising seismic data, the pair then convinced Noble and Delek to buy into their lease. They sold a 45% stake to Delek and a 40% stake to Noble.

In January 2009, Noble made a landmark discovery. The Tamar field contained premium quality gas—almost pure methane. Noble had expected to find three trillion cubic feet at the most. The reservoir ended up containing nearly three times that. Two months later, the company found a second, smaller deposit of gas at the nearby Dalit field.

Then, last summer, Noble dropped a bomb shell. The Leviathan field appeared to be a supergiant, according to three-dimensional seismic studies, with almost twice the gas reserves of Tamar.

Ratio's shares soared, and so did those of other energy firms in Tel Aviv. The rally set off alarm bells among regulators.

"We saw new players, and these skeleton entities that had nothing to do with oil, had no experience or know-how, buying and trading leases, making baseless claims," said Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Uzi Landau. "We decided we had to stop this crazy atmosphere engulfing the market." He wouldn't discuss specific companies.

Officials at the Israeli Securities Authority declined to comment on specific cases, but said they were concerned about an ongoing pattern in which small energy companies publish vague or misleading reports that cause their share prices to skyrocket, and often to plummet later.

In September, the ISA raided the offices of two energy-exploration firms related to probes into trading irregularities.

In the case of EZ Energy, regulators stormed its offices Sept. 20, seizing computers and files after its stock shot up 150% in a single session. The ISA says EZ Energy is being investigated for criminal wrongdoing, but hasn't been specific.

EZ Energy declined to comment. The company has disclosed it held a private meeting with Ratio to discuss buying a small share of another, unstudied offshore gas license. Ratio said the company has stopped taking meetings with other energy firms. Ratio isn't accused of any wrongdoing in connection with EZ.

Amid the stock-market frenzy, the Israeli government started considering changing its 1950s-era energy royalties and tax regime, to boost the government's take of any gas find.

Earlier this year, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said he was considering changing terms retroactively—meaning the government could extract better terms on previously assigned leases. Noble and Israeli oil executives went on the offensive.

A retroactive change would be "egregious" and "would quickly move Israel to the lowest tier of countries for investment by the energy industry," Noble's chief executive, Chuck Davidson, wrote Mr. Steinitz in April.

The company enlisted high-level negotiators, including the U.S. State Department and former President Bill Clinton, to lobby against any change.

Mr. Clinton raised the issue in a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in July, according to a Clinton aide. "Your country can't just tax a U.S. business retroactively because they feel like it," the aide said Mr. Clinton told Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Netanyahu was noncommittal, the aide said. A spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu declined to comment on the meeting.

Finance Minister Steinitz has so far ignored the pressure. Last month, he said a government-appointed committee had made preliminary recommendations to abolish tax breaks for energy firms and impose steep tax increases of 20% to 60% on windfall profits. Any tax changes are subject to approval by Israel's cabinet.

"Israel is sovereign to make its own decision and change its tax regime," Mr. Steinitz said in an interview.

Shares in energy companies plummeted on news of the tax increases. Delek Energy said it would have to reevaluate the Tamar field. "This really threatens our ability to deliver the project on schedule," said Gidon Tadmor, the CEO. Funding for development of the gas field is now on hold, he said, due to banks' concerns about the new tax regime.

Despite these problems, Israel's gas find is making waves abroad. Lebanon has staked out its own claim to offshore gas. In August, lawmakers in Beirut rushed the country's first oil-exploration law through its normally snarled parliament.

Lebanon's oil minister, Gebran Bassil, an ally of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, said in late October that his ministry hopes to start auctioning off exploration rights by 2012.

Iran, Israel's arch-nemesis and Hezbollah's chief backer, has also weighed in. Tehran's ambassador to Lebanon, Qazanfar Roknabadi, last month claimed that three-quarters of the Leviathan field actually belongs to Lebanon.

Mr. Landau, the Israeli infrastructure minister, denied the claim and warned Lebanon that Israel wouldn't hesitate to use force to protect its mineral rights.

Meanwhile, the poster child of the boom, Ratio, has seen its star fade after authorities launched a criminal probe of the company's relationship with an Israeli wanted by the U.S. on racketeering and conspiracy charges.

The Israeli investigation is ongoing and charges haven't been filed.

A disgruntled investor, Shlomi Shukrun, has publicly accused Ratio's founders, Messrs. Landau and Rotlevy, of recruiting Meir Abergil to pressure Mr. Shukrun out of his shares and money he says they owed him.

Mr. Abergil, along with his brother, currently sits in an Israeli prison awaiting extradition to the U.S. to face a 32-count federal indictment. He declined a request to comment for this article.

Ratio officials, meanwhile, say Mr. Shukrun hired people with links to a Georgian crime syndicate to threaten Ratio's Mr. Landau and his family into making up Mr. Shukrun's losses. Mr. Shurkrun's lawyer said his client did send people to collect money from Mr. Landau, but he denied making any threats and denied any connection between his client and Georgian organized crime.

Instead of turning to the courts, the two sides say they turned to Mr. Abergil to help broker a solution. When Ratio's share price started its steep ascent, the dispute over a few hundred thousand dollars became a dispute over a few hundred million dollars.

The case is based on a quarrel that began in 2005. It only came to light in September, when Mr. Shukrun went public with his version of the story, and tapes and transcripts of the private arbitration hearings were leaked to the press.

Mr. Landau, Ratio's CEO, says that after Mr. Shukrun threatened him, he turned to a private security company, run by the brother of a convicted (and now deceased) Israeli crime boss. That firm, in turn, brought in Mr. Abergil, Mr. Landau has said. The brother couldn't be reached for comment.

"The smell of gas in Israel has driven people crazy," he says.

26831  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Education on: December 30, 2010, 10:28:25 AM
Big Dog:

Glad to have you with us again.

I read the article in its entirety and if I understand it correctly it says , , , I'm not sure what.  Is the idea that we start children too soon and are too rigorous for them?  Is it that not enough Marxist class consciousness and deconstructionism is taught?  Or is it, as GM laconically queries, that there is too much private sector competition for the public sector?

FWIW, my sense of things is that:
a) a large % of the problem is due to the decline of the American family.  Much of this is due in my opinion, to feminist ideology that women whould leave their children to be raised by others as they work.  Most of the declines we see today in the family track strongly with the movement of women into the workforce;
b) a large % of the problem is due to the progressive claptrap being taught;
c) in a related  vein, teacher unions also play a strong role in all this.

Anyway, I happened to come to this thread at the moment to post the following POTH article on Chinese education, which may be tangentially relevant to what you post.

Published: December 29, 2010
SHANGHAI — In Li Zhen’s ninth-grade mathematics class here last week, the morning drill was geometry. Students at the middle school affiliated with Jing’An Teachers’ College were asked to explain the relative size of geometric shapes by using Euclid’s theorem of parallelograms.

Enlarge This Image
Ryan Pyle for The New York Times
A teacher instructed students in class at the middle school associated with Jing’An Teachers’ College in central Shanghai.

“Who in this class can tell me how to demonstrate two lines are parallel without using a proportional segment?” Ms. Li called out to about 40 students seated in a cramped classroom.

One by one, a series of students at this medium-size public school raised their hands. When Ms. Li called on them, they each stood politely by their desks and usually answered correctly. They returned to their seats only when she told them to sit down.

Educators say this disciplined approach helps explain the announcement this month that 5,100 15-year-olds in Shanghai outperformed students from about 65 countries on an international standardized test that measured math, science and reading competency.

American students came in between 15th and 31st place in the three categories. France and Britain also fared poorly.

Experts said comparing scores from countries and cities of different sizes is complicated. They also said that the Shanghai scores were not representative of China, since this fast-growing city of 20 million is relatively affluent. Still, they were impressed by the high scores from students in Shanghai.

The results were seen as another sign of China’s growing competitiveness. The United States rankings are a “wake-up call,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.

Although it was the first time China had taken part in the test, which was administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, the results bolstered this country’s reputation for producing students with strong math and science skills.

Many educators were also surprised by the city’s strong reading scores, which measured students’ proficiency in their native Chinese.

The Shanghai students performed well, experts say, for the same reason students from other parts of Asia — including South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong — do: Their education systems are steeped in discipline, rote learning and obsessive test preparation.

Public school students in Shanghai often remain at school until 4 p.m., watch very little television and are restricted by Chinese law from working before the age of 16.

“Very rarely do children in other countries receive academic training as intensive as our children do,” said Sun Baohong, an authority on education at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “So if the test is on math and science, there’s no doubt Chinese students will win the competition.”

But many educators say China’s strength in education is also a weakness. The nation’s education system is too test-oriented, schools here stifle creativity and parental pressures often deprive children of the joys of childhood, they say.

“These are two sides of the same coin: Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests,” Jiang Xueqin, a deputy principal at Peking University High School in Beijing, wrote in an opinion article published in The Wall Street Journal shortly after the test results were announced. “For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.”

In an interview, Mr. Jiang said Chinese schools emphasized testing too much, and produced students who lacked curiosity and the ability to think critically or independently.

“It creates very narrow-minded students,” he said. “But what China needs now is entrepreneurs and innovators.”

This is a common complaint in China. Educators say an emphasis on standardized tests is partly to blame for the shortage of innovative start-ups in China. And executives at global companies operating here say they have difficulty finding middle managers who can think creatively and solve problems.

In many ways, the system is a reflection of China’s Confucianist past. Children are expected to honor and respect their parents and teachers.

“Discipline is rarely a problem,” said Ding Yi, vice principal at the middle school affiliated with Jing’An Teachers’ College. “The biggest challenge is a student who chronically fails to do his homework.”

While the quality of schools varies greatly in China (rural schools often lack sufficient money, and dropout rates can be high), schools in major cities typically produce students with strong math and science skills.

Shanghai is believed to have the nation’s best school system, and many students here gain admission to America’s most selective colleges and universities.


Page 2 of 2)

In Shanghai, teachers are required to have a teaching certificate and to undergo a minimum of 240 hours of training; higher-level teachers can be required to have up to 540 hours of training. There is a system of incentives and merit pay, just like the systems in some parts of the United States.

“Within a teacher’s salary package, 70 percent is basic salary,” said Xiong Bingqi, a professor of education at Shanghai Jiaotong University. “The other 30 percent is called performance salary.”

Still, teacher salaries are modest, about $750 a month before bonuses and allowances — far less than what accountants, lawyers or other professionals earn.

While Shanghai schools are renowned for their test preparation skills, administrators here are trying to broaden the curriculums and extend more freedom to local districts. The Jing’An school, one of about 150 schools in Shanghai that took part in the international test, was created 12 years ago to raise standards in an area known for failing schools.

The principal, Zhang Renli, created an experimental school that put less emphasis on math and allows children more free time to play and experiment. The school holds a weekly talent show, for example.

The five-story school building, which houses Grades eight and nine in a central district of Shanghai, is rather nondescript. Students wear rumpled school uniforms, classrooms are crowded and lunch is bused in every afternoon. But the school, which operates from 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m. on most days, is considered one of the city’s best middle schools.

In Shanghai, most students begin studying English in first grade. Many middle school students attend extra-credit courses after school or on Saturdays. A student at Jing’An, Zhou Han, 14, said she entered writing and speech-making competitions and studied the erhu, a Chinese classical instrument. She also has a math tutor.

“I’m not really good at math,” she said. “At first, my parents wanted me to take it, but now I want to do it.”
26832  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Up from the memory hole: BO's lawlessness against Chrysler's secured creditors on: December 30, 2010, 09:51:41 AM
26833  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Terror vs. Terrorism on: December 30, 2010, 09:24:03 AM
Separating Terror from Terrorism
December 30, 2010

By Scott Stewart

On Dec. 15, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent a joint bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies expressing their concern that terrorists may attack a large public gathering in a major U.S. metropolitan area during the 2010 holiday season. That concern was echoed by contacts at the FBI and elsewhere who told STRATFOR they were almost certain there was going to be a terrorist attack launched against the United States over Christmas.

Certainly, attacks during the December holiday season are not unusual. There is a history of such attacks, from the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, and the thwarted millennium attacks in December 1999 and January 2000 to the post-9/11 airliner attacks by shoe bomber Richard Reid on Dec. 22, 2001, and by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Dec. 25, 2009. Some of these plots have even stemmed from the grassroots. In December 2006, Derrick Shareef was arrested while planning an attack he hoped to launch against an Illinois shopping mall on Dec. 22.

Mass gatherings in large metropolitan areas have also been repeatedly targeted by jihadist groups and lone wolves. In addition to past attacks and plots directed against the subway systems in major cities such as Madrid, London, New York and Washington, 2010 saw failed attacks against the crowds in New York’s Times Square on May 1 and in Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, Ore., on Nov. 26.

With this history, it is understandable that the FBI and the DHS would be concerned about such an attack this year and issue a warning to local and state law enforcement agencies in the United States. This American warning also comes on the heels of similar alerts in Europe, warnings punctuated by the Dec. 11 suicide attack in Stockholm.

So far, the 2010 holiday season has been free from terrorist attacks, but as evidenced by all the warnings and concern, this season has not been free from the fear of such attacks, the psychological impact known as “terror.” In light of these recent developments, it seems appropriate discuss the closely related phenomena of terrorism and terror.

Propaganda of the Deed

Nineteenth-century anarchists promoted what they called the “propaganda of the deed,” that is, the use of violence as a symbolic action to make a larger point, such as inspiring the masses to undertake revolutionary action. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, modern terrorist organizations began to conduct operations designed to serve as terrorist theater, an undertaking greatly aided by the advent and spread of broadcast media. Examples of attacks designed to grab international media attention are the September 1972 kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the December 1975 raid on OPEC headquarters in Vienna. Aircraft hijackings followed suit, changing from relatively brief endeavors to long, drawn-out and dramatic media events often spanning multiple continents.

Today, the proliferation of 24-hour television news networks and the Internet have allowed the media to broadcast such attacks live and in their entirety. This development allowed vast numbers of people to watch live as the World Trade Center towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, and as teams of gunmen ran amok in Mumbai in November 2008.

This exposure not only allows people to be informed about unfolding events, it also permits them to become secondary victims of the violence they have watched unfold before them. As the word indicates, the intent of “terrorism” is to create terror in a targeted audience, and the media allow that audience to become far larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of a terrorist attack. I am not a psychologist, but even I can understand that on 9/11, watching the second aircraft strike the South Tower, seeing people leap to their deaths from the windows of the World Trade Center Towers in order to escape the ensuing fire and then watching the towers collapse live on television had a profound impact on many people. A large portion of the United State was, in effect, victimized, as were a large number of people living abroad, judging from the statements of foreign citizens and leaders in the wake of 9/11 that “We are all Americans.”

During that time, people across the globe became fearful, and almost everyone was certain that spectacular attacks beyond those involving the four aircraft hijacked that morning were inevitable — clearly, many people were shaken to their core by the attacks. A similar, though smaller, impact was seen in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. People across India were fearful of being attacked by teams of Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen, and concern spread around the world about Mumbai-style terrorism. Indeed, this concern was so great that we felt compelled to write an analysis emphasizing that the tactics employed in Mumbai were not new and that, while such operations could kill people, the approach would be less successful in the United States and Europe than it was in Mumbai.

Terror Magnifiers

These theatrical attacks have a strange hold over the human imagination and can create a unique sense of terror that dwarfs the normal reaction to natural disasters that are many times greater in magnitude. For example, in the 2004 Asian tsunami, more than 227,000 people died, while fewer than 3,000 people died on 9/11. Yet the 9/11 attacks produced not only a sense of terror but also a geopolitical reaction that has exerted a profound and unparalleled impact upon world events over the past decade. Terrorism clearly can have a powerful impact on the human psyche — so much so that even the threat of a potential attack can cause fear and apprehension, as seen by the reaction to the recent spate of warnings about attacks occurring over the holidays.

As noted above, the media serve as a magnifier of this anxiety and terror. Television news, whether broadcast on the airwaves or over the Internet, allows people to remotely and vicariously experience a terrorist event, and this is reinforced by the print media. While part of this magnification is due merely to the nature of television as a medium and the 24-hour news cycle, bad reporting and misunderstanding can also help build hype and terror. For example, when Mexican drug cartels began placing small explosive devices in vehicles in Ciudad Juarez and Ciudad Victoria this past year, the media hysterically reported that the cartels were using car bombs. Clearly, the journalists failed to appreciate the significant tactical and operational differences between a small bomb placed in a car and the far larger and more deadly vehicle-borne explosive device.

The traditional news media are not alone in the role of terror magnifier. The Internet has also become an increasingly effective conduit for panic and alarm. From breathless (and false) claims in 2005 that al Qaeda had pre-positioned nuclear weapons in the United States and was preparing to attack nine U.S. cities and kill 4 million Americans in an operation called “American Hiroshima” to claims in 2010 that Mexican drug cartels were still smuggling nuclear weapons for Osama bin Laden, a great deal of fearmongering can spread over the Internet. Website operators who earn advertising revenue based on the number of unique visitors who read the stories featured on their sites have an obvious financial incentive for publishing outlandish and startling terrorism claims. The Internet also has produced a wide array of other startling revelations, including the oft-recycled e-mail chain stating that an Israeli counterterrorism expert has predicted al Qaeda will attack six, seven or eight U.S. cities simultaneously “within the next 90 days.” This e-mail was first circulated in 2005 and has been periodically re-circulated over the past five years. Although it is an old, false prediction, it still creates fear every time it is circulated.

Sometimes a government can act as a terror magnifier. Whether it is the American DHS raising the threat level to red or the head of the French internal intelligence service stating that the threat of terrorism in that country has never been higher, such warnings can produce widespread public concern. As we’ve noted elsewhere, there are a number of reasons for such warnings, from trying to pre-empt a terrorist attack when there is incomplete intelligence to a genuine concern for the safety of citizens in the face of a known threat to less altruistic motives such as political gain or bureaucratic maneuvering (when an agency wants to protect itself from blame in case there is an attack). As seen by the public reaction to the many warnings in the wake of 9/11, including recommendations that citizens purchase plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves from chemical and biological attack, such warnings can produce immediate panic, although, over time, as threats and warnings prove to be unfounded, this panic can turn into threat fatigue.

Those seeking to terrorize can and do use these magnifiers to produce terror without having to go to the trouble of conducting attacks. The empty threats made by bin Laden and his inner circle that they were preparing an attack larger than 9/11 — threats propagated by the Internet, picked up by the media and then reacted to by governments — are prime historical examples of this.

In recent weeks, we saw a case where panic was caused by a similar confluence of events. In October, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued the second edition of Inspire, its English-language magazine. As we discussed in our analysis of the magazine, its Open Source Jihad section pointed out a number of ways that attacks could be conducted by grassroots jihadists living in the West. In addition to the suggestion that an attacker could weld butcher knives onto the bumper of a pickup truck and drive it through a crowd, or use a gun as attackers did in Little Rock and at Fort Hood, another method briefly mentioned was that grassroots operatives could use ricin or cyanide in attacks. In response, the DHS decided to investigate further and even went to the trouble of briefing corporate security officers from the hotel and restaurant industries on the potential threat. CBS news picked up the story and ran an exclusive report compete with a scary poison logo superimposed over photos of a hotel, a dinner buffet and an American flag. The report made no mention of the fact that the AQAP article paid far less attention to the ricin and cyanide suggestion than it did to what it called the “ultimate mowing machine,” the pickup with butcher knives, or even the more practical — and far more likely — armed assault.

This was a prime example of terror magnifiers working with AQAP to produce fear.


Groups such as al Qaeda clearly recognize the difference between terrorist attacks and terror. This is seen not only in the use of empty threats to sow terror but also in the way terrorist groups claim success for failed attacks. For example, AQAP declared the failed Christmas Day 2009 “underwear” bombing to be a success due to the effect it had on the air-transportation system. In a special edition of Inspire magazine published in November following the failed attack against cargo aircraft, AQAP trumpeted the operation as a success, citing the fear, disruption and expense that resulted. AQAP claimed the cargo bomb plot and the Christmas Day plot were part of what it called “Operation Hemorrhage,” an effort to cause economic damage and fear and not necessarily kill large numbers of people.

As we’ve noted before, practitioners of terrorism lose a great deal of their ability to create terror if the people they are trying to terrorize adopt the proper mindset. A critical part of this mindset is placing terrorism in perspective. Terrorist attacks are going to continue to happen because there are a wide variety of militant groups and individuals who seek to use violence as a means of influencing a government — either their own or someone else’s.

There have been several waves of terrorism over the past century, but it has been a fairly constant phenomenon, especially over the past few decades. While the flavors of terror may vary from Marxist and nationalist strains to Shiite Islamist to jihadist, it is certain that even if al Qaeda and its jihadist spawn were somehow magically eradicated tomorrow, the problem of terrorism would persist.

Terrorist attacks are also relatively easy to conduct, especially if the assailant is not concerned about escaping after the attack. As AQAP has noted in its Inspire magazine, a determined person can conduct attacks using a variety of simple weapons, from a pickup to a knife, axe or gun. And while the authorities in the United States and elsewhere have been quite successful in foiling attacks over the past couple of years, there are a large number of vulnerable targets in the open societies of the West, and Western governments simply do not have the resources to protect everything — not even authoritarian police states can protect everything. This all means that some terrorist attacks will invariably succeed.

How the media, governments and populations respond to those successful strikes will shape the way that the attackers gauge their success. Obviously, the 9/11 attacks, which caused the United States to invade Afghanistan (and arguably Iraq) were far more successful than bin Laden and company could ever have hoped. The London bombings on July 7, 2005, where the British went back to work as unusual the next day, were seen as less successful.

In the final analysis, the world is a dangerous place. Everyone is going to die, and some people are certain to die in a manner that is brutal or painful. In 2001, more than 42,000 people died from car crashes in the United States and hundreds of thousands of Americans died from heart disease and cancer. The 9/11 attacks were the bloodiest terrorist attacks in world history, and yet even those historic attacks resulted in the deaths of fewer than 3,000 people, a number that pales in comparison to deaths by other causes. This is in no way meant to trivialize those who died on 9/11, or the loss their families suffered, but merely to point out that lots of people die every day and that their families are affected, too.

If the public will take a cue from groups like AQAP, it too can separate terrorism from terror. Recognizing that terrorist attacks, like car crashes and cancer and natural disasters, are a part of the human condition permits individuals and families to practice situational awareness and take prudent measures to prepare for such contingencies without becoming vicarious victims. This separation will help deny the practitioners of terrorism and terror the ability to magnify their reach and power.

26834  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Interesting discussion on: December 30, 2010, 09:16:09 AM
26835  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mexico decriminalizes drugs on: December 30, 2010, 12:55:54 AM
26836  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bill Buckley and Huey Newton on: December 29, 2010, 11:45:31 PM
26837  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US-Pak disconnect on: December 29, 2010, 11:37:48 PM
The Continuing U.S.-Pakistani Disconnect Over the Afghan War

A number of developments related to the complex dealings between the United States and Pakistan over the war in Afghanistan took place Tuesday. The day began with the head of the Pakistani army’s public relations wing telling the Pakistani English daily Express Tribune that the army’s preliminary plans to launch an offensive in a key tribal region was delayed. The top Pakistani officer explained that the delay of sending forces into North Waziristan was the consequence of a resurgence of militant activity in other parts of the tribal areas — the latest manifestation of two separate attacks over the weekend in Mohmand and Bajaur agencies.

Since the recent strategy review by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, Islamabad has come under increasing pressure from Washington to expand the scope of its counterinsurgency offensive in North Waziristan. It is the only agency (out of the seven that constitute the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA) that the Pakistani government has not targeted as part of its 20-month-old campaign against Taliban rebels and their transnational allies. North Waziristan has also become the hub of jihadist forces of various stripes, particularly Taliban forces engaged in the fight in Afghanistan, especially so after the mid-2009 Pakistani-commenced operations against militants in other parts of the FATA.

“Both the United States and Pakistan agree that there is to be a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban, but there is a huge disagreement on how to go about getting to the negotiating table.”
In a separate Express Tribune report by Pakistan’s first internationally affiliated daily — a partner of the International Herald Tribune — unnamed military sources were quoted as saying that senior military commanders decided to redeploy combat troops into the Swat district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the wake of a renewed threat from Pakistani Taliban rebels. According to intelligence reports, the Taliban rebel leaderships in Swat and the FATA, which had escaped to Afghanistan’s eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, were now regrouping in Mohmand and Bajaur to stage a comeback in Swat.

This report provides a justification for the Pakistani argument that it cannot expand its operations into North Waziristan — at least not for a while. It also upends the American argument that Pakistani territory along the Durand Line is a launch pad for Afghan Taliban insurgents fighting Afghan and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In other words, from the Pakistani view, while it is true that Pakistani soil is being used by militants to stage attacks in Afghanistan, the reverse is also true in that Taliban and al Qaeda forces waging war against Islamabad enjoy safe havens in eastern Afghanistan. Interestingly, on Tuesday, The New York Times published a story quoting unnamed U.S. intelligence and military officials stating that rival militant forces on both sides of the border had begun to cooperate to enhance their respective cross-border operations.

On a related note, and in response to the U.S. strategy review, Pakistan recently criticized the United States for demanding that Islamabad prevent militants on its side of the border from staging attacks in Afghanistan, while Washington-led forces with far more superior capabilities were not able to seal the border from the Afghan side. An American military commander responded Tuesday saying that it was not possible for Western forces to seal the lengthy Afghan-border and prevent militants from slipping in from the Pakistani side. Herein lies the dilemma in that both the United States and Pakistan have different priorities.

As far as Washington is concerned, Islamabad should not limit itself to action against Islamist militants waging war on Pakistani soil. Conversely, the Pakistanis want the Americans to realize that they can’t risk exacerbating the war in their country by going after forces that are not waging war against Pakistan. Ultimately, both sides agree that there is to be a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban, but there is a huge disagreement on how to go about getting to the negotiating table.

As this disagreement continues to play itself out, the idea of setting up a Taliban office in Turkey surfaced last week around a summit-level meeting in Istanbul involving the Turkish, Afghan and Pakistani leaderships. While both Kabul and Islamabad welcomed the suggestion, the United States is unlikely to seriously entertain the idea of talks with the Taliban, at least not until after the end of 2011 due to the U.S. surge campaign. That said, if there is to be a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, the Afghan insurgent movement will need to achieve international recognition as a legitimate Afghan national political force and opening an office in a neutral country is a first step in that direction. And until that happens, the U.S.-Pakistani disconnect over the cross-border insurgency is likely to continue.

26838  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wikileaks not same as Pentagon Papers on: December 29, 2010, 04:16:27 PM


In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg decided to make available to the New York Times (and then to other newspapers) 43 volumes of the Pentagon Papers, the top- secret study prepared for the Department of Defense examining how and why the United States had become embroiled in the Vietnam conflict. But he made another critical decision as well. That was to keep confidential the remaining four volumes of the study describing the diplomatic efforts of the United States to resolve the war.

Not at all coincidentally, those were the volumes that the government most feared would be disclosed. In a secret brief filed with the Supreme Court, the U.S. government described the diplomatic volumes as including information about negotiations secretly conducted on its behalf by foreign nations including Canada, Poland, Italy and Norway. Included as well, according to the government, were "derogatory comments about the perfidiousness of specific persons involved, and statements which might be offensive to nations or governments."

The diplomatic volumes were not published, even in part, for another dozen years. Mr. Ellsberg later explained his decision to keep them secret, according to Sanford Ungar's 1972 book "The Papers & The Papers," by saying, "I didn't want to get in the way of the diplomacy."

Julian Assange sure does. Can anyone doubt that he would have made those four volumes public on WikiLeaks regardless of their sensitivity? Or that he would have paid not even the slightest heed to the possibility that they might seriously compromise efforts to bring a speedier end to the war?

Mr. Ellsberg himself has recently denounced the "myth" of the "good" Pentagon Papers as opposed to the "bad" WikiLeaks. But the real myth is that the two disclosures are the same.

The Pentagon Papers revelations dealt with a discrete topic, the ever-increasing level of duplicity of our leaders over a score of years in increasing the nation's involvement in Vietnam while denying it. It revealed official wrongdoing or, at the least, a pervasive lack of candor by the government to its people.

WikiLeaks is different. It revels in the revelation of "secrets" simply because they are secret. It assaults the very notion of diplomacy that is not presented live on C-Span. It has sometimes served the public by its revelations but it also offers, at considerable potential price, a vast amount of material that discloses no abuses of power at all.

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Associated Press
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference in Geneva Switzerland, Nov. 4.
.The recent release of a torrent of State Department documents is typical. Some, containing unflattering appraisals by American diplomats of foreign leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Libya and elsewhere, contain the very sort of diplomacy-destructive materials that Mr. Ellsberg withheld. Others—the revelation that Syria continued selling missiles to Hezbollah after explicitly promising America it would not do so, for example—provide a revealing glimpse of a world that few ever see. Taken as a whole, however, a leak of this elephantine magnitude, which appears to demonstrate no misconduct by the U.S., is difficult to defend on any basis other than WikiLeaks' general disdain for any secrecy at all.

Mr. Ellsberg understood that some government documents should remain secret, at least for some period of time. Mr. Assange views the very notion of government secrecy as totalitarian in nature. He has referred to his site as "an uncensorable system for untraceable document leaking and analysis."

But WikiLeaks offers no articles of its own, no context of any of the materials it discloses, and no analysis of them other than assertions in press releases or their equivalent. As Princeton historian Sean Wilentz told the Associated Press earlier this month, WikiLeaks seems rooted in a "simpleminded idea of secrecy and transparency," one that is "simply offended by any actions that are cloaked."

Ironically, this view of the world may aid Mr. Assange in avoiding criminal liability for his actions. The Justice Department is well aware that if it can prove that Mr. Assange induced someone in the government to provide him with genuinely secret information, it might be able to obtain an indictment under the Espionage Act based upon that sort of conspiratorial behavior. But the government might not succeed if it can indict based only upon a section of the Espionage Act relating to unauthorized communication or retention of documents.

Section 793 of the Espionage Act was adopted in 1917 before the Supreme Court had ever declared an act of Congress unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The statute has been well-described by former Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan as "singularly oblique." Its language is sweepingly overbroad, allowing prosecution of anyone who "willfully" retains or communicates information "relating to the national defense" he or she is not "authorized" to have with the knowledge that it "could" damage the United States or give "advantage" to a foreign nation.

On the face of the statute, it could not only permit the indictment of Mr. Assange but of journalists who actually report about or analyze diplomatic or defense topics. To this date, no journalist has ever been indicted under these provisions.

The Justice Department took the position that it could enforce the law against journalists in a case it commenced in 2006 (and later dropped) against two former officials of the American Israel Political Action Committee accused of orally telling an Israeli diplomat classified information they were told by a Defense Department employee. In that case, federal Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that to obtain a conviction of individuals who had not worked for the government but had received information from individuals who had, prosecutors must prove that the defendant actually intended to harm the U.S. or to help an enemy. Judge Ellis intimated that unless the law were read in that defendant-protective manner, it would violate the First Amendment.

Under that reading of the legislation, if Mr. Assange were found to have communicated and retained the secret information with the intent to harm the United States—some of his statements can be so read—a conviction might be obtained. But if Mr. Assange were viewed as simply following his deeply held view that the secrets of government should be bared, notwithstanding the consequences, he might escape legal punishment.

Mr. Assange is no boon to American journalists. His activities have already doomed proposed federal shield-law legislation protecting journalists' use of confidential sources in the just-adjourned Congress. An indictment of him could be followed by the judicial articulation of far more speech-limiting legal principles than currently exist with respect to even the most responsible reporting about both diplomacy and defense. If he is not charged or is acquitted of whatever charges may be made, that may well lead to the adoption of new and dangerously restrictive legislation. In more than one way, Mr. Assange may yet have much to answer for.

Mr. Abrams, a senior partner in the firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, represented the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case.

26839  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / AQ still after Danish cartoonist on: December 29, 2010, 04:14:46 PM

December 29, 2010


Vice President of Tactical Intelligence Scott Stewart explains why a thwarted terrorism plot in Denmark -- in which five suspected terrorists were arrested -- appears to be a more credible threat than other recent terrorism plots.

Authorities in Denmark and Sweden arrested five men today in connection with a plot to attack a Danish newspaper office in Copenhagen that was involved in the Muhammad cartoon controversy. Unlike some other recent cases in Europe involving the arrest of terrorism suspects, this case appears to be the real deal.
Although we still have a lot of details unavailable to us concerning this case, several of those that have surfaced so far indicate to us that this cell was sincere, that it was dedicated and that is was the real deal.
Probably the first indicator that leaps out to us is that this group was looking at a reasonable and reachable target. They were going to attack this newspaper office -- it wasn't the fact that they were looking to attack every target in Copenhagen or Denmark, or even hard targets that would be difficult to attack. Recently we saw a cell taken down in the United Kingdom last week. That group of plotters was looking to hit everything in London, including hard targets like the U.S. Embassy. When we see plots like that, it indicates to us that those conducting them are inexperienced, and they are more fanciful than real threats. In addition to the fact that the target was reasonable, the means of attack was also reasonable and achievable. They weren't looking at some grandiose plot involving nuclear weapons or large explosive devices. They were going to conduct a simple armed assault on the newspaper office with the intent of killing the largest number of people possible.
Second, the cell in Denmark had already obtained weapons to conduct their attack and had them in place, and three of the members had traveled from Sweden to Denmark in pursuit of the plot. So, this plot had gone beyond the theoretical stage, and the plotters had gotten to the stage of executing it. We saw a plot last week in The Netherlands where a group of Somalis was arrested, and that plot allegedly involved the desire of the Somalis to shoot down Danish helicopters. The only problem for them is that they didn't have any missiles to shoot down the helicopters. Again, the plot wasn't very far along and the people involved in it were more amateurish (whereas the group in Denmark appears to have not only obtained the weapons, but pre-positioned men to carry out the attack).
Third, like past cases, including the case involving American David Headley, who went to Copenhagen to conduct surveillance of the Jyllands-Posten office, and an attack last year in January in which a Somali had attacked the home of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard armed with an axe and a knife, this case shows us that, Jyllands-Posten office remains a very serious target of terrorists.
As al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said in 2010, they were not going to allow the dust to settle on the Muhammad cartoon controversy, and that those involved in the cartoons were going to continue to be targeted. This case is evidence that those threats were true.
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Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.

26840  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: China squeezes foreign companies on: December 29, 2010, 12:58:08 PM
BEIJING—Foreign companies have been teaming up with Chinese ones for years to gain access to the giant Chinese market. Now some of the world's biggest companies are taking a risky but potentially rewarding second step—folding pieces of their world-wide operations into partnerships with Chinese companies to do business around the globe.

General Electric Co. is finalizing plans for a 50-50 joint venture with a Chinese military-jet maker to produce avionics, the electronic brains of aircraft. The deal with Aviation Industry Corp. of China would give GE access to a Chinese government project aimed at challenging Boeing Co. and Airbus in the civilian-aircraft market.

General Motors Co. established a joint venture this year with SAIC Motor Corp., its longtime partner in China, to produce and sell their no-frills Wuling-brand microvans in India, and eventually in Southeast Asia and other emerging markets as well.

The two deals show China Inc.'s growing international ambitions, as well as its increasing leverage over foreign partners. To make the GE deal happen, GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt made an extraordinary concession, agreeing to fold into the venture all of GE's existing world-wide business in nonmilitary avionics. GM, in its deal, contributed technology, its manufacturing facilities in India and use of its Chevrolet brand name in that market.

Several forces are motivating China's foreign partners to strike global deals that would have been unthinkable a few years back. China's big government-backed companies now have enormous financial resources and growing political clout, making them attractive partners outside China. In addition, the Chinese market has become so important to the success of multinational companies that Beijing has the ability to drive harder bargains.

Joint Flight
Western companies working on China's C919 jet mostly through joint ventures

General Electric Co.
Avionics, cockpit-display systems, on-board maintenance systems and flight recorders.

Rockwell Collins Inc. Communication, navigation and surveillance systems.

Eaton Corp.
Fuel and hydraulic systems, cockpit-panel assemblies and dimming-control system.

Hamilton Sundstrand Corp.
Electrical power systems.

Honeywell International Inc. Flight-control systems, auxiliary-power unit, wheels and brakes.

Liebherr-Aerospace Toulouse SAS
Landing gear and air-management systems.

Parker Hannifin Corp.
Hydraulics, flight-control and fuel-tank systems.

But such deals also carry risk. Several earlier joint ventures inside China have soured over concerns that Chinese partners, after gaining access to Western technology and know-how, have gone on to become potent new rivals to their partners.

"Foreign partners are seeing they will have to sometimes sacrifice or share the benefits of the global market with the Chinese partner," says Raymond Tsang, a China-based partner at consultancy Bain & Co. "Some of the [multinational corporations] are complaining. But given the changing market conditions, if you don't do it, your competitors will."

Big energy companies, too, have been pursuing international deals with Chinese companies. China has supplanted the U.S. as the world's biggest energy consumer, making access to its market vital for global companies. Foreign firms hope that teaming up with Chinese companies abroad will help on that front. Foreign companies supply technology and experience, and their Chinese partners provide geopolitical clout, low-cost labor, and easy access to credit that China's government-backed companies enjoy.

State-owned China National Petroleum Corp. was one of the first foreign oil companies to sign a major contract in Iraq. BP PLC teamed up with it last year for a $15 billion investment to increase output at the giant Rumaila field. Over the summer, Royal Dutch Shell PLC joined with PetroChina Co., a publicly traded subsidiary of China National Petroleum, on a $3.15 billion acquisition of assets from Australian energy company Arrow Energy Ltd.

China has been gaining clout in some resource-rich parts of the developing world where U.S. companies don't have strong footholds, partly by spending lavishly on infrastructure projects, and it can help broker deals in places like Venezuela and Myanmar, where it has good relations.

In financial services, foreign banks long have coveted access to China's fast-growing securities business. China has allowed a number of companies into the market in recent years through joint ventures, with their stakes capped at about 33%. Chinese regulators also restrict which parts of the securities business they can do.

Crédit Agricole SA already is involved in such a joint venture through its Asian brokerage arm, called CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, but it is a minor player in China. In May, its investment-banking unit announced a preliminary deal with China's government-owned Citic Securities Co. to form a joint venture beyond China's borders. The French company plans to contribute CLSA and other pieces of its international operation. Citic Securities would throw in its small international unit, based in Hong Kong. Crédit Agricole hopes that helping Citic Securities realize its international ambitions will enable the French bank to expand its business in China.

But talks have gone slower than expected. The two companies said this month that they had agreed on certain key terms, but extended a year-end deadline for a final deal to June 30, without explaining the delay.

Some joint ventures in China have stumbled because of spats with local partners or because the partnerships enable Chinese companies to learn enough about industries to become new competitors to their Western partners.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and Siemens AG, for example, worked with Chinese partners to help build China's high-speed rail network. Now the Chinese companies are bidding against them for international contracts—using products at least partly based on the foreign firms' technology. Last year, France's Groupe Danone SA accepted a cash payment to terminate its joint ventures with China's Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co. after a nasty public feud. The French company had alleged that Wahaha's boss had produced and sold Wahaha-branded beverages supposedly owned by the joint venture through a separate network he owned. Wahaha denied the accusation.

GE's avionics deal with Aviation Industry, or AVIC, also is vulnerable, says Jim Wasson, president of Growth Strategies International LLC, an aerospace and defense consulting firm, and a former GE Aviation executive. The fear is that "once AVIC knows enough about how to do this, they'll kick [GE] out and be on their own," he says.

Lorraine Bolsinger, chief executive of GE Aviation Systems, acknowledges there were concerns within GE about protecting technology. "It was very controversial," she says of the proposed deal. "It was really us knuckle-dragging technology guys that think we had a lot to protect." In the end, she says, "when we and the Chinese together create intellectual property, we are darn right going to protect it."
These days, big Chinese state companies with access to cheap funds and other government support are gunning to dominate some of the same industries that firms like GE have targeted as growth opportunities, from clean technology to turbines.

Even so, GE has such high hopes for China that Mr. Immelt has called it "our second home market." Two years ago, Mr. Immelt said China revenue would double to $10 billion by 2010. But last year it reached just $5.3 billion.

GE saw working with AVIC as a chance to boost its avionics business, which has lagged behind Honeywell International Inc. and Rockwell Collins Inc. The planned venture, to be based in Shanghai, has been chosen to supply China's planned C919 jet, which has the potential to grab a big slice of the Chinese civilian-aviation market. Boeing estimates that market will be worth more than $400 billion over the next 20 years, second only to the U.S.

In negotiations, GE is asking AVIC to match the value of the technology GE is contributing with a cash investment, according to people at GE. If a deal is finalized, all of GE's existing and future civilian avionics contracts will go to the joint venture. Negotiations were supposed to be done by mid-2010, but the parties now hope to finish them by early 2011.

GE executives say the AVIC deal is their closest cooperation ever with a Chinese partner. GE has 45 people in China on the project now, and it is hiring or moving several hundred more people there, even before final terms are hammered out.

AVIC, which makes fighter jets and helicopters in addition to civilian products, has ambitions outside of China. "For the aviation industry, there is no regional market, only the global market," the company said in a statement. "AVIC's strategy is to actively integrate itself into the industrial chain of the world's aviation industry, and to become a truly global company."

Last month, China unveiled the first life-size mock-up of the C919. Other foreign companies have negotiated similar joint ventures to make other parts.

"Our hope and desire is that this joint venture maintains a working-together partnership that benefits both," says Kent Statler, executive vice president at Rockwell Collins, which has a joint venture to supply the C919 with communications systems. "But let's not be naive. We realize that this could turn into a competitor."

For GM, the stakes are especially high: China became the world's largest auto market last year.

Back in 1997, GM decided to plow more than $1 billion into a 50-50 joint venture with SAIC to make Buicks. At the time, it was seen as a risk because car sales had yet to take off in China. This year, GM's China ventures are on track to sell nearly 2.27 million vehicles in the country, compared to 2.18 million sold by GM in the U.S., according to research firm IHS Automotive.

Much of GM's recent growth in China has come through a second joint venture set up in 2002 with SAIC and another Chinese company. The venture, SAIC GM Wuling Automobile Co., makes boxy microvans costing as little as $4,500, which have proven popular in China's smaller cities and towns. Last year Wuling became the first brand in China to sell a million cars in a year. This year, it's expected to account for nearly one-sixth of GM vehicle sales world-wide. Last month, GM reached a deal to buy an additional 10% interest in Wuling for $51 million from the venture's third investor, raising GM's stake to 44%. SAIC owns 50%.

The India joint venture, which began operating in February, is part of GM's effort with SAIC to replicate its China success in other markets. It will produce cars based on its Chinese Wulings, but will sell them under the Chevrolet brand. GM contributed its brand, India factories and dealer network, while SAIC contributed about $300 million to $350 million, a senior GM executive said when the deal was announced.

"We think the business model we have in China with SAIC and the product lineups we have in China are ripe for export to other parts of the world," says Kevin Wale, chief of GM's China operations.

GM and SAIC already have made less ambitious forays abroad together. They export Chevy Sail compacts designed and made in China to Chile and Peru, and are jointly developing more new models to be sold globally, such as the Buick LaCrosse, a sedan designed by teams in Shanghai and Warren, Mich., and sold in China and the U.S.

The India deal takes that cooperation a step beyond shipping jointly produced vehicles overseas. GM and SAIC executives and engineers will be posted in India to design, produce and market cars locally—something SAIC currently has almost no experience with.

One risk to GM is that the venture will better position SAIC to compete abroad on its own—against GM.

Already, SAIC has grown into a powerhouse at home, in part through learning from GM. In 2006, SAIC launched its own solo brand in China, called Roewe. It now competes domestically with the Buicks that SAIC makes with GM. The Roewe brand, which is based it on technology acquired from the now-defunct MG Rover Group Ltd., along with a related nameplate, MG Mingju, sold 146,323 cars in the first 11 months of this year, up 78% from the year-earlier period, according to J.D. Power & Associates. Buick's sales in China, while more than three times as large, grew one-third as fast over the same period.

"Roewe offers comparable products at lower price points and is taking away from GM and others," says Michael Dunne, an auto-industry veteran who heads Hong Kong-based investment advisory firm Dunne & Co.

Last year, GM agreed transfer 1% of its stake in Shanghai GM, its main Chinese joint venture, to SAIC, giving its Chinese partner 51% and effective control. GM said at the time the move would give it better access to credit from Chinese banks, and pave the way for its bigger stake in the Wuling venture.

Last month, GM said the two companies are looking at the possibility of selling SAIC's MG-branded cars through GM's world-wide sales channels. The move could open the door for SAIC's cars to make inroads into Britain, where the MG brand was once based, according to an individual close to GM. Also last month, SAIC paid $500 million for a 1% stake in GM as part of the Detroit auto maker's initial public offering.

SAIC is "very well situated to meet Western [car companies] head on," says Michael Robinet, a U.S.-based senior analyst with consulting firm IHS Automotive. "There's no doubt in my mind, MG and Roewe are going to be both very good launch pads for SAIC to look at new markets beyond China."

Write to Shai Oster at, Norihiko Shirouzu at and Paul Glader at
26841  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fg French on: December 29, 2010, 10:59:15 AM
 angry angry angry

PARIS — Since a low-key Christmas Eve announcement of a French sale of assault ships to Russia, high-level government deal makers have boasted about the multimillion-euro deal like it was a soccer game triumph. “France wins,” declares the Web site for the Élysée Palace.

Enlarge This Image
Anatoly Maltsev/European Pressphoto Agency
A French Navy Mistral amphibious assault ship,docked on the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2009.
But critics — particularly among Russia’s neighbors including Georgia, Estonia and Lithuania — are raising alarms that France may have pioneered the way for other Western countries to sell Russia whatever they have to offer, from high-technology military equipment to rights for oil pipelines.

“It’s a scandal,” said André Glucksmann, a French philosopher and critic of the deal. He said in an interview on Tuesday that the announcement was timed for the busy Christmas season to bury the “dirty details.”

The boxy, 600-foot-long Mistral vessel is an advanced helicopter carrier equipped with a command center and hospital for military landing operations. It is the first major arms purchase by Russia abroad and the first sale by a NATO country, illustrating the shifting role of an alliance once conceived to counter Soviet military power.

One of the sticking points in negotiations was whether the deal would include advanced naval weapons and defense systems. In the months leading to the deal, a series of French officials softened their stand, saying that France was willing to supply the technology without restrictions.

The French have said nothing in the last few days to spell out the level of technology the Russians will gain. But Russia’s neighbors are clearly worried.

“It’s a little bit premature to take this step because it establishes a precedent,” said Rasa Jukneviciene, the Lithuanian defense minister. In the past, she said, French officials assured Lithuania that sensitive technology would not be included. “But now we are getting information that it is included,” Ms. Jukneviciene said.

The Baltic states have long raised concerns, keenly aware of the comments of Russia’s naval chief, Adm. Vladimir S. Vysotsky, who last year bluntly evaluated the potential benefits the equipment could have offered during the five-day Georgian war in 2008: “Everything that we did in the space of 26 hours at the time, this ship will do within 40 minutes.”

Nino Kalandadze, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, says that the ships can carry up to 16 helicopters and more than 450 troops, giving Moscow much greater command of its coastlines.

“We hope that Russia will use the ships according to international law as a self-defense mechanism,” Ms. Kalandadze said. “But Russia’s current leadership is not one that can always be trusted. It’s known for its disregard for international laws.”

Urmas Paet, the Estonian foreign minister, took a more muted view of the deal. “We do not see the sale of these two or possibly four ships as a major challenge for the security environment in the Baltic Sea region,” he wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. “The possible impact is still something that we have to take into account in our long-term planning.”

Under the deal, two of the ships will be built in the French shipyards of St.-Nazaire on France’s Atlantic coast and the next two will be built in St. Petersburg, Russia. The sale underlines Russia’s rising military ambitions and the deterioration of its own arms industry. It is struggling, for example, to finish repairs to upgrade the Admiral Gorshkov, a heavy-aircraft carrier purchased by India. Some analysts predict that construction of a Mistral ship in Russia will also lag.

“In principle, Russia is capable, but it will take a lot longer because the productivity here is inferior. France is more technologically advanced and also, there is no experience building a ship like this in Russia,” said Konstantin Makienko, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Russian research organization that analyzes the arms trade.

Much of the geopolitical wrangling about the deal emerged in secret American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. In February 2010, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates raised the issue with President Nicolas Sarkozy and France’s defense minister at the time, Hervé Morin.

According to the ambassador’s report of the meeting, Mr. Gates noted that Russia failed to honor an armistice in Georgia brokered by Mr. Sarkozy. Mr. Gates also was scornful of the top deal makers: “Russian democracy has disappeared, and the government is an oligarchy run by the security services.”

26842  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Iran's challenge on: December 28, 2010, 11:59:03 PM
Tuesday, December 28, 2010   STRATFOR.COM  Diary Archives 

Iran's Challenge: Keeping Domestic Stability While Managing International Pressures

Iranian Deputy Minister of Economy Mohammad Reza Farzin said on Monday that fuel consumption across the country had dropped since the government began implementing its plan to cut subsidies. Speaking to AFP, Farzin explained that after nine days, gasoline consumption dropped from 13.2 million to 12.1 million gallons a day. “We are spending $100 billion in subsidies every year from a gross domestic product of $400 billion. We have realized that low energy prices cannot deliver social welfare. It can’t reduce poverty. We are determined to use the resources for managing prices more efficiently,” the deputy economy minister stated.

It is not surprising that for decades, Iran has dedicated nearly a quarter of its gross domestic product to subsidize essentials. For any Tehran-based government to be able to maintain central rule over the large mountainous country, it must establish a complex political and security system. Thus, mass unrest has been contained through a massive security apparatus and with an extensive subsidy program.

What renders the subsidy program even more critical is that Iran is a chronically poor country with a significantly non-homogenous population, and the country has been under international sanctions for more than three decades. This would explain the high cost of maintaining domestic social placidity. Policymakers of the Persian Shiite polity, however, have long been divided over the merits of thwarting internal chaos at such a high cost.

“The challenge for Iran is two-fold: decreasing foreign dependency on gasoline imports … while containing a social backlash that could come from slashing subsidies.”
Cutting subsidies has been on the policy agenda of successive governments in the Islamic republic for at least two decades. Iran has been dependent upon imports to meet 40 percent of its domestic gasoline consumption needs. But it was not until last week that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration embarked upon the first-ever serious effort to address a key vulnerability in the Iranian system.

Gasoline acquired at international market rates has been available to the Iranian public for as low as 38 cents per gallon. The challenge for Iran is two-fold: how to decrease dependency on gasoline imports, especially in the wake of the latest round of sanctions, which have made it more difficult to import fuel, while containing a social backlash that could come from slashing subsidies. Ahmadinejad’s government deals with this situation by increasing the price of gasoline to curb domestic consumption while providing monthly cash handouts as a way to avoid the domestic backlash.

The hope is that this complex economic reform package will allow the state to deal with the growing challenges of securing much-needed fuel imports, sustain social placidity and free up resources that can be allocated to other areas. The past 10 days is not enough to gauge the effectiveness of the strategy, and the lack of transparency raises questions about the authenticity of the data made available by Iranian authorities. For now, the key is that Iran has embarked upon a measure that is a major break with its past behavior.

26843  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Fascism, liberal fascism, progressivism: on: December 28, 2010, 07:43:34 PM
May I tease you by pointing out that such suspicion of the integrity of government/state action is normally mocked by you? cheesy
26844  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Fascism, liberal fascism, progressivism: on: December 28, 2010, 07:11:47 PM
Thanks for the piece on the origins of Kwanzaa GM.
26845  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Making sense of the START debate on: December 28, 2010, 11:16:50 AM
I found this piece glib on concerns about our limiting our anti-missile defense capabilities, but the larger discussion interesting.

Making Sense of the START Debate
December 28, 2010

By George Friedman

Last week, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which had been signed in April. The Russian legislature still has to provide final approval of the treaty, but it is likely to do so, and therefore a New START is set to go into force. That leaves two questions to discuss. First, what exactly have the two sides agreed to and, second, what does it mean? Let’s begin with the first.

The original START was signed July 31, 1991, and reductions were completed in 2001. The treaty put a cap on the number of nuclear warheads that could be deployed. In addition to limiting the number of land- and submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and strategic bombers, it capped the number of warheads that were available to launch at 6,000. The fact that this is a staggering number of nuclear weapons should give you some idea of the staggering number in existence prior to START. START I lapsed in 2009, and the new treaty is essentially designed to reinstate it.

It is important to remember that Ronald Reagan first proposed START. His initial proposal focused on reducing the number of ICBMs. Given that the Soviets did not have an effective intercontinental bomber force and the United States had a massive B-52 force and follow-on bombers in the works, the treaty he proposed would have decreased the Soviet quantitative advantage in missile-based systems without meaningfully reducing the U.S. advantage in bombers. The Soviets, of course, objected, and a more balanced treaty emerged.

What is striking is that START was signed just before the Soviet Union collapsed and implemented long after it was gone. It derived from the political realities that existed during the early 1980s. One of the things the signers of both the original START and the New START have ignored is that nuclear weapons by themselves are not the issue. The issue is the geopolitical relationship between the two powers. The number of weapons may affect budgetary considerations and theoretical targeting metrics, but the danger of nuclear war does not derive from the number of weapons but from the political relationship between nations.

The Importance of the Political Relationship
I like to use this example. There are two countries that are historical enemies. They have fought wars for centuries, and in many ways, they still don’t like each other. Both are today, as they have been for decades, significant nuclear powers. Yet neither side maintains detection systems to protect against the other, and neither has made plans for nuclear war with the other. This example is from the real world; I am speaking of Britain and France. There are no treaties between them regulating nuclear weapons in spite of the fact that each has enough to devastate the other. This is because the possession of nuclear weapons is not the issue. The political relationship between Britain and France is the issue and, therefore, the careful calibration of the Franco-British nuclear balance is irrelevant and unnecessary.

The political relationship that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1980s is not the same as the relationship that exists today. Starting in the 1950s, the United States and Soviet Union were in a state of near-war. The differences between them were geopolitically profound. The United States was afraid that the Soviets would seize Western Europe in an attack in order to change the global balance of power. Given that the balance of power ran against the Soviet Union, it was seen as possible that they would try to rectify it by war.

Since the United States had guaranteed Europe’s security with troops and the promise that it would use nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union to block the conquest of Europe, it followed that the Soviet Union would initiate war by attempting to neutralize the American nuclear capability. This would require a surprise attack on the United States with Soviet missiles. It also followed that the United States, in order to protect Europe, might launch a pre-emptive strike against the Soviet military capability in order to protect the United States and the balance of power.

Until the 1960s, the United States had an overwhelming advantage. Its bomber force gave it the ability to strike the Soviet Union from the United States. The Soviets chose not to build a significant bomber force, relying instead on a missile capability that really wasn’t in place and reliable until the mid-1960s. The Cuban missile crisis derived in part from this imbalance. The Soviets wanted Cuba because they could place shorter-range missiles there, threatening the B-52 fleet by reducing warning time and threatening the American population should the B-52s strike the Soviet Union.

A complex game emerged after Cuba. Both sides created reliable missiles that could reach the other side, and both turned to a pure counter-force strategy, designed to destroy not cities but enemy missiles. The missiles were dispersed and placed in hardened silos. Nuclear submarines, less accurate but holding cities hostage, were deployed. Accuracy increased. From the mid-1960s on the nuclear balance was seen as the foundation of the global balance of power.

The threat to global peace was that one side or the other would gain a decisive advantage in the global balance. Knowledge of the imbalance on both sides would enable the side with the advantage to impose its political will on the other, which would be forced to capitulate in any showdown.

The Russo-American Strategic Balance
Therefore, both sides were obsessed with preventing the other side from gaining a nuclear advantage. This created the nuclear arms race. The desire to end the race was not based on the fear that more nuclear weapons were dangerous but on the fear that any disequilibrium in weapons, or the perception of disequilibrium, might trigger a war. Rather than a dynamic equilibrium, with both sides matching or overmatching the other’s perceived capability, the concept of a treaty-based solution emerged, in which the equilibrium became static. This concept itself was dangerous because it depended on verification of compliance with treaties and led to the development of space-based reconnaissance systems.

The treaties did not eliminate anxiety. Both sides continued to obsessively watch for a surprise attack, and both sides conducted angry internal debates about whether the other side was violating the treaties. Similarly, the deployment of new systems not covered by the treaties created internal political struggles, particularly in the West. When the Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles were deployed in Europe in the 1980s, major resistance to their deployment from the European left emerged. The fear was that the new systems would destabilize the nuclear balance, giving the United States an advantage that might lead to nuclear war.

This was also the foundation for the Soviets’ objection to the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed “Star Wars.” Although Star Wars seemed useful and harmless, the Soviets argued that if the United States were able to defend itself against Soviet attack, then this would give the United States an advantage in the nuclear balance, allowing it to strike at the Soviet Union and giving it massive political leverage. This has always been the official basis of the Russian objection to ballistic-missile defense (BMD) — they said it upset the nuclear balance.

The United States never wanted to include tactical nuclear weapons in these treaties. The Soviet conventional force appeared substantially greater than the American alliance’s, and tactical nuclear weapons seemed the only way to defeat a Soviet force. The Soviets, for their part, would never agree to a treaty limiting conventional forces. That was their great advantage, and if they agreed to parity there it would permanently remove the one lever they had. There was no agreement on this until just before the Soviet Union collapsed, and then it no longer mattered. Thus, while both powers wanted strategic stability, the struggle continued on the tactical level. Treaties could not contain the political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

And now we get to the fundamental problem with the idea of a nuclear balance. The threat of nuclear war derived not from some bloodthirsty desire to annihilate humanity but from a profound geopolitical competition by the two great powers following the collapse of European power. The United States had contained the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union was desperately searching for a way out of its encirclement, whether by subversion or war. The Soviet Union had a much more substantial conventional military force than the United States. The Americans compensated with nuclear weapons to block Soviet moves. As the Soviets increased their strategic nuclear capability, the American limit on their conventional forces decreased, compensated for by sub-strategic nuclear forces.

But it was all about the geopolitical situation. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviets lost the Cold War. Military conquest was neither an option nor a requirement. Therefore, the U.S.-Soviet nuclear balance became meaningless. If the Russians attacked Georgia the United States wasn’t about to launch a nuclear war. The Caucasus is not Western Europe. START was not about reducing nuclear forces alone. It was about reducing them in a carefully calibrated manner so that no side gained a strategic and therefore political advantage.

New START is therefore as archaic as the Treaty of Versailles. It neither increases nor decreases security. It addresses a security issue that last had meaning more than 20 years ago in a different geopolitical universe. If a case can be made for reducing nuclear weapons, it must be made in the current geopolitical situation. Arguing for strategic arms reduction may have merit, but trying to express it in the context of an archaic treaty makes little sense.

New START’s Relevance
So why has this emerged? It is not because anyone is trying to calibrate the American and Russian nuclear arsenals. Rather, it goes back to the fiasco over the famous “reset button” that Hillary Clinton brought to Moscow last March. Tensions over substantial but sub-nuclear issues had damaged U.S.-Russian relations. The Russians saw the Americans as wanting to create a new containment alliance around the Russian Federation. The Americans saw the Russians as trying to create a sphere of influence that would be the foundation of a new Moscow-based regional system. Each side had a reasonable sense of the other’s intentions. Clinton wanted to reset relations. The Russians didn’t. They did not see the past as the model they wanted, and they saw the American vision of a reset as a threat. The situation grew worse, not better.

An idea emerged in Washington that there needed to be confidence-building measures. One way to build confidence, so the diplomats sometimes think, is to achieve small successes and build on them. The New START was seen as such a small success, taking a non-objectionable treaty of little relevance and effectively renewing it. From here, other successes would follow. No one really thought that this treaty mattered in its own right. But some thought that building confidence right now sent the wrong signal to Moscow.

U.S. opposition was divided into two groups. One, particularly Republicans, saw this as a political opportunity to embarrass the president. Another argued, not particularly coherently, that using an archaic issue as a foundation for building a relationship with Russia allowed both sides to evade the serious issues dividing the two sides: the role of Russia in the former Soviet Union, NATO and EU expansion, Russia’s use of energy to dominate European neighbors, the future of BMD against Iran, Russia’s role in the Middle East and so on.

Rather than building confidence between the two countries, a New START would give the illusion of success while leaving fundamental issues to fester. The counter-argument was that with this success others would follow. The counter to that was that by spending energy on a New START, the United States delayed and ignored more fundamental issues. The debate is worth having, and both sides have a case, but the idea that START in itself mattered is not part of that debate.

In the end, the issue boiled down to this. START was marginal at best. But if President Barack Obama couldn’t deliver on START his credibility with the Russians would collapse. It wasn’t so much that a New START would build confidence as it was that a failure to pass a New START would destroy confidence. It was on that basis that the U.S. Senate approved the treaty. Its opponents argued that it left out discussions of BMD and tactical nuclear weapons. Their more powerful argument was that the United States just negotiated a slightly modified version of a treaty that Ronald Reagan proposed a quarter century ago and it had nothing to do with contemporary geopolitical reality.

Passage allowed Obama to dodge a bullet, but it leaves open a question that he does not want to answer: What is American strategy toward Russia? He has mimicked American strategy from a quarter century ago, not defined what it will be.

26846  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Maliki says US will leave in 2011 per SOFA on: December 28, 2010, 11:01:05 AM
BAGHDAD—Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country's security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq's security, sovereignty and unity.

Mr. Maliki spoke with The Wall Street Journal in a two-hour interview, his first since Iraq ended nine months of stalemate and seated a new government after an inconclusive election, allowing Mr. Maliki to begin a second term as premier.

In an interview, he said Iraq would assume responsibility for all its own security by the end of 2011, and would not fall into alignment with Iran.

A majority of Iraqis—and some Iraqi and U.S. officials—have assumed the U.S. troop presence would eventually be extended, especially after the long government limbo. But Mr. Maliki was eager to draw a line in his most definitive remarks on the subject. "The last American soldier will leave Iraq" as agreed, he said, speaking at his office in a leafy section of Baghdad's protected Green Zone. "This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed."

He also said that even as Iraq bids farewell to U.S. troops, he wouldn't allow his nation to be pulled into alignment with Iran, despite voices supporting such an alliance within his government.

Video Archives: On Iraq

Obama Addresses U.N. on Economy, Iraq, Talibann
Daniel Henninger: If Saddam Had Stayed
Obama Speech Marks New Focus in Iraq, at Home
."For Iraq to be dragged into an axis or an orbit, that's impossible, and we reject it whether this comes from Iran, Turkey or the Arabs," he said.

He added that a kind of "paranoia" about a Tehran-Baghdad alliance in the U.S. is matched by a fear in Iran about U.S. influence: "An Iranian official visited me in the past and told me, 'I thought the Americans were standing at the door of your office,' " he said.

In an interview in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden also said Iran had failed to buy influence during the election or to co-opt Mr. Maliki, who was among the members of the current Iraqi government who briefly took refuge in Iran during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Maliki's new majority depends partly on followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But Mr. Biden credited Mr. Maliki for denying Mr. Sadr's bloc any control of Iraqi security, while forming a government with full buy-in from Iraq's main factions of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

U.S. military commanders still accuse Iran of funding, training and providing sanctuary to Shiite militias, like Mr. Sadr's Promised Day Brigades, which they say are responsible for attacks against U.S. forces and gangster-style assassinations that continue to plague Baghdad and other areas.

Baghdad to Tackle Oil Issues, PM Vows
.Mr. Maliki suggested his government had co-opted militias like the one associated with Mr. Sadr. "The militias are now part of the government and have entered the political process," said Mr. Maliki. The Sadr contingent, he added, "is moving in a satisfactory direction of taking part in the government, renouncing violence and abandoning military activity, and that's why we welcome it."

Security is the new government's top priority, Mr. Maliki said, as in his previous term. Sectarian violence and suicide bombings continue to plague the country as the full withdrawal of U.S. soldiers nears. Almost a dozen people were killed in double suicide bombings on Monday outside provincial government offices in the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, according to security officials.

A resumption of more extreme violence, of course, could alter the thinking in Baghdad and Washington about the U.S. timetable.

But Mr. Maliki said the only way for any of the remaining 50,000 or so American soldiers to stay beyond 2011 would be for the two nations to negotiate—with the approval of Iraq's Parliament—a new Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, similar to the one concluded in 2008.

That deal took a year of protracted negotiations in the face of vehement opposition from many among Mr. Maliki's own Shiite constituency, and no repeat is expected.

Mr. Maliki and U.S. officials have refrained for the most part from raising the issue publicly during the months of political wrangling in Baghdad, as Mr. Maliki negotiated with potential coalition partners, many of whom have adamantly opposed an extended U.S. stay.

A senior official in President Barack Obama's administration said Washington was "on track" to withdraw all its remaining soldiers in Iraq by the end of next year. That's the final milestone in the security agreement, following the reduction in American troop levels to below 50,000 in August and the pullout of U.S. soldiers from most Iraqi inner cities in June 2009. "The prime minister is exactly right," said the senior official.

During the interview, Mr. Maliki said he was heartened by America's "commitment" to honoring the agreements it reached with Iraq, and he laughed approvingly when told that U.S. Ambassador James F. Jeffrey keeps a frayed copy of the so-called Strategic Framework Agreement in his leather briefcase. That document calls, in broad terms, for long-term cooperation in security, defense, economy, energy and culture, among other areas.

In a briefing for Western reporters last week, Mr. Jeffrey said that despite the requirement to pull out all American troops at the end of 2011, the framework document and other agreements between Baghdad and Washington contain "a very robust security agenda."

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad will house a "significantly sized" office aimed at security cooperation, Mr. Jeffrey said, comprised of about 80 to 90 military personnel that would take over most of the current functions of the U.S. military in advising, assisting, training and equipping Iraqi forces. That's similar to arrangements with other countries in the region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The embassy would also oversee a major Iraqi police-training program.

Mr. Maliki played down Iraq's need for any major help from the U.S. military, even while acknowledging serious deficiencies in areas including control of airspace and borders. He said the days when ethnic or sectarian-based militias roamed the streets of Iraq and operated above the law were over.

"Not a single militia or gang can confront Iraqi forces and take over a street or a house," said Mr. Maliki. "This is finished; we are comfortable about that."

He said full withdrawal of U.S. troops also will remove a prime motivator of insurgents—both the Shiite fighters tied to militia groups and Iran, and Sunnis linked to Mr. Hussein's ousted Baath party.

Mr. Maliki defended his political horse trading with rival factions, many of which are seen as far apart on several substantial policy issues. He called the post-election process—in which he managed to prevail despite his own party bloc failing to gain the most votes—"very arduous."

He acknowledged that he expanded the number of cabinet seats just to placate the squabbling parties that he eventually cobbled together into his governing coalition, arguably the broadest since the fall of Mr. Hussein.

"I mean seven to eight ministries are, allow me to say, ministries for appeasement purposes," he said.

Mr. Maliki said he agreed to several Kurdish demands, including a referendum in contested northern regions, though he didn't think it was feasible without a constitutional amendment to accompany it.

Washington is so concerned about the standoff in the north—where Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and smaller ethnic groups have faced off—that a large contingent of U.S. soldiers continues to staff joint security checkpoints there, as diplomats work on political solutions.

The referendum was one of 19 demands made by Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in exchange for a power-sharing deal that ended the gridlock that followed the March elections. The resulting unity government headed by Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, includes Kurds and a Sunni-dominated bloc headed by the secular Shiite and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Mr. Allawi, whose bloc won the most seats in the election but couldn't form a majority, will chair a new National Council for Higher Policies, but won't be able to implement policies without broad government support.

26847  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A quickie deconstruction thereof on: December 28, 2010, 12:04:36 AM
Lets break this down a bit:

President Obama's statement marking Kwanzaa

Michelle and I extend our warmest thoughts and wishes to all those who are celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season. Today [Dec. 26] is the first of a joyful seven-day celebration of African American culture and heritage.

*Since when?  It is a made up holiday.  If I am not mistaken, it was created, for political reasons, in the 1970s.  There is absolutely no tradition behind it whatsoever.

* Says who?  Black racists and progressives.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa --

1) unity,:  *In the contex here, unity means racial unity of black people.  In practice, this means non-progressive blacks are called "Uncle Toms", "house niggers" "race traitors" and the like.

2) self-determination, *In the context here, this term has black separatist connotations

3) collective work and responsibility, *i.e. commonly known as communism

4) cooperative economics, *more communism

5) purpose, *I am unaware of the origin of the presence of this term here.

6) creativity *perhaps a nod to the achievement of American blacks in music and other arts

7) and faith -- *fair enough if one means the black churches such as MLK, but one suspects in the context here it means black liberation theology such as that of BO's pastor, Rev. Wright.

are some of the very values that make us Americans. *No, it makes you racist progressives.

As families across America and around the world light the Kinara today in the spirit of umoja, or unity, *again, racial solidarity

our family sends our well wishes and blessings for a happy and healthy new year.
26848  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: December 27, 2010, 11:09:14 PM
A key question no doubt.  My SWAG is that ulitmately that they don't really come back very much; that for those who do have jobs things can seem OK-- apart from the tension that come with the diminished margin of error-- and a lot of working poor will simply become poor, and a lot of middle class folks have fallen and will fall further than they ever thought possible.   

A lot of Americans have focused their economic endeavors based upon the false signals of the various bubble economies and now that these bubbles have burst, they are finding themselves stranded by the receding tide.  A lot of Americans are profoundly insufficiently educated and much of what they know isn't so.
26849  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Mutual fund Retirement investment strategies - is it different this time? on: December 27, 2010, 07:44:04 PM
Fine, so please use the Stock Martket thread.  It is not that active and what you are discussing here fits well as a matter of proper portfolio diversification, risk management, etc.
26850  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury see 4% GDP growth in 2011 on: December 27, 2010, 02:48:46 PM
Also relevant for cotton prices were the severe floods in Pakistan.  More generally, his point that some price increases are due to a change in the general level of demand and not inflation, is, IMHO, plausible in the current environment.


Monday Morning Outlook

First Trust Sees 4% Real GDP Growth in 2011 To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 12/27/2010


Sometime back in 2009, conventional wisdom argued that while the economy would appear to recover from the subprime crisis, the recovery would be tenuous.  A growing chorus argued real GDP would grow at 2% or less, consumption would be lackluster, and any signs of real strength would be ephemeral – based on pent-up demand.
Of course, when real GDP grew at an annualized 4.4% over the winter (2009-10) and 3% in the first year of the recovery, the conventional wisdom had an excuse.  “Most of it was inventories,” they said, “and don’t expect this to continue.”  So, when real GDP slowed to 1.7% annualized growth in Q2, they raised the stakes.  They called it a “soft-patch” and argued that a “double-dip” was a real possibility.  At most, they expected a 2% growth rate in the second half of 2010.
Instead, we were focused on three things.  First, the economy was not broken.  Once the panic ended, a natural recovery would start.  Second, even without quantitative easing, the Fed was very easy.  And third, productivity would remain robust.  As a result, we predicted 3% growth for the second half (September 20, 2010 MMO).
That forecast looks pretty good.  In fact, it may be too low.  Real GDP growth clocked in at a 2.6% annual rate in Q3.  All we need is a 3.4% growth rate in Q4 to get our 3% average, but the data suggest real GDP could expand by more than 4% annualized in Q4, possibly even 5%+.
Some of the acceleration in Q4 is because the economy is really picking up speed.  But some of the acceleration in Q4 is also due to a problem the government is having seasonally adjusting oil prices.  This problem artificially boosted growth in late 2009, but reduced growth in mid-2010.  In other words, the soft-patch was never as bad as many thought.  (For further discussion of the problem with oil prices, see our MMO dated November 8, 2010).
In 2011, we expect 4% real GDP growth.  The biggest difference between the First Trust forecast and the conventional wisdom is deleveraging.  We do not view the deleveraging process in as negative a light as the conventional wisdom.  Once deleveraging begins to slow, it will not hurt the economy.  If a consumer (or a business) pays down debt but pays down less than she did the prior year, then her spending can go up faster than her income (or profits).  Higher saving is not going to be a negative for the economy.
Here are the assumptions behind our forecast for 4% real GDP growth in 2011.
Consumption:  Auto sales in October/November were up about 30% from early 2009 levels, and JD Power and are forecasting even higher sales in December.  Still, the pace of sales remains below the long-term trend in “scrappage,” suggesting further strong gains in sales in the year ahead.  Meanwhile, consumers’ financial obligations are now the smallest share of their after-tax incomes since 1995, and headed lower.  Consumption will grow 3.3% next year, adding 2.3 percentage points to GDP.
Business Investment:  Corporate profits and cash on balance sheets are at, or near, record highs.  Meanwhile, capacity utilization has grown from a low of just 68% in mid-2009 to 75% and is on its way to 80% (the long-term average).  Our industrial capacity is depreciating and needs to be updated.  We are on the cusp of a boom in investment in equipment and software.  Business investment should grow about 12% in 2011, adding 1.2 points to GDP growth.
Home Building:  Home builders still face the headwind of substantial excess inventories.  However, once those inventories are gone, the pace of housing starts is going to have to be about 150% higher than recent levels.  It may take several years to get there, so we have home building growing 17.5% next year, adding 0.4 points to real GDP growth.
Government:  Real government purchases will grow about 2.5% this year.  We assume they will grow at a 1.5% rate next year (below the 30-year average of 2.2%), adding 0.3 percentage points to the GDP growth rate. 
Inventories:  Inventories were razor-thin by the end of 2009.  They started to rebound this year and we expect that rebound to continue, but not accelerate significantly.  As a result, we expect the inventory re-build to add only 0.1 point to GDP growth.
Trade:  Unless the government fixes its measure of oil prices, expect a wild quarter-by-quarter ride of ups and downs for trade in 2011, just like this year.  Either way, though, trade should, on average, subtract 0.3 points from the GDP growth rate, as the trade deficit expands slightly.   
Add ‘em all up and you get a 4% real GDP growth rate for 2011.  Strap in, it’s going to be better than you think.
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