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26851  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Knife Talk - Reviews and Rants on: May 01, 2010, 02:04:01 PM
*That design is not for me at all.

*What do you mean by " wave action knives are starting to become a issue in California"?
26852  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Good analysis of Mortgage fraud and regulatory issues on: May 01, 2010, 11:15:44 AM
A friend writes:

I am not claiming the absence of fraud in the origination of mortgages.  I am talking about the impact of mortgage securities and derivatives of mortgage securities upon the balance sheets of deposit banks and investment banks.  Also, I am talking about the creation and sale of these securities and derivative securities by investment banks to other institutional investors.


As the real estate boom progressed, banks and mortgage companies originated more and more bad mortgage loans.  These loans continued to be securitized along with the good loans that were originated at the same time.  Even though these mortgage securities contained the bad loans, federal government approved credit rating agencies continued to rate these securities as AAA and AA debt.  Why?  Mainly because of flawed risk models that ignored the individual components of the mortgage security and focused upon quantitative analyses of probable default rates.  These models underestimated the probability and the size of the eventual default rates.


The Basel accords encouraged deposit banks and investment banks to invest their own capital into low risk assets.  They also encouraged the same institutions to rely upon the government approved ratings agencies to determine the risk of their assets.  Why?  Because the banks could then show their regulators that government regulated third parties without any financial interest in the bank had determined the riskiness of their assets.


Why was there a sudden demand by institutions and people to own mortgage securities?  Simply, it was the low interest rate environment created by the regulators of the deposit banks.  Everyone from Lehman to my parents wanted higher interest.  Mortgages were safe because real estate never went down in value.  Right?


So, then, let’s address David’s original complaint.  It focused upon the creators and sellers of the mortgage securities and the derivatives of those securities.  Let’s assume David’s opinion is entirely true.  Still, the investment banks and securities firms operate in a highly regulated environment.  They are self-regulated by FINRA.  In turn, the SEC oversees and must approve every FINRA regulation that is implemented.  Moreover, the SEC itself directly regulates the investment advisory business at these big investment banks, hedge funds at and independent of these banks, and the securities themselves.


The Federal Reserve, the OCC, the States’ banking regulators, and the FDIC all regulate and oversee the deposit banks.  Their examiners obviously saw that these banks owned growing amounts of mortgage securities on their balance sheets.  None of these regulators thought to ask these banks why they owned mortgages originated at other banks and not their own.  Why?  Because all of these securities were comprised of slices of lots of mortgages thereby spreading the risk even better than keeping one’s own mortgages plus the regulated ratings agencies all said that this paper was rated AAA and AA.  Diversification.  Ratings.


The reason that internal “whistleblowers” (and I use that term loosely) like Mr. Lee were ignored was simply that their employers owned stuff that was rated investment grade and that the employers had bought into the flawed risk model.  Government approved regulators had also approved the risk models.  So had the ratings agencies. 


The only effective risk management came from the short sellers like Paulson.  They were the only people that actually looked into the individual mortgage components of each security and derivative.  Also, they had studied the residential and commercial real estate markets and had concerns about another cycle of oversupply.  But they needed investment vehicles through which they could invest against mortgage securities according to their analyses.  Hence, the synthetic CDO.  But since the synthetic CDO is also a security, it, too, is regulated by the SEC.


So, the solution proposed by the political class is to create more of the same type of regulatory institutions that have missed the excesses of every investment and credit cycle since their creation.  Yep, next time, it will be different.  Right.  Like Natalie Wood’s character in Miracle on 34th Street, “I believe.  I believe.  I believe …”
26853  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Knife Talk - Reviews and Rants on: May 01, 2010, 11:11:19 AM
Spyderco's "Pa'kal" designed by my friend Southnark (whose DVD we carry at ) IMHO is an excellent exectution of the reverse grip reverse edge concept.  The locking mechanism seems unusually sound and solid to me as well, and its wave opening technology is among the very fastest I have seen.
26854  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Kali Tudo 3 on: May 01, 2010, 11:06:49 AM
The edit of Kali Tudo 3 is coming along nicely.  We will be integrating some footage shot last year in Hawaii with the Hawaii Clan of the DBs of the Malayu Game.

As discussed and shown in our "Staff" DVD, "Malayu" means "Malaysian" and is a reference to the Malayu Sibat (Malaysian Staff) structure that I learned in the Philippines from GT Leo Gaje.  For us it is the name of the core power strike in this system.

Friday afternoon is open mat time at Rigan Machado's and is one of my favorite sessions of the week and has become part of my conditioning program.  Rolled last night for a solid 75 minutes, including the last 15 minutes doing friendly stand up MMA sparring with a nice purple belt.  Integrating the Malayu Game and the Bolo Game was working really nicely.   

Now a big tough young blue wants to try me next week.

The Adventure continues!
26855  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: May 01, 2010, 10:41:08 AM
URL?  Source?
26856  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / It works! on: May 01, 2010, 10:39:30 AM

@ Rarick:  Clearly you have not seen her dance grin  

@CCP: Of course her looks do not qualify her, any more than looks qualify a goodly % of the news personalities on FOX or elsewhere.

Question to all:  Why do we have no Shakiras on our side, speaking up for defending our borders.
26857  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: April 30, 2010, 09:00:57 PM
Grateful for a nice 75 minute jits roll with a bit of Kali Tudo thrown in.
26858  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: April 30, 2010, 08:50:38 PM
Yeah, but she is seriously HOT :-)o==8  grin
26859  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Some legal facts on AZ law on: April 30, 2010, 11:23:23 AM
The Foundation
"Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules. That these rules shall be as equal as prudential considerations will admit, will certainly be the aim of our legislatures, general and particular." --Thomas Jefferson

Government & Politics
Arizona Immigration Brouhaha

Did these guys just come to work?Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a tough new law designed to crack down on the flood of illegal immigration in the state and the violence and mayhem that has accompanied it. Political mayhem is the price of the law's enactment.

Stepped-up enforcement of the border in California and Texas has funneled much of the illegal alien traffic and cross-border smuggling through Arizona. A sharp increase in crime has resulted, with Phoenix now being the kidnap capital of the United States. Ranchers near the border live under a state of siege, but demands that the federal government take aggressive remedial action have been unavailing. The recent murder of Rob Krentz, a kind-hearted rancher who often assisted desperate immigrants abused and abandoned by their "coyote" guides, prompted widespread outrage at the federal government's fundamental failure to protect its citizens against a dangerous foreign invasion.

The race-baiting grievance mongers wasted no time in denouncing the law. Vandals smeared refried beans in the shape of a swastika on the Arizona Capitol building (which we find to be an incredibly strange mixed message). Some leftist church leaders denounced the law as "hateful." Race hustler Jesse Jackson called it "terrorism." Calling it "stupid," "an embarrassment" and "racist," Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (Tucson) said he would refuse to enforce it.

Latino activist and far-left Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) called for a boycott of his own state, saying, "I support some very targeted economic sanctions on the state of Arizona. We will be asking national organizations -- civil, religious, political -- not to have conferences and conventions in the state of Arizona. There has to be an economic consequence to this action and to this legislation." We're sure Arizona's 2.3 million unemployed will thank Grijalva for his principled stand.

Meanwhile, in a stunning display of hypocrisy, the government of Mexico issued a travel advisory and expressed concern about the rights of its citizens in the United States. Of course, Mexico plays by much more stringent rules when dealing with its own immigration issues.

These critics either haven't read the law or, more likely, don't want to be bothered with reality. Among other things, Arizona's new law makes it a state crime for people to be in Arizona if they are in the United States illegally. If the police have an otherwise lawful encounter with someone, and if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the United States illegally, the police are required to ask for documentation of immigration status. An Arizona driver's license is presumptive proof of lawful status.

The law specifically forbids police from basing their actions solely on someone's race or ethnicity. It also compels the police to base their "reasonable suspicion" on criteria that are permissible under the U.S. and Arizona constitutions. Moreover, when she signed the bill, Gov. Brewer issued an executive order directing additional training specifically to avoid racial profiling when the law is enforced.

The new law, which in many places quotes federal law verbatim, was enacted because of the failure at the federal level to enforce those same laws. None of this matters to the Left. With tactics straight out of Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals," they have demonized everyone who dares stand up for responsible enforcement of our laws and for the protection of our citizens.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama declared that the nation may not have the "appetite" for an immigration fight this year, so he removed the issue from his agenda. That's a relief.
26860  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: April 30, 2010, 07:56:08 AM

An excellent piece that gives me specific ammo in dealing with hysteria.
26861  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Robert Hicks on: April 30, 2010, 07:52:20 AM
Someone had called to say the Ku Klux Klan was coming to bomb Robert Hicks’s house. The police said there was nothing they could do. It was the night of Feb. 1, 1965, in Bogalusa, La.

Associated Press
Robert Hicks in 1965, the year of a sit-in by blacks at a cafe in Bogalusa, La., where he lived.
The Klan was furious that Mr. Hicks, a black paper mill worker, was putting up two white civil rights workers in his home. It was just six months after three young civil rights workers had been murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

Mr. Hicks and his wife, Valeria, made some phone calls. They found neighbors to take in their children, and they reached out to friends for protection. Soon, armed black men materialized. Nothing happened.

Less than three weeks later, the leaders of a secretive, paramilitary organization of blacks called the Deacons for Defense and Justice visited Bogalusa. It had been formed in Jonesboro, La., in 1964 mainly to protect unarmed civil rights demonstrators from the Klan. After listening to the Deacons, Mr. Hicks took the lead in forming a Bogalusa chapter, recruiting many of the men who had gone to his house to protect his family and guests.

Mr. Hicks died of cancer at his home in Bogalusa on April 13 at the age of 81, his wife said. He was one of the last surviving Deacon leaders.

But his role in the civil rights movement went beyond armed defense in a corner of the Jim Crow South. He led daily protests month after month in Bogalusa — then a town of 23,000, of whom 9,000 were black — to demand rights guaranteed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And he filed suits that integrated schools and businesses, reformed hiring practices at the mill and put the local police under a federal judge’s control.

It was his leadership role with the Deacons that drew widest note, however. The Deacons, who grew to have chapters in more than two dozen Southern communities, veered sharply from the nonviolence preached by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They carried guns, with the mission to protect against white aggression, citing the Second Amendment.

And they used them. A Bogalusa Deacon pulled a pistol in broad daylight during a protest march in 1965 and put two bullets into a white man who had attacked him with his fists. The man survived. A month earlier, the first black deputy sheriff in the county had been assassinated by whites.

When James Farmer, national director of the human rights group the Congress of Racial Equality, joined protests in Bogalusa, one of the most virulent Klan redoubts, armed Deacons provided security.

Dr. King publicly denounced the Deacons’ “aggressive violence.” And Mr. Farmer, in an interview with Ebony magazine in 1965, said that some people likened the Deacons to the K.K.K. But Mr. Farmer also pointed out that the Deacons did not lynch people or burn down houses. In a 1965 interview with The New York Times Magazine, he spoke of CORE and the Deacons as “a partnership of brothers.”

The Deacons’ turf was hardscrabble Southern towns where Klansmen and law officers aligned against civil rights campaigners. “The Klan did not like being shot at,” said Lance Hill, author of “The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement”(2004).

In July 1965, escalating hostilities between the Deacons and the Klan in Bogalusa provoked the federal government to use Reconstruction-era laws to order local police departments to protect civil rights workers. It was the first time the laws were used in the modern civil rights era, Mr. Hill said.

Adam Fairclough, in his book “Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972” (1995), wrote that Bogalusa became “a major test of the federal government’s determination to put muscle into the Civil Rights Act in the teeth of violent resistance from recalcitrant whites.”

Mr. Hicks was repeatedly jailed for protesting. He watched as his 15-year-old son was bitten by a police dog. The Klan displayed a coffin with his name on it beside a burning cross. He persisted, his wife said, for one reason: “It was something that needed to be done.”

Robert Hicks was born in Mississippi on Feb. 20, 1929. His father, Quitman, drove oxen to harvest trees for the paper mill. He played football on a state championship high school team and later for the semi-professional Bogalusa Bushmen.

He was known for his generosity: at the Baptist congregation where he was a deacon, he bought new suits for poor members. As the first black supervisor at the mill, he helped a young man amass enough overtime to buy the big car he dreamed of. Children all over town called him Dad, his son Charles said.

A leader in the local N.A.A.C.P. and his segregated union, Mr. Hicks was the logical choice to head the Bogalusa Civic and Voters League when it was formed to lead the local civil rights effort. He was first president, then vice president of the Deacons in Bogalusa.

Besides Valeria Hicks, his wife of 62 years, and his son Charles, Mr. Hicks is survived by three other sons, Gregory, Robert Lawrence and Darryl; his daughter, Barbara Hicks Collins; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

By 1968, the Deacons had pretty much vanished. In time they were “hardly a footnote in most books on the civil rights movement,” Mr. Hill said. He attributed this to a “mythology” that the rights movement was always nonviolent.

Mrs. Hicks said she was glad it was not.

“I became very proud of black men,” she said. “They didn’t bow down and scratch their heads. They stood up like men.”
26862  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Footwear on: April 30, 2010, 07:51:26 AM
Amen to the foot being the best design of all!

I am intrigued by what I read about the Nike on the site but

a)in that I am doing some rucking right now I wonder about the occasional comments about not suitable for rucking; and

b) when I worked with 5th SF a few years ago, several of the guys were wearing some really slick looking Converse boots, so I bought a pair.  For my feet they were a mistake.  I hardly ever wear them.  Lesson learned-- buy according to what my feet like. 

c) The idea of having to send them back if the size I select turns out to be not quite right is unappealing.

Therefore I am reluctant to buy them online, but would love to give them a try in a store.  Is there some way I could find out who stocks them close to me?  I am in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County.

Please tell me about the Tarahumara sandals.  I know who the Tarahumara Indians are and their reputation as super long distance runners over uneven terrain, so I most certainly am intrigued.
26863  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / RIP Robert Hicks on: April 30, 2010, 07:33:05 AM
Someone had called to say the Ku Klux Klan was coming to bomb Robert Hicks’s house. The police said there was nothing they could do. It was the night of Feb. 1, 1965, in Bogalusa, La.

Associated Press
Robert Hicks in 1965, the year of a sit-in by blacks at a cafe in Bogalusa, La., where he lived.
The Klan was furious that Mr. Hicks, a black paper mill worker, was putting up two white civil rights workers in his home. It was just six months after three young civil rights workers had been murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

Mr. Hicks and his wife, Valeria, made some phone calls. They found neighbors to take in their children, and they reached out to friends for protection. Soon, armed black men materialized. Nothing happened.

Less than three weeks later, the leaders of a secretive, paramilitary organization of blacks called the Deacons for Defense and Justice visited Bogalusa. It had been formed in Jonesboro, La., in 1964 mainly to protect unarmed civil rights demonstrators from the Klan. After listening to the Deacons, Mr. Hicks took the lead in forming a Bogalusa chapter, recruiting many of the men who had gone to his house to protect his family and guests.

Mr. Hicks died of cancer at his home in Bogalusa on April 13 at the age of 81, his wife said. He was one of the last surviving Deacon leaders.

But his role in the civil rights movement went beyond armed defense in a corner of the Jim Crow South. He led daily protests month after month in Bogalusa — then a town of 23,000, of whom 9,000 were black — to demand rights guaranteed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And he filed suits that integrated schools and businesses, reformed hiring practices at the mill and put the local police under a federal judge’s control.

It was his leadership role with the Deacons that drew widest note, however. The Deacons, who grew to have chapters in more than two dozen Southern communities, veered sharply from the nonviolence preached by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They carried guns, with the mission to protect against white aggression, citing the Second Amendment.

And they used them. A Bogalusa Deacon pulled a pistol in broad daylight during a protest march in 1965 and put two bullets into a white man who had attacked him with his fists. The man survived. A month earlier, the first black deputy sheriff in the county had been assassinated by whites.

When James Farmer, national director of the human rights group the Congress of Racial Equality, joined protests in Bogalusa, one of the most virulent Klan redoubts, armed Deacons provided security.

Dr. King publicly denounced the Deacons’ “aggressive violence.” And Mr. Farmer, in an interview with Ebony magazine in 1965, said that some people likened the Deacons to the K.K.K. But Mr. Farmer also pointed out that the Deacons did not lynch people or burn down houses. In a 1965 interview with The New York Times Magazine, he spoke of CORE and the Deacons as “a partnership of brothers.”

The Deacons’ turf was hardscrabble Southern towns where Klansmen and law officers aligned against civil rights campaigners. “The Klan did not like being shot at,” said Lance Hill, author of “The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement”(2004).

In July 1965, escalating hostilities between the Deacons and the Klan in Bogalusa provoked the federal government to use Reconstruction-era laws to order local police departments to protect civil rights workers. It was the first time the laws were used in the modern civil rights era, Mr. Hill said.

Adam Fairclough, in his book “Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972” (1995), wrote that Bogalusa became “a major test of the federal government’s determination to put muscle into the Civil Rights Act in the teeth of violent resistance from recalcitrant whites.”

Mr. Hicks was repeatedly jailed for protesting. He watched as his 15-year-old son was bitten by a police dog. The Klan displayed a coffin with his name on it beside a burning cross. He persisted, his wife said, for one reason: “It was something that needed to be done.”

Robert Hicks was born in Mississippi on Feb. 20, 1929. His father, Quitman, drove oxen to harvest trees for the paper mill. He played football on a state championship high school team and later for the semi-professional Bogalusa Bushmen.

He was known for his generosity: at the Baptist congregation where he was a deacon, he bought new suits for poor members. As the first black supervisor at the mill, he helped a young man amass enough overtime to buy the big car he dreamed of. Children all over town called him Dad, his son Charles said.

A leader in the local N.A.A.C.P. and his segregated union, Mr. Hicks was the logical choice to head the Bogalusa Civic and Voters League when it was formed to lead the local civil rights effort. He was first president, then vice president of the Deacons in Bogalusa.

Besides Valeria Hicks, his wife of 62 years, and his son Charles, Mr. Hicks is survived by three other sons, Gregory, Robert Lawrence and Darryl; his daughter, Barbara Hicks Collins; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

By 1968, the Deacons had pretty much vanished. In time they were “hardly a footnote in most books on the civil rights movement,” Mr. Hill said. He attributed this to a “mythology” that the rights movement was always nonviolent.

Mrs. Hicks said she was glad it was not.

“I became very proud of black men,” she said. “They didn’t bow down and scratch their heads. They stood up like men.”
26864  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Plunder -2 on: April 29, 2010, 08:34:09 PM
The Enron Objection

Needless to say, the market possesses a great many virtues in addition to these. But what we might call the Enron objection will at this point be raised: doesn't that fiasco reflect a serious moral problem at the heart of capitalism? Enron, it is said, was the free market in action, and Ken Lay an apostle of laissez faire. In fact, neither claim is true. Time constraints limit me to recommending the Enron chapter in Tim Carney's important book The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money (2006). To make a long story short, Enron was on the receiving end of countless waves of government subsidies. It also manipulated the bizarre regulatory thicket that was the California energy market in grotesquely anti-social ways that enriched Enron at the expense, quite literally, of everyone else. The Cato Institute's Jerry Taylor correctly described Enron on balance as "an enemy, not an ally of free markets. Enron was more interested in rigging the marketplace with rules and regulations to advantage itself at the expense of competitors and consumers than in making money the old-fashioned way – by earning it honestly from their customers through voluntary trade."

Enron was in fact punished by the market for its behavior, while the American government, awash in Ponzi schemes, accounting irregularities, and unfunded liabilities it can't possibly cover, goes about its business in peace. "Far from an example of a market failure," argues Jacksonville State University's Christopher Westley, "Enron's saga shows that firms which invest too much in politics can easily become complacent in the face of changing market conditions…. If there's a scandal to be found in the Enron debacle, it is this: Enron's faith that its political investments would eventually solve its problems caused it to avoid making necessary changes in its organization until it was too late. Anyone who checks Enron's stock price, now listed on one of the penny stock exchanges, knows that the market has penalized this strategy." and Kmart, on the other hand, were up front with their investors about their financial difficulties, and ended up doing much better – by and large, their investors, no doubt impressed by these firms' honesty and transparency, stuck by them.

The nature of the attacks on capitalism frequently changes: one day it's the corruption of businessmen, as with Enron, the next it's environmental degradation (which is typically the fault of poorly developed property rights and arbitrary regulatory regimes rather than of capitalism itself). Sometimes capitalism will be criticized for one alleged failing one day and exactly the opposite failing the next. Thus socialists once claimed that capitalism was less efficient than socialism, and could not produce in nearly the same abundance. Now that that argument has been silenced, we have begun to hear exactly the opposite claim: capitalism brings about too much wealth, and makes people materialistic and fat. As Joseph Schumpeter put it, "Capitalism stands its trial before judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets. They are going to pass it, whatever the defense they may hear; the only success a victorious defense can possibly produce is a change in the indictment." For a system that has brought about such astonishing and unprecedented advances in the well-being of the great mass of mankind, it is surprisingly vulnerable to attack.

Capitalism and Public Opinion

Murray Rothbard was fond of citing the arguments of Étienne de La Boétie (as well as those of such later figures as David Hume and Ludwig von Mises) to the effect that governments survive or perish on the basis of public opinion. Since those who rule are of necessity vastly outnumbered by those who are ruled, it is curious that any regime – much less the truly oppressive – should get away with it for so long. The only way they can do so, according to these men, is through the voluntary consent of the public. That consent need not take the form of wild enthusiasm, which is rarely forthcoming for any regime; passive resignation is quite enough.

If a critical mass of the population withdraws that consent, on the other hand, regimes collapse. The fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe was a textbook example of exactly what La Boétie meant: when next to no one obeys commands any longer, how can the ruling elite hold on to power?

It is not only political regimes but also economic systems that must pass a public opinion test if they are to endure. And here we encounter an essential cultural attribute for the maintenance of a free economy: a critical mass of the population must consider market exchange, and the institutional supports that make it possible, to be fundamentally just.

And yet from our major institutions here in the United States we hear something like the opposite. Schoolchildren are given the impression that the private sector is the source of all wickedness and oppression, from which public-spirited government officials, in their selfless commitment to justice, must rescue and protect us. The selection of subject matter itself exhibits a pro-state bias: students leave school knowing all about how a bill becomes a law, for example, but with no idea of how markets work.

All of this applies just as strongly to popular culture and the media, with of course a few noble exceptions like John Stossel. That is why I am surprised not by how much of the market economy has been suppressed in the United States, but by how much has managed to survive in the face of a hostile educational and cultural establishment. Europe's opinion molders, as Olaf Gersemann observes in his book Cowboy Capitalism, are utterly contemptuous of American capitalism, a phenomenon they do not understand, and it is not surprising that in such an intellectual milieu those countries find themselves burdened with even more statism than we do.

The Culture of Enterprise: Concluding Thoughts

We are being much too ambitious if we think even the best economic institutions can transform human beings from flawed creatures into saints. The correction of human failings is the business of families, churches, and voluntary organizations of all kinds. The twentieth century served, among other things, as an extended lesson in both the danger and the folly of state-led efforts to transform human nature. We can be more than satisfied if our economic system is content to take human beings as they are, direct their energies into productive rather than anti-social outlets, and reward them for satisfying the needs of their fellow men.

Thomas Jefferson once observed that the mass of mankind was not "born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them." That is what the free economy is all about: anyone is free to serve the public in the manner he thinks best, and no one, not even those who have been most successful in the past, can claim exemption from the daily referenda that take place whenever the public decides to buy or to abstain from buying what he has to sell.

To my ear, the term "culture of enterprise" suggests a society that possesses a conscious appreciation of the distinct virtues of the market economy, some of which I have described here, and why it is morally and materially superior to statist alternatives, as I have also described here. In other words, the points I have made in my remarks today are the kind of arguments that should resonate with and constitute important pillars for a culture of enterprise. Instead of being held up for condemnation and abuse, entrepreneurs in such a society would be respected and honored for the risks they assume with their own property in order to bring improvement to people's lives, from the latest technological innovation to the most mundane of necessities. For a true culture of enterprise to last, people must see in the unhampered market economy not merely the least intolerable system but a positive good, in which living standards consistently rise, human creativity is given free rein, and human interaction proceeds on the civilized basis of respect for others' person and property.

The decades following World War II taught anyone who was paying attention how not to encourage prosperity or escape from less-developed status: demonize producers and the successful, nationalize industry, harass foreign investors, make property insecure, institute "import substitution" policies, and suffocate entrepreneurship through regulation. Development aid programs, meanwhile, either expressly endorsed these policies (as in the case of import substitution) or enabled them to continue by masking the true effects of such disastrous measures or propping up the regimes that implemented them. If the less-developed countries are to enjoy the prosperity of such success stories as Hong Kong and South Korea, or enjoy the growth rates being observed today in Ireland and even China, they must abandon the destructive and wicked policies of the past, discard the culture of envy their leaders have fostered, and embrace the principles of freedom that have allowed more people than ever before in history to enjoy the material conditions of civilized life.

And at a time when our countrymen are being courted by all manner of interventionist politicians – with one noble exception, I hasten to add – peddling all kinds of grandiose schemes for human betterment, Americans themselves could stand to be reminded of the values that inform a culture of enterprise. There was something disturbing, and yet revealing, in the title of MSNBC's election coverage segment last year – Battleground: America. Every two years, but especially every four, the country becomes in effect a battleground between opposing forces, in which the winner acquires the power to take the country to war unilaterally, to impose a uniform social policy on 280 million Americans, and to implement all manner of policies on his own authority, by means of executive orders and signing statements. Americans typically take for granted that this is normal, and indeed how life must be.

But in fact we don't need Hillary Clinton or John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani or John McCain, to "run the country" (to use an infelicitous if unfortunately common phrase) or to make us prosperous. A free and responsible people can manage its affairs without the platitudes and paternal custodianship of a Great Leader, and exhibits no superstitious reverence toward the occupants of political office. Once a society begins to absorb this revolutionary discovery, it has already embraced the culture of enterprise.


[1] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (New York: Random House, 2005), 71–72.

[2] This discussion of envy in Russia relies on Hedrick Smith, The New Russians (New York: Random House, 1990), 199–205.

Reprinted from

April 28, 2010

Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (visit his website; follow him on Facebook; send him mail), holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard and his master’s, M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University. His nine books include the critically acclaimed study The Church Confronts Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2004) and two New York Times bestsellers: Meltdown and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. His new book, Nullification, will be released on June 29.
26865  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Plunder or Enterprise on: April 29, 2010, 08:33:17 PM
Plunder or Enterprise: The World's Choice
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

Although supporters of the market economy often have good reason for pessimism, it is important, especially in this age of globalization, not to lose sight of the genuine victories that the classical liberal tradition can boast. Half a century ago, Gunnar Myrdal could declare: "The special advisers to underdeveloped countries who have taken the time and trouble to acquaint themselves with the problem, no matter who they are …all recommend central planning as the first condition of progress." At that time, development economists who dissented from this consensus could have fit inside a phone booth. Today, economists who still favor central planning for the less-developed countries may as well hold their convention in a phone booth.

Public protests against globalization – protests that occur by and large in the prosperous West – denounce free trade and the mobility of capital as instruments of exploitation and oppression. The great development economist Peter Bauer used to say that if that were the case, then we should find the greatest prosperity among those less-developed countries that have the fewest economic connections to the West, and that those places that are altogether isolated – and therefore suffer from none of this alleged exploitation at all – should be paradise on earth. Needless to say, that is not even close to what we find, and most serious observers know it.

Today practically everyone agrees that some kind of market economy is essential if the less-developed countries are to progress to developed status. There are differences of opinion, to be sure, and the so-called "new development economics" of the past decade holds far more peril than promise. But that the terms of the debate have shifted there can be little doubt.

As globalization has proceeded, the subject of the market economy has attracted more and more attention, with friend and foe alike seeking to understand the implications of the creation of a truly global marketplace. One of the market's virtues, and the reason it enables so much peaceful interaction and cooperation among such a great variety of peoples, is that it demands of its participants only that they observe a relatively few basic principles, among them honesty, the sanctity of contracts, and respect for private property.

This is not to say that the philosophical principles the market embodies come naturally to every cultural milieu. Peter Bauer always insisted that a people's religious, philosophical, and cultural values could have important consequences for their economic success or failure. A people who believe in fatalism or collectivism, rather than in personal responsibility, will be less likely to undertake the risks associated with capitalist entrepreneurship, for example.

Or consider the example of tenth-century China. Rodney Stark points out that a substantial iron industry was beginning to flourish there at that time, producing an estimated thirty-five thousand tons of iron per year – a figure that ultimately grew to a hundred thousand. This abundance of iron translated into better agricultural tools, which in turn meant increased food production. Great wealth was being created, and China's economic prospects seemed excellent.

The imperial court, on the other hand, decided that all this accumulation of wealth by mere commoners amounted to an intolerable departure from pure Confucian principle, which imagined great wealth in the hands only of society's elite, and demanded that commoners be satisfied with their lot. The government simply seized the entire industry, and this wonderful example of innovation and wealth creation was crushed. Here is an example of cultural values that were incompatible with a market economy.[1]

But I want to go even further, and suggest that morality and the market are mutually reinforcing. It isn't merely that the market requires certain moral attributes in order to function properly. The market itself encourages moral behavior.

It takes little imagination to surmise how critics of the market would respond to such a claim. Doesn't the market encourage greed, rivalry, and discord? Does it not urge people to think only of themselves, accumulating wealth with no thought to any other concern?

The Communist Counter-Example

That human beings seek their own well-being and that of those close to them is not an especially provocative discovery. What is important is that this universal aspect of human nature persists no matter what economic system is in place; it merely expresses itself in different forms. For all their saccharine rhetoric, for example, communist apparatchiks were not known for their disinterested commitment to the common good. They, too, sought to improve their own well-being – except they lived in a system in which all such improvements came at the expense of their fellow human beings, rather than, as in a market economy, as a reward for serving them.

Communism brought out the worst in human nature, and crippled people's ability or ambition to participate in a market economy. "Traveling around the country," wrote American reporter Hedrick Smith in 1990, "I came to see the great mass of Soviets as protagonists in what I call the culture of envy. In this culture, corrosive animosity took root under the czars in the deep-seated collectivism in Russian life and then was cultivated by Leninist ideology. Now it has turned rancid under the misery of everyday living."[2]

The Soviet ruling class, with their cushy cars, clinics, and country homes, are a natural enough target for the wrath of the little people. But what is ominous for Gorbachev's reforms is that this free-floating anger, the jealousy of the rank and file, often lights on anyone who rises above the crowd – anyone who works harder, gets ahead, and becomes better off, even if his gains are honestly earned. This hostility is a serious danger to the new entrepreneurs whom Gorbachev is trying to nurture. It is a deterrent to even modest initiative among ordinary people in factories or on farms. It freezes the vast majority into the immobility of conforming to the group.

Under the system of tyranny and deprivation that the Russian people were forced to endure for seven decades, illicit "profiteering" – "think of the worker stealing wheelbarrows and multiply him by a million," one writer says – made it possible for countless Russians to acquire the goods they needed. We might therefore expect the profiteer to emerge as at least vaguely heroic, but the actual effect seems to have been to poison the idea of profit in the minds of many Russians, since they came to assume that anyone making a profit must be engaged in behavior that was somehow illicit or underhanded.

The countless stories in the Soviet press, as late in the socialist experiment as the 1980s, about vandalism and attacks on small shops by those who resented the success of their fellow man "bear witness to the powerful influence of decades of Leninist indoctrination," Hedrick Smith explained. "For great masses of Soviet people, capitalism is still a dirty word, and the fact that someone earns more, gets more, is a violation of the egalitarian ideal of socialism. Tens of millions of Soviets deeply mistrust the market, fearing they will be cheated and outsmarted. They see the profit motive as immoral."

The Supreme Soviet's Anatoly Sobchak once remarked, "Our people cannot endure seeing someone else earn more than they do…. They are so jealous of other people that they want others to be worse off, if need be, to keep things equal." Sobchak described this attitude as one of the chief obstacles to economic reform. Television personality Dmitri Zakharov put it this way: "In the West, if an American sees someone on TV with a shiny new car, he will think, 'Oh, maybe I can get that someday for myself.' But if a Russian sees that, he will think, 'This bastard with his car. I would like to kill him for living better than I do.'" That is what Marxism-Leninism did to these people.

Overlooked Perils of Interventionism

That system, the polar opposite of the free market, encouraged greed in the ruling class and apathy, envy, and alienation among everyone else. Scarcely anyone defends it any longer. At the same time, we are urged not to let the socialist debacle sour us on the state itself, which we are told is an indispensable instrument in the pursuit of "social justice." But the less predatory state that such critics have in mind carries its own moral and cultural perils, only a few of which we can consider here.

Economists speak of the disutility of labor. Albert Jay Nock referred to the human inclination to seek after wealth with the least possible exertion. In a formulation familiar to libertarians, Franz Oppenheimer described two ways of acquiring wealth: the economic means and the political means. The economic means involves the production of a good or service that is then sold to willing buyers seeking to improve their own well-being. Both parties benefit. The political means, on the other hand, involves the use of force to enrich one party or group at the expense of another – either to acquire someone else's wealth directly or to give oneself an unfair advantage over his competitors through the use or threat of coercion. That is a much easier way of enriching oneself; and since people tend to prefer an easier over a more difficult path to wealth, a society that hopes to foster both justice and prosperity needs to discourage wealth acquisition via the political means and encourage it through the economic means.

But the state, wrote Oppenheimer, was the organization of the political means of wealth acquisition. It was through this channel that people could find paths to their own economic well-being that involved the use of force – carried out on their behalf by the state – rather than their own honest work. For that reason, the baser aspects of human nature can find in the state an irresistible attraction. It is easier to become dependent on welfare than to work; it is easier to accept farm subsidies and thereby to increase food prices than it is to compete honorably and freely; and it is easier to file an antitrust complaint against a competitor than to outcompete him honestly in the marketplace. By making these and countless other predatory options possible, the state fosters unattractive moral attributes and appeals to the worst features of human nature.

In short order, society degenerates into a condition of low-intensity civil war, with each pressure group anxious to secure legislation aimed at enriching itself at the expense of the rest of society. The Hobbesian war of all against all that allegedly characterizes life under the pre-political state of nature creeps into political life itself, as even those who were initially reluctant to seek political favors pursue them with vigor, if only to break even (that is, vis-à-vis groups who are less scrupulous about using the state to secure their ends). All of this looting under cover of law is what Frédéric Bastiat memorably called "legal plunder."

The same phenomena are observable around the world, when misguided development aid programs have strengthened the interventionist state in less-developed nations. Ben Powell makes the important point, echoing Peter Bauer, that the fashionable proposals we hear about nowadays that seek to direct foreign aid to responsible, relatively non-predatory regimes miss the point: these aid programs are inherently bad, no matter how selectively the funds are allocated. Not only do they tend to enlarge the public sector of the recipient country, but competition for a share of the grant money also diverts private resources away from the satisfaction of genuine wants and into the wasteful, anti-social expenditure of time and resources for the purpose of winning government favors.

Some Virtues of the Market

If the state is the organization of the political means of wealth acquisition, then the market is the embodiment of the economic means. The market all but compels people to be other-regarding, but not by means of intimidation, threats, and propaganda, as in socialist and statist systems. It employs the perfectly normal, morally acceptable desire to improve one's material conditions and station in life, both of which can grow under capitalism only by directing one's efforts to the production of a good or service that improves the well-being of his fellow man. This is why the title of Frédéric Bastiat's book Economic Harmonies is such a beautiful encapsulation of the classical liberal message. (The American Anti-Imperialist League's George McNeill made essentially the same observation, if perhaps more vividly, in the late 1890s: "Wealth is not so rapidly gained by killing Filipinos as by making shoes.")

John Rawls famously argued in A Theory of Justice that we could judge a society on the basis of the material condition of the least well-off. The market wins according to that moral criterion as well. Capital University's Robert Lawson has shown that all around the world, the poor are consistently better off in the least interventionist, most market-oriented societies. America's poor are better off than much of the European middle class today, and better off than the American middle class of the 1950s.

This happy outcome follows from the very nature of capitalism. When businesses invest in capital equipment to render the production process more efficient, they make it possible to produce more goods at a lower unit cost. Competition then passes these cost cuts on to the consumer in the form of lower prices (a phenomenon not always so visible in an inflationary economy, but at work all the same). This greater abundance increases the purchasing power of all real incomes, and thereby redounds to the benefit of everyone.
26866  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran elected to Status of Women Commission on: April 29, 2010, 08:27:36 PM

NEW YORK — Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, handing a four-year seat on the influential human rights body to a theocratic state in which stoning is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women judged "immodest."

Just days after Iran abandoned a high-profile bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, it began a covert campaign to claim a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is "dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women," according to its website.

Buried 2,000 words deep in a U.N. press release distributed Wednesday on the filling of "vacancies in subsidiary bodies," was the stark announcement: Iran, along with representatives from 10 other nations, was "elected by acclamation," meaning that no open vote was requested or required by any member states — including the United States.

The U.S. currently holds one of the 45 seats on the body, a position set to expire in 2012. The U.S. Mission to the U.N. did not return requests for comment on whether it actively opposed elevating Iran to the women's commission.

Iran's election comes just a week after one of its senior clerics declared that women who wear revealing clothing are to blame for earthquakes, a statement that created an international uproar — but little affected their bid to become an international arbiter of women's rights.

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," said the respected cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi.

As word of Iran's intention to join the women's commission came out, a group of Iranian activists circulated a petition to the U.N. asking that member states oppose its election.

"Iran's discriminatory laws demonstrate that the Islamic Republic does not believe in gender equality," reads the letter, signed by 214 activists and endorsed by over a dozen human rights bodies.

The letter draws a dark picture of the status of women in Iran: "women lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces, are restricted by quotas for women's admission at universities, and are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of such laws."

The Commission on the Status of Women is supposed to conduct review of nations that violate women's rights, issue reports detailing their failings, and monitor their success in improving women's equality.

Yet critics of Iran's human rights record say the country has taken "every conceivable step" to deter women's equality.

"In the past year, it has arrested and jailed mothers of peaceful civil rights protesters," wrote three prominent democracy and human rights activists in an op-ed published online Tuesday by Foreign Policy Magazine.

"It has charged women who were seeking equality in the social sphere — as wives, daughters and mothers — with threatening national security, subjecting many to hours of harrowing interrogation. Its prison guards have beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and raped female and male civil rights protesters."

Iran's elevation to the commission comes as a black eye just days after the U.S. helped lead a successful effort to keep Iran off the Human Rights Council, which is already dominated by nations that are judged by human rights advocates as chronic violators of essential freedoms. The current membership of the women's commission is little different.

Though it touts itself as "the principal global policy-making body" on women's rights, the makeup of the commission is mostly determined by geography and its membership is a hodge-podge of some human rights advocates (including the U.S., Japan, and Germany) and other nations with stark histories of rights violations.

The number of seats on the commission is based on the number of countries in a region, no matter how small their populations or how scant their respect for rights. The commission is currently made up of 13 members from Africa, 11 from Asia, nine from Latin America and the Caribbean, eight from Western Europe and North America, and four from Eastern Europe.

During this round of "elections," which were not competitive and in which no real votes were cast, two seats opened up for the Asian bloc for the 2011-2015 period. Only two nations put forward candidates to fill empty spots — Iran and Thailand. As at most such commissions in the U.N., backroom deals determined who would gain new seats at the women's rights body.

The activists' letter sent to the U.N. Tuesday argued that it would be better if the Asian countries proffered only one candidate, instead of elevating Iran to the commission.

"We, a group of gender-equality activists, believe that for the sake of women's rights globally, an empty seat for the Asia group on (the commission) is much preferable to Iran's membership. We are writing to alert you to the highly negative ramifications of Iran’s membership in this international body."

A spokeswoman for the U.N.'s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which oversees the commission, did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

When its term begins in 2011, Iran will be joined by 10 other countries: Belgium, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Estonia, Georgia, Jamaica, Iran, Liberia, the Netherlands, Spain, Thailand and Zimbabwe.
26867  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Prop 13 on: April 29, 2010, 07:43:55 PM
Don’t Blame Proposition 13

Profligate spending, not property-tax reform, has put California in a hole.


In 1978, Californians enacted Proposition 13, the famous ballot initiative that rolled back property taxes and made it harder for assessors and legislators to raise taxes in the future. The experts still haven’t forgiven the voters. In 1994, Columbia historian Alan Brinkley ascribed Prop. 13’s passage to Californians who believed that they could get “something for nothing: substantial tax relief without a reduction of services.” In 2009, theWashington Post’s Harold Meyerson blamed the “malign initiative” for “effectively destroying the funding base of local governments and school districts” while empowering Republican “Neanderthals” in the state legislature, who refuse “in good times as well as bad to raise business or other taxes.” Earlier this year, Joe Klein of Time wrote that the proposition had made California “Exhibit A of a public pathology that we’ve inherited from the Reagan Era: the public wants a modified welfare state, excellent schools, a clean environment, low college tuitions . . . but it’s not willing to pay for them.”

You get the picture. According to liberals in politics, journalism, and academia, Proposition 13 is the reason for California’s worsening fiscal nightmare and the declining quality of the state’s public services, and the motives behind it were deplorable. And because Prop. 13 ignited a national tax revolt that remains potent, the Left also blames the measure for much of what it thinks has gone wrong in American political life generally over the past three decades.

Yet no matter how often their moral and intellectual “superiors” denounce them, California taxpayers continue to insist that the problem isn’t their purported stinginess but their government, which makes lousy use of the considerable funds that it continues to receive. On this point, the voters aren’t being stubborn, greedy, or stupid. The voters are right.


The first thing to recognize is that Proposition 13 did not destroy the tax base of California’s local governments. True, the average property-tax rate has fallen from 2.67 percent in 1977 to 1.1 percent today, observes David Doerr of the California Taxpayers’ Association. But the state still brings in a lot in property taxes. By 2007, the year of the most recent Census Bureau data comparing state finances, California’s state and local governments levied $1,141 in property taxes per capita, less—but only 11 percent less—than the corresponding average, $1,288, for the other 49 states and the District of Columbia. Property-tax revenues in the state have increased from $4.9 billion to $47 billion in the 30 years since Proposition 13. Adjust those figures for inflation and population growth, and property-tax revenues in California were 87 percent higher in 2009 than they were in 1979, chiefly because of rising property values.

And even if one tax is limited, others can rise. A recent article in theCalifornia Journal of Politics and Policy by Colin McCubbins and Mathew McCubbins shows that, adjusted again for population growth and inflation, total state and local tax revenues in California were higher ten years after Proposition 13’s enactment than they were just before—and that they were half again as high in 2000 as in 1978. Census Bureau data show that California ranked tenth in the nation in 2007 in terms of per-capita receipts from all state and local taxes (property, income, sales, and excise taxes) paid by individuals and corporations. Per-capita receipts from individual and corporate income taxes were 64 percent higher in California than they were in the rest of the country: $1,764 in California, $1,077 elsewhere. All told, California’s governments received $4,731 per resident from all taxes, 14 percent more than the $4,160 average outside California.

Ah, comes the objection: these numbers unfairly compare California with an aggregate that includes many rural states with low taxes and limited public services. But even if we confine our discussion to the ten most populous states in the nation, home to 54 percent of all Americans in 2009, California remains a high-tax jurisdiction. Its per-capita taxes exceed not only the national average but those of every other high-population state except New York.

Not only is California a high-tax state; it is even more conspicuously a high-revenue state. Things that aren’t taxes, such as fees for government services, often have a high degree of “taxiness,” as Stephen Colbert might say. “Charges and fees have become an integral part of the California budgetary landscape” because they “give the government a revenue stream that is not subject to limitation and hard for voters to track,” the McCubbinses argue. For example, local governments impose assessments on real-estate developers for the infrastructure and public services that a new housing tract’s residents will require. The developers then incorporate those charges into every unit’s sales price. “Home developers estimate that fees, new infrastructure, and other mandated expenses now run to between $30,000 and $60,000 for each new home,” journalist Peter Schrag noted in Paradise Lost, his book on California’s fall from grace since the 1950s.

Thus it is that the Golden State, routinely described as desperately short of funds because of Proposition 13, brought in $12,776 per capita in governmental income from all sources—taxes, fees, federal aid, charges for government-administered insurance, and revenue from government-owned utilities—in 2007. This amount was the fifth-highest in the nation and second (again) only to profligate New York among the ten most populous states (see the chart above).

Californians have good reasons, then, to tune out the incessant lectures about how the state wouldn’t be so screwed up if only they reached deeper into their pockets. And tune out they do. Though California has become one of America’s most liberal states in other regards, Proposition 13 remains “the third rail of California government,” as the Berkeley political scientist Jack Citrin wrote last year. “In the throes of the budget crisis of 2008 and increasing fiscal disarray, there was no serious talk of reforming the property tax system.” A 2008 survey by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that Californians continue to favor Prop. 13 by a two-to-one margin. Even 56 percent of self-identified Democrats said it was “mostly a good thing,” compared with just 31 percent who said it was “mostly a bad thing.”

The Californians who refuse to jettison Proposition 13 have a well-founded suspicion: that the state’s public sector is starving on its high-calorie diet because of mismanagement and capitulations to public-employee unions. Consider public education: California spent $8,909 per pupil in 2007–08, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia spent more; 21 spent less, including Florida and Texas, which are also large Sunbelt states with enormous metropolitan areas and significant immigrant populations. Despite outlays that are in the middle of the scale, however, California students perform miserably on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. In reading, California fourth- and eighth-graders rank 48th among all states; in math, fourth-graders rank 45th and eighth-graders rank 46th. (Students in Florida and Texas do significantly better on all counts.)

One reason for California’s poor performance may be that its pupil-to-teacher ratio is the country’s second-highest, behind only Utah. A public school with 1,000 students in California is likely to have just 48 teachers; the large classes that result hamper instruction. That problem stems from the efforts of the powerful unions that have helped make California public school teachers America’s most highly compensated, with an average salary of $66,986, 24 percent higher than the national average. (The statistics, for 2008–09, are from the National Education Association.) Such high salaries prevent California school districts from hiring more teachers and perhaps raising those abysmal test scores.

In fact, California taxpayers find themselves charged exceptional prices for unexceptional public services in one area after another. Not just California’s schoolteachers but state and local employees as a whole receive higher compensation than their counterparts in the rest of the country, Census Bureau data show. A veteran reporter for the Sacramento Bee, Dan Walters, calculates that California’s per-prisoner incarceration expenditures are 65 percent higher than the average for the nation’s ten most populous states, costing the state’s taxpayers an extra $4 billion per year. A recent New Yorker article on the University of California, lamenting its fiscal problems and predictably asserting that Proposition 13 “broke the government,” mentions in passing that the ten UC campuses have 229,000 students and 180,000 faculty and staff—nearly four employees for every five students. And this after what the magazine calls “decades of whittling” in the state’s financial support for UC, culminating in a “starveling” budget!

No one ever accused Milton Friedman of being sanguine about government’s willingness to restrain itself. In hindsight, however, his hopes for Proposition 13 were excessive. Friedman argued at the time that limiting a government’s entire budget, as the proposition did, was the only way to reverse the logic of interest-group liberalism, in which micro-constituencies, each focused intently on supporting a particular government program, invariably prevail against the general public, which lacks the time, awareness, and incentive to oppose those programs one by one. “We are not going to vote anybody out of office because he imposes a $3-a-year burden on us,” Friedman wrote. By reining in the budget, measures like Prop. 13 meant that any “special group that wants a special measure has to point out the other budget items that can and should be reduced”—or so Friedman thought.

Thirty-two years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, it’s clear that government’s manifest destiny to grow won’t be so easy to halt. As furiously as liberals have denounced Proposition 13, conservatives have reason to be disappointed in a political victory that proved the Bunker Hill, not the Yorktown, of the tax revolt. The moral of the story is that expenditure and tax limitations, of which Prop. 13 was the prototype, can serve as valuable first steps but are neither decisive nor self-implementing. To get state and local governments to spend tax dollars reluctantly and for the benefit of the general public—rather than profligately and for the advantage of public officials, employees, and their favored constituencies—will require continuous exertion; episodic interventions in the political process won’t be enough.

William Voegeli is a contributing editor of The Claremont Review of Books, a visiting scholar at Claremont McKenna College’s Salvatori Center, and the author of Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State.
26868  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA versus Reality/Survival based skills on: April 29, 2010, 06:19:18 PM
Many good points in there Sheep Dog.
26869  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: April 29, 2010, 06:15:46 PM
Grateful for a fine workout sledgehammering and lifting in the sun.
26870  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Insurance mandate in peril on: April 29, 2010, 06:11:45 PM

Hat tip to BBG

The Insurance Mandate in Peril
First Congress said it was a regulation of commerce. Now it's supposed to be a tax. Neither claim will survive Supreme Court scrutiny.

A"tell" in poker is a subtle but detectable change in a player's behavior or demeanor that reveals clues about the player's assessment of his hand. Something similar has happened with regard to the insurance mandate at the core of last month's health reform legislation. Congress justified its authority to enact the mandate on the grounds that it is a regulation of commerce. But as this justification came under heavy constitutional fire, the mandate's defenders changed the argument—now claiming constitutional authority under Congress's power to tax.

This switch in constitutional theories is a tell: Defenders of the bill lack confidence in their commerce power theory. The switch also comes too late. When the mandate's constitutionality comes up for review as part of the state attorneys general lawsuit, the Supreme Court will not consider the penalty enforcing the mandate to be a tax because, in the provision that actually defines and imposes the mandate and penalty, Congress did not call it a tax and did not treat it as a tax.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) includes what it calls an "individual responsibility requirement" that all persons buy health insurance from a private company. Congress justified this mandate under its power to regulate commerce among the several states: "The individual responsibility requirement provided for in this section," the law says, ". . . is commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce, as a result of the effects described in paragraph (2)." Paragraph (2) then begins: "The requirement regulates activity that is commercial and economic in nature: economic and financial decisions about how and when health care is paid for, and when health insurance is purchased."

In this way, the statute speciously tries to convert inactivity into the "activity" of making a "decision." By this reasoning, your "decision" not to take a job, not to sell your house, or not to buy a Chevrolet is an "activity that is commercial and economic in nature" that can be mandated by Congress.

It is true that the Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause broadly enough to reach wholly intrastate economic "activity" that substantially affects interstate commerce. But the Court has never upheld a requirement that individuals who are doing nothing must engage in economic activity by entering into a contractual relationship with a private company. Such a claim of power is literally unprecedented.

Since this Commerce Clause language was first proposed in the Senate last December, Democratic legislators and law professors alike breezily dismissed any constitutional objections as preposterous. After the bill was enacted, critics branded lawsuits by state attorneys general challenging the insurance mandate as frivolous. Yet, unable to produce a single example of Congress using its commerce power this way, the defenders of the personal mandate began to shift grounds.

On March 21, the same day the House approved the Senate version of the legislation, the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation released a 157-page "technical explanation" of the bill. The word "commerce" appeared nowhere. Instead, the personal mandate is dubbed an "Excise Tax on Individuals Without Essential Health Benefits Coverage." But while the enacted bill does impose excise taxes on "high cost," employer-sponsored insurance plans and "indoor tanning services," the statute never describes the regulatory "penalty" it imposes for violating the mandate as an "excise tax." It is expressly called a "penalty."

This shift won't work. The Supreme Court will not allow staffers and lawyers to change the statutory cards that Congress already dealt when it adopted the Senate language.

In the 1920s, when Congress wanted to prohibit activity that was then deemed to be solely within the police power of states, it tried to penalize the activity using its tax power. In Bailey v. Drexel Furniture (1922) the Supreme Court struck down such a penalty saying, "there comes a time in the extension of the penalizing features of the so-called tax when it loses its character as such and becomes a mere penalty with the characteristics of regulation and punishment."

Although the Court has never repudiated this principle, the Court now interprets the commerce power far more broadly. Thus Congress may regulate or prohibit intrastate economic activity directly without invoking its taxation power. Yet precisely because a mandate to engage in economic activity has never been upheld by the Court, the tax power is once again being used to escape constitutional limits on Congress's regulatory power.

Supporters of the mandate cite U.S. v. Kahriger (1953), where the Court upheld a punitive tax on gambling by saying that "nless there are provisions extraneous to any tax need, courts are without authority to limit the exercise of the taxing power." Yet the Court in Kahriger also cited Bailey with approval. The key to understanding Kahriger is the proposition the Court there rejected: "it is said that Congress, under the pretense of exercising its power to tax has attempted to penalize illegal intrastate gambling through the regulatory features of the Act" (emphasis added).

In other words, the Court in Kahriger declined to look behind Congress's assertion that it was exercising its tax power to see whether a measure was really a regulatory penalty. As the Court said in Sonzinsky v. U.S. (1937), "nquiry into the hidden motives which may move Congress to exercise a power constitutionally conferred upon it is beyond the competency of courts." But this principle cuts both ways. Neither will the Court look behind Congress's inadequate assertion of its commerce power to speculate as to whether a measure was "really" a tax. The Court will read the cards as Congress dealt them.

Congress simply did not enact the personal insurance mandate pursuant to its tax powers. To the contrary, the statute expressly says the mandate "regulates activity that is commercial and economic in nature." It never mentions the tax power and none of its eight findings mention raising any revenue with the penalty.

Moreover, while inserting the mandate into the Internal Revenue Code, Congress then expressly severed the penalty from the normal enforcement mechanisms of the tax code. The failure to pay the penalty "shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure." Nor shall the IRS "file notice of lien with respect to any property of a taxpayer by reason of any failure to pay the penalty imposed by this section," or "levy on any such property with respect to such failure."

In short, the "penalty" is explicitly justified as a penalty to enforce a regulation of economic activity and not as a tax. There is no authority for the Court to recharacterize a regulation as a tax when doing so is contrary to the express and actual regulatory purpose of Congress.

So defenders of the mandate are making yet another unprecedented claim. Never before has the Court looked behind Congress's unconstitutional assertion of its commerce power to see if a measure could have been justified as a tax. For that matter, never before has a "tax" penalty been used to mandate, rather than discourage or prohibit, economic activity.

Are there now five justices willing to expand the commerce and tax powers of Congress where they have never gone before? Will the Court empower Congress to mandate any activity on the theory that a "decision" not to act somehow affects interstate commerce? Will the Court accept that Congress has the power to mandate any activity so long as it is included in the Internal Revenue Code and the IRS does the enforcing?

Yes, the smart money is always on the Court upholding an act of Congress. But given the hand Congress is now holding, I would not bet the farm.

Mr. Barnett is a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown and the author of "Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty" (Princeton, 2005).
26871  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Lets do it like Mexico! on: April 29, 2010, 10:30:15 AM
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has accused Arizona of opening the door "to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement." But Arizona has nothing on Mexico when it comes to cracking down on illegal  aliens. While open-borders activists decry new enforcement easures signed into law in "Nazi-zona" last week, they remain deaf, dumb or willfully blind to the unapologetically restrictionist policies of our neighbors to the south.

 The Arizona law bans sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce immigration laws, stiffens penalties against illegal alien day laborers and their employers, makes it a misdemeanor for immigrants to fail to complete and carry an alien registration document, and allows the police to arrest immigrants unable to show documents proving they are in the U.S. legally.
If those rules constitute the racist, fascist, xenophobic, inhumane regime that the National Council of La Raza, Al Sharpton, Catholic bishops and their grievance-mongering followers claim, then what about these regulations and restrictions imposed on foreigners?

-- The Mexican government will bar foreigners if they upset "the equilibrium of the national demographics." How's that for racial and ethnic profiling?

-- If outsiders do not enhance the country's "economic or national interests" or are "not found to be physically or mentally healthy," they are not welcome. Neither are those who show "contempt against national sovereignty or security." They must not be economic burdens on society and
must have clean criminal histories. Those seeking to obtain Mexican citizenship must show a birth certificate, provide a bank statement proving economic independence, pass an exam and prove they can provide their own health care.

-- Illegal entry into the country is equivalent to a felony punishable by two years' imprisonment. Document fraud is subject to fine and imprisonment; so is alien marriage fraud. Evading deportation is a serious crime; illegal re-entry after deportation is punishable by ten years' imprisonment.

Foreigners may be kicked out of the country without due
process and the endless bites at the litigation apple that illegal aliens are afforded in our country (see, for example, President Obama's illegal alien aunt -- a fugitive from deportation for eight years who is awaiting a second decision on her previously rejected asylum claim).

 -- Law enforcement officials at all levels -- by national mandate -- must cooperate to enforce immigration laws, including illegal alien arrests and deportations. The Mexican military is also required to assist in immigration enforcement operations. Native-born Mexicans are empowered to
make citizens' arrests of illegal aliens and turn them in to authorities.

 -- Ready to show your papers? Mexico's National Catalog of Foreigners tracks all outside tourists and foreign nationals. A National Population Registry tracks and verifies the identity of every member of the population, who must carry a citizens' identity card. Visitors who do not possess proper documents and identification are subject to arrest as illegal aliens.

 All of these provisions are enshrined in Mexico's Ley General de Población  (General Law of the Population) and were spotlighted in a 2006 research paper published by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy.
There's been no public clamor for "comprehensive immigration reform" in Mexico, however, because pro-illegal alien speech by outsiders is prohibited.

 Consider: Open-borders protesters marched freely at the Capitol building in Arizona, comparing GOP Gov. Jan Brewer to Hitler, waving Mexican flags, advocating that demonstrators "Smash the State," and holding signs that
proclaimed "No human is illegal" and "We have rights."

 But under the Mexican constitution, such political speech by foreigners is banned. Noncitizens cannot "in any way participate in the political affairs of the country." In fact, a plethora of Mexican statutes enacted by its congress limit the participation of foreign nationals and companies in everything from investment, education, mining and civil aviation to
electric energy and firearms. Foreigners have severely limited private property and employment rights (if any).

As for abuse, the Mexican government is notorious for its abuse of Central American illegal aliens who attempt to violate Mexico's southern border. The Red Cross has protested rampant Mexican police corruption, intimidation and bribery schemes targeting illegal aliens there for years. Mexico didn't respond by granting mass amnesty to illegal aliens, as it is
demanding that we do. It clamped down on its borders even further. In late 2008, the Mexican government launched an aggressive deportation plan to curtain illegal Cuban immigration and human trafficking through Cancun.

 Meanwhile, Mexican consular offices in the United States have coordinated with left-wing social justice groups and the Catholic Church leadership to demand a moratorium on all deportations and a freeze on all employment raids across America.

 Mexico is doing the job Arizona is now doing -- a job the U.S. government has failed miserably to do: putting its people first. Here's the proper rejoinder to all the hysterical demagogues in Mexico (and their sympathizers here on American soil) now calling for boycotts and invoking
Jim Crow laws, apartheid and the Holocaust because Arizona has taken its sovereignty into its own hands:

26872  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bolton: Folding our nuclear umbrella on: April 29, 2010, 08:49:24 AM

BOLTON: Folding our nuclear umbrella

By John R. Bolton

Although media coverage of President Obama's unfolding nuclear policy has focused on its implications for the United States, it is no less important to understand its effects on America's friends and allies. The New START arms control treaty with Russia, the administration's nuclear posture review, the recent Washington nuclear security summit, and the uncertainty surrounding May's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference are all reverberating in capitals worldwide.

Bad as Obama policies are for America, they are equally dangerous for friends who have relied for decades on the U.S. nuclear umbrella as a foundation of their own national security strategies. As Washington's capabilities decline and as it narrows the circumstances when it will use nuclear weapons, allies are asking hard questions about whether the U.S. nuclear umbrella will continue to provide the protection it has previously.

Many allies see clearly that our mutual global adversaries have no intention of reducing their own nuclear programs in imitation of Mr. Obama. Our friends accordingly feel increasingly insecure. If Washington will not continue to hold the nuclear umbrella that has provided strategic stability for so long, other countries will begin making divergent decisions about how to protect themselves, including, for some, the possibility of seeking their own nuclear weapons.

Within the administration, there are strong advocates for America pledging "no first use" of nuclear weapons. Although the nuclear posture review "only" expanded "negative security assurances" somewhat, there is little doubt that "no first use" is alive and well in internal administration councils. These self-imposed constraints on the use of nuclear weapons reinforce the allies' concern that Mr. Obama has forgotten the central Cold War lesson about the U.S. nuclear deterrent. There was never any doubt that a Soviet attack through the Fulda Gap into Western Europe would have swept through NATO forces, possibly all the way to the English Channel. Thus, the threat of U.S. nuclear retaliation against such an attack - an unambiguous case of a U.S. first use of nuclear weapons - was precisely what was needed to keep Soviet forces on their side of the Iron Curtain.

The risks come not only from the Obama administration's nuclear policies. By canceling the Polish and Czech missile defense sites, the president signaled that he has less than full faith in the concept of a U.S. national missile defense capability. Moreover, and equally important, Russia and others quickly interpreted the decision not to construct the Eastern European facilities as Washington backing down in response to Russian threats. At a minimum, Mr. Obama showed that he was prepared to use U.S. missile defense as a bargaining chip, exactly the misguided policy option President Reagan consistently and emphatically rejected. If America's homeland remains vulnerable, its willingness to risk confrontation with an opponent will be substantially reduced. In such circumstances, U.S. allies could not count on the threat of nuclear retaliation by Washington in the event of aggression, as they could in the Cold War.

Accordingly, Europeans should be very worried that they are increasingly on their own to face the re-emerging threat of Russian belligerence. Because the New START treaty does not limit tactical nuclear weapons, Europe, simply because of geographic proximity, is most vulnerable to Russia's advantage in that category. It is thus highly ironic that some NATO countries have recently called for removing the last U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, which will simply enhance Russia's existing lead. Moreover, because the conflict in Afghanistan has opened new fissures in NATO, Europe must ponder whether the aging alliance can renew its original focus on defending against Moscow.

In the Pacific, concerns are equally acute, especially in Japan. Faced with the unambiguous reality of China expanding and modernizing its nuclear and conventional military capabilities, and with North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, Japan inevitably faces the question of whether it needs its own nuclear deterrent. U.S. ambivalence on missile defense only heightens Tokyo's concerns, given its proximity to ballistic missile threats from the East Asian mainland. South Korea, Taiwan and Australia, among others, also share Japan's concern, each according to its own circumstances.

Thus, while there unquestionably are variations among America's allies about the precise implications of Mr. Obama's global withdrawal from U.S. strategic nuclear dominance, the overall direction is not in doubt. U.S. decline leaves the allies feeling increasingly on their own, uncertain about Washington's commitment and steadfastness and facing difficult decisions about how to guarantee their own security. Ironically, therefore, it is America's friends that might increase nuclear proliferation, not just their mortal foes. This is the reality created by the retreat of nuclear America, the exact opposite of the Obama administration's benign optimism, namely that reducing U.S. capability would encourage others to do the same.

John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the U.N., is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
26873  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Jihadists down for the count? on: April 29, 2010, 06:49:07 AM
Jihadists in Iraq: Down For The Count?
April 29, 2010

By Scott Stewart

On April 25, The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) posted a statement on the Internet confirming that two of its top leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, had been killed April 18 in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation in Salahuddin province. Al-Baghdadi (an Iraqi also known as Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi), was the head of the ISI, an al Qaeda-led jihadist alliance in Iraq, and went by the title “Leader of the Faithful.” Al-Masri (an Egyptian national also known as Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir), was the military leader of the ISI and head of the group’s military wing, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Al-Masri replaced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006. Al-Zarqawi had alienated many Iraqi Sunnis with his ruthlessness, and al-Baghdadi is thought to have been appointed the emir of the ISI in an effort to put an Iraqi face on jihadist efforts in Iraq and to help ease the alienation between the foreign jihadists and the local Sunni population. Al-Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the military leader of the ISI, was considered the real operational leader of ISI/AQI efforts in Iraq.

STRATFOR viewed the initial announcement by Iraqi authorities of the deaths of the two leaders with a healthy degree of skepticism. After all, they had been declared dead before, only to later release statements on the Internet mocking the Iraqi government for making false claims. But the details provided in the April 19 press conference by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (complete with photos of the deceased) and the confirmation by the U.S. military helped allay those initial doubts. The recent admission by the ISI, which made a similar statement following the death of al-Zarqawi, has all but erased our doubts about the deaths.

But the ISI’s statement has raised some other questions. It claimed that the deaths of the two leaders would not affect the group’s operations in Iraq because new members had recently joined it. But when viewed in the context of other recent developments in Iraq, it appears that the operational capability of the ISI will indeed be affected — at least in the near future.

Recent Activity
The operation that resulted in the deaths of al-Baghdadi and al-Masri did not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it was a part of a series of operations targeting the ISI in recent months. The raids have come as a result of a renewed effort to counter the ISI following a resurgence in the group’s operations that included high-profile multiple-vehicle bombings directed against targets in central Baghdad on Aug. 19, 2009, Oct. 25, 2009, Dec. 8, 2009, and Jan. 25, 2010.

The raids that resulted in the deaths of the ISI leaders on April 18 were part of a chain of events that stretches back for months, and appear to be the result of the effective exploitation of intelligence gained in one raid used to conduct the next. For example, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Qasim Ata, the spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command, told Al-Iraqiya TV on April 20 that the intelligence that led to the location of al-Baghdadi and al-Masri was obtained during the March 11, 2010, arrest of Manaf Abdul Raheem al-Rawi, the AQI commander in Baghdad. Iraqi government sources claim al-Rawi is the man responsible for planning the multiple-vehicle bombings in Baghdad. If so, he is another effective operational leader who has been taken out of the ISI/AQI gene pool.

Then, following the April 18 raid, Ahmad al-Ubaydi — aka Abu-Suhaib, whom Iraqi officials identify as the AQI military commander for the northern Iraqi provinces of Ninevah, Salahuddin and Kirkuk provinces — was killed April 20. The next day, Iraqi authorities located an improvised explosive device (IED) factory in western Anbar province and seized two vehicle bombs and some smaller IEDs. On April 22, the U.S. Army announced the arrest of a bombmaker in Anbar province. On April 23, Iraqi police arrested another AQI military leader in Anbar, Mahmoud Suleiman, who was reportedly found with several IEDs in his home. Also on April 23, an Iraqi police SWAT team reportedly killed two AQI leaders during a raid in eastern Mosul. They claimed that one of the AQI leaders, Yousef Mohammad Ali, was also a bombmaker. In recent days, dozens of other alleged AQI members have either surrendered or been arrested in Diyala, Mosul, Salahuddin and Basra.

There have even been unconfirmed reports that Izzat al-Douri was captured April 25. Al-Douri, the “king of clubs” in the U.S. military’s 2003 deck of most-wanted Iraqis and who has a $10 million bounty on his head, was a vice president of Iraq under Saddam Hussein and an important insurgent leader.

In late March, progress was also made against AQI in Mosul. Several suspects were arrested or killed, and among the latter were major AQI figures Khalid Muhammad Hasan Shallub al-Juburi, Abu Ahmad al-Afri and Bashar Khalaf Husayn Ali al-Jaburi.

This type of rapid, sequential activity against jihadists by U.S. and Iraqi forces is not a coincidence. It is the result of some significant operational changes that were made in 2007 in the wake of the American surge in Iraq. The then-commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was instrumental in flattening hierarchies and reducing bureaucratic inefficiencies in both intelligence and special operations forces activities inside Iraq in order to create a highly integrated and streamlined organization. The result was the capability to rapidly plan and execute special operations forces raids based on actionable intelligence with a limited shelf life — and then to rapidly interrogate any captives, quickly analyze any material of intelligence value seized and rapidly re-task forces in a series of follow-on operations. The resulting high tempo of operations was considered enormously successful and a key factor in the success of the surge, and recent developments in Iraq appear to be a continuation of this type of rapid and aggressive activity.

Such operations not only can produce rapid gains in terms of capturing and killing key targets, they also serve to disrupt and disorient the enemy. According to Iraqi Maj. Gen. Qasim Ata, AQI is currently in disarray and panic, and he believes that the organization is also facing money problems, since it reportedly has been in contact with al Qaeda prime in an attempt to secure financial assistance. This stands in stark contrast to the 2005 letter in which al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri asked AQI leader al-Zarqawi for funding. At that time there was a large flow of men and money into Iraq, but it now appears that AQI is facing some financial difficulties. Following the recent raids in which senior operational commanders and bombmakers have been captured or killed, it also appears that the group may also be facing some leadership and operational-expertise difficulties.

As STRATFOR has previously noted, leadership is a critical factor in the operational success of a militant group. Without skilled leadership, militant groups lose their ability to conduct effective attacks, particularly ones of a sophisticated nature. Leadership, skill and professionalism are the factors that make the difference between a militant group wanting to attack something — i.e., its intent — and the group’s ability to successfully carry out its intended attack — i.e., its capability. The bottom line is that new recruits simply cannot replace seasoned operational commanders, as the ISI suggested in its statement.

Although it might seem like a simple task to find a leader for a militant group, effective militant leaders are hard to come by. Unlike most modern militaries, militant groups rarely invest much time and energy in leadership development training. To compound the problem, the leader of a militant group needs to develop a skill set that is quite a bit broader than most military leaders. In addition to personal attributes such as ruthlessness, aggressiveness and fearlessness, militant leaders also must be charismatic, intuitive, clever and inspiring. This last attribute is especially important in an organization that seeks to recruit operatives to conduct suicide attacks. Additionally, an effective militant leader must be able to recruit and train operatives, enforce operational security, raise funds, plan operations and then methodically execute a plan while avoiding the security forces constantly hunting the militants down.

Of course, not every leadership change is disastrous to a militant group. Sometimes a new leader breathes new life and energy into an organization (like Nasir al-Wahayshi in Yemen), or the group has competent lieutenants able to continue to operate effectively after the death of the leader (like AQI after the death of al-Zarqawi). But the current environment in Iraq, where numerous individuals have been rapidly and sequentially killed or captured, makes this sort of orderly leadership replacement more difficult.

Therefore, it will be important to watch the ISI carefully to see who is appointed as the group’s new emir and military commander. (In practical terms, the emir may be easier to replace than the military commander, especially if the former is just a figurehead and not a true operational commander.) The group may have had a clear chain of command and competent, designated successors who have survived the recent operations. But if not, the leadership vacuum at the top could result in infighting over control, or result in an ineffective leader assuming control. The jury is still out, but with the recent successes against the ISI, there is a very good chance that it may take some time for the group to regain its footing. This, of course, is the objective of the up-tempo operations recently seen in Iraq. Effective counterterrorism programs seek to keep the militants (and especially their leaders) off balance by killing or capturing them while also rolling up the lower levels of the group. Militants scrambling for their lives seldom have the opportunity to plan effective attacks, and sustained pressure makes it difficult for them to regain the offensive.

Like operational leaders, competent bombmakers are not easy to replace. They also need to possess a broad set of skills and require a great deal of training and practical experience to hone their skills. A master bombmaker is a rare and precious commodity in the militant world. Therefore, the bombmakers recently arrested in Iraq could prove to be almost as big a loss to AQI as the operational leaders.

When we discussed the resurgence of the ISI/AQI back in October, we noted that at that time they had retained a great deal of their capability and that they were able to gather intelligence, plan attacks, acquire ordnance, build reliable IEDs and execute spectacular attacks in the center of Baghdad against government ministry buildings. We also discussed how the polarization surrounding the election in Iraq was providing them an opportunity to exploit. That polarization has continued in the wake of the elections as the factions jockey for position in the new government, but the extent of the damage done to the jihadists through the loss of so many commanders and operatives may not allow the successors of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi to take advantage of the situation before their window of opportunity closes.

We will be watching the jihadists in Iraq carefully in the coming months to see if they can regroup and retain their operational capability. The big question is: Will the recent operations against the ISI/AQI merely serve as another temporary setback like the killing of al-Zarqawi, or do they portend something more long-term for the future of the organization? The ISI/AQI has proved to be resilient and resourceful in the past, but we are not sure they have the ability to bounce back this time.

26874  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: April 28, 2010, 04:01:10 PM
Those guys look really strong.
26875  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Strat: Super Shia Bloc and Iran's calculus on: April 28, 2010, 11:43:22 AM
Iraq: A Super Shia Bloc and Iranian Calculus
April 27, 2010 | 2032 GMT
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Former Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie (L) in 2009Summary
Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq’s former national security adviser and a key leader in the country’s Shia Islamist coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), said April 26 that merger talks between the INA and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc have come to a dead end. Al-Rubaie’s statement is the first sign that intra-Shia negotiations are not going well, but it is not clear whether the moves toward the creation of a super Shia parliamentary bloc have completely failed. Such an outcome would undermine Iran’s efforts to consolidate its influence in Iraq and, by extension, its bargaining power with the United States.

Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, a former Iraqi national security adviser and an influential figure in the country’s Shia Islamist coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), said April 26 that merger negotiations between his group and incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law (SoL) coalition have reached an impasse. Speaking to reporters after a meeting in Najaf with top Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, al-Rubaie said the two Shia blocs ran into problems over the issue of selecting the next prime minister. He said the INA was now looking into forging an alliance with the Kurdistan Alliance in an effort to form the largest parliamentary bloc, which he described as “an attempt to break the political deadlock plaguing the country and escape this political crisis.”

Al-Rubaie’s statements constitute the first significant indication that several weeks of intra-Shia negotiations over creating a super Shia parliamentary bloc are not progressing well. The INA is the country’s most pro-Iran Shia coalition and it won 70 parliamentary seats in the March 7 elections. The bloc had been negotiating a merger with the Shia SoL, which won 89 seats, to counter former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s non-sectarian al-Iraqiya List, which swept the Sunni vote to win 91 seats — the most in the elections.

Negotiations between the INA and SoL had reportedly worked out all issues other than the question of how to choose the next prime minister. SoL, which has been trying to balance its Shia sectarian core with a centrist agenda, wants to see al-Maliki continue as prime minister in the next government. But it faces opposition from the al-Sadrite movement, which controls as many as 40 of the INA’s 70 seats. Because Sunni-backed al-Iraqiya came in first in the elections, al-Maliki realizes a merger with the INA is the only way to ensure Shia communal interests.

At the same time, though, al-Maliki does not want to lead a government held hostage by the al-Sadrite movement or the INA’s patrons in Iran. Hence, there are reports he has been attempting to put SoL ahead in parliamentary seats by reaching out to some in al-Iraqiya to join his group and attempting to find legal loopholes to bar others from serving in parliament. In response, the INA, which wants to see the creation of a super Shia bloc, is exploiting al-Maliki’s tensions with the Kurds to force him into a merger.

At this point it is too early to conclude that a super Shia bloc is no longer in the making, but that possibility bodes ill for Iran’s plans for a post-American Iraq. Tehran, which has long been working on getting the Iraqi Shia house in order to maximize its influence in its western neighbor, needs to see a single Shia bloc in parliament. The combined 159 seats of a potential INA-SoL coalition, along with the 43 won by the Kurdistan Alliance, could be sufficient to force al-Iraqiya into a power-sharing settlement. If that coalition does not form, it limits Tehran’s bargaining power in its negotiations with the United States on Iraq, the nuclear issue, Afghanistan and other regional disputes.

Therefore, Iran can be expected to accelerate its efforts to sort out intra-Shia issues in Iraq. These could involve visits by Iranian officials to Iraq, or vice versa, to mediate between SoL and INA. The Iranians will be trying to get al-Maliki and the al-Sadrites to see the benefits of a merger and the vulnerabilities of maintaining their separate partisan status, but it is unclear what the outcome of Tehran’s efforts will be.
26876  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: April 28, 2010, 06:51:59 AM
Three Points of View: The United States, Pakistan and India
April 28, 2010

By Peter Zeihan

In recent weeks, STRATFOR has explored how the U.S. government has been seeing its interests in the Middle East and South Asia shift. When it comes down to it, the United States is interested in stability at the highest level — a sort of cold equilibrium among the region’s major players that prevents any one of them, or a coalition of them — from overpowering the others and projecting power outward.

One of al Qaeda’s goals when it attacked the United States in 2001 was bringing about exactly what the United States most wants to avoid. The group hoped to provoke Washington into blundering into the region, enraging populations living under what al Qaeda saw as Western puppet regimes to the extent that they would rise up and unite into a single, continent-spanning Islamic power. The United States so blundered, but the people did not so rise. A transcontinental Islamic caliphate simply was never realistic, no matter how bad the U.S. provocation.

Subsequent military campaigns have since gutted al Qaeda’s ability to plot extraregional attacks. Al Qaeda’s franchises remain dangerous, but the core group is not particularly threatening beyond its hideouts in the Afghan-Pakistani border region.

As for the region, nine years of war have left it much disrupted. When the United States launched its military at the region, there were three balances of power that kept the place stable (or at least self-contained) from the American point of view. All these balances are now faltering. We have already addressed the Iran-Iraq balance of power, which was completely destroyed following the American invasion in 2003. We will address the Israeli-Arab balance of power in the future. This week, we shall dive into the region’s third balance, one that closely borders what will soon be the single largest contingent of U.S. military forces overseas: the Indo-Pakistani balance of power.

Pakistan and the Evolution of U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan
U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has changed dramatically since 2001. The war began in the early morning hours — Pakistan time — after the Sept. 11 attacks. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called up then-Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to inform him that he would be assisting the United States against al Qaeda, and if necessary, the Taliban. The key word there is “inform.” The White House had already spoken with — and obtained buy-in from — the leaders of Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel and, most notably, India. Musharraf was not given a choice in the matter. It was made clear that if he refused assistance, the Americans would consider Pakistan part of the problem rather than part of the solution — all with the blessings of the international community.

(click here to enlarge image)
Islamabad was terrified — and with good reason; comply or refuse, the demise of Pakistan was an all-too-real potential outcome. The geography of Pakistan is extremely hostile. It is a desert country. What rain the country benefits from falls in the northern Indo-Pakistani border region, where the Himalayas wring moisture out of the monsoons. Those rains form the five rivers of the Greater Indus Valley, and irrigation works from those rivers turn dry areas green.

Accordingly, Pakistan is geographically and geopolitically doomed to perpetual struggle with poverty, instability and authoritarianism. This is because irrigated agriculture is far more expensive and labor-intensive than rain-fed agriculture. Irrigation drains the Indus’ tributaries such that the river is not navigable above Hyderabad, near the coast — drastically raising transport costs and inhibiting economic development. Reasonably well-watered mountains in the northwest guarantee an ethnically distinct population in those regions (the Pashtun), a resilient people prone to resisting the political power of the Punjabis in the Indus Basin. This, combined with the overpowering Indian military, results in a country with remarkably few options for generating capital even as it has remarkably high capital demands.

Islamabad’s one means of acquiring breathing room has involved co-opting the Pashtun population living in the mountainous northwestern periphery of the country. Governments before Musharraf had used Islamism to forge a common identity for these people, which not only included them as part of the Pakistani state (and so reduced their likelihood of rebellion) but also employed many of them as tools of foreign and military policy. Indeed, managing relationships with these disparate and peripheral ethnic populations allowed Pakistan to stabilize its own peripheral territory and to become the dominant outside power in Afghanistan as the Taliban (trained and equipped by Pakistan) took power after the Soviet withdrawal.

Thus, the Americans were ordering the Pakistanis on Sept. 12, 2001, to throw out the one strategy that allowed Pakistan to function. Pakistan complied not just out of fears of the Americans, but also out of fears of a potentially devastating U.S.-Indian alignment against Pakistan over the issue of Islamist terrorism in the wake of the Kashmiri militant attacks on the Indian parliament that almost led India and Pakistan to war in mid-2002. The Musharraf government hence complied, but only as much as it dared, given its own delicate position.

From the Pakistani point of view, things went downhill from there. Musharraf faced mounting opposition to his relationship with the Americans from the Pakistani public at large, from the army and intelligence staff who had forged relations with the militants and, of course, from the militants themselves. Pakistan’s halfhearted assistance to the Americans meant militants of all stripes — Afghan, Pakistani, Arab and others — were able to seek succor on the Pakistani side of the border, and then launch attacks against U.S. forces on the Afghan side of the border. The result was even more intense American political pressure on Pakistan to police its own militants and foreign militants seeking shelter there. Meanwhile, what assistance Pakistan did provide to the Americans led to the rise of a new batch of homegrown militants — the Pakistani Taliban — who sought to wreck the U.S.-Pakistani relationship by bringing down the government in Islamabad.

The Indian Perspective
The period between the Soviet collapse and the rise of the Taliban — the 1990s — saw India at a historical ebb in the power balance with Pakistan. The American reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks changed all that. The U.S. military had eliminated Pakistan’s proxy government in Afghanistan, and ongoing American pressure was buckling the support structures that allowed Pakistan to function. So long as matters continued on this trajectory, New Delhi saw itself on track for a historically unprecedented dominance of the subcontinent.

But the American commitment to Afghanistan is not without its limits, and American pressure was not sustainable. At its heart, Afghanistan is a landlocked knot of arid mountains without the sort of sheltered, arable geography that is likely to give rise to a stable — much less economically viable — state. Any military reality that the Americans imposed would last only so long as U.S. forces remained in the country.

The alternative now being pursued is the current effort at Vietnamization of the conflict as a means of facilitating a full U.S. withdrawal. In order to keep the country from returning to the sort of anarchy that gave rise to al Qaeda, the United States needed a local power to oversee matters in Afghanistan. The only viable alternative — though the Americans had been berating it for years — was Pakistan.

If U.S. and Pakistan interests could be aligned, matters could fall into place rather quickly — and so they did once Islamabad realized the breadth and dangerous implications of its domestic insurgency. The five-year, $7.5 billion U.S. aid package to Pakistan approved in 2009 not only helped secure the arrangement, it likely reflects it. An unprecedented counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaign conducted by the Pakistani military continues in the country’s tribal belt. While it has not focused on all the individuals and entities Washington might like, it has created real pressure on the Pakistani side of the border that has facilitated efforts on the Afghan side. For example, Islamabad has found a dramatic increase in American unmanned aerial vehicle strikes tolerable because at least some of those strikes are hitting Pakistani Taliban targets, as opposed to Afghan Taliban targets. The message is that certain rules cannot be broken without consequences.

Ultimately, with long experience bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States was inherently wary of becoming involved in Afghanistan. In recent years, it has become all too clear how distant the prospect of a stable Afghanistan is. A tribal-ethnic balance of power overseen by Pakistan is another matter entirely, however. The great irony is that such a success could make the region look remarkably like it did on Sept. 10, 2001.

This would represent a reversal of India’s recent fortunes. In 10 years, India has gone from a historic low in the power balance with Pakistan to a historic high, watching U.S. support for Pakistan shift to pressure on Islamabad to do the kinds of things (if not the precise actions) India had long clamored for.

But now, U.S. and Pakistani interests not only appear aligned again, the two countries appear to be laying groundwork for the incorporation of elements of the Taliban into the Afghan state. The Indians are concerned that with American underwriting, the Pakistanis not only may be about to re-emerge as a major check on Indian ambitions, but in a form eerily familiar to the sort of state-militant partnership that so effectively limited Indian power in the past. They are right. The Indians also are concerned that Pakistani promises to the Americans about what sort of behavior militants in Afghanistan will be allowed to engage in will not sufficiently limit the militants’ activities — and in any event will do little to nothing to address the Kashmiri militant issue. Here, too, the Indians are probably right. The Americans want to leave — and if the price of departure is leaving behind an emboldened Pakistan supporting a militant structure that can target India, the Americans seem fine with making India pay that price.
26877  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Kettlebells y Artes Marciales on: April 28, 2010, 06:44:36 AM
Yo los uso de vez en cuando.
26878  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: April 28, 2010, 06:26:00 AM

"On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, 1823
"[T]he true key for the construction of everything doubtful in a law is the intention of the law-makers. This is most safely gathered from the words, but may be sought also in extraneous circumstances provided they do not contradict the express words of the law." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Albert Gallatin, 1808

"The construction applied ... to those parts of the Constitution of the United States which delegate Congress a power ... ought not to be construed as themselves to give unlimited powers, nor a part to be so taken as to destroy the whole residue of that instrument." --Thomas Jefferson, Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798

"[T]he Constitution ought to be the standard of construction for the laws, and that wherever there is an evident opposition, the laws ought to give place to the Constitution. But this doctrine is not deducible from any circumstance peculiar to the plan of convention, but from the general theory of a limited Constitution." --Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 81

"What a glorious morning this is!" --Samuel Adams, to John Hancock at the Battle of Lexington, Massachusetts, 1775
"The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it." --James Wilson, Of the Study of Law in the United States, 1790

"The plain import of the clause is, that congress shall have all the incidental and instrumental powers, necessary and proper to carry into execution all the express powers. It neither enlarges any power specifically granted; nor is it a grant of any new power to congress. But it is merely a declaration for the removal of all uncertainty, that the means of carrying into execution those, otherwise granted, are included in the grant." --Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833


"All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?" --Benjamin Franklin, To Colleagues at the Constitutional Convention
26879  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ron Paul on: April 28, 2010, 12:22:42 AM
What Ron Paul "corporatism" I call "fascism":

Lately many have characterized this administration as socialist, or having strong socialist leanings. I differ with this characterization. This is not to say Mr. Obama believes in free-markets by any means. On the contrary, he has done and said much that demonstrates his fundamental misunderstanding and hostility towards the truly free market. But a closer, honest examination of his policies and actions in office reveals that, much like the previous administration, he is very much a corporatist. This in many ways can be more insidious and worse than being an outright socialist.

Socialism is a system where the government directly owns and manages businesses. Corporatism is a system where businesses are nominally in private hands, but are in fact controlled by the government. In a corporatist state, government officials often act in collusion with their favored business interests to design polices that give those interests a monopoly position, to the detriment of both competitors and consumers.

A careful examination of the policies pursued by the Obama administration and his allies in Congress shows that their agenda is corporatist. For example, the health care bill that recently passed does not establish a Canadian-style government-run single-payer health care system. Instead, it relies on mandates forcing every American to purchase private health insurance or pay a fine. It also includes subsidies for low-income Americans and government-run health care “exchanges.” Contrary to the claims of the proponents of the health care bill, large insurance and pharmaceutical companies were enthusiastic supporters of many provisions of this legislation because they knew in the end their bottom lines would be enriched by Obamacare.

Similarly, Obama's “cap-and-trade” legislation provides subsidies and specials privileges to large businesses that engage in “carbon trading.” This is why large corporations, such as General Electric support cap-and-trade.

To call the President a corporatist is not to soft-pedal criticism of his administration. It is merely a more accurate description of the President’s agenda.

When he is a called a socialist, the President and his defenders can easily deflect that charge by pointing out that the historical meaning of socialism is government ownership of industry; under the President’s policies, industry remains in nominally private hands. Using the more accurate term – corporatism – forces the President to defend his policies that increase government control of private industries and expand de facto subsidies to big businesses. This also promotes the understanding that though the current system may not be pure socialism, neither is it free-market since government controls the private sector through taxes, regulations, and subsidies, and has done so for decades.

Using precise terms can prevent future statists from successfully blaming the inevitable failure of their programs on the remnants of the free market that are still allowed to exist. We must not allow the disastrous results of corporatism to be ascribed incorrectly to free market capitalism or used as a justification for more government expansion. Most importantly, we must learn what freedom really is and educate others on how infringements on our economic liberties caused our economic woes in the first place. Government is the problem; it cannot be the solution.

See the Ron Paul File

April 27, 2010

Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.

The Best of Ron Paul
26880  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: April 28, 2010, 12:14:19 AM
When push comes to shove, a fundamental question is whether one believes on the whole that people are assets or liabilities.  Certainly some people are clearly one or the other, but on the whole, are people assets or liabilities?

America has taken the tired, the huddled poor masses (messing up my quote here, sorry! embarassed ) and done wondrous things by applying the inspired principles of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  Now that we veer off course into Liberal and Corporate Fascism, well things aren't working out so well.

Much of Europe's problems originate in its declining population, so too Russia, and a surprising list of many other countries too.  Without Latino birth rates, the US would be declining too.  Over loaded with entitlements and a shrinking (i.e. aging) population is a losing strategy for sure.  LETS PLEASE THINK ABOUT THIS AND OFFER OUR THOUGHTS.
26881  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Free Speech vs. Islamic Fascism (formerly Buy DANISH!!!) on: April 27, 2010, 07:37:12 AM
'South Park" is hilarious, right? Not any more.

Last week, Zachary Adam Chesser—a 20-year-old Muslim convert who now goes by the name Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee—posted a warning on the Web site following the 200th episode of the show on Comedy Central. The episode, which trotted out many celebrities the show has previously satirized, also "featured" the Prophet Muhammad: He was heard once from within a U-Haul truck and a second time from inside a bear costume.

For this apparent blasphemy, Mr. Amrikee warned that co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone "will probably end up" like Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh, readers will remember, was the Dutch filmmaker who was brutally murdered in 2004 on the streets of Amsterdam. He was killed for producing "Submission," a film that criticized the subordinate role of women in Islam, with me.

There has been some debate about whether Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker should view the Web posting as a direct threat. Here's Mr. Amrikee's perspective: "It's not a threat, but it really is a likely outcome," he told "They're going to be basically on a list in the back of the minds of a large number of Muslims. It's just the reality." He's also published the home and office addresses of Messrs. Stone and Parker, as well as images of Van Gogh's body.

According to First Amendment experts, technically speaking this posting does not constitute a threat. And general opinion seems to be that even if this posting was intended as a threat, Mr. Amrikee and his ilk are merely fringe extremists who are disgruntled with U.S. foreign policy; their "outrage" merits little attention.

This raises the question: How much harm can an Islamist fringe group do in a free society? The answer is a lot.

Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim first thought to have been a minor character in radical circles, killed Theo van Gogh. Only during the investigation did it emerge that he was the ringleader of the Hofstad Group, a terrorist organization that was being monitored by the Dutch Secret Service.

The story was very similar in the case of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons, drawn by Kurt Westergaard, were published in September 2005 to little notice but exploded five months later into an international drama complete with riots and flag-burnings. The man behind this campaign of outrage was an Egyptian-born radical imam named Ahmed Abu-Laban.

Prior to this conflagration, Mr. Abu-Laban was seen as a marginal figure. Yet his campaign ended up costing Denmark businesses an estimated $170 million in the spring of 2006. And this doesn't include the cost of rebuilding destroyed property and protecting the cartoonists.

So how worried should the creators of "South Park" be about the "marginal figures" who now threaten them? Very. In essence, Mr. Amrikee's posting is an informal fatwa. Here's how it works:

There is a basic principle in Islamic scripture—unknown to most not-so-observant Muslims and most non-Muslims—called "commanding right and forbidding wrong." It obligates Muslim males to police behavior seen to be wrong and personally deal out the appropriate punishment as stated in scripture. In its mildest form, devout people give friendly advice to abstain from wrongdoing. Less mild is the practice whereby Afghan men feel empowered to beat women who are not veiled.

By publicizing the supposed sins of Messrs. Stone and Parker, Mr. Amrikee undoubtedly believes he is fulfilling his duty to command right and forbid wrong. His message is not just an opinion. It will appeal to like-minded individuals who, even though they are a minority, are a large and random enough group to carry out the divine punishment. The best illustration of this was demonstrated by the Somali man who broke into Mr. Westergaard's home in January carrying an axe and a knife.

Any Muslim, male or female, who knows about the "offense" may decide to perform the duty of killing those who insult the prophet. So what can be done to help Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone?

The first step is for them to consult with experts on how to stay safe. Even though living with protection, as I do now in Washington, D.C., curtails some of your freedom, it is better than risking the worst.

Much depends on how far the U.S. government is prepared to contribute to their protection. According to the Danish government, protecting Mr. Westergaard costs the taxpayers $3.9 million, excluding technical operating equipment. That's a tall order at a time of intense fiscal pressure.

One way of reducing the cost is to organize a solidarity campaign. The entertainment business, especially Hollywood, is one of the wealthiest and most powerful industries in the world. Following the example of Jon Stewart, who used the first segment of his April 22 show to defend "South Park," producers, actors, writers, musicians and other entertainers could lead such an effort.

Another idea is to do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with.

Another important advantage of such a campaign is to accustom Muslims to the kind of treatment that the followers of other religions have long been used to. After the "South Park" episode in question there was no threatening response from Buddhists, Christians and Jews—to say nothing of Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand fans—all of whom had far more reason to be offended than Muslims.

Islamists seek to replace the rule of law with that of commanding right and forbidding wrong. With over a billion and a half people calling Muhammad their moral guide, it is imperative that we examine the consequences of his guidance, starting with the notion that those who depict his image or criticize his teachings should be punished.

In "South Park," this tyrannical rule is cleverly needled when Tom Cruise asks the question: How come Muhammad is the only celebrity protected from ridicule? Now we know why.

Ms. Ali, a former member of the Dutch parliament, is the author of "Nomad: From Islam to America—A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations," which will be published next month by Free Press.
26882  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Richard Clarke's book on: April 27, 2010, 07:19:56 AM
The Attack Coming From Bytes, Not Bombs
Published: April 26, 2010

Blackouts hit New York, Los Angeles, Washington and more than 100 other American cities. Subways crash. Trains derail. Airplanes fall from the sky.

The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It

By Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake

290 pages. Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. $25.99.

Gas pipelines explode. Chemical plants release clouds of toxic chlorine. Banks lose all their data. Weather and communication satellites spin out of their orbits. And the Pentagon’s classified networks grind to a halt, blinding the greatest military power in the world.

This might sound like a takeoff on the 2007 Bruce Willis “Die Hard” movie, in which a group of cyberterrorists attempts to stage what it calls a “fire sale”: a systematic shutdown of the nation’s vital communication and utilities infrastructure. According to the former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke, however, it’s a scenario that could happen in real life — and it could all go down in 15 minutes. While the United States has a first-rate cyberoffense capacity, he says, its lack of a credible defense system, combined with the country’s heavy reliance on technology, makes it highly susceptible to a devastating cyberattack.

“The United States is currently far more vulnerable to cyberwar than Russia or China,” he writes. “The U.S. is more at risk from cyberwar than are minor states like North Korea. We may even be at risk some day from nations or nonstate actors lacking cyberwar capabilities, but who can hire teams of highly capable hackers.”

Lest this sound like the augury of an alarmist, the reader might recall that Mr. Clarke, counterterrorism chief in both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, repeatedly warned his superiors about the need for an aggressive plan to combat al Qaeda — with only a pallid response before 9/11. He recounted this campaign in his controversial 2004 book, “Against All Enemies.”

Once again, there is a lack of coordination between the various arms of the military and various committees in Congress over how to handle a potential attack. Once again, government agencies and private companies in charge of civilian infrastructure are ill prepared to handle a possible disaster.

In these pages Mr. Clarke uses his insider’s knowledge of national security policy to create a harrowing — and persuasive — picture of the cyberthreat the United States faces today. Mr. Clarke is hardly a lone wolf on the subject: Mike McConnell, the former director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee in February that “if we were in a cyberwar today, the United States would lose.”

And last November, Steven Chabinsky, deputy assistant director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s cyber division, noted that the F.B.I. was looking into Qaeda sympathizers who want to develop their hacking skills and appear to want to target the United States’ infrastructure.

Mr. Clarke — who wrote this book with Robert K. Knake, an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations — argues that because the United States military relies so heavily upon databases and new technology, it is “highly vulnerable to cyberattack.” And while the newly established Cyber Command, along with the Department of Homeland Security, is supposed to defend the federal government, he writes, “the rest of us are on our own”:

“There is no federal agency that has the mission to defend the banking system, the transportation networks or the power grid from cyberattack.” In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported in April 2009 that the United States’ electrical grid had been penetrated by cyberspies (reportedly from China, Russia and other countries), who left behind software that could be used to sabotage the system in the future.

For more than a decade now, Mr. Clarke has been warning about “an electronic Pearl Harbor,” and he is familiar with the frustrations of a political bureaucracy. He notes that pressure from both the right and left over the hot-button issues of regulation and privacy have made it difficult for the government to get individual corporations (which control vital services like electricity, Internet access and transportation) to improve their ability to defend themselves against cyberattack.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clarke says, China has developed “the ability to disconnect all Chinese networks from the rest of the global Internet, something that would be handy to have if you thought the U.S. was about to launch a cyberwar attack on you.” After the first gulf war, he explains, the Chinese “began to downsize their military” — which reportedly has about one-eighth of the Pentagon’s budget (before adding in the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) — and invest in new technologies, which they believed could give them an asymmetric advantage over the United States, despite America’s overwhelming conventional arsenal.

As for North Korea, Mr. Clarke says, it employs an Olympics-like approach to creating cyberwarriors, selecting “elite students at the elementary-school level to be groomed as future hackers.” North Korea is suspected of being behind the cyberattacks of July 2009 that took down the Web servers of the Treasury, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department and is thought to have placed “trapdoors” — code that allows hackers future access to a network — on computer networks on at least two continents.


Page 2 of 2)

Trapdoors are just one device that rival nation states and cyberterrorists can use. There are also “logic bombs” (code that can set off malicious functions when triggered), Distributed Denial of Service (D.D.O.S.) attacks (in which a site or server is flooded with more requests for data than it can process), and foreign-manufactured software and hardware that might have been tampered with before being shipped to the States.


The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It

By Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake

290 pages. Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. $25.99.

The Defense Department, Mr. Clarke says, began to embrace the cost-saving idea of using commercial off-the-shelf software (instead of applications custom-made in-house) in the ’90s, and it “brought to the Pentagon all the same bugs and vulnerabilities that exist on your own computer.” He says, for instance, that in 1997, when the Windows system on a retrofitted “smart ship” called the U.S.S. Yorktown crashed, “the cruiser became a floating i-brick, dead in the water.”

The United States’ lack of an effective cyberdefense system, Mr. Clarke ominously warns, “will tempt opponents to attack in a period of tensions,” and it could also tempt America to take pre-emptive action or escalate a cyberconflict very rapidly if attacked. Were such a war to start, it could easily jump international boundaries, causing cascades of collateral damage to unspool around the world.

How best to address this alarming situation? Mr. Clarke reports that a 2009 meeting of some 30 cyberspace “old hands” — former government officials, current bureaucrats, chief security officers of major corporations, academics and senior information technology company officials — came to the conclusion that critical infrastructure should be separated from “the open-to-anyone” Internet. They also came out in favor of more government involvement in cyber research and development and a heightened emphasis on building “resilience” into systems so as to enable recovery, post-attack.

In addition to these suggestions, Mr. Clarke adds some fairly common-sense — but not so easily achieved — recommendations of his own. He argues that America needs to “harden the important networks that a nation-state attacker would target” by putting automated scanning systems in place to look for malware. Also, it needs to make sure that the Pentagon enhances the security of its own networks; and to work toward cyberarms-control agreements with other nations.

“The reality is that a major cyberattack from another nation is likely to originate in the U.S.,” Mr. Clarke says, noting that logic bombs and trapdoors are quite likely already in place, “so we will not be able to see it coming and block it with the systems we have now or those that are planned. Yes, we may be able to respond in kind, but our nation will still be devastated by a massive cyberattack on civilian infrastructure that smacks down power grids for weeks, halts trains, grounds aircraft, explodes pipelines and sets fire to refineries.”

And should America then decide to cross the line from cyberwarfare to conventional warfare, he says near the end of this chilling book, the highly advanced technology in our military arsenal “may suddenly not work.”
26883  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Panopticon; the Surveillance Society on: April 27, 2010, 07:01:15 AM
Are we sleepwalking into a surveillance society?
Although it is undoubtedly useful, personal identity technology could potentially lend itself to the gradual erosion of democracy and support for an authoritarian, protective state.

Personal Identity technology (ID-tech) is the complex of devices and techniques by which the identity of individuals is established and/or verified. It largely consists of biometric systems, that is, automated technical systems that measure physical human characteristics, some of them dynamically and in real time. The biometric device matches the input sample against a stored template, in order to include or exclude an individual from some action or activity. It is used for verifying who you are (with smart card, username or ID number) or identifying who you are. The data so collected could be used for purposes other than those initially intended.

Fingerprint biometrics were first used at the 2004 Olympic Summer Games, Athens. In the USA, Australia, UK, EU and other countries biometrics are being introduced into passport and visa control. For example, citizens of Brazil have their signature, photo, and 10 rolled fingerprints collected by passport requests. There is a very wide variety of uses e.g. in immigration, customs, ATMs, retail, schools, policing, and intelligence.

While ID-Tech has many uses and conveniences it poses risks to privacy, and most significantly is a technology that could lend itself to government tracking and profiling of individuals on a wider than acceptable scale. In a nutshell the convergence and synchronising of of ID-tech capabilities lends itself to the potential for a ‘Panopticon State’, one that has the policing powers to profile any citizen almost continuously and simultaneously in several dimensions of life, anywhere on the globe.

Both physiological and behavioural traits can be measured and recorded by biometrics systems. The former include fingerprinting, face identity, facial thermogram, hand and footprints, iris, retina, ear canal, DNA, and even personal odour and scent. The latter include computer keystroke dynamics, signature and writing, speech, voice (speaker), and gait. We should also note the potential of RFID (radio frequency identification) implants and body scans.

The benefits of biometric systems

Biometric systems have benefits in the prevention and reduction of crime generally, especially fraud and impersonation, and terrorism. They may also help to solve crime, including ‘cold cases’, and stop the evasion of arrest. It is often claimed, and may be true in many instances, that such systems make for an efficient use of resources (creating new demands, however). In the Super Bowl event of 2001 Florida police used the facial recognition software FaceIt to search the crowd for criminals, and found 19 people on arrest warrants. In the case of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (2007), the UK police asked visitors at the Resort in Portugal in the two weeks prior to child’s disappearance to provide any photographs of passers-by for use in a biometric facial recognition system. Since 2001 a retinal system has helped apprehend thousands of persons re-entering the wealthy UAE with fraudulent travel documents.

How reliable are they?

There are many issues of technical reliability, and these will raise worries about misidentification. A biometric identification system is expected to be universally applicable, whereas some individuals may not qualify e.g. missing limbs, burns, loss of organ, injury-related changes to gait, and cataract. They must be capable of unique identification, whereas there is always some (very small) margin of fuzziness, especially with family relatives and twins. They should be resistant to the ageing of the individual; but faces etc. change with age, illness, and injury and cosmetic surgery.  There is also the problem of ‘data collection’ being affected by overload and noise, e.g. in a crowd. The efficiency and effectiveness may be in doubt because there will be thresholds of definition (eg, a face at a distance), too slow a response of the device, poor light, and software deficiencies. Biometric data will ‘ideally’ be correlatable with other individual data, whereas these may not be available or be compatible. There are also issues of standardisation and interoperability.

With all these difficulties, and the inevitable dose of human incompetence, one may give a sigh of relief for the future of individual freedom and privacy. However, great efforts and resources are being put into resolving them. Ultimately, developers of such technologies know that their techniques must be socially acceptable, whereas public may reject. We have recently seen that there have been human rights concerns about airport body scans (admittedly, a detection technology rather than an ID one).

The Hydra Effect

In any case, history has shown that technologies will be implemented, sometimes widely, even when there are known difficulties (as well as difficulties that emerge in practice). In this case a fundamental issue is that the identity of the ‘target’ person may be compromised. There is the impersonation issue: the system depends on the individual who is the subject of the test being correctly identified at original enrolment. If a biometric profile is stored for person ‘A’ then that data becomes definitive even if this person is not in fact A. This is fundamental, and has little to do with how sophisticated the technology is, and yet there is a tendency in some quarters to assume that the technology cannot be wrong. But if the ‘input’ is wrong, then the technology will simply process it efficiently.

There are least another two fundamental problems. Firstly, there is the possibility of someone using as a test input what is in fact a hacked copy of the stored template. (Some suggest a way around this is to technically exclude any absolutely ‘perfect match’.) Secondly, an ID device does not ‘know’ what it is looking at. For example, face recognition systems are fooled with a high-quality photograph of a face instead of a real face, so are unsuitable for unsupervised applications such as door access. There is a similar problem with fingerprints and iris patterns.

There are genuine concerns about the security of storage of biometric data.  It should be obvious, but is often forgotten, that a security system is only as trustworthy as the people operating it, from low level operatives to high level authorities. Malicious verifiers may wish to steal templates from the database (although it has been suggested this could discouraged with ‘reverse engineering’ technique). Then there is the possibility of the ‘secondary use’ of biometric data: a user who accesses two systems with the same fingerprint may allow another person to ‘impersonate’ him. Most of these problems, evidently, have to do with human not technological weakness. Technology does not make people better.

You may think that internal hacking is unlikely. Yet, to give one example, in 2007 tens of millions of credit card users were put at risk by financial-transactions company Heartland Payment Systems (USA) when malicious software was installed inside the system.

If dependency on such systems grows then permanent identity loss is not impossible. A system must retain the uniqueness of the trait template unchanged (changed within narrow range), over the lifetime of the individual. This ‘life-time’ property brings a risk. If biometric data obtained by unauthorized users (eg, compromised from a database) then the owner loses control over the data and loses his identity. Lost passwords can be changed, but e.g. if someone’s face is compromised from a database, they cannot cancel it or reissue it. A proposed solution is the ‘cancellable biometrics’ technique which distorts the biometric image before matching. But for every solution there is another problem. A criminal employee could undistort the template with knowledge of the distortion key. If we distrust the employees sufficiently to require a distortion key, why would we trust them with the distortion key?

There is what I call a ‘Hydra Effect’ in technology. In Greek mythology whenever the Hydra beast was decapitated it grew two more heads. Similarly, every technical solution creates at least one more problem, which is often trickier to solve. A technical solution is eventually found at great cost, and then more problems appear. There may well be diminishing returns on the resources being put into this ceaseless round of technical innovations that ultimately cannot overcome the fundamental issue of human weakness and failure.

Can we preserve our privacy?

We may take privacy to be the state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion into one’s personal life. It is a value that is embodied in human rights, national laws and diverse regulations. ID-technology gives rise to the possibility of the misuse (real or perceived) of personal biometric information for gainful intrusion. Examples of known misuses are surveillance videos of vehicle licence plates being used to record license plates to blackmail people, to stalk women and to track estranged spouses. In some cases it has been police officers who have been guilty of these offences.

Fingerprint recognition for the ignition of your car might seem like the latest desirable innovation in hi-tech protection. But one may forget the human factor. In 2005 Malaysian car thieves cut off the finger of the driver of a Mercedes S-Class car so that they could steal his car. If he had not had a sophisticated biometric device in the ignition he would at least still have his finger. In the USA and EU some fear that biometric information can be ‘skimmed’ and sold to criminals to identify individuals for ransom-kidnapping and the like. In even worse scenarios a racist or totalitarian government ( Hitler, Pol Pot, etc.) could use data to determine unwanted traits in humans for population control

The Panopticon state?

One future scenario that does not receive enough serious attention is the convergence of different ID-technologies into one (more or less) interconnected system. Intelligence services world-wide are well on their way. We could already be witnessing an information cascade, held back only by lack of harmonisation, human incompetence and poor communications. Public protest is not yet a major hindrance.

The utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham conceived a plan in 1791 for a new kind of prison, the Panopticon, the novelty of which was that any prison could be seen from anywhere at any time. A variety of modern technologies, including those based on biometrics, may be converging towards the possibility of a Panopticon State, in which any citizen can be tracked and a life-profile composed without their ever knowing. Body scans, bank details, credit card trails, Google, RFID, fingerprints, face and iris, recognition, GPS, health records, mobile phone use, bus and train cameras, spy satellites, street cameras, wire taps and now body scans could, in theory, be brought together in various configurations. Perhaps only the political will stands in the way.

Biometric information may be shared or different databases may be networked, eg, telebiometric systems join biometrics with telecommunications. There is the possibility of tracking individuals. For example, security cameras can be linked to a facial recognition system or a public transport system using biometry. At the moment, in most cases the information from different sensors generate differently encrypted outcomes so cannot be compared, but this can be overcome. The unification of different biometric outcomes by means of data exposure or through global or regional standardisation is not impossible. Already there are some public concerns about ‘leakage’ of fingerprint data from schools to health, insurance and other agencies with a discriminatory effect on access to services.

Sir Ken MacDonald QC,  the UK's Director of Public Prosecutions (2003-08) has said, "We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.” Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner is reported as saying “My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society”. He was thinking mainly of the UK’s National Identity Scheme. These two people are hardly radicals, and know ‘from the inside’ what they are talking about.

We may think the main issue is National ID cards, but they have a lesser role than the database they are linked to, i.e. the National Identity Register.  A new law specifies 50 categories of information that the Register can hold on each citizen, including up to 10 fingerprints, digitised facial scan and iris scan, current and past UK and overseas places of residence, throughout their lives and with indices to other Government databases which would allow them to be connected into a personal profile. The legislation also says that any further information can be added. The amount of data which can be recorded on the scheme’s Register is unlimited. Still, the good news is that fingerprints are not yet being taken, and plans to take iris scans have been dropped, although not ruled out.

This is not the place to go into the detail of the scheme but the Home Office forecasts that 265 government departments and as many as 48,000 accredited private sector organisations would have access to the database, and that 163 million identity verifications or more may take place each year. The cost of the scheme is variously put at between 5 and 15 billion pounds over 10 years.

Naturally, the Commission for Racial Equality and ethnic/religious minorities are expressing concerns about discrimination. If one thinks this is far-fetched or alarmist one should recall that in the USA not so long ago the FBI head J. Edgar Hoover (and his vast fingerprint records) pursued not only  criminals, but people he chose to classify as "security risks," "subversives," "agitators," "deviants," "black nationalists," and "peaceniks."

Provisions for consent to biometric schemes

Public acceptance of the national ID scheme has been mixed and controversial (but not controversial enough), with diminishing support after reports of the loss of  millions of items of public service information  in several quarters (See the NGO called “NO2ID”). Meanwhile, some UK parents have been protesting school fingerprinting since 2001. These are used for purposes of registration, truancy control,  parental payments, replacements of library or meal cards, and possibly for exam ID.

Protests sometimes take a more colourful form. The Chaos Computer Club of hackers published a fingerprint of the German Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, in its magazine Datenschleuder (March 2008). The magazine included the fingerprint on a film for readers to give them access to whatever the Minister had access to. If they can do it, criminals can do it, and undemocratic governments can do it.

A particular focus for protest in the UK has been school fingerprinting without consent. One surprising facet of this is that the Data Protection Act does not explicitly require schools to gain consent. The Act is, apparently, about information, not images. More research also needs to be given to how the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act relate to the storage and transmission of ‘data’ which is perhaps not ‘information’ in the sense of text. A democratic future depends on asking many questions that are currently not even being conceived, let alone asked.

Professor Geoffrey Hunt teaches at St Mary's University College in London. This article by Professor Hunt was originally published on the website of BioCentre, a think-tank focusing on emerging technologies and their ethical, social and political implications.

26884  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A libertarian analysis: Bankrupt Empire on: April 26, 2010, 10:50:01 PM
There are several substantive points in the following piece with which I disagree, but the piece presents its points in a fair and reasoned way.

These are themes worthy of our consideration.  Lets discuss:


Bankrupt Empire
by Doug Bandow
The United States government is effectively bankrupt. Washington no longer can afford to micromanage the world. International social engineering is a dubious venture under the best of circumstances. It is folly to attempt while drowning in red ink.

Traditional military threats against America have largely disappeared. There’s no more Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, Maoist China is distant history and Washington is allied with virtually every industrialized state. As Colin Powell famously put it while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: “I’m running out of enemies. . . . I’m down to Kim Il-Sung and Castro.” However, the United States continues to act as the globe’s 911 number.

Unfortunately, a hyperactive foreign policy requires a big military. America accounts for roughly half of global military outlays. In real terms Washington spends more on “defense” today than it during the Cold War, Korean War and Vietnam War.

U.S. military expenditures are extraordinary by any measure. My Cato Institute colleagues Chris Preble and Charles Zakaib recently compared American and European military outlays. U.S. expenditures have been trending upward and now approach five percent of GDP. In contrast, European outlays have consistently fallen as a percentage of GDP, to an average of less than two percent.

The difference is even starker when comparing per capita GDP military expenditures. The U.S. is around $2,200. Most European states fall well below $1,000. Adding in non-Pentagon defense spending—Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and Department of Energy (nuclear weapons)—yields American military outlays of $835.1 billion in 2008, which represented 5.9 percent of GDP and $2,700 per capita.

Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations worries that the increased financial obligations (forget unrealistic estimates about cutting the deficit) resulting from health-care legislation will preclude maintaining such oversize expenditures in the future, thereby threatening America’s “global standing.” He asks: Who will "police the sea lanes, stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combat terrorism, respond to genocide and other unconscionable human rights violations, and deter rogue states from aggression?"

Of course, nobody is threatening to close the sea lanes these days. Washington has found it hard to stop nuclear proliferation without initiating war, yet promiscuous U.S. military intervention creates a powerful incentive for nations to seek nuclear weapons. Armored divisions and carrier groups aren’t useful in confronting terrorists. Iraq demonstrates how the brutality of war often is more inhumane than the depredations of dictators. And there are lots of other nations capable of deterring rogue states.

The United States should not attempt to do everything even if it could afford to do so. But it can’t. When it comes to the federal Treasury, there’s nothing there. If Uncle Sam was a real person, he would declare bankruptcy.

The current national debt is $12.7 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office figures that current policy—unrealistically assuming no new spending increases—will run up $10 trillion in deficits over the coming decade. But more spending—a lot more spending—is on the way.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain as active as ever, underwriting $5.4 trillion worth of mortgages while running up additional losses. The Federal Housing Administration’s portfolio of insured mortgages continues to rise along with defaults. Exposure for Ginnie Mae, which issues guaranteed mortgage-backed securities, also is jumping skyward. The FDIC shut down a record 140 banks last year and is running low on cash. Last year the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation figured its fund was running a $34 billion deficit. Federal pensions are underfunded by $1 trillion. State and local retirement funds are short about $3 trillion.

Outlays for the Iraq war will persist decades after the troops return as the government cares for seriously injured military personnel; total expenditures will hit $2 trillion or more. Extending and expanding the war in Afghanistan will further bloat federal outlays.

Worst of all, last year the combined Social Security/Medicare unfunded liability was estimated to be $107 trillion. Social Security, originally expected to go negative in 2016, will spend more than it collects this year, and the “trust fund” is an accounting fiction. Medicaid, a joint federal-state program, also is breaking budgets. At their current growth rate, CBO says that by 2050 these three programs alone will consume virtually the entire federal budget.

Uncle Sam’s current net liabilities exceed Americans’ net worth. Yet the debt-to-GDP ratio will continue rising and could eventually hit World War II levels. Net interest is expected to more than quadruple to $840 billion annually by 2020.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says: “It’s not something that is ten years away. It affects the markets currently.” In March, Treasury notes commanded a yield of 3.5 basis points higher than those for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Moody’s recently threatened to downgrade federal debt: “Although AAA governments benefit from an unusual degree of balance sheet flexibility, that flexibility is not infinite.” In 2008, Tom Lemmon of Moody’s warned: “The underlying credit rating of the U.S. government faces the risk of downgrading in the next ten years if solutions are not found to our growing Medicare and Social Security unfunded obligations.”

This is all without counting a dollar of increased federal spending due to federalizing American medicine.

The United States faces a fiscal crisis. If America’s survival was at stake, extraordinary military expenditures would still be justified. But not to protect other nations, especially prosperous and populous states well able to defend themselves. Boot warns: “it will be increasingly hard to be globocop and nanny state at the same time.” America should be neither.

The issue is not just money. The Constitution envisions a limited government focused on defending Americans, not transforming the rest of the world. Moreover, if Washington continues to act as globocop, America’s friends and allies will never have an incentive to do more.

The United States will be a world power for decades. But it can no afford to act as if it is the only power. America must begin the process of becoming a normal nation with a normal foreign policy.
26885  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: April 26, 2010, 05:58:29 PM
Bright, hard working, educated people who want to become Americans are a big net plus for America.
26886  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Spring 2010 DB Tribal Gathering on: April 26, 2010, 05:56:53 PM
I suspect everyone is still in the altered space after two days of outstanding fighting.
26887  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science on: April 26, 2010, 10:46:50 AM

See entry number 169 from July 2008;topicseen#msg19722
26888  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Higher consciousness on: April 26, 2010, 12:27:47 AM
Read a book every day. Books are concentrated sources of wisdom. The more books you read, the more wisdom you expose yourself to. What are some books you can start reading to enrich yourself? Some books I’ve read and found useful are Think and Grow Rich, Who Moved My Cheese, 7 Habits, The Science of Getting Rich and Living the 80/20 Way. 

Learn a new language. Learning a language is a whole new skill altogether and the process of acquainting with a new language and culture is a totally a mind-opening experience.

Pick up a new hobby. Beyond just your usual favorite hobbies, is there something new you can pick up? Any new sport you can learn? Examples are fencing, golf, rock climbing, football, canoeing, or ice skating. Your new hobby can also be a recreational hobby; for example, pottery, Italian cooking, dancing, wine appreciation, web design, etc.  Learning something new requires you to stretch yourself in different aspects, whether physically, mentally or emotionally.

Take up a new course. Is there any new course you can join? Courses are a great way to gain new knowledge and skills. It doesn’t have to be a long-term course – seminars or workshops serve their purpose too. I’ve been to a few workshops and they have helped me gain new insights which I had not considered before.

Create an inspirational room. Your environment sets the mood and tone for you. If you are living in an inspirational environment, you are going to be inspired every day.

Overcome your fears. All of us have fears. Fear of uncertainty, fear of public speaking, fear of risk… All our fears  keep us in the same position and prevent us from growing. Recognize that your fears reflect areas where you can grow. I always think of fears as the compass for growth. If I have a fear about something, it represents something I’ve yet to address, and addressing it helps me to grow.

Level up your skills. If you have played video games especially RPGs, you’ll know the concept of leveling up – gaining experience so you can be better and stronger. As a blogger, I’m constantly leveling up my writing skills. As a speaker, I’m constantly leveling up my public engagement abilities. What skills can you level up?

Wake up early. Waking up early (say, 5-6am) has been acknowledged by many (Anthony Robbins, Robin Sharma, among other self-help gurus) to improve your productivity and your quality of life. I feel it’s because when you wake up early, your mindset is already set to continue the momentum and proactively live out the day. 

Have a weekly exercise routine. A better you starts with being in better physical shape. I personally make it a point to jog at least 3 times a week, at least 30 minutes each time. You may want to mix it up with jogging, gym lessons, and swimming for variation.

Start your life handbook. A life handbook is an idea I started 3 years ago. Basically, it’s a book which contains the essentials on how you can live your life to the fullest, such as your purpose, your values and goals. Sort of like your manual for your life. I started my life handbook since 2007 and it’s been a crucial enabler in my progress.

Write a letter to your future self. What do you see yourself as 5 years from now? Will you be the same? Different?  What kind of person will you be? Write a letter to your future self – 1 year from now will be a good start – and seal it. Make a date in your calendar to open it 1 year from now. Then start working to become the person you want to open that letter.

Get out of your comfort zone. Real growth comes with hard work and sweat. Being too comfortable doesn’t help us grow – it makes us stagnate. What is your comfort zone? Do you stay in most of the time? Do you keep to your own space when out with other people? Shake your routine up. Do something different. By exposing yourself to a new context, you’re literally growing as you learn to act in new circumstances.

Put someone up to a challenge. Competition is one of the best ways to grow. Set a challenge (weight loss, exercise, financial challenge, etc) and compete with an interested friend to see who achieves the target first. Through the process, both of you will gain more than if you were to set off on the target alone.

Identify your blind spots. Scientifically, blind spots refer to areas our eyes are not capable of seeing. In personal development terms, blind spots are things about ourselves we are unaware of. Discovering our blind spots help us discover our areas of improvement. One exercise I use to discover my blind spots is to identify all the things/events/people that trigger me in a day – trigger meaning making me feel annoyed/weird/affected. These represent my blind spots. 

Ask for feedback. As much as we try to improve, we will always have blind spots. Asking for feedback gives us an additional perspective. Some people to approach will be friends, family, colleagues, boss, or even acquaintances, since they will have no preset bias and can give their feedback objectively.

Stay focused with to-do lists. I start my day with a list of tasks I want to complete and this helps make me stay focused. In comparison, the days when I don’t do this end up being extremely unproductive. Since my work requires me to use my computer all the time, I use Free Sticky Notes to manage my to-do lists. It’s really simple to use and it’s a freeware.

Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). I’m a big fan of setting BHAGs. BHAGs stretch you beyond your normal capacity since they are big and audacious – you wouldn’t think of attempting them normally. What are BHAGs you can embark on, which you’ll feel absolutely on top of the world once you complete them? Set them and start working on them.

Acknowledge your flaws. Everyone has flaws. What’s most important is to understand them, acknowledge them, and address them. What do you think are your flaws? What are the flaws you can work on now? How do you want to address them?

Get into action. The best way to learn and improve is to take action. What is something you have been meaning to do? How can you take action on it immediately? Waiting doesn’t get anything done. Taking action gives you immediate results to learn from.

Learn from people who inspire you. Think about people you admire. People who inspire you. These people reflect certain qualities you want to have for yourself too. What are the qualities in them you want to have for yourself? How can you acquire these qualities?

Quit a bad habit. Are there any bad habits you can lose? Oversleeping? Not exercising? Being late? Slouching? Nail biting? Smoking? Here’s some help on how you can quit a bad habit.

Cultivate a new habit. Some good new habits to cultivate include reading books (#1), waking up early (#8), exercising (#9), reading a new personal development article a day (#40) and meditating. Is there any other new habit you can cultivate to improve yourself?

Avoid negative people. As Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. Wherever we go, there are bound to be negative people. Don’t spend too much of your time around them if you feel they drag you down.

Learn to deal with difficult people. There are times when there are difficult people you can’t avoid, such as at your workplace, or when the person is part of your inner circle of contacts. Learn how to deal with them. These people management skills will go a long way in working with people in the future.

Learn from your friends. Everyone has amazing qualities in them. It’s up to how we want to tap into them. With all the friends who surround you, they are going to have things you can learn from. Try thinking of a good friend right now. Think about just one quality they have which you want to adopt. How can you learn from them and adopt this skill for yourself? Speak to them if you need to – for sure, they will be more than happy to help!

Start a journal. Journaling is a great way to gain better self-awareness. It’s a self-reflection process. As you write, clarify your thought process and read what you wrote from a third person’s perspective, you gain more insights about yourself. Your journal can be private or an online blog.

Start a blog about personal development. To help others grow, you need to first be walking the talk. There are expectations of you, both from yourself and from others, which you have to uphold.

Get a mentor or coach. There’s no faster way to improve than to have someone work with you on your goals. Many of my clients approach me to coach them in their goals and they achieve significantly more results than if they had worked alone.

Reduce the time you spend on chat programs. I realized having chat programs open at default result in a lot of wasted time. This time can be much better spent on other activities. The days when I don’t get on chat, I get a lot more done. I usually disable the auto start-up option in the chat programs and launch them when I do want to chat and really have the time for it.

Learn chess (or any strategy game). I found chess to be a terrific game to learn strategy and hone your brainpower. Not only do you have fun, you also get to exercise your analytical skills. You can also learn strategy from other board games or computer games, such as Othello, Chinese Chess, WarCraft, and so on.

Stop watching TV. I’ve not been watching TV for pretty much 4 years and it’s been a very liberating experience. I realized most of the programs and advertisements on mainstream TV are usually of a lower consciousness and not very empowering. In return, the time I’ve freed up from not watching TV is now constructively used for other purposes, such as connecting with close friends, doing work I enjoy, exercising, etc.

Start a 30-day challenge. Set a goal and give yourself 30 days to achieve this. Your goal can be to stick with a new habit or something you’ve always wanted to do but have not. 30 days is just enough time to strategize, plan, get into action, review and nail the goal.

Meditate. Meditation helps to calm you and be more conscious. I also realized that during the nights when I meditate (before I sleep), I need lesser sleep. The clutter clearing process is very liberating.

Join Toastmasters (Learn public speaking). Interestingly, public speaking is the #1 fear in the world, with #2 being death. After I started public speaking as a personal development speaker/trainer, I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate better, present myself, and engage people. Toastmasters is an international organization that trains people in public speaking. Check out the Toastmaster clubs nearest to you here.

Befriend top people in their fields. These people have achieved their results because they have the right attitudes, skill sets, and know-how. How better to learn than from the people who have been there and done that? Gain new insights from them on how you can improve and achieve the same results for yourself.

Let go of the past. Is there any grievance or unhappiness from the past which you have been holding on? If so, it’s time to let it go. Holding on to them prevents you from moving on and becoming a better person. Break away from the past, forgive yourself, and move on.

Start a business venture. Is there anything you have an interest in? Why not turn it into a venture and make money while learning at the same time? Starting a new venture requires you to be learn business management skills, develop business acumen, and have a competitive edge. The process equips you with many skills, such as self-discipline, leadership, organization, and management.

Show kindness to people around you. You can never be too kind to someone. In fact, most of us don’t show enough kindness to people around us. Being kind helps us to cultivate other qualities such as compassion, patience, and love. Start exuding more kindness to the people around you, and see how they react. Not only that, notice how you feel as you behave kindly to others. Chances are, you will feel even better than yourself.

Reach out to the people who hate you. If you ever stand for something, you are going to get haters. It’s easy to hate the people who hate us. It’s much more challenging to love them back. Being able to forgive, let go, and show love to these people requires magnanimity and an open heart. Is there anyone who dislikes or hates you in your life? If so, reach out to them. Show them love. Seek a resolution and get closure on past grievances. Even if they refuses to reciprocate, love them all the same. It’s much more liberating than to hate them back.

Take a break. Have you been working too hard? Self-improvement is also about recognizing our need to take a break to walk the longer mile ahead. Take some time off for yourself every week. Relax, rejuvenate and charge yourself up for what’s up ahead.

Read at least 1 personal development article a day. Some of my readers make it a point to read at least one personal development article every day, which I think is a great habit. 

Commit to your personal growth. Make the decision to commit to your personal growth and embrace yourself to a life-long journey of growth and change. Kick off your growth by picking a few of the steps above and working on them. The results might not be immediate, but I promise you that as long as you keep to it, you’ll start seeing positive changes in yourself and your life.
26889  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cruise missiles in a box, from Russia with love on: April 26, 2010, 12:10:33 AM
A cruise missile in a shipping box on sale to rogue bidders
Defence experts are warning of a new danger of ballistic weapons proliferation after a Russian company started marketing a cruise missile that can be launched from a shipping container.

By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
Published: 6:30PM BST 25 Apr 2010

 Club - K container missile system. Stills from an animated film being used to market a missile system that allows cruise missles to be launched from a freight container. this can be loaded onto a lorry, ship, or train as desired tomove into position before launching missiles
It is feared that the covert Club-K missile attack system could prove "game-changing" in fighting wars with small countries, which would gain a remote capacity to mount multiple missiles on boats, trucks or railways.

Iran and Venezuela have already shown an interest in the Club-K Container Missile System which could allow them to carry out pre-emptive strikes from behind an enemy's missile defences.

Defence experts say the system is designed to be concealed as a standard 40ft shipping container that cannot be identified until it is activated. Priced at an estimated £10 million, each container is fitted with four cruise anti-ship or land attack missiles. The system represents an affordable "strategic level weapon".  Some experts believe that if Iraq had the Club-K system in 2003 it would have made it impossible for America to invade with any container ship in the Gulf a potential threat.
Club-K is being marketed at the Defence Services Asia exhibition in Malaysia this week.  Novator, the manufacturer, is an advanced missile specialist that would not have marketed the system without Moscow's approval. It has released an emotive marketing film complete with dramatic background music. It shows Club-K containers stowed on ships, trucks and trains as a neighbouring country prepares to invade with American style military equipment.  The enemy force is wiped out by the cruise missile counter attack. Russia has already prompted concern in Washington by selling Iran the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missile system that would make targeting of Iranian nuclear facilities very difficult.

"This Club-K is game changing with the ability to wipe out an aircraft carrier 200 miles away. The threat is immense in that no one can tell how far deployed your missiles could be," said Robert Hewson, editor of Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, who first reported on the Club-K developments.

"What alerted me to this was that the Russians were advertising it at specific international defence event and they have marketed it very squarely at anyone under threat of action from the US."

Reuben Johnson, a Pentagon defence consultant, said the system would be a "real maritime fear for anyone with a waterfront".

"This is ballistic missile proliferation on a scale we have not seen before because now you cannot readily identify what's being used as a launcher because it's very carefully disguised.  Someone could sail off your shore looking innocuous then the next minute big explosions are going off at your military installations."
26890  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Free Speech vs. Islamic Fascism (formerly Buy DANISH!!!) on: April 25, 2010, 07:15:52 PM
As I understand the point of it, the purpose of the Draw Mohammed Day is that these two cartoonists do NOT stand alone.
26891  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Spring 2010 DB Tribal Gathering on: April 25, 2010, 09:29:33 AM
Some awesome fights yesterday and the prospect is for more of the same in a few hours.  cool
26892  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Darw Mohammed Day on: April 25, 2010, 09:28:24 AM
As it so often does "Day by day" leads the way with a practice run for "Draw Mohammed Day"
26893  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: April 25, 2010, 12:47:52 AM
"or , , , negotiate work papers to stay but preclude citizenship."

This might form the basis of a feasible compromise.
26894  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Everybody draw Mohammed Day on: April 25, 2010, 12:44:41 AM
26895  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Case Study: A shooting in Philly on: April 25, 2010, 12:42:41 AM
Ah yes-- witnesses.  A point I picked up from Peyton Quinn several years ago was the importance of witness preparation e.g. choosing one's words wisely so as to pre-dispose witnesses to speak in your favor; e.g. "Leave me alone!" is better than "Fcuk off!"
26896  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Case Study: A shooting in Philly on: April 24, 2010, 10:37:46 AM
I like that formulation and articulation GM.
26897  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran's Military Exercises on: April 23, 2010, 06:54:17 PM
Thursday, April 22, 2010   STRATFOR.COM  Diary Archives 

How Iran's Military Exercises Impact the U.S.
THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTIONARY GUARD CORPS (IRGC), Iran’s elite military force, will stage a three-day exercise involving land, air and sea forces beginning Thursday. The deputy commander of the IRGC, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, made the announcement on state television Wednesday. The Iranian maneuvers will specifically highlight Iran’s indigenous missile capability, allegedly testing new weapons. Meanwhile, in response to a widely publicized report from the U.S. Department of Defense that said an Iranian missile could strike the continental United States by 2015, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Iran had no plans to build a ballistic missile that could do so.

The exercises come at a time when the United States is rethinking its Iranian strategy; it faces a number of considerations that have it backing away from the potential of a military strike. First and foremost is the fact that Washington is preparing to exit Iraq and needs a sufficiently firm political compromise there to avoid a reversion to widespread sectarian violence, and preserve the regional balance of power. The Iranians, through their Shiite proxies in Iraq, have the capability to shatter any such compromise (though for their own regional ambitions would only do so as a last resort). A similar situation exists in Afghanistan. The United States is aware that its eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan is only politically feasible if it and the major neighboring powers — including Iran — make arrangements to prevent the country from relapsing into a haven for militants and a battleground for internal and external forces vying for influence.

Second, the American realization has been that striking Iran’s clandestine nuclear program would require better intelligence about the location and vulnerabilities of nuclear sites and unattainable levels of confidence in penetrating deeply buried and hardened facilities. More importantly, it would require managing the aftermath. To further deter an American attack, Iran has publicized its most critical retaliatory maneuver: deploying a variety of military tools to damage and threaten the Straits of Hormuz, through which about 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil supply passes.

“The exercises come at a time when the United States is rethinking its Iranian strategy.”
Oil shocks at a time of global economic fragility are not tolerable for the United States. While Washington continues to assess the complexities of an air campaign that could (with limited confidence in success) neutralize Iran’s threats to the Persian Gulf, Tehran maintains a spectrum of capabilities — including missiles, mines and swarms of small, fast attack craft — that could cause considerable damage to commercial traffic, and raise uncertainties to the point that oil prices would climb even if attacks on oil-carrying vessels were relatively ineffective. This in turn would negatively impact economies from Greece to Cambodia, and everywhere in between.

At the same time the United States is aware that Iran is a rational player. Tehran would not resort to an internecine option like attacking Hormuz (which would incidentally cut off Iran’s own imports, including gasoline) unless it was convinced that an American attack was inevitable and imminent. The Iranians also want to see U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq so that they can get on with the business of configuring Iraq’s political make-up to favor Tehran’s interests. By doing so, they would pre-empt the possible re-emergence of Persia’s historic fears of a powerful Mesopotamian foe.

At a time when the United States is debating Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities and urging unilateral and multilateral sanctions, and Iran is threatening to blast the global economic recovery, both sides have reasons to consider bargaining. Though Washington’s desire to leave the region and maintain a balance of power against Iran is contradictory, a deal could be struck in which the United States could get its withdrawal free of Iranian sabotage, and Iran could get greater regional influence — possibly even nuclear-armed status. But relations are fraught with distrust and neither side can afford to look weak. The Iranian exercises are meant to drive home the point for Washington that attacking Iran is a far too risky solution, and accommodation is a much better choice.

26898  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington: Consolidation of Power on: April 23, 2010, 06:15:21 PM
"The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position." --George Washington
26899  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Case Study: A shooting in Philly on: April 23, 2010, 06:12:39 PM
d) And, following up on c) of my previous post, what is one to do with/about a girlfriend/date who is instigating things?
26900  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Spring 2010 DB Tribal Gathering on: April 23, 2010, 03:13:47 PM

Tomorrow and Sunday the Adventure continues!

Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.
Thomas Jefferson

"The greater the dichotomy, the profounder the transformation.  Higher Consciousness through Harder Contact!" (c dbi)

Crafty Dog
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