Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ajami
on: September 12, 2009, 09:52:36 AM
Not sure this piece's hypothesis holds together once Pakistan and its nukes are thrown in the mix. Still, several points worth considering:
By FOUAD AJAMI
The road that led to 9/11 was never a defining concern of President Barack
Obama. But he returned to 9/11 as he sought to explain and defend the war in
Afghanistan in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Ariz.,
on Aug. 17. "The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight and
we won't defeat it overnight, but we must never forget: This is not a war of
choice; it is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are
plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean
an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda could plot to kill more
This distinction between a war of choice (Iraq) and a war of necessity
(Afghanistan) has become canonical to American liberalism. But we should
dispense with that distinction, for it is both morally false and
intellectually muddled. No philosophy of just and unjust wars will support
it. It was amid the ferocious attack on the American project in Iraq that
there was born the idea of Afghanistan as the "good war." This was the club
with which the Iraq war was battered. This was where that binary division
was set up: The good war of necessity in the mountains of Afghanistan, the
multilateral war born of a collective NATO decision-versus George W. Bush's
war of choice in Iraq, fought in defiance of the opinions of allies who had
been with us in the aftermath of 9/11, and whose goodwill we squandered in
the cruel streets of Fallujah and the deserts of Anbar.
Our elections last November, this narrative had it, had given us a chance to
bring America's embattled solitude and isolation in the world to an end. A
man with strands of Islam woven into his identity and biography was
catapulted to the presidency. We had drained the swamps of anti-Americanism.
Assalam aleikum (peace be upon you) in Cairo, Ankara and Tehran. The great
enmity, that unfashionable clash of civilizations, was declared done and
over with. A new history presumably began with Mr. Bush's return to his home
But it will not do to offer up 9/11 as a casus belli in Afghanistan while
holding out the threat of legal retribution against the men and women in our
intelligence services who carried out our wishes in that time of concern and
peril. To begin with, a policy that falls back on 9/11 must proceed from a
correct reading of the wellsprings of Islamist radicalism. The impulse that
took America from Kabul to Baghdad had been on the mark. Those were not
Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11. They were Arabs. Their
terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life. Their
financiers were Arabs, and so were those crowds in Cairo and Nablus and
Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America
getting its comeuppance on that terrible day. Kabul had not sufficed as a
return address in that twilight war; it was important to take the war into
the Arab world itself, and the despot in Baghdad had drawn the short straw.
He had been brazen and defiant at a time of genuine American concern, and a
lesson was made of him.
No Arabs had been emotionally invested in Mullah Omar and the Taliban, but
the ruler in Baghdad was a favored son of that Arab nation. The decapitation
of his regime was a cautionary tale for his Arab brethren. Grant George W.
Bush his due. He drew a line when the world of the Arabs was truly in the
wind and played upon by powerful temptations. Mr. Obama and his advisers
need not pay heroic tribute to the men and women who labored before them.
But they have so maligned their predecessors and their motives that the
appeal to 9/11 rings hollow and contrived. In those years behind us,
American liberalism distanced itself from American patriotism, and the
damage is there to see.
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In the best of circumstances, this Afghan campaign would be a hard sell.
This is doubly so at a time of economic distress at home. There is no
tradition of central government to be restored in that most tribalized of
countries. The lessons, and the analogy, of Vietnam should perhaps be laid
to rest. This is not Mr. Obama's Vietnam. It is what it is-his Afghanistan.
But there are irresistible parallels with Lyndon Baines Johnson and the way
he committed his presidency, and the nation, to a war he dreaded from the
This is LBJ in 1964, from a definitive history by A.J. Langguth, "Our
Vietnam," published in 2000: "I just don't think it is worth fighting for,
and I don't think we can get out. It's just the biggest damn mess." He would
prosecute what he called that "bitch of a war" with a premonition that it
could wreck his Great Society programs. He knew America's mood. "I don't
think the people of the country know much about Vietnam, and I think they
care a hell of a lot less." Yet, he took the plunge, he would try to
"cheat"-guns and butter at the same time, the war in Asia and the domestic
agenda of civil rights and the Great Society. History was merciless. It
begot a monumental tragedy in a land of no consequences to American
Wars are great clarifiers. Barack Obama's trumpet is uncertain. His call to
arms in Afghanistan does not stir. He fears failure in Afghanistan, and
nothing more. Having disowned Iraq, kept its cause at a distance, he is
forced to fight the war in Afghanistan. So he equivocates and plays for
time. Forever the campaigner, he has his eye on the public mood, the steel
that his predecessor showed in 2007 when all was in the balance in Iraq is
not evident in Mr. Obama.
For the American effort in Afghanistan to stick on the ground in the face of
a Taliban insurgency that's gaining in strength and geographical reach, Mr.
Obama will have to make a hard choice. He will need a troop commitment of
sufficient weight to turn the tide of war. Furthermore, he will have to face
his own coalition on the left and convince it that there is a project in
Afghanistan worth fighting (and paying) for.
By the evidence of things, this is a decision that he has refused to make,
as he pursues his sweeping domestic agenda while keeping Afghanistan in
play. He had been sure that NATO forces would rush to his banners, that
Europe had stayed away from a serious commitment in Afghanistan because it
had been seized with an animus for his predecessor. But Mr. Bush had been an
alibi all along. The Europeans are in no mood for this war.
There is a British contingent of decent size in Afghanistan, but there had
been one in Iraq as well. The likes of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder
(who dabbled in the most craven of anti-Americanism) are gone and forgotten,
but the French and the Germans have not ridden to the rescue of Kandahar.
The stringent restrictions on their forces, their very rules of engagement,
have left Afghanistan an Anglo-American burden in much the same way Iraq had
Eight years ago, we were visited by the furies of Arab lands. We were rudely
awakened from a decade whose gurus and pundits had announced the end of
ideology, of politics itself, and the triumph of the world-wide Web and the
"electronic herd." We had discovered that on the other side of the world
masterminds of terror, and preachers, and their foot-soldiers were telling
of America the most sordid of tales. We had become, without knowing it, a
party to a civil war in the Arab-Islamic world between the autocrats and
their disaffected children, between those who wanted to live a normal life
and warriors of the faith bent on imposing their will on that troubled arc
Our country answered that call, not always brilliantly, for we are fated to
be strangers in that world and thus fated to improvise and make our way
through unfamiliar alleyways. We met chameleons and hustlers of every shade
and had to learn, in a hurry, incomprehensible atavisms and pathologies. We
fared best when we trusted our sense of things. We certainly haven't been
kept safe by the crowds in Paris and Berlin, or by those in Ankara and Cairo
who feign desire for our friendship while they yearn for our undoing.
Mr. Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced
International Studies and an adjunct fellow at Stanford's Hoover
Institution, is the author, among other books, of "The Foreigner's Gift: The
Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq" (Free Press, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Good billions 3
on: September 12, 2009, 09:46:30 AM
After the Earthquake
Because all dollar bills are alike, and because follow-up tracking by the government has been so minimal, it’s often impossible to determine if any bank or other financial institution used tarp money for any particular, discernible purpose. Only A.I.G., Bank of America, and Citigroup were subject to any reporting requirements at all, and the reporting has been spotty. But what is possible to say is that tarpallowed many recipients to spend money in ways they would have been unable to do otherwise. It’s also the case that recipients of tarp money continued to behave as if a financial earthquake hadn’t just shaken the world economy.
The Riviera Country Club is about a mile from the Pacific Ocean, in a scenic canyon north of Los Angeles. Riviera is home to one of the most storied tournaments on the P.G.A. Tour. This year the tournament was sponsored by a tarp recipient, the Northern Trust Company of Chicago. Northern was founded more than a century ago to cater to wealthy Chicagoans, and not much about its clientele has changed since then, except that now the company caters to the wealthy not just in Chicago but everywhere. According to the bank, its wealth-management group caters to those “with assets typically exceeding $200 million.” The company manages $559 billion in assets—a sum nearly as great as what has so far been spent on the tarpprogram itself.
When Northern Trust received $1.6 billion in tarp funds, a spokesman for the bank said that it was “too soon to say specifically” how the money would be used. But the company’s president and C.E.O., Frederick Waddell, noted that “the program will provide us with additional capital to maximize growth opportunities.” Three months later, the bank sponsored the Northern Trust Open, flying in wealthy clients from around the country. To entertain them, the bank brought in Sheryl Crow, Chicago, and Earth, Wind & Fire. A Northern Trust spokesman declined to say how much all this cost, but explained that it was really just a business decision “to show appreciation for clients.”
Northern Trust was acting no differently from many other tarp recipients. One of the most blatant examples was Citigroup’s plan to buy a $50 million private jet to fly executives around the country. A public outcry forced Citigroup to abandon that scheme, but the bank quietly went ahead with a $10 million renovation of its executive offices on Park Avenue, in New York. Given that Citigroup had already gone to the government three times for tarp assistance totaling $45 billion, and was not a paragon of public trust, retrofitting the windows with “Safety Shield 800” blastproof window film may have just been common sense.
The excesses weren’t confined to big-city banks. A subsidiary of North Carolina–based B.B.&T., after accepting $3.1 billion in tarp money, sent dozens of employees to a training session at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Sarasota, Florida. TCF Financial Corp., based in Wayzata, Minnesota, sent 40 “high-performing” managers, lenders, and other employees on a junket in February to Cancún, soon after receiving more than $360 million in tarp funds.
But let’s face it: episodes like these, infuriating as they may be, aren’t the real issue. The real issue is tarpitself, one of the most questionable ventures the U.S. government has ever pursued. Adopted as a plan to buy up toxic assets—one that was quickly deemed impractical even by those who first proposed it—it evolved into something more closely resembling an all-purpose slush fund flowing out to hundreds of institutions with their own interests and goals, and no incentive to deploy the money toward any clearly defined public purpose.
By and large, the cash that went to the Big 9 simply became part of their capital base, and most of the big banks declined to indicate where the money actually went. Because of the sheer size of these institutions, it’s simply impossible to trace. Bank of America no doubt used a portion of its $25 billion in tarp funds to help it absorb Merrill Lynch. Citigroup revealed in its first quarterly report after receiving $45 billion intarp funds that it had used $36.5 billion to buy up mortgages and to make new loans, including home loans.
A.I.G., the largest single tarp beneficiary, wasn’t even a bank. The insurance company used its $70 billion in tarp funds to pay off a previous government infusion from the Federal Reserve. The original bailout money had flowed through A.I.G. to Wall Street firms and foreign banks that had incurred big losses on credit-default swaps and other exotic obligations. These were basically the casino-style wagers made by A.I.G. and the counterparties—wagers they lost. The government justified the help by saying it was necessary to prevent disruption to the economy that would be caused by a “disorderly wind-down” of A.I.G. The collapse of Lehman Brothers had occurred just days before the Fed took action, and the shock waves on Wall Street from yet another implosion might have been catastrophic. Bankruptcy court, where troubled corporations routinely wind down their disorderly affairs, would have been another option, though that prospect might not have quickly enough addressed the gathering sense of urgency and doom. We’ll never know. Certainly bankruptcy court would not have allowed A.I.G.’s clients to get full value for their bad investments.
Instead, A.I.G. was able to pay off its counterparties 100 cents on the dollar. The largest payout—$12.9 billion—went to Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment house presided over by Paulson before he moved into his Treasury job. Merrill Lynch, the world’s largest brokerage—then in the process of being taken over by Bank of America—received $6.8 billion. Bank of America itself received $5.2 billion. Citigroup, the nation’s largest bank, received $2.3 billion. But it wasn’t just Wall Street that benefitted. A.I.G. also funneled tens of billions of tarp dollars to banks on the other side of the Atlantic.
Some banks receiving tarp funds bristle at the notion that the taxpayer-funded program is a bailout. They say it is an investment in banks by the federal government, one that requires them to pay interest and ultimately pay back the money or face a financial penalty. In fact, many banks are making their scheduled payments to Treasury, and others have paid off billions of dollars in tarp funds (as well as interest). Totarp supporters, this is evidence of a sound investment. But at this stage it isn’t clear that every institution will be able to make the interest payments and buy back the government’s holdings. As of this writing, some banks, including Pacific Capital Bancorp, the parent of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, have not been able to make their scheduled payments. No one can predict how many banks will ultimately come up short. But in the meantime tarp has been a very good deal for banks, because it gave them, courtesy of the taxpayers, access to capital that would have cost them substantially more in the private market, while exacting nothing from the beneficiaries in the form of a quid pro quo.
Based on the reluctance of many banks to take the money in the first place, and the swiftness with which other banks have repaid tarp funds, the main conclusion to be drawn is that relatively few were actually endangered. Rather than targeting the weak for relief—or allowing them to fail, as the government allowed millions of ordinary Americans to fail—Paulson and Treasury pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the financial system without prior design and without prospective accountability. What was this all about? A case of panic by Treasury and the Federal Reserve? A financial over-reaction of cosmic proportions? A smoke screen to take care of a small number of Wall Street institutions that received 100 cents on the dollar for some of the worst investments they ever made?
More than five months after the bulk of the bailout money had been distributed into bank coffers, Elizabeth Warren plaintively raised the central and as yet unanswered question: “What is the strategy that Treasury is pursuing?” And she basically threw up her hands. As far as she could see, Warren went on, Treasury’s strategy was essentially “Take the money and do what you want with it.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Good billions 2
on: September 12, 2009, 09:45:00 AM
Small Bank, Sharp Teeth
With few restrictions or controls in place, bailout money found its way not only to banks that didn’t really need it but also to banks whose business practices left much to be desired. On November 21, $180 million in tarp money wound up in the affluent seaside community of Santa Barbara, California. The tarp dollars flowed mostly into the coffers of a beige, Spanish-style building on Carrillo Street, home to the Santa Barbara Bank & Trust.
This might appear to be just the kind of regional bank that Treasury had in mind as an ideal beneficiary oftarp. The bank has been a fixture in Santa Barbara for decades, serving small businesses as well as wealthy individuals. It sponsors Little League teams, funds scholarships to send local kids to college, and takes an active role in community groups. It plays up its “longstanding commitment to giving back to the communities we serve.”
How much tarp money made its way through S.B.B.&T. and into the local community is not known. But, as it happens, the bank also operates a little-known and controversial program far from the lush enclaves of Santa Barbara. Like an absentee landlord, the community bank with the “give back” philosophy in Santa Barbara turns out to be a big player in poor neighborhoods throughout the country. And not in a nice way. Outside Santa Barbara, S.B.B.&T. peddles what are known as refund-anticipation loans (rals)—high-interest loans to the poor that are among the most predatory around.
A ral is a short-term loan to taxpayers who have filed for a tax refund. Rather than waiting one or two weeks for their refund from the I.R.S., they take out a bank loan for an amount equal to their refund, minus interest, fees, and other charges. Banks operate in concert with tax preparers who complete the paperwork, and then the banks write the taxpayer a check. The loan is secured by the taxpayer’s expected refund. rals are theoretically available to everyone, but they are used overwhelmingly by the working poor. Ordinarily, the loans have a term of only a few weeks—the time it takes the I.R.S. to process the return and send out a check—but the interest charges and fees are so steep that borrowers can lose as much as 20 percent of the value of their tax refund. A recent study estimated that annual rates on somerals run as high as 700 percent.
Santa Barbara is one of three banks that dominate this obscure corner of the banking market—the other two being J. P. Morgan Chase and HSBC. But unlike the two big banks, for which rals are but one facet of a broad-based business, Santa Barbara has come to rely heavily for its financial well-being on these high-interest loans to poor people. Interest earned from rals accounted for 24 percent of the banking company’s interest earnings in 2008, second only to income generated by commercial-real-estate loans. Under pressure from consumer groups, some banks, including J. P. Morgan Chase, have lowered their ralfees. Not Santa Barbara. Chi Chi Wu, of the National Consumer Law Center, in Boston, calls Santa Barbara Bank & Trust “a small bank with sharp teeth.”
The U.S. Department of Justice and state authorities in California, New Jersey, and New York have taken action against tax preparers with whom S.B.B.&T. works, charging them with deceptive advertising and with preparing fraudulent returns. Santa Barbara later took a $22 million hit on its books because of unpaid refund-anticipation loans.
The bank insists that its tarp money didn’t go to finance ral. “The capital received by Santa Barbara Bank & Trust under the U.S. Treasury Department’s Capital Purchase Program was not intended nor is it being used to fund or provide liquidity for any Refund Anticipation Loans,” according to Deborah L. Whiteley, an executive vice president of Pacific Capital Bancorp, Santa Barbara’s parent company. Other banks that have received tarp money have made similar statements, contending that money received from Washington simply became part of their capital base and was not earmarked for any specific purpose. But in a conference call with analysts on November 21, Stephen Masterson, the chief financial officer of Pacific Capital Bancorp, admitted that tarp “obviously helps us .… We didn’t take the tarp money to increase our ral program or to build our ral program, but it certainly helps our capital ratios.”
Indeed, the infusion from Treasury may well have been a lifeline for Santa Barbara. The Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina, which has been tracking S.B.B.&T.’s finances and its ralprogram for years, concluded in 2008 that S.B.B.&T. would be losing money if it weren’t putting the squeeze on poor people around the country.
Gouging Needy Students
KeyBank of Cleveland is another institution that was given the nod by Treasury officials—and another bank whose lending practices prompt the question: What were they thinking?
Last fall KeyBank received $2.5 billion in tarp money. Its parent company is KeyCorp, a major bank holding company headquartered in Cleveland. With 989 full-service branches spread across 14 states, KeyCorp describes itself as “one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies,” with assets of $98 billion. It also ranks as the nation’s seventh-largest education lender. In the summer of 2008, as banks and Wall Street firms were unraveling faster than they could count up their losses, KeyCorp delivered a decidedly upbeat report on its condition to investors. “Our costs are well controlled,” the company stated. “Our fee revenue is strong.…Our reserves are strong.…We remain well capitalized.”
What the report did not mention was a host of other problems. KeyCorp was in the midst of negotiations with the I.R.S. over questionable tax-leasing deals, and had had to deposit $2 billion in escrow with the government—forcing it to raise emergency capital and slash dividends after 43 consecutive years of annual growth. Meanwhile, consumer advocates had KeyBank in their sights because of the way it conducted its student-loan business, which they described as nakedly predatory. The Salt Lake Tribunereported that “KeyBank not only funds unscrupulous schools, it seeks them out, strikes up lucrative partnerships, and, in the process, suckers students into thinking the schools are legitimate.”
Over the years, thousands of students have secured education loans from KeyBank to attend a broad range of career-training schools—schools offering instruction in how to use or repair computers, how to become an electronics technician or even a nurse. One of the schools was Silver State Helicopters, which was based in Las Vegas and operated flight schools in a half-dozen states. During high-pressure sales pitches, people looking to change careers were encouraged to simultaneously sign up for flight school and complete a loan application that would be forwarded to KeyBank. Once approved, KeyBank, in keeping with long-standing practice, would give all the tuition money up front directly to Silver State. If a student dropped out, Silver State kept the tuition and the student remained on the hook for the full amount of the loan, at a hefty interest rate.
The same rule applied if Silver State shut itself down, which it did without warning on February 3, 2008. “Because the monthly operating expenses, even at the recently streamlined levels, continue to exceed cash flow,” an e-mail to employees explained, “the board has elected to suspend all operations effective at 5 p.m. today.” More than 750 employees in 18 states were out of work. More than 2,500 students had their training (for which they had paid as much as $70,000) cut short.
Silver State Helicopters was a flight school, but it might more accurately be thought of as a Ponzi scheme, according to critics. As long as there was a continual source of loan money, keeping the scheme afloat, all was well. KeyBank bundled the loans into securities, just as the subprime-mortgage marketers had done, and sold them on Wall Street. But when Wall Street failed to buy at an adequate interest rate, the money supply evaporated. As KeyBank dryly put it, “In 2007, Key was unable to securitize its student loan portfolio at cost-effective rates.” Without the loans—in other words, without the cooperation of Wall Street—the school had no income.
In February 2009, Fitch Ratings service, which rates the ability of debt issuers to meet their commitments, placed 16 classes of KeyCorp student-loan transactions totaling $1.75 billion on “Ratings Watch Negative,” signaling the possibility of a future downgrade in their creditworthiness.
Predator to the Rescue
The credit-card behemoth Capital One, an institution that many Americans probably don’t even realize is a bank, maintains its headquarters in McLean, in northern Virginia. Over the years, Capital One’s phenomenally successful marketing strategy has made the company the fifth-largest credit-card issuer in the U.S., and it has used its profits to expand into retail banking, home-equity loans, and other kinds of lending.
Capital One never revealed what it planned to do with the $3.5 billion tarp check it received from the U.S. Treasury on November 14, 2008, but three weeks later, the company bought one of Washington’s premier financial institutions, Chevy Chase Bank. To Washingtonians, Chevy Chase was a model corporate citizen. But outside Washington, it had a different reputation. The company’s mortgage subsidiary had engaged in practices that were at the core of the nation’s mortgage meltdown—risky loans with teaser interest rates that later went bad. The bank’s portfolio of mortgages from around the country was stuffed with a high percentage of so-called option arm—adjustable-rate mortgages with many different payment options. One of the most common kept a homeowner’s monthly payment the same for years, but the interest rate rose almost immediately. When the interest exceeded the amount of the monthly payment, the excess was tacked onto the principal, pushing homeowners ever deeper into debt. Having been lured by what a federal judge would call the “siren call” of this kind of mortgage, many Chevy Chase mortgage holders were on the brink of foreclosure, or had already fallen over the edge. By mid-2008, Chevy Chase’s “nonperforming” assets had tripled to $490 million since the previous September.
With Chevy Chase rapidly deteriorating, along came Capital One. Flush with tarp money, Capital One became a bailout czar of its own. It bought Chevy Chase for $520 million and assumed $1.75 billion of its bad loans. The purchase price was a fraction of what Chevy Chase would have brought before it wandered off into the wilderness of exotic mortgages and risky lending.
Meanwhile, even as it was bailing out Chevy Chase, Capital One was putting the squeeze on many thousands of its own credit-card holders, sharply raising their interest rates and imposing other conditions that made credit far more expensive and difficult to obtain. For many cardholders, rates jumped overnight from 7.9 percent to as much as 22.9 percent. Rather than using its multi-billion-dollar government infusion to prime the credit pump, Capital One in fact began turning off the spigot.
Capital One’s actions enraged its customers, many of whom had been cardholders for decades. The bank was engulfed with complaints. “The last I checked you were given money from the government for the specific purpose of freeing up credit to stimulate spending and help move the economy out of recession,” wrote a woman in Holland, Michigan. This was “just the opposite of what you did.” But other credit-card companies that received federal bailout money, such as Bank of America, J. P. Morgan Chase, and Citibank, would take the same route as Capital One, sharply raising interest rates, cutting off credit to millions of people, and frustrating the stated rationale for Treasury’s bailout.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Good Billions after bad
on: September 12, 2009, 09:41:16 AM
BY DONALD L. BARLETT and JAMES B. STEELE
As the Bush administration waned, the Treasury shoveled more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in tarp funds into the financial system—without restrictions, accountability, or even common sense. The authors reveal how much of it ended up in the wrong hands, doing the opposite of what was needed.
Just inside the entrance to the U.S. Treasury, on the other side of a forbidding array of guard stations and scanners that control access to the Greek Revival building, lies one of the most beautiful interior spaces in all of Washington. Ornate bronze doors open inward to a two-story-high chamber. Chandeliers line the coffered ceiling, casting a soft glow on the marble walls and richly inlaid marble floor.
In this room, starting in 1869 and for many decades thereafter, the U.S. government conducted many of its financial transactions. Bags of gold, silver, and paper currency arrived here by horse-drawn vans and were carted upstairs to the vaults. On the busy trading floor, Treasury clerks supplied commercial banks with coins and currency, exchanged old bills for new, cashed checks, redeemed savings bonds, and took in government receipts. In those days, anyone could observe all this activity firsthand—could actually witness the government and the nation’s bankers doing business. The public space where this occurred became known as the Cash Room.
Today the Cash Room is used for press conferences, ceremonial functions, and departmental parties. And that’s too bad. If Treasury still used the room as it once did, then perhaps we’d have more of a clue about what happened to the billions of dollars that flew out of Treasury to selected American banks in the waning days of the Bush administration.
Last October, Congress passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, putting $700 billion into the hands of the Treasury Department to bail out the nation’s banks at a moment of vanishing credit and peak financial panic. Over the next three months, Treasury poured nearly $239 billion into 296 of the nation’s 8,000 banks. The money went to big banks. It went to small banks. It went to banks that desperately wanted the money. It went to banks that didn’t want the money at all but had been ordered by Treasury to take it anyway. It went to banks that were quite happy to accept the windfall, and used the money simply to buy other banks. Some banks received as much as $45 billion, others as little as $1.5 million. Sixty-seven percent went to eight institutions; 33 percent went to the rest. And that was just the money that went to banks. Tens of billions more went to other companies, all before Barack Obama took office. It was the largest single financial intervention by Treasury into the banking system in U.S. history.
But once the money left the building, the government lost all track of it. The Treasury Department knew where it had sent the money, but nothing about what was done with it. Did the money aid the recovery? Was it spent for the purposes Congress intended? Did it save banks from collapse? Paulson’s Treasury Department had no idea, and didn’t seem to care. It never required the banks to explain what they did with this unprecedented infusion of capital.
Exactly one year has elapsed since the onset of the financial crisis and the passage of the bailout bill. Some measure of scrutiny and control has since been imposed by the Obama administration, but even today it’s hard to walk back the cat and trace the money. Up to a point, though, it’s possible to reconstruct some of what happened in the first chaotic and crucial three months of the bailout, when Treasury was still in the hands of Henry Paulson and most of the money was disbursed. Needless to say, there is no central clearinghouse for information about the tarp money. To get details of any kind means starting with the hundreds of individual recipients, then poring over S.E.C. filings, annual reports, and other documentation—in other words, performing the standard due diligence that the government itself failed to perform. In the report that follows, we have no more than dipped a toe into the morass, but one fact emerges clearly: a lot of the money wound up in the coffers of some very surprising institutions— institutions that should have been seen as “troubling” as much as “troubled.”
A Reverse Holdup
The intention of Congress when it passed the bailout bill could not have been more clear. The purpose was to buy up defective mortgage-backed securities and other “toxic assets” through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as tarp. But the bill was in fact broad enough to give the Treasury secretary the authority to do whatever he deemed necessary to deal with the financial crisis. If tarp had been a credit card, it would have been called Carte Blanche. That authority was all Paulson needed to switch gears, within a matter of days, and change the entire thrust of the program from buying bad assets to buying stock in banks.
Why did this happen? Ostensibly, Treasury concluded that the task of buying up toxic assets would take too long to help the financial system and unlock the credit markets. So, theoretically, something more immediate was needed—hence the plan to inject billions into banks, whether or not they wanted or needed the money. To be sure, Citigroup and Bank of America were in precarious condition. So was the insurance giant A.I.G., which had already received an infusion from the Federal Reserve and ultimately would receive more tarp money—$70 billion—than any single bank. But rather than just aiding institutions in distress, Treasury set out to disburse money in a more freewheeling way, hoping it would pass rapidly into the financial system and somehow address the system-wide credit crunch. Even at this early stage, it was hard to escape the feeling that the real strategy was less than scientific—amounting to a hope that if a massive pile of money was simply thrown at the economy, some of it would surely do something useful.
On Sunday, October 12, between 6:30 and 7 p.m., Paulson made a series of calls to the C.E.O.’s of the biggest banks—the so-called Big 9—and asked them to come to Treasury the next afternoon for a meeting on the financial crisis. He was short on details, as he would be throughout the crisis. A series of e-mails obtained by Judicial Watch, a Washington public-interest group, offers a window on the moment. The C.E.O. of Citigroup, Vikram Pandit, had agreed to attend, but asked his staff to scope out the purpose. “Can you find out soon as possible what Paulson invite to VP [Vikram Pandit] for meeting at Treasury this afternoon is about?” a Citigroup executive in New York wrote the bank’s Washington office. When Citi’s high-powered lobbyist Nicholas Calio called Paulson’s office, he was told only that Pandit should attend.
Top Treasury staffers were likewise in the dark. Paulson’s chief of staff, James Wilkinson, sent out a 7:30 a.m. e-mail: “Can someone tell Michele Davis, [Kevin] Fromer and me who the ‘Big 9’ are?”
By midmorning, people finally had the names—Vikram Pandit, of Citigroup; Jamie Dimon, of J. P. Morgan Chase; Kenneth Lewis, of Bank of America; Richard Kovacevich, of Wells Fargo; John Thain, of Merrill Lynch; John Mack, of Morgan Stanley; Lloyd Blankfein, of Goldman Sachs; Robert Kelly, of the Bank of New York Mellon; and Ronald Logue, of State Street bank. Their destination was Room 3327, the Secretary’s Conference Room, on the third floor.
Paulson laid before them a one-page memo, “CEO Talking Points.” He wasn’t there to ask for their help, Paulson would say; he was there to tell them what he expected from them. To “arrest the stress in our financial system,” Treasury would unveil a $250 billion plan the next day to buy preferred stock in banks. Paulson’s memo told the bankers bluntly that “your nine firms will be the initial participants.” Paulson wasn’t calling for volunteers; he made it clear the banks had no choice but to allow Treasury to buy stock in their companies. It was basically a reverse holdup, with Paulson holding the gun and forcing the banks to take the money.
Some of the C.E.O.’s had misgivings, fearing that by accepting tarp money their banks would be perceived as shaky by investors and customers. Paulson explained that opting out wasn’t an option. “If a capital infusion is not appealing,” the memo continued, “you should be aware that your regulator will require it in any circumstance.” Paulson gave the bankers until 6:30 p.m. to clear everything with their boards and sign the papers.
Treasury had prepared a form with blank spaces for the name of the bank and the amount of tarp money requested. Each C.E.O. filled in the two blanks by hand—$10 billion, $15 billion, $25 billion, whatever—and then signed and dated the document. That was all it took.
“There Is No Problem Here”
But this was just the beginning. It’s one thing to call nine big banks into a room and give them what turned out to be a total of $125 billion. That required little more than a few hours. It’s quite a different matter to look out over the landscape of 8,000 other U.S. banks and decide which ones should get slices of the tarppie. Moreover, the guiding principle was never clear. Was it to give money to essentially sound banks, so that they could help inject more money into the credit markets? Was it to pull troubled banks into the clear? Was it both—and more?
Regardless, the mechanism to disburse all this money even more widely was an entity called the Office of Financial Stability. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a functioning office yet—it was just a name written into a piece of legislation. To lead it, Paulson picked Neel Kashkari, a 35-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker who had followed Paulson to Treasury when he became secretary, in July 2006. Kashkari was an odd choice to oversee a federal bailout of private companies. A free-market Republican, he had downplayed the gravity of the subprime-mortgage crisis only months before his appointment, reportedly sending the message to one gathering of bankers, “There is no problem here.”
Kashkari and other Paulson aides cobbled together the Office of Financial Stability under immense time pressure. They press-ganged people from elsewhere in Treasury and from far-flung government departments. By the end of the year, there were more “detailees” on loan from other offices (52) than there were permanent staff (38). They were spread out all over Treasury, from the ground floor to the third. Some occupied space in leased offices six blocks away. It was a strange agglomeration of people—stretching from Washington to San Francisco—who had never worked together before.
There were no internal controls to gauge success or failure. The goal was simply to dispense as much money as possible, as fast as possible. When Treasury began giving billions to the banks, the department had no policies in place to ensure that the banks were using the money in ways that met the purposes of the program, however defined. One main purpose, as noted, was to free up credit, but there was no incentive to lend and nothing to stop a bank from simply sitting on the money, bolstering its balance sheet and investing in Treasury bills. Indeed, Treasury’s plan was expressly not to ask the banks what they did with the money. As the Government Accountability Office later learned, “the standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments.” When the G.A.O. asked Treasury if it intended to ask all tarp recipients to provide such an accounting, Treasury said it did not—and would not. “There’s not a bank in this country that would lend money under [these] terms,” Elizabeth Warren, the chair of a Congressional Oversight Panel that was eventually charged by Congress with overseeing tarp activities, would tell a Senate committee.
There wasn’t even anyone within the tarp office to keep track of the money as it was being disbursed. tarpgave that job—along with a $20 million fee—to a private contractor, Bank of New York Mellon, which also happened to be one of the Big 9. So here was a case of a beneficiary helping to oversee a process in which it was a direct participant. Most of the tarp contracts—for everything from legal services to accounting—were awarded under an expedited procedure that government watchdogs regard as “high-risk,” because it lacks a wide array of routine safeguards. In its first three months of operation, the Office of Financial Stability awarded 15 contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to law firms, fiscal agents, management consultants, and providers of various other services. There was enormous potential for conflicts of interest, and no procedure to deal with them. When the possibility of conflict of interest was raised, two of the contractors voiced vague promises to maintain an “open dialog” and “work in good faith” with Treasury, and left it at that.
When Henry Paulson unveiled the bank-rescue plan, he emphasized that it wasn’t a bailout. “This is an investment, not an expenditure, and there is no reason to expect this program will cost taxpayers anything,” he declared. For every $100 Treasury invested in the banks, he maintained, it would receive stock and warrants valued at $100. This claim proved optimistic. The Congressional Oversight Panel that later reviewed the 10 largest tarp transactions concluded that Treasury “paid substantially more for the assets it purchased under the tarp than their then-current market value.” For each $100 spent, Treasury received assets worth about $66.
Ask and You Shall Receive
In those first few weeks, money gushed out of Treasury and into the tarp pipeline at a torrential rate. After giving $125 billion to the big banks, Treasury moved on to the second round, wiring $33.6 billion to 21 other banks on November 14 in exchange for preferred stock. A week later it sent $2.9 billion to 23 more banks. As noted, by the time Barack Obama took office, the tarp tab totaled more than a quarter of a trillion dollars. In its first six months, the new administration disbursed an additional $125 billion to banks, mortgage companies, A.I.G., and the big auto manufacturers.
To the public, the bailout looked like a gold rush by banks competing for tarp money. It was indeed partly that, but the reality is more complex. While some banks lobbied aggressively for tarp money, many others that had no interest in the money were pressured to take it. Treasury’s explanation is that regulators knew which banks were strongest and wanted to get more capital into their hands in order to free up credit. But it’s also true that spreading the money around to a large number of small and medium-size banks helped create the impression that the bailout wasn’t just for a few big boys on Wall Street.
It’s impossible to overstate how casual the process was, or how little Treasury asked of the banks it targeted. Like most bankers, Ray Davis, the C.E.O. of Umpqua Bank, a solid, respectable local bank in Portland, Oregon, followed with great interest all the news out of Washington last fall. But he didn’t see that tarp had much relevance to his own bank. Umpqua was well run. It wasn’t bogged down by a portfolio of bad loans. It had healthy reserves.
Then he got a call from a Treasury Department representative asking if Umpqua would like to participate in the Treasury program and suggesting it would be a good thing for Umpqua to do. Davis listened politely, but the fact was, he says, that Umpqua “didn’t need the funds. Our capital resources were very high.”
The next day, Davis was in his office when another call came through from the same Treasury representative. “Basically what he said was that the secretary of the Treasury would like to have your application on his desk by five o’clock tomorrow afternoon,” Davis recalls.
The “application” was the paperwork for a capital infusion, and Davis was told it would be faxed over right away. By now he was sold on participating. “Here was somebody from the secretary of the Treasury calling,” Davis says, “and complimenting us on the strength of our company and saying you need to do this, to help the government, to be a good American citizen—all that stuff—and I’m saying, ‘That’s good. You’ve got me. I’m in.’”
The most urgent task was to complete the application and get it back to Treasury the next day, and this had Davis in a sweat: “I pictured this 200-page fax that would take me three weeks of work crammed into one evening.” Imagine Davis’s surprise when a staff member walked in soon afterward with the official “Application for tarp Capital Purchase Program.” It consisted of two pages, most of it white space.
If tarp accomplishes nothing else, it has struck a mighty blow for simplicity in government. The application was only 24 lines long, and asked such tough questions as the name and address of the bank, the name of the primary contact, the amount of its common and preferred stock, and how much money the bank wanted. Anyone who has filled out the voluminous federal forms required in order to be eligible for a college loan would die for such an application. Davis recalls that, when the two faxed pages were brought to him, all he could say was “Really?” As soon as Umpqua’s application was approved, Treasury wired $214 million to Umpqua’s account.
What happened in Portland happened elsewhere across the country. Peter Skillern, who heads the Community Reinvestment Association, a nonprofit group in North Carolina, describes a conference he attended where bankers explained that they had been “contacted by their regulators and told by them that they would be taking tarp.”
One policy that tarp did decide to adopt was to keep confidential the name of any bank that was deniedtarp funds—but it never had to invoke this rule. In those early months, with billions being wired all across the country, no financial institution that asked for tarp money was turned away.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Solar Wind Surprise
on: September 12, 2009, 09:33:06 AM
second post of the morning
Solar wind surprise: “This discovery is like finding it got hotter when the sun went down,”
10 09 2009
This gives a whole new meaning to “Total Solar Irradiance”. Instead of TSI, perhaps we should call the energy transfer that comes from the sun to the earth TSE for “Total Solar Energy” so that it includes the solar wind, the geomagnetics, and other yet undiscovered linkages. Jack Eddy is smiling and holding up the patch cord he’s been given at last, wondering how long it will be before we find all the connectors.
Scientists discover surprise in Earth’s upper atmosphere
From the UCLA Newsroom: By Stuart Wolpert
UCLA atmospheric scientists have discovered a previously unknown basic mode of energy transfer from the solar wind to the Earth’s magnetosphere. The research, federally funded by the National Science Foundation, could improve the safety and reliability of spacecraft that operate in the upper atmosphere.
“It’s like something else is heating the atmosphere besides the sun. This discovery is like finding it got hotter when the sun went down,” said Larry Lyons, UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and a co-author of the research, which is in press in two companion papers in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
The sun, in addition to emitting radiation, emits a stream of ionized particles called the solar wind that affects the Earth and other planets in the solar system. The solar wind, which carries the particles from the sun’s magnetic field, known as the interplanetary magnetic field, takes about three or four days to reach the Earth. When the charged electrical particles approach the Earth, they carve out a highly magnetized region — the magnetosphere — which surrounds and protects the Earth.
Charged particles carry currents, which cause significant modifications in the Earth’s magnetosphere. This region is where communications spacecraft operate and where the energy releases in space known as substorms wreak havoc on satellites, power grids and communications systems.
The rate at which the solar wind transfers energy to the magnetosphere can vary widely, but what determines the rate of energy transfer is unclear.
“We thought it was known, but we came up with a major surprise,” said Lyons, who conducted the research with Heejeong Kim, an assistant researcher in the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and other colleagues.
“This is where everything gets started,” Lyons said. “Any important variations in the magnetosphere occur because there is a transfer of energy from the solar wind to the particles in the magnetosphere. The first critical step is to understand how the energy gets transferred from the solar wind to the magnetosphere.”
The interplanetary magnetic field fluctuates greatly in magnitude and direction.
Heejeong Kim and Larry Lyons
“We all have thought for our entire careers — I learned it as a graduate student — that this energy transfer rate is primarily controlled by the direction of the interplanetary magnetic field,” Lyons said. “The closer to southward-pointing the magnetic field is, the stronger the energy transfer rate is, and the stronger the magnetic field is in that direction. If it is both southward and big, the energy transfer rate is even bigger.”
However, Lyons, Kim and their colleagues analyzed radar data that measure the strength of the interaction by measuring flows in the ionosphere, the part of Earth’s upper atmosphere ionized by solar radiation. The results surprised them.
“Any space physicist, including me, would have said a year ago there could not be substorms when the interplanetary magnetic field was staying northward, but that’s wrong,” Lyons said. “Generally, it’s correct, but when you have a fluctuating interplanetary magnetic field, you can have substorms going off once per hour.
“Heejeong used detailed statistical analysis to prove this phenomenon is real. Convection in the magnetosphere and ionosphere can be strongly driven by these fluctuations, independent of the direction of the interplanetary magnetic field.”
Convection describes the transfer of heat, or thermal energy, from one location to another through the movement of fluids such as liquids, gases or slow-flowing solids.
“The energy of the particles and the fields in the magnetosphere can vary by large amounts. It can be 10 times higher or 10 times lower from day to day, even from half-hour to half-hour. These are huge variations in particle intensities, magnetic field strength and electric field strength,” Lyons said.
The magnetosphere was discovered in 1957. By the late 1960s, it had become accepted among scientists that the energy transfer rate was controlled predominantly by the interplanetary magnetic field.
Lyons and Kim were planning to study something unrelated when they made the discovery.
“We were looking to do something else, when we saw life is not the way we expected it to be,” Lyons said. “The most exciting discoveries in science sometimes just drop in your lap. In our field, this finding is pretty earth-shaking. It’s an entire new mode of energy transfer, which is step one. The next step is to understand how it works. It must be a completely different process.”
The National Science Foundation has funded ground-based radars which send off radio waves that reflect off the ionosphere, allowing scientists to measure the speed at which the ions in the ionosphere are moving.
The radar stations are based in Greenland and Alaska. The NSF recently built the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks.
“The National Science Foundation’s radars have enabled us to make this discovery,” Lyons said. “We could not have done this without them.”
The direction of the interplanetary magnetic field is important, Lyons said. Is it going in the same direction as the magnetic field going through the Earth? Does the interplanetary magnetic field connect with the Earth’s magnetic field?
“We thought there could not be strong convection and that the energy necessary for a substorm could not develop unless the interplanetary magnetic field is southward,” Lyons said. “I’ve said it and taught it. Now I have to say, ‘But when you have these fluctuations, which is not a rare occurrence, you can have substorms going off once an hour.’”
Lyons and Kim used the radar measurements to study the strength of the interaction between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere.
One of their papers addresses convection and its affect on substorms to show it is a global phenomenon.
“When the interplanetary magnetic field is pointing northward, there is not much happening, but when the interplanetary magnetic field is southward, the flow speeds in the polar regions of the ionosphere are strong. You see much stronger convection. That is what we expect,” Lyons said. “We looked carefully at the data, and said, ‘Wait a minute! There are times when the field is northward and there are strong flows in the dayside polar ionosphere.’”
The dayside has the most direct contact with the solar wind.
“It’s not supposed to happen that way,” Lyons said. “We want to understand why that is.”
“Heejeong separated the data into when the solar wind was fluctuating a lot and when it was fluctuating a little,” he added. “When the interplanetary magnetic field fluctuations are low, she saw the pattern everyone knows, but when she analyzed the pattern when the interplanetary magnetic field was fluctuating strongly, that pattern completely disappeared. Instead, the strength of the flows depended on the strength of the fluctuations.
“So rather than the picture of the connection between the magnetic field of the sun and the Earth controlling the transfer of energy by the solar wind to the Earth’s magnetosphere, something else is happening that is equally interesting. The next question is discovering what that is. We have some ideas of what that may be, which we will test.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Prof. Svensmark
on: September 12, 2009, 09:30:13 AM
Svensmark: “global warming stopped and a cooling is beginning” – “enjoy global warming while it lasts”
10 09 2009
This opinion piece from Professor Henrik Svensmark was published September 9th in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Translation is from Google translation with some post translation cleanup of jumbled words or phrases by myself. In cases were the words were badly jumbled or didn’t quite make sense I inserted [my interpretation in brackets]. Hat tip to Carsten Arnholm of Norway for bringing this to my attention. – Anthony
Spotless Cueball: Catania observatory photosphere image August 31st, 2009
While the sun sleeps
HENRIK SVENSMARK, Professor, DTU, Copenhagen
Indeed, global warming stopped and a cooling is beginning. No climate model has predicted a cooling of the Earth, on the contrary. This means that projections of future climate is unpredictable, writes Henrik Svensmark.
The star which keeps us alive, has over the last few years almost no sunspots, which are the usual signs of the sun’s magnetic activity.
Last week, reported the scientific team behind Sohosatellitten (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) that the number of sunspot-free days suggest that solar activity is heading towards its lowest level in about 100 years’. Everything indicates that the Sun is moving into a hibernation-like state, and the obvious question is whether it has any significance for us on Earth.
If you ask the International Panel on Climate Change IPCC, representing the current consensus on climate change, so the answer is a reassuring ‘nothing’. But history and recent research suggests that it is probably completely wrong. Let us take a closer look at why.
Solar activity has always varied. Around the year 1000, we had a period of very high solar activity, which coincided with the medieval warmth. It was a period when frosts in May was an almost unknown phenomenon and of great importance for a good harvest. Vikings settled in Greenland and explored the coast of North America. For example, China’s population doubled over this period. But after about 1300, the earth began to get colder and it was the beginning of the period we now call the Little Ice Age. In this cold period all the Viking settlements in Greenland disappeared. Swedes [were surprised to see Denmark to freeze over in ice], surprised the Danes by walking over the ice and the Thames in London froze repeatedly. But more serious was the long periods of crop failure, which resulted in a poorly nourished population, because of disease and hunger [population was reduced] by about 30 per cent in Europe.
It is important to note that the Little Ice Age was a global event. It ended in the late 19th century and was followed by an increase in solar activity. Over the past 50 years solar activity has been the highest since the medieval warmth for 1,000 years ago. And now it appears that the sun returns and is heading towards what is called ‘a grand minimum’ as we saw in the Little Ice Age.
The coincidence between solar activity and climate through the ages have tried explained away as coincidence. But it turns out that almost no matter what time studying, not just the last 1000 years, so there is a line. Solar activity has repeatedly over the past 10,000 years has fluctuated between high and low. Actually, the sun over the past 10,000 years spent in a sleep mode, approx. 17 pct of the time, with a cooling of the Earth to follow.
One can wonder that the international climate panel IPCC does not believe that the sun changed activity has no effect on the climate, but the reason is that they only include changes in solar radiation.
Just radiation would be the simplest way by which the sun could change the climate. A bit like turning up and down the brightness of a light bulb.
Satellite measurements of solar radiation has been shown that the variations are too small to cause climate change, but so has closed his eyes for a second much more powerful way the sun is able to affect Earth’s climate. In 1996 we discovered a surprising influence of the sun – its impact on Earth’s cloud cover. High energy accelerated particles of exploded stars, the cosmic radiation, are helping to form clouds.
When the Sun is active its magnetic field shields better against the cosmic rays from outer space before they reach our planet, and by regulating the Earth’s cloud cover the sun can turn up and down the temperature. High solar activity obtained fewer clouds and the earth is getting warmer. Low solar activity inferior shields against cosmic radiation, and it results in increased cloud cover and hence a cooling. As the sun’s magnetism has doubled its strength during the 20th century, this natural mechanism may be responsible for a large part of global warming during this period.
This also explains why most climate scientists are trying to ignore this possibility. It does in fact favor the idea that the 20th century temperature rise is mainly due to human emissions of CO2. If the sun as has influenced a significant part of warming in the 20 century, it means that CO2’s contribution must necessarily be smaller.
Ever since our theory was put forward in 1996, it has been through a very sharp criticism, which is normal in science.
First it was said that a link between clouds and solar activity could not be correct because no physical mechanism was known. But in 2006 after many years of work we managed to conduct experiments at DTU Space, where we demonstrated the existence of a physical mechanism. The cosmic radiation helps to form aerosols, which are the seeds for cloud formation.
Then came the criticism that the mechanism we have found in the laboratory was unable to survive in the real atmosphere and therefore had no practical significance. But the criticism we have just emphatically rejected. It turns out that the sun itself is doing, what we might call natural experiments. Giant solar flares can have the cosmic radiation on earth to dive suddenly over a few days. In the days after the eruption cloud cover falls by about 4 per cent. And the content of liquid water in clouds (droplets) is reduced by almost 7 per cent. Indeed, [you could say] that the clouds on Earth originated in space.
Therefore we have looked at the sun’s magnetic activity with increasing concern, since it began to wane in the mid-1990s.
That the sun could fall asleep in a deep minimum was suggested by [solar scientists] at a meeting in Kiruna in Sweden two years ago. As Nigel Calder and I updated our book “The Chilling Stars” therefore, we wrote a little provocative [passage] “we recommend our friends to enjoy global warming while it lasts.”
Indeed, global warming stopped and a cooling is beginning. Last week, it was argued by Mojib Latif from the University of Kiel at the UN World Climate Conference in Geneva that cooling may continue through the next 10 to 20 years.
His explanation was natural changes in North Atlantic circulation and not in solar activity. But no matter how it is interpreted, the natural variations in climate then penetrates more and more.
One consequence may be that the sun itself will show its importance for climate and thus to test the theories of global warming. No climate model has predicted a cooling of the Earth, on the contrary.
This means that projections of future climate is unpredictable. A forecast [that] says it may be warmer or colder for 50 years, is not very useful, for science is not able to predict solar activity.
So in many ways, we stand at a crossroads. The near future will be extremely interesting and I think it is important to recognize that nature is completely independent of what we humans think about it. Will Greenhouse theory survive a significant cooling of the Earth? Not in its current dominant form. Unfortunately, tomorrow’s climate challenges will be quite different than greenhouse theory’s predictions, and perhaps it becomes again popular to investigate the sun’s impact on climate.
Professor Henrik Svensmark is director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at DTU Space. His book “The Chilling Stars” has also been published in Danish as “Climate and the Cosmos” (Gads Forlag, DK ISBN 9788712043508)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom
on: September 11, 2009, 08:36:18 PM
Pasted from the 9/11 thread:
with PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie
American cops: Force multipliers in counterterrorism
Editor's Note: I don't typically write in "first person" on this Web site. This is, in fact, the first time I’ve ever done so. One of the great pleasures of my job is that I get to talk to heroes every day. From cadets to Chiefs of Police, from the rookies to the recently retired, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with hundreds of outstanding police officers. But I don’t often get to speak with one of our country’s heroes who has hunted (and bagged) international terrorists. Fred Burton has been there and done that, and a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time with him. What follows are a few of the highlights of that conversation. I will refer back to this interview at times in the future — my intent here is merely to relate some of the wisdom he shared with me during our talk, the sum of which is this: American cops are on front lines against potential terrorist attacks on our soil.
— Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Senior Editor
Some PoliceOne Members already know a little bit about Fred Burton through his regular columns on current counterterrorism activities both here and abroad. For those of you who don’t know his work, a little bit of historical context will go a long way.
Fred Burton began his law enforcement career in a way many police officers can relate to — a young man with the desire to help people in his community became a cop in Montgomery County, Maryland, which borders our nation’s Capitol. In the first chapter of his book, GHOST: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent, he writes, “I was a Maryland cop. I protected my community. I loved law enforcement, but I wanted something more.”
He applied for federal service, and the Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. Department of State offered him a job. Before he began training for the DSS in November 1985 — around the time terrorists hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise liner — he had never even heard of the organization. By the time he retired from DSS, Fred had helped create (and then lead) the agency’s Counterterrorism Division. “Very few people have ever heard of us,” Fred writes. “My training for that work was as a street cop back when terrorism was in its infancy.”
He orchestrated the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He investigated cases including the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the killing of Rabbi Meir Kahane, al Qaeda’s New York City bombing plots before 9/11, and the Libyan-backed terrorist attacks against diplomats in Sanaa and Khartoum. He has served his country in ways that may remain secret forever.
Today, Fred Burton is widely considered to be one of the world’s foremost authorities on terrorists and terrorist organizations. As Vice President for Counterterrorism and Corporate Security at STRATFOR, a global private intelligence company, Fred Burton leads a team of experts (with input from human intelligence sources around the world) that analyzes and forecast the most significant events and trends related to terrorism and counterterrorism.
To this day, he carries with him at all times a list of about a dozen names — handwritten into a small journal — of known actors, unidentified suspects, rogue intelligence operatives, and terrorists’ aliases or code names. When a bad guy is caught or killed, the name is scratched off the list. The number of names varies, he says, “depending on the speed of justice in the world.”
The NYPD Beat Cop Concept
Most police officers have a pretty good handle on where the “high-value targets” are in their patrol area. Many even think beyond the typical list of power plants, transportation facilities, malls, hospitals, sports complexes, rail yards, radio towers, and public buildings. But it goes way beyond even that. Burton says that agencies and officers should be aware of where the offices are whose CEOs or managers are particularly high-profile, or unexpectedly low-profile. He says that targets could be among the most innocuous-looking structures and areas.
“It’s still surprising to me the kind of blank stares I get at times — officers may know that they patrol an area that has a nuclear reactor, or that there’s a large dam. But they may not know, for example, that large oil, chemical, or gas lines run through their areas or that your suspicious person call in the vicinity of a location may be connected to those kinds of places.”
Further, Burton advises that police officers get to know the locations of the synagogues in their area of responsibility, as well as the mosques. “Have you made any effort to reach out to the Imam of the mosque or the Rabbi of that synagogue and establish some dialogue? What I sense — what I know and I’m sure you know too — is that cops are responding to their radio calls and they don’t have a lot of opportunity to get out and just develop some very granular contacts in the community. But these could turn out to be valuable information conduits.”
If you have a good avenue of communication within your various communities, he explains, they’re more apt to bring more information to your attention. “Say, for example, if they have someone — whether it’s in the jihadi community or in the right-wing Jewish extremist community — that they want to talk to you about...” Burton offers, and then allows that sentence hang in the air, unanswered.
Individuals working day-to-day in ethnically-owned private small business — from the deli to the hot dog cart to the self-storage businesses — are always good conduits of information if you really know your area of responsibility. When he visits police agencies around the country, he asks for a show of hands among the gathered group: ‘who here knows those business owners, or even where the synagogues, Jewish day care centers, or mosques are located?’
“You’ll get a hit or miss response,” he laments. “In an audience of 100 you might get 25 hands. Whether folks don’t want to respond, or what, I don’t know. But I get a sense there’s still not a lot of understanding of your different communities... where you can play a significant role in the war on terror.”
Information about all of these types of people and places has meaning — specifically it can mean the difference between an attack that’s carried out and one that’s prevented.
It’s the old beat cop principle that New York City is so famous for — knowing everything that is happening on your beat. “You really do need informational resources in the community as well as good observation skills to know what changes are taking place.”
Who’s Watching the Watchers?
Most pre-operational surveillance — such as sitting on a park bench, taking a picture, or shooting scenic video — is innocent-looking in nature and generally does not break the law. The real problem with this isn’t the legality of the activity, it’s that in too many cases, virtually no one is taking note that it’s happening. Burton says that often, no one has the mindset to wonder, ‘Why is this person taking a picture of this building?’
Worse, omong those who do make the observation, few will take the time to write it up in an intelligence report and make sure that it gets to the local Joint Terrorism Task Force for further investigation. “There may be three or four of those things that happen across a region,” Burton says, “but no one would know to make an analysis because no one bothered to send the sighting up the line.”
According to Burton, there’s a prevailing expectation among too many cops that someone else is doing that, but in fact, nobody is. “I think street cops think, ‘Well, the FBI must be doing that.’ And that’s just not the case. You know, the FBI — especially today’s FBI — they have an operating manual that’s about the size of an old Bell telephone book. They’re under a lot of bureaucratic requirements and scrutiny as to when they can talk to people and when they can’t. It takes a lot of supervisory approvals and so forth. So, your average street cop or your average detective has much more probability of running into a real terrorist than your average federal agent does. They also have the ability to just do more intelligence collection through interfacing with their area of responsibility.”
Burton contends that the thwarting of a terrorist attack is more probable at the street level than at the federal level. “I spent a lot of time with these folks across the country and I talked to a lot of different people and do a lot of speaking engagements with counter-terrorism agents. Even in the post-9/11 environment with DHS and your joint terrorism task forces with intelligence division agents and detectives — everybody kind of senses that somebody else is doing this stuff. In reality, they’re not.”
Jails: The Jihadist Jack-in-the-Box
Where would a jihadist go to cultivate new recruits? Where would he find recent converts to Islam who could easily be radicalized? Where are there large numbers of young men who feel disenfranchised and prone to violence? You’ve probably already guessed the top two places (hint: they’re not colleges and mosques). Cartels and gangs on the streets, and their related populace who live behind bars.
“You have a couple of environments that are very conducive for the recruitment for jihadist criminal activity. Obviously, one is the prison systems — more at the local and state level than the federal system because the federal system usually has folks that are put away for a good number of years due to federal sentencing guidelines. So, in essence, at the local and state levels where you see more of the recruitment of gang members as well as you get the converts to Islam, you get the captive audience that has to join the group for self-preservation phenomena.”
Burton says that there are some outstanding programs underway in some state and local corrections agencies that are beginning to develop actionable intelligence on these prisoners to garner how they’re doing recruitment. Despite these excellent efforts, there remain some “huge intelligence gaps” due to the difficulty of getting that kind of data and making sense of it. But strides are being made by extending some of the intelligence gathering activities devoted toward drug cartels and their criminal cadre who occupy our prisons.
“The other phenomena — and we see it especially when it comes to the Border — is that relationship between your various cartels and your criminal enterprises, your street gangs. Whether it’s MS-13, Barrio Aztecas, or a lot of smaller ones, you know there has to be an interface between the cartels that are pushing the dope north and the flow of weapons, stolen vehicles, and cash going south. You have that hand and glove interface there.”
Case in Point: A Successful Model
At the center of the successful take-down of a grassroots jihadist cell in May are some of the very things Burton discussed with PoliceOne:
1. among these homegrown terrorists, only one was reared as a Muslim — the other three converted to Islam in prison
2. relatively ordinary local synagogues were among the terrorists’ intended targets (the other target was a U.S. military transport aircraft)
3. one well-placed informant in a mosque was the conduit of information to law enforcement
4. the would-be terrorists used cameras bought at Wal-Mart to photograph their targets, doing their pre-operational surveillance in the open
5. vigilant observation of the suspects — and information being quickly passed to federal agents — led to the successful prevention of an attack
Of course, we’re talking about the Newburgh plot. In STRATFOR’s excellent analysis of the failed plot, Burton and his team write that “with an informant in place, the task force in charge of tracking the Newburgh plotters most likely constructed an elaborate surveillance system that kept the four men under constant watch during the investigation and sting operation, using technical surveillance of their residences and potential targets.”
Having the ability to closely observe the group’s communications and movements, STRATFOR estimated, law enforcement officials were able to gain control over the group’s activities to such a degree that they felt confident in letting the plotters plant a 37-pound inert explosive device in the trunk of a car outside of Riverdale Temple and two similarly harmless bombs outside the Riverdale Jewish Center, a synagogue a few blocks away.
There’s one other element to the Newburgh plot that Burton discussed with PoliceOne, and it’s as esoteric as it is concrete. The suspects told their arresting officers that they “wanted to commit jihad” because they were “disturbed about what happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Going Home... Eyeing the Horizon
Burton was recently invited to do a presentation on terrorism for his old PD, Montgomery County Police. “I guess it was about 250 police officers, and they had invited the U.S. Park Police and ICE and ATF... it was good going back and having an opportunity to talk to my old department.”
Among the things Burton said to the group is something he tries to talk about wherever he goes — that police officers are so focused on the day-to-day of patrol that they sometimes fail to recognize how the events which take place abroad can impact security here in the States.
“Whether that is a Mumbai attack or the current saber-rattling between Israel and Iran, they don’t put it in a domestic perspective. Meaning, ‘how does this international event resonate here? What are the possible ramifications to us here on my beat and in my city?’ I talk to a lot of police officers and what I see is that once you start talking about this issue, they clearly get it then and recognize that it’s important.”
Burton says that once the international trigger incident occurs, it is way too late to go back and start laying the foundations to those relationships and making those intelligence inroads. The “quiet times” on patrol are the best times for doing security surveys at those facilities, or establishing liaison with the owner of those properties. He asks, “Have you done a walk-through when you’ve got some down time to know these sites in case you’re called for an active shooter that takes place at this location?”
Just one example from which you can choose — among the topics he covers at STRATFOR — Burton points to the tensions between Iran and Israel right now. “Whether or not Israel is going to conduct a preemptive strike on Iran is a topic that we discuss here every day. That event, in the event that it occurs, will significantly resonate here in the United States. One: does your average police officer recognize that? And two: you’ll be in a much better position if you already know within your area of responsibility those Jewish-owned, multi-national Jewish schools, synagogues, as potential target sites and you’ve made an effort to establish contact with all of them. Because that brings you to the new phenomena of your lone-wolf jihadi and how in all probability — again, back to your street officer — your street officer is going to be the most probable interface between the victim and the perpetrator.”
Counterterrorism Force Multipliers
Burton states with conviction that police officers in the United States are at the front line of the preemption of a terrorist attack on our soil. He adds that strictly from a data-collection perspective — and all police officers are data-collectors — cops are “our best eyes and ears for detecting pre-operational surveillance by anybody. If you could marshal those assets nationally, from sea to shining sea, you could have a much better picture of events from a real-time surveillance perspective than we currently do.”
The good news, he says, is that America’s cops are a counterterrorism force multiplier, especially when you’re entering into times of heightened concern.
The bad news is chillingly simple: “Based on my investigations and the kind of work I’ve done in the past, once that suicide bomber starts rolling toward target they’re going to be about 95 to 97 percent successful in carrying out their mission and killing somebody.”
A veteran of more than ten years in online and print journalism, Doug Wyllie was writing about digital music before Napster, streaming video before YouTube, and wireless technology since the original Palm Pilot debuted. As senior editor of PoliceOne, Doug is responsible for the editorial direction of the PoliceOne website. In addition to his editorial and managerial responsibilities, Doug writes on a broad range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton: Federalist 34
on: September 11, 2009, 12:43:45 PM
"To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace; and that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquillity would be to calculate on the weaker springs of human character." --Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 34, 1788
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Many entries
on: September 10, 2009, 11:32:59 AM
"Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them." --Thomas Jefferson
"Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties, and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of people, it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates...to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them." --John Adams
"Can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honor? If you can -- GO -- and carry with you the jest of Tories and scorn of Whigs -- the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world. Go, starve, and be forgotten!" --George Washington
"The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse." --James Madison
"It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth -- and listen to the song of that syren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? ... For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it." --Patrick Henry
"[W]ith respect to future debt; would it not be wise and just for that nation to declare in the constitution they are forming that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own age..." --Thomas Jefferson
"To say that the United States should be answerable for twenty-five millions of dollars without knowing whether the ways and means can be provided, and without knowing whether those who are to succeed us will think with us on the subject, would be rash and unjustifiable. Sir, in my opinion, it would be hazarding the public faith in a manner contrary to every idea of prudence." --James Madison
"The people can never wilfully betray their own interests; but they may possibly be betrayed by the representatives of the people; and the danger will be evidently greater where the whole legislative trust is lodged in the hands of one body of men, than where the concurrence of separate and dissimilar bodies is required in every public act." --Federalist No. 63
"Public affairs go on pretty much as usual: perpetual chicanery and rather more personal abuse than there used to be..." --John Adams
"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers." --John Adams, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1756
"To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients, by which the wealth of a nation may be promoted." --Alexander Hamilton, Report on Manufactures, 1791
"Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, Judges, and Governors, shall all become wolves." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Carrington, 1787
On Tuesday, community organizer Barack Obama broadcast a televised message to millions of children in the nation's government school bureaucracies. His administration prepared a "Menu of Classroom Activities" for his sycophantic apparatchiks in teaching and administrative positions.
For example, it was suggested that teachers of children in K-6 grades "build background knowledge about the President of the United States by reading books about Barack Obama" or have students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."
For 7-12th grades, the administration suggests that teachers "post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama's speeches on education."
Here are a few suggestions, which were not on the administrations menu of activities.
Activity 1: For K-6th grades, build background knowledge about our God and our country by reading books about our Founders. Have students write letters to Obama so he can learn a little something about how liberty is "endowed by our Creator," and what happens when tyrants anoint themselves as the arbiters of liberty. Start with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. ... Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."
Activity 2: For 7-12th grades, post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from our Founders on the subject of education.
"[W]e ought to deprecate the hazard attending ardent and susceptible minds, from being too strongly, and too early prepossessed in favor of other political systems, before they are capable of appreciating their own." --George Washington
"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers." --John Adams
"Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge." --James Wilson
"A nation under a well regulated government should permit none to remain uninstructed. It is monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support." --Thomas Paine
"No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders." --Samuel Adams
"If a nation expects to be ignorant -- and free -- in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." --Thomas Jefferson
"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." --James Madison
Activity 3: Have a class discussion about why Obama attended a very expensive private school in Hawaii, and why he now spends $60,000 annually for his two children to attend private school, but does not support school choice initiatives for students stuck in government institutions?
Obama closed the indoctrination exercise with these words: "At the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents and the best schools in the world, and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities."
However, with few exceptions, we do not have "the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents and the best schools in the world," and we don't have them primarily as a consequence of Leftist social policies, which Obama wants to perpetuate. Obama certainly does not have the moral authority to instruct children to "fulfill your responsibilities," until he starts with a few of his own, like his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / UK committee recommends rationing air travel
on: September 10, 2009, 11:06:24 AM
U.K. committee recommends rationed air travel
Government advisers in the U.K. are warning that air travel in the future may have to be rationed to meet target emissions levels. "We have to think seriously about constraining demand and the way we do that is to have high fares to reflect carbon prices," said David Kennedy, chief of the Committee on Climate Change, in a letter to government ministers. "You may want to go on holiday more that you do now. But you may not be able to do that in a carbon-constrained world," Kennedy said. Telegraph (London)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Palin phenomenon
on: September 10, 2009, 10:24:34 AM
By SARAH PALIN
Writing in the New York Times last month, President Barack Obama asked that Americans "talk with one another, and not over one another" as our health-care debate moves forward.
I couldn't agree more. Let's engage the other side's arguments, and let's allow Americans to decide for themselves whether the Democrats' health-care proposals should become governing law.
Some 45 years ago Ronald Reagan said that "no one in this country should be denied medical care because of a lack of funds." Each of us knows that we have an obligation to care for the old, the young and the sick. We stand strongest when we stand with the weakest among us.
We also know that our current health-care system too often burdens individuals and businesses—particularly small businesses—with crippling expenses. And we know that allowing government health-care spending to continue at current rates will only add to our ever-expanding deficit.
How can we ensure that those who need medical care receive it while also reducing health-care costs? The answers offered by Democrats in Washington all rest on one principle: that increased government involvement can solve the problem. I fundamentally disagree.
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.Common sense tells us that the government's attempts to solve large problems more often create new ones. Common sense also tells us that a top-down, one-size-fits-all plan will not improve the workings of a nationwide health-care system that accounts for one-sixth of our economy. And common sense tells us to be skeptical when President Obama promises that the Democrats' proposals "will provide more stability and security to every American."
With all due respect, Americans are used to this kind of sweeping promise from Washington. And we know from long experience that it's a promise Washington can't keep.
Let's talk about specifics. In his Times op-ed, the president argues that the Democrats' proposals "will finally bring skyrocketing health-care costs under control" by "cutting . . . waste and inefficiency in federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid and in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies . . . ."
First, ask yourself whether the government that brought us such "waste and inefficiency" and "unwarranted subsidies" in the first place can be believed when it says that this time it will get things right. The nonpartistan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) doesn't think so: Its director, Douglas Elmendorf, told the Senate Budget Committee in July that "in the legislation that has been reported we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount."
Now look at one way Mr. Obama wants to eliminate inefficiency and waste: He's asked Congress to create an Independent Medicare Advisory Council—an unelected, largely unaccountable group of experts charged with containing Medicare costs. In an interview with the New York Times in April, the president suggested that such a group, working outside of "normal political channels," should guide decisions regarding that "huge driver of cost . . . the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives . . . ."
Given such statements, is it any wonder that many of the sick and elderly are concerned that the Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead to rationing of their health care by—dare I say it—death panels? Establishment voices dismissed that phrase, but it rang true for many Americans. Working through "normal political channels," they made themselves heard, and as a result Congress will likely reject a wrong-headed proposal to authorize end-of-life counseling in this cost-cutting context. But the fact remains that the Democrats' proposals would still empower unelected bureaucrats to make decisions affecting life or death health-care matters. Such government overreaching is what we've come to expect from this administration.
Speaking of government overreaching, how will the Democrats' proposals affect the deficit? The CBO estimates that the current House proposal not only won't reduce the deficit but will actually increase it by $239 billion over 10 years. Only in Washington could a plan that adds hundreds of billions to the deficit be hailed as a cost-cutting measure.
The economic effects won't be limited to abstract deficit numbers; they'll reach the wallets of everyday Americans. Should the Democrats' proposals expand health-care coverage while failing to curb health-care inflation rates, smaller paychecks will result. A new study for Watson Wyatt Worldwide by Steven Nyce and Syl Schieber concludes that if the government expands health-care coverage while health-care inflation continues to rise "the higher costs would drive disposable wages downward across most of the earnings spectrum, although the declines would be steepest for lower-earning workers." Lower wages are the last thing Americans need in these difficult economic times.
Finally, President Obama argues in his op-ed that Democrats' proposals "will provide every American with some basic consumer protections that will finally hold insurance companies accountable." Of course consumer protection sounds like a good idea. And it's true that insurance companies can be unaccountable and unresponsive institutions—much like the federal government. That similarity makes this shift in focus seem like nothing more than an attempt to deflect attention away from the details of the Democrats' proposals—proposals that will increase our deficit, decrease our paychecks, and increase the power of unaccountable government technocrats.
Instead of poll-driven "solutions," let's talk about real health-care reform: market-oriented, patient-centered, and result-driven. As the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon and others have argued, such policies include giving all individuals the same tax benefits received by those who get coverage through their employers; providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to purchase their own coverage; reforming tort laws to potentially save billions each year in wasteful spending; and changing costly state regulations to allow people to buy insurance across state lines. Rather than another top-down government plan, let's give Americans control over their own health care.
Democrats have never seriously considered such ideas, instead rushing through their own controversial proposals. After all, they don't need Republicans to sign on: Democrats control the House, the Senate and the presidency. But if passed, the Democrats' proposals will significantly alter a large sector of our economy. They will not improve our health care. They will not save us money. And, despite what the president says, they will not "provide more stability and security to every American."
We often hear such overblown promises from Washington. With first principles in mind and with the facts in hand, tell them that this time we're not buying it.
Ms. Palin, Sen. John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election, was governor of Alaska from December 2006 to July 2009.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica
on: September 09, 2009, 10:31:25 PM
SEPTEMBER 8, 2009, 7:27 P.M. ET.
The Emerging Axis of Iran and Venezuela
The prospect of Iranian missiles in South America should not be dismissed.
By ROBERT M. MORGENTHAU
The diplomatic ties between Iran and Venezuela go back almost 50 years and until recently amounted to little more than the routine exchange of diplomats. With the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the relationship dramatically changed.
Today Mr. Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez have created a cozy financial, political and military partnership rooted in a shared anti-American animus. Now is the time to develop policies in this country to ensure this partnership produces no poisonous fruit.
Signs of the evolving partnership began to emerge in 2006, when Venezuela joined Cuba and Syria as the only nations to vote against a U.N. Atomic Energy Agency resolution to report Iran to the Security Council over its failures to abide U.N. sanctions to curtail its nuclear program. A year later, during a visit by Mr. Chávez to Tehran, the two nations declared an "axis of unity" against the U.S. and Ecuador. And in June of this year, while protesters lined the streets of Tehran following the substantial allegations of fraud in the re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Chávez publicly offered him support. As the regime cracked down on political dissent, jailing, torturing and killing protesters, Venezuela stood with the Iranian hard-liners.
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Associated Press Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meet in Tehran, Sept. 5.
Meanwhile, Iranian investments in Venezuela have been rising. The two countries have signed various Memoranda of Understanding on technology development, cooperation on banking and finance, and oil and gas exploration and refining. In April 2008, the two countries also signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging full military support and cooperation. United Press International reported in August that Iranian military advisers have been embedded with Venezuelan troops.
According to a report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in December of last year, Venezuela has an estimated 50,000 tons of unmined uranium. There is speculation in the Carnegie report that Venezuela could be mining uranium for Iran.
The Iranians have also opened International Development Bank in Caracas under the Spanish name Banco Internacional de Desarrollo C.A., an independent subsidiary of Export Development Bank of Iran. Last October the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed economic sanctions against both of these Iranian banks for providing or attempting to provide financial services to Iran's Ministry of Defense and its Armed Forces Logistics—the two Iranian military entities tasked with advancing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
My office has been told that that over the past three years a number of Iranian-owned and controlled factories have sprung up in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela—ideal locations for the illicit production of weapons. Evidence of the type of activity conducted inside the factories is limited. But we should be concerned, especially in light of an incident in December 2008. Turkish authorities detained an Iranian vessel bound for Venezuela after discovering lab equipment capable of producing explosives packed inside 22 containers marked "tractor parts." The containers also allegedly contained barrels labeled with "danger" signs. I think it is safe to assume that this was a lucky catch—and that most often shipments of this kind reach their destination in Venezuela.
A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study reported a high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military and law enforcement that has allowed that country to become a major transshipment route for trafficking cocaine out of Colombia. Intelligence gathered by my office strongly supports the conclusion that Hezbollah supporters in South America are engaged in the trafficking of narcotics. The GAO study also confirms allegations of Venezuelan support for FARC, the Colombian terrorist insurgency group that finances its operations through narcotics trafficking, extortion and kidnapping.
In a raid on a FARC training camp this July, Colombian military operatives recovered Swedish-made anti-tank rocket launchers sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. Sweden believes this demonstrates a violation of the end-user agreement by Venezuela, as the Swedish manufacturer was never authorized to sell arms to Colombia. Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami, a Venezuelan of Syrian origin, lamely called the allegations a "media show," and "part of a campaign against our people, our government and our institutions."
In the past several years Iranian entities have employed a pervasive system of deceitful and fraudulent practices to move money all over the world without detection. The regime has done this, I believe, to pay for materials necessary to develop nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, and road-side bombs. Venezuela has an established financial system that Iran, with the help of Mr. Chávez's government, can exploit to avoid economic sanctions.
Consider, for example, the United Kingdom bank Lloyds TSB. From 2001 to 2004, on behalf of Iranian banks and their customers, the bank admitted in a statement of facts to my office that it intentionally altered wire transfer information to hide the identity of its clients. This allowed the illegal transfer of more than $300 million of Iranian cash despite economic sanctions prohibiting Iranian access to the U.S. financial system. In January, Lloyds entered into deferred prosecution agreements with my office and the Justice Department to resolve the investigation.
In April, we also announced the indictment of a company called Limmt, and its manager, Li Fang Wei. The U.S. government had banned Limmt from engaging in transactions with or through the U.S. financial system because of its role in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to Iran. But our investigation revealed that Li Fang Wei and Limmt used aliases and shell companies to deceive banks into processing payments related to the shipment of banned missile, nuclear and so-called dual use materials to subsidiary organizations of the Iranian Defense Industries Organization. (Limmt, through the international press, has denied the allegations in the indictment.) The tactics used in these cases should send a strong signal to law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and military commands throughout the world about the style and level of deception the Iranians' employ. Based on information developed by my office, we believe that the Iranians, with the help of Venezuela, are now engaged in similar sanctions-busting schemes.
Why is Hugo Chávez willing to open up his country to a foreign nation with little shared history or culture? I believe it is because his regime is bent on becoming a regional power, and is fanatical in its approach to dealing with the U.S. The diplomatic overture of President Barack Obama in shaking Mr. Chávez's hand in April at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago is no reason to assume the threat has diminished. In fact, with the groundwork laid years ago, we are entering a period where the fruits of the Iran-Venezuela bond will begin to ripen.
That means two of the world's most dangerous regimes, the self-described "axis of unity," will be acting together in our backyard on the development of nuclear and missile technology. And it seems that terrorist groups have found the perfect operating ground for training and planning, and financing their activities through narco-trafficking.
The Iranian nuclear and long-range missile threats, and creeping Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere, cannot be overlooked. My office and other law-enforcement agencies can help ensure that money laundering, terror financing, and sanctions violations are not ignored, and that criminals and the banks that aid Iran will be discovered and prosecuted. But U.S. law enforcement alone is not enough to counter the threat.
The public needs to be aware of Iran's growing presence in Latin America. Moreover, the U.S. and the international community must strongly consider ways to monitor and sanction Venezuela's banking system. Failure to act will leave open a window susceptible to money laundering by the Iranian government, the narcotics organizations with ties to corrupt elements in the Venezuelan government, and the terrorist organizations that Iran supports openly.
Mr. Morgenthau is the Manhattan district attorney. This op-ed is adapted from a speech yesterday at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Free Speech vs. Islamic Fascism (formerly Buy DANISH!!!)
on: September 09, 2009, 04:19:39 PM
Yale Removes Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad From Forthcoming Book, Citing Fears of Violence
Tuesday , September 08, 2009
Yale University wiped a forthcoming book clean of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, fearing the images would cause another outbreak of violence. Yale University Press, which the Ivy League school owns, removed the 12 caricatures from the book "The Cartoons That Shook the World" by Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen — which is scheduled to be released next week.
A Danish newspaper originally published the cartoons, including one depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, in 2005. Other Western publications reprinted them. The following year, the cartoons triggered massive protests from Morocco to Indonesia. Rioters torched Danish and other Western diplomatic missions. Some Muslim countries boycotted Danish products.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
"There is a repeated pattern of violence when these cartoons have been republished,” University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer told the Yale Daily News in August. "The homework for us here this summer was to ask people in positions who could give expert counsel whether there is still an appreciable chance of violence from publishing the cartoons.”
The university said it consulted counterterrorism officials, Muslim diplomats, the top Muslim official at the United Nations and other mostly unidentified experts in making its decision.
Those experts said they had "serious concerns about violence occurring following publication of either the cartoons or other images of the Prophet Muhammad in a book about the cartoons,” University President Richard Levin told key administrators in an Aug. 13 letter, according to the Yale paper.
Those consulted said republishing the images "ran a serious risk of instigating violence," a press spokesman told FOXNews.com in August.
Click here for FOXNews.com's previous coverage of the controversy.
The action taken by the New Haven, Conn., university regarding the book, which looks at how the illustrations caused outrage in the Muslim world, has drawn criticism from prominent Yale alumni and a national group of university professors.
"I think it's horrifying that the campus of Nathan Hale has become the first place where America surrenders to this kind of fear because of what extremists might possibly do," said Michael Steinberg, an attorney and Yale graduate.
Steinberg was among 25 alumni who signed a protest letter sent Friday to Yale Alumni Magazine that urged the university to restore the drawings to the book.
Other signers included John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, former Bush administration speechwriter David Frum and Seth Corey, a liberal doctor.
"I think it's intellectual cowardice," Bolton said Thursday. "I think it's very self defeating on Yale's part. To me it's just inexplicable."
Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, wrote in a recent letter that Yale's decision effectively means: "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands."
In a statement explaining the decision, Yale University Press said it decided to exclude a Danish newspaper page of the cartoons and other depictions of Muhammad after asking the university for help on the issue.
"The decision rested solely on the experts' assessment that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims," the statement said.
Republication of the cartoons has repeatedly resulted in violence around the world, leading to more than 200 deaths and hundreds of injuries, the statement said. It also noted that major newspapers in the United states and Britain have declined to print the cartoons.
"Yale and Yale University Press are deeply committed to freedom of speech and expression, so the issues raised here were difficult," the statement said. "The press would never have reached the decision it did on the grounds that some might be offended by portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad."
John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, said the critics are "grandstanding." He said it was not a case of censorship because the university did not suppress original content that was not available in other places.
"I would never have agreed to censor original content," Donatich said.
Klausen was surprised by the decision when she learned of it in July. She said scholarly reviewers and Yale's publication committee comprised of faculty recommended the cartoons be included.
"I'm extremely upset about that," Klausen said.
The experts Yale consulted did not read the manuscript, Klausen said, telling the school newspaper that their opinions were "terribly alarmist." She said she consulted Muslim leaders and did not believe including the cartoons in a scholarly debate would spark violence.
“I have a reputation as a fair and sympathetic observer,” Klausen told the Yale paper. “There’s absolutely nothing anti-Muslim about my book.”
Klausen said she reluctantly agreed to have the book published without the images because she did not believe any other university press would publish them, and she hopes Yale will include them in later editions.
She argues in the book that there is a misperception that Muslims spontaneously arose in anger over the cartoons when they really were symbols manipulated by those already involved in violence.
Donatich said there wasn't time for the experts to read the book, but they were told of the context. He said reviewers and the publications committee did not object, but were not asked about the security risk.
Many Muslim nations want to restrict speech to prevent insults to Islam they claim have proliferated since the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, a world affairs columnist and CNN host who serves on Yale's governing board, said he told Yale that he believed publishing the images would have provoked violence.
"As a journalist and public commentator, I believe deeply in the First Amendment and academic freedom," Zakaria said. "But in this instance Yale Press was confronted with a clear threat of violence and loss of life."
Click here for more on this story from the Yale Daily News.http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,547572,00.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams
on: September 08, 2009, 07:59:17 AM
"No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders." --Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, 1775
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: September 20, 2009 Gathering
on: September 08, 2009, 12:38:17 AM
What a coincidence! The registered fighters list has just been updated!
I'm not seeing Iron Dog, Cyborg Dog, Boo Dog, Tennessee Dog up there. Remember, EVERYONE, TRIBE OR NOT, NEEDS TO REGISTER. Fax is an option here people.
Iron Dog-- Cindy says that she hasn't been to the mail box in a few days, so if your registration would have come in during the last few days, it might be at the mail box.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: September 20, 2009 Gathering
on: September 07, 2009, 07:46:46 PM
Posted on behalf of Josh, who will be answering on his own behalf for here forward (this means you have to register for the forum Josh
"Hello, im a fencer, and i want to test my swordsmanship in a gathering but i am unsure how a fencer would be able to compete and adapt in a gathering since my weapon of choice is basically something that would poke at my opponent causing little to no damage. is there a weapon you would suggest i use that could keep me still using my fencing technique? or is there someway to adapt a fencing saber to be more useful at a gathering?"
Great question-- lets see if we can find a solution!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Chance to repeal McCain-Feingold
on: September 07, 2009, 07:43:26 PM
By THEODORE B. OLSON
Public discussion about the character and fitness for office of presidential candidates is at the core of the First Amendment's command that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the Freedom of Speech." Yet Congress, in its zeal to impose onerous campaign-finance restrictions, has made political speech a felony for one class of speakers. Corporations and unions can face up to five years in prison for broadcasting candidate-related advocacy during federal elections.
Is outlawing political speech based on the identity of the speaker compatible with the First Amendment? Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments to determine the answer to this question.
The case—Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—involves a 90-minute documentary produced by Citizens United, a small nonprofit advocacy corporation. "Hillary: The Movie" examines the record, policies and character of the former New York senator, now Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The documentary was set to be broadcast during Mrs. Clinton's presidential primary campaign. But the broadcast was banned when the Federal Election Commission declared that the broadcast would violate the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
The government defends this restriction by saying that corporations and unions are uniquely capable of amassing great wealth and must therefore be prevented from overwhelming the voices of others during an election. Relying on a 1990 Supreme Court decision (Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce), the government characterizes this threat as a "type of corruption" on the peculiar theory that such expenditures do not "reflect actual public support for the political ideas espoused by corporations." Therefore, the government reasons, corporate expenditures "distort" the political process and must be banned.
In crafting McCain-Feingold, Congress acted without proof that such expenditures have any distorting effect on elections. And it responded to a nonproblem with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel. The current ban on candidate-related speech is not limited to big corporations or powerful unions. It prohibits election advocacy by all unions and all corporations, regardless of size. It even criminalizes speech by nonprofit advocacy corporations such as Citizens United and the ACLU, which cannot conceivably distort or corrupt the political process.
The government claims the authority to suppress corporate and union speech not only in broadcast formats but also in books, pamphlets and yard signs. Put simply, the government's theory is that because wealthy corporations and unions might speak too much during elections, all of them must be silenced.
While the law prohibits even the smallest nonprofit groups from engaging in election advocacy, it exempts wealthy individuals, and it does not restrict the many advantages of incumbency for sitting members of Congress. A limitless loophole is also granted to the media. Thus the corporations that own NBC and ABC (GE and Disney, respectively), and corporations like The New York Times (or News Corp., owner of this newspaper), can express whatever views they want during campaigns.
Loopholes aside, the government's argument that speech may be outlawed because it does not reflect "public support for the ideas expressed" is absurd. It is the very antithesis of free speech.
Hard-charging campaign rhetoric is something that the First Amendment's authors had experienced firsthand. In making the choice between government-approved, polite discourse and boisterous debate, the Founders chose freedom. They did not say Congress could enact finely reticulated restrictions on speech. They said plainly that there could be "no law" abridging the freedom of speech.
The idea that corporate and union speech is somehow inherently corrupting is nonsense. Most corporations are small businesses, and they have every right to speak out when a candidate threatens the welfare of their employees or shareholders.
Time after time the Supreme Court has recognized that corporations enjoy full First Amendment protections. One of the most revered First Amendment precedents is New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), which afforded publishers important constitutional safeguards in libel cases. Any decision that determines that corporations have less protection than individuals under the First Amendment would threaten the very institutions we depend upon to keep us informed. This may be why Citizens United is supported by such diverse allies as the ACLU, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the National Rifle Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Persons of modest means often band together to speak through ideological corporations. That speech may not be silenced because of speculation that a few large entities might speak too loudly, or because some corporations may earn large profits. The First Amendment does not permit the government to handicap speakers based on their wealth, or ration speech in order somehow to equalize participation in public debate.
Tomorrow's case is not about Citizens United. It is about the rights of all persons—individuals, associations, corporations and unions—to speak freely. And it is about our right to hear those voices and to judge for ourselves who has the soundest message.
Mr. Olson, an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, will deliver the oral argument on behalf of Citizens United before the Supreme Court tomorrow.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: September 07, 2009, 02:25:55 PM
By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
Winning the war in Afghanistan—creating a stable and legitimate Afghan state that can control its territory—will be difficult. The insurgency has grown in the past few years while the government's legitimacy has declined. It remains unclear how the recent presidential elections will affect this situation.
Trying to win in Afghanistan is not a fool's errand, however. Where coalition forces have conducted properly resourced counterinsurgency operations in areas such as Khowst, Wardak, Lowgar, Konar and Nangarhar Provinces in the eastern part of the country, they have succeeded despite the legendary xenophobia of the Pashtuns.
Poorly designed operations in Helmand Province have not led to success. Badly under-resourced efforts in other southern and western provinces, most notably Kandahar, have also failed. Can well-designed and properly-resourced operations succeed? There are no guarantees in war, but there is good reason to think they can. Given the importance of this theater to the stability of a critical and restive region, that is reason enough to try.
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.Critics of the war have suggested we should draw down our troops and force Pakistan to play a larger role in eliminating radical extremists. American concerns about al Qaeda and Taliban operating from Pakistani bases have led to the conventional wisdom that Pakistan matters to the U.S. because of what it could do to help—or hurt—in Afghanistan. The conventional wisdom is wrong as usual.
Pakistan is important because it is a country of 180 million Muslims with nuclear weapons and multiple terrorist groups engaged in a mini-arms race and periodic military encounters with India—the world's most populous state and one of America's most important economic and strategic partners. Pakistan has made remarkable progress over the last year in its efforts against Islamist insurgent groups that threatened to destroy it. But the fight against those groups takes place on both sides of the border. The debate over whether to commit the resources necessary to succeed in Afghanistan must recognize the extreme danger that a withdrawal or failure in Afghanistan would pose to the stability of Pakistan.
Pakistan's ambivalence toward militant Islamist groups goes back decades. The growth of radical Islamism in Pakistan dates to the 1970s and '80s when the government encouraged radicalism both for domestic political reasons and to combat Soviet encroachment. The Pakistani government, with U.S. support, established bases in its territory for Afghan mujahedeen (religious warriors) fighting the Red Army.
When Afghanistan descended into chaos in the '90s following the Soviet withdrawal, Pakistan intervened by building the Taliban into an organization strong enough to establish its writ at least throughout the Pashtun lands. Links forged in the anti-Soviet war between Pashtun mujahedeen and Arabs from the Persian Gulf remained strong enough to bring Osama bin Laden to the territory controlled by mujahedeen hero and Taliban leader Jalalluddin Haqqani. The 9/11 attacks were planned and organized from those bases.
The 9/11 attacks caught Pakistan by surprise and forced a radical, incoherent and unanticipated change in Pakistan's policies. Under intense pressure by the U.S., including an ultimatum from Secretary of State Colin Powell, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf chose to ally with America against Pakistan's erstwhile Afghan and Arab partners. Mr. Musharraf long tried to channel his own and U.S operations narrowly against al Qaeda while diverting them from the remnants of the Taliban (whom elements of the Pakistani intelligence services continued to support).
But U.S. pressure to act in Pakistan's tribal areas and the inexorable logic of the conflict led Pakistan to take actions that brought it into open conflict with some insurgent groups. Those groups in turn came to see Pakistan itself as their main enemy. By 2004, Pakistan faced a serious and growing insurgency in its tribal areas. By 2008 that insurgency had spread beyond the tribal areas into more settled areas such as the Swat River Valley. By 2009 it had metastasized to the point where Punjabis and not just Pashtuns were fighting the Pakistani government.
Pakistan turned an important—and little noticed—corner in its fight against its own Islamist insurgents this summer. The Pakistani military drove the Pakistani Taliban out of Swat and the surrounding areas, including much of the northern part of the tribal areas. Most recently, Pakistani military operations (with covert American support) decapitated the most dangerous Pakistani Taliban group based in Waziristan by killing its leader, Beitullah Mehsud. He was thought to be responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
In contrast with previous such efforts, the current Pakistani government has retained significant military force in all of these areas and so far appears to be continuing the fight even after these successes. Remarkably, the combat divisions now holding Swat and other areas in the northwest of Pakistan are among those most critical to Pakistan's strategy to defend against the always-feared Indian attack.
But as American and NATO forces in Afghanistan discovered, the fight against the Taliban must be pursued on both sides of the border. Pakistan's successes have been assisted by the deployment of American conventional forces along the Afghanistan border opposite the areas in which Pakistani forces were operating, particularly in Konar and Khowst Provinces.
Those forces have not so much interdicted the border crossings (almost impossible in such terrain) as they have created conditions unfavorable to the free movement of insurgents. They have conducted effective counterinsurgency operations in areas that might otherwise provide sanctuary to insurgents fleeing Pakistani operations (Nangarhar and Paktia provinces especially, in addition to Konar and Khowst). Without those operations, Pakistan's insurgents would likely have found new safe havens in those provinces, rendering the painful progress made by Pakistan's military irrelevant.
Pakistan's stability cannot be secured solely within its borders any more than can Afghanistan's. Militant Islam can be defeated only by waging a proper counterinsurgency campaign on both sides of the border.
Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of "Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power" (AEI Press, 2008).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan
on: September 06, 2009, 09:26:03 AM
I've missed posting here several reports from MY. Here is today's report:
Helmand, Afghanistan - The West is losing this war. This has been obvious for more than three years. Less obvious is that in 2009, we are down to the wire. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and others will soon recommend to President Obama the latest treatment for a dying patient.
Meanwhile, allies and Americans are asking themselves why we are here. Some are saying that Al Qaeda is still here or is waiting in the wings to return to its home. Yet Afghanistan was never Al Qaeda's permanent home to begin with. Al Qaeda was just renting a little space here, just as it was renting space in places like Germany and Florida.
We must face reality: Our reasons for continuing are not the reasons we came for. We are fighting a different war now than the one that began in 2001. Today's war is about social re-engineering. Given the horrible history of Afghanistan, and the fact that we already are here, the cause is worthy and worthwhile.
The decisions facing us are perilous and immense. On the one hand, we desperately need more troops, while on the other increasing troop levels introduces a host of costs and potential traps.
Yet it seems certain the war will be lost if we do not significantly increase troops. While our enemies grow stronger, years will pass before Afghan forces can replace us. Enemies are gaining ground while we lose the goodwill of the people through disillusionment. In the mostly peaceful Ghor Province, for instance, development is scant and there are no Afghan soldiers.
I just spent more than a month with British combat forces in Helmand. Instead of concentrating on training and operating with Afghan forces, the British are involved in a daily struggle for tiny pieces of real estate.
Last December, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told me in a private discussion while flying back to the U.S. from Afghanistan, Bahrain and Iraq, that his greatest concern is that we will lose the goodwill of the Afghan people. Gates is correct and my confidence in his judgment is high. Gates knows that our stock is still okay here, but clearly it is losing value.
The strongest indicator of progress will come in the form of cooperation from the people. In Iraq, especially in about mid-2007, I witnessed a tidal shift in cooperation from the civilians and largely from that was able to report that the surge was working, long before the statistics would support what might have appeared to be a wild claim.
During 2006 in Afghanistan, I witnessed areas where the population was alienated from Kabul and Western forces. Again, long before the statistics would support what appeared to be wild claims, I published 12 reports saying we were losing here. Analysts cannot feel the pulse through statistics; in this sort of war, statistics lag behind the realities. An observer must be on the ground to sense the pulse.
Pundits who are saying we should pull out of Afghanistan today, to my knowledge, are not here.
Having just spent another month with British forces in Helmand, today I am on my own in the same province. During the last month, our great allies the British lost dozens of soldiers who were killed or wounded. Cooperation from locals is almost nonexistent in many places. Interaction between civilians and British soldiers was nearly zero. The British treat the civilians very well, but being polite and respectful is not enough.
Without significant reinforcements, the British likely will be defeated in Helmand within a couple of years. My respect for British soldiers is immense. I have been in combat with them many times in Iraq and Afghanistan, including during the last couple of weeks and would go into battle with them today. Yet it must be said that the average British soldier has practically no understanding of counterinsurgency.
The enemies here cannot defeat the United States, but they can dissolve the coalition. Some allies are ready to tap out, while others are learning that counterinsurgency is difficult. The Germans, for instance, are losing in their battle space. To avoid watching the coalition melt away, we must show progress before the end of 2010.
Today, the war is still worth fighting, yet the goal to reengineer one of the most backward, violent places on Earth, will require a century before a reasonable person can call Afghanistan "a developing nation." The war will not take that long - but the effort will.
There are no short-term solutions to fix this place. We are planting acorns. Oak trees grow slowly.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: What Torture never told us:
on: September 06, 2009, 09:21:02 AM
second post of the morning:
By ALI H. SOUFAN
Published: September 5, 2009
PUBLIC bravado aside, the defenders of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques are fast running out of classified documents to hide behind. The three that were released recently by the C.I.A. — the 2004 report by the inspector general and two memos from 2004 and 2005 on intelligence gained from detainees — fail to show that the techniques stopped even a single imminent threat of terrorism.
Times Topics: C.I.A. InterrogationsThe inspector general’s report distinguishes between intelligence gained from regular interrogation and from the harsher methods, which culminate in waterboarding. While the former produces useful intelligence, according to the report, the latter “is a more subjective process and not without concern.” And the information in the two memos reinforces this differentiation.
They show that substantial intelligence was gained from pocket litter (materials found on detainees when they were captured), from playing detainees against one another and from detainees freely giving up information that they assumed their questioners already knew. A computer seized in March 2003 from a Qaeda operative for example, listed names of Qaeda members and money they were to receive.
Soon after Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in 2003, according to the 2005 memo, he “elaborated on his plan to crash commercial airlines into Heathrow Airport.” The memo speculates that he may have assumed that Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a fellow member of Al Qaeda who had been captured in 2002, had already divulged the plan. The same motivation — the assumption that another detainee had already talked — is offered to explain why Mr. Mohammed provided details about the Hambali-Southeast Asia Qaeda network.
Mr. Mohammed must have likewise assumed that his interrogators already had the details about Al Qaeda’s organizational structure that he gave them. When I testified in the trial of Salim Hamdan, who had been Osama bin Laden’s personal driver, I provided many unclassified details about Al Qaeda’s structure and operations, none of which came from Mr. Mohammed.
Some of the information that is cited in the memos — the revelation that Mr. Mohammed had been the mastermind of 9/11, for example, and the uncovering of Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber — was gained from another terrorism suspect, Abu Zubaydah, by “informed interrogation,” conducted by an F.B.I. colleague and me. The arrest of Walid bin Attash, one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted messengers, which was also cited in the 2005 C.I.A. memo, was thanks to a quick-witted foreign law enforcement officer, and had nothing to do with harsh interrogation of anyone. The examples go on and on.
A third top suspected terrorist who was subjected to enhanced interrogation, in 2002, was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the man charged with plotting the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole. I was the lead agent on a team that worked with the Yemenis to thwart a series of plots by Mr. Nashiri’s operatives in the Arabian Peninsula — including planned attacks on Western embassies. In 2004, we helped prosecute 15 of these operatives in a Yemeni court. Not a single piece of evidence that helped us apprehend or convict them came from Mr. Nashiri.
It is surprising, as the eighth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, that none of Al Qaeda’s top leadership is in our custody. One damaging consequence of the harsh interrogation program was that the expert interrogators whose skills were deemed unnecessary to the new methods were forced out.
Mr. Mohammed knew the location of most, if not all, of the members of Al Qaeda’s leadership council, and possibly of every covert cell around the world. One can only imagine who else we could have captured, or what attacks we might have disrupted, if Mr. Mohammed had been questioned by the experts who knew the most about him.
A lack of knowledge perhaps explains why so many false claims have been made about the program’s alleged successes. Many officials in Washington reading the reports didn’t know enough about Al Qaeda to know what information was already known and whether the detainees were telling all they knew. The inspector general’s report states that many operatives thought their superiors were inaccurately judging that detainees were withholding information. Such assessments, the operatives said, were “not always supported by an objective evaluation” but were “too heavily based, instead, on presumptions.” I can personally testify to this.
Supporters of the enhanced interrogation techniques have jumped from claim to claim about their usefulness. They have asserted, for example, that harsh treatment led Mr. Mohammed to reveal the plot to attack the Library Tower in Los Angeles. But that plot was thwarted in 2002, and Mr. Mohammed was not arrested until 2003. Recently, interviews with unnamed sources led The Washington Post to report that harsh techniques turned Mr. Mohammed into an intelligence “asset.”
This latest claim will come as news to Mr. Mohammed’s prosecutors, to his fellow detainees (whom he instructed, at his arraignment, not to cooperate with the United States) and indeed to Mr. Mohammed himself. He told the International Committee of the Red Cross that “I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear.”
The inspector general’s report was written precisely because many of the C.I.A. operatives complained about what they were being ordered to do. The inspector general then conducted an internal audit of the entire program. In his report, he questions the effectiveness of the harsh techniques that were authorized. And he slams the use of “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques.” This is probably why the enhanced interrogation program was shelved in 2005.
Meanwhile, the professionals in the field are relieved that an ineffective, unreliable, unnecessary and destructive program — one that may have given Al Qaeda a second wind and damaged our country’s reputation — is finished.
Ali H. Soufan was an F.B.I. special agent from 1997 to 2005.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: September 06, 2009, 09:12:56 AM
Ahmadinejad's Imam: Islam Allows Raping, Torturing Prisoners http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/133214
by Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
Follow Israel news on and .
(IsraelNN.com) A highly influential Shi'a religious leader, with whom Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly consults, apparently told followers last month that coercion by means of rape, torture and drugs is acceptable against all opponents of the Islamic regime.
The gathered crowd heard from Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and Ahmadinejad.
Warning: The imam's question-and-answer session, partially reproduced here, contains disturbing descriptions of the sanctioned brutality.
In the wake of a series of publications worldwide regarding the rape and torture of dissident prisoners in Iran's jails, supporters of Ahmadinejad gathered with him in Jamkaran, a popular pilgrimage site for Shi'ite Muslims on the outskirts of Qom, on August 11, 2009. According to Iranian pro-democracy sources, the gathered crowd heard from Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and Ahmadinejad himself regarding the issue.
According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), an independent Israeli intelligence analysis organization, Mesbah-Yazdi is considered Ahmadinejad's personal spiritual guide. A radical totalitarian even in Iranian terms, he holds messianic views, supports increasing Islamization, calls for violent suppression of domestic political opponents, and, according to the ITIC, "declared that obeying a president supported by the Supreme Leader was tantamount to obeying God."
At the Jamkaran gathering, Mesbah-Yazdi and Ahmadinejad answered questions about the rape and torture charges. The following text is from a transcript alleged by Iranian dissidents to be a series of questions and answers exchanged between the ayatollah and some of his supporters.
Asked if a confession obtained "by applying psychological, emotional and physical pressure" was "valid and considered credible according to Islam," Mesbah-Yazdi replied: "Getting a confession from any person who is against the Velayat-e Faqih ("Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists", or the regime of Iran's mullahs) is permissible under any condition." The ayatollah gave the identical answer when asked about confessions obtained through drugging the prisoner with opiates or addictive substances.
"Can an interrogator rape the prisoner in order to obtain a confession?" was the follow-up question posed to the Islamic cleric.
Mesbah-Yazdi answered: "The necessary precaution is for the interrogator to perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner. If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus. It is better not to have a witness present. If it is a male prisoner, then it's acceptable for someone else to watch while the rape is committed."
This reply, and reports of the rape of teen male prisoners in Iranian jails, may have prompted the following question: "Is the rape of men and young boys considered sodomy?"
One aspect of these permitted rapes troubled certain questioners.
Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi: "No, because it is not consensual. Of course, if the prisoner is aroused and enjoys the rape, then caution must be taken not to repeat the rape."
A related issue, in the eyes of the questioners, was the rape of virgin female prisoners. In this instance, Mesbah-Yazdi went beyond the permissibility issue and described the Allah-sanctioned rewards accorded the rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam:
"If the judgment for the [female] prisoner is execution, then rape before execution brings the interrogator a spiritual reward equivalent to making the mandated Haj pilgrimage [to Mecca], but if there is no execution decreed, then the reward would be equivalent to making a pilgrimage to [the Shi'ite holy city of] Karbala."
One aspect of these permitted rapes troubled certain questioners: "What if the female prisoner gets pregnant? Is the child considered illegitimate?"
Mesbah-Yazdi answered: "The child borne to any weakling [a denigrating term for women - ed.] who is against the Supreme Leader is considered illegitimate, be it a result of rape by her interrogator or through intercourse with her husband, according to the written word in the Koran. However, if the child is raised by the jailer, then the child is considered a legitimate Shi'a Muslim."
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: DBMA DVD en espanol
on: September 05, 2009, 08:25:12 PM
Bienvenidos y gracias por tu oferta de ayuda, pero aun con tu ayuda, los costos adicionales en tiempo y dinero (p.e. por editacion/editing) prohibe un projecto asi'.