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26851  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson, Query 12, 1782 on: March 15, 2010, 08:00:21 AM
"On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power to them? If so, how many rebellions should we have had already?" --Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query 12, 1782
26852  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / from Bruce Schneier on: March 15, 2010, 06:47:06 AM
There was a big U.S. cyberattack exercise last month.  We didn't do so well.
26853  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word on: March 15, 2010, 06:42:11 AM
Life in Words
Print this Page

By Tzvi Freeman
Not with toil and not with struggle, but by the word of His mouth did the One Above create His world.

Not with toil and not with struggle, but with words of wisdom and kindness does He require we sustain it.

If so, what is the effort He demands from us?

That we invest our very essence in those words, as He invested His very essence within this world He made.

26854  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Kali Tudo 4: The Dog Leg Game on: March 14, 2010, 11:47:29 PM
Woof All:

Boo Dog is one of the current standout Dog Brothers.  He brings an unusually well-rounded and distinctive game to the fight, including very stong kicking skills of that aren't supposed to be applicable in a stick fight (see e.g. the clip of the most recent Gathering to see him doing a spinning heel hook to the head behind a back hand strike) and outstanding MMA skills (see e.g. the clip of the most recent Gathering to see him doing a suplex on someone) based upon his being an instructor in LaBelle-Gokor K____ian and a regular sparring partner of major MMA fighters such as Manny Gamborian.

We have been getting together regularly on Sunday mornings and he has definitely been helping me develop my KT game.  Not only does he show me some really good ideas, but now that I am no longer young enough to give my ideas a fair test, he becomes someone with whom I can share KT and have him go test it with serious professional fighters.  cool cool cool

Because Boo looks at MMA with a Dog Brother/KT mind, he has developed two games which definitely meet the KT criteria.  Sometime later this year we will be shooting a DVD featuring Boo Dog  "DBMA Kali Tudo 4: The Dog Leg Game".  The Dog Leg Game integrates nicely with the Running Dog Game and like all KT material meets the criteria of the "Die Less Often- the interface of Gun, Knife, and Empty Hand."

Stay tuned!
Guro Crafty
26855  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DLO 3 on: March 14, 2010, 11:35:20 PM
Pretty Kitty tells me the dupe house tells us it will arrive this week.  We will begin shipping immediately.
26856  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Kali Tudo 3 on: March 14, 2010, 11:33:44 PM
Night Owl tells me the edit progresses steadily.   SWAG finishing date of early April.
26857  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BP being infiltrated?!? on: March 13, 2010, 09:01:35 PM
26858  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Emergency Tips and Emergency Medicine on: March 12, 2010, 09:45:20 PM
That caught my curiousity, but I figured "It's the Mayo Clinic , , ," 

Kaju, are you saying something bad would happen if this technique were administered in the presence of a pulse?
26859  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty in NYC 6/19-20 on: March 12, 2010, 05:20:17 PM
Probable material:

*Kali Tudo
*Die Less Often

New York Jiu Jitsu
666 Broadway, Lower Level
New York, NY 10012

Located at Broadway and Bond St (Entrance on Bond St.)

1:30pm - 5:30pm on Saturday
10:00am - 4:00pm on Sunday

We have not been having lunch breaks due to the break up of concentration. We recommend water and small snacks and usually offer a few short 10 minute breaks.

Thank you,
Vince Cantu
Operations Manager
New York Jiu Jitsu
26860  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Rapid chest compression technique on: March 12, 2010, 01:48:27 PM
26861  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO & China's Exchange Rate on: March 12, 2010, 11:49:29 AM

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., on March 11Summary
U.S. President Barack Obama on March 11 called for China to institute a “more market-oriented” exchange rate. This statement will hit a nerve in Beijing, which already faces major economic challenges and is concerned about the possibility of a U.S. containment policy targeting China.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about the Chinese currency’s exchange rate while addressing the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s annual conference March 11. Among other things, Obama called for China to institute a “more market-oriented” exchange rate. Such talk will hit a raw nerve in China, where the leadership is already facing major economic challenges and is anxious about the prospect of increasing pressure from the Americans.

Obama’s speech, “Powering Jobs, Sales and Profits through Exports,” centered on his National Exports Initiative, the administration’s strategy to boost U.S.-made exports. With high unemployment a pressing problem as the U.S. administration attempts to manage an economic recovery during a year that includes mid-term congressional elections, Obama is promoting U.S. exports as a means of increasing job availability and making up for reduced consumption’s effects on growth. The U.S. Export-Import Bank is an agent of this strategy and has targeted Brazil, China, Mexico and India as countries with massive populations whose households and businesses could buy America’s high-value added goods, from specialized machinery, vehicles and equipment to entertainment products and Internet services. New free trade initiatives also are a component of this strategy, hence Obama’s call for the United States to press forward on free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that have been signed but not yet ratified.

In addressing ways to increase U.S. exports, Obama deliberately chose to enter into the intense debate over China’s currency policies, as they have long been a point of contention between the two states. Beijing uses a variety of internal controls to ensure currency only fluctuates within a narrow band in relation to a basket of foreign currencies, where the dollar is the most heavily weighted. The reason for fixing the exchange rate to the dollar is to provide favorable conditions for Chinese exporters when selling to the United States, the world’s largest consumer market and the destination for nearly 18 percent of China’s total exports.

Before 2005, the fixed exchange rate was a means by which China facilitated its export-driven economic growth and gained market share in the United States and several other markets. From 2005 to 2008 China allowed its currency to gradually appreciate by 20 percent against the U.S. dollar in an attempt to alleviate inflationary pressures, restructure the economy (by increasing domestic purchasing power and weeding out uncompetitive enterprises) and deflect foreign criticism that the currency was undervalued to give Chinese businesses an unfair advantage over foreign rivals. But since the global financial crisis in late 2008, China has essentially “re-pegged” its currency to the U.S. dollar to preserve the best possible conditions for its exporters during a time of trouble due to weak foreign demand.

From the U.S. and European point of view, however, China’s maintaining the de facto currency peg is an unfair advantage for Chinese exporters, and this — not to mention Beijing’s other subsidies and rebates for exporters — is especially problematic during an economic downturn. The United States and Europe claim China’s practices are aggravating problems for American and European manufacturers and hurting employment. They also point out that China’s economy is growing rapidly and exports have shown growth since December 2009. In February, exports grew by nearly 45.7 percent compared to February 2009, the trough of the global recession, and by 8.2 percent compared to February 2008.

Moreover, Obama’s campaign to boost American exports has specifically targeted China, with bilateral trade negotiations ongoing despite the rhetorical harping on trade disputes. Obama wants to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China and open more of the 1.3 billion-person Chinese market. Chinese currency appreciation would not only ease competition against American manufacturers but also increase Chinese imports of American goods (since a stronger currency increases Chinese people’s purchasing power).

Even the Chinese themselves have emphasized repeatedly the need to promote domestic consumption, especially household consumption, as a means of restructuring the economy to reduce dependency on exports and develop more self-sustaining growth. However, the problem is complicated. A stronger currency will hurt export businesses and export-related employment — and the last thing China needs at the moment is slower growth and higher unemployment in the coastal manufacturing hubs that drive the rest of the economy (even though currency appreciation would benefit Chinese businesses that are reliant on imports or want to invest abroad). Though recent export growth has caused some in China to fear inflationary pressures and call for currency appreciation, Chinese leaders have stated repeatedly — most especially during the ongoing annual National People’s Congress session — that they intend to keep the exchange rate stable, lest they weaken the export sector, delete the government stimulus package and undercut economic recovery and growth. Hence the Chinese are moving very cautiously on the problem of currency appreciation.

For this reason, Obama’s comments will strike Chinese leaders as a direct attack. Not that it comes as a surprise. Beijing has been wary of the Obama administration’s stance on this issue — and other trade issues — since U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner first said China was “manipulating” its currency (a phrase laden with legal ramifications) during his talk to the Senate before his approval as treasury secretary. Then, in September 2009, the Obama administration imposed tariffs on Chinese-made tires, invoking Section 421, a measure allowing U.S. protections against Chinese goods that China agreed to when it joined the World Trade Organization. With U.S. elections coming during a period of high unemployment, and trade disputes and deeper disagreements over economic policy already flaring, Beijing has begun to fear that Washington is planning to bring more pressure to bear, and is watching intently for the Treasury Department’s report on April 15 which could officially name China a “currency manipulator,” escalating tensions.

But Chinese anxieties have a still deeper source. Beijing fears the United States is making early movements to contain China’s economic power and prevent its military and political power from increasing. In particular, China has observed recent U.S. moves to expand relations with East Asian states on China’s periphery and sees this as the nascent period of a containment policy against China. Trade appears to be an important component of this strategy, for instance with the United States formally opening up avenues for investment with Cambodia and Laos, or initiating diplomatic contact with Myanmar, in 2009. More importantly, Obama is traveling to Australia in March to launch the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade zone that would include Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam and counter China’s trade agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Obama is also traveling to Indonesia on the same trip, to strengthen bilateral ties.

From the Chinese point of view, U.S. pressure on its currency policy can be seen as only one aspect of what could be an overall assault on China’s rising economic power and influence. However, Beijing knows Washington is constrained in its foreign policy as long as it remains tied up in wars in the Middle East. It will therefore move quickly to prepare itself for more direct U.S. competition, diversify away from dependency on exports (especially exports to the United States), secure its lines of supply for critical goods and solidify its influence in its near abroad.
26862  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy-4 on: March 12, 2010, 11:31:04 AM
Russia is working to form an understanding with regional powers outside the former Soviet sphere in order to facilitate its plans to expand its influence in key former Soviet states. These regional powers — Germany, France, Turkey and Poland — could halt Russia’s consolidation of control if they chose to, so Moscow is working to make neutrality, if not cooperation, worth their while.

Editor’s note: This is part four of a four-part series in which STRATFOR examines Russia’s efforts to exert influence beyond its borders.

Today’s Russia cannot simply roll tanks over the territories it wants included in its sphere of influence. Its consolidation of control in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia would be difficult, if not impossible, if Moscow faced opposition from an array of forces. Moscow’s resurgence in its old Soviet turf is possible because the United States is distracted with issues in the Islamic world, but also because regional powers surrounding Russia are not unified in opposition to the Kremlin.

Moscow is working to cultivate an understanding with regional powers outside the former Soviet Union that are critical to its expansion: Germany, France, Turkey and Poland. If these countries committed to halting Russia’s resurgence, Moscow would be stymied. This is why Russia is determined to develop an understanding — if not also a close cooperative relationship — with each of these countries that will clearly delineate the Russian sphere of influence, give each country incentive to cooperate and warn each country about opposing Moscow openly.

This is not a new policy for Russia. Especially before the Cold War with the West, Moscow traditionally had a nuanced policy of alliances and understandings. Germany and Russia have cooperated many times; Russia was one of the German Empire’s first true allies, through the Dreikaiserbund, and was the only country to cooperate with post-Versailles Germany with the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo. Russia was also France’s first ally after the 1870 Franco-Prussian war — an alliance whose main purpose was to isolate Germany.

Russia’s history with modern Turkey (and its ancestor the Ottoman Empire) and Poland admittedly has far fewer examples of cooperation. Russia throughout the 19th century coveted territory held by the crumbling Ottoman Empire — especially around the Black Sea and in the Balkans — and had plans for dominating Poland. Currently, however, Moscow understands that the two regional powers with most opportunities to subvert its resurgence are Poland (in Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states) and Turkey (in the Caucasus).

(click to view map)

Germany is the most important regional power with which Russia wants to create an understanding. Berlin is the largest European economy, an economic and political leader within the European Union and a key market for Russian energy exports — with Russian natural gas exports filling 47 percent of Germany’s natural gas needs. German opposition to Russian consolidation in Eastern Europe would create problems, especially since Berlin could rally Central Europeans wary of Moscow to oppose Russia’s resurgence. However, Germany has offered little resistance to Russia’s increasing influence in Eastern Europe. In fact, it has primarily been Germany’s opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia that stymied Washington’s plans to push NATO’s boundaries further eastward.

If it chose to, Germany could become Russia’s greatest roadblock. It is geographically more of a threat than the United States, due to its position on the North European Plain and the Baltic Sea, and it is a leader in the European Union and could offer Ukraine and Belarus substantial political and economic alternatives to their ties to Russia. With this in mind, Russia has decided to make cooperation worthwhile for Berlin.

Russia’s Levers
Russia’s obvious lever in Germany is natural gas exports. Germany wants a reliable flow of energy, and it is not willing to suffer blackouts or freezing temperatures for the sake of a Western-oriented Ukraine or Georgia. Germany initially fumed in 2005 over Russian gas cutoffs to Ukraine, but later realized that it was much easier to make an arrangement with Russia and back off from supporting Ukraine’s Western ambitions. Moscow carefully managed subsequent Russian gas disputes with Ukraine to limit German exposure, and Berlin has since fully turned against Kiev, which it now sees as an unreliable transit route.

Germany is expanding its energy relationship with Russia, since the upcoming Nord Stream pipeline will not only make more natural gas available to German consumers and industry, it will also make Germany a key transit route for Russian gas. The Nord Stream pipeline project also suggests that Germany does not just want Russia’s gas; it wants to be Russia’s main distributor to Central Europe, which would give Berlin even more political power over its neighbors.

Russia has also very directly offered Germany a key role in the upcoming privatizations in Russia. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally has invited German businesses to invest in Russia. Putin also personally intervened in the General Motors Corp.-Opel dispute in 2009, offering to save Opel and German jobs — a move designed to curry favor with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before Germany’s September 2009 general elections.

Another prominent example of the budding economic relationship between Berlin and Moscow is German industrial giant Siemens’ decision to end its partnership with French nuclear giant Areva, to which it felt it would always be a junior partner, and begin cooperating with Russia’s Atomenergoprom. Siemens and Atomenergoprom will work together to develop nuclear power plants in Russia, Germany and other countries.

France and Germany are important partners for Russia because Moscow needs guarantees that its resurgence in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus will not face opposition from a united EU front. Initiatives such as the Swedish-Polish “Eastern Partnership” — which seeks to upgrade relations between the EU states and most former Soviet Union states — are seen as a threat to Moscow’s sphere of influence. The Kremlin feels it can keep these Central European initiatives from gaining steam by setting up informal understandings with Paris and Berlin.

France is a key part of this effort because Russia considers it — rightfully so — as the political leader of the European Union. Moscow therefore wants to secure a mutually beneficial relationship with Paris.

Russia’s Levers
Russia has less leverage over France than over any of the other regional powers discussed. In fact, Russia and France have few overlapping geopolitical interests. Historically, they have intersected occasionally in North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, but contemporary Moscow is concentrating on its near abroad, not global dominance. France does not depend on trade with Russia for export revenue and is one of the few continental European powers not to depend on Russia for energy; 76 percent of France’s energy comes from nuclear power.

This is why Moscow is making every effort to offer Paris the appropriate “sweeteners,” many of which were agreed upon during Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to France on March 2. One of the most recent — and most notable — is a deal to purchase the $700 million French Mistral-class helicopter carrier. This would be the Russian military’s first major purchase of non-Russian technology and would give Russia a useful offensive weapon to put pressure on the Baltic states and the Caucasus (via the Black Sea). Russia has suggested that it may want to purchase four vessels in total for $2.2 billion — something that recession-hit Paris would be hard pressed to decline.

Russia has worked hard on getting energy-independent France involved in its energy projects. French energy behemoth Total owns a quarter of the enormous Barents Sea Shtokman gas field and on Feb. 5 reiterated its commitment to the project despite announced delays in production from 2013 to 2016. French energy company EDF is also negotiating entry into the South Stream natural gas pipeline, while energy company GDF Suez signed an agreement with Gazprom for a 9 percent stake in Nord Stream on March 2. Furthermore, France’s Societe Generale and Renault both have interests in Russia through ownership of Russian enterprises, and French train manufacturer Alstom has agreed to invest in Russia’s Transmashholding.

Finally, Russia knows how to play to France’s — particularly French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s — need to be the diplomatic center of attention. Russia gives France and Sarkozy the respect reserved for Europe’s leader, for example by allowing Sarkozy to negotiate and take credit for the peace deal that ended the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008. This is no small gesture from Paris’ perspective since France is constantly under pressure to prove its leadership mettle compared to the richer and more powerful Germany.

Turkey is a rising regional power looking to expand its influence mainly along the lines of the former Ottoman Empire. Like an adolescent testing his or her own strengths and limitations, Turkey is not focused on any one area, but rather surveying the playing field. Moscow has allowed Turkey to become focused, however, on the negotiations with Armenia, presenting itself as a facilitator but in reality managing the negotiations behind the scenes.

Russia wants to manage its relationship with Turkey for two main reasons: to guarantee its dominance of the Caucasus and assure that Turkey remains committed to transporting Russia’s — rather than someone else’s — energy to Europe. Russia also wants to make sure that Turkey does not use its control of the Bosporus to close off the Black Sea to Russian trade, particularly oil exports from Novorossiysk.

Russia’s Levers
Moscow’s main lever with Ankara is energy. Turkey depends on Russia for 65 percent of its natural gas and 40 percent of its oil imports. Russia is also looking to expand its investments in Turkey, with refineries and nuclear power plants under discussion.

The second key lever is political. Moscow has encouraged Russian-dominated Armenia to entertain Turkish offers of negotiations. However, this has caused a rift between Turkey and its traditional ally Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan does not want to see Armenia and Turkey conclude their negotiations without first winning concessions from Armenia over the de facto Armenian controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region. The negotiation process — openly encouraged by Moscow — therefore has forced energy-rich Azerbaijan into Russia’s arms and strained the relationship between Ankara and Baku.

Russia has plenty of other levers on Turkey, trade being the most obvious. Turkey’s exports to Russia are considerable; 5 percent of its total exports in 2008 went to Russia (though that number dipped in 2009 due to the recession). Russia has cut this trade off before — like in August 2008, when Turkey and NATO held maneuvers in the Black Sea — as a warning to Ankara. Russia is also considering selling Turkey its advanced air defense system, the S-400.

The final regional power with which Russia wants an understanding is Poland. Poland may not be as powerful as the other three — either economically or politically — but it has considerable influence in Ukraine and Belarus and has taken it upon itself to champion expansion of the European Union eastward. Furthermore, the U.S. military could eventually use Poland as a base from which to threaten the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad along with Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic Sea. Moscow thus sees the U.S. plan to position a Patriot air defense battery — or any part of the BMD system — in Poland as a key threat.

Russia does not want to see the U.S.-Polish alliance blossom, allowing the United States — once it extricates itself from the Middle East — to reposition itself on Russia’s borders.

Russia’s Levers
The most obvious lever Russia has in Poland is energy. Poland imports around 57 percent of its natural gas from Russia, a number that is set to rise to more than 70 percent with the new Polish-Russian natural gas deal signed in January. Poland is also planning on switching a considerable part of its electricity production from coal to natural gas — in order to meet EU greenhouse gas emission standards — thus making Russian natural gas imports a key source of energy. Poland also imports more than 90 percent of its oil from Russia.

Poland, as a NATO member state, is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. However, as Polish politicians often point out, NATO has offered very few real guarantees to Poland’s security. Russia maintains a considerable military presence in nearby Kaliningrad, with more than 200 aircraft, 23,000 troops and half of Russia’s Baltic fleet stationed between Poland and Lithuania. Russia has often used military exercises — such as the massive Zapad military maneuvers with Belarus in September 2009 — to put pressure on Poland and the Baltic states.

But despite a tense relationship, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has launched something of a charm offensive on Warsaw, and particularly on Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is seen as much more pragmatic than the anti-Russian President Lech Kaczynski. Putin made a highly symbolic gesture by being present at the September 2009 ceremonies in Gdansk marking the 70th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland. He also addressed the Polish people in a letter published by Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza in which he condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a nonaggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Putin has also made a point to smooth relations between Poland and Russia on the issue of the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by Soviet troops in World War II, inviting Tusk to attend the first ever Russian-organized ceremonies marking the event.

The charm offensive is intended to outmaneuver the knee-jerk anti-Russians among the Polish elites and to make sure that Poland does not create problems for Russia in its efforts to expand influence in its near abroad. It is similar to the charm offensives the Soviet Union used that intended to illustrate to the European left and center-left that the Kremlin’s intentions were benign and that the right-wing “obsessions” about the Kremlin were irrational.

Ultimately, Moscow’s strategy is to assure that Germany, France, Turkey and Poland stay out of — or actively support — Russia’s consolidation efforts in the former Soviet sphere. Russia does not need the four powers to be its allies — although it certainly is moving in that direction with Germany (and possibly France). Rather, it hopes to reach an understanding with them on where the Russian sphere ends, and establish a border that is compatible with Russian interests.

26863  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Guro Crafty in NYC 6/19-20 on: March 12, 2010, 11:19:16 AM

26864  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: How long does it take various knife wounds to incapacitate? on: March 12, 2010, 10:47:29 AM
Well, duh  cheesy  The question presented is which targets have what effects.  grin
26865  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: U.S. Census 2010 on: March 12, 2010, 10:41:30 AM
The one thing we can count on from Census 2010 is controversy. What began 220 years ago as a constitutionally mandated count for proportional representation has morphed over time into a method for divvying out federal funds targeted to specific groups based on the information asked as part of our decennial census.

The 10 questions asked on this year's short form certainly do more than just account for the number of citizens. Citizens are asked about age, race, gender, whether we own or rent our homes, and personal identifying information such as name and telephone number.

Ironically, accounting for race made sense only because the nation once counted certain residents as 3/5 of a person -- a compromise wrought to balance Northern and Southern interests over the question of numbering slaves. While the 14th Amendment ended that practice, the question remains as a vestige of a society not quite colorblind. In response, some plan to answer the race question with "American."

Factor in the advertising campaign which suggests people should reply to get "their fair share" of federal goodies, and the possibility of same-sex couples identifying themselves as married regardless of whether the state they live in allows same-sex marriage, and it's clear that the Census is becoming less about proportion and more about politics.
26866  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post on: March 12, 2010, 10:39:08 AM
Federal Pay vs. Private Sector Pay
USA Today recently conducted a survey comparing average salaries of private sector employees to those of federal employees. Guess who did better? If you said the public sector worker, go to the front of the class.

First of all, many federal workers are covered by civil service rules, making them nearly impossible to fire and difficult to layoff. On top of that, based on 2008 data, the typical federal worker is paid 20 percent more than one in the private sector in the same occupation. The median salary for a federal employee is $66,591, while that of a private sector employee is $55,500, a difference of $11,091 -- before adding benefits such as medical insurance, sick days and holidays, pensions and the like. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, benefits averaged $40,785 per federal employee versus $9,882 per private worker. Add these to the USA Today figures and the average in total compensation for each is $107,376 versus $65,382, a whopping 64 percent difference of $41,994.

The difference in salaries is greatest in the public relations occupations. The widest spread, $44,169, was for public relations managers, with the federal employee receiving $132,410, compared to $88,241 for his private sector counterpart. The next largest difference was $41,045 for broadcast technicians.

So if you want a job that pays well, has great benefits and offers little chance of being laid off, the federal government is the employer for you -- that is, until it runs out of other people's money.
26867  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post on: March 12, 2010, 10:37:51 AM
Income Redistribution: You Paid for It
Executive salaries reach $500,000, hourly fees top $600, and millions of your dollars are propping it all up. Welcome to the underworld of the environmental industry. According to Richard Pollock of Pajamas Media, "environmental activist groups have surreptitiously received at least $37 million from the federal government for questionable 'attorney fees'" related to lawsuits that "had nothing to do with environmental protection or improvement."

Since 2000, nine national environmental groups have filed the astounding number of 3,300 lawsuits, most based on "alleged procedural failings of federal agencies" rather than "substance or science." Not only has Uncle Sam doled out the millions, but Washington has "neither tracked nor accounted for" any of the outgo. Wyoming attorney Karen Budd-Falen, who helped uncover the fraud, says the $37 million is just the "tip of the iceberg," estimating the actual number is in the hundreds of millions.

Interestingly, according to the Washington Examiner, compensation for the top 10 paid environmental executives ranges from $308,000 to $496,000. Pajamas Media notes that of the $3.4 million that environmental PACs have given in federal campaign contributions since 2000, approximately 87 percent was to Democrats. Coincidence? We think not.

Eco-activists aren't the only ones greening themselves with your money. It seems Wake Forest University is using a $71,623 federal "we must rescue the economy now" stimu-less grant to study the effects of cocaine on a specific neurotransmitter in addicted monkeys. The economic benefit? Apparently a job "saved." For the record, we believe taxpayer dollars already fund too much monkey business in Washington; there's certainly no need to fund it anywhere else.
26868  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 2d Lt Eliot Ackerman USMC, Silver Star on: March 12, 2010, 10:35:08 AM
On November 10, 2004, then-2nd Lt. Elliot Ackerman of the United States Marine Corps led a platoon into Fallujah -- at that time, still a hotbed of insurgent activity. The platoon's mission was to establish a foothold from which the battalion would then clear the city. As the Marines pushed into the city, enemy fighters attacked from all sides. Twice in the early fighting, Ackerman risked himself to pull wounded Marines to safety, and then organized their evacuation. As the battle raged, however, the vehicle sent to evacuate the wounded couldn't find their position, so Ackerman again headed into the open and risked what his citation called a "gauntlet of deadly enemy fire" to direct the vehicle to the Marines.

Later in the battle, Ackerman and his team were working to clear a building when he saw some of his Marines exposed on a rooftop. He ordered them down, but took their place to mark targets for American tanks. Under a barrage of enemy fire, he suffered shrapnel wounds in his leg but continued to direct both the attack and four medical evacuations. For his bravery and leadership, Ackerman was awarded the Silver Star. Semper Fi!

26869  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Glen Beck on: March 12, 2010, 07:55:27 AM
I liked last night's show.  Fascinating to see the footage of just how strong Naziism, Fascism and Communism were in the US in the 1930s.
26870  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: autobiography, 1821 on: March 12, 2010, 07:53:48 AM
"If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150 lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, & talk by the hour? That 150 lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected."

 --Thomas Jefferson, autobiography, 1821
26871  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / T. Freeman: Reframing on: March 12, 2010, 06:21:36 AM
There are no things. There are only words. The Divine Words of Creation.

The words become fragmented, their letters scattered.
Only then are they called things; for scattered, they have no meaning.
Words in exile.

If so, their redemption lies in the story we tell with them. How we reorganize fragments into meaning, things into words, redefining what is real and what is not, and living life accordingly.

Life is in the interpretation of the words G-d gives us.
26872  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Very punny on: March 11, 2010, 05:42:58 PM
Puns For Educated Minds

1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's Round Table was Sir Circumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated in an algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.
6. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
7. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
8. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
9. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
12. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
13. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway One hat said to the other, "You stay here, I'll go on a head."
14. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
15. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said, "Keep off the Grass."
16. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said, "No change yet."
17. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
19. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
20. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
21 A backward poet writes inverse.
22. In a democracy, it's your vote that counts. In feudalism, it's your count that votes.
23. Don't join dangerous cults, practice safe sects.
26873  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Glen Beck on: March 11, 2010, 04:32:46 PM
Speaking of hit pieces, here's a humor hit on Glenn:|799600-dsmr8Yx

I will say his take on environmental issues irks me a bit.  Yes the Green movement is a watermelon front (green on the outside, red on the inside) for liberal fascism, and yes human caused global warming is a crock, but there REALLY are deep serious problems out there.  His mini-rant last night on Obama taking away fathes' fishing with their sons like on the Andy Griffith show IMHO simply was facetious or even disingenuous.  When species of fish are being fished to the point of utter depletion it is not an unreasonable thought to say "Hey! No fishing for a few years!"

Anyway, Glenn IS awesome.  He will not be taken down.  Too many people watch his show for the Big Lie to work.
26874  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy on: March 11, 2010, 06:24:20 AM

Part Two of this series from Stratfor:

After Russia consolidates control over the countries it has deemed necessary to its national security, it will turn its focus to a handful of countries that are not as important but still have strategic value. These countries — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — are not necessary to Russia’s survival but are of some importance and can keep the West from moving too close to Russia’s core.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a four-part series in which STRATFOR examines Russia’s efforts to exert influence beyond its borders.

After years of work, Moscow has made significant progress in regaining control over the former Soviet states that are crucial to Russia’s security. Russia’s window of opportunity to exert control in its near abroad is a narrow one, however, and so Moscow has prioritized its list of countries where it is trying to consolidate influence. After reining in the four countries imperative to Moscow’s interests — Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Georgia — Moscow will turn its attention to a group of countries where it would like to have more influence.

(click to view map)

There are six countries — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — where Moscow would like to reconsolidate its influence if it has the opportunity. Although these countries are not crucial to Russia’s survival, as long as they remain outside Moscow’s control, the West has the ability to get too close to the Russian core for comfort. All these countries know how serious Russia is about its grand plan of expansionism. The 2008 Russo-Georgian war revealed Moscow’s willingness to militarily intervene on its former Soviet turf and sent the message to these countries that they must obey or cut a deal with Moscow, or else risk being crushed. Since then, these countries have watched Russia consolidate Kazakhstan and Belarus into a customs union (with the promise of becoming a formal union) and have seen a pro-Russian wave engulf Ukraine.

The Baltics
Out of the six countries on this shopping list, the Baltics (particularly Estonia and Latvia) are the most critical to Russia’s plan. Estonia and Latvia are a stone’s throw from Russia’s most important cities, with Tallinn just 200 miles from St. Petersburg and eastern Latvia just 350 miles from Moscow. The Baltics lie on the North European Plain, Europe’s easiest route for marching into Russia — something Moscow knows all too well.

Each Baltic state has its own importance to Russia. Whoever controls Estonia also controls the approach to the Gulf of Finland, Russia’s main access to the Baltic Sea. Estonia is also mainly ethnically Ugro-Finnish, which means that Russians are surrounded by Ugro-Finns on both sides of the Gulf of Finland. Latvia has the largest Russian population in the Baltics and the port of Riga, which Russia covets. Lithuania is different from its Baltic brothers since it does not border Russia proper, although it does border Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave, which is home to half of Russia’s Baltic Fleet and more than 23,000 troops. Lithuania is the largest of the Baltic states, both in terms of territory and population. It also had been a key industrial center under the Soviet Union.

The Baltic states were the only countries in the former Soviet Union to be shuffled into the Western set of alliances, being admitted into the European Union and NATO in 2004. This put the Western alliances right on Russia’s doorstep. Estonia and Latvia are fervently anti-Russian, while Lithuania is more pragmatic, feeling less threatened by Moscow since it does not actually border mainland Russia.

The Russian administration is split over whether the Baltics belong on Russia’s “must have” or “would like to have” list. The Kremlin is especially torn over how aggressively to go after Estonia, which is geographically isolated sharing land borders only with Russia and Latvia, and thus in a particularly sensitive position.

Russia’s Levers
Russia holds many levers within the Baltic states, making their future highly uncertain.

Geography: The Baltics are virtually indefensible, lying on the North European Plain. Their small size also makes them incredibly vulnerable. Furthermore, they are bordered by Russia to the east, Kaliningrad to the west and Russian ally Belarus to the south.
Population: Each Baltic state has a sizable Russian population: Russians or Russian speakers make up 30 percent of the population in Estonia, 40 percent in Latvia and nearly 10 percent of Lithuania. Roughly 15 percent of Estonians and 30 percent of Latvians are Orthodox, with many loyal to the Moscow Patriarchy.
Economic: The most critical economic lever for Russia in the Baltics is energy. The Baltics rely on Russia for 90-99 percent of their natural gas supplies and most of their oil. Russia has proven in the past that it is willing to cut these supplies (for example, through the breaking of the Druzhba pipeline). Russia also owns a third of Estonia’s natural gas company and has been in talks to purchase Lithuania’s main refinery. Russia’s economic levers are mainly in Latvia, which relies on Russia for one-third of its energy imports
Military: Russia has 23,000 troops in Kaliningrad and recently moved 8,000 troops to just outside St. Petersburg, near the Estonian border. Russia has also regularly held military exercises in Belarus and Kaliningrad under the guise of contingency planning for an invasion of the Baltics (should one ever be necessary).
Security: Russia’s nationalist youth movements, like Nashi, have continually crossed the border into Estonia and Latvia in order to commit vandalism or stir up pro-Russian sentiments. Estonia has also been one of the prime targets for cyber attacks from Russia, especially at politically heated times.
Political: This is the weakest link for Russia in the Baltics, since each country is pro-Western and a member of the European Union and NATO. However Russia does have some small footholds in Latvia and Lithuania. In 2009, the Harmony Center coalition — comprising parties that mainly represent Latvia’s Russian population — placed second in the country’s European Parliament elections and was as recently as January ranked as the most popular Latvian party, with 16.5 percent approval. There has also been a tradition of pro-Russian parties in Lithuania, though this has tapered off in recent years. The Labor Party, funded by Russian-born billionaire Viktor Uspaskich, was the strongest party in Lithuania in the mid-2000s. However, Uspaskich’s fortunes turned when he was charged with corruption and tax evasion, forcing him to flee to Russia in 2006 to avoid arrest. He has since returned to Lithuania and assumed leadership of the Labor Party, which came fifth in the October 2008 elections.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Moscow has not yet made much progress in consolidating its influence in the Baltics. Estonia and Latvia are still vehemently anti-Russian. They have taken refuge in Western alliances, but after watching what happened to NATO ally Georgia in 2008, both countries — particularly Estonia — are unsure about the West’s ability to come to their aid should Russia actively target them. Instead, Estonia and Latvia tend to look to Sweden and Finland as patrons. These countries hold unique relationships with Russia that could help them curb any Russian action in Latvia and Estonia.

Lithuania has been more pragmatic about its relationship with Russia, counting on its location away from the Russian border to protect it but not wanting to test Moscow’s patience. In recent weeks, Lithuania has been more open to NATO discussions with Russia and negotiations on Russian involvement in the country’s energy sector.

Azerbaijan is important to Russia for many reasons. The Caucasus state does not border Russia and historically has been rather independently minded. However, it could be drawn in not only by the West but by other regional powers, like Turkey and Iran (Azerbaijan borders Iran, which has a sizeable Azerbaijani population). For Russia, controlling Azerbaijan is about preventing other powers from gaining a foothold in the Caucasus.

Azerbaijan also has access to vast amounts of energy wealth — not only because of its own oil and natural gas resources but also because of its geographic location between Central Asia and the West. Many countries want to tap into Azerbaijan’s energy potential. The West has developed Azerbaijan’s resources in order to have an alternative to Russian energy supplies, while Russia wants to control the flow of Azerbaijan’s oil and natural gas supplies.

Russia’s Levers
Geographic: Azerbaijan’s location is a blessing and a curse. It is near many regional powers, but is torn between them. Russia is skilled in playing the regional powers off each other in order to gain more leverage in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s main energy route also transits Georgia — and Russia proved its willingness to cut that route during the 2008 war.
Political: Azerbaijan and its neighbor Armenia have been locked in a political conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh since a war over the region from 1988-1994. Russia is the key power influencing all parties involved in the negotiations and can easily complicate or keep calm this complex standoff.
Security: Besides the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, Azerbaijan is also highly concerned with militants from Russia’s Muslim regions coming into the country. Baku has complained that Moscow could easily send down militants from Dagestan or Chechnya to destabilize the country if needed.
Military: Russia has 5,000 troops stationed inside Armenia and has an agreement with Yerevan that it can move the troops to the borders as it pleases. Russia also has a military radar base in Gabala, Azerbaijan, but this is in the process of being shut down.
Economic: Azerbaijan is in the process of reviving its energy ties to Russia with deals for natural gas purchases to start this year. Russia has also offered to purchase all of Azerbaijan’s natural gas. Baku has attempted to diversify where it sends its energy, with links to Europe, Iran and now Russia. But as Russia has proven, it is willing to cut some of these links for its own needs.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia has been quite successful in the past year in re-establishing its influence over Azerbaijan. Though it traditionally has sought to balance itself among the region’s three powers, Azerbaijan is now reconsidering its relationship with Turkey and becoming more worried about keeping ties with Iran due to Western pressure. This is beginning to leave Russia as Baku’s only option, and Moscow knows it. Furthermore, as the political dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia heated up due to a proposed political deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan’s traditional ally Turkey, Baku felt abandoned by Ankara, and Russia stepped in to console Azerbaijan. Russia has skillfully played each party in this disagreement — Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey — off each other, and gained leverage to use on each one.

Azerbaijan is still very wary of Russian control, but understands it must deal carefully with Moscow. Unfortunately for Baku, besides other powers’ interest in the country and its geographic location, Azerbaijan has few tools at its disposal to counter Russian pressure.

Turkmenistan acts as a buffer for Russia between the critical state of Kazakhstan and the regional power of Iran. It also stands between the former Soviet sphere and the highly unstable South Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Turkmenistan is strategically important to Russia for two other reasons: energy and Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas supplies and sizable oil supplies —something sought by the West, the Far East and the Middle East. Russia wants to ensure that these supplies only go where it wants and do not become competition for Russia’s supplies.

Turkmenistan also flanks most of the southern portion of Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s natural leader and a country Russia wants to control. Russia has been able to use the long-standing tensions between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to its advantage.

Russia’s Levers
Turkmenistan’s sparse population and economy makes it difficult to influence, but Russia has some very specific levers in the country.

Geography and population: Turkmenistan does not border Russia, but its geography and lack of consolidation give Russia easy access. Turkmenistan lacks any geographic protective features, except for its size and the large desert that crosses most of the country. Furthermore, its population is split between the Caspian coast and its border with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Russia holds influence over the population in the southeast mainly because the clan that runs that area allegedly is involved in the drug trade, and Russia is said to oversee exports from Turkmenistan through Russia and on to Europe.
Political and security: As mentioned above, Russia holds great political leverage over the southern Turkmen population because of its control over this area’s main economic staple: drugs. This population, led by the Mary Clan, does not run the country politically but could easily challenge the government if it wanted, since it comprises a large percentage of the population. Russia has yet to play this card, but it would not be difficult to do so.
Military: Russian military influence in Turkmenistan has increased. The country cannot defend itself, especially from its neighbor Uzbekistan, so Russia has supplied the Turkmen military and security forces with arms and training. Russia has placed a small contingent of troops inside Turkmenistan as well in order to deter Uzbekistan.
Economic: Fifty percent of Turkmenistan’s gross domestic product comes from energy, with 90 percent of Turkmen energy supplies transiting Russia. Moscow has proven in the past that it is willing to cut these energy supply routes if politically necessary and knows that doing so would crush Turkmenistan economically.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia has been able to keep Turkmenistan under its thumb via energy and security. The country understands that it is beholden to Russia for the bulk of its economy and for protection from Uzbekistan. However, part of this equation is changing, since Turkmenistan has expanded its energy infrastructure into China — a major energy consumer. These links depend on the transit of supplies via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan but are the start of a diversification of energy shipments and funding for Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan is the heart of Central Asia, holding a large bulk of its population and many of its resources. Uzbekistan’s population, 27 million, dwarfs that of its neighbors. It holds the world’s 11th-largest natural gas reserves and is Central Asia’s major electricity exporter. Uzbekistan is self-sufficient in food as well, controlling the fertile Fergana Valley. Its size, resources and location grant Uzbekistan a greater degree of independence than the other Central Asian states.

This independence is something Russia wants to curb. Russia is not so concerned with other powers influencing Uzbekistan — though the West, China, Turkey and Iran have tried. Instead Moscow is worried about Uzbekistan becoming a regional leader in its own right, commanding the other Central Asian states. Such a move would shift the whole of Central Asia away from Russian control. Losing Uzbekistan would mean losing half of Kazakhstan (including the critical southern region around Almaty), Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and half of Kyrgyzstan. These areas would end up isolated from Russia.

Russia’s Levers
Geographic: Uzbekistan is surrounded by former Soviet states. It has no borders with the non-Soviet world, save a very small border with Afghanistan. As long as Russia controls the other states it can influence Uzbekistan to some extent.

Security: Uzbekistan has faced a great number of security concerns, from its own militant movements in the Fergana Valley to the insurgency in Afghanistan crossing the border. Russia has placed its troops in neighboring countries to counter these militants and can help mold their movements. Moscow also has deep connections with many militant movements in Afghanistan left over from the war in the 1980s.
Economic: Roughly 21 percent of all Uzbek exports — mainly energy, cotton and cars — go to Russia. Natural gas accounts for nearly 32 percent of Uzbekistan’s exports, and 75 percent of that goes to Russia. Uzbekistan may be self-sufficient in energy and food, but all refined energy products (like lubricants) and most processed foods come from Russia. Russia also controls much of the drug flow out of Central Asia and Afghanistan into Russia and Europe. This drug flow is key to the Uzbek economy and many of the power circles in the country.
Military: Russia currently has troops near the Uzbek border in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and has trained Turkmen troops that are stationed on the Turkmen-Uzbek border.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia was briefly successful in pulling Uzbekistan back into the Russian fold in 2005, pushing Tashkent to evict the United States from a military base it was using to get supplies to troops in Afghanistan.

But as Tashkent has seen its neighbors and other former Soviet states grow closer to Russia, it has moved in the opposite direction. Uzbekistan’s reaction to the Russian resurgence has been to become increasingly independent and hostile toward Russia. Tashkent feels it should be the natural and independent leader of Central Asia and does not want Russia ruling the region. Uzbekistan has continued to buck Russia’s demands on energy supplies and military locations, and has joined the trend of building pipelines heading to China. In Central Asia, Uzbekistan is Moscow’s biggest and most important challenge.

26875  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics on: March 11, 2010, 06:10:58 AM

Securitization for Dummies
Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit. She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).

Word gets around about Heidi's "drink now, pay later" marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Detroit. By providing her customers' freedom from immediate payment demands, Heidi gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Heidi's gross sales volume increases massively.

A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then bundled and traded on international security markets. Naive investors don't really understand that the securities being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb, and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation's leading brokerage houses.

One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar. He so informs Heidi.

Heidi then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed alcoholics they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since, Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and the eleven employees lose their jobs.

Overnight, DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS, and PUKEBONDS drop in price by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the banks liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community. The suppliers of Heidi's bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms' pension funds in the various BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds. Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers.

Fortunately the bank, the brokerage houses, and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multi-billion dollar, no-strings attached cash infusion from their cronies in Government. The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class,  non-drinkers who never have been in Heidi's bar.

Now, you understand.
26876  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison: Federalist 55 on: March 11, 2010, 05:14:57 AM
"Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob." --James Madison, Federalist No. 55
26877  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pak's ISI Chief on: March 11, 2010, 04:34:33 AM
Pakistan's ISI Chief: When Personalities Matter
TUESDAY WAS ONE OF THOSE DAYS when a key development with global implications got very little attention around the world. On March 9, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani extended the term of service of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the country’s premier intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate. Pasha, who has been serving as Director-General of the ISI since his appointment by Kayani in September 2008, was due to retire on March 18. Many of the army’s top brass —including Kayani and Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman Gen. Tariq Majid — are due to retire by autumn.

Normally, personalities and factions do not matter insofar as geopolitics is concerned, certainly not in the long run. In this case, however, we are dealing with the short term, given the narrow window of opportunity that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has to turn things around in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region –- the epicenter of global jihadist activity. This is why Pasha’s extension is an extremely significant development. Given the domestic and regional jihadist insurgency situation, the development is obviously based on Pakistan’s need for continuity of policy. But it is equally important for the American strategy for Afghanistan.

Pasha heads the ISI, which plays the single most important role in the U.S.-led international effort to bring about an end to the regional jihadist morass. In general, Washington relies heavily on Pakistan’s army-led security establishment to help bring a close to the now nine-year-old jihadist war. But without the ISI, the United States simply could not realize its objectives in the region.

There are two reasons for this. The first has to do with the historical role of the ISI in cultivating and managing Islamist militants, particularly in the case of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement. The second reason is that the ISI is in the process of a major shift; it is transitioning from being the cultivator of jihadists to being an entity that fights them.

“The ISI plays the single most important role in the U.S.-led international effort to bring about an end to the regional jihadist morass.”
Both of these attributes are absolutely essential for the success of the American strategy. Washington needs the ISI to help with intelligence to eliminate irreconcilable Taliban and their allies among the al Qaeda-led transnational jihadist nexus. More importantly though, Washington needs the ISI to eventually help negotiate a settlement with the reconcilable elements among the Afghan Taliban.

After years of tense relations, U.S.-Pakistani cooperation has recently seen considerable progress. The gains made thus far are nascent and have largely taken place under the current military-intelligence leadership. In the nearly 18 months that Pasha has been leading the ISI, Pakistan has taken a variety of unprecedented steps against Islamist militants. These include a crackdown against key Lashkar-e-Taiba figures due to their involvement in the Mumbai attacks in November 2008; the retaking of the Swat region from Taliban rebels; the ongoing offensive in the tribal belt, especially South Waziristan; growing intelligence-sharing to facilitate the U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in the tribal areas; and the recent actions against the Afghan Taliban.

These accomplishments are not possible without the cooperation of institutions, not just particular individuals. But when we talk about paradigmatic shifts in state behavior, specific individuals become important because they are the ones spearheading the radical changes. In the case of the ISI, this is even more important because the organization is in the process of transforming its decades-old policy of working with Islamist militants, and is now combating them.

The United States has acknowledged that the jihadist war in southwest Asia is primarily an intelligence war, and that it needs the ISI to move in a certain direction. This, in turn, requires specific personalities at the helm. Therefore, not only does Pakistan need continuity in its current intelligence leadership, the United States is dependent upon it as well. In other words, this war is as political as it is geopolitical.

26878  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Video Clips of Interest on: March 11, 2010, 04:25:42 AM

Yike Bike
26879  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BS Bingo with BO on: March 10, 2010, 10:40:04 PM
26880  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH Op Ed on Filibusters on: March 10, 2010, 11:53:50 AM
I have no opinion on this, but post it in search of Truth:


A One-Track Senate Recommend

Published: March 9, 2010

THE Senate is badly gummed up. Major policy initiatives — health care reform and financial regulation, to name but two — are stalled in endless negotiations. There’s a big reason for this torpor: the filibuster. But there’s a solution: the filibuster. Don’t be confused. The two aren’t the same.

During the 1960s, the Senate was frozen by lengthy filibusters over civil rights legislation. When, in the mid-’70s, that tactic once again threatened to bring the Senate to a standstill, Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who was the majority whip, invented a dual-track system. This change in practice allowed the majority leader — with the unanimous consent of the Senate or the approval of the minority leader — to set aside whatever was being debated on the Senate floor and move immediately to another item on the agenda.

The result of tracking? No more marathon debate sessions that shut down the Senate. While one bill is being “filibustered,” business can continue on others.

Today a “filibuster” consists of merely telling the leadership that 41 senators won’t vote for a bill. Worse, any single senator can put a “hold” on anything, indefinitely, for any reason. Not only has it become easier to “filibuster,” but tracking means there are far fewer consequences when the minority party or even one willful member of Congress does so, because the Senate can carry on with other things.

Tracking allowed Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama to stop 70 administration nominees while pursuing earmarks for his home state. It permitted the Senate to conduct other business, like confirming a circuit-court judge, during the recent hold by Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, on the unemployment benefit extension. During the “filibuster” of the Senate health care bill, it cleared the way for months of other votes.

Because dual-tracking is a Senate practice, not a formal rule, the majority leader, Harry Reid, could end tracking at any time. By doing so, the Democrats would transform the filibuster and recover their opportunity to govern effectively.

To pull this off, the Democrats need to take three steps: First, they should announce the order in which they will take up their legislative agenda. Next, they should declare that they will no longer be using dual tracking, so that the Senate will hear just one issue at a time. Finally, Democrats should require those who want to filibuster legislation or appointments to actually do so, by holding the floor, talking the issue to death and bringing everything to a halt.

The new-school filibuster would preserve minority rights in the Senate, while imposing significant costs on obstructionist members, changing the calculus that causes today’s logjam. Stuck on the Senate floor, filibustering senators couldn’t meet with lobbyists or attend campaign fund-raising events; they couldn’t do much of anything, really, until their filibuster ended.

Getting rid of dual-tracking would require the minority to make careful choices about what to obstruct, and when to obstruct it. As Senator Bunning’s unsuccessful solo stand against jobless benefits showed, even Republicans have limited tolerance when it comes to stalling legislation for reasons that lack popular support.

After all, filibusters historically broke when public opinion went against the Senate minority. If the Democratic leadership eliminated the dual-track system, serial, single-issue filibusters would give us an opportunity to see where the country actually stands on issues like health care reform and financial regulation — and where the Senate should stand.

By consistently blocking legislation, Republican have made great political gains over the last year. But in a Senate without dual-tracking, Democrats would be able to simply and repeatedly remind the American people that after endless debate there always comes time for a vote. Win or lose, that is how things work in a democracy.

Barry Friedman, a vice dean at New York University School of Law, is the author of the “The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution.” Andrew D. Martin is the chairman of the political science department and a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.
26881  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTP on: March 10, 2010, 11:35:32 AM
Its WaPo (a.k.a. Pravda on the Potomac) so caveat lector.  That said, we search for the Truth, inconvenient and otherwise, so here it is:
26882  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action on: March 10, 2010, 10:51:05 AM
An ret. American SF officer sends me the following:

Real allies. None finer.
26883  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: March 10, 2010, 10:40:02 AM
TWO EVENTS OCCURRED ON THURSDAY that involved Turkey. In the first, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs forwarded a resolution to the House floor for full debate, which called for the condemning of Turkish actions in what many Armenians refer to as the 1915 genocide. The response from the Turkish Foreign Ministry was vitriolic, complete with an ambassadorial recall and threats to downgrade Turkish-American relations at a time when the Americans sorely need Turkish help in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the second development, which preceded the events on Capitol Hill by several hours, the Turkish government announced it would host its own version of the World Economic Forum (WEF) this October in Istanbul. The WEF gathers several hundred business and political leaders every year to discuss pressing global issues in Davos, Switzerland. Invited are all of the leaders from the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Arab world.

Here at STRATFOR these developments generated a bit of a “hmmm.” It is not that we are strident followers of the discussions in Congress (much less at Davos), or that we are blindly impressed or appalled by anything Turkey does. However, we are students of history, and seeing Turkey reaching for the position of a regional opinion leader at the same time it has an almost allergic reaction to criticism is something that takes us back a few hundred years to another era.

Much of Turkey’s rich history is bracketed within the period known as the Ottoman Empire — to date one of the largest and most successful empires in human history. But what truly set the Ottomans apart from the rest of history’s governments was not the size or wealth of the territory it controlled, but the way the Turks controlled it. We have to dive into a bit of a geography lesson to explain that.

The core territory of the Ottoman Empire of the past — as well as the Turkey of today — is a crescent of land on the northwest shore of the Anatolian peninsula, including all of the lands that touch the Sea of Marmara. In many ways it is a mini-Mediterranean. It is rich in fertile land, has a maritime culture and wealth that comes from trade. It is a natural birthplace for a powerful nation, and in time it became the seat of an empire.

But the lands to its east — what is currently eastern Turkey — are not so useful. The further east one travels, the drier and less economically useful the Anatolian peninsula becomes. So in the early years of the Ottoman expansion, the Turks pushed not east into Asia, but north into the Balkans — moving up the rich Danube valley into the fertile Plains of Hungary before being stopped by a coalition of European forces at Vienna.

This expansion left the Turks in a bit of a quandary. The size of their conquered territories was now larger than their home territories. The wealth of their conquered territories was potentially larger than that of their home territories. The population of their conquered territories was comprised of different nationalities and religions, and combined was larger than that of their home territories. The Turks very quickly came to the uncomfortable realization that they not only needed their conquered peoples to make their empire functional, but that they needed those conquered peoples to be willing participants in the empire. The Ottomans may have started out as Middle Eastern, but their early successes made them European.

This realization shaped imperial policy in a great many ways. One was the development of a Millet system of city organization where the Turks only control a portion of the city, leaving the rest of the population to live among, and police, their own. One was the establishment of the Janissary corps, an elite military force that reported directly to the sultan, but was stocked exclusively with non-Turks. Another was the simple fact that the chief vizier, the second most powerful man in the empire, was almost always not a Turk. And it was all held together by a governing concept the Turks called suzerainty: regional governments would pay taxes to the center and defer to Istanbul on all issues of foreign and military policy, but would control the bulk of their own local affairs. By the standards of the Western world of the 21st century, the system was imperial and intrusive, but by the standards of 16th century European barbarity, it was as exotic as it was enlightened.

“After more than 90 years of being in a geopolitical coma, the Turks are on the move again, and are deciding what sort of power they hope to become.”
But things change — particularly when borders shift. During two centuries of retreat following twin defeats at the gates of Vienna, the empire’s northern border crept ever further south. The demographic balance of Turks to non-Turks reverted to the Turks’ favor. The need for a multinational government system lessened, and by the Ottoman Empire’s dying days, the last threads of multinationalism were being ripped out.

But the Turks were not alone in what would soon come to be known as the Turkish Republic. There were also substantial populations of Armenians and Kurds. But unlike the Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians who dwelt in the fertile, economically valuable lands of Southeastern Europe — and whose cooperation the Turks needed to sustain a viable empire — the Armenians and Kurds called the steep, desiccated, low-fertility valleys of eastern Anatolia home. These lands held little value, and so the Turks had scarce need of its inhabitants. The Turks felt these lands held negligible promise, and that the need for an egalitarian governing system had passed: one result was 1915.

In our minds, today’s twin events highlight the challenge that Turkey faces. After more than 90 years of being in a geopolitical coma, the Turks are on the move again, and are deciding what sort of power they hope to become. Within that debate are two choices.

The first would herald a “Great Turkey” rooted in the founding of the Turkish Republic that celebrates its Turkish-ness. This is a very comfortable vision, and one that does not challenge any of the tenets that modern Turks hold dear. But it is also a vision with severe limitations. There are very few Turks living beyond the borders of modern Turkey, and even Turkey’s ethnic cousins in Central Asia and Azerbaijan are extremely unlikely to join any such entity. This vision would always rail at any challenge to its image. This is the Turkey that objects so strenuously whenever the 1915 topic is broached.

The second would herald a “Greater Turkey,” a multinational federation in which the Turks are the first-among-equals, but in which they are hardly alone. It would resurrect the concept of Turkey as primarily a European, not Middle Eastern, power. In this more pluralist system, Turkey’s current borders would not be the end, but the beginning. It is this version of Turkey that could truly — again — become not simply a regional, but a global power. And it is this Turkey that calls all interested, perhaps even the Armenians, to Istanbul in October to honestly and openly see what they think of the world.

26884  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / More on CAIR on: March 10, 2010, 10:19:19 AM
In Defense Of The Constitution
News & Analysis
March 5, 2010

     CAIR: Defending Kifah Mustapha, The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Holy Land Foundation

     On Wednesday, March 3, Chicago's WLS-TV I-Team reported that the Illinois State Police have reconsidered the appointment of Kifah Mustapha as a Muslim Chaplain.  Terrorism expert Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) is identified as the leading cause of Mustapha's  reconsideration.

     Apparently, Kifah Mustapha was slated to become the State Police’s first Muslim Chaplain after completing a course he paid for himself.  Completing the course, he was issued a state police ID card and bulletproof vest as part of his uniform package for use in the field and on ride-alongs.

     According to Ahmed Rehab of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): "He was admitted to the post. He went through the training and the vetting and the selection process. Everything was hunky dory."

     Everything was "hunky dory" until Steve Emerson alerted the State Police:  "First I thought there was another Kifah Mustapha.  I could not believe that it could have been the same Kifah Mustapha who was associated with a terrorist organization and who was listed a year just a year and a half ago and was an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorist case that the government won.”  "His appointment in Illinois is one of the most shocking developments and demonstrations of government ineptitude that I have ever seen.”

     A state police statement followed: "in early January, the ISP became aware that Mr. Mustapha was potentially identified as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee. An immediate review of our background process began."

     It didn’t take long for CAIR’s Ahmed Rehab to gin up the smear machine and use standard CAIR stylebook verbiage to attack: "Our concern is that the Illinois State Police is kowtowing to articles online published by notorious anti-Muslims who have been in the business of smearing Muslim activists leaders and Imams for the longest time."

     And note what Ahmed Rehab does not say. He never once states that anything Emerson claims about Kifah Mustapha isn’t true.  He does not deny the accuracy of any of Emerson’s statements because Emerson's statements are absolutely correct and Rehab knows it.

     According to Emerson’s investigation, Kifah Mustapha is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee and is, according to federal prosecutors, a fund-raiser for Hamas.  While the federal prosecutors are right in that Hamas is “committed to the globalization of Islam and violent jihad”, much of the violence committed by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is unknown to the average American.

     Kifah Mustapha is also an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case.  However, Christina Abraham, CAIR’s civil rights director, had this to say about the unindicted co-conspirator list: "The unindicted co-conspirator list-which by the way is not usually made public by the Dept. of Justice and in this case for some inexplicable reason was.  It is not a conviction.”

     Abraham then describes Mustapha’s admission that he was a “registered agent for Holy Land Foundation in Illinois...soliciting money” until its closure by authorities: "It is essentially guilt by association.”

     Christina Abraham is absolutely correct, it is guilt by association.  When you promote, work for, speak on behalf of, a suspect organization, you shouldn’t be surprised when you receive extra scrutiny.  When you associate with known terrorists, you shouldn’t be surprised if you are labeled one as well.

     Abraham claims that the Illinois State Police have no “legal basis” to deny Mustapha the Chaplains position.

     Really? The Illinois State Police do not have wide latitude on who may serve as a volunteer chaplain?  Would Abraham care to file a lawsuit on behalf of Kifah Mustapha?

     The better question might be, “Can Kifah Mustapha stand up to discovery?”  The answer, if the history of political Islam in America is any guide, is “No, he can’t”.

     CAIR and Kifah Mustapha won’t file a lawsuit because they can’t win.

     Steve Emerson says it all: "The fact that a man who has been fully associated with an Islamic terrorist organization that specialized in suicide bombing is made chaplain of the state police in Illinois is absolutely horrifying.”


     CAIR’s Ahmed Rehab see’s it another way: "It is very important to us that the relationship between law enforcement and the Muslim community be based on mutual trust where the accepted leaders of this community do not have to be second guessed as a result of some notorious, dubious individual on the Internet.”

     “Accepted leader” Kifah Mustapha?  Keep in mind the countless victims of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and one has to wonder, just what is Kifah Mustapha the leader of, and what is the mindset of the people who fill the "community" Rehab refers to?

     There is no second-guessing involved. Kifah Mustapha is what he is; a supporter of Islamic supremacist terror groups who promote or engage in assassination and terrorist bombings to advance their perverted Islamist principles.  If CAIR can show otherwise, why not just take Steve Emerson to court and make him produce his facts?

     Kifah Mustapha, a normally outspoken person, has asked CAIR to "speak for him" until this matter is resolved.  Anti-CAIR strongly supports Mustapha's decision; we believe there is no better organization to speak on behalf of radical political Islamists in the United States than the Hamas supporting fascists of CAIR.

     Kifah Mustapha’s decision to call in CAIR for support should skewer his chances of becoming a Chaplain for the Illinois State Police.

Andrew Whitehead

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26885  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: March 10, 2010, 10:14:02 AM

"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private charter gave effulgence to his public virtues." --John Marshall, official eulogy of George Washington, delivered by Richard Henry Lee, 1799

"Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue; or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change and can trace its consequences; a harvest reared not by themselves but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few not for the many." --Federalist No. 62

"One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one." --James Madison, Federalist No. 48

"We are not to consider ourselves, while here, as at church or school, to listen to the harangues of speculative piety; we are here to talk of the political interests committed to our charge." --Fisher Ames, speech in the United States House of Representatives, 1789
26886  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Footwear on: March 10, 2010, 08:08:45 AM
I have decided to use the Merrill-Vibram low boots (though I did see yesterday a different Merrill boot that intrigued me greatly) and, given the weight I am and will be carrying for the amount of training time I will be doing so, have decided to go with arch supports.

Normally I tend gravitate to the barefooting concept.  For years I have done my squats barefoot (if the gym would let me) and now that I have the Vibram VSO Five Fingers I wear those-- though the only squatting I will be doing for the next 3 months will be with the 50 pound pack-- as much as I can for most things.
26887  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: No good options left. Well, duh. on: March 10, 2010, 07:59:53 AM
Tuesday, March 9, 2010   STRATFOR.COM  Diary Archives 

U.S. Left With No Good Options in Iran
ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES CHIEF OF STAFF Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi arrived in Washington on Monday for a visit in which he will meet with a series of U.S. officials, including White House National Security Advisor James Jones and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. The topic of sanctions on Iran will inevitably come up, just as the White House has downgraded the once “crippling sanctions” package it has tried to compile. The downgrade follows months of failed attempts to bring on board all members of the P-5+1, most notably Russia and China.

The Americans have reportedly moved on to a more watered-down, weaker version of sanctions that target not Iran’s gasoline imports, but rather the country’s shipping, banking and insurance sectors after appearing to have resigned themselves to the fact that Russia and China were not going to come on board with the initial, more severe proposal. The latest deadline being considered by those drafting the new package is reportedly May, though with the way deadlines have been treated throughout the affair (remember the February deadline?), even that seems like a stretch.

The United States thus finds itself in a geopolitical bind, stuck with no good options and the still formidable task of convincing Russia and China to come on board with the rest of the P-5+1 in agreeing to a way to pressure Tehran into giving up its nuclear ambitions while avoiding a war in the Persian Gulf. But even with watered-down sanctions, Russia still has an interest in seeing the United States remain mired in this imbroglio. Every day of American distraction in the Middle East means another day of Russian resurgence in its former Soviet domain carried out with minimal interference from Washington. And China, which depends on Iran for a significant portion of the oil essential to greasing the wheels of its ever-expanding economy, is happy to push for more talks as long as it is not the only U.N. Security Council member that refuses to bow to Washington’s desires.

With U.S. President Barack Obama’s hopes for a change in the Russian and Chinese positions hinging on how Moscow and Beijing respond to the new draft, the world’s superpower finds itself in uncomfortable terrain. Washington knows that this latest version of sanctions –- labeled as “smart” sanctions due to the fact that they are not intended to target the Iranian people, but rather the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps –- is only as good as its ability to appease the Israelis, who would want to be able to draw the United States into a fight with Tehran and utilize the strength of the American military as a way of setting back the Iranian nuclear program.

One of the United States’ main strategic imperatives is to prevent the formation of a dominant power on the Eurasian landmass. One of the tactics Washington has been known to employ to achieve this imperative is to wait as long as possible to join a fight as long as there are others present that can do the brunt of the dirty work. For example, the United States stood on the sidelines until 1917 before entering the Great War, and waited until 1944 to land on the beaches of Normandy, giving its Western European allies (as well as its Soviet friends on the Eastern Front) plenty of time to absorb casualties and weaken the Nazi war machine before putting any of its own soldiers into the line of fire.

“One of the United States’ main strategic imperatives is to prevent the formation of a dominant power on the Eurasian landmass.”
Another tried and true tactic, however, has been to utilize a third force –- whether that be a state actor or a non-state actor –- to do Washington’s bidding. Unleashing Islamist insurgents against the Soviets during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (with financial support from Saudi Arabia and logistical assistance from Pakistan) is a well-known example, as is the use of Awakening Councils in Iraq’s Sunni provinces during the 2007 surge, which helped turn the tide of what then looked like an interminable war. And with the recent focus on the empowerment of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police eerily mirroring the obsession with “Vietnamization” in the 1970’s, the last 100 years of American foreign policy show a country that operates according to the notion that it is easier to allow others to do something for you than it is to do it yourself.

When the United States surveys the current landscape in the Middle East, it does not see any good candidates for helping it to contain Iran. The historic counterweight to a strong Persia, Iraq finds itself weak and fractured, possibly even at the risk of becoming an Iranian satellite as a result of the 2003 American invasion, which toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. The Russian comeback in central Asia and the Caucasus has largely bottled up any possibility of taking that route to destabilize Tehran, short of enlisting the support of Moscow itself. The Persian Gulf states recognize that geography is king, and while the United States buys these countries’ oil, the Iranians are a permanent presence in the region that will not go away over time. Then there are the Saudis, who, despite the sophistication of its equipment, have a military with a very limited capability of operating beyond its borders. Turkey –- a strong country in the region that theoretically could pose a big help to the United States — is focused on other foreign policy agendas that likely outrank helping the Americans at the moment. Afghanistan has problems of its own — namely the fact that it has never existed as a coherent nation state — while Pakistan is currently battling a jihadist insurgency at home. Hopes for a revolution in Iran, through the much-publicized Green Movement, failed to materialize, while the few anti-regime domestic militant groups whose interests could possibly intersect with those of Washington -– Mujahideen-e-Khalq and Jundallah -– do not come close to having what it takes to take on Tehran.

There is, of course, the possibility of negotiations. But all sorts of Faustian bargains arise from this route as well, meaning that when it comes to Iran, the United States is left with no good options.

26888  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Glen Beck on: March 09, 2010, 11:47:58 PM
Glenn had several awesome shows last week, but I found the Friday one on education to be quite a letdown and not all that well reasoned.

As for tonight's show with ex-Congressman Masa-- Glenn said it best when he said "I have wasted your time.  I am sorry".
26889  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Barefooting in the mountains-3 on: March 09, 2010, 06:33:04 PM
Wrong Saddle, No Track...

After reaching the saddle I couldn't find the top of the track going down the South Ridge (because it wasn't there...). I had heard it was difficult to find but I found the vegetation was not really thick up high. I could see quite a distance. But it was VERY difficult to push through. Very thick up to chest height, no tracks (doh) and rocky underfoot which was invisible through the vegetation. I was slightly confused at my situation. After some scouting around, I decided that time was getting away from me a little and decided to just begin descending down the creek line. This would lead me to the track I thought.

There was supposed to be an area called the Rum Jungle just down from the saddle and below that the Old Hut sight and camping ground. This was where the track was supposed to be marked by orange triangles on trees. I thought if I just go down the creekline/re-entrant I would run into one of these two and pick up the track...

It was during this descent of the creek line that I began to first become concerned about not being able to get off the mountain before sunset. After about an hour of bashing my way through the thick vegetation I came across something that was truly confusing. Instead of finding the Rum Jungle, Old Hut camping site or the South Ridge and the track, there was a severe and very prominent re-entrant running from high ground from the left, down to the right. It made the current re-entrant I was in look tiny by comparison. This was not right. This was not supposed to be here.

North Instead of South?

I got out my compass and GPS and checked the bearing I was walking on. The creekline I was on was running towards the NW. This wasn't right. It seemed the big re-entrant in front of me was runnning down to the N. How was this so? What was going on? I should have been going generally to the S. It was at this stage that I finally admitted it was a bad idea not to have brought a map.

I bashed my way all the way to the creek there as I could hear running water. Now was a good time to fill up my water bottles. I tried some water then after a half hour or so I thought the water must be fine (it was untouched up here) and filled all of my water up.

After filling up my water, I sat and thought about my situation and location. I thought about how this could be so. I trusted the bearings. I knew I was wrong. I should have used bearings from the top. I should not have trusted my own bearings in unknown terrain in white out conditions. A map would have prevented this.

Working out my Errors

I am confident with my navigational skills. But I made some simple errors today it seemed. After some time, I came to the conclusion that I had indeed must have walked down to the wrong knoll from the East Peak. That knoll must have been off to the right. From there I went down the incorrect minor creekline to hit the major re-entrant running north from the main saddle which is what I was in now. It was during this time I realised that the photo I had taken of that big other peak off to the left on the way down had indeed been the West Peak. If I was to go down this re-entrant I would be going in the exact opposite direction of where I needed to be going. I needed to climb up this re-entrant I was in. This would take me to the actual saddle I was looking for and from there I could find the South Ridge track.

So up I went. I thought going up this saddle would be an absolute nightmare due to the severe aspect of the terrain but it actually wasn't too bad compared to the walk down which was terrible. After about an hour and a half, I finally made it to the saddle I was supposed to be at from about 130pm. It was now about 345pm. It took about half an hour to find the Old Hut site where the camping ground was. It was right at the bottom of the saddle where the climb to the West Peak begins. You can't miss it. Great little spot. A cleared area about 20m x 20m and protected from the elements by tall trees.

It was after 4pm now so that is where I decided to camp for the night. Right on the saddle.

Camping for the Night

I had no sleeping gear or tent. I needed to build a shelter to keep the rain off me which had continued throughout the day on and off as well as try to keep some warmth in. I had bivouacked out before on a number of occasions so knew the basics and was comfortable with my position. In fact, after finding my location, I was actually looking forward to spending the night out on Mt Barney with the minimum of gear. I knew I was in no danger of dying. It might be quite uncomfortable, but that was all.

I thought back to all of the documentaries I had seen, books I have read and personal experiences over my life. I remember watching legends like Malcolm Douglas who was 'The Man' in my eyes when it comes to bush survival. I also more recently have been watching Man vs Wild featuring Bear Grylls. I like the show immensely but do feel it is not always 'best practice' what he does. He is more in the entertainment area I think but still does provide excellent tips.

I found a fallen tree and used that as a base to build my shelter from. I used fern leaves and other leafy branches to build my shelter. I built a roof and some walls out of those leaves as well as a kind of bedding to lay on. I remember clearly that most heat is lost through the ground. Because everything was wet, I had no chance of starting a fire. My bedding was wet too but at least it would begin to dry out once I laid down on it. I also cut out the water proof covering from my pack and staked it down in an attempt to collect water over night. It didn't turn out to be that useful as I think the water soaked through it a bit and much of the wetness was more like mist than rainfall.

Bad Nights Sleep

I was woken about 10 times through the night by Possums and who knows what other animals coming to inspect me and my belongings through the night. They must have smelt my food I think even though it was in my pack. On top of that, I woke up at least every half hour or so shivering. I would use my hands to rub my thighs rapidly for about five minutes to warm back up and would then attempt to go back to sleep.

I rotated through laying on my back with my legs bent and together, to my left side and my right side then back to the beginning again. All up, I didn't get too much sleep but I didn't feel in any real danger of getting hypothermia. I felt safe. I stayed mostly dry through the night as well thanks to the shelter. But I did receive numerous thick droplets of water onto my face and neck throughout the night which was just an irritation.

The Descent Finally Begins

I woke with the sun in the morning and then scouted around looking for the track down. I found the orange triangle markers but they appeared to be going up towards the East Peak. I scouted around everywhere else and couldn't find signs of any other tracks going down to the South. So I headed off along the track marked with the orange triangles. It turned out this was indeed the South Ridge track as it soon began to go down and onto an obvious ridge line tending south. The trip down was uneventful. I must say, it was nowhere near as spectacular as the SE track but much easier to go down.

I reached the car after 2hr and 45mins. I was happy to be down and was looking forward to driving home and having a nice long shower and scrub. As I loaded up the car and jumped into the drivers seat, an unbelievable thing happened.........

The car would not start!!!!!!!!

Completely dead. I could not believe it. I jiggled the ignition switch, played with the gear stick to make sure it was properly in Park but still nothing. I checked the light switch and they were off. I popped the bonnet and could find nothing which was suspicious. Unbelievable.

I remembered there was a place called the Mt Barney Lodge down the road about a kilometre, so I drudgingly strode off to see if they had any jumper leads. This could turn into another long day...

Turns out they did have some jumper leads and were very understanding of my plight and drove me back to the car and within minutes the car was going  After much thanking we said our good byes and off I went, on my journey home. What a way to finish off the walk. Certainly an epic 26hrs or so.

Congratulations for Reading!

I know this has been a long post. And for the both of you who finished it I hope you both enjoyed it and got something out of it  If there is anyone who is interested in climbing Mt Barney please let me know in the 'Contact' form in the header and I will happily email you some links worth reading before stepping off. Any questions and I will answer them happily.

And the 5fingers went great. Really happy with them. Had no pain or discomfort. The grip was great even up high when it was wet. I feel they were a better 'shoe' to be wearing than a chunky walking boot. The only issues I had was when I wash bush bashing through the thick stuff when I was searching for my way. My ankles copped a bit from the vegetation and suffered some scratching. I didn't really notice until I was home and jumped in the shower.

I know this isn't really a post related to Low Tech Combat but it kind of is to me. I honestly felt tested on that mountain. The mountain tested me and taught me some lessons and provided some tremendous experiences, sensations and emotions. This is why I strive to protect my life. It is so I can go out and do things such as this. It was a very special, perhaps even spiritual experience shared between man and mountain in testing situations.

I in no way recommend people go out and get themselves into situations like the one I found myself in. I have vast experience in the outdoors, made a couple of silly mistakes (not bringing a map, going down to the wrong knoll without checking my bearing), but had those experiences to draw on to get me out of trouble. I do however hope that this post has in some way inspired you to add a little adventure in your life, even if it means training up for 6 or 12 months with a specific goal in mind like completing a week long bush walk, compete in orienteering or climbing a mountain or even doing a guided canyoning adventure.

Have fun and stay safe!
26890  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Barefooting in the mountains-2 on: March 09, 2010, 06:29:32 PM
Exposure Begins

After about the halfway mark the climb began to get more interesting. The ridge was narrowing and the drop offs either side of the route were getting much more significant. It was certainly exhilarating and I was enjoying the climb greatly. The climb was proving to be as enjoyable as I had hoped. Indeed, I had felt the sensation of 'exposure' a couple of times now as the climb gained elevation. I was beginning to feel quite high up.

The Fun Begins

It was at about the three quarter mark where the fun began. The climb narrowed and steepened significantly. As I reached yet another false summit I saw a very steep and narrow section, a razorback, of what seemed to be a cliff face which appeared to be part of the route. It actually was part of the route I soon found out.


I was pretty high up at this point. I had pushed up into the misty and cloudy part of the climb. There was mild intermittent gusting of wind. The immediate track ahead was not a track. It was a climbing section of about 10m. At ground level it probably would not have raised any concerns. But I was far from ground level. And I was carrying a pack. The feeling of 'exposure' was very strong at this point. Adrenaline was flowing freely through my veins.

Calm Consideration

I stood at the bottom of this climbing section and scanned the climb ahead. I was deciding whether or not I should or could attempt it. It was wet as well. I consciously attempted to slow my breathing down. I took long slow breaths. I needed to be smart about this. I did calm down but the adrenaline was still flowing. Just not as fast but it was still there nevertheless. I continued to try to calm myself. I realised that as long as I stayed in that situation the adrenaline would not go away.

There were very sheer cliffs either side of me and if I slipped going up here, I would possibly fall a very long way and become a statistic of the mountain. After some careful assessment, I decided that I could do this climb safely. I would push on.

I made the first move very carefully, slowly and deliberately. I chose to stay calm up the entire section. Each move was done carefully. After each move I would stop and carefully analyse the next move before going for it. Move after move I progressed up the 10m climb seemingly surrounded by nothing but thin air.


Finally I reached the top of that climbing section. I hadn't felt like that for a very long time. I moved away from the edge all of three metres (that was as far away as as I could go) and looked back out at the view. 'Exposure' was still very strong. The 5fingers were a real asset during that section. Chunky climbing boots would have had less grip I feel. I felt completely alive. I was very happy with how I had handled that section. I felt like my whole being was being tested as I climbed that section. And I felt like I had handled it well. The feeling was amazing.

As I continued up the rest of the climb a serious concern began to eat away at me. What if there was an even more difficult climb ahead of me? I doubt very much if I could climb anything more challenging than what I had just done. This was a very real possibility as from what I could see ahead, the rest of the climb appeared to remain extremely steep still.

Could I Get Stuck?

This is when I first had a sobering thought. If I couldn't climb up any further, I doubt very much I could downclimb the section I had just climbed!!! I would be stuck on the mountain! I wouldn't be able to climb up, and I wouldn't be able to climb down. Numerous climbers from around the world have had to be rescued from that exact same situation. This fear remained with me for the remainder of the climb. At one stage, I stopped to have a quick bite and rest but I could not relax. The apprehension of not being able to climb a harder section ahead was bothering me. So I pushed on.

The climb remained steep but not as bad as that crux section. 'Exposure' was still present. After another 30 minutes or so, I had reached the summit!!!!!!!!! I found the survey marker which was an indicator of the summit of the East Peak! I was so happy I had made it. I felt like I had really earnt it. It was 1130am. It took 4hrs from the time I left the car at the carpark. I knew the remainder of the downclimb would be easy compared to what I had just done. This proved to be not so accurate...

The Summit!

I took a couple of pics but the mist was too thick. There was only about 20-100m visibility. I waited for a bit for the weather to clear. It didn't and it got colder and it began to rain. Rather than wait for the unlikely event of the weather clearing, I decided to begin the descent.

The Descent Begins...

I looked towards where I thought the West Peak would be but could see nothing. Just mist. So I began down the obvious ridgeline in the general direction of where I thought the West Peak was. It was the gentlest descent. After descending for about 15mins or so, I saw a peak ahead and slightly to the right. There it is! There was the West Peak. Or so I thought...

I continued descending into the saddle. On the way down, I saw a large peak off to my left appear through the mist and clouds. I thought it was pretty impressive and rather close so took a photo of it. Silly me. This peak off to the left I took the photo of was actually the West Peak I should have been walking towards. I am disappointed at myself for not stopping and giving that large peak some more thought than simply taking a photo of it. I should have realised what it was. But I didn't and pushed on towards the other knoll to the right...

Eventually, I reached the saddle (wrong one). I was surprised on the way down that there weren't many tracks. I thought there would be plenty of tracks from walkers going for the East Peak summit from the saddle, from those summitting from the South Ridge track. But there wasn't. In hindsight it was because no-one walks down to the saddle I had walked down to.

26891  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / A barefooting moutaineering story on: March 09, 2010, 06:28:33 PM
My Epic Barefoot Summit of Mt Barney ( Long Post)   Much of this is not on point, but I like the way the barefooting is part of the story.  The Vibram Five Fingers are the same ones I have.  Google them to find some pictures.

Sorry I misplaced the URL folks!


Posted: 01 Mar 2010 01:32 AM PST

What an adventure I had over the weekend. I went for the summit of Mt Barney. Mt Barney is a mountain (in Australian standards anyway) for only experienced walkers and climbers and there have been numerous examples of climbers having to be rescued from it's grasp. The plan was to go up the spectacular SE Ridge to the East Peak, go down into the saddle and descend the South Ridge. I aimed to reach the summit and get back down all in the one day. It didn't turn out that way as the mountain had other ideas...

I have recently been eyeing off Mt Barney as it is the biggest mountain near where I live in south east Queensland, Australia. I had sounded out a few prospective climbing companions but for three separate reasons, they all had to pass as the time approached. I decided I would go for it by myself. I wanted to go for the summit within a couple of weeks and the weekend just gone was the only time I could really fit it in. So I decided to go for it. The weather wasn't looking great but
I decided to get up early and drive down there and take a closer look early in the morning.

Vibram Five Fingers Test

Also, I decided I would test out my new Vibram Five Fingers as well and wear them to the summit. So no, I didn't do it barefoot, but close to it. I purchased the 5fingers a couple of weeks ago. Ive used them in a couple of interval sessions and wore them around a bit to get used to them. I had no real issues with them as I regularly wear thongs (otherwise known as flip flops) when not at work and go barefoot around the house. My previous shoes were Nike Frees as well so the progression to the 5fingers was no big deal for me. I also recently wrote about the five fingers along with barefoot running, drinking milk, Crossfit and squats in a bit of a mashup. I thought this would be a good step up. I packed normal hiking boots as well in case the 5fingers became painful or unsafe or some other issue arose.

I arrived at the carpark at the base of the mountain at about 7am. The weather was mostly cloudy with some rain to the south and west. Mt Barney itself was clear except for the summit which was covered in clouds and mist. I decided I would go for the summit as planned. I have quite a lot of experience with navigation, bushwalking (or hiking or trekking), camping and basic bush survival so was confident I could handle anything. It was summer even though the weather was bad, so figured I would at least not get hypothermia or freeze to death up there.

My Kit

I had a backpack with a GPS, a compass, four litres of water, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, some confectionery for some glucose, a protein bar and a muesli bar. I wore shorts, a sports running shirt which wicks away sweat, a hat and my 5fingers. I also had packed a fleecy jacket, some zamberlain boots and woollen socks. The one item I didn't have was a topographic map. I was confident going into the climb that I knew the lay of the land and that the descent into the saddle would be easy to navigate by looking at the lay of the land which would lead me to the top of the South Ridge track down off the mountain. This proved to be not so simple...

Up the SE Ridge and Down S Ridge

I had read online that many people had gotten lost on the top of Mt Barney as it is quite a big mountain and the vegetation is quite thick. I was sceptical at the time and put this down to people climbing the mountain with very poor navigational skills. How could you get lost on a saddle between two very obvious knolls? That is what Mt Barney is essentially. A big saddle with an East and a West Peak approximately the same height. They also suggested it was not recommended to do the SE Ridge and descend off the South Ridge if you haven't previously done the South Ridge climb, as the top of the South Ridge climb can be difficult to find even if you have been there before. I overlooked this bit of advice as well. From my readings, the top of the South Ridge climb began right at the bottom of the saddle. Can't be that hard to find I thought.

My reasoning for wanting to climb the SE Ridge is because it was by far, the most spectacular of the two ascents. It was a much steeper and more exposed route which sounded far more enjoyable (and it most certainly was). Plus it went straight to the East Peak rather than to the saddle which would then require a further push to the summit.

I put my 5fingers on and my pack and I was on my way at 730am. I was very excited and I must say, the mountain looked quite large from the base. I wondered how long it would take to climb. My estimates were to allow four hours of solid progress to reach the summit.

I encountered another lone prospective summitter of Mt Barney along the way. He was going for the South Ridge. We shared what we knew. Turned out we knew about the same but it was good confirmation of our individual knowledge. We kept walking and talking along the approach to the base of the mountain. He seemed quite interested in the 5fingers and seemed surprised I was wearing them on this climb but did like them and asked me where I got them. After a bit less then an hour, I came across my turn off for the SE Ridge which is marked by a big SE scratched into a tree on the right hand side of the track. We said our goodbyes and wished each other well and said we would probably run into each other on the top of the mountain somewhere in the saddle. I never saw him again.

Immediately, the relentless climb up Mt Barney began. I was feeling very excited and was very happy to be on the mountain, going for the summit. I hadn't actually gone for a summit like this before and I was very happy to be doing what I was doing on that very day. I was living in the now!

As the climb gained elevation, the view improved. It wasn't long before it seemed I was already at the height of the surrounding mountains. I glanced up at one stage and it appeared as though the mountain was taller now than it appeared from its base. It was slightly unnerving as I had been climbing for almost one hour solid by then. I stopped for a bite to eat on a slab of rock with a fantastic view of the surrounding country side to the East.

So far the 5fingers were going very well. I was liking how I had a lot of flexibility in my ankles and the grip was great for the rock scrambling sections as well. So far, so good. After my protein bar I pushed on.

26892  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Footwear on: March 09, 2010, 06:27:31 PM
Woof All:

Recently I have posted a bit about my highly favorable opinion of "barefooting" (I wear the Vibram VSOs) and how when "rucking" with 50 pounds I have had to go to hiking boots.  With the weight, the Converse Army boots gave me blisters and so I shifted to my Merril-Vibram hiking boot/shoe, which seems to be working much better.  I am thinking about arch supports though , , , In  response to my current conditioning program someone asked me

"Marc....can you share the footwear advice??  The only time my feet aren't hurting is when I'm training barefoot in the gym.....can't really do that outside in the city!!"

So this thread is for discussing different types of footwear for different purposes.

26893  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Conditioning on: March 09, 2010, 06:19:49 PM
At 57 I am a tad old for such things. 

Can I share?

No.  evil cheesy cheesy
26894  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: WHERE IS THE FOOTWORK!?! on: March 09, 2010, 06:18:30 PM
Lyoto was at RAW when I was there.  As best as I can tell, what you are seeing in his footwork (e.g. his fight with Tito) is what I learned from Frank Trigg and shared with Lyotto.  Shogun shut this game down by closing off Lyoto's movement to the right.  This left him vulnerable to being hunted down by Shogun's right kick.
26895  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WaPo on: March 09, 2010, 10:36:28 AM
Gates sees momentum in Afghanistan but plays down prospects for reconciliation
By Greg Jaffe
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

KABUL -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that recent military offensives against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan had gained momentum but that a reconciliation effort proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai was unlikely in the near term to cause senior Taliban leaders to lay down their arms. Such defections will not happen until senior insurgent leaders begin to "realize that the odds of success are no longer in their favor," Gates said in a joint news conference with the Afghan president.

Karzai has proposed a major conference this spring to begin the process of reconciliation with dissident ethnic and political leaders, including the Taliban. Gates arrived in Kabul to discuss Karzai's plans for his conference and to get a better sense of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's plans for a large offensive in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, which will probably take place this summer. His visit comes about three weeks after McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, launched an assault on the southern town of Marja, the first major U.S. military operation in the country since President Obama announced his revised war strategy late last year. The Obama administration's approach is built around the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops and an increased focus on building Afghan governance at the district and provincial level.

Although Gates seemed less sanguine than Karzai about the immediate prospects for reconciliation, he said that as U.S., Afghan and NATO forces pushed the Taliban out of havens in the south and east, it was likely that some Taliban leaders would feel pressure to switch allegiances and support the Afghan government.

About 6,000 of the 30,000 additional troops approved by Obama in December have arrived in Afghanistan. "I would say it is very early yet and people still need to understand there is some very hard fighting and very hard days ahead," Gates said. McChrystal said the coming offensive in Kandahar would look significantly different from the recent effort in Marja. U.S. Marines and Afghan forces mounted a large assault on the town, which was dominated by Taliban forces. There was essentially no Afghan government presence in Marja before the assault.

By contrast, there is already a government presence in Kandahar. Instead of U.S. and Afghan forces pushing directly into the city, U.S. officials plan to focus on the region around Kandahar, where the Taliban has been able to exact significant casualties on U.S., Afghan and NATO troops. "Kandahar has not been under Taliban control, [but] it has been under a menacing Taliban presence, particularly in the districts around it," McChrystal said.

The campaign to take back the city is likely to proceed far more gradually than the recent move into Marja. "There won't be a D-Day that is climactic," McChrystal said. "It will be a rising tide of security." In the weeks before the summer offensive, the United States will significantly bolster its presence in the province with Army troops. Afghan and U.S. leaders will begin reaching out to tribal elders in the area in an effort to win their support for military action and an enduring Afghan government presence.

If U.S. and Afghan forces can drive the Taliban from the region and reestablish an Afghan government presence, senior U.S. and NATO officials said it could swing the momentum of the war in favor of the struggling Karzai government. "If we are able to succeed in Kandahar and really ensure Kandahar is stable and sustainable, in my view the historians will look back on it as one of the decisive moments of this campaign," said Mark Sedwill, NATO's senior civilian representative to Afghanistan.
26896  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Supply-Side Financial Reform on: March 09, 2010, 09:51:53 AM
Nicole Gelinas
Supply-Side Financial Reform
Congress should unleash free markets to help protect consumers.
8 March 2010
Senate Democrats have tried for weeks to get Republicans to support the showpiece of their financial-reform package, a consumer financial-protection agency that would shield regular Americans from predatory financiers. But even the nimblest public agency cannot protect consumers from the biggest threat to their financial health: owing too much money. That threat will exist as long as the financial industry faces no ultimate market penalty—the consistent threat of failure—for lending too much too freely.

The proposed agency has a worthy goal. As Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who is leading the legislative effort with the White House’s support, sees it, the protection bureau would govern consumer financial products. Proponents, including economist Paul Krugman, say that such an agency could have helped America avoid the current crisis by prohibiting the most toxic mortgages.

But focusing on exotic products and fees misses the real problem: unfathomable debt levels. In the past quarter-century, the amount that families owe has risen more than sevenfold, from less than $2 trillion in 1984 to nearly $14 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Debt outran the cost of goods and services by nearly fourfold.

Many Americans can’t afford their debt unless their lenders use complex finance to suspend all disbelief. Exotic mortgage structures, then, were a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself.

How did it come to this? The financial industry has encouraged Americans to borrow so much because Washington has allowed the financial industry itself to borrow so much without consistent market consequences.

Since 1984, when the Reagan administration bailed out lenders to the nation’s eighth-largest bank, Continental Illinois, investors have understood that if a big commercial bank or complex Wall Street firm runs into trouble, Washington will ensure that the bondholders and other creditors to that firm don’t take losses. By creating this expectation of bailouts, Washington has subsidized lending to the financial industry. When government subsidizes something, it gets more of it. Over a quarter of a century, the amount of money that the financial industry has borrowed multiplied by more than 15 times. It should be no shock that banks and other institutions turned around and lent much of that money right back to consumers.

A financial-protection bureau could write thousands of rules. But it will never be able to overcome the signal that Washington continues to send. The message: lenders to financial firms will never lose money if the financial firms to which they lend, in turn, lend those borrowed funds irresponsibly to consumers.

Yet President Obama has continued to shield financial companies and their bondholders from the consequences of their poor decisions. Through mortgage-modification programs, for example, the White House has temporarily cut monthly payments for some homeowners. In doing so, the White House has enabled financial institutions to avoid cutting what people owe in line with house prices. Debt reductions, though they would mean more financial-industry losses, would be better for borrowers.

Shielding financial firms from market penalties has been a bipartisan effort. Half a decade ago, President Bush signed into law a bankruptcy “reform” act that made it harder for all but the poorest borrowers to escape credit-card debt. Financial institutions could more easily ignore the fact that consumers were borrowing beyond their means to repay. But you can’t legislate solvency. Lenders must face the realistic risk that borrowers will default when debt becomes unbearable. Otherwise, they’ll lend too copiously.

Congress and the president can protect consumers from impossible debt burdens by ensuring that lenders to financial firms, too, face the threat of borrower default. Only market discipline of bad behavior will curb behavior at the source.

To make it clear to the marketplace that no financial firm is too big to fail, Washington must put rules in place that make the economy better able to withstand financial-industry miscalculations and failures—without bailouts.

Required cash cushions on stock purchases helped the government avoid financial-industry bailouts when the tech-stock bubble burst a decade ago. They would have the same effect in other asset markets. Washington should thus require home buyers and purchasers of other speculative assets to make consistent down payments of 10 or 20 percent. Under such rules, financial firms would have more cash on hand—capital—to withstand the bursting of a future bubble.

This policy would directly benefit consumers, too. Fewer home purchasers would have taken on mortgages that they couldn’t afford in the last bubble. Lenders and borrowers alike could not have gotten around a consistent down-payment rule. Exotic financing structures—the kinds that the new bureau is supposed to police—would have been irrelevant.

The same principle holds for high finance. If Washington had required insurer AIG to trade its own exotic financial instruments—credit-default swaps—on transparent exchanges and to put some consistent cash down at the outset to cover these bets, the cash cushion would have helped the economy to withstand AIG’s bankruptcy, averting a bailout and forcing AIG’s own creditors to take losses.

Just as important, such rules likely would have kept AIG from making such fanciful promises—in effect pledging to protect investors in tens of billions of dollars’ worth of mortgage-backed securities for a negligible cost—in the first place. If AIG hadn’t promised investors in mortgages—lenders—that they wouldn’t lose money, or had charged handsomely for the promise, investors would not have felt so free to lend to homebuyers.

Senate Democrats should understand that they can protect consumers from bad financial products only by making it clear to the financial industry and own lenders that there’s a consistent market penalty for bad lending.

If lawmakers absorb this lesson, they’ll achieve an immediate political benefit, too. Dodd’s proposal, which needs GOP votes in a closely divided chamber, faces uncertain prospects at best. Republicans are wary of giving the government more power to micromanage consumer finance. However, they surely couldn’t object to holding financial firms and their investors accountable in the marketplace for their ill-considered decisions.

Nicole Gelinas, author of After The Fall: Saving Capitalism From Wall Street—and Washington, is aCity Journal contributing editor and Manhattan Institute senior fellow.
26897  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / This should end well on: March 09, 2010, 07:17:44 AM
Even though this is POTH (i.e. the NYT) it does a surprisingly honest job of flagging yet another facet of the coming clusterfcuk.

Public Pension Funds Are Adding Risk to Raise Returns
Published: March 8, 2010

States and companies have started investing very differently when it comes to the billions of dollars they are safeguarding for workers’ retirement.  Frederick E. Rowe, a Dallas investor and the former chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board, said states were looking at riskier investments in an effort to meet pension obligations. Trent May, chief of Wyoming's pension fund, said states were “moving away from the perceived safety and liquidity of the investment-grade market.”

Companies are quietly and gradually moving their pension funds out of stocks. They want to reduce their investment risk and are buying more long-term bonds. But states and other bodies of government are seeking higher returns for their pension funds, to make up for ground lost in the last couple of years and to pay all the benefits promised to present and future retirees. Higher returns come with more risk.

“In effect, they’re going to Las Vegas,” said Frederick E. Rowe, a Dallas investor and the former chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board, which oversees public plans in that state. “Double up to catch up.”

Though they generally say that their strategies are aimed at diversification and are not riskier, public pension funds are trying a wide range of investments: commodity futures, junk bonds, foreign stocks, deeply discounted mortgage-backed securities and margin investing. And some states that previously shunned hedge funds are trying them now.

The Texas teachers’ pension fund recently paid Chicago to receive a stream of payments from the money going into the city’s parking meters in the coming years. The deal gave Chicago an upfront payment that it could use to help balance its budget. Alas, Chicago did not have enough money to contribute to its own pension fund, which has been stung by real estate deals that fizzled when the city lost out in the bidding for the 2016 Olympics.

A spokeswoman for the Texas teachers’ fund said plan administrators believed that such alternative investments were the likeliest way to earn 8 percent average annual returns over time.

Pension funds rarely trumpet their intentions, partly to keep other big investors from trading against them. But some big corporations are unloading the stocks that have dominated pension portfolios for decades. General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, J. C. Penney, Boeing, Federal Express and Ashland are among those that have been shifting significant amounts of pension money out of stocks.

Other companies say they plan to follow suit, though more slowly. A poll of pension funds conducted by Pyramis Global Advisors last November found that more than half of corporate funds were reducing the portion they invested in United States equities.

Laggards tend to be companies with big shortfalls in their pension funds. Those moving the fastest are often mature companies with large pension funds, and who fear a big bear market could decimate the funds and the companies’ own finances.

“The larger the pension plan, the lower-risk strategy you would like to employ,” said Andrew T. Ward, the chief investment officer of Boeing, which shifted a big block of pension money out of stocks in 2007. That helped cushion Boeing’s pension fund against the big losses of 2008.

Shedding stocks gave Boeing “material protection right when we needed it most,” Mr. Ward said. By the time the markets had bottomed out last March, Boeing’s pension fund had lost 14 percent of its value, while those of its equity-laden peers had lost 25 to 30 percent, he said.

“We estimated that the strategy saved our company in the short term right around $4 or $5 billion of funded status,” he said.

Boeing and other companies seeking to reduce their investment risk are moving into fixed-income instruments, like bonds — but not just any bonds. They are buying and holding bonds scheduled to pay many years in the future, when their retirees expect their money.

The value of the bonds may fall in the meantime, just like the value of stocks. But declining bond prices are not such a worry, because the companies plan to hold the bonds for the accompanying interest payments that will in turn go to retirees, not sell them in the interim.

Towers Watson, a big benefits consulting firm, surveyed senior financial executives last year and found that two-thirds planned to decrease the stock portion of their companies’ pension funds by the end of 2010. They typically said their stock allocations would shrink by 10 percentage points.

“That’s 10 times the shift we might see in any given year,” said Carl Hess, head of Towers Watson’s investment consulting business. Economists have speculated that a truly seismic shift in pension investing away from stocks could be a drag on the market, but they say it would not be long-lasting.

Corporate America’s change of heart is notable all on its own, after decades of resistance to anything other than returns like those of the stock markets. But it’s even more startling when compared with governments’ continued loyalty to stocks. When governments scale back on the domestic stocks in their pension portfolios these days, it is often just to make way for more foreign stocks or private equities, which are not publicly traded.


Government pension plans cannot beef up their bonds that mature many, many years from now without dashing their business models. They use long-range estimates that presume high investment returns will cover most of the cost of the benefits they must pay. And that, they say, allows them to make smaller contributions along the way.

Most have been assuming their investments will pay 8 percent a year on average, over the long term. This is based on an assumption that stocks will pay 9.5 percent on average, and bonds will pay about 5.75 percent, in roughly a 60-40 mix.

(Corporate plans do their calculations differently, and for them, investment returns are a less important factor.)

The problem now is that bond rates have been low for years, and stocks have been prone to such wild swings that a 60-40 mixture of stocks and bonds is not paying 8 percent. Many public pension funds have been averaging a little more than 3 percent a year for the last decade, so they have fallen behind where their planning models say they should be.

A growing number of experts say that governments need to lower the assumptions they make about rates of return, to reflect today’s market conditions.

But plan officials say they cannot.

“Nobody wants to adjust the rate, because liabilities would explode,” said Trent May, chief investment officer of Wyoming’s state pension fund.

The $30 billion Colorado state pension fund is one of a tiny number of government plans to disclose how much difference even a slight change in its projected rate of return could make. Colorado has been assuming its investments will earn 8.5 percent annually, on average, and on that basis it reported a $17.9 billion shortfall in its most recent annual report.

But the state also disclosed what would happen if it lowered its investment assumption just half a percentage point, to 8 percent. Though it might be more likely to achieve that return, Colorado would earn less over time on its investments. So at 8 percent, the plan’s shortfall would actually jump to $21.4 billion. Contributions would need to increase to keep pace.

Colorado cannot afford the contributions it owes, even at the current estimated rate of return. It has fallen behind by several billion dollars on its yearly contributions, and after a bruising battle the legislature recently passed a bill reducing retirees’ cost-of-living adjustment, to 2 percent, from 3.5 percent. Public employees’ unions are threatening to sue to have the law repealed.

If Colorado could somehow get 9 percent annual returns from its investments, though, its pension shortfall would shrink to a less daunting $15 billion, according to its annual report.

That explains why plan officials are looking everywhere for high-yielding investments.

Mr. May, in Wyoming, said many governments were “moving away from the perceived safety and liquidity of the investment-grade market” and investing money offshore, but he said he was aware of the risks. “There’s a history of emerging markets kind of hitting the wall,” he said.

Last year, the North Carolina Legislature enacted a measure to let the state pension fund invest 5 percent of its assets in “credit opportunities,” like junk bonds and asset-backed securities from the Federal Reserve’s Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, an emergency program created to thaw the frozen markets for such securities.

The law also lets North Carolina put 5 percent of its pension portfolio into commodities, real estate and other assets that the state sees as hedges against inflation. A summary of the bill issued by the state’s treasurer and sole pension trustee, Janet Cowell, said it would provide “flexibility and the tools to increase portfolio return and better manage risk.”

But some think they see new risks.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Edward Macheski, a retired money manager living in North Carolina. “North Carolina’s assumption is 7.25 percent, and they haven’t matched it in 10 years.” He went to a recent meeting of the state treasurer’s advisory board, armed with a list of questions about the investment policy. But the board voted not to permit any public discussion.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, has become one of the first states to adopt an investment strategy called “risk parity,” which involves borrowing extra money for the pension portfolio and investing it in a type of Treasury bond that will pay higher interest if inflation rises.

Officials of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board declined to be interviewed but provided written descriptions of risk parity. The records show that Wisconsin wanted to reduce its exposure to the stock market, and shifting money into the inflation-proof Treasury bonds would do that. But Wisconsin also wanted to keep its assumed rate of return at 7.8 percent, and the Treasury bonds would not pay that much.

Wisconsin decided it could lower its equities but preserve its assumption if it also added a significant amount of leverage to its pension fund, by using a variety of derivative instruments, like swaps, futures or repurchase agreements.

It decided to start with a small amount of leverage and gradually increase it over time, but word of even a baby step into derivatives elicited howls of protest from around the state.

The big California pension fund, known as Calpers, was already under fire for losing billions of dollars on private equities and real estate in the last few years. So far it has stayed with those asset classes, while negotiating lower fees and writing off some of the most troubled real estate investments.

It announced in February that it had started looking into whether it should lower its expected rate of investment return, now 7.75 percent a year. It has embarked on a study, but a spokesman said that process would not be done until December, safely after the coming election.
26898  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on the Legislative Department, Federalist 48 on: March 09, 2010, 07:09:13 AM
"The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex." --James Madison, Federalist No. 48
26899  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word on: March 09, 2010, 06:57:21 AM
Thank you for continuing my education Rachel.
26900  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The gun rights vs. tyranny issue on: March 09, 2010, 06:54:27 AM
Behind Supreme Court case: Do gun rights protect against tyranny?
The US Supreme Court is considering what could be a landmark decision on individual gun rights. An unspoken argument is that armed citizens would make any usurper think twice before subverting the Constitution.

An anti-gun control flag during the 'Tea Party' at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix April 15, 2009. Nearly 10,000 people attended the rally, which was supposed to be in opposition to the Obama economic plan but turned into a general anti-Obama rally.
By Warren Richey Staff writer
posted March 4, 2010 at 7:44 pm EST

More than 10,000 words were spoken during this week’s historic oral argument over gun rights at the US Supreme Court. But one potentially significant word was never uttered during the hour-long session: tyranny.

Long a focus of debates between gun control advocates and gun rights supporters, the issue was not discussed by lawyers attacking Chicago’s ban on handguns or the lawyer for the city defending local gun regulations. No member of the court mentioned it either. (Monitor analysis of the Chicago case here.)

But the idea is there, just below the surface of what analysts expect to become the high court’s second gun rights landmark decision in as many years.

The basic contention of many gun rights advocates is that the Second Amendment was designed to preserve a large, well-armed, and highly proficient community of gun owners that would make any usurping politician or military commander think twice before attempting to subvert the nation’s constitutional framework.

Founders' intent with Second Amendment
“The Second Amendment … stands as the Founding Fathers’ clear and unmistakable legal statement that an armed citizenry is the bulwark of liberty and provides the fundamental basis for law-abiding Americans to defend themselves, their families, their communities, and their nation against all aggressors, including, ultimately, a tyrannical government,” wrote Daniel Schmutter in a friend of the court brief on behalf Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.

Mr. Schmutter said the Second Amendment is “the very last line in the defense of American liberty.”

To gun control specialists this argument is deeply troubling. They worry that any armed person with a beef against the government will look to the Second Amendment for encouragement to lock and load and then rain down armed force in the face of what he or she perceives as “tyranny.”

How to define 'tyranny'
“In a world in which ‘tyranny’ means many different things to many different people, it is of paramount importance that the court choose its words carefully when discussing just what is, and what is not, protected by the Second Amendment,” wrote John Schreiber in a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

“The Framers plainly did not envision ad hoc groups of armed individuals beyond state control (i.e. a ‘citizens’ militia’) as a constitutional check on tyranny,” Mr. Schreiber wrote. “They saw them as unruly mobs that must be quelled.”

Although it was not discussed during oral argument in the Chicago case, Justice Antonin Scalia addressed the issue briefly in his majority decision in the high court’s 2008 ruling striking down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban.

“If … the Second Amendment right is no more than the right to keep and use weapons as a member of an organized militia [and] the organized militia is the sole institutional beneficiary of the Second Amendment’s guarantee – it does not assure the existence of a ‘citizens’ militia’ as a safeguard against tyranny,” Justice Scalia wrote.

Scalia drew a distinction between government-sanctioned militiamen and a broader “people’s militia,” which he said was the concern of the founding generation.

These sentences have attracted significant interest and speculation from both sides of the gun rights debate.

Schreiber denounces what he calls “insurrectionist” arguments. “At no time has the Second Amendment been understood to protect a personal or private right of insurrection,” he wrote.

Schmutter cited history to support his contention that individual possession of arms is essential to preventing usurpation by the state.

Lessons from history
“During the 20th Century, more than 70 million people, after first being disarmed, were slaughtered by their own governments,” he wrote. “This pattern appeared in Ottoman Turkey (1915-1917), the Soviet Union (1929-1945), Nazi Germany and occupied Europe (1933-1945), Nationalist China (1927-1949), Communist China (1949-1952, 1957-1960, and 1966-1970, Guatemala (1960-1981), Uganda (1971-1979), Cambodia (1975-1979), and Rwanda (1994) just to name a few.”

He added: “The Second Amendment was created as the final barricade against the unthinkable – the day when the rest of our Constitutional safeguards have failed us and we stand exposed to the brutal reality that so many in history have understood only too late.”

The Anti-Defamation League approached the issue from a different perspective. In a friend of the court brief the organization worried that expansive gun rights might feed into what it said was a pervasive culture of guns and violence among extremists in the US.

What role for government control?
“It is imperative that nothing said in the decision of this case threaten the ability of federal, state, and local governments to address the daunting ‘on the ground’ challenges posed by trying to keep guns out of the hands of extremists, terrorists, and hate criminals,” wrote Leonard Niehoff in the Anti-Defamation League’s brief.

In a dissent in a 2003 gun case, Appeals Court Judge Alex Kosinski laid out his views on the Second Amendment and tyranny. “The simple truth – born of experience – is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people,” he wrote.

“If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars,” Judge Kosinski said.

“The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision,” he added. “One designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.”

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