Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: March 04, 2010, 04:58:52 PM
Back in the 1980s, when the editorial page of the WSJ was a serious place (quite unlike now in the Murdoch era) one of the powerful themes powerfully pursued was the fact that the incumbent re-election rate of the House was 98%
We see this here in CA quite vividly. Back when Gov. S______r had testicles, he tried an initiative for honest apportionment of districts, which for reasons beyond my ken, failed utterly.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The right prescription
on: March 04, 2010, 11:58:19 AM
The Right Prescription
Obamacare: Still a Threat to Your Life
By Peter Ferrara on 3.3.10 @ 6:08AM
The true reality of last week's health care summit, what was really going on between the lines, was ugly and scary. I have been deeply involved in these health care debates for almost 30 years, ever since I co-authored the first paper published on Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) with John Goodman in 1981. What the health summit made clear to me is that the Democrats do not understand what the Republicans are talking about on health care. Indeed, they have no idea what the American people are talking about either, or why growing majorities of us oppose what they are trying to do.
But it gets even worse. The health summit made clear that the Democrats do not understand what they themselves are doing on health care. They have been misled and manipulated by left-wing ideologues.
Why Your Life Is At Risk
Let me reveal my personal stake in this health care debate. My life is at risk. So is yours, as well as the lives of our children, our parents, and everyone else in our families. For the thorough government takeover of health care in America the Democrats are feverishly pursuing, and the outdated socialized medicine policies from other countries they are so religiously committed to adopting, would trash the very ability of the system to provide the health care many of us are likely to need in coming years to extend our lives, and to maintain our basic quality of life.
The decimation of our health care system under Obamacare begins with government mandates, regulations, bureaucracies, and controls. The House and Senate health care bills that President Obama and the Democrats refuse to take off the table create close to 100 new health care bureaucracies, boards, commissions and programs. This is the government takeover of health care.
These new authorities arrogate to the government the power to decide "what works" in health care, and what doesn't. The code words they use include "best practices" -- a government bureaucracy in Washington is going to decide what are the "best practices" in providing health care for you and your children, not you and your doctor. Another code phrase is "reward doctors for quality not quantity." Government bureaucracies in Washington do not know how to do this. But they will make a huge mess out of your health care in trying to.
These government bureaucracies will also have the power to cut off your health care when they decide it is no longer worth the money. We have already seen a glimpse of this in the declaration by a bureaucracy, to be expanded with more powers under Obamacare, that women over 72 should not have mammograms. What they are saying here is that if you are over 72 and get breast cancer, they don't want to know about it. Just take the painkiller and go home, to paraphrase President Obama. They believe they can buy more votes taking the money for your care and spending it somewhere else. This is called "cost effectiveness."
The destruction of the health care system is then expanded through the payment system. Among the code words here are "pay for performance" and "accountable care." This is how the bureaucracy will enforce its dictates concerning what works and what doesn't, best practices, cost effectiveness, and termination of health care no longer deemed worthy. Doctors and hospitals will be rewarded through payments if they follow the centralized bureaucracy's dictates; they will be penalized with reduced payments if they don't. You will never know what happened to you. The doctor is not going to tell you, "I could have saved your daughter's life with this new treatment, but that is not yet a best practice according to the government."
Health care obliteration then continues by constricting the payments overall to doctors, hospitals, specialists, surgeons, health care innovators, and other health providers. This is where the $500 billion in Medicare cuts come in, which is $800 billion in the first 10 years of full implementation under Obamacare. Seniors will soon find out that constricted payments mean constricted services, because President Obama has already begun cutting payments under Medicare, particularly for cancer and heart specialists, treatments, and diagnostics. But this is just part of the constricted payments to the entire health system under Obamacare, which is how President Obama thinks he will bring the cost curve down. The sad truth is that the only cost control in Obamacare involves health care rationing, which means denying you health care. Those union orchestrated sad sacks marching in the streets chanting for "health care" are suckers.
The final component ultimately leaving us with Potemkin Village health care is the effect of all of this on investment incentives. Nobody is going to invest the capital necessary to develop the new, life-saving health care treatments and technologies and miracle cure drugs, and build the new facilities and purchase the new equipment to provide them, with the constricted payments of Obamacare as their reward. That money will instead join the capital fleeing to build new factories providing good jobs in the increasingly booming economies of Brazil, India, and China.
We can begin to see these effects of Obamacare in Massachusetts, which adopted some of the Obamacare policies a few years ago. As John Goodman writes in his Health Alert ("Scaling the Summit") for February 26, "As a result, the waiting times to see a new doctor in Boston are twice as long as in any other U.S. city. And there are still as many people going to emergency rooms for care in Massachusetts today as there were before the Massachusetts health plan was adopted."
But none of the supporters of Obamacare -- the bloggers, the talk show hosts, the literal clowns like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Wanda Sykes that now get media coverage to lecture us on public policy -- understand any of this. They have their heads firmly and deeply stuck in the sand, and insist it is all made up. And as for Democrat members of Congress, they don't have a clue.
Fighting for Their Lives
But when their own lives are at risk, suddenly they can understand it quite well. Consider the case of Danny Williams, age 60, Premier of Newfoundland, Canada, who secretly snuck into the U.S. for his own heart surgery. After his surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, Williams told reporters, "This was my heart, my choice, and my health. I did not sign away my right to get the best possible health care for myself when I entered politics."
Why Williams felt he had to come to America was further illuminated by the recent heart surgery of former President Bill Clinton. As Dr. Marc Siegel explained in the New York Post,
Clinton, of course, got the best of care -- a cardiac stent (a tiny metal cylinder) coated with a drug to help keep his artery open. Recent studies in the New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere have shown that these drug-eluting stents are more effective than bare metal ones. But they cost two-to-four times more -- and the technology is relatively new. That combination has left government run health-care systems slow to adopt them….Per capita, our neighbors to the north receive only half as many coronary [operations]. And only 30% of the stents placed in Canada are drug-eluting, compared to a whopping 80% in the United States. So a Canadian cardiac patient is less than a quarter as likely as an American to be outfitted with the kind of state-of-the-art stent that Clinton had. In Canada, land of single payer health insurance, you're also less likely to get the stent as soon as the need is clear.
Wanda Sykes owes Sarah Palin an apology.
Why Your Country Is at Risk
The Health Care Summit highlighted another issue that too many of us too easily conceded. House Republican Budget Chief Paul Ryan articulately exposed Obamacare as increasing the deficit by $460 billion over the first 10 years, and $1.4 trillion over the second 10 years. That is with half a trillion in tax increases, and half a trillion in Medicare cuts, over the first 10 years alone.
One of the chief tricks to hide these deficits is to provide for reversing some of the draconian cuts for doctors and hospitals in a separate bill scored as increasing the deficit by $371 billion. The Obamacare legislation also counts on raiding $52 billion in Social Security revenues. Still another trick to claim deficit neutrality is to count the 10 years of tax increases and Medicare cuts against only 6 years of increased Obamacare spending.
While we can't pay for all the entitlement programs we already have, Obamacare adds a new entitlement providing handouts to help pay for health insurance for families with incomes as high as $88,000 a year. That is why the true 10 year cost for Obamacare is really $2.3 trillion, as Ryan explained.
The ugly in the health care summit was the transparent trap President Obama and the Democrats laid for the Republicans. Obama was not the least bit interested in anything the Republicans had to say. He filibustered for 119 minutes of the summit, talking more than all the rest of the Democrats combined at 114 minutes. The Republicans were allowed only 110 minutes to speak altogether.
And as we have seen over and over on health care, much if not most of what President Obama had to say during his filibuster was just not true. The most embarrassing was the exchange with Sen. Lamar Alexander over whether Obamacare would cause health insurance premiums to rise. After Alexander cited CBO as saying they would, Obama imperiously disputed him as "not factually accurate," and then launched into a confused and convoluted argument as to why CBO had really said health insurance premiums would be going down. "But they didn't say that the actual premiums would be going up," Obama insisted. "What they said was they'd be going down by 14 percent to 20 percent." He insisted that he was sure he was right, and that he had gone over and over this with CBO, challenging Alexander to resolve the issue publicly "before we leave today" because "this is an example of where we've got to get our facts straight."
And so it was resolved before they left that day when Sen. Jon Kyl read from the CBO report saying that premiums would indeed rise under Obamacare, and Rep. Eric Cantor tried to explain to President Obama, "We just can't afford this. This government can't afford it, businesses can't afford it." Obama then retreated to saying, well, the premiums would be higher because his plan mandated richer benefits. But that is a concession that premiums would, in fact, be rising, not a demonstration that they would be falling. In fact, premiums will soar by much more than CBO admits, as much as 100% to 200% for young workers, as mathematically demonstrated in studies by WellPoint and others, which Obama and the Democrats have refused to even consider. Yes, the whole point is that premiums would be rising because of the benefits that the Democrats would mandate. And what the public and the critics have been telling them is that we can't afford those increases, and that in many cases the same can be achieved by different means.
President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius perpetrated another falsehood in criticizing high risk pools, which, when done right, provide a safety net for the uninsured who have become too sick to buy insurance anywhere else. When you concentrate all the high cost risks in one pool, Sebelius insisted, then costs in that pool become very high, and it becomes too expensive for people. But the risk pools are all subsidized by tax funds precisely because those covered by the pool can't be expected to pay all the costs themselves. The point many conservatives and Republicans have been trying to make is that rather than trying to force these high cost uninsured onto the same insurance as everyone else, and massively increasing everyone's premiums as a result, provide them their own risk pool charging no more than they can afford, and subsidize remaining costs so that the pool is a real safety net ensuring that no one need lack essential health coverage and care. Experience shows this can be done at modest cost.
But the greatest ignorance of the day was reflected when President Obama said that a "high deductible plan" is "basically not health insurance." High deductible health plans are the only real insurance, spreading the risk of the high costs affecting only a few in any one year among the entire pool. It is the retro low deductible plans, covering routine yearly expenses that most incur, that are not health insurance, but prepaid health care involving enormously counterproductive incentives and unnecessary costs. Understanding this is essential to solving the health cost problem, but, again, Obama and the Democrats have no clue.
Instead, they repeated the canard that Health Savings Accounts are not workable for the poor, when the truth is they benefit the poor the most. An HSA includes a savings account that can be used to pay for expenses below the deductible. The poor are most in need of the savings they can keep if they don't waste money unnecessarily on health care. What Democrats don't like about HSAs is that they put the patient rather than the government in charge.
Those Who Live by the Reconciliation, Die by the Reconciliation
What was really going on at the summit was reflected in the persistent, obviously pre-arranged, transparently false theme among the Democrats that, hey, you know, we are not really that far apart, there is really a lot of agreement. That was meant to set the Republicans up so the Democrats could say afterward that the Republicans refused to support Obamacare simply for partisan, political reasons, or because they really were in the pocket of industry, and so the Democrats are justified in ramming it through without them, through reconciliation. That was the real point and goal of the summit.
That didn't work because the Republicans were surprisingly good in articulating their reasons for opposing the legislation, and those reasons resonated strongly with the American people. By giving the Republicans such a high profile forum to express these reasons and their far more common sense alternatives, the summit backfired into yet another disastrous loss for Obamacare.
Reconciliation is a process solely for enacting budgetary measures to reduce the deficit, not sweeping, historic reforms involving adoption of the costliest new entitlement in history. Proceeding with President Obama's health care overhaul through reconciliation would flout Congressional rules way beyond any historical precedent.
But what is adopted by reconciliation can and will be repealed by reconciliation, setting a precedent for future entitlement reforms using the same process.
Letter to the Editor
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Peter Ferrara is director of entitlement and budget policy at the Institute for Policy Innovation, a policy advisor to the Heartland Institute, and general counsel of the American Civil Rights Union. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under the first President Bush. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Diet
on: March 04, 2010, 10:11:18 AM
My daughter is so empathetic that she will only buy potted flowers for Mom, not ones that have been cut. My wife emphatically warns against this path for us , , , oh well , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 03, 2010, 08:05:53 PM
"There are bound to be bad guys infiltrating the ranks of the ANA and ANP. There really is no "black & white" in Afghanistan. Just a whole lot of gray. The vetting process for these guys is minimal at best. In my personal opinion, it's not the TB/AQ that are the major underlying cause for the apparent incompetence and inability of Afghan forces to perform independently and without help from outsiders. The real problem is actual incompetence at every level throughout the ANA an ANP. The vast majority have next to no education and a lot of them don't care as long as they get a paycheck however little the pay may be. And it is very little compared to what the bad guys pay their Holy Soldiers. Lack of discipline is another major consideration. Discipline can be thought of as the lube that keeps the gears of the military machine turning smoothly. Without it the machine breaks. Lack of pride in the true sense. Somebody needs to instill in these men a true, deeply rooted sense of worth in these guys. It seems to me that the majority of them place no real value or importance on what their mission is, Afghanistan as a nation, and themselves as soldiers. When an American recruit makes it through basic training or boot camp, they're pissing red, white and blue. Afghans on the other hand aren't exactly pissing their national colors (red, black & green) though. Considering all this, the TB/AQ that do exist within the ranks have an easy job and there really is no way around it. We just have to wait until someone from an opposing tribe rats them out..."
I am truly delighted to have this conversation with you, so I communicate effectively that I am not arguing with you/your experience but rather testing my ideas with you precisely out of respect.
That said, given what you say-- does President Obama's strategy make any sense at all?
As best as I can tell it is to build a coherent army out of what you just describe (fully consistent with my armchair readings btw) an army that will allow us to begin to leave by , , , when? , , , spring/summer 2011?
Do I have this right and if so, does it make any sense?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Too much, too soon
on: March 03, 2010, 08:39:30 AM
Too much, too soon
As possibly one of its last acts as government, British Labour bids to make sex education compulsory.
Sex education. The very words strike a note of gloom. Long, long ago, back in the 1950s when schoolgirl pregnancies were a rarity, and anyone who gave children contraceptives and urged them to enjoy “safe sex” would have been arrested, things looked different.
In those days, there was a feeling that, with the advent of television and greater prosperity, with young people enjoying more freedom than had been the case in centuries past, and with a general sense of social change in the air, it might be useful to ensure that the young were well informed about the facts of human reproduction. In this way, greater freedom would not spell social chaos; with knowledge and with suitable moral guidance, the young could enjoy wholesome relationships and understand why it was important to remain chaste.
The accepted wisdom was that sexual experimentation among young people arose out of ignorance: girls did not know how babies happened, and were too shy or embarrassed to discuss such things with their parents. Now things would change; health officials drew up plans. All were agreed on one thing: information about sexual and reproductive matters would come with clear moral guidance and, indeed, the whole scheme was seen primarily in that context.
But things did not work out as planned. Other voices took over as commercial and ideological forces got involved. Golly, how different things are in 2010. We have now had massive schemes of propaganda on sexual issues pushed at the young for decades. Schools arrange talks and brochures, demonstrations and films about contraception and abortion, making official links with abortion providers and with clinics which give youngsters contraceptives without parental knowledge or consent. Posters urge youngsters to consider whether or not they are lesbian or homosexual, and how to feel good about it if they decide they are.
The result? The teenage pregnancy rate has soared, and the problem of sexually-transmitted diseases among the young is now so huge that supermarkets and youth clubs have joined health centres and schools in giving information about how to obtain medical help for these potentially lethal illnesses.
Fewer and fewer young people are marrying. Of those who do, many divorce – especially if they have been living together beforehand. Many people in their twenties, attempting marriage, have had multiple sexual partners. Many girls bring to marriage a background of more than one abortion, with its consequent physical and psychological damage. Almost half of all births are now out of wedlock. Children born to unmarried couples have only a slim chance of remaining in contact with both parents by the time they reach puberty as most such relationships break up before then.
And into this grisly scene the government is bringing – yes, you’ve guessed it – more sex education. Under legislation now in Parliament (Children Schools and Families Bill), sex and relationships education will be a compulsory part of the statutory National Curriculum. Parents will continue to have the right to withdraw their children from these classes, but only up to the age of 15. After that they must attend classes which include information on “how and where to obtain information about health and sex advice” -- to wit, your local family planning/abortion clinic. This is to ensure they get at least 12 months of amoral, utilitarian sex education before finishing compulsory schooling.
However, there is no opt-out at any stage for schools. Faith schools -- which constitute a third of all schools in Britain -- will have to teach a curriculum that starts with talking to five-year-olds about bodily changes, teaches “different relationships” (of which marriage is only one) from the age of seven, and everything else from the age of 11 -- including same-sex relationships, contraception and abortion.
Since the government announced its latest plan in November, the excellent Family Education Trust has produced a a devastating critique in its detailed report, Too Much,Too Soon. Increasingly, informed and professional voices are raised about the sexualising of the young and there is discussion about the links between this and the rising tide of teenage drunkenness, violence, and suicide. Ironically, the government itself has just released a report warning Britons about the sexualisation of children -- as if it had nothing to do with its own awful agenda.
In response to outrage from many parents and family groups the minister in charge of this draconian bill, Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (yes, this government department really does seem to believe that it is in charge of children and families as well as schools) has insisted that faith schools will still be able to teach the sex content within “the tenets of their faith”. Last week an amendment to this effect was passed in the Commons -- the result of a deal with religious authorities, notably the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales (CES), which seems to regard it as a positive coup.
But there are many sceptics. Jewish columnist Melanie Phillips has taken a liberal rabbi to task for defending the compromise, which she calls “demonstrably absurd”. The Telegraph’s Catholic blogger Damian Thompson has called for the CES to be wound up, and The Catholic Herald says that it demonstrates the need for Catholics to “take drastic action to confront moral relativism in our schools”.
On the other hand the National Secular Society, in tune with much of the press, has portrayed the amendment as a massive concession, saying that the government has “once more bowed to pressure from the Catholic church, betraying the children in faith schools who have a right to objective and balanced sex education."
This, despite Mr Balls’ repeated insistence that there is to be "no watering down" of the government’s scheme. "There's no opt-out for any faith school from teaching the full, broad, balanced curriculum on sex education," he says. "Catholic schools can say to their pupils that, as a religion, we believe contraception is wrong, but what they can't do is say they are not going to teach about contraception."
Meanwhile the CES is emphatic that the character of education in Catholic schools will remain clear: “The teaching of all aspects of the curriculum in Catholic schools reflects their religious ethos. In the same way, the SRE in Catholic schools will be rooted in the Catholic Church’s teaching of the profound respect for the dignity of all human persons," it says. This is unconvincing, to say the least. Already – and this is shameful – some Catholic schools promote access to abortion information and use standard leaflets to ensure that children are given material about contraception.
With a general election coming up this year, this ought to be a major issue. What next? Thank goodness for one clear voice – the Cardinal Archbishop of Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, has hit out at the government’s “systematic and unrelenting attack on family values”. He points to the “soaring toll” of abortions, and to the government’s record on forcing all adoption agencies to accept allocating children to homosexual couples, as examples of government anti-family attitudes.
Ordinary Christians – and people of all faiths and none who are concerned about the tragic brokenness of modern British society – look to religious leaders for a voice. Can we hear more voices like that of Cardinal O’Brien, please? And can we ask what a Catholic Education Service is for, if it is not to promote Catholic beliefs and values in education?
Sooner or later, there will be a turnaround in the official policies on sex education. The sheer social chaos that has resulted – and will worsen rapidly in the next few years – from the policies of recent decades will ensure this. We need to speed up the process, and we need people of faith to help in that. At present, the future looks bleak.
Joanna Bogle writes from London.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed
on: March 03, 2010, 08:28:34 AM
Frankly, I think Glenn Beck is showing the way. Did you catch his show on Monday and yesterday?
PS: Not familiar with Levin and Reagan's son in order to comment. Hannity is both an ass and a mental mediocrity, and Limbaugh , , , well too little content to time ratio for me to be bothered.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Conditioning
on: March 03, 2010, 08:15:00 AM
Here is a routine someone recommended to me:
_______________ preparatory training program. This program is physically and mentally
demanding. To accomplish physical-related goals set by ----, applicants must be in good physical
condition upon arrival at ---------. Soldiers attending the ---- Program will perform physical
tasks that will require them to climb obstacles (by use of a rope) 20 to 30 feet high, swim while
in uniform, and travel great distances cross-country while carrying a rucksack with a minimum of
50 pounds. The ---- Program requires upper and lower body strength and physical endurance
to accomplish daily physical-oriented goals on a continuous basis for 24 days. Below is a recommended
5-week PT program consisting of realistic physical and mental goals relative to physical
requirements set by the ---------- ---- committee (if you have time, work out more than 5
weeks prior to arrival).
4-3. Stages of physical fitness. Attaining physical fitness is not an overnight process; the body
must go through three stages:
a. The first is the toughening stage, which lasts about 2 weeks. During this time the body
goes through a soreness and recovery period. When a muscle with poor blood supply (such as a
weak muscle) is exercised, the waste products produced by the exercise collect faster than the
blood can remove them. This acid waste builds up in the muscle tissue and irritates the nerve in
the muscle fiber causing soreness. As the exercise continues, the body is able to circulate the
blood more rapidly through the muscles and remove the waste material, which causes soreness to
b. The slow improvement stage is second stage in attaining physical fitness. As the body
passes through the toughening stage and continues into the slow improvement stage, the volume
of blood circulating in the muscle increases and the body functions more efficiently. In the first few
weeks the improvement is rapid, but as a higher level of skill and conditioning is reached, the
improvement becomes less noticeable. The body reaches its maximum level of performance between
6 and 10 weeks. The intensity of the program and individual differences account for the
variance in time.
c. The sustaining stage is the third stage during which physical fitness is maintained. It is
necessary to continue exercising at approximately the same intensity to retain the condition developed.
4-4. Physical workouts. Physical workouts should be conducted a minimum of 4 days a week;
work out hard one day, easy the next. A hard and easy workout concept will allow maximum effort
for overloading both the muscle groups and cardiorespiratory system; it will also prevent injury and
stagnation in the program. For example: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--Hard workouts (overloading
of muscles) (Saturday used for extra long workouts). Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday--
Easy workouts. This is the time to practice swimming and work on overall fitness; sprints, pull-ups,
push-ups, and especially stretching.
a. Prior to each workout, 10 to 15 minutes should be devoted to performing stretching exercises.
Additionally, the ----------- Surgeon recommends a well-balanced diet be incorporated
with this recommended PT program and that daily fluid (water) intake be increased.
b. Week 1. (Only hard workout days are listed here. Make up your own workouts on your
(1) Day 1: See what you can do. Do the best you can do.
(a) APFT (maximum performance in all events, see what you can do).
(b) One hundred-meter swim (nonstop, any stroke, do not touch the side or bottom of the
(c) Forced march with 30-pound rucksack, 3 miles in 45 minutes (along a road) or 1 hour if
cross-country. (Wear well broken-in boots with thick socks.)
(2) Day 2:
(a) Three sets of push-ups (maximum repetitions in one-half minute period).
(b) Three-mile run (moderate 8- to 9-minute mile pace).
(c) Rope climb or three sets of pull-ups (as many as you can do).
(d) Forced march with 30-pound rucksack, 5 miles in 1 hour and 15 minutes (along a road) or
1 hour and 40 minutes (cross-country).
(3) Day 3: Forced march with 30-pound rucksack, 5 miles in 1 hour and 15 minutes (along
the road) or 1 hour and 40 minutes (cross-country).
c. Week 2.
(1) Day 1: Repeat of day 3, week 1 (forced march), extend distance to 8 miles with 35-
pound rucksack in 2 hours (along a road) or 2 hours and 40 minutes (cross-country).
(2) Day 2:
(a) Three sets of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups (maximum repetitions in 35-second period three
(b) Run 5 miles (moderate 8- to 9-minute mile pace).
(c) Three sets of squats with 35-pound rucksack (50 each set). Go down only to the point
where the upper and lower leg forms a 90-degree bend at knee.
(3) Day 3: Forced march with 35-pound rucksack, 10 miles in 3 hours (along a road) or 4
d. Week 3.
(1) Day 1:
(a) Four sets of push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups (maximum repetitions in 40-second period).
(b) Run 4 miles (fast to moderate 7- to 8-minute mile pace.)
(c) Four sets of squats with 40-pound rucksack.
(2) Day 2: Forced march 12 miles with 40-pound rucksack in 4 hours (along a road) or 4
hours and 40 minutes (cross-country).
(3) Day 3:
(a) Four sets of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups (maximum repetitions in 45-second period).
(b) Run 6 miles (fast to moderate 7- to 8-minute pace).
(c) Four sets of squats with 40-pound rucksack.
e. Week 4.
(1) Day 1: Forced march 14 miles with 50-pound rucksack in 4 hours (along a road) or 4
hours and 40 minutes (cross-country).
(2) Day 2:
(a) Four sets of push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups (maximum repetitions in 1-minute period).
(b) Run 6 miles (fast to moderate 7- to 8-minute mile pace).
(c) Four sets of squats with 50-pound rucksack.
(3) Day 3: Forced march 18 miles with 50-pound rucksack in 4 hours and 45 minutes (along
a road) or 6 hours (cross-country).
f. Week 5.
(1) Day 1:
(a) Run 3 miles (fast 6- to 7-minute mile pace).
(b) Five hundred-meter swim (nonstop, any stroke, but not on your back).
(2) Day 2: APFT. You should be able to achieve a score of at least 240 (minimum of 70
points in any one event) in the 17 to 21 year age limit. If not, work out harder.
(3) Day 3: Forced march 18 miles with 50-pound rucksack in 4 hours and 30 minutes (along
a road) or 6 hours (cross-country).
a. For forced marches, select boots that are comfortable and well broken-in (not worn out).
Wear lightweight fatigues and thick socks (not newly issued socks). Army issue boots are excellent
if fitted properly.
b. Utilize map and compass techniques whenever possible during forced march cross-country
c. Insoles specifically designed to absorb shock will reduce injuries.
d. Practice proper rucksack marching and walking techniques:
(1) Weight of body must be kept directly over feet, and sole of shoe must be flat on ground
taking small steps at a steady pace.
(2) Knees must be locked on every step in order to rest muscles of the legs (especially when
(3) When walking cross-country, step over and around obstacles; never step on them.
(4) When traveling up steep slopes, always traverse them; climb in zigzag pattern rather
than straight up.
(5) When descending steep slopes, keep the back straight and knees bent to take up shock
of each step. Dig in with heels on each step.
(6) Practice walking as fast as you can with rucksack. Do not run with a rucksack. When
testing, you may have to trot to maintain time, but try not to do this during training, it may injure you.
(7) A good rucksack pace is accomplished by continuous movement with short breaks (5
minutes) every 6 to 8 miles.
( If you cannot ruckmarch, then do squats with your rucksack. (One hundred repetitions,
five times or until muscles fatigue.)
e. On each day (not listed in training program) conduct less strenuous workouts such as
biking and short or slow runs. To complement push-up workouts, weight lifting exercises should
be included (for development of upper body strength) in easy day workout schedule. Swim as
often as you can (500 meters or more).
f. Once a high level of physical fitness is attained, a maintenance workout program should be
applied using the hard and easy workout concept. Once in shape, stay in shape. Do not stop this
5-week program. If you have met all the goals, then modify program by increasing distance and
weight and decreasing times. Be smart, don’t injure yourself.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Rabbits
on: March 03, 2010, 08:08:27 AM
RABBITS are supposed to be easy to kill. The French dispatch them with a sharp knife to the throat. A farmer in upstate New York swears that a swift smack with the side of the hand works. Others prefer a quick twist of the neck.
It didn’t seem so easy at the rabbit-killing seminar held in a parking lot behind Roberta’s restaurant in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in November.
The idea was to place the rabbit on its belly on straw-covered asphalt, press a broomstick across the back of its neck and swiftly yank up the rear legs. Done right, it’s a quiet and quick end. But it takes a little skill and a lot of fortitude, which some of the novices lacked.
Nine people had paid $100 each to learn how to raise, kill and butcher the animals. One was a woman hoping to start a farm in the Bronx. Another was considering a move to family land in Montana. A couple dressed in black had traveled from the Upper East Side with their knives and cutting boards in an Abercrombie & Fitch bag.
Sharleen Johnson, who rode a bus in from Boston, wanted to raise livestock in her backyard.
“This is my gateway animal,” she said.
In an age when diners scoop marrow from roasted beef shins and dissect the feet of pigs raised by people they’ve met, rabbit certainly seems like the right meat at the right time.
American rabbit is typically raised on smaller farms, not in some giant industrial rabbit complex. The meat is lean and healthy, and makes an interesting break from chicken. For people learning to butcher at home, a rabbit is less daunting to cut up than a pig or a goat. And those who are truly obsessed with knowing where their food comes from can raise it themselves.
Still, it’s a rabbit, the animal entire generations know as the star of children’s books and Saturday-morning cartoons, and as a classroom mascot.
Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn had rabbit on some menus shortly after it opened in late 2008. But after a table of guests walked out, it came off. Now the only rabbit served at the restaurant is disguised in a country terrine.
“It seems to me that the more you can make rabbit not look like rabbit, the easier it is to sell people on it,” said the restaurant’s owner, Doug Crowell.
But not everybody is squeamish. Some restaurant chefs are lining up for well-raised rabbits from small farms, using the meat in coconut chili braises, liver pâtés and even upscale sliders inspired by White Castle.
“Every time I put it on the menu it flies out the door,” said Chris Kronner of Bar Tartine in San Francisco.
Rabbit is also becoming popular among those with an interest in raising farm animals but without much space or experience. Sure, rabbits can be fragile. They get scared and have heart attacks. Heat or the cold can knock them off. They can be bad parents, abandoning their babies or worse.
But they breed like, well, you know. That means they produce a lot of meat for not much money. And they’re clean and quiet — especially welcome traits in the suburbs.
“I always say rabbits are the new chickens,” said Novella Carpenter, who built a farm on an abandoned lot in a poor section of Oakland, Calif., and turned her experience into a book called “Farm City.”
“You can pay more, which is the Slow Food method,” she said. “Or you can do it yourself. Which is my method.”
Ms. Carpenter believes anyone who is thinking of raising rabbits should kill one first. That is one reason she, along with Samin Nosrat, a Bay Area cooking teacher, conducted the Brooklyn class.
The seminars were part of a larger East-West rabbit cultural exchange organized by the magazine Meatpaper. It was built around a series of rabbit dinners at Bar Tartine last month and at Diner in Brooklyn last November.
As the pre-slaughter lecture in Brooklyn began, Ms. Carpenter prepared students for the moment.
“Today is a somber day because we are going to be killing rabbits,” she said. “But I am always psyched after slaughter because I’m like, now I’m going to eat.”
The rabbit events appealed to the kind of adventurous cook who signs up for weekend sausage-making classes, in part because rabbits are an especially good way to learn basic home butchery.
“They have the same muscle structure as a pig,” Mr. Kronner said. “For someone who hasn’t broken down a large animal, a rabbit is a great place to start.”
The classes and dinners also attracted those seeking a slower way of living.
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“American palates are expanding and looking backwards, and rabbit is a big part of that, ” said Sasha Wizansky, the editor in chief of Meatpaper, who first suggested the bicoastal food exchange.
Still, arguing that the country is in the middle of a rabbit renaissance might be overstating it. Rabbit never really had a strong first act to begin with.
It has always been something of a crisis meat in America. Poor rural dwellers who moved to the city and European immigrants looking to assimilate found other animals to eat as soon as they could (the French notwithstanding).
And although rabbit consumption spiked during World War II, when the United States government encouraged people to raise them for meat, it never translated to the supermarket. When the French food revolution changed American dining in the 1960s, rabbit in mustard sauce would turn up at the occasional dinner party or restaurant. But the country never quite got past the pets-or-meat problem.
Ever since the Victorians began keeping them as pets, the relationship between the rabbit and the table has been uneasy.
“It’s this weird association with Easter,” said Sean Rembold, the chef at Diner and at its sibling restaurant next door, Marlow & Sons.
Chefs have to tap-dance between customers who are excited to eat rabbit and those who find the mere idea intolerable. And despite its reputation as a staple in frugal times, rabbit isn’t cheap these days. A seven-pound live rabbit might weigh four pounds cleaned and cost a restaurant $25 to $30. D’Artagnan sells a whole fryer rabbit for $36.99 on its Web site.
Chefs searching for local, fresh rabbit can’t always find enough. In the Bay Area, cooks wait for a call from Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Marin County. Along with his wife, a rabbit veterinarian named Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak, he raises the most coveted rabbits in Northern California.
They are such believers in the economic and health benefits of eating rabbit that they travel regularly to Haiti to teach families to raise rabbits on foraged food. The Pasternaks and their two daughters were in Haiti during the recent earthquake, when they turned their attention from rabbits to rescue.
Mr. Pasternak began growing rabbits about 12 years ago for his mother-in-law, who is from France. She brought a French chef to dinner and word leaked out to Bay Area cooks. Soon, Mr. Pasternak was selling rabbit to Chez Panisse and the French Laundry.
“I went from two to 2,000 in no time,” he said. Not that he butchers 2,000 rabbits every week. Usually, it’s about 100. But he is preparing to quadruple the number of breeding rabbits he keeps, making chefs in the Bay Area happy.
“I turn down two, three, four restaurants every single week,” Mr. Pasternak said. “I get calls from all over the country, but I discourage shipping the rabbits. You don’t need me shipping rabbit back to New York.”
Some chefs in Manhattan turn to John Fazio, who sells his rabbits with most organs intact to restaurants like Savoy and Marlow & Sons and to a few Italian markets on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
Mr. Fazio started raising rabbits near his home in Modena, N.Y., 80 miles north of Manhattan, after an accident left him unable to make a living as a truck driver. A couple of years ago, a chef at Cookshop in Chelsea started ordering them. Others followed. Now he sells 300 to 400 a week.
He slaughters to order. And he has a signature.
“If they don’t have a rabbit with a head on it, they don’t have a rabbit from me,” he said.
Both he and Mr. Pasternak raise a mix of New Zealands and Californians, the two most popular meat breeds. New Zealands are longer and thinner but produce more babies. Californians are a little meatier. Mr. Pasternak adds in some tri-colored Rex rabbits, which are used in the fur trade and have a good temperament.
In the kitchen, rabbit can be a challenge. The bones are tinier and more fragile than those of chickens, making splintering a constant concern. The meat sticks and clings in an endless number of small nooks and crannies.
Like chickens, rabbits have parts that cook differently. But it’s hard to roast the whole animal at the same temperature without making some meat too dry or tough.
The hind legs especially almost always need a moist, slow braise. For frying, plenty of cooks like to give them a good soak in buttermilk or a light brine.
The saddle, or center portion of the rabbit, is a different story. The meat can be fried, but it can be dry. So it helps to apply a bit more finesse.
“Treat the loins like pork tenderloins and wrap them in pancetta,” Mr. Rembold said. “It’s a great home cook trick. It’s like a chicken breast.”
For a salad of bitter greens and rabbit he served at the Brooklyn rabbit dinners, Mr. Rembold removed the legs, sautéed the rest of the rabbit whole, then removed and sliced the meat to toss with frisée and a mustard dressing.
To make the most of all bits of the rabbit, Mr. Rembold suggests a sausage made with a medium grind mixed with some fatback or chicken skin to enrich the lean meat. Ms. Nosrat likes to use up all the scraps and legs in a long-simmered ragù.
Angelina Lippert, the woman who took an Abercrombie & Fitch bag and her boyfriend to the class in Brooklyn, brought home the legs of the rabbit they killed and braised them with almonds, apples, Calvados and cream. The saddle, kidneys and heart went into a rolled roast with garlic, sage and rosemary.
The killing itself was a little more intense than she had expected, she said.
“When I was the first person to volunteer to break the neck, it all seemed so easy and emotionless that I didn’t realize until after I’d done it that I was shaking,” she said.
But she recovered quickly. After all, there was a rabbit to dress.
Ms. Lippert still has the pelt, the head and the feet. They’re in her freezer, awaiting the taxidermist. But she doesn’t have the boyfriend.
“He ended up leaving me for a vegetarian,” she said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed
on: March 02, 2010, 01:54:12 PM
Romney brings a lot to the table, and I liked his concession speech, but as a matter of politics (and some substance) the following concern me:
1) His Ken doll image, and his poll-driven campaign , , , until he was the only alternative to McCain.
2) His version of Obama care in MA pre-dating Obama (I could be wrong on this, but my impression is his candidacy would kill the HC issue for his party)
3) His patrician birth, like Bush's, makes him temperamentally incapable of dealing with race-baiting, class-baiting, and other typical Dem tactics. Like Bush, I fear he will become a "compassionate conservative".
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Conditioning
on: March 02, 2010, 12:59:45 PM
I began preparing for a tracking course in 8 weeks. The course will entail wearing about 45 pounds for many miles over very uneven terrain, so I have begun acclimating myself to hiking with weight. Thanks to my wife helping me find my weight vest yesterday, today I was able to use my weight vest.
I did only 3.3 miles, all barefooting in my Vibram VSOs.
Mile 1: natural
Mile 2: 25 lbs.
Mile 3: 50 lbs:
I wear a watch with a pulsemeter and was surprised at how little the weight affected my pulse.
The Adventure continues!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor
on: March 02, 2010, 10:08:28 AM
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama are debating the final details of the latest U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which informs a broad spectrum of Pentagon plans, March 1. Though the fundamental strategic balance is unlikely to change, the NPR and the ongoing negotiations with Russia over a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty will bear considerable watching.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is meeting with President Barack Obama on March 1 to discuss final options for the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The NPR has seen several delays and was previously slated to be released alongside the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review and Ballistic Missile Defense Review on Feb. 1. Now expected to be released mid-March, the NPR is almost certainly largely complete, with the final issues being hammered out between the state and defense departments and the White House.
There reportedly has been some disagreement between the Pentagon and the White House over the review, centered on a draft that the White House criticized as too much of a continuation of the status quo. The precise details of what Gates and Obama are discussing March 1 are currently unclear, but it appears to be the White House’s intention to press the Pentagon on wording about the circumstances under which the United States might consider using nuclear weapons and on warhead reductions. Though the exact scale of those reductions remains unclear, the White House appears to be pushing for more of a seminal document and less of the status quo. But large reductions will have to come from somewhere other than the operationally deployed arsenal.
The operationally deployed arsenal is thought to have already been reduced to below 2,200 strategic warheads in conformity with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), signed in Moscow in 2002. The bulk of any further reductions in the arsenal are expected to come mostly from weapons held in reserve in storage. While the exact size and composition of the operationally deployed strategic deterrent and reserve stockpile poses some technical questions, most of the fat has already been trimmed from the operationally deployed arsenal, and large reductions beyond the 1,700-2,200 warheads stipulated by SORT seem unlikely at this point.
The 1,700-2,200 figure supposedly originated in the Pentagon in the first place, representing a figure the military felt comfortable with. Negotiations with Moscow on a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which lapsed in December 2009, are taking place concurrently with the NPR discussions. Further reductions in the size of the U.S. arsenal per the NPR are unlikely to impress Moscow, which is happy with a largely symbolic reduction below the SORT-stipulated numbers. Negotiators on the START replacement already reportedly have settled on around 1,600 operationally deployed warheads — a figure both the Pentagon and the Kremlin likely are comfortable with.
Russia is watching the U.S. NPR process closely, but not for a shift on warhead numbers. Issues likely to be in the final NPR — continued emphasis on ballistic missile defenses (BMD), which Russia opposes; Russia’s perception of the precise language of the circumstances under which Washington will consider using nuclear weapons and increasing emphasis on non-nuclear deterrence capabilities that, in the Kremlin’s eyes, would alter the strategic balance — will affect START negotiations as well. Russia is not simply waiting on the NPR to put ink to paper; there remain important areas of disagreement, like the U.S. BMD systems specifically slated for former Warsaw Pact countries and the availability of test and telemetry data on new weapon systems (which Russia is developing, but the United States is not).
And yet the NPR is also something of a non-issue. At the end of the day, the United States will retain the most robust and reliable nuclear deterrent in the world, and publicly released nuclear doctrine aside, will retain the ability to use nuclear weapons at its discretion when its national interests are threatened.
Both the United States and Russia have an interest in sustaining a bilateral, long-term nuclear arms control regime. The NPR will support that, and despite some points to still be settled, a START replacement is likely to be inked eventually as well.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 02, 2010, 10:06:00 AM
OTOH this sounds encouraging:
Special Forces Assassins Infiltrate Taliban Stronghold in Afghanistan
Sunday , February 07, 2010
American and British forces poised to assault the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, have begun targeting insurgent leaders for assassination, The Sunday Times reported.
Special forces have been infiltrating the town on "kinetic" missions — jargon for armed attacks.
"Special forces guys have been going in on assassination missions with the aim of decapitating the Taliban force," a military source told the Sunday Times.
At U.S. Marine base Camp Leatherneck and the adjoining British base of Camp Bastion, troops and munitions have been airlifted in by night to avoid enemy rockets. In a break from traditional military secrecy, American, British and Afghan commanders have revealed that Marjah, the last town in Helmand under Taliban control, will in fact be the site of fighting in the near future.
Though Operation Moshtarak —Operation Together — has been widely publicized by top military leaders, the timeline for the offensive has not been revealed.
The success of the planned campaign depends on how quickly troops and civilian development workers can get public services up and running once the Taliban have been driven away, the top U.S. and NATO commander said Sunday.
The military has widely publicized the upcoming offensive in Marjah — the biggest Taliban-held community in the south — although the precise date for the attack in Helmand province remains classified.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the element of surprise is not as important as letting Marjah's estimated 80,000 residents know that an Afghan government is on its way to replace Taliban overlords and drug traffickers.
"We're trying to create a situation where we communicate to them that when the government re-establishes security, they'll have choices," McChrystal said.
Establishing functioning government has been messy even in the relatively safe parts of Afghanistan. NATO forces and international diplomats have to balance the need to increase security with the desire to build up Afghan institutions that have too-often been corrupt or ineffective.
Click here for more from the Sunday Times.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST
on: March 02, 2010, 08:12:29 AM
Agreed 100% on the trauma potential of knives small too.
I forget if I have mentioned it here on this forum, but the idea to use a hanging piece of meet in what was then a video, was my suggestion to Paul Vunak back in , , , 1985 IIRC.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / McDonald-- issues presented
on: March 01, 2010, 07:39:15 PM
Pasting here BBG's post today in the Legal Issues thread-- see there also his second post on the Justice who wrote the Miller decision.
Using Guns to Protect Liberty
Posted by Ilya Shapiro
Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in McDonald v. Chicago — the Second Amendment case with implications far beyond gun rights. The Court is quite likely to extend the right to keep and bear arms to the states and thereby invalidate the Chicago handgun ban at issue, but the way in which it does so could revolutionize constitutional law.
In response to the oppression of freed slaves and abolitionists in southern and border states after the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment’s drafters sought to protect individual rights from infringement by state and local governments. The amendment’s Due Process Clause and Privileges or Immunities Clause provided overlapping but distinct protections for these rights. The Court decided in the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases, however, that the Privileges or Immunities Clause only protected Americans’ rights as national, not state, citizens. This reactionary holding eviscerated the clause, rendering it powerless to protect individual rights from state interference.
McDonald provides the Court an opportunity to overturn the Slaughter-House Cases and finally restore the Privileges or Immunities Clause to its proper role as a check against government intrusion on individual rights. Doing so would secure Americans’ natural rights, such as the freedom of contract and the right to earn an honest living, without enabling judges to invent constitutional rights to health care or welfare payments. For a more detailed discussion of McDonald’s potential implications, and how the Court should rule, see my recent op-ed here.
I will also be participating in several public events this week on McDonald, the Fourteenth Amendment, and firearm regulation. Today at 4:00 p.m., I will be speaking at a Cato policy forum, which will be broadcast live on C-SPAN and which you may watch online here. Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m., I will participate in a post-argument discussion of McDonald at the Georgetown University Law Center, which event is cosponsored by the Federalist Society and the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy (where Josh Blackman and I recently published a lengthy article on the subject). And on Wednesday at noon, I will be participating in a Cato Capitol Hill briefing on McDonald and the future of gun rights at the Rayburn House Office Building, room B-340 (more information here).http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2010/03/01/using-guns-to-protect-liberty/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Cato-at-liberty+%28Cato+at+Liberty%29
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy
on: March 01, 2010, 07:29:18 PM
Second post of the day-- the post is by BBG, but I think it better belongs in this thread:
The real Arab stuff-What are realistic, moderate Arabic-speaking rulers thinking? [about Obama]
Jerusalem Post ^ | 3-1-10 | BARRY RUBIN
Hussain Abdul Hussain gets it. He’s one of the most interesting Arab journalists who also write in English. In his latest article “Lonely Obama vs. popular Iran”, published in the Huffington Post, he points out what the most realistic people and more moderate rulers in the Arabic-speaking world are thinking.
Theme one: Popularity isn’t so important in the Middle East. “A common perception is that under President Barack Obama, America’s image has improved, and perhaps its friends have increased. But such claims are unfounded, as the opposite proves to be true. International relations, however, are about interests, not sweet talk. As [George W.] Bush went out recruiting allies, and making enemies, Obama lost America’s friends while failing to win over enemies.”
Theme two: What is important is that allies believe you will support and protect them. Obama isn’t doing that. Example A, Iraq. “After losing more than 4,300 troops in battle and spending [a huge amount of money] since 2003, America today cannot find a single politician or group that would express gratitude to Americans for ridding Iraq of its ruthless tyrant Saddam Hussein, and allowing these politicians to speak out freely. On the contrary, shy of making their excellent backdoor ties with Washington known since they fear Obama will depart Iraq and never look back, Iraqi politicians started expressing dissatisfaction with the United States in public.”
Example B, Lebanon. Before Obama took office, more than one-third of the entire population – most of them Sunni Muslims – demonstrated against Hizbullah and Syrian occupation. And the Druse leader Walid Jumblatt said on televisionthat he was proud to be part of America’s plan to spread democracy in the Middle East. But “by the time Obama had made it to the White House, support of America’s allies in Lebanon waned since Obama was determined to appease their foes in Syria and Iran. [Said] Hariri [leader of the moderate forces] and Jumblatt [his former close ally] were forced to abandon their fight for Lebanon’s democracy and freedom” and seek to make a deal with Syria and Hizbullah instead.
Example C, Iran. The people revolted against the autocratic regime and staged mass demonstrations, “but Obama’s Washington was busy sending one letter of appeasement after another to Iran’s tyrants, and accordingly failed to side with the Green Revolution for democracy and freedom. When Obama did show support for the Green movement, it was too little and too late.”
AMONG THOSE worried about a similar lack of US support are Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the small Gulf states, the three North African states, most of Lebanon and those Turks who don’t want to live under an Islamist regime.
Theme three: Iran helps its allies. Hence, Iran has more allies, while the US has fewer. Iran is going up; the US is going down. “Now compare America’s friends around the Middle East to Iran’s cronies, and you can immediately understand why Washington is in trouble, both diplomatically and on a popular level, while Iran is confident as it marches toward producing a nuclear weapon and expanding its influence across the Middle East.”
Iranian ally A, Hizbullah: “Since 1981, Iran has been funding its Lebanese ally Hizbullah, never defaulting on any of its pledged payments. Hizbullah went from an embryonic group into a state within a state, boasting a membership of several thousands and maintaining a private army, schools, hospitals, orphanages, satellite TV and a number of other facilities that have won it the hearts of Lebanon’s Shi’ites, and have given Hizbullah an absolute command over them.”
Iranian ally B, Syria: “Iran has maintained a flow of cash and political support toward Syria for a similar amount of time. Obama has been begging Syria to switch sides and abandon Iran. Judging by the mishaps that always seem to befall America’s friends with time, Syria does not seem likely to change, but is rather playing an Obama administration desperate for whatever it can claim as success in its foreign policy.”
As if to prove the point, immediately after a big American delegation visited Damascus to restore full relations and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that US policy is seeking to detach Syria from its alliance with Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria and the two leaders made strong anti-American statements while pledging eternal partnership.
Here’s the headline in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat: “Syria and Iran defy Clinton in show of unity.”
And in the Syrian government’s newspaper Tishrin a column explained that if the US wanted a deal with Iran and Syria to achieve peace in the region that would have to include Israel’s elimination.
Iranian ally C, Iraqi insurgents: “In Iraq, Iran does not only fund and train militias and violent groups, but it also funds electoral campaigns of Iraqi politicians, loyal media groups and political parties, thus expanding its influence over Iraq exponentially. Spending billions more than Iran in Iraq, America has seen its money spent to no or little effect.”
And here’s the bottom line: “The comparison between Iran and Obama’s America is simple. While Teheran never let down an ally, offering them consistent financial and political support, Washington’s support of its allies around the world has always been intermittent, due to changes with administrations and an ever swinging mood among American voters, pundits and analysts.
“So while Iran has created a mini-Islamic republic in Lebanon, and is on its way to doing the same in Iraq, America has failed in keeping friends or maintaining influence both in Lebanon and in Iraq.
“And while Teheran brutally suppressed a growing peaceful revolution for change inside Iran, Washington’s pacifism did not win any favors with the Iranian regime, or with its opponents in the Green Revolution.
“While Iran knows how to make friends, Obama’s America has become an expert in losing them.”
Yes! That’s what it’s all about. You know, it’s an interesting point. Obama and company says we should listen to Muslim and Arab voices.
Okay, but which ones? Not, as they are doing, to the apologists for radicalism and the purveyors of conventional nonsense (all that matters is the Arab-Israeli conflict, America should just make concessions, you need to understand how Islamism isn’t a threat, etc.). If you want to know what a dozen Arab governments think and fear – and Israelis, too – this is the real stuff.
The writer is Director at the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) (http://www.gloria-center.org
) and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). He blogs at The Rubin Report (http://rubinreports.blogspot.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Thinking the unthinkable
on: March 01, 2010, 03:16:06 PM
Thinking About the Unthinkable: A U.S.-Iranian Deal
March 1, 2010
By George Friedman
The United States apparently has reached the point where it must either accept that Iran will develop nuclear weapons at some point if it wishes, or take military action to prevent this. There is a third strategy, however: Washington can seek to redefine the Iranian question.
As we have no idea what leaders on either side are thinking, exploring this represents an exercise in geopolitical theory. Let’s begin with the two apparent stark choices.
Diplomacy vs. the Military Option
The diplomatic approach consists of creating a broad coalition prepared to impose what have been called crippling sanctions on Iran. Effective sanctions must be so painful that they compel the target to change its behavior. In Tehran’s case, this could only consist of blocking Iran’s imports of gasoline. Iran imports 35 percent of the gasoline it consumes. It is not clear that a gasoline embargo would be crippling, but it is the only embargo that might work. All other forms of sanctions against Iran would be mere gestures designed to give the impression that something is being done.
The Chinese will not participate in any gasoline embargo. Beijing gets 11 percent of its oil from Iran, and it has made it clear it will continue to deliver gasoline to Iran. Moscow’s position is that Russia might consider sanctions down the road, but it hasn’t specified when, and it hasn’t specified what. The Russians are more than content seeing the U.S. bogged down in the Middle East and so are not inclined to solve American problems in the region. With the Chinese and Russians unlikely to embargo gasoline, these sanctions won’t create significant pain for Iran. Since all other sanctions are gestures, the diplomatic approach is therefore unlikely to work.
The military option has its own risks. First, its success depends on the quality of intelligence on Iran’s nuclear facilities and on the degree of hardening of those targets. Second, it requires successful air attacks. Third, it requires battle damage assessments that tell the attacker whether the strike succeeded. Fourth, it requires follow-on raids to destroy facilities that remain functional. And fifth, attacks must do more than simply set back Iran’s program a few months or even years: If the risk of a nuclear Iran is great enough to justify the risks of war, the outcome must be decisive.
Each point in this process is a potential failure point. Given the multiplicity of these points — which includes others not mentioned — failure may not be an option, but it is certainly possible.
But even if the attacks succeed, the question of what would happen the day after the attacks remains. Iran has its own counters. It has a superbly effective terrorist organization, Hezbollah, at its disposal. It has sufficient influence in Iraq to destabilize that country and force the United States to keep forces in Iraq badly needed elsewhere. And it has the ability to use mines and missiles to attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf shipping lanes for some period — driving global oil prices through the roof while the global economy is struggling to stabilize itself. Iran’s position on its nuclear program is rooted in the awareness that while it might not have assured options in the event of a military strike, it has counters that create complex and unacceptable risks. Iran therefore does not believe the United States will strike or permit Israel to strike, as the consequences would be unacceptable.
To recap, the United States either can accept a nuclear Iran or risk an attack that might fail outright, impose only a minor delay on Iran’s nuclear program or trigger extremely painful responses even if it succeeds. When neither choice is acceptable, it is necessary to find a third choice.
Redefining the Iranian Problem
As long as the problem of Iran is defined in terms of its nuclear program, the United States is in an impossible place. Therefore, the Iranian problem must be redefined. One attempt at redefinition involves hope for an uprising against the current regime. We will not repeat our views on this in depth, but in short, we do not regard these demonstrations to be a serious threat to the regime. Tehran has handily crushed them, and even if they did succeed, we do not believe they would produce a regime any more accommodating toward the United States. The idea of waiting for a revolution is more useful as a justification for inaction — and accepting a nuclear Iran — than it is as a strategic alternative.
At this moment, Iran is the most powerful regional military force in the Persian Gulf. Unless the United States permanently stations substantial military forces in the region, there is no military force able to block Iran. Turkey is more powerful than Iran, but it is far from the Persian Gulf and focused on other matters at the moment, and it doesn’t want to take on Iran militarily — at least not for a very long time. At the very least, this means the United States cannot withdraw from Iraq. Baghdad is too weak to block Iran from the Arabian Peninsula, and the Iraqi government has elements friendly toward Iran.
Historically, regional stability depended on the Iraqi-Iranian balance of power. When it tottered in 1990, the result was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The United States did not push into Iraq in 1991 because it did not want to upset the regional balance of power by creating a vacuum in Iraq. Rather, U.S. strategy was to re-establish the Iranian-Iraqi balance of power to the greatest extent possible, as the alternative was basing large numbers of U.S. troops in the region.
The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 assumed that once the Baathist regime was destroyed the United States would rapidly create a strong Iraqi government that would balance Iran. The core mistake in this thinking lay in failing to recognize that the new Iraqi government would be filled with Shiites, many of whom regarded Iran as a friendly power. Rather than balancing Iran, Iraq could well become an Iranian satellite. The Iranians strongly encouraged the American invasion precisely because they wanted to create a situation where Iraq moved toward Iran’s orbit. When this in fact began happening, the Americans had no choice but an extended occupation of Iraq, a trap both the Bush and Obama administrations have sought to escape.
It is difficult to define Iran’s influence in Iraq at this point. But at a minimum, while Iran may not be able to impose a pro-Iranian state on Iraq, it has sufficient influence to block the creation of any strong Iraqi government either through direct influence in the government or by creating destabilizing violence in Iraq. In other words, Iran can prevent Iraq from emerging as a counterweight to Iran, and Iran has every reason to do this. Indeed, it is doing just this.
The Fundamental U.S.-Iranian Issue
Iraq, not nuclear weapons, is the fundamental issue between Iran and the United States. Iran wants to see a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq so Iran can assume its place as the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. The United States wants to withdraw from Iraq because it faces challenges in Afghanistan — where it will also need Iranian cooperation — and elsewhere. Committing forces to Iraq for an extended period of time while fighting in Afghanistan leaves the United States exposed globally. Events involving China or Russia — such as the 2008 war in Georgia — would see the United States without a counter. The alternative would be a withdrawal from Afghanistan or a massive increase in U.S. armed forces. The former is not going to happen any time soon, and the latter is an economic impossibility.
Therefore, the United States must find a way to counterbalance Iran without an open-ended deployment in Iraq and without expecting the re-emergence of Iraqi power, because Iran is not going to allow the latter to happen. The nuclear issue is simply an element of this broader geopolitical problem, as it adds another element to the Iranian tool kit. It is not a stand-alone issue.
The United States has an interesting strategy in redefining problems that involves creating extraordinarily alliances with mortal ideological and geopolitical enemies to achieve strategic U.S. goals. First consider Franklin Roosevelt’s alliance with Stalinist Russia to block Nazi Germany. He pursued this alliance despite massive political outrage not only from isolationists but also from institutions like the Roman Catholic Church that regarded the Soviets as the epitome of evil.
Now consider Richard Nixon’s decision to align with China at a time when the Chinese were supplying weapons to North Vietnam that were killing American troops. Moreover, Mao — who had said he did not fear nuclear war as China could absorb a few hundred million deaths — was considered, with reason, quite mad. Nevertheless, Nixon, as anti-Communist and anti-Chinese a figure as existed in American politics, understood that an alliance (and despite the lack of a formal treaty, alliance it was) with China was essential to counterbalance the Soviet Union at a time when American power was still being sapped in Vietnam.
Roosevelt and Nixon both faced impossible strategic situations unless they were prepared to redefine the strategic equation dramatically and accept the need for alliance with countries that had previously been regarded as strategic and moral threats. American history is filled with opportunistic alliances designed to solve impossible strategic dilemmas. The Stalin and Mao cases represent stunning alliances with prior enemies designed to block a third power seen as more dangerous.
It is said that Ahmadinejad is crazy. It was also said that Mao and Stalin were crazy, in both cases with much justification. Ahmadinejad has said many strange things and issued numerous threats. But when Roosevelt ignored what Stalin said and Nixon ignored what Mao said, they each discovered that Stalin’s and Mao’s actions were far more rational and predictable than their rhetoric. Similarly, what the Iranians say and what they do are quite different.
U.S. vs. Iranian Interests
Consider the American interest. First, it must maintain the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. The United States cannot tolerate interruptions, and that limits the risks it can take. Second, it must try to keep any one power from controlling all of the oil in the Persian Gulf, as that would give such a country too much long-term power within the global system. Third, while the United States is involved in a war with elements of the Sunni Muslim world, it must reduce the forces devoted to that war. Fourth, it must deal with the Iranian problem directly. Europe will go as far as sanctions but no further, while the Russians and Chinese won’t even go that far yet. Fifth, it must prevent an Israeli strike on Iran for the same reasons it must avoid a strike itself, as the day after any Israeli strike will be left to the United States to manage.
Now consider the Iranian interest. First, it must guarantee regime survival. It sees the United States as dangerous and unpredictable. In less than 10 years, it has found itself with American troops on both its eastern and western borders. Second, it must guarantee that Iraq will never again be a threat to Iran. Third, it must increase its authority within the Muslim world against Sunni Muslims, whom it regards as rivals and sometimes as threats.
Now consider the overlaps. The United States is in a war against some (not all) Sunnis. These are Iran’s enemies, too. Iran does not want U.S. troops along its eastern and western borders. In point of fact, the United States does not want this either. The United States does not want any interruption of oil flow through Hormuz. Iran much prefers profiting from those flows to interrupting them. Finally, the Iranians understand that it is the United States alone that is Iran’s existential threat. If Iran can solve the American problem its regime survival is assured. The United States understands, or should, that resurrecting the Iraqi counterweight to Iran is not an option: It is either U.S. forces in Iraq or accepting Iran’s unconstrained role.
Therefore, as an exercise in geopolitical theory, consider the following. Washington’s current options are unacceptable. By redefining the issue in terms of dealing with the consequences of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there are three areas of mutual interest. First, both powers have serious quarrels with Sunni Islam. Second, both powers want to see a reduction in U.S. forces in the region. Third, both countries have an interest in assuring the flow of oil, one to use the oil, the other to profit from it to increase its regional power.
The strategic problem is, of course, Iranian power in the Persian Gulf. The Chinese model is worth considering here. China issued bellicose rhetoric before and after Nixon’s and Kissinger’s visits. But whatever it did internally, it was not a major risk-taker in its foreign policy. China’s relationship with the United States was of critical importance to China. Beijing fully understood the value of this relationship, and while it might continue to rail about imperialism, it was exceedingly careful not to undermine this core interest.
The major risk of the third strategy is that Iran will overstep its bounds and seek to occupy the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf. Certainly, this would be tempting, but it would bring a rapid American intervention. The United States would not block indirect Iranian influence, however, from financial participation in regional projects to more significant roles for the Shia in Arabian states. Washington’s limits for Iranian power are readily defined and enforced when exceeded.
The great losers in the third strategy, of course, would be the Sunnis in the Arabian Peninsula. But Iraq aside, they are incapable of defending themselves, and the United States has no long-term interest in their economic and political relations. So long as the oil flows, and no single power directly controls the entire region, the United States does not have a stake in this issue.
Israel would also be enraged. It sees ongoing American-Iranian hostility as a given. And it wants the United States to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat. But eliminating this threat is not an option given the risks, so the choice is a nuclear Iran outside some structured relationship with the United States or within it. The choice that Israel might want, a U.S.-Iranian conflict, is unlikely. Israel can no more drive American strategy than can Saudi Arabia.
From the American standpoint, an understanding with Iran would have the advantage of solving an increasingly knotty problem. In the long run, it would also have the advantage of being a self-containing relationship. Turkey is much more powerful than Iran and is emerging from its century-long shell. Its relations with the United States are delicate. The United States would infuriate the Turks by doing this deal, forcing them to become more active faster. They would thus emerge in Iraq as a counterbalance to Iran. But Turkey’s anger at the United States would serve U.S. interests. The Iranian position in Iraq would be temporary, and the United States would not have to break its word as Turkey eventually would eliminate Iranian influence in Iraq.
Ultimately, the greatest shock of such a maneuver on both sides would be political. The U.S.-Soviet agreement shocked Americans deeply, the Soviets less so because Stalin’s pact with Hitler had already stunned them. The Nixon-Mao entente shocked all sides. It was utterly unthinkable at the time, but once people on both sides thought about it, it was manageable.
Such a maneuver would be particularly difficult for U.S. President Barack Obama, as it would be widely interpreted as another example of weakness rather than as a ruthless and cunning move. A military strike would enhance his political standing, while an apparently cynical deal would undermine it. Ahmadinejad could sell such a deal domestically much more easily. In any event, the choices now are a nuclear Iran, extended airstrikes with all their attendant consequences, or something else. This is what something else might look like and how it would fit in with American strategic tradition.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: March 01, 2010, 11:15:33 AM
"There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty, that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism." --Alexander Hamilton
Opinion in Brief
"Americans cherish their independence. One interesting aspect of the spontaneous tea party movement is the constant invocation of the Founders and the prominence of the 'Don't Tread on Me' flag. ... Americans tend to see themselves as independent doers, not dependent victims. They don't like to be told, especially by those with fancy academic pedigrees, that they are helpless and in need of government aid. That's why the politically popular American big government programs -- Social Security, Medicare, veterans' benefits, student loans -- all make a connection between effort and reward. You get a benefit because you've worked for it. In contrast, Americans have loathed and rejected big government programs with no nexus between effort and reward. Welfare was begun in the 1930s to help widows with children, whose plight, as Russell Baker's memoir 'Growing Up' showed, was often dismal. But when welfare became a mass program to subsidize mothers who didn't work and to excuse fathers from responsibility for their actions, it became wildly unpopular. Bill Clinton recognized this when he signed welfare reform in 1996. ... Barack Obama, who has chosen to live his adult life in university precincts, sees ... Americans generally as victims who need his help, people who would be better off dependent on government than on their own. Most American voters don't want to see themselves that way and resent this condescension." --political analyst Michael Barone
"When Republicans regain a majority in the House and Senate -- either this fall, as seems increasingly likely, or in the election following -- they must learn from their previous mistakes when they last held power. In addition to focusing on overturning whatever health insurance 'reform' proposal this Congress eventually passes (by a veto override, or a lawsuit challenging the measure's constitutionality), a Republican congressional majority must help large numbers of the public unlearn the factual errors they have been taught to accept. From 'climate change,' to the notion that government is a guarantor through 'entitlement' programs of a minimal outcome in life, to the forgotten idea given to us by the Founders that Liberty is the most precious gift there is, the country needs a history lesson based on truth, experience and provable facts. ... A Republican majority should turn the nation's attention away from Washington. A Republican majority must teach us again that 'you can do it,' like so many of our fathers did when the training wheels came off and we learned we could fly down the sidewalk without assistance. America doesn't need restructuring. It needs revival; revival of the principles that made us strong and great; revival of the moral foundation that proved to be our real strength and allowed us to conquer our demons and become independent, not dependent on government. This is the message most Americans want to hear and need to hear. Will the Republicans deliver it?" --columnist Cal Thomas
"Perhaps you and I have lived with this miracle too long to be properly appreciative. Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again. Knowing this, it is hard to explain those who even today would question the people's capacity for self-rule. Will they answer this: if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?" --Ronald Reagan
Re: The Left
"The reason massive Democratic majorities in Congress aren't enough to pass socialist health care is AMERICANS DON'T WANT SOCIALIZED MEDICINE! In fact, you might say that the nation is in a boiling cauldron of rage against it. Consequently, a lot of Democrats are suddenly having second thoughts about vast new government commissions regulating every aspect of Americans' medical care. Obama isn't stupid -- he's not seriously trying to get a health care bill passed. The whole purpose of this public 'summit' with the minority party is to muddy up the Republicans before the November elections. You know, the elections Democrats are going to lose because of this whole health care thing. Right now, Americans are hopping mad, swinging a stick and hoping to hit anyone who so much as thinks about nationalizing health care. If they could, Americans would cut the power to the Capitol, throw everyone out and try to deport them. ... But the Democrats think it's a good strategy to call the Republicans 'The Party of No.' When it comes to Obamacare, Americans don't want a party of 'No,' they want a party of 'Hell, No!' or, as Rahm Emanuel might say, '*&^%$#@ No!' ... Complaining that Republicans are 'obstructionists' is not a damaging charge when most Americans are dying to obstruct the Democrats with a 2-by-4. While you're at it, Democrats, why not call the GOP the 'Party of Brave Patriots'?" --columnist Ann Coulter
"Filibusters are devices for registering intensity rather than mere numbers. Besides, has a filibuster ever prevented eventual enactment of anything significant that an American majority has desired, strongly and protractedly? Liberals say filibusters confuse and frustrate the public. But most ideas incubated in the political cauldron of grasping factions are deplorable. Therefore, serving the public involves -- mostly involves -- saying 'No.' The Bill of Rights effectively pronounces the lovely word 'no' regarding many possible government undertakings -- establishment of religion, unreasonable searches and seizures, etc. The fiction that government is 'paralyzed' by partisanship is regularly refuted. ... Liberals are deeply disappointed with the public, which fails to fathom the excellence of their agenda. But their real complaint is with the government's structure. And with the nature of the politics this structure presupposes in a continental nation wary of government and replete with rival factions." --columnist George Will
For the Record
"For those not versed in the arcane rules of the U.S. Senate, reconciliation is not what a divorced couple attempts when they visit Dr. Phil. It is a mechanism for avoiding filibusters on certain budgetary issues. If Democrats can find a way to apply it to health care reform, they could pass a bill with just 51 votes, negating the election of Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and the loss of the 60-seat supermajority. Reconciliation was established in 1974 to make it easier for Congress to adjust taxes and spending in order to 'reconcile' actual revenues and expenditures with a previously approved budget resolution. Thus, at the end of the year, if Congress found that it was running a budget deficit higher than previously projected, it could quickly raise taxes or cut spending to bring the budget back into line. Debate on such measures was abbreviated to just 20 hours (an eyeblink in Senate terms), and there could be no filibuster. As Robert Byrd, (D-W.V.), one of the original authors of the reconciliation rule, explained, 'Reconciliation was intended to adjust revenue and spending levels in order to reduce deficits ... t was not designed to ... restructure the entire health care system.' He warns that using reconciliation for health care would 'violate the intent and spirit of the budget process, and do serious injury to the Constitutional role of the Senate.' In fact, in 1985, the Senate adopted the 'Byrd rule,' which prohibits the use of reconciliation for any 'extraneous issue' that does not directly change revenues or expenditures. Clearly, large portions of the health care bill, ranging from mandates to insurance regulation to establishing 'exchanges,' do not meet that requirement." --Cato Institute senior fellow Michael D. Tanner
Faith & Family
"One of the major differences between the right and the left concerns the question of authority: To whom do we owe obedience and who is the ultimate moral authority? For the right, the primary moral authority is God (or, for secular conservatives, Judeo-Christian values), followed by parents. Of course, government must also play a role, but it is ultimately accountable to God and it should do nothing to undermine parental authority. For the left, the state and its government are the supreme authorities, while parental and divine authority are seen as impediments to state authority. ... In a nutshell, the left wants to have ever-expanding authority over people's lives through ever-expanding governmental powers. It does so because it regards itself as more enlightened than others. Others are either enemies (the right) or unenlightened masses. It is elected by demonizing its enemies and doling out money and jobs to the masses." --radio talk-show host Dennis Prager
"Personal responsibility is a real problem for those who want to collectivize society and take away our power to make our own decisions, transferring that power to third parties like themselves, who imagine themselves to be so much wiser and nobler than the rest of us. Aimless apologies are just one of the incidental symptoms of an increasing loss of a sense of personal responsibility -- without which a whole society is in jeopardy. The police cannot possibly maintain law and order by themselves. Millions of people can monitor their own behavior better than any third parties can. Cops can cope with that segment of society who have no sense of personal responsibility, but not if that segment becomes a large part of the whole population. Yet increasing numbers of educators and the intelligentsia seem to have devoted themselves to undermining or destroying a sense of personal responsibility and making 'society' responsible instead." --economist Thomas Sowell
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PDVSA in Curacao
on: March 01, 2010, 11:11:01 AM
Venezuela: PDVSA Hints at Withdrawal from Curacao Refinery
Stratfor Today » February 27, 2010 | 2318 GMT
JORGE SANTOS/AFP/Getty Images
View of a state-owned PDVSA gas station in Caracas Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA may withdraw from the 320,000 barrel-per-day Isla refinery it operates in Curacao in protest of U.S. military “provocations” on the Dutch Caribbean island, Ultimas Noticias newspaper reported Feb. 27, citing an interview with Venezuela’s oil minister Rafael Ramirez. The Isla refinery, which processes sulfur-heavy crude from Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo, is operated by PDVSA under a lease the firm has with the government of Curacao. PDVSA has long been trying to negotiate the purchase of the refinery from the Curacao government, but PDVSA is also in a severe financial crunch. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s heavy reliance on the state oil firm’s revenues to support his government programs and maintain popular support have stressed PDVSA operations, resulting in a decline in production and strain on Venezuelan refining operations. The Isla refinery in particular has developed into a financial liability for PDVSA since a Curacao court ruling in June 2009 decreed that PDVSA would have to pay roughly $3 million for violations in sulphur dioxide emissions, and $300,000 per day for further violations.
Venezuela is already facing serious refining problems due to mismanagement and a significant drop in foreign investment. Exacerbating matters is a growing electricity crisis that has had a significant impact on crude oil processing. The problems have turned critical enough that Venezuela, despite being a major oil producer and refiner, had to increase fuel purchases from abroad in Sept. 2009 to keep up with domestic demand. The Venezuelan government heavily subsidizes gasoline to maintain political support among the population, a policy that cuts further into PDVSA’s bottom line. Chavez has spoken frequently about the threat of U.S. military invasion of Venezuela, and his oil minister now appears to be using this pretext as a way to alleviate PDVSA’s financial obligations by withdrawing from its contract. The development does not speak well for PDVSA’s financial solvency and thus Venezuela’s overall political stability.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: ABC, CBS contracting
on: March 01, 2010, 07:15:50 AM
ABC News is making no secret about what is behind the sweeping staff cuts it now faces: raw survival instinct.
“I just looked out at the next five years and was concerned that we could not sustain doing what we were doing,” said David Westin, the president of ABC News, as he explained the decision last week to jettison up to 400 staff members, a quarter of the news staff, in the coming months.
The same compelling motive already instigated strategic retrenchment at ABC’s broadcast competitors. NBC, the one network with a cable news channel, MSNBC — and, not coincidentally, the only network in a sound position of profitability — has drastically pared down its operations over the last few years. So has CBS, which is losing money already and has cut about 70 jobs this year.
But with news available more places than ever, on cable channels and Internet sites, and with revenue challenged by heavy dependence on shrinking advertising dollars, the future for the news divisions at ABC and CBS remains deeply insecure.
“Long term, it’s going to get harder for these guys to exist as they are currently constructed, with the exception of NBC because it can offload the costs on MSNBC,” Michael Nathanson, an industry analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, said.
The economic problems facing ABC News and CBS News in many ways mirror those faced by newspapers, which have been similarly afflicted by a drop in advertising revenue. The reaction — severe cuts in personnel and other costs — also looks to be the same.
But can you shrink your way to prosperity? Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News who is now a news media consultant (NBC News is one client), said of the ABC cuts: “The real issue after this is what is going to drive growth? How do you generate more profit? And this doesn’t address that.”
The easy answer would seem to lie in NBC’s structure, because in contrast to its competitors, that news organization is flush, making an estimated $400 million in profit a year.
“We actually think we have a completely different model,” Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said. That model: win every significant ratings competition on the broadcast side and rely on MSNBC’s revenue stream of advertising plus cable subscriber fees to subsidize the high costs of news gathering.
The effectiveness of that formula inevitably resurrects predictions that a marriage with a cable news organization is imperative for CBS and ABC. The obvious partner is CNN, and both those networks have been in courtships with it before. To date, the cultural challenges have been insurmountable. CNN, which says last year was its most profitable since its founding in 1980, would seem to have little incentive to rush to the aid of a network. And neither network wants to cede editorial control to CNN.
“If it were easy or obvious, it would have happened by now,” Mr. Heyward said.
But a longtime network news executive, who asked not to be identified because of connections to previous private negotiations involving CNN, said that ABC or CBS was likely to enter into an alliance with a partner like CNN “within the next few years.”
Even Mr. Westin, who said he did not see how a match with CNN “makes sense for us,” conceded: “In general, in business, when there is real decline, consolidation inevitably happens.”
Already, outlines of consolidation are discernible. Several CNN stars contribute to “60 Minutes” on CBS. And CBS executives, mindful that Katie Couric’s contract expires in a little over a year, have talked to Anderson Cooper of CNN about an anchor job, according to two TV veterans informed of the meeting.
In recent months, a handful of ABC News reporters has appeared on the business channel Bloomberg, and the two organizations have tried to jointly hire at least one person, according to two staff members who asked not to be named because they were not authorized by their employers to speak. Those two, and two others, labeled the sharing by ABC and Bloomberg — what one person called flirting — a possible prelude to a broader news-gathering pact.
A Bloomberg spokeswoman said that the company was a client of ABC’s affiliate service and declined to comment on any talks about a broader relationship between the organizations. An ABC spokesman said the current level of cooperation with Bloomberg was “hardly unusual.”
Network news divisions have historically been family jewels for their parent corporations, lending prestige and an aura of public service — as well as a shield against government intrusion. Mr. Heyward called the network evening newscasts a “bastion of serious news coverage at a time when so much of television has become tabloid and trivial.”
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While they have steadily shed viewers, to a cumulative 22 million in 2009, from about 50 million in 1980, the newscasts still amass an audience that dwarfs any show on a cable news channel. In the last five years, the more lucrative network morning shows have also shown declines, Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said. “What’s occurring in broadcast news is not some sudden crisis. This has been a glacial erosion,” he said.
A survey by the Pew Research Center last year reported that three-quarters of respondents thought the cancellation of the evening newscasts would be an “important loss” to the country. Mr. Rosenstiel said, “None of these news division presidents wants to be the first guy to kill an evening newscast.”
Not that it would be their call. That decision would fall to the networks’ corporate parents. Executives from CBS News and ABC News said the top corporate executives for both networks remained outspoken supporters of the news divisions.
ABC employees were reviewing buyout packages last weekend. Eligible staff members have until March 26 to decide whether to leave. If ABC cannot meet its goal, layoffs will follow.
Mr. Westin said ABC News could no longer afford to support a worldwide staff of about 1,500, with bureaus in cities foreign and domestic, most with traditional TV news work forces: camera operators, sound engineers, tape editors, assignment editors and, of course, correspondents, many with substantial salaries.
More journalists will become jacks-of-all-trades, wielding cameras, microphones and lights, as well as lists of interview questions. More production work will be conducted out of New York. “The ones who fear the most from the cuts are the ones that have a single function,” one ABC staff member said.
Mr. Westin said high-priced and purely cosmetic talent would become an increasingly endangered species. “There have been people in television news — very successful people — who do not write,” he said. “We are going to definitely require more of our journalists.”
Mr. Westin said he did not think the cuts would compromise ABC’s journalism, but not everyone shares his confidence. One veteran ABC News executive said, “Clearly the signal is: It’s not important to create anything new. We simply have to figure out a way to manage it cheaply.”
CBS, similarly, is trying to do the same with less. In an interview after its layoffs in early February, the CBS News president, Sean McManus, said the organization was figuring out how to “utilize our resources in a more efficient way.”
NBC News, meanwhile, remains the envy of the business, largely because of its decision in 1996 to start up a separate cable news channel.
The total work force at NBC News — which includes MSNBC — is 1,100, the size ABC now aspires to be. CBS is believed to have fewer than 1,400 on staff.
So far, Web revenue is a rather small part of the broadcast networks’ bottom lines, although Mr. Westin said ABC’s digital income was “up substantially.”
But if digital revenue cannot offset ad losses, Mr. Heyward suggested there was high ground from the flood if the networks could find a way to make their news stand out.
“The notion of investing more in distinctiveness and less in sameness is critical,” he said. That means more enterprise reporting and less overlapping coverage of news that cable handles, like reporters standing in snow drifts with yardsticks.
But the networks will surely stick it out, he predicted, if only because they do not want to see their competitors win.
“I sometimes compare it to three people in a leaky boat,” Mr. Heyward said. “Each one sees an island shimmering in the distance and starts thinking: I could jump out and swim for the island and maybe I could make it.
“On the other hand, I could drown and make the boat lighter so the other two make it. I think you are going to see everybody staying in the game because everybody knows leaving guarantees a longer lease on life for their competitors.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Political Asylum
on: March 01, 2010, 07:08:35 AM
MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — On a quiet street in this little town in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains lives a family of refugees who were granted asylum in the United States because they feared persecution in their home country.
The family came to the United States in 2008 from Germany, where children are required to attend an officially recognized school, be it public, private or religious.
The reason for that fear has rarely, if ever, been the basis of an asylum case. The parents, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, want to home-school their five children, ranging in age from 2 to 12, a practice illegal in their native land, Germany.
Among European countries, Germany is nearly alone in requiring, and enforcing, attendance of children at an officially recognized school. The school can be private or religious, but it must be a school. Exceptions can be made for health reasons but not for principled objections.
But the Romeikes, who are devout Christians, said they wanted their children to learn in a different environment. Mr. Romeike (pronounced ro-MY-kuh), 38, a soft-spoken piano teacher whose young children greet strangers at the front door with a startlingly grown-up politeness, said the unruly behavior of students that was allowed by many teachers had kept his children from learning. The stories in German readers, in which devils, witches and disobedient children are often portrayed as heroes, set bad examples, he said.
“I don’t expect the school to teach about the Bible,” he said, but “part of education should be character-building.”
In Germany, he said, home-schoolers are seen as “fundamentalist religious nuts who don’t want their children to get to know what is going on in the world, who want to protect them from everything.”
“In fact,” he said, sitting on his sofa as his three older children wrote in workbooks at the dining table, “I want my children to learn the truth and to learn about what’s going on in the world so that they can deal with it.”
The reasoning behind the German law, cited by officials and in court cases, is to foster social integration, ensure exposure to people from different backgrounds and prevent what some call “parallel societies.”
“We have had this legal basis ever since the state was founded,” said Thomas Hilsenbeck, a spokesman for the Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sport in the Romeikes’ state, Baden-Württemberg. “This is broadly accepted among the general public.”
The family has been here for some time, having left Germany in 2008. But it was not until Jan. 26 that a federal immigration judge in Memphis granted them political asylum, ruling that they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned.
In a harshly worded decision, the judge, Lawrence O. Burman, denounced the German policy, calling it “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans,” and expressed shock at the heavy fines and other penalties the government has levied on home-schooling parents, including taking custody of their children.
Describing home-schoolers as a distinct group of people who have a “principled opposition to government policy,” he ruled that the Romeikes would face persecution both because of their religious beliefs and because they were “members of a particular social group,” two standards for granting asylum.
“It is definitely new,” said Prof. Philip G. Schrag, the director of Georgetown Law School’s asylum law program, who added that he had never heard of such a case. “What’s novel about the argument is the nature of the social group.”
But, he said, given the severity of the penalties that German home-schoolers potentially face, the judge’s decision “does not seem far outside the margin.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has appealed the decision, Mr. Romeike’s lawyer said Friday. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment, citing the litigation.
The Romeikes had never heard of home schooling when they set out to find an alternative to the local public school in Germany, where their two oldest children — now 11 and 12 — were having trouble with rowdy classmates. The nearby private and religious schools, Mr. Romeike said, were just as bad or even worse.
Then a woman in their church mentioned that some families, though none in the church itself, had taken their children out of school altogether.
“She knew a family, but she didn’t want to mention their name because it wasn’t legal,” Mr. Romeike said.
Months of research followed: the Romeikes read articles, sat in on court cases and talked to other home-schoolers in Germany. Eventually they decided to give it a try. Working with a curriculum from a private Christian correspondence school — one not recognized by the German government — they expected to be punished with moderate fines and otherwise left alone.
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But they soon discovered differently, he said, facing fines eventually totaling over $11,000, threats that they would lose custody of their children and, one morning, a visit by the police, who took the children to school in a police van. Those were among the fines and potential penalties that Judge Burman said rose to the level of persecution.
Mr. Romeike began looking to other countries, but his inability to speak anything other than German or English limited his options. Then, at a conference for home-schoolers in 2007, he saw Mike Donnelly, a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Virginia-based advocacy organization
Long before the Romeikes had begun their fight, lawyers at the association had been discussing the situation in Germany. They had tried litigating cases one by one, usually unsuccessfully.
In 2006, after the European Court of Human Rights declined to hear a petition by home-schooling parents that had failed in German courts, lawyers at the association decided to add a political line of attack to the legal one, both to raise awareness of the German policies and to find some broader solution to the issue.
At a brainstorming session, one of the lawyers, Jim Mason, came up with the idea of petitioning for political asylum.
“I don’t know German law or German courts,” Mr. Mason said, “but I do know American courts.”
Another German home-schooling family had already moved to Morristown, so the Romeikes sold many of their belongings, including their grand piano, and came here too. The court battle lasted over a year, and while the Romeikes’ lawyers said they had expected to succeed, they were surprised by the vigor of the judge’s opinion. So was the German government.
“We’re all surprised because we consider the German educational system as very excellent,” said Lutz Hermann Görgens, the German consul general in Atlanta. He defended Germany’s policy on the grounds of fostering the ability “to peacefully interact with different values and different religions.”
Mr. Romeike said he would like to return to Germany if the laws became more amenable to home schooling. There is still hope, he said, though the political landscape does not look too promising right now.
In the meantime, he added, “it’s a good learning experience.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: BO/WH "rethinking" US policy
on: March 01, 2010, 07:03:02 AM
WASHINGTON — As President Obama begins making final decisions on a broad new nuclear strategy for the United States, senior aides say he will permanently reduce America’s arsenal by thousands of weapons. But the administration has rejected proposals that the United States declare it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, aides said.
Mr. Obama’s new strategy — which would annul or reverse several initiatives by the Bush administration — will be contained in a nearly completed document called the Nuclear Posture Review, which all presidents undertake. Aides said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates will present Mr. Obama with several options on Monday to address unresolved issues in that document, which have been hotly debated within the administration.
First among them is the question of whether, and how, to narrow the circumstances under which the United States will declare it might use nuclear weapons — a key element of nuclear deterrence since the cold war.
Mr. Obama’s decisions on nuclear weapons come as conflicting pressures in his defense policy are intensifying. His critics argue that his embrace of a new movement to eliminate nuclear weapons around the world is naïve and dangerous, especially at a time of new nuclear threats, particularly from Iran and North Korea. But many of his supporters fear that over the past year he has moved too cautiously, and worry that he will retain the existing American policy by leaving open the possibility that the United States might use nuclear weapons in response to a biological or chemical attack, perhaps against a nation that does not possess a nuclear arsenal.
That is one of the central debates Mr. Obama must resolve in the next few weeks, his aides say.
Many elements of the new strategy have already been completed, according to senior administration and military officials who have been involved in more than a half-dozen Situation Room debates about it, and outside strategists consulted by the White House.
As described by those officials, the new strategy commits the United States to developing no new nuclear weapons, including the nuclear bunker-busters advocated by the Bush administration. But Mr. Obama has already announced that he will spend billions of dollars more on updating America’s weapons laboratories to assure the reliability of what he intends to be a much smaller arsenal. Increased confidence in the reliability of American weapons, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a speech in February, would make elimination of “redundant” nuclear weapons possible.
“It will be clear in the document that there will be very dramatic reductions — in the thousands — as relates to the stockpile,” according to one senior administration official whom the White House authorized to discuss the issue this weekend. Much of that would come from the retirement of large numbers of weapons now kept in storage.
Other officials, not officially allowed to speak on the issue, say that in back-channel discussions with allies, the administration has also been quietly broaching the question of whether to withdraw American tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, where they provide more political reassurance than actual defense. Those weapons are now believed to be in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Turkey and the Netherlands.
At the same time, the new document will steer the United States toward more non-nuclear defenses. It relies more heavily on missile defense, much of it arrayed within striking distance of the Persian Gulf, focused on the emerging threat from Iran. Mr. Obama’s recently published Quadrennial Defense Review also includes support for a new class of non-nuclear weapons, called “Prompt Global Strike,” that could be fired from the United States and hit a target anywhere in less than an hour.
The idea, officials say, would be to give the president a non-nuclear option for, say, a large strike on the leadership of Al Qaeda in the mountains of Pakistan, or a pre-emptive attack on an impending missile launch from North Korea. But under Mr. Obama’s strategy, the missiles would be based at new sites around the United States that might even be open to inspection, so that Russia and China would know that a missile launched from those sites was not nuclear — to avoid having them place their own nuclear forces on high alert.
But the big question confronting Mr. Obama is how he will describe the purpose of America’s nuclear arsenal. It is far more than just an academic debate.
Some leading Democrats, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have asked Mr. Obama to declare that the “sole purpose” of the country’s nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attack. “We’re under considerable pressure on this one within our own party,” one of Mr. Obama’s national security advisers said recently.
But inside the Pentagon and among many officials in the White House, Mr. Obama has been urged to retain more ambiguous wording — declaring that deterring nuclear attack is the primary purpose of the American arsenal, not the only one. That would leave open the option of using nuclear weapons against foes that might threaten the United States with biological or chemical weapons or transfer nuclear material to terrorists.
Page 2 of 2)
Any compromise wording that leaves in place elements of the Bush-era pre-emption policy, or suggests the United States could use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear adversary, would disappoint many on the left wing of his party, and some arms control advocates.
“Any declaration that deterring a nuclear attack is a ‘primary purpose’ of our arsenal leaves open the possibility that there are other purposes, and it would not reflect any reduced reliance on nuclear weapons,” said Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. “It wouldn’t be consistent with what the president said in his speech in Prague” a year ago, when he laid out an ambitious vision for moving toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Mr. Obama’s base has already complained in recent months that he has failed to break from Bush era national security policy in some fundamental ways. They cite, for example, his stepped-up use of drones to strike suspected terrorists in Pakistan and his failure to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility by January as Mr. Obama had promised.
While Mr. Obama ended financing last year for a new nuclear warhead sought by the Bush administration, the new strategy goes further. It commits Mr. Obama to developing no new nuclear weapons, including a low-yield, deeply-burrowing nuclear warhead that the Pentagon sought to strike buried targets, like the nuclear facilities in North Korea and Iran. Mr. Obama, officials said, has determined he could not stop other countries from seeking new weapons if the United States was doing the same.
Still, some of Mr. Obama’s critics in his own party say the change is symbolic because he is spending more to improve old weapons.
At the center of the new strategy is a renewed focus on arms control and nonproliferation agreements, which were largely dismissed by the Bush administration. That includes an effort to win passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was defeated during the Clinton administration and faces huge hurdles in the Senate, and revisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to close loopholes that critics say have been exploited by Iran and North Korea.
Mr. Obama’s reliance on new, non-nuclear Prompt Global Strike weapons is bound to be contentious. As described by advocates within the Pentagon and in the military, the new weapons could achieve the effects of a nuclear weapon, without turning a conventional war into a nuclear one. As a result, the administration believes it could create a new form of deterrence — a way to contain countries that possess or hope to develop nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, without resorting to a nuclear option.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH: Jurisdiction of Water Act
on: March 01, 2010, 06:55:26 AM
This POTH (NYT) article is written in a highly biased way, but the question remains about the environmental contamination and pollution.
Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.
Outside the Law
Articles in this series are examining the worsening pollution in America’s waters and regulators’ responses.
As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising.
Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.
The Clean Water Act was intended to end dangerous water pollution by regulating every major polluter. But today, regulators may be unable to prosecute as many as half of the nation’s largest known polluters because officials lack jurisdiction or because proving jurisdiction would be overwhelmingly difficult or time consuming, according to midlevel officials.
“We are, in essence, shutting down our Clean Water programs in some states,” said Douglas F. Mundrick, an E.P.A. lawyer in Atlanta. “This is a huge step backward. When companies figure out the cops can’t operate, they start remembering how much cheaper it is to just dump stuff in a nearby creek.”
“This is a huge deal,” James M. Tierney, the New York State assistant commissioner for water resources, said of the new constraints. “There are whole watersheds that feed into New York’s drinking water supply that are, as of now, unprotected.”
The court rulings causing these problems focused on language in the Clean Water Act that limited it to “the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters” of the United States. For decades, “navigable waters” was broadly interpreted by regulators to include many large wetlands and streams that connected to major rivers.
But the two decisions suggested that waterways that are entirely within one state, creeks that sometimes go dry, and lakes unconnected to larger water systems may not be “navigable waters” and are therefore not covered by the act — even though pollution from such waterways can make its way into sources of drinking water.
Some argue that such decisions help limit overreaching regulatory efforts.
“There is no doubt in my mind that when Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 they intended it to have broad regulatory reach, but they did not intend it to be unlimited,” said Don Parrish, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s senior director of regulatory relations, who has lobbied on Clean Water issues.
But for E.P.A. and state regulators, the decisions have created widespread uncertainty. The court did not define which waterways are regulated, and judicial districts have interpreted the court’s decisions differently. As regulators have struggled to guess how various courts will rule, some E.P.A. lawyers have established unwritten internal guidelines to avoid cases in which proving jurisdiction is too difficult, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former E.P.A. officials.
The decisions “reduce E.P.A.’s ability to do what the law intends — to protect water quality, the environment and public health,” wrote Peter S. Silva, the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for the Office of Water, in response to questions.
About 117 million Americans get their drinking water from sources fed by waters that are vulnerable to exclusion from the Clean Water Act, according to E.P.A. reports.
The E.P.A. said in a statement that it did not automatically concede that any significant water body was outside the authority of the Clean Water Act. “Jurisdictional determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis,” the agency wrote. Officials added that they believed that even many streams that go dry for long periods were within the act’s jurisdiction.
But midlevel E.P.A. officials said that internal studies indicated that as many as 45 percent of major polluters might be either outside regulatory reach or in areas where proving jurisdiction is overwhelmingly difficult.
Page 2 of 2)
And even in situations in which regulators believe they still have jurisdiction, companies have delayed cases for years by arguing that the ambiguity precludes prosecution. In some instances, regulators have simply dropped enforcement actions.
Outside the Law
In the last two years, some members of Congress have tried to limit the impact of the court decisions by introducing legislation known as the Clean Water Restoration Act. It has been approved by a Senate committee but not yet introduced this session in the House. The legislation tries to resolve these problems by, in part, removing the word “navigable” from the law and restoring regulators’ authority over all waters that were regulated before the Supreme Court decisions.
But a broad coalition of industries has often successfully lobbied to prevent the full Congress from voting on such proposals by telling farmers and small-business owners that the new legislation would permit the government to regulate rain puddles and small ponds and layer new regulations on how they dispose of waste.
“The game plan is to emphasize the scary possibilities,” said one member of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which has fought the legislation and is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders and other groups representing industries affected by the Clean Water Act.
“If you can get Glenn Beck to say that government storm troopers are going to invade your property, farmers in the Midwest will light up their congressmen’s switchboards,” said the coalition member, who asked not to be identified because he thought his descriptions would anger other coalition participants. Mr. Beck, a conservative commentator on Fox News, spoke at length against the Clean Water Restoration Act in December.
The American Land Rights Association, another organization opposed to legislation, wrote last June that people should “Deluge your senators with calls, faxes and e-mails.” A news release the same month from the American Farm Bureau Federation warned that “even rainwater would be regulated.”
“If you erase the word ‘navigable’ from the law, it erases any limitation on the federal government’s reach,” said Mr. Parrish of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “It could be a gutter, a roadside ditch or a rain puddle. But under the new law, the government gets control over it.”
Legislators say these statements are misleading and intended to create panic.
“These claims just aren’t true,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland. He helped push the bill through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “This bill,” he said, “is solely aimed at restoring the law to what it covered before the Supreme Court decisions.”
The consequences of the Supreme Court decisions are stark. In drier states, some polluters say the act no longer applies to them and are therefore refusing to renew or apply for permits, making it impossible to monitor what they are dumping, say officials.
Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, N.M., for instance, recently informed E.P.A. officials that it no longer considered itself subject to the act. It dumps wastewater — containing bacteria and human sewage — into a lake on the base.
More than 200 oil spill cases were delayed as of 2008, according to a memorandum written by an E.P.A. official and collected by Congressional investigators. And even as the number of facilities violating the Clean Water Act has steadily increased each year, E.P.A. judicial actions against major polluters have fallen by almost half since the Supreme Court rulings, according to an analysis of E.P.A. data by The New York Times.
The Clean Water Act does not directly deal with drinking water. Rather, it was meant to regulate the polluters that contaminated the waterways that supplied many towns and cities with tap water.
The two Supreme Court decisions at issue — Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 and Rapanos v. United States in 2006 — focused on the federal government’s jurisdiction over various wetlands. In both cases, dissenting justices warned that limiting the power of the federal government would weaken its ability to combat water pollution.
“Cases now are lost because the company is discharging into a stream that flows into a river, rather than the river itself,” said David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan who led the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department during the last administration.
In 2007, for instance, after a pipe manufacturer in Alabama, a division of McWane Inc., was convicted and fined millions of dollars for dumping oil, lead, zinc and other chemicals into a large creek, an appellate court overturned that conviction and fine, ruling that the Supreme Court precedent exempted the waterway from the Clean Water Act. The company eventually settled by agreeing to pay a smaller amount and submit to probation.
Some E.P.A. officials say solutions beyond the Clean Water Restoration Act are available. They argue that the agency’s chief, Lisa P. Jackson, could issue regulations that seek to clarify jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
Mrs. Jackson has urged Congress to resolve these issues. But she has not issued new regulations.
“E.P.A., with our federal partners, emphasized to Congress in a May 2009 letter that legislation is the best way to restore the Clean Water Act’s effectiveness,” wrote Mr. Silva in a statement to The Times. “E.P.A. and the Army Corps of Engineers will continue to implement our water programs to protect the nation’s waters and the environment as effectively as possible, including consideration of administrative actions to restore the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act.”
In the meantime, both state and federal regulators say they are prevented from protecting important waterways.
“We need something to fix these gaps,” said Mr. Tierney, the New York official. “The Clean Water Act worked for over 30 years, and we’re at risk of losing that if we can’t get a new law.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton, Federalist 12
on: March 01, 2010, 06:48:01 AM
"The prosperity of commerce is now perceived and acknowledged by all enlightened statesmen to be the most useful as well as the most productive source of national wealth, and has accordingly become a primary object of its political cares." --Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 12
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Spengler
on: February 28, 2010, 03:49:14 PM
The trouble is that Israel's strategic problem is usually presented in reductive terms: Iran (in the standard view) represents an existential threat to Israel in that it might get nuclear weapons; this would give it the capacity to destroy Israel, and therefore Israel must nip the existential threat in the bud. In this narrow framework, pushing back Iran's nuclear development by six to 18 months hardly seems worth the cost.
Iran's perceived attempt to acquire nuclear weapons, though, is not Israel's problem as such; the problem is that Israel is the ally of a superpower that does not want to be a superpower, headed by a president with a profound emotional attachment to a nostalgic image of the Third World. If America were in fact acting like a superpower, the problem would not have arisen in the first place, for the United States would use its considerably greater resources to destroy Iran's nuclear program.
Rather than focus on the second-order effect - the consequences of Iran's possible acquisition of nuclear weapons - Israeli analysts should consider the primary issue, namely the strategic zimzum  of the United States. The correct questions are: 1) can Israel act as a regional superpower independently of the United States, and 2) what would Israel do to establish its regional superpower status?
The answer to the first question obviously depends on the second. To act as a regional superpower, Israel would have to take actions that shift the configuration of forces in its favor. No outside analyst has sufficient information to judge the issue - with the best of information a great deal of uncertainty is inevitable - but there are several reasons to believe that an Israeli attack on Iran would establish the Jewish state as an independent superpower and compel the United States to adjust its policy to Israel's strategic requirements.
First, the Sunni Arab states have a stronger interest than Israel's to stop Iran from possibly going nuclear. Israel, after all, possesses perhaps two hundred deliverable nuclear devices, including some very big thermonuclear ones, and is in position to wipe Iran off the map. But none of Iran's Arab rivals is in such a position. The Saudis have done everything but take out a full-page ad in the Washington Post to encourage the Obama administration to attack Iran. Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, warned on February 15 that sanctions were a long-term measure while the world faces a short-term threat from Iran. Egypt reportedly has allowed Israeli missile ships to pass through the Suez Canal en route to the Persian Gulf.
Secondly, Russia well might prefer to deal with Israel as an independent regional power than as an ally of the United States. A stronger Israeli presence in the region also might contribute to Russia's market share in missiles and eventually fighter aircraft. Russian-Israeli cooperation in a number of military fields has improved markedly during the past year, including the first-ever sale of Israeli weapons to Russia (drones) and Israeli help for the Russian-Indian "fifth generation" fighter project.
Third, the United States would have to respond to a new strategic situation in the Middle East were Israel to inflict even moderate damage on Iran's nuclear program. The consequences would include, among other things:
Aggressive retaliation by Iran against American targets in Iraq. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have opposed bombing of Iran for years in part because they fear that Iran could inflict significant casualties on American forces.
Stronger Iranian support for the Taliban. Washington's plan for Afghanistan depends in part on the fanciful notion that Iran will be persuaded to support the Shi'ite Hazara minority against the Pashtun Taliban. Iran has always played both sides and in the event of an Israeli strike would shift resources towards whatever America liked the least.
Greater tensions between Pakistan and Iran. Iran's credibility in the region depends on its perception of being the protector of Pakistan's 35 million Shi'ites, the second-largest concentration outside of the 70 million people of Iran.
To the extent Washington has a Middle East policy, it seems to involve playing balance-of-power games on the scale of the Mad Hatter's tea party, as I wrote at year-end (The life and premature death of the Pax Obamicana Asia Times Online, December 24, 2009). Whatever Washington thought it was doing would come unstuck in the wake of an Israeli strike against Iran. Rather than attempt to lead events - in no particular direction - Washington would have no choice except to follow until it arrived at its own foreign policy at some unspecified future date. Although Washington would scream like a scalded pig, Israel's influence is more likely to rise than to fall in the aftermath.
There are numerous variables I cannot possibly estimate, of which the most important have to do with the technical feasibility of a long-distance strike. The political variables are too fuzzy to pin down. The strategic framework in which a unilateral Israel strike on Tehran makes sense is one in which all depends on Israel's capacity to improvise and dominate the situation through a combination of force and unpredictability.
Once again, the words of my favorite character in American literature - Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op - come to mind: "Plans are all right sometimes ... And sometimes just stirring things up is all right - if you're tough enough to survive, and keep your eyes open so you'll see what you want when it comes to the top."
Full text: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LB18Ak01.html
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST
on: February 27, 2010, 04:47:41 PM
That is CERTAINLY to be kept in mind!
As are the facts that
a) the people weilding those knives have been training cutting skills for many years- with the same knife most of us could not do the same thing,;
b) those that knife cannot legally be carried in many jurisdictions due to blade length and that most attack knives (speaking only SWAG here) are not as big, as sharp, etc
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: superbug
on: February 27, 2010, 12:34:25 PM
A minor-league pitcher in his younger days, Richard Armbruster kept playing
baseball recreationally into his 70s, until his right hip started bothering
him. Last February he went to a St. Louis hospital for what was to be a
routine hip replacement. By late March, Mr. Armbruster, then 78, was dead.
After a series of postsurgical complications, the final blow was a
bloodstream infection that sent him into shock and resisted treatment with
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think my dad would walk in for a hip
replacement and be dead two months later,” said Amy Fix, one of his
Not until the day Mr. Armbruster died did a laboratory culture identify the
organism that had infected him: Acinetobacter baumannii. The germ is one of
a category of bacteria that by some estimates are already killing tens of
thousands of hospital patients each year. While the organisms do not receive
as much attention as the one known as MRSA — for methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus — some infectious-disease specialists say they could
emerge as a bigger threat. That is because there are several drugs,
including some approved in the last few years, that can treat MRSA. But for
a combination of business reasons and scientific challenges, the
pharmaceuticals industry is pursuing very few drugs for Acinetobacter and
other organisms of its type, known as Gram-negative bacteria. Meanwhile, the
germs are evolving and becoming ever more immune to existing antibiotics.
“In many respects it’s far worse than MRSA,” said Dr. Louis B. Rice, an
infectious-disease specialist at the Louis Stokes Cleveland V.A. Medical
Center and at Case Western Reserve University. “There are strains out there,
and they are becoming more and more common, that are resistant to virtually
every antibiotic we have.”
The bacteria, classified as Gram-negative because of their reaction to the
so-called Gram stain test, can cause severe pneumonia and infections of the
urinary tract, bloodstream and other parts of the body. Their cell structure
makes them more difficult to attack with antibiotics than Gram-positive
organisms like MRSA. Acinetobacter, which killed Mr. Armbruster, came to
wide attention a few years ago in infections of soldiers wounded in Iraq.
Meanwhile, New York City hospitals, perhaps because of the large numbers of
patients they treat, have become the global breeding ground for another
drug-resistant Gram-negative germ, Klebsiella pneumoniae. According to
researchers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, more than 20 percent of the
Klebsiella infections in Brooklyn hospitals are now resistant to virtually
all modern antibiotics. And those supergerms are now spreading worldwide.
Health authorities do not have good figures on how many infections and
deaths in the United States are caused by Gram-negative bacteria. The
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 1.7
million hospital-associated infections, from all types of bacteria combined,
cause or contribute to 99,000 deaths each year. But in Europe, where
hospital surveys have been conducted, Gram-negative infections are estimated
to account for two-thirds of the 25,000 deaths each year caused by some of
the most troublesome hospital-acquired infections, according to a report
released in September by health authorities there. To be sure, MRSA
remains the single most common source of hospital infections. And it is
especially feared because it can also infect people outside the hospital.
There have been serious, even deadly, infections of otherwise healthy
athletes and school children. !!!! By comparison, the drug-resistant
Gram-negative germs for the most part threaten only hospitalized patients
whose immune systems are weak. The germs can survive for a long time on
surfaces in the hospital and enter the body through wounds, catheters and
What is most worrisome about the Gram-negatives is not their frequency but
their drug resistance.
“For Gram-positives we need better drugs; for Gram-negatives we need any
drugs,” said Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious-disease specialist at
Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., and the author of
“Rising Plague,” a book about drug-resistant pathogens. Dr. Spellberg is a
consultant to some antibiotics companies and has co-founded two companies
working on other anti-infective approaches. Dr. Rice of Cleveland has also
been a consultant to some pharmaceutical companies.
Doctors treating resistant strains of Gram-negative bacteria are often
forced to rely on two similar antibiotics developed in the 1940s — colistin
and polymyxin B. These drugs were largely abandoned decades ago because they
can cause kidney and nerve damage, but because they have not been used much,
bacteria have not had much chance to evolve resistance to them yet.
“You don’t really have much choice,” said Dr. Azza Elemam, an
infectious-disease specialist in Louisville, Ky. “If a person has a
life-threatening infection, you have to take a risk of causing damage to the
Such a tradeoff confronted Kimberly Dozier, a CBS News correspondent who
developed an Acinetobacter infection after being injured by a car bomb in
2006 while on assignment in Iraq. After two weeks on colistin, Ms. Dozier’s
kidneys began to fail, she recounted in her book, “Breathing the Fire.”
Rejecting one doctor’s advice to go on dialysis and seek a kidney
transplant, Ms. Dozier stopped taking the antibiotic to save her kidneys.
She eventually recovered from the infection.
Even that dire tradeoff might not be available to some patients. Last year
doctors at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan published a paper describing
two cases of “pan-resistant” Klebsiella, untreatable by even the
kidney-damaging older antibiotics. One of the patients died and the other
eventually recovered on her own, after the antibiotics were stopped.
“It is a rarity for a physician in the developed world to have a patient die
of an overwhelming infection for which there are no therapeutic options,”
the authors wrote in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
In some cases, antibiotic resistance is spreading to Gram-negative bacteria
that can infect people outside the hospital. Sabiha Khan, 66, went to the
emergency room of a Chicago hospital on New Year’s Day suffering from a
urinary tract and kidney infection caused by E. coli resistant to the usual
oral antibiotics. Instead of being sent home to take pills, Ms. Khan had to
stay in the hospital 11 days to receive powerful intravenous antibiotics.
This month, the infection returned, sending her back to the hospital for an
additional two weeks.
Some patient advocacy groups say hospitals need to take better steps to
prevent such infections, like making sure that health care workers
frequently wash their hands and that surfaces and instruments are
disinfected. And antibiotics should not be overused, they say, because that
contributes to the evolution of resistance.
To encourage prevention, an Atlanta couple, Armando and Victoria Nahum,
started the Safe Care Campaign after their 27-year-old son, Joshua, died
from a hospital-acquired infection in October 2006. Joshua, a skydiving
instructor in Colorado, had fractured his skull and thigh bone on a hard
landing. During his treatment, he twice acquired MRSA and then was infected
by Enterobacter aerogenes, a Gram-negative bacterium.
“The MRSA they got rid of with antibiotics,” Mr. Nahum said. “But this one
they just couldn’t do anything about.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Iranian Saga Continues
on: February 26, 2010, 11:27:05 PM
Friday, February 26, 2010 STRATFOR.COM Diary Archives
The Iranian Saga Continues
THURSDAY WITNESSED A SERIES OF NEW WRINKLES in the ongoing Iran saga. For those readers who have been in a coma for the last three months, here is the abbreviated background.
Israel is a state so small that it could not likely survive a nuclear strike. It feels that Iran’s civilian nuclear power program is simply a mask for a more nefarious weapons project and wants it stopped by severe sanctions if possible, and military force if necessary. As Israel lacks the muscle to achieve this itself, it is attempting to pressure the Americans to handle the issue. Israel is reasonably confident it can so pressure Washington, simply because while Israel lacks the punch to certifiably end the Iranian program, it most certainly has the ability to start a war. Since Iran’s best means of retaliating would be to interrupt oil shipments in the Persian Gulf, the United States would have no choice but to get involved, regardless of its independent desires.
Ergo it was with significant interest that we watched the State Department’s daily press briefing, where State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters the following: “It is not our intent to have crippling sanctions that have a significant impact on the Iranian people. Our actual intent is actually to find ways to pressure the government while protecting the people.” The same day, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in Washington reiterating Israeli policy in support of the very same so-called “crippling sanctions.” While it may seem little more than semantics, the terminology here matters, especially to Israel — reports from Israel indicate that the Israeli Prime Minister’s office intends to follow up on the issue to ensure that the rejection of crippling sanctions does not constitute a policy shift.
Our first thought was not far from the Israelis’ — that the Americans were taking a step back from sanctions. But when we re-evaluated, we noted that in recent weeks many of the other players that would be required to make sanctions work — Germany, Russia and China most notably — have been acting a bit peculiar. We are hardly to the point where we think that the various players are getting down to the brass tacks of sanctions details, but there is little doubt that the Americans have been making incremental progress in that direction. Still, they are far from achieving sanctions that would meet Israel’s definition of “crippling.”
“If there is a single state that must be on board for sanctions to work, it is Russia.”
Which made us even more interested to see sanctions-busting rhetoric out of none other than Brazil. Brazil and Iran are literally about as far as two states can be from each other on this planet, but Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is on a bit of an Iran kick. Iran is hoping that when Lula travels to Iran for a formal state visit in May he will go beyond the rhetoric and invite Iranian banks to operate in Brazil, an action that allows them to partially circumvent whatever financial sanctions are already in place.
STRATFOR is admittedly puzzled by this preoccupation with Iran, as it does not seem to grant Brazil (or Lula) any benefit. Lula is not a rabid leftist, but instead a relatively moderate statesman. Brazil and Iran hold minimal bilateral trade or investment interests. Brazilian energy powerhouse Petroleos Brasilieros (Petrobras) recently left projects in Iran, ostensibly because of lack of opportunity (though the threat of U.S. retaliation hovered in the air). And any possible political gains are questionable at least. While we acknowledge that twisting the American tail can earn major kudos in international fora, getting in the way of what is becoming a core American foreign policy initiative can be a dangerous place to be. Additionally, Lula is on his way out of the presidency and does not need to curry favor with an already enthusiastic Brazilian public. In fact, some groups in Brazil have openly challenged his Iranian policy. U.S. State Department senior personnel, including Under Secretary of State William J. Burns as well as his boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have already blocked out time to convince Lula to walk away from this fight.
Yet even if the United States can convince states such as Brazil — not to mention China — that tough words on Iran must give way to tough action, it is not as if Iran lacks its own means of reshaping the equation. Most notably, Iranian influence would be felt in Iraq.
On Thursday, Washington leaked that the man in charge of implementing military strategy in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, had asked for additional American forces to remain in Iraq beyond U.S. President Barack Obama’s August withdrawal deadline. Specifically, Odierno fears — with a substantial number of reasons — that the northern city of Kirkuk could explode into violence if U.S. forces leave too soon.
The Kurds have been the sectarian group in Iraq that has proven most helpful to the Americans, and they hope that in time Kirkuk will serve not only as Iraq’s northern oil capital, but as the Kurdish regional capital as well. If the U.S. commander in charge of the withdrawal has already petitioned the president for more troops in the part of the country that is most secure, one can only imagine what the situation is like in the south where Iran’s influence is palpable.
Finally, let us end with a point on those as yet unrealized sanctions. If there is a single state that must be on board for them to work, it is Russia. Russia has sufficient financial access to the Western world to sink any banking sanctions, plus sufficient spare refining capacity and access to transport infrastructure to make any gasoline sanctions a politically expensive exercise in futility.
But Russia does not work for free, and Thursday Moscow clarified just how important it thinks it has become. Thursday Russia explicitly extended its nuclear umbrella to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, the five other states in its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). While CSTO is a pale, pale shadow of its NATO counterpart, the Kremlin’s announcement was a not-so-subtle reminder that Russia not only has nuclear weapons — as opposed to any, at present, purely theoretical Iranian nuclear weapons — but that (at least on paper) it is willing to use such weapons to protect what the Kremlin sees as its turf.
Ultimately the Russians are willing to toss the Iranians aside, but only if the price is right. Thursday they gave a pretty clear idea of just what that price is: full American acquiescence to their desired sphere of influence. And with Russian influence continuing to rise in the former Soviet Union — earlier this week Ukrainian authorities certified the election of a pro-Moscow president, fully overturning the Orange Revolution of five years ago — it is a price that is likely to only increase in the months ahead.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Infiltration
on: February 26, 2010, 02:53:38 PM
Infiltration: What a tangled web Islamist appointees weave. When his pro-terrorist quotes surfaced, a new White House envoy dismissed them as someone else's. A recording says otherwise.
Now Rashad Hussain, President Obama's pick as special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has changed his story. He admits he did indeed call the indictment of a now-convicted terrorist a "travesty of justice."
Politico.com has provided the quotes from a recording of the 2004 event attended by Hussain to the White House for review. In it, Hussain defended confessed terrorist Sami Al-Arian, suggesting the government had railroaded him. A Florida professor, Al-Arian was running a U.S. beachhead for Palestinian terrorists. In a plea deal, he copped to a reduced charge of conspiracy to provide material support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a federally designated terror group. In a speech at a Cleveland mosque, Al-Arian once thundered: "Let's damn America, let's damn Israel, let's damn their allies until death."
When the controversy first broke, the White House deferred to the spin of Hussain and the Mideast outfit that scrubbed the offending statements from its Web site. Turns out the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs, a Saudi-tied, anti-Israel journal that sells Intifada trinkets, deleted his remarks after receiving a phone call from Hussain. WRMEA once employed Al-Arian's daughter as a staffer. Thanks to the recording, there's now no denying what Hussain said. After this deception, Obama should change his pick for envoy, who would join the OIC, a 57-government Islamic bloc, the largest voting bloc in the U.N.
The OIC is waging an international campaign against "Islamophobia," calling it the real "terrorism." The bloc's assault on free speech includes pressuring the West into passing laws criminalizing criticism of Islam, including motives of jihadists like Al-Arian.
It's plain that Hussain, who also has bashed the Patriot Act and other key anti-terror tools, cannot be trusted to represent U.S. interests vis-a-vis the OIC.
What's more, there are reports linking him to the radical Muslim Brotherhood, of which Al-Arian is a senior member. The Brotherhood has hatched a secret plot to infiltrate the U.S. government and "destroy" it "from within," and has erected an impressive infrastructure supporting terrorism inside America.
In a raid of Al-Arian's home, federal agents seized a document in Arabic revealing a Brotherhood plan for "spying" on U.S. agencies.
"Members of the group should be able to infiltrate the sensitive intelligence agencies or the embassies in order to collect information and build close relationships with the people in charge in these establishments," the paper advises Brotherhood leaders in America.
So far with this White House, the bad guys are finding it shockingly easy to put their agents in place.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: February 26, 2010, 11:26:38 AM
Reports have come out in recent days that more than half of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership has been arrested. However, most of these reports have come from unverifiable sources in the Pakistani government, making these claims dubious. Islamabad has every reason to want to appear supportive of the United States’ goals in Afghanistan while simultaneously positioning itself for control over the country when U.S. forces withdraw.
Seven of the 15 members of the so-called Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban’s shadowy apex leadership council based in the Pashtun corridor of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, have been arrested according to a Feb. 24 report in the Christian Science Monitor, a U.S. newspaper, citing unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials. According to this report, in addition to the previously reported arrests of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Maulavi Abdul Kabir and Mullah Muhammad Younis, Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir, who oversees the movement’s military affairs, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhunzada and Mullah Abdul Raouf were also arrested.
Only about half of these arrests have thus far been confirmed in any way. But more importantly, the composition of the Quetta Shura is itself a closely guarded secret. Only Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has the sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the Afghan Taliban to even have a good grasp of the council’s members, so reports from unnamed officials are extremely difficult to verify. No one has a master list of the Afghan Taliban leadership with which to check off individuals.
Even if all these men have indeed been arrested, it is difficult to say whether the Quetta Shura has really been reduced significantly, or — in many cases — if the individuals arrested are actually those they are thought to be. Almost all reports on the details of the arrests cite Pakistani security officials, and there is no way to independently verify them. Islamabad has incentive to show that it is cooperating with the United States, while at the same time reshaping the Afghan Taliban leadership landscape to suit its own long-term purposes.
This most recent leak comes as Pakistan has publicized a string of intelligence coups ranging from the arrest of shadow Taliban governors from northern Afghanistan, to the death of the leader of Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ), Qari Zafar and a supporting role in the Iranian arrest of Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of Jundallah. Many aspects of these reports cannot be verified at this time, and given the lack of corroboration and Pakistan’s interests in manipulating perceptions, there is much to suggest that at least some element of Islamabad is feeding the media for its own purposes.
There is little doubt that there are at least partial truths to this series of reports, and that there have been some significant achievements. Baradar, for example, absolutely appears to be in Pakistani custody and may soon be transferred to a detention facility at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.
But there are a number of moving parts in the attempts to negotiate with the Taliban — or degrade its capabilities. Pakistan is playing a complex game, and one important question is the extent to which Pakistan is indeed cooperating and coordinating with the United States in a meaningful way, rather than simply making temporary or symbolic gestures. The Pakistanis are deeply skeptical of U.S. support in the long run, and they already are thinking about managing Afghanistan when the United States begins to draw down there in coming years.
However, there is an entire chapter of history to be written before that happens, and Pakistan has every intention of being at the center of any negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, including the talks, the reconciliation process and the implementation of a settlement. A spate of arrests like those of the Quetta Shura members — regardless of whether they actually have been taken out of commission — may indicate that some sort of power play is taking place. But such a development cannot be confirmed presently, and Islamabad has no shortage of reasons to manipulate perceptions.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / American corporatist state expanding its tentacles
on: February 26, 2010, 10:11:28 AM
Plan to Seek Use of U.S. Contracts as a Wage Lever
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: February 25, 2010
The Obama administration is planning to use the government’s enormous buying power to prod private companies to improve wages and benefits for millions of workers, according to White House officials and several interest groups briefed on the plan.
By altering how it awards $500 billion in contracts each year, the government would disqualify more companies with labor, environmental or other violations and give an edge to companies that offer better levels of pay, health coverage, pensions and other benefits, the officials said.
Because nearly one in four workers is employed by companies that have contracts with the federal government, administration officials see the plan as a way to shape social policy and lift more families into the middle class. It would affect contracts like those awarded to make Army uniforms, clean federal buildings and mow lawns at military bases.
Although the details are still being worked out, the outline of the plan is drawing fierce opposition from business groups and Republican lawmakers. They see it as a gift to organized labor and say it would drive up costs for the government in the face of a $1.3 trillion budget deficit.
“I’m suspicious of what the end goals are,” said Ben Brubeck, director of labor and federal procurement for Associated Builders and Contractors, which represents 25,000 construction-related companies. “It’s pretty clear the agenda is to give big labor an advantage in federal contracts.”
Critics also said the policy would put small businesses, many of which do not provide rich benefits, at a disadvantage. Furthermore, government officials would find it difficult to evaluate bidders using the new criteria and to determine whether one company’s compensation package should give it an edge, said Alan L. Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council, a coalition of 340 government contractors.
From his earliest days in office, President Obama has called for an overhaul of government procurement policy, citing the contracting scandals of the previous decade involving cost overruns and no-bid contracts.
“The president made it clear that he is committed to reforming government contracts to save taxpayers money while protecting workers and the environment,” a White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said. “The administration is currently gathering data and examining the best ways to do this.”
Two of Mr. Obama’s allies — John Podesta, the Clinton administration chief of staff who headed the president’s transition team, and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union — have repeatedly pressed the president to use procurement policy to push up wages and benefits.
In testimony last year to the Office of Management and Budget, Mr. Podesta said that 400,000 workers employed under federal contracts — like cafeteria workers, security guards and landscaping workers at federal buildings — earn less than $22,000 a year, the federal poverty line for a family of four, assuming just one paycheck in a household.
“We have a president who is talking about bringing more people into the middle class,” Mr. Stern said. “The government should expect contractors to obey the law, and at the same time contractors should not be building a poverty economy, but should be trying to build a high-road economy.”
The officials briefed on the plan said it was being developed by officials in the Office of Management and Budget, the White House Office of Legal Counsel, the Treasury, Justice and Labor Departments and the vice president’s Middle Class Task Force.
Even as business groups press the administration for more details, they are denouncing the plan, tentatively named the High Road Procurement Policy.
The Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, reported Feb. 4 that the plan would “heavily favor government contractors that implement policies designed by organized labor.”
Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president for labor at the United States Chamber of Commerce, called the plan a “warmed-over version” of President Bill Clinton’s regulations that sought to bar federal agencies from awarding contracts to companies with a record of breaking labor, environmental or consumer laws. President George W. Bush vacated those regulations soon after taking office.
“We strongly opposed the Clinton blacklist regulations,” Mr. Johnson said, “and this appears worse than that.”
On Feb. 2, Senator Susan Collins of Maine and four other Republican senators sent a letter to Peter R. Orszag, director of the White House budget office, saying, “We are concerned that the imposition of these requirements, during a time of significant economic turmoil in the private sector and tight federal budgets, could have serious, negative consequences, especially for our nation’s small businesses.”
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One signer was Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, who was one of the two main sponsors — the other was Senator Barack Obama — of a bill that sought to increase the transparency and accountability of federal contracting by requiring the government to create a data base of all federal contracts. President Bush signed it into law in 2007.
David Madland, director of the American Workers Project at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group founded by Mr. Podesta, argues the new policy could lower government costs, instead of raising them.
Many low-wage employees of federal contractors receive Medicaid and food stamps, he said. Citing studies conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and by academic researchers, he said that contractors that pay their employees well have greater productivity and reliability, while contractors with a record of labor law violations do shoddier construction work.
“This policy is good for workers, it’s good for taxpayers and it’s good for high-road businesses,” Mr. Madland said.
He said that one study done by the state of Maryland found that after the state began requiring bidders to pay a living wage, the number of bidders per contract rose by a third on average. Some higher-wage companies said they began seeking government bids because the new policy leveled the playing field.
One federal official said the proposed policy would encourage procurement officers to favor companies with better compensation packages only if choosing them did not add substantially to contract costs. As an example, he said, if two companies each bid $10 million for a contract, and one had considerably better wages and pensions than the other, that company would be favored.
Some supporters of the new procurement policy — and even some opponents — say Mr. Obama could impose it through executive order. They assert that the president has broad powers to issue procurement regulations, just as President John Kennedy did in requiring federal contractors to have companywide equal employment opportunity plans.
But some opponents argue that legislation would be needed because an executive order may collide with laws that require federal contractors to pay the prevailing regional wage for the type of work being done. The executive order, they fear, would call for higher wages.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: February 26, 2010, 07:33:48 AM
"Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." --James Madison
The health care summit is an "evil" trap"A mere three days before President Obama's supposedly bipartisan health-care summit, the White House [Monday] released a new blueprint that Democrats say they will ram through Congress with or without Republican support. So after election defeats in Virginia, New Jersey and even Massachusetts, and amid overwhelming public opposition, Democrats have decided to give the voters what they don't want anyway. Ah, the glory of 'progressive' governance and democratic consent. 'The President's Proposal,' as the 11-page White House document is headlined, is in one sense a notable achievement: It manages to take the worst of both the House and Senate bills and combine them into something more destructive. It includes more taxes, more subsidies and even less cost control than the Senate bill. And it purports to fix the special-interest favors in the Senate bill not by eliminating them -- but by expanding them to everyone. ... The larger political message of this new proposal is that Mr. Obama and Democrats have no intention of compromising on an incremental reform, or of listening to Republican, or any other, ideas on health care. They want what they want, and they're going to play by Chicago Rules and try to dragoon it into law on a narrow partisan vote via Congressional rules that have never been used for such a major change in national policy. If you want to know why Democratic Washington is 'ungovernable,' this is it." --The Wall Street Journal
"The state tends to expand in proportion to its means of existence and to live beyond its means, and these are, in the last analysis, nothing but the substance of the people. Woe to the people that cannot limit the sphere of action of the state! Freedom, private enterprise, wealth, happiness, independence, personal dignity, all vanish." --French economist Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850)
"People unfit for freedom -- who cannot do much with it -- are hungry for power. The desire for freedom is an attribute of a 'have' type of self. It says: leave me alone and I shall grow, learn, and realize my capacities. The desire for power is basically an attribute of a 'have not' type of self." --writer and philosopher Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
"The world is weary of statesmen whom democracy has degraded into politicians." --British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
"Offering 'comprehensive' reform usually means years of arguing and horse-trading among pressure groups to get anything done. By the time all the special interests are appeased or bought off, the resulting elephantine legislation typically looks nothing like what was intended. In short, big-government medicine usually doesn't work on big-government sickness. If President Obama wants 'comprehensive' change, it would be better simply not to spend any more money we don't have." --historian Victor Davis Hanson
"[Barack Obama failed to sell a health care reform plan to American voters] because the utter implausibility of its central promise -- expanded coverage at lower cost -- led voters to conclude that it would lead ultimately to more government, more taxes and more debt." --columnist Charles Krauthammer
"Don't ever let anyone tell you that history doesn't repeat. For 70 years, liberals have been spinning the yarn that FDR's New Deal, despite all the evidence that it exacerbated and prolonged the Great Depression, quickened our economic recovery. Indeed, I remember scratching my head when one of my college history professors in the 1970s tried to convince us of that theory and its corollary -- an even better howler -- that FDR was actually a conservative, because if he hadn't implemented his socialist programs, the republic would have died right there." --columnist David Limbaugh
"This is a perfect snapshot of the West at twilight. On the one hand, governments of developed nations microregulate every aspect of your life in the interests of 'keeping you safe.' ... On the other hand, when it comes to 'keeping you safe' from real threats, such as a millenarian theocracy that claims universal jurisdiction, America and its allies do nothing. ... It is now certain that Tehran will get its nukes, and very soon. This is the biggest abdication of responsibility by the Western powers since the 1930s." --columnist Mark Steyn
"In the early aftermath of the suicidal pilot's attack [in Austin], there was no evidence that Stack belonged to a Tea Party organization. In any case, no law-abiding Tea Party group would ever condone what he did. But it didn't stop the haters from immediately smearing advocates of limited government. And it's just the latest in a long line of calculated attempts to paint the vast majority of peaceful Tea Party activists as terrorist threats to civil society. ... The smear merchants, of course, are simply following Rahm Emanuel's advice to exploit every crisis." --columnist Michelle Malkin
"Why should we capitalists go green? To do so is simply to exchange our technological, industrial, and energy superiority for a lie. ... Capitalism is about progressing via the ingenuity and excellence of minds unfettered by government regulations and interference. But environmentalism based on the man-made global warming theory is about regressing from the advances that unfettered minds have made. It's also about pushing the government to regulate and interfere at every step along the way." --columnist AWR Hawkins
The definition of chutzpah: "After a decade of profligacy, the American people are tired of politicians who talk the talk but don't walk the walk when it comes to fiscal responsibility. It's easy to get up in front of the cameras and rant against exploding deficits. What's hard is actually getting deficits under control. But that's what we must do. Like families across the country, we have to take responsibility for every dollar we spend." --Barack Obama
Taxes are going up: "Everything's on the table. That's how this thing is going to work." --Barack Obama after creating a deficit commission on whether he would raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000 a year
Shut up, he explained: "They should stop crying about reconciliation as if it's never been done before." --Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (It's never been done on a bill of this magnitude before.)
"So I do believe that there is more fertile soil today than when we first took this up." --House Democrat Whip James Clyburn, of South Carolina, weighing in not on all those "shovel ready" supposed job-starting projects of the "stimulus" but on the Demo plan for the government takeover of U.S. medical care.
You don't say: "Health care has been knocking me around pretty good." --Barack Obama, who still hasn't learned his lesson
Speaking of being knocked around: "Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive." --Harry Reid ("Many observers have speculated that Reid is likely to lose his job at the end of the current term. ... Is something going to happen to Mrs. Reid if Nevadans don't re-elect this senator?")
Non sequitur: "We have countries like China, which don't have to go through the democratic processes that we do, that order factories to move to deal with their air pollution." --Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), urging his fellow senators to pass cap-n-tax
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: States Rights
on: February 26, 2010, 06:35:25 AM
I am enjoying this discussion.
I find I am wishing that this thread were part of the "Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters)" thread on our SC&H forum , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: February 26, 2010, 06:33:05 AM
Very glad to have you with us on this discussion and very interesting points about the militarization of the of humanitarian work.
The challenges here are daunting and it seems to me that our mission and the strategy to realize it are often unclear, inconsistent, and often inchoate.
As I understand it (and I am not sure that I have this correctly) our current strategy under CiC Obama is to win this war of essential national self-defense by enabling the ANP and the ANA in the next 16 months to be sufficiently far on a path to a self-sustaining winning trajectory towards establishing an Afg from which the Taliban will not enable attacks to be launched against the United States that we can begin reducing our troops there.
Do I have this right?
If so, IMHO we are delusional , , ,or we are simply going through a pretense by our CiC so he can say that he kept his campaign promise to fight in Afpakia. Then after our 18 month efforts do not succeed he gets to say "Well, we tried with our best but the central government is too weak, incoherent, and corrupt, and so, just like Iraq, we are going to leave. Anyway, Iran will soon have the nuclear bomb, so our position in the region is incoherent and untenable anyway."
I am in a mood.
Certainly we are led by fine, outstanding generals in Patraeus and McCrystal, and it appears that the Pak govt/ISI may be waking up to the fact that a Taliban Pashtunistan is an existential threat to their regime. Too bad that our Cic gave McC only 50% of the 40-60,000 troops he asked for and too bad he let everyone, including our enemies now, that we would begin leaving in 18 months.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NJ leads the way?
on: February 25, 2010, 06:27:08 PM
STEVE FORBES, Forbes.com "Fact and Comment" (02/25/10): Debt-plagued
Greece dominates the headlines, along with such other troubled countries
as Portugal, Italy and Spain. Here at home several states--led by
profligate California--and numerous municipalities are also teetering on
the edge of insolvency. In all of these cases the problem is excessive
spending. True, revenues are down because of the recession, and markets
are skittish about financing suspect debtors, in part because of the lack
of transparency concerning these borrowers' using possibly explosive
derivatives to paper over budget shortfalls. But ever more obese budgets
have put many governments on the brink of bankruptcy.
Disaster, however, is not inevitable: A bracing and, indeed, inspiring
example of what must be done is rising in New Jersey. Newly minted
Republican Governor Chris Christie, facing a fiscal disaster, is doing the
unthinkable: slashing spending and pushing for tax cuts as a way to revive
New Jersey's moribund economy.
Last month Christie told the Democrat-dominated legislature that he was
impounding more than $2 billion of this year's budget. The scythe is
wide-sweeping. "I am cutting spending in 375 different state programs,
from every corner of state government. I will use my executive authority
to implement [these cuts] now. [They] will eliminate our $2 billion budget
gap," Christie asserted to stunned lawmakers. His cuts are even bigger
than they sound. "Upon arrival my administration had $6 billion of
balances from which to find $2 billion of savings. We had to cut one-third
of our available funds with only four and a half months to go in the
While the reductions are huge, Christie was careful to use the scalpel,
not the meat axe. In education, for example, he does not take "one penny
from an approved school instructional budget. Not one dime out of the
classroom. Not one textbook left unbought. Not one teacher laid off. Not
one child's education compromised for one minute. Not one dollar of new
property taxes will be needed."
But the governor made it clear that ever more drastic surgery is needed in
next year's budget, which he will submit this month. The howls will then
be truly deafening.
School budgets will be hit hard as state aid is cut. But this dire
situation will finally force school districts--under the ever more
watchful eyes of tax-strapped parents--to cut bureaucratic bloat.
New Jersey's 566 cities and municipalities will also urgently do what they
should have done years ago--consolidate services across municipal lines.
The biggest push will be on pensions. "Pensions and benefits are the major
drivers of our spending increases at all levels of government--state,
county, municipal and school board," the governor declared. "The special
interests have already begun to scream their favorite word--which,
coincidentally, is my 9-year-old son's favorite word when we are making
him do something he knows is right but does not want to do--'unfair.' One
state retiree, 49 years old, paid, over the course of his entire career, a
total of $124,000 toward his retirement pension and health benefits. What
will we pay him? $3.3 million in pension payments over his life and nearly
$500,000 for health care benefits--a total of $3.8 million on a $120,000
investment. Is that fair?
"A retired teacher paid $62,000 toward her pension and nothing, yes
nothing, for full family medical, dental and vision coverage over her
entire career. What will we pay her? $1.4 million in pension benefits and
another $215,000 in health care benefit premiums over her lifetime. Is it
'fair' for all of us and our children to have to pay for this excess...?
Read on or post a comment:http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0315/opinions-fact-comment-steve-forbes-things-come.html