Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Politics of Health Care
on: September 18, 2007, 09:07:13 AM
There are two health related threads already on the SC&H forum, so I pause before starting a third one here. That said, I do start this thread here because it is obvious that health care is going to be a major theme in the Presidential campaign.
We kick the thread off with Karl Rove
Republicans Can Win on Health Care
A market-based system can give us freedom, innovation and health security.
BY KARL ROVE
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
All around America, families are grappling with health-care concerns. They wonder if they'll have insurance at a price they can afford. They worry about how much out-of-pocket health costs take from the family budget. They question if they'll be able to pick their own doctor. Some feel trapped in jobs they don't like out of fear of losing their health insurance.
As the latest government-heavy plan announced by Hillary Clinton yesterday once again shows, the answers politicians offer on health care highlight the deep differences between liberals and conservatives. This is a debate Republicans cannot avoid. But it is one we can win--if we offer a bold plan. Conservatives must put forward reforms aimed at putting the patient in charge. Increasing competition will ensure greater access, lower costs and more innovation.
Liberals see the concerns of families as a failure of private insurance, and want the U.S. to move toward a government-run, single-payer model. This is a recipe for making problems worse. Socialized medicine inevitably leads to poor quality, inefficiency, rising taxes and rationing. The waiting lines and poor care that cause people from other countries to come here for treatment are not the answer.
Government can help poorer and older Americans get quality health care without sacrificing what everyone wants--the ability to choose their own doctor and health coverage that meets their family's particular needs. What reforms will do that?
• Level the tax playing field. People who work for companies get a tax break on the health insurance they get from their employer. Many small business employees, farmers and the self-employed are unable to benefit from the same tax advantage, because they or their employers can't afford health insurance. It's not fair or wise to penalize people who have to pay for health insurance out of their own pockets. They should benefit from the same tax advantage employees from bigger companies get.
The mortgage interest deduction made it easier for people to own a home and all America benefited. Similarly, every worker should get a deduction for health-insurance premiums. This would ease the burden on working families and make it possible for millions more Americans to own health insurance. Some Republicans in Congress support a tax credit rather than a deduction: that's reasonable, too. A deduction or a credit puts patients in charge by helping them get private coverage that meets their needs.
• Tax-free savings for health costs. We are encouraged to save tax-free for retirement and college; we should make it easier to save tax-free for out-of-pocket medical expenses, too. Tax-free savings accounts, paired with low-cost catastrophic health insurance, make coverage affordable for working families. For example, a youth minister told me his Health Savings Account (HSA) gave his family peace of mind because they now had insurance coverage for big emergencies and could save tax-free for everyday health expenses.
That's why, in less than three years, more than 4.5 million families have set up HSAs. Some Democrats want to rein in HSAs because they fear HSAs put the individual--not government--in charge and once someone gets to pick a plan that meets their needs, they won't like being dictated to by government.
And when people see they can save money by eating better, exercising and making healthy lifestyle choices, guess what? They do. I met with workers at Wendy's Headquarters in Ohio who were eagerly taking steps to lead healthier lives because it saved them money.
• Portability. When you change jobs, you don't have to change auto insurance, but you may have to change your health insurance and even your doctor. That's important in a world where young Americans are likely to have 10 jobs before they are age 36. Too many people are locked into jobs they don't like out of fear they'll lose health coverage. The solution is obvious: People should be able to take their health insurance with them when they change jobs.
• Arming consumers through more competition. Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz.) argues that people should be able to buy health insurance issued by a company based in another state. Lack of interstate competition helps to explain why the same health policy costs $8,334 in North Dakota but $10,312 in South Dakota. If consumers in South Dakota could buy that North Dakota policy, prices for health insurance would go down.
• Pool risk, lower costs. Large companies get purchasing power and savings because they share risk across large numbers of employees. Sen. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) and Rep. Sam Johnson (R., Texas) believe small businesses should be able to join together to pool risk, too. It would mean more competition and lower costs, and more people able to afford coverage.
• Greater transparency.Today, patients rarely know what a procedure will cost or how good a clinic or hospital is, except by reputation and word of mouth. For example, a study of metropolitan hospitals found prices for services varied widely--by as much as 259%--even after controlling for geographic variations in the cost of doing business. Putting information about cost and quality in the hands of patients would lower the cost and improve the quality of health care. Patients making informed choices would create market pressures for lower prices and better care.
• Stop junk lawsuits. I've heard sad stories from doctors and patients. The doctor who had to close her clinic in her hometown and move across the state to work at a hospital that would pay her rising liability insurance premiums. The head trauma specialist afraid that when he retired, his community in one of the poorest regions in the country couldn't attract a replacement. The pregnant woman who drove 80 miles from home in Las Vegas to get prenatal care.
Communities are losing talented health-care professionals who simply can't afford the bigger liability premiums caused by frivolous lawsuits. More than 48% of all counties in the U.S. have no ob-gyn physicians. Hospitals are finding it tougher to provide obstetrics, emergency room care or neurosurgery because of frivolous lawsuits. And doctors, afraid of lawsuits, practice "defensive medicine," ordering unnecessary tests and procedures which add to the cost of health care.
Whose interest does that really serve? If we want richer trial lawyers, let them keep filing junk lawsuits we all pay for. If we want better health care, curb frivolous lawsuits.
• Build on the progress already made by putting patients in charge and letting competition work. When Congress considered prescription drug coverage under Medicare, Democrats tried to have government set prices and deliver the drugs. When the Congressional Budget Office estimated the first year's monthly premium for seniors would be $35, Democrats tried to lock in that price.
Republicans disagreed, arguing competition would lower prices and provide more choices. They were right: Competition led to more options and an average monthly premium of around $23--an annual savings of $144 in the first year. Competition continues to save seniors (and taxpayers) money. When the bill passed, independent actuaries estimated the monthly premium for 2008 would be $41. Recently, Medicare officials announced that the 2008 average monthly premium will be around $25. Seniors would have paid over $4 billion more in prescription drug premiums the first two years of the program had Democrats mandated a $35 monthly premium. Taxpayers are saving also: This past January, the actuaries projected that the prescription drug benefit will cost $113 billion less over the next 10 years than estimated the previous year, primarily because of competition and low bids.
In short, the best health reform proposals will be those that recognize and build on the virtues of our market-based medical system. Sick people around the world come here because they can't get quality care in their home countries. Many health-care professionals come here to practice, leaving behind well-meaning health-care systems where government is in charge, bureaucrats make the decisions, and where the patient doesn't have the choice he or she does in the U.S.
Mrs. Clinton may think Americans want to trade freedom and innovation for the illusory security of government regulation and surrender control of their health decisions to government bureaucrats. My bet is 2008 will teach us something different if Republicans make health care a centerpiece issue.
Mr. Rove recently left the White House, where he was an adviser to President Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: September 18, 2007, 09:02:43 AM
Second post of the day. From the WSJ:
Israel's silence on Syria speaks volumes.
BY BRET STEPHENS
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
In the late spring of 2002 the American press reported that Israel had armed its German-made submarines with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. In Israel, this was old news. It was also headline news.
"Washington Post: Israeli subs have nuclear cruise missiles," was how the Jerusalem Post, of which I was then the editor, titled its story of June 16. It wasn't as if we didn't previously know that Israel had purchased and modified the German subs for purposes of strategic deterrence. Nor did we delight in circumlocutions. We simply needed the imprimatur of a foreign source to publish items that Israel's military censors (who operate as if the Internet doesn't exist) forbade us from reporting forthrightly.
So it's more than a little telling that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz chose, in the wake of an Israeli Air Force raid on Syria on Sept. 6 dubbed "Operation Orchard," to give front-page billing to an op-ed by John Bolton that appeared in this newspaper Aug. 31. While the article dealt mainly with the six-party talks with North Korea, Mr. Bolton also noted that "both Iran and Syria have long cooperated with North Korea on ballistic missile programs, and the prospect of cooperation on nuclear matters is not far-fetched." He went on to wonder whether Pyongyang was using its Middle Eastern allies as safe havens for its nuclear goods while it went through a U.N. inspections process.
How plausible is this scenario? The usual suspects in the nonproliferation crowd reject it as some kind of trumped-up neocon plot. Yet based on conversations with Israeli and U.S. sources, along with evidence both positive and negative (that is, what people aren't saying), it seems the likeliest suggested so far. That isn't to say, however, that plenty of gaps and question marks about the operation don't remain.
What's beyond question is that something big went down on Sept. 6. Israeli sources had been telling me for months that their air force was intensively war-gaming attack scenarios against Syria; I assumed this was in anticipation of a second round of fighting with Hezbollah. On the morning of the raid, Israeli combat brigades in the northern Golan Heights went on high alert, reinforced by elite Maglan commando units. Most telling has been Israel's blanket censorship of the story--unprecedented in the experience of even the most veteran Israeli reporters--which has also been extended to its ordinarily hypertalkative politicians. In a country of open secrets, this is, for once, a closed one.
The censorship helps dispose of at least one theory of the case. According to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Israel's target was a cache of Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah. But if that were the case, Israel would have every reason to advertise Damascus's ongoing violations of Lebanese sovereignty, particularly on the eve of Lebanon's crucial presidential election. Following the January 2002 Karine-A incident--in which Israeli frogmen intercepted an Iranian weapons shipment bound for Gaza--the government of Ariel Sharon wasted no time inviting reporters to inspect the captured merchandise. Had Orchard had a similar target, with similar results, it's doubtful the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert--which badly needs to erase the blot of last year's failed war--could have resisted turning it into a propaganda coup.
Something similar goes for another theory, this one from British journalist Peter Beaumont of the Observer, that the raid was in fact "a dry run for attack on Iran." Mr. Beaumont is much taken by a report that at least one of the Israeli bombers involved in the raid dropped its fuel tanks in a Turkish field near the Syrian border.
Why Israel apparently chose to route its attack through Turkey is a nice question, given that it means a detour of more than 1,000 miles. Damascus claims the fuel tank was discarded after the planes came under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, which could be true. But if Israel is contemplating an attack on Tehran's nuclear installations--and it is--it makes no sense to advertise the "Turkish corridor" as its likely avenue of attack.
As for the North Korean theory, evidence for it starts with Pyongyang. The raid, said one North Korean foreign ministry official quoted by China's Xinhua news agency, was "little short of wantonly violating the sovereignty of Syria and seriously harassing the regional peace and security." But who asked him, anyway? In August, the North Korean trade minister signed an agreement with Syria on "cooperation in trade and science and technology." Last week, Andrew Semmel, the acting counterproliferation chief at the State Department, confirmed that North Korean technicians of some kind were known to be in Syria, and that Syria was "on the U.S. nuclear watch list." And then there is yesterday's curious news that North Korea has abruptly suspended its participation in the six-party talks, for reasons undeclared.
That still leaves the question of just what kind of transfers could have taken place. There has been some speculation regarding a Syrian plant in the city of Homs, built 20 years ago to extract uranium from phosphate (of which Syria has an ample supply). Yet Homs is 200 miles west of Dayr az Zawr, the city on the Euphrates reportedly closest to the site of the attack. More to the point, uranium extraction from phosphates is a commonplace activity (without it, phosphate is hazardous as fertilizer) and there is a vast gulf separating this kind of extraction from the enrichment process needed to turn uranium into something genuinely threatening.
There is also a rumor--sourced to an unnamed expert in the Washington Post--that on Sept. 3 a North Korean ship delivered some kind of nuclear cargo to the Syrian port of Tartus, forcing the Israelis to act. That may well be accurate, though it squares awkwardly with the evidence that plans for Orchard were laid months ago.
More questions will no doubt be raised about the operational details of the raid (some sources claim there were actually two raids, one of them diversionary), as well as fresh theories about what the Israelis were after and whether they got it. The only people that can provide real answers are in Jerusalem and Damascus, and for the most part they are preserving an abnormal silence. In the Middle East, that only happens when the interests of prudence and the demands of shame happen to coincide. Could we have just lived through a partial reprise of the 1981 Israeli attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor? On current evidence, it is the least unlikely possibility.
Mr. Stephens is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. His column appears in the Journal Tuesdays.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: September 18, 2007, 08:54:33 AM
Former IDF officer Yoni on what Israel's up to in Syria, and what Syria and Iran's up to regarding Israel.
Monday, September 17, 2007 at 11:43 PM
Read Article & Comments (0) Trackbacks Post Your Comments
Hugh Hewitt: That music means Yoni joins us, www.yonitheblogger.com
, if you want to read his blog, many years in the Israeli defense services, now in the Pacific Northwest. Yoni, good to talk to you.
YT: How are you, Hugh?
HH: Did you have a good Rosh Hashanah?
YT: I had a great Rosh Hashanah.
HH: Well, I’m glad to hear that. And now, what did the Israelis do, and when did they do it?
YT: What we did on the 6th of September is we inserted elite ground troops into Syria on the eastern side of Syria near the Euphrates River in a region that’s called Deir Ez-Zour, and these elite units on the ground assisted a flight of F-15s in destroying two locations in Syria. One location, which nobody is talking about anymore, was a major weapons depot of weapons that had been shipped from Iran to Syria, for then trans-shipment into Lebanon to Hezbollah, which included long range missiles that could hit the whole state of Israel. And the second location was a facility that was storing equipment that had arrived in Syria on the 3rd of September from North Korea that was nuclear weapons components.
HH: Now what kind of components would they be sending through to Syria, on their way to Iran, I assume?
YT: No, on their way to Syria.
HH: What is…Syria doesn’t have a program, do they?
YT: Syria’s trying to jump start a program.
HH: Now first of all, tell us your sources for this stuff.
YT: Guys I used to work with.
HH: All right. And so this is not…you’ll see some of this hinted at in the write-up in the Times of London, et cetera. So are you in trouble for discussing this on the air?
YT: No, enough of it’s leaked out that…you know, I mean, we’re fine.
HH: Now talk to me a little bit about what you mean by jump start. What were they trying to build? What did they have there? Do you know?
YT: That, no, I don’t know, other than my friend said components that would lead them to be able to put together nuclear weapons. I think, reading between the lines, what they are trying to do is bring in the components that they could then just assemble, and have a ready bomb, rather than trying to produce, like Iran is trying to produce, from the ground up. They were wanting to get kind of, you know, a do-it-yourself kit from North Korea, and put it together, and then hit Israel.
HH: Now given this, does this tip the hand of the Israelis, vis-à-vis Iran, as Iran gets closer?
YT: Oh, yes and no. I mean, Iran is today, they’ve threatened us that they could hit us with 600 missiles, which is just an empty threat, because they’re scared to death, because Iran and Syria, late spring, early summer, I don’t recall the exact time frame, both purchased from Russia the same so-called state of the art air defense system.
HH: And you just took it down easily?
YT: We just went through it like it wasn’t even there.
HH: Now how did that happen? Is that because of stealth technology? Or did they do something on the ground?
YT: That I’m not going to get into.
HH: Okay. The sum and substance of this popular support in Israel for the action?
YT: Oh, absolutely. Look, we did two things in one week that herald the bad days are potentially behind us. We did this raid into Syria, and in addition to that, we had undercover troops go into Gaza and grab one of the main guys behind the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, the soldier that was kidnapped and taken into Gaza.
HH: I missed that entirely.
YT: Well, you don’t go to www.yonitheblogger.com
HH: When did that happen?
YT: The same week, the first week of September, as the air raid.
HH: And what branch of the service did that?
YT: The IDF, the ground forces. We have elite units, and what they did is they went in dressed up as Arabs on donkey carts, and were able to get close to the guy, grabbed him, and then a helicopter pops up over the fence and sets down in the open area, and picks everybody up and back to Israel they go.
HH: And what are they going to do with him? Trade him?
YT: Well, let’s just say right now, we’re getting information from him.
HH: And it’s been how long since the change at Defense? Obviously, I’m not talking about Barak’s return, but the new chief of staff.
YT: It’s been now, oh, maybe nine months.
HH: And so what’s the impact on the armed services?
YT: Huge, huge. Guys are training like they’re supposed to. Guys that haven’t trained in seven, eight years that we put into combat last summer now are back to training like they’re supposed to. We’re spending a lot of money getting them new equipment. You know, the situation, you wouldn’t know it from the American media, but as we speak, Israel is at the highest state of alert that we can be.
YT: Because of massive Syrian troop movements, because Assad’s brother-in-law and some of the top generals told Assad that he has to hit Israel back for what we did, or they will take action. Well, we know in an Arab country what that means. They’ll just take him out behind the palace and put a bullet in his head. So things are pretty hectic, and we’ve got, you know, troops were not sent home for Rosh Hashanah, nor will they be sent home for Yom Kippur. Things are at a very high state of alert right now.
HH: But I check Ha’aretz every day. It’s not really evident from that, is it, that they’re…
YT: We have military censors.
HH: Oh, I’d forgotten that.
YT: There are things that when it pertains to state security, that they won’t publish inside Israel.
HH: And so what is the threat level right now, you think, in Israel?
YT: I think, well, if we’re at the highest, if our forces are at the highest stage of alert, the threat level is very high.
HH: And so, what I’m getting at, how routine is that level of alert?
YT: It’s not routine at all. I mean, when you’ve got extra aircraft in the air, we have got extra aircraft with pilots sitting in the seats on the runways, when you’ve got soldiers in the thousands that you would have sent home for the holiday, and you keep them there, I mean, that causes a huge inconvenience to families, because you don’t get to see your kids often enough when they’re in the military. You know, your kids are out running for three days straight without sleep across the desert and things like that, it’s a huge inconvenience.
HH: We will then be watching www.yonitheblogger.com
. Thanks, Yoni.
End of interview.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: September 18, 2007, 08:36:02 AM
Agreed-- but IMHO the thought process needs to go much further than this initial step.
Question: Assume we succeed in finding/pressuring out a goodly percentage of the 12 million illegals and send them back to from whence they came-- which in the overwhelming majority of cases is Mexico.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN MEXICO?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: September 18, 2007, 08:22:57 AM
I share this criticism of President Bush. His failure (via Rumbo) to listen to his generals who told him they would need more boots on the ground was foolish. His failure to respond to the facts on the ground as they developed was either arrogant-- or fear of the political consequences. Even Sen. Kerry was calling for an increase of 40,000 for the Army during the 2004 elections, but Bush kept saying everything was hunky dory. A HUGE ERROR, the consequences of which are documented daily on this forum.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela
on: September 18, 2007, 08:16:18 AM
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Threatens to Take Over Private Schools
Monday, September 17, 2007
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez threatened on Monday to take over any private schools refusing to submit to the oversight of his socialist government, a move some Venezuelans fear will impose leftist ideology in the classroom.
All Venezuelan schools, both public and private, must submit to state inspectors enforcing the new educational system. Those that refuse will be closed and nationalized, Chavez said.
A new curriculum will be phased in during this school year, and new textbooks are being developed to help educate "the new citizen," added Chavez's brother and education minister Adan Chavez in their televised ceremony on the first day of classes.
Just what the curriculum will include and how it will be applied to all Venezuelan schools and universities remains unclear.
But one college-level syllabus obtained by The Associated Press shows some premedical students already have a recommended reading list including Karl Marx's "Das Kapital" and Fidel Castro's speeches, alongside traditional subjects like biology and chemistry.
The syllabus also includes quotations from Chavez and urges students to learn about slain revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Colombian rebel chief Manuel Marulanda, whose leftist guerrillas are considered a terrorist group by Colombia, the U.S. and European Union.
Venezuelan officials defend the program at the Latin American Medical School — one in a handful of state-run colleges and universities that emphasize socialist ideology — as the new direction of Venezuelan higher education.
"We must train socially minded people to help the community, and that's why the revolution's socialist program is being implemented," said Zulay Campos, a member of a Bolivarian State Academic Commission that evaluates compliance with academic guidelines.
"If they attack us because we're indoctrinating, well yes, we're doing it, because those capitalist ideas that our young people have — and that have done so much damage to our people — must be eliminated," Campos said.
Now some critics worry that primary and secondary schoolchildren will be indoctrinated as well.
Chavez's efforts to spread ideology throughout society is "typical of communist regimes at the beginning" in Russia, China and Cuba — and is aimed at "imposing a sole, singular vision," sociologist Antonio Cova said.
But Adan Chavez said the goal is to develop "critical thinking," not to impose a single philosophy.
More than eight years after President Chavez was first elected, the curriculum at most Venezuelan schools remains largely unchanged, particularly in private schools commonly attended by middle- and upper-class children.
Anticipating criticism, Chavez noted that a state role in regulating education is internationally accepted in countries from Germany to the United States.
Chavez said all schools in Venezuela must comply with the "new Bolivarian educational system," named after South American liberation leader Simon Bolivar and Chavez's socialist movement.
Discussing the new curriculum, he said it would help students develop values of "cooperation and solidarity" while learning critical reflection, dialogue and volunteer work.
Previous Venezuelan educational systems carried their own ideology, Chavez said. Leafing through old texts from the 1970s during his speech, he pointed out how they referred to Venezuela's "discovery" by Europeans.
"They taught us to admire Christopher Columbus and Superman," Chavez said.
Education based on capitalist ideology has corrupted children's values, he said. "We want to create our own ideology collectively — creative, diverse." Chavez said Venezuelans — not Cubans as opponents suggest — have been drawing up the new curriculum, but added that Venezuela could always accept Cuban help in the future.
Venezuela has more than 160 universities and colleges, most of which maintain their independence. Leftist ideology is already part of the curriculum at seven different state universities. But encouraging students nationwide to read up on Guevara, Castro and Friedrich Engels' speech before Marx's tomb would be something new entirely.
About 20 of the 400 foreign pre-med students have dropped out of the Latin American Medical School near Caracas. Among them was Gabriel Gomez Guerrero, 22, of Colombia, who was shocked that the syllabus counts Marulanda among "important Latin American thinkers" to be studied. The head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is his government's public enemy No. 1.
"They aren't going to introduce that man to me as a 'Latin American thinker,'" Gomez said. "They may brainwash other people, but not me."
School director Sandra Moreno said nobody is being brainwashed — the idea is simply to provide a foundation in Latin American affairs. And Ana Montenegro, a program coordinator who helped create the syllabus, said it was a mistake to describe Marulanda that way, but that the course program will continue to evolve and improve.
Many of the remaining students describe themselves as socialists and say no one is pressuring them.
"They don't impose what we have to learn," said Roberto Leal, a 30-year-old Brazilian. "If we don't agree with something, we express our opinion."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: September 17, 2007, 09:09:58 PM
Second post of the day:
Mexico Security Memo: Sept. 17, 2007
September 17, 2007 20 47 GMT
Simple, Sustainable Operations
This past week began with an increasingly common incident: a bomb attack carried out by the leftist guerrilla group Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR). Like a series of bombings in July, this incident targeted oil and natural gas pipelines controlled by state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos. In a statement released a day after the bombings, the group claimed responsibility for what it said were 12 explosive devices placed on pipelines in Veracruz and Tlaxcala states Sept. 10 and said further attacks would come. Following the July pipeline attacks and incidents in Oaxaca and Chiapas states, Stratfor observed that EPR had increased its operational tempo and that similar attacks were likely. If the group follows the previous pattern, more attacks will follow in the next several weeks.
This latest bombing further demonstrates how effective EPR has become in its operations. The absence of malfunctioning devices suggests that the group has at least one skilled bombmaker, and the lack of significant investigative leads or arrests by authorities suggests that the group is small and practices good tradecraft in both planning and carrying out the operations it selects, which are simple bombings against soft targets that require few resources. EPR has demonstrated that it is capable of reaching targets anywhere in Mexico, since it had not previously conducted attacks in Veracruz or Tlaxcala. This latest bombing also reinforces the conclusion that EPR will continue to conduct attacks designed to minimize human casualties.
Public Attacks & Beheadings
The northern city of Monterrey, in Nuevo Leon state, was the scene of more drug violence this past week when two federal agents were killed and two were wounded in a gunbattle that also wounded two civilians. The attack in broad daylight was the first significant firefight in the metropolitan area since an attack against a police station in May. The agents in this case had recently arrived as the first part of a group of 1,300 federal agents to carry out "important arrests" of narcotics traffickers in the city. The cartel members to be arrested were likely tipped off by corrupt law enforcement sources and staged a very public attack against the four agents in order to warn federal authorities not to get too close during their deployment in the city. The strategy might have worked; no significant arrests have been reported so far during the operation.
Other high-profile attacks were made against police officials in San Luis Potosi and Taxco, in Guerrero state. The Taxco incident is noteworthy, since this small touristy town has not been the scene of significant drug violence recently, though it is located on a federal highway important for moving drug shipments. The attack also offers an example of the brutality involved in Mexican drug violence, since the police officer abducted in the attack was later beheaded. Another beheading occurred in the neighboring state of Michoacan just a few days later. Nearly everyone kidnapped by drug gangs in Mexico can expect to be tortured before being killed, but as a form of torture, beheadings are still rare. Although most beheadings in Mexico occur after the victim is killed, the practice is still a powerful technique for intimidating authorities.
A series of bombings claimed by the Popular Revolutionary Army damaged oil and natural gas pipelines in Veracruz and Tlaxcala states. No one was injured in the blasts.
Security around the Ninth Military Zone headquarters in Sinaloa state has been increased over the last several months following death threats against commanding officer Gen. Rolando Eugenio Hidalgo Eddy, local media reported.
Authorities discovered the body of a municipal police commander in Veracruz, Veracruz state, who had been kidnapped the night before.
A firefight in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, left two federal agents dead and two wounded. The agents reportedly were attempting to flee from two vehicles that were following them, but were cornered in a gas station where a 20-minute gunbattle ensued.
Officials in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, reported two killings related to organized crime. The two unidentified victims had been shot several times.
The body of an unidentified man was found floating in the Gulf of California. He had been stabbed several times and appeared to have been dropped out of an airplane.
Gunmen in several vehicles armed with assault rifles opened fire on a municipal police station in Taxco, Guerrero state, kidnapping one police officer who was later found beheaded.
Three high-ranking police commanders from Baja California and Baja California Sur states were arrested by agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix for illegally purchasing weapons at a gun show several days before, U.S. officials announced.
A federal agent was ambushed by a group of gunmen and wounded while he was driving his vehicle in Mexico City.
The public security director for the state of San Luis Potosi was shot dead by gunmen as he was driving his vehicle. His wife and son, who also were in the vehicle, were unharmed in the attack, in which gunmen fired more than 40 rounds.
The son of a labor union boss in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon state, died after being shot several times while driving his vehicle in the Monterrey suburb. He survived a previous attempt on his life in 1998.
Authorities in Hidalgo state discovered the body of a ministerial police commander assigned to a counternarcotics unit in the city of Pachuca. He had been strangled and stabbed in the neck.
Michoacan state officials discovered the decapitated body of a man wrapped in a plastic bag in the city of Los Reyes.
A police officer in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state, was shot dead by gunmen as he left his home to go to work. A police spokesman said the officer had recently received death threats.
The Mexican navy seized 2.5 tons of cocaine and detained four suspects from a small boat off the coast of Michoacan state. The operation reportedly began after a U.S. aircraft reported a suspicious vessel outside of Mexican territorial waters.
A Mexican soldier and his brother were shot dead while traveling on a highway near Acapulco, in Guerrero state. The gunmen opened fire on the soldier's vehicle after following them. Another brother was killed by drug traffickers several days before.
An unidentified man was killed in Tijuana, Baja California state, and his body dumped along a street.
Federal agents near Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, arrested Fernando Cabrera Juarez, described as the liaison between the Juarez cartel and South American drug gangs. The agents making the arrest reportedly cooperated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as Cabrera fled to Mexico after escaping from U.S. custody.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: September 17, 2007, 09:06:38 PM
Sorry to dump so much reading on everyone so fast, but sometimes life is like that:
Geopolitical Diary: A Shift in Iran's Calculus?
September 18, 2007 02 00 GMT
Paris added some oomph into a U.S. campaign against Iran on Monday when French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the world must prepare for war over Iran's nuclear policies. Kouchner's remarks triggered a fiery statement from Tehran, which brandished the new French presidency as a U.S. copycat bent on impressing the White House. As the Iranians rather cheekily put it, "the French people will never forget the era when a non-European moved into the Elysee."
In the last few days a number of European states have taken a far firmer position against things Iranian -- in particular Iran's nuclear program -- than ever before. Under pro-American Nicolas Sarkozy, France -- once the bastion of pro-Iranian sentiment in Europe under Jacques Chirac -- has openly warned of war as the logical consequence of the Iranian program should circumstances not change. On Monday the Netherlands threw its support behind a growing movement in the European Union for sanctions, specifically noting that should the United Nations prove unable to enact them, the European Union is morally obligated to.
The only notable European state that so far has held back from threatening war against the Iranians is Germany, which holds the lion's share of European investment into and trade with Iran. But even there the situation is starkly different from two years ago, when Gerhard Schroeder ruled. Not only is Angela Merkel's Germany far more willing to consider Washington's point of view, European sanctions against Iran would censure Iran's primary nuclear supplier -- Russia -- in a way that would likely avoid a major dust up. As Germany (gently) reasserts its supremacy in Europe, such fights without pain are an excellent means of garnering credibility and momentum.
With all this war and sanctions talk circulating on the European continent, Iran is longing for the early days of the Iraq war, when it could adroitly manipulate the divide between the United States and Europe. Back then, when the Iran-EU-3 talks were still in play, Iran used the nuclear negotiations a way to buy time to further its nuclear program and bargain with the United States over political concessions it was seeking in Iraq.
But with Europe shifting its mood and the United States using every opportunity to remind Tehran that a military option is still on the table, the Iranians are now looking at a very uncertain future. At this time, it would be useful to re-examine Iran's Iraq policy moving forward.
Before the delivery of Gen. David Petraeus' Iraq report, the expectation was that U.S. President George W. Bush had lost his fighting power against Congress, and that a withdrawal was all but imminent. The celebrations in Tehran could be heard across the Atlantic as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced to the world that Iran was preparing to fill the vacuum in Iraq.
And then came the buzz kill.
Despite repeated declarations that Iraq had barely reached one out of 18 political and security benchmarks, Bush responded to Petraeus' surprisingly optimistic report by declaring that the United States would remain committed to Iraq (Iraq's Sunni community in particular.) Troop levels would gradually decrease, but Iran would be staring at U.S. forces across the border for a long, long time. In short, Bush was setting an Iraq agenda for a long-term, robust troop presence that would extend well beyond his own presidency.
Iran now has loads to reconsider. A long-term troop presence in Iraq and continued U.S. support for Iraq's Sunni community not only complicates Iran's plans to consolidate its gains in Iraq, but also puts Iran in a very uncomfortable situation in which it faces a constant security threat from the United States across its border. Moreover, the nuclear dossier can be seized by Washington (as well as the Europeans) at any time to make a case for military action against Iran. Tehran might be feeling confident that the United States lacks the bandwidth to carry out an attack against Iran now, but give it two, three years, and Tehran's clerical regime will be living in a cloud of uncertainty while being boxed in by the United States on both its western and eastern borders in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.
Now Tehran must decide whether it is still worth its while to negotiate an Iraq settlement with the United States, bet that it will not underestimate the U.S. a third time, and wager that enough pain can be inflicted on U.S. troops and enough chaos can perpetuate in Baghdad to force the United States into leaving the region. The Iranians still have a number of options at hand moving forward, but the decision-making process just got a lot trickier.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People
on: September 17, 2007, 08:57:07 PM
Originally Posted by Lott
John R. Lott Jr.: D.C. Handgun Ban
Friday , September 14, 2007
By John R. Lott Jr.
Is banning handguns a "reasonable regulation"? The District of Columbia certainly hopes that the Supreme Court thinks so.
D.C. filed a brief last week asking the U.S. Supreme Court to let it keep its 1976 handgun ban, but how the city argued its case was what was most surprising. Instead of spending a lot of time arguing over what the constitution means, the city largely made a public policy argument. D.C. argues that whatever one thinks about the Second Amendment guaranteeing people a right to own guns, banning handguns should be allowed for public safety reasons.
Claiming that the Second Amendment doesn't protect individual rights might be a tough sell, but the city's public safety argument will be at least as tough. After the ban, D.C.'s murder rate only once fell below what it was in 1976. From 1977 to 2003, there were only two years when D.C.'s violent crime rate fell below the rate in 1976. After the ban, DC’s murder and violent rates rose relative to Maryland and Virginia as well as relative to other cities with more than 500,000 people.
But it is not just D.C. that has experienced increases in murder and violent crime after guns are banned. Chicago also experienced an increase after its ban in 1982. Island nations supposedly present ideal environments for gun control because it is relatively easy for them to control their borders, but countries such as Great Britain, Ireland, and Jamaica have experienced large increases in murder and violent crime after gun bans. For example, after handguns were banned in 1997, the number of deaths and injuries from gun crime in England and Wales increased 340 percent in the seven years from 1998 to 2005.
Passing a gun ban simply doesn't mean that we are going to get guns away from criminals. The real problem is that if it is the law-abiding good citizens who obey these laws and not the criminals, criminals have less to fear and crime can go up.
D.C.’s brief makes a number of other claims:
The ban comes "nowhere close to disarmament of residents. The District's overwhelming interest in reducing death and injury caused by handguns outweighs respondent's asserted need . . . ." The obvious key here is that DC says people can use rifles and shotguns for self-defense. D.C. also adds that they don't believe that the regulations that lock up and require the disassembling of guns does not "prevent the use of a lawful firearm in self-defense."
But locked guns are simply not as readily accessible for defensive gun uses. In the U.S., states that require guns be locked up and unloaded face a 5 percent increase in murder and a 12 percent increase in rapes. Criminals are more likely to attack people in their homes and those attacks are more likely to be successful.
Since potentially armed victims deter criminals, storing a gun locked and unloaded actually encourages increased crime.
— "All too often, handguns in the heat of anger turn domestic violence into murder."
To put it bluntly, criminals are not your typical citizens. Few people should be fearful of those who they are in relationshipswith. Almost 90 percent of adult murders already have a criminal record as an adult. As is well known, young males from their mid-teens to mid-thirties commit more than their share of crime, but even this is categorization can be substantially narrowed. We know that criminals tend to have low IQ’s as well as atypical personalities. For example, delinquents generally tended to be more “assertive, unafraid, aggressive, unconventional, extroverted, and poorly socialized,” while non-delinquents are “self-controlled, concerned about their relations with others, willing to be guided by social standards, and rich in internal feelings like insecurity, helplessness, love (or its lack), and anxiety.” Other evidence indicates that criminals tend to be more impulsive and put relatively little weight on future events. Finally, we cannot ignore the unfortunate fact that crime (particularly violent crime even more so murder) is disproportionately committed against blacks and by blacks.
— "handguns cause accidents, frequently involving children. The smaller the weapon, the more likely a child can use it, and children as young as three years old are strong enough to fire today's handguns."
Accidental gun deaths among children are, fortunately, much rarer than most people believe. With 40 million children in the United States under the age of 10, the Centers for Disease Control indicates that there were just 20 accidental gun deaths in 2003. 56 children under the age of 15. While guns get most of the attention, children are 41 times more likely to die from accidental suffocation, 32 times more likely to accidentally drown and 20 times more likely to die as a result of accidental fires. Looking at all children under 15, there were 56 accidental gun deaths in 2003— still a fraction of the deaths resulting from these other accidents for only the younger children.
Despite the image of children firing these guns and killing themselves or other children, the typical person who accidentally fires a gun is an adult male, usually in his 20s. Accidental shooters overwhelmingly have problems with alcoholism and long criminal histories, particularly arrests for violent acts. They are also disproportionately involved in automobile crashes and are much more likely to have had their driver's licenses suspended or revoked. Even if gun locks could stop children from using guns, gun locks are simply not designed to stop adult males from firing their own guns — even if they were to use the gun locks.
Of course, D.C. makes other claims as well, but the city’s crime problems and the fact that they began after the gun ban are hardly a secret. After the ban, D.C. regularly ranked number one in murder rates for cities over 500,000 people. That wasn’t even close to being true before the ban. The fact that D.C. must argue that the gun ban reduced the murder rate shows how incredibly weak the city's case really is.
*John Lott is the author of the book "Freedomnomics," and is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: September 17, 2007, 08:47:58 PM
This may answer some of your questions.
Iraq: Coming Down on the Contractors
September 17, 2007 17 36 GMT
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said it suspended Blackwater USA's license to operate in the country Sept. 17 following an incident in Baghdad that left at least eight civilians dead. Whatever Blackwater's fate, security contractors will remain essential to the U.S. effort in Iraq. But the move bodes ill for the security contractors, both in Baghdad and Washington.
Security contractor Blackwater USA reportedly had its license to operate in Iraq suspended after an incident involving the deaths of at least eight civilians in the Mansour district of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Sept. 17. The U.S. contractor recently has been involved in a standoff with Iraqi troops.
Incidents of security contractors using excessive force are nothing new in Iraq. But this latest incident could represent a turning point for the issue -- both in Baghdad and Washington.
Some 30,000 security contractors in Iraq provide everything from mundane perimeter security at key infrastructure sites to personal security details for high-value targets like Gen. David Petraeus, who normally would be protected by U.S. military personnel. (In peacetime, Delta soldiers would be covering Petraeus). With the U.S. military stretched as thin as it is, security contractors of all types help keep U.S. troops free for frontline military operations.
Blackwater has profited greatly from this situation. Its business model has allowed it to offer volume pricing to the CIA and the State Department because of its ability to recruit and train large numbers of employees to fill demand for security contractor services.
Despite increased attention from the Iraqi government, a complete withdrawal of security contractors from Iraq is simply not in the cards, especially given U.S. moves to begin drawing down troops levels later in 2007. Though the fortunes of specific companies in Iraq could rise and fall, security contractors will continue to be needed in Iraq as long as U.S. troops remain in the country.
But the contractors' working environment could soon become much less comfortable. The timing of this most recent incident comes at a crucial juncture for the Bush administration. The turning of the tide -- both in Iraq and the United States -- might now provide an impetus for enforcing standards of conduct on the contractors. This has previously been legislated and mandated, but never enforced. Who will do the monitoring and enforcing remains an open question, however. Given how thin U.S. agencies are stretched, no one in Iraq really has the bandwidth to monitor -- much less enforce -- any kind of standards of conduct on security contractors.
And in addition to laying another mission at the feet of the U.S. military or another agency with its hands already too full in Iraq, any attempt to move toward monitoring and enforcement inevitably will churn up past incidents -- and there are plenty to look back on. In two days in late May, for instance, Blackwater contractors killed a civilian driver (the contractors might have used appropriate escalation of force) in a contentious incident and also saw the contractors wind up in a standoff with Iraqi security forces. A U.S. military convoy had to intervene to settle the incident. This dredging process will become ugly.
Iraqi civilians universally revile the force and aggression these firms often use, since they most often bear the brunt of it. Regardless of whether the latest grievance is legitimate, the history of animosity is there. Though hardly all security contractors have used excessive force, this largely is beside the point. The abuses of some security contractors mean no Iraqi politician or government agency is going to stand up for them. They are a particularly unpopular element of an already painfully unpopular war.
For Iraq's political leadership -- whether Sunni or Shiite -- going after the contactors represents a means of publicly challenging the occupation and appearing to address an issue that transcends sectarian divisions without touching on the issue of foreign military forces.
On the other side of the world, security contractors will not be easy to defend politically. Indeed, as the White House attempts to distance itself from Blackwater due to investigations into financial misconduct, security contractors could find themselves without a political ally -- making them easy prey for a Democratic Party trying to walk a fine line between opposing the war in Iraq while supporting U.S. troops and appearing tough on defense.
But even if the party as a whole does not aggressively pursue the issue, the issue offers individual senators and representatives -- Democratic and Republican alike -- in trouble with their constituencies to come down hard on the war. The Democrats, already on thin ice with the party's large anti-war constituency, in particular will not rein in these individual members of Congress. For security contractors, the streets of Washington could soon become as unfriendly as the streets of Baghdad.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why
on: September 17, 2007, 07:46:23 PM
Buz, GM, anyone:
Any comments on my Red October post of earlier today?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Red October
on: September 17, 2007, 03:37:31 PM
Red October: Russia, Iran and Iraq
By George Friedman
The course of the war in Iraq appears to be set for the next year. Of the four options we laid out a few weeks ago, the Bush administration essentially has selected a course between the first and second options -- maintaining the current mission and force level or retaining the mission but gradually reducing the force. The mission -- creating a stable, pro-American government in Baghdad that can assume the role of ensuring security -- remains intact. The strategy is to use the maximum available force to provide security until the Iraqis can assume the burden. The force will be reduced by the 30,000 troops who were surged into Iraq, though because that level of force will be unavailable by spring, the reduction is not really a matter of choice. The remaining force is the maximum available, and it will be reduced as circumstances permit.
Top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus and others have made two broad arguments. First, while prior strategy indeed failed to make progress, a new strategy that combines aggressive security operations with recruiting political leaders on the subnational level -- the Sunni sheikhs in Anbar province, for example -- has had a positive impact, and could achieve the mission, given more time. Therefore, having spent treasure and blood to this point, it would be foolish for the United States not to pursue it for another year or two.
The second argument addresses the consequence of withdrawal. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice summed it up in an interview with NBC News. "And I would note that President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad said if the United States leaves Iraq, Iran is prepared to fill the vacuum. That is what is at stake here," she said. We had suggested that the best way to contain Iran would be to cede Iraq and defend the Arabian Peninsula. One reason is that it would release troops for operations elsewhere in the world, if needed. The administration has chosen to try to keep Iraq -- any part of it -- out of Iranian hands. If successful, this obviously benefits the United States. If it fails, the United States can always choose a different option.
Within the region, this seems a reasonable choice, assuming the political foundations in Washington can be maintained, foundations that so far appear to be holding. The Achilles' heel of the strategy is the fact that it includes the window of vulnerability that we discussed a few weeks ago. The strategy and mission outlined by Petraeus commits virtually all U.S. ground forces to Iraq, with Afghanistan and South Korea soaking up the rest. It leaves air and naval power available, but it does not allow the United States to deal with any other crisis that involves the significant threat of ground intervention. This has consequences.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attended a meeting of the Iranian-Russian Joint Economic Commission in Moscow over the weekend. While in the Russian capital, Mottaki also met with Russian Atomic Energy Chief Sergei Kiriyenko to discuss Russian assistance in completing the Bushehr nuclear power plant. After the meeting, Mottaki said Russian officials had assured him of their commitment to complete the power plant. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said, "With regards to the Bushehr power plant, we have reached good understanding with the Russians. In this understanding a timetable for providing nuclear fuel on time and inaugurating this power plant has been fixed." While the truth of Russian assurances is questionable -- Moscow has been mere weeks away from making Bushehr operational for the better part of the last three years, and is about as excited about a nuclear-armed Iran as is Washington -- the fact remains that Russian-Iranian cooperation continues to be substantial, and public.
Mottaki also confirmed -- and this is significant -- that Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit Tehran on Oct. 16. The occasion is a meeting of the Caspian Sea littoral nations, a group that comprises Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. According to the Iranians, Putin agreed not only to attend the conference, but also to use the visit to confer with top Iranian leaders.
This is about the last thing the United States wanted the Russians to do -- and therefore the first thing the Russians did. The Russians are quite pleased with the current situation in Iraq and Iran and do not want anything to upset it. From the Russian point of view, the Americans are tied down in an extended conflict that sucks up resources and strategic bandwidth in Washington. There is a similarity here with Vietnam. The more tied down U.S. forces were in Vietnam, the more opportunities the Soviets had. Nowadays, Russia's resources are much diminished compared with those of the Soviets -- while Russia has a much smaller range of interest. Moscow's primary goal is to regain a sphere of influence within the former Soviet Union. Whatever ambitions it may dream of, this is the starting point. The Russians see the Americans as trying to thwart their ambitions throughout their periphery, through support for anti-Russian elements via U.S. intelligence.
If the United States plans to stay in Iraq until the end of the Bush presidency, then the United States badly needs something from the Russians -- that they not provide arms, particularly air-defense systems, to the Syrians and especially the Iranians. The Americans need the Russians not to provide fighter aircraft, modern command-and-control systems or any of the other war-making systems that the Russians have been developing. Above all else, they want the Russians not to provide the Iranians any nuclear-linked technology.
Therefore, it is no accident that the Iranians claimed over the weekend that the Russians told them they would do precisely that. Obviously, the discussion was of a purely civilian nature, but the United States is aware that the Russians have advanced military nuclear technology and that the distinction between civilian and military is subtle. In short, Russia has signaled the Americans that it could very easily trigger their worst nightmare.
The Iranians, fairly isolated in the world, are being warned even by the French that war is a real possibility. Obviously, then, they view the meetings with the Russians as being of enormous value. The Russians have no interest in seeing Iran devastated by the United States. They want Iran to do just what it is doing -- tying down U.S. forces in Iraq and providing a strategic quagmire for the Americans. And they are aware that they have technologies that would make an extended air campaign against Iran much more costly than it would be otherwise. Indeed, without a U.S. ground force capable of exploiting an air attack anyway, the Russians might be able to create a situation in which suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD, the first stage of a U.S. air campaign) would be costly, and in which the second phase -- battle against infrastructure -- could become a war of attrition. The United States might win, in the sense of ultimately having command of the air, but it could not force a regime change -- and it would pay a high price.
It also should not be forgotten that the Russians have the second-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The Russians very ostentatiously announced a few weeks ago that their Bear bombers were returning to constant patrol. This amused some in the U.S. military, who correctly regard the Bear as obsolete. They forget that the Russians never really had a bomber force designed for massive intercontinental delivery of nuclear devices. The announcement was a gesture -- and reminder that Russian ICBMs could easily be pointed at the United States.
Russia obviously doesn't plan a nuclear exchange with the United States, although it likes forcing the Americans to consider the possibility. Nor do the Russians want the Iranians to gain nuclear weapons. What they do want is an extended conflict in Iraq, extended tension between Iran and the United States, and they wouldn't much mind if the United States went to war with Iran as well. The Russians would happily supply the Iranians with whatever weapons systems they could use in order to bleed the United States a bit more, as long as they are reasonably confident that those systems would not be pointed north any time soon.
The Russians are just as prepared to let the United States have a free hand against Iran and not pose any challenges while U.S. forces are tied down in Iraq. But there is a price and it will be high. The Russians are aware that the window of opportunity is now and that they could create nightmarish problems for the United States. Therefore, the Russians will want the following:
In the Caucasus, they want the United States to withdraw support for Georgia and force the Georgian government to reach an accommodation with Moscow. Given Armenian hostility to Turkey and closeness to Russia, this would allow the Russians to reclaim a sphere of influence in the Caucasus, leaving Azerbaijan as a buffer with Iran.
In Ukraine and Belarus, the Russians will expect an end to all U.S. support to nongovernmental organizations agitating for a pro-Western course.
In the Baltics, the Russians will expect the United States to curb anti-Russian sentiment and to explicitly limit the Baltics' role in NATO, excluding the presence of foreign troops, particularly Polish.
Regarding Serbia, they want an end to any discussion of an independent Kosovo.
The Russians also will want plans abandoned for an anti-ballistic-missile system that deploys missiles in Poland.
In other words, the Russians will want the United States to get out of the former Soviet Union -- and stay out. Alternatively, the Russians are prepared, on Oct. 16, to reach agreements on nuclear exchange and weapons transfers that will include weapons that the Iranians can easily send into Iraq to kill U.S. troops. Should the United States initiate an air campaign prior to any of this taking effect, the Russians will increase the supply of weapons to Iran dramatically, using means it used effectively in Vietnam: shipping them in. If the United States strikes against Russian ships, the Russians will then be free to strike directly against Georgia or the Baltic states, countries that cannot defend themselves without American support, and countries that the United States is in no position to support.
It is increasingly clear that Putin intends to reverse in practice, if not formally, the consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union. He does not expect at this point to move back into Central Europe or engage in a global competition with the United States. He knows that is impossible. But he also understands three things: First, his armed forces have improved dramatically since 2000. Second, the countries he is dealing with are no match for his forces as long as the United States stays out. Third, staying out or not really is not a choice for the United States. As long as it maintains this posture in Iraq, it is out.
This is Putin's moment and he can exploit it in one of two ways: He can reach a quiet accommodation with the Americans, and leave the Iranians hanging. Conversely, he can align with the Iranians and place the United States in a far more complex situation than it otherwise would be in. He could achieve this by supporting Syria, arming militias in Lebanon or even causing significant problems in Afghanistan, where Russia retains a degree of influence in the North.
The Russians are chess players and geopoliticians. In chess and geopolitics, the game is routine and then, suddenly, there is an opening. You seize the opening because you might never get another one. The United States is inherently more powerful than Russia, save at this particular moment. Because of a series of choices the United States has made, it is weaker in the places that matter to Russia. Russia will not be in this position in two or three years. It needs to act now.
Therefore, Putin will go to Iran on Oct. 16 and will work to complete Iran's civilian nuclear project. What agreements he might reach with Iran could given the United States nightmares. If the United States takes out Iran's nuclear weapons, the Russians will sympathize and arm the Iranians even more intensely. If the Americans launch an extended air campaign, the Russians will happily increase the supply of weapons even more. Talk about carpet-bombing Iran is silly. It is a big country and the United States doesn't have that much carpet. The supplies would get through.
Or the United States can quietly give Putin the sphere of influence he wants, letting down allies in the former Soviet Union, in return for which the Russians will let the Iranians stand alone against the Americans, not give arms to Middle Eastern countries, not ship Iran weapons that will wind up with militias in Iraq. In effect, Putin is giving the United States a month to let him know what it has in mind.
It should not be forgotten that Iran retains an option that could upset Russian plans. Iran has no great trust of Russia, nor does it have a desire to be trapped between American power and Russian willingness to hold Iran's coat while it slugs things out with the Americans. At a certain point, sooner rather than later, the Iranians must examine whether they want to play the role of the Russian cape to the American bull. The option for the Iranians remains the same -- negotiate the future of Iraq with the Americans. If the United States is committed to remaining in Iraq, Iran can choose to undermine Washington, at the cost of increasing its own dependence on the Russians and the possibility of war with the Americans. Or it can choose to cut a deal with the Americans that gives it influence in Iraq without domination. Iran is delighted with Putin's visit. But that visit also gives it negotiating leverage with the Americans. This remains the wild card.
Petraeus' area of operations is Iraq. He may well have crafted a viable plan for stabilizing Iraq over the next few years. But the price to be paid for that is not in Iraq or even in Iran. It is in leaving the door wide open in other areas of the world. We believe the Russians are about to walk through one of those doors. The question in the White House, therefore, must be: How much is Iraq worth? Is it worth recreating the geopolitical foundations of the Soviet Union?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: September 17, 2007, 02:12:58 PM
I'm guessing that most of these people are Muslims, so I post this piece from yesterday's LA Times in this thread:
Iranians in U.S. face a choice -- to speak out, or not
Genaro Molina / LAT
USC professor Muhammad Sahimi canceled a trip to Iran after hearing Ali Shakeri was held
Some openly lobby for a change in Iran; others are cautious, preferring to be able to visit their homeland without fear of arrest.
By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 16, 2007
USC professor Muhammad Sahimi knew he risked interrogation or arrest while visiting Iran because of his outspokenness about the need for political reform in his homeland.
But it wasn't until this summer that he canceled his travel plans. He deemed a family trip to Iran too dangerous after his friend, Ali Shakeri, a mild-mannered businessman and peace activist from Lake Forest, was thrown in a Tehran prison.
"A lot of people are afraid to go to Iran," he said, "because they say if a guy like Shakeri, who always advocated peace and negotiations, gets arrested, then who is safe?"
The plight of Shakeri has created a dilemma for politically active Iranian Americans: Do they lobby for change in Iran, knowing that their words could land them in prison if they visit their homeland? Or do they keep quiet and preserve their ability to go home again?
Shakeri, 59, a businessman whose pro-democracy writings about Iran circulate on the Web, has been jailed for more than four months in Tehran. He had been on his way back from visiting his mother, who died while he was there.
Shakeri's case surprised the Iranian American community because he was seen as a moderate peace activist and a minor figure in Southern California. A board member for the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at UC Irvine, Shakeri garnered international attention when he became one of four dual Iranian American citizens detained in Iran this year. Two have since been released.
His family had been working quietly to free him until Friday, when his son, Kaveh Shakeri, broke the silence and implored authorities to release his father.
"Shakeri really sent shock waves," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington-based civic group. "Unlike the others, he was not a known figure on the national level. If someone like that gets taken, it becomes much more blurry who's a target and who's not."
That sentiment has rung especially true in Southern California, home to the world's largest community of Iranian emigres. Most settled in Southern California after the fall of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979. Centered in West Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and Orange County, they now number more than 500,000.
Like the Cuban exile community in South Florida and Vietnamese expatriates of Orange County's Little Saigon, many Iranian Americans in the U.S. are advocates of democratic reform in their homeland. But they have had little success against the authoritative governments.
That doesn't stop some from trying to wield their influence from a distance, often through TV broadcasts, radio shows and online periodicals.
Ali Limonadi, producer and director of IRTV, a Persian-language international television station based in Studio City, said he had changed his e-mail address three times because of the nearly 1,500 virus-ridden e-mails a day he received. He said he believed those e-mails were generated by Iranian government agents.
Limonadi said he first spoke out in 1979 because he thought Islamic rule wouldn't last long in Iran.
He came to the United States a month after the 1979 revolution and planned to stay for a year. "I just didn't think the revolution would take that long," he said.
Others, however, have kept quiet about their political convictions, doing all they can to remain invisible to Tehran and preserve their ability to travel back and forth.
"Most of us in the U.S. don't really like what's going on in Iran, but whatever we say becomes a backlash against us," said Moe, a Rancho Santa Margarita engineer and dual citizen of Iran and the U.S. who asked that his last name be withheld to avoid attracting the attention of Iranian officials.
He has vowed to not speak about politics, hoping it will guarantee that he is not harassed or detained when he visits his mother and sister in Tehran every other year.
"If my mother over there doesn't do anything against the government, and I don't raise my voice in public either, we have nothing to worry about," he said.
Friends said Shakeri had no reason to be concerned either. They describe Shakeri as a political moderate who advocated nonviolent solutions, a stance that often earned him criticism for being a regime sympathizer.
"He got it on both sides," said Hossein Hedjazi, who featured Shakeri a handful of times as a guest on Golgasht, a Persian-language political commentary radio show he hosts on KIRN-AM (670).
Page 2 of 2 << back 1 2
Mohammed Ali Dadkha, a Tehran human rights lawyer who said he had been contacted by Shakeri's family and was asked to defend him, said he had not been able to meet with Shakeri to sign forms authorizing him as his lawyer and had no idea what accusations Shakeri faced.
According to Iranian law, he said, "Nobody can be detained for more than two months unless new accusations are raised against him."
A spokesman for the Iranian Judicial Branch in Tehran who declined to give his name said Saturday that Shakeri's case was still under investigation and that he could not publicize the accusations against him, because "He has not been proven to be a criminal yet.
"I do hope his dossier will be clarified in the near future, like other cases recently," he added.
The Bush administration in May called for the release of Shakeri and the other three detainees, and the U.S. State Department has called the detainment of Shakeri and other dual nationals a "disturbing pattern" of harassment under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
This summer the agency issued a travel warning urging Iranian American citizens traveling to Iran to be cautious, but it has been difficult to gauge whether they have made fewer trips.
Those who have not been back to their homeland in decades -- and don't plan to return under the current regime -- serve as the most vocal critics.
"What we have now is a new reign of terror, the goal being precisely ending this bridge between Iranian intellectuals and the diaspora community that was being created," said Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University.
Milani's house on campus is filled with reminders of his homeland -- Persian paintings, books and carpets. He cooks rice and kebabs for his son and listens to the Persian rock group Kiosk.
And although he dreams of returning to see the country on which he is considered a national expert, he has not been back since 1987, knowing that he might be apprehended.
"I won't buy that privilege at the price of self-censorship," he said.
Mariam Khosravani, a community services commissioner for the city of Irvine, said she made a conscious decision to enter into civic affairs in Orange County at the expense of visits home to her extended family in Tehran.
She said images like the photo that hangs in Khosravani's office in Fountain Valley -- her posing with former President Clinton at a campaign fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton -- are precisely what many Iranian Americans are reluctant to be associated with.
"It's a sad feeling that you know you cannot go back to your motherland," she said. "It's not like my name is on a blacklist, but it's hard to take a chance going to a country where you can't guarantee your safety."firstname.lastname@example.org
Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF
on: September 17, 2007, 01:53:09 PM
An oldie but goodie:
A young woman was just finishing her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat and was very much in favor or redistribution of wealth. She was ashamed that her father was a staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. She felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought was his.
One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the addition of more government welfare programs. He responded by asking her how she was doing in school. Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4. 0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to mai ntain. Difficult course load, no partying, no boyfriends, and not many friends because of the heavy studying.
Her father asked, "How's your friend Audrey doing?" She replied, "Barely getting by, she takes easy courses, never studies, goes to all the parties, and missed classes being hung-over, she barely has a 2.0 GPA."
The father says," Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct 1.0 off your 4.0 GPA and give it to Audrey, who only has a 2.0, then you both will have a 3.0 GPA, certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of the GPA. The daughter, visibly shocked by the suggestion angrily fired back, "That wouldn't be fair! I have worked my tail off to get my good grades and Audrey has done next to nothing to get hers!"
The father slowly smiled, winked and gently said,"Welcome to the Republican Party"
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: September 17, 2007, 01:30:19 PM
Below is an essay found on the Fraser Institute web site. The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Our mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. Enjoyhttp://oldfraser.lexi.net/publications/forum/1999/03/individualism.html
Individualism, Intellectual Property, and the Future of Capitalism
Simple coincidence cannot explain that the first known patent was issued not just in the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence, but also roughly at the moment of its birth (1421). What is most intriguing about the issuance of patent No. 1 to Filippo Brunelleschi, who had invented a loading crane for ships, is less that the Florentine authorities granted it, and more that Filippo had asked for it in the first place. The preamble to this first patent states: “he refuses to make such machine available to the public, in order that the fruit of his genius and skill may not be reaped by another without his will and consent; and that, if he enjoyed some prerogative concerning this, he would open up what he is hiding, and would disclose it to all.”1 For 20 generations, medieval artisans had devised the means to build ever more complex cathedrals and public works and, yet, we know the names of only a handful of them. Why, then, against all tradition, did one man in 1421 stand up to demand both recognition of, and financial control over “his genius and skill”?
The answer encompasses both changes to economic life and to the way people viewed themselves in society. In part, Filippo wanted control over his invention because economic changes had suddenly made it valuable beyond historical precedent. In the early fifteenth century, Florence had not only secured access to the markets of Constantinople and Cairo, but also had developed rudimentary banking and insurance skills which spurred a dramatic increase in trade. Still, the middle ages had witnessed the invention of the stirrup, the windmill, and the flying buttress without ever making an inventor wealthy. Perhaps more significantly, this obsessively commercial Italian city-state had incubated a view of people as no longer simply anonymous souls in an organic, hierarchical society held together by bonds of piety and obligation. Though argued to be classically-inspired, this singlatore uomo emerged as a new person in history, an active, self-directed agent in an expressive, creative and possessive society, in short, an individual in the world as it is, not as it should be.
The very idea of a patent broke tradition with the norm of outright seizure. Florence’s rulers probably devised it as a trial-and-error response to an individual who had unexpectedly redefined what he could possess in and of himself at a time when the city was striving hard to improve its reputation vis à vis Venice as a safer and more profitable venue for the Eastern trade. Not to be outdone, Venice, itself, soon ran patent contests offering winners even more favourable terms.
If, for the city fathers of Florence and Venice (and shortly thereafter the German and Dutch trade cities), the granting of a patent was simply a calculation of costs and benefits, for Filippo, and the inventive individuals who followed him, it was a revolution in their economic and legal relationship to both the state and the broader business community. They held a property right, if only temporarily protected, to the relatively exclusive use and control of the physical and practical forms derived from their own unique insights into the possibilities of matter. What they owned the state could not seize, nor competitors steal. Thus, from its beginning, the patent embodied, in the words of Michael P. Ryan, “the philosophical tension between natural property rights and public welfare—enhancing incentives for risky investment.”2
One could, indeed, write the history of patent law as the shifting relative value of personal property rights versus a mere incentive for innovation and investment. Deputies of the National Assembly during the French Revolution asserted that an inventor’s property right in his or her discovery represented one of the “rights of man.” They desired in part to restrict the state and the aristocrats who controlled it from exploiting productive and innovative members of the bourgeoisie. In contrast, Thomas Jefferson, who worried less about aristocrats and more about the social value of proprietary knowledge, wrote Article I, section 8, of the Constitution to establish patents for strictly utilitarian purposes; in his words, “to promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts.”3 In the years since, fierce debates have broken out over whether intellectual innovations ought to be governed by property rights or by the utility of government’s either granting or removing monopoly privileges.
One could conclude that personal interests will forever determine the debate. On the one side, inventors and their lawyers insist that intellectual property rights are about preventing theft. On the other, politicians and economic planners assert that patent “law” concerns the balance between industrial incentives and the diffusion of useful knowledge. But just as the Renaissance created “new facts” as to the nature of capitalism and to the nature of mankind, thus altering profoundly the treatment of innovation, so, too, will the next 20 years re-shape our thinking of intellectual property protection, tipping the balance farther towards a property-rights based conception of intellectual property.
The impetus, the “new facts,” lies beyond the obvious—an economy increasingly driven by technological advances and thus more heavily dependent on proprietary knowledge, be it in the new (computers and software), or the traditional (medicine and agriculture). This greater dependence on intellectual property is not changing the nature of modern capitalism, but rather allowing it to operate at a qualitatively higher level of efficiency. New communication tools have sped the diffusion of both market information and production, thus speeding up the articulation of consumer preferences and the ability of producers to respond. It is no longer necessary to have either a central market or a central factory. Technology has simplified and automated monitoring and process functions, thus reducing both transaction costs and personnel costs relative to a unit of economic output. Technology has allowed us to become more productive, while at the same time subjecting us to fewer hierarchical and personal controls. Just as the innovations of banking and insurance awoke Florence to the possibilities of early capitalism, the greater economic role of intellectual property has brought into clearer focus Friederich Hayek’s vision of “extended order” through the “rule of law.”4
As entrepreneurs flourish and more individuals work for themselves (roughly one in six North Americans), the concept of productive work in a capitalist economy has embraced new, decentralized configurations. Work can be self-directed. High levels of economic activity can be sustained by networks of self-contracting individuals and not just by economies-of-scale corporations. This emergent free-agent capitalism will, in turn, give greater weight to the insight of Austrian economics—that our “producer surplus” lies less in the hours of our labour and more in our creativity.5
In time, this understanding should further strengthen and extend to intellectual property John Locke’s familiar argument that individuals own their labours, at least initially.6 If the value of our labour lies in the product of our minds, we have no less a right to own it than the product of our physical labour, regardless of the social cost. If anything, the argument for the personal possession of intellectual creativity is stronger than for physical labour because the former is by definition unique. As such, it remains outside the purview of the state and society until we choose to share it. Though collective rules may define the limits of possession, they should still respect the origins of possession.
It would be insufficient to argue circularly that the current highly productive use of “owned” knowledge (patents) proves the case that property law, not policy wishes, guide decision-makers. Just as in the Renaissance, economic opportunity is alone an incomplete force to change attitudes. As in the fifteenth century, the legal recognition of intellectual property arose in response to both a new form of economic organization and to a new sense not just of self, but of its abstraction—the individual. If we are not surprised today that the nature of the economy is in flux, neither should we be if our ideas of the individual are shifting. At least, Western history shows individualism to possess an ontology or a story of change.7 This cannot help but alter the cultural boundaries into which we cast the nature and treatment of innovation and innovators. After all, it was a champion of the individual, not of economics, Lysander Spooner, the nineteenth century libertarian, who first coined the potent phrase, “intellectual property,” recasting unalterably the debate.8
Will our society, in the new millennium, recognize even greater individual autonomy, thus further shielding intellectual property from the short-term utilitarian machinations of a politicized state? It should, but wishes are poor predictions.
Still, if the hard-edged men of Renaissance Florence could figure out the advantage of patents in the first place, perhaps we can discern the potential value of conceiving of intellectual property as individual property before the law. In the real world, full of Filippo Brunschellis and Bill Gateses, the power of these individuals’ imaginations may illuminate a social self-interest expanding our current definitions of collective utility. The future of individualism, intellectual property, and capitalism should not be bound by today’s crude efforts to measure and analyze them.
1Bruce W. Bugbee, Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1967), p. 17.
2Michael P. Ryan, Knowledge Diplomacy: Global Competition and the Politics of Intellectual Property (Washington: Brookings Inst. Press, 1998), p. 7.
3Tom Bethell, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), p. 262.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: September 17, 2007, 01:05:36 PM
Well, now that the Sunnis are opposing AQ instead of in bed with it, IMHO one cornerstone of a foundation for some sort of working relationship has been laid. Of course by itself, this may not suffice.
Anyway, the Adventure continues. Here's this from Stratfor on the expulsion of Blackwater:
Iraq: The Possible Repercussions of the Blackwater Suspension
The Iraqi Interior Ministry suspended the operating license of private U.S. security contractor Blackwater on Sept. 17, citing a shootout between a Blackwater security team and insurgents a day earlier that resulted in the death of a least eight Iraqi civilians. The ministry also threatened to prosecute anyone deemed to have used excessive force in the shooting.
Removing Blackwater from Iraq's security equation opens the door to other contractors -- though filling the void left by Blackwater could come at a much higher price. The suspension also could result in more attacks against security contractors by insurgents aiming to increase tensions, further destabilize the security environment in Baghdad and complicate the political process.
The insurgent attack began about midday Sept. 16 as a six-vehicle U.S. State Department convoy returned to the fortified Green Zone through central Baghdad's predominantly Sunni Mansour district. According to reports, an improvised explosive device detonated as the convoy passed through Nisoor Square. The insurgents then attacked the convoy with small arms, sparking a 20-minute firefight with the convoy's Blackwater escorts. Helicopters owned by Blackwater fired into the street in an attempt to provide cover to the security team on the ground, though at least one vehicle in the convoy was disabled during the attack.
The estimated 30,000 security contractors in Iraq -- from the United States and many other countries -- are an integral part of Iraq's security environment. Blackwater, with approximately 1,500 employees in the country, specializes in guarding high-value targets (HVTs) and is contracted to the U.S. State Department to protect convoys transporting diplomats and other personnel. A convoy escorted by Blackwater, with its distinctive vehicles and helicopter support, is easily recognizable -- and likely to contain HVTs.
When a convoy is attacked, the contractor's first priority is to get its charges out of the area as quickly as possible. The long duration of the firefight suggests that the attackers were able to block the escape route or keep the convoy pinned down with heavy direct fire. This suggests the ambush was complex, well planned and well executed. When the shooting was over, at least eight civilians lay dead.
Convoys are vulnerable, especially in Iraq's urban battlefields. Although the State Department sets the training requirements for security contractors it employs, private contractors have been known to respond to an attack with overwhelming force -- mainly because they lack the large support structure that military units can count on when they get into a tight spot. In this case, the Iraqi government indeed claimed that the Blackwater specialists used excessive force in responding to the attack. However, a 20-minute firefight involving automatic weapons can expend a great deal of ammunition and cause a tremendous amount of damage. A shootout that results in only eight noncombatant fatalities suggests the Blackwater security specialists employed a fair degree of control and discipline.
The U.S. government is investigating the incident, and the State Department could convene an accountability review board to determine whether the Blackwater team acted appropriately. In order to maintain the Iraqi government's appearance of sovereignty, the State Department could cancel its Iraq contract with Blackwater. Should it do so, there are two competing private security contractors -- DynCorp and Triple Canopy -- that are eligible fill the void. Neither of these contractors, however, has as many properly vetted U.S. security specialists in Iraq as Blackwater -- and the State Department will want properly vetted U.S. citizens on its HVT protection details. In order to make up the shortfall, the other companies might have to offer large bonuses to prospective replacements, increasing the cost of the original contract dramatically. Many of these replacements could come straight from Blackwater.
This incident and the strong Iraqi and U.S. reaction could cause an escalation in attacks against contractor-escorted convoys and contractor-guarded facilities by groups looking to increase tensions. Should this occur, it could further destabilize the security environment in Baghdad, and complicate the political process. In addition, security contractors are foundational to security in the country and the Green Zone. They protect many VIPs, HVTs, and logistics convoys. If a precedent is set here, attacking contractors and getting them kicked out of the country will prove an effective way to attack the U.S. foundational security and logistics base.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: September 17, 2007, 12:03:04 PM
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
September 17, 2007; Page A16
As young Mexicans have poured across the southern U.S. border in recent years, looking for work, a common American refrain has been to blame Mexican economic policy. Even many of us who welcome the new labor for the U.S. economy have also noted that the Mexican government's failure to deepen the economic restructuring begun some 20 years ago has spurred migration, imposing a heavy burden on Mexican society.
This reality has not been lost on President Felipe Calderón. He campaigned in the lead-up to last year's election on a platform that emphasized jobs, promising to deliver the policy changes that would bring them about. Unfortunately, Mr. Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) is only a minority in Congress, and judging by the "reforms" passed there last week, his vision of a modernized Mexico is still a long way off.
It's bad enough that the government's fiscal reform falls so far short of the pro-growth agenda Mr. Calderón promised. But to make matters worse, opposition parties made passing it contingent on a heavily politicized "electoral reform" and a no-strings-attached tax cut for the monopoly, state-owned oil company Pemex. If there is one lesson from this latest legislative struggle between modernizers and Mexico's old guard in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), it's that timidity when confronting dinosaurs doesn't pay.
Mr. Calderón has been carefully choosing his fights in his first year in office. His biggest achievement to date is the reform of the public-sector pension system, a measure that in the medium term will remove the obligations of the large entitlement program from the budget.
Having one win under his belt, Mr. Calderón moved this summer to introduce a fiscal reform designed to close revenue shortfalls. A better course of action, with oil topping $80 a barrel, would have been opening the oil market to private investment. But this would have challenged the theology that says that the inefficient state-owned oil monopoly Pemex is sacred. Mr. Calderón apparently has decided, for now, against questioning that taboo.
Instead, he chose to go after the productive private sector of the economy, where at least some large companies are known to take advantage of a complex, exemption-ridden regime to dodge tax payments. The choice has not been fruitful.
As I reported in my July 2 column, Hacienda Minister (Treasury Secretary) Agustin Carstens, formerly of the International Monetary Fund, chose not to seek growth through lower corporate tax rates and simplification. Instead, he crafted a plan to create a corporate alternative minimum tax. The proposal raised the cost of labor on some part of the work force and complicated the code.
An email I received from the Mexican office of a large multinational investment firm insisted that the plan was not biased against skilled labor. That conclusion implied that the Hacienda proposal was so complicated that even some Mexican experts couldn't figure it out. John A. McLees, tax partner at the law firm Baker McKenzie, collaborated with his Mexican counterpart in Tijuana on a study that argued convincingly that the proposal did indeed raise the cost of labor for salaries between approximately $15,000-$35,000, middle-range pay in Mexico. When workers cost more, companies hire fewer. For a president who ran on an employment platform, it was a disappointment.
If the AMT is intended, as some have speculated, to be an end run toward the goal of a single, low flat-tax, not many are buying it. Most businesses view it as a tax hike and few seem confident that a new tax, once adopted, would ever be abolished.
Thus the administration, normally considered market friendly, found itself without even its natural allies in negotiations with Congress. Meanwhile some of the worst elements of Mexico's corporatist past were preparing to extract a pound of flesh for their support.
The bill that finally passed last week sets the AMT at 16.5%, increasing it to 17.5% in three years. Those rates are lower than originally proposed and the burden on labor has been significantly reduced. The government forecasts a revenue increase of 100 billion pesos ($9 billion) to be used for infrastructure investment and social programs for the poor. But no one expects it to spur much growth. Hacienda forecasts that without the reform Mexico would have grown at 3.5% in 2008 and with the reform it will grow at 3.7%, still an anemic rate for a developing country.
What is yet unknown is how the tax changes might affect investment decisions. Some tax experts are already warning that for U.S. investors, paying the AMT could mean double taxation because it is not an income tax and the tax treaty with the U.S. only covers income taxes.
As part of the bargain in Congress, the PRI opposition forced the government to hand Pemex what amounts to an annual tax cut of 30 billion pesos, to grow to 60 billion pesos by 2010. A reform-minded negotiator might have asked for something in return. Pemex is highly inefficient and not likely to improve without competition. Since there is nothing in the Mexican constitution that gives Pemex the right to the monopoly it has in trading energy products like petrochemicals and gasoline, some competition could be introduced without a constitutional amendment. This was also an opportunity to force reform in Pemex's bankrupt pension plan.
The government also had to give up important ground in an electoral reform. It agreed to fire Luis Ugalde, the head of the supposedly independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), and the entire board. The hard-left Revolutionary Democratic Party wanted this in order to delegitimize Mr. Calderón's victory last summer. The PRI dinosaurs wanted it to extract revenge against political rivals who worked with former President Vicente Fox to name Mr. Ugalde. Now they have a say in putting their own nominees on the board. The bargain also tightens restrictions on the use of campaign TV and radio spots, outlawing "negative" advertising -- which the IFE will judge subjectively -- and prohibiting private-sector issue ads. In other words, free speech takes a hit in this reform and the IFE board is politicized. Now the only hope that this constitutional change might be defeated is if more than half of Mexican states refuse to approve it.
If not, Mr. Calderón will have won his watered-down fiscal reform but at a high cost. Mexicans have to hope that he starts to think bigger and bolder. This nibbling around the edges of reform is only going to get him eaten alive by the dinosaurs.
Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China
on: September 17, 2007, 11:59:36 AM
Second post of the day.
Let Taiwan Join the U.N.
By BOB DOLE
September 17, 2007; Page A16
Tomorrow the United Nations will consider Taiwan's application for membership. It has formally sought admission every year since 1993, but this year's application is different.
First, the country is applying under its own name ("Taiwan") rather than its official appellation ("Republic of China"). Second, it is applying to the U.N. General Assembly, the organization's comprehensive body of member nations -- despite the rejection of its application this summer by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his legal office. Third, the application may be followed by a national referendum on whether Taiwan should apply for U.N. membership under its own name -- a plan that has elicited a sharp rebuke by the Bush administration.
The U.N.'s lawyers argued that, having transferred China's seat from Taipei to Beijing in 1971, the U.N. should reject Taiwan's latest application because Taiwan "for all intents and purposes" is "an integral part of the People's Republic of China." Taiwan presents a more compelling legal case: It meets all of the requirements of statehood under law.
It is already a full and productive member of international organizations such as the World Trade Organization and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. It has never been a province or part of the local government of the People's Republic of China. Taiwan's recent transformation into a modern democratic state supersedes any decades-old determination that gives the PRC a United Nations seat -- even as the U.N. failed to determine that Taiwan is part of the PRC or bestow upon it the right to represent Taiwan.
Taiwan's political case for U.N. membership is equally strong. It is the 48th most populous country in the world. Its economy is the world's 16th largest. Its gross national product totals $366 billion, or $16,098 per capita. With $267 billion in foreign exchange reserves, it is one of the world's three largest creditor states. Taiwan is therefore poised to be a significant contributor to the U.N.'s operations and play a constructive role in the organization.
Unfortunately, the United States and the other major powers discourage Taiwan in its quest for de jure international recognition of its de facto sovereignty. This is because they do not want to raise the ire of the PRC, which, as a member of the U.N. Security Council, can block any significant U.N. action, and, as a global power, can interfere on a host of issues important to the U.S. and Europe.
Thanks to exponentially increased trade with the U.S. and Europe, Beijing feels less compelled than ever to seek political accommodation with Taiwan, or to decrease its military threat against the island nation. Expanding economic relationships may be good in and of itself, but predictions that this would produce political cracks in China's authoritarian regime have proved wrong.
Today, Beijing is using its newfound economic might to isolate Taiwan still further in international organizations and attempt to persuade the two dozen countries that recognize Taiwan diplomatically to switch their ties to China. Meanwhile, the people of the PRC enjoy fewer political rights and civil liberties than in all but a few of the world's countries.
A few short years ago, the U.S. seemed determined to change this. During his 2000 election campaign and the first months of his administration, President Bush and his team vowed to fashion a new foreign policy in which U.S. national interests, particularly in Asia, were advanced less exclusively through the prism of Beijing. In other words, the U.S. wanted to be less beholden to the communist regime.
One of the casualties of 9/11, and the subsequent war in Iraq, was that this policy agenda became less of a priority. Our cooperation with Pakistan in the effort to topple the Taliban, find Osama bin Laden and eradicate terrorism in the region meant that we focused less on developing a higher-tier relationship with India. We also concentrated less on drawing out Japan, by encouraging it to play a more active political and military role on the global stage. Equally important, we were unable to increase our promotion of democracy in the region by fostering closer ties with countries such as Taiwan and South Korea and escalating pressure on Beijing to reform.
The current U.S. administration still has time to correct this omission. Having been an advocate for Taiwan during my time in the Senate, and today as part of a law firm that represents Taiwan's interests in the U.S., I believe that President Bush should support Taiwan's application for U.N. membership. This should be quickly followed by active or tacit support for Taiwan's plans for a popular vote on this issue in March 2008. Our close Asian friend and ally needs and deserves this recognition and support, which would at the same time advance America's regional and global interest in promoting democratization.
Mr. Dole, a former Senate majority leader and the Republican candidate for president in 1996, is special counsel to Alston & Bird.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China
on: September 17, 2007, 11:32:25 AM
This piece from the WSJ goes where others fear to tread:
China's One-Child Mistake
By NICHOLAS EBERSTADT
September 17, 2007; Page A17
If China could take a single decision today to enhance the nation's long-term economic outlook, it would be to recognize that coercive population control has been a tragic and historic mistake -- and to abandon it, immediately.
Such a call might surprise the casual observer, for on its own terms, China's population program has been a superficial success. In the early 1970s, China's then-current childbearing patterns implied nearly five births per woman. At the start of the "one child policy" in 1979, China's total fertility rate was nearly three births per woman. Today, China's fertility rate is far below the "net reproduction rate" -- by many estimates, just 1.7 births per woman nationwide. In some major population centers -- Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin among them -- the average number of births per woman today has fallen below one baby per lifetime.
This "success," however, comes with immense inadvertent costs and unintended consequences. Thanks to a decade and a half of sub-replacement fertility, China's working-age population is poised to peak in size, and then start to decline, more or less indefinitely, within less than a decade. A generation from now, China's potential labor force (ages 15-64) will be no larger than it is today, perhaps smaller. This presages a radical change in China's growth environment from the generation just completed, during which time (1980-2005) the country's working-age population expanded by over 55%.
"Composition effects" only make the picture worse. Until now, young people have been the life force raising the overall level of education and technical attainment in China's work force. But between 2005 and 2030, China's 15-24 age group is slated to slump in absolute size, with a projected decline of over 20% in store. In fact, the only part of the working-age population that stands to increase in size between now and 2030 is the over-50 cohort. Will they bring the dynamism we have come to expect from China in recent decades?
On current trajectories, China's total population will start to decline around 2030. Even so, China must expect a "population explosion" between then and now -- one entirely comprised of senior citizens. Between 2005 and 2030, China's 65-plus age cohort will likely more than double in size, to 235 million or more, from about 100 million now. And because of the fall-off in young people, China's age profile will "gray" in the decades ahead at a pace almost never before witnessed in human history. China is still a fairly youthful society today -- but by 2030, by such metrics as median population age, the country will be "grayer" than the United States -- "grayer," that is, than the U.S. of 2030, not the U.S. of today.
How will China's future senior citizens support themselves? China still has no official national pension system. Up to now, China's de facto national pension system has been the family -- but that social safety net is unraveling, and rapidly. Until very recently, thanks to relatively large Chinese families, almost every Chinese woman had given birth to at least one son -- under Confucian tradition, their first line of support. But just two decades from now, thanks to the "success" of the one-child policy, roughly a third of women entering their 60s will have no living son.
In such numbers, one can see the making of a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy. But the withering away of the Chinese family under population control has even more far-reaching implications.
In Beijing, Shanghai and other parts of China, extreme sub-replacement fertility has already been in effect for over a generation. If this continues for another generation, we will see the emergence of a new norm: a "4-2-1 family" composed of four grandparents, but only two children, and just one grandchild. The children in these new family structures will have no brothers or sisters, no uncles or aunts, and no cousins. Their only blood relatives will be their ancestors.
It is no secret that China is already a "low trust society": Personal and business transactions still rely heavily upon guanxi, the network of personal relations largely demarcated by family ties. What exactly will provide the "social capital" to undergird commercial and economic development in a future China where "families" are, increasingly, little more than atomized households and isolated individuals?
One final consequence of China's population-control program requires comment: the eerie, unnatural and increasingly extreme imbalance between baby boys and baby girls. Under normal circumstances, about 103 to 105 baby boys are born for every 100 baby girls. Shortly after the advent of the one-child policy, however, China began reporting biologically impossible disparities between boys and girls -- and the imbalance has only continued to rise. Today China reports 123 baby boys for every 100 girls.
Over the coming generation, those same little boys and girls will grow up to be prospective brides and grooms. One need not be a demographer to see from these numbers the massive imbalance in the "marriage market" in a generation, or less. How will China cope with the sudden and very rapid emergence of tens of millions of essentially unmarriageable young men?
All of these problems just described are directly associated with involuntary population control. Scrapping this restrictive birth-control policy would surely ease China's incipient aging crisis, its looming family-structure problems and its worrisome gender imbalances. Some in China's leadership may worry that the end of the one-child policy might mean the return to the five-child family -- but in reality, modern China is most unlikely to return to pre-industrial fertility norms.
In the final analysis, the wealth of nations in the modern world is not found in the ground, or the forests, or in other natural resources. The true wealth of modern countries resides in their people -- in human resources. China's people are not a curse -- they are a blessing. The Chinese people, like people elsewhere, are rational, calculating actors who seek to improve their own circumstances -- not heedless beasts who procreate without thought of the future.
Trusting China's people to act in their own self-interest -- not least of all, trusting their choices and preferences with respect to their own family size -- may very well prove to be the key to whether China ultimately succeeds in abolishing poverty and attaining mass affluence in the decades and generations ahead.
Mr. Eberstadt is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is excerpted from remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum's conference in Dalian, China earlier this month.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: September 17, 2007, 11:28:07 AM
U.S./IRAQ: The Iraqi government said it is canceling U.S. security firm Blackwater's license to operate in the country. The decision came after security contractors believed to be working for the company allegedly opened fire on civilians during an attack against a U.S. State Department motorcade in Baghdad on Sept. 16. The Iraqi Interior Ministry, noting that eight civilians were killed and 13 wounded in the exchange, said it would prosecute any foreign contractors that were deemed to have used excessive force in the shooting.
IRAQ: The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Shiite bloc that leads the Iraqi government, called for Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement to change its decision to pull out of the alliance, saying the withdrawal jeopardizes national unity. The pullout leaves the UIA with 32 fewer seats in parliament, giving Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government only 136 of 275 seats it can count on, including 53 seats from two Kurdish groups.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / New Terrorism Case Confirms That Denmark Is a Target
on: September 17, 2007, 11:22:09 AM
With the shadings for which the NY Slimes is known, here is this on the Homeland dangers faced by Denmark:
This article was reported by Nicholas Kulish, Souad Mekhennet and Eric Schmitt, and written by Mr. Kulish.
Muslims see hypocrisy in Denmark’s talk of human rights and its actions in places like Afghanistan, said Imran Shah, 31.
COPENHAGEN, Sept. 16 — After three terrorism cases in less than two years, including an alleged bombing plot broken up this month, intelligence officials say tiny Denmark is on the front line in the battle against Islamic terrorism in Europe.
“Even though we’ve prevented one terrorist attack, we know that there are still people in Denmark and abroad that have the capacity, the will and the ability to carry out terrorist attacks in Denmark,” Jakob Scharf, the head of Danish intelligence, said in an interview in his office here.
He was referring to predawn raids on Sept. 4 that resulted in the arrests of eight suspects, two of whom are still in custody on terrorism charges and are accused of planning a bombing attack.
American authorities helped Danish security officials locate the suspects through electronic intercepts from Pakistan, just as they did in arrests the same day in a bombing plot in southern Germany, intelligence officials in Washington said. They said one of the men in the Danish case received instruction within the past 12 months in explosives, surveillance and other techniques at a terrorist training camp in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.
With Europe again focused on the threat posed by terrorist plots, Denmark illustrates the powerful interplay between foreign agitation and domestic discontent. The country became a target of foreign Islamist terrorist groups two years ago after a conservative newspaper here published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, drawing worldwide attention. At home, the children of Muslim immigrants complain of job discrimination and integration problems, feeding the disenchantment of the small but growing Muslim population.
“In the schools, Danish teachers are always talking about democracy and human rights, but now they see what Denmark is doing in Afghanistan and what they did here with the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad,” said Imran Shah, 31, who leads a youth group at a local mosque. “They ask themselves, is this a democracy or are they talking about double standards?”
While much of the world’s attention was focused on the arrests that took place that same day in Germany, but were announced one day later, intelligence officials here and in Washington said at least one suspect in the Danish group had direct ties to leading figures in Al Qaeda, which has regrouped in northwestern Pakistan.
“What’s coming from this is that they are now able to give military and terrorist training and able to plan and steer specific operations in Europe,” Mr. Scharf, the Danish intelligence chief, said. “Al Qaeda is back.”
Mr. Scharf drew a clear distinction between independent or loosely affiliated groups drawing inspiration from Al Qaeda’s ideology and specific control of plans for attack, saying the Danish bomb plot was clearly the latter. “I’m not indicating a direct phone line to Osama bin Laden,” he said, but leading members are able to “direct operations outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
This case was the first time officials here have linked an operation in Denmark to the group that masterminded the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
While Mr. Scharf underscored the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, he also differentiated between the religion of Islam and those who commit violence in its name, an important distinction in a country where debates over the role of Islam in a traditionally Christian society have often been contentious and the lines sometimes blurred.
The case in Denmark also highlights the uneasy coexistence of intelligence and prosecution. Danish authorities gave no indication of the quantity of explosive material found in Copenhagen this month, but they said suspects had begun mixing precursor chemicals for bombs. Of the eight men arrested, the authorities quickly released six of them, fueling skepticism about the strength of the case and the government’s ability to turn arrests into convictions.
In the first of the recent terrorism cases, stemming from arrests in October 2005, three of the four defendants found guilty by jurors had their verdicts overruled by a three-judge review panel. The fourth was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison on terrorism charges, and prosecutors say they will retry another. In the second case, nine suspects were initially arrested, of whom four are on trial. The court proceedings are under way in Copenhagen.
“They are manipulating the press and the public by giving the impression that they have a very serious case,” said Bjoern Elmquist, a lawyer for defendants in two of the cases, including this one. “They are scaring people.”
With a population of 5.5 million, Denmark is smaller than New York City by several million people, but it is a disproportionately large target on jihadist Web sites. Not only did Denmark achieve infamy across the Muslim world for the publication of the Muhammad cartoons, which incited violent and even deadly protests in other countries, it also has troops both in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Page 2 of 2)
There are no official statistics, but researchers estimate that there are roughly 210,000 Muslims in Denmark. It is not a homogeneous group but is split among Turks, Iraqis, Bosnians and others. That jihadist Web sites have been translated into Danish for such a small and disparate group demonstrates the interest and effort they are putting into the country.
The Heimdalsgade mosque which, according to a Danish newspaper, was attended by suspects in all three of the alleged plots.
Mr. Scharf said the profile of Muslim men pulled into extremism was young, “normally in the age from 16 to 25.” The young men are courted by mentors whose job is to identify those predisposed to a jihadi mind-set, radicalize them and put them in touch with others who could help them plan violent acts.
“This is not taking place when the imam is preaching in the mosque,” Mr. Scharf said. “I think that these imams play a very important role in preventing the radicalization” of young Muslims.
Mohammed el-Banna, an imam from the famous family of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, said, “They like heroes, and heroes, from their point of view, are not those who talk but those who fight.” He preaches at a mosque in Heimdalsgade that Politiken, a leading newspaper here, reported had been attended by suspects in all three of the alleged plots. “We cannot check the ID cards of people who attend the prayers,” he said.
Mr. Banna, 49, moved to Denmark from Egypt in 1985. He is a Danish citizen and has four children, the eldest of whom is studying computer science at a university in Denmark. Saying he was speaking for himself and not the mosque, Mr. Banna said that before the cartoon controversy, Denmark enjoyed a very good reputation in the Muslim world, as a nation that did business in the Middle East rather than fighting or keeping colonies there.
For second-generation Muslims coming of age after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the American-led invasion of Iraq, it is a different story. Mr. Banna said young men had come to him looking for religious justification to go and fight in Iraq. “When I told them that there is no justification, they would look for someone else to get the justification,” he said.
The generational gap is a concern not only for security officials, but for Muslim parents grappling with the anger of their children.
“Young people have a problem of identity,” said Bilal Assaad the spokesman for the Community of Islam Mosque in Copenhagen, which led the protests here against the Muhammad cartoons. “They were born in Denmark but they don’t feel Danish. They don’t have good possibilities to get jobs because their name is Muhammad. My son tells me, ‘Yes I can see that I’m Muslim, but I can’t see that I’m Danish.’ ”
Mr. Shah, the youth group leader, said, “When I’m going on a train with my backpack, people start to look at me in a different way.” He said that he appreciated the irony of the fact that, while under suspicion on his commute, he was on the way to his job as a security guard at the airport.
Of the 11 locations searched by Danish authorities in the recent raids, it was an apartment on Glasvej Street in a mixed neighborhood of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Danes where investigators say the bomb-making materials were found. The front door is cracked where it was broken open by a police battering ram.
The apartment was occupied by two brothers of Pakistani descent. Both were arrested in the raids. The older of the two, who is 24, was released after less than a day. “They came at 2 o’clock,” he said. “They broke open the door. They broke everything. They came as animals.”
He added that he had not seen his brother since going to sleep the night before their arrest. Under Danish law, the authorities do not release the names of suspects, and he asked not to have his name used. The authorities say he remains under investigation.
“I work all day,” he said in a soft voice. “I don’t know what my brother and his friends do.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: September 17, 2007, 11:06:32 AM
1139 GMT -- IRAN, UNITED STATES -- The Iranian military has the capacity to strike U.S. interests in the Middle East within a 1,250-mile range, Gen. Mohammad Hassan Koussechi, a top official in Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Sept. 17. The U.S. Army has encircled Iran, but if it strikes on any of the 2,000 Iranian targets it has identified, it will be attacked, Koussechi said. Separately, Iran's official media has launched a campaign accusing French President Nicolas Sarkozy of being driven by U.S. interests. The campaign was triggered by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's comments about a possible war with Iran.
1112 GMT -- IRAN -- Iran will reconsider its $15 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal with French oil firm Total because of differences over the price paid to Tehran, Iranian Oil Minister Gholam-Hossein Nozari said Sept. 16. Iran, which believes Total's price to market the agreed 5.5 million tons of LNG is too high, asked Total to submit a new quote earlier this year. "We think this amount should be supplied to the market and not to Total," Nozari said.
0145 GMT -- FRANCE, IRAN -- French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned Sept. 16 that the world must prepare for the possibility of war with Iran over its nuclear development program. He said the possibility is unlikely, but that the world "must prepare for the worst."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: September 17, 2007, 10:59:24 AM
Geopolitical Diary: The Israeli Overflight Mystery Deepens
This weekend, the mystery of the Israeli aircraft over northern Syria became more important and even less clear than it was before. The story began Sept. 6 with a report from Syria that an Israeli aircraft had dropped ordnance over northern Syria and had been forced by Syrian air defenses to retreat from Syrian airspace. Syria reported sonic booms in the North as, they would have it, the Israeli plane went west toward the Mediterranean at supersonic speeds. This was mysterious, as the Syrians reported no damage and only a single plane. We assumed it was an Israeli reconnaissance flight.
Then, during a meeting of Syrian and Turkish leaders, the Turkish government reported that two auxiliary fuel tanks from Israeli planes had been found in Turkish territory, close to the Syrian frontier. That would indicate that the Israelis were operating very close to the Turkish border, had been detected by the Syrians, released their fuel tanks and took off. That story left two unsolved mysteries: First, what were the Israelis looking for that close to the Turkish border -- or more precisely, right on the Turkish border? And second, why were the Turks so touchy about some drop tanks that were, after all, left behind by Israel, a country with which Turkey has close military relations? And of course, that takes us back to why the Israelis would be monitoring events on the Turkish-Syrian border themselves instead of just asking the Turks.
Then, this weekend, Washington started leaking, with the media carrying a series of utterly contradictory explanations from unnamed American sources. The Washington Post ran a report by an American "expert on the Middle East" (pedigree unclear, but obviously impressive enough to be used by the Washington Post). The Post report said the target was a Syrian facility officially labeled by Syria as an "agricultural research center." The attack was linked with the arrival of a ship in a Syrian port carrying goods from North Korea labeled as "cement." According to the Post's expert, it wasn't clear what the ship was actually carrying, but the consensus in Israel was that it was delivering nuclear equipment. Meanwhile, an unnamed source in The New York Times said the mission was indeed a reconnaissance flight tracking North Korean nuclear equipment. So, two of the major U.S. newspapers have both had similar leaks. This is clearly the official unofficial position of the U.S. government.
The problem with this theory is not with the idea that a North Korean ship might be carrying nuclear equipment to Syria. The problem is the idea that Syria would have a nuclear research facility smack on its border with Turkey. Turkish-Syrian relations are not always warm, and in fact are frequently quite nasty. The idea that the Syrians would conduct ultra-secret nuclear research (or store such equipment) on the Turkish border is a little hard to buy. If we were them, we would like to see our valuable nuclear research out of mortar range of a hostile power -- but perhaps the Washington Post's expert is on to something.
Another leak, provided by Israel to the London Times, hinted that there were chemical weapons at the site, and that the attack (note that this leak claimed there was an attack and not simply a reconnaissance flight) helped save Israel from an "unpleasant surprise." A sub-leak from the Israelis was that the target destroyed in the raid was a store of chemical weapons. So the Americans are talking about North Korean nuclear technology while the Israelis are talking about chemical weapons. Amos Yadlin, head of Israeli military intelligence, said that he would not discuss the matter, then went on to discuss it by saying that Israel now has the deterrent capability against Hezbollah that it didn't have in 2006. Perhaps the chemical weapons were to be shipped to Hezbollah?
The least credible story of the bunch, which came from the British paper the Observer, was that the raid might have been a dry run for an attack on Iran. That is of course possible, but we are having trouble understanding how flying to the Turkish-Syrian border would constitute a dry run for anything beyond flying to the Turkish-Syrian border.
We do not mean to be flip. We think that this raid or reconnaissance flight, or whatever it was, was important. It's importance was less about U.S.-Syrian relations than about Syrian-Turkish relations. That relationship has been critical to both countries for years. If the Syrians are actually storing anything sensitive along the Turkish-Syrian border, that would mean that the Syrians might have some sort of understanding with the Turks that would be extremely important for the region. For us, the location of the facility is more startling than the possibility of a North Korean shipment, chemical weapons or even a dry run for a strike on Tehran.
Since when do the Syrians trust the Turks enough to do anything important along the border? Since when do the Israelis have to do reconnaissance flights along the border? The Turks patrol that area pretty intensely. We had thought there was a strong intelligence-sharing program. Perhaps it's no longer a trusted channel? Of course, the Turks somehow might have been complicit in this.
The mystery is deep and we are baffled, but it does not strike us as trivial. Something important happened Sept. 6.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Our Founding Fathers:
on: September 17, 2007, 10:52:45 AM
"[T]he present Constitution is the standard to which we are to
cling. Under its banners, bona fide must we combat our political
foes - rejecting all changes but through the channel itself
provides for amendments."
-- Alexander Hamilton (letter to James Bayard, April 1802)
Reference: Selected Writings and Speeches of Alexander Hamilton,
Frisch, ed. (511)
“Should, hereafter, those incited by the lust of power and prompted by the Supineness or venality of their Constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to shew, that no compact among men (however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification) can be pronounced everlasting an inviolable.” —George Washington, First Inaugural Address
CONSTITUTION DAY 2007
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America... Done... the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven.” —George Washington and the delegates
“In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” —Thomas Jefferson
“All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?” —Benjamin Franklin
“A constitution founded on these principles introduces knowledge among the people, and inspires them with a conscious dignity becoming freemen; a general emulation takes place, which causes good humor, sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general. That elevation of sentiment inspired by such a government, makes the common people brave and enterprising. That ambition which is inspired by it makes them sober, industrious, and frugal.” —John Adams
“If it be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws—the first growing out of the last... A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.” —Alexander Hamilton
“[A]ll Americans should reflect upon the precious heritage of liberty under law passed on to us by our Founding Fathers. This heritage finds its most comprehensive expression in our Constitution. The framing of the Constitution was an arduous task accomplished in the spirit of cooperation and with dedication to the ideals of republican self-government and unalienable God-given human rights that gave transcendent meaning and inspiration to the American Revolution... The wisdom and foresight of the architects of the Constitution are manifest in the fact that it remains a powerful governing tool to the present day. Indeed, a great British statesman has called it ‘the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.’ For 200 years, people from other lands have come to the United States to participate in the great adventure in self-government begun in Philadelphia in 1787... [A]ll citizens should reread and study this great document and rededicate themselves to the ideals it enshrines.” —Ronald Reagan
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: September 16, 2007, 06:30:18 PM
The AG fotos certainly took the wind out of my sails precisely because the actions therein violate my sense of what makes me proud to be an American, but AGAIN, it was the Pentagon who informed the press about the INTERNALLY GENERATED investigation. AG WAS NOT POLICY. It was some idiots who got out of hand-- and some of them have been punished.
That said, that is not the only question presented. To start with, lets put the law school hypothetical question to you: We know there is a nuclear bomb plan in action. We capture one of the players and there's a pretty good chance that he knows where the bomb is and what the plan is. He is our only concrete lead. If we don't solve the problem, tens of thousands could die, and a goodly piece of American soil could glow for centuries. What criteria guide you in your questioning?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: September 16, 2007, 06:23:24 PM
By Francois Murphy 1 hour, 32 minutes ago
PARIS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Sunday his country must prepare for the possibility of war against Iran over its nuclear program, but he did not believe any such action was imminent.
Seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Iran, Kouchner also told RTL radio and LCI television that the world's major powers should use further sanctions to show they were serious about stopping Tehran getting atom bombs, and said France had asked French firms not to bid for tenders in the Islamic Republic.
"We must prepare for the worst," Kouchner said in an interview, adding: "The worst, sir, is war."
Asked about the preparations, he said it was normal to prepare for various eventualities.
"We are preparing ourselves by trying to put together plans that are the chiefs of staff's prerogative (but) that is not about to happen tomorrow," he added.
Tehran insists it only wants to master nuclear technology to produce electricity, but it has yet to comply with repeated U.N. demands that it suspend uranium enrichment and other sensitive work that could potentially be used in producing weapons.
Kouchner's comments follow a similarly hawkish statement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said last month in his first major foreign policy speech since taking office that a diplomatic push by the world's powers was the only alternative to "an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran."
Asked if France was involved in any planning towards war, he said: "The French army is not at the moment associated with anything at all, nor with any maneuver at all."
"PEACE IS IN YOUR INTEREST"
France has said repeatedly it wants the U.N. Security Council to pass tougher sanctions against Iran over its failure to dispel fears that it is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons.
"We do not want to signal anything other than 'peace is in your interest, and in ours too,"' Kouchner said, adding that the door should be left open to negotiations with Tehran, but Paris has made a suspension of nuclear work a condition for talks.
The United States, Germany, France and Britain have led a diplomatic drive to punish Iran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program. They succeeded in persuading reluctant Russia and China to back two U.N. sanctions resolutions.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran would not give up its nuclear program.
"Of course we will not abandon our right to nuclear technology," he told state television. "They (the West) talks about imposing sanctions on Iran, but they can not do it."
Washington says the time has to expand the penalties and has called a September 21 meeting of the six powers to discuss a third sanctions resolution to submit to the U.N. Security Council.
Kouchner said France had asked its biggest companies, including oil giant Total and gas firm Gaz de France, not to bid for projects in Iran.
"We have already asked a certain number of our large companies to not respond to tenders, and it is a way of signaling that we are serious," Kouchner said.
"We are not banning French companies from submitting. We have advised them not to. These are private companies. But I think that it has been heard and we are not the only ones to have done this."
In addition, Paris and Berlin were preparing possible European Union economic sanctions against Tehran, Kouchner said.
"We have decided to ... prepare ourselves for possible sanctions outside the U.N. sanctions and which would be European sanctions. Our German friends proposed it. We discussed it a few days ago," Kouchner said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: September 16, 2007, 07:45:45 AM
Prosecutors: USF students had explosive materials, instructions. Case against pair shown
Prosecutors: USF students had explosive materials, instructions.
By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 15, 2007
The U.S. Attorney's Office opened up about what was found in the car of two USF students: pipes stuffed with fertilizer, Karo syrup, kitty litter, bullets and fuses, a laptop with Internet searches about martyrdom, Hamas and Qassam rockets and video instructions for turning a child's toy into a detonator.
Ahmed Abda Sherf Mohamed waived his right to a bail hearing. His attorney said he didn't think bond would be granted to him.
The judge ordered Yousef Samir Megahed, 21, to post $200,000 bail, to remain at his family's home, and to leave only for religious services and to meet with his attorneys.
TAMPA - Pipes stuffed with fertilizer, Karo syrup and kitty litter. Bullets and fuses. A laptop with Internet searches about martyrdom, Hamas and Qassam rockets. Video instructions for turning a child's toy into a detonator.
After weeks of silence, the U.S. Attorney's Office opened up about its case against two University of South Florida engineering students facing explosives charges, implying that Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed had something sinister in mind when they left Tampa in early August and headed north.
Despite the grim implications of what the government presented, prosecutors said they had no "hard, specific evidence" of a motive or answers for a judge's questions about what the men intended to do with the items, prompting U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Jenkins to set bail for one of the men, although he remains in custody pending appeal.
The question of intent has been the biggest puzzle since Aug. 4, when Megahed, 21, and Mohamed, 26, were pulled over for speeding in Goose Creek, S.C., and arrested after a deputy became suspicious and searched the pair's car.
From the start, Megahed's family has said the young man went on a harmless road trip, the whims of college students on summer vacation. The family and supporters filled Courtroom 14B on Friday afternoon, and Megahed's siblings were beaming after the judge's ruling.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hoffer laid out the government's case, saying they view the men as dangerous and at risk of fleeing to their home country of Egypt, a place that doesn't always return fugitives to the United States.
Here's what Hoffer said:
When federal agents searched the men's car, a Toyota Camry registered to Megahed's brother, Yahia Megahed, they found the stuffed pipes wrapped in plastic bags in the trunk alongside a 5-gallon container of gasoline.
Explosives experts categorized the items in the trunk as incomplete pipe bombs, each large enough to blow out windows in a room but not strong enough to destroy a house. Potassium nitrate is a low-grade explosive otherwise used as fertilizer. Kitty litter bound the ingredients while syrup could add fuel.
"I think you can safely say it's a bomb," said Edward Dreizin, a New Jersey Institute of Technology chemical engineering professor.
Agents also found a box of bullets underneath the front passenger seat, where Megahed sat. On a laptop hastily unplugged, agents discovered sites that concerned them, including searches of Qassam rockets, weapons developed by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, often made with steel pipe, liquid sugar and potassium nitrate.
The men were taken into custody and separately questioned. Megahed said he knew nothing about the materials in the trunk, Hoffer said. But when both men were put in the back of a squad car, they spoke to each other in Arabic. In that conversation, which was secretly recorded, Megahed asked Mohamed what happened to the pipes, if they exploded.
As agents dug deeper into the men's background, they found troubling information, Hoffer said.
In July, Mohamed posted a video on YouTube that explained how to transform a toy remote controlled car into a detonator, Hoffer said. The 12-minute video is narrated by a man speaking Arabic with an Egyptian accent. It shows no face, only hands.
"Mohamed admitted he made and uploaded it," Hoffer said.
The video's narrator says it's meant "to save one who wants to be a martyr for another day in battle," Hoffer said. The narrator also mentions a previous example that used a remote controlled toy boat. Federal agents searched the New Tampa home of Megahed's family and found a remote controlled toy boat, Hoffer said.
The judge asked if there was a definite link between the two, and Hoffer said no.
The evidence against Mohamed wasn't the focus, though, because he waived his right to a bail hearing. His attorney, Lionel Lofton, was in Tampa on Friday, but said he didn't think a hearing would have been useful at this time.
"I did not feel he would be granted a bond," he said.
Prosecutors also questioned Megahed's interest in weapons. He recently purchased a .22-caliber rifle and had inquired about a Berreta handgun, Hoffer said. Agents found the rifle inside a storage shed, along with welding and scuba diving equipment.
Megahed had joined a shooting range.
"It certainly raised interesting questions when he's training ... he buys a firearm with a scope," Hoffer said.
Prosecutors said Megahed also had "multiple Egyptian passports" and went to Sears in late July to get more passport-sized photos. There were two passports for Megahed with two different names, Hoffer said.
But Assistant U.S. Public Defender Adam Allen said one of the passports had expired, and that Megahed had used another version of his family's name on the document.
Agents did not seize the passports when they searched the Megahed home, Hoffer said, and they feared, if released, Megahed could flee to Egypt, which does not always extradite fugitives back to the United States. Megahed's extensive travel, both to Egypt and to other countries, including Canada, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, also concerned prosecutors.
When Megahed was arrested, he carried only a California-issued identification card and a photocopy of an immigration green card, Hoffer said.
Allen asked the judge to consider that Megahed had no criminal record and could be closely watched by his family.
"I don't think the government's evidence against my client is overwhelming," he said. He called the evidence against Mohamed "pretty damning."
The judge found the evidence to be "strong" but not "overwhelming" enough to prove Megahed was a dangerous flight risk that must be jailed until trial. "I do agree that he poses danger," she said.
She ordered him to post $200,000 bail, to remain at his family's home, and to leave only for religious services and to meet with his attorneys. His family also was required to consent to a search at any time.
After the hearing, prosecutors immediately filed an appeal, which will likely be addressed next week, Allen said.
As they filed from the courtroom, Megahed's family smiled.
"I'm happy, I'm really happy," said his sister, Mariam Megahed, 18. She said prosecutors couldn't back up much of what they suggested, and the judge knew it.
"Maybe they don't have any evidence because she kept asking questions, questions and more questions," she said.
Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was quick to distinguish between Megahed and Mohamed.
"It's obvious there are two separate individuals with different charges and different allegations," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if the two individuals end up having separate cases altogether."
He defended Megahed, saying it appeared he "just happened to be in the car." But he had harsher words for Mohamed.
If he could talk to Mohamed, Bedier said, "I'd say, 'Wake up!' "
He added, "Muslims don't get a second chance when they dabble with things like this. Not only will this have consequences on him, but it will have consequences on most of the Muslims in this country."
Found in the car
When a routine traffic stop led police to search a car driven by Youssef Megahed, here's what was found:
- Three pieces of PVC pipe cut into various sizes, 1 foot or less, filled with potassium nitrate (used in fertilizer) and Karo syrup. Cat litter was used to bind those ingredients.
- Safety fuse, 20 feet.
- Electric drill
- Gasoline, 5 gallon canister
- Laptop computer reflecting visits to the following Web sites: a video file that shows Qassam rockets firing, Hamas information, a discussion of martyrdom, M-16 rifle photos
Source: U.S. Attorney's Office
How much power?
Explosive experts interviewed by the Times say the loaded PVC tubes sound like incomplete pipe bombs, lacking only detonators. Each one, while not powerful enough to blow up a house, could blow out the windows in a room. However, without a detonator, the devices would simply have burned slowly. The chemical combination would not produce what people would typically think of as fireworks.
Sources: Edward Dreizin, New Jersey Institute of Technology chemical engineering professor; Vilem Petr, Colorado School of Mines explosive engineering professor; Van Romero, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology vice president for research
[Last modified September 14, 2007, 23:56:02]http://www.wnd.com/redir/r.asp?http..._pair_sho.shtml
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: September 16, 2007, 07:43:20 AM
Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv, Sarah Baxter in Washington and Michael Sheridan
IT was just after midnight when the 69th Squadron of Israeli F15Is crossed the Syrian coast-line. On the ground, Syria’s formidable air defences went dead. An audacious raid on a Syrian target 50 miles from the Iraqi border was under way.
At a rendezvous point on the ground, a Shaldag air force commando team was waiting to direct their laser beams at the target for the approaching jets. The team had arrived a day earlier, taking up position near a large underground depot. Soon the bunkers were in flames.
Ten days after the jets reached home, their mission was the focus of intense speculation this weekend amid claims that Israel believed it had destroyed a cache of nuclear materials from North Korea.
The Israeli government was not saying. “The security sources and IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] soldiers are demonstrating unusual courage,” said Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. “We naturally cannot always show the public our cards.”
* A tale of two dictatorships: The links between North Korea and Syria
The Syrians were also keeping mum. “I cannot reveal the details,” said Farouk al-Sharaa, the vice-president. “All I can say is the military and political echelon is looking into a series of responses as we speak. Results are forthcoming.” The official story that the target comprised weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group, appeared to be crumbling in the face of widespread scepticism.
Andrew Semmel, a senior US State Department official, said Syria might have obtained nuclear equipment from “secret suppliers”, and added that there were a “number of foreign technicians” in the country.
Asked if they could be North Korean, he replied: “There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that.” He said a network run by AQ Khan, the disgraced creator of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, could be involved.
But why would nuclear material be in Syria? Known to have chemical weapons, was it seeking to bolster its arsenal with something even more deadly?
Alternatively, could it be hiding equipment for North Korea, enabling Kim Jong-il to pretend to be giving up his nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid? Or was the material bound for Iran, as some authorities in America suggest?
According to Israeli sources, preparations for the attack had been going on since late spring, when Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, presented Olmert with evidence that Syria was seeking to buy a nuclear device from North Korea.
The Israeli spy chief apparently feared such a device could eventually be installed on North-Korean-made Scud-C missiles.
“This was supposed to be a devastating Syrian surprise for Israel,” said an Israeli source. “We’ve known for a long time that Syria has deadly chemical warheads on its Scuds, but Israel can’t live with a nuclear warhead.”
An expert on the Middle East, who has spoken to Israeli participants in the raid, told yesterday’s Washington Post that the timing of the raid on September 6 appeared to be linked to the arrival three days earlier of a ship carrying North Korean material labelled as cement but suspected of concealing nuclear equipment.
The target was identified as a northern Syrian facility that purported to be an agricultural research centre on the Euphrates river. Israel had been monitoring it for some time, concerned that it was being used to extract uranium from phosphates.
According to an Israeli air force source, the Israeli satellite Ofek 7, launched in June, was diverted from Iran to Syria. It sent out high-quality images of a northeastern area every 90 minutes, making it easy for air force specialists to spot the facility.
Early in the summer Ehud Barak, the defence minister, had given the order to double Israeli forces on its Golan Heights border with Syria in anticipation of possible retaliation by Damascus in the event of air strikes.
Sergei Kirpichenko, the Russian ambassador to Syria, warned President Bashar al-Assad last month that Israel was planning an attack, but suggested the target was the Golan Heights.
Israeli military intelligence sources claim Syrian special forces moved towards the Israeli outpost of Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights. Tension rose, but nobody knew why.
At this point, Barak feared events could spiral out of control. The decision was taken to reduce the number of Israeli troops on the Golan Heights and tell Damascus the tension was over. Syria relaxed its guard shortly before the Israeli Defence Forces struck.
Only three Israeli cabinet ministers are said to have been in the know � Olmert, Barak and Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister. America was also consulted. According to Israeli sources, American air force codes were given to the Israeli air force attaché in Washington to ensure Israel’s F15Is would not mistakenly attack their US counterparts.
Once the mission was under way, Israel imposed draconian military censorship and no news of the operation emerged until Syria complained that Israeli aircraft had violated its airspace. Syria claimed its air defences had engaged the planes, forcing them to drop fuel tanks to lighten their loads as they fled.
But intelligence sources suggested it was a highly successful Israeli raid on nuclear material supplied by North Korea.
Washington was rife with speculation last week about the precise nature of the operation. One source said the air strikes were a diversion for a daring Israeli commando raid, in which nuclear materials were intercepted en route to Iran and hauled to Israel. Others claimed they were destroyed in the attack.
There is no doubt, however, that North Korea is accused of nuclear cooperation with Syria, helped by AQ Khan’s network. John Bolton, who was undersecretary for arms control at the State Department, told the United Nations in 2004 the Pakistani nuclear scientist had “several other” customers besides Iran, Libya and North Korea.
Some of his evidence came from the CIA, which had reported to Congress that it viewed “Syrian nuclear intentions with growing concern”.
“I’ve been worried for some time about North Korea and Iran outsourcing their nuclear programmes,” Bolton said last week. Syria, he added, was a member of a “junior axis of evil”, with a well-established ambition to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The links between Syria and North Korea date back to the rule of Kim Il-sung and President Hafez al-Assad in the last century. In recent months, their sons have quietly ordered an increase in military and technical cooperation.
Foreign diplomats who follow North Korean affairs are taking note. There were reports of Syrian passengers on flights from Beijing to Pyongyang and sightings of Middle Eastern businessmen from sources who watch the trains from North Korea to China.
On August 14, Rim Kyong Man, the North Korean foreign trade minister, was in Syria to sign a protocol on “cooperation in trade and science and technology”. No details were released, but it caught Israel’s attention.
Syria possesses between 60 and 120 Scud-C missiles, which it has bought from North Korea over the past 15 years. Diplomats believe North Korean engineers have been working on extending their 300-mile range. It means they can be used in the deserts of northeastern Syria � the area of the Israeli strike.
The triangular relationship between North Korea, Syria and Iran continues to perplex intelligence analysts. Syria served as a conduit for the transport to Iran of an estimated £50m of missile components and technology sent by sea from North Korea. The same route may be in use for nuclear equipment.
But North Korea is at a sensitive stage of negotiations to end its nuclear programme in exchange for security guarantees and aid, leading some diplomats to cast doubt on the likelihood that Kim would cross America’s “red line” forbidding the proliferation of nuclear materials.
Christopher Hill, the State Department official representing America in the talks, said on Friday he could not confirm “intelligence-type things”, but the reports underscored the need “to make sure the North Koreans get out of the nuclear business”.
By its actions, Israel showed it is not interested in waiting for diplomacy to work where nuclear weapons are at stake.
As a bonus, the Israelis proved they could penetrate the Syrian air defence system, which is stronger than the one protecting Iranian nuclear sites.
This weekend President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent Ali Akbar Mehrabian, his nephew, to Syria to assess the damage. The new “axis of evil” may have lost one of its spokes.http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/new...cle2461421.ece
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: September 15, 2007, 09:37:08 PM
"The Dems thought so as long ago as 1998 when regime change became the official policy of the US govt.
"You guys seem to think the Democrats are blind, stupid, evil, or all of the above 99% of the time (and frankly, I agree), but you clearly have no issues with them on their decision to support the war. I consider them pretty much as complicit as Bush & co. in all of this, so don't expect what they "believe" to mean all that much to me."
The point under discussion at the moment is the belief that there was an unacceptable risk that SH had/was developing WMD. My point is that, contrary to your original comment, it was NOT only the Bush White House that believed and propagaged this, but also included a remarkably broad and diverse spectrum intel agencies of many countries, the UN
, 1998 Democrats, post 911 Republicans, etc
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: September 15, 2007, 08:54:56 PM
This is an area of considerable dis-ease for me. I can think of scenarios wherein torture is justifiable e.g. stopping an attack, but the slippery slope aspects of this are considerable.
There is the separate question of where the line is to be drawn. I'd have no problem bathing someone in pig fat precisely because of the emotional distress it would trigger even as there would be no physical harm-- yet as I understand it this is not allowed. Likewise ploys that seek to exploit Islamo-fascist neuroses about women. I do not understand why the BGs in Guantanamo are provided Korans.
I also think the Bush-Rumbo team has badly mishandled all this at the cost of considerable damage to the fighting pride of the American people and our good name in the world see e.g. the Bybee memo referenced in one of GM's posts. (BTW kudos here to GM for typically stellar job in providing in extremely short order pertinent and precise data on the questions being raised) Yes, the MSM and the liberal left have done their best to get the interrogation story distorted and lied about, but IMHO the Bush-Rumbo team have plenty of responsibility for how really fcuked up things have gotten.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: September 15, 2007, 07:56:30 PM
"I find it hard to believe that so many people in our government and intelligence agencies (who presumably know a lot more than me) could be so easily fooled."
Well, the CIA missed the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Intel failures are NOT a great rarity. As has been noted here many times, MOST intel agencies thought it probable/plausible that SH had or was working on WMD. The Dems thought so as long ago as 1998 when regime change became the official policy of the US govt. C'mon Rog, how many times do you need to see the quotes of the various big name Dems during the Clinton administration who thought that SH had/wes going for WMD? His failure to live up to his obligations to prove to the UN he had disposed of the WMD is precisely why there was an UN embargo!!! Its precisely why the UN passed Resolution 1441!!! Yet for some reason which eludes logic you insist on trying to portray things as "I find it hard to believe that so many people in our government and intelligence agencies (who presumably know a lot more than me) could be so easily fooled."
Its things like this that lead some to despair of serious conversation with you.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: September 15, 2007, 05:58:45 PM
Rog: I don't recall Bush saying we had to go to war because Saddam violated a cease-fire. I do recall him saying Iraq definitely had working WMD and was months away from having the capability to nuke us, both of which turned out to be complete BS. Clearly this doesn't matter to you.
MD Actually the failure of SH to live up to the conditions of the cease fire was exactly the point of Resolution 1441. SH, reassured by the French that they would via the UN leash us from going in and apparently to bluff Iran, pretended to have/be developing WMD. The blame for our getting it wrong is his-- not ours.
ROG: That does sound like an interesting record. I'm kind of surprised that somebody with your background seems so willing to take so many of our government's claims regarding Iraq, terrorism, etc. at face value.
MD: Will that background and your surprise cause any shift in your thinking? Why/why not?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: September 15, 2007, 12:45:59 PM
From the interesting article GM posted:
"Later, the CIA is said to have used “water-boarding”—temporarily submerging a detainee in water to induce the sensation of drowning—on Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Water-boarding is the most extreme method the CIA has applied"
If it were done to me, I'd think I had been tortured. I'm only aware of it being applied to KSM, and perhaps a small number of others.
Do you think this adds up to simply saying that the "US tortures"? What did you think of the article GM posted? Are you opposed to waterboarding in all cases?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: September 15, 2007, 12:34:52 PM
Good to see alert citizens doing their part. In that vein, here's this:
John Doe in post-9/11 era
September 15, 2007
"If only." Those are the verbal crutches America must discard in a post-September 11, 2001, world.
If only the State Department hadn't been so sloppy in issuing visas to the September 11 hijackers. If only police and state troopers had been able to check the immigration status of the hijackers who were pulled over for speeding before the attacks. If only universities had been more diligent in monitoring the hijackers' whereabouts. If only the feds had listened to alert agents' recommendations to profile young Arab students in our flight schools. If only someone, anyone, had said something when they saw the suspicious behavior of the jihadists on dry runs.
We have borne the bloody costs of coulda-woulda-shoulda. Nearly 3,000 dead. The World Trade Center in ruins. The Pentagon on fire. The fields at Shanksville, Pa., scarred. Six years later, we can no longer afford hindsight heavy breathing. Memory must guide action. And action must be taken without apology.
Zogby released a poll for the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks showing that "77 percent of those living in the East and 46 percent of those living in the West — 61 percent overall — said they think about the attacks at least weekly. Eighty-one percent — 90 percent in the East and 75 percent in the West — said the attacks were the most significant historical events of their lives."
That's good news. But remembrance without resistance to jihad and its enablers is a recipe for another September 11. Not every American wears a military uniform. Every American, however, has a role to play in protecting our homeland — not just from Muslim terrorists, but from their financiers, their public relations machine, their Shariah-pimping activists, the antiwar goons, the civil liberties absolutists and the academic apologists for our enemies.
Earlier this year, jihadist enablers attempted to intimidate citizen whistleblowers who said something about the suspicious behavior of six imams on a US Airways flight in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The legal battle to protect ordinary Americans from such lawsuits gave rise to the John Doe movement. Pro bono lawyers and Republican members of Congress stepped up to provide protection. And Americans across the country expressed solidarity with the airline passengers targeted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and its ilk.
The Left greeted the John Doe movement with mockery and derision, preferring instead to suck its collective thumb, wield the grievance card and play the blame game. But it's the John Does of the country, not the race-hustling litigators and speech-stiflers, who will help prevent the next terrorist attack. They are John Does like Brian Morgenstern, the young Circuit City employee who contacted authorities after viewing a jihadist training video by the Fort Dix Six Plotters.
"It was a difficult decision at first," Mr. Morgenstern told Fox News. "I went home, and I talked with my family about it. And we all came to the general conclusion that it was the right thing to do." No regrets. No apologies. And no "if onlys."
Not everyone is willing to do the right thing. When the FBI recently asked for the public's help in identifying two men acting suspiciously on Pacific Northwest ferries, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper refused to run the photos — and instead held a reader haiku contest mocking the terrorism concerns. When two young Muslim men were arrested and indicted on weapons and terrorism charges after being stopped near a naval base in Goose Creek, S.C., Muslim civil rights groups immediately cried racism and suggested law enforcement officials were bigoted and paranoid.
There are September 10 people and there are September 12 people. The September 10 people live in a world of make-believe, where sensitivity trumps security and second-guessing is their only acceptable homeland security policy. September 12 people are the John Does in your neighborhood, on your plane, train or bus, moving ahead with their lives but always on alert.
We live in post-September 11 reality where "Never forget" is not just a once-a-year slogan. It's a 24/7 frame of mind.
Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Anti-semitism & Jews
on: September 15, 2007, 12:20:27 PM
Scapegoats yet again
Victor Davis Hanson
September 15, 2007
Who recently said: "These Jews started 19 Crusades. The 19th was World War I. Why? Only to build Israel." Some holdover Nazi?
Hardly. It was former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan of Turkey, a NATO ally. He went on to claim that the Jews — whom he refers to as "bacteria" — controlled China, India and Japan, and ran the United States.
Who alleged: "The Arabs who were involved in September 11  cooperated with the Zionists, actually. It was a cooperation. They gave them the perfect excuse to denounce all Arabs." A conspiracy nut? Actually, it was former Democratic U.S. Sen. James Abourezk of South Dakota. He denounced Israel on a Hezbollah-owned television station, adding: "I marveled at the Hezbollah resistance to Israel.... It was a marvel of organization, of courage and bravery."
And finally, who claimed at a U.N.-sponsored conference that democratic Israel was "much worse" than the former apartheid South Africa and that it "undermines the international community's reaction to global warming"? A radical environmentalist wacko? Again, no. It was Clare Short, a member of the British Parliament and Tony Blair's international development secretary.
A new virulent strain of the old anti-Semitism is spreading worldwide. This hate — of a magnitude not seen in more than 70 years — is not just espoused by Iran's loony president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or radical jihadists. The latest anti-Semitism is also now mouthed by world leaders and sophisticated politicians and academics. Their loathing often masquerades as "anti-Zionism" or "legitimate" criticism of Israel. But the venom exclusively reserved for the Jewish state betrays existential hatred.
Israel is always lambasted for entering homes in the West Bank to look for Hamas terrorists and using too much force. But last week the world snoozed when the Lebanese army bombarded and then crushed the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, which harbored Islamic terrorists.
The world has long objected to Jewish settlers buying up land in the West Bank. Yet Hezbollah, flush with Iranian money, is now purchasing large tracts in southern Lebanon for military purposes and purging them of non-Shi'ites.
Here at home, "neoconservative" has become synonymous with a supposed Jewish cabal of Washington insiders who hijacked U.S. policy to take us to war for Israel's interest. That our State Department is at the mercy of a Jewish lobby is the theme of a recent high-profile book by professors at Harvard University and the University of Chicago.
Yet when the United States bombed European and Christian Serbia to help Balkan Muslims, few critics claimed American Muslims had unduly swayed President Clinton. And charges of improper ethnic influence are rarely used to explain the billions in American aid given to nondemocratic Egypt, Jordan or the Palestinians — or the Saudi oil money that pours into U.S. universities.
The world likewise displays such a double standard. It seems to care little about the principle of so-called occupied land — whether in Cyprus or Tibet — unless Israel is the accused. Mass murdering in Cambodia, the Congo, Rwanda and Darfur has earned far fewer United Nations' resolutions of condemnation than supposed atrocities committed by Israel. A number of British academics are sponsoring a boycott of Israeli scholars but leave alone those from autocratic Iran, China and Cuba.
There are various explanations for the new anti-Semitism. For many abroad, attacking Jews and Israel is an indirect way of damning its main ally, the United States — by implying Americans are not entirely evil, just hoodwinked by those sneaky and far more evil Jews.
At home, there are obvious pragmatic considerations. Some Americans may find it makes more sense to damn a few million Israelis without oil than it does to offend Israel's adversaries in the Middle East, who number in the hundreds of millions and control nearly half the world's petroleum reserves.
Cowardice explains a lot. Libeling Israel won't earn someone a fatwa or a death sentence in the manner comparable criticism of Islam might. There are no Jewish suicide bombers in London, Madrid or Bali. This new face of anti-Semitism is so insidious because it is so well disguised, advanced by self-proclaimed diplomats and academics — and now embraced by the supposedly sophisticated left on university campuses.
When national, collective or personal aspirations are not met, it is far easier to blame someone or something rather than to look within for the source of the failure and frustration. More recently, someone must be blamed for getting terrorists (with oil and its profits behind them) mad at us.
That someone is — no surprise — once again Jews.
Victor Davis Hanson is a nationally syndicated columnist and a classicist and historian at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and author of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: September 15, 2007, 11:04:38 AM
C'mon Rog. I didn't say it doesn't exist. I simply said it lacks coherence.
"Concerning our decision to go into Iraq being illegal or not, IMHO President Bush committed an error in going back to the UN after receiving Resolution 1441, which I would argue empowered us to go in as a legal matter. As a political matter though, the President thought it better to go back for , , , re-approval.
IMHO there really is no coherent thing such as international law. When has the UN gotten upset for the French going into west Africa, or NATO into Serbia-Croatia? I don't recall any General Assembly votes on any of that or other similar cases. OTOH it was a big deal when Saddam invaded Kuwait. OTOH it wasn't a big deal when the Arabs tried wiping out Israel. OTOH , , , well you get the idea"
I would also add that international law was rarely invoked against the Soviet Empire's sundry expansions.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Emergency Tips and Emergency Medicine
on: September 15, 2007, 10:42:38 AM
A concussion is a brain injury that may result in a bad headache or unconsciousness.
See All » News & Features
Dark Days Follow Hard-Hitting Career in N.F.L. Expert Ties Ex-Player’s Suicide to Brain Damage A Journey Through Concussion's Foggy Terrain In Sports, Play Smart and Watch Your Head Reference from A.D.A.M.
There are more than a million cases of concussions each year in the United States.
A concussion may result when the head hits an object or a moving object strikes the head. A concussion can result from a fall, sports activities, and car accidents. Significant movement of the brain (jarring) in any direction can cause unconsciousness. How long a person remains unconscious may indicate the severity of the concussion.
Often victims have no memory of events preceding the injury, or immediately after regaining consciousness. More severe head injuries can cause longer periods of memory loss (amnesia).
Usually, a person has the most memory loss immediately after getting hurt. Some of the memory comes back as time goes by. However, complete memory recovery for the event may not occur.
Bleeding into or around the brain can occur with any blow to the head, whether or not unconsciousness occurs. If someone has received a blow to the head, they should be watched closely for signs of possible brain damage.
Things to watch for include repeated vomiting, unequal pupils, confused mental state or varying levels of consciousness, seizure-like activity, weakness on one side of the body or the inability to wake up (coma). If any of these signs are present, immediately call your health care provider.
Back to TopSymptoms
A concussion results from a significant blow to the head. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can include:
Loss of consciousness
Memory loss (amnesia) of events surrounding the injury
Persistent unconsciousness (coma)
Altered level of consciousness (drowsy, hard to arouse, or similar changes)
Unusual eye movements
Muscle weakness on one or both sides
Back to TopSigns and Tests
A neurological examination may show abnormalities.
Tests that may be performed include:
MRI of the head
Back to TopTreatment
An initial "baseline" neurological evaluation by a health care worker determines appropriate treatment for an uncomplicated concussion. If a blow to the head during athletics leads to a bad headache, a feeling of being confused (dazed), or unconsciousness, a trained person must determine when the person can return to playing sports.
If a child or young adult has lost consciousness, that person should not play sports for a period of 3 months. Studies have shown that there is an increased rate of brain injury and occasionally death in people who have had a previous concussion with unconsciousness.
Concussion complicated by bleeding or brain damage must be treated in a hospital.
Back to TopExpectations (prognosis)
Full recovery is expected from an uncomplicated concussion, although prolonged dizziness, irritability, headaches, and other symptoms may occur.
Back to TopComplications
Back to TopCalling Your Health Care Provider
Call your health care provider if anyone has a head injury that produced unconsciousness, or a head injury without unconsciousness produced symptoms that caused concern.
Go to the emergency room, call the local emergency number (such as 911), or contact your health care provider immediately if emergency symptoms develop.
Back to TopPrevention
Attention to safety, including the use of appropriate athletic gear, such as bike helmets and seat belts, reduces the risk of head injury.
Review Date: 3/21/2006
Reviewed By: Eric Perez, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-RooseveltHospital Center, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed HealthcareNetwork.
A head injury is any trauma that leads to injury of the scalp, skull, or brain. The injuries can range from a minor bump on the skull to serious brain injury.
Head injury is classified as either closed or open (penetrating).
A closed head injury means you received a hard blow to the head from striking an object.
An open, or penetrating, head injury means you were hit with an object that broke the skull and entered the brain. This usually happens when you move at high speed, such as going through the windshield during a car accident. It can also happen from a gunshot to the head.
There are several types of brain injuries. Two common types of head injuries are:
Concussion, the most common type of traumatic brain injury
Contusion, which is a bruise on the brain
See All » News & Features
Man Regains Speech After Brain Stimulation When Seasickness Persists After a Return to Solid Ground When a Brain Forgets Where Memory Is At Risk: One Head Injury Sets the Stage for a Second One in Children Reference from A.D.A.M.
Brain injury; Head trauma; Contusion
Every year, millions of people sustain a head injury. Most of these injuries are minor because the skull provides the brain with considerable protection. The symptoms of minor head injuries usually go away on their own. More than half a million head injuries a year, however, are severe enough to require hospitalization.
Learning to recognize a serious head injury, and implementing basic first aid, can make the difference in saving someone's life.
In patients who have suffered a severe head injury, there is often one or more other organ systems injured. For example, a head injury is sometimes accompanied by a spinal injury.
Common causes of head injury include traffic accidents, falls, physical assault, and accidents at home, work, outdoors, or while playing sports.
Some head injuries result in prolonged or non-reversible brain damage. This can occur as a result of bleeding inside the brain or forces that damage the brain directly. These more serious head injuries may cause:
Changes in personality, emotions, or mental abilities
Speech and language problems
Loss of sensation, hearing, vision, taste, or smell
Back to TopSymptoms
The signs of a head injury can occur immediately or develop slowly over several hours. Even if the skull is not fractured, the brain can bang against the inside of the skull and be bruised. (This is called a concussion.) The head may look fine, but complications could result from bleeding inside the skull.
When encountering a person who just had a head injury, try to find out what happened. If he or she cannot tell you, look for clues and ask witnesses. In any serious head trauma, always assume the spinal cord is also injured.
The following symptoms suggest a more serious head injury -- other than a concussion or contusion -- and require emergency medical treatment:
Loss of consciousness, confusion, or drowsiness
Low breathing rate or drop in blood pressure
Fracture in the skull or face, facial bruising, swelling at the site of the injury, or scalp wound
Fluid drainage from nose, mouth, or ears (may be clear or bloody)
Initial improvement followed by worsening symptoms
Irritability (especially in children), personality changes, or unusual behavior
Restlessness, clumsiness, lack of coordination
Slurred speech or blurred vision
Inability to move one or more limbs
Stiff neck or vomiting
Inability to hear, see, taste, or smell
Back to TopFirst Aid
Get medical help immediately if the person:
Becomes unusually drowsy
Develops a severe headache or stiff neck
Vomits more than once
Loses consciousness (even if brief)
For a moderate to severe head injury, take the following steps:
Check the person's airway, breathing, and circulation. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
If the person's breathing and heart rate are normal but the person is unconscious, treat as if there is a spinal injury. Stabilize the head and neck by placing your hands on both sides of the person's head, keeping the head in line with the spine and preventing movement. Wait for medical help.
Stop any bleeding by firmly pressing a clean cloth on the wound. If the injury is serious, be careful not to move the person's head. If blood soaks through the cloth, DO NOT remove it. Place another cloth over the first one.
If you suspect a skull fracture, DO NOT apply direct pressure to the bleeding site, and DO NOT remove any debris from the wound. Cover the wound with sterile gauze dressing.
If the person is vomiting, roll the head, neck, and body as one unit to prevent choking. This still protects the spine, which you must always assume is injured in the case of a head injury. (Children often vomit ONCE after a head injury. This may not be a problem, but call a doctor for further guidance.)
Apply ice packs to swollen areas.
For a mild head injury, no specific treatment may be needed. However, closely watch the person for any concerning symptoms over the next 24 hours. The symptoms of a serious head injury can be delayed. While the person is sleeping, wake him or her every 2 to 3 hours and ask simple questions to check alertness, such as "What is your name?"
If a child begins to play or run immediately after getting a bump on the head, serious injury is unlikely. However, as with anyone with a head injury, closely watch the child for 24 hours after the incident.
Over-the-counter pain medicine (like acetaminophen or ibuprofen) may be used for a mild headache. DO NOT take aspirin, because it can increase the risk of bleeding.
Back to TopDo Not
DO NOT wash a head wound that is deep or bleeding a lot.
DO NOT remove any object sticking out of a wound.
DO NOT move the person unless absolutely necessary.
DO NOT shake the person if he or she seems dazed.
DO NOT remove a helmet if you suspect a serious head injury.
DO NOT pick up a fallen child with any sign of head injury.
DO NOT drink alcohol within 48 hours of a serious head injury.
Back to TopCall Immediately for Emergency Medical Assistance if
Call 911 if:
There is severe head or facial bleeding.
The person is confused, drowsy, lethargic, or unconscious.
The person stops breathing.
You suspect a serious head or neck injury or the person develops any symptoms of a serious head injury.
Back to TopPrevention
Always use safety equipment during activities that could result in head injury. These include seat belts, bicycle or motorcycle helmets, and hard hats.
Obey traffic signals when riding a bicycle. Be predictable so that other drivers will be able to determine your course.
Be visible. DO NOT ride a bicycle at night.
Use age-appropriate car seats or boosters for babies and young children.
Make sure that children have a safe area in which to play.
Supervise children of any age.
DO NOT drink and drive, and DO NOT allow yourself to be driven by someone who you know or suspect has been drinking alcohol.
Back to TopReferences
Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2002.
DeLee JC, Drez, Jr., D, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2003.
Goetz CG, Pappert EJ. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2003:1130-1134.
Review Date: 1/8/2007
Reviewed By: Eric Perez, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Brain damage in boxing, kickboxing, football, etc:
on: September 15, 2007, 10:35:50 AM
In High School Football, an Injury No One Sees
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Kelby Jasmon, left, like many high school teammates, said he would not tell his coach if he thought he had a concussion.
By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: September 15, 2007
To Kelby Jasmon, there was only one answer. The question: If he received yet another concussion this football season, while playing offensive and defensive line for his high school in Springfield, Ill., would he tell a coach or trainer?
“It’s not dangerous to play with a concussion,” said Kelby Jasmon, a senior two-way player for his high school in Springfield, Ill., who has had three concussions. “You’ve got to sacrifice for the sake of the team. The only way I come out is on a stretcher.”
Jasmon, with his battering-ram, freshly buzz-cut head and eyes that danced with impending glory, immediately answered: “No chance. It’s not dangerous to play with a concussion. You’ve got to sacrifice for the sake of the team. The only way I come out is on a stretcher.”
Jasmon, a senior with three concussions on his résumé, looked at two teammates for support and unity. They said the same thing with the same certainty: They did not quite know what a concussion was, and would never tell their coaches if they believed they had sustained one.
Matt Selvaggio, who plays with Jasmon on both lines, said: “Our coaches would take us out in a second. So why would we tell them?”
Many of the 1.2 million teenagers who play high school football are chanting similar war whoops as they strap on their helmets. They either do not know what a concussion is or they simply do not care. Their code of silence, bred by football’s gladiator culture, allows them to play on and sometimes be hurt much worse — sometimes fatally.
The National Football League has recently faced questions about its handling of concussions after four former players were found to have significant brain damage as early as their mid-30s. But teenagers are more susceptible to immediate harm from such injuries because, studies show, their brain tissue is less developed than adults’ and more easily damaged. High school players also typically receive less capable medical care, or none at all.
At least 50 high school or younger football players in more than 20 states since 1997 have been killed or have sustained serious head injuries on the field, according to research by The New York Times.
Experts say many of these accidents could have been prevented by simple awareness of and respect for their gravity.
Poor management of high school players’ concussions “isn’t just a football issue,” said Robert Sallis, president of the American College of Sports Medicine. “It’s a matter of public health.”
Interviews with players indicate that even those aware of the dangers of concussions ignore them. Coaches, trainers and parents can detect a gimpy knee or a separated shoulder, and act. But a concussion is often the player’s secret. It is the one injury no one sees — until a case like Will Benson’s, which no one forgets.
Benson carried himself with a verticality that captivated teachers, classmates and coaches. A handsome, straight-A student headed for the Ivy League, he was the star quarterback for St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Tex.
“He loved the idea of playing for his teammates and his brothers on that battlefield of the gridiron,” recalled his good friend and classmate Kashif Sweet, now a senior at Columbia. “He was a naturally tough kid with a high threshold for pain. He liked to endure things, to conquer things, and have people follow him.”
On a play during St. Stephen’s first game of 2002, as a pile of bodies grew too dense to see through, a crack was heard throughout the stadium: the sound of helmet meeting helmet, two shells of polycarbonate alloy crashing together.
Watching from the stands, Judy Ryser, Benson’s mother, heard the sound — everyone did — and turned to a friend next to her.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said. “I hope that wasn’t Will.”
In the stifling heat of July in Alabama, hundreds of high school players from across the United States gathered at Hoover High School outside Birmingham, preparing to compete in a preseason tournament. They ambled about the field in baggy polyester shorts, helmets dangling from their fingers. Give them each five years and 50 pounds, and it could be an N.F.L. rookie camp.
Some sat on the grandstand’s metal benches, waiting for their games to begin. They were asked about concussions.
Garrick Jones, a senior quarterback at Whitehaven High School in Memphis, said he sustained one last year: He was briefly knocked unconscious when a linebacker picked him up and threw him to the ground on his head. No flag was thrown. He said he wobbled to the huddle, took the next snap and dropped back to pass before his vision blurred completely.
“I couldn’t come out — my team needed me,” Jones said. “You have to keep playing — until you can’t.”
Page 2 of 4)
Some players airily guessed at describing a concussion: “You feel dizzy and stuff”; “when you’re cross-eyed”; “when you feel real sleepy”; “it’s like when you turn into someone else.” Only a few of more than 50 players interviewed at the tournament came close to defining the injury: a blow to the head that causes the brain to crash into the skull. Concussion — the word derives from the Latin concutere, meaning shake violently — is typically followed by dizziness, headache, nausea, lethargy, impaired vision or other disruptions in brain function.
Will Benson (7) returned to the field two weeks after a hard helmet-to-helmet hit, but left the game saying he felt weird. He died five days later.
Ben Mangan, 20, says he still feels the effects of a concussion in 2002. “I was a B student in math before, but now I sit there and I’m like, Why can’t I get this?”
Studies show that concussions are drastically underreported in high school football in part because many youngsters — even adults — still mistakenly think the injury requires the player to have been knocked unconscious. Athletic trainers report about 5 percent of high school players as having had a concussion each season, studies show, but formal widespread surveys of players strongly suggest the number is much higher.
Anonymous questionnaires that ask specifically about concussions have reported rates among high school football players at about 15 percent each season; when the word concussion is omitted and a description of symptoms is provided instead, close to 50 percent of players say they had one, with 35 percent reporting two or more. Although concussions remain one of the more imprecise diagnoses in sports medicine — magnetic resonance imaging exams and CAT scans cannot detect them — the players’ testimony has been taken by experts to indicate that a vast majority of concussions are not treated.
Asked to define a concussion, Josh Bailey, a senior safety at Patterson High in Louisiana, could not. After being told, he said he definitely had one last year, when his head slammed against another player’s knee. He said no one noticed, and he never considered leaving the game.
“Football, it’s all about contact — you kind of have to suck it up,” Bailey said. “Because you’re going to feel pain. That’s what the game is about. If you don’t put yourself through that, you don’t really love the game.”
The crack on the St. Stephen’s field five years ago was indeed the sound of Will Benson’s helmet slamming into another. He played the rest of the game, which his team lost. Admitting to headaches several days later, Benson sat out the next game — and St. Stephen’s lost again.
“He felt a lot of responsibility,” recalled Jay Lamy, a volunteer coach that season. “He didn’t want to let his teammates down. He knew the impact that he had.”
That influence was felt the next Friday night. Filling his No. 7 uniform as only a star quarterback can, Benson ran for a touchdown in the first quarter.
But later in the half, with seemingly no provocation, he took off his helmet and walked off the field. Benson told his coach he felt weird and had “big blobs” in his vision. He sat on the bench and put a towel over his head. Then a golf cart took him to the trainer’s room.
A few minutes later, Benson was screaming in a way that no one present will ever forget.
“Mom!” he shrieked before he lost consciousness.
Doctors call it second-impact syndrome. Almost solely among teenagers, sustaining another blow to the head — even a seemingly benign one — before a first has healed can set off a devastating chain of metabolic events: Cerebral blood flow increases, arteries swell past capacity, and pressure builds inside the brain, often leading to coma and death. Helmets can do only so much to keep youngsters’ brains from sloshing inside their skulls, like the yolk inside an egg.
A recent study in The American Journal of Sports Medicine led by Barry P. Boden of the Orthopaedic Center in Rockville, Md., found that catastrophic football head injuries were three times as prevalent among high school players as college players — and that “an unacceptably high percentage of high school players were playing with residual symptoms from a prior head injury.”
For many victims, staying alive is only the first challenge. Kort Breckenridge of Tetonia, Idaho, has trouble holding down a job because of short-term memory problems stemming from a football brain injury two years ago. Brady Beran of Lincoln, Neb., emerged from a coma reading at a kindergarten level; he remains in physical therapy with hopes of running again.
Second-impact syndrome is relatively rare, however. Experts said that for every such case there can be hundreds of victims of postconcussion syndrome, leaving youngsters depressed, irritable and unable to concentrate, and they sometimes miss school for weeks or perform poorly on tests. Ben Mangan of Lewisburg, Ohio, still has mood swings and cognitive problems deriving from at least one major concussion in 2002.
It definitely has held me back in progressing through school,” said Mangan, now 20 and attending a small Ohio college. “I was a B student in math before, but now I sit there and I’m like, Why can’t I get this? I’ll do the same problem five times and keep getting different answers. It’s really frustrating.”
With no limp or wince to advertise most concussions, coaches and sideline medical staff must be keenly aware of their signs; waiting for gross disorientation or nausea invites disaster.
Diagnostic methods vary in science and scope, but most involve asking questions to gauge a player’s awareness, testing short-term memory by repeating strings of words and numbers backward and forward, and administering short pencil-and-paper tests. Players are encouraged to be re-examined after physical exertion to see if headache or cognitive problems return.
Many school districts require an ambulance and paramedics to be on-site in case of emergencies, but a sideline physician is often a luxury. Only 42 percent of high schools in the United States have access to a certified athletic trainer, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
“Budgets are tight,” said Bob Colgate, the assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations. “You hate to say that, but it’s a reality.”
Howells High School is among the 77 percent of Nebraska schools without an athletic trainer. The football coach, Mike Spiers, said that he cannot monitor the health of every player, many of whom he speaks with only a few times a game.
“I have a tremendous fear of all injuries that could permanently damage a kid,” Spiers said. “It’s something that may convince me not to do this anymore.”
At midweek practices, which often feature even more banging and tackling than games, volunteer coaches with little training typically evaluate injuries while the head coach calls plays.
Sallis, of the American College of Sports Medicine, joined many experts in saying he was not trying to discourage the playing of football, only the widespread acceptance of playing it unsafely.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “High schools hire a zillion coaches before they wonder about hiring a trainer. If you hire a head football coach, that next hire should be an athletic trainer.”
As Will Benson wailed, vomited, had a seizure and lost consciousness, the ambulance dispatched for him could not find the entrance to the St. Stephen’s campus. According to records released by the local emergency medical services unit, it spent 13 minutes trying to find the trainer’s room.
A helicopter whisked Benson to a hospital as the game continued. Coaches were confused: He had not been involved in any notable hits or tackles in the game.
Bleeding in his brain, Benson slipped into a coma that night and never regained consciousness. A neurosurgeon operated to relieve pressure inside the skull but could not revive him. Five days later, Benson was declared brain dead. He was kept alive overnight so his organs could be harvested for donation.
There is no shortage of unenlightened coaches. Scott Robertson, a volunteer team physician for Nipomo High in Southern California, said he had seen coaches at other schools “berate and ostracize” players who complained of concussion symptoms. Jerry Bornstein, another team physician for several Los Angeles-area schools, said a coach once yelled at him for refusing to let a concussed player return to a game. His response: “I’ll be happy to, Coach, as long as you accept the responsibility for this kid waking up dead tomorrow morning.”
Ellen Marmer, the team physician for Rockville High School in Vernon, Conn., said that after she determined an offensive player from the opposing team was unfit to play after a concussion, his coach had him switch uniforms to try to play defense.
Parents lose perspective as well. Garrick Jones, a quarterback from Memphis, said that the week after his concussion, his father pleaded with the coach to let him play. (The coach won.) Vito Perriello, the team doctor for St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Va., said, “I have had parents tear up the form that I’ve filled out strongly recommending their child not play, and shop a doc to get their kid O.K.’d.”
(Page 4 of 4)
Yet many experts say that as poorly as adults can behave, it is the football bravado they instill in children, the thirst for competition and the blind eye to pain, that keeps players in the game. More than a dozen high school players at the Alabama tournament said they had hidden concussions from their coaches and medical personnel to stay on the field.
“If the coach knew about it, he’d take us out,” said Matt Arent, a quarterback in Nashville. “They treat us like we’re their own kids. It comes down to the player not telling the coach that something’s wrong.”
Players will hide from trainers and try to sneak back into huddles. They will rehearse answers to impress the trainer, so they won’t forget to use magic phrases like “I don’t have any headache at all” when asked.
One maneuver involves the preseason memory and cognitive tests many schools administer as a baseline for comparison should a player sustain a concussion. Several doctors and trainers said they have heard players boast of purposely doing poorly on the preseason tests so they will be more readily found fit to play.
A paradox has developed in high school football: The more strict the rules, the more likely they are to be evaded by the players they aim to protect. Many doctors support a rule whereby any player sustaining a concussion cannot return to play that day. But Sallis supported a more realistic approach, in which a player may return to the game if doctors are convinced the symptoms have cleared.
If not, Sallis said: “Players are all going to stop telling the team physician that they have any symptoms — they’re going to hide them. Which we know they already do, but I think it’s going to get even worse. It’s putting them at more risk.”
Dick Benson spent five years trying to wring something positive out of his son Will’s death. In June, Will’s Bill, legislation he crusaded for, was signed into law.
It requires every Texas high school coach and official involved in every sport to be trained in basic safety and emergency procedures. Beyond neck injuries and heart attacks, special attention will be afforded to the symptoms of concussion and roots of second-impact syndrome. Benson said: “We’re not teaching people the principles of neurology. This is fundamental, basic stuff.”
The law does not apply to Will’s old high school, however. It originally covered parochial and private schools, but the primary sponsor of the bill, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, said it became entangled in “a raging school-voucher argument.” The legislation had to be scaled back “over politics,” she said.
Benson said that he hoped that the steps taken in his son’s name would reach other states, but added that the process would be slow at best.
“It usually takes something like Will to get people to take this kind of thing seriously,” he said. “People like learning things the hard way.”
Particularly adolescents. Playing linebacker two years ago, Riley Haynes of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., tackled a running back with such force that he found himself on the ground, all but unconscious, not remembering his name. His head throbbed, and he had no idea where he was.
A teammate reminded him. He jumped on top of Haynes and screamed through his face mask: “That’s football, baby! That’s football, baby!”
Haynes gathered himself, stumbled back to his position and took his stance for the next snap
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: September 15, 2007, 10:18:03 AM
Now that we've read that about Romney, here's Hillary's Health Care:
Thirteen years after Hillary Rodham Clinton's plan for health care went down to disastrous defeat, she is back with a new proposal that again seeks to cover all Americans but reflects some lessons learned.
COMPARING THE PLANS
• Chart: What the candidates are proposing.
• Complete coverage: Campaign 2008The Democratic presidential candidate is set to unveil her new approach in Iowa Monday, and she will include a requirement that everyone get health insurance. A big difference from last time: She's proposing to build on the existing system of insuring Americans -- a mix of private coverage and government-subsidized care -- not remake it altogether.
Still, Mrs. Clinton's plan, described by people familiar with it, would involve sweeping change. It would create new federal subsidies to aid those who couldn't afford the required health coverage. And it would impose new mandates on large employers to provide health coverage or help pay for it.
That will surely trigger sharp criticism from conservatives branding her plan government-dictated "HillaryCare" and comparing it to the unwieldy overhaul she proposed 13 years ago during her husband's presidency. Yet she may find Americans more receptive to an expanded federal role in health care, as the national mood has changed since the 1990s and states have experimented with universal-coverage plans.
The number of people without insurance has risen to 47 million from 39.7 million in 1993, and insurance premiums have doubled for those with coverage.
Mrs. Clinton's two principal rivals for the Democratic nomination, John Edwards and Barack Obama, both have comprehensive plans that, like Sen. Clinton's, build on action in the states and place mandates on employers. Republicans Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani also have detailed their more market-oriented approaches. Mr. Romney would rely on the states to lead change; Mr. Giuliani wants changes to the federal tax code that would make it easier to buy coverage on the open market.
But no candidate has been as closely watched on the issue as Mrs. Clinton. Health care and Iraq are likely to be the two central issues that define how the New York senator's candidacy is perceived by voters and key constituencies from labor to business.
On the presidential campaign trail, Sen. Clinton regularly mentions her scars from the 1993 effort, saying it gave her the experience to get the job done this time. Aides say she is diligently implementing battle lessons.
Chief among them: Assure people who already like their coverage that they can keep it, and that her plan still offers something for them. To that end, she first offered detailed proposals on reducing health-care costs and improving quality, before moving on to address how she would expand coverage to those who don't have it.
Officials at the Clinton campaign declined to discuss details of the proposal Sen. Clinton is scheduled to release Monday. While people familiar with it said the outline is in place, details could change over the weekend.
Sen. Clinton has telegraphed that, unlike last time, she would be willing to compromise to get a deal. She regularly cites the importance of developing consensus. In recent months, she has met with dozens of executives at large corporations to talk about health care, hoping to forestall a backlash during her campaign and, if she wins, her presidency.
Robert Galvin, director of global health care for General Electric Co., met with her in a small group a few months ago. He says she hit a "home run" in understanding business and its concerns. "I saw in there someone who came out of a tough experience in the '90s wiser, more patient, and with a real understanding of the complexities and how every stakeholder had to have some win," says Mr. Galvin.
The Clinton 2007 health plan is likely to be less threatening to the insurance industry, which helped kill her earlier plan. Mrs. Clinton's rhetoric denouncing the industry remains sharp -- but her plan is less so.
Last time, she proposed caps on premiums to hold down costs and a system under which insurance companies would be required to bid for regional business. This time, insurance companies would be required to sell a policy to anyone who applied and would be barred from charging sick people more. But they wouldn't face limits on how much they could charge for premiums generally.
The most significant element of the Clinton plan is expected to be a new requirement for all Americans to have insurance. That disturbs some liberals, who worry that low-income families won't be able to afford it, as well as some conservatives, who object to such a sweeping government mandate. But many health-policy experts say it's essential that everyone be in the insurance system so that healthy people with low medical costs can balance out the sick.
Sen. Edwards, too, has proposed an individual mandate; Sen. Obama has not. Gov. Romney supported the mandate when he was governor of Massachusetts but has not endorsed it nationally.
To help people get insurance, Sen. Clinton would establish federal subsidies for lower-income Americans and create new pools where individuals and small businesses could shop for private health plans.
She is also likely to require that some employers, likely large ones, either cover their workers or help pay the cost of their coverage elsewhere. That will be controversial with employers that don't provide insurance, though likely welcomed by those that do. Exempting small business could eliminate opposition from small-business owners, who helped lead the effort to kill the 1993 plan.
Sen. Clinton also supports expansion of the joint federal-state Children's Health Insurance Program. Conservatives led by President Bush oppose that, saying it's a step toward government-run insurance for all, in what has become something of a proxy for the larger health-coverage debate.
Politically, analysts say the health issue cuts both ways for Sen. Clinton. Polls suggest Americans trust her more than any presidential candidate of either party when it comes to health. A July Gallup poll found that 65% of all voters had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that she would do the "right thing" for the health-care system. Among Democrats, the figure was 91%.
"People see her as very committed to health care and making sure people in this country have coverage," says Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who worked for opponents of the original Clinton plan and now works for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Still, he said, Mrs. Clinton is vulnerable among swing voters and Republicans, particularly if she produces a health plan that is seen as too complicated or too government-driven.
In certain circles, her name is synonymous with big, government-run health. Republicans regularly deride health care proposals they don't like as "HillaryCare." A summary of Mr. Romney's health care plan, posted on his Web site, contains the word "Hillary" 23 times, attacks her 1993 plan as "socialized medicine" and is headlined, "The Romney Vision: Conservative, Market-Based Health Care Vs. Hillarycare."
Sen. Clinton says she has learned her lessons. For one, in 1993 the White House got too mired in the details, delivering to Congress a 1,342-page bill for consideration. By giving so many specifics, the Clintons gave opponents with special interests easy fodder to kill the plan, while the public was bewildered.
By contrast, her aides speak admiringly of President Bush's approach on many domestic issues: put out general principles, negotiate the details with Congress and, more often that not, declare victory when a bill reaches his desk.
At one stage, Mrs. Clinton's aides considered not presenting a specific plan for covering the uninsured, noting that many Americans thought she had one already. But pressure from other candidates and from the powerful Service Employers International Union persuaded her to come forward. Messrs. Obama and Edwards had criticized her for sticking to generalities even as they offered specifics.
Aides say Sen. Clinton knows that the White House erred last time in failing to woo Congress, meaning her plan had few champions on Capitol Hill. In her later White House years, Mrs. Clinton learned to work more effectively with Congress and saw some successes, such as bipartisan passage of the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Since winning election to the Senate in 2000, Mrs. Clinton has worked with Republicans on a range of health issues. She allied with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on health benefits for veterans, although he had served as a manager of the effort to impeach her husband. She has even exchanged warm words on health with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who helped lead the effort to torpedo her 1993 plan.