Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / While Prez Hamlet dawdles
on: November 07, 2009, 02:08:33 PM
THE IMPLICATIONS OF A PARTIAL U.N. RELOCATION FROM AFGHANISTAN
THE UNITED NATIONS on Thursday announced plans to relocate about 600 personnel who
have been working in Afghanistan. The move follows a recent attack on U.N. living
quarters in Kabul that left six people dead. The relocation is intended to be
temporary, and U.N. personnel will continue to work on their projects from afar. But
the message is clear: U.N. officials believe that the organization’s foreign
employees in Afghanistan are vulnerable.
Even as U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration contemplates its strategic
options in Afghanistan, senior commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal is pushing forward
with a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign. This model of warfare entails a generally
protracted effort to win the support of the local population. As an outside power,
the U.S. military has inherent difficulty with blending in and understanding the
local population. This limits the availability of intelligence, it makes identifying
the enemy difficult, and it can make traditional advantages -- such as overwhelming
firepower -- self-defeating if they are not wielded with discretion.
But COIN also implies the need to establish a friendly political environment. NATO
forces use provincial reconstruction teams that coordinate a broader spectrum of
government services than military units can provide. Aid agencies are also critical
and will continue to play an important role after troops have left.
Attacking aid agencies therefore can be an effective tool. Aid agencies can be
particularly casualty-averse (especially when it comes to Western foreign
nationals), and when push comes to shove, they are not able to operate in highly
dangerous conditions. While they take advantage of the opportunity to employ locals,
they also rely on an outside, professional presence to orchestrate operations.
"The more that can be done outside of the military rubric, the more the military
will be able to focus on its core goal: security."
Aid agencies have to be visible, dispersed and engaged with populations that may or
may not be friendly to foreign powers. Essentially, if they are to conduct
operations, they are vulnerable to attack. In less hostile environments, this is
part of the job. But when there cannot be a reasonable expectation of security, they
cannot do their jobs. If the U.N. is not able to protect its personnel in Kabul, it
speaks volumes about maintaining safety throughout the country.
The more that can be done outside of the military rubric, the more the military will
be able to focus on its core goal: security. The problem is that if aid agencies are
unable to help with the development side of counterinsurgency, the burden falls to
an overstretched military -- or the work doesn't get done.
Provincial reconstruction teams are still at work. Thousands of Afghan nationals are
still employed by the U.N. But on Thursday, the U.N. took a significant step back
from Afghanistan -- a step that parallels those of many NATO states that refuse to
commit new resources and are anxious to withdraw from the country.
The U.N. has not given up on Afghanistan. But by drawing down personnel at what
McChrystal repeatedly has declared to be the critical moment in the now 8-year-old
campaign, the move raises serious questions about the efficacy of the current
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stop Obama-Pelosi's healthcare
on: November 06, 2009, 05:24:53 PM
To view this email as a web page, go to the link below, or copy and paste it into
your browser's address window.http://cl.exct.net/?qs=c9bc19fa1a30fb0f56186d928f3087034ecd9d382da883f7ad677a5b74428212 http://cl.exct.net/?qs=c9bc19fa1a30fb0f1410be4b708a2b4bb282ac3421886c6ec45c3eb56f446228
This Saturday. That's when Speaker Pelosi will try to ram her 1,990 page government
healthcare bill through the House of Representatives.
If we want to defeat this, we have to make our voices heard. Right now. We're
setting a goal of making 100,000 phone calls to Congress before the vote.
Will you help out? Go here to get the phone number for your representative:http://cl.exct.net/?qs=c9bc19fa1a30fb0fa0fdfeb9c03f2b8ab55f758e457c681f985ef041c9673efc
Urge him or her to vote NO on H.R. 3962. We don't need a government takeover of
Remember, the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen. Please take a moment
and make the call. Remind Congress that in America,we the people shape the future.
Thank you for taking a stand. Know that there are millions of other Americans
standing with you.
P.S. Once you call, be sure to let your friends and family know to call as well.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom
on: November 06, 2009, 05:17:28 PM
COUNTERTERRORISM: SHIFTING FROM 'WHO' TO 'HOW'
By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton
In the 11th edition of the online magazine Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battle),
which was released to jihadist Web sites last week, al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wahayshi wrote an article that called for jihadists
to conduct simple attacks against a variety of targets. The targets included "any
tyrant, intelligence den, prince" or "minister" (referring to the governments in the
Muslim world like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen), and "any crusaders whenever you
find one of them, like at the airports of the crusader Western countries that
participate in the wars against Islam, or their living compounds, trains etc.," (an
obvious reference to the United States and Europe and Westerners living in Muslim
Al-Wahayshi, an ethnic Yemeni who spent time in Afghanistan serving as a lieutenant
under Osama bin Laden, noted these simple attacks could be conducted with readily
available weapons such as knives, clubs or small improvised explosive devices
(IEDs). According to al-Wahayshi, jihadists "don't need to conduct a big effort or
spend a lot of money to manufacture 10 grams of explosive material" and that they
should not "waste a long time finding the materials, because you can find all these
in your mother's kitchen, or readily at hand or in any city you are in."
That al-Wahayshi gave these instructions in an Internet magazine distributed via
jihadist chat rooms, not in some secret meeting with his operational staff,
demonstrates that they are clearly intended to reach grassroots jihadists -- and are
not intended as some sort of internal guidance for AQAP members. In fact,
al-Wahayshi was encouraging grassroots jihadists to "do what Abu al-Khair did"
referring to AQAP member Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, the Saudi suicide bomber
who attempted to kill Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with
a small IED on Aug. 28.
The most concerning aspect of al-Wahayshi's statement is that it is largely true.
Improvised explosive mixtures are in fact relatively easy to make from readily
available chemicals -- if a person has the proper training -- and attacks using
small IEDs or other readily attainable weapons such as knives or clubs (or firearms
in the United States) are indeed quite simple to conduct.
As STRATFOR has noted for several years now, with al Qaeda's structure under
continual attack and no regional al Qaeda franchise groups in the Western
Hemisphere, the most pressing jihadist threat to the U.S. homeland at present stems
from grassroots jihadists, not the al Qaeda core. This trend has been borne out by
the large number of plots and arrests over the past several years, to include
several so far in 2009. The grassroots have likewise proven to pose a critical
threat to Europe (although it is important to note that the threat posed by
grassroots operatives is more widespread, but normally involves smaller, less
strategic attacks than those conducted by the al Qaeda core).
From a counterterrorism perspective, the problem posed by grassroots operatives is
that unless they somehow self-identify by contacting a government informant or
another person who reports them to authorities, attend a militant training camp, or
conduct electronic correspondence with a person or organization under government
scrutiny, they are very difficult to detect.
The threat posed by grassroots operatives, and the difficulty identifying them,
highlight the need for counterterrorism programs to adopt a proactive, protective
intelligence approach to the problem -- an approach that focuses on "the how" of
militant attacks instead of just "the who."
In the traditional, reactive approach to counterterrorism, where authorities respond
to a crime scene after a terrorist attack to find and arrest the militants
responsible for the attack, it is customary to focus on the who, or on the
individual or group behind the attack. Indeed, in this approach, the only time much
emphasis is placed on the how is either in an effort to identify a suspect when an
unknown actor carried out the attack, or to prove that a particular suspect was
responsible for the attack during a trial. Beyond these limited purposes, not much
attention is paid to the how.
In large part, this focus on the who is a legacy of the fact that for many years,
the primary philosophy of the U.S. government was to treat counterterrorism as a
law-enforcement program, with a focus on prosecution rather than on disrupting
Certainly, catching and prosecuting those who commit terrorist attacks is necessary,
but from our perspective, preventing attacks is more important, and prevention
requires a proactive approach. To pursue such a proactive approach to
counterterrorism, the how becomes a critical question. By studying and understanding
how attacks are conducted -- i.e., the exact steps and actions required for a
successful attack -- authorities can establish systems to proactively identify early
indicators that planning for an attack is under way. People involved in planning the
attack can then be focused on, identified, and action can be taken prevent them from
conducting the attack or attacks they are plotting. This means that focusing on the
how can lead to previously unidentified suspects, e.g., those who do not
"How was the attack conducted?" is the primary question addressed by protective
intelligence, which is, at its core, a process for proactively identifying and
assessing potential threats. Focusing on the how, then, requires protective
intelligence practitioners to carefully study the tactics, tradecraft and behavior
associated with militant actors involved in terrorist attacks. This allows them to
search for and identify those behaviors before an attack takes place. Many of these
behaviors are not by themselves criminal in nature; visiting a public building and
observing security measures or standing on the street to watch the arrival of a VIP
at their office are not illegal, but they can be indicators that an attack is being
plotted. Such legal activities ultimately could be overt actions in furtherance of
an illegal conspiracy to conduct the attack, but even where conspiracy cannot be
proved, steps can still be taken to identify possible assailants and prevent a
potential attack -- or at the very least, to mitigate the risk posed by the people
Protective intelligence is based on the fact that successful attacks don't just
happen out of the blue. Rather, terrorist attacks follow a discernable attack cycle.
There are critical points during that cycle where a plot is most likely to be
detected by an outside observer. Some of the points during the attack cycle when
potential attackers are most vulnerable to detection are while surveillance is being
conducted and weapons are being acquired. However, there are other, less obvious
points where people on the lookout can spot preparations for an attack.
It is true that sometimes individuals do conduct ill-conceived, poorly executed
attacks that involve shortcuts in the planning process. But this type of
spur-of-the-moment attack is usually associated with mentally disturbed individuals
and it is extremely rare for a militant actor to conduct a spontaneous terrorist
attack without first following the steps of the attack cycle.
To really understand the how, protective intelligence practitioners cannot simply
acknowledge that something like surveillance occurs. Rather, they must turn a
powerful lens on steps like preoperational surveillance to gain an in-depth
understanding of them. Dissecting an activity like preoperational surveillance
requires not only examining subjects such as the demeanor demonstrated by those
conducting surveillance prior to an attack and the specific methods and cover for
action and status used. It also requires identifying particular times where
surveillance is most likely and certain optimal vantage points (called perches in
surveillance jargon) from where a surveillant is most likely to operate when seeking
to surveil a specific facility or event. This type of complex understanding of
surveillance can then be used to help focus human or technological
countersurveillance efforts where they can be most effective.
Unfortunately, many counterterrorism investigators are so focused on the who that
they do not focus on collecting this type of granular how information. When we have
spoken with law enforcement officers responsible for investigating recent grassroots
plots, they gave us blank stares in response to questions about how the suspects had
conducted surveillance on the intended targets. They simply had not paid attention
to this type of detail -- but this oversight is not really the investigators' fault.
No one had ever explained to them why paying attention to, and recording, this type
of detail was important. Moreover, it takes specific training and a practiced eye to
observe and record these details without glossing over them. For example, it is
quite useful if a protective intelligence officer has first conducted a lot of
surveillance, because conducting surveillance allows one to understand what a
surveillant must do and where he must be in order to effectively observe
surveillance of a specific person or place.
Similarly, to truly understand the tradecraft required to build an IED and the
specific steps a militant needs to complete to do so, it helps to go to an IED
school where the investigator learns the tradecraft firsthand. Militant actors can
and do change over time. New groups, causes and ideologies emerge, and specific
militants can be killed, captured or retire. But the tactical steps a militant must
complete to conduct a successful attack are constant. It doesn't matter if the
person planning an attack is a radical environmentalist, a grassroots jihadist or a
member of the al Qaeda core, for while these diverse actors will exhibit different
levels of professionalism in regard to terrorist tradecraft, they still must follow
essentially the same steps, accomplish the same tasks and operate in the same areas.
Knowing this allows protective intelligence to guard against different levels of
Of course, tactics can be changed and perfected and new tactics can be developed
(often in response to changes in security and law enforcement operations).
Additionally, new technologies can emerge (like cell phones and Google Earth) --
which can alter the way some of these activities are conducted, or reduce the time
it takes to complete them. Studying the tradecraft and behaviors needed to execute
evolving tactics, however, allows protective intelligence practitioners to respond
to such changes and even alter how they operate in order to more effectively search
for potential hostile activity.
Technology does not only aid those seeking to conduct attacks. There are a variety
of new tools, such as Trapwire, a software system designed to work with camera
systems to help detect patterns of preoperational surveillance, that can be focused
on critical areas to help cut through the fog of noise and activity and draw
attention to potential threats. These technological tools can help turn the tables
on unknown plotters because they are designed to focus on the how. They will likely
never replace human observation and experience, but they can serve as valuable aids
to human perception.
Of course, protective intelligence does not have to be the sole responsibility of
federal authorities specifically charged with counterterrorism. Corporate security
managers and private security contractors should also apply these principles to
protecting the people and facilities in their charge, as should local and state
police agencies. In a world full of soft targets -- and limited resources to protect
those targets from attack -- the more eyes looking for such activity the better.
Even the general public has an important role to play in practicing situational
awareness and spotting potential terrorist activity.
Keeping it Simple?
Al-Wahayshi is right that it is not difficult to construct improvised explosives
from a wide range of household chemicals like peroxide and acetone or chlorine and
brake fluid. He is also correct that some of those explosive mixtures can be
concealed in objects ranging from electronic items to picture frames, or can be
employed in forms ranging from hand grenades to suicide vests. Likewise, low-level
attacks can also be conducted using knives, clubs and guns.
Furthermore, when grassroots jihadists plan and carry out attacks acting as lone
wolves or in small compartmentalized cells without inadvertently betraying their
mission by conspiring with people known to the authorities, they are not able to be
detected by the who-focused systems, and it becomes far more difficult to discover
and thwart these plots. This focus on the how absolutely does not mean that
who-centered programs must be abandoned. Surveillance on known militants, their
associates and communications should continue, efforts to identify people attending
militant training camps or fighting in places like Afghanistan or Somalia must be
increased, and people who conduct terrorist attacks should be identified and
However -- and this is an important however -- if an unknown militant is going to
conduct even a simple attack against some of the targets al-Wahayshi suggests, such
as an airport, train, or specific leader or media personality, complexity creeps
into the picture, and the planning cycle must be followed if an attack is going to
be successful. The prospective attacker must observe and quantify the target,
construct a plan for the attack and then execute that plan. The demands of this
process will force even an attacker previously unknown to the authorities into a
position where he is vulnerable to discovery. If the attacker does this while there
are people watching for such activity, he will likely be seen. But if he does this
while there are no watchers, there is little chance that he will become a who until
after the attack has been completed.
This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution towww.stratfor.com
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud (ACORN et al), corruption etc.
on: November 04, 2009, 08:37:13 PM
William Ayers Visited White House – No, Not That One
The Obama administration has released a preliminary list of White House visitors as part of its promise to release to the public a record of people who came to the White House as well as "when they came, how long they were here, and who they met with."
The list, which is here, includes the names "William Ayers" and "Jeremiah Wright." But the White House says they aren't the Ayers and Wright that are known to the public.
"A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000 each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement. "Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few 'false positives' – names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else."
"In September, requests were submitted for the names of some famous or controversial figures (for example Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright, Robert Kelly ("R. Kelly"), and Malik Shabazz)," he continued. "The well-known individuals with those names never actually came to the White House. Nevertheless, we were asked for those names and so we have included records for those individuals who were here and share the same names."
Among the names on the list that appear to not be "false positives" are Bill Gates and George Clooney.
The White House told CBS News that it has social security number records that show that the Ayers who visited and the controversial William Ayers whose connections to Mr. Obama were brought up several times during the campaign last year are not one in the same.
It's unclear why the White House is including the names of people who went on White House tours with their listing of those who have come to the White House on official business. It may be news to those who have gone on the tours that a record of their visit will be released to the public.
The White House announced in September that it would release the records of visitors from the previous 90-120 days every month, "aside from a small group of appointments that cannot be disclosed because of national security imperatives or their necessarily confidential nature (such as a visit by a possible Supreme Court nominee)."
Those releases begin in December. The White House had also said it would release information about visitors prior to the beginning of the disclosure program in response to specific requests. This release is in response to such requests, 110 of which the White House says it has processed. It covers specific requests about visitors between January 20, 2009 to July 31, 2009.http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/10/30/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5466001.shtml
William Ayers Visited White House – No, Not That Onehttp://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2009/10/white-house-posts-visitor-lists-is-that-the-bill-ayers-no.html
WASHINGTON - For one brief, shining moment, it looked like conspiracy theorists had found the mother lode on Friday as the White House released visitor logs with such names as William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright and Michael Moore.
But alas, they weren't that Ayers, Wright or Moore.
The people who actually came to the White House just had the same or similar names as 1960s terrorist bomber Ayers, controversial preacher Wright and leftist filmmaker Moore, said White House Special Counsel Norm Eisen.
"The well-known individuals with those names never actually came to the White House," Eisen said on the White House blog.
The visitor logs from Jan. 20 through July 31, released in reponse to information requests, also included people who are the real deals. They ranged from former Vice President Al Gore and liberal-cause bankroller George Soros to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney and Denzel Washington.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Palin phenomenon
on: November 03, 2009, 09:03:16 PM
I have been a big admirer of Newt for many years, but in the past presidential campaign I got the whiff of things I did not care for and in the Scuzzyfava affair he has seriously and perhaps permanently damaged my opinion of him. In this moment to back a candidate backed by ACORN, who is for the end to secrecy in unionizing votes, and so forth is just so spectacularly wrong AND tin eared that I just don't know what to say.
OTOH Sarah has, once again showed heart and political killer instinct.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word
on: November 03, 2009, 08:42:27 PM
A Jew follows all the rules and regulations, prays all the time asking God for help. He has a rather crummy life. His wife is a shrew getting fatter by the day, his business never catches a break, his children are no goodniks. For his neighbor its the reverse. He is exceedingly casual about all the rules and regulations of Judiasm and his life is great. Gorgeous wife who loves him, business success comes easily, his children are all tremendously reailzed, etc.
So the bad luck Jew prays more and more to God and follows the rules and regulations with ever greater dedication. Still, its more of the same in his life and his neighbors life. Finally one day he gets mad with God and demands to know "Why God why? I do every thing you ask and my life is in the dumps yet my neighbor barely pays you attention and him you bless. I demand to know why!"
God answers "Because you noodge too much."
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Legal issues in MA instruction
on: October 30, 2009, 04:42:49 PM
In my understanding this is a matter of state law and you need to consult an attorney/the laws/jurisprudence of your state.
Something to consider is the category/nature of the interaction. For example, in CA a liability waiver for a "dangerous activity" is readily enforced, but different results might apply if an emergency room requires a waiver from someone who is bleeding heavily.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan
on: October 30, 2009, 12:09:48 PM
The new economic statistics put growth at a healthy 3.5% for the third quarter. We should be dancing in the streets. No one is, because no one has any faith in these numbers. Waves of money are sloshing through the system, creating a false rising tide that lifts all boats for the moment. The tide will recede. The boats aren't rising, they're bobbing, and will settle. No one believes the bad time is over. No one thinks we're entering a new age of abundance. No one thinks it will ever be the same as before 2008. Economists, statisticians, forecasters and market specialists will argue about what the new numbers mean, but no one believes them, either. Among the things swept away in 2008 was public confidence in the experts. The experts missed the crash. They'll miss the meaning of this moment, too.
The biggest threat to America right now is not government spending, huge deficits, foreign ownership of our debt, world terrorism, two wars, potential epidemics or nuts with nukes. The biggest long-term threat is that people are becoming and have become disheartened, that this condition is reaching critical mass, and that it afflicts most broadly and deeply those members of the American leadership class who are not in Washington, most especially those in business.
It is a story in two parts. The first: "They do not think they can make it better."
I talked this week with a guy from Big Pharma, which we used to call "the drug companies" until we decided that didn't sound menacing enough. He is middle-aged, works in a significant position, and our conversation turned to the last great recession, in the late mid- to late 1970s and early '80s. We talked about how, in terms of numbers, that recession was in some ways worse than the one we're experiencing now. Interest rates were over 20%, and inflation and unemployment hit double digits. America was in what might be called a functional depression, yet there was still a prevalent feeling of hope. Here's why. Everyone thought they could figure a way through. We knew we could find a path through the mess. In 1982 there were people saying, "If only we get rid of this guy Reagan, we can make it better!" Others said, "If we follow Reagan, he'll squeeze out inflation and lower taxes and we'll be America again, we'll be acting like Americans again." Everyone had a path through.
Now they don't. The most sophisticated Americans, experienced in how the country works on the ground, can't figure a way out. Have you heard, "If only we follow Obama and the Democrats, it will all get better"? Or, "If only we follow the Republicans, they'll make it all work again"? I bet you haven't, or not much.
This is historic. This is something new in modern political history, and I'm not sure we're fully noticing it. Americans are starting to think the problems we are facing cannot be solved.
Part of the reason is that the problems—debt, spending, war—seem too big. But a larger part is that our federal government, from the White House through Congress, and so many state and local governments, seems to be demonstrating every day that they cannot make things better. They are not offering a new path, they are only offering old paths—spend more, regulate more, tax more in an attempt to make us more healthy locally and nationally. And in the long term everyone—well, not those in government, but most everyone else—seems to know that won't work. It's not a way out. It's not a path through.
And so the disheartenedness of the leadership class, of those in business, of those who have something. This week the New York Post carried a report that 1.5 million people had left high-tax New York state between 2000 and 2008, more than a million of them from even higher-tax New York City. They took their tax dollars with them—in 2006 alone more than $4 billion.
You know what New York, both state and city, will do to make up for the lost money. They'll raise taxes.
I talked with an executive this week with what we still call "the insurance companies" and will no doubt soon be calling Big Insura. (Take it away, Democratic National Committee.) He was thoughtful, reflective about the big picture. He talked about all the new proposed regulations on the industry. Rep. Barney Frank had just said on some cable show that the Democrats of the White House and Congress "are trying on every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area." The executive said of Washington: "They don't understand that people can just stop, get out. I have friends and colleagues who've said to me 'I'm done.' " He spoke of his own increasing tax burden and said, "They don't understand that if they start to tax me so that I'm paying 60%, 55%, I'll stop."
He felt government doesn't understand that business in America is run by people, by human beings. Mr. Frank must believe America is populated by high-achieving robots who will obey whatever command he and his friends issue. But of course they're human, and they can become disheartened. They can pack it in, go elsewhere, quit what used to be called the rat race and might as well be called that again since the government seems to think they're all rats. (That would be you, Chamber of Commerce.)
And here is the second part of the story. While Americans feel increasingly disheartened, their leaders evince a mindless . . . one almost calls it optimism, but it is not that.
It is a curious thing that those who feel most mistily affectionate toward America, and most protective toward it, are the most aware of its vulnerabilities, the most aware that it can be harmed. They don't see it as all-powerful, impregnable, unharmable. The loving have a sense of its limits.
More Peggy Noonan
Read Peggy Noonan's previous columns
click here to order her new book, Patriotic Grace
.When I see those in government, both locally and in Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend and tax—health care, cap and trade, etc.—I think: Why aren't they worried about the impact of what they're doing? Why do they think America is so strong it can take endless abuse?
I think I know part of the answer. It is that they've never seen things go dark. They came of age during the great abundance, circa 1980-2008 (or 1950-2008, take your pick), and they don't have the habit of worry. They talk about their "concerns"—they're big on that word. But they're not really concerned. They think America is the goose that lays the golden egg. Why not? She laid it in their laps. She laid it in grandpa's lap.
They don't feel anxious, because they never had anything to be anxious about. They grew up in an America surrounded by phrases—"strongest nation in the world," "indispensable nation," "unipolar power," "highest standard of living"—and are not bright enough, or serious enough, to imagine that they can damage that, hurt it, even fatally.
We are governed at all levels by America's luckiest children, sons and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but they're not optimists—they're unimaginative. They don't have faith, they've just never been foreclosed on. They are stupid and they are callous, and they don't mind it when people become disheartened. They don't even notice.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ethics Report leaked
on: October 30, 2009, 12:04:27 PM
Congressional ethics report leaked, reveals names http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091030/ap_on_bi_ge/us_congress_leaked_ethics_report
By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer Larry Margasak, Associated Press Writer – Fri Oct 30, 9:10 am ET
WASHINGTON – Internal investigations into the conduct of over two dozen House members have been exposed in an extraordinary, Internet-era breach of security involving the secretive process by which Congress polices lawmaker ethics.
Revelations of the mostly preliminary inquiries by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — also known as the Ethics committee — and a panel that refers cases to it shook the chamber as lawmakers were immersed in a series of scheduled votes Thursday.
The panel announced that it was investigating two California Democrats — Reps. Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson — even as its embarrassed leaders took pains to explain that several other lawmakers also were identified in the leaked confidential committee memo but may have done nothing wrong.
The committee said it was investigating whether Waters used her influence to help a bank in which her husband owned stock, and whether the couple benefited as a result. Separately, the panel is looking into whether Richardson failed to disclose required information on her financial disclosure forms and received special treatment from a lender.
In the midst of a busy legislative day, ethics chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., went to the House floor to announce that a confidential weekly report of the committee from July had leaked out in a case of "cyber-hacking."
A committee statement said that its security was breached through "peer to peer file sharing software" by a junior employee who was working from home. The staff member was fired.
The July report contains a summary of the committee's work at the time, but Lofgren said no inferences should be made about anyone whose name is mentioned.
The committee typically makes a public announcement about its activities only when it begins an investigation of potential rule-breaking, which is conducted by an investigative subcommittee whose members also are made public.
However, the weekly reports include a summary of the committee's work at an earlier stage, when its members and staff scrutinize lawmakers to see whether an investigation is warranted.
The Washington Post reported in its online edition Thursday that the document was disclosed on a publicly accessible computer network and made available to the newspaper by a source familiar with such networks.
The Post reported that more than 30 lawmakers and a few staff members were under scrutiny, including nearly half the members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
The previously disclosed inquiry involves lawmakers who steered appropriations to clients of a now-defunct lobbying firm and received campaign contributions from the firm and its clients.
The names included three lawmakers previously identified in the inquiry: the chairman of the defense subcommittee, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.; and Reps. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., and James Moran, D-Va.
The Post said others whose names were in the report included Reps. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., and Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.
The committee, however, has not announced an investigation of any of these lawmakers.
Waters is the No. 3 Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee and chairwoman of its subcommittee on housing. She has been an influential voice in the committee's work to overhaul financial regulations.
Waters came under scrutiny after former Treasury Department officials said she helped arrange a meeting between regulators and executives at OneUnited Bank last year without mentioning her husband's financial ties to the institution.
Her husband, Sidney Williams, holds at least $250,000 in the bank's stock and previously had served on its board. Waters' spokesman, Michael Levin, said Williams was no longer on the board when the meeting was arranged.
Waters has said the National Bankers Association, a trade group, requested the meeting. She defended her role in assisting minority-owned banks in the midst of the nation's financial meltdown and dismissed suggestions she used her influence to steer government aid to the bank.
"I am confident that as the investigation moves forward the panel will discover that there are no facts to support allegations that I have acted improperly," Waters said in a statement.
The committee unanimously voted to establish an investigative subcommittee to gather evidence and determine whether Waters violated standards of conduct.
The committee said it would investigate "alleged communications and activities with, or on behalf of, the National Bankers Association or OneUnited Bank" and "the benefit, if any, Rep. Waters or her husband received as a result."
The committee also voted unanimously to investigate whether Richardson violated House rules, its Code of Conduct or the Ethics in Government Act by failing to disclose property, income and liabilities on her financial disclosure forms.
The investigation also will determine whether Richardson received an impermissible gift or preferential treatment from a lender, "relating to the foreclosure, recission of the foreclosure sale or loan modification agreement" for her Sacramento, Calif., property.
Richardson said she has been subjected to "premature judgments, speculation and baseless distractions that will finally be addressed in a fair, unbiased, bipartisan evaluation of the facts."
"Like 4.3 million Americans in the last year who faced financial problems because of a personal crisis like a divorce, death in the family, unexpected job and living changes and an erroneous property sale, all of which I have experienced in the span of slightly over a year, I have worked to resolve a personal financial situation," she said in a statement.
The committee ended an investigation of Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and released a report finding no ethical violations. It investigated whether Graves used his position on the House Small Business Committee to invite a longtime friend and business partner of his wife to testify at a committee hearing on the federal regulation of biodiesel and ethanol production
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Honduras
on: October 30, 2009, 11:25:31 AM
The US continues its meddling ways against Honduran democracy and in alliance with Chavez's ally/pawn. WTF?
Honduras: The U.S. Brokers a Deal
Stratfor Today » October 30, 2009 | 1525 GMT
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (L) and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon on Oct. 30 after talksAfter months of political deadlock, interim Honduran President Roberto Micheletti and ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya came to a compromise late on Oct. 29. The agreement represents a breakthrough for the two parties and for international mediation led (in this round) by the United States, which had sent U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon to the Central American nation to help hammer out a compromise.
According to Micheletti, the concord has eight points of agreement, which include turning control of the armed forces over to the Supreme Electoral Council, guaranteeing international and domestic recognition of presidential elections scheduled for Nov. 29 and the elimination of all sanctions against Honduras by foreign powers. The deal also grants the possibility that Zelaya could return to office and finish the last three months of his term.
While the deal looks solid on the surface, the details have left room for maneuvering. Essentially, in order to return, Zelaya will have to be approved by both the Supreme Court and the Congress -- two bodies that resoundingly rejected him and supported his ouster in the first place. Even if Zelaya does get back into the presidential position, it appears that he will not have command of the military. These weakened powers are likely why Zelaya hopes that he will gain congressional approval (not to mention the collective need for an end to the imbroglio), and it may indeed be sufficient.
It would appear that this agreement has allowed Zelaya to save face while still guaranteeing the validity of the upcoming election that was critical for the interim government, and that the United States had threatened not to recognize. But there are stumbling blocks ahead. If Zelaya fails to be approved by the Congress and the Supreme Court, it is possible that things will not go as planned, with the state's stability in the balance.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters)
on: October 30, 2009, 10:39:22 AM
By MICHAEL W. MCCONNELL
Last week's announcement that "Pay Czar" Kenneth Feinberg slashed compensation for executives at seven large financial firms by an average of 50% stunned Wall Street, stoked the fires of populist resentment, and troubled economists. Will this government-mandated pay cut drive the most talented professionals away from these companies, endangering their recovery? Does it augur further politicization of economic decisions?
Lost in the arguments over economics and political theory, however, is a more basic question: Was this action constitutional?
Mr. Feinberg's ukase is the most prominent example (and not just by the Obama administration) of the exercise of power by an individual unilaterally appointed by the executive branch without Senate confirmation—and thus outside the ordinary channels of Congressional oversight. Earlier this month, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution conducted hearings into the constitutional basis for this practice, which many see as an end-run around checks and balances. The Obama administration declined Sen. Russ Feingold's (D., Wisc.) invitation to send a witness to the hearing to explain the constitutional basis for its various "czars."
So who is Kenneth Feinberg, and where did he get the power to set pay for executives at private firms?
As part of the hastily enacted and seldom-read legislation establishing the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to "require each TARP recipient to meet appropriate standards for executive compensation." To carry out this task, last June the Treasury promulgated an emergency "Interim Final Rule," waiving ordinary requirements for a public comment period.
As part of this emergency rule, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner created the office of "Special Master" for compensation, delegated his TARP authority to set compensation standards to this officer, and appointed Mr. Feinberg (a lawyer and mediator) to this position, without obtaining Senate confirmation.
Therein lies the problem. The Appointments clause of the Constitution, Article II, section 2, provides that all "Officers of the United States" must be appointed by the president "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate." This means subject to confirmation, except that "the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment" of "inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments."
There is no doubt that Mr. Feinberg is an "officer" of the United States. The Supreme Court has defined this term (Buckley v. Valeo, 1976) as "any appointee exercising significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States." Mr. Feinberg signed last week's orders setting pay levels for executives at Bank of America, AIG, Chrysler Financial, Citigroup, GMAC, General Motors and Chrysler. They have the force of law and are surely an exercise of "significant authority" pursuant to an Act of Congress. He is not a mere "employee," acting at the direction of a superior. That means his office is subject to the requirements of the Appointments Clause.
While somewhat more disputable, Mr. Feinberg's is probably an "inferior" officer, defined as one subject to supervision and removal by a member of the cabinet. Although he has substantial discretion and independence, Mr. Feinberg reports to the secretary of the Treasury, who can fire him any time for any reason. This means that Congress could, if it wished, vest the appointment of the pay czar in the secretary, without any need for Senate confirmation.
But Congress has not done so. On the contrary, it vested the authority to implement TARP's compensation provision in the secretary of the Treasury. The secretary may sub-delegate that power to someone else—but that someone must be an "officer" properly appointed "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate."
The Supreme Court observed in Buckley v. Valeo that the provisions governing appointments under the Constitution reflect more than "etiquette or protocol." They embody the Founders' conviction that all power under U.S. laws must be exercised by officers with constitutional authority.
The Founders understood that the president and heads of the executive departments could not single-handedly carry out the law, so they required Senate confirmation as what the Federalist Papers call "an excellent check" on abuse or favoritism by the president. Yes, there are some offices so inferior that this check may be eliminated—but it is for Congress to judge which ones these may be. Congress and Congress alone has power to dispense with the safeguard of the confirmation process.
The power to set compensation at large American businesses is especially subject to potential abuse, favoritism, arbitrariness, or political manipulation. It is no reflection on Kenneth Feinberg, who has a sterling reputation and who appears to have approached these sensitive duties with a spirit of commendable integrity, to say that the checks and balances of the Constitution should be scrupulously observed. They were not. Because he is not a properly appointed officer of the United States, Mr. Feinberg's executive compensation decisions were unconstitutional.
Mr. McConnell is on the faculty of Stanford University Law School, director of its Constitutional Law Center, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was a federal judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals from 2002-2009.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: October 30, 2009, 10:37:31 AM
It's been a decade since Turkey threatened to invade Syria because Damascus was harboring Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdish PKK terrorist group. "We will say 'shalom' to the Israelis on the Golan Heights" is how one Turkish newspaper then described the country's mood, capturing its attitude toward Syrians and Israelis alike.
Times change—and so do countries. Earlier this month, Turkey cancelled an annual multinational air force exercise because Israel was scheduled to participate in it, despite historically close ties between the Turkish and Israeli militaries. In a recent interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that "there is no doubt he is our friend."
Mr. Erdogan was also among the first to offer Ahmadinejad a congratulatory call after June's fraudulent elections and has called Iran's nuclear program "peaceful and humanitarian." As for Syria, relations have never been warmer: The two countries are even planning joint military exercises.
Nations do not have the luxury of picking their neighbors, and the Turks can certainly be forgiven for not wanting to be at daggers drawn along several hundred miles of common borders. But what's happened to Turkey's foreign policy—and the values that inform those policies—since Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party came to power in 2003 looks more like a fundamental shift in Turkey's strategic priorities than it does a mere relaxing of regional tensions.
In January, for instance, Mr. Erdogan publicly rebuked Shimon Peres at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, calling the Israeli President a "liar" and saying—in connection to the war in Gaza—that "when it comes to killing, you know well how to kill." Soon thereafter, Mr. Erdogan hosted a dinner in honor of Ali Osman Taha, the vice president of Sudan. Apparently, there were no lectures about Darfur.
Nor has Israel been the only country in the Middle East affected by Turkey's changing attitudes. As analyst Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy notes, "the AKP's foreign policy has not promoted sympathy toward all Muslim states. Rather, the party has promoted solidarity with Islamist, anti-Western regimes (Qatar and Sudan, for example) while dismissing secular, pro-Western Muslim governments (Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia)." That also goes among the Palestinians, where Mr. Erdogan has called on the world to recognize Hamas while being dismissive of Mahmoud Abbas, the Authority's more secular-minded president.
In other words, Mr. Erdogan's turn against Israel is symptomatic of a broader shift in Turkish policy, one that cannot bode well for core U.S. interests. As a secular Muslim state, Turkey has been a pillar of NATO and a bulwark against the political radicalism (Communist, Baathist, Islamist) of its various neighbors. Now Mr. Erdogan may be gambling that Turkey's future lies at the head of the Muslim world, rather than at the tail of its Western counterpart.
Perhaps none of this should be all that surprising, given how long Europe has brushed off Turkish ambitions to join its Union. One may hope that the Turks, who have long been proud of their traditions of secularism, tolerance, freedom, and as a bridge between East and West, may not be so tempted to trade them in for darker glories.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Existential Dread
on: October 30, 2009, 10:35:26 AM
By YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI
The postcard from the Home Front Command that recently arrived in my mailbox looks like an ad from the Ministry of Tourism. A map of Israel is divided by color into six regions, each symbolized by an upbeat drawing: a smiling camel in the Negev desert, a skier in the Golan Heights. In fact, each region signifies the amount of time residents will have to seek shelter from an impending missile attack. If you live along the Gaza border, you have 15 seconds after the siren sounds. Jerusalemites get a full three minutes. But as the regions move farther north, the time drops again, until finally, along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, the color red designates "immediate entry into a shelter." In other words, if you're not already inside a shelter don't bother looking for one.
The invisible but all-pervasive presence on that cheerful map of existential dread is Iran. If Israel were to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, Tehran's two terrorist allies on our borders—Hezbollah and Hamas—would almost certainly renew attacks against the Israeli home front. And Tel Aviv would be hit by Iranian long-range missiles.
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.On the other hand, if Israel refrains from attacking Iran and international efforts to stop its nuclearization fail, the results along our border would likely be even more catastrophic. Hezbollah and Hamas would be emboldened politically and psychologically. The threat of a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv would become a permanent part of Israeli reality. This would do incalculable damage to Israel's sense of security.
Given these dreadful options, one might assume that the Israeli public would respond with relief to reports that Iran is now considering the International Atomic Energy Agency's proposal to transfer 70% of its known, low-enriched uranium to Russia for treatment that would seriously reduce its potential for military application. In fact, Israelis from the right and the left have reacted with heightened anxiety. "Kosher Uranium," read the mocking headline of Israel's largest daily, Yediot Aharonot. Media commentators noted that easing world pressure on Iran will simply enable it to cheat more easily. If Iranian leaders are prepared to sign an agreement, Israelis argue, that's because they know something the rest of us don't.
In the last few years, Israelis have been asking themselves two questions with increasing urgency: Should we attack Iran if all other options fail? And can we inflict sufficient damage to justify the consequences?
As sanctions efforts faltered, most Israelis came to answer the first question affirmatively. A key moment in coalescing that resolve occurred in December 2006, when the Iranian regime sponsored an "International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust," a two day meeting of Holocaust deniers. For Israelis, that event ended the debate over whether a nuclear Iran could be deterred by the threat of counter-force. A regime that assembles the world's crackpots to deny the most documented atrocity in history—at the very moment it is trying to fend off sanctions and convince the international community of its sanity—may well be immune to rational self-interest.
Opinion here has been divided about the ability of an Israeli strike to significantly delay Iran's nuclear program. But Israelis have dealt with their doubts by resurrecting a phrase from the country's early years: Ein breira, there's no choice. Besides, as one leading Israeli security official who has been involved in the Iranian issue for many years put it to me, "Technical problems have technical solutions." Israelis tend to trust their strategic planners to find those solutions.
In the past few months, Israelis have begun asking themselves a new question: Has the Obama administration's engagement with Iran effectively ended the possibility of a military strike?
Few Israelis took seriously the recent call by former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to shoot down Israeli planes if they take off for Iran. But American attempts to reassure the Israeli public of its commitment to Israel's security have largely backfired. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent threat to "obliterate" Iran if it launched a nuclear attack against Israel only reinforced Israeli fears that the U.S. would prefer to contain a nuclear Iran rather than pre-empt it militarily.
On the face of it, this is not May 1967. There is not the same sense of impending catastrophe that held the Israeli public in the weeks before the Six Day War. Israelis are preoccupied with the fate of Gilad Shalit (the kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Hamas), with the country's faltering relations with Turkey, with the U.N.'s denial of Israel's right to defend itself, and with an unprecedented rise in violent crime.
But the Iranian threat has seeped into daily life as a constant, if barely conscious anxiety. It emerges at unexpected moments, as black humor or an incongruous aside in casual conversation. "I think we're going to attack soon," a friend said to me over Sabbath dinner, as we talked about our children going off to the army and to India.
Now, with the possibility of a deal with Iran, Israelis realize that a military confrontation will almost certainly be deferred. Still, the threat remains.
A recent cartoon in the newspaper Ma'ariv showed a drawing of a sukkah, the booth covered with palm branches that Jews build for the autumn festival of Tabernacles. A voice from inside the booth asked, "Will these palm branches protect us from Iranian missiles?"
Israelis still believe in their ability to protect themselves—and many believe too in the divine protection that is said to hover over the fragile booths. Both are expressions of faith from a people that fear they may once again face the unthinkable alone.
Mr. Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and a contributing editor to the New Republic.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PP part 2
on: October 30, 2009, 10:30:04 AM
Business & Economy
Regulatory Commissars: Oil Off Limits for Thriving Bears
Believing themselves to be smarter than the average bear, bureaucrats in the Obama administration continue their quest to create a, well, bear market -- at least for oil. The White House decided to designate more than 200,000 square miles of Alaskan land and coastline as "critical habitat" for polar bears -- the same bear population that has reached greater numbers than previously recorded in history. In fact, despite what Al Gore and his fellow global warmists would have us believe, the population has actually risen by 40 percent since 1974.
This new non-endangered species habitat is enormous enough to qualify as the third largest state in the union, placing it between Texas and California in terms of square miles. Former UnitedHealth general counsel and now Assistant Interior Secretary Tom Strickland claimed at a news conference that the greatest threat to the bear is Arctic ice melt and that "we will continue to work to protect the polar bear and its fragile environment."
However, the new designation as a critical habitat is the first step in requiring even more government consideration of the supposed negative effect on the escalating polar bear numbers before allowing oil and gas development. The state of Alaska responded by filing a complaint in an effort to stop the listing under the Endangered Species Act.
In the meantime, some 30 percent of the world's gas supplies and 4 percent of the estimated global oil supply will be placed off limits because of this deceitful claim that the polar bear population is endangered. Next up, the loggerhead turtle, which, if listed as endangered, would bring regulations on everything along the eastern seaboard, including what lights you can put on the ocean-facing side of your house.
Income Redistribution: Public Option Phones
Bill Clinton may have declared in 1996, "The era of big government is over," but Obama must have missed the message. Never in American history has the era of big government encroached on so many areas of our lives -- and with more on the docket. We can now add another one to the list: Safelink Wireless, a "government supported program that provides a free cell phone and airtime each month for income-eligible customers," all paid for with "Obama money" -- and you know where that comes from.
SafeLink is an extension of or adjunct to the FCC program known as "Lifeline and Link-up." In a nutshell, "poor" people, often already on the dole with other state and federal welfare programs, can apply to receive a free cell phone and 70 minutes of airtime per month from TracFone Wireless, Inc. The Lifeline program pays one-half (up to $30) of installation costs for wired telephone service at a primary residence and provides up to a $10 per month discount for basic monthly service. Oh well, at least these recipients are required to pay some of the costs from their bi-monthly "county" checks. The program uses funds from those little universal service fund (USF) charges that show up on our phone bills. Of course, Lifeline program participants are exempt from USF charges on their bills.
Once again, we're left scratching our heads and searching for the Article and Section of the Constitution under which free phones can be found.
Barack Obama's Flying Circus
If Monty Python were a financial news agency, we could imagine the headline "Dow Exceeds 10,000 to Much Rejoicing." The media devoted multiple column inches and minutes of airtime to that event last week, but few asked, "Why?" The short answer is currency devaluation. Barack Obama's strategy of talking down the U.S. economy has produced its first dividend for his administration, a surging Dow supported by foreign investment. But, like agricultural commodities in the 1970s and commercial real estate in the 1980s, these gains are due solely to the weakness of our currency rather than the strength of our economy. A dollar with lower value makes buying American assets more attractive to foreigners. Each of those previous examples saw a short term increase in values followed by profit taking and a long-term decline. Sure the Dow is over 10K, but what's the dollar worth?
Furthermore, the market bottomed out at 6,500 before beginning its recovery in March, when, as The Washington Times points out, "[T]he Obama administration stopped trying to talk down the economy." Also, "The bottom line is obvious. Part of the increase in stock prices is illusory from the falling dollar. A lot of the remaining increase is simply a recovery from the Obama administration's rhetoric talking down the market." Unfortunately, if they're not talking it down, they're trying to beat it down with regulations.
That doesn't mean that Team Obama won't take credit for any improvement in the market or the economy as a whole. When the newest estimate of 3.5 percent economic growth in the third quarter was announced this week, Obama said the country has "come a long way" since his inauguration, and the new figures are "an affirmation that this recession is abating and the steps we've taken have made a difference." The White House went further Friday, claiming that the $787 billion stimulus has "created or saved" at least 650,000 jobs, or one million if all spending is considered. Yet unemployment is 9.8 percent and rising, so most of those jobs must have been "saved" -- which is a clever way of saying we'll never know.
Culture & Policy
Around the Nation: Swine Flu Emergency!
The Obama administration has, for the second time in six months, declared the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, a national emergency. The administration first made this declaration in April, but perhaps they needed a bit more time to stir up the desired frenzy. And set up a Web site -- flu.gov. Americans are now running to the hospital by the thousands, overcrowding emergency rooms and standing in line for their shots when often the provider has already run out of vaccine. However, all this panic is driven not as much by their physical symptoms as by a government-run campaign of hysteria.
The administration has made much of the fact that approximately 1,000 Americans have died and another 20,000 have been hospitalized after falling ill with H1N1. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, these numbers, while tragic, are actually much smaller than the number of deaths each year from more commons strains of flu. As a matter of fact, Australia and New Zealand, which did not use the H1N1 vaccine, have reported fewer flu deaths this year than in the past.
The declaration of a national emergency has also increased the powers of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She now has the authority, for as long as this "crisis" lasts, to sidestep certain federal laws that govern the use of tax dollars for medical treatment.
While some claim this is an administrative move that will allow the government to preempt a possible pandemic, for others it brings to the forefront issues concerning the quality and reliability of government-controlled health care. Imagine, for example, that we really were in danger of dying from a disease for which the government's much bragged about supply of vaccinations had fallen so woefully short?
American journalist H.L. Mencken once said, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." Perhaps flu.gov stands for "Fear-mongering Leftists Unlimited."
Second Amendment: NJ Court Says No Right to Buy Handgun
"A New Jersey appeals court has concluded that Americans have no Second Amendment right to buy a handgun," CBS News reports. "[T]he superior court upheld a state law saying that nobody may possess 'any handgun' without obtaining law enforcement approval and permission in advance." Given that the Supreme Court ruled last year in DC v. Heller that the Second Amendment guarantees "the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," this ruling is a bit surprising. New Jersey Appellate Division Judge Stephen Skillman, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said that Heller "has no impact upon the constitutionality of" the state law.
It's true that the Supreme Court avoided some larger questions in Heller, even specifically saying that the ruling does "not address the licensing requirement." However, the Second Amendment to the Constitution reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Based on our reading of that plain language, there's nothing in there about permission from a court or law enforcement for particular arms. We hope the Supreme Court addresses this question when it hears McDonald v. Chicago, challenging Chicago's handgun ban, later this year.
Climate Change This Week: China, India, Cats and Dogs
Lashing out at the growing skepticism that global warming is real, Barack Obama last week blasted as agenda-driven "[t]he naysayers" who "pretend that this is not an issue." According to Obama, "From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to produce and use energy." But the issue may not be important enough, even to the president. It seems he will skip the much-touted Copenhagen climate conference and instead drop by Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize.
Could this be because "racing" China and India came to a screeching halt last Thursday when they nixed mandatory carbon emissions constraints, effectively pulling out of any Copenhagen treaty? These two nations recognize what Obama denies and what Wang Jin wrote in China's Science Times journal: "The real intention is not for the global temperature increase, but for the restriction of the economic development of the developing countries."
Meanwhile, two professors from New Zealand have actually suggested ditching cats and dogs in favor of edible pets -- and, no, we're not talking animal crackers. In their book, "Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living," Brenda and Robert Vale contend that when you account for food production and carbon emissions, a cat is about as a bad for the environment as a Volkswagen Golf, a medium-size dog is twice as destructive as a Toyota Land Cruiser, and two hamsters are equivalent to a plasma TV. The authors write, "There is certainly some truth in the fact that if we have edible pets like chickens for their eggs and meat, and rabbits and pigs, we will be compensating for the impact of other things on our environment."
What to do with the surplus of Rovers and Fluffies? Perhaps they should be served à la carte at Copenhagen. Given such consistently outlandish arguments from the global warming crowd, we don't expect any waiting lines at Copenhagen diners.
From the 'Non Compos Mentis' File
In a no doubt fleeting act of fairness and balance, CNN's Campbell Brown actually stuck up for rival Fox News in an interview this week with White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. And it didn't take long for Jarrett's answers to turn humorous. Here's the exchange:
Brown: So do you think Fox News is biased?
Jarrett: Well, of course they're biased. Of course they are.
Brown: Okay. Then do you also think that MSNBC is biased?
Jarrett: Well, you know what? This is the thing. I don't want to -- actually, I don't want to just generalize all Fox is biased or that another station is biased. I think what we want to do is look at it on a case-by-case basis. And when we see a pattern of distortion, we're going to be honest about that pattern of distortion.
Brown: But you only see that at Fox News? That's all that -- you have spoken out about Fox News.
Jarrett: That's actually not true. I think that what the administration has said very clearly is that we're going to speak truth to power.
It's quite amusing how quickly Jarrett backpedaled when confronted with her own bias; she clearly wasn't prepared for the MSNBC question. Not that Brown acknowledged CNN's bias, mind you.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: October 30, 2009, 10:29:15 AM
Digest · Friday, October 30, 2009
"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread." --Thomas Jefferson
Government & Politics
Just When You Thought It Was Safe
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) unveiled an $894 billion health care takeover bill Thursday; the Congressional Budget Office puts the cost at $1.055 trillion. The bill, a combination of three separate committee bills, should be light reading for our nation's lawmakers, though -- it weighs in at a scant 1,990 pounds, er, pages.
The "reform" plan includes the dreaded "public option" that many thought might be dead and buried. The public option would create a government-run insurance plan to "compete" with private insurance. The obvious problem -- at least to those who understand the free market -- is that it would have several negative effects on health care and the economy. Many employers would drop their insurance coverage in favor of the small penalty paid to the federal government in exchange for putting employees on the government dole. Indeed, an estimated 120 million customers would leave private insurers. With fewer people buying private insurance, many insurance companies would increase rates, further restrict coverage, or go out of business altogether, thus creating a vicious death spiral.
Such a scenario would, of course, suit Pelosi and other Democrats just fine. They continue to condemn the "immoral" and "obscene" profits made by the insurance industry, though as it turns out, those profits are not so obscene after all, but are around 2 percent.
The public option is so unpopular that Pelosi is now trying to re-brand it, suggesting the "consumer option" or the "competitive option" as alternatives. "You'll hear everyone say, 'There's got to be a better name for this,'" Pelosi said. "When people think of the public option, public is being misrepresented, that this is being paid for with their public dollars."
Uh, Nancy, it will be. And by their great grandchildren's dollars.
The bill will "provide" insurance for up to 36 million people by broadly expanding Medicaid and by giving subsidies to moderate-income Americans so they can buy insurance from either private companies or the new government-run plan. "Can buy" in this case means "have to buy" because of a newly minted unconstitutional mandate to buy insurance. And, the subsidies would be paid for in part with a surtax on individuals earning more than $500,000 and couples earning more than $1 million.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is working on an "opt out" provision for states that don't wish to participate in the public option, though he's not gaining much support. As currently written, the opt-out would cost states even more money because of the additional funding measures (read: strings) attached.
It would be similar to federal education guidelines, which states can opt out of -- at the expense of federal funding -- or the federally mandated drinking age states can ignore -- if they don't want federal highway money. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) pointed out last week that the federal government used to regulate speed limits, and again, states could "opt out" at the loss of federal highway funding.
It seems that Don Corleone Reid's public option is an offer states can't refuse.
Quote of the Week
"It's not free. ... Someone's going to have to pay for it and you bet it's going to be the taxpayer." --Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) on the "public option"
The BIG Lie
Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan is a rarity among Democrats -- one who believes the federal government shouldn't pay for abortions. When President Obama told a joint session of Congress in September that "under our plan no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions," Stupak wondered how that was possible when both the House and Senate bills allow federal funding of insurance plans that cover abortions.
In speaking with the president about this apparent contradiction, Stupak found it's only the (unwritten) health care reform plan in Obama's mind that doesn't fund abortions. Unfortunately, the bill the president would sign is one of those thousand-plus page behemoths circulating through both houses of Congress -- or a combination of both.
Stupak wanted to add a prohibition similar to the longstanding Hyde Amendment preventing funding of abortions to the House bill but was told by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "I will not have my amendment." Instead, placed in the House plan was a "compromise" where just one provider in each state's insurance exchange is required to cover abortions. Some compromise.
From the Left: Barney Speaks Frankly
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) got a little too comfortable on MSNBC recently and let slip what many of Americans already fear. After taking a few moments to blame Republicans for ruining big government's reputation, Frank said, "We are trying on every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area." This from a man whose fingerprints were all over the drive to force mortgage lenders to grant home loans to fiscally risky candidates in order to increase minority home ownership. The end result of that move was, of course, the subprime mortgage meltdown and the resulting economic mess we're mired in today.
Frank, chairman of the House Banking Committee, is now one of the principal architects of sweeping regulatory changes to the financial services industry. These changes are meant to prevent the rampant speculation that caused the credit crisis; in reality they're more likely to strangle our free market system and send wealth-creating capital investment overseas. What Frank said is all too true: Democrats aim to expand government in every area, period.
New & Notable Legislation
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) has introduced legislation to freeze credit card interest rates. "At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, jacked up rates can quickly create crushing debt," Dodd said in a statement. "People need to be responsible with their money, but they shouldn't be taken to the cleaners by outrageous rates." This follows a bill passed in May -- the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act -- which bars rate increases without a 45-day notification. Since that bill is due to take effect in February, banks, not being stupid, are raising their rates now. Thanks, Chris. All we need now is a law that forbids banks from canceling cards or refusing credit for any customers. Why do Democrats think that problems created by regulation can be fixed only with more regulation?
New York Congressional Special Election
The special election to fill the upstate New York congressional seat vacated when Republican John McHugh was cleverly appointed secretary of the Army by Barack Obama has quickly become the most controversial race this year.
The Democrat candidate is businessman and lawyer Bill Owens, but the real contest here is between Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who is even leading in some polls, and Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava. As we have previously noted, Hoffman, a self-made millionaire, assumed the Conservative mantle after local GOP leaders picked the shamefully liberal Scozzafava as their candidate.
National Republican figures have come out in force to back either Hoffman or Scozzafava, and by doing so they have outlined the ideological battle lines that exist within the GOP. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed Scozzafava, a New York Assemblywoman. Gingrich said that it's not his place to question the wisdom of local party leaders, while he also expressed concern that if "we're going to purge the party of anybody who doesn't agree with us 100 percent [then] that guarantees Obama's re-election."
Gingrich may have a point here, but looking at Scozzafava's background, one might wonder if she's agreed with the Party even 10 percent of the time. She has been tied to ACORN and their leftist Working Families Party, she is pro-choice, pro-stimulus package and pro-card check for unions. In fact, she makes party-jumpin' Arlen Specter look like a Reaganite.
Hoffman, on the other hand, is an avowed fiscal conservative who carries a strong message of bringing economic responsibility to Washington. Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Dick Armey, Fred Thompson and Rick Santorum have all lined up behind him. They have all stressed the importance of sticking to the conservative principles that are, or at least were, the backbone of the Republican Party.
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Warfront With Jihadistan: 'Dithering' Continues
The commander in chief has taken some well-deserved lumps of late for "dithering" on this decision regarding troop numbers in Afghanistan. Indeed, it's been two months since General Stanley McChrystal made his urgent request to President Obama for more troops. During a visit to Naval Air Station Jacksonville on Monday, Obama said, "I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way." To reiterate what we said last week in response to a similar comment from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, perhaps Obama should tell this to our troops in Afghanistan, understaffed and looking death in the eye.
No worries, though -- John F. Kerry has his back. The new Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman declared that Gen. McChrystal's plan "goes too far, too fast." Let the record show that the Massachusetts Democrat was for winning in Afghanistan before he was against it. Five years ago, he ran against George W. Bush and repeatedly droned that Bush had "taken his eye off the ball" by seeking to also win in Iraq.
As columnist Ken Blackwell writes, "Kerry made his career as an outspoken advocate for the Nuclear Freeze of the 1980s. We now know that the Freeze movement was largely financed by the Kremlin. But even back then, American advocates of the Nuclear Freeze had the satisfaction of knowing they wanted the U.S. to back down in the face of Soviet threats while Britain's Margaret Thatcher, West Germany's Helmut Kohl, and even France's Francois Mitterrand wanted us to stand firm. With a record of being wrong on virtually every issue involving American interests and national security, there is only one question left about the long-faced Massachusetts senator: How has John Kerry managed to avoid winning a Nobel Peace Prize?"
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports, "US drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan could be breaking international laws against summary executions, the UN's top investigator of such crimes said." UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston said, "The problem with the United States is that it is making an increased use of drones/Predators [which are] particularly prominently used now in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan." He added, "My concern is that drones/Predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law."
Obviously, our objective is not to kill innocent civilians, and the drones have been highly successful against terrorists, particularly in Pakistan. That's probably why the UN is now so "concerned." According to AFP, "Since August 2008, around 70 strikes by unmanned aircraft have killed close to 600 people in northwestern Pakistan." Admittedly, it's often difficult to tell the difference between regular "people" and terrorists, but AFP makes no attempt to distinguish the two. They're almost as UN-helpful as the UN.
Department of Military Correctness: 'Don't Ask' Discharges
As mentioned two weeks ago, Barack Obama announced that he remains committed to scrapping the Pentagon's 16-year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which was implemented in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. The policy itself weakened the military's historic ban on homosexuals serving in the military. One of the arguments used by homosexual activists trying to overturn DADT is that discharging openly homosexual soldiers threatens national security by significantly reducing troop numbers. As so often occurs with leftist arguments, once facts are checked, the argument falls apart.
In examining the latest data on military discharges, it turns out that the number of military personnel discharged for homosexuality was less than 1 percent of the total number discharged for all other reasons. For example, according to Pentagon numbers for 2008, some 634 soldiers were discharged for homosexuality, which is only 0.338 percent of the 187,331 total discharges in 2008. Got that? One-third of 1 percent of all discharges was for violating DADT, and that number has remained consistent over the years. So, while the actual affect of these discharges on the U.S. military is negligible, according to homosexual activists, this loss threatens national security.
What actually threatens our national security is the loss of military discipline, cohesion and moral standing that occurs when agenda driven pressure groups and spineless lawmakers attempt to "normalize" an abnormal behavior in the ranks -- a fact recognized by our Founders. During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington had homosexuals drummed out of the ranks and punished; Thomas Jefferson authored a bill proposing castration as a punishment for sodomy; and the Continental Congress directed that American officers "discountenance and suppress all dissolute, immoral, and disorderly practices," which included sodomy. Ah, but there's nothing like "evolving standards."
Defense Bill Signed
Barack Obama signed the $680 billion defense authorization bill Wednesday. The bill contains the unrelated provision extending so-called "hate crimes" protections to homosexuals and others with gender-disorientation pathology. The measure had failed on its own for years, so Democrats shamelessly attached it to the must-pass defense bill. That failure is largely due to the fact that it makes certain thoughts a crime. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) summed it up: "Hate crimes legislation is antithetical to the First Amendment, unnecessary and will have a chilling effect on religious freedom."
Meanwhile, the defense bill contains provisions far more deleterious to national defense, such as terminating production of the F-22. Of gutting the nation's air superiority, Obama crowed that he was being fiscally responsible: "When Secretary Gates and I first proposed going after some of these wasteful projects, there were a lot of people who didn't think it was possible, who were certain we were going to lose, who were certain that we were going to get steamrolled. Today, we have proven them wrong." He then added, "There's still more fights that we need to win." (Like the fight against bad grammar, maybe?)
Obviously, to Democrats, "defense" means pushing aberrant sexual behavior while leaving the nation defenseless.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Legal issues in MA instruction
on: October 30, 2009, 10:13:13 AM
A shy friend sidebars:
some times advice is being given and taken as gospel, i.e.
"Thanks for the liability instruction" when if fact it may not be true.
While MA advice is subjective, as are political beliefs the law
is much more straightforward. Perhaps I am wrong, I am not
an attorney, however I have dealt with contracts on numerous
occasions. The idea of an "X" marking the spot has nothing to do
with the validity of the contract to my knowledge. To put them on yellow
stickums simply keeps the contract "clean", but the validity is not affected.
I hope others on this site do not rely on the legal opinion offered
by Kaju Dog (no offense meant to him) and think they can void a
contract at whim simply because they were instructed to sign next to the "X".
a person about to sign a contract
is guilty of negligence in failing to ascertain the contents of
the paper, he is bound by his signature, even though he labors
under a mistake as to the nature of the transaction there ex-
pressed. It may therefore be laid down as a general rule
that, if a person able to read a document signs it without
reading it, he is ordinarily to be regarded as negligent, and
he cannot avoid the contract because he thought the document
embodied a transaction of a different nature.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: El Fire Hydrant: (Noticias)
on: October 29, 2009, 06:54:02 PM
Disculpenme todos por favor mi participacion limitada en dias recientes.
Preparaciones por un viaje de negocio importante se me han estado consumiendo mi tiempo.
Salgo en dos dias y regreso el 12 de Noviembre. Mientras yo estoy (este'?) de viaje, es poco probable que yo participe mucho aqui.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
on: October 29, 2009, 06:01:00 PM
I share the feelings.
Cato Institute - 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. - Washington D.C 20001
State ‘Opt-Out’ Proposal: a Ruse within a Ruse
Posted by Michael F. Cannon
President Obama and his congressional allies want to create yet another government-run health insurance program (call it Fannie Med) to cover yet another segment of the American public (the non-elderly non-poor).
The whole idea that Fannie Med would be an “option” is a ruse.
Like the three “public options” we’ve already got – Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – Fannie Med would drag down the quality of care for publicly and privately insured patients alike. Yet despite offering an inferior product, Fannie Med would still drive private insurers out of business because it would exploit implicit and explicit government subsidies. Pretty soon, Fannie Med will be the only game in town – just ask its architect, Jacob Hacker.
Now the question before us is, “Should we allow states to opt out of Fannie Med?” It seems a good idea: if Fannie Med turns out to be a nightmare, states could avoid it.
But the state opt-out proposal is a ruse within a ruse.
Taxpayers in every state will have to subsidize Fannie Med, either implicitly or explicitly. What state official will say, “I don’t care if my constituents are subsidizing Fannie Med, I’m not going to let my constituents get their money back”? State officials are obsessed with maximizing their share of federal dollars. Voters will crucify officials who opt out. Fannie Med supporters know that. They’re counting on it.
A state opt-out provision does not make Fannie Med any more moderate. It is not a concession. It is merely the latest entreaty from the Spider to the Fly.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Nobody questions that
on: October 29, 2009, 11:18:12 AM
Alexander's Essay – October 29, 2009
'Nobody Questions That'?
"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
Never before has there been more evidence of outright contempt for our Constitution than under the current liberal hegemony presiding over the executive and legislative branches of our federal government.
The protagonist of this Leftist regime is, of course, Barack Hussein Obama, who promised his constituents, "This is our moment, this is our time to turn the page on the policies of the past, to offer a new direction. We are fundamentally transforming the United States of America. And generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was our time" [emphasis added].
Obama proclaimed, "Everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- to lay a new foundation for growth."
In his inaugural speech, Obama declared, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works," signaling his rejection of the old paradigm, which pitted the conservative position, "government is the problem," against the liberal position, "government is the solution."
Thus, by virtue of his election to the presidency nearly one year ago, he believes he has the authority to establish a new paradigm to "fundamentally transform" our nation by creating "a new foundation."
However, if we are a nation of laws with a national government limited by our Constitution, and, indeed, we are, then Obama has no legal authority to "transform" our government.
Those who laid our constitutional foundation were very clear about its limits on government.
Our Constitution's principle author, James Madison, wrote, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined [and] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce."
Concerning the legislature's authority, Thomas Jefferson asserted: "[G]iving [Congress] a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole [Constitution] to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly, no such universal power was meant to be given them. [The Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect."
Madison added, "If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions."
But too many among us have become so fixated on the superficial parameters of today's political debates rather than demand an answer to that most essential question: What is the constitutional authority for Obama's proposals now being debated in Congress?
For example, amid all the acrimony over Obama's transformation of health care, the debate should not be centered on which plan is better, but whether constitutional authority exists for any of the plans under consideration.
Unfortunately, such inquiry is scarce, and hardly noted.
Last week, however, three leading Democrats in Congress were asked during news conferences to cite the constitutional authority for their healthcare proposals. To a one, they responded with answers that betrayed unmitigated arrogance and a disdain for our Constitution second to none in our nation's noble history.
"Are you serious? Are you serious?" replied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when asked specifically about the constitutional authority for Obama's health care proposal. Pelosi's spokesman later clarified, "You can put this on the record: That is not a serious question. That is not a serious question." (Apparently, there was an echo in the chamber.)
Democrat House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attempted to answer the question by demonstrating his illimitable ignorance on the subject: "Well, in promoting the general welfare the Constitution obviously gives broad authority to Congress to effect [a mandate that individuals must buy health insurance]. The end that we're trying to effect is to make health care affordable, so I think clearly this is within our constitutional responsibility."
Perhaps Hoyer should take a basic civics course on the "General Welfare" clause in Article 1, Section 8, as written by James Madison. On the limitations of the Constitution, Madison wrote: "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents..."
Finally, Democrat Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (where Rule of Law once prevailed), responded to the question of constitutional authority by insisting, "We have plenty of authority. ... I mean, there's no question there's authority. Nobody questions that. Where do we have the authority to set speed limits on an interstate highway? The federal government does that on federal highways." (No, actually, the states set speed limits, and only misinterpretation of the Commerce Clause by judicial activists could be construed to give the federal government such authority.)
As for Obama, his publicist, Robert Gibbs, claimed, "I won't be confused as a constitutional scholar, but I don't believe there's a lot of -- I don't believe there's a lot of case law that would demonstrate the veracity of [questions about constitutional authority]."
For sure, nobody will confuse Gibbs with a scholar of any stripe. And, we would remind Gibbs that when the Clintonistas attempted to nationalize healthcare (18 percent of the U.S. economy) back in 1994, the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office issued this piece of analysis: "The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate ... would impose a duty on individuals as members of society [and] require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government."
Remarkably, neither Obama's bête noire, Fox News, nor any nationally syndicated conservative column, devoted air time or print to these egregiously errant responses.
To be sure, there are a few Republicans who have questioned Obama's authority. Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch proposed an amendment requiring swift judicial review of the health care folly if it is ultimately passed into law. Not surprisingly, Democrat Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, refused to take up Hatch's amendment, insisting that it was a matter for the Judiciary Committee -- the very committee chaired by the aforementioned Senator Patrick "We have plenty of authority" Leahy.
In order to divine the real source the Left claims as its authority for "fundamentally transforming the United States of America," consider this congressional inquiry from last March.
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann dared ask Obama's tax cheat Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, "What provision in the Constitution could you point to gives authority for the actions that have been taken by the Treasury since March of '08?"
Geithner responded, "Oh, well, the -- the Congress legislated in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act a range of very important new authorities."
Bachmann tried again: "Sir, in the Constitution. What in the Constitution could you point to gives authority to the Treasury for the extraordinary actions that have been taken?"
Geithner's response: "Every action that the Treasury and the Fed and the FDIC is -- is -- has been using authority granted by this body -- by this body, the Congress."
The "authority granted by this body, the Congress."
In every successive Congress since 1995, conservative Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg has sponsored the Enumerated Powers Act (HR 1359), which requires that "Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act."
The measure continues to fail, however, because of a dirty little secret: There is no legitimate constitutional authority for almost 70 percent of current federal government programs, and, thus, no authority for the collection of taxes to fund such activities.
Though Obama swore to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," and every member of Congress has pledged "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," and "bear true faith and allegiance to the same," Democrats, and too many Republicans, have forsaken their sacred oaths.
In doing so, they have inflicted grievous injury upon our Constitution, thereby placing our Essential Liberty in eminent peril.
In May 1775, at the onset of the hostilities that gave rise to our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution calling on the states to prepare for rebellion. In its preamble, John Adams advised his countrymen to sever all oaths of allegiance to the Crown.
Since that time, generations of American Patriots have honored their oaths, shed their blood, given their lives -- but not to the crown of any man or a partisan sect. Instead, these sacrifices have been made to support and defend our Constitution and the Rule of Law it established.
Put simply, there is no authority for a "constitutional rewrite" by Barack Hussein Obama, nor Nancy Pelosi, nor Steny Hoyer, nor any like-minded revisionists. Such contempt for our Constitution, such willful violation of their sacred oaths is a disgrace to the selfless dignity of generations of Patriots before them.
At present, we have a gang of outlaws at the helms of the executive and legislative branches. Under such despots, we are being unlawfully taxed without lawful representation. Sound familiar?
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Strat: Rebounding Jihad
on: October 29, 2009, 09:44:06 AM
Iraq: A Rebounding Jihad
October 28, 2009
By Scott Stewart
On Oct. 25, militants in Iraq conducted a coordinated attack in which they detonated large vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) at the federal Ministry of Justice building and the Baghdad Provincial Council building nearly simultaneously. The two ministries are located in central Baghdad near the Green Zone and are just over a quarter of a mile apart.
The bomb-laden vehicles were driven by suicide operatives who managed to detonate them in close proximity to the exterior security walls of the targeted buildings. The attack occurred just before 10:30 a.m. on a workday, indicating that it was clearly designed to cause maximum casualties -- which it did. The twin bombing killed more than 150 people and wounded hundreds of others, making it the deadliest attack in Baghdad since the April 18, 2007, attacks against Shiite neighborhoods that killed more than 180 people.
The Oct. 25 attack was very similar in design and target set to an attack on Aug. 19, in which coordinated VBIEDs were detonated at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry buildings, along with a string of smaller attacks in other areas of the city. The Foreign Ministry building is located in the same part of Baghdad as the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad Provincial Council, while the Finance Ministry is located a short distance away and across the river. The Aug. 19 attacks, which also were launched shortly after 10 a.m., killed at least 95 people and wounded hundreds.
On Oct. 26, in a statement posted to the jihadist al-Fallujah Web site, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) claimed responsibility for the attack against the Justice Ministry and Baghdad Provincial Council. The group had also previously claimed responsibility for the Aug. 19 attack against the Foreign and Finance ministries. Judging from the targets chosen and the use of suicide bombers, it is likely that the ISI was indeed responsible for both attacks.
These recent attacks in Baghdad reveal a great deal about the ISI and its capabilities. They also provide a glimpse of what might be in store for Iraq in the run-up to the 2010 national parliamentary and general elections, which are scheduled to be held in January.
The Islamic State of Iraq
The ISI is not a single entity but a coalition of groups that includes al Qaeda's Iraqi franchise. This coalition was formed as a result of a conscious decision by jihadist leaders to put an Iraqi face on jihadist efforts in the country rather than have the movement characterized by foreign leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This transformation was illustrated by the fact that an Iraqi named Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was named to lead the ISI and that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pledged his allegiance to al-Baghdadi and the ISI in November 2006. This change enabled the ISI coalition to build stronger ties to the local Sunni tribal elders and to expand its support network in the Sunni-controlled areas of the country.
This link to the local Sunni leadership backfired when the Awakening Councils composed of Sunni Iraqis -- many of whom were former militants -- helped clamp down on the ISI. Because of this, large suicide attacks are less common then they were at the peak of the insurgency (and of overall violence) in 2007. But the Sunni elders never allowed the ISI to be totally dismantled. They saw the coalition as a useful tool in their negotiations with the Shia and Kurds, to ensure that they got what they saw as their fair share of power.
During the crackdown on the ISI that accompanied the U.S. surge of troops into Iraq, many of the foreign fighters were forced to leave the country and flee to greener pastures (many of them went to Pakistan and Afghanistan). However, the core jihadist operatives associated with ISI who survived and remained in Iraq were both battle-hardened and highly skilled after years of combat against coalition forces. As seen by these recent attacks, the ISI retains a great deal of its capability. It has demonstrated that it is still able to gather intelligence, plan attacks, acquire ordnance, build reliable IEDs and execute spectacular attacks in the center of Baghdad against government ministry buildings.
A tactical look at the Oct. 25 attack can tell us a great deal about the state of ISI. Perhaps the most obvious thing that can be ascertained is that ISI appears to have no problem securing large quantities of explosives. The two vehicles used in the attack are reported to have contained approximately 1,500 and 2,200 pounds of high explosives. (The larger of the two vehicles was apparently used to target the Justice Ministry.) The photos and videos of the two attack sites would seem roughly consistent with those estimates. From the damage done, it is obvious that the devices employed in the attack were very large and not merely 50 or 100 pounds of high explosives stuffed in the trunk of a car. The ISI not only needs money to purchase such explosive material (or a facility to produce it), but it also must be able to discreetly transport and store the material. So we are talking about vehicles for moving explosives around, places for caching the material and shops where the VBIEDS can be fabricated without detection.
It is also important to note that the two devices functioned as designed -- they did not malfunction or have a low-order detonation where only a portion of the main charge exploded. Whoever built these two large devices (and the two from the August attack) not only had access to thousands of pounds of high explosives but knew what they were doing. Assembling a large VBIED and getting it to actually function as designed is not as easy as it might seem; it takes a great deal of expertise. And the ISI's various bombmakers have accumulated a wealth of bombmaking experience while constructing IEDs of all sorts -- including a large number of massive VBIEDs -- used in many of the hundreds, if not thousands, of terrorist attacks that the ISI's constituent groups have conducted since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Reports suggest that the devices used in the Oct. 25 attack were hidden in two small passenger buses, and that those buses were new enough to blend into the traffic in the government sector of Baghdad. It appears that the ISI used the buses to get around the greater scrutiny paid to vehicles used in past attacks like cargo and tanker trucks. It will be interesting to see whether the buses can be traced and where the ISI obtained them. Following the attack, small buses will now be placed under heightened scrutiny -- meaning we can anticipate that the group may switch to another type of vehicle for the next round of attacks. (Jihadists in Iraq have used everything from bicycles to ambulances for their VBIEDs.)
We have not seen a final report on how the completed devices got to Baghdad -- whether they were manufactured outside Baghdad and then smuggled through the various security checkpoints, or if they were constructed in Baghdad from explosives smuggled into the city in smaller quantities. There are some Iraqi politicians who are saying that devices of this size could only have passed through security with inside collaboration, and there are certainly some members of the Iraqi security forces who are either sympathetic to the jihadist cause or have been placed into the security forces to act as agents of influence. However, if the explosives were well-hidden in a nice, new passenger bus with proper documentation, or if the explosives were brought into the city in smaller quantities and the VBIEDs were constructed in Baghdad, it is quite possible that the attackers did not require high-level inside assistance to conduct the attack.
Of course, if the ISI did not have high-level inside assistance for this attack, then it means that it possesses a sophisticated network capable of gathering intelligence, planning attacks and acquiring and smuggling large quantities of explosives into the heart of Baghdad without detection -- which is not an inconsequential thing. If the ISI conducted this attack without any significant inside help, the problem is far greater that if it had; regardless of political settlements or purges of the security forces, the network will remain in place. It will be much harder to ferret out if it is external.
The ministry buildings that were attacked were secured by exterior security perimeters that prevented the vehicles carrying the explosive devices from getting right up next to them. However, they were not hardened facilities and did not present a truly hard target for the attackers. The buildings were standard office buildings built during more peaceful times in Iraq and had lots of windows. They were also built in close proximity to the street and did not have the standoff distance required to provide protection against a large VBIED. Standoff distance had been provided for these buildings previously when the streets around them were closed to traffic, but the streets were opened up a few months back by the Iraqi government as a sign that things were returning to normal in Baghdad. In past VBIED attacks in Baghdad, the ISI was forced to attack soft targets or targets on the perimeter of secure zones. The opening of many streets to traffic in 2009 has expanded the group's targeting possibilities -- especially if it can use large devices to overcome the limited protection that short standoff distance affords at targets like those recently struck.
Hardened construction, protective window film, and perimeter walls and barricades are useful, and such measures can be effective in protecting a facility against a small IED. They also certainly saved lives on Oct. 25 by not allowing the VBIEDs to pull up right next to the facilities, where they could have caused more direct structural damage and killed more people inside the buildings. (It appears that many of those killed were commuters on the street.) However, distance is the most critical thing that protects a facility against an attack with a very large VBIED, and the ministry buildings attacked by the ISI on Oct. 25 lacked sufficient standoff distance to protect them from 1,500- and 2,200-pound VBIEDs.
In practical terms, there are very few capital cities anywhere in the world that provide the space for effective standoff distance for their ministry-level buildings. Even in Washington, streets had to be closed to traffic around buildings like the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon to provide adequate standoff. There is often a great deal of tension between city officials who desire a smooth flow of traffic and security officials attempting to guard facilities against attack.
Following the Oct. 25 attacks, the Iraqi government has increased security around government facilities (as it did after the Aug. 19 attack), but the steps taken are mainly just short-term security measures that tend to gloss over the larger long-term problem of balancing security with feelings of normalcy in Baghdad and throughout Iraq.
Since August, the ISI has attacked the Iraqi Finance Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry and the Baghdad Provincial Council, and these attacks are being used to send a number of signals.
First, the jihadists in the ISI are attempting to split the existing power-sharing agreement in Baghdad. If the Sunni, Shia and Kurds can reach a final understanding, the jihadists lose their value as a bargaining lever for the Sunni elders and will rapidly lose their operational space (and likely their lives). Second, if the Sunni, Shia and Kurds can form a stable government, the jihadists lose all hope of forming their aspired-for caliphate in Iraq. The ISI needs chaos in Iraq to have any hope of stepping into power like the Taliban did in Afghanistan.
The local Sunni leaders likely are providing at least some level of support to the ISI -- or, at the very least, they are turning a blind eye to the various ISI activities that are almost certainly based out of Sunni-controlled areas. The Sunni sheikhs are using the ISI to send a message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the Sunnis must be accommodated if there is to be real peace and stability in Iraq. One sticking point for the Sunni elders is that a large percentage of the Awakening Council members have not been integrated into the security forces as promised. Of course, the Shia and Kurds then use these attacks as an excuse for why the Sunnis cannot be trusted -- and it all becomes a vicious circle.
The political situation that is driving the security problems in Iraq is complex and cannot be easily resolved. There are many internal and external players who are all trying to influence the final outcome in Iraq for their own benefit. In addition to the internal squabbles over power and oil wealth, Iraq is also a proxy battleground where the United States and Iran are attempting to maintain and assert influence. Regional players like the Saudis, Syrians and Turks also will take a keen interest in the elections and will certainly attempt to influence them to whatever degree they can. The end result of all this meddling is that peace and stability will be hard to obtain.
This means that terrorist attacks likely will continue for the foreseeable future, including attacks by the ISI. If the attacks in August and October are any indication, the remainder of the run-up to the January elections could prove quite bloody.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: First Time Fraudsters
on: October 29, 2009, 08:49:44 AM
It's hard not to laugh when viewing the results of the federal first-time home-buyer tax credit. The credit, worth up to $8,000 for the purchase of a home, has only been available since April of last year. Yet news of the latest taxpayer-funded mortgage scam has traveled fast. The Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George, recently told Congress that at least 19,000 filers hadn't purchased a home when they claimed the credit. For another 74,000 filers, claiming a total of $500 million in credits, evidence suggests that they weren't first-time buyers.
Among those claiming bogus credits, at least some of them were definitely first-timers. The credit has already been claimed by 500 people under the age of 18, including a four-year-old. This pre-K housing whiz likely bought because mom and dad make too much to qualify for the full credit, which starts to phase out at $150,000 of income for couples, $75,000 for singles.
As a "refundable" tax credit, it guarantees the claimants will get cash back even if they paid no taxes. A lack of documentation requirements also makes this program a slow pitch in the middle of the strike zone for scammers. The Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department are pursuing more than 100 criminal investigations related to the credit, and the IRS is reportedly trying to audit almost everyone who claims it this year.
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.Speaking of the IRS, apparently its own staff couldn't help but notice this opportunity to snag an easy $8,000. One day after explaining to Congress how many "home-buyers" were climbing aboard this gravy train, Mr. George appeared on Neil Cavuto's program on the Fox Business Network. Mr. George said his staff has found at least 53 cases of IRS employees filing "illegal or inappropriate" claims for the credit. "In all honesty this is an interim report. I expect that the number would be much larger than that number," he said.
The program is set to expire at the end of November, so naturally given its record of abuse, Congress is preparing to extend it. Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia is so pleased with the results that he wants to expand the program beyond first-time buyers and double the income limits.
This is the point in the story when a taxpayer's sense of humor is bound to give way to a different emotion. The credit's cost is running at about $1 billion a month and $15 billion for the year. Also, even when employed by an honest buyer, it's another distortion that drives capital into housing and away from other more productive uses. For America's tens of millions of tax-paying renters, it's another subsidy they provide for their neighbors to be able to sell their houses at a higher price.
While the credit seems to have boosted home sales, many of those sales would have happened anyway and have merely been stolen from the future. Meanwhile, the credit continues to distort the housing market and postpone the day when home prices can find a floor that is a basis for a stable recovery.
More than two years into the housing bust, trillions of dollars in taxpayer losses or guarantees via Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and amid an ongoing plague of redefaults in federal programs to prevent foreclosures, politicians are still trying to manipulate housing prices. And leave it to Congress to design a program that even a four-year-old can scam.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Hudson: Concerns raised over FBI
on: October 29, 2009, 08:39:17 AM
Published: October 28, 2009
WASHINGTON — After a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis committed a suicide bombing in Africa in October 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him on United States soil.
Instead of collecting information only on people about whom they had a tip or links to the teenager, agents fanned out to scrutinize Somali communities, including in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. The operation unfolded as the Bush administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules.
The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.”; The disclosure of the manual has opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.
In seeking the revised rules, the bureau said it needed greater flexibility to hunt for would-be terrorists inside the United States. But the manual’s details have alarmed privacy advocates.
One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as a potential security threat. Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion as a factor — as long as it is not the only one — when selecting subjects for scrutiny.
“It raises fundamental questions about whether a domestic intelligence agency can protect civil liberties if they feel they have a right to collect broad personal information about people they don’t even suspect of wrongdoing,” said Mike German, a former F.B.I. agent who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union.
But Valerie Caproni, the F.B.I.’s general counsel, said the bureau has adequate safeguards to protect civil liberties as it looks for people who could pose a threat.
“Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect information on a person or group unless there is a specific reason to suspect that the target is up to no good seriously miss the mark,” Ms. Caproni said. “The F.B.I. has been told that we need to determine who poses a threat to the national security — not simply to investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen.”
The manual authorizes agents to open an “assessment” to “proactively” seek information about whether people or organizations are involved in national security threats.
Agents may begin such assessments against a target without a particular factual justification. The basis for such an inquiry “cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation,” the manual says, but the standard is “difficult to define.”
Assessments permit agents to use potentially intrusive techniques, like sending confidential informants to infiltrate organizations and following and photographing targets in public.
F.B.I. agents previously had similar powers when looking for potential criminal activity. But until the recent changes, greater justification was required to use the powers in national security investigations because they receive less judicial oversight.
If agents turn up something specific to suggest wrongdoing, they can begin a “preliminary” or “full” investigation and use additional techniques, like wiretapping. But even if agents find nothing, the personal information they collect during assessments can be retained in F.B.I. databases, the manual says.
When selecting targets, agents are permitted to consider political speech or religion as one criterion. The manual tells agents not to engage in racial profiling, but it authorizes them to take into account “specific and relevant ethnic behavior” and to “identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities.”
Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates, said the F.B.I. was harassing Muslim-Americans by singling them out for scrutiny. Her group was among those that sued the bureau to release the manual.
“We have seen even in recent months the revelation of the F.B.I. going into mosques — not where they have a specific reason to believe there is criminal activity, but as ‘agent provocateurs’ who are trying to incite young individuals to join a purported terror plot,” Ms. Khera said. “We think the F.B.I. should be focused on following actual leads rather than putting entire communities under the microscope.”
Ms. Caproni, the F.B.I. lawyer, denied that the bureau engages in racial profiling. She cited the search for signs of the Somali group, Al Shabaab, linked to the Minneapolis teenager to illustrate why the manual allows agents to consider ethnicity when deciding where to look. In that case, the bureau worried that other such teenagers might return from Somalia to carry out domestic operations.
Agents are trained to ignore ethnicity when looking for groups that have no ethnic tie, like environmental extremists, she said, but “if you are looking for Al Shabaab, you are looking for Somalis.”
Among the manual’s safeguards, agents must use the “least intrusive investigative method that effectively accomplishes the operational objective.” When infiltrating an organization, agents cannot sabotage its “legitimate social or political agenda,” nor lead it “into criminal activity that otherwise probably would not have occurred.”
Portions of the manual were redacted, including pages about “undisclosed participation” in an organization’s activities by agents or informants, “requesting information without revealing F.B.I. affiliation or the true purpose of a request,” and using “ethnic/racial demographics.”
The attorney general guidelines for F.B.I. operations date back to 1976, when a Congressional investigation by the so-called Church Committee uncovered decades of illegal domestic spying by the bureau on groups perceived to be subversive — including civil rights, women’s rights and antiwar groups — under the bureau’s longtime former director, J. Edgar Hoover, who died in 1972.
The Church Committee proposed that rules for the F.B.I.’s domestic security investigations be written into federal law. To forestall legislation, the attorney general in the Ford administration, Edward Levi, issued his own guidelines that established such limits internally.
Since then, administrations of both parties have repeatedly adjusted the guidelines.
In September 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey signed the new F.B.I. guidelines that expanded changes begun under his predecessor, John Ashcroft, after the Sept. 11 attacks. The guidelines went into effect and the F.B.I. completed the manual putting them into place last December.
There are no signs that the current attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., plans to roll back the changes. A spokeswoman said Mr. Holder was monitoring them “to see how well they work” and would make refinements if necessary.
The F.B.I., however, is revising the manual. Ms. Caproni said she was taking part in weekly high-level meetings to evaluate suggestions from agents and expected about 20 changes.
Many proposals have been requests for greater flexibility. For example, some agents said requirements that they record in F.B.I. computers every assessment, no matter how minor, were too time consuming. But Ms. Caproni said the rule aided oversight and would not be changed.
She also said that the F.B.I. takes seriously its duty to protect freedom while preventing terrorist attacks. “I don’t like to think of us as a spy agency because that makes me really nervous,” she said. “We don’t want to live in an environment where people in the United States think the government is spying on them. That’s an oppressive environment to live in and we don’t want to live that way.”
What the public should understand, she continued, is that the F.B.I. is seeking to become a more intelligence-driven agency that can figure out how best to deploy its agents to get ahead of potential threats.
“And to do that,” she said, “you need information.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wilson 1791
on: October 29, 2009, 08:25:57 AM
"It is the duty of parents to maintain their children decently, and according to their circumstances; to protect them according to the dictates of prudence; and to educate them according to the suggestions of a judicious and zealous regard for their usefulness, their respectability and happiness." --James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Part 5
on: October 29, 2009, 08:23:48 AM
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 5: Putin Struggles for Balance
October 29, 2009 | 1139 GMT
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is at a decision point. After spending a decade consolidating political and economic power, he has to choose how to deal with Russia's troubled economy. Amid tensions between the Kremlin's two powerful clans, Putin's decision could leave Russia's political structure in tatters.
Editor's Note: This is the final part of a five-part series examining the Russian political clans and the coming conflict between them.
Related Special Topic Page
Special Series: The Kremlin Wars
Click here to download a PDF of this report
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spent a decade gaining control over the Russian political and economic system. However, economic difficulties are affecting Russia's political structure, and the remedy could break the whole system apart.
After coming to power in 1999, Putin spent five years getting a firm grip on the Russian political system. During the next five years, he focused on managing the balance between the Kremlin's rival power clans -- one led by Vladislav Surkov, currently Putin's first aide and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's deputy chief of staff, and the other led by Igor Sechin, currently deputy prime minister -- while recentralizing the economy. In consolidating the economy, Putin granted these clans the unchecked ability to put many of Russia's largest and most important firms under state control.
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series Introduction): The War Begins
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 1: The Crash
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 2: The Combatants
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 3: Rise of the Civiliki
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 4: Surkov Presses Home
This consolidation generally was more about giving the state control over Russia's vast strategic resources and purging influence from abroad or from those hostile to the Kremlin than about making economically sound decisions. The benefits of high energy prices and a surge of foreign investment into Russia made up for shortcomings in economic planning. But those good times have ended. Energy prices are considerably lower now, and foreign investment has dried up. Furthermore, many of those put in charge of the firms now managed by the Russian state did not know how to run a business. These firms collapsed during the ongoing global economic crisis, deeply damaging the Russian economy.
Putin has not been blind to the mismanagement and overextension in the economic consolidation, or to the long-term outlook for the Russian economy. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has presented Putin with a proposal to partially liberalize the economy, remove the poor managers, and put business-minded people in charge of the firms in the hopes of returning those firms to functionality and possibly profit. Putin might be considering these reforms, but he is not putting himself in a position to spearhead them. Though any real reforms inside Russia will require his approval, Putin has made sure that Kudrin and Medvedev are the public faces of those reforms. That way, if the reforms work, Putin could take the credit for approving them; if they fail, Kudrin -- and possibly even Medvedev -- would take the fall.
But beyond the chances of success or failure for Kudrin's proposed economic reforms is another problem: The reforms could compromise the balanced political system Putin has worked so carefully to construct and maintain.
Almost all of the managers that need to be purged under Kudrin's plan are members of the same power clan -- the siloviki, run by Sechin. Their removal would overturn the balance of power that has allowed Putin to rule for the past decade. It would leave Surkov's clan nearly unchecked in the Kremlin, and Surkov is already a powerful figure. He has been diversifying his power and, in addition to ruling over the Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU), now holds the loyalty of the liberal economic reformers called the civiliki, including Kudrin.
This is not the first time Putin has faced competing factions. During the first few years of Putin's presidency, he secured a landslide victory in 2003 Duma elections that gave his party, United Russia, dominance in the government. But Putin had to purge competing elements in the Yeltsin Family, the oligarchs, the security services and the St. Petersburg liberals. He wiped out some of these factions, like the Yeltsin Family and the oligarchs. He purged the non-loyal forces from the security services and St. Petersburgers and molded them into new factions. It is this second move that led to the rise of the clans led by Sechin and Surkov.
Putin's reign in Russia has always depended on balance, and now one of his top lieutenants is in a position to gain more power than Putin is comfortable with. Surkov knows he can never officially control Russia, but his ambition is to run it from behind the scenes. He has been fairly successful in this so far, but rival clan leader Sechin and his followers in the Federal Security Service (FSB) have always kept him and his GRU power base in check. Kudrin's plan, along with a few more changes to the system, would remove most of Surkov's obstacles. Moreover, Surkov is starting to garner a cult-like loyalty inside Russia that would make any Kremlin leader nervous. Putin knows Surkov is not trying to lead Russia officially, but his concern is that with Surkov's growing power, Putin could be displaced as Russia's chief decision-maker.
Besides Putin's desire to remain in control, the other concern is the response from the siloviki -- mainly made up of former KGB and current FSB personnel -- to a tip in the balance of power. The siloviki have never a secret of their loathing toward Surkov, his GRU and the civiliki. They would not stand for Surkov making the major decisions in the Kremlin. Russia can remain powerful only under authoritarian control, and that is something Surkov could never accomplish. Over the last decade, Putin managed to gain the loyalty of all the different Kremlin factions. Surkov could destroy that delicate balance.
Putin could disregard Kudrin's plan, leaving Sechin's people in their current positions and ignoring any plans for privatization. That would maintain the power balance, and contain Surkov to a degree, but the economic tools that Russia would have at its disposal would become far less useful. Or Putin could allow very limited business privatization and restructuring in order to keep the system stable in the short run, disregarding the long-term effects of the current economic model. This means that at any time, if Kudrin's plans start to destabilize Russia politically, those plans could be abandoned and Kudrin or Medvedev blamed for the effects. Putin would hardly be the first Russian leader to allow the economy to crumble in order to maintain political control.
Putin could also implement Kudrin's reforms but politically hive off Kudrin and the civiliki from Surkov's clan and establish the civiliki as their own clan. Since Putin is an expert at creating balance, there has been some discussion that if Sechin's clan is about to lose some of its power and Surkov is about to become stronger, Surkov's clan could be split in two to make up for the imbalance.
This looks very similar to Vladimir Lenin's tripartite system, which involved the creation of a system within the Kremlin in which three clans play off of each other to keep balance. In Lenin's system, the KGB was one clan, the GRU was another and the third was a non-intelligence group sometimes simply called the State. In Putin's model, the FSB under Sechin would continue as one clan, Surkov's clan would oversee only the GRU and then the civiliki would form the third group, led by either Medvedev or Kudrin. For Lenin, the tripartite system worked in the short term, but it ultimately failed as the intelligence groups infiltrated the State.
Surkov has already thought of this option and knows Putin is considering it. However, he views the civiliki as being too dependent to form their own clan and feels they will always have some level of loyalty to him. Considering that the civiliki generally lack leadership and do not have a power base independent of Surkov, a successful application of the tripartite model would require greater management skills than Putin currently has.
Putin's Attention Span
Another problem for Putin is how much time and effort will be required to restructure Russia's economy, attempt to keep balance inside the Kremlin, and prevent a powerful Kremlin figure from threatening Putin's control. Putin and Russia have enough other concerns outside the country.
Russia is currently consolidating its periphery by bringing former Soviet states back into its orbit. Russia is in the middle of purging Western influence in Belarus, Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Moscow is also working to prevent states further out on its periphery -- especially in Central Europe -- from becoming more pro-Western and allowing countries like the United States to have a presence there.
Russia has also been creating informal alliances with other regional powers like Germany, Turkey and Iran in order to counter the United States' global power and ability to work within Russia's sphere of influence.
If Putin is faced with a crisis at home, whether economic or political, he could have to pull back on Russia's bold moves abroad. Recently, with Russia consolidated and stable and the United States bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, Moscow has been able to make some major regional shifts in Eurasia. If this situation changes and Russia has to deal with domestic strife, then by the time Russia is stable enough to be able to act abroad again, the United States could once more be free to counter Moscow's moves.
It all hinges on Putin's decisions about managing Russia's faltering economy while maintaining control over those vying for power inside Russia. Putin has been successful when faced with such turmoil before, but it is unclear if that success can be repeated.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Well done!
on: October 29, 2009, 02:27:42 AM
Imam Who Led Radical Islam Group Killed in FBI Raid
Feds: Imam Who Led Radical Islam Group Killed in FBI Raid
DETROIT — A man described as a leader of a radical Sunni Islam group in the U.S. was fatally shot Wednesday afternoon while resisting arrest and exchanging gunfire with federal agents, authorities said.
Agents at a warehouse in Dearborn were trying to arrest Luqman Ameen Abdullah, 53, on charges that included conspiracy to sell stolen goods and illegal possession and sale of firearms. Ten followers listed in a criminal complaint were also being rounded up in the area.
Abdullah refused to surrender, fired a weapon and was killed by gunfire from agents, FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said.
In a court filing, the FBI said Abdullah, also known as Christopher Thomas, was an imam of a Black Muslim radical group named Ummah whose primary mission is to establish an Islamic state within the United States.
No one was charged with terrorism. But Abdullah was "advocating and encouraging his followers to commit violent acts against the United States," FBI agent Gary Leone said in an affidavit.
"He regularly preaches anti-government and anti-law enforcement rhetoric," Leone said. "Abdullah and his followers have trained regularly in the use of firearms, and continue to train in martial arts and sword fighting."
Leone said members of the national group mostly are black and some converted to Islam while in prisons across the United States.
"Abdullah preaches that every Muslim should have a weapon, and should not be scared to use their weapon when needed," Leone wrote.
It was not immediately clear how many of the other 10 suspects were in custody.
The group believes that a separate Islamic state in the U.S. would be controlled by Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, who is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Colorado for shooting two police officers in Georgia in 2000, Leone said. Al-Amin, a veteran of the black power movement, started the group after he converted to Islam in prison.
"They're not taking their cues from overseas," said Jimmy Jones, a professor of world religions at Manhattanville College and a longtime Muslim prison chaplain. "This group is very much American born and bred."
The movement at one time was believed to include a couple of dozen mosques around the country. Ummah is now dwarfed in numbers and influence by other African-American Muslim groups, particularly the mainstream Sunnis who were led by Imam W.D. Mohammed, who recently died.
By evening, authorities still were working the scene near the Detroit-Dearborn border and the warehouse was surrounded by police tape.
The U.S. attorney's office said an FBI dog was also killed during the shootout.
Abdullah's mosque is in a brick duplex on a quiet, residential street in Detroit. A sign on the door in English and Arabic reads, in part, "There is no God but Allah."
Several men congregated on the porch Wednesday night and subsequently attacked a photographer from The Detroit News who was taking pictures from across the street. Ricardo Thomas had his camera equipment smashed and had a bloody lip from the attack.
Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Dearborn, said the FBI had briefed him about Wednesday's raids and told him they were the result of a two-year investigation.
"We know that this is not something to be projected as something against Muslims," Hamad said.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The New Kitty Genovese
on: October 29, 2009, 12:21:17 AM
Gang rape raises questions about bystanders' roleBy Stephanie Chen, CNNOctober 28, 2009 5:19 p.m. EDT
"Genovese syndrome" was coined after dozens watched or heard a killer attack Kitty Genovese and did nothing.STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Psychologists say bystanders in large groups are less likely to take action
Police: As many as 20 people watched gang rape spanning over two hours
Bystanders didn't report assault to police and some participated in the attack
Some experts argue the witnesses may have feared retaliation from the gang(CNN) -- For more than two hours on a dark Saturday night, as many as 20 people watched or took part as a 15-year-old California girl was allegedly gang raped and beaten outside a high school homecoming dance, authorities said.
As hundreds of students gathered in the school gym, outside in a dimly lit alley where the victim was allegedly raped, police say witnesses took photos. Others laughed.
"As people announced over time that this was going on, more people came to see, and some actually participated," Lt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department told CNN.
The witnesses failed to report the crime to law enforcement, Gagan said. The victim remained hospitalized in stable condition. Police arrested five suspects and more arrests were expected.
So why didn't anyone come forward?
Criminology and psychology experts say there could be a variety of reasons why the crime wasn't reported. Several pointed to a problematic social phenomenon known as the bystander effect. It's a theory that has played out in lynchings, college riots and white-collar crimes.
Under the bystander effect, experts say that the larger the number of people involved in a situation, the less will get done.
Video: Girl gang-raped for hours
Video: Gang rape outside school dance
Video: Can witnesses be prosecuted? RELATED TOPICS
"If you are in a crowd and you look and see that everyone is doing nothing, then doing nothing becomes the norm." explains Drew Carberry, a director at the National Council on Crime Prevention.
Carberry said witnesses can be less likely to report a crime because they reinforce each other with the notion that reporting the crime isn't necessary. Or, he says, witnesses may think another person in the crowd already reported the incident. The responsibility among the group becomes diffused.
"Kids learn at a young age when they observe bullying that they would rather not get involved because there is a power structure," Carberry adds.
The phrase bystander effect was coined in the 1960s after people watched or heard a serial killer stalk and stab a woman in two separate attacks in the Queens neighborhood of New York.
Kitty Genovese struggled with the attacker on the street and in her building. She shrieked for help and was raped, robbed and murdered. When witnesses in the building were questioned by police about why they remained silent and failed to act, one man, according to the 1964 New York Times article that broke the story, answered, "I didn't want to be involved."
Though the number of people who saw or heard Genovese struggle was eventually disputed, her case still became symbolic of a kind of crowd apathy that psychologists and social scientists call the "Genovese syndrome."
"I don't propose people get involved by running over and trying to stop it," the 73-year-old brother of Kitty Genovese told CNN, referring to the California gang rape case. Instead, Vincent Genovese advocates a call to 911. "Everyone has a cell phone," he said. "There is no excuse for people not to react to a situation like that."
A similar incident took place at a New Bedford, Massachusetts, bar in 1983. Witnesses said several men threw a woman on a pool table where they raped and performed oral sex on her. Several witnesses failed to call police.
"The people in the bar didn't do anything. They just let it happen," said Richard Felson, a professor of crime, law and justice at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania.
This detached mentality can be especially pervasive among youth, who are too young to comprehend what victimization means, said Salvatore Didato, an organizational psychologist in New York. When a teenager -- or anyone -- doesn't have a personal bond to the victim, they are less likely to help out.
Experts say sometimes bystanders see the victim as less important than the person committing the crime, who appears to wield power. "The victim to them is a non-person," Didato said.
But in California, it's illegal for a witnessed crime involving children to go unreported. The Sherrice Iverson Child Victim Protection Act passed in 1999 makes it a misdemeanor to fail to report a crime against a child. However, the bill only applies to victims 14 or younger. The victim in the California gang-rape case was 15.
Phil Harris, a criminal justice professor at Temple University, who has studied juveniles and group situations for nearly three decades, offered another hypothesis on why as many as 20 witnesses failed to notify police. He said the witnesses could have been angry themselves -- or had a problem with the victim.
Richmond Police Department officials said some of the witnesses in the California gang rape ended up participating in the sexual assaults.
"A lot of kids don't know how to express anger and they are curious when anger is expressed," Harris said.
Scientific studies over the last decade have shown that adolescent brain development occurs into the 20s, which makes it hard for teens to make decisions, criminologists say. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court took this research into consideration when it ruled that children could not be given the death penalty.
It is still unclear the ages of the male witnesses who gathered around the victim in California and watched.
In Boston, Massachusetts, Northeastern University criminologist Jack McDevitt says he believes the California gang rape was too violent -- and lasted too long -- to be the result of the bystander effect alone.
McDevitt, who specializes in hate crime research, says the male witnesses may have kept quiet out of fear of retaliation. In his research, witnesses who live in violent communities often fear stepping forward because snitching isn't tolerated.
Snitching could also bring dangerous consequences to their friends and family. "They don't believe the system will protect them from the offender," he said. "They think the offender will find out their name."
That may have been the case in Chicago, Illinois, in September when an honor student was beaten to death by four teenage boys outside a school. Video captured by a bystander showed several students watching the attack, but police have found many of the witnesses tight-lipped in the South side community where violence has been prevalent. Police have charged three suspects with murder.
While information from the Richmond Police Department in the coming weeks may reveal more about the bystanders and attackers, crime experts say one thing is clear: Third parties can affect the outcome of a crime. Witnesses have the power to deter violence -- or stop a crime from going on, experts say.
Bystanders could have prevented the gang rape from lasting more than two hours, if they had reported the crime to authorities sooner.
The victim was found under a bench, semi-conscious.
"This just gets worse and worse the more you dig into it," Lt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department. "It was like a horror movie. I can't believe not one person felt compelled to help her."
Nick Valencia contributed to this report.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Kali Tudo (tm) Training Camp Feb 6-7
on: October 28, 2009, 09:33:28 PM
Woof Dog Mark et al:
The date is now confirmed as February 6-7. While the exact location has not been determined, it will be in the South Bay/Hermosa Beach area.
Also I am delighted to confirm that we will have Kenny Johnson joining us as a guest instructor. I know Kenny via Rigan Machado. KJ is a world class MMA Wrestling coach. For example, he was the MMA Wrestling Coach on Team Noguiera on TUF. He coaches Anderson Silva, BJ Penn, Lyoto Machida and others of that ilk.
We got to know each other when I asked him for a lesson to help me with certain wrestling based questions I had (re "the Rico" and my lousy underhooks) He was very intrigued by what I was doing and we began light sparring and exchanging knowledge. This has continued. A month or two ago he came by my Monday Kali Tudo class and we taught together.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT
on: October 28, 2009, 09:17:08 AM
Fears of a New Chill in Home Sales
By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: October 27, 2009
Even as new figures show house prices have risen for three consecutive months, concerns are growing that the real estate market will be severely tested this winter.
Artificially low interest rates and a government tax credit are luring buyers, but both those inducements are scheduled to end. Defaults and distress sales are rising in the middle and upper price ranges. And millions of people have lost so much equity that they are locked into their homes for years, a modern variation of the Victorian debtor’s prison that is freezing a large swath of the market.
“Plenty of pain yet to come,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist for MFR. He is forecasting an imminent resumption of price declines.
This summer, housing seemed at last to be stabilizing. A flood of last-minute buyers trying to conclude a deal before the tax credit expires Nov. 30 helped push up the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index a seasonally adjusted 1 percent in August, it was announced on Tuesday.
That was the first time since early 2006 that the widely watched measure of 20 metropolitan areas put together three consecutive increases.
While underlining the importance of that long-awaited rise, Maureen Maitland, the S.& P. vice president for index services, warned, “Everything is up for grabs this winter.”
Consumers seem acutely aware of the strains ahead. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell unexpectedly in October, after reaching its high for the year in September, the board announced on Tuesday.
The only hot sector of the real estate market has been foreclosures. Investors and first-time buyers have been competing for these, often creating bidding wars. But with the economy still weak, many analysts expect more foreclosures.
Another factor likely to weigh on home sales in the coming months is a rise in interest rates. As the Federal Reserve ceases its buying of mortgage-backed securities, rates may well drift up to 6 percent, from 5 percent.
Worries about the fragility of the housing market, fanned by the real estate industry, may prompt an extension of the tax credit. The controversial program has spurred as many as 400,000 buyers, including Brenda Colon, a nurse in Las Vegas.
“If you had told me in January that I would be buying a house, I would have laughed,” said Ms. Colon, 48, who lives with her two daughters and granddaughter. “But the tax credit was just the kicker to throw me over.”
Yet despite the tax credit and other local and federal incentives for homebuyers in Las Vegas, prices there are continuing to fall, shedding 0.8 percent in August. The city’s home prices have declined on average more than 55 percent from their peak, more than in any other metropolis.
Whenever the tax credit finally expires, Las Vegas and every other city will have to confront the inevitable question after all such stimulus packages: what will motivate the buyers of tomorrow?
“In my office, people were buying homes left and right because of that tax credit,” said Kitty Berberick, who works for an insurance company in Las Vegas. “That credit was a godsend.”
Ms. Berberick, 62, could not strike a deal in time, and now has signed another lease for her apartment. If the credit is not extended, she said, she is likely to give up the search entirely until the market really crashes.
This, of course, is the sort of fatalistic attitude that relentlessly drove down prices last fall.
“Everyone keeps telling me, it’s going to go down before it goes up,” Ms. Berberick said. “I hope it does, because then I can buy.”
The recovery is both modest and tentative when measured against the preceding plunge. Prices have fallen nearly a third from their peak, and are down 11.4 percent over the last year.
In most major cities, it is as if the housing boom never happened. Prices over all are back to where they were in the fall of 2003. Some cities have been pushed down even more: In Cleveland, prices are at 2001 levels; in Detroit they’re at 1995.
It is the magnitude of this decline that makes Karl E. Case, the Wellesley professor for whom the Case-Shiller index is partly named, an optimist.
While acknowledging “there are a lot of dangers out there,” Mr. Case said “housing is as affordable as it’s been in 20 years. I don’t see a very rapid recovery, but I think we’ve seen the bottom.”
Sixteen of the 20 cities in the index rose in August, including San Francisco, up 2.6 percent, and Minneapolis, which rose 2.3 percent. Besides Las Vegas, three cities fell: Charlotte, Cleveland and Seattle. New York was up 0.3 percent.
The Case-Shiller numbers on prices lag behind the National Association of Realtors’ report on existing-home sales, which has been issued for September. Sales were up 9.4 percent from August, with the tax credit again getting much of the credit.
Critics of the credit argue that the number of those who merely qualify for it — and gladly take it — greatly outnumber those it is precisely intended to assist: people who would not have bought a house otherwise. That means, they argue, that the government is essentially paying more than $40,000 for each purchase that would not have occurred without the credit.
That is an expensive proposition, said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center who has closely followed the issue. “The bigger threat to the housing market is not the reduction in demand from the end of the credit, but the continuing wave of foreclosures we’re likely to see over the next 18 months,” he said.
In California, there is strong evidence that foreclosures are beginning to migrate from the subprime inland areas to the more exclusive coastal region.
According to MDA DataQuick, third-quarter notices of default in Santa Barbara were up 25 percent from 2008; in San Luis Obispo, they rose 46 percent; in Marin County, they were up 66 percent.
Defaults in hard-hit Sacramento, by contrast, were up only 10 percent. In Merced County in the Central Valley, an epicenter of the bust, they actually fell.
While defaults are only the first stage in foreclosure, Mr. Shapiro, the MFR economist, expects many formerly creditworthy homeowners to go under. He says he thinks the recent improvement in Case-Shiller numbers is an aberration rather than the beginning of a long-term improvement, with consequences for the larger economy.
“Another leg down in home prices, even if much more limited than the initial move, would nonetheless weigh on consumer spending,” Mr. Shapiro said, adding that he did not expect a second recession