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27501  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War on: June 02, 2007, 06:40:28 AM
WSJ

Syria's Useful Idiots
By MICHAEL YOUNG
June 1, 2007; Page A13

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council voted to set up a tribunal that will try suspects in the February 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria is the leading suspect in the case, so the establishment of the tribunal serves as a step toward creating a stable Lebanon. It also poses a clarifying question to the United States: What will engaging Syria mean for building a liberal future for Lebanon?

At the moment, it is clear that Syria hasn't stopped meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs. The Security Council only created its tribunal after efforts to establish a similar tribunal within Lebanon were stymied by Syrian allies. Indeed, to understand what is at stake in the Lebanese crisis today, flip through the report released last April by the U.N. commission investigating the Hariri assassination.

The commission, led by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, now assumes that Hariri's assassination was tied to his political activities, particularly his preparations for the summer 2005 legislative elections. This sets up a key passage in the report: "[A] working hypothesis is that the initial decision to kill Hariri was taken before the later attempts at rapprochement got underway and most likely before early January 2005. This leads to a possible situation in the last weeks before his murder in which two tracks, not necessarily linked, were running in parallel. On one track, Hariri was engaged in rapprochement initiatives and on the other, preparations for his assassination were underway."

 
Lebanese citizens celebrate Wednesday's establishment of a U.N. tribunal for the Rafiq Hariri murder.
For anyone who followed Lebanese politics at the time, this deceptively anodyne passage says a lot. Hariri was hoping to score a victory against Syria and its Lebanese allies during the elections, after Syria had extended the mandate of his bitter rival, President Emile Lahoud. The Syrians felt that such a victory would jeopardize their position in Lebanon and, although there was mediation to patch up Hariri's differences with the Syrians, the plot to eliminate him continued. It is plain from Mr. Brammertz's phrasing that those who were planning the former prime minister's elimination are the same ones with whom the intermediaries were trying to reconcile him.

Mr. Brammertz is building a case that, from the information provided to date, can only point the finger at Syria and its Lebanese supplicants. The Hariri tribunal, now that it has been formally established, poses an existential threat to the Syrian regime, and it is in Lebanon that the Syrians have and will continue to hit back to save themselves.

The outbreak of violence in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and a group calling itself Fatah al-Islam is the latest stage in such an endeavor. In a BBC interview last week, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora openly linked Fatah al-Islam to Syrian intelligence. The group has claimed to be an al Qaeda affiliate, but observers in Lebanon, including Palestinian sources usually critical of the Siniora government, qualify this, saying that Fatah al-Islam is acting on Syria's behalf. The daily Al-Hayat has reported that the group's weapons come from caches belonging to Palestinian organizations under Syrian control, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah al-Intifada, from which Fatah al-Islam allegedly broke off.

Meanwhile, a more subtle battle is taking place over interpretation of what is happening in Lebanon. This is especially important because there are those in Washington who still insist that something can be gained from dealing with Syria. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought so in April when she visited Damascus, did the Gertrude Bell tour of the Hamadiyyeh souq, and capped it all with a visit to President Bashar Assad, all for precisely nothing in return.

The Iraq Study Group also thought Syria could be a useful partner in Iraq, even as all the signs suggest that Damascus has little real influence there and is sowing dissension to compensate. That's why understanding what is going on in Lebanon is vital for a sense of what can be gained from Syria elsewhere. Yet something is amiss when the most obvious truths are those the pundits won't consider.

For example, what did the former CIA agent Robert Baer mean in Time magazine, when he wrote that the Lebanese government should "know better" than to believe that Fatah al-Islam is a Syrian creation, because "at the end of the day Fatah Islam is the Syrian regime's mortal enemy"? Mr. Baer's point was that a Lebanese civil war might undermine Syrian stability, but also that Sunni Islamists oppose the minority Alawite Syrian regime. He reminded us that "the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood used northern Lebanon as a rear base to seize the Syrian city of Hama in 1982."

It is Mr. Baer who should know better. Syria has fueled a sectarian war in neighboring Iraq by funneling Sunni al Qaeda fighters into the country, without worrying about what this might mean for its own stability. Syria's vulnerabilities have not prevented it from hosting Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. And Syria's anxieties notwithstanding, throughout its years in Lebanon it developed ties with many Sunni Islamist groups and recently welcomed to Damascus a prominent Lebanese Islamist it has co-opted, Fathi Yakan.

The point is that Syria will have no qualms about provoking sectarian discord in Lebanon to ward away the menace of the Hariri tribunal.

And what are we to make of the journalist Seymour Hersh, now considered an authority on Lebanese Sunni Islamist groups on the basis of a flawed article he wrote for the New Yorker last March? In that article, and in a recent CNN interview, he indirectly suggested that Fatah al-Islam had received weapons not from Syria but from the Siniora government.

The only source Mr. Hersh cited in his article for the Fatah al-Islam story was Alistair Crooke, a former MI6 agent who co-directs Conflicts Forum, an institution advocating dialogue with Islamist movements. Mr. Crooke did not have direct knowledge of what he was claiming, as he "was told" that weapons and money were offered to the group, "presumably to take on Hezbollah."

Mr. Hersh is wading into very muddy waters with very simple ideas. The relationship of the Lebanese government and the Hariri camp with Sunni Islamists is byzantine, but there is no evidence to date that the government or the Hariris had any strategy to use al Qaeda against Hezbollah. In fact most Lebanese Sunni Islamists are not linked to al Qaeda. And Mr. Hersh has provided no proof that Fatah al-Islam received government assistance. Still, the Syrian regime's media has repeatedly used Mr. Hersh's charges to discredit the Lebanese government.

Then there are those with little patience for Lebanese independence. Arguing that Syria is worth more to the U.S. than Lebanon, they advocate Washington's ceding Lebanon to Syria as a price for constructive dialogue. For example, Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staffer now at the New America Foundation, recently told National Public Radio, where he appears regularly, that the Bush administration had "romanticized" the 2005 "Cedar Revolution." This was his way of implying that the latter was worth discarding. For Mr. Leverett and others, a Lebanon free of Syria is inherently unstable, even as they disregard Syrian responsibility for that instability.

In a March 2005 op-ed in the New York Times, as Lebanese took to the streets demanding a Syrian pullout, Mr. Leverett urged the U.S. to abandon efforts to establish a "pro-Western government" in Beirut. Instead, he proposed that "the most promising (if gradual) course for promoting reform in Syria is to engage and empower [President] Assad, not to isolate and overthrow him."

This makes for restorative reading today, as Mr. Assad's regime pursues its destabilization of Lebanon, Iraq and Palestinian areas, ignores domestic reform and continues to detain thousands of political opponents in its prisons.

There is nothing wrong with keeping an open mind on Syria. However, an "open mind" can be shorthand for blindness or bad faith. Given the evidence, it makes no sense to dismiss Syrian involvement in the Lebanese crisis, or to blame the crisis on an al Qaeda affiliate allegedly financed by the Lebanese government. Nor does it make sense to assume that Lebanon is a burden that the U.S. should jettison in favor of a stabilizing Syria, considering the fact that al Qaeda materialized from across the Syrian border. We're asked to believe that a group, said to be financed by the Siniora government, picked a fight with that very government, and somehow innocently did so just as the U.N. prepared to establish a tribunal the Syrians fear.

When Syria is systematically exporting instability throughout the region, you have to wonder whether its regime can be a credible partner to the U.S.

Mr. Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

RELATED ARTICLES AND BLOGS
=========================================

Justice for Lebanon
June 1, 2007; Page A12
Russia and China refused to endorse Wednesday's Security Council vote to establish an international tribunal for the February 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister. The tribunal, they argued, was an illegitimate form of outside interference in the country's domestic affairs. As for Syria's role in Mr. Hariri's murder -- the very reason the tribunal was needed in the first place -- that's a form of meddling our friends in Moscow and Beijing apparently prefer not to notice.

The good news is that these two veto-wielding powers abstained from the vote, which means the tribunal will be established by international fiat by June 10 if the Lebanese parliament fails to do it before then. In Beirut, this brought dancing in the streets; Mr. Hariri's son Saad called the resolution a "victory the world has given to oppressed Lebanon and a victory for an oppressed Lebanon in the world."

 
By contrast, Syria denounced the U.N. vote as a "degradation of Lebanon's sovereignty," which -- considering the source -- is almost amusing. Iranian-proxy Hezbollah was equally dismayed: It has spent the last six months attempting to block the tribunal by calling mass demonstrations and trying to bring down the democratic government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. For Hezbollah especially, the resolution marks a major political defeat, and therefore a strategic victory for anyone who cares about Lebanon's future as a sovereign democracy.

Nobody should be under any illusions that the road forward for the tribunal will be easy. The Syrians have consistently tried to derail the U.N. investigation leading to the tribunal. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who recently met with Condoleezza Rice in Egypt, was secretly taped threatening Rafik Hariri just weeks before his death. He then lied about it to U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis -- a useful reminder of the value of trying to negotiate anything with the regime of Bashar Assad.

Damascus almost certainly had a hand in the assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians Gibran Tueni in 2005 and Pierre Gemayal in 2006. More recently, the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat has reported that the leadership of Fatah al-Islam, an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Lebanon, consists entirely of Syrian officers. The Lebanese army has been fighting a pitched battle with the group for the past two weeks in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared -- this despite the fact that the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reported that the Lebanese government, with the connivance of Saudi Arabia and the Bush Administration, was actually behind the group. (See Michael Young's dispatch nearby.)

As in Iraq, the Syrian game in Lebanon is to foment chaos and then offer itself as the solution. The gambit has plainly impressed at least some people: Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador to the U.N., argued that the tribunal would "add to the uncertainties embodied in the already turbulent political and security situation in Lebanon." Comments like that will surely embolden the Syrians to sow more chaos in Lebanon to show that the price of justice in the service of a fallen leader will be prohibitively high.

But whatever happens next, passage of the resolution has shown the Syrians and their Lebanese friends that they cannot assassinate political enemies without paying a price of their own. As U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad put it Wednesday to the Security Council, "there can be no peace . . . without justice." We've heard that slogan before; in the case of Lebanon, at least, it happens to be true.

27502  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action on: June 01, 2007, 04:20:38 PM

http://michaelyon-online.com/wp/the-final-option.htm

Dog Brothers Inc. is proud to support Michael Yon in his mission to report the truth from the frontlines.
27503  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Asia on: June 01, 2007, 12:14:18 PM
WSJ

Show of Bad Faith
By ANGELA C. WU
June 1, 2007

As Islamist protestors' shouts of "Allah-o-Akbar" echoed through Putrajaya's Palace of Justice, the Malaysian Federal Court Wednesday reaffirmed that religion is determined by court orders and not personal conscience. The two-to-one landmark decision by the country's highest court marks a monumental setback to religious freedom and human rights in Malaysia, a secular country increasingly influenced by Islamism.

Lina Joy, about whom I wrote on this page last September, is an ethnic Malay born into an Islamic family who converted to Christianity in 1998 at the age of 36. Desiring to live as a Christian, she sought to have "Islam" removed from her national identification card so that she could marry her Roman Catholic fiancé. However, the National Registration Department refused her request without an official order from the Islamic Sharia court declaring her an apostate. Because Ms. Joy was not a Muslim, she argued that the Sharia court -- which constitutionally has jurisdiction only in limited, enumerated matters relating to family law "over persons professing the religion of Islam" -- had no jurisdiction over her decision.

 
Once a Muslim, forever a Muslim in Malaysia.
On principle, Ms. Joy never applied to the Sharia court because she rightly reasoned that the state could not tell her what she believes in her heart. Further, no Sharia court has ever recognized an application for apostasy made by an ethnic Malay. Instead, a common judgment has been years-long sentences to religious "rehabilitation" camps for re-education in Islam.

Ms. Joy courageously filed suit in civil court, optimistic that the federal Constitution's provisions for equal protection and freedom of religion for all Malaysians would strengthen her case. The trial court dismissed her application, arguing that ethnic Malays are constitutionally defined as Muslim, thereby making conversion from Islam illegal. The judge also reasoned that allowing this exemption would encourage future converts. The Court of Appeals subsequently wrote that allowing Ms. Joy's conversion would "consequently be inviting the censure of the Muslim community."

Any hope that Ms. Joy might find protection from the federal Constitution was crushed by the Supreme Court's reaffirmation of the doctrine that if you are born a Muslim, you will stay a Muslim until the community decides otherwise. Ignoring Lina Joy's years of Catholic study, church attendance, and the baptism certificate she presented as proof of her sincerity, Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said in his decision, "You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another."

Judge Richard Malanjum, the only non-Muslim among the three judges, dissented, arguing that because the National Registration Department had required a special approval only for Muslims, it violated the equal treatment provision in Article Eight of the federal Constitution. In its perverse way, Wednesday's ruling was discriminatory only against those born into Islam.

Even beyond Ms. Joy's plight, this and similar rulings set dangerous precedents for related cases regarding the application of Sharia law. Consider Subashini Rajasingam, whose husband embraced Islam in 2006 and then converted their eldest son. He then filed an application before the Kuala Lumpur Sharia Court to dissolve their civil marriage and obtain custody of the children. Ms. Subashini lost her case in both lower courts, and the Federal Court granted leave to appeal on May 17.

Malaysia's religious and ethnic diversity, growing economy, and regional leadership make these rulings all the more troubling. Indicators such as Ms. Joy's case, in which judges unabashedly set aside constitutional protections in favor of the sensibilities of Muslim believers, suggest that there is growing support for Islamization.

Just as Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists mingle in Kuala Lumpur's Central Market, so too have Sharia and civil law existed side by side since Malaysia's Constitution came into force in 1957. Now, the prospects of Sharia and civil law peacefully coexisting have grown dim. Malaysia's ability to protect fundamental human rights while navigating its parallel legal system among rising religious and ethnic tensions is an indication of whether it's possible anywhere.

In Malaysia, where Islam as the state religion was historically merely a symbolic statement, and where the Constitution reflects religious freedom for people of all faiths, the issue is not whether Sharia can accommodate human rights. It's whether human rights can accommodate Sharia.

Ms. Joy remains in hiding, trapped in a legal quagmire designed by a state judging her religion according to her ethnicity and not what she professes. Meanwhile her country -- whose motto is "Unity is Strength" -- is at a cultural and legal crossroads. Wednesday's ruling is a step toward an Islamic state in which group religious sentiment trumps the most fundamental human right, the right without which other rights are meaningless -- the right to follow one's conscience. Let us hope Malaysia can turn back in time.

Ms. Wu is the International Director of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C
27504  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: June 01, 2007, 12:08:36 PM
A Back Door for Terrorists
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By RICHARD A. CLARKE
Published: June 1, 2007
AMID all of the xenophobia and nativism surrounding the immigration debate, there is a real security concern. In the language of the bureaucracy, the problem is referred to as the “O.T.M.’s,” or Other Than Mexicans.

Thousands of non-Mexicans are caught crossing the United States border every year. They cannot be sent back to Mexico, but must be deported to their home country. Until recently, most were given a deportation hearing date and then simply released. Not surprisingly, few showed up for their scheduled appearances. Beginning last year, however, most who are caught are put into detention. They are then put through a procedure called expedited removal, under which many are flown back home within a few weeks.

Many of these non-Mexicans come from Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the Palestinian territories and other areas of concern to counterterrorism officials. What we don’t know is how many others are evading the Border Patrol every year and what happens to them when they leave the border area. It’s not too hard to imagine that these illegal immigrants, who have clearly spent a lot of money getting to Mexico and then into the United States, are able to buy themselves an identity and corroborating papers once in an American city.

Since 9/11, it has been far more difficult to get a visa to enter the United States if you are a citizen of a country considered a terrorism concern. But it is not difficult for a Pakistani, for example, to enter Mexico or another Central American country from which he can get to our border relatively easily, cross it and blend in.

The Real ID Act of 2005, which among other things established standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and non-driver’s identification cards, has now been put off until at least 2009. And many states are in open revolt against its tough requirements for issuing driver’s licenses.

The result is that potential terrorists here illegally can easily use phony licenses or, in many states, get real ones issued to them, along with credit cards and all of the other papers needed to blend into our society. (The only places in this country that seem to check the validity of drivers’ licenses are bars in college neighborhoods.) Indeed, those arrested for allegedly planning to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey included illegal immigrants who apparently had little difficulty getting along in this country.

In his commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy last month, President Bush was right to express concern that Al Qaeda is trying to bring terrorists into the United States. He was wrong, however, to claim that fighting in Iraq somehow helps stop such attempts. In the absence of a secure border and verifiable biometric identification systems, preventing terrorists from getting in to this country and setting up sleeper cells here is almost impossible. Maybe we will get serious after the next attack.

Richard A. Clarke, the former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council, is the author of “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror.”

27505  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: June 01, 2007, 11:43:19 AM
For our purposes shooting any video at all is verboten. angry  In addition to the obvious business reasons, there is also the very important matter of fighters knowing that they can come to play secure in the knowledge that they will not be unfairly portrayed. 

For example several years back we had someone sneak a video of a fight and spread it all over the internet at "Our Style beats Style XYZ".     This made for some very bad feelings on the part of Style XYZ (a knife oriented system) and for a while there was talk of settling things on the sidelines at the next Gathering.   Fortunately I was able to steer things in a different direction.

Folks, what we have built is something very special.  If we do it right, it looks easy.  That does not mean it is easy. 

I repeat, shooting any video at all is verboten.
27506  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Huber: Germs and the City on: June 01, 2007, 11:36:15 AM

Friday Feature / Peter Huber: Germs and the City


Two centuries of success against infectious disease have left us complacent—and vulnerable.

 

There have been at work among us three great social agencies: the London City Mission; the novels of Mr. Dickens; the cholera.” Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb quotes this reductionist observation at the end of her chapter on Charles Dickens in The Moral Imagination; her debt is to an English nonconformist minister, addressing his flock in 1853. It comes as no surprise to find the author of Hard Times and Oliver Twist discussed alongside Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill in a book on moral history. Nor is it puzzling to see Dickens honored in his own day alongside the City Mission, a movement founded to engage churches in aiding the poor. But what’s V. cholerae doing up there on the dais beside the Inimitable Boz? It’s being commended for the tens of millions of lives it’s going to save. The nastiness of this vile little bacterium has just transformed ancient sanitary rituals and taboos into a new science of epidemiology. And that science is about to launch a massive—and ultimately successful—public effort to rid the city of infectious disease.

 

The year 1853, when a Victorian doctor worked out that cholera spread through London’s water supply, was the turning point. Ordinary people would spend the next century crowding into the cities, bearing many children, and thus incubating and spreading infectious disease. Public authorities would do all they could to wipe it out. For the rest of the nineteenth century, they lost more ground than they gained, and microbes thrived as never before. Then the germ killers caught up—and pulled ahead. When Jonas Salk announced his polio vaccine to the press in April 1955, the war seemed all but over. “The time has come to close the book on infectious disease,” declared William Stewart, the U.S. surgeon general, a few years later. “We have basically wiped out infection in the United States.”

 

By then, however, infectious diseases had completed their social mission. Public authorities had taken over the germ-killing side of medicine completely. The focus shifted from germs to money—from social disease to social economics. As germs grew less dangerous, people gradually lost interest in them, and ended up fearing germ-killing medicines more than the germs themselves.

 

Government policies expressed that fear, putting the development, composition, performance, manufacture, price, and marketing of antibiotics and vaccines under closer scrutiny and control than any public utility’s operations and services. The manufacturers of these drugs, which took up the germ-killing mission where the sewer commission left off, must today operate like big defense contractors, mirror images of the insurers, regulatory agencies, and tort-litigation machines that they answer to. Most drug companies aren’t developing any vaccines or antibiotics any more. The industry’s critics discern no good reason for this at all: as they tell it, the big drug companies just can’t be bothered.

 

These problems capture our attention only now and again; they hardly figure in the much louder debate about how much we spend on doctors and drugs, and who should pay the bills. “Public health” (in the literal sense) now seems to be one thing, and—occasional lurid headlines notwithstanding—not a particularly important one, while “health care” is quite another.

 

We will bitterly regret this shift, and probably sooner rather than later. As another Victorian might have predicted—he published a book on the subject in 1859—germs have evolved to exploit our new weakness. Public authorities are ponderous and slow; the new germs are nimble and fast. Drug regulators are paralyzed by the knowledge that error is politically lethal; the new germs make genetic error—constant mutation—the key to their survival. The new germs don’t have to be smarter than our scientists, just faster than our lawyers. The demise of cholera, one could say, has been one of the great antisocial developments of modern times.

 

By withdrawing from the battlefield just long enough to let us drift into this state of indifference, the germs have set the stage for their own spectacular revival. Germs are never in fact defeated completely. If they retire for a while, it’s only to search, in their ingeniously stupid and methodically random way, for a bold new strategy. They’ve also contrived, of late, to get human sociopaths to add thought and order to the search. The germs will return. We won’t be ready.

 

Read Peter Huber’s Complete Article in the City Journal:
http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_2_germs.html
27507  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Growing Demand for the rare American Iman on: June 01, 2007, 11:11:43 AM
Today's NY Times-- Often on topical subjects, but always a suspect source:
========================

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — Sheik Yassir Fazaga regularly uses a standard American calendar to provide inspiration for his weekly Friday sermon.

Sheik Yassir Fazaga greeting worshipers after a prayer service. He went to high school in Orange County, Calif., and now leads a mosque there.
Around Valentine’s Day this year, he talked about how the Koran endorses romantic love within certain ethical parameters. (As opposed to say, clerics in Saudi Arabia, who denounce the banned saint’s day as a Satanic ritual.)

On World AIDS Day, he criticized Muslims for making moral judgments about the disease rather than helping the afflicted, and on International Women’s Day he focused on domestic abuse.

“My main objective is to make Islam relevant,” said Sheik Fazaga, 34, who went to high school in Orange County, which includes Mission Viejo, and brings a certain American flair to his role as imam in the mosque here.

Prayer leaders, or imams, in the United States have long arrived from overseas, forced to negotiate a foreign culture along with their congregation. Older immigrants usually overlook the fact that it is an uneasy fit, particularly since imported sheiks rarely speak English. They welcome a flavor of home.

But as the first generation of American-born Muslims begins graduating from college in significant numbers, with a swelling tide behind them, some congregations are beginning to seek native imams who can talk about religious and social issues that seem relevant to young people, like dating and drugs. On an even more practical level, they want an imam who can advise them on day-to-day American matters like how to set up a 401(k) plan to funnel the charitable donations known as zakat, which Islam mandates.

“The problem is that you have a young generation whose own experience has nothing to do with where its parents came from,” said Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in the Near Eastern studies department at the University of California, Berkeley, who surveys Muslim communities.

But the underlying quandary is that American imams are hard to find, though there are a few nascent training programs. These days, many of the men leading prayers across the United States on any given Friday are volunteers, doctors or engineers who know a bit more about the Koran than everyone else. Scholars point out that one of the great strengths of Islam, particularly the Sunni version, is that there is no official hierarchy.

But this situation is fueling a debate about just how thoroughly an imam has to be schooled in Islamic jurisprudence and other religious matters before running a mosque.

The downside for Islam in America, some critics argue, is that those interpreting Islamic law often lack a command of the full scope of the traditions carried in the Koran and the hadith, the sayings of the prophet Muhammad considered sacred.

“I call it ‘hadith slinging,’ ” said Prof. Khaled Abou el Fadl, a specialist in Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I throw a couple of hadiths at you, and you throw a couple of hadiths at me, and that is the way we do Islamic law,” he added. “It’s like any moron can do that.”

Experts say the problem is exacerbated because few immigrant parents want their children to become imams.

“Immigrant parents want their children to become doctors, engineers, computer scientists,” Dr. Bazian said. “If you suggested that they might want their kid to study to become an imam, they would hold a funeral procession.” Ultimately, in the absence of trained sheiks, good religion in many American mosques has come to be defined through rigid adherence to rituals, Professor Abou el Fadl said, adding, “It’s ritual that defines piety.”

The few imams born or at least raised in the United States who win over their congregations tend to be younger men who can play pickup basketball with the teenagers, but also have enough training in classical Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence that the older members accept their religious credentials.

Imam Ronald Smith Jr., 29, who runs the Islamic Center of Daytona Beach, Fla., converted to Islam at 14 to escape the violence in his African-American community in Atlantic City. As part of his training, he spent six years studying at the Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

“Foreign imams, because of the culture in their countries, kind of stick to the mosque and the duties of the mosque without involving themselves much in the general community,” Imam Smith said. “The hip-hop culture is difficult to understand if you have never lived it.”

==========

(Page 2 of 2)



The foreign imams’ idea of mosque outreach, Imam Smith said, is sponsoring an evening lecture series where everyone sits around for an hour and listens to a speech about being devout or maybe world politics, which teenagers find less than compelling.

Mosque leaders say the risk is that younger Muslims, already feeling under assault in the United States because of the faith’s checkered reputation, might choose one of two extremes. They either drift away from the faith entirely if they cannot find answers, or leave the mosque for a more radical fringe.

Here in Mission Viejo, Sheik Fazaga wears street clothes much of the time, but dons traditional robes to deliver the Friday sermon at the mosque, a building distinguishable from the surrounding strip malls and low-slung office buildings mostly by its airy exterior dome of metal filigree painted sea green. It was a practice he started 10 years ago when he first returned home and kind of fell into the imam’s job around age 24, because some members considered him too young for the position.

Born in the East African nation of Eritrea, he moved to the Arab world before coming to Mission Viejo at age 15. Drawn toward Islam by college students, he enrolled in the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, a Virginia campus of al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The United States government expelled much of the faculty in 2004 as part of the crackdown on extremist Islamic rhetoric.

The school was accused of being an American outpost of the puritanical Wahhabi sect, a label Sheik Fazaga rejects. But that might be one reason he has been stopped for questioning some 20 times — every time he returns home from abroad.

“ ‘How come you don’t dress like an imam?’— that’s their favorite question,” he said with a wry grin.

Younger Muslims seek him out for guidance, he said, and the fact that he is studying for a master’s degree in psychological therapy helps. Teenagers have requested advice about being addicted to Internet pornography, he said, and about sexual orientation. He counsels adolescents — gay and straight — that sexual attraction is natural, but to act on it is wrong and that any addiction should be treated.

Previous imams would simply admonish the youths that something was a forbidden abomination, subject closed.

Gihan Zahran, 43, an Egyptian immigrant, remembers a previous Arab imam who even told a much perplexed teenager that wearing Nike shoes was “haram,” or forbidden in Arabic, without explaining why. Some Muslims consider this aloofness particularly ineffective in America, given that they are a minority faced by majority practices like drinking alcohol that clash with their faith and that teenagers confront daily.

Ms. Zahran’s sister Nermeen Zahran, 42, recently went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. She is a real estate agent, and has not veiled her hair at least partly because it might affect her livelihood in a conservative place like Orange County.

When she went on the hajj, as it is called in Arabic, a fellow pilgrim asked the Egyptian imam who accompanied them from Southern California his opinion of her not wearing the scarf afterward.

“He was so mad, so offended and said he couldn’t believe it could happen,” Nermeen Zahran recalled over a glass of orange juice in the neat condominium she shares with her sister. His basic reaction, she said, was that there was no point in seeking forgiveness for previous sins if one did not take the veil afterward.

Ms. Zahran has also consulted religious figures about periodic bouts of depression, but the usual response was that her faith lacked vigor.

Now she talks to Sheik Fazaga about it, she said. “He tries to solve the problems and doesn’t tell you that you have to accept that this is your life, this is what Allah gave you, and if you don’t then you are not a good Muslim.”

She wonders, in the end, whether a purer form of Islam will develop in the United States, with prayer leaders focused on the concerns of the community, rather than not treading on the toes of the government that supports them, as in much of the Arab world.

Mosques will probably continue to address the wishes of the immigrant population for another decade, but after that the tide will shift away from them, experts suggest.

“Islam in America is trying to create a new cultural matrix that can survive in the broader context of America,” said Prof. Sherman Jackson, who teaches Arabic and Islamic law at the University of Michigan. “It has to change for the religion to survive.”
27508  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: June 01, 2007, 08:54:26 AM
I loathe Hillary Evita Clinton, but I think she is correct to agree with those who favor reforming the H1B visas to faciliatate immigration by the highly educated.
27509  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: June 01, 2007, 08:50:55 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Musharraf Cracks Down

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Thursday called an emergency meeting of the country's top military brass, including corps commanders and agency heads, for June 1 to discuss the domestic political situation. The same day, Information and Broadcasting Minister Sen. Muhammad Ali Durrani said all private electronic media outlets must now obtain permission from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority before each live broadcast. Pakistan's Supreme Court also said it plans to investigate reports of state authorities and political groups harassing and threatening journalists.

The country's increasingly assertive judiciary and media have played a key role in the growing crisis of governance. The most recent blow to Musharraf came May 26 during a Supreme Court Bar Association seminar titled "Separation of Powers and Independence of the Judiciary," when several prominent lawyers harshly criticized the government and the military's control of the state. Several TV channels carried the event live.

The seminar enraged the Musharraf regime, which responded by saying abusive and derogatory remarks about national institutions, especially the armed forces, will not be tolerated. In a May 30 speech to officers at the Jehlum garrison, Musharraf warned the media to stop politicizing the judicial crisis, though media criticism of the Pakistani government is hardly unprecedented.

In fact, the country has seen a major proliferation of private television channels under Musharraf's rule. The government allowed this in order to counter public criticism that it is a military-dominated autocratic regime. It also could afford to allow the increasingly vibrant media its freedom since Musharraf faced no real challenge to his rule.

But in the wake of the suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, this vibrancy has damaged the public perception of the government. Yet, because the country's opposition parties continue to be divided over how to move against Musharraf, media coverage of political events and the broadcasting of damning criticism have not resulted in the protests attaining critical mass. Nonetheless, the government is moving toward a major crackdown that will drastically curtail free speech.

The nature of the criticism -- which has been aimed not only at the president, but also at the military's domination of the state -- and its reception within Musharraf's own constituency could present major problems for Musharraf's ability to rule.

Musharraf's most important source of power is the support he receives from the military, particularly the army. Criticism of Musharraf due to his dual role as military chief and president is one thing, but the questioning of the military's control over the state changes things dramatically. This forces the top generals to question Musharraf's ability to look after the military's interests. Hence, Musharraf is rushing to clamp down on the media. He must now show the generals he is very much in control and is capable of ensuring that the military maintains its hold on the state. Losing the confidence of the army's senior leadership would prove fatal to his own hold on power.

It is unlikely a crackdown on political dissent will help Musharraf shore up his position; in fact, it likely will make the situation worse for him. The verdict in Chaudhry's appeal case and the controversial presidential vote set to take place in September will only accelerate the momentum of the country's growing unrest.
stratfor.com
27510  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam the religion on: May 31, 2007, 09:13:47 PM
Woof Brian:

Interesting post, but I'm thinking this is not quite the right thread for it.  Would you be so kind as to post in Geopolitical Matters at
http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=510.100 and then I will delete it here?

Marc
27511  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: May 31, 2007, 10:38:08 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Keeping U.S. Troops in Iraq

The White House on Wednesday compared the future U.S. troop presence in Iraq to that in South Korea. This is not so much an announcement of a plan to create a specific force structure or basing arrangement as it is a statement about the length and character of Washington's commitment to Baghdad. The real underlying significance of the announcement is simple: the United States is not leaving Iraq any time soon.

While perhaps at first indistinguishable from the Bush administration's well-rehearsed company line -- that the United States is committed to Iraq -- White House Press Secretary Tony Snow's choice of analogies comes amid the first public negotiations between Washington and Tehran on Iraq's stability. These negotiations themselves are the product of years of behind-the-scenes discussions aimed at finding a way to reconcile nearly incompatible national interests. Nevertheless, the very existence of public negotiations on the subject suggests substantial progress has been made from the impasse that existed earlier in the year.

The South Korea analogy is thus no small statement, no accident and no coincidence. This was not the standard "we stand by Iraq" press conference; the White House appears to have made an assertion that reflects a much deeper agreement with Tehran. Washington could well be positioning itself to garner domestic and Iraqi support for a U.S. military presence in Iraq that will continue for the foreseeable future (significantly, while reassuring Sunni allies in Iraq they will not be abandoned).

That presence, of course, will shift dramatically from the current arrangement. This is consistent with some changes already in the cards: a reduced U.S. troop presence and operational tempo, a shift from combat to advising and support, and a withdrawal from day-to-day security operations. The exact basing configuration and force structure are mere details, yet to be decided and -- especially in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan -- up for negotiation. But at the end of the day, a significant U.S. military presence will remain in Iraq.

That presence ultimately will mean the same thing for Iraq that it has meant for South Korea: an attack on Iraq is the same as an attack on the United States.

This position, whether official or unstated, has little to do with Iraq's internal sectarian strife. Rather, it creates a strategic tripwire in the region: the U.S. military physically interposes itself between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and gives Washington enough sway in Baghdad to provide a counterweight to Tehran's very real influence there. If the public talks continue to progress, Iraq could become the next nation to have its security (at least in terms of border integrity, if not internal stability) guaranteed by the United States -- a commitment from Washington that has rarely proven to be short-lived.

But first, of course, there are the negotiations. For Iran, a large U.S. military presence in Iraq would be little better than a U.S.-backed Sunni puppet government in Baghdad (which is Tehran's worst fear, whether or not Washington thinks it is attainable). Thus, if the Iranians have truly agreed to this arrangement -- and that is an exceedingly large "if" -- serious U.S. concessions will be forthcoming.

High on Iran's list of priorities, for example, is a significant role for Tehran in training (and thus influencing and controlling) Iraqi security forces. With a continued but more isolated U.S. military presence in the country, Iran needs a counterbalance. The trick, of course, is that these very security forces have been Washington's own counterbalance to Tehran's power over the Shiite militias -- and U.S. influence over the security apparatus will become increasingly important as the U.S. military draws back from day-to-day security operations.

In other words, Washington appears poised to set up a long-term presence in Iraq that is very nearly unacceptable for Tehran. If a deal is to proceed, Washington will have to reciprocate in kind with an equally unappetizing and nearly unacceptable concession, like sharing influence and perhaps even military participation in Iraq's security apparatus. It is a concession Washington could have a difficult time living with, even if the White House's representatives have agreed to it in principle.

The ability of the two sides to put this prospective compromise into practice is therefore far from certain. The situation is extremely fragile. Elections are looming in the United States and crucial power brokers in Iraq and Iran are falling ill. With both sides walking so close to the line, either could renege at the slightest provocation or the merest perceived shift in national interest.

Complicating matters further, any long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq will have to be worked out with the Iraqi government itself. Even after reaching this compromise with Washington, Tehran will need to convince its Shiite allies in Iraq to play ball -- and, through them, it will need to compel a controlling share of all Iraqi Shia to go along.

The Sunnis, and especially the Kurds, can probably follow suit. However, the Shiite and Sunni landscapes in Iraq are both highly fractured and dominated by Islamist forces, which will oppose a long-term U.S. military presence on Iraqi soil.

Should all go incredibly well -- should the various pieces of the puzzle not only fit into place but also hold their positions -- there will be a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq. But while this might serve Washington's interests in part by providing a bulwark against jihadists, it also will fuel the jihadist fire. It is worth remembering that the origins of al Qaeda trace back to a single issue: the long-term U.S. military presence in nearby Saudi Arabia.

stratfor.com
27512  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Christianity on: May 31, 2007, 09:03:41 AM
What I Think About Evolution
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By SAM BROWNBACK
Published: May 31, 2007
Washington

IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.
27513  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 31, 2007, 08:22:34 AM
Yes there are bathrooms  cheesy

I've been meaning to ask DJ (Dan Jackson) about showers.  In the absence thereof I'm thinking some hoses might do  grin
27514  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: May 31, 2007, 08:19:04 AM
ssions Revelation
May 30, 2007
The G-8 summit starts next week, and the U.S. is already under attack for blocking hostess German Chancellor Angela Merkel's proposal to curb so-called greenhouse gases. President George W. Bush's environmental adviser confirmed yesterday that the White House won't go along with an economically crippling plan to halve emissions from their 1990 levels by mid-century.

Amid all the Euro sanctimony about global warming and carping about America's unwillingness to play along with their grand schemes, a few truths are inconvenient. The U.S. is reducing emissions, without any need for caps. And on this score, America is outpacing Europe's jolly green giants.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Friday that energy-related CO2 emissions fell 1.3% last year, according to preliminary data, even as the economy grew 3.3%. Those emissions account for four-fifths of all greenhouse gases in the U.S. It's the third time since the base year of 1990 that America has recorded a decrease, but the first not to occur during a recession (as in 1991 and 2001). During the same period, Europe managed only once, in 1997, to cut CO2 emissions by at least 1% while its economy grew by more than 2%. (The EU has not released data for 2006.)

A single year doesn't make a trend, but the American one is clear. Since 2000, emissions are nearly flat, thanks to a strong economy that nurtures innovation and efficiency. U.S. manufacturers are curbing CO2 output, pushing last year's total below 1990 levels in absolute terms. After outpacing the U.S. during the Clinton-Gore '90s, Europe has fallen behind this decade on reducing greenhouse emissions.

The Kyoto-hugging Europeans want to tax or crimp this very American competitiveness. As next week's summit will likely prove again, no one can match the Europeans for the output of dangerous policy. Yet anyone seriously concerned about the environment can take a closer look at America's recent record of success.
27515  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: May 31, 2007, 12:13:00 AM

'We Are the Only People Preventing Them From Telling the Story'
In a Memorial Day column, David Carr of the New York Times complains about a U.S. military rule requiring that embedded reporters "obtain a signed consent from a wounded soldier before the image can be published. Images that put a face on the dead, that make them identifiable, are simply prohibited."

Why is it so important to show images of hurt and dead Americans? A fellow Timesman gives away the game:

James Glanz, a Baghdad correspondent who will become bureau chief for The New York Times next month, said that although he and others had many great experiences working with the rank-and-file soldiers, some military leaders seem determined to protect something besides the privacy of their troops.

"As the number of reporters there dwindles further and further because of the difficult conditions we work under, the kind of work they are able to publish becomes very important," Mr. Glanz said. "This tiny remaining corps of reporters becomes a greater and greater problem for the military brass because we are the only people preventing them from telling the story the way they want it told."

Hmm, we thought the job of a reporter was to tell stories, not to prevent others from doing so. Furthermore, is it even possible to imagine a Times correspondent saying his job is to prevent the enemy from telling its story?

And here's an example of the kind of journalism the Times's Baghdad bureau produces. This is from a news account, also in yesterday's Times:

On Sunday, American troops freed 42 Iraqi prisoners from what military officials described as a Qaeda hideout northeast of Baghdad. Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman, said some of the captives appeared to have been tortured.

The raid was part of a security effort involving 3,000 additional troops sent to Diyala, a violent province north of the capital with a mixed population of Sunnis and Shiites. Colonel Garver said the hideout had been found because of a tip from an Iraqi, and that all 42 freed prisoners were receiving medical care.

"Some of the rescued stated they had been suspended from the ceiling," he said. "Some of them stated they had been there for four months. One young man stated he was 14 years old."

This is a good story, one that points up the brutality of the enemy and the bravery of American servicemen. Given Glanz's ideas about the press's role, you almost have to wonder how reporter Damien Cave managed to sneak it into the paper.

Well, here's how: The passage we quoted above was paragraphs 11 through 13 of a story titled "Roadside Bombing Kills 2 More G.I.'s in Iraq."

The story is not accompanied by a picture of the two dead soldiers' bodies. Do you wish it were?

=========

Two Papers in One!

" There is one matter on which American military commanders, many Iraqis and some of the Bush administration's staunchest Congressional critics agree: if the United States withdrew its forces from Baghdad's streets this fall, the murder and mayhem would increase."--news story, New York Times, May 27


"It's upsetting to think that Mr. Bush believes the raging sectarian violence in Iraq awaits reigniting. . . . But we have grown accustomed to this president's disconnect from reality and his habit of tilting at straw men, like Americans who . . . don't worry about what will happen after the United States withdraws, as it inevitably must."--editorial, New York Times, May 27
27516  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Particular Stocks on: May 31, 2007, 12:01:30 AM
Also, I am back to breakeven on CREE!  smiley

PCL chugs forward nicely.
27517  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Gathering Numbers on: May 30, 2007, 12:01:19 PM
He's LAPD  cool
27518  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: May 30, 2007, 12:00:26 PM
Hat tip to David Gordon:

==========

Following the Money Trail Online

From David Pogue comes this referral to an interesting site.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist
===============================
The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that you have one.

That's what I keep telling myself, anyway, to avoid becoming depressed by Maplight.org.

It's a new Web site with a very simple mission: to correlate lawmakers' voting records with the money they've accepted from special-interest groups.

All of this is public information. All of it has been available for decades. Other sites, including OpenSecrets.org, expose who's giving how much to whom. But nobody has ever revealed the relationship between money given and votes cast to quite such a startling effect.

If you click the "Video Tour" button on the home page, you'll see a six-minute video that illustrates the point. You find out that on H.R.5684, the U. S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement, special interests in favor of this bill (including pharmaceutical companies and aircraft makers) gave each senator an average of $244,000. Lobbyists opposed to the bill (such as anti-poverty groups and consumer groups) coughed up only $38,000 per senator.

Surprise! The bill passed.

If you click "Timeline of Contributions," you find out that -- surprise again! -- contributions to the lawmakers surged during the six weeks leading up to the vote. On this same page, you can click the name of a particular member of Congress to see how much money that person collected.

Another mind-blowing example: from the home page, click "California." Click "Legislators," then click "Fabian Nunez." The resulting page shows you how much this guy has collected from each special-interest group -- $2.2 million so far -- and there, in black-and-white type, how often he voted their way.

Construction unions: 94 percent of the time. Casinos: 95 percent of the time. Law firms: 78 percent of the time. Seems as though if you're an industry lobbyist, giving this fellow money is a pretty good investment.

A little time spent clicking through to these California lawmakers' pages reveals a similar pattern in most of them.

(A few, on the other hand, appear to be deliciously contrary. Jim Brulte has accepted over $67,000 from the tobacco industry, but hasn't voted in their favor a single time. Is that even ethical -- I mean, by the standards of this whole sleazy business?)

For some reason, Maplight.org doesn't reveal these "percent of the time" figures for United States Congress, only for California. You can easily see how much money each member has taken, but the column that correlates those figures with their voting record is missing.

Now, not all bills exhibit the same money-to-outcome relationships. And it's not news that our lawmakers' campaigns accept money from special interests. What this site does, however, is to expose, often embarrassingly, how that money buys votes.

I probably sound absurdly naive here. But truth is, I can't quite figure out why these contributions are even legal. Let the various factions explain their points till they're blue in the face, sure -- but to cut checks for millions of dollars?

Maplight.org isn't always easy to figure out, and not all of its data is complete. In fact, it's not even evident from the list of bills which ones have already been voted on -- a distinct disappointment, since the juicy patterns don't emerge until the vote is complete.

On the other hand, it's painstakingly non-partisan. And it uses very good data; for example, the information on contributions comes from the Center for Responsive Politics (the nonprofit, nonpartisan research group behind OpenSecrets.org), and each special industry's interests (for or against each bill) are taken exclusively from public declarations of support or opposition (Web sites, news articles, Congressional hearings and so on).

Spend a few minutes poking around. Check out a couple of the people you voted for. Have a look at how often their votes align with the interests of the lobbyists who helped to get them elected.

And be glad Maplight.org makes it so easy to spot those correlations.

Labels: Humanities
27519  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 29, 2007, 09:54:53 PM
Robert:

Dan is a pretty bright guy, I think he is up to keeping track of things smiley

All:

Gints makes a very good point about dual function cameras.  This concerns us.

CD

27520  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Looking for Training Partners on: May 29, 2007, 09:52:33 PM
The Umpad tribe is at a very good level.  Highly recommended.
27521  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science on: May 29, 2007, 06:55:31 PM
I posted this in the Libertarian thread as well:

===========

Of course I hungry bird could mess up the best laid plans....

Scientist: Military Working on Cyborg Spy Moths

Tuesday , May 29, 2007
By Jonathan Richards


At some point in the not-too-distant future, a moth may take flight in the hills of northern Pakistan, and flap towards a suspected terrorist training camp.

But this will be no ordinary moth.

Inside it will be a computer chip that was implanted when the creature was still a pupa, in the cocoon, meaning that the moth's entire nervous system can be controlled remotely.

The moth will thus be capable of landing in the camp without arousing suspicion, all the while beaming video and other information back to its masters via what its developers refer to as a "reliable tissue-machine interface."

The creation of insects whose flesh grows around computer parts — known from science fiction as cyborgs — has been described as one of the most ambitious robotics projects ever conceived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Rod Brooks, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is involved with the research, said in a speech last week at the University of Southampton in England that robotics was increasingly at the forefront of U.S. military research.

Brooks said that the remote-controlled moths, described by DARPA as just part of its overall research into microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, were one of a number of technologies soon to be deployed in combat zones.

"This is going to happen," said Brooks. "It's not science like developing the nuclear bomb, which costs billions of dollars. It can be done relatively cheaply."

"Moths are creatures that need little food and can fly all kinds of places," he continued. "A bunch of experiments have been done over the past couple of years where simple animals, such as rats and cockroaches, have been operated on and driven by joysticks, but this is the first time where the chip has been injected in the pupa stage and 'grown' inside it."

"Once the moth hatches," Brooks said, "machine learning is used to control it."

Brooks has worked on robotic technology for more than 30 years and is a founder of iRobot, the MIT-derived manufacturer of both Roomba robot floor cleaners and PackBots, military robots used by the Pentagon to defuse explosive devices laid by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brooks said that the military would be increasingly reliant on "semi-autonomous" devices, including ones which could fire.

"The DoD has said it wants one-third of all missions to be unmanned by 2015, and there's no doubt their things will become weaponized, so the question comes: Should they be given targeting authority?"

"The prevailing view in the army at the moment seems to be that they shouldn't," he said, "but perhaps it's time to consider updating treaties like the Geneva Convention to include clauses which regulate their use."
Debates such as those over stem-cell research would "pale in comparison" to the increasingly blurred distinction between creatures — including humans — and machines, Brooks told the Southampton audience.

"Biological engineering is coming," Brooks said. "There are already more than 100,000 people with cochlear implants, which have a direct neural connection, and chips are being inserted in people's retinas to combat macular degeneration. By the 2012 Olympics, we're going to be dealing with systems which can aid the oxygen uptake of athletes."

"There's going to be more and more technology in our bodies, and to stomp on all this technology and try to prevent it happening is just ... well, there's going to be a lot of moral debates," he said.

Another iRobot project being developed as part of the U.S. military's "Future Combat Systems" program, Brooks said, was a small, unmanned vehicle known as a SUGV (pronounced "sug-vee"), basically the next generation of the PackBot, one which could be dispatched in front of troops to gauge the threat in an urban environment.

The 30-pound device, which can survive a drop of 30 feet onto concrete, has a small "head" with infra-red and regular cameras which send information back to a command unit, as well as an audio-sensing feature called "Red Owl" which can determine the direction from which enemy fire originates.

"It's designed to be the troop's eyes and ears and, unlike one of its predecessors, this one can swim, too," Mr Brooks said.
__________________
27522  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Libertarian themes on: May 29, 2007, 06:54:23 PM
Scary implications for us freedom loving civilians  shocked

============



Scientist: Military Working on Cyborg Spy Moths

Tuesday , May 29, 2007
By Jonathan Richards


At some point in the not-too-distant future, a moth may take flight in the hills of northern Pakistan, and flap towards a suspected terrorist training camp.

But this will be no ordinary moth.

Inside it will be a computer chip that was implanted when the creature was still a pupa, in the cocoon, meaning that the moth's entire nervous system can be controlled remotely.

The moth will thus be capable of landing in the camp without arousing suspicion, all the while beaming video and other information back to its masters via what its developers refer to as a "reliable tissue-machine interface."

The creation of insects whose flesh grows around computer parts — known from science fiction as cyborgs — has been described as one of the most ambitious robotics projects ever conceived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Rod Brooks, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is involved with the research, said in a speech last week at the University of Southampton in England that robotics was increasingly at the forefront of U.S. military research.

Brooks said that the remote-controlled moths, described by DARPA as just part of its overall research into microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, were one of a number of technologies soon to be deployed in combat zones.

"This is going to happen," said Brooks. "It's not science like developing the nuclear bomb, which costs billions of dollars. It can be done relatively cheaply."

"Moths are creatures that need little food and can fly all kinds of places," he continued. "A bunch of experiments have been done over the past couple of years where simple animals, such as rats and cockroaches, have been operated on and driven by joysticks, but this is the first time where the chip has been injected in the pupa stage and 'grown' inside it."

"Once the moth hatches," Brooks said, "machine learning is used to control it."

Brooks has worked on robotic technology for more than 30 years and is a founder of iRobot, the MIT-derived manufacturer of both Roomba robot floor cleaners and PackBots, military robots used by the Pentagon to defuse explosive devices laid by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brooks said that the military would be increasingly reliant on "semi-autonomous" devices, including ones which could fire.

"The DoD has said it wants one-third of all missions to be unmanned by 2015, and there's no doubt their things will become weaponized, so the question comes: Should they be given targeting authority?"

"The prevailing view in the army at the moment seems to be that they shouldn't," he said, "but perhaps it's time to consider updating treaties like the Geneva Convention to include clauses which regulate their use."
Debates such as those over stem-cell research would "pale in comparison" to the increasingly blurred distinction between creatures — including humans — and machines, Brooks told the Southampton audience.

"Biological engineering is coming," Brooks said. "There are already more than 100,000 people with cochlear implants, which have a direct neural connection, and chips are being inserted in people's retinas to combat macular degeneration. By the 2012 Olympics, we're going to be dealing with systems which can aid the oxygen uptake of athletes."

"There's going to be more and more technology in our bodies, and to stomp on all this technology and try to prevent it happening is just ... well, there's going to be a lot of moral debates," he said.

Another iRobot project being developed as part of the U.S. military's "Future Combat Systems" program, Brooks said, was a small, unmanned vehicle known as a SUGV (pronounced "sug-vee"), basically the next generation of the PackBot, one which could be dispatched in front of troops to gauge the threat in an urban environment.

The 30-pound device, which can survive a drop of 30 feet onto concrete, has a small "head" with infra-red and regular cameras which send information back to a command unit, as well as an audio-sensing feature called "Red Owl" which can determine the direction from which enemy fire originates.

"It's designed to be the troop's eyes and ears and, unlike one of its predecessors, this one can swim, too," Mr Brooks said.
__________________
27523  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 29, 2007, 06:50:13 PM
No, just an appearance from the mists of time to witness the present.  cheesy grin cool
27524  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 29, 2007, 05:50:03 PM
I just spoke with Top Dog and he confirms that he is coming  afro

I just spoke with Salty Dog and he says he thinks he can make it , , ,
27525  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 29, 2007, 12:37:10 AM
Baltic Dog:

I will be discussing the matter of Idris with Thom Beers tomorrow.

Tom S.

That is a reality question.  Check with VP of Reality Cindy at info@dogbrothers.com 310-540-6853

TAC!
CD
27526  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 28, 2007, 10:17:43 PM
Thom has emailed me that regular cameras are OK!!!  cool grin cool
27527  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 28, 2007, 07:38:07 PM
I've brought up the subject of cameras with Dan, who has kicked it up the food chain to Thom Beers.  It is a holiday weekend, so no surprise that we have not heard back from TB yet.  With any luck we will get a ruling from him tomorrow.

Also, in case I didn't mention it, Dan says that they are working on providing some sort of temporary AC  cool
27528  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF on: May 28, 2007, 12:24:01 PM
Apple Computer announced today that it has developed a computer chip that can store and play music in women's breast implants. The iTit will cost $499 or $599 depending on size. This is considered to be a major breakthrough because women are always complaining about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them.
27529  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Memorial Day on: May 28, 2007, 09:44:03 AM


America's Honor
The stories behind Memorial Day.

BY PETER COLLIER
Monday, May 28, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Once we knew who and what to honor on Memorial Day: those who had given all their tomorrows, as was said of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, for our todays. But in a world saturated with selfhood, where every death is by definition a death in vain, the notion of sacrifice today provokes puzzlement more often than admiration. We support the troops, of course, but we also believe that war, being hell, can easily touch them with an evil no cause for engagement can wash away. And in any case we are more comfortable supporting them as victims than as warriors.

Former football star Pat Tillman and Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham were killed on the same day: April 22, 2004. But as details of his death fitfully emerged from Afghanistan, Tillman has become a metaphor for the current conflict--a victim of fratricide, disillusionment, coverup and possibly conspiracy. By comparison, Dunham, who saved several of his comrades in Iraq by falling on an insurgent's grenade, is the unknown soldier. The New York Times, which featured Abu Ghraib on its front page for 32 consecutive days, put the story of Dunham's Medal of Honor on the third page of section B.

Not long ago I was asked to write the biographical sketches for a book featuring formal photographs of all our living Medal of Honor recipients. As I talked with them, I was, of course, chilled by the primal power of their stories. But I also felt pathos: They had become strangers--honored strangers, but strangers nonetheless--in our midst.

In my own boyhood, figures such as Jimmy Doolittle, Audie Murphy and John Basilone were household names. And it was assumed that what they had done defined us as well as them, telling us what kind of nation we were. But the 110 Medal recipients alive today are virtually unknown except for a niche audience of warfare buffs. Their heroism has become the military equivalent of genre painting. There's something wrong with that.
What they did in battle was extraordinary. Jose Lopez, a diminutive Mexican-American from the barrio of San Antonio, was in the Ardennes forest when the Germans began the counteroffensive that became the Battle of the Bulge. As 10 enemy soldiers approached his position, he grabbed a machine gun and opened fire, killing them all. He killed two dozen more who rushed him. Knocked down by the concussion of German shells, he picked himself up, packed his weapon on his back and ran toward a group of Americans about to be surrounded. He began firing and didn't stop until all his ammunition and all that he could scrounge from other guns was gone. By then he had killed over 100 of the enemy and bought his comrades time to establish a defensive line.

Yet their stories were not only about killing. Several Medal of Honor recipients told me that the first thing they did after the battle was to find a church or some other secluded spot where they could pray, not only for those comrades they'd lost but also the enemy they'd killed.

Desmond Doss, for instance, was a conscientious objector who entered the army in 1942 and became a medic. Because of his religious convictions and refusal to carry a weapon, the men in his unit intimidated and threatened him, trying to get him to transfer out. He refused and they grudgingly accepted him. Late in 1945 he was with them in Okinawa when they got cut to pieces assaulting a Japanese stronghold.

Everyone but Mr. Doss retreated from the rocky plateau where dozens of wounded remained. Under fire, he treated them and then began moving them one by one to a steep escarpment where he roped them down to safety. Each time he succeeded, he prayed, "Dear God, please let me get just one more man." By the end of the day, he had single-handedly saved 75 GIs.

Why did they do it? Some talked of entering a zone of slow-motion invulnerability, where they were spectators at their own heroism. But for most, the answer was simpler and more straightforward: They couldn't let their buddies down.

Big for his age at 14, Jack Lucas begged his mother to help him enlist after Pearl Harbor. She collaborated in lying about his age in return for his promise to someday finish school. After training at Parris Island, he was sent to Honolulu. When his unit boarded a troop ship for Iwo Jima, Mr. Lucas was ordered to remain behind for guard duty. He stowed away to be with his friends and, discovered two days out at sea, convinced his commanding officer to put him in a combat unit rather than the brig. He had just turned 17 when he hit the beach, and a day later he was fighting in a Japanese trench when he saw two grenades land near his comrades.

He threw himself onto the grenades and absorbed the explosion. Later a medic, assuming he was dead, was about to take his dog tag when he saw Mr. Lucas's finger twitch. After months of treatment and recovery, he returned to school as he'd promised his mother, a ninth-grader wearing a Medal of Honor around his neck.





The men in World War II always knew, although news coverage was sometimes scant, that they were in some sense performing for the people at home. The audience dwindled during Korea. By the Vietnam War, the journalists were omnipresent, but the men were performing primarily for each other. One story that expresses this isolation and comradeship involves a SEAL team ambushed on a beach after an aborted mission near North Vietnam's Cua Viet river base.
After a five-hour gunfight, Cmdr. Tom Norris, already a legend thanks to his part in a harrowing rescue mission for a downed pilot (later dramatized in the film BAT-21), stayed behind to provide covering fire while the three others headed to rendezvous with the boat sent to extract them. At the water's edge, one of the men, Mike Thornton, looked back and saw Tom Norris get hit. As the enemy moved in, he ran back through heavy fire and killed two North Vietnamese standing over Norris's body. He lifted the officer, barely alive with a shattered skull, and carried him to the water and then swam out to sea where they were picked up two hours later.

The two men have been inseparable in the 30 years since.

The POWs of Vietnam configured a mini-America in prison that upheld the values beginning to wilt at home as a result of protest and dissension. John McCain tells of Lance Sijan, an airman who ejected over North Vietnam and survived for six weeks crawling (because of his wounds) through the jungle before being captured.

Close to death when he reached Hanoi, Sijan told his captors that he would give them no information because it was against the code of conduct. When not delirious, he quizzed his cellmates about camp security and made plans to escape. The North Vietnamese were obsessed with breaking him, but never did. When he died after long sessions of torture Sijan was, in Sen. McCain's words, "a free man from a free country."

Leo Thorsness was also at the Hanoi Hilton. The Air Force pilot had taken on four MiGs trying to strafe his wingman who had parachuted out of his damaged aircraft; Mr. Thorsness destroyed two and drove off the other two. He was shot down himself soon after this engagement and found out by tap code that his name had been submitted for the Medal.

One of Mr. Thorsness's most vivid memories from seven years of imprisonment involved a fellow prisoner named Mike Christian, who one day found a grimy piece of cloth, perhaps a former handkerchief, during a visit to the nasty concrete tank where the POWs were occasionally allowed a quick sponge bath. Christian picked up the scrap of fabric and hid it.

Back in his cell he convinced prisoners to give him precious crumbs of soap so he could clean the cloth. He stole a small piece of roof tile which he laboriously ground into a powder, mixed with a bit of water and used to make horizontal stripes. He used one of the blue pills of unknown provenance the prisoners were given for all ailments to color a square in the upper left of the cloth. With a needle made from bamboo wood and thread unraveled from the cell's one blanket, Christian stitched little stars on the blue field.

"It took Mike a couple weeks to finish, working at night under his mosquito net so the guards couldn't see him," Mr. Thorsness told me. "Early one morning, he got up before the guards were active and held up the little flag, waving it as if in a breeze. We turned to him and saw it coming to attention and automatically saluted, some of us with tears running down our cheeks. Of course, the Vietnamese found it during a strip search, took Mike to the torture cell and beat him unmercifully. Sometime after midnight they pushed him into our cell, so bad off that even his voice was gone. But when he recovered in a couple weeks he immediately started looking for another piece of cloth."

We impoverish ourselves by shunting these heroes and their experiences to the back pages of our national consciousness. Their stories are not just boys' adventure tales writ large. They are a kind of moral instruction. They remind of something we've heard many times before but is worth repeating on a wartime Memorial Day when we're uncertain about what we celebrate. We're the land of the free for one reason only: We're also the home of the brave.
Mr. Collier wrote the text for "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty" (Workman, 2006).
27530  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 27, 2007, 11:15:09 PM
Thank you for that Tom-- and my judgement is that things like this go best when the Tribe is consulted  grin

Changing subjects-- good news!  Jeff Quail of Shocknife has promised us two of the new model of his Shocknife  afro

TAC!
CD
27531  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 27, 2007, 05:59:14 PM
Gentlemen:

I think the idea here is to be ourselves.

The rolling loading dock door at RAW/R1 was there because that's what the place used to be.

Right now what interests me is getting our sense of the fight area, its boundaries, seating and things like that.

Dan, I may have located access to several folding wrestling/gymnastic pads of the type seen in the background of our "Snaggletooth Variations" promo clip on the front page here at www.dogbrothers.com at 1:07 and forward.  I can picture laying this down just outside of the perimeter of the wrestling mat that will be used for the fight area itself (How goes the search for the one we will be using.  Each one will only be a foot or two high.  If the fight crashes onto them, most likely most of the fighters will fall onto them , , ,

TAC,
CD
27532  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Looking for Training Partners on: May 27, 2007, 12:50:48 PM
That's in Germany folks  cheesy
27533  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics on: May 27, 2007, 09:02:57 AM
Concerning "widening gap", I remember in the early Reagan years there was much indignation about the widening gap between rich and poor, blah blah.  What these economic illiterates did not understand was that with the cut of the top tax rate from 70% to 30% it made more sense to allow the money to be taxed than to keep it in the shelters-- hence the dramatic increase in "the rich" in government data.
27534  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Libertarian themes on: May 27, 2007, 08:56:54 AM
Thank you Doug.

Jumping to a separate topic now:

There is the matter of RFID chips interacting with Wi-Fi technology creating a Brave New World in which where we go is tracked all the time.    angry

This has already begun.  I remember in Spain my rent-a-phone rang.  It was a commercial message-- from a store that I was passing at that moment.  The phone told the phone company where I was at all times, and the phone company had an arrangement with various businesses to call me with advertising when I was near their stores.  shocked  angry angry

I just ran across this practical solution on the WT forum:

"Your cellphone company keeps a GPS log of where the phone has been and when. Some of the newer phones can contact the tower even after you have turned it off (9-1-1 technology, for your safety of course). If you are traveling somewhere that you rather not have someone privy to, then drop it in one of those camera film bags that you can buy at any camera store. The lead-lined ones that protect the film from airport X-rays and such. On or off your phone will disappear as far as their tower created GPS log goes. I have personally tested this with phones available to me.

"CELL = 800-900 MHZ, PCS = 1850-1990 MHZ (at least here in the Southeastern US). These wavelengths do not penetrate water or lead well."

Technological road kill that I am I cannot vouch for this-- is there someone here who can comment?

As for the RFID & Wi Fi, some people say not to worry, the RFID chip can only read for a few feet, others counter that the point is that its LOCATION can be tracked, which is a separate point.  Again, technological roadkill that I am I cannot say, but I am profoundly concerned about the rapidly growing capabilities of these technologies.  Not only are they becoming more and more poweful, but they are also becoming incredibly small
27535  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: sparring/fighting with bladed weapons on: May 26, 2007, 07:51:18 PM
Good comments San 86.

Just a quick yip to add that our endorsement clip of Shocknife can be found at www.Shocknife.com

Yip!
27536  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: May 26, 2007, 12:20:20 PM
http://billroggio.com/archives/2007/05/hostage_of_the_talib.php  Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail has daily updates on Islam over the World. He frequently travels to the different areas for first hand looks.
 
 
Pakistan - Hostage of the Taliban
Hostage crises ended in Islamabad & North Waziristan as one begins in Bannu; anti-Taliban elements calls for help go unheeded

As the political crisis over the suspension of Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for alleged misconduct consumes the energy of the government of President Pervez Musharraf, the Taliban and its allies continue to push forward with the establishment of Talibanistan in Pakistan. In Islamabad, the capital, the clerics of the Lal Masjid – or Red Mosque – held police hostage and faced no repercussions. In the Northwest Frontier Province two hostage crises involving government officials went unanswered by the Pakistani government. All the while, the Northwest Frontier Province descends further into a Taliban dominated state within a state.

The hostage standoff in Islamabad began after the Lal Masjid 'brigade' kidnapped 4 Pakistani policemen on May 18 and accused them of ‘spying’ for the government. two days later, the government caved to the kidnappers' demands and released 4 members of the mosque in exchange for 2 of the 4 kidnapped police. Security forces then cordoned the area around the mosque and arrested 36 members, while the "Lal Masjid brigade" began setting up fighting positions. Maulana Ghazi then threatened a wave of suicide attacks against Pakistan if an assault ensued.

One day later, the security forces called off any potential operation to free the two remaining policemen, and two days later the standoff has ended as the 2 remaining police have been released.

The Lal Masjid showdown intensified at the end of March, when Maulana Abdul Aziz, the senior cleric at the mosque gave the government 7 days to impose sharia law, and began setting up sharia courts and sending out the burke clad, baton wielding female students as enforcement squads. Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of the Lal Masjid, stated the brigade can now enforce sharia and attack CD and video shops in the capital. “Our students can attack these outlets anytime because the deadline given to their owners had already passed,” Aziz said in his Friday sermon. Aziz also encouraged the Taliban “to continue their jihad against obscenity, prostitution, video shops and other social vices and expand it to every nook and corner of the NWFP,” Dawn reported.

To the west, in the lawless, Taliban dominated regions of the Northwest Frontier Province, the other hostage drama played itself out in North Waziristan. The Taliban kidnapped nine government employees, including six women, and held them for five days before releasing them on May 23. The Taliban openly run North Waziristan, and were unhappy they were not informed of an outside presence. "The militants [Taliban] complained that they were not consulted by the government on development works launched in the area," said Zair Gul Wazir, one of the hostages. "He said that the militants had kidnapped them to protest against the policies of the NWFP governor and the agency’s political administration."

North Waziristan has been a hotbed of activity the past week. On May 20, the Taliban beheaded a 'US spy' in the tribal agency. Thirteen dead Taliban were repatriated to North Waziristan after being killed in the fighting in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military purportedly struck an al Qaeda training camp in the village of Zargarkhel, where three Uzbeks were said to be among the 4 killed. Eleven of the 15 members of the North Waziristan "tribal peace committee," which is responsible for maintaining the North Waziristan accord, resigned over the Zargarkhel strike. The reason given was they believe the Pakistani government broke the terms of the accord, despite the fact that the Taliban violates the terms of treaty on a daily basis.

Pakistani Police believe Matiur Rehman, al Qaeda commander in Pakistan, is "spending most of his time in Waziristan training and organizing al Qaeda militants." President Pervez Musharraf admitted that al Qaeda is in Pakistan on local television. "Al -Qaeda is in our mountains, in Mir Ali [North Waziristan]. This is completely true." Several days later, Pakistan's Foreign Office claimed "there is no Al Qaeda base in Pakistan."

As the hostage crises ends in Islamabad and North Waziristan, another begins in the Northwest Frontier Province district of Bannu. The Taliban kidnapped 3 government agents, including a military intelligence officer, as they were driving through the region. The officer's driver and other official were released, but the intelligence officer is still in custody. On May 20, Bannu police found 3 suicide vests on a bus bound for Lahore. In early March, the Pakistani government assessed Bannu, along with several other districts and tribal agencies, as falling under the influence of the Taliban. The situation has gotten so bad the Bannu tribes vowed to take action against the Taliban if the government would not. The tribes request for help has fallen on deaf ears.

The situation in Charsadda has faired no better. The Taliban bombed a music shop in the settled district on May 23. A "student of a local madressah" detonated a bomb near Pakistani Interior Minister Sherpao's home. A suicide bomber attempted to assassinate Mr. Sherpao in Charsadda in April and South Waziristan's Abdullah Mehsud was behind the attack. And the Christian residents of Charsadda have pleaded with the government to provide protection after the Taliban threaten to kill them if they failed to convert to Islam. The government has remained silent on the issue of protecting Charsadda's Christians.

Elsewhere in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Taliban’s power grows. Taliban fighters from Waziristan are reported to be massing in the district of Swat and are being sheltered by Faqir Mohammad’s banned Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi [TNSM - the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law]. Faqir, who is based out of the Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuary of Bajaur and is an ally of Ayman al-Zawahiri, was recently pardoned by the Pakistani government.

In Tank, where a curfew was imposed after the Taliban raided cities and towns in the settled district, the Taliban fired 7 rockets at a military outpost on May 24. In Bara, the Lashkar Islam put out a order for a journalist’s death and ordered the closure of music shops. In Torkhum, the Taliban bombed 10 fuel tankers, which were heading to Afghanistan to supply NATO forces. Pakistani truck drivers have gone on strike out of fear of being attacked.

In Mohmand Agency, a tribal jirga met to discuss the prevention of the ‘Talibanisation’ of the agency. Like the Charsadda Christians and the Bannu tribes, the Mohmand tribal leaders’ calls for help from the Pakistani government have gone unanswered.
27537  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Energy issues on: May 26, 2007, 09:08:10 AM
stratfor.com

Global Market Brief: Fear, War, Smog, Storms and the Price of Summer Vacation
Every summer, gasoline prices in the United States go up. This is not because oil tycoons get frisky and realize they can squeeze a little bit more from the people driving to the nearest park with bicycles strapped to the tops of their sport utility vehicles; it is the sum of a variety of mostly structural factors within the U.S. system that are susceptible to natural disasters, along with the risk factors that vary every summer and make the oil market susceptible to unrest, wars and rumors of war.

The good news is that this summer, a few of the key risk factors that inflate crude oil prices with panic premiums could subside -- such as violence in Nigeria, which should wane in the wake of national elections, and tensions between the United States and Iran over Iraq's future, which could be settled in talks soon. If all the stars align, there could even be a rare downward step adjustment in crude prices. The bad news -- aside from the unlikelihood of the stars aligning -- is that a world without strife would still have hurricanes.

Before looking at the specifics of this summer, it is worth reviewing why prices tend to pick up in March and spike around Memorial Day each year, remaining high until they begin to fall in November. Besides the obvious uptick in gasoline demand (first in the spring when farmers hit planting season and then for pleasure driving and vacations as days become longer and sunnier), one culprit for a spike in U.S. prices at the pump is smog -- or rather, how our federal and local governments react to it.

In winter, the standard gasoline is one of about three blends. In the summer, to reduce smog, a crisscross of federal and local government standards mandate special blends. These requirements are not in harmony; myriad blends are mandated and sometimes differ from one part of a state to another (as in California and Texas), depending in part on a location's temperature, altitude and urban density -- that is, the extent to which volatile organic compounds in fuel are likely to evaporate, and the extent to which the air in that place is already unhealthy. Even areas that have similar characteristics request different summer blends.

This variety of requirements results in the inefficient production of boutique blends -- and refineries initially tend to err on the side of caution, producing enough to meet the low end of estimated demand or adding additives to each blend as the trucks are filled rather than ending up with too much of a blend that no one else in the country will buy. Summer additives also tend to be more expensive than winter blend components. (The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy will release a "Fuel System Requirements Harmonization Study" in 2008. States probably will not want to give up their individual powers to regulate, however -- and new legislative authority would be needed at the federal level to overcome the boutique fuels phenomenon.)

Thus, as the switch is made from winter to summer blends, prices go up. Then, as the summer driving season begins, demand surges and prices stay high. The U.S. system is equipped to handle the boutique blends, so they do not pose the threat of shortages or worse price spikes -- unless there is an unexpected disruption in the supply chain by, say, an immense storm that hits the majority of U.S. refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The government has demonstrated it can be flexible when a real disaster strikes; after Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration temporarily waived the air quality standards requiring the variety of blends, which helped mitigate price spikes.

Another factor that can affect summer gasoline prices is oil and gasoline inventories. The Energy Department released its inventory report May 23, and the numbers were not as grim as feared. Although gasoline inventories are still 7 percent below their five-year average for this time of year, they have been climbing rapidly since April, following a three-month period of unexpected refinery fires and other problems on top of regular spring maintenance. Crude oil inventories are actually 7.6 percent above their five-year average, so there is plenty to draw from as refineries play catch-up. There are relatively few giant refineries in the United States, however, so each time one goes offline it is a significant concern. And contrary to the stories of conspiracy theorists, who claim oil companies choose not to build more refineries because they want to keep prices up, the actual reason is the difficulty of overcoming "not-in-my-backyard" campaigns bolstered by environmentalists whenever a new refinery is proposed.

This summer's bad news is that experts expect the hurricane season to be worse than average. Then again, in 2006 these same experts predicted a repeat of 2005 and, instead, El Nino caused a very mild storm season. A direct hit on refining infrastructure still recuperating from Katrina in 2005 is not very likely. However, the possibility remains and makes those who trade on risks jittery -- which brings us to the price of crude.

The price of Nymex crude is hovering around $65 per barrel. The average person can rattle off the reasons for this high price: their names are Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Almost every country that produces oil in large quantities is either nationalizing its energy sector (which tends to limit production) or is a political mess (or at risk of quickly becoming one). Then factor in the U.S.-jihadist war, hurricanes, pirates (yes, pirates -- though mostly around Africa and Southeast Asia, not in the Caribbean). And while these concerns about reliable supplies run rampant, world demand is increasing, driven by growing economies worldwide -- particularly China and India, the voracious newcomers to the global resource buffet.

It generally costs less than $32.50 to produce and transport a barrel of oil; the price of oil is floating on a cushion of fear-driven speculation. Even though there has not been an oil supply crisis for more than three decades, when buyers order for future delivery, they are willing to pay top dollar now on the chance that, if they wait, some catastrophe will drive prices far higher.

The circumstances behind anxiety-based oil prices are not likely to get a whole lot worse this year -- and, in some ways, they are getting better. Nigeria is over the worst of the election-driven attacks against oil infrastructure that reduced its output by one-third this year, and that production is beginning to come back on line. After a period of post-election calm, militant attacks are likely to increase later in the summer, but chances are that things will not get quite as bad as they were. In addition, Iran and the United States appear to be finally ready to sit down together and hammer out a deal on Iraq. The first direct and public bilateral talks are scheduled to take place May 28. If this process succeeds -- and, of course, many things could disrupt it -- it still remains to be seen whether the violence in Iraq can be tamed. However, the oil flow from Iraq mostly depends not on peace in the Sunni triangle but on revenue-sharing arrangements among Iraq's various interest groups and regions, which a deal with Iran could help solidify. And, of course, a deal with Iran would decrease the already slight likelihood of a U.S. airstrike against Iran or -- the nightmare scenario -- of conflict in the Persian Gulf leading to an obstruction of the Strait of Hormuz.

Oil traders do not tend to lower prices incrementally as things get gradually better -- only to raise them in fits as their fears are played upon. This means that, from time to time, there is a significant correction -- a sharp drop in oil prices. While we are not prepared to forecast such an adjustment this year, it seems to be more likely than the fruition of the worst fears propping up the current price.

One other thing to note: The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is back, in a light kind of way. That is, OPEC countries have actually begun pumping below capacity again -- something that has not happened for years. The flip side to this is that OPEC no longer controls nearly as much of total global production as it did in the 1970s. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia does not really want to curtail its production and Venezuela cannot afford to. So, while it is something to watch, OPEC is no longer the main issue.

Overall, while gasoline prices will not be kind this summer, they probably will not behave erratically. The main variables that would disrupt this equation are a very nasty hurricane or relative peace in the Middle East. One of those sounds a little more plausible than the other.

CHINA: China's new State Investment Co. surprised global markets May 20 by announcing a planned purchase of a 9.9 percent stake in U.S. private equity player the Blackstone Group. This move proved China's ability to outsmart the markets (as far as the management of its $1.2 trillion of foreign exchange reserves) and its ability to carry out internal economic reforms while mitigating adverse global market effects. Blackstone is the first foreign equity purchase made with Chinese state foreign reserves, but it will not likely be the last. Watch out for new Chinese foreign exchange reserve-funded purchases in other foreign financial intermediaries next.

RUSSIA: Russian nickel company Norilsk Nickel raised its offer for Canadian mining company LionOre Mining International Ltd. to $6.3 billion May 23, trumping a bid by rival Swiss company Xstrata of $5.7 billion. Norilsk Nickel's bid comes with the blessing of the Kremlin, which is expected eventually to solidify its control over the company and thus ensure Norilsk Nickel has access to whatever funding it needs to expand abroad. Norilsk Nickel already holds around an 18 percent stake in the global market for nickel production. By the time the Kremlin consolidates control over the company, it could find itself with an even larger and richer prize.

FRANCE: France will eventually sell its 15 percent stake in the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS), the parent company of aircraft maker Airbus, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said May 18. Though Airbus has experienced a bout of major setbacks, France's political desire to have a European aerospace champion has almost guaranteed its continued existence, and the company has been subsidized with almost $15 billion worth of EU funds. However, the new French government has promised to reform many of the problems weighing France down. Sarkozy's statement that the French government might pull out of EADS altogether suggests that Airbus' key government support is waning -- and that its lifetime could be limited.

AFRICA: The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) approved a common external tariff system May 23 at a meeting in Kenya. The agreement lowers tariffs for COMESA countries to 10 percent for intermediate products and 25 percent for finished goods, and eliminates tariffs on capital goods and raw materials. The agreement brings COMESA closer to implementing a customs union in 2008 that would allow the 20-state bloc to operate commercially like the European Union. Seven COMESA states have yet to join the free trade area launched in 2000, citing revenue losses and competition from more advanced states. The common tariff system will make trade among member states more efficient, and a customs union would improve COMESA's ability to compete with larger economies.

AUSTRALIA: Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced May 22 that Australia will transfer monopoly control of wheat exports from the scandal-engulfed AWB Ltd. (formerly known as the Australian Wheat Board) to a grower-owned company by mid-2008. An independent task force is investigating a claim that AWB paid $224 million in bribes between 1999 and 2003 to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government. Though the move will benefit farm groups by transferring ownership back to the growers, the continuation of the single-desk structure likely will anger the U.S. farm lobby, which has long opposed the system. The move will benefit Howard domestically by strengthening his coalition and bolstering support from farmers in an election year. The group most negatively affected by the new deal will be nongrower investors in the AWB, who will have no stake in the new company.

IRAN: Gasoline prices in Iran increased by 25 percent May 22. Iranian state news agency IRNA reported that Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi said rationing will begin around June 5. The increase -- which follows a May 20 announcement that the government would not raise fuel prices -- is part of Tehran's efforts to reduce state subsidies for gasoline and discourage smugglers who have been buying fuel at Iran's relatively low price and sneaking it out of the country to sell. The pragmatic conservative establishment, led by Expediency Council head Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, likely designed the move to create problems for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration as part of an effort to weaken his faction's influence in the government.

IRAQ/U.S./UAE: Halliburton is considering $80 billion in projects around the globe as it rethinks its exit from Iraq, Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar said May 22. Lesar forecasts Halliburton investments in the Eastern Hemisphere -- including the Middle East, Russia, Africa, East Asia and the North Sea -- to hover around 70 percent of total capital investment over the next five years. Halliburton also has shown a willingness to sign deals with certain state actors or companies in the Middle East and Russia that the international community frowns upon. Lesar's hint that the company will reconsider its exit from Iraq indicates Halliburton is expecting a political settlement in Iraq that will allow energy majors to re-enter the reconstruction process.

MERCOSUR: Mercosur members' foreign affairs and economy ministers announced some details about the proposed Banco del Sur on May 22. Most important is that the development bank will have equal representation and capital share from its seven members, with the initial capital likely totaling between $2 billion and $3 billion. At least initially, the bank will be capable of development lending, but not of bailing out countries in the event of a serious economic shock. This is a blow to the vision of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who -- with support from Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia -- has for months proposed Banco del Sur as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank. Brazil's involvement in Banco del Sur has created the terms to keep the bank tame.

BOLIVIA/BRAZIL: Bolivia said May 23 it will compensate Brazilian state oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro $112 million for the nationalization of two refineries by June 10. Brazil indicated May 21 that it would accept natural gas instead of cash as payment, but then said unless the first payment is made by June 11, the matter will be tabled. Talks over the compensation were troubled; Brazil threatened to suspend investment in Bolivia if fair compensation was not offered, while Bolivia threatened to expropriate the facilities if its offers were rejected. The compensation agreement is important to both countries, but more so to Bolivia: Brazil is a key investor in Bolivia and purchases about 25 million cubic meters of natural gas daily -- nearly two-thirds of Bolivian output.
27538  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Apocaholics Anonymous on: May 26, 2007, 08:58:15 AM
      * The Coming Dollar Devaluation (1970) by Harry Browne

      * The Coming Dark Age (1971) by Roberto Vacca

      * The Coming Credit Collapse (1974), by Alexander Paris

      * The Coming Bad Years (1978), but Howard Ruff

      * The Coming Real Estate Crash (1979) by English and Cardiff

 

The 1970s were also book-ended by two big #1 best-sellers telling the same story from the religious and secular angle: “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey (1970) and “Crisis Investing” by Doug Casey (1979).  They were the biggest best-sellers each year.

25 Years Ago (1982): The Coming Kondratieff Collapse!

I didn’t stay out of the Doomsday press for long.  By 1979, I was back in the business, in Virginia, writing free-lance special reports for a leading direct mail marketer on a more secular version of The End of the World.  As “Mr. X,” I wrote a series of reports on survival havens, banking secrecy, the collapse of the stock market and the fiat currency system.  I was consulting editor to Survival Tomorrow, Tax Angles and Personal Finance (formerly the Inflation Survival Letter) at KCI.  In 1982, my first special report for Jim Blanchard was on the coming Third World Loan Crisis, leading to the demise of major New York City money center banks, including the much maligned Citibank. 

In brief, I said, trying to re-arrange loans to Third World nations was “like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”  At the time, most Latin American nations were following the  Juan Peron model, as military dictatorships, starting in Peru (from 1948 to 1980), then Venezuela (1952), Colombia (1953), Bolivia (1964), Brazil (1964), Uruguay (1972) and Chile, under Gen. Auguste Pinochet (1973 to 1988).  The giant of the region, Brazil, was ruled by a succession of four-star generals from 1964 to 1985, as their economy reeled from one crisis to another.  Central America was in the same condition. El Salvador was under the military’s thumb for over 60 years, from 1931 to 1992.  Then came military juntas in Guatemala (1954 to 1986), Honduras (1963-82), Nicaragua’s Sandinistas (1979-90) and Panama under General Noreiga (1968-89), so the situation indeed looked bleak.

Latin America dominated the news in 1982, when I was writing that Third World debt threatened to bring down the region, and perhaps cause many major North American money center banks to fail.  The major New York money banks and the U.S. Treasury of the late 1970s had loaned too much money to the “ABC” nations (Argentina, Brazil and Chile), who were each in default on those loans, after crippling back-to-back recessions.

Like others, I said it was futile to re-arrange those loans. But behind the scenes, several New York bankers and Reagan-era Treasury officials quietly negotiated with the Latin American debtors, offering to reschedule their debts at lower interest rates, in exchange for some political concessions – such as free elections – which resulted in the gradual forced retirement of several military dictators.  Throughout the mid-1980s, military juntas were replaced by democracies, the last one by a dramatic invasion of Panama in 1989.

As a result of increased economic freedom south of the border, between 1987 and 1994, external debt as a percent of GDP declined by fully half in most Latin American nations: In Chile, external debt fell from 109% of GDP in 1987 to 42% by 1994.  Argentina’s debt fell from 58% of GDP to 31%.  The biggest basket case of the early 1980s, Brazil, reduced its external debt to the lowest level in Latin America, at just 25.8% by 1994.  Even Mexico’s debt fell significantly, from 79% of GDP to 44%.  We heard all about their high debt levels in the 1980s.  But I bet your never heard the rest of the story.  In 1975, there were only 31 global democracies, but now, we have over 120 democracies.

By the way, Nikolai Kondratieff was proved right: The 1979-82 depression came exactly 50 years after the 1929-32 depression, but none of the Doomsday prophets noticed that.

20 Years Ago – A Wave of “Coming Crash” Books (after the Crash)

The #1 Best-seller in 1987 was Dr. Ravi Batra’s “The Great Depression of 1990.”   Dr. Batra turned out to be right on his timing, but wrong on his geography.  Japan suffered a decade-long Great Depression in the 1990s, but according to Batra and others, Japan was the last place this could happen.  Many other best-sellers of 1987 were proclaiming the superiority of the Japanese management system, Japan’s work ethic, its currency, its wealth and ability to “buy up American assets” from Hawaiian hotels to Hollywood studios.  (As it turned out, Japan only knew how to pay way too much for those assets.)

Several other authors (including me) tried their hands at “coming crash” books, sadly published about the same time the crash happened, failing to warn anyone in time, and keeping them from re-investing in stocks, which would have been the smartest move at the time.  In the next wave of “coming crash” books, the overextended American debts were the paramount threat.  Harry Browne wrote “The Economic Time Bomb: How You Can Profit from the Emerging Crisis” in 1989.  Harry’s “bullet points” predict this:

Be ready for both a deep recession and severe inflation.
Why deposit insurance doesn’t make your bank account safe.
How the trade deficit could trigger the next depression.
Budget deficits have reached a limit – causing the worst recession since 1937.
An economic time bomb is set to implode – one wrong move can set it off.
 
Not one threat came to pass, despite deeper budget deficits and trade deficits in 1990-91.

Then came “The Great Reckoning” (1990), also predicting a “Depression in the 1990s.” But the 1990s turned out to be the best decade ever for global economic growth and the stock markets of free countries, as the Dow gained 5-fold, from 2,365 to 11,723. 

It was at this time (1990) that I wised up and, mercifully, partook in the bulk of that rise:

10-50 Years Ago         DOW               10-Year Gain

April 18, 1957              488.03             192.8%

April 20, 1967              878.62               80.0%

April 20, 1977              942.59                 7.3%

April 20, 1987              2270.60           140.9%

April 21, 1997              6660.21           193.3%

April of 2007                c. 12,500           87.7%

            60-Year Gain: 75-fold              +7,400%

 

For my grandchildren’s generation, I look for another 75-fold gain in the next 60 years, despite threats from Global Warming, the Housing Crisis, the Triple Deficits in America, and anything else Doomsday prophets dream up in the future.  I have been inoculated against such fears.  Please join me in abandoning the siren song of the Prophets of Doom.

“Apocaholics Anonymous” Bibliography: For Further Reading

 (1) Proof that “Things Really are Getting Better”

Anderson, Terry L., editor, “You Have to Admit It’s Getting Better: From Economic Prosperity to Environmental Quality,” Hoover Press, 202 pages.

Goklany, Indur M., “The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives, on a Cleaner Planet,” Cato Institute, 2007

Lomborg, Bjorn, “The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World,” Cambridge University Press, 1998, 352 pages + 153p of notes and bibliography.

Moore, Stephen & Simon Julian L., “It’s Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years, CATO Institute, 2000, 265 pages.

Simon, Julian L., “Population Matters: People, Resources, Environment and Immigration,” Transaction Publishers, 1993

(2) Countering the Current Global Warming Scare

Avery, Dennis T. & Singer, S. Fred, “Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years,” Rowman & Littlefield, 2007

Horner, Christopher C., “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism,” Regnery Publishing, 2007

Michaels, Patrick, “Shattered Consensus” (2005) and “Meltdown” (2003)

(3) How Media and Mass Psychosis Mislead You

Chafetz, Morris E., MD, “Big Fat Liars: How Politicians, Corporations, and the Media Use Science and Statistics to Manipulate the Public,” Nelson Current, 2005.

Mackay, Charles, “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” 1841 first edition, 700+ pages

Simon, Julian, “Hoodwinking the Nation,” Transaction Publishers, 1999, 127 pages

(4) Currently Popular Doomsday Books in 2007: Random Sampling

Arnold, Daniel A., “The Great Bust Ahead: The Greatest Depression in American and UK History is Just Several Short Years Away.”

Brussee, Warren: “The Second Great Depression: Starting 2007, Ending 2020”

Panzner, Michael, “Financial Armageddon: Protecting Your Future from Four Impending Catastrophes.”

Rubino, John, “How to Profit from the Coming Real Estate Bust”

Schiff, Peter, “Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse.”

Wiedemer, David & Robert, “America’s Bubble Economy: Profit When it Pops”

In addition, Bill Bonner’s & Addison Wiggin’s “Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis” (a 2005 best-seller) will be turned into a documentary film in 2008.  Perhaps they will join Al Gore in the Apocaholics Hall of Fame in Hollywood.
27539  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Apocaholics Anonymous on: May 26, 2007, 08:55:33 AM
http://www.godward.org/commentary/Out%20of%20the%20Box/Apocaholics%20Anonymous.htm

Welcome to “Apocaholics Anonymous” –
Join Me in a Crusade for Panic-Free Living
Updated for the Atlanta Investment Conference
20th Anniversary Reunion, 8:45 am, April 20, 2007
By Gary Alexander, Recovering Apocaholic

 

Hi, I’m Gary and I’m a recovering Apocaholic.  I am currently Apocalypse free for nearly 18 years.  I left the church of the Religious Apocalypse in 1976, over 30 years ago, and I resigned from the secular church of the Financial Apocalypse in 1989.  Yes, I still feel the urge to proclaim the end of all things, from time to time, but I white-knuckle my way to a history book for a little perspective, and then I breathe easier. If you wish to join AA, the only requirement is that you give up the adrenaline rush of media-fed fantasies.

Since I spoke to you last on this subject, in 1994, we have survived “Bankruptcy 1995” (the original epidemic of Hockey Stock charts), the Big Bang in Hong Kong, years of Y2K scare stories, a SARS epidemic, Mad Cow disease, Bird Flu, a real threat on 9/11, Triple Deficits (Budget, Trade and Balance of Payments), wars in Serbia/Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, Deflation in 2003, Inflation since then, The Perfect Storms of 2005 (Katrina, Rita and Wilma, the 3 Witches of the Bermuda Triangle), and today’s reigning fears of Global Warming, $200 Oil and the Sub-prime Housing Loan Crisis Implosion.

But before we go from today’s Sub-prime to the ridiculous claims of imminent collapse, let me introduce the depths of my past addiction to the Apocalypse.  I was born in July 1945, the day the first atomic bomb exploded in Alamogordo, New Mexico.  That mushroom crowd has haunted our lives ever since. As a teenager, I became convinced the world would end before I was 30.  Too soon old…too late smart, I was very, very wrong:


50 Years Ago (1957) – The “Duck and Cover” Generation

My apocalyptic addiction began 50 years ago, in the Year of Sputnik, when all of us Seattle-area 7th graders – mostly the offspring of Boeing engineers – were told that we must now learn more science and math, to close the missile gap with the Soviet Union.  

Back in 1957, the U.S. was the proud owner of 100,000 kilograms of U-235, in what was termed “45 times overkill” of the Soviets.  But the Soviets had more missiles than we did. In that same year, 1957, the first underground nuclear explosion was set off near Las Vegas.  In junior high, I soon became addicted to dystopian novels, like On the Beach, by Nevil Shute, a Briton who had moved to Australia, in order to be among the last on earth to be fried by the inevitable radiation cloud following nuclear Armageddon.  The novel was adapted for the screen in 1959, directed by Stanley Kramer, and starring Gregory Peck as captain Dwight Lionel Towers of the USS Sawfish. The story was set in the near future, 1963 in the book (1964 in the movie), in the months following World War III.  Nuclear fallout killed ALL life, with hot air currents killing off Australia last,  

The characters made their best effort to enjoy what remained of their life before dying from radiation poisoning.  The film was shot in Melbourne, with a chilling ending of wind-swept but empty city streets there. That image has haunted me, to this day. I am convinced that this hopelessness sewed the seeds for the senseless rush to immediate gratification in the 1960s.  With a world about to die, hedonism soon reigned supreme.


In high school, I read Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and the scathing exposes and novels of Philip Wylie (1902-1971), son of a Presbyterian minister father and a novelist mother (who died when he was five).  Wylie wrote apocalyptic nuclear war novels like “Tomorrow” (1954), about the atomic bombing of two fictional Midwest cities adjacent to each other in the mid-1950s.  One had an effective civil defense program, and the other did not.  Later, I read his novel, “Triumph” (1963), another graphic description of the effects of nuclear war story involving a worst-case USA/USSR “spasm war,” in which both sides emptied their arsenals into each other with extensive use of “dirty” bombs to maximize casualties, resulting in the main characters (in a very deep bomb shelter) being the sole survivors in the northern hemisphere, the new Adam and Eve of a new creation.

In the financial realm, I was also becoming convinced that America’s economy was doomed, especially after reading John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society” (1958), which said the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, while advertising creates artificial demand in the West. The same theme was echoed in Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders” (1957).  He followed up with “The Status Seekers” (1959) and “The Waste Makers” (1960).  Also popular was a book we young cynics all read, “The Ugly American” (1958), by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick.  America was supposedly incredibly shallow and bigoted in the 1950s, soon to be rescued by the Liberated 1960s.

P.S. The world is still a dangerous and violent place, but the most chilling example of violent death now is in Africa, with machetes.  We’ve now gone over 61 years without using nuclear bombs against humans – thank God.  Back in the late 1960s, Herman Kahn wrote “On Thermonuclear War” and “Thinking the Unthinkable,” in which he demonstrated that we can survive a nuclear holocaust, but that didn’t seem likely in 1962:  

 

45 Years Ago (1962): The Cuban Missile Crisis and “Silent Spring”

The closest we came to a nuclear exchange was in October, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in my high school senior year.  That was one of the events that caused me to throw away a National Merit Scholarship and decide to attend a small church college that seemed to made sense of these global threats.  Another impetus was the collapse of the global ecology, as demonstrated in another best-selling book that I read in 1962:
 
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) published “Silent Spring” in 1962, based on a compilation of articles she had written for The New Yorker.  Her book is credited with launching the environmental movement that culminated in Earth Day (1970), including a worldwide ban on the main villain in her book, DDT.  Silent Spring was a Book of the Month Club main selection, spending several weeks on the New York Times best seller list.  It was actively endorsed by one of my heroes at the time, a Washington State native, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, as well as many other nature advocates in my school.

As a result of that book and further research, I wrote an extended scientific article for a national magazine in 1970, linking the chemicals in DDT to many of the pest sprays commonly used in homes.  I wrote other articles supporting the ban in DDT, which I am ashamed to say, has caused the deaths of millions of Asians and Africans since then.  Many insect-borne diseases were on the verge of extinction in 1970, when the U.S. tied foreign aid to poor nations to their “voluntary” banning of DDT, to our great shame.

Knock, knock!
Who’s There?
Armageddon!
Armageddon Who?
Armageddon outa here!

 
In 1963, I threw away my future to apply to Ambassador College and join the Worldwide Church of God, in effect saying “Armageddon Outa Here.”  The book that motivated me the most was Herbert Armstrong’s “1975 in Prophecy,” in which he showed from several perspectives that the world couldn’t make it past 1975.  After four years of their college indoctrination, I became a leading writer, editor and researcher for a decade (1966-76) for their publications, turning secular trends into Apocalyptic rhetoric in magazines and in the electronic radio media, writing radio and TV scripts for the voice of “The World Tomorrow,” the late Garner Ted Armstrong.  I didn’t have long to wait for ammunition:

 
40 Years Ago: “The Population Bomb!” and “Famine 1975”

Upon graduation from college, my job of predicting the End of the World by 1975 was made incredibly easier by a wave of new books proclaiming the inevitable end, based on the centuries-old (and easily discredited) theories of Thomas Robert Malthus, who wrote in 1798 that population grew geometrically, but food production could only grow in small (arithmetic) increments.  In 1967, the brothers William and Paul Paddock wrote a book called “Famine 1975,” in which they said it was impossible for food production to keep up with population growth. The title of their first chapter said, “The Population-Food Collision Is Inevitable; It Is Foredoomed.”  The Paddocks believed that the Malthusian formula was on a collision course and all we could do was starve a little less than others.

Then came Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb” (1968), in which he opened famously by saying, “The battle to feed humanity is over.  In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death, in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”  Writing in Ramparts magazine, he went even further, “Hundreds of millions of people will soon perish in smog disasters in New York and Los Angeles…the oceans will die of DDT poisoning by 1979…the U.S. life expectancy will drop to 42 years by 1980, due to cancer epidemics.”  Hepatitis and dysentery would sweep America by 1980 and nearly all of us would wear gas masks.  Over 65 million Americans would starve in the 1980s, leaving only 22.6 million starved Americans alive in 1990.  In 1990, he incredibly justified his claims as being right – a trait common to Doomsday prophets. *

 “The individual will frequently emerge not only unshaken but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.  Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view.” – Leon Festinger, “When Prophecies Fail.”

In the meantime, Dr. Normal Borlaug was launching the Green Revolution, which has managed to feed billions more people on moderately more arable soil than in the 1960s.  Instead of starving against our will, millions of us are trying to starve voluntarily – by dieting.  Food is far cheaper, relative to the overall growth of the cost of living, than in the 1960s.  From 1977 to 1994, food costs fell 77% in real terms.  Grain is in surplus, despite 46 million idle arable acres of U.S. farmland, and 11 million idle acres in Europe.  

In the first 15 years after “Earth Day,” we made great progress against pollution.  The amount of particulates spewed into the air fell by 64%, carbon monoxide emissions fell 38%, ocean dumping of industrial wastes was cut by 94%, and the number of rivers unfit for swimming dropped 44%.  By 1990, cars emitted 78% fewer pollutants.  Yet Lester Brown’s annual “State of the Earth” keeps saying the opposite, that pollution is growing.

And for anyone who still believes in Dr. Malthus, I have one word to share with you: Chickens!  Are they food, or are they population?  Do they grow arithmetically, or geometrically?  On the Delmarva Peninsula alone, 90 million cluckers live their nasty, brutish, crowded and short lives on the way the chopping block and your local KFC.

The famine/population fear is older than Malthus.  Confucius thought the earth was full, 2500 years ago. Romans thought they had “worn out the earth.”  St. Jerome said “the world is already full, and the population too large for the soil.” Tertullian wailed about “teeming populations of Carthage” with “numbers burdensome to the world.”  He saw death from famine, war and disease as “the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.”  In truth, Rome was rich when it was crowded, and a wasteland when it was empty.

35 Years Ago – The Club of Rome and “The Limits to Growth”

In the early 1970s, Garner Ted Armstrong pulled me aside and gave me a challenging new project, which might take years to finish.  He said that all the globe’s trends are getting worse, and that if we could only “feed all these trends into a computer,” we could predict the precise time of the end.  Maybe it’s 1975, as we all still thought at the time, or maybe it’s a little later than that.  After all, we can count the hairs we lose each day and predict when we will go bald.  So we could do the same with all other trends – depleting resources, increased crime, nuclear overkill, chemical and environmental pollutants, etc.

Ambassador College had a new IBM 370 computer and a huge programming team at my disposal, so I set out on this impossible project full of hope.  Two years later, I gave up, but a bunch of secular statisticians in Cambridge, Massachusetts did not give up.  They fed all the same kind of data into Harvard’s massive mainframe and came out with their magnum opus, “Limits to Growth,” modeling the future consequences of growing world population and finite resources.  The study was commissioned by the world’s aristocracy, gathered into a group they called the Club of Rome.  Limits to Growth was written by Dennis and Donella Meadows, among many others.  The book used computer simulation to project a rolling Doomsday.  (All this made me feel like less of a religious nut….)

In short, the report’s authors projected that, at the exponential growth rates they expected to continue, all the known world supplies of zinc, gold, tin, copper, oil, and natural gas would be completely exhausted in 1992.  They set specific dates for each commodity.   President Carter later bought into this idea and published his gloomy Global 2000 report.

Then, along came Dr. Julian Simon, who bet Dr. Paul Ehrlich $1,000 that the price of commodities would FALL, not rise, implying an expansion of resources, rather than a contraction of supplies during the decade in which they were all to disappear – the 1980s.  

By 1985, instead of running out of oil, an oil glut pushed the price down from $40 to $10 a barrel.  Shortages beget higher prices and more exploration, not depletion of resources.  In the extreme cases, shortages create new technologies.  A wood shortage in England in the early 17th Century led to the use of coal and the birth of the industrial revolution. A shortage of whales led to the use and discovery of petroleum, and electrical lighting.  The stench of horse manure in urban streets led to the invention of the horseless carriage.

30 Years Ago – Global Cooling and “The Next Ice Age”

My final TV script for Garner Ted Armstrong came in 1975, when I was about to leave the cocoon of the Church of the Apocalypse for a more mundane job at the University of Southern California.  He wanted a program on Global Cooling, or the Coming Ice Age.  In 1975, there were several covers in major news magazines about the Coming Ice Age.  

One example was Newsweek, for the week of April 28, 1975.  It said that leading climate scientists were “almost unanimous” (sound familiar?) in their predictions of global cooling.  Time Magazine had “The Coming Ice Age” on its cover, and the November 1976 issue of National Geographic had a lead article on the problem of global cooling.

Later on, physicists combined the threat of natural cooling with nuclear war to predict a “Nuclear Winter.”  Our future was clearly frigid.  The trend from 1935 through 1975 was a gradual cooling of temperatures, since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. (Most record-high state temperatures, to this day, were set in the 1930s, not in the 1990s, Mr. Gore.)

One day in the control studio, Garner Ted Armstrong showed me a news clipping that pointed to the potential threat of carbon-dioxide emissions contributing to future global warming – a threat that currently assaults us in the daily media.  He looked me in the eye, as his trusted researcher, and asked point blank, “Which is it – warming or cooling?”

 

“With any luck, sir,” I quipped, “We’ll get both, and then they will offset each other.”

He was not amused.  But I was on my way out and no longer cared what he thought. I was happy that a peaceful new job awaited me at a less Apocalyptic California college. But that did not stop me from reading a series of best-sellers and coming back to the Doomsday business three years later.  In the 1970s alone, all of this was “Coming…”
27540  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dutch Drug Policy on: May 26, 2007, 08:28:47 AM
second post of the morning:

Drug policy of the Netherlands
The drug policy of the Netherlands is based on 2 principles:

Drug use is a public health issue, not a criminal matter
A distinction between hard drugs and soft drugs exists
It is a pragmatic policy. Most policymakers in the Netherlands believe that if a problem has proved to be unsolvable, it is better to try controlling it instead of continuing to enforce laws with mixed results. By comparison, most other countries take the point of view that drugs are detrimental to society and must therefore be outlawed, even when such policies fail to eliminate drug use. This has caused friction between the Netherlands and other countries, most notably with France and Germany. As of 2004, Belgium seems to be moving toward the Dutch model and a few local German legislators are calling for experiments based on the Dutch model. Switzerland has had long and heated parliamentary debates about whether to follow the Dutch model, but finally decided against it in 2004; currently a ballot initiative is in the works on the question.


Public health
The Dutch drug policy is based on the general principle of self-determination in matters of the body. Specifically, that it is not illegal to hurt yourself; however, you remain liable for the consequences of your actions. Because of this, users are not prosecuted for possession of small quantities of soft drugs ("for personal use"). Driving under the influence of drugs is nevertheless prohibited, as is being under the influence in public (of either alcohol or other drugs), mainly from a public nuisance perspective.





Hard drugs/soft drugs
A distinction is drawn between hard drugs (which bear "unacceptable" risks; e.g. cocaine, heroin, etc.) and soft drugs such as the psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms as well as cannabis products: hashish and marijuana (as defined in the Dutch Opium Act). The distinction is drawn on whether the substance is only psychologically addictive (i.e. producing no worse effect than moderate craving when withdrawn) or also physically addictive. One of the main aims of this policy is to separate the markets for soft and hard drugs so that soft drug users are less likely to come into contact with hard drugs. This policy also aims to take the soft drug market out of the hands of the criminals, thus reducing crime.

So-called coffee shops are allowed to sell soft drugs openly, and to keep supplies greater than the amounts allowed by law for personal use, though they are only allowed to sell individual customers the amount allowed for personal use. The coffeeshops' wholesale suppliers, however, are still criminalized. In theory, the limit of the "for personal use" clause is 5 cannabis plants per person for growing, or possession of 5 grams of hashish or marijuana per person. However, to be prosecuted one would need to possess considerably higher quantities than that. An example of a sentence in 2004 for possession of 360 grams: confiscation and a fine of €750. Coffeeshops pay taxes just like any other business, though there are some special exemptions for them, mostly because they cannot show receipts for their supply of marijuana.

Large-scale dealing, production, import and export are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, even if this does not supply end users or coffeeshops with more than the allowed amounts. Exactly how coffeeshops get their supplies is rarely investigated, however. What is certain is that coffeeshops do sell cannabis that comes from countries where it is illegal. Large suppliers tend to be criminals motivated by profit who do not make the distinction between hard and soft drugs. Hence, the soft drug policy, by failing to address the issue of supply, has made the Netherlands the main center for hard drug trafficking in Europe. Creating a highly controlled, legal production chain for cannabis to combat this problem has been proposed by a number of Dutch politicians over the last few years. By the end of 2005, the majority of the Dutch Parliament was in favour of an experiment with controlled cultivation and production of cannabis. It is still uncertain when and how this experiment will take place, due to judicial issues.


Non-enforcement
Cannabis remains a controlled substance in the Netherlands and both possession and production for personal use are still misdemeanors, punishable by fine. Coffee shops are also illegal according to the statutes.

However, a policy of non-enforcement has led to a situation where reliance upon non-enforcement has become common, and because of this the courts have ruled against the government when individual cases were prosecuted.

This is because the Dutch Ministry of Justice applies a gedoogbeleid (policy of tolerance or allowance policy) with regard to soft drugs: an official set of guidelines telling public prosecutors under which circumstances offenders should not be prosecuted. This is a more official version of the common practice in other countries, in which law enforcement sets priorities as to which offenses are important enough to spend limited resources on.

Proponents of gedoogbeleid argue that such a policy offers more consistency in legal protection in practice, than without it. Opponents of the Dutch drug policy either call for full legalization, or argue that laws should penalize morally wrong or decadent behavior, whether this is enforceable or not.

In the Dutch courts, however, it has long been determined that the institutionalized non-enforcement of statutes with well defined limits constitutes de facto decriminalization. The statutes are kept on the books mainly due to international pressure and in adherence with international treaties.


Drug law enforcement
Despite the high priority given by the Dutch government to fighting narcotics trafficking, the Netherlands continue to be an important transit point for drugs entering Europe, a major producer and exporter of amphetamines and other synthetic drugs, and an important consumer of illicit drugs[citation needed]. The export of the synthetic drug ecstasy to the U.S. during 1999 reached unprecedented proportions[citation needed]. The Netherlands' special synthetic drug unit, set up in 1997 to coordinate the fight against designer drugs, appears to be successful[citation needed]. The government has stepped up border controls and intensified cooperation with neighbouring countries.

Although drug use, as opposed to trafficking, is seen primarily as a public health issue, responsibility for drug policy is shared by both the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sports, and the Ministry of Justice.

In contrast with most countries' policies, the Dutch policy has yielded positive results in the war against drugs. The Netherlands spends more than €130 million annually on facilities for addicts, of which about fifty percent goes to drug addicts. The Netherlands has extensive demand reduction programs, reaching about ninety percent of the country's 25,000 to 28,000 hard drug users. The number of hard drug addicts has stabilized in the past few years and their average age has risen to 38 years. The number of drug-related deaths in the country remains the lowest in Europe.

On 27 November 2003, the Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner announced that his government was considering rules under which coffeeshops would only be allowed to sell soft drugs to Dutch residents in order to satisfy both European neighbours' concerns about the influx of drugs from the Netherlands, as well as those of Netherlands border town residents unhappy with the influx of "drug tourists" from elsewhere in Europe. As of 2006 nothing has come of this proposal and Dutch coffeehouses still enjoy robust foreign patronage.


Implications of international law
The Netherlands is a party to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The 1961 convention prohibits cultivation and trade of naturally-occurring drugs such as cannabis; the 1971 treaty bans the manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs such as barbiturates and amphetamines; and the 1988 convention requires states to criminalize illicit drug possession:

Subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system, each Party shall adopt such measures as may be necessary to establish as a criminal offence under its domestic law, when committed intentionally, the possession, purchase or cultivation of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances for personal consumption contrary to the provisions of the 1961 Convention, the 1961 Convention as amended or the 1971 Convention.
The International Narcotics Control Board typically interprets this provision to mean that states must prosecute drug possession offenses. The conventions clearly state that controlled substances are to be restricted to scientific and medical uses. However, Cindy Fazey, former Chief of Demand Reduction for the United Nations Drug Control Programme, believes that the treaties have enough ambiguities and loopholes to allow some room to maneuver. In her report entitled The Mechanics and Dynamics of the UN System for International Drug Control, she notes:

Many countries have now decided not to use the full weight of criminal sanctions against people who are in possession of drugs that are for their personal consumption. The Conventions say that there must be an offence under domestic criminal law, it does not say that the law has to be enforced, or that when it is what sanctions should apply. . . . Despite such grey areas latitude is by no means unlimited. The centrality of the principle of limiting narcotic and psychotropic drugs for medical and scientific purposes leaves no room for the legal possibility of recreational use. . . . Nations may currently be pushing the boundaries of the international system, but the pursuit of any action to formally legalize non-medical and non-scientific drug use would require either treaty revision or a complete or partial withdrawal from the current regime.
The Netherlands policy of keeping anti-drug laws on the books while limiting enforcement of certain offenses is carefully designed to reduce harm while still complying with the letter of international drug control treaties. This is necessary in order to avoid criticism from the International Narcotics Board, which historically has taken a dim view of any moves to relax official drug policy. In their annual report, the Board has criticised many governments, including Canada, for permitting the medicinal use of cannabis, Australia for providing injecting rooms and the United Kingdom for proposing to downgrade the classification of cannabis[1], which it has since done.


Recent developments
In 2005, Gerd Leers, mayor of the border city of Maastricht, criticised the current policy as inconsistent, by recording a song with the Dutch punk rock band De Heideroosjes. By allowing possession and retail sales of cannabis, but not cultivation or wholesale, the government creates numerous problems of crime and public safety, he alleges, and therefore he would like to switch to either legalising and regulating production, or to the full repression that his party (CDA) officially advocates. The latter suggestion has widely been interpreted as rhetorical.[2] Leers's comments have garnered support from other local authorities and put the cultivation issue back on the agenda.
27541  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Forfeiture laws on: May 26, 2007, 08:26:26 AM
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/50450_assets13.shtml

Critics target drug raid seizures
Police often keep property even absent a conviction

Thursday, December 13, 2001

By SAM SKOLNIK
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

Before dawn, heavily armed officers stormed Shane Hendrickson's Tacoma home. They busted open the front door, grabbed the self-employed painter and hauled him off to the police station.

There, they grilled him, accusing him of participating in a major pot-growing operation. Hendrickson steadfastly denied it, and hours later, detectives had enough doubts to cut him loose.

   
   Chris Jones of Woodinville Public Auto Auction prepares a scooter seized in a drug raid for auction. Law enforcement agencies that make property seizures keep 90 percent of auction proceeds. Jeff Larsen / Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Click for larger photo
By the time he returned home that day, Oct. 4, Hendrickson's baby-blue 1984 Chevy van -- with Dialed-in Paint Co. stenciled on the sides -- was gone. So were his business papers, including bids for upcoming jobs. And his girlfriend's new computer and all her disks.

In the blink of an eye, Hendrickson, 27, was out of work.

"It just kind of shut me down for a while," he said. "These people think they're above God."

Hendrickson, though, was more fortunate than most. He hasn't been charged with a crime, and, after a month or so, the last of his property was returned -- albeit with a lawyer's help.

In the past decade, drug-related property seizures have skyrocketed in Washington, with annual proceeds raised from auctions statewide jumping from $1.2 million to a record $6.7 million in 2000. That doesn't count forfeitures made by federal agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration or the FBI.

In King County last year, authorities seized $2.2 million in drug-related assets. But even though four out of 10 criminal cases either never got off the ground or fell apart, the bulk of the cars, cash, cellular phones, stereos and other goods grabbed from those suspects were never returned, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has found.

One out of five people whose property was seized were never charged with a crime. When people were charged, the cases were dropped about 23 percent of the time, according to records obtained from the state Treasurer's Office and a search of computerized court documents.

Washington's powerful property-seizure law, loudly criticized by defense attorneys and civil rights activists, allows police departments, sheriff's offices and drug task forces to take a suspect's property if authorities believe it was used in connection with a drug crime or purchased with tainted money.

Fears of overzealous law enforcement have spurred a drive to revamp the law -- toughening the legal standard for forfeiture and barring police from taking a person's property until he or she is convicted of a crime.

Backers of Initiative 256, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, must collect 197,734 valid signatures by Jan. 4 in order to put the measure before the 2002 Legislature. Lawmakers can pass I-256 outright or put it on the ballot next November.

Forfeiture money helps fund drug enforcement efforts, which critics call a blatant conflict, driving authorities to seize as much as they can from suspects -- even when there's insufficient evidence to support criminal charges.

 
 

"There's a huge financial incentive for police to be taking property," said Jerry Sheehan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington. "That they can do that without any charges ever being brought, let alone any conviction gained, is very troubling."

Legislators adopted modest reforms this year, passing a bill that shifts the burden of proof to police when their seizures are challenged. Law enforcement agencies are also required to pay legal fees if they lose such a challenge. The bill passed only after a tougher measure, similar to the current initiative, failed.

Law enforcement officials say further restrictions would hurt their ability to crack down on drug dealers by choking off some of the money supporting undercover operations.

"We don't want to jump off of the cliff" with an initiative that could effectively end forfeitures in Washington, said Christopher Hurst, a Black Diamond Police Department detective and Democratic state representative. "The answer here really falls somewhere in the middle."

"In reality, money is the engine that drives drug dealers," said Steve Tucker, a King County sheriff's detective who has worked drug cases since 1989. "If you take away the money, it's not only deterrence for new guys, it's stopping repeat offenders. If you dismantle the structure, including the proceeds, they have to start again at ground zero."

But why are so many suspected drug dealers finding their property seized but escaping punishment?

The P-I examined 236 King County cases involving property seizures last year and found that 50 suspects, or 21 percent, were never charged. Of the 186 cases that were prosecuted, 42 (23 percent) dissolved into acquittals or dismissed charges, court records show. There has been no resolution in 19 other cases.

Thus, at least 39 percent of the 236 cases never resulted in convictions, a fact law enforcement officials say isn't surprising.

They say many of the smaller fish turn state's evidence or become informants at the behest of detectives in hopes of busting higher-ranking traffickers. To shield the suspect from liability, the property is often purchased in the name of a different party, a "straw owner," such as a girlfriend. In those cases, the property owner is not the suspected criminal and doesn't get charged.

Even though the criminal cases often crumble, property seizures usually stand up. In the vast majority of cases, people who have property seized never get it back, according to defense attorneys, prosecutors and police.

That's because police have less to prove in taking property than in convicting people of a crime, said Seattle attorney Richard Troberman.

"You are operating under a much lower legal standard, and you are usually not even facing an attorney," he said.

When it comes to challenging property seizures, low-income people don't have the same right to a public defender that they do in the criminal system. Troberman said prosecutors have testified that in about 80 percent of the cases in which people contest the forfeitures, no attorney is present. That's roughly the same percentage of cases the police win, one hearing examiner estimates.

The move to change Washington's law comes in the midst of efforts to reform property-seizure standards nationwide.

After years of failed efforts, Congress last year passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., that toughens the standard for federal forfeitures. And voters in Oregon and Utah passed initiatives last year to change their own laws.

In July, unsatisfied with the legislation passed in Olympia, a coalition of activists -- on the left and the right of the political spectrum -- took matters into their own hands by pushing a citizens initiative. In addition to preventing police from seizing property until a conviction is notched, the Innocent Property Owners Protection Initiative would redirect forfeiture-related proceeds from police to state education and drug-treatment programs.

In a related effort, the ACLU next year plans to introduce a bill to mandate that the state's forfeiture law align itself with a provision in the state constitution that says proceeds derived from forfeitures should be used to fund the state school system.

"There was a purpose in the Bill of Rights," said Erne Lewis, a Libertarian Party activist who is spearheading the initiative effort. "It was to protect individuals and their property. Forfeiture is a weapon, and this is what they'll tell you. 'We use this to get guilty pleas,' they say. Well, so does torture."

   
A Jeep Cherokee, also seized in a drug raid, was among the items scheduled to be auctioned off in November. Nearly 40 percent of drug cases in which property is seized in King County do not result in a criminal conviction. Jeff Larsen / Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Click for larger photo   
Under Washington's law, the agency that seizes the goods gets to keep 90 percent of the proceeds, after a public auction.

The rest goes to a state fund that provides assistance to domestic violence victims, AIDS-infected babies and others. The law states that forfeited property "shall be retained by the seizing law enforcement agency exclusively for the expansion and improvement of controlled substances-related law enforcement activity."

But that's not the way some agencies, which have been slapped by state auditors for misusing seized property, have seen it.

It took 2 1/2 years after concerns were first raised internally for the King County Sheriff's Office to stop allowing employees to use vehicles seized in drug cases. At one point, 21 detectives and officials -- including the budget and accounting director, the legal adviser, a volunteer chaplain and the Asian community liaison -- were driving the cars.

In March 1997, a drug unit sergeant, Dawn Grout, raised the issue in a letter to Frank Adamson, chief of the Criminal Investigations Division, apparently to little effect.

The following February, she sent another memo identifying 16 drug-seized vehicles that she said were still "assigned to non-drug enforcement personnel in direct violation of state law."

The issue was still unresolved in September 1999, when the Auditor's Office concluded after a brief investigation that "some vehicles are not being appropriately used" at the sheriff's office. A short time later, the last of the seized cars were returned to the drug unit.

Sheriff Dave Reichert, who was appointed in March 1997, about four weeks before Grout sent her first memo, said that "when the problem rose to my level, I took care of it. I took the cars away."

Not everyone, including long-time budget and accounting chief Jon McCracken, was happy about losing the cars, Reichert said.

McCracken, who had been driving a 1991 beige Buick Park Avenue sedan, referred calls seeking his comment to sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart.

Urquhart said part of McCracken's job is to handle the accounting of large amounts of money involved in drug seizures and undercover buys.

"We thought it was a legitimate use of a vehicle," Urquhart said, defending McCracken's prior use of the vehicle. "Where do you draw the line? If 25 percent of the activity is drug investigation-related, is that enough?"

When Puyallup police arrested Lance Gloor on a drug charge in December 1999, they practically stripped his house bare. Hundreds of items were seized, ranging from two cars and stereo gear to the 22-year-old maintenance worker's collection of music CDs.

"They cleaned me out," he said.

Gloor later pleaded guilty to growing marijuana and hired a lawyer to try to fight the property seizure. When he went to the police station to press his case, Gloor said, he saw his big-screen TV in the break room. His $2,000 stereo speakers, he was told, were in the office of one of the detectives who made the bust.

Neither the detective, Wayne Spencer, nor Police Chief Rodger Cool returned calls for comment.

For the most part, Gloor prevailed. Craig Adams, legal adviser for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, recommended returning much of Gloor's property, concluding that police went too far.

"I looked at the case, and I didn't think it was a very good one, in terms of search-and-seizure and the like," Adams said. "I said (to police), 'What proof do you have that this is proceeds of drug money?' I don't think there was a whole lot of evidence, quite honestly.

"When they take CDs and stuff, I mean, come on. ... How are you going to prove it was bought with drug money?"

It wasn't the first time Adams has had to tell officials from Pierce County law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff's department, to return seized property.

"I have an obligation to act ethically," he said. "If I don't, I'm dirty."

The Gloor case, however, illustrates how easy it is to cart off a person's belongings and how difficult it can be to get them back.

Two years later, many of Gloor's possessions -- including 150 CDs, a camera, a camcorder, a silver chain, an electronic safe and about $2,000 in small bills -- have still not been returned -- or accounted for.

Police and prosecutors are quick to point out that suspected drug dealers who have property seized are legally entitled to a hearing to try to persuade a hearing examiner to give them back their stuff.

Last year, for example, the King County Sheriff's Office alone seized various items from 155 people, according to state records. Of those cases, 44 people requested hearings to contest the seizures.

But fewer than half ever actually had their hearings, estimated Keith Scully, a deputy prosecutor assigned to the sheriff's office. Some claimants settled their cases before the hearing, he said, and many more simply didn't show up.

Several factors weigh against the claimants. The hearing examiners are often current or retired police officers or prosecutors. And citizens who cannot afford a lawyer to represent them in the civil proceeding often have to go up alone against a police attorney.

Shane Hendrickson of Tacoma was lucky enough to be able to avoid going through the hearing process. Tacoma police returned his property after determining that he merely knew people involved in the marijuana-cultivation plot.

Today, Hendrickson is eager to forget the whole episode.

"I just really, really, really want to wash my hands of this and keep going."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

P-I reporter Candace Heckman contributed to this report. P-I reporter Sam Skolnik can be reached at 206-467-1039 or samskolnik@seattlepi.com

27542  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 2007 Gathering on: May 26, 2007, 07:14:27 AM
For the record, the reason that TD and the whip man agreed to stop when the gap was closed was that the whip man simply was not competitive with TD.

OTOH my sense of C-Cyborg is that his competence is , , , quite sound.  evil

Changing subjects, Dan Jackson is offering the possiblity of an 8 foot high wall 20 feet long on the north side of the fight area made out of studs and plywood.  Comments?
27543  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: May 26, 2007, 07:02:19 AM
White House Is Said to Debate ’08 Cut in Iraq Troops by 50%
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/26/washington/26strategy.html?th&emc=th         
 
By DAVID E. SANGER and DAVID S. CLOUD
Published: May 26, 2007
WASHINGTON, May 25 — The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.

It is the first indication that growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course.

The concepts call for a reduction in forces that could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000, the latest available figure, which the military reported on May 1. They would also greatly scale back the mission that President Bush set for the American military when he ordered it in January to win back control of Baghdad and Anbar Province.

The mission would instead focus on the training of Iraqi troops and fighting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, while removing Americans from many of the counterinsurgency efforts inside Baghdad.

Still, there is no indication that Mr. Bush is preparing to call an early end to the current troop increase, and one reason officials are talking about their long-range strategy may be to blunt pressure from members of Congress, including some Republicans, who are pushing for a more rapid troop reduction.

The officials declined to be quoted for attribution because they were discussing internal deliberations that they expected to evolve over several months.

Officials say proponents of reducing the troops and scaling back their mission next year appear to include Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They have been joined by generals at the Pentagon and elsewhere who have long been skeptical that the Iraqi government would use the opportunity created by the troop increase to reach genuine political accommodations.

So far, the concepts are entirely a creation of Washington and have been developed without the involvement of the top commanders in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, both of whom have been enthusiastic supporters of the troop increase.

Those generals and other commanders have made it clear that they are operating on a significantly slower clock than officials in Washington, who are eager for significant withdrawals before the president leaves office in January 2009.

In an interview in Baghdad on Thursday, General Odierno, the senior United States ground commander, said any withdrawal of American troops was not advisable until December, “at a minimum.”

Even then, he said, redeployments should be carried out slowly, to avoid jeopardizing security gains.

General Odierno, who has pushed for extending the troop increase into next year, noted that units were in place or available to continue that effort through next April.

But the ideas under discussion, from the National Security Council to the Pentagon, envision reductions beginning well before then. The last time American troop levels in Iraq were anywhere near 100,000 was in January 2004, when they fell briefly to about 108,000.

One of the ideas, officials say, would be to reduce the current 20 American combat brigades to about 10, which would be completed between the spring of 2008 and the end of the year.

Several administration officials said they hoped that if such a reduction were under way in the midst of the presidential campaign, it would shift the debate from whether American forces should be pulled out by a specific deadline — the current argument consuming Washington — to what kind of long-term presence the United States should have in Iraq.

“It stems from a recognition that the current level of forces aren’t sustainable in Iraq, they aren’t sustainable in the region, and they will be increasingly unsustainable here at home,” said one administration official who has taken part in the closed-door discussions.

But other officials in Washington cautioned that any drawdown could be jeopardized by a major outbreak of new violence. Vice President Dick Cheney and others might argue that even beginning a withdrawal would embolden elements of Al Qaeda and the Shiite militias that have recently appeared to go underground.

Missing from much of the current discussion is talk about the success of democracy in Iraq, officials say, or even of the passage of reconciliation measures that Mr. Bush said in January that the troop increase would allow to take place. In interviews, many senior administration and military officials said they now doubted that those political gains, even if achieved, would significantly reduce the violence.

The officials cautioned that no firm plans have emerged from the discussions. But they said the proposals being developed envision a far smaller but long-term American presence, centering on three or four large bases around Iraq. Mr. Bush has told recent visitors to the White House that he was seeking a model similar to the American presence in South Korea.

Both Mr. Bush and Secretary Gates appeared to allude to the new ideas at separate news conferences on Thursday, though they were careful not to be specific about how or when what they are terming the post-surge phase would begin.

Mr. Gates described the administration’s goal of eventually shifting the mission in Iraq to one that is “more to train, equip, continue to go after Al Qaeda and provide support.” Such a mission, he noted, “clearly would involve fewer forces than we have now.”

Any change of course “is going to be the president’s decision,” Mr. Gates said, but one greatly influenced by assessments from General Petraeus and the new American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, who are to provide an assessment of the situation in September. Mr. Gates also referred to “the possible need for some kind of residual force in Iraq for some protracted period of time.”

A rapid transfer of responsibility to Iraqi forces and withdrawal to large bases was attempted in 2005 and 2006, with disastrous results when the Iraqi units proved incapable of halting major attacks, and sectarian violence worsened.

“We’ve been here before,” General Odierno said in the interview, referring to the decisions that are coming up on how quickly to hand over authority to Iraqi units. “We’ve rushed the transition and soon lost many areas that we had before. This time it’s about having enough combat power to stay.”

But what is different now is the political environment in the United States. While Democrats in Congress relented this week and dropped demands to attach a schedule for withdrawal to a bill to finance military efforts in Iraq, White House officials concede that they have bought a few months, at best.

By the fall, they say, they are likely to lose several Republican senators and many members of the House who voted with Mr. Bush in recent weeks.

During his own news conference, Mr. Bush referred on four separate occasions to the report of the Iraq Study Group, headed by the former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and the former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton.

That report, about which Mr. Bush appeared distinctly unenthusiastic when it was issued in December, called for the withdrawal of all American combat troops by the end of March 2008. Mr. Gates was a member of the study group, though he resigned to take up his current post before the report was written.

David E. Sanger reported from Washington and David S. Cloud from Baghda
27544  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: May 26, 2007, 06:56:57 AM
Mosques awarded Homeland Security grants
Posted: May 25, 2007 1:00 a.m. Eastern | © 2007 WorldNetDaily.com

While the European Union investigates mosques for ties to Islamic terrorism, the U.S. government is giving mosques security grants that are designed to protect churches, synagogues and other nonprofit groups from Islamic terror.

Most recently, the Islamic Society of Baltimore landed a $15,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to upgrade security at its Maryland mosque.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations since April has been urging leaders of mosques and Islamic schools across the nation to apply for the DHS grants, even though the agency's program was set up to help protect nonprofit facilities that are at high risk for attacks by Islamic terrorists.
CAIR encouraged its Muslim members to take advantage of $24 million in federal funds DHS has made available – specifically, DHS says, for nonprofit organizations "deemed high-risk for a potential international terrorist attack."

Organizations in 46 urban areas designated high risk for Islamic terror attack are eligible to participate in the new Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

The CAIR alert issued April 29 to Muslim members reads as follows: "ACTION REQUESTED: All eligible 501(c)(3) American mosques and other Islamic institutions are urged to begin the application process to receive training and to purchase equipment such as video cameras, alarm systems and other security enhancements."

Several Islamic institutions already have applied and are receiving government approval.

U.S. officials who spoke to WND on condition of anonymity expressed dismay that CAIR would drain limited federal funds away from higher risk targets for terrorism. They argue mosques are among the lowest risk for such attacks.

In fact, a number of mosques across the nation actually have promoted Islamic terrorism and have been tied to Islamic terrorists, including the large Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Washington, where some of the 9/11 hijackers received spiritual guidance, as well as help obtaining housing and IDs.

Terrorism experts note some 80 percent of U.S. mosques are funded and controlled through the Saudi Arabian government.

"Mosques have tended to serve as safe havens and meeting points for Islamic terrorist groups," said terror expert Steve Emerson. "Of course, we are not referring to all mosques, but there are at least 40 episodes of extremists and terrorists being connected to mosques in the past decade."
Meanwhile, European Union security officials earlier this month announced they will analyze member-state mosques, examining the training and funding sources of imams, in a project to be completed by fall.
Even in the wake of 9/11, remarkably, U.S. authorities have yet to conduct any similar sweeping investigation of the nation's 2,000 mosques. There also has been no nationwide effort to identify Muslim clerics who preach terrorism, even as an alarming number of imams have been caught up in separate terrorism investigations.

Law enforcement sources blame the hesitancy on political pressure applied by Washington-based CAIR, which sits on the FBI's community advisory board and routinely lodges complaints about case agents who question mosque leaders and followers. The bureau seldom makes a raid in the Muslim community without first contacting CAIR officials.

CAIR claims mosques have been victims of "terrorist" attacks since 9/11, which the group says triggered a backlash of "Islamophobic" vigilantism. When pressed, the group cites only scattered cases of vandalism, however, many of which the FBI has investigated and ruled out as "hate crimes."

No mosque in America has suffered a bombing attack, and there are no examples of international Muslim terrorists attacking mosques in America – the whole point of DHS' target-hardening grant program.

CAIR itself has had ties to terrorism. The nonprofit lobby group is a foreign-funded spin-off of a Hamas front group, and it has seen several of its executives convicted of terror-related crimes since 9/11.
27545  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Algerian Women on: May 26, 2007, 06:40:55 AM
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/26/world/africa/26algeria.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

ALGIERS, May 25 — In this tradition-bound nation scarred by a brutal Islamist-led civil war that killed more than 100,000, a quiet revolution is under way: women are emerging as an economic and political force unheard of in the rest of the Arab world.


Algerian Women’s Growing Participation in Society
Women make up 70 percent of Algeria’s lawyers and 60 percent of its judges. Women dominate medicine. Increasingly, women contribute more to household income than men. Sixty percent of university students are women, university researchers say.

In a region where women have a decidedly low public profile, Algerian women are visible everywhere. They are starting to drive buses and taxicabs. They pump gas and wait on tables.

Although men still hold all of the formal levers of power and women still make up only 20 percent of the work force, that is more than twice their share a generation ago, and they seem to be taking over the machinery of state as well.

“If such a trend continues,” said Daho Djerbal, editor and publisher of Naqd, a magazine of social criticism and analysis, “we will see a new phenomenon where our public administration will also be controlled by women.”

The change seems to have sneaked up on Algerians, who for years have focused more on the struggle between a governing party trying to stay in power and Islamists trying to take that power.

Those who study the region say they are taken aback by the data but suggest that an explanation may lie in the educational system and the labor market.

University studies are no longer viewed as a credible route toward a career or economic well-being, and so men may well opt out and try to find work or to simply leave the country, suggested Hugh Roberts, a historian and the North Africa project director of the International Crisis Group.

But for women, he added, university studies get them out of the house and allow them to position themselves better in society. “The dividend may be social rather than in terms of career,” he said.

This generation of Algerian women has navigated a path between the secular state and the pull of extremist Islam, the two poles of the national crisis of recent years.

The women are more religious than previous generations, and more modern, sociologists here said. Women cover their heads and drape their bodies with traditional Islamic coverings. They pray. They go to the mosque — and they work, often alongside men, once considered taboo.

Sociologists and many working women say that by adopting religion and wearing the Islamic head covering called the hijab, women here have in effect freed themselves from moral judgments and restrictions imposed by men. Uncovered women are rarely seen on the street late at night, but covered women can be seen strolling the city after attending the evening prayer at a mosque.

“They never criticize me, especially when they see I am wearing the hijab,” said Denni Fatiha, 44, the first woman to drive a large city bus through the narrow, winding roads of Algiers.

The impact has been far-reaching and profound.

In some neighborhoods, for example, birthrates appear to have fallen and class sizes in elementary schools have dropped by nearly half. It appears that women are delaying marriage to complete their studies, though delayed marriage is also a function of high unemployment. In the past, women typically married at 17 or 18 but now marry on average at 29, sociologists said.

And when they marry, it is often to men who are far less educated, creating an awkward social reality for many women.

Khalida Rahman is a lawyer. She is 33 and has been married to a night watchman for five months. Her husband was a friend of her brothers who showed up one day and proposed. She immediately said yes, she recalled.

She describes her life now this way: “Whenever I leave him it is just as if I am a man. But when I get home I become a woman.”

Fatima Oussedik, a sociologist, said, “We in the ’60s, we were progressive, but we did not achieve what is being achieved by this generation today.” Ms. Oussedik, who works for the Research Center for Applied Economics and Development in Algiers, does not wear the hijab and prefers to speak in French.

Researchers here say the change is not driven by demographics; women make up only a bit more than half of the population. They said it is driven by desire and opportunity.

================



Published: May 26, 2007
(Page 2 of 2)



Algeria’s young men reject school and try to earn money as traders in the informal sector, selling goods on the street, or they focus their efforts on leaving the country or just hanging out. There is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes — the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.

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Algerian Women’s Growing Participation in Society
Increasingly, the people here have lost faith in their government, which draws its legitimacy from a revolution now more than five decades old, many political and social analysts said. In recent parliamentary elections, turnout was low and there were 970,000 protest votes — cast by people who intentionally destroyed their ballots — nearly as many as the 1.3 million votes cast in support of the governing party.

There are regular protests, and riots, all over the country, with people complaining about corruption, lack of services and economic disparities. There are violent attacks, too: bombings aimed at the police, officials and foreigners. A triple suicide bombing on April 11 against the prime minister’s office and the police left more than 30 people dead.

In that context, women may have emerged as Algeria’s most potent force for social change, with their presence in the bureaucracy and on the street having a potentially moderating and modernizing influence on society, sociologists said.

“Women, and the women’s movement, could be leading us to modernity,” said Abdel Nasser Djabi, a professor of sociology at the University of Algiers.

Not everyone is happy with those dynamics. Some political and social analysts say the recent resurgence in radical Islamist activity, including bombings, is driven partly by a desire to slow the social change the country is experiencing, especially regarding women’s role in society.

Others complain that the growing participation of women in society is a direct violation of the faith.

“I am against this,” said Esmail Ben Ibrahim, an imam at a neighborhood mosque near the center of the city. “It is all wrong from a religious point of view. Society has embarked on the wrong path.”

The quest for identity is a constant undercurrent in much of the Middle East. But it is arguably the most complicated question in Algeria, a nation whose borders were drawn by France and whose people speak Berber, Arabic and French.

After a bitter experience with French occupation and a seven-year revolutionary war that brought independence in 1962 at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, the leaders here chose to adopt Islam and Arab identity as the force to unify the country. Arabic replaced French as the language of education, and the French secular curriculum was replaced with a curriculum heavy on religion.

At the same time, girls were encouraged to go to school.

Now, more than four decades later, Algeria’s youth — 70 percent of the population is under 30, researchers said — have grown up with Arabic and an orientation toward Middle Eastern issues. Arabic-language television networks like Al Jazeera have become the popular reference point, more so than French television, observers here said.

In the 1990s radical Islamist ideas gained popular support, and terrorism was widely accepted as a means to win power. More than 100,000 people died in years of civil conflict. Today most people say the experience has forced them to reject the most radical ideas. So although Algerians are more religious now than they were during the bloody 1990s, they are more likely to embrace modernity — a partial explanation for the emergence of women as a societal force, some analysts said.

That is not the case in more rural mountainous areas, where women continue to live by the code of tradition. But for the time being, most people say that for now the community’s collective consciousness is simply too raw from the years of civil war for Islamist terrorists or radical Islamic ideas to gain popular support.

There is a sense that the new room given to women may at least partly be a reflection of that general feeling. The population has largely rejected the most radical interpretation of Islam and has begun to return to the more North African, almost mystical, interpretation of the faith, sociologists and religious leaders said.

Whatever the underlying reason, women in the streets of the city are brimming with enthusiasm.

“I don’t think any of this contradicts Islam,” said Wahiba Nabti, 36, as she walked through the center of the city one day recently. “On the contrary, Islam gives freedom to work. Anyway, it is between you and God.”

Ms. Nabti wore a black scarf covering her head and a long black gown that hid the shape of her body. “I hope one day I can drive a crane, so I can really be financially independent,” she said. “You cannot always rely on a man.”
27546  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico on: May 26, 2007, 06:14:35 AM
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-soldiers26may26,1,2186023.story?coll=la-headlines-world

LA Times
Mexico's drug war takes toll on army
Since December, 89 soldiers have been reported killed. They're among 1,000 narcotics-related deaths this year.
By Carlos Martinez and Sam Enriquez, Times Staff Writers
May 26, 2007


MEXICO CITY — The number of Mexican soldiers slain has jumped dramatically since President Felipe Calderon began using the army to battle drug traffickers, records show.

Since December, when Calderon began the campaign, 89 soldiers have been reported killed, compared with less than a dozen from January through November of 2006, according to army records provided to The Times.

The escalation of attacks on soldiers has come as 12,700 troops man roadside checkpoints and patrol cities in nine Mexican states where rival drug gangs battle for control of ports, roads and other smuggling routes.

The Mexican army reported that troops slain since December included 27 soldiers on duty and 37 off duty. The circumstances of 25 more deaths remain under investigation.

Calderon dispatched the army, along with several thousand federal police officers, shortly after taking office because of concerns that incompetence and corruption had hampered local and state police and judges in combating well-financed drug gangs.

More than 2,000 killings last year were reportedly drug-related.

The killings of troops include the ambush of five men, including a colonel, in Michoacan state this month. In April, authorities found the bodies of three soldiers bearing signs of torture. A message next to the bodies said, "Whoever gets involved will die."

The troop deaths are among more than 1,000 killings so far this year attributed to drug violence, according to tallies by Mexican newspapers. The government doesn't keep an official count.

Calderon's failure to slow the violence has drawn criticism from opposition parties, which have called on him to revise his military strategy. The president said Thursday during a speech in the state of Durango that he was not ready to change course.

"Organized crime wants to scare the Mexican people," Calderon said. "It wants to scare the Mexican people so that the government crosses its arms and they go unpunished. They want us to retreat…. Our stance is clear: not a step backward."

Army salaries have gone up slightly, but pay for the lowest ranks begins at about $2,460 a year, plus room, board, uniforms and medical care. Generals are paid between $8,000 and $10,000 a year.

The government pays the funeral expenses of slain soldiers and also provides a lump sum equal to 40 months' pay to their immediate families.

The families also continue to collect the monthly salaries of slain soldiers and are entitled to full medical coverage at military hospitals and clinics, as well as discounts at three luxury hotel chains.
27547  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War? on: May 26, 2007, 06:02:19 AM
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-nuclear26may26,1,754545.story?coll=la-headlines-world
Arabs make plans for nuclear power
Iran's program appears to be stirring interest that some fear will lead to a scramble for atomic weapons in the volatile region.
By Bob Drogin and Borzou Daragahi, LA Times Staff Writers
May 26, 2007



VIENNA — As Iran races ahead with an illicit uranium enrichment effort, nearly a dozen other Middle East nations are moving forward on their own civilian nuclear programs. In the latest development, a team of eight U.N. experts on Friday ended a weeklong trip to Saudi Arabia to provide nuclear guidance to officials from six Persian Gulf countries.

Diplomats and analysts view the Saudi trip as the latest sign that Iran's suspected weapons program has helped spark a chain reaction of nuclear interest among its Arab rivals, which some fear will lead to a scramble for atomic weapons in the world's most volatile region.

The International Atomic Energy Agency sent the team of nuclear experts to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to advise the Gulf Cooperation Council on building nuclear energy plants. Together, the council members — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the seven sheikdoms of the United Arab Emirates — control nearly half the world's known oil reserves.

Other nations that have said they plan to construct civilian nuclear reactors or have sought technical assistance and advice from the IAEA, the Vienna-based United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, in the last year include Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Yemen, as well as several North African nations.

None of the governments has disclosed plans to build nuclear weapons. But Iran's 18-year secret nuclear effort and its refusal to comply with current U.N. Security Council demands have raised concerns that the Arab world will decide it needs to counter a potentially nuclear-armed Iran. The same equipment can enrich uranium to fuel civilian reactors or, in time and with further enrichment, atomic bombs.

"There is no doubt that countries around the gulf are worried … about whether Iran is seeking nuclear weapons," Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. representative to U.N. agencies in Vienna, said in an interview. "They're worried about whether it will prompt a nuclear arms race in the region, which would be to no one's benefit."

The United States has long supported the spread of peaceful nuclear energy under strict international safeguards. Schulte said Washington's diplomatic focus remained on stopping Iran before it could produce fuel for nuclear weapons, rather than on trying to restrict nations from developing nuclear power for generating electricity.

But those empowered to monitor and regulate civilian nuclear programs around the world are worried. Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the IAEA, warned Thursday that the surge of interest in sensitive nuclear technology raised the risk of weapons proliferation. Without singling out any nation, he cautioned that some governments might insist on enriching their own uranium to ensure a steady supply of reactor fuel.

"The concern is that by mastering the fuel cycle, countries move dangerously close to nuclear weapons capability," ElBaradei told a disarmament conference in Luxembourg.

Iran is the obvious case in point. Tehran this week defied another U.N. Security Council deadline by which it was to freeze its nuclear program. The IAEA reported that Iran instead was accelerating uranium enrichment without having yet built the reactors that would need the nuclear fuel. At the same time, the IAEA complained, Iran's diminishing cooperation had made it impossible to confirm Tehran's claims that the program is only for peaceful purposes.

That has unnerved Iran's neighbors as well as members of the Security Council.

"We have the right if the Iranians are going to insist on their right to develop their civilian nuclear program," said Mustafa Alani, a security expert at the Gulf Research Center, a think tank based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. "We tell the Iranians, 'We have no problem with you developing civilian nuclear energy, but if you're going to turn your nuclear program into a weapons program, we'll do the same.' "

Iran sought to rally Arab support for its nuclear program at the World Economic Forum meeting of business and political leaders this month in Jordan.

"Iran will be a partner, a brotherly partner, and will share its capabilities with the people of the region," Mohammed J.A. Larijani, a former deputy foreign minister, told reporters.

Arab officials were cool to his approach, however, and openly questioned Iran's intentions.

The IAEA team's weeklong foray to Saudi Arabia followed ElBaradei's visit to the kingdom in April. The Gulf Cooperation Council plans to present the results of its study on developing nuclear plants to the leaders of council nations in the Omani capital of Muscat in December.

"They don't say it, but everyone can see that [Iran] is at least one of the reasons behind the drive to obtaining the nuclear technology," said Salem Ahmad Sahab, a professor of political science at King Abdulaziz University in Jidda, Saudi Arabia. "If the neighbors are capable of obtaining the technology, why not them?"

Officially, leaders of the Arab gulf states say they are eager to close a technology gap with Iran, as well as with Israel, which operates two civilian reactors and is widely believed to have built at least 80 nuclear warheads since the 1960s. Israel does not acknowledge its nuclear arsenal under a policy aimed at deterring regional foes while avoiding an arms race.

Advocates argue that the gulf states need nuclear energy despite their vast oil and natural gas reserves.

The region's growing economies suffer occasional summer power outages, and the parched climate makes the nations there susceptible to water shortages, which can be offset by the energy-intensive processing of seawater.


=======================

The promising future of nuclear energy in electricity generation and desalination can make it a source for meeting increasing needs," Abdulrahman Attiya, the Kuwaiti head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, told the group this week in Riyadh.

Attiya also cited long-term economic and environmental advantages to nuclear energy.

"A large part of Gulf Cooperation Council oil and gas products can be used for export in light of expected high prices and demand," he said. "It will also help to limit the increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the gulf region."

It remains unclear how many countries will carry through on ambitious and enormously expensive nuclear projects. In some cases, analysts say, the nuclear announcements may be intended for domestic prestige, and as a signal to Iran that others intend to check its emergence as a regional power. As a result, some analysts say fears of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East are overblown.

"Those who caricature what's going on as Sunni concern about a Shiite bomb are really oversimplifying the case," said Martin Malin, a nuclear expert at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, referring to Sunni Muslim-led Arab countries and Shiite Muslim-led Iran.

Aggressive international monitoring, he contended, could ensure that nuclear energy programs don't secretly morph into weapons capabilities.

"If what Jordan is really concerned about is energy, and the U.S. is concerned about weapons, all kinds of oversight can be provided," Malin said.

A Russian diplomat here similarly cautioned that Iran's influence on other nations' nuclear plans might be overstated. "I should be very cautious about any connection between these two things," he said. "We don't deny that even Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear activities."

Although enthusiasm for prospective nuclear programs appears strongest in the Middle East, governments elsewhere have displayed interest in atomic power after years of decline in the industry that followed the 1979 reactor accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and the far worse 1986 radiation leak at Chernobyl in Ukraine. About 30 countries operate nuclear reactors for energy, and that number seems certain to grow.

"There's certainly a renaissance of interest," said an IAEA official who works on the issue. "And there's likely to be a renaissance in construction over the next few decades."

IAEA officials say the largest growth in nuclear power is likely to occur in China, India, Russia, the United States and South Africa, with Argentina, Finland and France following close behind. The United States has 103 operating plants, more than any other country, and as many as 31 additional plants are under consideration or have begun the regulatory process.

And there are other nations in line. Oil-rich Nigeria and Indonesia are preparing to build nuclear plants. Belarus and Vietnam have approached the IAEA for advice. Algeria signed a deal with Russia in January on possible nuclear cooperation. Morocco and Poland are said to be considering nuclear power. Myanmar disclosed plans to purchase a Russian research reactor.

Even Sudan, one of the world's poorest countries, has expressed interest.

"When Sudan shows up, we say, 'You're in a real early stage and here's what you need. A law. Get people trained. Build roads. And so on,' " the IAEA official said.

So far, the nuclear programs around Iran are in the early planning stages. Alani, the security expert in Dubai, said most of the nations in the region were scoping out the possibilities but had made no final decisions or begun constructing facilities.

"They feel it's a right and significant move at least to put [their] foot in the door of civilian nuclear energy," he said. "It's not a race, not yet."

===============
Going nuclear

Unlike Iran, most of the countries that have recently begun exploring or setting up nuclear programs are staunch allies of the U.S., often with strong military and political ties to Washington. A sampling of some regional nations' plans:

Yemen

Seeks to join the Gulf Cooperation Council's nuclear project.

Egypt

Plans to revive a nuclear energy program it abandoned two decades ago.

Turkey

Plans to build three nuclear power plants along the Black Sea coast.

Jordan

Plans to pursue a nuclear energy program.

Tunisia

Plans to build its first nuclear power plant by 2020.

Source: Bob Drogin, Times staff writer



27548  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics on: May 26, 2007, 05:50:28 AM
Doug:

Amazing how this CBO study received absolutely no coverage and amazing that the Republicans have not made use of it.

Perhaps Newt Gingrich, who certainly had a big hand in the welfare reform, will use it if  wink he runs , , ,

Marc
27549  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tawfik Harrid on Jihad Watch on: May 25, 2007, 09:48:58 PM
Tawfik Hamid speaks truth to power in the usually reliably dhimmi Wall Street Journal, echoing points we have often made here:
To bring an end to Islamophobia, we must employ a holistic approach that treats the core of the disease. It will not suffice to merely suppress the symptoms. It is imperative to adopt new Islamic teachings that do not allow killing apostates (Redda Law). Islamic authorities must provide mainstream Islamic books that forbid polygamy and beating women.

Accepted Islamic doctrine should take a strong stand against slavery and the raping of female war prisoners, as happens in Darfur under the explicit canons of Shariah ("Ma Malakat Aimanikum"). Muslims should teach, everywhere and universally, that a woman's testimony in court counts as much as a man's, that women should not be punished if they marry whom they please or dress as they wish.

We Muslims should publicly show our strong disapproval for the growing number of attacks by Muslims against other faiths and against other Muslims. Let us not even dwell on 9/11, Madrid, London, Bali and countless other scenes of carnage. It has been estimated that of the two million refugees fleeing Islamic terror in Iraq, 40% are Christian, and many of them seek a haven in Lebanon, where the Christian population itself has declined by 60%. Even in Turkey, Islamists recently found it necessary to slit the throats of three Christians for publishing Bibles.

Of course, Islamist attacks are not limited to Christians and Jews. Why do we hear no Muslim condemnation of the ongoing slaughter of Buddhists in Thailand by Islamic groups? Why was there silence over the Mumbai train bombings which took the lives of over 200 Hindus in 2006? We must not forget that innocent Muslims, too, are suffering. Indeed, the most common murderers of Muslims are, and have always been, other Muslims. Where is the Muslim outcry over the Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq?

Islamophobia could end when masses of Muslims demonstrate in the streets against videos displaying innocent people being beheaded with the same vigor we employ against airlines, Israel and cartoons of Muhammad. It might cease when Muslims unambiguously and publicly insist that Shariah law should have no binding legal status in free, democratic societies.

It is well past time that Muslims cease using the charge of "Islamophobia" as a tool to intimidate and blackmail those who speak up against suspicious passengers and against those who rightly criticize current Islamic practices and preachings. Instead, Muslims must engage in honest and humble introspection. Muslims should--must--develop strategies to rescue our religion by combating the tyranny of Salafi Islam and its dreadful consequences. Among more important outcomes, this will also put an end to so-called Islamophobia.
27550  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DB in the media on: May 25, 2007, 07:15:44 PM
I agree about the risks of the chairs.  I guess I was thinking more in terms of what looked like a hand held vacuum cleaner that I saw in one of those ciips.  IIRC you followed up nicely with a low kick.
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