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27551  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams on: May 08, 2009, 10:35:03 AM
"Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouraged by the Government. For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders."

--Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, 4 November 1775
27552  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: May 08, 2009, 09:05:28 AM
Dog Dan Farley most certainly is a member of the Tribe.  I'll ask our webmaster to take care of this right away.  Thanks for the catch.
27553  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Germany to ban paintball? on: May 08, 2009, 12:01:49 AM,,2-10-1462_2512787,00.htm

07/05/2009 16:19 - (SA)

Berlin - The German government wants to tighten gun laws and ban paintball games in response to a school shooting in which 16 people were killed in March, coalition sources said on Thursday.
Experts from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners had agreed to ban paintball games, in which players shoot at each other with pellets containing paint, the sources said.
The governing parties say games like paintball trivialise violence and risk lowering the threshold for committing violent acts, the sources said.
Infringements to the new rules, which the cabinet hopes to pass before a general election in September, could incur fines of up to €5 000, the sources said.
Previous incidents
A 17-year-old shot dead 15 people in the southwestern town of Winnenden, before killing himself in March, stunning many Germans and leading politicians to call for tighter gun rules.
The teenager had shot many of his victims in the head with his father's legally registered pistol. His father, a member of a shooting club, had 15 guns at home - fourteen were locked in a gun closet as required by law but the pistol was in the bedroom, officials have said.
Germany toughened its gun laws in 2002 after 19-year-old Robert Steinhauser shot dead 16 people, mainly teachers, and himself at a high school in the eastern German city of Erfurt.
The changes raised the minimum age for gun ownership to 21 from 18 and required gun buyers under 25 to present a certificate of medical and psychological health. Gun laws already required applicants to pass rigorous exams that can take up to a year.
The new rules would also grant authorities more rights in conducting checks with people owning guns, the sources said.
Sources in the SPD said the parties were also moving towards on agreement on the creation of a nationwide weapons register and were considering setting up biometric security locks for weapons stores.
- Reuter
27554  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government Programs on: May 07, 2009, 11:58:32 PM

Obama to cut slain officers program by nearly half

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration wants to cut almost in half a benefits program for the families of slain police and safety officers.
The president's proposed budget calls for cutting the Public Safety Officers' Death Benefits Program from $110 million to $60 million.
The Justice Department insisted no one would lose benefits.
"Any family member who is eligible for benefits under this program will receive them," said Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz.
Budget documents say the reduction is being made because "claims are anticipated to decrease," apparently because the number of officers killed in the line of duty has been decreasing.
The proposal is being made just days before Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to attend ceremonies in Washington honoring slain officers.
"It makes us kind of nervous. While we aren't panicking, it certainly has increased our concern, coming a week before National Police Week," said Suzie Sawyer, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors, a group taking part in next week's events.
Sawyer said as long as the number of police and safety officers killed doesn't increase too much, the amount of money offered in the budget could be enough. And she noted that in the past, the government has found more money for the program when it needed more, such as following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The program pays benefits of more than $300,000 to the survivors of a safety officer killed in the line of duty.
There were 133 police officers killed in the line of duty last year, the lowest amount since 1960, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The group said killings of police officers are up 21 percent so far in 2009, compared to the same period the year before.
27555  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Little girls on: May 07, 2009, 05:03:11 PM
"If little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, when they grow up why do they taste like anchovies?"
27556  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: May 07, 2009, 03:50:26 PM
Its hard not to like someone who brings the informed and passionate loathing of the Clintons that Dick Morris does.  As a pollster he is in his element.  Political econ?  Well, methinks he sometimes confuses being on Fox with being an expert.

In this case though he is pretty much on the money-- sounds like he is channeling Glen Beck  cheesy

GB I think though is deeper and clearer on what's at stake here.  This is not what DM calls "compliant capitalism".  This is liberal fascism and is quite similar to the economics of Mussolini.
27557  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: May 07, 2009, 03:44:57 PM
I have sent the video to my mom, who speaks French very well, to ask what it says.  Somehow, I doubt they are paying for these products-- it seems rather contrary to the notion of a boycott  cheesy

I respect the point you make about boycotts, but I note the front of the shirts says what I think means "Long Live Palestine".  Somehow I doubt they are working for a two state solution , , ,
27558  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizens defend themselves/others. on: May 07, 2009, 01:42:31 PM
College Student Shoots, Kills Home Invader

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. -- A group of college students said they are lucky to be alive and they’re thanking the quick-thinking of one of their own. Police said a fellow student shot and killed one of two masked me who burst into an apartment.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Tom Jones met with one of the students to talk about the incident.

“Apparently, his intent was to rape and murder us all,” said student Charles Bailey.

Bailey said he thought it was the end of his life and the lives of the 10 people inside his apartment for a birthday party after two masked men with guns burst in through a patio door.

“They just came in and separated the men from the women and said, ‘Give me your wallets and cell phones,’” said George Williams of the College Park Police Department.

Bailey said the gunmen started counting bullets. “The other guy asked how many (bullets) he had. He said he had enough,” said Bailey.

That’s when one student grabbed a gun out of a backpack and shot at the invader who was watching the men. The gunman ran out of the apartment.

The student then ran to the room where the second gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Calvin Lavant, was holding the women.

“Apparently the guy was getting ready to rape his girlfriend. So he told the girls to get down and he started shooting. The guy jumped out of the window,” said Bailey.

A neighbor heard the shots and heard someone running nearby.

“And I heard someone say, ‘Someone help me. Call the police. Somebody call the police,’” said a neighbor.

The neighbor said she believes it was Lavant, who was found dead near his apartment, only one building away.

Bailey said he is just thankful one student risked his life to keep others alive.

“I think all of us are really cognizant of the fact that we could have all been killed,” said Bailey.

One female student was shot several times during the crossfire. She is expected to make a full recovery.

Police said they are close to making the arrest of the second suspect.
27559  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why haven't your heard about this from Pravda? on: May 07, 2009, 01:21:02 PM
College Student Shoots, Kills Home Invader

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. -- A group of college students said they are lucky to be alive and they’re thanking the quick-thinking of one of their own. Police said a fellow student shot and killed one of two masked me who burst into an apartment.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Tom Jones met with one of the students to talk about the incident.

“Apparently, his intent was to rape and murder us all,” said student Charles Bailey.

Bailey said he thought it was the end of his life and the lives of the 10 people inside his apartment for a birthday party after two masked men with guns burst in through a patio door.

“They just came in and separated the men from the women and said, ‘Give me your wallets and cell phones,’” said George Williams of the College Park Police Department.

Bailey said the gunmen started counting bullets. “The other guy asked how many (bullets) he had. He said he had enough,” said Bailey.

That’s when one student grabbed a gun out of a backpack and shot at the invader who was watching the men. The gunman ran out of the apartment.

The student then ran to the room where the second gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Calvin Lavant, was holding the women.

“Apparently the guy was getting ready to rape his girlfriend. So he told the girls to get down and he started shooting. The guy jumped out of the window,” said Bailey.

A neighbor heard the shots and heard someone running nearby.

“And I heard someone say, ‘Someone help me. Call the police. Somebody call the police,’” said a neighbor.

The neighbor said she believes it was Lavant, who was found dead near his apartment, only one building away.

Bailey said he is just thankful one student risked his life to keep others alive.

“I think all of us are really cognizant of the fact that we could have all been killed,” said Bailey.

One female student was shot several times during the crossfire. She is expected to make a full recovery.

Police said they are close to making the arrest of the second suspect.
27560  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Montana's 10th Amendment challenge on: May 07, 2009, 01:04:33 PM
The Second and Tenth Amendments
In what amounts to a serious Second and Tenth Amendment challenge to federal authority, the Montana Legislature passed and its Democrat governor signed a law which specifies that guns which are produced, sold and maintained within the state are exempt from federal regulations.

Essentially, Montana is setting up a Tenth Amendment challenge -- as soon as the first arrest is made for purchasing a gun without the user submitting to federal mandates such as background checks, licensing and registration, the state will assert its Tenth Amendment rights under our Constitution.

Other states are preparing similar legislation, but I would suggest one of them take the Tenth Amendment challenge a major step forward.

Let's see a state pass a law requiring that any and all federal authorities who wish to carry a firearm within the boundary of said state, must be in possession of a "right to carry" permit issued and authorized by that state's governor.

And speaking of "right to carry," in my home state of Tennessee, legislators are considering a bill to allow duly authorized carry permit holders to keep their weapons on their person in restaurants which serve alcohol (not to be confused with bars), similar to surrounding states.


The statists are protesting that doing so will undoubtedly lead to tragedy. However, one would be hard pressed to find any incident in any year when an authorized holder of a carry permit committed a felony with their weapon. By contrast, in the latest year of record, there were 13,470 fatalities involving alcohol-impaired drivers.

Now that is a tragedy. Perhaps they should not allow alcohol in bars...

Of course, this whole debate on federal versus state gun regulations and concealed carry permits is a straw man. Personally, my right-to-carry permit is the Second Amendment...
27561  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Congressman McClintock on the CA Initiatives on: May 07, 2009, 12:17:45 PM
McClintock on the Propositions

Here are Rep. McClintock's recommendations for the May 19th Special Election.

Prop 1A: Extend the Tax Increases. NO. This is the fig leaf that hides certain deficiencies suffered by the legislators who caved into pressure for the biggest tax increase in California's history. This measure EXTENDS the tax increases for up to two ADDITIONAL years in exchange for a spending limit that doesn't limit spending. The "spending limit" is laughable – it requires placing "unanticipated revenues" into a special fund that is then to be spent for a variety of additional purposes including education, debt service and health care. And since all funds are interchangeable, this merely allows funds spent for one purpose to be shifted for another. The bottom line: If you were against the tax increase, you're against Prop. 1A.

Prop 1B: Increases Public School Spending $9.3 Billion. NO. This is the classic J. Willington Wimpy approach to finance – "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." In exchange for not making certain mandated school payments over the next two years, this measure obligates $9.3 billion in supplemental payments in future years. But wait, it gets better. According to the Legislative Analyst, it's not entirely clear the bill will actually save money in the short term, but very likely it will cost much more in the future.

Prop 1C: Lottery rip-off. NO. This measure takes the Lottery revenue away from the schools, diverts it into the general fund to pay for $5 billion of new borrowing to balance the general fund, and then locks the general fund into making additional payments to the public schools in perpetuity. If this sounds like another of the infamous Schwarzenegger "After me, the flood" proposals, you're right.

Prop 1D: California Children and Families Rip-off. YES. This measure irresponsibly rips off an irresponsible rip-off, which in balance is probably a (barely) good thing. The Children and Families Fund (now called First 5) was the Rob Reiner disaster that raised tobacco taxes through the roof to pay for some highly dubious community programs. This slush fund has built up a sizeable reserve that Prop 1D filches for the general fund.

Prop 1E: Mental Health Funding Rip-Off. YES. This measure irresponsibly rips off another irresponsible rip-off, in this case the Mental Health Services Act that is funded by a 1 percent surcharge on upper-income wage earners and small businesses. Both 1D and 1E would require a more hardheaded appraisal of spending priorities, which is the only reason that would justify voting for them.

Prop 1F: No Raise Without a Balanced Budget. NO. What's not to like about a measure that says to the Legislature, "If you don't pass a balanced budget you won't get a raise?" My advice: beware any measure that puts a representative's self-interest ahead of the public interest. I'm afraid this would ultimately end up as a perverse incentive for legislators to pass higher and higher taxes in order to qualify for higher and higher salaries. We actually had a balanced budget device in the constitution that worked well: the Gann Spending Limit. We need to bring it back.
27562  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Team Kali Tudo on: May 07, 2009, 11:38:50 AM
Woof All:

An outstanding time was had by all at our initial session.  We identified and worked the four power lines of the Arfful Dodger chamber, then focused on the Dracula/Dodger. 

At my wife's request, the regular time is now Monday at 13:30.

The Adventure continues,
Guro Crafty
27563  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam Day in HI? on: May 07, 2009, 11:29:21 AM
HONOLULU -- Hawaii's state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday to celebrate "Islam Day" -- over the objections of a few lawmakers who said they didn't want to honor a religion connected to Sept. 11, 2001.
The Senate's two Republicans argued that a minority of Islamic extremists have killed many innocents in terrorist attacks.
"I recall radical Islamists around the world cheering the horrors of 9/11. That is the day all civilized people of all religions should remember," said Republican Sen. Fred Hemmings to the applause of more than 100 people gathered in the Senate to oppose a separate issue -- same-sex civil unions.
The resolution to proclaim Sept. 24, 2009, as Islam Day passed the Senate on a 22-3 vote. It had previously passed the House and now goes to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.
The bill seeks to recognize "the rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions" that Islam and the Islamic world have made. It does not call for any spending or organized celebration of Islam Day.
"We are a state of tolerance. We understand that people have different beliefs," said Sen. Will Espero, a Democrat. "We may not all agree on every single item and issue out there, but to say and highlight the negativity of the Islamic people is an insult to the majority" of believers "who are good law-abiding citizens of the world."
But Republican Sen. Sam Slom argued that the United States has become too sympathetic toward Islamic extremists.
"I don't think there's any country in the history of the world that has been more tolerant than the United States of America, and because of that tolerance, we've looked the other way a lot of times, and many thousands of our citizens have been killed by terrorists," said Slom, a Republican.
The lone Democrat voting against the bill opposed it on church-state separation fears.
27564  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Georgia, Russia, et al on: May 07, 2009, 11:20:03 AM
Geopolitical Diary: A Case of Georgian Deja Vu
May 6, 2009
STRATFOR is experiencing deja vu: Events in Georgia are calling to mind those that led up to the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi escalated yet again on Tuesday, when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed to have “thwarted” a Russian-backed coup from within the Georgian military and accused Russia of “massing up naval forces and warships in the sea off the coast” — all while Georgia was preparing for large (by its standards) military exercises in conjunction with NATO.

There have been other recent developments:

Since early April, Russia has increased its troop presence in Georgia’s breakaway regions from 3,000 to more than 7,600. Three months before the August war broke out, Russia had doubled its troop strength there from 1,500 to 3,000.
Russia has been accused of building up its naval presence off the coast of Abkhazia. In the months before the war, there were accusations that Russia was expanding that region’s ports.
Georgia and NATO will launch the next phase of NATO exercises in Vaziani on Wednesday — nearly the same exercises as the ones held at Vaziani three weeks before the Russo-Georgian war began.
Small-arms fire across the South Ossetian-Georgian border resumed in April. Last year, cross-border firing gave way to mortar attacks that precipitated Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia.
But while Russia may be ready for another round of conflict — or at least ready to create the illusion of another round, as a means of pressuring its smaller neighbor — there are other significant shifts under way in Georgia, and these are creating levels of pressure that Tbilisi has never before faced.

Political unrest in Georgia has reached a pitch not seen since the 2003 Rose Revolution that brought Saakashvili to power. Mass protests began in early April and have persisted, albeit with dwindling numbers of demonstrators, to the present. Saakashvili has seen members of his own inner circle break away and join the traditionally weak opposition. Moreover, the allegations that a coup plot was being hatched within the Georgian military signals that Saakashvili cannot rely on support from the military, which blames him for dragging the country into the war with Russia.

Typically, the inner workings of Georgian politics have no geopolitical significance, since these affairs have more to do with personalities than shifts in alignment toward the West or Russia. But right now, everything that provides outsiders with opportunities to influence Tbilisi matters, because Georgia is the cornerstone of Russia’s foreign policy agenda toward the West and within the Caucasus. Georgia is Russia’s Achilles’ heel as Moscow attempts to re-establish its influence in all corners of the former Soviet region and create a geographic buffer between Russia and other global powers.

But Georgia’s relevance as that cornerstone is now being tested: Dynamics in the rest of the Caucasus region are shifting for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Turkey, a key member of NATO, is moving to normalize relations with Armenia, Georgia’s neighbor to the south. And that means that the three small states in the Caucasus — Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia itself — are re-evaluating their allegiances to NATO and Russia. Armenia, a Russian ally, is negotiating with Turkey; Azerbaijan, Turkey’s brother nation, is turning to Russia; and Turkey is balancing its relationship with all parties involved. If they could hold Armenia, balance Turkey and reconnect with Azerbaijan, the Russians would not need to worry about what happens with Georgia, which would be locked into the Soviet sphere by default.

And that brings us full circle to the sense of deja vu involving Russia and Georgia: namely, Moscow once again dominating Tbilisi. From the outside, all the circumstances today appear similar to those of August 2008, but upon closer inspection, Georgia is dealing with two other significant and destabilizing trends. Georgia has never been a stable country. Traditionally, it has faced challenges stemming either from Russia, from domestic political tensions or from its neighbors in the Caucasus — but never from all three at once.

The redefinition of Georgia is taking place, and forces largely beyond its control are remaking Tbilisi’s role in the region.
27565  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: May 07, 2009, 11:06:53 AM

China has chosen short-term responses to the global economic crisis. While these may buy Beijing time, they only delay — and possibly undermine — real structural change. And that could portend a bigger Chinese crisis in the coming years.

China registered 6.1 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the first quarter of 2009, down from the 6.8 percent growth rate for the fourth quarter of 2008. While this may appear fairly robust compared to the 6.1 percent decline in GDP registered in the United States for the same quarter (a number that was a slight improvement over the 6.3 percent decline in the fourth quarter of 2008), comparing these numbers is not comparing apples to apples. The United States, along with many other countries, notes GDP changes from quarter to quarter (the Q1 number is in comparison to the preceding Q4), whereas China counts changes year on year (Q1 is in comparison to the previous Q1).

By some estimates, as measured comparable to the U.S. system of accounting, China’s economy sunk to zero growth in Q4 2008, or even went negative — and that decline continued into Q1 2009. But even looking just at the year-to-year numbers, Chinese economists have quietly admitted that at least 4 percentage points of their growth figure are attributable to government stimulus monies, and that economic growth was really in the 1 or 2 percent range, far below government targets. Other observers of Chinese statistics agree with the 4 or so percentage points attributable to stimulus, but also suggest that some 2 or 3 percentage points are also exaggerations reported up the chain from lower levels of the bureaucracy to avoid falling too short of central government expectations, meaning that growth again was at zero or negative in the first quarter.

Amid a global economic crisis, even zero percent growth is not all that bad. But it is a significant problem for the Chinese leadership, which has placed excessive importance on the specific growth numbers, in part due to concern that a flagging economy could stir social instability and in part due to Communist Party legitimacy being linked to economic growth these days.

Beijing’s response has been a reversion to the tried-and-true methods of:

supporting export industries,
encouraging, via rewards or threats, the maintenance of employment levels by companies (even if this is unprofitable, contributes to overproduction, and delays or avoids the weeding out of the weak and inefficient in the Chinese economy), and
large-scale state spending (directly from government coffers or indirectly through a loan surge from major state-backed banks) designed to boost infrastructure development and underwrite a rise in domestic consumption of large items like automobiles and major appliances.
These measures may give Beijing some control over China’s looming unemployment problem, which is something officials fear but are still far behind in addressing, with social security and health care initiatives still largely in the formative stages, rather than well developed in preparation for the combination of a sustained economic slowdown and an aging population. But Beijing largely has stalled or reversed initiatives from the past several years that were designed to reform the economy into a less redundant, more efficient and flexible system better able to adapt to global change. In short, China’s short-term solutions to the global economic crisis are buying time, but they are delaying, if not undermining, real structural change. And that could portend a bigger Chinese crisis in the coming years.

The Chinese Bank Spending Spree
In the first quarter of 2009, Chinese banks went on a massive state-mandated lending spree. The so-called big three — the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the China Construction Bank (CCB) and the Bank of China (BOC) — issued some 4.58 trillion yuan ($670 billion) in new loans during that quarter. Much of this purportedly was issued for major infrastructure projects as part of the government’s $586 billion stimulus package, though anecdotal reports suggest much went to state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The SOEs may have used the loans for market speculation, paying off earlier loans or maintaining payroll during the economic downturn rather than spending capital improvements and efficiency programs.

The first-quarter loans accounted for more than 90 percent of the initial government yearly loan targets, prompting concerns that after the initial flood of loans, liquidity would dry up for the rest of the year. But Chinese officials have now said new loans will not stop at the 5 trillion yuan (about $732 billion) target, and it has been suggested that total lending may be closer to 8 trillion or 9 trillion yuan (about $1.1 trillion or $1.3 trillion) for the year, and initial estimates put April new lending at 400 billion to 600 billion yuan (about $58 billion to $87 billion).

While lending has helped Chinese companies maintain employment levels during the economic slowdown, it also brings about renewed risks to the Chinese banking sector and undermines earlier nascent moves to try to drive Chinese businesses to be more profitable and efficient rather than to rely on state bailouts and loans to stay afloat. As the big three were issuing record quantities of new loans in the first quarter, their net profits were falling; the CCB reported an 18.2 percent decline for the quarter, and the BOC reported a 14.1 percent decline. Only the ICBC reported a net growth in profits (of some 6.2 percent), but according to the bank, this was due to a significant hike in fees and a dip in operating costs.

For each of the big three, loan interest makes up by far the bulk of operating income (79.5 percent for the ICBC, 77.5 percent for the CCB and 73 percent for the BOC). And the banks are noting narrowing margins on loan interest as the cause for their net profit declines. It is also likely that hidden within these numbers is a growing problem of loan repayment, particularly given reports of thousands of companies that have been shutting their doors since the fourth quarter of 2008 or turning unprofitable in the current economic environment.

While the lending spree is designed to give the economy a boost and maintain a system flush with liquidity to avoid the U.S.-style economic crunch, it is also increasing the risks of nonperforming loans (NPLs). This risks weakening the banks, which already were bailed out more than a decade ago to the tune of some $325 billion in transfer of bad debt to asset management corporations, thus cleaning the banks’ balance sheets.

It also reduces the pressure on Chinese companies (particularly state-owned companies) to reform their business practices and become more efficient and profitable rather than rely on government loans and incentives to operate. In addition, with most loans targeting state firms, China’s private companies remain on the back burner. This is another reversal of earlier initiatives to push for a greater role for the private sector aimed at making the system more susceptible to market forces, and thus more likely to weed out inefficient and outdated companies.

Avoiding the Oversupply Issue
One issue the government keeps coming back to (and keeps running away from just as quickly) is the massive oversupply of production in certain sectors of the Chinese economy. Much of the Chinese economy is made up of redundant, small, inefficient production facilities, the remnants of the old Mao-era encouragement of self-sufficient provinces and cities. Many of these redundancies remain because while inefficient on a national scale, they still provide employment, tax revenues and economic output numbers for the provincial and local officials. Few are willing to see their local industries shuttered to satisfy a national need to become more streamlined and efficient for the long run.

The new pressures building on China’s banks could not come at a worse time. In the mid-1990s, the run-up of bad debt was beginning to cause significant problems for the Chinese financial sector, and a bailout program was launched in 1999. The government took mounds of bad loans from the Chinese state banks, transferring them to new firms called asset management corporations (AMCs). In exchange, the AMCs issued bonds worth the full face value of the NPLs back to the banks, despite the fact that the NPLs were worth — at most — one-third of that. In one wave of the accounting wand, the state banks went from being anchored down by dud assets to being flush with cash.

Those bonds provided a huge boost to the banks’ balance sheets, as they were backed by China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, and so were as good as cash when determining how healthy the institutions were. This made the Chinese banks rather attractive with their initial public offerings, gaining foreign investment and expertise and limiting competition in the Chinese banking sector as it opened due to World Trade Organization regulations.

But the NPLs were never disposed of. These AMCs were supposed to follow the model of previous “bad bank” programs, disposing of the bad debt by forcing indebted firms to pay up or — if push came to shove — liquidating the firms for whatever salvageable assets might be sold off to pay the debt. But closing firms down, obviously, would mean adding to the ranks of the unemployed. So the AMCs instead simply held the bad debt — for 10 years — while the state banks used their shiny new cash-equivalent bonds to issue even more loans.

As 2009 rolls on, this strategy is coming back to haunt the government. The NPL bonds are structured so that the AMCs only need to pay interest, not principle and interest as with normal bonds. With the bond rates at approximately 2 percent, this has been a barely manageable task. (Remember, the AMCs have been disposing of very few actual dud companies, so their income has been tiny, though supplemented by some good assets also transferred at the time of their creation.) But all of the bonds in question are 10-year bonds, with the entire value of the principle due around the end of the year. Because very few NPLs actually have been disposed of, and because NPLs generally are worth less than one-third of their face value, the only way these bonds could be redeemed would be if the Ministry of Finance doled out the cash itself. After all, the AMCs were designed to do little more than simply hold the loans, not actually rehabilitate them.

When the Chinese economy was growing at double-digit rates, the banks could stay ahead of the potential problem of NPLs. But with the economy effectively stalling at the same time banks are being asked to significantly increase the issuance of new loans, a major problem may be brewing. This means one of three things has to happen:

The banks will have to write off these bonds, seeing a massive drop in their balance sheets.
The Ministry of Finance will have to step in and recapitalize.
The bonds will be rolled over, pushing the problem further out in the hopes that it either simply goes away or that the Chinese economy will have grown enough by that time to simply absorb the losses.
With the latter choice the most likely, and with the addition of some 5 trillion - 9 trillion yuan in new loans this year (with questionable performance on much of it), the Chinese are heading toward another future banking crisis. And the flight of foreign investors from Chinese banks certainly will not help this crisis.

In short, like many others, the Chinese are using short-term measures to deal with the current economic downturn. But these measures not only are building in renewed risks (like the compounding NPL problems), they also are reversing the small steps toward economic reform necessary for more stable and continued Chinese economic development. The government was able to boost domestic consumption in the first quarter of 2009, but this was primarily through coupons and incentives focused mainly on rural purchases of large appliances and automobiles. These are not sustainable efforts. Many Chinese economists have criticized the moves as building new dangers as rural consumers spend their meager savings on big-ticket items, leaving them with a car and refrigerator but no job or health insurance.

A Missed Opportunity
The surge in bank lending to Chinese companies, both for infrastructure projects and to cover old loans and payroll, also is not sustainable, particularly as bank profits fall, margins thin and the risk of a new surge in bad loans rises. And the strength of the Chinese economy remains undermined by allowing weak companies to be kept alive through loans and government incentives. The debate in Beijing is whether the financial crisis has offered China the opportunity to fundamentally make its economic system more profitable, efficient and able to adapt to changes in market forces, or whether the crisis is another moment when the government needs to do what it can to shore up the old system.

Beijing has chosen the latter path, which it deems less socially destabilizing, and thus greater government involvement in the economy will be expected. But the pent-up pressures on the Chinese economy, and on the Chinese leadership, are likely to be worse in the long run. And with the economy unlikely to return to double-digit growth anytime soon (if at all), the day of reckoning may come sooner rather than later.
27566  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Henninger on: May 07, 2009, 11:02:55 AM
The Republican Party's unending tale of woe sounds like a friend's account of sitting through the New York Yankees' 22-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians at the new Yankee Stadium April 18.

In the 14-run second inning, three Indians hit home runs into the right-field seats, including a grand-slam. One ball hit a woman in the head because the fans had stopped watching the game. A nasty fight broke out in the stands. After the fourth inning (16-2), the subway trains taking Yankee faithful back to Manhattan were packed. Republicans know the feeling.

Rookie President Barack Obama has been pounding policy after policy through the Republicans' hapless defense. His approval is out of the park. He's teeing up his first Supreme Court appointment. Al Franken -- in a "say-it-ain't-so" moment if ever there was one -- is close to giving the Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority. And Republican voters are heading for the exits, with a puny 31% willing to tell a pollster they belong to the party.

During downturns in sports, three rules of thumb are: Don't panic, stay within your game, play to your strengths. This being politics, the Republicans naturally are violating all three.

Should Republicans return to Reaganism? Daniel Henninger explains. (May 7)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made headlines last weekend suggesting it's time for the party to get over its glory days: "I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [GOP] messaging. I mean, it's great, but it doesn't draw people toward your cause." Joyful Democratic bloggers put this more clearly in five tight words: GOP Needs to Forget Reagan.

Is this true?

The answer to that historic question is an apt subject this week as the GOP, looking for a path from the wilderness, says farewell at National Cathedral tomorrow to Jack Kemp, who remained a Reaganite to the end.

Jack Kemp, anyone who spent time around him will tell you, stayed on message. That message, like Reagan's, had a number of parts, but it is not possible to even guess how many times Jack Kemp summarized his explanations of that message in three words: "Work, save and invest." Republicans should think hard about building a governing philosophy on the foundation of those three words, ideas that most voters understand.

The full Kemp phrase, of course, was "incentives to work, save and invest." Those incentives were to be the result of a government willing to admit the social benefits of modesty -- in taxation and regulation of the economy. For now, the American public has elected an immodest government. This government says that circumstance forced it to spend $787 billion on stimulus. Its $3.5 trillion fiscal year 2010 budget, however, will by choice take spending to 25% of GDP next year.

Listen to Daniel Henninger's Wonder Land column, now available in audio format.
Last weekend, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor began a GOP "listening tour." What's to hear? People want what they always want: a job that will let them build a life and family. What they want from Republicans is leadership toward that goal.

Today Mr. Obama releases the details of his $3.5 trillion budget, his path to the same goal. Rather than drown as usual in this accounting morass, Republicans should contrast the Obama-Pelosi budget with the Reagan-Kemp philosophy of how a striving nation works, saves and invests.

Republicans can start by taking the time to read the first Obama budget document, "A New Era of Responsibility." The word "investment" occurs over 140 times in its 142 pages. But this "investment" isn't private capital invested in private start-ups, what Mr. Kemp constantly called "entrepreneurial capitalism" and what most parents hope their children will join. Mr. Obama's document genuflects to "the market economy," then argues that it won't endure unless we "sacrifice" (through tax increases) to make "overdue investments" (which literally only means public spending) on four explicit goals: green energy, infrastructure, public health care, and education.

This calls to mind the way Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry guided that economy from 1949 to 2001. The Obama-Rattner strategy for GM and Chrysler -- a rescue if the companies agree to the government's desire to build more small "green" cars, presumably sold with a large tax credit -- is industrial policy. Why be postwar Japan?

It is not conceivable that a Reagan or Kemp would have directed the U.S. economy's legendary energies into building hybrid cars, windmills and bullet trains. It would not have occurred to them that America's next Silicon Valley -- Apple, Intel and Oracle -- could grow out of "investments" listed in the federal budget. This would not have occurred to either man because their politics were rooted in the 300-year-old, singularly American tradition of individuals freely deciding how to spend their productive hours and money inside a public system that mainly provides security and safety.

Mr. Obama won the election and deserves time to see what his vision adds to the nation's productive life. If while it awaits that, the Republican Party can't renew what Reagan and Kemp gave them, its listening tour could last a very long time.
27567  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO broke it, now he owns it on: May 07, 2009, 10:41:32 AM
second post of the morning

On his second day in office, President Obama ordered the Pentagon to mothball Guantanamo within one year, purportedly to reclaim the "moral high ground." That earned applause from the anti-antiterror squadrons, yet it is now causing all kinds of practical and political problems in what used to be known as the war on terror.

 This mess grew even more chaotic this week, when Democrats refused the Administration's $50 million budget request to transfer some of the remaining 241 Gitmo detainees to a prison likely to be somewhere in the U.S. and perhaps to a new one built with taxpayer dollars. "What do we do with the 50 to 100 -- probably in that ballpark -- who we cannot release and cannot try?" Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently asked Congress.

The best answer is Gitmo. But the antiwar left wants terrorists treated like garden-variety criminals in the civilian courts or maybe military courts martial. The not-so-minor problem is that even states that send leftists to Congress don't want to host Gitmo-II. Think California, where Alcatraz could be an option. The abandoned San Francisco Bay prison has Gitmo's virtue of relative isolation -- but Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, claims it is a national treasure. The terrorist-next-door problem is also rising to a high boil in Kansas politics, given that Fort Leavenworth is being eyed too.

More urgently, the Administration risks losing all control once enemy combatants set foot on formal U.S. soil, which the courts could determine entitles the terrorists to the same Constitutional protections as U.S. citizens. One federal judge has already ordered that 17 detainees -- the Uighurs, a Chinese ethnic minority -- be released domestically. Another judge has ruled that the Supreme Court's 5-4 Boumediene decision, which granted detainees the right to file habeas petitions in U.S. courts, extends to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where the military is holding three times as many prisoners as Guantanamo.

In his Boumediene dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts indicted the majority's "set of shapeless procedures to be defined by federal courts at some future date," and was he ever right. How will judges prevent the public disclosure of classified material? What about Miranda rights, or evidence obtained under battlefield conditions?

Such questions nearly scuttled the Justice Department's case against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, which flamed out last week with a sentence of only 15 years. According to the plea agreement, al-Marri entered the U.S. on September 10, 2001 on orders from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to begin research on chemical weapons and potential targets. Prosecutors were hampered by the possibility of disclosing intelligence sources and methods, as well as (yet another) political flare-up about interrogation and detention.

For these reasons and more, the Obama Administration has done a 180-degree turn on George W. Bush's military commissions. Mr. Obama called this meticulous legal process "an enormous failure" during his campaign and suspended it when he cashiered Gitmo, but now Mr. Gates says it is "still very much on the table." The Administration may soon announce that it will be reactivated, with a few torques to the rules of secrecy and evidence to attempt to appease the human-rights lobby.

The hardest Gitmo cases are those prisoners who are known to be dangerous or were actively involved in terror networks but haven't committed crimes per se. Others involve evidence that is insufficient for successful prosecutions but sufficient enough to determine that release or transfer would pose a grave security risk. Many of these detainees are Yemeni, and the Yemeni government is demanding that Washington repatriate them.

That would be an unmitigated disaster, whatever Yemen's promises of rehabilitation. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently reported that Yemen "is re-emerging as a jihadist battleground and potential regional base of operations for al Qaeda to plan internal and external attacks, train terrorists and facilitate the movement of operatives."

Terror groups have conducted some 20 attacks on U.S. or Western targets in Yemen, the most recent in September against the U.S. embassy, which killed six guards and four civilians. The recidivism rate of those detainees who the military has judged to be good candidates for release from Gitmo is already high, and the danger for the 90 or so Yemenis and others ought to be unacceptable.

Which brings us back to Gitmo's new location, if it ever gets one. Since 1987, the political system has been deadlocked over burying a negligible amount of nuclear waste deep within a remote mountain in Nevada, so it's hard to imagine how it will deal with a terrorist problem that is far more -- how to put it? -- radioactive. Safe to say that any new setting will not be in a 2012 swing state, and you don't have to be a cynic to wonder if it will have two Republican Senators. Mr. Obama could have avoided this mess had he kept his Gitmo options open, but to adapt a famous phrase, the President broke Guantanamo so now he owns the inmates.
27568  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Adams on: May 07, 2009, 09:22:14 AM
"t is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand....The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty."

--John Adams, letter to Zabdiel Adams, 21 June 1776

"If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave." --John Adams
27569  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: May 07, 2009, 09:05:30 AM
"Permanently expand the federal government by nearly 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over pre-recession levels;"

Huge deal that this is, I believe it understates the number-- and we need to remember that health care is about 15% of GDP.  Put the two together and we are looking at the feds being about 40% of GDP. angry

Our freedom,  our economy, our currency (i.e. our savings) are being destroyed before our very eyes.  cry cry cry
27570  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 06, 2009, 11:44:43 PM
 shocked angry shocked angry shocked angry

This is our CiC?  We are so fcuked , , ,
27571  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yale and our GM team up? on: May 06, 2009, 11:28:03 PM
  Well, this could be interesting.  Our GM and Yale Law Review on the same side?!?
27572  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: May 06, 2009, 05:23:15 PM
WASHINGTON -- New federal greenhouse gas emission regulation could expose a raft of smaller emitters to litigation, a nominee for a key post in the Environmental Protection Agency told lawmakers Thursday.

The potential for smaller emitters to be regulated under the Clean Air Act is one reason why business groups warn that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases could create a cascade of legal and regulatory challenges across a much broader array of sectors. The Obama administration has said that isn't their intent.

Regina McCarthy, nominated to be EPA's Director of Air and Radiation, told lawmakers that even while the government has flexibility in setting the threshold of emitting facilities to be regulated, she acknowledges the risk of lawsuits to challenge those levels for smaller emitters. Ms. McCarthy's office is responsible for drafting federal emission rules.

Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) has put a hold on Ms. McCarthy's nomination in part because of her responses on the greenhouse gas issue.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA is moving forward to declare greenhouse gas emissions a danger to public health and welfare, which will trigger new rules once finalized. The EPA says that only around 13,000 of the largest emitters, such as refiners, smelters and cement plants would likely be regulated.

Many legal experts say that based on clear Clean Air Act statutes, however, regulations could be applied to any facility that emits more than 100-250 tons a year, including hospitals, schools and farms. Taken in aggregate, farm animals are major greenhouse gas sources because of methane and nitrous oxide emissions from flatulence, belching and manure. Buildings often emit greenhouse gases from internal heating or cooling units.

"It is a myth … EPA will regulate cows, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Huts, your lawnmower and baby bottles," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said earlier this year, dismissing concerns raised by groups such as the Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers.

But in responses to a senator's questioning, Ms. McCarthy acknowledged that legal suits could be brought against small emitters.

Asked how she would protect smaller sources against suits, Ms. McCarthy said she would talk with the litigants: "I will request that I be informed if any such notice is filed with regards to a small source, and I will follow-up with the potential litigants."

Bill Kovacs, the head of environment and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, "There's no way she can talk to the litigants and control them." By the Chamber's estimate, there are 1.5 million facilities -- such as large office buildings that have their own boilers -- that produce over the 250-ton limit.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, says her group is prepared to sue for regulation of smaller emitters if the EPA stops at simply large emitters.

27573  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Civilians? killed on: May 06, 2009, 04:30:47 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Red Cross confirmed that "dozens" of Afghan civilians were killed in American airstrikes earlier this week, casting a pall over a high-profile summit between President Barack Obama and the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Red Cross said that women and children were among the dead in the western Afghan village of Granai. U.S. and Afghan forces in the area have been battling the Taliban militants who regularly ambush Afghan soldiers and police and execute local civilian officials.

American military officials in Kabul acknowledged that U.S. forces had been fighting in the village and said a joint U.S.-Afghan team traveled there Wednesday to begin investigating the incident.

In a statement, the Red Cross said that many of the dead civilians had been buried by the time its investigators made it to the village, making it impossible for the aid group to determine an exact casualty count.

"We know that those killed included an Afghan Red Crescent volunteer and 13 members of his family," the head of the Red Cross team in Kabul, Reto Stocker, said. "We are deeply concerned by these events."

Washington Asserts Loyalty to Pakistan's Zardari Collapse of Pakistan Truce Worsens Refugee Crisis Afghan officials in Kabul said the death toll was at least 90 and could ultimately exceed 100. If those estimates prove accurate, the airstrike would be one of the bloodiest incidents since the start of the war in 2001.

Reports of the high civilian death toll in Granai threatened to overshadow the summit meetings here. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in Washington for the meetings, said the deaths were "unjustifiable and unacceptable" and promised to push Mr. Obama to take concrete steps to reduce the numbers of civilian casualties from American military operations.

Capt. Elizabeth Matthias, a spokeswoman for the American command in Kabul, said the incident began Monday when Taliban militants publicly executed three local government officials.

She said that Afghan security forces traveled to the village to investigate the incident and apprehend those responsible, only to come under attack by well-armed fighters. Fearful of being overrun and wiped out by the militants, the Afghans radioed for help to nearby U.S. forces, she said.

Capt. Matthias said an American quick response force went to the area, but was also attacked by the Taliban. The American troops called in airstrikes on locations believed to house the fighters taking part in the hours-long gun battle, she said.

The joint American-Afghan team investigating the incident will remain in the area at least through Thursday, she said.

The mounting civilian death toll from American airstrikes has stirred public anger in Afghanistan and caused a rift between Afghan and American officials.

Last year, Afghan officials said 90 civilians died in a U.S. strike on the village of Azizabad. The U.S. command initially denied that any civilians died, and then later acknowledged that 33 Afghans had been killed. The United Nations confirmed the higher death toll, and Afghan officials accused the U.S. of a whitewash.

At meetings Wednesday with top Afghan and Pakistani officials, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed "my personal regret and certainly the sympathy of our administration" for the killing of any civilians in Afghanistan. Though she emphasized the U.S. still did not know all the circumstances, she vowed to conduct a joint investigation with the Afghan government of civilian deaths.

"Any loss of life, any loss of innocent life, is particularly painful," Ms. Clinton said, sitting between Mr. Karzai and Pakistani President Asef Ali Zardari. "I want to convey, to the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, that, you know, we will work very hard, with your governments and with your leaders, to avoid the loss of innocent civilian life. And we deeply, deeply regret that loss."

In Afghanistan Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived to talk to the troops, the Associated Press reported. Mr. Gates was scheduled to be in the country for two days. He planned to get a ground-level view of what U.S. troops need as they continue to push the Taliban south and try to stop extremists from crossing into the country over the Pakistan border.

"We have a new policy, a new strategy, a new ambassador, and we have a lot of new troops going into the area, and I just want to go out and see for myself how they're doing," Mr. Gates told reporters in Saudi Arabia Wednesday afternoon, shortly before flying to Afghanistan.
27574  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Egypt on: May 06, 2009, 02:57:38 PM
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors discovered traces of highly enriched uranium, a fuel that can be used to make nuclear weapons, at a site in Egypt, according to excerpts of a report by the U.N. agency.

Details of the finding, which the United Nations nuclear watchdog made up to two years ago, were contained in an annual report on worldwide activities of IAEA inspectors. The report was released to members of the IAEA board of governors on Tuesday. Excerpts were seen by the Wall Street Journal.

A Vienna-based diplomat familiar with the report's findings said traces of highly enriched uranium isotopes were found in separate samples of dust particles collected on a routine basis by agency inspectors in 2007 and 2008, at the Inshaf nuclear research facility in Egypt.

News of the discovery comes as the international community is using U.N. sanctions in an attempt to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear fuel program, due to concerns over a potential nuclear arms race in the region.

Egyptian officials told IAEA inspectors the contamination was likely carried onto the site on equipment purchased outside Egypt. IAEA inspectors are investigating the source of the isotopes, and have yet to verify the source, the report says.

An IAEA spokesman said agency officials were not authorized to comment on the findings, which have not yet been made public. A spokeswoman for the Egyptian mission to the United Nations in New York declined to comment.

Isotopes usually remain for decades or longer on equipment and at sites where nuclear material is created or stored. The U.N. agency maintains a detailed database of isotope samples that often allows inspects to trace isotopes to the reactor or site where they were created.
27575  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our CiC in action on: May 06, 2009, 02:46:30 PM;_ylt=AjLyfz0gzHuivv1xnyC693KWwvIE;_ylu=X3oDMTExdWh0MTF0BHBvcwMxNARzZWMDdG9vbHMtYm90dG9tBHNsawNwcmludA--

US plays down incident at sea with Chinese vessels

By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
Tue May 5, 1:09 pm ET

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon Tuesday played down a confrontation between Chinese vessels and one of its Navy surveillance ships, taking a decidedly more low-key tone than during similar incidents two months ago.
In what has become almost a routine cat-and-mouse game on the seas, there have been four incidents in the past month in which Chinese-flagged fishing vessels maneuvered too close to two unarmed ships crewed by civilians and used by the Pentagon to do underwater surveillance and submarine hunting missions, two defense officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss some of the incidents and details that the Pentagon has not yet released, adding that they fear such maneuvers are not just dangerous in themselves but could lead to escalated incidents.
The Pentagon did release a brief statement on the latest confrontation in which two Chinese fishing vessels came dangerously close — to within 30 yards — of the USNS Victorious Friday as it was operating in the Yellow Sea.
The Victorious crew sounded its alarm and shot water from its fire hoses to try to deter the vessels in an hour-long incident, one official said. The vessels didn't leave until the Victorious radioed a nearby Chinese military vessel for help, said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.
After incidents in March that included similar though apparently more aggressive Chinese maneuvers, the Pentagon protested to Beijing officials and issued a strong public statement calling the Chinese actions harassment.
But on Tuesday, Whitman declined to characterize what the Chinese vessels were trying to do, saying only that their actions were "unsafe and dangerous."
Asked why the tone of the U.S. statement was muted this time, he said: "We will be developing a way forward to deal with this diplomatically."
"USNS Victorious was conducting routine operations on Friday, May 1, in international waters in the Yellow Sea in accordance with customary international law, when two Chinese fishing vessels closed in on and maneuvered in close proximity to the Victorious," the Pentagon said in its statement. "The intentions of the Chinese fishing vessels were not known."
It said the Victorious radioed the WAGOR 17 Chinese government ship, which came and shined a light on one of the fishing vessels. Both of the fishing vessels then moved away.
"WAGOR 17 took positive steps, pursuant to their obligation under Article 94 of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, to ensure their flagged vessels navigate safely," the statement said.
Friday's incident followed others on Thursday, April 7 and April 8 in which Chinese-flagged fishing vessels approached too close to the Victorious and the USNS Loyal as they operated variously some 140 nautical miles, 185 miles and 200 miles off the coast of China, a defense official said privately.
In the first week of March, the Chinese over several days maneuvered vessels near Navy surveillance ships and sent aircraft to fly over them. In a particularly aggressive incident March 8, the Pentagon said, several Chinese ships surrounded the USNS Impeccable, coming within 25 feet and strewing debris in its path.
Those cases took place in a disputed band of water far off the Chinese coastline but within what Beijing considers a 200-mile economic zone under its control. The zone, under international law, gives a state certain rights over the use of natural resources there. That clashes with one of the cardinal principles of America's doctrine of ocean navigation — the right to unrestricted passage in international waters as long as vessels are not encroaching on the economic interests of the country they pass.
Associated Press writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.
27576  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe on: May 06, 2009, 02:43:42 PM

Armenian officials said May 5 that the country will not engage in upcoming NATO military drills in Georgia, joining several other countries that have declined to partake in the drills, most notably Latvia and Estonia. The two Baltic countries’ decision raises the question of NATO’s effectiveness in protecting its two smallest members.


Armenia announced May 5 that it will not take part in the upcoming NATO military exercises scheduled for May 6-June 1 in Georgia. Yerevan’s withdrawal makes it the sixth country to announce its absence from NATO’s drills — which will include more than 1,300 troops from 19 member countries and ally states — in addition to Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia, Estonia and Latvia. While most of these countries either hold strong political ties to Russia or are wary of angering Moscow and thus come as no surprise in missing the drills, it is the withdrawal of the two Baltic states — Estonia and Latvia — that is particularly unexpected and noteworthy.

The implications of the Baltic countries’ absence from the NATO exercises is symbolically significant. It shows that the two NATO members are making their own decision to opt out of the drills — exercises that they would normally be thrilled to be a part of to maintain their image as firmly in the Western camp. More importantly, their abstention goes against the idea of NATO providing an unflinching security blanket to all of its members, weakening the unity of the security bloc as well as the perception of NATO by outside powers.

Estonia and Latvia hold some of the most confrontational stances towards Moscow of all European countries. This is largely due to geography, as the two countries sit extremely close to Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, with no real terrain barriers to invasion and no strategic depth whatsoever. This vulnerability dates back to nearly a century of domination by the Kremlin, when the two states were republics of the former Soviet Union. Ethnically different from their past Russian rulers (Estonia is closely linked to Finland), the Baltics are deeply resentful of having been ruled with a strong hand by Moscow during the Soviet era.

When the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, Estonia and Latvia (along with their Baltic neighbor, Lithuania) were among the first countries to declare independence from Moscow in 1991. In 2004, the two Baltic states joined the European Union and, more significantly in their eyes, NATO (originally designed to counter Russia) to cement their place in the Western camp. The proximity to Russia and Moscow’s traditional dominance over the Baltic region meant that entering into a military alliance with the United States and Western Europe was a key imperative for Latvia and Estonia. Their entry into NATO, however, put the Western alliance at the doorstep of St. Petersburg and was perceived as a threat by the Kremlin, although the only NATO military presence thus far has been a small rotation of fighter jets from allied nations to monitor their airspace.

Latvia and Estonia’s animated opposition to Russian foreign policy is grounded in the very reasonable fear of being dominated by Moscow. Estonia’s population is about 1.3 million people, while Latvia’s is just more than 2 million — not even half the size of St. Petersburg. This fear was only exacerbated by Russia’s war with Georgia in the summer of 2008. Moscow’s resurgence has therefore only reinvigorated the Baltic States’ sense of dread that Russia’s return to prominence could put them in Kremlin’s sights in the very near future.

Membership in NATO is key for Estonia and Latvia because it gives them an actual lever against Moscow in a contest where it seems like the Kremlin holds all the levers on the Baltics. From significant Russian populations residing within their borders to cyberwarfare tactics being deployed in the two countries in 2007, Tallinn and Riga are extremely sensitive to Russian maneuvers, a fact the Kremlin is eager to exploit. Moscow also has started to deploy a force of 8,000 troops along the borders of the two countries as part of its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) force, specifically meant to counter NATO’s expansion plans.

What the two Baltic countries (Lithuania is held in a slightly different vein, as it does not actually border mainland Russia) did gain with their NATO membership were chances to make mainly symbolic moves against their former master, be it siding with Georgia in the Russo-Georgia war or expressing explicit support for U.S. plans to place ballistic missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. NATO membership, however, has not given much to the Baltic States in terms of concrete security. NATO members all pledge to aid allies in the event of an attack. However, the Baltic states have little else vis-a-vis the threat of Russia. Upholding the principle of alliance unity (and reminding their West European allies that Russia is indeed a threat) is therefore the key Latvian and Estonian foreign policy principle and a core national interest. As such, while the two countries have relatively tiny military forces, they would also participate in the number of NATO drills held every year, mainly out of solidarity with the Western military bloc.

But now even that has changed. Estonia and Latvia have been severely affected by the ongoing economic crisis, with both countries facing double-digit drops in gross domestic product forecast for 2009 (-10.1 percent and -13.1 percent, respectively) as a result of foreign capital flight and exports that are in free fall. Extreme social tension has set in as a result of the harsh economic realities, with both countries witnessing violent protests in January. In the meantime, the Latvian government collapsed early in 2009, and Riga has had to take out a $2.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Estonia’s government is set to face a vote of no confidence this week, and a similar loan from the IMF is likely later in 2009.

These conditions have caused Estonia and Latvia to temper their aggressive stance toward Russia. While the two countries are typically vocal and eager to take advantage of Russia’s weaknesses for media attention, they are now backing down as they realize their own positions are weak while Russia’s position is growing stronger. This explains Estonia’s and Latvia’s withdrawal from the NATO exercises, as they realize that their participation would be far more damaging to their relationship with Russia and that their financial situations would make joining in on the drills even more difficult. For these two countries, showing solidarity and support for Georgia makes a great deal of sense in theory (i.e., supporting in principal Georgia’s struggle against Russian influence). But it becomes increasingly hard to justify in practice when Russian influence is being felt in a real sense on their home turf.

During a time of immense security challenges posed by Russia and beyond, perception is key. Moreover, this is not an event that can easily be isolated, as the perception of unity is critical to alliances at all times — and has been a perennial issue for NATO.

27577  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO's Global tax on: May 06, 2009, 02:20:45 PM
President Obama revealed Monday that he's half a supply-sider. If only someone could explain to him the other half. We have a tax code, the President said, "that says you should pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, New York." That sounds like a great argument for lowering taxes on the guy creating jobs in Buffalo. Alas, that's not what he has in mind.

APSet aside that India is a poor example to make Mr. Obama's point, since its corporate tax rate on foreign-owned companies can be as high as 55%. The President's argument is that U.S. tax-deferral rules make it more expensive for American companies to reinvest overseas profits at home than abroad. This, he claims, creates a perverse incentive for companies to "ship jobs overseas" and reduces investment and job creation in the U.S.

He's right, except that his proposals would only compound the problem. His plan would limit the tax deferral on income earned abroad by tightening the rules, limiting allowable deductions and restricting eligibility for foreign-tax credits. This "solution" is antigrowth, job-destroying, protectionist and unlikely to raise the tax revenue Mr. Obama predicts. Other than that . . .

The current tax-deferral system is a clumsy attempt to deal with the fact that most other countries don't tax their companies' overseas profits. A German firm doing business in Ireland, say, pays no German income tax on its Irish profits, but it does pay Ireland's corporate income tax at its 12.5% rate. The U.S. company competing with that German business in Ireland, by contrast, pays Ireland the same 12.5% on its profits -- and it then pays Uncle Sam up to 35%, minus a credit for what it paid the Irish. And because almost everyone else's corporate tax rates are lower than America's (see nearby table), U.S. companies end up paying higher taxes than their international competitors.

 Congress long ago created the corporate tax deferral to compensate for this competitive disadvantage. Under deferral, a company doesn't have to pay the U.S. corporate rate until it repatriates its earnings. It can retain them overseas or reinvest them abroad with no penalty. But if it brings them home or pays them as dividends, the tax bill comes due.

The German company faces no such quandary. It pays the Irish tax, and it's free to invest that money in Ireland or Germany or anywhere else. This territorial tax system, embraced by most of the world, eliminates the perverse incentive to hold money abroad that America's deferral system creates. Adopting a territorial system would be the most obvious and simplest way to eliminate the distortion that tax deferral creates. Alternatively, Mr. Obama could lower the U.S. corporate tax rate to a level that is internationally competitive.

Yes, we know: Few major U.S. companies pay 35% of their profits in taxes because of the foreign tax-deferral and other deductions, credits and loopholes. But that's precisely why Mr. Obama should want to take the better path to corporate tax reform by reducing the rate and removing loopholes. America now has the worst of both worlds -- a high statutory rate and a tax code so riddled with complexity that it is both expensive to administer and inefficient at collecting revenue. And yet Mr. Obama's proposal to limit deferral only layers on the complexity.

In promoting its new global tax raid, the White House fingered the Netherlands, which it lumped with Ireland and Bermuda as "small, low-tax countries" that supposedly account for an outsize share of reported foreign profits of U.S. firms. The Dutch corporate tax rate is 25.5% -- which isn't even all that low by current European standards. And the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in that "small, low-tax country," according to the Dutch Embassy. Perhaps reducing American investment there and slamming the Netherlands as a tax haven is Mr. Obama's way of reaching out to friends and allies.

But the Netherlands won't be the only country hurt. The explicit goal of this plan is to reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to invest abroad, which Mr. Obama derisively calls "shipping jobs overseas." Foreign companies may relish the loss of U.S. corporate competitiveness that his proposal will bring in the short term. But in the long term, reducing U.S. investment globally will hurt everyone. And that investment is a two-way street -- the Netherlands is also the fourth-largest foreign investor in the U.S.

Some of Mr. Obama's advisers understand all this, but then their real goal isn't tax reform or U.S. competitiveness. It's a revenue grab, one made easier by the fact that overseas tax "avoidance" is easily demagogued. To that political end, Mr. Obama conflates tax deferral with the offshoring of jobs -- hence the sly reference to Bangalore, India. With trillions of dollars of new spending, the White House and Treasury are desperate for new tax sources to pay for it all.

But even as a revenue raiser, this is likely to fail. Fewer companies will keep their headquarters in the U.S., especially small or mid-sized firms that can slip away without becoming a political target. Those companies that can't flee will sooner or later demand relief from Congress, which will be happy to create even more loopholes.

If Mr. Obama's proposal has a silver lining, it is that he has embraced the principle that tax rates matter to investment decisions. If his new and short-sighted proposal becomes law, he and all Americans will discover just how much.
27578  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pirate Econ 101 on: May 06, 2009, 01:28:30 PM
Tuesday, 05 May 2009
JOURNAL: Guerrilla Entrepreneurs take to the seas

Back in 2004, I wrote quite a bit about the return of Guerrilla Entrepreneurs and how once they are established, their interactions will begin to create a bazaar-like dynamic. It's pretty clear the piracy situation off of Somalia is another example of this process in action (yet again)>
With this in mind, here's an excellent primer on venture financed piracy off the coast of Somalia. Link via NPR, Shlok and the research J. Pham over at James Madison University (who sounds like a global guerrilla strategist, welcome!).

... they actually found time sheets onboard the ship after the pirates had left. "We could see that there was a time sheet on a particular person who had been onboard and dates they had been onboard and so many dollars per day, and then a total sum on the time sheet," he says. The pirates, in effect, were clocking in and out.

From this and other ransom situations, here's a typical accounting for a piracy operation: About 20 percent goes to pay off officials who look the other way. About 50 percent is for expenses and payroll. The leader of an attack makes $10,000 to $20,000 (the average Somali family lives on $500 a year). The initial investor — who put in $250,000 of seed capital — gets 30 percent, sometimes up to $500,000.

Read more analysis on pirates.

Posted by John Robb on Tuesday, 05 May 2009 at 04:53 PM


A pirate with a time sheet is so disturbing... So much for them being unorganized opportunists, just looking for a little loot and respect.
Posted by: Matt | Tuesday, 05 May 2009 at 06:05 PM
27579  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / A Review of KT-1 on: May 06, 2009, 01:23:10 PM
27580  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on: May 06, 2009, 09:26:05 AM
"Distributive justice"?  WTF?

"If individuals be not influenced by moral principles; it is in vain to look for public virtue; it is, therefore, the duty of legislators to enforce, both by precept and example, the utility, as well as the necessity of a strict adherence to the rules of distributive justice."

--James Madison in response to Washington's first Inaugural address, 18 May 1789
27581  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Inner Plane on: May 06, 2009, 09:22:38 AM
The Inner Plane

By Tzvi Freeman
We balance two planes of being.

An outer world, in which we are helplessly carried down a stream and told, "Now is winter, soon will come spring, then summer, then autumn, then winter again. The unborn will live, the living will whither and die, a world will continue as it must be."

And an inner world, of which we are master. In which we choose that life will be life and death will have meaning and the world we enter and leave behind will be filled with purpose.

The outer world is but a stage. The inner world is its soul for which it was brought into being.
27582  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq on: May 06, 2009, 09:17:24 AM
I am  sitting here right now in a deep state of sadness.  I was  just speaking with "Mercury", the incredibly nice  woman from Basrah who is the house manager at the complex I stay at.  She was sitting at her laptop and  I noticed she had  a picture of a precious, beautiful young girl on the screen.  So I asked about her.  She  immediately became very misty eyed and said "that was my daughter.  She is gone now."  She must have read my thoughts, which were "oh my God,  what happened?"  She then said to me that her husband and her daughter "were killed by the Americans by mistake."  No anger.  No hatred.  She just sounded dead inside for that moment.  Her English is exceptional so there was no mistake in what she said.  I can now hear her through my door "happily" doing her usual  job.
How in God's name do you ever get over something like that?
These people have been through a lot of crap in the last 30 years.  Saddam's war against Iran.  The Gulf War and its aftermath.  Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The years of violence.  And frankly I fear within a year of our departure,  if  not sooner,  it will be on like Donkey Kong again.
27583  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: May 05, 2009, 10:02:54 PM
Indeed, an international scale because we are (not for much longer) the world's international currency so other countries print money to match our printing so as to maintain some sort of stability in exchange rates-- net result-- world wide inflation.  My guess is that stagflation cometh.  His Glibness may be Carter the Second.
27584  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Charles Murray on: May 05, 2009, 12:18:34 PM
Cross referencing this excellent read here:
27585  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Walter Williams on: May 05, 2009, 12:16:48 PM
"A civilized society's first line of defense is not the law, police and courts but customs, traditions and moral values. Behavioral norms, mostly transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings, represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. They include important thou-shalt-nots such as shalt not murder, shalt not steal, shalt not lie and cheat, but they also include all those courtesies one might call ladylike and gentlemanly conduct. The failure to fully transmit values and traditions to subsequent generations represents one of the failings of the so-called greatest generation. ... Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we've become." -

-George Mason University economics professor Walter E. Williams
27586  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Goldwater on: May 05, 2009, 12:15:06 PM
"How did it happen? How did our national government grow from a servant with sharply limited powers into a master with virtually unlimited power? In part, we were swindled. There are occasions when we have elevated men and political parties to power that promised to restore limited government and then proceeded, after their election, to expand the activities of government. But let us be honest with ourselves. Broken promises are not the major causes of our trouble. Kept promises are. All too often we have put men in office who have suggested spending a little more on this, a little more on that, who have proposed a new welfare program, who have thought of another variety of 'security.' We have taken the bait, preferring to put off to another day the recapture of freedom and the restoration of our constitutional system. We have gone the way of many a democratic society that has lost its freedom by persuading itself that if 'the people' rule, all is well." --former Arizona senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)
27587  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / stratfor on: May 05, 2009, 11:51:13 AM
May 4, 2009

By George Friedman

Related Special Topic Page
Swine Flu Outbreak 2009

Word began to flow out of Mexico the weekend before last of well over 150 deaths suspected to have been caused by a new strain of influenza commonly referred to as swine flu. Scientists who examined the flu announced that this was a new strain of Influenza A (H1N1) derived partly from swine flu, partly from human flu and partly from avian flu strains (although there is some question as to whether this remains true). The two bits of information released in succession created a global panic.

This panic had three elements. The first related to the global nature of this disease, given that flus spread easily and modern transportation flows mean containment is impossible. Second, there were concerns (including our own) that this flu would have a high mortality rate. And third, the panic centered on the mere fact that this disease was the flu.

News of this new strain triggered memories of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, sparking fears that the “Spanish flu” that struck at the end of World War I would be repeated. In addition, the scare over avian flu created a sense of foreboding about influenza — a sense that a catastrophic outbreak was imminent.

By midweek, the disease was being reported around the world. It became clear that the disease was spreading, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Phase 5 pandemic alert. A Phase 5 alert (the last step before a pandemic is actually, officially declared, a step that may be taken within the next couple of days) means that a global pandemic is imminent, and that the virus has proved capable of sustained human-to-human transmission and infecting geographically disparate populations. But this is not a measure of lethality, only communicability, and pandemics are not limited to the deadliest diseases.

‘Pandemic,’ not ‘Duck and Cover’

To the medical mind, the word “pandemic” denotes a disease occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population. The term in no way addresses the underlying seriousness of the disease in the sense of its wider impact on society. The problem is that most people are not physicians. When the WHO convenes a press conference carried by every network in the world, the declaration of a level 5 pandemic connotes global calamity, even as statements from experts — and governments around the world — attempt to walk the line between calming public fears and preparing for the worst.

The reason to prepare for the worst was because this was a pandemic with an extremely unclear prognosis, and about which reliable information was in short supply. Indeed, the new strain could mutate into a more lethal form and re-emerge in the fall for the 2009-2010 flu season. There are also concerns about how its victims disproportionately are healthy young adults under 45 years of age — which was reported in the initial information out of Mexico, and has been reported as an observed factor in the cases that have popped up in the United States. This was part of the 1918 flu pandemic pattern as well. (In contrast, seasonal influenza is most deadly among the elderly and young children with weaker immune systems.)

But as the days wore on last week, the swine flu began to look like little more than ordinary flu. Toward the end of the week, a startling fact began to emerge: While there were more than a hundred deaths in Mexico suspected of being caused by the new strain, only about 20 (a number that has increased slightly after being revised downward earlier last week) have been confirmed as being linked to the new virus. And there has not been a single death from the disease reported anywhere else in the world, save that of a Mexican child transported to the United States for better care. Indeed, even in Mexico, the country’s health minister declared the disease to be past its peak May 3. STRATFOR sources involved in examining the strain have also suggested that the initial analysis of the swine flu was in fact in error, and that the swine flu may have originated during a 1998 outbreak in a pig farm in North Carolina. This information reopens the question of what killed the individuals whose deaths were attributed to swine flu.

While little is understood about the specifics of this new strain, influenza in general has a definitive pattern. It is a virus that affects the respiratory system, and particularly the lungs. At its deadliest it can cause secondary infections — typically bacterial rather than viral — leading to pneumonia. In the most virulent forms of influenza, it is the speed with which complications strike that drives death rates higher. Additionally, substantively new strains (as swine flu is suspected of being) can be distinct enough from other strains of flu that pre-existing immunity gained from flus of years past does not help fend off the latest variation.

Influenza is not a disease that lingers and then kills people — save the sick, old and very young, whose immune systems are more easily compromised. Roughly half a million people (largely from these groups) die annually worldwide from more common strains of influenza, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pegging average American deaths at roughly 36,000 per year.

Swine flu deaths have not risen as would be expected at this point for a highly contagious and lethal new strain of influenza. In most cases, victims have experienced little more than a bad cold, from which they are recovering. And infections outside Mexico so far have not been severe. This distinction of clear cases of death in Mexico and none elsewhere (again, save the one U.S. case) is stark.

Much of what has occurred in the last week regarding the new virus reminds us of the bird flu scare of 2005. Then as now, the commonly held belief was that a deadly strain was about to be let loose on humanity. Then as now, many governments were heightening concerns rather than quelling them. Then as now, STRATFOR saw only a very small chance of the situation becoming problematic.

Ultimately, by the end of last week it had become clear to the global public that “pandemic” could refer to bad colds as well as to plagues wiping out millions.

A Real Crisis
The recent swine flu experience raises the question of how one would attempt to grapple with a genuine high-mortality pandemic with major consequences. The answer divides into two parts: how to control the spread, and how to deploy treatments.

The flu virus is widely present in two species other than humans, namely, birds and pigs. The history of the disease is the history of its transmission within and across these three species. It is comparatively easy for the disease to transmit from swine to birds and from swine to humans; the bird-to-human barrier is the most difficult to cross.

Cross-species influenza is of particular concern. In the simplest terms, viruses are able to recombine (e.g., human flu and avian flu can merge into a hybrid flu strain). What comes out can be a flu transmissible to humans, but with a physical form that is distinctly avian — meaning it fails to alert human immune systems to the intrusion. This can rob the human immune system of the ability to quickly recognize the disease and put up a fight.

New humanly transmissible influenza strains often have been found to originate in places where humans, pigs and/or fowl live in close proximity to each other — particularly in agricultural areas where animal and human habitation is shared or in which constant, close physical contact takes place.

Agricultural areas of Asia with dense populations, relatively small farms and therefore frequent and prolonged contact between species traditionally have been the areas in which influenza strains have transferred from animals to humans and then mutated into diseases transmissible by casual human contact. Indeed, these areas have been the focus of concern over a potential outbreak of bird flu. This time around, the outbreak began in Mexico (though it is not yet clear where the virus itself originated).

And this is key to understanding this flu. Because it appears relatively mild, it might well have been around for quite awhile — giving people mild influenza, but not standing out as a new variety until it hit Mexico. The simultaneous discovery of the strain amid a series of deaths (and what may now be in hindsight inflated concerns about its lethality) led to the recent crisis footing.

Any time such threats are recognized, they already are beyond containment. Given travel patterns in the world today, viruses move easily to new locations well before they are identified in the first place they strike. The current virus is a case in point. It appears, although it is far from certain, that it originated in the Veracruz area of Mexico. Within two days of the Mexican government having issued a health alert, it already had spread as far afield as New Zealand. One week on, cases completely unrelated to Mexico have already been confirmed on five continents.

In all probability, this “spread” was less the discovery of new areas of infection than the random discovery of areas that might have been infected for weeks or even months (though the obvious first people to test were those who had recently returned from Mexico with flu symptoms). Given the apparent mildness of the infection, most people would not go to the doctor. And if they did, the doctor would call it generic flu and not even concern himself with its type. What happened last week appears to have been less the spread of a new influenza virus than the “discovery” of places to which it had spread awhile ago.

The problem with the new variety was not that it was so deadly; had it actually been as uniquely deadly as it first appeared to be, there would have been no mistaking its arrival, because hospitals would be overflowing. It was precisely its mildness that sparked the search. But because of expectations established in the wake of the Mexico deaths, the discovery of new cases was disassociated from its impact. Its presence alone caused panic, with schools closing and border closings discussed.

The virus traveled faster than news of the virus. When the news of the virus finally caught up with the virus, the global perception was shaped by a series of deaths suddenly recognized in Mexico (as mentioned, deaths so far not seen elsewhere). But even as the Mexican Health Ministry begins to consider the virus beyond its peak, the potential for mutation and a more virulent strain in the next flu season looms.

As mentioned, viruses that spread through casual human contact can be globally established before anyone knows of it. The first sign of a really significant influenza pandemic will not come from the medical community or the WHO; it will come from the fact that people are catching influenza and dying, and are doing so all over the world at the same time. The system established for detecting spreading diseases is hardwired to be behind the curve. This is not because it is inefficient, but because no matter how efficient, it cannot block casual contact — which, given modern air transportation, spreads diseases globally in a matter of days or even hours.

Therefore, the problem is not the detection of deadly pandemics, simply because they cannot be missed. Rather, the problem is reacting medically to deadly pandemics. One danger is overreacting to every pandemic and thereby breaking the system. (As of this writing, the CDC remained deeply concerned about swine flu, though calm seems to be returning.)

The other danger is not reacting rapidly enough. In the case of influenza, medical steps can be taken. First, there are anti-viral medicines found to be effective against the new strain, and if sufficient stockpiles exist — which is hardly universally the case, especially in the developing world — and those stockpiles can be administered early enough, the course of the disease can be mitigated. Second, since most people die from secondary infection in the lungs, antibiotics can be administered. Unlike with the 1918 pandemic, the mortality rate can be dramatically reduced.

The problem here is logistical: The distribution and effective administration of medications is a challenge. Producing enough of the medication is one problem; it takes months to craft, grow and produce a new vaccine, and the flu vaccine is tailored every year to deal with the three most dangerous strains of flu. Another problem is moving the medication to areas where it is needed in an environment that maintains its effectiveness. Equally important is the existence of infrastructure and medical staff capable of diagnosing, administering and supporting patients — and doing so on a scale never before attempted.

These things will not be done effectively on a global basis. That is inevitable. But influenza, even at the highest death rates ever recorded for the disease, does not threaten human existence as we know it. At its worst, flu will kill a lot of people, but the human race and the international order will survive.

The true threat to humanity, if it ever comes, will not come from influenza. Rather, it will come from a disease spread through casual human contact, but with a higher mortality rate than flu and no clear treatment. While HIV/AIDS boasts an extraordinarily high mortality rate and no cure exists, it at least does not spread through casual contact as influenza does, and so the pace at which it can spread is limited.

Humanity will survive the worst that influenza can throw at it even without intervention. With modern intervention, its effect declines dramatically. But the key problem of pandemics was revealed in this case: The virus spread well before information on it spread. Detection and communication lagged. That did not matter in this case, and it did not matter in the case of HIV/AIDS, because the latter was a disease that did not spread through casual contact. However, should a disease arise that is as deadly as HIV, that spreads through casual contact, about which there is little knowledge and for which there is no cure, the medical capabilities of humanity would be virtually useless.

There are problems to which there are no solutions. Fortunately, these problems may not arise. But if they do, no amount of helpful public service announcements from the CDC and the WHO will make the slightest bit of difference.

27588  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fox in charge of hen house on: May 05, 2009, 11:15:53 AM
Obama: Govt. is hiring nearly 800 new IRS agents to enforce tax code
The Associated Press
05/04/09 12:20 PM
US President Barack Obama and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (L) deliver remarks on US tax reform in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, DC, May 4, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama vowed Monday to "detect and pursue" American tax evaders and go after their offshore tax shelters.

In announcing a series of steps aimed at overhauling the U.S. tax code, Obama complained that existing law makes it possible to "pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, New York. "

The president said he wants to prevent U.S. companies from deferring tax payments by keeping profits in foreign countries rather than recording them at home and called for more transparency in bank accounts that Americans hold in notorious tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

"If financial institutions won't cooperate with us, we will assume that they are sheltering money in tax havens and act accordingly," Obama said.

The president, who hammered on this issue during his long campaign for the White House, said at a White House event that his plan would generate $210 billion in new taxes over 10 years and "make it easier" for companies to create jobs at home. Over a decade, $210 billion would make a modest dent in a federal deficit expected to swell to $1.2 trillion in 2010.

Under the plan, companies would not be able to write off domestic expenses for generating profits abroad. The goal is to reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to base all or part of their operations in other countries.

He said the government also is hiring nearly 800 new IRS agents to enforce the U.S. tax code.

Congress is expected to resist significant portions of Obama's plan.

The administration is not seeking to repeal all overseas tax benefits. Obama called his proposal "a downpayment on the larger tax reform we need to make our tax system simpler and fairer and more efficient for individuals and corporations."

"Nobody likes paying taxes, particularly in times of economic stress," Obama said. "But most Americans meet their responsibilities because they understand that it's an obligation of citizenship, necessary to pay the costs of our common defense and our mutual well-being."

The current tax code, he said, makes it too easy for "a small number of individuals and companies to abuse overseas tax havens to avoid paying any taxes at all."

Obama said he was willing to make permanent a research tax credit that was to expire at the end of the year and is popular with businesses. Officials estimate that making the tax credits permanent would cost taxpayers $74.5 billion over the next decade.

But administration aides said 75 percent of those tax credits cover the cost of workers' wages.

Under existing laws, companies with operations overseas pay U.S. taxes only if they bring the profits back to the United States. If they keep the profits offshore, they can defer paying taxes indefinitely. Obama's plan, which would take effect in 2011, would change that.

Obama officials also said they would close a Clinton-era provision that would cost $87 billion over the next decade by letting U.S. companies "check the box" and treat international subsidiaries as mere branch offices. Officials said it was meant as a paperwork shortcut that is now a widely used and perfectly legal way to avoid paying billions in taxes on international operations.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Obama for the announcement. He said the proposals would end "indefensible tax breaks and loopholes which allow some companies and some well-off citizens to evade the rules that the rest of America lives by."

Geithner called them "common-sense changes designed to restore balance to our tax code."

The White House said that in 2004, multinational corporations enjoyed an effective tax rate of 2.3 percent in the United States because of such allowances. Aides said that was the most recent year available for analysis.

They said the situation was indefensible.
27589  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: May 05, 2009, 11:11:45 AM
May 4, 2009 | 1953 GMT
Related Special Topic Page
Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels
Swine Flu Update
The swine flu outbreak continued to dominate the Mexican government’s attention this past week as all nonessential businesses and government offices were ordered to close for five days in order to limit the potential spread of the virus.

The most recent information released by government health authorities states that the outbreak has reached its peak and entered a state of decline. While it is difficult to take that statement at face value, it sets the stage for a general resumption of government and economic activity throughout the country this coming week.

Tijuana Cops in the Crosshairs
Police in Tijuana, Baja California state, went on heightened alert this past week after a series of attacks in left seven officers dead and at least two wounded. The four attacks occurred within 45 minutes of each other during the evening of April 27, and began when a group of men armed with assault rifles opened fire on four police officers outside a convenience store, where the police had been called to investigate reports of a robbery. As the officers were exiting the building and heading to their patrol cars, an unknown number of assailants opened fire on them from several vehicles, killing all four officers.

Shortly thereafter, gunmen carried out three other attacks on police, killing two officers near their patrol car and one officer on a motorcycle. The final attack took place at a police building, where one officer died and another was wounded. It is unclear whether the attacks involved more than one team of assailants, though the reported timing of some of the incidents would have made it logistically difficult for one group to attack all of the targets, considering that each occurred in a different neighborhood.

While Tijuana consistently has been among the most violent cities in Mexico, the first few months of 2009 had shown a noticeable decline in violence, particularly regarding attacks on police. Before this past week, the number of officers killed in organized crime-related violence in the city was seven, which means the April 27 attack doubled the number of officers killed this year. It also means these attacks represent a significant event in terms of organized crime violence, and one that will have a meaningful impact on the city’s security situation, especially as it affects police morale. Officers already have reduced solo police patrols or required military escorts when venturing out into the city. Over the long term, these types of attacks have the potential to incite strikes and work stoppages, and could easily lead to increasing requests by city and state officials for additional federal resources.

Legalizing It?

Mexico’s congress approved a bill this past week that would decriminalize possession of personal-use quantities of illegal substances and open the door for state governments to pass and enforce laws aimed at combating retail-level drug dealing. Currently, all drug laws in Mexico are federal, and thus it falls to federal authorities to handle enforcement and prosecution. This bill, which was proposed by President Felipe Calderon, appears to be designed to reduce the burden on federal law enforcement and the attorney general’s office, which have become overwhelmed over the past few years by the country’s raging cartel war.

While Mexico’s federal police would certainly benefit from a reduced workload, it is not clear that this bill would have much real impact. It is important to recall that even though domestic drug consumption in Mexico appears to be gradually increasing, the country’s fundamental drug problem is still one of transshipment of wholesale quantities of drugs to the United States — one of the largest consumption markets in the world. Because of this, it is likely that the number of arrests and prosecutions potentially eliminated by this bill would be very low.

Click to view map

April 27

A police commander in Tenosique, Tabasco state, died when he was shot multiple times while driving to his home.
Four people traveling in a vehicle in Puerto Penasco, Sonora state, were shot to death by a group of assailants traveling in another vehicle.
The mutilated body of a man was found near a government building in Huatusco, Veracruz state.
One person died at an alleged cartel safe house in Uruapan, Michoacan state, when a group of gunmen fired and threw a fragmentation grenade inside.

April 28

Authorities in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, reported three separate organized crime-related homicides, including one man who was shot to death in the doorway of his home.
Authorities reported that one suspected drug grower was killed during a firefight with soldiers near Durango, Durango state.
A federal agent assigned to drug dealing cases was reported killed in Gomez Palacio, Durango state.

April 29

Authorities in Mexico City announced the arrest of Gulf cartel member Gregorio “El Goyo” Sauceda Gamboa in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state.
At least three people died in separate incidents in Tijuana, Baja California state, including a labor attorney who was shot to death in his office.
A police officer was reported to have been kidnapped while he was driving to work in Poanas, Durango state.
Authorities found the body of a police commander along a highway near Charo, Michoacan state. He had been shot multiple times.

April 30

The father of a Mexican baseball league player was reported kidnapped in Tijuana, Baja California state.

May 2

Acting on an anonymous tip, authorities found the bodies of five unidentified people in plastic bags below a bridge near Chilpancingo, Guerrero state. Officials suspect they had been dropped from the bridge.

May 3

The decomposing bodies of four unidentified people were found in shallow graves in Pilcaya, Guerrero state.
27590  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Attempted coup in Georgia on: May 05, 2009, 11:09:17 AM
Georgia: An 'Attempted Coup'
Stratfor Today » May 5, 2009 | 1244 GMT

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Georgian President Mikhail SaakashviliA number of Georgian troops — rumored to be a few tank battalions — staged a mutiny May 5 at a military base in Mukhrovani, approximately 12 miles outside of Tbilisi. According to reports, the mutiny began when soldiers at the base began disobeying orders.

Details are sketchy, though the Georgian Interior Ministry has deployed tanks and armored troops to the base to quell what the government is calling a “Russian backed coup.” Representatives from the Interior Ministry have said that a coup plot within this section of the military has been known for months and most of its leaders have already been arrested, while one leader — a special forces commander — remains at large.

But the government overall is already blaming Moscow, saying that the “rebellion appeared to be coordinated with Russia.” Moscow certainly does have an interest in instability inside Georgia at the moment, with the highly contested next phase of NATO exercises in Georgia set to begin May 6. Russia has already increased the pressure on its other former Soviet states who are participating in the exercises, and Kazakhstan has already pulled out. But its pressure on Georgia escalated as Russia moved its last batch of intended troops into Georgia’s separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the past two weeks, bringing the number of Russian troops on Georgian turf up to 7,500. But STRATFOR sources in Georgia have said that there is no word of those Russian troops actually moving into Georgia proper at this time — quelling rumors of another round of war.

Though this “attempted coup” at the Mukhrovani base does seem somewhat controlled by Georgian Interior Ministry forces, it is a clear sign of the much larger instability rumbling inside Georgia. STRATFOR had spoken of dissenters within the Georgian military who blame the president solely for giving the order for invading South Ossetia, prompting a war in which Russia got involved. But this dissent multiplied in April when the typically fractured opposition movement inside the country began to organize against Saakashvili, whom they blame for the war with Russia, holding mass protests across the country. Those protests have continued for over a month, though the number of protesters is smaller — approximately 15,000 — compared to the nearly 60,000 who hit the streets originally.

But STRATFOR said in April to carefully watch Georgia and to not expect a large, concerted coup against Saakashvili but a slowly building counter movement. Now the military is starting to dissent — though currently only a few thousand of the 21,000 active troops, it is yet another group that Saakashvili does not have under his control. The tides are building against Saakashvili, though the president holds firm to his post.

STRATFOR has been chronicling the Russian involvement in this counter movement against Saakashvili, and sources are saying that the Kremlin has funded the opposition movements in the past few months. At this moment, Russia has a clear interest in escalating the instability in the country with NATO staging very public exercises in Georgia and not heeding Russia’s warnings that this is indeed its turf. Now we need to continue keeping a close eye on the Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. While there may be no movement yet into Georgia proper, Moscow’s escalation is already being seen in other places.
27591  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: May 05, 2009, 11:04:31 AM

Now that its BO's war, I wonder if they will cheer this story, which the NYT happened to miss as well?
I got back from my R&R leave about two weeks ago and have already been in two firefights with the Taliban. One of them was pretty funny. We were about to enter a narrow pass and decided to test fire our machine guns and automatic grenade launcher on a mountain side, and I'll be damned, but there was an ambush set there. Evidently, the Taliban thought we had seen them and
started to run off the hill. Well at that point it was just engaging the enemy from about 200 meters. Fun for us, not so much for them.
27592  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Buchanan: Glimmers of Hope on: May 05, 2009, 11:00:34 AM
The mostly feeble and unprincipled Rep response to the explosion of liberal economic fascism continues to diminish the Rep's credibility with me.  That said, here's this from Buchanan.
Glimmers of Hope for the GOP
by  Patrick J. Buchanan


For conservatives fretful over the future of the party to which they have given allegiance, "How Barack Obama Won: A State by State Guide to the Historic 2008 Election" reads like something out of Edgar Allan Poe.

Co-authored by NBC's Chuck Todd, it is a grim tale of what happened to the GOP in 2008, and what the future may hold.

Yet, on second and third reads, one discerns, as did Gen. Wolfe's scouts 250 years ago, a narrow path leading up the cliff to the Plains of Abraham -- and perhaps victory in 2012. First, the bad news:

Obama raised the national share of the black vote to 13 percent, then swept it 95 percent to 4 percent. The GOP share of the Hispanic vote, now 9 percent of the electorate, fell from George W. Bush's 40 percent against John Kerry to 32 percent. Young voters ages 18 to 29 went for Obama 66 percent to 31 percent. And Obama ran stronger among white voters with a college education than did either Al Gore or Kerry.

 Put starkly, the voting groups growing in numbers -- Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, folks with college degrees, the young -- are all trending Democratic, while the voters most loyal to the GOP -- white folks and religious conservatives -- are declining as a share of the U.S. electorate. And demography is destiny.

Other grim news: As noted here recently, 18 states and Washington, D.C., with 247 electoral votes -- all New England save New Hampshire; New York and New Jersey; the mid-Atlantic states, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland; Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota; the three Pacific Coast states plus Hawaii -- have all gone Democratic in all of the last five presidential elections. And John McCain lost every one of them by double digits.

In this Slough of Despond, where is the hope?

Despite all of the above, John McCain, two weeks after the GOP convention, thanks to the surge in energy and enthusiasm Sarah Palin brought to the ticket, was running ahead of Obama.

It was the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the crash and the panic that ensued, which McCain mishandled, that lost him all the ground he never made up. Had the crash not occurred, the election might have been much closer than seven points, which in itself is no blowout.

Second, an astonishing 75 percent of voters thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Obama won these voters 62 percent to 36 percent. But if the country is seen as headed in the wrong direction in 2012, it will be Obama's albatross.

Third, only 27 percent of voters approved of Bush's performance as of Election Day; 71 percent disapproved. Only Harry Truman had a lower rating, 22 percent, and Democrats were also wiped out in Washington in 1952.

Here is Todd's dramatic point: "With the single exception of Missouri, which barely went for McCain, Obama won every state where Bush's approval rating was below 35 percent in the exit polls, and he lost every state where Bush's approval was above 35 percent."

Obama rode Bush's coattails to victory. Had Bush been at 35 percent or 40 percent, McCain might have won. But, in 2012, Obama will not have Bush to kick around anymore.

On candidates' qualities, the situation looks even rosier for the GOP. In 2008, no less than 34 percent of the electorate said that the most important consideration in a candidate was that he be for "change."

Obama was the "change candidate." He patented the brand, and he carried this third of the nation 89 percent to 9 percent.

But in 2012, Obama cannot be the candidate of change. That title will belong to his challenger, the Republican nominee. Obama will be the incumbent, the candidate of continuity.

The second most critical consideration of voters in choosing a president was "values." No less than 30 percent of the electorate said this was their primary consideration in voting for McCain or Obama.

Among values voters, fully 30 percent of the electorate, McCain won 65 percent to 32 percent, or by two to one.

What these numbers demonstrate is that liberals and neocons instructing the GOP to dump the social, moral and cultural issues are counseling Republicide. When African-Americans, who gave McCain 4 percent of their votes in California, gave Proposition 8, prohibiting gay marriage, 70 percent of their votes, why would the GOP give up one of its trump cards -- not only in Middle America but among minorities?

A conservative who could have sharpened the social, moral and cultural differences might, from the exit polls, have done far better.

McCain's diffidence on life, affirmative action and gay rights, his embrace of amnesty and NAFTA, all help explain the enthusiasm gap. Twice as many voters were excited about the prospects of an Obama presidency as were about a McCain presidency.

Lastly, on Election Day, only 7 percent thought the U.S. economy was doing well, while 93 percent rated it as not so good, or poor. The GOP will not have to wear those concrete boots in 2012.

The tide is still running strong against the GOP. But there may be one or two more White Houses in the Grand Old Party yet.
27593  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues on: May 05, 2009, 10:15:08 AM

By George Demetriou
NYPD Detective (retired)
Since 2007, at least five police officers have been killed or seriously wounded while handcuffing — in some cases after getting one handcuff on the violator. The offenders “rip” or pull the handcuffed arm away suddenly after cooperating with the officer and then draw a concealed firearm and shoot the officer. It should be noted that in every case that this has occurred the offender was being placed into custody for a minor offense.
Being aware that the offender can resist or assault at any point will remove the element of surprise from his strategy. Officers must be cognizant of the fact that this is the stage of the cuffing process where the bad guy does not need to see you. You have made physical contact so he knows, basically, where you are without having to look at you. You are standing where he can turn, pivot, spin or drop down and he knows you are within arms reach.
Between getting the first cuff on and the second cuff on is the most crucial part of the cuffing process yet this is the point of handcuffing where many officers begin to mentally relax believing they have control.
Violent offenders who are not psychologically incapacitated by the officer’s presence and command of the situation, especially the subjects who have pre-planned and practiced for this opportunity, will fight at this point. The “click” of the first cuff is their cue to go into action. Serious offenders who consider fighting or killing cops may understand or believe several things:
• By initially behaving in a compliant manner the officer will often lower his guard
• If the officer gets one handcuff on he’ll probably think the situation is “under control”
When the officer wants to take physical control he will have to step within striking distance of the suspect.
• When the officer is using both hands to control the subject and hold the cuffs he is not holding a baton, Taser, pepper spray, firearm or anything else that will do him harm
• While the officer’s hands are, at least temporarily, occupied the officer will not defend himself effectively
• If the offender has a weapon that the officer did not find or see the chance of accessing it is better now that the officer is preoccupied with maintaining cuff control
You may not be able to stop a violent offender from attempting an assault, but you can control whether or not you are surprised.
Why the Cuff Rip Works
An officer almost cannot help but to “chase” the handcuff that is pulled from his control. After all, the handcuffs are the officer’s personal property and he is responsible for them. No officer wants to lose a suspect or equipment.
Once the offender makes the explosive movement to pull the cuff and fight or shoot he has the time advantage. The officer will be reacting to the offender’s action. Controlling any violent resistor is difficult. Having to control an armed violent resistor at close range leaves little margin for error.
The first step is checking arrest procedure mentality. It is impossible to determine a suspect’s capacity for violence based on the crime he committed when that crime was minor. All suspects, their family members and their friends are dangerous. Act accordingly.

All suspects are armed until you know positively that they are not. This includes the realization that wherever an officer is present there is at least one firearm present. The offender, during handcuffing, will be well within grabbing distance to the officer’s firearm.
Handcuffing is a time for heightened vigilance not a time for relaxing because the event is “over.” Being handcuffed may be “showtime” for the violent offender.
Physically combating the handcuff rip is difficult at best. The safest option is to assume the offender is going for a concealed weapon. This of course means the officer should disregard the handcuffs, move and draw his firearm. Quickly changing position and being able to get your firearm on target will be the life saving action should the bad guy have a weapon. Better to have the suspect run off with the handcuffs then to try to regain control only to find out that while you’re trying to grab the suspect’s arm he’s pulling out a weapon with his free hand.
It should be noted that “chasing” the handcuffs is unproductive time as the suspect’s arms will be moving too fast during the “rip” to gain control. It will be nearly impossible to get control of both arms. One hand free is all an armed suspect will need. The safest way to gain physical control of the offender, in this situation, is to control the head-NOT the arms and bring the suspect down before he can draw a weapon. Effective control of the head will allow the officer to use a takedown that doesn’t rely on arm control. The offender will be forced to use his hands to break his fall as opposed to being focused on attacking the officer. This can only be done effectively with realistic, consistent training.
Handcuffing may be considered the end of a confrontation for the arresting officer. For the violent offender it may be considered the beginning of an assault on the officer. These diametrically opposed perspectives are at the root of the problem for officers.
Officers need to approach handcuffing with the proper mentality and have a trained response should the offender decide that he’ll do whatever is necessary not to go to jail at that moment.
The training priority regarding handcuffing should be the offender who is initially cooperative, but becomes violent just before or just after one handcuff goes on.
George Demetriou, NYPD detective (retired) is the President of Spartan Performance. Spartan Performance is dedicated to physical conditioning as well as the Dynamics of Violent Offender Confrontations (D-VOC). Spartan Performance uses the CrossFit methodology for fitness training.
27594  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: May 05, 2009, 08:19:43 AM
OTOH, here's this, which somehow the NYT missed  rolleyes

I get back in August/September time. My next assignment is going to be at Camp
__________. Things are wild here. We got ambushed yesterday by about 40-60
Taliban. I was the lead vehicle and we saw guys running away, the gunner put the
.50 on them and then an RPG flew at us and then my gunner immediately opened up,
killing 4 right off the bat. The 2nd vehicle stopped in the kill zone because it
had been hit with several small arms, so I backed up and my gunner continued to
engage Taliban and vehicles, all three of our vehicles were stopped and engaging
the enemy for about 2-3 minutes while recieving fire. We finally got off the
objective and assessed our vehicles; our vehicles were several times, but no
injuries. We got back to our FOB and our Marine Special Forces guys told us that
had been told through a source of theirs that we had killed 15 Taliban and
destroyed two of their vehicles. Now, take in to consideration that we were only
9 Americans and 3 up armored HMMWVs. Now that's something to talk about.
I just wanted to share that war story with you, as it just happened yesterday.
27595  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Porous Border on: May 05, 2009, 08:06:13 AM
Its the NYT, so caveat lector:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — President Obama is pouring more than 20,000 new troops into Afghanistan this year for a fighting season that the United States military has called a make-or-break test of the allied campaign in Afghanistan.

But if Taliban strategists have their way, those forces will face a stiff challenge, not least because of one distinct Taliban advantage: the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan barely exists for the Taliban, who are counting on the fact that American forces cannot reach them in their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

One Pakistani logistics tactician for the Taliban, a 28-year-old from the country’s tribal areas, in interviews with The New York Times, described a Taliban strategy that relied on free movement over the border and in and around Pakistan, ready recruitment of Pakistani men and sustained cooperation of sympathetic Afghan villagers.

His account provided a keyhole view of the opponent the Americans and their NATO allies are up against, as well as the workings and ambitions of the Taliban as they prepared to meet the influx of American troops.

It also illustrated how the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of many brands of jihadist fighters backed by Al Qaeda, are spearheading wars on both sides of the border in what for them is a seamless conflict.

The tactician wears a thick but carefully shaped black beard and a well-trimmed shock of black hair, a look cultivated to allow him to move easily all over Pakistan. He spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by his fellow Taliban members.

But on an array of issues, discussed over six months of interviews with The Times, he showed himself to be knowledgeable of Taliban activities, and the information he provided matched up consistently with that of other sources.

He was well informed — and unconcerned, he said — of the plans of the head of the United States Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus, to replicate in Afghanistan some of the techniques he had used in Iraq to stop the Sunni tribes from fighting the Americans.

“I know of the Petraeus experiment there,” he said. “But we know our Afghans. They will take the money from Petraeus, but they will not be on his side. There are so many people working with the Afghans and the Americans who are on their payroll, but they inform us, sell us weapons.”

He acknowledged that the Americans would have far superior forces and power this year, but was confident that the Taliban could turn this advantage on its head. “The Americans cannot take control of the villages,” he said. “In order to expel us they will have to resort to aerial bombing, and then they will have more civilian casualties.”

The one thing that impressed him were the missile strikes by drones — virtually the only American military presence felt inside Pakistan. “The drones are very effective,” he said, acknowledging that they had thinned the top leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the area. He said 29 of his friends had been killed in the strikes.

The drone attacks simply prompted Taliban fighters to spend more time in Afghanistan, or to move deeper into Pakistan, straddling both theaters of a widening conflict. The recruits were prepared to fight where they were needed, in either country, he said.

In the fighting now under way in Buner and Dir Districts, in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban are taking on the Pakistani Army in a battle that is the most obvious front of a long-haul strategy to destabilize and take over a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban are directly singling out the United States and NATO forces by sending guerrillas to assist their Afghan Taliban allies in ousting the foreigners from Afghanistan.

While to the Taliban those conflicts are one fluid and sprawling war, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has long presented a firm barrier for the United States.

Although Pakistan is an official ally of the United States, the Pakistanis will not allow American troops to cross the border from Afghanistan. They will also not allow the troops to be present as a fighting force alongside the Pakistani military in the tribal areas that Al Qaeda and the Taliban use as a base.

The United States has helped Pakistan and Afghanistan recently open a series of joint posts to share intelligence and improve border monitoring. But those efforts are slight when compared with the demands of a 1,600-mile frontier of unforgiving terrain.

Despite years of demands by American and NATO commanders for Pakistan to control Taliban infiltration, the Taliban tactician said getting his fighters over the border was not a problem. The Pakistani paramilitary soldiers from the Frontier Corps who guard the border were too busy looking after their own survival, he said.

He has already begun moving 80 Taliban fighters in four groups stealthily into Afghanistan in the past month to meet the new American forces, he said.

The tactician says he embeds his men in what he described as friendly Afghan villages, where they will spend the next four to six months with the residents, who provide the weapons and succor for the missions against American and NATO soldiers.


Page 2 of 2)

In March, he made a reconnaissance trip by motorcycle to Paktika Province in Afghanistan from Wana, the main city in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, to make sure the route was safe for his men. It was.

The main task for his first two groups of fighters will be to ambush convoys of NATO goods and soldiers on the Kandahar-Kabul highway, a major supply line for the allied war effort. “We want to inflict maximum trouble, to lower their morale, to destabilize,” he said.

His guerrillas, in their late teens to mid-20s, are handpicked for their endurance and commitment, he said. Some, like him, were trained by the Pakistani government as proxy fighters against India in Kashmir and have now joined the Qaeda and Taliban cause.

In a new twist, cameramen instructed to capture video of faltering American soldiers for propaganda DVDs are increasingly accompanying the guerrillas.

The tactician, a heavily built man who says he has put on weight in the past two years and is now too heavy and old to fight, said he was loyal to a commander named Mullah Mansoor.

In turn, Mr. Mansoor serves under the aegis of Siraj Haqqani, the son of a veteran Afghan mujahedeen leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani.

The tactician worked mostly from Wana, where he owns a small business and where, he acknowledged, the American drone strikes had disrupted life. The threat of the drones had ended the custom of gathering in groups of 10 to 20 men to discuss the issues of the day. “The gossip has finished,” he said.

The relationship between the Pakistani Taliban and Qaeda operatives, most of whom are Arabs, is respectful but distant, according to his descriptions.

The Arabs often go to the bazaar in Wana. But they bristle when asked questions, he said. “They never tell us their activities,” he said.

But the Taliban are willing providers for Al Qaeda. “When they need a suicide bomber, like blowing up a government building, we provide it,” he said.

There was respect for the scale of Al Qaeda’s ambitions. “They have a global agenda, they have a big design,” he said.

The Taliban goal was more narrow. “Capturing Afghanistan is not an Al Qaeda mission,” he said. “It’s a Taliban mission. We will be content in capturing Afghanistan and throwing the Americans out.”

The Pakistani Taliban will fight as long as it takes to defeat the Americans, he said. At the end of this fighting season, he said, “We will have a body count, and we will see who has broken whose back.”
27596  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: May 05, 2009, 07:48:13 AM

By Tzvi Freeman

The more good news you bring The Boss, the less need you will have to complain about the opposite. Meditate on those things you have to be thankful for, and the things to kvetch about will slowly disappear.
27597  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Where's the money? on: May 05, 2009, 06:42:53 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) - House Democrats are refusing to pay for President Barack Obama's plan to relocate prisoners from the Guantanamo detention facility where enemy combatants are being held.

Obama has signed an executive order to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by early next year. But the Pentagon has yet to come up with a plan on where to put the 240 or so prisoners. Between 50-100 are likely to be sent to the United States.

No lawmaker wants the accused terrorists in their backyard.  House Democrats unveiled a $94.4 billion war funding bill Monday and it had no money for the relocation plan.  The step is not likely to be the last word, however. If needed, money could be transferred later—without a politically difficult vote.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
27598  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / God Talk on: May 05, 2009, 06:39:52 AM
God Talk
In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

Eagleton acknowledges that the links forged are not always benign — many terrible things have been done in religion’s name — but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its “subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.” And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to “a radical transformation of what we say and do.”

The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.”

By theological questions, Eagleton means questions like, “Why is there anything in the first place?”, “Why what we do have is actually intelligible to us?” and “Where do our notions of explanation, regularity and intelligibility come from?”

The fact that science, liberal rationalism and economic calculation can not ask — never mind answer — such questions should not be held against them, for that is not what they do.

And, conversely, the fact that religion and theology cannot provide a technology for explaining how the material world works should not be held against them, either, for that is not what they do. When Christopher Hitchens declares that given the emergence of “the telescope and the microscope” religion “no longer offers an explanation of anything important,” Eagleton replies, “But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.”

Eagleton likes this turn of speech, and he has recourse to it often when making the same point: “elieving that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world . . . is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.” Running for a bus is a focused empirical act and the steps you take are instrumental to its end. The positions one assumes in ballet have no such end; they are after something else, and that something doesn’t yield to the usual forms of measurement. Religion, Eagleton is saying, is like ballet (and Chekhov); it’s after something else.

After what? Eagleton, of course, does not tell us, except in the most general terms: “The coming kingdom of God, a condition of justice, fellowship, and self-fulfillment far beyond anything that might normally be considered possible or even desirable in the more well-heeled quarters of Oxford and Washington.” Such a condition would not be desirable in Oxford and Washington because, according to Eagleton, the inhabitants of those places are complacently in bondage to the false idols of wealth, power and progress. That is, they feel little of the tragedy and pain of the human condition, but instead “adopt some bright-eyed superstition such as the dream of untrammeled human progress” and put their baseless “trust in the efficacy of a spot of social engineering here and a dose of liberal enlightenment there.”

Progress, liberalism and enlightenment — these are the watchwords of those, like Hitchens, who believe that in a modern world, religion has nothing to offer us. Don’t we discover cures for diseases every day? Doesn’t technology continually extend our powers and offer the promise of mastering nature? Who needs an outmoded, left-over medieval superstition?

Eagleton punctures the complacency of these questions when he turns the tables and applies the label of “superstition” to the idea of progress. It is a superstition — an idol or “a belief not logically related to a course of events” (American Heritage Dictionary) — because it is blind to what is now done in its name: “The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.

And as for the vaunted triumph of liberalism, what about “the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine”? Only by ignoring all this and much more can the claim of human progress at the end of history be maintained: “If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world.”

That kind of belief will have little use for a creed that has at its center “one who spoke up for love and justice and was done to death for his pains.” No wonder “Ditchkins” — Eagleton’s contemptuous amalgam of Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, perhaps with a sidelong glance at Luke 6:39, “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” — seems incapable of responding to “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.”

You won’t be interested in any such promise, you won’t see the point of clinging to it, if you think that “apart from the odd, stubbornly lingering spot of barbarism here and there, history on the whole is still steadily on the up,” if you think that “not only is the salvation of the human species possible but that contrary to all we read in the newspapers, it has in principle already taken place.” How, Eagleton asks, can a civilization “which regards itself as pretty well self-sufficient” see any point in or need of “faith or hope”?

“Self-sufficient” gets to the heart of what Eagleton sees as wrong with the “brittle triumphalism” of liberal rationalism and its ideology of science. From the perspective of a theistic religion, the cardinal error is the claim of the creature to be “self-originating”: “Self-authorship,” Eagleton proclaims, “is the bourgeois fantasy par excellence,” and he could have cited in support the words of that great bourgeois villain, Milton’s Satan, who, upon being reminded that he was created by another, retorts , “[W]ho saw/ When this creation was…?/ We know no time when we were not as now/Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised” (Paradise Lost, V, 856-860).That is, we created ourselves (although how there can be agency before there is being and therefore an agent is not explained), and if we are able to do that, why can’t we just keep on going and pull progress and eventual perfection out of our own entrails?

That is where science and reason come in. Science, says Eagleton, “does not start far back enough”; it can run its operations, but it can’t tell you what they ultimately mean or provide a corrective to its own excesses. Likewise, reason is “too skin deep a creed to tackle what is at stake”; its laws — the laws of entailment and evidence — cannot get going without some substantive proposition from which they proceed but which they cannot contain; reason is a non-starter in the absence of an a prior specification of what is real and important, and where is that going to come from? Only from some kind of faith.

“Ditchkins,” Eagleton observes, cannot ground his belief “in the value of individual freedom” in scientific observation. It is for him an article of faith, and once in place, it generates facts and reasons and judgments of right and wrong. “Faith and knowledge,” Eagleton concludes, are not antithetical but “interwoven.” You can’t have one without the other, despite the Satanic claim that you can go it alone by applying your own independent intellect to an unmediated reality: “All reasoning is conducted within the ambit of some sort of faith, attraction, inclination, orientation, predisposition, or prior commitment.” Meaning, value and truth are not “reducible to the facts themselves, in the sense of being ineluctably motivated by a bare account of them.” Which is to say that there is no such thing as a bare account of them. (Here, as many have noted, is where religion and postmodernism meet.)

If this is so, the basis for what Eagleton calls “the rejection of religion on the cheap” by contrasting its unsupported (except by faith) assertions with the scientifically grounded assertions of atheism collapses; and we are where we always were, confronted with a choice between a flawed but aspiring religious faith or a spectacularly hubristic faith in the power of unaided reason and a progress that has no content but, like the capitalism it reflects and extends, just makes its valueless way into every nook and cranny.

For Eagleton the choice is obvious, although he does not have complete faith in the faith he prefers. “There are no guarantees,” he concedes that a “transfigured future will ever be born.” But we can be sure that it will never be born, he says in his last sentence, “if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals . . . continue to stand in its way.”

One more point. The book starts out witty and then gets angrier and angrier. (There is the possibility, of course, that the later chapters were written first; I’m just talking about the temporal experience of reading it.) I spent some time trying to figure out why the anger was there and I came up with two explanations.

One is given by Eagleton, and it is personal. Christianity may or may not be the faith he holds to (he doesn’t tell us), but he speaks, he says, “partly in defense of my own forbearers, against the charge that the creed to which they dedicated their lives is worthless and void.”

The other source of his anger is implied but never quite made explicit. He is angry, I think, at having to expend so much mental and emotional energy refuting the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins. I know just how he feels.
27599  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: May 05, 2009, 06:30:26 AM
Doug et al:

Wesbury is one of the very best economists out there.  His track record as a prognosticator is outstanding.

GM et al:

Is this the beginning of an extended cycle of rising interest rates?
27600  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams; Reagan; Paine; Jefferson on: May 05, 2009, 06:26:24 AM
"In the supposed state of nature, all men are equally bound by the laws of nature, or to speak more properly, the laws of the Creator."

--Samuel Adams, letter to the Legislature of Massachusetts, 17 January 1794

"[L]iberty can be measured by how much freedom Americans have to make their own decisions, even their own mistakes. Government must step in when one's liberties impinge on one's neighbor's. Government must protect constitutional rights, deal with other governments, protect citizens from aggressors, assure equal opportunity, and be compassionate in caring for those citizens who are unable to care for themselves. Our federal system of local-state-national government is designed to sort out on what level these actions should be taken. Those concerns of a national character -- such as air and water pollution that do not respect state boundaries, or the national transportation system, or efforts to safeguard your civil liberties -- must, of course, be handled on the national level. As a general rule, however, we believe that government action should be taken first by the government that resides as close to you as possible." --Ronald Reagan

Thomas Paine, (December 19, 1776): "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." And it was Thomas Jefferson who asserted, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it." --Thomas Jefferson

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