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27601  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / China and the brewing Iranian Crisis on: December 16, 2009, 11:52:03 PM
This could have gone on the Nuclear War thread too , , ,

China and the Brewing Iranian Crisis
PRESSURE CONTINUED TO BUILD in the showdown over Iran’s nuclear program, with the end-of-the-year deadline approaching for international negotiations to yield concrete results or have Iran face U.S.-led sanctions (or possibly military strikes). Attempting to underscore the urgency of the matter for Israel, head of Israeli military intelligence Amos Yadlin claimed Tuesday that Tehran has gathered enough materials in the past year to build a nuclear weapon.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports have emerged in the past two days about a planned face-to-face meeting of the P-5+1 group of major negotiators — the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany. The meeting was allegedly to be held on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 18 or in Brussels on Dec. 22, but has been replaced with a conference call scheduled for the latter date. Interestingly, all reports agree that the change of plans came at the behest of Chinese diplomats, who have thus far played a neutral role in the negotiations. It is unclear whether the Chinese adjusted the meeting for genuine scheduling reasons or to avoid U.S. demands to adopt sanctions against Iran. With the deadline weeks away and Iranian defiance already fully demonstrated, perhaps Beijing felt it would be doing everyone a favor by deemphasizing a meeting doomed to produce no results.

“China’s interests require that it not incur the wrath of superior outside forces.”
Regardless, the uncertainty raises the subject of China’s involvement in the brewing Iranian crisis. China’s core interests lie in maintaining regime stability and internal security, primarily through a steadily growing economy that keeps its massive population fed and employed. In foreign policy, this interest means promoting international trade that benefits the export-driven Chinese economy, while taking trade-conducive, non-confrontational stances on controversies and developing a wide range of diplomatic partners.

More importantly, China’s interests require that it not incur the wrath of superior outside forces — for instance, the United States — that could deal crushing blows to the economy, whether through trade barriers against Chinese exports or naval power that could threaten critical supply lines of energy and raw materials.

Given these core interests, Beijing’s stance on U.S. involvement in the Middle East and South Asia makes sense. Beijing is content with the current configuration of U.S. forces in the region, as the wars and subsequent surges in Iraq and Afghanistan keep the United States tied down and constrained. Though ultimately the U.S. Navy, not land forces, poses the chief threat against China, the two wars nevertheless ensure that Washington continues the status quo with China rather than create unnecessary distractions for itself. This enables China to focus on managing its growing economy and allaying internal socio-political tensions without the United States breathing down its neck.

The Iranian crisis, however, poses a far less predictable threat than the Afghan surge. Beijing has repeatedly stated that it prefers diplomatic solutions and rejects sanctions and war. The Chinese have maintained this standard line throughout the latter part of 2009 when it became clear that a crisis — including a higher potential for U.S. and Israeli military strikes against Iran — was just around the corner. At the same time, Beijing participated in the latest round of negotiations (initiated by the Obama administration). Beijing has urged Iran to cooperate, and has endorsed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s resolution against Iran’s defiance of nuclear transparency.

In other words, the Chinese are playing it both ways. On one hand, they do not want war — or sanctions stringent enough to trigger war — that would further destabilize the inherently unstable Middle East. This is especially true of the Persian Gulf, the source of most of China’s crude oil. The commerce-threatening nature of any Iranian war would put pressure on China’s energy-hungry economy during an exceedingly inauspicious economic period.

On the other hand, the Chinese are not particularly fond of nuclear proliferation that would also destabilize the region, so they nudge Iran to negotiate. If the United States were to strike a deal with Russia bringing Moscow into a gasoline sanctions regime against Iran, then China would not make itself conspicuous (or anger the United States) by resisting. At present, however, the United States has not met Russia’s demands, and Russia has refused to join in sanctions. Therefore, China cannot be blamed for dashing Washington’s efforts. Beijing can claim there is no international consensus and continue to call for further dialogue.

The Chinese position is to gauge which way the wind is blowing and only then set off in that direction. It will not go out on a limb for Iran, nor will it do so for Israel or the United States. China is watching and waiting — a tactic it shares with Iran, the United States and Russia. The Israelis alone find the situation increasingly unbearable — and yet the Israelis have a guarantee from the United States to do something about Iran. There can be no doubt that a crisis is building.
27602  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants on: December 16, 2009, 12:40:04 PM
IMHO he never lived up to some key campaign promises, but ever since he lost on his initiatives (e.g. redistricting, challenging state union power, were 2 REALLY good and important ones) he has been utterly pussywhipped by his wife's crowd and his disease to please them.  He IS a Democrat.    No respect left from me.
27603  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Proof! We went into the Iraq for oil! on: December 16, 2009, 09:29:49 AM
Oilman Bush went into Iraq for the oil!  Here's proof!


Iraq's oil auction hits the jackpot

Russia and China were the big winners in the latest auction of Iraq's oil rights, as was the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; United States companies were conspicuous by their absence. If the oil starts to flow as now promised, the next few years should see the rise of a relatively wealthy, Shi'ite-controlled Iraq, friendly with Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Does this make Maliki the new Saddam Hussein? - Pepe Escobar (Dec 15, '09)

Surprises aplenty in  selloff
The impression that the West would renew its dominance of the Iraqi oil extraction industry has been shattered with the latest auction of oil rights, with Russia's Lukoil leading the winning bids. Other successful parties include interests from as far afield as Malaysia and Angola. - Robert M Cutler (Dec 15, '09)
27604  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Small Arms Treaty on: December 16, 2009, 09:22:23 AM
I'm not familiar with the group that sent me this missive, but this matter of end-running our Second Amendment via an international treaty has been bandied about before and apparently is now gaining traction.

Dear fellow patriot,

With willing one-world accomplices in Washington, D.C., gun-grabbers around the globe believe they have it made.

In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just announced the Obama Administration would be working hand in glove with the UN to pass a new “Small Arms Treaty.”

Disguised as legislation to help in the fight against “terrorism,” “insurgency” and “international crime syndicates,” the UN Small Arms Treaty is nothing more than a massive, GLOBAL gun control scheme.

Ultimately, the UN’s Small Arms Treaty is designed to register, ban and CONFISCATE firearms owned by private citizens like YOU.

That’s why it’s vital you sign the special petition I’ve made up for your signature that DEMANDS your U.S. Senators vote AGAINST ratification of the UN’s “Small Arms Treaty!”

So far, the gun-grabbers have successfully kept the exact wording of their new scheme under wraps.

But looking at previous versions of the UN “Small Arms Treaty,” you and I can get a good idea of what’s likely in the works.

If passed by the UN and ratified by the U.S. Senate, the UN “Small Arms Treaty” would almost certainly FORCE national governments to:

*** Enact tougher licensing requirements, making law-abiding citizens cut through even more bureaucratic red tape just to own a firearm legally;

*** CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL “unauthorized” civilian firearms (all firearms owned by the government are excluded, of course);

*** BAN the trade, sale and private ownership of ALL semi-automatic weapons;

*** Create an INTERNATIONAL gun registry, setting the stage for full-scale gun CONFISCATION.
So please click here to sign the petition to your U.S. Senators before it’s too late!

You see, this is NOT a fight we can afford to lose.

Ever since it’s founding almost 65 years ago, the United Nations has been hell-bent on bringing the United States to its knees.

To the petty dictators and one-worlders who control the UN, the U.S. isn’t a “shining city on a hill” -- it’s an affront to their grand totalitarian designs for the globe.

These anti-gun globalists know that so long as Americans remain free to make our own decisions without being bossed around by big government bureaucrats, they’ll NEVER be able to seize the worldwide oppressive power they crave.

And the UN’s apologists also know the most effective way to finally strip you and me of ALL our freedoms would be to DESTROY our gun rights.

That’s why it’s vital you act TODAY!

The truth is, there’s no time to waste.

You and I have to be prepared for this fight to move FAST.

The fact is, the last thing the gun-grabbers in the U.N. and in Washington, D.C. want is for you and me to have time to react and mobilize gun owners to defeat this radical legislation.

They’ve made that mistake before, and we’ve made them pay, defeating EVERY attempt to ram the “Treaty on Small Arms” into law since the mid-1990s.

But this time, time won’t be on our side.

In fact, we’re likely to only have a few days or weeks to defeat the treaty.

Worse, there’s no longer any pro-gun Republican Senate to kill ratification of the treaty.

There’s no longer any Republican in the White House who has stated opposition to the treaty.

And you and I know good and well how Germany, Great Britain, France, Communist China or the rest of the anti-gun members of the United Nations are going to vote.

So our ONE AND ONLY CHANCE of stopping the UN’s “Small Arms Treaty” is during the ratification process in the U.S. Senate.

As you know, it takes 67 Senate votes to ratify a treaty.

With 40 Republicans, that should be easy, right?

Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

First, you know just as well as I do that not all the remaining Republicans in the Senate are “pro-gun” in any sense of the term.

Second, even with the partisan rancor in Washington, D.C., many GOP Senators get “queasy” about killing treaties for fear of “embarrassing” the President -- especially with “international prestige” at stake.

They look at ratifying treaties much like approving Presidents’ Supreme Court nominees.

And remember, there were NINE Republicans who voted to confirm anti-gun Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

A dozen more GOP Senators only voted against Sotomayor after receiving massive grassroots pressure from the folks back home.

So if we’re going to defeat the UN’s “Small Arms Treaty” we have to turn the heat up on the U.S. Senate now before it’s too late!

That’s exactly where this petition comes in.

So won’t you click here to sign IMMEDIATELY?

And also, if you can, I hope you’ll agree to make a generous contribution of $200, $150, $100 or even just $35.

With your generous contribution, I’ll immediately begin contacting Second Amendment supporters through mail, phones and e-mail to turn up the heat on targeted U.S. Senators.

Tops on the list are the “usual suspects” like Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Lindsay Graham and the rest of the weak-kneed Republicans in the Senate whose votes we can never count on.

I also want to begin contacting gun owners in states represented by key Democrats -- like Senators John Tester and Max Baucus of Montana, Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virginia, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

And finally, I’ve designed a “special” hard-hitting program especially for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to let Nevada gun owners know exactly what he and his anti-gun pals have planned for you and me.

Facing a tough reelection in 2010, Senator Reid knows he’s already skating on thin ice with Nevada voters.

So you and I could end up putting the final nail in his political coffin -- if I can pull out all the stops.

Direct mail.  Phones.  E-mail.  Blogs.  Billboards.  Guest editorials.  Press conferences.  Hard-hitting newspaper, radio and TV ads.  The whole nine yards.

Of course, if I can raise enough resources, my goal is to expand this full program to ALL our target states.

But that’s not going to be cheap, and we may not have much time.

In fact, if we’re going to defeat the UN’s so-called “Small Arms Treaty,” we have to start NOW!

So please click here to sign the petition to your U.S. Senators.

And if you possibly can, please agree to make a contribution of $200, $150, $100, or even just $35.

Every petition and every dollar count in this fight.

So please sign the petition and include your most generous contribution of $200, $150, $100 or $35 TODAY.

In Liberty,

Dudley Brown
Executive Director
National Association for Gun Rights

P.S.  The Obama Administration just announced they would be working hand in glove with the UN to pass a new GLOBAL, “Small Arms Treaty.”
27605  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson to Washington, 1796 on: December 16, 2009, 07:28:50 AM
"One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Washington, 1796
27606  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / an enemy vision of heaven on: December 16, 2009, 06:32:27 AM
second post of the day

Sent this by a friend in India:
The video in urdu, shows pictures of heaven, with rivers of milk and beautiful maidens. Pix are from the compound of Baitullah Mehsud, where they train individuals to blow themselves up, or to perform jihad. These are shown to 15-17 year old's to induce them to embrace the 72 virgins...
27607  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / on: December 16, 2009, 06:24:54 AM
Published: December 15, 2009

Let’s not fool ourselves. Whatever threat the real Afghanistan poses to U.S. national security, the “Virtual Afghanistan” now poses just as big a threat. The Virtual Afghanistan is the network of hundreds of jihadist Web sites that inspire, train, educate and recruit young Muslims to engage in jihad against America and the West. Whatever surge we do in the real Afghanistan has no chance of being a self-sustaining success, unless there is a parallel surge — by Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders — against those who promote violent jihadism on the ground in Muslim lands and online in the Virtual Afghanistan.

Last week, five men from northern Virginia were arrested in Pakistan, where they went, they told Pakistani police, to join the jihad against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. They first made contact with two extremist organizations in Pakistan by e-mail in August. As The Washington Post reported on Sunday: “ ‘Online recruiting has exponentially increased, with Facebook, YouTube and the increasing sophistication of people online,’ a high-ranking Department of Homeland Security official said. ... ‘Increasingly, recruiters are taking less prominent roles in mosques and community centers because places like that are under scrutiny. So what these guys are doing is turning to the Internet,’ said Evan Kohlmann, a senior analyst with the U.S.-based NEFA Foundation, a private group that monitors extremist Web sites.”

The Obama team is fond of citing how many “allies” we have in the Afghan coalition. Sorry, but we don’t need more NATO allies to kill more Taliban and Al Qaeda. We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill their extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are now being spread farther than ever before.

Only Arabs and Muslims can fight the war of ideas within Islam. We had a civil war in America in the mid-19th century because we had a lot of people who believed bad things — namely that you could enslave people because of the color of their skin. We defeated those ideas and the individuals, leaders and institutions that propagated them, and we did it with such ferocity that five generations later some of their offspring still have not forgiven the North.

Islam needs the same civil war. It has a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is O.K. to not only murder non-Muslims — “infidels,” who do not submit to Muslim authority — but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.

What is really scary is that this violent, jihadist minority seems to enjoy the most “legitimacy” in the Muslim world today. Few political and religious leaders dare to speak out against them in public. Secular Arab leaders wink at these groups, telling them: “We’ll arrest if you do it to us, but if you leave us alone and do it elsewhere, no problem.”

How many fatwas — religious edicts — have been issued by the leading bodies of Islam against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda? Very few. Where was the outrage last week when, on the very day that Iraq’s Parliament agreed on a formula to hold free and fair multiparty elections — unprecedented in Iraq’s modern history — five explosions set off by suicide bombers hit ministries, a university and Baghdad’s Institute of Fine Arts, killing at least 127 people and wounding more than 400, many of them kids?

Not only was there no meaningful condemnation emerging from the Muslim world — which was primarily focused on resisting Switzerland’s ban on new mosque minarets — there was barely a peep coming out of Washington. President Obama expressed no public outrage. It is time he did.

“What Muslims were talking about last week were the minarets of Switzerland, not the killings of people in Iraq or Pakistan,” noted Mamoun Fandy, a Middle East expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. “People look for red herrings when they don’t want to look inward, when they don’t want to summon the moral courage to produce the counter-fatwa that would say: stabilizing Iraq is an Islamic duty and bringing peace to Afghanistan is part of the survival of the Islamic umma,” or community.

So please tell me, how are we supposed to help build something decent and self-sustaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan when jihadists murder other Muslims by the dozens and no one really calls them out?

A corrosive mind-set has taken hold since 9/11. It says that Arabs and Muslims are only objects, never responsible for anything in their world, and we are the only subjects, responsible for everything that happens in their world. We infantilize them.

Arab and Muslims are not just objects. They are subjects. They aspire to, are able to and must be challenged to take responsibility for their world. If we want a peaceful, tolerant region more than they do, they will hold our coats while we fight, and they will hold their tongues against their worst extremists. They will lose, and we will lose — here and there, in the real Afghanistan and in the Virtual Afghanistan.
27608  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues on: December 15, 2009, 10:05:50 PM
The plot thickens!  The game is afoot Watson!
27609  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda CBS at work on: December 15, 2009, 07:03:42 PM
27610  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Venezuela-Iran on: December 15, 2009, 01:44:54 PM
Here's one from the Department of We Are The World: Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address the U.N.'s climate summit in Copenhagen. Say what you will about these two gentlemen—the support for terrorists, the Holocaust denial, the suppression of civil liberties—at least nobody can accuse them of being global warming "deniers."

On the contrary, the two leaders, who met in Caracas last month for at least the 11th time, have been nothing if not cooperative when it comes to environmentally friendly and carbon-neutral technologies. Bicycles, for instance: In 2005, Chávez directed his government to "follow seriously the project of manufacturing Iranian bicycles in Venezuela." An Iranian dairy products plant (no doubt ecologically sensitive) also set up shop hard on the Colombian border, in territory controlled by Colombia's terrorist FARC.

Ahmadinejad and Chávez: A new document sheds light on this radioactive relationship.

Then there was the tractor factory Iran built in Ciudad Bolivar. In January, the Associated Press reported that Turkish authorities had seized 22 containers going to Venezuela from Iran labeled "tractor parts." What they contained, according to one Turkish official, "was enough to set up an explosives lab."

But perhaps the most interesting Iranian venture is a supposed gold mine not far from Angel Falls, in a remote area known as the Roraima Basin. The basin straddles Venezuela's border with neighboring Guyana, where a Canadian company, U308, thinks it has found the "geological look-alike" to Canada's Athabasca Basin. The Athabasca, the company's Web site adds, "is the world's largest resource of uranium."

In 2006, Chávez publicly mocked suspicions of nuclear cooperation with Iran, saying it "shows they have no limit in their capacity to invent lies." In September, however, Rodolfo Sanz, Venezuela's minister of basic industries, acknowledged that "Iran is helping us with geophysical aerial probes and geochemical analyses" in its search for uranium.

The official basis for this cooperation seems to be a Nov. 14, 2008 memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries' ministers of science and technology and given to me by a credible foreign intelligence source. "The two parties agreed to cooperate in the field of nuclear technology," reads the Spanish version of the document, which also makes mention of the "peaceful use of alternative energies." Days later, the Venezuelan government submitted a paper to the International Atomic Energy Agency on the "Introduction of a Nuclear Power Programme." (Online readers can see the memoranda for themselves in their Farsi and Spanish versions. One mystery: The Farsi version makes no mention of nuclear cooperation.)

Iran would certainly require large and reliable supplies of uranium if it is going to enrich the nuclear fuel in 10 separate plants—an ambition Ahmadinejad spelled out last month. It would also require an extensive financial and logistical infrastructure network in Venezuela, not to mention unusually good political connections. All this it has in spades.

OpinionJournal Related Stories:
Mary O'Grady: Revolutionary Anti-Semitism
Robert M. Morgenthau: The Emerging Axis of Iran and Venezuela
Warren Kozak: The Missiles of October
.Consider financing. In January 2008, the Bank of International Development opened its doors for business in Caracas. At the top of its list of its directors, all of whom are Iranian, is one Tahmasb Mazaheri, former governor of the central bank of Iran. As it turns out, the bank is a subsidiary of the Export Development Bank of Iran, which in October 2008 was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for providing "financial services to Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics."

Or consider logistics. For nearly three years, Venezuelan airline ConViasa has been flying an Airbus 340 to Damascus and Tehran. Neither city is a typical Venezuelan tourist destination, to say the least. What goes into the cargo hold of that big plane is an interesting question. Also interesting is that in October 2008 the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, also sanctioned by Treasury, announced it had established a direct shipping route to Venezuela.

Finally, there are the political connections. What do Fadi Kabboul, Aref Richany Jimenez, Radwan Sabbagh and Tarek Zaidan El Aissami Maddah have in common? The answer is that they are, respectively, executive director for planning of Venezuelan oil company PdVSA; the president of Venezuela's military-industrial complex; the president of a major state-owned mining concern; and, finally, the minister of interior. Latin Americans of Middle Eastern descent have long played prominent roles in national politics and business. But these are all fingertip positions in what gives the Iranian-Venezuelan relationship its worrying grip.

Forty-seven years ago, Americans woke up to the fact that a distant power could threaten us much closer to home. Perhaps it's time Camelot 2.0 take note that we are now on course for a replay.
27611  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / WSJ: Iran-Venezuela on: December 15, 2009, 01:43:22 PM
Here's one from the Department of We Are The World: Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address the U.N.'s climate summit in Copenhagen. Say what you will about these two gentlemen—the support for terrorists, the Holocaust denial, the suppression of civil liberties—at least nobody can accuse them of being global warming "deniers."

On the contrary, the two leaders, who met in Caracas last month for at least the 11th time, have been nothing if not cooperative when it comes to environmentally friendly and carbon-neutral technologies. Bicycles, for instance: In 2005, Chávez directed his government to "follow seriously the project of manufacturing Iranian bicycles in Venezuela." An Iranian dairy products plant (no doubt ecologically sensitive) also set up shop hard on the Colombian border, in territory controlled by Colombia's terrorist FARC.

View Full Image

Getty Images
Ahmadinejad and Chávez: A new document sheds light on this radioactive relationship.
.Then there was the tractor factory Iran built in Ciudad Bolivar. In January, the Associated Press reported that Turkish authorities had seized 22 containers going to Venezuela from Iran labeled "tractor parts." What they contained, according to one Turkish official, "was enough to set up an explosives lab."

But perhaps the most interesting Iranian venture is a supposed gold mine not far from Angel Falls, in a remote area known as the Roraima Basin. The basin straddles Venezuela's border with neighboring Guyana, where a Canadian company, U308, thinks it has found the "geological look-alike" to Canada's Athabasca Basin. The Athabasca, the company's Web site adds, "is the world's largest resource of uranium."

In 2006, Chávez publicly mocked suspicions of nuclear cooperation with Iran, saying it "shows they have no limit in their capacity to invent lies." In September, however, Rodolfo Sanz, Venezuela's minister of basic industries, acknowledged that "Iran is helping us with geophysical aerial probes and geochemical analyses" in its search for uranium.

The official basis for this cooperation seems to be a Nov. 14, 2008 memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries' ministers of science and technology and given to me by a credible foreign intelligence source. "The two parties agreed to cooperate in the field of nuclear technology," reads the Spanish version of the document, which also makes mention of the "peaceful use of alternative energies." Days later, the Venezuelan government submitted a paper to the International Atomic Energy Agency on the "Introduction of a Nuclear Power Programme." (Online readers can see the memoranda for themselves in their Farsi and Spanish versions. One mystery: The Farsi version makes no mention of nuclear cooperation.)

Iran would certainly require large and reliable supplies of uranium if it is going to enrich the nuclear fuel in 10 separate plants—an ambition Ahmadinejad spelled out last month. It would also require an extensive financial and logistical infrastructure network in Venezuela, not to mention unusually good political connections. All this it has in spades.

OpinionJournal Related Stories:
Mary O'Grady: Revolutionary Anti-Semitism
Robert M. Morgenthau: The Emerging Axis of Iran and Venezuela
Warren Kozak: The Missiles of October
.Consider financing. In January 2008, the Bank of International Development opened its doors for business in Caracas. At the top of its list of its directors, all of whom are Iranian, is one Tahmasb Mazaheri, former governor of the central bank of Iran. As it turns out, the bank is a subsidiary of the Export Development Bank of Iran, which in October 2008 was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for providing "financial services to Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics."

Or consider logistics. For nearly three years, Venezuelan airline ConViasa has been flying an Airbus 340 to Damascus and Tehran. Neither city is a typical Venezuelan tourist destination, to say the least. What goes into the cargo hold of that big plane is an interesting question. Also interesting is that in October 2008 the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, also sanctioned by Treasury, announced it had established a direct shipping route to Venezuela.

Finally, there are the political connections. What do Fadi Kabboul, Aref Richany Jimenez, Radwan Sabbagh and Tarek Zaidan El Aissami Maddah have in common? The answer is that they are, respectively, executive director for planning of Venezuelan oil company PdVSA; the president of Venezuela's military-industrial complex; the president of a major state-owned mining concern; and, finally, the minister of interior. Latin Americans of Middle Eastern descent have long played prominent roles in national politics and business. But these are all fingertip positions in what gives the Iranian-Venezuelan relationship its worrying grip.

Forty-seven years ago, Americans woke up to the fact that a distant power could threaten us much closer to home. Perhaps it's time Camelot 2.0 take note that we are now on course for a replay.
27612  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty on: December 15, 2009, 01:28:10 PM
Dear Marc,

If you think our representatives in Washington, DC are disregarding the will of the people now, wait until you see what President Obama will try to pull off in Copenhagen this week.

You see, the very thing the U.S. Senate refuses to do here at home - mandate a costly cap and trade energy tax system in the name of saving the world -- President Obama is telling the world at the Copenhagen Climate Summit that he can do it on his own through the Environmental Protection Agency. Even though that would be "taxation without representation," the President must believe that his noble intentions can override the rules of our constitutional system.

So, this week, as the Obama administration prepares to sign an international agreement that our own Senate would likely never ratify, we're running a full page ad in the COP15Post, the go-to English language paper of the Copenhagen Summit, with this simple reminder:

In America, "We the People" govern, and without our approval through our Senators, President Obama has no constitutional authority to bind the United States to any international agreement whatsoever.

It's so basic a Constitutional fact that Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) recently wrote in a letter to President Obama: "As you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country."1

Take a look at our ad by clicking the image below.

While other governments represented in Copenhagen may be able to ignore the will of their people, that's not how it works in America.

And to demonstrate how "we the people" govern in America, we're giving you and every American Solutions member an opportunity to sign your name onto the ad. You can do that by going here.

With a small dona tion of $5 or more to help pay for the ad, your name will be added to it.

If anyone is able to make a donation of $200 or more, we will make sure your signature is much more prominent, like John Hancock's on the Declaration of Independence. We will limit this to the first ten people to make such a donation.

Please add your name right away.   

Thanks for helping us send the message that "We the People" govern in America.


Vince Haley
Vice President for Policy
American Solutions

1Senator Webb Letter to the White House, November 25, 2009.


Paid for by American Solutions for Winning the Future. Not authorized by any candidate, or candidate committee. Not printed at government expense.

To unsubscribe from future mailings, click here:
27613  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Muslims at West Point on: December 15, 2009, 11:00:50 AM
Muslims at West Point
27614  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Bruce Schneier on: December 15, 2009, 08:23:42 AM
      Eric Schmidt on Privacy

Schmidt said:

     I think judgment matters. If you have something that you don't
     want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first
     place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is
     that search engines -- including Google -- do retain this
     information for some time and it's important, for example, that we
     are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is
     possible that all that information could be made available to the

This, from 2006, is my response:

     Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're
     doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

     We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We
     are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private
     places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals,
     sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret
     lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.


     For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under
     threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our
     own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes,
     constantly fearful that -- either now or in the uncertain future
     -- patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us,
     by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private
     and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything
     we do is observable and recordable.


     This is the loss of freedom we face when our privacy is taken from
     us. This is life in former East Germany, or life in Saddam
     Hussein's Iraq. And it's our future as we allow an ever-intrusive
     eye into our personal, private lives.

     Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus
     privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny,
     whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under
     constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny.
     Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus
     privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of
     a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even
     when we have nothing to hide.

Schmidt's remarks:

My essay on the value of privacy:

See also Daniel Solove's "'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other
Misunderstandings of Privacy."
27615  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The vast left wing conspiracy: BO's friends, appts, and running dogs on: December 14, 2009, 08:50:10 PM
We'll see how long this stays out of the memory hole.  No doubt we can count on the Pravdas to keep track of this developing story.
27616  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology on: December 14, 2009, 08:35:56 PM
 cool cool cool
27617  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants on: December 14, 2009, 01:16:31 PM
Second post of the day
27618  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / And yet more lies and fraud on: December 14, 2009, 12:09:31 PM
Second entry of the morning



ObamaCare's core promise—better quality care for everyone at lower costs—is being exposed as an illusion as it degenerates into the raw exercise of political power. Naturally, the White House and its media booster club are working furiously to prop up this fiasco, especially on cost control.

As Obama budget director Peter Orszag put it at a revealing media breakfast earlier this month, the Senate bill does everything the experts recommend to "get at the underlying drivers of health-care costs." While he admitted that "we don't know enough" to produce results right away, the key is to encourage "continuous improvement" through pilot programs and demonstration projects. Cost containment will actually take "years to decades," Mr. Orszag conceded.

The torch was then passed to Ron Brownstein of the Atlantic Monthly, David Leonhardt of the New York Times and editorial writers for the New England Journal of Medicine, among others. Last week the New Yorker ran a 5,000-word apologia from Atul Gawande, who likewise owned up to the fact that there is "no master plan for dealing with the problem of soaring medical costs," only "a battery of small scale experiments." Keep in mind, this is an argument in favor of ObamaCare.

They might have piped up earlier: What they're finally admitting is that all the grandiose talk about "bending the curve" used for months to sell ObamaCare really comes down to their hope that bureaucratic improvisation will make a difference over the long term. Yet the liabilities of the greatest social spending program in American history will be added to the budget almost immediately, and what happens if Mr. Orszag's technocratic revolution doesn't work as promised? Or rather, when it doesn't?

Forgotten in ObamaCare's march-to-the-sea campaign is that during the transition and early on, the White House was divided on whether to pursue health reform at all. Opponents included Larry Summers, worried about the economy and deficits, and David Axelrod, worried about the politics. Another faction led by Tom Daschle preached from the conventional social-equity church of liberalism.

Mr. Orszag proposed another option, citing academic research observing that as much as 30% of health spending is "waste" that doesn't affect outcomes. He argued the country could save $700 billion a year without harming quality—more than enough to pay for universal coverage.

View Full Image

Associated Press
Peter Orszag.
.Thus cost control migrated from Orszag theory to free political lunch. Mr. Gawande wrote an influential New Yorker essay on the topic in June, and the theme shaped both the case for a new entitlement and especially the appeal to potential opponents in business.

But then Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Elmendorf testified in July that "the curve is being raised," given that ObamaCare lacks "the sort of fundamental changes" necessary to tamp down costs. Meanwhile, it became clear that Mr. Orszag's favored research was always more nuanced and qualified than his pose of papal infallibility. One of his main gurus, Jonathan Skinner, mused recently that "the key lesson" from a new study challenging some of his findings "is how little we know about the science of health-care delivery."

Well, sure. A field as dynamic and innovative as U.S. medicine, in which costs are largely driven by new technologies and better ways of caring for patients, is rife with complexities and uncertainties. But no one bothered to strike that note of caution when Washington was hopped up on a cost-control gambit that was too painless to be true.

The new cost-control apologists concede that there isn't any actual plan for controlling costs: Throw enough speculative policies against the wall, they say, and some breakthrough will stick. Yet Mr. Orszag's no-less-confident predecessors spent decades trying to pull down Medicare spending with little to no success. Technocracy rarely if ever works as intended. Mr. Gawande points to the case study of U.S. farm policy, and if politically sacrosanct agriculture subsidies and rural price-supports are the best to hope for, then what's the worst?

More relevant examples include Medicare's "relative value" payment scale, which was designed in 1985 by the Harvard economist William Hsiao to encourage more primary care. That's this year's rallying cry too. "Diagnosis-related groups" were introduced into Medicare in 1983 to alleviate hospital cost growth, and what a monumental success that turned out to be. With only brief periods of relatively slower growth, nominal Medicare spending has risen on average at an annual rate of 9.6% since 1980. Over the same period total Medicare spending has grown 13-fold, climbing from 1.2% of the economy to 3.2% today.

Congress lacks the stomach for serious cost control in any case. One policy Mr. Orszag favors—Medicare penalties for hospitals that re-admit certain patients—is limited to only three conditions in the Senate bill, and the penalties are trivial.

Another—a putatively independent commission that is supposed to enforce cost cutting—is barred from going after costs incurred by doctors and hospitals, which leaves out more than half of Medicare spending. Earlier this year Mr. Orszag got into a heated debate with Henry Waxman over such a commission at a dinner party hosted by Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, precisely because the House baron enjoys the political power that flows from controlling health spending.

Even if Mr. Orszag's Princeton and Yale Ph.D.s really do cook up some hope-and-a-prayer savings plan, it will invariably offend one constituency or another and Congress will block it. Thereupon the political class will do what it always does when costs run over: Tighten price controls across the board, before moving on to denying patient access to costly treatments that will be defined as "wasteful." That is, ration care.

"Basically everything that has been put forward in health policy discussions for a decade is in this bill," Mr. Orszag said on a conference call shortly before Thanksgiving. He then asked critics pointedly: "What specifically else would you do?"

Hmmm. One liberal sage noted in a 2007 paper that "four decades of empirical research" have shown that insulating people through third-party insurance coverage "from the full cost of health care has been responsible for anywhere from 10% to 50% of the large increase in health expenditures." Ultimately, he concluded, increasing cost-sharing would give individuals a direct stake in more prudent purchasing, as opposed to today's invisible health dollars that vanish as more expensive premiums, foregone wages and higher taxes.

Those are the words of Jason Furman, now the White House deputy economic director who seems to have been put into witness protection. Every serious health economist in the country recommends reforming the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance, perhaps by converting it to a deduction or credit. Cost control will never stick unless it is extricated from politics and transferred to individuals to make their own trade-offs.

Such reforms were ruled out by union opposition, so the Senate gestures at them with a 40% excise tax on high-cost insurance plans, on the theory that two wrongs will make a right. But this untargeted tax will simply raise the cost of coverage for all workers in a given pool—it's too clever by 40%—while doing nothing to stem the distortions from first-dollar, third-party insurance.

No doubt there are efficiencies to be had in health care, and maybe Mr. Orszag has even identified some of them. But all of his bright ideas could be taken for a whirl without adding trillions of new liabilities to the federal balance sheet. And the bad faith of the White House and its acolytes is breathtaking.

The White House hawked a permanent entitlement expansion on flimsy and speculative theories that its own partisans now admit—albeit when it is nearly too late—aren't more substantive than the triumph of hope over experience, while simultaneously writing off the one policy that has been effective in the real world. The cost control mantra of ObamaCare was always a political bill of goods, and its result will be the opposite of its claims: poorer quality care at higher costs.

27619  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Guro Dan Inosanto on BL, WC, etc on: December 14, 2009, 12:01:26 PM
27620  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: More accounting fraud on: December 14, 2009, 11:41:15 AM
The public is growing wary of the cost of ObamaCare. Yet there is one budget-busting provision that hasn't received the attention it deserves: a new long-term care entitlement.

Known as the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or Class Act, this entitlement is in both the House and Senate bills and was a top priority of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. It would provide at least $50 a day toward home or institutional care, equipment and supplies, or home improvements to assist the daily living of those who are enrolled. It is also a significant part of the reason that Democrats claim that ObamaCare is fiscally responsible, but this turns out to be a short-term budget ruse.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the House and Senate health-care bills will reduce federal deficits over the next 10 years by $138 billion and $130 billion, respectively. The lion's share of the savings, $101.6 billion and $72.5 billion, would be realized by the long-term care program.

How can a new entitlement reduce deficits? With budget accounting, the program will pile up more revenues than its costs. But only in the short run. In the long run, it will blow a hole in the federal budget.

Private long-term care insurance works like other insurance policies. Those who buy policies pay premiums over a prolonged period of time. The premiums pay for the benefits they may eventually receive and cover the benefits for those who need immediate care.

To make sure that a premium paid today can pay for a benefit promised for tomorrow, an insurer determines the amount it will need for future benefits, marks that amount as a liability, and puts aside funds to pay for it. An insurer also creates an additional pool of capital to act as a buffer, just in case.

That isn't how the Class Act would work. The House and Senate bills stipulate that premiums would be calculated to cover benefit payments over a 75-year horizon without federal subsidies. And the bills do authorize the secretary of Health and Human Services to adjust premiums and benefits to maintain solvency. But CBO and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have identified parts of the program that will subject it to considerable financial risk.

First, those who enroll would likely be more apt to need care and will be more expensive to cover than those who buy private insurance. To cover its costs, the program would have to charge more than private insurers.

On Friday, CMS Chief Actuary Richard Foster said in a memo on the (less costly) Senate version of the program that premiums would be set so high they would discourage healthier people from buying in. As the healthy stayed on the sidelines, the program would have to charge more to those who did enroll. This in turn would price more people out of the program, risking what the memo called an "insurance death spiral."

Mr. Foster does project the program will lower the federal deficit in its first decade (by $39 billion and $38 billion for the House and Senate bills respectively, much less than the CBO estimates). But neither CMS nor the CBO include in their 10-year projections the program's future liabilities. Of course, that's exactly when the government will have to make good on its promises, putting pressure on the federal budget. Why? Because unlike private insurance, the program won't invest its early surpluses.

Instead the program will hand over its revenues to the feds, who will promptly spend it. In return, the program's administrators would receive federal IOUs, just as Medicare and Social Security do. But these are nothing more than liabilities that have to be repaid, either by taxes or borrowing.

Under the House bill, CBO projects that the entitlement would bring in $123 billion in premiums from 2010-2019 and pay out only $20 billion in benefits. CBO also projects that the Senate's version would generate $88 billion in premiums and $14 billion in benefits.

But in a letter late last month to Sen. Tom Harkin, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf explained that while the Class Act would likely reduce federal budget deficits during 2020-2029, it would do so "by smaller amounts than in the initial decade."

By the third decade, CBO says the program would pay more in benefits than it received in premiums and what it saved Medicaid (which currently pays for long-term care for millions of elderly). Mr. Elmendorf concludes that "the programs would add to budget deficits in the third decade—and in succeeding decades—by amounts on the order of tens of billions of dollars for each 10-year period." These long-term demands on the Treasury would coincide with shortfalls in Medicare and Social Security projected to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Sen. Kennedy notwithstanding, it is hard not to conclude that a major motivation for the Class Act is to make ObamaCare look fiscally better over CBO's official 10-year budget horizon. Without the new long-term care program, CBO's projected deficit reductions for the House and Senate bills would be $36 billion and $58 billion, respectively, rather than $138 billion and $130 billion. This makes the overall Democratic reform look fiscally more responsible than it really is. The real danger comes after 10 years, when the long-term care program will increase deficits and create even greater pressure for government rationing of medical care.

Mr. Harrington is professor of health-care management and insurance and risk management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

27621  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Pak supply line to Afg on: December 14, 2009, 11:17:22 AM
Pakistan: The Supply Line Dilemma
Stratfor Today » December 14, 2009 | 1310 GMT


Rumors have been circulating that the Obama administration will approve
unilateral military action deeper into Pakistani territory beyond the tribal
belt. A potential backlash to such a strategy is the disruption of already
vulnerable U.S. and NATO supply lines running through Pakistan.

With U.S. President Barack Obama's revised Afghan strategy now under way,
rumors have been spreading rapidly in both Washington and Islamabad that the
Obama administration will approve drone strikes and other types of
unilateral U.S. military action deeper into Pakistani territory beyond the
tribal belt. These discussions are indeed taking place, but U.S. officials
are also taking a hard look at the potential backlash of such a strategy -
particularly, the threat to already-vulnerable U.S. and NATO supply lines
running through Pakistan.

The primary mission that Obama has assigned to U.S. Central Command is to
neutralize al Qaeda - a mission that encompasses pursuing high-value
jihadist targets in the region, knocking the momentum out of the Taliban
insurgency and training Afghan security forces to help shoulder the
counterterrorism burden. Obama has also articulated a plan to initiate a
drawdown of forces from the region as early as the summer of 2011, depending
on conditions on the ground. That means that the United States needs
results, and has a strategic need to see those results sooner rather than

This is an extremely worrying prospect for Pakistan. To escape pressure from
U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, al Qaeda has shifted its safe-havens to
the tribal areas in Pakistan's rugged northwest periphery with the help of
select Taliban allies. If a large part of the U.S. mission is to defeat al
Qaeda, then the United States can be expected to have very little regard for
the Durand Line that divides the Pashtun lands between Afghanistan and

The CIA and U.S. Special Forces already have a track record in carrying out
covert, cross-border activity in Pakistan, ranging from human intelligence
operations to unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against high-value targets,
such as Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud. These operations
cause Pakistan extraordinary unease, and to add insult to injury, the drones
fly out of bases in Pakistan itself. In June 2008, a U.S. airstrike targeted
a Pakistani paramilitary checkpoint in Mohmand Agency in the northwestern
tribal area, which the Pakistani military continues to believe was
deliberate targeting by their supposed ally. The United States crossed a
line with Islamabad, however, in September 2008 when it went beyond the
tribal belt and launched its most overt full-scale raid against high-value
Taliban and al Qaeda targets hiding out in a town in South Waziristan. That
attack ended up killing 20 people and sparked a public backlash, as
Pakistani citizens charged the government and military with selling out
Pakistan's national sovereignty to Washington.

Pakistan decided at that point that it would have to resort to the one tool
that gives Islamabad enormous leverage over Washington: control over U.S.
and NATO supply lines. The United States currently depends almost
exclusively on Pakistan to transport mostly non-lethal supplies (such as
food, fuel and building materials) for troops fighting the war in
Afghanistan. This may not be the safest route, but Pakistan does offer the
shortest and most logistically viable supply lines into landlocked
Afghanistan. The Pakistani supply lines originate in Karachi and then split
into two separate routes. The longer and more commonly-used northern route
passes through Sindh, Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber Pass to the
Torkham border crossing into central and northern Afghanistan. The shorter,
southern route passes through Sindh to the Balochistan-Chaman border
crossing into southern Afghanistan.

(click here for STRATFOR Interactive map on attacks targeting U.S.-NATO
supply lines)

Following the September 2008 U.S. operation in South Waziristan, U.S. and
NATO logistics teams ran into trouble at the port of Karachi. Within several
days of the strike, Pakistani authorities suddenly demanded that the
logistics teams would have to fill out all their paperwork in Urdu, and that
it would be up to Pakistani authorities to determine whether their Urdu was
up to Pakistani standards to allow supplies to pass through. The disruption
lasted a few days. This was essentially Pakistan's way of signaling to the
United States that it was not going to tolerate unilateral U.S. military
action in Pakistan and that the consequences of such action would be a
supply cut-off to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has since caused sporadic disruptions to the supply lines, usually
by citing security concerns and closing the border crossings at Torkham and
Chaman for days at a time. And though Pakistan has been battling its own
jihadist insurgency for several years now, militant attacks on the supply
lines only picked up at the end of 2008 when U.S.-Pakistani tensions were
running particularly high following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. This
phenomenon has been discussed among officials in New Delhi and Washington,
though no evidence has been presented to demonstrate a direct link between
the sudden uptick in attacks and an increase of U.S. pressure on Pakistan.
Pakistan-based jihadists have their own incentive to wreak havoc on
U.S./NATO supply lines into Afghanistan, but Pakistan's murky militant
landscape could also provide the Pakistani military and intelligence
services with the means to disrupt the supply lines should the political
need arise.

Now that the United States is pursuing a more aggressive posture in
targeting high-value militants on Pakistani soil, the Pakistani military and
government have an even greater strategic incentive to hold U.S./NATO supply
lines hostage. Pakistan and the United States cannot agree to disagree on
their definitions of "good" versus "bad" Taliban. While Pakistan is serious
about pursuing TTP militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani state,
it does not want to incur the backlash of pursuing those militants and
allies of al Qaeda whose focus is on Afghanistan, most notably the Haqqani
network and Hafiz Gul Bahadir in North Waziristan, Maulvi Nazir in South
Waziristan, and the Mullah Omar-led group of Afghan Taliban in the Pashtun
belt of Balochistan. Pakistan's intelligence services have a delicate
network of alliances to maintain within each of these networks, and from
Islamabad's point of view, strikes by U.S. Hellfire missiles do not
particularly help in this regard.

Pakistan is particularly concerned about the United States going beyond the
tribal areas and pursuing militants closer to the Pakistani core. While the
Pakistani public has become more or less tolerant of drone strikes in FATA,
the idea of a U.S. drone going after Mullah Omar in Balochistan province is
another matter entirely. FATA is an autonomous region, where the writ of the
Pakistani state does not reach very far. Balochistan, in spite of its own
separatist tendencies, is still an integral piece of the Pakistani state.
The public backlash from the September 2008 attack in South Waziristan was
notable - to the point where even the Pakistani army chief gave orders to
Pakistani forces to fire on U.S. drones - but U.S. military operations in
Balochistan would trigger a much more intense and violent response.

And then there is the issue of Punjab - the Pakistani heartland - where the
population, military, industry and agriculture are concentrated. Several TTP
attacks in the past week have taken place in Punjab, with the most recent
suicide attack against an Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) facility in
Multan. Though the Pakistani Taliban has nowhere near the support network in
Punjab than it has in the Pashtun-dominated northwestern tribal badlands,
these attacks are spreading fears that the TTP has activated a preexisting
social support network of radical Islamists in southern Punjab. The last
thing the Pakistani military wants is to be drawn into military operations
in the Pakistani core, but the Pakistani military cannot afford to see U.S.
operations expand to Punjab. Such a possibility, though remote, would cause
a major crisis of confidence within an already embattled military, whose
loss of internal coherence would pose a direct threat to the survival of the

The United States is thus caught in a dilemma. On one hand, it's on a tight
timeline to achieve results in defeating al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan
so that it can move on to other pressing issues beyond South Asia. On the
other hand, the means that the United States would use in defeating al Qaeda
run a good chance of seriously destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear-armed ally
whose cooperation is essential to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

The United States has begun tackling this dilemma by depriving Pakistan of
at least some of the leverage it holds through the supply lines. Washington
has been in negotiations with Moscow for roughly a year to develop a
supplemental supply line through the former Soviet Union, and is now at a
point where the two are working on the details of an agreement to transport
U.S. and NATO supplies from the Latvian port of Riga through Russia and into
Afghanistan. This is one of several alternate routes, but any route through
the Central Asian states or through Ukraine and Romania would still require
the White House to deal with the Kremlin, a lesson the United States learned
the hard way. The supplemental supply routes through the former Soviet Union
cannot replace the routes through Pakistan, and are resting on an extremely
shaky political foundation. After all, Russia is more than happy to make
Washington more dependent on Moscow for its mission in Afghanistan since the
Kremlin would then have the ability to cut the supply line whenever
U.S.-Russian political negotiations go south.

Even as plans are in the works for a supplemental supply line through the
former Soviet Union, Washington knows there is still no going around
Pakistan. Between a raging jihadist insurgency, an economy in turmoil and a
government on the verge of collapse, Pakistan is already under a great deal
of pressure. An increase in U.S. military operations on Pakistani soil going
beyond the tribal badlands could well be the final straw. The United States
is thus in a quandary: How does it achieve its goals on the western
periphery of Pakistan without creating anarchy in its core? Pakistani
authorities are now tasked with making the United States understand just how
fragile their situation is, and if those appeals don't work, Pakistan's
alternate plan will likely be to hold U.S./NATO supply lines hostage.
27622  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Whole Food Republicans on: December 14, 2009, 11:05:13 AM
I think this piece makes some very good points.

The Republican Party is resurgent—or so goes the conventional wisdom. With its gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey, an energized "tea party" base, and an administration overreaching on health care, climate change and spending, 2010 could shape up to be 1994 all over again.

Maybe. The political landscape sure looks greener than it did a year ago, when talk of a permanent Democratic majority was omnipresent. But before John Boehner starts measuring the drapes in the Speaker's office, or the party exults about its possibilities in 2012, it's worth noting that some of the key trends driving President Barack Obama's strong victory in 2008 haven't disappeared. Republicans need to address them head-on if they want to lead a majority party again.

There are the depressing numbers on young voters (two-thirds of whom voted for Mr. Obama), African-Americans and Latinos (95% and 67% went blue respectively). But these groups have voted Democratic for decades, and their strong turnout in 2008's historic election wasn't replicated this fall, nor is it likely to be replicated again.

The voting patterns of the college-educated is another story. This is a group that, slowly but surely, is growing larger every year. About 30% of Americans 25 and older have at least a bachelor's degree; in 1988 that number was only 20% and in 1968 it was 10%.

As less-educated seniors pass away and better-educated 20- and 30-somethings take their place in the electorate, this bloc will exert growing influence. And here's the distressing news for the GOP: According to exit-poll data, a majority of college-educated voters (53%) pulled the lever for Mr. Obama in 2008—the first time a Democratic candidate has won this key segment since the 1970s.

View Full Image

David Gothard
 .Some in the GOP see this trend as an opportunity rather than a problem. Let the Democrats have the Starbucks set, goes the thinking, and we'll grab working-class families. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for instance, wants to embrace "Sam's Club" Republicans. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee pitched himself in 2008 as the guy who "looks like your co-worker, not your boss." Even Mitt Romney blasted "Eastern elites." And of course there's Sarah Palin, whose entire brand is anti-intellectual.

To be sure, playing to personal identity is hardly novel, nor is it crazy. Bill Bishop and other political analysts have noted that people's politics are as much about their lifestyle choices as their policy positions. Republicans live in exurbs and small towns, drive pick-up trucks or SUVs, go to church every Sunday, and listen to country music. Well-heeled Democrats live in cities and close-in suburbs, drive hybrids or Volvos, hang out at bookshops, and frequent farmers' markets. These are stereotypes, of course, but they also contain some truth.

Widening this cultural divide has long been part of the GOP playbook, going back to Nixon's attacks on "East Coast intellectuals" and forward to candidate Obama's arugula-eating tendencies. But with the white working class shrinking and the educated "creative class" growing, playing the populism card looks like a strategy of subtraction rather than addition. A more enlightened approach would be to go after college-educated voters, to make the GOP safe for smarties again.

What's needed is a full-fledged effort to cultivate "Whole Foods Republicans"—independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated individuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work. (Not to mention that its founder is a well-known libertarian who took to these pages to excoriate ObamaCare as inimical to market principles.)

What makes these voters potential Republicans is that, lifestyle choices aside, they view big government with great suspicion. There's no law that someone who enjoys organic food, rides his bike to work, or wants a diverse school for his kids must also believe that the federal government should take over the health-care system or waste money on thousands of social programs with no evidence of effectiveness. Nor do highly educated people have to agree that a strong national defense is harmful to the cause of peace and international cooperation.

So how to woo these voters to the Republican column? The first step is to stop denigrating intelligence and education. President George W. Bush's bantering about being a "C" student may have enamored "the man in the street," but it surely discouraged more than a few "A" students from feeling like part of the team.

The same is true for Mrs. Palin's inability to name a single newspaper she reads. If the GOP doesn't want to be branded the "Party of Stupid," it could stand to nominate more people who can speak eloquently on complicated policy matters.

Even more important is the party's message on divisive social issues. When some Republicans use homophobic language, express thinly disguised contempt toward immigrants, or ridicule heartfelt concerns for the environment, they affront the values of the educated class. And they lose votes they otherwise ought to win.

The races in Virginia and New Jersey show what can happen when the GOP sticks to its core economic message instead of playing wedge politics. Both Republican candidates won majorities of college-educated voters. Their approach attracted Sam's Club Republicans and Whole Foods Republicans alike.

It's good news that America is becoming better educated, more inclusive, and more concerned about the environment. The Republican Party can either catch this wave, or watch its historic opportunity for "resurgence" wash away with the tides.

Mr. Petrilli is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a frequenter of the Whole Foods Market in Silver Spring, Md.

27623  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Roger Scruton on: December 14, 2009, 10:45:08 AM
"The USA has descended from its special position as the principled guardian of Western civilization and joined the club of sentimentalists who have until now depended on American power. In the administration of President Obama we see the very same totalitarian sentimentality that has been at work in Europe, and which has replaced civil society with the state, the family with the adoption agency, work with welfare, and patriotic duty with universal 'rights.' The lesson of postwar Europe is that it is easy to flaunt compassion, but harder to bear the cost of it. Far preferable to the hard life in which disciplined teaching, costly charity, and responsible attachment are the ruling principles is the life of sentimental display, in which others are encouraged to admire you for virtues you do not possess. This life of phony compassion is a life of transferred costs. Liberals who wax lyrical on the sufferings of the poor do not, on the whole, give their time and money to helping those less fortunate than themselves. On the contrary, they campaign for the state to assume the burden. The inevitable result of their sentimental approach to suffering is the expansion of the state and the increase in its power both to tax us and to control our lives. As the state takes charge of our needs, and relieves people of the burdens that should rightly be theirs -- the burdens that come from charity and neighborliness -- serious feeling retreats. In place of it comes an aggressive sentimentality that seeks to dominate the public square. I call this sentimentality 'totalitarian' since -- like totalitarian government -- it seeks out opposition and carefully extinguishes it, in all the places where opposition might form. Its goal is to 'solve' our social problems, by imposing burdens on responsible citizens, and lifting burdens from the 'victims,' who have a 'right' to state support. The result is to replace old social problems, which might have been relieved by private charity, with the new and intransigent problems fostered by the state...." --columnist Roger Scruton
27624  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Patriot Post Brief on: December 14, 2009, 10:38:54 AM
Brief · Monday, December 14, 2009

The Foundation
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson

"I reread ['Atlas Shrugged'] recently and was stunned. It was as if [Ayn] Rand had seen the future. Writing half a century ago, she predicted today's explosion of big government in shockingly accurate detail. The 'Preservation of Livelihood Law.' The 'Equalization of Opportunity Law.' The 'Steel Unification Plan.' Don't these sound like laws passed by the current Congress? All were creations of Rand's villain, Wesley Mouch, the evil bureaucrat who regulates business and eventually drives the productive people out of business. Who is today's Wesley Mouch? Barney Frank? Chris Dodd. Tim Geithner? ... 'Atlas' is still a big bestseller today. This year, it reached as high as NO. 15 on Amazon's bestseller list. Pretty amazing. Clearly there's some magic in 'Atlas Shrugged.' The Library of Congress once asked readers which books made the biggest difference in their lives. 'Atlas' came in second, after the Bible. ... The embrace of freer markets has lifted more people out of the misery of poverty than any other system -- ever. The World Bank says that in just the last 30 years, half a billion people who once lived on less than $1.25 a day have moved out of poverty. But now, Wesley Mouch -- I mean, Congress and the bureaucrats -- tell us they are going to 'fix' capitalism, as if their previous 'fixes' didn't hamstring the free market and create the problems they propose to solve. Who are they kidding? Rand had it right. She learned it the hard way in Soviet Russia. What makes a country work is leaving people free -- free to take risks, to invent things -- and to keep the rewards of their work. Critics say Ayn Rand promotes selfishness. I call it 'enlightened self interest.' When free people act in their own self-interest, society prospers." --columnist John Stossel

"The [U.S.] Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals ... it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government ... it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizen's protection against the government." --author and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

Bill of Rights Anniversary
Tomorrow, Dec. 15, is the 218th anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to our Constitution, as ratified in 1791.

The Bill of Rights was inspired by three remarkable documents: John Locke's 1689 thesis, Two Treatises of Government, regarding the protection of "property" (in the Latin context, proprius, or one's own "life, liberty and estate"); in part from the Virginia Declaration of Rights authored by George Mason in 1776 as part of that state's Constitution; and, of course, in part from our Declaration of Independence authored by Thomas Jefferson.

Read in context, the Bill of Rights is both an affirmation of innate individual rights and a clear delineation on constraints upon the central government. As oft trampled and abused as the Bill of Rights is, Patriots should remain vigilant in the fight for our rights.
27625  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH editorial on: December 14, 2009, 09:19:15 AM
An exhibit in the legal reasoning of liberal fascism from todays Pravda on the Hudson-- the New York Times:

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A New York State appellate court has misguidedly put a roadblock in the way of Columbia University’s expansion plans, ruling that the state misused eminent domain to help Columbia assemble the land it needs. This decision conflicts with the relevant law and will make it much harder for the university to move ahead with a project that would benefit the surrounding neighborhood and the entire city.

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Times Topics: Columbia University | Eminent DomainColumbia is outgrowing its Morningside Heights campus and is planning a major expansion north into West Harlem that would include school buildings, laboratories and publicly accessible open space. It would allow the school to better pursue its important missions of education and research. It would also provide the community with jobs and amenities, including widened, pedestrian-friendly streets and space for local artists.

To secure enough land, the university is relying in part on the Empire State Development Corporation’s eminent domain power, compelling holdout commercial property owners to sell. Several of the holdouts sued, arguing that the use of eminent domain was illegal.

In a weakly reasoned decision, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court agreed, by a 3-to-2 vote. The majority took the peculiar position that there is no civic purpose behind Columbia’s decision to expand.

The decision is completely out of step with eminent domain law, including a recent 6-to-1 decision from the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. That court ruled that Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards, a commercial development, can use eminent domain to secure land to build new housing and a basketball arena for the Nets. That was the right decision, and the case for Columbia is even stronger.

The civic purpose in the Columbia expansion is clear, given the contributions it would make to education, the job market and community life. The Empire State Development Corporation also made a thoroughly defensible decision that eminent domain was appropriate given the blighted condition of the land at issue, between 125th and 133rd Streets near the Hudson River.

The university says it intends to move forward on a center for interdisciplinary neuroscience, which would be built on land it already owns. But it is regrettable that much of the project is now stalled. The Court of Appeals should hear the case on an expedited schedule and reverse the Appellate Division’s ruling.
27626  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science on: December 14, 2009, 08:57:42 AM
BBG et al:

Please break down for me in SUPER simplistic terms the case for and against the meliting glaciers line of thought:

Thank you,
27627  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Noah Webster, 1787 on: December 14, 2009, 08:37:58 AM
"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States." --Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787
27628  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters on: December 13, 2009, 05:23:28 PM
Oil drilling equipment. From North Korea? Pull the other one, Sergei.
December 14, 2009

Crew of Detained Plane Denies Knowledge of Arms


BANGKOK — In their first interview since being detained by Thai authorities, the crew of a cargo aircraft traveling from North Korea said Sunday that they did not know they had been transporting an arsenal of rockets, grenade launchers and other unidentified weapons weighing at least 30 tons.

“They said it was oil drilling equipment,” said Viktor Abdullayev, the plane’s co-pilot. “That’s what the manager told us,” he said referring to his employer, a civilian cargo company from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Officials in Thailand did little over the weekend to shed light on the perplexing seizure of the aircraft, offering only rudimentary details about the plane, its crew and its cargo.

The five-man crew is to be charged in court Monday with possession of weapons of war, in a case that may shed light on the shadowy business of global arms trafficking — and in North Korea’s role, in particular.

Thai authorities said the weapons were seized after a tip from American officials, and said the shipment appeared to violate a United Nations arms embargo but did not provide a detailed accounting of the armaments, which will undergo a more thorough inspection Tuesday.

Thailand was acting, it said, under United Nations Resolution 1874, which was passed in June in response to nuclear tests in North Korea. The resolution is effectively an arms embargo covering the transport of heavy weaponry to and from North Korea. Such weapons sales are one of the few ways the country has been able to earn foreign currency.

The resolution, which builds on a previous resolution from 2006, calls on countries to “inspect and destroy” certain categories of weapons bound to or from North Korea, including large-caliber artillery, missiles and missile spare parts.

No major seizures of weapons have been made public since the passage of the resolution. This summer, the United States Navy tracked a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying banned cargo for about three weeks, and the ship eventually turned back to its home port without incident.

Speaking in rudimentary English, Mr. Abdullayev and his colleagues said they started their current mission in Ukraine, picked up cargo in North Korea and were traveling back to Ukraine via Thailand, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. They declined to say in which of those locations the cargo was meant to be delivered.

Mr. Abdullayev, who said he was from Kazakhstan, said it never occurred to him to inquire about the cargo. “I have no interest in what I carry,” he said. “Like a truck driver: just keep driving.”

Panitan Wattanayagorn, the Thai government spokesman, said in an interview that the aircraft, a Russian-made Ilyushin 76, which is registered in Georgia, had come through Bangkok twice — both on the way and during the return trip from North Korea. The aircraft was searched on the return journey after Thai authorities were tipped off by American officials that the aircraft might be carrying weapons. The crew was detained and the cargo confiscated but not immediately. The crew had enough time to buy six large bottles of beer at a duty-free shop, which were confiscated from them in the detention center where they are now being kept.

Mr. Panitan denied reports that the Friday stopover in Bangkok was an emergency landing.

“It was a scheduled landing to refuel the plane,” Mr. Panitan said.

Analysts have questioned why an aircraft carrying an illicit payload would land and refuel at an airfield in Bangkok — Don Muang airport — that is also used by the Thai military. The choice of Thailand as a refueling station is also peculiar considering the country’s close military ties with the United States.

“There’s much more to this story than what has been made public so far,” said Bertil Lintner, an author who has written extensively on North Korea. “Why would you refuel in Thailand?” If the aircraft had landed in neighboring Myanmar, which is ruled by generals friendly to the North Korean regime, “there would have been no problem,” Mr. Lintner said.

Among the many theories discussed on Thai Web sites and in the media here is that the Ilyushin was forced to land by the Thai air force as it crossed Thai airspace. In the interview the crew said they had landed in Bangkok to refuel.

Further details may emerge in the coming days as the cargo is examined and the crew members appear in court. The weapons have been transported to an air force base in central Thailand and will be more closely analyzed by experts on Tuesday, Mr. Panitan said.

Four of the crew members were from Kazakhstan, including the captain, Ilyas Issakov, Mr. Abdullayev, Alexandr Zrybney and Vtaliy Shurmnov, all co-pilots. Mikhail Prtkhou, a fourth co-pilot is from Belarus.

Mr. Issakov, the captain, said he had traveled to Thailand before for both business and pleasure.

All five men have been barred from making phone calls or reading newspapers. During the interview in a detention center late Sunday, Mr. Abdullayev requested help from a reporter to obtain a clothes iron because he said he wanted to appear presentable in court.
27629  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Learning from the Soviets on: December 13, 2009, 05:20:42 PM
I rarely read, still less often quote from Pravda Newspeak, yet this article seems thoughtful.
Learning From the Soviets
By Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova | NEWSWEEK
Published Dec 11, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Dec 21, 2009
Talk to Russian veterans of Afghanistan and it's hard not to think that they're rooting for the U.S. to lose. For these proud men, seeing NATO succeed at a job they botched would deepen the humiliation of defeat. Easier to affirm that if the Soviets couldn't win there, no one can. "We did not succeed and you will not either," says Gen. Victor Yermakov, who commanded Soviet forces in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1983. "They didn't trust us. They won't trust you." Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, who served in Afghanistan under the occupation and has just completed a four-year term as Russia's envoy in the country, is no more optimistic. "We tried to impose communism. You are trying to impose democracy," he says. "There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that the international community has not repeated."

Such unrelenting bearishness is hardly encouraging, and there are undeniably echoes of the Soviet experience in President Barack Obama's new Afghan surge. Obama is doubling down on his attempt to do what no foreign power ever has: defeat an Afghan insurgency and leave behind a stable and legitimate local regime. The Soviets' misadventures in Afghanistan—begun 30 years ago this Christmas Eve—faced many similar challenges: managing tribal politics, stemming support for insurgents from over the border in Pakistan, creating a credible government in Kabul and viable local security forces, and containing civilian casualties. Yet the differences are equally profound, and they suggest that America may just manage to succeed where Russia failed—in part by learning from its own and the Soviets' mistakes.

Moscow's troubles in Afghanistan started nearly the moment the war began, with a deluge of international condemnation far stronger than the Soviet leaders ever expected. The U.S. imposed trade sanctions and boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Obama today finds himself in a very different position. The NATO campaign enjoys wide international support—including from Russia, in spirit at least.
But the most important difference between then and now is that the Taliban isn't backed by a superpower supplying it with money and deadly weapons. That makes it a far less formidable enemy than the mujahedin of the 1980s, who were enthusiastically supported and armed by the U.S. and Pakistan. Washington suspects, with reason, that many of the old insurgents still fighting today—notably Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani—are getting covert support from elements in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. But even if that's true, the ISI's current involvement is nothing like that of the old days, not least because Pakistan's civilian government officially opposes the Taliban and had even made sporadic attempts to fight it. A generation ago, Stinger missiles, supplied to the rebels in large numbers after 1986 thanks to a campaign by U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson, effectively robbed the Soviets of their air superiority. Today's Taliban has no such technological advantage, and few friends. As a result, "the Americans are in a much better position than we ever were," says Yuri Krupnov, director of Russia's Institute of Regional Development, which promotes Russian-Afghan ties. "This will not be a second Vietnam."
Another reason he's probably right is that NATO is proving better at learning from Moscow's mistakes than the Soviets were. Take civilian casualties. Initial military victory came almost effortlessly for both the Soviets and NATO. But both powers soon stepped on the same rake: losing hearts and minds by accidentally hitting civilian targets. Yermakov recalls ordering his troops to mine the irrigation channels around the town of Gardez in 1983. Many dushmany (a pejorative local term for the mujahedin) were blown up, but so were channels essential for local farmers. "At one point our aviation destroyed half of Kandahar because somebody did not get the right instructions," says Alexander Shkirando, a fluent Pashto and Farsi speaker who spent 10 years in Afghanistan in the 1980s as a political and military adviser. NATO has made similar blunders—notably two bombings of wedding parties in Kunduz and Uruzgan—but on nothing like the same scale. The exact number of Afghan civilian casualties during the Soviet campaign is hard to come by, but estimates range from 700,000 to more than a million. According to the United Nations, combined civilian deaths directly and indirectly caused by the latest war range from 12,000 to 30,000.
The Americans have been careful to avoid the wanton brutality of the Soviets not only on the battlefield but in their treatment of prisoners too. Even before U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal commissioned a review earlier this year, the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004 led to an improvement in the treatment of detainees at the U.S. interrogation camp at Bagram. And as dire as conditions at Bagram may have been, they were nothing compared with the abuse committed by the Soviets' proxy force of Afghan secret police, who murdered at least 27,000 political prisoners at their notorious detention center at Pul-e-Charkhi. Russians like to compare the Soviet and U.S. occupations: Krupnov asks, "Who is more imperialist, the Soviets or the Americans?" In reality, however, there's a world of difference in the two armies' behavior.
The Soviets tried a surge of their own in 1984–85, boosting troop levels to 118,000 to clear rebel areas like the lower Panjshir Valley and the strategic road to Khost. But it didn't work. The mujahedin would "melt away like mist," recalls Paulius Purickis, an ethnic Lithuanian draftee who served as a sergeant. "We were never able to engage them in a head-on battle," he says. General McChrystal hopes to avoid that problem with the extra troops being made available to him, which will allow him to "clear and hold" whole provinces, with small forward posts used to befriend and gather intelligence from locals.
The Soviets also tried to win hearts and minds, of course. But they left that job to the KGB, with dismal results. Today, rather than run a network of secret torture centers as the Soviets' proxy Mohammad Najibullah did, President Hamid Karzai has set himself up as a defender of the rights of Afghans detained in U.S.-run prisons, something that plays well with the population.
The Soviets also bungled the process of building relations with tribal leaders. Vasily Kravtsov spent 12 years in Afghanistan, rising to become the ranking KGB officer in Kandahar responsible for establishing an Afghan security and intelligence service in the area. Pashtun tribal politics were Kravtsov's specialty, and the bane of his life. The problem was, in part, a communist agenda to enlighten the Afghans by replacing religious schools with secular ones and to undermine the authority of local mullahs. "We made stupid ideological mistakes," says Gen. Ruslan Aushev, one of the most decorated Russian commanders of the Afghan war. "We told the Muslim people that religion was the opium of the masses!" U.S. officials have tried to be more culturally sensitive: as McChrystal put it in a recently leaked report, the American military is shifting away from "an excessively defensive posture to enable the troops to engage with the Afghan people."
Perhaps the closest parallel—and the area with the most lessons for Washington today—is in how to shore up the local government. And here again there is reason for optimism. Moscow's puppet Najibullah was weak and unpopular and ended up hanging from a lamppost soon after his patrons went home. Karzai is also little loved. But for all his troubles, he's in a far better position than his predecessor, for despite electoral gerrymandering and allegations of corruption, Karzai is still more popular than any other politician in the country.
That's a huge asset, for getting local government right is probably the ultimate key to success or failure. To do that, Washington should probably make a point of ignoring the Russians' advice. Today Russian veterans insist that the main reason for their failure was their attempt to impose a foreign mindset on an age-old system of tribal alliances: "Forget your ideas of bringing democracy there," says Yermakov. But communism wasn't the real problem, and neither is democracy. Indeed, democracy may be the solution. Najibullah's government fell not because it was secular and socialist but because it disintegrated under the twin evils of tribalism and corruption. Moscow grafted a veneer of communism onto a narrow, repressive, and widely hated Pashtun tribal clique that was no match for the mujahedin. This suggests that the key today is to support a government that's as inclusive, democratic, and accountable as possible. That means doing everything in Washington's power to get Karzai to clean up his act. The United States, with its rapid adaptation, has already shown it is in better shape than any previous invader to win the Afghan war on the ground. The challenge now is to also avoid repeating Russia's mistakes on the way out—and to become the first foreign force to leave Afghanistan in better shape than it found it.
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27630  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Sudan on: December 13, 2009, 02:38:23 PM
In his Oslo address Thursday, President Obama mulled the trade-offs in dealing with repressive regimes. "There's no simple formula here," he said. "But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time."

From Nobel theory, we move to practice in Sudan. As a candidate, Mr. Obama stood with the human rights champions of Darfur and pledged tougher sanctions and a possible no-fly zone if a Sudanese regime infamous for genocide didn't shape up. His tone has changed in office.

Unveiled in October, the Administration's Sudan policy emphasized carrots for the regime to ease up in Darfur and implement a peace deal in southern Sudan; any sticks were relegated to a secret annex. The President's special envoy to Sudan, retired Major General Scott Gration, was reluctant even to allude to tougher sanctions. He said that "cookies" and "gold stars" are preferable to threats and that Darfur was experiencing only "remnants of genocide."

President Omar al-Bashir, whose Islamist National Congress Party took power in a 1989 coup, got the message and decided to test the limits of this new indulgence. Almost immediately the regime hardened its stance on implementing the peace accord. Brokered by the Bush Administration in 2005, the deal calls for political reforms, including free parliamentary elections now scheduled for April, and a referendum on independence for the south in two years. Long before the ethnic cleansing in Darfur turned into a Hollywood cause célèbre, a two-decade war between the Muslim north and the Christian and oil-rich south took two million lives.

On Monday, police in the capital Khartoum beat and arrested opposition leaders who were pressing parliament to adopt the necessary laws to hold the April elections. Time is running out to pass them. The Bashir regime now refuses to overhaul the national security and criminal laws as also stipulated in the 2005 deal. Its recalcitrance means the election and referendum, assuming both come off, would be tainted. This could in turn end up restarting the civil war.

At the same time, the preference for diplomacy over pressure has encouraged the hard men in Khartoum to stoke the flames in Darfur, ignoring an arms embargo and challenging the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force there.

In the man-bites-dog story of the year, the U.N. last week took the Obama Administration to task over its lax efforts to enforce the arms embargo, while praising the Bush Administration. "In contrast to that leadership of 2004 and 2005, the United States appears to have now joined the group of influential states who sit by quietly and do nothing to ensure that sanctions protect Darfurians," Enrico Carisch, who was the top U.N. investigator of violations of the arms embargo until October, said in written testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa.

The Sudanese aren't even the hardest of cases. Concerted American pressure forced this regime to cut ties with al Qaeda in the 1990s, end aerial bombing and support for slave-hunting militias in the south and accept the 2005 peace deal.

Mr. Obama can summon up tough rhetoric. "Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy—but there must be consequences when those things fail," he said in Oslo. But the world's rogues might be forgiven for missing the nuances. So far, they've seen only the engaging side of this American President.
27631  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Meir Dagan on: December 13, 2009, 02:28:52 PM
Newspeak is often quite a Pravda, even in this article there are whiffs of it, but the article seems interesting to me nonetheless.


Iran’s Worst Enemy
Israel's top spymaster will stop at nothing to prevent a nuclear Iran. Even at the expense of other threats.
By Ronen Bergman | NEWSWEEK 

Published Dec 12, 2009

From the magazine issue dated Dec 21, 2009

Even among Israel's tough security chiefs, Meir Dagan has always been known for his raw nerve. As a military trainee he would wander around the base during his off hours flinging a knife at trees and telephone poles like a circus entertainer, one fellow soldier recalls. He earned one of his first decorations as a young commando in Gaza, for snatching a live grenade from the hands of an enemy fighter. Long-haired and confident, Dagan would sometimes bring his pet Doberman, Paco, along on raids. His propensity for solving problems by force continued even after he retired from the military. He was leading a task force on terrorist financing in 2001 when his men told him they had discovered a European bank being used to channel money from Iran to Hamas. "We have the address, no?" Dagan asked his intel officers, according to a participant in the meeting, who asked not to be named for fear of angering Dagan. "Burn it down!" The horrified intelligence officers stalked out of the room in protest. (Dagan declined any comment for this story.)

Soon afterward Dagan was brought in to rejuvenate the Mossad, Israel's storied foreign intelligence serv-ice. Eight years later, after a string of covert successes attributed to the agency, he has become the country's longest-serving and most influential spy chief. His men revere him (an affection that does not extend to all their bosses, according to a recent internal survey cited by Mossad sources); even Israel's civilian leaders heed his strategic advice. But critics say his influence has been achieved at a cost: Dagan, 64, has systematically reoriented the Mossad to focus almost exclusively on what he (and most Israelis) see as the dominant threat to the country—Iran. He views almost all of Israel's national-security challenges through that prism.

The Israeli government's single-minded focus on Tehran has caused friction with the Obama administration, which is seeking to engage Iran and to promote a deal with the Palestinians. Publicly there is no rift: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he supports efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program diplomatically, as long as harsh sanctions are imposed if no progress is shown. But the threat of a unilateral Israeli attack remains on the table—and while that threat may give the Americans leverage in talks with Tehran, an actual attack might well invite Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia.

Dagan is not arguing for a quick strike. In fact, he recently pushed back to 2014 his estimate of the date when the Islamic Republic might have the means to build and launch nuclear weapons. But his uncompromising focus on Iran at the least reinforces Netanyahu's hawkish bent. One French intelligence officer, who didn't want to be identified discussing internal Israeli politics, describes Dagan as a "tailwind" carrying Netanyahu toward military action.

As the Iranian threat has grown and Israel's political leaders have been damaged by scandal and the 2006 war with Hizbullah in Lebanon, Dagan has become one of the most powerful figures in the country. He was appointed by then–prime minister Ariel Sharon after a period of retrenchment for the Mossad, and has done much to restore the agency's reputation for ruthless efficiency. His men are considered responsible for two of the Jewish state's highest-profile recent successes: the assassination of the notorious Hizbullah mastermind Imad Mugniyah in Damascus last year, and the discovery of a key piece of intelligence that led to the bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor that fall. When news leaked out this September that intel agencies had discovered a previously unknown uranium--enrichment facility in the Iranian city of Qum, Dagan's men quietly got the credit, although it was the Americans who made the announcement. Netanyahu occasionally travels to Dagan's office for briefings, rather than the other way around. (A Netanyahu spokesman also declined to comment.)

That kind of favoritism has irked rivals in Israel's intel establishment. They argue that his focus on Iran has led to a diversion of resources from more immediate threats. "Why is Iran more dangerous than Syria?" asks one Military Intelligence officer, who did not want to be identified criticizing Dagan. "[Syria] has an enormous army on Israel's border, and chemical weapons that could destroy this country." Some Israeli strategists argue that Damascus should be more aggressively courted, in an effort to encourage President Bashar al-Assad to sever his ties to Tehran. Dagan, on the other hand, holds that peace talks with Assad's regime are a waste of time as long as Iran remains Syria's dominant partner.

Dagan's powerful persona may be overcompensation for an early life marked by danger and deprivation. He was born in 1945 on the floor of a freezing freight car making its way from Siberia to Poland. His family, whose name was originally Huberman, fled to Israel when he was 5, on a ship that nearly sank in a storm. Meir stood on the deck wearing a life vest and gripping an orange, convinced that he was not long for this world.

Dagan dropped out of high school to try out for the Israeli military's prestigious commando unit, Sayeret Matkal, but didn't make the cut. (At Military Intelligence headquarters they complain that Dagan still nurses resentment over the slight.) Dagan eventually enlisted in an armor unit, where his sense of the existential dangers to his country only grew. "We suddenly found ourselves in a constant series of wars," he recalled to a journalist in 1999.

In 1970 Sharon, then head of the Israeli military's Southern Command, tapped the 25-year-old Dagan to command a unit of elite special-forces troops operating in the Gaza Strip. On one occasion, according to Israeli press accounts, Dagan and some of his men dressed as Palestinians, entered Gaza on a fishing boat, met with a group of PLO fighters, and killed them all. The unorthodox commando methods of the unit, called Sayeret Rimon, helped reduce terrorist attacks inside Israel significantly, but some of Dagan's men later recounted tales of atrocities: shooting Palestinians in the back and then claiming that they had tried to escape, according to one allegation. Dagan was never charged, however, and he defended himself to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in 1999, insisting that the Rimon years were not a "Wild West period … We never believed that killing women and children was permissible." Still, he added, "orders to open fire were different then. There were fewer restrictions."

At the time, the Mossad was entering its heyday. American spies found the agency's help indispensable during the Cold War. (CIA operatives were astounded when the Israelis managed to procure a Soviet MiG-21 for inspection in the mid-1960s.) By the early 1970s, when Palestinian terrorist organizations became the Mossad's biggest challenge, the agency had acquired a reputation for deadly proficiency; its operatives eliminated PLO fighters around the world, including several of those responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

But the agency's influence declined in the 1980s and 1990s as violence flared inside the occupied territories (which are the responsibility of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic-security service, and the military). When then–Mossad chief Danny Yatom ordered an assassination attempt in 1997—sending operatives to Amman to inject a lethal poison into the ear of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal—the plot went badly awry and the director was forced to resign. Yatom's successor, Efraim Halevy, tolerated few risks. European and American spies began complaining that the Israelis no longer had much to offer on the international intel exchange. Although the agency's budget is a state secret, a source in the Finance Ministry says funding in the Halevy years fell by about 25 percent.

Dagan brought his flamethrower approach to the Mossad in 2001, shortly after the second intifada erupted. Dagan had worked on Sharon's campaign the previous year, but the prime minister wasn't just showing gratitude: he wanted an antidote to the timid directors of the 1990s. Dagan had plenty of military experience but had never served in the Mossad, making it easier to shake the place up. He quickly upended the organization internally and began tangling with Israel's other intelligence agencies.

His approach earned him enemies. In the intelligence world the first and toughest fight is always the battle over budgets. Dagan competes for scarce resources and influence with Israel's Military Intelligence and Shin Bet, among others. In a brazen power grab, the Mossad director began ordering his subordinates to stonewall the other agencies. Dagan appointed an enforcer code-named "Mr. A," whose job was to frustrate rivals in MI. According to Mossad and MI sources who did not want to be identified discussing interagency frictions, the tension grew so unbearable that MI officers began avoiding Mossad headquarters. They taunted Mr. A by calling him by his real name.

Dagan was also making enemies inside the Mossad. He became known for inspecting field stations without notice and shouting at the agents, "What have you done for me lately?" His tantrums sparked waves of resignations. "Let them go," the director once scoffed, according to a source who spoke to him. "We can start from the beginning." Dagan slashed the Mossad's list of targets, announcing that the agency would dedicate most of its resources to only two threats: Iran and terrorism from abroad—meaning primarily the Iranian-backed groups Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. "The list must be short," he said. "If we continue pretending we can do everything, in the end we won't do anything."

Dagan's single-minded focus quickly began to show results. American and Israeli agents discovered in late 2002 that Iran had been working with Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan to build an enrichment facility in Natanz. The information was leaked to an Iranian opposition group called the National Council of Resistance, which released it in 2003, causing an international furor. Later, unexplained accidents began plaguing the Iranian nuclear project, delaying the enrichment process. Scientists started disappearing, labs caught on fire, and aircraft connected to the effort mysteriously fell from the sky. Intelligence sources, who declined to be identified discussing covert operations, say Mossad had a hand in several of these incidents. As Dagan's successes multiplied, so did his budget. Now, "whatever we want, we get," says one senior Mossad officer who recently retired but prefers not to speak publicly about the agency.

Yet as Dagan's power base has expanded, some Israelis have begun to worry that the Mossad director has acquired too much political influence. Dagan developed close ties to neoconservative policymakers in the United States during the Bush-Cheney years, and Dagan's critics charge that the Mossad's intelligence estimates are being tailored to fit the director's personal views, just as Bush advisers were accused of "stovepiping" evidence to suit their agenda. In particular, Dagan's hardline position on Syria echoes the warnings of Bush-era neocons that Assad's regime is hopelessly devoted to Tehran. A European intelligence officer who was stationed in Israel several years ago recalls the Mossad boss trashing colleagues who argued for engaging Damascus. "I was under the impression that he felt like he reflected White House policy," the intelligence officer says.

That said, Dagan's dark view of the Iran threat is widely shared. German, French, and British intelligence agencies all sided with him when he disputed the CIA's 2007 National Intelligence Estimate downplaying Tehran's nuclear program. And in Israel, where political influence has always been tied up with military valor, it's not surprising that his voice would be heeded in the circles of power. He was appointed to make the Mossad more aggressive, and has succeeded. What remains to be seen is whether in the long run his aggression will be more dangerous to Israel or to its enemies.

Bergman, senior political and military analyst for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, is the author ofThe Secret War With Iran.
27632  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dry Run? De-sensitization? on: December 13, 2009, 01:27:48 PM
 Another Dry Run? United Flight 227 - Dec 10, 2009


It happened again on Wednesday, December 9, 2009, less than a month after the incident aboard AirTran Flight 297.
United Airlines Flight 227, scheduled to depart Denver International Airport at 1:50 pm Wednesday for Los Angeles was disrupted when several passengers who were described as Middle Eastern in appearance, confirmed by this investigator to be a group of Muslims traveling together, were removed from that aircraft due to suspicious behavior that originated in the terminal and continued to the airplane. Their behavior was consistent in some respects to the behavior of the Muslim passengers aboard AirTran Flight 297 on November 17, 2009 that caused a flurry of controversy over its legitimacy, and the now infamous case of the “Flying Imams” of 2006.

According to information obtained by this investigator, seven men of Middle Eastern appearance, boarded flight 227. Two took their seats in coach, while five took their seats in the first class section of the plane. At a critical pre-flight point, the individuals appeared to act in concert with one another, changing seats and moving stowed luggage to very specific areas of the aircraft, often having to move the stowed bags of other passengers to do so. They disobeyed or otherwise ignored the admonitions of the flight attendants to remain seated.

Their behavior was so overt and so apparently choreographed, according to our sources, that the flight crew demanded the passengers be removed from the aircraft. One report found on 9News in Denver quoted John Sloan, a passenger aboard that flight:

“I have never seen flight attendants so scared in my life. Everything turned out OK, but it was not a very good feeling..”

Following the removal of the passengers, officials brought a bomb-sniffing dogs aboard the aircraft, focusing of the first class section of the plane. Subsequent to the search that found nothing, the offending passengers were removed from the flight and rebooked on another aircraft to their destination. According to federal officials, no criminal investigation is being launched into this incident, which was described as a “customer service” matter.

Early this morning, this investigator spoke to a law enforcement source in Denver who is intimately familiar with the incident. Many details have not been publicly reported about this incident, although it is clear that there is an agenda at play. Based on information obtained from this source and others relating to the previous flights disrupted by the deliberate behavior of Muslim passengers, it is clear that the airline industry, as well as the sensibilities of normal Americans, is under attack through Islamic ideological jihad. Additional information will be provided once our investigation is complete.

Correlation from a Denver-based news outlet:

DENVER - It's not entirely clear why some passengers were removed from a plane at Denver International Airport on Wednesday. United Airlines issued a statement suggesting that the passengers were "re-accommodated" onto another flight.

A spokesperson for the Denver Police Department confirms to 9NEWS that Denver Police officers were called to DIA on Wednesday, but declined to elaborate any further.

Flight 227 left DIA bound for Los Angeles nearly three hours late. It was scheduled to depart at 1:50 p.m., but ended up leaving at 4:32 p.m.
"Our crew followed recognized, industry standard procedures and re-accommodated some passengers on another flight. We are investigating this matter," read a Thursday morning statement from United. A United spokesperson declined to elaborate any further as well.

The United crew apparently noticed certain patterns they are trained to spot. Sources tell NBC News airline employees are trained to look for certain behaviors such as how a ticket is paid for, how often passengers get up to use the restroom, and even who their traveling companions are.

A spokesperson for the FBI, Kathy Wright, confirmed to 9NEWS that federal investigators were originally called to the scene after receiving a call on a "possible suspicious incident." Wright said eventually "we determined that it was not an FBI matter."

Passengers say a bomb-sniffing dog was brought onto the plane and passengers in the first-class cabin we're asked to go back to coach for a brief amount of time according to passengers on the plane.

John Sloan of Oxnard, California, was on board the flight on Wednesday.
"I have never seen flight attendants so scared in my life. Everything turned out OK, but it was not a very good feeling. It would have been nice to have been updated though this process," he told 9NEWS by phone.

Sloan says seven men were escorted off of the plane. Two of them were sitting in coach. The other five were sitting in first-class, he says. All were re-booked onto another flight according to United.

Sloan says the men were attempting to change seats with other passengers. Another passenger, who doesn't want his name used, says the men were also trying to move luggage while the plane was getting ready to push back.

Passengers tell 9NEWS all of the men looked to be "Middle Eastern," but United will not confirm the identity of the seven men.

Nothing criminal was found, and the flight was allowed to continue on to California.

Passengers also tell 9NEWS that former head coach of the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan, was seated in first class while this was all going on. Shanahan could not be reached for comment, and a spokesperson for the former coach simply told 9NEWS that he was "out of town."

There have been no arrests and investigators say there is no criminal investigation in connection to the incident.

If you have any information about what happened on Flight 227 on Thursday, please e-mail us at

(Copyright KUSA*TV, All Rights Reserved)

" A similar thing happened recently at the Pershing Square station in downtown LA. I was with one of my best friends waiting for the subway back to Union Station when a group of about 10 Middle Eastern men came onto the platform. I just thought they were going to a Mosque somewhere or another religious event. They all had backpacks and my friend thought they may be tourists. Well anyway, the subway came and the police did a routine sweep of the cars and we were waiting to board. I kept looking at the men and they were all splitting up from each other and going into different subway cars. I suddenly got very nervous and pulled my friend back out of the subway car. I didn’t explain but said we had to get out of there. I took a picture of the men as we rushed out of area. Nothing happened of course but I was very nervous thinking it could be a dry run or something. I contacted the LAPD and emailed them the picture I took of the men, I never heard anything back. I just found it funny that these men all walked down to the subway together, stood and talked to one another, and then split up into all different cars when it came time to board the subway."
27633  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Pre-order form on: December 13, 2009, 11:21:15 AM
Pre-order form!
27634  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An opinion piece on: December 13, 2009, 10:14:59 AM
Any comments?
To Beat Al Qaeda, Look to the East

Published: December 12, 2009

IN testimony last week before Congress, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, insisted that President Obama’s revised war strategy will “build support for the Afghan government,” while Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, vowed that it will “absolutely” succeed in disrupting and degrading the Taliban.

Confidence is important, but we also have to recognize that the decision to commit 30,000 more troops to a counterinsurgency effort against a good segment of the Afghan population, with the focus on converting a deeply unpopular and corrupt regime into a unified, centralized state for the first time in that country’s history, is far from a slam dunk. In the worst case, the surge may push General McChrystal’s “core goal of defeating Al Qaeda” further away.

Al Qaeda is already on the ropes globally, with ever-dwindling financial and popular support, and a drastically diminished ability to work with other extremists worldwide, much less command them in major operations. Its lethal agents are being systematically hunted down, while those Muslims whose souls it seeks to save are increasingly revolted by its methods.

Unfortunately, this weakening viral movement may have a new lease on life in Afghanistan and Pakistan because we are pushing the Taliban into its arms. By overestimating the threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we are making it a greater threat to Pakistan and the world. Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan are unlike Iraq, the ancient birthplace of central government, or 1960s Vietnam, where a strong state was backing the Communist insurgents. Afghanistan and Pakistan must be dealt with on their own terms.

We’re winning against Al Qaeda and its kin in places where antiterrorism efforts are local and built on an understanding that the ties binding terrorist networks today are more cultural and familial than political. Consider recent events in Southeast Asia.

In September, Indonesian security forces killed Noordin Muhammad Top, then on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted terrorist list. Implicated in the region’s worst suicide bombings — including the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings in Jakarta last July 17 — Noordin Top headed a splinter group of the extremist religious organization Jemaah Islamiyah (he called it Al Qaeda for the Malaysian Archipelago). Research by my colleagues and me, supported by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department, reveals three critical factors in such groups inspired by Al Qaeda, all of which local security forces implicitly grasp but American counterintelligence workers seem to underestimate.

What binds these groups together? First is friendship forged through fighting: the Indonesian volunteers who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan styled themselves the Afghan Alumni, and many kept in contact when they returned home after the war. The second is school ties and discipleship: many leading operatives in Southeast Asia come from a handful of religious schools affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah. Out of some 30,000 religious schools in Indonesia, only about 50 have a deadly legacy of producing violent extremists. Third is family ties; as anyone who has watched the opening scene from “The Godfather” knows, weddings can be terrific opportunities for networking and plotting.

Understanding these three aspects of terrorist networking has given law enforcement a leg up on the jihadists. Gen. Tito Karnavian, the leader of the strike team that tracked down Noordin Top, told me that “knowledge of the interconnected networks of Afghan Alumni, kinship and marriage groups was very crucial to uncovering the inner circle of Noordin.”

Consider Noordin Top’s third marriage, which cemented ties to key suspects in the lead-up to the recent hotel bombings. His father-in-law, who founded a Jemaah Islamiyah-related boarding school, stashed explosives in his garden with the aid of another teacher at the school. Using electronic intercepts and tracing family, school and alumni ties, police officers found the cache in late June 2009. That discovery may have prompted Noordin Top to initiate the hotel attacks ahead of a planned simultaneous attack on the residence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.


Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, John Jay College and the University of Michigan, is the author of the forthcoming “Listen to the Devil"


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In addition, an Afghan Alumnus and nephew of Noordin Top’s father-in-law was being pursued by the police for his role in a failed plot to blow up a tourist cafe on Sumatra. Unfortunately, Noordin Top struck the hotels before the Indonesian police could penetrate the entire network, in part because another family group was still operating under the police radar. This group included a florist who smuggled the bombs into the hotels and a man whose eventual arrest led to discovery of the plot against the president. Both terrorists were married to sisters of a Yemeni-trained imam who recruited the hotel suicide bombers, and of another brother who had infiltrated Indonesia’s national airline.

Had the police pulled harder on the pieces of social yarn they had in hand, they might have unraveled the hotel plot earlier. Still, their work thwarted attacks planned for the future, including that on the president.
Similarly, security officials in the Philippines have combined intelligence from American and Australian sources with similar tracking efforts to crack down on their terrorist networks, and as a result most extremist groups are either seeking reconciliation with the government — including the deadly Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the island of Mindanao — or have devolved into kidnapping-and-extortion gangs with no ideological focus. The separatist Abu Sayyaf Group, once the most feared force in the region, now has no overall spiritual or military leaders, few weapons and only a hundred or so fighters.

So, how does this relate to a strategy against Al Qaeda in the West and in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Al Qaeda’s main focus is harming the United States and Europe, but there hasn’t been a successful attack in these places directly commanded by Osama bin Laden and company since 9/11. The American invasion of Afghanistan devastated Al Qaeda’s core of top personnel and its training camps. In a recent briefing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. case officer, said that recent history “refutes claims by some heads of the intelligence community that all Islamist plots in the West can be traced back to the Afghan-Pakistani border.” The real threat is homegrown youths who gain inspiration from Osama bin Laden but little else beyond an occasional self-financed spell at a degraded Qaeda-linked training facility.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq encouraged many of these local plots, including the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. In their aftermaths, European law and security forces stopped plots from coming to fruition by stepping up coordination and tracking links among local extremists, their friends and friends of friends, while also improving relations with young Muslim immigrants through community outreach. Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have taken similar steps.

Now we need to bring this perspective to Afghanistan and Pakistan — one that is smart about cultures, customs and connections. The present policy of focusing on troop strength and drones, and trying to win over people by improving their lives with Western-style aid programs, only continues a long history of foreign involvement and failure. Reading a thousand years of Arab and Muslim history would show little in the way of patterns that would have helped to predict 9/11, but our predicament in Afghanistan rhymes with the past like a limerick.

A key factor helping the Taliban is the moral outrage of the Pashtun tribes against those who deny them autonomy, including a right to bear arms to defend their tribal code, known as Pashtunwali. Its sacred tenets include protecting women’s purity (namus), the right to personal revenge (badal), the sanctity of the guest (melmastia) and sanctuary (nanawateh). Among all Pashtun tribes, inheritance, wealth, social prestige and political status accrue through the father’s line.

This social structure means that there can be no suspicion that the male pedigree (often traceable in lineages spanning centuries) is “corrupted” by doubtful paternity. Thus, revenge for sexual misbehavior (rape, adultery, abduction) warrants killing seven members of the offending group and often the “offending” woman. Yet hospitality trumps vengeance: if a group accepts a guest, all must honor him, even if prior grounds justify revenge. That’s one reason American offers of millions for betraying Osama bin Laden fail.

Afghan hill societies have withstood centuries of would-be conquests by keeping order with Pashtunwali in the absence of central authority. When seemingly intractable conflicts arise, rival parties convene councils, or jirgas, of elders and third parties to seek solutions through consensus.


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After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

American-sponsored “reconciliation” efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban may be fatally flawed if they include demands that Pashtun hill tribes give up their arms and support a Constitution that values Western-inspired rights and judicial institutions over traditions that have sustained the tribes against all enemies.

THE secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, suggest that victory in Afghanistan is possible if the Taliban who pursue self-interest rather than ideology can be co-opted with material incentives. But as the veteran war reporter Jason Burke of The Observer of London told me: “Today, the logical thing for the Pashtun conservatives is to stop fighting and get rich through narcotics or Western aid, the latter being much lower risk. But many won’t sell out.”

Why? In part because outsiders who ignore local group dynamics tend to ride roughshod over values they don’t grasp. My research with colleagues on group conflict in India, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories found that helping to improve lives materially does little to reduce support for violence, and can even increase it if people feel such help compromises their most cherished values.

The original alliance between the Taliban and Al Qaeda was largely one of convenience between a poverty-stricken national movement and a transnational cause that brought it material help. American pressure on Pakistan to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their sanctuary gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban, who forged their own ties to Al Qaeda to fight the Pakistani state.

While some Taliban groups use the rhetoric of global jihad to inspire ranks or enlist foreign fighters, the Pakistani Taliban show no inclination to go after Western interests abroad. Their attacks, which have included at least three assaults near nuclear facilities, warrant concerted action — but in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan. As Mr. Sageman, the former C.I.A. officer, puts it: “There’s no Qaeda in Afghanistan and no Afghans in Qaeda.”

Pakistan has long preferred a policy of “respect for the independence and sentiment of the tribes” that was advised in 1908 by Lord Curzon, the British viceroy of India who established the North-West Frontier Province as a buffer zone to “conciliate and contain” the Pashtun hill tribes. In 1948, Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, removed all troops from brigade level up in Waziristan and other tribal areas in a plan aptly called Operation Curzon.

The problem today is that Al Qaeda is prodding the Pakistani Taliban to hit state institutions in the hopes of provoking a full-scale invasion of the tribal areas by the Pakistani Army; the idea is that such an assault would rally the tribes to Al Qaeda’s cause and threaten the state. The United States has been pushing for exactly that sort of potentially disastrous action by Islamabad. But holding to Curzon’s line may still be Pakistan’s best bet. The key in the Afghan-Pakistani area, as in Southeast Asia, is to use local customs and networks to our advantage. Of course, counterterrorism measures are only as effective as local governments that execute them. Afghanistan’s government is corrupt, unpopular and inept.

Besides, there’s really no Taliban central authority to talk to. To be Taliban today means little more than to be a Pashtun tribesman who believes that his fundamental beliefs and customary way of life are threatened. Although most Taliban claim loyalty to Afghanistan’s Mullah Omar, this allegiance varies greatly. Many Pakistani Taliban leaders — including Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed by an American drone in August, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud — rejected Mullah Omar’s call to forgo suicide bombings against Pakistani civilians.

In fact, it is the United States that holds today’s Taliban together. Without us, their deeply divided coalition could well fragment. Taliban resurgence depends on support from those notoriously unruly hill tribes in Pakistan’s border regions, who are unsympathetic to the original Taliban program of homogenizing tribal custom and politics under one rule.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Taliban were to sever ties to Mr. bin Laden if he became a bigger headache to them than America. Al Qaeda may have close relations to the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban leader living in Pakistan, and the Shabi Khel branch of the Mehsud tribe in Waziristan, but it isn’t wildly popular with many other Taliban factions and forces.

Unlike Al Qaeda, the Taliban are interested in their homeland, not ours. Things are different now than before 9/11. The Taliban know how costly Osama bin Laden’s friendship can be. There’s a good chance that enough factions in the loose Taliban coalition would opt to disinvite their troublesome guest if we forget about trying to subdue them or hold their territory. This would unwind the Taliban coalition into a lot of straggling, loosely networked groups that could be eliminated or contained using the lessons learned in Indonesia and elsewhere. This means tracking down family and tribal networks, gaining a better understanding of family ties and intervening only when we see actions by Taliban and other groups to aid Al Qaeda or act outside their region.

To defeat violent extremism in Afghanistan, less may be more — just as it has been elsewhere in Asia.
27635  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH on: December 13, 2009, 10:06:41 AM
EditorialTwitter Tapping Sign in to Recommend
Published: December 12, 2009
The government is increasingly monitoring Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for tax delinquents, copyright infringers and political protesters. A public interest group has filed a lawsuit to learn more about this monitoring, in the hope of starting a national discussion and modifying privacy laws as necessary for the online era.

Law enforcement is not saying a lot about its social surveillance, but examples keep coming to light. The Wall Street Journal reported this summer that state revenue agents have been searching for tax scofflaws by mining information on MySpace and Facebook. In October, the F.B.I. searched the New York home of a man suspected of helping coordinate protests at the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh by sending out messages over Twitter.

In some cases, the government appears to be engaged in deception. The Boston Globe recently quoted a Massachusetts district attorney as saying that some police officers were going undercover on Facebook as part of their investigations.

Wired magazine reported last month that In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, has put money into Visible Technologies, a software company that crawls across blogs, online forums, and open networks like Twitter and YouTube to monitor what is being said.

This month the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law sued the Department of Defense, the C.I.A. and other federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act to learn more about their use of social networking sites.

The suit seeks to uncover what guidelines these agencies have about this activity, including information about whether agents are permitted to use fake identities or to engage in subterfuge, such as tricking people into accepting Facebook friend requests.

Privacy law was largely created in the pre-Internet age, and new rules are needed to keep up with the ways people communicate today. Much of what occurs online, like blog posting, is intended to be an open declaration to the world, and law enforcement is within its rights to read and act on what is written. Other kinds of communication, particularly in a closed network, may come with an expectation of privacy. If government agents are joining social networks under false pretenses to spy without a court order, for example, that might be crossing a line.

A national conversation about social networking and other forms of online privacy is long overdue. The first step toward having it is for the public to know more about what is currently being done. Making the federal government answer these reasonable Freedom of Information Act requests would be a good start.
27636  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Lets make a deal on: December 13, 2009, 09:58:02 AM
Its POTH, so caveat lector:

Church Works With U.S. to Spare Detention
Published: December 12, 2009
HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. — When the young pastor started his ministry here at the century-old Reformed Church in 2001, he gave little thought to the separate congregation of Indonesian Christians who shared the sanctuary. They worshiped quietly in their own language on Sunday afternoons, at the end of a hard week’s work in the factories and warehouses of central New Jersey.

But by May 2006, when they began pleading to sleep at the church, the pastor, the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, had to pay attention. At the apartment complex where many Indonesians lived, armed federal immigration agents in a single night had rounded up 35 men with expired visas and outstanding deportation orders, as their wives and children cried and other families hid.
Suddenly a prosperous suburban congregation was confronted with the labyrinthine world of immigration law and detention. This year, when one of its own leaders, an Indonesian, was detained for months, only the pastor’s passionate, last-ditch efforts saved him from deportation. And the church reached a new level of activism — with extraordinary results.

Under an unusual compact between the pastor and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark, four Indonesians have been released from detention in recent weeks, and 41 others living as fugitives from deportation have turned themselves in under church auspices. Instead of being jailed — as hundreds of thousands of immigrants without criminal records have been in recent years — they have been released on orders of supervision, eligible for work permits while their lawyers consider how their cases might be reopened.

Though agency officials say the arrangement is simply an example of the case-by-case discretion they often use, the outcome has astonished advocates and experts in immigration enforcement, and raised hopes that it signals some broader use of humanitarian release as the Obama administration vows to overhaul the immigration system.

Still, for those who turn themselves in, the leap of faith carries big risks. For now, they can check in at a federal office every three months and, if granted a work permit, can secure a driver’s license. But they are also vulnerable to immediate deportation. Just this fall, nine Indonesian Christians in Seattle who had been on supervised release for years were abruptly detained, and some were deported.

The immigration agency issues about 10,000 orders of supervision annually, but they typically involve people who cannot be deported for practical reasons, like a homeland that will not take them back. The agency detains roughly 380,000 people a year.

“I’m totally on uncharted waters,” Mr. Kaper-Dale, 34, a Vermont native who shares the pulpit with his wife, Stephanie, said in October as he began seeking volunteers willing to place themselves in the government’s hands, from about 200 candidates not only at his church, but at several other New Jersey congregations.

The first ones to step up had to overcome fear born of experience.

“Very, very scary,” said Augus Alex Assa, 46, who fought tears as his 5-year-old daughter, Christia Celine, clung to him in the van from the church, in Middlesex County, to an immigration enforcement unit in Newark. “In my heart, I hope I will stay in the United States.”

Like most of the Indonesians, Mr. Assa and his wife, Grace, came on tourist visas that were suddenly easy for poor people to get in the 1990s, when a booming economy welcomed foreign labor with a wink and a nod. Everything changed after 9/11, when a government directive required the “special registration” of men ages 16 to 65 who had entered the country on temporary visas from a list of predominantly Muslim countries, including Indonesia. If they did not register, it was understood, they would be considered terrorist fugitives.

Most of the Indonesian Christians complied, on the advice of pastors. They hoped that honesty would open a path to legal status rather than deportation to their homeland, where many had faced discrimination and sectarian violence.

Instead, their appeals for asylum were denied in most cases, some through inattention by inept or overburdened lawyers. And those who registered became easy targets when national immigration politics demanded a crackdown.

During the 2006 raid, Mr. Assa hid in a closet when immigration agents came to the door, as his wife covered their daughter’s mouth. For two weeks afterward, they and others slept at the church.

About 50 men were eventually deported, typically after lengthy stays in immigration jails, leaving wives struggling to support American-born children. “We were shocked, but we were kind of paralyzed,” the pastor said.

On Jan. 12, the detention of one of their own spurred the congregation to action. Harry Pangemanan, a popular Bible study leader, was picked up by immigration agents as he left for work as a warehouse supervisor. He and his wife, Mariyana, parents of two American-born daughters, were the only Indonesians among the 300 people in the main congregation.

Church members organized daily visits to the detention center, a 40-minute drive away in Elizabeth, N.J., while the pastor appealed to Congressional and immigration offices. When Mr. Pangemanan reached out with his Bible to fellow detainees, the congregation visited them, too. Appalled to find asylum-seekers behind barbed wire and plexiglass, they began holding vigils outside the center, run for profit by the Corrections Corporation of America.


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Some church members resisted. “As a construction worker who is directly affected by immigration, it’s very hard,” said Rich Lord, 39. “I felt like, they’re taking my jobs away.”

But his union and his faith changed his mind, he said: “There’s pregnant women so desperate in Mexico that they’re willing to cross the desert so their child will be born in the United States. And as a Christian, I have to remember that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to flee their homeland.”
Then, at 5 a.m. on March 31, came bad news: Mr. Pangemanan was being put on a plane to Indonesia. The pastor threw on his clerical collar and ran through Newark Liberty International Airport in a frantic search for the right gate, determined to pray with his friend before he was sent away.

By the time the pastor found the flight, the passengers had already boarded. As he tells the story, he prayed at the gate, so visibly upset that an airline worker let him on the plane.

Mr. Pangemanan was in the last row between two immigration agents — bound not for Jakarta but for a detention center in Tacoma, Wash. — when he saw his pastor coming down the aisle. An astonished agent asked, “How did this guy get in here?”

“And I just put my finger up,” Mr. Pangemanan recalled, pointing heavenward.

The agents let them pray briefly; the pastor said goodbye but vowed to keep trying. Back at the church, he phoned every number on the immigration agency’s Web site.

He still cherishes the recording of the only message that came back, from Dora B. Schriro, who has since left the agency but was then special detention adviser to Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security. Within a week of their conversation, Mr. Pangemanan was back in New Jersey with his family, his case under reconsideration by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

When immigration agents arrested several more Indonesian men in late September, church leaders took their effort to a new level, meeting with Scott Weber, director of the detention and removal field office in New Jersey, and agency envoys from Washington.

David J. Venturella, acting director of the agency’s national detention and removal operations, said he approved the discussions. “We encourage all of our field office directors to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “This is a perfect example.”

Mr. Weber rejected the ministers’ proposal for a church-run alternative to detention, but offered his own: In groups of 5 or 10, twice a week, the church could bring in the Indonesians they vouched for, and lawyers committed to the lengthy process of seeking their full case files.

Unless something was amiss — a hidden criminal conviction, a false address — the former fugitives could walk out the same day. Even before the details were arranged, Mr. Weber released four recent Indonesian detainees, one a Muslim.

Amy Gottlieb, immigrant rights director for the American Friends Service Committee in New Jersey, who has been dealing with the field office since 1996, called it “an amazing moment.”

“One, you just never believe that ICE is going to work with you on anything, given the history,” she said. “And given the intensive arrest efforts for the last two or three years, it’s hard to believe that people are ready to recognize that every single case has a human angle.”

Rex Chen, the supervising lawyer at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, remains more pessimistic, likening himself to a financial adviser who warns, “This mutual fund could collapse.”

While the arrangement may buy the Indonesians a year or two, he said, unless grounds are found to reopen their cases, or Congress changes immigration law, they could find “they just moved up from not known, to on the list, to you’re taking the steps up to the airplane.”
27637  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Retrofitted vehicles on: December 13, 2009, 09:49:16 AM
Retrofitted Vehicles Offer Window Into Mexico’s Cartels
Published: December 12, 2009
CULIACÁN, Mexico — Federico Solórzano is no used car salesman, but he seemed to be getting into the part as he made the rounds of a well-stocked car lot the other day.

The Mexican Army has confiscated more than 700 vehicles in Sinaloa, including custom-made choppers and a classic Chevy painted like a Chicago police car.
“This is a 2009 Lincoln S.U.V.,” he said, gesturing toward a decked-out vehicle to his right. “Over there, we have two Corvettes. Here’s a Smart car.”
He was dressed in camouflage, and affixed to his shoulder were a golden eagle and single star, which gave away his real job as a Mexican Army general. But besides commanding the counternarcotics troops here in Sinaloa, the northwestern state that is the cradle of Mexican drug trafficking, General Solórzano also manages a huge used-car lot made up of vehicles the army has seized in Sinaloa over the past three years.

It turns out that much can be learned about the drug traffickers that the Mexican Army is combating by examining the 765 vehicles crowding the military base here awaiting disposition from the courts. If you are what you drive, drug dealers are devious, malicious, extravagant and quite conscious about security.

In some of the impounded vehicles, traffickers have installed hidden compartments, trap doors and fake sidewalls to hide drugs, drug profits and the arms they use to protect them.

“We noticed the screws here weren’t right,” said General Solórzano, pulling off a fake rear bumper from what appeared a garden-variety pickup truck. Hidden inside, he said, were cocaine and guns.

“And look at this,” he said, walking on to a Ford pickup, where he said $3 million in cash was recovered in November 2008.

Many of the vehicles that are seized during drug busts or traffic stops turn out to be armored. While bulletproofing is not illegal, General Solórzano said vehicles that had been sealed with metal and inch-thick glass raised the suspicion of soldiers and prompted them to search more vigorously for contraband.

The fact that some cars have been on the lot for as long as three years is a sign of the plodding nature of judicial proceedings in Mexico, where critics say guilt and innocence do not necessarily correlate to convictions and acquittals. Eventually, cars that are linked to criminal activity will be sold or given to government agencies for their use.

In the meantime, though, they fill General Solórzano’s lot, where oversize Hummer-like vehicles able to navigate rugged country roads are clearly a favorite. Luxury brands predominate, but they are mixed with rusted-out Buicks and vanilla Volkswagens.

“I have Jaguars; I have a Rolls Royce,” said the general, a 34-year military veteran, rattling off his top-end models. “This is a Mercedes. That, over there, is a classic Cadillac.”

Drug dealers are not all work and no play, which is clear from the motorcycle section of the lot. There are custom-made choppers with impossibly long front ends, a handmade bike retrofitted with an engine pulled from a pickup and a ghastly black machine in which the handlebars are made to resemble bones.

Classic cars are popular, including a refurbished Chevy painted like a Chicago police car from the Al Capone days.

The devious nature of the traffickers can be seen in some of the weaponry they install, which General Solórzano suspects is done in their own chop shops. Traffickers put a turret in one truck, allowing them to raise a machine gun through the roof while remaining safely inside a bulletproof chamber below.

Traffickers have also added fog machines to the back of their vehicles, allowing them to lose the authorities in a cloud of smoke. Another way they stymie the pursuing federal police is by pulling a lever on the dash and unleashing a cascade of twisted and sharpened nails.

As of January 2009, the Mexican government reported that it had seized 14,441 vehicles nationwide, on top of huge quantities of drugs, money and guns. The fact that the army keeps these vehicles on its bases instead of in an impound lot is telling, too. Drug gangs have sometimes carried out armed assaults to try to get the vehicles back, perhaps because so much money has been spent retrofitting them.

In a twist on that, men suspected of being traffickers attacked a car lot in Tijuana recently in what the authorities described as an effort to intimidate the police. The assailants used gasoline to burn 28 trucks at a Mazda dealership that were in the process of being purchased for use as police transport vehicles. Six of them were destroyed.

And cars are not the only form of transportation that the cartels will bend over backward to recover. Last year, a group of about 20 men stormed a small air field in Sinaloa and made off with five small planes that had been seized by the army months before. The army now keeps such planes under armed guard, with nearly 100 of them tethered to the runway at the airport here in Culiacán.

What can make the seizures depressing for the military is the fact that many of vehicles taken from criminals are newer, faster and better equipped than the troop carriers the army uses.

“They have money,” the general said, rubbing his fingers together.

Meanwhile, a tow truck rolled through the base pulling a sports utility vehicle, increasing General Solórzano’s inventory to 766.
27638  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison; Federalist 14 on: December 13, 2009, 09:34:50 AM
"Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness." --James Madison, Federalist No. 14
27639  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US shifts position on: December 13, 2009, 09:11:26 AM
This is Pravda on the Hudson writing here about exactly the sort of subject where it can be and often is at its most deceptive, so caveat lector.  That said, I have no knowledge of these issues and cannot tell if this is simply the Obama people desperately giving up things they shouldn't be giving up (e.g. as they are currently doing in nuke negotiations with Russia) or whether there is something actually of merit going on here.  I also note that the article does not mention China, which I understand to see our dependence on things cyper as a weak link in our military capabilities; and that they therefore are sedulously at work on their capabilities to seriously fcuk up our military comm capabilities.  If we are busy keeping an agreement with the Russians, does that leave us more vulnerable to the Chinese?

In Shift, U.S. Talks to Russia on Internet Security Recommend
Published: December 12, 2009
The United States has begun talks with Russia and a United Nations arms control committee about strengthening Internet security and limiting military use of cyberspace.

American and Russian officials have different interpretations of the talks so far, but the mere fact that the United States is participating represents a significant policy shift after years of rejecting Russia’s overtures. Officials familiar with the talks said the Obama administration realized that more nations were developing cyberweapons and that a new approach was needed to blunt an international arms race.

In the last two years, Internet-based attacks on government and corporate computer systems have multiplied to thousands a day. Hackers, usually never identified, have compromised Pentagon computers, stolen industrial secrets and temporarily jammed government and corporate Web sites. President Obama ordered a review of the nation’s Internet security in February and is preparing to name an official to coordinate national policy.

Last month, a delegation led by Gen. Vladislav P. Sherstyuk, a deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council and the former leader of the Russian equivalent of the National Security Agency, met in Washington with representatives from the National Security Council and the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security. Officials familiar with these talks said the two sides made progress in bridging divisions that had long separated the countries.

Indeed, two weeks later in Geneva, the United States agreed to discuss cyberwarfare and cybersecurity with representatives of the United Nations committee on disarmament and international security. The United States had previously insisted on addressing those matters in the committee on economic issues.

The Russians have held that the increasing challenges posed by military activities to civilian computer networks can be best dealt with by an international treaty, similar to treaties that have limited the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The United States had resisted, arguing that it was impossible to draw a line between the commercial and military uses of software and hardware.

Now there is a thaw, said people familiar with the discussions.

“In the last months there are more signs of building better cooperation between the U.S. and Russia,” said Veni Markovski, a Washington-based adviser to Bulgaria’s Internet security chief and representative to Russia for the organization that assigns Internet domain names. “These are signs that show the dangers of cybercrime are too big to be neglected.”

Viktor V. Sokolov, deputy director of the Institute of Information Security in Moscow, a policy research group run by General Sherstyuk, said the Russian view was that the American position on Internet security had shifted perceptibly in recent months.

“There is movement,” he said. Before, bilateral negotiations were limited to the relevant Russian police agency, the Bureau of Special Technical Operations, the Internet division of the Ministry of Interior, and the F.B.I.

Mr. Sokolov characterized this new round of discussions as the opening of negotiations between Russia and the United States on a possible disarmament treaty for cyberspace, something Russia has long sought but the United States has resisted.

“The talks took place in a good atmosphere,” he said. “And they agreed to continue this process. There are positive movements.”

A State Department official, who was not authorized to speak about the talks and requested anonymity, disputed the Russian characterization of the American position. While the Russians have continued to focus on treaties that may restrict weapons development, the United States is hoping to use the talks to increase international cooperation in opposing Internet crime. Strengthening defenses against Internet criminals would also strengthen defenses against any military-directed cyberattacks, the United States maintains. An administration official said the United States was seeking common ground with the Russians.

The United Nations discussions are scheduled to resume in New York in January, and the two countries also plan to talk at an annual Russia-sponsored Internet security conference in Garmisch, Germany.

The American interest in reopening discussions shows that the Obama administration, even in absence of a designated Internet security chief, is breaking with the Bush administration, which declined to talk with Russia about issues related to military attacks using the Internet.

Many countries, including the United States, are developing weapons for use on computer networks that are ever more integral to the operations of everything from banks to electrical power systems to government offices. They include “logic bombs” that can be hidden in computers to halt them at crucial times or damage circuitry; “botnets” that can disable or spy on Web sites and networks; or microwave radiation devices that can burn out computer circuits miles away.

The Russians have focused on three related issues, according to American officials involved in the talks that are part of a broader thaw in American-Russian relations known as the "reset" that also include negotiations on a new nuclear disarmament treaty. In addition to continuing efforts to ban offensive cyberweapons, they have insisted on what they describe as an issue of sovereignty calling for a ban on “cyberterrorism.” American officials view the issue differently and describe this as a Russian effort to restrict “politically destabilizing speech.” The Russians have also rejected a portion of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime that they assert violates their Constitution by permitting foreign law enforcement agencies to conduct Internet searches inside Russian borders.

In late October at a luncheon during a meeting on Security and Counter Terrorism at Moscow State University, General Sherstyuk told a group of American executives that the Russians would never sign the European Cybercrime Treaty as long as it contained the language permitting cross-border searches.
27640  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Palin surprises Shatner on: December 12, 2009, 10:15:46 AM
27641  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB on: December 12, 2009, 09:45:49 AM
 NEW YORK Judge: Keep funding ACORN A federal judge has ruled the U.S. government's move to cut off funding to ACORN is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon issued the preliminary...
27642  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Health Care Market -- Jonathan Bush on: December 12, 2009, 08:42:00 AM
Watertown, Mass.

'It's a little bit like talking to a young prince," says Jonathan Bush, chairman and CEO of Athenahealth, a major player in information technology services for physicians, of his recent visits to Capitol Hill. "'So—tell me about this market thing that your people use,'" he says, mimicking the political royalty with a grin and extending his forearm. "'Wait: I must catch my falcon!'"

Athenahealth's headquarters, on the banks of the Charles River outside Boston, is a world away from D.C., and it's clear, as he continues his metaphor, that Mr. Bush enjoys the distance: "And these princes, they mean well and they're lovely," he says, "but they're living in this alternate universe where there's no such thing as a market in health care and they don't understand why one might be remotely useful."

He pauses. "That's weird to me."

Mr. Bush is an outlier in the generally buttoned-down world of the health industry. He's exuberant, hyperactive, speaking in frenetic running monologues; it's not hard to see why the political class might be taken aback: "I still have to keep going to Washington and sucking up," he says, switching metaphors. "Because the problem is when you have a baby with an Uzi, right, they might accidentally mow you down. But here's the thing . . . they're brilliant people. It's just that the idea of a market in health care never occurred to them."

As Mr. Bush sees it, the profound problem with U.S. health care is that there's "no landscape of choices, or choosers." Due to the complexity of America's third-party laundromat for health dollars—your doctor's clerical staff bills your treatment to an insurance company picked by your employer, and it pays him with your money via premiums or foregone wages—"few doctors in America know the actual value of the services they render."

Athena's core business helps them manage their practices and get paid, but the larger purpose of the company, which he and board member Todd Park co-founded in 1997, is to try to shore up health care's resemblance to a normal market. It has grown into one of the country's most innovative health IT firms.

Athena began as a San Diego birthing clinic and floundered because it couldn't cope with back-office volatility. All transactions were conducted on paper. No one understood how to navigate the dense and bewildering coding rules for dozens of different insurers or the fee schedules for government payers like Medicaid. Claims were denied with no explanation or vaporized in purgatory. The clinic went bankrupt in 18 months.

With Mr. Park (who has joined the Obama administration), Athena designed a program to digitize records and automate billing. It now colonizes the wilderness of paperwork and habitual financial chaos that defines running a doctors office, and it is also moving into clinical record-keeping for individual patients. Some 15,000 physicians in 43 states use Athena as a virtual office, a number that is growing at an annual 30% clip.

It is a massive logistical undertaking. Athena's main facility is housed in a decommissioned World War II arsenal on the Charles, where 30,000 pounds of paper is processed every month, most of the tonnage being paper checks. Incredibly, doctors also receive on average 1,185 faxes each month—mostly lab results—and those are handled too.

State Medicaid programs, by the way, are easily the worst payers, according to Athena's annual ranking. In New York, for instance, claims must be tendered on a dead-tree form instead of electronically and in blue ink—black is grounds for rejection—and then go on to spend a full 161 days, or almost a half year, in accounts receivable.

View Full Image

Zina Saunders
 .While streamlining this disorder frees up time for the company's clients to treat patients, it also throws off vast data, which are fed in central servers, aggregated and analyzed. This "athenanet" system is among the few health-tech offerings based on "cloud computing"—in the sense that the applications are accessed on the Web, instead of a computer's hard drive, allowing constant updates and refinements. If a regulation changes or an insurer adjusts a payment policy, it is reflected on athenanet almost in real time; on the clinical side, the program can adapt at the same rapid pace as medicine itself.

Mr. Bush thinks the main benefit is the "collective intelligence" that he is starting to weave together from the 87% of American physicians who practice solo or in groups of five doctors or fewer. "We found one of the last few remaining crowds in health care, which are these independent practices. Now you can argue that this decentralization is not the best thing in the world," but what's most important, he argues, is that "they're still allowed to go and make their own decisions."

In effect, as the network gets bigger, it gets smarter, while opening the space for innovations to feed off one another and spread. There really can be "radical improvement" in health care, Mr. Bush says, but only if there are "radical improvers" able to set themselves apart and lead the forward advance. "No one ever says, 'Here's to the average,'" he declares pointedly.

The Athena model is superior to most electronic medical record systems, or EMRs, which are generally based on static software that are inflexible, can't link to other systems, and are sold by large corporate vendors like General Electric. One reason the digital revolution has so far passed over the health sector is sheer bad product. The adoption of EMR in health systems across the country has been dogged by cumbersome interfaces, error propagation and other drawbacks. In 2003, for instance, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles dumped a $34 million proprietary system after doctors staged a revolt.

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.Athena also stands in marked contrast to most of the wider health-care market, which Mr. Bush argues is homogenized and rigid, and getting more so. The problem is "easily fixed by releasing some power into the arms of consumers and cutting employers and certainly the government out of it," he says, turning to ObamaCare. "Certainly I'm not commenting on the amount of wealth redistribution that we should do as a society. Fundamentally I believe we need some, and whether the amount we're doing today is enough or too much or not enough, that's not my thing. If we feel like rich people should pay more for not-rich people's health insurance, that's fine.

"But just give them the money," he cries. "It's totally inefficient wealth redistribution because they can't get creative with it. They're not allowed by law to get creative with it."

What Mr. Bush means is that the government imposes standardized rules and mandates with no concern for how much they will cost or who will bear the burden. Given the choice, consumers might decide on cheaper policies that cover some services but not others, or decide to run more risk.

Yet for all the talk about expanding coverage, Mr. Bush says the real problem is that "You can't buy what you want." Another way of putting it is that "America will have one car. Everyone will have access to transportation, which means that everyone will have a black Escalade, with spinners. That's it. There's no Hyundais, no bicycles, no nothing."

And it's scandalously unfair. "These poor people who clip the things off the backs of cans to make the tomatoes cheaper are subsidizing the hypochondriac who gets his shoulder done with an arthroscope because it clicks when he serves at tennis."

Under ObamaCare, Mr. Bush says, "everyone is going to get health care according to the wise-men benefit panel, who will tell you exactly what it is, and then they'll run out of money, so every year the wise panel will just squish the benefit a little. People will start to say, well, that's not going to work for me." For this reason he doesn't think central health planning will have any longevity, and eventually people "will start leaking out into the [private] market once we run out of Obama energy."

His company, he thinks, will play an important role in such a world, where individuals would have more responsibility for weighing trade-offs—which, he believes, is the only lasting way to enforce discipline in health spending: "Today it's so complicated that the average consumer—and this is what the academics say—you can't put the average consumer in charge, it's too complicated. Yeah it's too complicated! So let's make it not complicated," he says. Athenanet generates "clean information," the basic price signals about health care that "a regular old consumer could look at and say, 'That's worth it' or 'I'd rather do this one on the other side of Route 128 that does it cheaper.'"

Mr. Bush is less sanguine about the White House cost-control approach of better living through technocracy and "Benthemite micromanagement." As an illustration he singles out the idea of dispensing bonus payments to hospitals that find ways to reduce Medicare spending. If the bonus is higher than what the hospital would have been paid under the status quo, then Medicare is worse off—but if the bonus is less than what the hospital would have earned otherwise, in what sense is it an incentive to change? In other words, "I'm going to give you a dollar bill for every 10-dollar bill you give me?" Mr. Bush asks incredulously.

The irony is that Athena will likely benefit from the Project Mayhem that is about to begin. "It's probably terrible that all this new bureaucracy is being created," Mr. Bush says. "But there's going to be 50 new Medicaid-type plans in these insurance exchanges, run by the same insurance commissioners, these same sort of glazed-over-looking state secretaries of health. You know, just not really the brightest bulbs in the chandeliers of the world. Medicaid, the worst payer in the country by a factor of four! Mother of pearl! So I feel a little bit like a robber baron. I am going to make oil money dealing with them."

The double irony is that Athena—while Mr. Bush might not put it in such an impolitic way, but then again, maybe he would—is also showing that the status quo for all its flaws is capable of organic change and real progress without the blunt-force trauma Congress is likely to inflict. Or in spite of it.

Take the nearly $47 billion in stimulus cash the White House has budgeted to prime the pump for health IT adoption. Mr. Bush says he's glad his industry is getting more attention from the bully pulpit, but that "It is kind of too bad that all these software companies that we're really close to putting out of business, these terrible legacy companies, with code that was written in the '70s, are going to get life support. That's why I call it the Sunny von Bülow bill. What it is, basically, is a federally sponsored sale on old-fashioned software."

"It's designed like a box-buying campaign," he continues. "You get this fixed chunk of money for a few years, you get to pay off your EMR, like its a thing. People in Washington think in terms of things that we'll buy and then they'll be there. Buildings. Roads. Tanks. What Lockheed Martin makes. Things.

"And this isn't that. This is a market: its a set of agreements, it's a language. What's needed is a way of exchanging value and making choices, that's ethical—and, you know, nobody, nobody, not nobody, has said a word about that.

Mr. Rago is a senior editorial page writer at the Journal.
27643  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 300 arrested on: December 12, 2009, 08:30:04 AM

POTH acts as an advocate for BO's illegal immigration policies:

Immigration Officials Arrest 300 in California
Published: December 11, 2009
LOS ANGELES — Nearly 300 illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes were deported or detained this week by federal agents in a demonstration of what immigration officials pledged was a new resolve to zero in on the most egregious lawbreakers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials called the three-day sweep in California their largest operation ever aimed at illegal immigrants with criminal records.

More than 80 percent had convictions for serious or violent crimes and at least 100 have been removed from the country, with the others awaiting deportation proceedings.

John Morton, an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security who is in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Friday that focusing on serious criminals helped improve public safety.

“These are not people who we want walking our streets,” Mr. Morton said at a news conference here, a day after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made much the same point at a Congressional hearing.

The Department of Homeland Security has been criticized by immigrant advocates and civil libertarians in recent years for rounding up hundreds of people whose only offense was being in the country without proper documents, sometimes at the cost of breaking up families.

President Obama had campaigned on a promise of a more compassionate approach to immigration enforcement that would focus on ridding the country of felons and cracking down on employers who deliberately hire illegal workers.

Mr. Morton, citing limited resources, said, “We are going to focus on those people who choose to pursue a life of crime in the United States rather than pursue the American dream of education, hard work and success.”

Last year, 136,126 illegal immigrants with criminal records were deported, a record number, officials said. While department officials trumpeted the mass arrests this week, they could not say how many serious criminal offenders who are in the country illegally remain on the streets.

The Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union reacted skeptically to the announcement, noting that despite assurances that serious criminals were the target, previous sweeps have turned out to capture large numbers of people with no such records.

“We would welcome more effective targeting than in the past but it is not yet clear that is the case here,” said Caroline Cincotta, a fellow at the project, who also questioned whether the swift deportations had allowed people to have full due process.

ICE officials said just six of those arrested had no record at all, and they sought to play up the serious nature of the offenses of those who were apprehended.

Those arrested included a Guatemalan man with ties to a Los Angeles gang who had committed first-degree robbery, a Mexican man convicted of lewd acts with a child and a Mexican man with a rape conviction.

Of the 286 people arrested, 63 had previously been deported. At least 17 face prosecution for re-entering the country without proper documents.

The agents and officers tracked down most of those arrested through tips and a review of immigration files, court and public records. Many people arrested this week were never deported after serving prison time for their offenses because they fell through the cracks.

Mr. Morton said the immigration agency was improving cooperation with local and state jailers, and is rolling out a “Secure Communities” program that by 2012 is expected to permit all local jails nationwide to check the immigration status of inmates.

The deportees represented 31 countries, though the majority, 207, were from Mexico.
27644  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government Programs, spending, budget process on: December 12, 2009, 08:22:24 AM
Geothermal Project in California Is Shut Down

Published: December 11, 2009
The company in charge of a California project to extract vast amounts of renewable energy from deep, hot bedrock has removed its drill rig and informed federal officials that the government project will be abandoned.

AltaRock Energy has told the Department of Energy it has removed its drill rig, shown above in May, from a Northern California site and abandoned the project. The project by the company, AltaRock Energy, was the Obama administration’s first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels and the project was being financed with federal Department of Energy money at a site about 100 miles north of San Francisco called the Geysers.  But on Friday, the Energy Department said that AltaRock had given notice this week that “it will not be continuing work at the Geysers” as part of the agency’s geothermal development program.

The project’s apparent collapse comes a day after Swiss government officials permanently shut down a similar project in Basel, because of the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007. Taken together, the two setbacks could change the direction of the Obama administration’s geothermal program, which had raised hopes that the earth’s bedrock could be quickly tapped as a clean and almost limitless energy source.

The Energy Department referred other questions about the project’s shutdown to AltaRock, a startup company based in Seattle. Reached by telephone, the company’s chief operations officer, James T. Turner, confirmed that the rig had been removed but said he had not been informed of the notice that the company had given the government. Two other senior company officials did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear whether AltaRock might try to restart the project with private money.

In addition to a $6 million grant from the Energy Department, AltaRock had attracted some $30 million in venture capital from high-profile investors like Google, Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

“Some of these startup companies got out in front and convinced some venture capitalists that they were very close to commercial deployment,” said Daniel P. Schrag, a professor of geology and director of the Center for the Environment at Harvard University.

Geothermal enthusiasts asserted that drilling miles into hard rock, as required by the technique, could be done quickly and economically with small improvements in existing methods, Professor Schrag said. “What we’ve discovered is that it’s harder to make those improvements than some people believed,” he added.

In fact, AltaRock immediately ran into snags with its drilling, repeatedly snapping off bits in shallow formations called caprock. The project’s safety was also under review at the Energy Department after federal officials said the company had not been entirely forthcoming about the earthquakes produced in Basel in making the case for the Geysers project.

The results of that review have not yet been announced, but the type of geothermal energy explored in Basel and at the Geysers requires fracturing the bedrock then circulating water through the cracks to produce steam. By its nature, fracturing creates earthquakes, though most of them are small.

On Friday, the Energy Department, which has put some $440 million into its geothermal program this year alone, said that despite the latest developments, it remained confident of the technology’s long-term prospects. Many geothermal methods do not require drilling so deep or fracturing bedrock.

“The Department of Energy believes that geothermal energy holds enormous potential to heat our homes and power our economy while decreasing our carbon pollution,” said Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman.

AltaRock has also received some $25 million in federal money for a project in Oregon, and some scientists speculated on Friday that after the spate of problems at the Geysers, the company wanted to focus on a new site.

But the company, whose project at the Geysers was located on land leased from the federal government by the Northern California Power Agency, has held information about its project tightly. Not even the power agency has been informed of AltaRock’s ultimate intentions at the site, said Murray Grande, who is in charge of geothermal facilities for the agency.

“They just probably gave up, but we don’t know,” Mr. Grande said. “We have nothing official from them at all.”

But a resident of the nearby town of Anderson Springs, which is already shaken by quakes generated by less ambitious geothermal projects, reacted with jubilation when told it appeared the new project was ending.

“How I feel is beyond anything that words can express,” said the resident, Jacque Felber, who added that an unnerving quake had rattled her property the night before. “I’m just so relieved, because with this going on, I’m afraid one of these days it’s going to knock my house off the hill.”
27645  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ed Rothstein on: December 12, 2009, 08:19:04 AM
Exhibition Review | 'The Red Book of C. G. Jung: Creation of a New
Jung's Inner Universe, Writ Large
Published: December 11, 2009

We know the archetype; we cherish the myth. The hero, like the world around
him, is in a state of crisis. And in seeking to restore himself and the
shattered cosmos, he valiantly passes through a vale of despair, descending
into darkness. He risks his life and psyche in perilous encounters with
dreams or dragons and finally emerges into the light, spiritually
transformed, ushering in a new age.

From "The Red Book" by C. G. Jung (W. W. Norton & Company), via Rubin Museum
of Art
An image on display in a new exhibition of work by Carl G. Jung at the Rubin
Museum of Art. More Photos »

That restoration may be like Odysseus' epic journey home or like the return
of the Israelites to Canaan. It may be like Siegfried braving his way to the
side of the sleeping Brünnhilde or like ... well, perhaps like the journey
that Carl G. Jung tried to outline in a private chronicle he kept for 16
years that until recently had scarcely been seen by anyone outside the
extended family of his descendants. It's an elaborately designed scripture,
filled with his fantasies and surreal imaginings, known as "The Red Book."
The title is not a metaphorical allusion to blood's primal coloration nor
does it require elaborate symbolic explication. The book really is red, and
you can see it until mid-February, lying open in a glass case in an
exhibition mounted in its honor at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea: "The
Red Book of C. G. Jung: Creation of a New Cosmology."

Jung, who by the time he began work on this tome had already broken with
Freud and was developing his mythically suffused conception of the human
psyche, made certain that the book's significance would not be overlooked by
future acolytes. Bound in crimson leather, it is an enormous folio, more
than 600 pages, bearing the formal title "Liber Novus" ("New Book"). Jung
gave it all the trappings of antique authority and stentorian consequence,
presenting it as a Newer New Testament.

He wrote it out himself, using a runic Latin and German calligraphy. Its
opening portion, which begins with quotations from Isaiah and the Gospel
according to John, is inked onto parchment, each section beginning with an
initial illuminated as if by a medieval scribe with a taste for eyes,
castles and scarabs.

The book's accounts of Jung's visions, fantasies and dreams are also
punctuated with his paintings (some of which are on display in the
exhibition), images executed during the years of World War I and the decade
after that now appear as uncanny anticipations of New Age folk art of the
late 20th century. They display abstract, symmetrical floral designs Jung
came to identify as mandalas, along with almost childlike renderings of
flames, trees, dragons and snakes, all in striking, bold colors.

But what is particularly strange about this book is not its pretense or
pomposity but its talismanic power. It was stashed away in a cabinet for
decades by the family, then jealously withheld from scholarly view because
of its supposedly revealing nature. Since being brought into the open,
partly through the efforts of the historian and Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani
(who is also curator of this exhibition), it has become a sensation.

A meticulously reproduced facsimile, published in October by W. W. Norton &
Company, with detailed footnotes and commentary by Mr. Shamdasani (who also
contributed to the volume's accompanying translation), "The Red Book,"
costing $195, is in its fifth printing.

This modest show, in which the book is supplemented by displays of the
author's notes, sketches and paintings, is now scheduled to travel to the
Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from April to June, and then to the Library of
Congress in Washington.

The book really is a remarkable object, and not just because it so
eccentrically insists on its own significance. It represents Jung's thinking
during a period when he was developing his notion of "archetype" and a
"collective unconscious," positing a substratum of the human mind that
shapes language, image and myth across all cultures. And as he was
developing his ideas about psychological therapy as a form of
self-knowledge, he seemed to have been engaging in just such a
self-analysis: the book provides a bewildering, seemingly uncensored path
into Jung's inner life. Mr. Shamdasani writes, "It is nothing less than the
central book in his oeuvre."

That is something students of Jung's life and work can ponder as they try to
put these gnomic tales into intellectual and biographical context. As Jung
himself warned in an unfinished 1959 epilogue to this unfinished book, "To
the superficial observer, it will appear like madness." Perhaps even to the
nonsuperficial observer.


Page 2 of 2)

The narrator is a stand-in for Jung; he splits into multiple parts, engaging
in cryptic dialogue with alternative souls. He is often in the company of a
being named Philemon, an old man with the horns of a bull, a creature, Jung
said, who evolved out of the biblical character Elijah. Philemon is a
 "pagan" who carries with him "an Egypto-Hellenic atmosphere with a Gnostic

Nearly every visitation has some such mix of exotico-mythico-primitivo
coloration. One painting on display here shows a centipedesque dragon, its
jaws opened to swallow a yellow ball.
Jung's explanation: "The dragon wants to eat the sun, and the youth
beseeches him not to. But he eats it nevertheless." An inscription goes into
more detail, naming figures in the story without explaining them:
"Atmavictu," "a youthful supporter," "Telesphorus," "evil spirit in some

Confusion about the meaning of it all was apparently shared by Jung, who
transcribed these visions and then reflected on them in streams of
semiconsciousness, invoking death, sacrifice, love and acceptance, sounding
at times like a Greek priestess moaning from the bowels of the earth. He
wanders in the desert, he cries aloud, he eats the liver of a sacrificed
girl, her head "a mash of blood with hair and whitish pieces of bone."

The temptation, after numbingly turning these pages, is to react finally
like the psychiatrist Spielvogel at the end of Philip Roth's "Portnoy's
Complaint," and say: "So. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?" Maybe that was
Jung's reaction too, which is why he abandoned the project in 1930. He
couldn't even complete the epilogue, some 30 years later, breaking off in

Now it may be, of course, that Jung was speaking profoundly in tongues, and
that more devoted souls may stumble on the key to all these mythologies.
Perhaps. Jung himself, after all, was engaged in more compelling systematic
work about the primal forces of the psyche during this period (ideas that
may have also influenced the late speculations of Freud). Yet right now the
lure of the book comes not from within, but from without, not from what it
deciphers, but from what it signals about our own mythological

Mr. Shamdasani argues that "the overall theme of the book is how Jung
regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual
alienation." And as he points out, Jung undertook his strange project after
a series of apocalyptic visions in 1913 and 1914 that he later believed were
prophesies of an imminent world war. He looked out a window, he said, and
"saw blood, rivers of blood." Jung felt it within himself as well, the
"menace of psychosis."

And so he began this enterprise of self-examination, a ruthless overturning
of the rational Western mind, submerging himself in a pilgrimage through the
pagan land of his own psyche. This project was his belated answer to Freud's
"Interpretation of Dreams," which had also presented itself as the account
of a heroic self-analytical descent into the maelstrom of the unconscious.

We are lured by that archetype still, even if it does not seem to shed the
illumination Jung claimed. Go see this book and the exhibition, though, to
glimpse an extraordinary relic of a particular way of thinking about the
mind and its history. Then, cued by a 13th-century Tibetan mandala here that
Jung owned, go upstairs and see the Rubin's astonishing show of these
ancient Tibetan designs, each enclosing an encyclopedic universe,
encompassing desire, venality, wisdom, ecstasy and passion. Maybe "The Red
Book" deserves a diagnosis: Jung had mandala envy.
27646  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / If POTH is worried , , , on: December 12, 2009, 08:05:28 AM
New Cases Test Optimism on Extremism by U.S. Muslims
Sargodha Police Department, via Associated Press
The Americans arrested Wednesday in Pakistan were, from left, Waqar Khan, Ramy Zamzam, Umer Farooq, Ahmed Abdullah Minni, and Aman Hassan Yemer.

Published: December 11, 2009

WASHINGTON — As the years passed after Sept. 11, 2001, without another major attack on American soil and with no sign of hidden terrorist cells, many counterterrorism specialists reached a comforting conclusion: Muslims in the United States were not very vulnerable to radicalization.

American Muslims, the reasoning went, were well assimilated in diverse communities with room for advancement. They showed little of the alienation often on display among their European counterparts, let alone attraction to extremist violence.

But with a rash of recent cases in which Americans have been accused of being drawn into terrorist scheming, the rampage at Fort Hood, Tex., last month and now the alarming account of five young Virginia men who went to Pakistan and are suspected of seeking jihad, the notion that the United States has some immunity against homegrown terrorists is coming under new scrutiny.

It is a concern that President Obama noted in passing in his address on the decision to send 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, and one that has grown as the Afghan war and the hunt for Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan intensifies.

“These events certainly call the consensus into question,” said Robert S. Leiken, who studies terrorism at the Nixon Center, a Washington policy institute, and wrote the forthcoming book “Europe’s Angry Muslims.”

“The notion of a difference between Europe and United States remains relevant,” Mr. Leiken said. But the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the American operations like drone strikes in Pakistan, are fueling radicalization at home, he said.

“Just the length of U.S. involvement in these countries is provoking more Muslim Americans to react,” Mr. Leiken said.

Concern over the recent cases has profoundly affected Muslim organizations in the United States, which have renewed pledges to campaign against extremist thinking.

“Among leaders, there’s a recognition that there’s a challenge within our community that needs to be addressed,” said Alejandro J. Beutel, government liaison at the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, and main author of a report by the council on radicalization and how to combat it.

Mr. Beutel, a Muslim convert from New Jersey, said the council started a grass-roots counterradicalization effort in 2005, but acknowledged that “for a while it was on the back burner.” He said, “Now we’re going to revive it.”

F.B.I. investigators were in Pakistan on Friday questioning the five Virginia men. But it remained unclear whether the men would be deported to the United States, and whether they had broken any laws in either Pakistan or the United States.

At a news conference Friday at the small Virginia mosque where the men had been youth group regulars, mosque officials expressed bewilderment at claims that the men wanted to join the jihad against American troops in Afghanistan.

“I never observed any extreme behavior from them,” said Mustafa Maryam, who runs the youth group and said he had known the young men since 2006. “They were fun-loving, career-focused children. They had a bright future before them.”

Also at the press briefing, asked about reports that the five men had contacted a Pakistani militant via the Web, Mahdi Bray, the head of the Freedom Foundation of the Muslim American Society, told reporters that YouTube and social networking sites had become a dangerous recruiting tool for militants.

“We are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of our children through this slick, seductive propaganda on the Internet,” said Mr. Bray, who is organizing a youth meeting later this month in Chicago to address the issue.

“Silence in cyberspace is not an option for us,” he said.

The detention of the Virginia men — ranging in age from late teens to mid-20s — would have prompted soul-searching no matter when it occurred. But it comes after a series of disturbing cases that already had terror experts speculating about a trend.

There were the November shootings that took 13 lives at Fort Hood, with murder charges pending against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-born Muslim and an Army psychiatrist.

There was the arrest of Najibullah Zazi, born in Afghanistan but the seeming model of the striving immigrant as a popular coffee vendor in Manhattan, accused of going to Pakistan for explosives training with the intention of attacking in the United States.

There was David Coleman Headley, (why does no one mention his name change from a Muslim name ?) a Pakistani-American living in Chicago, accused of helping plan the killings in Mumbai, India, last year and of plotting attacks in Denmark.


Page 2 of 2)

There was Bryant Neal Vinas, a Muslim convert from Long Island who participated in a rocket attack on American troops in Afghanistan and used his knowledge of commuter trains in New York to advise Al Qaeda about potential targets.

There were the Somali-Americans from Minnesota who had traveled to Somalia to join a violent Islamist movement.

And there were cases of would-be terrorists who plotted attacks in Texas, Illinois and North Carolina with conspirators who turned out to be F.B.I. informants.

Bruce Hoffman, who studies terrorism at Georgetown University, said the recent cases only confirmed that it was “myopic” to believe “we could insulate ourselves from the currents affecting young Muslims everywhere else.”

Like many other specialists, Mr. Hoffman pointed to the United States’ combat in Muslim lands as the only obvious spur to many of the recent cases, especially those with a Pakistani connection.

“The longer we’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, “the more some susceptible young men are coming to believe that it’s their duty to take up arms to defend their fellow Muslims.”

A few analysts, in fact, argue that Mr. Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan — intended to prevent a terrorist haven there — could backfire.

Robert A. Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist, contends that suicide attacks are almost always prompted by resentment of foreign troops, and that escalation in Afghanistan will fuel more plots.

“This new deployment increases the risk of the next 9/11,” he said. “It will not make this country safer.”

Yet amid the concern about the five Virginia men and the impact of the wars on Muslim opinion, Audrey Kurth Cronin of the National War College in Washington said she found something to take comfort in.

“To me, the most interesting thing about the five guys is that it was their parents that went immediately to the F.B.I.,” she said. “It was members of the American Muslim community that put a stop to whatever those men may have been planning.”
27647  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Default, then rent on: December 11, 2009, 08:01:31 PM
Second post of the day

American Dream 2: Default, Then Rent
Interactive graphics:



PALMDALE, Calif. -- Schoolteacher Shana Richey misses the playroom she decorated with Glamour Girl decals for her daughters. Fireman Jay Fernandez misses the custom putting green he installed in his backyard.

But ever since they quit paying their mortgages and walked away from their homes, they've discovered that giving up on the American dream has its benefits.

Both now live on the 3100 block of Club Rancho Drive in Palmdale, where a terrible housing market lets them rent luxurious homes -- one with a pool for the kids, the other with a golf-course view -- for a fraction of their former monthly payments.

"It's just a better life. It really is," says Ms. Richey. Before defaulting on her mortgage, she owed about $230,000 more than the home was worth.

People's increasing willingness to abandon their own piece of America illustrates a paradoxical change wrought by the housing bust: Even as it tarnishes the near-sacred image of home ownership, it might be clearing the way for an economic recovery.

Thanks to a rare confluence of factors -- mortgages that far exceed home values and bargain-basement rents -- a growing number of families are concluding that the new American dream home is a rental.

Some are leaving behind their homes and mortgages right away, while others are simply halting payments until the bank kicks them out. That's freeing up cash to use in other ways.

Ms. Richey's family of five used some of the money to buy season tickets to Disneyland, and plans to take a Carnival cruise to Mexico in March. Mr. Fernandez takes his girlfriend out to dinner more frequently. "We're saving lots of money," Ms. Richey says.

The U.S home-ownership rate has charted its biggest decline in more than two decades, falling to 67.6% as of September from a peak of 69.2% in 2004. And more renters are on the way: Credit firm Experian and consulting firm Oliver Wyman forecast that "strategic defaults" by homeowners who can afford to pay are likely to exceed one million in 2009, more than four times 2007's level.

Stiffing the bank is bad for peoples' credit, and bad for banks. Swelling defaults could also mean more losses for taxpayers through bank bailouts.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank Securities expect 21 million U.S. households to end up owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth by the end of 2010. If one in five of those households defaults, the losses to banks and investors could exceed $400 billion. As a proportion of the economy, that's roughly equivalent to the losses suffered in the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The flip side of those losses, though, is massive debt relief that can help offset the pain of rising unemployment and put cash in consumers' pockets.

For the 4.8 million U.S. households that data provider LPS Applied Analytics estimates haven't paid their mortgages in at least three months, the added cash flow could amount to about $5 billion a month -- an injection that in the long term could be worth more than the tax breaks in the Obama administration's economic-stimulus package.

"It's a stealth stimulus," says Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics, a consulting firm specializing in real estate and the California economy. "The quicker these people shed their debts, the faster the economy is going to heal and move forward again."

As the stigma of abandoning a mortgage wanes, the Obama administration could face an uphill battle in its effort to keep people in their homes by pressuring banks to cut their mortgage payments. Some analysts argue that's not always the right approach, particularly if it prevents people from shedding onerous debts and starting afresh.

"The effect of these programs is often to lead homeowners to make decisions that are not in their economic best interests," says Brent White, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has studied mortgage defaults.

Few places in the U.S. were better suited to attract true believers in home ownership than Palmdale. A farming community that expanded in the 1950s to accommodate the aerospace industry around nearby Edwards Air Force Base, the city more than doubled its population from 1990 to the present as it became the final frontier for Los Angeles-area workers looking to buy.

About half of Palmdale's 147,000 residents endure a daily commute that can extend to two hours or more one way. In return, they get a homestead in a high-desert locale of haunting beauty, with Joshua trees dotting the landscape, and real-estate developments locked into a master grid of streets with anonymous names such as Avenue O-8 or Avenue M-4.

The 3100 block of Club Rancho Drive, built by Beazer Homes mostly in 2002, captures the essence of Palmdale's appeal. Winding along the southern edge of the Rancho Vista golf course just south of Avenue N-8, its spacious homes, verdant lawns and imported birch and sycamore trees exude a sense of middle-class tranquility.

Club Rancho became a solid community of owner-occupiers, many of whom stretched their finances to the limit. As of the end of 2007, total mortgage debt attached to the 13 houses on the block for which records are available had reached $4.5 million.

Fast-forward to the end of 2009, and the picture changes radically. Thanks to a 50% drop in home prices, at least two owners on the block now owe between $60,000 and $160,000 more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. Four more homes have already passed through foreclosure into the hands of new owners.

In the process, the block's total mortgage debt has fallen 37%, to $2.7 million.

Much of Club Rancho also has converted to rentals, a shift mirrored across Palmdale. Five homes on the 3100 block are now occupied by renters, up from only two in 2007. In the past six months, at least three families have moved into those rentals after walking away from other homes.

Ms. Richey, the teacher, arrived in Palmdale in 1999. In 2004, she and her husband, Timothy, bought a two-story home on Caspian Drive, near Avenue O-8, with a no-down-payment loan. They took pride in the amenities they installed: a powder room with granite countertops, a backyard pool and play area, and the purple-and-turquoise fantasy playroom upstairs for their three daughters.

But the value of the house plunged to less than $200,000 in 2009. Their $430,000 mortgage, with its $3,700 monthly payment, began to look more like an unwanted burden. By May, amid troubles getting tenants for two rental properties she also owned, Ms. Richey decided the time had come to cut a deal with America's Servicing Co., a unit of Wells Fargo & Co. servicing the mortgage on the house.

After three months of wrangling, she says she finally received a modification approval. The new monthly payment: about $3,300, far more than she had hoped. A Wells Fargo spokesman confirmed the bank offered Ms. Richey a modification under the Obama administration's Making Home Affordable program, and said, "The Richeys turned down the lowest payment we could offer."

Ms. Richey and her husband had already been working on Plan B -- exploring the neighborhood's "For Rent" signs.

On one trip, they drove by the house at 3152 Club Rancho Drive. It was bigger than their house on Caspian, had a pool with three waterfalls, and boasted a cascading staircase that Ms. Richey says she could picture her daughters descending on prom night. The rent was $2,195 a month.

The situation presented Ms. Richey with a quandary now facing more than 10 million U.S. homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

On one hand, walking away from her home would be easy. California is one of 10 states that largely prevent mortgage lenders from going after the other assets of borrowers who default. But she also had to consider the negatives. Her credit could be tarnished for years and, perhaps most importantly, she feared her friends and neighbors might ostracize her.

"It was scary," she says, noting that people tended to keep such decisions to themselves for fear of being stigmatized. "It's still very hush-hush."

Tom Sobelman, whose family of four lives across the street from Ms. Richey, at 3127 Club Rancho Drive, sees mortgages as a moral as well as financial obligation. He's still paying the mortgage on an investment property he owns nearby, despite the fact that the rent is about $1,000 a month short of covering his costs.

Mr. Sobelman, 37, argues that people who choose to default are unfairly benefiting at the expense of taxpayers, who have put trillions of dollars at risk to bail out struggling banks. "All these people are gaming the system, and I'm paying for it," he says. "My kids are going to be paying it off."

Mr. Sobelman has plenty of company. In a recent study of people who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth, economists Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales found that about four out of five believe defaulting on a mortgage is morally wrong if one can afford to pay it. But they also found that the people become 82% more likely to say they'll default if they know someone else who defaulted.

Moral or not, the individuals who want to shed their mortgage debts are quickly transforming the Palmdale real-estate market.

Adam Robbins, who runs the local Realty World franchise and manages about 80 properties, says about 90% of his prospective tenants are people in Ms. Richey's situation. So he and other rental managers are loosening rules to accept people who have been through foreclosures.

"Those are all good people," he says. "They just got bad loans or bought at the wrong time."

Ms. Richey and her family made the move to Club Rancho Drive in August, when she was already several months behind on the mortgage. With Mr. Robbins's help, she recently sold the house on Caspian Drive for $195,000, money that the bank will accept to settle the $430,000 mortgage debt. She's also considering walking away from the mortgages on her two rental properties.

Showing a visitor the personal touches in her new home, including a $1,800 dining set she bought with some of her newly available income, she notes the advantages of being a renter rather than an owner.

"You take a risk for the American dream," she says. "I don't have to worry about paying property tax, homeowners' insurance, the landscaping, cleaning the pool or any repairs."

Others on Ms. Richey's block have made similar moves. Mr. Fernandez, the firefighter, moved into 3139 in July, after stopping the $4,800 monthly payments on the home he owned around the corner on Champion Way.

Mr. Fernandez says he made four attempts to modify the larger of the two mortgages on his home, which add up to $423,000. Ultimately, he was offered a monthly payment that, together with back taxes, was higher than what he had been paying. Today he's working to partially reimburse his lenders, IndyMac Bank (now OneWest Bank) and American First Credit Union, by selling the home, which he expects to fetch about $300,000.

A spokeswoman for OneWest Bank said the bank "offered Mr. Fernandez the lowest payment possible under the [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.] loan modification guidelines." A spokesman for American First said the company always seeks to help clients stay in their homes.

With an income of about $8,300 a month and a rent of $2,200, Mr. Fernandez says he now has the wherewithal to do things he couldn't when he was stretching to pay the mortgage. He recently went to concerts by Rob Thomas and Mat Kearney. He also kept his black BMW 6 Series coupe, which has payments of about $700 a month.

"I don't know if I'll buy another house again, because it's such a huge headache," he says.
27648  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hanukah on: December 11, 2009, 03:33:16 PM

Much is known about the miracle of Chanukah and its subsequent impact on Jewish life. However, little is known about the battles that were fought by Judah the Maccabee and his sons. The Maccabean revolt began in 167 BCE and were at a time that there was no organized Jewish force that had engaged in any warfare. Judah the Maccabee used his genius in a manner radically different from his predecessors.

In order to fully understand the genius of Judah the Maccabee, we must understand the state of warfare which was used in those times. Greek and Roman armies were powerful, well trained, well financed, and disciplined. The Jews in that time period were basically farmers, they had lived in relative peace and had not resorted to any form of an army. Yet, after a decree was made that pigs be slaughter, offered to the Greek gods, and eaten, the revolt ensued. Mattisyahu, the Jewish priest was ordered to perform this sacrifice and to eat from the pig. Instead, with fury, he and his sons slew the Jewish traitors (who supported the Greeks) and Greek unit that had come to enforce the decree against the Jews. The Jews took refuge in the hills and mountain sides of the Modiin region, some 25 miles distant from Jerusalem. There a small group, estimated at 200 organized as a guerrilla group.

This small group reaffirmed the principles of Judaism with willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their G-d. In what they lacked in supplies and training, they made up with there devotion. They worked on strengthening their contacts among the Jewish settlements, maintaining supplies and intelligence gathering. Soon, Judah, the son of Mattisyahu, was designated as the leader.

The Greek army was well trained, well organized and tried in battle. Their ranks were composed of heavy and light infantry, heavy and light cavalry, chariots, elephant units and engines for hurling huge stones. Their weapons included swords, javelins, spears bows, slings and battering rams. The Jews small group had such home made primitive weapons such as the sling and the mace. Here is where Judah’s genius came to even the sides.

The Greeks enjoyed the overwhelming superiority in manpower and arms. However they were trained for battle in a conventional fighting form. The core of the Greek army was the tactical infantry formation, a group of soldiers drawn up in close order. The troops advanced towards the enemy in a tight mass. The men in each rank shoulder to shoulder and close on the heels of the rank in front. This company comprised of some 250 men. They would march toward the enemy in close quarter with 16 men is each row and sixteen rows. Four such units comprised some one thousand men. This was the smallest fighting group that the Greeks employed.

As the unit approached the enemy force, the first five rows held their spears horizontally towards the enemy. The remaining rows held them vertically. Their large shields protected them from all sides and overhead. All men of that unit were ready to engage the enemy not as independent warriors, but as a tightly knit war machine. The entire unit would press against the enemy once battle was joined. The thundering forward crush, demolished every thing in its path. This infantry unit was protected on the flanks by cavalry and light forces which skirmished before the main forces. Judah saw that to engage the Greeks head on was insane. He realized that that the weakness in this method of warfare was in the cumbersome conventional movement of the organized units. Due to their rigid discipline and the tight internal organization of the warring units, they could not employ the element of surprise. The progress of a marching unit was powerful, yet slow and tedious. When two forces met in battle, both sides were in full view of the other. When battle was enjoined, it was in accordance to certain fixed tactical principles. The concept of using original tactics did not exist.

Judah saw the advantages to be gained from refusing to allow the enemy to dictate the field and style of battle. The Greeks were no match if challenged on flat land in a direct battle during the daylight hours. Yehuda’s strength was in the agility of his men to move quickly, quietly and independently and their desire to prevail. They possessed intimate knowledge of the local terrain therefore attacks could be carried out at night. He therefore chose to utilize the rocky and hilly slopes of the Modiin region, together with the element of surprise.

Judah decided to attack the Greeks as they were marching thought a narrow pass that winds uphill for several miles. With one group who would meet the Greeks head on, Judah split his men into other groups. One group was assigned the task of sealing off the narrow pass to prevent retreat. Two other groups hid on the hill side and waited for the first group to engage in battle. As the Greeks met the surprise attack from the front and directed their attention to the certain slaughter of these renegades, the second group attacked from one side. Turning to ward off this surprise, and as their attention was caught between two sides, they were attacked from the third side. Untrained for battle in a non-orthodox form, they were unaware of the trick that was being unfolded upon them. The Jewish warriors swept down from the sides and decimated the Greek troops. The entire Greek force was totally destroyed. The Jews wasted no time in collecting the enemy’s weapons and equipment.

This surprise victory had electrifying effects on the whole of Israel. The popular support that the Maccabean warriors had enjoyed was increased dramatically. The disgraced Greek army was forced to withdraw. Yet although the Greek army tried several times again to battle the small Jewish army, each time increasing the Greek army, they lost in a most profound manner. Judah’s genius manifest itself in utilizing the natural elements that were given to his side, and by utilizing his natural G-d given talents. He refusing to accept the enemy’s dictation of battle in any mode of conflict. We too, can learn from this, as we must deal with our enemies. We do not have to accept other modes of thought as the given, nor do we have to fight with them in their chosen conventional form (which they choose to use). Rather, we must utilize that natural and native Jewish intelligence which G-d has given us. That, together with our devotion, will help us succeed in all of our battles.
27649  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pat Pulatie article on: December 11, 2009, 03:13:06 PM

Interesting article by a friend of mine.

The latest insight on the foreclosure crisis — and help for those in need.
Today is Friday, December 11th, 2009
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Beware of Foreclosure ScamsExample Hardship LetterLoss Mitigation Phone NumbersOverview of Methods to Stop ForeclosureAbout UsRSS.About the Author
Patrick Pulatie is the CEO for Loan Fraud Investigations (LFI). LFI is a Forensic/Predatory Lending Audit company in Antioch CA, and has been doing homeowner audits since Nov 07. LFI works daily with Attorneys throughout California, assisting homeowners in the fight to save their homes. He and Attorneys are constantly developing new strategies to counter foreclosure efforts by lenders.

See All Posts by This Author

Anatomy of a Government-Abetted Fraud: Why Indymac/OneWest Always Forecloses
December 1st, 2009 • Related • Filed Under
Filed Under: Avoid Foreclosure • FDIC • HAMP • IndyMac/OneWest • facing foreclosure • featured • government-abetted fraud
Several times per week, I get phone calls from attorneys. These calls all start out the same. “I am unable to get loan modifications done through a lender. What can I do?” The first question I ask is if the lender is Indymac/One West. Invariably, it is.

I also field the same type of calls from homeowners and from loan modification companies. Everyone is having the problem of Indymac not cooperating with regard to doing loan modifications. Furthermore, if I google the issue or check out loan modification forums, the same is true on the internet.

What is going on with Indymac/One West? Why aren’t they doing loan modifications? This article will try and bring together the known facts for a better understanding of the situation, and discuss what the Indymac situation means for foreclosures in general — and the government’s response to the crisis. First, to understand the situation today, one must have an understanding of the recent history of Indymac.

Indymac was a national bank in the U.S. It was insured by the FDIC. On July 11, 2008, Indymac failed and was taken over by the FDIC.

Indymac offered mortgage loans to homeowners. A large number of these loans were Option ARM mortgages using stated income programs. The loans were offered by Indymac retail, and also through Mortgage Bankers would fund the loans and then Indymac would buy them and reimburse the Mortgage Banker. Mortgage Brokers were also invited to the party to sell these loans.

During the height of the Housing Boom, Indymac gave these loans out like a homeowner gives out candy at Halloween. The loans were sold to homeowners by brokers who desired the large rebates that Indymac offered for the loans. The rebates were usually about three points. What is not commonly known is that when the Option ARM was sold to Wall Street, the lender would realize from four to six points, and the three point rebate to the broker was paid from these proceeds. So the lender “pocketed” three points themselves for each loan.

When the loans were sold to Wall Street, they were securitized through a Pooling and Servicing Agreement. This Agreement covered what could happen with the loans, and detailed how all parts of the loan process occurred.

Even though Indymac sold off most loans, they still held a large number of Option ARMs and other loans in their portfolio. As the Housing Crisis developed and deepened, the number of these loans going into default or being foreclosed upon increased dramatically. This reduced cash and reserves available to Indymac for operations.

In July, 2008, the FDIC came in and took over Indymac. The FDIC looked for someone to buy Indymac and after negotiations, sold Indymac to One West Bank.

OneWest Bank and its Sweetheart Deal
OneWest Bank was created on Mar 19, 2009 from the assets of Indymac Bank. It was created solely for the purpose of absorbing Indymac Bank. The principle owners of OneWest Bank include Michael Dell and George Soros. (George was a major supporter of Barack Obama and is also notorious for knocking the UK out of the Euro Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 by shorting the Pound).

When OneWest took over Indymac, the FDIC and OneWest executed a “Shared-Loss Agreement” covering the sale. This Agreement covered the terms of what the FDIC would reimburse OneWest for any losses from foreclosure on a property. It is at this point that the details get very confusing, so I shall try to  simplify the terms. Some of the major details are:

OneWest would purchase all first mortgages at 70% of the current balance
OneWest would purchase Line of Equity Loans at 58% of the current balance.
In the event of foreclosure, the FDIC would cover from 80%-95% of losses, using the original loan amount, and not the current balance.
How does this translate to the “Real World”? Let us take a hypothetical situation. A homeowner has just lost his home in default. OneWest sells the property. Here are the details of the transaction:

The original loan amount was $500,000. Missed payments and other foreclosure costs bring the amount up to $550,000. At 70%, OneWest bought the loan for $385,000
The home is located in Stockton, CA, so its current value is likely about $185,000 and OneWest sells the home for that amount. Total loss for OneWest is $200,000. But this is not how FDIC determines the loss.
‘FDIC takes the $500,000 and subtracts the $185,000 Purchase Price. Total loss according to the FDIC is $315,000. If the FDIC is covering “ONLY” 80% of the loss, then the FDIC would reimburse OneWest to the tune of $252,000.
Add the $252,000 to the Purchase Price of $185,000, and you have One West recovering $437,000 for an “investment” of $385,000. Therefore, OneWest makes $52,000 in additional income above the actual Purchase Price loan amount after the FDIC reimbursement.
At this point, it becomes readily apparent why OneWest Bank has no intention of conducting loan modifications. Any modification means that OneWest would lose out on all this additional profit.

Note: It is not readily apparent as to whether this agreement applies to loans that IndyMac made and Securitized but still Services today. However, I believe that the Agreement does apply to Securitized loans. In that event, OneWest would make even more money through foreclosure because OneWest would keep the “excess” and not pay it to the investor!

Pooling And Servicing Agreement
When OneWest has been asked about why loan modifications are not being done, they are responding that their Pooling and Servicing Agreements do not allow for loan modifications. Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC has also stated the same. This sounds like a plausible explanation, since few people understand the Pooling and Servicing Agreement.  But…

Parties Involved
Here is the”dirty little secret” regarding Indymac and the Pooling and Servicing Agreement. The parties involved in the Agreement are:

The Sponsor for the Trust was…………Indymac
The Seller for the Trust was……………Indymac
The Depositor for the Trust was……… guessed it………….Indymac
The Issuing Entity for the Trust was……………….(drumroll)……………….Indymac
The Master Servicer for the Trust was……..once again………Indymac
In other words, Indymac was the only party involved in the Pooling and Servicing Agreement other than the Ratings Agency who rated these loans as `AAA’ products.

To make matters worse, Indymac wrote the Agreement in order to protect itself from liability for these garbage loans. By creating  separate Indymac Corporations — which the Depositor, Sponsor, and other entities were — Indymac created a bankruptcy-remote vehicle that could not come back to them in terms of liability. However, they did not count on certain MBS securities and portfolio loans coming back to bite them and force them under.

Now, the questions become:

If Indymac was responsible for Securitization at every step in the Process, and was responsible for writing the Pooling and Servicing Agreement, can they be held accountable for the loans that they are foreclosing on?
Since Indymac was the Issuing Entity, can they actually modify loans, but refuse to do so because they can make money for OneWest Bank by refusing to do so?
Does Indymac have to “buy back” the loan from the Indymac Trust in order to do a loan modification?
These are questions that I have no answer for. All I know is that at every step of the way, Indymac was involved in the process, and have taken steps to protect themselves from liability for loans that should never have been made.

Loan Modifications
As referred to earlier, the Agreement covers all aspects of the Securitization Process. With respect to Loan Modifications, the Agreement for Indymac INDA Mortgage Loan Trust 2007 – AR5, states on Page S-67:

Certain Modifications and Refinancings

The Servicer may modify any Mortgage Loan at the request of the related mortgagor, provided that the Servicer purchases the Mortgage Loan from the issuing entity immediately preceding the modification.

Page S-12 states the same “policy”:

The servicer is permitted to modify any mortgage loan in lieu of refinancing at the request of the related mortgagor, provided that the servicer purchases the mortgage loan from the issuing entity immediately preceding the modification. In addition, under limited circumstances, the servicer will repurchase certain mortgage loans that experience an early payment default (default in the first three months following origination). See “Servicing of the Mortgage Loans—Certain Modifications and Refinancings” and “Risk Factors—Risks Related To Newly Originated Mortgage Loans and Servicer’s Repurchase Obligation Related to Early Payment Default” in this prospectus supplement.

These sections would appear to suggest that the only way that OneWest could modify the loan would be as a result of buying the loan back from the Issuing Trust. However, there may be an out. Page S-12 also states:

Required Repurchases, Substitutions or Purchases of Mortgage Loans

The seller will make certain representations and warranties relating to the mortgage loans pursuant to the pooling and servicing agreement. If with respect to any mortgage loan any of the representations and warranties are breached in any material respect as of the date made, or an uncured material document defect exists, the seller will be obligated to repurchase or substitute for the mortgage loan as further described in this prospectus supplement under “Description of the Certificates—Representations and Warranties Relating to Mortgage Loans” and “—Delivery of Mortgage Loan Documents .”

The above section may be the key for litigating attorneys to fight Indymac. If fraud or other issues can be raised that will show a violation of the Representations and Warranties, then this could potentially force Indymac to modify the loan.

At this point, it becomes important to note that Indymac/OneWest signed aboard with the HAMP program in August 2009. Even though they became a part of the program, they are still refusing to do most loan modifications. Instead, they persist in foreclosing on almost all properties. And even when they say that they are attempting to do loan modifications, they are fulfilling all necessary requirements so that they can foreclose the second that they “decide” the homeowner does not meet HAMP requirements, — which, since they can make more money by foreclosing on the property, meets the HAMP requirements for doing what is in the best interests of the “investor”.

Why did Indymac even sign up for HAMP, if they have no intention of executing loan modifications?  Clearly, just for appearances.

One Final Question
It now becomes incumbent upon me to ask one final question. The Shared-Loss Agreement states the following:

2.1 Shared-Loss Arrangement.

(a) Loss Mitigation and Consideration of Alternatives. For each Shared-Loss Loan in default or for which a default is reasonably foreseeable, the Purchaser shall undertake, or shall use reasonable best efforts to cause third-party servicers to undertake, reasonable and customary loss mitigation efforts in compliance with the Guidelines and Customary Servicing Procedures. The Purchaser shall document its consideration of foreclosure, loan restructuring (if available), charge-off and short-sale (if a short-sale is a viable option and is proposed to the Purchaser) alternatives and shall select the alternative that is reasonably estimated by the Purchaser to result in the least Loss. The Purchaser shall retain all analyses of the considered alternatives and servicing records and allow the Receiver to inspect them upon reasonable notice.

Such agreements are usually considered to be interpreted to the benefit of the homeowner, as with HAMP and other programs. In legalese, it is called “Intent”.

What was the “Intent” of the Shared-Loss Agreement? Was the intent to provide OneWest Bank solely with a profitable incentive to take over Indymac Bank? If so, then OneWest has been truly successful in every manner.

Or was the intent to offer to OneWest Bank a way to be compensated for losses for foreclosures, but with the primary goal to assist homeowners in trouble? If this was the intent, then OneWest has failed miserably in its actions. And if so, could OneWest be actionable by the Federal Government for fraud?

In fact the true “Intent” was to limit losses to the Treasury Department. Each and every loan modification done would save the Treasury, and the tax payer, from 80-95 cents on every dollar.

Since, technically, One West would get 5-20 cents of any savings, it should have been an incentive to use foreclosure alternatives. But the reality is  that the quick turnaround on foreclosure seems to give OneWest a better return. As a result, OneWest appears to simply ignore the intent and just foreclose (as far as I can tell).

So, OneWest’s failure to modify loans may actually amount to fraud on the Treasury and US taxpayers.

I have presented the story of Indymac/OneWest and what is happening today. But the story does not end with OneWest. There are over 50 different lenders and servicers who have Shared-Loss Agreements executed with the FDIC. Each Agreement offers essentially the same terms. Though other Lenders do not appear to be acting as flagrantly as OneWest, they are all still engaging in the same actions.

What is the solution for this problem?

For homeowners individually, the most successes are being achieved by borrowers who are getting knowledgeable attorneys who will not just threaten litigation, but are also willing to act and file the necessary lawsuits. That tends to bring OneWest Bank to the table.
For the country as a whole, and homeowners in mass, the problem must be brought to the attention of your local Congress Critters. You must hold their feet to the fire. They must know that if they do not respond to what OneWest and other lenders are doing, then they are subject to being voted out of their nice and cushy Congressional Offices.
Will this be easy? No way. After all, the lenders have the money and the ears of Congress. But if we do not draw the line here, then
27650  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Shovel ready excrement on: December 11, 2009, 12:10:44 PM
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