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27651  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Uncertainty on: December 15, 2010, 10:43:54 AM
WASHINGTON—Welcome to the world of the temporary tax code.

 The U.S. tax code is slowly being turned into a temporary patchwork of provisions that need to be addressed every year or two, depriving individuals and businesses of the predictability they need for long-range plans. John McKinnon discusses. Also, Brett Arends says not only are the Democrats politically bankrupt and the Republicans morally bankrupt, but that this tax deal will play a big role in America's undoing.
.In the late 1990s, there were typically fewer than a dozen tax provisions that had just a limited lease on life and needed to be renewed every year or so.

Today there are 141.

Now Congress, taking up a deal worked out between the Obama administration and Republican leaders, is poised to turn the whole personal income-tax system into something of a temporary structure. The plan embraces a broad range of provisions—an extension of Bush-era rates, a new estate-tax formula—but for only two years. A payroll-tax cut in the bill is for a single year.

 .This means that if the compromise passes largely intact, the U.S. will have no permanent regime governing levies on salaries, capital gains and dividends, the Social Security tax, as well as a slew of targeted breaks for families, students and other groups. This on top of dozens of corporate-tax provisions that already were subject to annual renewal.

The level of uncertainty, unusual for developed nations, complicates planning and discourages hiring and investment, many economists and corporate executives say.

"I haven't seen anything like it, and it's hard historically to find anything like" the current and pending negotiations, says Mortimer Caplin, an Internal Revenue Service commissioner in the Kennedy administration who at 94 is just three years younger than the income tax itself. "This Congress has left an awful lot up in the air."

A vote to pass the tax deal in the Senate is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday; prospects for swift approval in the House remained cloudy but party leaders seem increasingly resigned to the measure clearing Congress intact.

 Democrats are predicting that a tax deal will clear a crucial hurdle comfortably in the Senate today, with a margin they hope will add momentum to the deal in the House. Aaron Zitner and Neal Lipschutz discuss. Also, Nick Timiraos discusses worry among economists that the housing market could be headed toward another downdraft as mortgage lenders tighten credit.
.The two-year expiration of the bill's main provisions on individual rates would occur just after the next presidential election, and few in Washington envision a long-term solution being crafted at such a charged time.

At the same time, the possibility of a sweeping tax-system revamp can itself add to the uncertainty, what with politicans increasingly ready to talk about this. President Barack Obama has lately, as has the deficit-reduction panel he appointed, including Republican members such as Rep. Dave Camp, future chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The possibility of an overhaul that would put on the table long-established credits and deductions could further uproot predictability.

This year has been something of a test case for tax uncertainty, with concern about what would happen when provisions adopted in 2001 and 2003 expired at year-end.

Tax-Cut Bill Draws Wide Support in Senate
Tax-Cut Vote Splits New York Senators
Tax Deal Set to Pass Senate
Pelosi Walks Tax-Deal Tightrope
Wealth Report: Depending on the Rich
.Sales of certain kinds of life insurance rose as families wrestled with the possibility that estate taxes would jump in 2011. With no assurance the 15% rate on dividend income would last past 2010, Kraft Foods Inc., Exelon Corp. and Altria Group Inc. asked their shareholders to contact Congress in opposition to an increase. Stocks of utilities, which traditionally pay high dividends, appeared to factor in the possibility of a rise in the dividend tax rate in 2011, analysts said.

At Incobrasa Industries Ltd., a producer of biodiesel in Gilman, Ill., sales manager Douglas Santos has been waiting to see what happens to an expired tax subsidy for his industry. He is running at 25% capacity, vs. 100% in 2008. Mr. Santos wants Congress to make up its mind one way or the other. "Just do something," he says. The bill before Congress would restore the subsidy.

Economic research has shown businesses tend to be more reluctant to invest when they perceive high levels of uncertainty about various things, including over taxes. The pressure on policy makers to narrow the budget deficit, not merely simplify the tax system, further muddies the waters now, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology tax economist James Poterba, who finds "the crystal ball…particularly unclear at the moment."

Some call the worries exaggerated. "I truly do believe the concerns expressed over tax uncertainty are truly overblown," says Martin Sullivan, an economist with Tax Analysts, a nonprofit tax publisher, who sees today's situation as quite manageable compared with the profound business uncertainty companies faced during the financial crisis.

Important 'Extenders' | Provisions That Need to Be Renewed Regularly
Protection from alternative minimum tax
Enhanced charitable deductions for business
Business research credit
Ethanol subsidies
Biodiesel incentives
Faster depreciation for business investments
Tax deferral of overseas financing income
Expensing of 'brownfields' remediation
Charitable donation of IRA assets
Deductibility of state and local sales taxes

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Bloomberg News
Catherine McGraw, center, waits to check out at a J.C. Penney store in Mentor, Ohio.
.Deductibility for school supplies

View Full Image

Associated Press
Stacey Ressler, a teacher in Wernersville, Pa., organizes classroom supplies she purchased.
.."We're used to [uncertainty] in the tax world," he says. "What's changed in the last few years is the size of the temporary extensions."

Obama administration officials note that the tax code has been through gyrations before, for example in the 1980s, when Congress adopted accelerated depreciation in 1981, only to repeal it five years later. That threw real-estate markets into an uproar and added to problems that contributed to the savings-and-loan collapse.

The White House says the current confusion points to the need for a system that is more stable and simpler. "We've got to have a larger debate is this country going to win the economic competition of the 21st century," President Obama said last week. "That's going to mean looking at the tax code and saying, what's fair, what's efficient? And I don't think anybody thinks the tax code right now is fair or efficient."

Small business is often looked to as a source of job growth. But the latest monthly survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business advocacy group, found that 75% of owners felt it wasn't a good time to expand, and one in five said the main reason was doubt about policy environment, including taxes.

For smaller companies, tax uncertainty could be an incentive to expand overseas rather than in the U.S., according to Tom Duesterberg, president of the Manufacturers Alliance, a group representing medium-size firms. Companies "can't wait until all these [tax] questions are resolved," he says. "They are not going to wait until all that definitively happens. They have to deploy cash, please their shareholders and expand and grow."

Billy Hoffpauir, a developer in Lafayette, La., says he has been trying to sell some real estate because "with the current uncertainty, I am unable to quantify the risk to make long-term investment decisions." If he finds buyers, he says, he would be likely to plow the cash into "other interests, probably overseas," because some foreign countries have more favorable taxes and regulations. The tax situation is the overwhelming driver in his business decisions, Mr. Hoffpauir says.

Lea Bailes, president of Guier Fence in Blue Springs, Mo., says his plans for next year depend on how the tax debate turns out: "We're looking at acquiring a couple of smaller fence companies. The number we acquire, honestly, will depend on what we have to pay in tax."

The company, which employs about 70, would try to hire two to three new workers for each acquisition, possibly 10 in all. "If everybody our size can add 10 employees, we'd be a lot farther down the road in dealing with the unemployment," Mr. Bailes says.

Guier is in the process of acquiring another firm now, and while Mr. Bailes likes to take time to make such decisions, he worries that concern over a possible rise in capital-gains rates might make the seller push to complete the sale this year. The bill in Congress would keep the current 15% top rate for two years.

One reason unsettled rules on individual income taxes affect planning at small businesses is that many don't pay corporate tax, but pass business income through to the owners for taxation on their personal returns.

Bill Wiygul, whose family owns four auto-repair businesses in northern Virginia, estimates he and his wife would pay at least $20,000 more in various taxes in 2011 if Congress doesn't address parts of the code, including the Alternative Minimum Tax. The AMT snags a growing number of filers each year, and while Congress regularly limits the number affected—and likely will do so again this week or next—this has so far been an AMT "patch," never a permanent fix.

Mr. Wiygul says he would trade an increase in tax rates for greater certainty if the pain was shared by all. "We are petrified," he says. "We would be more actively pursuing expansion opportunities if we felt like the climate was more certain."

Large multinationals are only marginally affected directly by income-tax provisions on the table this year. Yet the stakes might be high for these companies. Executives worry about becoming a target for lawmakers seeking revenue to narrow deficits.

If a broad revision "is a true 'step back, let's take a fresh look,' we would not be frightened by that," says Ken Cohen, a vice president at Exxon Mobil Corp. But if it pits industry versus industry or becomes a hunt for revenue, "that's the process we would have much more apprehension about."

The reasons the tax code has acquired an increasingly temporary cast have to do with deficits, a divided Congress and even the constitutional system.

Political division contributes because of the daunting task of mustering a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate. Legislative shepherds of the Bush cuts resorted to passage under what is called "budget reconciliation," requiring only a majority vote. But a measure passed this way can't be for longer than the budget that authorizes it, in this case 10 years. Hence the provisions expire in 2010.

Such an outcome is less likely in countries with parliamentary systems because these leave the government less subject to having its will thwarted by a large minority. "Very few countries have tax provisions that expire unless legislative action is taken," says Jeffrey Owens, head of tax at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. "Also, in most OECD countries, it's the government that initiates new legislation, and once proposed the legislation generally passes."

Deficits tempt legislators to give tax provisions a temporary term to disguise their cost. For proponents of a new tax provision, the strategy is to get a foot in the door by passing it for a year or two, at a seemingly affordable cost, intending to renew it regularly.

That is how the number of provisions up for yearly extension has ballooned. Though the provisions are often extended in a bundle, a given provision's inclusion in the bundle is never certain.

Perhaps nowhere has tax uncertainty been felt more intensely this year than in the estate tax, always a controversial matter.

A 2001 law lowered its rate and increased the exemption in steps, with the tax lapsing in 2010 and then, unless Congress acts, returning in 2011 at a 55% top rate on estates of $1 million or more. The unusual hiatus coupled with a far more costly tax as soon as 2010 ended gave "just an unbelievable Alice-in-Wonderland aspect" to planning for certain well-to-do families, says Bruce Stone, a Miami-area estate lawyer.

Sales of a life-insurance policy commonly used for estate planning rose 22% in the first nine months from a year earlier, and their death-benefit coverage was up 30%. Though the policies can also be used for other purposes, part of the jump seemed clearly to be for hedging against the possible estate-tax jump in 2011.

In a few cases, the uncertainty drove people to ponder extreme measures to avoid a tax hit for heirs.

David Drouhard, a Washington-state farmer who is 56, received a diagnosis of advanced kidney cancer 14 months ago and faced a grim set of treatment choices. Most offered little chance of extending his life more than 18 months, although an immunity-boosting drug held out some hope. Mr. Drouhard says he worried that inaction on the estate tax would force his family to sell his wheat and alfalfa farm, now worth about $3 million, to pay taxes if he died in 2011.

After much deliberation, Mr. Drouhard decided to take the immunity-boosting drug, but with a caveat: "I said, 'If we don't see results from the first series [of treatments], I'm going to stop,"' he says. "I try to take care of my family, so why not go ahead and die instead of living another six months." He has responded well to the treatment, but adds: "I think it's wrong that you have to make that kind of decision."

The compromise Congress is weighing this week would set a top estate-tax rate at 35% and the exemption at $5 million.

But this would be for just two years. Just as this year, a failure by Congress to act then would cause the tax to then revert to a top 55% rate and $1 million exemption, in this case in 2013.

27652  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / LATimes: NFL supports CA student athlete head injury bill on: December 15, 2010, 10:32:31 AM

The NFL is lending its public relations muscle to a proposal that would require California student athletes who leave a game after a head injury to get written medical clearance before returning to the field or court.

Retired players, including Raiders legends Jim Otto and Fred Biletnikoff and San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl players Keena Turner and Eric Davis, recounted their own experiences Tuesday to support the measure in Sacramento.

Davis told how a blow to the head in a game against the Detroit Lions rendered him temporarily blind in his left eye. Reasoning that he played the left side of the field, and the bad eye was facing the sideline, Davis said he stayed in the game, unaware of the risk he was taking.

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Since then, research has shown that repeated head trauma can lead to brain bleeding, memory loss, depression and even death. Middle school and high school athletes, whose brains are still developing, are even more vulnerable than college athletes and professionals, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The decision to leave a game should be "out of the player's hands, and out of the coach's hands," Davis said, because they can be too caught up in the competition to make good decisions.

The NFL, which drastically amended its own approach to the treatment of brain injuries following headlines about the tragic health problems of aging players, is backing legislation in 44 states this year that would require young players who suffer head injuries to stay off the field for at least the rest of the day and to get a medical professional's signature before they play again.

Parents would have to sign a "concussion awareness fact sheet" before their kids could play in a sports program in any league covered by the California bill. The prohibition would apply not only to official school teams but also to nonprofits and other organizations using public school facilities for youth sports.

Like legislation the NFL is backing around the country, California's is modeled on a Washington State law enacted after a middle school football player returned to the field following a head injury and suffered subsequent damage that left him connected to a ventilator, fighting for his life.

Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi (D-Castro Valley), sponsor of California's proposal, AB 25, backed unsuccessful legislation in the past that would have required high school coaches to be trained to spot symptoms of potentially dangerous head and neck injuries. Hayashi said she thinks the current bill stands a better chance of success because it would not place a financial burden on schools.

"We're assuming that the students are covered under their parents' healthcare plan," Hayashi said, and the required medical discharge would be no more burdensome than if "they had a cold, or the flu."

State Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark), the bill's co-sponsor, said he expected coaches to welcome the measure because it would relieve them of the burden of deciding whether a player could safely get back in the game following a potentially dangerous blow to the head.

More than 3 million sports and recreation-related concussions are suffered each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Football is the leading cause among high school boys; soccer is the main reason for high school girls.

Nearly half of those injured return to play too early, according to a 2010 report by the Center for Injury Research and Policy, based at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Sixteen percent of high school football players who lost consciousness following a blow to the head returned to play the same day, the report says.

Staying in the game following head injuries was routine in the era when Otto, a Hall of Fame center, was snapping balls and taking a pounding for the Raiders in the 1960s and 1970s. Otto has endured nearly 70 surgeries on his knees, shoulders and hips to repair damage done during his years in the NFL's trenches.

Standing at the podium Tuesday, Otto motioned to his former teammate. "I remember looking over at Biletnikoff in the huddle, looking all cross-eyed, and saying, 'Snap out of it.' He'd say, 'I am snapped out of it.' "

Now that he understands the dangers of repeated head injuries, mostly from watching friends struggle with the long-term effects, Otto said, "It's imperative that this thing has to pass and that our children have to be protected."
27653  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues on: December 15, 2010, 10:01:23 AM
This subject belongs in the Constitutional Law thread.
27654  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Surprise surprise (soda) on: December 15, 2010, 09:58:01 AM
Over the last year, Save the Children emerged as a leader in the push to tax sweetened soft drinks as a way to combat childhood obesity. The nonprofit group supported soda tax campaigns in Mississippi, New Mexico, Washington State, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia.

At the same time, executives at Save the Children were seeking a major grant from Coca-Cola to help finance the health and education programs that the charity conducts here and abroad, including its work on childhood obesity.

The talks with Coke are still going on. But the soda tax work has been stopped. In October, Save the Children surprised activists around the country with an e-mail message announcing that it would no longer support efforts to tax soft drinks.

In interviews this month, Carolyn Miles, chief operating officer of Save the Children, said there was no connection between the group’s about-face on soda taxes and the discussions with Coke. A $5 million grant from PepsiCo also had no influence on the decision, she said. Both companies fiercely oppose soda taxes.

Ms. Miles said that after Save the Children took a prominent role in several soda tax campaigns, executives reviewed the issue and decided it was too controversial to continue.

“We looked at it and said, ‘Is this something we should be out there doing and does this fit with the way that Save the Children works?’ ” she said. “And the answer was no.”

Ms. Miles said the talks with Coke were continuing and the grant under discussion was significantly larger than past donations from the soft drink giant. Coke has given the group about $400,000 since 1991, according to a company spokeswoman.

Save the Children has received much more money from Pepsi through the PepsiCo Foundation, which it has designated as a “corporate partner” in recognition of the $5 million grant for work in India and Bangladesh. PepsiCo awarded the grant in early 2009, before the charity began its soda tax advocacy.

Representatives of both Coca-Cola and Pepsi said they had not asked the charity to alter its position on soda taxes.

But soda tax advocates say that soft drink makers are flexing their muscles in opposition to soda taxes. In Washington State, the American Beverage Association, a trade group that includes Coke and Pepsi, spent $16.5 million to win passage of a November ballot initiative that overturned a small tax on soft drinks enacted by the legislature to help plug a budget gap. The beverage association outspent supporters of the tax by more than 40 to 1, and the tax was repealed.

Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children’s Alliance, an advocacy group in Seattle, said Save the Children’s decision to abandon the issue was “a significant loss, especially at a time when the American Beverage Association has just shown that their resources are unlimited.” The alliance got $25,000 from Save the Children to help advocate for a soda tax.

Kelly D. Brownell, a soda tax advocate and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, said that many food and beverage companies made donations to nonprofit groups fighting hunger but it was less common for them to finance work to address obesity.

“It would be a shame if there were a quid pro quo and the groups felt pressure to oppose something like a soda tax,” Mr. Brownell said.

Public debate about soda taxes has intensified over the last year. Proponents say that if the tax were large enough, perhaps a penny an ounce or more, it could reduce consumption of sugary beverages, which are high in calories and can contribute to obesity. In addition, money raised by the tax could be spent on public health efforts to fight obesity.

The soda companies argue that it is unfair to blame their products for the obesity epidemic, which has complex causes. They say that policies should be focused instead on getting people to exercise more.

So far, tax proposals have gotten little traction. Last year, federal lawmakers considered a soft drink tax to help pay for health care reform, but that idea was dropped. Governors, state lawmakers and mayors have proposed taxes but made little headway.

Save the Children’s involvement in the issue began in late 2009, when it got a $3.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fight childhood obesity through a program it called the Campaign for Healthy Kids. Save the Children initially financed the work of local groups, some of which focused on improving school lunches and requiring health education in schools. But local activists in Mississippi, New Mexico and Washington State used the grants to push for a soda tax.

When politicians in Philadelphia and Washington proposed soda taxes this year, the Campaign for Healthy Kids got more directly involved, paying for lobbyists and polling. “We really took the lead on those and were publicly identified with those,” said Andrew Hysell, an associate vice president for Save the Children and the director of the obesity campaign.

None of the soda tax measures supported by Save the Children passed, although in Washington, the city council removed a sales tax exemption for carbonated beverages.

Save the Children’s prominent role in Philadelphia and Washington led top executives of the charity to review the work. Ms. Miles said they concluded the advocacy was not part of the charity’s mission.

“We made a decision that it was an issue that was controversial among our constituents and really was not core to the work we’re doing in the U.S.,” Ms. Miles said. She said that while the charity’s constituents included corporate donors, concerns over fund-raising were not involved in the decision.

Mr. Hysell informed soda tax advocates of the change in October and the Campaign for Healthy Kids removed declarations of support for soda taxes from its Web site.

Officials of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who had encouraged Save the Children to advocate for soda taxes, are disappointed.

“They were obviously some of the strongest out there working on the issue, and we had such high hopes,” said Dwayne Proctor, team director for childhood obesity at the foundation. He said the two groups would continue to work together on other aspects of the obesity fight.

27655  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: US vulnerable for years on REEs on: December 15, 2010, 09:55:14 AM
HONG KONG — The United States is too reliant on China for minerals crucial to new clean energy technologies, making the American economy vulnerable to shortages of materials needed for a range of green products — from compact fluorescent light bulbs to electric cars to giant wind turbines.

Molycorp, an American company, stopped mining for rare earths in Mountain Pass, Calif., in 2002, but expects to reopen the mine in 2012.
So warns a detailed report to be released on Wednesday morning by the United States Energy Department. The report, which predicts that it could take 15 years to break American dependence on Chinese supplies, calls for the nation to increase research and expand diplomatic contacts to find alternative sources, and to develop ways to recycle the minerals or replace them with other materials.

At least 96 percent of the most crucial types of the so-called rare earth minerals are now produced in China, and Beijing has wielded various export controls to limit the minerals’ supply to other countries while favoring its own manufacturers that use them.

“The availability of a number of these materials is at risk due to their location, vulnerability to supply disruptions and lack of suitable substitutes,” the report says, which also mentions some concerns about a few other minerals imported from elsewhere, such as cobalt from the Congo.

The Energy Department report is being released the same morning that cabinet officials from China and the United States will meet in Washington to discuss economic and commercial issues.

While no detailed agenda has been released, the talks are expected to include American objections to China’s tightening restrictions on rare earth exports — like a two-month halt this autumn on shipments to Japan, and a shorter-lived slowdown of exports to the United States and Europe.

And on Tuesday, China’s finance ministry announced on its Web site, and the official Xinhua news agency later reported as well, that China plans to increase its export taxes on some rare earths next year. The ministry did not say how much the taxes would increase. Although World Trade Organization rules ban export taxes, China has imposed them on rare earths for the last four years.

David Sandalow, the assistant secretary of energy for policy and international affairs, who oversaw preparation of the Energy Department report, said in a telephone interview that the timing of the report’s release and the American-China cabinet meetings was coincidental.

But the report reflects an emerging view within the American government that domestic sources of rare earths are needed, in addition to suppliers in many other countries, to ensure the viability of clean energy manufacturing in the United States.

“We can build a new industry and put our clean energy future on a sound footing, creating many new jobs in the process,” Mr. Sandalow said.

Still, the report presents a fairly gloomy assessment of the United States’ ability to wean itself from Chinese imports. For as long as the next 15 years, the supplies of at least five minerals that come almost exclusively from China will remain as vulnerable to disruption as they are absolutely vital to the manufacture of small yet powerful electric motors, energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and other clean energy technologies, the report said.

The five minerals are medium and heavy rare earth elements of which China mines an estimated 96 percent to 99.8 percent of the world’s supply: dysprosium, terbium, neodymium, europium and yttrium.

China also increasingly dominates the manufacture of clean energy technologies that require such minerals, including the production of million-dollar wind turbines. Chinese export restrictions have added up to $40 a pound to world prices, which makes a big difference particularly for some of the less expensive rare earths, like lanthanum, that sell for several dollars a pound in China.

That is among the reasons, along with cheap labor and extensive Chinese government subsidies, that many clean energy manufacturers have found it cheaper to shift production to China.

Mr. Sandalow said that wind turbine manufacturers were capable of building very large turbines without rare earths. But using rare earths could reduce the per megawatt cost of wind energy and improve its competitiveness through savings on other materials, like steel and copper.

He cautioned that the United States had been putting far fewer resources than China into exploring ways to use the powerful magnetic and other properties of rare earths.

“There are thousands of rare earth researchers in China and dozens in the United States, and that underscores both the challenge and the opportunity,” he said. “Their expertise in this area is significant.”

China’s finance ministry, in announcing plans to raise export taxes on some rare earths, did not indicate which minerals might be affected.


Page 2 of 2)

Since 2006, China has imposed an export tax of 15 percent on light rare earths like lanthanum and cerium, which are needed for oil refining and glass manufacturing, and 25 percent on heavy rare earths like dysprosium and terbium.

China mines about 92 percent of the world’s light rare earths.
Dysprosium, which helps rare earth magnets preserve their magnetism at high temperatures, is mined almost exclusively in southern China and sells for $95 a pound in China and $135 a pound outside, including the export tax.

Dysprosium has emerged as the mineral most vital to clean energy industries yet most vulnerable to supply disruptions, the report said.

Dudley Kingsnorth, a prominent rare earth mining consultant in Perth, Australia, said he agreed that a dysprosium shortage was likely. He added that he expected that a rare earth shortage would slow the overall adoption of new rare earth technologies by clean energy industries for at least the next five years.

American and Japanese officials have said that they might file a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization to China’s taxes on rare earth exports, as well as on quotas that China imposes on rare earth exports.

Until this autumn, Chinese officials had portrayed their rare earth policies as an effort to force high-tech companies to move their factories to China and retain supplies for domestic industries. The Chinese government has recently shifted to describing the export restrictions as an environmental measure, noting that extracting and processing the minerals can be a highly toxic process that has also resulted in leaks of radioactive mining waste into the groundwater in northern China.

But while W.T.O. rules allow export restrictions for environmental reasons, that is only if a country also restricts domestic consumption, which China has not done.

Demand for rare earths and China’s virtual chokehold on supplies have prompted some overseas companies to enter, or re-enter, the field.

Molycorp, an American company that in August made an initial public offering of its shares on the New York Stock Exchange, plans to open in 2012 a large rare earth mine at Mountain Pass, Calif., that closed in 2002 after prices were undercut by Chinese competitors. Molycorp announced on Monday that it had received the last of the construction permits needed to proceed.

The Lynas Corporation of Australia plans to open at the end of next year a large rare earths mine at Mount Weld, Australia.

But both the Molycorp and Lynas mines will produce mostly light rare earths and relatively little of the medium and heavy rare earths needed for magnets and other significant clean energy applications.

Dozens of small mining companies hope to open new mines in the United States and elsewhere that could tap reserves of medium and heavy rare earths. But these small companies face formidable legal, financial, marketing and management obstacles, the Energy Department report said.
27656  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: Fed keeps spigots open on: December 14, 2010, 05:46:05 PM
second post of the day

Fed Keeps Monetary Spigot Wide Open To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 12/14/2010

As widely anticipated, the Federal Reserve’s statement on monetary policy was almost a carbon copy of last month’s statement, when it embarked on a new round of “quantitative easing.”

The Fed made no direct changes to the stance of monetary policy today, leaving the target range for the federal funds rate at 0% to 0.25%. In addition, the Fed maintained its pledge to keep the funds rate at this level for an “extended period.” The Fed also reiterated its commitment – initially made in early November – to purchase $600 billion in long-term Treasury securities by mid-2011. These purchases are on top of reinvesting (into long-term Treasury securities) principal payments on its pre-existing portfolio of mortgage securities.
The Fed only made minor changes to its statement. Last month it said the recovery was “slow.” This is now changed to growth being “insufficient to bring down the rate of unemployment.” Last month the Fed said consumer spending was growing “gradually.” Now the Fed says it’s growing at a “moderate” rate. The Fed made no changes to its language on inflation.
Please click on the link above to view the entire commentary.
27657  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: PPI .8%, not good on: December 14, 2010, 10:44:45 AM
The Producer Price Index (PPI) increased 0.8% in November To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 12/14/2010

The Producer Price Index (PPI) increased 0.8% in November, beating the consensus expected gain of 0.6%.  Producer prices are up 3.5% versus a year ago.

The November rise in the PPI was mostly due to energy and food. Energy prices increased 2.1% while food prices rose 1.0%. The “core” PPI, which excludes food and energy, increased 0.3%, beating the consensus expected increase of 0.2%.
Consumer goods prices rose 1.0% in November and are up 4.7% versus last year.  Capital equipment prices were up 0.2% in November and are up 0.3% in the past year.
Intermediate goods prices increased 1.1% in November and are up 6.3% versus a year ago.  Crude prices increased 0.6% in November and are up 13.0% in the past twelve months.
Implications:  Overly loose monetary policy from the Federal Reserve isn’t just going to cause more inflation down the road, it’s causing higher inflation today. Anyone still talking about a deflation threat needs to re-examine their economic models. Mostly due to increases in food and energy, producer prices increased 0.8% in November, the largest gain since March. Core prices increased 0.3%, a partial rebound from the 0.6% drop last month. What’s even more troubling is that measures of producer price inflation are more intense deeper in the production process, and that’s the case with both overall prices and core prices. In the past year, prices for intermediate goods are up 6.3% overall and 4.7% core; prices for crude goods are up 13% overall and 30.2% core. Over time, some of these increases should filter through to prices for finished goods.  It’s important to note that all these inflation figures are all the result of monetary policy before the Fed embarked on its second round of quantitative easing, which implies the potential for even higher readings in the next two years.
27658  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / El Chapo on: December 13, 2010, 08:15:00 PM
A Near Miss for El Chapo?

Mexican media reported Dec. 13 that Sinaloa Federation leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera may have narrowly escaped a Mexican army raid on a party the night of Dec. 10-11 in the Campestre neighborhood of Delicias, Chihuahua state. El Diario cites unofficial, unidentified sources as saying Guzman was attending the party, and El Digital reports the operation was targeting him but that units from the 5th military zone that first arrived on the scene were ordered to wait for backup from the 42nd military zone before they could initiate the raid.
This hesitation may have allowed Guzman to flee, though there also is no confirmation, only statements by unnamed sources, that he was even present at the party. The El Digital sources said the order to wait was given so the 42nd zone could share credit for the capture, which indicates that the hesitation was not due to lack of firepower — making it an unusual order, given the target’s value.

27659  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: December 13, 2010, 03:41:24 PM
Because she was mocked for saying that there would be panels deciding who lived and who died.
27660  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed on: December 13, 2010, 12:49:23 PM
Forwarded by an internet friend:

The piece below was part of a high school writing prompt that our daughter brought home on Friday. The paragraph is from Letters from an American Farmer , written in 1782 by Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crevecoeur, a naturalized American citizen, known for observations on life in pre-Revolutionary America. His most famous work, included in the Letters, is “What Is an American?”… a classic articulation of the identity of the members of that new nation. It was considered such a definitive description of the American national character that it was included in the onboard reading material for passengers on American Airlines in the 1970s!

Three parts of this one paragraph really struck me. First, in terms of our circular’s discussion about power returning to the “East”… it is now, truly, a full circle. The second highlight, “without any part being claimed,” Crevecoeur would be surprised at the extent of the claim now! My third thought was that parts of our nation are returning to the very characteristics that the early America had been a refuge from: involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor.

I can’t help but notice how far we’ve come…afield…from what he found so promising about this new nation. This includes the switch: rather than coming to America to be changed, transformed by the opportunities…some are now coming to America to change America rather than “be melted into a new race of men.” Nothing you don’t already know…just a curious read from 228 years ago!


He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims, who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour, and industry which began long since in the east; they will finish the great circle.  The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared, and which will hereafter become distinct by the power of the different climates they inhabit. The American ought therefore to love this country much better than that wherein either he or his forefathers were born. Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labour; his labour is founded on the basis of nature, self-interest; can it want a stronger allurement? Wives and children, who before in vain demanded of him a morsel of bread, now, fat and frolicsome, gladly help their father to clear those fields whence exuberant crops are to arise to feed and to clothe them all; without any part being claimed, either by a despotic prince, a rich abbot, or a mighty lord. I lord religion demands but little of him; a small voluntary salary to the minister, and gratitude to God; can he refuse these? The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labour, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. --This is an American.

27661  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury on: December 13, 2010, 11:41:10 AM
It's A Good Deal To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 12/13/2010

As the Senate votes to pass the tax cut deal announced by President Obama last Monday night, political debate rages on. What’s left of the Left in Congress hates the deal. It’s the second drubbing in a row (November 2nd, being the first). The deal says “lower tax rates are better than higher tax rates.”

After years of complaining about the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, two Democratic Presidents (Clinton and Obama) have now come out in support of them. President Obama’s chief political advisor, David Axelrod, called that part of the deal “odious” on the Sunday talk shows.
Some Republicans don’t like the deal because it includes, by their count, more than $300 billion in “spending” that they feel they were elected to stop. This includes the one-year reduction in the payroll tax rate, extending the program of 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, plus other tax credits.
There is still a small chance that Congress will add so many goodies as the bill is written (like continued credits for ethanol), that the deal becomes unsupportable. But, the odds of any crack-up on the way to passage remain very low. We expect it to pass within the next week or two with very minor additions.
The benefits of the deal outweigh its costs by a significant margin. The consensus seems to expect about a 1% kick to real GDP growth from a deal, but that is in comparison to “no deal.” We have been more bullish than the consensus and have expected the extension of Bush era tax rates. As a result, we have raised our forecast a small amount – from 3.7% real GDP growth in 2011 to 4%.
Many have argued that the “cost” of the deal is $900 billion, but this is Washington speak and has little to do with reality. After bottoming at an annual run rate of $2.0 trillion (roughly 14.5% of GDP) in 2009, total tax revenues to the federal government have climbed to about $2.2 trillion (15% of GDP) in the past year. This has happened without higher tax rates. And as long as the economy continues to recover, revenues will continue to climb, eventually rising back to 19% of GDP, where they were before the Panic of 2008. After that, “bracket creep” generated by economic growth will push revenue even higher relative to GDP.
In other words, the US does not need higher tax rates in order to gather more revenue and balance the budget. If government spending were frozen at current levels, the budget would be balanced at the end of 2014. If government spending were cut back to 2008 levels, a balanced budget could be achieved sooner than that. In other words, this deal does not spin the budget out of control. On the contrary, it focuses all the energy of those who want to balance the budget on the spending side of the ledger rather than the tax side. This is great news.
Some analysts are trying to tie rising Treasury bond yields to fears about a bigger deficit and the “cost” of the deal. This is a misreading of the markets. Treasury bond yields are rising because a tax hike has been avoided and economic growth is likely to be robust. The bottom line is that stocks remain cheap, while bonds are certainly not.
27662  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / I am worried on: December 13, 2010, 09:51:03 AM
Pravda on the Hudson is now starting to say things I have been saying here:

For nearly two years, China’s turbocharged economy has raced ahead with the aid of a huge government stimulus program and aggressive lending by state-run banks.

But a growing number of economists now worry that China — the world’s fastest growing economy and a pillar of strength during the global financial crisis — could be stalled next year by soaring inflation, mounting government debt and asset bubbles.

Two credit ratings agencies, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings, say China is still poised for growth, yet they have also recently warned about hidden risks in its banking system. Fitch even hinted at the possibility of another wave of nonperforming loans tied to the property market.

In the late 1990s and early this decade, the Chinese government was forced to bail out and recapitalize these same state-run banks because a soaring number of bad loans had left them nearly insolvent.

Those banks are much stronger now, after a series of record public stock offerings in recent years that have raised billions of dollars from global investors.

But last week, an analyst at the Royal Bank of Scotland advised clients to hedge against the risk that a flood of cash into China, coupled with soaring inflation, could result in a “day of reckoning.”

A sharp slowdown in China, which is growing at an annual rate of about 10 percent, would be a serious blow to the global economy since China’s voracious demand for natural resources is helping to prop up growth in Asia and South America, even as the United States and the European Union struggle.

And because China is a major holder of United States Treasury debt and a major destination for American investment in recent years, any slowdown would also hurt American companies.

Aware of the risks, Beijing has moved recently to tame its domestic growth and rein in soaring food and housing prices by raising interest rates, tightening regulations on property sales and restricting lending.

At the end of the Central Economic Work Conference, a high-level annual economic policy meeting that concluded on Sunday, Beijing promised to combat inflation and stabilize the economy. Those pledges came just days after the central bank ordered banks to set aside larger capital reserves in a bid to slow lending, the sixth time it has done so this year. And the government reported on Saturday that the consumer price index had climbed 5.1 percent in November, the sharpest rise in nearly three years.

Analysts say more tightening measures are expected in the coming months but that the challenges are mounting.

“There are so many moving pieces,” said Qu Hongbin, the chief China economist for HSBC in Hong Kong. “It wouldn’t be honest to say things aren’t complicated.”

Optimists say China has been adept at steering the right economic course over the last decade, ramping up growth when needed and tamping it down when things get too hot.

But this time, Beijing is not just struggling with inflation, it is also trying to restructure its economy away from dependence on exports and toward domestic consumption in the hopes of creating more balanced and sustainable growth, analysts say.

China is also facing mounting international pressure to let its currency, the renminbi, rise in value. Some trading partners insist China is keeping its currency artificially low to give Chinese exporters a competitive advantage.

Beijing contends that raising the value of its currency would hurt coastal factories that operate on thin profit margins, forcing them to lay off millions of workers.

The most immediate challenge appears to be inflation, which some analysts say may be even more serious than the new figures suggest. Housing prices have skyrocketed. And prices for milk, vegetables and other foods have soared this year.

“The money supply is too large,” said Andy Xie, an economist based in Shanghai who formerly worked at Morgan Stanley. “They increased the money supply to stimulate the economy. Now land prices have jumped 20 times in some places, 100 times in others. Inflation is broad-based. Go into a supermarket. Milk is more expensive in China than it is in the U.S.”

In Shanghai, where the average monthly wage is about $350, a gallon of milk now costs about $5.50.

Wages have also risen sharply this year in coastal provinces amid reports of labor shortages and worker demands for higher pay. Many analysts expect more wage increases next year.

That may be good for workers, analysts say, but it will also change the dynamics of the Chinese economy and its export sector while contributing to higher inflation.

Beijing is now under pressure to mop up excess liquidity after state banks went on a lending binge during the stimulus program that got under way in early 2009. Analysts say a large portion of that lending was diverted to speculate in the property market.


In addition to restricting lending at the big state banks, Beijing recently moved to close hundreds of underground banks and attempted to restrain local governments from borrowing to build huge infrastructure projects, some of which may be wasteful, according to analysts.

Some economists say the real solution is for Beijing to privatize more industries and let the market play a bigger role. After the financial crisis hit, the state assumed more control over the economy.
Now, state banks and big state-owned companies are reluctant to surrender control over industries where they have monopoly power, analysts say.

“Inflation is not the most serious problem,” says Xu Xiaonian, a professor of economics at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. “The most fundamental problem we have to resolve is structural. We need more opening up and reform policies. Look at the state monopolies in education, health care, telecom and entertainment. We need to break those up. We need to create more jobs and make the economy more innovative.”

Zhiwu Chen, a professor of finance at Yale, agrees.

“The state economy and the local governments will be where the future problems occur,” Professor Chen said in an e-mail response to questions on Sunday. “They will be the sources of real troubles for the banks and the financial system.”

Though no economist is forecasting the end to China’s decades-long bull run, many have turned more cautious. And Fitch Ratings recently released a study it conducted with the forecasting consultancy Oxford Economics that examined the effect a slowdown in China would have on the rest of the world.

Fitch expects China’s economy to grow at an annual rate of 8.6 percent next year, down from about 9.7 percent this year. But the report, which was released a few weeks ago, said that if growth slowed to 5 percent, the economies of many other Asian nations would suffer seriously. Steel, energy and manufacturing industries around the world would also be hard hit, it said.

Fitch analysts are careful not to forecast a sharp slowdown in China. But if one comes, they say, it is “most likely to stem from a combination of property crash and banking crisis.”
27663  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: December 13, 2010, 08:44:09 AM
FWIW IMHO BO is simply posturing until we get out.

FWIW IMHO if we were there to succeed this pipeline project would really be something around which to focus our efforts; both for its symbolic and real world meaning.
27664  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Day by Day on: December 12, 2010, 09:55:06 PM
27665  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: December 12, 2010, 09:53:33 PM
No comments on the previous post?  I thought it quite significant , , ,

Anyway, in a tragi-comic vein, here's this:
27666  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Day by Day on: December 12, 2010, 09:47:32 PM
27667  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Guro Crafty in Seattle April 16-17 on: December 12, 2010, 09:40:43 PM
Hosted once again by DBMA GL Rob Crowley.  Details to follow.
27668  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Breyer on Second Amendment on: December 12, 2010, 09:16:49 PM
Breyer: Founding Fathers Would Have Allowed Restrictions on Guns

Published December 12, 2010

If you look at the values and the historical record, you will see that the Founding Fathers never intended guns to go unregulated, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer contended Sunday.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Breyer said history stands with the dissenters in the court's decision to overturn a Washington, D.C., handgun ban in the 2008 case "D.C. v. Heller."

Breyer wrote the dissent and was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He said historians would side with him in the case because they have concluded that Founding Father James Madison was more worried that the Constitution may not be ratified than he was about granting individuals the right to bear arms.

Madison "was worried about opponents who would think Congress would call up state militias and nationalize them. 'That can't happen,' said Madison," said Breyer, adding that historians characterize Madison's priority as, "I've got to get this document ratified."

Therefore, Madison included the Second Amendment to appease the states, Breyer said.

"If you're interested in history, and in this one history was important, then I think you do have to pay attention to the story," Breyer said. "If that was his motive historically, the dissenters were right. And I think more of the historians were with us."

That being the case, and particularly since the Founding Fathers did not foresee how modern day would change individual behavior, government bodies can impose regulations on guns, Breyer concluded.

In July 2008, the concurring opinion in "D.C. v. Heller" written by Justice Antonin Scalia and shared by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. found that the district's ban on handgun possession at home "violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense."

The ruling raised concerns by dissenters like Breyer that gun laws nationwide would be thrown out. That has not happened yet.

Breyer, who just published "Making Our Democracy Work," a book about the role of the court in American life, outlined his judicial philosophy as one in which the court must take a pragmatic approach in which it "should regard the Constitution as containing unwavering values that must be applied flexibly to ever-changing circumstances."

Since the Founding Fathers could not foresee the impact of modern day communications and technology, the only option is to take the values of the Founding Fathers and apply them to today's challenges.

"The difficult job in open cases where there is no clear answer is to take those values in this document, which all Americans hold, which do not change, and to apply them to a world that is ever changing," Breyer said. "It's not a matter of policy. It is a matter of what those framers intended."

He suggested that those values and intentions mean that the Second Amendment allows for restrictions on the individual, including an all-out ban on handguns in the nation's capital.

"We're acting as judges. If we're going to decide everything on the basis of history -- by the way, what is the scope of the right to keep and bear arms? Machine guns? Torpedoes? Handguns?" he asked. "Are you a sportsman? Do you like to shoot pistols at targets? Well, get on the subway and go to Maryland. There is no problem, I don't think, for anyone who really wants to have a gun."
27669  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / CA and Los Angeles too on: December 12, 2010, 09:11:16 PM
27670  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-Asia (Japan, China, etc) on: December 12, 2010, 08:53:57 PM

27671  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / AA Missiles to Venezuela on: December 12, 2010, 08:52:25 PM

Venezuela acquires 1,800 antiaircraft missiles from Russia

Russia delivered at least 1,800 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to Venezuela in 2009, U.N. arms control data show, despite vigorous U.S. efforts to stop President Hugo Chavez's stridently anti-American government from acquiring the weapons.
The United States feared that the missiles could be funneled to Marxist guerrillas fighting Colombia's pro-American government or Mexican drug cartels, concerns expressed in U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and first reported in the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
It had been unclear how many of the Russian SA-24 missiles were delivered to Venezuela, though the transfer itself was not secret. Chavez showed off a few dozen at a military parade in April 2009, saying they could "deter whatever aerial aggression against our country." A high-level Russian delegation told American officials in Washington in July of that year that 100 of the missiles had been delivered in the first quarter of 2009.
Then earlier this year, Russia reported to the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, which records the transnational sale of weaponry, that the deal totaled 1,800 missiles.
The U.N. registry did not reveal the model of the delivered weaponry. But the American commander for military forces in Latin America, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, publicly expressed concern this year that Venezuela was purchasing as many as 2,400 of the missiles, also called the IGLA-S.
Matt Schroeder, a missile expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said the missiles are among the most sophisticated in the world and can down aircraft from 19,000 feet.
"It's the largest recorded transfer in the U.N. arms registry database in five years, at least. There's no state in Latin America of greater concern regarding leakage that has purchased so many missiles," he said, referring to reports of Venezuelan arms flowing to Colombian guerrillas.
The database also shows that from 2006 through 2008, Russia delivered to Venezuela 472 missiles and launching mechanisms, 44 attack helicopters and 24 combat aircraft, purchases funded by Venezuelan oil sales.
A self-styled Socialist who claims that successive U.S. governments want to topple him, Chavez told his countrymen during the 2009 military parade that "we don't want war with anyone, but we are obligated to prepare." Months later, in December 2009, he said in a nationally televised address that "thousands of missiles are arriving" but did not say what kind.
Secret American cables said that the United States was concerned about the Chavez government's acquisition of Russian arms, which also included attack helicopters, Sukhoi fighter planes and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
A State Department cable on Aug. 10, 2009, to embassies in Europe and South America said Russian sales to Venezuela total "over $5 billion last year and growing." There was also concern about Spain's plans to sell aircraft and coastal patrol boats to Venezuela.

The cables show how both the Bush and Obama administrations tried to stop the arms sales by highlighting the possibility that the weapons could end up with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a rebel group that Colombian officials say has received material support from Chavez's government.
"In early March, Secretary Clinton raised the sale with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov," the August 2009 cable says, referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russia's foreign minister.
A cable from Washington to Moscow dated Feb. 14, 2009, said FARC computer files seized by Colombia's army indicated that Venezuela tried to facilitate arms market deals for the rebels. It expressed fear that missiles acquired by the FARC, which is mired in the drug trade, could wind up with Mexican cartels that "are actively seeking to acquire powerful and highly sophisticated weapons."
Chavez has long denied that his government assists the FARC. A spokeswoman for the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington said diplomats there could not respond to the allegations by U.S. officials. The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry in Caracas did not respond to phone calls.
The August 2009 cable notes that Russian ammunition sold to Venezuela was found in FARC hands and that U.S. officials raised the issue with Russian diplomats visiting Washington.
The American efforts to derail Russian and Spanish arms sales to Venezuela appeared to strain U.S. relations with both countries.
In a meeting in Moscow in 2005, Anatoliy Antonov, who oversaw disarmament issues for the Russian foreign ministry, told a U.S. Embassy official that Washington was trying to restrict Russian access to the arms market.
27672  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Jury Duty on: December 12, 2010, 08:11:19 PM
Woof All:

I know many people look to duck jury duty; in many cases the hardship is genuine and the desire/need to avoid it is real.  That said, IMHO many people duck it though for , , , lesser reasons.

I have served twice, and got selected to sit on trials both times; one a shooting, the other a shoplifting case.  Both times I was very proud and inspired by the people with whom I served.

Tomorrow I begin jury duty once again and I am looking forward to it.  I am shocked and pleasantly surprised to report that there has been practical progress in lessening the wasted time often associated with the experience.  I was able to register by an automated phone call, and the day before each day I find out whether I am needed or not.  For example, right now on a Sunday night, I know that they will not need me tomorrow and tomorrow I call to find out about Tuesday.

To serve and defend our Constitution,
27673  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: December 12, 2010, 07:05:22 PM
Thank you for the citation GM.  Also, "Our man formerly in Iraq" confirms the story as well.
27674  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mass murder of Christians on: December 12, 2010, 06:52:59 PM
This source is unknown to me.  It was forwarded by a friend.


Breaking news quickly passes into "archive"; but days, weeks, and sometimes years may be required, to reconstruct what actually happened. Sometimes there are no survivors of a crime or catastrophe, and no testimony to work with, beyond what forensic specialists can provide. But humans are not that easy to kill, and there are usually a few accusers left about.

On Sunday, Oct. 31, during Mass, Islamist terrorists attacked the main Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad -- the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. While there have been persistent and increasing attacks on Christians, as well as on other religious minorities, all over the Muslim world, this one was especially notable, and deserved far more sustained press coverage. Many details are only now emerging, from the wounded who were flown out of Iraq to Rome, and other European cities, for medical treatment.

The attack was sustained over five hours. Iraqi military authorities had the church surrounded for most of this time; American-made helicopters buzzed overhead. But, rather than risk the lives of soldiers, the authorities were content to simply contain the massacre.

It had begun with a diversionary strike against the Baghdad stock exchange, across the street: two of its guards were killed. Those inside the church could hear the automatic rifle fire, which began towards the end of the homily. Congregants were at first relieved that the attack did not seem to be directed at the church. Its entrances were blocked, the main wooden door barricaded.

A jeep parked outside the church then exploded, and a brigade of jihadis, in Iraqi army uniforms, burst through the main entrance commando-style. First one priest -- a Father Wasim, among those trying to hold the door -- shouted, "Leave them alone, take me!" He was immediately shot. A Father Thair then shouted from the altar, likewise, "Leave them alone, take me!" and was likewise annihilated.

While this was happening, a Father Raphael succeeded in herding about 70 of the faithful into the sacristy, and blocking its door. In due course the jihadis found it had a small high window, and tossed grenades through that; others amused themselves by firing bullets through the door.

In the cathedral proper, the jihadis used the central crucifix for target practice, while shouting in mockery, "Come on, tell Him to save you!" At their leisure, they executed the men of the congregation, while terrorizing the women and children in various other ways. They shot the arms off a couple of girls who tried to use cellphones; they shot babies who were crying. And in classical Arabic, with Egyptian and Syrian accents, they declared: "We are going to heaven, and you are going to hell. Allah is great!"

At their leisure, for over the five hours they twice stopped for formal Islamic prayers. They were also able to place bombs around the cathedral, for the purpose of blowing it up at the end, but owing to faulty wiring these did not go off. Survivors, in the accounts I've seen in Italian media, say the jihadis eventually ran out of bullets, and then began calling for the bombs to be detonated. They had several colleagues stationed on the roof, orchestrating their affair; unmolested by the troops surrounding the church. Two of the jihadis with suicide belts managed to blow themselves up.

Finally, the Iraqi troops went into action. The dead were now counted; the wounded removed to area hospitals where friends and relatives were already making their hysterical inquiries. The church was now "secured," so that passersby could not get a view of the devastation inside it.

My reader may get far more detail through patient Internet searching. The facts mentioned above seem incontestable. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream reporting came down to "58 killed and a larger number wounded." There were some insulting editorials, which generically condemned "religious intolerance," thus putting murderers and victims on the same level.

The exodus of Christians from Iraq is, by now, more or less common knowledge. Within Iraq itself, there is a movement from such cities as Baghdad and Mosul -- which once had large Christian populations -- to safer territory in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Throughout the Middle East, from countries that remained majority Christian long after the Islamic conquests of the seventh century, the exodus of the last Christians is proceeding. In Palestine, entirely Christian towns such as Bethlehem have been, quite recently, Islamicized. In Lebanon -- itself established as a Christian enclave -- Hezbollah has largely taken over. The Coptic Christians of Egypt, who still number in their millions, suffer frequent violent attacks. Et cetera.

There were once Jews all over the Middle East; now they are down to Israel only, whose very right to exist is challenged. Christians are now following the Jews into exile or extinction. But in the West, we just don't want to know.

David Warren
© Ottawa Citizen
27675  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prayer and Daily Expression of Gratitude on: December 12, 2010, 01:53:57 PM
Author Robert Fulghum tells this story of one of his professors, a wise man whose name was Alexander Papaderos:

At the last session on the last morning of a two-week seminar on Greek culture, Dr. Papaderos turned and made the ritual gesture: "Are there any questions?"

Quiet quilted the room. These two weeks had generated enough questions for a lifetime, but for now, there was only silence.

"No questions?" Papaderos swept the room with his eyes.

So, I asked.

"Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?"

The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go.

Papaderos held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at me for a long time, asking with his eyes if I was serious and seeing from my eyes that I was.

"I will answer your question."

Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter.

And what he said went something like this:

"When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

"I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine--in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

"I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light--truth, understanding, knowledge--is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

"I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world--into the black places in the hearts of men--and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of life."

And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.
27676  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Karzai reading this thread on: December 12, 2010, 01:50:21 PM
Afghanistan's President Karzai signs deal on gas pipeline project
The proposed 1,000-mile natural gas pipeline would cut through Taliban territory in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A flurry of 26 deaths over two days highlights difficulties the project would face.

By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
December 12, 2010

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with regional leaders Saturday to sign an agreement for a massive energy project that could eventually net his country billions of dollars in revenue: a 1,000-mile natural gas pipeline whose proposed route cuts through the heartland of the Taliban insurgency.
As if to highlight the complications facing the project, at least 26 people were killed in attacks Friday and Saturday, including a Taliban commander and several people believed to be with a private security firm, Afghan and NATO officials said.

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The United States strongly supports the proposed pipeline because it could draw Central Asia's significant energy resources to Pakistan and India an bypass Iran, Washington's top adversary in the region.

Karzai met with Turkmen, Indian and Pakistani officials in Ashgabat, the capital of neighboring Turkmenistan, to sign the accord.

"On this very important occasion, let me once again highlight our vision for regional cooperation, which is to contribute to regional stability and prosperity," Karzai said in a statement, "and to enhance the conditions for Afghanistan to resume its central role as a land bridge in this region."

But the proposed $7.6-billion TAPI Gas Pipeline project and any revenue it may generate may be years away. The planned route passes from Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic, through violent territory still unsettled by insurgencies, including the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, and the Pakistani city of Quetta, which is considered the home of the Taliban leadership.

The latest violence took place in Afghanistan's south and the northern province of Kunduz.

In the most deadly attack, a roadside bomb blast struck a pickup truck carrying Afghan men Friday in a rural stretch of Helmand province, killing 15 people, Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Helmand's governor, said Saturday.

Also in Helmand, a man described as a senior Taliban commander and three members of his family were killed Saturday in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization airstrike, the official Bakhtar news agency reported.

A car bomb exploded Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of the Information and Culture Directorate in Kandahar, injuring four police officers and two youths, said Zalmay Ayoubi, spokesman for the governor there.

"The enemies of peace and the people have lost the ability to fight against the government, and now they want to terrorize the public by committing such criminal acts just to show their existence," said a statement issued by the governor's office.

In Kunduz, a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden car attacked an Afghan army checkpoint, injuring five soldiers and nine civilians in nearby homes, mostly women and children, said Muhbullah Sayedi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

U.S.-led forces also announced an investigation of allegations that seven Afghan members of a private security firm were killed Saturday during a counterinsurgency operation near the eastern Afghan city of Gardez, the site of a Dec. 5 suicide bombing that killed Western troops.

A military news release said the U.S.-led troops opened fire after armed men emerged from a vehicle and compound suspected of being linked to the Haqqani network, which is allied with the Taliban.

"The security force takes civilian casualty allegations seriously and is currently accessing who the individuals were, why they were armed and why they were in that area at that time of the morning," the news release said.

Protecting civilian lives has become a key component of the international force's strategy in Afghanistan. Deteriorating security erodes the Afghan civilians' trust in the central government and its armed forces, sometimes leading them to turn to the Taliban for protection.

The United States hopes the Afghan army and police force will be able to secure the country and tamp down the Taliban once international troops begin to depart. But attempts at political reconciliation between the central government and the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until the U.S. invasion in 2001, appear to have stalled.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters Wednesday in Kabul, the Afghan capital, that a large U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan was showing results.

After a meeting with Karzai, Gates told reporters he would return to Washington believing that Afghanistan will be ready for a U.S. troop drawdown by 2014, as set out by President Obama.
27677  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Freedom of religion... on: December 12, 2010, 12:55:57 PM
It reads to me like he is leaving civil law issues open , , ,
27678  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bernanke wants $10 fast food meals (Scott Grannis quoted) on: December 12, 2010, 10:24:39 AM

Bernanke Wants A $10 Three-Piece Chicken Meal

Eighteen months ago I decided to get fit and lose weight. I bought a racing bike and hit the roads. I also bought a 2hp Vitamix blender that whips up fruit and protein smoothies faster than you can say Jamba ( JMBA - news - people ) Juice. The payoff has been great. I've lost 15 pounds and with it all kinds of petty inflammations in the ankles, knees and lower back. (I'll share the details of my diet and exercise regimen if you email me at Put "Diet" in the subject line.)

But no one is perfect, least of all me. Every once in a while I get a powerful urge to eat greasy food. Not long ago I drove by the window of the local KFC and ordered a three-piece Kentucky Fried Chicken meal, all dark, original recipe, with coleslaw, beans and a root beer. The order came to $9.47.

Let's stop here. Nine and a half bucks for a KFC meal? Seriously? KFC is a fast-food retailer. Fast food is supposed to be cheap. But $9.47 for one ordinary meal is not cheap. What's going on?
Facts such as higher KFC prices reflect the world as it is. These facts contradict recent headlines about Consumer Price Index inflation. The October CPI rose just 0.6% at an annualized rate, the lowest since records began in 1957. Bear in mind that the official scorekeeper for CPI inflation is the U.S. Department of Labor, whose head is politically appointed. At the same time the independent Federal Reserve has its own inflation target, rumored to be 1.5% to 2%.

There you have it. The Fed thinks prices are too low. It wants higher prices--$10 for a chicken dinner at KFC; $40 for a family of four.

Where, oh where, do you start with such destructive nonsense?

For one, it boggles the mind to think the Fed goes along with the Labor Department's exclusion of food and energy prices in the CPI. Good lord, people have to eat. And go places. Gas prices are certainly not cheap. They are low only compared with the summer of 2008.

But the CPI is flawed in other ways that bear no resemblance to the way people actually live. As the always savvy Scott Grannis points out in his Calafia Beach Pundit blog: "If there is any deflation out there, it can be found mainly in the energy and housing sectors, both of which experienced a huge run-up in price in the years prior to 2008. In my book that's not deflation, it's payback. Almost anywhere else you look, prices are rising."

Are you listening, Ben Bernanke? Do you actually get out in the world? The swift backlash against Bernanke's QE2 is borne out in the fact that prices, in real life, are rising faster than most people's wages. QE2 will only take us further down the stagflation path--and will hurt the poor the hardest. There are 40 million Americans already on food stamps. Higher food prices will increase that shameful number.

Ironically, for a Democratic Administration that fancies itself a greater friend of the poor, a cheap dollar slams the working poor the hardest. The working poor--those striving to stay off unemployment and/or welfare--pay the highest percentage of their wages for food. They tend to have the longest commutes in older, gas-guzzling cars. Higher gas prices slam them. Many working poor don't have smartphones or computers or the time and know-how to bargain shop on the Internet. Finally, they have most of their meager assets in cash: paychecks, tips, checking accounts and small savings accounts.

In a misguided attempt to prop up house prices and prevent the next wave of bank failures, the Fed is destroying the value of the working poor's cash.

A crushed dollar hurts the majority of Americans and the economy in general. But the rich--especially the younger affluent--do relatively well. The majority of their assets are in things that hold their value when the dollar goes down: stocks, gold, commodities, beachfront property, etc. The rich can hold just enough cash to take advantage of bargains when they appear. They can also invest in smartphones, 4G mobility and software that facilitate price shopping for the best bargain.
You might like Ben Bernanke if you're 35 years old, made a ton of money on Wall Street and your diversified assets are inflating. You don't like him if you're 60 years old and own a KFC franchise--or eat at one.

A soft dollar will not lift America from its economic doldrums. The opposite is needed. A strong dollar would redirect capital to worthy entrepreneurs--and out of ruinous commodity speculation. For the rest of us it would restore the purchasing power we thought we'd earned in the first place.
27679  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Blasphemy in Pakistan on: December 12, 2010, 10:22:08 AM
Blasphemy in Pakisan
27680  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WW2: Occupied France on: December 12, 2010, 10:14:20 AM
We are now more than 65 years away from the end of World War II, but that global conflict and its precursor, the so-called Great War of 1914-18, continue to fascinate and torment us, even as the veterans who fought in them retreat to another realm. What is striking about the current spate of books and movies about these conflicts is that for many in the West, they no longer seem to represent the unequivocal victory of good over evil, right over wrong, liberty over tyranny. A plethora of historical reassessments of the aerial campaigns against German and Japanese cities question not only the moral but also the political validity of the carpet-bombing of civilians. In his recent film, "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino turned all tables when he had Jews behaving like Nazis, and in the massive HBO mini-series "The Pacific" a Marine's reference to "yellow monkeys" reverberates through the entire series.

All wars, but these two in particular, with their mass effort and mass death—the first great democratic wars of history—are now freighted with the toxic irony that came to pervade the 20th century and continues to afflict us still. If today we question traditional narratives, no longer trust our leaders and have lost all faith in grand ideas, the gnarled roots of such skepticism lead back through the World Wars of the last century.

In "And the Show Went On," Alan Riding, former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, tracks a period of particular moral murkiness. He focuses on French writers and artists—the whole lot might, in an act of leveling, be called artistes—and their response to the German invasion of France in 1940. Mr. Riding is less interested, though, in the broader historical implications of his theme than in the human stories that emerge when the imagination is confronted by a violent reality.

For the French the defeat in 1940, and the next four years of German occupation, remain the most sensitive and sensational of all historical topics. Before his execution in February 1945, the openly collaborationist yet highly talented writer Robert Brasillach remarked: "Whatever their outlook, during these years the French have all more or less been to bed with Germany." But, as recently as May 2008, French president Nicolas Sarkozy continued to claim the high ground: "The true France," he asserted, "never collaborated." A nation that has always cherished its intellectuals, that rightly prides itself on its cultivation of the arts, is still tortured by the notion that the thoughtful, sensitive and most intelligent "Marianne" ever slept with the arrogant and brutal "Fritz." Mr. Riding shows that she did, and with considerable relish at that. As the vivacious actress Arletty put it so unforgettably in pondering her predicament during the occupation: "My heart is French but my ass is international."

And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris
By Alan Riding
Knopf, 400 pages, $28.95

.For most of us, Mr. Riding's conclusion is hardly news, certainly not the headline stuff it was in the early 1970s when the historian Robert O. Paxton of Columbia University exploded the myth of a broad French opposition to the occupying Germans—and a broad refusal to collaborate. Until Mr. Paxton's research was published, the French had lived under the comfortable illusion that the true France, as President Sarkozy would have it, had been intrepid members of the Resistance, supporters of Charles de Gaulle and the Free French and anti-German through and through. The can of worms that Mr. Paxton opened has been spoiling the air at the elegant Deux Magots café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain ever since.

RoBut what constituted collaboration or resistance? Any attempt to define those terms conjures up all the fundamental problems of our modern and postmodern world, a world not of fixity but of fluidity. Where do we put the philosopher-playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, who continued to publish during the occupation and later reinvented himself as a great résistant? Or the remarkable novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline, an avowed anti-Semite who nevertheless insisted that he hated the Germans just as much? Or that artistic provocateur, Jean Cocteau, who was at the very center of social life in occupied Paris but later felt abused by the accusation that he had collaborated, claiming ingenuously that "People are always thrusting me into scandals." Notoriety or flattery often seemed more appealing to this group than truth. And what about those world-renowned entertainers Édith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Sacha Guitry, who clearly needed the bright lights as much for psychological as economic reasons? Piaf's subsequent signature song "Non, je ne regrette rien" ("No, I regret nothing") reverberated with double meaning. Where, too, should we slot a pan-European like Alfred Fabre-Luce, whose dream was a united Europe and who saw in German conquest, faute de mieux, a step toward that dream?

Mr. Riding is very good at pointing to the complexities and ambiguities of the situation. He retraces much of the ground that Frederic Spotts covered in 2008 in "The Shameful Peace," but the two authors, while both expatriate residents of France, take opposed positions. Mr. Spotts has nothing but scorn for those who compromised between 1940 and 1944, whatever the reason. Mr. Riding, by contrast, finds the behavior of most French thinkers, painters and performers all too human. Many vacillated. Many were concerned merely with survival. Many who joined the Resistance later had been quick to cooperate earlier. The entertainment industry hardly skipped a beat. More plays and movies were produced in those four years than in any comparable four-year period in the French past. The Germans were delighted; such frenetic activity was exactly what they wanted, and they probably exercised less control in France than in any other territory they occupied.

.The divide in France on the painful subject of the German occupation during World War II is in part generational and in part political. Because of the difficulty of defining collaboration and resistance, the two sides have found little common ground. Robert O. Paxton initiated the French debate with his landmark "Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-44" (1972). Among more recent books, the British historian Julian Jackson's "The Fall of France" (2003) and "France: The Dark Years, 1940-44" (2001) are exceptional for their industry and integrity.

Irène Némirovsky's enormously successful novel "Suite Française" (first published in English in 2006) gives one a poignant sense of the ambiguities inherent in the situation after June 1940: "Their conversation," she wrote of her characters, "was pessimistic, almost despairing, but their voices light-hearted."

Because it is so troubling, very little of the remarkable work of Ernst Jünger, who accompanied the German occupiers of Paris, has been trans lated into English. The French, however, have always been fascinated by him—his diary for the years of occupation is available en français—and upon his death in February 1998, at age 102, Le Monde titled its obituary "Le Siècle de Jünger," identifying the 20th century with him.

Jean Galtier-Boissière may have kept the most readable French diary during those dark years. Alas, this too has not been translated into English. A brilliant editor, he had founded the satirical monthly Le Crapouillot during the Great War. In its issue of January 1931, devoted to Berlin, the journal announced that, by comparison with the German capital, Paris was tame and chaste—countering the impression that both Alan Riding and Frederic Spotts wish to leave.

On the aesthetics of Nazism, the most intriguing recent contribution is Roger Griffin's "Modernism and Fascism" (2007), which takes the analysis of Nazism far beyond Frederic Spotts's more narrowly focused study "Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics" (2002). Albert Speer's memoir, "Inside the Third Reich" (1970), remains invaluable, as do the various translated volumes of Joseph Goebbels's diaries. Goebbels was of course the Nazi "minister of enlightenment." The sculptor Arno Breker, whose massive show at the Orangerie in Paris in 1942 attracted much attention, is the subject of a fascinating section in Jonathan Petropoulos's "The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany " (2000).

Film has probably been a more suitable medium for delving into the anguish and complexity of the Nazi occupation than the written word. Alain Resnais's "Night and Fog" (1955), Marcel Ophüls's "The Sorrow and the Pity" (1969), Louis Malle's "Lacombe, Lucien" (1974) and Joseph Losey's "Monsieur Klein" (1976) are a few of the outstanding cinematic contributions.

—Modris Eksteins
.Contradiction would be the offspring of fear and confusion. The writers Ramon Fernandez and Marguerite Duras—the one a convinced collaborationist, the other a member of the Resistance—were neighbors on the Rue Saint-Benoît. While sharing the same cleaning woman, they would intentionally ignore each other's social gatherings, be they of noisy fascists or furtive résistants. In comparable fashion, the writers Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and André Malraux, while political foes, remained personal friends. After a visit to Germany in 1935, Drieu had embraced Nazism, whereas Malraux supported the anti-fascist Popular Front in France. These differences notwithstanding, Drieu would become godfather to one of Malraux's children, and Malraux would seek to protect Drieu after the liberation in 1944.

Unlike Mr. Spotts, Mr. Riding refuses to judge. Instead he cites Anthony Eden, Britain's wartime foreign secretary: "If one hasn't been through the horrors of an occupation by a foreign power, you have no right to pronounce upon what a country does which has been through all that." The logical extension of Mr. Riding's carefully constructed and sympathetic account would be a similar retelling of the other stories of Europe, without the usual polemical and self-righteous tone. In Eastern Europe, where the only choice was between two totalitarian options, communist or fascist, the dilemma was even more horrific than in France. It was easiest not to think about it and just play according to the rules in force that day.

For some the most fascinating chapter in Mr. Riding's evocative book will be the one on Florence Gould, whose tale highlights the moral conundrums of the time. Born in San Francisco of French parents in 1895, she married the enormously wealthy Frank Jay Gould, heir to a railroad fortune and owner of a consortium of hotels and casinos on the Riviera. The Goulds remained in France during the war: he in the south, she principally in Paris, where she ran a vibrant and sumptuous "literary" salon, visited by all sides in the conflict.

In a city where shortages were the norm, her gatherings never lacked for Dom Pérignon or petits fours. Ernst Jünger, the brilliant German soldier and writer, was one of her closest companions (though Mr. Riding rejects the widespread assumption that they were lovers). Florence—even the name evoked angels of mercy and an identity beyond borders—represents, some might say, the more modern Marianne, so feminine, so attractive, yet so cosmopolitan. "I may not know much about literature," she said, "but I know a lot about writers." While Mr. Spotts dismisses her as little more than a spoiled and vulgar tramp, Mr. Riding imbues her with considerable charm. Her long career as hostess and patron, both during and again after the war, lends credence to the latter judgment.

Engrossed in the immediacy of his story, Mr. Riding rarely pans to the wider view. If he had done so, he might have noted that at the heart of the 20th-century tragedy, pumping the blood of Modernism as a broadly based cultural mode and mood, was not Paris or France; it was Berlin and Germany. Many of the impulses for creative destruction—industrial, technological, scientific and intellectual—emanated from this heartland of the European continent. But at the same time the violence that the French were inclined to blame exclusively on the alien intruder, le Boche, had a powerful resonance within.

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Roger-Viollet / The Image Works
Maurice Chevalier on a visit arranged by occupation authorities to French prisoners of war in Germany in the winter of 1941-42.
.If Friedrich Nietzsche postulated, with some reason, that he was dynamite, Louis Aragon, the French poet and novelist, gave this abstraction a more practical dimension when he said that he could imagine nothing more beautiful than the "splendid and chaotic heap" produced by a cathedral and some dynamite. In the Second Surrealist Manifesto, in 1929, André Breton stated: "The simplest Surrealist act consists in going down into the street, guns in hand, and shooting at random, for as long as possible, into the crowd." This violent motif, this rage against tradition, deeply embedded in French painterly and literary imaginings, predated 1914, let alone 1940. The whole aim of artistic and literary modernism since the tail end of the 19th century had been to break down boundaries, definitions, laws and categories. Artists and intellectuals—the advance guard—were at war with the status quo before the military started fighting in either war.

Correspondingly, the appeal of Hitler and the Third Reich to some of the French and indeed European intelligentsia was based on this anger, resentment and craving for change. But the appeal was fortified by the importance Nazism assigned to the arts. On his only visit to Paris, on June 23, 1940, Hitler asked to see the Garnier opera house before any other building and admitted, according to the sculptor Arno Breker who accompanied him, that he wanted to be "surrounded by artists." With this emphasis on artists and aesthetic considerations, what Nazism did was to accelerate a process whereby politics would be turned into spectacle, an art form for the masses, and art in turn would become inseparable from politics. As reluctant as we may be to admit it, Hitler helped usher in our world.

—Mr. Eksteins is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toronto. His forthcoming book, "Solar Dance," deals with the posthumous success of Vincent van Gogh.
27681  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Yoo on Gitmo on: December 12, 2010, 10:01:41 AM

When announcing in 2002 that the U.S. would detain al Qaeda fighters at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously described the base as "the best, least worst place." Mr. Rumsfeld's quip distilled a truth: The U.S. would capture enemy fighters and leaders, and their detention, while messy, was of great military value.

For two years, President Barack Obama has pretended that terrorism is a crime, that prisoners are unwanted, and that Gitmo is unneeded. As a presidential candidate, he declared: "It's time to show the world . . . we're not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they're there or what they're charged with." Upon taking office, he ordered Gitmo closed within the year.

But the president's embrace of the left's terrorism-as-crime theories collided with his responsibility to protect a great nation. Now the reality of the ongoing war on terror is helping to shatter the Gitmo myth and end its distortion of our antiterrorism strategies.

This week the intelligence community reported to Congress that one-quarter of the detainees released from Guantanamo in the past eight years have returned to the fight. Though the U.S. and its allies have killed or recaptured some of these 150 terrorists, well over half remain at large. The Defense Department reports that Gitmo alumni have assumed top positions in al Qaeda and the Taliban, attacked allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and led efforts to kill U.S. troops.

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Associated Press
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously described Guantanamo Bay as "the best, least worst place."

Even that 25% recidivism rate is likely too low. The intelligence community reports that it usually takes about two and a half years before a released detainee shows up on its radar. Our forces probably have yet to re-engage most of the terrorists among the 66 detainees released so far by the Obama administration.

The Bush administration released many more, but those freed by this administration are likely more dangerous. Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent.

All of this is having an impact on Congress, which this week voted overwhelmingly to de-fund any effort to shut down the Gitmo prison. It also barred the Justice Department from transferring detainees to the U.S. homeland. Despite Attorney General Eric Holder's rush to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial in downtown New York, the planners of the 9/11 attacks will stay put.

Congress is reflecting the wishes of the American people. In the Gitmo myth, President George W. Bush was a Lone Ranger acting without Congressional permission, and Gitmo was a law-free zone. But the American people never opposed capturing and detaining the enemy. And now Democratic Congress has ratified Mr. Bush's policy.

Freezing the Gitmo status quo will stop the release of al Qaeda killers, but it won't end the serious distortions in Mr. Obama's terrorism policy.

The administration relies on unmanned drones to kill al Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan and Afghanistan. CIA Director Leon Panetta calls it "the only game in town." Drones take no prisoners, but they also ask no questions. Firing missiles from afar cannot substitute for the capture and interrogation of al Qaeda leaders for intelligence. (The real question now is whether CIA agents will decline to interrogate prisoners, thanks to Mr. Holder's criminal investigations into Bush policies.)

As long as no one is sent to Gitmo, the Obama administration will leave itself two options for dealing with terrorists: kill, or catch-and-release. Mr. Obama's drone-heavy policy means that more people will die—not only al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, but also innocent Afghan and Pakistani civilians.

The Gitmo myth also drove the Justice Department's push to prosecute al Qaeda leaders in U.S. civilian courts. Nowhere else did the Obama administration place its view of terrorism more clearly on display as a law-enforcement problem. The near-acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani, the al Qaeda operative who facilitated the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, by a New York jury last month has clearly revealed that path as a dead end—even if Mr. Holder remains in denial.

The simple alternative is to continue detentions at Gitmo. Detention is consistent with the rules of war, which allow captured combatants to be held indefinitely without requiring criminal charges to be filed. It also keeps our troops and agents in the field focused on finding and killing the enemy, not on collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses.

Using its constitutional power of the purse, the new Congress should continue to keep Gitmo in operation. It should press President Obama to resume the capture, detention and interrogation of al Qaeda leaders. It should also educate the public about the real state of affairs in Guantanamo: The military has spent millions to create a model facility.

Most importantly, Congress can use its oversight power to probe the decision-making that led to the release of the 150 or more recidivists. It can require a full accounting from the military and intelligence agencies of the harms caused by released detainees, and it can bring to light the risks that these bureaucratic mistakes will pose to American lives.

After the left's long denunciation of Bush-era policies, Mr. Obama should admit that he has made his share of mistakes—not the least of which has been propagating the Gitmo myth. If Americans die at the hands of released detainees, we will know who to blame.

Mr. Yoo is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an American Enterprise Institute scholar. Mr. Delahunty is an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Both served in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

27682  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Freedom of religion... on: December 12, 2010, 09:40:52 AM

"I'm not sure how to dumb this down for you, since this forum doesn't allow for crayons or hand puppets."

You are a bright, well-educated man.  This sort of commentary is not necessary to presenting your case.  Please don't.

Thank you,


What does the judge do?

27683  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islamo-fascist bomber in Sweden on: December 12, 2010, 09:28:27 AM

A man blew himself up in a suicide attack in central Stockholm this evening surrounded by Christmas shoppers. A car exploded just minutes earlier on a nearby street, injuring two people.
The man carried six pipe-bombs, but only one exploded. In addition he had a backpack filled with nails, and a possible additional bomb.

According to witnesses, the man shouted something in Arabic before he detonated the bombs.

The bomber was the only one killed in the attack. Several people nearby went into shock and suffered hearing loss.

The bombs detonated at Bryggargatan street. According to one source, if he would have blown up on the nearby Drottninggatan street, it would have been a massacre.

Approximately ten minutes before the explosions occurred, Swedish news agency TT received an email, also addressed to Säpo, in which a reached out to “Sweden and the Swedish people”.

He cites Sweden’s silence surrounding the cartoons by Swedish Lars Vilks which portray the prophet Mohammed as a dog, the Swedish troops in Afghanistan, saying in audio files attached to the email that “now your children, daughters and sisters die like our brothers’ and sisters’ children die”.

“Our actions will speak for themselves. As long as you don’t stop your ward against Islam and degrading the prophet and your stupid support of that pig Vilks,” the man said.

The man also urges all Muslims in Sweden to “stop sucking up to and degrading”. He concludes the message with yet another call to “all the mujahedeen in Europe and Sweden”.

“Now it’s time to act, don’t wait any longer. Fear no one, don’t fear prison, don’t fear death.”

The message contained audio files in both Swedish and Arabic. The audio files do not link the man to any organization. The man also says that he's been to the Middle East and asks his family to forgive him for lying to them. "I never went to the Middle East to work or earn money. I went there for Jihad."

The email was also sent to Säpo, the Swedish Security service. They did not see the mail before the explosion.
27684  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Fed, Monetary Policy, & the US Dollar on: December 11, 2010, 11:35:12 AM
Nice find.  It is more than a little too bad for all of us that AG badly lost his way.
27685  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rail gun on: December 11, 2010, 11:31:50 AM

Navy Sets World Record With Incredible, Sci-Fi Weapon


A theoretical dream for decades, the railgun is unlike any other weapon used in warfare. And it's quite real too, as the U.S. Navy has proven in a record-setting test today in Dahlgren, VA.

Rather than relying on a explosion to fire a projectile, the technology uses an electomagnetic current to accelerate a non-explosive bullet at several times the speed of sound. The conductive projectile zips along a set of electrically charged parallel rails and out of the barrel at speeds up to Mach 7.

The result: a weapon that can hit a target 100 miles or more away within minutes.

"It's an over-used term, but it really changes several games," Rear Admiral Nevin P. Carr, Jr., the chief of Naval Research, told prior to the test.

For a generation raised on shoot-'em-up video games, the word "railgun" invokes sci-fi images of an impossibly destructive weapon annihilating monsters and aliens. But the railgun is nonetheless very real.

An electromagnetic railgun offers a velocity previously unattainable in a conventional weapon, speeds that are incredibly powerful on their own. In fact, since the projectile doesn't have any explosives itself, it relies upon that kinetic energy to do damage. And at 11 a.m. today, the Navy produced a 33-megajoule firing -- more than three times the previous record set by the Navy in 2008.

"It bursts radially, but it's hard to quantify," said Roger Ellis, electromagnetic railgun program manager with the Office of Naval Research. To convey a sense of just how much damage, Ellis told that the big guns on the deck of a warship are measured by their muzzle energy in megajoules. A single megajoule is roughly equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at 100 mph. Multiple that by 33 and you get a picture of what would happen when such a weapon hits a target.

Ellis says the Navy has invested about $211 million in the program since 2005, since the railgun provides many significant advantages over convention weapons. For one thing, a railgun offers 2 to 3 times the velocity of a conventional big gun, so that it can hit its target within 6 minutes. By contrast, a guided cruise missile travels at subsonic speeds, meaning that the intended target could be gone by the time it reaches its destination.

Furthermore, current U.S. Navy guns can only reach targets about 13 miles away. The railgun being tested today could reach an enemy 100 miles away. And with current GPS guidance systems it could do so with pinpoint accuracy. The Navy hopes to eventually extend the range beyond 200 miles.

"We're also eliminating explosives from the ship, which brings significant safety benefits and logistical benefits," Ellis said. In other words, there is less danger of an unintended explosion onboard, particularly should such a vessel come under attack.

Indeed, a railgun could be used to inflict just such harm on another vessel.

Admiral Carr, who calls the railgun a "disruptive technology," said that not only would a railgun-equipped ship have to carry few if any large explosive warheads, but it could use its enemies own warheads against them. He envisions being able to aim a railgun directly at a magazine on an enemy ship and "let his explosives be your explosives."

There's also a cost and logistical benefit associated with railguns. For example, a single Tomahawk cruise missile costs roughly $600,000. A non-explosive guided railgun projectile could cost much less. And a ship could carry many more, reducing the logistical problems of delivering more weapons to a ship in battle. For these reasons, Admiral Carr sees the railgun as even changing the strategic and tactical assumptions of warfare in the future.

The Navy still has a distance to go, however, before the railgun test becomes a working onboard weapon. Technically, Ellis says they've already overcome several hurdles. The guns themselves generate a terrific amount of heat -- enough to melt the rails inside the barrel -- and power -- enough to force the rails apart, destroying the gun and the barrel in the process.

The projectile is no cannon ball, either. At speeds well above the sound barrier, aerodynamics and special materials must be considered so that it isn't destroyed coming out of the barrel or by heat as it travels at such terrific speeds.

Then there's question of electrical requirements. Up until recently, those requirements simply weren't practical. However, the naval researchers believe they can solve that issue using newer Navy ships and capacitors to build up the charge necessary to blast a railgun projectile out at supersonic speeds. Ellis says they hope to be able to shoot 6 to 12 rounds per minute, "but we're not there yet."

So when will the railgun become a working weapon? Both Ellis and Carr expect fully functional railguns on the decks of U.S. Navy ships in the 2025 time frame.
27686  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: December 10, 2010, 10:36:25 PM
My guess is that he figured out that --surprise! Bill had settled in and there was no getting the microphone away from him;  and rather that standing there like a potted plant, he left.  Not the most manly of excuses, but well, no surprise there , , , rolleyes
27687  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Scott Grannis on: December 10, 2010, 03:14:13 PM
makes a case for bullishness:
27688  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post on: December 10, 2010, 10:51:20 AM
The looming real budget cuts about to hit the Defense Department would be unfortunate in any setting but are likely to present especially acute problems for U.S. forces five or 10 years down the road due to growth in both quantity and quality of Chinese military systems over that time. While U.S. forces are looking at cuts across the board, and already find it difficult to field meaningful numbers of best-in-the-world systems such as the F-22, China is beginning to hit its stride in the production of military systems that compete with U.S. quality.

Chinese fighter aircraft in particular are beginning to encroach on the dominance of American F-15s and F-16s in technical sophistication and flight performance -- not surprising, considering the F-15 entered active service with the U.S. Air Force in 1976 and the F-16 in 1980. China's new F-11B, an improved and entirely Chinese-made upgrade of the Russian SU-27, poses a particular threat to older U.S. aircraft. With the F-22 program capped at 187 aircraft, and with any fight to defend Taiwan requiring U.S. aircraft to fly from distant bases, it is becoming a real possibility that U.S. forces could lose air superiority.

27689  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post on: December 10, 2010, 10:46:49 AM
Government & Politics
Framing the Tax Debate
"Tax deal" is the buzz phrase of the week in Washington, as Barack Obama and congressional Republicans came to an agreement Monday on a two-year extension of current income tax rates for all Americans. Predictably, the Left went hysterical. House Democrats promptly held a voice vote to reject the compromise unless undisclosed changes are made to it, though the Senate began debate on a larded-up version of the proposal Thursday night with a test vote scheduled for Monday. As usual, the devil is in the details -- and, in this case, the definitions.

Obama, his fellow Democrats and their acolytes in the media continue to frame the debate in terms of tax "cuts" versus the budget deficit -- as if tax rates before 2001 were the natural order of things and to keep rates where they are is a "cut" that will increase the deficit. On the contrary, without the deal, everyone's taxes will rise by hundreds or even thousands of dollars next year. With the deal, no one's income taxes will be cut. In fact, some taxes will skyrocket. The estate (death) tax will be resurrected at 35 percent with a $5 million exemption -- up from 0 percent this year, but down from the previous 55 percent. The only new cut would be a temporary payroll tax reduction of two percentage points.

The facts, however, don't stop the Left from their dishonest characterization. "The far-reaching package ... would add more than $900 billion to the deficit over the next two years," The Washington Post lamented. Ditto for The New York Times, the Associated Press and others. This assumes that economic behavior won't change if taxes go up, meaning federal revenue will increase by the exact amount of the tax increase. Ergo, if Congress prevents the tax hike, that lost revenue adds to the deficit. It's a wrong assumption, demonstrable by the fact that federal revenue actually went up after the Bush tax cuts went into effect.

Meanwhile, Obama was so concerned about the "cost" that he insisted that unemployment benefits be extended for another year. Now that will actually cost nearly $60 billion, and it will cause the unemployment rate to remain higher than it otherwise should. On top of that, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) secured various energy subsidies in exchange for their votes, and more pork is almost sure to follow.

The fact that Obama conceded to any deal is notable. The Wall Street Journal concludes, "Obama has implicitly admitted that his economic strategy has flopped. He is acknowledging that tax rates matter to growth, that treating business like robber barons has hurt investment and hiring, and that tax cuts are superior to spending as stimulus. It took 9.8% unemployment and a loss of 63 House seats for this education to sink in, but the country will benefit." The flop is so complete that even former economic adviser Larry Summers warned of a "double dip" recession if taxes go up. John Maynard Keynes, call your office.

Though Obama did accept the deal with the GOP, he proved to be a rather disagreeable compromiser, calling Republicans "hostage takers" and the American people the "hostages." Obama thus not only reneged on an oft-repeated campaign promise to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts "for the rich," he also proved utterly ungracious to those lawmakers with whom he had just struck a deal. "ecause of this agreement, middle-class Americans won't see their taxes go up on January 1st, which is what I promised," he said. "[But] I'm as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I've been for years. In the long run, we simply can't afford them. And when they expire in two years, I will fight to end them."

Some conservatives are opposing the bill because of the aded deficit spending. Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said, "The plan would resurrect the Death Tax, grow government, blow a hole in the deficit with unpaid-for spending, and do so without providing the permanent relief and security our economy needs to finally start hiring and growing again."

Yet given that Democrats still control the White House and, until January, both houses of Congress, this deal may be the best we can hope for now. Republicans should fight to resist wasteful spending, but tax hikes must be prevented. If they are, taxpayers will keep billions of their hard-earned dollars over the next two years. With that renewed tax stability for small businesses, unemployment should go down, though not as much as if the rates were permanent. In 2012, Republicans could be in far better position to win a permanent solution.

27690  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Krauthammer: Swindle of the year on: December 10, 2010, 10:42:19 AM

"To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." --Thomas Jefferson

IMHO CK, for whom I have high regard, misses a key point.  Not raising taxes is not a stimulus!!!  However many good points abound in this piece.
windle of the year

By Charles Krauthammer
Washington Post
Friday, December 10, 2010;

Barack Obama won the great tax-cut showdown of 2010 - and House Democrats don't have a clue that he did. In the deal struck this week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than his $814 billion 2009 stimulus package. It will pump a trillion borrowed Chinese dollars into the U.S. economy over the next two years - which just happen to be the two years of the run-up to the next presidential election. This is a defeat?

If Obama had asked for a second stimulus directly, he would have been laughed out of town. Stimulus I was so reviled that the Democrats banished the word from their lexicon throughout the 2010 campaign. And yet, despite a very weak post-election hand, Obama got the Republicans to offer to increase spending and cut taxes by $990 billion over two years. Two-thirds of that is above and beyond extension of the Bush tax cuts but includes such urgent national necessities as windmill subsidies.

No mean achievement. After all, these are the same Republicans who spent 2010 running on limited government and reducing debt. And this budget busting occurs less than a week after the president's deficit commission had supposedly signaled a new national consensus of austerity and frugality.

Some Republicans are crowing that Stimulus II is the Republican way - mostly tax cuts - rather than the Democrats' spending orgy of Stimulus I. That's consolation? This just means that Republicans are two years too late. Stimulus II will still blow another near-$1 trillion hole in the budget.

At great cost that will have to be paid after this newest free lunch, the package will add as much as 1 percent to GDP and lower the unemployment rate by about 1.5 percentage points. That could easily be the difference between victory and defeat in 2012.

Obama is no fool. While getting Republicans to boost his own reelection chances, he gets them to make a mockery of their newfound, second-chance, post-Bush, Tea-Party, this-time-we're-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility.

And he gets all this in return for what? For a mere two-year postponement of a mere 4.6-point increase in marginal tax rates for upper incomes. And an estate tax rate of 35 percent - it jumps insanely from zero to 55 percent on Jan. 1 - that is somewhat lower than what the Democrats wanted.

No, cries the left: Obama violated a sacred principle. A 39.6 percent tax rate versus 35 percent is a principle? "This is the public option debate all over again," said Obama at his Tuesday news conference. He is right. The left never understood that to nationalize health care there is no need for a public option because Obamacare turns the private insurers into public utilities, thus setting us inexorably on the road to the left's Promised Land: a Canadian-style single-payer system. The left is similarly clueless on the tax-cut deal: In exchange for temporarily forgoing a small rise in upper-income rates, Obama pulled out of a hat a massive new stimulus - what the left has been begging for since the failure of Stimulus I but was heretofore politically unattainable.

Obama's public exasperation with this infantile leftism is both perfectly understandable and politically adept. It is his way back to at least the appearance of centrist moderation. The only way he will get a second look from the independents who elected him in 2008 - and abandoned the Democrats in 2010 - is by changing the prevailing (and correct) perception that he is a man of the left.

Hence that news-conference attack on what the administration calls the "professional left" for its combination of sanctimony and myopia. It was Obama's Sister Souljah moment. It had a prickly, irritated sincerity - their ideological stupidity and inability to see the "long game" really do get under Obama's skin - but a decidedly calculated quality, too. Where, after all, does the left go? Stay home on Election Day 2012? Vote Republican?

No, says the current buzz, the left will instead challenge Obama for the Democratic nomination. Really now? For decades, African Americans have been this party's most loyal constituency. They vote 9 to 1 Democratic through hell and high water, through impeachment and recession, through everything. After four centuries of enduring much, African Americans finally see one of their own achieve the presidency. And their own party is going to deny him a shot at his own reelection?

Not even Democrats are that stupid. The remaining question is whether they are just stupid enough to not understand - and therefore vote down - the swindle of the year just pulled off by their own president.
27691  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The trouble with our banking system on: December 10, 2010, 10:27:13 AM
An internet friend wrote this:
27692  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Israel-Turkey on: December 10, 2010, 10:19:57 AM

U.S. Hopes for Smoother Israeli-Turkish Relations
December 9, 2010 | 1318 GMT
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Moshe Milner/GPO via Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) thanks Turkish pilots for their support in stopping the Carmel Mountain fire near Tirat Hacarmel, Israel, on Dec. 3Summary
There are growing indications that the Israeli government is preparing to make a public apology for the deaths of nine Turkish civilians in the summer Gaza flotilla incident and is willing to pay compensation to the victims’ families. Though the Israeli government can expect Turkey to play up hostilities as Ankara expands its influence in the region, both countries have deeper, underlying reasons to mend ties and put this issue behind them. The United States, meanwhile, can remove a critical obstacle to its relationship with Turkey as Washington looks to Ankara for its cooperation, particularly in relation to Iran and Russia.

Turkey and Israel are in negotiations to find a way to normalize relations after the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident in which nine Turkish civilians died. The two have been stumbling toward reconciliation privately for some time but more recently began publicizing their rapprochement through such gestures as Turkey’s sending firefighting aircraft to Israel to help in combating the Carmel Mountain fires. There are signs now that a compromise is in the making, with Israel trying to find a way to apologize to and compensate the families of the victims without having to apologize directly to the Turkish state.

Domestic politics on both sides are hampering the reconciliation process. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) needs to preserve his credibility in the coming election year and wants to convince Turkish citizens that he has forced Israel to concede on his terms and has arduously defended Turkish sovereignty. For this reason, Erdogan reiterated Dec. 8 that “there is no such distinction as ‘the people’ or ‘the state.’ They [the Israelis] must apologize to the Republic of Turkey.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing criticism from his country’s far right. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman charged the prime minister with “caving in to terrorism” and demanded that Turkey apologize to Israel instead. Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom also criticized the idea — albeit less dramatically — when he said Dec. 8 that it would be inconceivable for Israel to apologize to Turkey as such a move would encourage other countries to act like Ankara.

Looking Beyond Domestic Constraints
Though the domestic complications are substantial, deeper strategic interests are driving Israel and Turkey to work out a compromise so each can move on to other items on their foreign policy agendas. Publicly, Turkey began distancing itself from Israel well before the May 31 flotilla affair by strongly condemning Israel over its January 2009 invasion of Gaza, excluding Israel from Anatolian Eagle air exercises in October 2009 and by lashing out against Israel over the low seat controversy. Though Israel initially might have been surprised by Ankara’s moves, it is also quite accustomed to having diplomatic relationships with countries that need to make outbursts against Israel from time to time. Israel’s relationships with Egypt and Jordan, for example, are vital to Israeli national security interests, but Israel also knows these countries have domestic constituencies, which tend to respond favorably to anti-Israeli rhetoric, to which they must answer. This is something Israel can tolerate, as long as its peace agreements with these countries remain intact.

When Turkey was more insular, there was little need for Ankara to engage in such rhetoric. Now, as Turkey — under the rule of the Islamic-rooted AKP — is steadily expanding its influence across the Middle East, the anti-Israel card acts as a booster to Turkish credibility in the region. Israel will end up having to increasingly tolerate this. The flotilla incident (specifically, the resulting deaths of Turkish civilians) took this dynamic several steps too far, but now that the situation is settling and Turkey has captured the region’s attention, Ankara can demonstrate through the Israeli apology that Turkey is still the only country that can speak and deal with Israel on a level platform.

The U.S. Connection
But these negotiations are not confined to Turkey and Israel. The common bond between these countries is the United States, and when Turkey and Israel are sparring, they both end up risking potentially serious damage to their relationships with Washington. As Israel is discovering, the current U.S. imperative in the region is to find a way to restore a balance of power in the Persian Gulf so that the United States can address pressing concerns in Russia and the Far East. Turkey is the one power in the region with the potential, the assets and historical influence to manage affairs from Syria to Iraq to Iran. Just as important, Turkey’s geopolitical positioning makes it a critical component to any U.S.-led campaign to counter Russian influence in Europe and the Caucasus. Israel simply cannot compete with Turkey in this regard, and though the U.S.-Israeli relationship remains strong, Israel cannot count on Washington to defend it against Turkey if doing so would go against broader U.S. interests in the region. In addition, whether Israel likes it or not, Turkey is building influence with a number of Arab states and players that remain hostile to Israel. If Israel risks a lasting rupture in relations with Turkey, it also risks upsetting its strategy of keeping the Arab states too weak and divided to pose a meaningful threat.

Turkey has more room to maneuver than Israel in handling this diplomatic spat, but is also finding trouble in managing its relationship with Washington while its relationship with Israel is on the rocks. The United States and Turkey are already attempting to work out a number of issues as Turkey continues to assert its regional autonomy and as U.S. policymakers struggle to come to terms with the AKP as a powerful, Islamic-rooted political entity. Still, the United States needs Turkey to assist with an array of regional issues, and Turkey is eager to fill a vacuum in the Middle East as the United States draws down its presence there. For Washington and Ankara to move on to the strategic questions of how they can work together to contain an emerging Iran or a resurgent Russia, they need to clear the air a bit and work through several unresolved issues.

One such issue is ballistic missile defense (BMD). Turkey made an important and symbolic move in signing on to the NATO version of BMD, allowing the United States to signal to countries like Russia and Iran that Turkey remains part of a Western coalition of forces to limit their regional expansion. The BMD commitment was important for the United States to show Turkey is still more or less in league with Washington on issues like limiting Russian and Iranian expansion into Eurasia and the Middle East, respectively.

As for the next steps, U.S. policymakers privately have been urging the Turkish leadership to mend ties with Israel. As long as the United States’ two key allies in the region are throwing rhetorical daggers at each other, it will be politically difficult for Washington to openly conduct policy in the region in coordination with Turkey. The United States has been playing the role of mediator between Israel and Turkey and appears to be making progress in getting Israel to agree to some type of apology to move the rapprochement along. There may also be a connection between Israel’s openly suggesting an apology to the Turkish victims and the United States’ controversial announcement Dec. 7 that it was lifting its long-standing demand for Israel to freeze settlement construction. U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration had tried to use this demand to build credibility in the region and demonstrate its willingness to be forceful with the Israelis. Backing down at this point of the peace process — and while Latin American countries are on a recognition drive for a Palestinian state — is channeling a great deal of criticism toward Washington. However, it can also be viewed as a highly visible favor to Israel — a favor perhaps intended to move along the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation.

Some type of compromise between Israel and Turkey is inevitable. Though the road to reconciliation will be bumpy, the strategic impetus for U.S.-Turkish cooperation is likely to outweigh domestic political constraints in the end.

Read more: U.S. Hopes for Smoother Israeli-Turkish Relations | STRATFOR
27693  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Poland on: December 10, 2010, 10:16:27 AM

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski ended a visit to the United States on Dec. 9. The visit comes amid some tensions between Poland and the United States, as Warsaw is dissatisfied with Washington’s level of commitment to Polish security. Poland is thus looking elsewhere for security guarantees to guard against the Russian resurgence. It has begun cooperating with Sweden and discussing security issues with other Central European countries and, more recently, has been developing a cooperative relationship with Turkey.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski wrapped up a two-day visit to the United States on Dec. 9. The most significant result of the visit was U.S. President Barack Obama’s official commitment to a previous Washington proposal to station U.S. land-based SM-3 interceptors in Poland by 2018 as part of its NATO-wide missile defense system and an offer to periodically station F-16 fighter jets and C-130 transport planes in Poland starting in 2013 for joint military exercises. Poland confirmed the latter offer, but Washington has not issued confirmation as of this writing.

The periodic stationing of U.S. Air Force assets in Poland is significant in that it will enhance Poland’s ability to use its own F-16s, purchased from the United States in 2003. However, neither the SM-3s nor the F-16s — nor the current rotational deployment of a unarmed Patriot missile battery — are enough to guarantee that the United States is fully committed to Poland’s defense. Poland therefore could look to enhance its strategic situation through a multitude of partnerships much closer to home, particularly with Sweden, other Central Europeans and potentially Turkey.

Komorowski’s visit to the United States came amid slight tensions between Washington and Warsaw. Recently leaked U.S. diplomatic cables showed that Warsaw was not satisfied with the rotational deployment of the unarmed Patriot missile battery; one senior Polish military official quoted in the cables referred to them as “potted plants.” But the tensions preceded the leaks and even the Patriot missile system’s deployment. Specifically, they have been building ever since September 2009, when Washington reneged on the ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans struck between the previous U.S. administration and Warsaw. What irked Warsaw in particular was the perception that the United States changed the BMD plans in order to gain assurances from Russia that it would not sell the S-300 air defense system to Iran and that it would support the U.S. effort to impose U.N. sanctions on Tehran. The perception in Warsaw was that the United States was trading Poland’s security guarantees for concessions from Russia in a part of the world completely unrelated to Warsaw’s security.

What Poland Wants
Essentially, Warsaw wants Washington to explain its grand strategy so that Poland understands where it fits in it. As Komorowski directly said during his visit, Poland has “no interests either in Iraq or Afghanistan,” and it followed the United States into both countries purely out of principle. In other words, Poland sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan so that it can receive strong security guarantees from the United States in Europe.

The unarmed Patriot battery, the horse-trading between the United States and Russia on BMD, and the rotational, for-exercise-only deployment of F-16s is an inadequate commitment from Warsaw’s perspective. The deployment of F-16s is not a complete throwaway, however; it will help Poland become proficient in flying and maintaining its own F-16s and thus enhance its security. But Poland has wanted a permanent U.S. deployment of some sort for a long time, a point that Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich reiterated in his visit to Washington on Sept. 30. The rotational and temporary nature of both the Patriot and F-16 offers is insufficient. And the fact that the F-16s only come into the picture in 2013 — and the SM-3 BMD component in 2018 — adds to Poland’s suspicion that the United States simply is not ready to commit itself to Polish security fully.

Poland’s geopolitical situation is difficult. Komorowski pointed this out by saying, “We are between Russia and Germany and this is such a place where, even if someone integrates, even if we have a common European home, or NATO, there are still some drafts. No matter on which floor someone opens a door or window, we Poles still have a runny nose.”

Looking Elsewhere
Without a firm U.S. commitment, Poland is looking to patch up its security holes as best as it can. It has turned to Sweden for help on the diplomatic front, jointly applying pressure on the Russians in Eastern Europe. The Polish and Swedish foreign ministers have made joint visits to Ukraine and Moldova in the past three weeks. Warsaw is also looking to its fellow Central Europeans via the Visegrad Group — Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary — a group that in 2010 began discussing security matters seriously, including cooperation among members’ air forces. It also intends to make EU defense policy — a concept that has not really carried much weight in policymaking circles for much of the last 60 years — one of the main pillars of its EU presidency in the latter part of 2011, a big part of which will mean turning to France to try to spur greater cooperation on defense matters.

However, Poland’s solutions come with their own problems. Cooperation with Sweden has not (yet) included defense matters. The Central Europeans — even combined — do not have the strength to counter Russia (and often bicker with each other). And any EU defense policy would have to include Germany, which is unlikely to offer Poland any true security guarantees due to its budding relationship with Russia.

This is why STRATFOR is watching carefully the cooperation developing between Poland and Turkey. While Komorowski was in Washington, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was in Ankara meeting with the Turkish leadership. The talks were broad and concentrated on everything from general cooperation in NATO, Turkish EU prospects and a potential EU visa waiver for Turkish citizens. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan specifically stated that cooperation between the countries’ defense industries will increase. But what is interesting is that both Poland and Turkey are sizable regional powers that are trying to manage a Russian resurgence in their own regions. The two countries have no outstanding security concerns, nor are they politically at odds on any significant issue. Neither country wants to be outwardly hostile toward Russia, but both want the credibility and strength to give Moscow notice that there are red lines and limits to the spread of its power. There are differences as well, with Ankara far more reserved about openly aligning with the United States on contentious issues like Russia.

The more Warsaw feels that the U.S. alliance, which Poland has no intentions of abandoning, is insufficient for its security, the more it will look to the countries in its immediate region that perceive the Russian resurgence with as much — or almost as much — trepidation as Poland does. Sweden and Turkey both fit this profile. What they perceive as their own spheres of influence — Stockholm in the Baltics and Ankara in the Balkans and Caucasus — are experiencing heavy Russian involvement. They are therefore potentially useful allies in countering Russia while the United States is constrained by its operations in the Middle East.

Read more: Poland Examines its Defense Partnership Options | STRATFOR
27694  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Google foreclosure map on: December 10, 2010, 09:57:54 AM
A friend writes:

"The repercussions of the Housing boom & bust are likely to continue for years to come."

Seeing foreclosures nationwide on Google Maps, described at Google Map Foreclosure Tricks: 

Google Maps Foreclosure Listings

1. Punch in any US address into Google Maps.

2. Your options are Earth, Satellite, Map, Traffic and . . . More. (Select “More”)

3. The drop down menu gives you a check box option for “Real Estate.”

4. The left column will give you several options (You may have to select “Show Options”)

5. Check the box marked “Foreclosure."

Note: This map does not reveal any of the millions of REOs that have already been sold by the banks that hold them.

But the maps do reveal an entire nation littered with foreclosure sales. It is an ugly and graphic depiction of how much inventory is out there, and why housing is stillmany years away from being healthy.

27695  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizen-Police interactions on: December 09, 2010, 10:37:40 PM
"In an internal investigation, there is no right to remain silent and no right to an attorney."

Which makes sense to me.

@ZG:  I'm sorry, I am not clear.  You are a naturalized Mexican citizen?  Ay you no doubt know very well, from well before the narco wars the law down there has been and is VERY harsh concerning foreigners and guns.  Additionally, as noted on the US-Mexico thread, the Mex Army is getting concerned about the US military getting involved in Mexico.  Given the conspiracy minded nature of Mexican political thought about the US (not without raw material one might add!) it would be very easy to get caught in the crossfire of these politics-- especially any person of other than native born citizenship as I understand you to be.

I am not unfamiliar with Mexico (e.g. I train the SWAT team for the State Penitentiary for el Estado de Mexico every time I go down there for a seminar.  The situation there is very complicated right now and the narcos have penetrated to very, very high levels.  For example IIRC last year the man who schedules the President's itinerary was caught accepting the equivalent of $400,000 US a month!  Having no personal knowledge of your teammates and their environs upon arrival, I caution you that you would be a pigeon flying with eagles.  This is said with love and respect.
27696  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Count your fingers after shaking hands with him on: December 09, 2010, 08:11:06 PM
Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Thu, December 09, 2010 -- 8:53 PM ET

Obama Weighs Overhaul of Tax Code to Lower Rates and Close Loopholes

President Obama is considering whether to push early next
year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates
and raise revenues in what would be his first major effort to
begin addressing the long-term growth of the national debt.

While administration officials cautioned on Thursday that no
decisions have been made and that any debate in Congress
could take years, Mr. Obama has directed his economic team
and Treasury Department analysts to review options for
closing loopholes and simplifying income taxes for
corporations and individuals, though the study of the
corporate tax system is farther along, officials said.

Read More:
27697  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizen-Police interactions on: December 09, 2010, 08:08:25 PM
PGR= Procuraduria General de la Republica?
27698  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizen-Police interactions on: December 09, 2010, 04:34:18 PM
27699  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizen-Police interactions on: December 09, 2010, 04:10:44 PM
I have just floated home in a beautific grooviness trance from my Bikram Yoga class to find this  tongue  This is not the tone of conversation that we look to have around here.  angry Let's all take a deep breath, sing kumbaya, and have a group hug please.  
27700  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Prequel to Iran-Contragate on: December 09, 2010, 03:54:08 PM
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