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27701  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc on: March 09, 2008, 09:23:13 AM
The subject of masks came up on WT forum.  I haven't checked these for myself, but post them here to have the URLs for reference:


Most of the information I've read suggests than N95 masks are adequate for bird flu.

There's a lot of information on the subject available here;

I'd suggest spending some time studying the available information to determine what level of protection you're comfortable with.


There is a single study that has cast some doubt on the efficacy of N-95 masks in a pandemic influenza situation.

This link is from the IAFF, whose leadership I personally feel are no-talent @ssclowns, but worth reading:

Having masks are a valid tactic for pandemic influenza, but betting your life on them is foolhardy at best. During the SARS outbreak, there is strong circumstantial evidence that universal precautions failed in more than one case of direct transmission to healthcare workers.

A surgical mask will beat nothing, a N-95 is better than a surgical mask and not being exposed to airborne particulate is the best solution.

With N-95's, be aware that moisture will likely degrade their effectiveness, so sweating, heavy breathing and high humidity will burn through.
27702  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times fluff piece on: March 09, 2008, 09:18:48 AM
The NY Times really digs deep ono this one  rolleyes

Senator Barack Obama stood before Washington’s elite at the spring dinner of the storied Gridiron Club. In self-parody, he ticked off his accomplishments, little more than a year after arriving in town.

Skip to next paragraph
The Long Run
A Measured Start
This is part of a series of articles about the life and careers of contenders for the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations.

Robert A. Reeder/Washington Post
Mr. Obama poked fun at himself at the Gridiron Club in 2006 with, left, his current chief strategist, David Axelrod, and his communications director, Robert Gibbs.
“I’ve been very blessed,” Mr. Obama told the crowd assembled in March 2006. “Keynote speaker at the Democratic convention. The cover of Newsweek. My book made the best-seller list. I just won a Grammy for reading it on tape.

“Really, what else is there to do?” he said, his smile now broad. “Well, I guess I could pass a law or something.”

They were the two competing elements in Mr. Obama’s time in the Senate: his megawatt celebrity and the realities of the job he was elected to do.

He went to the Senate intent on learning the ways of the institution, telling reporters he would be “looking for the washroom and trying to figure out how the phones work.” But frustrated by his lack of influence and what he called the “glacial pace,” he soon opted to exploit his star power. He was running for president even as he was still getting lost in the Capitol’s corridors.

Outside Washington, Mr. Obama was a multimedia sensation — people offered free tickets to his book readings for $125 on eBay and contributed thousands of dollars each to his political action committee to watch him on stage questioning policy experts.

But inside the Senate, Mr. Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, was 99th in seniority and in the minority party his first two years. In committee hearings, he had to wait his turn until every other senator had asked questions. He once telephoned reporters himself to draw attention to his amendments. And some senior colleagues were cool to the newcomer, whom they considered naïve.

Determined to be viewed as substantive, Mr. Obama kept his head down, declining Sunday talk show invitations for his first year, and consulted Senate elders for advice. He was cautious — even on the Iraq war, which he had opposed as a Senate candidate. He voted against the withdrawal of troops and proposed legislation calling for a drawdown only after he was running for president and polls showed voters favoring it.

And while he rightly takes credit for steering through an ethics overhaul that reformers called a “gold standard,” like most freshmen he did not play a significant role in passing much other legislation and disappointed some Democrats for not becoming a more prominent voice in other important debates.

Yet Mr. Obama was planning for the future. He spent much of his time raising money for other Democrats, which helped him build chits and lists of potential voters. He tended to his image, even upbraiding a reporter for writing that he had smoked a cigarette (a habit he later said he gave up for his presidential bid).

Early on in his tenure in Washington, he concluded that it would be hard to have much of an impact inside the Senate, where partisan conflict increasingly provoked filibuster threats, nomination fights and near gridlock even on routine spending bills.

“I think it’s very possible to have a Senate career here that is not particularly useful,” he said in an interview, reflecting on his first year. And it would be better for his political prospects not to become a Senate insider, which could saddle him with the kind of voting record that has tripped up so many senators who would be president.

“It’s sort of logic turned on its head, but it really is true,” said Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the former senator and Democratic leader who has been a close adviser to Mr. Obama.

“Two things develop the more time you spend here,” Mr. Daschle said. “One is a mind-set that we did it this way before, we should do it this way again, and I think that’s a real burden. More importantly — and Hillary and McCain are the perfect examples of this — the longer you are here, you take on enemies. And these enemies don’t forget.”

Rising to Stardom

If freshman senators arrive as celebrities, it is usually because they are “dragon slayers,” having ousted big-name incumbents. Mr. Obama was not one of those; two serious opponents in Illinois self-destructed, smoothing his path to election in November 2004.

He had been anointed his party’s rising star after delivering a soaring speech at the Democratic National Convention the previous July. His fresh face that fall cheered Democrats demoralized by their failure to win the White House and the defeat of Mr. Daschle, the party’s Senate leader.


Page 2 of 3)

But Mr. Obama knew the Senate scorns a showboat. He had waited to crack open “Master of the Senate,” Robert A. Caro’s book about the legendary legislative career of Lyndon B. Johnson, until after he was elected, wary that he would be photographed — and seen as presumptuous — reading it during his campaign. After he was on the cover of Newsweek the same week President Bush appeared as Time’s Man of the Year, his fellow Democratic senators gently ribbed him at their first weekly luncheon of the new Congress.

He met with nearly one-third of the Senate, from both sides of the aisle, including his future rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, to learn about the institution and solicit advice on how to succeed. That shaped a strategy: work hard, tend to your constituents, and, above all, get along with others. He spent many weekends traveling across Illinois for town-hall-style meetings.

Mr. Obama’s advisers referred to it as “the Hillary model,” patterned after Mrs. Clinton’s approach when she joined the Senate in 2001. But while Mr. Obama expressed admiration for her at the time, he dissuaded reporters from making too close a comparison.

“I wasn’t the first lady, and I didn’t have some of the political baggage of eight years of hand-to-hand combat between the White House and the Republican Congress,” he said soon after he first arrived. “In that sense, she had a harder task.”

Knowing he needed insider help, Mr. Obama cajoled Mr. Daschle’s former chief of staff, Pete Rouse, to lead his office. Mr. Rouse advised Mr. Obama about managing relationships on the Hill and helped engineer hefty assignments, including a Foreign Relations Committee seat. He sought out senior colleagues, traveling to Russia with Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, an advocate of nuclear disarmament. (Later, they passed legislation to reduce stockpiles of conventional weapons.) Mr. Obama also sought tutorials from Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, considered the Democrats’ master legislator.

Some colleagues found Mr. Obama remarkably well prepared, even more so than longtime staff members, in discussions. And his role as the good student earned him the affection of some fellow lawmakers. “I don’t think you can be around him and not come to the conclusion that this is a person of rare quality,” said Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota.

Mr. Obama had visited Washington only a handful of times before taking office, and he was fresh enough to its ways that he bubbled over about his first trip on Air Force One in June 2005. He fretted about getting lost on his first trip to the White House, for a reception the day he was sworn in, and later marveled that there were flat-screen televisions in the Lincoln Bedroom.

But he remained ambivalent about the city and its institutions. Unlike many senators with young children, he did not move his family to the capital. He rarely spent more than three nights in Washington — aides would reserve tickets on several flights to make sure he got home to Chicago after the final Senate vote of the week.

Mr. Obama found the Hill a difficult place to fit in, and it was not always clear that he wanted to. He was 43 when he arrived, younger than most of his colleagues — whose average age was 60 — and even many senior staff members. Unlike senators who come up through the House, he did not have an existing network of friends, and while some members of Congress bunk with others, he lived by himself in one of the nondescript new boxes along Massachusetts Avenue. On the nights he was in town, he typically went alone to a Chinatown athletic club — not the Senate gym — or attended events on the Hill.

And for all his efforts to play down his celebrity, Mr. Obama was exceptional, and it was hard for him or anyone to ignore the aura and sense of history around him. He was only the third black senator elected since Reconstruction. His memoir was on The New York Times’s best-seller list for 54 weeks. And Washington society was eager to embrace him — a Capitol Hill newspaper ranked him as No. 2 on its list of most beautiful people.

Etching a Path

Mr. Obama was also pulling in big money. He created a political action committee, the Hopefund, to increase his visibility and help other Democrats. It raised $1.8 million the first year.

In the Senate, meanwhile, he was discovering the realities of being a senator — that not every bill is perfect (or perfectly unacceptable) and that most votes required balancing the good and bad. Mr. Obama wanted to vote to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. for the Supreme Court, for example — he thought the president deserved latitude when it came to appointments — but Mr. Rouse advised against it, pointing out that Mr. Obama would be reminded of the vote every time the court made a conservative ruling that he found objectionable.

Mr. Obama took few bold stands and diverted little from the liberal orthodoxy he had embraced in the Illinois Senate. His voting record in his first year in Washington, according to the annual rankings by National Journal, was more liberal than 82.5 percent of the Senate (compared with, for example, Mrs. Clinton’s 79.8 percent that year).

He worked with Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma and one of the most conservative in the chamber, to establish a public database to examine government spending after Hurricane Katrina.

But for the most part, he stuck to party lines; there were few examples of the kind of bipartisan work he advocates in his current campaign.

He disappointed some Democrats by not taking a more prominent role opposing the war — he voted against a troop withdrawal proposal by Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin in June 2006, arguing that a firm date for withdrawal would hamstring diplomats and military commanders in the field.
Page 3 of 3)

His most important accomplishment was his push for ethics reform. Party leaders named him their point person in 2006, and when the Democrats assumed the majority in Congress in January 2007, Mr. Obama and Mr. Feingold, a longtime Democratic proponent of ethics reform, proposed curtailing meals and gifts from lobbyists, restricting the use of corporate planes and requiring lobbyists who bundle donations to disclose individual donors.

Mr. Obama’s determination not to back down, Mr. Feingold said, “struck me as an example of someone showing real guts.”

Of course, he added, “He was not any freshman. He was Barack Obama.”

To others, though, the mismatch between Mr. Obama’s outside profile and his inside accomplishments wore thin. While some senators spent hours in closed-door meetings over immigration reform in early 2007, he dropped in only occasionally, prompting complaints that he was something of a dilettante.

He joined a bipartisan group, which included Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and Mr. Kennedy, that agreed to stick to a final compromise bill even though it was sure to face challenges from interest groups on both sides. Yet when the measure reached the floor, Mr. Obama distanced himself from the compromise, advocating changes sought by labor groups. The bill collapsed.

To some in the bipartisan coalition, Mr. Obama’s move showed an unwillingness to take a tough stand.

“He folded like a cheap suit,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, a close ally of Mr. McCain. “What it showed me is you are not an agent of change. Because to really change things in this place you have to get beat up now and then.”

Laying the Groundwork

Early on in his tenure in Washington, Mr. Obama began meeting every few months over late-night pizza with a handful of classmates from Harvard Law School and a couple of senior advisers to discuss his future. Being a 2008 presidential candidate, participants said, never came up. The only race mentioned was for Illinois governor in 2010 — the year Mr. Obama’s Senate term ended — but the group decided to put off considering the idea until at least his fourth year in the Senate.

Mr. Obama chose Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 to step into a more prominent role, speaking to his party’s caucus about the importance of using the disaster to focus the party’s efforts toward ending poverty.

The next February, he appeared on several Sunday shows in a row. “People are getting tired of me already,” he said in an interview.

In fact, outside Washington, people were clamoring for more. He was received like a returning hero in Africa in August 2006. On a book tour two months later, crowds mobbed him, and people urged him to run for president.

During the midterm elections that year, Mr. Obama was his party’s most sought-after campaigner — he helped raised nearly $1 million online in a matter of days that spring for Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the institution’s senior member.

His appearances on the trail helped lay the groundwork for a possible presidential campaign. He earned the good will of some Democrats who have now endorsed him. And most campaign events required tickets, so his staff members collected names and addresses of potential supporters.

Finally, Mr. Obama did what he had done when he first arrived in the Senate, quietly consulting those who knew the institution well — Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Daschle — for advice on whether to run.

They told him that these chances come along rarely. His celebrity was undeniable. And yes, he was green, but that also meant he did not have the burden of a long record.

“For somebody to come in with none of that history is a real advantage,” Mr. Daschle said. “I told him that he has a window to do this. He should never count on that window staying open.”
27703  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: March 09, 2008, 08:12:29 AM
Written with a NY Times agenda, but still worth the reading.

After a Fight to Survive, One to Succeed
They came to New York as “displaced persons” in the early 1950s, Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust. Today, in film and story, such survivors are treated with a kind of awe, and their arrival in America is considered a happy ending. But a very different picture, with an oddly contemporary twist, emerges from the yellowing pages of social service records now being rescued from oblivion at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan.

The files, from a major Jewish resettlement agency that handled tens of thousands of cases, show that many of these refugees walked a gantlet of resistance and distrust: disapproval of their lack of English and need for health care, threats of deportation, and agency rules shaped by a suspicion of freeloading.

An unschooled 19-year-old hoping for an education was scolded for dreaming and sent to work in a factory. A newlywed couple who arrived with four pieces of baggage, “mostly books,” were soon forced to choose whether the husband would keep his job or keep the Jewish Sabbath. An ailing, jobless father of three, facing immigration laws that called for deportation of those who sought public aid, told his caseworker, as her notes put it, that “he was more concerned and more disturbed now than he had ever been in the Warsaw Ghetto.”

Between the lines of these and other case files, chosen at random from the first boxes to arrive at the center for archival preservation, the stubborn resilience of many refugees shines through. Today we know that as a group, over time, they did exceptionally well in America. But in the files, the uncertainty of each case resonates across six decades, and poses a haunting question: What became of these people?

Tracking down the answer can provide more than a bittersweet coda to dusty documents. It can suddenly allow the past to speak to the present.

Take that 19-year-old, whose name was Hersch Wanderer, later Americanized to Harry. He was sent to work in a buckle factory and had to drop out of night school. But reached recently at his winter home in Boca Raton, Fla., Mr. Wanderer, 77, said he had done well enough in business to start two scholarships in New York, “for young people to have the chance that no one gave me.”

It will take two to three years for center archivists to process the hundreds of thousands of records being retrieved from scattered warehouses of the resettlement agency, the New York Association for New Americans, including documentation that spans later refugee migrations. Carl J. Rheins, executive director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, a partner of the center, called the trove one of the most significant additions to the archives in 30 years, and said he was eager to make it available to researchers, students and family members.

“This is an important chapter in American immigration history,” he said. “It’s got to figure in the dialogue about immigration, about keeping the doors of this country open.”

The doors were virtually shut in the 1920s, with highly restrictive quotas that held firm through World War II despite appeals for people fleeing fascism. At the war’s end, polls showed that as many as 72 percent of Americans disapproved of President Harry S. Truman’s proposal to allow more European refugees to come to the United States, largely based on fears of unemployment.

Patchwork legislation eventually allowed for admission of almost half a million displaced persons, as they were called, by 1951. But a cold-war climate also led to increasingly severe measures to exclude, deport and even revoke the citizenship of those who fell short of desired self-sufficiency, morality or political orthodoxy, according to Aristide R. Zolberg, a leading historian of immigration policy.

The files reflect that mood. In one, caseworkers worried that an unmarried young woman whose family had perished in the death camps could be excluded for “moral turpitude.” She was arriving with a 3-year-old child, the son of an American serviceman who had abandoned her when she was six months pregnant.

In another case, a young family was cut off from agency assistance two months after their arrival, for failing to disclose a “secret bank account” containing $138 in loans from friends. The wife, a survivor of three years in a German concentration camp and four years of exile in Russia, had found it hard to live within the agency’s $47 monthly allowance, the file said, because she “never accepts the fact that she just can’t buy as much food as she wants to give to her child.”

Many of the files reflect the families’ fear of deportation if they had to seek public aid or health care. The father of three who had survived day to day in the Warsaw Ghetto, for example, was distraught when the agency cut off aid and told him to apply for welfare in May 1952, a year after the family arrived. Even the agency was uncertain how welfare might affect their future under a pending immigration bill.

“In leaving me today he was quite disturbed and fearful,” the caseworker wrote of the father, a 46-year-old former printer with a dislocated arm, who had been studying English, taking a course in making picture frames, and hunting for night work.

His wife, 10 years younger, worked as a dressmaker at first, but had to stop because of an unplanned pregnancy and complications. The couple had even considered placing the baby for adoption, but could not bear to do it, the caseworker reported.

“He felt that the family needed money immediately,” but that in applying for welfare “he would be besmirching his children’s names,” the file said. “As he talked about this, he moved quickly to a feeling of desperation and wondered whether he would ever be able to be successful.”

An effort to trace that family for this article failed, and under the rules of access to the records, their names cannot be published without their permission. But a file about the family of Lajosh and Alice Pauker, who entered the United States in 1960, led to their two children. Mr. Pauker sought the agency’s help in November 1961, when his wife, an Auschwitz survivor from Hungary, broke down at her factory job in Brooklyn and was taken to a hospital psychiatric ward.

“He had been told to take his wife out of Kings County Hospital immediately, as otherwise she would be deported,” wrote the agency caseworker, unable to deny or confirm what Mr. Pauker had heard from friends. “He firmly believes that her ‘nervous condition’ is the result of her concentration camp experience.”

Instead of asking about that experience, however, the caseworker focused on documenting every penny of the family’s finances. The only help the agency provided was paying for the mother’s psychotherapy and tranquilizers. The father, an itinerant repairman of soda-water chargers, was later chided for not reporting the few dollars that his young son earned fixing bicycles after school. And when his daughter graduated from high school with honors, she had to give up on college to help support the family.

“I’m grateful for what they did, but basically, they were not looking at the overall picture,” said the son, Peter Pauker, now 59, an advertising consultant in Manhattan.

Atina Grossman, a historian at Cooper Union who has written about the displaced-persons camps of postwar Germany, said attitudes reflected in the case files were widespread at the time, shaped in part by pre-Depression ideas about pauperism, and by a mix of pity and contempt for the “D.P.’s,” as they were widely known.

“Nobody is thinking, ‘Oh, amazing, survivors,’ ” Professor Grossman said. “At worst they are human debris, quote-unquote; at best they are unfortunate victims who have to be resocialized. There’s this big concern on the part of the social workers that they are creating a dependent class.”

Walter Ruby, a spokesman for the resettlement agency, said the social workers showed the refugees compassion within the limits of the system. “ ‘America doesn’t take care of you’ — that was what they were telling these people,” he said.

The paradox, Professor Grossman said, was that as a group, displaced persons were very self-reliant.

The newlywed couple offer a striking example. In January 1954, a caseworker suggested they “readjust their thinking” about observing Sabbath at sundown on Fridays if the husband, an engineer, wanted to stay in his profession. The husband wanted to respect the strong religious feeling of his young bride, the file noted, but his boss would not permit a change in work schedule.

The couple, now 80 and 77 and living in Manhattan, have not forgotten the choice they confronted in a new marriage and a new land. But considering what they had overcome, they said it hardly fazed them.

The husband, Mark Kanal, started work at age 11, and was the only one in his family to survive Auschwitz. When he tried to return to his hometown after the liberation, he said, he narrowly escaped lynching by Polish anti-Semites.

So, like many others, he crossed borders illegally to get to American-occupied Germany. Determined to go to college, he used his cigarette allotment from a United Nations refugee organization to pay for tutoring from unemployed professors, and made it into the polytechnic institute in Munich. There he met his wife, Rachel, who had spent the war in Siberia.

“To come to a democratic country like America and not be able to practice your religion there the way you feel you should didn’t feel right to me,” Mrs. Kanal said. Her husband agreed. So he gave up his first American engineering job — and went on to a career as an aerospace engineer, eventually working on NASA’s moon and space shuttle programs.

“This is the real America,” he said recently, recalling how Sputnik ended the gentlemen’s agreements that in his experience had kept Jews out of high technology. “You want to do it, you know you can do it — go, see what you can do.”

Today’s immigration debate often contrasts the achievements of such legal immigrants with the burdens imposed by illegal border-crossers. But that distinction does not seem so clear to people like Harry Wanderer and his older sister, Helen.

In 1951, a caseworker dismissed Harry’s interest in a yeshiva education as “unreal,” and told him “he was expecting the agency to operate as an affluent parent on whom he could lean for support.” She did not know that he was a young child when the Nazis invaded his hometown in Poland, that he had dug potatoes in Siberia to help his family survive, cleaned toilets in a Czech prisoner of war camp for two cigarettes a day that he could trade for bread, and smuggled himself across several borders to reach a D.P. camp — the portal to emigration.

“We were all smuggled across borders,” said his sister, who was 26 when they arrived in New York, and is now a retired Hebrew teacher of 83. “We had to go someplace. America seemed good. And they let us in!”
27704  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action on: March 07, 2008, 12:43:18 PM
My stomach was torn open... so I tucked my shirt in and kept shooting: Amazing stories of the selfless heroes of Afghanistan

They all made a pact before they went to war.

Whatever happened to them in Afghanistan no one - dead or alive - would be left behind.  One night in Helmand Province, that pledge was put to the test.  In a terrifying split second, the close-knit group from one of the Army's most battle-scarred units came under fire from a hail of Taliban bullets and rocket-powered grenades.  Four men were hit and several others temporarily blinded by phosphorus. Their screams of pain cut through the darkness as the ambushed platoon was pinned down by gunfire from two sides.  But the men of 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment knew precisely what they had to do.

And today the extraordinary heroism which allowed the young soldiers to keep to their pledge at any cost can be revealed as they are awarded some of the highest military honours.  The men repeatedly braved enemy fire to rescue their injured and fatally wounded comrades from the hands of the Taliban.  Private Luke Cole, 22, carried on fighting after half his thigh bone was blown away.  When another bullet ripped open his stomach, he simply tucked his shirt in tighter "to hold everything in" - and carried on keeping the enemy at bay until back-up arrived.  Sergeant Craig Brelsford, 25, continued to command his men long after he was critically wounded - and right up to the moment he died.  In a singularly selfless act, he ran to put his body between the enemy and his wounded comrades.  It protected them from Taliban gunfire, but cost him his life.  And the 25-year-old platoon commander, Lieutenant Simon Cupples, led a rescue party into the killing zone to carry the injured to safety and recover the dead - again and again and again.

Their astonishing courage - and that of scores of other British servicemen and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq - is marked today with a raft of 184 awards.  They include the biggest batch of medals since fighting began in Afghanistan nearly seven years ago - a reflection not just of the ferocity of the conflict, but of the conspicuous bravery of British troops.  The ambush near the frontline town of Garmsir underlined the extreme danger that troops face daily in what has turned into a bloody and difficult war. 
It played out into a six-hour pitched battle as both sides poured in reinforcements. But true to the pact, Lt Cupples and his men refused to withdraw until the bodies of two fallen comrades were recovered.

Telling their families back home that no one knew what happened to them, he decided, was "simply not an option".  His valour and dedication is recognised with the award of a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross - the highest bravery medal after the Victoria Cross.

Yesterday he told the remarkable story of that night last September.

The young officer, now a captain, recalled how his men were advancing under cover of darkness when they came under devastating fire from a Taliban trench just 20 yards away, and then from other enemy positions.

"I could tell we had taken serious casualties." he said. "There was screaming from the men around me. Because we were so close to the enemy it was very difficult to withdraw and regroup, but we couldn't leave the casualties.  It was asking a lot for the blokes to run forward into enemy fire like that.  But they did it because their mates were out there. When you live and serve with your men like that it creates a very special bond. You would do anything for those guys. That's what drove the soldiers forward."

Captain Cupples, from Derbyshire, who married his sweetheart, Louise, shortly before deploying to Afghanistan, is due to return with his unit next year.  Also involved in the September firefight was Private Cole, from Wolverhampton, who is awarded the Military Cross.  A Taliban bullet smashed into his right thigh in the first few seconds of the battle, shattering five inches of bone. As he tried to crawl to safety he was shot through the stomach and left hip.  Not realising how badly hurt he was, he managed to drag himself to a badly-wounded friend and give first aid - saving his life - before grabbing his rifle and firing almost 200 rounds at enemy positions to help cover the withdrawal.

"The pain didn't hit me at the time," he said. "I thought it was a flesh wound. But I looked down and it was a mess, to be honest. I knew it was serious but I thought, 'This can't be the way I go out'. So I carried on.  I could see muzzle flashes of the enemy weapons in a ditch behind some trees so I kept shooting and gave my mate first aid when I could.  Then I got shot again. I looked at my stomach and it was cut open, so I tucked my shirt in to keep it together and kept on firing until more lads from the platoon arrived.  I only realised how bad it was when they finally dragged me off into cover."

Medics dug out the bullet from his thigh and he now keeps it in his bedroom at home. Sergeant Brelsford, from Nottingham, who was only days away from his 26th birthday when he died, is also remembered with a posthumous Military Cross.

He was described as "an extremely professional soldier" who demonstrated calm leadership under pressure and "incredible bravery in the face of the enemy". He was killed as he led his men through heavy fire in a successful operation to bring back the body of Private Johan Botha.

General David Richards, formerly Britain's top commander in Afghanistan, congratulated the decorated soldiers at a ceremony yesterday.

"It doesn't surprise me that there is such a haul of medals," he said. "It is the toughest fighting we have seen since Korea half a century ago ... a reflection of the tenacity of our soldiers, and of the enemy.  All these men fully deserve their recognition, but we should remember it is always representative of many others who also showed immense bravery."

Staff Sergeant James Wadsworth

Staff Sergeant James Wadsworth of the Royal Logistics Corps successfully defused the largest roadside bomb ever found in southern Iraq - while his fellow-soldiers fought a gun battle against local insurgents trying to overrun the site.  He is today awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his 'extraordinary, selfless courage.'  The massive bomb containing around 120lb of explosives was spotted buried beneath a pavement opposite a hospital in the centre of Basra last July, ready to flatten the area and cause untold carnage when a British convoy passed.

Staff Sgt Wadsworth, 29, from Cambridge, said: "Normally you would spend three or four hours dealing with a device like that but we were under fire in the city centre. The greatest danger is spending time on the ground. I made it safe in 27 minutes. We only realised how big it was when we came to move it.

"I remember it was 55 degrees in the shade. Our unit was so busy we hadn't slept for days.  I haven't really told my wife about what I did. You just get on with the job."

Lance Corporal Donald Campbell

Lance Corporal Donald Campbell, of the Royal Corps of Engineers is awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for driving an unarmoured and unprotected vehicle into an enemy killing zone "whilst under very intense, accurate fire for a considerable amount of time" - to help bridge a water-filled ditch which was holding up an advance in Helmand Province.

The 26-year-old from the Scottish island of Benbecula, moved his 'front loader' vehicle towards the enemy, offering a huge and vulnerable target, then climbed out of the cab to undo straps so that he could drop a 'fascine' - a huge bundle of pipes - into the ditch allowing armoured vehicles to cross.  He refused to seek cover even when bullets, rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire shattered the windows of the cab and badly damaged the vehicle, missing him by inches.

He said: "My folks are really happy about the award, but I don't think they quite appreciate what the medal means yet."

Private Paul Willmott

Private Paul Willmott, 21, receives the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for taking command of his unit during a battle when his sergeant was shot dead in Afghanistan last year. The young private from the Mercian Regiment watched as a Taliban sniper killed Lance Corporal Paul Sandford near the town of Gereshk, leaving the unit leaderless.  Although other soldiers were more senior he assumed command, laying down suppressing fire as they withdrew, and then stayed to drag his fallen comrade's body to safety. 
Two weeks later he suffered severe head injuries from a rocket propelled grenade, but insisted on returning to his unit after a week of treatment rather than flying home to Britain.

"We were undermanned," he said. "We were down to 13 blokes in our platoon and needed every soldier available, so I asked to go back."

Captain Ruth Earl

Captain Ruth Earl is awarded an MBE for her dogged determination to keep British troops' vehicles and equipment fit for battle, commanding a dusty workshop in the deserts of Afghanistan. The 34-year-old Cambridge science graduate, who was a part-time TA reservist before joining up as a regular officer in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, spent six months working 18-hour days in the 'brutal summer heat' of Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, according to her citation.  She commanded 150 men tasked with keeping essential weapons and combat vehicles in working order in the punishing surroundings of the Afghan desert.

"Despite her junior years and experience, she sustained operations in this theatre in a way that few others could match," the citation reads.

Yesterday married officer from Stoke-on-Trent said she was left 'speechless' by news of her award.
27705  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 07, 2008, 12:35:42 PM
Pardon Me?

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe isn't mincing words about what he thinks of Hillary Clinton's attacks on his candidate's ethics. "Sen. Clinton is the most secretive politician in America today. This has been a pattern throughout her career of the lack of disclosure," he told reporters this week.

Some backup for Mr. Plouffe's statement arrived yesterday when it was revealed that archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are declining to release material on just how President Clinton issued dozens of suspect pardons in the final hours of his administration in 2001, including the infamous pardon of Marc Rich, the fugitive commodities trader convicted of tax evasion and selling oil to Iran in violation of a U.S. embargo.

The archivists acted according to guidelines set down by Mr. Clinton. All told, some 1,500 pages of documents are being redacted or kept secret, including 300 pages on the pardon selection process, including reports on why the Clinton Justice Department opposed certain pardons. Mr. Clinton pardoned two men who each paid Hugh Rodham, Hillary Clinton's brother, some $200,000 to lobby the White House in search of a pardon. One was sought for a drug dealer and another for someone convicted of mail fraud and perjury. Mr. Clinton denied knowing anything about the payments before making his decisions.

While the decision to withhold the pardon materials was made by Clinton library archivists, who work for the federal government, Mr. Clinton had the right to review their decision and have the documents released. But Bruce Lindsey, his former deputy White House counsel, declined to examine them, which means they will remain under lock and key for the duration of this presidential campaign. How convenient.

-- John Fund
Mr. Old School on Mr. New School

Willie Brown is one of the most successful minority politicians in America. A full quarter-century ago he became the first African American to lead the California Assembly as its Speaker. He was only forced out of that job in 1995 by term limits. He went on to be elected to two terms as San Francisco mayor.

Mr. Brown is now making the rounds promoting his autobiography, "Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times." At a recent appearance near California's state capital of Sacramento, he opined on the historic presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. Mr. Brown confessed that his own political antennae suffered a short when it came to Mr. Obama. He recalled being asked to help Mr. Obama when he first ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. "I figured nobody with a name like that's going to get elected to anything," he ruefully noted.

As for the Illinois senator's current success seeking the Democratic nomination, Mr. Brown ascribed it to two factors. Mr. Obama "does not frighten white people" and thus can secure votes from a broad cross-section of Americans. Secondly, while Mr. Obama "does absolutely nothing to address a black agenda, he gets the same support from African Americans that you get if you're Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson -- because we have such great race pride."

Mr. Brown said in admiration that "this guy is absolutely operating in hog heaven without having to do anything for it, and if he can keep it up he may be president." Yet in a comment that foreshadowed this week's defeats in Texas and Ohio, Mr. Brown also warned that November is still a long way off and Mr. Obama's winning streak might not last forever.

-- John Fund
Al Gore's Favorite Cause?

Al Gore was famous for saying there was "no controlling legal authority" over his murkier fundraising activities for the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1996. Now, just as he's being touted as a power broker in the Democratic presidential race, inconvenient questions are being raised about his activities in the private sector.

In January,'s Kevin Kelleher perused the SEC filing for a planned IPO by Mr. Gore's company, Current Media, which purchased a profitable international cable news channel in 2004, transforming it into a cutting-edge, interactive -- and money-losing -- multimedia experience. The company now hopes to raise $100 million by selling stock to the public. Says Mr. Kelleher, "...reading the company's filing, you can't help feeling that it's going public now largely because it's close to running out of cash."

Of course, it's possible to believe that Mr. Gore's new direction and unique leadership will lead to large profits in the future. That is, if Mr. Gore even plans to stick around. Another critic, Ron Grover of BusinessWeek, notes: "In fact, Gore doesn't even have a contract. Six months down the road -- at the end of a lock-up for him to sell his stock -- he could bolt altogether." He adds: "I like Al Gore -- his politics, his steadfast defense of a cleaner environment.... But I am totally bewildered by what possessed a good man to make a bad decision like this IPO."

Al Gore has leveraged his political standing into personal wealth more shrewdly than any former vice president in history. He won an Oscar and Nobel Prize for promoting belief in a pending climate catastrophe, then took a high-paying position with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, whose investments in alternative energy stand to benefit richly from Congressional mandates and subsidies to combat climate change. Mr. Gore makes his money by putting his name on things, not by running companies. Let’s hope no investor is so foolish as to think otherwise.

-- James Freeman
Pondering the Meaning of Jumbuck, Billabong and Obama

Who says conservatives don't have fun? More than 1,000 policy wonks gathered Wednesday evening in a Washington hotel for the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute. They pursued their favorite activity -- talking politics -- over cocktails, a four-course dinner, and the swing sounds of the Eric Felten Orchestra.

But first a singalong: "Waltzing Matilda" -- all eight beguiling verses -- in honor of the evening's special guest, John Howard, who recently stepped down after 12 transforming years as prime minister of Australia. No translation was provided, so it's unclear how many of the bejeweled and tuxedoed assembly grasped the meaning of such Aussie-isms as "jumbuck," "tucker bag," "billabong" and "swagman."

But no matter. The meaning of Mr. Howard's remarks was abundantly clear. This was his first public address since he left office last year after his center-right Liberal Party lost to the Labor Party, and his speech was the former PM's effort to set the record straight about his achievements. These included a soaring economy and landmark reforms in taxation, welfare policy, labor law, deregulation and education, as well as a boost in defense spending and the deployment of troops to Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

But it was his comments on the U.S.-Australian alliance that drew the crowd's warmest applause. Mr. Howard told the story of the first time he met President Bush -- at the White House on September 10, 2001. In the following 24 hours, he said, "the world was turned on its head" and he realized it was "not a time for the United States to have 80-percent allies. This was a time for the United States to have 100-percent allies."

Before and after the speech, conversation turned to John McCain's conservative credentials and George W. Bush's legacy. Opinions varied, to put it politely. And it was noted that Mr. Howard was ousted in November by an antiwar candidate who promised "change."

-- Melanie Kirkpatrick
Quote of the Day

"Arnold Schwarzenegger, secretary of homeland security. Or, perhaps, ambassador to the United Nations. Hey, you heard it here first. As he locks up the GOP nod, John McCain and his deputies are talking boldly this week about redrawing the electoral map into one where California lights up red on Nov. 4 for the first time in 20 years. The Golden State's 55 electoral votes falling into the GOP column would pose a virtually insurmountable challenge to Democrats, no matter who wins that party's nod.... [T]here is one way for McCain to make the Golden State a red state, or at least give it an honest shot. And he's just sitting there in Sacramento, waiting to be asked" -- National Journal columnist John Mercurio.

Bogus Caucus

Is any further evidence needed to show that party primaries are superior to caucuses? It's been over three days since Texas Democrats wrapped up the caucuses designed to parcel out one-third of their state's delegates. But a mere 41% of the caucus sites have reported their results, raising the prospect of massive confusion, possible fraud and lawsuits over whatever results finally trickle in.

Unlike the Texas primary vote, which Hillary Clinton won by four points, the caucus results point to a good showing for Barack Obama, who has 56% of the results that have been released.

But no one knows what the final caucus count will be because, amazingly, the 8,247 precinct officials who ran the caucuses are not required to phone in the results. "Texas is a large state, and this is a voluntary call-in system," says Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto. The official rules only require precinct officials to mail in their vote count. How 19th Century.

Indeed, the caucus system seems an anachronism in a time when voters can get instant information and easily vote by absentee or early ballot if they can't make it to the polls on Election Day. Caucuses this year have too often resulted in confusion and controversy. Nevada's caucuses degenerated into lawsuits and competing claims of voter fraud. In New Mexico's caucuses last month, voting was so chaotic that the results were not known for nine days.

Caucuses also discriminate against voters who can't show up at a specific time and place on Election Day, resulting in vastly lower turnout than a primary. And they tend to be manipulated by political insiders who have the patience to sit in hot rooms on uncomfortable chairs as party officials spend hours going through caucus procedures. The end result can be dramatically different from what a primary would produce as evidenced by the Texas results (or at least whatever portion of those results we currently have).

27706  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: March 07, 2008, 09:06:27 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Ukraine's NATO About-face
March 7, 2008
Ukraine made a radical policy adjustment on Thursday by essentially ending its bid for NATO membership. The move, which would have been unthinkable as recently as a month ago, probably resulted from external forces, namely Russia. Ukraine’s abrupt departure from its long-standing bid indicates the ominous involvement of Moscow. In its effort to maintain its security buffer, Russia probably employed its FSB security services.

Related Special Topic Pages
The Russian Resurgence
Russian Energy and Foreign Policy
States possess numerous tools to cause another state to change tack. These include economic leverage, political influence and/or military pressure.

Economic tools can include fostering closer integration, raising or lowering barriers to trade, embargoing another country, threatening to undermine a country’s financial stability by mass sales of its currency, or by simply shelling out cash. In the case of Ukraine –- and by extension, Western Europe –- Russia frequently has employed natural gas cutoffs.

Political tools are varied, and focus on finding political weak spots for later manipulation. The options include promoting closer integration among citizens with a common heritage found in both of the countries in question. These ties can then be manipulated later. For example, one country can threaten to intervene in the other to protect an allied ethnic group from alleged discrimination. Russia could employ this tactic in relation to ethnic Russians living in Ukraine.

Military tools to influence another state’s behavior include the threat of invasion, conspicuously aiming weapons — anything from artillery to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)— at the other country, or providing military assistance to the government or the opposition groups in the other country. Russia’s Feb. 12 threat to aim ICBMs at foreign forces that might deploy in Ukraine falls in this category.

The 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s subsequent loss of influence in its near abroad and in the West laid the foundation for Russia’s current geopolitical trajectory. Russia’s resurgence under President Vladimir Putin has involved a strong effort to regain the influence, respect and national security it believes it is due. Moscow’s desire is especially keen given previous Russian humiliations — particularly those suffered by the government of the late Boris Yeltsin, when the West encroached on what Russia perceives as its prerogatives. Russia, however, lacks many of the tools the Soviet Union had at its disposal for compelling other countries’ behavior. This complicates Putin’s effort to satisfy the Russian geopolitical imperative of establishing hegemony in its near abroad.

The Russian resurgence took a potentially fatal hit over Kosovo’s Feb. 18 secession from Serbia. This was an issue of minor importance to the United States and most Western European countries, but a major threat to Russia’s effort to demonstrate its return to major power status. For Russia and Putin to survive the Kosovo insult, retribution elsewhere in the Russian near abroad was expected — namely in the Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states.

Ukraine’s dramatic about-face on NATO comes in the context of Kosovar independence. Ukraine’s pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko — who came to power in his country’s 2004 Orange Revolution — was clamoring as recently as a month ago for NATO membership, despite a lukewarm reception from the alliance. Rumor has it that Yushchenko’s sudden change at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels occurred after the Russian president literally ordered him to withdraw Ukraine’s NATO bid, probably reminding him of the aforementioned Russian economic leverage over Ukraine.

Putin likely did not rely on economic coercion alone, however, and we can assume the FSB helped change Ukraine’s mind on NATO. The FSB is quite good at pressuring individuals using threats, intimidation, enticements and even sophisticated assassinations. Yushchenko knows the capabilities of the secret service underworld well, having barely survived a poisoning while seeking office in 2004.

Russia and the FSB probably decided that bringing the existing Ukrainian leadership in line would be easier than introducing a new leadership, allowing Moscow to avoid the pitfalls of Ukrainian politics. Given the lukewarm reception to Ukraine’s membership bid, Kiev could simply have let its application fall by the wayside. Instead, it made an active policy reversal. Compelling Yushenko’s U-turn on Ukraine’s NATO bid thus represents a significant Russian achievement, one that others — particularly Georgia — will observe closely.
27707  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton: Representation, mutual checks on: March 07, 2008, 08:55:49 AM
"The great desiderata are a free representation and mutual
checks. When these are obtained, all our apprehensions of the
extent of powers are unjust and imaginary."

-- Alexander Hamilton (Speech to the New York Ratifying Convention,
June 1788)

Reference: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Cabot Lodge,
ed., II, 60.
27708  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan on: March 07, 2008, 08:32:23 AM
Over the Top
March 7, 2008
An overview:

From the first voting in Iowa on Jan. 3 she had to prove that Clintons Are Magic. She wound up losing 11 in a row. Meaning Clintons aren't magic. He had to take her out in New Hampshire, on Super Tuesday or Junior Tuesday. He didn't. Meaning Obama isn't magic.

Two nonmagical beings are left.

What the Democrats lost this week was the chance to paint the '08 campaign as a brilliant Napoleonic twinning of strategy and tactics that left history awed. What they have instead is a ticket to Verdun. Trench warfare, and the daily, wearying life of the soldier under siege. The mud, the cold, the dank water rotting the boots, all of it punctuated by mad cries of "Over the top," bayonets fixed.

M.E. Cohen 
Do I understate? Not according to the bitter officers debating doomed strategy back in HQ. More on that in a minute.

This is slightly good for John McCain. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama hemorrhage money, exhaust themselves, bloody each other. He holds barbecues for the press and gets rid of a White House appearance in which the incumbent offers his dread embrace. Do it now, they'll forget by the summer. The president does not understand how unpopular he is and after a year on the trail with the faithful neither does Mr. McCain. Mr. Bush confided to a friend a few months ago, as he predicted a Giuliani win, that he'll eventually come out and campaign for the nominee big time. Talk about throwing the drowning man an anvil.

But it is not good for Mr. McCain that when he officially won this week it barely made page three. The lightning is on the Democratic side. Everything else seems old, like something that happened a year ago that you forgot to notice.

How did Hillary come back? Her own staff doesn't know. They fight over it because if they don't know how she carried Ohio and Texas they can't repeat the strategy.

So they figure backward. She won on Tuesday and did the following things in the weeks before, so . . . it was the kitchen-sink strategy. Or Hispanic outreach. Or the 3 a.m. ad. (The amazing thing was not that they lifted the concept from Walter Mondale's '84 run, but that the answer to the question "Who are you safer with?" was, The Woman. Not that people really view Hillary as a woman, but still: That would not have been the answer even 20 years ago.)

Did she come back because Mr. Obama's speech got a little boring? Was he coasting and playing it safe? Or was it that he didn't hit her hard enough? "He hasn't been able to find a way to be tough with a woman opponent," they say on TV. But that's not it, or is only half the truth. The other half is that it has long been agreed in the Democratic Party that one must not, one cannot, ever, refer to the long caravan of scandals that have followed the Clintons for 15 years. "We don't speak of the Clintons that way."

But why not? Everyone else does. Yes, the Obama sages will respond, that's the point: Everyone knows about cattle futures, etc. Everyone knows that if you Yahoo "Clintons" and "scandals" you get 4,430,000 hits.

But what if they do need to be reminded? What if they need to be told exactly what Mr. Obama means when he speaks of the tired old ways of Washington?

But voicing the facts would violate party politesse. So he loses the No. 1 case against her. But by losing the No. 1 case, he loses the No. 2 case: that she is the most divisive figure in the country, and that this is true because people have reason to view her as dark, dissembling, thuggish.

* * *

One Obama supporter on apparently didn't get the memo. That is the great threat to the Clintons, the number of young and independent Democrats who haven't received the memo about how Democrats speak of the Clintons. Writer Mark Q. Sawyer: "If Obama won't hit back, I will. Why aren't we talking about impeachment, Whitewater and Osama?"

What do I think is the biggest reason Mrs. Clinton came back? She kept her own spirits up to the point of denial and worked it, hard, every day. She is hardy, resilient, tough. She is a train on a track, an Iron Horse. But we must not become carried away with generosity. The very qualities that impress us are the qualities that will make her a painful president. She does not care what you think, she will have what she wants, she will not do the feints, pivots and backoffs that presidents must. She is neither nimble nor agile, and she knows best. She will wear a great nation down.

In any case the Clinton campaign, which has always been more vicious than clever, this week did a very clever thing. They pre-empted any criticism of past scandals by pushing a Democratic Party button called . . . the Monica story. Mr. Obama is "imitating Ken Starr" by speaking of Mrs. Clinton's record, said Howard Wolfson. But Ken Starr documented malfeasance. Mr. Obama can't even mention it.

* * *

Back to Verdun. There a bitter officer corps debated a strategy of pointless carnage—so many deaths, so little seized terrain, all of it barren. In a bark-stripping piece of reportage in the Washington Post, Peter Baker and Anne Kornblut captured "a combustible environment" in Hillary Headquarters. They cannot agree on what to do, or even what has been done in the past. And the dialogue. Blank you. Blank you! No blank you, you blank. Blank all of you. It's like David Mamet rewritten by Joe Pesci.

These are the things that make life worth living.

As for the Clinton surrogates, they are unappealing when winning. My favorite is named Kiki. When Hillary is losing, Kiki is valiant and persevering on the talk shows, and in a way that appeals to one's sympathies. "Go, Kiki!" I want to say as she parries with Tucker. But when Hillary is winning they're all awful, including Kiki. By memory, from Tucker, this week: Q: Why won't Hillary release her tax returns? A: It's February. Taxes are due April 15, are your taxes done? Q: No, no, we're talking past years, returns that have already been prepared. A: Are your taxes done? Mine aren't.

Wicked Kiki! This is my great fear, in a second Clinton era: four, eight years of wicked Kiki.

I end with a deadly, deadpan prediction from Christopher Hitchens. Hillary is the next president, he told radio's Hugh Hewitt, because, "there's something horrible and undefeatable about people who have no life except the worship of power . . . people who don't want the meeting to end, the people who just are unstoppable, who only have one focus, no humanity, no character, nothing but the worship of money and power. They win in the end."

It was like Claude Rains summing up the meaning of everything in the film "Lawrence of Arabia": "One of them's mad and the other is wholly unscrupulous." It's the moment when you realize you just heard the truth, the meaning underlying all the drama. "They win in the end." Gave me a shudder.
27709  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Earmarks on: March 07, 2008, 08:23:43 AM

Earmark Nation
March 7, 2008; Page A14
Newly minted presidential nominee John McCain stepped into the Rose Garden this week to receive President Bush's blessing. What the cameras didn't catch were pork-addicted congressional Republicans blowing raspberries from their offices.

With all the talk about how Mr. McCain needs to unify his party, lost has been the question of whether some people will let him. Washington Republicans know he's their best shot at retaining the White House. Yet many remain ambivalent about him -- not because they question his conservatism, but out of resentment that he may get in the way of their earmarks.

This has resulted in a behind-the-scenes brawl, as spend-happy Republicans resist efforts by wiser heads to fall in behind Mr. McCain's anti-earmark message. At best, the spenders risk an embarrassing pummeling by their own nominee that could hurt them in their own re-election campaigns. At worst, they could undercut one of Mr. McCain's more persuasive messages.

They shouldn't count on Mr. McCain cutting them slack. He's always reveled in publicly humiliating pork-barrelers, including those in his party, and seems gleeful at the prospect of using his new podium to continue his crusade. He has no reason to back down now. Unorthodox as he's been on some conservative issues, on earmarks Mr. McCain has the full backing of an American public.

House Minority Leader John Boehner gets all this, and now believes there's more political mileage in thumping his opponents over pork than in retaining it for his party. He's spent the past two months pounding Democrats to agree to an earmark moratorium, even forcing a vote in a budget markup this week (not a single Democrat voted for it). The affair has left Speaker Nancy Pelosi red-faced, as she and her team struggle to justify the very pork they promised to rein in during the 2006 election campaign.

It's been embarrassing enough that even some in her party are refusing to hold ranks. California's Henry Waxman, a powerful committee chairman, recently intoned that "Congressional spending through earmarks was out of control" and announced he'd ask for none himself this year.

This sort of success has helped inspire some doubtful Republicans. At the recent House Republican retreat, several previous worshippers at the earmark church announced they were switching religions. Discussions have started between the McCain camp and the House GOP about areas on which to unify messages. Earmarks is a hot topic, putting spenders on the defensive.

The problem is the Senate, where Republicans have left House colleagues to twist in the wind. Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran, ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, brought home more pork than any other member of Congress -- some $837 million.

The Senate GOP leadership is no better, with former Whip Trent Lott finishing his last year in office with a $311 million haul. Driving this is the old philosophy that bacon is necessary to win elections. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is already running re-election ads in Kentucky boasting about the $200 million he secured for universities, as well as a hefty buyout he secured for his state's tobacco farmers.

The leadership's sop to reform has instead been an earmark "working committee," tasked with developing a set of reforms. Its members? Mr. Cochran, of course. There's also Georgia's Johnny Isakson ($161 million in pork last year); Indiana's Richard Lugar ($131 million) and Idaho's Mike Crapo ($121 million). Mr. McConnell did agree to include earmark antagonist Tom Coburn from Oklahoma ($0), undoubtedly for cover. But the committee is rigged to cater to the lowest common denominator. A better indicator of how many Republicans intend to rally behind the nominee will be how many vote for next week's budget amendment -- sponsored by South Carolina's Jim DeMint and endorsed by Mr. McCain -- to impose a Senate earmark moratorium.

Don't expect many. Earmark reformers have quietly been pushing senators to get in line with the House, and more importantly with Mr. McCain. All they've encountered is pushback. Several have privately fought against greater transparency, much less a moratorium. "We're not going to back [McCain] on earmarks, or on climate change or on immigration," piped one senior GOP aide this week. You read that right: Earmarks now rank among the bedrock conservative principles.

What's left is the price they'll pay, and that's where Mr. McCain comes in. Senate Republicans are facing their most brutal election environment in decades, fighting to defend several dozen seats. Diverging from Mr. McCain on earmarks guarantees it will be a defining issue in their re-election races. Smart opponents will use the split against vulnerable incumbents. Republicans will have to explain why Mr. McCain is wrong to want to shutdown the earmark factory, and their answers will be tragicomic.

Republicans are already getting a taste of this. Alaska's Ted Stevens's re-election bid is mired in an ugly investigation into alleged earmark corruption. Mr. McConnell is getting hit by a liberal clean-government group that says he's a tool of special interests.

The pork-barrelers also risk diluting one of Mr. McCain's winning messages. Hillary Clinton has a miserable earmark record, which Mr. McCain has used to embarrass her over a funding request for a Woodstock museum. Mr. Obama likes to point to Senate work to increase earmark transparency. But he too has asked for plenty of money and refused to release information about his early earmark requests. Either Democrat will want to neutralize this issue.

One way to do it is to point out that even Mr. McCain's own colleagues don't think it's that big of a deal. They can pick up on the lame Republican justifications for all this and throw them back at him. They could point to it as an example of Mr. McCain's inability to unite his party.

Republicans have a choice. They can unite behind the feisty Mr. McCain, and take a position that is true to their small-government principles, popular with the public and a smart political move. Or they can hurt themselves, and possibly their nominee, by sticking with the lard.
27710  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: March 07, 2008, 08:17:40 AM
Irresolution on Iran
March 7, 2008; Page A14
The Bush Administration is hailing as a diplomatic triumph Monday's 14-0 Security Council resolution further sanctioning Iran for its nuclear programs. For its part, Tehran calls the U.N. action "worthless," and unfortunately the Iranians are closer to the mark.

For a resolution in the making for a year, it turns out to be an astonishingly hollow document. It adds a handful of names to the list of Iranians who are subject to travel bans and asset freezes. It calls on states to exercise "vigilance" in dealing with two Iranian banks -- Melli and Saderat -- implicated in Iran's nuclear programs, but falls short of sanctioning them. And it allows states to inspect Iranian-bound cargoes suspected of transporting prohibited items, but only if those cargoes are being moved by Iran's national air and shipping lines. Good luck enforcing that.

This is all the more remarkable given what the U.N.'s own inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are saying about Iran -- that is, the evidence on which the Security Council based its decision. In a report released late last month, the IAEA focuses on what it calls "alleged studies" Iran conducted on nuclear weapons development. For example, it notes Iranian studies of the "schematic layout of the contents of the inner cone of a re-entry vehicle," which the IAEA assesses "as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device."

Elsewhere, the report states that "during the meetings of 3-5 February 2008, the Agency made available documents for examination by Iran and provided additional technical information related to: the testing of high voltage detonator firing equipment; the development of an exploding bridgewire detonator (EBW); the simultaneous firing of multiple EBW detonators; and the identification of an explosive testing arrangement that involved the use of a 400 [meter] shaft and a firing capability remote from the shaft by a distance of 10 km, all of which the Agency believes would be relevant to nuclear weapon R&D."

Iran insists the documents are "fabricated," presumably by the Zionist conspiracy. Yet last week, IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen gave a technical briefing to IAEA member states in which he noted that the information on Iran "came from multiple member states and covered a wide range of activities," according to a U.S. official familiar with the briefing. The official added that Iran "was first confronted with questions on these weaponization activities in 2005, thus putting the lie to Iranian claims that it did not have sufficient time or opportunity to respond to the IAEA's inquiries."

Meanwhile, Iran continues to flout the Security Council's chief demand that it suspend its uranium enrichment program. The production of sufficient quantities of fissile material is one of three key components in any nuclear weapons program, a fact that was relegated to a footnote in December's U.S. National Intelligence Estimate claiming Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.

Nor did that NIE make any mention of Iran's ongoing ballistic missile programs, the second key component. Instead, its chief claim was that Iran had suspended work on weaponization, which by all expert accounts is the least challenging part of a nuclear-weapons program. The IAEA report does not make clear if its own information corroborates the NIE claim about the suspension of this work. But it is a fresh reminder that Iran almost certainly lied about its previous weapons work, and continues to lie today.

That alone ought to be reason for stepped up pressure on the Islamic Republic. Instead, the weakness of this week's resolution, though masked by the show of unanimity, demonstrates that the "international community" has reached the outer limit of what it is prepared to do to stop Iran from becoming the world's 10th nuclear-weapons state. There is no more juice to be squeezed out of this lemon.

It has now been nearly five years since the Bush Administration began pursuing a multilateral track on Iran, a course it has followed patiently nearly to the end of its term. That hasn't done much to assuage its usual critics, and it didn't prevent its own intelligence bureaucracy from torpedoing that diplomacy with the December NIE.

What it has done is give Iran vital time to develop its nuclear knowhow and technical skill, perhaps to a point of no return. For President Bush, whose signature promise has been that he would not allow the world's most dangerous weapons to fall into the hands of the most dangerous regimes, this is not a record to be proud of.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion
27711  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc on: March 06, 2008, 09:28:07 PM
(NaturalNews) The avian flu has undergone a critical mutation making it easier for the virus to infect humans, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

"We have identified a specific change that could make bird flu grow in the upper respiratory tract of humans," lead researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka said.

The H5N1 strain of influenza, also known as "bird flu," has decimated wild and domestic bird populations across the world since it emerged between 1999 and 2002. This highly virulent variety of the flu has been identified as a public health concern because in the past, varieties of influenza have mutated and crossed the species barrier to humans.

Since 2003, 329 humans have been confirmed infected with H5N1, with 201 fatalities. The vast majority of these worked closely with infected birds, such as in the poultry industry.

One of the primary things that keeps bird flu from infecting humans is that the virus has evolved to reproduce most effectively in the bodies of birds, which have an average body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Humans, in contrast, have an average body temperature of 98.6 degrees, with temperatures in the nose and throat even lower (91.4 degrees). This vast temperature difference makes it very difficult for the bird flu virus to survive and grow in the human body.

In the current study, researchers found that a strain of H5N1 has developed a mutation that allows it to thrive in these lower temperatures.

"The viruses that are circulating in Africa and Europe are the ones closest to becoming a human virus," Kawaoka said. But he pointed out that one mutation is not sufficient to turn H5N1 into a major threat to humans.

"Clearly there are more mutations that are needed. We don't know how many mutations are needed for them to become pandemic strains."

"We are rolling the dice with modern poultry farming practices," warned consumer health advocate Mike Adams, author of the book How to Beat the Bird Flu. "By raising chickens in enclosed spaces, treating them with antibiotics, and denying them access to fresh air, clean water and natural sunlight, we are creating optimal conditions for the breeding of highly infectious diseases that can quickly mutate into human pandemics," Adams said. "Given current poultry farming practices, it is only a matter of time before a highly virulent strain crosses the species barrier."
27712  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: 2-4 day DBMA Camp with Guro Crafty on: March 06, 2008, 09:12:32 PM
Woof Bruno:

Try this:

27713  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / James Madison: Free Markets on: March 06, 2008, 10:58:25 AM
"I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and
hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust,
oppressive and impolitic - it is also a truth, that if industry
and labour are left to take their own course, they will generally
be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and
this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the
most enlightened legislature could point out."

-- James Madison (speech to the Congress, 9 April 1789)
27714  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 05, 2008, 11:22:13 PM
I confess I don't see what is so terrible about raising the issue of BO's readiness to be CIC.  His resume is even thinner than Hillary's.  Maybe he should run an ad showing a 3AM phone call asking "Do you know where your husband is?"  cheesy

More seriously though, WTF is Hillary's "experience"?  After she got run over trying to nationalize health care, what did she do?  What substantive international experience did she have?  Would anyone talk of Nancy Reagan's or Lauara Bush's "experience"? 

What twaddle!
27715  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 05, 2008, 12:18:53 PM
Thief vs. Thief

The Clinton campaign was on the warpath last night against what it called attempts by Barack Obama's campaign to steal yesterday's primary elections.

In Ohio, Team Clinton claims that Obama attorneys cherry-picked black precincts in Cleveland in their effort to keep certain polling places open late due to bad weather and long lines. The evidence Mr. Obama presented to a local judge was scant at best, but the judge issued a hand-written note ordering some 21 precincts to stay open. Even Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner was unhappy with the maneuver, but she realized too late what was happening.

In Texas, Bill Clinton himself complained of reports of "canceled" caucuses and sign-in sheets for caucus attendees that were improperly collected before the start of last night's precinct conventions. (Sign-in sheets are only valid if signatures are collected after the caucus begins.) "Some people have been told apparently that there is going to be an effort to sign up in advance and slip the sheets in," the former president told reporters.

Indeed, the Clinton campaign went so far as to hold an 8:45 pm conference call for reporters last night in which Clinton staff members alleged that Obama supporters were locking Clinton voters out of some caucus locations. "It's truly an outrage," claimed Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. "It's really undemocratic."

Mr. Wolfson was interrupted during his complaint by Bob Bauer, the lead attorney for Barack Obama, who intervened in the media call to complain that the Clinton campaign was exhibiting a pattern of trying to restrict access to caucus elections.

"In Nevada, you filed a lawsuit in advance of the caucus.... In Iowa, you threatened various students," the Obama lawyer claimed. Mr. Wolfson dismissed the claims and ridiculed Mr. Bauer for his "vigorous defense of the indefensible" and said Team Clinton was looking "forward to asking our own questions" in future Obama conference calls to reporters.

It's fascinating to see Democrats, who normally deny the existence of voter fraud, choosing between two presidential candidates who hurl those charges against each other with abandon.

-- John Fund
Down and Dirty

Pundits and political reporters decry negative campaigns, but such campaigns can provide useful information about candidates. That's why they often work. Ask Hillary Clinton.

After weeks of dancing around and hesitating to attack Barack Obama directly, Mrs. Clinton challenged his fitness to be Commander in Chief with an ad depicting a 3:00 am. crisis in the White House. She also flooded Texas and Ohio with telephone calls claiming Mr. Obama had told voters he wanted to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal while telling Canadian diplomats that was mere rhetoric.

It worked. One out of five Texas Democrats said they waited to make up their minds until the last three days before the election. Mrs. Clinton carried this group by a stunning 23 points (61-38%). In Ohio, she carried late-deciders by a hefty 11 points.

Team Obama now says it expects an increasingly vigorous attack from Mrs. Clinton and her surrogates, playing up the current criminal trial in Chicago of Tony Rezko, who was once Mr. Obama's top fundraiser. Mrs. Clinton has demanded Mr. Obama answer questions about Mr. Rezko's role in a land deal that enabled the Illinois senator to buy his house. "The vetting of Obama has just begun.... If the primary contest ends prematurely and Obama is the nominee, Democrats may have a nominee who will be a lightning rod of controversy," wrote Clinton strategists Mark Penn and Harold Ickes in a memo to reporters this morning.

For its part, the Obama campaign is no less ready to return fire on Clinton ethics and finances, according to Obama strategist David Axelrod: "I've said before I don't know why they'd want to go there, but I guess that's where they'll take the race.''


-- John Fund

Quote of the Day I

"The first rule of politics is, 'Never count out the Clintons.' Their political conglomerate, Clinton Inc., is like Glenn Close in that bathtub scene in the movie 'Fatal Attraction.' It always comes back to life a second or third time" -- columnist Salena Zito, writing in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Quote of the Day II

"Just when you thought no one watched 'Saturday Night Live' anymore, the show made a star cameo on this year's trail. The Not Ready for Prime Time Players were brutally effective in exposing the fawning coverage of Obama. Never underestimate the power of shame in journalism. 'SNL's' mockery went straight to reporters' insecurities. Being accused of falling 'in the tank' for a candidate is the journalistic equivalent of a nerdish high school freshman getting a wedgie from the jocks. It is no coincidence that the past few days have seen reporters acting tough with stories about Obama's relationship with a Chicago influence-peddler, his sincerity in opposing NAFTA and his stiff-arming of questions from the press" -- Jim VandeHei and John Harris of, writing on the change in tenor of media coverage of Barack Obama.

The 'Superdelegate' Primary

The next big Democratic primary is April 22, when Pennsylvanians will head to the polls. But it increasingly looks like neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama can win enough pledged delegates to clinch the party's nomination before the convention this summer. The real contest now is the race for "superdelegates" -- the 795 prominent Democrats, mostly elected officials, who will enter the convention free to vote for whomever they choose.

In this battle, two trends are breaking for Barack Obama. The first is talk in Democratic circles of orchestrating a mass movement of superdelegates in favor of the Illinois senator. The idea is to create a dramatic signal that the party has settled on a nominee and is closing ranks behind him to prepare for a hard fought campaign against John McCain in the fall. If this mass movement occurs, Mrs. Clinton likely won't be able to wage a successful floor fight at the convention and, in any case, will suffer weeks of intense pressure to abandon her campaign in the name of uniting the party.

Team Clinton recognizes the danger. With last night's results sinking in, her supporters are pushing for superdelegates to preemptively commit themselves to Mrs. Clinton. Her Ohio victory, they argue, proves she’s the best candidate to win in key battleground states in the fall. They also point to exit polls suggesting she’s the best candidate to go head-to-head with John McCain on national security.

But another trend also favors Mr. Obama -- the intense pressure on black superdelegates, especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to line up behind him. One of those leading the push is James Rucker, a 36-year-old former software executive who entered politics in 2003 by going to work for Three years ago he launched his own group,, to pressure black elected officials. He says many black officeholders have become too cozy in power to serve the needs of the black community. His latest strategy has been to collect signatures from black voters aimed at shaming members of the Black Caucus into supporting Mr. Obama.

With 14,000 signatures in hand, Mr. Rucker's biggest success came late last month when Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and African-American leader, dropped his support for Mrs. Clinton and endorsed Mr. Obama. Mr. Lewis is an influential figure in the black community and his defection could yet force other superdelegates to follow his lead. Stay tuned. The superdelegate primary is far from over. Should Mrs. Clinton become the nominee, it has the potential to open a rift with black voters that could hobble the party in November.

27716  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela on: March 05, 2008, 10:12:19 AM
Venezuela is moving what its military commander calls 10 tactical battalions to the Colombian border, especially toward the Venezuelan states of Zulia, Tachira and Apure, El Universal reported March 5, citing Gen. Jesus Gregorio Gonzalez Gonzalez, chief of the armed forces’ strategic command. The battalions comprise equipment and personnel from the navy, air force and national guard. Gonzalez said about 90 percent of the units President Hugo Chavez requested March 3 had already been mobilized.

27717  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Its the dollar, stupid on: March 05, 2008, 09:03:16 AM
It's the Dollar, Stupid
March 5, 2008; Page A17

When the United States broke up the Bretton Woods international monetary system on Aug. 15, 1971, it marked the official end of an era when the dollar was literally "as good as gold." President Nixon's announcement -- that the U.S. would no longer permit foreign central banks to redeem U.S. dollars for gold at the established fixed rate -- shocked Japan and Europe, our main overseas trade partners.

It was the repudiation of a formal agreement hammered out some 27 years earlier at Bretton Woods, N.H., and signed by delegates from 29 participating nations. The whole purpose of the agreement -- which was initiated by the U.S. -- was to establish a stable, post-World War II monetary foundation so that free trade could flourish. Never again would nations shortsightedly cheapen their currencies to obtain an unfair advantage; the nightmare of economic warfare leading to military warfare would be ended.

Today, our trade partners are no longer shocked. They have come to expect domestically focused monetary policy from America. But they are deeply concerned by the demise of the once-dependable dollar and deeply impacted by the economic distortions caused by skewed exchange rates. They are, no doubt, deeply affronted by what they detect as the same cavalier attitude that decades earlier prompted Nixon's Treasury Secretary, John Connally, to quip to U.S. allies: "It may be our currency -- but it's your problem."

Has the U.S. forever given up on the dream of a rules-based monetary order for a global economy dedicated to free trade? Have we abandoned all sense of duty associated with providing the world's key reserve currency?

These days it's easy to forget that, during the Great Depression years leading to World War II, floating exchange rates were not considered the free-market approach to currencies. They were considered the antithesis of global monetary order. Whereas the international gold standard guaranteed a level playing field in the trade arena, facilitating market-based outcomes among well-intentioned competitors in an open global marketplace, a nation that devalued its money against gold -- i.e., floated its currency -- was considered to be cheating.

Monetary manipulation was akin to moving the goalposts, an attempt to increase exports of your country's goods by rendering them less expensive when calculated in foreign currencies. Other nations responded with protectionist tariffs on imported goods and tit-for-tat currency devaluations of their own, strangling international trade and worsening the downward economic spiral.

Historical perspective is critical to understanding where we are now -- and what our nation may be facing even as we evaluate leading presidential contenders.

Money meltdown is not some remote topic to be relegated to abstruse scholarly articles published by universities, think tanks, and global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. (Especially not the IMF, which long lost its mandate to preserve the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates.) The consequences of currency chaos affect the personal fortunes of millions of individual citizens; once unleashed, it can spawn social resentments and political upheavals that change the destiny of whole nations.

We need to ask Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain what they would do -- if anything -- to restore the integrity of the dollar as a meaningful unit of account, a reliable store of value. Would they put forward any new proposals for more comprehensive international monetary reform?

Given that Sen. Obama has garnered the support of Paul Volcker, the highly-respected former chairman of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Carter and Reagan, U.S. voters are apt to get a meaningful and well-considered reply. "I think we are skating on increasingly thin ice," Mr. Volcker noted in the Washington Post in April 2005. He warned that the stagflation of the 1970s was characterized by "a volatile and depressed dollar, inflationary pressures, a sudden increase in interest rates and a couple of big recessions." Mr. Volcker's solution? Act now to comply with "the oldest lesson of economic policy: a strong sense of monetary and fiscal discipline."

On the broader issue of global monetary reform, Mr. Volcker's ideas are less orthodox, more visionary. "My sense is that if we are to have a truly globalized economy, with free movement of goods, services and capital, a world currency makes sense," he stated in January 2000. "That would be a world in which the objectives of growth, economic efficiency and stability can best be reconciled."

Sen. McCain, for his part, suffers from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to economic advice.

One of his chief advisers is former Sen. Phil Gramm, a budget-balancing fiscal conservative with a Ph.D. in economics. Mr. Gramm is a disciple of the late Milton Friedman -- the Nobel laureate who furnished the academic rationale in the 1960s for ditching Bretton Woods and letting currencies float -- and might thus be expected to oppose any sweeping reforms to international monetary relations. Yet he has consistently emphasized the need "to refocus the IMF on its core mission of short-term lending to address financial and monetary instability." He considers protectionism "immoral."

Another McCain adviser, Jack Kemp, champions tax cuts and pro-growth policies over budgetary rigidity. A hero of the supply-side movement whose tireless efforts helped to bring about the Reagan boom of the 1980s, Mr. Kemp has never shied away from bold proposals.

Testifying before Congress in 1999, he criticized protectionist instincts that were misdirected at free and open trade "instead of the real source of the problem -- an international monetary arrangement of floating currencies in which no currency is linked to a stable anchor and all countries are tempted to use currency devaluation as an economic policy instrument during times of economic duress." Mr. Kemp's favored economic scholar is Robert Mundell, who received his Nobel for historical research on the operation of the gold standard and his theory of optimal currency areas. Considered the intellectual father of the euro, Mr. Mundell believes gold could be used as a reserve asset in a reformed international monetary system for the 21st century.

If the reality of a collapsing dollar and foreign exchange turmoil starts to bite consumers where they keep their pocketbooks -- for example, if the U.S. finds it necessary to raise interest rates to entice foreigners to buy the government bonds that finance our deficit -- the affects of currency misalignment could quickly move from the realm of dry treatises to the hyperactive world of live, televised political debate. Media consultants may grow apoplectic at the thought of having to reduce seemingly complex options into clever sound bites: Does the candidate advocate a new global monetary order linked to a universally-recognized reserve asset as a mechanism to guard against tinkering by self-serving governments? ("Gold: Money We Can Believe In.") Or is it possible to defend the existing, do-your-own-thing approach to currency relations, which undermines stable trade and capital flows at the expense of global prosperity? Meanwhile, foreign-exchange market specialists earn big profits by gambling -- some $3 trillion daily -- on where currencies might go next.

It's time the candidates devote less time on the minutiae of configuring the next economic stimulus package, or renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. They should be thinking about how they will confront the imminent global currency crisis.

It's the dollar, stupid.

Ms. Shelton, an economist, is author of "Money Meltdown" (Free Press, 1994).
27718  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams: The people's principles and virtue on: March 05, 2008, 07:22:35 AM

"A general dissolution of principles and manners will more
surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force
of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot
be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be
ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or
internal invader."

-- Samuel Adams (letter to James Warren, 12 February 1779)

Reference: The Writings of Samuel Adams, Cushing, ed., vol. 4 (124)
27719  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion on: March 04, 2008, 03:52:41 PM
Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion

BAGHDAD: After almost five years of war, many young Iraqis, exhausted by
constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they
have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith
that they preach.
In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a
pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and
middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have
narrowed their lives.
"I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day
and their instruction became heavy over us," said Sara Sami, a high school
student in Basra. "Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic
people control the authority because they don't deserve to be rulers."
Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern
Baghdad, said: "The religion men are liars. Young people don't believe them.
Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore."
The shift in Iraq runs counter to trends of rising religiousness among young
people across much of the Middle East, where religion has replaced
nationalism as a unifying ideology. While religious extremists are admired
by a number of young people in other parts of the Arab world, Iraq offers a
test case of what could happen when extremist theories are applied.
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Fingers caught smoking were broken. Long hair was cut and force-fed to its
owner. In that laboratory, disillusionment with Islamic leaders took hold.
It is far from clear whether the shift means a wholesale turn away from
religion. A tremendous piety still predominates in the private lives of
young Iraqis, and religious leaders, despite the increased skepticism, still
wield tremendous power. Measuring religiousness furthermore, is a tricky
business in Iraq, where access to cities and towns that are far from Baghdad
is limited.
But a shift seems to be registering, at least anecdotally, in the choices
some young Iraqis are making. Professors reported difficulty recruiting
graduate students for religion classes. Attendance at weekly prayers appears
to be down, even in areas where the violence has largely subsided, according
to worshipers and imams in Baghdad and Falluja. In two visits to the weekly
prayer session in Baghdad of the followers of Moktada al-Sadr last autumn,
vastly smaller crowds attended than had in 2004 or 2005.
Such patterns, if lasting, could lead to a weakening of the political power
of religious leaders in Iraq. In a nod to those changing tastes, political
parties are scrubbing overt references to religion.
"In the beginning, they gave their eyes and minds to the clerics, they
trusted them," said Abu Mahmoud, a moderate Sunni cleric in Baghdad, who now
works deprogramming religious extremists in American detention. "It's
painful to admit, but it's changed. People have lost too much. They say to
the clerics and the parties: You cost us this."
"When they behead someone, they say 'Allah Akbar,' they read Koranic verse,"
said a moderate Shiite sheik from Baghdad. "The young people, they think
that is Islam. So Islam is a failure, not only in the students' minds, but
also in the community."

A professor at Baghdad University's School of Law, who would identify
herself only as Bushra, said of her students: "They have changed their views
about religion. They started to hate religious men. They make jokes about
them because they feel disgusted by them."
That was not always the case. Saddam Hussein encouraged religion in Iraqi
society in his later years, building Sunni mosques and injecting more
religion into the public school curriculum, but always made sure it served
his authoritarian needs. Shiites, considered to be an alternate political
force and a threat to Hussein's power, were kept under close watch. Young
Shiites who worshiped were seen as political subversives and risked
attracting the attention of the police.
For that reason, the American invasion was sweetest to the Shiites, who for
the first time were able to worship freely. They soon became a potent
political force, as religious political leaders appealed to their shared and
painful past and their respect for the Shiite religious hierarchy.
"After 2003, you couldn't put your foot into the husseiniya, it was so
crowded with worshipers," said Sayeed Sabah, a Shiite religious leader from
Baghdad, referring to a Shiite place of prayer.
Religion had moved abruptly into the Shiite public space, but often in ways
that made educated, religious Iraqis uncomfortable. Militias were offering
Koran courses. Titles came cheaply. In Abu Mahmoud's neighborhood, a butcher
with no knowledge of Islam became the leader of a mosque.

A moderate Shiite cleric, Sheik Qasim, recalled watching in amazement as a
former student, who never earned more than mediocre marks, whizzed by
stalled traffic in a long convoy of sport utility vehicles in central
Baghdad. He had become a religious leader.
"I thought I would get out of the car, grab him and slap him!" said the
sheik. "These people don't deserve their positions."
An official for the Ministry of Education in Baghdad, a secular Shiite,
described the newfound faith like this: "It was like they wanted to put on a
new, stylish outfit."
Religious Sunnis, for their part, also experienced a heady swell in mosque
attendance, but soon became the hosts for groups of religious extremists,
foreign and Iraqi, who were preparing to fight the United States.
Zane Muhammad, a gangly 19-year-old with an earnest face, watched with
curiosity as the first Islamists in his Baghdad neighborhood came to
barbershops, tea parlors, and carpentry stores before taking over the
mosques. They were neither uneducated nor poor, he said, though they focused
on those who were. Then, one morning while waiting for a bus to school,
Muhammad watched a man walk up to a neighbor, a college professor whose sect
Muhammad did not know, shoot him at point-blank range three times and walk
back to his car as calmly "as if he was leaving a grocery store."

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"Nobody is thinking," Muhammad said in an interview in October. "We use our
minds just to know what to eat. This is something I am very sad about. We
hear things and just believe them."
By 2006, even those who had initially taken part in the violence were
growing weary. Haidar, a grade school dropout, was proud to tell his family
he was following a Shiite cleric in a fight against American soldiers in the
summer of 2004. Two years later, however, he found himself in the company of
Young militia members were abusing drugs. Gift mopeds had become gift guns.
In three years, he saw five killings, mostly of Sunnis, including that of a
Sunni cabdriver shot for his car.
It was just as bad, if not worse, for young Sunnis. Rubbed raw by Al Qaeda
in Mesopotamia, they found themselves stranded in neighborhoods that were
governed by seventh-century rules. During interviews with a dozen Sunni
teenage boys in a Baghdad detention facility on several sticky days in
September, several expressed relief at being in jail, so they could wear
shorts, a form of dress they would have been punished for in their
Some Iraqis argue that religious-based politics was much more about identity
than faith. When Shiites voted for religious parties in large numbers in an
election in 2005, it was more an effort to show their numbers, than a
victory of the religious over the secular.
"It was a fight to prove our existence," said a young Shiite journalist from
Sadr City. "We were embracing our existence, not religion."
The war dragged on, and young people from both sects became more broadly
involved. Criminals had begun using teenagers and younger boys to carry out
killings. The number of juveniles in American detention was up more than
sevenfold in November from April, and Iraq's main prison for youth, in
Baghdad, has triple the prewar population.
But while younger people were taking a more active role in the violence,
their motivation was less likely than adults to be religion-driven. Of the
900 juvenile detainees in American custody in November fewer than 10 percent
claimed to be fighting a holy war, according to the American military. About
one-third of adults said they were.
A worker in the American detention system said that by her estimate, only
about a third of the adult detainee population, which is overwhelmingly
Sunni, prayed.

"As a group, they are not religious," said Major General Douglas Stone, the
head of detainee operations for the military. "When we ask if they are doing
it for jihad, the answer is no."
Muath, a slender, 19-year-old Sunni with distant eyes and hollow cheeks, is
typical. He was selling mobile phone credits and plastic flowers, struggling
to keep his mother and five young siblings afloat, when a recruiter, a man
in his 30s, a regular customer, offered him cash in western Baghdad last
spring to be part of an insurgent group, whose motivations were a mix of
money and sectarian interests. Muath, the only wage earner, agreed. Suddenly
his family could afford to eat meat again, he said in an interview in

Indeed, at least part of the religious violence in Baghdad had money at its
heart. An officer at the Kadhamiya detention center, where Muath was being
held this autumn, said recordings of beheadings fetch much higher prices
than those of shooting executions in the CD markets, which explains why even
nonreligious kidnappers will behead hostages.
When Muath was arrested last year, the police found two hostages, Shiite
brothers, in a safe house that Muath revealed. Photographs showed the men
looking wide-eyed into the camera; dark welts covered their bodies.
Violent struggle against the United States was easy to romanticize at a
"I used to love Osama Bin Laden," proclaimed a 24-year-old Iraqi college
student. She was referring to how she felt before the war took hold in her
native Baghdad. The Sept. 11, 2001, strike at American supremacy was
satisfying, and the deaths, abstract.
Now, the student recites the familiar complaints: Her college has segregated
the security checks; guards told her to stop wearing a revealing skirt; she
covers her head for safety.
"Now I hate Islam," she said, sitting in her family's unadorned living room
in central Baghdad. "Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army are spreading hatred.
People are being killed for nothing."
Parents have taken new precautions to keep their children out of trouble.
Abu Tahsin, a Shiite from northern Baghdad, said that when his extended
family built a Shiite mosque, they purposely did not register it with the
religious authorities, even though it would have brought privileges, because
they did not want to become entangled with any of the main religious Shiite
groups that control Baghdad.

In Falluja, a Sunni city west of Baghdad that had been overrun by Al Qaeda,
Sheik Khalid al-Mahamedie, a moderate cleric, said that fathers now came
with their sons to mosques to meet the instructors of Koran courses.
Families used to worry most about their daughters in adolescence, but now,
the sheik said, they worry more about their sons.
"Before, parents warned their sons not to smoke or drink," said Muhammad Ali
al-Jumaili, a Falluja father with a 20-year-old son. "Now all their energy
is concentrated on not letting them be involved with terrorism."
Recruiters are relentless, and, as it turns out, clever, peddling things
their young targets need. Stone describes it as a sales pitch a pimp gives
to a prospective prostitute. American military officers at the American
detention center said it was the Al Qaeda detainees who were best prepared
for group sessions and asked the most questions.
A Qaeda recruiter approached Zane Muhammad, on a college campus with the
offer of English lessons. Though lessons had been a personal ambition of
Muhammad's for months, once he knew what the man was after, he politely
avoided him."When you talk with them, you find them very modern, very
smart," said Muhammad, a nonreligious Shiite, who recalled feigning disdain
for his own sect to avoid suspicion.
The population they focused on was poor and uneducated. About 60 percent of
the American adult detainee population is illiterate and is unable to even
read the Koran that religious recruiters are preaching.
That leads to strange twists. One young detainee, a client of Abu Mahmoud's,
was convinced he had to kill his parents when he was released, because they
were married in an insufficiently Islamic way.
There is a new favorite game in the lively household of the Baghdad
journalist. When they see a man with a turban on television, they crack
jokes. In one of them, people are warned not to give their cellphone numbers
to a religious man.

"If he knows the number, he'll steal the phone's credit," the journalist
said. "The sheiks are making a society of nonbelievers."
Kareem Hilmi, Ahmad Fadam and Qais Mizher contributed reporting.
27720  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / L. Tribe on: March 04, 2008, 12:52:24 PM
Sanity and the Second Amendment
March 4, 2008; Page A16

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument later this month in a politically charged gun-control case from the District of Columbia. The case involves a city resident who contends that the District is violating his rights under the Second Amendment with a citywide ban on handguns.

Gun enthusiasts on the right are all but daring justices who protect a woman's right to choose, nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, to trash the "right of the people to keep and bear arms," enshrined in the text of the Second Amendment. If the Supreme Court does what they fear and reduces the gun right to a relic of the days when all "able-bodied men" constituted each state's "militia," they will use that defeat to suggest that we need a president who will bring us a truly "conservative" Supreme Court.

Those on the left have at the same time challenged a court that they see as already leaning hard right to live up to its conservative principles, follow precedent, and limit the Second Amendment -- as the text of its preamble seems to invite -- to the preservation of each state's "well-regulated militia," ending once and for all the idea that the Constitution enshrines a personal right to wield firearms.

The court would be foolhardy to accept either side's invitation that it plunge headlong into the culture wars by accepting these extreme ways of framing the issue. It is true that some liberal scholars like me, having studied the text and history closely, have concluded, against our political instincts, that the Second Amendment protects more than a collective right to own and use guns in the service of state militias and national guard units. Opponents of the District's flat ban on handgun possession have cited my words to the court and in newspaper editorials in their support.

But nothing I have discovered or written supports an absolute right to possess the weapons of one's choice. The lower court's decision in this case -- the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found the District's ban on concealable handguns in a densely populated area to be unconstitutional -- went overboard. Under any plausible standard of review, a legislature's choice to limit the citizenry to rifles, shotguns and other weapons less likely to augment urban violence need not, and should not, be viewed as an unconstitutional abridgment of the right of the people to keep or bear arms.

For the Supreme Court to go any further than this in overturning the lower court's decision -- for it to hold, for instance, that no firearms ban could violate the Second Amendment unless it were to prevent states from organizing militias in their collective self-defense, as the District appears to urge -- would gratuitously fan the flames of doubt about the court's commitment to core constitutional principles, and would save no lives in the process.

Equally foolish would be a decision tilting to the other extreme and upholding the lower court's decision simply because the right to bear arms is, judicial precedent to the contrary notwithstanding, a right that belongs to citizens as individuals. Such a holding would confuse the right to bear arms with a right to own and brandish the firearms of one's choosing.

Worse than that, it would transform a constitutional provision clearly intended and designed to protect the people of the several states from an all-powerful national government into a restriction on the national government's uniquely powerful role as governor of the nation's capital, over which Congress, acting through municipal authorities of the District, exercises the same kind of plenary authority that it exercises over Fort Knox.

Using a case about national legislative power over gun-toting in the capital city as a vehicle for deciding how far Congress or the state of California can go in regulating guns in Los Angeles would be a silly stretch.

Chief Justice John Roberts, ever since his days as a judge on the court of appeals, has virtually defined judicial modesty by opining that if it is not necessary for the court to decide an issue, then it is necessary for the court not to decide that issue. For this reason, and for the further reason that the scholarship on the reach of the Second Amendment and its implementation is still in its infancy, the court should take the smallest feasible step in resolving the case before it.

Issuing a narrow decision would disappoint partisans on both sides and leave many questions unresolved. But to do anything else would ill-suit a court that flies the flag of judicial restraint.

Mr. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, is the author of the forthcoming book "The Invisible Constitution" (Oxford Press).
27721  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 04, 2008, 11:55:45 AM
Barack Obama demonstrated he can be just as testy as the next politician when uncomfortable issues come up. During a news conference in Texas yesterday, he clearly did not welcome inquiries about his former fundraiser Tony Rezko, who goes on trial this week in Chicago on charges he extorted contributions from companies seeking state business.

NBC's Aswini Anburajan reports that Mr. Obama cut off questions from Carol Marin, a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, after she pressed him on why he had not met with individual Chicago reporters who were knowledgeable on the Rezko scandal.

Mr. Obama repeated an earlier statement that his entering into a land deal with Mr. Rezko that helped the Illinois senator buy his new Chicago home in 2005 was "boneheaded," but maintained "there have been no allegations that I betrayed the public trust."

Another reporter asked Mr. Obama why he wouldn't release information about various fundraisers that Mr. Rezko had held for Mr. Obama and why details about their relationship continue to dribble out. Mr. Obama claimed he would provide more details but added: "What happens is these requests I think can go on forever, and, at some point, we've tried to respond to what's pertinent to the question that's been raised."

A short while later, Mr. Obama was asked about a meeting one of his aides held with Canadian officials over the Nafta trade treaty. At that point, Mr. Obama apparently lost patience with reporters, answered curtly and then walked out. As reporters shouted at him to stay, he yelled back: "Come on guys; I answered like eight questions. We're running late."

I suspect Mr. Obama will end up answering a lot more than eight questions before the Rezko trial is over, as more details of his relationship to the indicted fundraiser and Chicago’s Daley machine continue to tumble out.


-- John Fund
Last Call

If Hillary Clinton gets knocked out of the race today, she will have every reason to wonder if a few more days of campaigning might have produced a different outcome. Between the media's belated interest in the Rezko matter and the revealing Team Obama scheme to send different signals on Nafta to different audiences, Mrs. Clinton might finally be getting some traction with the question, "Who is this guy, anyway?"

After Mr. Obama's chief economic advisor was exposed for apparently telling the Canadian consulate that the candidate's statements on Nafta were just for show, the Canadian consulate began bending over backwards to apologize for any impression that Mr. Obama was back-channeling around voters. "We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect," the Canadians offered profusely.

It's certainly a political first to watch the Canadian government falling over itself to assure Americans that a U.S. presidential candidate really does have Canada's worst interests at heart. For her part, Sen. Clinton seized on the incident to say Mr. Obama was playing the old game of telling ordinary voters one thing while giving the "wink wink" to more sophisticated audiences. Unfortunately for her campaign, she came up short yesterday of embodying all the Obama doubts in a soundbite to help move the needle in the last hours before Ohio and Texas vote. Where's Bill Clinton, author of the "fairy-tale" zinger, when she needs him? Nor did she hit the ball out of the park with her comment to CBS's "60 Minutes" that Mr. Obama is not a Muslim "as far as I know."

Still, Mr. Obama's out-of-character assault on Nafta, which was clearly a calculated strategy to deal Mrs. Clinton a knockout punch in Ohio, may have backfired. Mrs. Clinton didn't play the controversy adroitly, but late polls nonetheless suggest movement in her direction. If she loses anyway, her wheeziness in crystallizing the case against her rival will be the sound of last-minute opportunity slipping through her fingers.


-- Collin Levy
Trouble in Hastertland

Republicans are nervous that they could lose a high-profile special election in Illinois today. A loss would be especially embarrassing because the district was vacated by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and should be Republican, having given President Bush 55% of the vote in 2004.

But a recent Democratic poll found physicist Bill Foster, the Democrat, with a narrow lead over GOP businessman Bill Oberweis. Republicans dismiss the poll and say their man is comfortably ahead. But national Democratic groups have seized on the apparent closeness of the contest and put out a TV commercial blasting Mr. Oberweis for saying he supported President Bush on "almost everything." The ad goes on to link the Republican to "Bush's scheme to privatize Social Security" and claims he supports "staying in Iraq" for another ten years.

Special elections often send signals about the national mood. In 1974, a series of special election losses proved to be a harbinger of the GOP rout in that fall's Watergate-dominated election. In 1994, Bill Clinton's unpopularity resulted in several Democratic defeats in special elections, which proved a good predictor of that fall's GOP takeover of Congress. A GOP defeat in the Chicago district where the last Republican House speaker won ten straight elections would be a devastating blow to conservative morale.


-- John Fund
The Party of Obama

Voters in Ohio and Texas could put an end to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign today. If they do, more than a few Democrats will breath a sigh of relief. At its core, Mr. Obama's candidacy forced a set of uncomfortable questions on Democrats: Will they live up to their rhetoric and support a liberal, black candidate running a positive campaign? Will Hispanics rally behind such a candidate? Or, alternatively, will deep fissures open up within the party that will take years to close up again?

So far, it appears those fissures are not materializing. James Aldrete, who handles much of the Hispanic outreach for the Obama campaign in Texas, including Spanish language ads, tells us he's seen a few surprising things on the campaign trail this year. The first came a year ago when some 20,000 people turned out to hear Mr. Obama speak in Austin, an early sign that the Illinois senator could appeal to large numbers of younger Hispanics. The second came more recently when Mr. Aldrete noticed a lot of new voters turning up in largely Hispanic areas of the state. Along the border, which is 90% Hispanic, early voting indicates that perhaps one-third of the votes cast are coming from individuals who haven't voted in the past three Texas Democratic primaries. In other Hispanic areas, the number is as high as one-half. That's a sign that turnout will be high this year and likely swelled by new Hispanic voters.

The split Mr. Aldrete sees is not along racial lines. "Tejanos," Hispanics who have been in Texas a long time, he told us, share many concerns with African-Americans, including health care, education and so on. If there is a split, it comes in the state's bigger cities -- Dallas, Houston -- and is between Hispanics who are foreign-born and those who were born in the U.S. The more Hispanic voters define themselves as "immigrants," it seems, the more they perceive a clash of interests between themselves and black voters. But Mr. Obama may be rapidly realigning the Democratic Party to put this traditional Hispanic-Black divide in the past.

-- Brendan Miniter

27722  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: March 04, 2008, 11:34:39 AM
Dmitri Medvedev started out with a bang on his first day on the job as Russian president-elect, with European leaders waking up on Monday to the news that Russia had cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine by 25 percent.

Of course, state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom — which Medvedev chairs — said the move had absolutely nothing to do with Europe, and that it was just part and parcel of the insufferable energy issues Gazprom has with Ukraine. But that explanation is unlikely to assuage the Europeans; they heard the same story from Moscow when a Russian natural gas cutoff turned out their lights in January 2006.

Related Special Topic Pages
Russian Energy and Foreign Policy
Gazprom’s Ascent
The Russian Resurgence
In Stratfor’s eyes, though this Russian power play was a long time coming, Russia’s timing could not have been more perfect. In Moscow’s eyes, European recognition of Kosovar independence despite vehement Russian objections represented both a threat to Russia’s regional prowess and an opportunity to reassert Moscow’s authority in the Russian periphery. From the Russian point of view, Europe had to be taught a hard lesson that would be felt where Russia holds the most leverage — namely, in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Ukraine and the Baltic states.

We already are seeing the Russian strategy take effect. Immediately following Kosovo’s declaration of independence, we saw flames in the Balkans as Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia began indicating they might follow the Kosovar precedent and secede to join a Greater Serbia. To the east, the Russian-sponsored Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia began mobilizing troops late last week, spelling trouble for the powder keg that is the Caucasus. On Monday, we saw the Ukrainians get a kick in the pants with Gazprom’s natural gas cutoff. And the Balkans, aware of what is likely heading their way, are simply trying to stay under the Russian radar. All these moves gradually are giving Medvedev the prestige he needs in his symbolic takeover of the Russian presidency.

The country to watch now is Germany. When the Russians turn the screws on Ukraine, the Germans feel the pain. In addition to having 30 percent of its natural gas supplies from Russia transit Ukraine, Germany must fulfill its role as the regional heavyweight capable of standing up to an aggressive Russia hovering to the east. But before Germany can deal with the Russians, it needs to get the European house in order — and that means dealing with the other European heavyweight, France.

France and Germany’s clashing views on Europe are coming to a head for the first time in decades. With France making preparations to take the EU presidency in four months, contentious issues ranging from French debt to immigration to a major French push for a Mediterranean Union now are rearing their heads, threatening the Franco-German harmony that binds the European Union. Fortunately for Moscow, this historic Paris-Berlin fault line has re-emerged just in time for the Russians to exploit.

With the Russians getting ready to rumble, the Germans don’t have time to quarrel with the French. The German priority now is to rally a united European front before it heads into negotiations with Russia, and this is exactly what German Chancellor Angela Merkel had on her mind when she sat down for a hastily arranged dinner with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday night. For now, it appears as if the Germans and the French have made up. Sarkozy and Merkel came out of their meeting with an ambiguous message that they had compromised on the Mediterranean Union project, probably shelving their issues for another day.

Right now, Merkel has bigger fish to fry in Moscow, where she will be traveling this weekend to meet with Medvedev (and though officially not on the agenda, with the real power player, Putin). The message she would like to deliver in Moscow is that Europe is rallying behind her to counter Russia’s payback plan over Kosovo. But the Russians aren’t easily fooled. There is more time for this game to play out, and the Russians appear to be pacing themselves carefully.

27723  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: March 04, 2008, 11:27:05 AM
Iran's Nuclear Threat
March 4, 2008; Page A17

The United Nations Security Council has passed another resolution concerning Iran because its nuclear program is an unacceptable threat. Iran's violations of Security Council resolutions not only continue, but are deepening. Instead of suspending its proliferation-sensitive activities as the council has required, Iran is dramatically expanding the number of operating centrifuges and developing a new generation of centrifuges, testing one of them with nuclear fuel.

Once again, Iran has not made the choice the world had hoped for; once again, the Security Council has no choice but to act. At stake is the security of a vital region of the world, and the credibility of the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as they seek to hold Iran to its nonproliferation commitments.

The latest report from the IAEA states that Iran has not met its obligation to fully disclose its past nuclear-weapons program. On the core issue of whether Iran's nuclear program is strictly peaceful, the report showed no serious progress.

The IAEA presented Iran with documents assembled over a period of years from multiple member states and the agency's own investigations. The documents detailed Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear warhead, including designs for a missile re-entry vehicle, and showed other possible undeclared activities with nuclear material.

Iran dismissed these documents as "baseless and fabricated." But the IAEA does not share that conclusion.

Instead of slogans and obfuscations, the international community needs answers from Iran. The international community must be able to believe Iran's declaration that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes. Iranian leaders must as a first step fully disclose past weapons-related work, and implement additional safeguards to ensure no continuing hidden activities. We agree with the IAEA that until Iran takes these steps, Iran's nuclear program cannot be verified as peaceful.

The latest IAEA report also states that Iran is not suspending its proliferation-sensitive activities.

For almost two years now, the Security Council has required Iran to suspend all of its enrichment-related, reprocessing, and heavy water-related activities. I want to ask the Iranian leaders, "If your goal is to generate nuclear power for peaceful purposes, why do you court increasing international isolation, economic pressure and more, all for a purported goal more easily and inexpensively obtained with the diplomatic solution we and others offer?"

I want the Iranian people and others around the world to know that the United States recognizes Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. They should know that the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany have offered to help Iran develop civil nuclear power, if it complies with the Security Council's demand -- a very reasonable demand -- to suspend enrichment. They should know that the package of incentives includes active international support to build state-of-the art light water power reactors, and reliable access to nuclear fuel.

Iran should do what other nations have done to eliminate any doubts that their nuclear program is peaceful. Many states have made the decision to abandon programs to produce a nuclear weapon. Two of them sit on the Security Council today: South Africa and Libya.

Other countries that have stepped away from past nuclear-weapon aspirations include Brazil, Argentina, Romania, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. These countries did not see their security diminished as a result of their decisions. Indeed, one could easily say their security has been enhanced. Nor did they lose their right to develop nuclear energy. We urge Iran to take the same path these other states have chosen.

The international community has good reason to be concerned about Iran's activities to acquire a nuclear-weapons capability. The present Iranian regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose a greater potential danger to the region and to the world.

The Iranian government has been a destabilizing force in the broader Middle East and beyond. Contrary to its statements, Iran has been funding and supporting terrorists and militants for operations in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. Their lethal assistance has harmed countless innocent civilians. The president of Iran has made many reprehensible statements -- embracing the objective of destroying a member state of the United Nations.

Because of all these factors, the international community cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. If Iran continues down its current path, it would likely fuel proliferation activities in the region, which, in turn, could cause the demise of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime itself.

The U.S. remains committed to a diplomatic solution. If Iran shares this commitment, it will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities and let diplomacy succeed. We call on Iran to engage in constructive negotiations over the future of its nuclear program. Such negotiations, if successful, would have profound benefits for Iran and the Iranian people.

The message from the U.S. to the people of Iran is that America respects you and your great country. We want Iran to be a full partner in the international community. And as President Bush has said, if Iran respects its international obligations, it will have no better friend than the United States of America.

Mr. Khalilzad is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
27724  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Education on: March 04, 2008, 10:44:10 AM
What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?
Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.
February 29, 2008; Page W1

Helsinki, Finland

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.

Finland's students are the brightest in the world, according to an international test. Teachers say extra playtime is one reason for the students' success. WSJ's Ellen Gamerman reports.
The Finns won attention with their performances in triennial tests sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by 30 countries that monitors social and economic trends. In the most recent test, which focused on science, Finland's students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland's combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD's test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch. About 400,000 students around the world answered multiple-choice questions and essays on the test that measured critical thinking and the application of knowledge. A typical subject: Discuss the artistic value of graffiti.

The academic prowess of Finland's students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country's secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. "We don't have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have," says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.

Visitors and teacher trainees can peek at how it's done from a viewing balcony perched over a classroom at the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, a city in central Finland. What they see is a relaxed, back-to-basics approach. The school, which is a model campus, has no sports teams, marching bands or prom.

Fanny Salo in class
Trailing 15-year-old Fanny Salo at Norssi gives a glimpse of the no-frills curriculum. Fanny is a bubbly ninth-grader who loves "Gossip Girl" books, the TV show "Desperate Housewives" and digging through the clothing racks at H&M stores with her friends.

Fanny earns straight A's, and with no gifted classes she sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up. She often helps lagging classmates. "It's fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class," Fanny says. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress.

At lunch, Fanny and her friends leave campus to buy salmiakki, a salty licorice. They return for physics, where class starts when everyone quiets down. Teachers and students address each other by first names. About the only classroom rules are no cellphones, no iPods and no hats.



Every three years, 15-year-olds in 57 countries around the world take a test called the Pisa exam, which measures proficiency in math, science and reading.
• The test: Two sections from the Pisa science test
• Chart: Recent scores for participating countries

Do you think any of these Finnish methods would work in U.S. schools? What would you change -- if anything -- about the U.S. school system, and the responsibilities that teachers, parents and students are given? Share your thoughts.Fanny's more rebellious classmates dye their blond hair black or sport pink dreadlocks. Others wear tank tops and stilettos to look tough in the chilly climate. Tanning lotions are popular in one clique. Teens sift by style, including "fruittari," or preppies; "hoppari," or hip-hop, or the confounding "fruittari-hoppari," which fuses both. Ask an obvious question and you may hear "KVG," short for "Check it on Google, you idiot." Heavy-metal fans listen to Nightwish, a Finnish band, and teens socialize online at

The Norssi School is run like a teaching hospital, with about 800 teacher trainees each year. Graduate students work with kids while instructors evaluate from the sidelines. Teachers must hold master's degrees, and the profession is highly competitive: More than 40 people may apply for a single job. Their salaries are similar to those of U.S. teachers, but they generally have more freedom.

Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says Mr. Schleicher, of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.

One explanation for the Finns' success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.

Ymmersta school principal Hannele Frantsi
Finland shares its language with no other country, and even the most popular English-language books are translated here long after they are first published. Many children struggled to read the last Harry Potter book in English because they feared they would hear about the ending before it arrived in Finnish. Movies and TV shows have Finnish subtitles instead of dubbing. One college student says she became a fast reader as a child because she was hooked on the 1990s show "Beverly Hills, 90210."

In November, a U.S. delegation visited, hoping to learn how Scandinavian educators used technology. Officials from the Education Department, the National Education Association and the American Association of School Librarians saw Finnish teachers with chalkboards instead of whiteboards, and lessons shown on overhead projectors instead of PowerPoint. Keith Krueger was less impressed by the technology than by the good teaching he saw. "You kind of wonder how could our country get to that?" says Mr. Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school technology officers that organized the trip.

Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn't translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: " 'Nah. So what'd you do last night?'" she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely "glue this to the poster for an hour," she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.

At the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, school principal Helena Muilu
Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.

Despite the apparent simplicity of Finnish education, it would be tough to replicate in the U.S. With a largely homogeneous population, teachers have few students who don't speak Finnish. In the U.S., about 8% of students are learning English, according to the Education Department. There are fewer disparities in education and income levels among Finns. Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school. (All 15-year-old students took the PISA test.) Finland has a high-school dropout rate of about 4% -- or 10% at vocational schools -- compared with roughly 25% in the U.S., according to their respective education departments.

Another difference is financial. Each school year, the U.S. spends an average of $8,700 per student, while the Finns spend $7,500. Finland's high-tax government provides roughly equal per-pupil funding, unlike the disparities between Beverly Hills public schools, for example, and schools in poorer districts. The gap between Finland's best- and worst-performing schools was the smallest of any country in the PISA testing. The U.S. ranks about average.

Finnish students have little angstata -- or teen angst -- about getting into the best university, and no worries about paying for it. College is free. There is competition for college based on academic specialties -- medical school, for instance. But even the best universities don't have the elite status of a Harvard.

Students at the Ymmersta School near Helsinki
Taking away the competition of getting into the "right schools" allows Finnish children to enjoy a less-pressured childhood. While many U.S. parents worry about enrolling their toddlers in academically oriented preschools, the Finns don't begin school until age 7, a year later than most U.S. first-graders.

Once school starts, the Finns are more self-reliant. While some U.S. parents fuss over accompanying their children to and from school, and arrange every play date and outing, young Finns do much more on their own. At the Ymmersta School in a nearby Helsinki suburb, some first-grade students trudge to school through a stand of evergreens in near darkness. At lunch, they pick out their own meals, which all schools give free, and carry the trays to lunch tables. There is no Internet filter in the school library. They can walk in their socks during class, but at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis.

The Finns enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, but they, too, worry about falling behind in the shifting global economy. They rely on electronics and telecommunications companies, such as Finnish cellphone giant Nokia, along with forest-products and mining industries for jobs. Some educators say Finland needs to fast-track its brightest students the way the U.S. does, with gifted programs aimed at producing more go-getters. Parents also are getting pushier about special attention for their children, says Tapio Erma, principal of the suburban Olari School. "We are more and more aware of American-style parents," he says.

Mr. Erma's school is a showcase campus. Last summer, at a conference in Peru, he spoke about adopting Finnish teaching methods. During a recent afternoon in one of his school's advanced math courses, a high-school boy fell asleep at his desk. The teacher didn't disturb him, instead calling on others. While napping in class isn't condoned, Mr. Erma says, "We just have to accept the fact that they're kids and they're learning how to live."

27725  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Our Founding Fathers: on: March 04, 2008, 10:24:29 AM
"What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?  The tree
of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of
patriots and tyrants.  It is its natural manure."

-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to William Stephens Smith, 1787)

Reference: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Memorial Edition),
Lipscomb and Bergh, eds., 6:373.
27726  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chavez's War Drums on: March 04, 2008, 09:17:49 AM
Chávez's 'War' Drums
March 4, 2008; Page A16
Colombia's military scored a major antiterror victory this weekend by killing the second in command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and 16 other FARC guerrillas. Venezuelan President and FARC ally Hugo Chávez has reacted by threatening war against Bogotá. But the real news is that the raid produced a laptop computer belonging to the expired comandante that reveals some of Mr. Chávez's secrets.

The raid that killed FARC big Raúl Reyes shocked the terrorists because it happened in Ecuador -- about a mile across the border from Colombia. The guerrillas are used to operating inside Colombia, only to escape to safe havens in Ecuador and Venezuela when Colombia's military is in hot pursuit. This time Colombian officers kept going, and for legitimate reasons of self-defense. (We doubt the U.S. would stop its troops at the border if terrorists were bombing sites in Texas from havens in Mexico.)

Mr. Chávez rushed to insist that Ecuador's sovereignty had been violated, even before Ecuador did. On his weekly television show on Sunday, the Venezuelan bully called the death of Reyes a "cowardly assassination" and observed a moment of silence. He closed the Venezuelan embassy in Bogotá, ordered 10 battalions with tanks to the Colombian border, and warned of war if the Colombian army staged a similar raid inside Venezuela.

Such a conventional war isn't likely. Colombia today has a superior military force, thanks in part to Mr. Chávez's purge of his own officer corp as a way to minimize risks of a coup d'etat against him. The war bluster is especially phony because Mr. Chavez is already waging his own guerrilla campaign against Colombia through his support for the FARC. The FARC's "foreign minister," Rodrigo Granda, was nabbed three years ago by bounty hunters in Caracas, where he was living comfortably, and a former Venezuelan military officer told us years ago that the army was instructed not to pursue the FARC in the Venezuelan jungle.

What may really have upset Mr. Chávez is the capture of Reyes's laptop. According to Colombia's top police official, General Oscar Naranjo, the computer contains evidence supporting the claim that the FARC is working with Mr. Chávez. General Naranjo said Monday that Reyes's laptop records showed that Venezuela may have paid $300 million to the FARC in exchange for its recent release of six civilian hostages. Mr. Chávez had spun those releases as a triumph of his personal mediation.

General Naranjo said the laptop also contains documents showing that the FARC was seeking to buy 50 kilos of uranium, and the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo has reported that the records revealed the sale of 700 kilograms of cocaine valued at $1.5 million. The general added that the military found a thank-you note from Mr. Chávez to the FARC for some $150,000 that the rebels had sent him when he was in prison for his attempted coup d'etat in 1992.

Ecuador, an ally of Mr. Chávez, was slow to express outrage at the Colombian raid but eventually came around. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that the rebels were "bombed and massacred as they slept, using precision technology." He is right about that -- which is why the FARC's friends are so angry.

27727  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Free Speech vs. Islamic Fascism (formerly Buy DANISH!!!) on: March 03, 2008, 05:36:29 PM
Sorry, no URL for this yet.

Fitzgerald: The Great Undoing

The Dutch government was today examining the legality of banning a film attacking Islam amid fears that it would fan sentiment against the Netherlands in Muslim countries. The Telegraaf newspaper reported that the coalition government was divided on the film, with the Christian Democrats leaning towards a ban but Labour favouring freedom of expression and calling on Muslim countries to prevent violence against the Netherlands. -- from this article

Fitzgerald: The Great Undoing

The Dutch government was today examining the legality of banning a film attacking Islam amid fears that it would fan sentiment against the Netherlands in Muslim countries. The Telegraaf newspaper reported that the coalition government was divided on the film, with the Christian Democrats leaning towards a ban but Labour favouring freedom of expression and calling on Muslim countries to prevent violence against the Netherlands. -- from this article

If the Netherlands bans the Geert Wilders film on the Qur’an, it will be one of the most important acts in the history of free speech. It will constitute an act of Great Undoing, in response to threats from maddened primitives, of the most important political right acquired, over time, by individuals in the Western world -- a right that, without which, all other rights are essentially meaningless.
This has to be understood. If the Netherlands, and if the countries of NATO (who are now involved), cannot permit, and will by fiat end, freedom of speech when it comes to perfectly legitimate criticism of Islam, then the civilization of the West will have suffered an immense blow. Not everyone will mind, or even notice. Some will tell themselves that this "right-wing" politician Wilders was looking to stir up trouble by criticising Islam. And if he was? Isn't it better that the "trouble" be stirred up now, while the West can still defend itself, especially within its own lands, but can do so only if it recognizes the meaning, and the menace of Islam and Jihad?
And others will say something like "oh, but there will be greater danger to Dutch troops" in Afghanistan. And still others will add, "yes, and even to the troops from the other NATO lands." And perhaps that is true. However, if it is true, perhaps it is NATO forces that should rethink their "mission" in Afghanistan, and what is achievable there. Perhaps NATO should rethink whether "helping" people who would eagerly kill them because of the refusal of the Western world to abandon freedom of speech in the case of a fifteen-minute film in the Netherlands, is really the wisest course of action. Perhaps NATO should consider what that tells us about the nature of the people in Afghanistan, or in any other Muslim state or society, whom we complacently or desperately assume are not our sworn enemies, are not hostile to the non-Muslims of the world. (For yes, that hostility can exist side-by-side with a desire to get from the West all the benefits that West clearly offers, including every sort of aid. It can even be present among people who decide to move to and settle within that same West. That is, even those who leave the misrule of Islam can continue to harbor that hostility to non-Muslims. Unlike refugees from the Nazis or the Communists or other examples of misrule, all too many of these immigrants bring with them, in their mental baggage, the very thing, Islam, whose effects, especially those of political despotism and economic paralysis, are what caused them to leave such hell-holes as, say, Somalia, or Pakistan, or the Maghreb, in the first place.
This suppression, by the Western world, of free speech, will have grave and long-lasting consequences. For if this movie is suppressed, one assumes that all other such movies will be suppressed. And the demands, by Muslims inside and outside of Europe for still more to be censored, including the written word, will only increase, with that well-known triumphalism that feeds each new demand, as Muslims demand more and more concessions to ensure that they will never feel offended, neither within their own lands, nor within the historic heart of the free and advanced West. For if they are offended, the consequences will be greater than what the West wishes to pay. It need not be soldiers in Afghanistan. It could be, say, a threat to blow up one of the Oxford colleges, or the Louvre, or the Alte Pinakothek, or the Uffizi or the Vatican. Oh, it could be any number of things. Do what we want, submit to our Diktat....or else!
The stand has to be taken now. Not later. Later will be too late.

Dutch government may ban Wilders' Qur'an film

Dhimmitude and fear. "Dutch government could ban anti-Islam film," from the Guardian (thanks to all who sent this in):
The Dutch government was today examining the legality of banning a film attacking Islam amid fears that it would fan sentiment against the Netherlands in Muslim countries. The Telegraaf newspaper reported that the coalition government was divided on the film, with the Christian Democrats leaning towards a ban but Labour favouring freedom of expression and calling on Muslim countries to prevent violence against the Netherlands.

Labour seems to have retained a modicum of sanity.
The 15-minute film, called Fitna - an Arabic term used in the Qur'an and sometimes translated as "strife" - was made by Geert Wilders, a rightwing politician who leads the nine-member PVV (Freedom) party. Wilders has argued that there is no such thing as moderate Islam, and has called for a ban of the Qur'an, which he compares to Hitler's Mein Kampf.
"The core of the problem is fascistic Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Muhammad as it is set out in the Islamic Mein Kampf: the Koran," he wrote in a comment piece for the Volksrant newspaper last year....

And the core of the problem is whether anything he says gives anyone else a license to destroy and kill, and whether Western governments should abet that mindset.
27728  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Education on: March 03, 2008, 05:29:05 PM
How dumb can we get?

It's bad enough that Americans are increasingly ignorant about science, art, history, and geography. What's frightening, says author Susan Jacoby, is that we're proud of it.

"The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble—in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism, and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ... and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.") Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science, and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.


First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper, and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book—fiction or nonfiction—over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing, and videogames.

Does all this matter? Technophiles pooh-pooh jeremiads about the end of print culture as the navel-gazing of (what else?) elitists. In his book Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their "vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen." But these zombie-like characteristics "are not signs of mental atrophy. They're signs of focus." Balderdash. The real question is what toddlers are screening out, not what they are focusing on, while they sit mesmerized by videos they have seen dozens of times.

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time—as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web—seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events. It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.

No wonder negative political ads work. "With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information," the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in The New Yorker. "A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching."

As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible—and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate—featuring the candidate's own voice—dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.


The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin."

This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning and complexity than today's public. According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic–Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."


That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism—a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.


There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a "change election," the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

Susan Jacoby's new book is The Age of American Unreason.
27729  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: March 03, 2008, 02:22:39 PM
February 29, 2008

In Today's Political Diary:

Can Hillary Sue Her Way to the Nomination?
Global Drop Out
Insult to McCain, Injury to Clinton (Quote of the Day I)
Will on Bill (Quote of the Day II)
John McCain and the Other Irish Miracle
Here Come the Lawyers

The Clinton campaign has a few surprises left. Yesterday, Texas Democratic Party officials warned that Team Clinton was threatening to sue to overturn the state's Byzantine system of selecting delegates in next Tuesday's primary. "Such action could prove to be a tragedy for a reinvigorated Democratic process," wrote Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the Texas Democratic Party.

Texas has 228 delegates at stake next Tuesday, but only 126 of them will be determined by voters going to the polls. Another 67 will be allocated based on the number of people who show up at low-turnout "caucuses" that begin at 8 p.m., after the regular polls close. The remaining 35 are "superdelegate" slots reserved for party officials.

Mr. Obama has used the caucus system -- which puts a premium on voter enthusiasm and campaign organization -- to his advantage in many states, prompting complaints from the Clinton camp. Sources told McClatchy News that Mrs. Clinton 's political director, Guy Cecil, had made it clear on a telephone call with Texas officials that she might go to court to stop the caucuses. What actually appears to be going on is a high-stakes game of chicken, in which the Clinton forces are seeking to stir up controversy and any kind of last-minute adjustment in the caucus rules that might give her a leg up. It's late in the day for rule changes, but that didn't stop Clinton allies from filing a lawsuit against the Nevada caucus organizers back in January. Her effort failed, but Mrs. Clinton was able to stir up sufficient voter interest to eke out a narrow victory over Mr. Obama.

-- John Fund

Obama vs. the World

Is Barack Obama climbing out so far on his campaign's left wing as to court a potential political crash as his party's nominee?

Mr. Obama used to make soothing, moderate noises on the economy, well aware that projecting an image as a wild-eyed populist could hurt him with independent voters in the fall. But in the heat of the Texas and Ohio primaries, he has thrown restraint aside and joined Hillary Clinton in a jihad against globalization.

Most infamously, Mr. Obama paired his endorsement by the anti-trade Teamsters Union with a pledge to block "open trucking" with Mexico, by which cargo vehicles can easily cross the border without transferring their shipments to U.S. trucks.

As for NAFTA, which has proven a boon to many border areas of Texas, Mr. Obama now claims that the agreement with Mexico cost "millions of jobs" and says he wants to renegotiate the treaty. On the outsourcing of U.S. jobs overseas, Mr. Obama has come up with a Rube Goldberg plan to levy lower corporate taxes on firms that become "patriot employers" and keep jobs in the U.S. "What he is effectively saying is that companies that offshore jobs are unpatriotic," economist Gary Hufbauer told the Financial Times. "This is serious language."

It may also be serious politics. John McCain advisers believe that Mr. Obama's "stop the world" rhetoric combined with his designation as the most liberal senator by the National Journal magazine give them an angle to appeal to business owners and workers in export industries. "The only Democrat to win the White House in the last generation was Bill Clinton, who was moderate on trade," says one McCain adviser. "If Obama wants to try trade extremism instead as a campaign tactic, that's a battlefield we will be happy to meet him on."

Advisers to Mr. McCain believe that Mr. Obama would present a juicy target as nominee. "We see him as a classic liberal whose proposals come straight out of the 1970s," says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, senior McCain adviser. "It is hard to understand his stance on trade. Access to the U.S. market is a vital element of our foreign policy."

-- John Fund

Quote of the Day I

"The irony of the [New York Times story about John McCain's alleged relationship with a female lobbyist] is that if it hurt anyone, it was [Hillary] Clinton. If she still had a chance of catching up with Obama, it was dependent upon her getting some traction on one of three criticisms of Obama. The first is the claim that Obama lifted lines from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's speeches (a valid argument). The second is that he was breaking his pledge to rely on federal matching funds and abide by spending limits in a general election. Finally, there was Michelle Obama's recent remarks about being proud of her country for the first time in her adult life. The Times story effectively ended any chance that these three attack lines would get any traction. Game, set and match" -- political handicapper Charlie Cook, writing in National Journal.

Quote of the Day II

"n the plodding political arguments within the flaccid liberal consensus of the post-World War II intelligentsia, conservatism's face was that of another Yale man, Robert Taft, somewhat dour, often sour, three-piece suits, wire-rim glasses. The word 'fun' did not spring to mind. The fun began when Bill [Buckley] picked up his clipboard, and conservatives' spirits, by bringing his distinctive brio and elan to political skirmishing.... Politics was not Bill's life -- he had many competing and compensating enthusiasms -- but it mattered to him, and he mattered to the course of political events" -- columnist George F. Will on the late William F. Buckley Jr.

The Irish in John McCain

The other day Paul Krugman of the New York Times once again attacked supply-side tax cutting ideas and snarled that "Reaganomics was oversold" and its successes were "shortlived." We won't fight that fight again, but it is interesting that for all their attacks against supply-side economics and all their prophesies that high tax rates don't hurt, the one thing economists and politicians on the left cannot explain is the Irish Economic Miracle.

In the 1970s and '80s Ireland had one of the highest percentage of its citizens on welfare or collecting unemployment benefits, and the country of four million people was losing population each year. An estimated one million Irish-born immigrants were living in America -- many of them illegal aliens, and many of them their country's best and brightest.

Starting in 1989, Ireland's politicians began cutting tax rates, and now its corporate tax rate is 12.5% -- by far the lowest in Europe. The highest personal income tax rate came down to 41% from 58%. In the following years, Ireland's growth rate soared to 8% per year, more than twice the U.S. growth rate and nearly three times Europe's. Ireland is now the continent's third-richest nation on a per capita basis. Over the last 18 years the nation's employment has increased by an astonishing 75%.

A key element of John McCain's platform is cutting taxes on corporate profits to 25% from 35% -- bringing America's corporate tax rate closer to the average of our European and Asian competitors. In selling his plan, Mr. McCain might talk not only about what Ireland has achieved, but what it means for U.S. competitiveness. An Intel executive confided recently that his company builds most of its new plants offshore because of the high U.S. tax on corporate profits. According to Barry O'Leary, head of the Investment and Development Agency of Ireland, a U.S.-based plant would have to grow profits by 45% a year "to achieve the same [after-tax] income available in Ireland. He adds: "Our tax cutting has made Ireland the highest growth nation in Europe over the last decade. We are importing firms and workers."

Meanwhile, Senators Clinton and Obama are peddling the idea that the U.S. can tax its ways to prosperity in the competitive global economy. If one of these two wins in November, Ireland is going to get richer than ever.

27730  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The Thin Blue Line on: March 03, 2008, 12:50:13 PM
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

As Stratfor has observed for some years now, the global response to the 9/11 attacks has resulted in the transformation of the jihadist threat. Whereas six and a half years ago, the threat came from “al Qaeda the organization,” today it emanates from “al Qaeda the movement.” In other words, jihadism has devolved into a broader global phenomenon loosely guided by the original al Qaeda core group’s theology and operational philosophy. We refer to the people involved in the widespread movement as grassroots operatives.

In analyzing this metamorphosis over the years, we have noted the strengths of the grassroots jihadist movement, such as the fact that this model, by its very nature, is difficult for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to quantify and combat. We also have said it has a broader operational and geographic reach than the core al Qaeda group, and we have discussed its weaknesses; mainly that this larger group of dispersed actors lacks the operational depth and expertise of the core group. This means the grassroots movement poses a wider, though less severe, threat — one that, to borrow an expression, is a mile wide and an inch deep. In the big picture, the movement does not pose the imminent strategic threat that the core al Qaeda group once did.

It is important to recognize that this metamorphosis has changed the operational profile of the actors plotting terrorist attacks. This change, in turn, has altered the way operatives are most likely to be encountered and identified by law enforcement and intelligence officials. As grassroots operatives become more important to the jihadist movement, local police departments will become an even more critical force in the effort to keep the United States safe from attacks. In short, local police serve as a critical line of defense against grassroots jihadists.

Grassroots Operatives
The operatives involved in the 9/11 attacks attended al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, received thousands of dollars from the group via wire transfers and were in regular contact with al Qaeda operational managers. Grassroots operatives have a different operational profile. While some grassroots operatives — such as Mohammed Siddique Khan, the ringleader of the July 7, 2005, London bombings — have had some degree of contact with the al Qaeda organization, others have had no discernable contact with the group. This lack of contact makes it difficult for law enforcement and intelligence officials to identify grassroots operatives because efforts to identify these militants have been designed to focus on such things as personal contact, travel, financial links and operational communication.

U.S. security agencies have made great efforts since 9/11 to recruit human intelligence sources within communities that are likely to harbor militants. Such sources are invaluable, but they can only report on what they observe within their limited areas of operation. It is simply impossible to recruit enough sources to cover every potential jihadist operative within a given city or even within a given neighborhood or large mosque. Human intelligence sources are scarce and valuable, and they must be used wisely and efficiently. Intelligence pertaining to militant activity and planned terrorist attacks is only obtained if a source has had an opportunity to develop a relationship of trust with the people involved in planning the attack. Such information is closely guarded, and, in most cases, a source must have an intimate relationship with the target to gain access to it. Such relationships take a large investment of a source’s time and efforts because they are not established quickly and cannot be established with too many individuals at any one time. This means that the people charged with recruiting and running human intelligence sources generally point them toward known or suspected militants — people who have been identified as having connections with known militant actors or groups. They cannot waste their limited resources on fishing expeditions.

Moreover, in places such as London, Houston and New York, there are so many individuals with some sort of link to Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda or another militant group that it is almost impossible to sort through them all. There is precious little intelligence or surveillance capacity left to focus on finding unknown individuals. The problem is that these unknown individuals many times are the ones involved in grassroots militant plots. For example, Khan came to the attention of British authorities during the course of an investigation that did not directly involve him. After briefly checking him out, however, authorities determined that he did not pose enough of a threat to warrant diverting resources from more pressing cases. Although that assessment proved to be wrong, it is not hard to understand how and why the British authorities reached their conclusion, given the circumstances confronting them at the time.

The strength of U.S. intelligence has long been its signals intelligence capability. The vast array of American terrestrial, airborne and space-based signals intelligence platforms can collect an unimaginable amount of data from a wide variety of sources. The utility of signals intelligence is limited, however; it does not work well when suspects practice careful operational security. In the case of grassroots operatives, escaping scrutiny can be as simple as not using certain buzzwords in their communications or not communicating with known members of militant groups.

In the end, most counterterrorism intelligence efforts have been designed to identify and track people with links to known militant groups, and in that regard, they are fairly effective. However, they are largely ineffective in identifying grassroots militants. This is understandable, given that operatives connected to groups such as Hezbollah have access to much better training and far greater resources than their grassroots counterparts. In general, militants linked to organizations pose a more severe threat than do most grassroots militants, and thus federal agencies focus much of their effort on countering the larger threat.

That said, grassroots groups can and do kill people. Although they tend to focus on softer targets than operatives connected to larger groups, some grassroots attacks have been quite successful. The London bombings, for example, killed 52 people and injured hundreds.

Grassroots Defenders
As we have said, grassroots militants pose a threat that is unlikely to be picked up by federal authorities unless the militants self-identify or make glaring operational security blunders. All things considered, however, most operational security blunders are far more likely to be picked up by an alert local cop than by an FBI agent. The primary reason for this is statistics. There are fewer than 13,000 FBI agents in the entire United States, and less than a quarter of them are dedicated to counterterrorism investigations. By comparison, the New York City Police Department alone has nearly 38,000 officers, including a counterterrorism division consisting of some 1,200 officers and analysts. Moreover, there are some 800,000 local and state police in other jurisdictions across the country. Granted, most of these cops are not dedicated to counterterrorism investigations, though a larger percentage of them are in a good position to encounter grassroots jihadists who make operational security errors or are in the process of committing crimes in advance of an attack, such as document fraud, illegally obtaining weapons and illegal fundraising activities.

Many terrorist plots have been thwarted and dangerous criminals captured by alert officers doing their jobs. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, for example, was not captured by some terrorism taskforce or elite FBI team; McVeigh was arrested shortly after the bombing by an Oklahoma state trooper who noticed McVeigh was driving his vehicle on Interstate 35 without a license plate. A large federal taskforce unsuccessfully hunted Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph for more than five years, but Rudolph ultimately was arrested by a rookie cop in Murphy, N.C., who found him dumpster diving for food behind a grocery store. Yu Kikumura, the Japanese Red Army’s master bombmaker, was arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1988 by an alert New Jersey state trooper. Additionally, Hezbollah’s multimillion-dollar cigarette smuggling network was uncovered when a sharp North Carolina sheriff’s deputy found the group’s activities suspicious and tipped off the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, thus launching the large “Operation Smokescreen” investigation.

Local traffic cops also have identified several potential grassroots jihadists. In August 2007, two Middle Eastern men stopped by a sheriff’s deputy for speeding near Goose Creek, S.C., were charged with possession of a destructive device. The deputy reported that the men’s behavior and their Florida license plates led him to believe they were involved in drug smuggling. A search of the car, however, turned up bombmaking materials rather than dope. Likewise, a traffic stop by a police officer in Alexandria, Va., in September 2001 led to an investigation that uncovered the Virginia Jihad Network. In that case, network member Randall Royer was found to have an AK-47-type rifle with 219 rounds of ammunition in the trunk of his car. However, at least one notorious militant was able to slip through a crack in the system. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, there was an outstanding bench warrant for the operation’s leader, Mohamed Atta, for failure to appear in court after driving without a license.

In July 2005, police in Torrance, Calif., thwarted a grassroots plot that came to light during an investigation of a string of armed robberies. After arresting one suspect, Levar Haney Washington, police searching his apartment uncovered material indicating that Washington was part of a militant jihadist group that was planning to attack a number of targets, including the El Al Israel Airlines ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport; synagogues in the Westside area of Los Angeles; California National Guard armories in western Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach and Torrance; and U.S. Army recruiting centers in Long Beach, Torrance and Harbor City.

Cases such as this highlight the fact that grassroots operatives are more likely to indulge in petty crimes such as credit card theft, cargo theft or armed robbery than they are to have telephone conversations with Osama bin Laden. When these operatives do commit such crimes, local cops — rather than the National Security Agency, FBI or CIA — have the first interaction with them. In fact, because of the lack of federal interaction, any records checks run on these individuals through the FBI or CIA most likely would turn up negative. Indeed, even Atta had no CIA 201 file until after Sept. 11, 2001. Therefore, it is important for local cops to trust their instincts and hunches, even if a suspect has no record.

Also, since jihadism is a radical Islamist concept, when we discuss fighting grassroots jihadists, we are talking about militant Islamists, including converts to Islam. With that in mind, there are certain crimes that, when perpetrated by Muslims, warrant thorough investigation. Most observant Muslims are excellent law-abiding citizens. However, it should be a red flag to law enforcement when an otherwise-observant Muslim is found engaging in document fraud or financial frauds such as bank fraud, credit card fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property, fencing stolen property, cigarette smuggling, selling pirated goods (such as software or designer handbags) or even dope smuggling. These crimes are especially significant if the perpetrator has made millions of dollars and yet still lives modestly, raising questions about where the proceeds from such crimes have gone. Obviously, not every Muslim who commits such crimes is a terrorist, but these crimes are an indication that further investigation is required. Of course, this follow-on investigation could prove difficult — getting leads run in Pakistan or Lebanon can be tough — but it can be successful if the officer has determination and the proper mindset. An officer with such a mindset will look at such crimes and consider whether they could have been perpetrated for some purpose beyond self-enrichment — such as terrorism.

Like in the cases of Operation Smokescreen and the Virginia Jihad Network, the instincts and observations of an experienced street cop can launch an investigation with far-reaching implications. This fact makes local cops a critical line of defense against grassroots operatives.
27731  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Venezuelan Troops to Col. border on: March 03, 2008, 11:16:14 AM
Venezuela: Chavez Asks for Troops at the Colombian Border
Stratfor Today » March 3, 2008 | 0019 GMT

Venezuelan President Hugo ChavezSummary
After Colombia’s cross-border raid into Ecuador on March 1 that resulted in the death of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s second-in-command, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned March 2 that if Colombia launched any such action on Venezuelan soil, it would be cause for war. Chavez then closed the Venezuelan Embassy in Bogota and ordered 10 battalions to the Venezuelan-Colombian border. The Venezuelan military is no match for Colombia’s larger, better-funded and more experienced forces.

Following a March 1 Colombian cross-border raid into Ecuador that resulted in the death of the No. 2 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on March 2 warned Bogota against launching any similar operation on Venezuelan soil. The same day, during his weekly radio address, Chavez announced that he would be closing the Venezuelan embassy in Bogota. He added that he had asked his defense minister to send 10 battalions — including tank battalions and military aviation — to the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

Venezuela’s armored formations (with tanks that include a smattering of old French AMX and British Scorpion designs) are based on the outskirts of Caracas, but an infantry brigade is based at San Cristobal near an important border crossing, and another at Maracaibo. Some tanks appear to be regularly stationed on the border. Unless this move has been premeditated, it would likely take several days — at the very least — to get an armored unit stationed outside Caracas spun up and on the road toward the border.

This road is the one most capable of sustaining heavy logistical trains from the capital. In fact, except for the northernmost 300 miles, the border is covered by dense rainforest and does not appear to have particularly heavy transportation infrastructure. The roads from Caracas to San Cristobal and Maracaibo appear to be the path of least resistance and thus, logistically speaking, are the paths a military mobilization is likely to take.

Much of this northern sector of the border runs along a mountain ridgeline, so while there is decent road infrastructure to get there, it would literally be an uphill battle for Venezuelan forces to move across the border there, as they would be ceding the high ground to Colombia.

Further north along the coast, a major road crosses flat coastal lowlands above Maracaibo, which offers Venezuelan troops the option of attempting to cut off the majority of the low-lying La Guajira peninsula — though there does not appear to be much of value there. Beyond the La Guajira Department lies the Magdalena Department, which contains Colombia’s highest peak, the 18,000-foot Pico Cristobal Colon.

Meanwhile, there is the very serious issue that the Venezuelan military is unpracticed at the fine art of logistics and is not known for its acumen for maintaining vehicles in depot, much less those that are deployed. Stratfor is skeptical of Venezuela’s ability to project and sustain forces meaningfully beyond its borders, especially regularly organized units and the tank battalions Chavez has requested.

Colombia’s military is larger, better funded and more operationally experienced — each by a factor of 10 — than Venezuela’s. U.S. funding and the prosecution of the counternarcotics war have given Colombia one of the most noteworthy military machines in the region. In addition, Bogota’s military is well-disposed on its side of the border to counter any offensive move by Caracas. Though Venezuelan forces moving quickly might be able to achieve some short-lived localized superiority, there is little to suggest that they would be capable of consolidating that gain before Colombia’s military came down upon them.

Thus, the metrics of a Chavez on the warpath are not thus far holding up to scrutiny. But Stratfor continues to monitor the situation closely. The Venezuelan president has been losing ground domestically of late and no doubt could benefit from stirring up some nationalist sentiment.

Meanwhile, Stratfor will be watching the movement of Venezuelan troops to see whether 10 battalions are moved to reinforce the ones already on the border and, if so, how quickly. Should these reinforcements — especially armored battalions from Caracas — arrive in short order, it would suggest that Chavez’s announcement was premeditated, rather than an off-the-cuff reaction to the March 1 FARC raid.

And there is always the outlying concern that Chavez’s cultivation of relations with FARC was not because he wanted leverage over the organization for solely political purposes, but because he might attempt to use them as a militant proxy.

27732  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Worshippers of Death on: March 03, 2008, 11:10:40 AM
Worshippers of Death
March 3, 2008; Page A17

Zahra Maladan is an educated woman who edits a women's magazine in Lebanon. She is also a mother, who undoubtedly loves her son. She has ambitions for him, but they are different from those of most mothers in the West. She wants her son to become a suicide bomber.

At the recent funeral for the assassinated Hezbollah terrorist Imad Moughnaya -- the mass murderer responsible for killing 241 marines in 1983 and more than 100 women, children and men in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 -- Ms. Maladan was quoted in the New York Times giving the following warning to her son: "if you're not going to follow the steps of the Islamic resistance martyrs, then I don't want you."

Zahra Maladan represents a dramatic shift in the way we must fight to protect our citizens against enemies who are sworn to kill them by killing themselves. The traditional paradigm was that mothers who love their children want them to live in peace, marry and produce grandchildren. Women in general, and mothers in particular, were seen as a counterweight to male belligerence. The picture of the mother weeping as her son is led off to battle -- even a just battle -- has been a constant and powerful image.

Now there is a new image of mothers urging their children to die, and then celebrating the martyrdom of their suicidal sons and daughters by distributing sweets and singing wedding songs. More and more young women -- some married with infant children -- are strapping bombs to their (sometimes pregnant) bellies, because they have been taught to love death rather than life. Look at what is being preached by some influential Islamic leaders:

"We are going to win, because they love life and we love death," said Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. He has also said: "[E]ach of us lives his days and nights hoping more than anything to be killed for the sake of Allah." Shortly after 9/11, Osama bin Laden told a reporter: "We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us."

"The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death," explained Afghani al Qaeda operative Maulana Inyadullah. Sheik Feiz Mohammed, leader of the Global Islamic Youth Center in Sydney, Australia, preached: "We want to have children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam. Teach them this: There is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid." Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech: "It is the zenith of honor for a man, a young person, boy or girl, to be prepared to sacrifice his life in order to serve the interests of his nation and his religion."

How should Western democracies fight against an enemy whose leaders preach a preference for death?

The two basic premises of conventional warfare have long been that soldiers and civilians prefer living to dying and can thus be deterred from killing by the fear of being killed; and that combatants (soldiers) can easily be distinguished from noncombatants (women, children, the elderly, the infirm and other ordinary citizens). These premises are being challenged by women like Zahra Maladan. Neither she nor her son -- if he listens to his mother -- can be deterred from killing by the fear of being killed. They must be prevented from succeeding in their ghoulish quest for martyrdom. Prevention, however, carries a high risk of error. The woman walking toward the group of soldiers or civilians might well be an innocent civilian. A moment's hesitation may cost innocent lives. But a failure to hesitate may also have a price.

Late last month, a young female bomber was shot as she approached some shops in central Baghdad. The Iraqi soldier who drew his gun hesitated as the bomber, hands raised, insisted that she wasn't armed. The soldier and a shop owner finally opened fire as she dashed for the stores; she was knocked to the ground but still managed to detonate the bomb, killing three and wounding eight. Had the soldier and other bystanders not called out a warning to others -- and had they not shot her before she could enter the shops -- the death toll certainly would have been higher. Had he not hesitated, it might have been lower.

As more women and children are recruited by their mothers and their religious leaders to become suicide bombers, more women and children will be shot at -- some mistakenly. That too is part of the grand plan of our enemies. They want us to kill their civilians, who they also consider martyrs, because when we accidentally kill a civilian, they win in the court of public opinion. One Western diplomat called this the "harsh arithmetic of pain," whereby civilian casualties on both sides "play in their favor." Democracies lose, both politically and emotionally, when they kill civilians, even inadvertently. As Golda Meir once put it: "We can perhaps someday forgive you for killing our children, but we cannot forgive you for making us kill your children."

Civilian casualties also increase when terrorists operate from within civilian enclaves and hide behind human shields. This relatively new phenomenon undercuts the second basic premise of conventional warfare: Combatants can easily be distinguished from noncombatants. Has Zahra Maladan become a combatant by urging her son to blow himself up? Have the religious leaders who preach a culture of death lost their status as noncombatants? What about "civilians" who willingly allow themselves to be used as human shields? Or their homes as launching pads for terrorist rockets?

The traditional sharp distinction between soldiers in uniform and civilians in nonmilitary garb has given way to a continuum. At the more civilian end are babies and true noncombatants; at the more military end are the religious leaders who incite mass murder; in the middle are ordinary citizens who facilitate, finance or encourage terrorism. There are no hard and fast lines of demarcation, and mistakes are inevitable -- as the terrorists well understand.

We need new rules, strategies and tactics to deal effectively and fairly with these dangerous new realities. We cannot simply wait until the son of Zahra Maladan -- and the sons and daughters of hundreds of others like her -- decide to follow his mother's demand. We must stop them before they export their sick and dangerous culture of death to our shores.

Mr. Dershowitz teaches law at Harvard University and is the author of "Finding Jefferson" (Wiley, 2007).
27733  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma on: March 03, 2008, 11:04:56 AM
Obama and Chicago Mores
March 3, 2008; Page A17

On Tuesday, Barack Obama may well wrap up the Democratic nomination. Yet how he rose so quickly in Chicago's famously suspect politics -- and who his associates were there -- has received little scrutiny.

That may change today as the trial of Antoin "Tony" Rezko, Mr. Obama's friend of two decades and his campaign fund-raiser, gets under way in federal court in Chicago. Mr. Rezko, a master fixer in Illinois politics, is charged with money laundering, attempted extortion, fraud and aiding bribery in an alleged multimillion dollar scheme shaking down companies seeking state contracts.

John McCain's dealings with lobbyists have properly come under a microscope; why not Mr. Obama's? Partly, says Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, because the national media establishment has decided that Chicago's grubby politics interferes with the story line of hope they've set out for Mr. Obama. Former Washington Post reporter Tom Edsall, who now teaches journalism at Columbia University, told Canada's Globe & Mail that "reporters have sometimes allowed themselves to get too much caught up in [Obama] excitement." Then there are Chicago Republicans, loath to encourage the national party to pounce because some of their own leaders are caught in the Rezko mess.

For its part, the Democratic Party may once again nominate a first-time candidate they haven't fully vetted politically. Democrats flocked to Michael Dukakis in 1988, ignoring Al Gore's warnings about Willie Horton; later they were blindsided by revelations about Bill Clinton after he was elected president.

This year, Hillary Clinton made a clumsy attack on Mr. Rezko as a "slum landlord" during one debate. But her campaign has otherwise steered clear -- at least until last Friday, when Howard Wolfson, a top Clinton aide, suggested to reporters on a conference call that "the number of questions that we don't know the answers to about the relationship between Mr. Rezko and Mr. Obama is staggering." Mr. Obama's campaign told me they have answered all questions about Mr. Rezko and have no plans to release any further records.

Mr. Obama has admitted that the 2005 land deal that he and Mr. Rezko were involved in was a "boneheaded" mistake, in part because his friend was already rumored to be under federal investigation. The newly elected Mr. Obama bought his $1.65 million home on the same day, June 15, that Mr. Rezko's wife bought the plot of land next to it from the same seller for $625,000. Seven months later she sold a slice of the land to the trust that Mr. Obama had put the house into, so the senator could expand his garden.

Mr. Obama has strenuously denied suggestions that the same-day sale enabled him to pay $300,000 under the house's asking price because Mrs. Rezko paid full price for the adjoining lot, or that he asked the Rezkos for help in the matter. Both actions would be clear violations of Senate ethics rules barring the granting or asking of favors.

Still, there are anomalies. Mr. Obama admits that he and Mr. Rezko took a tour of the house before it and the adjoining plot were sold. Financial records given to federal prosecutors a year later show Mrs. Rezko had a salary of only $37,000 and assets of $35,000. In court proceedings at that time, to explain how much his bail should be, Mr. Rezko declared that he had "no income, negative cash flow, no liquid assets."

So where did the money for Mrs. Rezko's $125,000 down payment -- and the collateral for her $500,000 loan from a local bank controlled by Amrish Mahajan, like Mr. Rezko a Chicago political fixer -- come from?

The London Times reports that, three weeks before the land transactions, Nadhmi Auchi, an Iraqi billionaire living in London, loaned $3.5 million to Mr. Rezko, who was his Chicago business partner. Mr. Auchi's office says he had "no involvement in or knowledge of" the property purchase. Mr. Auchi is a press-shy property developer (estimated worth: $4 billion) who was convicted of corruption in France in 2003 for his involvement in the Elf affair, the biggest political and corporate fraud inquiry in Europe since World War II. He was fined $3 million and given a 15-month prison term that was suspended provided he committed no further crimes.

Mr. Auchi was also a top official in the Iraqi oil ministry in the 1970s. He has for years vigorously denied charges he had dealings with Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War. However, an official report to the Pentagon inspector general in 2004 obtained by the Washington Times cited "significant and credible evidence" of involvement by Mr. Auchi's companies in the Oil for Food scandal and illicit smuggling of weapons to the Hussein regime.

In 2003, Mr. Auchi began investing in Chicago real estate with Mr. Rezko. In April 2007, after his indictment, Mr. Auchi loaned another $3.5 million to Mr. Rezko, a loan that Mr. Rezko hid from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office. When Mr. Fitzgerald learned that the money was being parceled out to Mr. Rezko's lawyers, family and friends, he got Mr. Rezko's bond revoked in January and had him put in jail as a potential flight risk.

In court papers, the prosecutor noted that Mr. Rezko had traveled 26 times to the Middle East between 2002 and 2006, mostly to his native Syria and other countries that lack extradition treaties with the U.S. Curiously, Mr. Auchi has also lent an unknown sum of money to Chris Kelly, who, like Mr. Rezko, was a significant fund-raiser for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (himself under investigation by a federal grand jury as an alleged beneficiary of the Rezko shakedowns). Mr. Kelly is himself under indictment for obstructing an IRS probe into his activities.

Mr. Obama says he has "no recollection" of meeting Mr. Auchi during a 2004 trip the billionaire made to Chicago, and no one believes he knew of his background. While his name will come up in the trial as a beneficiary of Rezko donations (since donated to charity), Mr. Obama will not be called to testify.

There may be nothing more in Mr. Obama's dealings with Mr. Rezko beyond an "appearance of impropriety." Still, Mr. Obama does have an obligation to explain how he fits into Chicago politics. David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's Karl Rove, is a longtime spoke in the Daley machine that's dominated Chicago for a half century. Gov. Blagojevich, also part of the machine, shared key fund raisers with Mr. Obama.

"We have a sick political culture, and that's the environment Barack Obama came from," Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, told ABC News. He notes that, while Mr. Obama supported ethics reforms as a state senator, he has "been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state, including at this point, mostly Democratic politicians."

Mr. Obama will eventually have to talk about Illinois, if only to clear the air. After John McCain last month was attacked for cozy ties to lobbyists, he held a news conference and answered every question. Hillary Clinton held a White House news conference on Whitewater and her cattle futures. Mr. Obama must do the same for questions about Mr. Rezko and "the Chicago way" of politics. If he doesn't, they may increasingly haunt his candidacy.

Mr. Fund is a columnist for
27734  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Venezuela troops to Colombian border on: March 03, 2008, 10:29:49 AM
Venezuela: Chavez Asks for Troops at the Colombian Border
Stratfor Today » March 3, 2008 | 0019 GMT

Venezuelan President Hugo ChavezSummary
After Colombia’s cross-border raid into Ecuador on March 1 that resulted in the death of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s second-in-command, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned March 2 that if Colombia launched any such action on Venezuelan soil, it would be cause for war. Chavez then closed the Venezuelan Embassy in Bogota and ordered 10 battalions to the Venezuelan-Colombian border. The Venezuelan military is no match for Colombia’s larger, better-funded and more experienced forces.

Following a March 1 Colombian cross-border raid into Ecuador that resulted in the death of the No. 2 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on March 2 warned Bogota against launching any similar operation on Venezuelan soil. The same day, during his weekly radio address, Chavez announced that he would be closing the Venezuelan embassy in Bogota. He added that he had asked his defense minister to send 10 battalions — including tank battalions and military aviation — to the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

Venezuela’s armored formations (with tanks that include a smattering of old French AMX and British Scorpion designs) are based on the outskirts of Caracas, but an infantry brigade is based at San Cristobal near an important border crossing, and another at Maracaibo. Some tanks appear to be regularly stationed on the border. Unless this move has been premeditated, it would likely take several days — at the very least — to get an armored unit stationed outside Caracas spun up and on the road toward the border.

This road is the one most capable of sustaining heavy logistical trains from the capital. In fact, except for the northernmost 300 miles, the border is covered by dense rainforest and does not appear to have particularly heavy transportation infrastructure. The roads from Caracas to San Cristobal and Maracaibo appear to be the path of least resistance and thus, logistically speaking, are the paths a military mobilization is likely to take.

Much of this northern sector of the border runs along a mountain ridgeline, so while there is decent road infrastructure to get there, it would literally be an uphill battle for Venezuelan forces to move across the border there, as they would be ceding the high ground to Colombia.

Further north along the coast, a major road crosses flat coastal lowlands above Maracaibo, which offers Venezuelan troops the option of attempting to cut off the majority of the low-lying La Guajira peninsula — though there does not appear to be much of value there. Beyond the La Guajira Department lies the Magdalena Department, which contains Colombia’s highest peak, the 18,000-foot Pico Cristobal Colon.

Meanwhile, there is the very serious issue that the Venezuelan military is unpracticed at the fine art of logistics and is not known for its acumen for maintaining vehicles in depot, much less those that are deployed. Stratfor is skeptical of Venezuela’s ability to project and sustain forces meaningfully beyond its borders, especially regularly organized units and the tank battalions Chavez has requested.

Colombia’s military is larger, better funded and more operationally experienced — each by a factor of 10 — than Venezuela’s. U.S. funding and the prosecution of the counternarcotics war have given Colombia one of the most noteworthy military machines in the region. In addition, Bogota’s military is well-disposed on its side of the border to counter any offensive move by Caracas. Though Venezuelan forces moving quickly might be able to achieve some short-lived localized superiority, there is little to suggest that they would be capable of consolidating that gain before Colombia’s military came down upon them.

Thus, the metrics of a Chavez on the warpath are not thus far holding up to scrutiny. But Stratfor continues to monitor the situation closely. The Venezuelan president has been losing ground domestically of late and no doubt could benefit from stirring up some nationalist sentiment.

Meanwhile, Stratfor will be watching the movement of Venezuelan troops to see whether 10 battalions are moved to reinforce the ones already on the border and, if so, how quickly. Should these reinforcements — especially armored battalions from Caracas — arrive in short order, it would suggest that Chavez’s announcement was premeditated, rather than an off-the-cuff reaction to the March 1 FARC raid.

And there is always the outlying concern that Chavez’s cultivation of relations with FARC was not because he wanted leverage over the organization for solely political purposes, but because he might attempt to use them as a militant proxy.

27735  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere on: March 02, 2008, 02:40:26 PM,2933,334390,00.html

In response to a request by female Muslim students, Harvard University has created women-only workout hours at one of its campus gyms. The decision has angered some students at the Ivy League university.

Since Jan. 28, the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center has been open only to women from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays.

The change was prompted by a request from the Harvard College Women's Center, which was approached by six female Muslim students, said Robert Mitchell, communications director of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

"It was done for religious purposes, but it's not closed to other women who may want to participate," he said.

Ola Aljawhary, a student and a member of the Harvard Islamic Society, said the women-only gym is needed.

"These hours are necessary because there is a segment of the Harvard female population that is not found in gyms, not because they don't want to work out, but because for them working out in a co-ed gym is uncomfortable, awkward or problematic in some way," she told Boston University's Daily Free Press.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in Washington D.C., said modesty may prevent some Muslim women from exercising in a co-ed environment.

"If the women are dressed in a manner that makes it more comfortable to exercise, they may not feel it’s appropriate for them to be viewed by men in that particular attire," he said.

But the change has angered students like Nicholas Wells, a junior who called the change a "lose-lose" situation in an opinion article he wrote for the Harvard Crimson newspaper.

"It is an unreasonable policy that is unjust to men and useless to women," he wrote.

"Rather than a genuine attempt to provide comfortable workout hours for women and religious observers who might be uncomfortable working out around men, this policy beats around the bush by offering the least utilized and the most inconvenient hours and gym space," he said. "No one benefits from women’s only hours."

The Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center is one of three large recreational facilities on the Cambridge, Mass., campus, though most of the 12 residential houses also have workout facilities, Mitchell said. A large Harvard athletic center is also available for use on the Boston side of the St. Charles River.

Harvard has made many accommodations for students' religious needs, Mitchell said. Those include prayer areas for Hindu and Muslim students as well as the rescheduling of exams to accommodate religious holidays.
"This is just yet another of what we thought was a reasonable request for some special times because of religion, not because of gender," Mitchell said.

The women-only hours are being tested on a trial basis and will be evaluated at the end of the semester, he said.

Reports of the Harvard decision have sparked discussion in student publications across the country, including the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where an athletics department spokesman said such a measure would be "hard to pull off" in the campus' primary gym.
27736  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Self-Defense Law on: March 02, 2008, 01:01:14 PM

I think if you look a bit further you will find that a lot of people regard Ayoob as a subject matter expert.  His book "In gravest extreme" (or something close to that) is considered must reading by many.

As for my legal qualifications, I think what you write will lead to you the sound conclusion that my background (one year of International Law in Washington DC some 25 years ago) is of minimal validity here.  smiley  Apart from my interest in the subject at hand, and a good education helping me to understand what I read, I have no particular qualifications whatsoever. cheesy

The Adventure continues,

27737  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: n00b, de-lurking on: March 02, 2008, 12:54:26 PM
Please see the thread "Self-Defense Law"
27738  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Self-Defense Law on: March 02, 2008, 12:52:30 PM
Bringing this over from

I have never Hear of Ayoob, but I will ask one simple question: is he a lawyer?

If the answer to the question is "no," then what are you doing listening to him for legal advice?
Would you go to a commercial real estate developer if you needed open-heart surgery? If he is a lawyer, then my next question is: "in what jurisdictions is he licensed to practice?" Unless the answer to that question is "all 50 states and the District of Columbia and territory of Puerto Rico (which would be a REALLY neat trick)," I would confine his area of expertise to where he is licensed and where he has practiced law. Emphasis on PRACTICED law.

The law is not something you can pigeonhole, especially for something as complex as "self defense." Add a weapon to the mix and you are really moving on thin ice.

You want legal advice on self defense in your jurisdiction? Go talk to a licensed attorney who deals with criminal law in your jurisdiction. Pay for a consultation (although many criminal defense attorneys give free consults). It will be an hour well spent.


@ Tom guthrie - I was once put in a situation when I was younger with a couple friends of mine and my Girlfriend who at the time was going to have my son. So it was about 4 of us and we were attacked by a whole heaping alot of guys. The situation took a turn and my friend did what he had to do and added a weapon into the situation. And "We" were arrested for this attack.

I watched how the Police, Dets. And the DA were putting holes though the situation. They told us we could have ran, this and that. And my favorite we could have used reason...

I remember saying to the DA...You wanted me to try and talk to 15 drunk guys who were beating our ass?

To make a long story short. After they looked at the tape of the chaos. They said that we had gaps were we could have run and we did not take that chance to do so...I don't know to this day where these chances to run were.

But I am 2 other friends were let free and my friend who pretty much saved our lives in self defense got locked up for 5 years. All for bringing a weapon into the Mix.

I have a good friend who is a Police officer and one who is a Lawyer who I spoke with years later down the road about this and both told me. " It really all depends on the "City, State and DA" And if someone attacked you "Was your life on the line" And the one I really loved. Was just because you thought your life was on the line. Does not mean it really was and they people who are going to be in control of your freedom may not think the situation warranted using a weapon.

Christopher, who is my friend who is a Lawyer in LA also began to tell me that in cases that involve a weapon it comes down to how you used the weapon and what was the weapon...I was like "WTF” If you stab, If you slash, Did you hit them in the head, Did you runaway screaming for your life and were blocked in. Did you look for help? All these factors can decide freedom and losing your freedom.

Case that popped up in California in my neck of the woods. fight breaks out at a party. Guy A starts throwing fist with guy B..Guy A knocks down guy B and starts kicking him. Guy B gets up and grabs a bottle and Hits A with it

Guy B had to do time...Later I found out though some channels that there was no reason for Guy B to use a weapon. I asked "Wasn’t this guy getting his ass beat? I thought he was on the ground getting kicked?"

The response I got was. Guy A was not attacking him in a life threaten manner.

The law is tricky I guess. It all depends and I always suggest people find out what the law is in their neck of the woods or the woods you patrol...What you deem as Self Defense might not be what the DA deems as self-defense.

I did however find out a little more on Ayoob he was a police officer in Concord, New Hampshire...I don't think Ayoob is a professional when it comes to States laws 2,000 miles away or maybe even ones next door.

@ Marc - You were a lawyer, Correct? Do you have any imput on the situation?

27739  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Self-Defense Law on: March 02, 2008, 12:49:13 PM
27740  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: n00b, de-lurking on: March 02, 2008, 09:33:13 AM
This seems a subject worthy of its own thread.  Someone please feel free to do so.
27741  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma on: March 01, 2008, 08:37:08 PM
The range of your reading material is impressive smiley
27742  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: 2-4 day DBMA Camp with Guro Crafty on: March 01, 2008, 02:19:51 PM
Woof Tom:

Would you please tell folks more about Bruno?

27743  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Part Two on: March 01, 2008, 01:47:26 PM

For a good explanation, look to the concept of ideological hegemony, usually associated with the sociological left. Instead of competition and diversity in the education schools, we confront what Mr. Hirsch calls the "thoughtworld" of teacher training, which operates like a Soviet-style regime suppressing alternative perspectives. Professors who dare to break with the ideological monopoly--who look to reading science or, say, embrace a core knowledge approach--won't get tenure, or get hired in the first place. The teachers they train thus wind up indoctrinated with the same pedagogical dogma whether they attend New York University's school of education or Humboldt State's. Those who put their faith in the power of markets to improve schools must at least show how their theory can account for the stubborn persistence of the thoughtworld.

Instead, we increasingly find the theory of educational competition detaching itself from its original school choice moorings and taking a new form. Vouchers might have stalled, but it's possible--or so many school reformers and education officials now assure us--to create the conditions for vigorous market competition within public school systems, with the same beneficent effects that were supposed to flow from a pure choice program.

Nowhere has this new philosophy of reform been more enthusiastically embraced than in the New York City school district under the control of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools chancellor Joel Klein. Gotham's schools are surging ahead with a host of market incentives, including models derived from the business world. Many of the country's major education foundations and philanthropies have boosted New York as the flagship school system for such market innovations, helping to spread the incentivist gospel nationally. Disciples of Mr. Klein have taken over the school systems in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and Mr. Bloomberg's fellow billionaires Eli Broad and Bill Gates are about to launch a $60 million ad campaign to push the market approach during the presidential election season.

Don't get me wrong: Market-style reforms are sometimes just what's necessary in the public schools. Over the past decade, for instance, I often called attention in City Journal to the destructively restrictive provisions in the New York City teachers' contract, which forced principals to hire teachers based solely on seniority, and I felt vindicated when negotiations between the Bloomberg administration and the United Federation of Teachers eliminated the seniority clause and created an open-market hiring system. Similarly, the teachers' lockstep salary schedule, based on seniority and accumulating useless additional education credits, is a counterproductive way to compensate the system's most important employees. The schools need a flexible salary structure that realistically reflects supply and demand in the teacher labor market.

Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration and its supporters are pushing markets and competition in the public schools far beyond where the evidence leads. Everything in the system now has a price. Principals can get cash bonuses of as much as $50,000 by raising their schools' test scores; teachers in a few hundred schools now (and hundreds more later) can take home an extra $3,000 if the student scores in their schools improve; parents get money for showing up at parent-teacher conferences; their kids get money or--just what they need--cell phones for passing tests.

Much of this scaffolding of cash incentives (and career-ending penalties) rests on a rather shaky base: the state's highly unreliable reading and math tests in grades three through eight, plus the even more unreliable high school Regents exams, which have been dumbed down so that schools will avoid federal sanctions under the No Child Left Behind act. In the past, the tests have also been prone to cheating scandals. Expect more cheating as the stakes for success and failure rise.

While confidently putting their seal of approval on this market system, the mayor and chancellor appear to be agnostic on what actually works in the classroom. They've shown no interest, for example, in two decades' worth of scientific research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health that proves that teaching phonics and phonemic awareness is crucial to getting kids to read in the early grades. They have blithely retained a fuzzy math program, Everyday Math, despite a consensus of university math professors judging it inadequate. Indeed, Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein have abjured all responsibility for curriculum and instruction and placed their bets entirely on choice, markets, and accountability.

But the new reliance on markets hasn't prevented special interests from hijacking the curriculum. One such interest is the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project--led by Lucy Calkins, the doyenne of the whole-language reading approach, which postulates that all children can learn to read and write naturally, with just some guidance from teachers, and that direct phonics instruction is a form of child abuse. Ms. Calkins's enterprise has more than $10 million in Department of Education contracts to guide reading and writing instruction in most of the city's elementary schools, even though no solid evidence supports her methodology. This may explain why, on the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress tests--widely regarded as a gold standard for educational assessment--Gotham students showed no improvement in fourth- and eighth-grade reading from 2003 to 2007, while the city of Atlanta, which hasn't staked everything on market incentives, has shown significant reading improvement.

One wonders why so many in the school reform movement and in the business community celebrate New York City's recent record on education. Is it merely because they hear the words "choice," "markets" and "competition" and think that all is well? If so, they're mistaken. The primal scene of all education reform is the classroom. If the teacher isn't doing the right thing, all the cash incentives in the world won't make a difference.

* * *

Those in the school reform movement seeking a case of truly spectacular academic improvement should look to Massachusetts, where something close to an education miracle has occurred. In the past several years, Massachusetts has improved more than almost every other state on the NAEP tests. In 2007, it scored first in the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading. The state's average scale scores on all four tests have also improved at far higher rates than most other states have seen over the past 15 years.

The improvement had nothing to do with market incentives. Massachusetts has no vouchers, no tuition tax credits, very few charter schools, and no market incentives for principals and teachers. The state owes its amazing improvement in student performance to a few key former education leaders, including state education board chairman John Silber, assistant commissioner Sandra Stotsky, and board member (and Manhattan Institute fellow) Abigail Thernstrom.

Starting a decade ago, these instructionists pushed the state's board of education to mandate a rigorous curriculum for all grades, created demanding tests linked to the curriculum standards, and insisted that all high school graduates pass a comprehensive exit exam. In its English Language Arts curriculum framework, the board even dared to say that reading instruction in the early grades should include systematic and explicit phonics. Now a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, Ms. Stotsky sums up: "The lesson from Massachusetts is that a strong content-based curriculum, together with upgraded certification regulations and teacher licensure tests that require teacher preparation programs to address that content, can be the best recipe for improving students' academic achievement."

The Massachusetts miracle doesn't prove that a standard curriculum and a focus on effective instruction will always produce academic progress. Nor does the flawed New York City experiment in competition mean that we should cast aside all market incentives in education. But what has transpired in these two places provides an important lesson: education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories, derived from the study of economic activity, that don't produce verifiable results in the classroom. After all, children's lives are at stake.

Mr. Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal and the author of "Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice."

27744  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / School Choice isn't enough on: March 01, 2008, 01:46:30 PM
School Choice Isn't Enough
February 27, 2008

I began writing about school choice in City Journal more than a decade ago. I believed then (as I still believe) that giving tuition vouchers to poor inner-city students stuck in lousy public schools was a civil rights imperative. Starting in the 1980s, major empirical studies by sociologist James Coleman and other scholars showed that urban Catholic schools were better than public schools at educating the poor, despite spending far less per student. Among the reasons for this superiority: most Catholic educators still believed in a coherent, content-based curriculum, and they enforced order in the classroom. It seemed immoral to keep disadvantaged kids locked up in dismal, future-darkening public schools when vouchers could send them to high-performing Catholic ones--especially when middle-class parents enjoyed education options galore for their children.

But like other reformers, I also believed that vouchers would force the public schools to improve or lose their student "customers." Since competition worked in other areas, wouldn't it lead to progress in education, too? Maybe Catholic schools' success with voucher students would even encourage public schools to exchange the failed "progressive education" approaches used in most classrooms for the pedagogy that made the Catholic institutions so effective.

"Choice is a panacea," argued education scholars John Chubb and Terry Moe in their influential 1990 book "Politics, Markets and America's Schools." For a time, I thought so, too. Looking back from today's vantage point, it is clear that the school choice movement has been very good for the disadvantaged. Public and privately funded voucher programs have liberated hundreds of thousands of poor minority children from failing public schools. The movement has also reshaped the education debate. Not only vouchers, but also charter schools, tuition tax credits, mayoral control and other reforms are now on the table as alternatives to bureaucratic, special-interest-choked big-city school systems.

Yet social-change movements need to be attentive to the facts on the ground. Recent developments in both public and Catholic schools suggest that markets in education may not be a panacea--and that we should re-examine the direction of school reform.

* * *

One such development: Taxpayer-funded voucher programs for poor children, long considered by many of us to be the most promising of education reforms, have hit a wall. In 2002, after a decade of organizing by school choice activists, only two programs existed: one in Milwaukee, the other in Cleveland, allowing 17,000 poor students to attend private (mostly Catholic) schools. That year, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court ruled that limited voucher programs involving religious schools were compatible with the First Amendment's establishment clause. The 5-4 decision seemed like school choice's Magna Carta. But the legal victory has led to few real gains. Today, fewer than 25,000 students--compared with a nationwide public school enrollment of 50 million--receive tax-funded vouchers, with a tiny Washington, D.C., program joining those of the other two cities.

Proposals for voucher programs have suffered five straight crushing defeats in state referenda--most recently in Utah, by a margin of 62% to 38%. After each loss, school choice groups blamed the lobbying money poured into the states by teachers unions, the deceptive ads run by voucher foes, and sometimes even voters' commitment to their children. When the Utah results came in, the principal funder of the pro-voucher side, businessman Patrick Byrne, opined that the voters failed "a statewide IQ test" and that they "don't care enough about their kids." If vouchers can't pass voter scrutiny in conservative Utah, though, how probable is it that they will do so anywhere else? And denouncing voters doesn't seem like a smart way to revive the voucher cause.

Voucher prospects have also dimmed because of the Catholic schools' deepening financial crisis. Without an abundant supply of good, low-cost urban Catholic schools to receive voucher students, voucher programs will have a hard time getting off the ground, let alone succeeding. But cash-strapped Catholic Church officials are closing the church's inner-city schools at an accelerating rate. With just one Catholic high school left in all of Detroit, for instance, where would the city's disadvantaged students use vouchers even if they had them?

Even more discouraging, vouchers may not be enough to save the Catholic schools that are voucher students' main destination. Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., recently announced plans to close seven of the district's 28 remaining Catholic schools, all of which are receiving aid from federally funded tuition vouchers, unless the D.C. public school system agreed to take them over and convert them into charter schools. In Milwaukee, several Catholic schools have also closed, or face the threat of closing, despite boosting enrollments with voucher kids.

During the 15 years since the first voucher program got under way in Milwaukee, university researchers have extensively scrutinized the dynamics of school choice and the effect of competition on public schools. The preponderance of studies have shown clear benefits, both academically and otherwise, for the voucher kids. It's gratifying that the research confirms the moral and civil rights argument for vouchers.

But sadly--and this is a second development that reformers must face up to--the evidence is pretty meager that competition from vouchers is making public schools better. When I reported on the Milwaukee voucher experiment in 1999, some early indicators suggested that competition was having just that effect. Members of Milwaukee's school board, for example, said that voucher schools had prompted new reforms in the public school system, including modifying the seniority provisions of the teachers' contract and allowing principals more discretion in hiring. A few public schools began offering phonics-based reading instruction in the early grades, the method used in neighboring Catholic schools. Milwaukee public schools' test scores also improved--and did so most dramatically in those schools under the greatest threat of losing students to vouchers, according to a study by Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby.

Unfortunately, the gains fizzled. Fifteen years into the most expansive school choice program tried in any urban school district in the country, Milwaukee's public schools still suffer from low achievement and miserable graduation rates, with test scores flattening in recent years. Violence and disorder throughout the system seem as serious as ever. Most voucher students are still benefiting, true; but no "Milwaukee miracle," no transformation of the public schools, has taken place. One of the Milwaukee voucher program's founders, African-American educator Howard Fuller, recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I think that any honest assessment would have to say that there hasn't been the deep, wholesale improvement in MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools] that we would have thought." And the lead author of one of the Milwaukee voucher studies, Harvard political scientist Paul Peterson, told me: "The research on school choice programs clearly shows that low-income students benefit academically. It's less clear that the presence of choice in a community motivates public schools to improve."

* * *

What should we do about these new realities? Obviously, private scholarship programs ought to keep helping poor families find alternatives to failing public schools. And we can still hope that some legislature, somewhere in America, will vote for another voucher plan, or generous tuition tax credits, before more Catholic schools close. But does the school choice movement have a realistic Plan B for the millions of urban students who will remain stuck in terrible public schools?

According to Ms. Hoxby and Mr. Peterson, perhaps the two most respected school choice scholars in the country, no such plan is necessary. In their view, the best hope for education improvement continues to be a maximum degree of parental choice--vouchers if possible, but also charter schools and tuition tax credits--plus merit-pay schemes for teachers and accountability systems that distinguish productive from unproductive school principals.

That "incentivist" outlook remains dominant within school reform circles. But a challenge from what one could call "instructionists"--those who believe that curriculum change and good teaching are essential to improving schools--is growing, as a unique public debate sponsored by the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education revealed. Founded in 1999, the Koret Task Force represents a national all-star team of education reform scholars. Permanent fellows include not only Ms. Hoxby and Mr. Peterson but also Mr. Chubb, Mr. Moe, education historian Diane Ravitch, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation president Chester Finn, Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, and the guru of "cultural literacy," E.D. Hirsch Jr. (recently retired). Almost from the start, the Koret scholars divided into incentivist and instructionist camps. "We have had eight years and we haven't been able to agree," says Hoxby. But in early 2007, members did agree to hold a debate at the group's home, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University: "Resolved: True school reform demands more attention to curriculum and instruction than to markets and choice." Mr. Hirsch and Ms. Ravitch argued the affirmative, Ms. Hoxby and Mr. Peterson the negative.

Mr. Hirsch and Ms. Ravitch opened by saying that while they had no opposition to charter schools or other forms of choice, charter schools had produced "disappointing results." Try a thought experiment, urged Ms. Ravitch. Say that one school system features market incentives and unlimited choices for parents and students, but no standard curriculum. Then posit another system, with no choice allowed, but in which the educational leadership enforces a rich curriculum and favors effective instructional approaches. In the market system, Ms. Ravitch predicted, "most schools will reflect the dominant ideas of the schools of education, where most teachers get their training, so most schools will adopt programs of whole language and fuzzy math. . . . Most students under a pure choice regime will know very little about history or literature or science." The system with the first-rate curriculum and effective pedagogy, Ms. Ravitch argued, would produce better education outcomes.

Responding, Mr. Peterson and Ms. Hoxby paid respects to good curricula and instructional methods. But the key question, in their view, was who would decide which curricula and instructional methods were best. Here, the pro-choice debaters made no bones about it: the market's "invisible hand" was the way to go. As Ms. Hoxby put it, educational choice would erect a "bulwark against special-interest groups hijacking the curriculum."

I had supported the competition argument for school choice as a working hypothesis, but my doubts about it grew after recent results from the Milwaukee experiment, and nothing said in the Koret debate restored my confidence. And something else caught my attention: Ms. Ravitch's comment about "the dominant ideas of the schools of education, where most teachers get their training." The statement slipped by, unchallenged by the incentivist side.

While the arguments about school choice and markets swirled during the past 15 years, both Ms. Ravitch and Mr. Hirsch wrote landmark books ("Left Back" and "The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them," respectively) on how the nation's education schools have built an "impregnable fortress" (Mr. Hirsch's words) of wrong ideas and ineffective classroom practices that teachers then carry into America's schools, almost guaranteeing failure, especially for poor minority children. Mr. Hirsch's book didn't just argue this; it proved it conclusively, to my mind, offering an extraordinary tour d'horizon of all the evidence about instructional methods that cognitive neuroscience had discovered.

* * *

If Ms. Hoxby and Mr. Peterson were right in asserting that markets were enough to fix our education woes, then the ed schools wouldn't be the disasters that Mr. Hirsch, Ms. Ravitch, and others have exposed. Unlike the government-run K-12 schools, the country's 1,500 ed schools represent an almost perfect system of choice, markets and competition. Anyone interested in becoming a teacher is completely free to apply to any ed school that he wants. The ed schools, in turn, compete for students by offering competitive prices and--theoretically--attractive educational "products" (curricula and courses). Yet the schools are uniformly awful, the products the same dreary progressive claptrap. A few years ago, the National Council on Teacher Quality, a mainstream public education advocacy group, surveyed the nation's ed schools and found that almost all elementary education classes disdained phonics and scientific reading. If the invisible hand is a surefire way to improve curriculum and instruction, as the incentivists insist, why does almost every teacher-in-training have to read the works of leftists Paolo Freire, Jonathan Kozol and William Ayers--but usually nothing by, say, Mr. Hirsch or Ms. Ravitch?

27745  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: 2-4 day DBMA Camp with Guro Crafty on: March 01, 2008, 01:04:57 PM
Woof All:

I have caught a severe case of the cooties (a.k.a. the flu) from my daughter and have been laid up for 4 days now.  This coming week should have us posting more concretely about this.  Thank you for your patience.

The Adventure continues,
Guro Crafty
27746  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Bill Buckley RIP on: March 01, 2008, 12:54:16 PM
I thought that this thread would get more than one read in 24 hours , , ,  huh

Anyway, here's this:


Goldwater, the John Birch Society and Me
February 27, 2008

In the early months of 1962, there was restiveness in certain political quarters of the right. The concern was primarily the growing strength of the Soviet Union, and the reiteration by its leaders of their designs on the free world. Some of the actors keenly concerned felt that Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona was a natural leader in the days ahead.

But it seemed inconceivable that an antiestablishment gadfly like Goldwater could be nominated as the spokesman-head of a political party. And it was embarrassing that the only political organization in town that dared suggest this radical proposal--the GOP's nominating Goldwater for president--was the John Birch Society.

The society had been founded in 1958 by an earnest and capable entrepreneur named Robert Welch, a candy man, who brought together little clusters of American conservatives, most of them businessmen. He demanded two undistracted days in exchange for his willingness to give his seminar on the Communist menace to the United States, which he believed was more thoroughgoing and far-reaching than anyone else in America could have conceived. His influence was near-hypnotic, and his ideas wild. He said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a "dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy," and that the government of the United States was "under operational control of the Communist party." It was, he said in the summer of 1961, "50-70 percent" Communist-controlled.

Welch refused to divulge the size of the society's membership, though he suggested it was as high as 100,000 and could reach a million. His method of organization caused general alarm. The society comprised a series of cells, no more than 20 people per cell. It was said that its members were directed to run in secret for local offices and to harass school boards and librarians on the matter of the Communist nature of the textbooks and other materials they used.

The society became a national cause célèbre--so much so, that a few of those anxious to universalize a draft-Goldwater movement aiming at a nomination for president in 1964 thought it best to do a little conspiratorial organizing of their own against it.

* * *

In January of that year I had a telephone call from William Baroody. It was, he said, a matter of great national importance that I spend Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week with Sen. Goldwater in Palm Beach, Fla. I would be one of three--along with Russell Kirk, the philosopher and author of the seminal 1953 text "The Conservative Mind," and public-relations man Jay Hall, who had represented General Motors in Washington. I said I could be there up until 5 p.m. on day one and all of day two. I had a speaking date in St. Augustine on the first night. Baroody simply repeated that the meeting was very important.

Baroody was the head of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank founded in 1943. We had met only cursorily, though I knew him to be an influential figure in behind-the-scenes conservative politics. He was invigorated by meetings with small groups, which he much enjoyed dominating. It was clear that he greatly aspired to be important to Goldwater, and perhaps to a Goldwater White House.

I arrived at breakfast with the other invitees at the imposing Breakers Hotel and ventilated the critical point: were we here assembled to answer Goldwater's questions, or to proffer advice on the presidential campaign two years ahead? If the latter, this had to mean that Goldwater had resolved to enter the campaign, which would be big news: so far, he had steadfastly declined to take that step.

Baroody, by nature domineering, was emphatic on the subject. Under no circumstances should anything be said touching on a presidential campaign, inasmuch as Goldwater had not himself decided whether to run and did not want to spend time discussing the issue.

Russell Kirk was not prepared simply to leave the matter closed. "What is more important," he asked Baroody, "than to try to get Goldwater elected President?"

Baroody was obliged to agree that this would be a wonderful national achievement. "But he has said no."

"They always say no," I volunteered.

"Bill, he has said no on at least five different occasions. If he thought we were going to spend the day on that subject, he would just walk away."

Kirk objected. "I'm the least experienced politically of the people in this room. But I've seen the polls--we've all seen the polls--and Bill has a point: Why should we shrink from telling him that's what he ought to do?"

It required someone of Kirk's arrant innocence in consorting with brute political forces to make his point so insistently. He let go of it only after Baroody promised that he would seek out, some time later, an opportunity for Russell to argue it personally with Goldwater. "Maybe you can tell him something about William Pitt that will change his mind."

Kirk smiled. "Very well. So what do you have in mind for us?"

"We'll have to coast on that."

* * *

Goldwater was in Palm Beach visiting, incognito, with a sister-in-law who was resident there. He arrived at our hotel suite at about 11:00 in extravagantly informal garb, cowboy hat and dark glasses, a workman's blue shirt and denim jeans, together with his beloved Western boots. He did bring along a weather-beaten briefcase, though I never noticed his opening it the whole day.

What followed was an hour of general discussion on the policies of President Kennedy and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Baroody noted Kennedy's surprising drop in the polls: 61% of the public thought he spent money too freely, a third thought him unduly weak in opposing Soviet challenges in Berlin and elsewhere.

Moving on, Baroody brought up the John Birch Society. It was quickly obvious that this was the subject Goldwater wished counsel on.

Kirk, unimpeded by his little professorial stutter, greeted the subject with fervor. It was his opinion, he said emphatically, that Robert Welch was a man disconnected from reality. How could anyone reason, as Welch had done in "The Politician," that President Eisenhower had been a secret agent of the Communists? This mischievous unreality was a great weight on the back of responsible conservative political thinking. The John Birch Society should be renounced by Goldwater and by everyone else--Kirk turned his eyes on me--with any influence on the conservative movement.

But that, Goldwater said, is the problem. Consider this, he exaggerated: "Every other person in Phoenix is a member of the John Birch Society. Russell, I'm not talking about Commie-haunted apple pickers or cactus drunks, I'm talking about the highest cast of men of affairs. Any of you know who Frank Cullen Brophy is?"

I raised my hand. "I spent a lot of time with him. He was going to contribute capital to help found National Review. He didn't." Brophy was a prominent Arizona banker.

Goldwater said he knew nothing about that, but added that Brophy certainly was aware of Goldwater's personal enthusiasm for the magazine and especially for its Washington editor, Brent Bozell. "Why isn't Brent here?" he turned to Baroody.

"He's in Spain."

"Well, our--my--'Conscience of a Conservative' continues to sell." Bozell, who was also my brother-in-law, had ghostwritten the book, which had given Goldwater a national profile.

Kirk said he could not imagine Bozell disagreeing on the need to excommunicate the John Birch Society from the conservative movement.

But this brought another groan from Goldwater. "You just can't do that kind of thing in Arizona. For instance, who on earth can dismiss Frank Brophy from anything?"

* * *

Time was given to the John Birch Society lasting through lunch, and the subject came up again the next morning. We resolved that conservative leaders should do something about the John Birch Society. An allocation of responsibilities crystallized.

Goldwater would seek out an opportunity to dissociate himself from the "findings" of the Society's leader, without, however, casting any aspersions on the Society itself. I, in National Review and in my other writing, would continue to expose Welch and his thinking to scorn and derision. "You know how to do that," said Jay Hall.

I volunteered to go further. Unless Welch himself disowned his operative fallacy, National Review would oppose any support for the society.

"How would you define the Birch fallacy?" Jay Hall asked.

"The fallacy," I said, "is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists."

"I like that," Goldwater said.

What would Russell Kirk do? He was straightforward. "Me? I'll just say, if anybody gets around to asking me, that the guy is loony and should be put away."

"Put away in Alaska?" I asked, mock-seriously. The wisecrack traced to Robert Welch's expressed conviction, a year or so earlier, that the state of Alaska was being prepared to house anyone who doubted his doctrine that fluoridated water was a Communist-backed plot to weaken the minds of the American public.

* * *

In the next issue of my magazine, National Review, I published a 5,000-word excoriation of Welch:

How can the John Birch Society be an effective political instrument while it is led by a man whose views on current affairs are, at so many critical points . . . so far removed from common sense? That dilemma weighs on conservatives across America. . . . The underlying problem is whether conservatives can continue to acquiesce quietly in a rendition of the causes of the decline of the Republic and the entire Western world which is false, and, besides that, crucially different in practical emphasis from their own.
In response, National Review received the explicit endorsement of Sen. Goldwater himself, who wrote a letter we published in the following issue:

I think you have clearly stated the problem which Mr. Welch's continued leadership of the John Birch Society poses for sincere conservatives. . . . Mr. Welch is only one man, and I do not believe his views, far removed from reality and common sense as they are, represent the feelings of most members of the John Birch Society. . . . Because of this, I believe the best thing Mr. Welch could do to serve the cause of anti-Communism in the United States would be to resign. . . . We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner.
The wound we Palm Beach plotters delivered to the John Birch Society proved fatal over time. Barry Goldwater did not win the presidency, but he clarified the proper place of anti-Communism on the Right, with bright prospects to follow.

Mr. Buckley, who died today at 82, was the founder of National Review. This article appears in the March issue of Commentary.
27747  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Last Gasps of American Unipolarity on: March 01, 2008, 12:36:46 PM
Continuing our search for Truth, the following seems to me to have some disingenuous aspects, but worth the time for the perspective it offers:
Kosovo, Russia, and the Last Grasps of American Unipolarity

Posted by Nikolas Gvosdev on February 25, 2008

In the aftermath of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence on Feb. 17, Moscow and Washington are trading accusations as to which country has acted more irresponsibly.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns complained that Moscow had been given the opportunity to help facilitate the separation of Kosovo from Serbia in a stable, orderly fashion: “So we gave Russia every chance, both in the Security Council last spring and summer, in the negotiations which we co-sponsored with the Russians, but now we have to move ahead,” he told reporters.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking at the Nixon Center in Washington, DC, had a different version. The United States pushed ahead with independence for Kosovo despite the “significant damage” this might do to the fabric of an international order predicated on the territorial integrity of states. And by holding out for independence as the only possible solution, Washington both stymied genuine negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo and also undercut the United Nations. Kosovo is not just a “U.S.-Russia” issue, Peskov said; Washington and Moscow had a responsibility for “joint care” of the international system.

Kosovo is the latest irritant in what was already a deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship. Disagreements over energy policy, the best way to pressure Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons, the U.S. decision to deploy components of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, a further round of NATO expansion to encompass former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia, as well as the course of Russia’s own domestic political and economic evolution (away from the preferred model endorsed by the United States) have all contributed to a growing chill in ties between Moscow and Washington. Gone is the talk heard in the aftermath of 9/11 of a “strategic partnership” between the two countries—and visible, public flare-ups such as Putin’s 2007 Munich speech divert attention from those areas where there is a productive Russian-American relationship (in stemming nuclear proliferation, cooperation in fighting terrorism, and growing business ties).

But the Kosovo issue has the potential to spoil relations even further, especially because it is becoming inextricably linked to other contentious issues such as efforts to diminish European dependence on Russia as the continent’s principal supplier of energy, the ongoing plans to deploy BMD in eastern Europe, and whether NATO will undergo a third round of expansion to eventually encompass former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia.

To understand why, it is important to listen to Moscow’s narrative over Kosovo.

Peskov summed up Russia’s attitude when he said this past week that Moscow could not share Washington’s view about the “uniqueness of the Kosovo case.” For many Russian officials, Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign against Albanian separatists in the 1990s was no worse than the operations carried out by the Turkish military against the Kurds in that country’s southeast—activities the United States was prepared to overlook. And when the U.S. chose to justify a military intervention against Belgrade in 1999 by appealing to NATO, bypassing the UN Security Council altogether, most in Moscow concluded that America’s definition of “consulting” with the other major powers was to tell them what position they needed to accept.

But when the air campaign produced neither a rapid capitulation on the part of Milosevic and led to a humanitarian crisis as Belgrade used the NATO operation to justify expelling hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians from the province, Washington discovered it needed Moscow. The story one hears from Russians is that a President Clinton, anxious to avoid having to send U.S. ground forces, prevailed on the Russian government to use its good offices (via the diplomatic efforts of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin) to tell Milosevic that the U.S. would limit its ambitions for Kosovo to seeking substantial autonomy for the province, leaving a token, face-saving degree of Serbian control. This understanding was then codified in UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which placed Kosovo under an interim UN administration under whose auspices the transition to “substantial autonomy and meaningful self-administration for Kosovo” would take place. This process, however, was to respect the “principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Yugoslavia, of which Serbia is the successor state.

Then U.S. ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke now says this resolution was a tactical compromise and that “Kosovo is gone from Serbia forever” (as he wrote in the Washington Post in March 2007). But that is not what the Russians think. They thought—and continue to maintain—that the formula laid out in UNSCR 1244 reflected the consensus of the major powers. Its position (extensive autonomy but preservation of territorial integrity) is certainly is accordance with standard U.S. policy objectives in resolving other frozen conflicts in the Caucasus, the greater Middle East and in Africa and is the formula that governs relations between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, a “commonwealth” that nevertheless enjoys a distinct identity in some international forums including the Olympics. Other countries trying to balance between integrity and self-determination also welcomed this resolution, including states like India, Indonesia and South Africa. Beijing, for instance, signed onto this formulation because of the possible precedent in solving the Taiwan issue.

While the U.S. side places the blame for the lack of a final settlement squarely on the shoulders of the Serbs—for not accepting the inevitability of independence—Russia maintains the United States never put any pressure on the Kosovar Albanians to accept compromise formulations—the same ones Moscow says Washington wants the Abkhaz and South Ossetians to accept in terms of a final settlement with Georgia. These would have given a large measure of de facto independence to Kosovo but would have preserved formal Serbian sovereignty over the province. So Russians see this as yet another example of U.S. double standards.

Beyond those feelings, however, is a much more dangerous sentiment: a growing belief in Moscow that the U.S. cannot be trusted. Commenting on the U.S. decision to encourage Kosovo’s declaration of independence and to again bypass the United Nations, Evgeni Bazhanov, the vice rector of the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy, said, “There is a real feeling of frustration in Moscow, the sense that agreements [with the United States and the West in general] don’t mean anything. They go ahead and change the terms however they wish.”

Let’s be clear: Russians understand perfectly well that if the United States feels that its vital interests are at stake, Washington is never going to seek a “permission slip” (to use the slogan uttered during the 2004 presidential race) from the UN Security Council to act. But what puzzles many Russians (and, for that matter, leading U.S. foreign policy conservatives like Bob Blackwill, Peter Rodman and John Bolton) is why insisting on independence for Kosovo as the only possible outcome—and setting what many considered to be an artificial deadline for the resolution of the province’s final status—was of such importance to the United States so as to justify the current upset.

Americans are free to disagree with the Russian version of events. But what we are not at liberty to do is to dismiss Moscow’s perspective as being of no concern.

The problem is that this growing belief in Russian foreign-policy circles that U.S. guarantees on Kosovo weren’t worth a continental is only the latest such incident. For years, Russians have that informal guarantees that were extended to Moscow in the wake of German reunification in 1990 that NATO would not expand—the Russians maintain that then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker had told Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze that “NATO would not move an inch eastward outside of its present zone of action”—flew out the window once it was no longer convenient to the United States. (Russians also often cite then-Secretary General of NATO Manfred Warner’s speech of May 17, 1990, when he declared, “the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.”

I have been told time and again by Russians that if the United States or other European countries genuinely believed that a post-Soviet Russia posed a real military threat to east European states or former Soviet republics, they could have extended security guarantees without having to expand NATO. And the response they say they have received is that none of these informal understandings “had been codified in any formal treaty or agreement and that, even if Western leaders such as Helmut Kohl or John Major reiterated what Baker or Worner had said, it was now of no consequence,” to use the words of Russian commentator Aleksey Pushkov.

Then we had the public-relations SNAFU over missile defense systems being deployed in eastern Europe, which complicated not only U.S. relations with Rus sia but also has created problems among NATO countries as well. It took nearly a year for U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates to propose that the U.S. would link the activation of such a system to the existence of a credible threat arising from Iran or another rogue state; up to that point, official statements from Washington did rule out the possibility of these components continuing to be stationed and operational even in the absence of a specified threat from Iran—stoking Russian paranoia to record heights. (On a related note, no senior U.S. figure has recently repeated what then-Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones proclaimed on February 11, 2002, when discussing the U.S. presence in Central Asia: “we don’t want U.S. bases in Central Asia” since “our goal with the Russians is to make sure that they understand we are not trying to compete with them in Central Asia, we’re not trying to take over Central Asia from them.”)

The current team running the Kremlin—one that will stay largely intact after the March 2 presidential elections—is highly pragmatic. Colorful figures like Russia’s representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin might like to stir things up with tough talk about a Russian military presence in the Balkans, but, as Peskov frankly admitted, Russia is still interested in avoiding confrontation with the West, particularly the United States, since this would divert resources and attention from the overriding priority of Russian economic development. But what will continue to change is the weight accorded American statements by those in power in Russia. No longer is Russia prepared to change its stance or positions in order to receive vague U.S. assurances of “goodwill.”

We’ve already seen this clearly in regards to Iran. U.S. assertions about Iran’s intentions and its capabilities to move forward on a nuclear weapons program don’t carry much weight in Moscow (and were further undermined by the release of the National Intelligence Estimate). And this comes at a time when the United States, preoccupied by Iraq and dealing with the economic consequences of overstretch, is in less of a position to ignore what other powers, including Russia, think and want.

Perhaps the Kosovo affair is the last gasp of the U.S. worldview of the 1990s—the so-called ”unipolar moment.” If so, then dealing with its aftermath, especially in the U.S.-Russia relationship, will test whether American politicians and policymakers are prepared to adapt to the realities of a much more multipolar 21st century. So far, the jury is out.

Nikolas Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.
27748  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica on: February 29, 2008, 10:55:47 PM
 El ministro Andrés Izarra le pedirá a CONATEL que emita una ley de 
prohibición de que en los medios de comunicación escritos, 
audiovisuales y radiales aparezcan personas insinuando la 
posibilidad de que el presidente Hugo Chávez esté sufriendo de 
desequilibrio mental.

 El ministro Izarra está muy preocupado por la divulgación del 
estado mental del presidente Chávez a nivel nacional, ya que esto 
comienza a reflejarse en el pueblo venezolano, ya que existen 
varios refranes que se han comenzado a utilizar como los 
siguientes : "El loco Chávez y tu me van a volver loco a mi 
también", "estás más loco que Chávez", "te voy a mandar al 
manicomio de Miraflores", "no te encadenes como el loco de Chávez", 
etc. Además el gobierno está al tanto de que el partido Acción 
Democrática piensa introducir un documento ante el TSJ donde 
demuestran que el presidente Chávez está incapacitado para ejercer 
el cargo por problemas de salud mental y con está ley nadie podría 
decir públicamente que el presidente Chávez está confrontando 
problemas mentales y por si fuese poco ahora también el mismo 
Chávez se ha creado la fama de drogómano con el asunto de la pasta 
de coca que él consume a diario y que se la envía Evo Morales desde 
Bolivia. Y por si fuese poco en el ámbito militar han circulado en 
los baños panfletos donde han escrito "esto es el colmo, nuestro 
comandante en jefe además de cobarde también está loco y nosotros 
obedeciendo ordenes de este pobre individuo. Hasta donde nos 
llevará el desequilibrado de Chávez"

 ( Lo de cobarde por lo de que Chávez tenía que tomar Miraflores en 
el golpe de estado contra Carlos Andrés Pérez y no se atrevió más 
bien se escondió en el museo militar, por eso lo consideran cobarde 
dentro del ejército venezolano ).

 El ministro Izarra ha comenzado a tratar de controlar al presidente 
Chávez en sus alocuciones televisivas, sobre todo en aló 
presidente. El ministro Izarra le instaló un semáforo a Chávez para 
tratar de controlarlo en su comportamiento, ya que el mismo Izarra 
aceptó el cargo con la condición de que Chávez aceptara que podía 
ser interrumpido por este semáforo que maneja personalmente el 
ministro Izarra cuando Chávez comienza a divagar, a payasear, a 
cantar, cuando pierde los estribos, etc.

 Este semáforo funciona de la siguiente manera: Luz verde cuando 
Chávez esta centrado en el tema tratado. Luz amarilla cuando 
comienza a desviarse, a divagar, a repetir varias veces lo mismo, 
cuando comete errores en cifras, cuando se le nota que está por 
entrar en cólera, etc. Y luz roja cuando Chávez le entra la loquera 
y comienza a cantar, a decir vulgaridades, a dársela de payaso, 
cuando ataca despiadadamente a los partidos o personas de 
oposición, cuando amenaza de cerrar empresas o hablar e insinuar 
que el es el propio Simón Bolívar. Con luz roja hasta lo pueden 
sacar del aire por unos segundos mientras vuelve a un nivel 
razonable lo cual lo logran suministrándole medicamentos sedantes 
del sistema nervioso. Le dan café o agua con el medicamento diluido 
para que el público ni se entere de que lo están sedando.

 También existe el rumor de que Chávez está siendo tratado con un 
experto psiquiatra Argentino que esta utilizando técnicas modernas 
para mantener en un nivel mental razonable al presidente Chávez. 
Este psicólogo esta utilizando un tratamiento basado en 
medicamentos antidepresivos, sesiones de hipnotismo y la principal 
herramienta siquiátrica que esta llevando a cabo en estos momentos 
que es la técnica del desgaste de las diversas personalidades que 
el presidente quiere ser y lo mas grave es que el propio Chávez 
cree ser estos personajes. Por cierto algunos personeros del 
gobierno entre ellos Jorge Rodríguez, Nicolás Maduro, Arias 
Cárdenas, Cilia Flores y otros cuantos le dicen en privado a Chávez 
en vez de Hugo le dicen Simón, por que ellos saben que eso hace 
feliz al presidente y así ellos escalan posiciones. ( el niño que 
llora y la mamá que lo pellizca )

> El presidente Chávez tiene en su mente (en su otro yo) a Simón 
> Bolívar, Diego Armando Maradona, Johan Santana y Fidel Castro. Este 
> psicólogo argentino lo deja vestirse y comportarse como Bolívar, 
> Maradona, Castro o Santana. La primera fase es que Chávez se defina 
> por uno de estos personajes y así olvide a los restantes. De ésta 
> manera se le simplifica la mente al presidente Chávez y una vez que 
> el propio Chávez esté convencido de que él es Simón Bolívar por 
> ejemplo, entonces en ese momento se le comienza una terapia de 
> estrés hacia ese personaje y con la ayuda de sesiones de hipnosis 
> se le pone en situaciones de alto riesgo como por ejemplo "Simón, 
> corre que te quieren matar", "Simón tenemos que retroceder y 
> debemos estar preparados para morir en manos de las tropas 
> españolas", "Simón ten cuidado con la comida que comes porque puede 
> estar envenenada", etc. Si se viste como Maradona le dicen "Diego 
> nos quedan 5 segundos para empatar el juego y tienes que meter un 
> gol como sea". De esta manera, no siempre, pero se han dado casos 
> en que las personas abandonan esa faceta de la doble personalidad. 
> Adicionalmente este psicólogo esta tratando de eliminar otras ideas 
> de la mente de Chávez como son la de animador de televisión y de 
> cantante. Y uno de los traumas más grandes que tiene el presidente 
> Chávez es el de no haber sido invitado a la casa blanca por ningún 
> presidente norteamericano y con videos de la casa blanca e hipnosis 
> le hacen creer a Chávez que él ya ha estado allí y así calmarle ese 
> trauma que no lo deja quieto ni por un segundo. También lo dejan 
> que machuque el ingles, idioma que Chávez quisiera aprender pero no 
> tiene la facilidad de aprender este idioma. Está técnica de 
> hipnotismo es acompañada con medicamentos sedantes de la corteza 
> cerebral, el problema es cuando el paciente regresa a la realidad y 
> esto trae como consecuencia ataques de ira, violencia verbal, aires 
> de superioridad, necesidad de ser alabado, etc.
> Según informes preliminares del psicólogo argentino, éste afirma 
> que el principal problema del presidente Chávez es que es un ser 
> con un alto grado de complejo de inferioridad y esto lo a llevado a 
> este deplorable cuadro clínico que lo tiene al borde de la 
> incapacidad mental. Mas adelante en el informe, el psiquiatra 
> reseña que posiblemente todo este cuadro proviene de la niñez de 
> Chávez, la cual no fue muy feliz, ya que su mamá y papá 
> prácticamente lo abandonaron y el veía como los demás niños aunque 
> pobres eran felices en Barinas, mientras él era un niño infeliz por 
> culpa de sus padres irresponsables. Es por eso que Chávez odia a la 
> clase media y alta, necesita de la adulancia, de llamar la 
> atención, de dársela de que él se las sabe todas, necesita humillar 
> para sentirse superior y lo mas grave es que lo disfruta. Otra cosa 
> que le está haciendo mucho daño al presidente Chávez es ver a su 
> antigua esposa casada y feliz mientras él cada día está más sólo. 
> Para medio remediar este sentimiento de no ser querido por ninguna 
> mujer el psiquiatra le hace llegar emails, fotos y cartas falsas de 
> Noemí Cambell donde ella le insinúa estar muy enamorada de él. 
> Según se comenta que las personas que dependen de la permanencia de 
> Chávez en el poder como Jorge Rodríguez, Nicolás Maduro, Calixto 
> Ortega, Cilia Flores, Arias Cárdenas entre otros, le han 
> manifestado al psicólogo que en el caso de que no tenga cura 
> posible por lo menos lo mantenga controlado a cualquier precio, ya 
> sea con medicamentos o drogas. También le preguntaron al psiquiatra 
> que si Chávez era capaz de suicidarse, pero éste les aseguró que 
> Chávez es un ser muy miedoso y por eso era poco probable que 
> intentara suicidarse, ya que se necesita mucho valor para llegar a 
> esos extremos. Los allegados a Chávez le manifestaron al psicólogo 
> que lo importante es mantenerlo como presidente porque sus cargos y 
> sueldos dependen al 100 por ciento de Chávez. El psicólogo les ha 
> recomendado que deberían buscar un sustituto para Chávez porque su 
> estado mental es muy severo y él opina que posiblemente no podrá 
> curarlo del todo y les dijo que sólo un milagro reordenaría las 
> neuronas del cerebro de Chávez. El psicólogo argentino ofreció que 
> estará tratando a Chávez hasta donde sea posible pero sin ser 
> optimista.
> Con sesiones de hipnotismo le han vendido a Chávez que Izarra será 
> su salvador porque se formó en CNN y le dicen que es un experto en 
> comunicación mediática. Le han vendido la imagen de Izarra como un 
> experto para que Chávez acepte todo lo que le dice Izarra y le haga 
> caso y no lo despida en cualquier momento como suele hacer Chávez 
> cada vez que le entra la loquera y ustedes saben que Chávez no 
> acepta que le ordenen nada.
> Volviendo al ministro Andrés Izarra, otra de las cosas que tiene al 
> ministro preocupado es que en los nuevos billetes venezolanos en la 
> parte de atrás y en el extremo inferior o superior están 
> apareciendo las siguientes leyendas "Chávez está loco" o "Chávez 
> drogómano". Cada día aparecen más billetes con esas leyendas 
> escritas por el pueblo venezolano.
> Como ven la salud mental del presidente Chávez esta creando 
> problemas severos en el proceso revolucionario. Será por eso que 
> dicen que hay quienes piensan dentro de la revolución en el 
> Chavismo sin Chávez ?
> Bueno seguiremos pendientes y los tendremos informados de la suerte 
> del psicólogo argentino y si tiene éxito y no muere en el intento 
> de curar la mente del presidente Chávez, cosa que no parece fácil.
> Nota : Cuadros como estos son los que está utilizando el psicólogo 
> argentino en Miraflores para seguirle la corriente al presidente 
> Chávez que se cree Simón Bolívar y así hacen con Maradona, Santana 
> y Castro.
27749  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / EZCH (formerly LNOP) on: February 29, 2008, 08:01:54 PM
From the Gilder weekly freebie letter:

The Week / EZchip on the Critical Path of Fiberspeed Connectivity (video)

EZchip CEO Eli Fruchter speaking on the “Critical Path of Fiberspeed Connectivity” at Gilder/Forbes Telecosm 2007 in October: I wanted to start by telling you what we do, because not all of you own LanOptics shares…We build chips. We are a fabless company. We build network processors that go into network equipment; mainly switched and routers. The big companies that build switches and routers are using our chips…

Now, I want to say a few things about our NP-2 chip in light of yesterday’s session on multicore processing….

View the Complete Video:
27750  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington on: February 29, 2008, 10:28:26 AM

"Harmony, liberal intercourse with all Nations, are recommended
by policy, humanity and interest. But even our Commercial policy
should hold an equal and impartial hand: neither seeking nor
granting exclusive favours or preferences; consulting the natural
course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the
streams of Commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing with Powers
so disposed; in order to give trade a stable course."

-- George Washington (Farewell Address, 19 September 1796)

Reference: Maxims of George Washington, Schroeder, ed. (71)
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