DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Mexico
on: May 04, 2006, 06:42:05 AM
?Alguien quiere comentar sobre el nuevo proyecto/ley sobre posesion de varias drogas?
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexican President Vicente Fox refused to sign a drug decriminalization bill Wednesday, hours after U.S. officials warned the plan could encourage "drug tourism."
Fox sent the measure back to Congress for changes, but his office did not mention the U.S. criticism.
Fox will ask "Congress to make the needed corrections to make it absolutely clear in our country, the possession of drugs and their consumption are, and will continue to be, a criminal offense," according to a statement from the president's office.
On Tuesday, Fox's spokesman had called the bill "an advance" and pledged the president would sign it. But the measure, passed Friday by Congress, drew a storm of criticism because it eliminates criminal penalties possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamines and PCP, as well as marijuana and cocaine.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. government expressed a rare public objection to an internal Mexican political development, saying anyone caught with illegal drugs in Mexico should be prosecuted or given mandatory drug treatment.
"U.S. officials ... urged Mexican representatives to review the legislation urgently, to avoid the perception that drug use would be tolerated in Mexico, and to prevent drug tourism," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Judith Bryan said.
There are concerns the measure could increase drug use by border visitors and U.S. students who flock to Mexico on vacation.
Bryan said the U.S. government wants Mexico "to ensure that all persons found in possession of any quantity of illegal drugs be prosecuted or be sent into mandatory drug treatment programs."
Jerry Saunders, mayor of San Diego - just a short drive from the border town of Tijuana, Mexico - applauded Fox's decision, saying he was "appalled" by the bill because it could increase drug availability north of the border.
"We have been a partner with Mexico in fighting against illegal drugs, and this will only help in the long-term in that relationship," he said.
The legislature has adjourned for the summer, and when it comes back, it will have an entirely new lower house and one-third new Senate members following the July 2 elections, which will also make the outgoing Fox a lame duck.
However, Sen. Jorge Zermeno, of Fox's conservative National Action Party - a supporter of the bill - said he thought Congress would be open to changing the legislation to delete a clause that extends to all "consumers" the exemption from prosecution that was originally meant to cover only recognized drug addicts.
"The word 'consumer' can be eliminated so that the only exemption clause would be for drug addicts," Zermeno told The Associated Press. "There's still time to get this through."
The bill contained many points that experts said were positive: it empowered state and local police - not just federal officers - to go after drug dealers, stiffened some penalties and closed loopholes that dealers had long used to escape prosecution.
But the broad decriminalization clause was what soured many - both in Mexico and abroad - to the proposal.
Mexico's top police official, Eduardo Medina Mora, acknowledged on Tuesday that the U.S. anti-drug agency has expressed concern about the law. Some senators and community leaders in Mexico also objected to the bill. But even if it had passed, he noted that Mexican cities have the power to impose fines and overnight jail detentions for those caught with drugs in public.
Current Mexican law allows judges latitude to drop charges if suspects can prove they are addicts and the quantity they were caught with is small enough to be considered "for personal use," or if they are first-time offenders.
The new bill would have made the decriminalization automatic, allowed "consumers" as well as addicts to have drugs, and delineated specific allowable quantities, which do not appear in the current law.
Under the law, consumers could have legally possessed up to 25 milligrams of heroin, a half a gram of cocaine and about one-fifth of an ounce of marijuana.
Cambiando el tema, he aqui lo siguiente:
May 4, 1:21 AM EDT
Mexican Protesters, Police Clash; 1 Dead
By EDUARDO VERDUGO
Associated Press Writer
SAN SALVADOR ATENCO, Mexico (AP) -- One person was killed as machete-wielding protesters near Mexico's capital clashed with police Wednesday, blocking highways, throwing molotov cocktails and briefly seizing six officers.
A 14-year-old boy from San Salvador Atenco was killed, though circumstances surrounding his death were unclear, said Humberto Benitez, secretary general of the state of Mexico.
Benitez said, as did a spokesman for the Federal Preventative Police, that a federal police agent was also beaten to death. Hours later, however, Mexico state Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto called television stations to say the officer remained hospitalized in serious condition.
Television images from helicopters overhead showed residents repeatedly punching and kicking the semiconscious officer even after he had been put inside an ambulance.
The residents, who have a history of fights with authorities, attacked police after several of their companions were arrested in the nearby town of Texcoco, according to media reports.
Hundreds of police fired tear gas into the crowds and arrested 31 people. A tense calm settled over the town after dark, though residents continued to block nearby highways.
Shortly before midnight, community leaders released six state and federal police officers they had taken hostage hours earlier. Officials said it was a gesture of good will since all of the officers were injured in the clashes.
At least three dozen police officers were injured, according to media reports. An Associated Press photographer suffered minor bruises after being clubbed during the melee.
Elsewhere in Mexico, gunmen opened fire on a group of officers eating lunch in a restaurant in the troubled border town of Nuevo Laredo, injuring five officers and a bystander.
Three officers were in serious but stable condition after the attack while two others suffered minor injuries, said Rene Ruiz, an investigating agent.
No arrests were made and investigators said they didn't know why the officers were attacked or how many assailants were involved.
Nuevo Laredo, a city of 330,000 across from Laredo, Texas, has been caught in a turf war between rival drug gangs fighting for billion-dollar smuggling routes into the United States. Since Jan. 1, about 100 people, including eight police officers, have been slain in the city, compared to 23 during the same period last year.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: May 04, 2006, 06:18:21 AM
Iraq: If Not Now, When?
By George Friedman
If there is an endgame to the American presence in Iraq, it is now. The Iraqis have reached a general compromise on the composition of a new government. The agreement was blessed by the joint visit to Baghdad of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. There also have been statements -- though later retracted -- by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that U.S. and Iranian officials have held meetings in Dokan, a city in the northern Kurdish region. Talabani also has said that he and American officials had met with the leaders of seven separate Sunni guerrilla groups and that he expected to meet with others who had taken up arms against the occupation.
The formation of the government was preceded and succeeded by a complex series of negotiations in which there are at least five sides, each of which (including the United States at this point) is factionalized. There are the three main Iraqi players -- Shia, Kurds and Sunnis -- plus the United States and Iran. That makes for a complex negotiation and one that can readily fail. The endgame could turn into the beginning of an entirely new round of warfare and chaos. But this much can be said: If no agreement can be reached now, it is hard to imagine how an agreement will be reached in the future. If not now, when? The times will not be more propitious than they are now.
Each party has an interest in a settlement. Each side could lose as much as it might gain in the future. The three internal factions -- Shia, Sunnis and Kurds -- are all getting substantially less than they wanted, but each could possibly lose even more if the fighting continues. The external powers, the United States and Iran, face similar circumstances. Certainly, everyone wants to explore what a settlement would look like, hence the flurry of very quiet and highly deniable meetings and discussions. It may work or it may fall apart, but it would seem to be the time to examine each side's bargaining position and what they are likely to settle for.
The Americans came in with the goal of occupying Iraq, reshaping its society to suit them and using Iraq as a base from which to project power and influence throughout the region. However, the war did not go as they hoped or expected. The United States defeated the Iraqi army but found itself facing a Sunni insurgency and complex Shiite political maneuvers. The goal of reshaping Iraqi society is gone; the possibility of influencing the future structure and policy of any emerging Iraqi government remains. Iraq has not served as a platform from which to project power. Rather, it has served as a magnet that attracted outside forces. However, the possibility of some agreement that would allow the United States to base forces in Iraq is not out of the question.
At this point, however, the primary American goal is to hand off responsibility for providing security in Iraq. The U.S. military has not been able to provide security under any circumstances. It clearly cannot suppress the Sunni insurgency -- but in its current posture, the United States continues to carry the burden of counterinsurgency operations without any real expectation of success. Leaving aside the fact that the United States continues to absorb casualties, there are now more than 100,000 troops in Iraq -- a number that is obviously insufficient for the mission, but which drains U.S. logistical and manpower resources to a degree that dealing with unexpected crises elsewhere in the world would be difficult.
Since this position is untenable, the United States must make a move.
One option would be to surge additional force into Iraq. The current political configuration in the United States does not make that an option for the Bush administration, even if this was wished, and even if a surge of troops would suppress the Sunni insurrection. Therefore, the United States has two pressing goals. First, it must abandon the mission of counterinsurgency, transferring it in some way to Iraqi forces. Second, it needs to withdraw its forces from Iraq. Ideally, the United States would not withdraw all forces but would leave behind enough to serve as a rapid-reaction force in the region. This force would be based outside of populated areas. However, the basing issue is secondary to the withdrawal issue.
In addition, and of great strategic importance to the United States, the government of Iraq must not become a client of Iran. Given the size of the Shiite population in Iraq, guaranteeing this outcome will not be easy, but it is clearly the focus of U.S. negotiations at this time. If Iraq were to become a client of the Shiite regime in Tehran, then the entire balance of power in the region would tilt in favor of Iran, putting the Arabian Peninsula at risk. That is something that the United States (not to mention others, like Saudi Arabia) would find intolerable. Faced with a choice of continued inconclusive warfare and an Iran-dominated Iraq, the United States would likely choose warfare. That is how high the stakes would be. Therefore, the key negotiating strategy for the United States is to find a way to withdraw its forces from Iraq -- possibly leaving a residual force behind -- after creating a government in Baghdad that would be able to balance or buffer Iran.
In other words, at this point, American policy in Iraq is to restore the status quo prior to 2003, with a different regime in Baghdad and the possibility of an ongoing, noninvolved American military presence in the country.
In Iran's ideal scenario, Iraq would become a satellite state. This would involve the installation of a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad so beholden to Iran that Iraq essentially would be an extension of Iran. If that were to happen, Iran would have achieved the geopolitical goal of major-power status: It would be the unchallenged native power in the Persian Gulf. Given the existence of indigenous Shiite populations throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Iran not only would be in a position to influence events in other countries, but would have the opportunity to use direct force against them.
The prize would be Saudi Arabia. If Iraq fell under Iranian control, the road to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states would be wide open. Other than the United States, there would be no power in a position to block the Iranians.
For Iran, this would be more than a matter of oil. If Iraq belonged to Iran and no outside power intervened, Shiite power could be amplified in the region. Sunnis, of course, vastly outnumber Shia within the Muslim world -- a structural impediment that, realistically, constrains Iran's ability to project itself as the leader of the Islamic world. Nonetheless, Iran has a need to burnish its credentials in this area and to be viewed as a regional hegemon. Control of Gulf oil would make Iran a regional power, but a rebalancing of Sunni and Shiite influence within the region would be heady stuff indeed.
In order for Iran to achieve this goal, the United States would have to withdraw from Iraq without having created a force that could block Iranian ambitions. Having the United States invade Iraq was in the Iranian interest because it got rid of Saddam Hussein. Having the Americans bog down in an endless war was in the Iranian interest because it offered the best chance of achieving Tehran's ultimate ambition. Iran has, therefore, been torn between two realities: On the one hand, in order to achieve its ambition, Iran needed a strong Sunni insurgency in Iraq -- but on the other, if a strong Sunni insurgency existed, Tehran's desire for the complete domination of Iraq could be thwarted.
Iran wound up with its own worst-case scenario. First, the Sunni insurgency swelled, creating a force that could not easily be controlled by the Shia. Second, the United States showed more endurance than the Iranians had hoped. In due course, the Iranian threat actually created a bizarre circumstance in which the United States and the Sunnis were simultaneously fighting and working together to block Iranian aspirations -- the Sunnis by demanding participation in the Iraqi government, and the United States by supporting their demands. Out of this came a third undesirable outcome: The Iraqi Shia, seeing themselves trapped between Iranian geopolitical ambitions and the threat of civil war without American protection, moved away from dependency on Iran and toward a much more complex position.
Unless the Sunnis were suddenly to collapse and the Americans were simply to withdraw, Iran no longer can expect to create a protectorate in Iraq. Its current goal must be much more modest: It must have an Iraq that is no threat to Iran. To this end, the Iranians need several things:
1. Guarantees as to the size and armament of the future Iraqi armed forces; they can be sufficient for internal security and defense but must not have offensive capability.
2. A degree of control over the makeup of the Iraqi government -- in particular, the right to block any appointment that is too close to the former Baathist elite and would have too much control over the defense or intelligence establishments.
3. Strict limits on Kurdish autonomy in order to guarantee that Kurdish separatism does not spill over into Iran. In this, the Iranians have an ally in Turkey.
4. A tight timeline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces.
In the back of their minds, the Iranians will accept these conditions as a major improvement over the status quo of 2003, but they will always see this as a springboard for their deeper ambitions. They will take a deal that keeps Iraq weak and gets the Americans out.
As we have noted previously, the Shia are fragmented and have a complex bargaining position as a result. However, two irreducible elements are present. First, the Shia do not want the Sunnis to return to a dominant political position in Iraq. This is essential and non-negotiable. Second, they want to be in a position to control Iraq's oil economy and the various industries that support it. In other words, the Shia want to control Iraq's government.
Until the first battle of Al Fallujah, it appeared that Washington would give them that prize -- but when the Americans entered into negotiations with the Sunni insurgents, it became clear that the United States was not going to simply play that role. The Shia then counted on Sunni intransigence -- which evaporated in December 2005, when the Sunnis participated in elections. The vigor of the Sunni rising eliminated the likelihood that it could be suppressed, except at a price to the Shia that they were unwilling to pay. The Shia, therefore, had to face either perpetual and uncertain civil war or accept the idea of Sunni participation in the government.
They had already abandoned the idea of complete control of Iraq's oil when they entered into an alliance with the Kurds. It was not clear who would control the northern oil regions, but it was not going to be the Shia. With the entry of the Sunnis into the government, the Shia accepted the idea that they would lead but not control the Iraqi government. Therefore, their position on oil became a regional rather than national position. For the Shia, the key now is to guarantee that a substantial portion of southern oil wealth remains under Shiite control and is not simply controlled by the government.
The Iraqi Shia remain heavily influenced by Iran, but they understand that playing Iran's game could decimate them. They will settle for control of the key ministries in Baghdad and a large piece of the southern oil economy. When the Americans leave, and in what sequence, is of far less interest to them than the control of the economy.
The Sunnis have gone from being the dominant power in Iraq to being a minority ethnic group, and the only one of the three with no oil clearly in their territory. At the same time, their insurgency has achieved what it was designed to do: The Sunnis have not become an irrelevant force in Iraq. The ability to sustain an insurrection against the Americans as well as to strike against the Shia established that it would be better to include them in a political settlement than to exclude them. Their skillful use of the jihadist threat particularly drove home the fact that they could not simply be ignored. By portraying the jihadists as an uncontrollable outside force, the Sunnis set themselves up as the only force that could control the jihadists. That was their key bargaining chip, and they used it well.
The interests of the Sunnis are relatively simple. First, they want to participate in the Iraqi government. Second, they want a share of Iraq's oil income and a degree of control over the northern oil fields. Third -- and this will complicate attempts to convince insurgents to give up weapons -- they want American forces to remain in-country in order to guarantee that the Shia don't attack them, that Iran does not intervene and that the Iraqi government does not fall under Iranian control. The Sunnis may dream of regaining the power and privilege they enjoyed in Baathist Iraq, but in practical terms, they have shed a huge amount of blood simply in order not to be dismissed while Iraq's future is shaped.
The Kurds want, ideally, an independent nation. That means going to war with Iran, Turkey and Syria -- therefore, they will not get an independent nation. They can gain a degree of autonomy in Iraq, but the degree will depend less on the Sunnis and Shia, who have other issues to worry about, than it will on Tehran, Ankara and Damascus, none of whom want the Kurds to have too much autonomy. The Americans have been the guarantors of autonomy for the Kurds in Iraq since 1991. However, the Americans also want to get out of the business of guaranteeing things in Iraq. The Turks and Iranians both have leverage with the Americans. Therefore, the United States, as part of its exit strategy, might well become the force to contain the Kurds.
The second issue for the Kurds is oil. They are the dominant population in the north, where some of Iraq's significant oil fields are located, and they want to consolidate their hold. Some Shia are amenable to this, but the Sunnis want a share in Kurdish oil. The Sunnis ultimately will not participate in an arrangement in which the Shia and Kurds draw oil wealth directly but in which the Sunnis have access to it only after it is disbursed through the central government. Had the Sunnis not fought so tenaciously, they perhaps could have been ignored. Ignoring them now is dangerous. Therefore, the issue for the Kurds is precisely how much they will have to give the Sunnis directly. This is a matter of money and, in the end, money matters are negotiable.
The Kurds know they will not get a Kurdish state that incorporates Iranian and Turkish Kurds at this time. They also believe that if they gain a degree of autonomy and oil wealth, they will be in a position to take advantage of other opportunities later. If not, there is still the oil wealth.
There is a basic understanding of what is possible currently in Iraq. Everyone has their plans for the future, but right now, the idea of a coalition government is a given. But two issues remain outstanding.
The first is the status of U.S. forces in Iraq. The United States will not permit its forces to remain as targets for guerrillas, although the Sunnis and Shia might find this useful. Therefore, there will be a withdrawal, with a substantial drawdown this year. However, the Sunnis and Kurds both want an American force to remain, and the Americans want that, too. The Iranians and Iraqi Shia want the Americans out earlier. So the timing is one issue to negotiate.
The other issue is oil -- how the revenues and resources are divided up among the three ethnic communities. As we have said, that is about money and, when it gets down to that, compromise is possible. However, the Sunnis and Kurds are afraid of Shiite strength, which means they want the Americans to remain in place. The Shia can charge for that in terms of oil revenues. Treaties have been based on less.
The problem with the endgame in Iraq is not so much the divergence of interests among the players -- they tend to converge now more than to diverge. The problem is that there are so many parties to the negotiations and that these parties are themselves divided, the Americans not least among them. In other words, there are too many players to create a stable basis for negotiations. On the one side, reality pulls them together; on the other side, the sheer mechanics of the negotiation are mind-boggling.
We think that something will be worked out, simply because the logic of each player requires a settlement. It will result in a diminishment of violence, not its elimination. That is the best that can be hoped for. But we also believe that the train is leaving the station. If an agreement cannot be reached now that allows for a phased and managed withdrawal of U.S. forces, then the only remaining options for the United States will be to continue to fight a counterinsurgency indefinitely, with insufficient force, or a unilateral withdrawal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: May 03, 2006, 11:39:52 PM
May 3, 2006
A funny thing happened on the way to the Iranian bomb: The more alarming the mullahs' behavior, the more nonchalant the rest of the world seems to be about it. But one development may give even the most adamant pooh-poohers pause.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month announced that Iran had enriched uranium to reactor-grade levels in a 164-centrifuge cascade, a major technical achievement that puts Iran within hopping distance of an actual bomb. Mr. Ahmadinejad followed this up by announcing that Iran was working on an advanced centrifuge of Pakistani design, the possession of which Iran had previously denied to inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Next, Iran rebuffed IAEA requests to inspect the new centrifuges, a violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to which Iran is a signatory. Iran then threatened to withdraw from the NPT altogether if the United Nations imposed sanctions for its violations thereof. Iran ignored Friday's deadline from the U.N. Security Council to stop enriching uranium. Instead Tehran simply repeated a long-standing offer to allow additional inspections if the Security Council drops the issue.
Israeli intelligence also reports last week that Iran has purchased an upgraded version of the Soviet SS-6 ballistic missile from North Korea, which is capable of carrying a nuclear payload and has a range of about 1,600 miles, putting parts of Europe well within range.
And the international community's response? Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, are adamantly opposed to U.N. sanctions on Iran. Their view is mainly shared by Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Committee, who thinks President Bush "ought to cool this one" by negotiating directly with Tehran.
In Europe, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw has reportedly told Cabinet colleagues that it would be "illegal" for Britain to participate in any prospective military action against Iran. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier agrees: "We will not stop Iran with war," he recently told the news weekly Der Spiegel.
Which brings us to Iran's latest. Last week, the Associated Press reported that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, offered to share the nuclear genie with Sudan. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists," Mr. Khamenei told visiting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Mr. Bashir, whose government abets the massacre of Darfuris, says Sudan could use a nuclear reactor to generate electricity. Uh huh.
How so many apparently thoughtful people can face the idea of an Iranian bomb with relative equanimity remains a mystery to us. Whether they are as "cool" with the idea of fissile material in Mr. Bashir's hands is another matter. Whatever the case, they should consider that acquiescing to a bomb for Iran may also mean agreeing to one for many more of the world's worst actors.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Politica-Economia en Latino America
on: May 03, 2006, 11:15:35 PM
Mientras esperamos comentarios de nuestros amigos latinos, permitame ofrecer un pequeno resume de la teoria que se me ensenaba cuando, hace muchos anos (30!) cuando yo estudiaba en la universidad.
El analisis de derecha-izquierda no explica mucho. El mundo tiene mas que dos dimensiones. Hay mercado libre, hay socialismo, y hay fascismo. Se trata de este tercero cuando el titulo al capital (the means of production) queda en manos privados, pero esta' dirigida por el gobierno-- como se ve en mucho de latinoamerica. El individuo no se ve como tal, sino como miembro de un grupo (campesino, obrero, empresario, indio, iglesia, etc). Modelos perfectos serian Italia de Musolini, Espana de Franco, Agentina de Peron, etc. Parece que Chavez de Venezuela va por este rumbo-- no obtante las palabras de izquierda que diga.
Disculpa por favor las limitaciones de mi castellano. Ya se hace tarde y voy a dormir.
Les despido de Uds con lo siguiente del WSJ de hoy. No usa mi terminologia, pero si' ofrece un punto de vista.
Latin Energy Fad
May 3, 2006; Page A14
Latin culture is all the rage these days, from Botero sculptures and Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie," to burritos and margaritas. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Bolivia is getting in on another Latin craze: the abrogation of contracts.
We refer to President Evo Morales's pronouncement on May 1 -- not a coincidental date -- to tear up Bolivia's agreements with foreign investors in the natural gas industry and take, in his words, "absolute control" of Bolivia's natural resources. Kicking out foreign investors by executive decree sounds a lot like the same authoritarian nationalist populismo that has earned Bolivia the only prominence it has ever enjoyed: South America's poorest nation.
The Morales move shocked markets but not for its originality. The newly inaugurated president is following the lead of Venezuelan President Hugo Ch?vez, who is a knock-off of Argentine strongman Juan Peron. Peron is long since dead but his spirit lives on in his party, which has been the 21st century's trend setter in the assault on property rights. In 2001 and 2002, Argentina's Peronistas reneged on their commitments not only with foreigners but with their own people, declaring a debt moratorium, tearing up utility contracts, confiscating dollar bank accounts and devaluing the peso.
Se?or Ch?vez followed suit after a fashion. He canceled contracts with foreign oil companies last month, demanding that the government oil company be given majority ownership and operational charge of oil fields. New terms offered to investors are also far less profitable. Some have agreed to stick it out, but Exxon Mobil sold its operations and when France's Total and Italy's ENI SpA refused to give in, Mr. Ch?vez responded by seizing their operations.
Like all fads, this one has its surface appeal. Argentina cleared its balance sheets by sticking it to its creditors and tearing up contracts. Its economy is still growing four years after its theft of private-sector assets, and it may even believe it's gotten something for nothing.
Yet the real predictor of a country's economic future lies in its investment rate. Economists estimate that to achieve steady long-term growth of 3.5% to 4%, Argentina needs an investment-to-GDP rate of at least 23%. To reach 5%, a more reasonable target for a quasi-developed country, it needs 25% investment to GDP. Yet last year's investment rate was a measly 19.8% and today's rate is only 22%. In other words, there are lots of places to put capital these days and few are rushing into Buenos Aires.
It may be that Mr. Morales has been emboldened by the petro wealth of Venezuela. But that country, too, is having trouble sustaining investment in energy production. Thanks to rampant corruption and the government's use of energy profits for buying support for socialism at home and around the region, Venezuela's oil fields are suffering from under-investment. Given an annual depletion rate of 25%, the only thing not clear is how long it will take to run the sector completely dry.
Bolivia to date has had only about $3.5 billion in foreign investment in natural gas, not nearly enough to exploit its vast reserves in the future. Even if Brazil's Petrobras and Spain's Repsol YPF decide to stay and accept the operating terms laid down by President Morales -- including a tax of 82% on natural gas extracted from country's two biggest fields -- new investment is unlikely to be nearly so brave.
Which means Bolivia would become either less productive or highly dependent on state-owned foreign companies from Venezuela or perhaps Russia. Neither option bodes well for the country's sovereignty, much less its prosperity.
URL for this article:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114661950510242198.html
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Want to make a knife for the US Army?
on: May 03, 2006, 08:30:21 AM
Here's the basics on the knife project. I just spoke with the combatives group, and it looks like at least five of them would jump all over the chance to own one of these right now for anything close to $300 or less. My guess is there'd be a whole lot more than that, but out of a class of forty people, I got five to say yes on the spot. Considering we work with roughly 500 troops a month in Combatives, and roughly another 500 in all the other areas, my guess is this would be a pretty strong seller. Especially if I strap a couple of them on the legs of some our instructors...
At any rate, the basic introduction to the project and my proposal to the makers follows. Let me know where you post it so I can follow along. And thanks as always for the assist. (By the way - if it works out, I'll buy you serial number 0001!)
My name is Michael Brewer. I am currently serving as a US Army Reserve soldier, and in my civilian life, I am a combat tactics instructor for all branches of service. Specifically, my job is to train Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen deploying to the Middle East in support of the Global War on Terror. My areas of specialty are weapons and small unit tactics, including all manner of US small arms, squad-based urban warfare, convoy live fire training, combatives (US Army Hand to Hand Fighting), and just about anything else that relates to the fighting end of being a US servicemember. Over the past year, I've conducted hundreds of AAR's with troops both deploying and returning from theater. I've probed to find any information I could find both as an instructor and as a soldier that might improve our troops' odds of winning each and every fight. Obviously, a lot of this information is not appropriate to share publicly, but a lot of it can only be addressed by civilians who support our troops. I'm writing this introduction about just such a topic.
Much has been made over the past several decades about edged weapons, both as fighting implements and as tools for soldiers in the field. As most soldiers have told me time and again, the staggering majority of the designs currently available have missed big. Knives tend to be "one-trick ponies" in the words of a recently retired Master Sergeant. "They either cut or they stab, but never both. If they're cutting knives, my Joes will bust the tips off 'em nine times out of ten. If they're stabbing knives, they don't do us any good as cutting tools because a double edged dagger is no good at all for utility purposes. Even the ones that find some kind of balance are too thin to deal with any kind of hard work, let alone the kind of rigors common to our guys in the field. Folding knives snap right at the pivot, and the bayonets we're issued are so soft you can't even put a good edge on them, let alone keep it there."
My father is an accomplished knifemaker who has crafted some amazing pieces for me over the years. He's built several damascus blades that have withstood abuses unlike anything a knife is meant for. One of them literally cut a mobile home in half over the course of a work day. Regrettably, he is in semi-retirement due to a shoulder injury and a lack of a forge. That's why I am putting this information out to the public. Working with these soldiers, I have compiled their suggestions into a design that most feel would not only suit their needs today, but would account for most of the foreseeable needs of the future. I would like to find a knifemaker that is willing to build a prototype knife according to these suggestions. This would be a custom knife, and would not be a government contract by any means. However, it is a knife designed by and for servicemen and women, and would very likely be popular across the full spectrum. What's more, because the knifemaker who accepts would be going to some degree of personal expense and effort on a project not of their own design - based on faith and the suggrestions of others, as it were - I would be willing to give the design rights to the knifemaker in exchange for a pair of prototypes. I'd want to conduct some of the most severe tests ever conducted on a knife, document them, and present them to the chain of command that I work for in both civilian and military sectors. I'd forward all requests to the knifemaker for orders and modifications. In other words, you make the knife according to specs and provide me with a pair of prototypes, and I'll test it, evaluate it, write up a report, and pass it along to the market group that suggested it in the first place - and I'll hand you the rights to the design itself free and clear.
What do you get out of it? At best, an inside track on what could be one of the more popular military knives today, and someone else handles a good chunk of your marketing for free. At worst, you get a few orders from the soldiers that "created" the design and you recover your investment, and you still have the rights to the design free and clear. What do I get out of it? I get what I believe will be one of the most practical and functional fighting and utility knives available, and I get to give my soldiers the opportunity to carry into battle with them a tool that I would unhesitatingly bet my own life on. I think it's definitely a good proposition all around.
If anyone is interested in undertaking the project, please feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com
, or call 719.494.6501. Thank you all for your consideration, and I look forward to speaking with you soon.
and this on US Army stationary:
AFZC-PAO 2 May 2006
MEMORANDUM FOR RECORD
SUBJECT: Soldier Knife Project
1. SPC Courtney E. Pace, PAO, 2BCT, 2ID
2. The PAO just received the research package you compiled regarding the ?Soldier Knife? design. Our office would be extremely interested in giving the project some publicity, especially since this is a civilian project based on military feedback.
3. The unit got back from Iraq in August of 2005, and several members of the unit have said that your knife design would definitely solve many of the issues they encountered with their currently issued gear.
4. The PAO would be interested in covering the project, including interviews with you and whatever knife maker agrees to take on the design and building of the knife.
5. We will also cover the ?torture testing? you and others will put the knife through using military related scenarios. This aspect will appeal to readers as it proves the usefulness and detailed thinking that went into the design.
COURTNEY E. PACE
2BCT, 2ID PAO
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Howl of Respect to our Soldiers/Veterans
on: May 02, 2006, 04:21:43 PM
COMMON NAME, UNCOMMON VALOR
Written by Ralph Bennett
Since his days growing up in Tampa, Fla. the lanky kid with the slightly mischievous smile had wanted to be a soldier. By this bright morning, April 4, 2003, Sgt 1st Class Paul Ray Smith had more than fullfilled his dream. He had served 15 of his 33 years in the U.S. Army, including three tours of duty in harms way- in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Now all his training, all his experience, all the instincts that had made him a model soldier, were about to be put to the test. With 16 men from his 1st Platoon, B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, Sgt. Smith was under attack by about 100 troops of the Iraqi Republican Guard.
"We're in a world of hurt" he was heard to say.
That world was a dusty triangular, walled compound about half the size of a football field, near the Saddam Hussein Airport, 11 miles from Baghdad. Sgt. Smith's engineers or "sappers" had broken through the southren wall of the compound with a military bulldozer and begun turning the area into a temporary "pen" for Iraqi prisoners as U.S. forces pressed their attack on the airport.
While they were working, guards spotted a large Iraqi force approaching their position. The guards called for Sgt. Smith to take a look and as he arrived all hell broke loose. They came under heavy fire from machine gunners and RPG's.
The lightly armed work detail needed fire support. Sgt. Smith called for a Bradley fighting vehicle. The Bradley was on site in short order and attacked the enemy force with it's 25mm Bushmaster cannon. Sgt. Smith and his men took up positions around the Bradley as he called for a nearby M-133 personnel carrier for additional fire power from it's .50 caliber machinegun.
As the two vehicles engaged the Iraqis both were hit by motor rounds and RPG's. Sgt Smith lost his fire power to hold back the enemy troops.
Sgt. Smith could have withdrawn but he was the only thing standing between the enemy and a aid station with combat casualties and medical teams a short distance away.
Under fire Sgt Smith and his men extracted three wounded from the APC. Then Sgt Smith positioned the APC where he could cover most of the compound then he manned the machinegun while one of his men fed the belted ammo. His other men made an assault on a guard tower while Sgt Smith layed down fire on the main forces coming at them now from three different positions. His men reached the tower and took it over but Sgt Smith was shot by one of the Iraqis there in the tower just as the other Iraqi troops started turning back because of the accurate fire of Sgt. Smith. 50 dead Iraqi soldiers lay in the area of the compound. Sgt. Smith's vest had 13 bullet holes in it but he had continued to fire while being hit. The shot from the tower hit him in the neck killing him.
When the Army told his mother her son had died in battle she said "Our name is so common, maybe it's a mistake"
On April 4th, 2005, exactly two years after his selfless action, his wife and their children stood in the White House and was presented with Sgt. Smith's Medal of Honor.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Politica-Economia en Latino America
on: May 02, 2006, 10:35:57 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Bolivia and Leftward Movement in Latin America
Bolivian President Evo Morales followed through on a campaign promise on Monday by nationalizing the country's oil and natural gas industries. The move, which Morales discussed frequently during his first 100 days in power, should not have come as a surprise, but the way in which it was done caught many off-guard. Rather than sending a bill to the legislature, Morales enacted the law by decree, announced it on the national May Day holiday -- to the surprise of Bolivia's own media -- and immediately sent the armed forces to secure oil facilities, seeking to prevent any disruptions in operations. In other words, everything was done in the style of the old Latin American populist governments, with a flair that portends a penchant for theatricality and unwillingness to compromise.
Monday's development raises two questions. First, given Bolivia's poverty
and dependence on other countries as shipping routes for its gas exports,
will the nationalization policy be sustainable over the long run? And
second, is this part of a leftist trend that Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez has been encouraging in the region, or will Bolivia's lurch to the
left with the hydrocarbons policy be an isolated case?
Whatever the answer to the first question, Bolivia is hardly an isolated
case. Venezuela has set certain precedents by incrementally changing the
playing rules for foreign companies: Taxes have been increased, and
foreign-owned firms have been forced to enter into joint ventures with the
state-owned oil company. Ecuador is now moving down the same path. Quito recently approved a law that allows the government to renegotiate contracts with oil companies, giving the government more than half of the revenues from oil sold above a certain price level. And in Peru, presidential candidate Ollanta Humala has promised to nationalize gas reserves and production if he wins the runoff election. There is indeed a pattern here.
Another pattern appears to have developed on trade issues as well. During the Summit of the Americas (hosted by Argentina in November 2005), a bloc of countries -- vocally led by Venezuela, with backing from Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia -- expressed strong opposition to calls to move forward with the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Instead, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba during the past weekend signed the Peoples' Trade Agreement -- note the absence of the word "free" -- as a way to promote unity in the Americas and as their response to the FTAA.
That said, not all the countries in Latin America are treading the same
course. In fact, there may be more differences than similarities in the
policies emerging from the region. Although most of the recently elected
governments have been labeled "leftist" and supposedly have common agendas, Latin America is beginning to show signs of deep divisions rather than growing unity. Only the most radical governments have nationalized their energy industries or attempted to change the rules of engagement for foreign-owned companies. Countries like Brazil, Uruguay and Chile -- all of which have elected leaders belonging to old leftist movements -- have not pursued nationalization policies, and in fact the investment environment in these countries has remained at least level (or improved, in comparison to the more radical countries in the region.)
On trade, the countries that favored the FTAA did not sit back and wait for
Chavez or Argentine President Nestor Kirchner to take the lead or declare it a good idea -- they moved ahead to negotiate bilateral agreements with the United States themselves. Colombia and Peru already have signed their respective agreements, although they still await ratification. Ecuador also has engaged in negotiations with the United States, although the approval of Quito's version of the hydrocarbons law has stalled talks. As a result of all of this, Chavez decided last week to pull Venezuela out of the Andean Community of Nations -- a group that includes Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia -- saying (with Bolivia's agreement) that it is incompatible to seek trade agreements with the United States and fellow Latin American states at the same time. Colombia and Peru, defying Chavez's strange economic logic, have decided to move ahead with their U.S. trade deals.
Deeper south, integration has suffered as well. Uruguay and Paraguay have questioned Mercosur's current structure, claiming that Brazil and Argentina run rough-shod over the small members of the trade bloc. Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez has labeled the organization -- which comprises Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay -- "useless" and called for reform. At the same time, Vazquez has been looking to launch free-trade talks -- or at lest an investment agreement -- with the United States, and he is scheduled to meet this week with U.S. President George W. Bush.
All in all, Venezuela's Chavez appears to have been sowing division among his neighbors rather than uniting Latin America behind the project he envisions for Venezuela. He has engaged in bitter verbal spats with
President Vicente Fox of Mexico, with President Alejandro Toledo Manrique of Peru and with Peruvian presidential contender Alan Garcia. It is true that Peru, Mexico and Nicaragua still might elect leaders who would be closer to Chavez ideologically than to the United States or other moderate Latin American leaders. But despite that, it is not entirely clear that all of them would follow the same policy path. It is considerably more likely that divisions will persist among Latin American states. Economic realities place clear constraints on the policies that the governments of the region can follow.
Thus, with economic and geographic realities in mind, we return to Bolivia
and our first question: Are the nationalization policies sought by Morales
Though Bolivia has South America's second-largest reserves of natural gas, its hydrocarbons industry remains quite underdeveloped. The country currently exports most of its gas to and through Brazil (whose state-owned Petrobras is one of the main foreign companies in Bolivia's hydrocarbons industry). By expropriating the hydrocarbons -- or, to be even more to the point, by reducing the status of foreign companies to mere operators of oil and gas fields -- Bolivia will obstruct flows of new investment and strain its relationship with Brazil. Considering that Morales came into office strongly opposed to a plan that would build a gas export line through Chile, he basically would have only one other route to get the gas to market if Brazil was alienated: through Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. But such a pipeline would take years to construct. And though Chavez has pledged support to his friend in Bolivia, it is not clear whether he can do much to help out, especially since the two countries do not share a border.
Morales has made good on one of his chief campaign promises, but doing so might hurt the indigenous population he wants to lift out of poverty more than it helps. The gas deposits are now theirs, but without assistance, the Bolivians will find it difficult to develop or export the gas. The alternative, in the less-than-diplomatic words of Mexico's President Fox: They might have to eat it instead
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Politica-Economia en Latino America
on: May 01, 2006, 07:54:44 PM
Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a decree May 1 by which Bolivia nationalizes its oil and gas resources. Nationalization was one of Morales' main campaign promises. While Morales had apparently flip-flopped on his policies to allow the unrestricted growing of coca, he was facing increasing pressure to act soon on some of his campaign promises. Now he is starting to deliver.
On May 1, Bolivian President Evo Morales signed decree 28701, which nationalizes Bolivia's oil and gas resources. This was one of Morales' main campaign promises and sets Bolivia on a course similar to that of countries like Venezuela.
Even before winning the presidency, Morales said he intended to nationalize Bolivia's oil and gas resources. In that sense, this announcement is not a surprise, especially after reports emerging in the first days of April said a law to nationalize the resources was ready to be proposed. If anything, Morales just caught the local media by surprise, having announced it on a holiday. Using the figure of a decree instead of a change in the law, which can come later, also gives Morales an element of surprise to protect the announcement from potential legal challenges. At the same time of the announcement, Bolivian troops took control of several oil fields. The deployment of troops is intended both as a symbolic way to signal that Morales means business and to prevent any attempt to shut down production. Even if the nationalization was not unexpected, the way in which Morales' government has acted shows some heavy-handedness and not much willingness to compromise.
The decree's first details establish that the firms operating in the country will need to hand their production to the state-owned Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), which will take over selling the private firms' production as well as its own. The decree further says that private companies have 180 days to sign the new contracts in order to keep operations in Bolivia. Morales had said from the time he was campaigning that he would not confiscate companies' actual facilities and investments.
The main foreign energy companies operating in Bolivia are the Spanish company Repsol YPF, the Brazilian company Petroleo Brasileiro and the French company Total. Morales' decree establishes that those companies that had produced more than 100 million cubic meters in 2005 would only benefit from 18 percent of the production, with the rest of it going directly to the Bolivian government. Companies like Repsol YPF, which had registered the largest amount of reserves, will be affected most by the nationalization. If those details turn out to be true, then it will not leave those companies with many incentives to keep operating in the country.
Morales was facing increased domestic pressure to act quickly to fulfill some of his campaign promises, after having initially flip-flopped on the promise to allow unrestricted coca growing. This seems to be a way for Morales to reconcile himself with the other Bolivian political actors, and it will likely be well received by Bolivia's new partners on the just-signed Peoples' Trade Agreement: Cuba and Venezuela.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Political Rants
on: April 29, 2006, 08:38:16 PM
SPIES & LIES
By RALPH PETERS
April 28, 2006 -- IF a street-corner thug knowingly receives stolen goods for profit, he goes to jail. If a well-educated, privileged journalist profits from receiving classified information - stolen from our government - he or she gets a prize.
Is something wrong here?
Media outlets, including the generally responsible Washington Post, have had fits over a few retired generals' unclassified criticism of the Secretary of Defense, while simultaneously insisting on their own right to receive and publish our nation's wartime secrets - and to shield the identities of unethical bureaucrats who betray our nation's trust.
Since the Vietnam era, reporters have convinced themselves that they are the real heroes in any story. The archways above our journalism faculties soon may sport the maxim: "The Press can do no wrong."
But the press can do wrong. And it does it with gusto. Let me tell you what the illegal receipt and exploitation of our nation's secrets used to be called: Espionage. Spying. Yet today's "real" spies cause less harm to our national security than self-righteous journalists do.
A NATION at war must keep secrets. The media can't plead that classified documents just fell into their hands, obligating them to publish our secrets out of a noble respect for truth. That's bull, and every journalist knows it. Could a punk down on the block claim that, since he was offered a gun, he was obligated to aim it and pull the trigger?
Many in the media not only want to re-write election results and change national policies - they've been re-writing history, too. On the entertainment-and-propaganda side, George Clooney produced a gorgeous, seductive and whoppingly dishonest film about journalism last year, "Good Night, and Good Luck."
Deftly re-arranging the fall of Sen. Joseph McCarthy - by slighting the fact that only the Department of the Army had the guts to stand up to Tailgunner Joe at the height of his powers (a civilian lawyer for the Army asked the famous question, "Senator, have you no shame?") - the film leads the viewer to believe that a lone journalist, Edward R. Murrow, broke the senator's evil spell.
Of course, crediting the Army with the courage to defend the Constitution would have played havoc with the left-wing view of civil-military relations. But the greater omission had to do with Murrow's background. He made his bones with courageous radio coverage of the London Blitz. And he didn't feel compelled to tell the Nazi side of the story and help us feel Hitler's pain.
Edward R. Murrow kept secrets. Lots of them. He wanted the Allies to win. He even respected those in uniform. So he - and other journalists - remained silent about the landing exercise that went tragically awry at Slapton Sands, and about many another bad-for-morale event that might've made a hot headline. He kept D-Day-related secrets, too.
Do even our most self-adoring journalists really think that Edward R. Murrow would have published secret documents about prisons for senior Nazis during wartime?
NONE of us wants our media to engage in propaganda. We'd just like them to refrain from harming our country for selfish ends.
Which brings us to the Pulitzer-Prize-winning (and still not confirmed) story that claimed to reveal secret prisons holding a few high-ranking terrorists in Eastern Europe: If such facilities existed, what harm did they do to our country or the world? On the other hand, proclaiming their existence played into the hands of terrorists and America-haters.
That Pulitzer Prize wasn't really for journalism. It was a political statement. No one's going to get a journalism award for reporting on the War on Terror's successes or progress in Iraq. Only left-wing children get a prize.
AFTER laboring in the intelligence vineyards for over two decades, I can assure you of a few things: First, there are no super-top-secret, black-helicopter, kidnap-American-Idol-judges conspiracies hidden since 1776. Second, there are legitimate secrets that must be protected - usually because revealing them would tip our collection methods or operational techniques to our country's mortal enemies (as the secret-prisons story did).
I can assure you of a third thing, too: If an intelligence professional saw a genuine threat to the Constitution or to the rights of his or her fellow citizens, he or she would step forward - and be justified in doing so.
But pique over your presidential candidate's defeat or mere disagreement with a policy does not justify anyone - intelligence professional or political appointee - in passing classified information to a party not authorized to receive it.
This applies to White House staffers, too, no matter how senior. The law should take its course, in every case, from the briefing room to the newsroom. The Washington culture of leaks is a bipartisan disgrace - and a real-and-present danger to our security.
WE face savage enemies who obey no laws, honor no international conventions, treaties or compacts, and who believe they do the will of a vengeful god. Under the circumstances, we need to be able to keep an occasional secret.
So I would ask three questions of those journalists chasing prizes by printing our wartime secrets:
* Can you honestly claim to have done our nation any good?
* Did you weigh the harm your act might cause, including the loss of American lives?
* Is the honorable patriotism of Edward R. Murrow truly dead in American journalism?
If you draw a government (or contractor) paycheck and willfully compromise classified material, you should go to jail. If you are a journalist in receipt of classified information and you publish it to the benefit of our enemies, you should go to jail (you may, however, still accept your journalism prize, as long as the trophy has no sharp edges). And consider yourself fortunate: The penalty for treason used to be death.
When a journalist is given classified information, his or her first call shouldn't be to an editor. It should be to the FBI.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Mexico
on: April 23, 2006, 01:27:34 PM
In a City of Killings, Silence Is Golden
Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, is a battleground in a drug cartel turf war. But talking about the crimes can be deadly, especially for journalists.
By H?ctor Tobar, Times Staff Writer
April 23, 2006
NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico ? Here, it's better not to know.
Information can be poison in this border city. Hard-boiled police reporters would rather you didn't tell them the names of certain criminals. When there's a shootout downtown, even the most ambitious radio reporter will not necessarily rush to the scene.
So it went the day last month that four undercover federal police officers were ambushed and killed in thick lunch-hour traffic on the city's busiest street. The offices of several newspapers and radio stations were just blocks away ? but the news broke 700 miles to the south, on the Mexico City wire services.
"I don't mention groups, I don't mention names?. I don't want to know anything," said a newspaper editor here and member of the Assn. of Journalists of Nuevo Laredo. His paper will publish only the barest facts of the crime wave sweeping the city.
"It's not fear, it's being prudent," he explained. Three journalists have been killed here in the last year. "We're not going to try to be the hero of the movie."
The war between the so-called Gulf and Sinaloa drug cartels has been blamed by Mexican federal officials for more than 230 killings in the city in the last 16 months. The journalists who ordinarily would report on such violence have been silenced by cartel operatives who kidnap reporters and repeatedly phone in threats to newsrooms.
Violence and intimidation have created a culture of silence in this city of 500,000 people. Municipal officials rarely comment publicly on the killings. Law enforcement authorities seem powerless. And people here are hard-pressed to remember the last time anyone was arrested or prosecuted for such sensational crimes as the killing of more than a dozen police officers.
"When a crime is committed there should be an investigation, an accused, a punishment," says Carlos Galvan, the owner of two newspapers here. "As long as those things don't happen, speculation eats up [the reputation of] the victim."
Indeed, rumor and mythology are filling the information vacuum in Nuevo Laredo.
Ask why so many people have died here, and there's a good chance you'll be told that the dead have only themselves to blame. The vox populi has it that no "good" or "innocent" person is ever killed in Nuevo Laredo.
"They must have been involved in something," a taxi driver said just a block from the site where the four police officers were killed.
The refrain is reminiscent of dictatorships in other Latin American nations, such as Argentina, where for years people were taken away by soldiers and police officers and "disappeared" without explanation.
Told that the dead were police officers, the taxi driver responded, "The police are all corrupt."
Another popular saying here draws on the Mexican myth that killers are fated to forever drag around the remains of their victims: "Only the person who carries the sack of bones knows why they were killed," people say.
Newspaper and radio reporters here say they would like to tell the full story of the killings. The names of certain drug kingpins circulate among journalists and in other border towns, but have never been printed. Facts might help dispel the myths, they say, as well as the aura of omnipotence that surrounds the cartels. But facts can get reporters killed.
"Some fortunate people who have not been touched directly by the violence can give themselves the luxury of thinking that honest people are not affected," said one journalist who, like many other people interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of not being named. "That's not true."
The cartels are a shadowy but ubiquitous presence. Longtime residents fear their wealth, their armaments and their apparent infiltration of institutions, such as the police force.
"Here, everyone knows who is a narco and who works for them," said one Nuevo Laredo resident, a university student.
"The important thing is not to get mixed up with them and keep a normal life. I even know some narco juniors," the student said, using a term for the young assassins from well-off families recruited to the cartels. "They're very obvious. They show up with the armored pick-up trucks, with guards and all that."
More than 60 people have been killed in the city this year.
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The pictures of the dead run in the local newspapers alongside screaming headlines such as "A Rain of Bullets!" Some papers routinely run stark pictures of open-eyed corpses torn up by high-caliber bullets. But rarely will a local newspaper, or a local official, explain why a person was killed or who the killer might be.
Are all the dead drug dealers, or connected with them, as many say?
When a police officer is killed, is it in retaliation for a police raid, or because the officer was mixed up with criminals?
When a journalist is killed or attacked, is it because he or she "offended the sensibilities" (a common Nuevo Laredo euphemism) of one of the drug bands by revealing something about its operations? Or was it because the journalist was working for a cartel and was killed by its rival?
Last year, Tamaulipas Gov. Eugenio Hernandez Flores told residents: "The people of Tamaulipas who behave themselves have nothing to fear" because those being victimized in the wave of violence "are in some way involved with organized crime."
Even people who were close to the victims wonder whether they can ever know why their friends and relatives were killed.
A Nuevo Laredo resident who described himself as a childhood friend of Alejandro Dominguez, a police chief assassinated last year, wonders out loud what his friend might have done to get himself killed.
"You have to go to the root of things. Why did it happen?" says the man, a Nuevo Laredo entrepreneur who asked not to be named. "What did he have in his past? What was his way of living before?"
Dominguez had worked in the attorney general's office.
"He was in law enforcement," the friend said. "And when you're in that job, whether you like it or not, you have to get involved with bad people."
The assassination of Dominguez shook Nuevo Laredo and garnered international headlines. He had been head of the Nuevo Laredo police force for just a few hours when he was gunned down.
"It hits you hard. You know that person, you are with that person, you listen to his dreams and aspirations," the friend said. Still, like many residents here, he was concerned that the killing had been blown out of proportion. He seemed to be angry with his old friend for getting assassinated in such a scandalous way.
"If he hadn't been killed in an hour, it wouldn't have had such an impact on Nuevo Laredo," he said.
Key facts about the drug war are unknown to the general public. For example, it's never been reported here that criminal gangs have threatened local radio stations and newspaper reporters to keep them from reporting on shootings.
Nor has it been reported locally that the narcos have kidnapped journalists. And one Nuevo Laredo reporter told the Mexico City magazine Proceso in February that none who have been kidnapped ? and sometimes tortured ? by the drug bands will file an official complaint.
"Because if there's anyone here who knows that the federal, the state and especially the municipal authorities cannot be trusted, it's precisely us," the journalist said.
The mayor of Nuevo Laredo rejected requests for an interview for this article, as did police officials.
To escape the pervasive sense of danger, many residents, including some journalists, seek out facts that suggest that violence is something that happens to others.
At radio station 95.7 FM, news director Marco Antonio Espinoza disagrees with those who say his colleague Ramiro Tellez was killed because he was a journalist.
"The problem did not occur because of journalism," Espinoza said. Tellez really wasn't a journalist, Espinoza said. "He'd come in here in the morning and do the weather report. Then he would leave."
Tellez, who was killed March 10, worked as director of the city's emergency and police communications system. Sources speculated that Tellez may have been killed because the city had recently installed a communications system that made it difficult for criminals to monitor police radio transmissions.
"We stay away from police stories," Espinoza said. "It was the other job that caused his problem."
The newspaper El Ma?ana decided to "self-censor" its coverage after editor Roberto Mora Garcia was slain outside his home in 2004. Nevertheless, on Feb. 6, the newspaper's offices were attacked and a reporter seriously wounded by men wielding assault rifles and hand grenades.
Sources in Nuevo Laredo's journalism community offered several theories about the reason. Maybe it was because of the Proceso article that had come out a day earlier. Maybe it was because El Ma?ana had recently participated in a journalism symposium with out-of-towners. Or maybe it was because of a certain story that mentioned the sighting of a cartel hit man.
"Who was responsible?" El Ma?ana asked in an editorial after the February attack. "We don't know. It could have been anybody. They are ghosts.
"Many times we in the media are attacked in order to blame a rival group, so that a crackdown by the authorities on that rival group will follow.
"It's the new method of doing terrorism."
Carlos Mart?nez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Geo Political matters
on: April 23, 2006, 12:53:55 PM
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | September 7, 2005
Frontpage Interview?s guest today is Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served in infantry and intelligence units before becoming a Foreign Area Officer and a global strategic scout for the Pentagon. He has published three books on strategy and military affairs, as well as hundreds of columns for the New York Post, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and other publications. He is the author of the new book New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy.
FP: Ralph Peters, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Peters: I'm honored by the chance to reach your audience. Thanks.
FP: What inspired you to write New Glory?
Peters: New Glory is a book that literally took me a lifetime to write--in the sense that it contains decades of first-hand experience and observation in more than sixty countries. While I've written essays and columns over the years, I just sensed that the time was right to put it all together, to lay out as forthrightly and honestly as I could where I think the world is going--to offer a fresh vision of the world as it is and as it's going to be...no matter who might be offended by my views.
And, frankly, I was fed up with the countless "experts" all over the media who had never been anywhere or done anything, but who had an opinion on everything. You can't understand this complex world without going out to see it firsthand. The book's conclusions about where we've been and where we need to go strategically will surprise many readers, but they're based upon direct experience, not faculty-lounge chitchat. This book had been cooking inside me for a long time--and I'm glad I waited to write it. I needed all those years of getting dirty overseas to mature my thinking--and to escape Washington group-think.
FP: Tell us why the battle for Fallujah epitomized how we must fight -- and win -- the terror war.
Peters: Well, the First Battle of Fallujah, in the spring of 2004, was an example of how to get it as wrong as you possibly can. We bragged that we were going to "clean up Dodge." And the Marines went in, tough and capable as ever. Then, just when the Marines were on the cusp of victory, they were called off, thanks to a brilliant, insidious and unscrupulous disinformation campaign waged by al-Jazeera. I was in Iraq at the time, and the lies about American "atrocities" were stunning. But the lies worked and the Bush administration, to my shock and dismay, backed down.
Let's be honest: The terrorists won First Fallujah. And for six months thereafter Fallujah was the world capital of terror--a terrorist city-state. It was evident to all of us who had served that we'd have to go back into Fallujah, but the administration--which I support--made the further error of waiting until after the presidential election to avoid casualties or embarrassments during the campaign. Well, fortunately, in the Second Battle of Fallujah the Army and Marines realized they had to do it fast, before the media won again and the politicians caved in again. The military had been burned once and they were determined not to get burned again. And they did a stunning job--Second Fallujah was a model of how to take down a medium-size city. Great credit to the troops, mixed reviews for the politicos.
The bottom line is this: If you have to fight, fight to win, don't postpone what's necessary, and be prepared for the media's anti-American onslaught. Today, the media--with some noteworthy exceptions--are stooges of Islamist terrorists who, if they actually won, would butcher the journalists defending them.
We should never go to war lightly, but if we must fight, we have to give it everything we've got and damn the global criticism. There's a straightforward maxim that applies: In warfare, if you're unwilling to pay the butcher's bill up front, you will pay it with compound interest in the end.
FP: You note that terror of female sexuality underlies Islamic terror. You also make the point that a culture that hates and fears woman is incompatible with modernity and democracy. Can you illuminate these phenomena for us please?
Peters: No brainer on this one. Any society that refuses to exploit the talents and potential contributions of half of its population can't remotely hope to compete with the USA or the West in general. Worse, the virtual enslavement of women is as much a symptom of other ailments as it is a problem in and of itself. Where women are tormented by bitter old men in religious robes, there's never a meritocracy for males, either. And such societies are consistently racially and religiously bigoted. Take Pakistan: While the USA is operating at a phenomenal level of human efficiency in the 21st century, say 85%, Pakistan would likely measure in at 12 to 15%. They just keep falling comparatively farther and farther behind, they hate it, and, of course, they blame us. We're dealing with the abject and utter failure of the entire civilization of Middle Eastern Islam--not competitive in a single sphere (not even terror, since these days we're terrorizing the terrorists). It's historically unprecedented--and unspeakably dangerous.
As far as the inhuman, inhumane--and stupid--treatment of women in the Middle East, yep, Islam is scared of the girls. I wish Freud were alive--he'd really get a look at a civilization's discontents. If you're not terrified of female sexuality, you don't lock women up, insist on covering them up from scalp to toenail and stone them to death for their "sins." Every single Muslim culture in the greater Middle East is sexually infantile--to use the Freudian term. For all their macho posturing, the men are terrified of their feared inadequacy. It's like one big junior high school dance, with the boys on one side of the gym and the girls on the other--except the boys have Kalashnikovs.
Now, I realize this isn't the sort of thing most people consider as a strategic factor, but I am thoroughly convinced that the one foolproof test for whether or not a society has any hope of making it in the 21st century is its treatment of women. Where women are partners, societies take off--as ours has done for this reason and others. Where women are property, there's simply no hope of a competitive performance.
In the collective culture of the Middle East, we're dealing with a deeply neurotic, if not outright psychotic civilization. I wish I could be more positive. But the average Middle Eastern male just has snakes in his head. And, by the way, the place isn't much fun, either. A mega-mall or two does not make a civilization.
FP: You make the observation that ?Islam produced a strain of violent homoeroticism that reaches into al-Qaeda and beyond.? Please expand on this reality a bit for us.
Peters: Another issue "sober" Washington wouldn't consider as a strategic concern, but this ties in with the fear of and disdain for women. If you read the notes and papers they left behind, it's evident that the hijackers of 9/11 were a boy's club with strong homoerotic tendencies. Read Mohammed Atta's lunatic note describing how women must be kept away from his funeral to avoid polluting his grave. Does that sound like a guy with a happy dating history? Of course, sex between men and boys is a long tradition from North Africa through Afghanistan (fear of women always leads to an excessive fixation on female virginity--so she won't know her husband's inadequate--as well as homoerotic undercurrents).
They don't talk about it, of course--it's supposed to be anathema--but very few Middle Eastern mothers would trust their good-looking young sons around many adult males. This has deep roots, right back to the celebrations of the Emperor Babur's fixation on a pretty boy in the Baburnama. And the related dread of the female as literal femme fatale, as vixen, as betrayer, appears in much of the major literature--especially the "Thousand and One Arabian Nights," which, in its unabridged, unexpurgated version, is one long chronicle of supposed female wantonness and insatiability (the men are always innocent victims of Eve).
Pretty hard for the president to work this into a State of the Union message, but I'm convinced that sexual dysfunction is at the core of the Middle East's sickness--and it's certainly sick. Nothing about our civilization so threatens the males of the Middle East as the North American career woman making her own money and her own decisions. We don't think of it this way, but from one perspective the best symbols of the War on Terror would be the Islamic veil versus the two-piece woman's business suit.
There is no abyss more unbridgeable between our civilizations than that created by our respect for women and the Islamic disdain for the female. There are many aspects of our magnificent civilization that threaten traditional, backward societies, but nothing worries them so much as the independence of the Western woman--not that they approve of freedom of any kind.
FP: You write that the developments in Iran pose a great danger to the Islamists and great hope for the West. Tell us what the possibilities are. Perhaps a domino theory? (i.e, if the Iranians overthrow their religious despots, the rest of the Islamic world might do the same?)
Peters: No matter what the outcome in Iraq, the Middle East isn't going to change overnight. This is a very long process. But if you want an irrefutable indicator of how important Iraq's future is, just consider how many resources our enemies are willing to spend to stop the emergence of an even partially functional rule-of-law democracy in Iraq. The terrorists are throwing in everything they've got. Surely, that should tell us something.
Despite all the yelling and jumping up and down in the "Arab Street" (where someone needs to pick up the litter, by the way), the truth is that Arabs, especially, are afraid they can't do it, that they can't build a modern, let alone a postmodern, market democracy. The Arabs desperately need a win--they've been losing on every front for so long. If Iraq is even a deeply flawed success, it will be success enough to spark change across the region. But we must not expect overnight results. This is all very hard. We're not just trying to change a country--we're asking a civilization to change, to revive itself.
Iraq matters immensely. But no matter the outcome, it will be a long time before we see the rewards. It's an agonizingly slow process--which is tough for our society, which expects quick results.
And if Iraq should fail, despite our best efforts, it won't really be an American (or Anglo-American) failure. The consequences will be severe, but we'll work it off at the strategic gym. A failed Iraq will be another tragic Arab failure.
This is our best shot, but it's their last chance.
FP: You observe that Islamist terror sprouts from the failure of Arab and Islamic civilization, that they are humiliated, envious and seek to destroy the reminder of everything we have done right. Please illustrate this picture for us.
Peters: Back to our disdain for new strategic factors: Certainly economic statistics and demographics, hydrology and terms of trade all matter. But the number one deadly and galvanizing strategic impulse in the world today is jealousy. And it's jealousy of the West in general, but specifically of the United States. Jealousy is a natural, deep human emotion, which afflicts us all in our personal lives--to some degree. But when it afflicts an entire civilization, it's tragic. The failed civilization of the Middle East--where not one of the treasured local values is functional in the globalized world--is morbidly jealous of us. They've succumbed to a culture of--and addiction to--blame. Instead of facing up to the need to change and rolling up their sleeves, they want the world to conform to their terms. Ain't going to happen, Mustapha.
I've been out there. And while anti-Americanism is really much exaggerated, where it does exist among the terrorists and their supporters, jealousy is a prime motivating factor. You've heard it before, but it's all too true: They do hate us for our success.
The populations of the Middle East blew it. They've failed. Thirteen hundred years of effort came down to an entire civilization that can't design and build an automobile. And thanks to the wonders of the media age, it's daily rubbed in their faces how badly they've failed.
Oil wealth? A tragedy for the Arabs, since it gave the wealth to the most backward. The Middle East still does not have a single world-class university outside of Israel. Not one. The oil money has been thrown away--it's been a drug, not a tool.
The terrorists don't want progress. They want revenge. At the risk of punning on the title of the book, they don't want new glory--they want their old (largely imagined) glory back. They want to turn back the clock to an imagined world. The terrorists are the deadly siblings of Westerners who believe in Atlantis.
FP: It is clear you are not very fond of France and Germany. How come?
Peters: Actually, I love France and Germany. They're two of my favorite museums. And what's not to like about two grotesquely hypocritical societies who are, between them, responsible for the worst savagery in and beyond Europe over the past several centuries?
Anybody who really wants to see how I take "Old Europe" apart will just have to read the book. Too much to say to get it down here. But the next time the continent that perfected genocide and ethnic cleansing plays the moral superiority card, let's remind them that no German soldier ever liberated anybody--and the most notable achievement of the French military in the past century and a half has been the slaughter of unarmed black Africans.
And just watch their brutal treatment of their Islamic residents. Old Europe--France and Germany--is just the Middle East-lite.
FP: Explain why you believe there are great benefits to America reaching out to India.
Peters: Human capital. Trade. Healthy competition. Strategic position. Common interests. Brilliant, hard-working people. Great food. That enough?
FP: Are there grounds to have hope about Africa?
Peters: Yes. There are plentiful reasons to be hopeful about parts--parts--of Africa. But much of the continent is every bit as disastrous as the popular image has it. My complaint is that we treat that vast, various continent as one big, failed commune. Well, Congo or Sierra Leone certainly aren't inspiring...but in the course of several, recent, lengthy trips to Africa, I was just astonished at the vigor, vision and strategic potential of South Africa. South Africa is well on the way to becoming the first true sub-Saharan great power--and it's another natural ally for us. Oh, the old revolutionary, slogan-spouting generation and their prot?g?s have to die off--and they will. But, in the long-term, I expect great things from South Africa, that they'll control (economically and culturally) southern Africa at least as far north as the Rovuma River. The one qualifier is this: Their next presidential election will be the turning point, either way. If they elect a demagogue, South Africa could still turn into another failing African state. But if they elect a technocrat, get out of the way, because the South Africans are coming.
I explain much of this far better in the book than I can here. Suffice to say that, for all the continent's horrid misery, there are islands of genuine hope. And, of course, there's plenty of wreckage...and AIDS, civil wars, corruption (the greatest bane of all for the developing world). I'm not a Pollyanna. But over the years I've gotten pretty good at spotting both potential crises and potential successes--and South Africa, for all its problems, is a land of stunning opportunities with neo-imperial potential.
FP: Overall, as a former military man, tell us what the United States has to stop doing, and has to start doing, to win this terror war.
Peters: Knock off the bluster and fight like we mean it. To a disheartening degree, the War on Terror has been a war of (ineptly chosen) words. Look, this is a death struggle, a strategic knife fight to the bone. I wish our civilian leaders would stop beating their chests and saying that we're going to get this terrorists or that one--because when we fail to make good on our promises, the terrorists wins by default. More deeds, fewer words.
Above all, we need to think clearly, to cast off the last century's campus-born excuses for the Islamic world of the Middle East. We need to be honest about the threat, in all its dimensions. "Public diplomacy" isn't going to convert the terrorists who were recruited and developed while we looked away from the problem for thirty years. In the end, only deeds convince. And not just military deeds, of course, although those remain indispensable.
Most Americans still do not realize the intensity or the dimensions of the struggle with Islamist terror. Despite 9-11, they just don't have a sense that we're at war. And I'm afraid I have to fault the Bush administration on that count: Good Lord, we're at war with the most implacable enemies we've ever faced (men who regard death as a promotion), and what was our president's priority this year? The reform of Social Security. While I continue to support the administration's overall intent and efforts in Iraq and around the world, I believe the president has failed us badly by not driving home to the people that we're at war.
The Bush administration has done great and necessary things--but all too often they've done those things badly. And only the valor and blood of our troops has redeemed the situation, time after time, from Fallujah to the struggles of the future.
FP: Ralph Peters thank you for joining us today.
Peters: My pleasure, and my thanks. And allow me to say a special thanks to all your readers in uniform, those troops defending the values of our civilization and human decency in distant, discouraging places. Freedom truly isn't free.
"In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American...
...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."
Posts: 1786 | Location: USA | Registered: August 29, 2005
G M Posted April 23, 2006 06:28 AM
The Counterrevolution in Military Affairs
Fashionable thinking about defense ignores the great threats of our time.
by Ralph Peters
02/06/2006, Volume 011, Issue 20
REVOLUTIONS NOTORIOUSLY IMPRISON THEIR MOST committed supporters. Intellectually, influential elements within our military are locked inside the cells of the Revolution in Military Affairs--the doctrinal cult of the past decade that preaches that technological leaps will transcend millennia-old realities of warfare. Our current conflicts have freed the Pentagon from at least some of the nonsensical theories of techno-war, but too many of our military and civilian leaders remain captivated by the notion that machines can replace human beings on the battlefield. Chained to their 20th-century successes, they cannot face the new reality: Wars of flesh, faith, and cities. Meanwhile, our enemies, immediate and potential, appear to grasp the contours of future war far better than we do.
From Iraq's Sunni Triangle to China's military high command, the counterrevolution in military affairs is well underway. We are seduced by what we can do; our enemies focus on what they must do. We have fallen so deeply in love with the means we have devised for waging conceptual wars that we are blind to their marginal relevance in actual wars. Terrorists, for one lethal example, do not fear "network-centric warfare" because they have already mastered it for a tiny fraction of one cent on the dollar, achieving greater relative effects with the Internet, cell phones, and cheap airline tickets than all of our military technologies have delivered. Our prime weapon in our struggles with terrorists, insurgents, and warriors of every patchwork sort remains the soldier or Marine; yet, confronted with reality's bloody evidence, we simply pretend that other, future, hypothetical wars will justify the systems we adore--purchased at the expense of the assets we need.
Stubbornly, we continue to fantasize that a wondrous enemy will appear who will fight us on our own terms, as a masked knight might have materialized at a stately tournament in a novel by Sir Walter Scott. Yet, not even China--the threat beloved of major defense contractors and their advocates--would play by our rules if folly ignited war. Against terrorists, we have found technology alone incompetent to master men of soaring will--our own flesh and blood provide the only effective counter. At the other extreme, a war with China, which our war gamers blithely assume would be brief, would reveal the quantitative incompetence of our forces. An assault on a continent-spanning power would swiftly drain our stocks of precision weapons, ready pilots, and aircraft. Quality, no matter how great, is not a reliable substitute for a robust force in being and deep reserves that can be mobilized rapidly.
There is, in short, not a single enemy in existence or on the horizon willing to play the victim to the military we continue to build. Faced with men of iron belief wielding bombs built in sheds and basements, our revolution in military affairs appears more an indulgence than an investment. In the end, our enemies will not outfight us. We'll muster the will to do what must be done--after paying a needlessly high price in the lives of our troops and damage to our domestic infrastructure. We will not be beaten, but we may be shamed and embarrassed on a needlessly long road to victory.
Not a single item in our trillion-dollar arsenal can compare with the genius of the suicide bomber--the breakthrough weapon of our time. Our intelligence systems cannot locate him, our arsenal cannot deter him, and, all too often, our soldiers cannot stop him before it is too late. A man of invincible conviction--call it delusion, if you will--armed with explosives stolen or purchased for a handful of soiled bills can have a strategic impact that staggers governments. Abetted by the global media, the suicide bomber is the wonder weapon of the age.
The suicide bomber's willingness to discard civilization's cherished rules for warfare gives him enormous strength. In the Cain-and-Abel conflicts of the 21st century, ruthlessness trumps technology. We refuse to comprehend the suicide bomber's soul--even though today's wars are contests of souls, and belief is our enemy's ultimate order of battle. We write off the suicide bomber as a criminal, a wanton butcher, a terrorist. Yet, within his spiritual universe, he's more heroic than the American soldier who throws himself atop a grenade to spare his comrades: He isn't merely protecting other men, but defending his god. The suicide bomber can justify any level of carnage because he's doing his god's will. We agonize over a prisoner's slapped face, while our enemies are lauded as heroes for killing innocent masses (even of fellow believers). We continue to narrow our view of warfare's acceptable parameters even as our enemies amplify the concept of total war.
Islamist terrorists, to cite the immediate example, would do anything to win. Our enemies act on ecstatic revelations from their god. We act on the advice of lawyers. It is astonishing that we have managed to hold the line as well as we have.
The ultimate precision weapon, the suicide bomber simultaneously redefines the scope of "legitimate" targets. Delighted to kill our troops, this implacable enemy who regards death as a promotion is equally ready to slaughter men, women, and children of unknown identity who have done him no harm. His force of will towers over our own. He cannot win wars on the traditional battlefields we cherish, but his commitment and actions transcend such tidy limits. In the moment of his deed, the suicide bomber is truly larger than life. The world's a stage, and every suicide bomber is, at least briefly, a star.
We will develop the means to defeat the majority of, if not all, improvised explosive devices. But the suicide bomber--the living, thinking assassin determined to die--may prove impossible to stop. Even if we discover a means to identify him at a distance from our troops, he has only to turn to easier targets. Virtually anything the suicide bomber attacks brings value to his cause--destruction of any variety is a victory. The paradox is that his act of self-destruction is also an undeniable assertion that "I am," as he becomes the voice from below that the mighty cannot ignore. We are trained to think in terms of cause and effect--but the suicide bomber merges the two. The gesture and the result are inseparable from and integral to his message. Self-destruction and murder join to become the ultimate act of self-assertion.
And his deed is heralded, while even our most virtuous acts are condemned around the world. Even in the days before mass media, assassins terrorized civilizations. Today, their deeds are amplified by a toxic, breathtakingly irresponsible communications culture that spans the globe. Photogenic violence is no longer a local affair--if a terrorist gives the media picturesque devastation, he reaches the entire planet. We cannot measure the psychological magnification, although we grasp it vaguely. And the media's liturgical repetition of the suicide bomber's act creates an atmosphere of sacrament. On a primal level, the suicide bomber impresses even his enemies with his conviction. We hasten to dismiss his deed as a perversion, yet it resounds as a vivid act of faith. Within his own cultural context, people may hate what the suicide bomber does, yet revere his sacrifice (and, too often, they do not hate what he does).
We may refuse to accept it, but suicide bombing operates powerfully on practical, emotional, and spiritual levels--and it generates dirt-cheap propaganda. To the Muslim world, the suicide bomber's act is a proof of faith that ensnares the mind with a suspicion of his righteousness. He is a nearly irresistible champion of the powerless, the Middle East's longed-for superhero, the next best thing to the Mahdi or the Twelfth Imam.
We praise Nathan Hale's willingness to die for his cause. Now imagine thousands of men anxious to die for theirs. The suicide bomber may be savage, brutal, callous, heartless, naive, psychotic, and, to us, despicable, but within his milieu he is also heroic.
The hallmark of our age is the failure of belief systems and a subsequent flight back to primitive fundamentalism--and the phenomenon isn't limited to the Middle East. Faith revived is running roughshod over science and civilization. Secular societies appear increasingly fragmented, if not fragile. The angry gods are back. And they will not be defeated with cruise missiles or computer codes.
A paradox of our time is that the overwhelmingly secular global media--a collection of natural-born religion-haters--have become the crucial accomplices of the suicide bomber fueled by rabid faith. Mass murderers are lionized as freedom fighters, while our own troops are attacked by the press they protect for the least waywardness or error. One begins to wonder if the bomber's suicidal impulse isn't matched by a deep death wish affecting the West's cultural froth. (What if Darwin was right conceptually, but failed to grasp that homo sapiens' most powerful evolutionary strategy is faith?) Both the suicide bomber and the "world intellectual" with his reflexive hatred of America exist in emotional realms that our rational models of analysis cannot explain. The modern age's methods for interpreting humanity are played out.
We live in a new age of superstition and bloodthirsty gods, of collective madness. Its icons are the suicide bomber, the veil, and the video camera.
One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuitive recognition of our enemies. Our rear-guard rationalists range from those convinced that every security problem has a technological solution, if only it can be found, to those who insist that members of al Qaeda and its affiliates are motivated by finite, comprehensible, and logical ambitions that, if satisfied, would make our problems disappear.
Living in unprecedented safety within our borders and lacking firsthand knowledge of the decay beyond, honorable men and women have convinced themselves that Osama bin Laden's professed goals of driving the United States from the Middle East and removing corrupt regional governments are what global terror is all about. They gloss over his ambition of reestablishing the caliphate and his calls for the destruction of Israel as rhetorical effects--when they address them at all. Yet, Islamist fanatics are more deeply committed to their maximalist goals than to their lesser ones--and their unspoken ambitions soar beyond logic's realm. Religious terrorists are committed to an apocalypse they sense within striking distance. Their longing for union with god is inseparable from their impulse toward annihilation. They seek their god in carnage, and will go on slaughtering until he appears to pat them on the back.
A dangerous asymmetry exists in the type of minds working the problem of Islamist terrorism in our government and society. On average, the "experts" to whom we are conditioned to listen have a secular mentality (even if they go to church or synagogue from habit). And it is a very rare secular mind that can comprehend religious passion--it's like asking a blind man to describe the colors of fire. One suspects that our own fiercest believers are best equipped to penetrate the mentality--the souls--of our Islamist enemies, although those believers may not be as articulate as the secular intellectuals who anxiously dismiss all possibilities that lie outside their theoretical constructs.
Those who feel no vital faith cannot comprehend faith's power. A man or woman who has never been intoxicated by belief will default to mirror-imaging when asked to describe terror's roots. He who has never experienced a soul-shaking glimpse of the divine inevitably explains religion-driven suicide bombers in terms of a lack of economic opportunity or social humiliation. But the enemies we face are burning with belief, on fire with their vision of an immanent, angry god. Our intelligentsia is less equipped to understand such men than our satellites are to find them.
All of our technologies and comforting theories are confounded by the strength of the soul ablaze with faith. Our struggle with Islamist terror (other religious terrors may haunt our descendants) has almost nothing to do with our actions in the Middle East. It's about a failing civilization's embrace of a furious god.
We are not (yet) at war with Islam, but the extreme believers within Islam are convinced that they are soldiers in a religious war against us. Despite their rhetoric, they are the crusaders. Even our conceptions of the struggle are asymmetrical. Despite the horrors we have witnessed, we have yet to take religious terrorists seriously on their own self-evident terms. We invaded a succession of their tormented countries, but haven't come close to penetrating their souls. The hermetic universe of the Islamist terrorist is immune to our reality (if not to our bullets), but our intellectuals appear equally incapable of accepting the religious extremist's reality.
We have no tools of persuasion effective against a millenarian belief. What logic can we wield against the soul fortified by faith and barricaded beyond argument? Even if we understood every nuance of our enemy's culture, the suicide bomber's intense faith and the terror chieftain's visions have burned through native cultural restraints. We are told, rather smugly, that the Koran forbids suicide. But our enemies are not concerned with how we read their faith. Religions are living things, and ultra-extremists are improvising a new and savage cult within Islam--even as they proclaim their return to a purified faith.
Security-wise, we have placed our faith in things, in bright (and expensive) material objects. But the counterrevolution in military affairs is based on the brilliant intuition that our military can be sidestepped often enough to challenge its potency. Certainly, we inflict casualties on our enemies--and gain real advantages from doing so--but we not only face an enemy who, as observed above, views death as a promotion, but also one who believes he has won even when he loses. If the suicide bomber completes his mission, he has won. But even if he is killed or dies short of his target, he has conquered a place in paradise. Which well-intentioned information operation of ours can compete with the conviction that a martyr's death leads to eternal joy?
Again, our intelligentsia falls woefully short. The most secularized element of our society--educated to avoid faith (or, at the very least, to shun enthusiastic, vigorous, proud, and public faith)--our professional thinkers have lost any sense of a literal paradise beyond the grave. But our enemies enjoy a faith as vivid as did our ancestors, for whom devils lurked in the undergrowth and paradise was an idealized representation of that which mortals knew. We are taught that we should never underestimate our enemies--yet, we underestimate the power of his faith, his most potent weapon.
Nor should we assume that Islamist extremists will remain the only god-haunted terrorists attacking established orders. This century may prove to be one of multi-sided struggles over the interpretation of god's will, between believers and unbelievers, between the varieties of the faithful, between monotheists and polytheists, between master faiths and secessionist movements, between the hollow worshippers of science and those swollen with the ecstasy of belief.
Naturally, we view the cardinal struggle as between the West and extremists within the Islamic world; yet, the bloodiest religious warfare of the coming decades may be between Sunni and Shia Muslims, or between African Muslims and the new, sub-Saharan Church Militant. Hindu extremists gnaw inward from the epidermis of Indian society, while even Buddhist monks have engaged in organized violence in favor of their ostensibly peaceable faith. In a bewildering world where every traditional society is under assault from the forces of global change, only religion seems to provide a reliable refuge. And each god seems increasingly a jealous god.
Faith is the great strategic factor that unbelieving faculties and bureaucracies ignore. It may be the crucial issue of this century. And we cannot even speak about it honestly. Give me a warrior drunk with faith, and I will show you a weapon beyond the dreams of any laboratory. Our guided bombs may kill individual terrorists, but the terrorist knows that our weapons can't kill his god.
Even in preparing for "big wars," we refuse to take the enemy into account. Increasingly, our military is designed for breathtaking sprints, yet a war with China--were one forced upon us by events--would be a miserable, long march. For all the rhetoric expended and the innumerable wargames played, the best metaphor for a serious struggle with Beijing--perhaps of Homeric length--comes from that inexhaustible little book, Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, with its pathetic image of a Western gunboat lobbing shells uselessly into a continent.
Given the comprehensive commitment and devastation required to defeat strategically and structurally weaker enemies such as Japan and Germany, how dare we pretend that we could drive China to sue for peace by fighting a well-mannered war with a small military whose shallow stocks of ammunition would be drained swiftly and could not be replaced in meaningful quantities? Would we try Shock and Awe, Part II, over Beijing, hoping to convince China's leaders to surrender at the sight of our special effects? Or would our quantitative incompetence soon force us onto the defensive?
We must be realistic about the military requirements of a war with China, but we also need to grasp that, for such an enemy, the military sphere would be only one field of warfare--and not the decisive one. What would it take to create an atmosphere of defeat in a sprawling nation of over one billion people? A ruthless economic blockade, on the seas, in the air, and on land, would be an essential component of any serious war plan, but the Chinese capability for sheer endurance might surprise us. Could we win against China without inflicting extensive devastation on Chinese cities? Would even that be enough? Without mirror-imaging again, can we identify any incentive China's leaders would have to surrender?
The Chinese version of the counterrevolution in military affairs puts less stress on a head-to-head military confrontation (although that matters, of course) and more on defeating the nation behind our military. Despite the importance Beijing attaches to a strong military, China won't fall into the trap that snared the Soviets--the attempt to compete with our military expenditures. Why fight battles you'll lose, when you can wage war directly against the American population by attacking its digital and physical infrastructure, its confidence and morale? In a war of mutual suffering, which population would be better equipped, practically and psychologically, to endure massive power outages, food-chain disruptions, the obliteration of databases, and even epidemic disease?
Plenty of Americans are tougher than we're credited with being, but what about the now-decisive intelligentsia? What about those conditioned to levels of comfort unimaginable to the generation that fought World War II (or even Vietnam)? Would 21st-century suburban Americans accept rationing without protests? Whenever I encounter Chinese abroad I am astonished by their chauvinism. Their confidence is reminiscent of Americans' a half century ago. Should we pretend that Chinese opinion-makers, such as they are, would feel inclined to attack their government as our journalists attack Washington? A war with China would be a massive contest of wills, and China might need to break the will of only a tiny fraction of our population. It only takes a few hundred men and women in Washington to decide that a war is lost.
As for our military technologies, how, exactly, would an F/A-22 destroy the Chinese will to endure and prevail? How would it counteract a hostile media? If we should worry about any strategic differences with China, they are the greater simplicity and robustness of China's less developed (hence, less fragile) infrastructure, and a greater will to win in Beijing. No matter how well our military might perform, sufficient pain inflicted on the American people could lead a weak national leadership to a capitulation thinly disguised as a compromise. Addicted to trade with China, many in America's business community would push for a rapid end to any conflict, no matter the cost to our nation as a whole. (When Chinese fighters forced down a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft on Hainan Island several years ago, American-business lobbyists rushed to Capitol Hill to plead for patience with China--they had no interest in our aircrew or our national good.)
The Chinese know they cannot defeat our military. So they intend to circumvent it, as surely as Islamist terrorists seek to do, if in more complex ways. For example, China's navy cannot guarantee its merchant vessels access to sea lanes in the Indian Ocean--routes that carry the oil on which modern China runs. So Beijing is working to build a web of formal and informal client relationships in the region that would deny the U.S. Navy port facilities, challenge the United States in global and regional forums, and secure alternate routes and sources of supply. China's next great strategic initiative is going to be an attempt to woo India, the region's key power, away from a closer relationship with the United States. Beijing may fail, but its strategists are thinking in terms of the out-years, while our horizon barely reaches from one Quadrennial Defense Review to the next.
Even in Latin America, China labors to develop capabilities to frustrate American purposes, weaken hemispheric ties, and divert our strategic resources during a Sino-American crisis. We dream of knock-out blows, while Beijing prepares the death of a thousand cuts. The Chinese are the ultimate heirs of B.H. Liddell Hart and his indirect approach: They would have difficulty conquering Taiwan militarily, but believe they could push us into an asymmetrical defeat through economic, diplomatic, and media campaigns in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Latin America--while crippling the lifestyle of America's citizens.
It's become another clich? to observe how much of our manufacturing capability has moved to China while we tolerate, at our own business community's behest, Beijing's cynical undervaluation of its currency. If you don't think this matters, try to go a single week without buying or using a product made in China. A conflict with Beijing might be lost on the empty shelves of Wal-Mart. Indeed, Beijing's most effective international allies are American corporations. In the Second World War we famously converted our consumer industries into producers of wartime materiel. Will a future president find himself trapped by our defense industry's inability to produce consumer goods in wartime?
A war with China would be a total war, waged in spheres where our military is legally forbidden to engage, from data banks to shopping malls. How many readers of this magazine have participated in a wargame that addressed crippling consumer shortages as a conflict with China dragged on for years? Instead, we obsess about the fate of a pair of aircraft carriers. For that matter, how about a scenario that realistically portrayed the global media as siding overwhelmingly with China? The metastasizing power of the media is a true strategic revolution of our time--one to which our narrow revolution in military affairs has no reply.
Oh, by the way: Could we win a war with China without killing hundreds of millions of Chinese?
Many of us have struggled to grasp the unreasonable, even fanatical anti-Americanism in the global media--including the hostility in many news outlets and entertainment forums here at home. How can educated men and women, whether they speak Arabic, Spanish, French, or English, condemn America's every move, while glossing over the abuses of dictators and the savagery of terrorists? Why is America blamed even when American involvement is minimal or even nonexistent? How has the most beneficial great power in history been transformed by the international media into a villain of relentless malevolence?
There's a straightforward answer: In their secular way, the world's media elites are as unable to accept the reality confronting them as are Islamist fundamentalists. They hate the world in which they are forced to live, and America has shaped that world.
It isn't that the American-wrought world is so very bad for the global intelligentsia: The freedom they exploit to condemn the United States has been won, preserved, and expanded by American sacrifices and America's example. The problem is that they wanted a different world, the utopia promised by socialist and Marxist theorists, an impossible heaven on earth that captured their imagination as surely as visions of paradise enrapture suicide bombers.
The global media may skew secular, but that doesn't protect them against alternative forms of faith. Europeans, for example, have discarded a belief in God as beneath their sophistication--yet they still need a Satan to explain their own failures, just as their ancestors required devils to explain why the milk soured or the herd sickened. Today, America has replaced the horned, cloven-footed Lucifer of Europe's past; behind their smug assumption of superiority, contemporary Europeans are as superstitious and irrational as any of their ancestors: They simply believe in other demons.
One of the most perverse aspects of anti-Americanism in the global media and among the international intelligentsia is that it's presented as a progressive, liberal movement, when it's bitterly reactionary, a spiteful, elitist revolt against the empowerment of the common man and woman (the core ethos of the United States). Despite their outward differences, intellectuals are the logical allies of Islamist extremists--who are equally opposed to social progress and mass freedom. Of course, the terrorists have the comfort of religious faith, while the global intelligentsia, faced with the death of Marxism and the triumph of capitalism, has only its rage.
Human beings are hard-wired for faith. Deprived of a god, they seek an alternative creed. For a time, nationalism, socialism, Marxism, and a number of other-isms appeared to have a chance of working--as long as secular intellectuals rejected the evidence of Stalin's crimes or Mao's savagery (much as they overlook the brutalities of Islamist terrorists today). The intellectuals who staff the global media experienced the American-made destruction of their secular belief systems, slowly during the Cold War, then jarringly from 1989 to 1991. The experience has been as disorienting and infuriating to them as if we had proved to Muslim fanatics that their god does not exist.
America's triumph shames the Middle East and Europe alike, and has long dented the pride of Latin America. But the brotherhood of Islamist terrorists and the tribe of global intellectuals who dominate the media are the two groups who feel the most fury toward America. The terrorists dream of a paradise beyond the grave; intellectuals fantasized about utopias on earth. Neither can stomach the practical success of the American way of life, with its insistence on individual performance and its resistance to unearned privilege. For the Islamists, America's power threatens the promises of their faith. For world-intellectuals, America is the murderer of their most precious fantasies.
Is it any wonder that these two superficially different groups have drifted into collusion?
The suicide bomber may be the weapon of genius of our time, but the crucial new strategic factor is the rise of a global information culture that pretends to reflect reality, but in fact creates it. Iraq is only the most flagrant example of the disconnect between empirical reality and the redesigned, politically inflected alternative reality delivered by the media. This phenomenon matters far more than the profiteers of the revolution in military affairs can accept--the global information sphere is now a decisive battleground. Image and idea are as powerful as the finest military technologies.
We have reached the point (as evidenced by the first battle of Falluja) where the global media can overturn the verdict of the battlefield. We will not be defeated by suicide bombers in Iraq, but a chance remains that the international media may defeat us. Engaged with enemies to our front, we try to ignore the enemies at our back--enemies at whom we cannot return fire. Indeed, if anything must be profoundly reevaluated, it's our handling of the media in wartime. We have no obligation to open our accounts to proven enemies, yet we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by platitudes.
This doesn't mean that all of the media are evil or dishonest. It means we need to have the common sense and courage to discriminate between media outlets that attempt to report fairly (and don't compromise wartime secrets) and those whose track records demonstrate their hostility to our national purposes or their outright support for terrorists.
We got it right in World War II, but today we cannot count on patriotism among journalists, let alone their acceptance of censorship boards. Our own reporters pretend to be "citizens of the world" with "higher loyalties," and many view patriotism as decidedly down-market. Obsessed with defending their privileges, they refuse to accept that they also have responsibilities as citizens. But after journalistic irresponsibility kills a sufficient number of Americans, reality will force us to question the media's claim that "the public has a right to know" every secret our government holds in wartime.
The media may constitute the decisive element in the global counterrevolution in military affairs, and the video camera--that insatiable accomplice of the terrorist--the cheap negation of our military technology. (And beware the growing capability of digital technology to create American "atrocities" from scratch.) We are proud of our ability to put steel precisely on target anywhere in the world, but guided bombs don't work against faith or an unchallenged flood of lies. We have fallen in love with wind-up dolls and forgotten the preeminence of the soul.
We need to break the mental chains that bind us to a technology-?ber-alles dream of warfare--a fantasy as absurd and dated as the Marxist dreams of Europe's intellectuals. Certainly, military technologies have their place and can provide our troops with useful tools. But technologies are not paramount. In warfare, flesh and blood are still the supreme currency. And strength of will remains the ultimate weapon. Welcome to the counterrevolution.
Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer, is the author of 21 books, including New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy and the forthcoming Never Quit the Fight.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: April 21, 2006, 06:51:57 PM
The New Republic Online
A CHILD OF THE REVOLUTION TAKES OVER.
by Matthias K?ntzel
Post date: 04.14.06
Issue date: 04.24.06
During the Iran-Iraq War, the Ayatollah Khomeini imported 500,000 small
plastic keys from Taiwan. The trinkets were meant to be inspirational. After Iraq invaded in September 1980, it had quickly become clear that Iran's forces were no match for Saddam Hussein's professional, well-armed military. To compensate for their disadvantage, Khomeini sent Iranian children, some as young as twelve years old, to the front lines. There, they marched in formation across minefields toward the enemy, clearing a path with their bodies. Before every mission, one of the Taiwanese keys would be hung around each child's neck. It was supposed to open the gates to paradise for them.
At one point, however, the earthly gore became a matter of concern. "In the
past," wrote the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat as the war raged on,
"we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They went into the
minefields. Their eyes saw nothing. Their ears heard nothing. And then, a
few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again,
there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in
the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone." Such
scenes would henceforth be avoided, Ettelaat assured its readers. "Before
entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and
they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the
explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves."
These children who rolled to their deaths were part of the Basiji, a mass
movement created by Khomeini in 1979 and militarized after the war started
in order to supplement his beleaguered army.The Basij Mostazafan--or
"mobilization of the oppressed"--was essentially a volunteer militia, most
of whose members were not yet 18. They went enthusiastically, and by the
thousands, to their own destruction. "The young men cleared the mines with
their own bodies," one veteran of the Iran-Iraq War recalled in 2002 to the
German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. "It was sometimes like a race. Even
without the commander's orders, everyone wanted to be first."
The sacrifice of the Basiji was ghastly. And yet, today, it is a source not
of national shame, but of growing pride. Since the end of hostilities
against Iraq in 1988, the Basiji have grown both in numbers and influence.
They have been deployed, above all, as a vice squad to enforce religious law
in Iran, and their elite "special units" have been used as shock troops
against anti-government forces. In both 1999 and 2003, for instance, the
Basiji were used to suppress student unrest. And, last year, they formed the
potent core of the political base that propelled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--a man
who reportedly served as a Basij instructor during the Iran-Iraq War--to the
Ahmadinejad revels in his alliance with the Basiji. He regularly appears in
public wearing a black-and-white Basij scarf, and, in his speeches, he
routinely praises "Basij culture" and "Basij power," with which he says
"Iran today makes its presence felt on the international and diplomatic
stage." Ahmadinejad's ascendance on the shoulders of the Basiji means that
the Iranian Revolution, launched almost three decades ago, has entered a new
and disturbing phase. A younger generation of Iranians, whose worldviews
were forged in the atrocities of the Iran-Iraq War, have come to power,
wielding a more fervently ideological approach to politics than their
predecessors. The children of the Revolution are now its leaders.
In 1980, the Ayatollah Khomeini called the Iraqi invasion of Iran a "divine
blessing," because the war provided him the perfect opportunity to Islamize
both Iranian society and the institutions of the Iranian state. As Saddam's
troops pushed into Iran, Khomeini's fanatically devoted Revolutionary Guard
moved rapidly to mobilize and prepare their air and sea forces. At the same
time, the regime hastened to develop the Basiji as a popular militia.
Whereas the Revolutionary Guard consisted of professionally trained adult
soldiers, the Basiji was essentially composed of boys between twelve and 17
and men over 45. Photo by Reuters/NewscomThey received only a few weeks of
training--less in weapons and tactics than in theology. Most Basiji came
from the countryside and were often illiterate. When their training was
done, each Basiji received a blood-red headband that designated him a
volunteer for martyrdom. According to Sepehr Zabih's The Iranian Military in
Revolution and War, such volunteers made up nearly one-third of the Iranian
army--and the majority of its infantry.
The chief combat tactic employed by the Basiji was the human wave attack,
whereby barely armed children and teenagers would move continuously toward
the enemy in perfectly straight rows. It did not matter whether they fell to
enemy fire or detonated the mines with their bodies: The important thing was
that the Basiji continue to move forward over the torn and mutilated remains
of their fallen comrades, going to their deaths in wave after wave. Once a
path to the Iraqi forces had been opened up, Iranian commanders would send
in their more valuable and skilled Revolutionary Guard troops.
This approach produced some undeniable successes. "They come toward our
positions in huge hordes with their fists swinging," one Iraqi officer
complained in the summer of 1982. "You can shoot down the first wave and
then the second. But at some point the corpses are piling up in front of
you, and all you want to do is scream and throw away your weapon. Those are
human beings, after all!" By the spring of 1983, some 450,000 Basiji had
been sent to the front. After three months, those who survived deployment
were sent back to their schools or workplaces.
But three months was a long time on the front lines. In 1982, during the
retaking of the city of Khorramshahr, 10,000 Iranians died. Following
"Operation Kheiber," in February 1984, the corpses of some 20,000 fallen
Iranians were left on the battlefield. The "Karbala Four" offensive in 1986
cost the lives of more than 10,000 Iranians. All told, some 100,000 men and
boys are said to have been killed during Basiji operations. Why did the
Basiji volunteer for such duty?
Most of them were recruited by members of the Revolutionary Guards, which
commanded the Basiji. These "special educators" would visit schools and
handpick their martyrs from the paramilitary exercises in which all Iranian
youth were required to participate. Propaganda films--like the 1986 TV film
A Contribution to the War--praised this alliance between students and the
regime and undermined those parents who tried to save their children's
lives. (At the time, Iranian law allowed children to serve even if their
families objected.) Some parents, however, were lured by incentives. In a
campaign called "Sacrifice a Child for the Imam," every family that lost a
child on the battlefield was offered interest-free credit and other generous
benefits. Moreover, enrollment in the Basiji gave the poorest of the poor a
chance for social advancement.
Still others were coerced into "volunteering." In 1982, the German weekly
Der Spiegel documented the story of a twelve-year-old boy named Hossein, who
enlisted with the Basiji despite having polio:
One day, some unknown imams turned up in the village. They called the
whole population to the plaza in front of the police station, and they
announced that they came with good news from Imam Khomeini: The Islamic Army
of Iran had been chosen to liberate the holy city Al Quds--Jerusalem--from
the infidels. ... The local mullah had decided that every family with
children would have to furnish one soldier of God. Because Hossein was the
most easily expendable for his family, and because, in light of his illness,
he could in any case not expect much happiness in this life, he was chosen
by his father to represent the family in the struggle against the infidel
Of the 20 children that went into battle with Hossein, only he and two
But, if such methods explained some of why they volunteered, it did not
explain the fervor with which they rushed to their destruction. That can
only be elucidated by the Iranian Revolution's peculiar brand of Islam.
At the beginning of the war, Iran's ruling mullahs did not send human beings
into the minefields, but rather animals: donkeys, horses, and dogs. But the
tactic proved useless: Photo by Gamma Presse/Newscom"After a few donkeys had
been blown up, the rest ran off in terror," Mostafa Arki reports in his book
Eight Years of War in the Middle East. The donkeys reacted normally--fear of
death is natural. The Basiji, on the other hand, marched fearlessly and
without complaint to their deaths. The curious slogans that they chanted
while entering the battlefields are of note: "Against the Yazid of our
time!"; "Hussein's caravan is moving on!"; "A new Karbala awaits us!"
Yazid, Hussein, Karbala--these are all references to the founding myth of
Shia Islam. In the late seventh century, Islam was split between those loyal
to the Caliph Yazid--the predecessors of Sunni Islam--and the founders of
Shia Islam, who thought that the Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet
Muhammad, should govern the Muslims. In 680, Hussein led an uprising against
the "illegitimate" caliph, but he was betrayed. On the plain of Karbala, on
the tenth day of the month of Muharram, Yazid's forces attacked Hussein and
his entourage and killed them. Hussein's corpse bore the marks of 33 lance
punctures and 34 blows of the sword.
His head was cut off and his body was trampled by horses. Ever since, the
martyrdom of Hussein has formed the core of Shia theology, and the Ashura
Festival that commemorates his death is Shiism's holiest day. On that day,
men beat themselves with their fists or flagellate themselves with iron
chains to approximate Hussein's sufferings. At times throughout the
centuries, the ritual has grown obscenely violent. In his study Crowds and
Power, Elias Canetti recounts a firsthand report of the Ashura Festival as
it occurred in mid-nineteenth-century Tehran:
500,000 people, in the grip of delirium, cover their heads with ashes
and beat their foreheads against the ground. They want to subject themselves
voluntarily to torments: to commit suicide en masse, to mutilate themselves
with refinement. ... Hundreds of men in white shirts come by, their faces
ecstatically raised toward the sky. Of these, several will be dead this
evening, many will be maimed and mutilated, and the white shirts, dyed red,
will be burial shrouds. ... There is no more beautiful destiny than to die
on the Festival of Ashura. The gates of the eight Paradises are wide open
for the holy and everyone tries to get through them.
Bloody excesses of this sort are prohibited in contemporary Iran, but,
during the Iran-Iraq War, Khomeini appropriated the essence of the ritual as
a symbolic act and politicized it. He took the inward-directed fervor and
channeled it toward the external enemy. He transformed the passive
lamentation into active protest. He made the Battle of Karbala the prototype
of any fight against tyranny. Indeed, this technique had been used during
political demonstrations in 1978, when many Iranian protestors wore funeral
shrouds in order to tie the battle of 680 to the contemporary struggle
against the shah. In the war against Iraq, the allusions to Karbala were
given still greater significance: On the one hand, the scoundrel Yazid, now
in the form of Saddam Hussein; on the other, the Prophet's grandson,
Hussein, for whose suffering the time of Shia revenge had finally come.
The power of this story was further reinforced by a theological twist that
Khomeini gave it. According to Khomeini, life is worthless and death is the
beginning of genuine existence. "The natural world," he explained in October
1980, "is the lowest element, the scum of creation. "What is decisive is the
beyond: The "divine world, that is eternal." This latter world is accessible
to martyrs. Their death is no death, but merely the transition from this
world to the world beyond, where they will live on eternally and in
splendor. Whether the warrior wins the battle or loses it and dies a
Martyr--in both cases, his victory is assured: either a mundane or a
This attitude had a fatal implication for the Basiji: Whether they survived
or not was irrelevant. Not even the tactical utility of their sacrifice
mattered. Military victories are secondary, Khomeini explained in September
1980.The Basiji must "understand that he is a 'soldier of God' for whom it
is not so much the outcome of the conflict as the mere participation in it
that provides fulfillment and gratification." Could Khomeini's antipathy for
life have had as much effect in the war against Iraq without the Karbala
myth? Probably not.With the word "Karbala" on their lips, the Basiji went
elatedly into battle.
For those whose courage still waned in the face of death, the regime put on
a show. A mysterious horseman on a magnificent steed would suddenly appear
on the front lines. His face--covered in phosphorous--would shine. His
costume was that of a medieval prince. A child soldier, Reza Behrouzi, whose
story was documented in 1985 by French writer Freidoune Sehabjam, reported
that the soldiers reacted with a mixture of panic and rapture.
Everyone wanted to run toward the horseman. But he drove them away.
"Don't come to me!" he shouted, "Charge into battle against the infidels!
... Revenge the death of our Imam Hussein and strike down the progeny of
Yazid!" As the figure disappears, the soldiers cry: "Oh, Imam Zaman, where
are you?" They throw themselves on their knees, and pray and wail. When the
figure appears again, they get to their feet as a single man. Those whose
forces are not yet exhausted charge the enemy lines.
The mysterious apparition who was able to trigger such emotions is the
"hidden imam," a mythical figure who influences the thought and action of
Ahmadinejad to this day. The Shia call all the male descendants of the
Prophet Muhammad "imams" and ascribe to them a quasidivine status. Hussein,
who was killed at Karbala by Yazid, was the third Imam. His son and grandson
were the fourth and fifth. At the end of this line, there is the "Twelfth
Imam," who is named Muhammad. Some call him the Mahdi (the "divinely guided
one"), though others say imam Zaman (from sahib-e zaman: "the ruler of
time"). He was born in 869, the only son of the eleventh Imam. In 874, he
disappeared without a trace, thereby bringing Muhammad's lineage to a close.
In Shia mythology, however, the Twelfth Imam survived. The Shia believe that
he merely withdrew from public view when he was five and that he will sooner
or later emerge from his "occultation" in order to liberate the world from
Writing in the early '80s, V. S. Naipaul showed how deeply rooted the belief
in the coming of the Shia messiah is among the Iranian population. In Among
the Believers: An Islamic Journey, he described seeing posters in
post-Revolutionary Tehran bearing motifs similar to those of Maoist China:
crowds, for instance, with rifles and machine guns raised in the air as if
in greeting. The posters always bore the same phrase: twelfth imam, we are
waiting for you. Naipaul writes that he could grasp intellectually the
veneration for Khomeini. "But the idea of the revolution as something more,
as an offering to the Twelfth Imam, the man who had vanished ... and
remained 'in occultation,' was harder to seize." According to Shia
tradition, legitimate Islamic rule can only be established following the
reappearance of the Twelfth Imam. Until that time, the Shia have only to
wait, to keep their peace with illegitimate rule, and to remember the
Prophet's grandson, Hussein, in sorrow. Khomeini, however, had no intention
of waiting. He vested the myth with an entirely new sense: The Twelfth Imam
will only emerge when the believers have vanquished evil. To speed up the
Mahdi's return, Muslims had to shake off their torpor and fight.
This activism had more in common with the revolutionary ideas of Egypt's
Muslim Brotherhood than with Shia traditions. Khomeini had been familiar
with the texts of the Muslim Brothers since the 1930s, and he agreed with
the Brothers' conception of what had to be considered "evil": namely, all
the achievements of modernity that replaced divine providence with
individual self-determination, blind faith with doubt, and the stern
morality of sharia with sensual pleasures. According to legend, Yazid was
the embodiment of everything that was forbidden: He drank wine, enjoyed
music and song, and played with dogs and monkeys. And was not Saddam just
the same? In the war against Iraq, "evil" was clearly defined, and
vanquishing evil was the precondition for hastening the return of the
beloved Twelfth Imam. When he let himself be seen for a few minutes riding
his white steed, the readiness to die a martyr's death increased
It was this culture that nurtured Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's worldview. Born
outside Tehran in 1956, the son of blacksmith, he trained as a civil
engineer, and, during the Iran-Iraq War, he joined the Revolutionary Guards.
His biography remains strangely elliptical. Did he play a role in the 1979
takeover of the U.S. Embassy, as some charge? What exactly did he do during
the war? These are questions for which we have no definite answers. His
presidential website says simply that he was "on active service as a Basij
volunteer up to the end of the holy defense [the war against Iraq] and
served as a combat engineer in different spheres of duty."
We do know that, after the war's end, he served as the governor of Ardebil
Province and as an organizer of Ansar-e Hezbollah, a radical gang of violent
Islamic vigilantes. After becoming mayor of Tehran in April 2003,
Ahmadinejad used his position to build up a strong network of radical
Islamic fundamentalists known as Abadgaran-e Iran-e Islami, or Developers of
an Islamic Iran. It was in that role that he won his reputation--and
popularity--as a hardliner devoted to rolling back the liberal reforms of
then-President Muhammad Khatami. Ahmadinejad positioned himself as the
leader of a "second revolution" to eradicate corruption and Western
influences from Iranian society. And the Basiji, whose numbers had grown
dramatically since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, embraced him. Recruited
from the more conservative and impoverished parts of the population, the
Basiji fall under the direction of--and swear absolute loyalty to--the
Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, Khomeini's successor. During Ahmadinejad's run
for the presidency in 2005, the millions of Basiji--in every Iranian town,
neighborhood, and mosque--became his unofficial campaign workers.
Since Ahmadinejad became president, the influence of the Basiji has grown.
In November, the new Iranian president opened the annual "Basiji Week,"
which commemorates the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War. According to a report
in Kayan, a publication loyal to Khameini, some nine million Basiji--12
percent of the Iranian population--turned out to demonstrate in favor of
Ahmadinejad's anti-liberal platform. The article claimed that the
demonstrators "form[ed] a human chain some 8,700 kilometers long. ... In
Tehran alone, some 1,250,000 people turned out." Barely noticed by the
Western media, this mobilization attests to Ahmadinejad's determination to
impose his "second revolution" and to extinguish the few sparks of freedom
At the end of July 2005, the Basij movement announced plans to increase its
membership from ten million to 15 million by 2010. The elite special units
are supposed to comprise some 150,000 people by then. Accordingly, the
Basiji have received new powers in their function as an unofficial division
of the police. What this means in practice became clear in February 2006,
when the Basiji attacked the leader of the bus-drivers' union, Massoud
Osanlou. They held Osanlou prisoner in his apartment, and they cut off the
tip of his tongue in order to convince him to keep quiet. No Basiji needs to
fear prosecution for such terrorists tactics before a court of law.
As Basij ideology and influence enjoy a renaissance under Ahmadinejad, the
movement's belief in the virtues of violent self-sacrifice remains intact.
There is no "truth commission" in Iran to investigate the state-planned
collective suicide that took place from 1980 to 1988. Instead, every Iranian
is taught the virtues of martyrdom from childhood. Obviously, many of them
reject the Basij teachings. Still, everyone knows the name of Hossein
Fahmideh, who, as a 13-year-old boy during the war, blew himself up in front
of an Iraqi tank. His image follows Iranians throughout their day: whether
on postage stamps or the currency. If you hold up a 500 Rial bill to the
light, it is his face you will see in the watermark. The self-destruction of
Fahmideh is depicted as a model of profound faith by the Iranian press. It
has been the subject of both an animated film and an episode of the TV
series "Children of Paradise." As a symbol of their readiness to die for the
Revolution, Basij groups wear white funeral shrouds over their uniforms
during public appearances.
During this year's Ashura Festival, school classes were taken on excursions
to a "Martyrs' Cemetery." "They wear headbands painted with the name
Hussein," The New York Times reported, "and march beneath banners that read:
'Remembering the Martyrs today is as important as becoming a Martyr' and
'The Nation for whom Martyrdom means happiness, will always be Victorious.'
" Since 2004, the mobilization of Iranians for suicide brigades has
intensified, with recruits being trained for foreign missions. Thus, a
special military unit has been created bearing the name "Commando of
Voluntary Martyrs. "According to its own statistics, this force has so far
recruited some 52,000 Iranians to the suicidal cause. It aims to form a
"martyrdom unit" in every Iranian province.
The Basiji's cult of self-destruction would be chilling in any country. In
the context of the Iranian nuclear program, however, its obsession with
martyrdom amounts to a lit fuse. Nowadays, Basiji are sent not into the
desert, but rather into the laboratory. Basij students are encouraged to
enroll in technical and scientific disciplines. According to a spokesperson
for the Revolutionary Guard, the aim is to use the "technical factor" in
order to augment "national security."
What exactly does that mean? Consider that, in December 2001, former Iranian
President Hashemi Rafsanjani explained that "the use of even one nuclear
bomb inside Israel will destroy everything." On the other hand, if Israel
responded with its own nuclear weapons, it "will only harm the Islamic
world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality." Rafsanjani
thus spelled out a macabre cost-benefit analysis. It might not be possible
to destroy Israel without suffering retaliation. But, for Islam, the level
of damage Israel could inflict is bearable--only 100,000 or so additional
martyrs for Islam.
And Rafsanjani is a member of the moderate, pragmatic wing of the Iranian
Revolution; he believes that any conflict ought to have a "worthwhile"
outcome. Ahmadinejad, by contrast, is predisposed toward apocalyptic
thinking. In one of his first TV interviews after being elected president,
he enthused: "Is there an art that is more beautiful, more divine, more
eternal than the art of the martyr's death?" In September 2005, he concluded
his first speech before the United Nations by imploring God to bring about
the return of the Twelfth Imam. He finances a research institute in Tehran
whose sole purpose is to study, and, if possible, accelerate the coming of
the imam. And, at a theology conference in November 2005, he stressed, "The
most important task of our Revolution is to prepare the way for the return
of the Twelfth Imam."
A politics pursued in alliance with a supernatural force is necessarily
unpredictable.Why should an Iranian president engage in pragmatic politics
when his assumption is that, in three or four years, the savior will appear?
If the messiah is coming, why compromise? That is why, up to now,
Ahmadinejad has pursued confrontational policies with evident pleasure.
The history of the Basiji shows that we must expect monstrosities from the
current Iranian regime. Already, what began in the early '80s with the
clearing of minefields by human detonators has spread throughout the Middle East, as suicide bombing has become the terrorist tactic of choice. The motivational shows in the desert--with hired actors in the role of the
hidden imam--have evolved into a showdown between a zealous Iranian
president and the Western world. And the Basiji who once upon a time
wandered the desert armed only with a walking stick is today working as a
chemist in a uranium enrichment facility.
Matthias K?ntzel is a political scientist in Hamburg, Germany, and author of Djihad und Judenhass (or Jihad and Jew-Hatred).
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Mexico
on: April 14, 2006, 04:40:54 PM
Mexican Military Incursions into U.S. Territory
The current debate in the United States over illegal immigration focuses on the flood of average Mexican and Central Americans who are crossing into the United States to find jobs. An under-reported problem along the U.S.-Mexican border, however, involves incursions by Mexican military personnel into U.S. territory. In some cases, shots have been fired and U.S. citizens threatened. It appears that no government agency on either side of the border has a handle on the motives for these incursions.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, suspected Mexican military units have crossed into the United States 216 times since 1996: 75 times in California, 63 in Arizona and 78 in Texas. U.S. patrols that do encounter Mexican military personnel (or anyone in uniform), however, are under strict orders not to fire, so as to avoid inciting a gunbattle -- and a possible international border incident. Lacking sufficient manpower and resources to patrol the entire border, groups such as the Border Sheriff's Association and Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition have frequently appealed to lawmakers for help.
Some of these incursions could be accidental -- the result of Mexican authorities chasing drug runners or human smugglers into U.S. territory. During a pursuit, the Mexicans could easily lose track of where they are going and wander too far north. In some parts of the border, the demarcation line between countries is extremely hard to distinguish, even for seasoned professionals. And during dry seasons in the Texas region of the border, the Rio Grande can become nothing more than a trickle, making it appear little more than a ditch. It is unlikely that all Mexican military patrols along the border operate with global positioning systems (GPS), so the occasional navigational mistake should not be surprising. In fact, stand-offs have occurred between Mexican military troops and U.S. Border Patrol agents, each one believing the other encroached on their side of the border.
Not all of these crossing could be innocent, however. Mexican military troops could be running drugs over the border themselves or providing logistics and protection for cartels. The Sheriff's Office in Hudspeth County, Texas, reported Jan. 23 that men dressed as members of the Mexican military provided cover for drug runners near the Rio Grande. And, on March 2, Hudspeth County Sheriff's deputies apprehended a Mexican customs officer with detailed maps of the area and a GPS tracking system in his vehicle. The officer was believed to have been performing reconnaissance for drug smuggling routes. This latest case only highlights the relative ease in which Mexican officials can cross into the United States.
It should be noted, however, that in smuggling operations, corrupt Mexican officials and soldiers more than likely have contacts on the U.S. side of the border, possibly in law enforcement agencies.
Paramilitary units along the Mexican border could also be partly responsible. Groups such as the Zetas, highly trained ex-military personnel who have formed a muscle-for-hire organization, have a working relationship with the cartels. These hired guns control large expanses of the Mexican border with enough firepower and training to challenge the Mexican military as well as U.S. Border Patrols. Dressed in combat fatigues, carrying military weapons and driving military-style vehicles, Zetas would be indistinguishable from active-duty soldiers. It also is possible that the Zetas have recruited moonlighting active-duty soldiers along with their equipment and vehicles, further adding to the confusion.
U.S. law enforcement along the border face the constant threat of confronting armed smugglers and drug traffickers. In some cases, they also must deal with U.S. citizens who have formed private vigilante groups, such as the Minutemen. The incursions by Mexican military personnel only add to the chaos.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Homeland Security
on: April 13, 2006, 04:49:54 AM
Framing the 'Sleeper Cell' Argument
April 11, 2006 23 00 GMT
By Fred Burton
The very phrase conjures up an image of evil plotters burrowing deep into the fabric of a society, hiding under deep cover until they are called upon to strike at an unsuspecting host. Because it is a "sexy" phrase that arouses deep emotions and commands attention, it is frequently used in the public sphere. In fact, it has so much currency that Showtime even created a dramatic series called "Sleeper Cell" -- and you knew people would watch it on the strength of its name alone. Psychologically, it is the word "sleeper" that arouses the greatest angst in the post-9/11 context -- the world by now has grown familiar with the concept of "terrorist cell," and that phrase no longer carries the emotional impact that the word "sleeper" does.
As a result, the term not only is used frequently, but also often is used incorrectly -- not only by reporters and academics, but even at times by senior officials with agencies like the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, in testimony before the U.S. Congress and in other public statements. The issue is not one of mere semantics; the overuse of the phrase "sleeper cell" tends to blur important distinctions and contribute to general confusion about the nature of the jihadist threat the United States is fighting. Precise language is needed both for clear-eyed analysis and more effective defense and counterterrorism efforts.
Defining a 'Sleeper'
In simple terms, a sleeper is an operative that is infiltrated into the society, or even into the government, of a targeted country -- there to remain dormant ("sleep") until being activated, perhaps by a prearranged signal or a certain chain of events.
The concept of a sleeper operative dates back to the Cold War. In that context, a sleeper would be an officer working with a foreign intelligence service -- which would exercise maximum care in infiltrating him into the target country, to avoid detection by counterintelligence and security forces. The operative could be tasked with carrying out acts of sabotage if war should break out between the country that deployed him and the target country, but barring that, his job was to do nothing but blend into society, until the time came to act. A sleeper differs from what the Soviets (and now the Russians) would refer to as an "illegal", or what the CIA calls a "NOC" (an officer under "non-official cover"), in that a sleeper is not to take immediate operational activity, but rather must remain dormant until activated.
There are great dangers in submerging a sleeper operative for long periods in a target society, so intelligence agencies are very particular about what kinds of people are selected for such assignments. Such operatives must be mentally prepared for the stress they will endure in infiltrating the country, as well as capable of enduring the monotony of being in place for years without engaging in operational acts and without betraying their true identity or purpose. Only highly disciplined people qualify for such assignments.
Moreover, extensive training in operational tradecraft is needed; any contact between the operative and deploying government is extremely risky for the mission, so a highly sophisticated command-and-control system is needed for communication. This requirement would be multiplied in the case of a sleeper cell, given the need to avoid rousing suspicions or linking members of a cell together.
In short, an operation involving a sleeper must be -- by definition -- a long-term, strategic project that may take years or even decades to reach fruition. Great vision, sophisticated planning and deep reservoirs of patience are required of the government or group that prepares and deploys such agents, which are assets to be held in reserve until a time of great need.
In the Cold War context, sleeper operatives were a fallback or redundant intelligence network that could be activated in a crisis situation -- for example, if both the primary intelligence network (consisting of diplomats) and the secondary network (NOCs or illegal intelligence officers) were rolled up, leaving the deploying government blind. Sleeper officers would be the safety net to ensure that the sponsoring agency could still gather intelligence about what was happening in the targeted country.
Al Qaeda and Covert Operatives
Given this definition, we are not aware of any jihadist organization -- including al Qaeda -- that has ever created and run a true sleeper operation or cell. Perhaps the most significant reason for this is that an organization with limited resources would find it difficult to afford an operative who sits in place and does nothing.
As the 9/11 attacks and other operations have made clear, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups certainly have used clandestine operatives in the past. However, it is important to note that simply because an operative is hidden does not mean he is a sleeper.
Consider the 9/11 operatives as an example. The men were divided into two groups -- the pilots and those who might be termed the "muscle hijackers," who wielded box cutters while the al Qaeda pilots took control in the cockpit. Some in the media have equated the pilots with sleeper operatives because they began to arrive in the United States in early 2000, long before their planned attack, but this would be a misnomer. After arriving, these men quickly engaged in operational activities, such as attending English classes and enrolling in flight schools. The 9/11 pilots clearly were sent to the United States with a mission, which they began pursuing shortly after arriving. The same holds true for the muscle hijackers, who began arriving in the country by July 2001. Rather than trying to embed themselves in American society, they remained more or less aloof; they kept to themselves, lifted weights and waited for the green light from an operational commander -- in this case, Mohammed Atta -- to execute their mission.
One of the key aspects to consider in any discussion of al Qaeda -- and one that often is overlooked -- is that al Qaeda is a nonstate entity. That means not only that it is a network set up to carry out attacks, but also that it must sustain itself; it has nodes dedicated to fundraising, recruitment, and logistics and training activities. Examples of such nodes can be clearly seen in a historical review of al Qaeda's activities, and at times these can confuse the sleeper cell discourse.
In the mid-1990s, al Qaeda established a node in East Africa -- with headquarters in Nairobi -- that opened a charity called Help Africa People, as well as a gem-trading business, a fishing business and a branch of Osama bin Laden's Taba Investment Company. Alongside these non-terrorist activities, the Nairobi cell was busy with operational planning -- having surveilled the U.S. embassy in Nairobi as early as 1993. The group's planning activities (and its connection to al Qaeda) attracted so much attention that in August 1997, Kenyan and U.S. authorities visited the home of cell leader Wadih El-Hage, seized his computer and other evidence, and strongly suggested that he leave the country. Thus, even though the East Africa cell was present and active for several years before the 1998 attacks at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, it could not correctly be categorized as a sleeper cell, given its open relationship with al Qaeda and recruiting and fundraising operations.
Grassroots Groups and Sleepers
Since 1979, thousands of Muslim men have fought jihad in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and, most recently, Iraq. These men, along with others who have never been to jihad, have left their home countries or place of residence to attend training camps in places like Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- where they also were ideologically indoctrinated. During the jihad in Afghanistan and Bosnia, many of these men were recruited by Muslim "charities" associated with the Maktab al-Khidmat, or MAK -- known in English as the Afghan Services Bureau -- and many even had their travel expenses paid in whole or in part by these charities. These men eventually returned to their home countries but retained their paramilitary skills, their radical mindsets and their relationships with the men with whom they had fought and trained.
Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups have used such networks to their advantage. When Abdel Basit (perhaps more widely known as Ramzi Yousef) arrived in the United States in September 1992, he was able to use contacts at Brooklyn's Alkifah Refugee Center -- which was one of the U.S. branches of the MAK -- to quickly cobble together a team that helped him plan and execute the first World Trade Center bombing. In that case, Basit was not a sleeper because he came to the United States with a mission in mind and quickly got to work on it. Nor would the others arrested in connection with that case fit the definition of sleeper operatives; though they were living in the United States and were, to some degree, embedded in society, they were not deployed for that purpose by al Qaeda but rather came to the country of their own accord. Mahmoud Abouhalima, Mohammed Salameh and their colleagues were what might be termed "grassroots" operatives who were organized by an operational commander (Basit), who was dispatched to the United States from "the base" in Afghanistan.
The grassroots pattern has been used by al Qaeda far more often than the 9/11 model, in which all the operatives were sent into the United States from overseas.
As al Qaeda's evolution from an organization to a movement continues, the odds of another centrally planned, funded and executed attack like 9/11 will grow ever more remote. Instead, it is the combination of operational planners and grassroots cells that will continue to pose the most significant and most persistent threat. This is the model that was evident in the Madrid and London attacks. Grassroots cells lack the strategic reach and punch demonstrated by the 9/11 cell, but they will continue to pose a tactical threat in their areas of operation for the foreseeable future.
Again, it is critical to distinguish between grassroots militants or supporters of jihadist causes and sleeper operatives. If al Qaeda or any other transnational organization were to demonstrate the strategic reach and capabilities necessary for deploying true sleepers, there would be far-reaching implications for the war against terrorism -- ranging from U.S. counterintelligence policy all the way down to how immigration laws are written and enforced.
The Weight of the Evidence
Now, having said all of those things, it is quite interesting that Osama bin Laden, in the videotape issued in January 2006, implied that al Qaeda operatives are today present within the continental United States, and there have been media reports that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is in U.S. custody, discussed the existence of sleeper cells in the country. At the very least, it is logical to assume that the issue would have been near the top of the list of questions posed by interrogators during his debriefing.
Al Qaeda leaders of such high rank do command a certain amount of credibility, particularly when it comes to threatening and then carrying out specific attacks, and it would be foolish to dismiss their claims out of hand. But it also is important to note that they have strong incentives to spread disinformation, so as to confuse counterterrorism efforts in the United States and elsewhere. Moreover, it is difficult to know how al Qaeda itself defines concepts such as a "sleeper" -- and it is entirely possible that their definition differs from that used by state intelligence organizations.
Thus, while there is strong evidence that al Qaeda has contacts within the United States, the only answer to the question of whether it has sleeper agents in place is that we cannot know for sure. However, we tend to discount the possibility for several reasons.
For one thing, as previously discussed, the deployment of sleeper operatives is a strategic capability that takes a great deal of planning, coordination and training. And since 9/11, al Qaeda's strategic capabilities have been seriously degraded; the U.S.-led counteroffensive has denied the organization places to train, plan and operate, and has inflicted serious damage to its financial and communications networks. As a result, the operational tradecraft of al Qaeda field operatives has degraded to a level below that prior to the 9/11 attacks.
It follows, then, that even if al Qaeda possesses the strategic vision and patience necessary to embed sleeper operatives in the United States, the organization no longer would be capable of training the personnel or coordinating such an operation today. If there is a bona fide threat of al Qaeda sleepers in the United States, it would mean they were present in the country prior to 9/11.
Now, while the leadership of al Qaeda certainly has an attention span and takes a view of history longer than that of many Americans, there is evidence that it also has a relatively short planning cycle. History has shown that key planners and operatives frequently were engaged with more than one operation at a time. In other words, it is not sufficient to use successful al Qaeda attacks to extrapolate a planning cycle; this model does not take into account failed or foiled attempts, such as the shoe bomber plot and other planned spectaculars, that also were being implemented during the same time frame. When one also factors in the large number of senior al Qaeda planners who have been captured or killed since 9/11, it is clear that the organization is under enormous pressure.
The question, then, is this: How much longer could al Qaeda wait before activating any sleeper cells it might have? Logic would argue that any sleeper operatives still out in the cold either must be getting exceedingly nervous at this point or they do not exist. If they do exist, the ability to remain hidden so long after 9/11 implies that they possess a degree of professionalism on par with that of the KGB -- and far exceeding anything exhibited by al Qaeda operatives to date.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Zacarias Moussaoui is guilty!
on: April 13, 2006, 04:37:45 AM
Whom did he kill? He was an accessory to murder-- that's why he is facing the death penalty.
At Trial, Flight 93 Myth Finally Becomes Reality
By Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 13, 2006; A01
It began with a muted series of thumps from a sharp knife or maybe clenched fists. The sounds were muffled but unmistakable, one body blow after another, ending with a squishy thud.
"No, no, no, no, no. No," came the high-pitched voice of a crew member or flight attendant being subdued. " . . . Please, please don't hurt me," the person said later. " . . . I don't want to die." The desperate plea, captured by the cockpit voice recorder of United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, was played to a transfixed jury yesterday at the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.
A foreign-accented voice, increasingly agitated, screamed: "Down. Down. Down!" as the whacking sound continued. Then there was silence. "That's it. Go back," a hijacker said calmly. "Everything is fine. I finished."
And with that, Flight 93 from Newark banked left toward Washington. But the terrorists would not strike their target that day because they were beaten -- as the voice recorder made clear -- by the passengers, who fought back. The 32-minute tape recounts an epic struggle as passengers surged forward to retake the plane using whatever low-tech weapons they could find.
"Let's get them!" one passenger yelled as dishes crashed to the floor. "In the cockpit. If we don't we'll die," screamed another amid more thumping and crashing and breaking of glass.
Yesterday, the myth of Flight 93 became real. The 33 passengers and seven crew members have been lionized in book and film for their struggle to retake the doomed jet, one of four planes hijacked during the deadliest terrorist strike in U.S. history. Until now, the recording that documented their courage had been played only for federal investigators and a limited number of relatives of those aboard.
But in court, Americans were taken inside a hijacking drama that saw in a space of time shorter than the average Washington commute terrorists seize a cockpit by brutal force, repulse an initial attack by passengers and then crash a jetliner in a Pennsylvania field as their captives, throwing plates or anything else at their disposal, thwarted their plans.
Much of the tape is unintelligible. There was loud static, and the voices, some speaking English and others Arabic, were often inaudible. It cannot be determined whether the passengers entered the cockpit, although it is certain they came close and forced the hijackers to abandon their attack on Washington.
The recording made clear that a group of men and women, who knew the World Trade Center had been attacked, recognized that this was no conventional hijacking -- these terrorists were crashing planes into buildings -- and resolved to take control of their fate.
"There is absolutely no doubt that through their heroic actions still more carnage and catastrophe was prevented," said Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks. The commission concluded that the passengers of Flight 93 stopped an attack that was aimed at Washington, most likely the Capitol or White House.
The hijackers, as shown on a computer simulation played on monitors throughout the courtroom, jerked the plane violently to the left and right during the struggle. They tried to cut off the oxygen as passengers banged on the cockpit door. In the end, as the passengers were either in the cockpit or moments from entering it, the hijackers turned the plane upside down -- and crashed it.
"Allah is the greatest!" one screamed nine times as the plane went down. The recording then went dead. The courtroom was silent.
The trial seemed an afterthought yesterday amid the drama of the recording. Prosecutors rested their case for the execution of Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the United States in connection with the attacks on the trade center and the Pentagon. The defense will now begin its case, and Moussaoui is expected to take the stand again as early as today.
In the trial's first phase, Moussaoui testified that he had planned to hijack a fifth plane and crash it into the White House on Sept. 11 with a crew that included shoe bomber Richard Reid. The jury found Moussaoui eligible for the death penalty and will decide whether he should be executed or spend his life in prison. Reid could testify before the jury gets the case.
D. Hamilton Peterson of Bethesda, president of Families of Flight 93, said the public airing of the recording should put to rest any lingering questions about what happened aboard the Boeing 757. "The paramount issue was, Did the passengers and crew thwart the plane from its intended target? And that question has clearly been answered," said Peterson, whose father, Donald A. Peterson, and stepmother, Jean H. Peterson, died on the plane. "Whether or not they were actually into the cockpit or tearing the door off the hinges at the time it was scuttled is something history will have to answer."
Prosecutors played the voice recorder tape as part of their effort to show the jury the extensive damage caused by Sept. 11 and the suffering and loss of the victims. More than 35 survivors and family members testified in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, including Lorne Lyles, whose wife, CeeCee, was a flight attendant on Flight 93. He brought several jurors to the brink of tears with his testimony yesterday about his wife's two calls from the plane.
The first time the phone rang, Lyles, a Fort Myers, Fla., police officer who had worked the overnight shift, rolled over and went back to sleep. He did speak to his wife briefly when she called again. But only a week later did he hear the message she had left on his voice mail.
"Hi, baby," CeeCee Lyles said in the call, a tape of which was played in court yesterday. "Baby, you have to listen to me very carefully. I'm on a plane that's been hijacked. . . . I'm trying to be calm."
Saying she knew that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, Lyles tried to keep her composure, but her voice broke as she ended the call. "I hope to be able to see your face again, baby," she said. "I love you, baby."
Lyles said he has been in and out of counseling for the past five years. "I'm just now being able to appreciate a full night's sleep," he testified. "They say closure, but there's never any closure. It takes a piece of you."
Moussaoui looked bored, as he did when the cockpit voice recorder was played. Jurors leaned forward in their seats.
A large screen showed the path of Flight 93 and instrument readings of speed and altitude as Ziad Jarrah, believed to be the hijacking team's pilot, started the recording by announcing: "Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So sit."
It was nearly 9:32 a.m., four minutes after investigators say the four hijackers started their attack. The plane had taken off from Newark Liberty International Airport, bound for San Francisco, at 8:42 a.m.
The sounds of a struggle in the cockpit were immediately heard, but it was unclear whether the pleading voice was male or female. The Sept. 11 commission concluded that a flight attendant, most likely a woman, struggled with hijackers in the cockpit and was killed or otherwise silenced. Hijackers on the four planes were armed with small knives and box cutters.
When the plane turned around and started heading south through Pennsylvania, there were several minutes of silence. At 9:43 a.m., it started descending rapidly, leveled off, then descended again. The first sign of a struggle came at 9:57 a.m., when a hijacker said: "Is there something? A fight?"
Passengers, who had made cellphone calls and learned of the earlier trade center attack, then rushed the cockpit. "They want to get in there. Hold, hold from the inside," a hijacker said.
"Shall we finish it off?" one hijacker asked.
"No, not yet," responded another. "When they all come, we finish it off."
Within seconds, there was bedlam -- the sounds of a violent, almost animalistic struggle. People yelled and objects crashed, which Sept. 11 commissioners say was probably the passengers hurling objects at the cockpit door or ramming it with a beverage cart.
"Down, down. Pull it down, pull it down," a hijacker said just before his colleague praised Allah and crashed the plane.
In the background, a single voice could be heard screaming "No!"
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Evolutionary Biology and Psychology
on: April 13, 2006, 03:32:40 AM
Elizabeth Gould Photography by Reynard Li
Elizabeth Gould overturned one of the central tenets of neuroscience. Now she?s building on her discovery to show that poverty and stress may not just be symptoms of society, but bound to our anatomy.
Professor Elizabeth Gould has a picture of a marmoset on her computer screen. Marmosets are a new world monkey, and Gould has a large colony living just down the hall. Although her primate population is barely three years old, Gould is clearly smitten, showing off these photographs like a proud parent. Marmosets are the ideal experimental animal: a primate brain trapped inside the body of a rat. They recognize themselves in the mirror, form elaborate dominance hierarchies and raise their young cooperatively. If you can look past their rodent-like stature and punkish pompadour, marmosets can seem disconcertingly human.
In her laboratory at Princeton University?s Department of Psychology, Gould is determined to create a marmoset environment that takes full advantage of their innate intelligence. She doesn?t believe in metal cages. ?We are housing our marmosets in large, enriched enclosures,? she says, ?and with a variety of objects to support foraging. These are social animals, and it?s important to let them be social. Basically, we want to bring our experimental conditions closer to the wild.?
But Gould is not a primatologist. She doesn?t give her marmosets adorable names, or spend time cuddling with their young. In fact, these marmosets don?t even know she exists: Gould prefers to observe them remotely, on a little video screen. Staring at the televised frenzy of this little marmoset world, it is poignant to know how their lives will end. Their brains will be cut into thousands of transparent slices. Their dissected neurons will be stained neon green and the density of their dendritic connections will be quantified under a powerful microscope. They will live on as data.
The naturalistic habitat that Gould has created for these marmosets is essential to her studies, which involve understanding how the environment affects the brain. Eight years after Gould defied the entrenched dogma of her science and proved that the primate brain is always creating new neurons, she has gone on to demonstrate an even more startling fact: The structure of our brain, from the details of our dendrites to the density of our hippocampus, is incredibly influenced by our surroundings. Put a primate under stressful conditions, and its brain begins to starve. It stops creating new cells. The cells it already has retreat inwards. The mind is disfigured.
The social implications of this research are staggering. If boring environments, stressful noises, and the primate?s particular slot in the dominance hierarchy all shape the architecture of the brain?and Gould?s team has shown that they do?then the playing field isn?t level. Poverty and stress aren?t just an idea: they are an anatomy. Some brains never even have a chance.
Viewed through the magnified eyes of a confocal microscope, a newborn neuron looks fragile, almost lonely. Everything around it is connected to everything else, but the new cell is all alone, just a seed of soma and a thin stalk of axon desperately trying to plug itself into the network. If it doesn?t, it will die. Staring at this tenuous neuron, it is hard to believe that so much depends upon its presence.
Dr. Gould insists on being called Liz. She wears faded jeans to work and ties back her long dark hair in a loose braid. She smiles easily, and intersperses discussions of marmoset families with stories about her own children. Gould doesn?t talk about her research in listless sentences full of acronyms. Instead, she takes you through the experimental process, confessing all the difficulties and ambiguities along the way.
Gould?s casual air conceals a necessary tenaciousness: It is not easy to shift a paradigm. Four days after giving birth to her third child, Gould was back at work, lecturing to a room full of undergraduates. She has always worked long hours, and expects nothing less of her employees. (Saturdays in the Gould lab are indistinguishable from Mondays.) And even though her research has set off a frenzy of activity?neurogenesis is now one of the hottest topics in neuroscience?Gould has managed to remain at the cutting edge of the field she helped to
For such a high-profile scientist, Gould?s lab at Princeton is surprisingly small. Lavishly outfitted (she has her own $400,000 confocal microscope and large marmoset colony) the lab consists of just two post-docs and two grad students. They are a close knit group, and work on overlapping problems. ?When I first began at Princeton,? Gould says, ?I had tunnel vision. I was just so determined to answer my critics and prove that adult neurogenesis was real. But now I?m finally able to think about neurogenesis in a broader context. We are free to figure out what all these new cells actually do.?
To understand how neurogenesis?the process of creating new brain cells? works, Gould?s lab studies the effect of two separate variables: stress and enriched environments. Chronic stress, predictably enough, decreases neurogenesis. As Christian Mirescu, one of Gould?s post-docs, put it, ?When a brain is worried, it?s just thinking about survival. It isn?t interested in investing in new cells for the future.?
On the other hand, enriched animal environments?enclosures that simulate the complexity of a natural habitat?lead to dramatic increases in both neurogenesis and the density of neuronal dendrites, the branches that connect one neuron to another. Complex surroundings create a complex brain.
Gould?s field is a new one. Only a decade ago, the idea that the primate brain is constantly creating new neurons, and that these new neurons are not only functional but responsive to changes in the environment, was unimaginable. Indeed, the fact that neurogenesis did not exist was one of modern neuroscience's founding principles. This theory, first articulated by Santiago Ram?n y Cajal at the start of the 20th century, held that brain cells?unlike every other cell in our body?don?t divide. They don?t die, and they are never reborn. We emerge from the womb with the only brain we will ever have.
The most convincing modern defender of this theory was Pasko Rakic, the chairman of Yale University?s neurobiology department and among the most respected neuroscientists of his generation. In the early 1980s, Rakic realized that neurogenesis had never been properly tested in primates. He set out to investigate. Rakic studied 12 rhesus monkeys, injecting them with radioactively-labeled thymidine which allowed him to trace the development of neurons in the brain. Rakic then killed the monkeys at various stages after the injection of the thymidine, and searched for any signs of new neurons. There were none.
?All neurons of the rhesus monkey brain are generated during pre-natal and early post-natal life,? Rakic wrote in his 1985 paper, ?Limits of Neurogenesis in Primates.? ?Not a single? new neuron ?was observed in the brain of any adult animal.? While Rakic admitted that his proof was limited, he persuasively defended the dogma. He even went so far as to construct a plausible evolutionary theory as to why neurons can?t divide: Rakic imagined that at some point in our distant past, primates had traded the ability to give birth to new neurons for the ability to retain plasticity in our old neurons. According to Rakic, the ?social and cognitive? behavior of primates required the absence of neurogenesis. His paper, with its thorough demonstration of what everyone already believed, seemed like the final word on the matter. No one bothered to verify his findings.
The genius of the scientific method, however, is that it accepts no permanent solution. Skepticism is its solvent, for every theory is imperfect. Scientific facts are meaningful precisely because they are ephemeral, because a new observation, a more honest observation, can always alter them. This is what happened to Rakic?s theory of the fixed brain. It was, to use Karl Popper?s verb, falsified.
The subject of stress has been the single continuous thread running through Gould?s research career. From the brain?s perspective, stress is primarily signaled by an increase in the bloodstream of a class of steroid called glucocorticoids, which put the body on a heightened state of alert. But glucocorticoids can have one nasty side-effect: They are toxic for the brain. When stress becomes chronic, neurons stop investing in themselves. Neurogenesis ceases. Dendrites disappear. The hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for learning and memory, begins withering away.
Gould?s insight was that understanding how stress damages the brain could illuminate the general mechanisms?especially neurogenesis?by which the brain is affected by its environ-mental conditions. For the last several years, she and her post-doc, Mirescu, have been depriving newborn rats of their mother for either 15 minutes or three hours a day. For an infant rat, there is nothing more stressful. Earlier studies had shown that even after these rats become adults, the effects of their developmental deprivation linger: They never learn how to deal with stress. ?Normal rats can turn off their glucocorticoid system relatively quickly,? Mirescu says. ?They can recover from the stress response. But these deprived rats can?t do that. It?s as if they are missing the ?off? switch.?
Gould and Mirescu?s disruption led to a dramatic decrease in neurogenesis in their rats? adult brains. The temporary trauma of childhood lingered on as a permanent reduction in the number of new cells in the hippocampus. The rat might have forgotten its pain, but its brain never did. ?This is a potentially very important topic,? Gould says. ?When you look at all these different stress disorders, such as PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], what you realize is that some people are more vulnerable. They are at increased risk. This might be one of the reasons why.?
Subsequent experiments have teased out a host of other ways stress can damage the developing brain. For example, if a pregnant rhesus monkey is forced to endure stressful conditions?like being startled by a blaring horn for 10 minutes a day?her children are born with reduced neurogenesis, even if they never actually experience stress once born. This pre-natal trauma, just like trauma endured in infancy, has life-long implications. The offspring of monkeys stressed during pregnancy have smaller hippocampi, suffer from elevated levels of glucocorticoids and display all the classical symptoms of anxiety. Being low in a dominance hierarchy also suppresses neurogenesis. So does living in a bare environment. As a general rule of thumb, a rough life?especially a rough start to life?strongly correlates with lower levels of fresh cells.
Gould?s research inevitably conjures up comparisons to societal problems. And while Gould, like all rigorous bench scientists, prefers to focus on the strictly scientific aspects of her data?she is wary of having it twisted for political purposes?she is also acutely aware of the potential implications of her research.
?Poverty is stress,? she says, with more than a little passion in her voice. ?One thing that always strikes me is that when you ask Americans why the poor are poor, they always say it?s because they don?t work hard enough, or don?t want to do better. They act like poverty is a character issue.?
Gould?s work implies that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind. Because neurons are designed to reflect their circumstances, not to rise above them, the monotonous stress of living in a slum literally limits the brain.
In 1989, Gould was a young post-doc working in the lab of Bruce McEwen at Rockefeller University, investigating the effect of stress hormones on rat brains. Chronic stress is devastating to neurons, and Gould?s research focused on the death of cells in the hippocampus. (Rakic?s declaration that there was no such thing as neurogenesis was still entrenched dogma.) While the idea was exciting?stress research was a booming field?the manual labor was brutal. She had to kill her rats at various time points, pluck the tiny brain out of its cranial encasing, cut through the rubbery cortex, slice the hippocampus thinner than a piece of paper, and painstakingly count the dying neurons under a microscope. But while Gould was documenting the brain?s degeneration, she happened upon something inexplicable: evidence that the brain also healed itself. ?At first, I assumed I must be counting [the neurons] incorrectly,? Gould said. ?There were just too many cells.?
Confused by this anomaly, Gould assumed she was making some simple experimental mistake. She went to the library, hoping to figure out what she was doing wrong. But then, looking through a dusty, 27-year-old science journal buried in the Rockefeller stacks?this was before the Internet?Gould found the explanation she needed, though not the one she was looking for.
Beginning in 1962, a researcher at MIT named Joseph Altman published several papers claiming that adult rats, cats, and guinea pigs all formed new neurons. Although Altman used the same technique that Rakic would later use in monkey brains?the injection of radioactive thymidine?his results were at first ridiculed, then ignored, and soon forgotten.
As a result, the field of neurogenesis vanished before it began. It would be another decade before Michael Kaplan, at the University of New Mexico, would use an electron microscope to image neurons giving birth. Kaplan discovered new neurons everywhere in the mammalian brain, including the cortex. Yet even with this visual evidence, science remained stubbornly devoted to its doctrine. Kaplan remembers Rakic telling him that ?Those [cells] may look like neurons in New Mexico, but they don?t in New Haven.? Faced with this debilitating criticism, Kaplan, like Altman before him, abandoned the field of neurogenesis.
The Connecticut Mental Health Center is a drab brick building a mile from the Yale campus. After passing through a metal detector and walking by a few armed guards, a visitor enters a working mental institution. The cramped halls are an uneasy mixture of scientists, social workers and confined patients. The lights are bright and sterile.
Ronald Duman, a professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Yale, has a lab on the third floor, opposite a ward for the mentally ill. His lab is isolated from the rest of the building by a set of locked doors. There is the usual clutter of solutions (most of them just salt buffers), the haphazard stacks of science papers and the soothing hum of refrigerators set well below zero. It is here, in these rooms with a view of New Haven, that Duman is trying to completely change the science of depression and antidepressants.
For the last 40 years, medical science has operated on the understanding that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in just about everything the mind does, thinks or feels. The theory is appealingly simple: sadness is simply a shortage of chemical happiness. The typical antidepressant?like Prozac or Zoloft?works by increasing the brain?s access to serotonin. If depression is a hunger for neurotransmitter, then these little pills fill us up.
Unfortunately, the serotonergic hypothesis is mostly wrong. After all, within hours of swallowing an antidepressant, the brain is flushed with excess serotonin. Yet nothing happens; the patient is no less depressed. Weeks pass drearily by. Finally, after a month or two of this agony, the torpor begins to lift.
But why the delay? If depression is simply a lack of serotonin, shouldn?t the effect of antidepressants be immediate? The paradox of the Prozac lag has been the guiding question of Dr. Ronald Duman?s career. Duman likes to talk with his feet propped up on his desk. He speaks with the quiet confidence of someone whose ideas once seemed far-fetched but are finally being confirmed.
?Even as a graduate student,? Duman says, ?I was fascinated by how antidepressants work. I always thought that if I can just figure out their mechanism of action?and identify why there is this time-delay in their effect?then I will have had a productive career.?
When Duman began studying the molecular basis of antidepressants back in the early 90s, the first thing he realized was that the serotonin hypothesis made no sense. A competing theory, which was supposed to explain the Prozaz lag, was that antidepressants increase the number of serotonin receptors. However, that theory was also disproved. ?It quickly became clear that serotonin wasn?t the whole story,? Duman says. ?Our working hypothesis at the time just wasn?t right.?
But if missing serotonin isn?t the underlying cause of depression, then how do antidepressants work? As millions will attest, Prozac does do something. Duman?s insight, which he began to test gradually, was that a range of antidepressants trigger a molecular pathway that has little, if anything, to do with serotonin. Instead, this chemical cascade leads to an increase in the production of a class of proteins known as trophic factors. Trophic factors make neurons grow. What water and sun do for trees, trophic factors do for brain cells. Depression was like an extended drought: It deprived neurons of the sustenance they need.
Duman?s discovery of a link between trophic factors and antidepressant treatments still left the essential question unanswered: What was causing depressed brains to stop producing trophins? Why was the brain hurting itself? It was at this point that Duman?s research intersected the work of Robert Sapolsky and Bruce McEwen (Gould?s advisor at Rockefeller), who were both studying the effects of stress on the mammalian brain. In an influential set of studies, Sapolsky and McEwen had shown that prolonged bouts of stress were devastating to neurons, especially in the hippocampus. In one particularly poignant experiment, male vervet monkeys bullied by their more dominant peers suffered serious and structural brain damage. Furthermore, this neural wound seemed to be caused by a decrease in the same trophic factors that Duman had been studying. From the perspective of the brain, stress and depression produced eerily similar symptoms. They shared a destructive anatomy.
Just as Duman was beginning to see the biochemical connections between trophins, stress, and depression, Gould was starting to document neurogenesis in the hippocampus of the primate brain. Reading Altman?s and Kaplan?s papers, Gould had realized that her neuron-counting wasn?t erroneous: She was just witnessing an ignored fact. The anomaly had been suppressed. But the final piece of the puzzle came when Gould heard about the work of Fernando Nottebohm, who was, coincidentally, also at Rockefeller. Nottebohm, in a series of beautiful studies on birds, had showed that neurogenesis was essential to birdsong. To sing their complex melodies, male birds needed new brain cells. In fact, up to 1% of the neurons in the bird?s song center were created anew, every day.
Despite the elegance of Nottebohm?s data, his science was marginalized. Bird brains were seen as irrelevant to the mammalian brain. Avian neurogenesis was explained away as an exotic adaptation, a reflection of the fact that flight required a light cerebrum. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the philosopher Thomas Kuhn wrote about how pre-paradigm-shift science excludes its contradictions: ?Until the scientist has learned to see nature in a different way, the new fact is not quite a scientific fact at all.? Evidence of neurogenesis was excluded from the world of ?normal science.?
But Gould, motivated by the strangeness of her own observations, connected the dots. She realized that Altman, Kaplan and Nottebohm all had strong evidence for mammalian neurogenesis. Faced with this mass of ignored data, Gould began pursuing cell birth in the adult brain of rats.
She would spend the next eight years quantifying endless numbers of radioactive rat hippocampi. But the tedious manual labor paid off. Gould?s data would shift the paradigm. More than thirty years had passed since Altman first traced the ascent of new neurons in the adult brain, but neurogenesis had finally become a real science.
After her wearisome post-doc, during which her data was continually criticized, Gould was offered a job at Princeton. The very next year, in a series of landmark papers, Gould began documenting neurogenesis in primates, thus confronting Rakic?s data directly. She demonstrated that adult marmosets created new neurons in their brains, especially in the olfactory cortex and the hippocampus. The mind, far from being stagnant, is actually in a constant state of cellular upheaval. By 1999, even Rakic had admitted that neurogenesis is real. He published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that reported seeing new neurons in the hippocampus of macaques, an old world primate. The textbooks were rewritten. The brain, Elizabeth Gould had now firmly established, is always giving birth. The self is continually reinventing itself.
Gould?s finding has led, via work Duman has done that builds on it, to a rash of R&D to stimulate neurogenesis in the brain. Duman had an epiphany reading Gould?s papers. He realized that stress and depression didn?t simply kill cells, they might also prevent new cells from being born. ?I was reading these papers by
McEwen and Gould,? Duman says, ?and they were showing this relationship between stress and the adrenal hormones and neurogenesis. It just sort of all gradually came together.? Perhaps the time lag of antidepressants was simply the time it took for new cells to be created.
He immediately set to work to test this hypothesis. In December 2000, Duman?s lab published a paper in the Journal of Neuroscience demonstrating that antidepressants increased neurogenesis in the adult rat brain. In fact, the two most effective treatments they looked at?electroconvulsive therapy and fluoxetine, the chemical name for Prozac?increased neurogenesis in the hippocampus by 75% and 50%, respectively. Subsequent studies did this by increasing the exact same molecules, especially trophic factors, that are suppressed by stress.
Duman was surprised by his own data. Fluoxetine, after all, had been invented by accident. (It was originally studied as an antihistamine.) ?The idea that Prozac triggers all these different trophic factors that ultimately lead to increased neurogenesis is just totally serendipitous,? Duman says. ?Pure luck.?
But demonstrating a connection between antidepressants and increased neurogenesis was the easy part. It is much more difficult to prove that increased neurogenesis causes the relief provided by antidepressants, and is not just another of the drugs many side-effects. To answer this question, Duman partnered with the lab of Ren? Hen at Columbia.
The research team, led by post-doc Luca Santarelli, effectively erased neurogenesis with low doses of radiation. All other cellular processes remained intact. If the relief from depression was due to changes in serotonin, then halting neurogenesis with radiation should have had no effect.
But it did. Hen and Duman?s data was unambiguous. If there is no increase in neurogenesis, then antidepressants don?t work in rodents. They stay ?depressed.?
Duman and Hen?s work was greeted, as expected, by a howl of criticism. Mice aren?t people. The experiment was flawed. The radiation wasn?t specific enough. Robert Sapolsky, whose work on stress paved the way for much of Duman?s own research, is one of the most incisive skeptics. He argues that neurogenesis researchers have no plausible model for how decreased neurogenesis might cause the symptoms of depression. Why would having a handful fewer new cells in the hippocampus have such an effect? ?The more expertise someone has about the hippocampus,? Sapolsky wrote in a review in Biological Psychiatry, ?the less plausible they find this novel role.?
Duman himself is reluctant to discuss the clinical implications of his data. He imagines that neurogenesis in humans is just a single part of the antidepressant effect. ?It?s a long way from looking at mice in cages to talking about depression in humans. All of these connections are very exciting, but we still don?t understand what?s actually going on inside the brain. We don?t know what the function of all these new cells is, and we have no idea how they might relate, if they do, to the mechanism of action of antidepressants in humans.?
Nevertheless, Duman?s research is completely changing the way neuroscience imagines depression. Several major drug companies and a host of startups are now frantically trying to invent the next generation of antidepressants (a $12-billion-a-year business). Many expect these future drugs to selectively target the neurogenesis pathway. If these pills are successful, they will be definitive proof that antidepressants work by increasing neurogenesis. Depression is not simply the antagonist of happiness. Instead, despair might be caused by the loss of the brain?s essential plasticity. A person?s inability to change herself is what drags her down.
Scientists who pursue neurogenesis are audacious by definition?they have staked their career on a lark?and Dr. Jonas Fris?n is no exception. He is probably the only person in Stockholm who wears a cowboy hat. ?Super-exciting? is his favorite superlative. (He speaks English fluently, with a singsong Scandinavian accent.) Occasionally, Fris?n gives his science papers titles lifted from Bob Dylan songs, as in his 2003 paper ?Blood on the tracks: a simple twist of fate?? He thanks Dylan in the acknowledgments for ?inspiration.?
Fris?n has never known a brain that wasn?t filled with new cells. He became a neuroscientist after med school, just as neurogenesis was becoming a genuine fact. Although he is now a full professor in stem-cell research at the Karolinska Institute, the university in charge of administering the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Fris?n began his career as a doctor. When he started medical school, he assumed he would become a brain surgeon, or perhaps a psychiatrist. That, after all, was how you healed the brain back then: either with a scalpel or with words. The few drugs that worked on the mind?like antidepressants?performed their job mysteriously.
Fris?n has helped to change that. He has pursued the neurogenesis hypothesis into the realm of clinical medicine, and his rise has been astonishingly swift. In 1998, only three years after becoming a doctor, Fris?n was a tenured professor, in charge of a 15-person lab. He has a long list of influential papers to his name, published in frequently-cited journals like Cell and Nature.
Fris?n first leapt to the attention of the neuroscience community in 1999, when his lab announced that they had identified stem cells in the brain. Stem cells are the source of neurogenesis: It is their mitotic divisions that create new neurons.
Subsequent experiments in Fris?n?s lab have explored exactly how these neural stem cells are regulated. His ambition is to decipher the complicated and convoluted cascade of proteins that connect the feeling of stress to a decrease in neurogenesis. Only then, Fris?n says, ?will we be able to create drugs that selectively target neurogenesis. And that is what everybody wants to do. Just think of all the things you can heal.?
To achieve this, Fris?n has founded a biotech firm, NeuroNova, dedicated to pursuing drugs which stimulate neurogenesis. When it launched, neurogenesis remained a controversial concept; founding an entire company on its therapeutic promise seemed like an imprudent gamble. In Fris?n?s case, the gamble is paying off.
The first disease NeuroNova targeted for treatment was Parkinson?s Disease. Parkinson?s is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons, and doctors have repeatedly tried to compensate for this selective cell death by surgically transplanting embryonic brain tissue into patients? brains, often with disappointing results. Fris?n realized that the Parkinson?s brain was capable, at least in theory, of healing itself. Driven by this radical hypothesis, NeuroNova began screening thousands of potential compounds for their effect on neurogenesis. Perhaps increased neurogenesis might compensate for the rapid death of dopamine neurons.
The results so far have exceeded everyone?s expectations. In November 2005, NeuroNova announced that one of their leading drug candidates?clandestinely called sNN0031?restored normal bodily movement in rodent models of Parkinson?s. Rats that were barely able to walk had their symptoms erased after only five weeks of treatment. Furthermore, initial results suggest that the drug worked by rapidly increasing neurogenesis, thus restoring normal dopamine signaling in the rat brain. ?The results really are spectacular,? Fris?n says.
The next step is to begin testing in primate models of Parkinson?s, beginnig early this year. If the drug doesn?t produce toxic side effects?and that?s unlikely, since it is already approved as a human treatment for an unrelated condition?human clinical trials are expected to begin shortly thereafter.
Neurogenesis is an optimistic idea. Though Gould?s lab has thoroughly demonstrated the long-term consequences of deprivation and stress, the brain, like skin, can heal itself, as Gould is now beginning to document, finding hopeful antidotes to neurogenesis-inhibiting injuries. ?My hunch is that a lot of these abnormalities [caused by stress] can be fixed in adulthood,? she says. ?I think that there?s a lot of evidence for the resiliency of the brain.?
On a cellular level, the scars of stress can literally be healed by learning new things. Genia Kozorovitskiy, an effusive graduate student who began working with Gould as a Princeton undergrad, has studied the effects of various environments on their colony of marmosets. As predicted, putting marmosets in a plain cage?the kind typically used in science labs?led to plain-looking brains. The primates suffered from reduced neurogenesis and their neurons had fewer interconnections.
However, if these same marmosets were transferred to an enriched enclosure?complete with branches, hidden food, and a rotation of toys?their adult brains began to recover rapidly. In under four weeks, the brains of the deprived marmosets underwent radical renovations at the cellular level. Their neurons demonstrated significant increases in the density of their connections and amount of proteins in their synapses.
The realization that typical laboratory conditions are debilitating for animals has been one of the accidental discoveries of the neurogenesis field. Nottebohm, for example, only witnessed neurogenesis in birds because he studied them in their actual habitat. Had he kept his finches and canaries in metal cages, depriving them of their natural social context, he would never have observed such an abundance of new cells. The birds would have been too stressed to sing. As Nottebohm has said, ?Take nature away and all your insight is in a biological vacuum.?
Gould has also become concerned about the details of experimental design. She now stresses the importance, for both rodents and primates, of living in a naturalistic setting. An artificial cage creates artificial data.
(Precisely how artificial prior data from studies on brains of animals kept in un-naturalistic settings remains to be determined. Gould said that studying neurogenesis had led her to ?reflect much more on the question of experimental design. This really should be a concern for all neuroscientists.?)
The mind is like a muscle: it swells with exercise. Gould?s and Kozorovitskiy?s work reminds us not only how easy it is to hurt a brain, but how little it takes for that brain to heal. Give a primate just a few extra playthings, and its neurons are capable of escaping the downward cycle of stress.
When Gould first presented at the Society of Neuroscience?s annual meeting, there was no such thing as the field whose birth she was there to announce; she was filed away in the ?spinal cord rejuvenation? section. Today, she is almost frightened that her field has grown so big: ?I do get worried sometimes that neurogenesis has gotten overblown. The science of it still isn?t clear. But at the same time I understand why there is so much enthusiasm for the idea. It?s a new way of looking at a lot of old problems.?
Neurogenesis is a field that doubts itself. Because it has been scorned from the start, its proponents talk most emphatically about what they don?t know, about all the essential questions that remain unanswered. Their modesty is accurate: The purpose of all of our new cells remains obscure. No one knows how experiments done in rodents will relate to humans, or whether neurogenesis is just a small part of our mind?s essential plasticity.
Nevertheless, it is startling how much has been accomplished since Liz Gould, confused by her counting, went to the library in search of an answer. In 1989, no one would have dared to imagine that the environment we live in can profoundly influence the actual structure of our brain, or that childhood stress might have permanent neurological effects. No scientist could have guessed that Prozac modulates cellular division, or that a Swedish start-up would one day get a rodent brain to repair itself. If neurogenesis has taught us anything, it is that these extraordinary new facts aren?t simply answers to an old set of questions. The paradigm has shifted: what Gould and others are working on now is a whole new list of mysteries. And like the newborn neurons in our brain, these scientists are only beginning.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: April 13, 2006, 01:17:34 AM
Facing Down Iran
Our lives depend on it.
Most Westerners read the map of the world like a Broadway marquee: north is top of the bill?America, Britain, Europe, Russia?and the rest dribbles away into a mass of supporting players punctuated by occasional Star Guests: India, China, Australia. Everyone else gets rounded up into groups: ?Africa,? ?Asia,? ?Latin America.?
But if you?re one of the down-page crowd, the center of the world is wherever you happen to be. Take Iran: it doesn?t fit into any of the groups. Indeed, it?s a buffer zone between most of the important ones: to the west, it borders the Arab world; to the northwest, it borders NATO (and, if Turkey ever passes its endless audition, the European Union); to the north, the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation?s turbulent Caucasus; to the northeast, the Stans?the newly independent states of central Asia; to the east, the old British India, now bifurcated into a Muslim-Hindu nuclear standoff. And its southern shore sits on the central artery that feeds the global economy.
If you divide the world into geographical regions, then, Iran?s neither here nor there. But if you divide it ideologically, the mullahs are ideally positioned at the center of the various provinces of Islam?the Arabs, the Turks, the Stans, and the south Asians. Who better to unite the Muslim world under one inspiring, courageous leadership? If there?s going to be an Islamic superpower, Tehran would seem to be the obvious candidate.
That moment of ascendancy is now upon us. Or as the Daily Telegraph in London reported: ?Iran?s hardline spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented new fatwa, or holy order, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against its enemies.? Hmm. I?m not a professional mullah, so I can?t speak to the theological soundness of the argument, but it seems a religious school in the Holy City of Qom has ruled that ?the use of nuclear weapons may not constitute a problem, according to sharia.? Well, there?s a surprise. How do you solve a problem? Like, sharia! It?s the one-stop shop for justifying all your geopolitical objectives.
The bad cop/worse cop routine the mullahs and their hothead President Ahmadinejad are playing in this period of alleged negotiation over Iran?s nuclear program is the best indication of how all negotiations with Iran will go once they?re ready to fly. This is the nuclear version of the NRA bumper sticker: ?Guns Don?t Kill People. People Kill People.? Nukes don?t nuke nations. Nations nuke nations. When the Argentine junta seized British sovereign territory in the Falklands, the generals knew that the United Kingdom was a nuclear power, but they also knew that under no conceivable scenario would Her Majesty?s Government drop the big one on Buenos Aires. The Argie generals were able to assume decency on the part of the enemy, which is a useful thing to be able to do.
But in any contretemps with Iran the other party would be foolish to make a similar assumption. That will mean the contretemps will generally be resolved in Iran?s favor. In fact, if one were a Machiavellian mullah, the first thing one would do after acquiring nukes would be to hire some obvious loon like President Ahmaddamatree to front the program. He?s the equivalent of the yobbo in the English pub who says, ?Oy, mate, you lookin? at my bird?? You haven?t given her a glance, or him; you?re at the other end of the bar head down in the Daily Mirror, trying not to catch his eye. You don?t know whether he?s longing to nut you in the face or whether he just gets a kick out of terrifying you into thinking he wants to. But, either way, you just want to get out of the room in one piece. Kooks with nukes is one-way deterrence squared.
If Belgium becomes a nuclear power, the Dutch have no reason to believe it would be a factor in, say, negotiations over a joint highway project. But Iran?s nukes will be a factor in everything. If you think, for example, the European Union and others have been fairly craven over those Danish cartoons, imagine what they?d be like if a nuclear Tehran had demanded a formal apology, a suitable punishment for the newspaper, and blasphemy laws specifically outlawing representations of the Prophet. Iran with nukes will be a suicide bomber with a radioactive waist.
If we?d understood Iran back in 1979, we?d understand better the challenges we face today. Come to that, we might not even be facing them. But, with hindsight, what strikes you about the birth of the Islamic Republic is the near total lack of interest by analysts in that adjective: Islamic. Iran was only the second Islamist state, after Saudi Arabia?and, in selecting as their own qualifying adjective the family name, the House of Saud at least indicated a conventional sense of priorities, as the legions of Saudi princes whoring and gambling in the fleshpots of the West have demonstrated exhaustively. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue?though, as the Royal Family has belatedly discovered vis-?-vis the Islamists, they?re somewhat overdrawn on that front. The difference in Iran is simple: with the mullahs, there are no London escort agencies on retainer to supply blondes only. When they say ?Islamic Republic,? they mean it. And refusing to take their words at face value has bedeviled Western strategists for three decades.
Twenty-seven years ago, because Islam didn?t fit into the old cold war template, analysts mostly discounted it. We looked at the map like that Broadway marquee: West and East, the old double act. As with most of the down-page turf, Iran?s significance lay in which half of the act she?d sign on with. To the Left, the shah was a high-profile example of an unsavory U.S. client propped up on traditional he-may-be-a-sonofabitch-but-he?s-our-sonofabitch grounds: in those heady days SAVAK, his secret police, were a household name among Western progressives, and insofar as they took the stern-faced man in the turban seriously, they assured themselves he was a kind of novelty front for the urbane Paris ?migr? socialists who accompanied him back to Tehran. To the realpolitik Right, the issue was Soviet containment: the shah may be our sonofabitch, but he?d outlived his usefulness, and a weak Iran could prove too tempting an invitation to Moscow to fulfill the oldest of czarist dreams?a warm-water port, not to mention control of the Straits of Hormuz. Very few of us considered the strategic implications of an Islamist victory on its own terms?the notion that Iran was checking the neither-of-the-above box and that that box would prove a far greater threat to the Freeish World than Communism.
But that was always Iran?s plan. In 1989, with the Warsaw Pact disintegrating before his eyes, poor beleaguered Mikhail Gorbachev received a helpful bit of advice from the cocky young upstart on the block: ?I strongly urge that in breaking down the walls of Marxist fantasies you do not fall into the prison of the West and the Great Satan,? Ayatollah Khomeini wrote to Moscow. ?I openly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world, can easily help fill up the ideological vacuum of your system.?
Today many people in the West don?t take that any more seriously than Gorbachev did. But it?s pretty much come to pass. As Communism retreated, radical Islam seeped into Africa and south Asia and the Balkans. Crazy guys holed up in Philippine jungles and the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay who?d have been ?Marxist fantasists? a generation or two back are now Islamists: it?s the ideology du jour. At the point of expiry of the Soviet Union in 1991, the peoples of the central Asian republics were for the most part unaware that Iran had even had an ?Islamic revolution?; 15 years on, following the proselytizing of thousands of mullahs dispatched to the region by a specially created Iranian government agency, the Stans? traditionally moderate and in many cases alcoholically lubricated form of Islam is yielding in all but the most remote areas to a fiercer form imported from the south. As the Pentagon has begun to notice, in Iraq Tehran has been quietly duplicating the strategy that delivered southern Lebanon into its control 20 years ago. The degeneration of Baby Assad?s supposedly ?secular? Baathist tyranny into full-blown client status and the replacement of Arafat?s depraved ?secular? kleptocrat terrorists by Hamas?s even more depraved Islamist terrorists can also be seen as symptoms of Iranification.
So as a geopolitical analyst the ayatollah is not to be disdained. Our failure to understand Iran in the seventies foreshadowed our failure to understand the broader struggle today. As clashes of civilizations go, this one?s between two extremes: on the one hand, a world that has everything it needs to wage decisive war?wealth, armies, industry, technology; on the other, a world that has nothing but pure ideology and plenty of believers. (Its sole resource, oil, would stay in the ground were it not for foreign technology, foreign manpower, and a Western fetishization of domestic environmental aesthetics.)
For this to be a mortal struggle, as the cold war was, the question is: Are they a credible enemy to us?
For a projection of the likely outcome, the question is: Are we a credible enemy to them?
Four years into the ?war on terror,? the Bush administration has begun promoting a new formulation: ?the long war.? Not a reassuring name. In a short war, put your money on tanks and bombs?our strengths. In a long war, the better bet is will and manpower?their strengths, and our great weakness. Even a loser can win when he?s up against a defeatist. A big chunk of Western civilization, consciously or otherwise, has given the impression that it?s dying to surrender to somebody, anybody. Reasonably enough, Islam figures: Hey, why not us? If you add to the advantages of will and manpower a nuclear capability, the odds shift dramatically.
What, after all, is the issue underpinning every little goofy incident in the news, from those Danish cartoons of Mohammed to recommendations for polygamy by official commissions in Canada to the banning of the English flag in English prisons because it?s an insensitive ?crusader? emblem to the introduction of gender-segregated swimming sessions in municipal pools in Puget Sound? In a word, sovereignty. There is no god but Allah, and thus there is no jurisdiction but Allah?s. Ayatollah Khomeini saw himself not as the leader of a geographical polity but as a leader of a communal one: Islam. Once those urbane socialist ?migr?s were either dead or on the plane back to Paris, Iran?s nominally ?temporal? government took the same view, too: its role is not merely to run national highway departments and education ministries but to advance the cause of Islam worldwide.
If you dust off the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, Article One reads: ?The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.? Iran fails to meet qualification (d), and has never accepted it. The signature act of the new regime was not the usual post-coup bloodletting and summary execution of the shah?s mid-ranking officials but the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by ?students? acting with Khomeini?s blessing. Diplomatic missions are recognized as the sovereign territory of that state, and the violation thereof is an act of war. No one in Washington has to fret that Fidel Castro will bomb the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Even in the event of an actual war, the diplomatic staff of both countries would be allowed to depart.
Yet Iran seized protected persons on U.S. soil and held them prisoner for over a year?ostensibly because Washington was planning to restore the shah. But the shah died and the hostages remained. And, when the deal was eventually done and the hostages were released, the sovereign territory of the United States remained in the hands of the gangster regime. Granted that during the Carter administration the Soviets were gobbling up real estate from Afghanistan to Grenada, it?s significant that in this wretched era the only loss of actual U.S. territory was to the Islamists.
Yet Iran paid no price. They got away with it. For the purposes of comparison, in 1980, when the U.S. hostages in Tehran were in their sixth month of captivity, Iranians opposed to the mullahs seized the Islamic Republic?s embassy in London. After six days of negotiation, Her Majesty?s Government sent SAS commandos into the building and restored it to the control of the regime. In refusing to do the same with the ?students? occupying the U.S. embassy, the Islamic Republic was explicitly declaring that it was not as other states.
We expect multilateral human-rights Democrats to be unsatisfactory on assertive nationalism, but if they won?t even stand up for international law, what?s the point? Jimmy Carter should have demanded the same service as Tehran got from the British?the swift resolution of the situation by the host government?and, if none was forthcoming, Washington should have reversed the affront to international order quickly, decisively, and in a sufficiently punitive manner. At hinge moments of history, there are never good and bad options, only bad and much much worse. Our options today are significantly worse because we didn?t take the bad one back then.
With the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, a British subject, Tehran extended its contempt for sovereignty to claiming jurisdiction over the nationals of foreign states, passing sentence on them, and conscripting citizens of other countries to carry it out. Iran?s supreme leader instructed Muslims around the world to serve as executioners of the Islamic Republic?and they did, killing not Rushdie himself but his Japanese translator, and stabbing the Italian translator, and shooting the Italian publisher, and killing three dozen persons with no connection to the book when a mob burned down a hotel because of the presence of the novelist?s Turkish translator.
Iran?s de facto head of state offered a multimillion-dollar bounty for a whack job on an obscure English novelist. And, as with the embassy siege, he got away with it.
In the latest variation on Marx?s dictum, history repeats itself: first, the unreadable London literary novel; then, the Danish funny pages. But in the 17 years between the Rushdie fatwa and the cartoon jihad, what was supposedly a freakish one-off collision between Islam and the modern world has become routine. We now think it perfectly normal for Muslims to demand the tenets of their religion be applied to society at large: the government of Sweden, for example, has been zealously closing down websites that republish those Danish cartoons. As Khomeini?s successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, has said, ?It is in our revolution?s interest, and an essential principle, that when we speak of Islamic objectives, we address all the Muslims of the world.? Or as a female Muslim demonstrator in Toronto put it: ?We won?t stop the protests until the world obeys Islamic law.?
If that?s a little too ferocious, Kofi Annan framed it rather more soothingly: ?The offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were first published in a European country which has recently acquired a significant Muslim population, and is not yet sure how to adjust to it.?
If you?ve also ?recently acquired? a significant Muslim population and you?re not sure how to ?adjust? to it, well, here?s the difference: back when my Belgian grandparents emigrated to Canada, the idea was that the immigrants assimilated to the host country. As Kofi and Co. see it, today the host country has to assimilate to the immigrants: if Islamic law forbids representations of the Prophet, then so must Danish law, and French law, and American law. Iran was the progenitor of this rapacious extraterritoriality, and, if we had understood it more clearly a generation ago, we might be in less danger of seeing large tracts of the developed world being subsumed by it today.
Yet instead the West somehow came to believe that, in a region of authoritarian monarchs and kleptocrat dictators, Iran was a comparative beacon of liberty. The British foreign secretary goes to Tehran and hangs with the mullahs and, even though he?s not a practicing Muslim (yet), ostentatiously does that ?peace be upon him? thing whenever he mentions the Prophet Mohammed. And where does the kissy-face with the A-list imams get him? Ayatollah Khamenei renewed the fatwa on Rushdie only last year. True, President Bush identified Iran as a member of the axis of evil, but a year later the country was being hailed as a ?democracy? by then-deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and a nation that has seen a ?democratic flowering,? as State Department spokesman Richard Boucher put it.
And let?s not forget Bill Clinton?s extraordinary remarks at Davos last year: ?Iran today is, in a sense, the only country where progressive ideas enjoy a vast constituency. It is there that the ideas that I subscribe to are defended by a majority.? That?s true in the very narrow sense that there?s a certain similarity between his legal strategy and sharia when it comes to adultery and setting up the gals as the fall guys. But it seems Clinton apparently had a more general commonality in mind: ?In every single election, the guys I identify with got two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote. There is no other country in the world I can say that about, certainly not my own.? America?s first black President is beginning to sound like America?s first Islamist ex-president.
Those remarks are as nutty as Gerald Ford?s denial of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. Iran has an impressive three-decade record of talking the talk and walking the walk?either directly or through client groups like Hezbollah. In 1994, the Argentine Israel Mutual Association was bombed in Buenos Aires. Nearly 100 people died and 250 were injured?the worst massacre of Jewish civilians since the Holocaust. An Argentine court eventually issued warrants for two Iranian diplomats plus Ali Fallahian, former intelligence minister, and Ali Akbar Parvaresh, former education minister and deputy speaker of the Majlis.
Why blow up a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires? Because it?s there. Unlike the Iranian infiltration into Bosnia and Croatia, which helped radicalize not just the local populations but Muslim supporters from Britain and Western Europe, the random slaughter in the Argentine has no strategic value except as a demonstration of muscle and reach.
Anyone who spends half an hour looking at Iranian foreign policy over the last 27 years sees five things:
contempt for the most basic international conventions;
effective promotion of radical Pan-Islamism;
a willingness to go the extra mile for Jew-killing (unlike, say, Osama);
an all-but-total synchronization between rhetoric and action.
Yet the Europeans remain in denial. Iran was supposedly the Middle Eastern state they could work with. And the chancellors and foreign ministers jetted in to court the mullahs so assiduously that they?re reluctant to give up on the strategy just because a relatively peripheral figure like the, er, head of state is sounding off about Armageddon.
Instead, Western analysts tend to go all Kremlinological. There are, after all, many factions within Iran?s ruling class. What the country?s quick-on-the-nuke president says may not be the final word on the regime?s position. Likewise, what the school of nuclear theologians in Qom says. Likewise, what former president Khatami says. Likewise, what Iran?s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, says.
But, given that they?re all in favor of the country having nukes, the point seems somewhat moot. The question then arises, what do they want them for?
By way of illustration, consider the country?s last presidential election. The final round offered a choice between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an alumnus of the U.S. Embassy siege a quarter-century ago, and Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council, which sounds like an EU foreign policy agency but is, in fact, the body that arbitrates between Iran?s political and religious leaderships. Ahmadinejad is a notorious shoot-from-the-lip apocalyptic hothead who believes in the return of the Twelfth (hidden) Imam and quite possibly that he personally is his designated deputy, and he?s also claimed that when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly last year a mystical halo appeared and bathed him in its aura. Ayatollah Rafsanjani, on the other hand, is one of those famous ?moderates.?
What?s the difference between a hothead and a moderate? Well, the extremist Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be ?wiped off the map,? while the moderate Rafsanjani has declared that Israel is ?the most hideous occurrence in history,? which the Muslim world ?will vomit out from its midst? in one blast, because ?a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counter-strike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world.? Evidently wiping Israel off the map seems to be one of those rare points of bipartisan consensus in Tehran, the Iranian equivalent of a prescription drug plan for seniors: we?re just arguing over the details.
So the question is: Will they do it?
And the minute you have to ask, you know the answer. If, say, Norway or Ireland acquired nuclear weapons, we might regret the ?proliferation,? but we wouldn?t have to contemplate mushroom clouds over neighboring states. In that sense, the civilized world has already lost: to enter into negotiations with a jurisdiction headed by a Holocaust-denying millenarian nut job is, in itself, an act of profound weakness?the first concession, regardless of what weaselly settlement might eventually emerge.
Conversely, a key reason to stop Iran is to demonstrate that we can still muster the will to do so. Instead, the striking characteristic of the long diplomatic dance that brought us to this moment is how September 10th it?s all been. The free world?s delegated negotiators (the European Union) and transnational institutions (the IAEA) have continually given the impression that they?d be content just to boot it down the road to next year or the year after or find some arrangement?this decade?s Oil-for-Food or North Korean deal?that would get them off the hook. If you talk to EU foreign ministers, they?ve already psychologically accepted a nuclear Iran. Indeed, the chief characteristic of the West?s reaction to Iran?s nuclearization has been an enervated fatalism.
Back when nuclear weapons were an elite club of five relatively sane world powers, your average Western progressive was convinced the planet was about to go ka-boom any minute. The mushroom cloud was one of the most familiar images in the culture, a recurring feature of novels and album covers and movie posters. There were bestselling dystopian picture books for children, in which the handful of survivors spent their last days walking in a nuclear winter wonderland. Now a state openly committed to the annihilation of a neighboring nation has nukes, and we shrug: Can?t be helped. Just the way things are. One hears sophisticated arguments that perhaps the best thing is to let everyone get ?em, and then no one will use them. And if Iran?s head of state happens to threaten to wipe Israel off the map, we should understand that this is a rhetorical stylistic device that?s part of the Persian oral narrative tradition, and it would be a grossly Eurocentric misinterpretation to take it literally.
The fatalists have a point. We may well be headed for a world in which anybody with a few thousand bucks and the right unlisted Asian phone numbers in his Rolodex can get a nuke. But, even so, there are compelling reasons for preventing Iran in particular from going nuclear. Back in his student days at the U.S. embassy, young Mr. Ahmadinejad seized American sovereign territory, and the Americans did nothing. And I would wager that?s still how he looks at the world. And, like Rafsanjani, he would regard, say, Muslim deaths in an obliterated Jerusalem as worthy collateral damage in promoting the greater good of a Jew-free Middle East. The Palestinians and their ?right of return? have never been more than a weapon of convenience with which to chastise the West. To assume Tehran would never nuke Israel because a shift in wind direction would contaminate Ramallah is to be as ignorant of history as most Palestinians are: from Yasser Arafat?s uncle, the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate, to the insurgents in Iraq today, Islamists have never been shy about slaughtering Muslims in pursuit of their strategic goals.
But it doesn?t have to come to that. Go back to that Argentine bombing. It was, in fact, the second major Iranian-sponsored attack in Buenos Aires. The year before, 1993, a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed 29 people and injured hundreds more in an attack on the Israeli Embassy. In the case of the community center bombing, the killer had flown from Lebanon a few days earlier and entered Latin America through the porous tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Suppose Iran had had a ?dirty nuke? shipped to Hezbollah, or even the full-blown thing: Would it have been any less easy to get it into the country? And, if a significant chunk of downtown Buenos Aires were rendered uninhabitable, what would the Argentine government do? Iran can project itself to South America effortlessly, but Argentina can?t project itself to the Middle East at all. It can?t nuke Tehran, and it can?t attack Iran in conventional ways.
So any retaliation would be down to others. Would Washington act? It depends how clear the fingerprints were. If the links back to the mullahs were just a teensy-weensy bit tenuous and murky, how eager would the U.S. be to reciprocate? Bush and Rumsfeld might?but an administration of a more Clinto-Powellite bent? How much pressure would there be for investigations under UN auspices? Perhaps Hans Blix could come out of retirement, and we could have a six-month dance through Security-Council coalition-building, with the secretary of state making a last-minute flight to Khartoum to try to persuade Sudan to switch its vote.
Perhaps it?s unduly pessimistic to write the civilized world automatically into what Osama bin Laden called the ?weak horse? role (Islam being the ?strong horse?). But, if you were an Iranian ?moderate? and you?d watched the West?s reaction to the embassy seizure and the Rushdie murders and Hezbollah terrorism, wouldn?t you be thinking along those lines? I don?t suppose Buenos Aires Jews expect to have their institutions nuked any more than 12 years ago they expected to be blown up in their own city by Iranian-backed suicide bombers. Nukes have gone freelance, and there?s nothing much we can do about that, and sooner or later we?ll see the consequences?in Vancouver or Rotterdam, Glasgow or Atlanta. But, that being so, we owe it to ourselves to take the minimal precautionary step of ending the one regime whose political establishment is explicitly pledged to the nuclear annihilation of neighboring states.
Once again, we face a choice between bad and worse options. There can be no ?surgical? strike in any meaningful sense: Iran?s clients on the ground will retaliate in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Europe. Nor should we put much stock in the country?s allegedly ?pro-American? youth. This shouldn?t be a touchy-feely nation-building exercise: rehabilitation may be a bonus, but the primary objective should be punishment?and incarceration. It?s up to the Iranian people how nutty a government they want to live with, but extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay. That means swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime?but no occupation.
The cost of de-nuking Iran will be high now but significantly higher with every year it?s postponed. The lesson of the Danish cartoons is the clearest reminder that what is at stake here is the credibility of our civilization. Whether or not we end the nuclearization of the Islamic Republic will be an act that defines our time.
A quarter-century ago, there was a minor British pop hit called ?Ayatollah, Don?t Khomeini Closer.? If you?re a U.S. diplomat or a British novelist, a Croat Christian or an Argentine Jew, he?s already come way too close. How much closer do you want him to get?
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Una curiosidad
on: April 11, 2006, 02:12:17 PM
Sea humilde en victoria
Hablando mas en serio, el hombre es mas importante que el estilo. Lo importante es crecer a traves de la experiencia. Busque el camino de "Ser amigos a fin del dia" y todo te saldra' bien.
Estoy escribiendo a Rainier hoy mismo. El me escribio que a Uds se les hace falta palos de rattan. Acabo de dejar un mensaje a nuestro fuente de rattan para ver cuanto nos cueste para enviar palos de rattan a Peru.
?Eres tu unos de los quienes son miembros de la Asociacion?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: April 10, 2006, 07:41:25 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Exploiting Sectarian Fault Lines
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said over the weekend that civil war "has almost started" in Iraq and warned against a U.S. withdrawal. During an hour-long interview with Al Arabiyah television, he also said that most of the Shia in the Middle East "are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in" -- a statement that drew angry reactions from Shia leaders throughout the region on Sunday.
In Iraq, the three highest-ranking Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni leaders -- President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and Parliament Speaker Adnan Pachachi -- issued a joint statement saying Mubarak had taken "a stab" at Shiite Iraqis' "patriotism and civilization."
In Kuwait, Shiite members of parliament demanded an apology from Mubarak, with Hassan Jowhar saying, "We are not begging for certificates of loyalty to our countries from Mubarak or others." In Lebanon, senior Hezbollah leader Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek labeled Mubarak's comments as "dangerous" lies that betray "fanaticism and sectarianism." He also insisted that the Shia in Lebanon are agents of no one -- saying they are loyal to their country but also support Tehran and Damascus.
The mildest of all the reactions came from Iran itself, where Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi acknowledged that Iran wields immense influence in Iraq, but said it is "spiritual" in nature and that Tehran uses this influence in efforts to bring stability to the country.
Assuming, for the moment, that Mubarak hopes to keep the Sunni-Shiite tensions now riddling Iraq from spreading to other parts of the Middle East, it would appear that his words had rather the opposite of the intended effect.
Correctly or otherwise, Egypt and other Sunni Arab states have adopted the view that the public talks between the United States and Iran, concerning Iraq, are a sign that the Sunnis of Iraq no longer will be enough to contain Iran's influence. Instead, they are bracing for the implications of an "American-Iranian deal." The Associated Press recently reported that the intelligence chiefs of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey held a series of secret meetings last month in order to prepare for the outbreak of civil war in Iraq.
Of course, these concerns are not new. King Abdullah of Jordan warned in January 2005 about the emergence of a Shiite crescent in the Middle East. Eight months later, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said U.S. policy had thrown Iraq to the Iranians. And it is no secret that the Persian Gulf emirates see the rise of Iranian power -- absent the counterbalance that was provided by Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq -- as a major security threat. The bulwark that Baghdad once provided against Iranian expansionism is no more.
Moreover, there is no single Arab state that is as strong as Iran -- and quarrels between these states are too numerous to permit one to emerge.
It is difficult to accuse the Arab states of irrational fear. Iran has stated its objectives quite clearly. Last week, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said during war games Iran staged in the Persian Gulf that the United States should accept Tehran as the regional hegemon.
Since the fall of the Hussein regime until quite recently, the Arab states had hoped that Iraq's Sunnis, sufficiently plugged into the political process in Baghdad, would be useful in checking Iran's hegemonic ambitions. It now appears, however, that continued instability in Iraq -- civil war -- is the Arab states' best hope.
This is a risky proposition. Instability in Iraq gives jihadist groups like al Qaeda an opportunity to find shelter and grow, which in itself endangers the security of these states. But given a choice between Iran becoming the regional power center and facing down threats posed by Islamist militants, the Arab states would view al Qaeda as the lesser of the two evils.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / We the Well-armed People
on: April 10, 2006, 07:38:16 AM
Permitted to conceal arms
Debbie Kavanaugh and husband Bill, who holds a concealed-carry permit, practice at the Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center.
Staff Photos by Chris Seward http://www.newsobserver.com/105/story/426887.html
Jim Nesbitt, Staff Writer
Every day, Bill Kavanaugh carries a stubby, stainless-steel .45-caliber semiautomatic -- at the grocery store or mall, in a booze-free restaurant, on a short stroll around the block, in the car for a quick jaunt or a cross-country journey.
Tucked in a well-worn, zip-up leather daybook, this gun goes where Kavanaugh does -- everywhere except the places prohibited by law, a list that includes schools, churches, courthouses, post offices and anywhere alcohol is served.
"I believe I have a responsibility to make sure my family is safe, that I'm safe, that my neighbors are safe," says Kavanaugh, 52, a telecommunications engineer. "It's a personal decision I've made to refuse to be a victim."
Kavanaugh is a street-legal pistolero, one of almost 76,000 North Carolinians who hold a permit that allows them to carry a concealed handgun under a state law enacted in 1995. Far from being a teenage gangbanger or predator in neighborhoods where weapons are illegal and crime is rampant, he fits the demographic of a typical Tar Heel permit holder -- a white, middle-age man.
Short, bald and bespectacled, Kavanaugh keeps his pistol within easy reach for that moment he hopes never happens.
Until that day, he and his wife, Debbie, who also shoots but doesn't have a concealed-carry permit, live what could be called a "tactical" lifestyle from their modest, brick-trimmed ranch home in southern Durham County.
They've worked out how they'd fight a home invasion. They keep their car doors locked and are careful about where they park at the mall or grocery store. One never goes to a drive-up ATM without the other as a backup, sitting in the car, gun at the ready.
Like an Old West gunfighter, Kavanaugh tries never to sit in a public place with his back to the door -- unless he's covered by another gun-toting friend.
People who hate guns or aren't familiar with them may find his stance distasteful or paranoid, particularly in the face of North Carolina's falling crime rate.
To them, all guns are bad. They see America's firearms fetish -- rooted in frontier myth and a latent Southern celebration of violence -- as a fearsome cultural telltale, a Neanderthal instinct they wish would just become extinct.
To them, people like Bill Kavanaugh are wild-eyed pistol wavers, paranoids who are cocked and locked to spray lead at the barest of provocations.
But if you listen to Kavanaugh explain why he carries a gun -- and does so legally -- you hear a a marked willingness to shoulder this deadly weight responsibly. He isn't content just to punch holes in paper targets at the gun range; he has taken combat pistol courses, learning how to move and look for cover during a gun fight.
You also hear a tightly knit rationale, the product of a deliberate progression. The main threads in this weave are a strong credo of personal responsibility bolstered by religious conviction and a conservative political stand.
"The good Lord requires you to defend your life," said Kavanaugh. "He gave you the power and wherewithal to take care of that life and expects you to do so."
Bill Kavanaugh also believes strongly that legally armed citizens can foil criminals. And a dollop of common sense tells him a little guy in a dangerous world needs a high-powered equalizer.
Born of experience
This last thread is powerful, laced with fear-laden memories of working late at night in the deserted office towers of New Orleans' central business district, at the height of the crack epidemic.
In a recurring, acid-etched image, he also sees the would-be carjacker who jammed a gun barrel against his wife's rib cage at a Union 76 truck stop near Meridian, Miss.
That after-midnight moment is still vivid almost 30 years after it took place during a bathroom break as the couple, their infant son and a woman friend drove from Texas back to Wilmington, the Kavanaughs' hometown.
Kavanaugh can still see the barrel of that gun as it arced from Debbie's midsection to his face and back again. He can see the calm, road-weary and clueless faces of diners in the truck stop's brightly lit cafe just a few yards from the front bumper of his car. And he can still taste the helpless bile he swallowed that night, when all he could do was reach for his wallet and pray the man would take it and run.
"I was extremely upset I could do nothing to defend my wife, my son and my wife's friend," he said. "I was not going to let myself be in that position ever again."
That Mississippi night caused Kavanaugh, an Air Force veteran, to reach for a gun.
His first pistol? A clone of that quintessentially American gun, the Colt 1911 Government Model, the .45 caliber semiautomatic designed by the legendary John Browning and carried by American soldiers and sailors through two world wars, through Korea and Vietnam.
He rarely carries anything else.
"For whatever reason, a 1911 fit my hand when I picked it up," he said. "It's like I carried one in a past life."
Where the permits are
Guns are as American as Wyatt Earp and Al Capone.
And ever since a Republican majority swept into Congress in 1994 and started taking over state legislatures, more and more states have passed concealed-carry permit laws.
North Carolina is one of 38 states with relaxed concealed-carry laws or no permit requirements for someone who wants to tote a pistol. Most of these states, including North Carolina, have "shall-issue" laws that require a sheriff or other authority to grant a permit provided the applicant doesn't have a criminal record or other disqualifying mark, pays a fee and -- if required -- submits to a criminal background check and takes a training course.
State records show there are 75,818 valid concealed-carry permits in North Carolina.
Could be the petite woman waiting to get her nails done at the local salon has a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .38 Special five-shot revolver tucked into her fanny pack.
Maybe the well-tailored lawyer striding through the marbled lobby of a Raleigh office tower has a .40 caliber Glock semiautomatic nestled in his briefcase.
And could be the long-haul trucker sipping coffee at a Wilco truck stop has a Beretta 9mm semiautomatic -- the civilian version of the pistol American troops carry in Iraq and Afghanistan -- riding beneath his Carhartt canvas coat.
Chances are more than one in 100 they do.
And then there's Kavanaugh, sitting in his car, calmly watching Debbie step up to an ATM, his daybook open and his Para-Ordnance .45 within easy reach.
"I don't want to freak anybody out. I don't want people paranoid when I walk by," he said. "But I'm not going to be a victim again if I can help it."
Like abortion, prayer in schools and the death penalty, guns have defined one of the primary battle lines in America's cultural and political wars.
Back when the concealed-carry law was a subject of debate in the North Carolina legislature, the gunsmoke from both sides of this contentious divide got mighty thick.
Opponents sounded dire warnings of Dodge City-style shootouts. Proponents argued legally armed citizens would reduce North Carolina's crime rate and allow people to protect themselves and their families until cops could arrive.
More than 10 years later, neither the fear of blood in the streets nor the predicted crime-rate reduction have become reality, police officers and prosecutors say.
"They both were wrong," said Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong. "It's been a non-factor as far as I can see."
Triangle law enforcement officials running programs to reduce gun violence say they don't worry about the pistol-centered life of Kavanaugh or North Carolina's relatively thin cadre of concealed-carry permit holders.
Instead, their focus is riveted on the primary cause of this chronic and oft-times deadly problem -- criminals packing illegal firearms.
In the eyes of Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell, there are two distinct gun universes -- one features the pistol-packing outlaw he tries to arrest; the other is a smaller world of concealed-carry permit holders.
In reality, there's a third gun universe, a gray world peopled by firearms owners who steer clear of serious illegal activity, but don't bother with a carry permit for the handgun they routinely carry in car or pickup.
Bizzell keeps his focus on the blatantly lawless and the patently law-abiding.
"The individuals who apply for a permit are the good citizens of our county who get up and go to work every day, go to church, are family people," Bizzell said.
This accepting attitude is based on the lawman's belief that few permit holders commit a criminal act -- either by reckless use of a handgun or otherwise.
However, the state doesn't compile a list of criminal violations by permit holders, nor is there a breakdown on the reasons for denials and revocations. Instead, the state justice department just tallies permit applications, approvals, denials and revocations -- numbers that originate with the county sheriffs responsible for issuing the permits.
Why they carry
Most Triangle area sheriffs and prosecutors say they haven't had a violent crime committed by a concealed-carry permit holder in their jurisdictions.
Chatham County Sheriff Richard Webster says permit holders haven't shot up the streets or stopped crime.
"I think it's a gray line right down the middle that hasn't veered one way or the other," he said.
On the surface, there isn't a single, lock-step reason for North Carolinians who decide to get a concealed-carry permit.
Some are small-business owners who regularly carry a lot of cash. Others are lifelong shooters who see the permit as a convenience that keeps them from unintentionally violating the law when carrying a pistol, said Ken Dodd, a former Wake County Sheriff's Department captain from Garner who teaches a state-approved handgun course.
But deep down, Dodd says, most students are motivated by a fear about their vulnerability to criminal violence. Fear makes them reach for a gun, a reflex tempered by the desire to do so within the lines of the law.
When Stephanie Bennett was found murdered in her Lake Lynn apartment in May 2002, Dodd said, he saw a sudden spike in the number of students -- young, single women in particular.
"When it hits close to home, a specific crime, you'll see more people taking the class," said Dodd, whose students include judges, prosecutors and plumbers.
Polite side effect
For Kavanaugh's friends, Cindi and Gregg Swensen, the 9/11 terrorist attacks shattered their sense of safety and security.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, Gregg Swensen felt a bloodline jolt from the fall of the Twin Towers. Gregg's father, Sonny, was an ironworker who helped build the World Trade Center; Swensen is a former ironworker who helped erect some of the office buildings that surround the now-sacred turf known as Ground Zero.
He now sees a high-risk world where terrorists, gangbangers and criminals are on the prowl and the cops always arrive after a violent deal has already gone down.
"The criminals have gotten so brazen -- home invasions where people are sitting at home, watching TV when the door busts open and criminals rob and rape and kill," said Swensen, 40. "You know what? There is an element in this world whose intent is to kill as many of us as possible -- Americans, Westerners."
The Swensens already had a shotgun in their house for self-defense. When they decided they needed a pistol, Gregg Swensen looked to his co-worker, Bill Kavanaugh, for advice.
"I never thought in my whole life I'd own a gun," said Cindi Swensen, 52, a petite retired administrative assistant who was born and raised in New Jersey. "It never entered my realm of consciousness. I wasn't afraid of them; they just weren't relevant to me."
She and her husband both got concealed-carry permits two years ago. She carries a .38-caliber revolver in a fanny pack; he carries a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
"Let me tell you about carrying a gun -- it makes you more polite," said Cindi Swensen, who describes herself as feisty and confrontational. "You don't want to do something stupid, and provoking a confrontation while carrying would be stupid. The idea that people with a permit are wild-eyed and full of road rage -- nothing could be further from the truth."
Bill Kavanaugh first got his permit in 1997 after passing a criminal background check and taking the state-mandated course on firearm safety and on the strict regimen of laws that dictate where it's legal to carry a handgun and when it's legal to pull a pistol in self-defense.
The permit marks a major turning point in his evolution into an armed private citizen who will take a day off to bend the ear of a state legislator about Second Amendment issues. He's a member of Grass Roots North Carolina, a pro-gun group, but takes pains to point out he isn't an officer or a lobbyist.
He's a true believer in the deterring power of a concealed hand gun, his faith in firepower shaped by that late-night brush with a would-be carjacker at a Mississippi truck stop.
Sitting on his living room couch, he hefts his .45-caliber pistol.
"This helps me not live in fear -- with it or without it on me," he said.
(News researchers David Raynor and Denise Jones contributed to this report.)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Howl of Respect to our Soldiers/Veterans
on: April 10, 2006, 07:31:45 AM
On Call in Hell
He left a desk job for the front lines of Fallujah?and a horror show few doctors ever see. How Richard Jadick earned his Bronze Star.
By Pat Wingert and Evan Thomas
March 20, 2006 issue - Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here I am. Send me!"
Richard Jadick was bored. The Navy doctor was shuffling paper while Marines were heading out to Iraq. Once, many years before, Jadick had been a Marine officer, but he had missed the 1991 gulf war, stuck behind a recruiter's desk. Now he was looking forward to leading a comfortable life as what he called a "gentleman urologist." Jadick, with a Navy rank of lieutenant commander, was 38?too old, really, to be a combat surgeon.
But then a medical committee searching for help came knocking on his door. Because of an acute doctor shortage, they were having trouble finding a junior-grade Navy doctor to go with the First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment (the "1/8"), to Iraq. Jadick at the time was one of the senior medical officers at Camp Lejeune, N.C. "Who could we send?" they asked. Jadick thought for a moment. "Well," he said, "I could go."
His friends told him he was crazy, and his wife, a pediatrician nine months pregnant with their first child, was none too happy. But in the summer of 2004, five days after the birth of his child, Commander Jadick shipped out for Iraq. On the plane, he sat behind a gunnery staff sergeant named Ryan P. Shane. A 250-pound weight lifter, the massive Shane turned in his seat to look at Jadick. Slowly taking the measure of the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Jadick, the gunnery sergeant said, "So you're our new surgeon. That's one job I wouldn't want to have with the place where we're going." That night Jadick e-mailed his wife, "What have I gotten myself into?"
The place they were going was Fallujah. In Sunni territory west of Baghdad, the city seethed with insurgents. Jihadists had strung up the burned bodies of American contractors in the spring of 2004, and chaos had reigned ever since. By November, the United States was tired of waiting for the enemy to give up or clear out. "Over the past five months, [we] have been attacked by a faceless enemy. But the enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Fallujah. And we're going to destroy him," said Marine Lt. Col. Gary Brandl on the eve of the attack. Jadick's regiment, the 1/8, was ordered to take what was, in effect, the Main Street of the city. For Jadick, who speaks in a gentle, matter-of-fact voice, occasionally strained by memories of the men he saved and lost, it was to be a journey to the other side of hell.
The night before the assault, Jadick hopped into a command Humvee taking a reconnaissance mission from the headquarters base outside the city. He wanted to see what he was up against. In treating traumatic injuries, there is something known as the golden hour. A badly injured person who gets to the hospital within an hour is much more likely to be saved. But Jadick knew that in combat the "golden hour" doesn't exist. Left unaided, said Jadick, the wounded "could die in 15 minutes, and there are some things that could kill them in six minutes. If they had an arterial bleed, it could be three minutes."
Jadick knew that helicopter evacuations were out of the question: there was too great a risk the choppers would get shot down. Casualties would have to be driven out of the city. It took Jadick 45 minutes to drive from the base hospital, where he would normally be stationed, to the city. Not close enough. Jadick wanted to push closer to the action.
Jadick, along with 54 Navy corpsmen, his young, sometimes teenage medical assistants, moved to the edge of the city as the assault began; the night sky was lit by tracers and rocket fire. The next morning a call came over the radio. A Navy SEAL with a sucking chest wound needed evacuation. A weapons company was heading in to rescue the man. Lacking much military training, doctors normally stay back in the rear area. But ex-Marine Jadick decided to go to the fight. As shots rang out around them, the weapons company ran and dodged down narrow alleyways toward the building where the SEAL lay wounded. Jadick was armed only with a small 9mm pistol. He thought: "If anyone actually gets close to me, I'm going to have to throw it at him." He felt slightly ridiculous, remembering a "MASH" episode in which Alan Alda tried to scare away the enemy.
In the rubble of a shot-up building, he found the SEAL conscious but bleeding badly. "Get me out of here," the man said. Helping to carry the man on a stretcher down the stairs, Jadick could hear rocket fire and shooting. The air was thick with fine dust and a familiar smell: cordite, from gunpowder. He had smelled cordite before at rifle ranges, but never like this. "It just hung in the air," he recalled.
The radio squawked. Two Marines had been wounded in an ambush in the center of the city. Jadick wanted to get his wounded SEAL back to base camp. But the voices on the radio were insisting that the two men down in the ambush were in even worse shape. It was Jadick's call. He loaded the SEAL into an armored ambulance and set off in the vehicle toward the scene of the shooting. He could hear the firing intensify. Jadick wondered, anxiously, if a rocket-propelled grenade could punch right through the ambulance's metal sides.
The ambulance stopped and Jadick peered out at the first real fire fight of his life. There were not two wounded men, but seven. As a middle-class kid growing up in upstate New York, Jadick had avidly read about war, and even applied to West Point. But he flunked the physical?poor depth perception?and went to Ithaca College on an ROTC scholarship instead. He had served as a communications officer in the Marines, but left the corps after seven years, bitter that he had been left out of the fighting in 1991. Attending medical school on a Navy scholarship, he had never seen or experienced real war?the kind of urban combat that can leave 30 to 40 percent of a unit wounded or dead.
"I can't tell you how scared I was," he recalled. "My legs wanted to stay in that vehicle, but I had to get off. I wanted to go back into that vehicle and lie under something and cry. I felt like a coward. I felt like it took me hours to make the decision to go."
But he got up and went. He felt as though he were "walking through water." Desperately seeking cover, he ran to a three-foot wall where the most badly wounded soldier lay. He lifted the man over the wall to safety. "I put him down on the ground, and he was looking at me," Jadick recalled. The man had a gaping wound in his groin. Jadick tried to "pack" the wound, stuffing sterile gauze packages into the hole torn by an AK-47 round, but he couldn't stop the bleeding. Jadick was forced to make the first of a thousand wretched decisions. "I knew I had six other people that I had to work on. So I don't know ..." Jadick paused in the retelling. "I stopped and went on to someone else." It was Jadick's first experience in battlefield triage?forget the mortally or lightly wounded, save the rest?a concept easier to philosophize about than to practice.
Bullets were hissing around him. Afraid of dying, more afraid of failing his comrades, Jadick managed to treat the wounded, to stabilize them and stop the bleeding. As he began loading men into the ambulance, an RPG screamed in?and glanced off the roof without exploding. A second RPG slammed into the wall next to them; it didn't go off, either.
One of the wounded was Ryan Shane?the massive gunnery sergeant Jadick had met on the plane. Shane's abdomen was all shot up. Jadick was unable to lift him, so the sergeant had to crawl into the ambulance by himself. "I made room for him underneath the stretchers," Jadick recalled. But he had to turn away another Marine who had been shot in the foot. There was no more room.
As a urology resident at an inner-city trauma center in Baltimore, Jadick had spent a three-month rotation handling gunshot wounds. But the inside of the darkened ambulance, bathed in red light and blood from the wounded, echoing and rattling with the combat close by, seemed far away from the sterile, scrubbed world of a hospital ER. Working with a medic, Jadick pumped Hespan (a clear blood expander) into veins and tried to pack wounds. One man was dead already. His body, on the top rack, was bleeding all over the patients below him and Jadick, too?"down my neck, everywhere," Jadick recalled.
Jadick was covered with gore by the time the ambulance reached a transfer point. People standing around the medical tent were staring at him, so he rubbed sand on his uniform. "It made it go dark," he said.
It was not yet noon on Jadick's first day in combat. A Humvee rolled up and a big, husky young Marine from Louisiana, Joel Dupuis, jumped out and began rambling on that his friend, Pvt. Paul Volpe, was going to die. Jadick ran with Dupuis to find a young Marine slumped over on the back hatch of the Humvee. Hit in the thigh, Volpe was "fluorescent-light white," recalled Jadick. His pulse was thin and weak; shock was setting in. Jadick figured the Marine had lost more than half his blood.
Jadick looked at Volpe and thought of the Marine who had died and bled all over him. "I can't let this happen again," he thought, "or there's no point in me being here." Turning to a young Navy doctor, Carlos Kennedy, Jadick instructed, "Pack him like you've never packed a guy before." Kennedy used his boot to stomp in the gauze stuffing. Meanwhile, Dupuis, who was a corpsman, found a vein to insert an IV, and a liter of Hespan started pumping into his unconscious friend.
"All of a sudden, it was the most amazing thing," recalled Jadick. "It was like Frosty the Snowman come to life." Volpe opened his eyes, looked up and asked what was going on. When he saw Dupuis's anxious face, he joked, "I'm all right, I can see your ugly-ass face."
Jadick felt the need to get still closer to the battle. Even though Volpe had reached Jadick's aid station on the edge of the city, the Marine had almost died. In effect, Jadick wanted to set up an emergency room in the middle of the battlefield. Loading up two armored ambulances, he convoyed into the city in the dead of night to establish an aid station in the prayer room of an old government building. The night was quiet, save for the drone of a C-130 gunship searching for prey. Jadick and his men found some metal plates in the street, cleaned them and draped them with sterile gauze as trays for his scalpels. They stacked sandbags by the windows. As the sun rose, the silence was broken by sniper fire.
The casualty runs began arriving in the morning, depositing their grisly cargo. Bodies stacked up. At times Jadick couldn't sterilize his instruments fast enough. "You'd just have to throw some alcohol on the stuff and use it again. I didn't get a chance to wash my hands a lot. I wore gloves as much as possible, but they'd get all torn up and my body would just get covered in blood." Jadick was still afraid. "We were still getting shot at, and there were mortar attacks. But now it was OK somehow. Maybe I had gotten used to it, or maybe just calloused."
Kneeling over a wounded Marine, Jadick was startled to see a muzzle flash from a water tower about 50 yards away. He could clearly see a sniper, his face wrapped in cloth. For a moment, Jadick, the former Marine captain, replaced Jadick, the Navy doctor. A truckload of Marines had just pulled up. "Please go kill that guy," said Jadick, and their commander sent them out to silence the man. Jadick had a fleeting struggle with the Hippocratic Oath ("Do no harm") but thought, "At some point, it's either kill or be killed."
Jadick grew close to his young corpsmen, who were frightened, like him, but cared for the wounded like brothers. "If it would help, they would hold a guy's hand. They did those things to provide comfort, and they weren't afraid to do it. That's not something I taught them. They just did it," Jadick said.
Sometimes the corpsmen behaved like the 18- and 19-year-olds they were. Jadick was miffed at one young clerk, in charge of keeping proper records, who had apparently wandered off. Unable to find the man, Jadick began cursing him, when the clerk appeared around the corner. "Where were you?" Jadick angrily demanded. "Well," the clerk said, "some guys were trying to come across through the open gate, so I shot them." Jadick laughed as he recalled the story. "That's a pretty good excuse, so I'll let you go this time," he told the man.
On the third or fourth night, a vehicle pulled up with a badly wounded Marine named Jacob Knospler. A corporal with a rifle company, Knospler had dragged the shot-up Gunnery Sergeant Shane out of harm's way a few days before. Now, fighting house to house, he had been hit in the face with grenade shrapnel. There was a hole where his mouth and jaw had been. He was conscious and crying and trying to paw at his face. "We had to hold his hands and give him a lot of morphine, as much as he could tolerate," said Jadick. Unable to put a breathing tube down his throat, Jadick worried that Knospler would gag and suffocate on his own blood, tissue and mucus on his way to surgery. He jumped into the ambulance with the wounded corporal and, working with a female medic, kept suctioning the man's horribly wounded face. After 30 minutes, they arrived at a transfer station to hand him over to a new doctor. When the doctor saw the wound, his eyes bulged. "Are you going to be OK with this?" asked Jadick. The doctor said yes, and Jadick headed back to the inferno.
That was a bad night, Jadick recalled, but not the worst. A Marine came in shot in the head. Though he was still breathing, his skull was fractured and his eyeballs were hanging on either side of his face. When Jadick removed the Marine's helmet he could feel the plates of the man's skull moving. There was a distinctive, nauseating smell?of gray matter, brain tissue.
The man died, and so did many of his wounded comrades. But there were some remarkable survivors. A Marine walked over to Jadick and said, "Doc, I've got a headache." Jadick saw with a start that there was a hole in the guy's helmet. Gingerly, Jadick removed the helmet?and saw that a bullet had, in effect, scalped the young Marine, separating a flap of skin at the hairline, but not penetrating his skull. "You're pretty lucky," Jadick said. As both men laughed, Jadick stitched him up. "You don't need to be here anymore today," he told the man, and sent him to the rear.
The laughs were few and far between. A Marine arrived with a chest wound. Jadick had seen the man, Lance Cpl. Demarkus Brown, a few days before, when he showed up with a lip sliced by shrapnel. "Doc, do I get a Purple Heart for this?" Brown had asked. Jadick had assured him that he would, sewed up the lip, and sent him back to the fight. Now the man did not seem too badly wounded. He was breathing and his eyes were open. Still, Jadick was unable to get a breathing tube down his throat. For a moment, Brown seemed to perk up when Jadick inserted a needle in his chest for a tube, but suddenly the blood began to pulse out. A major blood vessel had ruptured inside him. The man's blood pressure was so low that Jadick couldn't get an IV line working.
Jadick talked to the man. "C'mon, Brown, don't give up on me," he gently pleaded. The young man died. He had been an especially well-liked leatherneck, tough but cheerful. "To this day, he's the kid I can't get out of my head," said Jadick, as he was interviewed two years later for this story. "It was one of those things ..." Jadick paused and began to weep quietly.
For 11 days, Jadick worked night and day at his forward aid station. In late November, as the area around the government building quieted, Jadick moved his team to an abandoned pickle factory in an industrial area where fighting was still going on. The weather had turned bitter cold, so the corpsmen dug holes in the floor and built fireplaces out of rubble. Jadick worried that the IV fluids might become so chilled that the wounded would go into hypothermic shock. To try to warm the fluid to body temperature, corpsmen had the idea of taping pints to their legs and carrying them inside their cargo pockets.
The wounded kept coming. One hero was Matthew Palacios. Injured, he saw a grenade land beside him. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to fling it back, saving the men around him. Increasingly, the wounded were Marines ripped by booby traps and suicide bombers. The KIAs (Killed in Action) were so mangled that Jadick decided to build a morgue, so his young corpsmen wouldn't have to see the shattered bodies piling up.
The one injury Jadick did not see much of was posttraumatic stress disorder. One Marine had to be sent to the rear, and plenty of men complained that they didn't want to go back out and fight?but they did. The PTSD, Jadick knows, will show up for some men only after they're back home, safe but haunted by flashbacks and memories. "We all had PTSD at some level," said Jadick, who nevertheless has not sought treatment.
By mid-December, Fallujah was secured. It had been the worst urban fighting involving Americans since Vietnam. At least 53 Marines and Navy SEALs died, as did something like 1,600 insurgents. By mid-January, Jadick was home: there was an opening for a urology resident at the Medical College of Georgia. Jadick was eager to see his baby daughter and wife.
Jadick was awarded a Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor. (The medal, pinned onto Jadick in January, is the only Combat V awarded a Navy doctor thus far in the Iraq war.) His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Mark Winn, estimated that without Jadick at the front, the Marines would have lost an additional 30 men. Of the hundreds of men treated by Jadick, only one died after reaching a hospital. "I have never seen a doctor display the kind of courage and bravery that Rich did during Fallujah," said Winn. Jadick still owes the Navy a couple of years as a doctor. He's thinking of staying in beyond that. "Being a battalion surgeon is one of the greatest jobs there is," he says, in his low-key way. "So, sure, I would do it again, yeah."
? 2006 MSNBC.com
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Humor
on: April 09, 2006, 11:07:16 AM
It was the first day of school and a new student named Pedro Martinez, the son of a Mexican restaurateur, entered the fourth grade.
The teacher said, "Let's begin by reviewing some American history. "Who said, 'Give me Liberty, or give me Death?'" She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Pedro, who had his hand up.
"Patrick Henry, 1775," was his reply.
"Very good!" apprised the teacher. "Now, who said, "Government of the people by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth?"
Again, no response except from Pedro: "Abraham Lincoln, 1863."
The teacher snapped at the class, "Class, you should be ashamed! Pedro, who is new to our country, knows more about its history than you do!"
She heard a loud whisper: "Screw the Mexicans!" "Who said that?" she demanded.
Pedro put his hand up and replied, "Jim Bowie, 1836."
At that point, a student in the back said, "I'm gonna puke."
The teacher glared and asked, "All right! Now, who said that?"
Again, Pedro answered, "George Bush to the Japanese Prime Minister, 1991."
Now furious, another student yelled, "Oh yeah? Suck this!"
Pedro jumped out of his chair waving his hand and shouting to the teacher, Bill Clinton to Monica Lewinsky, 1997!"
Now, with almost a mob hysteria, teacher said, "You little shit. If you say anything else, I'll kill you!"
Pedro frantically yelled at the top of his voice, "Gary Condit to Chandra Levy, 2001."
The teacher fainted, and as the class gathered around her on the floor, someone said, "Oh shit, we're in BIG trouble now!"
Pedro whispered, "Saddam Hussein, 2003."
Finally someone throws a eraser at Pedro, someone shouted, "Duck"!
The teacher asked, "Who said that?"
Pedro answered, "Dick Cheney 2006."
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Una curiosidad
on: April 08, 2006, 07:12:34 AM
Un placer verte aqui.
1) La gran mayoria de los luchadores en nuestros Gathering son de las AMF, pero de vez en cuando hay unos con antecedentes distinatas. Una vez habia un luchador quien tenia movimiento muy distinto que rendia bien resultado. Cuando yo le pregunte' al respeto me decia que eso fue Hsing Yi, lo cual me sorprendio bastante. Cabe mencionar que tambien tenia AMF, incluyendo conmigo.
2) No me acuerdo especificamente al momento en los videos Vunak al cual refieres, pero yo diria que eso conceptos siempre han estado en los AMF-- por lo cual se encuentran en Kali Tudo.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Venezuela Pol?tica
on: April 08, 2006, 06:59:47 AM
Apr 7, 9:31 PM EDT
Venezuela Holds Five in Deaths of Brothers
By NATALIE OBIKO PEARSON
Associated Press Writer
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Five people have been detained in connection with the killing of three young brothers who were kidnapped at a bogus police checkpoint, in a crime that has sparked angry protests over Venezuela's rampant violent crime.
Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez said Friday that five suspects were being charged with willful homicide, including two detained the night before in a raid outside Caracas.
Two days of protests erupted Wednesday after the slayings of the three Faddoul brothers - John, 17; Kevin, 13; and Jason, 12 - whose bullet-riddled bodies were found Tuesday more than a month after they were kidnapped. Their driver's body was also found.
Officials said the kidnappers demanded more than $4.5 million.
Rodriguez said two shotguns were found in the raid that used ammunition that matched the type found near the boys' bodies. The attorney general said none of the suspects were active police officers, but that three belonged to a criminal gang.
Authorities have been investigating whether police or an organized crime network may have been involved in the killings of the boys, who had dual Canadian-Venezuelan citizenship.
Rodriguez said three suspects were Venezuelan, but the nationality of the remaining two was unclear. He identified the five as Edgar Martinez Velazquez, Zulia Tovar Chanti, Franklin Martinez, Luris Machado Marquez, Richard Betancourt Febres.
The slayings ignited protests criticizing the government for failing to fight police corruption and crack down on crime.
Amid the unrest, a news photographer was shot dead by an unidentified man on a motorcycle while on his way to cover a demonstration.
Many Venezuelans said the crimes highlight how violence, brutality and impunity have come to reign in this crime-wracked nation.
For the Faddoul family, it was the second encounter with kidnappings.
The father and eldest son, John, were "express kidnapped" a few years ago by men who drove them to a cash machine and later released them, said Nelly Elbarche, a cousin of the boys' mother. Classmates said the middle son, Kevin, sometimes spoke of fearing kidnappings.
Violent robberies, kidnappings and murders are frequent in Venezuela. There were 9,402 homicides reported in 2005, down slightly from 2004, according to government statistics.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / We the Well-armed People
on: April 08, 2006, 06:41:52 AM
Originally posted by Buzwardo on another thread which I feel is better located here.
When does customization of a firearm become manufacturing? That seemingly simple question is occupying the near undivided attention of the firearms industry. Observers say it is a question with the potential to become a firestorm that could put custom gunsmiths out of business; if not behind bars.
The controversy began with a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms inspection of Competitive Edge Gunworks in Bogard, Missouri. BATF and tax agents appeared and began examining the company's records. When they finished, owner Larry Crow was told he potentially faced felony charges for manufacturing firearms without a license.
Crow says he was stunned.
Agents went on to tell him that his manufacturing status would mean liability for federal excise taxes - and penalties - from the beginning of his business. There is, they told the thunderstruck Crow, no statute of limitations for failing to file Federal Excise Taxes, but there were serious penalties.
"I'm confused, " an obviously shaken Crow told The Outdoor Wire during a telephone conversation last Thursday, "and more than a little concerned."
Since the BATF visit, Crow hasn't done any gunsmithing, but has initiated the licensure process necessary to change his classification from gunsmith to manufacturer. He also says he's agreed with the BATF to settle the whole matter as quickly as possible. In the meantime, Crow says he's struggling financially, but despite the costs of waiting for his licensure process to be completed, he told The Outdoor Wire "I'm not doing any more work until the manufacturing paperwork's complete."
Whether Crow's is a single case brought by an overzealous agent or the opening shot of a BATF campaign against gunsmiths has the entire firearms industry abuzz.
If it proves to be the first shot of another fight, the stakes are very high. The fallout would be felt by virtually any company or individual involved in the gunsmithing business; from individual gunsmiths and educators teaching firearms repair to companies like Brownells or Midway USA. Those companies primarily supply componentry to gunsmiths, but also produce instructional material. The firearms they produce in the course of those instructional pieces are apparently enough to qualify them as manufacturers in this very narrow interpretation. Likewise, custom gunsmiths' samples are also apparently under scrutiny.
Consequently, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Second Amendment Foundation, the National Rifle Association and others are looking for clarification of a single question: at what point does gunsmithing become manufacturing?
BATF regulations appear to offer a solid definition of manufacturing. It would appear, says experts, that a new, and considerably narrower definition is being used against Crow. A definition that has the potential to make virtually any change, from changing parts inside the lockworks to re-barreling or changing firearm calibers enough to constitute manufacturing. Enough, for example, to make any gunsmith's show samples or writers' samples "manufactured" and subject to taxes and penalties.
Should that become the new working definition for ATF and IRS enforcement agents, gunsmiths we've contacted the effect would be immediate and would bankrupt what they consider "one of America's remaining cottage industries."
Hamilton Bowen, of Bowen Custom Arms in Louisville, Tennessee, is a longtime gunsmith and member of the prestigious gunsmiths' guilds. He feels the narrow definition "won't stick" should it come to a fight. He also says the fight itself might be sufficient to put gunsmiths out of business.
"We might win the fight," Bowen said, "but the loss of business along with the associated legal fees for the fight would more than put most of us out of business."
"If the ATF came in and told me that I was liable for federal excise taxes and penalties for all the years I've been in business, I'd just hand them the keys and head to the unemployment office," he said. "ATF is charged with writing regulations to enforce Congressional statutes. They have the ability to clarify statutes, but this one's anything but clear."
San Antonio, Texas gunsmith Alex Hamilton agrees. "I'm essentially a sole proprietor," he says, "if the ATF came in here and started an in-depth investigation, I couldn't work for a couple of reasons. First, I'd be afraid not to be with them the whole time they were here. Secondly, the anxiety their even being here would cause would keep me from doing my job anyway."
The issue isn't licensure; manufacturing licenses are relatively inexpensive, although they add another layer of paperwork and compliance to a small business group that says it already spends a disproportionate amount of working time on compliance paperwork. A retroactivity tax liability could spell significant enough economic damage to shut most gunsmiths down.
Off the record, industry officials say they're starting to receive reports of other gunsmiths being "visited" by BATF officers. Despite those unconfirmed reports, they remain confident the situation can be clarified and a confrontation avoided.
That might be the equivalent of whistling in a graveyard.
Battles between the firearms industry and the BATF have historically been bitter, protracted affairs. Passage of recently-introduced legislation giving gunsmiths a 50-firearm annual tax exemption passed late in the prior Congressional session. The battle to get the legislation introduced, however, took 15 years. It still lacked the support to win the retroactivity gunsmiths had hoped for.
Although they unwilling to say so on the record, some gunsmiths feel the BATF may be getting a little "payback" for the passage of legislation they so vehemently opposed.
In the meantime, the National Rifle Association is attempting to mediate what may have the potential to blossom from a skirmish into a bitter war.
Eric Schwartz, clerk to the NRA's Chief Legislative Counsel, told The Outdoor Wire, "we believe there are inconsistencies by ATF and the IRS that make it difficult, if not impossible, for a law-abiding gunsmith to practice their trade."
"We'd like to see, if necessary, steps taken to address any inconsistencies and make it crystal-clear what acts are manufacturing acts and which are gunsmithing acts so our members can ply their trade in a law-abiding manner."
That might be easier said than done.
One obstacle in the way of "crystal clarity" is a multitude of statutes, regulatory language and opinions; many of which appear to contradict each other. Another; the simple fact that the question lies squarely at an intersection of IRS and BATF regulatory and enforcement areas.
Both agencies have reputations as ferocious opponents to any perceived weakening of their enforcement powers.
The Federal Excise Tax itself may prove to be a bone of litigation should a gunsmith be deemed to be a manufacturer. As observers have pointed out, a Federal Excise Tax on the firearm had already been paid - by the original manufacturer.
Deeming a firearm to have been "manufactured" in the course of customization and subject to FET appears to be a BATF attempt at "double dipping" the firearms industry.
Further, in customization and gunsmithing, labor is the major cost. The gunsmith would have already paid federal income tax on that labor. Again, this creates an apparent attempt at double-taxation.
And what about record keeping? For income tax purposes, businesses are required to maintain their records for a clearly-defined period. BATF has implied no statute of limitations on the potential FET liability for gunsmiths that find themselves declared manufacturers. Consequently, there would be a requirement that records be kept in perpetuity. That creates what legal experts call a "practical impossibility" - a situation where one federal agency creates a requirement that's "practically impossible" to satisfy. Small businesses normally operate in small spaces, i.e., tax records outside the IRS maintenance requirements are routinely destroyed as each year's taxes are filed.
Whether the BATF visit to Competitive Edge was a single agent operating under a personal interpretation of regulations or the first shot in another war between the firearms industry and the BATF is, at this point, irrelevant.
Another genie has been released from another bottle.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Top Dog's training
on: April 07, 2006, 05:59:49 AM
TD is getting ready for his move to Texas (farewell party this Sunday) so I will field the question on Lacrosse.
IMHO Lacrosse definitely is a part of TD's distinctive approach. I know very little about the sport (although my six year old son Conrad has expressed an interest, the youngest team around here is for 8 year olds) but in TD's willingness even in the mid 1980s (i.e. many years before the BJJ era) to actually run at the opponent and crash & bash him. IIRC for those of you who have "The Grandfathers Speak" check out the snippet of the first time he and Salty Dog fought for an example. (Although it was the first WEKAF championships, due to the disorganized nature of the day, the event ran well beyond the intended closing time and most of the judges had simply left and substitutes were recruited from those there. So TD and SD were happily able to disregard inconvenient rules
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Preparando su familia
on: April 07, 2006, 05:45:38 AM
Habia un comentario interesante en el hilo del cuchillo sobre todo la familia contribuyendo a la defensa contra un ataque. Eso me causa plantear el tema de este hilo: ?Como se prepara a su familia para participar en su defensa?
Enmi opinion, no hay una sola respuesta "corecta"-- las respuestas corectas sera'n muchas dependiendo del caracter de los miembros de la familia.
Por ejemplo, hay mujeres maravillosas que no tengan ningun interes en desarollar habilidades de este indole. Posible el consejo para ellas es que corran mientras tu esta's luchando con la criminal para que tu no tengas que preocuparte por ella y para llamar a la policia.
Hay otras mujeres que no quieren entrenar, pero si' son capaces de actuar. A ellas se puede ensenar unas cosas basicas. Por ejemplo si el criminal peleando contigo deja su espalda a la vista de tu mujer ella puede "revoltarle sus huevos" con una patada desde atras o que ella puede rasgarle los ojos con sus unas.
Hay otras mujeres (pocas en esta categoria) que esta'n dispuestas a entrenar, llevar cuchillo, etc.
?Como se aconseja a sus hijos? ?Que quieres que hagan? A cual edad comienzan a ser utiles en estas cosas?
?Que piensan Uds?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gender issues thread
on: April 04, 2006, 01:16:08 PM
"Even with a fertility rate near replacement level, the United States lacks
the amount of people necessary to sustain an imperial role in the world,
just as Britain lost its ability to do so after its birthrates collapsed in
the early 20th century."
Perhaps "The Return of Patriarchy" may be the promise to stimulate a
discussion about demography.
In G. we can observe that coeducation and
the supression of male aggressiveness/belligerence in schools give a
decisive adantage to girls. Under these circumstances it is much easier for
girls to take advantage of educational offers offered by schools and
universities. Perhaps you remember that these days I wrote that young women
were the first to leave those shrinking cities in the east of G: They got
the best education, were the fastest moving part of the population. Are we
living these days in some sort of matriarchy?
March/April <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=220> 2006
The Return of Patriarchy
By Phillip Longman
Across the globe, people are choosing to have fewer children or none at all.
Governments are desperate to halt the trend, but their influence seems to
stop at the bedroom door. Are some societies destined to become extinct?
Hardly. It's more likely that conservatives will inherit the Earth. Like it
or not, a growing proportion of the next generation will be born into
families who believe that father knows best.
"If we could survive without a wife, citizens of Rome, all of us would do
without that nuisance." So proclaimed the Roman general, statesman, and
censor Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, in 131 B.C. Still, he went on
to plead, falling birthrates required that Roman men fulfill their duty to
reproduce, no matter how irritating Roman women might have become. "Since
nature has so decreed that we cannot manage comfortably with them, nor live
in any way without them, we must plan for our lasting preservation rather
than for our temporary pleasure."
With the number of human beings having increased more than six-fold in the
past 200 years, the modern mind simply assumes that men and women, no matter
how estranged, will always breed enough children to grow the population-at
least until plague or starvation sets in. It is an assumption that not only
conforms to our long experience of a world growing ever more crowded, but
which also enjoys the endorsement of such influential thinkers as Thomas
Malthus and his many modern acolytes.
Yet, for more than a generation now, well-fed, healthy, peaceful populations
around the world have been producing too few children to avoid population
decline. That is true even though dramatic improvements in infant and child
mortality mean that far fewer children are needed today (only about 2.1 per
woman in modern societies) to avoid population loss. Birthrates are falling
far below replacement levels in one country after the next-from China,
Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, to Canada, the Caribbean, all of Europe,
Russia, and even parts of the Middle East.
Fearful of a future in which the elderly outnumber the young, many
governments are doing whatever they can to encourage people to have
children. Singapore has sponsored "speed dating" events, in hopes of
bringing busy professionals together to marry and procreate. France offers
generous tax incentives for those willing to start a family. In Sweden, the
state finances day care to ease the tension between work and family life.
Yet, though such explicitly pronatal policies may encourage people to have
children at a younger age, there is little evidence they cause people to
have more children than they otherwise would. As governments going as far
back as imperial Rome have discovered, when cultural and economic conditions
discourage parenthood, not even a dictator can force people to go forth and
Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of
people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood.
Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why
then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy.
Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule. Indeed, it is a particular
value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of
proper station. It competes with many other male visions of the good life,
and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles. Yet before it
degenerates, it is a cultural regime that serves to keep birthrates high
among the affluent, while also maximizing parents' investments in their
children. No advanced civilization has yet learned how to endure without it.
Through a process of cultural evolution, societies that adopted this
particular social system-which involves far more than simple male
domination-maximized their population and therefore their power, whereas
those that didn't were either overrun or absorbed. This cycle in human
history may be obnoxious to the enlightened, but it is set to make a
The Conservative Baby Boom
The historical relation between patriarchy, population, and power has deep
implications for our own time. As the United States is discovering today in
Iraq, population is still power. Smart bombs, laser-guided missiles, and
unmanned drones may vastly extend the violent reach of a hegemonic power.
But ultimately, it is often the number of boots on the ground that changes
history. Even with a fertility rate near replacement level, the United
States lacks the amount of people necessary to sustain an imperial role in
the world, just as Britain lost its ability to do so after its birthrates
collapsed in the early 20th century. For countries such as China, Germany,
Italy, Japan, and Spain, in which one-child families are now the norm, the
quality of human capital may be high, but it has literally become too rare
to put at risk.
Falling fertility is also responsible for many financial and economic
problems that dominate today's headlines. The long-term financing of social
security schemes, private pension plans, and healthcare systems has little
to do with people living longer. Gains in life expectancy at older ages have
actually been quite modest, and the rate of improvement in the United States
has diminished for each of the last three decades. Instead, the falling
ratio of workers to retirees is overwhelmingly caused by workers who were
never born. As governments raise taxes on a dwindling working-age population
to cover the growing burdens of supporting the elderly, young couples may
conclude they are even less able to afford children than their parents were,
thereby setting off a new cycle of population aging and decline.
Declining birthrates also change national temperament. In the United States,
for example, the percentage of women born in the late 1930s who remained
childless was near 10 percent. By comparison, nearly 20 percent of women
born in the late 1950s are reaching the end of their reproductive lives
without having had children. The greatly expanded childless segment of
contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the
feminist and countercultural movements of the 1960s and 70s, will leave no
genetic legacy. Nor will their emotional or psychological influence on the
next generation compare with that of their parents.
Meanwhile, single-child families are prone to extinction. A single child
replaces one of his or her parents, but not both. Nor do single-child
families contribute much to future population. The 17.4 percent of baby
boomer women who had only one child account for a mere 7.8 percent of
children born in the next generation. By contrast, nearly a quarter of the
children of baby boomers descend from the mere 11 percent of baby boomer
women who had four or more children. These circumstances are leading to the
emergence of a new society whose members will disproportionately be
descended from parents who rejected the social tendencies that once made
childlessness and small families the norm. These values include an adherence
to traditional, patriarchal religion, and a strong identification with one's
own folk or nation.
This dynamic helps explain, for example, the gradual drift of American
culture away from secular individualism and toward religious fundamentalism.
Among states that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, fertility
rates are 12 percent higher than in states that voted for Sen. John Kerry.
It may also help to explain the increasing popular resistance among
rank-and-file Europeans to such crown jewels of secular liberalism as the
European Union. It turns out that Europeans who are most likely to identify
themselves as "world citizens" are also those least likely to have children.
Does this mean that today's enlightened but slow-breeding societies face
extinction? Probably not, but only because they face a dramatic,
demographically driven transformation of their cultures. As has happened
many times before in history, it is a transformation that occurs as secular
and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, and as people
adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default.
At least as long ago as ancient Greek and Roman times, many sophisticated
members of society concluded that investing in children brought no
advantage. Rather, children came to be seen as a costly impediment to
self-fulfillment and worldly achievement. But, though these attitudes led to
the extinction of many individual families, they did not lead to the
extinction of society as a whole. Instead, through a process of cultural
evolution, a set of values and norms that can roughly be described as
Population Becomes Power
In the primordial past, to be sure, most societies did not coerce
reproduction, because they had to avoid breeding faster than the wild game
on which they fed. Indeed, in almost all the hunter-gatherer societies that
survived long enough to be studied by anthropologists, such as the Eskimos
and Tasmanian Bushmen, one finds customs that in one way or another
discouraged population growth. In various combinations, these have included
late marriage, genital mutilation, abortion, and infanticide. Some early
hunter-gatherer societies may have also limited population growth by giving
women high-status positions. Allowing at least some number of females to
take on roles such as priestess, sorcerer, oracle, artist, and even warrior
would have provided meaningful alternatives to motherhood and thereby
reduced overall fertility to within sustainable limits.
During the eons before agriculture emerged, there was little or no military
reason to promote high fertility. War and conquests could bring little
advantage to society. There were no granaries to raid, no livestock to
steal, no use for slaves except rape. But with the coming of the Neolithic
agricultural revolution, starting about 11,000 years ago, everything
changed. The domestication of plants and animals led to vastly increased
food supplies. Surplus food allowed cities to emerge, and freed more people
to work on projects such as building pyramids and developing a written
language to record history. But the most fateful change rendered by the
agricultural revolution was the way it turned population into power. Because
of the relative abundance of food, more and more societies discovered that
the greatest demographic threat to their survival was no longer
overpopulation, but underpopulation.
At that point, instead of dying of starvation, societies with high fertility
grew in strength and number and began menacing those with lower fertility.
In more and more places in the world, fast-breeding tribes morphed into
nations and empires and swept away any remaining, slow-breeding hunters and
gatherers. It mattered that your warriors were fierce and valiant in battle;
it mattered more that there were lots of them.
That was the lesson King Pyrrhus learned in the third century B.C., when he
marched his Greek armies into the Italian peninsula and tried to take on the
Romans. Pyrrhus initially prevailed at a great battle at Asculum. But it
was, as they say, "a Pyrrhic victory," and Pyrrhus could only conclude that
"another such victory over the Romans and we are undone." The Romans, who by
then were procreating far more rapidly than were the Greeks, kept pouring in
reinforcements-"as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city," the
Greek historian Plutarch tells us. Hopelessly outnumbered, Pyrrhus went on
to lose the war, and Greece, after falling into a long era of population
decline, eventually became a looted colony of Rome.
Like today's modern, well-fed nations, both ancient Greece and Rome
eventually found that their elites had lost interest in the often dreary
chores of family life. "In our time all Greece was visited by a dearth of
children and a general decay of population," lamented the Greek historian
Polybius around 140 B.C., just as Greece was giving in to Roman domination.
"This evil grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting attention, by our
men becoming perverted to a passion for show and money and the pleasures of
an idle life." But, as with civilizations around the globe, patriarchy, for
as long as it could be sustained, was the key to maintaining population and,
Father Knows Best?
Patriarchal societies come in many varieties and evolve through different
stages. What they have in common are customs and attitudes that collectively
serve to maximize fertility and parental investment in the next generation.
Of these, among the most important is the stigmatization of "illegitimate"
children. One measure of the degree to which patriarchy has diminished in
advanced societies is the growing acceptance of out-of-wedlock births, which
have now become the norm in Scandinavian countries, for example.
Under patriarchy, "bastards" and single mothers cannot be tolerated because
they undermine male investment in the next generation. Illegitimate children
do not take their fathers' name, and so their fathers, even if known, tend
not to take any responsibility for them. By contrast, "legitimate" children
become a source of either honor or shame to their fathers and the family
line. The notion that legitimate children belong to their fathers' family,
and not to their mothers', which has no basis in biology, gives many men
powerful emotional reasons to want children, and to want their children to
succeed in passing on their legacy. Patriarchy also leads men to keep having
children until they produce at least one son.
Another key to patriarchy's evolutionary advantage is the way it penalizes
women who do not marry and have children. Just decades ago in the
English-speaking world, such women were referred to, even by their own
mothers, as spinsters or old maids, to be pitied for their barrenness or
condemned for their selfishness. Patriarchy made the incentive of taking a
husband and becoming a full-time mother very high because it offered women
few desirable alternatives.
To be sure, a society organized on such principles may well degenerate over
time into misogyny, and eventually sterility, as occurred in both ancient
Greece and Rome. In more recent times, the patriarchal family has also
proved vulnerable to the rise of capitalism, which profits from the
diversion of female labor from the house to the workplace. But as long as
the patriarchal system avoids succumbing to these threats, it will produce a
greater quantity of children, and arguably children of higher quality, than
do societies organized by other principles, which is all that evolution
This claim is contentious. Today, after all, we associate patriarchy with
the hideous abuse of women and children, with poverty and failed states.
Taliban rebels or Muslim fanatics in Nigeria stoning an adulteress to death
come to mind. Yet these are examples of insecure societies that have
degenerated into male tyrannies, and they do not represent the form of
patriarchy that has achieved evolutionary advantage in human history. Under
a true patriarchal system, such as in early Rome or 17th-century Protestant
Europe, fathers have strong reason to take an active interest in the
children their wives bear. That is because, when men come to see themselves,
and are seen by others, as upholders of a patriarchal line, how those
children turn out directly affects their own rank and honor.
Under patriarchy, maternal investment in children also increases. As
feminist economist Nancy Folbre has observed, "Patriarchal control over
women tends to increase their specialization in reproductive labor, with
important consequences for both the quantity and the quality of their
investments in the next generation." Those consequences arguably include:
more children receiving more attention from their mothers, who, having few
other ways of finding meaning in their lives, become more skilled at keeping
their children safe and healthy. Without implying any endorsement for the
strategy, one must observe that a society that presents women with
essentially three options-be a nun, be a prostitute, or marry a man and bear
children-has stumbled upon a highly effective way to reduce the risk of
Patriarchy and Its Discontents
Patriarchy may enjoy evolutionary advantages, but nothing has ensured the
survival of any particular patriarchal society. One reason is that men can
grow weary of patriarchy's demands. Roman aristocrats, for example,
eventually became so reluctant to accept the burdens of heading a family
that Caesar Augustus felt compelled to enact steep "bachelor taxes" and
otherwise punish those who remained unwed and childless. Patriarchy may have
its privileges, but they may pale in comparison to the joys of bachelorhood
in a luxurious society-nights spent enjoyably at banquets with friends
discussing sports, war stories, or philosophy, or with alluring mistresses,
flute girls, or clever courtesans.
Women, of course, also have reason to grow weary of patriarchy, particularly
when men themselves are no longer upholding their patriarchal duties.
Historian Suzanne Cross notes that during the decades of Rome's civil wars,
Roman women of all classes had to learn how to do without men for prolonged
periods, and accordingly developed a new sense of individuality and
independence. Few women in the upper classes would agree to a marriage to an
abusive husband. Adultery and divorce became rampant.
Often, all that sustains the patriarchal family is the idea that its members
are upholding the honor of a long and noble line. Yet, once a society grows
cosmopolitan, fast-paced, and filled with new ideas, new peoples, and new
luxuries, this sense of honor and connection to one's ancestors begins to
fade, and with it, any sense of the necessity of reproduction. "When the
ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard 'having
children' as a question of pro's and con's," Oswald Spengler, the German
historian and philosopher, once observed, "the great turning point has
The Return of Patriarchy
Yet that turning point does not necessarily mean the death of a
civilization, only its transformation. Eventually, for example, the sterile,
secular, noble families of imperial Rome died off, and with them, their
ancestors' idea of Rome. But what was once the Roman Empire remained
populated. Only the composition of the population changed. Nearly by
default, it became composed of new, highly patriarchal family units, hostile
to the secular world and enjoined by faith either to go forth and multiply
or join a monastery. With these changes came a feudal Europe, but not the
end of Europe, nor the end of Western Civilization.
We may witness a similar transformation during this century. In Europe
today, for example, how many children different people have, and under what
circumstances, correlates strongly with their beliefs on a wide range of
political and cultural attitudes. For instance, do you distrust the army?
Then, according to polling data assembled by demographers Ronny Lesthaeghe
and Johan Surkyn, you are less likely to be married and have kids-or ever to
get married and have kids-than those who say they have no objection to the
military. Or again, do you find soft drugs, homosexuality, and euthanasia
acceptable? Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? For whatever reason,
people answering affirmatively to such questions are far more likely to live
alone, or in childless, cohabitating unions, than those who answer
The great difference in fertility rates between secular individualists and
religious or cultural conservatives augurs a vast, demographically driven
change in modern societies. Consider the demographics of France, for
example. Among French women born in the early 1960s, less than a third have
three or more children. But this distinct minority of French women (most of
them presumably practicing Catholics and Muslims) produced more than 50
percent of all children born to their generation, in large measure because
so many of their contemporaries had one child or none at all.
Many childless, middle-aged people may regret the life choices that are
leading to the extinction of their family lines, and yet they have no sons
or daughters with whom to share their newfound wisdom. The plurality of
citizens who have only one child may be able to invest lavishly in that
child's education, but a single child will only replace one parent, not
both. Meanwhile, the descendants of parents who have three or more children
will be hugely overrepresented in subsequent generations, and so will the
values and ideas that led their parents to have large families.
One could argue that history, and particularly Western history, is full of
revolts of children against parents. Couldn't tomorrow's Europeans, even if
they are disproportionately raised in patriarchal, religiously minded
households, turn out to be another generation of '68?
The key difference is that during the post-World War II era, nearly all
segments of modern societies married and had children. Some had more than
others, but the disparity in family size between the religious and the
secular was not so large, and childlessness was rare. Today, by contrast,
childlessness is common, and even couples who have children typically have
just one. Tomorrow's children, therefore, unlike members of the postwar baby
boom generation, will be for the most part descendants of a comparatively
narrow and culturally conservative segment of society. To be sure, some
members of the rising generation may reject their parents' values, as always
happens. But when they look around for fellow secularists and
counterculturalists with whom to make common cause, they will find that most
of their would-be fellow travelers were quite literally never born.
Advanced societies are growing more patriarchal, whether they like it or
not. In addition to the greater fertility of conservative segments of
society, the rollback of the welfare state forced by population aging and
decline will give these elements an additional survival advantage, and
therefore spur even higher fertility. As governments hand back functions
they once appropriated from the family, notably support in old age, people
will find that they need more children to insure their golden years, and
they will seek to bind their children to them through inculcating
traditional religious values akin to the Bible's injunction to honor thy
mother and father.
Societies that are today the most secular and the most generous with their
underfunded welfare states will be the most prone to religious revivals and
a rebirth of the patriarchal family. The absolute population of Europe and
Japan may fall dramatically, but the remaining population will, by a process
similar to survival of the fittest, be adapted to a new environment in which
no one can rely on government to replace the family, and in which a
patriarchal God commands family members to suppress their individualism and
submit to father.
Phillip Longman is Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the New America
Foundation. He is the author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates
Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It (New York: Basic Books,
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Defanging the snake lost?
on: March 31, 2006, 01:18:13 PM
There are NO hockey gloves. The heaviest that anyone wears is "street hockey"-- these are quite light, and several fighters now go with some sort of thin leather glove (e.g. a baseball batting glove) so as to protect the hand from scraping on the fencing mask during clinch and ground but without offering any protection at all from impact.
So in answer to your question, IMHO the hand game remains 90-100% relevant as it ever was.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Political Rants
on: March 31, 2006, 01:49:08 AM
Patriots, Then and Now
With nations as with people, love them or lose them.
Thursday, March 30, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
I had a great experience the other night. I met some of the 114 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. It was at their annual dinner, held, as it has been the past four years, at the New York Stock Exchange.
I met Nick Oresko. Nick is in his 80s, small, 5-foot-5 or so. Soft white hair, pale-pink skin, thick torso, walks with a cane. Just a nice old guy you'd pass on the street or in the airport without really seeing him. Around his neck was a sky-blue ribbon, and hanging from that ribbon the medal. He let me turn it over. It had his name, his rank, and then "1/23/45. Near Tettington, Germany."
Tettington, Germany. The Battle of the Bulge.
When I got home I looked up his citation on my beloved Internet, where you can Google heroism. U.S. Army Master Sgt. Nicholas Oresko of Company C, 302nd Infantry, 94th Infantry Division was a platoon leader in an attack against strong enemy positions:
Deadly automatic fire from the flanks pinned down his unit. Realizing that a machinegun in a nearby bunker must be eliminated, he swiftly worked ahead alone, braving bullets which struck about him, until close enough to throw a grenade into the German position. He rushed the bunker and, with pointblank rifle fire, killed all the hostile occupants who survived the grenade blast. Another machinegun opened up on him, knocking him down and seriously wounding him in the hip. Refusing to withdraw from the battle, he placed himself at the head of his platoon to continue the assault. As withering machinegun and rifle fire swept the area, he struck out alone in advance of his men to a second bunker. With a grenade, he crippled the dug-in machinegun defending this position and then wiped out the troops manning it with his rifle, completing his second self-imposed, 1-man attack. Although weak from loss of blood, he refused to be evacuated until assured the mission was successfully accomplished. Through quick thinking, indomitable courage, and unswerving devotion to the attack in the face of bitter resistance and while wounded, M /Sgt. Oresko killed 12 Germans, prevented a delay in the assault, and made it possible for Company C to obtain its objective with minimum casualties.
Nick Oresko lives in Tenafly, N.J. If courage were a bright light, Tenafly would glow.
I met Pat Brady of Sumner, Wash., an Army helicopter medevac pilot in Vietnam who'd repeatedly risked his life to save men he'd never met. And Sammy Davis, a big bluff blond from Flat Rock, Ill., on whom the writer Winston Groom based the Vietnam experiences of a character named Forrest Gump. Sgt. Davis saved men like Forrest, but he also took out a bunch of bad guys. And yes, he was wounded in the same way as Forrest. That scene in the movie where Lyndon Johnson puts the medal around Tom Hanks's neck: that's from the film of LBJ putting the medal on Sammy's neck, only they superimposed Mr. Hanks.
I talked to James Livingston of Mount Pleasant, S.C., a Marine, a warrior in Vietnam who led in battle in spite of bad wounds and worse odds. I told him I was wondering about something. Most of us try to be brave each day in whatever circumstances, which means most of us show ourselves our courage with time. What is it like, I asked, to find out when you're a young man, and in a way that's irrefutable, that you are brave? What does it do to your life when no one, including you, will ever question whether you have guts?
He shook his head. The medal didn't prove courage, he said. "It's not bravery, it's taking responsibility." Each of the recipients, he said, had taken responsibility for the men and the moment at a tense and demanding time. They'd cared for others. They took care of their men.
Other recipients sounded a refrain that lingered like Taps. They felt they'd been awarded their great honor in part in the name of unknown heroes of the armed forces who'd performed spectacular acts of courage but had died along with all the witnesses who would have told the story of what they did. For each of the holders of the Medal of Honor there had been witnesses, survivors who could testify. For some great heroes of engagements large and small, maybe the greatest heroes, no one lived to tell the tale.
And so they felt they wore their medals in part for the ones known only to God.
In a brief film on the recipients that was played at the dinner, Leo Thorsness, an Air Force veteran of Vietnam, said something that lingered. He was asked what, when he performed his great act, he was sacrificing for. He couldn't answer for a few seconds. You could tell he was searching for the right words, the right sentence. Then he said, "I get emotional about it. But we're a free country." He said it with a kind of wonder, and gratitude.
And of course, he said it all.
What this all got me thinking about, the next day, was . . . immigration. I know that seems a lurch, but there's a part of the debate that isn't sufficiently noted. There are a variety of things driving American anxiety about illegal immigration and we all know them--economic arguments, the danger of porous borders in the age of terrorism, with anyone able to come in.
But there's another thing. And it's not fear about "them." It's anxiety about us.
It's the broad public knowledge, or intuition, in America, that we are not assimilating our immigrants patriotically. And if you don't do that, you'll lose it all.
We used to do it. We loved our country with full-throated love, we had no ambivalence. We had pride and appreciation. We were a free country. We communicated our pride and delight in this in a million ways--in our schools, our movies, our popular songs, our newspapers. It was just there, in the air. Immigrants breathed it in. That's how the last great wave of immigrants, the European wave of 1880-1920, was turned into a great wave of Americans.
We are not assimilating our immigrants patriotically now. We are assimilating them culturally. Within a generation their children speak Valley Girl on cell phones. "So I'm like 'no," and he's all 'yeah,' and I'm like, 'In your dreams.' " Whether their parents are from Trinidad, Bosnia, Lebanon or Chile, their children, once Americans, know the same music, the same references, watch the same shows. And to a degree and in a way it will hold them together. But not forever and not in a crunch.
So far we are assimilating our immigrants economically, too. They come here and work. Good.
But we are not communicating love of country. We are not giving them the great legend of our country. We are losing that great legend.
What is the legend, the myth? That God made this a special place. That they're joining something special. That the streets are paved with more than gold--they're paved with the greatest thoughts man ever had, the greatest decisions he ever made, about how to live. We have free thought, free speech, freedom of worship. Look at the literature of the Republic: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist papers. Look at the great rich history, the courage and sacrifice, the house-raisings, the stubbornness. The Puritans, the Indians, the City on a Hill.
The genius cluster--Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Madison, Franklin, all the rest--that came along at the exact same moment to lead us. And then Washington, a great man in the greatest way, not in unearned gifts well used (i.e., a high IQ followed by high attainment) but in character, in moral nature effortfully developed. How did that happen? How did we get so lucky? (I once asked a great historian if he had thoughts on this, and he nodded. He said he had come to believe it was "providential.")
We fought a war to free slaves. We sent millions of white men to battle and destroyed a portion of our nation to free millions of black men. What kind of nation does this? We went to Europe, fought, died and won, and then taxed ourselves to save our enemies with the Marshall Plan. What kind of nation does this? Soviet communism stalked the world and we were the ones who steeled ourselves and taxed ourselves to stop it. Again: What kind of nation does this?
Only a very great one. Maybe the greatest of all.
Do we teach our immigrants that this is what they're joining? That this is the tradition they will now continue, and uphold?
Do we, today, act as if this is such a special place? No, not always, not even often. American exceptionalism is so yesterday. We don't want to be impolite. We don't want to offend. We don't want to seem narrow. In the age of globalism, honest patriotism seems like a faux pas.
And yet what is true of people is probably true of nations: if you don't have a well-grounded respect for yourself, you won't long sustain a well-grounded respect for others.
Because we do not communicate to our immigrants, legal and illegal, that they have joined something special, some of them, understandably, get the impression they've joined not a great enterprise but a big box store. A big box store on the highway where you can get anything cheap. It's a good place. But it has no legends, no meaning, and it imparts no spirit.
Who is at fault? Those of us who let the myth die, or let it change, or refused to let it be told. The politically correct nitwit teaching the seventh-grade history class who decides the impressionable young minds before him need to be informed, as their first serious history lesson, that the Founders were hypocrites, the Bill of Rights nothing new and imperfect in any case, that the Indians were victims of genocide, that Lincoln was a clinically depressed homosexual who compensated for the storms within by creating storms without . . .
You can turn any history into mud. You can turn great men and women into mud too, if you want to.
And it's not just the nitwits, wherever they are, in the schools, the academy, the media, though they're all harmful enough. It's also the people who mean to be honestly and legitimately critical, to provide a new look at the old text. They're not noticing that the old text--the legend, the myth--isn't being taught anymore. Only the commentary is. But if all the commentary is doubting and critical, how will our kids know what to love and revere? How will they know how to balance criticism if they've never heard the positive side of the argument?
Those who teach, and who think for a living about American history, need to be told: Keep the text, teach the text, and only then, if you must, deconstruct the text.
When you don't love something you lose it. If we do not teach new Americans to love their country, and not for braying or nationalistic reasons but for reasons of honest and thoughtful appreciation, and gratitude, for a history that is something new in the long story of man, then we will begin to lose it. That Medal of Honor winner, Leo Thorsness, who couldn't quite find the words--he only found it hard to put everything into words because he knew the story, the legend, and knew it so well. Only then do you become "emotional about it." Only then are you truly American.
Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and author of "John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father," (Penguin, 2005), which you can order from the OpinionJournal bookstore. Her column appears Thursdays.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: March 25, 2006, 09:15:01 AM
Stratfor continuously blows me away with the level of its analysis and intel. I'm really glad that my price for my premium subscription is grandfathered, but even at the current price I would pay it (Shhh! Don't tell them!) An awesome product which I recommend in the highest terms possible.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: March 24, 2006, 10:15:08 PM
Putting Cards on the Table in Iraq
By George Friedman
The clouds couldn't have been darker last week. Everyone was talking about civil war in Iraq. Smart and informed people were talking about the real possibility of an American airstrike against Iran's nuclear capabilities. The Iranians were hurling defiance in every direction on the compass. U.S. President George W. Bush seemed to be politically on the ropes, unable to control his own party. And then seemingly out of nowhere, the Iranians offered to hold talks with the Americans on Iraq, and only Iraq. With the kind of lightning speed not seen from the White House for a while, the United States accepted. Suddenly, the two countries with the greatest stake in Iraq -- and the deepest hostility toward each other -- had agreed publicly to negotiate on Iraq.
To understand this development, we must understand that Iran and the United States have been holding quiet, secret, back-channel and off-the-record discussions for years -- but the discussions were no less important for all of that. The Iran-Contra affair, for example, could not have taken place had the Reagan administration not been talking to the Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini's representatives. There is nothing new about Americans and Iranians talking; they have been doing it for years. Each side, for their own domestic reasons, has tried to hide the talks from public view, even when they were quite public, such as the Geneva discussions over Afghanistan prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
What is dramatically new is the public nature of these talks now, and the subject matter: Iraq.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the real players in Iraq are now going to sit down and see if they can reach some decisions about the country's future. They are going to do this over the heads of their various clients. Obviously, the needs of those clients will have to be satisfied, but in the end, the Iraq war is at least partly about U.S.-Iranian relations, and it is clear that both sides have now decided that it is time to explore a deal -- not in a quiet Georgetown restaurant, but in full view of the world. In other words, it is time to get serious.
The offer of public talks actually was not made by Iran. The first public proposal for talks came from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who several months ago reported that he had been authorized by Bush to open two lines of discussion: One was with the non-jihadist Sunni leadership in Iraq; the other was with Iran. Interestingly, Khalilzad had emphasized that he was authorized to speak with the Iranians only about Iraq and not about other subjects. In other words, discussion of Iran's nuclear program was not going to take place. What happened last week was that the Iranians finally gave Khalilzad an answer: yes.
Iran's Slow Play
As we have discussed many times, Iraq has been Iran's obsession. It is an obsession rooted in ancient history; the Bible speaks of the struggle between Babylon and Persia for regional hegemony. It has some of its roots in more recent history as well: Iran lost about 300,000 people, with about 1 million more wounded and captured, in its 1980-88 war with Iraq. That would be the equivalent of more than 1 million dead Americans and an additional 4 million wounded and captured. It is a staggering number. Nothing can be understood about Iran until the impact of this war is understood. The Iranians, then, came out of the war with two things: an utter hatred of Saddam Hussein and his regime, and determination that this sort of devastation should never happen again.
After the United States decided, in Desert Storm, not to move on to Baghdad and overthrow the Hussein regime -- and after the catastrophic failure of the Shiite rising in southern Iraq -- the Iranians established a program of covert operations that was designed to increase their control of the Shiite population in the south. The Iranians were unable to wage war against Hussein but were content, after Desert Storm, that he could not attack Iran. So they focused on increasing their influence in the south and bided their time. They could not take out Hussein, but they still wanted someone to do so. That someone was the Americans.
Iran responded to the 9/11 attacks in a predictable manner. First, Iran was as concerned by al Qaeda as the United States was. The Iranians saw themselves as the vanguard of revolutionary Islam, and they did not want to see their place usurped by Wahhabis, whom they viewed as the tool of another regional rival, Saudi Arabia. Thus, Tehran immediately offered U.S. forces the right to land, at Iranian airbases, aircraft that were damaged during operations in Afghanistan. Far more important, the Iranians used their substantial influence in western and northern Afghanistan to secure allies for the United States. They wanted the Taliban gone. This is not to say that some al Qaeda operatives, having paid or otherwise induced regional Iranian commanders, didn't receive some sanctuary in Iran; the Iranians would have given sanctuary to Osama bin Laden if that would have neutralized him. But Tehran's policy was to oppose al Qaeda and the Taliban, and to quietly support the United States in its war against them. This was no stranger, really, than the Americans giving anti-tank missiles to Khomeini in the 1980s.
But the main chance that Iran saw was getting the Americans to invade Iraq and depose their true enemy, Saddam Hussein. The United States was not led to invade Iraq by the Iranians -- that would be too simple a model. However, the Iranians, with their excellent intelligence network in Iraq, helped to smooth the way for the American decision. Apart from providing useful tactical information, the Iranians led the Americans to believe three things:
1. That Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction programs.
2. That the Iraqis would not resist U.S. operations and would greet the Americans as liberators.
3. By omission, that there would be no post-war resistance in Iraq.
Again, this was not decisive, but it formed an important part of the analytical framework through which the Americans viewed Iraq.
The Iranians wanted the United States to defeat Hussein. They wanted the United States to bear the burden of pacifying the Sunni regions of Iraq. They wanted U.S. forces to bog down in Iraq so that, in due course, the Americans would withdraw -- but only after the Sunnis were broken -- leaving behind a Shiite government that would be heavily influenced by Iran. The Iranians did everything they could to encourage the initial engagement and then stood by as the United States fought the Sunnis. They were getting what they wanted.
Counterplays and Timing
What they did not count on was American flexibility. From the first battle of Al Fallujah onward, the United States engaged in negotiations with the Sunni leadership. The United States had two goals: one, to use the Sunni presence in a new Iraqi government to block Iranian ambitions; and two, to split the Sunnis from the jihadists. It was the very success of this strategy, evident in the December 2005 elections, that caused Iraqi Shia to move away from the Iranians a bit, and, more important, caused the jihadists to launch an anti-Shiite rampage. The jihadists' goal was to force a civil war in Iraq and drive the Sunnis back into an unbreakable alliance with them.
In other words, the war was not going in favor of either the United States or Iran. The Americans were bogged down in a war that could not be won with available manpower, if by "victory" we mean breaking the Sunni-jihadist will to resist. The Iranians envisioned the re-emergence of their former Baathist enemies. Not altogether certain of the political commitments or even the political savvy of their Shiite allies in Iraq, they could now picture their worst nightmare: a coalition government in which the Sunnis, maneuvering with the Kurds and Americans, would dominate an Iraqi government. They saw Tehran's own years of maneuvering as being in jeopardy. Neither side could any longer be certain of the outcome.
In response, each side attempted, first, to rattle the other. Iran's nuclear maneuver was designed to render the Americans more forthcoming; the assumption was that a nuclear Iran would be more frightening, from the American point of view, than a Shiite Iraq. The Americans held off responding and then, a few weeks ago, began letting it be known that not only were airstrikes against Iran possible, but that in fact they were being seriously considered and that deadlines were being drawn up.
This wasn't about nuclear weapons but about Iraq, as both sides made clear when the talks were announced. Both players now have all their cards on the table. Iran bluffed nukes, the United States called the bluff and seemed about to raise. Khalilzad's request for talks was still on the table. The Iranians took it. This was not really done in order to forestall airstrikes -- the Iranians were worried about that only on the margins. What Iran had was a deep concern and an interesting opportunity.
The concern was that the situation in Iraq was spinning out of its control. The United States was no longer predictable, the Sunnis were no longer predictable, and even the Iranians' Shiite allies were not playing their proper role. The Iranians were playing for huge stakes in Iraq and there were suddenly too many moving pieces, too many things that could go wrong.
The Iranians also saw an opportunity. Bush's political position in the United States had deteriorated dramatically. As it deteriorated, his room for maneuver declined. The British had made it clear that they were planning to leave Iraq. Bush had really not been isolated before, as his critics always charged, but now he was becoming isolated -- domestically as well as internationally. Bush needed badly to break out of the political bind he was in. The administration had resisted pressure to withdraw troops under a timetable, but it no longer was clear whether Congress would permit Bush to continue to resist. The president did not want his hands tied by Congress, but it seemed to the Iranians that was exactly what was happening.
From the Iranian point of view, if ever a man has needed a deal, it is Bush. If there are going to be any negotiations, they are to happen now. From Bush's point of view, he does need a deal, but so do the Iranians -- things are ratcheting out of control from Tehran's point of view as well. For domestic Iraqi players, the room to maneuver is increasing, while the room to maneuver for foreign players is decreasing. In other words, the United States and Iran have, for the moment, the unified interest of managing Iraq, rather than seeing a civil war or a purely domestic solution.
The Next Phase of the Game
The Iranians want at least to Finlandize Iraq. During the Cold War, the Soviets did not turn Finland into a satellite, but they did have the right to veto members of its government, to influence the size and composition of its military and to require a neutral foreign policy. The Iranians wanted more, but they will settle for keeping the worst of the Baathists out of the government and for controls over Iraq's international behavior. The Americans want a coalition government within the limits of a Finlandic solution. They do not want a purely Shiite government; they want the Sunnis to deal with the jihadists, in return for guaranteed Sunni rights in Iraq. Finally, the United States wants the right to place a force in Iraq -- aircraft and perhaps 40,000 troops -- outside the urban areas, in the west. The Iranians do not really want U.S. troops so close, so they will probably argue about the number and the type. They do not want to see heavy armored units but can live with lighter units stationed to the west.
Now obviously, in this negotiation, each side will express distrust and indifference. The White House won the raise by expressing doubts as to Tehran's seriousness; the implication was that the Iranians were buying time to work on their nukes. Perhaps. But the fact is that Tehran will work on nukes as and when it wants, and Washington will destroy the nukes as and when it wants. The nukes are non-issues in the real negotiations.
There are three problems now with negotiations. One is Bush's ability to keep his coalition intact while he negotiates with a member of the "axis of evil." Another is Iran's ability to keep its coalition together while it negotiates with the "Great Satan." And third is the ability of either to impose their collective will on an increasingly self-reliant Iraqi polity. The two major powers are now ready to talk. What is not clear is whether, even together, they will be in a position to impose their will on the Iraqis. The coalitions will probably hold, and the Iraqis will probably submit. But those are three "probablies." Not good.
All wars end in negotiations. Clearly, the United States and Iran have been talking quietly for a long time. They now have decided it is time to make their talks public. That decision by itself indicates how seriously they both take these conversations now.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Weird and/or silly
on: March 22, 2006, 10:40:24 AM
By DAN HERBECK, Buffalo News
News Staff Reporter
3/21/2006 Click to view larger picture
Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News
Injured in Iraq, Army Sgt. Jason R. Lyon, a National Guardsman from Hamburg, has been declared eligible for return to combat but not qualified to deliver the mail stateside.
Click to view larger picture
While Sgt. Jason R. Lyon was serving with the Army in Iraq, he suffered a sprained ankle when he jumped off a Humvee. He also nearly had his head blown off by a roadside bomb that killed three of his friends.
After extensive medical treatment and physical therapy, military doctors have certified the Hamburg serviceman physically fit to return to combat duty in Iraq.
But the U.S. Postal Service says he is physically unfit to deliver mail.
"To me, it really seems unfair," said the National Guardsman, who was recently turned down for a postal carrier job because of the ankle injury he suffered in Baghdad in July 2004.
"The military says I can go to combat. I can march, run, fight in a war and do anything else a soldier can do. But the Postal Service says I'm not fit to deliver letters."
A frustrated Lyon, 28, spoke about his dilemma in his home Monday, showing a Buffalo News reporter his Purple Heart for wounds suffered later and a thick stack of medical reports from the Army, declaring him fully fit for military duty.
"Currently no limitations of military or civilian activity," a National Guard medical officer wrote in a report on Lyon last month.
A doctor for the Postal Service saw it differently, ruling that Lyon's ankle injury makes him unfit to be hired as a mail carrier. A physician for the Postal Service called the injury a "physical impairment" that would make it difficult for Lyon to walk or stand for long periods of time.
The decision is not meant as a personal slap at Lyon, said Karen L. Mazurkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the Western New York district of the Postal Service.
Mazurkiewicz said Lyon, who is currently unemployed, still could pursue a position as a mail clerk or custodian, and she noted that veterans do receive hiring preference.
"We have a rich history of hiring veterans, but we have to look at each candidate and make an assessment of how they would handle the physical requirements of the job," Mazurkiewicz said. "There is a lot of bending, twisting, lifting and walking on uneven surfaces for a mail carrier. . . . It is a very strenuous job."
Perhaps so, said Lyon, but no more strenuous than anything he has dealt with in 10 years with the military.
He noted that he has also worked part time for United Parcel Service, on and off, for the last five years, performing similar duties to those of a mail carrier.
Lyon, a graduate of Frontier Central High School, joined the Army in 1996. After three years on active duty, he joined the New York National Guard. He now is a member of the 101st Cavalry Reconnaissance Unit, based at the Masten Avenue Armory. He was called to duty in Iraq from December 2003 until January 2005 with the Army's 108th Infantry.
In Iraq, he suffered a minor injury that is now hurting his employment chances and a major injury that he never expects to forget.
"I twisted my ankle in Baghdad, when I jumped off a Humvee in the dark and landed in a tire rut," he said. "The Army put my ankle in a cast, and two weeks later, I was back on combat patrols. I never left the war theater. I went back to all my duties as an infantryman."
That was in July 2004. Six months later, tragedy struck the squad Lyon was leading as it drove back to its base after a long night on combat patrol in northern Baghdad.
"It had been a long night. I was just telling the guys they could put a CD in the CD player," Lyon recalled. "Then the explosion hit."
A roadside bomb tore through the heavily armored Humvee that Lyon and four other soldiers were riding in. Three of the soldiers - good friends of Lyon - were killed instantly.
"It was a professionally made explosive. It tore through the Humvee like it was a tin can," Lyon said. "I heard the explosion. The next thing I knew, I was on fire and I had blood all over me. My right ear was almost torn off. I felt terror and helplessness, but I was the sergeant, and I had to take control of the situation."
Lyon was shipped out of Iraq to Germany, and then to the United States, for months of treatment for his burns and wounds. He is now back with his National Guard unit in Buffalo. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but that was not a factor cited by the Postal Service for turning down his application for postal carrier.
"Sometimes, when I am alone, I'm looking over my shoulder and feeling hyper alert," Lyon said. "But when I'm with other people, I'm fine."
The office of Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, has been trying to help Lyon in his dispute but without results. On March 11, Lyon got a letter from the Postal Service, saying a doctor for the service had refused to change her medical assessment.
"It's ridiculous," said the sergeant's wife, Sarah Lyon. "He's served his country in Iraq. He's worked for UPS for years, and he's been certified to go to Iraq again, if they need him. I have absolutely no doubt he can do the job of a mail carrier."
Lyon said he wants to work as a mail carrier, rather than a clerk or custodian. He said that a mail carrier earns higher pay - about $17.80 an hour for the job he was seeking - and gets to be out in the community, working with the public.
"This is Buffalo, and there are not a lot of good jobs like that one available," Lyon said. "I'm willing to work hard, and I want a good job."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: March 21, 2006, 08:25:08 PM
Second post of the day:
Appalling?But Not Hopeless
You see lots of rough politics and jockeying for power in Baghdad. But when facing the abyss, you also see glimpses of leadership.
By Fareed Zakaria
Three years ago this week, I watched the invasion of Iraq apprehensively. I had supported military intervention to rid the country of Saddam's tyranny, but I had also been appalled by the crude and unilateral manner in which the Bush administration handled the issue. In the first weeks after the invasion, I was very critical of several of the administration's decisions?crucially, invading with a light force and dismantling the governing structures of Iraq (including the bureaucracy and Army). My criticisms grew over the first 18 months of the invasion, a period that offered a truly depressing display of American weakness and incompetence. And yet, for all my misgivings about the way the administration has handled this policy, I've never been able to join the antiwar crowd. Nor am I convinced that Iraq is a hopeless cause that should be abandoned.
Let's remember that in 2002 and early 2003, U.S. policy toward Iraq was collapsing. The sanctions regime was becoming completely ineffective against Saddam?he had gotten quite good at cheating and smuggling?and it was simultaneously impoverishing the Iraqi people. Regular reconnaissance and bombing missions over Iraq were done through no-flight zones, which required a large U.S. and British presence in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. These circumstances were fueling a poisonous anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world.
In his fatwa of 1998, Osama bin Laden's first two charges against the United States were that it was "occupying" Saudi Arabia and starving Iraqi women and children. The Palestinian cause was a distant third. Meanwhile Saddam had a 30-year history of attempting to build nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The other reality by 2003 was that the United States and the international community had developed a reasonably effective process for military interventions like Iraq. The RAND Corporation released a thorough study just before the invasion pointing out that the central lesson of the 1990s was that if you went in with few troops (Haiti, Somalia), chaos prevailed, but if you went in with robust forces (Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor), it was possible to succeed.
Consider what the administration itself did in Afghanistan. It allied with local forces on the ground so that order would be maintained. It upheld the traditional structure of power and governance in the country?that is, it accepted the reality of the warlords?while working very slowly and quietly to weaken them. To deflect anti-Americanism, the military turned over the political process to the United Nations right after Kabul fell. (Most people forget that it was the U.N. that created the assembly that picked Hamid Karzai as president.) The United States gave NATO and the European Union starring roles in the country?and real power?which led them to accept real burden-sharing. The European Union actually spends more in Afghanistan than the United States does.
But Iraq turned out to be a playground for all kinds of ideological theories that the Bush administration had about the Middle East, democracy, the United Nations and the Clinton administration. It also became a playground for a series of all-consuming turf wars and policy battles between various departments and policymakers in the administration. A good part of the chaos and confusion in Washington has abated, but the chaos in Iraq has proved much harder to reverse. It is much easier to undo a longstanding social and political order than it is to put it back together again.
So why have I not given up hope? Partly it's because I have been to Iraq, met the people who are engaged in the struggle to build their country and cannot bring myself to abandon them. Iraq has no Nelson Mandelas, but many of its leaders have shown remarkable patience, courage and statesmanship. Consider the wisdom and authority of Ayatollah Sistani, or the fair-minded and effective role of the Kurds, or the persistent pleas for secularism and tolerance from men like Ayad Allawi. You see lots of rough politics and jockeying for power in Baghdad. But when the stakes get high, when the violence escalates, when facing the abyss, you also see glimpses of leadership.
There is no doubt today that the costs of the invasion have far outweighed the benefits. But in the long view of history, will that always be true? If, after all this chaos, a new and different kind of Iraqi politics emerges, it will make a difference in the region. Even now, amid the violence, one can see that. The old order in Iraq was built on fear and terror. One group dominated the land, oppressing the others. Now representatives of all three communities?Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds?are sitting down at the table, trying to construct a workable bargain they can all live with.
These sectarian power struggles can get extremely messy, and violent parties have taken advantage of every crack and cleavage. But this might be inevitable in a country coming to terms with very real divisions and disagreements. Iraq might be stumbling toward nation-building by consent, not brutality. And that is a model for the Middle East.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WW3
on: March 21, 2006, 11:36:51 AM
The Stone Face of Zarqawi
Iraq is no "distraction" from al Qaeda.
BY CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 12:01 a.m.
In February 2004, our Kurdish comrades in northern Iraq intercepted a courier who was bearing a long message from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to his religious guru Osama bin Laden. The letter contained a deranged analysis of the motives of the coalition intervention ("to create the State of Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates" and "accelerate the emergence of the Messiah"), but also a lethally ingenious scheme to combat it. After a lengthy and hate-filled diatribe against what he considers the vile heresy of Shiism, Zarqawi wrote of Iraq's largest confessional group that: "These in our opinion are the key to change. I mean that targeting and hitting them in their religious, political and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies . . . and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger."
Some of us wrote about this at the time, to warn of the sheer evil that was about to be unleashed. Knowing that their own position was a tenuous one (a fact fully admitted by Zarqawi in his report) the cadres of "al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" understood that their main chance was the deliberate stoking of a civil war. And, now that this threat has become more imminent and menacing, it is somehow blamed on the Bush administration. "Civil war" has replaced "the insurgency" as the proof that the war is "unwinnable." But in plain truth, the "civil war" is and always was the chief tactic of the "insurgency."
Since February 2004, there have been numberless attacks on Shiite religious processions and precincts. Somewhat more insulting to Islam (one might think) than a caricature in Copenhagen, these desecrations did not immediately produce the desired effect. Grand Ayatollah Sistani even stated that, if he himself fell victim, he forgave his murderers in advance and forbade retaliation in his name. This extraordinary forbearance meant that many Shiites--and Sunnis, too--refused to play Zarqawi's game. But the grim fact is, as we know from Cyprus and Bosnia and Lebanon and India, that a handful of determined psychopaths can erode in a year the sort of intercommunal fraternity that has taken centuries to evolve. If you keep pressing on the nerve of tribalism and sectarianism, you will eventually get a response. And then came the near-incredible barbarism in Samarra, and the laying waste of the golden dome.
It is not merely civil strife that is partly innate in the very make-up of Iraq. There could be an even worse war, of the sort that Thomas Hobbes pictured: a "war of all against all" in which localized gangs and mafias would become rulers of their own stretch of turf. This is what happened in Lebanon after the American withdrawal: The distinctions between Maronite and Druze and Palestinian and Shiite became blurred by a descent into minor warlordism. In Iraq, things are even more fissile. Even the "insurgents" are fighting among themselves, with local elements taking aim at imported riffraff and vice-versa. Saddam's vicious tactic, of emptying the jails on the eve of the intervention and freeing his natural constituency of thugs and bandits and rapists, was exactly designed to exacerbate an already unstable situation and make the implicit case for one-man "law and order." There is strong disagreement among and between the Shiites and the Sunnis, and between them and the Kurds, only the latter having taken steps to resolve their own internal party and regional quarrels.
America's mistake in Lebanon was first to intervene in a way that placed us on one minority side--that of the Maronites and their Israeli patrons--and then to scuttle and give Hobbes his mandate for the next 10 years. At least it can be said for the present mission in Iraq that it proposes the only alternative to civil war, dictatorship, partition or some toxic combination of all three. Absent federal democracy and power-sharing, there will not just be anarchy and fragmentation and thus a moral victory for jihadism, but opportunist interventions from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. (That vortex, by the way, is what was waiting to engulf Iraq if the coalition had not intervened, and would have necessitated an intervention later but under even worse conditions.) There are signs that many Iraqi factions do appreciate the danger of this, even if some of them have come to the realization somewhat late. The willingness of the Kurdish leadership in particular, to sacrifice for a country that was gassing its people until quite recently, is beyond praise.
Everybody now has their own scenario for the war that should have been fought three years ago. The important revelations in "Cobra II," by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, about the underestimated reserve strength of the Fedayeen Saddam, give us an excellent picture of what the successor regime to the Baath Party was shaping up to be: an Islamized para-state militia ruling by means of vicious divide-and-rule as between the country's peoples. No responsible American government could possibly have allowed such a contingency to become more likely. We would then have had to intervene in a ruined rogue jihadist-hosting state that was already in a Beirut-like nightmare.
I could not help noticing, when the secret prisons of the Shiite-run "Interior Ministry" were exposed a few weeks ago, that all those wishing to complain ran straight to the nearest American base, from which help was available. For the moment, the coalition forces act as the militia for the majority of Iraqis--the inked-fingered Iraqis--who have no militia of their own. Honorable as this role may be, it is not enough in the long run. In Iraq we have made some good friends and some very, very bad enemies. (How can anyone, looking down the gun-barrel into the stone face of Zarqawi, say that fighting him is a "distraction" from fighting al Qaeda?) Over the medium term, if our apparent domestic demoralization continues, the options could come down to two. First, we might use our latent power and threaten to withdraw, implicitly asking Iraqis and their neighbors if that is really what they want, and concentrating their minds. This still runs the risk of allowing the diseased spokesmen of al Qaeda to claim victory. Second, we can demand to know, of the wider international community, if it could afford to view an imploded Iraq as a spectator. Three years ago, the smug answer to that, from most U.N. members, was "yes." This is not an irresponsibility that we can afford, either morally or practically, and even if our intervention was much too little and way too late, it has kindled in many Arab and Kurdish minds an idea of a different future. There is a war within the war, as there always is when a serious struggle is under way, but justice and necessity still combine to say that the task cannot be given up.
Mr. Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair, is the author of "A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq" (Penguin, 2003).
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Chris Poznik
on: March 21, 2006, 07:59:36 AM
Interesting idea!!! I'll mention it to him (our nickname for him is "the tree that walks" btw) the next time I see him over at Rigan's place. My boy has started taking BJJ there and I run into him semi-regularly.