Dog Brothers Public Forum

HOME | PUBLIC FORUM | MEMBERS FORUM | INSTRUCTORS FORUM | TRIBE FORUM

Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
March 23, 2017, 09:19:01 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Search:     Advanced search
Welcome to the Dog Brothers Public Forum.
101143 Posts in 2371 Topics by 1087 Members
Latest Member: R.K
* Home Help Search Login Register
  Show Posts
Pages: 1 ... 558 559 [560] 561 562 ... 789
27951  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Official resigns in protest on: October 28, 2009, 12:14:55 AM
U.S. Official Matthew Hoh Resigns in Protest of Afghanistan War Policy
Posted:
10/27/09
Filed Under:Foreign Policy, Afghanistan
Matthew Hoh, the senior U.S. civilian in Afghanistan's Zabul province, resigned in protest because he believes the American effort there is simply fueling the insurgency, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. Hoh, a former Marine Corps captain who also served in Iraq, wrote a four-page letter to the State Department's head of personnel in September, and his resignation became official last week.

"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote in the letter. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."

Hoh's letter caused a stir in the Obama administration, and he was hastened to meetings with senior U.S. officials in Kabul and Washington. They praised his record of service and begged him to stay, offering him new positions in both locations. Hoh initially accepted the Washington job, but changed his mind a week later.

Hoh said that his act of protest and decision to speak out were painful, even "nauseating" at times, but he was strongly motivated by the friends he had lost on the battlefield and the mental anguish he has experienced since returning home. "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right,' " he explained, adding that he "is not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love."

Hoh will meet with Joe Biden's foreign policy adviser this week, and will advise a reduction in troops. He said he feels the U.S. "has an obligation for it not to be a bloodbath," but that Afghans are resistant to what they see as a military occupation.
================
A few months ago I had a very interesting conversation here in LA with an Afghani taxi driver who clearly had been no ordinary man back in Afghanistan.  The following tracks very closely with what he told me.  Bottom line for him:  The whole thing was about business.
=====
Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Tue, October 27, 2009 -- 9:10 PM ET
-----

Brother of Afghan President Is on C.I.A. Payroll, Officials Say

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a
suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium
trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence
Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according
to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, and
those financial ties and the agency's close working
relationship with him raise significant questions about
America's war strategy, which is currently under review at
the White House.

Read More:
http://www.nytimes.com?emc=na
27952  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / MA Muslim accused of plot on: October 28, 2009, 12:14:12 AM
Mass man accused of plot to kill U.S politicians

By DENISE LAVOIE, AP Legal Affairs Writer Denise Lavoie, Ap Legal Affairs Writer Wed Oct 21, 7:57 pm ET

BOSTON – A Massachusetts man and two friends tried and failed to get into terrorist training camps and then plotted to kill two prominent U.S. politicians and randomly shoot people at American shopping malls, authorities said Wednesday.

Tarek Mehanna, who recently taught at a Muslim school in Worcester, was arrested early Wednesday at his parents' suburban Boston home.

Mehanna was charged with conspiring with two other men — an American now in Syria and another man who is cooperating with authorities — to provide support to terrorists.

Ultimately, the trio never came close to pulling off an attack. Authorities say they never got the terrorist training they sought — that the men told friends they were turned down because of their nationality, ethnicity or inexperience, or that the people they'd hoped would get them into such camps were either in jail or on a religious pilgrimage.

The men abandoned the mall attack plans after their weapons contact said he could find only handguns, not automatic weapons.

The men used code words such as "peanut butter and jelly" for fighting in Somalia and "culinary school" for terrorist camps, and talked extensively of their desire to "die on the battlefield," according to court documents.
Mehanna, who has taught math and religion at Alhuda Academy, made a defiant court appearance hours after his arrest. He refused to stand to hear the charge against him and finally did — tossing his chair loudly to the floor — only after his father urged him to do so.

"This really, really is a show," his father, Ahmed Mehanna, said as his son was being led away in handcuffs. When asked if he believed the charges against his son, he said, "No, definitely not."

Prosecutors said Mehanna worked with two men from 2001 to May 2008 on the conspiracy that, over time, intended to "kill, kidnap, maim or injure" soldiers and two politicians who were members of the executive branch but are no longer in office. Authorities refused to identify the politicians and said they were never in danger.

Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Loucks said the men justified the planned attacks on malls because U.S. civilians pay taxes to support the U.S. government and because they are "nonbelievers," Loucks said. He refused to identify the targeted malls.

Mehanna — who received a doctorate in 2008 from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston, where his father is a professor — allegedly conspired with Ahmad Abousamra, who authorities say is now in Syria.

Mehanna, 27, is being held without bail until his next court appearance on Oct. 30.

"I'm confident that the American people will put aside their fears and instead rely on the fairness guaranteed by our Constitution," said his attorney, J.W. Carney Jr. "Mr. Mehanna is entitled to that."
Rola Yaghmour, 20, of Shrewsbury and her family are friends with the Mehannas and she said she couldn't believe the new charges against Mehanna, calling him a "good man."

"He's not going to go crazy in a mall. There's no way he would do something like that," she said. "I read it and I was laughing, and I was like, 'They have to be kidding.' Because there's no way he would do something like that. It makes no sense. I was in shock. That's not like him at all nor his family, nothing of them at all."

Mehanna first was arrested in November and charged with lying to the FBI in December 2006 when asked the whereabouts of Daniel Maldonado, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for training with al-Qaida to overthrow the Somali government.

Authorities said Wednesday that Mehanna and his conspirators had contacted Maldonado about getting automatic weapons for their planned mall attacks, but he told them he could only get handguns.

Court documents filed by the government say that in 2002, Abousamra became frustrated after repeatedly being rejected to join terror groups in Pakistan — first Lashkar e Tayyiba, then the Taliban.


"Because Abousamra was an Arab (not Pakistani) the LeT camp would not accept him, and because of Abousamra's lack of experience, the Taliban camp would not accept him," Williams wrote in the affidavit.

Mehanna and Abousamra traveled to Yemen in 2004 in an attempt to join a terrorist training camp, according to court documents.

Mehanna allegedly told a friend, the third conspirator who is now cooperating with authorities, that their trip was a failure because they were unable to reach people affiliated with the camps.

Abousamra said he was rejected by a terror group when he sought training in Iraq because he was American, authorities said.
___ Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay, Bob Salsberg and Russell Contreras in Boston, Eric Tucker in Sudbury, Mass., and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report from Boston.
27953  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Watches and Time on: October 27, 2009, 09:12:13 AM
third post of the AM

By JAMES SHINN
Those of us in the Bush administration who were responsible for its "Afghan Strategy Review" kept our mouths shut when we handed over the document to the Obama transition team last fall. We didn't want to box in the new administration.

And when President Barack Obama and his advisers rolled out their own Afghanistan strategy on March 27, I was quietly pleased. It came to basically the same conclusion we had: The paramount goal was to squash terrorism through counterinsurgency and better governance in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs promised the press corps at the time that its strategy would be "fully resourced." Later, in August, Gen. Stanley McChrystal's assessment of the situation in Afghanistan was leaked. It was a road map to implement precisely the Obama strategy that was announced in March.

View Full Image

David Klein
 .But one key element of both the Bush and Obama strategies is getting lost in the debate—that we must apply the military and economic resources for the time required to achieve our goals. As the Obama administration's March 27 White Paper notes, "There are no quick fixes to achieve U.S. national security interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

The average counterinsurgency war lasts a decade and a half; the successful British campaign in Malaya in the 1950s, for example, took 12 years. Even if Gen. McChrystal gets the 40,000 additional troops he has requested, there is unlikely to be short-term progress in meeting any of the security "metrics" that opponents of the war in Afghanistan will try to insert into the defense appropriations for carrying out the president's strategy.

What the White House says—or doesn't say—about a long-term commitment is hugely important. Americans are famously impatient, and there is cruel wisdom in the oft-quoted Taliban boast that "NATO has all the watches, but we have all the time." Most Afghans are sitting on the fence, waiting to see who wins. Our allies are nervously looking for the exits, and the Pakistanis and the Iranians are hedging their bets in case the U.S. decides to pull the plug.

Meanwhile, as the Obama national security apparatus publicly wrings its hands over strategy, the media promote half-baked solutions to Afghanistan that further confuse friends and enemies while ignoring the crucial matter of time. Three of the least sensible solutions are "remote control" counterterrorism, a grand regional solution to disputes between neighboring states (including a resolution of the Kashmir territorial dispute between India and Pakistan), and the negotiation of a peace deal with the Taliban.

Replacing the hard work of counterinsurgency and nation-building with Predator drones and Special Operations defies geography and common sense. A Predator has a range of 400 miles: It is 600 miles from Pakistan's Waziristan region to the Arabian Sea.

From where are you going to fly the drones? What intelligence will be available to guide the drones or special ops if we abandon Kabul and Islamabad to fight on their own?

A "regional" solution that convinces India, Pakistan and Iran (among others) that their interests are better served by a stable Afghanistan than by backing proxy forces there is a laudable undertaking. But it would take years of patient diplomacy, in which the terms and pace of NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan will be the central item of negotiation. Fat chance of striking a deal if you're already gone.

As for a deal with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his leadership council, the Quetta Shura, forget about it. They have no incentive to lay down their arms if they still think time is on their side.

The Taliban will eventually come down from the hills, probably in dribs and drabs, when they've been sufficiently pummeled by the combined Afghan National Army and NATO forces, seen their base among the Afghan people undermined by improved governance, and had their sanctuaries in Pakistan squeezed from the East. This is going to take time.

Time was very much on the mind of Afghanistan's Minister of the Interior Hanif Atmar recently, when I visited him in his office in Kabul—shards of glass still on the floor from the suicide bomb attack on the nearby Indian Embassy a few days earlier. "All the Taliban have to do is blow things up," he said. "We have a lot more things to worry about. Despite the deteriorating security situation in parts of the country, we still have a window of time to prevail, if we and our American allies have sufficient resolve."

I also visited Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil on a dusty street in the Karte Char district. A sleepy policeman with an AK-47 outside was the only symbol of his house arrest. He was Mullah Omar's secretary and then both a spokesman and foreign minister for the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan until his capture in 2001. Today he remains an interlocutor between the Karzai government and the Quetta Shura up in the mountains. I thought he'd be a good judge of Taliban resolve.

Time was on his mind, too. He was puzzled by the drawn-out pace of the Obama administration's strategy deliberations. He took care to distance the Quetta Shura's objectives (to govern Afghanistan and remove foreign troops) from the goals of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan across the border (which are close to those of al Qaeda, namely to bring down the government in Islamabad and establish a greater Islamic Caliphate).

In response to my skeptical questions, he also drew a distinction between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. "But the longer this war drags on, the harder it is to separate our interests from theirs," he said.

Mullah Mutawakil's sparse quarters featured a Koran, several volumes of Islamic jurisprudence and a television. "I watch the news, and the Turkish soap operas," he confessed with a smile. He wasn't wearing a watch.

Mr. Shinn was assistant secretary of defense for Asia (2007-2008) and one of the authors of the Bush administration's Afghan Strategy Review. He previously served in the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.
27954  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The TARP slush fund on: October 27, 2009, 09:08:48 AM
The Troubled Asset Relief Program will expire on December 31, unless Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner exercises his authority to extend it to next October. We hope he doesn't. Historians will debate TARP's role in ending the financial panic of 2008, but today there is little evidence that the government needs or can prudently manage what has evolved into a $700 billion all-purpose political bailout fund.

We supported TARP to deal with toxic bank assets and resolve failing banks as a resolution agency of the kind that worked with savings and loans in the 1980s. Some taxpayer money was needed beyond what the FDIC's shrinking insurance fund had available. But TARP quickly became a Treasury tool to save failing institutions without imposing discipline (Citigroup) and even to force public capital onto banks that didn't need it. This stigmatized all banks as taxpayer supplicants and is now evolving into an excuse for the Federal Reserve to micromanage compensation.

TARP was then redirected well beyond the financial system into $80 billion in "investments" for auto companies. These may never be repaid but served as a lever to abuse creditors and favor auto unions. TARP also bought preferred stock in struggling insurers Lincoln and Hartford, though insurance companies are not subject to bank runs and pose no "systemic risk." They erode slowly as customers stop renewing policies.

TARP also became another fund for Congress to pay off the already heavily subsidized housing industry by financing home mortgage modifications. Not one cent of the $50 billion in TARP funds earmarked to modify home mortgages will be returned to the Treasury, says the Congressional Budget Office.

As of the end of September, Mr. Geithner was sitting on $317 billion of uncommitted TARP funds, thanks in part to bank repayments. But this sum isn't the limit of his check-writing ability. Treasury considers TARP a "revolving fund." If taxpayers are ever paid back by AIG, GM, Chrysler, Citigroup and the rest, Treasury believes it has the authority to spend that returned money on new adventures in housing or other parts of the economy.

A TARP renewal by Mr. Geithner could thus put at risk the entire $700 billion. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) and former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins sit on TARP's Congressional Oversight Panel. They warn that the entire taxpayer pot could be converted into subsidies. They are especially concerned about expanding the foreclosure prevention programs that have been failing by every measure.

View Full Image

Associated Press
 
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner
.TARP inspector general Neil Barofsky agrees that the mortgage modifications "will yield no direct return" and notes charitably that "full recovery is far from certain" on the money sent to AIG and Detroit. Mr. Barofsky also notes that since Washington runs huge deficits, and interest rates are almost sure to rise in coming years, TARP will be increasingly expensive as the government pays more to borrow.

Even with the banks, TARP has been a double-edged sword. While its capital injections saved some banks, its lack of transparency created uncertainty that arguably prolonged the panic. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson recently admitted to Mr. Barofsky what everyone figured at the time of the first capital injections. Although they claimed in October 2008 they were providing capital only to healthy banks, Mr. Bernanke now says some of the firms were under stress. Mr. Paulson now admits that he thought one in particular was in danger of failing. By forcing all nine to take the money, they prevented the weaklings from being stigmatized.

Says Mr. Barofsky, "In addition to the basic transparency concern that this inconsistency raises, by stating expressly that the 'healthy' institutions would be able to increase overall lending, Treasury created unrealistic expectations about the institutions' conditions and their ability to increase lending."

The government also endangered one of the banks that they considered healthy at the time. In December, Mr. Paulson pressured Bank of America to complete its purchase of Merrill Lynch. His position is that a failed deal would have hurt both firms, but this is highly speculative. Mr. Barofsky reports that, according to Fed documents, the government viewed BofA as well-capitalized, but officials believed that its tangible common equity would fall to dangerously low levels if it had to absorb the sinking Merrill.

In other words, by insisting that BofA buy Merrill, Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke were spreading systemic risk by stuffing a failing institution into a relatively sound one. And they were stuffing an investment bank into one of the nation's largest institutions whose deposits were guaranteed by taxpayers. BofA would later need billions of dollars more in TARP cash to survive that forced merger, and when that news became public it helped to extend the overall financial panic.

Treasury and the Fed would prefer to keep TARP as insurance in case the recovery falters and the banking system hits the skids again. But the more transparent way to address this risk is by buttressing the FDIC fund that insures bank deposits and resolves failing banks. The political class has twisted TARP into a fund to finance its pet programs and constituents, and the faster it fades away, the better for taxpayers and the financial system.
27955  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: October 27, 2009, 09:01:22 AM


If Honduras manages to preserve its democracy despite U.S. pressure to abandon it, the tiny Central American country may wind up thanking Nicaragua's Danny Ortega, of all people.

Last week, President Ortega inadvertently provided the best defense yet of the Honduran decision this summer to remove Manuel Zelaya from the presidency. Nicaragua has a one-term limit for presidents, and Mr. Ortega's term expires in 2011. However, the Nicaraguan doesn't want to leave, and so he asked the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court to overturn the constitutional ban on his re-election.

Last week the court's constitutional panel obliged him. The Nicaraguan press reported that the vote was held before three opposition judges could reach the chamber in time for the session. Three alternative judges, all Sandinistas, took their place and the court gave Mr. Ortega the green light. Mr. Ortega has decreed that the ruling cannot be appealed.

This is classic strong-man stuff on Hugo Chávez's Venezuela model. Mr. Ortega's approval rating is in the low-30% range and he'd have a hard time winning a fair election against a united opposition. But he controls the nation's electoral council, and in the 2008 municipal races—the most important elected checks on the president—the council refused to provide a transparent accounting of the vote tally. It also blocked international and local observers, and the vote was marred by claims of widespread fraud. The international community watched all this but did nothing. And now Mr. Ortega is taking the next chavista step toward indefinite rule.

Hondurans deposed Mr. Zelaya because he was showing similar designs on changing their constitution to be able to run again and stay in power. Hondurans have to live in Mr. Ortega's neighborhood, and their action against Mr. Zelaya may well have saved them from Nicaragua's fate.
============
No doubt we can look forward to strong denunciations from our President and our Secretary of State.
27956  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams, 1780 on: October 27, 2009, 08:58:45 AM
"Religion in a Family is at once its brightest Ornament & its best Security." --Samuel Adams, letter to Thomas Wells, 1780
27957  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: October 27, 2009, 08:57:42 AM
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 4: Surkov Presses Home
October 27, 2009 | 1138 GMT
Summary
Vladislav Surkov, who serves as Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's deputy chief of staff and leads one of the Kremlin's two main political clans, has given his support to a plan to reform the Russian economy. The plan, proposed by a group of liberal-leaning economists called the civiliki, would help Surkov divest Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the rival clan leader, of power. Surkov has a specific list of goals that would help him tip the balance of power in Russia in his favor.

Editor's Note: This is part four in a five-part series examining the Russian political clans and the coming conflict between them.

Since the current recession has exposed the weaknesses in the Russian economy, the reform plans designed by Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and a class of liberal-leaning economists called the civiliki have caught Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's attention. But before Putin could take Kudrin's plan seriously, the civiliki needed support from a major power player in the Kremlin. That man is none other than Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's deputy chief of staff and one of the two major Kremlin clan leaders, Vladislav Surkov. Surkov's motivation for supporting the civiliki plan is not the same as Kudrin's, however; the finance minister seeks a technical overhaul of the system, while Surkov's goal is to further his own political ambitions.

Surkov: The Gray Cardinal
Surkov is a unique player within the Kremlin. Being half Chechen and half Jewish, Surkov has long known that his pedigree would hinder him from ever holding Russia's top offices. Instead, he has positioned himself as the "gray cardinal" -- the one who masterminds power behind the scenes -- for Russia's leaders. Surkov came to this position by methodically climbing up the ranks and leaving a long list of former bosses behind him. Some of the most notable heavyweights Surkov helped bring down are Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev and oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Among his experience is a reportedly long and deep history with the shadowy Russian Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in the former Soviet states and Central Europe. He is now the GRU's chief strategist.

Related Links
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series Introduction): The War Begins
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 1: The Crash
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 2: The Combatants
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 3: Rise of the Civiliki
Surkov has diversified his power base inside the Kremlin by securing the loyalty of the civiliki. These economically Western-leaning technocrats -- lawyers, economists and financial experts -- have been a powerful group since the fall of the Soviet Union, but have been leaderless since the 1990s after they were blamed for many of the economic troubles that wracked the country. Surkov recognized the liberal reformers' potential and offered them protection as part of his growing political clan.

The civiliki's loyalty has given Surkov an alternative power base to the GRU-linked bureaucrats and a new group of followers to maneuver into key positions in the Kremlin. A key example is Medvedev -- a civil lawyer by trade -- whom Surkov groomed to succeed Putin as president in 2008 to prevent another security official from taking the position. Not only did Surkov consolidate the liberal economists into one group but also came up with the term "civiliki" as a kind of play on words with the term "siloviki," which is the common name for Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin's clan and those in the FSB. The term civiliki stems from Medvedev's civil law degree and Surkov's desire to mold Russia's civil society.

Surkov has also sought to diversify his power across Russia. He is the chief ideologist behind the spread of nationalism throughout the country. He planted the seeds for a stronger Russia among the upcoming generations by creating the Nashi youth movement, which is reminiscent of the Soviet Komsomol youth. The Nashi -- estimated to number at 600,000 -- are tasked with promoting nationalism and loyalty to the state and helping to rid Russia of its enemies. They are a formidable force in the country and have been known to prevent anti-government rallies, pressure media critical of the Kremlin and make life difficult for foreigners and their businesses in Russia. The Nashi also promote academic achievement and hope to create the next generation of business and government leaders. They are fiercely loyal to Surkov, though he cannot legally be part of the organization because he is a government worker.

While Surkov has expanded his power throughout Russia, his greatest obstacle has been the rival clan led by Igor Sechin, which derives its power from the Federal Security Services (FSB, formerly KGB). It has never been a secret that the GRU and FSB have been adversaries since the creation of Soviet Russia, and it is only natural that Russia's two main clans are based within its two formidable intelligence agencies. Of course, Putin also had a hand in designing the current clan structure, splitting most government, economic and business institutions between the clans in order to balance them and prevent either the GRU or the FSB from becoming dominant.


But Surkov has been working to shift this balance by diversifying his clan away from the GRU and enveloping many different groups throughout Russia.

Tipping the Balance
The civiliki's plan to fix the Russian economy is based partially on purging forces that have placed personal interests above economic soundness. In this, they are mostly targeting members of Sechin's clan -- the siloviki, or "strong men," who are former FSB agents put in positions of financial or business leadership. It is not clear that this is an entirely fair assessment, since so many in Russia were guilty of gorging on cheap credit during the boom years preceding the financial crisis. Regardless, the motivation for the civiliki's desire to purge the siloviki is not political; rather, it is because the reformers see no reason for FSB intelligence operatives to run businesses or financial institutions in Russia because they lack the applicable business skills. Surkov has latched onto this concept as a way to finally eliminate much of the Sechin clan's power.

Typically, the civiliki would be wary of Surkov's politicization of their plan. However, over the summer the gray cardinal approached Kudrin -- the architect of the civiliki plan -- with a deal: Surkov would support the civiliki's reform plan if Kudrin helped Surkov with certain aspects of his plan to purge Sechin's clan from power.

But Surkov's plan is very risky and complicated, and involves infiltrating all the proper channels through which he can pursue his enemies in the Kremlin and its companies and industries. Surkov's plan has two parts -- one that targets the siloviki's economic institutions, and one that targets their positions in the Kremlin.

Part 1: The Witch Hunt
First, Surkov intends to go after the main companies and institutions from which Sechin's clan derives either power or funds. Under the civiliki's plan, companies that have been mismanaged or are financially unsound -- according to their assessments -- would be privatized. Surkov is taking this a step further and wants to launch a series of inquiries and audits targeting very specific state corporations all controlled by the Sechin clan.

In Russia, it is common for companies being targeted by the Kremlin to face audits, tax lawsuits and other legal investigations intended to pressure the companies or lead them to being purged or swallowed up by the state. The problem is that for Surkov to attempt to use such a tactic against either state or pro-Kremlin companies, he would have to go through the Federal Tax Service or Federal Customs Service, which are run by Sechin's people.

But this looks like it could soon change. As part of Surkov's clan, Medvedev has jumped on the civiliki's economic reform bandwagon. Publicly, the president has recently started suggesting that he could begin investigating Russian firms he deems inadequately run. He said on Oct. 23 that there will be changes in how state firms are organized and even hinted that some firms could be shut down if they do not comply. This is occurring because over the summer, Medvedev and Surkov worked on drafting legislation through the Presidential Council on Legal Codification that would allow the government to "eliminate certain state corporations" -- meaning these new maneuvers would not require going through the usual proper channels. All the details on Medvedev and Surkov's ability to target firms are not known, but quite a few details have been leaked to STRATFOR that indicate Surkov's seriousness.

Instead of trying to purge Sechin's control over the Federal Tax Service and Federal Customs Service, Surkov has started to create alternative avenues for investigations into powerful Sechin-linked and state-owned companies by going through the Prosecutor General's office, run by Surkov clan member Yuri Chaika, and Russia's Supreme Arbitrage Court, which was taken over recently by pro-Surkov official Anton Ivanov. Also in recent months, the Prosecutor General's office has bolstered its legal authority to work with the Audit Chamber and Federal Antimonopoly Service -- both run by Surkov loyalists, Sergei Stepashin and Igor Artemev. These bodies are very powerful and important tools necessary to effectively targeting weighty state firms.

According to STRATFOR sources, preparations to start the paperwork on these investigations into certain state and Sechin-linked companies could begin as early as Nov. 10. This will be the test for Surkov to see if he can legally purge Sechin's influence.

The Checklist
Surkov has a very precise list of companies and agencies to investigate.

At the top of the list is Rosoboronexport, the state defense exports, technologies and industrial unit. Rosoboronexport is one of the largest moneymakers for the state after energy, earning $7 billion in foreign arms sales in 2009 with another possible $27 billion in contracted orders. Rosoboronexport is led by one of the larger FSB personalities, Sergei Chemezov, who uses arms sales and production for the FSB's political agenda. However, the agency has been accused of hindering the arms industry's ability to keep up with sales and of making it harder for Russia to gain new military technology. Rosoboronexport has also grown unwieldy in that it also now controls non-defense assets like carmakers and metallurgical companies. Furthermore, Surkov does not like the FSB overseeing an organization that should in theory fall under the GRU, since it is military-related.

Next on the list is Russian oil giant Rosneft, which is considered the rival to the Surkov clan's natural gas giant Gazprom. The two companies have been in competition since an attempted merger between them failed in 2005. The competition heated up when each company crossed into the other's territory, with Gazprom opening an oil subsidiary and Rosneft purchasing natural gas assets. Rosneft would be one of the more difficult companies for Surkov's group to target, since symbolically it is considered one of the state champions. It is also the key moneymaking enterprise for the Sechin clan.

After Rosneft are two government bodies that handle a large percentage of the state's money and are overseen by siloviki or Sechin-linked people. The Housing Maintenance Fund, which handles between $3 billion to $5 billion annually, is facing accusations that no one independent from Sechin has checked on where the funds are being spent and that the fund is simply a front for the FSB's activities in Russia. The second body is the large Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA), which oversees all registrations of deposits into banks in Russia and insures most of the country's banks -- an incredibly powerful tool for the FSB. Kudrin has been so incensed by what he has called the mismanagement and misuse of the DIA that he placed himself on the agency's board over the summer. But now Kudrin and the rest of Surkov's group want to purge the siloviki from these institutions.

Also on Surkov's list are:

State nuclear corporation Rosatom, which controls nuclear power, nuclear weapons companies and other nuclear agencies
Olympstroy, the state corporation responsible for construction for the 2014 Olympics
State-owned Russian Railways, one of the largest railway companies in the world, which is run by Sechin loyalist Vladimir Yakunin
Avtodor, a new state-owned company responsible for revamping Russia's crumbling roads and highways (and therefore slated for vast amounts of investment to flow into its coffers)
Aeroflot, Russia's largest passenger airline, which is chaired by former KGB agent Viktor Ivanov and has been struggling during the financial crisis
It isn't clear what Surkov's ultimate goal is in investigating these companies -- whether he intends to destroy them, dismantle them, bring them under the control of his own clan or just privatize them so they are no longer in Sechin's grasp, or a mixture of these options. It is, however, clear that if he succeeds, Surkov would wipe out the siloviki's economic base and take away many of the tools they now use to operate effectively in the country.

Part 2: Kremlin Power Positions
The second part of the plan has to do with Surkov's goal of purging a few key Kremlin politicians from their positions in order to tip the balance of power in his favor. The positions on this list include the president's chief of staff, the interior minister and Kremlin speechwriters.

Rumors are already beginning to fly around Moscow that Sechin loyalist Sergei Naryshkin, who had until recently been considered a rising star within the Kremlin, will be soon ousted from his place as Medvedev's chief of staff. Surkov sees Naryshkin's placement just under the president and over Surkov as a major infiltration by the Sechin clan into his realm. STRATFOR sources have indicated that Naryshkin will be ousted on the grounds that he never successfully implemented Medvedev's anti-corruption campaign.

Next on the list is the Interior Ministry, led by FSB agent Rashid Nurgaliyev. As interior minister, Nurgaliyev oversees 250,000 troops and his own police units. Recently, certain powerful pieces of the ministry, such as the Ministry for Emergency Situations, have been broken off and are now outside Sechin's control.

Lastly, within the Kremlin, pro-Sechin and FSB-trained speechwriters have been sidelined. These longtime writers, like Dzhakhan Polliyev, are being pushed aside and new Surkov-trained writers like Eva Vasilevskaya and Alexei Chadaev are now writing speeches for Medvedev, Putin and others. This is very important in how the leaders portray the small nuances of power within and beyond Russia.

The point of the governmental changes is for Surkov to get his people into positions of power so that his group can actually change policy and tip the balance of power inside Russia. Surkov is not looking to make Russia more efficient, like the civiliki are -- though it is the civiliki's plans giving Surkov the tools and opportunity to try to achieve his goals.

Surkov has legitimate justification for quite a few of his changes, based on the civiliki's recommendations to fix the economy, but the rest of the changes are an incredibly bold step to tip the balance of power.

Putin has noticed this boldness. Moreover, Putin has noticed a lot of the large changes Surkov has made over the past few years to get more power for himself and his clan and diversify his power base inside Russia.

The issues now are how much further Putin will allow Surkov to go, and what Putin is willing to sacrifice to clip the wings of the gray cardinal.

27958  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pakistan on: October 27, 2009, 08:50:35 AM
Commentary posing as news-- from Pravda on the Hudson?  Shocking!

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Obama administration is putting pressure on Pakistan to eliminate Taliban and Qaeda militants from the country’s tribal areas, but the push is straining the delicate relations between the allies, Pakistani and Western officials say.

The Pakistani military’s recent heavy offensive in South Waziristan has pleased the Americans, but it left large parts of Pakistan under siege, as militants once sequestered in the country’s tribal areas take their war to Pakistan’s cities. Many Pakistanis blame the United States for the country’s rising instability.

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Pakistan this week, as she is scheduled to do, she will find a nuclear-armed state consumed by doubts about the value of the alliance with the United States and resentful of ever-rising American demands to do more, the officials said.

The United States is also struggling to address Pakistan’s concerns over the conditions imposed on a new American aid package of $7.5 billion over five years that the Pakistani military denounced as designed to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

The Obama administration has endorsed the Pakistani Army’s recent offensive in South Waziristan, suggesting it showed overdue resolve. But it has also raised concerns about the Pakistani Army’s long-term objectives. How South Waziristan plays out may prove to be a bellwether for an alliance of increasingly divergent interests.

The special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, said Friday that the Obama administration would be trying to find out whether the army was simply “dispersing” the militants or “destroying” them, as the United States would like.

From the number of troops in South Waziristan, it was not clear that the army wanted to “finish the task,” said a Western military attaché, who spoke on the condition of anonymity according to diplomatic protocol.

The army would not take over South Waziristan as it had the Swat Valley, where the military is now an occupying force after conducting a campaign in the spring and summer that pushed the Taliban out, the officials said.

It remains to be seen how the campaign will play out in a region where the army has failed in the past, analysts said. The army has sent about 28,000 soldiers to South Waziristan to take on about 10,000 guerrillas, a relatively low ratio, according to military specialists.

In all, of the roughly 28,000 soldiers, there are probably about 11,000 army infantrymen, said Javed Hussain, a retired Pakistani Army brigadier. Instead of a ratio of one to one, he said, the ratio should be at least five to one.

The army appeared to have no plans to occupy South Waziristan, but rather to cut the militants “to size,” said Tariq Fatemi, who served briefly as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States in 1999.

With the uncertainty of American plans in Afghanistan, and the strong sentiment in Pakistan that India was “up to no good” in the restive province of Baluchistan and the tribal areas, Mr. Fatemi said, the army would not abandon the militant groups that it has relied on to fight as proxies in Afghanistan and in Kashmir against India.

The goal in South Waziristan, Mr. Fatemi said, was to eliminate the leadership that had become “too big of their boots” with the attacks on Pakistan’s cities. The army would like to find more pliant replacements as leaders, he said.

The militants’ war against the cities in the past three weeks had produced a wave of fear that shored up support for the army to fight back in South Waziristan, many Pakistanis said.

But the terror has also amplified complaints that the unpopular civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is seen as slavishly pro-American, is unable to cope with the onslaught.

Mr. Zardari, whose relations with the Pakistani military appear increasingly strained, has not addressed the nation since the militants unfurled their attacks or since the army launched the offensive in South Waziristan.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik was pelted with stones last week when he visited the International Islamic University after two suicide bomb attacks on the campus killed six students, including women.

After the attack at the university, the government ordered all schools and universities closed in Punjab, the most populous province, a move that affected Pakistani families like never before.

“The impact is being felt in every home, before it was just the North-West Frontier Province,” said Jahangir Tareen, a member of Parliament and a member of the cabinet under President Pervez Musharraf.

When schools were ordered re-opened Monday, parents were still unhappy.

“The mood is as bleak as I remember,” said a well-to-do parent in Lahore who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “The government says the private schools must open, but security is up to the schools. Where is the government?”

The range and different style of attacks in the urban areas, particularly in Islamabad, the capital, and the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi, surprised Pakistani security officials, said a Western diplomat who is in frequent contact with them.

The Pakistani security services knew that sleeper cells had been put in place in both cities in the past six months, but their strength was unknown, the diplomat said. “These were not your scared suicide bomber boys from the villages, these were well trained commandos,” the diplomat said.

The assassination of an army brigadier as he drove through Islamabad last week further unnerved people, demonstrating that the militants had a cadre of spotters or observers probably marshaled from the increasing number of students attending radical religious schools in the capital, the diplomat said.

Whatever President Obama decides about troop levels in Afghanistan, Pakistan sees the United States and NATO headed for the exits, an outcome that encourages Pakistan to hang onto the militants that it has used as proxies, the Western diplomat said.

The fact that the United States had so far failed to persuade India to restart talks with Pakistan and that it was doing little to curb what Pakistan sees as the undue influence of India in Afghanistan was unsettling for Pakistan, Mr. Fatemi, the former ambassador, said.

On top of everything else, that feeling was driving a surge of anti-American sentiment, even among the elite, some Pakistanis said, increasing the challenges ahead.

“There is a general perception in the educated class that Pakistan is paying a very heavy price for fighting alongside the United States,” said Ashfaq Khan, a prominent economist and dean of the business school at the National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad.
27959  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / While President Hamlet decides on: October 27, 2009, 08:46:00 AM
This from Pravda on the Hudson, so caveat lector:

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — Forced to confront the rising insurgency in once peaceful northern Afghanistan, the German Army is engaged in sustained and bloody ground combat for the first time since World War II.

A German soldier stands guard in a compound in Kunduz Province. Two men from his company were killed in June, among 36 German soldiers who have died in the Afghan war. More Photos »

Soldiers near the northern city of Kunduz have had to strike back against an increasingly fierce campaign by Taliban insurgents, while carrying the burden of being among the first units to break the German taboo against military combat abroad that arose after the Nazi era.

At issue are how long opposition in Germany will allow its troops to stay and fight, and whether they will be given leeway from their strict rules of engagement to pursue the kind of counterinsurgency being advocated by American generals. The question now is whether the Americans will ultimately fight one kind of war and their allies another.

For Germans, the realization that their soldiers are now engaged in ground offensives in an open-ended and escalating war requires a fundamental reconsideration of their principles.

After World War II, German society rejected using military power for anything other than self-defense, and pacifism has been a rallying cry for generations, blocking allied requests for any military support beyond humanitarian assistance.

German leaders have chipped away at the proscriptions in recent years, in particular by participating in airstrikes in the Kosovo war. Still, the legacy of the combat ban remains in the form of strict engagement rules and an ingrained shoot-last mentality that is causing significant tensions with the United States in Afghanistan.

Driven by necessity, some of the 4,250 German soldiers here, the third-largest number of troops in the NATO contingent, have already come a long way. Last Tuesday, they handed out blankets, volleyballs and flashlights as a goodwill gesture to residents of the village of Yanghareq, about 22 miles northwest of Kunduz. Barely an hour later, insurgents with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades ambushed other members of the same company.

The Germans fought back, killing one of the attackers, before the dust and disorder made it impossible to tell fleeing Taliban from civilians.

“They shoot at us and we shoot back,” said Staff Sgt. Erik S., who, according to German military rules, could not be fully identified. “People are going to fall on both sides. It’s as simple as that. It’s war.”

The sergeant added, “The word ‘war’ is growing louder in society, and the politicians can’t keep it secret anymore.”

Indeed, German politicians have refused to utter the word, trying instead to portray the mission in Afghanistan as a mix of peacekeeping and reconstruction in support of the Afghan government. But their line has grown less tenable as the insurgency has expanded rapidly in the west and north of the country, where Germany leads the regional command and provides a majority of the troops.

The Germans may not have gone to war, but now the war has come to them.

In part, NATO and German officials say, that is evidence of the political astuteness of Taliban and Qaeda leaders, who are aware of the opposition in Germany to the war. They hope to exploit it and force the withdrawal of German soldiers — splintering the NATO alliance in the process — through attacks on German personnel in Afghanistan and through video and audio threats of terrorist attacks on the home front before the German elections last month.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior American and allied commander in Afghanistan, is pressing NATO allies to contribute more troops to the war effort, even as countries like the Netherlands and Canada have begun discussing plans to pull out. Germany has held out against pleas for additional troops so far.

Ties between Germany and the United States were strained last month over a German-ordered bombing of two hijacked tanker trucks, which killed civilians as well as Taliban. Many Germans, from top politicians down to enlisted men, thought that General McChrystal was too swift to condemn the strike before a complete investigation.

Germany’s combat troops are caught in the middle. In interviews last week, soldiers from the Third Company, Mechanized Infantry Battalion 391, said they were understaffed for the increasingly complex mission here. Two men from the company were killed in June, among 36 German soldiers who have died in the Afghan war.

The soldiers expressed frustration over the second-guessing of the airstrike not only by allies, but also by their own politicians, and over the absence of support back home.

While the intensity of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan’s south has received most attention, the situation in the Germans’ part of the north has deteriorated rapidly. Soldiers said that just a year ago they could patrol in unarmored vehicles. Now there are places where they cannot move even in armored vehicles without an entire company of soldiers.

American officials have argued that an emphasis on reconstruction, peacekeeping and the avoidance of violence may have given the Taliban a foothold to return to the north.

German officers here said they had adjusted their tactics accordingly, often engaging the Taliban in firefights for hours with close air support. In July, 300 German soldiers joined the Afghan Army and National Police in an operation in Kunduz Province that killed more than 20 Taliban fighters and led to the arrests of half a dozen more.

The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called the operation “a fundamental transition out of the defensive and into the offensive.”

Germany’s military actions are controlled by a parliamentary mandate, which is up for renewal in December. The German contingent has unarmed drones and Tornado fighter jets, which are restricted to reconnaissance and are not allowed to conduct offensive operations.

German soldiers usually stay in Afghanistan for just four months, which can make it difficult to maintain continuity with their Afghan partners. The mandate also caps the number of troops in the country at 4,500.

A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, called the mandate “a political straitjacket.”

A company of German paratroopers in the district of Chahar Darreh, where insurgent activity is particularly pronounced, fought off a series of attacks and stayed in the area, patrolling on foot and meeting with local elders for eight days and seven nights.

“The longer we were out there, the better the local population responded to us,” said Capt. Thomas K., the company’s commander. Another company relieved them for three days but then abandoned the position, where intelligence said that a bomb was waiting for the next group of German soldiers.

“Since we were there, no other company has been back,” the captain said.

Stefan Pauly contributed reporting from Berlin.
27960  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq on: October 27, 2009, 08:39:16 AM
The surge is now history.  It, coupled with other events, was effective.  But it is now history.  Water under the bridge.  Irrelevant to the moment.
 
I believe when the USA leaves for good, the civil war will be on like DonkeyKong.
27961  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US Support for Israel strong on: October 26, 2009, 11:14:16 PM
Survey: US support for Israel strong
Oct. 26, 2009
JPost.com Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST

The American people's strong support for Israel remains constant and their support for action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power has substantially increased, according to a new nationwide survey released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Monday.

The survey's findings demonstrate that Americans recognize Israel as a strong and loyal US ally, are skeptical about "peace dividends" that would be realized by Israel stopping all settlement construction and believe that a Palestinian state must not be established until the Palestinians demonstrate a commitment to end violence and accept Israel's legitimacy.

The 2009 Survey of American Attitudes on Israel, The Palestinians and Prospects for Peace in the Middle East, a national telephone survey of 1,200 American adults, was conducted September 26-October 4, 2009 by Marttila Communications of Washington, D.C. and Boston.

"This latest survey of the American people, coming at a time of a full range of challenging issues facing Israel and the region demonstrates anew the breadth and depth of American public support for Israel from a variety of perspectives," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "Americans see Israel as a loyal ally to the US, as being very serious about wanting to achieve peace with the Palestinians and as deserving the sympathy of the American people in the conflict with the Palestinians."

Foxman also noted a changing dynamic regarding Iran and the nuclear issue. "The significant increase in Americans viewing Iran as a threat and supporting, if nothing else works, US or Israeli military options against Iran, reflect a new and needed sense of urgency about the issue in light of Iran's oppressive policies and the discovery of a secret Iranian nuclear plant," he said. "This is the first time a majority of Americans - 54 percent - support such an option for the US"

Some two thirds of Americans consider Israel a strong and loyal US ally, as previous surveys showed. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 64% believe that Israel is serious about achieving peace with the Palestinians, with three-to-one respondents expressing more sympathy with Israel than the Palestinians, when asked to choose a side. Support for US involvement in the peace process rose by nine percentage points to 39% since 2007, but 48% believe the two sides must ultimately solve their own problems.

With recent US efforts to freeze Israeli settlement activity, 53% of those questioned believe that even if Israel halts all construction Arab leaders will continue to refuse Israel's right to exist. Some 61% believe that the conflict will continue for years with 51% claiming that Palestinian divisions are an obstacle to peace and 56% saying no Palestinian state should be established until Palestinians cease violence and accept Israel's legitimacy.

Concerning the question of the Iranian threat, 63% of the respondents consider Iran an immediate or short-term security threat to the Middle East compared to 50% in 2007. There has also been significant gain in those who would support either Israel or the US using military action to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, with 57% of Americans supporting an Israeli hit, up from 42% in 2007, and 54% supporting a US campaign, up from 47% in 2007.
27962  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / One doubts the President would approve , , , on: October 26, 2009, 07:07:39 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UO4cw565V98
27963  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: BO's friends and appointments on: October 26, 2009, 04:12:19 PM
Second post of the day:

The hit parade of charming folks just keeps rolling along:

Bill Wilson: Why did Obama appoint Craig Becker to the NLRB?
By: Bill Wilson
OpEd Contributor
October 22, 2009
Last year, in the midst of campaign season, the Democrats promised the American people a new era of transparency in how the government makes decisions. Based on recent conduct of the U.S. Senate, the public could be forgiven for believing that these promises were never intended to be kept.

This past Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions met in an executive session to consider President Obama's nominees to various positions dealing with labor and employment issues. Among those considered were the nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB).

Rather than hold public hearings on the qualifications of the nominees, the committee barred the public when they cast their votes. No testimony was allowed. Nor was any chance for public cross-examination.

The committee's members just showed up behind closed door for a quick up and down vote. Even worse, two of the three NLRB nominees were approved by the Committee on a voice vote.

The third, Craig Becker, received a roll call vote, but only after Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, demanded a hearing and roll call vote. The request for a hearing was denied.

Unfortunately, in Becker's case, significant issues in his background merit careful inspection. Becker is a longtime union activist who has spent considerable time and energy fighting to reduce union members' rights in order to give union management more control over workers. He has even argued that workers should not have the right to decide to not have a union.

His current employers, two large unions, where he serves as associate general counsel, are engaged in a colossal attempt to strip even more rights away from workers, through their support for the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, which would abolish the secret ballot in workplace representation elections.

Becker's strong advocacy against union workers and in favor of imposed unionization raises serious questions as to whether he can be neutral when deciding union cases. Adjudicating these cases comprises a significant part of the NRLB's duties.

Ironically, Becker acknowledged in a 1993 law review article that elections are the best way to handle unionization issues. Yet, outside of academia, he has advocated the opposite.

In that article, Becker stated: "In the face of bitter antagonism to its incipient efforts to impose a system of representation on industry, the Board [NLRB] shifted course and resorted exclusively to the most unimpeachable democratic instrument -- the election."

Elections being the most unimpeachable democratic instrument, then why not continue to use them instead of imposing the card-check system which has the considerable potential for abuse and fraud?

Questions like this demand answers. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats turned their back on transparency and openness, probably because they don't want the hard questions explored.

Some solace can be found knowing that at least one member of the committee tried to bring Becker's background into the light for public inspection. But his nomination was approved by the committee regardless.

Becker is not the type of government leader we need. The issues in his background require serious scrutiny in a full, fair, and open public hearing. Denying the public the opportunity to observe this scrutiny was not the proper course of action. And for that reason among many, Becker's nomination should not be approved should it reach the full Senate.

The Senate should conduct its work in public for all to see and should not resort to executive meetings to move nominees forward behind the public's back. So much for openness in government. So much for campaign promises gone awry.

 

 

 

Bill Wilson is president of Americans for Limited Government.
 

 
 
 
 

 
Find this article at:
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/OpEd-Contributor/Why-did-Obama-appoint-Gary-Becker-to-the-NLRB_-8420449-65299607.html 
27964  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Spring 2010 DB Tribal Gathering on: October 26, 2009, 04:01:44 PM
I'm thinking two days, just like this past April.

Night Owl is on Night Owl time.  wink
27965  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty's momentary ruminations on: October 26, 2009, 04:00:04 PM
Good point!

"Squat-sitting" is one of the primal human positions, yet has become completely alien to modern man.  Just watch modern man try to defecate in nature-- let alone hang out in this position the way normal people can and do. 
27966  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: October 26, 2009, 03:50:18 PM
Russia, Iran and the Biden Speech
By George Friedman and Peter Zeihan

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden toured several countries in Central Europe last week, including the Czech Republic and Poland. The trip comes just a few weeks after the United States reversed course and decided not to construct a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in those two countries. While the system would have had little effect on the national security of either Poland or the Czech Republic, it was taken as a symbol of U.S. commitment to these two countries and to former Soviet satellites generally. The BMD cancellation accordingly caused intense concern in both countries and the rest of the region.

While the Obama administration strongly denied that the decision to halt the BMD deployment and opt for a different BMD system had anything to do with the Russians, the timing raised some questions. Formal talks with Iran on nuclear weapons were a few weeks away, and the only leverage the United States had in those talks aside from war was sanctions. The core of any effective sanctions against Iran would be placing limits on Iran's gasoline imports. By dint of proximity to Iran and massive spare refining capability, the Russians were essential to this effort -- and they were indicating that they wouldn't participate. Coincidence or not, the decision to pull BMD from Poland and the Czech Republic did give the Russians something they had been demanding at a time when they clearly needed to be brought on board.

The Biden Challenge

That's what made Biden's trip interesting. First, just a few weeks after the reversal, he revisited these countries. He reasserted American commitment to their security and promised the delivery of other weapons such as Patriot missile batteries, an impressive piece of hardware that really does enhance regional security (unlike BMD, which would grant only an indirect boost). Then, Biden went even further in Romania, not only extending his guarantees to the rest of Central Europe, but also challenging the Russians directly. He said that the United States regarded spheres of influence as 19th century thinking, thereby driving home that Washington is not prepared to accept Russian hegemony in the former Soviet Union (FSU). Most important, he called on the former satellites of the Soviet Union to assist republics in the FSU that are not part of the Russian Federation to overthrow authoritarian systems and preserve their independence.

Related Link
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on America, Central Europe, and Partnership in 21st Century
(STRATFOR is not responsible for content from other Web sites.)
This was a carefully written and vetted speech: It was not Biden going off on a tangent, but rather an expression of Obama administration policy. And it taps into the prime Russian fear, namely, that the West will eat away at Russia's western periphery -- and at Russia itself -- with color revolutions that result in the installation of pro-Western governments, just as happened in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004-2005. The United States essentially now has pledged itself to do just that, and has asked the rest of Central Europe to join it in creating and strengthening pro-Western governments in the FSU. After doing something Russia wanted the United States to do, Washington now has turned around and announced a policy that directly challenges Russia, and which in some ways represents Russia's worst-case scenario.

What happened between the decision to pull BMD and Biden's Romania speech remains unclear, but there are three possibilities. The first possibility is that the Obama administration decided to shift policy on Russia in disappointment over Moscow's lack of response to the BMD overture. The second possibility is that the Obama administration didn't consider the effects of the BMD reversal. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the one had nothing to do with the other, and it is possible that the Obama administration simply failed to anticipate the firestorm the course reversal would kick off in Central Europe and to anticipate that it would be seen as a conciliatory gesture to the Russians, and then had to scramble to calm the waters and reassert the basic American position on Russia, perhaps more harshly than before. The third possibility, a variation on the second scenario, is that the administration might not yet have a coordinated policy on Russia. Instead, it responds to whatever the most recent pressure happens to be, giving the appearance of lurching policy shifts.

The why of Washington decision-making is always interesting, but the fact of what has now happened is more pertinent. And that is that Washington now has challenged Moscow on the latter's core issues. However things got to that point, they are now there -- and the Russian issue now fully intersects with the Iranian issue. On a deeper level, Russia once again is shaping up to be a major challenge to U.S. national interests. Russia fears (accurately) that a leading goal of American foreign policy is to prevent the return of Russia as a major power. At present, however, the Americans lack the free hand needed to halt Russia's return to prominence as a result of commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Kremlin inner circle understands this divergence between goal and capacity all too well, and has been working to keep the Americans as busy as possible elsewhere.

Distracting Washington While Shoring Up Security
The core of this effort is Russian support for Iran. Moscow has long collaborated with Tehran on Iran's nuclear power generation efforts. Conventional Russian weapon systems are quite popular with the Iranian military. And Iran often makes use of Russian international diplomatic cover, especially at the U.N. Security Council, where Russia wields the all-important veto.

Russian support confounds Washington's ability to counter more direct Iranian action, whether that Iranian action be in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq or the Persian Gulf. The Obama administration would prefer to avoid war with Iran, and instead build an international coalition against Iran to force it to back down on any number of issues of which a potential nuclear weapons program is only the most public and obvious. But building that coalition is impossible with a Russia-sized hole right in the center of the system.

The end result is that the Americans have been occupied with the Islamic world for some time now, something that secretly delights the Russians. The Iranian distraction policy has worked fiendishly well: It has allowed the Russians to reshape their own neighborhood in ways that simply would not be possible if the Americans had more diplomatic and military freedom of action. At the beginning of 2009, the Russians saw three potential challenges to their long-term security that they sought to mitigate. As of this writing, they have not only succeeded, they have managed partially to co-opt all three threats.

First, there is Ukraine, which is tightly integrated into the Russian industrial and agricultural heartland. A strong Ukrainian-Russian partnership (if not outright control of Ukraine by Russia) is required to maintain even a sliver of Russian security. Five years ago, Western forces managed to short-circuit a Kremlin effort to firm up Russian control of the Ukrainian political system, resulting in the Orange Revolution that saw pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko take office. After five years of serious Russian diplomatic and intelligence work, Moscow has since managed not just to discredit Yushchenko -- he is now less popular in most opinion polls than the margin of error -- but to command the informal loyalty of every other candidate for president in the upcoming January 2010 election. Very soon, Ukraine's Western moment will formally be over.

Russia is also sewing up the Caucasus. The only country that could challenge Russia's southern flank is Turkey, and until now, the best Russian hedge against Turkish power has been an independent (although certainly still a Russian client) Armenia. (Turkish-Armenian relations have been frozen in the post-Cold War era over the contentious issue of the Armenian genocide.) A few months ago, Russia offered the Turks the opportunity to improve relations with Armenia. The Turks are emerging from 90 years of near-comatose international relations, and they jumped at the chance to strengthen their position in the Caucasus. But in the process, Turkey's relationship with its heretofore regional ally, Azerbaijan (Armenia's archfoe), has soured. Terrified that they are about to lose their regional sponsor, the Azerbaijanis have turned to the Russians to counterbalance Armenia, while the Russians still pull all Armenia's strings. The end result is that Turkey's position in the Caucasus is now far weaker than it was a few months ago, and Russia still retains the ability to easily sabotage any Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.

Even on the North European Plain, Russia has made great strides. The main power on that plain is the recently reunified Germany. Historically, Germany and Russia have been at each other's throats, but only when they have shared a direct border. When an independent Poland separates them, they have a number of opportunities for partnership, and 2009 has seen such opportunities seized. The Russians initially faced a challenge regarding German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel is from the former East Germany, giving her personal reasons to see the Russians as occupiers. Cracking this nut was never going to be easy for Moscow, yet it succeeded. During the 2009 financial crisis, when Russian firms were snapping like twigs, the Russian government still provided bailout money and merger financing to troubled German companies, with a rescue plan for Opel even helping Merkel clinch re-election. With the Kremlin now offering to midwife -- and in many cases directly subsidize -- investment efforts in Russia by German firms such as E.On, Wintershall, Siemens, Volkswagen and ThyssenKrupp, the Kremlin has quite literally purchased German goodwill.

Washington Seeks a Game Changer
With Russia making great strides in Eurasia while simultaneously sabotaging U.S. efforts in the Middle East, the Americans desperately need to change the game. Despite its fiery tone, this desperation was on full display in Biden's speech. Flat-out challenging the Central Europeans to help other FSU countries recreate the revolutions they launched when they broke with the Soviet empire in 1989, specifically calling for such efforts in Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia, is as bald-faced a challenge as the Americans are currently capable of delivering. And to ensure there was no confusion on the point, Biden also promised -- publicly -- whatever support the Central Europeans might ask for. The Americans have a serious need for the Russians to be on the defensive. Washington wants to force the Russians to focus on their own neighborhood, ideally forgetting about the Iranians in the process. Better yet, Washington would like to force the Russians into a long slog of defensive actions to protect their clients hard up on their own border. The Russians did not repair the damage of the Orange Revolution overnight, so imagine how much time Washington would have if all of the former Soviet satellites started stirring up trouble across Russia's western and southern periphery.

The Central Europeans do not require a great deal of motivation. If the Americans are concerned about a resurgent Russia, then the Central Europeans are absolutely terrified -- and that was before the Russians started courting Germany, the only regional state that could stand up to Russia by itself. Things are even worse for the Central Europeans than they seem, as much of their history has consisted of vainly attempting to outmaneuver Germany and Russia's alternating periods of war and partnership.

The question of why the United States is pushing this hard at the present time remains. Talks with the Iranians are under way; it is difficult to gauge how they are going. The conventional wisdom holds that the Iranians are simply playing for time before allowing the talks to sink. This would mean the Iranians don't feel terribly pressured by the threat of sanctions and don't take threats of attack very seriously. At least with regard to the sanctions, the Russians have everything to do with Iran's blase attitude. The American decision to threaten Russia might simply have been a last-ditch attempt to force Tehran's hand now that conciliation seems to have failed. It isn't likely to work, because for the time being Russia has the upper hand in the former Soviet Union, and the Americans and their allies -- motivated as they may be -- do not have the best cards to play.

The other explanation might be that the White House wanted to let Iran know that the Americans don't need Russia to deal with Iran. The threats to Russia might infuriate it, but the Kremlin is unlikely to feel much in the form of clear and present dangers. On the other hand, blasting the Russians the way Biden did might force the Iranians to reconsider their hand. After all, if the Americans are no longer thinking of the Russians as part of the solution, this indicates that the Americans are about to give up on diplomacy and sanctions. And that means the United States must choose between accepting an Iranian bomb or employing the military option.

And this leaves the international system with two outcomes. First, by publicly ending attempts to secure Russian help, Biden might be trying to get the Iranians to take American threats seriously. And second, by directly challenging the Russians on their home turf, the United States will be making the borderlands between Western Europe and Russia a very exciting place.
27967  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Volcker "used" on: October 26, 2009, 12:34:35 PM
Volcker: Bernanke Didn't Go Far Enough (chrismartenson)

Volcker wants to keep major commercial banks that enjoy federal-deposit guarantees away from big-time speculative trading. "They shouldn't be doing risky capital-market stuff," Volcker told NEWSWEEK before the Fed announcement. But, he adds, the president "obviously decided not to accept" his recommendations. Volcker says he was used as "some kind of symbol of responsibility and prudence" by the administration during the campaign, and now speaks to Obama only occasionally.
27968  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post on: October 26, 2009, 10:58:10 AM
The Foundation
"But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever." --John Adams

You can either support Democrat health care or the Constitution ... but not both

"At the heart of the American idea is the deep distrust and suspicion the founders of our nation had for government, distrust and suspicion not shared as much by today's Americans. Some of the founders' distrust is seen in our Constitution's language such as Congress shall not: abridge, infringe, deny, disparage, violate and deny. If the founders did not believe Congress would abuse our God-given rights, they would not have provided those protections. After all, one would not expect to find a Bill of Rights in Heaven; it would be an affront to God. Other founder distrust for government is found in the Constitution's separation of powers, checks and balances and the several anti-majoritarian provisions such as the Electoral College and the requirement that three-quarters of state legislatures ratify changes in the Constitution. The three branches of our federal government are no longer bound by the Constitution as the framers envisioned and what is worse is American ignorance and acceptance of such rogue behavior. Look at the current debate over government involvement in health, business bailouts and stimulus packages. The debate centers around questions as whether such involvement is a good idea or a bad idea and whether one program is more costly than another. Those questions are entirely irrelevant to what should be debated, namely: Is such government involvement in our lives permissible under the U.S. Constitution? That question is not part of the debate. The American people, along with our elected representatives, whether they're Republicans or Democrats, care less about what is and what is not permissible under our Constitution. They think Congress has the right to do anything upon which they can secure a majority vote, whether they have the constitutional or moral authority to do so or not." --George Mason economics professor Walter E. Williams

Liberty
"Can President Barack Obama and Congress enact legislation that orders Americans to buy broccoli? If so, where did they get that authority? What provision in the Constitution empowers the federal government to order an individual to buy a product he does not want? This is not a question about nutrition. It is not a question about whether broccoli is good for you or about the relative merits of broccoli versus other foods. It is a question about the constitutional limits on the power of the federal government. It is a question about freedom. Can President Obama and Congress enact legislation that orders Americans to buy health insurance? They might as well order Americans to buy broccoli. They have no legitimate authority to do either. Yet neither Obama nor the current leadership in Congress seems to care about the constitutional limits on their power. They are now attempting to exert authority over the lives of Americans in a way no president and Congress has done before. ... All versions of the health care bill under consideration in Congress would order Americans to buy health insurance. If any of these bills is enacted, the first thing it would accomplish is the amputation of a vital part of our Constitution, and the death of another measure of our liberty." --columnist Terence Jeffrey

Faith & Family
"Hard work and self-denial were part of our national character -- actually our Christian heritage. In recent years, the 'sound economic values' have eroded. ... But the problem, you see, is that values and the character they produce aren't divisible. People will not exercise restraint in their economic dealings while casting off restraints in their sexual and social ones. ... Or turn on the television. There, people are indulging every sexual desire in the midst of a consumerist paradise -- big homes, expensive cars and fashionable clothes. You can do anything you want. The 'Calvinist restraint' ... didn't preach chastity or thrift; rather it preached chastity and thrift. That's because it saw both as proceeding from a common source: the Christian understanding of man's nature and the purpose for which God created him. If you try to have the one without the other, you will get neither. Far from being obsolete, the old culture war is more relevant than ever. Restoring moral values across the board is essential to rescue a sagging economy as well as renew our nation's spirit." --author Chuck Colson


Culture
"Quick: when I say 'Matthew Shepard,' what do you think? A man killed because he was gay? Or just some poor sap in the wrong place at the wrong time? More on that in a minute. Hate crime legislation aimed at making it a federal crime to assault someone for being a homosexual passed the House last week, and could be on its way to becoming law. It sounds great, doesn't it? Who wouldn't be against a law that would prosecute someone for targeting another person based on bigotry and bias? What could be wrong with this scenario? Plenty. I'm all for prosecuting criminals for their acts, especially violent criminals. I'm pro-death penalty, if truth be told. I figure that if you deliberately take someone else's life, you should pay by forfeiting yours. Not very PC of me, but there you have it. However, it bothers me that individuals may soon be prosecuted for not just the crime, but the 'behind the scenes' thoughts that may have contributed to that crime. ... When we begin to prosecute for the thoughts behind the crime, we open a very wiggly can of worms that can't be shut again. ... Thanks to the pop culture myth that helped perpetrate the false reason for Matthew Shepard's senseless death, we could now all be facing regulations that resemble '1984' more than they do 'Land of the Free.' Is this really the direction in which we want to head?" --columnist Pam Meister

The Gipper
"Our party must be the party of the individual. It must not sell out the individual to cater to the group. No greater challenge faces our society today than ensuring that each one of us can maintain his dignity and his identity in an increasingly complex, centralized society. Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government competition with business ... frustrated minorities and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite. Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people. Any organization is in actuality only the lengthened shadow of its members. A political party is a mechanical structure created to further a cause. The cause, not the mechanism, brings and holds the members together. And our cause must be to rediscover, reassert and reapply America's spiritual heritage to our national affairs. Then with God's help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us." --Ronald Reagan

Opinion in Brief
"President Obama keeps roaring out deadlines like a lion -- only later to meow like a little kitty. Remember, for example, how he bellowed to cheering partisan crowds that he would close down the detainment facility at Guantanamo within a year? The clock ticks -- and Guantanamo isn't close to being shut down. It once was easy for candidate Obama to deplore George W. Bush's supposed gulag. Now it proves harder to decide between the bad choice of detaining non-uniformed terrorist combatants and the worse ones of letting them go, giving them civilian trials or deporting them to unwilling hosts. Going back further to September 2007, candidate Obama postured about Iraq that he wanted 'to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year -- now!' That 'now!' sure sounded macho. On Iraq, candidate Obama also railed that 'the American people have had enough of the shifting spin. We've had enough of extended deadlines for benchmarks that go unmet.' Talk about 'unmet' deadlines and 'spin'-- here we are in October 2009, and there are still 120,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The reason why Obama fudged on his promised deadline is that the surge in 2007 worked. American deaths plummeted. The theater is quiet. Iraqi democracy is still there after six years. Obama cannot quite admit these facts, but on the other hand he does not want to be responsible for undermining them. ... The list of what a melodramatic Obama threatens or promises to do and what he actually does is endless." --Hoover Institution historian Victor Davis Hanson


 

For the Record
"
  • n Thursday, the administration tried to make [the MSM] complicit in an actual boycott of Fox. The Treasury Department made available Ken Feinberg, the executive pay czar, for interviews with the White House 'pool' news organizations -- except Fox. The other networks admirably refused, saying they would not interview Feinberg unless Fox was permitted to as well. The administration backed down. This was an important defeat because there's a principle at stake here. While government can and should debate and criticize opposition voices, the current White House goes beyond that. It wants to delegitimize any significant dissent. The objective is no secret. White House aides openly told Politico that they're engaged in a deliberate campaign to marginalize and ostracize recalcitrants, from Fox to health insurers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There's nothing illegal about such search-and-destroy tactics. Nor unconstitutional. But our politics are defined not just by limits of legality or constitutionality. We have norms, Madisonian norms. [James] Madison argued that the safety of a great republic, its defense against tyranny, requires the contest between factions or interests. His insight was to understand 'the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties.' They would help guarantee liberty by checking and balancing and restraining each other -- and an otherwise imperious government. Factions should compete, but they should also recognize the legitimacy of other factions and, indeed, their necessity for a vigorous self-regulating democracy. Seeking to deliberately undermine, delegitimize and destroy is not Madisonian. It is Nixonian." --columnist Charles Krauthammer
27969  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: October 26, 2009, 10:53:42 AM
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 3: Rise of the Civiliki
October 26, 2009 | 1131 GMT
Summary
The global economic crisis has led the Kremlin to examine its decisions about running Russia's economy, financial sectors and businesses. A group of intellectuals including Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, called the civiliki, want to use the crisis as an opportunity to reform the Russian economy. The civiliki's plan will lead to increased investment and greater efficiency in the economy, but it will also trigger a fresh round of conflict between the Kremlin's two powerful political clans.

Editor's Note: This is part three in a five-part series examining the Russian political clans and the coming conflict between them.
 
In the aftermath of the global economic crisis, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has had to step back and examine the Kremlin's decisions on running the country's economy, financial sectors and businesses and the effects of a state-controlled system on investment, growth and the freedom of capital. In response, a group of Russian intellectuals called the civiliki, who are trained in economics, law and finance, have presented proposals on "fixing" the economy. The civiliki (a play on words, since the Federal Security Service and other members of the security class in Russia are called the siloviki) is a new group of economically liberal-minded (by Russian standards) politicians and businessmen. This group includes Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin (who is also a deputy prime minister), Sberbank chief German Gref and many more.

The civiliki are not ideologues like the liberal Russian reformers of the 1990s and understand that the Russian economy and institutions must maintain some sense of balance with national security and national interests. But the civiliki also see how much damage the siloviki's control of key power structures and businesses has done to the Russian economy.

The civiliki's plan has one main goal in mind: to implement real structural reform in Russia's major economic sectors. This will improve competition, attract investment and purge waste and mismanagement. The plan has three parts -- purge the non-business-minded siloviki from positions of economic responsibility, introduce new pro-investment laws and partially liberalize the economy. It is an incredibly ambitious plan that would reverse laws designed by the FSB and Putin over the past six years. But the reforms are being spearheaded by the one man Putin trusts on all finance and economic issues: the civiliki's Kudrin.

Related Links
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series Introduction): The War Begins
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 1: The Crash
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 2: The Combatants
Kudrin is an experienced official, being one of the very few to make the transition from the Yeltsin era to Putin's Russia and having held a prominent position in every one of Putin's governments. The reason for his longevity at the Kremlin is simple: Rather than playing politics (to the extent usually seen in Russia) he is a technocrat who makes decisions based largely on the economic facts. His numbers-oriented mind, apolitical nature and competency as a manager are at least as important to Russia's relative financial stability as the strong energy prices of the past decade. Because of this, Putin values Kudrin's counsel greatly. Kudrin has also been an important buffer between Deputy Chief of Staff and First Aide to Vladimir Putin Vladislav Surkov and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the heads of the Kremlin's opposing clans -- until now.


Kudrin's Plan
Part 1: Purging the Siloviki
The most controversial part of Kudrin's plan is to purge the siloviki from positions of control over businesses and economic institutions. The siloviki clan, run by Sechin, took command of most of the Russian state firms over the past six years, and has -- by Kudrin's technocratic reckoning -- run them poorly. The siloviki run firms including oil giant Rosneft, rail monopoly Russian Railways, Russian airline Aeroflot, nuclear energy company Rosatom and arms exporter Rosoboronexport. The issue is that the siloviki have placed former KGB agents as heads of industry and businesses though many have no expertise as businessmen. According to Kudrin, it was largely Sechin's clan that sought access to international credit before the global economic crisis hit. Some $500 billion flowed into Russia via such connections, flooding the Russian financial sector with foreign capital. Sechin's clan spent the money as if it were free, often on irrational mergers and acquisitions that increased the clan's political power but had little economic purpose.

When the global recession occurred, all those funding sources dried up in a matter of weeks. And as the ruble declined, all of those loans still required repayment -- in the then-appreciated U.S. dollars, euros and Swiss francs. Consequently, the Russian economy suffered a contraction worse than any other major state in the world. The Kremlin was forced to bail out many firms, particularly those linked to Sechin's clan, to prevent a broader collapse. As part of the efforts to contain the crisis, the Kremlin also spent more than $200 billion on slowing the depreciation of the ruble so that the loans taken out by corporations and banks did not appreciate so much that they would not be repayable. From Kudrin's perspective, this was a huge cost to save companies whose managers had no business being in business.

Kudrin's plan is to weed out the security-minded officials now occupying leadership positions in industry and business, leaving only those who can actually run their institutions properly. But in doing this, Kudrin would strip Sechin's clan of massive economic and financial clout --something the siloviki would not stand for.

Part 2: Making Russia Investor-Friendly
Next, Kudrin's plan calls for legal changes that would make Russia more attractive to investors. One of the issues investors have with Russia is that there is very little legal protection, which leaves them highly vulnerable to hostile takeovers and becoming a target for the Kremlin or its power players. Moreover, the few legal authorities that do exist -- like the Federal Tax Service or the Audit Chamber -- often are tools for the Kremlin to help it pressure Russian and foreign firms that the government wants to either destroy or devour. The best-known case of this is the story of Yukos, whose owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky had evolved from businessman to ruler of Russia's vast oil sector and aspiring politician -- much to the Kremlin's ire. In 2004, the government brought the full power of a reinvigorated state to bear against Khodorkovsky and sent him to a Siberian prison. Other examples are of the Kremlin targeting energy assets belonging to foreign firms like BP and Royal Dutch/Shell to give those assets and/or control over projects to state-controlled energy firms.

In theory, the new investors' rights laws would protect businessmen and investors in Russia. The country has never had sound laws protecting investors' rights. However, it is most likely that any new laws will leave the state plenty of wiggle room to ensure that the Kremlin has significant control over investors' actions.

The next step to creating an investor-friendly Russia, according to Kudrin's plan, is to repeal the strict energy cap laws Putin put in place in 2007. These laws affect strategic industries and clarify which assets would be off-limits to foreigners. The sector affected most by these laws was energy. The laws limit foreign firms' ability to own more than 40 percent of a project in the country and forbid foreign firms from owning any projects involving the subsoil. These laws have made Russia an unattractive environment for foreign businesses to maintain or expand investments in energy projects, even though Russia is one of the world's most energy-rich countries.

But Kudrin's plan involves more than repealing the energy laws and allowing foreign firms to rush back in. There is a political side to the plan, masterminded by Surkov. The changes in Russian energy laws will allow foreign companies to own up to a 50 percent stake in projects, but if a foreign firm wants majority control then it must "trade" assets outside of Russia with one of the Russian energy behemoths. In essence, Russia will allow foreign companies to own majority stakes in large projects like the new fields on the Yamal peninsula in exchange for downstream projects in those companies' own countries. The goal is for Russian energy companies to not only move more into the downstream sector, but also have greater access to international markets -- something the Kremlin can use later for political purposes. STRATFOR sources say deals like this are already being negotiated with firms like BP, France's Total and EDF Trading, and U.S.-based ExxonMobil.

Part 3: Reprivatization
The last part of Kudrin's plan is to reprivatize the vast number of companies the Kremlin has taken over in the last few years. Under Putin, the Russian state once again became the main driver of economic activity. Upon becoming leader of Russia in 1999, Putin set a goal to reverse the massive privatization that occurred during the 1990s -- like the housing and voucher privatizations and loans-for-shares schemes -- that, in most Russians' eyes, wrecked the country. Putin wanted to put the Kremlin back in control by consolidating its power over a slew of economic sectors, including energy, banking and defense. As of this year, the Russian state and regional authorities own approximately 50 percent of Russian businesses, according to Kudrin.

In the short term, Russian state control over strategic sectors made sense. It pushed out forces that were not too friendly with the Kremlin, like the oligarchs and foreign groups. But it also allowed the state to marshal its financial resources toward certain key domestic and foreign policy goals. Russian economic consolidation under the state brought about a stability that most Russians had longed for after the 1990s.

However, in the long term, the lack of non-state funding and private capital has become a problem, creating inefficiencies across the board -- particularly in areas where the state does not focus a great deal of its resources. Russia is traditionally capital-poor; therefore, any major economic overhaul needs to include the creation of an investment-friendly climate. The financial crisis made this clear; when the state took on the burdens of the failing private sector, it swallowed more businesses and industries but also took on their debt and need for cash.

Kudrin's plan is for the state to step back and start reprivatizing some 5,500 firms over the next three years -- which would drop state ownership in Russian firms by approximately 20 percent. The goal is to abandon some of the companies currently draining the government's coffers, but this step will also generate cash through the sales needed for the government to plug 2010's estimated budget deficit. Kudrin also believes that once the government starts to reduce its stake in companies, a more competitive environment will form in the Russian economy, allowing it to become more diversified.

Kudrin wants to ensure that the next reprivatization looks nothing like the feeding frenzy of the 1990s. In the minds of the civiliki, the failures of the 1990s were caused not only by investor greed but also by the state's failure to create a rational environment for privatization. The Russian state in 2009 is much stronger than it was in the 1990s, so Kudrin believes that the new round of privatization would be controllable, and the fact that the Kremlin would know who would gain control of each company would keep anyone hostile to Russian (read: Kremlin) interests out. The last thing Kudrin wants is a new generation of oligarchs.

Kudrin's plan would start with selling the state's stakes in companies purchased during the financial crisis, such as telecommunications giant Rostelecom and a series of banks, including Globex, Svyaz and Sobinbank. After that, the civiliki would like to consider companies such as oil giant Rosneft, banking giant Sberbank and railway monopoly Russian Railways for privatization -- a rather bold move since many of these companies are run by the siloviki.

In Putin's mind, the state consolidated the economy during Russia's identity crisis in the 1990s. Certain people, groups, influences and companies needed to be purged, in his opinion. Now that this has been completed, the government can step back and, in a highly controlled manner, start to reprivatize businesses. Putin is starting to believe that this is all just a cycle.

Easier Said Than Done
Kudrin and the other civiliki's plans are a technocratic approach to a crisis that has been long in the making in Russia but was exacerbated by the global financial crisis. The civiliki's plans have very specific economic goals in mind, leaving out power politics. The plan is actually not a new one, but it is one that the siloviki have continually sidelined over the years as they placed national interests above economic reform. The civiliki have also never been powerful enough by themselves (even with one of their own as president of the country) to push through any of their reforms.

What the civiliki needed was for one of the truly powerful clan leaders in Russia to stand behind their reforms. Fortunately for Kudrin and the civiliki, one such leader -- Surkov, who serves as Medvedev's deputy chief of staff and first aide to Putin -- has done just that. However, Surkov is not interested in Kudrin's plan in order to reform the Russian economy. He sees the plan as something that will help him eliminate his rivals and consolidate his power.

27970  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Hudson: on: October 26, 2009, 10:52:30 AM
The Church of England has survived the Spanish Armada, the English Civil War and Elton John performing “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Diana’s Westminster Abbey funeral. So it will probably survive the note the Vatican issued last week, inviting disaffected Anglicans to head Romeward, and offering them an Anglo-Catholic mansion within the walls of the Roman Catholic faith.

But the invitation is a bombshell nonetheless. Pope Benedict XVI’s outreach to Anglicans may produce only a few conversions; it may produce a few million. Either way, it represents an unusual effort at targeted proselytism, remarkable both for its concessions to potential converts — married priests, a self-contained institutional structure, an Anglican rite — and for its indifference to the wishes of the Church of England’s leadership.

This is not the way well-mannered modern churches are supposed to behave. Spurred by the optimism of the early 1960s, the major denominations of Western Christendom have spent half a century being exquisitely polite to one another, setting aside a history of strife in the name of greater Christian unity.

This ecumenical era has borne real theological fruit, especially on issues that divided Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. But what began as a daring experiment has decayed into bureaucratized complacency — a dull round of interdenominational statements on global warming and Third World debt, only tenuously connected to the Gospel.

At the same time, the more ecumenically minded denominations have lost believers to more assertive faiths — Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, Mormonism and even Islam — or seen them drift into agnosticism and apathy.

Nobody is more aware of this erosion than Benedict. So the pope is going back to basics — touting the particular witness of Catholicism even when he’s addressing universal subjects, and seeking converts more than common ground.

Along the way, he’s courting both ends of the theological spectrum. In his encyclicals, Benedict has addressed a range of issues — social justice, environmental protection, even erotic love — that are close to the hearts of secular liberals and lukewarm, progressive-minded Christians. But instead of stopping at a place of broad agreement, he has pushed further, trying to persuade his more liberal readers that many of their beliefs actually depend on the West’s Catholic heritage, and make sense only when grounded in a serious religious faith.

At the same time, the pope has systematically lowered the barriers for conservative Christians hovering on the threshold of the church, unsure whether to slip inside. This was the purpose behind his controversial outreach to schismatic Latin Mass Catholics, and it explains the current opening to Anglicans.

Many Anglicans will never become Catholic; their theology is too evangelical, their suspicion of papal authority too ingrained, their objections to the veneration of the Virgin Mary too deeply felt. But for those who could, Benedict is trying to make reunion with Rome a flesh-and-blood possibility, rather than a matter for academic conversation.

The news media have portrayed this rightward outreach largely through the lens of culture-war politics — as an attempt to consolidate, inside the Catholic tent, anyone who joins the Vatican in rejecting female priests and gay marriage.

But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.

Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.

Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.

By contrast, the Church of England’s leadership has opted for conciliation (some would say appeasement), with the Archbishop of Canterbury going so far as to speculate about the inevitability of some kind of sharia law in Britain.

There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.

This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.
27971  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Spring 2010 DB Tribal Gathering on: October 26, 2009, 10:10:14 AM
May 2 is also getting a strong response on the DBMA Assn forum, but it does not work for Guide Dog so lets also think about the last weekend of April.
27972  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty on: October 26, 2009, 10:08:29 AM
Banks around the world have been battered in the past year, but most have not responded by turning over control of their businesses to their borrowers. Yet this is what creditors at the International Monetary Fund moved closer to doing at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh last month. We understand why fund borrowers want more power, but why would creditor nations, especially Uncle Sam, cede it?

The terms "debtor" and "creditor" may seem foreign to anyone who reads IMF press releases for the first time. The fund prefers the terms "emerging and developing markets" to describe countries that traditionally borrow hard currency, and "advanced countries" to describe those that provide it. But there's no getting around the reality that only a fraction of the IMF's 186 members are long-term creditors.

That became clear earlier this year when the G-20 passed the hat to collect $500 billion for a lending facility known as "new arrangements to borrow." Major emerging countries led by Brazil quickly made clear they would only contribute if the fund issued short-term bonds that could be traded in the secondary market. In other words, no long-term commitments from them.

Creditor countries have always enjoyed more voting power at the fund because without them there would be no reliable pool of money. But several years ago borrower nations, led by members from Asia and Latin America, began clamoring for a greater voice in fund decisions. They argued that since their economies have grown and now represent a larger share of total global GDP, a "democratic" IMF ought to give them a greater share of voting rights.

Creditors might have replied that the fund is not a democracy and that anyone who wants more votes can get them by ponying up more real money. Instead, in 2008 the board approved a 5% shift in voting rights from what it called "over-represented" creditors to "under-represented" countries. Among the biggest beneficiaries of the 2008 change, once it is ratified, will be China, Korea, India, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Singapore and Turkey. The eight biggest losers will be the U.K., France, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Russia, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

Now the debtors want still more power, and the creditors, led by the U.S. Treasury, are ready to yield. The Pittsburgh G-20 communique states that there will be another "shift in quota share to dynamic emerging market and developing countries of at least five percent from over-represented to under-represented countries." Why "at least?" Because the likes of Brazil and China are lobbying for a 7% shift in votes. Europe, which has the most to lose, opposes this change.

A spokesman for the fund tells us that the March 2008 voting shift increased the vote share held by emerging and developing countries to 42.1%. That means that if the new 7% solution prevails, emerging countries will have close to a majority. So politicians in Beijing and Brasilia would have more sway over how U.S. taxpayer contributions are spent.

Perhaps only Barney Frank has benefitted more from the financial crisis than the IMF has. Searching for revenue and without a mission in 2008, it has tripled its resources since the panic began and is now bidding to police the world's economic policies. Given its record of recommending tax increases and currency devaluation, this is not a road to prosperity.

At least the IMF of yore could be counted on to support Western geopolitical interests. If the IMF is going to turn into something like a bank for the United Nations, with the debtors running the joint, U.S. taxpayers should stop being asked to pay for it.
27973  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Adams: National Morality on: October 26, 2009, 08:55:05 AM
"The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families. ... How is it possible that Children can have any just Sense of the sacred Obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest Infancy, they learn their Mothers live in habitual Infidelity to their fathers, and their fathers in as constant Infidelity to their Mothers?" --John Adams, Diary, 1778
27974  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / BO's declaration of emergency on: October 25, 2009, 11:37:32 PM
Obama declares H1N1 national emergency

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama has declared a national emergency to deal with the "rapid increase in illness" from the H1N1 influenza virus.

"The 2009 H1N1 pandemic continues to evolve. The rates of illness continue to rise rapidly within many communities across the nation, and the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities," Obama said in a statement.

"Thus, in recognition of the continuing progression of the pandemic, and in further preparation as a nation, we are taking additional steps to facilitate our response."

The president signed the declaration late Friday and announced it Saturday.

Calling the emergency declaration "an important tool in our kit going forward," one administration official called Obama's action a "proactive measure that's not in response to any new development." Having trouble finding vaccine? Share your story

Another administration official said the move is "not tied to the current case count" and "gives the federal government more power to help states" by lifting bureaucratic requirements -- both in treating patients and moving equipment to where it's most needed.

The officials didn't want their names used because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Obama's action allows Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "to temporarily waive or modify certain requirements" to help health care facilities enact emergency plans to deal with the pandemic.

Those requirements are contained in Medicare, Medicaid and state Children's Health Insurance programs, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy rule.

Since the H1N1 flu pandemic began in April, millions of people in the United States have been infected, at least 20,000 have been hospitalized and more than 1,000 have died, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Watch how to find out if you have H1N1

Frieden said that having 46 states reporting widespread flu transmission is traditionally the hallmark of the peak of flu season. To have the flu season peak at this time of the year is "extremely unusual."

The CDC said 16.1 million doses of H1N1, or swine flu, vaccine had been made by Friday -- 2 million more than two days earlier. About 11.3 million of those had been distributed throughout the United States, Frieden said.

"We are nowhere near where we thought we would be," Frieden said, acknowledging that manufacturing delays have contributed to less vaccine being available than expected. "As public health professionals, vaccination is our strongest tool. Not having enough is frustrating to all of us."

Frieden said that while the way vaccine is manufactured is "tried and true," it's not well-suited for ramping up production during a pandemic because it takes at least six months. The vaccine is produced by growing weakened virus in eggs.

----

What does this have to do with firearms politics you ask? well, many in the U.S(mostly conspiracy buffs) believe there are more sinister plans involved.

The first and biggest question being asked is what emergency?

The declaration of this national emergency seems suspicious from the start. Where’s the emergency? The number of people killed by swine flu in the United States is far smaller than the number of people killed each year from seasonal flu, according to CDC statistics. People obviously aren’t dropping dead by the millions from H1N1 influenza. Most people are just getting mild flu symptoms and a few days later they’re fine.

So what does this mean for Americans? The decleration of a national emergency means the government trumphs the bill of rights. They now, by decleration of this emergency, have the power to:

•The power to force mandatory swine flu vaccinations on the entire population.

• The power to arrest, quarantine or “involuntarily transport” anyone who refuses a swine flu vaccination.

• The power to quarantine an entire city and halt all travel in or out of that city.

• The power to enter any home or office without a search warrant and order the destruction of any belongings or structures deemed to be a threat to public health.

• The effective nullification of the Bill of Rights. Your right to due process, to being safe from government search and seizure, and to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination are all null and void under a Presidential declaration of a national emergency.

None of this means that federal agents are going to march door to door arresting people at gunpoint if they refuse the vaccine, but they could if they wanted to. Your rights are no longer recognized under this national emergency declaration.

 
 
 
27975  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: OPERACION PANDEMIA on: October 25, 2009, 11:33:10 PM
Disculpe que lo siguiente sea en ingles:

Obama declares H1N1 national emergency

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama has declared a national emergency to deal with the "rapid increase in illness" from the H1N1 influenza virus.

"The 2009 H1N1 pandemic continues to evolve. The rates of illness continue to rise rapidly within many communities across the nation, and the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities," Obama said in a statement.

"Thus, in recognition of the continuing progression of the pandemic, and in further preparation as a nation, we are taking additional steps to facilitate our response."

The president signed the declaration late Friday and announced it Saturday.

Calling the emergency declaration "an important tool in our kit going forward," one administration official called Obama's action a "proactive measure that's not in response to any new development." Having trouble finding vaccine? Share your story

Another administration official said the move is "not tied to the current case count" and "gives the federal government more power to help states" by lifting bureaucratic requirements -- both in treating patients and moving equipment to where it's most needed.

The officials didn't want their names used because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Obama's action allows Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "to temporarily waive or modify certain requirements" to help health care facilities enact emergency plans to deal with the pandemic.

Those requirements are contained in Medicare, Medicaid and state Children's Health Insurance programs, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy rule.

Since the H1N1 flu pandemic began in April, millions of people in the United States have been infected, at least 20,000 have been hospitalized and more than 1,000 have died, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Watch how to find out if you have H1N1

Frieden said that having 46 states reporting widespread flu transmission is traditionally the hallmark of the peak of flu season. To have the flu season peak at this time of the year is "extremely unusual."

The CDC said 16.1 million doses of H1N1, or swine flu, vaccine had been made by Friday -- 2 million more than two days earlier. About 11.3 million of those had been distributed throughout the United States, Frieden said.

"We are nowhere near where we thought we would be," Frieden said, acknowledging that manufacturing delays have contributed to less vaccine being available than expected. "As public health professionals, vaccination is our strongest tool. Not having enough is frustrating to all of us."

Frieden said that while the way vaccine is manufactured is "tried and true," it's not well-suited for ramping up production during a pandemic because it takes at least six months. The vaccine is produced by growing weakened virus in eggs.

----

What does this have to do with firearms politics you ask? well, many in the U.S(mostly conspiracy buffs) believe there are more sinister plans involved.

The first and biggest question being asked is what emergency?

The declaration of this national emergency seems suspicious from the start. Where’s the emergency? The number of people killed by swine flu in the United States is far smaller than the number of people killed each year from seasonal flu, according to CDC statistics. People obviously aren’t dropping dead by the millions from H1N1 influenza. Most people are just getting mild flu symptoms and a few days later they’re fine.

So what does this mean for Americans? The decleration of a national emergency means the government trumphs the bill of rights. They now, by decleration of this emergency, have the power to:

•The power to force mandatory swine flu vaccinations on the entire population.

• The power to arrest, quarantine or “involuntarily transport” anyone who refuses a swine flu vaccination.

• The power to quarantine an entire city and halt all travel in or out of that city.

• The power to enter any home or office without a search warrant and order the destruction of any belongings or structures deemed to be a threat to public health.

• The effective nullification of the Bill of Rights. Your right to due process, to being safe from government search and seizure, and to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination are all null and void under a Presidential declaration of a national emergency.

None of this means that federal agents are going to march door to door arresting people at gunpoint if they refuse the vaccine, but they could if they wanted to. Your rights are no longer recognized under this national emergency declaration.

 
 
 
27976  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Barefooting on: October 25, 2009, 11:28:33 PM
Exactly so.

=====

At the most recent DB Gathering I was very impressed by dramatic improvement in Linda "Bitch" Matsumi's footwork-- particularly so in light of her broken ankle of a year or two ago.   I was intrigued by the "Vibram Five Finger" "barefooting shoes" she was wearing (google them). 

Now of course "barefooting shoes" is an oxymoron, but basically the idea is that the "shoe" is essentially nothing more than an additional layer of skin-- think of the Apaches as great distance runners wearing mocassins and you will have the idea.

As inferred above in my rumination on squatting, I have always intuitively gravitated to the barefooting concept and so inspired by Linda about two to three weeks ago I got my own VFFs (the RSO model) and absolutely love them.  My feet and calves are feeling much stronger, my hips roll much more fluidly, and my back feels better.

Today was the first time I did full bore sprints in them.   The circumstances were ideal for a first time test.  It was a lacrosse field (synthtetic grass over ground up rubber tires) and I was assisting my son's coach with the drills.  The first 30 minutes were working on scooping ground balls on the run catching passes while jogging/running.  Then it was time for some 2 on 2 attack-defense drills.  As the workout wound down I tested myself with a full on sprint the length of the field (a bit longer than a football field if I am not mistaken).    My speed felt both good and effortless.

I really like these VFFs.

PS:  For you single guys: They are outstanding for getting fun conversations started with women.   I have had several women notice the shoes and start animated converstions with me about them.  If I were not a happily married man, it would have been easy to score several phone numbers wink
27977  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: October 25, 2009, 03:18:15 PM
To quote myself  "I sense us drifting off point from the question presented-- the use of lucid views by persons who hold views on other subjects that we consider beyond the pale."

Folks, please let us address this point specifically with specific suggestions. 

27978  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Spring 2010 DB Tribal Gathering on: October 25, 2009, 03:14:15 PM
Woof All:

First things first, lets choose the date.

How about May 2?  This would return us to the tradition of the first Sunday of May.  Or sometime in April (what we have done the past two years).

"Higher consciousness through harder contact"(c)
Crafty Dog
GF of the DB
27979  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: October 25, 2009, 11:38:54 AM
So, investigative reporters are subject to discovery?!?
27980  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: UK Surveillance Society on: October 25, 2009, 09:48:48 AM
Ever-Present Surveillance Rankles the British Public

By SARAH LYALL
Published: October 24, 2009
POOLE, England — It has become commonplace to call Britain a “surveillance society,” a place where security cameras lurk at every corner, giant databases keep track of intimate personal details and the government has extraordinary powers to intrude into citizens’ lives.




A report in 2007 by the lobbying group Privacy International placed Britain in the bottom five countries for its record on privacy and surveillance, on a par with Singapore.
But the intrusions visited on Jenny Paton, a 40-year-old mother of three, were startling just the same. Suspecting Ms. Paton of falsifying her address to get her daughter into the neighborhood school, local officials here began a covert surveillance operation. They obtained her telephone billing records. And for more than three weeks in 2008, an officer from the Poole education department secretly followed her, noting on a log the movements of the “female and three children” and the “target vehicle” (that would be Ms. Paton, her daughters and their car).

It turned out that Ms. Paton had broken no rules. Her daughter was admitted to the school. But she has not let the matter rest. Her case, now scheduled to be heard by a regulatory tribunal, has become emblematic of the struggle between personal privacy and the ever more powerful state here.

The Poole Borough Council, which governs the area of Dorset where Ms. Paton lives with her partner and their children, says it has done nothing wrong.

In a way, that is true: under a law enacted in 2000 to regulate surveillance powers, it is legal for localities to follow residents secretly. Local governments regularly use these surveillance powers — which they “self-authorize,” without oversight from judges or law enforcement officers — to investigate malfeasance like illegally dumping industrial waste, loan-sharking and falsely claiming welfare benefits.

But they also use them to investigate reports of noise pollution and people who do not clean up their dogs’ waste. Local governments use them to catch people who fail to recycle, people who put their trash out too early, people who sell fireworks without licenses, people whose dogs bark too loudly and people who illegally operate taxicabs.

“Does our privacy mean anything?” Ms. Paton said in an interview. “I haven’t had a drink for 20 years, but there is nothing that has brought me closer to drinking than this case.”

The law in question is known as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, or RIPA, and it also gives 474 local governments and 318 agencies — including the Ambulance Service and the Charity Commission — powers once held by only a handful of law enforcement and security service organizations.

Under the law, the localities and agencies can film people with hidden cameras, trawl through communication traffic data like phone calls and Web site visits and enlist undercover “agents” to pose, for example, as teenagers who want to buy alcohol.

In a report this summer, Sir Christopher Rose, the chief surveillance commissioner, said that local governments conducted nearly 5,000 “directed surveillance missions” in the year ending in March and that other public authorities carried out roughly the same amount.

Local officials say that using covert surveillance is justified. The Poole Borough Council, for example, used it to detect and prosecute illegal fishing in Poole Harbor.

“RIPA is an essential tool for local authority enforcement which we make limited use of in cases where it is proportionate and there are no other means of gathering evidence,” Tim Martin, who is in charge of legal and democratic services for Poole, which is southwest of London, said in a statement.

The fuss over the law comes against a backdrop of widespread public worry about an increasingly intrusive state and the growing circulation of personal details in vast databases compiled by the government and private companies.

“Successive U.K. governments have gradually constructed one of the most extensive and technologically advanced surveillance systems in the world,” the House of Lords Constitution Committee said in a recent report. It continued: “The development of electronic surveillance and the collection and processing of personal information have become pervasive, routine and almost taken for granted.”

The Lords report pointed out that the government enacted the law in the first place to provide a framework for a series of scattershot rules on surveillance. The goal was also to make such regulations compatible with privacy rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

RIPA is a complicated law that also regulates wiretapping and intrusive surveillance carried out by the security services. But faced with rumbles of public discontent about local governments’ behavior, the Home Office announced in the spring that it would review the legislation to make it clearer what localities should be allowed to do.

“The government has absolutely no interest in spying on law-abiding people going about their everyday lives,” Jacqui Smith, then home secretary, said.

One of the biggest criticisms of the law is that the targets of surveillance are usually unaware that they have been spied on.

Indeed, Ms. Paton learned what had happened only later, when officials summoned her to discuss her daughter’s school application. To her shock, they produced the covert surveillance report and the family’s telephone billing records.

====

Page 2 of 2)



“As far as I’m concerned, they’re within their rights to scrutinize all applications, but the way they went about it was totally unwarranted,” Ms. Paton said. “If they’d wanted any information, they could have come and asked.”

She would have explained that her case was complicated. The family was moving from their old house within the school district to a new one just outside it. But they met the residency requirements because they were still living at the old address when school applications closed.

At the meeting, Ms. Paton and her partner, Tim Joyce, pointed out that the surveillance evidence was irrelevant because the surveillance had been carried out after the deadline had passed.

“They promptly ushered us out of the room,” she said. “As I stood outside the door, they said, ‘You go and tell your friends that these are the powers we have.’ ”

Soon afterward, their daughter was admitted to the school. Ms. Paton began pressing local officials on their surveillance tactics.

“I said, ‘I want to come in and talk to you,’ ” she said. “ ‘How many people were in the car? Were they men or women? Did they take any photos? Does this mean I have a criminal record?’ ”

No one would answer her questions, Ms. Paton said.

Mr. Martin said he could not comment on her case because it was under review. But Ms. Paton said the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners, which monitors use of the law, found that the Poole council had acted properly. “They said my privacy wasn’t intruded on because the surveillance was covert,” she said.

The case is now before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which looks into complaints about RIPA. It usually meets in secret but has agreed, Ms. Paton said, to have an open hearing at the beginning of November.

The whole process is so shrouded in mystery that few people ever take it this far. “Because no one knows you have a right to know you’re under surveillance,” Ms. Paton said, “nobody ever makes a complaint.”
27981  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: October 25, 2009, 09:42:10 AM
Why?!?

This smells to me like a matter of trying to intimidate those who raise, , , pardon the expression , , , inconvenient questions and facts.  I'm willing to entertain hearing the other POV, but this smells to me like the prosecutors are being bullies.
27982  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: October 25, 2009, 09:38:54 AM
I'm missing the point here about the Not so Right Rev. Wright.   Why are we discussing him at all GM? Has anyone been quoting him? 
Perhaps I am missing the point here, but I sense us drifting off point from the question presented-- the use of lucid views by persons who hold views on other subjects that we consider beyond the pale.

FWIW in my own life I have had to wrestle with this three times.  In no particular order:

a) Jude Wanniski:  Author of the utterly brilliant "The Way the World Works", considered by the WSJ to be "one of the one hundred most important books of the 20th Century", in his later years Jude became quite an anti-semitic crank (e.g. hung out with Farrkhan) and apologist for Saddam Hussein;
b) Carl Jung:  Only after years of random study in admiration of Jung did I discover that, at the least, apparently he had dalliance with the Nazis to the point of attacking Freud for his "Jewish science" or something like that;
c) Konrad Lorenz:  An Austrian scientist whose influence on me is so great that I named my son Conrad after him, apparently had his Nobel Prize removed because of some things he said in the 1930s-40s.  I'm not really clear on what they were or what happened.

In all three cases I have decided to bifurcate the good and the bad.  Where the anti-semitism question arises, I address it openly and when it doesn't, I don't-- though I have prefaced quoting Wanniski by prefacing it by saying something like "Though in his later years JW became quite a crank, including anti-semitism, here I find his thinking quite sound. etc."

In the case of Pat Buchanan, in my opinion he is a anti-Jewish bigot.  He also holds lucid opinions with which I don't agree, and he holds some lucid opinions which I am willing to entertain.   As a Jew, like Rachel, I do tend to wince a bit to see his name pop up, but I am not ready to call for banishing any and all use of his writings.

Perhaps the solution with quoting such person is to note from time to time, the dubious nature of some of this person's views and that quoting them here should not be taken as thinking all his views respectable?
27983  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Pak army takes Kotkai on: October 25, 2009, 09:11:28 AM
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After a week of fighting Taliban and Qaeda militants in the mountains of South Waziristan, the Pakistani Army said Saturday that it had captured a town important for both its symbolic and strategic value.

Kotkai, a strategic town, was taken after "intense fighting."

The town, Kotkai, most of whose 5,000 residents had already fled, is the home of the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, and one of the most feared Taliban commanders, Qari Hussain. Mr. Hussain is believed to be the organizer and trainer of the group’s suicide bombing squads.

The army has been struggling in the treacherous terrain in South Waziristan, long a militant sanctuary. Military officials said Saturday that Kotkai had been taken only after “intense fighting.” Four days ago, the militants repulsed the first army attempt to capture the town and killed nine soldiers, according to a military intelligence officer.

It was the first notable sign of progress in what military analysts say will be an arduous slog for the army against a resilient enemy. And it came as Pakistan has been enduring a withering series of terrorist attacks over the past three weeks.

At a military briefing Saturday, the information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, acknowledged that the attacks, which have focused on police and government sites and have killed about 200 people, had taken a serious toll. But he insisted that “the nation will not be terrorized.”

The farther the army tries to penetrate South Waziristan, the harder the fighting will get, as soldiers encounter defensive positions dug into the sides of mountains that the guerrillas will battle hard to keep, military analysts and residents of the area said.

For example, on the southeast axis of the army’s attack into the Taliban stronghold, soldiers will soon encounter the defensive positions leading to Kaniguram, a village about 6,700 feet high that serves as the hide-out of Uzbek fighters, some of the most battle-hardened around, a former resident of the area said.

“The military’s movement is faster than in their previous campaigns,” a former government official from North Waziristan said, referring to three short-lived army campaigns that ended in negotiated settlements with the Taliban. “But the more they get inside the sanctuary, the more they will be bogged down.”

Time may also be working against the army. In past years, many of the Taliban militants fighting American and NATO forces in Afghanistan have come to Waziristan as winter approached to train and prepare for the next year’s fighting.

Although there is evidence that the seasonal fighting in Afghanistan has become a more year-round affair, the concern is that any Taliban fighters who do cross the border into Pakistan could be used against the army in South Waziristan. One militant organizer in the region, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the migration had already started, swelling the number of active militants in the region well beyond the present estimates of 7,000 to 10,000.

Reinforcements for the militants were also coming from other parts of the Pakistani tribal region, the militant organizer said.

Still, Pakistani soldiers are receiving more support than they did in past campaigns, including better winter gear and air support from fighter jets, the former Waziristan official said.

American officials have praised the Waziristan offensive, after months of pressure on Pakistani officials to begin. But at the military briefing, the army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said that the fight was a purely Pakistani enterprise, unaided by the United States or anyone else.

There have been no reported missile attacks by American drones in South or North Waziristan against Qaeda targets since the beginning of the Pakistani Army offensive a week ago. Both South and North Waziristan have been the focus of the more than 40 drone attacks this year.

Pakistan had asked the United States to refrain from drone attacks while the army operation was under way in South Waziristan, a senior Pakistani government official said Saturday.

Families continued to flee South Waziristan, and Mr. Kaira said the government was granting the refugees a month’s supply of food and a monthly stipend worth about $50.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it still had no access to North or South Waziristan to care for civilians. “We are concerned by the lack of access granted to humanitarian organizations like the I.C.R.C. whose role it is to protect and assist victims of fighting,” the committee said in a statement.

Elsewhere, in the tribal belt in Bajaur, a missile fired from a drone killed 22 people in the town of Damadola on Saturday, two Pakistani officials said.

The strike appeared to be aimed at a senior Pakistani Taliban leader, Faqir Mohammad, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They said two relatives of Mr. Mohammad were killed.

Jane Perlez reported from Islamabad, and Pir Zubair Shah from Peshawar, Pakistan.
27984  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Prosecutors turn tables on student journalists on: October 25, 2009, 09:02:29 AM
EVANSTON, Ill. — For more than a decade, classes of students at Northwestern University’s journalism school have been scrutinizing the work of prosecutors and the police. The investigations into old crimes, as part of the Medill Innocence Project, have helped lead to the release of 11 inmates, the project’s director says, and an Illinois governor once cited those wrongful convictions as he announced he was commuting the sentences of everyone on death row.

But as the Medill Innocence Project is raising concerns about another case, that of a man convicted in a murder 31 years ago, a hearing has been scheduled next month in Cook County Circuit Court on an unusual request: Local prosecutors have subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages of the journalism students themselves.
The prosecutors, it seems, wish to scrutinize the methods of the students this time. The university is fighting the subpoenas.

Lawyers in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office say that in their quest for justice in the old case, they need every pertinent piece of information about the students’ three-year investigation into Anthony McKinney, who was convicted of fatally shooting a security guard in 1978. Mr. McKinney’s conviction is being reviewed by a judge.

Among the issues the prosecutors need to understand better, a spokeswoman said, is whether students believed they would receive better grades if witnesses they interviewed provided evidence to exonerate Mr. McKinney.

Northwestern University and David Protess, the professor who leads the students and directs the Medill Innocence Project, say the demands are ridiculously overreaching, irrelevant to Mr. McKinney’s case, in violation of the state’s protections for journalists and a breach of federal privacy statutes — not to mention insulting.

John Lavine, the dean of the Medill School of Journalism, said the suggestion that students might have thought their grades were linked to what witnesses said was “astonishing.” He said he believed that federal law barred him from providing the students grades, but that he had no intention of doing so in any case..

A spokeswoman for Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, who was elected last fall, said the prosecutors were simply trying to get to the bottom of the McKinney case.

“At the end of the day, all we’re seeking is the same thing these students are: justice and truth,” said Sally Daly, the spokeswoman. She said the prosecutors wished to see all statements the students received from witnesses, whether they supported or contradicted the notion of Mr. McKinney’s innocence.

“We’re not trying to delve into areas of privacy or grades,” Ms. Daly said. “Our position is that they’ve engaged in an investigative process, and without any hostility, we’re seeking to get all of the information they’ve developed, just as detectives and investigators turn over.”

If the courts find that Mr. Protess and the journalism school must turn over the student information, they risk being held in contempt if they refuse, said Dick O’Brien, a lawyer who is representing Northwestern.

But if the school gives in to such a demand, say advocates of the Medill Innocence Project and more than 50 similar projects (most involving law schools and legal clinics), the stakes could be still higher, discouraging students from taking part or forcing groups to devote time and money to legal assistance.

“Every time the government starts attacking the messenger as opposed to the message, it can have a chilling effect,” said Barry C. Scheck, a pioneer of the Innocence Project in New York, who said he had never seen a similar demand from prosecutors.

In October 2003, Mr. Protess’s investigative journalism classes began looking at the case after Mr. McKinney’s brother, Michael, brought it to the attention of the Medill Innocence Project — one of more 15,000 cases the project has been asked to consider investigating over the years.

Mr. Protess, who has been on the faculty at Northwestern since 1981 and began leading his investigative reporting students on such cases in 1991, created the Medill project in 1999, the same year he and his students drew national attention for helping to exonerate and free Anthony Porter, an inmate who had come within two days of execution.

The McKinney case took three years and nine teams of student reporters, all of whom have since graduated from Northwestern. In the end, the teams concluded that Mr. McKinney had been wrongly convicted of killing Donald Lundahl, a security guard, with a shotgun one evening in September 1978 in Harvey, a southern suburb of Chicago.

The students said they had found, among other things, that two eyewitnesses had recanted their testimony against Mr. McKinney and could not have seen him commit the killing because they were watching a boxing championship (Leon Spinks vs. Muhammad Ali). The students collected an affidavit from a gang member who, they say, confirmed Mr. McKinney’s alibi that he was running away from gang members when the shooting took place.

The students have also suggested alternative suspects in the case and offered witnesses who said they had heard the others admit their involvement.

In 2006, the students took their findings to the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern’s law school, and by late last year, the claims were being considered by a Cook County Circuit Court judge and were described in an article in The Chicago Sun-Times and on the Medill Innocence Project Web site.

=========

Page 2 of 2)



The students provided their videotaped interviews of critical witnesses and affidavits to the prosecutors, but in June the prosecutors subpoenaed far more — the students’ investigative memorandums, e-mail messages, notes from multiple interviews with witnesses and class grades.

In their quest, prosecutors have raised a central question about the role of the students — suggesting that they should be viewed as an “investigative agency,” not journalists, whose unpublished materials could, under certain circumstances, be protected under a state statute.

“The school believes it should be exempt from the scrutiny of this honorable court and the justice system, yet it should be deemed a purveyor of its inadequacies to the public,” a legal brief from prosecutors said.

Professional journalism groups have said the students are clearly journalists, and offered support for their wish not to reveal their notes. Beth Konrad, president of the Chicago Headline Club, said the club was seeking a discussion with Ms. Alvarez, the state’s attorney.

“We want to know, what was the decision to overreach on this?” Ms. Konrad said.

Donald M. Craven, the interim executive director of the Illinois Press Association, questioned the prosecutors’ motives. “Taken to its logical conclusion, what they’re trying to do is dismantle the project,” Mr. Craven said.

Mr. Protess said his students most assuredly functioned as journalists and, as such, did not wish to become “an arm of the government” by providing their notes and private exchanges.

“It would destroy our autonomy,” he said. “We function with journalism standards and practices to guide our work.”

The notion that students would have been rewarded with better grades for witnesses who confirmed the thesis that Mr. McKinney was innocent is simply false, he said.

“My students are told to uncover the truth, wherever that leads them,” he said. In the last four years, he said, students had twice concluded that the convicts whose cases they were studying were indeed guilty.

Sarah Forte, one of the students who investigated Mr. McKinney’s case and who graduated in 2006, said she was frustrated that prosecutors were making the requests, even as Mr. McKinney, 49, remained in a prison in downstate Dixon.

“Why are they focusing on these unrelated things?” asked Ms. Forte, a defense investigator at the Southern Center for Human Rights who said she went to Northwestern partly to get involved in Mr. Protess’s project. “I cannot even imagine what they think they are going to find.”
27985  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq; T. Friedman on: October 25, 2009, 08:55:20 AM

Bombs in Iraq: One of them hit the Ministry of Justice building today.  A place I have been to a number of times.  In fact coming back from there was when I missed being atomized by 5 minutes a month or two ago....

Glad I was on a C-130 from Amman today....

==========
Eyes on the Prize
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: October 24, 2009

BAGHDAD, Aug. 25, 2012 — President Obama flew into Baghdad today on his end-of-term tour to highlight successes in U.S. foreign policy. At a time when the Arab-Israel negotiations remain mired in deadlock and Afghanistan remains mired in quagmire, Mr. Obama hailed the peaceful end of America’s combat presence in Iraq as his only Middle East achievement. Speaking to a gathering of Iraqi and U.S. officials under the banner “Mission Actually Accomplished,” written in Arabic and English, Mr. Obama took credit for helping Iraq achieve a decent — albeit hugely costly — end to the war initiated by President Bush. Aides said Mr. Obama would highlight the progress in Iraq in his re-election campaign.

Could we actually read such a news article in three years? I wouldn’t bet on it. But I wouldn’t rule it out either. Six years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq continues to unnerve and tantalize. Watching Iraqi politics is like watching a tightrope artist crossing a dangerous cavern. At every step it looks as though he is going to fall into the abyss, and yet, somehow, he continues to wobble forward. Nothing is easy when trying to transform a country brutalized by three decades of cruel dictatorship. It is one step, one election, one new law, at a time. Each is a struggle. Each is crucial.

This next step is particularly important, which is why we cannot let Afghanistan distract U.S. diplomats from Iraq. Remember: Transform Iraq and it will impact the whole Arab-Muslim world. Change Afghanistan and you just change Afghanistan.

Specifically, the Obama team needs to make sure that Iraq’s bickering politicians neither postpone the next elections, scheduled for January, nor hold them on the basis of the 2005 “closed list” system that is dominated by the party leaders. We must insist, with all our leverage, on an “open list” election, which creates more room for new faces by allowing Iraqis to vote for individual candidates and not just a party. This is what Iraq’s spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is also demanding. It is a much more accountable system.

If we can get open list voting, the next big step would be the emergence of Iraqi parties in this election running for office on the basis of nonsectarian coalitions — where Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds run together. This would be significant: Iraq is a microcosm of the whole Middle East, and if Iraq’s sects can figure out how to govern themselves — without an iron-fisted dictator — democracy is possible in this whole region.

What is tantalizing is that the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who emerged from the Shiite Dawa Party, has decided to run this time with what he calls “The State of Law Coalition,” a pan-Iraqi, nationalist alliance of some 40 political parties, including Sunni tribal leaders and other minorities.

Mr. Maliki was in Washington last week, and I interviewed him at the Willard Hotel, primarily to ask about his new party. “Iraq cannot be ruled by one color or religion or sect,” he explained. “We clearly saw that sectarianism and ethnic grouping threatened our national unity. Therefore, I believe we should bring all these different colors together and establish Iraq as a country built on rule of law and equity and citizenship. The Iraqi people encouraged us. They want this. Other parties are also organizing themselves like this. No one can run anymore as a purely sectarian bloc. ... Our experiment is very unique in this region.”

That’s for sure. The Iranians want pro-Tehran Shiite parties to dominate Iraq. Also, the Iranian dictatorship hates the idea of “inferior” Iraq holding real elections while Iran limits voting to preselected candidates and then rigs the outcome. Most Arab leaders fear any real multisectarian democracy taking root in the neighborhood.

“The most dangerous thing that would threaten others is that if we really create success in building a democratic state in Iraq,” said Maliki, whose country today now has about 100 newspapers. “The countries whose regimes are built on one party, sect or ethnic group will feel endangered.”

Maliki knows it won’t be easy: “Saddam ruled for more than 35 years,” he said. “We need one or two generations brought up on democracy and human rights to get rid of this orientation.”

If this election comes off, it will still be held with U.S. combat troops on hand. The even bigger prize and test will be four years hence, if Iraq can hold an election in which multiethnic coalitions based on differing ideas of governance — not sectarianism — vie for power, and the reins are passed from one government to another without any U.S. military involvement. That would be the first time in modern Arab history where true multisectarian coalitions contest power, and cede power, without foreign interference. That would shake up the whole region.

Yes, let’s figure out Afghanistan. But let’s not forget that something very important — but so fragile and tentative — is still playing out in Iraq, and we and our allies still need to help bring it to fruition.
27986  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: October 24, 2009, 03:34:24 PM
May I suggest we begin with a discussion of the question presented?
27987  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: October 24, 2009, 02:57:56 PM
I think the question presented by Rachel is a worthy one:    At what point is someone beyond the social pale for all areas because of the views held in some areas?

Concerning the not so right Rev. Wright, no one here has found anything he has ever said worthy of consideration-- so what is the point of the question to Rachel?
27988  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq, currently in Jordan 2.0 on: October 24, 2009, 01:46:37 PM
So I am back in Amman overnighting for trip bck to Baghdad tomorrow.  The hotel has quite a few Australian soldiers staying here.  I think they arrived today and would not be surprised if they are on my flight out tomorrow.

Anyway, I have a couple of them on my floor.  They have their room door propped wide open and are walking around in shorts and t-shirts.  This is a 5 star hotel in the capital of a Muslim country.  There are even several fully covered Arab women on my floor and these clowns are walking around like they are back home in their trailers.  The only thing I haven't seen is them drinking beer but the night is still young.

Ths kind of behavior will be remembered far more and far longer than any other "good" things these soldiers may do over here.  They will be rememberedby those who saw them as uncouth and disrespectful.
27989  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran, NK, & Syria on: October 24, 2009, 07:59:42 AM
 
Iran, N. Korea supplying weapons to Syria

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Iran has acted as mediator with North Korea to deliver weapons of mass destruction and missile technology to Syria, a congressional report said.

The U.S. Congressional Research Service said in a report released earlier this month that Iran is one of the biggest customers for North Korean arms, acting as a possible go-between for Syria's arsenal.

"Iran purportedly has acted as an intermediary with North Korea to supply Syria with various forms of WMD and missile technology," the report said.

The Israeli air force in 2007 struck a facility near al-Kibar, Syria, which intelligence officials claim was a nuclear reactor of North Korean design under construction since 2001.

A report from Jane's Intelligence Review in February says commercial satellite imagery of another Syrian site, al-Safir, depicts what are thought to be the defining characteristics of not only chemical weapons manufacturing, but also of heavy construction activity near a missile base.

Iranian officials, for their part, were thought to be on hand when North Korea tested a nuclear device in May and a long-range missile in April, reports South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

The congressional report goes on to say Iran has "several" submarines with sonar-evading technology that were "possibly" connected to North Korea.

Iran this year unveiled several new lines of military
technology, including three stealth submarines and a rapid-fire 40mm anti-Cruise missile canon, dubbed Fath.

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/...0391256320186/
27990  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO offers millions in Muslim technology subsidies on: October 24, 2009, 07:44:58 AM
Wasn't quite sure where to put this:

Obama offers millions in Muslim technology fund

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The White House Friday highlighted a new multi-million-dollar technology fund for Muslim nations, following a pledge made by President Barack Obama in his landmark speech to the Islamic world.

The White House said the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) had issued a call for proposals for the fund, which will provide financing of between 25 and 150 million dollars for selected projects and funds.

The Global Technology and Innovation Fund will "catalyze and facilitate private sector investments" throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa, the White House said in a statement.

Eligible projects would advance economic opportunity and create jobs in areas like technology, education, telecoms, media, business services and clean technology, the White House said.

OPIC said sample projects could help foster the development of new computer technology or telecommunications businesses, or widen access to broadband Internet services.

Proposals must be submitted by the end of November, and managers of funds that make a final short list will make presentations in Washington in January.

Final selections will be announced next June.

In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last June, Obama argued that "education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century" and that under-investment was rife in many Muslim nations.

As well as the fund, Obama also said he will host a summit on entrepreneurship this year to deepen ties between business leaders in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

In his speech on June 4, Obama vowed to forge a "new beginning" for Islam and America, promising to purge years of "suspicion and discord."

In what may be one of the defining moments of his presidency, Obama laid out a new blueprint for US Middle East policy, pledged to end mistrust, forge a state for Palestinians and defuse a nuclear showdown with Iran.

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php...show_article=1
 
27991  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 10/30 at Congresswoman Harman's office on: October 24, 2009, 07:25:36 AM
This is my Congresswoman.

CAN YOU HEAR US YET? – Pink Slips are coming November 2010
Stop Socialized Government Healthcare.  There is still time to stop this criminal expansion of government.  We want less Government not more.  Cap and Trade is still not passed let's keep it that way.
Education in California is Worst we want First. 
We want California to stop chasing businesses out of the state.
Join us for the one year countdown to firing Congress, and replacing California’s legislature.

Date: Friday, October 30, 2009
Time: 4:30 – 5:30 PM
Location: In front of Jane Harman’s office.
2321 E. Rosecrans Avenue, El Segundo, CA 90245

THIS IS THE LAST RALLY THIS YEAR SO LETS MAKE A STATEMENT
FORWARD TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS
27992  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: October 24, 2009, 06:40:28 AM
I love it when questions are presented of/by archetypes.
27993  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: October 24, 2009, 06:33:38 AM
One sign that an adversary isn't serious about negotiating is when it rejects even your concessions. That seemed to be the case yesterday when Iran gave signs it may turn down an offer from Russia, Europe and the U.S. to let Tehran enrich its uranium under foreign supervision outside the country. The mullahs so far won't take yes for an answer.

Tehran had previously looked set to accept the deal, which is hardly an obstacle to its nuclear program. A Democratic foreign policy shop called the National Security Network heralded the expected pact in a blast email this week as "Engagement Paying Dividends on Iran." But now Tehran may be holding out for even more concessions, as Iranian news reports suggest Iran wants to be able to buy more enriched uranium from a third country to use in a research reactor for medical use—as opposed to shipping its uranium to Russia for a roundtrip.

This may merely be the equivalent of last-minute haggling over the price of a Persian carpet, because the West's enrichment offer is already a good one for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran would give up one bomb's worth—about 2,600 pounds—of uranium enriched at its facility in Natanz to the low level of 3.5%. Russia would then enrich the uranium further to 19.75% and someone, most likely France, would put the uranium into fuel rods for transfer back to Iran for ostensible use in a civilian nuclear reactor. Western officials say this would delay Iran's efforts to get a bomb.

d
.There are a couple problems with this theory. With the exception of the regime, no one knows for sure how much uranium Iran possesses. Given Iran's long history of lying to the world and the discovery of covert enrichment facilities (most recently in Qom) that need uranium from somewhere, a fair guess would be that Iran has more than the 3,500 pounds it has declared to U.N. inspectors.

Meanwhile, Iran insists it won't stop enriching uranium on its own, in violation of Security Council resolutions. Aside from rewarding Iran for past misbehavior by letting it use illegally enriched uranium, this deal fails to solve the problem it is intended to solve. That's because as long as the Natanz facility continues to enrich uranium at its current rate of about 132 pounds a month, Iran will produce enough low-enriched uranium within the year for a bomb. Make Natanz more efficient and the time could be cut in half.

Claims by Western officials that Iran can't convert the uranium enriched abroad for military use are less than reassuring. Though encased in a fuel rod in France, the more highly-enriched uranium returned to Iran would be simple to extract, using something as basic as a tin snipper to force open the fuel cladding, and enrich further.

"With 19.75 enriched feed"—as opposed to the 3.5% that Iran now manages—"the level of effort or time Iran would need to make weapons grade uranium would drop very significantly," from roughly five months today "down to something slightly less than four weeks," says Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.

Iran may also welcome the Russian-enriched uranium because its own technology is less advanced. The October 8 edition of the trade journal Nucleonics Week reports that Iran's low-enriched uranium appears to have "impurities" that "could cause centrifuges to fail" if Iran itself tried to enrich uranium to weapons-grade—which would mean above 20% and ideally up to 90%. In this scenario, the West would be decontaminating the uranium for Iran. Along the way, Iranian scientists may also pick up clues on how to do better themselves.

The mullahs know that President Obama is eager to show diplomatic gains from his engagement strategy, and they are going to exploit that eagerness to get every possible concession. The one thing Iran has shown no desire to bargain over is its intention to become a nuclear power.
27994  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Forfeiture on: October 24, 2009, 06:29:20 AM
With states and cities struggling with deficits, one fertile source of revenue has been money or property seized by police in possible connection with crimes. Not to be left behind, Illinois has pursued this tactic aggressively, using a law which encourages both police departments and prosecutors to take property for forfeiture, long before the accused ever get their day in court.

This practice was challenged at the Supreme Court recently in Alvarez v. Smith, where six people allege that police use of the Illinois Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Though forfeiture laws are designed to strip criminals of ill-gotten gains, three of the six were never charged with a crime. All six had their property or money taken without a warrant and had to wait for months or years without a hearing on the legitimacy of the forfeiture.

By now, the individual cases in Illinois have been resolved with either a forfeiture or a return of the property, leading the Justices to question during oral argument whether the case should be dismissed as moot. Whether the court considers the details in Alvarez, the court will soon need to resolve when detention of property violates due process.

Under Illinois law, the state has 187 days after property is seized to file forfeiture proceedings. Meanwhile, of forfeited funds seized, 25% lands in the lap of the prosecutor's office. Another 65% goes to the department that seized the property, giving police added incentive to take the property to pad their budgets. Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted this police incentive with concern.

The numbers can be hefty. In 2008, the Chicago Police Department bragged it took in some $13.5 million in asset forfeitures, nearly double what it had seized the previous year. Golly. Inquiring minds will wonder if there were actually double the situations that called for asset forfeiture last year, or if the Chicago PD is simply more assertive about detaining property when the city is short of money.

The case comes from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which vindicated the citizens when it ruled that the time between forfeiture and judicial hearing presented an unconstitutional delay. The court required the state to provide property owners with an informal hearing to establish whether there is probable cause to continue to keep the property in custody.

The question for the Supreme Court is whether to uphold what's known as the "Mathews standard," a well-worn method by which courts determine how individuals may challenge government "takings." The standard requires courts to take into account the individual harm caused by a property seizure as well as the risk of mistakes and the cost of additional hearings or other procedures. Illinois prefers a looser standard, allowing the state to continue to delay due process.

The Illinois law compares awkwardly with the federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000. As the Cato Institute details in an amicus brief, while the two laws may establish comparable time frames, federal civil forfeiture actions can often run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, a level of cost and complexity well beyond the property at issue under the Illinois drug law. The better match-up is with other state forfeiture laws, and here Illinois performs miserably, taking many times as long to provide a hearing as the likes of Florida, Iowa, Arizona, Missouri and Texas.

We're all for relieving criminals of illegal profits, but civil forfeiture laws must be used with caution and oversight lest they infringe on fundamental rights. Alvarez v. Smith provides an opportunity to restore the balance of justice to citizens.
27995  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Brain damage/concussion in boxing, kickboxing, football, etc: on: October 24, 2009, 06:21:57 AM
Published: October 23, 2009
When a survey commissioned by the National Football League recently indicated that dementia or similar memory-related diseases had been diagnosed in its retired players vastly more often than in the national population, the league claimed the study was unreliable.

But confidential data from the N.F.L.’s dementia assistance plan strongly corroborates claims of a link between football and later-life cognitive impairment. Records indicate that pro football’s retirees are experiencing moderate to advanced early-onset dementia at rates several times higher than the general population, the most glaring evidence to date of the dangers of professional football in past eras.
As the House Judiciary Committee prepares to hold a hearing on Wednesday on the issue of brain injuries in football, this latest data further underscores the possible safety risks of the modern game at all levels, from the N.F.L. to youth leagues.

The new information was collected by a lawyer for the 88 Plan, which the league and its players union began in 2007 to reimburse medical expenses of retirees being treated for dementia, and was presented to the union in a memorandum, which was obtained by The New York Times. The lawyer, Douglas W. Ell of the Groom Law Group, compared the age distribution of 88 Plan members with several published studies regarding dementia rates around the world, and wrote that “the numbers seem to refute any claim that playing N.F.L. football substantially increases” later risk for dementia.

But the outside data on which he primarily based this conclusion was not only mishandled — the wrong numbers were taken from one published study, grossly overstating worldwide dementia rates — but the analysis also included several faulty assumptions, experts said in later interviews. Correcting for these errors indicated rates of dementia among N.F.L. retirees about four to five times the expected rate.

“This was a preliminary effort at the request of the union to understand the facts,” said Ell, adding that he was acting as a lawyer for the union. “I understand now that it was flawed. I believe the union wants the true facts to come out and welcomes inquiries into this area.”

Joe Browne, an N.F.L. spokesman, said in an e-mail message that because no one at the league office had yet seen Ell’s analysis, it was phantom.

“I say phantom because we have not seen this analysis in our office and, if it was done, it obviously was written for the N.F.L. player union’s own self-promotional and lobbying purposes in anticipation of next week’s Congressional hearing,” Browne wrote.

“The executive director has made it clear that player safety is too important to be about business as usual, the N.F.L.’s special interests or our special interests,” George Atallah, a union spokesman, said, referring to the new union chief, DeMaurice Smith. “This issue is and will always be only about the players, and we have to obtain the right information to get the right answers. The executive director has directed that all information on player health and safety be exchanged with the N.F.L., with the hope that they will do the same.”

As brain injuries in football have come under scrutiny in recent years, and as several independent academic studies have found high rates of cognitive decline among N.F.L. retirees, the league and its committee on concussions have consistently denied the existence of credible evidence supporting any link. When a telephone survey conducted by the University of Michigan on behalf of the N.F.L. recently reported that its retirees aged 50 and above reported diagnoses of cognitive disease at five times the rate of the national population, the league said such surveys were unreliable.

Members of the 88 Plan, however, are dementia cases that the league itself has confirmed as diagnosed by a physician and incurring expenses worthy of reimbursement. As such they represent a minimum of existing cases — even Commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged that there are more candidates either unreachable or unwilling to apply — as well as a severity of disease that is undoubtedly higher than cases in common literature, experts said.

“You know N.F.L. players,” Goodell said when asked about the 88 Plan at his annual news conference before last season’s Super Bowl. “They’ve got a lot of pride. When they have a lot of pride, they don’t always want to become public with their needs.”

According to Ell’s memorandum, 68 men ages 60 to 89 were receiving plan aid as of Oct. 1. (About 35 others had been admitted and died.) Ell then assessed how many plan members would be expected if N.F.L. retirees in various age groups experienced dementia at rates published in six academic studies. The analysis from there was faulty, however.

Only four of the six studies included any data on men in their 60s, whose dementia would be defined as early-onset. One yielded an expectation of 58 dementia cases among the N.F.L. population, another about 40. One included crude estimates from Scotland, which, after Ell further applied them improperly to the N.F.L. population — he didn’t stratify them by age — yielded an estimate of over 200. The fourth included two obvious errors: the wrong column of published data was used, and those numbers were not rates per 100 but rates per 1,000. Ell’s resulting estimate, 135, which he interpreted along with the Scotland figure as balancing the lower figures, should have been 73.

=======

(Page 2 of 2)



The 88 Plan’s living membership (68) looks similar to the three expectations of 58, 40 and 73. But experts in dementia epidemiology and health policy said in interviews that the 68 was far more alarming than at first glance.

"These are apples and oranges,” said Amy Borenstein, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, who specializes in dementia research. “You can’t directly compare that plan’s numbers to any population-based study.”
First, as Goodell asserted, the program cannot include veterans who are unreachable or unwilling to apply. One unwilling player appears to be Rayfield Wright, 64, a Hall of Fame tackle for the Cowboys from 1967 to 1979 who lives in the Dallas area.

His friend and caregiver, Jeannette DeVader, said that Wright had all the signs of early-onset dementia — including short-term memory loss and frequently getting lost — but that he would not see a neurologist, let alone apply to the 88 Plan. Wright confirmed that he did not want what he called the stigma: “Players don’t want to look at themselves that way. The truth is, you really don’t want to know.”

The wife of one player experiencing early-onset dementia, who asked not to be identified, said she would not apply for the 88 Plan while her husband was coherent enough to understand it.

“He would be devastated,” she said. “They were so proud as players. They’re not going to admit any weakness now, and I’m not going to break his heart by doing it for him.”

Borenstein said that it was reasonable to conclude that if 68 men ages 60 to 89 are receiving aid from the 88 Plan, at least 40 or 50 more cases of similar severity are unaware of the program, unwilling to apply or do not need financial aid. This estimate was echoed by other experts in dementia and epidemiology, including Dr. Daniel P. Perl of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Dr. Robert C. Cantu, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University.

In addition, according to those doctors and published studies, about half of people with dementia are considered mild cases, many of whom were unaware they had the condition before and after a study was performed. “It’s hard to believe that more than a few 88 Plan members are in what we call the mild category,” Perl said, given the anecdotal evidence and financial data the N.F.L. released this month.

The league said $6 million has been distributed to 106 members in the two-plus years the 88 Plan has been in place; given that they have received aid for various periods, that leads to more than half of members receiving $40,000 to $88,000 maximum per year in aid — suggesting full-time at-home or institutional care, Borenstein and Perl said.

And some of the cases receiving low levels of aid are advanced: Sharon Hawkins will place her 71-year-old husband, the former Oakland Raiders lineman Wayne Hawkins, in a full-time facility next week after receiving less than $10,000 per year from the 88 Plan since 2007.

“He gets lost walking the dog,” Sharon Hawkins said. “Thank God the dog has known the way home.”

Borenstein, Perl and Cantu said that if academic studies predicted about 60 N.F.L. veterans to have dementia across the full severity spectrum, which is the case here, only about 20 to 30 would be experiencing the severity that appears in the 88 Plan.

Combining the two major differences between the N.F.L. data and estimates for the general population — only about 25 men should have dementia to that degree, the researchers reasoned, and there are probably about 110 who do — leaves former N.F.L. players experiencing dementia at rates four to five times more often than normal.

“We’re talking about a four-, four-and-a-half-fold increase — that’s substantial,” Perl said. “Playing football for as long as these men have, there’s no other environmental risk factor of that magnitude. There are some assumptions here, yes. The comparability of general population rates are not exact. But those assumptions are reasonable. Maybe it’s three times. Maybe it’s five. But these data suggest that something very serious is going on here.”

In his e-mail message, Browne of the N.F.L. wrote: “According to the literature, dementia has many different causes, e.g., a stroke, as the result of substance abuse or family history. It also can be caused by a series of blows to the head or a severe head trauma years after a player has ended his career.”

Browne’s list notably did not include N.F.L. play. His skepticism was shared earlier this year by Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I believe that our statistics are very similar to what they are in the general population,” Rooney said after Goodell’s news conference. “I don’t think that it’s something that pro football players, every one of them has this. Surely there’s something about getting hit. But they don’t get hit as much as maybe some people are trying to say.”
27996  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hefner: The Loin in Winter on: October 24, 2009, 06:12:56 AM
The Loin in Winter: Hefner Reflects, and Grins
By BROOKS BARNES
Published: October 23, 2009
LOS ANGELES — Hugh Hefner leaned back on a red loveseat, the saggy one in the study of his infamous mansion here, and interlocked his fingers behind his head. A visitor had asked — more like shouted, since he has trouble hearing — a question about mortality.

Despite Playboy Enterprises' struggles, a reflective Hugh Hefner says life at 83 is “even better, richer than people know.”

Hugh Hefner and his girlfriends, from left, Kristina and Karissa Shannon, and Crystal Harris. He says that “pop culture is a thinner soup today,” adding, “It used to be a thick porridge.”
At 83, does he think about it?

In a word, no. Mr. Hefner, the legendarily libidinous founder of Playboy, the prophet of hedonism, does not believe that his denouement is at hand.

He doesn’t act like it, either. He still works full days on his magazine, flies to Europe and Las Vegas, pops Viagra, visits nightclubs with his three live-in girlfriends — each young enough to be his great-granddaughter — and is working with the producer Brian Grazer on a film.

“This is one of the very best times of my life,” he said, grinning, dressed in pajamas and slippers. “It’s even better, richer than people know.”

You want to believe him, but it is hard to ignore the realities of his business. Playboy Enterprises, hobbled by a shifting media landscape, is in need of heart paddles. On Tuesday, the magazine said it would cut the circulation numbers it guarantees to advertisers to 1.5 million, from 2.6 million. The company has lost money for seven quarters in a row.

And perhaps most shockingly, the company said earlier this year that it would consider acquisition offers, something that was believed to be unthinkable while Mr. Hefner was still alive.

Mr. Hefner knows every good party must end, having long ago bought a crypt next to Marilyn Monroe at a Los Angeles cemetery. In interviews over the years, he has talked about how life wouldn’t be worth living without Playboy. “If I sold it, my life would be over,” he has said. But he may be coming around: “I’m taking more seriously the fact that I’m not 30 years old anymore. I need to think about the continuity of the magazine.”

Love him or loathe him, no one doubts Mr. Hefner’s influence in American cultural history. As a magazine publisher, he essentially did for sex what Ray Kroc did for roadside food: clean it up for a rising middle class.

As a cultural force, however, Mr. Hefner still divides the country — 56 years after Playboy’s first issue. To his supporters, he is the great sexual liberator who helped free Americans from Puritanism and neurosis. To his detractors, including many feminists and social conservatives, he helped set in motion a revolution in sexual attitudes that have objectified and victimized countless women and promoted an immoral, whatever-feels-good approach to life.

Mr. Hefner will concede that there are dark consequences of what he helped set into motion, but said “it’s a small price to pay for personal freedom.”

“People don’t always make good decisions. The real obscenities on this planet have very little to do with sex,” he said, adding that “it’s not as romantic a time.”

Less romantic and — with instantly available pornography online and graphic sex talk, including on Mr. Hefner’s own show, “The Girls Next Door,” on TV — it’s a time that makes Playboy’s ideals seem quaint. Mr. Hefner — who uses the word “cat” to describe himself, as in, “I’m the luckiest cat on the planet” — doesn’t think much of today’s cultural landscape.

“I feel strongly that the pop culture is a thinner soup today,” he said. “It used to be a thick porridge.”

At the same time, he tries to be an active participant. While the magazine is still edited largely in Chicago, Mr. Hefner approves “every Playmate, every cover, the cartoons and the letters.” Working from a home office or his bed, where the 1970s-era Tasmanian opossum fur bedspread has been traded for a silk and velvet one, Mr. Hefner helped drive the recent decision to buy a 5,000-word excerpt of Vladimir Nabokov’s unfinished novella, “The Original of Laura,” for a forthcoming issue.

His girlfriends recently educated him about Twitter. (“I’ll be playing gin rummy tonight” was a recent tweet.) He’s hooked on the HBO drama “True Blood.” He recently filmed a Guitar Hero commercial, holding the pipe he gave up after a suffering a small stroke in 1985. He has also suffered personal humiliations. Former live-in girlfriends, including those who have appeared on “The Girls Next Door,” have portrayed him in interviews and a book as a control freak who enforces a curfew of 9 p.m. The mansion itself has seen better days. During a July visit, the game house (the one with a room that has a mattress as flooring) smelled musty, while the bird aviary needed scrubbing. That famous grotto, with its Jacuzzis of varied depth, seemed more like a fetid zoo exhibit than a pleasure palace (although nearby shelves were stocked with enormous bottles of Johnson’s Baby Oil).

In March, with the housing market in a nosedive, he put his wife’s home, located next door to the Playboy Mansion, up for sale for $28 million. It sold in August for $18 million. Mr. Hefner, who separated from Kimberly Conrad Hefner in 1998, filed for divorce in early September; she is suing him, claiming he owes her $4 million under a prenuptial agreement and proceeds from the home’s sale.

===========

Mr. Hefner’s retinue insists that money is not tight, but a series of actions has made it look that way. The Los Angeles Business Journal reported last year that the mansion’s staff had been cut. People can now buy tickets (up to $10,000 each) to what were once invitation-only parties, which remain a vital part of stoking the Playboy brand.



“It’s not always as exciting as people think,” said Holly Madison in an interview last summer. Ms. Madison lived with Mr. Hefner for seven years as his “No. 1 girlfriend” until she broke up with him last fall.

Richard Rosenzweig, who has worked at Playboy since 1958 and holds multiple titles, begged to differ. “This is a very aspirational place,” he said in an interview in Mr. Hefner’s dining room. “Everybody wants to come here.”

When Mr. Hefner’s relationship with Ms. Madison ended, he said he got letters from women around the world begging to move in. “They were climbing over the gates,” he said, beaming. Mr. Hefner chose three new live-in girlfriends, 23-year-old Crystal Harris and twins Kristina and Karissa Shannon, 20.

Despite his chipper attitude, Mr. Hefner clearly has legacy on his mind. Lately, he has been poring over his scrapbooks, which he has been keeping since childhood and now number over 2,000. Never-before-seen material from them — his first library card, self-drawn comic strips and pictures — will form the heart of a 3,506-page, six-volume “illustrated biography” from Taschen. Only 1,500 of the $1,300 behemoths will be sold, starting next month.

For the first time, Mr. Hefner has also given unfettered access to a documentary filmmaker, Brigitte Berman, whose recently completed “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel” made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

And a major Hollywood biopic is speeding ahead at long last. Mr. Grazer recently met with the screenwriter Diablo Cody about the project, Mr. Hefner said. Brett Ratner (best known for the “Rush Hour” blockbusters) is lined up to direct. Robert Downey Jr. has expressed interest in playing Mr. Hefner.

“He’s an intellect of the highest order who influenced the worldwide zeitgeist in a grand way — and that influence is drastically underrated,” Mr. Grazer said.

Indeed, some of his long-time friends fret that some of the accomplishments they admire — creating a cultural icon (the Playboy Bunny), eroding racial boundaries (through the inclusion of black performers in his clubs), and supporting many feminist causes, including abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment — are getting lost.

Mr. Hefner worries about it, too. “We just literally live in a very different world and I played a part in making it that way,” he said. “Young people have no idea about that.”
27997  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Bristish National Party on: October 24, 2009, 05:58:20 AM
Pravda on the Hudson

LONDON — In a usual week, “Question Time” is a worthy but largely unexciting television production, a late-night panel discussion on the BBC that for 30 years has attracted a modest, pre-bedtime audience.


The police tried to keep back protesters on Thursday outside BBC offices in London before a TV appearance by the leader of the right-wing British National Party.

But on Thursday, it was transformed into the forum for Britain’s most widely anticipated political showdown in decades, drawing 8.2 million viewers, more than three times the program’s usual audience, on a par with the World Cup games played by England’s soccer team and more than the number of viewers for such weekly prime time hit shows as “Strictly Come Dancing.”

The occasion was the appearance on the program, the BBC’s flagship politics show, of Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, whose goal to “take back Britain” includes incentives that encourage the mass repatriation of Britain’s nonwhite immigrants, coupled with a deep hostility to Islam, which Mr. Griffin has described as “a wicked and vicious faith.” He has also spoken of his “repugnance” for lesbians and gay men, and advocated the end of civil contracts for same-sex relationships.

His record includes having denied the Holocaust, suggesting that some of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau were built after World War II for the purposes of Jewish propaganda, and conceding, under questioning by a biographer, that Hitler, whom Mr. Griffin invoked in the past as a model, may have made mistakes. “Yes,” he said, according to the biographer, Dominic Carman, “Adolf went a bit too far.”

In June, the B.N.P. won two seats — one for Mr. Griffin — in Britain’s 72-seat contingent to the European Parliament, the first time it won election to anything higher than a local council. The party took more than a million votes, 6.2 percent of the total, and gained enough legitimacy, in the view of the BBC’s executives, to have its voice heard alongside the country’s mainstream parties on “Question Time.”

Mr. Griffin, 50, is a pinstripe-suit-and-tie-wearing Cambridge University law graduate whose mission is to put a mainstream gloss on a party that is the ideological descendant of the British Union of Fascists, the pro-Hitler “blackshirts” of the 1930s.

Since seizing the leadership of the British National Party a decade ago, Mr. Griffin, flak jacket concealed beneath his dark suit, has set out from his home in a heavily guarded farmhouse in Wales to change its members’ image, as a profile in Friday’s Daily Telegraph put it, “from skinheads in bomber jackets to ‘politically incorrect rebels.’ ”

For the B.N.P. and other parties, the timing of the TV debate was especially significant. It came barely seven months before the expected date for Britain’s general election in May. Soaring unemployment and immigration levels, as well as the threat of terrorism, are likely to be major issues then, and ones that could offer new openings to fringe parties like the B.N.P.

The BBC’s decision split Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cabinet, as it did much of Britain. “If they are asked about their racist and bigoted views,” Mr. Brown said, “it will be a good opportunity to expose what they are about.” But his Welsh secretary, Peter Hain, vehemently disagreed. “The BBC should be ashamed of single-handedly doing a racist, fascist party the biggest favor in its grubby history,” he said.

As the TV taping approached on Thursday night, three hours before the debate was broadcast, a thousand protesters gathered outside the BBC’s Television Center in West London, setting off clashes with truncheon-wielding police officers. At one point, 30 protesters broke into the BBC’s lobby, before being pushed back. A handful of policemen and protesters were injured, and there were six arrests.

To reach the BBC studio, Mr. Griffin was ushered by a phalanx of bodyguards through a rear door of the TV center. For a while, it had looked as if the burly politician, once a boxer for the Cambridge team, might duck the occasion, citing the threat from the protesters — an outcome that would have fitted well with Mr. Griffin’s assertions that Britain’s “political class” will do everything it can to prevent the party’s message from gaining traction.

On Friday, Britain’s airwaves resonated with debate about who had won, and lost, in the 60-minute debate. The program’s format consists of five panelists taking questions from a studio audience of about 100 people and from the program’s presenter, David Dimbleby, a 71-year-old veteran of royal weddings and other state occasions who has achieved the status of a British Walter Cronkite with his middle-of-the-road manner and his custom on “Question Time” of ensuring that all points of view get a fair hearing.

The early reading by many of Britain’s major newspapers was that Mr. Griffin lost heavily on points. While he gained a mass audience for the first time, for a party that usually meets in cramped backstreet halls, he appeared shocked by the pounding he took from other panelists, by repeated booing in the studio and by infuriated interruptions from Mr. Dimbleby.

On Friday, Mr. Griffin said he would make a formal complaint to the BBC about “the venom” and “sheer unfairness” of the discussion. “That was a lynch mob,” he said.

============

Mr. Dimbleby led the charge. Quoting liberally from Mr. Griffin’s past remarks about the Holocaust, Islam, lesbians and gay men, as well as about restoring Britain to its “indigenous” white population, he demanded that Mr. Griffin say whether he stood by the remarks. After Mr. Griffin said he was “the most loathed man in Britain in the eyes of Britain’s Nazis,” the presenter interrupted brusquely: “Do you deny the Holocaust?”


The program drew 8.2 million viewers and angry questions in the studio about his party’s stances on race and the Holocaust.


When Mr. Griffin hesitated, he repeated the question. Mr. Griffin said that he had shifted from his earlier position of denial after listening to World War II radio intercepts of German plans for eliminating the Jews, but that he could not elaborate because of European laws that make Holocaust denial a criminal offense.
Jack Straw, Britain’s justice minister and a fellow panelist, called Mr. Griffin “the Dr. Strangelove of British politics,” a “fantasizing conspiracy theorist.” He said, “You don’t need radio intercepts to know that people were gassed at Auschwitz.”

The B.N.P. leader also sought to mollify anger in the studio audience — many of whose members were Asian or black — at the party’s stance on saving Britain for whites, saying it was not a matter of color but of preserving the rights of Britain’s “indigenous peoples,” who he said could trace their origins back 17,000 years. “We are the aborigines here,” he said.

That brought one man in the audience to his feet. “Where do you want me to go?” asked Khush Klare, whose parents immigrated from India in the 1960s. “I love this country, I’m part of this country.”

The B.N.P. leader also said that to earn the right to remain in Britain, Muslims should “acknowledge that Britain always has been and must remain fundamentally a British and Christian country.” On lesbians and gay men, he said that “a lot of people in this country find the sight of two grown men kissing in public really creepy.” That brought to her feet a woman in the audience who said she was a lesbian. “I have to say the feeling of revulsion is mutual,” she said.
27998  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Biden on: October 24, 2009, 05:50:57 AM

Pravda on the Hudson

Biden Dismisses Cheney’s Criticisms Over Afghanistan Sign in to Recommend
PETER BAKER
Published: October 23, 2009
PRAGUE — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had a blunt response on Friday to the latest broadsides from former Vice President Dick Cheney: “Who cares?”

In the latest exchange between old and new administrations, Mr. Biden rebuffed his predecessor’s criticism about President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan as “absolutely wrong.” And Mr. Biden rejected the last review of the war conducted by the White House under former President George W. Bush and Mr. Cheney as “irrelevant.”

The dismissive reply, which came at the end of Mr. Biden’s three-day swing through Eastern Europe during an interview with reporters traveling with him, underscored the weariness in the current White House with Mr. Cheney’s periodic assaults. At the same time, advisers to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden consider the former vice president a useful public foil and have not shied away from escalating the debate by taking him on directly.

At the heart of the dispute is a fundamental disagreement on national security, from how to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan to how to protect Americans at home from possible terrorist attacks. In a speech in Washington this week, Mr. Cheney complained that Mr. Obama was “dithering” in deciding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan and had committed a “strategic blunder” in scrapping the last administration’s missile defense plan in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Biden spent much of this week in Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic assuring leaders in the region that the cancellation of Mr. Bush’s antimissile shield in favor of a more mobile replacement was not a concession to Russia, as Mr. Cheney and others contended. Mr. Biden secured an agreement with the Czech Republic on Friday to participate in the new missile defense system, as he earlier did with Poland.

Asked about Mr. Cheney’s criticism during a half-hour interview at the American ambassador’s residence here, Mr. Biden responded indirectly at first, saying leaders in the region now agree that the Obama plan will be more effective. “They believe that the new architecture is better,” the vice president said.

But as he warmed to the discussion, he became sharper in his rebuttals of Mr. Cheney. “I think that is absolutely wrong,” he said of the “dithering” charge. “I think what the administration is doing is exactly what we said it would do. And what I think it warrants doing. And that is making an informed judgment based upon circumstances that have changed.”

Mr. Biden shrugged off Mr. Cheney’s point that the old administration had left behind a review of Afghanistan.

“Who cares what — ” he said, and then stopped himself to find another way to put it. (“I can see the headline now,” said the famously free-wheeling vice president. “I’m getting better, guys.”)

But he went on to dismiss the Bush-Cheney review as inadequate. “That’s why the president asked me to get in the plane in January and go to Afghanistan,” Mr. Biden said. “I came back with a different review.”

Moreover, he said, the Bush-Cheney review is now dated. “A whole lot has changed in the last year,” Mr. Biden said. “Let’s assume they left us a review that was absolutely correct. Is that review relevant and totally applicable to today in light of the changes that have taken place in the region, in Afghanistan itself? So I think that is sort of irrelevant. Not sort of — I think it’s irrelevant.”

The interview was the first time Mr. Biden had publicly talked about Afghanistan in the weeks since the president began intensively rethinking his strategy and considering Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for about 40,000 more troops. Mr. Biden has been a forceful skeptic of General McChrystal’s request and an advocate for keeping troop levels roughly the same while focusing attention on hunting down Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Mr. Biden said that Mr. Obama had lived up to a pre-election pledge to take his vice president’s views seriously and added that he would not be upset if the president rejected them at the end of the Afghanistan policy review. “He has sought my opinion not generically but in detail,” Mr. Biden said. “And if he reaches a different conclusion than I do, that’s O.K. He’s the president.”

The vice president acknowledged that at every stop on his trip through Eastern Europe he ran into uncertainty from allies about whether America was going to stay the course in Afghanistan. “What they wanted to know was, ‘Are you leaving?’ ” he said, adding that they were satisfied with his reassurances that America was not withdrawing.

Mr. Biden wrapped up his trip on Friday with meetings with Czech leaders. Jan Fischer, the prime minister, said his country would participate in the new antimissile shield. “I used the opportunity to express our readiness as a NATO member to participate because the new architecture is going to be NATO based and the Czech Republic is ready to participate,” Mr. Fischer said.

Mr. Biden said a high-level defense team would visit Prague next month to discuss how to structure that participation. While Poland agreed to host SM-3 interceptors, the Czech Republic might help with research and development or by hosting a command and control center. Yet the Czech commitment remains uncertain since Mr. Fischer is a caretaker prime minister until elections next spring.

Still, securing Polish and Czech involvement in the new system may go a long way toward reassuring the region of America’s commitment to its security. Both Poland and the Czech Republic were supposed to host parts of the Bush system and the Obama administration did not inform them of his decision until just before the announcement. As news of his decision was leaking last month, Mr. Obama scrambled to reach Mr. Fischer by telephone after midnight to tell him first.

Mr. Biden acknowledged that the announcement was not handled well. “Could it have been done better?” he asked. “Yeah. Obviously it could have been done better.” He added, “That’s the reason for the trip.”

He said Eastern European leaders were reassured. “There is an understandable reason for the anxiety here. You’ve got a new administration.” But he added, “Missile architecture was more sort of a metaphor for ‘Are we committed?’ ”
27999  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NATO pressures President Hamlet on: October 24, 2009, 05:45:51 AM

Pravda on the Hudson

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Defense ministers from NATO on Friday endorsed the ambitious counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan proposed by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, giving new impetus to his recommendation to pour more troops into the eight-year-old war.

Notes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict in the post-9/11 era. Go to the Blog »
General McChrystal, the senior American and allied commander in Afghanistan, made an unannounced appearance here on Friday to brief the defense ministers on his strategic review of a war in which the American-led campaign has lost momentum to a tenacious Taliban insurgency.

“What we did today was to discuss General McChrystal’s overall assessment, his overall approach, and I have noted a broad support from all ministers of this overall counterinsurgency approach,” said NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The acceptance by NATO defense ministers of General McChrystal’s approach did not include a decision on new troops, and it was not clear that their judgment would translate into increased willingness by their governments, many of which have been seeking to reduce their military presence in Afghanistan, to contribute further forces to the war.

But it was another in a series of judgments that success there could not be achieved by a narrower effort that did not increase troop levels in Afghanistan substantially and focused more on capturing and killing terrorists linked to Al Qaeda — a counterterrorism strategy identified with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The NATO briefing, though held privately, thrusts General McChrystal back into the debate over what President Obama should do about Afghanistan — a role that has raised tensions between the general and the White House in the past, and even drawn a rebuke from his boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

NATO’s support got no official reaction from the White House. But an administration official noted that an endorsement by defense ministers was not the same as an endorsement by the alliance’s political leadership. Other officials were emphatic that Mr. Obama would not be stampeded in his deliberations and suggested that the NATO statement should not be taken as evidence that the White House had made a decision about how to proceed.

“In no way, shape or form are the president’s options constrained,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, speaking to reporters at the State Department.

General McChrystal’s review calls for adopting a full-scale counterinsurgency strategy that would protect population centers and accelerate training of Afghan Army and police units — both of which would require significant numbers of fresh troops. NATO diplomats noted that it was difficult to see how an acceptance of this broad strategy could be viewed as anything but an endorsement of the need to increase both military and civilian contributions.

Mr. Gates, who has kept his views about additional troops close to his vest and has discouraged his commanders from lobbying too publicly for their positions, declined to be drawn out on this assessment.

“For this meeting, I am here mainly in listening mode,” Mr. Gates said in Bratislava after the NATO briefing, although he noted that “many allies spoke positively about General McChrystal’s assessment.”

Mr. Gates said the administration’s decision on Afghanistan was still two or three weeks away, and he cautioned that it was “vastly premature” to draw conclusions now about whether the president would deploy more troops. He said that allied defense ministers had not voiced concerns about the administration’s decision-making process.

Although NATO will not meet until next month to decide whether to commit more resources to Afghanistan, Mr. Gates did reveal that he had received indications that some allies were prepared to increase their contributions of civilian experts or troops, or both.

Britain and other NATO members have had their own fractious political debates over troop levels. A retired top general in Britain recently said that the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown had rebuffed his requests for more troops, a charge Mr. Brown denied.

Separate from his strategic review, General McChrystal has submitted a request for forces, which is now working its way through both the American and NATO chains of command.

The options submitted by General McChrystal range to a maximum of 85,000 more troops, although his leading option calls for increasing forces by about 40,000, according to officials familiar with the proposal.

The pressure for more troops was a theme throughout the day at the NATO meeting, as other senior international representatives told defense ministers of the need to increase their commitments in order to succeed in Afghanistan.

The United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, who also flew to the Slovakian capital to meet the ministers, stressed that “additional international troops are required.” He also told the allies, “This cannot be a U.S.-only enterprise.”

Mr. Eide acknowledged that it might be difficult to rally public support for force contributions while allegations of election fraud continued to taint the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Senior American military officers have already endorsed General McChrystal’s overall strategy, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in the Middle East.

Senior NATO officials made clear that additional commitments should go beyond combat forces to include trainers for the Afghan Army and police force, as well as civilians to help rebuild the economy and restore confidence in the government.

“What we need is a much broader strategy, which stabilizes the whole of Afghan society, and this is the essence in the recommendations presented by General McChrystal,” said Mr. Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general. “This won’t happen just because of a good plan. It will also need resources — people and money.”

General McChrystal was not scheduled to make any public comments here. The general’s reticence was not unexpected, as some administration officials have criticized his recent statements as an attempt to press the White House to act.

The general and his aides have denied they were playing politics. General McChrystal said in a recent interview that success required a unified, government-wide strategy.

NATO officials assessing the potential for allied troop contributions said that delicate negotiations were under way, and that NATO capitals were watching the Obama administration for signals even while they sent signals of their own.

Thom Shanker reported from Bratislava, and Mark Landler from Washington.
28000  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Biden in Central Europe on: October 24, 2009, 05:41:52 AM
Yes I know Biden is a buffoon, but still this is interesting.  Stratfor has often spoken of how geopolitical interests constrain leaders far more than we realized.  Given how the Russians have been fcuking with us on Iran, what this piece describes makes sense.
==========================

Biden Rallies Central Europe
U.S. VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN was in Bucharest on Thursday to meet with Romanian government officials, during his whirlwind three-country tour of Central Europe. Biden's trip thus far has been mostly about "reassuring" countries in Central Europe that Washington would not abandon the region to Russia’s influence.

However, during his address at the Bucharest University Central Library, Biden significantly upped the rhetorical ante from merely being reassuring about continued U.S. commitments. He encouraged Central European states to actively subvert Russia's influence in states on its periphery.

Related Link
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on America, Central Europe, and Partnership in 21st Century
(STRATFOR is not responsible for content from other Web sites.)
After a cursory introduction – during which he discussed plans for the new ballistic missile defense system to be based in Poland -- Biden launched into the meat of his message. "The United States stands against the 19th-century notion of 'spheres of influence.' We will not tolerate it, nor will we be co-opted by it," he said. The point was simple and direct: The United States does not accept Russia's demand that it be given free rein in its periphery. Biden has said this before -- at the Munich Security Conference in February and many other times since -- but what followed on Thursday was an elaboration of a strategy for how Washington intends to pressure Russia and the rest of Central Europe.

"Biden not only encouraged Central European countries to seek political change in their eastern neighbors; he essentially offered them U.S. support in their efforts."
"We know from history that destroying old oppressive regimes is a great deal easier than building new flourishing democracies," Biden said. "But you've delivered on the promise of your revolution. You are now in the position to help others do the same."

And then:

"You can help guide Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine along the path of lasting stability and prosperity. It's your time to lead. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus can benefit from your personal experiences. … And we will partner with you in working to fulfill the promise of 1989. But your leadership needs to be bold and your voices loud."

With this address, Biden not only encouraged Central European countries to actively seek political change in their eastern neighbors; he essentially offered them U.S. support in their efforts. As he concluded in the speech, "We no longer think in terms of what we can do for Central Europe, but rather in terms of what we can do with Central Europe." This is an important detail. Biden was not idly telling the Central Europeans to start fires in neighborhoods to their east. It apparently was a promise from the U.S. vice president that Washington would supply the matches and lighter fluid, and even give them a lift to the bonfire.

In effect, the United States has given Moscow notice that it intends to actively push against its entire periphery and to conscript the Central European states of NATO as its foot soldiers.

It is not surprising that Biden used his trip to Romania to lay out this vision. More than most countries in the region, Romania enthusiastically has sought political change in the former Soviet countries along its borders -- specifically in Moldova. The Romanians were very active during the April election protests in Moldova: They supported pro-Western parties during the upheaval and even offered to give Romanian passports to 1 million Moldovans -- one-quarter of the population.

Bucharest does not currently have the capacity to devote to spurring political change along the Russian periphery; it is embroiled in a serious economic and political crisis. The government collapsed last week and has been replaced by a cabinet of technocrats. Meanwhile, massive strikes are taking place and the presidential elections on Nov. 22 are likely to paralyze the country for more than a month.

Nevertheless, the significance of making this kind of an address in Bucharest will not be lost on Russia and the regimes that Biden referred to as needing "an example." There were multiple revolutions in Central Europe in 1989, and Romania's was particularly violent. Its longtime communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown in a revolution that did not resemble the non-violent "color" revolutions that the United States has supported during the past decade. The Romanian revolution was an all out-coup by elements of the army, combined with a mass citizen uprising. It ended with the execution of both Ceausescu and his wife.

Therefore, when Biden states that Central Europeans today should "fulfill the promise of 1989," the countries that Biden claimed need "leadership" will remember the bloody Romanian revolution of 1989. Biden's message to Russia is crystal clear: The Americans are in Eastern Europe, and they’re ready to play hardball.
Pages: 1 ... 558 559 [560] 561 562 ... 789
Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.21 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!