Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Indonesia
on: April 15, 2009, 11:51:15 PM
By SADANAND DHUME
Against a backdrop of Korean missile launches and violent protests in Thailand, those looking for a spot of calm in Asia may alight on an unlikely candidate: Indonesia. Largely peaceful parliamentary elections last week -- the third consecutive free elections since the end of Gen. Suharto's 32-year rule in 1998 -- reflect the strides made by a country that not so long ago was in danger of becoming a byword for chaos and random violence.
Most heartening of all has been the Indonesian electorate's affirmation of its legendary moderation. The top three parties in the incoming parliament -- President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrat Party, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri's left-leaning Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, and Suharto's former political machine, Golkar -- are all nonsectarian.
They stand for the country's founding ideology, the live-and-let-live doctrine of Pancasila, and draw their supporters from each of the country's five major faiths. Mr. Yudhoyono, known as the "gentle general" for his military past and avuncular manner, is the overwhelming favorite to win July's presidential election.
Islam-based parties saw their cumulative vote-share shrink to about 20% from 38% five years ago. Take the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) -- Indonesia's version of the Muslim Brotherhood -- which seeks to institute Shariah law. In the outgoing parliament, PKS and the Democrat Party were virtually tied; in the new parliament the president's party, which deftly stole PKS's signature issue, a promise of graft free governance, will seat about three times as many members.
Five years ago, when the Democrat Party won only 7% of the parliamentary vote, Mr. Yudhoyono was forced to rely on PKS support in parliament. This time around he can exclude PKS from the governing coalition and deny it the chance to grow under the umbrella of state power. Nevertheless, while PKS is down, it is still the fourth-largest party in parliament, thanks to the decline of other Islam-oriented parties. It controls several important governorships, including those of the populous provinces of West Java and North Sumatra.
In the short term, striking a deal with PKS may be expedient -- it's natural for any politician to eye the party's disciplined voter base. But in the long term, as the experience of Pakistan and Sudan shows, trucking with Islamists is a high-risk gamble. A pathbreaking new report by the Libforall Foundation, an anti-extremist nonprofit co-founded by former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, notes that PKS continues its effort to infiltrate mainstream Islamic organizations, and to replace Indonesia's tolerant, homespun Islam with an arid import from the Middle East.
It will take much more than a single election to dent PKS's access to Saudi funding and its network of supportive mosques and madrassas, or to diminish the appeal for many newly educated Indonesians of its starkly utopian message: Islam is the solution.
Since it first burst into prominence five years ago, PKS has done little to dispel fears that it is the dark bloom at the heart of Indonesia's democratic flowering. Party leaders are outspoken supporters of Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah, the terrorist group responsible for suicide bombing in Bali that killed hundreds. Last year, PKS piloted through parliament a harsh antipornography bill that legalizes vigilante violence and forces non-Islamic communities to conform to conservative Islamic norms.
The party's attitudes toward women's rights are captured by its obsession with dress codes and outspoken support for polygamy. In a country long famous for a pragmatic foreign policy, PKS makes emotive appeals to pan-Islamic causes such as Palestine. Among the party rank and file, 9/11 conspiracy theories, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are rampant.
If Indonesia is to fulfill its potential as a moderate and modern Muslim-majority democracy, mainstream politicians must not make the mistake of legitimizing this party. In the short term, this means scotching rumors that the PKS may snag the vice-presidential spot on President Yudhoyono's ticket.
In the long term, it means recognizing the sobering reality that Indonesia's long struggle with radical Islam is not about to end any time soon. That struggle will be won not by embracing PKS, but by working to banish it to the margins of political life, where it belongs.
Mr. Dhume is a Washington-based writer and the author of "My Friend the Fanatic: Travels With a Radical Islamist" (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Gerecht
on: April 15, 2009, 11:46:36 PM
REUEL MARC GERECHT
'The United States is not at war with Islam and will never be. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject."
Getty ImagesSo spoke President Barack Hussein Obama in Turkey last week. Following in the footsteps of the Bush administration, Mr. Obama wants to avoid labeling our enemy in religious terms. References to "Islamic terrorism," "Islamic radicalism," or "Islamic extremism" aren't in his speeches. "Jihad," too, has been banished from the official lexicon.
But if one visits the religious bookstores near Istanbul's Covered Bazaar, or mosque libraries of Turkish immigrants in Rotterdam, Brussels or Frankfurt, one can still find a cornucopia of radical Islamist literature. Go into the bookstores of Arab and Pakistani immigrant communities in Europe, or into the literary markets of the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent, and you'll find an even richer collection of militant Islamism.
Al Qaeda is certainly not a mainstream Muslim group -- if it were, we would have had far more terrorist attacks since 9/11. But the ideology that produced al Qaeda isn't a rivulet in contemporary Muslim thought. It is a wide and deep river. The Obama administration does both Muslims and non-Muslims an enormous disservice by pretending otherwise.
Theologically, Muslims are neither fragile nor frivolous. They have not become suicide bombers because non-Muslims have said something unkind; they have not refrained from becoming holy warriors because Westerners avoided the word "Islamic" in describing Osama bin Laden and his allies. Having an American president who had a Muslim father, carries the name of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, and wants to engage the Muslim world in a spirit of "mutual respect" isn't a "game changer." This hypothesis trivializes Islamic history and the continuing appeal of religious militancy.
Above all else, we need to understand clearly our enemies -- to try to understand them as they see themselves, and to see them as devout nonviolent Muslims do. To not talk about Islam when analyzing al Qaeda is like talking about the Crusades without mentioning Christianity. To devise a hearts-and-minds counterterrorist policy for the Islamic world without openly talking about faith is counterproductive. We -- the West -- are the unrivalled agent of change in the Middle East. Modern Islamic history -- including the Bush years -- ought to tell us that questions non-Muslims pose can provoke healthy discussions.
The abolition of slavery, rights for religious minorities and women, free speech, or the very idea of civil society -- all of these did not advance without Western pressure and the enormous seductive power that Western values have for Muslims. Although Muslims in the Middle East have been talking about political reform since they were first exposed to Western ideas (and modern military might) in the 18th century, the discussion of individual liberty and equality has been more effective when Westerners have been intimately involved. The Middle East's brief but impressive "Liberal Age" grew from European imperialism and the unsustainable contradiction between the progressive ideals taught by the British and French -- the Egyptian press has never been as free as when the British ruled over the Nile valley -- and the inevitably illiberal and demeaning practices that come with foreign occupation.
Although it is now politically incorrect to say so, George W. Bush's democratic rhetoric energized the discussion of representative government and human rights abroad. Democracy advocates and the anti-authoritarian voices in Arab lands have never been so hopeful as they were between 2002, when democracy promotion began to germinate within the White House, and 2006, when the administration gave up on people power in the Middle East (except in Iraq).
The issue of jihadism is little different. It's not a coincidence that the Muslim debate about holy war became most vivid after 9/11, when the U.S. struck back against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Many may have found Mr. Bush's brief use of the term "Islamofascism" to be offensive -- although it recalls well Abul Ala Maududi, a Pakistani founding father of modern Islamic radicalism, who openly admired European fascism as a violent, muscular ideology capable of mobilizing the masses. Yet Mr. Bush's flirtation with the term unquestionably pushed Muslim intellectuals to debate the legitimacy of its use and the cult of martyrdom that had -- and may still have -- a widespread grip on many among the faithful.
When Sunni Arab Muslims viewed daily on satellite TV the horrors of the Sunni onslaught against the Iraqi Shiites, and then the vicious Shiite revenge against their former masters, the debate about jihadism, the historic Sunni-Shiite rivalry, and the American occupation intensified. Unfortunately, progress in the Middle East has usually happened when things have gotten ugly, and Muslims debate the mess.
Iran's former president Mohammed Khatami, whom Bill Clinton unsuccessfully tried to engage, is a serious believer in the "dialogue of civilizations." In his books, Mr. Khatami does something very rare for an Iranian cleric: He admits that Western civilization can be morally superior to its Islamic counterpart, and that Muslims must borrow culturally as well as technologically from others. On the whole, however, he finds the West -- especially America -- to be an amoral slippery slope of sin. How should one talk to Mr. Khatami or to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the less curious but morally more earnest clerical overlord of Iran; or the Saudi royal family and their influential state-supported clergy, who still preach hatred of the West; or to the faithful of Pakistan, who are in the midst of an increasingly brutal, internecine religious struggle? Messrs. Khatami and Khamenei are flawlessly polite gentlemen. They do not, however, confuse civility with agreement. Neither should we.
It's obviously not for non-Muslims to decide what Islam means. Only the faithful can decide whether Islam is a religion of peace or war (historically it has been both). Only the faithful can banish jihad as a beloved weapon against infidels and unbelief. Only Muslims can decide how they balance legislation by men and what the community -- or at least its legal guardians, the ulama -- has historically seen as divine commandments.
Westerners can, however, ask probing questions and apply pressure when differing views threaten us. We may not choose to dispatch the U.S. Navy to protect women's rights, as the British once sent men-of-war to put down the Muslim slave trade, but we can underscore clearly our disdain for men who see "child brides" as something vouchsafed by the Almighty. There is probably no issue that angers militants more than women's rights. Advancing this cause in traditional Muslim societies caught in the merciless whirlwind of globalization isn't easy, but no effort is likely to bear more fruit in the long term than having American officials become public champions of women's rights in Muslim lands.
Al Qaeda's Islamic radicalism isn't a blip -- a one-time outgrowth of the Soviet-Afghan war -- or a byproduct of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. It's the most recent violent expression of the modernization of the Muslim Middle East. The West's great transformative century -- the 20th -- was soaked in blood. We should hope, pray, and do what we can to ensure that Islam's continuing embrace of modernity in the 21st century -- undoubtedly its pivotal era -- will not be similarly horrific.
We are fooling ourselves if we think we no longer have to be concerned about how Muslims talk among themselves. This is not an issue that we want to push the "reset" button on. Here, at least, George W. Bush didn't go nearly far enough.
Mr. Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / stratfor
on: April 15, 2009, 06:27:42 PM
When the Mexican Drug Trade Hits the Border
April 15, 2009
By Fred Burton and Ben West
For several years now, STRATFOR has been closely monitoring the growing violence in Mexico and its links to the drug trade. In December, our cartel report assessed the situation in Mexico, and two weeks ago we looked closely at the networks that control the flow of drugs through Central America. This week, we turn our attention to the border to see the dynamics at work there and how U.S. gangs are involved in the action.
The nature of narcotics trafficking changes as shipments near the border. As in any supply chain, shipments become smaller as they reach the retail level, requiring more people to be involved in the operation. While Mexican cartels do have representatives in cities across the United States to oversee networks there, local gangs get involved in the actual distribution of the narcotics.
While there are still many gaps in the understanding of how U.S. gangs interface with Mexican cartels to move drugs around the United States and finally sell them on the retail market, we do know some of the details of gang involvement.
Trafficking vs. Distribution
Though the drug trade as a whole is highly complex, the underlying concept is as simple as getting narcotics from South America to the consuming markets — chief among them the United States, which is the world’s largest drug market. Traffickers use Central America and Mexico as a pipeline to move their goods north. The objective of the Latin American smuggler is to get as much tonnage as possible from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia to the lucrative American market and avoid interdictions by authorities along the way.
However, as narcotic shipments near the U.S.-Mexican border, wholesale trafficking turns into the more micro process of retail distribution. In southern Mexico, drug traffickers move product north in bulk, but as shipments cross the U.S. border, wholesale shipments are broken down into smaller parcels in order to hedge against interdiction and prepare the product for the end user. One way to think about the difference in tactics between trafficking drugs in Central America and Mexico and distributing drugs in the United States is to imagine a company like UPS or FedEx. Shipping air cargo from, say, New York to Los Angeles requires different resources than delivering packages to individual homes in southern California. Several tons of freight from the New York area can be quickly flown to the Los Angeles area. But as the cargo gets closer to its final destination, it is broken up into smaller loads that are shipped via tractor trailer to distribution centers around the region, and finally divided further into discrete packages carried in parcel trucks to individual homes.
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As products move through the supply chain, they require more specific handling and detailed knowledge of an area, which requires more manpower. The same, more or less, can be said for drug shipments. This can be seen in interdiction reports. When narcotics are intercepted traversing South America into Mexico, they can be measured in tons; as they cross the border into the United States, seizures are reported in kilograms; and by the time products are picked up on the streets of U.S. cities, the narcotics have been divided into packages measured in grams. To reflect this difference, we will refer to the movement of drugs south of the border as trafficking and the movement of drugs north of the border as distributing.
As narcotics approach the border, law enforcement scrutiny and the risk of interdiction also increase, so drug traffickers have to be creative when it comes to moving their products. The constant game of cat-and-mouse makes drug trafficking a very dynamic business, with tactics and specific routes constantly changing to take advantage of any angle that presents itself.
The only certainties are that drugs and people will move from south to north, and that money and weapons will move from north to south. But the specific nature and corridors of those movements are constantly in flux as traffickers innovate in their attempts to stay ahead of the police in a very Darwinian environment. The traffickers employ all forms of movement imaginable, including:
Tunneling under border fences into safe houses on the U.S. side.
Traversing the desert on foot with 50-pound packs of narcotics. (Dirt bikes, ATVs and pack mules are also used.)
Driving across the border by fording the Rio Grande, using ramps to get over fences, cutting through fences or driving through open areas.
Using densely vegetated portions of the riverbank as dead drops.
Floating narcotics across isolated stretches of the river.
Flying small aircraft near the ground to avoid radar.
Concealing narcotics in private vehicles, personal possessions and in or on the bodies of persons who are crossing legally at ports of entry.
Bribing border officials in order to pass through checkpoints.
Hiding narcotics on cross-border trains.
Hiding narcotics in tractor trailers carrying otherwise legitimate loads.
Using boats along the Gulf coast.
Using human “mules” to smuggle narcotics aboard commercial aircraft in their luggage or bodies.
Shipping narcotics via mail or parcel service.
These methods are not mutually exclusive, and organizations may use any combination at the same time. New ways to move the product are constantly emerging.
Once the narcotics are moved into the United States, drug distributors use networks of safe houses, which are sometimes operated by people with direct connections to the Mexican cartels, sometimes by local or regional gang members, and sometimes by individual entrepreneurs. North of the border, distributors still must maneuver around checkpoints, either by avoiding them or by bribing the officials who work there. While these checkpoints certainly result in seizures, they can only slow or reroute the flow of drugs. Hub cities like Atlanta service a large region of smaller drug dealers who act as individual couriers in delivering small amounts of narcotics to their customers.
It is a numbers game for drug traffickers and distributors alike, since it is inevitable that smugglers and shipments will be intercepted by law enforcement somewhere along the supply chain. Those whose loads are interdicted more often struggle to keep prices low and stay competitive. On the other hand, paying heavy corruption fees or taking extra precautions to ensure that more of your product makes it through also raises the cost of moving the product. Successful traffickers and distributors must be able to strike a balance between protecting their shipments and accepting losses. This requires a high degree of pragmatism and rationality.
While the Mexican cartels do have people in the United States, they do not have enough people so positioned to handle the increased workload of distributing narcotics at the retail level. A wide range of skill sets is required. Some of the tactics involved in moving shipments across the border require skilled workers, such as pilots, while U.S. gang members along the border serve as middlemen and retail distributors. Other aspects of the operation call for people with expertise in manipulating corrupt officials and recruiting human intelligence sources, while a large part of the process simply involves saturating the system with massive numbers of expendable, low-skilled smugglers who are desperate for the money.
The U.S. gangs are crucial in filling the cartel gap north of the border. Members of these border gangs typically are young men who are willing to break the law, looking for quick cash and already plugged in to a network of similar young men, which enables them to recruit others to meet the manpower demand. They are also typically tied to Mexico through family connections, dual citizenship and the simple geographic fact that they live so close to the border. However, the U.S. gangs do not constitute formal extensions of the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Border gangs developed on their own, have their own histories, traditions, structures and turf, and they remain independent. They are also involved in more than just drug trafficking and distribution, including property crime, racketeering and kidnapping. Their involvement in narcotics is similar to that of a contractor who can provide certain services, such as labor and protection, while drugs move across gang territory, but drug money is not usually their sole source of income.
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These gangs come in many shapes and sizes. Motorcycle gangs like the Mongols and Bandidos have chapters all along the southwestern U.S. border and, while not known to actually carry narcotics across the border into the United States, they are frequently involved in distributing smaller loads to various markets across the country to supplement their income from other illegal activities.
Street gangs are present in virtually every U.S. city and town of significant size along the border and are obvious pools of labor for distributing narcotics once they hit the United States. The largest of these street gangs are MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia. MS-13 has an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 members worldwide, about 25 percent of whom are in the United States. MS-13 is unique among U.S. gangs in that it is involved in trafficking narcotics through Central America and Mexico as well as in distributing narcotics in the United States. The Mexican Mafia works with allied gangs in the American Southwest to control large swaths of territory along both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. These gangs are organized to interact directly with traffickers in Mexico and oversee transborder shipments as well as distribution inside the United States.
Prison gangs such as the Barrio Azteca and the Texas Syndicate reach far beyond the prison fence. Membership in a prison gang typically means that, at one point, the member was in prison, where he joined the gang. But there is a wide network of ex-prisoner gang members on the outside involved in criminal activities, including drug smuggling, which is one of the most accessible ways for a gang member to make money when he is released from prison.
Operating underneath the big gang players are hundreds of smaller city gangs in neighborhoods all along the border. These gangs are typically involved in property theft, drug dealing, turf battles and other forms of street crime that can be handled by local police. However, even these gangs can become involved in cross-border smuggling; for example, the Wonderboys in San Luis, Ariz., are known to smuggle marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine across the border.
Gangs like the Wonderboys also target illegal immigrants coming across the border and steal any valuable personal items or cash they may have on them. The targeting of illegal immigrants coming into the United States is common all across the border, with many gangs specializing in kidnapping newly arrived immigrants and demanding ransoms from their families. These gangs are responsible for the record level of kidnapping reported in places like Phoenix, where 368 abductions were reported in 2008. Afraid to notify law enforcement out of a fear of being deported, many families of abducted immigrants somehow come up with the money to secure their family member’s release.
Drug distribution is by far the most lucrative illicit business along the border, and the competition for money leads to a very pragmatic interface between the U.S. border gangs and the drug cartels in Mexico. Handoffs from Mexican traffickers to U.S. distributors are made based upon reliability and price. While territorial rivalries between drug traffickers have led to thousands of deaths in Mexico, these Mexican rivalries do not appear to be spilling over into the U.S. border gangs, who are engaged in their own rivalries, feuds and acts of violence. Nor do the more gruesome aspects of violence in Mexico, such as torture and beheadings, although there are indications that grenades that were once part of cartel arsenals are finding their way to U.S. gangs. In dealing with the Mexican cartels, U.S. gangs — and cartels in turn — exhibit no small amount of business pragmatism. U.S. gangs can serve more than one cartel, which appears to be fine with the cartels, who really have no choice in the matter. They need these retail distribution services north of the border in order to make a profit.
Likewise, U.S. gangs are in the drug business to make money, not to enhance the power of any particular cartel in Mexico. As such, U.S. gangs do not want to limit their business opportunities by aligning themselves to any one cartel. Smaller city gangs that control less territory are more limited geographically in terms of which cartels they can work with. The Wonderboys in Arizona, for example, must deal exclusively with the Sinaloa cartel because the cartel’s turf south of the border encompasses the gang’s relative sliver of turf to the north. However, larger gangs like the Mexican Mafia control much broader swaths of territory and can deal with more than one cartel.
The expanse of geography controlled by the handful of cartels in Mexico simply does not match up with the territory controlled by the many gangs on the U.S. side. Stricter law enforcement is one reason U.S. border gangs have not consolidated to gain control over more turf. While corruption is a growing problem along the U.S. side of the border, it still has not risen to the level that it has in northern Mexico. Another reason for the asymmetry is the different nature of drug movements north of the border. As discussed earlier, moving narcotics in the United States has everything to do with distributing retail quantities of drugs to consumers spread over a broad geographic area, a model that requires more feet on the ground than the trafficking that takes place in Mexico.
Because the drug distribution network in the United States is so large, it is impossible for any one criminal organization to control all of it. U.S. gangs fill the role of middleman to move drugs around, and they are entrusted with large shipments of narcotics worth millions of dollars. Obviously, the cartels need a way to keep these gangs honest.
One effective way is to have an enforcement arm in place. This is where U.S.-based assassins come in. More tightly connected to the cartels than the gangs are, these assassins are not usually members of a gang. In fact, the cartels prefer that their assassins not be in a gang so that their loyalties will be to the cartels, and so they will be less likely to have criminal records or attract law enforcement attention because of everyday gang activity.
Cartels invest quite a bit in training these hit men to operate in the United States. Often they are trained in Mexico, then sent back across to serve as a kind of “sleeper cell” until they are tapped to take out a delinquent U.S. drug dealer. The frequency and ease with which Americans travel to and from Mexico covers any suspicion that might be raised.
The U.S.-Mexican border is a dynamic place, with competition over drug routes and the quest for cash destabilizing northern Mexico and straining local and state law enforcement on the U.S. side. Putting pressure on the people who are active in the border drug trade has so far only inspired others to innovate and adapt to the challenging environment by becoming more innovative and pragmatic.
And there is still so much we do not know. The exact nature of the relationship between Mexican cartels and U.S. gangs is very murky, and it appears to be handled on such an individual basis that making generalizations is difficult. Another intelligence gap is how deeply involved the cartels are in the U.S. distribution network. As mentioned earlier, the network expands as it becomes more retail in nature, but the profit margins also expand, making it an attractive target for cartel takeover. Finally, while we know that gangs are instrumental in distributing narcotics in the United States, it is unclear how much of the cross-border smuggling they control. Is this vital, risky endeavor completely controlled by cartels and gatekeeper organizations based in Mexico, or do U.S. gangs on the distribution side have more say? STRATFOR will continue to monitor these issues as Mexico’s dynamic cartels continue to evolve.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / History Review
on: April 15, 2009, 11:33:01 AM
Timely history review ...
Ruthless, unconventional foes are not new to the United States of America. More than two hundred years ago the newly established United States made its first attempt to fight an overseas battle to protect its private citizens by building an international coalition against an unconventional enemy. Then the enemies were pirates and piracy. The focus of the United States and a proposed international coalition was the Barbary Pirates of North Africa.
Pirate ships and crews from the North African states of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers (the Barbary Coast) were the scourge of the Mediterranean. Capturing merchant ships and holding their crews for ransom provided the rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power. In fact, the Roman Catholic Religious Order of Mathurins had operated from France for centuries with the special mission of collecting and disbursing funds for the relief and ransom of prisoners of Mediterranean pirates.
Before the United States obtained its independence in the American Revolution, 1775-83, American merchant ships and sailors had been protected from the ravages of the North African pirates by the naval and diplomatic power of Great Britain. British naval power and the tribute or subsidies Britain paid to the piratical states protected American vessels and crews. During the Revolution, the ships of the United States were protected by the 1778 alliance with France, which required the French nation to protect "American vessels and effects against all violence, insults, attacks, or depredations, on the part of the said Princes and States of Barbary or their subjects."
After the United States won its independence in the treaty of 1783, it had to protect its own commerce against dangers such as the Barbary pirates. As early as 1784 Congress followed the tradition of the European shipping powers and appropriated $80,000 as tribute to the Barbary states, directing its ministers in Europe, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, to begin negotiations with them. Trouble began the next year, in July 1785, when Algerians captured two American ships and the dey of Algiers held their crews of twenty-one people for a ransom of nearly $60,000.
Thomas Jefferson, United States minister to France, opposed the payment of tribute, as he later testified in words that have a particular resonance today. In his autobiography Jefferson wrote that in 1785 and 1786 he unsuccessfully "endeavored to form an association of the powers subject to habitual depredation from them. I accordingly prepared, and proposed to their ministers at Paris, for consultation with their governments, articles of a special confederation." Jefferson argued that "The object of the convention shall be to compel the piratical States to perpetual peace." Jefferson prepared a detailed plan for the interested states. "Portugal, Naples, the two Sicilies, Venice, Malta, Denmark and Sweden were favorably disposed to such an association," Jefferson remembered, but there were "apprehensions" that England and France would follow their own paths, "and so it fell through."
Paying the ransom would only lead to further demands, Jefferson argued in letters to future presidents John Adams, then America's minister to Great Britain, and James Monroe, then a member of Congress. As Jefferson wrote to Adams in a July 11, 1786, letter, "I acknolege [sic] I very early thought it would be best to effect a peace thro' the medium of war." Paying tribute will merely invite more demands, and even if a coalition proves workable, the only solution is a strong navy that can reach the pirates, Jefferson argued in an August 18, 1786, letter to James Monroe: "The states must see the rod; perhaps it must be felt by some one of them. . . . Every national citizen must wish to see an effective instrument of coercion, and should fear to see it on any other element than the water. A naval force can never endanger our liberties, nor occasion bloodshed; a land force would do both." "From what I learn from the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of their money," Jefferson added in a December 26, 1786, letter to the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, "it will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them."
Jefferson's plan for an international coalition foundered on the shoals of indifference and a belief that it was cheaper to pay the tribute than fight a war. The United States's relations with the Barbary states continued to revolve around negotiations for ransom of American ships and sailors and the payment of annual tributes or gifts. Even though Secretary of State Jefferson declared to Thomas Barclay, American consul to Morocco, in a May 13, 1791, letter of instructions for a new treaty with Morocco that it is "lastly our determination to prefer war in all cases to tribute under any form, and to any people whatever," the United States continued to negotiate for cash settlements. In 1795 alone the United States was forced to pay nearly a million dollars in cash, naval stores, and a frigate to ransom 115 sailors from the dey of Algiers. Annual gifts were settled by treaty on Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli.
When Jefferson became president in 1801 he refused to accede to Tripoli's demands for an immediate payment of $225,000 and an annual payment of $25,000. The pasha of Tripoli then declared war on the United States. Although as secretary of state and vice president he had opposed developing an American navy capable of anything more than coastal defense, President Jefferson dispatched a squadron of naval vessels to the Mediterranean. As he declared in his first annual message to Congress: "To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to denounce war, on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. . . ."
The American show of force quickly awed Tunis and Algiers into breaking their alliance with Tripoli. The humiliating loss of the frigate Philadelphia and the capture of her captain and crew in Tripoli in 1803, criticism from his political opponents, and even opposition within his own cabinet did not deter Jefferson from his chosen course during four years of war. The aggressive action of Commodore Edward Preble (1803-4) forced Morocco out of the fight and his five bombardments of Tripoli restored some order to the Mediterranean. However, it was not until 1805, when an American fleet under Commodore John Rogers and a land force raised by an American naval agent to the Barbary powers, Captain William Eaton, threatened to capture Tripoli and install the brother of Tripoli's pasha on the throne, that a treaty brought an end to the hostilities. Negotiated by Tobias Lear, former secretary to President Washington and now consul general in Algiers, the treaty of 1805 still required the United States to pay a ransom of $60,000 for each of the sailors held by the dey of Algiers, and so it went without Senatorial consent until April 1806. Nevertheless, Jefferson was able to report in his sixth annual message to Congress in December 1806 that in addition to the successful completion of the Lewis and Clark expedition, "The states on the coast of Barbary seem generally disposed at present to respect our peace and friendship."
In fact, it was not until the second war with Algiers, in 1815, that naval victories by Commodores William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur led to treaties ending all tribute payments by the United States. European nations continued annual payments until the 1830s. However, international piracy in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters declined during this time under pressure from the Euro-American nations, who no longer viewed pirate states as mere annoyances during peacetime and potential allies during war. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/collecti.../mtjprece.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters)
on: April 14, 2009, 04:54:10 PM
Video Link Here:http://governor.state.tx.us/news/press-release/12227/
AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry today joined state Rep. Brandon Creighton and sponsors of House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 50 in support of states’ rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state,” Gov. Perry said. “That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I believe that returning to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution and its essential 10th Amendment will free our state from undue regulations, and ultimately strengthen our Union.”
A number of recent federal proposals are not within the scope of the federal government’s constitutionally designated powers and impede the states’ right to govern themselves. HCR 50 affirms that Texas claims sovereignty under the 10th Amendment over all powers not otherwise granted to the federal government.
It also designates that all compulsory federal legislation that requires states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties, or that requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding, be prohibited or repealed.
HCR 50 is authored by Representatives Brandon Creighton, Leo Berman, Bryan Hughes, Dan Gattis and Ryan Guillen.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Freedom Connection
on: April 14, 2009, 01:31:22 PM
The Freedom Connection
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By Tzvi Freeman
We are limited by the very fact that we have human form. There is no freedom in following our whim, only further slavery to our own limited selves. Freedom can only come by connecting to something infinite and beyond us.
And so Moses was told, "When you take the people out from Egypt, you shall all serve G-d on this mountain."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / CAIR at it as usual
on: April 14, 2009, 01:27:50 PM
In Defense Of The Constitution
News & Analysis
April 14, 2009
CAIR: Defending Muslim Student “rights”?
When Americans send their children to school, it is assumed that the school will reasonably protect the student from harm; this includes college. What if this harm is inflicted by an agency of the federal government; an agency that has as part of its mission the protection of individual rights? What if that agency were the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)?
LeHighvalleylive.com reports that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is claiming that local colleges are not protecting the rights of predominantly Somali Muslim college students. CAIR claims that it has received “numerous reports” by Muslim students that they are being “interrogated” by FBI agents. The students are being questioned as part of an on-going investigation into the whereabouts of several male Somali students whom have gone missing and are suspected of leaving the US to fight in Somalia’s long-running civil war.http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/national-1/12393293616770.xml&storylist=national&thispage=1
In an article titled, “Pressure by FBI puts Somalis in bind” CAIR’s Minnesota chapter civil rights director Taneeza Islam claims “Students' legal rights need to be upheld and they aren't currently being afforded the only true legal protection they have when talking to the law enforcement-an attorney."
Islam’s concern is confirmed by this example of the FBI’s brutal interrogation methods involving a Muslim student: “In December, one of her friends who works for the University of Minnesota police approached her, saying the FBI would like to talk about her organization. The agent, she said, was polite and made it clear she could refuse to talk. "He wanted to know how we got funded and what activities we do," she said of the 20-minute interview. He also wanted to know "how some of the missing boys were involved in the organization," she said, adding she never felt pressured.”
So, the FBI agent explained she didn’t have to talk and the student stated the agent was polite. Where is the coercion? What “rights” did the FBI agent not explain?
Considering CAIR’s reputation when it comes to providing legal advice; buyer beware. In addition to the numerous proven allegations that CAIR is directly tied to Islamic terrorism and individual Islamic terrorists, CAIR has also been accused of providing shoddy legal advice to the very North American Muslim population it claims to represent and protect.http://www.saneworks.us/uploads/news/applications/27.pdf
What does it say about CAIR when they apparently set off to deliberately commit fraud against American Muslims?
So why would the Somali Muslim students turn to CAIR for legal advice? The simple answer, from the article, is that they didn’t. Nowhere in the article does CAIR make the claim that CAIR supplied any legal advice to any of the students.
Why? Would it be outside the realm of possibility that CAIR completely fabricated that claim that “numerous” students filed complaints with them?
We also learn from the article that apparently none of the students interviewed for the article had anything bad to say about the FBI, except CAIR. None of the students stated that they were abused, denied rights, or forced to answer any questions. None were taken into custody.
For instance, the opening line from the article: “When the FBI approached the young women at the University of Minnesota, they said they didn't mind talking.” Does this sound like abuse, or a case where Muslim Somali students are responding to legitimate FBI concerns?
From the article, “But the women, both second-year students who don't want their names used because they fear for their safety, said the investigation into whether missing Somali men from Minnesota have been recruited by terrorists to fight in their homeland has left many students caught between wanting to help investigators find the truth and facing scorn from some in their community.”
Where is the abuse? Actually, from the statements of the Muslim women, it sounds as if they have more to fear from their own Muslim community than they do from the FBI. Why doesn’t CAIR step up and demand that local law enforcement provide protection to those who want to cooperate in the investigation? Once again, CAIR selectively focus’s “outrage” against not only the college, FBI, but against Muslim students who see nothing wrong with providing information that may help locate fellow missing students.
Just what is CAIR’s game? CAIR recently announced that it is severing ties with the FBI because the FBI, rightly, cut off contact with the terrorist supporting “civil rights” group.http://www.investigativeproject.org/985/fbi-cuts-off-cair-over-hamas-questions
The truth of CAIR’s disdain for the FBI is summed up by Islam’s statement regarding the FBI cut off of contact with CAIR; from the article: “Islam added the FBI’s decision to discontinue its outreach efforts through CAIR “is a huge loss for them”.” However, can anyone remember when CAIR has ever provided genuine, actionable information to the FBI or any other law enforcement agency that resulted in the prevention of a radical Islamic action?
It took the FBI over ten years to end its association with CAIR; an association that contributed absolutely nothing to the FBI’s understanding of peaceful Islam and CAIR calls it a “huge loss for them”. This would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.
We can take heart that it appears that none of the students approached CAIR for assistance or took any of CAIR’s “legal” advice. Apparently, the Somali Muslim students simply aren’t aware that the FBI is as bad as CAIR claims them to be. What is left unanswered by CAIR is, “if the FBI is so bad regarding Muslim civil rights, why does CAIR complain about ties being severed?”
This article was an excellent example of CAIR’s waning influence and inability to attract attention to yet another non-event involving American Muslims having their rights “violated”.
It didn’t happen, CAIR knows it, and the students did not support even one of CAIR’s claims.
Perhaps the Somali Muslim students understand the threat of radical Islam and want to do what they can to assist their adopted country in the battle against radical Islam. Maybe they understand, as others do not, exactly how bad radical Islam in practice really is and want no part of it in the USA?
Either way, it is a great win for the FBI and a smack in the face to CAIR’s attempts to butt in where they aren’t wanted or needed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: April 14, 2009, 01:21:19 PM
Mexico Security Memo: April 13, 2009
Stratfor Today » April 13, 2009 | 2148 GMT
Related Special Topic Page
Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels
Reported Downturn in Violence
Mexico’s National Public Security Council (CNSP) released figures the week of April 5 describing a decline in organized crime-related homicides during the first three months of 2009. A CNSP official reported that there were 1,960 such killings in the first quarter of 2009, compared with 2,644 during the final three months of 2008. The statistics reportedly appeared in an official CNSP document delivered to the Interior Secretariat that also included a national assessment and a more detailed analysis of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Baja California states — the areas that have accounted for most of the violence over the past year.
Chihuahua state accounts for some of the most drastic reductions in violence since February. The state registered 625 organized crime-related homicides during the first quarter of this year, down 26 percent from 842 during the last three months of 2008. Ciudad Juarez recorded a 39 percent decrease over the same period, from 547 killings to 331. Not surprisingly, the turning point appears to have been the February deployment of more than 7,500 military and federal police reinforcements to the area to support and expand the ongoing security operations. From February to March there was a 56 percent reduction in homicides in the state.
These statistics confirm STRATFOR’s assessment regarding the security situation in Ciudad Juarez and the rest of Chihuahua state, that the overwhelming number of troops deployed there would result in a significant decline in violence. More important, however, the statistics reinforce the Mexican government’s thinking about the violence by providing justification for the somewhat risky strategy of deploying such a large portion of available troops to such a small area. Mexico City is eager to take advantage of this kind of positive reporting as an example of how effective the government’s strategy has been, especially since U.S. President Barack Obama plans to meet in Mexico with President Felipe Calderon during this coming week to discuss, among other topics, increasing bilateral cooperation on counternarcotics and security issues.
And although the CNSP numbers are impressive in the comparisons provided, they are less impressive in a broader context. At an average of 881 killings per month, the last quarter of 2008 was by far the most violent during the last few years, to the point of being anomalous. Although a quarter-to-quarter comparison shows a significant decrease in drug-related violence, the first quarter of 2009 is still above average over the span of Calderon’s anti-cartel campaign, which began in December 2006.
One Mexican national was among a group of people arrested in Zulia, Venezuela, when authorities seized two small airplanes suspected of being used to transport drugs to Mexico.
Mexican army forces exchanged gunfire with suspected drug traffickers in Palomas, Chihuahua state, as the soldiers moved in to seize some 100 pounds of marijuana.
An armed robbery at a business in Queretaro, Queretaro state, ended in a firefight between the robbers and responding police officers that left two wounded, including at least one civilian tourist bystander who was at a nearby restaurant.
A city official in San Pedro Jicayan, Oaxaca state, died after being shot multiple times by several armed men while working in her home.
Some 20 armed men entered a hospital in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, and extracted a patient who had been admitted earlier in the day after being wounded in a firefight. Three police officers guarding the patient were disarmed by the gunmen.
A police officer in Badiraguato, Sinaloa state, died when he was shot once in the chest by a man armed with a shotgun during a firefight that began as several officers tried to stop and search a vehicle.
Mexican army officers raided a safe house in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, recovering more than $3 million in cash, 30 firearms, 2,000 rounds of ammunition and 179 watches.
Police in Acapulco, Guerrero state, found a severed head wrapped in tape next to a note, the contents of which were not released.
The bodies of two men with multiple gunshot wounds were found inside a vehicle in a canal in Guasave, Sinaloa state.
Three men died when they were shot multiple times by several assailants armed with assault rifles in a car wash in Gomez Palacio, Durango state.
Mexican army forces conducted a series of raids on buildings in several towns in Zacatecas state. In one building searched in Ojacaliente, soldiers recovered 14 cartridges of Tovex 11 explosives.
At least 10 suspected drug traffickers were discovered in a laboratory used to produce synthetic drugs and detained by police in Apatzingan, Michoacan state.
Zeta member Israel “El Ostion” Nava Cortez died during a firefight with soldiers in Fresnillo, Zacatecas state. Nava had worked as a bodyguard for high-ranking Zeta leader Miguel “Z-40” Trevino Morales and is suspected of working to secure territory for Los Zetas in Aguascalientes and Zacatecas states.
One police officer died and another was wounded when they were shot several times while driving in Tijuana, Baja California state.
One police officer died during a firefight with four armed men traveling in four luxury vehicles near Arcelia, Guerrero state.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Peace Deal becomes law
on: April 14, 2009, 12:31:10 PM
Pakistan: A Peace Deal Becomes Law
Stratfor Today » April 13, 2009 | 1936 GMT
CHAND KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
An armed Pakistani Taliban in Buner near the Swat valley on April 7, 2009Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on April 13 signed the Nizam-i-Adl (System of Justice) Regulation into law. Earlier in the day, Parliament overwhelmingly approved the regulation, which stems from a Feb. 17 agreement between the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province and the jihadist movement in the Swat region that calls for a shariah-based legal system to be implemented in the area in exchange for an end to the insurgency. Islamabad had been hesitant to approve the deal between Peshawar and the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) — the jihadist group based in the greater Swat region — saying the central government wanted the TNSM militia to lay down its weapons before Islamabad endorsed the deal.
The Nizam-i-Adl Regulation becoming law without the militants laying down their arms is thus far the most significant example of the Pakistani state’s retreat in the face of a powerful jihadist insurgency. It underscores the extent to which the state has been weakened and the degree of incoherence within both the state and society regarding the jihadist threat and how to combat it. The expectation is that the deal will bring an end to the militancy in the greater Swat area, and that Talibanization can be confined to that region.
However, the TNSM has no intention of limiting its sphere of influence to the Swat region. Therefore, this development will only boost the confidence of the Taliban and their transnational allies in Pakistan and beyond. The Swat area effectively will become an emirate from which a wider Talibanization campaign can be launched. In many ways, this has already begun, with the Swat-based insurgents projecting power into adjoining districts such as Buner.
Not only will Pakistan see greater domestic turmoil as a result of the passage of this law, but the new regulation will further aggravate tensions between Islamabad and Washington, complicating Western efforts to combat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. The United States may even move to expand its unilateral airstrikes and covert operations deeper into Pakistani territory.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison: Federalist 10
on: April 14, 2009, 12:14:58 PM
"The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling which they overburden the inferior number is a shilling saved to their own pockets."
--James Madison, Federalist No. 10
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Oil Industry braces
on: April 14, 2009, 11:54:28 AM
By RUSSELL GOLD and ANA CAMPOY
DALLAS -- Since Henry Ford began mass production of the Model T nearly a century ago, car-loving Americans have gulped ever-increasing volumes of gasoline. A growing number of industry players believe that era is over.
Among those who say U.S. consumption of gasoline has peaked are executives at the world's biggest publicly traded oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp., as well as many private analysts and government energy forecasters.
The reasons include changes in the way Americans live and the transportation they choose, along with a growing emphasis on alternative fuels. The result could be profound transformations not only for the companies that refine gasoline from crude oil but also for state and federal budgets and for consumers. Much of contemporary America, from the design of its cities to its tax code and its foreign policy, is predicated on a growing thirst for gasoline.
Easing Off the Gas Pedal Gas Stations Fade From Sight
As Americans commute less, use more fuel efficient cars and take more public transportation, gas stations have shut down. There are 11% fewer places to pump gas in the U.S. today than there were a little over a decade ago.
In the vast market for crude oil, American gasoline consumption matters. One of every 10 barrels of crude ends up in U.S. gasoline tanks, more than is used by the entire Chinese economy.
Right now, the recession is curbing U.S. gasoline consumption, as laid-off workers stop commuting and budget-conscious families forgo long road trips. Drivers filled their cars with 371.2 million gallons of petroleum-based gasoline every day in 2007, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It expects that to fall 6.9% to 345.7 million gallons in 2009, as demand at the pump declines and the use of plant-based ethanol increases. Even if usage climbs after the recession ends, it won't exceed 2007 levels, according to EIA forecasts.
Demand for all petroleum-based transportation fuels -- gasoline, diesel and jet fuel -- fell 7.1% last year, according to the EIA. This is the steepest one-year decline since at least 1950, as far back as the federal government has reliable data.
Many industry observers have become convinced the drop in consumption won't reverse even when economic growth resumes. In December, the EIA said gasoline consumption by U.S. drivers had peaked, in part because of growing consumer interest in fuel efficiency.
Exxon believes U.S. fuel demand to keep cars, SUVs and pickups moving will shrink 22% between now and 2030. "We are probably at or very near a peak in terms of light-duty gasoline demand," says Scott Nauman, Exxon's head of energy forecasting.
If Exxon is right, the full impact of falling demand for fuel would take years to be felt. But some deep changes are under way.
Impact on Local Funds
Declining gasoline-tax revenue is forcing local and federal governments to search for new sources of funding. Oil refiners, which for decades focused on bringing U.S. drivers more gallons of gasoline, are retooling their businesses. Some have said they could shut down some of their refineries entirely, along with thousands of small gas stations. Oil companies are beginning to invest in biofuels and battery technology.
Diverse trends are adding up to a steady drain on gasoline demand. Gasoline engines are being designed to burn fuel more efficiently. Hybrid and other advanced-technology vehicles that minimize gasoline usage are joining the nation's fleet. Tanks of gasoline and diesel fuel are being leavened with increasing amounts of biofuel, now made mostly from corn but in the future also from perennial grasses and municipal waste. President Barack Obama's pledge to end the "tyranny of oil," and a push for energy efficiency and biofuels in recent legislation, could accelerate these trends.
Skeptics of the notion that gasoline demand has peaked point to a population that is likely to keep growing as Americans have children at roughly the same pace and the flow of immigrants increases. "Anyone who looks at population must think there is going to be some big bird flu if they think we've peaked," says Tom Kloza, chief analyst at Oil Price Information Service, a firm in Wall, N.J., that tracks prices and consumption.
Lower gasoline prices are back after a multiyear spike in prices. That could reignite consumers' desire for big, fuel-guzzling SUVs and tolerance of long commutes, especially when the economy strengthens. After the 1979 spike in crude-oil prices, U.S. gasoline consumption dropped for four years, but then rose again when fuel prices plummeted in the mid- to late-1980s.
This time, the forces suppressing gasoline usage are formidable. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act toughened requirements for both efficiency and biofuels use. By 2020, vehicles sold in the U.S. must average 35 miles a gallon, versus 27.5 for cars now and 23.5 for light trucks. The Obama administration is working on proposals to further increase the standard. Makers of U.S. transportation fuel must blend in 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year by 2022, compared with about 11 billion this year.
High corn prices last year, combined with low gasoline demand from consumers, decimated ethanol producers' margins, forcing several into bankruptcy. But government mandates requiring refiners to blend ethanol into gasoline aren't expected to change. The 2009 economic-stimulus law includes large new loan guarantees to help renewable-energy businesses get financing -- and provides huge incentives for oil companies to dive in, too. Most big oil companies declined to discuss their views on the direction of demand for petroleum-based gasoline for this article, but most are expanding their push into alternative fuels.
U.S. government policy is pushing gasoline consumption "down, down, down," says Ed Feo, a partner with law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, who advises clients on renewable-energy policy. "There isn't a single policy I can think of that supports increasing gasoline use."
Americans are changing, too. Demographic shifts that once spurred higher gasoline consumption have run their course, such as more women joining the work force and the flight to the suburbs.
More people are minimizing their commutes by living closer to their jobs. Inner cities and surrounding suburbs are growing denser, shortening trips to work and to the mall. Between the early 1990s and 2007, the majority of metropolitan areas in the U.S. saw an increase in the share of residential permits granted near or in their downtown centers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One quarter of new homes constructed in the Denver area in 2007, for example, were in the central city, up from 5% in the early 1990s. In Chicago, that figure rose to 40% from 7% in the same period.
A growing number of Americans are commuting by bus or train or working from home. And even as the population continues to rise, the rate of gasoline consumption appears to be slowing. From 1960 to 1970, the U.S. population grew 13% while vehicle miles rose 54% and gasoline demand 45%, according to government data. Between 1990 and 2000, the population grew at the same 13% rate, but miles driven rose only 28% and gasoline demand by 17%.
A very different scenario is playing out in China and other parts of the developing world. Exxon expects China's passenger-vehicle fuel demand to triple by 2030, as the number of cars per capita grows along with its economy. The company is starting up a giant refinery complex in China that will feed a network of 750 gas stations.
In the U.S., Exxon is getting out of the business of gasoline retailing, where profits are shrinking, and leaving it to others to own and operate Exxon stations.
Getty Images (left) AP (right)
Pumping gas in the 1950s, left, and ethanol now, right
In contrast to China, the number of miles Americans drive started falling in December 2007. There have been a few other declines, but this one is longer and steeper than any other since 1971, the year that the government began tracking monthly data.
These trends are reflected in Seattle resident John Scroggs's odometer. A decade ago, the information-technology specialist logged 10,000 miles a year in his Jeep Grand Cherokee. Today he drives only about 6,000 miles a year in a Toyota Prius hybrid, using only a quarter as much gasoline. Mr. Scroggs, 43 years old, works from home one day a week and commutes to his job downtown by bus to avoid traffic snarls and expensive parking.
"We go for relatively long stretches not going anywhere beyond five miles away," he says.
As people like Mr. Scroggs pump fewer gallons, government has less money available for one of its most basic functions: keeping roads in working order.
Federal gasoline-tax revenue fell 3% last year, according to the Department of Transportation. That plus other tax shortfalls left Congress having to plug an $8 billion hole last year in the Highway Trust Fund, previously kept flush by growing gasoline use.
Localities have begun facing their own gas-tax gaps. Neon-lit Las Vegas offers a glimpse of a possible future of transportation-budget squeezes. To save money, local officials are building some new roads without street lights, curbs or traffic lights. They've cut two bus routes in the suburbs.
One remedy proposed by a commission Congress formed to study the problem: Base taxes on the number of miles people drive, rather than on how many gallons they pump. The aim is to continue raising money as biofuels and other fuels displace oil-based gasoline. Oregon is considering the idea. More than a dozen states are considering an increase in their own gasoline taxes.
Refiners must adjust not only for less driving but for a higher biofuels component in what they sell. Last year, plant-based fuel made up about 7% of the gasoline Americans pumped into their tanks, according to an analysis of government data by researchers at the University of Texas's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. The federal EIA forecasts a doubling of that percentage over the next decade as mandates to use more biofuels kick in.
The lost business from falling gasoline demand has contributed to the demise of at least one oil refiner. Flying J Inc. filed for bankruptcy reorganization in December. It closed its refinery in Bakersfield, Calif., and hasn't said when or if it will restart production. Larger Sunoco Inc. says if it can't sell a refinery in Tulsa, Okla., by the end of the year, it will shut it down entirely.
View Full Image
The recession is curbing U.S. gasoline consumption, as laid-off workers stop commuting and budget-conscious families forgo long road trips.
Other crude-oil refiners are moving in to the biofuel business as new fuels grab market share. Big refiner Valero Energy Corp. started a renewable-fuels division last year. In March, Valero won a bid to buy a group of ethanol plants for $477 million out of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of VeraSun Energy Corp.
Numerous start-up companies are building "biorefineries" to turn plants into ethanol or diesel, a response to mandates that say these fuels can't all be made from corn. One concern is that if too much corn is grown for fuel it could result in higher prices for corn-based food products. A Colorado company called Range Fuels Inc. is building a facility in Georgia to turn lumber-industry waste into ethanol, initially at 10 million gallons a year.
Gas stations are also feeling squeezed. There are 11% fewer in the U.S. than a decade ago, according to trade publication NPN Magazine. The trend, partly a result of retail consolidation, accelerated last year due to weak gasoline demand.
In Springfield, N.J., a 99-year-old Exxon station attached to a small auto-repair shop may not make it to 100. Exxon told the owner last year that it was "uneconomical" to keep supplying the station with gasoline and the oil giant wanted to remove its tanks, says Jeff Pinkava, the owner and a great-grandson of the station's founder. He filed a suit in an effort to keep the tanks, because the pumps attract customers for oil changes and other garage work. The case is pending. Exxon declined to comment.
The station has provided for the family for four generations, said Mr. Pinkava. Now, he says, Exxon is "kicking us to the curb."
Write to Russell Gold at email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Hiroshima 2.0
on: April 14, 2009, 11:02:12 AM
Gentlemen," Henry Stimson once said, "don't read each other's mail." Neither do gentlemen hack into each other's computers, electric grids, military networks and other critical infrastructure.
MGM/UA/THE Kobal Collection
'War Games,' 1983. Next time there won't be a happy ending.
Ours is not a world of gentlemen.
Stimson was referring to cryptanalysis, or code-breaking, which he forbade as Herbert Hoover's Secretary of State. (He would revisit that opinion as Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of War.) I am referring to Siobhan Gorman's front-page story in last Wednesday's Journal, in which she reported widespread cyberspying of the U.S. electricity grid, much of it apparently originating in China and Russia.
"Authorities investigating the intrusions," Ms. Gorman reported, "have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components." A senior intelligence official told the Journal that, "If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on."
To get a better sense of what all this is about, type the words "Cyber attack" and "generator" into YouTube. The first result should be a short clip from the Department of Homeland Security, leaked to CNN a couple of years ago, showing an electric generator under a simulated cyberattack at the Idaho National Laboratory. Within seconds the generator begins to shake violently. Within a minute, it's up in smoke.
Now imagine the attack being conducted against 60 large generators, simultaneously. Imagine, too, similar attacks against chemical plants, causing Bhopal-style toxic leaks. Imagine malicious software codes planted in U.S. weapons systems, which could lie undetected until triggered by a set of conditions similar to mobilization.
"It's as though we've entered something like the nuclear era without a Hiroshima," says Scott Borg, director and chief economist of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that consults with government and industry about potential cyberattacks. "People aren't aware that everything has changed."
Today, the general perception of cyberattacks is that they amount to so much mischief-making by bored and spiteful 20-year-old computer geeks. Think of the 1998 Melissa computer virus. There's also some awareness of the uses of cyberpenetration for industrial espionage, though here cases are harder to name since victimized companies are often reluctant to go public. In April 2007, following a political row between Russia and Estonia over the latter's removal of a Soviet-era war memorial, a cyberattack paralyzed many of Estonia's key Web sites. The same happened in Georgia after Russia's invasion last August.
Still, none of this seems to amount to a strategic threat. Think again. In the early-1990s, the Chinese military resurrected the concept of Shashoujian, which loosely means any weapon or military strategy that can get the better of a seemingly invincible opponent. More often it's translated as "assassin's mace," or -- even better -- "killer ap."
The Chinese began investigating Shashoujian after noting how a highly networked, information-centric U.S. military easily bested Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. The result was heavy investment in asymmetric weapons like an antisatellite missile, which China successfully tested in January 2007 and which could knock America's eyes out of the sky, as well as ultra-quiet, relatively inexpensive, diesel-electric submarines that could take out an aircraft carrier.
As for the penetrations into the U.S. electricity grid, the Chinese and Russians adamantly deny involvement. But the advantages to any potential enemy of shutting down large parts of the grid are huge, beginning with the fact that the nature of the Internet makes it virtually impossible confidently to pinpoint the author of the attack. As for consequences, Mr. Borg outlines a grim scenario.
"If you shut down power for about three days," he says, "it causes very little damage. We can handle a long weekend. But if you shut down power for longer, all kinds of other things begin to happen. After about 10 days the curve levels off with about 72% of all economic activity shut down. You don't have air conditioning in the summer; you don't have heating in the winter. Thousands of people die."
Among Mr. Borg's conceptual recommendations is for the U.S. to begin thinking about its critical infrastructure as the center of gravity in any future conflict. "This is no longer about perimeter defense," he stresses. As for who could pull off that kind of cyberattack, he names (besides the U.S. and other leading high-tech nations) China, Russia and Israel. And Iran? Probably not, he suspects, nor yet groups like al Qaeda. Then again, he adds, "the worry is that over the next six or seven years they will assemble this kind of expertise."
Under President George W. Bush, Congress secretly approved $17 billion in cyber-security spending. President Barack Obama's 2010 budget calls for an additional $355 million, and that's on the public side. Maybe it's helping. Then again, personal data involving 49,000 people was recently stolen from a Federal Aviation Administration data server, while the Los Alamos National Laboratory reports 13 computers lost or stolen and another 67 missing in the past year. Yes, it's that Los Alamos.
Plainly, we have a problem. And as we consider ever-more elaborate defenses for our vulnerable networks, here's a modest suggestion: Gently alert our non-NATO "partners" that we might be in their electricity grids, too.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Out of thin air
on: April 14, 2009, 10:59:56 AM
The U.S. and Europe were widely expected to clash at the G-20 summit in London last month over how to address the global financial crisis. Voila, in just two days the problem was solved with a joint promise to increase International Monetary Fund resources by $750 billion to a total of $1 trillion.
AFP/Getty ImagesThe U.S. portion of this new commitment is more than $140 billion. Yet Congress has debated neither the amount nor the proposed use of the funds. Instead, President Obama and his fellow leaders simply waved their hands, like a Star Trek captain, and said make it so.
Recall that the IMF was founded in 1944 when the world monetary system operated on a gold standard. The fund's job was to act as a lender of last resort when countries encountered balance-of-payments shortfalls. When the world went to a fiat-currency system, the fund's original role became obsolete. It is possible to argue that a modified version of the lender-of-last-resort remains important for the global financial system. But over the past 30 years the fund has increasingly strayed from that limited mission to become a vehicle for transferring wealth to poor-country governments. The London agreement further advances these foreign aid ambitions with no oversight from Congress.
Exhibit A is a $250 billion increase in "special drawing rights," or SDRs -- one third of the new resources. SDRs are homemade credit allocations printed by the fund and handed out to all members. They are redeemable for subsidized loans from hard-currency fund countries. Prior to last week, there were about $32 billion in SDRs. The fund's board had lobbied for 12 years to double that number. But because the loans cost taxpayers more than $300 million a year and because there are no minimum governance standards that must be met by borrowers, Congress refused to approve the expansion.
Now Mr. Obama has overruled Congress and blessed an SDR increase -- not twice the existing number, but eight times. As Juergen Stark, a member of the European Central Bank Executive Board, told the German daily Handelsblatt, "It was never examined whether there indeed is a global need for additional liquidity," adding that "one used to take a lot of time to check something like this." He also called it "helicopter money for the globe." If Mr. Stark keeps this up, his G-20 dining privileges will be revoked.
As to the other $500 billion, here is the G-20 communique: "We have agreed to increase the resources available to the IMF through immediate financing from members of $250 billion, subsequently incorporated into an expanded and more flexible New Arrangements to Borrow [NAB], increased by up to $500 billion, and to consider market borrowing if necessary."
Keep your eye on that "expanded and more flexible" lingo. Fund rules state clearly that money under NAB can only be used "to forestall or cope with an impairment of the international monetary system or to deal with an exceptional situation that poses a threat to the stability of that system." In other words, to draw on the NAB the IMF has to argue convincingly that there is systemic risk. Moreover, there is a clear view that the money should be repaid as the crisis passes.
But now the NAB will be "expanded and more flexible." This implies an intention to alter the restrictive nature of NAB lending so that the London commitments can be used at the discretion of the fund, without approval of the contributors. A fund spokesman told us that the idea of increasing flexibility is that "the NAB money becomes part of the general resources of the fund and if the managing director decides that the fund needs to step in somewhere, it can."
That would be nirvana to IMF employees who have been running low on money to lend but love to roam the world signing up new "clients." Borrowers would like it too, since they take the general resources of the fund at rock-bottom rates with no implied obligation ever to retire the loan.
You may wonder why the IMF simply doesn't ask for a quota increase to expand its resources. Probably because that requires 85% of member votes and can take years. By using the NAB, Treasury can simply attach the request to any spending bill, and that is apparently what we can expect. A U.S. Treasury official told us last week that "the current U.S. share of the NAB is about 20%, so consistent with that, our share of a NAB increase of $500 billion could be up to $100 billion."
The upshot for U.S. taxpayers is that neither the $40 billion-plus in new SDRs nor the $100 billion for the NAB will get much democratic scrutiny. Yet they amount to a massive expansion in U.S. foreign aid. We can see why the G-20 applauded. But this is the opposite of the "transparency" this Administration has promised, and someone on Capitol Hill should blow the whistle.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor; additional piracies
on: April 14, 2009, 10:43:41 AM
.S.: The Hostage Rescue
Stratfor Today » April 13, 2009 | 1626 GMT
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
A Totally Enclosed Lifeboat (TELB) similar to the one launched from the AlabamaSummary
The hostage situation involving American Captain Richard Phillips was resolved April 12 by U.S. Navy SEALs, resulting in the deaths of three of the four pirates involved. The operation was the climax of a five-day standoff that saw the pirates’ position become steadily weaker. The United States used a strategy to slowly wear down the captors and maneuver into a position that would resolve the situation.
Somalia: Pirates’ Continuing Evolution
U.S. Naval Update Map: April 8, 2009
Somalia: Obstacles to Tackling Piracy
U.S. Military Dominance
U.S. Navy SEALs ended the five-day standoff between Somali pirates, who were holding U.S. Captain Richard Phillips hostage, and the U.S. Navy on April 12. Immediately following the Maersk Alabama’s distress signal after being attacked by Somali pirates on April 8, the United States was able to quickly deploy three ships; first the USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), followed by the USS Boxer (LHD-4) and the USS Halyburton (FFG-40) to the area of the attempted hijacking. The U.S. crew on board the Maersk Alabama was able to fight the pirates off, forcing the pirates to abandon the cargo ship for a contained lifeboat (believed to be a Norsafe JYN57C) along with Captain Phillips as a hostage. The fact that the Alabama crew was able to fight off the pirates changed the U.S. Navy’s tactical calculus dramatically for this operation, giving them an obvious upper-hand.
The pirates were essentially trapped as soon as the U.S. Navy arrived. The SEALs enjoyed the advantages of time, manpower and firepower against the pirates. While resolving the situation peacefully was in everyone’s best interest (captured pirates can provide operational intelligence and a non-violent resolution would put the U.S. hostage at lesser risk) once the opportunity presented itself, the United States had had sufficient time and taken sufficient control of the situation to act decisively. Isolating and wearing down hostage takers is a standard tactic used by hostage negotiators.
After pirates took Captain Richard Phillips hostage in a covered lifeboat that the pirates had commandeered from the Alabama, the U.S. Navy ships, assisted by U.S. Navy P-3 surveillance aircraft, were able to prevent any outside assistance and reinforcement from pirate confederates, who were attempting to gain access to the lifeboat. The U.S. Navy was able to gain control over any additional provisions that were allowed into the lifeboat (which most likely already had minimal supplies) — essentially quarantining the lifeboat — and ensured that they knew exactly who was on board at all times. Having control over the lifeboat meant that the U.S. Navy had the advantage of time and the ability to wait for the pirates to make a mistake, who were under constant pressure on a hot, 18-foot lifeboat for several days. Although Captain Phillips’ life was at risk, the pirates knew any threat to his life was a threat to their own survival because the U.S. Navy controlled the larger tactical situation with overwhelming firepower. The presence of Captain Phillips on the lifeboat was the only thing preventing the U.S. Navy from abandoning discretion and destroying the lifeboat.
Then, the threat of choppy seas gave the captain of the USS Bainbridge an opening to offer the lifeboat a tow out of rough waters into calmer waters. With a towline connecting the USS Bainbridge and the lifeboat, the U.S. Navy had complete control over the lifeboat. Though this only presented the narrow bow view, the SEALs may have been able to get at least a partial view of the long axis of the lifeboat if the USS Bainbridge executed a sharp turn. It also decreased the distance between the USS Bainbridge and the lifeboat, pulling it to within 100 feet — an easy distance for any trained marksman.
With the pirates worn down after five days of the ordeal, U.S. Navy SEALs (who, in contrast to the pirates, enjoyed working in shifts, warm food and beds) were able to take out the pirates. Only three pirates remained, after one pirate had already surrendered by climbing into the small raft that was shuttling supplies back and forth between the USS Bainbridge and the lifeboat. This also gave the operators on the Bainbridge a defector who could offer some insight as to what was going on inside the lifeboat.
Positioned on the fantail, at the stern of the USS Bainbridge, Navy SEALs had a steady, clear view of the lifeboat. With 24-hour cover, along with the ability to gain essentially any angle on the lifeboat, it was simply a matter of waiting for the pirates to make a mistake. U.S. President Barack Obama had already given the captain of the USS Bainbridge the authority to take action, so when one of the pirates was spotted through a window allegedly pointing his weapon at Captain Phillips and the two other pirates emerged from the rear hatch, sharpshooters took action and killed the three pirates and rescued Captain Phillips. While it cannot be confirmed, such teams would also deploy with thermal imaging equipment, which may have aided in the operation
April 14, 2009
Somali Pirates Hijack 3 More Ships
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 9:16 a.m. ET
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- NATO says Somali pirates have hijacked another cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, the fourth ship seized in the last two days.
NATO spokeswoman Shona Lowe says the Lebanese-owned MV Sea Horse was attacked Tuesday off the Somali coast by pirates in three or four speedboats. She had no further details.
Earlier, Somali pirates captured the MV Irene E.M., a Greek-managed bulk carrier sailing from the Middle East to South Asia. The Irene was seized in the middle of the night Tuesday -- a rare tactic for the pirates.
Somali pirates appear undeterred by U.S. and French attacks that have killed five pirates in the past week during hostage rescues, including that of an American sea captain.
Pirates have vowed to retaliate for the killing of their colleagues.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) -- Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
Pirates have vowed to retaliate for the killing of their colleagues -- and the top U.S. military officer said Tuesday he takes those comments seriously.
But Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC's ''Good Morning America'' that ''we're very well prepared to deal with anything like that.''
The latest trophy for the pirates was the M.V. Irene E.M., a Greek-managed bulk carrier sailing from the Middle East to South Asia, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.
The Irene was attacked and seized in the middle of the night Tuesday -- a rare tactic for the pirates.
U.S. Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said the Irene was flagged in the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and carried 23 Filipino crew. Choong reported a crew of 21, and there was no immediate way to reconcile the figures.
A maritime security contractor, speaking on condition of anonymity because it is a sensitive security issue, said the ship put out a distress signal ''to say they had a suspicious vessel approaching. That rapidly turned into an attack and then a hijacking.''
''They tried to call in support on the emergency channels, but they never got any response,'' the contractor said.
On Monday, Somali pirates also seized two Egyptian fishing boats in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's northern coast, according to Egypt's Foreign Ministry, which said the boats carried 18 to 24 Egyptians total.
A flotilla of warships from nearly a dozen countries has patrolled the Gulf of Aden and nearby Indian Ocean waters for months. They have halted several attacks on ships this year, but say the area is so vast they can't stop all hijackings.
Choong said pirate attacks this year had risen to 77, with 18 of those ships hijacked and 16 vessels with 285 crew still in pirates' hands. Each boat carries the potential of a million-dollar ransom.
The latest seizures come after Navy SEAL snipers rescued American ship captain Richard Phillips on Sunday by killing three young pirates who held him captive in a drifting lifeboat for five days. A fourth pirate surrendered after seeking medical attention for a wound he received in trying to take over Phillips' vessel, the Maersk Alabama.
Phillips is aboard a Navy vessel at an undisclosed location, Christensen said Tuesday. He was initially taken aboard the Norfolk, Va.-based USS Bainbridge and then flown to the San Diego-based USS Boxer for a medical exam.
In Washington, President Barack Obama appeared to move the piracy issue higher on his agenda, vowing the United States would work with nations around the world to fight the problem.
''I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region and to achieve that goal, we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks,'' Obama said at a news conference Monday.
The 19 crew members of the Alabama celebrated their skipper's freedom with beer and an evening barbecue Monday in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, said crewman Ken Quinn.
The vessel's chief mate was among those urging strong U.S. action against piracy.
''It's time for us to step in and put an end to this crisis,'' Shane Murphy said. ''It's a crisis. Wake up.''
The U.S. is considering new options to fight piracy, including adding Navy gunships along the Somali coastline and launching a campaign to disable pirate ''mother ships,'' according to military officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made yet.
In Burlington, Vt., Phillips' wife, Andrea Phillips thanked Obama, who approved the dramatic sniper operation.
''With Richard saved, you all just gave me the best Easter ever,'' she said in a statement.
The four pirates that attacked the Alabama were between 17 and 19 years old, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
''Untrained teenagers with heavy weapons,'' Gates told students and faculty at the Marine Corps War College. ''Everybody in the room knows the consequences of that.''
U.S. officials were now considering whether to bring the fourth pirate, who surrendered shortly before the sniper shootings, to the United States or possibly turn him over to Kenya. Both piracy and hostage-taking carry life prison sentences under U.S. law.
The French navy late Monday handed over the bodies of two Somali pirates killed in a hostage rescue operation last week to authorities in Somali's semiautonomous northern region of Puntland and locals buried the bodies.http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009...Piracy.html?hp
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: US may drop key condition for talks
on: April 14, 2009, 10:35:49 AM
The house organ of the O. admistration writes:
U.S. May Drop Key Condition for Talks With Iran
DAVID E. SANGER
Published: April 13, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.
The proposals, exchanged in confidential strategy sessions with European allies, would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspection. But the proposals would also allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks. That would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly to initiate negotiations.
The proposals under consideration would go somewhat beyond President Obama’s promise, during the presidential campaign, to open negotiations with Iran “without preconditions.” Officials involved in the discussion said they were being fashioned to draw Iran into nuclear talks that it had so far shunned.
A review of Iran policy that Mr. Obama ordered after taking office is still under way, and aides say it is not clear how long he would be willing to allow Iran to continue its fuel production, and at what pace. But European officials said there was general agreement that Iran would not accept the kind of immediate shutdown of its facilities that the Bush administration had demanded.
“We have all agreed that is simply not going to work — experience tells us the Iranians are not going to buy it,” said a senior European official involved in the strategy sessions with the Obama administration. “So we are going to start with some interim steps, to build a little trust.”
Administration officials declined to discuss details of their confidential deliberations, but said that any new American policy would ultimately require Iran to cease enrichment, as demanded by several United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“Our goal remains exactly what it has been in the U.N. resolutions: suspension,” one senior administration official said. Another official cautioned that “we are still at the brainstorming level” and said the terms of an opening proposal to Iran were still being debated.
If the United States and its allies allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for a number of months, or longer, the approach is bound to meet objections, from both conservatives in the United States and from the new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
If Mr. Obama signed off on the new negotiating approach, the United States and its European allies would use new negotiating sessions with Iran to press for interim steps toward suspension of its nuclear activities, starting with allowing international inspectors into sites from which they have been barred for several years.
First among them is a large manufacturing site in downtown Tehran, a former clock factory, where Iran is producing many of the next-generation centrifuges that it is installing in the underground plant at Natanz. “The facility is very large,” one United Nations inspector said last week, “and we have not been inside since last summer.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors would be a critical part of the strategy, said in an interview in his office in Vienna last week that the Obama administration had not consulted him on the details of a new strategy. But he was blistering about the approach that the Bush administration had taken.
“It was a ridiculous approach,” he insisted. “They thought that if you threatened enough and pounded the table and sent Cheney off to act like Darth Vader the Iranians would just stop,” Dr. ElBaradei said, shaking his head. “If the goal was to make sure that Iran would not have the knowledge and the capability to manufacture nuclear fuel, we had a policy that was a total failure.”
Now, he contended, Mr. Obama has little choice but to accept the reality that Iran has “built 5,500 centrifuges,” nearly enough to make two weapons’ worth of uranium each year. “You have to design an approach that is sensitive to Iran’s pride,” said Dr. ElBaradei, who has long argued in favor of allowing Iran to continue with a small, face-saving capacity to enrich nuclear fuel, under strict inspection.
By contrast, in warning against a more flexible American approach, a senior Israeli with access to the intelligence on Iran said during a recent visit to Washington that Mr. Obama had only until the fall or the end of the year to “completely end” the production of uranium in Iran. The official made it clear that after that point, Israel might revive its efforts to take out the Natanz plant by force.
A year ago, Israeli officials secretly came to the Bush administration seeking the bunker-destroying bombs, refueling capability and overflight rights over Iraq that it would need to execute such an attack. President George W. Bush deflected the proposal. An Obama administration official said “they have not been back with that request,” but added that “we don’t think their threats are just huffing and puffing.”
Israeli officials and some American intelligence officials say they suspect that Iran has other hidden facilities that could be used to enrich uranium, a suspicion explored in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. But while that classified estimate referred to 10 or 15 suspect sites, officials say no solid evidence has emerged of hidden activity.
“Frankly,” said one administration official, “what’s most valuable to us now is having real freedom for the inspectors to pursue their suspicions around the country.
“We know what’s happening at Natanz,” said the official, noting that every few weeks inspectors are in and out of the plant. “It’s the rest of the country we’re most worried about.”
Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at the Belfer Center at Harvard University, said in a interview on Monday that the Obama administration had some latitude in defining what constitutes “suspension” of nuclear work.
One possibility, he said, was “what you call warm shutdown,” in which the centrifuges keep spinning, but not producing new enriched uranium, akin to leaving a car running, but in park.
That would allow both sides to claim victory: the Iranians could claim they had resisted American efforts to shut down the program, while the Americans and Europeans could declare that they had halted the stockpiling of material that could be used to produce weapons.
“The hard part of these negotiations is how to convince everyone that there are no covert sites,” Mr. Bunn said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT Militants unite in Pakistan
on: April 14, 2009, 10:25:05 AM
Its the NYT, so be on the lookout for misleading and dishonest agendas:
April 14, 2009
Militants Unite in Pakistan’s Populous Heart
By SABRINA TAVERNISE, RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and ERIC SCHMITT
DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan — Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.
The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.
Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be idenfitied because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”
As American drone attacks disrupt strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan — both in retaliation and in search of new havens.
Telltale signs of creeping militancy abound in a belt of towns and villages near here that a reporter visited last week. Militants have gained strength considerably in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan, which is a gateway both to Taliban-controlled areas and the heart of Punjab, the police and local residents say. Many were terrified.
Some villages, just north of here, are so deeply infiltrated by militants that they are already considered no-go zones by their neighbors.
In at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the midsize hub of Multan, barber shops, music stores and Internet cafes offensive to the militants’ strict interpretation of Islam have received threats. Traditional ceremonies that include drumming and dancing have been halted in some areas. Hard-line ideologues have addressed large crowds to push their idea of Islamic revolution. Sectarian attacks, dormant here since the 1990s, have erupted once again.
“It’s going from bad to worse,” said a senior police official in Dera Ghazi Khan. “They are now more active. These are the facts.”
American officials agreed. Bruce Riedel, who led the Obama administration’s recently completed strategy review of Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the Taliban now had “extensive links into the Punjab.”
“You are seeing more of a coalescence of these militant groups,” said Mr. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official. “Connections that have always existed are becoming tighter and more public than they have in the past.”
The Punjabi militant groups have had links with the Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun tribesmen, since the 1980s. Some of the Punjabi groups are veterans of Pakistan’s state-sponsored insurgency against Indian forces in Kashmir. Others made targets of Shiites.
Under pressure from the United States, former President Pervez Musharraf cut back state support for the Punjabi groups. They either went underground or migrated to the tribal areas, where they deepened their ties with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
At least 20 militants killed in American strikes in the tribal areas since last summer were Punjabi, according to people from the tribal areas and Pakistani officials. One Pakistani security official estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of militants in the tribal regions could be Punjabi.
The alliance is based on more than shared ideology. “These are tactical alliances,” said a senior American counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters. The Pashtun Taliban and Arab militants, who are part of Al Qaeda, have money, sanctuary, training sites and suicide bombers. The Punjabi militants can provide logistical help in Punjabi cities, like Lahore, including handling bombers and target reconnaissance.
The cooperation between the groups intensified greatly after the government’s siege of Islamic hard-liners at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, in mid-2007, Pakistani and American security officials say. The siege has since become a rallying cry.
One such joint operation, an American security official said, was the Marriott bombing in Islamabad in September, which killed more than 50 people.
As this cooperation intensifies, places like Dera Ghazi Khan are particularly vulnerable. This frontier town is home to a combustible mix of worries: poverty, a growing phalanx of hard-line religious schools and a uranium processing plant that is a part of Pakistan’s nuclear program.
It is also strategically situated at the intersection of two main roads. One is a main artery into Pakistan’s heartland, in southern Punjab. The other connects Baluchistan Province in the west to the North-West Frontier Province, both Taliban strongholds.
“We are being cornered in a blind alley,” said Mohammed Ali, a local landlord. “We can’t breathe easily.”
Attacks intended to intimidate and sow sectarian strife are more common. The police point to a suicide bombing in Dera Ghazi Khan on Feb. 5. Two local Punjabis, with the help of Taliban backers, orchestrated the attack, which killed 29 people at a Shiite ceremony, the local police said.
The authorities arrested two men as masterminds on April 6: Qari Muhammad Ismail Gul, the leader of a local madrasa; and Ghulam Mustafa Kaisrani, a jihadi who posed as a salesman for a medical company.
They belonged to a banned Punjabi group called Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, but were tied through phone calls to two deputies of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the police said.
“The phone numbers they call are in Waziristan,” said a police official, referring to the Taliban base in the tribal areas. “They are working together hand in glove.” One of the men had gone for training in Waziristan last summer, the police said. The operations are well-supported. Mr. Kaisrani had several bank transfers worth about $11 million from his Pakistani account, the authorities said.
Local crimes, including at least two recent bank robberies in Dera Ghazi Khan, were also traced to networks of Islamic militants, officials said.
“The money that’s coming in is huge,” said Zulfiqar Hameed, head of investigations for the Lahore Police Department. “When you go back through the chain of the transaction, you invariably find it’s been done for money.”
After the suicide attack here, the police confiscated a 20-minute inspirational video, titled “Revenge,” for the Red Mosque, which gave testimonials from suicide bombers in different cities and post-attack images.
Umme Hassan, the wife of a fiery preacher who was killed during the Red Mosque siege, now frequently travels to south Punjab, to rally the faithful. She has made 12 visits in the past several months before cheering crowds and showing emotional clips of the attack, said a Punjabi official who has been monitoring her visits.
“She claimed that they would bring Islamic revolution in three months,” said Umar Draz, who attended a rally in Muzzafargarh.
The situation in south and west Punjab is still far from that in the Swat Valley, a part of North-West Frontier Province that is now fully under Taliban control after the military agreed to a truce in February. But there are strong parallels.
The Taliban here exploit many of the same weaknesses that have allowed them to expand in other areas: an absent or intimidated police force; a lack of attention from national and provincial leaders; a population steadily cowed by threats, or won over by hard-line mullahs who usurp authority by playing on government neglect and poverty.
In Shadan Lund, a village just north of here, militants are openly demanding Islamic law, or Shariah, said Jan Sher, whose brother is a teacher there. “The situation is sharply going toward Swat,” Mr. Sher said. He and others said the single biggest obstacle to stopping the advance of militancy was the attitudes of Pakistanis themselves, whose fury at the United States has led to blind support for everyone who goes against it.
Shabaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, said he was painfully aware of the problems of insurgent infiltration and was taking steps to restore people’s faith in government, including plans for new schools and hospitals. “Hearts and minds must be won,” he said in an interview Monday. “If this struggle fails, this country has no future.”
But people complain that landowners and local politicians have done nothing to stop the advance and, in some cases, even assist the militants by giving money to some of the religious schools.
“The government is useless,” said Mr. Ali, the local landlord. “They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”
The police are left alone to stop the advance. But in Punjab, as in much of the rest of Pakistan, they are spread unevenly, with little presence in rural areas. Out of 160,000 police officers in Punjab, fewer than 60,000 are posted in rural areas, leaving frontier stations in districts virtually unprotected, police officials said.
Locals feel helpless. When a 15-year-old boy vanished from a madrasa in a village near here recently — his classmates said to go on jihad — his uncle could not afford to go look for him, let alone confront the powerful men who run the madrasa.
“We are simple people,” the man said. “What can we do?”http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/wo...punjab.html?hp
Go to the article for graphics and photos
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Marshall; Reagan
on: April 13, 2009, 04:46:31 PM
"An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation." --John Marshall
"[April 15] is the last day for filing income tax returns -- a day that reminds us that taxpayers pay too much of their earnings to the Federal Government. ... While April 15 serves as a reminder, the people of the United States truly do not need to be reminded. They are victims of inflation, which pushes them into higher tax brackets. They are robbed daily of a better standard of living. They are discouraged from work and investment. ... The choice before us is clear. I strongly feel that the great majority of Americans believe that nothing would better encourage economic growth than leaving more money in the hands of the people who earn it. It's time to stop stripping bare the productive citizens of America and funneling their hard-earned income into the Federal bureaucracy." --Ronald Reagan
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Letters of Marque
on: April 13, 2009, 04:34:43 PM
From the GOTX forum:
I think privateering is a shitty idea in today's day and age for several reasons.
If the USA started to issue letters of marque, who the fuck wouldn't?
Show of hands, how many people want to see columbian drug cartels use puppet governments to start a new side line for themselves under legit papers?
You'd see LOM's with Mugabe's signature, you know that for sure.
The captives on the ships? Shit, everything from summary execution to selling their bodies for organ donation would be happening. We get upset when a cargo ship get's taken...imagine what would happen when a cruise liner gets hit and POOF, the passengers & crew is gone...but suddenly their is a whole bunch of hearts/kidneys available for transplant in India, South Africa and Brazil at "Private Clinics"...
Kidnapping? Ho...hold on...it's not kidnapping anymore. I've got a letter of marque signed by the duly authorized government of Chad. They said if I captured anyone in my travels I can legally hold them in Chad and ransom them...
Those are just some of the great reasons governments want pirates stamped the fuck out.
Letters of Marque my ass.
Contractors under government authority - sure.
Letting anyone out to "Hunt Pirates" - NO.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: What Iran thinks
on: April 13, 2009, 11:36:00 AM
By MICHAEL RUBIN
On Apr. 9, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's atomic energy agency, announced that the Islamic Republic had installed 7,000 centrifuges in its Natanz uranium enrichment facility. The announcement came one day after the U.S. State Department announced it would engage Iran directly in multilateral nuclear talks.
Proponents of engagement with Tehran say dialogue provides the only way forward. Iran's progress over the past eight years, they say, is a testament to the failure of Bush administration strategy. President Barack Obama, for example, in his Mar. 21 address to the Iranian government and people, declared that diplomacy "will not be advanced by threats. We seek engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."
Thus our president fulfills a pattern in which new administrations place blame for the failure of diplomacy on predecessors rather than on adversaries. The Islamic Republic is not a passive actor, however. Quite the opposite: While President Obama plays checkers, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei plays chess. The enrichment milestone is a testament both to Tehran's pro-active strategy and to Washington's refusal to recognize it.
Iran's nuclear program dates back to 1989, when the Russian government agreed to complete the reactor at Bushehr. It was a year of optimism in the West: The Iran-Iraq War ended the summer before and, with the death of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, leadership passed to Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, both considered moderates.
At the beginning of the year, George H.W. Bush offered an olive branch to Tehran, declaring in his inaugural address, "Good will begets good will. Good faith can be a spiral that endlessly moves on." The mood grew more euphoric in Europe. In 1992, the German government, ever eager for new business opportunities and arguing that trade could moderate the Islamic Republic, launched its own engagement initiative.
It didn't work. While U.S. and European policy makers draw distinctions between reformers and hard-liners in the Islamic Republic, the difference between the two is style, not substance. Both remain committed to Iran's nuclear program. Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, for example, called for a Dialogue of Civilizations. The European Union (EU) took the bait and, between 2000 and 2005, nearly tripled trade with Iran.
It was a ruse. Iranian officials were as insincere as European diplomats were greedy, gullible or both. Iranian officials now acknowledge that Tehran invested the benefits reaped into its nuclear program.
On June 14, 2008, for example, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, Mr. Khatami's spokesman, debated advisers to current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the University of Gila in northern Iran. Mr. Ramezanzadeh criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad for his defiant rhetoric, and counseled him to accept the Khatami approach: "We should prove to the entire world that we want power plants for electricity. Afterwards, we can proceed with other activities," Mr. Ramezanzadeh said. The purpose of dialogue, he argued further, was not to compromise, but to build confidence and avoid sanctions. "We had an overt policy, which was one of negotiation and confidence building, and a covert policy, which was continuation of the activities," he said.
The strategy was successful. While today U.S. and European officials laud Mr. Khatami as a peacemaker, it was on his watch that Iran built and operated covertly its Natanz nuclear enrichment plant and, at least until 2003, a nuclear weapons program as well.
Iran's responsiveness to diplomacy is a mirage. After two years of talks following exposure of its Natanz facility, Tehran finally acquiesced to a temporary enrichment suspension, a move which Secretary of State Colin Powell called "a little bit of progress," and the EU hailed.
But, just last Sunday, Hassan Rowhani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator at the time, acknowledged his government's insincerity. The Iranian leadership agreed to suspension, he explained in an interview with the government-run news Web site, Aftab News, "to counter global consensus against Iran," adding, "We did not accept suspension in construction of centrifuges and continued the effort. . . . We needed a greater number." What diplomats considered progress, Iranian engineers understood to be an opportunity to expand their program.
In his March 24 press conference, Mr. Obama said, "I'm a big believer in persistence." Making the same mistake repeatedly, however, is neither wise nor realism; it is arrogant, naïve and dangerous.
When Mr. Obama declared on April 5 that "All countries can access peaceful nuclear energy," the state-run daily newspaper Resalat responded with a front page headline, "The United States capitulates to the nuclear goals of Iran." With Washington embracing dialogue without accountability and Tehran embracing diplomacy without sincerity, it appears the Iranian government is right.
Mr. Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / War by any other name
on: April 13, 2009, 11:33:36 AM
War By Any Other Name
Obama's new terminology has started a trend.Article
By JOE QUEENAN
The Obama administration has come under intense criticism for replacing the term "war on terror" with the emaciated euphemism "overseas contingency operations," and for referring to individual acts of terror as "man-caused disasters."
This semi-official attempt to disassociate the administration from the fierce rhetoric favored by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney has enraged Americans on both the right and left. Many feel that such vaporous bureaucratese is a self-emasculating action that plunges us into an Orwellian world where words have no emotional connection with the horrors they purport to describe.
Yet, if the intention of the Obama administration is to tone down the confrontational rhetoric being used by our enemies, the effort is already reaping results. This week, in a pronounced shift from its usual theatrical style, the Taliban announced that it will no longer refer to its favorite method of murder as "beheadings," but will henceforth employ the expression "cephalic attrition." "Flayings" -- a barbarously exotic style of execution that has been popular in this part of the world since before the time of Alexander -- will now be described as "unsolicited epidermal reconfigurations." In a similar vein, lopping off captives' arms will now be referred to as "appendage furloughing," while public floggings of teenaged girls will from here on out be spoken of as "metajudicial interfacing."
A Taliban spokesman reached in Pakistan said that the new phrasing was being implemented as a way of eliminating the negative associations triggered by more graphic terminology. "The term 'beheading' has a quasi-medieval undertone that we're trying to get away from," he explained. "The term 'cephalic attrition' brings the Taliban into the 21st century. It's not that we disapprove of beheadings; it's just that the word no longer meshes with the zeitgeist of the era. This is the same reason we have replaced the term 'jihad' with 'booka-bonga-bippo,' which has a more zesty, urban, youthful, 'now' feel. When you're recruiting teenagers to your movement, you don't want them to feel that going on jihad won't leave any time for youthful hijinks."
Central Asia is not the only place where the coarse terminology of the past is being phased out. In Darfur, the words "ethnic cleansing" are no longer in use, either by rebels nor by the government itself. Instead, the practice of targeting a particular tribe or sect or ethnic group for extinction is being called "unconditional demographic redeployment." In much the same spirit, the archaic term "genocide" -- so broad and vague as to be meaningless -- has now been supplanted by "maximum-intensity racial profiling."
"We've got problems here, sure, just like any other society," explains a high-ranking Sudanese official. "But we're not talking about Armenia 1915. We're not talking about the Holocaust. The Eurocentric term 'genocide' gives people the wrong idea. And it really hurts tourism."
Another very positive sign that global rhetoric is being turned down a notch is the decision by the North Korean government to refer to its offshore nuclear tests as "intra-horizontal aqua-aeonic degradation simulations."
"You start throwing around terms like 'nuclear testing' and you scare the hell out of the Japanese,' says a Hong Kong-based expert in East Asian euphemisms. "It's why the expression 'people's liberation army' always worked so much better as a recruiting device than 'mass murderers.'"
Another hopeful sign of a subtle cooling of heated diplomatic rhetoric is an official directive by the Hugo Chavez administration instructing journalists to stop using the term 'nationalizing oil fields.' Last week, the more graceful term "petrolic resource reapportionment" began to appear in prominent Venezuela media, along with "amicable annexation."
Yet perhaps the most encouraging sign of all is in Mexico, where vigilante groups have announced that they will no longer use the term "death squads" to describe their activities. Instead, death squads will be identified as "terminus-inducing claques," "free-lance resolution facilitators," and "off-site impasse adjustors."
Finally, in yet another determined effort to disassociate itself from the bellicose imagery favored by the Bush administration, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will no longer employ the term "bad guys" to describe al Qaeda.
"It's juvenile, it's demeaning, and it's judgmental," says a high-ranking administration spokesman. "From now on, the bad guys will be referred to as 'the ostensibly malefic.' We'll get back to you when we have a new term for 'the good guys.'"
Mr. Queenan, a satirist and freelance writer, is the author of numerous books. His memoir, "Closing Time," will be published this month by Viking.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The end of private insurance
on: April 13, 2009, 11:28:34 AM
Above every other health-care goal, Democrats this year want to institute a "public option" -- an insurance program financed by taxpayers, managed by government and open to everyone, much like Medicare. This new middle-class entitlement is the most important debate in Congress this year, because it really is the last stand for anything resembling private health insurance.
This public option will supposedly "compete" with private alternatives. As President Obama likes to put it, those who are happy with the insurance they have now can keep it -- and if they happen to prefer the government offering, well, gee whiz, that's the free market at work. The reality is far different. Not only will the new program become the default coverage for the uninsured, but Democrats intend to game the system to precipitate -- or if need be, coerce -- an exodus to government from private insurance. Soon enough, that will be the only "option" left.
A public program won't compete in a way that any normal business would recognize. As an entitlement, Congress's creation will enjoy potentially unlimited access to the Treasury, without incurring the risks or hedging against losses that private carriers do. As people gravitate to "free" or heavily subsidized care, the inevitably explosive costs will be covered in part with increased outlays to keep premiums artificially low or even offer extra benefits. Lacking such taxpayer cash, private insurance rates will escalate.
Much like Medicare, overall spending in the public option will be controlled over time by paying less for medical services, drugs and technology. With its monopsony purchasing power, below-market fees will be dictated on a take-it-or-leave-it basis -- an offer hospitals and physicians won't be able to refuse. Medicare's current reimbursement policies pay hospitals only 71% of private rates, and doctors 81%, according to the Lewin Group.
In a recent analysis, Lewin estimates that enrollment in the public option will reach 131 million people if it is open to everyone and pays Medicare rates. Fully 119 million people will shift out of -- or lose -- private coverage. Everything depends on the payment levels that Congress adopts, as well as the size of the eligible pool. But even if a public option available to all takes the highly improbable step of paying at some midpoint between private and Medicare rates, nearly 68 million people will still be crowded out of private insurance. The nearby table summarizes Lewin's eye-popping findings.
This public option would be the most radical change in the way American health care is financed -- and thus provided -- in at least 44 years, and maybe ever. About 170 million people currently have private insurance, which is already pressured by the price controls of Medicare and Medicaid. A significant share of government underpayments are simply transferred to the private sector, adding tens of billions of dollars every year to consumer health bills.
A 2006 study in the journal Health Affairs concludes that around 17 cents of every dollar in relative reductions in Medicare payments to private hospitals are shifted onto private patients -- and that such cost-shifting accounts for fully 12.3% of the total increase in private payer prices between 1997 and 2001.
This share would be far higher were government payment rates not limited to the elderly and the poor but imposed over the entire system. This will only hasten the flight to government. Meanwhile, employers small and large will have every incentive to dump their plans and transfer their workers to the public rolls. The result will inevitably be a cascade of failures or withdrawals from the market by commercial insurers, with the public option as the only option for the diaspora.
Congress will finish the job with regulatory changes. Under the aegis of a level playing field, all private plans will be forced to offer benefit packages similar to those in the public option. They will also be required to accept all comers, regardless of pre-existing conditions, and also be forced to offer similar rates to all enrollees, ending the ability to manage risk through underwriting. Any private plan will essentially become a public utility where government decides what products it must offer and how much it can charge.
Democrats couldn't be clearer on this point. House baron Pete Stark -- who thought HillaryCare was too moderate and has long favored Medicare for all -- said at a recent hearing that currently "We have no mechanism to directly push the private sector to do delivery system reform and address rising costs." But the public option, he added, would force private insurers to "modernize," which seems to be his term for industrial policy.
Under this model, the annual political warfare over Medicare payment policies would be imported to what is left of the private sector. Once government takes over the majority of U.S. health-care liabilities, it can either provide every service at huge and growing cost, or it can ration services. People who need an MRI or hip replacement or whatever will face waiting lines. Medical innovation will be at the mercy of the price controls hashed out in Washington.
Proponents of a public option point to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to dismiss such criticism, but that program is offered only to a discrete population. Mr. Obama's proposal would be open to everyone and necessitate a huge permanent increase in government spending as a share of the economy. Medicare and Medicaid alone account for 4% of GDP today and will rise to 9% by 2035, according to the Congressional Budget Office. CBO estimates that individual and corporate income tax rates would have to rise by about 90% to finance the projected increase in spending through 2050 -- without the new middle-class entitlement.
Proponents will say we are exaggerating, but the consequences we describe are inevitable when government bulldozes into a market. Democrats want to sell their "public option" as a modest and affordable reform that won't affect anyone's private insurance. It isn't true. Republicans, especially those in the Senate who want to cut a deal on health care, should understand that a public option is the beginning of the end of private health insurance.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Government programs & regulations, spending, deficit, and budget process
on: April 13, 2009, 11:25:45 AM
We kick off a new thread with a NY Slimes propaganda account:
Plan to Change Student Lending Sets Up a Fight
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
Published: April 12, 2009
WASHINGTON — The private student lending industry and its allies in Congress are maneuvering to thwart a plan by President Obama to end a subsidized loan program and redirect billions of dollars in bank profits to scholarships for needy students.
The plan is the main money-saving component of Mr. Obama’s education agenda, which includes a sweeping overhaul of financial aid programs. The Congressional Budget Office says replacing subsidized loans made by private banks with direct government lending would save $94 billion over the next decade, money that Mr. Obama would use to expand Pell grants for the poorest students.
But the proposal has ignited one of the most fractious policy fights this year.
Because it would make spending on Pell grants mandatory, limiting Congressional control, powerful appropriators are balking at it. Republicans say the plan is proof that Mr. Obama is trying to vastly expand government. Democrats are divided, with lawmakers from districts where lenders are big employers already drawing battle lines.
At the same time, the private loan industry, which would have collapsed without a government rescue last year, has begun lobbying aggressively to save a program that has generated giant profits with very little risk.
“The administration has decided that it wants to capture the profits of federal student loans,” said Kevin Bruns, executive director of America’s Student Loan Providers, a trade group that is fighting Mr. Obama’s plan.
To press its case, the nation’s largest student lender, Sallie Mae, has hired two prominent lobbyists, Tony Podesta, whose brother, John, led the Obama transition, and Jamie S. Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.
For lenders, the stakes are huge. Just last week, Sallie Mae reported that despite losing $213 million in 2008, it paid its chief executive more than $4.6 million in cash and stock and its vice chairman more than $13.2 million in cash and stock, including the use of a company plane. The company, which did not receive money under the $700 billion financial system bailout and is not subject to pay restrictions, also disbursed cash bonuses of up to $600,000 to other executives.
Sallie Mae said that executive compensation was lower in 2008 than 2007 and that the stock awards were worthless in the current market.
Critics of the subsidized loan system, called the Federal Family Education Loan Program, say private lenders have collected hefty fees for decades on loans that are risk-free because the government guarantees repayment up to 97 percent. With the government directly or indirectly financing virtually all federal student loans because of the financial crisis, the critics say there is no reason to continue a program that was intended to inject private capital into the education lending system.
Under the subsidized loan program, the government pays lenders like Citigroup, Bank of America and Sallie Mae, with both the subsidy and the maximum interest rate for borrowers set by Congress. Students are steered to the government’s direct program or to outside lenders, depending on their school’s preference.
Private lenders say they still provide valuable service, marketing, customer relations, billing, default prevention and collection of delinquent loans. The lenders say the budget savings could be achieved without ending their role and are pushing to keep the system in place, including an arrangement approved by Congress last year by which they are paid to originate loans but can resell them to the government.
Martha Holler, a spokeswoman for Sallie Mae, said the company wanted a compromise. “To be clear, there are those who are fighting to preserve the historic financing structure for federal student loans,” she wrote in an e-mail message following up on a telephone interview. “Sallie Mae is not among them. In fact, we support constructive alternatives that would generate a similar level of taxpayer savings to achieve the administration’s important goals.”
Lenders are also emphasizing the jobs they provide.
Sallie Mae’s chief executive, Albert L. Lord, held a town-hall-style meeting last week at the company’s loan center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., with two Democrats, Senator Bob Casey and Representative Paul E. Kanjorski, to announce the return of 2,000 jobs that were sent overseas in 2007.
Mr. Lord, in his opening speech, insisted that Mr. Obama’s proposal offered new opportunities, but he said he would fight to keep the current system mostly intact.
“We can either meet or beat the budget savings that are in the president’s budget with the exact same system that we have got working now with maybe a few tweaks,” he said.
But to preserve a profitable role for private lenders and still achieve Mr. Obama’s savings seems extremely difficult if not impossible; initial projections put forward by Sallie Mae could reach only 82 percent of the president’s goal over five years.
Last year, to keep education financing from drying up, Congress expanded the government’s role, including the repurchase of loans, which Sallie Mae and some other lenders say should be mandatory going forward.
“When you add that all up, a very legitimate question to ask is why do we even need private lenders,” said Representative Timothy H. Bishop, Democrat of New York and a former provost of Southampton College.
For Mr. Bishop and many other education advocates, Mr. Obama’s plan to expand the existing direct loan program used by more than 1,500 schools is obvious and long overdue.
But the administration has a fight on its hands.
Page 2 of 2)
“The president’s proposal,” Representative Allen Boyd, Democrat of Florida, said in a floor speech, “could be detrimental to thousands of employees who serve in the current student loan industry throughout this country, 650 of which are located in Panama City, Florida.”
In some states, student loans are administered by quasi-governmental agencies that benefit the same as private lenders. To appeal to these states, the administration has proposed $500 million a year for financial literacy programs and other services the agencies provide.
Political opposition may be harder to overcome.
Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, the senior Republican on the education committee, said Democrats should not cut out lenders. “A government-run, one-size-fits-all program is not the answer,” he said.
But some lawmakers have no sympathy for an industry now kept afloat by taxpayers.
“If the banks complain that they are getting cut out,” said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, “too bad.”
At the Wilkes-Barre event, Mr. Lord of Sallie Mae acknowledged his industry’s reliance on the government. “I don’t see private capital financing student loans, certainly any time soon,” he said.
Even as lenders fight the president’s plan, Sallie Mae and others are bidding for work that will remain if it is adopted — contracts for loan servicing and other back office operations.
The president’s plan would use the money from direct lending to help increase Pell grants and make them mandatory, with annual increases tied to inflation, providing a much-needed measure of certainty for students. That would limit Congressional control over the grants, an idea appropriators are not keen on, but the White House and Congressional leaders say they are open to negotiation.
Anticipating a ferocious legislative battle, Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the education committee, is weighing all options.
“Chairman Miller’s priority is to make our federal student loan programs as reliable, sustainable and efficient as possible for students, families and taxpayers,” his spokeswoman, Rachel Racusen, said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Judge upholds 47 year old man marrying 8 year old girl
on: April 12, 2009, 07:36:59 PM
A Saudi judge has refused for a second time to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man, a relative of the girl told CNN.
The most recent ruling, in which the judge upheld his original verdict, was handed down Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza, where late last year the same judge rejected a petition from the girl's mother, who was seeking a divorce for her daughter.
The relative said the judge, Sheikh Habib Al-Habib, "stuck by his earlier verdict and insisted that the girl could petition the court for a divorce once she reached puberty." The family member, who requested anonymity, added that the mother will continue to pursue a divorce for her daughter.
The case, which has drawn criticism from local and international rights groups, came to light in December when al-Habib declined to annul the marriage on a legal technicality. The judge ruled the girl's mother -- who is separated from the girl's father -- was not the girl's legal guardian and therefore could not represent her in court, according to Abdullah al-Jutaili, the mother's lawyer.
The girl's father, according to the attorney, arranged the marriage in order to settle his debts with the man, who is "a close friend" of his. At the time of the initial verdict, the judge required the girl's husband to sign a pledge that he would not have sex with her until she reaches puberty, al-Jutaili told CNN. The judge ruled that when the girl reaches puberty, she will have the right to request a divorce by filing a petition with the court, the lawyer said.
Last month, an appeals court in the Saudi capital of Riyadh declined to certify the original ruling, in essence rejecting al-Habib's verdict, and sent the case back to al-Habib for reconsideration.
Under the complicated Saudi legal process, the appeals court ruling meant that the marriage was still in effect, but that a challenge to the marriage was still ongoing. The appeals court in Riyadh will now take up the case again and a hearing is scheduled for next month, according to the relative.
The issue of child marriage has been a hot-button topic in the deeply conservative kingdom recently. While rights groups have been petitioning the government to enact laws that would protect children from this type of marriage, the kingdom's top cleric has said that it's OK for girls as young as 10 to wed.
"It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks last January quoted in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."
Al-Sheikh reportedly made the remarks when he was asked during a lecture about parents forcing their underage daughters to marry.
"We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls," he said, according to the newspaper. "We should know that Sharia law has not brought injustice to women."
Sharia law is Islamic law. Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism.
CNN was unable to reach government officials for comment.
Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told CNN in December that his organization has heard of many other cases of child marriages.
"We've been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger -- especially so when girls are traded off to older men," Wilcke said.
Wilcke explained that while Saudi ministries may make decisions designed to protect children, "It is still the religious establishment that holds sway in the courts, and in many realms beyond the court."
Last December, Zuhair al-Harithi, a spokesman for the Saudi government-run Human Rights Commission, said his organization is fighting against child marriages.
"The Human Rights Commission opposes child marriages in Saudi Arabia," al-Harithi said. "Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed." He added that his organization has been able to intervene and stop at least one child marriage from taking place.
Wajeha al-Huwaider, co-founder of the Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, told CNN that achieving human rights in the kingdom means standing against those who want to "keep us backward and in the dark ages."
She said the marriages cause girls to "lose their sense of security and safety. Also, it destroys their feeling of being loved and nurtured. It causes them a lifetime of psychological problems and severe depression."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ "The Veteran"
on: April 12, 2009, 04:11:25 PM
By JAMES TARANTO
"What if it was 'Oh, the gay one,' or 'Oh, the Asian kid?' " asks Maggie Kwok, head of the Penn State Veterans Organization in an interview with the Daily Collegian, PSU's student newspaper. She is referring to a "training video," prepared by the university's Counseling and Psychological Services office, depicting "worrisome student behavior."
The office swiftly removed the video when it prompted a kerfuffle, but the PSU College Republicans preserved it on YouTube. It's a fascinating documentation of academic prejudice.
Just shy of five minutes, the video depicts a vignette in two scenes. As it opens, a timorous young female instructor is talking with an older man, perhaps the department chairman. We join the conversation as it is about to wrap up, before she brings up a new and worrisome subject:
Instructor: . . . So, I think that we should talk to everybody about that.
Chairman: Good, let's bring it up at the staff meeting, OK?
Instructor: Actually, I kinda wanted to talk to you about something else? Um, I'm still having problems with that student I mentioned?
Chairman: The Veteran.
Instructor: Yeah. He's having problems with his papers still. His grammar is really poor, and he veers off subject, and he's just not really seeming to understand the assignments.
Sound familiar? "You know, education--if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
The video's salient stereotype, however, is not of veterans as thickheaded but as angry. The instructor reluctantly tells the chairman that the student's "tone is very confrontational, and I feel like he's always on the verge of losing his temper." The chairman asks if he has threatened her or if she is "worried about what he might do." She says no, but "he makes me really uneasy." He gives her some obvious advice, beginning: "If he ever threatens you, you call the police right away."
After this inconclusive chat, the story shifts to the classroom, where The Veteran confronts the instructor, demanding to know why he only got a C-plus on his paper even after rewriting it to her specifications. She says that while there was some improvement after the rewrite, she graded the paper on the merits. He thinks she has it in for him and says, "I don't see why you're doing this":
Instructor: I'm not doing anything, Matthew. This isn't a personal thing against you.
The Veteran: I think it is! You've made it very clear in class how you feel about the war, and you're taking it out on me!
Instructor: My personal beliefs have nothing to do with the way that I treat you. I think that you need to relax and we need to discuss this. Or I could give you the name of someone to talk to if you feel like you want to get some help.
The Veteran: Help? Do you think I'm an idiot? You're the one who's being unreasonable! I just want the grade that I deserve. [Pauses.] You know what? You'll see, you'll be sorry. I'm gonna get you fired.
With this, The Veteran exits stage left. Fade to black as the instructor's jaw goes slack in an expression midway between terror and pensiveness.
"Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the university responded to the veterans' concerns as quickly as possible by removing the video," the Collegian reports:
"We heard them, we responded and there was certainly no intent to suggest that any particular student group was inclined toward worrisome behavior," Powers said. . . .
"Obviously someone has taken our video and has posted it elsewhere," Powers said. "Since it has been posted on the Internet, we have received some e-mails from veterans and friends of veterans who have seen the video out of context."
We watched the other three videos in the series, and we must say we don't see how the "context" ameliorates the veterans' objections to the depiction of The Veteran.
All the videos in the series concern students behaving in ways that are creepy but not necessarily dangerous. In the first, a young woman tells her professor that a young man in her class has an unreciprocated romantic interest in her and has been making her feel uncomfortable. "It's not like he's stalking me or anything," she allows, but then she describes behavior that some may reckon crossed that line.
The second depicts a female student who is behaving erratically for reasons that are unspecified--perhaps trauma, mental illness or drug abuse.
James Taranto on the Penn State video kerfuffle.
The third shows a classroom discussion on news coverage of violent crime. When the conversation turns toward school shootings, a black-shirted male student in the back row remarks that such violence "doesn't make sense to me. Why shoot at the other students? Personally, I'd blow up Old Main or shoot up the administration. That's where the real problems are."
The video about The Veteran is similar to the others, in that all depict abnormal behavior by young people who probably are normal, but are immature or temporarily impaired. But the characters in the other videos are all completely generic, with no distinguishing characteristics other than their sex. Only The Veteran is fleshed out enough even to be a stereotype.
The obvious objection to the depiction of The Veteran is that there is no reason to think that veterans are more prone than anyone else to lash out angrily, blaming others for their own failings. If anything, one would think that the rigors of military training and deployment would leave them more mature, at least in this regard.
But The Veteran's status as a veteran is relevant to the video's story, inasmuch as he believes the instructor is treating him unfairly because he is a veteran. This lends another dimension to Maggie Kwok's speculation about the reaction if the character were depicted as a member of an ethnic or sexual minority.
What if the student in the video were black and accused the instructor of racial discrimination? Would this be depicted, as it is in this video, as if the charge was absurd on its face? Would the student's threat to have the (presumably untenured) instructor "fired" come across as an empty one, the way it does in the actual video? And if the department chairman in the opening exchange identified the student by asking, "Oh, the black guy?," would that not be seen--with some justification--as bolstering the charge of discrimination?
In the video, The Veteran behaves inappropriately--but he also accuses the instructor of inappropriately bringing her politics into the classroom at his expense. We are meant to think the accusation is preposterous. But at a university that produces such a video, is it hard to believe that such things actually go on?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Navy rescues captain, kills 3 of 4 pirates
on: April 12, 2009, 01:36:49 PM
Official: US sea captain freed in swift firefight
Well Done Navy,would love to see the video,if it exists.
MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) - An American ship captain was freed unharmed Sunday in a U.S. Navy operation that killed three of the four Somali pirates who had been holding him for days in a lifeboat off the coast of Africa, a senior U.S. intelligence official said.
One of the pirates was wounded and in custody after a swift firefight, the official said.
Capt. Richard Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vermont, was safely transported to a Navy warship nearby.
The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A government official and others in Somali with knowledge of the situation had reported hours earlier that negotiations for Phillips' release had broken down.
The district commissioner of the central Mudug region said talks went on all day Saturday, with clan elders from his area talking by satellite telephone and through a translator with Americans, but collapsed late Saturday night.
"The negotiations between the elders and American officials have broken down. The reason is American officials wanted to arrest the pirates in Puntland and elders refused the arrest of the pirates," said the commissioner, Abdi Aziz Aw Yusuf. He said he organized initial contacts between the elders and the Americans.
Two other Somalis, one involved in the negotiations and another in contact with the pirates, also said the talks collapsed because of the U.S. insistence that the pirates be arrested and brought to justice.
Phillips' crew of 19 American sailors reached safe harbor in Kenya's northeast port of Mombasa on Saturday night under guard of U.S. Navy Seals, exhilarated by their freedom but mourning the absence of Phillips.
Crew members said their ordeal had begun with the Somali pirates hauling themselves up from a small boat bobbing on the surface of the Indian Ocean far below.
As the pirates shot in the air, Phillips told his crew to lock themselves in a cabin and surrendered himself to safeguard his men, crew members said.
Phillips was then held hostage in an enclosed lifeboat that was closely watched by U.S. warships and a helicopter in an increasingly tense standoff.
Talks to free him began Thursday with the captain of the USS Bainbridge talking to the pirates under instruction from FBI hostage negotiators on board the U.S. destroyer.
A statement from Maersk Line, owner of Phillips' ship, the Maersk Alabama, said "the U.S. Navy had sight contact" of Phillips earlier Sunday—apparently when the pirates opened the hatches.
Before Phillips was freed, a pirate who said he was associated with the gang that held Phillips, Ahmed Mohamed Nur, told The Associated Press that the pirates had reported that "helicopters continue to fly over their heads in the daylight and in the night they are under the focus of a spotlight from a warship."
He spoke by satellite phone from Harardhere, a port and pirate stronghold where a fisherman said helicopters flew over the town Sunday morning and a warship was looming on the horizon. The fisherman, Abdi Sheikh Muse, said that could be an indication the lifeboat may be near to shore.
The U.S. Navy had assumed the pirates would try to get their hostage to shore, where they can hide him on Somalia's lawless soil and be in a stronger position to negotiate a ransom.
Three U.S. warships were within easy reach of the lifeboat on Saturday. The pirates had threatened to kill Phillips if attacked.
On Friday, the French navy freed a sailboat seized off Somalia last week by other pirates, but one of the five hostages was killed.
Early Saturday, the pirates holding Phillips in the lifeboat fired a few shots at a small U.S. Navy vessel that had approached, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The official said the U.S. sailors did not return fire, the Navy vessel turned away and no one was hurt. He said the vessel had not been attempting a rescue. The pirates are believed armed with pistols and AK-47 assault rifles.
Phillips jumped out of the lifeboat Friday and tried to swim for his freedom but was recaptured when a pirate fired an automatic weapon at or near him, according to U.S. Defense Department officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the unfolding operations.
"When I spoke to the crew, they won't consider it done when they board a plane and come home," Maersk President John Reinhart said from Norfolk, Virginia before news of Phillips' rescue. "They won't consider it done until the captain is back, nor will we."
In Phillips' hometown, the Rev. Charles Danielson of the St. Thomas Church said before the news broke that the congregation would continue to pray for Phillips and his family, who are members, and he would encourage "people to find hope in the triumph of good over evil."
Reinhart said he spoke with Phillips' wife, Andrea, who is surrounded by family and two company employees who were sent to support her.
"She's a brave woman," Reinhart said. "And she has one favor to ask: 'Do what you have to do to bring Richard home safely.' That means don't make a mistake, folks. We have to be perfect in our execution."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The French show Prez Panywaist how to man up
on: April 12, 2009, 12:13:05 PM
Freed French hostages due to arrive in Paris
Sunday 12 April 2009
Four ex-hostages, freed from a French yacht seized by Somali pirates, arrive in Paris on Sunday but without their skipper Florent Lemaçon, who was killed during a mission to recue them. On Saturday, Somali pirates seized an Italian tug.
Handout photo released by the French Navy on 11 April 2009, showing the owners of French 14.5 meters sailboat Tanit, Florent Lemacon (C), his wife Chloe (C), their three years old son Collin, and crew member 'Dodo' (2-L) being held at gun point by armed pirates. Florent and Chloe Lemacon and their three years old son Collin, plus two crew members, were captured and held hostages by pirates on 04 April 2009, not far from the Somalia's cost on the Indian Ocean, as the group was sailing to Kenya, French Special Forces retook the yacht on 10 April after negotiations to secure the release of the hostages fail. Mr. Lemacon and two pirates were killed, and 3 were taken prisoner.
A handout photo released by the French Navy on 11 April 2009, showing Chloe Lemacon (C), owner of French 14.5 meters sailboat Tanit, being helped off the yacht's cockpit by French Special Forces members. French nationals Florent and Chloe Lemacon and their three years old son Collin, plus two crew members, were captured and held hostages by pirates on 04 April 2009, not far from the Somalia's cost on the Indian Ocean, as the group was sailing to Kenya, French Special Forces retook the yacht on 10 April after negotiations to secure the release of the hostages fail. Mr. Lemacon and two pirates were killed, and three were taken prisoner.
RIP Florent Lemaçon
Congrats "La Royale"
12 April 2009
React (4) Print save AFP - Pirates holding a US merchant captain hostage on a lifeboat near Somalia could be preparing to transfer him to another ship Sunday, as an Italian vessel became the latest hijacking prey in the Gulf of Aden.
» Despite warnings, French family sails into pirate hands
Amid reports of ransom demands and shots fired at US sailors trying to reach the pirates, US officials considered how best to free Captain Richard Phillips and FBI agents interviewed his crew after the Maersk Alabama docked safely at Mombasa, Kenya.
In Italy meanwhile, the owners of the tug captured on Saturday by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden gave more details of the 16-strong crew.
"Ten Italians, five Romanians and a Croat are on board," Claudio Bartolotti of Micoperi Marine Contractors told AFP from the company's headquarters in Ravenna, northern Italy.
An earlier report had suggested that the boat was US-owned but operating under an Italian flag.
At around noon (1000 GMT), the company got word that their vessel, the 75-metre (250-foot) Buccaneer, had been captured, said Bartolotti. Fighting Piracy
» Hunting pirates with the French Navy
» Q&A with French Navy captain
» Despite warnings, French family sails into pirates' hands
The news came in an email that had probably been sent by the pirates themselves, he added. He had had no word since then.
It was the latest in a series of brazen raids in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, despite the presence of an international task force there to defend international shipping through the busy passage.
US Navy forces have poured into the region amid the standoff over Phillips, who has been held hostage since Wednesday when the container ship he commanded was attacked.
Four pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama, a freighter carrying 5,000 tonnes of UN aid destined for African refugees.
Its unarmed American crew managed to regain control of the ship, but the pirates bundled Phillips into the lifeboat as they escaped.
At 8:30 pm local time (1730 GMT) the Maersk Alabama docked at Mombasa. Those crew members visible from the dock looked tired but happy.
"The captain is a hero, he saved our lives," said one crew member, before retreating back inside the vessel.
Despite their ordeal, however, the crew was not allowed off the ship and the media was told to stay ashore while US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were on board investigating.
"Because of the pirate attack, the FBI has informed us this ship is a crime scene," Maersk Line president John Reinhart told a press briefing in the US state of Virginia.
Adrift in Indian Ocean and tracked closely by two US warships, the lifeboat carrying Phillips was now roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Somali coastline, according to CNN.
Overnight Thursday to Friday, Phillips tried to swim for the nearby US destroyer the USS Bainbridge, but was recaptured by his abductors.
A small naval party from one of the warships approached the lifeboat Saturday, but was forced back when the pirates opened fire, CNN reported from Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based.
The naval party retreated back to its mother ship without further incident to avoid antagonizing the situation any further, CNN said, citing a US official familiar with the situation.
Meanwhile, a pirate commander in the northern Somali town of Eyl told AFP by telephone that Phillips would be moved from the lifeboat where he was being held to another ship off the Somali coast.
Abdi Garad warned against using force to rescue Phillips.
"I'm afraid this matter is likely to create disaster because it's taking too long and we are getting information that the Americans are planning rescue tricks like the French commandos did," Garad said.
A US military spokesman in Washington declined to comment on how the US Navy would react if the pirates holding Phillips managed to transfer him to another vessel.
The pirates have demanded a two-million-dollar ransom and safe passage to Somalia for Phillips' release, New York's Daily News reported, adding that they threatened to kill their hostage if the US Navy attacked.
French Defence Minister Herve Morin defended Friday's marine raid on a yacht in the region that left one hostage and two pirates dead.
The marines moved in six days after the French yacht, the Tanit, was seized in the Gulf of Aden.
Although they freed three adults and a three-year-old boy, a fourth man, Florent Lemacon, the owner of the yacht and the child's father, was killed.
An autopsy and investigation would determine what had happened, said Morin. He could not rule out that the fatal shot had come from the French forces.
But in comments to French radio, he insisted: "We did everything to save the hostages' lives."
The four ex-hostages -- Lemacon's wife Chloe, their three-year-old son Colin and two other adults -- were due in Paris on Sunday aboard a French-chartered plane, Morin told AFP.
Meanwhile, a court in the northern Somali breakaway region of Puntland -- the main hub for piracy in the Gulf of Aden -- on Saturday sentenced 10 people to 20 years in jail each for piracy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness
on: April 12, 2009, 10:49:40 AM
What an upstanding family.
Barack Obama's brother banned from Britain over 'sex assault' lie
By Justin Penrose 11/04/2009
THE brother of U.S. President Barack Obama has been barred from Britain after lying to police when accused of a sexual assault.
Samson Obama – known as Abo – gave a false name to officers interviewing him after he was alleged to have tried to sexually assault a teenage girl in this country last November.
It was claimed that he approached a group of teenage girls, tried to sexually assault one of them, and then followed them into a nearby cafe. He was said to have become aggressive and was asked to leave by the owner.
The police were called and Samson was arrested.
He denied the assault and police did not prosecute him, but he accepted a police caution for a public order offence. At the time of his arrest Abo was living illegally at his mother Kezia’s house in Bracknell, Berks, but after the incident returned to his native Kenya.
And last week he had a visa application to return to Britain rejected. Home Office staff ruled that allowing him into Britain was “not conducive to the public good”.
The news will be embarrassing to the US President, who gave half-brother Abo a personal tour of the White House in January when he attended the historic inauguration. Abo, 41, and Barack, 47, are both sons of Barack Snr, a former goatherder from Kenya.
Abo’s mother Kezia was Barack Senior’s first wife in Kenya and the president’s mother is his second wife Ann Denham, a white American from Kansas.
Barack Snr left America in 1965 with his third wife to return to Africa where he rekindled his relationship with Kezia and Abo was born. He was killed in a car crash when the President was 21.
Abo and Barack first met in 1987 when Barack traced his family in Kenya.
Ever since, they have become extremely close, meeting several times and speaking regularly on the phone. Abo’s mother, Kezia, is Barack’s stepmum and takes pride of place at family gatherings following the death of Barack’s mother Ann in 1995.
Immigration officers have discovered that at the time of his arrest Abo had been living illegally with Kezia in Bracknell for the past seven years (seems to be the family way).
He claimed to police that he was a bin man called Henry Aloo – but bizarrely gave them Kezia’s address.
His DNA, fingerprints and photograph were taken.
Abo was given a caution for a public order offence but he denied sexual assault. Detectives did not take any further action on the alleged attack.
Abo left Britain for Kenya and in January applied for a family UK visa to visit his mother Kezia, 67. He had to provide a fingerprint as part of the application and checks matched him with the man accused of the assault. Days later Abo asked for his passport back to get a visa to attend his brother’s inauguration at the White House.
Despite the British authorities knowing Abo’s past, he was allowed to overnight at Heathrow on the way to Washington in January to attend the historic event.
But when he applied again for a family visa in February he was confronted with the allegations at the UK Borders Agency office in Nairobi.
Abo denied that the offences related to him and claimed that his “passport had been stolen”. To support his visa application Abo submitted documents showing that he had a business in Nairobi – but the documents were forged, according to the Kenyan authorities.
The documents were supposed to back up his claim that he would not attempt to claim asylum in the UK, and to deny claims that he had been an illegal immigrant in the UK from 2001 to 2008.
An UK Borders Agency source said: “Nobody could believe that a close member of President Obama’s family was accused of a sex attack, even though he denied it. The fact is that when he was accused he gave another man’s identity to avoid being detected as an illegal immigrant.
“When he applied for a visa to visit his mother again we had little choice but to deny him entry.”
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: “We oppose the entry of all individuals to the UK where we believe their presence is not conducive to the public good.”
In Barack’s 1995 book, Dreams from My Father, he writes of meeting Abo for the first time and how he expressed disappointment that the portable tape recorder Barack brought for him as a gift was not a Sony.http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-sto...5875-21272142/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word
on: April 12, 2009, 05:41:05 AM
Life in a Day
Print this Page
By Tzvi Freeman
A day is more than a passage of time -- it is a passage of life.
Before you were formed in the womb your days were crafted, numbered and set in place. They are chapters of the lessons you came here to learn, facets of the wisdom this world imparts, gateways to the treasures that belong to this lifetime alone.
Each day enters, opens its doors, tells its story, and then returns above, never to visit again. Never -- for no two days in the history of the cosmos will ever be the same.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanjay part two
on: April 12, 2009, 05:13:48 AM
Like first-generation immigrants throughout American history, Mr. Mavinkurve has deep ethnic ties but is quickly assimilating. His wife is no different. But visa rules preclude her from working in the United States unless her husband gets a green card.
That process can take two years. So they live in Toronto, where she recently landed a job in finance.
Mr. Mavinkurve and his wife get little sympathy from Mr. Berry of the Programmers Guild, a nonprofit group with a volunteer staff that lobbies Congress on behalf of American-born high-tech workers.
To Mr. Berry, 50 — who lives in Sacramento, where he was born — it is unfathomable that Google, which receives one million résumés a year, cannot find enough qualified Americans. Further, he says immigrants depress wages.
By law, H-1B workers must be paid prevailing wages, but there are conflicting studies on whether some employers actually pay less when they control the fate of the sponsored workers. Even some of the supporters of allowing in more skilled immigrants say the H-1B system is flawed because it gives employers so much power over employees.
As the recession deepens, many people, including members of Congress, have criticized companies like Microsoft and Intel for laying off Americans while retaining visa holders. Google says it will cut 350 workers this year.
Mr. Berry says his skills and education — a bachelor’s degree in computer science from California State University, Sacramento — are denigrated by an industry that asserts that the best talent comes from overseas, via Ivy League schools. He worries about the employability of his children, who are studying engineering at top colleges, the University of Southern California and California Polytechnic State University.
Mr. Berry, for his part, works at a major technology company he declines to name because his employment agreement precludes him from talking about his employer when in his advocacy role.
He does not believe that skilled immigrants are essential to innovation. In fact, he argues the opposite. “In my experience,” he said, “foreign software programmers are less likely to step out of the box and present alternatives to management.”
His arguments have caught the attention of some on Capitol Hill. “Not all our own people are able to get good jobs right now,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and one of the members of Congress who oppose temporary work visas.
Mr. Sessions favors broad immigration reform that puts even greater emphasis on admitting people with skills. He even wants to ask visa applicants to take a scholastic aptitude test.
But he opposes temporary workers, whom he argues have incentive to work for less and return to their countries to share what they have learned. This puts him at odds with tech companies.
“They need to step up and look at what’s in the national interest,” he said.
Google estimates that it spends about $20 million a year on its immigration efforts — including lobbying, administration and fees to a law firm. Microsoft, while it would not disclose expenses, probably spends more. Its in-house immigration team numbers 20 lawyers and staff members.
On the political front, the tech industry lobbies Congress through an organization called Compete America, which includes titans like Intel, Microsoft, Google and Oracle.
“The next generation of Google engineers are being turned down,” says Pablo Chavez, Google’s senior policy counsel. “If a foreign-born engineer doesn’t come to Google, there is a very good chance that individual will return to India to compete against us.”
At the rooftop pub, Mr. Mavinkurve and his wife both express some anger. He thinks America should embrace him, given his contributions and taxpaying potential. After Google went public, he paid more than $200,000 in federal taxes on his income from salary and, mostly, sales of his shares, just in one year.
He misses interaction with colleagues. It hinders efficiency, slows work. He is physically drained from travel. He is frustrated that he cannot put down roots in America, and maybe start his own company, because he cannot leave Google, his visa sponsor.
He says he feels, on one hand, great gratitude that America gave him extraordinary opportunity. But he says he fulfilled his side of the bargain by striving and succeeding. “Dude, I love this country,” he said.
But he doesn’t feel loved back: “My devotion is unrequited.”
To Stay or to Go
On each of Mr. Mavinkurve’s twice-monthly visits to the United States (he keeps a room not far from Google), he meets with two friends at the Red Mango frozen yogurt shop on University Avenue in the heart of Palo Alto. Over scoops of green tea yogurt, they brainstorm for their next venture.
But he is not sure he can start a company — at least in America. Unless he gets his green card and his wife can work, he would be the only breadwinner, risking his savings, and he says they would be unhappy.
“Quitting Google means saying goodbye to my green card,” he said.
If America will not have him, he might have to stay in Canada. The proof is on the wall of the two-bedroom high-rise apartment he shares with his wife — who is pregnant — and his parents, who have moved in with them. On the living room wall is a Canadian flag.
“Quality stitching,” he said, fingering it.
Mr. Mavinkurve, who once hung American flags in his dorm room and then in Google’s hallway, still loves America. But the Internet-era immigrant, who moves so quickly between worlds, cannot decide where to land.
Where is Sanjay? Even he is not sure where he belongs.
“I’m not sure I want to go back,” he said of the possibility of moving back to the United States. “I’m not sure I can.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Where's Sanjay?
on: April 12, 2009, 05:12:52 AM
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Where’s Sanjay?
Sanjay Mavinkurve of Google lives in Canada because his wife can't get an American work visa. More Photos >
The question comes from one of dozens of engineers around a crowded conference table at Google. They have gathered to discuss how to build easy-to-use maps that could turn hundreds of millions of mobile phones into digital Sherpas — guiding travelers to businesses, restaurants and landmarks.
“His plane gets in at 9:30,” the group’s manager responds.
Google is based here in Silicon Valley. But Sanjay G. Mavinkurve, one of the key engineers on this project, is not.
Mr. Mavinkurve, a 28-year-old Indian immigrant who helped lay the foundation for Facebook while a student at Harvard, instead works out of a Google sales office in Toronto, a lone engineer among marketers.
He has a visa to work in the United States, but his wife, Samvita Padukone, also born in India, does not. So he moved to Canada.
“Every American I’ve talked to says: ‘Dude, it’s ridiculous that we’re not doing everything we can to keep you in the country. We need people like you!’ ” he said.
“The people of America get it,” he added. “And in a matter of time, I think current lawmakers are going to realize how dumb they’re being.”
Immigrants like Mr. Mavinkurve are the lifeblood of Google and Silicon Valley, where half the engineers were born overseas, up from 10 percent in 1970. Google and other big companies say the Chinese, Indian, Russian and other immigrant technologists have transformed the industry, creating wealth and jobs.
Just over half the companies founded in Silicon Valley from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s had founders born abroad, according to Vivek Wadhwa, an immigration scholar working at Duke and Harvard.
The foreign-born elite dating back even further includes Andrew S. Grove, the Hungarian-born co-founder of Intel; Jerry Yang, the Chinese-born co-founder of Yahoo; Vinod Khosla of India and Andreas von Bechtolsheim of Germany, the co-founders of Sun Microsystems; and Google’s Russian-born co-founder, Sergey Brin.
But technology executives say that byzantine and increasingly restrictive visa and immigration rules have imperiled their ability to hire more of the world’s best engineers.
While it could be said that Mr. Mavinkurve’s case is one of a self-entitled immigrant refusing to live in the United States because his wife would not be able to work, he exemplifies how immigration policies can chase away a potential entrepreneur who aspires to create wealth and jobs here.
His case highlights the technology industry’s argument that the United States will struggle to compete if it cannot more easily hire foreign-born engineers.
“We are watching the decline and fall of the United States as an economic power — not hypothetically, but as we speak,” said Craig R. Barrett, the chairman of Intel.
Mr. Barrett blames a slouching education system that cannot be easily fixed, but he says a stopgap measure would be to let companies hire more foreign engineers.
“With a snap of the fingers, you can say, ‘I’m going to make it such that those smart kids — and as many of them as want to — can stay in the United States.’ They’re here today, they’re graduating today — and they’re going home today.”
He is opposed by staunch foes of liberalized immigration and by advocates for American-born engineers.
“There are probably two billion people in the world who would like to live in California and work, but not everyone in the world can live here,” said Kim Berry, an engineer who operates a nonprofit advocacy group for American-born technologists. “There are plenty of Americans to do these jobs.”
The debate has only sharpened as the country’s economic downturn has deepened. Advocates for American-born workers are criticizing companies that lay off employees even as they retain engineers living here on visas. But the technology industry counters that innovations from highly skilled workers are central to American long-term growth.
It is a debate well known to Google, and it is a deeply personal one to Mr. Mavinkurve.
An Eye on America
Sanjay Mavinkurve (pronounced MAY-vin-kur-VAY) was born in Bombay to working-class parents who soon moved to Saudi Arabia.
He thought everything important in life was American — from Baskin-Robbins and Nike Airs to the Hardees’s and Domino’s in the food court at the shopping mall. When in the car, he and his older brother played a game, naming all the things they could see that came from the United States.
“I know this sounds romantic, but it’s true: I always wanted to come to America,” said Mr. Mavinkurve, lanky, with bushy hair and an easy smile. “I admired everything in the way America portrayed itself — the opportunity, U.S. Constitution, its history, enterprising middle class.”
(Page 2 of 4)
When he was 14, he and his brother were accepted at Western Reserve Academy, a private school in Cleveland, and received scholarships. During his senior year, Mr. Mavinkurve finished near the top of his class, ran cross-country and track, and scored 1560 out of 1600 on the SAT.
Readers are invited to join a conversation with experts about the impact of immigration policy on skilled workers and the industries that rely on them.
Next stop: Harvard. His freshman year, he won the prize for best essay written in French, a comparison of books by Annie Ernaux. His friends described him as social but with a quiet, determined work ethic. He took the toughest classes, and to make money he took a job cleaning toilets in the dorm.
He remained patriotic; on his dorm wall, he hung an American flag his brother had purchased at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written.
But he knew he could lose his immigration status after he graduated and his student visa expired. So he decided to major in computer science, which he understood to be in demand, and entered a four-year program for a master’s degree.
In 2003, his final year, he and three friends decided to build a Web site where college students could connect. Mr. Mavinkurve wrote the computer code. Eventually, the team disbanded, although some of its work evolved into Facebook. He had helped create the foundation for a product that has become a national sensation.
He started at Google in August 2003, as a product manager on the teams that developed Google News and the Google toolbar, then worked on the look and feel of the video search, and on the early versions of Google Maps for cellphones. He developed a reputation for helping design the way the products look, and making them simple to use.
Still, he had ample reason to worry about his visa status, given the limits on how many visas are issued for skilled immigrant labor.
It is a category whose significance has been growing since the 1920s, when politicians and business executives started recognizing the value of skilled immigrants. After World War II, companies began actively recruiting scientists, among them Nobel Prize winners, from around the world.
The emphasis on skilled labor was codified in the Hart-Celler Immigrant Act of 1965, which said that for 20 percent of immigration spots, candidates with certain skills would get preference to stay indefinitely, though that 20 percent also included the family members of those skilled immigrants.
(At the time, 74 percent of visas were given to people to be reunited with family members here, and 6 percent for political refugees from the Eastern Hemisphere.)
Reflecting the growing importance of technology — and responding to industry lobbying — in 1990 Congress set aside 65,000 temporary work visas, known as H-1B visas, for skilled workers. The visas, which are sponsored by companies on behalf of employees, permit three years of work, with an automatic three-year extension.
The limit was raised twice as the technology sector boomed, to 115,000 in 1999 and to 195,000 in 2001. But those temporary increases were not renewed for 2004, and the number of H-1B visas reverted to 65,000. (There are an additional 20,000 H1-B’s for people with graduate degrees from American universities.)
Since 2004, there has been a growing gap between the number of H-1B visas sought and those granted, through a lottery. In 2008, companies made 163,000 applications for the 65,000 slots. Google applied for 300 of them; 90 were denied.
In 2004, Mr. Mavinkurve was one of the lucky ones. “You can be very proud,” said the congratulatory e-mail message he received from an immigration lawyer at Google.
Good fortune followed at Google. In honor of the country that made it possible, on June 14, 2004, Flag Day, Mr. Mavinkurve made a laser print of an American flag and taped it to a white board in a Google hallway. The flag remains.
When Google went public that August, Mr. Mavinkurve was on his way to becoming a multimillionaire.
“I remember quantifying: for each dollar the stock goes up, I make more than my mother and father make together in a whole month at work,” he said.
Indeed, recent immigrants like those at Google have been successful.
“The thing distinctive about this generation, and I think unprecedented, is that they are coming with the highest level of skills in the leading industries,” said AnnaLee Saxenian of the school of information at the University of California, Berkeley.
She added that this was acute in Silicon Valley because of its entrepreneurial culture.
“You don’t see immigrant success at any other place in the U.S. at anywhere near the same scale,” she said.
The Guy With the Answer
Page 3 of 4)
The role Mr. Mavinkurve played in Google’s success was on stark display in early 2007, when the company’s map-making team faced a problem that even the best and brightest could not solve. The team met in Winnipeg, one of many conference rooms at Google headquarters named for foreign cities, like Algiers, Tunis and Haifa.
International tributes take other forms; over cubicles in one building hang flags from dozens of countries. The cafeteria, where much of the fare is ethnic, includes Indian and Chinese food stations.
These touches are appropriate. Of Google’s 20,000 workers, 2,000 were born abroad and work on temporary visas, while numerous others (the company would not disclose how many) have become American citizens or been granted permanent residency, the so-called green card status.
The work force is international, and so is the company’s market. With the mobile phone, Google believes it can expand in places where reaching the Internet over computers is difficult, and create advertising-supported versions of maps and other services so consumers can effectively use the services free, exchanging not money, but attention.
But back in late 2006, maps produced by the service were taking too long to download and appear on phones. As customers waited for the maps to form, they racked up huge bills from cellphone providers, which at the time were charging for every minute or every byte of data transferred.
Enter Mr. Mavinkurve, who floated an alternative: cut the number of colors in each map section to 20 or 40 from around 256. The user would not see the difference, but the load times would be reduced 20 percent.
Mr. Mavinkurve used a rare combination of creativity, analysis, engineering and an understanding of graphics to find a solution that had eluded the rest of the team, said Mark Crady, a manager in the maps group.
“He’s one of the best U.I. guys I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Crady said, referring to user interfaces. “Google Maps for mobile reflects Sanjay.”
Many innovators in Silicon Valley come from overseas; 42 percent of engineers with master’s degrees and 60 percent of those with engineering Ph.D.’s in the United States are foreign-born.
Foreigners also spur innovation by broadening understanding of consumers abroad. For instance, on the advice of Chinese-born workers, Google dotted its mobile maps for China with fast-food restaurants, which locals use as navigational landmarks.
When Google cannot get visas for people it wants to hire, it seeks to accommodate them in overseas offices, like the bureaus in Britain and Brazil from which map-team members attend meetings via video conference.
That work-around presents a number of drawbacks, one of which is especially apparent when one worker is in California and a colleague is in India.
“It’s 11 hours to Hyderabad,” Peter Norvig, director of research for Google, says of the time difference. “We do video conferences where we’re up late and they’re up early. Maybe a video conference is as good as a formal meeting, but there are no informal meetings. As a result, we lose the pace of work, and we lose trust.”
The larger risk is employees growing unhappy working at a distance, or foreign companies recruiting them.
For his part, Mr. Mavinkurve, in Toronto, typically talks with colleagues via video conference, e-mail or instant message. But he does fly twice a month to headquarters and once a month to Britain, his life a whirlwind of time zones and virtual interaction.
For Google and Mr. Mavinkurve, working here would be better. The trouble is, he fell in love.
Stuck North of the Border
He sits at a rooftop pub in Toronto, drinking Canadian amber beer. His wife, Ms. Padukone, 27, sips sangria. Evident between them is a respect, and slight emotional distance — understandable given their brief history together.
In 2006, while working for Google in Mountain View, Mr. Mavinkurve saw his future wife’s photo on the cover of a newsletter published by his Indian ethnic community, the Konkani. She was attending college in Singapore. He found her pretty, so he e-mailed her.
“For three months, we sent messages back and forth — but regularly,” she said.
“I hate talking on the phone,” he explained.
They arranged to meet while Mr. Mavinkurve was in Singapore during a flight layover on his way to India. They met for two hours, and connected.
They were engaged in January 2007 in India, their second meeting. They married there in 2008.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Are we bugging out regardless?
on: April 12, 2009, 05:08:02 AM
BAGHDAD — Members of the Sunni Awakening Councils, the former insurgents who switched sides to help bring calm to Iraq, are increasingly being besieged from all sides.
Thirteen members were killed by a suicide bomber while they gathered to collect their pay south of Baghdad on Saturday, in the latest of a string of attacks against Awakening members in recent weeks. Some of the Sunnis also worry that the Shiite-led government has begun singling out the councils’ leaders for arrest while their chief patron, the American military, slowly abandons them.
One of the most notable cases is that of Sheik Maher Sarhan Abbas, whom the government detained 27 days ago, according to his family and fellow Awakening leaders.
Sheik Maher’s arrest took place in secret and came to light when The New York Times by chance contacted someone who had seen him in jail. It was one of several such cases in recent weeks that have worried not only Awakening members, but also some American diplomats and military officers.
The Sunni leaders have long been targets for Islamist militants and Shiite militias. And there have been other arrests of senior Awakening leaders in the past few weeks.
Some leaders accuse the government of trying to purge them, or at the least of moving too quickly on anonymous accusations against them.
Tensions between the Sunni Awakening groups and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have been present from the start. American efforts to transfer the Awakening security forces from the American payroll to the Iraqi security forces were initially resisted by leaders in Baghdad, who say that many of the Awakening leaders are still actively supporting antigovernment insurgents.
Sheik Maher, however, was an admired local symbol for the Awakening movement, which began two years ago when American officials started courting Sunni tribes, offering money if they turned against insurgent forces.
The sheik’s Shiite neighbors trusted him and his Sunni followers so much that they took them into their own homes when the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was still strong. United States soldiers at a nearby base say they considered him a reliable ally, and still do.
Yet on March 15, just after midnight, heavily armed men flung deafening smoke grenades into his home in Hawr Jab, a small village on Baghdad’s southern outskirts, his family said.
They burst into the bedroom where Sheik Maher and his wife were watching television as their 3-year-old daughter slept in a small bed next to them.
“He thought Al Qaeda had finally come for him,” said Shada Rasheed, 23, his wife, as she cradled their daughter in her arms.
The Times learned of Sheik Maher’s detention from another Awakening leader, Raad Ali, whom the Iraqi government had similarly detained on terrorism charges but had released under pressure from the Americans.
Asked about Sheik Maher’s detention, Mohammed Salman al-Saady, who leads the ministerial office that deals with Awakening groups, said he knew nothing of the case.
But he said: “An Awakening member is forgiven for everything except murder. The right question to ask is, ‘Why was this person arrested?’ ”
Sheik Maher had long known he was wanted by the Sunni militants he had spent much of the past two and half years fighting. But the troops who arrested him told his family members that they had been sent directly by the prime minister’s office.
Accompanying the Iraqis were American forces, the family members said. The captain of the local American unit said the troops were probably from a Special Operations unit, which typically does not inform the local forces of raids.
“When they detained him, we were all shocked,” said Capt. Kip Kowalski, the American commanding officer at the joint security station in Hawr Jab, near Sheik Maher’s home.
Captain Kowalski’s unit apologized to the family but said they were powerless to help; the local Iraqi Army unit forbade Sheik Maher’s Awakening followers from holding a peaceful demonstration to demand his release.
“He’s the local council leader here,” Captain Kowalski said. “We didn’t have anything on him, but as far as helping to get him released, it’s a government of Iraq arrest. If they have a warrant it just has to work its way through the process.”
Page 2 of 2)
Many Awakening officials, and some American officers who work with them, say they believe that arrests of people like Sheik Maher are the result of a new strategy by Sunni extremists to get their most effective enemies off the streets.
Former members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the theory goes, secretly tell the government that the Awakening leader is himself a Qaeda infiltrator and should be arrested for past crimes. Under the Iraqi legal system, if there are two witnesses, the government can issue a warrant, detain a suspect and then investigate.
A second approach is for members of Qaeda families who have lost some of their relatives to violence to sue the Awakening members, who often are responsible for killing Qaeda members during the last two years of fighting, said Captain Kowalski, who says his unit has heard of several similar cases.
Detention can sometimes last months, and people who are detained on terrorism charges have “no visitors, no lawyers, no sun,” Mr. Ali said, describing the conditions during his detention, which lasted a week.
First Lt. Jobie Siemer, of the First Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, who has worked closely with Sheik Maher in Hawr Jab, said, “There are a lot of good people around here who I know killed a bunch of people, but they were defending their land and they were helping us and that was a good thing.
Shiite government officials have long been suspicious of the Sons of Iraq, worried that they could become the armed core of a future insurgency. But for their part, Sunni Awakening leaders say the government may be too quick to accept accusations against them.
“They should do research for three months before they arrest people,” said Mr. Ali, the Awakening leader in Ghaziliya, who saw Sheik Maher in detention.
“This is how the terrorists are trying to come back in. It is one of their plans to remove us, to get us off the street and then they can sneak back in,” he said.
A senior American official in Iraq was also skeptical of the motives for the arrests. “Why is the government doing this?” said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.
“Every time we said to the government, ‘You have to let this guy go,’ they do it, which they wouldn’t if they thought he was really dangerous,” the American said. “I think they have their hand in the sectarian cookie jar.”
The 13 Awakening members who died Saturday were at an Iraqi Army base in Babil Province collecting their meager pay, which had been delayed for three months. Everyone in the room was dressed in the same Awakening uniform, suggesting that the bomber slipped in disguised as one of them.
At least 12 Awakening figures have been killed in Babil this year, the police said.
Saoud Auda, 30, a father of eight, was badly burned in the suicide bomber’s attack, which came just after he had been paid.
“I was looking forward to going home and paying the grocer and buying my little son a toy airplane,” he said. “But my money burned with my body.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud (ACORN et al), corruption etc.
on: April 11, 2009, 12:59:45 PM
A post from the Warrior Talk forum
Prior to my current place of employ, I worked for one of the big 3 electronic voting machine companies.
Election fraud is really easy to commit on a small scale by one person, but get many people online to collaborate and it can throw a small election. Massive fraud by one or two people is hard but massive fraud by many can and does happen.
In California an elections official cannot request an ID if you are not a provisional voter. The list of registered voters is posted on the outside of the polling center. Every two hours the list must be updated with who has voted so far and be publicly viewable so candidates can potentially call/contact voters who may or may not vote for them.
So, as someone who would travel from precinct to precint to check on the voting machines, I could have instead walked up to the list, grabbed a name off, quickly memorized the name and address and walked in and voted. We see how the left collaborates with "google-bombing" etc, it is very easy for them to collaborate with this.
Partisan Democrat works in the elections dept (they are almost all democrat)
Paper ballots used for election
Partisan worker makes a few marks on the ballots where republican has been chosen. Adding an additional vote to a "vote for one" contest makes it into an "overvote" and that contest is disqualified from count. The democrat does not have to add more ballots or actually vote for the dems, he or she just needs to overvote some contests here and there to subtract the republican vote.
Ballots from republican areas "get lost"
Ballots from democratic areas are run through the high-speed counting machines twice - honest mistake -not.
Example 5 -
San Francisco allows illegal aliens to vote in "local elections". In theory they should have a separate ballot that only displays the "local elections" in the precinct specfied, not state or federal. Though the special ballot most likely does exist, when the illegal alien checks in to vote, the poll worker gives him or her a complete ballot instead, either by habit, accident or intentional fraud.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Redefine "Rich"
on: April 11, 2009, 09:32:09 AM
second post of the morning
Has your 401(k) lost half its value? Have you kissed goodbye to the bonus you were hoping to use to pay junior's college tuition? Do you lie awake at night, worrying there's a pink slip with your name on it?
Cheer up. Even in these hard economic times, Democrats across the nation are working on plans that will turn some of you into instant millionaires.
There's only one catch. You're not actually going to be bringing in a million-dollar income. But the tax man is going to treat you just as though you did.
That's the message coming out of Albany, N.Y., where a newly ascendant Democratic majority led by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver forced a deal with the Democratic governor to impose a new "millionaires' tax." The beauty is that to pay this tax, you won't have to make anywhere near a million dollars. If you make even $300,000 a year, the cash-strapped Empire State will consider you a millionaire.
E.J. McMahon of the Albany-based Empire Center for New York State Policy explains the politics. "You get people picturing some greedy Wall Street fat cat whose pockets are stuffed with TARP money, but you end up hitting the guy who owns the local hardware store whose income is also his working capital. By the time everyone realizes what just happened, it's too late to make adjustments without creating an even bigger budget hole -- which, of course, can always be solved with a bigger tax."
It's important to distinguish what New York is doing from the more traditional Democratic approaches to taxing millionaires. In California in 2004, for example, a Democratic assemblyman championed a successful ballot initiative that imposed a 1% surcharge on personal incomes over a million dollars, to pay for mental health programs. This year, another Democratic assemblyman has introduced a bill that would impose another 1% tax on million-dollar incomes, this time to help state colleges from having to raise their tuition and fees.
In a similar way, the Democratic governor of Maryland last year successfully established a new 6.25% tax bracket for million-dollar incomes. Likewise, Connecticut Democrats have just released a plan that would jack up taxes on millionaires by 60%. Say what you will about the merits of these millionaire taxes, they at least have the virtue of applying to people who in fact earn a million dollars a year.
Today such an approach seems positively démodé. The new fashion is to take advantage of hard times to target a class of people that few politicians are willing to defend -- and then expand that class. Like so many doubtful experiments in public finance, this one was pioneered by the People's Republic of New Jersey.
In 2004, then Gov. Jim McGreevey became the first Democrat to get through a millionaires' tax whose reach extended to nonmillionaires. The McGreevey "millionaires' tax" kicked in at $500,000. He justified it, moreover, by saying that any money collected would go toward funding property tax relief for the state's beleaguered homeowners.
Five years later, we can see how that's turning out. Not only is Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine targeting property tax relief for many Garden State citizens, he wants to impose a "temporary" surcharge on the existing McGreevey millionaires' tax. The result is a three-way race between New Jersey, New York and Connecticut to see which of these metropolitan states can impose the highest income taxes on its residents.
Other Democrats are taking note of the new progressivism. In the state of Washington, which has no income tax, Democratic state Sen. Lisa Brown raised the idea in her blog. "The New York Legislature is considering what I think is a fair and stable way of addressing their revenue challenges. Should we do something similar in Washington?" she asked. Not long after, one of her Democratic colleagues introduced a bill proposing a millionaires' tax that would kick in at $500,000.
For the moment, the effort to make new millionaires out of people making a great deal less has been confined to Democratic governors and Democratic state legislators. There appears, however, to be a sense that a much larger change they can believe in is now within grasp. In a recent article for an AOL business and finance Web site, Joseph Lazzaro put it this way:
"In the same way Gov. Al Smith's reform policies in New York State in the 1920s provided a blueprint for FDR's New Deal," he wrote, "hopefully New York State's example will serve as impetus for the U.S. Congress to make a similar tough decision after the economic recovery is in place and raise upper-income federal taxes, as well."
And why not? So long as Democrats are willing to rewrite the tax code, almost anyone can wake up one day to find himself a millionaire.
Write to MainStreet@wsj.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ:
on: April 11, 2009, 09:28:38 AM
By MERRILEE CARLSON
April 9 marked the sixth anniversary of Iraqi Liberation Day. Most of us vividly remember the stirring image of Iraqi citizens tearing down the statue of the man who dominated their lives. While toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein six years ago liberated Iraqis from their fear of his oppressive regime, they still were not free. Eliminating this dictator opened a void which was quickly filled with a mixture of coalition soldiers, insurgents and Iraqi citizens who desired to govern themselves.
In February 2004, my son, Spc. Michael Carlson, arrived in the Diyala province of Iraq. During the next 11 months he and his team searched houses, hunted insurgents, and made a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people. I think about him today because I miss him very much.
He gave his life in an overturned Bradley fighting vehicle in a water-filled canal, one week before the first Iraqi elections in January 2005.
I think about what his service to our country meant to him: defending and protecting us. But it goes further than that because Michael had a vision of his life that few young people have, and amazingly he put that vision on paper while in high school. In May 2000, Michael wrote that he "sometimes dreams of being a soldier in a war." In this war he is " helping liberate people from oppression." He wrote the only way that one could live forever "is to live on in those you have affected." These are prophetic words.
The Iraq we see today was hard won and costly. The Iraqi government has come a long way from the oppression of Hussein's regime. Their military is now being redeveloped, and local communities have come together to work for security. Though there have been pitfalls, this has been a fast transformation with great successes.
In America, we often think that this transformation happened solely by the work of our American heroes. But the Iraqi people have worked very hard to transform their country and to take back control.
I remember meeting Brig. Gen. Ismael Alsodani, the Iraqi defense attaché, when he visited Arlington National Cemetery and Michael's grave last year. He leaned next to my older son, Dan, and said, "I've lost my brother too."
Those five words changed Dan's life. He had been living in a chasm of grief for Mike, and suddenly his perspective opened up. He was able to look beyond his personal grief and recognize all who have fought for freedom in our country, in Iraq, and around the world.
Our military is the most effective military in the world. We give thanks to each and every man and woman who has served and helped to change the world in which we live. They have given hope for the new Iraq and for the future of its people.
Mrs. Carlson is the president of Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Holbrooke says Pakistan's tribal areas are the problem
on: April 11, 2009, 09:25:48 AM
By MATTHEW KAMINSKI
His face tense and unsmiling, a young man from a village in Pakistan's western tribal areas tells his story, mixing English, Pashto and Urdu. He is the only male in his clan to get an education, but can't find a job, and blames a corrupt national government. Americans are bombing his neighbors, he says, tempting him to join the Islamist militants in his area. Across the room, another Pakistani turns toward his hosts at the U.S. Embassy and says, "You are hated."
Ismael RoldanThe comments are addressed to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and the new American special representative for the region, Richard Holbrooke. Seated alongside the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, Mr. Holbrooke asks a dozen or so men in the room about the presence of the Taliban in their villages. "We are all Taliban," comes a response. The others nod in accord. All are or were "religious students," or Taliban in Pashto. But the expression of solidarity with the various Pakistani and Afghan insurgents who go by the name is lost on no one.
After the meeting, Mr. Holbrooke looks shaken, out of character for a diplomatic operator who picked up the nickname "bulldozer" a decade ago in the Balkans. As he knows, these men who spoke so directly to him are the "friendly" types from the tribal areas -- literate, ambitious and willing to risk the ire of the Taliban fighters to meet him and Adm. Mullen at the embassy.
Their home regions of North and South Waziristan and the Khyber agency are familiar place names in this long war: as the world's sanctuary to al Qaeda's leadership, as the launching pad for attacks on Western forces across the border in Afghanistan, and as the source of the Islamist challenge to the civilian government atop this rickety nuclear-armed state.
The Obama administration recently unveiled a new strategy to enlarge America's military footprint in Afghanistan and press Pakistan to act against Taliban safe havens. Mr. Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen took the policy on a regional road show this week, and at every stop got a sobering earful. While Afghanistan's troubles are monumental, the nightmare scenarios start and end with Pakistan.
Mr. Holbrooke, who leads the diplomatic charge, acknowledges the hardest work will be here. His airplane reading is Dennis Kux's history of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship titled, "The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies." "Pakistan is at the center of our strategic concerns," he tells me Tuesday night, flying from Islamabad to India's capital, Delhi. "If Afghanistan had the best government on earth, a drug-free culture and no corruption it would still be unstable if the situation in Pakistan remained as today. That is an undisputable fact, and that is the core of the dilemma that the Western nations, the NATO alliance, face today."
Take the dilemma a logical step further, I suggest. The terrorists who threaten America are in Pakistan, but the U.S. fights the Afghan Taliban, who don't. "That's a fair point," says Mr. Holbrooke, "but the reason for fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is clear: The Taliban are the frontrunners for al Qaeda. If they succeed in Afghanistan, without any shadow of a doubt, al Qaeda would move back into Afghanistan, set up a larger presence, recruit more people and pursue its objectives against the United States even more aggressively." Public support for the expanded U.S. Afghan mission hinges on making this case stick.
In a Hillary Clinton White House, Mr. Holbrooke would almost certainly be in charge at the State Department. In this administration, he serves Secretary Clinton and brings a familiar mix of enthusiasm and bluster, charming and bullying the world's difficult characters. In the previous decade, Mr. Holbrooke brokered the end of the Bosnian conflict, working then as now closely with the military. He went on to write a memoir titled "To End a War" and become something of a celebrity in the Balkans, even having a bar in Kosovo named after him. The 1995 Dayton peace talks "was 21 days and it was pass or fail," he says. "This is more complicated even than that."
The complications in Afghanistan start with an incubator state and mind-boggling corruption, from top to bottom. The past year saw a sharp spike in Afghan civilian as well as American casualties. A rural insurgency is fed by anger at the government and money from the Gulf states, as well as the booming poppy trade. The administration will send 17,000 additional combat troops to confront the Taliban, initially in the south. Mr. Obama also approved 4,000 military trainers, and plans are in the works to double the target size for the army and the police.
Mr. Holbrooke needs to walk a fine diplomatic line. On the one hand, he assures people who know their history that America won't pull the plug early on this project. At a meeting with Afghan female legislators who have most to fear from a Taliban comeback, he says, "President Obama has made a commitment. We will not abandon you." On the other hand, the U.S. must counter Taliban propaganda that America replaced Russia as the occupying force. With conservative Afghan religious leaders, Mr. Holbrooke shifts his emphasis: "We are not here as occupiers. We are here to help you. We will leave when you no longer need us."
Though Adm. Mullen provides the plane on this trip and holds the senior job, Mr. Holbrooke takes the lead in meetings. He moderates discussions like a big-band leader, improvising as necessary. "Good to have a force of nature on the case," notes a European diplomat watching one performance over dinner in Kabul. "You're reminded that half of diplomacy is theater." Holbrooke detractors tend to put the proportion higher.
America sits in the driver's seat in Afghanistan, but not Pakistan. Here it's far from clear who does.
Flying into Islamabad, Mr. Holbrooke and Adm. Mullen call on the civilian and military rulers to ask for action against the militants in the tribal areas. The Pakistanis press back. At a joint press conference, the foreign minister is prickly, denouncing strikes by unmanned U.S. Predators on Pakistani territory and noting an absence of "trust."
In private, American officials report no better progress. The Pakistanis say their terror problems are Afghanistan's fault. They resent American criticism of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the military's intelligence arm that nurtured Islamist groups for decades, and rule out the deployment of any American troops on their territory.
Talking to the Pakistani press, Mr. Holbrooke says, "We face a common threat, a common challenge." Pakistani civilians are concerned by the rising number of suicide bombings, now seen in once tranquil Islamabad and Lahore. Whether the army is as well is the question. The military struck a "peace" deal with the local Taliban in the Swat Valley. President Asif Ali Zardari didn't sign the accord, but the military went ahead to implement it, turning a former tourist destination in the mountains into a Taliban redoubt beyond the reach of the Pakistani state. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan dates back to the previous regime's 2006 truce with the militants in Pakistani border areas.
Among Pakistani politicians, Mr. Zardari speaks most clearly about the threat emanating from the country's west, noting the assassination in late 2007 of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But he is politically weak, and sounds disinclined to push the military to wage war against the Pashtun tribes in the mountains.
"Holbrooke is a friend," Mr. Zardari tells me and a couple other journalists along for the ride on this listening tour. "But it's a long walk. And in that long walk I am losing the people of Pakistan."
Mr. Holbrooke says the Pakistani president "deserves credit for his personal courage" in holding the job. He welcomes the "statesmanlike" resolution of a recent political feud with rival Nawaz Sharif over the reinstatement of a supreme court judge. The fight could have resulted, he says, in "civil war on the one hand or assassinations on the other."
With politics a sideshow, many observers, including in American intelligence, think the Pakistani military and the ISI play a double game. They make the necessary pledges to secure billions in American aid while keeping ties to Islamists. The calculation, a Pakistani analyst notes, is America will leave sooner or later and the military needs to hedge its strategic bets.
"We are well aware of these accusations," says Mr. Holbrooke. "But our experience with [Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani does not support them. We deal with him with respect and with the assumption that he is a serious person doing the best he can under difficult circumstances."
As part of a "long-term commitment to Pakistan," the Obama administration wants to lock in billions in aid for the country. Military officials also say the scope of Predator strikes will be broadened, against Pakistani official objections, and efforts to get the adversarial Pakistani and Afghan intelligence services to cooperate will be intensified. Mr. Holbrooke insists the U.S. will respect Pakistan's "red lines" about American combat troops.
"Some people say to me, particularly after a few drinks, 'Why don't we go in there with our troops and just clean it up?'" he says. "First of all we can't without their permission, and that would not be a good idea. Secondly, cleaning them up in the mountains of Pakistan's tribal areas, as anyone can see from the search for al Qaeda in Afghanistan, is a daunting mission. It's the same kind of mountains. A few weeks ago I flew up through the deepest and remotest valleys imaginable. You could see tiny villages in the crevices in the mountains. You don't want American troops in there. So that option's gone."
Though only Pakistan and Afghanistan appear in his job title, Mr. Holbrooke isn't one to think small. He helped court the Europeans to chip in more troops and aid -- with no more success on the former than the Bush administration. He wants to press the Gulf states to cut the illicit flow of funding to the Taliban, involve India and reach out to the Chinese, who are close to the Pakistani military. Last month, at the donor's conference on Afghanistan at The Hague, he was the first American official to engage an Iranian official since 1979. After Iran downplayed the encounter, so does Mr. Holbrooke. "I'm very much in favor of giving Iran a place at the table if it wants it to discuss the future of Afghanistan," he says. "But they have not indicated whether they wish to participate or not."
Mr. Holbrooke's first posting was in Saigon in the 1960s. As Vietnam analogies for Afghanistan mushroom, particularly from inside his own Democratic Party, he doesn't dismiss them outright. But he makes a case for continued engagement with a view, perhaps, toward firming up support on the Hill and among the public for a war about to enter its eighth year. "There are a lot of structural similarities" with Vietnam, he says. "The sanctuary [in Pakistan]. They even have a parrot's peak in both countries, on the Pakistan-Afghan border just as there was in Cambodia. An issue of governance. The fact that the government was supporting a guerilla war. Counterinsurgency.
"But the fundamental difference is 9/11. The Vietcong and the north Vietnamese never posed a threat to the United States homeland. The people of 9/11 who were in that area still do and are still planning. That is why we're in the region with troops. That's the only justification for what we're doing. If the tribal areas of western Pakistan were not a sanctuary, I believe that Afghanistan could take care of itself within a relatively short period of time."
Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal's editorial board.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud (ACORN et al), corruption etc.
on: April 11, 2009, 09:19:28 AM
CA law forbids asking citizenship? I would love to have a citation on that as I spread it forward , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: NY taxes highest in country
on: April 11, 2009, 09:18:10 AM
Like the old competition to have the world's tallest building, New York can't resist having the nation's highest taxes. So after California raised its top income tax rate to 10.55% last month, Albany's politicians leapt into action to reclaim high-tax honors. Maybe C-Span can make this tax competition a new reality TV series; Carla Bruni, the first lady of France, could host.
Getty ImagesThey can invite politicians from the at least 10 other states that are also considering major tax hikes, including Oregon, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington, Arizona and New Jersey. One explicit argument for the $787 billion "stimulus" bill was to help states avoid these tax increases that even Keynesians understand are contractionary. Instead, the state politicians are pocketing the federal cash to maintain spending, and raising taxes anyway. Just another spend-and-tax bait and switch.
In New York, Assembly Speaker (and de facto Governor) Sheldon Silver and other Democrats will impose a two percentage point "millionaire tax" on New Yorkers who earn more than $200,000 a year ($300,000 for couples). This will lift the top state tax rate to 8.97% and the New York City rate to 12.62%. Since capital gains and dividends are taxed as ordinary income, New York will impose the nation's highest taxes on investment income -- at a time when Wall Street is in jeopardy of losing its status as the world's financial capital.
But who and where are all these millionaires to pluck? More than any other state, New York has been hurt by the financial meltdown, and its $132 billion budget is now $17.7 billion in deficit. The days of high-roller Wall Street bonuses that finance 20% of the New York budget are long gone. The richest 1% of New Yorkers already pay almost 40% of the income tax, and the top 0.5% pay 30%.
Mr. Silver thinks he can squeeze more from these folks without any economic harm, arguing that recent income tax hikes didn't hurt New Jersey. (Yes, the pols in New York actually hold up New Jersey, whose economy and budget are also in shambles, as their role model.) The tax hike lobby in Albany points to a paper by Princeton researchers reporting that the number of "half-millionaires," those with incomes above $500,000, increased by 60% from 2003-2006 after New Jersey taxes rose (the top rate is now 8.98%). But this was a boom time for the national economy, especially in the financial industry where many New Jerseyites work, or at least used to work.
The better comparison is how New Jersey compared to the rest of the nation. According to the study's own data, over the same period the U.S. saw an increase of 76% in half-millionaire households. E.J. McMahon, a budget expert at the Manhattan Institute, calculates that New Jersey lost more than 4,000 high-income taxpayers after the tax increase.
Mr. Silver says of the coming tax hikes: "We've done it before. There hasn't been a catastrophe." Oh, really? According to Census Bureau data, over the past decade 1.97 million New Yorkers left the state for greener pastures -- the biggest exodus of any state. New York City has lost more than 75,000 jobs since last August, and many industrial areas upstate are as rundown as Detroit. The American Legislative Exchange Council recently said New York had the worst economic outlook of all 50 states, including Michigan. And that analysis was done before these $4 billion in new taxes. How does Mr. Silver define "catastrophe"?
Oh, and it isn't just high earners who get smacked. The new budget raises another $2 billion or so on top of the $4 billion in income taxes with some 100 new taxes, fees, fines, surcharges and penalties to be paid by all New York residents. There are new charges for cell phone usage, fishing permits, health insurance (the "sick tax"), electric bills, and on bottled water, cigars, beer and wine. A New York Post analysis found that a typical family of four with an income below $100,000 would pay more than $800 a year in higher taxes and fees.
This is advertised as a plan of "shared sacrifice," but the group that is most responsible for New York's budget woes, the all-powerful public employee unions, somehow walk out of this with a 3% pay increase. The state is receiving an estimated $10 billion in federal stimulus money, and Democrats are spending every cent while raising the state budget by 9%. Then they insist with a straight face that taxes are the only way to close the budget deficit.
And so Albany is about to make a gigantic gamble on New York's economic future. The gamble is that the state with the highest cost of doing business can raise taxes on everyone who lives, works, breathes, eats or drinks in the state and not pay a heavy price for it. If they're wrong, New York will enhance its reputation as the Empire in Decline State.