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28551  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: May 01, 2009, 11:03:42 AM
I still remember Biden's howlers in his debate with Sarah Palin about Lebanon and Hezbollah-- from the man chosen for his int'l expertise to balance out His Glibness.

Anyway, , , here's this worrisome little item.

Soros Influenza

In other bad news from the Pentagon, "Democratic Party financier George Soros, who puts much of the blame for Islamic terrorists on America and former president George W. Bush, can celebrate his first foothold inside the Pentagon," writes columnist Rowan Scarborough. "It is in the person of Rosa Brooks, far-left former Los Angeles Times columnist." Brooks was also a lawyer for Soros' Open Societies Institute, which in turn is sugar daddy for She will now be "principal adviser" for Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, the Number 3 official and top policymaker at the Pentagon. This means that Brooks will have an influence on such things as budget, troop deployments and weapons purchases. She will also, according to the Pentagon, "develop cross-regional planning," which means she will hold sway over foreign relations.

In light of her coming role, her views on national security might be pertinent, and a look at Brooks' diatribes quickly reveals the problem. She compared President George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler (how original) and called Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "psychotics who need treatment." Perhaps most telling is this passage from a 2007 article: "[Al Qaeda] was little more than an obscure group of extremist thugs, well financed and intermittently lethal but relatively limited in their global and regional political pull. On 9/11, they got lucky -- but despite the unexpected success of their attack on the U.S., they did not pose an imminent mortal threat to the nation. Today, things are different. Thanks to U.S. policies, al Qaeda has become the vast global threat the administration imagined it to be in 2001." Uh, thanks to U.S. policies Rosa, al-Qa'ida has not made a successful attack on U.S. soil since 2001.

Sadly, however, the fact that a DoD undersecretary now has a total wingnut as an advisor isn't exactly earth-shattering news given the radicalism threaded throughout this administration. Barack Obama still has at least 1,359 days left.

28552  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Accidental discharges during crimes on: May 01, 2009, 10:58:39 AM
From the 'Court Jesters' File: Accidental Shooting Ruling
The Supreme Court also ruled this week on a case involving a robbery during which the perpetrator accidentally fired his gun. He claimed that the automatic 10-year sentence for firing a weapon during a crime was too harsh for something that was an accident. The Court disagreed. Mandatory minimum sentences are another can of worms, but we agree with Chief Justice John Roberts, who pointed out that if criminals wanted to avoid the penalty for firing the gun, even by accident, they should "lock or unload the firearm, handle it with care during the underlying violent or drug trafficking crime, leave the gun at home or -- best yet -- avoid committing the felony in the first place."

Funnier still is the dissent, written by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Stephen Breyer, which said, "Accidents happen, but they seldom give rise to criminal liability. Indeed, if they cause no harm, they seldom give rise to any liability. The court today nevertheless holds that petitioner is subject to a mandatory additional sentence -- a species of criminal liability -- for an accident that caused no harm." Call us crazy for pointing it out, but these are two of the justices who dissented from last year's Heller ruling, which affirmed the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. In other words, they are in the unusual position of defending a criminal who accidentally fired a weapon during a crime while maintaining that law-abiding citizens have no right to own a firearm.

28553  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Team Dog Brothers MMA? on: May 01, 2009, 09:09:59 AM
Starting this coming Tuesday at 14:00 at Boxing Works in Hermosa Beach.
28554  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on: May 01, 2009, 08:46:21 AM
"We have heard of the impious doctrine in the old world, that the people were made for kings, not kings for the people. Is the same doctrine to be revived in the new, in another shape -- that the solid happiness of the people is to be sacrificed to the views of political institutions of a different form? It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object."

--James Madison, Federalist No. 45
28555  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The First Amendment on: May 01, 2009, 08:09:23 AM
Thanks for the save. smiley
28556  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The First Amendment on: April 30, 2009, 09:53:00 PM
28557  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 8 year old girl allowed to divorce 50 yr. old man on: April 30, 2009, 09:50:41 PM

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, Associated Press Writer Hadeel Al-shalchi, Associated Press Writer – 19 mins ago
CAIRO – An 8-year-old Saudi girl has divorced her middle-aged husband after her father forced her to marry him last year in exchange for about $13,000, her lawyer said Thursday.
Saudi Arabia has come under increasing criticism at home and abroad for permitting child marriages. The United States, a close ally of the conservative Muslim kingdom, has called child marriage a "clear and unacceptable" violation of human rights.
The girl was allowed to divorce the 50-year-old man who she married in August after an out-of-court settlement had been reached in the case, said her lawyer, Abdulla al-Jeteli. The exact date of the divorce was not immediately known.
A court in the central Oneiza region previously rejected a request by the girl's mother for a divorce and ruled that the girl would have to wait until she reached puberty to file a petition then.
There are no laws in Saudi Arabia defining the minimum age for marriage. Though a woman's consent is legally required, some marriage officials don't seek it.
But there has been a push by Saudi human rights groups to define the age of marriage and put an end to the phenomenon.
One Saudi human rights activist Sohaila Zain al-Abdeen was optimistic that the girl's divorce would help efforts to get a law passed enforcing a minimum marriage age of 18.
"Unfortunately, some fathers trade their daughters," she told The Associated Press. "They are weak people who are sometimes in need of money and forget their roles as parents."
It was not clear if the man received money for the divorce settlement. The man had given the girl's father 50,000 riyals, or about $13,350, as a marriage gift in return for his daughter, the lawyer said.
The 8-year-old girl's marriage was not the only one in the kingdom to receive attention in recent months. Saudi newspapers have highlighted several cases in which young girls were married off to much older men or young boys including a 15-year-old girl whose father, a death-row inmate, married her off to a cell mate.
Saudi Arabia's conservative Muslim clergy have opposed the drive to end child marriages. In January, the kingdom's most senior cleric said it was permissible for 10-year-old girls to marry and those who believe they are too young are doing the girls an injustice.
But some in the government appear to support the movement to set a minimum age for marriage. The kingdom's new justice minister was quoted in mid-April as saying the government was doing a study on underage marriage that would include regulations.
There are no statistics to show how many marriages involving children are performed in Saudi Arabia every year. Activists say the girls are given away in return for hefty marriage gifts or as a result of long-standing custom in which a father promises his infant daughters and sons to cousins out of a belief that marriage will protect them from illicit relationships.
28558  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DLO 3 on: April 30, 2009, 12:44:00 PM
Night Owl and I will begin editing this coming week.
28559  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Communicating with the Muslim World on: April 30, 2009, 11:37:09 AM
BEIRUT, Lebanon — He has been mentor to some of the most brutal terrorists on earth. But Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a prominent cleric and theorist of jihad living in Jordan, has grown tired of hearing younger extremists accuse him of going soft.

The site Jihadica notes Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s citation and has one of its own.
So in a recent Internet post to his followers, Mr. Maqdisi defended his hard-line credentials by invoking a higher authority: the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

“Credit is due to the testimony of enemies,” Mr. Maqdisi wrote, as he directed his readers to a recent journal article by Joas Wagemakers, a Dutch scholar of jihadism, and the “Militant Ideology Atlas,” both published by the center. Both identified Mr. Maqdisi as a dangerous and influential jihadi theorist, he noted.

So did two articles by liberal Arab columnists, Mr. Maqdisi added proudly, including one that referred to him as a “sheik of violence” and “the head of the snake.”

It is not new for Islamic extremists to cite Western counterterrorism reports. Ayman Zawahri, the deputy of Osama bin Laden, has referred at least twice in his taped statements to “Stealing Al Qaeda’s Playbook,” a 2004 article also published by the center. But recently Mr. Maqdisi has taken this hall-of-mirrors phenomenon to a new level, complaining bitterly that secular Western analysts generally understand him better than many in his own community.

“I am surprised at the low level of their thinking,” Mr. Maqdisi wrote of his critics, “and how the enemies of religion read and understand us better than they do.”

The complaint is a testament to the growing community of Western jihad watchers, an obsessive and multilingual crew who monitor and debate terrorist Web statements like Talmudic scholars poring over a manuscript.

It also illustrates the fragmentation of authority within the global jihadist movement, where even prominent figures like Mr. Maqdisi are vulnerable to younger critics who feel free to interpret the call to jihad, and the Koran generally, as they see fit.

For the Western analysts, being cited approvingly by a Qaeda figure can be unsettling.

“It is inevitably a little bit flattering,” said Thomas Hegghammer, a fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, who first pointed out Mr. Maqdisi’s complaint on the blog he edits, Jihadica. “But it does make me worry a bit about the implications of what I do and what I write.”

The home page of the Jihadica site, founded a year ago by the scholar William F. McCants, advertises itself with an anonymous quotation said to be taken from a survey of jihadists about Internet sites that monitor militant Islamism online: “It is, in my view, the most important and dangerous among the sites in this group.”

All this self-consciousness is multiplied by the Internet, which has become a recruiting tool for jihadists but is also uniquely vulnerable to spies and informers. The fact that Western scholars and defense analysts have occasionally proposed using influential theorists like Mr. Maqdisi to undermine jihadist movements only makes this worse.

For all their suspicion toward each other, many militant Islamists often speak of Western analysts — especially those with a clear link to the military — with the respect due a true enemy. Mr. Maqdisi, whose Web site includes the world’s largest online compilation of jihadist literature (it is searchable by author), is clearly aware of what is written about him, and about jihad generally.

Despite his stature, he has been fighting off criticism from jihadists for years. Born in what is now the West Bank, Mr. Maqdisi spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s, where his writings and speeches legitimizing violence influenced Osama bin Laden and others. In the mid-1990s he was sent to prison in Jordan and became the spiritual mentor of a fellow prisoner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who later became notorious for decapitating hostages as the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

In 2005 Mr. Maqdisi was briefly released from prison and criticized Mr. Zarqawi’s bloody car-bombing campaign against the Shiites of Iraq. That led some to accuse him of becoming a tool for the Jordanian or American authorities, an accusation that has been renewed in recent months.

Mr. Maqdisi, who is now under house arrest in Jordan, has angrily turned that accusation against his critics, arguing that their efforts to undermine him and other jihadist leaders derive from a strategy outlined by Western analysts working for “the Crusader RAND Corporation.”

In fact, at least a few Islamists seem to see the hand of the RAND Corporation, an American policy organization that produces reports on terrorism and other subjects, in many plots. This year a hard-line Saudi cleric told this reporter during an interview that “RAND-ites” were seeking to de-Islamize Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Maqdisi’s problem is more homegrown. A new generation of jihadists, many of them less educated and respectful of authority than their elders, has begun taking issue with him. Mr. Maqdisi believes suicide bombing is a legitimate tactic but has said it should not be used indiscriminately, and he has spoken against the sectarian massacres in Iraq. For this he is accused of turning his back on jihad.

In a sense, Mr. Maqdisi can hardly complain, because he did the same thing to his clerical elders when he was young.

“For several decades, there has been a dynamic at work in the radical Sunni Islamist community where each new generation becomes less principled, less learned, more radical, and more violent than the one before it,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Middle East studies at Princeton.

In fact, recently some Western counterterrorism experts have seized on this trend and hailed it as proof that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are doomed to destroy themselves in an orgy of violence and in-fighting. Whether Mr. Maqdisi will also cite those Western theories in defense of his own approach remains to be seen.

28560  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters on: April 30, 2009, 11:33:09 AM
A Chilling Effect on U.S. Counterterrorism
April 29, 2009
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been carefully watching the fallout from the Obama administration’s decision to release four classified memos from former President George W. Bush’s administration that authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques.” In a visit to CIA headquarters last week, President Barack Obama promised not to prosecute agency personnel who carried out such interrogations, since they were following lawful orders. Critics of the techniques, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have called for the formation of a “truth commission” to investigate the matter, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to launch a criminal inquiry into the matter.

Realistically, those most likely to face investigation and prosecution are those who wrote the memos, rather than the low-level field personnel who acted in good faith based upon the guidance the memos provided. Despite this fact and Obama’s reassurances, our contacts in the intelligence community report that the release of the memos has had a discernible “chilling effect” on those in the clandestine service who work on counterterrorism issues.

In some ways, the debate over the morality of such interrogation techniques — something we do not take a position on and will not be discussing here — has distracted many observers from examining the impact that the release of these memos is having on the ability of the U.S. government to fulfill its counterterrorism mission. And this impact has little to do with the ability to use torture to interrogate terrorist suspects.

Politics and moral arguments aside, the end effect of the memos’ release is that people who have put their lives on the line in U.S. counterterrorism efforts are now uncertain of whether they should be making that sacrifice. Many of these people are now questioning whether the administration that happens to be in power at any given time will recognize the fact that they were carrying out lawful orders under a previous administration. It is hard to retain officers and attract quality recruits in this kind of environment. It has become safer to work in programs other than counterterrorism.

The memos’ release will not have a catastrophic effect on U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Indeed, most of the information in the memos was leaked to the press years ago and has long been public knowledge. However, when the release of the memos is examined in a wider context, and combined with a few other dynamics, it appears that the U.S. counterterrorism community is quietly slipping back into an atmosphere of risk-aversion and malaise — an atmosphere not dissimilar to that described by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) as a contributing factor to the intelligence failures that led to the 9/11 attacks.

Cycles Within Cycles
In March we wrote about the cycle of counterterrorism funding and discussed indications that the United States is entering a period of reduced counterterrorism funding. This decrease in funding not only will affect defensive counterterrorism initiatives like embassy security and countersurveillance programs, but also will impact offensive programs such as the number of CIA personnel dedicated to the counterterrorism role.

Beyond funding, however, there is another historical cycle of booms and busts that can be seen in the conduct of American clandestine intelligence activities. There are clearly discernible periods when clandestine activities are deemed very important and are widely employed. These periods are inevitably followed by a time of investigations, reductions in clandestine activities and a tightening of control and oversight over such activities.

After the widespread employment of clandestine activities in the Vietnam War era, the Church Committee was convened in 1975 to review (and ultimately restrict) such operations. Former President Ronald Reagan’s appointment of Bill Casey as director of the CIA ushered in a new era of growth as the United States became heavily engaged in clandestine activities in Afghanistan and Central America. Then, the revelation of the Iran-Contra affair in 1986 led to a period of hearings and controls.

There was a slight uptick in clandestine activities under the presidency of George H.W. Bush, but the fall of the Soviet Union led to another bust cycle for the intelligence community. By the mid-1990s, the number of CIA stations and bases was dramatically reduced (and virtually eliminated in much of Africa) for budgetary considerations. Then there was the case of Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard-educated lawyer who used little-known provisions in Texas common law to marry a dead Guatemalan guerrilla commander and gain legal standing as his widow. After it was uncovered that a CIA source was involved in the guerrilla commander’s execution, CIA stations in Latin America were gutted for political reasons. The Harbury case also led to the Torricelli Amendment, a law that made recruiting unsavory people, such as those with ties to death squads and terrorist groups, illegal without special approval. This bust cycle was well documented by both the Crowe Commission, which investigated the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, and the 9/11 Commission.

After the 9/11 attacks, the pendulum swung radically to the permissive side and clandestine activity was rapidly and dramatically increased as the U.S. sought to close the intelligence gap and quickly develop intelligence on al Qaeda’s capability and plans. Developments over the past two years clearly indicate that the United States is once again entering an intelligence bust cycle, a period that will be marked by hearings, increased controls and a general decrease in clandestine activity.

Institutional Culture

It is also very important to realize that the counterterrorism community is just one small part of the larger intelligence community that is affected by this ebb and flow of covert activity. In fact, as noted above, the counterterrorism component of intelligence efforts has its own boom-and-bust cycle that is based on major attacks. Soon after a major attack, interest in counterterrorism spikes dramatically, but as time passes without a major attack, interest lags. Other than during the peak times of this cycle, counterterrorism is considered an ancillary program that is sometimes seen as an interesting side tour of duty, but more widely seen as being outside the mainstream career path — risky and not particularly career-enhancing. This assessment is reinforced by such events as the recent release of the memos.

At the CIA, being a counterterrorism specialist in the clandestine service means that you will most likely spend much of your life in places line Sanaa, Islamabad and Kabul instead of Vienna, Paris or London. This means that, in addition to hurting your chances for career advancement, your job also is quite dangerous, provides relatively poor living conditions for your family and offers the possibility of contracting serious diseases.

While being declared persona non grata and getting kicked out of a country as part of an intelligence spat is considered almost a badge of honor at the CIA, the threat of being arrested and indicted for participating in the rendition of a terrorist suspect from an allied country like Italy is not. Equally unappealing is being sued in civil court by a terrorist suspect or facing the possibility of prosecution after a change of government in the United States. Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers who are choosing to carry personal liability insurance because they do not trust the agency and the U.S. government to look out for their best interests.

Now, there are officers who are willing to endure hardship and who do not really care much about career advancement, but for those officers there is another hazard — frustration. Aggressive officers dedicated to the counterterrorism mission quickly learn that many of the people in the food chain above them are concerned about their careers, and these superiors often take measures to rein in their less-mainstream subordinates. Additionally, due to the restrictions brought about by laws and regulations like the Torricelli Amendment, case officers working counterterrorism are often tightly bound by myriad legal restrictions.

Unlike in television shows like “24,” it is not uncommon in the real world for a meeting called to plan a counterterrorism operation to feature more CIA lawyers than case officers or analysts. These staff lawyers are intricately involved in the operational decisions made at headquarters, and legal issues often trump operational considerations. The need to obtain legal approval often delays decisions long enough for a critical window of operational opportunity to be slammed shut. This restrictive legal environment goes back many years in the CIA and is not a new fixture brought in by the Obama administration. There was a sense of urgency that served to trump the lawyers to some extent after 9/11, but the lawyers never went away and have reasserted themselves firmly over the past several years.

Of course, the CIA is not the only agency with a culture that is less than supportive of the counterterrorism mission. Although the prevention of terrorist attacks in the United States is currently the FBI’s No. 1 priority on paper, the counterterrorism mission remains the bureau�s redheaded stepchild. The FBI is struggling to find agents willing to serve in the counterterrorism sections of field offices, resident agencies (smaller offices that report to a field office) and joint terrorism task forces.

While the CIA was very much built on the legacy of Wild Bill Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services, the FBI was founded by J. Edgar Hoover, a conservative and risk-averse administrator who served as FBI director from 1935-1972. Even today, Hoover’s influence is clearly evident in the FBI’s bureaucratic nature. FBI special agents are unable to do much at all, such as open an investigation, without a supervisor’s approval, and supervisors are reluctant to approve anything too adventurous because of the impact it might have on their chance for promotion. Unlike many other law enforcement agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI rarely uses its own special agents in an undercover capacity to penetrate criminal organizations. That practice is seen as being too risky; they prefer to use confidential informants rather than undercover operatives.

The FBI is also strongly tied to its roots in law enforcement and criminal investigation, and special agents who work major theft, public corruption or white-collar crime cases tend to receive more recognition — and advance more quickly — than their counterterrorism counterparts.

FBI special agents also see a considerable downside to working counterterrorism cases because of the potential for such cases to blow up in their faces if they make a mistake — such as in the New York field office’s highly publicized mishandling of the informant whom they had inserted into the group that later conducted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. It is much safer, and far more rewarding from a career perspective, to work bank robberies or serve in the FBI’s Inspection Division.

After the 9/11 attacks — and the corresponding spike in the importance of counterterrorism operations — many of the resources of the CIA and FBI were focused on al Qaeda and terrorism, to the detriment of programs such as foreign counterintelligence. However, the more time that has passed since 9/11 without another major attack, the more the organizational culture of the U.S government has returned to normal. Once again, counterterrorism efforts are seen as being ancillary duties rather than the organizations’ driving mission. (The clash between organizational culture and the counterterrorism mission is by no means confined to the CIA and FBI. Fred’s book “Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent” provides a detailed examination of some of the bureaucratic and cultural challenges we faced while serving in the Counterterrorism Investigations Division of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.)

Liaison Services

One of the least well known, and perhaps most important, sources of intelligence in the counterterrorism field is the information that is obtained as a result of close relationships with allied intelligence agencies — often referred to as information obtained through “liaison channels.”

Like FBI agents, most CIA officers are well-educated, middle-aged white guys. This means they are better suited to use the cover of an American businessmen or diplomat than to pretend to be a young Muslim trying to join al Qaeda or Hezbollah. Like their counterparts in the FBI, CIA officers have far more success using informants than they do working undercover inside terrorist groups.

Services like the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, the Saudi Mabahith or the Yemeni National Security Agency not only can recruit sources, but also are far more successful in using young Muslim officers to penetrate terrorist groups. In addition to their source networks and penetration operations, many of these liaison services are not at all squeamish about using extremely enhanced interrogation techniques — this is the reason many of the terrorism suspects who were the subject of rendition operations ended up in such locations. Obviously, whenever the CIA is dealing with a liaison service, the political interests and objectives of the service must be considered — as should the possibility that the liaison service is fabricating the intelligence in question for whatever reason. Still, in the end, the CIA historically has received a significant amount of important intelligence (perhaps even most of its intelligence) via liaison channels.

Another concern that arises from the call for a truth commission is the impact a commission investigation could have on the liaison services that have helped the United States in its counterterrorism efforts since 9/11. Countries that hosted CIA detention facilities or were involved in the rendition or interrogation of terrorist suspects may find themselves exposed publicly or even held up for some sort of sanction by the U.S. Congress. Such activities could have a real impact on the amount of cooperation and information the CIA receives from these intelligence services.


As we’ve previously noted, it was a lack of intelligence that helped fuel the fear that led the Bush administration to authorize enhanced interrogation techniques. Ironically, the current investigation into those techniques and other practices (such as renditions) may very well lead to significant gaps in terrorism-related intelligence from both internal and liaison sources — again, not primarily because of the prohibition of torture, but because of larger implications.

When these implications are combined with the long-standing institutional aversion of U.S. government agencies toward counterterrorism, and with the difficulty of finding and retaining good people willing to serve in counterterrorism roles, the U.S. counterterrorism community may soon be facing challenges even more daunting than those posed by its already difficult mission.
28561  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The real culture war is over the free market on: April 30, 2009, 11:17:38 AM
There is a major cultural schism developing in America. But it's not over abortion, same-sex marriage or home schooling, as important as these issues are. The new divide centers on free enterprise -- the principle at the core of American culture.

Despite President Barack Obama's early personal popularity, we can see the beginnings of this schism in the "tea parties" that have sprung up around the country. In these grass-roots protests, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans have joined together to make public their opposition to government deficits, unaccountable bureaucratic power, and a sense that the government is too willing to prop up those who engaged in corporate malfeasance and mortgage fraud.

The data support the protesters' concerns. In a publication with the ironic title, "A New Era of Responsibility," the president's budget office reveals average deficits of 4.7% in the five years after this recession is over. The Congressional Budget Office predicts $9.3 trillion in new debt over the coming decade.

And what investments justify our leaving this gargantuan bill for our children and grandchildren to pay? Absurdities, in the view of many -- from bailing out General Motors and the United Auto Workers to building an environmentally friendly Frisbee golf course in Austin, Texas. On behalf of corporate welfare, political largess and powerful special interests, government spending will grow continuously in the coming years as a percentage of the economy -- as will tax collections.

Still, the tea parties are not based on the cold wonkery of budget data. They are based on an "ethical populism." The protesters are homeowners who didn't walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don't want corporate welfare and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don't need bailouts. They were the people who were doing the important things right -- and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.

Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss this ethical populism as a fringe movement -- maybe even dangerous extremism. In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste. In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off "in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time." Fully 70% agreed, versus 20% who disagreed.

Free enterprise is culturally mainstream, for the moment. Asked in a Rasmussen poll conducted this month to choose the better system between capitalism and socialism, 13% of respondents over 40 chose socialism. For those under 30, this percentage rose to 33%. (Republicans were 11 times more likely to prefer capitalism than socialism; Democrats were almost evenly split between the two systems.)

The government has been abetting this trend for years by exempting an increasing number of Americans from federal taxation. My colleague Adam Lerrick showed in these pages last year that the percentage of American adults who have no federal income-tax liability will rise to 49% from 40% under Mr. Obama's tax plan. Another 11% will pay less than 5% of their income in federal income taxes and less than $1,000 in total.

To put a modern twist on the old axiom, a man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at 40 either has no head, or pays no taxes. Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the "sharing economy." They are fighting a culture war of attrition with economic tools. Defenders of capitalism risk getting caught flat-footed with increasingly antiquated arguments that free enterprise is a Main Street pocketbook issue. Progressives are working relentlessly to see that it is not.

Advocates of free enterprise must learn from the growing grass-roots protests, and make the moral case for freedom and entrepreneurship. They have to declare that it is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can. It's also a moral issue to lower the rewards for entrepreneurial success, and to spend what we don't have without regard for our children's future.

Enterprise defenders also have to define "fairness" as protecting merit and freedom. This is more intuitively appealing to Americans than anything involving forced redistribution. Take public attitudes toward the estate tax, which only a few (who leave estates in the millions of dollars) will ever pay, but which two-thirds of Americans believe is "not fair at all," according to a 2009 Harris poll. Millions of ordinary citizens believe it is unfair for the government to be predatory -- even if the prey are wealthy.

Political strategy aside, intellectual organizations like my own have a constructive role in the coming cultural conflict. As policymakers offer a redistributionist future to a fearful nation and a new culture war simmers, we must respond with tangible, enterprise-oriented policy alternatives. For example, it is not enough to point out that nationalized health care will make going to the doctor about as much fun as a trip to the department of motor vehicles. We need to offer specific, market-based reform solutions.

This is an exhilarating time for proponents of freedom and individual opportunity. The last several years have brought malaise, in which the "conservative" politicians in power paid little more than lip service to free enterprise. Today, as in the late 1970s, we have an administration, Congress and media-academic complex openly working to change American culture in ways that most mainstream Americans will not like. Like the Carter era, this adversity offers the first opportunity in years for true cultural renewal.

Mr. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute.
28562  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington; Franklin on: April 30, 2009, 11:09:45 AM
"Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party generally. ... A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume."

--George Washington, Farewell Address, 19 September 1796
"A republic, if you can keep it." --Benjamin Franklin
28563  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: April 30, 2009, 11:06:20 AM
Re transferability:

Doesn't this issue have its roots in the wage and price controls of WW2?  IIRC the govt did allow health insurance to become part of the payments to workers without taxing it-- but if an individual wants to buy insurance on his own, he must do so with after tax dollars.  Yes?
28564  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hillary pays herself off on: April 29, 2009, 04:15:42 PM
Moving this from the His Glibness thread:

"Under federal campaign finance rules, Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaign committee -- called Friends of Hillary -- can't donate to her presidential campaign, but it can purchase such assets as the mailing list."

So she sends herself millions of dollars otherwise prohibited by law, and buys 'the list'.

"The second-largest list payment, about $822,000, came from Mrs. Clinton's political action committee, Hill PAC."
We listen to these panderers call for campaign finance reform only to then watch them make a mockery of the laws they pass
28565  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: April 29, 2009, 11:44:17 AM
Second post of AM

Pakistan’s Frontier Corps paramilitary unit and army sent troops, backed by fixed-wing aircraft, into Buner district in the North-West Frontier Province to flush out Taliban fighters, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas announced April 28. Abbas added that the army had completed another operation launched a day earlier in southern parts of the Dir district. Both these offensives come in the wake of the Taliban move to project power beyond Swat, especially into Buner, within days of the ratification of the Swat peace agreement.

Islamabad has oscillated between military operations and peace agreements with jihadist groups in the Pashtun northwest ever since the army first began operations in the Waziristan region in March 2004. Since then, the Talibanization has spread from the autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border deeper into the NWFP, with Swat becoming a major stronghold for Pakistani Taliban. After failing to defuse the insurgency in Swat with military operations, the state negotiated a “Shariah for peace” deal in hopes that it will help keep the Swat-based Taliban within the confines of the district.

(click image to enlarge)
Islamabad’s objective was bound to fail, however; not only do the Taliban have larger national and transnational ambitions, but the agreement itself was applicable to the greater Swat region, including the adjoining districts of Dir, Malakand, Buner,and Shangla. The vague nature of the implementation of the “Shariah” system in the area gave the Taliban the perfect opening to send militiamen into regions such as Dir and Buner.

Another problem with the deal is that it was made with the founder of the local Taliban group Tehrik-i-Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi, Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who shares control of the Swat-based jihadists with his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah. There are other Taliban factions, such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban, in Swat. Furthermore, the Swat deal has encouraged the rise of other more localized Taliban commanders in the various parts of the greater Swat region who are not necessarily accountable to those with whom the NWFP provincial government cut a deal.

Meanwhile, there is a growing realization within the army and the government that while Islamabad lacks the capability and the comprehensive national strategy to deal with jihadists, the Taliban cannot be allowed to expand their operational sphere in the NWFP. Therefore, the short-term strategy is to keep the Pashtun jihadists boxed into Swat — hence the move to flush the Taliban out from those areas before they set up shop in the adjacent districts.

The problem is that this approach jeopardizes the peace agreement, which will widen the scope of the counter-insurgency offensive beyond Islamabad’s current wishes. Tactical-level operations devoid of any coherent strategic plan are unlikely to help in the long run, and Islamabad could soon find itself fighting jihadists for control of the province.
28566  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / James and the joys of motherhood on: April 29, 2009, 11:39:24 AM
James, as usual, came home really late one Saturday night after being at the
bar all night drinking. Not only was he drunk, he was sloppy drunk. He
carefully crept into bed next his wife, who fell sleep angry hours earlier,
and gave her a goodnight kiss on the check in hopes that she wouldn't wake

He awoke in the middle of the night to a strange man standing at the end of
his bed wearing a long flowing white robe. "Who the hell are you," demanded
James, "and what are you doing in my bedroom?" The mysterious man answered
"This is not your bedroom, and my name is St. Peter".

James didn't take the news so well. "You mean I'm dead! That can't be, I
have so much to live for, I haven't even said goodbye to my family. you've
got to send me back right away!"

St. Peter replied "You cannot go back as you were, you have passed away
James. However, you can be reincarnated - but there is a catch. We can only
send you back as a dog or a hen." James was devastated, but knowing that
there was a farm just down the road from his house, he asked to be sent back
as a hen.

A flash of light later, he was covered in feathers and clucking around
pecking at corn on the ground. "This ain't so bad," he thought until he felt
a strange feeling churning inside him. The farmyard rooster strolled over
and said "So you're the new hen, huh? How are you enjoying your first day
here?" "It's not so bad" replies James, "but I have this strange feeling
inside like I'm about to explode". "You're ovulating" explained the rooster,
"haven't you ever laid an egg before?"

"Never" replies James.

"Well just relax and let it happen."

And so he did, and just a few uncomfortable seconds later an egg pops out
from under his tail. An immense feeling of relief swept over him - emotions
got the better of him as he experienced the joy motherhood for the first
time. When he laid his second egg, the feeling of happiness was overwhelming
and he knew that being reincarnated as a hen was the best thing that ever
happened to him. ever!

The joy of motherhood continued to build and, just as he was just about to
lay his third egg, he felt an enormous smack on the back of his head and
heard his wife shout "James, wake up you drunken bas*ard, you're sh*tting
the bed!"
28567  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Kali Tudo (tm): The Running Dog Game on: April 29, 2009, 08:58:30 AM
Now shipping!!!
28568  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: US plans to go after opium on: April 29, 2009, 08:30:59 AM
Its the NYTimes.  Caveat lector!

Looks like it could be a major development.  Perfect timing in view of Krenz's point two above-- it would have been really nice if the President gave the generals the troops they tell him they need instead of half the number  angry


ZANGABAD, Afghanistan — American commanders are planning to cut off the Taliban’s main source of money, the country’s multimillion-dollar opium crop, by pouring thousands of troops into the three provinces that bankroll much of the group’s operations.

The plan to send 20,000 Marines and soldiers into Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul Provinces this summer promises weeks and perhaps months of heavy fighting, since American officers expect the Taliban to vigorously defend what makes up the economic engine for the insurgency. The additional troops, the centerpiece of President Obama’s effort to reverse the course of the seven-year war, will roughly double the number already in southern Afghanistan. The troops already fighting there are universally seen as overwhelmed. In many cases, the Americans will be pushing into areas where few or no troops have been before.

Through extortion and taxation, the Taliban are believed to reap as much as $300 million a year from Afghanistan’s opium trade, which now makes up 90 percent of the world’s total. That is enough, the Americans say, to sustain all of the Taliban’s military operations in southern Afghanistan for an entire year.

“Opium is their financial engine,” said Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the deputy commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. “That is why we think he will fight for these areas.”

The Americans say that their main goal this summer will be to provide security for the Afghan population, and thereby isolate the insurgents.

But because the opium is tilled in heavily populated areas, and because the Taliban are spread among the people, the Americans say they will have to break the group’s hold on poppy cultivation to be successful.

No one here thinks that is going to be easy.

Only 10 minutes inside the tiny village of Zangabad, 20 miles southwest of Kandahar, a platoon of American soldiers stepped into a poppy field in full bloom on Monday. Taliban fighters opened fire from three sides.

“From the north!” one of the soldiers yelled, spinning and firing.

“West!” another screamed, turning and firing, too.

An hour passed and a thousand bullets whipped through the air. Ammunition was running low. The Taliban were circling.

Then the gunships arrived, swooping in, their bullet casings showering the ground beneath them, their rockets streaking and destroying. Behind a barrage of artillery, the soldiers shot their way out of Zangabad and moved into the cover of the vineyards.

“When are you going drop the bomb?” Capt. Chris Brawley said into his radio over the clatter of machine-gun fire. “I’m in a grape field.”

The bomb came, and after a time the shooting stopped.

The firefight offered a preview of the Americans’ summer in southern Afghanistan. By all accounts, it is going to be bloody.

Like the guerrillas they are, Taliban fighters often fade away when confronted by a conventional army. But in Afghanistan, as they did in Zangabad, the Taliban will probably stand and fight.

Among the ways the Taliban are believed to make money from the opium trade is by charging farmers for protection; if the Americans and British attack, the Taliban will be expected to make good on their side of that bargain.

Indeed, Taliban fighters have begun to fight any efforts by the Americans or the British to move into areas where poppy grows and opium is produced. Last month, a force of British marines moved into a district called Nad Ali in Helmand Province, the center of the country’s poppy cultivation. The Taliban were waiting. In a five-day battle, the British killed 120 Taliban fighters and wounded 150. Only one British soldier was wounded.

Many of the new American soldiers will fan out along southern Afghanistan’s largely unguarded 550-mile-long border with Pakistan. Among them will be soldiers deployed in the Stryker, a relatively quick, nimble armored vehicle that can roam across the vast areas that span the frontier.

All of the new troops are supposed to be in place by Aug. 20, in order to provide security for Afghanistan’s presidential election.

The presence of poppy and opium here has injected a huge measure of uncertainly into the war. Under NATO rules of engagement, American or other forces are prohibited from attacking targets or people related only to narcotics production. Those people are not considered combatants.

But American and other forces are allowed to attack drug smugglers or facilities that are assisting the Taliban. In an interview, General Nicholson said that opium production and the Taliban are so often intertwined that the rules do not usually inhibit American operations.

“We often come across a compound that has opium and I.E.D. materials side by side, and opium and explosive materials and weapons,” General Nicholson said, referring to improvised explosive devices. “It’s very common — more common than not.”
Page 2 of 2)

But the prospect of heavy fighting in populated areas could further alienate the Afghan population. In the firefight in Zangabad, the Americans covered their exit with a barrage of 20 155 millimeter high-explosive artillery shells — necessary to shield them from the Taliban, but also enough to inflict serious damage on people and property. A local Afghan interviewed by telephone after the firefight said that four homes had been damaged by the artillery strikes.

Then there is the problem of weaning poppy farmers from poppy farming — a task that has proved intractable in many countries, like Colombia, where the American government has tried to curtail poppy production. It is by far the most lucrative crop an Afghan can farm. The opium trade now makes up nearly 60 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, American officials say. The country’s opium traffickers typically offer incentives that no Afghan government official can: they can guarantee a farmer a minimum price for the crop as well as taking it to market, despite the horrendous condition of most of Afghanistan’s roads.

“The people don’t like to cultivate poppy, but they are desperate,” Mohammed Ashraf Naseri, the governor of Zabul Province, told a group of visitors this month.

To offer an alternative to poppy farming, the American military is setting aside $250 million for agriculture projects like irrigation improvements and wheat cultivation. General Nicholson said that a $200 million plan for infrastructure improvements, much of it for roads to help get crops to market, was also being prepared. The vision, General Nicholson said, is to try to restore the agricultural economy that flourished in Afghanistan in the 1970s. That, more than military force, will defeat the Taliban, he said.

“There is a significant portion of the enemy that we believe we can peel off with incentives,” the general said. “We can hire away many of these young men.”

Even if the Americans are able to cut production, shortages could drive up prices and not make a significant dent in the Taliban’s profits.

The foray into Zangabad suggested the difficulties that lie ahead. The terrain is a guerrilla’s dream. In addition to acres of shoulder-high poppy plants, rows and rows of hard-packed mud walls, used to stand up grape vines, offer ideal places for ambushes and defense.

But the trickiest thing will be winning over the Afghans themselves. The Taliban are entrenched in the villages and river valleys of southern Afghanistan. The locals, caught between the foes, seem, at best, to be waiting to see who prevails.

On their way to Zangabad, the soldiers stopped in a wheat field to talk to a local farmer. His name was Ahmetullah. The Americans spoke through a Pashto interpreter.

“I’m very happy to see you,” the farmer told the Americans.

“Really?” one of the soldiers asked.

“Yes,” the farmer said.

The interpreter sighed, and spoke in English.

“He’s a liar.”

28569  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iranian arms ship sunk? on: April 29, 2009, 08:27:02 AM
CAVEAT: While sources not completely thin, not completely gelled either. Haaretz is reporting, as well as Egyptian & Sudanese media (with their different perspective as you might imagine).

Last update - 07:53 27/04/2009
'Iran arms ship bound for Gaza downed near Sudan'

By Haaretz Service

An Iranian vessel laden with weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area, the Egyptian newspaper El-Aosboa reported on Sunday.

Anonymous sources in Khartoum told the newspaper that an unidentified warship bombed the Iranian vessel as it prepared to dock on Sudan before transferring its load for shipment to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

These sources said they suspects U.S. or Israeli involvement in the attack, but neither Washington nor Jerusalem have released a statement yet on the matter.

The Israel Air Force, meanwhile, is suspected of attacking a convoy of Iranian arms that passed through Sudan en route to Gaza in January, according to reports released in March.

American officials confirmed the IAF involvement in that attack, The New York Times later reported, abd said they had received intelligence reports that an Iranian Revolutionary Guards operative had gone to Sudan to help organize the weapons convoy said the report.

Israel has neither denied nor confirmed involvement in that incident.

In February, Cypriot authorities detained an Iranian arms ship en route Iranian arms ship en route to Syria, apparently upon request of the U.S. and Israel.

A search of the ship, which was sailing from Iran to the Syrian port of Latakia, found ammunition for T-72 tanks, used by the Syrian army, as well as various types of mortar shells, said a senior Israeli official.

The United States has claimed that the ship was carrying weapons from Iran to Hamas or the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.
28570  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton on: April 29, 2009, 08:21:19 AM
"As riches increase and accumulate in few hands, as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature."

--Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, June 1788
28571  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Team Dog Brothers MMA? on: April 28, 2009, 10:54:58 AM
Frankfurter for one  cool
28572  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Oy vey on: April 28, 2009, 08:59:03 AM
As secret missions go, this one was a flop.

On Monday morning, one of the 747s used to ferry around the U.S. president was dispatched to the Statue of Liberty, escorted by a fighter jet. Assignment: Get some fresh glamour shots of the plane.

The Air Force said the flight needed to remain confidential. So while New York police knew about it, as did at least one person in the mayor's office, regular New Yorkers remained in the dark.

As a result, to onlookers Monday all across downtown Manhattan -- where the World Trade Center once stood -- the photo shoot looked like a terrorist attack. People watched in horror as a massive aircraft, trailed closely by an F-16 fighter jet, banked and roared low near the city, in a frightening echo of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Fearing the worst, thousands of people streamed out of the skyscrapers and into the streets. Some buildings ordered evacuations. "Oh God, it was mayhem in here, just mayhem," says Rubin Shimon, manager of Styling Haircutters, a barbershop near Ground Zero. Many people took shelter in the shop to call loved ones on their cellphones.

It was all over in a half-hour or so. Then the finger-pointing began. "I'm annoyed -- furious is a better word -- that I wasn't told," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference. He'd been scheduled to talk about a swine-flu outbreak at a Queens school, but also sounded off at the federal government for its "badly conceived" flyover plan.

He chastised his own office for its role in keeping the flyover secret. On Thursday night, city officials say, a junior mayoral aide had been alerted to the flyover by the Federal Aviation Administration, which requested that it be kept secret. Someone in City Hall alerted the New York Police Department, but no public announcement was made.

Marc Mugnos was reprimanded for not apprising the mayor, and a disciplinary letter was placed in his file, a spokesman said. Mr. Mugnos couldn't be reached for comment.

 Low-Flying Plane Causes Scare in Manhattan
A low-flying airplane escorted by military jets sent worried workers fleeing offices in the New York City area. The FAA said it was a "photo op" conducted by a unit of the Air Force.
The email sent to City Hall describes a "flying photo op" -- government-speak for a publicity photo -- to include two or possibly three passes over the area. The email, sent by an FAA official and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, lists flight patterns and specifies a photo-op altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 feet.

The email specifies that the information "only be shared with persons with a need to know" and "shall not be released to the public." It also says that, "Due to the possibility of public concern regarding [Department of Defense] aircraft flying at low levels, coordination with Federal, State and Local law enforcement agencies...has been accomplished."

The email's author, James J. Johnston, of FAA air traffic, declined to comment.

An Obama administration official said the mission was "classified" by the military and that the FAA, which controls much of the airspace over Manhattan, did what the military asked. "The mission was to send [the aircraft] up to get a picture of it flying around the Statue of Liberty," this person said. "They said they needed to update their photo files." President Obama wasn't aboard.

Vote: How does the Air Force One "photo op" affect your confidence in White House decision making?Wash Wire: Caldera Takes BlamePlane Scare Has Happened BeforeReaders' reactions: Plane 'Flying VERY Low'Readers' Photos: Jets Circle N.Y.Send photos to yourphotos@wsj.comThe New York photo shoot wasn't the only one planned. The White House had scheduled a follow-up session on May 5 or May 6 in Washington, D.C., according to two government officials. The D.C. flyover has now been canceled, a government official said.

Louis Caldera, a former Secretary of the Army who runs the White House Military Office, took the blame. "While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption," he said. "I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."

Mr. Caldera met Monday afternoon with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina "to hear the president's displeasure," an official said.

It was a beautiful spring day in the Big Apple -- perfect for picture taking. The aircraft, painted in White House livery, was trailed by one F-16 fighter jet. The aircraft had flown from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, across New Jersey, down the Hudson River and then circled the Statue of Liberty before heading off.

For many who witnessed the maneuver, it stirred dark memories. Andrew Wybolt, who works for Barclays PLC in a skyscraper that borders the Hudson, said people rushed for the windows when they heard the planes. "They just started sprinting and freaking out," he said.

Associated Press
Louis Caldera, pictured in 2006, took blame for the flight.
Thousands of workers from Merrill Lynch, American Express and other companies in the buildings that ring the former World Trade Center site hustled for the exits. Many stood outside their offices, nervously looking up into the sky, while hundreds of others walked north, along the West Side Highway, as thousands of people had done the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

"To do something like this to all these people who have already been through 9-11 is just wrong," said Greg Forman, a broker at the New York Mercantile Exchange, which is located in a building along the Hudson river, across the street from the World Trade Center site.

One block north, construction workers on the 43-story Goldman Sachs Group Inc. tower said they had a close-up view of the low-flying plane. "I saw that thing coming and ran down the stairs," said Eddie Navedo, who was clearing construction debris on the 23rd floor of the new building when he spotted the plane flying low over the river, then banking sharply to the west. "Everybody was saying, it's a terrorist attack."

Not everyone lost his cool. Mr. Shimon, the manager of the barbershop where people fled on Monday, was present for the attacks in 2001, and in fact at that time worked in a shop even closer to the World Trade Center than his current one. He watched the towers fall that day.

So did the events of Monday scare him? "To tell you the truth, not really," Mr. Shimon said. "I didn't think it was such a big deal. I'm a New Yorker."

—Jonathan Weisman, Alex Frangos and Michael Corkery contributed to this article
28573  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Barofsky gets it right on: April 28, 2009, 08:53:53 AM
A high-five is due the Special Inspector General for the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program. In his quarterly report to Congress last week, Neil Barofsky promotes a reform to help prevent the next credit disaster.

Mr. Barofsky criticizes the New York Fed's Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) for relying on the major credit-rating agencies to determine if securities are safe enough for taxpayers. Under the TALF, the New York Fed provides nonrecourse loans to private firms to buy AAA-rated pools of mortgages and other assets. But can you trust that triple-A rating?

Mr. Barofsky notes that credit ratings on residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) "have proven to be unreliable and largely irrelevant to the actual value and performance of the security. Arguably, the wholesale failure of the credit rating agencies to rate adequately such securities is at the heart of the securitization market collapse, if not the primary cause of the current credit crisis." Hear, hear.

Could this message finally penetrate the crania of senior U.S. officials? Mr. Barofsky reports that his office "has been informed by the Federal Reserve that it is considering, but has not yet adopted" a plan to replace credit ratings with actual examinations of the underlying loan portfolios. He further reports that Treasury says that "conducting due diligence with respect to the underlying collateral" will be part of its plan for investing in mortgage-backed securities. Imagine that: Trying to find out what they are buying before committing your money.

So many bad ideas are coming from Washington these days that a rare good one needs more exposure and support. Pour it on, Mr. Barofsky. Taxpayers need a champion, and the financial system needs an alternative to the credit-rating oligopoly.
28574  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: What's in the pipeline? on: April 28, 2009, 08:21:05 AM
Where Will the Swine Flu Go Next?

AS the swine flu threatens to become the next pandemic, the biggest questions are whether its transmission from human to human will be sustained and, if so, how virulent it might become. But even if this virus were to peter out soon, there is a strong possibility it would only go underground, quietly continuing to infect some people while becoming better adapted to humans, and then explode around the world.

What happens next is chiefly up to the virus. But it is up to us to create a vaccine as quickly as possible.

Influenza viruses are unpredictable because they are able to mutate so rapidly. That capacity enables them to jump easily from species to species, infecting not only pigs and people but also horses, seals, cats, dogs, tigers and so on. An avian virus responsible for the 1918 pandemic jumped first from birds to humans, then from humans to swine (as well as other animals). Now, and not for the first time, pigs have given a virus back to humans.

Mutability makes even existing, well-known flu viruses unpredictable. A new virus, formed by a combination of several existing ones as this virus is, is even less predictable. After jumping to a new host, influenza can become more or less virulent — in fact, different offshoots could go in opposite directions — before a relatively stable new virus emerges.

Influenza pandemics have occurred as far back in history as we can look, but the four we know about in detail happened in 1889, 1918, 1957 and 1968. The mildest of these, the so-called Hong Kong flu in 1968, killed about 35,000 people in the United States and 700,000 worldwide. Ordinary seasonal influenza, in comparison, now kills 36,000 Americans a year, because the population has a higher proportion of elderly people and others with weak immune systems. (If a virus like the Hong Kong flu hit today, it would probably kill more people for the same reason.)

The worst influenza pandemic, in 1918, killed 675,000 in the United States. And although no one has a reliable worldwide death toll, the lowest reasonable number is about 35 million, and some scientists believe it killed as many as 100 million — at a time when the world’s population was only a quarter of what it is today. The dead included not only the elderly and infants but also robust young adults.

What’s important to keep in mind in assessing the threat of the current outbreak is that all four of the well-known pandemics seem to have come in waves. The 1918 virus surfaced by March and set in motion a spring and summer wave that hit some communities and skipped others. This first wave was extremely mild, more so even than ordinary influenza: of the 10,313 sailors in the British Grand Fleet who became ill, for example, only four died. But autumn brought a second, more lethal wave, which was followed by a less severe third wave in early 1919.

The first wave in 1918 was relatively mild, many experts speculate, because the virus had not fully adapted to humans. And as it did adapt, it also became more lethal. However, there is very good evidence that people who were exposed during the first wave developed immunity — much as people get protection from a modern vaccine.

A similar kind of immune-building process is the most likely explanation for why, in 1918, only 2 percent of those who contracted the flu died. Having been exposed to other influenza viruses, most people had built up some protection. People in isolated regions, including American Indian reservations and Alaskan Inuit villages, had much higher case mortality — presumably because they had less exposure to influenza viruses.

The 1889 pandemic also had a well-defined first wave that was milder than succeeding waves. The 1957 and 1968 pandemics had waves, too, though they were less well defined.

In all four instances, the gap between the time the virus was first recognized and a second, more dangerous wave swelled was about six months. It will take a minimum of four months to produce vaccine in any volume, possibly longer, and much longer than that to produce enough vaccine to protect most Americans. The race has begun.

John M. Barry, a visiting scholar at the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, is the author of “The Great Influenza.”
28575  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Cyberweapons race on: April 28, 2009, 08:10:40 AM
When American forces in Iraq wanted to lure members of Al Qaeda into a trap, they hacked into one of the group’s computers and altered information that drove them into American gun sights.

When President George W. Bush ordered new ways to slow Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb last year, he approved a plan for an experimental covert program — its results still unclear — to bore into their computers and undermine the project.   (WHY ON EARTH IS THIS INFO BEING DIVULGED?!?-- Marc)

And the Pentagon has commissioned military contractors to develop a highly classified replica of the Internet of the future. The goal is to simulate what it would take for adversaries to shut down the country’s power stations, telecommunications and aviation systems, or freeze the financial markets — in an effort to build better defenses against such attacks, as well as a new generation of online weapons.

Just as the invention of the atomic bomb changed warfare and deterrence 64 years ago, a new international race has begun to develop cyberweapons and systems to protect against them.

Thousands of daily attacks on federal and private computer systems in the United States — many from China and Russia, some malicious and some testing chinks in the patchwork of American firewalls — have prompted the Obama administration to review American strategy.

President Obama is expected to propose a far larger defensive effort in coming days, including an expansion of the $17 billion, five-year program that Congress approved last year, the appointment of a White House official to coordinate the effort, and an end to a running bureaucratic battle over who is responsible for defending against cyberattacks.

But Mr. Obama is expected to say little or nothing about the nation’s offensive capabilities, on which the military and the nation’s intelligence agencies have been spending billions. In interviews over the past several months, a range of military and intelligence officials, as well as outside experts, have described a huge increase in the sophistication of American cyberwarfare capabilities.

Because so many aspects of the American effort to develop cyberweapons and define their proper use remain classified, many of those officials declined to speak on the record. The White House declined several requests for interviews or to say whether Mr. Obama as a matter of policy supports or opposes the use of American cyberweapons.

The most exotic innovations under consideration would enable a Pentagon programmer to surreptitiously enter a computer server in Russia or China, for example, and destroy a “botnet” — a potentially destructive program that commandeers infected machines into a vast network that can be clandestinely controlled — before it could be unleashed in the United States.

Or American intelligence agencies could activate malicious code that is secretly embedded on computer chips when they are manufactured, enabling the United States to take command of an enemy’s computers by remote control over the Internet. That, of course, is exactly the kind of attack officials fear could be launched on American targets, often through Chinese-made chips or computer servers.

So far, however, there are no broad authorizations for American forces to engage in cyberwar. The invasion of the Qaeda computer in Iraq several years ago and the covert activity in Iran were each individually authorized by Mr. Bush. When he issued a set of classified presidential orders in January 2008 to organize and improve America’s online defenses, the administration could not agree on how to write the authorization.

A principal architect of that order said the issue had been passed on to the next president, in part because of the complexities of cyberwar operations that, by necessity, would most likely be conducted on both domestic and foreign Internet sites. After the controversy surrounding domestic spying, Mr. Bush’s aides concluded, the Bush White House did not have the credibility or the political capital to deal with the subject.


(Page 2 of 4)

Cyberwar would not be as lethal as atomic war, of course, nor as visibly dramatic. But when Mike McConnell, the former director of national intelligence, briefed Mr. Bush on the threat in May 2007, he argued that if a single large American bank were successfully attacked “it would have an order-of-magnitude greater impact on the global economy” than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mr. McConnell, who left office three months ago, warned last year that “the ability to threaten the U.S. money supply is the equivalent of today’s nuclear weapon.”

The scenarios developed last year for the incoming president by Mr. McConnell and his coordinator for cybersecurity, Melissa Hathaway, went further. They described vulnerabilities including an attack on Wall Street and one intended to bring down the nation’s electric power grid. Most were extrapolations of attacks already tried.

Today, Ms. Hathaway is the primary author of White House cyberstrategy and has been traveling the country talking in vague terms about recent, increasingly bold attacks on the computer networks that keep the country running. Government officials will not discuss the details of a recent attack on the air transportation network, other than to say the attack never directly affected air traffic control systems.

Still, the specter of an attack that could blind air traffic controllers and, perhaps, the military’s aerospace defense networks haunts military and intelligence officials. (The saving grace of the air traffic control system, officials say, is that it is so old that it is not directly connected to the Internet.)

Studies, with code names like Dark Angel, have focused on whether cellphone towers, emergency-service communications and hospital systems could be brought down, to sow chaos.

But the theoretical has, at times, become real.

“We have seen Chinese network operations inside certain of our electricity grids,” said Joel F. Brenner, who oversees counterintelligence operations for Dennis Blair, Mr. McConnell’s successor as national intelligence director, speaking at the University of Texas at Austin this month. “Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do.”

But the broader question — one the administration so far declines to discuss — is whether the best defense against cyberattack is the development of a robust capability to wage cyberwar.

As Mr. Obama’s team quickly discovered, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies both concluded in Mr. Bush’s last years in office that it would not be enough to simply build higher firewalls and better virus detectors or to restrict access to the federal government’s own computers.

“The fortress model simply will not work for cyber,” said one senior military officer who has been deeply engaged in the debate for several years. “Someone will always get in.”

That thinking has led to a debate over whether lessons learned in the nuclear age — from the days of “mutually assured destruction” — apply to cyberwar.

But in cyberwar, it is hard to know where to strike back, or even who the attacker might be. Others have argued for borrowing a page from Mr. Bush’s pre-emption doctrine by going into foreign computers to destroy malicious software before it is unleashed into the world’s digital bloodstream. But that could amount to an act of war, and many argue it is a losing game, because the United States is more dependent on a constantly running Internet system than many of its potential adversaries, and therefore could suffer more damage in a counterattack.

In a report scheduled to be released Wednesday, the National Research Council will argue that although an offensive cybercapability is an important asset for the United States, the nation is lacking a clear strategy, and secrecy surrounding preparations has hindered national debate, according to several people familiar with the report.

The advent of Internet attacks — especially those suspected of being directed by nations, not hackers — has given rise to a new term inside the Pentagon and the National Security Agency: “hybrid warfare.”

It describes a conflict in which attacks through the Internet can be launched as a warning shot — or to pave the way for a traditional attack.


Page 3 of 4)

Early hints of this new kind of warfare emerged in the confrontation between Russia and Estonia in April 2007. Clandestine groups — it was never determined if they had links to the Russian government — commandeered computers around the globe and directed a fire hose of data at Estonia’s banking system and its government Web sites.

The computer screens of Estonians trying to do business with the government online were frozen, if they got anything at all. It was annoying, but by the standards of cyberwar, it was child’s play.

In August 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia, the cyberattacks grew more widespread. Georgians were denied online access to news, cash and air tickets. The Georgian government had to move its Internet activity to servers in Ukraine when its own servers locked up, but the attacks did no permanent damage.

Every few months, it seems, some agency, research group or military contractor runs a war game to assess the United States’ vulnerability. Senior intelligence officials were shocked to discover how easy it was to permanently disable a large power generator. That prompted further studies to determine if attackers could take down a series of generators, bringing whole parts of the country to a halt.

Another war game that the Department of Homeland Security sponsored in March 2008, called Cyber Storm II, envisioned a far larger, coordinated attack against the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It studied a disruption of chemical plants, rail lines, oil and gas pipelines and private computer networks. That study and others like it concluded that when attacks go global, the potential economic repercussions increase exponentially.

To prove the point, Mr. McConnell, then the director of national intelligence, spent much of last summer urging senior government officials to examine the Treasury Department’s scramble to contain the effects of the collapse of Bear Stearns. Markets froze, he said, because “what backs up that money is confidence — an accounting system that is reconcilable.” He began studies of what would happen if the system that clears market trades froze.

“We were halfway through the study,” one senior intelligence official said last month, “and the markets froze of their own accord. And we looked at each other and said, ‘Our market collapse has just given every cyberwarrior out there a playbook.’ ”

Just before Mr. Obama was elected, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy research group in Washington, warned in a report that “America’s failure to protect cyberspace is one of the most urgent national security problems facing the new administration.”

What alarmed the panel was not the capabilities of individual hackers but of nations — China and Russia among them — that experts believe are putting huge resources into the development of cyberweapons. A research company called Team Cymru recently examined “scans” that came across the Internet seeking ways to get inside industrial control systems, and discovered more than 90 percent of them came from computers in China.

Scanning alone does no damage, but it could be the prelude to an attack that scrambles databases or seeks to control computers. But Team Cymru ran into a brick wall as soon as it tried to trace who, exactly, was probing these industrial systems. It could not determine whether military organizations, intelligence agencies, terrorist groups, criminals or inventive teenagers were behind the efforts.

The good news, some government officials argue, is that the Chinese are deterred from doing real damage: Because they hold more than a trillion dollars in United States government debt, they have little interest in freezing up a system they depend on for their own investments.

Then again, some of the scans seemed to originate from 14 other countries, including Taiwan, Russia and, of course, the United States.

Bikini Atoll for an Online Age

Because “cyberwar” contains the word “war,” the Pentagon has argued that it should be the locus of American defensive and offensive strategy — and it is creating the kind of infrastructure that was built around nuclear weapons in the 1940s and ’50s.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is considering proposals to create a Cyber Command — initially as a new headquarters within the Strategic Command, which controls the American nuclear arsenal and assets in space. Right now, the responsibility for computer network security is part of Strategic Command, and military officials there estimate that over the past six months, the government has spent $100 million responding to probes and attacks on military systems. Air Force officials confirm that a large network of computers at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama was temporarily taken off-line within the past eight months when it was put at risk of widespread infection from computer viruses.


Page 4 of 4)

But Mr. Gates has concluded that the military’s cyberwarfare effort requires a sharper focus — and thus a specific command. It would build the defenses for military computers and communications systems and — the part the Pentagon is reluctant to discuss — develop and deploy cyberweapons.

In fact, that effort is already under way — it is part of what the National Cyber Range is all about. The range is a replica of the Internet of the future, and it is being built to be attacked. Competing teams of contractors — including BAE Systems, the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University and Sparta Inc. — are vying to build the Pentagon a system it can use to simulate attacks. The National Security Agency already has a smaller version of a similar system, in Millersville, Md.

In short, the Cyber Range is to the digital age what the Bikini Atoll — the islands the Army vaporized in the 1950s to measure the power of the hydrogen bomb — was to the nuclear age. But once the tests at Bikini Atoll demonstrated to the world the awesome destructive power of the bomb, it became evident to the United States and the Soviet Union — and other nuclear powers — that the risks of a nuclear exchange were simply too high. In the case of cyberattacks, where the results can vary from the annoying to the devastating, there are no such rules.

The Deterrence Conundrum

During the cold war, if a strategic missile had been fired at the United States, screens deep in a mountain in Colorado would have lighted up and American commanders would have some time to decide whether to launch a counterattack. Today, when Pentagon computers are subjected to a barrage, the origin is often a mystery. Absent certainty about the source, it is almost impossible to mount a counterattack.

In the rare case where the preparations for an attack are detected in a foreign computer system, there is continuing debate about whether to embrace the concept of pre-emption, with all of its Bush-era connotations. The questions range from whether an online attack should be mounted on that system to, in an extreme case, blowing those computers up.

Some officials argue that if the United States engaged in such pre-emption — and demonstrated that it was watching the development of hostile cyberweapons — it could begin to deter some attacks. Others believe it will only justify pre-emptive attacks on the United States. “Russia and China have lots of nationalistic hackers,” one senior military officer said. “They seem very, very willing to take action on their own.”

Senior Pentagon and military officials also express deep concern that the laws and understanding of armed conflict have not kept current with the challenges of offensive cyberwarfare.

Over the decades, a number of limits on action have been accepted — if not always practiced. One is the prohibition against assassinating government leaders. Another is avoiding attacks aimed at civilians. Yet in the cyberworld, where the most vulnerable targets are civilian, there are no such rules or understandings. If a military base is attacked, would it be a proportional, legitimate response to bring down the attacker’s power grid if that would also shut down its hospital systems, its air traffic control system or its banking system?

“We don’t have that for cyber yet,” one senior Defense Department official said, “and that’s a little bit dangerous.”
28576  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: April 28, 2009, 07:59:40 AM
"It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good; and that this spirit is more apt to be diminished than prompted, by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it."

--James Madison, Federalist No. 37
28577  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Understanding Swine Flu on: April 28, 2009, 07:19:39 AM

The extent and impact of the swine flu epidemic, which appears to have originated in Mexico and spread rapidly to a dozen countries and parts of the U.S., is still unknown. The epidemiology of such disease outbreaks is rather like a jigsaw puzzle, and we are now at the stage where the picture is intriguing even if we're not sure what we're seeing.

Chad Crowe
 We do know the number of cases in Mexico exceeds 1,995, there have been at least 149 deaths, and there have been 20 cases in five U.S. states (with no fatalities as yet). And that the outbreak causes us to confront complex issues that encompass medicine, epidemiology, virology and even politics and ethics.

These events demonstrate that good surveillance is needed in order to detect early on that a new infectious agent, transmissible between humans, has emerged. Unfortunately, conditions in many countries are conducive to the emergence of such new infectious agents, especially flu viruses, which mutate rapidly and inventively. Intensive animal husbandry procedures that place poultry and swine in close proximity to humans, combined with unsanitary conditions, poverty and grossly inadequate public-health infrastructure of all kinds -- all of which exist in Mexico, as well as much of Asia and Africa -- make it unlikely that a pandemic can be prevented or contained at the source.

In theory, a flu pandemic might be contained in its early stages by performing "ring prophylaxis" -- aggressively using antiflu drugs, vaccines and quarantines to isolate relatively small outbreaks of the new infectious agent. Addressing H5N1 avian flu in 2005, Johns Hopkins University virologist Donald S. Burke said, "it may be possible to identify a human outbreak at the earliest stage, while there are fewer than 100 cases, and deploy international resources -- such as a WHO [World Health Organization] stockpile of antiviral drugs -- to rapidly quench it. This 'tipping point' strategy is highly cost-effective."

But a strategy can be "cost-effective" only if it is feasible. Early ring prophylaxis might work in Minneapolis, Toronto, Singapore or Zurich. In places such as Indonesia, China and Mexico, however, the expertise, coordination, discipline and infrastructure are lacking. Moreover, there is no vaccine available to prevent infection of humans by the new H1N1 swine flu (or by H5N1 avian flu, for that matter).

The rapid and constant movement of goods and people around the world makes early containment virtually impossible. We saw this with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003: Within a matter of weeks, the disease spread rapidly from southern China to infect individuals in some 37 countries, killing about 800.

In the current swine flu outbreak, New York City high-school students apparently brought the virus back from Mexico and infected their classmates. All six cases so far reported in Canada were connected directly or indirectly with travel to Mexico.

Flu viruses can be directly transmitted (via droplets from sneezing or coughing) from pigs to people, and vice versa. These cross-species infections occur most commonly when people are in close proximity to large numbers of pigs, such as in barns, livestock exhibits at fairs, and slaughterhouses. And, of course, flu is transmissible from human to human, either directly or via contaminated surfaces.

Pigs are uniquely susceptible to infection with flu viruses of mammalian and avian origin. This is of concern for a couple of reasons. First, pigs can serve as intermediaries in the transmission of flu viruses from birds to people. And when avian viruses infect pigs, they adapt and become more efficient at infecting mammals -- which makes them more easily transmitted and dangerous to humans.

Second, pigs can serve as hosts in which two (or more) influenza viruses infecting an animal simultaneously can undergo "genetic reassortment," a process in which pieces of viral RNA (the virus's genetic material, similar to DNA) are shuffled and exchanged, creating a new organism. The influenza viruses responsible for the world-wide 1957 and 1968 flu pandemics -- which killed about 70,000 and 34,000, respectively, in the U.S. -- were such viruses, containing genes from both human and avian viruses.

Experience shows that attempts to stem the spread of an outbreak may actually exacerbate it. In 2006, China's chaotic effort to vaccinate 14 billion chickens to control avian flu was compromised by counterfeit vaccines and the absence of protective gear for vaccination teams. This likely spread contagion by vaccinators who carried infected fecal material on their shoes from one farm to another.

The situation in Mexico resembles the scenario we might expect for an outbreak of a major human-to-human pandemic in its earliest stages: a large number of illnesses among social and family contacts of victims; infection of health-care workers and patients in hospitals where the victims are treated; and the rapid spread of confirmed cases from an initial region to other countries as people infected by the virus travel while it is incubating, but before they become seriously ill.

Because they have been stockpiled for use in the event of an avian flu pandemic, large amounts of the antiflu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza are available. However, they must be administered during the first couple of days after symptoms begin to be an effective treatment. They can also prevent the onset of the disease if administered in adequate doses prior to exposure. The danger of using antiflu drugs in poor countries with inadequate public-health facilities such as Mexico is that they may be administered improperly and in suboptimal doses, which would promote viral resistance and intensify an outbreak.

If the swine flu outbreak becomes a pandemic with a high rate of severe complications (such as pneumonia) and death, we will need to be smart, nimble and flexible. That will involve triage on many levels -- including decisions about which patients are likely to benefit from scarce commodities such as drugs and ventilators -- as well as "social engineering" determinations about issues such as mandatory quarantine, the canceling of public events, shutting airports and closing our southern border. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Dr. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is a former flu researcher and was an official at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration from 1977 to 1994.
28578  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Source on: April 28, 2009, 07:09:16 AM
The Source

By Tzvi Freeman
It's not that Abraham and Moses gave the world the ideas of morality and value of life. These ideas were known to Adam and to Noah -- only that with time, humankind had mostly forgotten them.

What these giants brought to the world was a greater idea: That the values essential to humanity's survival can only endure when they are seen as an outcome of monotheism. They must be tied to an underlying reality, and that reality is the knowledge of a Oneness that brings us into being.
28579  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party on: April 28, 2009, 12:05:04 AM

After attending my local Tea Party, I signed up at their website.  This came in today:
28580  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Team Dog Brothers MMA? on: April 27, 2009, 07:37:49 PM
Hope to kick things off in a week or two.  We are looking at Tuesdays, mid-day in Hermosa Beach.

28581  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The Tribe grows on: April 27, 2009, 06:55:46 PM
We are proud to announce the birth of a son, Dougal Fraser Stewart born at 19.58 GMT at 7lb 11oz, to Cat Lynn and C-Point Dog cool cool cool
28582  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico on: April 27, 2009, 06:27:09 PM
Oraciones por la gente de Mexico en su momentos dificiles.
28583  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Pig Flu gathering momentum here in US on: April 27, 2009, 03:48:40 PM

"Swine flu fears prompt global quarantine plans"
By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard, Ap Medical Writer –

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Monday the threat of spreading swine flu infections was a concern but "not a cause for alarm," while customs agents began checking people coming into the United States by land and air. The World Health Organization said there were 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. but no deaths.

Countries across the globe increased their vigilance amid increasing worries about a worldwide pandemic, Obama told a gathering of scientists that his administration's Department of Health and Human Services "has declared a public health emergency as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively."

The acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Richard Besser, said that Americans should be prepared for the problem to become more severe, and that it could involve "possibly deaths."

The quickening pace of developments in the United States in response to some 1,600 swine flu infections in neighboring Mexico — and reports of over 100 deaths — was accompanied by a host of varying responses around the world. The European Union advised against nonessential travel to the U.S. and Mexico, while China, Taiwan and Russia considered quarantines and several Asian countries scrutinized visitors arriving at their airports.

U.S. customs officials began checking people entering U.S. territory. Officers at airports, seaports and border crossings were watching for signs of illness, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling.

If a traveler says something about not feeling well, the person will be questioned about symptoms and, if necessary, referred to a CDC official for additional screening, Easterling said. The customs officials were wearing personal protective gear, such as gloves and masks, he said.

Multiple airlines, including American, United, Continental, US Airways, Mexicana and Air Canada, said they were waiving usual penalties for changing reservations for anyone traveling to, from, or through Mexico, but had not canceled flights.

The CDC's Besser said that while the U.S. hasn't advised against travel to Mexico, it has urged people to take precautions, such as frequent hand-washing while there.

A private school in South Carolina was closed Monday because of fears that young people who recently returned from Mexico might have been infected.

"We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States," Obama said. "I'm getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies, and the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control will be offering regular updates to the American people so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take."

"But one thing is clear: Our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community," the president said. "And this is one more example of why we cannot allow our nation to fall behind."

Besser, the CDC official, described the new U.S. border initiative as "passive screening." He said authorities were "asking people about fever and illness, looking for people who are ill."

The U.S. declared a national health emergency in the midst of uncertainty about whether the mounting sick count meant new infections were increasing or health officials had simply missed something that had been simmering for weeks or months. The declaration allowed Washington to ship roughly 12 million doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile to states in case they are needed.

Besser traveled the morning news-show circuit Monday, telling interviewers the U.S. government was being "extremely aggressive" and saying he wouldn't personally recommend traveling to parts of Mexico where the new virus had taken hold.

Besser said he was not reassured by the fact that so far in the U.S., no one had died from the disease.

"From what we understand in Mexico, I think people need to be ready for the idea that we could see more severe cases in this country and possibly deaths," he said. "That's something people have to be ready for and we're looking for that. So far, thankfully, we haven't seen that. But we're very concerned and that's why we're taking very aggressive measures."

Meanwhile, officials of Newberry Academy in South Carolina said Monday that seniors from the school were in Mexico earlier this month and some had flu-like symptoms when they returned.

State Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley said test results on the students could come back as early as Monday afternoon. The agency has stepped up efforts to investigate all flu cases in South Carolina. There have been no confirmed swine flu cases in the state.

A New York City school where eight cases were confirmed will be closed Monday and Tuesday, and 14 schools in Texas, including a high school where two cases were confirmed, will be closed for at least the next week. Some schools in California and Ohio also were closing after students were found or suspected to have the flu.

In Mexico, the outbreak's center, soldiers handed out 6 million face masks to help stop the spread of the virus that is suspected in up to 103 deaths. Most other countries are reporting only mild cases so far, with most of the sick already recovering.

Spain reported its first confirmed swine flu case on Monday and said another 17 people were suspected of having the disease. The European Union health commissioner advised Europeans to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico and the United States. Also, three New Zealanders recently returned from Mexico are suspected of having it.

"These are the early days," said World Health Organization spokesman Peter Cordingley. "It's quite clear that there is a potential for this virus to become a pandemic and threaten globally." He said it was spreading rapidly in Mexico and the southern United States.

Worldwide, attention focused on travelers.

"It was acquired in Mexico, brought home and spread," Nova Scotia's chief public health officer, Dr. Robert Strang, said of Canada's first confirmed cases.


Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson and Olga R. Rodriguez in Mexico City; Frank Jordans in Geneva; Mike Stobbe in Atlanta; Maria Cheng in London and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.
28584  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Change in plans? on: April 27, 2009, 01:19:46 PM
Second post of the day:


BAGHDAD — The United States and Iraq will begin negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraqi cities, focusing on the troubled northern city of Mosul, according to military officials. Some parts of Baghdad also will still have combat troops.

Some combat troops will remain at Camp Prosperity, which is in the heart of Baghdad.

Everywhere else, the withdrawal of United States combat troops from all Iraqi cities and towns is on schedule to finish by the June 30 deadline, and in many cases even earlier. But because of the level of insurgent activity in Mosul, United States and Iraqi military officials will meet Monday to decide whether to consider the city an exception to the deadline in the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, between the countries.

“Mosul is the one area where you may see U.S. combat forces operating in the city” after June 30, the United States military’s top spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, said in an interview.

In Baghdad, however, there are no plans to close the Camp Victory base complex, consisting of five bases housing more than 20,000 soldiers, many of them combat troops. Although Victory is only a 15 minute drive from the center of Baghdad and sprawls over both sides of the city’s boundary, Iraqi officials say they have agreed to consider it outside the city.

In addition, Forward Operating Base Falcon, which can hold 5,000 combat troops, will also remain after June 30. It is just within Baghdad’s southern city limits. Again, Iraqi officials have classified it as effectively outside Baghdad, so no exception to the agreement needs to be granted, in their view.

Combat troops with the Seventh Field Artillery Regiment will remain in the heart of Baghdad at Camp Prosperity, located near the new American Embassy compound in the Green Zone. In addition to providing a quick reaction force, guarding the embassy and noncombat troops from attack, those soldiers will also continue to support Iraqi troops who are now in nominal charge of maintaining security in the Green Zone.

The details of troop withdrawals and the transfer of facilities are negotiated by the Joint Military Operations Coordinating Committee, led by the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and the Iraqi defense minister, Abdul Qadir al-Obaidi. At its meeting on Monday, the committee will discuss a host of transfer issues, as well as whether to grant any exceptions to the June 30 deadline, and it will make recommendations to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a final decision.

The spokesman for the Iraqi military, Maj. Gen. Muhammad al-Askari, who is also the secretary to the committee’s Iraqi contingent, said also that a decision on Mosul would be made at Monday’s meeting, which he called “critical.”

“I personally think even in Mosul there will be no American forces in the city, but that’s a decision for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi prime minister,” General Askari said.

General Perkins also expressed specific concerns about Mosul, noting how important the city is to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown group that American intelligence officials say is led by foreigners.

“For Al Qaeda to win, they have to take Baghdad. To survive they have to hold on to Mosul,” he said. “Mosul is sort of their last area where they have some maybe at least passive support.”

In Baghdad, whether combat troops remain in the city may well be a function of how they are defined, as well as where the city limits lie.

The Camp Victory complex includes Camps Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer, plus the prison known as Camp Cropper, where so-called high-value prisoners are kept. It also includes the military side of Baghdad International Airport.

General Askari emphatically said that the June 30 provision did not apply to the Camp Victory complex because it was effectively outside the city. General Askari also said having American combat troops at Camp Prosperity would not violate the terms of the agreement, because they are there for force protection and to guard the nearby embassy.

“If there is a small group to stay in that camp to guard the American Embassy, that’s no problem,” he said. “The meaning of the SOFA is that their vehicles cannot go in the streets of Baghdad and interfere with our job.”

The Green Zone was handed over to Iraqi control Jan. 1, when the agreement went into effect. In addition to the United States-Iraqi patrols, most of the security for the Green Zone’s many checkpoints and heavily guarded entry points is still done by the same private contractors who did it prior to Jan. 1.

“What you’re seeing is not a change in the numbers, it’s a doctrine change,” said First Sgt. David Moore, a New Jersey National Guardsman with the Joint Area Support Group, which runs the Green Zone. “You’re still going to have fighters. Every U.S. soldier is trained to fight.”

One of the Green Zone’s biggest bases, Forward Operating Base Freedom, was handed back to Iraqi control on April 1, at least most of it. The United States military kept the swimming pool.


age 2 of 2)

In addition to troops, Camp Prosperity will house many American contractors and other personnel. Next door, at Camp Union III, the military is in the process of setting up housing for several thousand soldiers, trainers and advisers working for the Multi-National Security Transition Command, which now has its headquarters elsewhere in the Green Zone.

While those principal Baghdad bases will remain, the United States military has been rapidly erasing its footprint everywhere else in Baghdad. The so-called troop surge added 77 small bases, known as combat outposts, patrol bases and joint security stations, spread throughout the city’s neighborhoods to get United States troops closer to the people. At the height, in 2007, there were nearly 100 such bases. All of them will have been turned over to the Iraqis by June 30, and many already have been, General Perkins said. He added that in many cases the Iraqis would choose not to use them for their own troops.

Nationwide, the American military presence is also changing quickly as June 30 approaches. A survey of northern and central Iraqi provinces by New York Times reporters confirmed that American troops had already withdrawn from all of the bases situated in the centers of major towns or cities, with the exception of Mosul.

General Perkins said that American combat forces had already been drawing down steadily in Iraq’s cities, replaced by Iraqi troops. By September 2008, the number of American troops in Iraq had dropped by about 20 percent from the peak during the so-called troop surge in 2007, he said. An additional 8,000 left by the end of January.

As of April 17, there were 137,934 American service members in Iraq, according to Lt. Col. Amy Hannah, a public affairs officer. An additional 16,000 will go by September, General Perkins said.

“We don’t want to lose the gains we’ve had so far,” he said. “We don’t want to rush to failure here. This isn’t just, we’re going home. We’re just moving.”

“We don’t mean you won’t have soldiers trained in combat skills in the city,” General Perkins said. Trainers and advisers can stay, under the terms of the agreement, and combat troops can re-enter on operations if invited by the Iraqis, he said.

General Perkins gave the example of sending the 82nd Airborne Division to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “The 82nd are combat troops, but that was not a combat mission,” he said.
28585  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq brings this to our attention on: April 27, 2009, 12:50:22 PM
Iraqi leader: U.S. raid that killed 2 breached accord

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is accusing U.S. troops of violating the security agreement between the two countries after a raid in Wasit province Sunday that left two people dead, Iraqi State TV reported.
U.S. troops raided a house in the city of Kut and arrested six suspected members of so-called "special groups" -- groups that are funded, armed and trained by Iran, according to the U.S. military.
During the operation, which the military said was "fully coordinated and approved by the Iraqi government," a man and a woman were killed by U.S. troops, the military said.
Al-Maliki's accusation that the United States violated the security pact is the first time the Iraqi government has claimed a breach in the deal that governs the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. It was reached last November and implemented in January.
Under the agreement, the U.S. military cannot carry out raids without Iraqi permission and warrants. And Iraq has primary jurisdiction over members of the U.S. military who commit "grave premeditated felonies" outside of certain geographical boundaries and when they are off duty.
Al-Maliki has asked Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to release the suspects detained in the raid, and to hand over "those who committed the crime" -- or U.S. troops -- to the Iraqi judiciary, state television reported.
The U.S. military statement said when troops approached the residence, "an individual with a weapon came out of the home. Forces assessed him to be hostile, and they engaged the man, killing him," the U.S. military statement said.
A woman who "moved into the line of fire" was also killed in the shooting, the U.S. military said.
An Interior Ministry official told CNN the raid was on the home of a tribal leader, and said U.S. forces killed the leader's wife and brother and detained a number of family members.
Speaking on Iraqi State TV, the deputy governor of Wasit province called the killings "cold-blooded murder."
The U.S. military said there was a warrant issued for the arrest of the targeted individual -- "a network financier, who is also responsible for smuggling weapons into the country to support JAM Special Groups and Promise Day Brigade," a U.S. military statement said.

Iraqi State TV reported that Iraq's defense ministry ordered the arrest of two Iraqi commanders in Kut who apparently allowed the U.S. military to carry out the raid.
28586  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Reagan on: April 27, 2009, 12:44:53 PM
"We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression -- to preserve freedom and peace. Since the dawn of the atomic age, we've sought to reduce the risk of war by maintaining a strong deterrent and by seeking genuine arms control. 'Deterrence' means simply this: making sure any adversary who thinks about attacking the United States, or our allies, or our vital interests, concludes that the risks to him outweigh any potential gains. Once he understands that, he won't attack. We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression." --Ronald Reagan
28587  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters) on: April 27, 2009, 12:42:00 PM
"In response to an unprecedented expansion of federal power, citizens have held hundreds of 'tea party' rallies around the country, and various states are considering 'sovereignty resolutions' invoking the Constitution's Ninth and Tenth Amendments. For example, Michigan's proposal urges 'the federal government to halt its practice of imposing mandates upon the states for purposes not enumerated by the Constitution of the United States.' While well-intentioned, such symbolic resolutions are not likely to have the slightest impact on the federal courts, which long ago adopted a virtually unlimited construction of Congressional power. But state legislatures have a real power under the Constitution by which to resist the growth of federal power: They can petition Congress for a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. An amendments convention is feared because its scope cannot be limited in advance. The convention convened by Congress to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation produced instead the entirely different Constitution under which we now live. Yet it is precisely the fear of a runaway convention that states can exploit to bring Congress to heel. ...[A] Federalism Amendment would provide tea-party enthusiasts and other concerned Americans with a concrete and practical proposal by which we can restore our lost Constitution."

--Georgetown University professor of constitutional law Randy Barnett

"It really is difficult to imagine how people who have entirely given up managing their own affairs could make a wise choice of those who are to do that for them. One should never expect a liberal, energetic, and wise government to originate in the votes of a people of servants." --French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)


"One of the most important events of our lifetimes may have just transpired. A federal agency has decided that it has the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe. Nominally, the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement ... only applies to new-car emissions. But pretty much everyone agrees that the ruling opens the door to regulating, well, everything. According to the EPA, greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide -- the gas you exhale -- as well as methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. It is literally impossible to imagine a significant economic or human activity that does not involve the production of one of these gases. Don't think just of the gas and electricity bills. Cow flatulence is a serious concern of the EPA's already. What next? ... Whether or not global warming is a crisis that warrants immediate, drastic action (I don't think it does), and whether or not such wholesale measures would be an economic calamity (they would be), the EPA's decision should be disturbing to people who believe in democratic, constitutional government. ...[T]he EPA has launched its power grab over all that burns, breathes, burps, flies, drives and passes gas."

--National Review editor Jonah Goldberg

28588  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / VDH on: April 27, 2009, 12:05:37 PM
Obama’s Foreign Policy Disasters

By Jamie Glazov | 4/27/2009

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

FP: Victor Davis Hanson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
What report card would you give the Obama administration in terms of foreign policy right now? Why?

Hanson: An Incomplete that at the present rate will turn into a D/F if he is not careful.

Obama has confused a number of issues: intractable problems like North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Islamic terrorism, etc. both pre- and post-dated George Bush; they present only bad and worse choices, and are predicated on different agendas of authoritarians that hinge on whether the United States can or cannot deter their regional megalomaniac dreams.

In the long-term, Obama's nontraditional heritage and charisma make little difference; on the other hand, serial apologies, "Bush did it", the "reset button" ad nauseam, trumpeting the "I was only (fill in the blank) when that happened" etc. have a brief shelf life, and achieve only a transitory buzz, similar to a Bono-celebrity tour.

He needs to cut out the messianic style, and realize that millions of brave souls, who invest at great danger in democracy, freedom, open markets, etc. around the world, count on an American President for moral support and guidance against a bullying Russia, Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Chavez's thugs, Castro jailers, et al.

When they see Obama's moral equivalence, they realize they are on their own and must cut their own deals to survive--understanding that multicultural trendiness is now a cynical cover for moral laxity and 'can't we all get along?' appeasement. So by all means smile and shake hands, but don't confuse that for tough diplomacy or protecting American global interests. Increasing the Bush billion-dollar deficit to $1.7, with another $9 trillion in additional aggregate debt will very soon curtail American options abroad, and our enemies are now waiting for opportune moments for exploitation.

FP: What danger does Putin’s regime pose to the West? What is your recommendation in terms of U.S. policy toward Putin? What mistakes has the new administration made so far in that department? For instance, in terms of the reset button fiasco, it means that the Obama team doesn’t even have a sound translator on hand. This is real grounds for worry, yes?

Hanson: We have three or four broad aims at this juncture: one, to ensure that former Soviet republics, which on their free accord sought integration with the West -- the Baltic Republics, Ukraine, Georgia, etc. -- are not forced back into a Russian Empire against their will; that Eastern European states remain autonomous and free to protect themselves from Iranian nuclear blackmail should they wish anti-ballistic missile protection; that Russia understands that there will be consequences if its technology ensures an Iranian bomb; and that Europe has assurances of support should Russia engage in energy blackmail—or worse.

Putin et al. know that their brinksmanship agendas were not predicated on Bush's smoke 'em out lingo; so to suggest Bush's tough talk, even if gratuitous in the first team, created crises where they otherwise did not exist, is absurd. Ms. Clinton—completely marginalized so far by Obama's obsessive need to bask in the pop-star limelight abroad—should know that. She has competent advisors; I cannot believe they really fall for the campaign mode nonsense that their sensitivity and diplomatic adroitness ipsis factis will translate into either friendship or better Russian behavior.

FP: The Obama administration apparently is set to give 900 million to Hamas. In other words, they want to give money to the Palestinian Nazi Party. What do you make of this? What must Obama do toward Hamas, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, etc? Do you think he will do it and/or is he even capable or cognizant of what is actually going on and what is at stake?

Hanson: I am very worried. Israel I think is alone now. The failed Freeman appointment, the historically puerile al-Arabiya interview (cf. e.g., Obama's praise of the good ole days, some thirty years ago, when Sadat was murdered, Khomeini took over, Saddam was flexing his muscles, Americans were routinely murdered, etc.) the Samantha Power appointment, the 'outreach' to Syria, the video for Iran, the Gaza/Hamas rebuilding, the tough behind-the-scenes lectures to Israel—all this bodes ill.

Does Team Obama really believe that a murderous autocratic cabal like Hamas is merely different from a democratic constitutional republic like Israel? At best we have naiveté at the helm (Obama thinks he can mesmerize misunderstood killers), at worst, a genuine feeling that Israel is an aggressive, Western imperialist power exploiting indigenous people of color who simply wish to be free--in other words, the Rev. Wright-Bill Ayers-Rashid Khalidi view of the Middle East.

FP: What did you make of Obama’s Chavez meeting and his new disposition toward Latin America? Perhaps it is time to try something new?

Hanson: Not really. We stand for open markets, free trade, personal freedom, human rights, and consensual government. Others like Castro, Morales, Chavez, and Ortega simply don't. Why would anyone any more believe these thugs, who justify their lust for power by the age-old mantra of "we suffer for the people", as they try to engineer an equality of result--through any means necessary, with all power and prestige going to themselves?

They will say anything to blame a successful U.S., to rationalize the self-inflicted misery and failure of Latin America. Shaking Chavez's hand is a minor lapse if that; but in aggregate, the continuance of the glad-handing, trashing the US, showcasing his racial solidarity, listening to Ortega's rant, photo-oping with thugs--all that does two things abroad: first, it undercuts brave democrats in places like Columbia and elsewhere in Central America; two, it sends a message to fence-sitters in more important states like Peru, Brazil, Chile, etc. that authoritarian socialism, not free-market democracy, is now the wave of the future, and so they better get with the new neighborhood–or else!

FP: What do you think is the greatest threat right now facing the U.S. , Israel and the West?

Hanson: We have three: one, we have mortgaged our options to the Chinese and other debt holders. By going into $20 trillion in aggregate debt we will cut our military, pull back, dress it up with utopian rhetoric, and cede huge areas of the globe over to regional autocracies.

Second, some are already prepping for the Iranian catastrophe to come, by talking of "containing" Iran, as if we have given up on embargoing, blockading, and other more severe 11th hour measures to stop a Khomeinist nuke. Once that happens the Arab Sunni states will rush to get a bomb, Israel will be periodically blackmailed as Hamas, Hezbollah, etc will be given Iranian nuclear assurance (acting deranged with your finger on the trigger is smart in nuclear poker). Add in al Qaeda that thinks there are now new rules in Washington that can be tested--and you have a recipe for a dangerous world. We seem to think that not being attacked since 9/11 was some sort of natural occurrence, or perhaps yet another government ensured entitlement.

FP: Victor Hanson, thank you for joining us in these tough times.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at
28589  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / part three on: April 27, 2009, 11:56:31 AM
part three

Not all the Khyber agency militants are ideologically driven jihadists like Baitullah Mehsud of the TTP and Mullah Fazlullah of the TNSM. Some are organized-crime elements who lack religious training and have long been engaged in smuggling operations. When the Pakistani military entered the region to crack down on the insurgency, these criminal groups saw their illegal activities disrupted. To continue to earn a livelihood, many of these criminal elements were reborn as militants under the veil of jihad.

Trucks remain at a standstill on a road after Islamic militants destroyed a bridge in Khyber district on Feb. 3, 2009LI commander Bagh (the alleged former convoy driver) is uneducated overall, and never received any kind of formal religious education. He became the leader of LI two years ago when he succeeded Deobandi cleric Mufti Munir Shakir. Bagh stays clear of targeting Pakistani military forces and says his objective is to clean up the area’s criminal elements and, like his counterparts in other parts of the Pashtun region, impose a Talibanesque interpretation of religious law. This tendency on the part of organized-crime elements in Pakistan to jump on the jihad bandwagon actually runs the risk of weakening the insurgency. Because criminal groups are not ideologically driven, it is easier for Pakistani forces and U.S. intelligence operatives to bribe them away from the insurgency.

The Southern Route
The southern route into Afghanistan is the shorter of the two U.S.-NATO supply routes. The entire route traverses the 813-kilometer-long national highway N-25, running north from the port of Karachi through Sindh and northwest into Balochistan before crossing into southern Afghanistan at the Chaman border crossing.

About 25 to 30 percent of the supplies going to U.S.-NATO forces operating in southern Afghanistan travel along this route. Though most of the southern route through Pakistan is relatively secure, the security risks rise dramatically once the trucks cross into Afghanistan on highway A-75, which runs through the heart of Taliban country in Kandahar province and surrounding areas.

Once out of Karachi, the route through Sindh is secure. Problems arise once the trucks hit Balochistan province, a resource-rich region where ethnic Baloch separatists have waged an insurgency for decades against Punjabi rule. The Baloch insurgency is directed against the Pakistani state and is led by three main groups: the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the People’s Liberation Army. The BLA is the most active of the three and focuses its attacks on Pakistani police and military personnel, natural gas pipelines and civil servants. The Pakistani military deals with the Baloch rebels with an iron fist, but the Baloch insurgency has been a long and insoluble one. (Balochistan enjoyed autonomy under the British, and when Pakistan was created it forcibly took over the province; successive Pakistani regimes have mishandled the issue.)

Once inside Balochistan, the supply route runs first into the major industrial town of Hub (also known as Hub Chowki) and then into the Baloch capital of Quetta. These are areas that have witnessed a number of Baloch separatist attacks in recent years, including the December 2004 bombing of a Pakistani military truck in Quetta (claimed by the BLA), the killing of three Chinese engineers working at Gwadar Port in May of the same year and, more recently, the abduction of the head of the U.N. refugee agency (an American citizen) in February 2009 from Quetta. Although the Baloch insurgency has been relatively calm over the past year, unrest reignited in the province in early April after the bodies of three top Baloch rebel leaders were discovered in the Turbat area near the Iranian border. The Baloch separatist groups claim that the rebel leaders died at the hands of Pakistani security forces.

The Baloch rebels have no direct quarrel with the United States or NATO member states and are far more interested in attacking Pakistani targets. But they have struck foreign interests before in Balochistan to pressure Islamabad in negotiations. Baloch rebels also demonstrated the ability to strike Western targets in Karachi when they bombed a KFC fast-food restaurant in November 2005. Although the separatists have yet to show any interest in attacking U.S.-NATO convoys running through the region, future attacks cannot be ruled out.

The main threat along this route comes from Islamist militants who are active in the final 150-kilometer stretch of the road between the Quetta region and the Chaman border crossing. This section of highway N-25 runs through what is known as the Pashtun corridor in northwest Balochistan, bordering South Waziristan agency on the southern tip of the FATA.

Although the supply route traversing this region has seen very few attacks, the situation could easily change. A number of jihadists who have sought sanctuary from the firefights farther north as well as Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar and his Quetta Shura (or leadership council) are believed to be hiding in the Quetta area. The Pashtun corridor also is the stronghold of Pakistan’s largest Islamist party, the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. In addition, the al Qaeda-linked anti-Shiite group LeJ has been engaged in sectarian and other attacks in the region. Northwestern Balochistan also is a key launchpad for Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan and is the natural extension of Pakistani Taliban activity in the tribal belt. Although the Baloch separatists are firmly secular in their views, they have been energized by the rise of Islamist groups fighting the same enemy: the Pakistani state.

A Worrisome Outlook
The developing U.S. military strategy for Afghanistan suffers from a number of strategic flaws. Chief among them is the fact — and there is no getting around it — that Pakistan serves as the primary supply line for both the Western forces and the jihadist forces fighting each other in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s balancing act between the United States and its former Islamist militant proxies is becoming untenable as many of those proxies turn against the Pakistani state. And as stability deteriorates in Pakistan, the less reliable the landscape is for facilitating the overland shipment of military supplies into Afghanistan. The Russians, meanwhile, are not exactly eager to make life easier for the United States in Afghanistan by cooperating in any meaningful way on alternate supply routes through Central Asia.

Jihadist forces in Pakistan’s northwest have already picked up on the idea that the long U.S.-NATO supply route through northern Pakistan makes a strategic and vulnerable target in their campaign against the West. Attacks on supply convoys have thus far been concentrated in the volatile tribal badlands along the northwest frontier with Afghanistan. But the Pakistani Taliban are growing bolder by the day and are publicly announcing their intent to spread beyond the Pashtun areas and into the Pakistani core of Punjab. The Pakistani government and military, meanwhile, are strategically stymied. They cannot follow U.S. orders and turn every Pashtun into an enemy, and they cannot afford to see their country crushed under the weight of the jihadists. As a result, the jihadists gain strength while the writ of the Pakistani state erodes.

But the jihadists are not the only ones that CENTCOM should be worrying about as it analyzes its logistical challenges in Pakistan. Islamist sympathizers in Pakistan’s security apparatus and organized crime elements can take — and have taken — advantage of the shoddy security infrastructure in place to transport U.S.-NATO supplies through the country. In addition, there are secular political forces in play — from the MQM in Karachi to the Baloch rebels in Quetta — that could tip the balance in areas now considered relatively safe for transporting supplies to Afghanistan.

The United States is becoming increasing reliant on Pakistan, just as Pakistan is becoming increasingly unreliable. There are no quick fixes to the problem, but the first step in addressing it is to understand the wide array of threats currently engulfing the Pakistani state.
28590  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: April 27, 2009, 11:55:26 AM

The Northern Route
The northern route through Pakistan, used for transporting the bulk of U.S.-NATO overland supplies to Afghanistan, travels through four provinces — Sindh, Punjab, the NWFP and the tribal badlands of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — before it snakes its way through the Khyber Pass to reach the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan.

Route Variations
Convoys generally travel on main north-south national highway N-5 or a combination of N-5 and N-55 from Karachi to Torkham, a distance that can range from approximately 1,325 kilometers to 1,820 kilometers. Most transporters say they prefer the combination of N-5 and N-55, which allows them to cut across Sindh by switching from N-5 to N-65 near Sukkur and then jumping onto N-55 at Shikarpur before heading into Punjab. A small percentage of trucks (some 5 percent) use a combination of national highways and what are called “motorways,” essentially expressways that allow for better security, have no traffic lights and avoid urban centers. These motorways also have fewer chokepoints and thus fewer opportunities for militant ambushes, but they also lack rest stops, which is why most convoys travel on the national highways.

Pakistani transporters tell STRATFOR that they typically decide on a day-to-day basis whether to go the longer N-5 route or the shorter N-55 route. If they feel the security situation is bad enough, they are far more likely to take the longer N-5 route to Peshawar, which reduces their risk because it goes through less volatile areas — essentially, less of the NWFP. With the Taliban rapidly taking over territory in the NWFP, trucks are likely to rely more heavily on N-5.

Once the trucks leave Karachi, the stretch of road through Sindh province is the safest along the entire northern route. Most of Sindh, especially the rural areas, form the core support base of the secular Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which controls both the federal and the provincial governments. Outside of Karachi, there is virtually no serious militant Islamist presence in the province. However, small pockets of jihadists do pop up from time to time. In 2004, a top Pakistani militant leader, Amjad Farooqi of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), who worked closely with al Qaeda Prime operational commander Abu Faraj al-Libi and was responsible for assassination attempts on Musharraf, was killed in a shootout with police in the town of Nawabshah in central Sindh.

Once out of Sindh and into Punjab province, the northern supply route enters the core of Pakistan, the political, industrial and agricultural heartland of the country where some 60 percent of the population is concentrated. The province is also the mainstay of the country’s powerful military establishment, with six of the army’s nine corps are headquartered in the key urban areas of Rawalpindi, Mangla, Lahore, Gujranwala, Bahawalpur and Multan.

This province has not yet witnessed jihadist attacks targeting the U.S.-NATO supply chain, but the jihadist threat in Punjab is slowly rising. Major jihadist figures have found a save haven in the province, evidenced by the fact that several top al Qaeda leaders, including the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were captured in various parts of Punjab, including Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Gujarat. Punjab also has witnessed a number of high-profile jihadist attacks in major cities, including suicide bombings in the capital, Islamabad, and its twin city Rawalpindi (where the military is headquartered) as well as manpower-heavy armed assaults in the provincial capital, Lahore, where teams of gunmen have assaulted both moving and stationary targets. The attacks have mostly targeted Pakistani security installations and have been conducted mainly by Pashtun jihadists in conjunction with Punjabi jihadist allies. The bulk of jihadist activity in the province takes place in the northern part of Punjab, closer to the NWFP border, where suicide bombings have been concentrated.

Pakistani soldiers guard trucks carrying NATO supplies on a street in the Khyber tribal region near the Afghan border on Jan. 1The Punjabi jihadist phenomenon was born in the 1980s, when the military regime of Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq aggressively pursued a policy of Islamization to secure power and weaken his principal opponent, the PPP, whose government he had overthrown to come to power. It was during the Zia years that Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, was heavily involved in backing Islamist militias to fight the Marxist government and its allied Soviet troops Afghanistan, where many of the Punjab-based groups joined the Pashtun groups and had their first taste of battle. Later in the 1990s, many of these Punjabi groups, who followed an extremist Deobandi interpretation of Sunni Islam, were used by the security establishment to support the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and to aid the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir. Sectarian groups like Sipah Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) were also developed to help the regime keep the Shiite minority in Pakistan contained.

Pakistan’s Afghan and Kashmiri jihadist project suffered a major setback with the 9/11 attacks against the United States and the American response. Caught between contradictory objectives — the need to align itself with the United States and to preserve its Islamist militant assets — Pakistan eventually lost control of many of its former Islamist militant assets, who then started teaming up with al Qaeda-led transnational jihadists in the region.

Most alarming for Islamabad is the fact that these groups are now striking at the core of Pakistan in places like Lahore, where brazen assaults were launched on March 3 against a bus carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team and on March 30 against a police academy. These attacks illustrated this trend of Pakistan’s militant proxies turning against their erstwhile patron — first in the Pashtun areas and now in Punjab. The Lahore attacks also both involved multi-man assault teams, a sign that the jihadists are able to use a large number of Islamist recruits from the province itself.

Though Pakistan came under massive pressure to crack down on these groups in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have considerable influence in the Lahore region. Similarly, LeJ and JeM have growing pockets of support in various parts of Punjab, particularly in southern Seraiki-speaking districts such as Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan. One of the major causes of rising support for such jihadist groups in Punjab stems from a incident in 2007, when a clerical family hailing from the border region between Punjab and Balochistan led an uprising at Islamabad’s Red Mosque. The subsequent security operation to regain control of the mosque from the militants turned many locals against the military and into the arms of the Islamists.

While the major urban areas of Punjab have not been spared by jihadists, most jihadist activity in the province is concentrated closer to the provincial border with the NWFP. The route that travels along N-5 must pass through Wah, Kamra and Attock, the three main towns of northwestern Punjab. Each of these towns has been rocked by suicide attacks. Attock was the scene of a July 2004 assassination attempt against former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Kamra, home of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, an aircraft servicing and manufacturing facility, was the scene of a December 2007 suicide attack targeting a school bus carrying children of air force personnel. In August 2008 in Wah, a pair of suicide bombers struck Pakistan’s main ordnance factory.

There are indications that such jihadist activity could creep further south into the heart of Punjab and potentially target the U.S.-NATO supply chain. The Taliban are growing bolder by the day now that they have made significant territorial gains in the greater Swat region in the NWFP further north. As the security situation in the NWFP and FATA deteriorates, U.S.-NATO supply depots and terminals are being moved further south to Punjab where they will be safer, or so it is thought. However, locals in the area are already protesting the relocation of these terminals because they know that they will run a greater chance of becoming Taliban targets the more closely attached they are to the U.S.-NATO supply chain. These people have good reason to be nervous. The jihadists are now openly declaring grander intentions of spreading beyond the Pashtun-dominated periphery into Punjab, Pakistan’s core. Though it would take some time to achieve this, these jihadist groups would have a strategic interest in carrying out attacks against Western supply lines in Punjab that could demonstrate the jihadist reach, aggravate already intense anti-U.S. sentiment and hamper U.S.-NATO logistics for the war in Afghanistan.

The last leg of the northern supply line runs through the NWFP and the tribal badlands of the FATA. This is by far the most dangerous portion along the route and where Taliban activity is already reaching a crescendo.

Once in the NWFP the route goes through the district of Nowshehra before it reaches the provincial capital Peshawar and begins to hug Taliban territory. A variety of Taliban groups based in the FATA, many of whom are part of the TTP umbrella organization and/or the Mujahideen Shura Council, have taken over several districts in western NWFP and are now on Peshawar’s doorstep. There have been several attacks in Peshawar and further north in Charsaddah, where former Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao twice escaped assassination at the hands of suicide bombers, and east in Nowshehra, where an army base was targeted.

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers inspect seized ammunition on Jan. 2Though suicide attacks have occurred in these areas, the Pashtun jihadists are not in control of the territory in the NWFP that lies east of Peshawar. All attacks on the northern route have taken place to the west of Peshawar, on the stretch of N-5 between Peshawar and the Torkham border crossing, a distance of nearly 60 kilometers where jihadist activity is intensifying.

Once the transporters reach Peshawar, they hit what is called the “ring road” area, where 15 to 20 bus terminals are located for containers coming from Karachi to stop and then head toward Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. The area where the bus terminals are situated is under the jurisdiction of Peshawar district, a settled and relatively calm area. But when the trucks travel east on the Peshawar-Torkham road toward Afghanistan, they enter a critical danger zone. Some Pakistani truckers have refused to drive this stretch between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass for fear of being attacked. Militants destroyed a key bridge in February on the Peshawar-Torkham road, where there are a dozen of other bridges that can be targeted in future attacks. The most recent and daring attack on highway N-5 between Peshawar and Torkham was the March 27 suicide bombing of a mosque during Friday prayers that killed dozens of local political and security officials.

For those convoys that make it out of the Peshawar terminal-depot hub, the next major stop is the Khyber Pass leading into Khyber agency, where the route travels along N-5 through Jamrud, Landikotal and Michni Post and then reaches the border with Afghanistan. The border area between Peshawar district and Khyber agency is called the Karkhano Market, which is essentially a massive black market for stolen goods run by smugglers, drug dealers and other organized-crime elements. Here one can find high quality merchandise at cheap prices, including stolen goods that were meant for U.S. and NATO forces. STRATFOR sources claim they have seen U.S.-NATO military uniforms and laptops going for $100 in the market.

Khyber agency (the most developed agency in the tribal belt) has been the scene of high-profile abductions, destroyed bridges and attacks against local political and security officials. Considering the frequency of the attacks, it appears that the militants can strike at the supply chain with impunity, and with likely encouragement from Pakistani security forces. This area is inhabited by four tribes — the Afridi, Shinwari, Mullagori and Shimani. But as is the case in other agencies of the FATA, the mullahs and militia commanders have usurped the tribal elders in Khyber agency. As many as three different Taliban groups in this area are battling Pakistani forces as well as each other.

Militiamen of the most active Taliban faction in Khyber agency, Mangal Bagh’s LI, heavily patrol the Bara area and have blown up several shrines, abducted local Christians and fought gunbattles with police. LI is not part of Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP umbrella group but maintains significant influence among the tribal maliks. Mehsud is allied with another faction called the Hakimullah Group, which rivals a third faction called Amr bil Maarouf wa Nahi Anil Munkar (“Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice”), whose leader, Haji Namdaar, was killed by Hakimullah militiamen.
28591  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Long Strat piece on: April 27, 2009, 11:54:46 AM
U.S.-NATO: Facing the Reality of Risk in Pakistan
Stratfor Today » April 27, 2009 | 1119 GMT
Pakistan is the primary channel through which U.S. and NATO supplies travel to support the war effort in Afghanistan. The reason for this is quite simple: Pakistan offers the shortest and most logistically viable overland supply routes for Western forces operating in landlocked Afghanistan. Once Pakistan found itself in the throes of an intensifying insurgency mid-2007, however, U.S. military strategists had to seriously consider whether the United States would be able to rely on Pakistan to keep these supply lines open, especially when military plans called for increasing the number of troops in theater.

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In late 2008, as Pakistan continued its downward spiral, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. David Petraeus began touring Central Asian capitals in an attempt to stitch together supplemental supply lines into northern Afghanistan. Soon enough, Washington learned that it was fighting an uphill battle in trying to negotiate in Russian-dominated Central Asia without first reaching a broader understanding with Moscow. With U.S.-Russian negotiations now in flux and the so-called “northern distribution network” frozen, the United States has little choice but to face the reality in Pakistan.

This reality is rooted in the Pakistani Taliban’s desire to spread south beyond the Pashtun-dominated northwest tribal badlands (where attacks against the U.S.-NATO supply lines are already intensifying) into the Pakistani core in Punjab province. Punjab is Pakistan’s industrial heartland and home to more than half of the entire Pakistani population. If the Taliban manage to establish a foothold in Punjab, then the idea of a collapsing Pakistani state would actually become a realistic scenario. The key to preventing such a scenario is keeping the Pakistani military, the country’s most powerful institution, intact. However, splits within the military over how to handle the insurgency while preserving ties with militant proxies are threatening the military’s cohesion. Moreover, the threats to the supply lines go even further south than Punjab. The port of Karachi in Sindh province, where U.S.-NATO supplies are offloaded from ships, could be destabilized if the Taliban provoke local political forces.

In league with their jihadist brethren across the border in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban and their local affiliates are just as busy planning their next steps in the insurgency as the United States is in planning its counterinsurgency strategy. Afghanistan is a country that is not kind to outsiders, and the overwhelming opinion of the jihadist forces battling Western, Pakistani and Afghan troops in the region is that this is a war that can be won through the power of exhaustion. Key to this strategy will be an attempt to make the position of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan untenable by increasing risk to their supply lines in Pakistan.

(click image to enlarge)

A Dearth of Security Options
As the pre-eminent global maritime power, the United States is able to sustain military operations far beyond its coastlines. Afghanistan, however, is a landlocked country whose inaccessibility prevents the U.S. military from utilizing its naval prowess. Instead, the United States and NATO must bring in troops, munitions and militarily sensitive materiel directly by air and rely on long, overland supply routes through Pakistan for non-lethal supplies such as food, building materials and fuel (most of which is refined in Pakistan). This logistical challenge is compounded by the fact that the overland supply routes run through a country that is trying to battle its own jihadist insurgency.

The deteriorating security situation in Pakistan now requires an effective force to protect the supply convoys. Though sending a couple of U.S.-NATO brigades into Pakistan would provide first-rate security for these convoys, such an option would be political dynamite in U.S.-Pakistani relations. Pakistan already has an extremely low tolerance for CIA activity and U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle attacks on its soil. The sight of Western forces operating openly in the country would be a red line that Islamabad simply could not cross. Even if this were an option, U.S.-NATO forces are already stretched to the limit in Afghanistan and there are no troops to spare to send into Pakistan — nor is there the desire on the part of the United States or NATO to insert their troops into such a dicey security situation.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David PetraeusEnlisting the Pakistani military would be another option, but the Pentagon has thus far resisted allowing the Pakistani military to take direct charge of protecting and transporting U.S.-NATO supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan. The reasons for this are unclear, but they likely can be attributed (at least in part) to U.S. distrust for the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus, which is heavily infiltrated by Islamist sympathizers who retain links to their militant Islamist proxies.

Instead, CENTCOM’s logistics team has given the security responsibility to private Pakistani security contractors. This is not unusual in recent U.S. military campaigns, which have come to rely on private contractors for many logistical and security functions, including local firms in countries linked to the military supply chain. In Pakistan, such contractors provide security escorts to Pakistani truck drivers who transport supplies from the port of Karachi through Pakistan via a northern route and a southern route into Afghanistan, where the supplies are then delivered to key logistical hubs. While this approach provided sufficient security in the early years of the Afghan campaign, it has recently become an issue because of increasingly aggressive attacks by Taliban and other militants in Pakistan.

STRATFOR is told that many within the Pakistani military have long resented the fact that Washington has not entrusted them with the responsibility to secure the routes. The reasons behind the Pakistani military’s complaints are twofold. First, the military feels that its authority is being undermined by the dealings between the U.S. military and local contractors. Even beyond these deals, the Pakistani military consistently expresses its frustration when it is not the chief interlocutor with the United States in Pakistan, and has done so as much when U.S. officials have met with local leaders in the country and with the civilian government in Islamabad.

Second, there is a deep financial interest on the part of the military, which does not want to miss out on the large profits reaped by private security contractors in protecting the supply routes. As a result, Pakistani security forces are believed to turn a blind eye and occasionally even facilitate attacks on U.S. and NATO convoys in Pakistan in order to pressure Washington into giving the contracts to the better-equipped Pakistani military. That said, it is unclear whether the Pakistani military could fulfill such a commitment since the military itself is already stretched thin between its operations along the Afghan-Pakistani border and its massive military focus on the eastern border with India.

Many of the private Pakistani security companies guarding the routes are owned by wealthy Pakistani civilians who have strong links to government and to retired military officials. The private Pakistani security firms currently guarding the routes include Ghazi Security, Ready Guard, Phoenix Security Agency and SE Security Agency. Most of the main offices of these companies are located in Islamabad, but these contractors have also hired smaller security agencies in Peshawar. The private companies that own terminals used for the northern and southern supply routes include al Faisal Terminal (whose owner has been kidnapped by militants and whose whereabouts are unknown), Bilal Terminal (owned by Shahid Ansari from Punjab), World Port Logistics (owned by Major Fakhar, a nephew of former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf), Raziq International, Peace Line, Pak-Afghan and Waqar Terminal.

While the owners of these security firms make a handsome profit from the U.S.-NATO military contracts, the guards who actually drive and protect the trucks ferrying supplies make a meager salary, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 rupees (under $65) per month. Not surprisingly, the security is shoddy, with three to five poorly trained and equipped guards usually spread throughout a convoy who are easily overrun by Taliban forces that frequently attack the convoys in hordes. Given their poor compensation, these security guards feel little compulsion to hold their positions and resist concerted assaults.

A Pakistani soldier stands guards on top of an armored personnel carrier on a street in Quetta on April 12The motivations for attacks against the supply infrastructure can vary. The Taliban and their jihadist affiliates are ideologically driven to target Western forces and increase the cost for them to remain in the region. There are also a number of criminally motivated fighters who adopt the Taliban label as a convenient cover but who are far more interested in making a profit. Both groups can benefit from racketeering enterprises that allow them to extort hefty protection fees from private security firms in return for the contractors’ physical safety.

One Pakistani truck driver relayed a story in which he was told by a suspected Taliban operative to leave his truck and come back in the morning to drive to Afghanistan. When the driver returned he found the truck on fire. Inadequate security allows for easy infiltration and manipulation by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which is already heavily penetrated by Islamist sympathizers. Drivers will often strike a deal with the militants allowing raids on the convoys in return for a cut of the proceeds once the goods are sold on the black market. One indication of just how porous U.S.-NATO security arrangements are in Pakistan is that the commander of the most active Taliban faction in Khyber agency, Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam (LI), is allegedly a former transporter himself now using jihad as a cover for his criminal activities.

STRATFOR is not aware of any plans by the Pentagon to turn these security contracts over to the Pakistani military. It is even more unclear whether doing so would do much to improve the situation. If the U.S. military continues to rely on these contractors to guard the supply routes in the face of a growing Taliban threat, certain changes could be made to enhance the contractors’ capabilities. Already, U.S. logistics teams are revising the northern route by moving some of the supply depots farther south in Punjab where the security threat is lower (though the Taliban are attempting to expand their presence there). More funding could also be directed toward these security contractors to ensure that the guards protecting the convoys are properly trained and paid sufficiently to give them more of an incentive to resist Taliban attacks. Nonetheless, the current outsourcing to private Pakistani security firms is evidently fraught with complications that are unlikely to be resolved in the near term.

Karachi: The Starting Point
Both supply routes originate in Pakistan’s largest city and primary seaport, Karachi. The city is Pakistan’s financial hub and provides critical ocean access for U.S.-NATO logistics support in Afghanistan. If Karachi — a city already known to have a high incidence of violence — were to destabilize, the Western military supply chain could be threatened even before supplies embarked on the lengthy and volatile journey through the rest of Pakistan.

There are two inter-linking security risks in Karachi: the local ruling party — the Mutahiddah Qaumi Movement (MQM) — and the Islamist militancy. The MQM is a political movement representing the Muhajir ethnic community of Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from India. Since its rise in the 1980s, the party has demonstrated a proclivity for ethnic-driven violence through its armed cadres. While the MQM does not have a formal militia and is part of the Sindh provincial legislature as well as the national parliament, the party is very sensitive about any challenges to its power base in the metropolitan Karachi area and controls powerful organized crime groups in the city. On many occasions, clashes between MQM and other rival political forces have paralyzed the city.

STR/AFP/Getty Images
Armed Pakistani militantsIdeologically speaking, the MQM is secular and has been firmly opposed to Islamist groups since its inception. The party has been watching nervously as the Taliban have crept southward from their stronghold in the country’s northwest. In recent weeks, the MQM also has been the loudest political voice in the country sounding the alarm against the growing jihadist threat. The party is well aware that any jihadist strategy that aims to strike at Pakistan’s economic nerve center and the most critical node of the U.S.-NATO supply lines makes Karachi a prime target.

The MQM is particularly concerned that Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will try to encroach on its turf in Karachi. While the Waziristan-based TTP itself has very little presence in Karachi, it does have a jihadist network in the city that could be utilized. Many Taliban members come from Pashtun tribes and derive much of their political support from Pashtun populations. Karachi has a Pashtun population of 3.5 million, making up some 30 percent of the city’s population. Moreover, Karachi police have reported that Taliban members are among the “several hundred thousand” tribesmen fleeing violence in the frontier regions who have settled on the outskirts of Karachi.

Jihadists have thus far demonstrated a limited ability to operate in the city. In 2002, jihadists kidnapped and killed U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and attacked the U.S. Consulate. In a 2007 suicide attack on a vehicle belonging to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, jihadists killed a U.S. diplomat and injured 52 others on the eve of one of then-President George W. Bush’s rare trips to Pakistan. A host of Pakistani jihadist groups as well as “al Qaeda Prime” (its core leadership) have been active in the area, evidenced by the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, deputy coordinator of the 9/11 attacks, in Karachi in 2002.

Until now the MQM did not perceive the Taliban to be a direct threat to its hold over the city, but the MQM is now feeling vulnerable given the Taliban’s spread in the north. There has been a historic tension between the MQM and the significant Pashtun minority in Karachi. The MQM regards this minority with deep suspicion because it believes the Pashtuns could provide a safe haven for Pashtun jihadists seeking to extend their influence to the south.

In the wake of the “shariah for peace” agreement in the Swat district of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), tensions have risen between the MQM and the country’s largest Pashtun political group, the Awami National Party (ANP), which rules the NWFP and is the party chiefly responsible for negotiating the peace agreement with the Tehrik-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), the jihadist group in the greater Swat region. MQM’s 19 members of parliament were the only ones who did not vote in favor of the Swat peace deal, which has amplified its concerns over the threat of Talibanization in Pakistan. In response, TNSM leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad has declared parliamentarians who oppose the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation non-Muslims. The MQM is also trying to mobilize religious groups that oppose the Sunni Islamic Deobandi movement, particularly Barelvis, against the Taliban.

With rising Muhajir-Pashtun ethnic tensions, the MQM-ANP spat and the MQM’s fear of a jihadist threat to its authority, conditions in Karachi are slowly building toward a confrontation. Should jihadists demonstrate a capability to step up operations in the city, the MQM will show little to no restraint in cracking down on the city’s Pashtun minority through its armed cadres, which would lead to wider-scale clashes between the MQM and the Pashtun community. There is a precedent for urban conflict in Karachi, and it could cause authorities to impose a citywide curfew that would disrupt operations at the port and impede supplies from making their way out of the city.

The situation described above is still a worst-case scenario. Since Karachi is the financial center of the country, the MQM-controlled local government, the federal government in Islamabad and the Rawalpindi-based military establishment all share an interest in preserving stability in this key city. It will also likely take some time before Pakistani jihadists are able to project power that far south. Even a few days or weeks of turmoil in Karachi, however, will threaten the country’s economy — which is already on the verge of bankruptcy — and further undercut the weakened state’s ability to address the growing insecurity. So far, the MQM has kept its hold over Karachi, but the Taliban already have their eyes on the city, and it would not take much to provoke the MQM into a confrontation that could threaten a crucial link in the U.S.-NATO supply chain.

28592  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Stratfor on Pig Flu on: April 27, 2009, 11:06:55 AM
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): April 27, 2009 - Swine Flu Outbreak
April 27, 2009 | 1500 GMT

A member of the Mexican Navy stands guard at Pantitlan subway station in Mexico City on April 26Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.

Related Special Topic Page
Weekly Updates
We need to ramp up on a number of issues related to the H1N1 swine flu outbreaks. So far there are 1,663 suspected infections and 103 reported deaths. Nearly all of the infections and all of the deaths are in Mexico (98 percent of both have been in Mexico City itself). The high population density of Mexico City has allowed the new strain to spread very quickly and provided ample opportunities for it to be carried abroad. There are now suspected cases in Canada, New Zealand, Spain, France, Israel, Brazil and the United States.

But before we delve deeper into this topic, we must clarify what this is not. It is obvious that we’re not dealing with a 1918 style pandemic. The current H1N1 strain � “H1” and “N1” indicate certain proteins on the surface of the flu virus � was first detected in March. While there obviously have been deaths, we are not seeing numbers that indicate this is particularly horrible disease. Something like the 1918 avian virus would already be killing people in significant numbers in places as scattered as Singapore, Buenos Aires and Moscow. It appears that this H1N1 strain is simply a new strain of the common flu that is somewhat more virulent. All evidence thus far indicates that a simple paper mask is effective at limiting transmission, and that common anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza work well against the new strain.

That does not mean there will not be disruptions. Several governments already are banning the import of North American pork products. Considering that the human-communicable strain has already traveled to every continent, this is a touch silly, but governments must appear to do something — and there is nothing seriously that can be done to quarantine a continent from something as communicable as a flu bug. We expect limited travel restrictions to pop up sooner rather than later. EU Health Commissioner Andorra Vassiliou has already recommended that Europeans rethink any plans to travel to North America. This is not yet a ban or even a travel warning, but those are logical next steps for spooked governments. Several states have been using thermal scanners at airports to check passengers for fevers, and so isolate potential carriers (this measure is of limited use — once a carrier is in the airport, he has probably already spread the virus).

The busy folks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) need to become our new best friends. The CDC is not like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — it is not tasked to provide any hands-on, local support. Instead, they are a sort of brain trust of researchers that decode the virus, and based on their findings, produce recommendations as to how to limit the virus’ spread and mitigate the virus’ effects. At present the CDC has not yet decoded the virus.

We also need to touch base with various national health authorities the world over who were stressed about a possible H5N1 outbreak in 2007. Many of the procedures that were put into place to deal with a potential H5N1 catastrophe (information dissemination, vaccine dissemination, antiviral stockpiles, etc) remain applicable for combating this new H1N1 strain. We need to familiarize ourselves with what the thresholds are for the major health authorities. Some question to ask: At what point would you consider quarantines? At what point would you release antiviral stockpiles? How big are those stockpiles? What steps are you taking to detect new cases? Are there any travel or trade restrictions that you are considering or implementing?

Are there any places in the world where H1 flu strains are not prevalent? Once you have the flu, you develop a natural resistance to not just that specific strain, but any strain that is somewhat similar. H1 has been present in the United States for years and H1 strains regularly make it into American flu vaccines. Since it is believed that it is the H1 portion of this new virus that has been tweaked, in theory this will provide Americans with some limited protection. Are there any national populations that lack this protection?

We need to look at trade as well. Already Russia, China and the Philippines have barred pork imports of North American origin. (Incidentally, you are never at risk of contracting flu viruses from meat products unless you fail to cook it thoroughly.) We need to look at the trade question from two points of view. First, what trade flows (primarily pork) could be directly affected. Second, the global economy really does not need a major confidence hit right now. We need to be extremely vigilant of any indirect impacts this will have on capital availability, travel and consumer spending in the current fragile economic climate. Asian and European stock markets had a bad day today, but not inordinately so (Japan’s Nikkei — one of the world’s largest exchanges by value — actually rose a bit).

But the biggest question is why have there been deaths in Mexico City and not anywhere else? The idea that the Mexican health system is subpar does not hold: most people do not seek medical treatment for flu symptoms, so medical quality does not yet seriously enter into the picture. The explanation could be nothing more complicated than the fact that the strain first broke out in Mexico City and has not yet advanced far enough elsewhere to produce deaths (and if that is the case we should be seeing some terminal cases in the United States in the next few days).

So far the CDC does not have an opinion on this topic, but we need to discover if there is something fundamentally different about the situation — or the virus — in Mexico vis-a-vis the rest of the world.
28593  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The NY congressional loss on: April 27, 2009, 10:42:18 AM
Republicans lost another Congressional race on Friday, as Democratic newcomer Scott Murphy was declared the victor by some 400 votes in the March 31 special House election in New York state. But you wouldn't know it from the response of House Minority Leader John Boehner, who declared that GOP candidate Jim Tedisco "forced the Democratic Party to invest heavily and defend a seat they should have had in the bag."


New York's 20th Congressional district is precisely the kind the GOP will have to win if it wants to regain a majority. It is one of the few Northeast districts where Republicans retain a party registration advantage, and Republican John Sweeney had held it for four terms before Democrat (and recently appointed Senator) Kirsten Gillibrand won in 2006. George W. Bush carried it twice.

Republicans lost because they fielded a poor candidate who ran a lousy campaign. While Mr. Murphy was a fresh face who could plausibly argue he'd assist President Obama's call for change, Republicans picked an Albany careerist who personified more of the same. GOP power broker (and Al D'Amato pal) Joe Mondello rigged the nomination to deny a real contest, thus cutting out the likes of former state Assembly minority leader John Faso.

At one point, Mr. Tedisco had a 20-point lead but squandered it by waffling on the Obama stimulus plan, running anti-Wall Street ads that confused the Republican base, and waiting until the last few days to criticize pro-union "card check" legislation. In other words, Mr. Tedisco betrayed that he wasn't all that different than the other politicians who have made Albany the tax and spend center of America.

The fact that the race was so close shows that, had Republicans run a credible candidate, they had a chance to send a message to Blue Dog Democrats in Congress that Mr. Obama's agenda is less popular than he is. Mr. Boehner would do better to stop spinning defeat and start looking for candidates who believe in something beyond their own careers.
28594  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Liberal fascism at work on: April 27, 2009, 10:37:41 AM

The cavalier use of brute government force has become routine, but the emerging story of how Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke forced CEO Ken Lewis to blow up Bank of America is still shocking. It's a case study in the ways that panicky regulators have so often botched the bailout and made the financial crisis worse.

In the name of containing "systemic risk," our regulators spread it. In order to keep Mr. Lewis quiet, they all but ordered him to deceive his own shareholders. And in the name of restoring financial confidence, they have so mistreated Bank of America that bank executives everywhere have concluded that neither Treasury nor the Federal Reserve can be trusted.

Mr. Lewis has told investigators for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that in December Mr. Paulson threatened him not to cancel a deal to buy Merrill Lynch. BofA had discovered billions of dollars in undisclosed Merrill losses, and Mr. Lewis was considering invoking his rights under a material adverse condition clause to kill the merger. But Washington decided that America's financial system couldn't withstand a Merrill failure, and that BofA had to risk its own solvency to save it. So then-Treasury Secretary Paulson, who says he was acting at the direction of Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, told Mr. Lewis that the feds would fire him and his board if they didn't complete the deal.

Mr. Paulson told Mr. Lewis that the government would provide cash from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to help BofA swallow Merrill. But since the government didn't want to reveal this new federal investment until after the merger closed, Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke rejected Mr. Lewis's request to get their commitment in writing.

"We do not want a disclosable event," Mr. Lewis says Mr. Paulson told him. "We do not want a public disclosure." Imagine what would happen to a CEO who said that.

After getting the approval of his board, Mr. Lewis executed the Paulson-Bernanke order without informing his shareholders of the material events taking place at Merrill. The merger closed on January 1. But investors and taxpayers had to wait weeks to learn that the government had invested another $20 billion plus loan portfolio insurance in BofA, and that Merrill had lost a staggering $15 billion in the last three months of 2008.

This was the second time in three months that Washington had forced Bank of America to take federal money. In his testimony to the New York AG's office, Mr. Lewis noted that an earlier TARP investment in his bank had a "dilutive effect" on existing shareholders and was not requested by BofA. "We had not sought any funds. We were taking 15 [billion dollars] at the request of Hank [Paulson] and others," Mr. Lewis testified.

But it is the Merrill deal that raises the most troubling questions. Evaluating the policy of Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson on their own terms, this transaction fundamentally increased systemic risk. In order to save a Wall Street brokerage, the feds spread the risk to one of the country's largest deposit-taking banks. If they were convinced that Merrill had to be saved, then they should have made the public case for it. And the first obligation of due diligence is to make sure that their Merrill "rescuer" of choice -- BofA -- had the capacity to bear the losses. Instead they transplanted the Merrill risk to BofA shareholders, the bank's depositors and the taxpayers who ensure those deposits. And then they had to bail out BofA too.

Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson also undermined the transparency that is a vital source of investor confidence. Disclosure is not a luxury to be enjoyed only when markets are rising. It is the foundation of the American regulatory system and a reason investors have long sought to keep their money within U.S. borders. Could either man have believed that their actions wouldn't eventually come to light, with all of the repercussions for their bank rescue plans?

Mr. Paulson told Mr. Cuomo's investigators that he also kept former SEC Chairman Christopher Cox out of the loop while forcing BofA to rescue Merrill. Mr. Cox wasn't the only one. Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke both sit on the Financial Stability Oversight Board, comprised of federal regulators who oversee TARP. Two days after Mr. Lewis told the dynamic duo that Merrill's losses were exploding and that he was looking for a way out, Mr. Bernanke chaired and Mr. Paulson attended a meeting of this board. Minutes of the meeting show no mention of BofA or Merrill.

At the next meeting on January 8, a week after the merger had closed, the minutes again make no mention of either regulator telling their colleagues that they had committed tens of billions of dollars. Yet the minutes helpfully note that among the topics discussed were "coordination, transparency and oversight."

Meeting minutes suggest Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson finally informed fellow board members at 4:30 p.m. on January 15, after news outlets had already reported a pending new taxpayer investment in BofA. What exactly did Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson tell their colleagues about their plans for TARP prior to January 15?

Let's hope they treated their government colleagues better than they've treated Ken Lewis, whom they hung out to dry. After making him an offer he could hardly refuse, they've let him endure a public flogging from shareholders and the press, lengthy discussions with prosecutors, plus new hiring and compensation rules that limit his bank's ability to compete.

No wonder no banker in his right mind trusts the Fed or Treasury, and no wonder nobody but Pimco and other Treasury favorites is eager to invest in the TALF, the PPIP, or any of the other programs that require trusting the government as a business partner.

The political class has spent the last few months blaming bankers for everything that has gone wrong in the financial system, and no doubt many banks have earned public scorn. But Washington has been complicit every step of the way, from the Fed's easy money to the nurturing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and since last autumn with regulatory and Congressional panic that is making financial repair that much harder. The men who nearly ruined Bank of America have some explaining to do.

28595  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: April 27, 2009, 10:27:01 AM
The folks who ran Katrina now look to takeover the people's remaining medical freedoms.  A giant clusterfcuk comes , , ,  cry
28596  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Eagles hunting wolves!!! on: April 26, 2009, 08:27:51 PM
28597  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Eagles hunting wolves!!! on: April 26, 2009, 08:26:06 PM
28598  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Demographics on: April 26, 2009, 12:17:32 PM
Are these numbers accurate?  No sources are given.  If they are, what are the implications?
28599  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc on: April 26, 2009, 09:36:49 AM

28600  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT Guile helps Taliban on: April 26, 2009, 08:47:29 AM
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Initially, Buner was a hard place for the Taliban to crack. When they attacked a police station in the valley district last year, the resistance was fearless. Local people picked up rifles, pistols and daggers, hunted down the militants and killed six of them.

But it was not to last. In short order this past week the Taliban captured Buner, a strategically vital district just 60 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad. The militants flooded in by the hundreds, startling Pakistani and American officials with the speed of their advance.

The lesson of Buner, local politicians and residents say, is that the dynamic of the Taliban insurgency, as methodical and slow-building as it has been, can change suddenly, and the tactics used by the Taliban can be replicated elsewhere.

The Taliban took over Buner through both force and guile — awakening sleeping sympathizers, leveraging political allies, pretending at peace talks and then crushing what was left of their opponents, according to the politicians and the residents interviewed.

Though some of the militants have since pulled back, they still command the high points of Buner and have fanned out to districts even closer to the capital.

That Buner fell should be no surprise, local people say. Last fall, the inspector general of police in North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, complained that his officers were being attacked and killed by the hundreds.

Mr. Khan was so desperate — and had been so thoroughly abandoned by the military and the government — that he was relying on citizen posses like the one that stood up to the Taliban last August.

Today, the hopes that those civilian militias inspired are gone, brushed away by the realization that Pakistanis can do little to stem the Taliban advance if their government and military will not help them.

The people of Buner got nothing for their bravery. In December, the Taliban retaliated for the brazenness of the resistance in the district, sending a suicide bomber to disrupt voting during a by-election. More than 30 people were killed and scores were wounded.

Severe disenchantment toward the government rippled out of the suicide bombing for a very basic reason, said Amir Zeb Bacha, the director of the Pakistan International Human Rights Organization in Buner. “When we took the injured to the hospital there was no medicine,” he said.

The election was rescheduled but turned out to be a farce. Voters were too scared to show up, said Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, a former interior minister, who lives in the area and has twice escaped Taliban suicide bombers.

The peace deal the military struck with the Taliban in February in neighboring Swat further demoralized people in Buner. Residents and local officials said they asked themselves how they could continue to resist the Taliban when the military had abandoned the effort. The Taliban were emboldened by the deal: it called for the institution of Shariah, the strict legal code of Islam based on the Koran, throughout Malakand Agency, which includes Swat and Buner. It allowed the Taliban amnesty for their killings, floggings and destruction of girls schools in Swat.

Still, when the Taliban rolled into Buner from Swat through the town of Gokan on April 5, a well-to-do businessman, Fateh Mohammed, organized another posse of civilian fighters to take on the militants in the town of Sultanwas.

Five civilians and three policemen were killed, he said. Some newspaper reports said 17 Taliban were killed.

At that point, the chief government official in charge of Malakand, Mohammed Javed, proposed what he called peace talks. Mr. Javed, an experienced bureaucrat in the Pakistani civil service, was appointed in late February as the main government power broker in Malakand even though he was known to be sympathetic to the Taliban, a senior government official in North-West Frontier Province said. The government had been under pressure to bring calm to Swat and essentially capitulated to Taliban demands for Mr. Javed’s appointment, the official said.

In an apparent acknowledgment that Mr. Javed had been too sympathetic to the Taliban, the government announced Saturday that he had been replaced by Fazal Karim Khattack.

In what some residents in Swat and now in Buner say had been a pattern of favorable decisions led by Mr. Javed on behalf of the Taliban, the talks in Buner turned out to be a “betrayal,” said a former police officer from the area, who was afraid to be identified.


(Page 2 of 2)

The talks gave the militants time to gather reinforcements from neighboring Swat, he said. And at the same time, the Taliban put such pressure on the members of Mr. Mohammed’s posse, or lashkar, that they disappeared or fled, Mr. Mohammed said.

Taliban militants in the main town of Daggar in the Buner District of Pakistan.
“The police part of our lashkar left, and I was all alone,” he said. On the night of April 11, he fled, too, he said in a telephone conversation from Karachi, where he has gone to hide.

The militants at that point occupied his three gas stations, his flour mill and his 20-room house, he said. They had also commandeered more than 20 other houses in Sultanwas belonging to his relatives, he said.   In a show of who was in charge in Mr. Mohammed’s absence, the Taliban established a training camp in Sultanwas, said Mr. Bacha, the human rights officer.

To bolster their strength, and insinuate themselves in Buner, the Taliban also relied heavily on the adherents of a hard-line militant group, the Movement for the Implementation of the Shariah of Muhammad, which has agitated for Islamic law in Pakistan.  Their leader, Sufi Mohammed, comes from the region around Swat and Buner and has whipped up local support and intimidated Taliban opponents.

The group has called on graduates of a huge madrasa near the main town of Daggar in Buner to run local district governments, beckoning one from as far as the southern port of Karachi to run a municipality, said Khadim Hussain, a professor of linguistics and communication at Bahria University in Islamabad.

Whatever the number, early last week the Taliban showed their power by ordering the state courts shut. They announced that they would open Islamic courts, practicing Shariah, by the end of the month.

The militants have also placed a tax payable to the Taliban on all marble quarried at mines, said a senior police officer who worked in Buner.

At gas stations belonging to Mr. Mohammed, they pumped gas and drove off without paying, the officer said.

“No one dare ask them for payment,” he said.

The police were so intimidated they mostly stayed inside station houses, he said. “They are setting up a parallel government.”

With their success in Buner, the Taliban felt flush with success and increasingly confident that they could repeat the template, residents and analysts said. In the main prize, the richest and most populous province, Punjab, in eastern Pakistan, the Taliban are relying on the sleeper cells of other militant groups, including the many fighters who had been trained by the Pakistani military for combat in Kashmir, and now felt abandoned by the state, they said.

It would not be difficult for the Taliban to seize Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, by shutting down the airport and blocking the two main thoroughfares from Islamabad, a Western official with long experience in the province said.

At midweek, a convoy of heavily armed Taliban vehicles was seen barreling along the four-lane motorway between Islamabad and Peshawar, according to Mr. Sherpao, the former minister of the interior.   Across North-West Frontier Province, the Taliban are rapidly consolidating power by activating cells that consisted of a potent mix of jihadist groups, he said. In some places, the Taliban have entered mosques saying they had come only to preach, but in fact the strategy is to spread fear that pushes people into submission and demoralizes the police, he said.   

Everywhere, they have preyed on the miseries of the poor, saying that Islamic courts would settle their complaints against the rich. “Every district is falling into their lap,” Mr. Sherpao said.
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