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28551  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy on: September 12, 2010, 10:03:09 PM
Sincere question:

So what about accessing them from a cyber cafe or a public library?
28552  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: September 12, 2010, 09:46:38 PM

Invariably you have excellent judgement in what you share, but may I ask for a bit more description to accompany the URLs?  Thank you.
28553  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A 21st Century GOP on: September 12, 2010, 09:44:38 PM
A Twenty-First-Century GOP
Republicans need to win back tech-savvy, educated voters. Here’s how.

With President Obama’s job-approval ratings in free fall, Republicans feel
justifiably confident about the 2010 congressional elections. But even if
the GOP has recovered some swagger, the party’s long-term political fortunes
require it to recover something else: the votes of well-educated,
well-compensated elites. Over the past decade and a half, Republicans have
watched scientists, high-tech workers, doctors, financial leaders, and
academics in engineering and business abandon the party in favor of the
Democrats. This exodus has weakened the GOP politically and left it
dependent on white evangelical voters. But the elites’ home could again be
the Republican Party—if the Republicans welcome them back.

An interviewer once asked Karl Rove to define the Democratic Party’s base.
“Anyone with a doctorate,” he responded. This wasn’t true in the past. Back
in 1975, Everett Ladd and Seymour Lipset found that university professors in
the hard sciences leaned somewhat Republican, unlike their colleagues in the
humanities. Ladd and Lipset also discovered that while 64 percent of
social-science professors were liberals, only 24 percent of engineering
professors and 23 percent of business professors were. In fact, when Ladd
and Lipset looked at the 1968 and 1972 elections, the Republican
candidate—none other than Richard Nixon, the scourge of humanities
profs—managed to “command solid majorities among professors of business,
engineering, and agriculture.” Overall, 43 percent of faculty members backed

The conservative foothold in faculty lounges began to loosen as the
seventies ended, and by the new millennium, academic Republicans had become
much harder to spot, even in traditionally conservative disciplines. In the
2004 election, pollster Gary Tobin reported, John Kerry secured 72 percent
of the faculty vote, with the candidate also getting 72 percent among
science and math professors and even managing to win half of the business
and management faculty. The trend of scientists voting Democratic has gone
beyond the campus: according to a 2009 poll, only 6 percent of all American
scientists called themselves Republicans, compared with 55 percent
self-identifying as Democrats.

Republicans have started to lose Wall Street, too. From 1998 to 2007,
reports the activist group Wall Street Watch, 55 percent of commercial
banks’ campaign contributions went to Republicans. George W. Bush beat Al
Gore in Wall Street dollars—$4 million to $1.4 million in 2000—and he nearly
doubled Kerry’s $4 million take in 2004. But these leads have disappeared
over the last few years, with the Democrats gaining a majority of Wall
Street contributions in 2008.

Doctors, like Wall Street execs, have a Republican history, but there are
signs that they, too, are moving away from the party. From 1998 through
2006, Republicans garnered 67 percent of all campaign contributions from the
American Medical Association; but by 2008, Democrats were pulling in 56
percent, and the AMA proceeded to support President Obama’s health-care
overhaul. While the AMA represents only 29 percent or so of American
doctors, this is a troubling development for the GOP.

Republicans are also failing to secure the votes of an emerging group that
should naturally align with the party: libertarian-leaning workers in
Silicon Valley and other high-tech enclaves. Despite the Valley’s
entrepreneurial, leave-us-alone spirit, two-thirds of tech-industry
contributions went to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle, according to

What’s behind the Republican Party’s poor performance with these key groups?
After all, they are often pro-innovation and anti-regulation, tend to favor
lower taxes, and frequently prefer what works to bromides about what might
be. Various factors explain the disaffection. Scientists particularly
disliked George W. Bush, believing the misleading arguments about a
Republican “war on science.” Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives have
not seen enough pro-growth policies from the GOP to overcome their dislike
of the party’s social policies. And doctors have seen far too few Republican
proposals to improve our health-care system. This unfortunate silence helped
build momentum among doctors for the health-care bill—even though, as Scott
Gottlieb recently argued in the Wall Street Journal, the bill is driving
many to abandon private practice for the apparent safety of HMOs and large
hospital networks.

These elite groups share an important characteristic: a deep attachment to
science and technology. So a serious, technology-friendly Republican agenda
could begin to reverse the party’s losses and could do so, moreover, without
alienating the GOP’s evangelical base. The agenda would have five
commonsense components.

First, Republicans should encourage innovation, especially in areas, like
health care, that provide benefits to millions of Americans. During the
health-reform debate, Republicans were eager to discuss how Democratic
proposals would harm innovation, but they failed to explain how they
themselves would help it. One way would be to promote the development of
lifesaving and life-extending products by offering clearer pathways to FDA
approval of new drugs and treatments. In addition, tort reform could help
reduce what the Pacific Research Institute estimates is $367 billion that
American companies lose in product sales each year by fighting litigation
instead of developing new products.

Second, Republicans should work to ensure that America has access to the
world’s best technological minds. Throughout our history, we’ve done this by
both nurturing native-born brainpower (like Thomas Edison’s) and attracting
great minds from elsewhere (like Albert Einstein’s). Our legal immigration
system currently emphasizes family reunification. Refocusing it to award
residency to people with desirable skills, as countries like Australia and
Canada do, would help us attract more of the best and brightest. Another
good step would be granting green cards to foreign nationals who earn
advanced technical degrees in math, science, or medicine from accredited
American institutions—instead of requiring them to leave the country and
apply for reentry, as we do now. This change would take advantage of
America’s top-flight universities and mask the weakness of our K–12
educational system. According to *U.S. News and World Report*, America has
13 of the world’s best 20 universities, and students from around the world
clamor to attend them.

The failed Kennedy-McCain immigration-reform bill of 2005 did create a
points system for those with certain education or employment credentials.
Unfortunately, the skills-based features of the bill were lost in the larger
battle over *illegal* immigration. Republicans should try to divorce this
issue—which divides the party—from the potentially unifying one of
encouraging skilled legal immigrants. The GOP could then draw a sharp
contrast with Democrats, who tend to oppose skills-based immigration.

The third way that Republicans can regain the elite, tech-friendly votes
that they’ve lost is recommitting themselves to free trade. In the past,
Republicans were overwhelmingly in favor of free trade and could find enough
like-minded Democrats to pass multilateral and bilateral trade agreements,
NAFTA being the most famous example. Nowadays, Democrats generally resist
free trade and cooperate with enough protectionist Republicans to block
free-trade agreements, regardless of who controls Congress.

President Bush must take some of the blame for this reversal, especially by
imposing steel tariffs during his first term, fulfilling a campaign promise
made in West Virginia. On the other hand, he did promote bilateral
agreements to jump-start free trade while cumbersome multilateral
negotiations like the World Trade Organization’s Doha round dragged on.
President Obama, for his part, has been largely unfriendly to free trade,
imposing a fee on imported tires from China, for example. According to
Post*, the Chinese unsurprisingly saw this as “a political concession to
U.S. labor unions” and retaliated, worsening trade tensions between the two
countries. Incidents like these have given Republicans an opportunity to
rediscover their inner David Ricardo.

Fourth, Republicans should capitalize on the Democrats’ recent spending
spree, which has opened the door for a message about fiscal discipline. It’s
true that cutting personal income taxes no longer has the resonance it once
did, since only 47 percent of Americans pay any federal income tax. (When I
served in the Bush White House, I worked on policy papers bragging that the
president’s tax cuts took 5 million Americans off the income-tax rolls; what
the papers didn’t say was that this change made 5 million more Americans
uninterested in what had been the GOP’s strongest talking point.) But the
party should not retreat on other questions of taxation and especially
budgets. Innovation-centered voters understand that our current fiscal path
of $1.4 trillion deficits is unsustainable. Republicans need to issue a mea
culpa for their past contributions to the nation’s fiscal problems and
articulate a serious plan for digging us out of our crushing debt hole.

At the same time, Republicans should promote tax simplification, as
President Reagan did in 1986. Administering the 67,500-page federal
income-tax code requires 100,000 IRS employees and costs our economy between
2 and 5 percent of GDP in lost efficiency, according to the Government
Accountability Office. Limiting the number of rates and loopholes, while
increasing the standard deduction, would help reduce these inefficiencies
and costs. Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire have
created a bipartisan proposal along these lines, and Republicans should make
sure that they remain out front with other tax-simplification proposals.

Fifth, Republicans should put improving our educational system front and
center, so that we can increase the number of high-skilled workers. One way
to do this is to use Title I, which is supposed to help educate 10 million
poor children and to promote flexibility and better educational outcomes.
Republicans used to support Title I “portability”—that is, attaching Title I
dollars to students rather than linking them to a bureaucratic formula that
rewards specific schools, regardless of performance. Republicans dropped
this idea as a concession to Democrats during the No Child Left Behind
negotiations, but they can pick it up again. Having Title I’s $14 billion
follow our neediest children will encourage schools to be accountable to
parents and allow parents to direct money to schools that work best, whether
public or private.

This reform would have a number of political advantages. The recently
oversubscribed school choice experiment in the District of Columbia shows
that parents, regardless of their ideology, want more of a say in the kind
of education their children receive. As many as four in ten parents already
send a child to a school other than their local public one. More to the
point for political purposes is that well-educated voters, including
business leaders, recognize how our deficient K–12 system harms American
competitiveness by consigning poor kids to failing schools.

Not only would this five-part agenda appeal to the highly educated,
high-income voters who once backed the GOP; it also couldn’t be replicated
by the Democratic Party because of the interest-group politics that govern
so many Democratic policy choices. Democrats can’t back tort reform, for
example, because trial lawyers would balk. They can’t advocate free trade or
high-skilled immigration because of labor unions’ objections. School choice,
even within public schools, is anathema to the Democrat-supporting teachers’
unions. Budget discipline gets in the way of ambitious Democratic spending

An agenda that joins pro-technology voters to the GOP’s evangelical base
would make the party truly formidable electorally. And it would do something
far more important: it would help America maintain its technological
supremacy going forward.

*Tevi D. Troy, the former deputy secretary of health and human services and
a former senior White House domestic-policy aide, is a visiting senior
fellow at the Hudson Institute.*
28554  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty in Seattle, Sept 11-12, 2010 on: September 11, 2010, 11:01:39 PM
Good fun and games today with a good group of good level working on both Kali Tudo and DLO.

Looking forward to tomorrow!
28555  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Stretching on: September 11, 2010, 11:00:04 PM
I am sure you will get several good suggestions, but my contribution is to remind you to stretch your hip flexors too:
28556  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: India and India-afpakia (and China?) on: September 11, 2010, 10:07:20 AM
Absolutely correct JDN.

And a hat tip from me to GM for having spotted this a ways back.  I am up over 50% in  TIE and MCP thanks to his having drawn this to my attention grin grin grin
28557  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prayer and Daily Expression of Gratitude on: September 11, 2010, 12:09:27 AM
Grateful for a wonderful mini-hike in a temperate rain forest today.
28558  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Open Gathering Sept 19, 2010 on: September 11, 2010, 12:08:02 AM
I count 39 fighters .
28559  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: a big picture read on: September 10, 2010, 07:14:15 PM
Rumors are circulating on the Indian subcontinent over the reported presence of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, ostensibly to provide protection for aid and construction workers. STRATFOR sources in the area have indicated that these reports are overblown, but China’s growing reassertion of territorial claims in the region will not go ignored by India and will give New Delhi and Washington another cause for cooperation. The prospect of greater U.S.-Indian defense cooperation and waning U.S. interest in Afghanistan will meanwhile drive Pakistan closer to China, creating a series of self-perpetuating threats on the subcontinent.

U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Robert F. Willard is on a two-day visit to India to meet with the Indian defense leadership Sept. 9-10. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony will follow up his meetings with Willard when he meets with U.S. defense leaders in Washington at the end of September. With an arduous war being fought in Afghanistan and India’s fears growing over Pakistan-based militancy, there is no shortage of issues for the two sides to discuss. But there is one additional topic of discussion that is now elevating in importance: Chinese military moves on the Indian subcontinent.

Allegations over a major increase of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in northern Kashmir have been circulating over the past several weeks, with an Op-Ed in The New York Times claiming that as many as 7,000 to 11,000 PLA troops have flooded into the northern part of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, known as the Gilgit-Baltistan region. This is an area through which China has been rebuilding the Karakoram Highway, which connects the Chinese region of Xinjiang by road and rail to Pakistan’s Chinese-built and funded ports on the Arabian Sea. Though Chinese engineers have been working on this infrastructure for some time, new reports suggest that several thousand PLA troops are stationed on the Khunjerab Pass on the Xinjiang border to provide security to the Karakoram Highway construction crews. Handfuls of militants have been suspected of transiting this region in the past to travel between Central Asia, Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang province, and Chinese construction crews in Pakistan have been targeted a number of times by jihadists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That said, a large Chinese troop presence in the region is likely to serve a larger purpose than simply stand-by protection for Chinese workers.

(click here to enlarge image)
Pakistan responded by describing the reports as fabricated and said a small Chinese presence was in the area to provide humanitarian assistance in the ongoing flood relief effort. Chinese state media also discussed recently how the Chinese government was shipping emergency aid to Pakistan via Kashgar, Xinjiang province, through the Khunjerab Pass to the Sost dry port in northern Pakistan. India expressed its concern over the reports of Chinese troops in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, said it was working to independently verify the claims, and then claimed to confirm at least 1,000 PLA troops had entered the region.

Such claims of troop deployments in the region are often exaggerated for various political aims, and these latest reports are no exception. STRATFOR is in the process of verifying the exact number of PLA troops in and around Pakistani-administered Gilgit-Baltistan and what percentage of those are combat troops. STRATFOR sources reported that a convoy of approximately 110 Chinese trucks recently delivered some 2,000 metric tons of mostly food aid through the Khunjerab Pass to the Gojal Valley, an area devastated by recent flooding and landslides. Chinese Bridges and Roads Co. (CBRC) has been working on expanding the Karakoram Highway for the past three years and has roughly 700 Chinese laborers and engineers working on the project. The highway expansion is expected to be completed by 2013, but the deadline is likely to be extended as a result of recent flooding.

Though STRATFOR’s on-ground reports so far track closest with the Chinese claims of flood relief operations, such relief and construction work can also provide useful cover for a more gradual buildup and sustained military presence in the region. This prospect is on the minds of many U.S. and Indian defense officials who would not be pleased with the idea of China reinforcing military support for Pakistan through overland supply routes.

Motives Behind the Buildup

Though Pakistan has reacted defiantly to the rumors, Islamabad has much to gain from merely having the rumor out in the open. Pakistan’s geopolitical vulnerability cannot be overstated. The country already faces a host of internally wrenching issues but must also contend with the fact that the Pakistani heartland in the Indus River Valley sits near the border with Pakistan’s much bigger and more powerful Indian rival, denying Islamabad any meaningful strategic depth to adequately defend itself. Pakistan is thus on an interminable search for a reliable, external power patron for its security, and its preferred choice is the United States, which has the military might and economic heft to buttress Pakistani defenses. However, Washington must maintain a delicate balance on the subcontinent, moving between its deepening partnership with India and keeping Pakistan on life support to avoid having India become the unchallenged South Asian hegemon.

Though Pakistan will do whatever it can to hold U.S. interest in an alliance with Islamabad — and keeping the militant threat alive is very much a part of that calculus — it will more often than not be left feeling betrayed by its allies in Washington. With U.S. patience wearing thin on Afghanistan, talk of a U.S. betrayal is naturally creeping up again among Pakistani policymakers as Pakistan fears that a U.S. withdrawal from the region will leave Pakistan with little to defend against India, a massive militant mess to clean up and a weaker hand in Afghanistan. China, while unwilling to put its neck out for Pakistan and provoke retaliation by India, provides Islamabad with a vital military backup that Pakistan can not only use to elicit more defense support against the Indians, but also to capture Washington’s attention with a reminder that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could open the door for Chinese military expansion in South Asia.

Chinese motives in the Kashmir affair are more complex. Even before the rumors, India and China were diplomatically sparring over the Chinese government’s recent refusal to issue a visa to a senior Indian army general on grounds that his command includes Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Such diplomatic flare-ups have become more frequent over the past couple of years, as China has used visa issuances in disputed territory in Kashmir and in Arunachal Pradesh along the northern Indian border to assert its territorial claims while trying to discredit Indian claims. Even beyond Kashmir, China has injected life into its territorial claims throughout the East and South China seas, much to the consternation of the Pacific Rim states.

China’s renewed assertiveness in these disputed territories can be explained in large part by the country’s resource acquisition strategy. As China has scaled up its efforts to scour the globe for energy resources to sustain its elephantine economy, it has increasingly sought to develop a military that can safeguard vital supply lines running through the Indian Ocean basin to and from the Persian Gulf. Building the Karakoram Highway through Kashmir, for example, allows China to substantially cut down the time it takes to transit supplies between the Pakistani coast and China’s western front.

China’s increasing reliance on the military to secure its supply lines for commercial interests, along with other trends, has thus given the PLA a much more prominent say in Chinese policymaking in recent years. This trend has been reinforced by the Chinese government’s need to modernize the military and meet its growing budgetary needs following a large-scale recentralization effort in the 1990s that stripped the PLA of much of its business interests. Over the past decade, the PLA has taken a more prominent role in maintaining internal stability — including responses to natural disasters, riots and other disturbances — while increasing its participation in international peacekeeping efforts. As the PLA’s clout has grown in recent years, Chinese military officials have gone from remaining virtually silent on political affairs to becoming commentators for the Chinese state press on issues concerning Chinese foreign policy.

The PLA’s political influence could also be factoring into the rising political tensions in Kashmir. After all, China’s naval expansion into the Indian Ocean basin for its primarily commercial interests has inevitably driven the modernization and expansion of the Indian navy, a process the United States supports out of its own interest to hedge against China. By both asserting its claims to territory in Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir and raising the prospect of more robust Chinese military support for Pakistan, the Chinese military can benefit from having India’s military focus on ground forces, which require a great deal of resources to maintain a large troop presence in rough terrain, while reducing the amount of attention and resources the Indian military can give to its naval modernization plans.

The Indian Response

There may be a number of commercial, political and military factors contributing to China’s military extensions into South Asia, but India is not as interested in the multifaceted purposes behind China’s moves as it is in the actual movement of troops along the Indian border. From the Indian point of view, the Chinese military is building up naval assets and fortifying its alliance with Pakistan to hem in India. However remote the possibility may be of another futile ground war with China (recall the Sino-Indian war of 1962) across the world’s roughest mountainous terrain, India is unlikely to downplay any notable shifts in China’s military disposition and infrastructure development in the region. India’s traditional response is to highlight the levers it holds with Tibet, which is crucial buffer territory for the Chinese. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit with the Dalai Lama was certainly not lost on Beijing. Chinese media have already reported recently that India is reinforcing its troop presence in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, which flanks the Tibetan plateau. Singh also recently warned that India would have to “take adequate precautions” against Chinese “pinpricks” in Jammu and Kashmir, while maintaining hope of peaceful dialogue.

The Chinese relief work in the area so far does not appear to have reached the level of criticality that would prompt India to reinforce its troop presence in Kashmir. However, tensions are continuing to escalate in the region and any meaningful shift in India’s troop disposition would carry significant military implications for the wider region.

India has been attempting at least symbolically to lower its war posture with Pakistan and better manage its territorial claims by reducing its troop presence in select parts of Indian-administered Kashmir. If India is instead compelled to beef up its military presence in the region in reaction to Sino-Pakistani defense cooperation, Pakistan will be tempted to respond in kind, creating another set of issues for the United States to try to manage on the subcontinent. Washington has faced a persistent struggle in trying to convince Pakistan’s military to focus on the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan and leave it to the United States to ensure the Indian threat remains in check. Though the Pakistani security establishment is gradually adjusting its threat matrix to acknowledge the war right now is at home and not with India, Pakistan’s troop disposition remains largely unchanged, with 147,000 troops devoted to the counterinsurgency effort in northwestern Pakistan and roughly 150,000 troops in standard deployment formation along the eastern border with India.

The United States, like India, is keeping a watchful eye on China’s military movements on the subcontinent, providing another reason for the two to collaborate more closely on military affairs. Willard was quoted by the Indian state press Sept. 10 as saying that “any change in military relations or military maneuvers by China that raises concerns of India” could fall within U.S. Pacific Command’s area of responsibility, while also maintaining this is an issue for the Indian military to handle on its own. Though the United States is being exceedingly cautious in defining its role in this affair, it cannot avoid the fact that every time U.S. and Indian defense officials get together to discuss Pakistan and China, Islamabad’s fears of a U.S.-Indian military partnership are reinforced, drawing the Pakistanis closer to China. This combination of insecurities is creating a self-perpetuating threat matrix on the subcontinent with implications for U.S., Indian, Chinese and Pakistani defense strategy.
28560  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: September 10, 2010, 12:47:18 AM
I did not see this coming.  Very interesting GM.
28561  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Kali Tudo 3 on: September 10, 2010, 12:38:06 AM
Very cool GD.

BTW, Cindy finished the box cover today and we should be shipping in about two weeks. 
28562  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: September 09, 2010, 12:15:22 PM
My prediction:  China is a big bubble which will burst before then.  I might add that GS did not predict the bursting of our bubble (in public at any rate).
28563  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: September 09, 2010, 08:17:17 AM
The West Bank Attack and Israel's Negotiating Strategy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Tuesday for peace talks to be held on Thursday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Just three hours prior to his arrival, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a car at the entrance of the Jewish settlement Kiryat Arba near the West Bank city of Hebron. Four Israelis — two men and two women (one of whom was pregnant) — were killed in the attack.

Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was the first group to claim responsibility for the attack, followed by Fatah’s armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and a new group calling itself Al Haq. Multiple claims for attacks and collaboration among groups is common in the Palestinian territories, but the claim itself does not matter as much as the political message the attack intended to convey.

” Israeli military activity in the West Bank would deliver another big blow to the Palestinian leader’s credibility.”
Hamas, in particular, is signaling to U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel that they are dealing with the wrong man. Abbas certainly cannot claim to speak for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has questionable authority in his own Fatah-controlled West Bank. As the Tuesday attack illustrated, Abbas cannot control the Palestinian militant landscape whether he wants to or not. In other words, if Israel and the United States are really seeking peace with the Palestinians, they need to open a dialogue with Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed that Israel would “exact a price” from those responsible for the killing of the four Israeli civilians. Hamas and its militant associates are hoping that price comes in the form of Israeli military operations in the West Bank. Abbas was already hanging by a thread politically, but Israeli military activity in the West Bank would deliver another big blow to the Palestinian leader’s credibility, potentially give Hamas an opportunity to regain influence in the West Bank and help derail Thursday’s peace talks.

But there wasn’t much to derail. The Palestinian territories are split geographically and politically between Hamas and Fatah, with no leader, political faction or militant group able to speak on behalf of the territories as a whole. Neither Israel nor the United States is blind to this reality. But every U.S. administration needs to take its turn at mediating Israeli-Palestinian talks, and though Obama has been preoccupied with more pressing issues since he began his presidency, he has found time to take another swing at brokering peace in the Middle East.

The more interesting question in our mind is what is compelling Israel to oblige with the U.S. wish for peace talks. Israel and the United States have been on rough footing since Obama took office, mainly due to Netanyahu’s failed attempt to pressure Washington into aligning with Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and Iran early on in the Obama presidency. The more Israel pushed, the more it came to realize that it simply cannot afford to alienate its only significant ally without bearing intolerable costs. Israel needed to find a way to clean up that diplomatic mess at low cost — hence the peace talks.

The cost for Israel to proceed with talks following this attack is still low, since Israel knows it can make tough demands and not expect the Palestinian side to deliver. More important, Israel knows perfectly well that the peace process in and of itself will generate an increase in militant acts, and that will allow divisions to persist within the Palestinian territories and excuse Israel from having to make meaningful concessions. The cost on Tuesday was four Israeli lives, but on the strategic level, Hamas gave Israel exactly what it was seeking in the lead-up to Thursday’s peace talks: the status quo.
28564  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Well, here's one approach on: September 09, 2010, 08:01:27 AM
Minister wants Obama to become Ameer-ul-Momineen
Published: September 02, 2010
Print  Facebook  Digg  StumbleUpon  Text Size 
ISLAMABAD – In a development that could be duly termed as one and only of its kind, an incumbent Government’s Minister has urged US President Barrack Obama to offer Eid prayers at Ground Zero Mosque and become “Ameer-ul-Momineen” of Muslim Ummah.
Minister of State for Industries and former member Pakistan Ideological Council Ayatullah Durrani called TheNation on Wednesday to register his demand made to President Obama.
“The coming Eid would expectedly be observed on 9/11, this a golden opportunity for President Obama to offer Eid prayers at Ground Zero and become Amir-ul-Momineen or Caliph of Muslims. In this way, all the problems of Muslim World would be solved,” he thought.
Durrani argued that Muslim World was in “dire need” of a Caliph and the distinguished slot of Caliphate would earn President Obama the exemplary titles of what he termed, “Mullah Barrack Hussain Obama” or “Allama Obama.” “The time is approaching fast. Barrack Hussain Obama must act now. This is a golden opportunity, Muslims badly need it,” he added, saying that the elevation of President Obama to Muslim’s Caliphate would be the “key to success.”
28565  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Barney on: September 09, 2010, 07:44:22 AM
By Neal Boortz @ September 8, 2010 9:05 AM Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBacks (0)
Since we started off talking about the economy here ... once again it might be a good idea to remind you just what got us into this economic mess. As you know ... the entire economic crash was centered around a collapse in the U.S. real estate market. This collapse was cause by millions (tens of millions?) of homeowners suddenly finding themselves completely unable to make payments on their mortgage loans - payments that had increased due to adjustable rate mortgages.

I've gone through this explanation before ... but this time let me use the words of Thomas Sowell in this excellent column:

"Another political fable is that the current economic downturn is due to not enough government regulation of the housing and financial markets. But it was precisely the government regulators, under pressure from politicians, who forced banks and other lending institutions to lower their standards for making mortgage loans.

These risky loans, and the defaults that followed, were what set off a chain reaction of massive financial losses that brought down the whole economy.

Was this due to George W. Bush and the Republicans? Only partly. Most of those who pushed the lowering of mortgage lending standards were Democrats-- notably Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Christopher Dodd, though too many Republicans went along.

At the heart of these policies were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who bought huge amounts of risky mortgages, passing the risk on from the banks that lent the money (and made the profits) to the taxpayers who were not even aware that they would end up paying in the end.

When President Bush said in 2004 that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be reined in, 76 members of the House of Representatives issued a statement to the contrary. These included Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters and Charles Rangel.

If we are going to talk about "the policies that created this mess in the first place," let's at least get the facts straight and the names right."

As I've been telling you for well over a year now ... if you want to point the finger at the people most responsible for our current economy, figure out where Barney Frank and Chris Dodd are right now ... and point in that general direction.

And while we're at it ... just to increase the insensitivity here ... when are we going to really explore the role of Barney Frank's boyfriend in this mess? At the very same time that the Republicans were trying to rein in Fannie and Freddie Barney's lover was working for Fannie Mae ... working in the very Fannie Mae program that was encouraging these irresponsible loans. Does that bring up any questions as to why Barney opposed reform? Change the scenario just a bit and have a congressman protecting Fannie Mae while his girlfriend was working there. Do you think THEN someone might have suggested investigating the situation?

28566  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: EMP Analysis on: September 09, 2010, 07:02:18 AM
Gauging the Threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack
September 9, 2010

By Scott Stewart and Nate Hughes

Over the past decade there has been an ongoing debate over the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to modern civilization. This debate has been the most heated perhaps in the United States, where the commission appointed by Congress to assess the threat to the United States warned of the dangers posed by EMP in reports released in 2004 and 2008. The commission also called for a national commitment to address the EMP threat by hardening the national infrastructure.

There is little doubt that efforts by the United States to harden infrastructure against EMP — and its ability to manage critical infrastructure manually in the event of an EMP attack — have been eroded in recent decades as the Cold War ended and the threat of nuclear conflict with Russia lessened. This is also true of the U.S. military, which has spent little time contemplating such scenarios in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union. The cost of remedying the situation, especially retrofitting older systems rather than simply regulating that new systems be better hardened, is immense. And as with any issue involving massive amounts of money, the debate over guarding against EMP has become quite politicized in recent years.

We have long avoided writing on this topic for precisely that reason. However, as the debate over the EMP threat has continued, a great deal of discussion about the threat has appeared in the media. Many STRATFOR readers have asked for our take on the threat, and we thought it might be helpful to dispassionately discuss the tactical elements involved in such an attack and the various actors that could conduct one. The following is our assessment of the likelihood of an EMP attack against the United States.

Defining Electromagnetic Pulse

EMP can be generated from natural sources such as lightning or solar storms interacting with the earth’s atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetic field. It can also be artificially created using a nuclear weapon or a variety of non-nuclear devices. It has long been proven that EMP can disable electronics. Its ability to do so has been demonstrated by solar storms, lightning strikes and atmospheric nuclear explosions before the ban on such tests. The effect has also been recreated by EMP simulators designed to reproduce the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear device and study how the phenomenon impacts various kinds of electrical and electronic devices such as power grids, telecommunications and computer systems, both civilian and military.

The effects of an EMP — both tactical and strategic — have the potential to be quite significant, but they are also quite uncertain. Such widespread effects can be created during a high-altitude nuclear detonation (generally above 30 kilometers, or about 18 miles). This widespread EMP effect is referred to as high-altitude EMP or HEMP. Test data from actual high-altitude nuclear explosions is extremely limited. Only the United States and the Soviet Union conducted atmospheric nuclear tests above 20 kilometers and, combined, they carried out fewer than 20 actual tests.

As late as 1962 — a year before the Partial Test Ban Treaty went into effect, prohibiting its signatories from conducting aboveground test detonations and ending atmospheric tests — scientists were surprised by the HEMP effect. During a July 1962 atmospheric nuclear test called “Starfish Prime,” which took place 400 kilometers above Johnston Island in the Pacific, electrical and electronic systems were damaged in Hawaii, some 1,400 kilometers away. The Starfish Prime test was not designed to study HEMP, and the effect on Hawaii, which was so far from ground zero, startled U.S. scientists.

High-altitude nuclear testing effectively ended before the parameters and effects of HEMP were well understood. The limited body of knowledge that was gained from these tests remains a highly classified matter in both the United States and Russia. Consequently, it is difficult to speak intelligently about EMP or publicly debate the precise nature of its effects in the open-source arena.

The importance of the EMP threat should not be understated. There is no doubt that the impact of a HEMP attack would be significant. But any actor plotting such an attack would be dealing with immense uncertainties — not only about the ideal altitude at which to detonate the device based on its design and yield in order to maximize its effect but also about the nature of those effects and just how devastating they could be.

Non-nuclear devices that create an EMP-like effect, such as high-power microwave (HPM) devices, have been developed by several countries, including the United States. The most capable of these devices are thought to have significant tactical utility and more powerful variants may be able to achieve effects more than a kilometer away. But at the present time, such weapons do not appear to be able to create an EMP effect large enough to affect a city, much less an entire country. Because of this, we will confine our discussion of the EMP threat to HEMP caused by a nuclear detonation, which also happens to be the most prevalent scenario appearing in the media.

Attack Scenarios

In order to have the best chance of causing the type of immediate and certain EMP damage to the United States on a continent-wide scale, as discussed in many media reports, a nuclear weapon (probably in the megaton range) would need to be detonated well above 30 kilometers somewhere over the American Midwest. Modern commercial aircraft cruise at a third of this altitude. Only the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China possess both the mature warhead design and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability to conduct such an attack from their own territory, and these same countries have possessed that capability for decades. (Shorter range missiles can achieve this altitude, but the center of the United States is still 1,000 kilometers from the Eastern Seaboard and more than 3,000 kilometers from the Western Seaboard — so just any old Scud missile won’t do.)

The HEMP threat is nothing new. It has existed since the early 1960s, when nuclear weapons were first mated with ballistic missiles, and grew to be an important component of nuclear strategy. Despite the necessarily limited understanding of its effects, both the United States and Soviet Union almost certainly included the use of weapons to create HEMPs in both defensive and especially offensive scenarios, and both post-Soviet Russia and China are still thought to include HEMP in some attack scenarios against the United States.

However, there are significant deterrents to the use of nuclear weapons in a HEMP attack against the United States, and nuclear weapons have not been used in an attack anywhere since 1945. Despite some theorizing that a HEMP attack might be somehow less destructive and therefore less likely to provoke a devastating retaliatory response, such an attack against the United States would inherently and necessarily represent a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland and the idea that the United States would not respond in kind is absurd. The United States continues to maintain the most credible and survivable nuclear deterrent in the world, and any actor contemplating a HEMP attack would have to assume not that they might experience some limited reprisal but that the U.S. reprisal would be full, swift and devastating.

Countries that build nuclear weapons do so at great expense. This is not a minor point. Even today, a successful nuclear weapons program is the product of years — if not a decade or more — and the focused investment of a broad spectrum of national resources. Nuclear weapons also are developed as a deterrent to attack, not with the intention of immediately using them offensively. Once a design has achieved an initial capability, the focus shifts to establishing a survivable deterrent that can withstand first a conventional and then a nuclear first strike so that the nuclear arsenal can serve its primary purpose as a deterrent to attack. The coherency, skill and focus this requires are difficult to overstate and come at immense cost — including opportunity cost — to the developing country. The idea that Washington will interpret the use of a nuclear weapon to create a HEMP as somehow less hostile than the use of a nuclear weapon to physically destroy an American city is not something a country is likely to gamble on.

In other words, for the countries capable of carrying out a HEMP attack, the principles of nuclear deterrence and the threat of a full-scale retaliatory strike continue to hold and govern, just as they did during the most tension-filled days of the Cold War.

Rogue Actors

One scenario that has been widely put forth is that the EMP threat emanates not from a global or regional power like Russia or China but from a rogue state or a transnational terrorist group that does not possess ICBMs but will use subterfuge to accomplish its mission without leaving any fingerprints. In this scenario, the rogue state or terrorist group loads a nuclear warhead and missile launcher aboard a cargo ship or tanker and then launches the missile from just off the coast in order to get the warhead into position over the target for a HEMP strike. This scenario would involve either a short-range ballistic missile to achieve a localized metropolitan strike or a longer-range (but not intercontinental) ballistic missile to reach the necessary position over the Eastern or Western seaboard or the Midwest to achieve a key coastline or continental strike.

When we consider this scenario, we must first acknowledge that it faces the same obstacles as any other nuclear weapon employed in a terrorist attack. It is unlikely that a terrorist group like al Qaeda or Hezbollah can develop its own nuclear weapons program. It is also highly unlikely that a nation that has devoted significant effort and treasure to develop a nuclear weapon would entrust such a weapon to an outside organization. Any use of a nuclear weapon would be vigorously investigated and the nation that produced the weapon would be identified and would pay a heavy price for such an attack (there has been a large investment in the last decade in nuclear forensics). Lastly, as noted above, a nuclear weapon is seen as a deterrent by countries such as North Korea or Iran, which seek such weapons to protect themselves from invasion, not to use them offensively. While a group like al Qaeda would likely use a nuclear device if it could obtain one, we doubt that other groups such as Hezbollah would. Hezbollah has a known base of operations in Lebanon that could be hit in a counterstrike and would therefore be less willing to risk an attack that could be traced back to it.

Also, such a scenario would require not a crude nuclear device but a sophisticated nuclear warhead capable of being mated with a ballistic missile. There are considerable technical barriers that separate a crude nuclear device from a sophisticated nuclear warhead. The engineering expertise required to construct such a warhead is far greater than that required to construct a crude device. A warhead must be far more compact than a primitive device. It must also have a trigger mechanism and electronics and physics packages capable of withstanding the force of an ICBM launch, the journey into the cold vacuum of space and the heat and force of re-entering the atmosphere — and still function as designed. Designing a functional warhead takes considerable advances in several fields of science, including physics, electronics, engineering, metallurgy and explosives technology, and overseeing it all must be a high-end quality assurance capability. Because of this, it is our estimation that it would be far simpler for a terrorist group looking to conduct a nuclear attack to do so using a crude device than it would be using a sophisticated warhead — although we assess the risk of any non-state actor obtaining a nuclear capability of any kind, crude or sophisticated, as extraordinarily unlikely.

But even if a terrorist organization were somehow able to obtain a functional warhead and compatible fissile core, the challenges of mating the warhead to a missile it was not designed for and then getting it to launch and detonate properly would be far more daunting than it would appear at first glance. Additionally, the process of fueling a liquid-fueled ballistic missile at sea and then launching it from a ship using an improvised launcher would also be very challenging. (North Korea, Iran and Pakistan all rely heavily on Scud technology, which uses volatile, corrosive and toxic fuels.)

Such a scenario is challenging enough, even before the uncertainty of achieving the desired HEMP effect is taken into account. This is just the kind of complexity and uncertainty that well-trained terrorist operatives seek to avoid in an operation. Besides, a ground-level nuclear detonation in a city such as New York or Washington would be more likely to cause the type of terror, death and physical destruction that is sought in a terrorist attack than could be achieved by generally non-lethal EMP.

Make no mistake: EMP is real. Modern civilization depends heavily on electronics and the electrical grid for a wide range of vital functions, and this is truer in the United States than in most other countries. Because of this, a HEMP attack or a substantial geomagnetic storm could have a dramatic impact on modern life in the affected area. However, as we’ve discussed, the EMP threat has been around for more than half a century and there are a number of technical and practical variables that make a HEMP attack using a nuclear warhead highly unlikely.

When considering the EMP threat, it is important to recognize that it exists amid a myriad other threats, including related threats such as nuclear warfare and targeted, small-scale HPM attacks. They also include threats posed by conventional warfare and conventional weapons such as man-portable air-defense systems, terrorism, cyberwarfare attacks against critical infrastructure, chemical and biological attacks — even natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and tsunamis.

The world is a dangerous place, full of potential threats. Some things are more likely to occur than others, and there is only a limited amount of funding to monitor, harden against, and try to prevent, prepare for and manage them all. When one attempts to defend against everything, the practical result is that one defends against nothing. Clear-sighted, well-grounded and rational prioritization of threats is essential to the effective defense of the homeland.

Hardening national infrastructure against EMP and HPM is undoubtedly important, and there are very real weaknesses and critical vulnerabilities in America’s critical infrastructure — not to mention civil society. But each dollar spent on these efforts must be balanced against a dollar not spent on, for example, port security, which we believe is a far more likely and far more consequential vector for nuclear attack by a rogue state or non-state actor.
28567  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Seattle: Eid celebrations postponed on: September 09, 2010, 06:56:06 AM
28568  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: September 09, 2010, 06:31:31 AM
Expectations and Reality in Afghanistan

Afghan officials told Reuters on Tuesday that President Hamid Karzai’s regime had frozen the assets of leading shareholders and borrowers at the country’s top bank. These include Kabul Bank’s former chairman, Sher Khan Farnood, and chief executive officer, Khalilullah Frozi — each of whom owns a 28 percent stake in the bank. Both reportedly resigned their positions last week, which apparently triggered the run on the financial institution because of fears that the bank was collapsing in the wake of illegal withdrawals by some of its owners. Karzai’s brother, Mahmood, is the third-largest shareholder, with a 7 percent stake, and First Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim’s brother, Mohammad Haseen, also has interests in Kabul Bank.

That Afghanistan’s largest private bank is in trouble is not as significant as the Western media coverage of the issue. The Western press is depicting it as a major crisis, with some saying it is a larger problem than the rapidly intensifying Taliban insurgency. This view does not take into account that modern financial institutions in a country like Afghanistan cannot be treated as they are in other countries and the West.

“There is an assumption that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved by imposing a Western-style political economy on the country, which is why there is a tendency to gauge progress or the lack thereof in Western terms.”
Most Afghans who live beyond the few urban enclaves in the country do not rely on these institutions in their day-to-day business. In other words, Afghanistan’s financial world has nowhere near as far to fall as the West’s, so even its utter collapse — not just a crisis of confidence in one bank — would not have the same geopolitical magnitude. Thus, the effects of the collapse are not as important as we are led to believe, especially when compared to Afghanistan’s more fundamental problems of insecurity.

This is not to suggest that Western efforts in Afghanistan do not depend on aid and development. But after nearly nine years and tens of billions of dollars of Western aid, Afghanistan has not shown progress in terms of becoming a functional economy and the primordial goal of security has become increasing elusive. More importantly, given the plethora of reports on corruption and graft in the country incessantly produced in the Western public domain, it is only to be expected that Afghanistan’s political elite will skim more than a little off the top of the coffers. In a country defined by the lack of rule of law where tribal, ethnic, and regional warlords reign supreme, graft is only natural. It is not necessary to control corruption to achieve good governance. Indeed, in most countries, control over corruption is the outcome of the maturing of a political system that evolves from a consensus among its stakeholders.

In any case, that the potential collapse of Kabul Bank has created so much anxiety in the West points to a deeper problem — one directly related to the failures of Western strategy for the country. There is an assumption that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved by imposing a Western-style political economy on the country, which is why there is a tendency to gauge progress or the lack thereof in Western terms. Such views are based on an utter disregard for the simple reality that Afghanistan, which has not existed as a nation — let alone a state — for more than three decades, does not operate by the same rules as do most other countries. This much should be obvious from the fact that the U.S.-led West will not be turning Afghanistan into anything resembling a modern Western-style state anytime soon — and definitely not within the narrow window the Obama administration has given itself.

And herein lies the strategic problem. The United States wants to exit the country militarily as soon as possible, which means it does not have the luxury of time to bring Afghanistan into the 21st century. This would explain the story in the Washington Post from over the weekend that — contrary to the political rhetoric condemning corruption and promising to address it — reported that the U.S. military leadership in country is in the process of assuming a more pragmatic attitude toward corruption. The United States appears to be coming to terms with the reality that graft is a way of life in Afghanistan and needs to be tolerated to the degree that allows Washington to work with local leaders (who are unlikely to be clean) in attempting to undermine the momentum of the Taliban insurgency.

At this stage it is not clear that such a strategy would produce the desired results. But Washington has no other choice. Because what is very clear is that Afghanistan does not even compare to Iraq where, despite the massive challenges that remain, the United States was able to get the various factions to at least agree to a political system.
28569  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread on: September 08, 2010, 11:22:47 PM
Other things being roughly equal , , ,
28570  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prayer and Daily Expression of Gratitude on: September 08, 2010, 11:21:08 PM
I pray for peace and wisdom in dealing with a matter of great emotional conflict and give gratitude for a wonderful wife.
28571  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty in Seattle, Sept 11-12, 2010 on: September 08, 2010, 11:18:39 PM
Leaving tomorrow (Thursday).  Happy Birthday Duncan!
28572  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: RIP Guro Patrick Davis on: September 08, 2010, 04:53:36 PM
I liked Pat a lot  cry cry cry

"The wood is consumed, but the fire burns on."
28573  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread on: September 08, 2010, 04:31:56 PM
Intuitively that makes sense to me.
28574  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Unverified on: September 08, 2010, 03:26:46 PM
This just came over the transom. I can not speak to its veracity nor have I ever heard of Wayne Madsen. At the same time the concept is quite believable.

August 27-29, 2010 -- Obama put on notice by Democratic money moguls

Informed sources in Washington, DC have told WMR that President Obama has been personally told by a delegation of top Democratic Party financiers that unless he radically changes his economic policies they will bolt from him for another Democratic candidate in 2012. The Democratic money moguls conveyed the warning to Obama in Martha's Vineyard, where the president and his family are spending their vacation.


There are various factions within the Democratic Party that see different scenarios to bail out what many Democrats see as an administration in deep trouble with the electorate. One would have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton move up to replace Vice President Joe Biden on the 2012 ticket with Senator John Kerry becoming Secretary of State. However, WMR has been told that Clinton personally loathes Obama and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and may not want to be part of the 2012 president ticket playing second fiddle to Obama.

WMR has also learned that Obama's reported "severe narcissism" has a number of his cabinet officials and top Democratic fundraisers perplexed. Obama's refusal to change course because of his ego was discussed at the recent annual Bohemian Grove conclave in northern California, which brings together influential businessmen and politicians from both parties. Top U.S. business leaders openly complained about Obama's economic policies, with some stating that Obama is, for the business community, the worst president in anyone's lifetime.


They also complained about White House gatekeepers like Emanuel and policy advisers Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod who are preventing access to the Oval Office.

Although such complaints could be expected from Republican businessmen, we have learned that top Democratic businessmen at the Bohemian Grove have told Jarrett, Obama's chief liaison to them, that all she does is  shake them down" for campaign contributions and that the uncertainty on the costs for Obama programs on health care and taxes has prevented the hiring of workers.


WMR has also learned that rather than change course, the White House staff, who are keenly reading anything that is critical of the president, are more interested in exacting revenge for criticism than in changing course. "The White House staff are voracious readers who are obsessed with favorable coverage," one source said.

The Obama administration's interest in a favorable public image over all other interests has a number of Democrats running for re-election privately miffed. One change many Democratic politicians and fundraisers would like to see is the replacement of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner with someone with more gravitas and a better handle on fixes for the plummeting economy.


Some senior Democrats are also livid about Emanuel's constant selling out of Democratic Party interests for narrow political objectives. WMR has been told by a reliable source that Emanuel has privately conveyed to Florida independent Senate candidate Governor Charlie Crist that the White House will quietly support him if he caucuses with Senate Democrats. Crist has apparently cut a deal with the White House that would see lukewarm White House support for Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek, who recently won the Democratic nomination.


There are dark clouds on the horizon for Obama regardless of a sudden course correction, which some Democrats do not see coming. Certain Democrats see Obama as a liability and there has been a reported understanding reached with the U.S. Attorney for northern Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, that in the second trial of ex-Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, Obama and his aides, particularly Emanuel, Jarrett, and Axelrod, will no longer enjoy protection from being called as witnesses.


The sudden dropping of federal corruption charges against Rob Blagojevich, the brother of the former governor, may be part of a deal worked out that would focus the trial more keenly on Blagojevich's dealings with Obama and his top aides, including the appointment of Obama's successor in the Senate and financial deals involving Tony Rezko, Stuart Levine, dubious property development in the north Chicago Fifth Congressional District formerly represented by Emanuel, real estate ventures involving the proposed 2016 Summer Olympics in Chicago, and Obama's mortgage with the failed Broadway Bank and his relationship with Rezko and U.S. Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, who was the vice president for loans at the bank at the time the mortgage loan was made.


If the scope of the investigation of corruption in Chicago expands beyond Blagojevich to the White House, we are told the word "impeachment" would begin to be on the lips of a number of Washington politicos.
28575  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread on: September 08, 2010, 10:14:03 AM
But in one case, sexual role models modelled will be Darwinian errors and at variance with abouat 95% of the children in question.
28576  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rauf speaks on: September 08, 2010, 07:26:43 AM
Building on Faith
Published: September 7, 2010

AS my flight approached America last weekend, my mind circled back to the furor that has broken out over plans to build Cordoba House, a community center in Lower Manhattan.I have been away from home for two months, speaking abroad about cooperation among people from different religions. Every day, including the past two weeks spent representing my country on a State Department tour in the Middle East, I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels.

We have all been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become. The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship.

Many people wondered why I did not speak out more, and sooner, about this project. I felt that it would not be right to comment from abroad. It would be better if I addressed these issues once I returned home to America, and after I could confer with leaders of other faiths who have been deliberating with us over this project. My life’s work has been focused on building bridges between religious groups and never has that been as important as it is now.

We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons.

Above all, the project will amplify the multifaith approach that the Cordoba Initiative has deployed in concrete ways for years. Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures.

Our broader mission — to strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology — lies not in skirting the margins of issues that have polarized relations within the Muslim world and between non-Muslims and Muslims. It lies in confronting them as a joint multifaith, multinational effort.

From the political conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians to the building of a community center in Lower Manhattan, Muslims and members of all faiths must work together if we are ever going to succeed in fostering understanding and peace.

At Cordoba House, we envision shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children. There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths. The center will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

I am very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11, as are my fellow leaders of many faiths. We will accordingly seek the support of those families, and the support of our vibrant neighborhood, as we consider the ultimate plans for the community center. Our objective has always been to make this a center for unification and healing.

Cordoba House will be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.

I do not underestimate the challenges that will be involved in bringing our work to completion. (Construction has not even begun yet.) I know there will be interest in our financing, and so we will clearly identify all of our financial backers.

Lost amid the commotion is the good that has come out of the recent discussion. I want to draw attention, specifically, to the open, law-based and tolerant actions that have taken place, and that are particularly striking for Muslims.

President Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both spoke out in support of our project. As I traveled overseas, I saw firsthand how their words and actions made a tremendous impact on the Muslim street and on Muslim leaders. It was striking: a Christian president and a Jewish mayor of New York supporting the rights of Muslims. Their statements sent a powerful message about what America stands for, and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations.

The wonderful outpouring of support for our right to build this community center from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.

From those who recognize our rights, from grassroots organizers to heads of state, I sense a global desire to build on this positive momentum and to be part of a global movement to heal relations and bring peace. This is an opportunity we must grasp.

I therefore call upon all Americans to rise to this challenge. Let us commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 by pausing to reflect and meditate and tone down the vitriol and rhetoric that serves only to strengthen the radicals and weaken our friends’ belief in our values.

The very word “islam” comes from a word cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew. The Koran declares in its 36th chapter, regarded by the Prophet Muhammad as the heart of the Koran, in a verse deemed the heart of this chapter, “Peace is a word spoken from a merciful Lord.”

How better to commemorate 9/11 than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions?

Feisal Abdul Rauf is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and the imam of the Farah mosque in Lower Manhattan.
28577  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Forget what you know about good study habits on: September 08, 2010, 07:06:07 AM
Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits
Published: September 6, 2010

Every September, millions of parents try a kind of psychological witchcraft, to transform their summer-glazed campers into fall students, their video-bugs into bookworms. Advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies).

And check out the classroom. Does Junior’s learning style match the new teacher’s approach? Or the school’s philosophy? Maybe the child isn’t “a good fit” for the school.

Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn’t offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how.

Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

“We have known these principles for some time, and it’s intriguing that schools don’t pick them up, or that people don’t learn them by trial and error,” said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken.”

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. Some excellent instructors caper in front of the blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness. “We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

But individual learning is another matter, and psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.

The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

“What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

The advantages of this approach to studying can be striking, in some topic areas. In a study recently posted online by the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor of the University of South Florida taught a group of fourth graders four equations, each to calculate a different dimension of a prism. Half of the children learned by studying repeated examples of one equation, say, calculating the number of prism faces when given the number of sides at the base, then moving on to the next type of calculation, studying repeated examples of that. The other half studied mixed problem sets, which included examples all four types of calculations grouped together. Both groups solved sample problems along the way, as they studied.


(Page 2 of 2)

A day later, the researchers gave all of the students a test on the material, presenting new problems of the same type. The children who had studied mixed sets did twice as well as the others, outscoring them 77 percent to 38 percent. The researchers have found the same in experiments involving adults and younger children.

“When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem,” said Dr. Rohrer. “That’s like riding a bike with training wheels.” With mixed practice, he added, “each problem is different from the last one, which means kids must learn how to choose the appropriate procedure — just like they had to do on the test.”

These findings extend well beyond math, even to aesthetic intuitive learning. In an experiment published last month in the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers found that college students and adults of retirement age were better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists after viewing mixed collections (assortments, including works from all 12) than after viewing a dozen works from one artist, all together, then moving on to the next painter.

The finding undermines the common assumption that intensive immersion is the best way to really master a particular genre, or type of creative work, said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College and the lead author of the study. “What seems to be happening in this case is that the brain is picking up deeper patterns when seeing assortments of paintings; it’s picking up what’s similar and what’s different about them,” often subconsciously.

Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out.

“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.”

When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.

“The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning,” said Dr. Kornell. “When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.”

That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

Dr. Roediger uses the analogy of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, which holds that the act of measuring a property of a particle (position, for example) reduces the accuracy with which you can know another property (momentum, for example): “Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it,” he says — and, happily, in the direction of more certainty, not less.

In one of his own experiments, Dr. Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke, also of Washington University, had college students study science passages from a reading comprehension test, in short study periods. When students studied the same material twice, in back-to-back sessions, they did very well on a test given immediately afterward, then began to forget the material.

But if they studied the passage just once and did a practice test in the second session, they did very well on one test two days later, and another given a week later.

“Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test,” Dr. Roediger said. “Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have.”

Of course, one reason the thought of testing tightens people’s stomachs is that tests are so often hard. Paradoxically, it is just this difficulty that makes them such effective study tools, research suggests. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget. This effect, which researchers call “desirable difficulty,” is evident in daily life. The name of the actor who played Linc in “The Mod Squad”? Francie’s brother in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”? The name of the co-discoverer, with Newton, of calculus?

The more mental sweat it takes to dig it out, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored.

None of which is to suggest that these techniques — alternating study environments, mixing content, spacing study sessions, self-testing or all the above — will turn a grade-A slacker into a grade-A student. Motivation matters. So do impressing friends, making the hockey team and finding the nerve to text the cute student in social studies.

“In lab experiments, you’re able to control for all factors except the one you’re studying,” said Dr. Willingham. “Not true in the classroom, in real life. All of these things are interacting at the same time.”

But at the very least, the cognitive techniques give parents and students, young and old, something many did not have before: a study plan based on evidence, not schoolyard folk wisdom, or empty theorizing.
28578  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pat Cadell on GZM on: September 08, 2010, 06:54:45 AM
28579  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: 911 and the 9 year war on: September 08, 2010, 06:43:07 AM
9/11 and the 9-Year War
September 8, 2010

By George Friedman

It has now been nine years since al Qaeda attacked the United States. It has been nine years in which the primary focus of the United States has been on the Islamic world. In addition to a massive investment in homeland security, the United States has engaged in two multi-year, multi-divisional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inserted forces in other countries in smaller operations and conducted a global covert campaign against al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups.

In order to understand the last nine years you must understand the first 24 hours of the war — and recall your own feelings in those 24 hours. First, the attack was a shock, its audaciousness frightening. Second, we did not know what was coming next. The attack had destroyed the right to complacent assumptions. Were there other cells standing by in the United States? Did they have capabilities even more substantial than what they showed on Sept. 11? Could they be detected and stopped? Any American not frightened on Sept. 12 was not in touch with reality. Many who are now claiming that the United States overreacted are forgetting their own sense of panic. We are all calm and collected nine years after.

At the root of all of this was a profound lack of understanding of al Qaeda, particularly its capabilities and intentions. Since we did not know what was possible, our only prudent course was to prepare for the worst. That is what the Bush administration did. Nothing symbolized this more than the fear that al Qaeda had acquired nuclear weapons and that they would use them against the United States. The evidence was minimal, but the consequences would be overwhelming. Bush crafted a strategy based on the worst-case scenario.

Bush was the victim of a decade of failure in the intelligence community to understand what al Qaeda was and wasn’t. I am not merely talking about the failure to predict the 9/11 attack. Regardless of assertions afterwards, the intelligence community provided only vague warnings that lacked the kind of specificity that makes for actionable intelligence. To a certain degree, this is understandable. Al Qaeda learned from Soviet, Saudi, Pakistani and American intelligence during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and knew how to launch attacks without tipping off the target. The greatest failure of American intelligence was not the lack of a clear warning about 9/11 but the lack, on Sept. 12, of a clear picture of al Qaeda’s global structure, capabilities, weaknesses and intentions. Without such information, implementing U.S. policy was like piloting an airplane with faulty instruments in a snowstorm at night.

The president had to do three things: First, he had to assure the public that he knew what he was doing. Second, he had to do something that appeared decisive. Third, he had to gear up an intelligence and security apparatus to tell him what the threats actually were and what he ought to do. American policy became ready, fire, aim.

In looking back at the past nine years, two conclusions can be drawn: There were no more large-scale attacks on the United States by militant Islamists, and the United States was left with the legacy of responses that took place in the first two years after 9/11. This legacy is no longer useful, if it ever was, to the primary mission of defeating al Qaeda, and it represents an effort that is retrospectively out of proportion to the threat.

If I had been told on Sept.12, 2001, that the attack the day before would be the last major attack for at least nine years, I would not have believed it. In looking at the complexity of the security and execution of the 9/11 attack, I would have assumed that an organization capable of acting once in such a way could act again even more effectively. My assumption was wrong. Al Qaeda did not have the resources to mount other operations, and the U.S. response, in many ways clumsy and misguided and in other ways clever and targeted, disrupted any preparations in which al Qaeda might have been engaged to conduct follow-on attacks.

Knowing that about al Qaeda in 2001 was impossible. Knowing which operations were helpful in the effort to block them was impossible, in the context of what Americans knew in the first years after the war began. Therefore, Washington wound up in the contradictory situation in which American military and covert operations surged while new attacks failed to materialize. This created a massive political problem. Rather than appearing to be the cause for the lack of attacks, U.S. military operations were perceived by many as being unnecessary or actually increasing the threat of attack. Even in hindsight, aligning U.S. actions with the apparent outcome is difficult and controversial. But still we know two things: It has been nine years since Sept. 11, 2001, and the war goes on.

What happened was that an act of terrorism was allowed to redefine U.S. grand strategy. The United States operates with a grand strategy derived from the British strategy in Europe — maintaining the balance of power. For the United Kingdom, maintaining the balance of power in Europe protected any one power from emerging that could unite Europe and build a fleet to invade the United Kingdom or block its access to its empire. British strategy was to help create coalitions to block emerging hegemons such as Spain, France or Germany. Using overt and covert means, the United Kingdom aimed to ensure that no hegemonic power could emerge.

The Americans inherited that grand strategy from the British but elevated it to a global rather than regional level. Having blocked the Soviet Union from hegemony over Europe and Asia, the United States proceeded with a strategy whose goal, like that of the United Kingdom, was to nip potential regional hegemons in the bud. The U.S. war with Iraq in 1990-91 and the war with Serbia/Yugoslavia in 1999 were examples of this strategy. It involved coalition warfare, shifting America’s weight from side to side and using minimal force to disrupt the plans of regional aspirants to gain power. This U.S. strategy also was cloaked in the ideology of global liberalism and human rights.

The key to this strategy was its global nature. The emergence of a hegemonic contender that could challenge the United States globally, as the Soviet Union had done, was the worst-case scenario. Therefore, the containment of emerging powers wherever they might emerge was the centerpiece of American balance-of-power strategy.

The most significant effect of 9/11 was that it knocked the United States off its strategy. Rather than adapting its standing global strategy to better address the counterterrorism issue, the United States became obsessed with a single region, the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush. Within that region, the United States operated with a balance-of-power strategy. It played off all of the nations in the region against each other. It did the same with ethnic and religious groups throughout the region and particularly within Iraq and Afghanistan, the main theaters of the war. In both cases, the United States sought to take advantage of internal divisions, shifting its support in various directions to create a balance of power. That, in the end, was what the surge strategy was all about.

The American obsession with this region in the wake of 9/11 is understandable. Nine years later, with no clear end in sight, the question is whether this continued focus is strategically rational for the United States. Given the uncertainties of the first few years, obsession and uncertainty are understandable, but as a long-term U.S. strategy — the long war that the U.S. Department of Defense is preparing for — it leaves the rest of the world uncovered.

Consider that the Russians have used the American absorption in this region as a window of opportunity to work to reconstruct their geopolitical position. When Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008, an American ally, the United States did not have the forces with which to make a prudent intervention. Similarly, the Chinese have had a degree of freedom of action they could not have expected to enjoy prior to 9/11. The single most important result of 9/11 was that it shifted the United States from a global stance to a regional one, allowing other powers to take advantage of this focus to create significant potential challenges to the United States.

One can make the case, as I have, that whatever the origin of the Iraq war, remaining in Iraq to contain Iran is necessary. It is difficult to make a similar case for Afghanistan. Its strategic interest to the United States is minimal. The only justification for the war is that al Qaeda launched its attacks on the United States from Afghanistan. But that justification is no longer valid. Al Qaeda can launch attacks from Yemen or other countries. The fact that Afghanistan was the base from which the attacks were launched does not mean that al Qaeda depends on Afghanistan to launch attacks. And given that the apex leadership of al Qaeda has not launched attacks in a while, the question is whether al Qaeda is capable of launching such attacks any longer. In any case, managing al Qaeda today does not require nation building in Afghanistan.

But let me state a more radical thesis: The threat of terrorism cannot become the singular focus of the United States. Let me push it further: The United States cannot subordinate its grand strategy to simply fighting terrorism even if there will be occasional terrorist attacks on the United States. Three thousand people died in the 9/11 attack. That is a tragedy, but in a nation of over 300 million, 3,000 deaths cannot be permitted to define the totality of national strategy. Certainly, resources must be devoted to combating the threat and, to the extent possible, disrupting it. But it must also be recognized that terrorism cannot always be blocked, that terrorist attacks will occur and that the world’s only global power cannot be captive to this single threat.

The initial response was understandable and necessary. The United States must continue its intelligence gathering and covert operations against militant Islamists throughout the world. The intelligence failures of the 1990s must not be repeated. But waging a multi-divisional war in Afghanistan makes no strategic sense. The balance-of-power strategy must be used. Pakistan will intervene and discover the Russians and Iranians. The great game will continue. As for Iran, regional counters must be supported at limited cost to the United States. The United States should not be patrolling the far reaches of the region. It should be supporting a balance of power among the native powers of the region.

The United States is a global power and, as such, it must have a global view. It has interests and challenges beyond this region and certainly beyond Afghanistan. The issue there is not whether the United States can or can’t win, however that is defined. The issue is whether it is worth the effort considering what is going on in the rest of the world. Gen. David Petraeus cast the war in terms of whether the United States can win it. That’s reasonable; he’s the commander. But American strategy has to ask another question: What does the United States lose elsewhere while it focuses on the future of Kandahar?

The 9/11 attack shocked the United States and made counterterrorism the centerpiece of American foreign policy. That is too narrow a basis on which to base U.S. foreign policy. It is certainly an important strand of that policy, and it must be addressed, but it should be addressed through the regional balance of power. It is the good fortune of the United States that the Islamic world is torn by internal rivalries.

This is not dismissing the threat of terror. It is recognizing that the United States has done well in suppressing it over the past nine years but at a cost in other regions, a cost that can’t be sustained indefinitely and a cost that could well result in challenges more threatening than a rising Islamist militancy. The United States must now settle into a long-term strategy of managing terrorism as best as it can while not neglecting the rest of its interests.

After nine years, the issue is not what to do in Afghanistan but how the global power can return to managing all of its global interests, along with the war on al Qaeda.

28580  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: September 08, 2010, 06:30:27 AM
Take a look at the topography of the narrow strip of China through which they would have to build a road sufficient to support that level of economic endeavor.  Then add in the dangers of operating in Afganistan.  The expense in money and the military effort IMHO are quite unappealing, even for the Chinese.
28581  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Our spontaneous universe on: September 07, 2010, 11:14:44 PM
Although recently I have been connecting more with spiritual things, this article seems worthy of posting here:

Physicist Stephen Hawking has done it again. This time he's sent shock waves around the world by arguing that God didn't create the universe; it was created spontaneously. Shocking or not, he actually understated the case.

For over 2,000 years the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" has captured theologians and philosophers. While usually framed as a religious or philosophical question, it is equally a question about the natural world. So an appropriate place to try and resolve it is with science.

As a scientist, I have never quite understood the conviction, at the basis of essentially all the world's religions, that creation requires a creator. Every day beautiful and miraculous objects suddenly appear, from snowflakes on a cold winter morning to rainbows after a late afternoon summer shower.

Yet no one but the most ardent fundamentalists would suggest that every such object is painstakingly and purposefully created by divine intelligence. In fact, we revel in our ability to explain how snowflakes and rainbows can spontaneously appear based on the simple, elegant laws of physics.

So if we can explain a raindrop, why can't we explain a universe? Mr. Hawking based his argument on the possible existence of extra dimensions—and perhaps an infinite number of universes, which would indeed make the spontaneous appearance of a universe like ours seem almost trivial.

Yet there are remarkable, testable arguments that provide firmer empirical evidence of the possibility that our universe arose from nothing.

One of the greatest sagas in physics over the past century has been the effort to "weigh the universe." Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity explained that space is curved and therefore our universe can exist in one of three different geometries: open, closed or flat. A closed universe is like a three-dimensional sphere, which may be impossible to imagine, but is easy to describe. If you looked far enough in one direction in such a universe you would see the back of your head.

While these exotic geometries are fun to talk about, operationally there is a much more important consequence of their existence. A closed universe whose energy density is dominated by matter will one day recollapse. An open universe will continue to expand forever at a finite rate, and a flat universe is just at the boundary—slowing down, but never quite stopping.

Some of us have spent our careers trying to figure out what kind of universe we live in so we could be the first ones to know how the universe would end. After 80 years of trying we have actually determined the answer. Observations of the cosmic microwave background from the Big Bang have unambiguously confirmed that we live in a precisely flat universe.

It appears that the dominant energy in our universe doesn't reside in normal matter, or even mysterious dark matter. Rather, it is located in a much more mysterious form of energy in empty space. Figuring out why empty space has energy is perhaps the biggest mystery in physics and cosmology today.

The existence of this energy, called dark energy, has another consequence: It changes the picture so that knowing the geometry of the universe is no longer enough to determine its future. While this may be a disappointment, the existence of dark energy and a flat universe has profound implications for those of us who suspected the universe might arise from nothing.

Why? Because if you add up the total energy of a flat universe, the result is precisely zero. How can this be? When you include the effects of gravity, energy comes in two forms. Mass corresponds to positive energy, but the gravitational attraction between massive objects can correspond to negative energy. If the positive energy and the negative gravitational energy of the universe cancel out, we end up in a flat universe.

Think about it: If our universe arose spontaneously from nothing at all, one might predict that its total energy should be zero. And when we measure the total energy of the universe, which could have been anything, the answer turns out to be the only one consistent with this possibility.

Coincidence? Maybe. But data like this coming in from our revolutionary new tools promise to turn much of what is now metaphysics into physics. Whether God survives is anyone's guess.

Mr. Krauss, a cosmologist, is director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. His newest book, "A Universe From Nothing" will be published by Free Press in 2011.
28582  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: September 07, 2010, 08:01:57 PM
Beck is on vacation this week and Judge Napolitano is hosting a week dedicated to reviewing "the world according to Beck"-- a good week for new comers to get a sense of things and for regular viewers to get a good broad review.

Changing subjects, here's this from the WSJ:

The tea party movement has largely been a boon for the country, reviving the case for limited government and a properly understood Constitution. Now that the general election campaign is near, however, we'll see how well the movement and its favored candidates can close the sale and pragmatically advance their goals.

We say this in particular about their relationship to the Republican Party, and vice versa. The GOP is a more natural ideological home for most tea partiers than is the other major party, but they also suspect many Republicans of committing pragmatism, if not selling out too easily to Beltway mores. They have a point.

On the other hand, sometimes you need a few "wets" to gain a majority and advance your own ideas. Ask Nancy Pelosi, who rode the victories of Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked Blue Dog Democrats to the House Speakership in 2006 and then used them to pass 40 years of liberal dreams in this Congress.

This political dilemma is coming to a head in next week's Senate primary in Delaware to determine the GOP nominee for Joe Biden's former seat. Congressman and former Governor Mike Castle is running and is thought to be an easy general election winner. This would be a net GOP gain in a blue state that gave President Obama 62% of the vote in 2008. Such pickups aren't easy to come by.

Mr. Castle will never be mistaken for South Carolina's Jim DeMint, however, and he has a moderate voting record across his 18 years in Congress. His (still unapologetic) support for cap and tax last year is especially radioactive for many GOP primary voters, whether or not they are tea party fellow-travelers. That voting record has drawn a primary challenge from Christine O'Donnell, an itinerant conservative commentator and activist who is supported by some in the tea party movement and national talk radio. She is close in the polls and could pull an upset.

View Full Image

Associated Press
Christine O'Donnell, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, addresses supporters during a Tea Party Express news conference.
.If she does defeat Mr. Castle, however, she has little chance to win in November. A two-time loser statewide, Ms. O'Donnell has a history of financial troubles and recently told the Weekly Standard her home and office were vandalized, though she hadn't reported it to police. She recently accused a conservative local talk radio host that he had been "paid off" by Mr. Castle's supporters after he asked her tough questions.

So GOP primary voters must decide if they want to vote for Mr. Castle, a moderate who would help Republicans organize the Senate and who opposed ObamaCare but who will give them heartburn on some issue in the future. Or they can vote their heart even if it means giving up a Senate seat.

A similar case is the race for the GOP nomination in upstate New York's 23rd Congressional District. Doug Hoffman ran on the Conservative line in a special election last year after being shut out by GOP bosses, and a Democrat ended up victorious in a three-candidate race. Mr. Hoffman is threatening another third-party run if he loses the GOP primary next Tuesday, even though this time voters are deciding, not party insiders. At some point, voters will wonder if Mr. Hoffman's candidacy is about his principles, or his personal ambition.

Politics in our two-party system is about coalition building, and any successful party must stretch across many groups. Republicans will have to accommodate much of the tea party agenda if they hope to assemble a new majority and avoid third-party challenges. But tea partiers who want to restore proper Constitutional limits, rather than merely pad the ratings of talk radio, might recall William F. Buckley Jr.'s counsel that his policy was to vote for the most conservative candidate who could win.
28583  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Open Gathering Sept 19, 2010 on: September 07, 2010, 05:49:30 PM
Dog Mauricio of Mexico City just sent in his registration.  Is there someone who can offer him a place to stay?  Please email me at

Thank you.
28584  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / GZM: $18m rejected, $4.7m accepted? on: September 07, 2010, 03:04:59 PM
28585  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / OTOH, here's this: on: September 07, 2010, 03:02:17 PM
28586  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pay-back time on: September 07, 2010, 02:57:10 PM
I have not had a chance to snopes these yet, so caveat lector.

Both the Saudis and George Soros are supporting Barack Obama, it is 'payback-time'.
Barack Obama and George Soros Connection information. 
Barack Obama and Saudi Connection information.
As early as 1988, BEFORE he entered Harvard, Barack Obama was beholding the Saudi Royal Family and
has had his WAY made easy for him. Here is a Faustian Deal that is now being paid back. The Saudis have
 long wanted a Muslim in the White House and now they have it. Please share this widely.
Barack Obama and Bill Ayers Connection (SDS Weatherman Underground domestic terrorists)
caption from video:
*Update: Newest and most concerning connection: Hatem El-hady. Had his phony charity organization closed and assets
 frozen by the US government for raising money for Hamas in 2006. Under investigation by the FBI for connections to Al-Qaeda
 and terrorist attacks in London. He's been funding Obama's campaign lately and just recently had his page removed from
Barack Obama/Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi Connection
Through the Woods Fund, Obama funds the Islamist Terrorist Organization, the PLO
28587  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: September 07, 2010, 02:52:09 PM
Why would they be motivated to do that?
28588  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Criminal Justice system on: September 07, 2010, 02:50:47 PM
Scurvy posted:

"He prescribes life terms for violent offenders, but in prisons structured as work communities, where privileges are earned through work in expanded, productive industries that reduce the financial burden of incarceration on the public."

This resonates with me.  I will be thinking about it more.
28589  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: September 07, 2010, 02:47:35 PM
Whoa!  I just noticed your post Scurvy! We are very grateful you and yours are safe and sound and back here in America!!!

Turning now to the reason I came to this thread today, I am grateful for some inspiration DVDs which are reminding me of some things I used to know.

And a prayer for a friend who has made a big mistake , , ,

28590  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: September 07, 2010, 11:17:24 AM
Well, at least he is listed here!  embarassed
28591  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Adoption issues on: September 07, 2010, 10:58:55 AM
Heated debate and controversy swept across the Australian state of New South Wales last week when a bill granting same-sex couples the same rights under adoption laws as heterosexual couples was passed narrowly (45 votes to 43) in the Legislative Assembly (lower house) of its Parliament.

The message that permeated the media was this: that discrimination against same-sex couples has to stop, and that adoption is just one more frontier that needs to be conquered. Passionate letters condemning conservatives and religious beliefs reflected the same theme: one reader of the Sydney Morning Herald said that "[h]omosexuals are just as capable of, and entitled to, raising a child [sic]. The same-sex adoption bill goes some way towards the legitimate and continuing campaign to give same-sex couples the same legal and social rights... as enjoyed by mixed gender parents." While a campaign to stop discrimination against same-sex relationships clearly formed the underlying objective of this legislation and the undercurrent of debate, the justification for it was marketed by the slogan: "What matters is loving parents, not their sexuality."

Members of Parliament were allowed by their parties to have a conscience vote, and leaders of both parties voted in favour of the bill. The state premier and self-professed Catholic, Kristina Keneally, went so far as to attempt to reconcile her position to back the legislation with Catholic teaching. Keneally actually hails from Ohio where she attended the University of Dayton, a Catholic institution. Presumably she did not major in theology, judging from how she mixes snippets of Catholic doctrine on homosexuality and the morality of sex outside of marriage with quotes from scripture, mostly taken out of context, misunderstood and in any case, irrelevant. Needless to say, while Keneally may have convinced herself of the congruity between her faith and her stand on the placement of children with same-sex couples, she convinced neither those for nor those against the amendments.

In any event, what the NSW premier and the media have in common is this: they have missed the point. What should have been the crux of this debate -- the best interests of the child -- was lost in the strong tide of sentiment favouring the view that the rights of the prospective adopting parents are paramount and that discrimination against people of same-sex orientation must be eliminated in every way, shape and form.

The issue of whether same-sex adoption is in the best interests of the child is not, in fact, about homophobia or whether prospective same-sex parents have a "right" to adopt a child. One person who appears to have gotten this right is Mike Baird, the shadow treasurer of the Legislative Assembly, whose starting point was "the interests of children and their needs rather than adults and their rights". He went on to criticise the bill as one that puts "the rights of the adults at the centre... the interests of adults above those of children."

The central question to be addressed, said Baird, was not (as Keneally held) whether children needed a loving family; rather, the issue turned on whether it is in the child’s best interests to be "effectively barred" from having a mother and a father.

"f it is accepted that a child has a human right to a mother and a father," he said in the parliamentary debate, "this is a negative right in the sense that there is no claim that society or the state are obliged to provide this, but simply that they are obliged not to help deprive someone of them."

The question he raises is one that ought to make us pause: giving equal preference to same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents that wish to adopt means that the state has the arbitrary power to decide whether or not a child is going to have a father and a mother. Clothing the issue in questions of whether homosexual couples are capable of giving the child care, love and a stable environment, or whether homosexual couples could do it better than dysfunctional opposite-sex parents, and bringing in arguments about where religion stands on the debate -- all of this distracts from the main question.

What we need to ask ourselves is whether it is right that the state be allowed to deprive a child of the chance to have both a person who fulfils the function of a mother and a person who fulfils the function of a father, and all that the collaboration of two people of different genders potentially brings to the development of a human being. The opportunity to have a mother and a father is a very distinct and separate issue from discriminating against people of same-sex orientation, although admittedly and by its nature, it inevitably does.

While Baird acknowledged the complexity surrounding the debate and the need to abolish all unjust discrimination, he also pointed out that passing the bill would amount to a "deliberate decision... to negate one biological parent", which could only be justified if it is accepted that a child definitively does not need both a father and a mother.

Baird voted against the law change on the ground that there was insufficient depth of research to show that there was no long-term impact on children in same-sex families. Without such evidence he said he could not justify legislating against the "time-honoured practice of placing children with both a mother and a father".

"If we wish to make such a dramatic move," he said, "... we must be convinced that it is in the best interests of the child. From what I have read, we are not at this point. Going forward this should lead the debate, not the need to eradicate discrimination or address legal anomalies."

The Legislative Council, which is the upper house of the NSW Parliament and whose approval is required to make this bill law, is considering these issues this week. Let’s hope they get it right this time.

Susan Smithies is the pen name of a lawyer working in New South Wales.
28592  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: September 07, 2010, 01:48:47 AM
Well certainly we have no chance with the currently enunciated strategy.

I too have made the point about Pashtunistan in my offering of some outside the box strategy.  Although I admit to the vanity of thinking my ideas rather clever, no one else in enunciating anything that I respect and so amongst the currently offered choices my vote is for "none of the above."

We need to remember that people cheered the overthrow of the Taliban and appreciate that maybe they do terrorize those who know we are leaving.

28593  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: September 07, 2010, 01:38:55 AM
Woof All:

A mere 5 months later Tyler Morin has chosen his name.  A hearty woof to C-Dirty Dog!

Crafty Dog
28594  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Open Gathering Sept 19, 2010 on: September 06, 2010, 08:31:28 PM
How many is that?
28595  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Open Gathering Sept 19, 2010 on: September 06, 2010, 07:27:57 PM
The dinner will be held in the Hermosa Beach area.

As always, there will be a post Gathering get together at a beer and burger joint in the general vicinity of the Gathering-- details to be provided by Pappy Dog.
28596  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Ramadan fast by NFL player on: September 06, 2010, 01:05:19 PM
second post of the day:

In the Heat of Camp, the Hunger of Faith
Published: September 5, 2010

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — For Minnesota Vikings defensive back Husain Abdullah, the most important clock inside the Metrodome was not the one keeping time for his team’s recent preseason game with the Seattle Seahawks. Another, showing the time of day, held greater significance for him and for the Vikings’ training staff.

 Husain Abdullah in action against the San Francisco 49ers last month. In 2008, as a rookie, he fasted without telling anyone.
Abdullah, a third-year safety, is a Muslim who keeps the traditional fast during the holy month of Ramadan; he cannot eat or drink from sunup to sundown. So while his teammates slugged down water and sports drinks on the sideline during the first quarter, Abdullah had to abstain until sunset, at 7:57 p.m. Abdullah went by the clock because the game was indoors.

“So I told them, as soon as it’s 8 o’clock, remind me so I can pour some down,” Abdullah said. “We did a kickoff, had a long drive on defense, and then they scored a field goal. On the sideline they said: ‘It’s 8 o’clock. Start pounding.’ ”

The physical demands of an N.F.L. training camp, which entail two practices on some days, can tax even the best-hydrated and well-fed players. Yet Abdullah, 25, and his brother Hamza, a 27-year-old defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, are committed to fasting throughout Ramadan, which ends at sundown Thursday — the night the Vikings open the season in New Orleans.

An N.F.L. spokesman was not aware of any other Muslim players who were fasting.

The fast is not required if a person is ill or it poses an undue hardship, according to Hamza Abdullah, who skipped several days in 2008 because of an injured hip and made them up later. Denver offensive tackle Ryan Harris, a converted Muslim and Hamza Abdullah’s former teammate, is not fasting, according to a Broncos spokesman.

“It’s hard to be a professional athlete, and it’s hard to fast,” Hamza Abdullah said in a telephone interview from the Cardinals’ complex in the Phoenix area.

But it means so much to Husain Abdullah that he has fasted every year since he was 7, even during football season while at Washington State and with Minnesota. That reflects the influence of his parents, who raised 12 children in the Muslim faith in Southern California. All are fasting, Hamza Abdullah said.

“A lot of people may look at things differently, but I feel it is required for us to fast,” Husain Abdullah said, basing his conviction on his reading of the Koran. “And we’ve been fasting my whole life, pretty much. I try to protect my fasting because it really means a lot to me.”

To do so, Abdullah needed help from the Vikings because Ramadan coincided with training camp. Abdullah fasted as a rookie in 2008, when Ramadan began and ended in September, but he never told anyone in the organization.

“I’m a quiet person,” said Abdullah, who led the Vikings in special teams tackles as an undrafted free agent.

Last year, Ramadan started Aug. 22, the day after the Vikings’ second preseason game. Abdullah told only Derek Mason, the assistant defensive backs coach, about his fasting. Coach Brad Childress learned about it in early September, when he wondered why Abdullah lacked energy and could not keep up his weight. The 6-foot Abdullah usually plays at 200 to 202 pounds, he said, but dropped to 194 during Ramadan.

So last April, the team’s nutrition consultant, Carrie Peterson, devised a Ramadan meal plan for Abdullah, based on a 3,800-calorie diet.

Every day, Abdullah wakes briefly at 2 a.m. to consume a protein and carbohydrate shake.

“I hate to make the guy get up at 2 a.m., but that’s about 400 calories he’s getting,” Peterson said. “That’s about a pound a week he’d lose if he didn’t get up to have that shake.”

He rises again at 5 with his wife, Zhavon, to pray and eat a predawn meal, known as suhoor. Dietary choices include scrambled eggs with vegetables, a nonpork breakfast meat (pork is forbidden in a Muslim diet), oatmeal with fruit and various liquids. Abdullah tops it off with another shake. Then nothing until the evening meal at sundown.

“My weight has always fluctuated, but of course during Ramadan, it fluctuates a little more,” he said after a recent practice. “When I come out here and work out, I probably lose two or three pounds during a practice. During Ramadan, it’s probably around four or so.

“Even if I tap out, drain myself, the next morning, after I’ve eaten at night and eaten in the morning, I’m right back to my normal weight. I weighed in today at 200.

“This year, I’m doing a whole lot better maintaining with the plan I put in place.”

The Vikings’ defensive backs coach, Joe Woods, said he never coached a fasting Muslim before Abdullah, a versatile athlete who fills in at both safety positions and at nickel back.

“It’s hard to imagine somebody being able to do that, out here practicing, 50 reps a day, and not have any water,” Woods said. “But he’s done it. He has a very good plan.”

Both Abdullahs say their teammates have been supportive and inquisitive. Muslims traditionally break the daily fast by eating a date, and Hamza Abdullah said a bag of dates he brought to a night practice this summer drew puzzled looks.

“Some of my teammates were looking at the bag, like, what is that weird-looking fruit?” he said. “It was pretty funny.”

To those who know Husain Abdullah, his commitment to fasting is nothing to joke about. “It’s really a testament to how important his religion is in his life,” Peterson said. “It’s amazing. He’s kind of an inspiration to me in a lot of ways.”
28597  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Muslims fear losing ground on: September 06, 2010, 12:57:19 PM
For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.

Eboo Patel, the director of an interfaith youth group, said some politicians were whipping up fear and hatred of Muslims.
Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of vandalism. The knifing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City has also alarmed many American Muslims.

“We worry: Will we ever be really completely accepted in American society?” said Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of two young girls. “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”

Eboo Patel, a founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based community service program that tries to reduce religious conflict, said, “I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11.”

That was a refrain echoed by many American Muslims in interviews last week. They said they were scared not as much for their safety as to learn that the suspicion, ignorance and even hatred of Muslims is so widespread. This is not the trajectory toward integration and acceptance that Muslims thought they were on.

Some American Muslims said they were especially on edge as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches. The pastor of a small church in Florida has promised to burn a pile of Korans that day. Muslim leaders are telling their followers that the stunt has been widely condemned by Christian and other religious groups and should be ignored. But they said some young American Muslims were questioning how they could simply sit by and watch the promised desecration.

They liken their situation to that of other scapegoats in American history: Irish Roman Catholics before the nativist riots in the 1800s, the Japanese before they were put in internment camps during World War II.

Muslims sit in their living rooms, aghast as pundits assert over and over that Islam is not a religion at all but a political cult, that Muslims cannot be good Americans and that mosques are fronts for extremist jihadis. To address what it calls a “growing tide of fear and intolerance,” the Islamic Society of North America plans to convene a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Washington on Tuesday.

Young American Muslims who are trying to figure out their place and their goals in life are particularly troubled, said Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University.

“People are discussing what is the alternative if we don’t belong here,” he said. “There are jokes: When are we moving to Canada, when are we moving to Sydney? Nobody will go anywhere, but there is hopelessness, there is helplessness, there is real grief.”

Mr. Antepli just returned from a trip last month with a rabbi and other American Muslim leaders to Poland and Germany, where they studied the Holocaust and the events that led up to it (the group issued a denunciation of Holocaust denial on its return).

“Some of what people are saying in this mosque controversy is very similar to what German media was saying about Jews in the 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “It’s really scary.”

American Muslims were anticipating a particularly joyful Ramadan this year. For the first time in decades, the monthlong holiday fell mostly during summer vacation, allowing children to stay up late each night for the celebratory iftar dinner, breaking the fast, with family and friends.

But the season turned sour.

The great mosque debate seems to have unleashed a flurry of vandalism and harassment directed at mosques: construction equipment set afire at a mosque site in Murfreesboro, Tenn; a plastic pig with graffiti thrown into a mosque in Madera, Calif.; teenagers shooting outside a mosque in upstate New York during Ramadan prayers. It is too soon to tell whether hate crimes against Muslims are rising or are on pace with previous years, experts said. But it is possible that other episodes are going unreported right now.

“Victims are reluctant to go public with these kinds of hate incidents because they fear further harassment or attack,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “They’re hoping all this will just blow over.”

Some Muslims said their situation felt more precarious now — under a president who is perceived as not only friendly to Muslims but is wrongly believed by many Americans to be Muslim himself — than it was under President George W. Bush.

Mr. Patel explained, “After Sept. 11, we had a Republican president who had the confidence and trust of red America, who went to a mosque and said, ‘Islam means peace,’ and who said ‘Muslims are our neighbors and friends,’ and who distinguished between terrorism and Islam.”

Now, unlike Mr. Bush then, the politicians with sway in red state America are the ones whipping up fear and hatred of Muslims, Mr. Patel said.

“There is simply the desire to paint an entire religion as the enemy,” he said. Referring to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder of the proposed Muslim center near ground zero, “What they did to Imam Feisal was highly strategic. The signal was, we can Swift Boat your most moderate leaders.”

Several American Muslims said in interviews that they were stunned that what provoked the anti-Muslim backlash was not even another terrorist attack but a plan by an imam known for his work with leaders of other faiths to build a Muslim community center.

This year, Sept. 11 coincides with the celebration of Eid, the finale to Ramadan, which usually lasts three days (most Muslims will begin observing Eid this year on Sept. 10). But Muslim leaders, in this climate, said they wanted to avoid appearing to be celebrating on the anniversary of 9/11. Several major Muslim organizations have urged mosques to use the day to participate in commemoration events and community service.

Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, said many American Muslims were still hoping to salvage the spirit of Ramadan.

“In Ramadan, you’re really not supposed to be focused on yourself,” she said. “It’s about looking out for the suffering of other people. Somehow it feels bad to be so worried about our own situation and our own security, when it should be about empathy towards others.”
28598  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: When all else fails on: September 06, 2010, 12:30:36 PM
September 5, 2010
Housing Woes Bring New Cry: Let Market Fall

The unexpectedly deep plunge in home sales this summer is likely to force the Obama administration to choose between future homeowners and current ones, a predicament officials had been eager to avoid.

Over the last 18 months, the administration has rolled out just about every program it could think of to prop up the ailing housing market, using tax credits, mortgage modification programs, low interest rates, government-backed loans and other assistance intended to keep values up and delinquent borrowers out of foreclosure. The goal was to stabilize the market until a resurgent economy created new households that demanded places to live.

As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash. When prices are lower, these experts argue, buyers will pour in, creating the elusive stability the government has spent billions upon billions trying to achieve.

“Housing needs to go back to reasonable levels,” said Anthony B. Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at George Mason University. “If we keep trying to stimulate the market, that’s the definition of insanity.”

The further the market descends, however, the more miserable one group — important both politically and economically — will be: the tens of millions of homeowners who have already seen their home values drop an average of 30 percent.
The poorer these owners feel, the less likely they will indulge in the sort of consumer spending the economy needs to recover. If they see an identical house down the street going for half what they owe, the temptation to default might be irresistible. That could make the market’s current malaise seem minor.

Caught in the middle is an administration that gambled on a recovery that is not happening.

“The administration made a bet that a rising economy would solve the housing problem and now they are out of chips,” said Howard Glaser, a former Clinton administration housing official with close ties to policy makers in the administration. “They are deeply worried and don’t really know what to do.”

That was clear last week, when the secretary of housing and urban development, Shaun Donovan, appeared to side with current homeowners, telling CNN the administration would “go everywhere we can” to make sure the slumping market recovers.  Mr. Donovan even opened the door to another housing tax credit like the one that expired last spring, which paid first-time buyers as much as $8,000 and buyers who were moving up $6,500. The cost to taxpayers was in the neighborhood of $30 billion, much of which went to people who would have bought anyway.   Administration press officers quickly backpedaled from Mr. Donovan’s comment, saying a revived credit was either highly unlikely or flat-out impossible. Mr. Donovan declined to be interviewed for this article. In a statement, a White House spokeswoman responded to questions about possible new stimulus measures by pointing to those already in the works.

“In the weeks ahead, we will focus on successfully getting off the ground programs we have recently announced,” the spokeswoman, Amy Brundage, said.

Among those initiatives are $3 billion to keep the unemployed from losing their homes and a refinancing program that will try to cut the mortgage balances of owners who owe more than their property is worth. A previous program with similar goals had limited success. If last year’s tax credit was supposed to be a bridge over a rough patch, it ended with a glimpse of the abyss. The average home now takes more than a year to sell. Add in the homes that are foreclosed but not yet for sale and the total is greater still.  Builders are in even worse shape. Sales of new homes are lower than in the depths of the recession of the early 1980s, when mortgage rates were double what they are now, unemployment was pervasive and the gloom was at least as thick.

The deteriorating circumstances have given a new voice to the “do nothing” chorus, whose members think the era of trying to buy stability while hoping the market will catch fire — called “extend and pretend” or “delay and pray” — has run its course.

“We have had enough artificial support and need to let the free market do its thing,” said the housing analyst Ivy Zelman.

Michael L. Moskowitz, president of Equity Now, a direct mortgage lender that operates in New York and seven other states, also advocates letting the market fall. “Prices are still artificially high,” he said. “The government is discriminating against the renters who are able to buy at $200,000 but can’t at $250,000.”

A small decline in home prices might not make too much of a difference to a slack economy. But an unchecked drop of 10 percent or more might prove entirely discouraging to the millions of owners just hanging on, especially those who bought in the last few years under the impression that a turnaround had already begun.

The government is on the hook for many of these mortgages, another reason policy makers have been aggressively seeking stability. What helped support the market last year could now cause it to crumble.  Since 2006, the Federal Housing Administration has insured millions of low down payment loans. During the first two years, officials concede, the credit quality of the borrowers was too low.

With little at stake and a queasy economy, buyers bailed: nearly 12 percent were delinquent after a year. Last fall, F.H.A. cash reserves fell below the Congressionally mandated minimum, and the agency had to shore up its finances.  Government-backed loans in 2009 went to buyers with higher credit scores. Yet the percentage of first-year defaults was still 5 percent, according to data from the research firm CoreLogic.

“These are at-risk buyers,” said Sam Khater, a CoreLogic economist. “They have very little equity, and that’s the largest predictor of default.”

This is the risk policy makers face. “If home prices begin to fall again with any serious velocity, borrowers may stay away in such numbers that the market never recovers,” said Mr. Glaser, a consultant whose clients include the National Association of Realtors.  Those sorts of worries have a few people from the world of finance suggesting that the administration should do much more, not less.

William H. Gross, managing director at Pimco, a giant manager of bond funds, has proposed the government refinance at lower rates millions of mortgages it owns or insures. Such a bold action, Mr. Gross said in a recent speech, would “provide a crucial stimulus of $50 to $60 billion in consumption,” as well as increase housing prices.

The idea has gained little traction. Instead, there is a sense that, even with much more modest notions, government intervention is not the answer. The National Association of Realtors, the driving force behind the credit last year, is not calling for a new round of stimulus.  Some members of the National Association of Home Builders say a new credit of $25,000 would raise demand but their chances of getting this through Congress are nonexistent.

“Our members are saying that if we can’t get a very large tax credit — one that really brings people off the bench — why use our political capital at all?” said David Crowe, the chief economist for the home builders.

That might give the Obama administration permission to take the risk of doing nothing.
28599  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: ACTION items on: September 06, 2010, 08:19:57 AM
ACTION ALERT: It's Time for Truth!
Take action today to protect medical cannabis patients from federal prosecution!

Recently, U.S. Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) sent a letter to Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) requesting that the Committee on the Judiciary hold a hearing to consider adopting the "Truth in Trials Act" (H.R. 3939).

This important legislation would provide an affirmative defense for authorized medical cannabis users and caregivers who are facing federal prosecution in medical cannabis states. The growing divide between federal and state marijuana laws requires the leadership of Congress. "Truth" is a common-sense, reasonable solution.

Tell Chairman Conyers that it's time for hearings on the "Truth in Trials Act!" Call his office in D.C. at 202-225-5126 send him a fax at 202-225-0072;
or write to him at:

Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
2426 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515

Please send one or both letters at the links. Please do this at least once a week. HR 3939 is to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide an affirmative defense for the medical use of marijuana in Federal court in accordance with the laws of the various States, and for other purpose.

ASA Letter
NORML letter
28600  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Zakaria: What America has lost on: September 06, 2010, 08:12:10 AM
Some points worth keeping in mind here:

by Fareed Zakaria

September 04, 2010


What America Has Lost

It’s clear we overreacted to 9/11


Nine years after 9/11, can anyone doubt that Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat? Since that gruesome day in 2001, once governments everywhere began serious countermeasures, Osama bin Laden’s terror network has been unable to launch a single major attack on high-value targets in the United States and Europe. While it has inspired a few much smaller attacks by local jihadis, it has been unable to execute a single one itself. Today, Al Qaeda’s best hope is to find a troubled young man who has been radicalized over the Internet, and teach him to stuff his underwear with explosives.


I do not minimize Al Qaeda’s intentions, which are barbaric. I question its capabilities. In every recent conflict, the United States has been right about the evil intentions of its adversaries but massively exaggerated their strength. In the 1980s, we thought the Soviet Union was expanding its power and influence when it was on the verge of economic and political bankruptcy. In the 1990s, we were certain that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear arsenal. In fact, his factories could barely make soap.


The error this time is more damaging. September 11 was a shock to the American psyche and the American system. As a result, we overreacted. In a crucially important Washington Post reporting project, “Top Secret America,” Dana Priest and William Arkin spent two years gathering information on how 9/11 has really changed America.


Here are some of the highlights. Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. The amount of money spent on intelligence has risen by 250 percent, to $75 billion (and that’s the public number, which is a gross underestimate). That’s more than the rest of the world spends put together. Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet—the equivalent of 22 U.S. Capitols or three Pentagons. Five miles southeast of the White House, the largest government site in 50 years is being built—at a cost of $3.4 billion—to house the largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs: the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.


This new system produces 50,000 reports a year—136 a day!—which of course means few ever get read. Those senior officials who have read them describe most as banal; one tells me, “Many could be produced in an hour using Google.” Fifty-one separate bureaucracies operating in 15 states track the flow of money to and from terrorist organizations, with little information-sharing.


Some 30,000 people are now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications in the United States. And yet no one in Army intelligence noticed that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had been making a series of strange threats at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he trained. The father of the Nigerian “Christmas bomber” reported his son’s radicalism to the U.S. Embassy. But that message never made its way to the right people in this vast security apparatus. The plot was foiled only by the bomber’s own incompetence and some alert passengers.


Such mistakes might be excusable. But the rise of this national-security state has entailed a vast expansion in the government’s powers that now touches every aspect of American life, even when seemingly unrelated to terrorism. The most chilling aspect of Dave Eggers’s heartbreaking book, Zeitoun, is that the federal government’s fastest and most efficient response to Hurricane Katrina was the creation of a Guantánamo-like prison facility (in days!) in which 1,200 American citizens were summarily detained and denied any of their constitutional rights for months, a suspension of habeas corpus that reads like something out of a Kafka novel.


In the past, the U.S. government has built up for wars, assumed emergency authority, and sometimes abused that power, yet always demobilized after the war. But this is a war without end. When do we declare victory? When do the emergency powers cease?


Conservatives are worried about the growing power of the state. Surely this usurpation is more worrisome than a few federal stimulus programs. When James Madison pondered this issue, he came to a simple conclusion: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germs of every other … In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended... and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.


“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war,” Madison concluded.
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