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28601  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: December 13, 2007, 10:42:40 AM

Fenerbahce To Ask Uefa For Three Points From Inter Match

A Turkish lawyer has filed a complaint to Uefa after Inter wore a shirt with an offensive symbol, at least to Islamic culture, in their recent match against Fenerbahce.

A Turkish lawyer who's an expert on European law, Baris Kaska, is asking Uefa to cancel the three points Inter earned in their win against Fenerbahce in the recent Champions League match.

The Nerazzurri had beaten the Turkish champions 3-0 at home to qualify for the next round of the Champions League.

The reason for the appeal is unusual: the celebratory shirt for Inter's centenary worn by the team that night, and on several other occasions this season, offended many people in Turkey.

The shirt's scheme saw a big red cross on a white background, a symbol of the city of Milan, and reminded many of an emblem of the order of the Templars, which is considered offensive in Islamic culture.

Inter consciously did not wear their 'centenary shirt' in their first match against Fenerbahce in Istanbul, but at home, they did not think it was necessary to do the same.

However, the very sensitive Turkish media reacted bitterly and that led to the official appeal filed by Kaska, who announced this decision during an interview to Barcelona daily La Vanguardia.
28602  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / James Wilson on: December 13, 2007, 10:28:17 AM
"In observations on this subject, we hear the legislature
mentioned as the people's representatives.  The distinction,
intimated by concealed implication, through probably, not avowed
upon reflection, is, that the executive and judicial powers are not
connected with the people by a relation so strong or near or dear.
But is high time that we should chastise our prejudices; and that
we should look upon the different parts of government with a just
and impartial eye."

-- James Wilson (Lectures on Law, 1791)

Reference: The Works of James Wilson, McCloskey, ed., vol. 1
(292-293); original Lectures on Law, Wilson,
28603  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / None of the Above Part Two on: December 12, 2007, 11:42:42 PM

That is an extraordinary number. The diagnosis of mental disability is one of the most stigmatizing of all educational and occupational classifications—and yet, apparently, the chances of being burdened with that label are in no small degree a function of the point, in the life cycle of the WISC, at which a child happens to sit for his evaluation. “As far as I can determine, no clinical or school psychologists using the WISC over the relevant 25 years noticed that its criterion of mental retardation became more lenient over time,” Flynn wrote, in a 2000 paper. “Yet no one drew the obvious moral about psychologists in the field: They simply were not making any systematic assessment of the I.Q. criterion for mental retardation.”
Flynn brings a similar precision to the question of whether Asians have a genetic advantage in I.Q., a possibility that has led to great excitement among I.Q. fundamentalists in recent years. Data showing that the Japanese had higher I.Q.s than people of European descent, for example, prompted the British psychometrician and eugenicist Richard Lynn to concoct an elaborate evolutionary explanation involving the Himalayas, really cold weather, premodern hunting practices, brain size, and specialized vowel sounds. The fact that the I.Q.s of Chinese-Americans also seemed to be elevated has led I.Q. fundamentalists to posit the existence of an international I.Q. pyramid, with Asians at the top, European whites next, and Hispanics and blacks at the bottom.
Here was a question tailor-made for James Flynn’s accounting skills. He looked first at Lynn’s data, and realized that the comparison was skewed. Lynn was comparing American I.Q. estimates based on a representative sample of schoolchildren with Japanese estimates based on an upper-income, heavily urban sample. Recalculated, the Japanese average came in not at 106.6 but at 99.2. Then Flynn turned his attention to the Chinese-American estimates. They turned out to be based on a 1975 study in San Francisco’s Chinatown using something called the Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence Test. But the Lorge-Thorndike test was normed in the nineteen-fifties. For children in the nineteen-seventies, it would have been a piece of cake. When the Chinese-American scores were reassessed using up-to-date intelligence metrics, Flynn found, they came in at 97 verbal and 100 nonverbal. Chinese-Americans had slightly lower I.Q.s than white Americans.
The Asian-American success story had suddenly been turned on its head. The numbers now suggested, Flynn said, that they had succeeded not because of their higher I.Q.s. but despite their lower I.Q.s. Asians were overachievers. In a nifty piece of statistical analysis, Flynn then worked out just how great that overachievement was. Among whites, virtually everyone who joins the ranks of the managerial, professional, and technical occupations has an I.Q. of 97 or above. Among Chinese-Americans, that threshold is 90. A Chinese-American with an I.Q. of 90, it would appear, does as much with it as a white American with an I.Q. of 97.
There should be no great mystery about Asian achievement. It has to do with hard work and dedication to higher education, and belonging to a culture that stresses professional success. But Flynn makes one more observation. The children of that first successful wave of Asian-Americans really did have I.Q.s that were higher than everyone else’s—coming in somewhere around 103. Having worked their way into the upper reaches of the occupational scale, and taken note of how much the professions value abstract thinking, Asian-American parents have evidently made sure that their own children wore scientific spectacles. “Chinese Americans are an ethnic group for whom high achievement preceded high I.Q. rather than the reverse,” Flynn concludes, reminding us that in our discussions of the relationship between I.Q. and success we often confuse causes and effects. “It is not easy to view the history of their achievements without emotion,” he writes. That is exactly right. To ascribe Asian success to some abstract number is to trivialize it.

Two weeks ago, Flynn came to Manhattan to debate Charles Murray at a forum sponsored by the Manhattan Institute. Their subject was the black-white I.Q. gap in America. During the twenty-five years after the Second World War, that gap closed considerably. The I.Q.s of white Americans rose, as part of the general worldwide Flynn effect, but the I.Q.s of black Americans rose faster. Then, for about a period of twenty-five years, that trend stalled—and the question was why.

Murray showed a series of PowerPoint slides, each representing different statistical formulations of the I.Q. gap. He appeared to be pessimistic that the racial difference would narrow in the future. “By the nineteen-seventies, you had gotten most of the juice out of the environment that you were going to get,” he said. That gap, he seemed to think, reflected some inherent difference between the races. “Starting in the nineteen-seventies, to put it very crudely, you had a higher proportion of black kids being born to really dumb mothers,” he said. When the debate’s moderator, Jane Waldfogel, informed him that the most recent data showed that the race gap had begun to close again, Murray seemed unimpressed, as if the possibility that blacks could ever make further progress was inconceivable.
Flynn took a different approach. The black-white gap, he pointed out, differs dramatically by age. He noted that the tests we have for measuring the cognitive functioning of infants, though admittedly crude, show the races to be almost the same. By age four, the average black I.Q. is 95.4—only four and a half points behind the average white I.Q. Then the real gap emerges: from age four through twenty-four, blacks lose six-tenths of a point a year, until their scores settle at 83.4.
That steady decline, Flynn said, did not resemble the usual pattern of genetic influence. Instead, it was exactly what you would expect, given the disparate cognitive environments that whites and blacks encounter as they grow older. Black children are more likely to be raised in single-parent homes than are white children—and single-parent homes are less cognitively complex than two-parent homes. The average I.Q. of first-grade students in schools that blacks attend is 95, which means that “kids who want to be above average don’t have to aim as high.” There were possibly adverse differences between black teen-age culture and white teen-age culture, and an enormous number of young black men are in jail—which is hardly the kind of environment in which someone would learn to put on scientific spectacles.
Flynn then talked about what we’ve learned from studies of adoption and mixed-race children—and that evidence didn’t fit a genetic model, either. If I.Q. is innate, it shouldn’t make a difference whether it’s a mixed-race child’s mother or father who is black. But it does: children with a white mother and a black father have an eight-point I.Q. advantage over those with a black mother and a white father. And it shouldn’t make much of a difference where a mixed-race child is born. But, again, it does: the children fathered by black American G.I.s in postwar Germany and brought up by their German mothers have the same I.Q.s as the children of white American G.I.s and German mothers. The difference, in that case, was not the fact of the children’s blackness, as a fundamentalist would say. It was the fact of their Germanness—of their being brought up in a different culture, under different circumstances. “The mind is much more like a muscle than we’ve ever realized,” Flynn said. “It needs to get cognitive exercise. It’s not some piece of clay on which you put an indelible mark.” The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person’s mind but the quality of the world that person lives in. ♦
CORRECTION: In his December 17th piece, “None of the Above,” Malcolm Gladwell states that Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, in their 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” proposed that Americans with low I.Q.s be “sequestered in a ‘high-tech’ version of an Indian reservation.” In fact, Herrnstein and Murray deplored the prospect of such “custodialism” and recommended that steps be taken to avert it. We regret the error.
28604  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Race, religion, ethnic origin on: December 12, 2007, 11:39:56 PM

None of the Above
What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race.
by Malcolm Gladwell December 17, 2007

If what I.Q. tests measure is immutable and innate, what explains the Flynn effect—the steady rise in scores across generations?

One Saturday in November of 1984, James Flynn, a social scientist at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, received a large package in the mail. It was from a colleague in Utrecht, and it contained the results of I.Q. tests given to two generations of Dutch eighteen-year-olds. When Flynn looked through the data, he found something puzzling. The Dutch eighteen-year-olds from the nineteen-eighties scored better than those who took the same tests in the nineteen-fifties—and not just slightly better, much better.Curious, Flynn sent out some letters. He collected intelligence-test results from Europe, from North America, from Asia, and from the developing world, until he had data for almost thirty countries. In every case, the story was pretty much the same. I.Q.s around the world appeared to be rising by 0.3 points per year, or three points per decade, for as far back as the tests had been administered. For some reason, human beings seemed to be getting smarter.
Flynn has been writing about the implications of his findings—now known as the Flynn effect—for almost twenty-five years. His books consist of a series of plainly stated statistical observations, in support of deceptively modest conclusions, and the evidence in support of his original observation is now so overwhelming that the Flynn effect has moved from theory to fact. What remains uncertain is how to make sense of the Flynn effect. If an American born in the nineteen-thirties has an I.Q. of 100, the Flynn effect says that his children will have I.Q.s of 108, and his grandchildren I.Q.s of close to 120—more than a standard deviation higher. If we work in the opposite direction, the typical teen-ager of today, with an I.Q. of 100, would have had grandparents with average I.Q.s of 82—seemingly below the threshold necessary to graduate from high school. And, if we go back even farther, the Flynn effect puts the average I.Q.s of the schoolchildren of 1900 at around 70, which is to suggest, bizarrely, that a century ago the United States was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally retarded.

For almost as long as there have been I.Q. tests, there have been I.Q. fundamentalists. H. H. Goddard, in the early years of the past century, established the idea that intelligence could be measured along a single, linear scale. One of his particular contributions was to coin the word “moron.” “The people who are doing the drudgery are, as a rule, in their proper places,” he wrote. Goddard was followed by Lewis Terman, in the nineteen-twenties, who rounded up the California children with the highest I.Q.s, and confidently predicted that they would sit at the top of every profession. In 1969, the psychometrician Arthur Jensen argued that programs like Head Start, which tried to boost the academic performance of minority children, were doomed to failure, because I.Q. was so heavily genetic; and in 1994 Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, in “The Bell Curve,” notoriously proposed that Americans with the lowest I.Q.s be sequestered in a “high-tech” version of an Indian reservation, “while the rest of America tries to go about its business.” To the I.Q. fundamentalist, two things are beyond dispute: first, that I.Q. tests measure some hard and identifiable trait that predicts the quality of our thinking; and, second, that this trait is stable—that is, it is determined by our genes and largely impervious to environmental influences.

This is what James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, meant when he told an English newspaper recently that he was “inherently gloomy” about the prospects for Africa. From the perspective of an I.Q. fundamentalist, the fact that Africans score lower than Europeans on I.Q. tests suggests an ineradicable cognitive disability. In the controversy that followed, Watson was defended by the journalist William Saletan, in a three-part series for the online magazine Slate. Drawing heavily on the work of J. Philippe Rushton—a psychologist who specializes in comparing the circumference of what he calls the Negroid brain with the length of the Negroid penis—Saletan took the fundamentalist position to its logical conclusion. To erase the difference between blacks and whites, Saletan wrote, would probably require vigorous interbreeding between the races, or some kind of corrective genetic engineering aimed at upgrading African stock. “Economic and cultural theories have failed to explain most of the pattern,” Saletan declared, claiming to have been “soaking [his] head in each side’s computations and arguments.” One argument that Saletan never soaked his head in, however, was Flynn’s, because what Flynn discovered in his mailbox upsets the certainties upon which I.Q. fundamentalism rests. If whatever the thing is that I.Q. tests measure can jump so much in a generation, it can’t be all that immutable and it doesn’t look all that innate.
The very fact that average I.Q.s shift over time ought to create a “crisis of confidence,” Flynn writes in “What Is Intelligence?” (Cambridge; $22), his latest attempt to puzzle through the implications of his discovery. “How could such huge gains be intelligence gains? Either the children of today were far brighter than their parents or, at least in some circumstances, I.Q. tests were not good measures of intelligence.”

The best way to understand why I.Q.s rise, Flynn argues, is to look at one of the most widely used I.Q. tests, the so-called WISC (for Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children). The WISC is composed of ten subtests, each of which measures a different aspect of I.Q. Flynn points out that scores in some of the categories—those measuring general knowledge, say, or vocabulary or the ability to do basic arithmetic—have risen only modestly over time. The big gains on the WISC are largely in the category known as “similarities,” where you get questions such as “In what way are ‘dogs’ and ‘rabbits’ alike?” Today, we tend to give what, for the purposes of I.Q. tests, is the right answer: dogs and rabbits are both mammals. A nineteenth-century American would have said that “you use dogs to hunt rabbits.”

“If the everyday world is your cognitive home, it is not natural to detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from their concrete referents,” Flynn writes. Our great-grandparents may have been perfectly intelligent. But they would have done poorly on I.Q. tests because they did not participate in the twentieth century’s great cognitive revolution, in which we learned to sort experience according to a new set of abstract categories. In Flynn’s phrase, we have now had to put on “scientific spectacles,” which enable us to make sense of the WISC questions about similarities. To say that Dutch I.Q. scores rose substantially between 1952 and 1982 was another way of saying that the Netherlands in 1982 was, in at least certain respects, much more cognitively demanding than the Netherlands in 1952. An I.Q., in other words, measures not so much how smart we are as how modern we are.
This is a critical distinction. When the children of Southern Italian immigrants were given I.Q. tests in the early part of the past century, for example, they recorded median scores in the high seventies and low eighties, a full standard deviation below their American and Western European counterparts. Southern Italians did as poorly on I.Q. tests as Hispanics and blacks did. As you can imagine, there was much concerned talk at the time about the genetic inferiority of Italian stock, of the inadvisability of letting so many second-class immigrants into the United States, and of the squalor that seemed endemic to Italian urban neighborhoods. Sound familiar? These days, when talk turns to the supposed genetic differences in the intelligence of certain races, Southern Italians have disappeared from the discussion. “Did their genes begin to mutate somewhere in the 1930s?” the psychologists Seymour Sarason and John Doris ask, in their account of the Italian experience. “Or is it possible that somewhere in the 1920s, if not earlier, the sociocultural history of Italo-Americans took a turn from the blacks and the Spanish Americans which permitted their assimilation into the general undifferentiated mass of Americans?”
The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test: they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings. They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a potato. “A wise man could only do such-and-such,” they explained. Finally, the researchers asked, “How would a fool do it?” The tribesmen immediately re-sorted the items into the “right” categories. It can be argued that taxonomical categories are a developmental improvement—that is, that the Kpelle would be more likely to advance, technologically and scientifically, if they started to see the world that way. But to label them less intelligent than Westerners, on the basis of their performance on that test, is merely to state that they have different cognitive preferences and habits. And if I.Q. varies with habits of mind, which can be adopted or discarded in a generation, what, exactly, is all the fuss about?
When I was growing up, my family would sometimes play Twenty Questions on long car trips. My father was one of those people who insist that the standard categories of animal, vegetable, and mineral be supplemented with a fourth category: “abstract.” Abstract could mean something like “whatever it was that was going through my mind when we drove past the water tower fifty miles back.” That abstract category sounds absurdly difficult, but it wasn’t: it merely required that we ask a slightly different set of questions and grasp a slightly different set of conventions, and, after two or three rounds of practice, guessing the contents of someone’s mind fifty miles ago becomes as easy as guessing Winston Churchill. (There is one exception. That was the trip on which my old roommate Tom Connell chose, as an abstraction, “the Unknown Soldier”—which allowed him legitimately and gleefully to answer “I have no idea” to almost every question. There were four of us playing. We gave up after an hour.) Flynn would say that my father was teaching his three sons how to put on scientific spectacles, and that extra practice probably bumped up all of our I.Q.s a few notches. But let’s be clear about what this means. There’s a world of difference between an I.Q. advantage that’s genetic and one that depends on extended car time with Graham Gladwell.

Flynn is a cautious and careful writer. Unlike many others in the I.Q. debates, he resists grand philosophizing. He comes back again and again to the fact that I.Q. scores are generated by paper-and-pencil tests—and making sense of those scores, he tells us, is a messy and complicated business that requires something closer to the skills of an accountant than to those of a philosopher.

For instance, Flynn shows what happens when we recognize that I.Q. is not a freestanding number but a value attached to a specific time and a specific test. When an I.Q. test is created, he reminds us, it is calibrated or “normed” so that the test-takers in the fiftieth percentile—those exactly at the median—are assigned a score of 100. But since I.Q.s are always rising, the only way to keep that hundred-point benchmark is periodically to make the tests more difficult—to “renorm” them. The original WISC was normed in the late nineteen-forties. It was then renormed in the early nineteen-seventies, as the WISC-R; renormed a third time in the late eighties, as the WISC III; and renormed again a few years ago, as the WISC IV—with each version just a little harder than its predecessor. The notion that anyone “has” an I.Q. of a certain number, then, is meaningless unless you know which WISC he took, and when he took it, since there’s a substantial difference between getting a 130 on the WISC IV and getting a 130 on the much easier WISC.
This is not a trivial issue. I.Q. tests are used to diagnose people as mentally retarded, with a score of 70 generally taken to be the cutoff. You can imagine how the Flynn effect plays havoc with that system. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, most states used the WISC-R to make their mental-retardation diagnoses. But since kids—even kids with disabilities—score a little higher every year, the number of children whose scores fell below 70 declined steadily through the end of the eighties. Then, in 1991, the WISC III was introduced, and suddenly the percentage of kids labelled retarded went up. The psychologists Tomoe Kanaya, Matthew Scullin, and Stephen Ceci estimated that, if every state had switched to the WISC III right away, the number of Americans labelled mentally retarded should have doubled.
28605  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: December 12, 2007, 11:09:03 AM
Woof C-Bad Dog:

Allow me to clarify-- I too think it worthy of notice and find it good news that Medvedev likes these bands.

Trivia:  I saw LZ at at the Anderson theater ( a block south of what was later to be the Fillmore East) in 1966 or '67.  I had snuck out of the house and got down to the East Village around 0200.  The guy at the door simply let me walk in because the show had already been on for quite a while and he dug that I was out and about at 14 years of age, and I walked right down the aisle and kneeled in front of the stage.  There, about 6 feet away from me, was Jimmy Page playing his guitar with a violin bow and making sounds like I had never heard.

Trivia2:  I saw DP around 1971 with a 9 man band that I was in at the time (piano and rhythm guitar).  I was the only white guy in the band, but they were all heavily into it.  We did interpretations of the Funkadelics (George Clinton), Santana, Jimi Hendrix and original tunes (I contributed two to the band's repertoire.)

So yes it will be interesting to see what kind of man Medvedev is and what kind of actions he takes.
28606  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Greenspan speaks on: December 12, 2007, 10:57:53 AM
The Roots of the Mortgage Crisis
Bubbles cannot be safely defused by monetary policy before the speculative fever breaks on its own.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

On Aug. 9, 2007, and the days immediately following, financial markets in much of the world seized up. Virtually overnight the seemingly insatiable desire for financial risk came to an abrupt halt as the price of risk unexpectedly surged. Interest rates on a wide range of asset classes, especially interbank lending, asset-backed commercial paper and junk bonds, rose sharply relative to riskless U.S. Treasury securities. Over the past five years, risk had become increasingly underpriced as market euphoria, fostered by an unprecedented global growth rate, gained cumulative traction.

The crisis was thus an accident waiting to happen. If it had not been triggered by the mispricing of securitized subprime mortgages, it would have been produced by eruptions in some other market. As I have noted elsewhere, history has not dealt kindly with protracted periods of low risk premiums.

The root of the current crisis, as I see it, lies back in the aftermath of the Cold War, when the economic ruin of the Soviet Bloc was exposed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Following these world-shaking events, market capitalism quietly, but rapidly, displaced much of the discredited central planning that was so prevalent in the Third World.
A large segment of the erstwhile Third World, especially China, replicated the successful economic export-oriented model of the so-called Asian Tigers: Fairly well educated, low-cost workforces were joined with developed-world technology and protected by an increasing rule of law, to unleash explosive economic growth. Since 2000, the real GDP growth of the developing world has been more than double that of the developed world.

The surge in competitive, low-priced exports from developing countries, especially those to Europe and the U.S., flattened labor compensation in developed countries, and reduced the rate of inflation expectations throughout the world, including those inflation expectations embedded in global long-term interest rates.

In addition, there has been a pronounced fall in global real interest rates since the early 1990s, which, of necessity, indicated that global saving intentions chronically had exceeded intentions to invest. In the developing world, consumption evidently could not keep up with the surge of income and, as a consequence, the savings rate of the developed world soared from 24% of nominal GDP in 1999 to 33% in 2006, far outstripping its investment rate.

Yet the actual global saving rate in 2006, overall, was only modestly higher than in 1999, suggesting that the uptrend in developing-economy saving intentions overlapped with, and largely tempered, declining investment intentions in the developed world. In the U.S., for example, the surge of innovation and productivity growth apparently started taking a breather in 2004. That weakened global investment has been the major determinant in the decline of global real long-term interest rates is also the conclusion of a recent (March 2007) Bank of Canada study.

Equity premiums and real-estate capitalization rates were inevitably arbitraged lower by the fall in global long-term interest rates. Asset prices accordingly moved dramatically higher. Not only did global share prices recover from the dot-com crash, they moved ever upward.

The value of equities traded on the world's major stock exchanges has risen to more than $50 trillion, double what it was in 2002. Sharply rising home prices erupted into major housing bubbles world-wide, Japan and Germany (for differing reasons) being the only principal exceptions. The Economist's surveys document the remarkable convergence of more than 20 individual nations' house price rises during the past decade. U.S. price gains, at their peak, were no more than average.

After more than a half-century observing numerous price bubbles evolve and deflate, I have reluctantly concluded that bubbles cannot be safely defused by monetary policy or other policy initiatives before the speculative fever breaks on its own. There was clearly little the world's central banks could do to temper this most recent surge in human euphoria, in some ways reminiscent of the Dutch Tulip craze of the 17th century and South Sea Bubble of the 18th century.
I do not doubt that a low U.S. federal-funds rate in response to the dot-com crash, and especially the 1% rate set in mid-2003 to counter potential deflation, lowered interest rates on adjustable-rate mortgages and may have contributed to the rise in U.S. home prices. In my judgment, however, the impact on demand for homes financed with ARMs was not major.

Demand in those days was driven by the expectation of rising prices--the dynamic that fuels most asset-price bubbles. If low adjustable-rate financing had not been available, most of the demand would have been financed with fixed rate, long-term mortgages. In fact, home prices continued to rise for two years subsequent to the peak of ARM originations (seasonally adjusted).

I and my colleagues at the Fed believed that the potential threat of corrosive deflation in 2003 was real, even though deflation was not thought to be the most likely projection. We will never know whether the temporary 1% federal-funds rate fended off a deflationary crisis, potentially much more daunting than the current one. But I did fret that maintaining rates too low for too long was problematic. The failure of either the growth of the monetary base, or of M2, to exceed 5% while the fed-funds rate was 1% assuaged my concern that we had added inflationary tinder to the economy.

In mid-2004, as the economy firmed, the Federal Reserve started to reverse the easy monetary policy. I had expected, as a bonus, a consequent increase in long-term interest rates, which might have helped to dampen the then mounting U.S. housing price surge. It did not happen. We had presumed long-term rates, including mortgage rates, would rise, as had been the case at the beginnings of five previous monetary policy tightening episodes, dating back to 1980. But after an initial surge in the spring of 2004, long-term rates fell back and, despite progressive Federal Reserve tightening through 2005, long-term rates barely moved.

In retrospect, global economic forces, which have been building for decades, appear to have gained effective control of the pricing of longer debt maturities. Simple correlations between short- and long-term interest rates in the U.S. remain significant, but have been declining for over a half-century. Asset prices more generally are gradually being decoupled from short-term interest rates.

Arbitragable assets--equities, bonds and real estate, and the financial assets engendered by their intermediation--now swamp the resources of central banks. The market value of global long-term securities is approaching $100 trillion. Carry trade and foreign exchange markets have become huge.

The depth of these markets became readily apparent in March 2004, when Japanese monetary authorities abruptly ceased intervention in support of the U.S. dollar after accumulating more than $150 billion of foreign exchange in the preceding three months. Beyond a few days of gyrations following the halt in purchases, nothing of lasting significance appears to have happened. Even the then seemingly massive Japanese purchases of foreign exchange barely budged the prices of the vast global pool of tradable securities.

In theory, central banks can expand their balance sheets without limit. In practice, they are constrained by the potential inflationary impact of their actions. The ability of central banks and their governments to join with the International Monetary Fund in broad-based currency stabilization is arguably long since gone. More generally, global forces, combined with lower international trade barriers, have diminished the scope of national governments to affect the paths of their economies.

Although central banks appear to have lost control of longer term interest rates, they continue to be dominant in the markets for assets with shorter maturities, where money and near monies are created. Thus central banks retain their ability to contain pressures on the prices of goods and services, that is, on the conventional measures of inflation.
The current credit crisis will come to an end when the overhang of inventories of newly built homes is largely liquidated, and home price deflation comes to an end. That will stabilize the now-uncertain value of the home equity that acts as a buffer for all home mortgages, but most importantly for those held as collateral for residential mortgage-backed securities. Very large losses will, no doubt, be taken as a consequence of the crisis. But after a period of protracted adjustment, the U.S. economy, and the world economy more generally, will be able to get back to business.

Mr. Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, is president of Greenspan Associates LLC and author of "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World" (Penguin, 2007).
28607  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Any Wounded Soldier" on: December 12, 2007, 09:16:17 AM
U.S. refuses `Any Wounded Soldier' mail By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer

Hundreds of thousands of holiday cards and letters thanking wounded American troops for their sacrifice and wishing them well never reach their destination. They are returned to sender or thrown away unopened.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax scare, the Pentagon and the Postal Service have refused to deliver mail addressed simply to "Any Wounded Soldier" for fear terrorists or opponents of the war might send toxic substances or demoralizing messages.

Mail must be addressed to a specific member of the armed forces — a rule that pains some well-meaning Americans this Christmas season.

"Are we going to forget our soldiers because we are running in fear?" Fena D'Ottavio asked. The suburban Chicago woman was using her blog to encourage friends to send mail to unspecified soldiers until she learned of the ban, which she called a sad commentary on society.

Last season, despite the rule, officials say as many as 450,000 pieces of mail not addressed to anyone in particular managed to reach Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. But they were returned or, if they had no return address, were thrown out altogether, because the hospital lacked the manpower to open and screen all the mail, spokesman Terry Goodman said.

"A lot of this is because of security concerns because it's unsolicited mail that someone is going to have to go through," Goodman said. "Also, being a democratic society, there could be inappropriate mail from someone who, say, doesn't support the war, and then you've got a wounded soldier getting it."

Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, a spokesman with the Army Human Resources Command, said no one tracks the amount of unnamed-soldier mail being returned, so it is impossible to judge the size of the problem.

The busiest part of the holiday season has yet to arrive, but officials said they are receiving far less mail this year addressed simply to "A Recovering American Soldier" or "Any Wounded Soldier."

Candy Roquemore of Austin, Texas, was also promoting the idea of sending cards to wounded soldiers until she found out about the rule. She suggested the ban is an overreaction.

"I think there are some wackos who might do something, so I can understand that. But I think with a Christmas postcard it would be pretty easy to see it doesn't have anthrax in it," Roquemore said.

She added: "I just wanted to say, `Thank you, sorry you're hurt, and happy holidays.'"

USO spokesman John Hanson said that like the military, the nonprofit service organization does not deliver unopened mail to unspecified recipients. He said the USO worries about security as well as hateful messages from war critics.

"We just want to make sure it's not, `Die, baby killer,'" he said. "There are people out there who act irrationally, and we don't want anyone to get a message that would be discouraging."

The USO is one of the organizations the military is encouraging people to support with donations as an alternative to sending cards to unspecified soldiers. The military is also referring people to the American Red Cross and a Defense Department Web site where supporters have posted thousands of messages to troops.

Some groups are offering to forward mail to the troops. Aides to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., are offering to accept letters, screen them through the U.S. Capitol mail operation, and get them to members of the armed forces.

"We've had about a dozen complaints from constituents about returned mail that they sent to troops," said Steven Boyd, a Sessions spokesman.

28608  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Romney does not compute on: December 12, 2007, 09:12:00 AM
That Does Not Compute
Mitt Romney has a passion for data. A great president needs a passion for principle.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Mitt Romney loves data and lusts after process.

In a recent cover profile in The Weekly Standard by the magazine's Fred Barnes, Mr. Romney is portrayed as the man who would be the CEO of America. Says Mr. Barnes, quoting Mr. Romney, a Harvard M.B.A.: "His idea of the perfect deal is not when one side wins but when 'you find a new alternative that everybody agrees is the right way to go. That doesn't always happen.' "


Mr. Barnes says Mr. Romney's "approach to government is not ideological." A Romney adviser is quoted as saying of his candidate: "He's super-pragmatic. He's an eclectic conservative." And Mr. Romney himself says flatly that as president he would "insist on gathering data . . . and analyze the data looking for trends."


Make no mistake. If the leading candidates in the GOP presidential race are to be litmus-tested as conservatives, all would cause conservatives sleepless nights. If the Reagan coalition was of economic and social conservatives combined with national security hawks, each group has something to be disturbed about with this batch of front-runners. Rudy Giuliani famously has his issues with social issues, John McCain his prickly insistence on First Amendment censorship and an addiction to sounding like Al Gore on global warming and Hillary Clinton on immigration. Mike Huckabee amazingly sounds like Ted Kennedy in his attack on supporters of economic growth as greedy, while Fred Thompson was not only assisting the pro-choice movement as a lawyer, but has an apparent bent for trial lawyers.

Yet the Romney approach as described not only by Mr. Barnes but more importantly by Mr. Romney himself is an approach that goes far beyond any particular issue. It is, as Mr. Romney himself freely admits, all about process. Whatever the issue--economic, social or national security--Mr. Romney would gather the data, look for a trend and thus "you make better decisions."

This should cause conservatives to break out in cold sweats.


Let's take Mr. Romney back to two of the most important Republican presidencies in the history of America. Let's make him a ghostly observer as the presidents in question deal with "the data" being presented to them by their advisers.
Mr. Romney's first visit would be to the Lincoln White House in 1864. There was no Oval Office in 1864, so Mr. Romney finds Old Abe in his office upstairs on the second floor of the residence. Lincoln has just been handed a memo by his secretary of war, and the data look pretty grim

Lincoln is staring at a sheet filled with numbers. The numbers are of Union casualties in the 10 most casualty-filled battles of the Civil War thus far. The banality of ink-on-paper belies the horrific human impact behind the figures. Over 13,000 Union casualties at the battle of Shiloh, 16,000 at Second Manassas, 12,000 at Antietam and yet again at Stone River, 17,000 at Chancellorsville, 23,000 at Gettysburg. And so on in one battle after another stretching over the past three years.

So as our ghostly Mr. Romney studies these "data"--now what? The conservative fear, of course, is that the "superpragmatic" Mr. Romney who places such faith in the process of data and trends would say to Lincoln exactly what the Democratic nominee of 1864, a battlefield general of the war, was saying in his campaign against Lincoln. The war is a "failure," said George McClellan. Stop it--right now. The numbers, the kind of data so prized by a possibly future President Romney, are unmistakably ghastly. Union kids and Confederate kids--Americans all--are being slaughtered on a scale that dwarfs the imagination.

But what of principle here? What of the passion for the principle--and passion plays no small role in Lincoln's adherence to principle--that no man, woman or child should be a slave in America? What about the fundamental principle of human freedom? What about keeping the Union together? The startling thought occurs that Mr. Romney would be whispering to Lincoln that the data speak for themselves. Passion should yield to process. And that would be that, if Mr. Romney carried the day as Lincoln's adviser.


Move Mr. Romney back to the future, or at least the relatively recent past. This time his ghost is hovering over Ronald Reagan's shoulder. President Reagan is one happy guy. His tax and budget cuts have passed, and he signed them into law. The Reagan revolution has begun. But it's now 1985, and there's a problem. David Stockman, Reagan's director of the Office of Management and Budget, a former congressman from Mr. Romney's native Michigan, the state where Romney's father was a star of the Republican liberal movement, is staring at reams of data. The results, as Mr. Stockman would write shortly after his angry departure from the Reagan White House, were--from Mr. Stockman's view--"frightening." The very idea that Reagan would stick with his tax cuts was a sign the president was in "dreamland." He was campaigning for re-election in 1984 on "false promises." Mr. Stockman--both in real time and in his bitter memoirs published in 1986--was nothing if not a fountain of data. And the data's conclusion, insisted Mr. Stockman, was that the Reagan revolution was a "failure." Reagan should abandon his passion for the principle of low taxes and cutting federal spending while restoring the military. Presumably, the Romney ghost sitting in the room with Reagan and Mr. Stockman would have agreed with . . . Mr. Stockman.
If decisions were all about data, then the McClellan/Stockman view of the world--a worldview that is apparently Mr. Romney's as well--would be the triumphs most celebrated in American history. Lincoln and Reagan would be rated not at the top of the presidential greatness scale but somewhere well down towards the bottom.

They are, of course, not viewed that way at all. The principles of Lincoln and Reagan carried the day precisely because each man was able to stare at the "data"--however gruesome or frightening they might be--and not blink. They are seen as great presidents and great leaders today because they understood at a visceral level that they should hold fast, refuse to yield to overwhelming demands from critics that they follow the data or that they adhere to a process that used something other than casualties or deficit projections as a measuring stick. Lincoln would not cave in on the principles of holding the Union together and the most basic principle of America--freedom. Reagan would not yield on the central conservative principle that tax cuts and less government spending were in fact the keys to America's future economic vitality.

In other words, in a battle between data and principle, both men rated recently in a poll as the top two greatest presidents in American history (Lincoln first, Reagan second) chose principle. They have not only been vindicated but are held out as treasured exemplars of what a president is supposed to be. Mr. Romney, already struggling with charges he has changed his principles on abortion and gay rights and indeed on when he decided it was OK to admit he was an enthusiastic Reaganite, is basing his entire campaign on the very notion that process is everything.



One of the subtle images of Mr. Romney's recent speech on religion is perhaps not understood by Mr. Romney's advisers. Where did Mr. Romney go to deliver his talk on principle? And who introduced him? The site was the presidential library of former president George H.W. Bush--the former president himself in his always gracious fashion introducing Romney.
Yet Mr. Romney did not need a visit to the Bush Library to understand why the Library does not contain the papers of a two-term president. The reason, of course, is that then-Vice President George H.W. Bush campaigned for the presidency in 1988 on the principle he phrased as "read my lips--no new taxes." He won. Yet in the name of precisely the process Mr. Romney lovingly describes--gathering data and looking for trends--the first President Bush was persuaded by Romneyesque advisers like then-Treasury aide Richard Darman to surrender bedrock conservative principle and raise taxes. The senior Mr. Bush was advised to choose data and process over principle. He did--and in short order had lots of time on his hands to decide the process for building a library about a one-term president while Bill and Hillary Clinton took charge.

Not to be left out of this point is the Democrat who successfully campaigned for president based on fixing the process in Washington--Jimmy Carter. As a nuclear engineer, naval officer, successful businessman, Mr. Carter's central point in the 1976 election was about his devotion to process. Then there was that Romney predecessor as governor of Massachusetts, Democrat Michael Dukakis, who earnestly campaigned in 1988 against Bush I on a process issue, competence in government.

Would Mitt Romney make a better president than anyone on the other side? With no disrespect for Oprah, of course.

But if conservatives have learned anything since 1964 it is this: principles count. A principle presidency always trumps a process presidency. Lincoln did better than Hoover, Reagan did better than Bush I or Carter. Better heading in the right direction with a faulty process than zipping along in the wrong direction simply because the process and the data are telling you things are wonderfully efficient. A train making exceptional time to Boston is useless if in fact you wanted to go to Miami.


Mitt Romney is clearly one decent guy, one very, very accomplished human being. He has announced where he stands on the issues of the day, putting himself head and shoulders above a Clinton, Obama or Edwards. But as conservatives head into caucus and primary season, they should not be hesitant to question what appears to be his addiction to process for the sake of process.
Go back to Fred Barnes's Romney quote, the one in which Mr. Romney says he looks for a "new alternative that everybody agrees is the right way to go." What Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan shared was a core belief that in fact it was a better thing for some principles to triumph over others. "Everybody" did not agree with Lincoln that freedom was better than slavery, that keeping the Union together was better than not, or with Reagan that the free market and tax cuts philosophy was a better philosophy than one of big government and tax increases. But they went ahead anyway.

Is there a place for data? Is there value in process? Sure.

But base an entire presidency on the importance of data and process over principle? Is this what Mitt Romney would do? Is this where a Romney presidency would lead? If so, conservatives have been here before.

It is not a good place to be.

Mr. Lord is creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV, a conservative, user-generated video site. A former Reagan White House political director and an author, he writes from Pennsylvania.

28609  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: December 12, 2007, 08:36:15 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Iran Responds to the NIE

Iran's Fars news agency on Tuesday reported comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in response to the Dec. 3 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The statements were, to say the least, interesting. Ahmadinejad called the document "a positive step forward." He went on to say, "If one or two other steps are taken, the conditions will be ripe and will lose their complexities, and the way will be open for interactions between the two sides."

One of the things he wants is for the United States to acknowledge that Iran never had a nuclear program. However, it is clear from the context that he doesn't expect or actually care about this. He said, "We do not say that in the report there is no problem and there is no imprecision or error. We welcomed the report as a whole and as a step forward. A part of the report approved the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities. There was, of course, another part which made some references to the past, and if the U.S. intelligence body conducts a more precise study, it will confirm the views of Iran."

His second point was more fundamental. "One of the steps that need to be taken is a major change in [the U.S.] regional position. They need to respect the rights of the countries in the region. Regional nations have rights and want to fully use their rights. Respecting these rights is a serious change in strategy. This is the next step. If this happens, you will be able to see the results."

It seems to us that he was talking about Iraq, saying that this is the next set of changes Iran wants to see. But Ahmadinejad's summation was this: "The main body of the problem has been resolved. There are no ambiguities, and the ground has been set for cooperation on different issues."

Most interesting of all was Ahmadinejad's claim that Iran has been approached by the U.S. government for permission to send emissaries to Iran. He said, "Many requests reach us from American officials for dialogue and travel to Iran, and we are studying these requests." This is an interesting assertion, and there has been enough time for the White House or the State Department to deny it. Neither one has. It is altogether possible that these were simply requests from U.S. scholars or minor government employees for visas to travel to Iran, and that Ahmadinejad is trying to make them into something more. Or it might well be that the Bush administration is seeking more contacts with Iran, in addition to the two upcoming meetings that have been agreed upon by both sides.

Ahmadinejad is going to make everything he can of this. If diplomacy goes forward, he will want it to appear that the United States unilaterally initiated it -- hence the claim that the United States is asking to send officials. When asked what else the United States should do, Ahmadinejad said, "Let us not get into a hurry. Let [the Americans] follow and stabilize the step they have taken. Our addressee understands our words."

Obviously, Ahmadinejad is trying hard to spin this into a triumph. But the interesting parts of the Fars interview are that Ahmadinejad, for all his posturing, regards the shift in U.S. policy as significant; that he is considering further contacts with the Americans; and that there is something he wants Washington to do above all else, which we assume is remove sanctions. There is implied here an Iranian openness to something.

In any case, Iran has issued a response, and two meetings will be held. Certainly, this weird honeymoon could collapse overnight, but for the moment, there is clearly a diplomatic probing going on that has to be watched carefully.

28610  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / John Jay: The country and its people on: December 12, 2007, 08:27:56 AM

"This country and this people seem to have been made for each
other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence that
an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren,
united to each other by the strongest of ties, should never be
split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties."

-- John Jay (Federalist No. 2)

Reference: Jay, Federalist No. 2 (38)
28611  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / China busts a move in Kazakhstan on: December 11, 2007, 11:37:43 PM
China, Kazakhstan: Pipelines and the Balance of Power

China has broken ground on the final portion of a pipeline linking the massive energy reserves of the Caspian Sea directly to China. That realization will be the culmination of 15 years of strategic planning, and will change the balance of power between China, Russia and the United States.


Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov hosted a ceremony Dec. 11 in which he broke ground on an oil pipeline to connect the Kazakh cities of Kenkiyak and Kumkol. The project will complete a transport network linking the huge oil fields of the Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea basin directly to western China.

Overall, China's strategic position is unfortunate. Most of its population lies in the coastal areas of eastern and southern China. And most of the country's deep interior can only support a small population, while jungles and mountains to the south and the Russian nuclear arsenal to the north block expansion. Finally, China cannot supply its own energy needs, forcing it to rely upon U.S. command of the seas for its economic well-being.

Central Asia -- and Kazakhstan specifically -- provides China with a means of breaking out of this situation. Lightly populated Kazakhstan has loads of room, loads of energy, and -- thanks to the Soviet collapse -- offers loads of opportunities for geopolitical expansion. All that it requires is constructing infrastructure to knit the two nations together.

The Kenkiyak-Kumkol line is the second phase of that plan. The first -- completed in December 2005 -- linked Atasu with China (existing Soviet-era infrastructure allowed this segment to connect as far west as Kenkiyak). Once Kenkiyak-Komkol is completed and a few pumping stations on other pieces of (Chinese-constructed) infrastructure are reversed, China will be linked into three separate Kazakh petroleum basins with the biggest one -- the Caspian -- sitting right at the end of the Frankensteined line. China's goal is by 2011 to have the line shipping 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) with eventual upgrades taking that number north of 1 million bpd. And this too is really only the beginning. Plans are in place for building additional oil and natural gas pipelines to capture not just Kazakh energy but Uzbek and Turkmen energy as well. Ground has already been broken on some of the most ambitious of these projects.

The projects will expand China's geopolitical box, giving it its first large-scale access to non-waterborne imported oil. Until now, U.S. naval superiority has ensured Washington could shut down the Chinese economy without so much as firing a shot. Now, that ability will be blunted somewhat. While this will not translate into instant conflict with the United States -- China will still be importing at least another 3 million bpd via oceanborne tankers -- it will provide Beijing its first serious strategic wiggle room and make military conflict with the United States at least theoretically possible.

The implications for Russia are far more dramatic. Moscow has always thought of Central Asia as its exclusive stomping ground. This pipeline network undermines that in every way possible. Russian influence is strongest in Kazakhstan; should Kazakhstan find a firmer economic partner to the east, the rest of the "Stans" -- none of which borders Russia -- are almost certain to follow. For Russia this pipeline means not only the loss of a sphere of influence and the expansion of a potential rival onto its southern flank, but also a weakening of the Russian position vis-à-vis Europe. Russia lacks the natural gas production capacity to supply both its home market and its European customers without a monopoly on Central Asian natural gas. China intends not only to end that monopoly, but also to harvest all of the region's natural gas for itself.

The Russians have few tools for competing with the growing surge in Chinese power. Economically, the Central Asians would vastly prefer selling their energy to China over Russia -- China pays more and connections come with fewer strings attached. There is also the issue of lingering resentment over Soviet imperialism. So unless the Russians are willing to embrace (and pay for) new export options for the Central Asians, the only remaining option is making the Central Asian leadership too scared of Russian retribution to cooperate with China. This is something with which Moscow has a good deal of experience. But until a few members of Central Asia's inner circles begin meeting untimely demises, Chinese infrastructure will continue inching its way across the border, bringing the entire region ever closer to Beijing's orbit.

28612  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What did Congress know and when did it know it? on: December 11, 2007, 01:39:57 PM
Waterboarding: Congress Knew
December 11, 2007; Page A26
After three days of screaming headlines about the CIA destroying videotapes in 2005 of the "harsh" interrogation of two terrorists, it now comes to light that in 2002 key members of Congress were fully briefed by the CIA about those interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. One member of that Congressional delegation was the future House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

The Washington Post on Sunday reported these series of briefings. While it is not our habit to promote the competition, readers should visit the Post's Web site and absorb this astonishing detail for themselves as reported by Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen in "Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002: In meetings, spy panels' chiefs did not protest, officials say."

Porter Goss, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee who later served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006 is explicit about what happened in these meetings: "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing. And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."

In all, the CIA provided Congress with some 30 briefings on waterboarding before it became a public issue.

Why would the CIA want to tell the most senior members of Congress about anything so sensitive? No doubt in part because senior officials at the CIA, not to mention the interrogators themselves, assuredly did not want to begin any such policy absent closing the political and legal loop on it.

The Congressional briefings touched the political base, and a Justice Department memo at that time deemed the interrogation methods legal. Most crucially, bear in mind that when pressed about all this at his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey pointedly said he would not make a post-facto condemnation of the techniques, thereby putting the "freedom" of the interrogators at risk, "simply because I want to be congenial."

At the time, we wrote that this was a sign of Judge Mukasey's character. That word would not spring to mind in describing what the Post's account says about Congress.

One certainly may hold as abhorrent the idea of aggressively interrogating any terrorists ever, either for fear of what they might do to our people, as John McCain does, or because one thinks this violates our values. What one may not do -- at least not if one wants the system to function -- is assent to such a policy in 2002 and then, when the policy is made public, put up the pretense that one is "shocked" and appalled to learn of it.

This is bad faith. Worse, it risks setting in motion the ruin or eventual criminal prosecution of CIA employees who in 2002 did what the Bush Administration, Congress and indeed the nation wanted them to do to protect the American people from another September 11.

It has been widely reported by now that waterboarding was used on only three individuals -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon; Abu Zebaydah, an Osama bin Laden confidante captured in Pakistan 2002 and described as a director of al-Qaeda operations; and a third unidentified person. If Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues want the handling of such terrorists conformed to what they call "our values," then she should define that and put it in an explicit piece of legislation. Then let the Members vote yea or nay, in public, on the record.

But don't sign off on such a sensitive policy at a moment when the nation's "values" support it, then later feign revulsion when you can't take the heat from the loudest in your political constituency. There was a time when politics at least assumed more backbone than that.

28613  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / AQ on the Dark Web on: December 11, 2007, 01:35:47 PM
Second post of the AM

U.S.: The Role and Limitations of the 'Dark Web' In Jihadist Training

Security experts have warned in recent weeks that Western governments have yielded control of the Internet to jihadists by failing to understand the efficacy of pro-al Qaeda Web sites to recruit and train new operatives. Although the Internet has been a great enabler for grassroots cells to spread their ideology and recruit new acolytes, some things are incredibly difficult to accomplish online -- namely, absorbing the technical information and tradecraft of terrorism and applying it to a real-world situation, particularly in a hostile environment.


Security experts have warned in recent weeks that Western governments have ceded control of the Internet to jihadists, the World Tribune reported Dec. 10. In a conference on Internet security at Germany's Federal Police Office headquarters Nov. 21, Western experts argued that the United States and a number of EU countries have failed to understand the efficacy of pro-al Qaeda Web sites -- or the "Dark Web" -- to recruit and train new operatives, and have written off such Web sites as propaganda.

According to these Western experts, al Qaeda has been so successful in its exploitation of the Internet that it has closed training camps in Afghanistan, though this somewhat understates the role of the U.S. military in closing the camps. Gabriel Weimann, a professor in Israel and Germany, told the conference that al Qaeda has made a shift and is now able to indoctrinate, train and mobilize new recruits and turn them into jihadist militants via practical Web sites that illustrate how to handle weapons, carry out kidnappings and make bombs. The Internet -- specifically Google Earth -- has also reduced jihadists' need for target reconnaissance. Although the Internet has been a boon for grassroots cells in spreading their ideology and recruiting new acolytes, the Web has some serious limitations as a terrorism enabler. Some things are very difficult to accomplish online -- namely, absorbing technical information and the tradecraft of terrorism and applying it to a real-world situation, particularly in a dangerous environment.

Since 9/11, blogs, chat rooms and Web sites have experienced an increase in popularity among jihadists. Often, these jihadist "cyberwarriors" -- usually in their late teens or early 20s -- join or form grassroots cells and become "al Qaeda 3.0 or 4.0" operatives.

However, the application of technical skills (bomb-making, targeting, and deployment) often requires subtle and complex abilities that one cannot perfect simply by reading about them. It is quite difficult to follow written instructions and build a perfectly functioning improvised explosive device from scratch; as with any scientific endeavor, trial and error and testing in the real world usually are required. Bomb-making is a talent best learned from an experienced teacher (and many potential teachers have blown themselves up in pursuit of expert-level skills). Without such a teacher and hands-on experience, there is a steep learning curve, and much trial and error is required.

Additionally, tradecraft -- those intuitive skills needed to sustain secrecy and operations in a hostile environment -- are essential to both the individual jihadist and his network. History has shown repeatedly that -- even when preoperational planning and other activities have begun in cyberspace -- as a matter of routine, jihadists conduct target surveillance in the physical world and carry out dry runs when possible. While Google Earth might be an efficient tool for mapping and coordinating an attack, it does not negate the need for preoperational surveillance. Jihadists recognize, as do law enforcement agents, that however detailed a picture of a target might appear on a Web site, it is an incomplete snapshot of reality that has been frozen in time. Successful attacks depend on knowledge of large swathes of terrain, security routines and other details that cannot be obtained from videos or photographs.

Although these Web sites are not going to produce super-jihadists, the challenge remains for law enforcement agencies to identify and remove dangerous sites quickly and to develop Web monitoring programs in an attempt to track those using them as part of counterterrorism efforts. As these sites proliferate, so does the attention devoted to them. It is important to note that visiting such Web sites is an operational security hazard that can allow counterterrorism forces to identify potential militants and close in on them, as they did in Canada in the summer of 2006 and in Atlanta before that.

28614  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters on: December 11, 2007, 11:28:45 AM

The NIE Fantasy
The intelligence community failed to anticipate the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

"The USSR could derive considerable military advantage from the establishment of Soviet medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba, or from the establishment of a submarine base there. . . . Either development, however, would be incompatible with Soviet practice to date and with Soviet policy as we presently estimate it."

--Special National Intelligence Estimate 85-3-62, Sept. 19, 1962
Twenty-five days after this NIE was published, a U-2 spy plane photographed a Soviet ballistic missile site in Cuba, and the Cuban Missile Crisis began. It's possible the latest NIE on Iran's nuclear weapons program will not prove as misjudged or as damaging as the 1962 estimate. But don't bet on it.

At the heart of last week's NIE is the "high confidence" judgment that Tehran "halted its nuclear weapons program" in the fall of 2003, "primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work." Prior to that, however, the NIE states, also with "high confidence," that "Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons." Left to a footnote is the explanation that "by 'nuclear weapons program' we mean Iran's nuclear weapon design and weaponization work. . . . we do not mean Iran's declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment."

Let's unpack this.

In August 2002, an Iranian opposition group revealed that Iran had an undeclared uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and an undeclared heavy water facility at Arak--both previously unknown to the pros of the U.S. intelligence community. Since then, the administration has labored to persuade the international community that all these facilities have no conceivable purpose other than a military one. Those efforts paid off in three successive U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding Iran suspend enrichment because it was "concerned by the proliferation risks" it posed.

Along comes the NIE to instantly undo four years of diplomacy, using a semantic sleight-of-hand to suggest some kind of distinction can be drawn between Iran's bid to master the nuclear fuel cycle and its efforts to build nuclear weapons. How credible is this distinction?

In "Avoiding Nuclear Anarchy" (1996), MIT's Owen Cote notes that "The recipe [for designing a weapon] is very simple. . . . Nor are the ingredients, other than plutonium or HEU [highly enriched uranium], hard to obtain. For a gun weapon, the gun barrel could be ordered from any machine shop, as could a tungsten tamper machined to any specifications the customer desired. The high-explosive charge for firing the bullet could also be fashioned by anyone with access to and some experience handling TNT, or other conventional, chemical explosives" (my emphasis).
In other words, Iran didn't abandon its nuclear weapons program. On the contrary, it went public with it. It's certainly plausible Tehran may have suspended one aspect of the program--the aspect that is the least technically challenging and that, if exposed, would offer smoking-gun proof of ill intent. Then again, why does the NIE have next to nothing to say about Iran's efforts to produce plutonium at the Arak facility, which is of the same weapons-producing type as Israel's Dimona and North Korea's Yongbyon reactors? And why the silence on Iran's ongoing and acknowledged testing of ballistic missiles of ever-longer range, the development of which only makes sense as a vehicle to deliver a weapon of mass destruction?

Equally disingenuous is the NIE's assessment that Iran's purported decision to halt its weapons program is an indication that "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach"--an interesting statement, given that Iran's quest for "peaceful" nuclear energy makes no economic sense. But the NIE's real purpose becomes clear in the next sentence, when it states that Iran's behavior "suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige and goals for regional influence in other ways, might--if perceived by Iran's leaders as credible--prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program."

This is a policy prescription, not an intelligence assessment. Nonetheless, it is worth recalling that if Iran did have an active weaponization program prior to 2003, as the NIE claims, it means that former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was lying when he said that "weapons of mass destruction have never been our objective." Mr. Khatami is just the kind of "moderate" that advocates of engagement with Iran see as a credible negotiating partner. If he's not to be trusted, is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Then again, when it comes to the issue of trust, it isn't just Mr. Ahmadinejad we need to worry about. It has been widely pointed out that the conclusions of this NIE flatly contradict those of a 2005 NIE on the same subject, calling the entire process into question. Less discussed is why the administration chose to release a shoddy document that does maximum political damage to it and to key U.S. allies, particularly France, the U.K. and Israel.

The likely answer is that the administration calculated that any effort by them to suppress or tweak the NIE would surely leak, leading to accusations of "politicizing intelligence." But that only means that we now have an "intelligence community" that acts as an authority unto itself, and cannot be trusted to obey its political masters, much less keep a secret. The administration's tacit acquiescence in this state of affairs may prove even more damaging than its wishful thinking on Iran.
For years it has been a staple of fever swamp politics to believe the U.S. government is in the grip of shadowy powers using "intelligence" as a tool of control. With the publication of this NIE, that is no longer a fantasy.

Mr. Stephens is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. His column appears in the Journal Tuesdays.

28615  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Heavy Metal Fanatic To Succeed PUTIN As Russian Leader on: December 11, 2007, 11:07:44 AM
I just noticed that this is NOT the Russia thread embarassed 

I have locked this thread and posted its contents on the Russia thread.
28616  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington: Virtue & Happiness on: December 11, 2007, 11:05:41 AM
"There exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble
union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage;
between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy,
and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we
ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven
can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal
rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained."

-- George Washington (First Inaugural Address, 1789)

Reference: Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the U.S.
28617  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: December 11, 2007, 09:39:24 AM
Post by C-Bad Dog moved from another thread:

Heavy Metal Fanatic To Succeed PUTIN As Russian Leader

Russia's RIA Novosti reports: The man backed by Vladimir Putin for next year's presidential election is a heavy-metal-loving 42-year-old whose surname comes from the Russian word for 'bear'.

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was nominated by the ruling United Russia party and three other smaller pro-Kremlin parties on Monday afternoon. President Putin later said on national television: "I have known Dmitry Medvedev well for over 17 years, and I completely and fully support his candidature."

The man who may well become leader of the largest nation on Earth said he had spent much of his youth compiling cassettes of popular Western groups, "Endlessly making copies of BLACK SABBATH, LED ZEPPELIN and DEEP PURPLE."

All these groups were on state-issued blacklists during Medvedev's Soviet-era schooldays.

"The quality was awful, but my interest colossal," he said.

Medvedev went on to boast of his collection of DEEP PURPLE LPs, saying that he had searched for the albums for many years.

"Not reissues, but the original albums," he added, concluding that, "If you set yourself a goal you can achieve it."

Read more RIA Novosti. 
Woof Russ:

That is some fascinating personal data on the new man, who may not be his own man.

Geopolitical Diary: The Course of Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ended the mystery by formally endorsing First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev as his successor. Given Putin's genuine popularity with a majority of the population, along with his hammerlock to the levers of power, his endorsement is tantamount to Medvedev's election. Now the speculation has turned to precisely whether Putin will continue to pull the strings, and if so how he will do it.

We suspect that Putin will continue to pull the strings and that he is smart enough to figure out how he will do it. These are interesting but ultimately not important questions. The reason is that the process Putin initiated when he replaced Boris Yeltsin was inevitable. If Putin had not done it, someone else would have. And given the dynamics of Russia during that period, the only place that person would have come from was the intelligence community. To take control of the catastrophic reality of Russia, you had to be closely linked to at least some of the oligarchs, have control of the only institution that was really functioning in Russia at the time -- the security and intelligence apparatus -- and have the proper mix of ruthlessness and patience that it took to consolidate power within the state and then use state power to bring the rest of Russia under control.

The Soviet Union was a disaster. The only thing worse was Russia in the 1990s. The situation in Russia was untenable. Workers were not being paid, social services had collapsed, poverty was endemic. The countryside was in shambles. By the end of the 1990s Russia was either going to disintegrate or the state would reassert itself. The functional heart of the Soviet system, the KGB, now called the FSB, did reassert itself, not in a straight line. Much of the FSB was deeply involved in the criminality and corruption that was Russia in the 1990s. But just as the KGB had recognized first that the Soviet system was in danger of collapse, so the heirs of the KGB had recognized that Russia itself was in danger of collapse. Putin acted and succeeded. But it was the system reacting to chaos, not simply one man.

Which means that while the personal fate of Putin is an interesting question, it is not an important one. The course has been set and Medvedev, with or without Putin, will not change it. First, the state is again in the hands of the apparatus. Second, the state is in control of Russia. Third, Russia is seeking to regain control of its sphere of influence. Medvedev, or any Russian leader who could emerge, is not going to change this, because it has become institutionalized; it became institutionalized because there was no alternative course for Russia, the fantasies of the 1990s notwithstanding.

It is important to remember one of the major factors that propelled Putin to power -- the Kosovo war. The United States went to war with Serbia against Russian wishes. Russia was ignored. Then at the end, the Russians helped negotiate the Serb capitulation. Under the agreement the occupation of Kosovo was not supposed to take place only under NATO aegis. The Serbs had agreed to withdraw from Kosovo under the understanding that the Russians would participate in the occupation. From the beginning that did not happen. Yeltsin's credibility, already in tatters, was shattered by the contemptuous attitude toward Russia shown by NATO members.

It is interesting to note that on the same day Putin picked Medvedev, the situation in Kosovo is again heating up. NATO is trying to create an independent Kosovo with the agreement of Serbia. The Serbs are not agreeing and neither is their Russian ally. Putin, who still holds power, is not going to compromise on this issue. For him, Kosovo is a minor matter, except that it is a test of whether Russia will be treated as a great power.

Whether Putin is there, Medvedev is there, or it is a player to be named later, the Russians are not kidding on Kosovo. They do not plan to be rolled over as they were in 1999. Nor are they kidding about a sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. They are certainly not kidding about state domination of the economy or of the need for a strong leader to control the state.

The point is that the situation in Russia, down to a detail like Kosovo, is very much part of a single, coherent fabric that goes well beyond personalities. The response that Russia made to its near-death experience was pretty much its only option, and having chosen that option, the rest unfolds regardless of personalities. Putin has played his role well. He could continue to play it. But the focus should be on Russia as a great power seeking to resume its role, and not on the personalities, not even one as powerful as Putin, and certainly not Medvedev. 
Looks like the new boss is , , , the old boss.  This just in from the NY Times:

Russia's Dmitri Medvedev Says Putin Should Become Prime Minister

MOSCOW, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Dmitri A. Medvedev, named by
President Vladimir V. Putin as his preferred successor, said
on Tuesday that he would propose that Mr. Putin become prime
minister in a future government.

Mr. Medvedev also made clear in a brief televised statement
that his nomination was linked to the need for continuity of
Putin's policies.

Read More:
28618  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Heavy Metal Fanatic To Succeed PUTIN As Russian Leader on: December 11, 2007, 09:31:31 AM
Woof Russ:

That is some fascinating personal data on the new man.

Here's Strat on the big picture as they see it:


Geopolitical Diary: The Course of Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ended the mystery by formally endorsing First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev as his successor. Given Putin's genuine popularity with a majority of the population, along with his hammerlock to the levers of power, his endorsement is tantamount to Medvedev's election. Now the speculation has turned to precisely whether Putin will continue to pull the strings, and if so how he will do it.

We suspect that Putin will continue to pull the strings and that he is smart enough to figure out how he will do it. These are interesting but ultimately not important questions. The reason is that the process Putin initiated when he replaced Boris Yeltsin was inevitable. If Putin had not done it, someone else would have. And given the dynamics of Russia during that period, the only place that person would have come from was the intelligence community. To take control of the catastrophic reality of Russia, you had to be closely linked to at least some of the oligarchs, have control of the only institution that was really functioning in Russia at the time -- the security and intelligence apparatus -- and have the proper mix of ruthlessness and patience that it took to consolidate power within the state and then use state power to bring the rest of Russia under control.

The Soviet Union was a disaster. The only thing worse was Russia in the 1990s. The situation in Russia was untenable. Workers were not being paid, social services had collapsed, poverty was endemic. The countryside was in shambles. By the end of the 1990s Russia was either going to disintegrate or the state would reassert itself. The functional heart of the Soviet system, the KGB, now called the FSB, did reassert itself, not in a straight line. Much of the FSB was deeply involved in the criminality and corruption that was Russia in the 1990s. But just as the KGB had recognized first that the Soviet system was in danger of collapse, so the heirs of the KGB had recognized that Russia itself was in danger of collapse. Putin acted and succeeded. But it was the system reacting to chaos, not simply one man.

Which means that while the personal fate of Putin is an interesting question, it is not an important one. The course has been set and Medvedev, with or without Putin, will not change it. First, the state is again in the hands of the apparatus. Second, the state is in control of Russia. Third, Russia is seeking to regain control of its sphere of influence. Medvedev, or any Russian leader who could emerge, is not going to change this, because it has become institutionalized; it became institutionalized because there was no alternative course for Russia, the fantasies of the 1990s notwithstanding.

It is important to remember one of the major factors that propelled Putin to power -- the Kosovo war. The United States went to war with Serbia against Russian wishes. Russia was ignored. Then at the end, the Russians helped negotiate the Serb capitulation. Under the agreement the occupation of Kosovo was not supposed to take place only under NATO aegis. The Serbs had agreed to withdraw from Kosovo under the understanding that the Russians would participate in the occupation. From the beginning that did not happen. Yeltsin's credibility, already in tatters, was shattered by the contemptuous attitude toward Russia shown by NATO members.

It is interesting to note that on the same day Putin picked Medvedev, the situation in Kosovo is again heating up. NATO is trying to create an independent Kosovo with the agreement of Serbia. The Serbs are not agreeing and neither is their Russian ally. Putin, who still holds power, is not going to compromise on this issue. For him, Kosovo is a minor matter, except that it is a test of whether Russia will be treated as a great power.

Whether Putin is there, Medvedev is there, or it is a player to be named later, the Russians are not kidding on Kosovo. They do not plan to be rolled over as they were in 1999. Nor are they kidding about a sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. They are certainly not kidding about state domination of the economy or of the need for a strong leader to control the state.

The point is that the situation in Russia, down to a detail like Kosovo, is very much part of a single, coherent fabric that goes well beyond personalities. The response that Russia made to its near-death experience was pretty much its only option, and having chosen that option, the rest unfolds regardless of personalities. Putin has played his role well. He could continue to play it. But the focus should be on Russia as a great power seeking to resume its role, and not on the personalities, not even one as powerful as Putin, and certainly not Medvedev.
28619  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: December 11, 2007, 03:09:51 AM
Speculation:  Was there a motive here on the part of a certain faction of the CIA to pre-empt/prevent any risk that President Bush would pre-empt Iran?

I'm reading that not only the Israelis, but also the Brits are doubting the NIE's current conclusion , , ,
28620  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: 4 Elements query to Marc Denny on: December 11, 2007, 03:07:15 AM
Sorry I'm taking time getting to this , , , embarassed
28621  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Enviado 2 on: December 10, 2007, 04:37:20 PM
Y uno mas:

Heinz Dieterich is chief Chavez strategist:

1. Posible fin de los gobiernos en Bolivia, Venezuela y Cuba, entre 
2008 y 2010

El Presidente Chávez ha sufrido una derrota estratégica en el 
referendo constitucional, que junto con la derrota estratégica del 
gobierno de Evo en Bolivia y la cada vez más precaria situación en 
Cuba, constituyen un panorama extremadamente grave para las fuerzas 
progresistas de América Latina. Es posible que los gobiernos de Hugo 
Chávez y de Evo Morales no sobrevivan los embates de la reacción en 
el año 2008 y que el modelo cubano se agote en el 2009-2010, si no se 
toman medidas realistas de inmediato.

AN desatiende el resultado del referéndum y apoya al Gobierno en 

La AN ha aprobado un Acuerdo sobre el referéndum y, en uno de sus 
puntos, afirma lo siguiente: “acompañar al Ejecutivo en su 
disposición de mantener la propuesta”, lo cual ha generado un dura 
crítica de Ismael García y Pastora Medina. El acuerdo ha sido votado 
y aprobado. Iris Varela ha pedido a Chávez que aplique la reforma 
derrotada por Decreto hasta que “por iniciativa popular aprueben una 

Why Venezuelans Turned on Chavez


Until recently, Venezuela's opposition was so weak and fragmented it 
seemed unable to even fathom an electoral victory. But, in the early 
morning hours on Monday, it sealed a surprising triumph over the 
constitutional reform proposal of a president who, in nine years, had 
never lost an election. Scrambling to explain this aberration in a 
land where Hugo Chavez dominates the political landscape, many 
political observers point to the thousands of university students, 
who, dormant until this year, clogged the streets to protest the 
reform in the weeks leading up to the vote. Raul Baduel, the former 
defense minister and longtime ally of the president, also injected 
life into the opposition when he, along with the former pro-Chavez 
party Podemos (Spanish for "We Can"), called for people to vote "No." 
But the results raise another, perhaps more important, question: how 
much help did the opposition actually receive from the poor, Chavez's 
main support base?

Three part video analyzing the dangers posed by Chavez


Chavez calling the opposition victory shit, shit, shit, shit.
28622  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Enviado por un amigo un Venezuela on: December 10, 2007, 04:35:55 PM
Perú: subcomisión de Congreso denuncia "penetración ideológica" del 

Una subcomisión del Congreso peruano aseguró que hay "penetración 
ideológica" del gobierno venezolano a través de la creación de las 
casas de la amistad bolivarianas, anunció este miércoles la agencia 
estatal Andina.

El crecimiento de los organismos peruanos ligados al presidente Hugo 
Chávez ha sido "vertiginoso": pasaron de 1 a 88 desde febrero de 2006 
a la fecha, señaló Andina, que cita el informe final de la subcomisión.

La subcomisión concluyó que existía "penetración ideológica" tras 
investigar la labor de las denominadas "casas del ALBA", que impulsan 
los simpatizantes peruanos del gobierno venezolano con el objetivo de 
promover las políticas de atención humanitaria a pobres que financia 
Caracas en la región.

El presidente de la subcomisión, Rolando Sousa, pedirá al Congreso 
conformar una comisión con facultades coercitivas para obligar a 
comparecer ante ella al embajador de Caracas en Lima y al embajador 
de Bolivia en Perú, para indagar sobre el grado de cooperación 
oficial de sus gobiernos en el proyecto.

Según el organismo parlamentario peruano, la multiplicación de estas 
"casas" demuestra una fuerte capacidad financiera para brindar ayuda 
social y abrir sucursales en diversas zonas de Perú, lo que justifica 
ser investigado por ser un gobierno extranjero el que está involucrado.

Un sondeo difundido a fines de noviembre indicó que un 62% de los 
limeños considera que Hugo Chávez busca tener injerencia en los 
asuntos internos de Perú a través de las "casas del ALBA".

Las "casas" cumplen una función humanitaria al tratar a pacientes con 
problemas oculares y han tomado el nombre de la Alternativa 
Bolivariana para los Pueblos de América (ALBA) que Venezuela impulsa 
en América Latina.

La embajada de Venezuela en Lima ha negado su participación directa o 
estar interviniendo en asuntos internos peruanos, señalando que las 
casas cumplen sólo un papel facilitador como, por ejemplo, enviar 
pacientes a operar de cataratas a Caracas o a Copacabana, en Bolivia, 
donde funciona la misión médica cubano-venezolana Milagro.
Lecciones del día 2
Paulina Gamus

Miércoles, 5 de diciembre de 2007

Los resultados del referéndum convocado para aprobar o improbar el 
proyecto de nueva constitución presentado por el presidente Chávez, 
merecen muchos análisis y reflexiones. A la euforia de los opositores 
y a la frustración de los seguidores del proyecto chavista, han 
seguido una calma y un clima de normalidad que lo primero que enseñan 
es que a la población de este país le horroriza llevar la política al 
campo de batalla. La violencia que encuentra caldo de cultivo en las 
zonas de mayor marginalidad y que cobra decenas de vida cada día, es 
la que ha impuesto la delincuencia común exacerbada por el consumo de 
alcohol y de drogas y sin freno alguno por parte de los cuerpos 
policiales. Para nuestra desgracia, muchos de sus integrantes forman 
parte de ese sub mundo criminal. Pero la gran mayoría de los 
venezolanos, independientemente de las posiciones políticas que éstos 
hayan asumido en el pasado y que asumen ahora, prefiere no llevar sus 
diferencias más allá del intercambio verbal y de algunos pescozones, 
eso que Gonzalo Barrios llamaba las “trompadas estatutarias”.

La violencia queda reducida a una minoría de la cual forman parte 
personeros del régimen que -como cosa curiosa- son civiles. Cabe 
destacar en esta categoría a una diputada quien no conoce otra manera 
de hacer política que no sea el insulto, el abuso y la fuerza bruta. 
Quizá por rechazo a esos métodos, en su estado natal -Táchira- que 
ella representa en la Asamblea Nacional, la opción del NO obtuvo un 
triunfo rotundo. Aquí no habrá guerra civil a pesar de todos los 
vaticinios tanto de serios analistas como de astrólogos, videntes y 
otros especímenes. El empeño por infundir terror en los opositores 
mediante bandas de motorizados y demás antisociales que portan armas 
de fuego y están al servicio de algunos alcaldes conocidos por 
ignorar el respeto a la vida humana; es inútil. Cuando estos 
maleantes deben enfrentarse a multitudes no dispuestas a dejarse 
amedrentar, desisten y huyen. La primera lección es entonces la 
pérdida del miedo a las fuerzas paramilitares del régimen. Ni 
reservistas ni milicianos ni Círculos Bolivarianos ni Tupamaros 
pudieron mover un dedo para impedir que la voluntad popular se 
expresara libremente y para que se la respetara.

La segunda lección deriva de esa primera y es el derrumbe de un mito 
construido y solidificado a lo largo de nueve años: la invencibilidad 
de Chávez. Todo lo que se dijo sobre su carisma, endiosamiento, 
populismo, compra de voluntades con recursos inmensos para regalar, 
etcétera, etcétera, sumado a los fraudes de los que se suponía fuimos 
víctimas recurrentes; se derrumbó por el peso de una oposición que se 
organizó para cuidar los votos en las mesas de todos los centros de 
votación, que tuvo el cuidado de tener todas las actas en sus manos, 
que permaneció despierta y vigilante hasta la madrugada del día 
siguiente a la elección y que se mostró decidida a no dejarse 
atropellar. No eran aún las ocho de la noche cuando la palabra firme 
y seria de Gerardo Blyde, dirigente de Un Nuevo Tiempo, la sonrisa 
fresca y triunfal de Jon Goycochea, líder del movimiento 
universitario y la alocución escueta, clara y firme del general Raúl 
Isaías Baduel, ex ministro de la Defensa; fueron suficientes para 
saber que algo trascendental había cambiado para la oposición y en 
general para el país. El carómetro funcionó como nunca: en la rueda 
de prensa que ofrecieron el vicepresidente Jorge Rodríguez y el 
ministro Jesse Chacón, acompañados de otros dos miembros del comando 
electoral chavista; la sonrisa forzada del primero y la expresión 
fúnebre del segundo fueron más elocuentes que todas las palabras.

Cuando ya en la madrugada del día siguiente, la presidenta del 
Consejo Nacional Electoral dio los resultados que marcaban la derrota 
del empeño presidencial por liquidar la esencia democrática de la 
sociedad venezolana, supimos que Chávez era derrotable electoralmente 
y que ése debía ser el camino ahora y siempre, sin atajos de golpes 
militares, caracazos o cualquier otra fórmula contraria a la democracia.

Después vino el discurso de Chávez que, como suele suceder, empezó 
dando muestras de algún sentido de grandeza para terminar en la misma 
miasma (estado dinámico en que se encuentra la fuerza vital de cada 
individuo y que lo predispone para enfermar de ciertas patologías) La 
lección que sacamos es que esa cabra siempre tirará al monte y que no 
aceptará como corresponde, la derrota sufrida. Él si buscará atajos 
para imponernos muchos de los cambios que la mayoría de los electores 
venezolanos rechazó el 2 de diciembre de 2007.

¿Desistirá de sus propósitos de cercenar el derecho a la propiedad 
privada, de cubanizar la educación de nuestros niños, de restarle 
poder a la fuerza armada regular para instaurar una milicia paralela, 
de intervenir las universidades públicas y eliminar su autonomía, de 
clausurar los pocos medios de comunicación audiovisual que no están 
bajo la bota chavista, de transformar a Venezuela en una república 
confederada con la Cuba fidelista, etcétera, etcétera? La lección que 
nos ofrece el triunfo electoral del domingo 2 de diciembre es que si 
bien Chávez dista mucho de ser un demócrata y continúa teniendo el 
absoluto control sobre todas las instituciones del Estado, no existe 
fuerza que pueda derrotar a una sociedad movilizada en defensa de sus 
derechos. La batalla, para usar las palabras del presidente 
guerrerista, pero en nuestro caso por la democracia, apenas comienza.
Citó a la escritora italiana Oriana Fallaci y su libro "Entrevista 
con la Historia" donde hace referencia al luchador griego Alekos 
Panagullis señalando: "Cuando te acerques a esos grandes escudos de 
armas, donde está la historia reflejada, en torno a los cuales hay 
leyendas y glorias de los hombres de la historia pasada, tu te podrás 
acercar a esos escudos de armas,  el tiempo convirtió cosas en 
herrumbres y eso tiene dos componentes sangre y mierda, como seres 
humanos pues".

Y continuó: "Toma nota Lugo Galicia. Porque lo tuyo es lo último que 
he dicho, fue mierda. Aquí lo que hay es dignidad. Dejen quieto al 
que está quieto. Sepan administrar su victoria, porque ya la están 
llenando de mierda. Es una victoria de mierda y la nuestra llámenla 
derrota, llámenla, pero es de coraje, de valor de dignidad", dijo el 


Presidente Chavez desmiente haber sido presionado por alto mando 
militar y reitera que insistirá en su proyecto

El presidente Chávez desmintió que el alto mando militar haya 
influido en el reconocimiento de su derrota en el referendo 
constitucional del domingo y consideró como "literatura" versiones 
publicadas por diarios de esta capital, retomadas por CNN, señalando 
que no era presionable.

Chávez se presentó en medio de una rueda de prensa del alto mando 
militar para desmentir las versiones periodísticas según las cuales, 
enfurecido con los resultados adversos del referendo, se negaba a 
reconocer la derrota y tuvo que ser convencido por los jefes de la 
Fuerza Armada.

"Ojala que ese poder creativo que tiene el periodista, refiriendose a 
Hernán Lugo Galicía, lo usara para escribir cuentos o novelas. A lo 
mejor nos sale un premio Nobel de literatura", dijo Chávez en 
referencia al artículo de prensa.

El presidente se mostró particularmente molesto porque esa versión 
fue retomada por la cadena televisiva internacional CNN, a la que 
acusó de desarrollar una campaña conspirativa en su contra.

"Anoche, a la 1 o las 2 de la mañana, me llamó el general Rangel 
indignado por la manipulación que se está haciendo, incluso a nivel 
mundial, con CNN otra vez", dijo Chávez.

"CNN, How are you? Sigan, no van a poder sacarnos de aquí", agregó y 
reiteró que está preparando una demanda contra el canal estadounidense.

Chávez califica de nuevo la victoria de la oposición

El mandatario venezolano al reiterar a los opositores que 
administraran bien su victoria advirtió: "Nosotros vamos de nuevo a 
la ofensiva. Yo lo vuelvo a repetir. Lanzamos la primera ofensiva 
para la gran reforma constitucional, pero no crean que es que se 
acabó. Preparense. Porque vendrá una segunda ofensiva rumbo a la 
reforma constitucional", dijo.

Citó a la escritora italiana Oriana Fallaci y su libro "Entrevista 
con la Historia" donde hace referencia al luchador griego Alekos 
Panagullis señalando: "Cuando te acerques a esos grandes escudos de 
armas, donde está la historia reflejada, en torno a los cuales hay 
leyendas y glorias de los hombres de la historia pasada, tu te podrás 
acercar a esos escudos de armas,  el tiempo convirtió cosas en 
herrumbres y eso tiene dos componentes sangre y mierda, como seres 
humanos pues".

Y continuó: "Toma nota Lugo Galicia. Porque lo tuyo es lo último que 
he dicho, fue mierda. Aquí lo que hay es dignidad. Dejen quieto al 
que está quieto. Sepan administrar su victoria, porque ya la están 
llenando de mierda. Es una victoria de mierda y la nuestra llámenla 
derrota, llámenla, pero es de coraje, de valor de dignidad", dijo el 

"Buena señal de España"

El presidente de la República Hugo Chávez recibió como una buena 
señal la felicitación del gobierno de España, luego que el Canciller 
Miguel Angel Moratinos ponderara el desempeño del gobierno y de la 
población venezolana en el proceso refrendario del domingo.

El mandatario reveló que le había llegado una carta del embajador de 
Venezuela en España, Toro Hardy en el que le expresaba que el 
canciller Miguel Angel Moratinos “que el rey de España mandaba una 
felicitación, al pueblo y al presidente Chavez por la demostración”.

Eso lo recibimos como una buena señal. “nos han pedido que en Buenos 
Aires en la toma de posesión de Cristina Kirschner que yo reciba al 
príncipe de Asturias que me trae un mensaje personal del rey, voy a 
recibirlo. Soy un caballero y yo le tengo mucho afecto al príncipe 
Felipe de Asturias”, dijo el mandatario.

Acciones legales por Rosinés

Además, anunció que tomará acciones legales por su hija más pequeña, 
Rosinés, de 9 años, luego de que su ex esposa María Isabel Rodríguez 
llamara públicamente a votar 'No' en el referendo sobre la reforma 

"A mi niña Rosinés la colocan de nuevo en el centro de un huracán. 
Eso me duele mucho, son esos dolores que uno lleva", dijo Chávez este 
miércoles al presentarse en una rueda de prensa que ofrecía el alto 
mando militar.

"Voy a tener que recurrir al Derecho, como padre que la ama", resaltó. .

El domingo, cuando fue a votar en Barquisimeto, acompañada por su 
hija Rosinés, la ex esposa de Chávez fue insultada a gritos por un 
grupo de personas que se encontraba en los alrededores.

Chávez "se siente bien feliz del odio que está generando, está 
logrando desunirnos. Si cree con amenazas e insultos que nos quitará 
nuestros deseo e amar al país está equivocado", expresó la ex esposa 
de Chávez al votar.

NOTA: El lenguaje en el 11°y 12° párrafos puede resultar ofensivo 
para algunos lectores.

28623  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington on signing legislation on: December 10, 2007, 04:02:22 PM
"I give my signature to many Bills with which my Judgment is
at variance....  From the Nature of the Constitution, I must
approve all parts of a Bill, or reject it in total.  To do the
latter can only be Justified upon the clear and obvious grounds
of propriety; and I never had such confidence in my own faculty
of judging as to be over tenacious of the opinions I may have
imbibed in doubtful cases."

-- George Washington (letter to Edmund Pendleton, 23 September

Reference: The Writings of George Washinton, Fitzpatrick, ed.,
vol. 33 (96)
28624  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / I hadn't thought of that , , , on: December 10, 2007, 03:50:27 PM
George Friedman of Stratfor:

We also think there was a political component to it (NIE) being announced.  This was not the intelligence community sinking Bush’s plans to attack Iran. The U.S. doesn’t’ have the force to attack Iran, as we have argued in the past. Rather, it as Bush taking away their bargaining chip. If Iran has no nuclear program, the U.S. doesn’t have to make concessions to get rid of it. In an odd way, the NIE weakened the Iranian bargaining position.
28625  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizen-Police interactions on: December 10, 2007, 03:43:06 PM
The classic bit from Chris Rock:
28626  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / My congresswoman on: December 10, 2007, 02:44:20 PM
Trivia:  Jane Harman was my opponent the last time I ran for Congress.


The Limits of Intelligence
December 10, 2007; Page A18

On one of our several trips together to Iraq, a senior intelligence official told us how she wrote her assessments -- on one page, with three sections: what we know, what we don't know, and what we think it means.

Sound simple? Actually, it's very hard.

The limitations of the intelligence community are unfortunately well known to us. As past leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, we both saw the intelligence on Iraq's WMD in the run-up to the war, as well as the failure to detect the 9/11 plot or predict India's rise to the ranks of nuclear-armed nations. As a result, we coauthored, along with Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, the 2004 Intelligence Reform & Terrorism Prevention Act.

Since then, we have monitored the intelligence community as it tries to reinvent itself and become a strong, world-class organization. And we have worked, on a bipartisan basis, to strengthen the capability of the intelligence community to penetrate targets. Those efforts are moving forward, but we still have work to do. We are not convinced we have the necessary access to form definitive conclusions on Iran's future plans, or the plans and intentions of other hard targets. As lawmakers on homeland security and intelligence, we want hard information on what is actually happening on the ground.

Moreover, the only way Congress can have faith in the intelligence we receive is for the administration and intelligence community to follow the law by keeping the congressional intelligence committees "fully and currently" informed on intelligence matters. The controversy over the recording and destruction of interrogation tapes by the Central Intelligence Agency underscores this point, and the negative consequences when they don't.

Still, intelligence is in many ways an art, not an exact science. The complete reversal from the 2005 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear-weapons program to the latest NIE serves as its own caution in this regard. The information we receive from the intelligence community is but one piece of the puzzle in a rapidly changing world. It is not a substitute for policy, and the challenge for policy makers is to use good intelligence wisely to fashion good policy.

In fact, the new NIE on Iran comes closest to the three-part model our intelligence community strives for: It carefully describes sources and the analysts' assessment of their reliability, what gaps remain in their understanding of Iran's intentions and capabilities, and how confident they are of their conclusions. Yet it ignores some key questions. Most importantly, it does not explain why the 2005 NIE came to the opposite conclusion, or what factors could drive Iran to "restart" its nuclear-weapons program.

We were among the loudest voices in 2006 demanding more intelligence on the status of Iran's program and its intent to construct nuclear weapons. In a joint television interview, we raised serious concerns about the quality and extent of our intelligence community's penetration of Iran. We were concerned that some of the conclusions being reached were based on scant reporting. Our view is that there were more gaps in our coverage of Iran than many were willing to admit at the time.

Intelligence is essential in countering proliferation challenges from state and nonstate actors. And national-security issues should be bipartisan and debated in a constructive manner, recognizing that sometimes, based on the information available, what we believe in good faith to be true may turn out to be wrong.

Lawmakers have a constitutional obligation to understand and investigate these issues. This is why we have traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan to assess the situation firsthand, and why we both recently signed a letter responding to a request from Iranian parliamentarians to meet with them. The purpose of the meeting would not be foreign policy, but to learn and hopefully fill in some of the gaps in information we receive from the intelligence community.

Though the new NIE may be taken as positive news, Iran clearly remains dangerous. The combination of international pressure, economic sanctions and the presence of U.S. troops on Iran's borders may have indeed convinced Tehran to abandon its nuclear-weapons program, as the NIE states with "high confidence." Nevertheless, Congress must engage in vigorous oversight -- to challenge those who do intelligence work, and to make site visits to see for ourselves.

Intelligence is an investment -- in people and technology. It requires sustained focus, funding and leadership. It also requires agency heads that prioritize their constitutional duty to keep the intelligence committees informed. Good intelligence will not guarantee good policy, but it can spare us some huge policy mistakes.

Mr. Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 2004-2006. Ms. Harman, a California Democrat, was on the Intelligence Committee for eight years ending in 2006, the final four as ranking member
28627  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere on: December 10, 2007, 02:30:38 PM
I've seen the number that this site uses of 7 million Muslims in the US number plausibly challenged, but overall some interesting data in here.
28628  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Suppliments: Legal and Illegal on: December 10, 2007, 02:13:22 PM
After many years of supplements, powders, etc.  I concluded

a) Powders give me the drizzlies, and
b) Real food is better
28629  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: December 09, 2007, 01:44:56 PM
Fascinating study in human interaction
28630  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Accused Sniper disputes statement on: December 08, 2007, 12:52:00 PM,1,4472879.story?coll=la-headlines-world

Sniper accused of murder disputes statement

Sgt. Vela says officers changed his account of shooting an Iraqi. He says he thinks the Army 'should have had my back.'
By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 8, 2007

BAGHDAD — As a military court prepares to try the last of three U.S. snipers on murder charges, the soldiers have accused their commanding officers of pushing to expand rules of engagement to produce more "kills" and then abandoning them when they were accused of murder.

Two soldiers already have been acquitted of murder, but found guilty on lesser charges.

The third, Army Sgt. Evan Vela, faces a pretrial hearing Tuesday, seven months to the day after he shot at close range a man who had wandered into a sniper camp. The area, 30 miles south of Baghdad, was rife with Sunni militants.

Vela alleges that investigators changed the statement he made to them, and that a military lawyer urged him to waive his right to a hearing -- which he only won back on appeal. Vela has acknowledged that he shot the man, but said he was only doing his job and criticized his commanders for not looking out for him.

"It seems like when they should have had my back, they let me down," Vela said in an interview.

At Tuesday's hearing, Vela's lawyers hope to have the statement thrown out. They say they will ask that he be released from confinement in Kuwait, and that the trial, scheduled to start Jan. 28, be moved to Ft. Richardson, Alaska, where Vela's battalion is based.

According to court testimony and interviews, Vela's sniper unit was revamped in spring after the 1st Battalion of the 25th Infantry Division's 501st Regiment suffered a number of casualties in the Jurf Sakhar region. By June, as many as 20 soldiers had been killed.

In an interview, the unit's leader, Sgt. Michael S. Hensley, who was acquitted of murder charges, said that Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight brought him in to get more kills.

"The reason I am doing this is I want to start killing some bad guys, I want to increase our kill ratio," Hensley said Knight told him.

Hensley said he agreed on the condition that he would run the section by himself and report directly to the battalion commander. The unit expanded from seven to 13 men. Knight and Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage pushed the soldiers to become more aggressive, Hensley said.

"Balcavage and Knight, they would throw out their things like, 'You guys don't need to worry if you feel threatened for a second, don't hesitate to engage.' "

Knight and Balcavage refused to comment for this article. Their commander, Col. Michael Garrett, said they had done nothing wrong. "We were all under pressure fighting an elusive enemy," he said.

Until January, the sniper unit had killed no more than two people. But under Hensley's command, by June it had killed at least 15 people.

The platoon's senior noncommissioned officer, Sgt. 1st Class Steve Kipling, testified that Knight marginalized him. Scout platoon leader Lt. Matthew Didier, under whose command the sniper section fell, said Balcavage and Knight took a strong interest in what the sniper units did, and that Hensley sometimes would meet alone with the battalion's operation officer.

The unit also had sought clearance for a baiting program, in which snipers would plant weapons and parts and shoot Iraqis who picked them up, according to testimony by Kipling and Didier. Vela and other soldiers said they were briefed on the plan, but it is unclear whether it was implemented.

The subsequent demise of the sniper unit destroyed Didier's career. He plans to leave the Army after receiving a letter of reprimand for his platoon's conduct.

Murder charges were filed against the snipers in three incidents. But it is the final shooting, of an unarmed man who wandered into the sniper camp on May 11, that has drawn the most attention.

The five-man team was positioned along the Euphrates River to look for anyone fleeing a late-night raid on a house suspected to have a cache of rockets packed with chemicals. According to sworn statements and testimony in three hearings, Vela fired two bullets into the man's head at close range.

At the time, Hensley hid the incident from his battalion. Asked about it, Hensley provided a sworn statement in which he said his soldiers had tried to restrain the Iraqi but the man pointed a rifle at them.

In the interview, Hensley defended his actions. But he refused to say what happened because he might be called to testify in Vela's case.
Page 2 of 2  << back     1 2     

"Anything that was done to that insurgent was done to refrain him from making noise," Hensley said. "We were in an area where we could not get resupplied. There was only five of us out there with sniper weapons. We couldn't rapidly shoot at anything. . . . For all those reasons, this guy was killed out of self-defense."

Three weeks after that shooting, Knight and Balcavage promoted Hensley to platoon sergeant. His appointment lasted less than a month, however. With Balcavage on vacation, a captain invited the Army's criminal investigators to look into allegations by two lower-ranking soldiers, who had been punished by the unit for falling asleep, that the snipers had murdered civilians.
Before his November trial, the last time he saw his superiors, Hensley said, was in late June when he was brought to Balcavage's office and had charge sheets read against him. He was escorted to a helicopter to fly to prison in Kuwait.

He accused his superiors of only taking issue with his actions after criminal investigators became involved. "When they had issue with it, was when Criminal Investigation Department came on station and suddenly everybody was in the spotlight," said Hensley, who was found guilty of planting a weapon and disrespecting an officer. He also was demoted from staff sergeant.

The battalion rounded up the entire sniper unit as well and placed its members in solitary confinement. When he was summoned for questioning, Vela said he was held for nearly seven hours and threatened.

"To get me to make a statement, they threatened me that I would never see my family again. After I made the statement, CID actually sat down at the computer and changed my statement without me knowing it," Vela said in an unsworn statement at a hearing last month to determine whether his case would go to trial.

Vela was held for 30 days in Kuwait without seeing a court-appointed lawyer, who then recommended by phone that Vela waive his right to an Article 32 hearing, the equivalent of a grand jury, to determine whether the case should go to court-martial.

He agreed to waive it, but a civilian defense team hired by his father appealed the decision and won. Vela's defense team accused senior commanders, including Army Gen. Rick Lynch of the Multi-National Division Center, of obstructing his access to a fair trial.

Vela also was asked to testify with immunity at the trials of the two other snipers charged with murder -- Hensley and then-Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., who was convicted of poor conduct for planting of a detonation wire on a body and demoted. At Sandoval's trial, Vela broke down on the witness stand; at Hensley's, he said he remembered nothing of the events.

In August, a forensic psychiatrist, Carol Malone Carr, the assistant director at the National Naval Medical Center's Mental Health directorate, had diagnosed Vela with signs of post traumatic stress disorder, including battle flashbacks, and suicidal thoughts.

The experience has left a bitter taste for most soldiers. Sgt. Richard Hand, who had been on the May 11 mission, said he believed his association with the unit had ruined his career, and that he planned to leave the Army. "They were very lax in their care of anybody except themselves," he said.

28631  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: December 08, 2007, 12:06:42 PM

Subject: Fw: CO, 1/7  Battalion Task Force, USMC Reports

Saturday, October 20, 2007 6:40 PM
Subject: Report from USMC - Al Anbar Province, Iraq
From: Dill LtCol Jeffrey J ( 1/7 Bn Co )
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2007 3:45 PM

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

Family, friends, and Fellow Marines,

               As promised, here is my first 'update' from this tour in Iraq . I will try and get one of these out  about every month. I hope this finds you all doing well. It has been a  very fast moving month and a half as we moved the 1,000+ Marines from 1/7  and literally tons of equipment and material half way around the world  through Kuwait and eventually into Iraq . We have inventoried and signed  for well over a hundred p ieces of rolling stock, thousands of pieces of  electronic equipment and computers, joined a few hundred more  reinforcements to 1/7 (making us now 'Task Force 1/7') and then we put  everyone in their new positions, spreading us out over 500 square kilometers.  Needless to say, the Marines of the First Team have been busy!

               Here is the million dollar question I have been asked repeatedly since I have arrived, 'How is it compared to the last time you  were in Iraq ?'  Well, I was in Hit, the main city within our AO, last  October and daytime operations were limited to tanks and BFVs driving  around the outskirts of the city because to venture inside meant a  certain attack by an IED, RPG, small arms, or all of the above. Recently,  I went on a 3 hour dismounted patrol through town in the middle of the  afternoon, and my biggest worry was h aving enough candy for all the children that came up to me to say hello and shake my hand.

               I  stopped in stores and talked to the merchants to see how business is  doing. They told me business is good and improving everyday. I even went  to a few shops to look for a carpet for my office and enjoyed myself as I  tried to get the price lowered from 'rich'
American prices to normal Iraqi prices.  I wasn't successful but will keep trying!

               I stopped in one of the police stations in the city so I could make plans with the  Station Chief to remove a number of the cement barriers on the street in  order to open traffic back up. Those barriers were a must before as there  was a constant threat of a suicide vehicle ramming into the station in an attempt to kill as many of th e police
officers as  possible.  While that threat still exists, the security provided by the police and my Marines has allowed us to take risks in certain areas as we try and balance security needs and normalcy.

               I spend many hours working with the numerous city counsels and Mayors in my AO to  address and solve many issues, problems, and to plan for the future. A year ago, the city councils would not show up to work because if they did, they were killed as they were seen as 'agents' of the Americans by AQI.  Now, they look forward to my arrival so issues
like schools, rubble  removal, water treatment plants, sewage repairs, repairs of the electrical  grids, infrastructure modernization, and an assortment of other issues can  be worked out, prioritized, and assets allocated for them to begin work.

        ;  ;       I also spend a great deal of time with the major Sheiks in my AO.  They are some of the most gracious hosts you have ever met. My Marines and I are treated liked royalty every time we arrive.  Delicious lamb, goat, sheep, kabobs, fresh fruits and vegetables are  served in amounts we could never finish, and we always eat first and get  the seats of honor closest to the Sheik. We then adjourn for Chi tea and discuss issues that require my attention such as security, economic stimulation, tribal reconciliation, local government issues, and of course stories of past battles and fights...all embellished but they
make great stories anyway.

               Three brothers in the town of Baghdadi , one of whom who happens to be the Police Chief and is known as the 'Lion of Al Anbar', are particularly gracious hosts. They were some of the first to&nbs p; sta nd up against AQI and to stand with the Marines. They have suffered  greatly for choosing to fight AQI and for freedom. The Police Chief,  Colonel
Shab'an , has had no less then 7 direct assassination attempts  against him.  I was here last year and saw him after one attack against him  was nearly successful. One of his brothers was killed, a brother-in-law  was tortured and beheaded, and one of his younger brothers lost his legs in a mortar attack. Yet, he remains committed to a free and independent
Iraq . His talks to me about freedom, democracy, and his loyalty to Iraq and justice are inspiring.

               Colonel Shab'an has become a sort of  folk hero to his community, and his willingness to stand up for their  freedom and safety has inspired thousands of Iraqis. His two brothers, one  a Sheik and the other a local businessman, are also serv ants t o their community.  The Sheik is the City Council Chairman and has almost single handedly
reorganized the local government from a board of obstructionists to a functioning and effective governing body who work almost non-stop to improve the lives of the people within their area.

               The other brother is a very successful businessman who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to fix water treatment plants, to pay of the salaries of the police before the national government could or  would, and his source network has led to the successful capture of many terrorists and criminals.  The nights in their neighborhood are
particularly enjoyable as we sit outside to eat, and the children in the neighborhood run around, laughing, and sneaking up to listen to me talk or  to try and get some more candy from me. They are so proud of the security they have established for th eir fa milies, their tribe, and the people in their community. I am proud just to be considered their friend.

               Overall, the folks I have met are good people who want to raise their families, farm their land, and just have the ability to choose their own future for one of the few times in their country's history. Their admiration and appreciation to us and to the American people for the opportunity we have offered them is genuine and heartfelt.

               While there has been a great deal of progress, there is still much to do. While  most of the terrorists have been forced from the population centers, there are still secret cells. We have found and been attacked by a number of IEDs already. We have found a good number of buried caches along the river  banks that were planted there for future
use again st us. Iraq is far from  a peaceful land; there are many political issues above my level that must  be worked out. The rifts between the religious sects are as tough a  problem to figure out as anything else ever has been...think Catholics and Protestants in
Northern Ireland .

               The bottom line is this...we are winning the counter-insurgency fight here in Al Anbar .  We are winning  as a result of the past 5 years of work by thousands of Marines, Sailors,  and Soldiers who worked tirelessly to get us where we are today. This didn't happen overnight, and we lost many good men and women to achieve it. We have put the enemy on the run, and we are not letting the pressure  off. We continue to hunt him down and provide him no rest. My Marines,  actually your Marines, are patrolling in the cities, in the desert, and on the river to find the enemy and destro y him. And the Marines do not patrol alone. Almost every operation we do has Iraqi Police, Army, or both  with the
Marines.  They are brave, committed to winning, and they try as hard as they can to emulate the Marines they are serving with.  At the same time we continue to build our relationships with the  local leaders, Sheiks, and most importantly the Iraq people. I am  optimistic that, if given the time and support of the American people, we  can help create a country whose vast natural resources and potential will make it one of the strongest and most powerful nations in the region.

               Iraq will be our Ally, and they will not forget the sacrifices the American people have made on their behalf. I realize  and understand that many back home are tired of this conflict and want it  to end. I will not provide any argument there, but I will offer that&n bsp; ' wishing' away this problem is not reality. The Islamic extremists that  wish to destroy us are not going away; they cannot be 'talked' to, and they will not negotiate.

               I have been here three years in a row  now, and I can see the progress. I can see the improvement in the  capabilities and potential in the Iraqi Security Forces, I can see the  willingness and desire of civic and local leaders to build a better future for their people, and I can see that most of the civilian population has  turned its back on AQI because of their empty promises. I can see hope, a  hope that many Iraqis have never known before, and a hope they do not want to lose. Your Marines are doing exceptionally well. They are focused, they are disciplined, and they continue to attack each day with vigor and enthusiasm.  I am continually inspired by their courage, dedication, and w illing ness to sacrifice for others. I am truly blessed for the privilege to lead them.

               I would like to thank all of you for your continued prayers and support.  It means the world to us to know you  are all still behind us and that you want us to successfully complete this  mission. Please remember all the 1/7 families and all the families of  those serving here in Iraq that have been left behind in your prayers as well.

Semper Fidelis and God Bless,

LtCol JJ Dill, Commanding Officer
Task Force 1/7
Hit ,  Iraq

Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
28632  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: December 08, 2007, 11:17:23 AM

Homeland Insecurity
December 8, 2007; Page A10

America is in a defining moment. This is the wealthiest nation in history. Yet many Americans feel that the dream so many generations fought for is slowly slipping away.

I've spoken with folks across this country who have worked all their lives to put their children through college, but now can't afford the rising tuition. I've spoken with many others who've done everything right, but fell into bankruptcy once they became sick, because they couldn't afford their skyrocketing medical bills. And since working Americans have to pay these rising costs with incomes that remain stagnant, many are falling deep into debt, unable to set anything aside for savings.

So at a time when many Americans have no margin for error, it's no surprise that the downturn in the housing market has done enormous harm. In the coming years, over two million Americans could face foreclosure.

The larger risk, however, is that what is happening in housing could spill over elsewhere. A number of firms borrowed huge sums to make investments tied to the housing market. They are now suffering big losses that could trigger a slowdown of the entire economy. We're already seeing some troubling signs. Consumer confidence is the lowest it's been in years. Pension funds are losing money, threatening retirement security. And banks are also losing money, resulting in a credit crunch. That means businesses have less money to invest and people can't get loans, which could lead to significant job losses in the months ahead.

This is a moment of challenge. But it's also a moment of opportunity which we must seize, to make sure our economic future is secure. That starts with addressing the source of our economic woes -- the crisis in the housing market. For most Americans, a home is not just a place to live; it's their most valuable possession -- so preventing a larger crisis in the housing market means providing greater economic security for middle-class families.

This week, President Bush outlined a limited agreement with lenders to ensure that some families don't face higher mortgage payments they can't afford. It is a start. But we need to do more. That's why, several months ago, I proposed tax breaks to help millions of homeowners make their payments, direct relief for the victims of mortgage fraud, and counseling so homeowners know what options are available to avoid foreclosure and refinance. And I have outlined a program to help make it easier for middle-class families, not speculators, to renegotiate or refinance their mortgages.

To prevent the current problems in the housing market from spreading, shaking confidence in other sectors of the economy, we need to put money in the pockets of middle-class Americans. In September, I proposed a middle-class tax cut that would offset the payroll tax that working Americans are already paying. It would give every working family a tax cut worth up to $1,000. It would also make retirement more secure by eliminating income taxes for any senior making less than $50,000 per year. And over the long term, I've called for an automatic workplace pension enrollment policy, which would include a federal government match for part of the savings of middle-class families so they can count on more savings when they retire.

But the test of judgment and leadership isn't just how you respond to problems; it's what you do to prevent them. That's why, last spring, I called for a summit on housing with representatives from the government and private sector similar to the one that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson attended earlier this week. I also introduced a bill that would treat those who commit mortgage fraud like the criminals they are -- a measure that might have prevented the current crisis from escalating. Three months ago, I asked lenders to show flexibility to Americans trying to sell or refinance their houses.

In the last several months, I've also proposed a number of steps to prevent another economic crisis. These include restoring market transparency by making sure there's adequate government oversight over the rating agencies, so we can avoid practices that can mislead investors. We also need to stop credit-card companies from engaging in deceptive practices that push middle-class Americans further into debt. In addition, we need to update our regulatory system to reflect a 21st-century marketplace where so much credit comes from nonbank lenders, rather than traditionally regulated banks. And as we reform our regulatory rules, let's do so with an eye toward the global economy in which we're operating.

It's going to take a new kind of leadership to strengthen our middle class and make sure America's economic future is secure -- leadership that can challenge the special interests, bring Republicans and Democrats together, and rally this nation around a common purpose. And that is exactly the kind of leadership I intend to offer as president of the United States.

Mr. Obama is a senator from Illinois and a Democratic presidential candidate.
28633  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NIE Curveball on: December 08, 2007, 10:55:46 AM
Iran Curveball
This latest intelligence fiasco is Mr. Bush's fault.
Saturday, December 8, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

President Bush has been scrambling to rescue his Iran policy after this week's intelligence switcheroo, but the fact that the White House has had to spin so furiously is a sign of how badly it has bungled this episode. In sum, Mr. Bush and his staff have allowed the intelligence bureaucracy to frame a new judgment in a way that has undermined four years of U.S. effort to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions.

This kind of national security mismanagement has bedeviled the Bush Presidency. Recall the internal disputes over post-invasion Iraq, the smearing of Ahmad Chalabi by the State Department and CIA, hanging Scooter Libby out to dry after bungling the response to Joseph Wilson's bogus accusations, and so on. Mr. Bush has too often failed to settle internal disputes and enforce the results.

What's amazing in this case is how the White House has allowed intelligence analysts to drive policy. The very first sentence of this week's national intelligence estimate (NIE) is written in a way that damages U.S. diplomacy: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." Only in a footnote below does the NIE say that this definition of "nuclear weapons program" does "not mean Iran's declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment."

In fact, the main reason to be concerned about Iran is that we can't trust this distinction between civilian and military. That distinction is real in a country like Japan. But we know Iran lied about its secret military efforts until it was discovered in 2003, and Iran continues to enrich uranium on an industrial scale, with 3,000 centrifuges, in defiance of binding U.N. resolutions. There is no civilian purpose for such enrichment. Iran has access to all the fuel it needs for civilian nuclear power from Russia at the plant in Bushehr. The NIE buries the potential danger from this enrichment, even though this enrichment has been the main focus of U.S. diplomacy against Iran.

In this regard, it's hilarious to see the left and some in the media accuse Mr. Bush once again of distorting intelligence. The truth is the opposite. The White House was presented with this new estimate only weeks ago, and no doubt concluded it had little choice but to accept and release it however much its policy makers disagreed. Had it done otherwise, the finding would have been leaked and the Administration would have been assailed for "politicizing" intelligence.
The result is that we now have NIE judgments substituting for policy in a dangerous way. For one thing, these judgments are never certain, and policy in a dangerous world has to account for those uncertainties. We know from our own sources that not everyone in American intelligence agrees with this NIE "consensus," and the Israelis have already made clear they don't either. The Jerusalem Post reported this week that Israeli defense officials are exercised enough that they will present their Iran evidence to Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he visits that country tomorrow.

For that matter, not even the diplomats at the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency agree with the NIE. "To be frank, we are more skeptical," a senior official close to the agency told the New York Times this week. "We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, is also skeptical enough that he wants Congress to establish a bipartisan panel to explore the NIE's evidence. We hope he keeps at it.

All the more so because the NIE heard 'round the world is already harming U.S. policy. The Chinese are backing away from whatever support they might have provided for tougher sanctions against Iran, while Russia has used the NIE as another reason to oppose them. Most delighted are the Iranians, who called the NIE a "victory" and reasserted their intention to proceed full-speed ahead with uranium enrichment. Behind the scenes, we can expect Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to expand their nuclear efforts as they conclude that the U.S. will now be unable to stop Iran from getting the bomb.

We reported earlier this week that the authors of this Iran NIE include former State Department officials who have a history of hostility to Mr. Bush's foreign policy. But the ultimate responsibility for this fiasco lies with Mr. Bush. Too often he has appointed, or tolerated, officials who oppose his agenda, and failed to discipline them even when they have worked against his policies. Instead of being candid this week about the problems with the NIE, Mr. Bush and his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, tried to spin it as a victory for their policy. They simply weren't believable.
It's a sign of the Bush Administration's flagging authority that even many of its natural allies wondered this week if the NIE was really an attempt to back down from its own Iran policy. We only wish it were that competent.

28634  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters on: December 07, 2007, 09:39:41 PM
Iran-Mexico meeting deepens ties to Islam
President Calderon welcomes Khatami in effort to bypass confrontational West

Posted: December 7, 2007
4:50 p.m. Eastern
By Jerome R. Corsi
© 2007

Mexican President Felipe Calderon welcomed former Iranian President Mohamed Khatami to Mexico City
In a little notice meeting reflecting growing ties between South America and the Islamic world, Mexican President Felipe Calderon welcomed former Iranian President Mohamed Khatami to Mexico City. The two leaders met Wednesday at Los Pinos, Mexico's official presidential residence, to discuss deepening cultural bonds with the Islamic world in the face of Western notions of a "clash of civilizations.

The visit drew virtually no mention in the press outside of Mexico, even in Iran.

Khatami came at the invitation of the International Center for Dialogue between Civilizations, established in 2006 at the Colegio de San Luis in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. A notice on the Colegio de San Luis website said Khatami spoke at the center to oppose the main thesis of Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington's seminal 1996 book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order."

In his speech, Khatami proclaimed a "Dialogue among Civilizations," a theme echoing a 2001 U.N. declaration. Similarly, a statement by Calderon emphasized, in diplomatic language, that Khatami was promoting an exchange of opinions "concerning the roads available to promote peaceful co-existence among natures and cultures."

The Mexican newspaper La Jornada echoed the presidential statement: "The government of Mexico shares the conviction that dialogue and negotiation should be promoted as the preferred means to advance agreements."

The radical leftist La Voz de Aztlan in Los Angeles characterized the Khatami-Calderon meeting as "part of a growing alliance between Mexico, South America and Islam."  La Voz de Aztlan also noted, "President Calderon has been worried about the growing racist hostility against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the USA."

The online publication said the visit "may signal the beginning of a new international alignment that may bring into reality what Patrick Buchanan wrote in his new book, 'Day of Reckoning.'"

In July, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met in Tehran with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reflecting Tehran's recent campaign to develop closer ties with Latin America. In September, Ahmadinejad met with Fidel Castro in Cuba, where the communist dictator endorsed the Iranian leader's efforts to further the goals of the Islamic revolution begun by Ayatollah Khomeini.

The International Center for Dialogue between Civilizations was opened in 2006 by Islamic Dawa of Chauen, a militant Shiite Islamic group originally formed in Iraq, and the radical Junta Islamica of Spain.

Chauen is a city in the Mexican province of Marruecos with historic ties to the Berbers in Morocco. The Junta Islamica derives from the descendents of the Moriscos, the Spanish Muslims expelled from Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group noted for aggressively promoting the rights of Hispanic immigrants, characterizes the Nation of Aztlan, publisher of La Voz de Aztlan, as a "tiny Chicano group that pushes racism and homophobia." Aztlan is the name for the mythical place of origin of the Aztec people. In the politics of Hispanic immigration, Aztlan has come to represent the part of the southwestern United States, including a large part of California, sought by the Reconquista movement for Mexico.

28635  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: December 07, 2007, 09:02:22 PM
Imam's daughter in hiding after her conversion to Christianity sparked death threats

The daughter of a British imam is living under police protection after receiving death threats from her father for converting to Christianity.

The 31-year-old, whose father is the leader of a mosque in Lancashire, has moved house an astonishing 45 times after relatives pledged to hunt her down and kill her.

The British-born university graduate, who uses the pseudonym Hannah for her own safety, said she renounced the Muslim faith to escape being forced into an arranged marriage when she was 16.

She has been in hiding for more than a decade but called in police only a few months ago after receiving a text message from her brother.

In it, he said he would not be held responsible for his actions if she failed to return to Islam.

Officers have agreed to offer her protection in case of an attempt on her life.

Last night the woman said: "I'm determined to live my life the way I want to because I should have that freedom in this country.

"If you make the choice to come to this country, as my parents did from Pakistan, you have to abide by the laws of this country and that means respecting the freedoms of other people.

Scroll down for more... {R}

"I know the Koran says anyone who goes away from Islam should be killed as an apostate, so in some ways my family are following the Koran. They are following Islam to the word.

"But I do not think every Muslim would act on that.

"My situation is frightening, but I'm not going to let it frighten me to the extent I can't live my life.

"I pretty much feel like I've lost my family and that's very hard.

"Some days I feel very low and what my father might do preys on my mind. But I regularly change my phone number to avoid him catching up with me.'

Hannah was born in Lancashire to Pakistani parents who raised her and her siblings as strict Sunni Muslims.

She prayed and read the Koran, wore traditional Muslim clothes and was sent to a madrassa, a religious Muslim school.

She ran away from home at 16 after overhearing her father organising her arranged marriage.

Hannah was taken in by a religious education teacher and decided to convert to the Christian faith.

Although unhappy, her parents tolerated their daughter's dismissal-of Islam as a "teenage phase".

But when she opted to get baptised, while studying at Manchester University, her family were incensed and the death threats began.

Her father arrived at her home with 40 men and threatened to kill her for betraying Islam.

"I saw my uncle and around 40 men storming up the street clutching axes, hammers, knives and bits of wood," she said.

"My dad was shouting through the letter box, "I'm going to kill you", while the others smashed on the window and beat the door.

"They were shouting, 'We're going to kill you' and 'Traitor'.

"It was terrifying. I was convinced I was going to either die, but suddenly after about ten minutes the noise stopped and the men suddenly went away."

Since then Hannah, who gives talks to churches on Islam, has been on the run from her family, often being forced to flee her home with only a few minutes' notice.

After receiving the latest text threat from her brother, in June, she finally went to the police.

No one has been arrested or charged in connection with the death threats, but officers have put her on an "at risk" register and have given her a panic number to call if she fears for her own safety.

Yesterday Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, told delegates at the launch of a religious charity that Muslims in Britain who wished to change faiths were living in fear of their lives because of Islamic hostility to conversion.

A study this year found that 36 per cent of British Muslims between 16 and 24 believe those who convert to another religion should be punished by death.

In July an Iranian immigrant to Britain, who converted to Christianity, was saved from deportation after it emerged she would be stoned to death in her own country.
28636  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: December 07, 2007, 12:57:08 PM

Pissing the whole world off, one person at a time.

  Posted December 06, 2007 12:00 PM  Hide Post

The Flaws In the Iran Report
By John R. Bolton
Thursday, December 6, 2007; A29

Rarely has a document from the supposedly hidden world of intelligence had such an impact as the National Intelligence Estimate released this week. Rarely has an administration been so unprepared for such an event. And rarely have vehement critics of the "intelligence community" on issues such as Iraq's weapons of mass destruction reversed themselves so quickly.

All this shows that we not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than "intelligence" analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it. President Bush may not be able to repair his Iran policy (which was not rigorous enough to begin with) in his last year, but he would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.

Consider these flaws in the NIE's "key judgments," which were made public even though approximately 140 pages of analysis, and reams of underlying intelligence, remain classified.

First, the headline finding -- that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout."

The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.

Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point. Moreover, the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments. The very public rollout in the NIE of a diplomatic strategy exposes the biases at work behind the Potemkin village of "intelligence."

Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. We have lost many fruitful sources inside Iraq in recent years because of increased security and intelligence tradecraft by Iran. The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism. In a background briefing, intelligence officials said they had concluded it was "possible" but not "likely" that the new information they were relying on was deception. These are hardly hard scientific conclusions. One contrary opinion came from -- of all places -- an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that "we are more skeptical. We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.

Fourth, the NIE suffers from a common problem in government: the overvaluation of the most recent piece of data. In the bureaucracy, where access to information is a source of rank and prestige, ramming home policy changes with the latest hot tidbit is commonplace, and very deleterious. It is a rare piece of intelligence that is so important it can conclusively or even significantly alter the body of already known information. Yet the bias toward the new appears to have exerted a disproportionate effect on intelligence analysis.

Fifth, many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran's nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as "intelligence judgments."

That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad." He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

28637  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Political Economics on: December 07, 2007, 09:01:34 AM
Let's Not Panic and Ruin the World
December 7, 2007; Page A17

You can't move these days without bumping into an economic pessimist. "Recession in America looks increasingly likely," said the Economist magazine on Nov. 17. Two days later, in the International Herald Tribune, Nobel Prize winner Paul A. Samuelson brought up the specter of the Great Depression. And then, on Nov. 26, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers wrote in the Financial Times that, "the odds now favor a recession that slows growth significantly on a global basis."

The pressure on policy makers to do something is intense. Not only is there a desire to see the government get even more involved in the housing loan market -- witness the Bush administration's plan to freeze starter rates -- there is also tremendous pressure on the Fed to make another large 50 basis-point rate cut in attempt to alleviate credit-market problems.

This desire for government intervention to fix problems that grown adults have created for themselves is dangerous. Constantly counting on the government to save the economy undermines confidence in free markets, conditions people to believe they don't have to live with bad decisions, and creates a willingness to take imprudent risk. Actions to stabilize the economy in the short term can destabilize it in the longer term, and set the stage for even more intervention to fix the new problems at a later date.

Moreover, all this pessimism makes serious economic problems less likely. If it really happens, a recession in the next year could be the most anticipated ever. That fact alone makes it improbable. Recessions usually surprise the consensus. When a recession is expected, the odds of rapidly rising inventories, excessive investment, or a surprise drop in new orders are reduced.

In the past, when manufacturing was a larger share of the economy and inventory control was less exact, recessions often began abruptly, sometimes on the heels of very strong growth. Today, with services a larger share of the economy, and technology speeding up information flow, the economy tends to glide more gently into recession. Given this, all the doom and gloom seems unnecessary.

Real GDP in the U.S. grew 4.9% at an annual rate in the third quarter, and has averaged 4.4% in the past two quarters. While real growth in the current quarter will slow (our forecast is 1.5% to 2.0%), this is more of a payback for the past two quarters of strong growth than it is a new direction for the economy. Average annualized growth in real GDP from March to December will be roughly 3.5%.

In addition, nominal GDP, or total spending, has accelerated from a 3.6% annual growth rate in the second half of 2006 to 6.2% in the past two quarters. This is an excellent signal that Fed policy is still accommodating. When the Fed is tight, the growth rate of nominal GDP, or aggregate demand, does not accelerate.

Despite all of this, many believe that credit-markets problems have increased economic risk dramatically. Mr. Summers argues that "levels of the federal-funds rate that were neutral when the financial system was working normally are quite contractionary today." "Speculative markets will not stabilize themselves," wrote Paul Samuelson. For Messrs. Summers and Samuelson, only Fed action can save the world.

But this argument confuses money and credit. It is increases in the money supply that drive total spending (or aggregate demand), not increases in credit. Many people confuse the idea of a "money multiplier" with money creation. They believe banks can create money. This is not true: The Fed is the only entity in the world that creates new dollars.

In a fractional reserve banking system, the money multiplier works as banks lend out part of their deposits and keep some in reserve. Then the next bank, which receives deposits as a result of the first bank's loan, lends out part of the money again. This is repeated over and over so that every dollar of the monetary base is "multiplied" into many more dollars of lending or credit.

Despite problems at many major financial institutions, this process is not breaking down. The Fed is not behind the curve. When the Fed buys bonds to inject new liquidity into the banking system, that money doesn't go into a black hole. Even if a bank has had its capital eroded by large write-downs, it must invest the new cash. Some banks are putting the cash right back into Treasury bonds, which is one reason Treasury yields are so low. Banks need less capital to hold Treasury bonds than they need to hold loans to the private sector.

But, contrary to popular belief, when a bank buys Treasuries, the money mechanism does not stop. For every debit there must be a credit, and this continues endlessly. In fact, it may be that banks are buying those Treasury bonds from foreign holders, say the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which just made a huge investment in Citibank. In this case, the money came right back into the U.S. banking system.

There are an infinite number of paths that the monetary transmission mechanism can take. The only time it breaks down is when investors expect deflation, as in the Great Depression. This is when hording cash makes sense. But this is not the case today. Consumer prices are up 3.5% versus last year. As a result, as long as the Fed is accommodative, money will find its way into the financial system and the multiplier process will continue.

This does not require massive money center banks such as Citibank. It can happen through any well-capitalized institution. For example, tens of thousands of community and regional banks made few or no subprime loans and have large amounts of excess capital. They are in fantastic shape. However, because the cost of funds for banks does not fall quickly, and adjustable rate loans reset immediately, a rate cut can hurt these banks' earnings. In addition, with uncertainty about the economy elevated, forcing banks to lend at lower rates doesn't make sense. Widening spreads between Treasury and private-sector bond yields are a signal that the federal-funds rate is too low, not too high. This helps explain why many regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents sound hawkish.

Hedge funds, private equity firms and nonfinancial corporations also have trillions in cash that is already being put to work. Citadel, a hedge fund, bought at-risk loan pools from E*Trade, and increased its investment stake by $2.5 billion. The French parent of CIFG Services Inc., a major bond insurer, injected $1.5 billion of new capital to shore up its balance sheet. Bank of America invested in Countrywide and HSBC brought its high-risk loans back onto its balance sheet.

The only real problem is that these "fixes" are not cheap. Citibank is paying 11% to Abu Dhabi. E*Trade reportedly sold its problem loans to Citadel for 27 cents on the dollar, a price many think is well below the true value. Institutions with cash and capital will make huge profits in this environment, while those without these two things will fight to survive. While not everyone is happy about it, the market is healing itself.

Some say that we can't risk a spillover of credit problems into the economy as a whole, but that ignores two things. First, outside of housing-related businesses and financial institutions that invested in subprime securities, the economy is in good shape. Despite many months of fearful forecasts and an erosion in consumer confidence, the economy remains resilient. Early holiday shopping data have been strong, car and truck sales rose in November and manufacturing continues to expand.

Second, more Fed rate cuts risk a weaker dollar, rising inflationary pressures and a new round of lax lending standards. Don't forget that similar arguments were used between 2001 and 2004 to justify a 1% federal-funds rate that was designed to ward off the significant and serious risk of deflation. That policy helped create the subprime lending crisis in the first place.

To top it off, as long as the Fed allows the market to believe more rate cuts are coming, the greater the incentive to put off business activity. An investor who wants to buy distressed property or debt, a potential home buyer, or a hedge fund looking to make a leveraged investment may choose to wait for lower interest rates before taking action. This delays the self-healing process of the marketplace.

All of this argues for a much more laissez-faire approach. Attempting to offset the problems caused by a few (i.e., a bailout), actually creates larger risks for the economy as a whole. The very act of saving the world puts it at greater risk.

Mr. Wesbury is chief economist for First Trust Portfolios, L.P.
28638  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mormons on: December 07, 2007, 08:56:06 AM

The Book of Romney
The debate over his convictions--religious, and political.

Friday, December 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

In anticipation of Mitt Romney's big speech yesterday on the "religion question," some seemed to expect him to address the meaning and purpose of human existence. He didn't, and the speech was all the more politically admirable and instructive as a result.

Instead of directly pushing back against skepticism of his Mormon beliefs, the Republican Presidential hopeful spoke to the more limited--though still loaded--topic of faith and politics in America. There were considerable risks in doing so. He had to allay qualms about his spiritual convictions without also turning off the primary voters who consider religion an important element in selecting their candidate. Another danger was that "the Mormon issue" could dominate the 28 days until the Iowa caucuses.

Despite the endless media analogies, the speech won't be remembered as the kind of canonical American document that Jack Kennedy's 1960 defense of his Catholicism is made out to be--and that's not a bad thing. The Kennedy precedent isn't useful because JFK essentially argued that religion shouldn't matter in politics. He endorsed "an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," and in many ways that speech anticipated all that would follow.

The core of the Democratic Party shifted over time toward secular absolutism--where any public engagement with religion is tantamount to its public establishment, and maybe even the repeal of the Enlightenment. The Supreme Court also took an active role in making the policy preferences of the secular left the law of the land, beginning in 1963 with its prohibition of prayer in public school.

Mr. Romney, then, was addressing traditionally minded voters who have valid reasons for feeling excluded from the cultural, if not democratic, mainstream. He did well to recognize the contributions that faith and religious institutions make to the American civic landscape. And as he noted, the American system is tolerant enough to accommodate the varieties of religious experience.

Mr. Romney's implicit purpose, though, was to speak to the ecumenical alliance called "the religious right," which is united on some political issues but often divided on matters of faith. He noted that "a common creed of moral convictions" brings him to the same policy conclusions as evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics. The political church, in other words, is broad enough to include Mormons, even if their doctrines aren't simpatico.
Mr. Romney mentioned the word "Mormon" only once, and he was right to steer clear of formal theology or specific practices. Some denominations are leery of--or openly hostile to--the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, considering it un-Christian, or even a cult. Surveys indicate that many voters oppose Mr. Romney for this reason, and his speech probably won't do much to convince them otherwise.

How unfortunate it would be if he were rejected on the basis of such irreducible doctrinal differences. The Mormons seem the very embodiment of "family values," and you couldn't invent a religious culture that lived more consistently with Biblical messages. Broadly speaking, most Mormons have, and come from, big families; they're regular churchgoers and give to charity; they don't drink, smoke, gamble or engage in premarital sex. On the scale of American problems, the Mormons don't even register.

It's particularly ironic that some religious voters are trafficking in anti-Mormon bias, because the secular left has spent years trying to portray these same religious voters as a threat to the American system. Evangelicals have spent decades being ridiculed by the coastal elites--for the born-again lifestyle, creationism, opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, the "Left Behind" novels. Recall the ridiculous "theocracy" panic after the 2004 election.

Now some of those same believers are trying to do the same to the Mormons. We doubt Mr. Romney persuaded those voters, but he probably had more success with, say, Republican Catholics who recall their pre-JFK ostracism from Presidential politics.

A larger irony is that the biggest doubts we hear about the Romney candidacy have nothing to do with his religious convictions, which seem consistent and sincere. They concern his apparent lack of political convictions. He governed Massachusetts as a moderate Republican, and even today he speaks about reforming Washington less with policy ideas than with the power of his positive technocratic thinking.
Once a cultural moderate, Mr. Romney has converted to conservative social positions on abortion, and so on. Rudy Giuliani recently needled him about his "sanctuary mansion" for illegal immigrants, so this week he fired his gardeners. He boasted about his HillaryCare Lite reform in Massachusetts, then had his free-market advisers rewrite it for the primary campaign. Despite yesterday's laudable speech, we suspect Mr. Romney will rise or fall as a candidate based on how well he can sell his worldly record.
28639  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Movies on: December 07, 2007, 08:52:58 AM
Not According to Script
Hollywood gets shown up by pro-war YouTube videos and a didactic antiwar cat.

Friday, December 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

The guns of war have fallen silent for Hollywood. Studio executives, who could once count on Americans filling theaters for just about any war movie they produced, are finding this year's war flicks to be a bunch of duds. "Lions for Lambs," Robert Redford's case against the war in Afghanistan, is a flop. It stars Mr. Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise and may not make back its $35 million price tag. Brian De Palma's "Redacted" played to empty seats. Even "The War," Ken Burns's much-anticipated World War II documentary that aired on PBS in September, met a less-than-explosive reception.

But Americans haven't lost their taste for war footage. They've just found a better place to see the type of war film they actually enjoy watching. Some of the hottest videos on YouTube are of actual battles that have taken place in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is footage that often hasn't made its way onto the nightly news or CNN--although some of it has--but it's largely unadulterated film that shows American soldiers in action, bringing the full weight of American military might to bear against the enemy. And in most of these films, it's clear who the enemy is.

Some of the are amateur productions and others are professionally produced, such as two films that have drawn about 700,000 viewers each: "Insurgent Snipers vs. U.S. Marines," put together by the History Channel, and "Iraq Marine Battle Fallujah." In the latter, U.S. Marines are seen assaulting Fallujah. The film, just 4 1/2 minutes, plays to the tune of Dire Straits' 1985 hit "Brothers in Arms," and is a better tribute to the men who fight the nation's wars that anything Hollywood has put out since John Wayne's 1968 film "The Green Berets."
Another film, this one billing itself as "Iraq War (The Great Footage Ever!)," was posted in February and has already drawn more than 1.3 million viewers. It runs a little less than 10 minutes and features shots of U.S. military attack aircraft and U.S. Marines in Iraq. The Marines, who fill the final half of the film, are shown kicking in doors, burning photographs of Saddam Hussein, and blasting insurgents with seemingly every weapon in the U.S. arsenal. It's raw, upfront military aggression targeted at bad guys, interspersed with lighter moments of kicking soccer balls around with Iraqi children and training Iraqi soldiers. It too is compelling video.

Yet another film winning attention--"Battle on Haifa Street, Baghdad, Iraq"--was posted nine months ago and has been seen by more than 1.8 million viewers. In nearly three minutes of combat footage, viewers can watch a battle scene play out where American and Iraqi soldiers attack and appear to kill insurgents in urban Baghdad. Another short film--"U.S. Marines in Iraq Real Footage Warning Graphic"--plays to American rock music, runs just five minutes. It is an adrenaline rush all the way through and has been seen by some 1.1 million people.

Not every online film is pro-war. One, available here, is a 23-minute discussion of whether the Iraq war is illegal under international law. Narrated by a talking cat, it has been seen by more than 600,000 people. It's anyone's guess how many of them have actually been swayed by the cat's arguments.

Today cameras are ubiquitous and production software is easy enough to use that nearly any American with an interest in doing so can put together a film and post it online for public viewing. That many of the videos showing up on the Internet are just as or even more compelling to watch than what Tinsel Town throws up on the silver screen is both an indictment of Hollywood as well as an opportunity. It's of little mystery now what kind of war films consumers want to see. Most of them involve the good guys winning.
Mr. Miniter is assistant editor of His column appears Tuesdays.

28640  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mormons on: December 07, 2007, 08:49:52 AM

Mormon in America
How Mitt Romney came to give The Speech--and how he did.

Friday, December 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Did Mitt Romney have to give a speech on religion? Yes. When you're in a race so close you could lose due to one issue, your Mormonism, you must address the issue of your Mormonism. The only question was timing: now, in the primaries, or later, as the nominee? But could he get to the general without The Speech? Apparently he judged not. (Mr. Romney's campaign must have some interesting internal polling about Republicans on the ground in Iowa and elsewhere.)

But Mr. Romney had other needs, too. His candidacy needed a high-minded kick start. It needed an Act II. He's been around for a year, he's made his first impression, he needed to make it new again. He seized the opportunity to connect his candidacy to something larger and transcendent: the history of religious freedom in America. He made a virtue of necessity.

He had nothing to prove to me regarding his faith or his church, which apparently makes me your basic Catholic. Catholics are not his problem. His problem, a Romney aide told me, had more to do with a particular fundamentalist strain within evangelical Protestantism. Bill Buckley once said he'd rather be governed by the first thousand names in the Boston phone book than the Harvard faculty. I'd rather be governed by Donny and Marie than the Washington establishment. Mormons have been, in American history, hardworking, family-loving citizens whose civic impulses have tended toward the constructive. Good enough for me. He's running for president, not pastor. In any case his faith is one thing about Mr. Romney I haven't questioned.

It is true that some in his campaign thought a speech risky, but others saw it as an opportunity, and a first draft was ready last March. In certain ways Mr. Romney had felt a tugging resistance: I've been in public life--served as governor, run the Olympics, run a business. I have to do a speech saying my faith won't distort my leadership?

In May he decided to do it, but timing was everything. His campaign wanted to do it when he was on the ascendancy, not defensively but from a position of strength. In October they decided to do the speech around Thanksgiving. Mr. Romney gathered together all the material and began to work in earnest. Then they decided it would get lost in the holiday clutter. They decided to go after Thanksgiving, but before Dec. 15. The rise of Mike Huckabee, according to this telling, didn't force this decision but complicated it.

The campaign fixed on Dec. 6, at the College Station, Texas, library of George H.W. Bush, with the former president introducing him, which would lend a certain imprimatur (and mute those who say his son's White House is pulling for Rudy Giuliani).

It is called his JFK speech, but in many ways JFK had it easier than Mr. Romney does now. The Catholic Church was the single biggest Christian denomination in America, representing 30% of the population (Mormons: 2%, six million). Americans who had never met a Catholic in 1920 had by 1960 fought side by side with them in World War II and sat with them in college under the GI bill. JFK had always signaled that he held his faith lightly, not with furrow-browed earnestness. He had one great question to answer: Would he let the Vatican control him? As if. And although some would vote against him because he was Catholic, some would vote for him for the same reason, and they lived in the cities and suburbs of the industrial states.

Mr. Romney gave the speech Thursday morning. How did he do?
Very, very well. He made himself some history. The words he said will likely have a real and positive impact on his fortunes. The speech's main and immediate achievement is that foes of his faith will now have to defend their thinking, in public. But what can they say to counter his high-minded arguments? "Mormons have cooties"?

Romney reintroduced himself to a distracted country--Who is that handsome man saying those nice things?--while defending principles we all, actually, hold close, and hold high.

His text was warmly cool. It covered a lot of ground briskly, in less than 25 minutes. His approach was calm, logical, with an emphasis on clarity. It wasn't blowhardy, and it wasn't fancy. The only groaner was, "We do not insist on a single strain of religion--rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith." It is a great tragedy that there is no replacement for that signal phrase of the 1980s, "Gag me with a spoon."

Beyond that, the speech was marked by the simplicity that accompanies intellectual confidence.

At the start, Mr. Romney was nervous and rushed, his voice less full than usual. He settled down during the second applause, halfway though the text--"No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths." From that moment he was himself.

He started with a full JFK: "I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith." No "authorities of my church" or any church, will "ever exert influence" on presidential decisions. "Their authority is theirs," within the province of the church, and it ends "where the affairs of the nation begin." "I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law." He pledged to serve "no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest." He will not disavow his religion. "My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs."
Bracingly: "Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it." Whatever our faith, the things we value--equality, obligation, commitment to liberty--unite us. In a passage his advisers debated over until the night before the speech, Mr. Romney declared: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind." He made the call. Why? I asked the aide. "Because it's what he thinks."

At the end, he told a story he had inserted just before Thanksgiving. During the dark days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, someone suggested the delegates pray. But there were objections: They all held different faiths. "Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot. And so together they prayed." At this point in Mr. Romney's speech, the roused audience stood and applauded, and the candidate looked moved.

There was one significant mistake in the speech. I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family. We were founded by believing Christians, but soon enough Jeremiah Johnson, and the old proud agnostic mountain men, and the village atheist, and the Brahmin doubter, were there, and they too are part of us, part of this wonderful thing we have. Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote.

My feeling is we've bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything else.

Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and author of "John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father" (Penguin, 2005), which you can order from the OpinionJournal bookstore. Her column appears Fridays on
28641  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: December 07, 2007, 08:37:08 AM
Redefining Conservatism
Mike Huckabee is far from being Reagan's heir.
Friday, December 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

DES MOINES, Iowa--Stepping out for a press conference here Monday, Mike Huckabee fielded the ultimate question. Just how conservative are you?

"I'm as conservative as anyone could hope to be, or want to be, or needs to be," replied the smiling former Arkansas governor, never missing a beat, and following up with a boilerplate summary of his belief in "lower taxes," the "sanctity of human life" and a "strong military"--before moving ever so swiftly on to the next question.

It was trademark Huckabee: Sounds great, explains little. It's a strategy that has so far served him well, rocketing his campaign in recent weeks to the top ranks of the Republican presidential field. The question is whether he can continue to pull off that trick, now that he's receiving belated media scrutiny. A few days following the candidate on the Iowa campaign trail suggests it could prove tough. If Mr. Huckabee does turn out to be everything Republicans "want" or "need" in a conservative, it will only be because the definition of a conservative has morphed to include tax hiking, protectionism, corporate scolding and an unserious approach to foreign policy.

What aren't in doubt are Mr. Huckabee's social-values credentials. He has an undisputed record on questions of abortion and gay marriage, and he's spent no small portion of his limited advertising money making sure Iowa voters know it. Christian conservatives make up an estimated 40% of the state's GOP vote, and by all accounts he's slowly locking up that vote. That alone accounts for a fair share of his recent rise in the polls.

Mr. Huckabee is the charisma candidate. Like another man from Hope, Ark., the onetime pastor is an extraordinary speaker. He's self-deprecating and funny, has perfect timing, and never struggles for an answer. He has that rare ability to pull out just the right story in response to any situation, and to deliver it in a folksy, Southern way.
At a meeting in Newton, Iowa, when talking about the importance of marriage, Mr. Huckabee notes that in his 34 years with his wife, Janet, she'd never been "wrong." He waits a beat and throws in that he likes "sleeping on the bed, not the couch." People chuckle. When one attendee praises Mr. Huckabee as the "nicest" GOP candidate, Mr. Huckabee quips "I tend to agree. I know these guys, they're bums." More laughter. Along with values, the vast majority of the voters interviewed after these events said their top reason for supporting Mr. Huckabee was that he was the only candidate who struck them as "genuine" and "sincere."

The yawning questions are Mr. Huckabee's stances on those other big GOP-voter concerns--national security and the economy. When he can get away with it, Mr. Huckabee is vague, broadly supporting "school choice," "health-care reform," "lower taxes" and a "strong America." It's when he's pressed for details that things get dodgy.

On the stump, Mr. Huckabee likes to point out that we are in a "world war" against terror, and that his first duty would be to protect Americans. Yet don't expect the Arkansan to stand firm against liberal opinion over America's more controversial strategies. On Monday, he became the only Republican candidate to attend a meeting with retired military officers who have complained about the Bush administration's supposed use of "torture." At an ensuing press conference, Mr. Huckabee quickly jumped on the politically popular bandwagon to condemn "waterboarding," and to further declare his support for closing down Guantanamo Bay because of the "symbol" it "represents" to the "rest of the world."

On other questions of foreign policy, the Arkansan has yet to prove he is ready for international prime time. Asked how he'd handle the Iranian nuclear threat, his stock answer is that America needs to become "energy independent in 10 years," thereby denying Iran oil money. "Iran, I promise you, they wouldn't have enough money to build a reactor just by selling rugs," he explained. (No word on why this didn't stop North Korea.) When asked at a media dinner about the front-page news that the latest National Intelligence Estimate had downgraded Iran's nuclear threat, Mr. Huckabee admitted he didn't even know about the report.

A populist at heart, Mr. Huckabee claims he's "no protectionist," but over and over this week he complained about the U.S. trade deficit with China and vowed, in the best Democratic tradition, to only sign "fair trade" deals. To bring up big companies is to invite a Huckabee lecture on the "greed" of corporate executives who tower over "average employees."
Mr. Huckabee likes to say he cut taxes in Arkansas 94 times, and has collected devotees around his promise for sweeping tax reform via the "fair tax." He promises to abolish the IRS, and along with it all current income, corporate, payroll and other taxes--to be replaced with a 23% national sales, or consumption, tax. He's also promised repeal of the 16th amendment--which established the income tax--to ensure Americans don't get double-taxation.

The chances of actually accomplishing this are about as likely as Christmas three times a year. But the benefit of Mr. Huckabee's dreamy tax proposal is that it has, until now, allowed him to avoid talk of his own checkered tax past in Little Rock. That tenure included sales tax hikes, strong support for Internet taxation, bills raising gas and cigarette taxes, etc. By this week, Mr. Huckabee had been slammed on this tax history so much he was no longer disputing the details. When asked if he didn't have a "mixed" record, Mr. Huckabee shot back: "Most everyone who has ever governed does," before insisting that even the great Reagan had raised taxes while at the helm of California.

Another benefit is that Mr. Huckabee hasn't had to talk about what he'd do with the existing, messy tax system. When I pointed out the unlikelihood of a fair tax, and asked how he'd handle the real-world questions of the Bush tax cuts, the exploding AMT and high corporate taxation, Mr. Huckabee allowed that he'd keep the Bush cuts, said something about the problems Democrats face with the AMT, and launched back into a discussion of the virtues of the fair tax.

Voters are only now beginning to hear some of this, and Mr. Huckabee, with little money or infrastructure in other primary states, is still a long way from the nomination. But if by some chance he keeps up this surge, Republican voters need to understand they are signing up for a whole new brand of "conservatism."

Ms. Strassel is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, based in Washington. Her column appears Fridays.
28642  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mormons on: December 07, 2007, 08:33:23 AM
Woof All:

With Romney's speech yesterday in the news this morning, I open this thread on Mormonism with a piece in this morning's WSJ that accords with my understanding of things. 


What Iowans Should Know About Mormons
Mitt Romney's speech and American tolerance.
Friday, December 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Yesterday, at the end of Mitt Romney's speech, he told a story from the early days of the First Continental Congress, whose members were meeting in Philadelphia in 1774: "With Boston occupied by British troops . . . and fears of an impending war . . . someone suggested they pray." But because of the variety of religious denominations represented, there were objections. "Then Sam Adams rose and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot."

Were Adams alive today, he most certainly would hear a prayer from a Mormon. It is hard to imagine a group more patriotic than the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But there is reason to believe that voters in Iowa and elsewhere will not accept Mr. Romney's invitation--put forward implicitly in his remarks yesterday at the George Bush Library--to ignore religious differences and embrace him simply as a man of character who loves his country.

A recent Pew poll shows that only 53% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Mormons. That's roughly the same percentage who feel that way toward Muslims. By contrast, more than three-quarters of Americans have a favorable opinion of Jews and Catholics. Whatever the validity of such judgments, one has to wonder: Why does a faith professed by the 9/11 hijackers rank alongside that of a peaceful, productive, highly educated religious group founded within our own borders?

Many evangelicals in the GOP view Mormonism as "a cult," or at least not a Christian faith. One Southern Baptist leader recently called it the "fourth Abrahamic religion." I remember, a couple of years ago, sitting in on an apologetics class at a Christian high school in Colorado Springs, Colo., and hearing the teacher describe a critical moment in the history of the Muslim faith, when the rock that now sits under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem tried to fly to heaven and had to be restrained by Mohammad. Acknowledging that it sounded a little wacky, the teacher added: "Well, it's no stranger than that guy who found golden tablets in upstate New York." The students laughed uproariously at the reference to the Mormons' founding father, Joseph Smith.

Six years ago, I probably could have counted on one finger the number of Mormons I had met. Having lived most my life in the Northeast, my situation was hardly unique. Then, while researching a book on religious colleges, I decided to spend some time at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In preparation, I picked up "Mormon America: The Power and the Promise" by religion reporters Richard and Joan Ostling. The Ostlings offer a comprehensive account of the church's history and theology, as well as helpful descriptions of the Mormons' cultural and political outlook. "The onetime believers in plural marriage, considered a dire threat to Victorian probity and the entire nation," the authors write, "have become the exemplars of conservative monogamous family values."
It is hard to disagree. Mormons marry young and have large families. They don't drink, smoke or gamble. The church does not condone homosexuality. Members give at least 10% of their income to the church and often volunteer more than 20 hours a week in some religious capacity. With no professional clergy, the survival of congregations (or "stakes") is entirely dependent on lay participation. All young Mormon men and many women spend two years as missionaries, their travels funded by their own families. The church stocks soup kitchens across the country and internationally (both its own and those of other faiths) with food from its farms and warehouses.

Rather than behaving like an insular cult, members are integrated into the society around them, sending their kids to public schools and assuming leadership positions locally and nationally. Once Mormons complete their missionary service, they are not obliged to proselytize, so having Mormons as neighbors doesn't mean a constant bombardment with invitations to join up.

But many Americans, unless they've actually had a Mormon neighbor, might find all these rosy facts meaningless, feeling deeply uneasy with some of Mormonism's tenets. A lot of what we call religious tolerance depends on social contact, not theological understanding, and there are only about six million LDS members in the U.S., mostly concentrated in the Western states (though increasingly less so). If you press Baptists, they will acknowledge finding Catholics' belief in transubstantiation implausible at best; Jews like me have a little trouble getting over the virgin birth. But we all get along, for the most part, because we know each other and live similar lives as Americans, whatever faith we profess.

But most Iowans will not meet a Mormon in the next six weeks unless Mr. Romney comes to call--Mormons make up less than one half of 1% of the state's population. So let me offer a brief snapshot, not in the hope that Iowans will vote for Mr. Romney but in the hope that, if they don't vote for him, their decision won't have anything to do with his religion.

The young men and women at Brigham Young University are among the smartest, hardest-working and most pleasant college kids you will find anywhere. (For better or worse, I have visited dozens of college campuses.) The student body lives by the Mormon principle: "The glory of God is intelligence." Most reside off campus without adult supervision, yet they adhere strictly to curfews, rules about contact with the opposite sex and every other church directive. They are purposeful but seem to enjoy themselves, spending their free time hiking in the sprawling desert. And BYU has America's largest ROTC program outside of our military schools.
This last fact is one I had occasion to think about on my trip. I left for BYU on Sept. 7, 2001, and returned home a week later. On 9/11, the students gathered for a campuswide devotional. The university president tried to comfort the students with "the eternal perspective." My eternal perspective is not the same as theirs, of course. But hearing more than 20,000 young people around me reciting the Pledge of Allegiance made me realize that our temporal perspective is the same. I'm sure Sam Adams would have agreed.

Ms. Riley is The Wall Street Journal's deputy Taste editor.
28643  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam's Silent Moderates on: December 07, 2007, 08:07:41 AM
Islam’s Silent Moderates
Published: December 7, 2007
The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)

IN the last few weeks, in three widely publicized episodes, we have seen Islamic justice enacted in ways that should make Muslim moderates rise up in horror.

A 20-year-old woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, reported that she had been abducted by several men and repeatedly raped. But judges found the victim herself to be guilty. Her crime is called “mingling”: when she was abducted, she was in a car with a man not related to her by blood or marriage, and in Saudi Arabia, that is illegal. Last month, she was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes with a bamboo cane.

Two hundred lashes are enough to kill a strong man. Women usually receive no more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that for seven weeks the “girl from Qatif,” as she’s usually described in news articles, will dread her next session with Islamic justice. When she is released, her life will certainly never return to normal: already there have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her because her “crime” has tarnished her family’s honor.

We also saw Islamic justice in action in Sudan, when a 54-year-old British teacher named Gillian Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in jail before the government pardoned her this week; she could have faced 40 lashes. When she began a reading project with her class involving a teddy bear, Ms. Gibbons suggested the children choose a name for it. They chose Muhammad; she let them do it. This was deemed to be blasphemy.

Then there’s Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who bravely defends women’s rights in the Muslim world. Forced to flee Bangladesh, she has been living in India. But Muslim groups there want her expelled, and one has offered 500,000 rupees for her head. In August she was assaulted by Muslim militants in Hyderabad, and in recent weeks she has had to leave Calcutta and then Rajasthan. Taslima Nasreen’s visa expires next year, and she fears she will not be allowed to live in India again.

It is often said that Islam has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.

But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?

Usually, Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend any affront to the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four ambassadors to the leader of my political party in the Netherlands asking him to expel me from Parliament after I gave a newspaper interview in 2003 noting that by Western standards some of the Prophet Muhammad’s behavior would be unconscionable. A few years later, Muslim ambassadors to Denmark protested the cartoons of Muhammad and demanded that their perpetrators be prosecuted.

But while the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India have done more to damage the image of Islamic justice than a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the organizations that lined up to protest the hideous Danish offense to Islam are quiet now.

I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam’s image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.

Islamic justice is a proud institution, one to which more than a billion people subscribe, at least in theory, and in the heart of the Islamic world it is the law of the land. But take a look at the verse above: more compelling even than the order to flog adulterers is the command that the believer show no compassion. It is this order to choose Allah above his sense of conscience and compassion that imprisons the Muslim in a mindset that is archaic and extreme.

If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?

When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch Parliament and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Infidel.”
28644  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Suppliments: Legal and Illegal on: December 07, 2007, 08:00:53 AM
2 Players Suspended for Acquistion of Hormones
Published: December 7, 2007
NY Times
Major League Baseball yesterday suspended two players linked to the acquisition of performance-enhancing drugs, perhaps creating a template for players who could be named by George J. Mitchell when he issues his report on the use of banned substances in baseball, likely by the end of next week.

The players — Jay Gibbons of the Orioles and José Guillén, who played for the Mariners last season and is now with the Royals — will serve 15-day suspensions at the start of the 2008 season.

Neither Gibbons nor Guillén has tested positive for a banned substance. But each was linked, through documentary evidence, to having received human growth hormone and steroids.

The commissioner’s office appears to be signaling how it will deal with players who may be named in Mitchell’s report. The 15-day suspensions to Gibbons and Guillén stand in sharp contrast to the 50-day suspensions players now receive for failing a drug test for the first time.

Mitchell, who was appointed to conduct his investigation by Commissioner Bud Selig in March 2006, has documentary evidence, but no test results, that ties dozens of players to purchases of drugs from 1995 through 2005.

Mitchell received information from Kirk Radomski, a former Mets clubhouse attendant who pleaded guilty in April to federal charges of steroid distribution.

Several lawyers familiar with the investigation said yesterday that Mitchell, a former United States senator, may issue the report next Thursday.

Mitchell, through an investigation spokesman, declined to comment. A spokesman for Major League Baseball also declined to comment.

Since February, 15 current and former players, including Gibbons and Guillén, have been tied to shipments of performance-enhancing drugs from clinics and pharmacies being investigated by the Albany County district attorney’s office.

The commissioner’s office said that four of those players would not be punished because its internal investigation had concluded that there was not enough evidence to suspend them based on the penalties in place at the time they are suspected of receiving the substances.

The four are Scott Schoeneweis of the Mets, Gary Matthews Jr. of the Angels, Troy Glaus of the Blue Jays and Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals.

Suspending players tied to receiving shipments of banned substances could prove tricky. The penalties for a violation of the drug program have changed four times since 2003, and Major League Baseball feels compelled to punish players by the guidelines in place at the time.

Baseball began suspending players the first time they violated the program in 2005. Anonymous testing for steroids began in 2003. The first time a player violated the program, in 2004, he was not subject to a suspension. In 2005, a player faced a 10-game suspension the first time he violated the program. Before the 2005 season, baseball banned H.G.H., a substance that it, like the N.F.L., does not test for.

Between October 2003 and July 2005, Gibbons received six shipments of H.G.H. and two shipments of steroids, reported in September.

“I am deeply sorry for the mistakes that I have made,” Gibbons said yesterday in a written statement.

Michael Weiner, the general counsel for the players union, said Gibbons did not plan to appeal his suspension.

Guillén, according to a report in The San Francisco Chronicle, ordered more than $19,000 worth of H.G.H. and steroids from May 2002 to June 2005. Weiner said Guillén would appeal.
28645  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / B. Franklin: Education on: December 07, 2007, 07:33:23 AM
"The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in
all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of
private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments
have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention,
to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of
Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to
serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country."

-- Benjamin Franklin (Proposals Relating to the Education of
Youth in Pensilvania, 1749)

Reference: Franklin Collected Works, Lemay, ed., 324.
28646  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: December 06, 2007, 08:36:48 PM
Still a Dangerous World
Democrats imply the U.S. can talk its way out of global threats.

Thursday, December 6, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

The most disturbing thing about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran wasn't the news itself, but how the episode displayed the wild and manic swings that now characterize American politics. A regular watcher of our politics could be forgiven for feeling that one isn't watching a serious country but a place that conducts its internal affairs like a Saturday morning cartoon show. Thunk! Boooinng!

For some time, the conventional storyboard drawn for the Bush presidency has been that the U.S. is led by a bumbling Elmer Fudd, who outlandishly overestimates the danger from such imagined threats as Saddam Hussein, Syria or Iran's mysterious-looking mullahs. Prominent political figures here design their comments on world events to fit inside cartoon dialogue balloons. John Edwards, after the NIE story broke, denounced the Bush-Cheney "rush to war with Iran." Sen. Harry Reid demanded a "diplomatic surge."

These wide, all-or-nothing swings may serve the melodramatic needs of politics and the press, but they don't much help an electorate that will vote a year from now to send a new U.S. president out into the world. With or without the NIE's opinion of Iran's nuclear program, that world is still a dangerous place.

Let's assume for argument's sake that Iran did stop its nuke program in 2003. Why, then, in 2006 was Iran performing test flights of the Shabab-2 and Shabab-3 ballistic missiles, the latter with a range of some 1,200 miles? Commenting at the time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Iranians "are not unaware that the security environment is one in which if they actually were to do something, Iran would suffer greatly." But as of this week, they might not.
Indeed last week, just as the U.S. intelligence professionals were preparing to tell the world it could forget about Iran (as yesterday's news reports made clear the world is about to do), the Iranian defense ministry announced it has built a new 1,200-mile missile, the Ashura. In September, it put on display the 1,100-mile-range Ghadr-1 missile. If this is all an inconsequential feint, it's a remarkably big one.

North Korea in July 2006 tested the long-range Taepodong-2, a nuclear payload-capable ballistic missile. North Korea has exported its missile technology to Iran and Pakistan. And of course Hezbollah, in the same month North Korea was testing the Taepodong-2, fired thousands of Katyusha rockets at Israel, re-establishing the operational viability of short-range bombardment.

China is developing three strategic, long-range missiles--the JL-1, and the DF-31 and DF-31A; the latter two are mobile ICBMs. This technology did not go away with the Cold War.

In January, after much effort to do so, China successfully used a kinetic-kill vehicle launched from a ballistic missile to destroy a satellite orbiting at 500 miles altitude.

The Bush administration's effort to place a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe as counterweight to Iran's missiles was conventionally mocked by elite opinion as a rerun of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars scheme." In fact, Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy, Israel and Denmark are all attempting to develop antimissile technology. France is building a short-range ballistic missile defense system, the SAMP/T. What are they all afraid of?

Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, indeed virtually all the nations of the Middle East are seeking nuclear-power capability. Possibly it's all just to keep the lights on in the tourist hotels, but nuclear-energy production is still a dual-use technology. It is now believed that Israel bombed Syria in September to destroy a nuclear-bomb facility built in part by North Korea.

This is a more complex and hair-trigger world than the Cold War years between the U.S. and Soviet Union. The idea that George Bush's handling of all these volatile moving pieces has been "incompetent" and has "isolated" the U.S. is a dangerous caricature, though that caricature is the way our Roller-Derby politics has chosen to talk about the world. The NIE/Iran drama this week is a case study--reduced in press reports to another Bush intelligence "flip-flop," as though the president wrote this stuff himself in the Oval Office.
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain and even Mike Huckabee want us to entrust them with managing the world's flourishing threats. Has any offered sufficient reason why we should? In other political systems, a candidate's strategic policies tend to flow from his party. Here we mostly get whatever these hyper-ambitious individuals choose to reveal during a campaign--and the foreign-policy views of their party in Congress.

This Wednesday, after the NIE's release, the Democratic candidates had a fresh opportunity at an Iowa debate to describe how their presidencies would address Iran and the world. John Edwards chose to attack Sen. Clinton for voting in September to label Iran's Revolutionary Guards as terrorists. She and Sen. Obama, along with Democrats in Congress, said the new Iran intelligence estimate now mandates diplomacy only. Sen. Obama: "They should have stopped the saber rattling, should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front."

But in a July essay for Foreign Affairs, Sen. Obama said nuclear weapons "in the hands of a radical theocracy" is "too dangerous." While he favored "tough-minded" diplomacy with Iran, "we must not rule out using military force."

Which version is one supposed to believe? The candidates seeking votes from their party's pacifists, or the person who wants to represent his country's interests in a hostile world?

One would like more on this than we're getting from the candidates in both parties. But the Democrats especially have tied themselves to the word "diplomacy," giving the impression that the U.S. can literally talk its way out of any bad outcomes that Iran, Syria, North Korea or free-agent terrorists have planned for us.
Put it this way: Would they, like Israel, have bombed that factory in Syria without pre-discussing it with Bashar Assad or Kim Jong-Il? No candidate's answer to that will make everyone happy. But the more than 100 million Americans who'll vote next year need a better idea than they've got of how the next president plans to deal with the world. Not the cartoon world, but the real world.

Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Thursdays in the Journal and on
28647  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gitmo goes to Court on: December 06, 2007, 05:19:48 PM
Gitmo Goes to Court
The judiciary has no business managing how we fight wars abroad.

Thursday, December 6, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

The Supreme Court heard a spirited argument yesterday on whether foreign enemies, captured and held overseas, are entitled to the protections of the United States Constitution. Since the founding of our republic, the answer to that question has always been an unequivocal "No."

If, after hearing Boumedienne v. Bush, the court makes up new rules, it will mark an unprecedented expansion of judicial power into areas--the conduct of foreign affairs and war making--the Constitution reserves to the president and Congress, the elected representatives of the American people. The Boumedienne case is as much about the Supreme Court's willingness to constrain its own power as it is about detainee rights.

This latest challenge to the Bush administration's war policies was brought by enemy combatants held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, who claim the right to a habeas corpus hearing--to determine the legality of their detention--before the federal courts. Congress attempted to foreclose such claims in 2005, when it passed the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), creating an elaborate administrative process through which detainees can contest their classification as "enemy combatants," with an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court. All other federal court jurisdiction was withdrawn at that time.

Nevertheless, because the Supreme Court wanted to clarify that the new system applied to pending, as well as future, cases, the court permitted these challenges to go forward in its 2006 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Congress responded immediately, passing the Military Commissions Act (MCA) and overruling Hamdan.

The MCA established a system of military tribunals to try the Guantanamo detainees, again with appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court. The law also stated with remarkable clarity that these procedures excluded all other judicial review for detainee claims, past, present and future. As one judge wrote in dismissing Mr. Boumedienne's case after the MCA was enacted--"it is almost as if the [congressional] proponents of these words were slamming their fists on the table shouting 'When we say 'all,' we mean all--without exception.'"
Last April, the Supreme Court appeared to agree, refusing to revive the appeals. Unfortunately, it changed its mind in June, agreeing to consider whether Congress can constitutionally refuse the Guantanamo detainees--who are not U.S. citizens or held on U.S. territory--access to habeas corpus rights. This is not a close question. When the framers adopted the Constitution to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" they were not talking about enemy aliens overseas engaged in a war against the republic they founded.

That, certainly, was the Supreme Court's conclusion in Johnson v. Eisentrager (1950), which involved similar claims by Germans arrested by U.S. forces in China, and then imprisoned in occupied Germany. Their habeas claims were rightly rebuffed.

As Justice Robert Jackson wrote for the court, "Such extraterritorial application of organic law [the Constitution] would have been so significant an innovation in the practice of governments that, if intended or apprehended, it could scarcely have failed to excite contemporary comment." Such a rule would, indeed, have been bizarre--handicapping the U.S. in its foreign relations and putting it at a permanent disadvantage compared to every other country on earth.

That was true in 1950, and it remains true today. To grant constitutional rights to the Guantanamo detainees, the Supreme Court must ignore its own settled precedent--on which the president and Congress were entitled to rely--and rewrite the Constitution itself.

The consequences would be disastrous. Such a decision would bring judges to the battlefield. As Justice Jackson warned, permitting foreign enemies to haul American officials into court "would diminish the prestige of our commanders, not only with enemies but with wavering neutrals. It would be difficult to devise more effective fettering of a field commander than to allow the very enemies he is ordered to reduce to submission to call him to account in his own civil courts and divert his efforts and attention from the military offensive abroad to the legal defensive at home."

Because the Constitution does not apply to foreigners overseas, the procedural rights accorded to the Guantanamo detainees are a matter exclusively for the political branches. Subjecting them to constitutional scrutiny would overstep the judiciary's legitimate power, making it the ultimate arbiter of U.S. foreign policy. Moreover, if the court were to grant constitutionally based habeas rights to aliens overseas, there is no principled means of avoiding extension of the entire Constitution anywhere in the world where U.S. forces (or officials) may go.

For the first time in American history, an entire panoply of the federal government's overseas actions directed at foreigners, including surveillance and even use of deadly force, would become subject to constitutional strictures. This would transform the U.S. into a Gulliver, bound by its own judicial strings, on the international stage.

The Constitution grants the Supreme Court a limited original jurisdiction, and leaves Congress free to define its appellate authority and the judicial power of the lower federal courts. Here, Congress has determined that detainees will have certain administrative means of challenging their detention, and a review by the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court. That is all Congress deemed appropriate here--and, needless to say, this is more than other captured enemy combatants have received in the past.

Even if habeas corpus applied--and there is no precedent for its application (either in British or American practice) to foreigners held overseas--the processes established by Congress in the DTA and MCA would constitute an adequate substitute. The Supreme Court has long recognized that, even with respect to Americans held in the U.S., habeas review is limited in scope. If focuses on questions of law rather than a detailed analysis of the factual record. Many different procedures are sufficient to meet any constitutional habeas requirement.
In these cases, the factual inquiry detainees are accorded under the Pentagon's "combatant status review tribunals" are an adequate substitute for habeas. They are modeled on the review legitimate prisoners of war would receive under the Geneva Conventions in accordance with the Supreme Court's 2004 decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, and linked with the right of appeal to the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court on procedural and constitutional standards. This fact alone is more than sufficient for the court to uphold the MCA, without ever reaching the underlying constitutional issues involved. Justice Anthony Kennedy--a potential decisive vote in this case--seemed sympathetic to this argument.

After years of public debate, with many of the key issues playing a prominent role in the presidential and congressional elections, Congress and the president have created a system that allows enemy combatants to challenge their detention, and to achieve a limited judicial review in U.S. courts. This is sufficient. The Supreme Court should not reject the law merely because it might disagree with the policy results adopted by the elected branches of government.

The court has already meddled more in this area in the last several years than in all of prior history. It has no right to demand more.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey served in the U.S. Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

28648  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamiltaon on the Senate on: December 06, 2007, 09:29:08 AM
"The history of ancient and modern republics had taught them
that many of the evils which those republics suffered arose
from the want of a certain balance, and that mutual control
indispensable to a wise administration. They were convinced
that popular assemblies are frequently misguided by ignorance,
by sudden impulses, and the intrigues of ambitious men; and that
some firm barrier against these operations was necessary. They,
therefore, instituted your Senate."

-- Alexander Hamilton (speech to the New York Ratifying Convention,
June 1788)

Reference: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Cabot Lodge,
ed., II, 43.
28649  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Logic of Torture on: December 05, 2007, 08:39:53 AM
The Logic of Torture
Why the subject of torture provokes so much yelling and so little argumentation.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

During the past few years, in the wake of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, much has been written about torture, almost none of it, regrettably, philosophically edifying. May I help?

The most important thing to keep in mind as you reflect on torture is that there are different types of question one can ask about it. Different types of question call for different types of answer (and therefore different types of expertise). First, there are conceptual questions. What is torture? How does torture differ from such things as torment, punishment, harsh treatment, cruelty, vengeance, sadism and violence? Can torture be accidental? Must it involve physical (as opposed to mental) pain? Can deprivation or confinement constitute torture? Conceptual questions such as these are about the concepts, ideas, categories and distinctions we use. Answering them is the province of philosophy.

Second, there are factual questions. Given a conception of torture, how widespread is it? Is there less of it now than there used to be, and if so, why? Who practices it, and why? What forms does it take? Is waterboarding torture? How much pain or suffering does a particular form of torture typically inflict? How much pain or suffering does a particular instance of torture actually inflict? Is torture effective as a means of gathering information? If so, how effective? Factual questions such as these are about how things are. Answering them requires investigation, consultation (with relevant experts) and observation. Philosophers, as such, have no expertise in this area. This doesn't mean philosophers can't make factual claims, for they can and do; it means their philosophical training doesn't make their factual claims more likely to be true. In other words, philosophers have no comparative advantage in ascertaining how things are.

Third, there are evaluative questions. Given a conception of torture, is torture permissible? If so, in what circumstances? Is torture ever obligatory? If so, why? Should the law permit torture? If so, how should it be regulated to prevent (or minimize the likelihood of) abuse? Perhaps torture should be illegal even if it is, in rare cases, morally permissible. Law and morality are different institutions, after all, with different purposes, standards and limitations. A thing can be morally permissible but legally impermissible, just as a thing can be legally permissible but morally impermissible.

It is important to distinguish questions about what the law is from questions about what the law ought to be. Whether torture is legally permissible is a factual question about the law. (Not all factual questions are easy to answer, obviously, and some answers to factual questions are controversial. For proof of this, see science.) Whether torture should be permitted by law, and if so in what circumstances, is an evaluative question about the law. If you want to know whether torture is legally permissible, consult an attorney who specializes in that type of law. You would not consult an attorney if you wanted to know whether torture should be legally permissible, for that is an evaluative question, and attorneys, as such, have no evaluative expertise.

Not all facts about torture are relevant to its moral permissibility. What makes a fact relevant is that it connects up to a moral principle. For example, suppose I am a hedonistic utilitarian. My principle (of utility) mandates that I maximize pleasure (or, put negatively, that I minimize suffering). This makes the amount of suffering inflicted during torture relevant. How much suffering torture inflicts, both quantitatively and qualitatively, is a factual question about which reasonable people can differ. Many facts about torture, such as where it takes place, on whom it is inflicted, and how many people administer it, are morally irrelevant and therefore of no interest to those who are interested solely in its moral status.


Just as two or more people can support the same presidential candidate for different reasons, two or more people can oppose torture for different reasons. Some people oppose torture solely because of its consequences. These are known as consequentialists. Utilitarianism is a species of consequentialism (and hedonistic utilitarianism a species of utilitarianism). To a consequentialist, no type of act is intrinsically wrong, i.e., wrong in and of itself. Lying is not intrinsically wrong; cheating is not intrinsically wrong; stealing is not intrinsically wrong; torturing is not intrinsically wrong; even killing innocent people is not intrinsically wrong. Each act, to a consequentialist, must be evaluated on its own merits. Acts that maximize the good (e.g., happiness) are right, while acts that do not maximize the good are wrong. Consequentialists have no principled objection to torture. When an act of torture is wrong, it is wrong solely because, qua act, it fails to maximize the good. When it maximizes the good, it is not wrong.
Some consequentialists prefer to focus on rules, practices or entire moral codes rather than concrete acts. They say that we should adopt whatever rules, practices or moral codes maximize the good when generally adhered to (or followed), and then act in accordance with those rules, practices or codes. We should not evaluate acts individually, on a case-by-case basis. Since only rare cases of torture maximize the good, these theorists would adopt a rule that prohibits torture. This means that we should refuse to torture even if, in a particular case, it would maximize the good. Act-consequentialists accuse rule-consequentialists of "rule-worship." Why (they ask) should one follow a rule even in those cases where it is known that breaking the rule would maximize the good?

Deontologists reject consequentialism. Deontologists believe that certain types of act, such as torture, are intrinsically wrong. There are two types of deontologist. Absolute deontologists believe that no amount of good could possibly justify torture. Even if torturing X were the only way to save the lives of a million innocent people, it would be wrong to torture X. Even if torturing X were the only way to prevent Y from torturing a million innocent people, it would be wrong to torture X. Absolute deontology is a hard doctrine, as you can see, but it has (and always has had) its adherents.

Moderate deontologists agree with absolute deontologists that certain acts, such as torture, are intrinsically wrong, but disagree that nothing could possibly justify them. Moderate deontologists have thresholds. Here is an example of a high threshold: A moderate deontologist might believe that torture is permissible only if it saves the lives of at least 1,000 innocent people. A low threshold might require that 50 innocent lives be saved. An even lower threshold might require that five innocent lives be saved. Moderate deontologists agree with consequentialists that consequences count, but disagree that only consequences count. Moderate deontology comes in degrees, depending on where the threshold is set. Think of it this way. Consequentialism is 0; absolute deontology is 1; moderate deontology ranges from 0.000001 to 0.999999. Moderate deontology with a low threshold is close to consequentialism on the spectrum. Moderate deontology with a high threshold is close to absolute deontology on the spectrum.

You can now see that normative ethical theorists of different stripes can oppose--albeit for different reasons--a given instance of torture. An absolute deontologist can oppose it because it's a case of torture, which is categorically prohibited. A moderate deontologist can oppose it because (1) it's a case of torture, which is intrinsically wrong, and (2) it will not produce enough good to justify it. A consequentialist can oppose it because it does not maximize the good. When I hear that someone opposes torture, I want to know why. Is he an absolute deontologist? A moderate deontologist? A consequentialist? Once I get an answer to this question, I can probe for inconsistencies.

Another point to keep in mind is this: That two or more normative ethical theories converge on certain cases, or even on many cases, does not mean that they're identical. All it takes to make two normative ethical theories different is one case--actual or hypothetical--in which they produce different results, and that is the situation here with respect to absolute deontologists, moderate deontologists and consequentialists. There are cases (if only hypothetical) in which both types of deontologist condemn an act of torture while consequentialists commend it. There are cases in which absolute deontologists condemn an act of torture while moderate deontologists and consequentialists commend it. Morality, like politics, makes strange bedfellows.


One difference between law and morality is that law is practical. Law must attend to such things as efficiency. Laws are addressed to classes of people, not to individuals. You've probably heard the expression that hard cases make bad law. This is another way of saying that just because a given act is morally permissible doesn't mean that the law should permit acts of that type. Take euthanasia, for example. It may be that in a particular case, it is morally permissible for someone to engage in mercy killing. It doesn't follow from this that mercy killing should be permitted by law, for people might misapply the rule and end up killing those who don't want to be killed. The law errs on the side of caution, for practical reasons.
The reasoning just used in the case of euthanasia can be applied to torture. Even if torture can be justified in particular cases, such as when it is necessary to learn the location of a bomb, it might be dangerous for the law to allow it. Certainly we don't want torture to be routine, for that opens the door to abuses. The best policy might be to prohibit torture (having carefully defined it), while allowing as a defense the claim that it was necessary to save many innocent lives. This is only a sketch of an argument, but you can see how it might be developed. The idea is to create a strong legal presumption against torture, while allowing for the possibility of rebuttal in a court of law.

Some people think philosophers have their heads in the clouds. It's an old but false complaint. Most philosophers--even those who work in metaphysics or epistemology rather than ethics--care very much about public affairs, and their training in conceptual analysis equips them to contribute to it. We must be careful, though, about the nature and scope of philosophical expertise. Philosophers, as such, have neither factual nor evaluative expertise. (I would argue that nobody has evaluative expertise.) Philosophers can be as wrong about the facts as anyone else, and the fact that X is a philosopher does not give X's values any greater weight.

What philosophers can contribute to public affairs--and perhaps ought to contribute--is conceptual clarification. As a result of their training, philosophers are adept at sorting things out, identifying fallacies (understood as characteristic errors in reasoning), uncovering hidden assumptions, spotting inconsistencies, and showing why one thing is or is not relevant to some other thing. Philosophers are technicians, not sages.

Nothing I have said implies that philosophers can't argue. But notice what that involves. Every argument with an evaluative conclusion must, in order to be valid, have at least one evaluative premise. (This is known as Hume's Law.) To persuade somebody to accept a conclusion, you must use only premises that he accepts. If your interlocutor rejects one of your premises, including the evaluative one, your argument gets no grip on him (although it might get a grip on someone else, with different beliefs and values). You will to have to back up, as it were, and argue for the premise that your interlocutor rejects. This new argument will also need to have at least one evaluative premise. If your interlocutor rejects it, you will have to back up and argue for it--and so on, until you find common ground. The idea is to show your interlocutor that he has inconsistent beliefs. The only leverage a philosopher has is the principle of noncontradiction.

Argumentation is hard. It requires time, patience, energy, charity and intelligence. Could that be why there is so much yelling and so little arguing when it comes to important matters such as torture?

Mr. Burgess-Jackson is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he teaches courses in logic, ethics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of law, and social and political philosophy. He blogs at

28650  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: December 05, 2007, 08:28:07 AM
There are several very important posts on the NIE revision in the "Big Picture WW3" thread in the last few days, but now I begin posting on this subject in this thread, beginning with a very important timeline by Stratfor:


Iran's Nuclear Gambit: A Timeline of Events

The release of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that says Iran quit work on its nuclear weapons program four years ago marks a momentous shift in the dynamics of the Middle East, as well as in the relationships among the United States, Iran and Iraq. This timeline shows how events have played out in recent years.


On Dec. 3, the United States released a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that says Iran halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This is an extremely significant development.

At first glance, it might appear that this report -- a compilation of information from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies -- is an attempt by the intelligence community to undermine the Bush administration's dealings with and position on Iran. Its contents negate the rationale for any future U.S. military action against the country, and directly contradict many of the past assertions of the U.S. leadership, which has repeatedly said that Iran is a dangerous nation bent on building up its nuclear arsenal.

In reality, this document marks a momentous shift in the dynamics of the Middle East, as well as in the relationships among the United States, Iran and Iraq. As Stratfor has said many times, Iran's nuclear program primarily represents a bargaining chip to be used as leverage in Tehran's talks with the United States in order to gain it concessions in Iraq. The NIE indicates that Washington and Tehran have made significant progress in this back-channel back-and-forth, and that the positive signs coming out of Iraq lately have culminated in some sort of agreement.

The battle over Iran's nuclear plans and the future of Iraq has not been an easy one. Stratfor has carefully monitored its development, and we have explained the intrinsic link between Tehran's nuclear program and the U.S.-Iranian negotiations. Following is Stratfor's account of the events that have shaped this process since the lead-up in 2002 to the Iraq war:

October 2002: As U.S. military intervention in Iraq seems increasingly inevitable, Iranian-U.S. back-channel meetings accelerate while Iran looks to extract political concessions from the United States over Iraq in return for its cooperation. With the aid of Ahmed Chalabi, Iran coaxes the United States into Iraq with intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

January 2003: A top Iranian official says his country supports U.S. efforts to disarm Iraq. The announcement signals that Iran has implicitly approved a U.S. war, despite its concerns of U.S. military action spilling across its border. Stratfor believes such support will open the door to U.S.-Iranian cooperation.

March 2003: The United States invades Iraq, and swiftly topples the Iraqi regime. In return for cracking down on al Qaeda fugitives in Iran and guaranteeing Shiite cooperation during the invasion, Iran is expecting Washington to allow Baghdad to fall in Tehran's hands.

April 2003: Iran, fearing that the United States will renege on its end of the deal, sparks a major Shiite uprising to remind Washington of its ability to send Iraq up in flames. U.S.-Iranian relations are on the decline.

May 2003: With some nudging from the Russians, Iran feels out the United States for a deal, with strong indications that Tehran has agreed to hand over al Qaeda suspects to the United States or a third country. Iran follows up with a letter to the U.S. government calling for a comprehensive deal over Iraq in which it would cooperate on its nuclear program. Still confident in its ability to handle the insurgency and unwilling to be held hostage to Iran's geopolitical ambitions, the United States rebuffs the offer and concludes that the Iranians and Iraqi Shia are undependable allies, and that a deal with Iran is no longer necessary to bring order to Iraq.

June 2003: Angered by the U.S. double-cross, Iran creates a crisis with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over its nuclear program and wavers back and forth in its nuclear negotiations with the Europeans.

July 2003: Still evaluating its next steps, the United States reconsiders the need to negotiate with Iran, and calls in the services of former Secretary of State James Baker in Iraq.

October 2003: Progress is again seen on the U.S-Iranian negotiating front as Iran opens the doors to the IAEA and British, French and German foreign ministers for talks on nuclear facility inspections. Arab governments, concerned about a possible U.S.-Iranian alliance in Iraq, look to establish a common policy to curb both Washington and Tehran.

Fall 2003: Iran halts its nuclear weapons program, according to the NIE released Dec. 3, 2007.

January 2004: In the wake of a massive December earthquake that destroyed the Iranian city of Bam, the United States offers to send a humanitarian delegation to Tehran led by Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C. Iran rejects the offer, saying the timing is not right. Tehran also says Washington must respect Iran before contacts between the countries can take place.

February 2004: After months of issuing paradoxical statements on its nuclear program, Iran emerges out of February parliamentary elections with a conservative-controlled parliament. With the ability to look beyond the domestic front, the Iranian government once again signals it is ready to do business with the United States.

May 2004: Iran demonstrates its cooperation by getting involved in negotiations between Washington and Shiite rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

June 2004: The United States looks favorably upon Saudi Arabia's increased involvement in the Iraq war, much to Iran's chagrin. The Iranians seek added leverage in the negotiations and engage in several tit-for-tat diplomatic spats, including the seizure of three British patrol boats along the Iraq-Iran border. The ensuing months follow the same theme of increased tensions between Washington and Tehran.

November 2004: Iran agrees -- for the time being -- to comply with IAEA demands to halt enrichment activity in the interest of securing a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad for the December and January legislative elections.

February-March 2005: After a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq is established, the Iranian nuclear issue flares up again as Iran works to keep the United States out of its nuclear talks with France, Germany and the United Kingdom in order to maintain its leverage. U.S. war rhetoric against Iran picks up steam in the coming month, prompting Iran to come clean on its nuclear program.

June-August 2005: Mysterious explosions occur in Tehran and the Arab-majority town of Ahwaz, sparking Iranian suspicions that Western intelligence agencies are riling up an anti-regime movement. Iranian presidential elections yield a surprise result, in which Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani admits defeat and black-horse candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rises to power.

September 2005: By now it is clear that Ahmadinejad's election was part of Iran's nuclear bargaining strategy to project a carefully honed image of irrationality to convince the Americans of the utility of dealing with Iran. Ahmadinejad's fiery anti-Israeli rhetoric leads to division within the ruling ranks in Tehran over how to deal with the United States. The United States also returns the Iranian snub over the Bam earthquake aid offer by rejecting an Iranian offer of 20 million barrels of oil in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The offer was made on the condition that Washington lift trade sanctions against Iran.

December 2005-January 2006: The United States attempts to re-create Iran's worst nightmare by throwing its support behind Iraq's Sunnis. Sources in Lebanon reveal major preparations by Hezbollah for a military conflict, suggesting Iran could soon play its Hezbollah card in the negotiations.

February 2006: After the IAEA passes a resolution to present the nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, Iran returns to a belligerent stance on its nuclear program, threatening to resume industrial-scale enrichment and pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

March 2006: Just as things could not look any darker for the United States and Iran, the Iranian government offers to take bilateral back-channel negotiations over Iraq into the public sphere, and the United States accepts. Iran is not ready to sacrifice its nuclear leverage just yet, and reiterates that these talks will address Iraq only.

April 2006: U.S.-Iranian negotiations appear to have hit a snag. The United States proceeds with plans to strip Iran financially and Iran makes a major announcement regarding its nuclear program.

May 2006: Ahmadinejad makes another offer for talks with the United States by sending a peculiar letter to U.S. President George W. Bush proposing fresh ways to mend relations. At the same time, Iran continues its rhetorical blitzkrieg about its nuclear program.

June 2006: Iraq's Sunni camp makes an apparent down payment on a political settlement when al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is killed in a U.S. airstrike. The ball is now in Iran's court to get the Shia to reciprocate. Iraq has reached a break point.

July 2006: Realizing it could push for a better deal with Washington, Iran decides to pull out all stops and flip the negotiating table over by reactivating Hezbollah in Lebanon and drawing Israel into a costly war. Iran sends a clear message that it has assets throughout the region to help it achieve its demands in Iraq.

August-September 2006: Emboldened by its success in Lebanon, Iran strikes a conciliatory tone with the United States again.

October-November 2006: The perception is that the Bush administration is weak and disintegrating. With an aim to shape the November U.S. congressional elections to force a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran activates its proxies to ensure November is the deadliest month to date for U.S. casualties since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

December 2006: The Iraq Study Group releases its report calling for a U.S. dialogue with Iran. Iran still assumes it has cornered the United States into implementing a withdrawal plan, leaving Tehran to pick up the pieces in Iraq.

January 2007: Bush throws off Iranian expectations with his announcement of a new strategy to surge troops into Iraq. The United States couples this strategy with an offer to the Iranians to talk. The Iranians return to the drawing board.

February 2007: The U.S.-Iranian covert intelligence war heats up, as both sides engage in saber-rattling to shore up their negotiating positions. Once again Iran makes a power play in the waters when it seizes a group of British marines and sailors in the Persian Gulf.

March 2007: Realizing their busted flushes in Iraq, U.S. and Iranian officials meet in Baghdad to discuss Iraq.

May 2007: Iran and the United States engage in publicly announced bilateral talks over Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. At the summit, Iran presents a groundbreaking proposal to stabilize Iraq. Iran is careful to keep the nuclear issue out of the negotiations. There are doubts, however, as to whether the regional players can deliver on their end of the deal.

June 2007: The United States considers meeting Iran's demand to unlink the nuclear and Iraq issues in order to move the negotiations forward.

August 2007: U.S. and Iranian diplomats meet in Baghdad to hammer out a security agreement on Iraq. Later in the month, the latest NIE makes it apparent that the U.S. surge strategy is not yet yielding sufficient results and that the strategy must begin to shift. Iran gets excited at the thought of a pending U.S. withdrawal, claiming it will fill the vacuum in Iraq. Bush, however, follows up with another surprise, saying the United States will maintain its surge strategy.

September 2007: Iran issues another feeler for talks with the United States and replaces its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps chief. Washington increases the heat concerning war and sanctions.

October 2007: Iran gets some added leverage when it looks to Russia for a sponsor in its negotiations with the United States over Iraq. For its own interests, Russia acts as Iran's backup and makes more promises to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr facility. An intra-Iranian debate over next steps in Iraq erupts with the resignation of Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani.

November 2007: With violence dropping in Iraq, the United States feels it is in a strong enough position to move forward in negotiations with Iran. Iran says it will participate in a fourth round of talks on Iraq with the United States. Iran makes a major conciliatory move on the nuclear front when it hands over a set of blueprints to the IAEA that details how to shape weapons-grade uranium into a form usable in a nuclear warhead. Though no date has been set, it looks as though the atmosphere is being set for a serious round of negotiations between the United States and Iran.

December 2007: In a massive reversal of U.S. policymaking, the U.S. intelligence community releases an NIE report that claims Iran had stopped work on a nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, though its intentions still remain unclear. With the rationale for U.S. military aggression against Iran gone, negotiations between Washington and Tehran are more serious than ever.
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