DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Spike TV, the Dog Brothers Gathering Webisodes; National Geographic
on: August 17, 2007, 08:09:11 AM
It was Baltic Dog that brought us to the attention of Original Productions/Nat Geo.
National Geographic Channel (also on their HD (High Definition) channel)
Taboo Season IV: "Proving Ground"
Wednesday, August 22, 2007, 10pm
Thursday, August 23, 1am
Saturday, August 25, 3pm
In some cultures men prove their manhood by enduring pain. Get a pass into
an American Fight Club, where some successful, educated males engage in
physical combat to test their manhood, using anything to attack - blunt
knives, sticks, chairs, even soda cans. On the remote Indonesian island of
Sumba, hundreds of men take part in a time-honored event known as the
Pasola. Facing off in two teams on horseback, they charge toward each other
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: August 17, 2007, 08:00:04 AM
Geopolitical Diary: The Limits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
The annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) broke in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday after several hours of photo-ops and grandstanding. On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend military exercises in the Chelyabinsk region in Russia's Ural Mountains. Some 6,000 Russian and Chinese troops, dozens of aircraft and hundreds of armored vehicles and other heavy weapons will participate -- the first such joint drills on Russian soil.
Moscow is most certainly on the move. In the past few months, Russia has pushed against the Baltics and the Caucasus, and it is spinning up for a major effort to bring Ukraine firmly back into its orbit. The United States is distracted by Iraq and unable to act as a check on Russian ambition. The political battle lines along Russia's western frontier are hardening; the question there is, will the United States will be too distracted to push back? And will anyone in Europe dare move against Russia without the Americans at their back?
But looking eastward, as the cities of Europe give way to the steppes of Asia, the grand geopolitic of the Russian resurgence becomes less clearly defined. Unlike Europe, Russia's other border regions are not made up of relatively hostile alliances and economic groupings. The players are more opaque and resistance to Russia's whims is mushy.
Enter the SCO. The grouping was originally formed between China, Russia and a handful of former-Soviet Central Asian autocracies in order to manage the tangle of new borders resulting from the Soviet Union's demise. That the SCO achieved peacefully and successfully. Since then, the organization has groped about for a reason to exist. At times it seems a step away from becoming a framework for a Central Asian alliance; at other times it seems doomed to be reduced to a talk shop.
Thursday's summit -- at which bland promises about law enforcement cooperation and forming a common university were the main takeaways -- seems to fall into the latter category. About the only thing that the SCO can reliably agree on -- and this has become the SCO's perennial anchor point -- is that it does not want the United States mucking around in Central Asia.
Russia's problem in harnessing organizations such as the SCO to its needs are simple: There is another major power poking around in the region. That power, of course, is China. And as Moscow and Washington settle into dangerously familiar patterns, the question inevitably will be: which side is China on?
Russia and China are hardly hostile to one another, but there is certainly an inbuilt tension. The Chinese consider part of the Russian Far East to be their territory, and many of the native Central Asian and Siberian cultures are far more closely tied to Beijing than to Moscow. China needs masses of resources in order to continue developing -- resources that lie just across the border with Russia.
It is in Central Asia -- specifically under the aegis of the SCO -- where these two Asian giants meet and compete. While Russia is clearly the more aggressive power, it has been coasting on its imperial and Soviet links to maintain influence in the region, while the Chinese have been steadily and unobtrusively asserting their influence in subtle but effective ways. Nearly all of the Central Asian road, rail and energy infrastructure built before 1991 accesses the outside world via Russia -- nearly all built since then accesses the world via China.
The Russia-China disconnect is more than "simple" competition, and is both geopolitical and strategic in nature. Russia wants to push out and re-establish its empire; China wants to keep its head down and deal with its internal problems quietly.
But ultimately, the two cannot form a functional alliance because of a fundamental difference in mindset: Russia feels it is destined for a conflict with the United States, while China wants to avoid one at all costs. So long as that remains the case, the United States maintains the freedom to play the two powers against each other as the politics of the day demand -- just as it did for the last generation of the Cold War -- and the SCO will remain a place where Russian and Chinese differences are peaceably compared, but never really resolved.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: August 17, 2007, 12:08:56 AM
U.S.: Upping the Ante with Iran
August 15, 2007 14 08 GMT
The United States has just significantly upped the ante in negotiations with Iran over Iraq by threatening to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. The thought of designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization has been floating in the U.S. Congress for some time now, but Washington has a clear purpose in sending strong hints to Iran that the decision is imminent at this stage of the Iraq negotiations.
The United States has just significantly upped the ante in negotiations with Iran over Iraq by threatening to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. The threat, leaked by anonymous U.S. officials to The Washington Post, is an intentional message to Iran.
The message is this: We are not content with your negotiating position, and if you think you are the only side that can ratchet up the level of pain in this situation, you are wrong.
Stratfor has long contended that the negotiations between Washington and Tehran are the key to any possible settlement on the Iraq issue, and that if a deal is to be reached, things will look like they are descending into chaos immediately prior. This is standard bargaining. Each side has to appear as though it is willing to walk away from the table, to the detriment of the other side.
The flip side to this gambit is that if a deal is not reached, Washington has just added much more fuel to the fire.
Sanctions are at best an imprecise tool, but Washington's heavy leaning on Europe has made them much more effective of late. The thought of designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization has been floating in the U.S. Congress for some time now, but Washington has a clear purpose in sending strong hints to Iran that the decision is imminent at this stage of the Iraq negotiations.
There are two implications to this designation. The first and most important right now is money. The United States has long grappled with the challenge of pressuring the international community -- which includes many of Tehran's major energy clients -- to enforce harmful sanctions against Iran. Instead of going through the formal U.N. Security Council sanctions process, Washington has focused instead on a financial strangulation policy that basically involves targeting a number of financial institutions worldwide. The message to these foreign businesses and banks is plain: Continue doing business with Iran and risk losing your business in the United States. Without major international banks' willingness to facilitate Iran's transactions, Tehran will have fewer and fewer options for making purchases without using actual cash. It simply is not possible to operate millions of dollars in transactions daily with suitcases full of cash.
Iran is genuinely suffering from the financial sanctions, which are generating significant domestic pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. By designating the IRGC a terrorist organization, the United States has many more tools at its disposal to cut off funding to an international network that not only fights for Iran, but also finances its fighting through a number of business ventures, ranging from pipeline construction to pharmaceuticals. The current sanctions regime has been increasingly effective, and this new set of tools could put Iran's finances in lockdown. Labeling the IRGC as a terrorist entity, rather than an official state security apparatus, also could significantly hamper Iran's defense deals. By homing in on the wealthiest and most senior IRGC commanders, the United States is threatening the stability of the Islamic Republic and Ahmadinejad's support network.
There also is the symbolic aspect of further isolating Iran and making it appear as less of a legitimate player in the international community. Iran wants to be recognized as a legitimate regional power -- and it cannot be that when its Revolutionary Guard Corps is considered a terrorist organization.
The ball is in Iran's court now.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Peru
on: August 16, 2007, 10:31:27 PM
Un amigo en Lima escribe:
los hechos actuales (21 00, un día despúes):
Mas de 500 muertos (siguen encontrando cadáveres)
Mas de 1300 heridos.
Ica y Pisco colabsaron (falta de agua, electricidad etc...)
La panamericana esta en algunas partes afectada y destrozada.
El gobierno reaccionó solo con llevar los 400 heridos mas graves vía aerea a
Lima. Ya pasó un día y no hubo ayuda directa del gobierno. No existe un plan
de emergencia. Se necesita agua, alimento, medicina, frazadas, carpas,
atención médica etc...
En Tambo de mora (Chincha) se fugaron 630 de 650 prisioneros despues de la
caída del muro de la carcel.
Se estan mobilisando y organisando muchas empresas y personas para
solidaridarse y dar fines materiales y tambien para ir personalmente a
apoyar a una institución o a defensa civil.
Hubo maretazos y en toda la costa entre Lima y Pisco hubo daño. Evacuaron la
noche pasada a mucha gente que vive cerca de la costa en Lima(Chorrillos,
Lima). Hasta ahora van mas de 700 replicas (movimientos sismicos).
La cosa esta fea en Pisco, Ica. Juntaron los cadáveres en la plaza de armas.
Se requiere de ayuda inmediata. Hay que trasladar los cadáveres, hay que
buscar por sobrevivientes etc...
No hay agua y no hay electricidad. Esperemos que mañana ya se vean avanzes
en la ayuda gobernal y apoyo de voluntarios.
En mi trabajo la gente ya se organizo para apoyar donando o siendo
Te mantengo al tanto...
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An excerpt from a very good read
on: August 16, 2007, 06:30:39 PM
I think this exposition of the why of our strategy is sound.
The World in a nutshell
This is a presentation by Herbert Meyer. He was the first senior U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Union's collapse. For this, he awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, the highest honor that can be received from within intelligence community. This presentation was made to a symposium of Chief Executive Officers of several large international corporations, and as such, is directed at questions and answers for business. However, the points he makes are very much in tune with the points being made in many other discussions in the international political arena, and has some impact on the Shaping and IW issues. The business and demographic sections are pretty good.
U.S. Joint Forces Command, Joint Futures Lab
Subject: Four Major Transformations
"Currently, there are four major transformations that are shaping political, economic and world events. These transformations have profound implications for American business owners, our culture and our way of LIFE. "
1. The War in Iraq
There are three major monotheistic religions in the world: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In the 16th century, Judaism and Christianity reconciled with the modern world. The rabbis, priests and scholars found a way to settle up and pave the way forward. Religion remained at the center of life, church and state became separate. Rule of law, idea of economic liberty, individual rights, human rights all these are defining points of modern Western civilization. These concepts started with the Greeks but didn't take off until the 15th and 16th century when Judaism and Christianity found a way to reconcile with the modern world. When that happened, it unleashed the scientific revolution and the greatest outpouring of art, literature and music the world has ever known.
Islam, which developed in the 7th century, counts millions of Moslems around the world who are normal people. However, there is a radical streak within Islam. When the radicals are in charge, Islam attacks Western civilization. Islam first attacked Western civilization in the 7th century, and later in the 16th and 17th centuries.
By 1683, the Moslems (Turks from the Ottoman Empire) were literally at the gates of Vienna. It was in Vienna that the climatic battle between Islam and Western civilization took place. The West won and went forward. Islam lost and went backward. Interestingly, the date of that battle was September 11. Since them, Islam has not found a way to reconcile with the modern world.
Today, terrorism is the third attack on Western civilization by radical Islam. To deal with terrorism, the U.S. is doing two things. First, units of our armed forces are in 30 countries around the world hunting down terrorist groups and dealing with them. This gets very little publicity. Second we are taking military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are covered relentlessly by the media. People can argue about whether the war in Iraq country-region is right or wrong.
However, the underlying strategy behind the war is to use our military to remove the radicals from power and give the moderates a chance. Our hope is that, over time, the moderates will find a way to bring Islam forward into the 21st century. That's what our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan i all about.
The lesson of 9/11 is that we live in a world where a small number of people can kill a large number of people very quickly. They can use airplanes, bombs, anthrax, chemical weapons or dirty bombs. Even with a first-rate intelligence service (which the U.S. does not have), you can't stop every attack. That means our tolerance for political horseplay has dropped to zero. No longer will we play games with terrorists or weapons of mass destruction.
Most of the instability and horseplay is coming from the Middle East. That's why we have thought that if we could knock out the radicals and give the moderates a chance to hold power; they might find a way to reconcile Islam with the modern world. So when looking at Afghanistan or Iraq, it's important to look for any signs that they are modernizing. For example, women being brought into the workforce and colleges in Afghanistan is good. The Iraqis stumbling toward a constitution is good. People can argue about what the U.S. is doing and how we're doing it, but anything that suggests Islam is finding its way forward is good.
, , ,
Implications Of The Four Transformations:
1. The War in Iraq
In some ways, the war is going very well. Afghanistan and Iraq have the ' start' of a modern government, which is a huge step forward. The Saudis are starting to talk about some good things, while Egypt and Lebanon are beginning to move in a good direction.
A series of revolutions have taken place in countries like Ukraine and Georgia. There will be more of these revolutions for an interesting reason. In every revolution, there comes a point where the dictator turns to the general and says, "Fire into the crowd." If the general fires into the crowd, it stops the revolution. If the general says "No," the revolution is over. Increasingly, the generals are saying "No" because their kids are in the crowd.
Thanks to TV and the Internet, the average 18-year old outside the U.S. is very savvy about what is going on in the world, especially in terms of popular culture. There is a huge global consciousness, and young people around the world want to be a part of it. It is increasingly apparent to them that the miserable government where they live is the only thing standing in their way. More and more, it is the well-educated kids, the children of the generals and the elite, who are leading the revolutions.
At the same time, not all is well with the war. The level of violence in Iraq is much worse and doesn't appear to be improving. It's possible that we're asking too much of Islam all at one time. We're trying to jolt them from the 7th century to the 21st century all at once, which may be further than they can go. They might make it and they might not. Nobody knows for sure. The point is, we don't know how the war will turn out. Anyone who says they know is just guessing.
The real place to watch is Iran. If they actually obtain nuclear weapons it will be a terrible situation. There are two ways to deal with it. The first is a military strike, which will be very difficult. The Iranians have dispersed their nuclear development facilities and put them underground. The U.S. has nuclear weapons that can go under the earth and take out those facilities, but we don't want to do that.
The other way is to separate the radical mullahs from the government, which is the most likely course of action.
Seventy percent of the Iranian population is under 30. They are Moslem but not Arab. They are mostly pro-Western. Many experts think the U.S. should have dealt with Iran before going to war with Iraq. The problem isn't so much the weapons; it's the people who control them. If Iran has a moderate government, the weapons become less of a concern.
We don't know if we will win the war in Iraq. We could lose or win. What we are looking for is any indicator that Islam is moving into the 21st century and stabilizing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues
on: August 16, 2007, 06:20:17 PM
The Windsor Hezbollah Billboard:CBS Violates Federal Law
2007-08-12 11:16am PT | Total Score: 67 points | Average Rating: 4.19 out of 5 | Post History | Visit Debbie Schlussel
By Debbie Schlussel
Thanks to the many readers who sent me the Windsor Star article about the Hezbollah CBS billboard in downtown Windsor, Ontario, Canada (right over the river from us here in Detroit). The Star is an excellent paper and used to be edited by a friend of mine. I read it regularly, as the same Sharia that is beginning to be instituted here and the same Islamicization we see is magnified ten-fold just a few miles away in another country.
CBS' Hezbollah Billboard in Canad
An unidentified party paid to post a pro-Hezbollah billboard, featuring photos of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, as well as other Hezbollah officials. While that is disturbing, it really is not surprising if you've ever been to Windsor, especially lately. Hezbollah and HAMAS supporters who can't get in here, live freely over there. And others who can't get in here, regularly are smuggled through in car trunks from over there to here. And Hezbollah supporters here have training camps over there.
The billboard may be against the law in Canada, where free speech laws are less absolute, but it's definitely illegal under U.S. law for other reasons.
What's disturbing is that CBS owns the billboard and allowed it to be posted. This is a violation of federal law here in America. It makes no difference that the billboard is in Canada. Federal law prohibits providing material support, including communications (such as a billboard), to terrorist groups. Hezbollah is not only on the State Department Terrorist List, it is also a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Therefore, with the posting of this billboard supporting Hezbollah, CBS has gone beyond the bounds of free speech and entered the boundaries of illegality.
Unfortunately, nothing will likely happen to CBS for doing so. Who enforces the laws? Well, our spineless, wimpy, partial-to-Muslims Justice Department does. They will never pursue CBS for doing so. So, CBS will get away with it.
Conceivably, a victim of Hezbollah terrorism and his/her relatives could try to sue CBS over this material support, but it's a stretch. Such a suit, though, would be interesting because it would force CBS, through discovery, to disclose exactly who paid for the billboard, and let us know exactly who is working for Hezbollah in North America--at least, in connection with the billboard.
For now, you can contact CBS and protest this billboard. Ask CBS why they will allow their billboards (and who knows what other media outlets--CBS radio? CBS television network?) to be used as vessels for a terrorist group's propaganda . . . a terrorist group that murdered over 300 U.S. Marines and civilians in barracks and an embassy in Beirut, almost 100 people in the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center and Israeli Embassy, and countless U.S. soldiers in Iraq against whom Hezbollah is producing IEDs.
And there is another thing not specified in the article. Windsor's Mayor, Eddie Francis, is a Lebanese Maronite Christian. He is generally a good guy, but he is under pressure from the Muslim community in Detroit, with whom he has broken bread. I'm glad to see he denounced the billboard. For him--a pro-Western Christian Arab in a city with a geometrically-growing Muslim Arab population--that was courageous and laudable. Compared to spineless politicians here, like Michael Chertoff--who regularly visits the open agents and supporters of Iran and Hezbollah--that is a breath of fresh air.
Another positive development: The Windsor Jewish community--to whom I once spoke and with whom I have a good relationship--is, unlike most Jewish communities here in America, especially in Detroitistan. They are a small community that fights against the pan-Islamist winds (in Detroit, the Jewish "leadership" embraces and bows down to those winds). They are less liberal and more proud to be Jews and Canadians. They've spoken out harshly against the billboard, whereas here in Detroit, the Jews would embrace it as a great thing (so-called Detroit Jewish "leaders," like Sharona Shapiro, regularly kiss the butts of Hezbollah's and Iran's agents and full-fledged supporters here).
And for those who keep telling me that most Muslims are against terrorism, please tell me why every Muslim intervied by The Windsor Star praised Hezbollah. Most Muslims may not be involved in terrorism. But most Muslims actively cheer it on. Wake up, Dhummis (not you the readers of this site).
More from The Windsor Star:
Members of the Jewish and Lebanese Christian communities in Windsor are outraged by the appearance of a billboard that appears to promote Hezbollah -- an organization the Canadian government considers terrorist.
"That organization is banned in Canada," said Harvey Kessler, executive director of the Windsor Jewish Community Centre. "How can that billboard be up in Windsor when it represents a terrorist organization which is banned under the laws of Canada?"
Located at the southwest corner of Marion Avenue and Wyandotte Street East, the billboard does not mention Hezbollah by name, but features a central image of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the controversial political and military group. . . .
Kessler said he feels Nasrallah represents "the opposite of peace. It should be offensive to all people living in Windsor. It should be offensive not only to the Jewish community, but to any Canadian."
Emile Nabbout, president of the Windsor branch of the Lebanese Christian political group Kataeb, said he also thinks Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and he feels the billboard creates a misconception of the views of Windsor's Lebanese community.
"We really are not in support or in favour of that billboard and it should be removed ASAP," Nabbout said. . . . "By just analyzing the picture, there is no doubt in my mind this is a Hezbollah activity," he added.
Printed in English on the left side of the billboard are the words: "Lebanese and Arab communities in Windsor city congratulate the Lebanese people for their steadfastness and endeavor to establish peace in Lebanon."
But Nabbout said that Arabic writing which appears on the right side of the billboard does not match the English translation. According to Nabbout, the Arabic writing makes a reference to fighting.
"What they mean by 'fight' is basically 'guerrilla' -- using arms and weapons," Nabbout said. "Basically, there is a very specific word... That is a definite difference between the Arabic and the English."
Contacted on Friday night, Mayor Eddie Francis said he was made aware of the billboard earlier in the day. Asked if he is concerned about its presence, Francis said: "The politics of Lebanon belong in Lebanon, not on the streets of Windsor."
Francis said he has no idea who was responsible for the billboard, but the city is now looking into whether its content violates any rules. . . .
According to [Muslim Windsor resident Sam] Ali, the accusations that Hezbollah is terrorist are untrue. "Hezbollah is freedom fighting. Whoever calls them terrorist is a liar," he said. . . .
Fellow Lebanese native and Muslim Ghina Maawie said she doesn't understand why anyone would be offended by the billboard. "When I saw it, I felt so happy and so proud of it," she said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: August 16, 2007, 05:11:53 PM
David S. Broder: Shaking up presidential race
Sacramento Bee, Opinion
David S. Broder
When Fred Thompson makes his long-delayed entrance into the Republican presidential race, he will not tiptoe quietly.
Instead, he will try to shake up the establishment candidates of both parties by depicting a nation in peril from fiscal and security threats -- and prescribing tough cures he says others shrink from offering.
In a two-hour conversation over coffee at a restaurant near his Virginia headquarters, the former senator from Tennessee said that when he joins the battle next month, he "will take some risks that others are not willing to take, in terms of forcing a dialogue on our entitlement situation, our military situation and what it's going to cost" to assure the nation's future.
After spending most of the last few years on TV's "Law and Order," and starting a new family with two children under 4, the 65-year-old lawyer says he finds himself motivated for the first time to seek the White House.
"There's no reason for me to run just to be president," he said.
"I don't desire the emoluments of the office. I don't want to live a lie and clever my way to the nomination or election. But if you can put your ideas out there -- different, more far-reaching ideas -- that is worth doing." Thompson, like many of the others running, has caught a strong whiff of the public disillusionment with both parties in Washington -- and the partisanship that has infected Congress, helping to speed his own departure from the Senate.
But he says he thinks that the public is looking for a different kind of leadership. "I think a president could go to the American people and say, 'Here's what we need to be doing. and I'm willing to go half-way.' Now you have to make them (the opposition) go half-way." The approach Thompson says he's contemplating is one that will step on many sensitive political toes. When he says "we're getting a free ride" fighting a necessary war in Iraq with an undersized military establishment, "wearing out our people and equipment," it sounds like a criticism of the president and the Pentagon.
When he says he would have opposed adding the prescription drug benefit to Medicare, "a $17 trillion add-on to a program that's going bankrupt," he is fighting the bipartisan judgment of the last Congress.
When he says the FBI is perhaps incapable of morphing itself into the smart domestic security agency the country needs, he is attacking another sacred cow.
Thompson repeatedly cites two texts as fueling his concern about the country's future. One is "Government at the Brink," a two-volume report he issued as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee at the start of the Bush administration in 2001 and handed to the new president's budget director as a checklist of urgent management problems in Washington.
The difficulties outlined in federal procurement, personnel, finances and information technology remain today, Thompson said, and increasingly "threaten national security." His second sourcebook contains the scary reports from Comptroller General David Walker, the head of the Governmental Accountability Office, on the long-term fiscal crisis spawned by the aging of the American population and the runaway costs of health care. Walker labels the current patterns of federal spending "unsustainable," and warns that unless action is taken soon to improve both sides of the government's fiscal ledger -- spending and revenues -- the next generation will suffer.
"Nobody in Congress or on either side in the presidential race wants to deal with it," Thompson said. "So we just rock along and try to maintain the status quo. Republicans say keep the tax cuts; Democrats say keep the entitlements. And we become a less unified country in the process, with a tax code that has become an unholy mess, and all we do is tinker around the edges." Thompson readily concedes that he does not know "where all those chips are going to fall" when he starts challenging members of various interest groups to look beyond their individual agendas and weigh the sacrifices that could assure a better future for their children.
But these issues -- national security and the fiscal crisis of an aging society with runaway heath care costs -- "are worth a portion of a man's life. If I can't get elected talking that way, I probably don't deserve to be elected."
Thompson says "I feel free to do it" his own way, and that freedom may just be enough to shake up the presidential race.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Peru
on: August 16, 2007, 04:39:06 PM
Un email de un amigo en Lima:
felizmente en Lima no hubo tanta destrucción. El terremoto era de 8.0 scala
Richter. La peor parte
se llevó la region Pisco/Ica. En Lima se sintio y se veia como se movia la
calle, era una sensacion como
estar surfeando, el piso se movia en todas direcciones. En la región de Ica
hasta ahora hay 430 muertos y muchisima gente se quedo sin vivienda.
Desgraciadamente van a haber aun mas muertos ya que falta regiones y puebles
alejados como Lunahuana etc...Despues del primer terrremoto hubo un segundo
menos fuerte, pero el primero fue de 2 minutos que nos pareció como media
hora. Despues hubieron 120 replicas que apenas se sentian. Se cayó tambien
toda comunicación, eso fue feo, porque nadie se pudo comunicar con sus
familias y casas y la gente en la calle llorando de la desesperación.
En Chincha (cerca de Ica) se escaparon 600 prisioneros de la carcel durante
el terremoto (agarraron recien a 3o).
Hay saqueos (robos), pero tambien mucha gente se esta yendo al Sur a ayudar
con víveres etc...
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Peru
on: August 16, 2007, 12:30:42 PM
Acabo de recibir noticias. Mi madre estaba en la sala cuando el grande terromoto (ahora se dice que fue 8.0) pego'. El techo parcialmente se cayo' y con ello la puerta al exterior. Fortunadamente una amiga estaba visitando y ella se le ayudo' a mi madre (quien tiene 75 anos) salir por una ventana. Ellas se durmieron en el van con los perros (dos Rotts).
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Los Terremotos
on: August 16, 2007, 08:50:40 AM
Estoy MUY preocupado por mi madre, quien vive 25 km oriente de Pisco-- osea casi en el mero centro de muchos de los terremotos que acontecieron ayer y continuan aconteciniendo hoy. Cuando trato de llamarla, la linea dice "ocupado" con el sonido que se hace cuando todas las lineas estan ocupados o descompuestos.
Cuando fui a dormir a noche, los datas que yo tenia eran que hubo un terremoto de 7.9
y mas de 10 terremotos entre 5.5 y 6.0.
Recibimos una llamada que fue desconectado despues de un minuto de alguien quien trabaja para mi madre diciendo que la carretero entre Chincha y Pisco esta' j*dido completament y nadie puede pasar. Tambien dijo que la mitad de Chincha esta' cayido.
Si unos de Uds tienen articulos sobre la situacion, por favor compartalos aqui. He aqui uno en ingles:
La Aventura continua , , ,
CHINCHA, Peru (AP) -- The death toll from a powerful earthquake rose to at least 337 Thursday, a day after the magnitude-7.9 temblor shook Peru's coast, toppled buildings and shattered roads, officials said.
More than 827 people were reported injured and the Red Cross said the toll was expected to rise.
Rescue workers struggled to reach the center of the destruction, the port city of Pisco about 125 miles southeast of the capital, Lima. Pisco's mayor said at least 200 people were buried in the rubble of a church where they had been attending a service.
''The dead are scattered by the dozens on the streets,'' Mayor Juan Mendoza told Lima radio station CPN.
''We don't have lights, water, communications. Most houses have fallen, churches, stores, hotels, everything is destroyed,'' he said, sobbing.
An AP Television News cameraman who reached the city of Chincha, about 100 miles southeast of Lima, said he counted 30 bodies under bloody sheets on the floor of the badly damaged hospital.
Another church collapsed Wednesday evening in the city of Ica, 165 miles south of Lima, killing 17, according to cable news station Canal N.
The government rushed police, soldiers, doctors and aid to the stricken areas along the coast south of the capital but hundreds of vehicles were paralyzed on the Pan American Highway by giant cracks in the pavement and fallen power lines, the AP Television News cameraman reported from Chincha.
Giorgio Ferrario, head of the Peruvian International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, said teams from the Peruvian Red Cross arrived in Ica and Pisco after 7 1/2 hours, about three times as long as it would normally have taken because the earthquake had destroyed the roads to these areas.
He said that he expected the death toll to climb as rescue teams worked in the daylight.
News reports said dozens of people in Ica crowded hospitals that suffered cracks and other structural damage. The quake also knocked out telephone and mobile phone service in the capital and to the provinces, making it impossible to communicate with the Ica area.
Electricity also was cut to Ica and smaller towns along the coast south of Lima.
An Associated Press photographer said that some homes had collapsed in the center of Lima and that many people had fled into the streets for safety. The quake shook Lima furiously for more than two minutes.
''This is the strongest earthquake I've ever felt,'' said Maria Pilar Mena, 47, a sandwich vendor in Lima. ''When the quake struck, I thought it would never end.''
Antony Falconi, 27, was desperately trying to get public transportation home as hundreds of people milled on the streets flagging down buses in the dark.
''Who isn't going to be frightened?'' Falconi said. ''The earth moved differently this time. It made waves and the earth was like jelly.''
Firefighters were called to put out a fire in a shopping center. Police reported that large boulders shook loose from hills and were blocking the country's Central Highway, which heads east into the Andes mountains.
State doctors called off a national strike that began on Wednesday to handle the emergency. President Alan Garcia also said public schools would be closed Thursday because the buildings may be unsafe.
The Civil Defense death toll of 337 first appeared on its Web site, but the organization's spokesman, Dario Ariola, refused to confirm the figure, which was much higher than the numbers provided by the health minister. But minutes later Civil Defense Commander Aristides Mussio confirmed the toll on Peru's state television station, saying one person was killed in Lima and 336 in the region of Ica.
The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday's earthquake hit at 6:40 p.m. about 90 miles southeast of Lima at a depth of about 25 miles. Four strong aftershocks ranging from magnitudes of 5.4 to 5.9 were felt afterward.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for the coasts of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama. A tsunami watch was issued for the rest of Central America and Mexico and an advisory for Hawaii.
The center canceled all the alerts after about two hours, but it said the quake had caused an estimated 10-inch tsunami near the epicenter.
The last time a quake of magnitude 7.0 or larger struck Peru was in September 2005, when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake rocked the country's northern jungle, killing four people. In 2001, a 7.9-magnitude quake struck near the southern Andean city of Arequipa, killing 71 people.
The region sits on two plates that are constantly shifting and Thursday's earthquake, like most earthquakes in the area, occurred when one plate dove under the other quickly, according to Amy Vaughan, a USGS geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.
The plates are always ''moving slowly, but this was a sudden shift,'' Vaughan said.
Some of the world's biggest quakes, including the catastrophic Indian Ocean temblor in 2004 that generated deadly tsunami waves, are caused by a similar movement of plates.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Muay Thai
on: August 16, 2007, 08:10:32 AM
!Tony Ja es tremendo!
Habiendo dicho eso, sospecho que el hace muchas cosas en la pelicula precisamente porque se ven bonitos en el pantalla del cine.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe
on: August 16, 2007, 08:07:38 AM
The forces of pre-emptive Dhimmitude on the march again:
Surrender: Scotland's National Health Services employees have been told
not to eat at their desks next month so they won't offend fasting Muslims. We regret to report this is not an isolated case of Euro cave-in.
In an e-mail "to all senior managers, giving guidance on religious
tolerance," the Scotsman said Monday, the NHS Equality and Diversity
Officer — a title that alone tells a story — has asked that staff members
refrain from eating at their desks, forgo working lunches and make sure
that food trolleys are not left in areas where Muslims work.
Why? It will soon be Ramadan, an Islamic observance beginning in
September during which Muslims fast for 30 days.
We have a hard time imagining the NHS or any other European government
agency carving out special dispensations for Christians who don't eat meat
on Fridays or fast during Lent.
What about prayer time for Christians in this nominal Christian nation?
Muslims, whose feelings are being protected as if they are an endangered
species, have been granted breaks to pray.
Despite appearances to the contrary, sensible people can still be found in
"Frankly, this advice, well meaning as it may be, is total nonsense," Bill
Aitken, speaking for the Scottish Conservative Justice Party, told the
Scotsman. "This is the sort of thing that can stir up resentments rather
than result in good relations."
That is exactly what the forces of diversity, tolerance and political
correctness, so busy feeling morally superior, don't understand.
As we said, this is not an isolated case. While the Scottish NHS grovels
before Islam, across the North Sea in Belgium the mayor of Brussels is
refusing to let a group demonstrate on Sept. 11 — remember that date? —
against the introduction of Sharia laws in Europe.
This is not Nazis marching on Skokie, Ill., but Europeans from Great Britain,
Germany and Denmark who are alarmed by the Islamization of their
homelands. They want to take their protest through the streets of
Brussels to the European Parliament, where they will stop and honor the
9/11 victims with a moment of silence.
Clearly, they are being singled out.
The Brussels Journal, a blog of European journalists and writers, reports
that Brussels receives 500 and 600 protest applications a year and "with
very few exceptions permission is always granted. In the past five years
only six applications were turned down."
Mayor Freddy Thielemans, however, is saying no; he fears there will be
violence between marchers and local Muslims, which isn't exactly a
confirmation that Islam is the "religion of peace."
There might be more to the story, though. The Brussels Journal says
Thielemans "is an atheist who is fond of Muslims, not because he respects
religious people, but because he hates Christians."
He even publicly celebrated the news of Pope John Paul II's death, the
But Brussels' socialist mayor doesn't have the last word. He can be
overruled by the Belgian Council of State. For the sake of free speech, the
right to assemble and Europe's future, we hope he is.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A conspiracy
on: August 16, 2007, 08:04:53 AM
A Muslim 'Mafia'?
Homeland Security: Forget everything you've been told about
"moderate" Muslim groups in America. New evidence that U.S. prosecutors
have revealed at a major terror trial exposes the facade.
Exhibit No. 003-0085 is the most chilling. Translated from Arabic by federal
investigators in the case against the Holy Land Foundation, an alleged
Hamas front, the secret document outlines a full-blown conspiracy by the
major Muslim groups in America — all of which are considered "mainstream"
by the media.
In fact, they are part of the "Ikhwan," or Muslim Brotherhood, the parent
organization of Hamas, al-Qaida and other major Islamic terror groups.
They have conspired to infiltrate American society with the purpose of
undermining it and turning it into an Islamic state.
Check out this quote from Page 7 of the 1991 document:
"The Ikwhan must understand that all their work in America is a kind of
grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from
within and sabotaging their miserable house by the hands of the believers
so that it is eliminated and Allah's religion is made victorious over all
Sounds like the latest screed from Osama bin Laden. But it comes from the
Muslim establishment in America.
The secret plan lists several Saudi-backed Muslim groups as "friends" of
They include the Islamic Society of North America — the umbrella
organization — and the North American Islamic Trust, which controls most
of the mosques in America and is the forerunner to the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, this country's most visible Muslim-rights group.
All three have been cited as unindicted co-conspirators in the case, with
all three sharing membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet all have
claimed, in the wake of 9/11, to be moderate, even patriotic.
Another exhibit reveals their plan to create innocuous-sounding "front
groups" to hide their radical agenda.
Many in the media and politics have fallen for their deception and helped
bring them into the mainstream.
Now everyone knows the truth.
The Muslim establishment that publicly decries the radical fringe —
represented by Hamas and al-Qaida — may actually be a part of it. The
only difference is that they use words and money instead of bombs to
accomplish their subversive goals.
Over the past two decades they have constructed, with Saudi money, an
elaborate infrastructure of support for the bad guys — right under our
They even brag about putting "beehives" (Islamic centers) in every major
These exhibits — which so far have been ignored by major media outside
the Dallas area, where the trial is under way — completely blow the
mainstream Muslim NGOs' cover as pro-American moderates. Many, if not
This is their real agenda, spelled out in black and white. It should help
investigators build a RICO case to dismantle the entire terror-support
network in America.
Many have suspected it, but now we have proof that there is a secret
underworld operating inside America under the cover of fronts with
It even uses charities to launder money for violent hits on enemies. It's
highly organized, with its own internal bylaws and security to avoid
monitoring from law enforcement.
Sounds like the Mafia.
But unlike the mob, this syndicate is religious in nature and protected by
More evidence like this should put an end to such nonsense.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: August 16, 2007, 07:52:02 AM
As we all know, Saudi Arabia is the home of the Muslim religion, and SA is the home of AQ. Here is one particular take on the SA government and its relation with Islam:
csmonitor.com - The Christian Science Monitor Online
from the August 15, 2007 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0815/p09s02-coop.html
A tipping point in Saudi Arabia
By favoring merchants over clerics, Abdullah is making crucial reforms.
By Dana Moss and Zvika Krieger
Brussels; and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
When Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud was crown prince of Saudi Arabia, one
of his most infamous decisions was banning the use of camera phones in 2004
- a demand from the country's Wahhabi clergy who claimed the devices were
But the decision was quickly reversed when King Abdullah faced pressure from
his government ministers and, allegedly, from a cadre of foreign businessmen
who threatened to pull their companies from Saudi Arabia. "Abdullah was
presented with a choice between the Wahhabis and good business," says one
Riyadh-based businessman. "His decision [for the latter] was clear."
It is a decision that Abdullah has made time and again over the course of
his reign as king, which hit its two-year mark this month. By sidelining the
traditional clergy in favor of the merchant classes and more progressive
religious voices, Abdullah has been challenging the "great bargain" of the
Saudi state - namely the empowerment of the Wahhabi ulema (hard-line Islamic
scholars) in exchange for their sanction of the House of Saud.
This unlikely reformer, who has unofficially led the kingdom since King
Fahd's stroke in 1995, has propelled the country through a radical
transformation. From accession to the World Trade Organization to the
billion-dollar overhaul of the educational system to increased criticism of
the religious "police" who enforce a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia
law, the closed kingdom is beginning to crack open.
'The oil boom is over'
These reforms come at a critical time. Saudi Arabia is barreling toward an
economic and social crisis if it does not act fast. Almost 75 percent of
Saudi citizens are under age 30 and youth unemployment is approaching 30
percent - a potential breeding ground for terrorists and regime dissidents.
Current high oil prices are not enough to paper over the economic ravages of
the past two decades. "The oil boom is over and will not return," Abdullah
told his subjects. "All of us must get used to a different lifestyle."
Economic restructuring of the kingdom is no easy task, nor can it be
separated from social reform, such as increasing women's participation in
economic life and creating a business environment and laws suitable for
Faced with resistance from the conservative official ulema, Abdullah has
adopted a strategy of "circumvention" to coerce these reforms - officially
toeing the Wahhabi line, but quietly giving more leeway to the private
Education, for example, had traditionally been firmly under Wahhabi control,
with a focus on creating more imams than businessmen. But this won't help a
country striving to become an international powerhouse. So private
universities - previously shunned by the religious elite because of their
relative independence - have recently been legalized, with a half-dozen
Western-style institutions slated to open soon. The new King Abdullah
University for Science and Technology, the kingdom's first coeducational
institution, is an Abdullah initiative to create a global leader in
technological innovation. He tasked the relatively secular Ministry of
Petroleum and Mineral Resources with running the project, keeping it away
from the fundamentalists.
By sidelining the ulema, Abdullah has been forced to find a new source for
religious legitimacy in order for him and his successors to rule over "the
land of the two holy mosques."
His strategy has been to allow a wider base of voices to speak for Islam,
both Sunni and Shiite. He instituted an annual forum titled "National
Dialogue," which invited a variety of prominent intellectuals to make their
The forum included Sunni scholars such as Safar al Hawali, a former member
of an opposition grouping called the "Awakening Sheikhs," many of which had
been previously imprisoned for their biting criticism of palace policy.
Other invitees included prominent Shiite thinkers - a distinct change from
earlier years, when the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia had
declared Shiites to be "apostates." Most important, the official ulema were
pointedly left off the guest list.
Some have criticized the weak translation of the forum's rhetoric into real
action. Yet even its existence is an accomplishment, and a new building has
been set up in Riyadh to host this forum. This is a sign, in the words of
Saudi Arabia expert Jean-François Seznec, of how the "National Dialogue" is
becoming "systematized and routinized," reflecting long-term changes in the
Of course, Abdullah's reforms have been highly limited when compared with
The country is still an iron-fisted dictatorship: The much-heralded
municipal elections of 2005 excluded women, and the trumpeted majlis
(parliament) remains a body undemocratically appointed by the king. Women
can't drive, and religious freedom is nonexistent. Fundamentalist forces
also remain significant in the kingdom, with characters such as Prince Naif,
the ultra-conservative interior minister, still wielding enormous power.
Economic impetus for reform
At 83 years old, Abdullah's time left in office may be short, and it is
uncertain that those next in line to the throne will have the will or the
ability to continue making crucial reforms.
The challenges facing the desert kingdom require highly tuned maneuvering
skills. Reformers are counting on the durability of Abdullah's reforms
regardless of his successor. His legacy is likely to be protected by the new
economic elite he is helping to create.
"You can't bury your head in the sand and expect to become a global economic
power," said one administrator at a new Western-style university in Saudi
Arabia. "The king knows this, and he's ready to accept the consequences of
. Dana Moss is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the
Transatlantic Institute in Brussels. Zvika Krieger is a Middle East-based
special correspondent for Newsweek magazine.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / When the Excrement hits the Fan
on: August 15, 2007, 03:26:50 PM
Kicking off this thread is a piece by Stratfor that while it has some big gaps (e.g. weaponry for social and criminal disorder) still serves as a well-organized starting point on the subject of this thread.
Personal Contingency Plans: More than an Ounce of Prevention
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
U.S. counterterrorism sources remain concerned that an attack against the U.S. homeland will occur within the next two to three weeks. This is not surprising, considering that the drums have been beating loudly in Washington this summer about a potential attack -- first from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and then in the form of a National Intelligence Estimate. More recently, several other reports have appeared concerning an impending attack, including an alert over the weekend in New York triggered by an alleged dirty bomb plot.
One of the reasons for the heightened concern is that most everyone, including Stratfor, is surprised that no major jihadist attack has occurred on U.S. soil since 9/11. Many plots have been disrupted, and it is only a matter of time before one of them succeeds. Simply put, attacks are not difficult to conduct and the government cannot stop them all.
Stratfor's assessment of the jihadist threat to the U.S. homeland is that al Qaeda and jihadists retain the ability to conduct tactical strikes against the United States, but lack the ability to pose a strategic threat. While this may be reassuring on one level, people can and will be killed in a tactical strike. The fact that an attack is not strategically significant will provide no immediate solace to those near the carnage and confusion of a tactical attack. Additionally, as we saw in Hurricane Katrina or the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis, other disasters also can lead to chaos and disruption.
Given the current threat environment, this is an opportune time to examine again ways to avoid -- or at least mitigate -- the impact of that chaos and panic. The set of tools designed to do that is called personal contingency planning.
Chaos and Disruption
When disaster strikes, as in a terrorist attack, a number of things happen quickly and simultaneously. Often, panic erupts while people attempt to flee the scene of the attack. At the same time, police, fire and emergency medical units all attempt to respond to the scene, so there can be terrible traffic and pedestrian crowd-control problems. This effect can be magnified by smoke and fire, which can occlude vision, affect breathing and increase panic. Indeed, many of the injuries produced by terrorist bombings are not a direct result of the blast or even shrapnel, but of smoke inhalation and trampling.
In many instances, an attack or natural disaster will damage electrical lines, or else the electricity will be cut off as a precautionary measure. Elevators also could be reserved for firefighters. This means people are trapped in subway tunnels or in high-rise buildings, and might be forced to escape through the smoke-filled tunnels or stairwells. Depending on the incident, bridges, tunnels, subway lines and airports can be closed, or merely jammed to a standstill. This gridlock effect might be multiplied if the power is out to traffic signals.
In the midst of this confusion and panic, telephone and cell phone usage soars. Even if the main trunk lines and cell towers are not damaged or otherwise affected by the loss of electricity, this huge spike in activity quickly overloads the exchanges and cell networks. This means the ripples of chaos and disruption roll outward from the scene as people outside the immediate vicinity of the attack zone hear about the attack via the media and wonder what has become of loved ones who were near the site of the attack.
The Importance of Planning
Those in the vicinity of an attack have the best chance of escaping and reconnecting with loved ones if they have a personal contingency plan. Though such planning is critically important for people who live and work in close proximity to known terrorist targets such as Manhattan, Washington and Los Angeles, the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis has demonstrated that such planning is important for people in other parts of the country as well. Sudden disasters, such as tornados, earthquakes, school shootings or the derailment of train cars carrying chlorine, can strike anywhere.
Emergency plans are vital not only for corporations and schools, but also for families and individuals. Such plans should be in place for each regular location -- home, work and school -- that an individual frequents, and should cover what that person will do and where he or she will go should an evacuation be necessary. This means establishing meeting points for family members who might be split up -- and backup points in case the first or second point also is affected by the disaster.
The lack of ability to communicate with loved ones because of circuit overload or other phone service problems can greatly enhance the sense of panic during a crisis. Perhaps the most value derived from having personal and family contingency plans is a reduction in the amount of stress that results from not being able to immediately contact a loved one. Knowing that everyone is following the plan frees each person to concentrate on the more pressing issue of evacuation. Additionally, someone who waits until he or she has contacted all loved ones before evacuating might not make it out.
It also is important to have a communication plan, which should include the contact information for the pre-chosen rallying site, as well as an alternate communications hub outside of the area. It might be difficult to communicate from Point A to Point B, but both A and B might be able to get through to a person at Point C. Alternative means of communication also should be included in the communications plan. If the phone lines and cell phones are clogged, many times text messages can still get through and Internet connections will work to send e-mail. The communications plan also will be helpful in case one member of the family is unable to evacuate immediately or finds it unwise to evacuate at all. In that case, he or she will know where the rest of the family is going and how to contact them once communications are restored.
Planning also is important because, when confronted with a dire emergency situation, many people simply do not know what to do. Not having determined their options in advance -- and in shock over the events of the day -- they are unable to think clearly enough to establish a logical plan, and instead wander aimlessly around. Having an established plan in place gives even a person who is in shock or denial and unable to think clearly a framework to lean on and a path to follow.
If You Must Evacuate
One of the keys to surviving a catastrophe is situational awareness. This means recognizing the threat at an early stage -- and taking measures to avoid it. Another element of situational awareness is to know where to go when an unforeseen disaster strikes. For example, if an improvised explosive device (IED) were to detonate in a subway car ahead of the car you are in, would you know how to get out of your car and in which direction to travel to get to safety? If your office building is hit by an IED or catches fire, do you know where the fire exits are located and where they lead? Could one fire exit take you out of the frying pan and into the fire? Situational awareness also involves knowing how to react. If a subway tunnel is filling with smoke, you must have the situational awareness to keep low in order to avoid being overcome.
In some cases, evacuation might not be the best idea. If there is no immediate threat to you at your current location, you could run a larger risk of being injured by joining the crowd of panicked people on the street. In some cases, it might be safest to just stay in place and wait for order to return -- especially if you are in a location where you have emergency stocks of food and water.
If you work in a high-rise building, frequently travel or take a subway, there are a couple of pieces of equipment that can assist you in case the need to evacuate arises. One of these is a smoke hood, a protective device that fits over the head and provides protection from smoke inhalation. Smoke hoods are relatively inexpensive devices that can be carried in a briefcase or purse and quickly donned in case of emergency. They will usually provide around 20-30 minutes of breathing time -- which could quite literally mean the difference between life and death in a smoke-filled hallway, stairway or subway tunnel. The second piece of equipment is a flashlight small enough to fit in a pocket, purse or briefcase. Such a light could prove to be invaluable in a crisis situation at night or when the power goes out in a large building or subway. Some of the small aluminum flashlights also can serve as a handy self-defense weapon.
If you live in an area likely to be hit by such an attack, it also might be prudent to prepare a small "fly-away" kit containing clothes, water, a first-aid kit, nutritional bars, medications and toiletry items for you and your family. It also is a good idea to include a battery-powered radio and other useful items, such as multi-tool knives and duct tape. The kit should be kept in convenient place, ready to grab on the way out. Even if it is impractical to keep all these items in constant readiness, keeping most of them together and using a prepared list to collect the other items quickly can help get you out the door in seconds. Maintaining important papers, such as vehicle titles, deeds, licenses, birth certificates, passports and credit card information, in a central file allows you to grab that file quickly and take it with you.
The Need for Flexibility
It is important to listen to authorities in the case of an emergency, though you cannot rely on the government to take care of you in every situation because the resources simply are not there to do so. You must have plans ready to take care of yourself and your family.
If you have pets, you will want to take them into consideration when you make your plans. Will Fluffy be taken to the evacuation site in the case of a dirty bomb attack, or not?
The emergency plan also must be fluid and flexible. It is important to recognize that even a good contingency plan can be worthless if protective measures taken by authorities during an emergency impede execution of the plan, or if the catastrophe itself closes down a section of your route. For example, bridges and tunnels might be closed and streets blocked off or jammed with traffic, meaning you might not be able to travel to safety or pick up family members or coworkers. Those whose plan calls for a flight out of the city might be unable to get to the airport or helipad and, once there, find that air traffic has been grounded, as happened after the 9/11 attacks. For these reasons, it is best to have several alternate contingency plans that account for multiple scenarios and include various evacuation routes. Once the emergency is announced, it likely is too late to start devising a plan.
Plans must be reviewed periodically. A plan made following 9/11 might no longer be valid. Bridges and roads you included might now be closed for construction. If Uncle Al's place in West Virginia is your planned communications hub, then that needs to change when he moves to Texas.
Your equipment also should be checked periodically to ensure it is functional. Have you checked the batteries in your flashlight? Has your smoke hood become battered from being carried around for too many years? Have the power bars in your fly-away kit become fossilized?
Finally, while having a contingency plan on paper is better than having nothing, those that are tested in the real world are far superior. Running through an evacuation plan (especially during a high-traffic time such as rush hour) will help to identify weaknesses that will not appear on paper. It also will help to ensure that all those involved know what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to go. A plan is of limited use if half of the people it is designed for do not understand their respective roles and responsibilities.
No plan is perfect, and chances are you will have to "shift on the fly" and change your plan in the event of an actual emergency. However, having a plan -- and being prepared -- will allow you to be more focused and less panicked and confused than those who have left their fate to chance. In life and death situations, an ounce of prevention is a good thing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia-China Peace Mission
on: August 15, 2007, 11:21:43 AM
By RICHARD D. FISHER, JR.
August 15, 2007
The world will understandably have some questions this Thursday when Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian leader Vladimir Putin meet at Garrison Chebarkul in Russia to review troops from both their countries, as well as four states of former Soviet Central Asia. The event will mark the end of maneuvers called Peace Mission 2007, and it raises some important questions. Does this exercise signal a stepping up of already substantial military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing? And if it does, cooperation against what or whom?
On the march, but to what end?
The answer to the first question is clearly yes, cooperation is increasing. This year's Peace Mission in Russia involved about 4,000 troops and 100 aircraft from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, a threefold increase in participants over Peace Mission 2005, held in China. This year's Peace Mission exercises, conducted from Aug. 8 to 17, included full-fledged conventional air-ground offensive maneuvers that stressed ground and airborne assault, and coordinated air strikes by attack aircraft and attack helicopters. Russian and Chinese reporting thus far indicates the maneuvers were directed against "terrorist" strongholds in rural and urban settings.
Less clear is against what or whom the show of force was directed. The military exercises are sponsored by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a intergovernmental group founded with Chinese help to promote worthy goals of cooperation and peace in former Soviet Central Asia. In practice, however, the organization's priorities have evolved over time, and its top mission now seems to be to stop overt Islamic identification among the peoples of the region, who are mostly ethnically Turkic and traditionally Muslim.
If one includes the currently Chinese-held territory of East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Central Asia covers nearly two million square miles in the strategic heart of Eurasia, populated by peoples who have never willingly accepted rule either from Moscow or Beijing. It is rich in resources, notably oil and natural gas. For now Central Asia's rulers are mostly former Soviet officials, as fearful of Islam as are China or Russia. But they are not secure. Change in an Islamic direction, which is possible -- even likely -- will spell trouble.
To begin with, then, Peace Mission 2007 is a cooperative exercise by the rulers of the Central Asian states, supported by China and Russia, designed to prevent political instability. But that is not all. "Peace Mission 2007" also reveals a worrying pattern of cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, broadly speaking, against the west and democratic ideas.
In July, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization decided to draw up a shared list of proscribed organizations, to include terrorists of course, but also, western human-rights advocates fear, democracy advocates. They have good reason to worry. At the Army Chief of Staffs' conference in Urumqi, in Chinese-controlled East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Russian Chief of the General Staff General Yuri Baluyevsky attacked "certain Western states" that advocate "the formation of the so-called 'true democratic' institutions of state and public management . . . which causes destabilisation of the situation in the states of the region."
Both Russian and Chinese officials have claimed the Peace Mission exercises are "not directed against any one country." But when the United States asked the Chinese government if it could send observers, hoping for a return of its generous hosting of People's Liberation Army (PLA) observers at the 2006 Valiant Shield, a large exercise involving the U.S. and its Asian allies, China said "no."
Beijing evidently wishes to minimize attention to its increasing long-distance force projection abilities, demonstrated in, but not limited to, Central Asia. The PLA's contingent included 1,600-1,700 airborne and ground troops plus associated light-weight armor and about 36 aircraft. Not large numbers to be sure, but this marks the first ever PLA foreign deployment of such a combined arms group. On July 30, PLA Senior Colonel (equivalent to a brigadier general) Lu Chuangang, told state media that Peace Mission would test their capability in "long distance mobility" and "long distance integrated support."
Most western analysts have been skeptical that Beijing harbored such large ambitions. The operations in Peace Mission suggest China does, a possibility supported by other evidence. China is refurbishing the former Russian aircraft carrier Varyag and planning its own carrier force. A military airlifter is being developed that could carry 60 tons of cargo, similar to the U.S. C-17. Last December, the PLA Navy launched a 20,000 ton landing platform dock amphibious assault ship. In May, a Chinese shipbuilding official admitted to me their development of a landing helicopter dock air-amphibious assault ship.
New PLA airlifters and new medium-weight wheeled airmobile fighting vehicles being produced by the PLA will give it a future army-airborne projection capability that would compliment nicely that of Russia's. Peace Mission 2007, in fact, resembled the coordinated operations needed to shore up a tottering dictatorship, much as Soviet forces did in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. This follows the 2005 Peace Mission exercises, which demonstrated air and naval capabilities the PLA needs to attack Taiwan.
But the SCO's ability to develop a deeper military alliance is not certain. Russian press reports note that China rejected Russia's proposal to co-host the exercises with the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, indicating that currently coincidental Russian-Chinese security agendas could easily diverge. Russia-friendly Kazakhstan did not allow Chinese troops to travel across its territory, adding thousands of kilometers to their journey. The SCO must soon also face the question of whether or not to make full members of current observers India, Pakistan and Iran -- respectively, a nuclear-armed democracy, a nuclear-armed failed state and a future nuclear-armed rogue state.
All in all, Peace Mission 2007 provides plenty of reason for concern. It highlights the direct military interest Russia and China are taking in Central Asia, an area of which the U.S. and Europe know very little. Even more worrying, the Chinese role in the exercise provides yet more evidence of the dimensions of Chinese military ambitions and capabilities, the potential targets of which are by no means limited to Central Asian Muslims.
Mr. Fisher is a vice president with the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics
on: August 15, 2007, 11:17:24 AM
Second post of the morning:
Cost Control for Dummies
By MERRILL MATTHEWS
August 15, 2007; Page A12
Reducing health-care spending isn't hard: Just give the government control over the national health-care budget and you'll see spending decline. Access to physicians and hospitals, the newest technology, important therapies and the best medications will also decline over time. But that's the trade-off society makes when the government controls health-care spending.
It's remarkable how gullible people are who claim, "Canada (or England, or France, etc.) manages to provide universal coverage for much less than the U.S. spends on health care." They seem to think these other countries have reached some sort of economic nirvana. These countries spend less -- usually between 8% to 10% of GDP versus nearly 16% in the U.S. -- simply because health-care spending isn't a function of consumer demand; it's a function of political demand.
Politicians in single-payer countries -- where the public pays higher taxes and the government pays most bills -- decide how much the country will spend on health care, and the prices that will be paid. Since they have to consider education, welfare, defense, etc., as well as the need to keep taxes low enough to encourage economic growth, there is never enough money to go around. There is not one government-run health-care system that is considered adequately funded by those who have to deal with it. In some countries, the rationing, lack of access and waiting lines are worse than others. But they all face these problems.
And virtually any U.S. reform proposal promising "universal coverage" will do the same thing. Why? Because Congress has a long and sordid history of support for health-care price controls.
Medicare reimbursements to hospitals have been price-controlled since 1983, and to physicians since 1992. If Medicare represented 1% or 2% of the health care market -- as the VA does with respect to prescription drugs -- price controls would create distortions, but they would likely be manageable. However, Medicare is the dominant insurer in the country. Its price controls become the benchmark.
Whenever the government controls prices, it arbitrarily determines who it will pay, how much, and for what. Vendors -- that is, providers of goods and services -- generally begin to work the system in order to maximize their gain -- or, more accurately when referring to doctors in Medicare, minimize their losses. When Medicare distorts a price -- and virtually all government-set prices are distorted -- the reverberations are felt throughout the health-care system.
Consider physician reimbursements. Every year, doctors face a cut in Medicare reimbursements, even though their costs for providing care continue to rise. The American Medical Association's lobbying effort has managed to keep current reimbursements about the same as they were in 2001, in part by backing the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003. That's six years without an increase. And unless Congress acts, doctors face a 10% cut in reimbursements in 2008, and a 40% cut by 2016.
At this point, we don't know where doctors' Medicare reimbursements will land; that issue has become a political football in the battle over reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (Schip). Democrats are dangling a slight increase in reimbursements, instead of that 10% cut, in exchange for the AMA's support for their massive expansion of Schip.
However, Democrats also want to cut reimbursements to health plans operating in the quickly growing Medicare Advantage program. And they are trying once again to give the federal government the ability to dictate prices -- which they inaccurately describe as a "negotiation" -- for prescription drugs.
All of this is being done in the name of "controlling costs." But does anyone really believe those price controls won't hurt access to quality care?
Increasingly, doctors are refusing to see new Medicare patients. A recent AMA survey found that 60% of responding doctors said they would stop accepting new Medicare patients if the 10% cut is imposed. Even if that figure is inflated by currently angry doctors, it could represent a significant decrease in seniors' access to care.
The situation is worse under Medicaid. It reimburses even less than Medicare, which will lead to more and more access problems for the elderly and the poor. It can also lead to doctors trying to see ever more patients in a given time period in order to keep the income from falling. Less time for each patient reduces the quality of care.
Because politicians want to keep health-care spending as low as possible, they have very little incentive to raise those reimbursement rates. Much easier to rail against "greedy physicians" or use them as pawns when they want to pass other pieces of legislation. You can expect even more political maneuvering if health-care "reform" gives the government increased control over prices and spending.
Either the market will set prices based on supply and demand, or the government will set prices based on budget priorities and bureaucrats' best guess at what specific goods and services should cost. That process may undermine the access to and quality of care, but at least government-run health care advocates can claim it keeps costs down.
Mr. Matthews is director of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance and a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: August 15, 2007, 11:14:26 AM
Our Risky New Financial Markets
By HENRY KAUFMAN
August 15, 2007; Page A13
Tremors from America's quaking subprime mortgage market have spread throughout the financial world. This latest disturbance in global financial markets is neither isolated nor idiosyncratic. It points to deeper, enduring changes in the structure of our markets -- changes that have profoundly altered the behavior of market participants in ways that tend to encourage risk-taking beyond prudent limits. Just as troubling is the failure of official policy makers to effectively rein in such excesses, leaving our financial system vulnerable to similar turmoil in the future.
The principal structural driver behind this and similar financial tribulations is the massive growth of financial markets, combined with a plethora of new credit instruments. By any measure, current financial activity -- new financing or secondary market trading volume -- dwarfs the past. The outstanding volume of nonfinancial debt now exceeds nominal GDP by $15 trillion, compared with $6 trillion a decade ago. Traditional credit instruments such as stocks, bonds and money-market obligations have been joined by a long and diverse roster of new obligations, many of them extraordinarily complicated. Along with the arcane tranches of mortgages that recently garnered attention are a myriad of financial derivatives, ranging from those traded on exchanges to tailor-made products for the over-the-counter market.
Leading financial institutions have grown rapidly as well. More importantly, they have evolved to become integrated, diversified, global enterprises that bear little resemblance to traditional commercial banks, investment banks or insurance companies. As these giants grow and dominate the market, they carry enormous potential for conflicts of interest -- they simultaneously act as investors of their own massive assets and as dealmakers and consultants on behalf of their clients. And their reach into the financial system is so broad and deep that no central bank is willing to allow the collapse of one of these leviathans. They are deemed "too big to fail."
These structural and institutional changes have, in turn, encouraged a new understanding among market participants of liquidity. In the decades that followed World War II, liquidity was by and large an asset-based concept. For business corporations, it meant the size of cash and very liquid assets, the maturity of receivables, the turnover of inventory, and the relationship of these assets to total liabilities. For households, liquidity primarily meant the maturity of financial assets being held for contingencies along with funds that reliably would be available later in life. In contrast, firms and households today often blur the distinction between liquidity and credit availability. When thinking about liquid assets, present and future, it is now commonplace to think in terms of access to liabilities.
This new mindset has been abetted by the tidal wave of securitization -- the conversion of nonmarketable assets into marketable assets -- that swept across the financial world in recent decades. This flood of marketable assets not only has eroded traditional concepts of liquidity, it has stimulated risk appetites and fostered a belief that credit usually is available at reasonable prices.
Technological change also has bolstered the easy-credit outlook now commonplace among investors. As markets have been linked globally by information technology networks, financial information flows nearly instantaneously, computerized trading is spreading, and transactions are executed almost without delay. Investors can access financial data and participate in markets around the world and around the clock.
These two developments -- securitization and the seamless interconnectivity of markets -- have brought intricate quantitative risk modeling to the forefront of financial practices. Securitization generates market prices, while information technology offers the power to quantify pricing and risk relationships. Few recognize, however, that such modeling assumes constancy in market fundamentals. This is because modeling does not adequately account for underlying structural changes when attempting to calculate future risks and prices.
Nor can models take into account the impact of growing financial concentration in the making of markets and in the pricing of securities that are traded infrequently, or that have tailor-made attributes. And what about the risks to financial markets of a major military flare-up, the ravages of a pandemic flu, a terrorist attack that would immobilize computer networks, or even shifts in the broader monetary environment? Do the models quantify these and other profound risks in any meaningful way?
Then there is the question of asset pricing. An essential component of successful risk modeling is accurate pricing of the securities used in the analysis. Here, again, the strictly quantitative approach shows its weaknesses. Accurate pricing is a thorny challenge. In rapidly moving markets, the price of the last trade may be invalid for the next one. The price a dealer is prepared to quote may be no more than an indication of a potential trade. And the price quoted may be valid only for a small quantity of assets, not for the full amount in the investor's portfolio.
These problems are especially germane to securities of lower credit quality, where liquidity and marketability are often blurred in the mark-to-market process. Again, the subprime mortgage crisis is revealing: Quantitative modeling proved to work poorly in pricing those lower-quality assets. We can expect major problems of this kind in the below-investment-grade corporate bond market once corporate profits begin to decline.
Risk modeling -- with its clear-cut timeline and aura of certainty -- has encouraged investors to seek near-term profits while pushing aside more qualitative approaches to risk assessment that rely more heavily on judgment and reason. The appetite for near-term profits showed itself plainly in the environment leading up to the subprime mortgage debacle -- leading financial institutions were unwilling to pull back from aggressive lending and investing tactics. To do so, they feared, posed a number of risks, from loss of market share and underperforming earnings to shareholder discontent and a failure to meet the bonus expectations of employees.
The Federal Reserve cannot walk away from its responsibility to limit financial excesses. The central tenet of monetary policy is to achieve sustainable economic growth. Central bank policies and actions attempt to do this by providing just enough reserves to constrain the price of goods and services at acceptably low levels. But how can the Fed achieve this objective when widespread financial excesses are disrupting the functioning of financial markets and thus threatening economic prosperity?
At the heart of the long-term underlying challenges that face the U.S. financial system is the question of how to enforce discipline. One way is to let competitive forces discipline market participants: The manager who performs well prospers, while those who do not fail. This is the central precept of free market economies. But this approach is compromised by the fact that advanced societies typically do not allow the process to follow through when it comes to very large financial institutions. The fear is that the failure of behemoth financial institutions will pose systemic risks both here and abroad.
Therefore, market discipline falls more heavily on smaller institutions, which in turn motivates them to merge into larger entities protected by the too-big-to-fail umbrella. This dynamic has driven financial concentration and will continue to do so for years to come. As financial concentration increases, it will undermine marketability, trading activity and effective allocation of financial resources.
If competition is not allowed to enforce market discipline, the most viable alternative is increased supervision over financial institutions and markets. In today's markets, there is hardly a clarion call for such measures. On the contrary, the markets oppose it, and politicians voice little if any support. For their part, central bankers do not possess a clear vision of how to proceed toward more effective financial supervision. Their current, circumspect approach seems objectively technical, whereas greater intervention, they fear, would seem intrusive, subjective, even excessive.
What is missing today is a comprehensive framework that pulls together financial-market behavior and economic behavior. The study of economics and finance has become highly specialized and compartmentalized within the academic community. This is, of course, another reflection of the increasingly specialized demands of our complex civilization. Regrettably, today's economics and finance professions have produced no minds with the analytical reach of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes or Milton Friedman.
It is therefore urgent that the Fed take the lead in formulating a monetary policy approach that strikes the right balance between market discipline and government regulation. Until it does so, we will continue to see shocks of even greater intensity than the one now radiating outward from the quake in the U.S. subprime mortgage market.
Mr. Kaufman is president of Henry Kaufman & Company, Inc., and the author of "On Money and Markets: A Wall Street Memoir" (McGraw-Hill, 2000).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics
on: August 15, 2007, 10:48:10 AM
Arnold's Health Flop
August 15, 2007; Page A12
After Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled his universal health-care plan for California in January, almost everyone was laying down palms in Sacramento. Here was a Republican Governor putting aside political squabbling and "doing big things that Washington has failed to do," as Time magazine put it. What a change seven months later, with the plan on the cusp of collapse. There's a lesson here about health-care "bipartisanship" when it's merely a cover for bad policy.
The California legislature is now in the second month of the fiscal year without a budget. Deadlocks are routine because the state requires a two-thirds majority of each house to pass spending bills, though they rarely drag on this long or bitterly. Republicans are taking a hard line on spending and a $1.4 billion operating deficit; and even though the budget is just one Senate Republican vote shy of passage, a deal is unlikely before a recess ends on August 20.
Since the legislative session ends in September, that would mean it's curtains for Governor Schwarzenegger's health-care reform. The estimated $12 billion in new taxes that the plan requires also need a two-thirds majority of both houses. Which is unlikely when the legislature can't even agree on a budget without them. To get around that, the Governor calls them "levies," not taxes. Nice try.
The health-care plan is one reason for the gridlock, which speaks to a political as well as policy failure. In trying to round up Democrats, the Governor ended up alienating Republicans. No wonder: His plan was never that conservative or market-based. Like former Governor Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts, it turns on an individual mandate. That is, it requires all residents to buy insurance or get it from the state or their employers -- or otherwise face penalties such as garnished wages.
Once again, a state's universal health-care dreams have run up against fiscal realities. Besides the budget fight, the plan's viability was contingent on $3.7 billion in annual subsidies the Governor has been requesting to expand MediCal (Medicare) and "Healthy Families," part of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. This money is unlikely to materialize, given that the 2006 federal budget called for $4.6 billion in health-care cuts to California over the next decade.
The plan also ran into a buzzsaw because of the damage it would do to California's employment and insurance markets. In what's called "play or pay," businesses would have to cover their employees or pay a 3.5% payroll tax to fund a new state-run insurance program for low-income workers. Doctors would be required to pay 2% and hospitals 4% of gross revenues to fund the same -- assuming they could stay in practice at all.
Governor Schwarz-enegger's "bipartisanship" also provided an opening for state Democrats, who have long desired, but have usually been frustrated in passing, a liberal overhaul of the health-care system. They saw his plan and raised, proposing a 7.5% payroll tax -- another example of "play or pay" becoming "pay or pay." It would also compel onerous insurance regulations like mandated coverage levels and premium ceilings.
The Governor has tried to make the Democratic plan a selling point for his "less burdensome" alternative. But he would merely over-regulate insurance in other ways. He wants "guaranteed issue," which means insurers must accept all comers, allowing people to wait until they're sick to buy insurance. He also wants "community rating," which means that insurance premiums cannot vary based on age or health status. Cost-drivers like these are already a main reason between four million and 6.5 million Californians are uninsured now.
In beating the drum for his plan, Mr. Schwarzenegger has often deplored what he calls the "hidden tax" of the current health-care system. Supposedly that describes the extent to which the costs of treating the uninsured shift to those who have insurance, thus making an argument for universal care.
Yet researchers at Stanford led by Dan Kessler ran the figures and demolished this claim. The total burden of this "cost shifting" in California amounted to only 2.8% of premiums in the 2000s. That's not nothing, but in the Governor's hands this modest hidden tax is an excuse for larger unhidden taxes. Perhaps the puncturing of this argument will prevent it from being deployed in the 2008 health-care debate, though don't count on it.
If Arnold's plan does fail, it will join "universal" health-care dreams in Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other states that were also unveiled to hosannas but flopped once the fine print and costs were exposed. Alas, the failure of these state reforms probably won't diminish political agitation for similar attempts that Democrats or Mr. Romney might propose in Washington. But it should.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: August 15, 2007, 09:59:44 AM
Iranian Unit to Be Labeled 'Terrorist'
U.S. Moving Against Revolutionary Guard
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2007; A01
The United States has decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated global terrorist," according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group's business operations and finances.
The Bush administration has chosen to move against the Revolutionary Guard Corps because of what U.S. officials have described as its growing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its support for extremists throughout the Middle East, the sources said. The decision follows congressional pressure on the administration to toughen its stance against Tehran, as well as U.S. frustration with the ineffectiveness of U.N. resolutions against Iran's nuclear program, officials said.
The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities. The Revolutionary Guard would be the first national military branch included on the list, U.S. officials said -- a highly unusual move because it is part of a government, rather than a typical non-state terrorist organization.
The order allows the United States to block the assets of terrorists and to disrupt operations by foreign businesses that "provide support, services or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists."
The move reflects escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over issues including Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984, but in May the two countries began their first formal one-on-one dialogue in 28 years with a meeting of diplomats in Baghdad.
The main goal of the new designation is to clamp down on the Revolutionary Guard's vast business network, as well as on foreign companies conducting business linked to the military unit and its personnel. The administration plans to list many of the Revolutionary Guard's financial operations.
"Anyone doing business with these people will have to reevaluate their actions immediately," said a U.S. official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced. "It increases the risks of people who have until now ignored the growing list of sanctions against the Iranians. It makes clear to everyone who the IRGC and their related businesses really are. It removes the excuses for doing business with these people."
For weeks, the Bush administration has been debating whether to target the Revolutionary Guard Corps in full, or only its Quds Force wing, which U.S. officials have linked to the growing flow of explosives, roadside bombs, rockets and other arms to Shiite militias in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Quds Force also lends support to Shiite allies such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and to Sunni movements such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Although administration discussions continue, the initial decision is to target the entire Guard Corps, U.S. officials said. The administration has not yet decided when to announce the new measure, but officials said they would prefer to do so before the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly next month, when the United States intends to increase international pressure against Iran.
Formed in 1979 and originally tasked with protecting the world's only modern theocracy, the Revolutionary Guard took the lead in battling Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq war waged from 1980 to 1988. The Guard, also known as the Pasdaran, has since become a powerful political and economic force in Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose through the ranks of the Revolutionary Guard and came to power with support from its network of veterans. Its leaders are linked to many mainstream businesses in Iran.
"They are heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and pipelines -- even the new Imam Khomeini Airport and a great deal of smuggling," said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations. "Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards. They're developing along the lines of the Chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. It's a huge business conglomeration."
The Revolutionary Guard Corps -- with its own navy, air force, ground forces and special forces units -- is a rival to Iran's conventional troops. Its naval forces abducted 15 British sailors and marines this spring, sparking an international crisis, and its special forces armed Lebanon's Hezbollah with missiles used against Israel in the 2006 war. The corps also plays a key role in Iran's military industries, including the attempted acquisition of nuclear weapons and surface-to-surface missiles, according to Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The United States took punitive action against Iran after the November 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, including the breaking of diplomatic ties and the freezing of Iranian assets in the United States. More recently, dozens of international banks and financial institutions reduced or eliminated their business with Iran after a quiet campaign by the Treasury Department and State Department aimed at limiting Tehran's access to the international financial system. Over the past year, two U.N. resolutions have targeted the assets and movements of 28 people -- including some Revolutionary Guard members -- linked to Iran's nuclear program.
The key obstacle to stronger international pressure against Tehran has been China, Iran's largest trading partner. After the Iranian government refused to comply with two U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with its nuclear program, Beijing balked at a U.S. proposal for a resolution that would have sanctioned the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran on the Brink?
on: August 14, 2007, 08:23:29 PM
On the Brink
Washington is a wonder on Iran.
By Michael Ledeen
President Bush is annoyed that Afghan President Karzai and Iraqi President Maliki are both speaking about Iran in words reserved for an ally, rather than the main engine driving the terror wars in their countries. But if you look at the world through their eyes, it is easy enough to understand. They fear that the Americans will soon leave, and the Iranians will still be there. They know that Iran is a mortal threat, and they are now making a down payment on the insurance costs that are sure to come if the Democrats in Washington have their way. For extras, Maliki has certainly noticed that the United States is paying off the Middle Eastern Sunnis, hoping that the Saudis, Jordanians, and Gulf States will manage to contain Iran in the future. This cannot be good news in Baghdad, where the Shiites are struggling to put together a government capable of managing the country’s myriad crises.
All of this has been superbly summarized in Michael Yon’s latest ruminations on the course of the battle for Iraq:
Our military has increasing moral authority in Iraq, but the same cannot be said for our government at home. In fact, it’s in moral deficit because many Iraqis are increasingly frightened we will abandon them to genocide. The Iraqis I speak with couldn’t care less what is said from Washington but large numbers of them pay close attention to what some Marine Gunny says, or what American battalion commanders all over Iraq say. Some of our commanders could probably run for local offices in Iraq, and win.
There are many reasons for the respect of Iraqis for our fighters, starting with the fact that the military is currently the best institution in America, and our military men and women are several notches above the politicians, intellectuals and journalists in moral fiber and bravery. You can see that in the way the military deals with the Iranian intrusion in Iraq and Afghanistan. The politicians, diplomats, and spooks downplay the Iranian role, reshaping the facts to fit their desire for a “negotiated solution” they know in their heart of hearts will never be accomplished. But our military officers, whose troops are being blown up by Iranian explosives or Iranian-trained suicide bombers or gunned down by Iranian-trained snipers, are laying out the facts for anyone who cares to know what’s going on. Happily, at least some folks are listening (thank you, Senator Lieberman). Most Iraqis know the truth; it’s the Americans who need the education.
That the Iranians are at the heart of the region’s violence is proven most every day. So while Karzai was publicly kissing up to Tehran, Colonel Rahmatullah Safi, the head of the border police along the Iranian frontier, told the London Times “it is clear to everyone that Iran is supporting the enemy of Afghanistan, the Taliban,” and U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Kelly confirmed that the infamous EPFs, the new generation of explosive devices that can penetrate most American armor, are now coming into Afghanistan. Col. Kelly notes that these devices “really are not manufactured in any other place to our knowledge than Iran.”
The same holds true in Iraq, where these devices accounted for a third of American combat deaths in July (99 such attacks were directed against us — an all-time high). General Odierno blamed 73 percent of attacks on Iranian-supported Shiite terrorists. As Michael Gordon reports for the New York Times,
American intelligence says that its report of Iranian involvement is based on a technical analysis of exploded and captured devices, interrogations of Shi’ite militants, the interdiction of trucks near Iran’s border with Iraq and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iran and in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.
Some might suspect that our military leaders are presenting the case against Iran because they want to expand the war, and march on Tehran, but nothing of the sort is taking place. They are simply performing the task that theoretically lies with the so-called intelligence community. Our leaders have to be told the truth, even if it makes them scream. I have no doubt that Secretary of State Rice does not want to hear these things, because they give the lie to her claim that we are making progress in our talks with the Iranians. In fact, Iran has stepped up its terrorist activity in Iraq since we started talking to them. The actual words of Ambassador Crocker — who says he’s been very tough, and I’m inclined to believe him — don’t really matter to the mullahs; they say lots of things, too, and don’t expect them to be taken at face value. It’s the fact that (as they see it) we were compelled to come to them that matters.
In reality — for what little it matters nowadays, either here or in the Middle East — we are winning the battle of Iraq. The percentage increase in Iranian activity, combined with a drop in the number of attacks, is another way of saying that al Qaeda is being destroyed for a second time, and the Iranians are scrambling to fill the void. But they are on the run, just as is al Qaeda, as you can tell by the back-and-forth shuttling of their factotum Moqtadah al Sadr, between Iran and Iraq. If their scheme was working in Iraq, he’d sit still. He’s scrambling because they’re in trouble.
They’re in trouble at home, too. Indeed, things are so bad that the government itself has open fissures, the latest caused by the resignation of the minister of industry and mines, and by the public testimony of the minister of welfare:
The welfare minister, Abdol-Reza Mesri, appeared at the Majlis social committee on Saturday and announced that about 9.2 million Iranians live below the absolute poverty line. About 10.5 percent of residents in urban and 11 percent of residents in rural areas live below the absolute poverty line. Nevertheless, Mr. Mesri insisted that indicators used in computing the poverty line must be changed. The minister’s persistent suggestion to abandon internationally recognized methods of computing the poverty line has been met with the reaction of experts and professionals.
In simple English, there is so much poverty in Iran that the minister wants to change the reporting requirements so that nobody can really know the full dimensions of the Iranian people’s misery. Even their current language (what is “the absolute poverty line” anyway?) is designed to mislead.
Iranians are not stupid people; they know they are ruled by tyrannical incompetents. Listen to the words of one Reza Zarabi, in the August 5 Jerusalem Post: “Iranians have become accustomed to dictators, yet an incompetent despot that bases his economic policies on the future benevolence of the coming Islamic Messiah is another thing altogether...It is quite remarkable for such economic damage and global ridicule to be heaped upon a nation in (so) short a time. Yet the policies of the current Iranian administration have left nothing for the imagination.”
I ask you, is this not a perfect description of a revolutionary situation? And you reply: So why aren’t we doing anything about it? Which, I think, is precisely the question our military leaders in Iraq, and the people of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, are aiming at Washington.
National Review Online - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MDU5OTczMGU3NzRkZTJkNzFlMmFjNThkMDJiMDlhODE=
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues
on: August 14, 2007, 11:30:19 AM
Confessions of a BBC liberal
The BBC has finally come clean about its bias, says a former editor, who
wrote Yes, Minister
In the past four weeks there have been two remarkable changes in the public
attitude to the BBC. The first and most newsworthy one was precipitated by
the faked trailer of the Queen walking out of a photographic portrait
session with Annie Leibovitz.
It was especially damaging because the licence fee is based on a public
belief that the BBC offers a degree of integrity and impartiality which its
commercial competitors cannot achieve.
But in the longer term I believe that the second change is even more
significant. It started with the BBC's own report on impartiality that
effectively admitted to an institutional "liberal" bias among programme
makers. Previously these accusations had been dismissed as a right-wing
rant, but since the report was published even the BBC's allies seem to
It has been on parade again these past few weeks on the Radio 4 programme
The Crime of Our Lives. It included (of course) the ritual demoni-sation of
Margaret Thatcher (uninterested in crime . . . surprisingly did not take a
closer interest), a swipe at Conservative magistrates and their friends in
the golf club and occasional quotes from Douglas Hurd to preserve the
illusion of impartiality, but the whole tenor of the programme was liberal/
The series even included a strong suggestion that Thatcher's economic
policies were the cause of rising crime. So presumably she shouldn't have
done what she did?
There is a perfectly reasonable case for progressive liberal reform of penal
policy. There is also a perfectly reasonable case for a stricter and more
punitive penal policy.
This programme was quite clearly on the side of the former and the
producer/writer was a member of BBC staff. Can you imagine a BBC staff
member slanting a programme towards the case for a stricter penal policy?
The growing general agreement that the culture of the BBC (and not just the
BBC) is the culture of the chattering classes provokes a question that has
puzzled me for 40 years. The question itself is simple - much simpler than
the answer: what is behind the opinions and attitudes of this social group?
They are that minority often characterised (or caricatured) by sandals and
macrobiotic diets, but in a less extreme form are found in The Guardian,
Channel 4, the Church of England, academia, showbusiness and BBC news and
current affairs. They constitute our metropolitan liberal media consensus,
although the word "liberal" would have Adam Smith rotating in his grave.
Let's call it "media liberalism".
It is of particular interest to me because for nine years, between 1955 and
1964, I was part of this media liberal consensus. For six of those nine
years I was working on Tonight, a nightly BBC current affairs television
programme. My stint coincided almost exactly with Harold Macmil-lan's
premiership and I do not think that my former colleagues would quibble if I
said we were not exactly diehard supporters.
But we were not just anti-Macmil-lan; we were antiindustry,
anti-capital-ism, antiadvertising, antiselling, antiprofit, antipatriotism,
antimonarchy, antiempire, antipolice, antiarmed forces, antibomb,
antiauthority. Almost anything that made the world a freer, safer and more
prosperous place - you name it, we were anti it.
Although I was a card-carrying media liberal for the best part of nine
years, there was nothing in my past to predispose me towards membership. I
spent my early years in a country where every citizen had to carry
identification papers. All the newspapers were censored, as were all letters
abroad; general elections had been abolished: it was a one-party state. Yes,
that was Britain - Britain from 1939 to 1945.
I was nine when the war started, and 15 when it ended, and accepted these
restrictions unquestioningly. I was astounded when identity cards were
abolished. And the social system was at least as authoritarian as the
political system. It was shocking for an unmarried couple to sleep together
and a disgrace to have a baby out of wedlock. A homosexual act incurred a
jail sentence. Procuring an abortion was a criminal offence. Violent young
criminals were birched, older ones were flogged and murderers were hanged.
So how did we get from there to here? Unless we understand that, we shall
never get inside the media liberal mind. And the starting point is the
realisation that there have always been two principal ways of
misunderstanding a society: by looking down on it from above and by looking
up at it from below. In other words, by identifying with institutions or by
identifying with individuals.
To look down on society from above, from the point of view of the ruling
groups, the institutions, is to see the dangers of the organism splitting
apart - the individual components shooting off in different directions until
everything dissolves into anarchy.
To look up at society from below, from the point of view of the lowest
group, the governed, is to see the dangers of the organism growing ever more
rigid and oppressive until it fossilises into a monolithic tyranny.
Those who see society in this way are preoccupied with the need for liberty,
equality, self-expression, representation, freedom of speech and action and
worship, and the rights of the individual. The reason for the popularity of
these misunderstandings is that both views are correct as far as they go and
both sets of dangers are real, but there is no "right" point of view.
The most you can ever say is that sometimes society is in danger from too
much authority and uniformity and sometimes from too much freedom and
In retrospect it seems pretty clear that the 1940s and 1950s were years of
excessive authority and uniformity. It was certainly clear to me and my
media liberal colleagues in the BBC. It was not that we in the BBC openly
and publicly criticised the government on air; the BBC's commitment to
impartiality was more strictly enforced in those days.
But the topics we chose and the questions we asked were slanted against
institutions and towards oppressed individuals, just as we achieved
political balance by pitting the most plausible critics of government
against its most bigoted supporters.
Ever since 1963 the institutions have been the villains of the media
liberals. The police, the armed services, the courts, political parties,
multi-national corporations - when things go wrong they are the usual
But our hostility to institutions was not - and is not - shared by the
majority of our fellow citizens: most of our opinions were at odds with the
majority of the audience and the electorate. Indeed the BBC's own 2007
report on impartiality found that 57% of poll respondents said that
"broadcasters often fail to reflect the views of people like me".
There are four new factors which in my lifetime have brought about the
changes that have shaped media liberalism, encouraged its spread and
significantly increased its influence and importance.
The first of these is detribalisation. That our species has evolved a
genetic predisposition to form tribal groups is generally accepted as an
evolutionary fact. This grouping - of not more than about five or six
hundred - supplies us with our identity, status system, territorial
instinct, behavioural discipline and moral code.
We in the BBC were acutely detribalised; we were in a tribal institution,
but we were not of it. Nor did we have any geographical tribe; we lived in
commuter suburbs, we knew very few of our neighbours and took not the
slightest interest in local government. In fact we looked down on it.
Councillors were self-important nobodies and mayors were a pompous joke.
We belonged instead to a dispersed "metropolitan media arts graduate" tribe.
We met over coffee, lunch, drinks and dinner to reinforce our views on the
evils of apartheid, nuclear deterrence, capital punishment, the British
Empire, big business, advertising, public relations, the royal family, the
defence budget - it's a wonder we ever got home.
The second factor that shaped our media liberal attitudes was a sense of
exclusion. We saw ourselves as part of the intellectual elite, full of ideas
about how the country should be run. Being naive in the way institutions
actually work, we were convinced that Britain's problems were the result of
the stupidity of the people in charge of the country.
This ignorance of the realities of government and management enabled us to
occupy the moral high ground. We saw ourselves as clever people in a stupid
world, upright people in a corrupt world, compassionate people in a brutal
world, libertarian people in an authoritarian world.
We were not Marxists but accepted a lot of Marxist social analysis. We also
had an almost complete ignorance of market economics. That ignorance is
still there. Say "Tesco" to a media liberal and the patellar reflex says,
"Exploiting African farmers and driving out small shopkeepers." The
achievement of providing the range of goods, the competitive prices, the
food quality, the speed of service and the ease of parking that attract
millions of shoppers does not register on their radar.
The third factor arises from the nature of mass media. The Tonight programme
had a nightly audience of about 8m. It was much easier to keep their
attention by telling them they were being deceived or exploited by big
institutions than by saying what a good job the government and the banks and
the oil companies were doing.
The fourth factor is what has been called "isolation technology". Fifty
years ago people did things together much more. The older politicians we
interviewed in the early Tonight days were happier in public meetings than
in television studios.
In those days people went to evening meetings. They formed collective
opinions. In many places party allegiance was collective and hereditary
rather than a matter of individual choice based on a logical comparison of
These four factors have significantly accelerated and indeed intensified the
spread of media liberalism since I ceased to be a BBC employee 40 years ago.
But let's suppose that I had stayed. Would I have remained a devotee of the
metropolitan media liberal ideology that I once absorbed so readily? I have
an awful fear that the answer is yes.http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article2240427.ece
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: August 14, 2007, 10:58:00 AM
(IsraelNN.com) Arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat’s doctor has confirmed the long-circulating rumors that the PLO chairman had AIDS – though the doctor insists Israel poisoned Arafat as well, causing his death.
Rumors have long circulated in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority that Arafat’s symptoms prior to his death were caused by AIDS. Within the PA, Israel has always been accused of poisoning the PLO chairman.
Now, Arafat’s private doctor has joined other PLO officials in acknowledging that Arafat had the HIV virus, but is holding on to the claim that Israel was responsible for his ultimate demise, in a French hospital.
Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi told the Jordanian Amman News Agency that Arafat did, in fact, have AIDS – but insisted that the HIV virus was injected into the chairman’s bloodstream, and not the result of illicit sexual activity.
Al-Jazeera interrupted an interview with al-Kurdi due to his mention of Arafat’s having had AIDS.
French doctors who treated Arafat insisted after his death that he had died of a massive stroke after suffering intestinal inflammation, jaundice and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a blood condition.
Another Arafat aide, Bassam Abu Sharif, accused former French President Jacques Chirac of withholding knowledge that Israel killed Arafat with a substance that destroys red blood cells.
Even before Arafat died, US author and intelligence expert John Loftus said on the John Batchelor Show on WABC radio on October 26 that it was widely known in CIA circles that Arafat was dying from AIDS. Loftus further said that was the reason the US kept preventing Israel from killing Arafat – to allow him to be discredited by the ailment.
A 1987 book by Lt.-Gen. Ion Pacepa, the deputy chief of Romania's intelligence service under Communist dictator Nicola Ceausescu, may explain how Arafat contracted the sexually transmitted disease.
In his memoirs "Red Horizons," Pacepa relates a 1978 conversation with the general assigned to teach Arafat and the PLO techniques to deceive the West into granting the organization recognition. The general told him about Arafat’s nightly relations with his young male bodyguards and multiple partners. “Beginning with his teacher when he was a teen-ager and ending with his current bodyguards. After reading the report, I felt a compulsion to take a shower whenever I had been kissed by Arafat, or even just shaken his hand," Pacepa wrote.
Senior US intelligence official James J. Welsh, the National Security Agency's former PA analyst, told WorldNetDaily, "One of the things we looked for when we were intercepting Fatah communications were messages about Ashbal [Lion cub] members who would be called to Beirut from bases outside of Beirut. The Ashbal were often orphaned or abandoned boys who were brought into the organization, ostensibly to train for later entry into Fedayeen fighter units. Arafat always had several of these 13-15 year old boys in his entourage. We figured out that he would often recall several of these boys to Beirut just before he would leave for a trip outside Lebanon. It proved to be a good indicator of Arafat's travel plans. While Arafat did have a regular security detail, many of those thought to be security personnel - the teenage boys - were actually there for other purposes."http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/123347
SYRIA, RUSSIA: Syria has acquired advanced Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles, as well as chemical warheads for surface-to-surface missiles, Ynet reported, citing an unnamed Israeli military source.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: August 14, 2007, 09:53:27 AM
Why Europe Has Leverage With Iran
By ROGER STERN
August 14, 2007; Page A17
European resistance to American triumphalism has its uses. But with respect to Iran, Europe's behavior is downright dangerous. Our welcome guest, French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who just visited President Bush in Maine after vacationing in New Hampshire -- could change this.
Here's the problem: The U.S. stopped investing in Iran's energy industry in the 1990s thanks to sanctions imposed during Bill Clinton's presidency. Unfortunately, Europe stepped in to fill the void, with state-owned oil firms providing capital and energy technology. Today 80% of the Iranian government's revenue comes from oil exports and sales. Without Europe's support, the theocracy's fiscal lifeline would be a very thin thread.
That provides a little context to the lament common from the European Union that Iranian nuclear weapons are "inevitable," as if they were unrelated to energy investments from their member governments.
Europe has sacrificed regional stability for profit before. In 1983, as a global recession wracked France, then-President François Mitterrand pondered "the banker's dilemma" -- whether to extend credit to a troubled debtor in hope of rescuing prior loans. The debtor was Saddam Hussein, who had invaded Iran. Iraq had become France's best arms customer.
Mitterrand ultimately thought he had little choice. His treasury had become so dependent on Iraqi trade that, as a French businessman put it to Le Monde at the time, "Iraqi defeat would be a disaster for France." So France offered Saddam a spectacular new loan of five Super Entenard fighters (advanced warplanes).
But it wasn't enough and the Iran-Iraq war dragged on for nearly eight years, threatening to engulf other Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia. As a result, the U.S. also supplied Iraq with weapons. Yet despite U.S. support for Saddam and many billions in new credit from EU states, Iran would not be defeated. Tragically, 750,000 soldiers would die on the battlefield following France's 1983 arms deal.
Today, EU credit underwrites what could become a greater disaster. One might think that Europe, ostensibly committed to a peaceful resolution of the Iranian crisis, would seize any opportunity to force conciliation upon Tehran. As in 1983, however, Europe has put short-term profit before long-term security.
European nations disguise this choice from themselves by looking to the United Nations Security Council to impose investment sanctions on Iran. This is a ruse, because Europeans always defer to whatever watered-down measures Russia or China agree to, only to watch as Iran rejects even these.
The exercise allows Europeans to believe they are behaving responsibly. In reality, as talks lead nowhere, credit and technology flow to Iran from the state-owned or -controlled oil firms of France (Total), Norway (Statoil), Italy (ENI) and Spain (Repsol). Clearly, standalone European sanctions could do a lot.
Unfortunately, Europe's oil firms are not merely investors in the terror state. France's Total has reached even lower. Hostage to its recent investments, Total has developed a foreign policy all its own: outright pro-Iranian advocacy. "The Iran Daily" reported recently that a Total executive "called on foreign entrepreneurs to avoid black propaganda and incorrect conceptions about the country."
Total seems to be complaining about verbatim repetition in the Western media of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's own utterances. The executive went on to boast of Total's investment leadership in Iran. While this astonishing behavior preceded Mr. Sarkozy's election, the president has neither rebuked the firm nor stood against further investment in Iran.
The good news is that Iran's regime is vulnerable economically. Government spending has outstripped revenue increases from rising oil prices, while oil exports are stagnant or declining. Gasoline rationing, once politically unthinkable, was implemented nationwide last month. Emblematic of its isolation is Iran's refusal to pay off a tiny debt owed to Russia for the Bushehr nuclear reactor. Iran's fear is that Russia will abandon it once the debt is retired. All of this, of course, makes it questionable whether Iranian nuclear weapons are really "inevitable."
However lamentable and confrontational President Bush's rhetoric may be, the U.S. has at least tried to constrain Iran peacefully using sanctions. Similar European pressure is desperately needed now. It's the one thing short of U.N. sanctions that might force Tehran to be conciliatory.
But that's up to Mr. Sarkozy. He could take the lead by pushing a prohibition on new French energy investment in Iran until that country verifiably rejects and abandons nuclear weapons development. He could also demand that fellow-EU leaders do the same. Oh, and Mr. Sarkozy, please come again.
Mr. Stern is a research associate in the department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: FDA vs. last resort terminally ill patients
on: August 14, 2007, 09:50:48 AM
The FDA's Deadly Track Record
By RONALD L. TROWBRIDGE and STEVEN WALKER
August 14, 2007; Page A17
Last week, the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier decision by its own three-judge panel and ruled 8-2 against a dying patient's right to pursue life by taking investigational -- but as yet FDA-unapproved -- drugs.
The case was filed in 2003 by the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs and the Washington Legal Foundation. We argued that terminal patients with no options left but death have a constitutional right to such therapy in the care of a qualified physician.
The Alliance began pushing for access to investigational drugs for terminal patients after its founding in mid-2001 upon the death of Abigail Burroughs, who was denied an investigational drug (Erbitux) that an early trial showed might have helped her. She and her doctor were right, but she never got the drug.
Over the past five years, the Alliance has pushed for access to 12 exceptionally promising investigational cancer drugs which have subsequently been approved by the FDA and now represent standard care. At the time we began our advocacy, each of the drugs had cleared at least preliminary Phase 1 testing, and in some cases more-advanced Phase 2 or Phase 3 trials. In other words, they obviously worked for some patients.
Gleevec set a tragic standard for loss of life at the hands of FDA bureaucrats. Coming out of Phase I testing in 1998, it was known beyond any reasonable doubt to be safe and effective. The Alliance started requesting access to the drug for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) patients in June 2001. By the time FDA approved Gleevec in March 2003, approximately 3,600 patients had been denied access to the drug. Many died waiting. More than 80% of the small number of patients who got Gleevec in clinical trials before the drug was approved are alive today.
Eloxatin, for advanced colorectal cancer, was summarily rejected by the FDA in March 2000 despite its being approved in at least 29 other countries. In January 2002, we started to ask the FDA to allow patients access. The agency delayed approval until August. In between, about 40,000 Americans died without ever getting the drug.
Erbitux, for the treatment of colorectal and head and neck cancers, was rejected by FDA in December 2001 when the agency refused to review the sponsor's application. The Alliance had begun asking the FDA to allow patient access to the drug six months earlier. The FDA delayed approval until February 2004. Almost 179,000 people with colorectal and head and neck cancer died waiting.
The Alliance began working for access to Revlimid, for multiple myeloma and myelodysplastic syndrome, in June 2002. Patients had to wait until December 2005 for FDA approval. Nearly 74,000 patients with these terminal cancers died without ever getting Revlimid.
The Alliance asked that patients get access to Velcade in June 2002. Curiously, the FDA points to this drug as proof it can work fast, but they didn't approve it until May 2003. At the time, trial results suggested that only about 25% of multiple myeloma patients should get the drug (since shown to be too low), but even with that limitation, about 2,600 patients died without ever getting Velcade.
Beginning in June 2004, we started pushing the FDA to make Nexavar and Sutent, both highly promising drugs for kidney cancer, available. The agency eventually approved Nexavar in December 2005 and Sutent in January 2006. But that was only after evidence of efficacy so compelling emerged for Nexavar that the trial demanded by the FDA -- in which dying kidney cancer patients seeking the drug were being given no other choice (except certain death from their cancer) but to agree to a 50/50 chance of being blindly randomized to a sugar pill -- was stopped by Bayer for ethical reasons and the placebo patients allowed to get the drug. The sponsor seeking approval for Sutent was given a similar option by FDA if it wanted its drug approved. About 20,000 kidney cancer patients died waiting for both drugs.
The Alliance began its push for availability of Avastin for multiple cancers in June 2002. FDA finally approved this obviously effective cancer drug in February 2004. It is now approved for colorectal and lung cancers, and being successfully used off label for several more. Almost 360,000 patients with lung and colon cancer died without ever getting Avastin.
Tarceva is used for patients with lung cancer. We began pushing for its availability in June 2001, the FDA approved the drug in November 2004. In the interim, 531,000 people with lung cancer died. Tarceva also extends the effectiveness of an existing drug for pancreatic cancer, and about 102,000 patients died from that disease during the FDA's delay.
In June 2002 we started pushing for availability and approval of Bexxar for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. FDA, after rejecting and delaying this highly effective drug repeatedly over several years, finally approved it under intense pressure from oncologists in June 2003. About 26,000 died during the delay without ever getting the chance to try the drug. The FDA's regulatory hatchet job on Bexxar prior to its approval has caused the drug to be dramatically underused, extending the damage done by the agency's intransigence and incompetence.
In June 2002 we began our efforts to gain access to Alimta for lung cancer patients. FDA didn't approve it until February 2004. In the interim, approximately 249,000 lung cancer patients died without the chance of trying this drug to see if it would control their disease or extend their life.
The alliance started working for access to Tykerb for breast cancer in June 2004 but the FDA didn't approve the drug until March 2007. About 25% of breast cancers include the biomarker predictive of benefit from Tykerb; nearly 28,000 women who had this marker died from their cancer waiting for Tykerb. They would, according to the FDA, have each lived an average of eight months longer. Long enough, perhaps, to see a child graduate from college or get married, or to meet a new grandchild.
In sum, these 12 drugs -- had they been available to people denied entry to clinical trials -- might have helped more than one million mothers, fathers, sons and daughters live longer, better lives. We have actually underestimated the number of "life-years" lost at more than 520,000, because we have not included other safe and effective uses of these drugs that the FDA has yet to approve.
Recently, it was decided that Provenge (another drug we have been trying to get for years) will be kept away from prostate cancer sufferers for up to three more years. The reason for the delay? A small but aggressive club of FDA advisers hand-picked by the director of the agency's Office of Oncology Drug Products, Dr. Richard Pazdur, think the statistics are not yet perfect enough.
Recently, the FDA responded to our lawsuit by proposing "new" regulations governing access to investigational drugs. They propose to change nothing.
The American Cancer Society reports that some 550,000 cancer patients die annually, making the number of cancer deaths from 1997 to 2005 about 4.8 million. Over that same period, the FDA reports granting individual access to an investigational drug to not more than 650 people per year for all diseases and drugs -- a pathetic, even cruel, pittance. A few thousand more patients managed to gain access by enrolling in relatively small clinical trials or exceedingly rare expanded access programs.
The other 4.7 plus million cancer patients, not to mention millions more with other diseases, were abandoned to die, denied access to progress by their own FDA when they needed it most.
We will appeal the decision in Abigail Alliance v. Eschenbach to the Supreme Court, and agree with only one thing in the majority opinion. Congress should pass our pending legislation, called the Access Act, now. It should be added to the FDA reauthorization bill headed for a vote in September.
This is massive human tragedy, made even worse by the fact that it didn't and doesn't have to be this way. Looking at FDA automatons and the D.C. Circuit Court brings to mind T. S. Eliot's question, "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?"
Messrs. Trowbridge and Walker volunteer, respectively, as adjunct scholar and chief adviser to the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs. Mr. Walker also is co-founder of the Abigail Alliance.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / On the Road to Jalalabad
on: August 14, 2007, 09:40:19 AM
On the Road to Jalalabad
Don't believe the naysayers. Afghanistan is doing as well as anyone has a right to expect.
BY ANN MARLOWE
Monday, August 13, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
AFGHANISTAN--Sen. Hillary Clinton has cynically charged that we are "losing the fight to al Qaeda and bin Laden" in Afghanistan. But on my eighth trip to Afghanistan (last month) I saw that the trend lines are up, not down.
The first encouraging sign came in Dubai as I boarded my flight for Kabul. Afghanistan's main private air carrier, Kam Air, has recently added a second daily round trip between Kabul and Dubai.
Once in Kabul I bought a new SIM card for my mobile phone and found that what would have cost me $40 a few years ago and $9 in September last year now cost only $3. Not surprisingly, mobile phones have spread to a broad section of Afghanistan's 24 million people, with the two major providers, AWCC and Roshan, claiming a total of three million subscribers, up from two million in September last year. Amin Ramin, managing director of AWCC, estimates that his company alone will count two million subscribers by the end of 2007 and three million by the end of 2008.
I spotted similarly hopeful trends in three heavily Pashtun provinces--Nangarhar, Laghman and Khost--in eastern Afghanistan.
But first, it's important to note that to talk about "reconstruction" is the biggest lie in Afghanistan. Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was long one of the poorest countries in the world and has never had a lot of infrastructure. There are ruins in the country, of course, but 95% of them are in or near Kabul itself. Most of Afghanistan lives much as it always has, subsisting on small-scale farming and trading.
We can do nothing about many of Afghanistan's barriers to development. For starters, 86% of its land area is non-arable. It has also never had a broad distribution of income or land. According to Afghan-Australian historian Amin Saikal, up until the early 1920s when King Amanullah gave crown lands to the poor, only 20% of peasants worked their own properties.
This is why many foreign development experts working in Kabul say privately that if in a couple of decades Afghanistan reaches the level of Bangladesh--which in 2006 had a per capita GDP of about $419 per year, one of the lowest in the world--then they will judge their time in the country a success.
But I am more optimistic. Jalalabad, the largest city of eastern Afghanistan, with 400,000 people, is now just a three-hour drive to Kabul on a good road recently built by the European Union. Another hour's drive brings you to Mehtar Lam, capital of Afghanistan's Laghman province, on another good road funded by USAID.
The U.S. is now planning to start a second provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Nangarhar Province, and it will be staffed by military reservists who are farmers and ranchers in civilian life. This second PRT will work with local farmers in Nangahar's lush river valley, while also building infrastructure to get crops to market--cold storage facilities and local roads. Air Force Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips, the commander of the existing PRT, says that blacktop roads will link all district centers in the province to the main road to Kabul by the end of this year.
"Every day we open 15 to 20 new accounts," says Maseh Arifi, the 24-year-old manager of the Jalalabad branch of Azizi Bank, one of Afghanistan's two homegrown consumer banks. The branch opened at the end of last August and has 18,000 accounts. Next door, rival Kabul Bank has opened 9,400 accounts totaling $7 million in two years. The 27,000 bank accounts represent about 15% of 660,000 adults of Jalalabad--and doesn't count some of the most prosperous locals, who commute to Peshawar to do their banking. In Nangarhar, AWCC and Roshan together have about 206,000 mobile phone customers, 31% of the adults.
Further south is Khost, a province that received little help from the central government in recent decades. Now construction cranes hover over Khost City, with modern five- and six-story office buildings and shopping centers rising amid grimy two-story concrete bazaars. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently finished building a new university in the city. And this month the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, an investment-facilitating agency, is inviting 300 overseas Khostis to come discuss building an industrial park.
Both Kabul Bank and Azizi Bank opened their Khost branches in the summer of 2006, and each have about 3,000 accounts. Both branch managers expect their numbers to double this year. The numbers are low because some local residents view even non-interest bearing accounts as un-Islamic. (Competing fatwas have been issued by various mullahs on the topic.) About 65,000 people have mobile phones in the province.
Many of its men emigrated to the UAE and Saudi Arabia and did well for themselves as merchants. As many as 200,000 overseas Khostis (about a million people live in the province) send $6 million to $12 million annually to their families at home. USAID spent just $10 million in the province from 2002-2006.
Culturally, Khost has always been an outward-looking place. It's not an opium-producing province. In the 1970s and '80s it was a stronghold of the Khalq Communist party, as the party provided a vehicle for the Ghilzai Pashtun to challenge leaders from other tribes. The 99% Pashtun population is also about 70% literate, according to Babaker Khil, a member of parliament from Khost.
Khost should really take off when it's linked to Kabul by a blacktop road. Construction of a $70 million, 103-kilometer long Khost-Gardez road is slated to begin next spring (it will be built by USAID) and is supposed to be finished in September 2009. The U.S. Army, which moves at a much faster pace than USAID, expects to link 90% of the population of Khost to the main provincial road by the end of this year.
There have been no conventional attacks on Coalition or Afghan security forces in 2007 so far, but the long border with Pakistan makes suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IED) an ongoing threat.
The insurgents are seeking "soft targets" such as civilians. There have been at least 67 IED explosions this year, killing more than two-dozen Afghans and wounding one American. But, encouragingly, 51 IEDs were found and reported by locals before detonating in Khost. Twelve other devices were turned in by locals looking for reward money.
"We've got the wholehearted support of 85%-90% of the population here," Major Timothy Kohn of the 82nd Airborne told me. "The mullahs have put out fatwas against suicide bombers, saying that the victims of these bombings are the martyrs, not the extremists. Thousands of people attended peace rallies in the city."
The most economically backward of the eastern provinces I visited is Laghman. Its 400,000 people eke out a living by working rice paddies and wheat fields along the Alingar and Alishang Rivers. Even the provincial capital, Mehtar Lam, is so small you could miss it driving by. It has only a couple of two-story buildings in the bazaar. Still, an astonishing 77% of Laghman's 176,000 adults have mobile phones--also implying that a good percentage of the women have phones, too.
Nangarhar and Laghman are also known for relatively high levels of education, and in the eastern region overall, UNICEF reports that this year 737,975 children were enrolled in school, up 17,000 from 2006 and six times the figure for 2003.
Laghman is never going to be rich, but Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Ricci, the Mehtar Lam PRT commander, points out that the district of Qarghayi had Afghanistan's highest per-hectare wheat production last year. The new Nangarhar PRT will help the local farmers here, too, while Mr. Ricci's team fixes the roads so that farmers in remote areas can bring their crop to the provincial capital, and from there to Kabul. The PRT is planning to blacktop the dirt road from Mehtar Lam to the most remote district capital, Daulat Shah, 47 kilometers away, at a cost of around $16 million.
Security in Laghman is better than in the frontier provinces, but there is a well-established route for al Qaeda, Taliban and other fighters to cross from Pakistan and make their way north through Laghman. A suicide bombing in April seems to have been a turning point in Laghman. The bomber killed a mullah and several schoolgirls, and according to Mr. Ricci, local residents were so angry that they left the bomber's body parts on the road, refusing him burial. Since then, just nine IEDs have been detonated in Laghman, while 25 were turned in by locals.
Of course, one suicide bombing or IED is one too many, but every society is violent in its own way. The 58 killed by IEDs and suicide bombers in Khost could be compared with the 2006 murders in some American cities with around Khost's one-million population: There were 29 murders in San Jose, 108 in Indianapolis, and 373 in Detroit.
Afghanistan is still a poor rural country with a mainly illiterate population, but it's improving rapidly, and with the exception of Helmand Province and a few bad districts in Uruzgun, Kandahar and Loghar, it's much like any number of developing countries in terms of security. We can't give every country everything they'd like, and it will take decades for the rule of law to be as firmly established here as it is in the West. But we can and are helping the Afghans pull themselves up to the next rung on the development ladder.
Ms. Marlowe is author of "The Book of Trouble" (Harcourt, 2006), a memoir.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: 300
on: August 12, 2007, 06:55:39 AM
Hallelujah! My wonderful wife bought me a copy of 300 and I finally got to sit down and watch it. The children were out, the wife was out, and the TV was cranked up
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Philippines
on: August 11, 2007, 01:10:37 AM
Philippines: 57 Killed In Troop/Rebel Clash
August 10, 2007 20 05 GMT
Twenty-six soldiers and 31 rebels were killed Aug. 10 in a clash on Jolo Island in the southern Philippines, military officials said. Fighting broke out when militants from Abu Sayyaf and the Moro National Liberation Front ambushed troops, the officials said. Troops have been deployed to the area since the early July killings of 14 soldiers on Basilan Island.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues
on: August 11, 2007, 01:09:51 AM
Bush orders new crackdown on U.S. border
By: Mike Allen
Aug 9, 2007 08:53 PM EST
The Bush administration announced plans Friday to enlist state and local law enforcement in cracking down on illegal immigrants, which previously was largely a federal function.
The administration unveiled a series of tough border control and employer enforcement measures designed to make up for security provisions that failed when Congress rejected a broad rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws in June.
The plans were announced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez.
The package revealed Friday has 26 elements, and the administration announcement said they "represent steps the Administration can take within the boundaries of existing law to secure our borders more effectively, improve interior and worksite enforcement, streamline existing guest worker programs, improve the current immigration system, and help new immigrants assimilate into American culture.
After the announcement, President Bush released a statement in Kennebunkport, Maine, saying that despite the failure of Congress to pass a new law, his administration "will continue to take every possible step to build upon the progress already made in strengthening our borders, enforcing our worksite laws, keeping our economy well-supplied with vital workers, and helping new Americans learn English."
As part of the new measures, the secretary of Homeland Security will deliver regular “State of the Border” reports beginning this fall.
In one of the most interesting revelations, the plans call for the administration to “train growing numbers of state and local law enforcement officers to identify and detain immigration offenders whom they encounter in the course of daily law enforcement.”
“By this fall, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have quintupled the number of enforcement teams devoted to removing fugitive aliens (from 15 to 75 in less than three years),” a summary of the plan states.
The announcement is aimed at restoring Bush’s credibility with conservatives who were dismayed that he pushed so hard for broad immigration reform, including a guest worker program for people now here illegally, before the border was more secure.
“The biggest message that emerged from this failed immigration bill is that if immigration reform is to happen in the future, they must first restore the American people's confidence that the federal government is serious about securing our borders and enforcing our immigration laws,” said a Senate Republican leadership official. “Frankly, this should have been addressed several years ago.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney jumped on the announcement with a supportive statement ahead of Saturday's straw poll in Iowa, calling the new package "a weclome development" and declaring that the nation "must get serious if we are to secure our nation's borders."
As part of the package, Bush is planning to increase muscle at the Mexican border, as conservatives have long pleaded.
“The administration will add more border personnel and infrastructure, going beyond previously announced targets,” according to the summary. “The Departments of State and Homeland Security will expand the list of international gangs whose members are automatically denied admission to the U.S.”
Employers will face tough new scrutiny and requirements. “There are now 29 categories of documents that employers must accept to establish identity and work eligibility among their workers,” the summary says. “The Department of Homeland Security will reduce that number and weed out the most insecure.”
“The Department of Homeland Security will raise the civil fines imposed on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants by approximately 25 percent,” the summary continues. “The administration will continue its aggressive expansion of criminal investigations against employers who knowingly hire large numbers of illegal aliens.”
The administration is promising to reduce processing times for immigration background checks by adding agents and converting paper documentation to electronic forms.
And the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration say they will study and report on the technical and recordkeeping changes necessary to deny credit in our Social Security system for illegal work.
Under the tougher menu, the administration vows to fund additional beds for people caught breaching the border, ensuring that illegal entrants are returned to Mexico rather than being let go because there’s no space for them, as often occurred in the past.
“The administration will implement an exit requirement at airports and seaports by the end of 2008, and will launch a pilot land-border exit system for guest workers,” the summary says. “By the end of 2008, the administration will require most arrivals at our ports-of-entry to use passports or similarly secure documents.”
Other elements of the package:
—The Department of Labor will reform the H-2A agriculture worker program so farmers can readily hire legal temporary workers, while protecting their rights.
—The Department of Labor will issue regulations streamlining the H-2B program for non-agricultural seasonal workers.
—The Department of Homeland Security will extend, from one year to three, the length of the NAFTA-created TN visa for professional workers from Canada and Mexico, removing the administrative hassle of annual renewals for these talented workers.
—The Office of Citizenship will unveil in September a revised naturalization test that emphasizes fundamentals of American democracy, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.
—The Office of Citizenship will introduce a Web-based electronic training program and convene eight regional training conferences for volunteers and adult educators who lead immigrants through the naturalization process.
—The Department of Education will develop a free, Web-based model to help immigrants learn English. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0807/5323.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: August 10, 2007, 11:00:58 PM
August 10, 2007 21 18 GMT
Talk of Russia making a grand return to the Mediterranean by developing a naval base off the Syrian coast has given Syria a unique opportunity to play off a resurrection of Cold War tensions between Washington and Moscow. Though a Russian naval presence on Syrian soil would give Damascus a stronger deterrence against external aggression, the Syrian regime is not willing to sell its national security to the Russians just yet. For now, Syria's focus will remain on using the Iraq negotiations to break out of its diplomatic isolation.
Speculation is arising over the seriousness of Russia's plan to resurrect its naval presence on the Mediterranean. So far, Syria has gone out of its way to deny that any such plan exists, insisting that all talk of Russia using Syrian port facilities in Tartus and Latakia is a figment of Israel's propaganda machine.
But beyond the statements, Syria is facing a very interesting political decision. Russia sees a window of opportunity in which the United States' attention is absorbed in Iraq and in its intensely delicate negotiations with Iran. Though the thought of Russia sending warships to the Mediterranean could have provoked a strong U.S. response a decade ago, it is no secret that the U.S. military's bandwidth is greatly constrained and there is room for other major powers -- like Russia -- to start playing in the Middle Eastern sandbox again.
A Russian naval presence off the Syrian coast could allow Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime to better inoculate itself against a potential attack by the United States or Israel. Damascus is nervously watching for any movement in the U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq. Like the Russians, the Syrians enjoy the fact that U.S. military forces have their hands too full to seriously think about engaging them in a round of forceful behavior modification. With or without a solid political resolution in Baghdad, the U.S. military position in Iraq is not going to last forever, and Syria will not be able to stay under the radar as easily as it has over the past six years. Without a strong defensive missile shield of its own, the Syrians could look to their Russian guests at Tartus and Latakia to get the Israelis, Americans or even the Turks to think twice about threatening Syria militarily.
At most, a Russian naval presence off the Syrian coast would complicate plans to strike Syria. The Russians have pledged to set up sophisticated air defenses around the Latakia and Tartus naval bases that will also provide an air umbrella for the entire Syrian coast and parts of the hinterland. Syria has formally depended on Russia for military supplies and training since the Cold War. While the supplies are nice, Damascus still does not view Russia as a reliable military ally should things come to a head. Al Assad likely remembers well his father's distrust of Kremlin support during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which both the United States and the Soviet Union worked to ensure the war ended in a stalemate. Syria has also watched how the Russians have strung along the Iranians over the construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor (now running a decade behind schedule), and has not enjoyed having to grovel for arms sales, particularly during Russian President Vladimir Putin's reign.
Though trust is very much an issue, a Russian naval fleet would still serve a clear purpose in Syria's view. The United States would unlikely be prepared to risk engaging in a military confrontation with Russia (which could very well lead to a crisis with Washington's European allies) on any level for the sake of targeting the Syrian regime. Furthermore, Israel would be troubled by -- among other things -- the potential concurrent deployment of land-based air defense assets, like late-model S300 batteries, to a Russian facility. These are highly capable air defense assets that Syria has been trying to acquire for a decade. Though Damascus could not rely on them to actually defend Syrian interests, their mere presence would change the threat environment for Israel and make things like low-level flights over al Assad's summer home in Latakia a bit riskier. In short, the Russians would be offering an attractive insurance policy for the Syrians.
But Syria is also looking at another window of opportunity in Iraq, where it sees the United States desperate for a political resolution. Syria is in the process of demonstrating in any way possible that it can play a key role in suppressing the Iraq insurgency and getting Iraq's former Baathists on board with a political deal. The Iraq negotiations would then serve as an avenue for Syria to extract political concessions in Lebanon and break out of its diplomatic isolation by normalizing relations with the United States, moving al Assad a huge step ahead in his quest for national security. The Syrian regime is also well aware that Israel and the United States privately prefer keeping the al Assad regime intact for lack of a better, non-Islamist alternative. As long as al Assad faces no immediate threat of regime change, he has ample room to negotiate his way to Washington's good side while the Iraq talks are in play.
Moreover, the Syrians cannot expect the Russians to show up on their doorstep anytime soon. While Russia could park a handful of surface combatants from the Black Sea Fleet in Tartus or Latakia tomorrow, the construction of more meaningful naval facilities takes time and considerable investment. There is no clear indication that Russia has a genuine interest in making such an investment now, though Moscow has much to gain by talking about it and playing up the threat of Russia's expansionist desires.
The Syrians likely will keep the Russian naval option on the table, but for now al Assad's focus is on exploiting the Iraq talks to gain U.S. recognition. So far, this plan is progressing, with Syria just having wrapped up a two-day international security conference -- attended by the United States -- aimed at stabilizing Iraq. The United States is also looking into different ways to work with the Syrians while appearing to keep its guard up, including channeling messages through the Canadians to the Syrian regime.
Damascus will publicly downplay any talk of the Russian naval fleet to avoid rocking the boat with Washington while the Iraq negotiations are in progress. But should Syria feel the United States is not willing to play ball over Iraq, the Russian naval base option gives Damascus a most useful bargaining chip to play both sides of the U.S.-Russian divide
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: August 10, 2007, 09:01:46 AM
Second post of the morning:
Geopolitical Diary: Russian 'Smiles'
The commander of Russia's strategic bomber force, Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov, announced with a bit of flair Thursday that two of his Tu-95 bombers had ventured down to the U.S. military base at Guam during the Valiant Shield 2007 exercises involving nearly 100 U.S. aircraft in the Western Pacific, and had "exchanged smiles" with U.S. fighter pilots before turning back toward home. The incident actually happened Wednesday; the U.S. military only rarely comments on Russian forces buzzing U.S. assets, in order to minimize Russian public relations buzz. True to form, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a two-sentence statement downplaying the entire incident.
Wednesday's flight came amid an annual training exercise for the Russian 37th Air Army, and in the wake of several similar incidents this summer north of Fife, Scotland. Post-Cold War Russian military posturing and testing of foreign airspace is nothing new. But the flight to Guam is noteworthy nonetheless.
The incident is only the most recent in a long line of aggressive Russian actions. In the summer to date, similar intrusions have occurred off Alaska, Norway, the United Kingdom, Iceland and Japan. Russian "youth movements" have sparked riots in Estonia, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces has threatened to put nuclear weapons back in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, the navy has mused about a permanent base in Syria, and Russian jets stand accused of firing a missile on Georgia. Taken together, all of this is simply normal Russian behavior.
For 1985, that is.
Since 1989, Russian military assets have on occasion challenged a maritime border or buzzed an aircraft carrier, but such developments have not been weekly events since the Cold War. This sort of activity is a new -- or perhaps we should say, "old" -- chapter in Russian strategic thinking.
The story of Russia in the 17 years since the Cold War ended has been one of precipitous decline economically, politically, militarily and demographically. However, during President Vladimir Putin's two terms, Russia has arrested -- and haltingly reversed -- the first three declines. This does not mean the Russians have truly turned the corner -- the economy is more addicted to commodity exports than ever before, the Kremlin is closer to political ossification than the "efficiency" of a true autocracy, and new or well-maintained military equipment is certainly not the norm -- but a floor has definitely been inserted under the country, halting the fall.
Military reform has been under way for some time. That the Russian army has professionalized itself down below 200,000 conscripts is, in and of itself, an amazing achievement. But while deliberate, the task remains daunting, and the pace slow. Yet even if Russia had stopped its military research and development programs -- which it did not -- even late-Soviet military technology would leave Russia in a unique military position. And as the recent military adventurism vividly demonstrates, there is a pattern in Russian actions: the incidents are not isolated, and there is no direction in which the Russians are not pushing out. This is a strategy that has an excitingly (and disturbingly) familiar feel to it.
The American Cold War strategy of "containment" was not something dreamed up on some idle Tuesday. The geography of the former Soviet Union is hostile not just to economic and political development, but also to military expansion. Vast interior distances make the transport of armies as difficult as that of goods, while natural maritime choke points like the Japanese Islands, the Turkish straits and "The Sound" between Sweden and Denmark naturally limit Moscow's naval reach -- and have for centuries. The bottom line for the United States was that by aligning with all of Russia's neighbors, it could force the Soviet Union to focus on building tanks to defend is mass -- because Moscow never knew from which direction an attack (or multiple attacks) would come.
Yet just as Eurasia's geography dictated the containment strategy, that same geography predetermined the Russian counterstrategy. Russia's one advantage in fact mirrors its greatest disadvantage: its huge expanse is difficult to defend -- the source of the paranoia that most associate with all things Russian -- but it also grants whoever rules Russia a wealth of options in terms of where to strike out. Russia's counterstrategy was simple: push out everywhere until a weak spot appears in the containment cordon.
Though the Cold War ended, containment never really did, and it has been nearly a generation since the Russians tested their cage. Russia -- and the world -- has changed in fundamental ways. But ultimately the biggest difference between now and 1991 is not so much Russia's relative weakness or America's relative preoccupation with Iraq, but Washington's list of allies. It is longer -- and less militarily capable -- than ever.
And therein lies the rub. The real key to containment was not the belt of Russian border states, but the American commitment to guarantee their security. What ultimately made containment work was the belief that the United States would be willing to meet Russia on the field of battle wherever and whenever Moscow pushed. Washington utterly lacked the freedom to decline any fight for fear that the entire alliance structure of containment would unravel. The most famous examples of these tests of American resolve are the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Weak spots aplenty can be found on the Russian periphery these days. Georgia is a failed state even on the brightest of days; the Baltic states are no less defensible against the Red Army now than they were when they broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991; the entire Russian-Kazakh border is more of a joke than the U.S.-Canadian border in terms of security; Washington's once-solid relations with Russian borderlands such as Turkey and Korea are not what they once were; and Germany, France and the United Kingdom are, if anything, even less interested in going to bat for Lithuania than Washington is.
Ultimately, the disparity between Androsov's announcement and the Pentagon's bureaucratic reply is symptomatic of the way each nation sees its old Cold War adversary. Pentagon planners do not talk about Russia like they used to. They do -- and not without some cause -- crack jokes, something that is actually rather easy to do when one considers that the propeller-driven Tu-95s, designed in the early 1950s, were "intruding" on the newest fighter jets in the world, zipping supersonically around Guam.
But the simple truth of the matter is that Russia is one of only two countries in the world that can casually move strategic offensive weapons like the air-launched AS-15 cruise missiles across the face of the planet. The Tu-95 is certainly not a top-shelf plane these days -- but when it's carrying a highly accurate cruise missile with an 1,800-mile range and a nuclear warhead, it doesn't have to be.
The credibility of containment comes down to perception as much as the hard and fast details of competing military hardware. And managing perception -- as the "exchanged smiles" over Guam indicate -- remains a Russian skill second to none.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The New Right to Life
on: August 10, 2007, 08:23:26 AM
The New Right to Life
By ROGER PILON
August 10, 2007; Page A11
The wheels of justice turn slowly, especially for the dying. On Tuesday the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed a 15-month-old decision by a panel of the court that had recognized a constitutional right of terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving drugs not yet finally approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Given the poor quality of Tuesday's opinion in Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs v. Eschenbach -- "startling," said the dissent -- one wonders why it took so long. The opinion's one virtue is that it brings out clearly how far modern "constitutional law" has strayed from the Constitution, a document written to protect liberty, not federal regulatory schemes.
Represented by the Washington Legal Foundation, Abigail Alliance is named for Abigail Burroughs, a 21-year-old college student who died of cancer in 2001. Their argument could not be more simple or straightforward, nor could Tuesday's dissent, written by Judge Judith Rogers and joined by Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg, the majority in the earlier opinion. Citing the Fifth Amendment's right to life, the Ninth Amendment's assurance to the Constitution's ratifiers that the rights retained by the people far exceed those named in the document, and the Supreme Court's "fundamental rights" jurisprudence, Judge Rogers argued that the right to life, the right to self-preservation, and the right against interference with those rights -- which the FDA is guilty of -- are of one piece. They are deeply rooted in common law and the nation's history and traditions, implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, and thus "fundamental."
Indeed, it is startling, she noted, that the rights "to marry, to fornicate, to have children, to control the education and upbringing of children, to perform varied sexual acts in private, and to control one's own body have all been deemed fundamental, but the right to try to save one's life is left out in the cold despite its textual anchor in the right to life." Because the rights at issue here are "fundamental," she concluded, the court must apply, in judicial parlance, "strict scrutiny." The burden is on the FDA to show why its interference is justified -- to show that its regulatory interests are compelling and its means narrowly tailored to serve those interests.
There, precisely, is where Tuesday's majority demurred. In a long footnote, Judge Thomas Griffith, who had dissented in the earlier opinion but wrote now for the majority, recast the right at issue as "the right to access experimental and unproven drugs in an attempt to save one's life." Through such "tragic wordplay," as the dissent put it, the right ceases to be "fundamental," under Supreme Court precedents, because it is "not deeply rooted in the Nation's history and traditions."
So described, the right is not "deeply rooted," of course, because the very idea of "experimental and unproven drugs" implies a regulatory regime like the FDA, and that is a recent development. Yet as the dissent detailed, for most of our history individuals were free to take whatever drugs they wanted without a doctor's prescription. It was only in 1951 that Congress created a category of prescription drugs. Then in 1962 it began requiring drug companies to conduct extensive tests to ensure drug "efficacy," which led to long delays for drug approval and to the deaths of countless patients who would gladly have borne the unknown risks for a chance at life.
As a legal matter, what Judge Griffith achieved with his linguistic legerdemain was a shift in the burden of proof: No longer would the government need to justify its restrictions; the dying would have to try to overcome those restrictions. But that would be impossible because now the court would no longer strictly scrutinize the government's rationale. Rather, it would apply a "rational basis" test under which the government would win as long as it had any reason for restricting access. Deference so complete, the dissent noted, amounts to nothing less than "judicial abdication."
Plainly, the issues here go well beyond this case, which is doubtless why the court decided to rehear it en banc. And they go beyond liberal and conservative as well, as the mixed seven who joined Judge Griffith's opinion should indicate. What we have here, arguably, is a revolt of sorts by Judge Rogers and Chief Judge Ginsburg against what passes today for "constitutional law." Reducing that revolt to a simple question: Under a Constitution that expressly protects the right to life, how did we get to where government can effectively restrict the right, and the courts will do nothing?
The answer for liberal jurists is simple. Since the Progressive Era they've worked assiduously to create the modern redistributive and regulatory state, constitutional impediments notwithstanding. Following Franklin Roosevelt's infamous 1937 threat to pack the Supreme Court with six new members, the Court facilitated that agenda by distinguishing "fundamental" and "nonfundamental" rights, protected by "strict scrutiny" and "rational basis scrutiny" respectively. That invention opened the floodgates to ever-expanding legislative schemes. But liberals didn't always win in the legislatures, so they turned increasingly to the courts, urging judges to find "fundamental" rights by consulting "evolving social values."
That led to a conservative backlash and a call for "judicial restraint," especially after the Court found a fundamental "right" to abortion in 1973. Both sides, therefore, have reasons to urge judicial restraint and deference to the administrative state. Modern liberals don't want judges interfering with the legislative creation of the welfare state's social and economic rights. Conservatives hope to frustrate those legislative efforts while forestalling the judicial creation of such rights. Thus, they urge judges to protect only those rights found expressly in the Constitution -- and will describe rights, as here, to avoid even the hint of judicial activism.
In a word, then, liberal jurists could rule against Abigail Alliance to ensure the dominance of the regulatory regime. Conservative jurists, viewing that regime as "settled law," could do likewise to avoid even the appearance of judicial activism. The approach of liberals is understandable: Long ago they abandoned the written for the "living" Constitution, which enables ad hoc adjudication, the rule of law notwithstanding. The approach of conservative "originalists," however, is less easily explained, since they purport to take the Constitution seriously.
Yet in Robert Bork's "The Tempting of America," where conservatives often turn, we find an answer. Describing what he calls the "Madisonian dilemma," Judge Bork writes that America's "first principle is self-government, which means that in wide areas of life majorities are entitled to rule, if they wish, simply because they are majorities. The second principle is that there are nonetheless some things majorities must not do to minorities, some areas of life in which the individual must be free of majority rule." (emphasis added)
That turns Madison on his head. James Madison stood for limited government, not wide-ranging democracy. His first principle was that in wide areas individuals are entitled to be free simply because they are born free. His second principle was that in some areas majorities are entitled to rule because we have authorized them to. That gets the order right: individual liberty first, self-government second, as a means for securing liberty.
Yet we repeatedly see conservative jurists, as here, ignoring the true Madison -- deferring to the legislature when their duty, as Madison put it, is to stand as "an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive." A perfect example is Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in a 2000 case, Troxel v. Granville, which found that Washington State's grandparent visitation act violated the right of fit parents to control access to their children. Dissenting, Justice Scalia argued that although the parental right is among the unalienable rights proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and the unenumerated rights retained pursuant to the Ninth Amendment, that amendment does not authorize "judges to identify what [those rights] might be, and to enforce the judges' list against laws duly enacted by the people." Thus, just as the Abigail Alliance majority did, he would defer to the legislature to tell us what those rights are -- the very legislature that had extinguished the parental right that he had just located in the Ninth Amendment.
The problem with that view, of course, is that it renders the Ninth Amendment a nullity -- hardly what an originalist wants. Moreover, while recognizing retained unenumerated rights as "constitutional," it reduces them to a second class status since they are unenforceable. And that means they are not rights at all since rights are invoked, in the political context, only defensively, against threats from the majority. Yet on this view they can be extinguished by a mere majority.
There is, of course, no bright line between enumerated and unenumerated rights. In interpreting the Constitution, inferences are essential. As Judge Rogers put it, "were it impermissible to draw any inferences from a broader right to a narrower right, nearly all of the Supreme Court's substantive due process case law would be out of bounds." The only question, therefore, is whether the inferences are drawn correctly, and from sound underlying principles. To do that well, however, judges must have a sure grasp of those principles. That is the main problem today, as Tuesday's decision illustrates. The Framers would be appalled to see federal bureaucrats standing between dying patients and the medicines that might save them -- sanctioned by a Constitution turned upside-down. Fortunately, this case will be appealed and the Supreme Court may yet examine it afresh.
Mr. Pilon is vice president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute and director of Cato's Center for Constitutional Studies.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: August 10, 2007, 12:09:36 AM
The stock market is looking pretty scary
but a good day for my LNOP
Anyway the market would surely like the following:
By DONALD L. LUSKIN
August 10, 2007; Page A10
Here's some advice to the Democrats on how to raise the revenues they'll need to pay for all the spending they have in mind. Don't hike the capital gains tax rate. Don't lower it, either. Eliminate the capital gains tax entirely.
How can tax revenues be increased by eliminating a tax? It's simple, when the tax in question is on capital gains. Capital itself exerts a multiplier effect that benefits the entire economy. Investment in new plant, equipment, business processes and whole companies creates new and higher paying jobs, and higher levels of economic activity, all of which generate additional tax revenues far in excess of what government would lose by foregoing cap-gains taxes.
This idea has broad theoretical support. Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers has written, "the elimination of capital income taxation would have very substantial economic effects" which "might raise steady-state output by as much as 18%." Economist Jack L. Treynor has shown that "the level of taxation on capital that is 'fairest' -- i.e., most beneficial -- to labor is zero." And Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert E. Lucas, Jr., has concluded, "neither capital gains nor any of the income from capital should be taxed at all." These economists think in terms of very complex models. But the real-world intuition here is quite straightforward.
The cap-gains tax is a barrier to the investment of capital. Without it, capital will flow to investments that otherwise wouldn't have been made. The cost of eliminating the barrier is foregone revenues from that particular tax. But those revenues are small, usually deferred and non-recurring. In their place, government receives large and recurring revenues from corporate taxes, sales taxes, wage taxes and dividend taxes -- all generated by new economic activity.
The cap-gains tax is a poor revenue raiser, because any given capital gain is a one-time event that can only be taxed once, and in many cases, ends up not being taxed at all. Consider Microsoft. Since the company went public 20 years ago, its market value has increased by about $275 billion. A generous estimate of the cap-gains tax revenues we could expect from this increase is about $40 billion.
Actual collections will surely be less. Many shares will never be sold -- held by founders who wish to retain control, or by people who wish to avoid paying taxes. Many shares will be gifted to charitable foundations, as Bill Gates has done for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, out of the tax collector's reach. Even for those shares that will eventually be sold, from today's perspective the resulting tax revenues have to be discounted, as they won't be collected for years.
At the same time, Microsoft has been a fountain of other tax revenues. Since the company went public, I estimate that, in cumulative present-value terms, corporate taxes already paid total roughly $60 billion; sales taxes paid by Microsoft's customers total roughly $11 billion; income taxes paid by Microsoft's employees total roughly $12 billion, and dividend taxes paid by Microsoft's shareholders total about $3 billion. These four sources of tax revenues over the last 20 years total $86 billion -- more than twice our generous estimate of the notional cap-gains tax revenues ($40 billion) for the same period.
Moreover, unless Microsoft's stock price increases -- which it's had a hard time doing the last couple years -- the estimated $40 billion in cap-gains tax revenues will never grow to a larger number. But corporate taxes, sales taxes, income taxes and dividend taxes will continue to be generated year after year. Even if assuming Microsoft's business stops growing (it has been reliably growing at better than 10% per year), the present value of the tax revenues from these other sources is roughly $182 billion. Added to the revenues already collected, the total is $268 billion.
There is also all the new taxable economic activity enabled by Microsoft's products. It's impossible to estimate a dollar value for it, but we can be sure it is a multiple of the value created within Microsoft. In this context, there is nothing unique about Microsoft. Anytime capital is invested, the small, deferred and non-recurring revenues that can be expected from the cap-gains tax are a tiny fraction of the perpetual revenues from other economic activities, generated directly and indirectly.
While eliminating the cap-gains tax may well induce companies like Microsoft to generate additional taxable activity, there's a more important opportunity here. Eliminating the cap-gains tax will cause the economy to generate more innovators like Microsoft.
For each new Microsoft, the cost to government would mean $40 billion in foregone revenues. But for those new Microsofts that wouldn't have existed otherwise, the payoff would mean raking in $268 billion.
That's a smart trade-off. If the Democrats were really interested in raising revenues -- and not just making life harder for a handful of wealthy private equity players -- it's a trade-off they should eagerly make.
Mr. Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: August 10, 2007, 12:06:08 AM
Young Russia's Enemy No. 1
Vladimir Putin's belligerent rhetoric and actions toward the United States and its allies have begun prompting pundits to debate whether a new Cold War is afoot. But how has the Russian president's message played to his home audience? A survey we commissioned by the Levada Analytic Center of 1,802 Russians ages 16 to 29 offers some insight. We focused on this "Putin generation" because it is Russia's political and economic future. In the days after the Soviet collapse, it seemed reasonable to hope, even expect, that this generation, as the collective beneficiaries of a putative post-Soviet transition to economic prosperity and political freedom, would embrace the United States as a friend of Russia. Yet our survey, conducted in April and May, found that a majority of young Russians view the United States as enemy No. 1. And while Putin's rhetoric is driving this development, human rights violations associated with U.S. counterterrorism policies have played a role.
Putin has become increasingly vocal in his accusations that the United States seeks to impose its ideas and interests on the rest of the world, going so far as to liken American policies to those of the Third Reich. He frequently cites the "dangers" of foreign influence, suggesting that Russia is encircled by enemies and that foreign governments finance Russian organizations to meddle in Russia's affairs. Putin virulently rejects any foreign criticism of episodes from Russia's Soviet past or of such current policies as media restrictions, brutality in the North Caucasus and the persecution of Kremlin opponents. This campaign seems motivated by domestic political considerations; the creation of foreign "enemies" is a tactic long used to distract people from the shortcomings of their own government, rally support for authoritarian measures, or both.
But these themes resonate with young Russians. Nearly 80 percent agreed that "the United States tries to impose its norms and way of life on the rest of the world," we found. Nearly 70 percent disagreed that the United States "does more good than harm." Three-quarters agreed that the "United States gives aid in order to influence the internal politics of countries."
When asked which of five words best described the United States in relation to Russia, 64 percent chose either "enemy" or "rival." We asked the same question in regard to six other countries. Georgia, another target of Putin's, ranked second in terms of the percentage who chose these words -- but that was only at 44 percent. The other countries were less likely to be viewed as enemies or rivals, even though some represent an arguably equal or greater threat: China (27 percent), Iran (21 percent), Ukraine (21 percent), Germany (13 percent) and Belarus (12 percent). Substantially more than the 18 percent who described America as a "partner" or "ally" used these positive terms to characterize the other countries. Putin's rhetoric is an influence on these and two other findings: 54 percent agreed that Stalin "did more good than bad" and 63 percent agreed that the Soviet collapse was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century."
We also found that Bush administration counterterrorism policies have helped the Kremlin cultivate this hostility toward America. Critics of certain U.S. policies assert that practices departing from long-standing international law -- such as indefinite detention and extraordinary rendition -- are linked to the worldwide decline of America's reputation and moral sway, key elements of "soft" power. Our data support these claims. Respondents tended to believe that the United States tortures terrorism suspects (52 percent), renders them to countries that practice torture (44 percent) and detains them without due process or legal representation (46 percent). Very few respondents -- 9 to 13 percent -- believed these allegations to be false; the rest found it "hard to say."
Generally, respondents condemned these practices (42 to 57 percent, with only 15 to 29 percent approving). Moreover, our statistical modeling demonstrates that perceptions of American human rights violations relate directly to anti-American sentiment: Young Russians who believed that the United States tortures or unlawfully detains terrorist suspects had considerably more negative views of the U.S. government than those who did not.
The legacy of a new generation of Russians who are nostalgic for the Soviet Union, ambivalent about Stalin and hostile toward the United States may jeopardize U.S.-Russian relations long after Putin is gone. Thus, in addition to countering Putin's aggressive stance in the short term, this U.S. administration and the next needs to develop longer-term strategies to reverse the tide of growing anti-American sentiment among young Russians. Changing U.S. counterterrorism policies is a good place to start. The goal should be to restore the vision of America expressed by Andrei Sakharov: "In fact, we don't idealize America and see a lot that is bad or foolish in it, but America is a vital force, a positive factor in our chaotic world."
Sarah E. Mendelson directs the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Theodore P. Gerber is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...080202148.html