Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 14, 2007, 11:54:31 AM
The Ever-'Present' Obama
Barack has a along track record of not taking a stand.
BY NATHAN GONZALES
Wednesday, February 14, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Finally and officially, Barack Obama is running for president. His symbolic announcement, in the Land of Lincoln, called for a new era in politics. Obama downplayed his thin federal experience while championing his record on the state and local level, and he talked about the need to change Washington, set priorities, and "make hard choices."
"What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics--the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions," Obama said in his announcement speech. But a closer look at the presidential candidate's record in the Illinois Legislature reveals something seemingly contradictory: a number of occasions when Obama avoided making hard choices.
While some conservatives and Republicans surely will harp on what they call his "liberal record," highlighting applicable votes to support their case, it's Obama's history of voting "present" in Springfield--even on some of the most controversial and politically explosive issues of the day--that raises questions that he will need to answer. Voting "present" is one of three options in the Illinois Legislature (along with "yes" and "no"), but it's almost never an option for the occupant of the Oval Office.
We aren't talking about a "present" vote on whether to name a state office building after a deceased state official, but rather about votes that reflect an officeholder's core values.
For example, in 1997, Obama voted "present" on two bills (HB 382 and SB 230) that would have prohibited a procedure often referred to as partial birth abortion. He also voted "present" on SB 71, which lowered the first offense of carrying a concealed weapon from a felony to a misdemeanor and raised the penalty of subsequent offenses.
In 1999, Obama voted "present" on SB 759, a bill that required mandatory adult prosecution for firing a gun on or near school grounds. The bill passed the state Senate 52-1. Also in 1999, Obama voted "present" on HB 854 that protected the privacy of sex-abuse victims by allowing petitions to have the trial records sealed. He was the only member to not support the bill.
In 2001, Obama voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted "present" on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion. In his book, the "Audacity of Hope," on page 132, Obama explained his problems with the "born alive" bills, specifically arguing that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. But he failed to mention that he only felt strongly enough to vote "present" on the bills instead of "no."
And finally in 2001, Obama voted "present" on SB 609, a bill prohibiting strip clubs and other adult establishments from being within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, and daycares.
If Obama had taken a position for or against these bills, he would have pleased some constituents and alienated others. Instead, the Illinois legislator-turned-U.S. senator and, now, Democratic presidential hopeful essentially took a pass.
Some of these bills may have been "bad." They may have included poison pills or been poorly written, making it impossible for Obama to support them. They may have even been unconstitutional. When I asked the Obama campaign about those votes, they explained that in some cases, the Senator was uncomfortable with only certain parts of the bill, while in other cases, the bills were attempts by Republicans simply to score points.
But even if that were the case, it doesn't explain his votes. The state legislator had an easy solution if the bills were unacceptable to him: he could have voted against them and explained his reasoning.
Because it takes affirmative votes to pass legislation in the Illinois Senate, a "present" vote is tantamount to a "no" vote. A "present" vote is generally used to provide political cover for legislators who don't want to be on the record against a bill that they oppose. Of course, Obama isn't the first or only Illinois state senator to vote "present," but he is the only one running for President of the United States.
While these votes occurred while Obama and the Democrats were in the minority in the Illinois Senate, in the "Audacity of Hope" (page 130), Obama explained that even as a legislator in the minority, "You must vote yes or no on whatever bill comes up, with the knowledge that it's unlikely to be a compromise that either you or your supporters consider fair and or just."
Obama's "present" record could hurt him in two very different ways in his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination and, ultimately, the White House. On one hand, those votes could anger some Democrats, even liberals, because he did not take a strong enough stand on their issues. On the other hand, his votes could simply be portrayed by adversaries as a failure of leadership for not being willing to make a tough decision and stick by it.
Obama is one of the most dynamic and captivating figures in American politics at this time, and he has put together an excellent campaign team. He clearly is a factor in the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
But as Democrats--and Americans--are searching for their next leader, the Illinois senator's record, and not just his rhetoric, will be examined under a microscope. As president, Obama will be faced with countless difficult decisions on numerous gray issues, and voting "present" will not be an option. He will need to explain those "present" votes as a member of the Illinois Legislature if he hopes to become America's commander-in-chief.
Mr. Gonzales is political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Faith based non-proliferation
on: February 14, 2007, 11:49:17 AM
We'll believe it when Kim Jong Il hands over his plutonium.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
So after a couple of decades of broken promises, missile launches and nuclear tests, North Korea's Kim Jong Il has finally decided to give up his nuclear ambitions in return for diplomatic recognition and foreign aid. The Bush Administration will no doubt be praised with scorn for finally being "reasonable" and recognizing "reality," but the exercise strikes us as something close to faith-based nonproliferation.
Perhaps the best thing we can say about the deal is that it is marginally better than the "Agreed Framework," the 1994 accord in which the Clinton Administration agreed to hand over two light-water reactors and 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year in exchange for North Korea's promise to freeze its plutonium program. Pyongyang pocketed the oil, only to demand more compensation within a few years while secretly enriching uranium in a separate nuclear program that it only acknowledged in 2002.
This time there are no nuclear reactors on offer, and North Korea will get only 5% of the promised one million tons of fuel oil and humanitarian assistance up front. The remaining 95% is contingent upon North Korea providing a full accounting of all of its nuclear programs within 60 days, and ultimately agreeing to dismantle the works. That includes nuclear bombs, spent fuel and the clandestine uranium program--which it now denies having but that the Bush Administration insists does exist.
The other difference from 1994 is that China is a party to this accord. Beijing has by far the most leverage of any country on Pyongyang, as its political patron and supplier of most of its energy needs. China was instrumental in getting Pyongyang back to the negotiating table after a three-year absence, and the U.S. is counting on it to help ensure the North's cooperation.
A senior Administration official tells us that there has been a "sea change" in the Chinese attitude toward North Korea since last summer's missile launch--read: Beijing is furious--and that Beijing is now "heavily invested" in making sure that the deal succeeds. We can only hope this is so.
However, Kim has proven he can stand up to China before, and the dictator's habit is to strike an agreement and then try to renegotiate it along the way for better terms. He will have many chances to do so under yesterday's accord, because the commitments and timetables are vague to say the least. His one important specific promise is to shut down his plutonium facility, at Yongbyon, within 60 days.
The accord makes no mention of the plutonium his regime has produced, nor of the eight or more nuclear bombs he is thought to possess. Nor does it refer to his uranium enrichment program, much less specify that international inspectors will be able to roam the country's vast network of underground installations for evidence of where that program might be. Bush Administration officials say that they believe that all of Kim's nuclear activities are covered under the agreement, and that Kim will be expected to come clean in his 60-day declaration.
But if he doesn't? One danger of this accord is that it will start a traditional "arms control" process in which Kim can stall and protest, and the U.S. will be pressured to make even further concessions. We can already see the lineup of South Koreans, Chinese, American media and State Department officials all suggesting that the Bush Administration is being obstinate and "unrealistic" if it insists on intrusive inspections, or on recovering all of Kim's plutonium.
Meanwhile, the immediate effect of the fuel assistance and promises of diplomatic recognition will sustain Kim's regime, allowing him to sell the deal at home as a victory for his missile and nuclear blackmail. The timing is especially ironic given that Kim's position arguably has never been more precarious thanks to U.S.-imposed financial measures against the North's international banking activities.
Treasury's blacklisting of Banco Delta Asia in Macau in September 2005--and the demonstration effect on other banks that did business with the North--essentially shut down Pyongyang's access to the global banking system. The U.S. is now promising to review its Banco Delta Asia action within 30 days. If that results in the government of Macau releasing some portion of the $24 million in BNA's North Korean accounts, it's yet another prop for the regime.
All of which is to say that this is far from the nonproliferation model set by Libya's Moammar Gadhafi in the wake of Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. Gadhafi relinquished his entire nuclear program up front, and only later--once compliance was verified and the nuclear materials removed from the country--did the U.S. take Libya off the terror list and provide other rewards.
Perhaps Mr. Bush feels this is the best he can do in the waning days of his Administration. Or perhaps, in the most favorable interpretation, he wants to clear the decks of this issue in order to have more political capital to control Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran may look at this deal, however, and conclude it has little to lose by raising the nuclear stakes. We'd like to believe this will turn out better, but history doesn't support such faith.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
on: February 14, 2007, 01:39:47 AM
Once again, Stratfor/Geroge Friedman lay down some deep thinking. Comments?
PS: I am a lifetime subscriber to Stratfor. What you see here is only a fraction of what they produce.
Russia's Great-Power Strategy
By George Friedman
Most speeches at diplomatic gatherings aren't worth the time it takes to listen to them. On rare occasion, a speech is delivered that needs to be listened to carefully. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave such a speech over the weekend in Munich, at a meeting on international security. The speech did not break new ground; it repeated things that the Russians have been saying for quite a while. But the venue in which it was given and the confidence with which it was asserted signify a new point in Russian history. The Cold War has not returned, but Russia is now officially asserting itself as a great power, and behaving accordingly.
At Munich, Putin launched a systematic attack on the role the United States is playing in the world. He said: "One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way ... This is nourishing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons." In other words, the United States has gone beyond its legitimate reach and is therefore responsible for attempts by other countries -- an obvious reference to Iran -- to acquire nuclear weapons.
Russia for some time has been in confrontation with the United States over U.S. actions in the former Soviet Union (FSU). What the Russians perceive as an American attempt to create a pro-U.S. regime in Ukraine triggered the confrontation. But now, the issue goes beyond U.S. actions in the FSU. The Russians are arguing that the unipolar world -- meaning that the United States is the only global power and is surrounded by lesser, regional powers -- is itself unacceptable. In other words, the United States sees itself as the solution when it is, actually, the problem.
In his speech, Putin reached out to European states -- particularly Germany, pointing out that it has close, but blunt, relations with Russia. The Central Europeans showed themselves to be extremely wary about Putin's speech, recognizing it for what it was -- a new level of assertiveness from an historical enemy. Some German leaders appeared more understanding, however: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made no mention of Putin's speech in his own presentation to the conference, while Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Putin's stance on Iran. He also noted that the U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was cause for concern -- and not only to Russia.
Putin now clearly wants to escalate the confrontations with the United States and likely wants to build a coalition to limit American power. The gross imbalance of global power in the current system makes such coalition-building inevitable -- and it makes sense that the Russians should be taking the lead. The Europeans are risk-averse, and the Chinese do not have much at risk in their dealings with the United States at the moment. The Russians, however, have everything at risk. The United States is intruding in the FSU, and an ideological success for the Americans in Ukraine would leave the Russians permanently on the defensive.
The Russians need allies but are not likely to find them among other great-power states. Fortunately for Moscow, the U.S. obsession with Iraq creates alternative opportunities. First, the focus on Iraq prevents the Americans from countering Russia elsewhere. Second, it gives the Russians serious leverage against the United States -- for example, by shipping weapons to key players in the region. Finally, there are Middle Eastern states that seek great-power patronage. It is therefore no accident that Putin's next stop, following the Munich conference, was in Saudi Arabia. Having stabilized the situation in the former Soviet region, the Russians now are constructing their follow-on strategy, and that concerns the Middle East.
The Russian Interests
The Middle East is the pressure point to which the United States is most sensitive. Its military commitment in Iraq, the confrontation with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and oil in the Arabian Peninsula create a situation such that pain in the region affects the United States intensely. Therefore, it makes sense for the Russians to use all available means of pressure in the Middle East in efforts to control U.S. behavior elsewhere, particularly in the former Soviet Union.
Like the Americans, the Russians also have direct interests in the Middle East. Energy is a primary one: Russia is not only a major exporter of energy supplies, it is currently the world's top oil producer. The Russians have a need to maintain robust energy prices, and working with the Iranians and Saudis in some way to achieve this is directly in line with Moscow's interest. To be more specific, the Russians do not want the Saudis increasing oil production.
There are strategic interests in the Middle East as well. For example, the Russians are still bogged down in Chechnya. It is Moscow's belief that if Chechnya were to secede from the Russian Federation, a precedent would be set that could lead to the dissolution of the Federation. Moscow will not allow this. The Russians consistently have claimed that the Chechen rebellion has been funded by "Wahhabis," by which they mean Saudis. Reaching an accommodation with the Saudis, therefore, would have not only economic, but also strategic, implications for the Russians.
On a broader level, the Russians retain important interests in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. In both cases, their needs intersect with forces originating in the Muslim world and trace, to some extent, back to the Middle East. If the Russian strategy is to reassert a sphere of influence in the former Soviet region, it follows that these regions must be secured. That, in turn, inevitably involves the Russians in the Middle East.
Therefore, even if Russia is not in a position to pursue some of the strategic goals that date back to the Soviet era and before -- such as control of the Bosporus and projection of naval power into the Mediterranean -- it nevertheless has a basic, ongoing interest in the region. Russia has a need both to limit American power and to achieve direct goals of its own. So it makes perfect sense for Putin to leave Munich and embark on a tour of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.
But the Russians also have a problem. The strategic interests of Middle Eastern states diverge, to say the least. The two main Islamic powers between the Levant and the Hindu Kush are Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Russians have things they want from each, but the Saudis and Iranians have dramatically different interests. Saudi Arabia -- an Arab and primarily Sunni kingdom -- is rich but militarily weak. The government's reliance on outside help for national defense generates intense opposition within the kingdom. Desert Storm, which established a basing arrangement for Western troops within Saudi Arabia, was one of the driving forces behind the creation of al Qaeda. Iran -- a predominantly Persian and Shiite power -- is not nearly as rich as Saudi Arabia but militarily much more powerful. Iran seeks to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf -- out of both its need to defend itself against aggression, and for controlling and exploiting the oil wealth of the region.
Putting the split between Sunni and Shiite aside for the moment, there is tremendous geopolitical asymmetry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia wants to limit Iranian power, while keeping its own dependence on foreign powers at a minimum. That means that, though keeping energy prices high might make financial sense for the kingdom, the fact that high energy prices also strengthen the Iranians actually can be a more important consideration, depending on circumstances. There is some evidence that recent declines in oil prices are linked to decisions in Riyadh that are aimed at increasing production, reducing prices and hurting the Iranians.
This creates a problem for Russia. While Moscow has substantial room for maneuver, the fact is that lowered oil prices impact energy prices overall, and therefore hurt the Russians. The Saudis, moreover, need the Iranians blocked -- but without going so far as to permit foreign troops to be based in Saudi Arabia itself. In other words, they want to see the United States remain in Iraq, since the Americans serve as the perfect shield against the Iranians so long as they remain there. Putin's criticisms of the United States, as delivered in Munich, would have been applauded by Saudi Arabia prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But in 2007, the results of that invasion are exactly what the Saudis feared -- a collapsed Iraq and a relatively powerful Iran. The Saudis now need the Americans to stay put in the region.
The interests of Russia and Iran align more closely, but there are points of divergence there as well. Both benefit from having the United States tied up, militarily and politically, in wars, but Tehran would be delighted to see a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq that leaves a power vacuum for Iran to fill. The Russians would rather not see this outcome. First, they are quite happy to have the United States bogged down in Iraq and would prefer that to having the U.S. military freed for operations elsewhere. Second, they are interested in a relationship with Iran but are not eager to drive the United States and Saudi Arabia into closer relations. Third, the Russians do not want to see Iran become the dominant power in the region. They want to use Iran, but within certain manageable limits.
Russia has been supplying Iran with weapons. Of particular significance is the supply of surface-to-air missiles that would raise the cost of U.S. air operations against Iran. It is not clear whether the advanced S300PMU surface-to-air missile has yet been delivered, although there has been some discussion of this lately. If it were delivered, this would present significant challenges for U.S. air operation over Iran. The Russians would find this particularly advantageous, as the Iranians would absorb U.S. attentions and, as in Vietnam, the Russians would benefit from extended, fruitless commitments of U.S. military forces in regions not vital to Russia.
Meanwhile, there are energy matters: The Russians, as we have said, are interested in working with Iran to manage world oil prices. But at the same time, they would not be averse to a U.S. attack that takes Iran's oil off the market, spikes prices and enriches Russia.
Finally, it must be remembered that behind this complex relationship with Iran, there historically has been animosity and rivalry between the two countries. The Caucasus has been their battleground. For the moment, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is a buffer there, but it is a buffer in which Russians and Iranians are already dueling. So long as both states are relatively weak, the buffer will maintain itself. But as they get stronger, the Caucasus will become a battleground again. When Russian and Iranian territories border each other, the two powers are rarely at peace. Indeed, Iran frequently needs outside help to contain the Russians.
A Complicated Strategy
In sum, the Russian position in the Middle East is at least as complex as the American one. Or perhaps even more so, since the Americans can leave and the Russians always will live on the doorstep of the Middle East. Historically, once the Russians start fishing in Middle Eastern waters, they find themselves in a greater trap than the Americans. The opening moves are easy. The duel between Saudi Arabia and Iran seems manageable. But as time goes on, Putin's Soviet predecessors learned, the Middle East is a graveyard of ambitions -- and not just American ambitions.
Russia wants to contain U.S. power, and manipulating the situation in the Middle East certainly will cause the Americans substantial pain. But whatever short-term advantages the Russians may be able to find and exploit in the region, there is an order of complexity in Putin's maneuver that might transcend any advantage they gain from boxing the Americans in.
In returning to "great power" status, Russia is using an obvious opening gambit. But being obvious does not make it optimal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nature
on: February 13, 2007, 06:09:57 PM
It is not my intention that this thread be a series of posts about misadventures with nature, but, , , , well , , , here's another one:
Cheetahs Maul Woman to Death at Zoo in Belgium
Tuesday , February 13, 2007
BRUSSELS, Belgium —
An animal lover was mauled to death by cheetahs after entering their cage at a zoo in northern Belgium, authorities and zoo officials said Monday. Karen Aerts, 37, of Antwerp, was found dead in the cage, Olmense Zoo spokesman Jan Libot said. Police said they ruled out any foul play.
Authorities believe Aerts, a regular visitor to the zoo, hid in the park late Sunday until it closed and managed to find the keys to the cheetah cage.
"Karen loved animals. Unfortunately the cheetahs betrayed her trust,"
One of the cats that killed Aerts was named Bongo, whom the woman had adopted under a special program. She paid for Bongo's food, Libot said. Animal rights group GAIA called for the immediate closure of the zoo, located 55 miles northeast of Brussels, saying it was unsafe for both visitors and the cats.
Rudy Demotte, the Belgian minister responsible for animal welfare, sent a team to investigate.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Emergency Tips, Emergency Medicine, Trauma Care, and First Aid
on: February 13, 2007, 11:17:58 AM
In DBMA we use "The Three Hs" of Bando: Hurting, Healing, Harmonizing.
Healing may refer to keeping our selves healthy, to healing training injuries and the like. It can also refer to emergency injuries such as knife or gun wounds. Given DBMA's mission statement of "Walk as a Warrior for all our days", it makes sense that we should seek to grow in our knowledge of how to keep ourselves and others alive while getting proper medical attention. This thread is for such things.
The Adventure continues,
Quick response to bleeding wounds Submit a Tip
Officer Jeremy Phillips, Trumann (AR) PD
Trumann Police, Arkansas
A tip learned in the military a few years back to help stop serious bleeding:
Feminine napkins and tampons, which are super absorbent, are great for helping to control bleeding wounds. Tampons fit bullet wounds (some better than others) pretty well and swell to help stop bleeding. Pads are pretty much, if not exactly the same thing as battle bandages.
Sucking wounds can also sometimes be helped by the plastic wrapper of a cigarette pack or a latex glove. Even a pat down glove or anything you can fit over the sucking wound to stop it from sucking.
Of course, nothing is better than formal training for first aid, but we don't always have those luxuries. Use what you have with you.
Fight to live so you can live to fight. Your wife/husband wants you home, and your partner's wife/husband wants them home.
Breaking car windows easily Submit a Tip
Officer Clifton Chang (ret.), NYPD
As a former glazier, I'm aware that all side windows of automobiles are made of tempered glass (baked in an oven) and are weakest on the edges. To break one, simply insert a screwdriver or knife between the window frame and glass and pry! The glass will shatter quietly.
If you're breaking the window to get to a baby in a car seat accidentally locked inside, go to the opposite side to minimize any danger to the child.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Bison
on: February 13, 2007, 09:08:56 AM
MOIESE, Mont. — An effort to have two Indian tribes assist government officials in operating a federal wildlife refuge that is surrounded by their reservation has collapsed amid accusations of racism, harassment, intimidation and poor performance. But top federal officials say they are determined to resurrect it.
The plan for the tribes and the government to jointly run the National Bison Range in western Montana, just north of Missoula, had long been viewed as unworkable by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Interior branch that manages wildlife refuges.
But top Interior Department officials say that despite the objections, they are committed to transferring some responsibility for the range from the wildlife service to a tribal government.
“There’s a shared sense of mission between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the tribes,” said Shane Wolf, a department spokesman.
Representative Denny Rehberg, Republican of Montana, asked the Government Accountability Office and the House Resources Committee in late January to investigate the disagreement and the problems plaguing the range. Among them is whether political appointees at the Interior Department pressured the wildlife service into the pact. The department’s inspector general and its Office of Equal Opportunity are also investigating.
The Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 allows tribal involvement in the management of federal lands, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which have strong cultural links to bison, wanted the authority to manage the refuge.
The Fish and Wildlife Service opposed ceding control over the bison range, and the Interior Department and tribal officials decided to split the mission. The federal government maintained management authority but hired members of the tribes to feed and care for the bison. Federal managers, who did not have authority over the tribal workers, had to ask a tribal manager to relay orders.
The project leader at the range, Steve Kallin of the wildlife service, said tribal employees failed to do their assigned tasks and that this led to the cancellation of the agreement.
For example, Mr. Kallin said, tribe members failed to feed the bison properly in preparation for their transfer to another refuge, at which point, he said, the wildlife service resumed responsibility for feeding.
Tribal employees also did not maintain fences, Mr. Kallin said, allowing bison to wander into pastures that were being rested from grazing.
Wildlife agency employees also said that relations grew strained and that tribal employees started to threaten them. They also said they felt excluded because tribal employees prayed together during work hours. The wildlife agency hired a retired special agent-in-charge of the National Park Service for the Rocky Mountain region, Jim Reilly, to look into the situation.
Mr. Reilly’s findings, which were not made public but appeared on a Web site run by a group opposed to tribal management, supported many of the federal employees’ accusations. Mr. Reilly wrote that work conditions at the range “were as bad as he had ever seen in his career,” according to a letter from the service’s deputy regional director, Jay Slack, to the regional director that cited the investigation.
Tribal officials denied many of the accusations and said they were surprised by the list of complaints. Cancellation of the agreement “came completely out of the blue,” said the chairman of the tribal confederation, James Steele Jr. “We didn’t know until the day that they did it.”
While he was aware of some problems, Mr. Steele said, he thought they were being dealt with.
A lawyer for the tribe, Brian Upton, said tribal officials did not allow Mr. Reilly to interview members who worked at the range “because they never told us why they were investigating us.”
“We do not have any corroborating details for any of the complaints,” Mr. Upton said.
Tribal officials said that the Fish and Wildlife Service never liked the arrangement because it meant that the agency had to cede some control over the range, so the agency always wanted it to fail.
“It was a decision looking for an excuse,” said Clayton Matt, head of the tribal confederation’s natural resources department.
“We work with almost every federal agency you can think of and we have a great relationship with all of them,” he said. State and federal officials have also publicly praised the tribe’s management of natural resources, including the grizzly bears and other wildlife on the reservation.
Regarding praying at work, the tribe’s bison range coordinator, Sheila Matt (no relation to Mr. Matt) said, “When we rode through the bison, I asked the volunteers to pray for our safety and the safety of the bison.”
Critics say the decision to allow tribal management was a political one made by Interior Department appointees who favor reducing the federal role in management of parks and other properties. Such an agreement, they say, leaves no one accountable because authority for the workers lies with a tribe, which is a sovereign nation.
“The evidence of incompetency is overwhelming,” said Susan Reneau, a member of the Blue Goose Alliance, which advocates for wildlife refuges. “They did not perform their duties; they did not do their work. Yet they are not accountable.”
The federal government took control of much of the reservation land from some tribes around the turn of the century and allocated each tribal member 160 acres. The rest was open to settlement, and white settlers moved in. As a result, 30 percent of the reservation is owned by people who are not tribal members and there is longstanding enmity between the tribe and some nontribal residents.
“There’s a deep-rooted fear of tribal control,” a tribal spokesman, Rob McDonald, said.
But Mr. Kallin said he saw the matter from the opposite perspective.
“At what point,” he said, “does the Fish and Wildlife Service retain the ability to manage, according to Congressional mandate?”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Surprise! Sun Rises in the East this morning
on: February 13, 2007, 09:03:33 AM
From today's NY Slimes:
Skeptics Doubt U.S. Evidence on Iran Action in Iraq
By HELENE COOPER and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: February 13, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 — Three weeks after promising it would show proof of Iranian meddling in Iraq, the Bush administration has laid out its evidence — and received in return a healthy dose of skepticism.
Skip to next paragraph
Suspected Iranian Activity
Back Story With The Times’s Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper (mp3)
Iran’s Leader Disputes U.S. Charges on Militias (February 13, 2007)
European Officials Agree to Widen Economic Sanctions Against Iran Over Nuclear Program (February 13, 2007)
U.S. Says Arms Link Iranians to Iraqi Shiites (February 12, 2007)
Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says (February 10, 2007) The response from Congressional and other critics speaks volumes about the current state of American credibility, four years after the intelligence controversy leading up to the Iraq war. To pre-empt accusations that the charges against Iran were politically motivated, the administration rejected the idea of a high-level presentation, relying instead on military and intelligence officers to make its case in a background briefing in Baghdad.
Even so, critics have been quick to voice doubts. Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that the White House was more interested in sending a message to Tehran than in backing up serious allegations with proof. And David Kay, who once led the hunt for illicit weapons in Iraq, said the grave situation in Iraq should have taught the Bush administration to put more of a premium on transparency when it comes to intelligence.
“If you want to avoid the perception that you’ve cooked the books, you come out and make the charges publicly,” Mr. Kay said.
Administration officials say their approach was carefully calibrated to focus on concerns that Iran is providing potent weapons used against American troops in Iraq, not to ignite a wider war. “We’re trying to strike the right tone here,” a senior administration official said Monday. “It would have raised the rhetoric to major decibel levels if we had had a briefing in Washington.”
At the State Department, the Pentagon and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, officials had anticipated resistance to their claims. They settled on an approach that sidelined senior officials including Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Iraq, and John D. Negroponte, who until last week was the director of national intelligence. By doing so, they avoided the inevitable comparisons to the since-discredited presentation that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made to the United Nations Security Council in 2003 asserting that Iraq had illicit weapons.
The White House and the State Department both made clear on Monday that they endorsed the findings presented in Baghdad. Asked for direct evidence linking Iran’s leadership to the weapons, Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said: “Let me put it this way. There’s not a whole lot of freelancing in the Iranian government, especially when its comes to something like that.”
Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said: “While they presented a circumstantial case, I would put to you that it was a very strong circumstantial case. The Iranians are up to their eyeballs in this activity, I think, very clearly based on the information that was provided over the weekend in Baghdad.”
In Australia, however, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he “would not say” that Iran’s leadership was aware of or condoned the attacks. “It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it’s clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit,” according to an account posted on the Voice of America Web site.
An Iranian government spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, has sought in denying the charges to exploit the lingering doubts about American credibility. “The United States has a long history of fabricating evidence,” Mr. Hosseini, a Foreign Ministry official, told reporters in Tehran.
The administration’s scramble over how to present its evidence started in January, after President Bush accused Iran of meddling in Iraq. Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, demanded that the United States present its evidence, and Mr. Khalilzad, the American ambassador in Baghdad, responded that America would “oblige him by having something done in the coming days.”
That set Bush administration officials racing to produce a briefing that would hold up to scrutiny. Military officials in Baghdad developed the first briefing, a wide-ranging dossier that contained dozens of slides about Iranian activities inside Iraq, which was then sent to Washington for review, administration officials said.
But after a careful vetting by intelligence officials, senior administration officials, including National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, concluded that there were aspects of the briefing that could not be supported by solid intelligence. They sent the briefing back to Baghdad to be shored up, a senior official said.
The evidence that military officials presented Sunday was a stripped-down version of the original presentation, focusing almost entirely on the weapons, known as explosively formed penetrators, and the evidence that Iran is supplying the weapons to Shiite groups.
Both Democratic and Republican officials on Capitol Hill said that while they do not doubt that the weapons are being used to attack American troops, and that some of those weapons are being shipped into Iraq from Iran, they are still uncertain whether the weapons were being shipped into Iraq on the orders of Iran’s leaders.
Several experts agreed. “I’m not doubting the provenance of the weapons, but rather, the issue of what it says about Iranian policy and whether Iran’s leaders are aware of it,” said George Perkovich, a nonproliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Philip D. Zelikow, who until December was the top aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said American politics and the increased unpopularity of the war in Iraq is obscuring the larger issue of the Iran evidence, which he described as “abundant and so multifaceted.”
“People have lost their moorings,” Mr. Zelikow said. He said the administration was trying to overcome public distrust by asking, in essence, “Don’t you trust our soldiers?”
Nazila Fathi contributed reporting from Tehran.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: February 13, 2007, 08:31:15 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Russia's Ambitions in the Middle East
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday during a visit to Saudi Arabia that Moscow is willing to help Riyadh develop a nuclear program. Though Russian-Saudi nuclear cooperation is unlikely to happen any time soon, Putin's visit to the kingdom is significant. Putin's remarks at a major international security conference in Germany on Sunday serve to clarify Moscow's motives.
In his speech at the Munich conference, Putin said the United States is responsible for growing instability and insecurity in the international system. By lashing out at the United States, Russia hoped to appeal to a latent perception among the United States' Arab allies that Washington is playing with fire in their region.
Moscow hopes to exploit these concerns to infiltrate the region, which has been firmly in the U.S. sphere of influence. The Russians hope to counter U.S. moves in its own neighborhood and contain U.S. power overall; the Kremlin has already started this process with Iran. But the Kremlin knows it must position itself among the Arabs to really use the Middle East as a lever in its struggle with the United States. This explains Putin's recent visits to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, all major U.S. allies.
Russia has correctly realized the potential for an opening in the Middle East. The Russians know that the Arabs, despite their continued close relations with Washington, are unhappy with U.S. policies in the region and are looking for leverage in dealing with the United States.
Jordan, since it relies financially on Washington, might not be willing to warm up to Russia. That said, Putin's trip to Amman includes a meeting with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Russia wants to use its membership in the Middle East Quartet to create problems for the U.S. calculus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Putin's meeting with Abbas could therefore prove instrumental. As for Qatar, good relations with Russia are in keeping with its goal to enhance its role as a regional player. Moscow hopes to capitalize on this in order to get close to Doha, where U.S. Central Command is headquartered.
But the most significant relationship that the Russians are looking to develop in the Middle East is that with the Saudis, especially given Riyadh's close relations with the United States. The Russians are aware the Saudis think the U.S. position in the region is weakening, and that Riyadh has grown wary of U.S. policies there, which have empowered rival Iran. In fact, Putin's visit to Saudi Arabia is in part the result of Riyadh's assistance to Moscow to help quell the jihadist insurgency in the Caucasus.
Under King Abdullah, the Saudis are trying to diversify their foreign policy options. They see the decline of the U.S. position in the region and want to have other choices for security. Moreover, Riyadh is concerned about U.S.-Israeli ties upsetting its calculus regarding the Palestinian situation, especially since the Saudis have assumed a more direct role in mediating the conflict. The Saudis also want to counter Iran and Syria, which they hope will be possible by engaging the Russians, who have backed both Tehran and Damascus.
Though the Russians and Saudis hope to benefit from their relationship, energy and the sale of military hardware limit the extent to which they can cooperate. Russia and Saudi Arabia do not see eye to eye on oil production -- Saudi moves to increase production lead to a drop in oil prices, financially hurting Russia. And though Moscow wants to sell Riyadh military hardware, it is unlikely since Riyadh can purchase superior U.S. weapons.
Despite Moscow's ambitions in Saudi Arabia, Putin's visit there has not gone quite as well as it might seem. Mintimer Shaimiev, president of the constituent republic of Tatarstan, is a member of Putin's delegation. Shaimiev is the leader of the only republic in which Putin has not been able to install his choice of governor; Shaimiev's influence does not end in Tatarstan -- he is the most influential of Russia's 30 million Muslims. On Monday Putin had to sit through a ceremony in which the Saudis awarded Shaimiev a cash award for his service to Islam -- a religion and ideology that is seen in Russia as weakening Moscow's hold. Furthermore, ethnic Tatars and Russia's other Muslim minorities have among the world's highest birth rate, and Russians among the lowest, making the end of Putin's visit perhaps not as pleasant as the media suggest.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: February 13, 2007, 12:42:51 AM
February 12, 2007; Page A14
In a reasonable world, Douglas Feith would have received an apology late last week from Senator Carl Levin. But the obsessive Democrat won't let go of his story that the Bush Administration "politicized" pre-war Iraq intelligence no matter how many times the facts disprove it. Senator Ahab is now going even further and suggesting behavior standards that would make the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy less accountable to elected officials; this could get Americans killed.
The familiar accusation against Mr. Feith is that the former Undersecretary of Defense was responsible for all the government's intelligence failures on Iraq because his office had the temerity to review and critique intelligence on the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. His alleged pressure to find a strong link is said to have so influenced apparently weak-kneed CIA analysts that they made a false case for war. Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller went so far as to accuse Mr. Feith of "running a private intelligence failure [sic], which is not lawful."
This preposterous narrative has already been debunked many times -- notably in a bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee itself. That 2004 report found that not only had CIA analysts not been pressured to change their views but that Mr. Feith's review had sometimes "actually improved the Central Intelligence Agency's products." A year later the Robb-Silberman commission also found no evidence that prewar intelligence had been politicized. And last week the Defense Department's Inspector General delivered to Congress a report that likewise exonerates Mr. Feith of doing anything unlawful and acknowledges that his actions were authorized by the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of Defense.
But instead of moving on to more important things, Mr. Levin is still chasing his great white whale. He's grabbed on to an odd bit of editorializing by the Inspector General that Mr. Feith "was inappropriately performing Intelligence Activities . . . that should be performed by the Intelligence Community."
"Inappropriately"? What on Earth does that mean? The charge is so vague that it has the air of a political sop that Acting Inspector General Thomas Gimble tossed to Mr. Levin to avoid being hauled in front of the Senate and accused of a cover-up. The myth persists that Inspectors General are King Solomons who are above politics, but in this case Mr. Gimble split the baby, and in a way that could harm U.S. security.
He and Mr. Levin are essentially saying that officials appointed by an elected President aren't allowed to question the "consensus" of the "intelligence community." Yet the work of Mr. Feith's office on al Qaeda had nothing to do with what everyone now concedes was the main intelligence failure on Iraq, which was the lack of WMD stockpiles. Former CIA Director George Tenet said it was a "slam dunk" that Saddam Hussein had such stockpiles, and it was this intelligence "consensus" that the Bush Administration relied on in making its main case for war. Any links between al Qaeda and Iraq is a separate issue that was barely mentioned in the run-up to war.
Make no mistake, the people "politicizing" intelligence here are Senators Levin and Rockefeller, whose smears against Mr. Feith will have a chilling effect on anyone who wants to question "consensus" judgments in the future. This is dangerous, because if recent experience has taught us anything it is that we need far more such questioning.
It was the intelligence community that underestimated Saddam's nuclear capabilities before the first Gulf War, only to overestimate them later. It was the CIA "consensus" that also vastly overestimated the strength of the Soviet economy even as Moscow was about to sue for peace. Before 9/11 it was also the intelligence consensus -- led by former CIA Near East chief analyst Paul Pillar -- that terrorism was a minor and manageable problem. Too bad Mr. Feith and his team weren't around to scrub those judgments.
We learned much of what we know about intelligence from the late, great Cold War strategists, Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter. And what they taught was that in the intelligence business almost nothing is certain. Albert Wohlstetter especially disliked "national intelligence estimates," which were always the product of lowest-common-denominator judgments -- or group-think. These judgments, in turn, often lead to public pronouncements that claim a degree of certainty that simply doesn't exist -- and then to charges of "politicizing" intelligence when those judgments turn out not to be true.
Messrs. Levin and Rockefeller may enjoy scoring partisan points. But their nasty obsession with Mr. Feith will have the effect of endorsing more group-think as the last, best word in intelligence -- and will lead to more Iraqs and more 9/11s.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: February 13, 2007, 12:37:30 AM
Helping to kill GIs with impunity.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
U.S. military officials finally laid out detailed evidence on Sunday that Iranian-supplied weapons are killing American soldiers in Iraq. The issue now is the lesson the Bush Administration and the American political establishment draw about dealing with Iran.
Our guess is that a large part of Washington will pretend the evidence doesn't exist, or suggest the intelligence isn't proven, or claim that it's all the Bush Administration's fault for "bullying" Iran. This was the impulse behind the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendation late last year that the U.S. "engage" Tehran to help us find some honorable diplomatic or political solution in Iraq.
But the evidence about Iranian-style munitions shows how wishful such thinking is. The Iranians don't want a political solution that would allow a U.S.-backed moderate Shiite government to rule in Baghdad. Their goal is to make us bleed in order to drive us home and so allow their radical Shiite allies to hold sway and Iran to become the dominant regional power. They also figure that the bloodier the defeat they can impose, the less likely the U.S. will be to ever consider promoting regime change in Tehran or Damascus.
Pentagon sources have been saying for several years that Iranian-style munitions have been appearing in Iraq, and arms smugglers have been caught coming across the Iranian border. What's new is that the Iranian-marked weapons have actually been put on display and an estimate of their toll made public: more than 170 Americans killed in action and more than 600 wounded.
The main culprit is a specially made roadside bomb the Army calls an EFP, or "explosively formed penetrator." Unlike the jerry-rigged Iraqi shells that Sunni extremists have used to inflict the vast majority of casualties against U.S. forces, the EFP is shaped to penetrate armor and hence effective against harder targets than Humvees. The U.S. Stryker brigade now in Baghdad has been finding them in the city with increasing regularity. In the past this type of roadside bomb has been used against Israeli tanks by Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
According to the Defense Department, Iranian officials detained recently by U.S. forces in Iraq possessed documents suggesting they might have been involved in this arms trade. One of them was Moshin Chizari, a very senior Revolutionary Guards commander arrested but later released because of his "diplomatic" status in December. "Iran is a significant contributor to attacks on coalition forces, and also supports violence against the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people," said a Defense official in Baghdad.
"Significant" is an important word here. Sunni extremists affiliated with al Qaeda and Saddam's Baath Party remain by far the largest threat to American forces in Iraq. And we don't believe that the news about Iran should cause anyone to lose sight of the primary U.S. mission in the coming months: securing Baghdad against Sunni terror, so that Iraqi Shiites won't turn to militias for protection.
Still, it would be nice if the Bush Administration and Members of Congress would send Tehran the message that it will not be allowed to kill Americans with impunity. President Bush has been speaking out about this of late, but the main concern on Capitol Hill seems to be deterring Mr. Bush rather than telling Iran to stop killing GIs. Won't any of the Democratic Presidential candidates speak out and say that, no matter what they think of Iraq, Iranian help for killing Americans is a hostile act?
Hitting Revolutionary Guards targets, or Iranian weapons factories if they can be located, also shouldn't be out of the question when the lives of American soldiers are at stake. If General David Petraeus, the new and hardly reckless Iraq theater commander, thinks such pressure on Iran is crucial to securing his Baghdad mission, he deserves to get the go-ahead.
The larger lesson here concerns the nature of the Iranian regime and its nuclear ambitions. Iran's provocations in Iraq have been deadly enough, but they might be far more aggressive if the mullahs no longer fear the ability of the U.S. to hit back. As a nuclear power, they may well become even more reckless in attacking the interests of the U.S. and its regional allies. Then we'll see what a real bully looks like.
IRAN/EU: An internal EU document says Iran has the ability to create material for nuclear weapons, and there is little that can be done to stop it. The document says the nuclear program has been delayed by technical limitations, not diplomatic pressure, and that economic sanctions alone will not resolve the situation.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 13, 2007, 12:32:54 AM
Don't write off Giuliani's appeal to social conservatives.
BY BRENDAN MINITER
Tuesday, February 13, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
The book on Rudy Giuliani is that he is too liberal on social issues to win the Republican presidential nomination. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, put it succinctly: "I don't see anyone getting the Republican nomination who is not pro-life and a staunch defender of traditional marriage."
But Mr. Giuliani is running strong in Iowa and New Hampshire polls and leading most national surveys of Republicans. He's charming crowds of conservatives everywhere he goes. So it's worth wondering if Mr. Perkins is missing an undercurrent coursing through conservative politics.
Republicans have just experienced a bruising midterm election defeat. The president is suffering dismal approval ratings, and its erstwhile front-runner for the presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain, made his national reputation as a "maverick." The Giuliani rise evident now may be more than name recognition and residual support from his stalwart leadership following the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Giuliani's support may also arise from his having successfully moved an entrenched political culture in New York City, something national Republicans have not been able to do in Washington.
Mr. Perkins has publicly predicted that Mr. Giuliani's support will evaporate once voters learn more about him. And Mr. Giuliani's track record, both political and personal, may hurt him in the primaries. He's been divorced twice, opposes banning abortion, supports gun control, and for a time as mayor lived with two gay men and (as Time magazine noted recently) their frou-frou dog, Bonnie. None of this will endear him to the party's values voters. But it also may not be what tips the scales in the primaries.
Take South Carolina. The state's influence in presidential politics has only grown since it derailed Mr. McCain's Straight Talk Express in 2000. Two weeks ago, Mr. Giuliani made a trip to the state and struck a chord by speaking to a burning issue in South Carolina--a fight over school choice. This probably won't make the national evening news, but today some 5,000 people--many of whom are black and live in poorly performing rural school districts--are expected to descend on the state capitol in Columbia to rally for school choice. After lobbying their elected leaders, they plan to leave behind chocolates for Valentine's Day embossed with the words "another voice for school choice."
Mr. Giuliani delivered his South Carolina speech to several dozen conservatives. One woman who attended told me she wonders whether electing a president who successfully took on the mob in New York is what it will take to finally break through the entrenched education political culture. Christian conservatives make up the core of the school-choice movement in the state. If they come to the conclusion that Mr. Giuliani is on their side and has the leadership qualities to achieve lasting and meaningful change, he may prove a surprisingly strong contender.
Sen. McCain will have his own problems winning over Christian conservatives. A man who won media accolades by cutting against the base of his party will be ill-equipped to win the nomination. He's recently taken lashes in the media from Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and is reviled among some in the right-to-life movement for pushing through campaign finance restrictions that have made it more difficult for them to get their message out.
Christian conservative leaders will continue to be unhappy with Mr. Giuliani. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently laid into the former mayor for a shifting stance on abortion, saying that a politician who personally believes the practice is wrong but who refuses to ban it is more repugnant than someone who isn't morally troubled by the termination of a pregnancy.
He's right. But there is little the president can do directly about abortion. In weighing contenders for the party's nomination, will right-to-life Republicans be more worried about Mr. Giuliani's personal beliefs, or will they find comfort in his promises to appoint judges in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who may actually overturn Roe v. Wade? If Mr. Giuliani makes a convincing case that he'll also lend his efforts to school choice and other endeavors that will help win the other culture war under way in American politics--the one against an intransient political culture that is unresponsive to the demands of the public--Mr. Perkins could turn out to be mistaken.
Mr. Miniter is assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com. His column appears Tuesdays.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: February 13, 2007, 12:12:53 AM
Iraqi insurgents using Austrian rifles from Iran
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:58am GMT 13/02/2007
Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists, The Daily Telegraph has learned.
More than 100 of the.50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids.
The Steyr HS50 is a long range, high precision rifle
The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year.
The sale was condemned in Washington and London because officials were worried that the weapons would be used by insurgents against British and American troops.
Within 45 days of the first HS50 Steyr Mannlicher rifles arriving in Iran, an American officer in an armoured vehicle was shot dead by an Iraqi insurgent using the weapon.
Over the last six months American forces have found small caches of the £10,000 rifles but in the last 24 hours a raid in Baghdad brought the total to more than 100, US defence sources reported.
advertisementThe find is the latest in a series of discoveries that indicate that Teheran is providing support to Iraq's Shia insurgents.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, yesterday denied that Iran had supplied weapons to Iraqi insurgents. But on Sunday US officials in Baghdad displayed a range of weapons they claimed had originated in Iran.
They said 170 American and British soldiers had been killed by such weapons.
The discovery of the sniper rifles will further encourage those in Washington who want to see Iran's uranium-enriching facilities destroyed before a nuclear weapon is produced.
The Foreign Office expressed "serious concerns" over the sale of the rifles last year and Britain protested to the Austrian government.
A Foreign Office spokesman said last night: "Although we did make our worries known the sale unfortunately went ahead and now the potential that these weapons could fall into the wrong hands appears to have happened."
The rifle can pierce all body armour from up to a mile and penetrate armoured Humvee troop carriers.
It is highly accurate and fires a round called an armour piercing incendiary, a bullet that the Iranians manufacture.
The National Iranian Police Organisation bought the rifles allegedly to use them against drug smugglers in an £8 million order placed with Steyr in 2005.
The company was given permission to export them by the Austrian government, which is not a Nato member.
U.S./IRAQ: The withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq at the present time would only lead to more bloodshed, Organization of the Islamic Conference Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told Reuters. Ihsanoglu added that a full-blown civil war in Iraq would "open the doors of hell" and threaten international stability. He said cooperation between the international community and all groups in Iraq and neighboring countries is the way to find a solution to the problems in Iraq.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: TNR part two
on: February 12, 2007, 11:47:51 PM
But sanctions advocates do believe that, by formally placing Iran in the category of "threat to international peace," the United Nations has tacitly empowered the United States and its allies to pursue more aggressive sanctions that could trigger Iranian instability--such as the Bush administration's quiet efforts over the last year to force foreign banks out of Tehran. Combined with Iran's preexisting social and economic problems--massive hidden unemployment, widespread corruption, and growing drug addiction and prostitution--and hatred for the regime among students and the middle class, aggressive sanctions could, some Israelis believe, hasten regime change in Tehran by forcing the Iranian people to pay the price for their leaders' provocations. And, with regime change, of course, the threat posed by an Iranian bomb would ease: After all, the problem isn't the nuclearization of Iran but the nuclearization of this Iran. The very threat of additional sanctions has already led to drastic increases in food and housing prices in Tehran--and may have emboldened those parliamentarians who signed the recent protest letter to Ahmadinejad. "The Iranians are a very proud people," says one Israeli official with years of experience inside Iran. "They won't be able to bear being turned into pariahs, and that will increase their resentment toward the regime."
Along with sanctions, some Israeli officials call for a robust but nonviolent U.S. intervention in internal Iranian politics--funding the Iranian opposition, transforming U.S. broadcasts in Farsi into "Radio Free Iran," reaching Farsi audiences through the Internet, and more aggressively challenging the Iranian government on its human rights abuses. Israeli advocates of regime change have been pressing Washington to adopt these policies for years and can't understand why even the Bush administration has demurred. "No one is saying not to plan for military action," says the official with experience in Iran. "But, given the devastating consequences of a military strike, why aren't we giving this a chance?"
Skeptics of sanctions note that the time frame is too narrow and the stakes too high for Israel to place its hopes on long-term regime change. They insist that the international community is incapable of mounting effective sanctions, which would almost certainly be violated by Russia and China. Yes, they acknowledge, the ayatollahs' regime is in trouble and will eventually fall--but not soon enough. Indeed, optimists have been predicting imminent regime change for over a decade; and, when failed reformer Mohammed Khatami became president in 1997, some in the West declared that regime change had already begun. But Iran's leaders know how to defend themselves against opponents: When bus drivers organized a wildcat strike last year, the leader was arrested and his tongue was cut off.
For those Israelis who are skeptical of sanctions, there is the option of last resort: a military strike. Experts readily acknowledge the complexity of an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, since they are scattered over dozens of sites, many heavily fortified and deep underground. But an attack on three key sites--especially the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz--would set back Iranian plans by several years. It would not be necessary, the former top-ranking defense official says, to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities: By repeatedly hitting their entrances, the sites could be rendered inaccessible. At the same time, Israel would probably bomb key government installations, like Revolutionary Guard bases, to weaken the regime's ability to recover. While the Iranian people are likely to initially rally around the government, the combined effect of a military attack and economic sanctions could trigger an eventual uprising, suggests the former defense official. Periodic air strikes, he adds, would impede attempts to rebuild the nuclear sites.
Defense experts downplay the possibility of secret facilities unknown to Western intelligence agencies. "If we can locate a suicide bomber as he moves from place to place, then we know how to locate static targets, even deep underground," says the former defense official. Nor are those facilities as impenetrable as some foreign news reports suggest. Noted Yuval Steinitz, former chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: "The Iranians are signaling us that the nuclear project is vulnerable. Whoever spends several billion dollars just for anti-aircraft systems around nuclear sites is saying that those sites are vulnerable. There would be no need to invest those sums if their bunkers were deep enough [to avoid an air strike]."
The Israeli air force has been actively preparing for an attack since 1993, enhancing the range of its bombers and acquiring the requisite bunker-busting ordnance. "Technically, we have the ability" to strike key facilities, a former commander of the air force told us. While the army's reputation was battered during the Lebanon war, the air force, by contrast, performed well, routinely destroying Hezbollah's long-range missile sites within less than five minutes following a launch.
Despite a recent report in the London Sunday Times that Israel is planning a tactical nuclear attack on Iran's nuclear sites, Israel will almost certainly not introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East battlefield. The story, likely planted and then promptly denied, was probably part of an ongoing Israeli attempt to accomplish two objectives: to warn the international community that, if it fails to stop Iran through sanctions, then "crazy Israel" will be unleashed; and to prevent the Iranian crisis from turning into an Israeli issue alone.
An Israeli assault could only delay Iran's nuclear program, not eliminate it. That's because Israel cannot sustain an air campaign against such remote targets for days on end. This can only be accomplished by the United States, perhaps together with nato allies, by mounting an ongoing series of air strikes similar to the "shock and awe" campaign conducted against Iraq at the beginning of the war. Israelis, though, are divided over the likelihood of U.S. military action. Some experts believe President Bush will attack, if only to prevent being recorded by history as a leader who fought the wrong war while failing to fight the right one. Others speculate that a politically devastated Bush will leave the resolution of the Iranian crisis to his successor.
If Israel is forced, by default, to strike, it is likely to happen within the next 18 months. An attack needs to take place before the nuclear facilities become radioactive; waiting too long could result in massive civilian casualties. Still, Israel will almost certainly wait until it becomes clear that sanctions have failed and that the United States or nato won't strike. The toughest decision, then, will be timing: determining that delicate moment when it becomes clear that the international community has failed but before the facilities turn lethal.
Israel will alert Washington before a strike: "We won't surprise the Americans, given the likelihood of Iranian reprisals against American troops in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East," says an analyst close to the intelligence community. U.S. permission will be needed if Israel chooses to send its planes over Iraqi air space--and the expectation here is that permission would be granted. (Israel has two other possible attack routes, both problematic: over Turkish air space and along the Saudi-Iraqi border to the Persian Gulf.) Still, according to the former air force commander, if Israel decides to act, "We will act alone, not as emissaries of anyone else."
Regardless of whether Israeli or other Western forces carry out the strike, Iran will almost certainly retaliate against the Jewish state. Experts disagree, though, about the extent of the Iranian onslaught and Israel's ability to withstand it. Some say that, though Iranian missiles will strike Israeli cities and Hezbollah Katyushas and Hamas Qassams will fall in massive numbers, Israel's anti-ballistic and civil defense systems, combined with its retaliatory capability, will suffice to contain the threat. Optimists also downplay Iran's ability to mount terrorist attacks in the West: September 11 has produced an unprecedented level of cooperation among Western intelligence services, and they are monitoring sleeper cells as well as Iranian diplomats, who are believed to have used their privileged access to smuggle explosives.
The pessimists' scenario, though, is daunting. Not only could Iranian missiles--perhaps carrying chemical warheads--devastate Israeli cities, but, if the Syrians join in, then thousands of additional long-range missiles will fall, too. And, if Israel retaliates by bombing Damascus, that could trigger public demands in other Arab countries to join the war against Israel. The result could be a conventional threat to Israel's existence.
That scenario leads some in the security establishment to call for renewed peace talks with Syria, aimed at removing it from the pro-Iranian front. The growing debate over Syria positions the Mossad--which says it's no longer possible to separate Damascus from Tehran--against military intelligence, which believes that President Bashar Assad wants negotiations with Israel, if only to divert the threat of sanctions against Damascus for its alleged role in murdering Lebanese leaders.
There is no debate among Israelis, however, about the wisdom of negotiations between the West and Iran. That, defense officials agree, would be the worst of all options. Negotiations that took place now would be happening at a time when Iran feels ascendant: The time to have negotiated with Iran, some say, was immediately after the initial U.S. triumph in Iraq, not now, when the United States is losing the war. Under these circumstances, negotiations would only buy the regime time to continue its nuclear program. Talks would create baseless hope, undermining the urgency of sanctions. And resuming negotiations with the Iranian regime--despite its repeated bad faith in previous talks over its nuclear program--would send the wrong message to the Iranian people: that the regime has international legitimacy and that resisting it is futile.
Hovering over Israeli discourse about a nuclear Iran is the recent Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran--and what Israelis regard as the scandalously inadequate international response. While the conference was condemned in the West, Israelis expected the international community to treat it as something more than a bizarre sideshow. Indeed, for Israelis, the conference offered the clearest warning yet on the true nature of the Iranian threat to the Jewish state.
In denying the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad aims to undermine what he believes to be the sole justification for Israel's existence. In the years before World War II, Nazi propagandists prepared Europe for the Final Solution by dehumanizing the Jews; now, Ahmadinejad is preparing the Muslim world for the destruction of the Jewish state by delegitimizing its history. And not just the Muslim world: Holocaust denial is also aimed at the West, which many Muslims believe supports Israel only because of Holocaust guilt. Strip away that guilt, and Israel is defenseless. "The resolution of the Holocaust issue will end in the destruction of Israel," commented Mohammad Ali Ramin, head of a new Iranian government institute devoted to Holocaust denial.
The French philosopher Andr Glucksmann has noted that, by threatening to destroy Israel and by attaining the means to do so, Iran violates the twin taboos on which the post-World War II order was built: never again Auschwitz; never again Hiroshima. The international community now has an opportunity to uphold that order. If it fails, then Israel will have no choice but to uphold its role as refuge of the Jewish people. A Jewish state that allows itself to be threatened with nuclear weapons--by a country that denies the genocide against Europe's six million Jews while threatening Israel's six million Jews--will forfeit its right to speak in the name of Jewish history. Fortunately, even the government of Ehud Olmert, widely criticized as incompetent and corrupt, seems to understand that, on this issue at least, it cannot fail.
To read what else TNR has published about Iran and its military weaponry, click here.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor to The New Republic and a senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Michael B. Oren is a contributing editor to The New Republic and a senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is the author most recently of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present.
ISRAEL: Knesset member Yuval Steinitz said Israel's successful Feb. 11 test of its Arrow anti-missile system proves Israel has the advantage over Iran and Syria. Steinitz also said the test proves that Israel "can bring down any kind of ballistic missile, a capability no power in the world possesses." During the test, which was conducted at 9:18 p.m. local time, the Arrow anti-missile system successfully intercepted a simulated warhead of an Iranian Shihab 3 missile.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: February 12, 2007, 11:46:46 PM
ISRAEL'S WORST NIGHTMARE. CONTRA IRAN BY YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI & MICHAEL B. OREN
Published in: The New Republic January 30, 2007
The first reports from military intelligence about an Iranian nuclear program reached the desk of Yitzhak Rabin shortly after he became prime minister in May 1992. Rabin's conclusion was unequivocal: Only a nuclear Iran, he told aides, could pose an existential threat to which Israel would have no credible response. But, when he tried to warn the Clinton administration, he met with incredulity. The CIA's assessment--which wouldn't change until 1998--was that Iran's nuclear program was civilian, not military. Israeli security officials felt that the CIA's judgment was influenced by internal U.S. politics and privately referred to the agency as the "cpia"--"P" for "politicized."
The indifference in Washington helped persuade Rabin that Israel needed to begin preparing for an eventual preemptive strike, so he ordered the purchase of long-range bombers capable of reaching Iran. And he made a fateful political decision: He reversed his ambivalence toward negotiating with the PLO and endorsed unofficial talks being conducted between Israeli left-wingers and PLO officials. Rabin's justification for this about-face was that Israel needed to neutralize what he defined as its "inner circle of threat"--the enemies along its borders--in order to focus on the coming confrontation with Iran, the far more dangerous "outer circle of threat." Rabin's strategy, then, was the exact opposite of the approach recently recommended by the Iraq Study Group: Where James Baker and Lee Hamilton want to engage Iran--even at the cost of downplaying its nuclear ambitions--in order to solve crises in the Arab world, Rabin wanted to make peace with the Arab world in order to prevent, at all costs, a nuclear Iran.
Now, more than a decade later, the worst-case scenario envisioned by Rabin is rapidly approaching. According to Israeli intelligence, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb as soon as 2009. In Washington, fear is growing that either Israel or the Bush administration plans to order strikes against Iran. In Israel, however, there is fear of a different kind. Israelis worry not that the West will act rashly, but that it will fail to act at all. And, while strategists here differ over the relative efficacy of sanctions or a military strike, nearly everyone agrees on this point: Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran.
For over two decades, since the era of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the Holocaust was rarely invoked, except on the extremes, in Israeli politics. In recent months, though, the Iranian threat has returned the Final Solution to the heart of Israeli discourse. Senior army commanders, who likely once regarded Holocaust analogies with the Middle East conflict as an affront to Zionist empowerment, now routinely speak of a "second Holocaust." Op-eds, written by left-wing as well as right-wing commentators, compare these times to the 1930s. Israelis recall how the international community reacted with indifference as a massively armed nation declared war against the Jewish people--and they sense a similar pattern today. Even though the United States and Europe have finally awakened to the Iranian nuclear threat, Iran's calls for the destruction of Israel tend to be dismissed as mere rhetoric by the Western news media. Yet, here in Israel, those pronouncements have reinforced Rabin's urgency in placing the Iran situation at the top of the strategic agenda.
One of the men most responsible for doing precisely that is Labor Party parliamentarian and current Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, whom Rabin entrusted with his government's "Iran file." Like most in the defense establishment, Sneh doesn't believe Iran would immediately launch a nuclear attack against Israel. But, he adds, it won't have to actually use the bomb to cripple Israel. "They would be able to destroy the Zionist dream without pressing the button," he says.
In clipped tones that reveal his long military background, he outlines three repercussions of an Iranian bomb. To begin with, he notes, the era of peace negotiations will come to an end: "No Arab partner will be able to make concessions with a nuclear Iran standing over them." What's more, Israel will find its military options severely limited. An emboldened Iran could provide Hezbollah and Hamas with longer-range and deadlier rockets than their current stock of Katyushas and Qassams; yet, threatened with a nuclear response, Israel would have little defense against intensifying rocket fire on its northern and southern periphery, whose residents would have to be evacuated to the center. Israel already experienced a foretaste of mass uprooting in the Lebanon war last summer, when hundreds of thousands of Galilee residents were turned into temporary refugees. Finally, says Sneh, foreign investors will flee the country, and many Israelis will, too. In one recent poll, 27 percent of Israelis said they would consider leaving if Iran went nuclear. "Who will leave? Those with opportunities abroad--the elite," Sneh notes. The promise of Zionism to create a Jewish refuge will have failed, and, instead, Jews will see the diaspora as a more trustworthy option for both personal and collective survival. During the Lebanon war, Israeli television's preeminent satirical comedy, "O What a Wonderful Land," interviewed an Israeli claiming that "this" is the safest place for Jews--as the camera pulled back to reveal that "this" was London.
Even without the bomb, Iran's threat to Israel is growing. Working through Shia Hezbollah, Alawite Damascus, and Sunni Hamas, Tehran has extended its influence into Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territories. As a result of Hezbollah's perceived victory in the Lebanon war and Hamas's ability to continue firing rockets at Israeli towns despite repeated army incursions into Gaza, Iran has proved it can attack Israel with near-impunity. Iranian newspapers are replete with stories gloating over the supposed erosion of Israel's will to fight and the imminent collapse of its "postmodern" army, as one recent article put it. Iran's self-confidence has been bolstered by Israel's failure to extract a price from Tehran for instigating the Lebanon war and for funding terrorist operations as far back as the early '90s, when Iran masterminded the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and, two years later, that city's Jewish community headquarters. Nor has Israel--to say nothing of the U.N. peacekeeping forces--managed to prevent Hezbollah from rearming. And, if Iran manages to overcome U.S. threats and U.N. sanctions and achieve nuclear capability, it will be seen throughout the Muslim world as unstoppable.
A nuclear Iran will have devastating consequences for Sunni Arab states, too. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and, most recently, Jordan have declared their interest in acquiring nuclear power; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stated explicitly that Egypt may feel the need to protect itself against Iran's nuclear threat. Other Sunni nations could follow--including Libya, whose enmity toward the Saudis may draw it back into the nuclear race if Riyadh tries to acquire a bomb. A nuclear free-for-all, then, is likely to seize the Middle East. In this crisis-ridden region, any flashpoint will become a potential nuclear flashpoint.
The reverberations of a nuclear Iran will reach far beyond the Middle East. Tehran could dictate the price of oil and even control much of its supply through the Straits of Hermuz. And Iran will be able to conduct terrorist operations through its proxies with greater immunity. Even without the nuclear threat, Iran succeeded in intimidating the Saudis into releasing Iranian suspects in the 1997 Khobar Towers bombing. Moreover, if Tehran goes nuclear, the pretense of an international community capable of enforcing world order would quickly unravel: After all, if a regime that has perpetrated terrorist attacks from Argentina to the Persian Gulf can flout sanctions and acquire nuclear weapons, how can the United Nations credibly stop anyone else from doing the same?
And these terrifying scenarios exclude the most terrifying scenario of all: Iran uses its bomb. In a poll, 66 percent of Israelis said they believed Iran would drop a nuclear weapon on the Jewish state. Though defense experts are divided over the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear attack, every strategist we spoke with for this article considered the scenario plausible. "No one knows if Iran would use the bomb or not," says Sneh. "But I can't take the chance."
The threat of a theologically motivated nuclear assault against Israel tends to be downplayed in the West; not so here. The former head of Israel's National Security Council, Giora Eiland, has warned that an apocalyptically driven Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be willing to sacrifice half his country's population to obliterate the Jewish state. Military men suddenly sound like theologians when explaining the Iranian threat. Ahmadinejad, they argue, represents a new "activist" strain of Shiism, which holds that the faithful can hasten the return of the Hidden Imam, the Shia messiah, by destroying evil. Hebrew University Iranian scholar Eldad Pardo goes further, arguing that the ideology founded by Ayatollah Khomeini represents nothing less than a "new religion," combining Shia, Sunni, and Marxist beliefs and resembling Western messianic cults that have advocated mass suicide. And so Ahmadinejad's pronouncements about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam and the imminent destruction of Israel aren't regarded as merely calculated for domestic consumption; they are seen as glimpses into an apocalyptic game plan. Ahmadinejad has reportedly told his Cabinet that the Hidden Imam will reappear in 2009--precisely the date when Israel estimates Iran will go nuclear. In a recent meeting with outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Iranian president predicted that, while the United States and Great Britain won the last world war, Iran will win the next one. And, two weeks ago, an Iranian government website declared that the Hidden Imam would defeat his archenemy in a final battle in Jerusalem. Notes one former top-ranking Israeli defense official: "We may not yet have located a clear theological line connecting the dots, but there are a great many dots." At least one ayatollah, though, has made that theology explicit: In 2005, Hussein Nuri Hamdani declared that "the Jews should be fought against and forced to surrender to prepare the way for the coming of the Hidden Imam."
Defense experts readily acknowledge that Ahmadinejad is hardly all-powerful and must yield to the Council of Guardians. In recent elections, almost all the clerics allied with Ahmadinejad lost; and, in an unprecedented move, 150 Iranian parliamentarians signed a letter blaming the president for growing inflation and unemployment. But none of this reassures Israelis. That's because Ahmadinejad is hardly alone in conjuring doomsday scenarios. In February 2006, clerics in Qom issued a fatwa permitting nuclear war. And former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaking at a 2001 "Jerusalem Day" rally, declared: "If, one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill, because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."
Given these nightmarish scenarios, one would expect to find a mood of near-despair within the Israeli defense establishment. Yet senior officials believe that events are actually working in Israel's favor and that, one way or another, Iran's nuclear program can still be stopped. Partly, that is because Israel's assessments of Iran's intention to acquire nuclear weapons have finally been accepted not only by Washington but even by the Europeans. After years of isolation on the Iranian issue, Israelis are basking in a rare moment of international credibility.
As a result, some in the defense establishment are convinced that the military option can still be forestalled, even at this late date, by aggressive economic sanctions, forcing the Iranian regime to choose between its nuclear program and domestic stability. To be sure, even the most optimistic Israelis believe that the recent U.N. decision to impose minimal sanctions on Iran will prove ineffective. Indeed, those sanctions--intended to prevent nuclear materials and know-how from reaching Iran and to stop its nuclear program from becoming self-sufficient--are uniformly dismissed as coming at least two years too late, since Iran is rapidly approaching nuclear self-sufficiency and, some here believe, may have already reached that point.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: February 12, 2007, 11:29:12 PM
Pakistan, U.S.: Gates, Musharraf and Political Ammunition
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates briefly met with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Feb. 12 in Pakistan, where Gates praised the Pakistani leader for his strong efforts in containing jihadist activity in the region. With a counterterrorism operation in Pakistan's northwestern Pashtun areas in the works, Musharraf needs political ammunition from the United States in order to win support from his allies in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. Part of containing the political fallout from these operations also will include giving the Pakistani military more authority to carry out attacks against Taliban and al Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates held a one-hour meeting with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Feb. 12 at the Pakistani president's home in Rawalpindi, where the two discussed how the Pakistani and U.S. militaries would work together to combat the Taliban's renewed spring offensive in neighboring Afghanistan. After traveling to Munich, Germany, for an international security conference, Gates added 30 hours of travel time to his original itinerary for the meeting with the Pakistani president.
Gates was particularly generous in his praise for Musharraf, saying, "Pakistan is clearly a very strong ally of the United States" and "is playing a very constructive role" in containing the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency in the region. Pakistan, he added, is "incurring a significant cost in lives and, I might add, in treasure, in fighting this battle on the border."
Gates' comments were most welcome by Musharraf as he has spent the last month fending off strong criticism from the United States that Islamabad is providing refuge for Taliban and al Qaeda leaders along Pakistan's frontier. The apparent shift in U.S. attitude toward Pakistan can be attributed to an anticipated uptick in counterterrorism operations and Pakistan's willingness to engage in a more comprehensive military strategy in its northwestern areas along the border with Afghanistan. Thus far, Pakistan has agreed to limited operations on a case-by-case basis. Musharraf probably has sorted out his domestic political situation, managing to balance it with U.S. demands and allowing Pakistan to make a more concerted effort against jihadists.
The Taliban and its allies in al Qaeda are prepping for a renewed spring offensive. As soon as the ice melts in the mountain passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters will be able to ramp up their campaign against NATO forces in the region with increased suicide attacks. The United States and its NATO allies are in the process of diminishing Taliban and al Qaeda capabilities as much as possible prior to the spring offensive, which inevitably will involve counterterrorism operations against militant strongholds on Pakistani soil. U.S. forces already have increased their presence along the Afghan side of the border in preparation for this counteroffensive.
For Musharraf to completely sign on to these operations, he must receive assurances from the United States that Washington has no plans to compromise his political career or that seriously would risk destabilizing the country, particularly since Pakistan is in the middle of a heated election season. Musharraf and his allies want assurances that there will not be a decline in U.S.-Pakistani relations once U.S. counterterrorism goals are accomplished. Such a guarantee is critical for Musharraf's ability to mitigate the domestic risk of cooperating with the United States. Gates assured Musharraf and his political allies that the United States has a long-term investment in Pakistan, saying, "After the Soviets left, the United States made a mistake. We neglected Afghanistan, and extremism took control of that country. The United States paid a price for that on Sept. 11, 2001. We won't make that mistake again. We are here for the long haul."
Musharraf's principal allies in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) fear that U.S. operations on Pakistani soil will prove costly for them in the coming elections, and Musharraf shares these concerns. A recent incident, in which U.S. soldiers fired artillery rounds from Afghanistan into Pakistan at Taliban targets, allegedly in self-defense, has exacerbated these political sensitivities. With parliamentary elections approaching in early 2008, the PML worries it will be the main party to suffer from another major U.S. operation in the country, such as the October 2006 madrassa strike in the northwestern tribal belt that resulted in a high number of civilian casualties. Whereas Musharraf has the means to split his political opponents and ensure his own victory, PML party members face a more difficult challenge in holding onto their supporters, and cannot risk the political fallout of supporting these U.S. operations.
The PML probably has received a guarantee from Musharraf that the United States will allow Pakistan to take more control over these operations and demonstrate that it has not become a U.S. lackey in fighting jihadists at the expense of Pakistan's sovereignty. As a result, the coming airstrikes and operations in Pakistan's tribal areas primarily will be conducted by Pakistani forces. The ongoing suicide attack campaign in Pakistan also has provided Musharraf with the political justification to crack down on jihadist targets in the South Asian country. Though Musharraf and his allies are sure to face considerable constraints in the coming months in containing the domestic backlash from these counterinsurgency operations, Gates' assurances have provided Musharraf with a bit more room for maneuver in the political arena.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: February 12, 2007, 09:16:44 AM
The Cost of Defeat in Iraq and the Cost of Victory in Iraq - 18 Points
Testimony to Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Gingrich Communications January 23 2007
Click on the documents to the left to view the other materials provided for the Congressional Record.
Chairman Biden, Ranking Member Lugar, and members of the committee:
Thank you for allowing me to testify.
This is an extraordinarily important series of hearings on a topic of enormous national importance.
The United States finds itself in a global struggle with the forces of Islamic fascism and their dictatorial allies.
From a fanatic American near Chicago who attempted to buy hand grenades to launch a personal Jihad in a Christmas mall, to 18 Canadians arrested for terrorist plots, to the Scotland Yard disruption of a plot in Britain to destroy ten civilian airliners in one day that if successful would have shattered worldwide confidence in commercial aviation and potentially thrown the world into a deep economic contraction.
We are confronted again and again with a worldwide effort to undermine and defeat the system of law and order which has created more prosperity and more freedom for more people than any previous system.
The threats seem to come in four different forms:
First, from individuals who are often self recruited and randomly inspired through the internet, television and charismatic social and religious friendships.
Second, from organized non state systems of terror of which Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas are the most famous. Additional groups have sprung up and provide continuity, training, and support for terrorism.
Third, from dictatorships in the Middle East most notably Iran and Syria who have been consistently singled out by the State Department (including in 2006) as the largest funders of state supported terrorism in the world. These dictatorships are investing in more advanced conventional weapons and in chemical and nuclear weapons.
Fourth, from a strange assortment of anti-American dictatorships including North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.
This coalition of the enemies of freedom has growing power around the world. Its leaders are increasingly bold in their explicit hostility to the United States.
To take just two recent examples: Ahmadinejad of Iran has said “[t]o those who doubt, to those who ask is it possible, or those who do not believe, I say accomplishment of a world without America and Israel is both possible and feasible.” He has also said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” Chavez of Venezuela, just last week in a joint appearance with the Iranian leader in Latin America, announced a multi billion dollar fund to help countries willing to fight to end “American imperialism.”
Both of these statements were on television and are not subject to misinterpretation.
Similarly there are many web pages and other public statements in which various terrorists have described in great detail their commitment to killing millions of Americans. I described these publicly delivered threats in a speech on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 which I gave at the American Enterprise Institute. The text of this speech is attached as an appendix to this testimony.
These threats might be ignored if it were not for the consistent efforts to acquire nuclear and biological weapons by these enemies of freedom
I first wrote about the extraordinary increase in the threat to our civilization from nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists in Window of Opportunity in 1984. Attached to this testimony is a copy of the relevant pages from this book.
It is not accurate to suggest today that people were not aware of terrorism or were not warning about the threat to America’s very survival prior to 9/11.
Many sophisticated observers and professional military and intelligence officers have been issuing these warnings for two decades.
What has been amazing to watch has been the absolute inability of our system of government to analyze the problem and react effectively.
It is this collapse of capacity for effectiveness which is at the heart of our current dilemma.
The United States is now in a decaying mess in Afghanistan and an obviously unacceptable mess in Iraq.
While this language may seem harsh to defenders of the current policy, it is sadly an accurate statement of where we are.
Efforts to think through and solve the problems of Afghanistan and Iraq have to be undertaken in a context of looking at a wider range of challenges to American leadership around the world and potentially to our very survival as a country. These larger challenges are described in my attached presentation entitled “The Real World and The Real War”.
With these caveats I want to focus on the challenge of Iraq.
Two Very Hard Paths Forward in Iraq
America is faced with two very hard paths forward in Iraq.
We can accept defeat and try to rebuild our position in the region while accommodating the painful possibility that these enemies of freedom in Iraq -- evil men, vicious murderers, and sadistic inflictors of atrocities will have defeated both the millions of Iraqis who voted for legal self government and the American people and their government.
Alternatively we can insist on defeating the enemies of America and the enemies of the Iraqi people and can develop the strategies and the implementation mechanisms necessary to force victory despite the incompetence of the Iraqi government, the unreliability of Iraqi leaders, and the interference of Syria and Iran on behalf of our enemies.
Both these paths are hard. Both involve great risk. Both have unknowable difficulties and will produce surprise events.
Both will be complicated.
Yet either is preferable to continuing to accept an ineffective American implementation system while relying on the hope that the Iraqi system can be made to work in the next six months.
The Inherent Confusion in the Current Strategy
There are three fundamental weaknesses in the current strategy.
First, the strategy relies on the Iraqis somehow magically improving their performance in a very short time period. Yet the argument for staying in Iraq is that it is a vital AMERICAN interest. If we are seeking victory in Iraq because it is vital to America then we need a strategy which will win even if our Iraqi allies are inadequate. We did not rely on the Free French to defeat Nazi Germany. We did not rely on the South Koreans to stop North Korea and China during the Korean War. When it mattered to American vital interests we accepted all the help we could get but we made sure we had enough strength to win on our own if need be.
President Bush has asserted that Iraq is a vital American interest. In January 2007 alone he has said the following things:
But if we do not succeed in Iraq, we will leave behind a Middle East which will endanger America in the future.
[F]ailure in one part of the world could lead to disaster here at home. It's important for our citizens to understand that as tempting as it might be, to understand the consequences of leaving before the job is done, radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength. They would be emboldened. It would make it easier to recruit for their cause. They would be in a position to do that which they have said they want to do, which is to topple moderate governments, to spread their radical vision across an important region of the world.
If we were to leave before the job is done, if we were to fail in Iraq, Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have safe havens from which to launch attacks. People would look back at this moment in history and say, what happened to them in America? How come they couldn't see the threats to a future generation?
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.
Iraq is a central component of defeating the extremists who want to establish safe haven in the Middle East, extremists who would use their safe haven from which to attack the United States, extremists and radicals who have stated that they want to topple moderate governments in order to be able to achieve assets necessary to effect their dream of spreading their totalitarian ideology as far and wide as possible.
This is really the calling of our time, that is, to defeat these extremists and radicals, and Iraq is a component part, an important part of laying the foundation for peace.
The inherent contradiction in the administration strategy is simple. If Iraq matters as much as the President says it does (and here I agree with the President on the supreme importance of victory) then the United States must not design and rely on a strategy which relies on the Iraqis to win.
On the other hand if the war is so unimportant that the fate of Iraq can be allowed to rest with the efforts of a new, weak, untested and inexperienced government then why are we risking American lives.
Both propositions cannot be true.
I accept the President’s analysis of the importance of winning in Iraq and therefore I am compelled to propose that his recently announced strategy is inadequate.
The second weakness is that the current strategy debate once again focuses too much on the military and too little on everything that has not been working. The one instrument that has been reasonably competent is the combat element of American military power. That is a very narrow definition and should not be expanded to include the non combat elements of the Department of Defense which also have a lot of difficulties in performing adequately.
The great failures in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns have been in non-combat power. Intelligence, diplomacy, economic aid, information operations, support from the civilian elements of national power. These have been the great centers of failure in America’s recent conflicts. They are a major reason we have done so badly in Iraq.
The gap between the President’s recent proposals and the required rethinking and transforming of our non-combat instruments of power is simply breathtaking.
No military leader I have talked with believes military force is adequate to win in Iraq. Every one of them insists that the civilian instruments of power are more important than the combat elements. They all assert that they can hold the line for a while with force but that holding the line will ultimately fail if we are not using that time to achieve progress in non-military areas.
This failure of the non-combat bureaucracies cannot be solved in Iraq. The heart of the problem is in Washington and that brings us to the third weakness in the current strategy.
The third weakness in the current strategy is its inability to impose war time decision making and accountability in Washington.
The interagency process is hopelessly broken.
This is not a new phenomenon. I first wrote about it in 1984 in Window of Opportunity when I asserted:
[W]e must decide what sort of executive-branch planning and implementation system are desirable.
At a minimum, we will need closer relationships between the intelligence agencies, the diplomatic agencies, the economic agencies, the military agencies, the news media and the political structure. There has to be a synergism in which our assessment of what is happening relates to our policies as they are developed and implemented. Both analyses and implementation must be related to the new media and political system because all basic policies must have public support if they are to succeed.
Finally, once the professionals have mastered their professions and have begun to work in systems that are effective and coordinated, those professionals must teach both the news media and the elected politicians. No free society can for long accept the level of ignorance about war, history, and the nature of power which has become the norm for our news media and our elected politicians. An ignorant society is on its way to becoming an extinct society.
In 1991 my concern for replacing the broken interagency system with an integrated system of effective coordination was heightened when General Max Thurmond who had planned and led the liberation of Panama told me unequivocally that the interagency process was broken.
In 1995 that process was reinforced when General Hartzog described the failures of the interagency in trying to deal with Haiti.
As early as 2002 it was clear that the interagency had broken down in Afghanistan and I gave a very strong speech in May 2003 at the American Enterprise Institute criticizing the process.
By the summer of 2003 it was clear the interagency was failing in Iraq and by September and October 2003 we were getting consistent reports from the field of the gap between the capability of the combat forces and the failure of the civilian systems.
No senior officer in the Defense Department doubts that the current interagency cannot work at the speed of modern war. They will not engage in a fight with the National Security Council or the State Department or the various civilian agencies which fail to do their job. But in private they will assert over and over again that the interagency system is hopelessly broken.
It was very disappointing to have the President focus so much on 21, 500 more military personnel and so little on the reforms needed in all the other elements of the executive branch.
The proposals for winning in Iraq outlined below follow from this analysis.
Key Steps to Victory in Iraq
1. Place General Petraeus in charge of the Iraq campaign and establish that the Ambassador is operating in support of the military commander.
2. Since General Petraeus will now have responsibility for victory in Iraq all elements of achieving victory are within his purview and he should report daily to the White House on anything significant which is not working or is needed
3. Create a deputy chief of staff to the President and appoint a retired four star general or admiral to manage Iraq implementation for the Commander in Chief on a daily basis.
4. Establish that the second briefing (after the daily intelligence brief) the President will get every day is from his deputy chief of staff for Iraq implementation.
5. Establish a War Cabinet which will meet once a week to review metrics of implementation and resolve failures and enforce decisions. The President should chair the War Cabinet personally and his deputy chief of staff for Iraq implementation should prepare the agenda for the weekly review and meeting.
6. Establish three plans: one for achieving victory with the help of the Iraqi government, one for achieving victory with the passive acquiescence of the Iraqi government, one for achieving victory even if the current Iraqi government is unhappy. The third plan may involve very significant shifts in troops and resources away from Baghdad and a process of allowing the Iraqi central government to fend for itself if it refuses to cooperate.
7. Communicate clearly to Syria and Iran that the United States is determined to win in Iraq and that any further interference (such as the recent reports of sophisticated Iranian explosives being sent to Iraq to target Americans) will lead to direct and aggressive countermeasures.
8. Pour as many intelligence assets into the fight as needed to develop an overwhelming advantage in intelligence preparation of the battlefield.
9. Develop a commander’s capacity to spend money on local activities sufficient to enable every local American commander to have substantial leverage in dealing with local communities.
10. Establish a jobs corps or civil conservation corps of sufficient scale to bring unemployment for males under 30 below 10% (see the attached op-ed by Mayor Giuliani and myself on this topic).
11. Expand dramatically the integration of American purchasing power in buying from Iraqi firms pioneered by Assistant Secretary Paul Brinkley to maximize the rate of recovery of the Iraqi economy.
12. Expand the American Army and Marine Corps as much as needed to sustain the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan while also being prepared for other contingencies and maintaining a sustainable rhythm for the families and the force.
13. Demand a war budget for recapitalization of the military to continue modernization while defeating our enemies. The current national security budget is lower as a percentage of the economy than at any time from Pearl Harbor through the end of the Cold War. It is less than half the level Truman sustained before the Korean War.
14. The State Department is too small, too undercapitalized and too untrained for the demands of the 21st century. There should be a 50% increase in the State Department budget and a profound rethinking of the culture and systems of the State Department so it can be an operationally effective system.
15. The Agency for International Development is hopelessly unsuited to the new requirements of economic assistance and development and should be rethought from the ground up. The Marshall Plan and Point Four were as important as NATO in containing the Soviet Empire. We do not have that capability today.
16. The President should issue executive orders where possible to reform the implementation system so it works with the speed and effectiveness required by the 21st century.
17. Where legislation is needed the President should collaborate with Congress in honestly reviewing the systems that are failing and developing new metrics, new structures and new strategies.
18. Under our Constitution it is impossible to have this scale of rethinking and reform without deep support from the legislative branch. Without Republican Senator Arthur Vandenburg, Democratic President Harry Truman could never have developed the containment policies that saved freedom and ultimately defeated the Soviet Empire. The President should ask the bipartisan leaders of Congress to cooperate in establishing a joint Legislative-Executive working group on winning the war and should openly brief the legislative branch on the problems which are weakening the American system abroad. Only by educating and informing the Congress can we achieve the level of mutual understanding and mutual commitment that this long hard task will require.
Thank you for this opportunity to share these proposals.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica
on: February 12, 2007, 07:27:39 AM
Un amigo Venezolano me escribe:
I'm back from the market. There was plenty of meat on the shelves! I
did not find the cut I wanted (falda, brisket?) so I bought chicken
It seems the cattle decided they didn't like Colombia and they walked
right back to Venezuela. Being in a gracious mood, they decided to
save the ranchers some trouble and they walked straight to the
slaughter houses instead of to their haciendas. FedEx was standing by
and the meat was flown overnight express to the butcher shops
To get the process rolling most likely the distribution chain gave a
few well placed government officials and military commanders a proper
The day after the shortage was announced the powers that be came to
some kind of accord and the meat appeared automagically in the shops.
Since this is not a newsworthy event, it does not get many headlines,
just back to business as usual. This is nothing new in Venezuela.
Under Chavez it might be more strident. A government official uses
his discretionary power to disrupt some supply chain. The papers
raise up the hue and cry. Business pays of the bribe and it's back to
business as usual. So, what else is new?
Here is the real deal: rich people have the funds to stock up a
larder for a month or three. Some people actually have industrial
sized freezers at home. When you go shopping you stock up on whatever
happens to be available. When a shortage develops, you use the stuff
in the larder. In a normal country this would be considered an
expensive luxury but not in Venezuela. With inflation running at 34%
since 1984 the faster you can get rid of cash, the better off you
are. The larder helps fight inflation!
Of course, this is considered hoarding by the government and only the
nasty oligarchy does it. The poor people in the barrios don't hoard.
Of course not, they are living day to day and can't afford to do
anything that is economically useful, they have to bear the slings
and arrows of outrageous government policies.
So, what else is new?
He aqui un articulo:
Middle classes escape from Chavez socialism
By Jose Orozco in Caracas, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 1:31am GMT 11/02/2007
Middle-class Venezuelans are queuing to leave the country amid fears that
its president, Hugo Chavez, is laying the ground for a dictatorship.
Opponents of his "20th century socialism" are so desperate to escape that
they have resorted to learning new languages and tracking down long lost
European relatives in the hope of securing a visa.
At the US Embassy, visa enquiries have almost doubled in recent weeks, from
400 to about 800 a day. "There are normal spikes toward Christmas or another
major holiday, but this increase doesn't fall into that category," said
embassy spokesman Brian Penn.
The British embassy has seen a similar rise in numbers. "It has been
increasing for some time, but what's different now is the tone of
desperation," said a British spokesman.
A website for would-be emigrants - mequieroir.com (I want to leave.com) -
reports that since Mr Chavez's December 3 election victory, and his
announcement last month that he would nationalise the telecommunications and
electricity industries, the number of daily visits it receives has soared
from 20,000 to 60,000.
"You're getting more families, who are worried about their children's
futures," said Esther Bermudez, who runs the site.
At the Italian Culture Institute, registration for Italian language classes
is up 20 per cent year on year. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have
Spanish, Italian or Portuguese relatives who emigrated there after the
Second World War.
Ernestina Hidalgo, 40, whose husband is a Spanish citizen, said that she was
hoping that their two teenage children would also be granted Spanish
citizenship. She said an "enabling law", passed by the National Assembly 10
days ago, granting Mr Chavez 18 months of rule by decree, was the final
"Chavez doesn't accept political dissidence," said Mrs Hidalgo. "Why do they
need an enabling law if they already have an absolute majority in the
The enabling law gives Mr Chavez free rein over 11 strategic policy areas,
including defence and energy. In January, Mr Chavez said that he intended to
nationalise the telecommunications and electricity industries, as well as
take a larger share of oil operations in the Orinoco River belt, which
produces 600 billion barrels per day.
He has also said he will not renew the broadcasting license of RCTV, an
opposition TV channel.
Outside the Spanish consulate last week, Dayana Ramirez, 20, whose paternal
grandmother is Spanish, queued with her boyfriend Jose Antonio Barreiro, 24,
as he waited to pick up his passport. She wants to acquire Spanish
citizenship and the couple hopes to emigrate to Galicia in northwestern
"Older people leave because they are concerned about the future of their
families," said Mr Barreiro, a graphic designer, "and younger people like us
leave because there is no future."
As the world's fifth largest oil exporter, Venezuela has benefited from
record oil prices, boosting the scope for Mr Chavez's social spending. Among
his poor supporters, he is seen as a politician who acts on his rhetoric.
The National Assembly ceded its legislative function to Mr Chavez in a
special session in the Plaza Bolivar in Caracas. In a show of the political
participation that Chavez champions, government supporters gathered and
raised their hands along with legislators when the law was voted on.
"Approved unanimously, including the vote of the people," declared Assembly
president, Cilia Flores.
But critics argue that Chavez is only interested in keeping power, not in
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: February 12, 2007, 07:22:22 AM
1248 GMT -- EUROPEAN UNION, IRAN -- EU foreign ministers approved Feb. 12 the implementation of U.N. sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment. In accordance with the agreement, all 27 EU member states will ban the sales of materials and technology that could be used in Iran's nuclear and missile program. In addition, the European Union will freeze the assets of 10 Iranian companies and individuals. The U.N. Security Council agreed in December to impose the sanctions and gave Iran two months to return to the negotiating table.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: February 12, 2007, 07:19:36 AM
Geopolitical Diary: A Russian Charm Offensive
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered what some have been calling the boldest condemnation of the United States -- by a Russian leader -- since the Cold War. Speaking over the weekend at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, Putin said the United States had "overstepped its national borders in every way" and that Washington was engaging in "an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations." Among other remarks, he also said that Washington's frequent, unilateral use of force encourages smaller states to develop nuclear weapons, and that U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Central Europe could trigger a new arms race.
Though there is nothing intrinsically new in Putin's criticisms, the bluntness and the venue in which they were delivered clearly signal the end of the relative quiescence that has characterized Moscow's relations with the United States since the Gorbachev era. With his speech, Putin was asserting Russia's claim to "great power" status and challenging what he called the "unipolar" world of American power.
The challenge, it appears, did not go unnoticed: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking on Sunday at the same conference, remarked that one Cold War "was quite enough."
Significantly, while Putin was challenging the United States in Munich, Moscow also was mounting a charm offensive with some of Washington's most important allies elsewhere.
For instance, speaking at an informal gathering of NATO defense ministers in Seville, Spain, on Feb. 9, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Moscow would be happy to provide assistance to help ensure the success of NATO's mission in Afghanistan. Ivanov noted that Russia allows German and French troops and equipment to cross its territory en route to Afghanistan, and would allow Spain the same access. He also offered Russian assistance with reconstruction and intelligence work, but understandably stopped short of contributing troops to the combat effort.
Ivanov's remarks were well-timed. NATO forces currently are experiencing some of the most severe fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, and bracing for what promises to be a violent spring and summer. His words may have resonated with some countries, as the alliance considers deploying still more troops to Afghanistan.
Gates, who was making his first official trip to Europe as the U.S. defense secretary, was left trying to water down Putin's remarks in Munich. Though diplomatically couched, his "Cold War" remark was a reminder to listeners that it was Moscow that was to blame for the last arms race. Gates also acknowledged, however, that some U.S. policies had been misguided and said Washington should do a better job of explaining its foreign policy decisions. He also made a veiled reference to his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld -- who had alienated some European countries by categorizing them as the "old Europe" and "new Europe" -- in saying that, "All of these characterizations belong to the past."
As Gates was doing damage control on Sunday, however, Putin was already picking up the next leg of the Russian charm offensive -- kicking off a tour of the Middle East that, again, will bring him into direct contact with several traditional allies of the United States.
On Sunday, Putin flew to Saudi Arabia -- becoming the first-ever Russian head of state to visit the kingdom -- and was received at the Riyadh airport by King Abdullah. During the visit, Putin -- who brought dozens of Russian businessmen along on the trip -- will discuss increased political and economic cooperation as well as military assistance to the Saudis. The issues of Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, the Lebanese political crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were also high on the agenda.
Other stops on the regional tour will include visits with Jordanian King Abdullah II and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, as well as a trip to Qatar. Though Russia long has had strong ties to Middle Eastern states like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Putin's current tour is notable in that he will be visiting countries that historically have been well within Washington's sphere of influence -- rather than Moscow's. Such a move, particularly following the remarks in Europe, can be viewed as a direct Russian challenge to the United States in yet another region that Washington considers vital.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues
on: February 11, 2007, 07:04:37 PM
AP alters CAIR quote in story about Ayaan Hirsi Aliposted at 7:36 pm on February 10, 2007 by Allahpundit
Send to a Friend | printer-friendly From one of our very best tipsters, RLW, comes a great little catch of which I’m not quite sure what to make. Quote #1:
The first quote comes from an AP article written by William C. Mann and entitled “Critic of Islam finds new home in U.S.” that moved on the wire at 2:05 a.m. The second is from an AP article by the same author with the same title that moved at 10:14 a.m. I compared the text of the first story to the text of the second side by side in MS Word and the two are completely identical except for the CAIR quote.
It’s possible that Mann collected both quotes from Hooper contemporaneously and changed from the first to the second unbidden, simply because he liked the second one better. Except … Hooper’s making the same point in each. He’s just being more politic about it in the second instance by dropping the word “hate.” You can imagine him saying during their interview, “You know what? I went too far. Let me rephrase that last comment” and then giving Mann the second quote — but if that’s what happened, why did the first quote appear in the story that moved at 2:05?
What we’re looking at here, I suspect (but obviously can’t prove), is Hooper having made the first comment during their interview, then gotten buyer’s remorse when he saw how shrill it looked in print. So he called up the AP hours after the fact and asked them to replace it with a more “nuanced” version — and the AP agreed to do so.
Which brings us to our exit questions. First, am I missing some other obvious explanation? And second, if not, is giving sources a do-over on quotes after a story’s been published standard practice in the industry? I’m asking in earnest. I honestly don’t know the answer.
Update: The AP’s Statement of News Values and Principles says, “For corrections on live, online stories, we overwrite the previous version. We send separate corrective stories online as warranted.” This isn’t a correction, though. Unless Mann mistranscribed it — which is exceedingly hard to believe — he’s simply replacing a harder quote with a softer one. Why?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA
on: February 11, 2007, 06:38:16 PM
I was very curious to see this fight. It turned out to be interesting/weird on several levels. With only one viewing, here is what I saw:
FS dominated striking range, but RG was able to close precisely and takedown confidently with good technical BJJ technique three times. Perhaps I reveal my ignorance, but RG's side control seemed very high to me, which seemed to faciliate FS's knees from bottom. Were FS's many knees from bottom effective? Couldn't tell, but RG seemed able to ignore them and use the space for working for mount-- perhaps the reason for what seemed to me to be a high side control?
I did not sense that FS felt concerned that RG had side control. His punches to the back of the head, until they were stopped as a violation of the rules, seemed to annoy RG. The arm position also seemed a violation of BJJ basic rules 101. It looked like RG had FS's arm in a position to think about a far arm bar or a V-lock/Americano or a Kimura, but he was not going for it , , , yet? OTOH, I have seen FS in a backroom roll with some of Rigan Machado students and Rigan himself several years ago as was very impressed with his movement and the tremendous mental fluidity of structure transitions, so may RG felt that although he had "good" position that maybe he was not able to claim the position''s theoretical advantage?
When they came, what caught my attention about the DQing knees was the very fact that they came. The very fact that they occurred from under one of the better side controls to found in this world is actually quite remarkable. Since the rules said back of the head/neck was off limits, then those were the rules and, given the prior warning for stikes to the back of the head, then Referee Herb Dean's call seems appropriate.
Still, especially in the context of the "Shamrock Family vs. the Gracie Family" marketing angle played by the promoters, it was interesting to note that it was Cesar Gracie, who recently lost very badly to FS in an oddly matched fight, speaking for Renzo after the fight and to hear that Renzo's brother Ralph was there too. There was a fight many years ago (10? 12?) when either Renzo or Ralph stepped on a submitted opponent's head after a fight and the other one spit on a defeated opponent. In both cases they immediately acknowledged that in the American context these things were simply not right, apologized and vowed it would never happen again-- which it didn't (Tangent: Tito Ortiz did the step-on-the-defeated-opponent's-head thing in his first UFC fight. BJ McCarthy slammed him up against the fence and put him in his place). At any rate, 10-12 years ago who would have thought that Cesar would be speaking on Renzo's behalf for the enforcement of rules-- or else it would be just some sort of "barfight"?
As to assessing RG's post-knees behavior, I could be wrong (not for the first or last time) but somehow something there did not ring true for me , , ,
The Adventure continues,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: February 11, 2007, 10:33:08 AM
Though I am all for a clean environment, I too find the warming case less than ironclad. What about this assertion that the warming is due to variations in the Sun and that this explains why Mars, which has no air, is also warming?
Anyway, changing gears, here's this from today's NY Times. Note what happens when people own the trees!
In Niger, trees and crops turn back the desert
GUIDAN BAKOYE, Niger — In this dust-choked region, long seen as an increasingly barren wasteland decaying into desert, millions of trees are flourishing, thanks in part to poor farmers whose simple methods cost little or nothing at all.
In Tahoua, where women have regenerated once-barren fields by digging manure pits, women mill their grain by pounding it with wooden pestles.
Better conservation and improved rainfall have led to at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres in Niger, researchers have found, achieved largely without relying on the large-scale planting of trees or other expensive methods often advocated by African politicians and aid groups for halting desertification, the process by which soil loses its fertility.
Recent studies of vegetation patterns, based on detailed satellite images and on-the-ground inventories of trees, have found that Niger, a place of persistent hunger and deprivation, has recently added millions of new trees and is now far greener than it was 30 years ago.
These gains, moreover, have come at a time when the population of Niger has exploded, confounding the conventional wisdom that population growth leads to the loss of trees and accelerates land degradation, scientists studying Niger say.
The vegetation is densest, researchers have found, in some of the most densely populated regions of the country.
“The general picture of the Sahel is much less bleak than we tend to assume,” said Chris P. Reij, a soil conservationist who has been working in the region for more than 30 years and helped lead a study published last summer on Niger’s vegetation patterns. “Niger was for us an enormous surprise.”
About 20 years ago, farmers like Ibrahim Danjimo realized something terrible was happening to their fields.
“We look around, all the trees were far from the village,” said Mr. Danjimo, a farmer in his 40s who has been working the rocky, sandy soil of this tiny village since he was a child. “Suddenly, the trees were all gone.”
Fierce winds were carrying off the topsoil of their once-productive land. Sand dunes threatened to swallow huts. Wells ran dry. Across the Sahel, a semiarid belt that spans Africa just below the Sahara and is home to some of the poorest people on earth, a cataclysm was unfolding.
Severe drought in the 1970s and ’80s, coupled with a population explosion and destructive farming and livestock practices, was denuding vast swaths of land. The desert seemed determined to swallow everything. So Mr. Danjimo and other farmers in Guidan Bakoye took a small but radical step. No longer would they clear the saplings from their fields before planting, as they had for generations. Instead they would protect and nurture them, carefully plowing around them when sowing millet, sorghum, peanuts and beans.
Today, the success in growing new trees suggests that the harm to much of the Sahel may not have been permanent, but a temporary loss of fertility. The evidence, scientists say, demonstrates how relatively small changes in human behavior can transform the regional ecology, restoring its biodiversity and productivity.
In Niger’s case, farmers began protecting trees just as rainfall levels began to rise again after the droughts in the 1970s and ’80s.
Another change was the way trees were regarded by law. From colonial times, all trees in Niger had been regarded as the property of the state, which gave farmers little incentive to protect them. Trees were chopped for firewood or construction without regard to the environmental costs. Government foresters were supposed to make sure the trees were properly managed, but there were not enough of them to police a country nearly twice the size of Texas.
But over time, farmers began to regard the trees in their fields as their property, and in recent years the government has recognized the benefits of that outlook by allowing individuals to own trees. Farmers make money from the trees by selling branches, pods, fruit and bark. Because those sales are more lucrative over time than simply chopping down the tree for firewood, the farmers preserve them.
The greening began in the mid-1980s, Dr. Reij said, “and every time we went back to Niger, the scale increased.”
“The density is so spectacular,” he said.
Mahamane Larwanou, a forestry expert at the University of Niamey in Niger’s capital, said the regrowth of trees had transformed rural life in Niger.
(2 of 3)
“The benefits are so many it is really astonishing,” Dr. Larwanou said. “The farmers can sell the branches for money. They can feed the pods as fodder to their animals. They can sell or eat the leaves. They can sell and eat the fruits. Trees are so valuable to farmers, so they protect them.”
They also have extraordinary ecological benefits. Their roots fix the soil in place, preventing it from being carried off with the fierce Sahelian winds and preserving arable land. The roots also help hold water in the ground, rather than letting it run off across rocky, barren fields into gullies where it floods villages and destroys crops.
One tree in particular, the Faidherbia albida, known locally as the gao tree, is particularly essential. It is a nitrogen-fixing tree, which helps fertilize the soil.
Its leaves fall off during the rainy season, which means it does not compete with crops for water, sun or nutrients during the growing period. The leaves themselves become organic fertilizer when they fall.
“This tree is perfectly adapted for farming in the Sahel,” said Dr. Larwanou. “Yet it had all but disappeared from the region.”
That is because for generations local farmers had simply cleared their fields of all vegetation, including trees, before sowing neat rows of sorghum, millet, peanuts and beans. When a field became less productive, the farmer would move on to another.
Wresting subsistence for 13 million people from Niger’s fragile ecology is something akin to a puzzle. Less than 12 percent of its land can be cultivated, and much of that is densely populated. Yet 90 percent of Niger’s people live off agriculture, cultivating a semiarid strip along the southern edge of the country.
Farmers here practice mostly rain-fed agriculture with few tools and no machinery, making survival precarious even in so-called normal times. But when the rains and harvest fall short, hunger returns with a particular vengeance, as it did in 2005 during the nation’s worst food crisis in a generation.
Making matters worse, Niger’s population has doubled in the last 20 years. Each woman bears about seven children, giving the country one of the highest growth rates in the world.
The regrowth of trees increases the income of rural farmers, cushioning the boom and bust cycle of farming and herding.
Ibrahim Idy, a farmer in Dahirou, a village in the Zinder region, has 20 baobab trees in his fields. Selling the leaves and fruit brings him about $300 a year in additional income. He has used that money to buy a motorized pump to draw water from his well to irrigate his cabbage and lettuce fields. His neighbors, who have fewer baobabs, use their children to draw water and dig and direct the mud channels that send water coursing to the beds. While their children work the fields, Mr. Idy’s children attend school.
In some regions, swaths of land that had fallen out of use are being reclaimed, using labor-intensive but inexpensive techniques.
In the village of Koloma Baba, in the Tahoua region just south of the desert’s edge, a group of widows have reclaimed fields once thought forever barren. The women dig small pits in plots of land as hard as asphalt. They place a shovelful of manure in the pits, then wait for rain. The pits help the water and manure stay in the soil and regenerate its fertility, said Dr. Larwanou. Over time, with careful tending, the land can regain its ability to produce crops. In this manner, more than 600,000 acres of land have been reclaimed, according to researchers.
Still, Koloma Baba also demonstrates the limits of this fragile ecosystem, where disaster is always one missed rainfall away. Most able-bodied young men migrate to Nigeria and beyond in search of work, supporting their families with remittances. The women struggle to eke a modest crop from their fields.
“I produce enough to eat, but nothing more,” said Hadijatou Moussa, a widow in Koloma Baba.
The women have managed to grow trees on their fields as well, but have not seen much profit from them. People come and chop their branches without permission, and a village committee that is supposed to enforce the rights of farmers to their trees does not take action against poachers.
Page 3 of 3)
Such problems raise the question of whether the success of some of Niger’s farmers can be replicated on a larger scale, across the Sahel. While Niger’s experience of greening on a vast scale is unique, scientists say, smaller tracts of land have been revived in other countries.
A Green Revolution
“It really requires the effort of the whole community,” said Dr. Larwanou. “If farmers don’t take action themselves and the community doesn’t support it, farmer-managed regeneration cannot work.”
Moussa Bara, the chief of Dansaga, a village in the Ague region of Niger, where the regeneration has been a huge success, said the village has benefited enormously from the regrowth of trees. He said not a single child died of malnutrition in the hunger crisis that gripped Niger in 2005, largely because of extra income from selling firewood. Still, he said, the village has too many mouths to feed.
“We are many and the land is small,” he explained, bouncing on his lap a little boy named Ibrahim, the youngest of his 17 children by his three wives.
Climate change is another looming threat. Kerry H. Cook, a professor of atmospheric science at Cornell University, said that improved rains in the Sahel are most likely a result of natural climate variability from decade to decade, and that while the trend is positive, the rains have not entirely recovered to what they were in the 1950s.
The Sahel, like other parts of Africa, has experienced big swings in rainfall in recent years. Severe droughts in eastern and southern Africa have led to serious hunger crises in the past five years, and a drop in precipitation in Niger in 2005 contributed to the food crisis here that year.
Dr. Cook’s long-term projections, based on a variety of climate models, point to longer and more frequent dry periods in the Sahel, caused by rising temperatures in the Gulf of Guinea.
“This is the place in the world that just stands out for having vulnerability for drought,” she said.
Still, more trees mean that Niger’s people are in a better position to withstand whatever changes the climate might bring. “This is something the farmers control, and something they do for themselves,” said Dr. Larwanou. “It demonstrates that with a little effort and foresight, you can reduce poverty in the Sahel. It is not impossible or hopeless, and does not have to cost a lot of money. It can be done.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon (support our troops)
on: February 10, 2007, 11:42:28 PM
I was present today in Baghdad for the Transfer of Authority. Godspeed to the Coalition and to the people of Iraq. General David Petraeus is now running the war in Iraq. Anyone who knows much about the General might agree that David Petraeus seems to have been born and raised to win this particular war.
Frankly, the odds seem nearly impossible. Iraq is broiling and it's getting worse. Yet, there are glimmers of hope, and I see those glimmers with my own eyes here in Iraq. But make no mistake: America has asked David Petraeus to walk into a burning barn and perform brain surgery on a dying patient. If it can be done, David Petraeus is our man.
Meanwhile, I'll continue to run combat missions with our troops, and to talk with as many Iraqis as possible, and keep the news flowing back. Due to the great number of missions I am running, there may be fewer dispatches in the coming days, but I am planing to do more radio interviews and you can link to these from the home page of my website.
A new dispatch, Roughnecks, is available now. It contains some combat video shot from above. The previous dispatch, Hands of God, has an audio clip that was heavily downloaded for many days, making it slow to access for some visitors. For those who haven't had the chance to listen to it yet, there is a link built into the dispatch name above.
No one can predict the outcome of events here, especially those who have never set foot on Iraqi soil. But, given how vital the outcome is to our national interest, it is imperative that someone be reporting from the ground. Because this site operates soley on reader donations and photograph sales,
I appreciate the support that insures at least this one man's independent perspective.
P O Box 416
Westport Pt MA 02791
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Help our troops/our cause:
on: February 10, 2007, 12:23:18 PM
Greetings From Rancho Mirage
Ben Stein | February 05, 2007
Dear Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, National Guard, Reservists, in Iraq, in the Middle East theater, in Afghanistan, in the area near Afghanistan, in any base anywhere in the world, and your families:
Let me tell you about why you guys own about 90 percent of the backbone in the whole world right now and should be happy with yourselves and proud of whom you are.
It was a dazzlingly hot day here in Rancho Mirage today. I did small errands like going to the bank to pay my mortgage, finding a new bed at a price I can afford, practicing driving with my new 5 wood, paying bills for about two hours. I spoke for a long time to a woman who is going through a nasty child custody fight. I got e-mails from a woman who was fired today from her job for not paying attention. I read about multi-billion-dollar mergers in Europe, Asia, and the Mideast. I noticed how overweight I am, for the millionth time. In other words, I did a lot of nothing.
Like every other American who is not in the armed forces family, I basically just rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic in my trivial, self-important, meaningless way.
Above all, I talked to a friend of more than forty-three years who told me he thought his life had no meaning because all he did was count his money. And, friends in the armed forces, this is the story of all of America today. We are doing nothing but treading water while you guys carry on the life or death struggle against worldwide militant Islamic terrorism. Our lives are about nothing: paying bills, going to humdrum jobs, waiting until we can go to sleep and then do it all again. Our most vivid issues are trivia compared with what you do every day, every minute, every second.
Oprah Winfrey talks a lot about "meaning" in life. For her, "meaning" is dieting and then having her photo on the cover of her magazine every single month (surely a new world record for egomania). This is not "meaning."
- Meaning is doing for others.
- Meaning is risking your life for hers.
- Meaning is putting your bodies and families' peace of mind on the line to defeat some of the most evil, sick killers the world has ever known.
- Meaning is leaving the comfort of home to fight to make sure that there still will be a home for your family and for your nation and for free men and women everywhere.
Look, Soldiers and Marines and Sailors and Airmen and Coast Guardsmen, there are six billion people in this world. The whole fate of this world turns on what you people, 1.4 million, more or less, do every day. The fate of mankind depends on what about 2/100 of one percent of the people in this world do every day and you are those people. And joining you is every policeman, fireman, and Emergency Medical Technician in the country, also holding back the tide of chaos.
Do you know how important you are? Do you know how indispensable you are? Do you know how humbly grateful any of us who has a head on his shoulders is to you? Do you know that if you never do another thing in your lives, you will always still be heroes? That we could live without Hollywood or Wall Street or the NFL, but we cannot live for a week without you?
We are on our knees to you and we bless and pray for you every moment. And Oprah Winfrey, if she were a size two, would not have one millionth of your importance, and all of the Wall Street billionaires will never mean what the least of you do, and if Barry Bonds hits hundreds of home runs it would not mean as much as you going on one patrol or driving one truck to the Baghdad airport.
You are everything to us, as we go through our little days, and you are in the prayers of the nation and of every decent man and woman on the planet. That's who you are and what you mean. I hope you know that.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 10, 2007, 09:49:20 AM
Sounds like our politics are rather similar
The GOP Field
So who's the tax-cutting, reform candidate?
Saturday, February 10, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Now is the season of Republican discontent, extending even to the party's Presidential candidates. For the first time in decades, no dominant candidate has emerged and GOP voters seem to be in a Missouri state of mind: Show us what you really believe. We know exactly how they feel.
John McCain has been considered the front-runner, having lost a rough nomination fight in 2000 to President Bush. In the normal GOP habit of Presidential primogeniture, he'd be the likeliest nominee. The Arizona Senator has an inspiring personal story and a strong record on national security. His fortitude on Iraq has been all the more impressive since the war has become unpopular and threatens the media adulation he has long enjoyed. Tenacity is a Presidential asset, especially in dangerous times.
But among many Republicans, Mr. McCain is also paying a price for his years as a policy "maverick." Social conservatives hate his signature achievement of campaign-finance reform, which limits public ability to influence politicians. He also grandstanded on rules for interrogating terrorists.
Our own doubts relate to his economic instincts. He's a bulwark against spending earmarks, no question. But Mr. McCain turned against the Reagan tax-cut agenda in 2000, and he voted against the Bush tax cuts of 2003. Now that those tax cuts have proven to be a spectacular success, the Senator says he wants them made permanent. But his justification is the political one that he has "never voted for a tax increase," not that he now understands his opposition was wrong on the merits. With 2008 likely to be a tax watershed, the GOP needs a candidate who can articulate a pro-growth agenda. Maybe his estimable economic advisers, former Senator Phil Gramm and former FTC Chairman Tim Muris, can steer him right.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, has had some success exploiting conservative unease with Mr. McCain. He has shown he can win votes in a blue state, and he was successful both as a capitalist and as manager of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
However, he too is something of an empty policy slate. The former business consultant made a big deal of the health-care "reform" he steered through the Massachusetts legislature last year, and we suppose he deserves credit for trying. But he oversold the results--to the applause of the national health-care lobby--and imposed an insurance mandate without reforming the state insurance market.
As it unfolds, this law is turning out to be far from a free-market success. And so now Mr. Romney is distancing himself from it--never mind that he upbraided his critics last year for not understanding its virtues. The episode suggests a thin political skin and perhaps a too malleable policy core.
Filling out the current top tier of candidates is the anomaly of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. We say anomaly because a Northeasterner who favors gun control and abortion rights isn't supposed to have a Ralph Nader's chance in the GOP primaries. Yet today Mr. Giuliani leads in the national polls and is all but tied with Mr. McCain in New Hampshire.
Some of this is no doubt due to name recognition after his 9/11 heroics. On the other hand, maybe cultural conservatives aren't the single-issue voters of media lore. Mr. Giuliani can point to the revival of the previously ungovernable New York, and his temerity and experience in a crisis are qualities that voters look for in a Commander-in-Chief.
The competition will attack his social liberalism, and our guess is that Mr. Giuliani could help himself if he came out solidly for appointing judges like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Today's cultural disputes all end up in the courts, and what most conservatives want above all is to know that their views will get a democratic hearing rather than be pre-empted by judicial fiat.
As always, there are a pack of other potential candidates, one or two of whom could make a splash along the way. Newt Gingrich is famous as the former House Speaker and ubiquitous on Fox News. He is also a font of ideas, some of them sensible. But he will have to persuade Republicans that he can win given the baggage of his Beltway days and low favorability ratings.
There's always room for a strong anti-abortion voice in any GOP race, and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is bidding for that slot. Though little known nationally, he's done impressive, and often bipartisan, work on everything from malaria to immigration. So we are astounded by his recent remarks from Baghdad distancing himself, a la Hillary Clinton, from the war he voted for. Millions of Republicans are frustrated with the war, but if he sustains this antiwar theme someone will note that he co-sponsored the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act.
All in all, this looks like the most wide-open Republican race in years. That may be a good thing if it forces the candidates to battle over ideas and revive the GOP reform agenda that got lost in the fog of the 109th Congress.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: February 10, 2007, 09:24:32 AM
Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says
Michael R. GORDON
Published: February 10, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.
A Deadly Weapon The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.
In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq.
The focus of American concern is known as an “explosively formed penetrator,” a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb being used by Shiite groups in attacks on American troops in Iraq. Attacks using the device have doubled in the past year, and have prompted increasing concern among military officers. In the last three months of 2006, attacks using the weapons accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, though less than a quarter of the total, military officials say.
Because the weapon can be fired from roadsides and is favored by Shiite militias, it has become a serious threat in Baghdad. Only a small fraction of the roadside bombs used in Iraq are explosively formed penetrators. But the device produces more casualties per attack than other types of roadside bombs.
Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile. The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran.
The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with American officials, including some whose agencies have previously been skeptical about the significance of Iran’s role in Iraq. Administration officials said they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American claims.
The link that American intelligence has drawn to Iran is based on a number of factors, including an analysis of captured devices, examination of debris after attacks, and intelligence on training of Shiite militants in Iran and in Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah militants believed to be working at the behest of Tehran.
The Bush administration is expected to make public this weekend some of what intelligence agencies regard as an increasing body of evidence pointing to an Iranian link, including information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in Baghdad.
The information includes interrogation reports from the raids indicating that money and weapons components are being brought into Iraq from across the Iranian border in vehicles that travel at night. One of the detainees has identified an Iranian operative as having supplied two of the bombs. The border crossing at Mehran is identified as a major crossing point for the smuggling of money and weapons for Shiite militants, according to the intelligence.
According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of bomb, and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq. In addition, some components of the bombs have been found with Iranian factory markings from 2006.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appeared to allude to this intelligence on Friday when he told reporters in Seville, Spain, that serial numbers and other markings on weapon fragments found in Iraq point to Iran as a source.
Some American intelligence experts believe that Hezbollah has provided some of the logistical support and training to Shiite militias in Iraq, but they assert that such steps would not be taken without Iran’s blessing.
“All source reporting since 2004 indicates that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Corps-Quds Force is providing professionally-built EFPs and components to Iraqi Shia militants,” notes a still-classified American intelligence report that was prepared in 2006.
“Based on forensic analysis of materials recovered in Iraq,” the report continues, “Iran is assessed as the producer of these items.”
Page 2 of 3)
The United States, using the Swiss Embassy in Tehran as an intermediary, has privately warned the Iranian government to stop providing the military technology to Iraqi militants, a senior administration official said. The British government has issued similar warnings to Iran, according to Western officials. Officials said that the Iranians had not responded.
A Deadly Weapon An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said that “as part of its strategy in Iraq, Iran is implementing a deliberate, calibrated policy — approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force — to provide explosives support and training to select Iraqi Shia militant groups to conduct attacks against coalition targets.” The reference was to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, and to an elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Command that is assigned the task of carrying out paramilitary operations abroad.
“The likely aim is to make a military presence in Iraq more costly for the U.S.,” the assessment said.
Other officials believe Iran is using the attacks to send a warning to the United States that it can inflict casualties on American troops if the United States takes a more forceful posture toward it.
Iran has publicly denied the allegations that it is providing military support to Shiite militants in Iraq. Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an Op-Ed article published on Thursday in The Times that the Bush administration was “trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.”
The explosively formed penetrator, detonated on the roadside as American vehicles pass by, is capable of blasting a metal projectile through the side of an armored Humvee with devastating consequences.
American military officers say that attacks using the weapon reached a high point in December, when it accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq. For reasons that remain unclear, attacks using the device declined substantially in January, but the weapons remain one of the principal threats to American troops in and around Baghdad, where five additional brigades of American combat troops are to be deployed under the Bush administration’s new plan.
“It is the most effective I.E.D out there,” said Lt. Col. James Danna, who led the Second Battalion, Sixth Infantry Regiment in Baghdad last year, referring to improvised explosive devices, as the roadside bombs are known by the American military. “To me it is a political weapon. There are not a lot of them out there, but every time we crack down on the Shia militias that weapon comes out. They want to keep us on our bases, keep us out of their neighborhoods and prevent us from doing our main mission, which is protecting vulnerable portions of the population.”
Adm. William Fallon, President Bush’s choice to head the Central Command, alluded to the weapon’s ability to punch through the side of armored Humvees in his testimony to Congress last month.
“Equipment that was, we thought, pretty effective in protecting our troops just a matter of months ago is now being challenged by some of the techniques and devices over there,” Admiral Fallon said. “So I’m learning as we go in that this is a fast-moving ballgame.”
Mr. Gates told reporters last week that he had heard there had been cases in which the weapon “can take out an Abrams tank.”
The increasing use of the weapon is the latest twist in a lethal game of measure and countermeasure that has been carried out throughout the nearly four-year-old Iraq war. Using munitions from Iraq’s vast and poorly guarded arsenal, insurgents developed an array of bombs to strike the more heavily armed and technologically superior American military.
In response, the United States military deployed armored Humvees, which in turn spawned the development of even more potent roadside bombs. American officials say that the first suspected use of the penetrator occurred in late 2003 and that attacks have risen steadily since then.
To make the weapon, a metal cylinder is filled with powerful explosives. A metal concave disk manufactured on a special press is fixed to the firing end.
Several of the cylinders are often grouped together in an array. The weapon is generally triggered when American vehicles drive by an infrared sensor, which operates on the same principle as a garage door opener. The sensor is impervious to the electronic jamming the American military uses to try to block other remote-control attacks.
When an American vehicle crosses the beam, the explosives in the cylinders are detonated, hurling their metal lids at targets at a tremendous speed. The metal changes shape in flight, forming into a slug that penetrate many types of armor.
(Page 3 of 3)
In planning their attacks, Shiite militias have taken advantage of the tactics employed by American forces in Baghdad. To reduce the threat from suicide car bombs and minimize the risk of inadvertently killing Iraqi civilians, American patrols and convoys have been instructed to keep their distance from civilian traffic. But that has made it easier for the Shiite militias to attack American vehicles. When they see American vehicles approaching, they activate the infrared sensors.
A Deadly Weapon According to American intelligence agencies, the Iranians are also believed to have provided Shiite militants with rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, mortars, 122-millimeter rockets and TNT.
Among the intelligence that the United States is expected to make public this weekend is information indicating that some of these weapons said to have been made in Iran were carried into Iraq in recent years. Examples include a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile that was fired at a plane flying near the Baghdad airport in 2004 but which failed to launch properly; an Iranian rocket-propelled grenade made in 2006; and an Iranian 81-millimeter mortar made in 2006.
Assessments by American intelligence agencies say there is no indication that there is any kind of black-market trade in the Iranian-linked roadside bombs, and that shipments of the components are being directed to Shiite militants who have close links to Iran. The American military has developed classified techniques to try to counter the sophisticated weapon.
Marine officials say that weapons have not been found in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, adding to the view that the device is an Iranian-supplied and Shiite-employed weapon.
To try to cut off the supply, the American military has sought to focus on the cells of Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives it asserts are in Iraq. American intelligence agencies are concerned that the Iranians may respond by increasing the supply of the weapons.
“We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they’re put together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go off,” Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. “It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Muslims, Nazis, and far right hate groups echo anti-semitisim
on: February 10, 2007, 09:03:23 AM
Nobel prizewinner, author attacked at S.F. hotel
Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2007
Elie Wiesel, the renowned Holocaust author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was attacked and dragged out of a San Francisco hotel elevator last week, possibly by a Holocaust denier who claims to have stalked Wiesel for weeks, police said Friday.
Wiesel, 78, was at the Argent Hotel on Feb. 1 for an interfaith conference when he was confronted around 6:30 p.m. in an elevator by a man insisting that he wanted to interview the author, said police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens.
Wiesel said he would do the interview in the lobby of the Third Street hotel, but the man insisted on going to Wiesel's room. The man then stopped the elevator at the sixth floor, dragged Wiesel out and tried to force him into a room on that floor.
"That's when (Wiesel) started yelling," Gittens said. The man fled, and Wiesel went down to the lobby and called police.
Wiesel was not injured. He decided to leave the conference on "Facing Violence: Justice, Religion and Conflict Resolution," and police escorted him to the airport.
On Tuesday, a man identifying himself Eric Hunt and claiming to be the attacker posted an account of the incident on a virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Web site. The account matches the description of the attack that police later released.
"After ensuring no women would be traumatized by what I had to do (I had been trailing Wiesel for weeks), I stopped the elevator at the sixth floor," Hunt wrote. "I said I wanted to interview him. He protested, grabbed at his chest as if he was having a heart attack. He then screamed HELP! HELP! at the top of his lungs.
"I told him, 'Why, you don't want people to know the truth?' " Hunt wrote. "After pulling him about fifteen feet out of the elevator ... I decided that it was time for me to go."
Gittens said that police were aware of the Web site and that they had a suspect in mind, but would not confirm that they were looking for the person who posted the account online.
"We're not commenting on statements made on the Web site," Gittens said.
The site has articles on a number of topics, some of which repeat centuries-old slurs against Jews. It is registered to Andrew Winkler of Sydney, who also writes on the site. Phone calls and an e-mail to Winkler were not returned Friday.
Wiesel did not return calls made to his offices in New York and at Boston University, where he is a professor in the religion and philosophy departments.
Wiesel, a native of Romania, was sent by the Nazis in 1944 to Auschwitz, where his mother and three sisters were killed. His father died on a forced march to Buchenwald, another concentration camp, three months before the camp was liberated in 1945.
Wiesel has written more than 40 books based on his Holocaust experiences. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter named him to lead the effort to build the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In 1986, Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Hunt said in his posting that he had intended to corner Wiesel and force him to admit that the Holocaust never happened.
"I had planned to bring Wiesel to my hotel room, where he would truthfully answer my questions regarding the fact that his non-fiction Holocaust memoir, 'Night,' is almost entirely fictitious," Hunt wrote on the site.
E-mail Matthai Chakko Kuruvila at firstname.lastname@example.org
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: February 10, 2007, 08:24:22 AM
The Force Science News is provided by The Force Science Research Center, a
non-profit institution based at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Subscriptions are free and sent via e-mail. To register for your free,
direct-delivery subscription, please visit www.forcesciencenews.com
click on the registration button. For reprint clearance, please e-mail:email@example.com
IN THIS ISSUE:
I. DRUNK, DRUGGED, VIOLENCE-PRONE SUSPECTS MOST LIKELY TO BE SHOT BY POLICE
II. UNDERSTANDING & INVESTIGATING OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS: 2 DAYS TOO
VALUABLE TO MISS!
I. DRUNK, DRUGGED, VIOLENCE-PRONE SUSPECTS MOST LIKELY TO BE SHOT BY POLICE
An important new study examines officer-involved shootings from a different
perspective, focusing not on what police bring to these encounters but on
certain behavioral characteristics of the people they most often use deadly
The research, based on the shooting experiences of one large sheriff's
department in California, shows that subjects who are under the influence
of drugs or alcohol and/or have a history of violence are far more likely
to be on the receiving end of police gunfire.
Specifically, among subjects the sheriff's personnel responded to with
deadly force, those under the influence of drugs were 3 times more likely
to be shot or shot at by officers than those who weren't; intoxicated
suspects 3.4 times more likely than those who were sober; and people with
previous arrests for violent crimes 3.7 times more likely than those
without that history.
"This is the first major study of its kind," says Dr. Bill Lewinski,
executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State
University-Mankato. "It supplies really important data that will help us
more clearly understand the dynamics of force interactions. The more we
know about the factors involved in these confrontations, the better we can
help officers face the challenges that arise out of them."
"Most research on police use of force fails to look at the suspect's
actions or behavior," writes Lt. James McElvain of the Riverside County
(CA) Sheriff's Dept., who conducted the study.
Typically, studies on police shootings explore their frequency, the impact
of policy, the officers' decision-making, and the race or ethnicity of the
cops and suspects involved. Also typically they refer to the subjects who
get shot in these encounters as the "victims."
One prominent academic researcher has gone so far as to conclude that in
cases where the legitimacy of force is challenged, "it appears that in
every instance harm could have been averted by exercising some other
options." In other words, better policies and officer decisions could
prevent police shootings.
This approach, McElvain notes, "overlooks the fact that the citizen also is
making decisions that lead up to the point at which the officer fires his
or her weapon."
Lewinski agrees that past deadly force research too often has reflected "a
biased view and doesn't give us a clear picture of the encounter. In
reality, it is very clear from most investigations, grand jury proceedings,
review board hearings, trials and so on that most officer-involved
shootings in the U.S. are fully justified and result from the officer
shooting in self defense because he or she is victimized by an actual or
threatened assault by the subject."
McElvain's study, titled "Shots Fired: An Examination of Police Shootings
and Citizen Behaviors," was successfully submitted last December as his
dissertation for a PhD in sociology from the University of
McElvain, 42, now a patrol lieutenant with 21 years' experience in law
enforcement, has not personally been involved in using deadly force against
a human subject, but he has investigated police shootings in a previous
assignment with internal affairs. During the course work toward his degree,
he took a class on alcohol, drugs, and violence and, reflecting on his
investigative experiences, began to wonder what role these factors might
play in officer confrontations.
"I grabbed 5 years' of data from records at the Sheriff's Dept. and did a
quick calculation of percentages," he told Force Science News recently. He
found that about 70% of the civilians in officer shootings were under some
kind of chemical influence."
With the approval and encouragement of Sheriff Bob Doyle, he ended up
examining 15 years' of data--all instances of officers on the department
delivering gunfire at human beings from 1990-2004, including toxicological
reports and criminal histories. In all, he analyzed 186 shootings,
involving 314 officers and 190 civilians. (The agency currently has some
1,200 sworn personnel on the street and polices a socio-economically
diverse population of more than 500,000.)
Each element of McElvain's study--drugs, alcohol, and violent
background--showed a significantly higher correlation with being shot or
shot at by the police when measured independently against subjects of
shootings who did not have those characteristics. "In combination," he
found, "citizens with prior violent criminal arrest records and who are
under the influence of an intoxicant provide the strongest association with
These correlations proved to be far more significant than race or gender on
either side of the shooting relationship, McElvain reports.
His findings do not surprise him, McElvain says. Obviously both alcohol and
drugs can "disinhibit a person from coherent thinking," and if not spur
aggressive behavior at least contribute to noncompliance that "an officer
can interpret as a threat to his/her immediate safety or that of another."
Sober or drug-free, the subject might "have realized the grave
circumstances he/she was creating, and in turn, cooperated with the
officer, which would have prevented the shooting.
"Arguably, a person who engages in criminal conduct as a matter of routine
and is comfortable with using violence as a means to further his/her
activities is also less likely to be intimidated by the police when
McElvain's research is complemented by an FBI study recently published by
the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance under the title "Violent
Encounters." This study, by Dr. Anthony Pinizzotto, Edward Davis, and
Charles Miller III, analyzed 40 attacks by 43 offenders on 50 officers.
About 35% of those offenders reported using alcohol within 2 hours before
committing their assaults; in fact, they had consumed an average of 10
drinks each in that time period. More than 75% said they routinely used
illicit drugs, on average twice a week; nearly half had used drugs within 2
hours before assaulting an officer. Of 13 gang members included in that
study, only 1 indicated no alcohol or drug use prior to the incident being
evaluated, and this was a regular drug and alcohol user who didn't abuse
substances as usual that day because he wanted to be "sharp" while robbing
A significant portion of the offenders in the FBI study had a history of
committing violent crimes, including prior assaults on LEOs.
"Both these studies," says Lewinski, "show that officers in deadly force
situations are commonly dealing with individuals who are very difficult to
deal with. The challenge is to try to come up with things that can help
officers 'read' these situations more quickly and then influence subjects
who we know can be only minimally influenced at best to reduce their
"More research will be necessary before effective training methods can be
established, but these studies are major steps in broadening our
understanding of the dynamics of dangerous encounters. They also can help
the civilian community understand how complex and difficult force
confrontations can be."
McElvain sees the possibility of some immediate practical applications of
his findings. For example, "If we can identify citizens who are under the
influence and have a history of violence, we may be able to approach them
differently," he told Force Science News. "It may be helpful in those
instances to get a second officer on the scene, armed with less-lethal
Dispatchers can play a vital role in conveying important information by
probing complainants about the sobriety status of suspects and by running
record checks on criminal history and prior contacts when an offender's
name is known, he says.
Advanced training programs may also be able to help officers better pick up
cues to an offender's mental state. "But when you talk about training,
you're talking about money," he says. In agencies where armed encounters
are rare, administrators may not feel this problem represents a training
Lewinski points out, however, "If we can't figure out better ways for
officers to deal with drunk, drugged, and violence-prone subjects, it not
only is going to be dangerous for those citizens but also for officers who
are victimized by the subjects' impulsiveness and altered state."
Meanwhile, McElvain has plans to mine his research database for more fresh
findings. Among other things, he is currently exploring how officers'
education, age, military experience, gender, race, and prior shooting
involvement may correlate to uses of deadly force, and he wants to map out
how police shootings relate to neighborhood types. "I think there are 5 or
6 different studies to come off of this data," he predicts.
[Our thanks to Tom Aveni, a member of FSRC's Technical Advisory Board, for
alerting us to Lt. McElvain's research project.]
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: February 09, 2007, 02:53:48 PM
Second post of the day:
This news from Iraq, via the Jawa Report, should be top story. But since Anna Nicole Smith died, it won't get the coverage it deserves:
Coalition forces in Iraq have delivered a series of stunning blows to al Qaeda in Iraq in the last 48 hours.
A key aide to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the man who replaced Abu Musab al Zarqawi as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, has been captured south of Baghdad. As A.J. Strata notes, the trail to the al Qaeda leader is fresh: the captured aide admitted to meeting with al Masri yesterday.
Since Taji is north of Baghdad, these two al Qaeda IED cell leaders captured by the U.S. in West Taji are not the same as those above. That's four al Qaeda leaders captured.
But four is such a lonely number. A facilitator of foreign fighters was captured by the Iarqi Army on the Syrian border. And foreign fighters tend to mean al Qaeda.
Not to be outdone by the IA, the U.S. struck two houses where foreign fighters had gathered---13 jihadis dead. An "individual" associated with foreign fighter facilitation was in the targeted area.
But wait, that's not all. Coalition Forces conducted an air strike Wednesday targeting an al-Qaida in Iraq-related vehicle-borne improvised explosives devices network near Arab Jabour. Intelligence reports indicated that this network is responsible for a large and devastating number of VBIED attacks in the Baghdad area. They are also responsible for IED and sniper attacks conducted against the Iraqi people and Iraqi and Coalition Forces. Building destroyed, everyone inside presumably dead.
And another terrorist was captured in Taji. In addition to leading a bombing cell, he is also believed to be involved in taking Iraqis hostage and murdering them. Which would mean that he is either al Qaeda or one of the related organizations under the umbrella of the "Islamic State of Iraq".
So, we have 6 al Qaeda leaders captured, and possibly dozens more killed. All in the last 48 hours.
CENTCOM has details:
Coalition Forces conducted an air strike Wednesday targeting an al-Qaida in Iraq-related vehicle-borne improvised explosives devices network near Arab Jabour. Intelligence reports indicated that this network is responsible for a large and devastating number of VBIED attacks in the Baghdad area. They are also responsible for IED and sniper attacks conducted against the Iraqi people and Iraqi and Coalition Forces. As Coalition Forces approached the targeted building they came under intense enemy fire. Ground forces assessed seven suspected terrorists were in the targeted building. Coalition Forces determined the targets too hostile for ground troops and called for air support. Two precision guided munitions were dropped destroying the targeted building and an associated structure. Coalition Forces continue to tear apart the al-Qaida leadership inside Iraq. This operation significantly reduces this VBIED terrorist network's ability to operate, and increases the safety of all Iraqi citizens, Iraqi forces, and Iraq's Multi-National partners.
Coalition Forces killed an estimated 13 terrorists during an air strike Thursday morning targeting a senior foreign fighter facilitator northeast of Amiriya.
Intelligence reports indicated an individual associated with foreign fighter facilitation was in the targeted area. During the operation, Coalition Forces detained five suspected terrorists and found a cache including armor piercing ammunition. Information gained from the target area led Coalition Forces to two suspected foreign fighter safe houses where suspected terrorists were assembled. Coalition Forces observed the structures to confirm intelligence reports and engaged with precision guided munitions and rotary wing close air support, killing an estimated 13 terrorists.
Coalition Forces continue to dismantle the foreign fighter networks. This operation significantly reduces foreign fighter facilitators’ ability to operate inside Iraq.
And from MNF-I:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE--
SUSPECTED SENIOR IED CELL LEADER DETAINED, TERRORIST SAFEHOUSE DESTROYED IN WEST TAJI
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Coalition Forces detained two suspected terrorists believed to have ties to an al-Qaida improvised explosive device cell during a raid Wednesday morning in West Taji.
Intelligence reports indicated one of the detainees has significant ties to a local IED cell and had connections to recent anti-Coalition Forces activities.
Ground forces entered the targeted building and detained the two suspected terrorists without incident. Upon searching the house, ground forces found evidence of explosives material hidden inside the building and buried around the exterior. They also found several weapons and materials commonly used to make IEDs.
In order to prevent the residence from being used for future sanctuary to terrorists, ground forces destroyed the building with strategically-placed charges. Before placing the charges, Ground forces escorted two women and nine children outside the house and to a neighbor’s home in order to ensure their safety.
ImageCoalition Forces are making progress dismantling the al-Qaida terrorist network inside Iraq. The capture of these detainees and the destruction of another terrorist sanctuary reduces the ability of the terrorist network to operate, and increases the safety of all Iraqi citizens, Iraqi forces and Iraq’s Multi-National partners
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: February 09, 2007, 02:42:29 PM
Global Warming Smear
February 9, 2007; Page A10
Mark Twain once complained that a lie can make it half way around the world before the truth gets its boots on. That's been the case of late in the climate change debate, as political and media activists attempt to stigmatize anyone who doesn't pay homage to their "scientific consensus."
Last week the London Guardian published a story headlined, "Scientists Offer Cash to Dispute Climate Study." The story alleges that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington, collected contributions from ExxonMobil and then offered climate scholars $10,000 so they could lobby against global warming legislation.
Another newspaper, the British Independent, picked up on the story and claimed: "It has come to light that one of the world's largest oil companies, ExxonMobil, is attempting to bribe scientists to pick holes in the IPCC's assessment." (The IPCC is the United Nations climate-change panel.)
It would be easy to dismiss all this as propaganda from British tabloids, except that a few days ago the "news" crossed the Atlantic where more respectable media outlets, including the Washington Post, are reporting the story in what has become all too typical pack fashion. A CNNMoney.com report offered that, "A think tank partly funded by ExxonMobil sent letters to scientists offering them up to $10,000 to critique findings in a major global warming study released Friday which found that global warming was real and likely caused by burning fossil fuels."
Here are the facts as we've been able to collect them. AEI doesn't lobby, didn't offer money to scientists to question global warming, and the money it did pay for climate research didn't come from Exxon.
What AEI did was send a letter to several leading climate scientists asking them to participate in a symposium that would present a "range of policy prescriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimension." Some of the scholars asked to participate, including Steve Schroeder of Texas A& M, are climatologists who believe that global warming is a major problem.
AEI President Chris DeMuth says, "What the Guardian essentially characterizes as a bribe is the conventional practice of AEI -- and Brookings, Harvard and the University of Manchester -- to pay individuals" for commissioned work. He says that Exxon has contributed less than 1% of AEI's budget over the last decade.
As for Exxon, Lauren Kerr, director of its Washington office, says that "none of us here had ever heard of this AEI climate change project until we read about it in the London newspapers." By the way, commissioning such research is also standard practice at NASA and other government agencies and at liberal groups such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, which have among them spent billions of dollars attempting to link fossil fuels to global warming.
We don't know where the Brits first got this "news," but the leading suspects are the reliable sources at Greenpeace. They have been peddling these allegations for months, and the London newspaper sleuths seem to have swallowed them like pints on a Fleet Street lunch hour.
So, apparently, have several members of the U.S. Senate. Yesterday Senators Bernard Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and John Kerry sent a letter to Mr. DeMuth complaining that "should these reports be accurate," then "it would highlight the extent to which moneyed interests distort honest scientific and public policy discussions. . . . Does your donors' self-interest trump an honest discussion over the well-being of the planet?"
Every member of AEI's board of directors was graciously copied on the missive. We're told the Senators never bothered to contact AEI about the veracity of the reports, and by repeating the distortions, these four Democratic senators, wittingly or not, gave credence to falsehood.
For its part, Exxon appears unwilling to take this smear campaign lying down. Bribery can be a crime, and falsely accusing someone of a crime may well be defamation. A company spokesman says Exxon has written a letter to the Independent demanding a retraction.
One can only conclude from this episode that the environmental left and their political and media supporters now believe it is legitimate to quash debate on climate change and its consequences. This is known as orthodoxy, and, until now, science accepted the legitimacy of challenging it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Lebanon
on: February 09, 2007, 02:27:59 PM
LEBANON: A truck transporting weapons to Hezbollah from the Bekaa Valley was intercepted in Beirut, Lebanon, and government forces seized the weapons. Though Hezbollah has demanded that the truck and weapons be released, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr has refused to turn the weapons back over to Hezbollah. According to unconfirmed reports, rocket launchers and rockets were among the weapons found concealed in the truck.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: February 09, 2007, 11:17:17 AM
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PNA: Hamas will never recognize Israel and will not abide by treaties Fatah has previously negotiated with Israel, senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayan said. Hamas welcomed the agreement with Fatah to create a Palestinian unity government, but said Israeli recognition, as urged by President Mahmoud Abbas, is impossible.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: February 09, 2007, 11:07:15 AM
IRAQ: Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army will not be provoked into a confrontation with U.S. troops, despite the detention of several high-ranking loyalists during the latest security crackdowns in Baghdad, Reuters reported, citing Nasser al-Rubaie, the head of the al-Sadrite parliamentary bloc.
Published: February 9, 2007
BAGHDAD, Feb. 8 — Just past the main checkpoint into Sadr City, children kick soccer balls at goals with new green nets, on fields where mounds of trash covered the ground last summer. A few blocks away, city workers plant palm trees by the road, while men gather at a cafe nearby to chatter and laugh.
Sadr City, once infamous as a fetid slum and symbol of Shiite subjugation, is recovering, with the help of $41 million in reconstruction funds from the Shiite-led government, all of it spent since May, according to Iraqi officials, and millions more in American assistance.
But as Shiite areas like Sadr City begin to thrive as self-enclosed fiefs, middle-class Sunni enclaves are withering into abandoned ghettos, starved of government services.
Many residents credit a Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, and its powerful political leader, the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, for keeping the area safe enough to allow rebuilding. Yet the Mahdi Army has also killed American troops and has been linked to death squads preying on Sunnis, making the district a potential target as American troops pour into Baghdad to enforce the new security plan.
The neighborhood, which is Baghdad’s largest Shiite area and was named in honor of Mr. Sadr’s father, is a web of contradictions, at once a test of whether its progress can be sustained, a flash point for sectarian tensions and the heart of the government’s political and military base.
“Sadr City is different because it has been left without services for 35 years,” said Hassan al-Shimmari, a Shiite member of Parliament with the Fadila Party. “And with the presence of the Mahdi Army, and its agenda against the Americans — that is what makes it disturbing.”
Over three days of interviews in homes, businesses and political offices, residents described their community as tight-knit, often abused and increasingly isolated.
Abdul Karim Kassem, the prime minister in the late 1950s and early 1960s, built the neighborhood as a public housing project for the poor. The rectangle of roughly 125,000 homes northeast of central Baghdad covered an area about half the size of Manhattan, with streets in a grid and simple brick homes of about 1,550 square feet.
These days, after decades of neglect under Saddam Hussein (though the area was once called Saddam City), many of the houses have been divided into apartments and many more are crumbling.
Sadr City officials, including Rahim al-Daraji, the elected mayor, claim that more than two million people live there, almost all Shiites but with a smattering still of Sunnis and Kurds.
If that number is correct, the district has a higher population density than Calcutta or Hong Kong, which demographers say is unlikely, given the low-rise architecture.
Undeniably, Sadr City has grown in recent months as families moved in from what Iraqis call hot zones, typically Sunni areas where violence has brought daily routines to a standstill. Schools are packed with children, rents have increased and the economy has come alive.
More surprising than the pyramids of fruit at the bustling market, near a park with new red fences, are the signs of leisure, like the new children’s bicycles with tassels on the handlebars and the silvery computer shops.
“Our neighborhood is much better than other areas,” said Hussail Allawi, 41, in a crowd of men smoking flavored tobacco, a pastime now rare in much of the city. “The people are cooperative. There are many volunteers, including the Mahdi Army, and we are doing our best.”
City officials said 16 sewer mains had been cleaned to eliminate the putrid waste that once collected in large puddles, while 22 roads are to be repaved.
Louis J. Fintor, a spokesman for the United States Embassy, said American agencies were also working on more than 35 projects, mostly in health and education. He did not identify their locations or say how much money had been spent. “Getting credit,” he said, “is not the motivating force.”
Abu Firas al-Amtari, a spokesman for the Sadr political party in Sadr City, said the American and Iraqi governments spent reconstruction money haphazardly. But he acknowledged that the neighborhood was gaining momentum.
“The situation inside is very good,” he said in an interview. “We are always afraid of what comes from other neighborhoods.”
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Bombings here have become less common than in other parts of Baghdad, though a coordinated series of explosions last fall killed 144 people. Residents and Sadr party officials said they felt more secure because the Mahdi Army kept watch. As members of the community, militiamen have an advantage.
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Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times
Hussail Allawi, in cap, a laborer relaxing at a cafe in Sadr City, says of the Shiite district, “Our neighborhood is much better than other areas.”
The Reach of War
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A Neighborhood in Transition
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Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times
Using horsepower to deliver propane power. Under the protection of the Shiite-led government and the Mahdi Army, and with aid projects by American agencies, the area has become relatively calm and safe.
“The Mahdi are more loyal because they feel they are protecting their own families,” said Ahmed Hashem, 30.
Sadr officials have seized on a simpler refrain: The Mahdi Army makes peace, not war.
Mr. Amtari described the militants as humanitarians, community volunteers and part of “a moral army” that checked vehicles and enforced the law. Naeem al-Kabbi, a deputy mayor affiliated with the Sadr party, said the battles between American troops and the militia in Najaf and Sadr City in 2004 amounted to a misunderstanding — though American troops said they had come under attack while doing little more than running patrols.
Seemingly determined to clean the tarnished Mahdi image, Sadr officials said the militia’s members would disarm temporarily during the Baghdad security plan, even if Sunnis or Americans attacked. “Whatever the provocation, with the surge against us or anything else, we will not kidnap anyone or take revenge by ourselves,” said Mr. Daraji, the mayor, who has been negotiating with American and Iraqi officials over the role of the militia. “We will leave everything to the government.”
Sunni officials said Sadr officials had calculated that if they stayed quiet for the security plan, American troops would eventually withdraw, giving Shiites even more freedom to exercise power.
Salim Abdullah, a senior Sunni member of Parliament, added that the security plan’s impact would be blunted in Sadr City because Shiite militias had infiltrated the Iraqi security forces, and could tip off Mahdi militants before raids began.
An open question is whether all the Mahdi fighters will obey orders not to fight. Some residents, who declined to give their names, described the Mahdi Army as a loose collection of often rival and rogue groups, and said arrests — on, say, an especially volatile anti-American street — could set off firefights with the arrestees’ families and neighbors, even if senior Mahdi commanders remained uninvolved.
But like the streets themselves, the community’s relationship with the militia seemed to be changing. The Sadr organization, whose members once whipped people on the streets for selling alcohol, now works out of a centrally located office that has expanded from a squat one-story building into a small campus with fresh white paint and a covered courtyard. It has the feel of an American post office.
Residents said the building reflected the move from insurgent group to established player. After winning control of six ministries and 30 seats in Parliament, residents said, the Sadrists have become a more traditionally political, less religious force, with leaders primarily interested in safety and power.
There is still a saying in Sadr City that if you anger the Mahdi, “They’ll throw you in the trunk,” a reference to their notorious gangsterism. And the American military has clearly taken a harder line. Citing evidence that militia members killed Americans and innocent civilians, American troops have arrested or killed several Mahdi commanders in recent weeks as part of their efforts to pacify the capital.
In the latest move, on Thursday, American forces raided the Health Ministry and detained a deputy minister whom they accused of ferrying weapons and militants across Sadr City in ambulances to thwart American raids.
Some residents and officials acknowledge that their sprawling neighborhood includes men who contribute to Baghdad’s cycle of violence. One resident said few people had protested the recent increase in American raids because it was clear that some members of the Mahdi Army cared less for the neighborhood than they did for killing and cash.
But in interviews, even critics of the Mahdi Army said that security and economics mattered most, and that as long as the militia kept the neighborhood safe enough to function, it could count on tacit support.
Mr. Allawi, the man smoking at the cafe, said “the people are satisfied” with the spoils of Sadr control.
Muhammad Issa Sachit, 38, a mechanic for the city government who has lived and worked in Sadr City for more than 20 years, said families received a stable fuel supply at competitive prices from the Mahdi Army, more than what most Baghdad communities could depend on.
He also said that when a Sunni neighbor died in a bombing a few months ago, the Mahdi Army rushed in to help the family. “They paid for everything — the funeral, the burial, the food,” he said.
The man’s wife and children left soon afterward. The house was still empty last week.
Mr. Sachit denied that the family’s move had anything to do with a fear of Shiites. Sitting on a green rug in his simple home, he seemed to feel that his neighbor’s death was mainly a story of Mahdi Army generosity.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: February 09, 2007, 11:02:40 AM
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — New York City is about to become a laboratory to test ways of strengthening the nation’s defenses against a terror attack by a nuclear device or a radioactive “dirty bomb.”
Starting this spring, the Bush administration will assess new detection machines at a Staten Island port terminal that are designed to screen cargo and automatically distinguish between naturally occurring radiation and critical bomb-building ingredients.
And later this year, the federal government plans to begin setting up an elaborate network of radiation alarms at some bridges, tunnels, roadways and waterways into New York, creating a 50-mile circle around the city.
The effort, which could be expanded to other cities if proven successful, is a major shift of focus for the Department of Homeland Security. As it finishes installing the first generation of radiation scanners at the nation’s ports and land border crossings, the department is trying to find ways to stop a plot that would use a weapon built within the United States.
“How do you create deterrence against terrorism?” said Vayl S. Oxford, director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, the Homeland Security agency coordinating the work. “You complicate the ability for the terrorist to do what they want.”
But even as the new campaign begins, some members of Congress and antiterrorism experts are raising concerns that the initiative, like previous Homeland Security programs, could prove extraordinarily costly and provide few security gains.
“This is just total baloney,” said Tara O’Toole, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration, where she oversaw nuclear weapons safety efforts. “They are forgetting that no matter what type of engineering solution they try in good faith to come up with, this is a thinking enemy and they will look for a way around it.”
While Homeland Security officials repeatedly declined to estimate the costs of a nationwide detection system, agency documents show they might spend more than a billion dollars on the cargo-screening equipment alone.
Local officials in New York are sparring with Homeland Security over a plan to immediately transfer to local and state authorities the burden of maintaining and operating the network of detection machines when it is completed within several years.
“We are concerned they will put money forward for a piece of hardware and then move to another project,” said Raymond W. Kelly, New York City’s police commissioner. He added that while the city supports the plan, he is not convinced that the proposed detection network makes sense. “Whether or not it works, whether or not it causes too many false alarms, which causes a whole other set of problems, all of these things are still to be determined,” he said.
Mr. Oxford said he is aware of the concerns about costs, which is still the subject of negotiations, and the performance of the new detection machines. But with a threat like a nuclear attack, the country cannot afford to wait until all the details are worked out, he said.
“Our philosophy is not to wait for perfection, because perfection never comes,” he said.
The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, among the newest agencies at Homeland Security, was established in April 2005, in response to criticism that efforts to combat nuclear terrorism were too disorganized.
The office focuses on blocking two types of plots: a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. A nuclear attack by terrorists is considered unlikely, because of the difficulty of obtaining the required radioactive materials, such as highly enriched uranium.
The detonation of a dirty bomb is considered much more feasible. It only requires dynamite or another conventional explosive to detonate a widely available radioactive source — like the cesium or cobalt in certain medical devices. The blast might cause injuries or deaths, but the radioactive residue would cover a two- to three-block area and not pose an immediate health threat. Possible panic and economic disruption could be among the most serious consequences, experts say.
The Securing the Cities detection network, as the New York experiment is called, is intended to stop a nuclear or radiological threat as far away from a city as possible. “Detecting it in the core of Manhattan is too late,” Mr. Oxford said.
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The network would most likely include truck inspection stations along highways approaching New York, which would be equipped with radiation detection devices, agency budget documents say. Devices might also be installed at highway tollbooths and at spots where rail, boat and subway traffic could be monitored.
The detection equipment, some of which would be mobile, would be electronically connected and monitored so if a suspicious vehicle passed one spot without being stopped, it might be intercepted after passing another detector.
Some New York agencies already have a limited supply of radiation detection equipment, but the new system would be much more extensive and go much further outside the city.
Mr. Kelly said that the city would, at least initially, use any new detection equipment to screen vehicles heading into Lower Manhattan. The project would complement a city program to install cameras, license plate readers and devices that can block vehicle traffic, creating a “ring of steel” around the financial district.
The actual design of the Homeland Security system and the protocols for how responses to alarms will be handled, are still being negotiated by federal officials and authorities in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York state.
Benn H. Tannenbaum, a physicist and nuclear terrorism expert at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, said the system would never create anything close to an impenetrable barrier, particularly for a nuclear bomb, since the required ingredients have low levels of radioactivity and can easily be shielded. But the project still might be worthwhile, he said. “If nothing else, it makes the terrorist think twice before they do something like this,” he said.
Ms. O’Toole, the former Department of Energy official, pointed to Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, set up in about 30 cities in 2003 to monitor the air for a possible biological attack.
The equipment was installed quickly, but there was no detailed plan in place for how to respond to positive alarms, which meant three weeks of confusion among Houston authorities in October 2003, after tularemia, a naturally occurring pathogen, was discovered. “There is this disconnect between these grand schemes for technology and reality,” Ms. O’Toole said.
Laura S. H. Holgate, vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based research group, said the government should put far more energy into a global effort to prevent nuclear materials from getting into the hands of terrorists.
The testing planned on Staten Island at the New York Container Terminal is intended to police concerns about false alarms.
Three sets of new types of detection machines have been installed there. For the first time, such machines sound an alarm when something radioactive passes through, and simultaneously identify the radioactive isotope. That allows officials to distinguish between innocuous items that can emit low levels of radiation, such as granite or kitty litter, and real threats.
Officials at the Government Accountability Office and some members of Congress are concerned that Homeland Security is moving too quickly to buy the new machines. Initial tests have shown them to be not much more effective than existing machines that are a fraction of the cost.
“We know this system is going to be expensive,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “We need to be sure it will perform as promised.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Wolves, Dogs and other canines
on: February 09, 2007, 10:47:16 AM
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/09/world/europe/09dogfight.html?th&emc=th
MOSCOW, Feb. 8 — The two opponents padded and paced on a snowcovered basketball court, waiting for their fight to begin.
Viktor Korotayev for The New York Times
A dogfighting tourney was held at a sanitarium in the Tula region.
They were adult Central Asian wolf dogs in the middleweight class. (Crafty: In the picture, both dogs look like Akitas) Both were undefeated in a combined 42 appearances in Russia’s fighting-dog rings. Each weighed more than 100 pounds.
The referee gave the sign. Their trainers released them. The dogs growled, lunged and met, locking jaws on each other’s faces. They began pulling and twisting, each trying to force the other to the snow.
About 150 people lined the fences to watch. The most intense matchup of the fourth stage of the all-Russian dogfighting championship, held in a forest region well south of Moscow, had begun.
Dogfighting is prohibited in much of the West, and animal rights advocates have long wished to have it banned in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet world, labeling it a cruel and a bloody diversion for gamblers and thugs. They have succeeded in Moscow, where the fights are forbidden by mayoral decree.
But throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus, and extending to the outskirts of Russia’s capital, a form of the sport has thrived, cementing local legitimacy and gaining new followers since the Soviet Union’s collapse 15 years ago. It has also returned to Afghanistan, where it was forbidden during the Taliban’s rule.
The sport involves massive, thick-headed breeds, including Central Asian shepherd dogs and Caucasian ovcharka, bred by livestock herders across the continent to defend sheep and cattle in the mountains and on the steppe. Collectively the dogs are called volkodavs, the wolf-killers.
The All-Russian Association of Russian Volkodavs, which sponsors a national fighting championship and participates in fights in other nations, claims to have more than 1,000 breeders among its members and another 1,000 owners who enter dogs in fights.
It holds tournaments almost openly, and has enough fans to support a glossy magazine, a Web site and an annual championship tournament.
Its members brush aside criticism as ill-informed and superficial, saying the sport has roots in traditional contests in which shepherds tested their work dogs and celebrated their stamina and wolf-fighting skills. The also insist that their tournaments, unlike secretive fights with pit bulls and other fighting breeds, never involve contests to the death, and that the dogs are rarely injured seriously.
“Only people who have not seen it, and do not understand it, dislike this,” said Stanislav Mikhailov, the association’s president, as owners gathered recently for the latest tourney, held in a sanitarium in the Tula region, in the forest south of Moscow.
This event was at once open and partly closed. The fans streamed in. But one Western and three Russian journalists were admitted on condition that the sanitarium’s location not be disclosed, out of fear of vandalism or protests by opponents of the fights. In the Caucasus and in Asia, dog owners said, such precautions are not necessary.
In the ring the fight continued. The dogs tugged each other in tight circles by their snouts and then broke free, snarled and attacked again. Sometimes they rose up, pressing for leverage with forepaws while driving forward on hind legs and seeking a purchase for their bared teeth.
Their handlers crouched beside them, shouting encouragement.
One dog, a reddish-tan shepherd’s dog called Sarbai, took an early advantage. He weighed about 135 pounds, at least 30 pounds more than his foe. “Good boy, Sarbai!” his handler shouted. “Bite him well! Work!”
Sarbai wagged the stump of his clipped tail.
His opponent, Jack, had a slightly crooked left rear leg, which his owner said had been broken when he was hit by a car five years ago. He could not match Sarbai’s strength. But he was quick. He refused to submit. As he yielded ground, he clamped onto Sarbai several times, sometimes biting the larger dog’s neck, sometimes lunging for his legs.
While most of the day’s more than 10 matches drew little blood, this one was different. Jack and Sarbai tore each other’s mouths with the first bites. Blood flowed, staining the dogs’ faces and flanks.
They fought for about 15 minutes as a light snow fell. Eventually the pace slowed until the dogs, exhausted, at last stood almost motionless, tongues out. The referee signaled for rest. The first round was a draw.
The legality of such spectacles is unclear. Russia’s criminal code includes a statute forbidding cruelty to animals, but to date, animal rights advocates and dog breeders agree, it has not been used against volkodav fights.
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The statute’s language is vague, and Elena Maruyeva, director of the Vita Center for Animal Rights Protection, a private organization in Moscow, said the government did not interpret it broadly. “In practice it is very, very hard to prosecute a person under this law,” she said.
Sarbai, with his trainer, Aleksandr Fedyakin, is a 135-pound shepherd’s dog that took part in the recent tournament in a forest area south of Moscow.
Between rounds of the fight between Sarbai and Jack, another dog, Khattab, above, extended his undefeated record.
The dog owners say that because the fights are not forbidden, they are allowed. They note that government officials know about the tourneys, and the association publicizes the results. Fans also sell plainly labeled videos of the fights.
“We are a semi-open organization,” said Yuri Yevgrashin, the chief referee for the day’s events.
Whatever its official status, the sport appears to be under no significant threat. Ms. Maruyeva and an official at another of the principal animal protection organizations in Moscow said that so far, they had not pushed for bans on wolf dog fighting. Instead, they hope for other measures, like restrictions on the breeding of attack dogs, registration of wolf dog breeders and enacting standards for their care.
On the court, the second round began. The dogs locked jaws and began tumbling against snow banks. Jack still would not quit. The momentum seemed to turn. Could the smaller dog win?
“I am with you, Jack!” a red-faced man screamed, holding a plastic up of vodka. But the second round ended like the first — with two exhausted dogs.
Under the association’s rules, dogs are sorted into two classes for age and weight. They are juniors until age two and a half, when they are classified as adults. Middleweights must weigh less than 62 kilos, about 136 pounds. Any dog larger is a heavyweight.
The largest, weighing roughly 200 pounds, are not highly regarded. “They are too slow,” Mr. Yevgrashin said.
Each fight lasts until one dog shows fear or pain — by dropping its tail, squeaking, whimpering, refusing to fight or snapping its jaws defensively, all grounds for instant disqualification. There is no scoring. There are only winners and losers or, in fights that continue for three rounds without an animal yielding, draws.
Sometimes the outcome is clear within a minute. Other times, fights last more than 45 minutes. A veterinarian is always on hand, Mr. Mikhailov and Mr. Yevgrashin said.
Between Sarbai and Jack’s rounds, other dogs fought. One was called Koba, the nickname used by Stalin. He won.
Another was named Khattab, after a Jordanian-born terrorist who fought in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya before Russia’s intelligence service killed him with a poison-soaked letter in 2002. He won, too, in the junior middleweight class, extending his undefeated record to eight wins.
Many dogfights in Russia are said to be tainted, with steroid-swelled dogs, or animals smeared with wolf fat to confuse or intimidate their foes, or dogs’ mouths injected with Novocain to make them fight without hesitation. But Edgar Grigorian, Khattab’s owner, said that at this level the matches were clean.
“We are adamantly against cheating,” he said. “I can always tell a dirty dog in a fight, and a good judge will always see it.”
Mr. Grigorian and several other breeders and association members said that there was no prize money, but that successful fighters were used to sire puppies, which could sell for more than $500 each.
In two days at the sanitarium, no admission fee was charged and no gambling was visible, although the breeders said there might be some private side bets.
The previous night, owners and fans had gathered in the sanitarium to celebrate their sport. Behind a hotel room door, a huge dog guarded a metal bowl of meat. When Mr. Yevgrashin opened the door, the dog stared at a stranger and growled.
Mr. Yevgrashin closed the door. Shamil Dotdayev, who sells videotapes of fights and copies of his book, “Caucasian Volkodavs,” reflected on the tournament ahead.
The fights, he said, help preserve breeds with ancient roots in Central Asian and Caucasus life and with a continuing utility in food production. The dogs that succeed, he said, are an essential part of this hard, canine lot — the pack leaders.
Animal rights groups disagree. They say the breeding system rewards the attributes needed for fighting, which are narrower than those for guarding a livestock herd or leading a pack.
Mr. Dotdayev admitted that his interests were broader. He poured shots of vodka and said that dogfighting had an almost irresistible draw, and that studying fighting dogs can become a shepherd’s or mountain man’s obsession.
“The dogs teach us,” he said. “You cannot look at a dog and tell who it is. The dog is on the inside, not on the outside. It is in his spirit.”
“It is the same with people,” he added, and lifted his glass.
On the basketball court, Jack and Sarbai were led back for a third round.
Sarbai quickly pulled Jack to the snow. Each time Jack escaped he was pinned anew, until he was spent and began to snap his jaws, signaling defeat. His tournament was over. Sarbai advanced to the next round.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: February 09, 2007, 08:44:14 AM
From today's NY Slimes:
y DAVID S. CLOUD and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: February 9, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — A Pentagon investigation into the handling of prewar intelligence has criticized civilian Pentagon officials for conducting their own intelligence analysis to find links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but said the officials did not violate any laws or mislead Congress, according to Congressional officials who have read the report.
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The Reach of War
Go to Complete Coverage » The long-awaited report by the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, was sent to Congress on Thursday. It is the first major review to rebuke senior officials working for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for the way intelligence was used before the invasion of Iraq early in 2003.
Working under Douglas J. Feith, who at the time was under secretary of defense for policy, the group “developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and Al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers,” the report concluded. Excerpts were quoted by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who has long been critical of Mr. Feith and other Pentagon officials.
The report, and the dueling over its conclusions, shows that bitter divisions over the handling of prewar intelligence remain even after many of the substantive questions have been laid to rest and the principal actors have left the government.
In a rebuttal to an earlier draft of Mr. Gimble’s report, Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense, said the group’s activities were authorized by Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz. They did not produce formal intelligence assessments, and they were properly shared, the rebuttal said.
In a statement issued Thursday, Mr. Feith, who left the Pentagon in 2005, made similar points. Mr. Rumsfeld did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
According to Congressional officials, Mr. Feith’s statement and the policy office’s rebuttal, the report concluded that none of the Pentagon’s activities were illegal and that they did not violate Defense Department directives.
But the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said in a statement that because the inspector general considered the work of Mr. Feith’s group to be “intelligence activities,” the committee would investigate whether the Pentagon violated the National Security Act of 1947 by failing to notify Congress about the group’s work.
Senator Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the report a “very strong condemnation” of the Pentagon’s activities.
“I think they sought this kind of intelligence. They made it clear they wanted any kind of possible connections, no matter how skimpy, and they got it,” he said.
Mr. Feith and other officials in his Pentagon office have been accused by critics of the administration of distorting intelligence data to justify the invasion of Iraq. When Democrats were in the minority in Congress, Mr. Levin conducted an inquiry and issued a report excoriating Mr. Feith and others at the Pentagon for their conduct.
The conclusions the Pentagon team reached in the year or so before the invasion of Iraq have been generally known for some time and were largely discredited by the Sept. 11 commission, which found “no evidence” that contacts between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda “ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.”
According to Mr. Levin, the inspector general’s report did not make any specific recommendations, and he said that interagency coordination “will significantly reduce the opportunity for the inappropriate conduct of intelligence activities outside of intelligence channels.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, is completing work on its own investigation into the use of intelligence by policy makers in the months before the Iraq war. Under Republican leadership, it had delayed an examination of Mr. Feith’s activities pending the outcome of the inspector general’s report.
The Pentagon’s rebuttal vehemently rejected the report’s contention that there was “inappropriate” use of intelligence by Pentagon civilians and said the effort to identify links between Saddam Hussein’s government and Al Qaeda was done at the direction of Mr. Wolfowitz, who was deputy defense secretary at the time.
Describing the work as a “fresh, critical look” at intelligence agency conclusions about Al Qaeda and Iraq, the Pentagon rebuttal said, “It is somewhat difficult to understand how activities that admittedly were lawful and authorized (in this case by either the secretary of defense or the deputy secretary of defense) could nevertheless be characterized as ‘inappropriate.’ ”
The Feith operation dates to shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the Pentagon established a small team of civilians to sift through existing intelligence with the aim of finding possible links between terror networks and governments. Bush administration officials contended that intelligence agencies were ignoring reports of collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
By the summer of 2002, the group, whose membership evolved over time, was aimed at identifying links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq.
The inspector general’s report criticizes a July 25, 2002, memo, written by an intelligence analyst detailed to Mr. Feith’s office, titled, “Iraq and al-Qaida: Making the Case.”
The memo said that, while “some analysts have argued” that Osama bin Laden would not cooperate with secular Arab entities like Iraq, “reporting indicates otherwise.”
The inspector general concluded that the memo constituted an “alternative intelligence assessment” from that given by the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies and that it led to a briefing on links between Al Qaeda and Iraq that was given to senior Bush administration officials in August 2002, according to excerpts of the draft inspector general report quoted by Mr. Edelman.
It is not clear whether the inspector general revised his report after receiving the rebuttal.
The draft inspector general report said Mr. Feith’s office should have followed intelligence agency guidelines for registering differing views, “in those rare instances where consensus could not be reached.”
In his statement Thursday, Mr. Feith said he was pleased that the inspector general had cleared him of violating laws or Defense Department policies, but he called it “wrong” and “bizarre” for the report to criticize civilian officials for scrutinizing intelligence agency conclusions and passing along their findings to senior officials.
Mr. Feith also said that the inspector general’s findings reflected “confusion about the way policy and intelligence officials relate to one another in the real world.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: February 09, 2007, 08:38:14 AM
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
Published: February 9, 2007
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 8 — Three illegal immigrants were shot to death, three were wounded and others were missing Thursday near Tucson after gunmen accosted them as they traveled north from the Mexican border, the authorities said.
The shootings came a day after gunmen in ski masks and carrying assault-style rifles robbed 18 people who had illegally crossed the border 70 miles to the south, near Sasabe. On Jan. 28 a man driving illegal immigrants from the border several miles from the scene of Thursday’s killings was ambushed and shot to death as the immigrants fled.
The federal and local authorities were investigating whether the spate of shootings was related.
Illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border often encounter bandits, armed civilian patrols and rival smugglers bent on robbing or stopping them.
The violence has been particularly acute in Arizona, which in recent years has become the busiest crossing area for illegal immigrants.
The latest shooting appeared to be the work of bandits, law enforcement officials said, though they said they had not ruled anything out.
Investigators were still piecing together what had happened, but they said they believed that the gunmen had opened fire on the travelers, apparently all from Guatemala, about 7 a.m. along a known smuggling route in a remote area near a mine 20 miles northwest of Tucson.
Their pickup truck crashed, and two of the immigrants, a young man and a teen-age girl, were found inside, dead from gunshot wounds, said Alonzo Peña, the agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona.
The gunmen forced the other immigrants into another vehicle and left, dropping off the wounded, including one person found dead later, along their way, Mr. Peña said. The others who were left were a woman with a gunshot wound in the neck, a 15-year-old girl and a man shot in the fingers.
The man with the hand wound hiked to a nearby mine, and workers there helped him call the police.
Mr. Peña said the authorities were trying to determine how many had been in the group of immigrants and how many were still missing. He said it appeared the smuggler driving the illegal immigrants and a guide had either escaped or were among the group taken captive.
The Associated Press, quoting officials of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, said six or seven immigrants had left with the gunmen.
“There have been similar cases where undocumented migrants have been taken to a location and relatives in Mexico contacted and extortion took place,” Rick Kastigar, the criminal investigations chief for the sheriff’s department, told The A.P.
Mr. Peña said the increase in border security in the past year, including scores of additional Border Patrol agents assisted by National Guard troops, had prompted more immigrants to employ smugglers commanding ever higher prices.
The going rate is about $3,000, or higher for trips from Central America, for a guide to lead immigrants by foot across the Mexican border or in a vehicle, usually through treacherous terrain.
Some smuggling rings, rather than risk capture at the border, have chosen to rob rivals, leading to violence.
“Smugglers look at them as a commodity, a product, and in some cases they would rather rip off a load and try to extort money instead of taking the risk to smuggle,” Mr. Peña said.
The Border Patrol’s Tucson sector has reported that arrests of illegal aliens dropped 11 percent last year and is down 9 percent since October compared with the previous year. Officials at the agency have attributed the decline to additional manpower and newly installed fencing, cameras and sensors deterring crossers, though advocates for immigrants suggest that traffic may have shifted elsewhere.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology
on: February 09, 2007, 08:31:11 AM
Today's NY Times:
Our ancestors have arrived at the American Museum of Natural History. They are very old, and we are only beginning to recognize them and ourselves in them. They remind us of our origins long ago and how we have emerged as modern humans in the fullness of time.
The museum’s new permanent exhibition on human origins, which opens tomorrow, merges notable achievements in paleontology and genetics, sciences that have made their own robust evolutionary strides in recent years. Each introduces evidence supporting the other in establishing a genealogy extending back to protohuman species that arose in Africa from earlier primates some six to seven million years ago.
These two scientific threads run through the exhibition like the strands of the DNA double helix.
Ellen V. Futter, the museum’s president, said the “mutually reinforcing evidence” was organized in the exhibition to address three fundamental questions: Where did we come from? Who are we? And what lies ahead for us?
Turn right at the entrance of the new installation, the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, and you see paleontology’s side of the story. More than 200 casts of prehuman and human fossils and artifacts illustrate stages in physical and behavioral evolution. Four life-size tableaus depict scenes in the lives of human predecessors, the realism stamped by the presence of pesky flies on their shoulders.
Some of the most striking displays are reconstructions from fossil and other evidence of what these ancestors probably looked like. Museum scientists and technicians have recreated the faces and bodies of the famous Lucy skeleton and Neanderthals — even the controversial Hobbits, the tiny specimens of what may be a previously unknown extinct species found recently in Indonesia.
The reconstruction of Turkana Boy is especially evocative. Based on one of the most complete ancestral skeletons ever excavated, the fleshed-out Homo ergaster, a species that lived in Africa 1.9 to 1.4 million years ago, is almost six feet tall, with a body form remarkably like that of modern humans.
“The fossils on which the reconstructions are based are witnesses to a dynamic history,” said Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist at the museum and co-curator of the exhibition. “Now we have a much larger story to tell, with the addition of what we are learning from molecular biology.”
Bear left in the hall, and there is the sign “DNA Tells Us About Human Origins.” Below are three tubes containing particles of DNA in a milky white solution. The samples are not particularly impressive, until you think that this is the stuff of encoded information shaping an entire organism and the material that has transformed the study of genetics, or genomics, and revealed the place of humans in the rest of life.
One of the vials holds human DNA, and another a chimpanzee’s. The analysis of their genetic material has confirmed what comparative anatomy predicted, showing that human DNA is 98.8 percent identical to that of chimps and bonobos, our closest living relatives. And our DNA is, on average, 96 percent identical to our most distant primate kin, some of which are mounted on the wall.
The third vial contains a DNA sample from a 40,000-year-old Neanderthal, the extinct close cousin of Homo sapiens. The discovery of a Neanderthal skull in 1856 led to the recognition that different kinds of humans once lived on Earth. This rare DNA specimen, on display in this country for the first time, was donated by the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, the first laboratory to succeed in extracting the genetic material from Neanderthal bones.
Standing nearby are the skeletons of a chimpanzee, a Neanderthal and a modern human, and stations with interactive electronic displays are ready, at the touch of a screen, to explain the differences and similarities between the bones, brains and DNA of the three species.
Other computer animations offer insights into how scientists decode the hereditary information, how it is transmitted through generations, and how mutations of mitochondrial DNA, the traits inherited through the mother’s lineage, reveal relationships through time and migrations. A video of a “tree of life” changes before your eyes, like a kaleidoscope, showing the branching interrelationships among 479 species.
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Rob DeSalle, the exhibition’s other curator and a molecular biologist at the museum, said genomics is leading to the discovery of “the history between other species and humans and the relationships of humans to each other.”
The genetics side of the exhibition is not as visually compelling as the fossils and reconstructed life in other sections. Plan to invest more time with the interactive displays and videos, which convey the truly new contributions to understanding the science of human evolution and the complexity and connectivity of life.
The Hall of Human Origins occupies the galleries of its predecessor, the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution, which had its opening 12 years ago, before many of the advances in genomics and a number of major fossil discoveries. That exhibition closed in September 2005 to make way for its more up-to-date replacement, supported by a gift from the Spitzers, the parents of Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York.
Some of the cast of fossil characters may be familiar to regular museum visitors, but they have been revitalized in new settings. For example, the Australopithecus couple that left tracks walking 3.5 million years ago across a plain at Laetoli, Tanzania, appear here. The surprise is that they are so small, no more than three feet tall. Yet the discovery of their footprints was the first clear evidence that prehumans were walking upright well before they made tools.
In the habitat displays, two Homo ergasters butcher a carcass and fight off a vulture and a jackal trying to steal the meat, and a Homo erectus, Peking Man, crouches and is about to be pounced on by a hyena. The curators said these were reminders that early human ancestors were prey rather than predator for much of their history.
Toward the back of the gallery, the cultural aspects of evolution are illustrated. An exact reproduction of the painted animals from the cave art at Lascaux in France stretches across the wall. Other displays include a replica of a 75,000-year-old piece of ochre decorated with geometric patterns, a recent discovery in South Africa and one of the earliest examples of symbolic thinking and creativity in modern humans. In this context the exhibition reviews the elements that make humans different from other life: tool use, language, music and writing, as well as art and other forms of creative expression.
Off in a side room, the Spitzer Hall has an educational laboratory with microscopes and laptops ready for visitors, guided by instructors, to try their hands at examining fossils and learning how to decode DNA. The lab is designed with young people and student groups in mind, but anyone is free to experience something of what it is like to delve into the human past. Elsewhere a multimedia bulletin board offers news of the latest developments in research into the human past.
One issue cannot be entirely sidestepped in any public presentation of human evolution: that many people in this country doubt and vocally oppose the very concept. In a corner of the hall, several scientists are shown in video interviews professing the compatibility of their evolution research with their religious beliefs.
Standing nearby at the end of a tour of the exhibition, Michael J. Novacek, a paleontologist and the museum’s senior vice president, said that a previous show on Darwin had been a reassuring test case. The exhibition was popular, he said, and provoked “very little negative response.”
Dr. Novacek said the new hall was “an emphatic statement about the theory of evolution and its power to tell us our origins and history.”
“We emphasize that a scientific theory is an argument that is very carefully tested against scientific evidence,” he continued, “and this one has withstood much scrutiny.”
The modern human capacity for symbolic and creative expression has brought forth different narratives to explain where we came from, drawn from myth, religion and pre-Darwin science. The exhibition’s parallel lines of fossil and molecular evidence have the cumulative effect of solidifying the foundation for the more recent scientific narrative of human evolution.
There are still many gaps in knowledge, and unsolved mysteries. But seeing ourselves in the train of preceding species, we also recognize the degree of our separation from other animals, even our earliest ancestors. Only modern Homo sapiens in our time could present with such newfound authority the epic narrated through the museum’s Hall of Human Origins.
The Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins will open tomorrow at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West and 79th Street. Museum hours: daily, 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. (to 8:45 p.m. on Fridays). Suggested museum admission: $14; $10.50 for students and 60+; $8 for children 2 to 12; free for members. (212) 769-5100 or (212) 769-5200; amnh.org.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia mediates US-Iran?
on: February 09, 2007, 08:07:56 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Russia as the U.S.-Iranian Mediator?
Former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, reportedly to deliver a message from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Velayati, a former chief diplomat, has not embarked on a diplomatic mission in years; bilateral meetings of such a nature are usually handled by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki or national security chief Ali Larijani.
Velayati has a close relationship with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that goes back to 1981, when Khamenei was president and Velayati became foreign minister. Though Khamenei initially appointed him as prime minister, Velayati failed to secure parliamentary approval. But for the past several years, Velayati has been Khamenei's adviser on international affairs.
Velayati's sudden return to the diplomatic arena, especially when U.S.-Iranian dealings over Iraq are reaching an impasse, is a sign that Khamenei has decided to directly take over foreign policy matters. It also means the executive branch has been asked to confine itself to the more mundane matters of governance.
This is why it is Velayati who has been dispatched on a special mission involving Russia. Moscow has been able to mediate between the United States and Iran -- a role the Kremlin thinks will help it to advance its own interests. The Russians have offered to help the United States get out of Iraq if Washington cuts back in its support of anti-Moscow elements in Ukraine. Such mediating also gives Russia an enormous amount of international clout.
Aware that the Iraq issue cannot be solved without Iranian help, and knowing that directly dealing with Tehran is not something that will sit well domestically for the Bush administration, Washington has likely taken Russia up on the offer. That said, there is another critical issue that weighs heavily in the U.S. decision to accept Russia as a go-between -- Moscow has recently sold the TOR-M1 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran.
Tehran and the Kremlin are also negotiating the sale of the Russian S300 missile. This is something the United States does not want to see realized because these missiles would make it difficult for U.S. warplanes to conduct airstrikes against Iran, should Washington ever take the military option in dealing with Iran.
The Iranians have been preparing for negotiations with the United States for quite some time, but since they are having difficulty in getting Washington to cooperate, Tehran is only too happy to see Russia help out; but the Iranians have not only been working with Russia.
Earlier this week during a visit to Iran, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of Iraq's ruling Shiite coalition, said U.S.-Iranian dialogue on Iraq is critical. It should be noted that al-Hakim is not just the most pro-Iranian of all Iraqi Shiite leaders, he also is Washington's closest Iraqi Shiite partner.
The Iranians also have been working with their rivals. In January Tehran began significant negotiations with the Saudis and even reportedly sought Riyadh's assistance in getting the Bush administration to the negotiating table. Saudi national security chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited Tehran a few days after Larijani traveled to Riyadh.
Larijani, who also reports directly to Khamenei, will attend the Munich Conference on Security Policy on Feb. 9-11 in Germany. World leaders including Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will also be in attendance. Larijani said Thursday that he will be holding talks with several Western officials. Since Gates dealt with the Iranians during the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s and also was involved in the Iraq Study Group that recommended that Washington approach Iran diplomatically on Iraq, a Gates-Larijani discussion on the sidelines of the conference is not out of the question, though it likely would be through middlemen.
Regardless of what happens in Munich, it appears as though a serious and complex diplomatic game involving the United States and Iran is under way.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues
on: February 08, 2007, 07:39:44 PM
ENSIGN, MURKOWSKI INTRODUCE BILL TO SPLIT NINTH CIRCUIT
Court’s Enormous Size, Inability to Handle Caseload Top Concerns
February 8, 2007
Washington, D.C. – Senators John Ensign (NV) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) introduced legislation today to split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the largest court in the country, because it is overburdened by an unmanageable caseload. Under this bill, Nevada, along with Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, would be part of a new Twelfth Circuit.
“Because of its enormous and growing size, the Ninth Circuit does not have sufficient time to properly handle its caseload,” said Ensign. “For too long, people’s lives have been on hold because the Ninth Circuit is strained beyond its capacity. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
“The Ninth Circuit has become a circuit where justice is not swift and not always served,” said Senator Murkowski. “The legislation we are introducing today is intended to bring about the sensible reorganization of the Ninth Circuit. No one court can effectively exercise its power in an area that extends from the Arctic Circle to the tropics. The creation of a new Twelfth Circuit will go far in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the current court and will establish a circuit which is more geographically manageable.”
“The sheer size of the Ninth Circuit makes its caseload simply unmanageable,” said Senator Ted Stevens, an original co-sponsor of the legislation. “This inevitably results in delays processing cases, and it also prevents the Court from dealing with unique problems in Alaska, Hawaii, and other small states. This legislation will remedy the Ninth Circuit’s limitations by creating two smaller, more efficient Courts. Separate courts will serve the people of each region better and help maintain consistency in caselaw.”
It takes the Ninth Circuit on average almost one year longer to handle a case when compared to other circuit courts around the country. Located in San Francisco, the court encompasses 20 percent of the population of the United States. Three of the states in its jurisdiction – Nevada, Arizona and Idaho – are among the top five fastest-growing states in the nation.
In addition to the size constraints, Ensign also raised concern over the San Francisco court’s ideological leaning, citing specifically the ruling that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it contains the phrase “under God.”
“Despite the need for an independent judiciary outside of the political arena, many of the court’s rulings reflect a set of values that are at odds with a majority of the people in Nevada. I’m hopeful that this bill will move forward so that Nevada residents are served by a court with a viewpoint closer to their own,” Ensign added.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: February 08, 2007, 06:37:40 PM
Global Market Brief: In Mexico, Calderon's Do-or-Die Task
February 08, 2007 20 21 GMT
Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Feb. 5 announced plans to revise and modernize the Mexican Constitution. Speaking at a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of Mexico's current constitution, Calderon established that, in order to make the Mexican system more flexible and efficient, he is seeking to renovate the charter outright instead of following the usual practice of making piecemeal reforms.
Though Calderon has not offered additional details as to how he intends to launch constitutional reform, the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party -- the party of his chief election rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- currently supports the president's plans for a full redraft. That is, with one exception: that the changes do not include the privatization of the electricity sector or state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).
Although he entered office with a weak to nonexistent mandate, Calderon has done nearly everything right to solidify his position.
Calderon's first success occurred even before he took office -- a result of him (wisely) doing nothing. Between Calderon's election and inauguration, Lopez Obrador staged a constant series of strikes and protests that snarled political life throughout the country and economic life in Mexico City. Lopez Obrador's actions also had the twin side effects of alienating him from his own party and giving the Institutional Revolutionary Party and Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) something in common: annoyance with Lopez Obrador. All three major parties are now at the very least on speaking terms with one another, something that seemed impossible six months ago.
Among Calderon's first acts as president was moving decisively against anarchists in Oaxaca, restoring order to a city that had been embroiled in chaos for months. He also deployed regular army troops to a number of cities that either are under the de facto control of drug lords or are experiencing open battles among those drug lords for control. Neither problem has been resolved -- and will not be resolved under the current plan -- but there is a widely accepted perception at least that the problem is being addressed in a respectable way. The political capital Calderon has racked up for his efforts have strengthened his hand among his core supporters as well as Mexico's political center.
He also has departed from his ideological preferences to reach out to Mexico's left. For the past two months Mexico has suffered from a shortage of corn, partially as a result of the United States' newfound fascination with ethanol. As Americans become obsessed with establishing non-Middle East energy options, huge amounts of corn are being sucked into a growing ethanol industry. That growth has sucked Mexican corn across the border, resulting in higher food prices in Mexico -- particularly for corn tortillas, a defining staple of the Mexican diet. After first pledging his loyalty to market principles, Calderon correctly read the political winds and forced state stores to lower prices at the retail level while leaning on private bakeries to lower the wholesale price.
The net result of all this has been a surge in Calderon's popularity. As of Feb. 6 he stood at 58 percent approval across the political spectrum, making the president perhaps the most powerful leader Mexico has had in generations.
He will need that power for his chosen task.
Mexico, like many other developing economies, has found itself heavily dependent on a single commodity for its economic well-being: oil. Mexico's economic strength and social stability correlate closely with oil prices. Globalization and membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement have certainly helped Mexico's economy diversify away from such dependence, but oil monies remain the central factor in determining government spending -- currently making up about 40 percent of government income.
Yet Mexico's energy industry is failing. Roughly three-quarters of its oil output comes from a single field, Cantarell, which is now past maturity. Consequently, Mexico's oil output peaked at 3.8 million barrels per day in 2005, and is expected to decline incrementally for the foreseeable future. Specifically, the government now expects Cantarell to suffer a 14.5 percent reduction in output in 2007 alone. Mexico's reserves are similarly shrinking as the state has not invested sufficiently in fresh exploration efforts -- particularly in the technologically challenging and capital-intensive offshore.
Mexico faces two huge obstacles if it is to reverse this decline. First, the national government has to break its addiction to oil money. As long as Congress siphons off the bulk of state energy monopoly Pemex's revenues for its own use, Pemex will never be able to afford to invest in technology, exploration and fresh production.
Second, there needs to be a realization across Mexico that Pemex -- even with access to more money -- faces a challenge it cannot overcome alone. Pemex has been the government's cash cow for decades, and as such has never been able to catch up with the world's energy supermajors in terms of technical skill. Rectifying that problem is not a multi-year process, but a multi-decade one. And since Mexico does not have decades to fix the problem, Pemex itself has become the leading voice for diversifying the country's energy sector to allow for the participation of foreign firms (in a highly controlled way, of course).
That, to say the least, is a thorny issue. Just as social security reform is the third rail in U.S. politics, liberalizing the energy sector is Mexico's. Mexicans see their oil as a birthright, and have traditionally refused to even entertain the notion that any foreigner -- and particularly the Americans who import 85 percent of Mexico's exports -- should hold any interest in the energy complex. Because of this attitude, and the enormous powers within Pemex itself, Mexico has maintained full control of its energy -- but at the cost of both eroding oil output and creating a ball and chain on the Mexican economy. The constitutional prohibition against foreign and private involvement in energy covers not just oil, but natural gas and electricity as well. Mexico not only suffers from regular power crunches, but also is in the truly bizarre position of importing natural gas from the United States, despite its own generous reserves.
To alter this calculus, Calderon is arguing for a constitutional change, a monumental feat by any measure. Shifting constitutional language requires the approval of two-thirds of both houses of the national Congress, as well as majority support from more than half of Mexico's state assemblies. Calderon's PAN (hardly of one mind on the issue) boasts only 206 of the lower house's 500 seats and 52 seats of the upper house's 128.
Calderon's early political victories and personal ideology make him uniquely positioned to attempt to push through such an unpopular, yet desperately needed, provision -- despite the fact that he opened his presidency on such a weak note. Yet Calderon's self-set task is certainly of the make-or-break variety.
If Calderon can pull this off -- and it is a huge "if" -- he not only will regenerate Mexico's energy fortunes, but also will establish himself as one of the most powerful Mexican leaders in history. After all, if the president can bend the entire political spectrum to his will on an issue that enflames such core nationalist passions, there will be very little that he cannot do.
However, if he fails -- and this is a far smaller "if" -- he will have lost the political equivalent of a game of chicken with an oil tanker. And even should Calderon survive such a collision, he will have spent all of his hard-won political capital on a horrifyingly public defeat -- from which his administration will never recover.