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28651  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russian Gas Trap on: January 14, 2009, 08:26:04 AM

By Peter Zeihan

At the time of this writing, the natural gas crisis in Europe is entering its 13th day.

While the topic has only penetrated the Western mind as an issue in recent years, Russia and Ukraine have been spatting about the details of natural gas deliveries, volumes, prices and transit terms since the Soviet breakup in 1992. In the end, a deal is always struck, because Russia needs the hard currency that exports to Europe (via Ukraine) bring, and Ukraine needs natural gas to fuel its economy. But in recent years, two things have changed.

First, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004 brought to power a government hostile to Russian goals. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko would like to see his country integrated into the European Union and NATO; for Russia, such an evolution would be the kiss of death.

Ukraine is home to most of the infrastructure that links Russia to Europe, including everything from pipelines to roads and railways to power lines. The Ukrainian and Russian heartlands are deeply intertwined; the two states’ industrial and agricultural belts fold into each other almost seamlessly. Eastern Ukraine is home to the largest concentration of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers anywhere in the world outside Russia. The home port of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is at Sevastopol on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, a reminder that the Soviet Union’s port options were awful — and that Russia’s remaining port options are even more so.

Ukraine hems in the south of European Russia so thoroughly that any hostile power controlling Kiev could easily threaten a variety of core Russian interests, including Moscow itself. Ukraine also pushes far enough east that a hostile Kiev would sever most existing infrastructure connections to the Caucasus. Simply put, a Ukraine outside the Russian sphere of influence transforms Russia into a purely defensive power, one with little hope of resisting pressure from anywhere. But a Russified Ukraine makes it possible for Russia to project power outward, and to become a major regional — and potentially global — player.

Related Links
Part 1: Instability in a Crucial Country
Part 2: Domestic Forces and Capabilities
Part 3: Outside Intervention
The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power
Russia and Rotating the U.S. Focus
Europe: Feeling the Cold Blast of Another Russo-Ukrainian Dispute
Global Market Brief: Europe’s Long-Term Energy Proposal
Related Special Topic Page
Russian Energy and Foreign Policy
The second change in recent years is that Russia now has an economic buffer, meaning it can tolerate a temporary loss in natural gas income. Since Vladimir Putin first came to power as prime minister in 1999, every government under his command has run a hefty surplus. By mid-2008, Russian officials were regularly boasting of their $750 billion in excess funds, and of how Moscow inevitably would soon become a global financial hub. Not surprisingly, the 2008-2009 recession has deflated this optimism to some extent. The contents of Moscow’s piggy bank already have dropped by approximately $200 billion. Efforts to insulate Russian firms and protect the ruble have taken their financial toll, Russia’s 2009 budget is firmly in deficit, and all talk of a Russian New York is on ice.

But Russia’s financial troubles pale in comparison to its neighbors’ problems — not in severity, but in impact. Russia is not a developed country, or even one that, like the states of Central Europe, is seriously trying to develop. A capital shortage simply does not damage Russia as it does, say, Slovakia. And while Russia has not yet returned to central planning, rising government control over all sources of capital means the Russia of today has far more in common economically with the Soviet Union than with even the Russia of the 1990s, much less the free-market West. In relative terms, the recession actually has increased relative Russian economic power — and that says nothing about other tools of Russian power. Moscow’s energy, political and military levers are as powerful now as they were during the August 2008 war with Georgia.

This is a very long-winded way of saying that before 2004, the Russian-Ukrainian natural gas spat was simply part of business as usual. But now, Russia feels that its life is on the line, and that it has the financial room to maneuver to push hard — and so, the annual ritual of natural gas renegotiations has become a key Russian tool in bringing Kiev to heel.

And a powerful tool it is. Fully two-thirds of Ukraine’s natural gas demand is sourced from Russia, and the income from Russian natural gas transiting to Europe forms the backbone of the Ukrainian budget. Ukraine is a bit of an economic basket case in the best of times, but the global recession has essentially shut down the country’s steel industry, Ukraine’s largest sector. Russian allies in Ukraine, which for the time being include Yushchenko’s one-time Orange ally Yulia Timoshenko, have done a thorough job of ensuring that the blame for the mass power cuts falls to Yushchenko. Facing enervated income, an economy in the doldrums and a hostile Russia, along with all blame being directed at him, Yushchenko’s days appear to be numbered. The most recent poll taken to gauge public sentiment ahead of presidential elections, which are anticipated later this year, put Yushchenko’s support level below the survey’s margin of error.

Even if Yushchenko’s future were bright, Russia has no problem maintaining or even upping the pressure. The Kremlin would much rather see Ukraine destroyed than see it as a member of the Western clubs, and Moscow is willing to inflict a great deal of collateral damage on a variety of players to preserve what it sees as an interest central to Russian survival.

Europe has been prominent among these casualties. As a whole, Europe imports one-quarter of the natural gas it uses from Russia, and approximately 80 percent of that transits Ukraine. All of those deliveries now have been suspended, resulting in cutoffs of various degrees to France, Turkey, Poland, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria — in rough order of increasing severity. Reports of both mass power outages and mass heating failures have been noted in the countries at the bottom half of this list.

A variety of diversification programs have put Europe well on its way to removing its need for Russian natural gas entirely, but these programs are still years from completion. Until then, not much can be done for states that use natural gas for a substantial portion of their energy needs.

Unlike coal, nuclear energy or oil, natural gas can be easily shipped only via pipeline to previously designated points of use. This means the decision to link to a supplier lasts for decades and is not easily adjusted should something go wrong. Importing natural gas in liquid form requires significant skill in cryogenics as well as specialized facilities that take a couple of years to build (not to mention a solid port). Alternate pipe supply networks, much less power facilities that use different fuels, are still more expensive and require even more time. All European countries can do in the immediate term is literally rely upon the kindness of strangers until the imbroglio is past or a particularly creative solution comes to mind. (Poland has offered several states some of its share of Russian natural gas that comes to it via a Belarusian line.) Some Central European states are taking the unorthodox step of recommissioning mothballed nuclear power plants.

Because Russia’s goal in all this is to crack Kiev, there is not much any European country can do. But one nation, Germany, is certainly trying. Of the major European states, Germany is the most dependent upon Russian resources in general, and energy in particular.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin spent three nights this past week on the phone with each other discussing the topic, and the pair has a two-day summit set for later this week. The Germans have three primary reasons for cozying up to the Russians at a time when it seems they should be as angry as anyone else in Europe.

First, because most of the natural gas Germany gets from Russia passes not through Ukraine, but through Belarus — and because the Russians have not interrupted these secondary flows — the Germans desperately want to avoid rocking the boat and politicizing the dispute any more than necessary. The Germans need to engage the Russians in discussion, but unlike most other players, they can afford not to be accusatory, because they have not been too deeply affected so far. (Like all the other Europeans, the Germans are working feverishly to diversify their energy supplies away from Russia, but while Berlin can keep the lights on, it doesn’t want to ruffle any more feathers than it needs to.)

Second, as any leader of Germany would, Merkel recognizes that if current Russian-Western tensions devolve into a more direct confrontation, the struggle would be fought disproportionately with German resources — and perhaps even on German soil. Germany is the closest major power to Russia and would therefore be the focus of any major action, Russian or Western, offensive or defensive. France, the United Kingdom and the United States enjoy the buffer of distance — and in the case of the last two, a water buffer to boot.

German national interest, therefore, is not to find a way to fight the Russians, but to find a way to live with them. Germany traditionally has been Russia’s largest trading partner. Every time the two have clashed, it has been ugly, to say the least. In the German mind, if Ukraine (or perhaps even adjusting the attitude of Poland) is what is necessary to make the Russians feel secure, so be it.

Third, Germany has a European angle to think about. To put it bluntly, Merkel is always on the lookout for any means of easing Germany back into the international community with a foreign policy somewhat more sophisticated than the “I’m sorry” that has reigned since the end of World War II. After the war, France successfully hijacked German submission and used German economic strength to achieve French political desires. Since the Cold War’s end, Germany has slowly wormed its way out of that policy straitjacket, and the natural gas crisis raises an interesting possibility. If Merkel’s discussions with Putin result in restored natural gas flows, then not only will Russia see Germany as a partner, but Germany might win goodwill from European states that no longer have to endure a winter without heat.

Still, it will be a tough sell: the European states between Germany and Russia have always lived in dread that one power or the other — or, God forbid, both — will take them over. But Germany is clearly at the center of Europe, and all of the states affected by the natural gas crisis count Germany as their largest trading partner. If Merkel can muster sufficient political muscle to complement Germany’s economic muscle, the resulting image of strength and capability would go a long way toward cementing Berlin’s re-emergence.
28652  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Marrying ten year olds on: January 14, 2009, 08:22:48 AM,2933,479878,00.html

I suppose its progress of a sort that someone disagrees , , ,
28653  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wilson; Jefferson; on: January 14, 2009, 08:11:39 AM
"[The President] is the dignified, but accountable magistrate of a free and great people. The tenure of his office, it is true, is not hereditary; nor is it for life: but still it is a tenure of the noblest kind: by being the man of the people, he is invested; by continuing to be the man of the people, his investiture will be voluntarily, and cheerfully, and honourably renewed."

--James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791

"The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys." --Thomas Jefferson
28654  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: What does Kali Tudo 2 have in store for us?? on: January 14, 2009, 07:53:57 AM
Did the fine edit yesterday with Night Owl of

"Kali Tudo 2:  The Running Dog game vs. the Guard"

I should receive several copies later today which I will then pass around my kitchen cabinet crew for commentary.
28655  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Force Science News on: January 14, 2009, 07:50:55 AM
One of the most dangerous positions a suspect can assume on the ground is prone with his hands tucked under his body, either at chest or waist level. What's hidden in those hands? And if it's a gun, how fast can he twist and shoot if you're approaching him?
This month [1/09], the Force Science Research Center, in cooperation with Indiana University and the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, will launch the first study of its kind in an effort to clearly define your risk and, hopefully, identify your best approach tactics in dealing with this common street problem.

The results may also help explain to civilians why officers sometimes react with what may seem like exceptional violence when trying to control a downed offender whose hands are concealed beneath him.

"When a prone suspect resists showing his hands when an officer orders him to or attempts to pry them out, officers become very suspicious and fearful about what his motive is. And justifiably so," says FSRC's executive director, Dr. Bill Lewinski. "FBI research has shown that suspects with concealed weapons most often carry them to the front of their bodies. So, when prone, they may have easy access to a weapon or already be holding one.

"Until the hands are controlled, officers are very vulnerable in this circumstance, and they often use a fairly high level of force to gain control of the hands because of their concern. They may deliver strikes with batons or flashlights that to naive civilians watching a video clip on TV may look like malicious outbreaks of rage and vindictiveness."

Since its beginning more than 4 years ago, FSRC has conducted a series of ground-breaking time-and-motion studies, documenting the amazing speed with which suspects can attack from a variety of positions--turning and shooting while running, drawing and shooting while seated in a vehicle, and so on.

"The prone study is an important extension of this sequence," Lewinski explains, "and is expected to further pinpoint the formidable reactionary curve that officers are behind when attempting to prevent or respond to potentially lethal assaults."
Several months ago Lewinski conducted some rough preliminary testing on prone action times at the FSRC lab at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Role-playing a prone, armed offender with hands tucked under his body, he repeatedly turned to present and fire a gun as if shooting at a contact officer approaching him from the feet or side. A time-coded video camera recorded his movements. (Click here to view a brief video from the pilot study.)

The average time it took him to make his threatening moves was "about one-third of a second," Lewinski says. "This speed would likely be faster than an average cover officer could react and shoot to stop the threat, even if the officer had his gun pointed, his finger on the trigger, and had already made the decision to shoot. In other words, the officer would stand little chance of being able to shoot first."

This convinced Lewinski that the subject was worth a much more in-depth investigation.

The core research will begin Jan. 5 at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, with the assistance there of Erik Walters, public safety training technician.

Four cameras positioned at different angles will film 7 volunteer role-players with different body types moving in a variety of ways to present a gun from under their body and shoot at an approaching officer. "The subjects will be young--reflecting the age demographics of offenders most likely to assault police officers--and agile," Lewinski says. "Agility may play more of a role with suspects who are prone than with those in other shooting postures."

Three of the cameras will be high-speed video units purchased by NWTC with a State of Wisconsin grant to assist with FSRC research. Walters used one of these to record the preliminary tests at Mankato.
The fourth camera is a sophisticated SportsCam, used by high-level athletics coaches and researchers in biomechanics, recently purchased by the Ergonomics Laboratory at Indiana University in Bloomington. This unit can film in color at speeds up to 500 frames per second.

FSRC learned of this equipment through a graduate student, Madeleine Gonin, originally from South Africa, who works in the IU Ergonomics Lab and is pursuing a PhD in human performance and ergonomics. Her master's, however, is in safety management, with a focus on workplace violence. "There's a high level of crime in South Africa, and I want to help find strategies for reducing it," she told Force Science News.

An accomplished martial artist, she became an instructor in the Rape Aggression Defense system after arriving on campus, and through that involvement developed friendships with IU campus police and officers with Bloomington P.D.
As a subject for her PhD dissertation, "I was looking for a program that fitted in with violence prevention," she says. "Some of the officers I knew suggested I get in touch with the Force Science Research Center." She hopes to base her dissertation on the prone action-time research.

Gonin will be in Green Bay, along with Charles Pearce, project director at the IU Ergonomics Lab. To supplement what's filmed there, they will photograph more subjects making more threatening movements on the Indiana campus, using student volunteers, including participants in a cadet program run by the university police department.

Using the Lab's advanced technology, under supervision of director Dr. John Shea, a professor in IU's Department of Kinesiology and Gonin's academic advisor, the researchers intend to convert the photographic images into animated figures.

With cutting-edge software and a link to an immense databank of human forms, they can adjust the figures to as many different height, weight, and strength specifications as they like, and measure the movement times of each in the various action patterns.
"Without a doubt," says Lewinski, "this will be the most thorough and complex analysis of human movement ever performed for law enforcement research."

The initial goal is to nail down action times precisely--just how fast can a prone suspect present a deadly threat. "People tend to underestimate how quickly a human being can actually move," says Gonin. "They also tend to underestimate how slowly officers react when they are under stress and narrowly focused."

Beyond those measurements, the researchers will also be searching for early indicators that could telegraph that a suspect is initiating a dangerous movement. Ideally, this analysis will identify certain cues officers could watch for in prone-suspect situations. "We don't know if we'll be able to find these cues, but we're going to look for them," Lewinski says.

And finally, there may be findings that could affect training and tactics. Does approaching straight-on from a prone suspect's feet, for example, offer the best protective edge against sudden threatening movement, as Lewinski suspects may be the case?

Lewinski estimates it will be a year or more before a final analysis is available, but IU's involvement in the project represents an important breakthrough beyond the critical street knowledge that may result.

"One of our major goals at Force Science is to stimulate interest at universities and other influential institutions in doing research that is of value to line officers," he says. "There has been a huge hole in research into issues that can help street officers perform with improved skill and safety. This is a step toward filling that gap. What a great way to start the New Year!"
28656  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Girls return to school on: January 14, 2009, 07:39:41 AM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking through the muddy streets to the local girls school when a man pulled alongside them on a motorcycle and posed what seemed like an ordinary question.

As War Enters Classrooms, Fear Grips Afghans (July 10, 2007)
“Are you going to school?”

Then the man pulled Shamsia’s burqa from her head and sprayed her face with burning acid. Scars, jagged and discolored, now spread across Shamsia’s eyelids and most of her left cheek. These days, her vision goes blurry, making it hard for her to read.

But if the acid attack against Shamsia and 14 others — students and teachers — was meant to terrorize the girls into staying home, it appears to have completely failed.

Today, nearly all of the wounded girls are back at the Mirwais School for Girls, including even Shamsia, whose face was so badly burned that she had to be sent abroad for treatment. Perhaps even more remarkable, nearly every other female student in this deeply conservative community has returned as well — about 1,300 in all.

“My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” said Shamsia, 17, in a moment after class. Shamsia’s mother, like nearly all of the adult women in the area, is unable to read or write. “The people who did this to me don’t want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things.”

In the five years since the Mirwais School for Girls was built here by the Japanese government, it appears to have set off something of a social revolution. Even as the Taliban tighten their noose around Kandahar, the girls flock to the school each morning. Many of them walk more than two miles from their mud-brick houses up in the hills.

The girls burst through the school’s walled compound, many of them flinging off head-to-toe garments, bounding, cheering and laughing in ways that are inconceivable outside — for girls and women of any age. Mirwais has no regular electricity, no running water, no paved streets. Women are rarely seen, and only then while clad in burqas that make their bodies shapeless and their faces invisible.

And so it was especially chilling on Nov. 12, when three pairs of men on motorcycles began circling the school. One of the teams used a spray bottle, another a squirt gun, another a jar. They hit 11 girls and 4 teachers in all; 6 went to the hospital. Shamsia fared the worst.

The attacks appeared to be the work of the Taliban, the fundamentalist movement that is battling the government and the American-led coalition. Banning girls from school was one of the most notorious symbols of the Taliban’s rule before they were ousted from power in November 2001.

Building new schools and ensuring that children — and especially girls — attend has been one of the main objectives of the government and the nations that have contributed to Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Some of the students at the Mirwais school are in their late teens and early 20s, attending school for the first time. Yet at the same time, in the guerrilla war that has unfolded across southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban have made schools one of their special targets.

But exactly who was behind the acid attack is a mystery. The Taliban denied any part in it. The police arrested eight men and, shortly after that, the Ministry of Interior released a video showing two men confessing. One of them said he had been paid by an officer with the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence agency, to carry out the attack.

But at a news conference last week, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said there was no such Pakistani involvement.

One thing is certain: in the months before the attack, the Taliban had moved into the Mirwais area and the rest of Kandahar’s outskirts. As they did, posters began appearing in local mosques.

“Don’t Let Your Daughters Go to School,” one of them said.

In the days after the attack, the Mirwais School for Girls stood empty; none of the parents would let their daughters venture outside. That is when the headmaster, Mahmood Qadari, got to work.

After four days of staring at empty classrooms, Mr. Qadari called a meeting of the parents. Hundreds came to the school — fathers and mothers — and Mr. Qadari implored them to let their daughters return. After two weeks, a few returned.

So, Mr. Qadari, whose three daughters live abroad, including one in Virginia, enlisted the support of the local government. The governor promised more police officers, a footbridge across a busy nearby road and, most important, a bus. Mr. Qadari called another meeting and told the parents that there was no longer any reason to hold their daughters back.

“I told them, if you don’t send your daughters to school, then the enemy wins,” Mr. Qadari said. “I told them not to give in to darkness. Education is the way to improve our society.”

The adults of Mirwais did not need much persuading. Neither the bus nor the police nor the bridge has materialized, but the girls started showing up anyway. Only a couple of dozen girls regularly miss school now; three of them are girls who had been injured in the attack.

“I don’t want the girls sitting around and wasting their lives,” said Ghulam Sekhi, an uncle of Shamsia and her sister, Atifa, age 14, who was also burned.

For all the uncertainty outside its walls, the Mirwais school brims with life. Its 40 classrooms are so full that classes are held in four tents, donated by Unicef, in the courtyard. The Afghan Ministry of Education is building a permanent building as well.

The past several days at the school have been given over to examinations. In one classroom, a geography class, a teacher posed a series of questions while her students listened and wrote their answers on paper.

“What is the capital of Brazil?” the teacher, named Arja, asked, walking back and forth.

“Now, what are its major cities?”

“By how many times is America larger than Afghanistan?”

At a desk in the front row, Shamsia, the girl with the burned face, pondered the questions while cupping a hand over her largest scar. She squinted down at the paper, rubbed her eyes, wrote something down.

Doctors have told Shamsia that her face may need plastic surgery if there is to be any chance of the scars disappearing. It is a distant dream: Shamsia’s village does not even have regular electricity, and her father is disabled.

After class, Shamsia blended in with the other girls, standing around, laughing and joking. She seemed un-self-conscious about her disfigurement, until she began to recount her ordeal.

“The people who did this,” she said, “do not feel the pain of others.”
28657  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Tunnels on: January 14, 2009, 12:19:31 AM
When Israelis look back on what caused the current conflict in Gaza, they point to their government's decision in September 2005 to leave the narrow "Philadelphi Route" that runs along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. More than Israel's disengagement from the Strip as a whole, the abandonment of this strategic area made full-scale war inevitable.

The 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization placed this 100-meter wide corridor, which separated the Egyptian side of the town of Rafah from the Palestinian side in Gaza, under Israeli military control. (The Israeli army gave it the code name "Philadelphi.") By 2000, local Palestinians, many of whom worked with Hamas, dug underground tunnels between the two halves of Rafah. The tunnels allowed for a lucrative smuggling trade that included weapons.

Admittedly, there were rocket attacks on Israel before the Gaza pullout (the first Qassam rocket was fired in 2001). However, the scale of the attacks totally changed after the withdrawal. Rocket attacks increased by 500% (from 179 in 2005 to 946 in 2006).

The range of Hamas's rockets also increased following the withdrawal. Locally manufactured Qassams, which could reach targets seven kilometers away, gave way to Grad/Katyusha rockets supplied by Iran that can hit as far as 20 kilometers. These were first used in 2006. During 2008, rockets with a 40-kilometer range came through the Gaza tunnels and into Hamas's weapons cache.

At the same time that the tunnels facilitated weapons smuggling, they also allowed hundreds of Hamas operatives to leave Gaza for Egypt, where they caught planes to Iran and underwent military training with the Revolutionary Guards at a base outside of Tehran. When Israel controlled the Philadelphi Route, its special forces waged a constant battle and kept the number of tunnels low. But by 2008, with Israeli access to the Philadelphi route cut off and measures against the tunnels halted, the number of tunnels proliferated into the hundreds.

Today, Israelis are concerned that even if Hamas is defeated militarily, its stocks of rockets will be fully replenished by Iran in a matter of months unless the tunnels under the Philadelphi Route are addressed. That is precisely what happened with Hezbollah after the 2006 Lebanon War. The United Nations Security Council cease-fire, Resolution 1701, failed to deal adequately with the rearming of the Lebanese Shiite group. Today, Hezbollah has more rockets threatening Israel than it had prior to the 2006 war.

In the case of Hamas, there is an added concern that Iran will supply rockets that reach well beyond the 40-kilometer range. In the next war, Hamas could strike Tel Aviv from inside the Gaza Strip.

How can Israel cut off the smuggling routes? In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed border controls for the Rafah area. This completely failed because the European Union monitors deployed in Rafah ran away the moment there was an escalation of violence.

Today the idea of a new EU monitoring force -- a proposal Western diplomats are discussing -- does not engender much confidence on the Israeli side. Others are hoping that Egypt will take seriously its obligations to close off the smuggling routes from its side. Egypt has failed to do so since 2005. Why should we expect a change now?

If these options fail, Israel may be left with no choice but to enter the Philadelphi Route and continue to destroy these tunnels in the future.

Anticipating the end of the Gaza war, there is already talk about the next stage of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Some hope that the peace process can simply be picked up where it was left off and pursued with new determination.

But the crisis over the Philadelphi Route has taught Israel a bitter lesson about relinquishing critical territory: It was a cardinal error to leave this strategic zone at the perimeter of Gaza, even if Israel wanted to get out of the Strip in its entirety. Israeli leaders including Yitzhak Rabin have warned that Israel must never leave the Jordan Valley, the equivalent perimeter zone in the West Bank.

Ariel Sharon saw the Jordan Valley as an integral part of Israel's claim to "defensible borders," a term used by President Bush in an April 2004 letter to Israel, that was overwhelmingly backed in special legislation by bipartisan majorities in both houses of U.S. Congress during June 2004. President-elect Barack Obama publicly recognized Israel's right to "defensible borders" at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference last year.

The strategic stakes involved in this issue are enormous. Were Israel to be stripped of the Jordan Valley, it would undoubtedly face a massive escalation of weapons smuggling into the West Bank. Should the scale of the smuggling reach the same proportions as in Gaza, it is doubtful that even the Jordanians, motivated by the best of intentions, could bring it to a halt. Moreover, a steady stream of weapons smugglers and Islamist volunteers crossing the kingdom would undermine Jordanian security.

Diplomats are working feverishly to seal off the Philadelphi Route and bring an end to the current Gaza conflict. Let's hope they remember the critical importance of securing Israel's other borders -- for the sake of Israel's security, and for the stability of its neighbors.

Mr. Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, served as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in 1997-1999.
28658  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history on: January 14, 2009, 12:17:42 AM
In presenting herself to Congress to become Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Clinton at the least showed she will have little trouble conversing in the soft talk of the striped-pants set.

On the Middle East: "We cannot give up on peace." On China: "Much of what we will do depends on the choices China makes."

By default, then, the pro-forma hearing's hardest moments became the nominee's colloquies with Senator Richard Lugar over the status of Bill Clinton's foundation.

We discussed in this space yesterday the complications Mr. Clinton's donor list could create for the conduct of an Obama foreign policy. Senator Lugar pressed the disclosure point at the hearing, even proposing a detailed plan for handling future donations to the foundation. "The core of the problem," said Senator Lugar, "is that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the Secretary of State."

Pointedly, Senator John Kerry, the committee chair, leaned in to let Senator Clinton know that Mr. Lugar was "expressing the view of the committee as a whole."

Senator Clinton replied that the agreement worked out between the foundation and the Obama transition was adequate.

No doubt Senator Clinton is sailing toward confirmation and then on to what she promises will be a new world of "smart power." But both Senators Lugar and Kerry have been around Washington long enough to be able to see political difficulty over the horizon.

While the troubled Clinton Presidency by now has been reduced to Monica, veteran Senators will recall that much of the problems had to do with money flowing into the Clinton campaign from mysterious donors and middle men. Then came the Republicans' turn, as the party broke apart on the Abramoff scandal. These senior Senators were trying to ensure that a promising new President doesn't founder on the practices of Washington past. Let's hope the two of them remain vigilant.
28659  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russia-Ukraine on: January 13, 2009, 11:53:14 PM

Geopolitical Diary: Ukrainian Politics and the Natural Gas Crisis
January 13, 2009

On Monday, the 12th day of a natural gas crisis, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union signed an agreement -— for the second time —- for Russian natural gas supplies to Europe to resume. The deal resolved the cutoff prompted by a pricing and debt dispute between Moscow and Kiev and Ukraine’s subsequent siphoning of supplies transiting its territory. The deal also included a plan to deploy European monitors to Ukraine, to check Russian natural gas flows to Europe.

Russian and EU officials initially signed the deal Friday and then sent it to Ukraine, where it was signed it early Sunday. However, Kiev attached an addendum saying that Ukraine had never siphoned natural gas headed to Europe, that Russia owed Ukraine natural gas to make up for a loss in supplies, and that Ukraine no longer owes Russia any debt. These three points are items Moscow could not agree to, and the agreement was broken late Sunday night.

Negotiators reconvened Monday in Brussels and signed the original deal (without the addendum), and the deputy head of Russia’s natural gas monopoly, Alexander Medvedev (no relation to the Russian president), pledged to restart supplies Tuesday morning “if there are no more obstacles.” It is this last caveat which is keeping everyone on edge in Europe, especially as many countries are rationing natural gas supplies and power has been shut off in many Central European states.

The obstacle that Gazprom’s Medvedev was referring to was Ukraine. Though a deal has been struck and natural gas supplies were to resume early Tuesday, Moscow and Kiev have not resolved the debt issue or the price to be paid for natural gas in the coming year —- the issues that gave rise to the most recent crisis and similar crises in years past. This means that at any time, Russia can close the valves again.

Russia will continue using energy to mold the internal political situation in Ukraine, in hopes of shaping the pro-Western government into a more Kremlin-friendly regime. There was evidence Monday of two large steps toward this goal.

First, the pro-Russian Party of Regions in Ukraine began calling for the pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko to resign, and there are rumors that when parliament resumes on Wednesday the impeachment process could begin. Second, the first official poll since the latest natural gas crisis erupted was released in Ukraine. According to the National Academy of Sciences, if presidential elections were held today, Yushchenko would win only 2.9 percent of the vote, while Regions’ leader Viktor Yanukovich would take 30.3 percent and the (currently) pro-Russian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko would take 16.7 percent.

In short, Russia’s moves on Ukraine have pushed voters toward pro-Russian candidates and furthered Yushchenko’s decline -— exactly what Moscow wanted. This does not mean things cannot and will not shift before Ukraine’s next elections, which could take place anytime from the end of 2009 through early 2010 unless Yushchenko is removed from office early. In the meantime, Russia’s use of energy as leverage seems to be creating the effects Moscow wants in Ukraine.
28660  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF on: January 13, 2009, 11:35:57 PM

Duh.  embarassed
28661  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF on: January 13, 2009, 08:07:20 PM
URL please?
28662  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Matthew Alexander on: January 13, 2009, 10:57:27 AM
A good article that has nothing to do with the subject matter of this thread  cheesy

Returning to the subject matter of this thread, here's this extended interview with interrogator "Mattthew Alexander."
28663  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tax Policy on: January 13, 2009, 09:39:06 AM

Mark it down as the first tax increase of the new Democratic era. The Journal reported yesterday that President-elect Obama and Congressional leaders intend to maintain the estate tax rather than let it expire on schedule in 2010.

They will do so even though their economic stimulus plan is supposed to be about creating millions of new jobs in a hurry. The death tax strikes most heavily at small- and medium-sized family-owned businesses that generate the majority of new American jobs. So hitting these family businesses with a multimillion dollar tax bill when the owner dies won't help job creation.

Republicans are partly to blame here for making this easy for Democrats, thanks to their mistakes in the 2001 tax bill. Rather than repeal the tax immediately, Republicans got bamboozled into agreeing to a 10-year phase-out that eliminates the tax only for a single year. Then the rate goes all the way back in 2011 to the confiscatory 55% rate of the Clinton era, with a mere $1 million exclusion. Republicans never did fix the tax revenue estimating process on Capitol Hill, and this is one price for that failure.

Mr. Obama wants to make the current death tax rate of 45% permanent, along with an exclusion of $3.5 million ($7 million for couples). One issue to watch is whether this exclusion is indexed for inflation, or else over time it will hit more and more average earners who build up a small nest egg over a lifetime. Think Alternative Minimum Tax.

The death tax is supposed to be an easy way to extract revenue from the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who support the tax. It won't. The super wealthy have foundations and other tax dodges to shield themselves from much of the tax. A 2006 Joint Economic Committee (JEC) study found that death tax "liabilities depend on the skill of the estate planner, rather than on capacity to pay." So much for tax fairness.

By contrast, "family-run firms and farms particularly feel the pinch of the estate tax, because they are less likely to have the liquid resources needed to meet their estate tax liabilities." The latest JEC estimate is that the death tax has reduced the stock of capital in the economy by about $847 billion. So let's get this straight: We are said to need an economic stimulus plan that will borrow and spend roughly the same amount of money to replace the capital stock that the estate tax has wiped out. Go figure.

This lost capital reinvestment translates into fewer workers on business payrolls. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former Congressional Budget Office director, estimates in a new study that the economy would create roughly 1.3 million more small business jobs with no death tax rather than with a 45% rate. Foreign governments understand this relationship, which is why they have been slashing their estate taxes in recent years. According to the American Council for Capital Formation, the U.S. has the third highest estate tax in the developed world -- 49% if you add the federal rate and average state rate, just below 50% in Japan and South Korea.

Republicans alone won't have much chance to stop this Obama estate-tax plan, so its fate will hang on Senate Democrats. For years many of those Democrats -- especially in swing states like Arkansas and Montana -- campaigned on the promise to lower or eliminate the estate tax. We'll now find out if they meant it.

28664  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: January 13, 2009, 09:29:30 AM
These columns have long believed that a President deserves the cabinet members he wants, barring some major dereliction. So if Barack Obama wants to make Hillary and Bill Clinton part of his governing team, that's his business. We can only hope he understands the Clinton family business he's taking on.

APTake Mr. Clinton's post-Presidential fund-raising, the scope of which he finally disclosed in late December after years of refusing and under pressure from the Obama transition. Amid the holidays and economic news, this window on the Clinton political method has received less attention than it deserves. Here is the spectacle of a former President circling the globe to raise at least $492 million over 10 years for his foundation -- much of it from assorted rogues, dictators and favor-seekers. We are supposed to believe that none of this -- and none of his future fund-raising -- will have any influence on Mrs. Clinton's conduct as Secretary of State.

The silence over this is itself remarkable. When Henry Kissinger was invited merely to co-chair the 9/11 Commission, the political left went bonkers about his foreign clients. In this case we have a Secretary of State nominee whose husband may have raised more than $60 million from various Middle East grandees, and Washington reacts with a yawn. Maybe someone will even ask about it at her nomination hearing today.

A Senator should ask, because this has the potential to complicate life for the new President. All the more so because under terms of his agreement with Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton will be able to keep raising foreign cash as long as the donors send the checks to a Clinton entity other than the "Clinton Global Initiative." Instead of being immediately disclosed, future donations will only be made public once a year and the exact amounts and dates of previous donations will never be made public.

While Mr. Clinton will submit some donations from foreign governments to Administration scrutiny, he need only do so if the donations are new or are of a significantly larger magnitude from a previous donation. In other words, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman can keep giving millions without U.S. government review even while Mrs. Clinton is America's chief diplomat. These disclosure limitations suggest that the Clintons seriously out-negotiated Team Obama. We hope the President-elect does better with Iran.

As for potential embarrassment, consider the "up to $5 million" in donations to the Clinton foundation from Gilbert Chagoury, known for his ties to Nigeria's former military dictator, General Sani Abacha. The Journal's John Emshwiller recently noted that unfortunately for Mr. Chagoury, after Abacha died in 1998, "Swiss and other European authorities froze a number of bank accounts, including some related to Mr. Chagoury, as part of an investigation by the Nigerian government and others about whether billions of dollars had been improperly taken out of the country during the Abacha regime, according to news reports and a 2001 British court decision in Abacha-related litigation. Mr. Chagoury later agreed to return funds, estimated to be as much as $300 million, to the Nigerian government in exchange for indemnity from possible charges and to unfreeze his accounts, according to the British court decision."

Another notable donor -- also up to $5 million -- is Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of former Ukraine president Leonid Kuchma. Mr. Pinchuk was mentioned in a 2005 Journal story headlined, "Haunted By Suspect Deals Of Old Regime." Suspect indeed. The "privatization" of the country's largest steel plant in a sale to a group including Mr. Pinchuk was later overturned after the country held a democratic election.

And only this month, the New York Times reported that New York developer Robert Congel gave $100,000 to the Clinton foundation in November, 2004, one month after the enactment of a law that gave Mr. Congel access to tax-exempt "green bonds" to build a shopping mall in Syracuse. Mrs. Clinton had supported the law, and within a year of the donation she secured $5 million in taxpayer funds for the complex.

It'd be nice to think Mr. Clinton would forswear this money-hustle while his wife is Secretary of State, but that self-sacrifice would belie his entire career. As for Mrs. Clinton, note the scrutiny that Eric Holder, Mr. Obama's Attorney General nominee, is coming under for his role in aiding pardons for 16 unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorists in 1999. But keep in mind the timing of those pardons was intended to help Mrs. Clinton win Puerto Rican support in her 2000 Senate campaign. Someone should ask her at today's hearing about the role she played in that pardon.

In signing up the Clintons -- always two for the price of one -- Mr. Obama is no doubt hoping to unite his party and mute Democratic criticism when mistakes happen. He is also hiring someone whose prominence and allies make her impossible to fire, even as she and her husband have a history of cutting ethical corners. Good luck.

28665  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations on: January 13, 2009, 09:03:09 AM

Please forgive me, but I have taken the liberty of renaming the thread.  Of course I have no problem with the point you are making, but my intuitive sense is that the conversation here will be better this way.

28666  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A friend reports on: January 13, 2009, 08:55:48 AM
A friend in Iraq training Iraqi police reports:

 I leave my hootch at about 0515 to walk down the very dark road to the compound gym.  As I turn onto "Edinburgh Blvd." I can hear a  dog barking.  Very agitated like.  And getting louder.  Within a few seconds I see a white dog somewhat running towards me.  That by itself is enough around here to be  concerned about.  They carry 2 step rabies here.  You get bit, you get to take 2 more steps before you drop dead to the ground.  Of course I am exaggerating but you get the drift.
Well a moment after I see the dog I notice a light coming down the street.  It looks like a flashlight.  Only it's like head high.  As the  light and I get nearer I realize it's a head lamp.  Like bicyclists and orienteers wear.  By this time the dog sees me and darts bbehind some parked cars and essentially goes out of sight.  A couple of seconds later I realiize the guy comiing towards me wearing a head lamp is carrying a  freakin' rifle.  Well around here, while rifles are not uncommon, guys walking down the street at 0515 in the morning with one and wearing a head lamp is still odd.    I admit to instant ppucker factor thinkking holy mierda.  Who's gonna believe I got whacked like this?  I have never been so happy in my life (when he was just meters away) to hear a voice, a German voice at that say, "good morning sir."  And he just kept going.  Looking for the dog.  But I think the dog took deep cover when he saw me, on top of seeing some guy with a flashlight and a rifle looking for him.  And I nnever heard a  gunshot.
I checked my underwear when I got to the gym....
28667  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington on: January 13, 2009, 08:24:07 AM
"For myself the delay [in assuming the office of the President] may be compared with a reprieve; for in confidence I assure you, with the world it would obtain little credit that my movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities and inclination which is necessary to manage the helm."

--George Washington, comment to General Henry Knox, March 1789
28668  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: January 12, 2009, 10:25:26 PM
CNN's Staged Video Update: Norwegian Doctor Works with Hezbollah

Media | Sun, Jan 11, 2009 at 7:46:52 am PST

At Erik Svansbo’s Sweidsh blog, more information about the pro-terrorist agenda of Mads Gilbert, the doctor seen in that staged video from a Gaza hospital.

The doctor’s colleague actually told the Aftonbladet newspaper that spreading pro-Hamas propaganda is more important to them than their medical work—and the Norwegian organization for which they work is a partner with Hezbollah’s “Martyr Foundation.”
In Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, Mads Gilbert’s norwegian colleague Erik Fosse reported about his work in Gaza:
Two Norwegian doctors have worked hard for seven days to save lives in Gaza. But to report to the outside world about what is happening in the war assessing the more important. - “Our witness function and to convey what is actually happening have been more important,” says the doctor Erik Fosse to VG Nett.

In Sweden’s biggest morning newspaper, columnist Lisa Bjurwald stated that NORWAC cooperates with Hezbollah’s Martyr Foundation:
GILBERT AND HIS medical colleague Erik Fosse seconded by the Norwegian aid organization NORWAC, for which Fosse is boss. NORWAC’s partners include Hezbollah’s Martyr Foundation, which collects and distributes money to suicide bomber’s families.

Not a single mainstream media source has reported the outrageous pro-terrorist views and actions of these doctors, but all have broadcast interviews with them.
28669  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 12, 2009, 08:35:00 PM
Does he make any points worthy of your consideration?
28670  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 12, 2009, 07:46:07 PM
Sent to me by a former Army man (Nuke, Bio, Chem stuff) who has followed this issue closely. 

I might add that this is the interrogator that the US selected to aid in finding Zarqawi in Iraq, so not just any run of the mill interrogator I would imagine.


I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq
By Matthew Alexander
Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page B01

I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I'm still alarmed about that today.

I'm not some ivory-tower type; I served for 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, began my career as a Special Operations pilot flying helicopters, saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, became an Air Force counterintelligence agent, then volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior interrogator. What I saw in Iraq still rattles me -- both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn't work.

Violence was at its peak during my five-month tour in Iraq. In February 2006, the month before I arrived, Zarqawi's forces (members of Iraq's Sunni minority) blew up the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by Iraq's majority Shiites, and unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed. Reprisal killings became a daily occurrence, and suicide bombings were as common as car accidents. It felt as if the whole country was being blown to bits.

Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi. What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the interrogators' bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules -- and often break them. I don't have to belabor the point; dozens of newspaper articles and books have been written about the misconduct that resulted. These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.

I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.

Perhaps he should have. It turns out that my team was right to think that many disgruntled Sunnis could be peeled away from Zarqawi. A year later, Gen. David Petraeus helped boost the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces, cutting violence in the country dramatically.

Our new interrogation methods led to one of the war's biggest breakthroughs: We convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.

But Zarqawi's death wasn't enough to convince the joint Special Operations task force for which I worked to change its attitude toward interrogations. The old methods continued. I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished. Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.

I know the counter-argument well -- that we need the rough stuff for the truly hard cases, such as battle-hardened core leaders of al-Qaeda, not just run-of-the-mill Iraqi insurgents. But that's not always true: We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."

Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there's the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.

After my return from Iraq, I began to write about my experiences because I felt obliged, as a military officer, not only to point out the broken wheel but to try to fix it. When I submitted the manuscript of my book about my Iraq experiences to the Defense Department for a standard review to ensure that it did not contain classified information, I got a nasty shock. Pentagon officials delayed the review past the first printing date and then redacted an extraordinary amount of unclassified material -- including passages copied verbatim from the Army's unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army's own Web site. I sued, first to get the review completed and later to appeal the redactions. Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don't even want the public to hear them.

My experiences have landed me in the middle of another war -- one even more important than the Iraq conflict. The war after the war is a fight about who we are as Americans. Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can't force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves. One day, when my grandkids sit on my knee and ask me about the war, I'll say to them, "Which one?"

Americans, including officers like myself, must fight to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them. Other interrogators are also speaking out, including some former members of the military, the FBI and the CIA who met last summer to condemn torture and have spoken before Congress -- at considerable personal risk.

We're told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations -- and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.

I'm actually quite optimistic these days, in no small measure because President-elect Barack Obama has promised to outlaw the practice of torture throughout our government. But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We're better than that. We're smarter, too.
28671  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / SEAL hell week on: January 12, 2009, 07:02:11 PM
28672  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The War on Drugs in Afg reconsidered on: January 12, 2009, 06:49:03 PM
Afghanistan's Drug Problem
by Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books on international affairs, including Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America (2008). He is also a contributing editor to The National Interest.

Added to on December 5, 2008

This article appeared in the National Interest (Online) on December 5, 2008

General James Jones, President-elect Obama's choice as national-security adviser, said earlier this week that a more "comprehensive" strategy was needed to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Part of his comprehensive approach would be to intensify the campaign against the illegal drug trade. That would be a disastrous mistake. The opium trade is such a huge part of Afghanistan's economy, that efforts to eradicate it would alienate millions of Afghans and play into the hands of the terrorists.

Under pressure from Washington, President Hamid Karzai has already called on the Afghan people to wage war against narcotics with the same determination and ferocity that they resisted the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Given the economic and social realities in Afghanistan, that is an unrealistic and potentially very dangerous objective.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books on international affairs, including Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America (2008). He is also a contributing editor to The National Interest.

Despite the comments of General Jones, there has long been skepticism in U.S. and NATO military circles about the wisdom of pursuing a vigorous war on drugs in Afghanistan. Commanders correctly believe that such an effort complicates their primary mission: eradicating al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.

There is little doubt that al-Qaeda and other anti-government elements profit from the drug trade. What drug warriors refuse to acknowledge is that the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism is a direct result of making drugs illegal, thereby creating an enormous black-market premium. Not surprisingly, terrorist groups in Afghanistan and other countries are quick to exploit such a vast source of potential funding. Absent a worldwide prohibitionist policy, the profit margins in drug trafficking would be a tiny fraction of their current levels, and terrorist groups would have to seek other sources of revenue.

In any case, the United States faces a dilemma if it conducts a vigorous drug-eradication campaign in Afghanistan in an effort to dry up the funds flowing to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Those are not the only factions involved in drug trafficking. Evidence has emerged that officials in Karzai's government, perhaps even the president's brother, are also recipients of largesse from the narcotics trade. Even more important, many of Karzai's political allies are warlords who control the drug commerce in their respective regions. They use the resulting revenues to pay the militias that keep them in power in their fiefdoms and give them national political clout. Some of these individuals backed the Taliban when that faction was in power, switching sides only when the United States launched its military offensive in Afghanistan in October 2001. Antidrug campaigns might cause them to change their allegiance yet again.

In addition to the need to placate cooperative warlords, the U.S.-led coalition relies on poppy growers as spies for information on movements of Taliban and al-Qaeda units. Disrupting the opium crop alienates those vital sources of information.

Washington’s pressure on Karzai is myopic.

The drug trade is a crucial part of Afghanistan's economy. Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply, and opium poppies are now grown in most provinces. The trade is roughly one-third of the country's entire gross domestic product. According to the United Nations, some five hundred nine thousand Afghan families are involved in opium poppy cultivation. Even measured on a nuclear-family basis, that translates into about 14 percent of Afghanistan's population. Given the role of extended families and clans in Afghan society, the number of people affected is much greater than that. Indeed, it is likely that at least 35 percent of the population is involved directly or indirectly in the drug trade. For many of those people, opium poppy crops and other aspects of drug commerce are the difference between modest prosperity (by Afghan standards) and destitution. They do not look kindly on efforts to destroy their livelihood.

Despite those daunting economic factors, the Bush administration has put increased pressure on the Karzai government to crack down on the drug trade, and the incoming Obama administration apparently intends to continue that strategy. The Afghan regime is responding cautiously, trying to convince Washington that it is serious about dealing with the problem without launching a full-blown antidrug crusade that will alienate large segments of the population. It has tried to achieve that balance by focusing on high-profile raids against drug-processing labs—mostly those that are not controlled by warlords friendly to the Kabul government. Afghan officials have been especially adamant in opposing the aerial spraying of poppy fields—a strategy that Washington has successfully pushed allied governments in Colombia and other South American drug-source countries to do.

Washington's pressure on Karzai is myopic. The Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies are rapidly regaining strength, especially in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, perhaps not coincidentally the areas of the most vigorous antidrug campaigns. If zealous American drug warriors alienate hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers, the Karzai government's hold on power could become even more precarious. Washington would then face the unpalatable choice of risking the reemergence of chaos in Afghanistan, including the prospect that radical Islamists might regain power, or sending more U.S. troops to stabilize the situation beyond the reinforcements already contemplated for 2009.

U.S. officials need to keep their priorities straight. Our mortal enemy is al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime that made Afghanistan into a sanctuary for that terrorist organization. The drug war is a dangerous distraction in the campaign to destroy those forces. Recognizing that security considerations sometimes trump other objectives would hardly be an unprecedented move by Washington. U.S. agencies quietly ignored drug-trafficking activities of anticommunist factions in Central America during the 1980s when the primary goal was to keep those countries out of the Soviet orbit. In the early 1990s, the United States also eased its pressure on Peru's government regarding the drug-eradication issue when President Alberto Fujimori concluded that a higher priority had to be given to winning coca farmers away from the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla movement.

The Obama administration should adopt a similar pragmatic policy in Afghanistan and look the other way regarding the drug-trafficking activities of friendly warlords. And above all, the U.S. military must not become the enemy of Afghan farmers whose livelihood depends on opium-poppy cultivation. True, some of the funds from the drug trade will find their way into the coffers of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That is an inevitable side effect of a global prohibitionist policy that creates such an enormous profit from illegal drugs. But alienating pro-Western Afghan factions in an effort to disrupt the flow of revenue to the Islamic radicals is too high a price to pay. General Jones should reconsider his views.
28673  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hamas' children on: January 12, 2009, 04:51:36 PM

Hamas' children
28674  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kristol on: January 12, 2009, 12:26:36 PM
Continuity We Can Believe In
Published: January 11, 2009

Barack Obama made news Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”: The White House dog will likely be a Labradoodle or a Portuguese water dog.

I’ve got to say I’m a little disappointed. These are nice, friendly, generally obedient breeds (or in the case of the Labradoodle, a crossbreed). But what a missed opportunity! Obama could have made a bolder, edgier choice, like a mini-Australian shepherd. I happen to know one well. He’s very smart, a bit neurotic, devoted to his master (if sometimes confused about whether he or the master is the master), and always looking for people to herd. A mini-Aussie would have fit right into a White House populated by Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, Joe Biden et al. Instead, Obama’s going with a no-drama canine alternative.

And he seems to be going for the no-dramatic-change-in-policy-in-the-White-House alternative as well. Consider Obama’s reaction when George Stephanopoulos played a clip of Dick Cheney counseling Obama not to implement his campaign rhetoric until he’s fully briefed on the details of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy.

“I think that was pretty good advice, which is I should know what’s going on before we make judgments and that we shouldn’t be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric. So I’ve got no quibble with that particular quote,” said Obama. Usually, presidents pretend their campaign positions are more than “campaign rhetoric.” Not Obama.

Obama did note that he differs with Cheney on “some things that we know happened,” including waterboarding. And he did reiterate his pledge to close Guantánamo. But he warned that it was “more difficult than I think a lot of people realize,” explaining that while he was committed to the rule of law, he wasn’t interested “in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up.”

And at one point he returned, unbidden, to the much-maligned vice president, commenting, “I thought that Dick Cheney’s advice was good.”

Perhaps the president-elect was just being polite. Or perhaps he just enjoys torturing (metaphorically!) some of his previously most ardent supporters who want Dick Cheney tried as a war criminal.

In fact, Stephanopoulos asked about that. He pointed to a popular question on Obama’s Web site about whether he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to investigate “the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.” Obama stipulated that no one should be above the law. But he praised C.I.A. employees, and said he didn’t want them “looking over their shoulders and lawyering.” He took the general view “that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.”

With respect to the Middle East, Obama didn’t even say we’d gotten much wrong in the past. Asked by Stephanopoulos whether his policy would build on Bush’s or would be a clean break, Obama answered, “if you look not just at the Bush administration, but also what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach.” So: No break.

Meanwhile, the Obama transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, was denying a press report that Obama’s advisers were urging him to initiate low-level or clandestine contacts with Hamas as a prelude to change in policy. Anderson told The Jerusalem Post that the story wasn’t accurate, and reminded one and all that Obama “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements.”

On Iran, Obama did say he’d be taking “a new approach,” that “engagement is the place to start” with “a new emphasis on being willing to talk.” But he also reminded Stephanopoulos that the Iranian regime is exporting terrorism through Hamas and Hezbollah and is “pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.” He said his willingness to talk would be combined with “clarity about what our bottom lines are” — one of them presumably being, as he’s said before, no Iranian nuclear weapons. And he demonstrated a sense of urgency — “we anticipate that we’re going to have to move swiftly in that area.”

So: After talks with Iran (if they happen) fail to curb Iran’s nuclear program, but (perhaps) impress other nations with our good faith, we’ll presumably get greater international support for sanctions. That will also (unfortunately) fail to deter Iran. “Engagement is the place to start,” Obama said, but it’s not likely to be the place Obama ends. He’ll end up where Bush is — with the choice of using force or acquiescing to the idea of a nuclear Iran.

And he’ll probably be calling Dick Cheney for advice.
28675  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 12, 2009, 12:02:47 PM
Ummm, , , because any of them can choose to leave?
28676  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Anti-semitism & Jews on: January 12, 2009, 11:58:12 AM
28677  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 12, 2009, 09:33:52 AM
As usual, GM makes many powerful points and I agree with most of them.  As usual JDN is often , , , imprecise, specious and excessive in making his points (said with love JDN).  That said, I find myself at odds with some of our practices.  Leaving somebody naked and wet in 50 degrees?  What is the point?  Is there a ticking bomb scenario?  My understanding is no there is not, so I find no justification for this sort of practice.  Likewise the extended standing and sleep deprivation leaves me wondering.

The readings I have done (e.g. The Interrogator's War by someone who interrogated in the early days of Afg) persuade me that this sort of methodology simply is not very effective.  Nor does it leave me proud as an American.
28678  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYTimes: Read between the lines: Dems prepare for open borders on: January 12, 2009, 09:00:49 AM
Wonder why there's no talk of putting the Trillion Dollar Stimulus to work here?  angry angry angry


LAREDO, Tex. — Inside a courthouse just north of the Rio Grande, federal judges mete out prison sentences to throngs of 40 to 60 illegal immigrants at a time. The accused, mostly from Central America, Brazil and Mexico, wear rough travel clothes that speak of arduous journeys: flannel shirts, sweat suits, jeans and running shoes or work boots.

Barbara LaWall, a county prosecutor in Arizona, said she did know how much longer she would be able to take on federal cases.
The prosecutors make quick work of the immigrants. Under a Justice Department program that relies on plea deals, most are charged with misdemeanors like improper entry.

Federal prosecutions of immigration crimes nearly doubled in the last fiscal year, reaching more than 70,000 immigration cases in the 2008 fiscal year, according to federal data compiled by a Syracuse University research group. The emphasis, many federal judges and prosecutors say, has siphoned resources from other crimes, eroded morale among federal lawyers and overloaded the federal court system. Many of those other crimes, including gun trafficking, organized crime and the increasingly violent drug trade, are now routinely referred to state and county officials, who say they often lack the finances or authority to prosecute them effectively.

Bush administration officials say the government’s focus on immigration crimes is an outgrowth of its counterterrorism strategy and vigorous pursuit of immigrants with criminal records.

Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.

“I have seen a national abdication by the Justice Department,” said Attorney General Terry Goddard of Arizona.

United States attorneys on the Southwest border, who handle the bulk of immigration prosecutions, usually decline to prosecute drug suspects with 500 pounds of marijuana or less — about $500,000 to $800,000 worth. As a result of Washington’s decision to forgo many of those cases, Mr. Goddard said, local agencies are handling many of them and becoming overwhelmed.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said that felony prosecutions of immigration crimes had increased 40 percent from 2000 through 2007 but that most other prosecutions had remained steady. But Justice Department statistics Mr. Carr provided to The New York Times did not include tens of thousands of misdemeanor charges and prosecutions conducted before magistrate judges. Data from the Syracuse group, known as the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, included those cases, which are driving the sharp growth in immigration cases.

Prosecutorial priorities are expected to change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office, said Mark Agrast, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research and policy institute that is closely associated with the transition team. “There will be a reassessment of whether aggressive targeting of criminal aliens through the use of federal criminal statues is an effective use of scarce law enforcement resources,” Mr. Agrast said.

The Bush administration bolstered its enforcement of immigration crimes by increasing the number of Border Patrol agents from 9,500 in 2004 to 15,000 in 2008 and adding several hundred federal prosecutors assigned to immigration crimes.

On heavy days, single courtrooms along the border process illegal immigrants on an industrial scale, sometimes more than 200 in a day. Misdemeanors usually carry a sentence of a few weeks to six months.

At the federal courthouse in Laredo, George P. Kazen, the senior judge, estimated that under Operation Streamline, the Justice Department program relying on plea deals for efficiency, he had sentenced more people to prison than any other active federal judge. But Judge Kazen said he was concerned about recent reports of the smuggling of firearms from Texas into Mexico by violent drug cartels.

“The U.S. attorney isn’t bringing me those cases,” he said. “They’re just catching foot soldiers coming across the border. They bust some stooge truck driver carrying a load of drugs, and you know there’s more behind it. But they will tell you that they don’t have the resources to drive it and develop a conspiracy case.”

“Every time the government puts a lot of resources on one thing, they’re going to take away from another,” he added.
Page 2 of 2)

Mr. Carr of the Justice Department disagreed, saying that other prosecutions had remained steady, and he defended the emphasis on immigration. “The Department has answered the call of Congress and the states along the Southwest border to pursue immigration enforcement aggressively.”

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Graphic The debate over Justice Department priorities is loudest in this region, as local authorities facing dwindling resources are picking up cases federal prosecutors decline, especially the marijuana cases.

“We do reach a saturation point, so we set thresholds as to what type of cases we will work,” said Tim Johnson, acting United States attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “To the extent that we don’t have resources, we will refer them to local agencies.”

Drug traffickers now routinely break up their loads into smaller quantities to avoid stiffer federal penalties, law enforcement authorities say.

Thomas O’Sullivan, the chief criminal deputy county attorney in Santa Cruz County, Ariz., said that county prosecutors had begun to decline federal agents’ case referrals out of necessity.

In neighboring Pima County, which includes Tucson, Barbara LaWall, the county attorney, said she continued to take on federal cases but did know how much longer she would be able to do so.

“We’re prosecuting Border Patrol cases, national park cases, customs cases, D.E.A. cases — any cases in which they have 499 pounds of marijuana or less, because I don’t want the drug dealers to have no consequences whatsoever,” Ms. LaWall said. “But the rock and the hard place is that my jurisdiction, as most others are, is experiencing some real financial downturns.”

Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who is a frequent critic of Justice Department priorities, said that federal agents also complained often to her about delays in wiretap requests, a hallmark of the kind of complex investigations that used to be a mainstay of federal cases.

“They’ve pulled so many U.S. attorneys off drug crimes and organized crime caseloads that federal agents are trying to get help from local district attorneys because they can’t wait six weeks for a wiretap order,” Ms. Lofgren said. “By then it’s too late to catch the bad guys.”

Federal agents requested 457 wiretaps in 2007, a 14-year low. Meanwhile, state and local prosecutors requested 1,751 wiretaps, more than triple the number in 1993.

Some local prosecutors say they are glad to take on the kinds of challenging cases that federal prosecutors used to handle. Ms. LaWall boasted about a racketeering conspiracy she recently prosecuted involving millions of dollars in illegal methamphetamine sales in Arizona. But Damon Mosler, the San Diego district attorney’s narcotic division chief, said financial constraints often limited his office’s ability to do things, like assisting federal agents monitoring drug trafficking organizations.

“That sometimes means I can’t keep supporting those other jurisdictions,” Mr. Mosler said.

Mr. Goddard, the Arizona attorney general, said the impact of the Justice Department’s focus on immigration crime extended beyond the drug war.

“Where they used to be big players in environmental law, antitrust law, and consumer fraud — now the states are the ones taking on these kinds of cases,” Mr. Goddard said. “These used to be uniquely federal in nature because they are going after multistate institutions conducting cross-border schemes.”

Carol C. Lam, a former United States attorney for the Southern California District and now a deputy general counsel for Qualcomm, was ousted in 2007 after Justice Department officials said she did not prosecute enough illegal immigrants. Ms. Lam, who was involved in the corruption case of Randy Cunningham, a former California Republican congressman now serving federal prison time, said her philosophy led her to choose high-impact cases instead of cases that simply “drove the statistics.”

“If two-thirds of a U.S. attorney’s office is handling low-level narcotics and immigration crimes,” she said, “young prosecutors may not have the opportunity to learn how to do a wiretap case, or learn how to deal with the grand jury, or how to use money laundering statutes or flip witnesses or deal with informants and undercover investigations.”

“That’s not good law enforcement,” she said.

A senior federal prosecutor who has worked on a wide variety of cases along the border said that the focus on relatively simple immigration prosecutions was eroding morale at United States attorney offices.

“A lot of the guys I work with did nothing but the most complex cases — taking down multigenerational crime families, international crime, drug trafficking syndicates — you know, big fish,” said the prosecutor, who did not want to be identified as criticizing the department he works for. “Now these folks are dealing with these improper entry and illegal reentry cases.” He added, “It’s demoralizing for them, and us.”

28679  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton; Madison; Reagan on: January 12, 2009, 08:54:29 AM
"This process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of President will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications."

--Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 68, 14 March 1788

"A universal peace, it is to be feared, is in the catalogue of events, which will never exist but in the imaginations of visionary philosophers, or in the breasts of benevolent enthusiasts." --James Madison

"Is there anyone that isn't concerned with the energy problem? Government caused that problem while we all stood by unaware that we were involved. Unnecessary regulations and prices imposed -- price limits -- back in the '50's are the direct cause of today's crisis. Our crisis isn't because of a shortage of fuel; it's a surplus of government. ...[W]hen they tell us about the conservation -- of course we should save. No one should waste a natural resource. But they act as if we've found all the oil and gas there is to be found in this continent, if not the world. Do you know that 57 years ago our government told us we only had enough for 15 years? And 19 years went by and they told us we only had enough left for 13 more years. Now, we've done a lot of driving since then and we'll do a lot more if government would do one simple thing: get out of the way and let the incentives of the marketplace urge the industry out to find the sources of energy this country needs." --Ronald Reagan
28680  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bank of the United States on: January 12, 2009, 02:34:19 AM
At first glance, Citigroup's endorsement last week of a Senate plan to allow bankruptcy judges to break mortgage contracts looks like a scene from "Goodfellas."

APSince October, the government has invested $52 billion in Citi, while agreeing to eat up to $249 billion in losses on the bank's toxic real estate portfolio. And so it's really hard to say no when those Washington "investors" call for a favor. In the 1990 Martin Scorsese movie, a restaurant owner realizes too late that a partner big enough to protect him is big enough to take everything he has. As Ray Liotta narrates, "Now he's got Paulie as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with a bill, to Paulie . . . But now he has to pay Paulie."

The problem with Citi's capitulation is that it means that not just Citi will have to pay the Beltway outfit if the bill passes. Other banks, borrowers and taxpayers will also suffer. In fact, this deal is looking more and more like a case of Citi colluding with its new political owners in order to force competing banks to break contracts and take more losses. This kind of politicized banking is precisely why the Bank of the United States was shut down in the 19th century.

After years of resisting, Citi has suddenly signed off on Senator Dick Durbin's plan to allow judges to rewrite mortgage contracts for borrowers in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Under the Illinois Democrat's plan, which is earmarked for inclusion in the pending stimulus bill, judges could reduce the amount of principal, lower the interest rate, and change the length of the mortgage term.

Until Washington embraced the politics of housing panic, even sensible Democrats recognized that allowing such mortgage "cramdowns" was a terrible idea, sure to punish future borrowers with higher rates as lenders calculate the increased risk. The Congressional Budget Office warned in January 2008 that such a change could result in higher interest rates for homeowners and bigger caseloads in bankruptcy courts. In 2007, 16 House Democrats signed a letter opposing similar legislation.

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They realized that the consequences would fall hardest on those hoping to buy a home, if markets logically respond by setting mortgage interest rates closer to those on, for example, auto loans or credit cards. A bankruptcy judge is now free to reduce amounts owed on many types of consumer debt. For mortgages, the iron-clad requirement to pay off the loan or lose the house is precisely to encourage lower rates on a less risky investment.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens described the importance of this principle in 1993 in Nobelman v. American Savings Bank: "At first blush it seems somewhat strange that the Bankruptcy Code should provide less protection to an individual's interest in retaining possession of his or her home than of other assets. The anomaly is, however, explained by the legislative history indicating that favorable treatment of residential mortgages was intended to encourage the flow of capital into the home lending market."

Mr. Durbin argues that borrowers won't be able to enjoy the benefits of a cramdown until they first make an effort to negotiate new terms with their lenders before declaring bankruptcy. Also, to counter the perception that they are harming the mortgage market, Mr. Durbin and Senate colleagues Chris Dodd and Chuck Schumer are proposing that cramdowns only be available for mortgage contracts signed before their bill becomes law. But of course lenders will have every reason to assume that, whenever the going gets tough, Washington will let future borrowers break contracts too.

Mr. Durbin and his allies have tried and failed several times to break the cramdown opposition, and they believe Citi finally gives them the club to prevail. As Mr. Schumer noted in a press release, "Citigroup's support means that the dam has broken across the banking industry. We now have a real chance to pass this legislation quickly." Talking point number one for Democrats is that if giant Citigroup is for this plan, why would anyone oppose it?

In Today's Opinion Journal


Tehran's Strip Club


The Americas: Dictatorship for Dummies
– Mary Anastasia O'GradyInformation Age: How the Music Industry Can Get Digital Satisfaction
– L. Gordon Crovitz


Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap
– Joel I. Klein and Al SharptonTake It From McCain's Advisers: The GOP Would Raise Taxes
– Matt MillerWhy Russia Stokes Mideast Mayhem
– Garry KasparovThe U.S. Votes 'Present' at the U.N.
– John R. BoltonIn fact, Citigroup may support this plan precisely because it isn't a big player in the mortgage market. Sure, it has some dodgy mortgage-backed securities on its books, but they've been written down and the feds cover 90% of losses beyond $29 billion in any case. When it comes to making loans, however, Citi originates less than 10% of American mortgages.

Citi is falling further behind J.P. Morgan Chase, which acquired Washington Mutual; Wells Fargo, which acquired Wachovia; and Bank of America, which bought Countrywide. J.P. Morgan's mortgage business is now twice the size of Citi's, while Wells and BofA each originate almost three times as much dollar volume as Citi. So in agreeing to Mr. Durbin's offer, Citi is also volunteering its competitors to write down more mortgages, giving Citi a comparative advantage.

But the unintended consequences could make even Citi rue the day it got in bed with the goodfellas on Capitol Hill. If the possibility of this refinancing-via-bankruptcy encourages more people to declare bankruptcy, that would mean additional losses on Citi's credit cards and auto loans.

Having spent the past year committing taxpayer trillions to support American banks, Washington now seems not to mind at all if its latest bailout drives up bank losses on mortgages, credit cards and other loans. The Senate could soon make Paulie look like a reasonable business partner.
28681  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Kasparov on: January 12, 2009, 02:27:37 AM
Those looking for a bright side in the global economic meltdown are fond of invoking the old line about finding opportunity in a crisis. But also keep in mind that there are those who will incite a new crisis to escape or distract from the current one. This is the scenario looming in Russia as the Kremlin faces increasing pressure on multiple fronts.

APRussia and its fellow petrodictatorships are in dire need of a way to ratchet up global tensions to inflate the sagging price of oil. Petrodictators, after all, need petrodollars to stay in power. The war in Gaza and the otherwise inexplicable skirmish with Ukraine over natural gas have helped the Kremlin in this regard, but $50 a barrel isn't going to be nearly enough. It will have to reach at least $100 and it will have to happen soon.

The effects of the financial crisis are rapidly reaching every level of Russian society. With no avenue for political expression left open to us, Russians are ready to take to the streets. Vladimir Putin has reacted true to form, ramming through new "anti-extremism" laws, building up the interior ministry's paramilitary police forces, and increasing the volume of the xenophobic propaganda in state-controlled media.

The natural place for the Kremlin to find its new crisis is the Middle East. Open hostilities between Iran and Israel would lift the price of oil back to a level that would allow Mr. Putin and his gang to keep funding the crackdown. Israel's anxiety over Iran's nuclear-weapon ambitions is the most vulnerable link in a very weak chain.

There persists a very damaging myth in the West, spouted by politicians and the press, that says Russia's assistance is needed with Iran and other rogue states. In fact, the Kremlin has been stirring this pot for years and has a vested interest in further increasing turmoil in the region. The Hamas/Hezbollah rockets, based on the Russian Katyusha and Grad, are not delivered via DHL from Allah. It doesn't require the guile of a KGB man like Mr. Putin to imagine a way to accelerate Iran's nuclear program, which has been aided by Russian technology and protected by the Kremlin from meaningful international action.

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So the question for Western leaders is whether they doubt Mr. Putin would hesitate to provoke a war in the Middle East. If his regime falls, he and his cronies will face the loss of their immense fortunes and criminal prosecution when their looting is exposed. What are thousands of lives in the Middle East to a Kremlin mob that is openly preparing for the day when they will have to open fire on their own citizens to stay in power?

This "mad bear" theory is even more plausible when you consider how tolerant the current cohort of Western leaders has been regarding the destruction of democratic rights around the world. There appears to be no line the world's despots -- and would-be despots -- cannot cross with impunity.

It is time to bury the failed model of dealing with the world's antidemocratic and bloodthirsty regimes. The real change we must effect in 2009 is toward a new global emphasis on the value of human life. Anything less confirms to the enemies of democratic civilization that everything is negotiable. For Mr. Putin that means democracy; for Hamas it means Israel's existence. The Free World must take those chips off the table.

Israel has the capability to annihilate Gaza to secure the safety of its people, but it chooses not to do so because the Israelis value human life. Does anyone doubt for a moment what Hamas would do if it had the power to wipe out every one of the five-and-a-half million Jews in Israel? Hamas should not be considered less a villain simply because it does not as yet possess the means to fulfill its genocidal agenda.

Terror suspects such as the United Kingdom's "liquid-bomb" plotters and the recently convicted group plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at the Fort Dix military base were arrested before they were able to carry out their lethal plans. Those who call Israel's assault on Gaza disproportionate should write down on a piece of paper exactly how many Israelis should die before the Israeli Defense Forces respond.

The leaders of Europe and the U.S. are hoping that the tyrants and autocrats of the world will just disappear. But dinosaurs like Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chávez and Iran's ayatollahs are not going to fade away by natural causes. They survive because the leaders of the Free World are afraid to take a stand.

Years from now, when Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe is either dead or deposed, his legacy will lead to another genocide trial in The Hague. Why don't Western powers, many of whom are condemning Israel's action in Gaza, take action now to stop the extermination in Zimbabwe instead of waiting a decade for a trial? Criticizing Israel is easy while rescuing Zimbabwe is hard. Choosing the path of least resistance is moral cowardice. It does not avoid difficult decisions, it only postpones them.

Mr. Putin's Russia has invaded one neighbor and is threatening to freeze much of Europe by shutting down natural gas pipelines that flow through Ukraine. But since confronting Mr. Putin would take courage, Western leaders pretend his help is needed. This policy of self-deception will have disastrous consequences.

The futile pursuit of balance and neutrality by Western leaders and the media has become nothing more than a cover-up for the gravest of crimes. No doubt they would have judiciously considered the "legitimate grievances" of Stalin, Hitler and bin Laden. The time to stand up to such monsters is before they have achieved their horrific goals, not after.

Mr. Kasparov, leader of The Other Russia coalition, is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal.
28682  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Teheran's Strip Club on: January 12, 2009, 02:23:56 AM
The announcement late Friday that Lloyds bank has admitted to illegally transferring Iranian money into the U.S. deserves more public attention. The deferred prosecution agreement is a victory for the Manhattan District Attorney's office despite backroom foot-dragging from the U.S. Treasury. And it's further evidence of how deadly serious Iran is in seeking to buy parts for its missile and nuclear programs.

APUnder Lloyds TSB Group's deferred prosecution agreement with District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and the Justice Department, the British bank will pay a $350 million fine and, most important, share all its records on the Iranian transfers. If Lloyds continues to cooperate, neither the bank nor its executives will be criminally prosecuted for violating the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act, under which the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran.

State-owned Iranian banks Saderat and Melli have been barred from the U.S. financial system for their ties to terrorism and nuclear proliferation, respectively, and were specifically cited in the U.N. Security Council's most recent sanctions order against Iran. But for years, Lloyds and other financial firms helped Iran's rogue banks infiltrate the U.S. Why did Iran's banks need American dollars? In some cases they appear to have purchased items within U.S. borders. In others, law enforcement sources believe the banks were channeling billions in cash through U.S. banks to third countries to parties demanding payment in dollars.

Our sources say the money trail often began at the Iranian Central Bank, which sent funds to banks Melli and Saderat, as well as to Bank Sepah, which a U.S. Treasury official has called "the financial linchpin of Iran's missile procurement network." The U.K. branches or subsidiaries of the Iranian banks would send electronic messages via the Swift banking payments system to Lloyds and possibly other financial houses. Employees at Lloyds would then re-key the data into a new Swift message, carefully removing any reference to Iran or its banks. Employees at the British bank called this "stripping." The sophisticated screening software at American banks would have raised red flags if the true source of the funds had been revealed, but coming from a respected British financial institution, they weren't questioned.

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Lloyds admits to stripping for Iran from 2001-2004, though it may have begun in the 1990s and wasn't detected by law enforcement until early 2007. But one reason for deferring prosecution is that Lloyds's employees began to raise questions and convinced the bank's leadership to end the illegal Iranian transfers via London by April of 2004. Lloyds's offices in Dubai and Tokyo continued to facilitate Iranian money transfers into the U.S. until October of that year. Illegal transfers from Sudan, similarly disguised to evade sanctions but at much lower dollar amounts, occurred through 2007.

We're told that records of transfers back to London suggest that the Iranians sometimes used overnight deposits in the U.S. to take advantage of favorable interest rates. But American officials are also now in a race to track down all of the ultimate destinations. Mr. Morgenthau's office, which has led this effort, suspects that some funds may have been used to purchase raw materials for long-range missiles.

In Today's Opinion Journal


Bank of the United States


The Americas: Dictatorship for Dummies
– Mary Anastasia O'GradyInformation Age: How the Music Industry Can Get Digital Satisfaction
– L. Gordon Crovitz


Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap
– Joel I. Klein and Al SharptonTake It From McCain's Advisers: The GOP Would Raise Taxes
– Matt MillerWhy Russia Stokes Mideast Mayhem
– Garry KasparovThe U.S. Votes 'Present' at the U.N.
– John R. BoltonWe're also told that nine other banks are being investigated, including another British bank, a Swiss bank and a German bank. But since any illegal activity does not appear to have involved the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms, there is a question of how cooperative the foreign banks will be. The biggest potential payoff from Lloyds's cooperation should be when the bank identifies for U.S. law enforcers all of the wire transfers that originated in Iran, thus helping the CIA and FBI track them to their final destinations.

The size of this financial cover-up shows the lengths Iran has been going to evade sanctions and expand its military arsenal. Mr. Morgenthau has done a service in releasing the details, all the more so given the strange reticence of the U.S. Treasury. Treasury has long pushed for tough financial sanctions on Iran. Yet in this case it fought against criminal sanction, preferring only a civil judgment, and it argued for a lower fine. One possible explanation is that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson didn't want to offend British regulators by coming down too hard on one of their banks. However, it strikes us that helping Iran cover up its weapons-buying is serious enough to deserve the criminal sanction. Treasury officials declined our repeated invitations to comment.

Iran continues to make progress on its nuclear program, and yesterday the New York Times reported that President Bush refused a recent Israeli request for weapons that could help in any military strike against Tehran's nuclear sites. Whether or not that proves to be an historic mistake, it increases the importance of financial pressure on Iran. President-elect Obama has said he wants to toughen sanctions against Iran, and his new Treasury team can help by cooperating more with Mr. Morgenthau's investigation.

28683  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / WSJ on: January 12, 2009, 02:21:06 AM
Lo siento que sea en ingles:

Optimists have long theorized that Venezuela's Hugo Chávez would meet his Waterloo with the burst of the petroleum bubble. But with oil prices down some 75% from their highs last year and the jackboot of the regime still firmly planted on the nation's neck, that theory requires revisiting.

APIt is true that popular discontent with chavismo has been rising as oil prices have been falling. The disillusionment is even likely to increase in the months ahead as the economy swoons. But having used the boom years to consolidate power and destroy all institutional checks and balances, Mr. Chávez has little incentive to return the country to political pluralism even if most Venezuelans are sick of his tyranny. If anything, he is apt to become more aggressive and dangerous as the bloom comes off his revolutionary rose in 2009 and he feels more threatened.

Certainly "elections" can't be expected to matter much. Mr. Chávez now controls the entire electoral process, from voter rolls to tallying totals after the polls have closed. Under enormous public pressure he accepted defeat in his 2007 bid for constitutional reforms designed to make him president for life. But so what? That loss allowed him to maintain the guise of democracy, and now he has decided that there will be another referendum on the same question in February. Presumably Venezuela will repeat this exercise until the right answer is produced.

Mary Anastasia O'Grady speaks with James Freeman. (Jan. 12)
All police states hold "elections." But they also specialize in combining the state's monopoly use of force with a monopoly in economic power and information control. Together these three weapons easily quash dissent. Venezuela is a prime example.

The Venezuelan government is now a military government. Mr. Chávez purged the armed forces leadership in 2002 and replaced fired officers with those loyal to his socialist cause. Like their counterparts in Cuba, these elevated comandantes are well compensated. Lack of transparency makes it impossible to know just how much they get paid for their loyalty, but it is safe to say that they have not been left out of the oil fiesta that compliant chavistas have enjoyed over the past decade. Even if the resource pool shrinks this year, neither their importance nor their rewards are likely to diminish.

Mr. Chávez has also taken over the Metropolitan Police in Caracas, imported Cuban intelligence agents, and armed his own Bolivarian militias, whose job it is to act as neighborhood enforcers. Should Venezuelans decide that they are tired of one-man rule, chavismo has enough weapons on hand to convince them otherwise.

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Yet the art of dictatorship has been greatly refined since Stalin killed millions of his own people. Modern tyrants understand that there are many ways to manipulate their subjects and most do not require the use of force.

One measure that Mr. Chávez relies on heavily is control of the narrative. In government schools children are indoctrinated in Bolivarian thought. Meanwhile the state has stripped the media of its independence and now dominates all free television in the country. This allows the government to marinate the poor in Mr. Chávez's antimarket dogma. His captive audiences are told repeatedly that hardship of every sort -- including headline inflation of 31% last year -- is the result of profit makers, middlemen and consumerism.

The Orwellian screen is also used to stir up nationalist sentiment against foreign devils, like the U.S., Colombia and Israel. The audience has witnessed violence in Gaza through the lens of Hamas, and last week Mr. Chávez made a show of expelling the Israeli ambassador from Caracas.

Investments in revolution around South America may have to be pared back as revenues drop. But outreach to Iran and Syria is likely to continue since those relations may serve as a source of financing Mr. Chávez's military buildup. In December, the Italian daily La Stampa reported that it has seen evidence of a pact between Caracas and Tehran in which Iran uses Venezuelan aircraft for arms trafficking and Venezuela gets military aid in return. This month Turkish officials intercepted an Iranian shipment bound for Venezuela that reportedly contained materials for making explosives.

Despite all this, the most effective police-state tool remains Mr. Chávez's control over the economy. The state freely expropriates whatever it wants -- a shopping center in Caracas is Mr. Chávez's latest announced taking -- and economic freedom is dead. Moreover, the state has imposed strict capital controls, making saving or trading in hard currency impossible. Analysts are predicting another large devaluation of the bolivar in the not-too-distant future. The private sector has been wiped out, except for those who have thrown in their lot with the tyrant.

The drop in oil revenues may impoverish the state, but the opposition is even poorer. Organizing a rebellion against a less-rich Chávez remains a formidable task.

Write to O'
28684  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 11, 2009, 11:18:47 PM
I just signed up.
28685  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 11, 2009, 07:04:53 PM
 cry cry cry
28686  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Food Chain and Food Politics on: January 11, 2009, 06:59:37 PM
I thought the article made a lot of good points.  One I did not agree with was the aversion to animal protein.  Hunting most certainly is an important of the human paradigm.
28687  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Vehicles, driving skills, crime, related issues on: January 10, 2009, 06:28:38 PM

Excellent case study

Footage is so perfect one almost wonders if its staged, but , , ,
28688  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Food Chain and Food Politics on: January 10, 2009, 06:15:58 PM
Know that PJ O'Rourke is more libertarian than conservative and is side-splitting funny.   I think you will find him an enjoyable read.
28689  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 5 pirates drown with ransom on: January 10, 2009, 01:41:46 PM
5 Somali Pirates Whom Hijacked Saudi Supertanker Drown With Ransom


January 10, 2009

5 Somali Pirates Drown With Ransom

Filed at 11:12 a.m. ET

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Five of the Somali pirates who released a hijacked oil-laden Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of a reported $3 million ransom after their small boat capsized, a pirate and a relative of one of the dead men said Saturday.

Pirate Daud Nure said the boat with eight people on board overturned in a storm after dozens of pirates left the Sirius Star following a two-month standoff in the Gulf of Aden that ended Friday.

He said five people died and three people reached shore after swimming for several hours. Daud Nure was not part of the pirate operation but knew those involved.

Abukar Haji, the uncle of one of the dead men, said the deaths were an accident.

''The boat the pirates were traveling in capsized because it was running at high speed because the pirates were afraid of an attack from the warships patrolling around,'' he said.

''There has been human and monetary loss but what makes us feel sad is that we don't still have the dead bodies of our relatives. Four are still missing and one washed up on the shore.''

Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali Naimi said Saturday that the crew of the Sirius Star was safe and that the tanker had left Somali territorial waters and was on its way home.

A Saudi Oil Ministry official said the ship was headed for Dammam, on Saudi Arabia's Gulf coast, but gave no estimated time of arrival. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The Liberian-flagged ship is owned by Vela International Marine Ltd., a subsidiary of Saudi oil company Aramco. A spokesman for the Dubai-based Vela, Mihir Sapru, would not provide details of the ship's destination or plans once in port.

''We are very relieved to know that all the crew members are safe and I am glad to say that they are all in good health and high spirits,'' said a statement by Saleh K'aki, president and CEO of Vela. ''Throughout this ordeal, our sole objective was the safe and timely release of the crew. That has been achieved today.''

U.S. Navy photos released Friday showed a parachute, carrying what was described as ''an apparent payment,'' floating toward the tanker. The Sirius Star and its 25-member crew had been held since Nov. 15. Its cargo of crude oil was valued at US$100 million at the time.

The capture was seen as a dramatic demonstration of the pirates' ability to strike high-value targets hundreds of miles offshore.

On the same day the Saudi ship was freed, pirates released a captured Iranian-chartered cargo ship, Iran's state television reported Saturday. The ship Delight was carrying 36 tons of wheat when it was attacked in the Gulf of Aden Nov. 18 and seized by pirates. All 25 crew are in good health and the vessel is sailing toward Iran, the TV report said.

The pirate-infested Gulf of Aden is one of the world's busiest shipping routes.

The U.S. Navy announced this week it will head a new anti-piracy task force after more than 100 ships were attacked last year. NATO and the European Union already have warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden and have intervened to prevent several ships from being captured.

More than a dozen ships with about 300 crew members are still being held by pirates off the coast of Somalia, including the weapons-laden Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina, which was seized in September.

The multimillion dollar ransoms are one of the few ways to earn a living in the impoverished, war-ravaged country. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and nearly half of its population depends on aid.
28690  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Libel Tourism on: January 10, 2009, 09:50:53 AM
Second post of the morning:

The farce of foreigners suing Americans for defamation in overseas forums, where the law does not sufficiently protect free speech, is so well-known that it has a fitting nickname: libel tourism. And London is its hot destination. Particularly since 9/11, foreign nationals have cynically exploited British courts in an attempt to stifle any discussion by American journalists about the dangers of jihadist ideology and terrorist supporters.

At long last, U.S. politicians are waking up to the dangers posed by libel tourism, which threatens both the First Amendment and American national security. The trouble is that their efforts, though well-intentioned, are relatively toothless and constitutionally problematic.

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Early last year, New York State passed the nation's first anti-libel tourism law. The law allows state courts to assert authority over foreign citizens based solely on a libel judgment they have obtained abroad against a New Yorker.

The statute's passage was prompted by libel tourism's most frequent flier, Saudi bigwig Khalid bin Mahfouz. He brought a claim in England against author Rachel Ehrenfeld, who alleged in a 2003 book that the international moneyman also financed terrorism. Although "Funding Evil" was published in the U.S., Mr. Mahfouz relied upon (and the British court accepted) the fact that the book was purchased by a small number of British readers on the Internet as sufficient grounds to sue Ms. Ehrenfeld in England.

Under the New York law, the target of a foreign libel suit does not even have to defend himself overseas. If a judgment is entered against him, he can seek a declaration that the foreign tribunal did not live up to First Amendment standards and therefore its ruling cannot be enforced against his U.S. assets. While emotionally satisfying, it does not protect a libel tourism victim's assets outside the U.S.

Moreover, the New York law takes a constitutionally dubious approach to the acquisition of personal jurisdiction over libel tourists. U.S courts have never before claimed jurisdiction over individuals who have no ties whatsoever to the U.S., other than suing an American in a foreign court.

Rep. Peter King (D., N.Y.) and Sens. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) and Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) have been advancing federal libel tourism bills. Unfortunately these bills, which are modeled on New York's, carry the same constitutional risks.

It is a mistake to respond to libel tourism by seeking to catch foreign plaintiffs with no U.S. contacts in our jurisdictional net. This smacks of the same legal one-upmanship that makes libel tourism itself so odious.

It is high time for a strategy that would stop libel tourists dead in their tracks, without sacrificing constitutional values. The answer lies not in stretching claims of personal jurisdiction, but in federal legislation that would enable American publishers to sue for damages, including punitive damages, for the harms they have suffered. A proper federal libel tourism bill would punish conduct that takes place overseas -- in this case, the commencement of sham libel actions in foreign courts -- by utilizing the well-recognized congressional authority to apply U.S. laws extraterritorially when compelling interests demand it. The Alien Tort Statute, for example, gives U.S. courts subject matter jurisdiction over brutal acts that violate the "law of nations" wherever they may occur. More recently, Congress has created civil remedies to enable victims of international terrorism and human trafficking to sue in our courts for money damages.

But in devising a robust, substantive cause of action for damages -- a bludgeon that Messrs. King, Specter and Lieberman appropriately include in their bills -- Congress should not change normal personal jurisdiction rules. In order to sue foreigners under the federal libel tourism bill and remain consistent with due process, these individuals would have to visit or transact business in the U.S. in order for the U.S. courts to acquire jurisdiction over them. (Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader charged with genocide, was famously served with an Alien Tort complaint while leaving a Manhattan hotel restaurant.)

Under such a law, U.S. courts would be asked to evaluate, at the beginning stages of a foreign lawsuit, whether the plaintiffs are seeking to punish speech protected under the First Amendment. This type of early intervention by judges has worked very well in the 26 states that have passed laws to discourage frivolous libel suits here in the U.S.

To give this approach sufficiently sharp teeth, the damages awarded in libel tourism cases would have to be very substantial. While it is somewhat unusual in tort law to set statutory damages, it presents no constitutional problems. Accordingly, an effective federal bill should give courts the authority to impose damages that amount to double any foreign judgment, plus court costs and attorneys' fees (in both proceedings) for good measure. Habitual libel tourists who obviously seek to impair Americans' First Amendment freedoms should face even stiffer fines. Such a robust response would make foreign libel adventures fiscally disadvantageous, and should deter most overseas suits from ever being filed.

For libel tourists our courts can't fairly touch, it is better to leave them alone than to overreach and tread into unconstitutional territory. But they may yet pay a price. Availing themselves the pleasures of American life could one day be costly. As Karadzic learned, if you violate U.S. law, don't dine out in Manhattan.

Messrs. Rivkin and Brown are partners in the Washington, D.C., office of Baker Hostetler LLP.
28691  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: President Gulliver on: January 10, 2009, 09:42:09 AM
Barack Obama's cabinet choices are understandably getting most media attention, but everyone knows policy is also made by the sub-cabinet. So we think more public scrutiny should be drawn to Mr. Obama's choice of Dawn Johnsen to lead one of the executive branch's most important legal offices. Her appointment makes sense for a President Gulliver, but not for a Commander in Chief fighting terrorists.

Ms. Johnsen became famous in the left-wing blogosphere as an especially arch critic of the Bush Administration's war on terror. As an Indiana University law professor, she took to the Web with such lawyerly analysis as "rogue," "lawless," "outrage," and that's the mild stuff. Now she's been nominated to run the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which interprets the law for the entire executive branch.

One of the OLC's main duties is to defend the Presidency against the inevitable encroachment of the judiciary and Congress on Constitutional authority, executive privilege, war powers, and so forth. Ms. Johnsen knows this, or should, having served as acting OLC head in the Clinton Administration between 1997 and 1998. The office has since become all the more central in a war on terror that has been "strangled by law," to quote Jack Goldsmith, a former Bush OLC chief.

Yet Ms. Johnsen seems to think her job isn't to defend the Presidency but to tie it down with even more legal ropes. She has written that "an essential source of constraint is often underappreciated and underestimated: legal advisors within the executive branch." And in touting her qualifications, the Obama transition cited her recent law review articles "What's a President to Do?: Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration's Abuses"; and "Faithfully Executing the Laws: Internal Legal Constraints on Executive Power."

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In other words, Mr. Obama has nominated as his main executive branch lawyer someone who believes in diminishing the powers of the executive branch. This is akin to naming a conscientious objector as the head of the armed forces, or hiring your wife's divorce lawyer to handle your side of the settlement too.

It's also a radical reinvention of the Framers' view that the three branches of the federal government would vigorously assert their powers to achieve the proper political balance. For this reason, OLC's longstanding jurisprudence -- reaching across Administrations of both parties -- emphasizes an expansive reading of Presidential authority. For example, the office has always filed opinions opposing the 1973 War Powers Act, which sought to limit the chief executive's ability to send military forces abroad. Such opinions covered both Bill Clinton's intervention in Kosovo and George H.W. Bush's in Somalia.

Ms. Johnsen's work ignores all of this in an attempt to assail the entire scope of Bush counterterrorism policy, from surveillance to detention to interrogation. She claims that the OLC "misinterpreted relevant constitutional authorities, particularly when seeking to justify actions otherwise prohibited by law." She pays special attention to John Yoo's August 2002 OLC memorandum that set down the legal limits for interrogation, which she calls "the Torture Opinion."

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Ms. Johnsen accuses Mr. Yoo of "seeking maximum flexibility -- that is, the ability to use the most extreme methods possible without risking criminal liability -- in interrogations of suspected al Qaeda operatives." She means this as a condemnation. But this in fact is the OLC's job -- to explore the legal boundaries of vague statutes and treaties to define where lawful interrogation ends and torture begins. You can debate that Mr. Yoo went too far, as Mr. Goldsmith later did when the Bush Administration withdrew the opinion. But Mr. Yoo was acting in good faith in response to the CIA's request for legal clarity, while leaving the policy choices to the war fighters.

And that's where Ms. Johnsen's premises are most dangerous. "In considering whether a proposed action is lawful," she writes, "the proper OLC inquiry is not simply whether the executive branch can get away with it," in the sense of writing opinions that can "withstand judicial review." She sees the OLC staff not as legal technicians working on behalf of the President but as a policy outfit free to quash Presidential actions with which it happens to disagree.

This is far from an academic exercise, because the OLC's advice is traditionally binding for the executive branch except in rare cases where it is overruled by the President or Attorney General. To the extent that such a mentality seeps across the executive branch, it will begin to make our spies and other war fighters risk-averse and overcautious. This is precisely what happened during the Clinton years after Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick's infamous 1995 memo instructed FBI agents and federal prosecutors to go "beyond what the law requires" in limiting their collaboration against al Qaeda.

Suffocating our terror fighters with excessive legal caution can only impair the difficult task of defending a free society that believes in the rule of law from terrorists who believe in neither freedom nor law. If President Obama matures under the burden and accountability of stopping the next terror attack, he may come to regret having Dawn Johnsen around.
28692  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan on: January 10, 2009, 09:16:20 AM
28693  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Bush Presidency on: January 09, 2009, 11:55:29 PM

Thank you for raising the level of the discussion.
28694  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Stock Market on: January 09, 2009, 08:27:52 PM
That is both funny and scary.  shocked
28695  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Scott Grannis! on: January 09, 2009, 02:05:39 PM
The original is at  so if there is any problem with the formatting here, then go there.


Obama's fatal conceit

Obama gave a dire speech today at George Mason University. It sounded impressive, but only if you take it at face value and fail to check the facts or question the logic. He was in full-blown Keynesian mode, arguing that massive government spending is the only thing that can save the day. Here are some key quotes, followed by my rebuttals:

We start 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime - a crisis that has only deepened over the last few weeks.

As I've been pointing out for some time, the economic and financial fundamentals have actually been improving over the last few weeks.

Manufacturing has hit a twenty-eight year low.
He's evidently referring to the ISM manufacturing index. But that index does not measure manufacturing activity, it only measures the percent of respondents who see things getting worse or better; it's a diffusion index, not a level index. Industrial production, as measured by the Fed, is down only 6% from its all-time high, and is 83% above the level of 28 years ago. This is a gross misrepresentation of reality. Shame on all those intelligent economic advisors who let him get away with such a blatant twisting of the statistics.

Many businesses cannot borrow or make payroll.
The economy is not suffering from a shortage of credit, as I've noted repeatedly. All measures of lending to U.S. businesses show rising trends. Bank lending is at or near all-time highs.

We arrived at this point due to an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington, DC.

Corporate boardrooms had very little to do with this crisis. The principal causes of the crisis stretch back to the creation by Congress of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, unique for-profit enterprises that were encouraged to take on increasing levels of risk that were ultimately guaranteed by taxpayers. It was not for lack of regulation that everything came tumbling down—there were plenty of rules in place and plenty of regulatory bodies, but they either failed to act or were discouraged from acting by politicians. Congress bears a heavy burden of the responsibility for the crisis, yet Congress is now being put in charge of fixing the mess.

We cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government ... can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy - where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.

The first clause is absolutely correct, but then he suspends disbelief and reverts to flawed Keynesian thinking and contradicts himself. Spending is not the source of economic growth; were it so we could simply spend our way to prosperity. We can only consume what we produce. Recovery efforts should be directed at increasing work, investment, and production, not at trying to stimulate consumer spending
We need to put money in the pockets of the American people, create new jobs, and invest in our future.

Every dollar the government puts in the pockets of the people is a dollar that comes from the pocket of someone else; how can that result in a bigger or stronger economy? How can the government create jobs that are better or more productive than those created by the private sector? How can government decide what investments are going to produce attractive returns for our future?

We will modernize more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.

Is "modernizing" federal buildings going to produce a return on investment superior to what the private sector could get if its money were not appropriated? I doubt it. Is improving the energy efficiency of a small sector of our economy going to make any difference at all to the planet Earth?

To get people spending again, 95% of working families will receive a $1,000 tax cut.
The majority of working families pay little or no income tax, so this is not a tax cut he's talking about, it's a handout. This is likely to restrain the economy's ability to grow, since it rewards those who aren't producing a lot and punishes those who are (since they won't receive the handout and will have to foot the bill for it). And besides, we've tried rebates before and the results have been dismal. It's almost as bad as throwing money down the drain.

We'll continue the bipartisan extensions of unemployment insurance.
This will only delay the onset of recovery, since it reduces the incentive of the unemployed to find work. We've done this every time the economy slows down, and the main result is to simply increase the ranks of the unemployed. It's a nice humanitarian gesture, but like every government action, it leads in many cases to unintended consequences.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won't just throw money at our problems - we'll invest in what works.

The fatal conceit of politicians is on display here: how in the world are government bureaucrats going to decide "what works?" A handful of people are going to be making multi-billion dollar decisions using taxpayer money. The potential for waste, fraud, and inefficiency is staggering.

I could go on, but for now, 'nuff said.
28696  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Working Pit Bull on: January 09, 2009, 01:56:18 PM
28697  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 09, 2009, 01:09:40 PM
I'd love to spread that around.  Is there a URL that goes with it?
28698  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / USMC Capt. Brent Morel on: January 09, 2009, 11:03:22 AM
Profiles of valor: U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Brent Morel
United States Marine Corps Capt. Brent Morel of Martin, Tennessee, was a platoon commander with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division during the first offensive in Fallujah as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On 7 April 2004, Morel's platoon encountered enemy fire from more than 50 insurgents. A rocket-propelled grenade crippled the lead vehicle in the convoy, and the platoon was besieged with mortar and machine gun fire. After ordering the last two vehicles to establish flanking positions for the convoy, Morel left his vehicle to lead an assault across an open field to maneuver into firing positions. His assault eliminated several enemy fighters. But seeing his fellow Marines pinned by enemy fire, he again left the safety of his position in order to counterattack. It was then that he issued his final order: "Cover me. We're assaulting through." Though he took out more enemy fighters, he fell mortally wounded. The Marines rallied and defeated the ambush, killing more than 30 terrorists.

When informed of his son's death, Mike Morel could only ask, "Was he in the front?" Yes, he was. He replied, "I always knew that's where he would be." For his bravery, Capt. Morel was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. A second Navy Cross went to Sgt. Willie L. Copeland III, who fought alongside Morel that day.
28699  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / John Adams on: January 09, 2009, 09:36:11 AM
"Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection; and to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary. But no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people. In fine, the people of this commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent."

--John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776
28700  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Agradecimiento de cada dia on: January 09, 2009, 12:00:28 AM
Agradezco tener un buen y capaz amigo quien me va a ayudar con un problema de negocio.
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