DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / When the Excrement hits the Fan
on: August 15, 2007, 03:26:50 PM
Kicking off this thread is a piece by Stratfor that while it has some big gaps (e.g. weaponry for social and criminal disorder) still serves as a well-organized starting point on the subject of this thread.
Personal Contingency Plans: More than an Ounce of Prevention
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
U.S. counterterrorism sources remain concerned that an attack against the U.S. homeland will occur within the next two to three weeks. This is not surprising, considering that the drums have been beating loudly in Washington this summer about a potential attack -- first from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and then in the form of a National Intelligence Estimate. More recently, several other reports have appeared concerning an impending attack, including an alert over the weekend in New York triggered by an alleged dirty bomb plot.
One of the reasons for the heightened concern is that most everyone, including Stratfor, is surprised that no major jihadist attack has occurred on U.S. soil since 9/11. Many plots have been disrupted, and it is only a matter of time before one of them succeeds. Simply put, attacks are not difficult to conduct and the government cannot stop them all.
Stratfor's assessment of the jihadist threat to the U.S. homeland is that al Qaeda and jihadists retain the ability to conduct tactical strikes against the United States, but lack the ability to pose a strategic threat. While this may be reassuring on one level, people can and will be killed in a tactical strike. The fact that an attack is not strategically significant will provide no immediate solace to those near the carnage and confusion of a tactical attack. Additionally, as we saw in Hurricane Katrina or the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis, other disasters also can lead to chaos and disruption.
Given the current threat environment, this is an opportune time to examine again ways to avoid -- or at least mitigate -- the impact of that chaos and panic. The set of tools designed to do that is called personal contingency planning.
Chaos and Disruption
When disaster strikes, as in a terrorist attack, a number of things happen quickly and simultaneously. Often, panic erupts while people attempt to flee the scene of the attack. At the same time, police, fire and emergency medical units all attempt to respond to the scene, so there can be terrible traffic and pedestrian crowd-control problems. This effect can be magnified by smoke and fire, which can occlude vision, affect breathing and increase panic. Indeed, many of the injuries produced by terrorist bombings are not a direct result of the blast or even shrapnel, but of smoke inhalation and trampling.
In many instances, an attack or natural disaster will damage electrical lines, or else the electricity will be cut off as a precautionary measure. Elevators also could be reserved for firefighters. This means people are trapped in subway tunnels or in high-rise buildings, and might be forced to escape through the smoke-filled tunnels or stairwells. Depending on the incident, bridges, tunnels, subway lines and airports can be closed, or merely jammed to a standstill. This gridlock effect might be multiplied if the power is out to traffic signals.
In the midst of this confusion and panic, telephone and cell phone usage soars. Even if the main trunk lines and cell towers are not damaged or otherwise affected by the loss of electricity, this huge spike in activity quickly overloads the exchanges and cell networks. This means the ripples of chaos and disruption roll outward from the scene as people outside the immediate vicinity of the attack zone hear about the attack via the media and wonder what has become of loved ones who were near the site of the attack.
The Importance of Planning
Those in the vicinity of an attack have the best chance of escaping and reconnecting with loved ones if they have a personal contingency plan. Though such planning is critically important for people who live and work in close proximity to known terrorist targets such as Manhattan, Washington and Los Angeles, the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis has demonstrated that such planning is important for people in other parts of the country as well. Sudden disasters, such as tornados, earthquakes, school shootings or the derailment of train cars carrying chlorine, can strike anywhere.
Emergency plans are vital not only for corporations and schools, but also for families and individuals. Such plans should be in place for each regular location -- home, work and school -- that an individual frequents, and should cover what that person will do and where he or she will go should an evacuation be necessary. This means establishing meeting points for family members who might be split up -- and backup points in case the first or second point also is affected by the disaster.
The lack of ability to communicate with loved ones because of circuit overload or other phone service problems can greatly enhance the sense of panic during a crisis. Perhaps the most value derived from having personal and family contingency plans is a reduction in the amount of stress that results from not being able to immediately contact a loved one. Knowing that everyone is following the plan frees each person to concentrate on the more pressing issue of evacuation. Additionally, someone who waits until he or she has contacted all loved ones before evacuating might not make it out.
It also is important to have a communication plan, which should include the contact information for the pre-chosen rallying site, as well as an alternate communications hub outside of the area. It might be difficult to communicate from Point A to Point B, but both A and B might be able to get through to a person at Point C. Alternative means of communication also should be included in the communications plan. If the phone lines and cell phones are clogged, many times text messages can still get through and Internet connections will work to send e-mail. The communications plan also will be helpful in case one member of the family is unable to evacuate immediately or finds it unwise to evacuate at all. In that case, he or she will know where the rest of the family is going and how to contact them once communications are restored.
Planning also is important because, when confronted with a dire emergency situation, many people simply do not know what to do. Not having determined their options in advance -- and in shock over the events of the day -- they are unable to think clearly enough to establish a logical plan, and instead wander aimlessly around. Having an established plan in place gives even a person who is in shock or denial and unable to think clearly a framework to lean on and a path to follow.
If You Must Evacuate
One of the keys to surviving a catastrophe is situational awareness. This means recognizing the threat at an early stage -- and taking measures to avoid it. Another element of situational awareness is to know where to go when an unforeseen disaster strikes. For example, if an improvised explosive device (IED) were to detonate in a subway car ahead of the car you are in, would you know how to get out of your car and in which direction to travel to get to safety? If your office building is hit by an IED or catches fire, do you know where the fire exits are located and where they lead? Could one fire exit take you out of the frying pan and into the fire? Situational awareness also involves knowing how to react. If a subway tunnel is filling with smoke, you must have the situational awareness to keep low in order to avoid being overcome.
In some cases, evacuation might not be the best idea. If there is no immediate threat to you at your current location, you could run a larger risk of being injured by joining the crowd of panicked people on the street. In some cases, it might be safest to just stay in place and wait for order to return -- especially if you are in a location where you have emergency stocks of food and water.
If you work in a high-rise building, frequently travel or take a subway, there are a couple of pieces of equipment that can assist you in case the need to evacuate arises. One of these is a smoke hood, a protective device that fits over the head and provides protection from smoke inhalation. Smoke hoods are relatively inexpensive devices that can be carried in a briefcase or purse and quickly donned in case of emergency. They will usually provide around 20-30 minutes of breathing time -- which could quite literally mean the difference between life and death in a smoke-filled hallway, stairway or subway tunnel. The second piece of equipment is a flashlight small enough to fit in a pocket, purse or briefcase. Such a light could prove to be invaluable in a crisis situation at night or when the power goes out in a large building or subway. Some of the small aluminum flashlights also can serve as a handy self-defense weapon.
If you live in an area likely to be hit by such an attack, it also might be prudent to prepare a small "fly-away" kit containing clothes, water, a first-aid kit, nutritional bars, medications and toiletry items for you and your family. It also is a good idea to include a battery-powered radio and other useful items, such as multi-tool knives and duct tape. The kit should be kept in convenient place, ready to grab on the way out. Even if it is impractical to keep all these items in constant readiness, keeping most of them together and using a prepared list to collect the other items quickly can help get you out the door in seconds. Maintaining important papers, such as vehicle titles, deeds, licenses, birth certificates, passports and credit card information, in a central file allows you to grab that file quickly and take it with you.
The Need for Flexibility
It is important to listen to authorities in the case of an emergency, though you cannot rely on the government to take care of you in every situation because the resources simply are not there to do so. You must have plans ready to take care of yourself and your family.
If you have pets, you will want to take them into consideration when you make your plans. Will Fluffy be taken to the evacuation site in the case of a dirty bomb attack, or not?
The emergency plan also must be fluid and flexible. It is important to recognize that even a good contingency plan can be worthless if protective measures taken by authorities during an emergency impede execution of the plan, or if the catastrophe itself closes down a section of your route. For example, bridges and tunnels might be closed and streets blocked off or jammed with traffic, meaning you might not be able to travel to safety or pick up family members or coworkers. Those whose plan calls for a flight out of the city might be unable to get to the airport or helipad and, once there, find that air traffic has been grounded, as happened after the 9/11 attacks. For these reasons, it is best to have several alternate contingency plans that account for multiple scenarios and include various evacuation routes. Once the emergency is announced, it likely is too late to start devising a plan.
Plans must be reviewed periodically. A plan made following 9/11 might no longer be valid. Bridges and roads you included might now be closed for construction. If Uncle Al's place in West Virginia is your planned communications hub, then that needs to change when he moves to Texas.
Your equipment also should be checked periodically to ensure it is functional. Have you checked the batteries in your flashlight? Has your smoke hood become battered from being carried around for too many years? Have the power bars in your fly-away kit become fossilized?
Finally, while having a contingency plan on paper is better than having nothing, those that are tested in the real world are far superior. Running through an evacuation plan (especially during a high-traffic time such as rush hour) will help to identify weaknesses that will not appear on paper. It also will help to ensure that all those involved know what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to go. A plan is of limited use if half of the people it is designed for do not understand their respective roles and responsibilities.
No plan is perfect, and chances are you will have to "shift on the fly" and change your plan in the event of an actual emergency. However, having a plan -- and being prepared -- will allow you to be more focused and less panicked and confused than those who have left their fate to chance. In life and death situations, an ounce of prevention is a good thing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia-China Peace Mission
on: August 15, 2007, 11:21:43 AM
By RICHARD D. FISHER, JR.
August 15, 2007
The world will understandably have some questions this Thursday when Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian leader Vladimir Putin meet at Garrison Chebarkul in Russia to review troops from both their countries, as well as four states of former Soviet Central Asia. The event will mark the end of maneuvers called Peace Mission 2007, and it raises some important questions. Does this exercise signal a stepping up of already substantial military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing? And if it does, cooperation against what or whom?
On the march, but to what end?
The answer to the first question is clearly yes, cooperation is increasing. This year's Peace Mission in Russia involved about 4,000 troops and 100 aircraft from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, a threefold increase in participants over Peace Mission 2005, held in China. This year's Peace Mission exercises, conducted from Aug. 8 to 17, included full-fledged conventional air-ground offensive maneuvers that stressed ground and airborne assault, and coordinated air strikes by attack aircraft and attack helicopters. Russian and Chinese reporting thus far indicates the maneuvers were directed against "terrorist" strongholds in rural and urban settings.
Less clear is against what or whom the show of force was directed. The military exercises are sponsored by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a intergovernmental group founded with Chinese help to promote worthy goals of cooperation and peace in former Soviet Central Asia. In practice, however, the organization's priorities have evolved over time, and its top mission now seems to be to stop overt Islamic identification among the peoples of the region, who are mostly ethnically Turkic and traditionally Muslim.
If one includes the currently Chinese-held territory of East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Central Asia covers nearly two million square miles in the strategic heart of Eurasia, populated by peoples who have never willingly accepted rule either from Moscow or Beijing. It is rich in resources, notably oil and natural gas. For now Central Asia's rulers are mostly former Soviet officials, as fearful of Islam as are China or Russia. But they are not secure. Change in an Islamic direction, which is possible -- even likely -- will spell trouble.
To begin with, then, Peace Mission 2007 is a cooperative exercise by the rulers of the Central Asian states, supported by China and Russia, designed to prevent political instability. But that is not all. "Peace Mission 2007" also reveals a worrying pattern of cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, broadly speaking, against the west and democratic ideas.
In July, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization decided to draw up a shared list of proscribed organizations, to include terrorists of course, but also, western human-rights advocates fear, democracy advocates. They have good reason to worry. At the Army Chief of Staffs' conference in Urumqi, in Chinese-controlled East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Russian Chief of the General Staff General Yuri Baluyevsky attacked "certain Western states" that advocate "the formation of the so-called 'true democratic' institutions of state and public management . . . which causes destabilisation of the situation in the states of the region."
Both Russian and Chinese officials have claimed the Peace Mission exercises are "not directed against any one country." But when the United States asked the Chinese government if it could send observers, hoping for a return of its generous hosting of People's Liberation Army (PLA) observers at the 2006 Valiant Shield, a large exercise involving the U.S. and its Asian allies, China said "no."
Beijing evidently wishes to minimize attention to its increasing long-distance force projection abilities, demonstrated in, but not limited to, Central Asia. The PLA's contingent included 1,600-1,700 airborne and ground troops plus associated light-weight armor and about 36 aircraft. Not large numbers to be sure, but this marks the first ever PLA foreign deployment of such a combined arms group. On July 30, PLA Senior Colonel (equivalent to a brigadier general) Lu Chuangang, told state media that Peace Mission would test their capability in "long distance mobility" and "long distance integrated support."
Most western analysts have been skeptical that Beijing harbored such large ambitions. The operations in Peace Mission suggest China does, a possibility supported by other evidence. China is refurbishing the former Russian aircraft carrier Varyag and planning its own carrier force. A military airlifter is being developed that could carry 60 tons of cargo, similar to the U.S. C-17. Last December, the PLA Navy launched a 20,000 ton landing platform dock amphibious assault ship. In May, a Chinese shipbuilding official admitted to me their development of a landing helicopter dock air-amphibious assault ship.
New PLA airlifters and new medium-weight wheeled airmobile fighting vehicles being produced by the PLA will give it a future army-airborne projection capability that would compliment nicely that of Russia's. Peace Mission 2007, in fact, resembled the coordinated operations needed to shore up a tottering dictatorship, much as Soviet forces did in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. This follows the 2005 Peace Mission exercises, which demonstrated air and naval capabilities the PLA needs to attack Taiwan.
But the SCO's ability to develop a deeper military alliance is not certain. Russian press reports note that China rejected Russia's proposal to co-host the exercises with the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, indicating that currently coincidental Russian-Chinese security agendas could easily diverge. Russia-friendly Kazakhstan did not allow Chinese troops to travel across its territory, adding thousands of kilometers to their journey. The SCO must soon also face the question of whether or not to make full members of current observers India, Pakistan and Iran -- respectively, a nuclear-armed democracy, a nuclear-armed failed state and a future nuclear-armed rogue state.
All in all, Peace Mission 2007 provides plenty of reason for concern. It highlights the direct military interest Russia and China are taking in Central Asia, an area of which the U.S. and Europe know very little. Even more worrying, the Chinese role in the exercise provides yet more evidence of the dimensions of Chinese military ambitions and capabilities, the potential targets of which are by no means limited to Central Asian Muslims.
Mr. Fisher is a vice president with the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics
on: August 15, 2007, 11:17:24 AM
Second post of the morning:
Cost Control for Dummies
By MERRILL MATTHEWS
August 15, 2007; Page A12
Reducing health-care spending isn't hard: Just give the government control over the national health-care budget and you'll see spending decline. Access to physicians and hospitals, the newest technology, important therapies and the best medications will also decline over time. But that's the trade-off society makes when the government controls health-care spending.
It's remarkable how gullible people are who claim, "Canada (or England, or France, etc.) manages to provide universal coverage for much less than the U.S. spends on health care." They seem to think these other countries have reached some sort of economic nirvana. These countries spend less -- usually between 8% to 10% of GDP versus nearly 16% in the U.S. -- simply because health-care spending isn't a function of consumer demand; it's a function of political demand.
Politicians in single-payer countries -- where the public pays higher taxes and the government pays most bills -- decide how much the country will spend on health care, and the prices that will be paid. Since they have to consider education, welfare, defense, etc., as well as the need to keep taxes low enough to encourage economic growth, there is never enough money to go around. There is not one government-run health-care system that is considered adequately funded by those who have to deal with it. In some countries, the rationing, lack of access and waiting lines are worse than others. But they all face these problems.
And virtually any U.S. reform proposal promising "universal coverage" will do the same thing. Why? Because Congress has a long and sordid history of support for health-care price controls.
Medicare reimbursements to hospitals have been price-controlled since 1983, and to physicians since 1992. If Medicare represented 1% or 2% of the health care market -- as the VA does with respect to prescription drugs -- price controls would create distortions, but they would likely be manageable. However, Medicare is the dominant insurer in the country. Its price controls become the benchmark.
Whenever the government controls prices, it arbitrarily determines who it will pay, how much, and for what. Vendors -- that is, providers of goods and services -- generally begin to work the system in order to maximize their gain -- or, more accurately when referring to doctors in Medicare, minimize their losses. When Medicare distorts a price -- and virtually all government-set prices are distorted -- the reverberations are felt throughout the health-care system.
Consider physician reimbursements. Every year, doctors face a cut in Medicare reimbursements, even though their costs for providing care continue to rise. The American Medical Association's lobbying effort has managed to keep current reimbursements about the same as they were in 2001, in part by backing the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003. That's six years without an increase. And unless Congress acts, doctors face a 10% cut in reimbursements in 2008, and a 40% cut by 2016.
At this point, we don't know where doctors' Medicare reimbursements will land; that issue has become a political football in the battle over reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (Schip). Democrats are dangling a slight increase in reimbursements, instead of that 10% cut, in exchange for the AMA's support for their massive expansion of Schip.
However, Democrats also want to cut reimbursements to health plans operating in the quickly growing Medicare Advantage program. And they are trying once again to give the federal government the ability to dictate prices -- which they inaccurately describe as a "negotiation" -- for prescription drugs.
All of this is being done in the name of "controlling costs." But does anyone really believe those price controls won't hurt access to quality care?
Increasingly, doctors are refusing to see new Medicare patients. A recent AMA survey found that 60% of responding doctors said they would stop accepting new Medicare patients if the 10% cut is imposed. Even if that figure is inflated by currently angry doctors, it could represent a significant decrease in seniors' access to care.
The situation is worse under Medicaid. It reimburses even less than Medicare, which will lead to more and more access problems for the elderly and the poor. It can also lead to doctors trying to see ever more patients in a given time period in order to keep the income from falling. Less time for each patient reduces the quality of care.
Because politicians want to keep health-care spending as low as possible, they have very little incentive to raise those reimbursement rates. Much easier to rail against "greedy physicians" or use them as pawns when they want to pass other pieces of legislation. You can expect even more political maneuvering if health-care "reform" gives the government increased control over prices and spending.
Either the market will set prices based on supply and demand, or the government will set prices based on budget priorities and bureaucrats' best guess at what specific goods and services should cost. That process may undermine the access to and quality of care, but at least government-run health care advocates can claim it keeps costs down.
Mr. Matthews is director of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance and a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: August 15, 2007, 11:14:26 AM
Our Risky New Financial Markets
By HENRY KAUFMAN
August 15, 2007; Page A13
Tremors from America's quaking subprime mortgage market have spread throughout the financial world. This latest disturbance in global financial markets is neither isolated nor idiosyncratic. It points to deeper, enduring changes in the structure of our markets -- changes that have profoundly altered the behavior of market participants in ways that tend to encourage risk-taking beyond prudent limits. Just as troubling is the failure of official policy makers to effectively rein in such excesses, leaving our financial system vulnerable to similar turmoil in the future.
The principal structural driver behind this and similar financial tribulations is the massive growth of financial markets, combined with a plethora of new credit instruments. By any measure, current financial activity -- new financing or secondary market trading volume -- dwarfs the past. The outstanding volume of nonfinancial debt now exceeds nominal GDP by $15 trillion, compared with $6 trillion a decade ago. Traditional credit instruments such as stocks, bonds and money-market obligations have been joined by a long and diverse roster of new obligations, many of them extraordinarily complicated. Along with the arcane tranches of mortgages that recently garnered attention are a myriad of financial derivatives, ranging from those traded on exchanges to tailor-made products for the over-the-counter market.
Leading financial institutions have grown rapidly as well. More importantly, they have evolved to become integrated, diversified, global enterprises that bear little resemblance to traditional commercial banks, investment banks or insurance companies. As these giants grow and dominate the market, they carry enormous potential for conflicts of interest -- they simultaneously act as investors of their own massive assets and as dealmakers and consultants on behalf of their clients. And their reach into the financial system is so broad and deep that no central bank is willing to allow the collapse of one of these leviathans. They are deemed "too big to fail."
These structural and institutional changes have, in turn, encouraged a new understanding among market participants of liquidity. In the decades that followed World War II, liquidity was by and large an asset-based concept. For business corporations, it meant the size of cash and very liquid assets, the maturity of receivables, the turnover of inventory, and the relationship of these assets to total liabilities. For households, liquidity primarily meant the maturity of financial assets being held for contingencies along with funds that reliably would be available later in life. In contrast, firms and households today often blur the distinction between liquidity and credit availability. When thinking about liquid assets, present and future, it is now commonplace to think in terms of access to liabilities.
This new mindset has been abetted by the tidal wave of securitization -- the conversion of nonmarketable assets into marketable assets -- that swept across the financial world in recent decades. This flood of marketable assets not only has eroded traditional concepts of liquidity, it has stimulated risk appetites and fostered a belief that credit usually is available at reasonable prices.
Technological change also has bolstered the easy-credit outlook now commonplace among investors. As markets have been linked globally by information technology networks, financial information flows nearly instantaneously, computerized trading is spreading, and transactions are executed almost without delay. Investors can access financial data and participate in markets around the world and around the clock.
These two developments -- securitization and the seamless interconnectivity of markets -- have brought intricate quantitative risk modeling to the forefront of financial practices. Securitization generates market prices, while information technology offers the power to quantify pricing and risk relationships. Few recognize, however, that such modeling assumes constancy in market fundamentals. This is because modeling does not adequately account for underlying structural changes when attempting to calculate future risks and prices.
Nor can models take into account the impact of growing financial concentration in the making of markets and in the pricing of securities that are traded infrequently, or that have tailor-made attributes. And what about the risks to financial markets of a major military flare-up, the ravages of a pandemic flu, a terrorist attack that would immobilize computer networks, or even shifts in the broader monetary environment? Do the models quantify these and other profound risks in any meaningful way?
Then there is the question of asset pricing. An essential component of successful risk modeling is accurate pricing of the securities used in the analysis. Here, again, the strictly quantitative approach shows its weaknesses. Accurate pricing is a thorny challenge. In rapidly moving markets, the price of the last trade may be invalid for the next one. The price a dealer is prepared to quote may be no more than an indication of a potential trade. And the price quoted may be valid only for a small quantity of assets, not for the full amount in the investor's portfolio.
These problems are especially germane to securities of lower credit quality, where liquidity and marketability are often blurred in the mark-to-market process. Again, the subprime mortgage crisis is revealing: Quantitative modeling proved to work poorly in pricing those lower-quality assets. We can expect major problems of this kind in the below-investment-grade corporate bond market once corporate profits begin to decline.
Risk modeling -- with its clear-cut timeline and aura of certainty -- has encouraged investors to seek near-term profits while pushing aside more qualitative approaches to risk assessment that rely more heavily on judgment and reason. The appetite for near-term profits showed itself plainly in the environment leading up to the subprime mortgage debacle -- leading financial institutions were unwilling to pull back from aggressive lending and investing tactics. To do so, they feared, posed a number of risks, from loss of market share and underperforming earnings to shareholder discontent and a failure to meet the bonus expectations of employees.
The Federal Reserve cannot walk away from its responsibility to limit financial excesses. The central tenet of monetary policy is to achieve sustainable economic growth. Central bank policies and actions attempt to do this by providing just enough reserves to constrain the price of goods and services at acceptably low levels. But how can the Fed achieve this objective when widespread financial excesses are disrupting the functioning of financial markets and thus threatening economic prosperity?
At the heart of the long-term underlying challenges that face the U.S. financial system is the question of how to enforce discipline. One way is to let competitive forces discipline market participants: The manager who performs well prospers, while those who do not fail. This is the central precept of free market economies. But this approach is compromised by the fact that advanced societies typically do not allow the process to follow through when it comes to very large financial institutions. The fear is that the failure of behemoth financial institutions will pose systemic risks both here and abroad.
Therefore, market discipline falls more heavily on smaller institutions, which in turn motivates them to merge into larger entities protected by the too-big-to-fail umbrella. This dynamic has driven financial concentration and will continue to do so for years to come. As financial concentration increases, it will undermine marketability, trading activity and effective allocation of financial resources.
If competition is not allowed to enforce market discipline, the most viable alternative is increased supervision over financial institutions and markets. In today's markets, there is hardly a clarion call for such measures. On the contrary, the markets oppose it, and politicians voice little if any support. For their part, central bankers do not possess a clear vision of how to proceed toward more effective financial supervision. Their current, circumspect approach seems objectively technical, whereas greater intervention, they fear, would seem intrusive, subjective, even excessive.
What is missing today is a comprehensive framework that pulls together financial-market behavior and economic behavior. The study of economics and finance has become highly specialized and compartmentalized within the academic community. This is, of course, another reflection of the increasingly specialized demands of our complex civilization. Regrettably, today's economics and finance professions have produced no minds with the analytical reach of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes or Milton Friedman.
It is therefore urgent that the Fed take the lead in formulating a monetary policy approach that strikes the right balance between market discipline and government regulation. Until it does so, we will continue to see shocks of even greater intensity than the one now radiating outward from the quake in the U.S. subprime mortgage market.
Mr. Kaufman is president of Henry Kaufman & Company, Inc., and the author of "On Money and Markets: A Wall Street Memoir" (McGraw-Hill, 2000).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics
on: August 15, 2007, 10:48:10 AM
Arnold's Health Flop
August 15, 2007; Page A12
After Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled his universal health-care plan for California in January, almost everyone was laying down palms in Sacramento. Here was a Republican Governor putting aside political squabbling and "doing big things that Washington has failed to do," as Time magazine put it. What a change seven months later, with the plan on the cusp of collapse. There's a lesson here about health-care "bipartisanship" when it's merely a cover for bad policy.
The California legislature is now in the second month of the fiscal year without a budget. Deadlocks are routine because the state requires a two-thirds majority of each house to pass spending bills, though they rarely drag on this long or bitterly. Republicans are taking a hard line on spending and a $1.4 billion operating deficit; and even though the budget is just one Senate Republican vote shy of passage, a deal is unlikely before a recess ends on August 20.
Since the legislative session ends in September, that would mean it's curtains for Governor Schwarzenegger's health-care reform. The estimated $12 billion in new taxes that the plan requires also need a two-thirds majority of both houses. Which is unlikely when the legislature can't even agree on a budget without them. To get around that, the Governor calls them "levies," not taxes. Nice try.
The health-care plan is one reason for the gridlock, which speaks to a political as well as policy failure. In trying to round up Democrats, the Governor ended up alienating Republicans. No wonder: His plan was never that conservative or market-based. Like former Governor Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts, it turns on an individual mandate. That is, it requires all residents to buy insurance or get it from the state or their employers -- or otherwise face penalties such as garnished wages.
Once again, a state's universal health-care dreams have run up against fiscal realities. Besides the budget fight, the plan's viability was contingent on $3.7 billion in annual subsidies the Governor has been requesting to expand MediCal (Medicare) and "Healthy Families," part of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. This money is unlikely to materialize, given that the 2006 federal budget called for $4.6 billion in health-care cuts to California over the next decade.
The plan also ran into a buzzsaw because of the damage it would do to California's employment and insurance markets. In what's called "play or pay," businesses would have to cover their employees or pay a 3.5% payroll tax to fund a new state-run insurance program for low-income workers. Doctors would be required to pay 2% and hospitals 4% of gross revenues to fund the same -- assuming they could stay in practice at all.
Governor Schwarz-enegger's "bipartisanship" also provided an opening for state Democrats, who have long desired, but have usually been frustrated in passing, a liberal overhaul of the health-care system. They saw his plan and raised, proposing a 7.5% payroll tax -- another example of "play or pay" becoming "pay or pay." It would also compel onerous insurance regulations like mandated coverage levels and premium ceilings.
The Governor has tried to make the Democratic plan a selling point for his "less burdensome" alternative. But he would merely over-regulate insurance in other ways. He wants "guaranteed issue," which means insurers must accept all comers, allowing people to wait until they're sick to buy insurance. He also wants "community rating," which means that insurance premiums cannot vary based on age or health status. Cost-drivers like these are already a main reason between four million and 6.5 million Californians are uninsured now.
In beating the drum for his plan, Mr. Schwarzenegger has often deplored what he calls the "hidden tax" of the current health-care system. Supposedly that describes the extent to which the costs of treating the uninsured shift to those who have insurance, thus making an argument for universal care.
Yet researchers at Stanford led by Dan Kessler ran the figures and demolished this claim. The total burden of this "cost shifting" in California amounted to only 2.8% of premiums in the 2000s. That's not nothing, but in the Governor's hands this modest hidden tax is an excuse for larger unhidden taxes. Perhaps the puncturing of this argument will prevent it from being deployed in the 2008 health-care debate, though don't count on it.
If Arnold's plan does fail, it will join "universal" health-care dreams in Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other states that were also unveiled to hosannas but flopped once the fine print and costs were exposed. Alas, the failure of these state reforms probably won't diminish political agitation for similar attempts that Democrats or Mr. Romney might propose in Washington. But it should.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: August 15, 2007, 09:59:44 AM
Iranian Unit to Be Labeled 'Terrorist'
U.S. Moving Against Revolutionary Guard
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2007; A01
The United States has decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated global terrorist," according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group's business operations and finances.
The Bush administration has chosen to move against the Revolutionary Guard Corps because of what U.S. officials have described as its growing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its support for extremists throughout the Middle East, the sources said. The decision follows congressional pressure on the administration to toughen its stance against Tehran, as well as U.S. frustration with the ineffectiveness of U.N. resolutions against Iran's nuclear program, officials said.
The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities. The Revolutionary Guard would be the first national military branch included on the list, U.S. officials said -- a highly unusual move because it is part of a government, rather than a typical non-state terrorist organization.
The order allows the United States to block the assets of terrorists and to disrupt operations by foreign businesses that "provide support, services or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists."
The move reflects escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over issues including Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984, but in May the two countries began their first formal one-on-one dialogue in 28 years with a meeting of diplomats in Baghdad.
The main goal of the new designation is to clamp down on the Revolutionary Guard's vast business network, as well as on foreign companies conducting business linked to the military unit and its personnel. The administration plans to list many of the Revolutionary Guard's financial operations.
"Anyone doing business with these people will have to reevaluate their actions immediately," said a U.S. official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced. "It increases the risks of people who have until now ignored the growing list of sanctions against the Iranians. It makes clear to everyone who the IRGC and their related businesses really are. It removes the excuses for doing business with these people."
For weeks, the Bush administration has been debating whether to target the Revolutionary Guard Corps in full, or only its Quds Force wing, which U.S. officials have linked to the growing flow of explosives, roadside bombs, rockets and other arms to Shiite militias in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Quds Force also lends support to Shiite allies such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and to Sunni movements such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Although administration discussions continue, the initial decision is to target the entire Guard Corps, U.S. officials said. The administration has not yet decided when to announce the new measure, but officials said they would prefer to do so before the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly next month, when the United States intends to increase international pressure against Iran.
Formed in 1979 and originally tasked with protecting the world's only modern theocracy, the Revolutionary Guard took the lead in battling Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq war waged from 1980 to 1988. The Guard, also known as the Pasdaran, has since become a powerful political and economic force in Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose through the ranks of the Revolutionary Guard and came to power with support from its network of veterans. Its leaders are linked to many mainstream businesses in Iran.
"They are heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and pipelines -- even the new Imam Khomeini Airport and a great deal of smuggling," said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations. "Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards. They're developing along the lines of the Chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. It's a huge business conglomeration."
The Revolutionary Guard Corps -- with its own navy, air force, ground forces and special forces units -- is a rival to Iran's conventional troops. Its naval forces abducted 15 British sailors and marines this spring, sparking an international crisis, and its special forces armed Lebanon's Hezbollah with missiles used against Israel in the 2006 war. The corps also plays a key role in Iran's military industries, including the attempted acquisition of nuclear weapons and surface-to-surface missiles, according to Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The United States took punitive action against Iran after the November 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, including the breaking of diplomatic ties and the freezing of Iranian assets in the United States. More recently, dozens of international banks and financial institutions reduced or eliminated their business with Iran after a quiet campaign by the Treasury Department and State Department aimed at limiting Tehran's access to the international financial system. Over the past year, two U.N. resolutions have targeted the assets and movements of 28 people -- including some Revolutionary Guard members -- linked to Iran's nuclear program.
The key obstacle to stronger international pressure against Tehran has been China, Iran's largest trading partner. After the Iranian government refused to comply with two U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with its nuclear program, Beijing balked at a U.S. proposal for a resolution that would have sanctioned the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran on the Brink?
on: August 14, 2007, 08:23:29 PM
On the Brink
Washington is a wonder on Iran.
By Michael Ledeen
President Bush is annoyed that Afghan President Karzai and Iraqi President Maliki are both speaking about Iran in words reserved for an ally, rather than the main engine driving the terror wars in their countries. But if you look at the world through their eyes, it is easy enough to understand. They fear that the Americans will soon leave, and the Iranians will still be there. They know that Iran is a mortal threat, and they are now making a down payment on the insurance costs that are sure to come if the Democrats in Washington have their way. For extras, Maliki has certainly noticed that the United States is paying off the Middle Eastern Sunnis, hoping that the Saudis, Jordanians, and Gulf States will manage to contain Iran in the future. This cannot be good news in Baghdad, where the Shiites are struggling to put together a government capable of managing the country’s myriad crises.
All of this has been superbly summarized in Michael Yon’s latest ruminations on the course of the battle for Iraq:
Our military has increasing moral authority in Iraq, but the same cannot be said for our government at home. In fact, it’s in moral deficit because many Iraqis are increasingly frightened we will abandon them to genocide. The Iraqis I speak with couldn’t care less what is said from Washington but large numbers of them pay close attention to what some Marine Gunny says, or what American battalion commanders all over Iraq say. Some of our commanders could probably run for local offices in Iraq, and win.
There are many reasons for the respect of Iraqis for our fighters, starting with the fact that the military is currently the best institution in America, and our military men and women are several notches above the politicians, intellectuals and journalists in moral fiber and bravery. You can see that in the way the military deals with the Iranian intrusion in Iraq and Afghanistan. The politicians, diplomats, and spooks downplay the Iranian role, reshaping the facts to fit their desire for a “negotiated solution” they know in their heart of hearts will never be accomplished. But our military officers, whose troops are being blown up by Iranian explosives or Iranian-trained suicide bombers or gunned down by Iranian-trained snipers, are laying out the facts for anyone who cares to know what’s going on. Happily, at least some folks are listening (thank you, Senator Lieberman). Most Iraqis know the truth; it’s the Americans who need the education.
That the Iranians are at the heart of the region’s violence is proven most every day. So while Karzai was publicly kissing up to Tehran, Colonel Rahmatullah Safi, the head of the border police along the Iranian frontier, told the London Times “it is clear to everyone that Iran is supporting the enemy of Afghanistan, the Taliban,” and U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Kelly confirmed that the infamous EPFs, the new generation of explosive devices that can penetrate most American armor, are now coming into Afghanistan. Col. Kelly notes that these devices “really are not manufactured in any other place to our knowledge than Iran.”
The same holds true in Iraq, where these devices accounted for a third of American combat deaths in July (99 such attacks were directed against us — an all-time high). General Odierno blamed 73 percent of attacks on Iranian-supported Shiite terrorists. As Michael Gordon reports for the New York Times,
American intelligence says that its report of Iranian involvement is based on a technical analysis of exploded and captured devices, interrogations of Shi’ite militants, the interdiction of trucks near Iran’s border with Iraq and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iran and in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.
Some might suspect that our military leaders are presenting the case against Iran because they want to expand the war, and march on Tehran, but nothing of the sort is taking place. They are simply performing the task that theoretically lies with the so-called intelligence community. Our leaders have to be told the truth, even if it makes them scream. I have no doubt that Secretary of State Rice does not want to hear these things, because they give the lie to her claim that we are making progress in our talks with the Iranians. In fact, Iran has stepped up its terrorist activity in Iraq since we started talking to them. The actual words of Ambassador Crocker — who says he’s been very tough, and I’m inclined to believe him — don’t really matter to the mullahs; they say lots of things, too, and don’t expect them to be taken at face value. It’s the fact that (as they see it) we were compelled to come to them that matters.
In reality — for what little it matters nowadays, either here or in the Middle East — we are winning the battle of Iraq. The percentage increase in Iranian activity, combined with a drop in the number of attacks, is another way of saying that al Qaeda is being destroyed for a second time, and the Iranians are scrambling to fill the void. But they are on the run, just as is al Qaeda, as you can tell by the back-and-forth shuttling of their factotum Moqtadah al Sadr, between Iran and Iraq. If their scheme was working in Iraq, he’d sit still. He’s scrambling because they’re in trouble.
They’re in trouble at home, too. Indeed, things are so bad that the government itself has open fissures, the latest caused by the resignation of the minister of industry and mines, and by the public testimony of the minister of welfare:
The welfare minister, Abdol-Reza Mesri, appeared at the Majlis social committee on Saturday and announced that about 9.2 million Iranians live below the absolute poverty line. About 10.5 percent of residents in urban and 11 percent of residents in rural areas live below the absolute poverty line. Nevertheless, Mr. Mesri insisted that indicators used in computing the poverty line must be changed. The minister’s persistent suggestion to abandon internationally recognized methods of computing the poverty line has been met with the reaction of experts and professionals.
In simple English, there is so much poverty in Iran that the minister wants to change the reporting requirements so that nobody can really know the full dimensions of the Iranian people’s misery. Even their current language (what is “the absolute poverty line” anyway?) is designed to mislead.
Iranians are not stupid people; they know they are ruled by tyrannical incompetents. Listen to the words of one Reza Zarabi, in the August 5 Jerusalem Post: “Iranians have become accustomed to dictators, yet an incompetent despot that bases his economic policies on the future benevolence of the coming Islamic Messiah is another thing altogether...It is quite remarkable for such economic damage and global ridicule to be heaped upon a nation in (so) short a time. Yet the policies of the current Iranian administration have left nothing for the imagination.”
I ask you, is this not a perfect description of a revolutionary situation? And you reply: So why aren’t we doing anything about it? Which, I think, is precisely the question our military leaders in Iraq, and the people of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, are aiming at Washington.
National Review Online - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MDU5OTczMGU3NzRkZTJkNzFlMmFjNThkMDJiMDlhODE=
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues
on: August 14, 2007, 11:30:19 AM
Confessions of a BBC liberal
The BBC has finally come clean about its bias, says a former editor, who
wrote Yes, Minister
In the past four weeks there have been two remarkable changes in the public
attitude to the BBC. The first and most newsworthy one was precipitated by
the faked trailer of the Queen walking out of a photographic portrait
session with Annie Leibovitz.
It was especially damaging because the licence fee is based on a public
belief that the BBC offers a degree of integrity and impartiality which its
commercial competitors cannot achieve.
But in the longer term I believe that the second change is even more
significant. It started with the BBC's own report on impartiality that
effectively admitted to an institutional "liberal" bias among programme
makers. Previously these accusations had been dismissed as a right-wing
rant, but since the report was published even the BBC's allies seem to
It has been on parade again these past few weeks on the Radio 4 programme
The Crime of Our Lives. It included (of course) the ritual demoni-sation of
Margaret Thatcher (uninterested in crime . . . surprisingly did not take a
closer interest), a swipe at Conservative magistrates and their friends in
the golf club and occasional quotes from Douglas Hurd to preserve the
illusion of impartiality, but the whole tenor of the programme was liberal/
The series even included a strong suggestion that Thatcher's economic
policies were the cause of rising crime. So presumably she shouldn't have
done what she did?
There is a perfectly reasonable case for progressive liberal reform of penal
policy. There is also a perfectly reasonable case for a stricter and more
punitive penal policy.
This programme was quite clearly on the side of the former and the
producer/writer was a member of BBC staff. Can you imagine a BBC staff
member slanting a programme towards the case for a stricter penal policy?
The growing general agreement that the culture of the BBC (and not just the
BBC) is the culture of the chattering classes provokes a question that has
puzzled me for 40 years. The question itself is simple - much simpler than
the answer: what is behind the opinions and attitudes of this social group?
They are that minority often characterised (or caricatured) by sandals and
macrobiotic diets, but in a less extreme form are found in The Guardian,
Channel 4, the Church of England, academia, showbusiness and BBC news and
current affairs. They constitute our metropolitan liberal media consensus,
although the word "liberal" would have Adam Smith rotating in his grave.
Let's call it "media liberalism".
It is of particular interest to me because for nine years, between 1955 and
1964, I was part of this media liberal consensus. For six of those nine
years I was working on Tonight, a nightly BBC current affairs television
programme. My stint coincided almost exactly with Harold Macmil-lan's
premiership and I do not think that my former colleagues would quibble if I
said we were not exactly diehard supporters.
But we were not just anti-Macmil-lan; we were antiindustry,
anti-capital-ism, antiadvertising, antiselling, antiprofit, antipatriotism,
antimonarchy, antiempire, antipolice, antiarmed forces, antibomb,
antiauthority. Almost anything that made the world a freer, safer and more
prosperous place - you name it, we were anti it.
Although I was a card-carrying media liberal for the best part of nine
years, there was nothing in my past to predispose me towards membership. I
spent my early years in a country where every citizen had to carry
identification papers. All the newspapers were censored, as were all letters
abroad; general elections had been abolished: it was a one-party state. Yes,
that was Britain - Britain from 1939 to 1945.
I was nine when the war started, and 15 when it ended, and accepted these
restrictions unquestioningly. I was astounded when identity cards were
abolished. And the social system was at least as authoritarian as the
political system. It was shocking for an unmarried couple to sleep together
and a disgrace to have a baby out of wedlock. A homosexual act incurred a
jail sentence. Procuring an abortion was a criminal offence. Violent young
criminals were birched, older ones were flogged and murderers were hanged.
So how did we get from there to here? Unless we understand that, we shall
never get inside the media liberal mind. And the starting point is the
realisation that there have always been two principal ways of
misunderstanding a society: by looking down on it from above and by looking
up at it from below. In other words, by identifying with institutions or by
identifying with individuals.
To look down on society from above, from the point of view of the ruling
groups, the institutions, is to see the dangers of the organism splitting
apart - the individual components shooting off in different directions until
everything dissolves into anarchy.
To look up at society from below, from the point of view of the lowest
group, the governed, is to see the dangers of the organism growing ever more
rigid and oppressive until it fossilises into a monolithic tyranny.
Those who see society in this way are preoccupied with the need for liberty,
equality, self-expression, representation, freedom of speech and action and
worship, and the rights of the individual. The reason for the popularity of
these misunderstandings is that both views are correct as far as they go and
both sets of dangers are real, but there is no "right" point of view.
The most you can ever say is that sometimes society is in danger from too
much authority and uniformity and sometimes from too much freedom and
In retrospect it seems pretty clear that the 1940s and 1950s were years of
excessive authority and uniformity. It was certainly clear to me and my
media liberal colleagues in the BBC. It was not that we in the BBC openly
and publicly criticised the government on air; the BBC's commitment to
impartiality was more strictly enforced in those days.
But the topics we chose and the questions we asked were slanted against
institutions and towards oppressed individuals, just as we achieved
political balance by pitting the most plausible critics of government
against its most bigoted supporters.
Ever since 1963 the institutions have been the villains of the media
liberals. The police, the armed services, the courts, political parties,
multi-national corporations - when things go wrong they are the usual
But our hostility to institutions was not - and is not - shared by the
majority of our fellow citizens: most of our opinions were at odds with the
majority of the audience and the electorate. Indeed the BBC's own 2007
report on impartiality found that 57% of poll respondents said that
"broadcasters often fail to reflect the views of people like me".
There are four new factors which in my lifetime have brought about the
changes that have shaped media liberalism, encouraged its spread and
significantly increased its influence and importance.
The first of these is detribalisation. That our species has evolved a
genetic predisposition to form tribal groups is generally accepted as an
evolutionary fact. This grouping - of not more than about five or six
hundred - supplies us with our identity, status system, territorial
instinct, behavioural discipline and moral code.
We in the BBC were acutely detribalised; we were in a tribal institution,
but we were not of it. Nor did we have any geographical tribe; we lived in
commuter suburbs, we knew very few of our neighbours and took not the
slightest interest in local government. In fact we looked down on it.
Councillors were self-important nobodies and mayors were a pompous joke.
We belonged instead to a dispersed "metropolitan media arts graduate" tribe.
We met over coffee, lunch, drinks and dinner to reinforce our views on the
evils of apartheid, nuclear deterrence, capital punishment, the British
Empire, big business, advertising, public relations, the royal family, the
defence budget - it's a wonder we ever got home.
The second factor that shaped our media liberal attitudes was a sense of
exclusion. We saw ourselves as part of the intellectual elite, full of ideas
about how the country should be run. Being naive in the way institutions
actually work, we were convinced that Britain's problems were the result of
the stupidity of the people in charge of the country.
This ignorance of the realities of government and management enabled us to
occupy the moral high ground. We saw ourselves as clever people in a stupid
world, upright people in a corrupt world, compassionate people in a brutal
world, libertarian people in an authoritarian world.
We were not Marxists but accepted a lot of Marxist social analysis. We also
had an almost complete ignorance of market economics. That ignorance is
still there. Say "Tesco" to a media liberal and the patellar reflex says,
"Exploiting African farmers and driving out small shopkeepers." The
achievement of providing the range of goods, the competitive prices, the
food quality, the speed of service and the ease of parking that attract
millions of shoppers does not register on their radar.
The third factor arises from the nature of mass media. The Tonight programme
had a nightly audience of about 8m. It was much easier to keep their
attention by telling them they were being deceived or exploited by big
institutions than by saying what a good job the government and the banks and
the oil companies were doing.
The fourth factor is what has been called "isolation technology". Fifty
years ago people did things together much more. The older politicians we
interviewed in the early Tonight days were happier in public meetings than
in television studios.
In those days people went to evening meetings. They formed collective
opinions. In many places party allegiance was collective and hereditary
rather than a matter of individual choice based on a logical comparison of
These four factors have significantly accelerated and indeed intensified the
spread of media liberalism since I ceased to be a BBC employee 40 years ago.
But let's suppose that I had stayed. Would I have remained a devotee of the
metropolitan media liberal ideology that I once absorbed so readily? I have
an awful fear that the answer is yes.http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article2240427.ece
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: August 14, 2007, 10:58:00 AM
(IsraelNN.com) Arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat’s doctor has confirmed the long-circulating rumors that the PLO chairman had AIDS – though the doctor insists Israel poisoned Arafat as well, causing his death.
Rumors have long circulated in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority that Arafat’s symptoms prior to his death were caused by AIDS. Within the PA, Israel has always been accused of poisoning the PLO chairman.
Now, Arafat’s private doctor has joined other PLO officials in acknowledging that Arafat had the HIV virus, but is holding on to the claim that Israel was responsible for his ultimate demise, in a French hospital.
Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi told the Jordanian Amman News Agency that Arafat did, in fact, have AIDS – but insisted that the HIV virus was injected into the chairman’s bloodstream, and not the result of illicit sexual activity.
Al-Jazeera interrupted an interview with al-Kurdi due to his mention of Arafat’s having had AIDS.
French doctors who treated Arafat insisted after his death that he had died of a massive stroke after suffering intestinal inflammation, jaundice and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a blood condition.
Another Arafat aide, Bassam Abu Sharif, accused former French President Jacques Chirac of withholding knowledge that Israel killed Arafat with a substance that destroys red blood cells.
Even before Arafat died, US author and intelligence expert John Loftus said on the John Batchelor Show on WABC radio on October 26 that it was widely known in CIA circles that Arafat was dying from AIDS. Loftus further said that was the reason the US kept preventing Israel from killing Arafat – to allow him to be discredited by the ailment.
A 1987 book by Lt.-Gen. Ion Pacepa, the deputy chief of Romania's intelligence service under Communist dictator Nicola Ceausescu, may explain how Arafat contracted the sexually transmitted disease.
In his memoirs "Red Horizons," Pacepa relates a 1978 conversation with the general assigned to teach Arafat and the PLO techniques to deceive the West into granting the organization recognition. The general told him about Arafat’s nightly relations with his young male bodyguards and multiple partners. “Beginning with his teacher when he was a teen-ager and ending with his current bodyguards. After reading the report, I felt a compulsion to take a shower whenever I had been kissed by Arafat, or even just shaken his hand," Pacepa wrote.
Senior US intelligence official James J. Welsh, the National Security Agency's former PA analyst, told WorldNetDaily, "One of the things we looked for when we were intercepting Fatah communications were messages about Ashbal [Lion cub] members who would be called to Beirut from bases outside of Beirut. The Ashbal were often orphaned or abandoned boys who were brought into the organization, ostensibly to train for later entry into Fedayeen fighter units. Arafat always had several of these 13-15 year old boys in his entourage. We figured out that he would often recall several of these boys to Beirut just before he would leave for a trip outside Lebanon. It proved to be a good indicator of Arafat's travel plans. While Arafat did have a regular security detail, many of those thought to be security personnel - the teenage boys - were actually there for other purposes."http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/123347
SYRIA, RUSSIA: Syria has acquired advanced Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles, as well as chemical warheads for surface-to-surface missiles, Ynet reported, citing an unnamed Israeli military source.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: August 14, 2007, 09:53:27 AM
Why Europe Has Leverage With Iran
By ROGER STERN
August 14, 2007; Page A17
European resistance to American triumphalism has its uses. But with respect to Iran, Europe's behavior is downright dangerous. Our welcome guest, French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who just visited President Bush in Maine after vacationing in New Hampshire -- could change this.
Here's the problem: The U.S. stopped investing in Iran's energy industry in the 1990s thanks to sanctions imposed during Bill Clinton's presidency. Unfortunately, Europe stepped in to fill the void, with state-owned oil firms providing capital and energy technology. Today 80% of the Iranian government's revenue comes from oil exports and sales. Without Europe's support, the theocracy's fiscal lifeline would be a very thin thread.
That provides a little context to the lament common from the European Union that Iranian nuclear weapons are "inevitable," as if they were unrelated to energy investments from their member governments.
Europe has sacrificed regional stability for profit before. In 1983, as a global recession wracked France, then-President François Mitterrand pondered "the banker's dilemma" -- whether to extend credit to a troubled debtor in hope of rescuing prior loans. The debtor was Saddam Hussein, who had invaded Iran. Iraq had become France's best arms customer.
Mitterrand ultimately thought he had little choice. His treasury had become so dependent on Iraqi trade that, as a French businessman put it to Le Monde at the time, "Iraqi defeat would be a disaster for France." So France offered Saddam a spectacular new loan of five Super Entenard fighters (advanced warplanes).
But it wasn't enough and the Iran-Iraq war dragged on for nearly eight years, threatening to engulf other Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia. As a result, the U.S. also supplied Iraq with weapons. Yet despite U.S. support for Saddam and many billions in new credit from EU states, Iran would not be defeated. Tragically, 750,000 soldiers would die on the battlefield following France's 1983 arms deal.
Today, EU credit underwrites what could become a greater disaster. One might think that Europe, ostensibly committed to a peaceful resolution of the Iranian crisis, would seize any opportunity to force conciliation upon Tehran. As in 1983, however, Europe has put short-term profit before long-term security.
European nations disguise this choice from themselves by looking to the United Nations Security Council to impose investment sanctions on Iran. This is a ruse, because Europeans always defer to whatever watered-down measures Russia or China agree to, only to watch as Iran rejects even these.
The exercise allows Europeans to believe they are behaving responsibly. In reality, as talks lead nowhere, credit and technology flow to Iran from the state-owned or -controlled oil firms of France (Total), Norway (Statoil), Italy (ENI) and Spain (Repsol). Clearly, standalone European sanctions could do a lot.
Unfortunately, Europe's oil firms are not merely investors in the terror state. France's Total has reached even lower. Hostage to its recent investments, Total has developed a foreign policy all its own: outright pro-Iranian advocacy. "The Iran Daily" reported recently that a Total executive "called on foreign entrepreneurs to avoid black propaganda and incorrect conceptions about the country."
Total seems to be complaining about verbatim repetition in the Western media of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's own utterances. The executive went on to boast of Total's investment leadership in Iran. While this astonishing behavior preceded Mr. Sarkozy's election, the president has neither rebuked the firm nor stood against further investment in Iran.
The good news is that Iran's regime is vulnerable economically. Government spending has outstripped revenue increases from rising oil prices, while oil exports are stagnant or declining. Gasoline rationing, once politically unthinkable, was implemented nationwide last month. Emblematic of its isolation is Iran's refusal to pay off a tiny debt owed to Russia for the Bushehr nuclear reactor. Iran's fear is that Russia will abandon it once the debt is retired. All of this, of course, makes it questionable whether Iranian nuclear weapons are really "inevitable."
However lamentable and confrontational President Bush's rhetoric may be, the U.S. has at least tried to constrain Iran peacefully using sanctions. Similar European pressure is desperately needed now. It's the one thing short of U.N. sanctions that might force Tehran to be conciliatory.
But that's up to Mr. Sarkozy. He could take the lead by pushing a prohibition on new French energy investment in Iran until that country verifiably rejects and abandons nuclear weapons development. He could also demand that fellow-EU leaders do the same. Oh, and Mr. Sarkozy, please come again.
Mr. Stern is a research associate in the department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: FDA vs. last resort terminally ill patients
on: August 14, 2007, 09:50:48 AM
The FDA's Deadly Track Record
By RONALD L. TROWBRIDGE and STEVEN WALKER
August 14, 2007; Page A17
Last week, the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier decision by its own three-judge panel and ruled 8-2 against a dying patient's right to pursue life by taking investigational -- but as yet FDA-unapproved -- drugs.
The case was filed in 2003 by the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs and the Washington Legal Foundation. We argued that terminal patients with no options left but death have a constitutional right to such therapy in the care of a qualified physician.
The Alliance began pushing for access to investigational drugs for terminal patients after its founding in mid-2001 upon the death of Abigail Burroughs, who was denied an investigational drug (Erbitux) that an early trial showed might have helped her. She and her doctor were right, but she never got the drug.
Over the past five years, the Alliance has pushed for access to 12 exceptionally promising investigational cancer drugs which have subsequently been approved by the FDA and now represent standard care. At the time we began our advocacy, each of the drugs had cleared at least preliminary Phase 1 testing, and in some cases more-advanced Phase 2 or Phase 3 trials. In other words, they obviously worked for some patients.
Gleevec set a tragic standard for loss of life at the hands of FDA bureaucrats. Coming out of Phase I testing in 1998, it was known beyond any reasonable doubt to be safe and effective. The Alliance started requesting access to the drug for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) patients in June 2001. By the time FDA approved Gleevec in March 2003, approximately 3,600 patients had been denied access to the drug. Many died waiting. More than 80% of the small number of patients who got Gleevec in clinical trials before the drug was approved are alive today.
Eloxatin, for advanced colorectal cancer, was summarily rejected by the FDA in March 2000 despite its being approved in at least 29 other countries. In January 2002, we started to ask the FDA to allow patients access. The agency delayed approval until August. In between, about 40,000 Americans died without ever getting the drug.
Erbitux, for the treatment of colorectal and head and neck cancers, was rejected by FDA in December 2001 when the agency refused to review the sponsor's application. The Alliance had begun asking the FDA to allow patient access to the drug six months earlier. The FDA delayed approval until February 2004. Almost 179,000 people with colorectal and head and neck cancer died waiting.
The Alliance began working for access to Revlimid, for multiple myeloma and myelodysplastic syndrome, in June 2002. Patients had to wait until December 2005 for FDA approval. Nearly 74,000 patients with these terminal cancers died without ever getting Revlimid.
The Alliance asked that patients get access to Velcade in June 2002. Curiously, the FDA points to this drug as proof it can work fast, but they didn't approve it until May 2003. At the time, trial results suggested that only about 25% of multiple myeloma patients should get the drug (since shown to be too low), but even with that limitation, about 2,600 patients died without ever getting Velcade.
Beginning in June 2004, we started pushing the FDA to make Nexavar and Sutent, both highly promising drugs for kidney cancer, available. The agency eventually approved Nexavar in December 2005 and Sutent in January 2006. But that was only after evidence of efficacy so compelling emerged for Nexavar that the trial demanded by the FDA -- in which dying kidney cancer patients seeking the drug were being given no other choice (except certain death from their cancer) but to agree to a 50/50 chance of being blindly randomized to a sugar pill -- was stopped by Bayer for ethical reasons and the placebo patients allowed to get the drug. The sponsor seeking approval for Sutent was given a similar option by FDA if it wanted its drug approved. About 20,000 kidney cancer patients died waiting for both drugs.
The Alliance began its push for availability of Avastin for multiple cancers in June 2002. FDA finally approved this obviously effective cancer drug in February 2004. It is now approved for colorectal and lung cancers, and being successfully used off label for several more. Almost 360,000 patients with lung and colon cancer died without ever getting Avastin.
Tarceva is used for patients with lung cancer. We began pushing for its availability in June 2001, the FDA approved the drug in November 2004. In the interim, 531,000 people with lung cancer died. Tarceva also extends the effectiveness of an existing drug for pancreatic cancer, and about 102,000 patients died from that disease during the FDA's delay.
In June 2002 we started pushing for availability and approval of Bexxar for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. FDA, after rejecting and delaying this highly effective drug repeatedly over several years, finally approved it under intense pressure from oncologists in June 2003. About 26,000 died during the delay without ever getting the chance to try the drug. The FDA's regulatory hatchet job on Bexxar prior to its approval has caused the drug to be dramatically underused, extending the damage done by the agency's intransigence and incompetence.
In June 2002 we began our efforts to gain access to Alimta for lung cancer patients. FDA didn't approve it until February 2004. In the interim, approximately 249,000 lung cancer patients died without the chance of trying this drug to see if it would control their disease or extend their life.
The alliance started working for access to Tykerb for breast cancer in June 2004 but the FDA didn't approve the drug until March 2007. About 25% of breast cancers include the biomarker predictive of benefit from Tykerb; nearly 28,000 women who had this marker died from their cancer waiting for Tykerb. They would, according to the FDA, have each lived an average of eight months longer. Long enough, perhaps, to see a child graduate from college or get married, or to meet a new grandchild.
In sum, these 12 drugs -- had they been available to people denied entry to clinical trials -- might have helped more than one million mothers, fathers, sons and daughters live longer, better lives. We have actually underestimated the number of "life-years" lost at more than 520,000, because we have not included other safe and effective uses of these drugs that the FDA has yet to approve.
Recently, it was decided that Provenge (another drug we have been trying to get for years) will be kept away from prostate cancer sufferers for up to three more years. The reason for the delay? A small but aggressive club of FDA advisers hand-picked by the director of the agency's Office of Oncology Drug Products, Dr. Richard Pazdur, think the statistics are not yet perfect enough.
Recently, the FDA responded to our lawsuit by proposing "new" regulations governing access to investigational drugs. They propose to change nothing.
The American Cancer Society reports that some 550,000 cancer patients die annually, making the number of cancer deaths from 1997 to 2005 about 4.8 million. Over that same period, the FDA reports granting individual access to an investigational drug to not more than 650 people per year for all diseases and drugs -- a pathetic, even cruel, pittance. A few thousand more patients managed to gain access by enrolling in relatively small clinical trials or exceedingly rare expanded access programs.
The other 4.7 plus million cancer patients, not to mention millions more with other diseases, were abandoned to die, denied access to progress by their own FDA when they needed it most.
We will appeal the decision in Abigail Alliance v. Eschenbach to the Supreme Court, and agree with only one thing in the majority opinion. Congress should pass our pending legislation, called the Access Act, now. It should be added to the FDA reauthorization bill headed for a vote in September.
This is massive human tragedy, made even worse by the fact that it didn't and doesn't have to be this way. Looking at FDA automatons and the D.C. Circuit Court brings to mind T. S. Eliot's question, "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?"
Messrs. Trowbridge and Walker volunteer, respectively, as adjunct scholar and chief adviser to the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs. Mr. Walker also is co-founder of the Abigail Alliance.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / On the Road to Jalalabad
on: August 14, 2007, 09:40:19 AM
On the Road to Jalalabad
Don't believe the naysayers. Afghanistan is doing as well as anyone has a right to expect.
BY ANN MARLOWE
Monday, August 13, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
AFGHANISTAN--Sen. Hillary Clinton has cynically charged that we are "losing the fight to al Qaeda and bin Laden" in Afghanistan. But on my eighth trip to Afghanistan (last month) I saw that the trend lines are up, not down.
The first encouraging sign came in Dubai as I boarded my flight for Kabul. Afghanistan's main private air carrier, Kam Air, has recently added a second daily round trip between Kabul and Dubai.
Once in Kabul I bought a new SIM card for my mobile phone and found that what would have cost me $40 a few years ago and $9 in September last year now cost only $3. Not surprisingly, mobile phones have spread to a broad section of Afghanistan's 24 million people, with the two major providers, AWCC and Roshan, claiming a total of three million subscribers, up from two million in September last year. Amin Ramin, managing director of AWCC, estimates that his company alone will count two million subscribers by the end of 2007 and three million by the end of 2008.
I spotted similarly hopeful trends in three heavily Pashtun provinces--Nangarhar, Laghman and Khost--in eastern Afghanistan.
But first, it's important to note that to talk about "reconstruction" is the biggest lie in Afghanistan. Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was long one of the poorest countries in the world and has never had a lot of infrastructure. There are ruins in the country, of course, but 95% of them are in or near Kabul itself. Most of Afghanistan lives much as it always has, subsisting on small-scale farming and trading.
We can do nothing about many of Afghanistan's barriers to development. For starters, 86% of its land area is non-arable. It has also never had a broad distribution of income or land. According to Afghan-Australian historian Amin Saikal, up until the early 1920s when King Amanullah gave crown lands to the poor, only 20% of peasants worked their own properties.
This is why many foreign development experts working in Kabul say privately that if in a couple of decades Afghanistan reaches the level of Bangladesh--which in 2006 had a per capita GDP of about $419 per year, one of the lowest in the world--then they will judge their time in the country a success.
But I am more optimistic. Jalalabad, the largest city of eastern Afghanistan, with 400,000 people, is now just a three-hour drive to Kabul on a good road recently built by the European Union. Another hour's drive brings you to Mehtar Lam, capital of Afghanistan's Laghman province, on another good road funded by USAID.
The U.S. is now planning to start a second provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Nangarhar Province, and it will be staffed by military reservists who are farmers and ranchers in civilian life. This second PRT will work with local farmers in Nangahar's lush river valley, while also building infrastructure to get crops to market--cold storage facilities and local roads. Air Force Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips, the commander of the existing PRT, says that blacktop roads will link all district centers in the province to the main road to Kabul by the end of this year.
"Every day we open 15 to 20 new accounts," says Maseh Arifi, the 24-year-old manager of the Jalalabad branch of Azizi Bank, one of Afghanistan's two homegrown consumer banks. The branch opened at the end of last August and has 18,000 accounts. Next door, rival Kabul Bank has opened 9,400 accounts totaling $7 million in two years. The 27,000 bank accounts represent about 15% of 660,000 adults of Jalalabad--and doesn't count some of the most prosperous locals, who commute to Peshawar to do their banking. In Nangarhar, AWCC and Roshan together have about 206,000 mobile phone customers, 31% of the adults.
Further south is Khost, a province that received little help from the central government in recent decades. Now construction cranes hover over Khost City, with modern five- and six-story office buildings and shopping centers rising amid grimy two-story concrete bazaars. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently finished building a new university in the city. And this month the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, an investment-facilitating agency, is inviting 300 overseas Khostis to come discuss building an industrial park.
Both Kabul Bank and Azizi Bank opened their Khost branches in the summer of 2006, and each have about 3,000 accounts. Both branch managers expect their numbers to double this year. The numbers are low because some local residents view even non-interest bearing accounts as un-Islamic. (Competing fatwas have been issued by various mullahs on the topic.) About 65,000 people have mobile phones in the province.
Many of its men emigrated to the UAE and Saudi Arabia and did well for themselves as merchants. As many as 200,000 overseas Khostis (about a million people live in the province) send $6 million to $12 million annually to their families at home. USAID spent just $10 million in the province from 2002-2006.
Culturally, Khost has always been an outward-looking place. It's not an opium-producing province. In the 1970s and '80s it was a stronghold of the Khalq Communist party, as the party provided a vehicle for the Ghilzai Pashtun to challenge leaders from other tribes. The 99% Pashtun population is also about 70% literate, according to Babaker Khil, a member of parliament from Khost.
Khost should really take off when it's linked to Kabul by a blacktop road. Construction of a $70 million, 103-kilometer long Khost-Gardez road is slated to begin next spring (it will be built by USAID) and is supposed to be finished in September 2009. The U.S. Army, which moves at a much faster pace than USAID, expects to link 90% of the population of Khost to the main provincial road by the end of this year.
There have been no conventional attacks on Coalition or Afghan security forces in 2007 so far, but the long border with Pakistan makes suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IED) an ongoing threat.
The insurgents are seeking "soft targets" such as civilians. There have been at least 67 IED explosions this year, killing more than two-dozen Afghans and wounding one American. But, encouragingly, 51 IEDs were found and reported by locals before detonating in Khost. Twelve other devices were turned in by locals looking for reward money.
"We've got the wholehearted support of 85%-90% of the population here," Major Timothy Kohn of the 82nd Airborne told me. "The mullahs have put out fatwas against suicide bombers, saying that the victims of these bombings are the martyrs, not the extremists. Thousands of people attended peace rallies in the city."
The most economically backward of the eastern provinces I visited is Laghman. Its 400,000 people eke out a living by working rice paddies and wheat fields along the Alingar and Alishang Rivers. Even the provincial capital, Mehtar Lam, is so small you could miss it driving by. It has only a couple of two-story buildings in the bazaar. Still, an astonishing 77% of Laghman's 176,000 adults have mobile phones--also implying that a good percentage of the women have phones, too.
Nangarhar and Laghman are also known for relatively high levels of education, and in the eastern region overall, UNICEF reports that this year 737,975 children were enrolled in school, up 17,000 from 2006 and six times the figure for 2003.
Laghman is never going to be rich, but Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Ricci, the Mehtar Lam PRT commander, points out that the district of Qarghayi had Afghanistan's highest per-hectare wheat production last year. The new Nangarhar PRT will help the local farmers here, too, while Mr. Ricci's team fixes the roads so that farmers in remote areas can bring their crop to the provincial capital, and from there to Kabul. The PRT is planning to blacktop the dirt road from Mehtar Lam to the most remote district capital, Daulat Shah, 47 kilometers away, at a cost of around $16 million.
Security in Laghman is better than in the frontier provinces, but there is a well-established route for al Qaeda, Taliban and other fighters to cross from Pakistan and make their way north through Laghman. A suicide bombing in April seems to have been a turning point in Laghman. The bomber killed a mullah and several schoolgirls, and according to Mr. Ricci, local residents were so angry that they left the bomber's body parts on the road, refusing him burial. Since then, just nine IEDs have been detonated in Laghman, while 25 were turned in by locals.
Of course, one suicide bombing or IED is one too many, but every society is violent in its own way. The 58 killed by IEDs and suicide bombers in Khost could be compared with the 2006 murders in some American cities with around Khost's one-million population: There were 29 murders in San Jose, 108 in Indianapolis, and 373 in Detroit.
Afghanistan is still a poor rural country with a mainly illiterate population, but it's improving rapidly, and with the exception of Helmand Province and a few bad districts in Uruzgun, Kandahar and Loghar, it's much like any number of developing countries in terms of security. We can't give every country everything they'd like, and it will take decades for the rule of law to be as firmly established here as it is in the West. But we can and are helping the Afghans pull themselves up to the next rung on the development ladder.
Ms. Marlowe is author of "The Book of Trouble" (Harcourt, 2006), a memoir.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: 300
on: August 12, 2007, 06:55:39 AM
Hallelujah! My wonderful wife bought me a copy of 300 and I finally got to sit down and watch it. The children were out, the wife was out, and the TV was cranked up
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Philippines
on: August 11, 2007, 01:10:37 AM
Philippines: 57 Killed In Troop/Rebel Clash
August 10, 2007 20 05 GMT
Twenty-six soldiers and 31 rebels were killed Aug. 10 in a clash on Jolo Island in the southern Philippines, military officials said. Fighting broke out when militants from Abu Sayyaf and the Moro National Liberation Front ambushed troops, the officials said. Troops have been deployed to the area since the early July killings of 14 soldiers on Basilan Island.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues
on: August 11, 2007, 01:09:51 AM
Bush orders new crackdown on U.S. border
By: Mike Allen
Aug 9, 2007 08:53 PM EST
The Bush administration announced plans Friday to enlist state and local law enforcement in cracking down on illegal immigrants, which previously was largely a federal function.
The administration unveiled a series of tough border control and employer enforcement measures designed to make up for security provisions that failed when Congress rejected a broad rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws in June.
The plans were announced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez.
The package revealed Friday has 26 elements, and the administration announcement said they "represent steps the Administration can take within the boundaries of existing law to secure our borders more effectively, improve interior and worksite enforcement, streamline existing guest worker programs, improve the current immigration system, and help new immigrants assimilate into American culture.
After the announcement, President Bush released a statement in Kennebunkport, Maine, saying that despite the failure of Congress to pass a new law, his administration "will continue to take every possible step to build upon the progress already made in strengthening our borders, enforcing our worksite laws, keeping our economy well-supplied with vital workers, and helping new Americans learn English."
As part of the new measures, the secretary of Homeland Security will deliver regular “State of the Border” reports beginning this fall.
In one of the most interesting revelations, the plans call for the administration to “train growing numbers of state and local law enforcement officers to identify and detain immigration offenders whom they encounter in the course of daily law enforcement.”
“By this fall, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have quintupled the number of enforcement teams devoted to removing fugitive aliens (from 15 to 75 in less than three years),” a summary of the plan states.
The announcement is aimed at restoring Bush’s credibility with conservatives who were dismayed that he pushed so hard for broad immigration reform, including a guest worker program for people now here illegally, before the border was more secure.
“The biggest message that emerged from this failed immigration bill is that if immigration reform is to happen in the future, they must first restore the American people's confidence that the federal government is serious about securing our borders and enforcing our immigration laws,” said a Senate Republican leadership official. “Frankly, this should have been addressed several years ago.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney jumped on the announcement with a supportive statement ahead of Saturday's straw poll in Iowa, calling the new package "a weclome development" and declaring that the nation "must get serious if we are to secure our nation's borders."
As part of the package, Bush is planning to increase muscle at the Mexican border, as conservatives have long pleaded.
“The administration will add more border personnel and infrastructure, going beyond previously announced targets,” according to the summary. “The Departments of State and Homeland Security will expand the list of international gangs whose members are automatically denied admission to the U.S.”
Employers will face tough new scrutiny and requirements. “There are now 29 categories of documents that employers must accept to establish identity and work eligibility among their workers,” the summary says. “The Department of Homeland Security will reduce that number and weed out the most insecure.”
“The Department of Homeland Security will raise the civil fines imposed on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants by approximately 25 percent,” the summary continues. “The administration will continue its aggressive expansion of criminal investigations against employers who knowingly hire large numbers of illegal aliens.”
The administration is promising to reduce processing times for immigration background checks by adding agents and converting paper documentation to electronic forms.
And the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration say they will study and report on the technical and recordkeeping changes necessary to deny credit in our Social Security system for illegal work.
Under the tougher menu, the administration vows to fund additional beds for people caught breaching the border, ensuring that illegal entrants are returned to Mexico rather than being let go because there’s no space for them, as often occurred in the past.
“The administration will implement an exit requirement at airports and seaports by the end of 2008, and will launch a pilot land-border exit system for guest workers,” the summary says. “By the end of 2008, the administration will require most arrivals at our ports-of-entry to use passports or similarly secure documents.”
Other elements of the package:
—The Department of Labor will reform the H-2A agriculture worker program so farmers can readily hire legal temporary workers, while protecting their rights.
—The Department of Labor will issue regulations streamlining the H-2B program for non-agricultural seasonal workers.
—The Department of Homeland Security will extend, from one year to three, the length of the NAFTA-created TN visa for professional workers from Canada and Mexico, removing the administrative hassle of annual renewals for these talented workers.
—The Office of Citizenship will unveil in September a revised naturalization test that emphasizes fundamentals of American democracy, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.
—The Office of Citizenship will introduce a Web-based electronic training program and convene eight regional training conferences for volunteers and adult educators who lead immigrants through the naturalization process.
—The Department of Education will develop a free, Web-based model to help immigrants learn English. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0807/5323.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: August 10, 2007, 11:00:58 PM
August 10, 2007 21 18 GMT
Talk of Russia making a grand return to the Mediterranean by developing a naval base off the Syrian coast has given Syria a unique opportunity to play off a resurrection of Cold War tensions between Washington and Moscow. Though a Russian naval presence on Syrian soil would give Damascus a stronger deterrence against external aggression, the Syrian regime is not willing to sell its national security to the Russians just yet. For now, Syria's focus will remain on using the Iraq negotiations to break out of its diplomatic isolation.
Speculation is arising over the seriousness of Russia's plan to resurrect its naval presence on the Mediterranean. So far, Syria has gone out of its way to deny that any such plan exists, insisting that all talk of Russia using Syrian port facilities in Tartus and Latakia is a figment of Israel's propaganda machine.
But beyond the statements, Syria is facing a very interesting political decision. Russia sees a window of opportunity in which the United States' attention is absorbed in Iraq and in its intensely delicate negotiations with Iran. Though the thought of Russia sending warships to the Mediterranean could have provoked a strong U.S. response a decade ago, it is no secret that the U.S. military's bandwidth is greatly constrained and there is room for other major powers -- like Russia -- to start playing in the Middle Eastern sandbox again.
A Russian naval presence off the Syrian coast could allow Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime to better inoculate itself against a potential attack by the United States or Israel. Damascus is nervously watching for any movement in the U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq. Like the Russians, the Syrians enjoy the fact that U.S. military forces have their hands too full to seriously think about engaging them in a round of forceful behavior modification. With or without a solid political resolution in Baghdad, the U.S. military position in Iraq is not going to last forever, and Syria will not be able to stay under the radar as easily as it has over the past six years. Without a strong defensive missile shield of its own, the Syrians could look to their Russian guests at Tartus and Latakia to get the Israelis, Americans or even the Turks to think twice about threatening Syria militarily.
At most, a Russian naval presence off the Syrian coast would complicate plans to strike Syria. The Russians have pledged to set up sophisticated air defenses around the Latakia and Tartus naval bases that will also provide an air umbrella for the entire Syrian coast and parts of the hinterland. Syria has formally depended on Russia for military supplies and training since the Cold War. While the supplies are nice, Damascus still does not view Russia as a reliable military ally should things come to a head. Al Assad likely remembers well his father's distrust of Kremlin support during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which both the United States and the Soviet Union worked to ensure the war ended in a stalemate. Syria has also watched how the Russians have strung along the Iranians over the construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor (now running a decade behind schedule), and has not enjoyed having to grovel for arms sales, particularly during Russian President Vladimir Putin's reign.
Though trust is very much an issue, a Russian naval fleet would still serve a clear purpose in Syria's view. The United States would unlikely be prepared to risk engaging in a military confrontation with Russia (which could very well lead to a crisis with Washington's European allies) on any level for the sake of targeting the Syrian regime. Furthermore, Israel would be troubled by -- among other things -- the potential concurrent deployment of land-based air defense assets, like late-model S300 batteries, to a Russian facility. These are highly capable air defense assets that Syria has been trying to acquire for a decade. Though Damascus could not rely on them to actually defend Syrian interests, their mere presence would change the threat environment for Israel and make things like low-level flights over al Assad's summer home in Latakia a bit riskier. In short, the Russians would be offering an attractive insurance policy for the Syrians.
But Syria is also looking at another window of opportunity in Iraq, where it sees the United States desperate for a political resolution. Syria is in the process of demonstrating in any way possible that it can play a key role in suppressing the Iraq insurgency and getting Iraq's former Baathists on board with a political deal. The Iraq negotiations would then serve as an avenue for Syria to extract political concessions in Lebanon and break out of its diplomatic isolation by normalizing relations with the United States, moving al Assad a huge step ahead in his quest for national security. The Syrian regime is also well aware that Israel and the United States privately prefer keeping the al Assad regime intact for lack of a better, non-Islamist alternative. As long as al Assad faces no immediate threat of regime change, he has ample room to negotiate his way to Washington's good side while the Iraq talks are in play.
Moreover, the Syrians cannot expect the Russians to show up on their doorstep anytime soon. While Russia could park a handful of surface combatants from the Black Sea Fleet in Tartus or Latakia tomorrow, the construction of more meaningful naval facilities takes time and considerable investment. There is no clear indication that Russia has a genuine interest in making such an investment now, though Moscow has much to gain by talking about it and playing up the threat of Russia's expansionist desires.
The Syrians likely will keep the Russian naval option on the table, but for now al Assad's focus is on exploiting the Iraq talks to gain U.S. recognition. So far, this plan is progressing, with Syria just having wrapped up a two-day international security conference -- attended by the United States -- aimed at stabilizing Iraq. The United States is also looking into different ways to work with the Syrians while appearing to keep its guard up, including channeling messages through the Canadians to the Syrian regime.
Damascus will publicly downplay any talk of the Russian naval fleet to avoid rocking the boat with Washington while the Iraq negotiations are in progress. But should Syria feel the United States is not willing to play ball over Iraq, the Russian naval base option gives Damascus a most useful bargaining chip to play both sides of the U.S.-Russian divide
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: August 10, 2007, 09:01:46 AM
Second post of the morning:
Geopolitical Diary: Russian 'Smiles'
The commander of Russia's strategic bomber force, Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov, announced with a bit of flair Thursday that two of his Tu-95 bombers had ventured down to the U.S. military base at Guam during the Valiant Shield 2007 exercises involving nearly 100 U.S. aircraft in the Western Pacific, and had "exchanged smiles" with U.S. fighter pilots before turning back toward home. The incident actually happened Wednesday; the U.S. military only rarely comments on Russian forces buzzing U.S. assets, in order to minimize Russian public relations buzz. True to form, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a two-sentence statement downplaying the entire incident.
Wednesday's flight came amid an annual training exercise for the Russian 37th Air Army, and in the wake of several similar incidents this summer north of Fife, Scotland. Post-Cold War Russian military posturing and testing of foreign airspace is nothing new. But the flight to Guam is noteworthy nonetheless.
The incident is only the most recent in a long line of aggressive Russian actions. In the summer to date, similar intrusions have occurred off Alaska, Norway, the United Kingdom, Iceland and Japan. Russian "youth movements" have sparked riots in Estonia, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces has threatened to put nuclear weapons back in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, the navy has mused about a permanent base in Syria, and Russian jets stand accused of firing a missile on Georgia. Taken together, all of this is simply normal Russian behavior.
For 1985, that is.
Since 1989, Russian military assets have on occasion challenged a maritime border or buzzed an aircraft carrier, but such developments have not been weekly events since the Cold War. This sort of activity is a new -- or perhaps we should say, "old" -- chapter in Russian strategic thinking.
The story of Russia in the 17 years since the Cold War ended has been one of precipitous decline economically, politically, militarily and demographically. However, during President Vladimir Putin's two terms, Russia has arrested -- and haltingly reversed -- the first three declines. This does not mean the Russians have truly turned the corner -- the economy is more addicted to commodity exports than ever before, the Kremlin is closer to political ossification than the "efficiency" of a true autocracy, and new or well-maintained military equipment is certainly not the norm -- but a floor has definitely been inserted under the country, halting the fall.
Military reform has been under way for some time. That the Russian army has professionalized itself down below 200,000 conscripts is, in and of itself, an amazing achievement. But while deliberate, the task remains daunting, and the pace slow. Yet even if Russia had stopped its military research and development programs -- which it did not -- even late-Soviet military technology would leave Russia in a unique military position. And as the recent military adventurism vividly demonstrates, there is a pattern in Russian actions: the incidents are not isolated, and there is no direction in which the Russians are not pushing out. This is a strategy that has an excitingly (and disturbingly) familiar feel to it.
The American Cold War strategy of "containment" was not something dreamed up on some idle Tuesday. The geography of the former Soviet Union is hostile not just to economic and political development, but also to military expansion. Vast interior distances make the transport of armies as difficult as that of goods, while natural maritime choke points like the Japanese Islands, the Turkish straits and "The Sound" between Sweden and Denmark naturally limit Moscow's naval reach -- and have for centuries. The bottom line for the United States was that by aligning with all of Russia's neighbors, it could force the Soviet Union to focus on building tanks to defend is mass -- because Moscow never knew from which direction an attack (or multiple attacks) would come.
Yet just as Eurasia's geography dictated the containment strategy, that same geography predetermined the Russian counterstrategy. Russia's one advantage in fact mirrors its greatest disadvantage: its huge expanse is difficult to defend -- the source of the paranoia that most associate with all things Russian -- but it also grants whoever rules Russia a wealth of options in terms of where to strike out. Russia's counterstrategy was simple: push out everywhere until a weak spot appears in the containment cordon.
Though the Cold War ended, containment never really did, and it has been nearly a generation since the Russians tested their cage. Russia -- and the world -- has changed in fundamental ways. But ultimately the biggest difference between now and 1991 is not so much Russia's relative weakness or America's relative preoccupation with Iraq, but Washington's list of allies. It is longer -- and less militarily capable -- than ever.
And therein lies the rub. The real key to containment was not the belt of Russian border states, but the American commitment to guarantee their security. What ultimately made containment work was the belief that the United States would be willing to meet Russia on the field of battle wherever and whenever Moscow pushed. Washington utterly lacked the freedom to decline any fight for fear that the entire alliance structure of containment would unravel. The most famous examples of these tests of American resolve are the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Weak spots aplenty can be found on the Russian periphery these days. Georgia is a failed state even on the brightest of days; the Baltic states are no less defensible against the Red Army now than they were when they broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991; the entire Russian-Kazakh border is more of a joke than the U.S.-Canadian border in terms of security; Washington's once-solid relations with Russian borderlands such as Turkey and Korea are not what they once were; and Germany, France and the United Kingdom are, if anything, even less interested in going to bat for Lithuania than Washington is.
Ultimately, the disparity between Androsov's announcement and the Pentagon's bureaucratic reply is symptomatic of the way each nation sees its old Cold War adversary. Pentagon planners do not talk about Russia like they used to. They do -- and not without some cause -- crack jokes, something that is actually rather easy to do when one considers that the propeller-driven Tu-95s, designed in the early 1950s, were "intruding" on the newest fighter jets in the world, zipping supersonically around Guam.
But the simple truth of the matter is that Russia is one of only two countries in the world that can casually move strategic offensive weapons like the air-launched AS-15 cruise missiles across the face of the planet. The Tu-95 is certainly not a top-shelf plane these days -- but when it's carrying a highly accurate cruise missile with an 1,800-mile range and a nuclear warhead, it doesn't have to be.
The credibility of containment comes down to perception as much as the hard and fast details of competing military hardware. And managing perception -- as the "exchanged smiles" over Guam indicate -- remains a Russian skill second to none.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The New Right to Life
on: August 10, 2007, 08:23:26 AM
The New Right to Life
By ROGER PILON
August 10, 2007; Page A11
The wheels of justice turn slowly, especially for the dying. On Tuesday the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed a 15-month-old decision by a panel of the court that had recognized a constitutional right of terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving drugs not yet finally approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Given the poor quality of Tuesday's opinion in Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs v. Eschenbach -- "startling," said the dissent -- one wonders why it took so long. The opinion's one virtue is that it brings out clearly how far modern "constitutional law" has strayed from the Constitution, a document written to protect liberty, not federal regulatory schemes.
Represented by the Washington Legal Foundation, Abigail Alliance is named for Abigail Burroughs, a 21-year-old college student who died of cancer in 2001. Their argument could not be more simple or straightforward, nor could Tuesday's dissent, written by Judge Judith Rogers and joined by Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg, the majority in the earlier opinion. Citing the Fifth Amendment's right to life, the Ninth Amendment's assurance to the Constitution's ratifiers that the rights retained by the people far exceed those named in the document, and the Supreme Court's "fundamental rights" jurisprudence, Judge Rogers argued that the right to life, the right to self-preservation, and the right against interference with those rights -- which the FDA is guilty of -- are of one piece. They are deeply rooted in common law and the nation's history and traditions, implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, and thus "fundamental."
Indeed, it is startling, she noted, that the rights "to marry, to fornicate, to have children, to control the education and upbringing of children, to perform varied sexual acts in private, and to control one's own body have all been deemed fundamental, but the right to try to save one's life is left out in the cold despite its textual anchor in the right to life." Because the rights at issue here are "fundamental," she concluded, the court must apply, in judicial parlance, "strict scrutiny." The burden is on the FDA to show why its interference is justified -- to show that its regulatory interests are compelling and its means narrowly tailored to serve those interests.
There, precisely, is where Tuesday's majority demurred. In a long footnote, Judge Thomas Griffith, who had dissented in the earlier opinion but wrote now for the majority, recast the right at issue as "the right to access experimental and unproven drugs in an attempt to save one's life." Through such "tragic wordplay," as the dissent put it, the right ceases to be "fundamental," under Supreme Court precedents, because it is "not deeply rooted in the Nation's history and traditions."
So described, the right is not "deeply rooted," of course, because the very idea of "experimental and unproven drugs" implies a regulatory regime like the FDA, and that is a recent development. Yet as the dissent detailed, for most of our history individuals were free to take whatever drugs they wanted without a doctor's prescription. It was only in 1951 that Congress created a category of prescription drugs. Then in 1962 it began requiring drug companies to conduct extensive tests to ensure drug "efficacy," which led to long delays for drug approval and to the deaths of countless patients who would gladly have borne the unknown risks for a chance at life.
As a legal matter, what Judge Griffith achieved with his linguistic legerdemain was a shift in the burden of proof: No longer would the government need to justify its restrictions; the dying would have to try to overcome those restrictions. But that would be impossible because now the court would no longer strictly scrutinize the government's rationale. Rather, it would apply a "rational basis" test under which the government would win as long as it had any reason for restricting access. Deference so complete, the dissent noted, amounts to nothing less than "judicial abdication."
Plainly, the issues here go well beyond this case, which is doubtless why the court decided to rehear it en banc. And they go beyond liberal and conservative as well, as the mixed seven who joined Judge Griffith's opinion should indicate. What we have here, arguably, is a revolt of sorts by Judge Rogers and Chief Judge Ginsburg against what passes today for "constitutional law." Reducing that revolt to a simple question: Under a Constitution that expressly protects the right to life, how did we get to where government can effectively restrict the right, and the courts will do nothing?
The answer for liberal jurists is simple. Since the Progressive Era they've worked assiduously to create the modern redistributive and regulatory state, constitutional impediments notwithstanding. Following Franklin Roosevelt's infamous 1937 threat to pack the Supreme Court with six new members, the Court facilitated that agenda by distinguishing "fundamental" and "nonfundamental" rights, protected by "strict scrutiny" and "rational basis scrutiny" respectively. That invention opened the floodgates to ever-expanding legislative schemes. But liberals didn't always win in the legislatures, so they turned increasingly to the courts, urging judges to find "fundamental" rights by consulting "evolving social values."
That led to a conservative backlash and a call for "judicial restraint," especially after the Court found a fundamental "right" to abortion in 1973. Both sides, therefore, have reasons to urge judicial restraint and deference to the administrative state. Modern liberals don't want judges interfering with the legislative creation of the welfare state's social and economic rights. Conservatives hope to frustrate those legislative efforts while forestalling the judicial creation of such rights. Thus, they urge judges to protect only those rights found expressly in the Constitution -- and will describe rights, as here, to avoid even the hint of judicial activism.
In a word, then, liberal jurists could rule against Abigail Alliance to ensure the dominance of the regulatory regime. Conservative jurists, viewing that regime as "settled law," could do likewise to avoid even the appearance of judicial activism. The approach of liberals is understandable: Long ago they abandoned the written for the "living" Constitution, which enables ad hoc adjudication, the rule of law notwithstanding. The approach of conservative "originalists," however, is less easily explained, since they purport to take the Constitution seriously.
Yet in Robert Bork's "The Tempting of America," where conservatives often turn, we find an answer. Describing what he calls the "Madisonian dilemma," Judge Bork writes that America's "first principle is self-government, which means that in wide areas of life majorities are entitled to rule, if they wish, simply because they are majorities. The second principle is that there are nonetheless some things majorities must not do to minorities, some areas of life in which the individual must be free of majority rule." (emphasis added)
That turns Madison on his head. James Madison stood for limited government, not wide-ranging democracy. His first principle was that in wide areas individuals are entitled to be free simply because they are born free. His second principle was that in some areas majorities are entitled to rule because we have authorized them to. That gets the order right: individual liberty first, self-government second, as a means for securing liberty.
Yet we repeatedly see conservative jurists, as here, ignoring the true Madison -- deferring to the legislature when their duty, as Madison put it, is to stand as "an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive." A perfect example is Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in a 2000 case, Troxel v. Granville, which found that Washington State's grandparent visitation act violated the right of fit parents to control access to their children. Dissenting, Justice Scalia argued that although the parental right is among the unalienable rights proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and the unenumerated rights retained pursuant to the Ninth Amendment, that amendment does not authorize "judges to identify what [those rights] might be, and to enforce the judges' list against laws duly enacted by the people." Thus, just as the Abigail Alliance majority did, he would defer to the legislature to tell us what those rights are -- the very legislature that had extinguished the parental right that he had just located in the Ninth Amendment.
The problem with that view, of course, is that it renders the Ninth Amendment a nullity -- hardly what an originalist wants. Moreover, while recognizing retained unenumerated rights as "constitutional," it reduces them to a second class status since they are unenforceable. And that means they are not rights at all since rights are invoked, in the political context, only defensively, against threats from the majority. Yet on this view they can be extinguished by a mere majority.
There is, of course, no bright line between enumerated and unenumerated rights. In interpreting the Constitution, inferences are essential. As Judge Rogers put it, "were it impermissible to draw any inferences from a broader right to a narrower right, nearly all of the Supreme Court's substantive due process case law would be out of bounds." The only question, therefore, is whether the inferences are drawn correctly, and from sound underlying principles. To do that well, however, judges must have a sure grasp of those principles. That is the main problem today, as Tuesday's decision illustrates. The Framers would be appalled to see federal bureaucrats standing between dying patients and the medicines that might save them -- sanctioned by a Constitution turned upside-down. Fortunately, this case will be appealed and the Supreme Court may yet examine it afresh.
Mr. Pilon is vice president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute and director of Cato's Center for Constitutional Studies.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: August 10, 2007, 12:09:36 AM
The stock market is looking pretty scary
but a good day for my LNOP
Anyway the market would surely like the following:
By DONALD L. LUSKIN
August 10, 2007; Page A10
Here's some advice to the Democrats on how to raise the revenues they'll need to pay for all the spending they have in mind. Don't hike the capital gains tax rate. Don't lower it, either. Eliminate the capital gains tax entirely.
How can tax revenues be increased by eliminating a tax? It's simple, when the tax in question is on capital gains. Capital itself exerts a multiplier effect that benefits the entire economy. Investment in new plant, equipment, business processes and whole companies creates new and higher paying jobs, and higher levels of economic activity, all of which generate additional tax revenues far in excess of what government would lose by foregoing cap-gains taxes.
This idea has broad theoretical support. Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers has written, "the elimination of capital income taxation would have very substantial economic effects" which "might raise steady-state output by as much as 18%." Economist Jack L. Treynor has shown that "the level of taxation on capital that is 'fairest' -- i.e., most beneficial -- to labor is zero." And Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert E. Lucas, Jr., has concluded, "neither capital gains nor any of the income from capital should be taxed at all." These economists think in terms of very complex models. But the real-world intuition here is quite straightforward.
The cap-gains tax is a barrier to the investment of capital. Without it, capital will flow to investments that otherwise wouldn't have been made. The cost of eliminating the barrier is foregone revenues from that particular tax. But those revenues are small, usually deferred and non-recurring. In their place, government receives large and recurring revenues from corporate taxes, sales taxes, wage taxes and dividend taxes -- all generated by new economic activity.
The cap-gains tax is a poor revenue raiser, because any given capital gain is a one-time event that can only be taxed once, and in many cases, ends up not being taxed at all. Consider Microsoft. Since the company went public 20 years ago, its market value has increased by about $275 billion. A generous estimate of the cap-gains tax revenues we could expect from this increase is about $40 billion.
Actual collections will surely be less. Many shares will never be sold -- held by founders who wish to retain control, or by people who wish to avoid paying taxes. Many shares will be gifted to charitable foundations, as Bill Gates has done for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, out of the tax collector's reach. Even for those shares that will eventually be sold, from today's perspective the resulting tax revenues have to be discounted, as they won't be collected for years.
At the same time, Microsoft has been a fountain of other tax revenues. Since the company went public, I estimate that, in cumulative present-value terms, corporate taxes already paid total roughly $60 billion; sales taxes paid by Microsoft's customers total roughly $11 billion; income taxes paid by Microsoft's employees total roughly $12 billion, and dividend taxes paid by Microsoft's shareholders total about $3 billion. These four sources of tax revenues over the last 20 years total $86 billion -- more than twice our generous estimate of the notional cap-gains tax revenues ($40 billion) for the same period.
Moreover, unless Microsoft's stock price increases -- which it's had a hard time doing the last couple years -- the estimated $40 billion in cap-gains tax revenues will never grow to a larger number. But corporate taxes, sales taxes, income taxes and dividend taxes will continue to be generated year after year. Even if assuming Microsoft's business stops growing (it has been reliably growing at better than 10% per year), the present value of the tax revenues from these other sources is roughly $182 billion. Added to the revenues already collected, the total is $268 billion.
There is also all the new taxable economic activity enabled by Microsoft's products. It's impossible to estimate a dollar value for it, but we can be sure it is a multiple of the value created within Microsoft. In this context, there is nothing unique about Microsoft. Anytime capital is invested, the small, deferred and non-recurring revenues that can be expected from the cap-gains tax are a tiny fraction of the perpetual revenues from other economic activities, generated directly and indirectly.
While eliminating the cap-gains tax may well induce companies like Microsoft to generate additional taxable activity, there's a more important opportunity here. Eliminating the cap-gains tax will cause the economy to generate more innovators like Microsoft.
For each new Microsoft, the cost to government would mean $40 billion in foregone revenues. But for those new Microsofts that wouldn't have existed otherwise, the payoff would mean raking in $268 billion.
That's a smart trade-off. If the Democrats were really interested in raising revenues -- and not just making life harder for a handful of wealthy private equity players -- it's a trade-off they should eagerly make.
Mr. Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: August 10, 2007, 12:06:08 AM
Young Russia's Enemy No. 1
Vladimir Putin's belligerent rhetoric and actions toward the United States and its allies have begun prompting pundits to debate whether a new Cold War is afoot. But how has the Russian president's message played to his home audience? A survey we commissioned by the Levada Analytic Center of 1,802 Russians ages 16 to 29 offers some insight. We focused on this "Putin generation" because it is Russia's political and economic future. In the days after the Soviet collapse, it seemed reasonable to hope, even expect, that this generation, as the collective beneficiaries of a putative post-Soviet transition to economic prosperity and political freedom, would embrace the United States as a friend of Russia. Yet our survey, conducted in April and May, found that a majority of young Russians view the United States as enemy No. 1. And while Putin's rhetoric is driving this development, human rights violations associated with U.S. counterterrorism policies have played a role.
Putin has become increasingly vocal in his accusations that the United States seeks to impose its ideas and interests on the rest of the world, going so far as to liken American policies to those of the Third Reich. He frequently cites the "dangers" of foreign influence, suggesting that Russia is encircled by enemies and that foreign governments finance Russian organizations to meddle in Russia's affairs. Putin virulently rejects any foreign criticism of episodes from Russia's Soviet past or of such current policies as media restrictions, brutality in the North Caucasus and the persecution of Kremlin opponents. This campaign seems motivated by domestic political considerations; the creation of foreign "enemies" is a tactic long used to distract people from the shortcomings of their own government, rally support for authoritarian measures, or both.
But these themes resonate with young Russians. Nearly 80 percent agreed that "the United States tries to impose its norms and way of life on the rest of the world," we found. Nearly 70 percent disagreed that the United States "does more good than harm." Three-quarters agreed that the "United States gives aid in order to influence the internal politics of countries."
When asked which of five words best described the United States in relation to Russia, 64 percent chose either "enemy" or "rival." We asked the same question in regard to six other countries. Georgia, another target of Putin's, ranked second in terms of the percentage who chose these words -- but that was only at 44 percent. The other countries were less likely to be viewed as enemies or rivals, even though some represent an arguably equal or greater threat: China (27 percent), Iran (21 percent), Ukraine (21 percent), Germany (13 percent) and Belarus (12 percent). Substantially more than the 18 percent who described America as a "partner" or "ally" used these positive terms to characterize the other countries. Putin's rhetoric is an influence on these and two other findings: 54 percent agreed that Stalin "did more good than bad" and 63 percent agreed that the Soviet collapse was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century."
We also found that Bush administration counterterrorism policies have helped the Kremlin cultivate this hostility toward America. Critics of certain U.S. policies assert that practices departing from long-standing international law -- such as indefinite detention and extraordinary rendition -- are linked to the worldwide decline of America's reputation and moral sway, key elements of "soft" power. Our data support these claims. Respondents tended to believe that the United States tortures terrorism suspects (52 percent), renders them to countries that practice torture (44 percent) and detains them without due process or legal representation (46 percent). Very few respondents -- 9 to 13 percent -- believed these allegations to be false; the rest found it "hard to say."
Generally, respondents condemned these practices (42 to 57 percent, with only 15 to 29 percent approving). Moreover, our statistical modeling demonstrates that perceptions of American human rights violations relate directly to anti-American sentiment: Young Russians who believed that the United States tortures or unlawfully detains terrorist suspects had considerably more negative views of the U.S. government than those who did not.
The legacy of a new generation of Russians who are nostalgic for the Soviet Union, ambivalent about Stalin and hostile toward the United States may jeopardize U.S.-Russian relations long after Putin is gone. Thus, in addition to countering Putin's aggressive stance in the short term, this U.S. administration and the next needs to develop longer-term strategies to reverse the tide of growing anti-American sentiment among young Russians. Changing U.S. counterterrorism policies is a good place to start. The goal should be to restore the vision of America expressed by Andrei Sakharov: "In fact, we don't idealize America and see a lot that is bad or foolish in it, but America is a vital force, a positive factor in our chaotic world."
Sarah E. Mendelson directs the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Theodore P. Gerber is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...080202148.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Asia
on: August 09, 2007, 10:38:59 PM
Two beheaded, clinics attacked in Thailand
Posted 6 hours 19 minutes ago
Two Buddhist health workers have been gunned down in a clinic in Thailand's restive south, while two others were beheaded in a grisly killing spree blamed on separatist rebels, police say.
Three other people have been killed in shooting attacks around the Muslim-majority region bordering Malaysia, in the latest sign of intensifying violence this month. The attacks came as authorities stepped up a crackdown on separatists in the region where more than 2,400 people have been killed and thousands more wounded since the unrest broke out in January 2004.
The two health workers were killed inside a clinic in Pattani province late on Wednesday (local time), when militants stormed into the building and shot them at their desks, police said.
Authorities shut down 15 nearby clinics in response and could not say when they would reopen. Separatist rebels also torched two schools in Pattani, gutting the buildings early on Thursday. Rebels often attack government schools as they are seen as symbols of Thailand's attempt to impose Buddhist Thai culture on the Muslim-majority region. Meanwhile, militants have beheaded two elderly Buddhists inside their homes in Pattani and then set the houses on fire, police say.
The charred remains of the headless bodies were found early on Thursday.
In nearby Narathiwat province, three people including a soldier were killed in separate shootings.
The restive region was once an autonomous Malay sultanate until Buddhist Thailand annexed it a century ago. Separatist violence has flared periodically ever since. After the military seized power in Thailand last September, the post-coup Government offered a series of olive branches to the militants but the unrest has only worsened. This year the Government has boosted military spending and deployed more security forces as part of a tougher approach to tackling the militants. More than 200 people are being held at army bases around the region as part of the Government's latest crackdown.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islamist-Mexican ties
on: August 09, 2007, 10:36:15 PM
Californian seeks hearing on Islamic, Mexican ties
By Sara A. Carter
August 9, 2007
A ranking House Republican yesterday demanded a hearing based on recent reports that Islamic terrorists embedded in the United States are teaming with Mexican drug cartels to fund terrorism networks overseas.
Rep. Ed Royce, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs terrorism and nonproliferation subcommittee, said the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) document ? first reported yesterday by The Washington Times ? highlights how vulnerable the nation is when fighting the war on terrorism.
"I'll be asking the terrorism subcommittee to hold a hearing on the DEA report's disturbing findings," said Mr. Royce of California. "A flood of name changes from Arabic to Hispanic and the reported linking of drug cartels on the Texas border with Middle East terrorism needs to be thoroughly investigated."
Likewise, Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican, said the DEA document revealed startling evidence that Islamic radicals are camouflaging themselves as Hispanics while conducting business with violent drug-trafficking organizations.
"I have been ringing the bell about this serious threat of Islamic individuals changing their surnames to Hispanic surnames for three to four years," Mr. Culberson said. "Unfortunately, Homeland Security's highest priority is to hide the truth from Congress and the public. I just hope we're not closing the barn door after terrorists have already made their way in."
Mr. Culberson, a member of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, yesterday wrote a letter to the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. David E. Price, North Carolina Democrat, requesting a full investigation and hearing into the matter. A spokesman for Mr. Price said the committee is contacting the law-enforcement agencies and will work closely with Mr. Culberson's office on the matter.
"We certainly want to learn more about the matter from the agencies involved," said Paul Cox, press secretary to Mr. Price.
The 2005 DEA report outlines several incidents in which multiple Middle Eastern drug-trafficking and terrorist cells in the U.S. are funding terrorism networks overseas with the aid of Mexican cartels. These sleeper cells use established Mexican cartels with highly sophisticated trafficking routes to move narcotics ? and other contraband ? in and out of the United States, the report said.
These "persons of interest" speak Arabic, Spanish and Hebrew fluently, according to the document.
The report includes photographs of known Middle Easterners who "appear to be Hispanic; they are in fact, all Spanish-speaking Arabic drug traffickers supporting Middle East terrorism from their base of operations" in the southwestern United States, according to the DEA.
Michael Maxwell, a senior analyst with the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, said that the report is evidence that terrorism cells exist in the U.S. and are being aided by dangerous narco-trafficking cartels.
"While the procurement of fraudulent or multiple identities by terrorists to hide criminal activity is not new, the information suggests terrorist tradecraft is evolving and relationships now exist between Mexican and Middle Eastern individuals or groups, embedded here in the United States," he added.
The ties are as deep as family, according to the DEA report, which said that a Middle Eastern member of the Muslim Brotherhood, involved in narcotics sales and other crimes, married into a Mexican narcotics family.
"One of the targets of this investigation is an Arabic man," the document said.
A 2006 Department of Homeland Security intelligence report — also obtained by The Times — said that Al Qaeda has tried and is planning on using the Southwest border to enter the U.S.
Mark Juergensmeyer, director of the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a terrorism specialist, said that links between terrorism and narcotics trafficking have been well-established in foreign nations, such as Afghanistan.
But Mr. Juergensmeyer said the DEA report linking terrorist organizations in the United States to Mexican drug cartels displays a new evolution in terrorist tactics and poses a serious concern in the area of security.
"In some ways, that's even more frightening to think that drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico may adopt some jihadist ideology," he said. "If it's an ideology being adopted by a drug culture then that makes this situation very dangerous."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: August 09, 2007, 10:25:14 PM
Prosperous Haven in Mexico Is Invaded by Drug Violence
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 4, 2007; A01
MONTERREY, Mexico -- Biti Rodriguez could have gone anywhere for her 10-year-old's birthday party. But Incredible Pizza, a mammoth restaurant and fun house tucked into the corner of a strip mall here, offered her something that suddenly has become a consuming obsession: safety.
She herded her daughter, Alejandra, and a dozen other giggling girls through two metal detectors one recent afternoon at this pizza parlor that promises "incredible security for your children," then dumped bags of presents on a table to be probed by a guard. It took a while to actually get inside, but Rodriguez didn't care. She thinks all the extra security is "super bien" -- super good.
Not so long ago, metal detectors at a pizza place would have been unimaginable in Monterrey, Mexico's third-largest metropolitan area, with more than 3.6 million residents. The city once seemed as if it could do no wrong -- two years ago it was named the safest city in Latin America by an international consulting group, it boasted the region's wealthiest residential neighborhood, and it was a strong competitor for the Major League Baseball franchise that became the Washington Nationals.
But in the past year, the drug violence raging across Mexico has landed hard in Monterrey, jarring residents who once felt immune to the shootouts so common in other big Mexican cities.
In the first six months of 2007, Monterrey registered 162 killings, nearly as many as were recorded in all of last year and about 50 more than in all of 2004. But it wasn't just the killings that shook up the Biti Rodriguezes of this city -- it was the brazenness of the killers.
A hit man walked calmly into the landmark Gran San Carlos restaurant, past rows of Monterrey's signature hanging roasted cabrito, or goat, and shot dead a man seated at a table beneath the stained-glass cupola. Gunmen launched volleys of bullets into a popular seafood restaurant at the height of the lunch rush, and police officers were mowed down in broad daylight.
The killings triggered tremors of fear. Newspapers now run daily tallies of slayings. A roadside hotel has advertised bulletproof rooms. Heavily armored cars have become a new status symbol, with corporate chieftains dishing out as much as $400,000 for Mercedes-Benz sedans that ward off not only bullets but also grenades. In the San Pedro Garza Garcia suburb, where hillside palaces rival the mansions of Beverly Hills, a new saying was born: "There are no Tuesdays without killings."
"I can't say Monterrey is the safest city in Mexico anymore -- that would be a lie," Jesús Marcos Giacomán, president of the 122-year-old Monterrey Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, said in an interview. "I can say we're going to make it the safest again."
An Economic Powerhouse
Monterrey wraps around the stunning, rocky peaks of the Sierra Madre, 130 miles southwest of McAllen, Tex. Gleaming towers form its skyline, and U.S.-style malls and upscale restaurants line its wide boulevards.
Known as the "Sultanate of the North" because of its popularity with Middle Eastern businessmen, Monterrey revved into an economic powerhouse after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994. The world's largest cement maker is here, as well as Mexico's biggest beer producer and one of the world's largest glass manufacturers. Major American corporations operate huge plants.
For the past five years, Monterrey stayed mostly peaceful while the rival Sinaloa and Gulf drug cartels fought over territory in other cities near the border, such as Nuevo Laredo. But something more complicated has happened here in the past year, Aldo Fasci Zuazua, deputy attorney general of Nuevo Leon state, said in an interview at his Monterrey office.
For unknown reasons, the local drug lords who warehouse cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana for the big cartels began fighting each other, Fasci said. Their bloody battles unnerved the national and transnational cartels that counted on Monterrey's small-time operators to funnel tons of drugs into the United States.
A business that had run smoothly for years was suddenly a mess, and the national cartels felt compelled to sweep into Monterrey to "restore order," Fasci said. In the vernacular of organized crime, that meant killing people.
Fear Takes Hold
By April, assassinations were so rampant that the U.S. Embassy issued a travel warning for Monterrey noting that "Mexican and foreign bystanders" had been killed in Mexico. The next month, the business magazine America Economia dropped Monterrey from the top of its list of best places to do business in Latin America, a blow for a city that reaped a bonanza of publicity in 1999 when Fortune magazine dubbed it Latin America's top business locale.
Within days of America Economia's piece, Mexican President Felipe Calderón dispatched federal troops to patrol Monterrey's streets, one in a series of military assaults against cartel strongholds across the country.
Monterrey's wealthy -- the city is said to be home to more than a dozen of Mexico's most powerful families -- were well prepared to withstand the violence in their streets. Top corporations began hiring armed security forces. Executives and their families now travel in protective bubbles ringed by bodyguards and live behind high walls fitted with motion sensors and cameras.
But Monterrey's middle class, the pride of a state that boasts that its annual per-capita income of $14,000 is twice the national average, became frantic. Biti Rodriguez cringed each night when she watched the news. In her neighborhood, parents stopped letting their kids walk to school. School administrators tightened rules about who could pick up children.
Authorities know that private schools accept drug dealers' money to educate their kids, but "there's nothing that the government can do about it," Fasci said.
Rodriguez felt compelled to do something she'd never done before: She started locking the doors of her suburban Monterrey home.
With hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the pockets of drug traffickers, authorities here suspect that organized crime has diversified, investing in criminal enterprises such as kidnapping and the smuggling of illegal immigrants, as well as legitimate businesses such as real estate.
The underworld has infiltrated state and municipal governments and police forces, damaging confidence in public institutions even though about 400 law enforcement officers suspected of corruption have been taken off the streets. One councilman here estimated that as many 200,000 people in the state of Nuevo Leon -- 5 percent of the population -- may be involved directly or indirectly in the drug trade.
Local politicians, especially in the many municipalities that abut Monterrey, say they feel like targets. One recent afternoon, a municipal councilman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that he "feels threatened all the time" and that even the most minor decisions become complicating labyrinths that can paralyze local governments afraid of unknowingly angering drug lords.
To protect himself, he conducts extensive investigations, gaming out every possible scenario about the possible ripple effects of his votes. But those inquiries carry risks, too. "If you're asking all these questions," he said, "sometimes these narcos find out and get nervous."
Although he can afford to buy a car, he doesn't. He said driving the same car would make him easy to spot, so some days he grabs a taxi, other days he hops a bus. His route to the office varies from day to day -- it takes much longer, but he feels safer.
His municipality and others around Monterrey suffer from police shortages as officers quit rather than risk their lives at a time when several dozen officers have been killed. Authorities say police victims range from good cops who challenge the cartels to corrupt cops killed for favoring one cartel over another.
José Antonio Samaniego Hernández might have been one of those good cops, his family said in an interview. He survived one assassination attempt but was gunned down three months later while leaving the ramshackle home where he lived in a cramped bedroom with his wife, daughter and mother. Samaniego became a number that day -- execution victim No. 33 of 2007, according to the newspaper Milenio.
But to Anna Calderón Garcia, 15, he was the police officer down the street, the guy in the uniform who stopped to talk to all the kids. He was also one of half a dozen police officers she has known -- either as neighbors or because they spoke at her school -- who have been shot dead. After never hearing a gunshot in her life, Calderón said, she has twice been startled by gunfire. One night while leaving a Wal-Mart, she and friends saw the bodies of two slain policemen lying in the parking lot.
"It changed my life forever," she said. "Now I'm always looking around me, wondering if I might get shot."
While most of the shooting victims in Monterrey have been alleged drug traffickers, innocent victims have also fallen, including a 42-year-old mother of five caught in the crossfire during a gun battle in December.
Kids in Calderón's class, like children in so many other places, once dreamed of being police officers, putting on uniforms, playing a glamorous real-life game of cops-and-robbers. Not anymore. She lives three blocks from a funeral home and cups her ears when she hears sirens. Each time, she said, she whispers to herself: "Another dead one."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism
on: August 08, 2007, 07:36:21 AM
Second post of the morning:
Reason and Wiretaps
What the terrorist surveillance fight is really all about.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
To hear the critics tell it, the warrantless wiretapping law passed by Congress this weekend is an immoral license for a mad President Bush and his spymasters to eavesdrop on all Americans. For those willing to believe such things, mere facts don't matter. But for anyone still amenable to reason, the deal is worth parsing for its national security precedents, good and bad. The next Democratic President might be grateful.
The good news is that the new law will at least allow the National Security Agency to monitor terrorist communications again. That ability has been severely limited since January, when Mr. Bush agreed to put the wiretap program under the supervision of a special court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The new law provides a six-month fix to the outdated FISA provision that had defined even foreign-to-foreign calls as subject to a U.S. judicial warrant.
The first duty of Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell is to prevent the next terrorist attack, and it's disgraceful that some have vilified him for trying to revive our intelligence ability in that cause. His effort has been no different, and no less honorable, than a general arguing for more troops.
But it's important to understand for the debate ahead why all of this has become so ferociously controversial. Opposition from the Democratic left to this intelligence program isn't merely part of the partisan blood feud against a weak President near the end of his term. It is part of a far larger ideological campaign to erode Presidential war powers. Goaded by the ACLU and much of the press corps, many Democrats want to use the courts and lawsuits to restrict Mr. Bush and future Presidents in their ability to gather intelligence in the war on terror. For a flavor of this strategy, spend a few minutes on the ACLU's Web site.
In that regard, even the weekend deal is far from encouraging. For example, the new law does not offer explicit liability protection for telecom companies that cooperate with the wiretap program. Instead, the most Democrats would accept is language to "compel" the cooperation of these companies going forward. The Administration hope is that this "I had no choice" claim will be an adequate defense against future lawsuits, but in the U.S. tort lottery that is no sure thing.
Meantime, Democrats blocked any retroactive liability protection for companies that thought they were doing their patriotic duty by cooperating with the National Security Agency after 9/11. The goal here isn't merely to open another rich target for the tort bar. It is to use lawsuits to raise the costs for private actors of cooperating with the executive branch. Even if they lose at the ballot box or in Congress, these antiwar activists still might be able to hamstring the executive via the courts.
That's also the explicit strategy in trying to expand the reach of the special FISA court to all wiretaps, foreign and domestic. The left is howling that the NSA will no longer need a FISA warrant for each wiretap (of which there were 2,176 in 2006). That's the best part of the bill. But the Administration did concede to let FISA judges review the procedures for wiretapping up to 120 days after the fact. If a judge objects, the wiretapping can at least continue, pending appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.
This is the kind of review that judges are neither allowed to perform under the Constitution, nor equipped to provide as a matter of policy. Whatever the merits of the 1978 FISA law, no Administration has ever conceded that that law trumped a President's power to make exceptions to FISA if national security requires it. To do so would be a direct infringement on the President's Article II powers as Commander in Chief to protect the nation against its enemies.
The courts have been explicit about this, with the FISA appellate court asserting in a 2002 opinion (In Re: Sealed Case) that "we take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power." FISA established a process by which certain domestic wiretaps in the context of the Cold War could be approved, not a limit on what wiretaps were ever allowed.
In the weekend deal, the Bush Administration grants the FISA court power to review procedures even for foreign communications, which is unprecedented. Under Article III of the Constitution, the courts are granted the power to settle disputes. The judiciary also has power under the Fourth Amendment, which gives courts the ability to issue warrants. But nowhere does the Constitution empower our nation's judges to serve as foreign policy advisers or reviewers of intelligence policy. Judges have no particular expertise on intelligence, and in any case they are unaccountable to voters if their decisions are faulty. Recent news reports have suggested that several current FISA judges are uncomfortable with making such intelligence decisions, and rightly so.
As for the possibility that Presidents will abuse this power, fear of exposure is an even more powerful disincentive than legal constraint. The political costs of being seen as spying on Americans for partisan ends would be tremendous. Congress, on the other hand, is only too happy to use the courts to squeeze executive power, in part because this allows the Members to dodge responsibility themselves. If there's another terror attack, the President still gets the blame even if some unelected judge refused a warrant. Congress can blame everyone else.
This is a statutory version of Senator Jay Rockefeller's famous decision to write a letter to Dick Cheney objecting to the warrantless wiretap program after he'd been briefed on it, but then sticking the letter (literally) in a drawer. Only after the program was exposed did he unearth the letter to show he'd objected all along, though he'd done nothing at all to stop it.
The weekend law expires in six months, and it would be nice to think enough Democrats would put aside this ideological obsession to work with Mr. Bush on a more permanent wiretap statute. Given the current state of Beltway rationality, we aren't optimistic.
As negotiations unfold, we hope the President resists any deal that compromises the ability of his successors to defend the country. In 18 months, Mr. Bush will be leaving office, but the terrorist threat will continue. The stakes are too large for any President to accept new judicial limitations on his ability to track terrorists at home or abroad. Rather than accept such limits, Mr. Bush could use Congressional recalcitrance as an opportunity to withdraw the terrorist surveillance program from FISA authority, and thus toss the issue squarely in the middle of the 2008 Presidential campaign.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: FDA vs. last resort terminally ill patients
on: August 08, 2007, 07:14:51 AM
Court Rejects the Right to Use Drugs Being Tested
By ANDREW POLLACK
Published: August 8, 2007
A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that patients with terminal illnesses do not have a constitutional right to use medicines that have not yet won regulatory approval.
The 8-to-2 decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit came in a closely watched and emotional case that pitted desperate patients willing to try unproven, even risky, therapies against those arguing that drugs should be proved safe and effective before they are made available.
The decision preserves the current regulatory system. If it had gone the other way “it would have undermined the entire drug approval process,” said William B. Schultz, a former deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who wrote an amicus brief arguing against the early access to drugs.
The case was filed against the Food and Drug Administration in 2003 by the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs, a group founded by a man whose daughter Abigail died from cancer after a long battle to receive treatment with experimental drugs that were eventually approved.
The group, joined by the Washington Legal Foundation, argued that forcing patients to wait years for a drug to go through the process of clinical trials deprived dying patients of their right to self-defense and violated the Fifth Amendment clause stating that people cannot be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
A district court ruled against the Abigail Alliance. That decision was reversed by an appeals court panel, but the full appeals court yesterday upheld the original district court decision.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith, writing for the majority, said a right to experimental drugs was not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition. Judge Griffith said the right of self-defense “cannot justify creating a constitutional right to assume any level of risk without regard to the scientific and medical judgment expressed through the clinical testing process.”
In a dissent, Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote that it was “startling” that the “right to try to save one’s life is left out in the cold,” not protected by the due process clause of the Constitution, “despite its textual anchor in the right to life.”
Frank Burroughs, the founder of the Abigail Alliance, said his group was “dumbfounded that most of the justices tragically missed the merits of the case.” Mr. Burroughs vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.
While critics often accuse the F.D.A. of letting unsafe drugs on the market, this case points to pressure on the agency from the opposite direction — patients who say it is too stringent in approving drugs for serious diseases. Many prostate cancer patients and advocacy groups, for instance, have recently criticized the agency for not approving a drug called Provenge.
The agency sometimes does lower the bar for approval of medicines for life-threatening diseases. And the companies developing such drugs can make them available before approval under some circumstances.
But Mr. Burroughs said such programs were inadequate. His organization advocates that drugs be made available to terminally ill patients as early as the conclusion of the first of three phases of clinical trials.
Some drug companies, doctors and other patient groups oppose that idea. Mr. Schultz, for instance, filed his brief supporting the current system on behalf of the National Organization for Rare Disorders, a patient advocacy group.
He and others say that if drugs were made available after only preliminary testing, drug companies would have little incentive to conduct full clinical trials to determine if a drug really works. That would allow companies to “profit from offering empty hope,” said Robert Erwin of the Marti Nelson Cancer Foundation, a patient advocacy group.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Guantanamo
on: August 08, 2007, 07:11:37 AM
Britain Asks to Take Back 5 Guantánamo Detainees
By RAYMOND BONNER
Published: August 8, 2007
LONDON, Aug. 7 — In a shift in policy, Britain on Tuesday asked the United States to release five detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who have resided in Britain but are not citizens.
Back Story With The Times’s Raymond Bonner (mp3)The Bush administration has said it has been looking for ways to reduce the Guantánamo population, and ultimately close the detention center there, which the request by the British might advance.
“We saw this as an opportunity to achieve ultimately the closure of Guantánamo,” a British official said, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity.
Under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the government had insisted that it had no obligation to assist the men because they were not British citizens, though all had legal residence status here.
A senior American official said the impetus for the policy shift had come from a lawsuit in Britain in which some of the remaining British detainees sought to force the government to intervene on their behalf.
The State Department appeared to welcome the move, which American and British officials said had been under discussion for several months, including during talks in July between the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Bush administration has been working with other countries to reduce the detainee population at Guantánamo, the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said in Washington on Tuesday. The base at Guantánamo now holds about 385 detainees.
At the same time, Mr. McCormack flagged a potentially contentious issue: what restrictions, if any, will be placed on the detainees if they are returned to Britain. Before releasing them, the United States wants assurances that they “would be secured, meaning that they wouldn’t be allowed to walk free,” he said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. J. D. Gordon, said conditions set by the United States for the release of any Guantánamo detainee to a host government include providing “credible assurances that they will be treated humanely” and guarantees “that the countries will take steps to mitigate the threat that these individuals pose to the United States and its allies.”
Commander Gordon said 420 detainees had been released from Guantánamo, 38 of whom were no longer viewed as “enemy combatants.” Commander Gordon said about 80 more detainees had been cleared for departure.
The British Foreign Office said in a statement that if the men were returned, they would be subject to the same security considerations “as would apply to any other foreign national in this country.” It said talks between the United States and Britain about the men’s release “may take some time.”
Nine British citizens were released from Guantánamo in 2004 and 2005. The Bush administration had expected those men to be tried and incarcerated for some period, and was dismayed when they were allowed to go free. Several have gone on to become near-celebrities here.
One sticking point has been the conditions that the United States wants imposed on any detainees returned to Britain.
In the lawsuit here on behalf of some of the British detainees, British officials said that if the men were to be returned, the United States wanted them to be jailed for a period of time. Upon their release, the United States wanted them to be closely monitored, including communications intercepts, according to statements by David Richmond, the director general for intelligence at the Foreign Office, and William Nye, the director of counterterrorism at the Home Office. The statements were filed last year in a case brought by two of the five detainees whose transfer is now being considered.
Such conditions would be illegal under British and European human rights laws, and would require an onerous commitment of British intelligence resources, the British officials have said.
Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer who represents the five men, said, “We’d be willing to submit to any reasonable restrictions.”
Referring to Gordon Brown, the new prime minister, Mr. Stafford Smith said the British move was “a sign that the new Brown administration recognizes that human rights are important in the battle against terrorism.”
One of the five men on the list Britain submitted Tuesday, Jamil el-Banna, was approved to leave Guantánamo by the American military authorities in May, but is still being held because the British would not take him.
Mr. Banna was seized by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002 in Gambia, where he had gone on a business trip. British intelligence agencies had been monitoring him because of his ties to Islamic radicals here and had alerted the C.I.A. of his travel to Gambia. But the agency had specifically requested that he not be arrested, according to a recent British government report.
The four other men are Shaker Aamer, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Abdennur Sameur.
Several Bush administration officials said that particular scrutiny would be given to Mr. Aamer and Mr. Mohamed, who are considered more serious threats than the others.
Mr. Mohamed, a gangly Ethiopian who had lived in Washington for two years as a teenager before his family moved to Britain, was seized in Pakistan in April 2002 and turned over to the Americans. His was one of the early cases of rendition, the Bush administration’s policy of secretly moving suspected terrorists to third countries for interrogation.
Mr. Mohamed was taken to Morocco, Mr. Stafford Smith said, where he was held and interrogated for 18 months. According to the accounts he gave to his lawyer, he was brutally abused there. American officials initially said he was an accomplice of Jose Padilla in a plot to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States. That charge against Mr. Padilla was eventually dropped. Mr. Mohamed has not been formally charged.
Mr. Deghayes, who moved to Britain from Libya in 1986, was seized in Pakistan in January 2002. He has been held in Guantánamo as an enemy combatant, and military officials have contended that he traveled from Pakistan to Afghanistan under the guidance of Al Qaeda, and that he had a good relationship with Osama bin Laden.
The American evidence against him also included a photograph that was said to show him in Chechnya. At Mr. Deghayes’s administrative review board hearing at Guantánamo in 2005, he generally denied links to Al Qaeda and introduced testimony from a expert that he was not the person in the picture.
Mr. Deghayes has been a leader of hunger strikes at Guantánamo, as has Mr. Aamer, a native of Saudi Arabia. He has denied American accusations that he had ties to Al Qaeda.
The fifth detainee, Mr. Sameur, is an Algerian who fled his country in 1999 and was granted political asylum in Britain. In 2001 he went to Afghanistan, where American officials have accused him of training at a Qaeda camp, which he denies. He fled Afghanistan in October 2002, and was picked up by the Pakistani Army and turned over to the Americans.
Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: August 08, 2007, 12:25:27 AM
China: The Deceptive Logic for a Carrier Fleet
The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy continues to push for aircraft carrier capability, despite ongoing internal debate and dissent. While a carrier is a valuable naval asset, China's pursuit must be understood as an expensive choice that entails considerable opportunity costs.
China appears committed to deploying the Soviet-built Varyag aircraft carrier in at least a training role around or after 2010, with the potential for further pursuits, despite contradictory claims in recent weeks. The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will have to sacrifice much to continue this costly endeavor.
The Chinese Logic
A carrier fleet substantially expands a country's naval capability, so it is easy to understand China's ambition. The British, for example, would never have been able to take back the Falkland Islands in 1982 without the HMS Invincible and the HMS Hermes. Furthermore, the Chinese have carefully noted the decisive role the U.S. Navy's carrier fleet has played in Washington's global naval dominance.
For the Chinese, a carrier fleet means several things. It is a mark of status as a great power, a massive and ambitious national undertaking, a way to alter the current dynamics of air power in the region, a tool to project force beyond the East and South China seas and a means of expanding China's ability to protect ever-expanding import and export routes.
There is logic to China's view of carrier capability as a mark of great power, and the British operation to retake the Falklands is a perfect example: To have global influence, you must have global reach, which becomes a tool of foreign policy and affects the perception of a nation's naval power. China is quite aware that it is the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to never deploy an operational carrier.
China also is the nation that built the Great Wall. More recently, China built the Three Gorges Dam to supply a full 10 percent of domestic electricity supply and now has plans to land on the moon. The Chinese have a certain penchant for massively ambitious projects, and the construction of a carrier fleet certainly falls into that category. But such plans have often been pursued with a consequences-be-damned determination -- one that accepts enormous inefficiencies and the commitment of huge resources also needed elsewhere. The opportunity costs of this particular attempt at a great leap forward cannot be underestimated.
A desire for international recognition as a great power and a tendency to bite off more than one can chew hardly make for a prudent investment, and as much as 50 percent of China's motivation to develop a carrier capability could fall into one of these categories.
From a more strategic perspective, the Chinese are aware of their great vulnerability due to exposed import and export routes. With exports that reach nearly every corner of the globe and an already heavy reliance on Africa for energy resources (and ongoing pursuits of Latin American energy resources), China has the global vulnerabilities of an empire but not the naval ability to protect them. This is the core geopolitical weakness Beijing hopes a carrier fleet might solve. As Beijing becomes increasingly reliant on other countries for raw materials and trade endeavors, it faces a continued shift away from long traditions of being a land power to participating -- and competing -- in the maritime world.
The Situation Close to Home
This competition is a big part of the problem. Beijing is facing a serious expansion of military power in the region. All branches of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) already face technologically superior competition from some of China's closest neighbors. The South Korean navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces are now both equipped with domestic variants of the highly capable U.S. Arleigh Burke design (including the Aegis weapon system) in service. In 2004, Japan shifted F-15C fighter jets to Xaidi Island (Shimoji), uncomfortably close to Taiwan, adding to the complexity of any offensive across the Formosa Strait.
Because of this game of catch-up, Beijing has no shortage of military projects -- especially naval projects -- it could get more economical, near-term and effective results from. Consider the amphibious warfare pursuits of South Korea, Japan and Australia, which are much more manageable and realistic steps for each country. China has instead persisted along the carrier route, and is consequently behind the curve in its amphibious capability.
The PLAN, along with the other branches of the PLA, has made admirable improvements in the last decade. There has been progress in areas such as missile technology and nuclear submarine propulsion -- progress more realistically within China's technological grasp than a meaningful carrier fleet -- and it is precisely these more realistic, near-term pursuits and improvements that will suffer.
Carriers do not come cheap. The Varyag was originally purchased with more than $500 million in work still required. Carrier aircraft must then be acquired (talks are under way for the purchase of 50 Russian Su-33 navalized "Flankers" for something in the ballpark of $2.5 billion) and appropriate escorts and auxiliary ships dedicated or built. Even without start-up costs, the United States spends more than a $1 billion annually simply to deploy, operate and maintain a single carrier strike group -- and a meaningful carrier fleet requires not just one carrier, but three.
And for what?
Effective and meaningful carrier aviation is the product of decades of extensive first-hand experience at sea. The establishment of a trained cadre of naval aviators, efficient flight-deck operations and naval doctrine cannot be reverse engineered, and further investment will be necessary for China to even begin to adequately explore these core competencies. China is in effect neglecting its own current weaknesses in order to attempt to compete in one of the most technically demanding and certainly the most expensive naval pursuits there is -- carrier aviation.
The deployment of a carrier will be seen as an unmistakable sign of Chinese ambitions and will draw even closer attention and more intense competition from not only the U.S. Navy, but also from Beijing's regional competitors -- something the PLAN simply does not need right now.
In other words, China will be stretching itself to build a rudimentary carrier fleet -- a pursuit that will necessarily involve costly sacrifices elsewhere within the navy. Of all the things Beijing hopes to gain from that carrier fleet, more will be lost in the process of attaining it. It might be seen as a great leap forward, but it will ultimately represent movement in the opposite direction.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: August 07, 2007, 11:56:18 PM
The Major Diplomatic and Strategic Evolution in Iraq
By George Friedman
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker met Aug. 6 with Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi and Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie. Separately, a committee of Iranian, Iraqi and U.S. officials held its first meeting on Iraqi security, following up on an agreement reached at a July ambassadorial-level meeting.
The U.S. team was headed by Marcie Ries, counselor for political and military affairs at the embassy in Baghdad. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who handles Iraq for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, led the Iranian team. A U.S. Embassy spokesman described the talks as "frank and serious," saying they "focused, as agreed, on security problems in Iraq." Generally, "frank and serious" means nasty, though they probably did get down to the heart of the matter. The participants agreed to hold a second meeting, which means this one didn't blow up.
Longtime Stratfor readers will recall that we have been tracing these Iranian-American talks from the back-channel negotiations to the high-level publicly announced talks, and now to this working group on security. A multilateral regional meeting on Iraq's future was held March 10 in Baghdad, followed by a regional meeting May 4 in Egypt. Then there were ambassadorial-level meetings in Baghdad on May 28 and July 24. Now, not quite two weeks later, the three sides have met again.
That the discussions were frank and serious shouldn't surprise anyone. That they continue in spite of obvious deep tensions between the parties is, in our view, extremely significant. The prior ambassadorial talk lasted about seven hours. The Aug. 6 working group session lasted about four hours. These are not simply courtesy calls. The parties are spending a great deal of time talking about something.
This is not some sort of public relations stunt either. First, neither Washington nor Tehran would bother to help the other's public image. Second, neither side's public image is much helped by these talks anyway. This is the "Great Satan" talking to one-half of what is left of the "Axis of Evil." If ever there were two countries that have reason not to let the world know they are meeting, it is these two. Yet, they are meeting, and they have made the fact public.
The U.S. media have not ignored these meetings, but they have not treated them as what they actually are -- an extraordinary diplomatic and strategic evolution in Iraq. Part of the reason is that the media take their cues from the administration about diplomatic processes. If the administration makes a big deal out of the visit of the Icelandic fisheries minister to Washington, the media will treat it as such. If the administration treats multilevel meetings between Iran and the United States on the future of Iraq in a low-key way, then low-key it is. The same is true for the Iranians, whose media are more directly managed. Iran does not want to make a big deal out of these meetings, and therefore they are not portrayed as significant.
It is understandable that neither Washington nor Tehran would want to draw undue attention to the talks. The people of each country view the other with intense hostility. We are reminded of the political problems faced by Chinese Premier Chou En-lai and U.S. President Richard Nixon when their diplomatic opening became public. The announcement of Nixon's visit to China was psychologically stunning in the United States; it was less so in China only because the Chinese controlled the emphasis placed on the announcement. Both sides had to explain to their publics why they were talking to the mad dogs.
In the end, contrary to conventional wisdom, perception is not reality. The fact that the Americans and the Iranians are downplaying the talks, and that newspapers are not printing banner headlines about them, does not mean the meetings are not vitally important. It simply means that the conventional wisdom, guided by the lack of official exuberance, doesn't know what to make of these talks.
There are three major powers with intense interest in the future of Iraq: the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The United States, having toppled Saddam Hussein, has completely mismanaged the war. Nevertheless, a unilateral withdrawal would create an unacceptable situation in which Iran, possibly competing with Turkey in the North, would become the dominant military power in the region and would be in a position to impose itself at least on southern Iraq -- and potentially all of it. Certainly there would be resistance, but Iran has a large military (even if it is poorly equipped), giving it a decided advantage in controlling a country such as Iraq.
In addition, Iran is not nearly as casualty-averse as the United States. Iran fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s that cost it about a million casualties. The longtime Iranian fear has been that the United States will somehow create a pro-American regime in Baghdad, rearm the Iraqis and thus pose for Iran round two of what was its national nightmare. It is no accident that the day before these meetings, U.S. sources speculated about the possible return of the Iraqi air force to the Iraqis. Washington was playing on Tehran's worst nightmare.
Saudi Arabia's worst nightmare would be watching Iran become the dominant power in Iraq or southern Iraq. It cannot defend itself against Iran, nor does it want to be defended by U.S. troops on Saudi soil. The Saudis want Iraq as a buffer zone between Iran and their oil fields. They opposed the original invasion, fearing just this outcome, but now that the invasion has taken place, they don't want Iran as the ultimate victor. The Saudis, therefore, are playing a complex game, both supporting Sunni co-religionists and criticizing the American presence as an occupation -- yet urgently wanting U.S. troops to remain.
The United States wants to withdraw, though it doesn't see a way out because an outright unilateral withdrawal would set the stage for Iranian domination. At the same time, the United States must have an endgame -- something the next U.S. president will have to deal with.
The Iranians no longer believe the United States is capable of creating a stable, anti-Iranian, pro-American government in Baghdad. Instead, they are terrified the United States will spoil their plans to consolidate influence within Iraq. So, while they are doing everything they can to destabilize the regime, they are negotiating with Washington. The report that three-quarters of U.S. casualties in recent weeks were caused by "rogue" Shiite militia sounds plausible. The United States has reached a level of understanding with some nonjihadist Sunni insurgent groups, many of them Baathist. The Iranians do not want to see this spread -- at least not unless the United States first deals with Tehran. The jihadists, calling themselves al Qaeda in Iraq, do not want this either, and so they have carried out a wave of assassinations of those Sunnis who have aligned with the United States, and they have killed four key aides to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a key Shiite figure.
If this sounds complicated, it is. The United States is fighting Sunnis and Shia, making peace with some Sunnis and encouraging some Shia to split off -- all the time waging an offensive against most everyone. The Iranians support many, but not all, of the Shiite groups in Iraq. In fact, many of the Iraqi Shia have grown quite wary of the Iranians. And for their part, the Saudis are condemning the Americans while hoping they stay -- and supporting Sunnis who might or might not be fighting the Americans.
The situation not only is totally out of hand, but the chance that anyone will come out of it with what they really want is slim. The United States probably will not get a pro-American government and the Iranians probably will not get to impose their will on all or part of Iraq. The Saudis, meanwhile, are feeling themselves being sucked into the Sunni quagmire.
This situation is one of the factors driving the talks.
By no means out of any friendliness, a mutual need is emerging. No one is in control of the situation. No one is likely to get control of the situation in any long-term serious way. It is in the interests of the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia that the Iraq situation stabilize, simply because they cannot predict the outcome -- and the worst-case scenario for each is too frightening to contemplate.
None of the three powers can bring the situation under control. Even by working together, the three will be unable to completely stabilize Iraq and end the violence. But by working together they can increase security to the point that none of their nightmare scenarios comes true. In return, the United States will have to do without a pro-American government in Baghdad and the Iranians will have to forgo having an Iraqi satellite.
Hence, we see a four-hour meeting of Iranian and U.S. security experts on stabilizing the situation in Iraq. Given the little good will between the two countries, defining roles and missions in a stabilization program will require frank and serious talks indeed. Ultimately, however, there is sufficient convergence of interests that holding these talks makes sense.
The missions are clear. The Iranian task will be to suppress the Shiite militias that are unwilling to abide by an agreement -- or any that oppose Iranian domination. Their intelligence in this area is superb and their intelligence and special operations teams have little compunction as to how they act. The Saudi mission will be to underwrite the cost of Sunni acceptance of a political compromise, as well as a Sunni war against the jihadists. Saudi intelligence in this area is pretty good and, while the Saudis do have compunctions, they will gladly give the intelligence to the Americans to work out the problem. The U.S. role will be to impose a government in Baghdad that meets Iran's basic requirements, and to use its forces to grind down the major insurgent and militia groups. This will be a cooperative effort -- meaning whacking Saudi and Iranian friends will be off the table.
No one power can resolve the security crisis in Iraq -- as four years of U.S. efforts there clearly demonstrate. But if the United States and Iran, plus Saudi Arabia, work together -- with no one providing cover for or supplies to targeted groups -- the situation can be brought under what passes for reasonable control in Iraq. More important for the three powers, the United States could draw down its troops to minimal levels much more quickly than is currently being discussed, the Iranians would have a neutral, nonaggressive Iraq on their western border and the Saudis would have a buffer zone from the Iranians. The buffer zone is the key, because what happens in the buffer zone stays in the buffer zone.
The talks in Baghdad are about determining whether there is a way for the United States and Iran to achieve their new mutual goal. The question is whether their fear of the worst-case scenario outweighs their distrust of each other. Then there is the matter of agreeing on the details -- determining the nature of the government in Baghdad, which groups to protect and which to target, how to deal with intelligence sharing and so on.
These talks can fail in any number of ways. More and more, however, the United States and Iran are unable to tolerate their failure. The tremendous complexity of the situation has precluded either side from achieving a successful outcome. They now have to craft the minimal level of failure they can mutually accept.
These talks not only are enormously important but they also are, in some ways, more important than the daily reports on combat and terrorism. If this war ends, it will end because of negotiations like these.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War?
on: August 07, 2007, 11:44:12 PM
RUSSIA/IRAN: Russia has told Iran that it will not deliver fuel for Iran's Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor unless Tehran reveals details of its past atomic activities, an unnamed European diplomat told The Associated Press. An unnamed U.S. official reportedly said Russia is not meeting commitments with Iran regarding the reactor, delaying activation of the facility.
CHINA: China is willing to do some "creative thinking" with the international community in the Nuclear Suppliers Group on the issue of the Indian-U.S. 123 nuclear deal, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told Press Trust of India. The statement is significantly more optimistic than past statements by the Chinese government about possible approval of the deal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / A theory of affluence
on: August 07, 2007, 09:02:37 AM
In Dusty Archives, a Theory of Affluence
By NICHOLAS WADE
Published: August 7, 2007
For thousands of years, most people on earth lived in abject poverty, first as hunters and gatherers, then as peasants or laborers. But with the Industrial Revolution, some societies traded this ancient poverty for amazing affluence.
Breaking Out of a Malthusian Trap Historians and economists have long struggled to understand how this transition occurred and why it took place only in some countries. A scholar who has spent the last 20 years scanning medieval English archives has now emerged with startling answers for both questions.
Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, believes that the Industrial Revolution — the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 — occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. The change was one in which people gradually developed the strange new behaviors required to make a modern economy work. The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history, Dr. Clark argues.
Because they grew more common in the centuries before 1800, whether by cultural transmission or evolutionary adaptation, the English population at last became productive enough to escape from poverty, followed quickly by other countries with the same long agrarian past.
Dr. Clark’s ideas have been circulating in articles and manuscripts for several years and are to be published as a book next month, “A Farewell to Alms” (Princeton University Press). Economic historians have high praise for his thesis, though many disagree with parts of it.
“This is a great book and deserves attention,” said Philip Hoffman, a historian at the California Institute of Technology. He described it as “delightfully provocative” and a “real challenge” to the prevailing school of thought that it is institutions that shape economic history.
Samuel Bowles, an economist who studies cultural evolution at the Santa Fe Institute, said Dr. Clark’s work was “great historical sociology and, unlike the sociology of the past, is informed by modern economic theory.”
The basis of Dr. Clark’s work is his recovery of data from which he can reconstruct many features of the English economy from 1200 to 1800. From this data, he shows, far more clearly than has been possible before, that the economy was locked in a Malthusian trap _ — each time new technology increased the efficiency of production a little, the population grew, the extra mouths ate up the surplus, and average income fell back to its former level.
This income was pitifully low in terms of the amount of wheat it could buy. By 1790, the average person’s consumption in England was still just 2,322 calories a day, with the poor eating a mere 1,508. Living hunter-gatherer societies enjoy diets of 2,300 calories or more.
“Primitive man ate well compared with one of the richest societies in the world in 1800,” Dr. Clark observes.
The tendency of population to grow faster than the food supply, keeping most people at the edge of starvation, was described by Thomas Malthus in a 1798 book, “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” This Malthusian trap, Dr. Clark’s data show, governed the English economy from 1200 until the Industrial Revolution and has in his view probably constrained humankind throughout its existence. The only respite was during disasters like the Black Death, when population plummeted, and for several generations the survivors had more to eat.
Malthus’s book is well known because it gave Darwin the idea of natural selection. Reading of the struggle for existence that Malthus predicted, Darwin wrote in his autobiography, “It at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. ... Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work.”
Given that the English economy operated under Malthusian constraints, might it not have responded in some way to the forces of natural selection that Darwin had divined would flourish in such conditions? Dr. Clark started to wonder whether natural selection had indeed changed the nature of the population in some way and, if so, whether this might be the missing explanation for the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution, the first escape from the Malthusian trap, occurred when the efficiency of production at last accelerated, growing fast enough to outpace population growth and allow average incomes to rise. Many explanations have been offered for this spurt in efficiency, some economic and some political, but none is fully satisfactory, historians say.
Breaking Out of a Malthusian Trap Dr. Clark’s first thought was that the population might have evolved greater resistance to disease. The idea came from Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which argues that Europeans were able to conquer other nations in part because of their greater immunity to disease.
In support of the disease-resistance idea, cities like London were so filthy and disease ridden that a third of their populations died off every generation, and the losses were restored by immigrants from the countryside. That suggested to Dr. Clark that the surviving population of England might be the descendants of peasants.
A way to test the idea, he realized, was through analysis of ancient wills, which might reveal a connection between wealth and the number of progeny. The wills did that, , but in quite the opposite direction to what he had expected.
Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. “The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages,” he concluded.
As the progeny of the rich pervaded all levels of society, Dr. Clark considered, the behaviors that made for wealth could have spread with them. He has documented that several aspects of what might now be called middle-class values changed significantly from the days of hunter gatherer societies to 1800. Work hours increased, literacy and numeracy rose, and the level of interpersonal violence dropped.
Another significant change in behavior, Dr. Clark argues, was an increase in people’s preference for saving over instant consumption, which he sees reflected in the steady decline in interest rates from 1200 to 1800.
“Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving,” Dr. Clark writes.
Around 1790, a steady upward trend in production efficiency first emerges in the English economy. It was this significant acceleration in the rate of productivity growth that at last made possible England’s escape from the Malthusian trap and the emergence of the Industrial Revolution.
In the rest of Europe and East Asia, populations had also long been shaped by the Malthusian trap of their stable agrarian economies. Their workforces easily absorbed the new production technologies that appeared first in England.
It is puzzling that the Industrial Revolution did not occur first in the much larger populations of China or Japan. Dr. Clark has found data showing that their richer classes, the Samurai in Japan and the Qing dynasty in China, were surprisingly unfertile and so would have failed to generate the downward social mobility that spread production-oriented values in England.
After the Industrial Revolution, the gap in living standards between the richest and the poorest countries started to accelerate, from a wealth disparity of about 4 to 1 in 1800 to more than 50 to 1 today. Just as there is no agreed explanation for the Industrial Revolution, economists cannot account well for the divergence between rich and poor nations or they would have better remedies to offer.
Many commentators point to a failure of political and social institutions as the reason that poor countries remain poor. But the proposed medicine of institutional reform “has failed repeatedly to cure the patient,” Dr. Clark writes. He likens the “cult centers” of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to prescientific physicians who prescribed bloodletting for ailments they did not understand.
If the Industrial Revolution was caused by changes in people’s behavior, then populations that have not had time to adapt to the Malthusian constraints of agrarian economies will not be able to achieve the same production efficiencies, his thesis implies.
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Dr. Clark says the middle-class values needed for productivity could have been transmitted either culturally or genetically. But in some passages, he seems to lean toward evolution as the explanation. “Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution, man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world,” he writes. And, “The triumph of capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or rationality.”
Breaking Out of a Malthusian Trap What was being inherited, in his view, was not greater intelligence — being a hunter in a foraging society requires considerably greater skill than the repetitive actions of an agricultural laborer. Rather, it was “a repertoire of skills and dispositions that were very different from those of the pre-agrarian world.”
Reaction to Dr. Clark’s thesis from other economic historians seems largely favorable, although few agree with all of it, and many are skeptical of the most novel part, his suggestion that evolutionary change is a factor to be considered in history.
Historians used to accept changes in people’s behavior as an explanation for economic events, like Max Weber’s thesis linking the rise of capitalism with Protestantism. But most have now swung to the economists’ view that all people are alike and will respond in the same way to the same incentives. Hence they seek to explain events like the Industrial Revolution in terms of changes in institutions, not people.
Dr. Clark’s view is that institutions and incentives have been much the same all along and explain very little, which is why there is so little agreement on the causes of the Industrial Revolution. In saying the answer lies in people’s behavior, he is asking his fellow economic historians to revert to a type of explanation they had mostly abandoned and in addition is evoking an idea that historians seldom consider as an explanatory variable, that of evolution.
Most historians have assumed that evolutionary change is too gradual to have affected human populations in the historical period. But geneticists, with information from the human genome now at their disposal, have begun to detect ever more recent instances of human evolutionary change like the spread of lactose tolerance in cattle-raising people of northern Europe just 5,000 years ago. A study in the current American Journal of Human Genetics finds evidence of natural selection at work in the population of Puerto Rico since 1513. So historians are likely to be more enthusiastic about the medieval economic data and elaborate time series that Dr. Clark has reconstructed than about his suggestion that people adapted to the Malthusian constraints of an agrarian society.
“He deserves kudos for assembling all this data,” said Dr. Hoffman, the Caltech historian, “but I don’t agree with his underlying argument.”
The decline in English interest rates, for example, could have been caused by the state’s providing better domestic security and enforcing property rights, Dr. Hoffman said, not by a change in people’s willingness to save, as Dr. Clark asserts.
The natural-selection part of Dr. Clark’s argument “is significantly weaker, and maybe just not necessary, if you can trace the changes in the institutions,” said Kenneth L. Pomeranz, a historian at the University of California, Irvine. In a recent book, “The Great Divergence,” Dr. Pomeranz argues that tapping new sources of energy like coal and bringing new land into cultivation, as in the North American colonies, were the productivity advances that pushed the old agrarian economies out of their Malthusian constraints.
Robert P. Brenner, a historian at the University of California, Los Angeles, said although there was no satisfactory explanation at present for why economic growth took off in Europe around 1800, he believed that institutional explanations would provide the answer and that Dr. Clark’s idea of genes for capitalist behavior was “quite a speculative leap.”
Dr. Bowles, the Santa Fe economist, said he was “not averse to the idea” that genetic transmission of capitalist values is important, but that the evidence for it was not yet there. “It’s just that we don’t have any idea what it is, and everything we look at ends up being awfully small,” he said. Tests of most social behaviors show they are very weakly heritable.
He also took issue with Dr. Clark’s suggestion that the unwillingness to postpone consumption, called time preference by economists, had changed in people over the centuries. “If I were as poor as the people who take out payday loans, I might also have a high time preference,” he said.
Dr. Clark said he set out to write his book 12 years ago on discovering that his undergraduates knew nothing about the history of Europe. His colleagues have been surprised by its conclusions but also interested in them, he said.
“The actual data underlying this stuff is hard to dispute,” Dr. Clark said. “When people see the logic, they say ‘I don’t necessarily believe it, but it’s hard to dismiss.’ ”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: August 06, 2007, 08:45:05 PM
I didn't say I supported it. I simply answered your questin as to why it was like that.
That said, I think if you were to surf through the past several years of this forum you will find kindred spirits around here for getting serious. Amongst the more recent calls for getting serious is the thread called "The Phony War" started by yours truly.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: August 06, 2007, 08:16:52 PM
Mexico Security Memo: Aug. 6, 2007
August 06, 2007 18 27 GMT
The violent trend that began several weeks ago in northern Mexico has continued this week and appears to be increasing. Drug-related killings occurred this week in Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango states -- all cartel battlegrounds. It is important to note, however, that other regions of the country also experience drug-related violence on a regular basis, such as the southern states of Guerrero and Michoacan.
Territorial control in these two states has long been of strategic importance to the Sinaloa cartel because of the port city of Acapulco, an important port of entry for drugs coming from South America. This control is frequently challenged by rival Gulf cartel operatives, who violently attempt to disrupt the Sinaloa cartel's operations. Examples this week of such violence include the killings of a city official's brother and a city police chief.
Two Dead Agents and Zhenli Ye Gon
Authorities confirmed Aug. 1 that two men found dead the day before in Guerrero state were agents of the Federal Investigative Agency. Federal police officers turn up dead nearly every week in Mexico. These two agents, however, were involved in the investigation of Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman accused by the United States and Mexico of supplying pseudoephedrine to Mexican cartels for manufacturing methamphetamine, a phenomenon discussed in a previous Mexico Security Memo.
Since authorities seized more than $200 million in cash -- comprising more than two tons of $100 bills -- from Ye Gon's Mexico City home earlier this year, the case has gained national attention in Mexico. Speaking at a forum on organized crime in Latin America, a Colombian national police official accused Ye Gon of having links to Chinese organized crime and added that the Chinese mafia has set up illegal casinos and money laundering operations in many parts of Latin America. The claims shed light on the complex nature of organized criminal enterprises, which have direct and indirect links to drug trafficking.
An EPR Uptick
The Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), which claimed responsibility in July for attacks against oil pipelines in Guanajuato and Queretaro states and against a federal prison in Chiapas state, has increased its operational tempo. Most recently, it placed two small explosive devices in Oaxaca. The increased frequency of attacks is unusual for the EPR, and requires close attention. The Oaxaca bombs were the EPR's fourth attack in as many weeks and as many states. This increased frequency must have demanded a major effort by the EPR, whose actual membership likely numbers in the low hundreds (much lower than it claims).
Even if the EPR is shifting its focus from symbolic targets to strategic economic targets, and even if the group can sustain this increased tempo, it is unlikely to carry out attacks designed to kill. The group so far has been content to conduct attacks that send messages. Even when given the opportunity to cause casualties -- as in the jail attack -- it has not done so. Whether the group will continue the same high frequency of attacks remains unknown. If it does, government facilities, foreign companies, nongovernmental organizations and economic targets throughout the country are at risk of similar attacks.
A decomposing body was found stuffed in a plastic container in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state.
The leader of a peasant union in Zacapu, Michoacan state, was found dead with at least three gunshot wounds. He reportedly was abducted July 27 by a group of armed men and was being held for ransom.
Police in Sonora state responding to an anonymous tip found the body of a suspected drug trafficker in the northern city of Caborca. The victim was found shot to death with bound hands.
A man in Atoyac, Guerrero state, died of multiple shotgun wounds.
Authorities in Cancun, Quintana Roo state, discovered the body of a U.S. citizen of Cuban origin who had been shot multiple times. He reportedly was involved in illegally smuggling Cuban immigrants into Mexico.
The brother of a city official in Arcelia, Guerrero state, was wounded after being shot several times by a group of gunmen.
The body of a man was found wrapped in a blanket with a note pinned on it in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. He had been tortured and shot several times.
Two men were found shot to death in separate incidents in Michoacan state, one in the town of La Huacana and the other in Ziracuaretiro.
A small explosive device detonated at a department store in Oaxaca, Oaxaca state, while another device was found unexploded at a bank. No one was injured by the bombs, which were claimed by EPR.
Authorities confirmed that two men found dead July 31 in Guerrero state were Federal Investigative Agency agents.
Officials discovered the body of an unidentified individual in Penjamo, Guanajuato state, who had been shot several times.
Three people died in apparent drug-related killings in Durango state. Two occurred in Tamazula and one in Santiago Papasquiaro.
The body of a man was found in Tlalnepantla, Mexico state, with multiple gunshot wounds and bound hands.
Officials in Sonora state discovered the body of a man shot three times and left on the side of a highway.
A group of armed men shot and killed the police chief of Paracho, Michoacan state, who was traveling unarmed to the state capital, Morelia.
Police in Paracho, Michoacan state, went on strike following the city police chief's killing, demanding better equipment.
A senior journalist for El Semanario in Oaxaca state was shot three times.
Authorities in Hacienda Nueva, Aguascalientes state, discovered the body of a man nearly severed at the waist.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: August 06, 2007, 08:02:47 PM
Here's some more from Stat. Worth reading both.
U.S.: The Delicate Diplomatic Dance with Iran
The United States and Iran held a third round of direct public-level talks Aug. 6 to discuss ways to reach their agreed-upon goals for stability in Iraq. Motivated by the threats to their national interests, both sides are moving forward in their negotiations, but Washington and Tehran must still overcome many hurdles before implementing their plans to establish security and stability in Iraq. Since the United States is representing the Sunnis in these talks, it will have to balance various Sunni factions' demands as it proceeds to deal with Iran.
Iranian, Iraqi and U.S. security officials Aug. 6 held the first meeting of a tripartite security committee looking to ease the insurgency in Iraq. The U.S. delegation was led by Marcie Ries, minister-counselor for political and military affairs, and the Iranian delegation was headed by the Foreign Ministry point man on Iraq, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Officials from all three sides described the talks -- which were held in Baghdad and lasted about four hours -- as positive. The same day, Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi and his U.S. counterpart, Ryan Crocker, met in the presence of Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie in his office. Meanwhile, the secular noncommunal Iraqiya List parliamentary bloc, led by former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, temporarily suspended the participation of five of its ministers in the Cabinet. The bloc controls 40 parliamentary seats.
The United States and Iran are making significant progress in their strategic dialogue, as evidenced by the speed of their follow-up meetings since they first participated in the multilateral regional meeting on Iraq's future in Baghdad on March 10. The two sides participated in a second follow-up regional meeting May 4 in Egypt and two ambassadorial-level meetings in Baghdad on May 28 and July 24, and additional meetings are expected.
But when it comes to actually implementing their agreed-upon plans, Iran and the United States continue to face multiple obstacles. The five Iraqiya List ministers' temporary boycott of the Cabinet, which came a few days after six ministers from the main Sunni parliamentary bloc resigned from the Cabinet, symbolizes those obstacles. The Iranians face difficulties in getting the Iraqi Shia to agree to a deal with the United States, because the Iraqi Shia are the most divided communal group in the country.
But the United States, representing Sunni interests -- both those of the Iraqi Sunnis and of the Arab Sunni states in the region -- faces its own set of quandaries because its engagement with the minority community has led to the proliferation of actors in the Sunni political landscape.
That said, the challenges Washington faces from within the Sunni community are not so severe that the Bush administration is forced to pause in its dealings with Iran to address the Sunni concerns. This is because a sufficient number of Sunni players support the United States' efforts -- despite the politicians resigning from the al-Maliki administration. These actors include tribal leaders, Sunni nationalist insurgent elements and senior Sunnis within the security and intelligence apparatuses. In fact, for the purposes of the current stage of talks with Iran, this group of Sunnis is sufficient because the immediate task is to bring security to Iraq. Moreover, the Tawafoq Iraqi Front, the Sunni parliamentary bloc that quit the Cabinet, enjoys some influence among the Sunni insurgents.
Additionally, Iraqi Sunnis and their allies among the Sunni Arab states are not completely comfortable with the United States' taking the lead on dealing with Iran (and, by extension, the Iraqi Shia) on their behalf. Indeed, the Sunnis would like to play a greater role in the tripartite U.S.-Iranian-Iraqi security committee talks to ensure their interests are being addressed. This is why different Sunni actors are reacting differently to Washington and Tehran's progress. One example of this is the incident reported Aug. 6, in which Iraqi Shiite pilgrims with ties to senior officials in Baghdad were beaten by Saudi religious police in Mecca. The Saudis are trying to subvert the U.S.-Iranian talks by creating tensions between Iraq's Shia and Sunnis, but the Saudis do not have the leverage to damage the process extensively.
For now, the United States can afford to move ahead with the Iranians regarding the security talks. Soon, however, Washington will have to attend to the Sunni political principals' grievances. Iran and its Arab Shiite allies in Iraq will change the political situation in Iraq in a bid to limit the political concessions being given to the Sunnis, especially regarding the Sunni demand for a reversal of the de-Baathification policy.
Many Sunni insurgents will not want to silence their guns until they see some progress on the de-Baathification issue. This means Washington will have to get Tehran and its Iraqi Shiite allies to agree to concessions -- a move that is expected to slow the current pace of U.S.-Iranian talks. In the end, each side knows that if there is to be a deal, there will have to be a simultaneous give-and-take between the Shia and the Sunnis involving political and security guarantees.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: August 06, 2007, 07:41:03 PM
Mon Aug 6, 7:38 AM ET
BANGKOK, Thailand - Thai police officers who break rules will be forced to wear hot pink armbands featuring "Hello Kitty," the Japanese icon of cute, as a mark of shame, a senior officer said Monday.
Police officers caught littering, parking in a prohibited area, or arriving late — among other misdemeanors — will be forced to stay in the division office and wear the armband all day, said Police Col. Pongpat Chayaphan. The officers won't wear the armband in public.
The striking armband features Hello Kitty sitting atop two hearts.
"Simple warnings no longer work. This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offense, no matter how minor," said Pongpat, acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok.
"(Hello) Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It's not something macho police officers want covering their biceps," Pongpat said.
He said police caught breaking the law will be subject the same fines and penalties as any other members of the public.
"We want to make sure that we do not condone small offenses," Pongpat said, adding that the CSD believed that getting tough on petty misdemeanors would lead to fewer cases of more serious offenses including abuse of power and mistreatment of the public by police officers.
Hello Kitty, invented by Sanrio Co. in 1974, has been popular for years with children and young women. The celebrity cat adorns everything from diamond-studded jewelry, Fender guitars and digital cameras to lunch boxes, T-shirts and stationery.