Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: January 23, 2007, 07:55:08 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Considering Mullah Omar's Location
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is not harboring Taliban leader in Afghanistan Mullah Muhammad Omar, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Monday. She added that Mullah Omar is probably in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar gathering fighters.
The denial comes a day after The New York Times published a report that details the role ISI played in supporting the Taliban resurgence. On Jan. 17, Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, released a video in which captured Taliban spokesman Abdul Haq Haqiq confesses to his role in the Pashtun jihadist movement and says Mullah Omar is hiding in Pakistan under the ISI's protection in the southwestern city of Quetta.
These are the latest in a flurry of recent statements alleging the Taliban leader is in Pakistan and that Islamabad supports the jihadist movement to maintain its influence over Afghanistan. U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte recently told a Senate committee hearing that al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are seeking refuge in Pakistan's frontier areas, namely Quetta. There are a few explanations for the sudden increase in discussion about the Pakistani connection to the Taliban and the whereabouts of Mullah Omar.
The Taliban are expected to resume their operations on a grand scale in spring. Given the problems that U.S., NATO and Afghan forces faced before the winter snow brought the fighting season to an end, Kabul and the West hope to increase the pressure on Pakistan to cooperate in order to help thwart Taliban attempts to strike.
Afghanistan and NATO also want to get as much cooperation as they can from Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf before his time is devoted to the upcoming elections. Musharraf needs to promote domestic political stability, and knows any U.S. action on Pakistani soil would stir up jihadist and Islamist groups inside Pakistan, as well as secular groups opposed to what they consider U.S. violations of Pakistani sovereignty.
The Pakistani Taliban are now regularly targeting Pakistani security forces. Both Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and NATO think this threat could force Musharraf to cooperate in fighting the Taliban. The United States also hopes that U.S. airstrikes on jihadists inside Pakistani territory could further aid in pushing Musharraf into a corner during an election year.
Though Mullah Omar's location is not known for certain, he likely is in an area that affords him security as well as the ability to lead the insurgency. This means he can probably cross the Afghan-Pakistani border when needed. However, he is probably more secure on the Pakistani side of the border since it offers some protection from the Afghan and NATO forces searching for him.
However, Mullah Omar's likely location must also let him directly communicate with his commanders -- whose base of operations is in southeastern Afghanistan in the provinces of Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan. Mullah Omar's hideout in Pakistan is likely near these areas -- he is not hiding in the North-West Frontier Province, and is unlikely to be in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas since it is the focus of global attention and the target of U.S. airstrikes and Pakistani operations. Mullah Omar also must be in a tribal and religiously conservative Pashtun region.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, only one area is left -- the Pashtun belt in the northwestern part of Pakistan's Balochistan province, as it is directly located opposite the Taliban stronghold areas in Afghanistan.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / What's the Trouble- part two
on: January 23, 2007, 07:49:56 AM
After the internist made the correct diagnosis, Alter recalled his conversation with Begaye. When he had asked whether she had taken any medication, including over-the-counter drugs, she had replied, “A few aspirin.” As Alter told me, “I didn’t define with her what ‘a few’ meant.” It turned out to be several dozen.
Representativeness and availability errors are intellectual mistakes, but the errors that doctors make because of their feelings for a patient can be just as significant. We all want to believe that our physician likes us and is moved by our plight. Doctors, in turn, are encouraged to develop positive feelings for their patients; caring is generally held to be the cornerstone of humanistic medicine. Sometimes, however, a doctor’s impulse to protect a patient he likes or admires can adversely affect his judgment.
In 1979, I treated Brad Miller (a pseudonym), a young literature instructor who was suffering from bone cancer. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, completing a fellowship in hematology and oncology at the U.C.L.A. Medical Center. “You look familiar,” Brad said to me when I introduced myself to him in his hospital room as the doctor who would be overseeing his care. “I see you running with two or three friends around the university,” he said. “I’m a runner, too—or, at least, was.”
I told Brad that I hoped he would be able to run again soon, though I warned him that his chemotherapy treatment would be difficult.
About six weeks earlier, Brad had noticed an ache in his left knee. He had been training to run in a marathon, and at first he thought that the ache was caused by a sore muscle. He saw a specialist in sports medicine, who examined the leg and recommended that he wear a knee brace when he ran. Brad followed this advice, but the ache got worse. The physician ordered an X-ray, which showed an osteosarcoma, a cancerous growth, around the end of the femur, just above the knee.
Several years earlier, the surgical-oncology department at U.C.L.A. had devised an experimental treatment for this kind of sarcoma, involving a new chemotherapy drug called Adriamycin. Oncologists had nicknamed Adriamycin “the red death,” because of its cranberry color and its toxicity. Not only did it cause severe nausea, vomiting, mouth blisters, and reduced blood counts; repeated doses could injure cardiac muscle and lead to heart failure. Patients had to be monitored closely, since once the heart is damaged there is no good way to restore its pumping capacity. Still, doctors at U.C.L.A. had found that giving patients multiple doses of Adriamycin often shrank tumors, allowing them to surgically remove the cancer without amputating the affected limb—the standard approach in the past.
I began administering the treatment that afternoon. Despite taking Compazine to stave off vomiting, Brad was acutely nauseated. After several doses of chemotherapy, his white-blood-cell count dropped precipitately. Because his immune system was weakened, he was at great risk of contracting an infection. I required visitors to Brad’s room to wear a mask, a gown, and gloves, and instructed the nurses not to give him raw food, in order to limit his exposure to bacteria.
“Not to your taste,” I said at the end of the first week of treatment, seeing an untouched meal on his tray.
“My mouth hurts,” Brad whispered. “And, even if I could chew, it looks pretty tasteless.”
I agreed that the food looked dismal.
“What is to your taste?” I asked. “Fried kidney?”
I had told Brad when we met that I had studied “Ulysses” in college, in a freshman seminar. The professor had explained the relevant Irish history, the subtle references to Catholic liturgy, and a number of other allusions that most of us in the class would otherwise not have grasped. I had enjoyed Joyce’s descriptions of Leopold Bloom eating fried kidneys.
Brad was my favorite patient on the ward. Each morning when I made rounds with the residents and the medical students, I would take an inventory of his symptoms and review his laboratory results. I would often linger a few moments in his room, trying to distract him from the misery of his therapy by talking about literature.
The treatment called for a CAT scan after the third cycle of Adriamycin. If the cancer had shrunk sufficiently, the surgery would proceed. If it hadn’t, or if the cancer had grown despite the chemotherapy, then there was little to be done short of amputation. Even after amputation, patients with osteosarcomas are at risk of a recurrence.
One morning, Brad developed a low-grade fever. During rounds, the residents told me that they had taken blood and urine cultures and that Brad’s physical examination was “nonfocal”—they had found no obvious reason for the fever. Patients often get low fevers during chemotherapy after their white-blood-cell count falls; if the fever has no identifiable cause, the doctor must decide whether and when to administer a course of antibiotics.
“So you feel even more wiped out?” I asked Brad.
He nodded. I asked him about various symptoms that could help me determine what was causing the fever. Did he have a headache? Difficulty seeing? Pressure in his sinuses? A sore throat? Problems breathing? Pain in his abdomen? Diarrhea? Burning on urination? He shook his head.
Two residents helped prop Brad up in bed so that I could examine him; I had a routine that I followed with each immune-deficient patient, beginning at the crown of the head and working down to the tips of the toes. Brad’s hair was matted with sweat, and his face was ashen. I peered into his eyes, ears, nose, and throat, and found only some small ulcers on his inner cheeks and under his tongue—side effects of his treatment. His lungs were clear, and his heart sounds were strong. His abdomen was soft, and there was no tenderness over his bladder.
“Enough for today,” I said. Brad looked exhausted; it seemed wise to let him rest.
Later that day, I was in the hematology lab, looking at blood cells from a patient with leukemia, when my beeper went off. “Brad Miller has no blood pressure,” the resident told me when I returned the call. “His temperature is up to a hundred and four, and we’re moving him to the I.C.U.”
Brad was in septic shock. When bacteria spread through the bloodstream, they can damage the circulation. Septic shock can be fatal even in people who are otherwise healthy; patients with impaired immunity, like Brad, whose white-blood-cell count had fallen because of chemotherapy, are at particular risk of dying.
“Do we have a source of infection?” I asked.
“He has what looks like an abscess on his left buttock,” the resident said.
Patients who lack enough white blood cells to fight bacteria are prone to infections at sites that are routinely soiled, like the area between the buttocks. The abscess must have been there when I examined Brad. But I had failed to ask him to roll over so that I could inspect his buttocks and rectal area.
The resident told me that he had repeated Brad’s cultures and started him on broad-spectrum antibiotics, and that the I.C.U. team was about to take over.
I was furious with myself. Because I liked Brad, I hadn’t wanted to add to his discomfort and had cut the examination short. Perhaps I hoped unconsciously that the cause of his fever was trivial and that I would not find evidence of an infection on his body. This tendency to make decisions based on what we wish were true is what Croskerry calls an “affective error.” In medicine, this type of error can have potentially fatal consequences. In the case of Evan McKinley, for example, Pat Croskerry chose to rely on the ranger’s initial test results—the normal EKG, chest X-ray, and blood tests—all of which suggested a benign diagnosis. He didn’t arrange for follow-up testing that might have revealed the source of the ranger’s chest pain. Croskerry, who had been an Olympic rower in his thirties, told me that McKinley had reminded him of himself as an athlete; he believed that this association contributed to his misdiagnosis.
As soon as I finished my work in the lab, I rushed to the I.C.U. to check on Brad. He was on a respirator and opened his eyes wide to signal hello. Through an intravenous line attached to one arm, he was receiving pressors, drugs that cause the heart to pump more effectively and increase the tone of the vessels to help maintain blood pressure. Brad’s heart was holding up, despite all the Adriamycin he had taken. His platelet count had fallen, as often happens with septic shock, and he was receiving platelet transfusions. The senior doctor in the I.C.U. had told Brad’s parents, who lived nearby, that he was extremely ill. I saw his parents sitting in a room next to the I.C.U., their heads bowed. They had not seen me, and I was tempted to avoid them. But I forced myself to speak to them and offered a few words of encouragement. They thanked me for my care of their son, which only made me feel worse.
The next morning, I arrived before the residents to review my patients’ charts. Rounds lasted an hour longer than usual, as I insisted on double-checking each bit of information that the residents offered about the patients in our care.
Brad Miller survived. Slowly, his white-blood-cell count increased, and the infection was resolved. After he left the I.C.U., I told him that I should have examined him more thoroughly that morning, but I did not explain why I had not. A CAT scan showed that his sarcoma had shrunk enough for him to undergo surgery without amputation, but a large portion of his thigh muscle had to be removed along with the tumor. After he recovered, he was no longer able to run, but occasionally I saw him riding his bicycle on campus.
Medical education has not changed substantially since Pat Croskerry and I were trained. Students are still expected to assimilate large amounts of basic science and apply that knowledge as they are taught practical aspects of patient care. And young physicians still learn largely by observing more senior members of their field. (“See one, do one, teach one” remains a guiding maxim at medical schools.) This approach produces confident and able physicians. Yet the ideal it implies, of the doctor as a dispassionate and rational actor, is misguided. As Tversky and Kahneman and other cognitive psychologists have shown, when people are confronted with uncertainty—the situation of every doctor attempting to diagnose a patient—they are susceptible to unconscious emotions and personal biases, and are more likely to make cognitive errors. Croskerry believes that the first step toward incorporating an awareness of heuristics and their liabilities into medical practice is to recognize that how doctors think can affect their success as much as how much they know, or how much experience they have. “Currently, in medical training, we fail to recognize the importance of critical thinking and critical reasoning,” Croskerry told me. “The implicit assumption in medicine is that we know how to think. But we don’t.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / What's the Trouble
on: January 23, 2007, 07:48:42 AM
Issue of 2007-01-29
WHAT’S THE TROUBLE?
by JEROME GROOPMAN
How doctors think
On a spring afternoon several years ago, Evan McKinley was hiking in the woods near Halifax, Nova Scotia, when he felt a sharp pain in his chest. McKinley (a pseudonym) was a forest ranger in his early forties, trim and extremely fit. He had felt discomfort in his chest for several days, but this was more severe: it hurt each time he took a breath. McKinley slowly made his way through the woods to a shed that housed his office, where he sat and waited for the pain to pass. He frequently carried heavy packs on his back and was used to muscle aches, but this pain felt different. He decided to see a doctor.
Pat Croskerry was the physician in charge in the emergency room at Dartmouth General Hospital, near Halifax, that day. He listened intently as McKinley described his symptoms. He noted that McKinley was a muscular man; that his face was ruddy, as would be expected of someone who spent most of his day outdoors; and that he was not sweating. (Perspiration can be a sign of cardiac distress.) McKinley told him that the pain was in the center of his chest, and that it had not spread into his arms, neck, or back. He told Croskerry that he had never smoked or been overweight; had no family history of heart attack, stroke, or diabetes; and was under no particular stress. His family life was fine, McKinley said, and he loved his job.
Croskerry checked McKinley’s blood pressure, which was normal, and his pulse, which was sixty and regular—typical for an athletic man. Croskerry listened to McKinley’s lungs and heart, but detected no abnormalities. When he pressed on the spot between McKinley’s ribs and breastbone, McKinley felt no pain. There was no swelling or tenderness in his calves or thighs. Finally, the doctor ordered an electrocardiogram, a chest X-ray, and blood tests to measure McKinley’s cardiac enzymes. (Abnormal levels of cardiac enzymes indicate damage to the heart.) As Croskerry expected, the results of all the tests were normal. “I’m not at all worried about your chest pain,” Croskerry told McKinley, before sending him home. “You probably overexerted yourself in the field and strained a muscle. My suspicion that this is coming from your heart is about zero.”
Early the next evening, when Croskerry arrived at the emergency room to begin his shift, a colleague greeted him. “Very interesting case, that man you saw yesterday,” the doctor said. “He came in this morning with an acute myocardial infarction.” Croskerry was shocked. The colleague tried to console him. “If I had seen this guy, I wouldn’t have gone as far as you did in ordering all those tests,” he said. But Croskerry knew that he had made an error that could have cost the ranger his life. (McKinley survived.) “Clearly, I missed it,” Croskerry told me, referring to McKinley’s heart attack. “And why did I miss it? I didn’t miss it because of any egregious behavior, or negligence. I missed it because my thinking was overly influenced by how healthy this man looked, and the absence of risk factors.”
Croskerry, who is sixty-four years old, began his career as an experimental psychologist, studying rats’ brains in the laboratory. In 1979, he decided to become a doctor, and, as a medical student, he was surprised at how little attention was paid to what he calls the “cognitive dimension” of clinical decision-making—the process by which doctors interpret their patients’ symptoms and weigh test results in order to arrive at a diagnosis and a plan of treatment. Students spent the first two years of medical school memorizing facts about physiology, pharmacology, and pathology; they spent the last two learning practical applications for this knowledge, such as how to decipher an EKG and how to determine the appropriate dose of insulin for a diabetic. Croskerry’s instructors rarely bothered to describe the mental logic they relied on to make a correct diagnosis and avoid mistakes.
In 1990, Croskerry became the head of the emergency department at Dartmouth General Hospital, and was struck by the number of errors made by doctors under his supervision. He kept lists of the errors, trying to group them into categories, and, in the mid-nineties, he began to publish articles in medical journals, borrowing insights from cognitive psychology to explain how doctors make clinical decisions—especially flawed ones—under the stressful conditions of the emergency room. “Emergency physicians are required to make an unusually high number of decisions in the course of their work,” he wrote in “Achieving Quality in Clinical Decision Making: Cognitive Strategies and Detection of Bias,” an article published in Academic Emergency Medicine, in 2002. These doctors’ decisions necessarily entail a great deal of uncertainty, Croskerry wrote, since, “for the most part, patients are not known and their illnesses are seen through only small windows of focus and time.” By calling physicians’ attention to common mistakes in medical judgment, he has helped to promote an emerging field in medicine: the study of how doctors think.
There are limited data about the frequency of misdiagnoses. Research from the nineteen-eighties and nineties suggests that they occur in about fifteen per cent of cases, but Croskerry suspects that the rate is significantly higher. He believes that many misdiagnoses are the result of readily identifiable—and often preventable—errors in thinking.
Doctors typically begin to diagnose patients the moment they meet them. Even before they conduct an examination, they are interpreting a patient’s appearance: his complexion, the tilt of his head, the movements of his eyes and mouth, the way he sits or stands up, the sound of his breathing. Doctors’ theories about what is wrong continue to evolve as they listen to the patient’s heart, or press on his liver. But research shows that most physicians already have in mind two or three possible diagnoses within minutes of meeting a patient, and that they tend to develop their hunches from very incomplete information. To make diagnoses, most doctors rely on shortcuts and rules of thumb—known in psychology as “heuristics.”
Heuristics are indispensable in medicine; physicians, particularly in emergency rooms, must often make quick judgments about how to treat a patient, on the basis of a few, potentially serious symptoms. A doctor is trained to assume, for example, that a patient suffering from a high fever and sharp pain in the lower right side of the abdomen could be suffering from appendicitis; he immediately sends the patient for X-rays and contacts the surgeon on call. But, just as heuristics can help doctors save lives, they can also lead them to make grave errors. In retrospect, Croskerry realized that when he saw McKinley in the emergency room the ranger had been experiencing unstable angina—a surge of chest pain that is caused by coronary-artery disease and that may precede a heart attack. “The unstable angina didn’t show on the EKG, because fifty per cent of such cases don’t,” Croskerry said. “His unstable angina didn’t show up on the cardiac-enzymes test, because there had been no damage to his heart muscle yet. And it didn’t show up on the chest X-ray, because the heart had not yet begun to fail, so there was no fluid backed up in the lungs.”
The mistake that Croskerry made is called a “representativeness” error. Doctors make such errors when their thinking is overly influenced by what is typically true; they fail to consider possibilities that contradict their mental templates of a disease, and thus attribute symptoms to the wrong cause. Croskerry told me that he had immediately noticed the ranger’s trim frame: most fit men in their forties are unlikely to be suffering from heart disease. Moreover, McKinley’s pain was not typical of coronary-artery disease, and the results of the physical examination and the blood tests did not suggest a heart problem. But, Croskerry emphasized, this was precisely the point: “You have to be prepared in your mind for the atypical and not be too quick to reassure yourself, and your patient, that everything is O.K.” (Croskerry could have kept McKinley under observation and done a second cardiac-enzyme test or had him take a cardiac stress test, which might have revealed the source of his chest pain.) When Croskerry teaches students and interns about representativeness errors, he cites Evan McKinley as an example.
Doctors can also make mistakes when their judgments about a patient are unconsciously influenced by the symptoms and illnesses of patients they have just seen. Many common infections tend to occur in epidemics, afflicting large numbers of people in a single community at the same time; after a doctor sees six patients with, say, the flu, it is common to assume that the seventh patient who complains of similar symptoms is suffering from the same disease. Harrison Alter, an emergency-room physician, recently confronted this problem. At the time, Alter was working in the emergency room of a hospital in Tuba City, Arizona, which is situated on a Navajo reservation. In a three-week period, dozens of people had come to his hospital suffering from viral pneumonia. One day, Blanche Begaye (a pseudonym), a Navajo woman in her sixties, arrived at the emergency room complaining that she was having trouble breathing. Begaye was a compact woman with long gray hair that she wore in a bun. She told Alter that she had begun to feel unwell a few days earlier. At first, she said, she had thought that she had a bad head cold, so she had drunk orange juice and tea, and taken a few aspirin. But her symptoms had got worse. Alter noted that she had a fever of 100.2 degrees, and that she was breathing rapidly—at almost twice the normal rate. He listened to her lungs but heard none of the harsh sounds, called rhonchi, that suggest an accumulation of mucus. A chest X-ray showed that Begaye’s lungs did not have the white streaks typical of viral pneumonia, and her white-blood-cell count was not elevated, as would be expected if she had the illness.
However, a blood test to measure her electrolytes revealed that her blood had become slightly acidic, which can occur in the case of a major infection. Alter told Begaye that he thought she had “subclinical pneumonia.” She was in the early stages of the infection, he said; the virus had not yet affected her lungs in a way that would show up on a chest X-ray. He ordered her to be admitted to the hospital and given intravenous fluids and medicine to bring her fever down. Viral pneumonia can tax an older person’s heart and sometimes cause it to fail, he told her, so it was prudent that she remain under observation by doctors. Alter referred Begaye to the care of an internist on duty and began to examine another patient.
A few minutes later, the internist approached Alter and took him aside. “That’s not a case of viral pneumonia,” the doctor said. “She has aspirin toxicity.”
Immediately, Alter knew that the internist was right. Aspirin toxicity occurs when patients overdose on the drug, causing hyperventilation and the accumulation of lactic acid and other acids in the blood. “Aspirin poisoning—bread-and-butter toxicology,” Alter told me. “This was something that was drilled into me throughout my training. She was an absolutely classic case—the rapid breathing, the shift in her blood electrolytes—and I missed it. I got cavalier.”
Alter’s misdiagnosis resulted from the use of a heuristic called “availability,” which refers to the tendency to judge the likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant examples come to mind. This tendency was first described in 1973, in a paper by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, psychologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For example, a businessman may estimate the likelihood that a given venture could fail by recalling difficulties that his associates had encountered in the marketplace, rather than by relying on all the data available to him about the venture; the experiences most familiar to him can bias his assessment of the chances for success. (Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, for his research on decision-making under conditions of uncertainty.) The diagnosis of subclinical pneumonia was readily available to Alter, because he had recently seen so many cases of the infection. Rather than try to integrate all the information he had about Begaye’s illness, he had focussed on the symptoms that she shared with other patients he had seen: her fever, her rapid breathing, and the acidity of her blood. He dismissed the data that contradicted his diagnosis—the absence of rhonchi and of white streaks on the chest X-ray, and the normal white-blood-cell count—as evidence that the infection was at an early stage. In fact, this information should have made him doubt his hypothesis. (Psychologists call this kind of cognitive cherry-picking “confirmation bias”: confirming what you expect to find by selectively accepting or ignoring information.)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Rare Event
on: January 23, 2007, 07:37:17 AM
Tis a rare event when I post a NY Times editorial, but frankly I find its premise about Republican motivation here believable.
Published: January 23, 2007
The new Democratic leadership in Congress has a chance to finally do what the Republican Congress and the Bush administration failed to do after Sept. 11: to protect the nation’s chemical plants from an attack. Lawmakers should stop the Homeland Security Department from adopting new regulations that would block state and local governments from doing more to protect their residents and should finally pass a federal law with teeth.
An attack on a single plant could release deadly chemicals that could put hundreds of thousands of people at risk of death or serious injury. But since Sept. 11, the chemical industry — a major campaign contributor — has managed to ward off any significant new federal rules that might require it to spend money to increase security.
Now it is going a step further by trying to get the federal government to “pre-empt,” or invalidate, state and local efforts to impose safety standards. Supporters of pre-emption always claim that they just want a uniform standard. But in situations like this one — where the federal law is absurdly weak — it is obvious that the real agenda is to block serious safety measures at every level of government.
Congress wisely refused to include a pre-emption provision in legislation it adopted last year. Now, however, the Homeland Security Department has proposed regulations that would give itself the authority to pre-empt state and local laws. If the proposed regulations were adopted, they could wipe away the serious chemical plant security law that New Jersey has passed, and prevent other states and cities from requiring the chemical industry to do more to protect their residents.
It is up to Congress to act. It should block these deeply flawed regulations and move quickly to pass a comprehensive law that imposes tough requirements on chemical plants to harden their facilities.
Last year Congress passed a bad rider, backed by the industry, that gives the chemical industry far too much leeway to decide on its own how its plants are vulnerable and how to protect them. The new law should contain specific requirements for plant safety. It should also require companies to switch to safer chemicals when the cost is not prohibitive, a key safety measure that the industry has resisted. And it should clearly state that federal chemical-plant laws do not pre-empt state and local laws. Congress should finally put the public’s safety ahead of the chemical industry’s bottom line.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Assisted Migration
on: January 23, 2007, 07:28:14 AM
By CARL ZIMMER
Published: January 23, 2007
The Bay checkerspot butterfly’s story is all too familiar. It was once a common sight in the San Francisco Bay area, but development and invasive plants have wiped out much of its grassland habitat.
Much of the grassland habitat of the Bay checkerspot butterfly is already destroyed, and studies suggest that climate change will push the insect to extinction. Moving the species is an option, but one that is not without risk.
Conservationists have tried to save the butterfly by saving the remaining patches where it survives. But thanks to global warming, that may not be good enough.
Climate scientists expect that the planet will become warmer in the next century if humans continue to produce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. The California Climate Change Center projects the state’s average temperature will rise 2.6 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Warming is also expected to cause bigger swings in rainfall.
Studies on the Bay checkerspot butterfly suggest that this climate change will push the insect to extinction. The plants it depends on for food will shift their growing seasons, so that when the butterfly eggs hatch, the caterpillars have little to eat. Many other species may face a similar threat, and conservation biologists are beginning to confront the question of how to respond. The solution they prefer would be to halt global warming. But they know they may need to prepare for the worst.
One of the most radical strategies they are considering is known as assisted migration. Biologists would pick a species up and move it hundreds of miles to a cooler place.
Assisted migration triggers strong, mixed feelings from conservation biologists. They recognize that such a procedure would be plagued by uncertainties and risk. And yet it may be the only way to save some of the world’s biodiversity.
“Some days I think this is absolutely, positively something that has to be done,” said Dr. Jessica Hellmann of the University of Notre Dame. “And other days I think it’s a terrible idea.”
Conservation biologists are talking seriously about assisted migration because the effects of climate change are already becoming clear. The average temperature of the planet is 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was in 1880. Dr. Camille Parmesan, a biologist at the University of Texas, reviewed hundreds of studies on the ecological effects of climate change this month in the journal Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. Many plant species are now budding earlier in the spring. Animals migrate earlier as well. And the ranges of many species are shifting to higher latitudes, as they track the climate that suits them best.
This is hardly the first time that species have moved in response to climate change. For over two million years, the planet has swung between ice ages and warm periods, causing some species to shift their ranges hundreds of miles. But the current bout of warming may be different. The earth was already relatively warm when it began. “These species haven’t seen an earth as warm as this one’s going to be in a long, long time,” said Dr. Mark Schwartz, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Davis.
It’s also going to be more difficult for some species to move, Dr. Schwartz added. When the planet warmed at the end of past ice ages, retreating glaciers left behind empty landscapes. Today’s species will face an obstacle course made of cities, farms and other human settlements.
Animals and plants will also have to move quickly. If a species cannot keep up with the shifting climate, its range will shrink. Species that are already limited to small ranges may not be able to survive the loss.
In 2004, an international team of scientists estimated that 15 percent to 37 percent of species would become extinct by 2050 because of global warming. “We need to limit climate change or we wind up with a lot of species in trouble, possibly extinct,” said Dr. Lee Hannah, a co-author of the paper and chief climate change biologist at the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International.
Some scientists have questioned that study’s methods. Dr. Schwartz calls it an overestimate. Nevertheless, Dr. Schwartz said that more conservative estimates would still represent “a serious extinction.”
Many conservation biologists believe that conventional strategies may help combat extinctions from global warming. Bigger preserves, and corridors connecting them, could give species more room to move.
Conservation biologists have also been talking informally about assisted migration. The idea builds on past efforts to save endangered species by moving them to parts of their former ranges. The gray wolf, for example, has been translocated from Canada to parts of the western United States with great success.
When Dr. Jason McLachlan, a Notre Dame biologist, gives talks on global warming and extinction, “someone will say, ‘It’s not a problem, since we can just FedEx them to anywhere they need to go,’ ” he said.
No government or conservation group has yet begun an assisted migration for global warming. But discussions have started. “We’re thinking about these issues,” said Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, a climate scientist at the Nature Conservancy.
The conservancy is exploring many different ways to combat extinctions from global warming, and Dr. Gonzalez says that assisted migration “could certainly be one of the options.” For now, the conservancy has no official policy on assisted migration.
As Dr. McLachlan began hearing about assisted migration more often, he became concerned that conservation biologists were not weighing it scientifically. He joined with Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Hellmann to lay out the terms of the debate in a paper to be published in the journal Conservation Biology.
Dr. McLachlan and his colleagues argue that assisted migration may indeed turn out to be the only way to save some species. But biologists need to answer many questions before they can do it safely and effectively.
The first question would be which species to move. If tens of thousands are facing extinction, it will probably be impossible to save them all. Conservation biologists will have to make the painful decision about which species to try to save. Some species threatened by climate change, including polar bears and other animals adapted to very cold climates, may have nowhere to go.
The next challenge will be to decide where to take those species. Conservation biologists will have to identify regions where species can survive in a warmer climate. But to make that prediction, scientists need to know how climate controls the range of species today. In many countries, including the United States, that information is lacking.
“We don’t even know where species are now,” Dr. McLachlan said.
Simply moving a species is no guarantee it will be saved, of course. Many species depend intimately on other species for their survival. If conservation biologists move the Bay checkerspot butterfly hundreds of miles north to Washington, for example, it may not be able to feed on the plants there. Conservation biologists may have to move entire networks of species, and it may be hard to know where to draw the line.
Assisted migration is plagued not only with uncertain prospects of success, but potential risks as well. A transplanted species would, in essence, be an invasive one. And it might thrive so well that it would start to harm other species. Invasive species are among the biggest threats to biodiversity in some parts of the world. Many were accidentally introduced but some were intentionally moved with great confidence that they would do no harm. Cane toads were introduced in Australia to destroy pests on sugar plantations, and they proceeded to wipe out much of the continent’s wildlife.
“If you’re trying to protect a community of species, you’re not going to want someone to introduce some tree from Florida,” Dr. Hellmann said. “But if you’re someone watching that tree go extinct, you’re going to want to do it.”
Dr. Hellmann and her colleagues do not endorse or condemn assisted migration in their new paper. Instead, they call for other conservation biologists to join in a debate. They hope to organize a meeting this summer to have experts share their ideas.
“There really needs to be a clear conversation about this, so that we can lay all the chips on the table,” Dr. Schwartz said.
Other experts on global warming and extinctions praised the new paper for framing the assisted migration debate. “It’s certainly on everybody’s mind, and people are discussing it quite a lot,” Dr. Hannah said. “This paper’s a breakthrough in that sense.”
Dr. Hannah for one is leery of moving species around. “I’m not a huge fan of assisted migration, but there’s no question we’ll have to get into it to some degree,” he said. “We want to see it as a measure of last resort, and get into it as little as possible.”
It is possible that conservation biologists may reject assisted migration in favor of other strategies, Dr. McLachlan said. But the hard questions it raises will not go away. As species shift their ranges, some of them will push into preserves that are refuges for endangered species.
“Even if we don’t move anything, they’re going to be moving,” Dr. McLachlan said. “Do we eradicate them? All of these issues are still relevant.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: January 23, 2007, 07:20:18 AM
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
Published: January 23, 2007
DEARBORN, Mich., Jan. 19 — After the longtime mayor, Michael A. Guido, died of cancer here in December, a flock of Arab-American candidates stepped forward in the hopes of claiming City Hall.
Abed Hammoud, a prosecutor, withdrew from the mayor’s race.
But despite the fact that roughly one in three Dearborn residents is of Arab origin, most of the Arab-American candidates had dropped out by mid-January. Poll numbers showed that none of them could win.
Internal rivalries echoing those that beset the Arab world, along with the general electorate’s lingering unease about Muslims, combined to derail what many here had hoped would be the chance to prove that Arab-Americans had arrived politically — at least in Dearborn, their unofficial capital in this country.
“One day, an Arab-American will be in office at the top, but this will not be the time,” said Osama Siblani, the burly publisher of the weekly Arab American News, whose friends tease him about his perennial “this is the time” editorial at every election. “There is no doubt that electing an Arab-American to the City Hall in Dearborn would have sent a strong message to the rest of the country that Arab-Americans are part of the political process. Would we want it? Yes. Is it possible? No.”
Mayor Guido had something of a checkered reputation among Arab-Americans here, not least because his first campaign, in 1985, distributed a leaflet promising to address the “Arab problem.” Things improved somewhat over the years — he visited Lebanon, and Arab-Americans donated heavily to his campaigns.
But last summer, he criticized the “mobs” protesting Israel’s attacks against civilian targets in Lebanon and sent the Arab-American community a $23,000 bill for overtime for police officers and firefighters during the demonstration. The bill, sent to a coalition of Arab-American groups, resulted in a free-speech lawsuit.
When Mr. Guido died, several Arab-American candidates stepped forward, including a well-known local prosecutor and a former North American middleweight boxing champion who recently starred on “The Contender,” a reality television series. An intensive vetting of candidates for the Feb. 27 election was started under the auspices of the Lebanese American Heritage Club so that the entire community could unite behind just one contender.
That did not happen, not least because the front-runner, John O’Reilly Jr., having been president of the City Council for 17 years, knew something about the internal rivalries pitting the Lebanese against the Iraqis against the Yemenis. Mr. O’Reilly, known as Jack, set out to separate the Yemenis from the rest of the Arab community here and succeeded in winning their early enthusiasm.
Arab-American candidates “come to us and say ‘salaam aleikum’ and a few other Arabic words to play on our emotions,” said Nass Al Rayashi, one of the founders of the Yemeni American Political Action Committee, using the Arabic greeting of “peace be upon you.” The committee was formed in March 2005 in large part because the Yemenis felt the Lebanese had dominated civic life at their expense.
The Yemenis, concentrated in the somewhat gritty South Side neighborhood sandwiched between the sprawling Ford Rouge plant and Woodmere Cemetery, want a candidate focused on local concerns. These include a lack of parking at the Dix Street mosque and pollution emitted by neighboring industrial areas including the Ford vehicle factory, which drew Arabs here for work for decades, but where fewer and fewer are finding jobs.
“Don’t tell us you go to Ali so-and-so’s house to eat Arab food,” Mr. Rayashi added. “This is America, this is the melting pot. Our interests should be what is good for us here.”
There has long been a division between the economically better off western side of Dearborn and the eastern side. In the old days, recalled Mr. O’Reilly, whose father was mayor from 1978 to 1985, the division was known as the “cake eaters” versus the “factory rats.”
Now some see it as more like the Muslims versus everybody else.
“People are a little bit afraid of them,” Mr. O’Reilly said, attributing it partly to traditional Christian education that he said had long taught that “their philosophy of religion was ‘convert to Islam or die.’ ”
The fact that Arab-Americans in Dearborn are prone to demonstrations, including protests against last summer’s war in Lebanon and the recent hanging of Saddam Hussein, only adds to the unease, he said.
Although more affluent Arab-American lawyers and real estate developers have gradually integrated the western part of the city, an ethnic divide remains. Abed Hammoud, a lead lawyer in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office and the favorite of the Arab community until he withdrew from the mayor’s race on Jan. 12, said he was met with surprise when he knocked on doors in western Dearborn.
“People reacted like I had come from the moon,” said Mr. Hammoud, 41, a kinetic figure with receding salt and pepper hair who left Lebanon in 1985. “They said things like ‘It’s good of you to come to this end of town,’ or they asked me about the people ‘over there’ and they meant the other side of town.”
The Arab American Political Action Committee, which Mr. Hammoud and Mr. Siblani, the newspaper publisher, helped found in 1998 largely to inspire Arabs to run and vote, commissioned a poll to assess Mr. Hammoud’s chances. They found Mr. O’Reilly, suddenly alone in the non-Arab field, commanding an unbeatable 65 percent lead to Mr. Hammoud’s roughly 30 percent. They consoled themselves with the fact that Mr. Hammoud was likely to do better this time as a candidate than he did in his first mayoral primary, which fell on the unfortunate date of Sept. 11, 2001.
But basically the results suggested that at best he would capture the Arab vote — not enough to win the entire city of 100,000.
Time alone may favor the Arab-Americans here. Mr. Hammoud cited numbers showing that in 1998, there were 60,000 registered voters in the city, 8,500 of them Arab-Americans. Today, it is 14,500 out of 57,000, and at least 60 percent of high school students are Arab-Americans.
“People look at an Arab now, and the first thing that pops into their head is terrorism,” said Tarick Salmaci, the boxer, who withdrew from the race. “We want to change that. Arab-Americans have to become political figures to change that.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, AIDs, Superbugs, Ebola, etc
on: January 23, 2007, 07:08:35 AM
The dilemma of a deadly disease: patients may be forcibly detained
Doctors fear TB strain could cause a global pandemic if it is not controlled
Chris McGreal in Johannesburg and Sarah Boseley, health editor
Tuesday January 23, 2007
South Africa is considering forcibly detaining people who carry a deadly
strain of tuberculosis that has already claimed hundreds of lives. The
strain threatens to cause a global pandemic, but the planned move pits
public protection against human rights.
The country's health department says it has discussed with the World Health
Organisation and South Africa's leading medical organisations the
possibility of placing carriers of extreme drug resistant TB or XDR-TB under
guard in isolation wards until they die, but has yet to reach a decision.
Pressure to take action has been growing since a woman diagnosed with the
disease discharged herself from a hospital last September and probably
spread the infection before she was finally coaxed back when she was
threatened with a court order.
More than 300 cases of the highly infectious disease, which is spread by
airborne droplets and kills 98% of those infected within about two weeks,
have been identified in South Africa.
But doctors believe there have been hundreds, possibly thousands, more and
the numbers are growing among the millions of people with HIV, who are
particularly vulnerable to the disease. Their fear is that patients with
XDR-TB, told that there is little that can be done for them, will leave the
isolation wards and go home to die. But while they are still walking around
they risk spreading the infection.
Now a group of doctors has warned in a medical journal that if enforced
isolation is not introduced XDR-TB could swamp South Africa and spread far
beyond its borders. Regular TB is already the single largest killer of
people with Aids in South Africa.
Jerome Amir Singh of the Centre for Aids Programme of Research in South
Africa and two colleagues wrote in the peer-reviewed journal Public Library
of Science Medicine that the government must overcome its understandable
qualms over human rights in the interests of the majority. Without
exceptional control measures, including enforced isolation, XDR-TB "could
become a lethal global pandemic", they say.
"The containment of infectious patients with XDR-TB may arguably take
precedence over any other patients not infected with highly infectious and
deadly airborne diseases, including those with full-blown Aids. This is an
issue requiring urgent attention from the global community," they wrote.
"The South African government's initial lethargic response to the crisis and
uncertainty amongst South African health professionals concerning the
ethical, social and human rights implications of effectively tackling this
outbreak highlight the urgent need to address these issues lest doubt and
inaction spawn a full-blown XDR-TB epidemic in South Africa and beyond."
Mary Edginton of the Witwatersrand university's medical school endorses
"You can look at it from two points of view. From the patient's point of
view, you are expected to stay in some awful place, you can't work and you
can't see your family. You will probably die there. From the community's
point of view such a person is infectious. If they go to the shops or wander
around their friends they can spread it, potentially to a large group of
people," she said.
Karin Weyer of the Medical Research Council has called for enforced
hospitalisation of high-risk TB patients on the grounds that the risks to
society outweigh individual rights. But she opposes forcible treatment
because of the dangers associated with the drugs.
Professor Edginton said that medical authorities in the US and other
countries can obtain a court order to detain a person with infectious TB or
someone who is non-infectious but has failed to adhere to treatment. "The
Americans are much better at enforcing their laws on this," she said.
South African law also permits enforced isolation but some lawyers say it
comes into conflict with the constitutional guarantees on individual rights.
However, the constitution also guarantees communal rights, including
protection from infection and the right to a safe environment.
South Africa's health department yesterday said it has discussed the
possibility of enforced isolation with the country's Medical Research
Council and the World Health Organisation but has not reached a conclusion.
Ronnie Green-Thompson, a special adviser to the health department, said the
issue at stake is the human rights of the individual weighed against the
rights of the wider public. "The issue of holding the patient against their
will is not ideal but may have to be considered in the interest of the
public. Legal opinion and comment as well as sourcing the opinion of human
rights groups is important," he said.
"Also of importance is preventing those factors that lead to infectious TB
and these are poverty, poor housing, overcrowding and poor nutrition and any
other factors that weakens patients' resistance to acquiring infections."
Umesh Lalloo, of Durban's Nelson Mandela School of Medicine and head of the
research team into the first XDR-TB outbreak, said he is not persuaded that
detention is necessary.
"It's a very difficult call. Given our recent past with human rights
violations we need to be careful. I'm not dismissing such a move but it's a
very radical step. What we should be pushing for is a reinforcement of the
TB control programme which would contain the spread," he said. Professor
Lalloo said one consideration is that almost all infections appear to have
spread to patients in hospital.
The doctors and co-authors said that it is essential that patients were
detained in "humane and decent living conditions" and they urged the
government to change the rules so that those in hospital with TB continue to
receive welfare payments which are cut off if they are treated at the
Although cases of XDR-TB were discovered in South Africa a decade ago, the
disease started claiming dozens of lives at the small Tugela Ferry hospital
in rural KwaZulu-Natal two years ago. XDR-TB's origins are uncertain but the
WHO says the misuse of anti-tuberculosis drugs is the most likely cause.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe
on: January 23, 2007, 06:59:19 AM
Muslims in police will rise up, Bakri insists
By Mike Hirst and Adam Lusher, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:02am GMT 21/01/2007
Moderate British Muslims in the police, Armed Forces and Civil Service will one day revolt against the system to "crush it from within", according to Omar Bakri Mohammed, the notorious Islamic extremist.
In claims condemned as a cynical attempt to create division, the co-founder of the extremist al-Muhajiroun group said that Britain was "digging a deep hole" for itself by allowing Muslims into the Services and Whitehall.
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph in Lebanon, where he moved in August 2005 — at about the time it emerged the British authorities might charge him with incitement to treason — he claimed police officers, soldiers and civil servants would one day become radicalised.
"When you start to ask Muslims to join your Army and your police you are making a grave mistake. That British Muslim who joins the police today will one day read the Koran and will have an awakening," he said.
"Those moderates are one day going to be practising Muslims. Now what happens if they are British police or in the Army and they have weapons? How much information do they have about you that they will use to serve the global struggle?
"They will revolt against the system if they have been failed by your foreign policy which is oppressive against Islam, or have been contacted by people who believe Britain is a domain of war."
In remarks almost certain to cause widespread anger among the survivors and relatives of victims, he also claimed that the world was a better place after the July 7 bombings in London. "I believe it is a better place for Islam and Muslims… but not for non-Muslims. What's happening around the world is good and positive for Islam."
The comments were condemned by moderate Muslim leaders. Ibrahim Mogra, the chairman of the Interfaith Relations Committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "This is part of an attempt to create divisions both within the Muslim community and the wider society.
"On the contrary, the more a Muslim police officer becomes a practising Muslim, the more loyal he will become, the more he will realise his duty to his country and the need to contribute to its well-being."
He added: "People are entitled to their views, but we actually have our own scholars and imams, who are still in this country, not abroad, and who talk about contributing to Britain and the responsibilities that we have to it."
Bakri Mohammed came to Britain in 1985 after being expelled from Saudi Arabia. He was rapidly derided as "the Tottenham Ayatollah". His inflammatory pronouncements have included calling the September 11 terrorists the "Magnificent 19". He disbanded al-Muhajiroun in 2004. Shortly after the July 7 attacks Tony Blair announced the group would be banned as part of a series of measures against condoning or glorifying terrorism. After Bakri Mohammed left for Beirut he was banned from returning to Britain. The Government deemed his presence "no longer conducive to the public good".
In Beirut last week, a relaxed Bakri Mohammed sipped freshly-squeezed strawberry juice in an upmarket restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean. He took pleasure in hearing media reports about Abid Javaid, 41, of Thornton Heath, Surrey, a civil servant in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, who was exposed late last year as a leading member of the extremist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), which Mr Blair had wanted to ban.
This was despite Bakri Mohammed's admission: "I left HT in 1996 and they condemn what I stand for."
Bakri Mohammed readily confirmed that he had officiated at the wedding of Pc Alexander Omar Basha, his relative by marriage.
In October, however, when the diplomatic protection officer faced controversy after being excused guard duties at the Israeli embassy, Bakri Mohammed admitted Pc Basha's views were far more moderate than his own and even complained: "If I'd have known [he was a policeman at the time of the wedding] I would never have married them. My advice to all Muslims in the police is to leave their jobs."http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main...21/nhate21.xml
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: January 22, 2007, 10:45:09 PM
Second post of the day:
New York Times
Filed at 10:29 p.m. ET
MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) -- Eleven Iraqis carrying false passports and heading to California were arrested at Monterrey's airport, immigration officials said Monday.
Nine men, a woman and a two-year-old girl traveled from Madrid, Spain, to Monterrey, where they were detained Saturday, an immigration official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the arrests.
None of the Iraqi citizens appear on terrorist watch lists and they told authorities they were Chaldean Christians trying to get to California were they would request asylum, the official said.
They are being held at an immigration detention center in Mexico City pending charges for using false documents.
Chaldean Christians have a sizable community in southern California and frequently try to enter the United States through Mexico, saying they face persecution in Iraq.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: January 22, 2007, 08:16:43 PM
Mexico: The Obstacles to Calderon's Anti-Cartel Efforts
January 22, 2007 19 17 GMT
Osiel Cardenas, who ran Mexico's powerful Gulf drug cartel from a prison cell, was in U.S. custody Jan. 22, awaiting a court appearance stemming from a 2005 federal indictment against him. The recent handover of Cardenas and three other important drug figures -- extraditions U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales called "unprecedented in their scope and importance" -- coincide with major Mexican operations against the cartels as well as calls by the Mexican government for more U.S. assistance in fighting the country's drug wars.
Although it appears that Mexican President Felipe Calderon is serious about taking on the cartels, his efforts will face stiff resistance -- not only from the drug traffickers themselves, but also from corrupt Mexican officials.
The suspects handed over to U.S. authorities Jan. 19 are considered major players in some of Mexico's more significant drug-trafficking organizations. Cardenas, the most powerful of the four, has been running his organization from prison since his arrest in 2003, and his extradition could leave the cartel without top leadership -- at least until the fighting over his replacement is concluded.
In addition to Cardenas, brothers Ismael and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero -- former high-ranking members of the Arellano Felix drug cartel -- were extradited, as was Hector "El Guero" Palma Salazar, a former high-ranking member of the Chapo Guzman-Guero Palma cartel, part of the Sinaloa Federation. In all, Mexican authorities extradited 15 suspects wanted in the United States on charges related to drugs and violence.
Should the Gulf cartel be weakened by Cardenas' extradition, the drug-related violence will likely expand into places the cartel currently controls, such as Matamoros on the Mexico-Texas border, as the rival Sinaloa Federation attempts to take over Gulf cartel territory. A succession struggle by internal factions vying to assume control of the Gulf cartel also could lead to more violence. In addition, reprisal attacks against the Mexican government in response to the extraditions are possible.
With the sole exception of Arellano Felix cartel leader Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, who was extradited in September 2006, the government of former President Vicente Fox turned over only minor cartel figures to the United States. The handover of these other high-ranking members by Calderon's new government comes amid other government attempts to control the cartels, including the dispatching of federal police and troops to areas suffering major cartel violence.
In addition to the federal deployments and extraditions, Calderon also has asked for more assistance from Washington in fighting the cartels. Given Mexico's sensitivity to U.S. involvement in anti-cartel operations south of the border, however, Calderon likely meant that he wants more funds to fight the problem, rather than that he plans to give U.S. law enforcement agents greater freedom to operate in Mexico. U.S. operations not only are considered an infringement on Mexico's national sovereignty, they also are opposed by some because they threaten the corrupt Mexican officials who earn enormous sums of money protecting the cartels.
Although U.S. boots on the ground would elicit an outcry, the possibility of additional U.S. funds flowing into Mexico would be another matter entirely because these same corrupt officials could see it as a chance for further self-enrichment. Should Mexico receive its own version of "Plan Colombia" -- which could be Calderon's hope -- then corrupt officials could have access to hundreds of millions or even billions of U.S. dollars annually. The question then is whether a "Plan Mexico" would make a significant dent in cartel operations.
As government efforts against the cartels increase, there also is the possibility that the influential cartels will use the government as a weapon against rival cartels -- or even against other questionably loyal members of the same cartel -- by guiding law enforcement efforts toward certain people. The well-connected cartels, then, would consider these arrests and even possible extraditions as more of a housecleaning aid than as a blow to their operations.
In order to be truly effective, anti-cartel efforts in Mexico must be applied evenly against all of the cartels. If only certain ones are targeted, more violence is likely as the other cartels move in to fill the resulting power vacuums.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: January 22, 2007, 07:35:18 PM
Second post of the day:
Defensive Tactics Contributor
Wouldn't it be nice to know who was armed, the type of weapon they were carrying, and where on their body the weapon was concealed? Unfortunately, the first indication many officers have that someone is armed is when a weapon is used against them. While someone carrying a concealed weapon will often exhibit traits that an alert officer can recognize, this is not always the case. Therefore, you must assume that anyone may be armed until you determine otherwise.
Watch the hands
Always pay close attention to hands. While it's true that other personal body weapons such as elbows, knees, shins and feet can cause injury...hands kill! If someone's hand is concealed, you must assume that person may be armed. If you wait for confirmation that the person is armed, you will have placed yourself at an extreme tactical disadvantage.
"Take your hands out of your pockets." Do you really want him to take his hands out of his pockets? If he's clutching a weapon, you've just granted him permission to draw it. Instead, consider having a person with their hands in their pockets face away from you and slowly remove their hands, one at a time, on your command.
If a hand furtively reaches into or is pulled from a pocket or from the waist or groin area, you should be doing one of two things, depending on the distance between you and the suspect. If you are within lunging distance, move away from the threat by stepping forward at a 45 degree angle, pivot toward the suspect, and shove his near side shoulder/upper back. This will hinder his ability to draw a weapon and allow you the opportunity to draw yours. If you are further away, create distance with lateral and rearward movement (preferably toward cover) while drawing your firearm.
Visually search clothing
A firearm, edged weapon, bludgeon, or improvised weapon can easily be concealed in clothing. This is particularly true during winter, since heavy jackets often completely conceal the waist area, which is recognized as one of the most common carry locations for concealed weapons.
Be particularly leery of an individual wearing a snow jacket at noon in mid-July. Although it's not illegal to wear inappropriate clothing for the weather conditions, it certainly should be viewed as a red flag. While the individual may simply be cold for some reason, he may be wearing the jacket to conceal a sawed-off shotgun!
Look for unusual bulges in clothing where weapons could be concealed. Is the silhouette of that jacket distorted around the waist only on one side? It could be a large cellular phone...or a firearm!
Monitor body language
Often times, armed individuals will give several indications that they are carrying a weapon. Look for warning signs, such as a person with their arms crossed, hands in pockets, hand hovering around the front waist area, etc. In each case, the armed subject may be trying to keep their hand(s) close to the weapon for quick deployment. Additionally, people who are not used to carrying a concealed weapon will often touch the weapon to ensure that it's still there (especially in cases where the weapon is not carried in a holster). There may also be psychological reasons for touching the weapon, since it can represent power to the possessor.
Pat down (Terry Frisk)
Obviously you must have either consent or reasonable suspicion that a person is armed to justify a pat down of their outer garments. In either case, you should expect to find a weapon. Since most of the time, your search does not result in the discovery of weapons, it's easy to become complacent and simply "go through the motions," rather than conduct a thorough and systematic search. This is unacceptable, since missing a weapon even once could have tragic consequences.
Recently, an officer I know conducted a pat down of a parolee without backup (by the way, the parolee had backup). It's hard for me to imagine a scenario where that would be a tactically sound decision. I hate to think of what might have transpired if the parolee had been armed and committed to his cause. A better tactic would be to order the subject(s) to assume a position of disadvantage, such as seated with their ankles crossed and hands on their knees while waiting for backup. Of course, ordering the subject(s) into a prone position while waiting for backup would be a safer alternative if warranted.
Let's assume you have a backup officer present and reasonable suspicion to justify a pat down. While conducting the search, you feel the grip of a pistol in the suspect's front waist area. What's the best tactic? Do you remove it and secure it on your person? Do you take the suspect to the ground and control his arms to prevent him from accessing the pistol? What about pushing the suspect away and drawing your firearm?
Like most aspects of police work, the best response to this dilemma is dependent on several factors, including the actions of the suspect, whether or not the weapon can easily be removed, and your proficiency with unarmed defensive tactic techniques. Through realistic scenario-based training, officers can "test" each of the above responses under stress, without risk of injury or death.
No discussion involving weapons would be complete without addressing the topic of cover. Cover can be defined as any object that can be positioned between you and a threat that is capable of stopping rounds.
Buildings, vehicles, large trees, even fire hydrants are examples of cover. Whether on or off duty, you should constantly be scanning for suitable cover. Far too many officers have been killed because they did not make use of readily available cover.
Don't wait until rounds are whizzing past your head to start appreciating cover. Next time you walk into the bank, supermarket, gas station, post office, mall etc., look around and take note of objects that would provide adequate cover. This is a great habit to get into and one that could very well save your life someday.
Train hard. Stay safe!
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: January 22, 2007, 04:10:03 PM
Deputies lament limits on foot chases
Many say restrictions adopted in 2004 hamper their work. A Sheriff's Department monitor cites the dangers of running after suspects.
By Stuart Pfeifer, Times Staff Writer
January 21, 2007
Art no longer imitates life when it comes to that standard television police scene in which a brave officer races after a bad guy fleeing down an alleyway: In Los Angeles County and other parts of the nation, individual cops are now discouraged from chasing many suspects who run.
Stung over the years by the risky violence that often results when officer and suspect finally come face to face, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies are instead encouraged to radio for backup so others can help surround and capture the suspect. Deputies still may follow suspects on foot, but they must keep a safe distance until reinforcements arrive.
Police agencies across the country have enacted new policies to deal with when and how officers should pursue suspects who run. The Sheriff's Department policy, enacted in 2004, is one of the most restrictive in the nation. The policy states that deputies cannot confront suspects alone and should not split from their partners during foot pursuits.
The issue is particularly important because most deputies work in one-person patrol cars.
Many deputies say they believe the policy is too restrictive and prevents them from doing their jobs: arresting criminals. They say some suspects know that deputies won't chase them if they run and are brazenly taking advantage of the policy.
Sheriff's Deputy George Hofstetter, who has worked patrol assignments in Compton and Lakewood during more than 17 years with the department, said it's difficult for deputies to allow suspects to run from them.
"If you see somebody you believe to be a bad guy and they take off running, it's almost an instinct to chase after them. A lot of times you're not thinking, 'Am I in policy or out of policy?' " said Hofstetter, a director with the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, a union that has defended deputies disciplined for conduct during foot chases.
"It's one of those things that becomes ingrained in you: to catch the person and take them to jail."
A 2003 case
L.A. County Deputy Brian Bishop had faced the situation so many times it seemed routine.
Early one morning in May 2003, he switched on the lights atop his patrol car and pulled behind a Chevrolet Beretta. He followed it through a few sharp turns, then watched it slide into a curb and stall.
Bishop and his partner, Deputy William Parsons, stepped out of their car and ran toward the disabled vehicle. That's when the driver, Robert Dingman, bolted. Bishop took off after him.
Clutching his gun in his right hand, the deputy ran through the darkness until the suspect slipped and fell onto a driveway. When Bishop arrived, Dingman lunged toward him, so the deputy fired a single shot, killing him, Bishop said.
The usual shooting investigations followed, and Bishop was found to have fired in self-defense even though Dingman was unarmed.
But the Sheriff's Department faulted Bishop for giving chase, confronting the suspect alone and leaving Parsons, who was training as a patrol deputy, alone with Dingman's female passenger. Bishop was suspended for two days without pay.
"We're going to let people run away who should be taken into custody, and we'll never know who they end up victimizing," Bishop said. "It's frustrating and it's sad because it's the criminals who are winning now."
Police departments throughout the country have adopted policies that guide officers' responses when a suspect runs. Many of them caution officers to consider the danger of foot chases, encourage them to consider alternatives to chasing the suspects and advise them when to stop a pursuit, such as when they lose radio communication or lose sight of the suspect.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department policy is particularly restrictive because it advises deputies that they should not attempt to confront a suspect by themselves.
At the Los Angeles Police Department, officers are discouraged from splitting from their partners during pursuits but are not prohibited from confronting suspects while alone, said Lt. Paul Vernon, a department spokesman. They are advised not to chase suspects who are believed to be carrying firearms, Vernon said.
Wayne Quint, president of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, said Orange County deputies are allowed to use their best judgment during pursuits and are trained to avoid situations that could endanger themselves or the public. Quint said he thought the disciplining of Bishop was "ridiculous."
"Come on, this is part of police work. You've got to chase bad guys," Quint said. "What do they want us to do? Nothing? In L.A., that's almost what it's coming down to."
Merrick Bobb, an attorney who monitors the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department under a contract with the Board of Supervisors, has long criticized foot chases and the dangers they create for both deputies and suspects.
Nearly one-fourth of the department's officer-involved shootings between 1997 and 2002 came during or at the end of foot chases, Bobb noted in a report that criticized such pursuits.
Illustrating the dangers of foot pursuits, Bobb's report detailed a case in which a deputy caught a suspect only to end up in a life-or-death struggle.
The suspect disarmed the deputy and attempted to shoot him, but the deputy placed a finger beneath the trigger and prevented the suspect from firing. The struggle was so fierce that the deputy's finger was broken.
Bobb said deputies should avoid adrenaline-pumping foot chases and instead use helicopters, dogs and additional deputies to track and apprehend fleeing suspects. He said officers have been groomed by movies and television cop shows to believe it's unmanly to let suspects run from them. But sometimes keeping a safe distance and waiting for reinforcement is the best approach, he said.
"This is not a game of cowboys and Indians. This is about the safest and most effective way to bring a suspect into custody," Bobb said. "It's not by running after the guy just because you think he disrespected you.
"While I respect and praise police officers for being brave, I don't respect them for being foolish."
Bill McSweeney, chief of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's leadership and training division, said the department is particularly concerned about deputies pursuing suspects alone. The idea is not to let suspects get away but to use a team approach in which deputies cover every possible escape route on the ground and a helicopter searches above.
"The department is always trying to strike a balance between a deep desire to apprehend serious criminals and making sure deputies don't get into something over their head that gets them killed, and that's a tug of war," McSweeney said. In foot chases, "the odds are that you're going to get hurt or the guy does something in the dark that spooks you and you shoot him. Even though you want to go for broke, it's got to be balanced."
Bishop, the deputy involved in the Dingman shooting, said he did not think it was unsafe for him to leave his partner. He said he would have abandoned the chase if the suspect hopped a fence, as he had been trained. When the suspect tripped, Bishop said, he had no choice but to confront him.
"He didn't get over the wall. Am I supposed to turn around and run away from him when he slips and falls? I still had my partner in sight. What, I'm supposed to have him attached to my hip?" Bishop said.
'Tying our hands'
On the day of the shooting, a warrant was out for Dingman's arrest on a charge that he violated his parole on an earlier conviction for auto theft and burglary. He had prior convictions for assault, exhibiting a deadly weapon and resisting a peace officer.
The deputies union was so upset about Bishop's discipline that it paid to air a few late-night radio ads attacking the decision, an unprecedented public relations move that underscored a deep divide within the department.
"They're just tying our hands … and it's all about liability," Bishop said.
Roy Burns, past president of the L.A. County deputies union, said the disciplining of Bishop and new departmental restrictions on foot pursuits have frustrated deputies and left the public in danger.
"This is all about, 'We're afraid you're going to get hurt.' But you know what? That's part of the job," Burns said. "When bad guys run, they have a reason for running. Those people we chase ultimately can do significant damage to the community.
"They gave him time off for good, proactive police work. All it does is send a message to every deputy sheriff: 'Do not get involved. Do not challenge bad guys.' And who pays the price? The good citizen," Burns said.
Dingman's family claimed in a lawsuit that Bishop shot Dingman while he was running. The bullet entered Dingman's back, evidence that the shooting did not happen as Bishop described it, the family contended. Los Angeles County paid $400,000 to resolve the lawsuit.
Bishop maintained that he shot Dingman after the man reached for his gun. The district attorney's office concluded that is was possible that Dingman lunged for the deputy's gun, then turned his back and was shot.
In 1998, the Police Department in Collingswood, N.J., imposed one of the most restrictive foot pursuit policies in the country. The department took action after a series of incidents in which officers followed suspects into homes and then were ambushed, Bobb noted in his report.
Collingswood officers were ordered to refrain from pursuits while alone and to abandon pursuits when a suspect entered a building, when the suspect's location was not known or when a person had been identified and could be arrested later.
In the next five years, the department reported a decrease in the number of officers injured on duty and no decrease in the number of fleeing suspects who were arrested, according to Bobb's report. The department achieved this because officers more frequently called for reinforcement and used a team approach to catch fleeing suspects, according to a report published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.
The new concern about foot pursuits does not mean that deputies and police officers should let suspects go free, Bobb said. They need to use restraint and take advantage of their resources, he said.
"Shame on you if you let suspects get away. But also shame on you if you blindly chase after someone and put yourself in danger," Bobb said.
The pursuit controversy changed Bishop's attitude toward police work. He has spent the last year in an office job, helping run background checks on prospective deputies. An appeal of his two-day suspension is pending.
"I'm less proactive because I'm worried the next time I do something — who's going to second-guess that?" Bishop said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: January 22, 2007, 04:04:49 PM
Details Emerge About Possible Terror Threat
Suspects, Reportedly Tied to Al Qaeda in Iraq, Sought Student Visas
By PIERRE THOMAS
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2007 — - Mimicking the hijackers who executed the Sept. 11 attacks, insurgents reportedly tied to al Qaeda in Iraq considered using student visas to slip terrorists into the United States to orchestrate a new attack on American soil.
Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, recently testified that documents captured by coalition forces during a raid of a safe house believed to house Iraqi members of al Qaeda six months ago "revealed [AQI] was planning terrorist operations in the U.S."
At the time, Maples offered little additional insight into the possible terror plot. ABC News, however, has learned new details of what remains a classified incident that has been dealt with at the highest levels of government.
Watch "World News with Charles Gibson."
Sources tell ABC News that the plot may have involved moving between 10 and 20 suspects believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq into the United States with student visas -- the same method used by the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who struck American targets on Sept. 11.
U.S. officials now require universities to closely track foreign nationals who use student visas to study in the United States. University officials must report international students who fail to arrive on campus or miss class regularly.
In August, the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement alerted intelligence agencies and state and local law enforcement about 11 Egyptian students who had failed to report to their classes at Montana State University. The students were ultimately apprehended.
Still, despite the heightened precautions, some security analysts fear that skilled terrorists -- handpicked because of their clean records and because they are carefully trained -- could still slip through an academic setting.
The plot was discovered six months ago, roughly the same time that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by coalition forces. Sources tell ABC News that the suspects involved in the effort to launch the U.S. attack were closely associated with Zarqawi.
The plan also came only months after Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2, had requested that Zarqawi attempt an attack inside the United States.
"This appears to be the first hard evidence al Qaeda in Iraq was trying to attack us here at home," said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, former chief counterterrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council.
The plan was uncovered in its early stages, and sources say there is no indication that the suspects made it into the United States. Officials also emphasize that there is no evidence of an imminent attack.
The hunt for suspects continues, however, and some fear that al Qaeda recruits in Iraq could be easily redirected.
"Anyone willing to go to Iraq to fight American troops is probably willing to try to come to the United States," Clarke said.
Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: January 22, 2007, 03:36:22 PM
Iraq: Al-Sadr and the Shiite Understanding
U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested a key aide of radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr on Jan. 19. The arrest follows a string of similar recent moves against the al-Sadrite bloc. Surprisingly, the incident did not spark the usual violent reaction from the al-Sadrite movement's militia, the Mehdi Army. The al-Sadrite bloc's tolerance for operations against it suggests Iraq's Shia might have reached an understanding aimed at strengthening the government of Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's Shiite prime minister.
One of radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's top aides, Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, was arrested from a Baghdad mosque in a pre-dawn joint operation by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Al-Darraji was the media director for the al-Sadrite bloc in Iraq's capital. His arrest is just the latest in a series of moves against the radical Shiite Islamist movement.
Even in the face of this escalation of operations against the al-Sadrite bloc, al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia has remained unusually restrained. The group's behavior typically involves engaging in intra-Shiite fighting, clashing with U.S. and Iraqi forces, and most recently, carrying out sectarian attacks against Sunnis. The al-Sadrite bloc's newfound tolerance for operations against it suggests Iraq's Shia might have reached an understanding aimed at strengthening the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Sadr has said his militias will not fight back during the Shiite holy month of Muharram, which begins Jan. 20, since killing at this time violates Islamic teaching. He added, however, that "after Muharram, we'll see." The radical Shiite leader went on to say he fears for his own life, and has moved his family to a secure location. Al-Sadr added that he is constantly on the move as well, and has drawn up a will.
It is interesting, however, that al-Sadr has tried to explain away his restraint on the basis of the holy month of Muharram, because that month has not yet begun. Operations against his group have been ongoing for some time, including:
the Dec. 19 capture of a Mehdi Army bomb cell leader in the city of Al Kut.
reports that began surfacing Dec. 20 that Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has tentatively approved a move to isolate extremists.
major violence that broke out Dec. 23-24 in As Samawa between the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and al-Sadrite forces, prompting a curfew in the southern Iraqi city.
a raid by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers Dec. 27 on the family home of Sahib al-Ameri, secretary-general of the Martyrs Foundation, a pro-Sadr political foundation in the holy city of An Najaf; al-Ameri died in the raid.
the abandonment of Mehdi Army checkpoints in Baghdad that began Jan. 10; militia members have stopped wearing their uniforms, hidden their weapons, stopped communicating by cell phone and purged members suspected of disloyalty.
the Jan. 16 arrest of some 400 individuals affiliated with the al-Sadrite bloc.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's acknowledgement for the first time Jan. 17 that his government is going after the Mehdi Army.
Prior to these developments, a number of militiamen and commanders of the Mehdi Army, to whom the al-Sadrites have referred as "rogue elements," were killed.
This all suggests that an understanding has been reached between al-Sadr and Iraq's other Shiite factions: al-Sadr has decided to allow the al-Maliki government to demonstrate that it is reining in Shiite militants, especially those from the Mehdi Army. This probably has been assisted by the Iranians, who likely have used their influence to get the Mehdi Army to lower its profile.
Such developments do not mean the Iraqi Shia and their Iranian patrons have reached a broad agreement to stabilize Iraq. Rather, the Shia are acting out of self-interest. The al-Maliki government is under intense U.S. pressure to demonstrate progress toward stability. And if the government does not meet this expectation, it could collapse.
The Iraqi Shia realize that they are the most divided of all the key communal factions in Iraq, which is why it took six months after Iraq's December 2005 elections to finalize the al-Maliki government. They are also aware that at present, the 128 Shiite seats in the parliament and their control over the Cabinet is the best that the Shia can get -- and they are at risk of losing it if they do not get their act together. Considering that al-Sadr's group forms the largest component within the Shiite alliance (at 32 seats, it controls the largest number of Shiite parliamentary positions), the radical Shiite leader cannot be eliminated from the alliance altogether. At the same time, his militia cannot be allowed to run amok.
Meanwhile, the Iranians realize that over time, exploiting intra-Shiite differences has diminishing marginal utility, and that Tehran's long-term interests are best served through Iraqi Shiite unity.
Al-Sadr himself does not want to appear to be conceding on his long-held opposition to the presence of U.S. forces in the country. But he also cannot continue business as usual.
Thus, we have a movement toward allowing the government to demonstrate it is reining in Shiite militias, the actions of which are an obstacle to containing the Sunni insurgency. At the same time, al-Sadr likely has received assurances that his political position remains secure so long as he does not block efforts to contain the militias. Whether this succeeds is something else again.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: January 22, 2007, 03:02:10 PM
from the January 19, 2007 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0119/p09s02-coop.html
Iranians' love affair with America
The US mustn't squander the vast majority of Iranian hearts and minds that it has already won.
By Ali G. Scotten
'What do Americans think about us?" asked an old lady on the bus. That was the question most often asked of me during my three-month stay in Iran last year. Messages to the American people were also common. "Tell the Americans that we're not crazy, scary people," she continued. Her comment came after she and others had been dancing in the aisle (with curtains drawn so the police wouldn't see) while the rest of us – along with the driver – clapped as we raced down the highway. So maybe they are crazy. But in a good way.
Many Westerners are afraid to come to the Middle East nowadays, and understandably so. But it's at times like these when face-to-face contact is most crucial. As I traveled alone through the Iranian countryside conducting anthropological research, I took note of local opinions about US-Iran relations. I was heartened by what I heard.
While I'd often visited Iran as a child, the current political situation in the region made me apprehensive about taking the trip. Tensions were rising – as they still are today – over Iran's pursuit of nuclear enrichment, and there were reports in the American media of possible military action against Iranian targets.
Beyond mere hospitality, authentic affection for America
However, I was soon put at ease. After speaking with numerous Iranians from all walks of life – lower and upper class, religious and secular, Westernized and traditional, government- affiliated and civilian – I became convinced that this vilified member of the "Axis of Evil" is actually one of the most welcoming places for Americans to travel in the Middle East. Indeed, all Iranians with whom I spoke shared a positive opinion of Ameri- cans.
Iranians don't hate America. On the contrary, many of them envy Americans to an unrealistic degree and think of the US as a paradise, a land where no problems exist.
One encounters this sentiment in even the most unexpected places. For instance, when I ran into problems renewing my visa, an austere senior official at the immigration ministry offered to help. "Because you're American, I'll do this for you," he said. This was not unusual. Generally friendly to foreigners, Iranians were especially friendly to me once they discovered I was American. It was as if they were trying to prove a point. "Go home and tell the Americans we like them," the official continued. "You know, I have family in Chicago. Can you help me go see them?" On the way out, a soldier in the lobby was excited to see my passport, handling it as one would a priceless object. "How can I come study in America?" he wanted to know.
Paralleling Iranians' favorable opinions of Americans as a people, however, is their unified opposition to any US government intervention in their country. This directly contradicts what Vice President Cheney and others believe – that if the US were to attack, the population would rise up to help the Americans fight the Iranian regime. Judging from my experience, this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, US intervention seems to be the only issue that will unite most Iranians with the Islamic regime.
We can blame the Bush administration's poor grasp of daily realities in Iran on an almost three-decade-long freeze of contact between the American and Iranian governments. As a result of this isolation, so-called experts who have never been to Iran (or at least not since the Islamic Revolution of 1979) advise US government officials on the opinions of the Iranian populace. The comment by one influential US scholar comparing Iran to a concentration camp in which people would rather be bombed than live another day under such conditions, is a glaring example of misinformation.
At a private party in a trendy suburb of Tehran, I sat down with a group of young professionals as they relaxed after a busy workweek. Iran is not like a concentration camp, they assured me. Yes, they're repressed by government restrictions, but they find ways to get around them. And the situation is certainly not to the point of rising up against the regime.
In fact, politics was the last thing on their minds – that is, until I brought up the possibility of US intervention. "As much as I despise this regime, I love my country more," said Reza, a 20-something. "If America were to attack Iran, I would be the first to lay down my life. Ask anyone and you'll hear the same."
Moderates today, insurgents tomorrow?
And indeed I did. Whether they were the village teenagers in southern Iran who took me to eat chicken kabob and drink smuggled Turkish beer in the forest, or Hamid, the opium smuggler in Bam who moonlighted as a taxi driver, the reactions were the same: Though unhappy with the Iranian regime, they would join forces with the mullahs to deter an outside attack. Listening to them speak, I couldn't help but think that these young moderates could well become the future insurgents in an expanded regional conflict.
This may be avoided if we actually listen to the voices coming out of Iran. Iranians are overwhelmingly in favor of normalizing relations with the US, but oppose any intervention in their nation's internal affairs. Forces seem to be aligning in favor of direct dialogue between the two estranged governments.
Pragmatic voices are wresting control from both neoconservatives in the US and their fundamentalist counterparts in Iran. Let's hope they win out. Opening up relations with Iran is not appeasement; it's necessary because it allows home-grown demo cratic forces to work on their own terms.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, overt US calls for regime change and direct support of dissidents and NGOs have a negative effect on Iranian civil society because they result in government crackdowns and increase popular anger aimed at the American government.
Build relations upon shared ideals
In the dispute over nuclear enrichment, the stakes are growing higher each day. If Iraq is the beginning of the end for security and goodwill toward America, then an attack on Iran would be the nail in the coffin. The tragic cost of American misjudgment regarding the Middle East was made painfully clear in Iraq, when US soldiers were greeted with roadside bombs instead of flowers. Let's not repeat that mistake.
We should take Iranian nationalism seriously when even Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, vows, "We will defend our country to the last drop of our blood. We will not let an alien soldier set foot on the land of Iran."
We cannot afford to squander the vast majority of Iranian hearts and minds that we have already won. We must instead convince the Iranian people – through displaying the courage to open dialogue with the ruling regime – that we are committed to furthering our shared ideals of universal life, liberty, and justice.
• Ali G. Scotten is a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Chicago and a former Fulbright scholar.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: January 22, 2007, 01:06:40 PM
Another one on this:
A Murder in Istanbul
January 22, 2007
The fatal shooting of Turkey's most prominent ethnic Armenian Friday was an act of individual madness. But the outpouring of grief and outrage speaks volumes about Turkey's national character.
In condemning Hrant Dink's killing almost in unison, Turkey's ruling and opposition parties and thousands of citizens -- nationalists, Islamists and many more in between -- understand that their entire nation was impugned. That doesn't make the tears and chants of "We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians" any less heartfelt. This spontaneous reaction, rather than the crime itself, is the true reflection of Turkish society today.
Turkey's democracy is as healthy and vibrant, and its economy as booming, as never before. Tremendous changes in recent years are the result of broadly backed efforts to modernize. Mr. Dink, a journalist, was among the champions, knowing well that Turkey's small Armenian community, and an honest discussion of the painful past, were best served by expanding freedoms in Turkey. He bravely stood up to anti-Turkish voices in the Armenian diaspora who sought not truth but belated revenge for massacres of Armenians in the closing days of the Ottoman empire. He was braver still, in hindsight, for fighting Turkish hardliners who wanted him silenced for openly discussing those far-off times. No one knows for sure what motivated Mr. Dink's alleged killer, a teenager who confessed late Saturday, but speculation centers on the nationalist fringe.
One of the remaining weaknesses of Turkish democracy is the criminalization of free speech. A rogue nationalist lawyer opposed to membership in the European Union has exploited Article 301, which forbids "denigrating Turkishness," to tarnish his country's good name. Among dozens of writers brought up on charges, including novelists Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak (who writes on the next page), Mr. Dink was the only one who was actually convicted -- not a good signal, either, since he was the only prominent Armenian Turk -- and received a six-month suspended sentence. He is now the first fatality of Article 301.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, previously reluctant to anger the nationalists in an election year, can pay no better tribute to Hrant Dink than to rescind this misguided law. It would also send a strong message about Ankara's commitment to reform and democratization, which had been cast in doubt before Friday. For beyond Turkey, this murder will surely be used to try to erect more barriers on its path, not least toward the EU. It would be doubly tragic if the killing of Mr. Dink, a man committed to making Turkey a freer and better place, ends up undermining his life's work.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: January 22, 2007, 12:51:19 PM
15 December 2006 09:09
Another C -- circumcision -- looks set to be added to the “Abstain, Be Faithful and Condomise” HIV prevention campaigns after conclusive evidence emerged this week that removing a man’s foreskin can halve his chances of catching HIV.
Two clinical trials, in Uganda and Kenya, have confirmed previous South African research into the protective power of circumcision.
The news has been hailed as one of the most significant breakthroughs in the fight against HIV for years, with the potential to prevent millions of new infections.
Circumcision as a prevention measure is not a part of the South African government’s draft strategic plan on HIV/Aids, although Aids experts expect this now to change rapidly.
The way is open for governments and funders to roll out mass circumcision campaigns and several of the biggest donor organisations are said to be looking at providing funding.
No African country has yet adopted mass circumcision as a policy, although several countries have been discussing the measure. And some, such as Kenya, have created task teams to tackle implementation.
Swaziland has “circumcision Sundays” to encourage men to undergo the operation.
The Kenyan and Ugandan clinical trials were terminated early, after preliminary research found that circumcision was so safe and effective that it would be unethical not to offer the operation to the uncircumcised control group.
In 2005 a similar trial in South Africa’s Orange Farm was also halted on ethical grounds after it found at least a two-thirds reduction in new HIV infections among circumcised men. Research into whether circumcision also protects female sexual partners from HIV infection is ongoing, although there is indirect evidence suggesting it will.
Male circumcision as a public health measure has been controversial, with some arguing that it is mutilation. There is also concern that circumcised men may practise riskier sex out of over-confidence, and that circumcision may be culturally inappropriate.
However, studies in Africa indicate most men would have the operation as protection against HIV, even if circumcision is not part of their culture.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases, which oversaw the latest research, said there did not seem to be a significant rise in risky sex among circumcised men, although this would continue to be monitored. As circumcision confers only partial protection, men and their partners are still urged to practise safer sex, especially condom usage.
“This data is going to put some people on the spot,” said Harvard researcher Daniel Halperin, who has advocated expanding circumcision for several years. “The response of the international agencies and donors will be crucial. Many people were basically putting aside the Orange Farm data and saying lets see what Uganda and Kenya show. It’s now shown to be at least 50% to 60% effective. Considering how many people are dying from this disease, that is a rather powerful result. Circumcision services need to be made available, safe and affordable.
“The ideal scenario now would be an increase in male circumcision and a decrease in concurrent sexual partners, probably the two strongest things impacting on the spread of HIV, along with consistent condom use.”
In the Kenyan trial, involving 2 784 men, circumcision reduces participants’ risk of catching HIV by 53%. In the Ugandan research there was 48% reduction among the 4 996 participants.
The protective effect is the result of the removal of the mucosal inner lining of the foreskin, which is far more vulnerable to HIV infection than vaginal mucus membranes. An uncircumcised penis also provides a comfortable environment for other sexually transmitted diseases, in turn providing a portal into the body for HIV.
The challenge will now be to be to spread the news among men and their partners, and to implement safe mass circumcision campaigns. One danger is that men may use unregulated and risky circumcision providers, such as “initiation” schools.
In South Africa, the most common method is to use forceps and scissors to slice off the unwanted piece of skin. The wound is cauterised and stitched with dissolvable thread, and healing takes, at most, six weeks.
The procedure is often carried out under local anaesthetic injected into the base of the penis.
But there is growing research into other techniques, including “bloodless” procedures where the foreskin is held tightly in a clamp for several days until the blood-starved skin dies and drops off. Involuntary erections can, however, interfere with the procedure, while the different kinds of clamp need to be sized to fit each individual man.
Other options being examined are surgical glue rather than stitching, because it is fast and potentially less vulnerable to infection. However, the highly adhesive glue could lead to serious -- and potentially permanent -- problems if applied accidentally to the wrong areas.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: January 22, 2007, 12:47:07 PM
In a related vein, this from the Washington Post last month:
Testimony Helps Detail CIA's Post-9/11 Reach
Europeans Told of Plans for Abductions
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 16, 2006; A01
MILAN -- A few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA station chief
in Rome paid a visit to the head of Italy's military intelligence agency,
Adm. Gianfranco Battelli, to float a proposal: Would the Italian secret
services help the CIA kidnap terrorism suspects and fly them out of the
The CIA man did not identify which targets he had in mind but was "expressly
referring to the possibility of picking up a suspected terrorist in Italy,
bringing him to an airport and sending him from there to a foreign country,"
Battelli, now retired, recalled in a deposition.
This initial secret contact and others that followed, disclosed in newly
released documents, show the speed and breadth with which the CIA applied in
post-9/11 Europe a tactic it had long reserved for the Third World --
"extraordinary rendition," the extrajudicial abduction of Islamic radicals
overseas for interrogation in friendly countries.
A year after the first contact, the CIA officer held another meeting with
his Italian counterparts, this time sharing a list of more than 10
"dangerous people" the agency was tracking in Italy, Belgium, Austria and
the Netherlands, according to a deposition from Gen. Gustavo Pignero,
another high-ranking Italian military intelligence official. "It was clear
that this was an aggressive search project, that their willingness to employ
illicit means was clear," Pignero said, adding that the list was later
destroyed and he could not recall the names.
U.S. spies drew up suspect lists with the help of European intelligence
agencies and chased some of the men around the globe before putting a brake
on the operations in early 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq,
according to documents unearthed in criminal investigations, lawsuits and
All told, the U.S. agency took part in the seizure of at least 10 European
citizens or legal immigrants, some of them from countries not cited in that
list of "dangerous people" received by the Italian spies. Four renditions
occurred on European soil: in Sweden, Macedonia and Italy. Six operations
targeted people who were traveling abroad or who had been captured in
Pakistan; European intelligence agencies provided direct assistance to the
CIA in at least five of those cases, records show.
Each prisoner was then secretly handed over to intelligence services in the
Middle East or Africa with histories of human rights abuses. Some remain
imprisoned in those countries; others have been taken to the U.S. naval
prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. One man was later released after being taken
from the Balkans to Afghanistan, the victim of an apparent case of mistaken
In the early stages, the CIA had prepared even more ambitious plans,
according to the depositions from the Italian intelligence officials, who
testified last summer during a criminal investigation into a CIA-sponsored
kidnapping of a radical Islamic cleric in Milan.
For example, Pignero said in his deposition that the CIA's Rome station
chief had offered in 2002 to abduct a fugitive leader of the Red Brigades --
a Marxist network blamed for dozens of assassinations in Italy -- who had
found refuge in South America. "The Americans would capture him and turn him
over to us, and we in return would have to 'extradite' him to Italy without
any legal proceedings," Pignero said.
In exchange, the CIA wanted help in abducting Islamic radicals living in the
Italian cities of Turin, Vercelli and Naples, Pignero said. Italian
intelligence officials rejected the offer, he added, because it was
"contrary to international laws."
Reports of clandestine CIA operations have fueled deep public anger in
Europe, where many people regard renditions as a blatant violation of
national sovereignty and international law. Since last year, prosecutors
have opened four separate criminal investigations into CIA activities in
Europe. A dozen countries have conducted legislative inquiries into whether
local spy agencies were involved.
Last month, a European Parliament committee investigating CIA operations in
Europe condemned the practice of rendition "as an illegal and systematic
instrument used by the United States" and called it "counterproductive in
the fight against terrorism."
"I think that after the 11th of September, the CIA thought that all the ways
useful to capture their enemies, the alleged terrorists, were now possible,"
Giovanni Claudio Fava, an Italian legislator who led the parliamentary
probe, said in an interview in Brussels. "They wanted to clean Europe of all
these dangerous, alleged terrorists. They didn't have faith in the quality
and capacity of our own security controls and our justice system."
In the past year, U.S. officials have sought to repair the diplomatic
damage. They have met repeatedly with their European counterparts to defuse
opposition to renditions, the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo and the
disclosure in November 2005 that the CIA had set up secret prisons for
terrorism suspects in Eastern Europe.
John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
said U.S. diplomats have made some headway. But he added that ongoing
political disputes have "undermined cooperation and intelligence
"I'd say that many European government officials and academics acknowledge
now that there is a legal murkiness that applies to international
terrorism," he said in a telephone interview from Washington. "On the
negative side of the ledger, we do continue to have these hysterical,
inflated allegations denouncing the United States that unfortunately do fan
the flames of suspicion and anti-Americanism."
The CIA declined to comment.
'He Was Too Loud'
The most detailed disclosures about the CIA's European rendition project
have emerged from Milan, where Italian prosecutors have spent two years
investigating the disappearance of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a militant
Egyptian-born cleric known as Abu Omar.
When Nasr vanished in February 2003, police and prosecutors in Milan thought
at first that he had slipped out of the country on his own, perhaps to join
resistance forces in Iraq in advance of the U.S.-led invasion. The CIA lent
credence to their suspicions a few months later, when it delivered an
intelligence bulletin to Rome stating that Nasr had been seen in the
In fact, prosecutors later discovered, Nasr had been grabbed on the street
in Milan as he was walking to a mosque and stuffed into a white van, which
sped to Aviano Air Base, a joint U.S.-Italian military installation. From
there, he was put on a plane to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and onward to
Cairo, where Nasr claims he was tortured for months with electric shocks and
Prosecutors in Milan have since issued arrest warrants on kidnapping charges
for 25 CIA operatives and a U.S. Air Force officer, alleging that they
conspired with Italian secret service agents to abduct Nasr. Although none
of the Americans is likely to be extradited to Italy, prosecutors have
served notice that they intend to try them in absentia and asked a judge
last month to formally indict the defendants.
Senior Italian intelligence officials have also been charged in the case,
including Gen. Nicolo Pollari, director of the Italian military intelligence
agency known as Sismi. Pignero, his former deputy, was arrested in June,
shortly after he gave his deposition to prosecutors. He died of cancer three
months later, on Sept. 11.
European investigators are still examining other mysterious cases of missing
or detained people. Among them is the disappearance a few weeks before
Nasr's kidnapping of another Egyptian-born Islamic fundamentalist.
Gamal al-Menshawi, a physician and occasional mosque preacher who knew Nasr
personally, had left his home in Graz, Austria, bound for the Islamic holy
city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. His wife was waiting for him there, but he
never arrived, according to Egyptian exiles in Austria and Italy who know
Menshawi's trail vanished after he arrived in Amman, Jordan, for a flight
connection. He later surfaced in Egypt. European Parliament investigators
have concluded he was detained there for two years without facing charges.
He was released in 2005 and is living in Alexandria, Egypt, according to
Austrian journalists. He has severed contact with friends and colleagues in
Europe, who strongly suspect he was subjected to a rendition, although they
lack proof or direct evidence of U.S. involvement.
Arman Ahmed al-Hissini, imam of the Viale Jenner mosque in Milan and an
acquaintance of Menshawi and Nasr, said both have been silenced by the
Egyptian security services.
"The Arab secret services, they give names to the CIA of people who they
want, people who are on the outside, such as Europe," said Hissini, an
Egyptian native known locally as Abu Imad. "They give the names to the CIA,
because the CIA can go to work in these countries."
There is also little doubt about Menshawi's fate among those who knew him in
Austria's Islamic community.
"I see the American government as being primarily responsible," said Mohamed
Mahmoud, chairman of a group called Islamic Group of Austria. "This is not
the first time someone has disappeared."
"The Americans look around in Europe for who is being loud, who is speaking
out, and then those people are kidnapped," he added. "He was very vocal; he
was too loud for them. He talked openly about Egypt's government, about the
U.S. government, about the Islamic community in Austria."
'They Needed Information'
About the same time, another Islamic militant from Austria disappeared
during a stopover at the Amman airport.
Masaad Omer Behari, a Sudanese citizen who had lived in Austria for more
than a decade, has said he was arrested by Jordanian secret service agents
on Jan. 12, 2003, as he was traveling home to Vienna from a trip to Sudan.
Behari told European Parliament investigators in October that he was held
for three months in a Jordanian prison, where he was interrogated about
Islamic militants in Austria and elsewhere in Europe. "On the first day I
was in prison, they told me they did not think I was a terrorist, but that
they needed information about the Islamic scene in Vienna," he said.
Documents obtained by the investigators show that Behari had been under
surveillance by Austria's domestic intelligence service since 1998, when he
was interrogated about an alleged plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in
Vienna. Behari said he was innocent and never faced charges, but was
pressured by Austrian secret service agents to leave the country after the
Sept. 11 hijackings.
"I have experienced hard times because I did not cooperate with the security
authorities in Europe and with the Americans," Behari said, according to a
transcript of his testimony. The Austrians "threatened me that they would
cause me problems. I thought it was only 'blah-blah,' but it was the truth."
Austrian authorities said they have not opened official inquiries into the
disappearances of Menshawi or Behari, in part because neither is an Austrian
"Since the alleged abductions did not take place on Austrian soil, in an
Austrian airplane or on an Austrian ship, we see no need for action," said
Rudolf Gollia, spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry.
Special correspondent Shannon Smiley in Berlin contributed to this report.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Movies
on: January 22, 2007, 12:17:46 PM
A friend recommends this:
Letter from Adrian
Hello Dear Friends,
The time has come for BEYOND THE CALL on PBS....TOMORROW!
Who: From the brothers who brought you the Academy Award nominated GENGHIS BLUES comes the next great adventure....BEYOND THE CALL.
What: PBS nationwide airing of BEYOND THE CALL on the award winning series INDEPENDENT LENS.
Where: In your home
When: TOMORROW...Tuesday, January 23rd in the evening. Check local listings for exact time in your area. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/beyondthecall
Why: Because you will be inspired and entertained.
MySpace page with film trailer: http://www.myspace.com/beyondthecall
In an Indiana Jones meets Mother Teresa adventure three middle-aged men, former soldiers and modern-day knights travel the world delivering life saving humanitarian aid directly into the hands of civilians and doctors in some of the most dangerous yet beautiful places on Earth, the front lines of war.
More than five years in the making; nearly a year of theatrical screenings, festival showings, standing ovations and many awards, the time has come for BEYOND THE CALL to have its big TV premiere! We are very excited that BEYOND THE CALL will air nationwide on PBS's award winning series INDEPENDENT LENS this Tuesday, January 23rd in the evening. Please check your local listings for exact time in your area. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/beyondthecall
This will be the one-hour version. The language has been cleaned up so young people and those sensitive to naughty language can view safely.
Rumor has it that BEYOND THE CALL will have additional airings on other days and times throughout this opening week (January 22 - 28), but they will be at odd hours. Check local listings.
Please keep your eyes open for the 35mm feature film version of BEYOND THE CALL, still doing the film festival circuit and theatrical run across the US and around the world through the spring, summer, and into the fall. I and the stars (Ed Artis, Jim Laws and Walt Ratterman) will try to make as many of the screenings as possible.
We are working diligently putting together the extras-packed BEYOND THE CALL DVD that will go on sale in mid February. It will be available on the film's website www.beyondthecallthemovie.com
. We are putting the finishing touches on the www.beyondthecallthemovie.com
website. It will be up in time for the PBS airing. On the site you will be able to leave your email address so that we can contact you as soon as the DVDs are ready. We will not use your emails for any other reason.
The initial production run of BEYOND THE CALL DVDs will be limited, so please sign up so you can be assured a DVD purchase as soon as it comes out.
Thank you so very much for your continued support and encouragement!
Any and all assistance that you can offer to help get the word out about this nationwide PBS airing through your press, organizations, websites, bloggers, etc. contacts would be greatly appreciated. Please contact Independent Lens publicist Mary Lugo at email@example.com
or you can contact me directly.
You can get in touch with the subjects of the film at http://www.kbi.org
(415)716-0660 mobilewww.wadirum.com http://www.myspace.com/beyondthecallhttp://www.pbs.org/independentlens/beyondthecall
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Politica-Economia en Latino America
on: January 22, 2007, 12:08:04 PM
Making Lenin Proud
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
January 22, 2007; Page A14
"The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation."
-- Vladimir Lenin
Mexican historian and author Enrique Krauze has written that he believes that the "last Marxist in history [will] die at a Latin American university." At a minimum, Mr. Krauze seems to have gotten the geography right.
Most of the rest of the world has stuffed communism into the dustbin of history but, as events over the past week remind, Latin America has not. Earlier this month, President Hugo Chávez officially took control of Venezuela's central bank and declared himself a communist. He then traveled to Ecuador to attend the swearing-in ceremony of his latest and perhaps most promising protégé, Rafael Correa, as that country's new president. Mr. Correa has lost no time emulating his mentor.
Mr. Correa, who was Ecuador's finance minister in 2005, was well known in the early stages of the presidential campaign last year as an anti-American, anti-market extremist with a view that "dollarization was the biggest economic error [Ecuador] has ever committed." But when he failed to win in the first round of voting in October, he was forced to adopt a more measured tone and backed off his pledge to end dollarization.
The trouble for Ecuadoreans, as we are now seeing, is that their new president's stripes have not changed. In his first week on the job, he has already demonstrated a profound understanding of Lenin's dictum that power over monetary matters is a revolutionary essential. To that end, he has begun an effort to destroy Ecuador's dollarization. From there, taxation and inflation will do much of his work for him.
At his inauguration last Monday Mr. Correa put on quite a show. Most extraordinary was his not-so-subtle admission that Mr. Chávez is going to be the power behind the Ecuadorean throne. Most Latin governments guard their independence as a matter of national pride. But Mr. Correa appeared quite happy to let the world know that he will be outsourcing Ecuadorean sovereignty to Venezuela.
Ecuador, the new president declared, is "leaving the night of neoliberalism behind" and the new "Bolivarian" government will pursue "21st-century socialism." He denounced competition and called for cooperation instead. He held up a sword that Mr. Chávez had given him as a gift and cried, "Look out, look out, Bolívar's sword is passing through Latin America," a reference to the Chávez agenda, which calls for South American integration under the thumb of the continent's largest energy producer. The Venezuelan president was perched behind the new president, eyes narrowed, enthusiastically applauding the performance. Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was also an honored guest, sitting next to Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Ecuador's political instability is legendary and Mr. Correa is the eighth president in 10 years. He will have to move quickly in his goal to consolidate power and if he is to avoid the fate of his predecessors, he will also have to move carefully.
Rewriting the constitution is so central to his agenda that on inauguration day he decreed a March 18 national referendum on the issue. The only problem is that Mr. Correa hasn't the power to call a constitutional referendum. Changes to the constitution fall under congress. Since Mr. Correa's party has no members in the 100-seat chamber and his coalition is shaky, it is not entirely clear that he will be able to push through the constitutional changes he seeks. His socialist revolution via a constitutional coup could be delayed.
Still, that doesn't leave the aspiring authoritarian without options. He has Lenin's millstones to fall back on, if only he can resurrect a local currency. This explains the assault on dollarization now under way.
The adoption of the greenback as Ecuador's currency seven years ago has been extremely popular among Ecuadoreans of all classes. A long history of repeated bouts of hyperinflation, which destroyed both wages and savings, has finally come to an end and been replaced by a new sense of stability. Mr. Correa knows full well that he cannot strip Ecuadoreans of this one economic gain without facing the kind of rebellion that brought down previous governments. Yet the control he yearns for will not be his as long as the dollar reigns.
To reverse dollarization and introduce a fiat currency, Mr. Correa will have to undermine the dollar economy. One step in that process is stifling commerce with the U.S., his country's largest trading partner. He has already pledged that under his guidance Ecuador will move away from trade liberalization with the gringos and throw its lot in with Mr. Chávez's Bolivarian Alternative for America trading block.
Protectionism will help weaken the dollar economy but it may not be enough to provoke a crisis. A forced restructuring of the country's $10.3 billion in external debt will provide further assistance by damaging the country's creditworthiness and discouraging new investment, particularly because it is well known that Ecuador's debt service as a percentage of gross domestic product is lower than Colombia's or Brazil's. Creditors understand that paying what is owed is a matter of willingness. Nevertheless, Mr. Correa's finance minister, Ricardo Patino, last week proposed a haircut of 60% on the country's debt and invited a team of Argentine officials -- otherwise known as the world's most experienced deadbeats -- to Quito this week to act as advisers.
It will be claimed that the "savings" on debt service will be used to help the poor. This will boost Mr. Correa's populist appeal but politicians never have enough revenue to meet their goals. Low growth rates and disappointing oil prices will exacerbate revenue shortfalls. In a fiscal crisis it is easy to imagine a government like Mr. Correa's issuing script or a new currency in parallel to the dollar.
The new president seems to be prepared for just such an outcome. In the past he has called for a regional currency and he has now announced that he will end central-bank autonomy. Once foreign investment and trade dry up and the bottomless pit of corruption and social spending drains public coffers, dollarization will be the scapegoat. Mr. Correa can then begin to print his own notes and make Lenin proud.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: January 22, 2007, 12:02:56 PM
The Murder of Hrant Dink
By ELIF SHAFAK
January 22, 2007; Page A15
ISTANBUL -- "I feel like a pigeon," Hrant Dink wrote in his last article. "Like a pigeon I wander uneasily amidst this city, watching my back constantly, so timid and yet, so free." That pigeon was gunned down Friday by a young Turkish fanatic on one of the most crowded streets of Istanbul.
Few people can inspire a whole nation in their lifetime, fewer still with their death. Hrant Dink did both. He was a prominent journalist, the editor of the Armenian weekly Agos, an outspoken intellectual, a peace activist, a true citizen of Istanbul and a dear friend. When the news of his assassination broke, thousands poured into the streets, chanting, "We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenian!" People slept in front of his office, guarding the spot where he'd fallen with candles and flowers.
The next day, all the main Turkish papers, left or right, spoke in a chorus of outrage on their front pages. Even more hard-line writers sincerely mourned his loss, asking where things had gone wrong. His death shattered the country and the grief cut across all sorts of ideological and social divides. His funeral will be attended by people from all religions, ethnicities and political inclinations. For Hrant Dink was a man impossible not to love, and far from "denigrating Turkishness," the crime which an Istanbul court convicted him of (under the anti-free-speech Article 301), for talking about the killings of Armenians in the closing days of the Ottoman Empire, he truly loved this land.
That his death was interpreted by some beyond Turkey as proof that Turks don't belong in the European Union would have upset Hrant. Without close ties to the EU, and the West as a whole, he worried that the country will become less democratic and more insular. His Turkey is a tapestry, a place where conflicting voices coexist. His best friends, companions and colleagues were Muslim Turks.
Yet Hrant Dink was, since his early childhood, used to discrimination. As he was getting ready to appeal his six-month sentence (eventually suspended) to the European Court of Justice, he wrote that, "I had no other option left. Why is it that although everyone tried under Article 301 has been acquitted one way or another, I have been sentenced to prison? Is it because I am Armenian and they wanted to intimidate me, teach me my limits?" Hrant knew the price to be paid for being in the political and ethnic minority, and still refused to withdraw into a glass ghetto.
Surrounded with friends and family, Hrant Dink was in many ways a lonely man. As critical as he was of Turkish ultranationalism, he had little time for Armenian ultranationalism. At his talks in the U.S., Europe and Australia to Armenian groups, he never played to the gallery. The biases and generalizations about Turkey and Turks in the Armenian diaspora frustrated him. "There is a big difference between Armenians in the diaspora and Armenians in Turkey," he once said. "You guys are Armenian one day a year, on the 24th of April" -- the commemoration of the 1915 massacres and deportations -- "whereas we are Armenian every day of the year but on that one."
Hrant opposed a French bill last year that sought to criminalize denial of the Armenian genocide, as well as a similar law now under discussion in the U.S. Congress. "If they pass the law in France, I will go there," he said, "and though I believe the opposite, I will openly say that there was no genocide." As a genuine supporter of freedom of expression, Hrant believed that it should be up to people, Turks and Armenians together, to find the means to reconcile, not to politicians to pass judgment on that history.
Many people asked Hrant why he didn't leave Turkey for Europe or America. The answer he gave was the inspiration for one that a Turkish-Armenian characters in my last novel, "The Bastard of Istanbul," offers.
"But why would I want to do that? This city is my city. My family's history in this city goes back at least 500 years. Armenian Istanbulites belong to Istanbul, just like the Turkish, Kurdish, Greek and Jewish Istanbulites do. We have first managed and then badly failed to live together. We cannot fail again."
Ms. Shafak is the author of "The Bastard of Istanbul" (Viking, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues
on: January 22, 2007, 12:00:35 PM
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The Truth About Clarence Thomas
By JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG
January 22, 2007; Page A14
Clarence Thomas has borne some of the most vitriolic personal attacks in Supreme Court history. But the persistent stereotypes about his views on the law and subordinate role on the court are equally offensive -- and demonstrably false. An extensive documentary record shows that Justice Thomas has been a significant force in shaping the direction and decisions of the court for the past 15 years.
That's not the standard storyline. Immediately upon his arrival at the court, Justice Thomas was savaged by court-watchers as Antonin Scalia's dutiful apprentice, blindly following his mentor's lead. It's a grossly inaccurate portrayal, imbued with politically incorrect innuendo, as documents and notes from Justice Thomas's very first days on the court conclusively show. Far from being a Scalia lackey, the rookie jurist made clear to the other justices that he was willing to be the solo dissenter, sending a strong signal that he would not moderate his opinions for the sake of comity. By his second week on the bench, he was staking out bold positions in the private conferences where justices vote on cases. If either justice changed his mind to side with the other that year, it was Justice Scalia joining Justice Thomas, not the other way around.
Much of the documentary evidence for this comes from the papers of Justice Harry Blackmun, who recorded the justices' votes and took detailed notes explaining their views. I came across vivid proof while reading the papers as part of my research for a book about how the Rehnquist Court -- a court with seven justices appointed by Republican presidents -- evolved into an ideological and legal disappointment for conservatives.
Justice Thomas's first term was especially interesting. He replaced legendary liberal icon Thurgood Marshall, and joined the court just a year after David Souter took William Brennan's seat. There appeared to be a solid conservative majority, with the court poised to finally dismember the liberal legacy of the Warren Court. But that year it instead lurched inexplicably to the left -- even putting Roe v. Wade on more solid ground.
Justice Thomas's first year on the job brought to life the adage that a new justice makes a new court. His entry didn't merely change the vote of the liberal justice he replaced. It turned the chessboard around entirely, rearranging ideological alliances. Justice Thomas acted as a catalyst in different ways, shoring up conservative positions in some cases and spurring others -- the moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in particular -- to realign themselves into new voting blocs.
Consider a criminal case argued during Justice Thomas's first week. It concerned a thief's effort to get out of a Louisiana mental institution and the state's desire to keep him there. Eight justices voted to side with the thief. Justice Thomas dissented, arguing that although it "may make eminent sense as a policy matter" to let the criminal out of the mental institution, nothing in the Constitution required "the states to conform to the policy preferences of federal judges."
After he sent his dissenting opinion to the other justices, as is custom, Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Kennedy changed their votes. The case ended up 5-4.
Justice Thomas's dissents persuaded Justice Scalia to change his mind several times that year. Even in Hudson v. McMillan, the case that prompted the New York Times to infamously label Justice Thomas the "youngest, cruelest justice," he was again, initially, the lone dissenter. Justice Scalia changed his vote after he read Justice Thomas's dissent, which said a prison inmate beaten by guards had several options for redress -- but not under the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment."
* * *
From the beginning, Justice Thomas was an independent voice. His brutal confirmation hearings only enforced his autonomy, making him impervious to criticism from the media and liberal law professors. He'd told his story, and no one listened. From then on, he did not care what they said about him.
Clarence Thomas, for example, is the only justice who rarely asks questions at oral arguments. One reason is that he thinks his colleagues talk too much from the bench, and he prefers to let the lawyers explain their case with fewer interruptions. But his silence is sometimes interpreted as a lack of interest, and friends have begged him to ask a few questions to dispel those suggestions. He refuses to do it. "They have no credibility," he says of critics. "I am free to live up to my oath."
But the forcefulness and clarity of Justice Thomas's views, coupled with wrongheaded depictions of him doing Justice Scalia's bidding, created an internal dynamic that caused the court to make an unexpected turn in his first year. Justice O'Connor -- who sought ideological balance -- moved to the left. With the addition of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the court now is poised to finally fulfill the hopes of the conservative movement. As George W. Bush told his legal advisers early in his presidency, he wanted justices in "the mold of Thomas and Scalia." Interestingly, on President Bush's marquee, Justice Thomas got top billing.
Ms. Crawford Greenburg, legal correspondent for ABC News, is the author of "Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story for Control of the United States Supreme Court," published tomorrow by Penguin Press.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: where to start.....
on: January 22, 2007, 10:38:40 AM
I think for most people you can't go wrong with our first series, "Real Contact Stickfighting". RCS is mostly focused on solo training and is mostly presented in a format of breaking down a particular strike, footwork pattern, stick combination, etc and then practicing along with Top Dog. The instructional material is interspersed with fights ("If you see it taught, you see if fought.") and interviews.
Lonely Dog's "Power" DVD" is outstanding for all levels.
The KK material is particularly accessible for people with a background in Muay Thai. Some beginners without a MT background find it not too hard to pick up, and some don't.
For getting started in two-man training I would suggest "Combining Stick & Footwork" featuring, , , ahem , , , me. After this try the KK DVD again and you may find that you are ready.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Condolences...
on: January 22, 2007, 10:29:38 AM
A nice obituary posted on the Eskrima Digest:
Tatang Bo Sayoc Has Passed Away
Tatang Bo Sayoc Has Passed Away
Written by Administrator
Wednesday, 03 January 2007
With sadness we announce the passing of Tatang Baltazar "Bo" Sayoc.
He passed away on January 3, 2007 at his home in Cavite, Philippines.
After his time in the Merchant Marines, Tatang Bo immigrated to the
United States in 1962 and introduced his children to the Martial Arts at a
very young age. By the time his eldest children were in their early teens they
were already assisting in running his school in Queens, New York. This was the
time of the largest migration of Filipino Martial Artists on the East Coast.
They were all welcomed and hosted by Tatang Bo Sayoc and the Sayoc family. The
then relatively unknown weapon masters would dine, train and exchange ideas
about the direction of their equally obscure art. As those who have known him
will all state, Tatang Bo was always open to all ideas and evolution of the
In time, these men would become a veritable who's who in the Martial
His children exposed to some of the very best weapon experts on the
planet on a daily basis.
"That's was just the way it is" as Tatang Bo would often say.
By the early 80's Tatang Bo quietly moved his family to SouthWest
Florida and worked as a correctionals officer until his retirement in the
early nineties. He worked quietly, the inmates never knew he taught martial
arts until they had seen a local tv crew cover his school years later. He
would often tell his students of which techniques he found useful and what he
felt was unusable in that environment. Everything he taught was based on
whether or not it could be of applicable value. He did all this with very
little need for personal acclaim or self - promotion. Although he never stated
it out loud, one could tell that he valued the FMA so much that instead of
keeping it a family art he would open his doors once again in such a small
Southern community. One that collectively barely even knew where the
Philippine islands were, let alone the words Kali, Arnis or Eskrima.
The Florida schools were literally small humble warehouses of concrete
and sweat, and many students who came looking for a commercialized school or a
traditional "eastern" martial art would eventually realize Tatang Bo's school
was not for them.
If Tatang Bo didn't like what he saw the individual was kindly turned
away or directed elsewhere.A student's first day was spent getting
finger-printed, photographed for ID and evaluated. Then you were handed live
machetes and sticks. The evaluation never ceased. Only those who could peel
away the layers from Tatang Bo's teachings were allowed to hang around. He was
developing Feeder- based students without ever stating so. In time, he knew
that his sons would eventually take over the family art and would often say
so. In the meantime, he would always take students to see the now established
FMA luminaries if they were anywhere in the state of Florida. He wanted the
Florida students to experience a small slice of what it was like during the
old days. A sense of the history of the Filipino arts. Tatang Bo was always
greeted by them as a brother.
"Where had he been?" "What have the Sayocs been up to?"
Tatang Bo was doing what he had always done, stayed in the sidelines and
allow others to shine. Promote everyone's events as much as he can. Hone his
skills. Evolve his art. Get his students out there in the public doing demos,
almost every weekend - up and down the Florida coastline, often in open
tournaments when they wouldn't be allowed to participate unless they had on a
traditional white gi.
Tatang Bo would often come in to class from an overnight shift still
wearing his uniform. Or get ready to work right after the night classes. He
would change into his workout attire and he was good to go. He would never
miss a day, he was always in his school teaching the handful of students. The
schools he had were always small in number, it always felt like you were a
family just gathering around to train and talk. He often spoke about his
family and their accomplishments in FMA. By the time a student met Tatang's
sons it was if they'd known them all along. As quiet as he was about his own
skills, he was in contrast very eager to let everyone know about his family's
accomplishments. He was always placing the spotlight on those he felt were
worthy of it.
By the early nineties, Tatang Bo had established his school and retired
to Imus, Cavite in the Philippines. He visited the states a couple of more
times, once more to record his Finger Touch curriculum. Several years later,
in frailer heatlh due to several strokes Tatang attended the annual Sayoc
Sama Sama and witnessed how much his family art's had grown. He was still in
good humor, and perhaps it was because he was able to see that all the effort
had been worth it. It was left unsaid but many knew it was probably the final
time they would be in his presence. As always, Tatang Bo was more interested
in what you had done than what he was going through.
"That's was just the way it is."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Petraeus Time or Bush stumbles again?
on: January 20, 2007, 11:25:40 PM
Bush's new Iraq strategy has a chance--but it needs revision.
BY REUEL MARC GERECHT
Sunday, January 21, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Can one back President Bush's new strategy in Iraq? Yes. For all its serious faults, his new approach is the first one since the fall of Baghdad to offer a chance to reverse the radicalization of Iraq. But it needs revision quickly.
Too much of this new plan leaves unchanged the disastrous approach of John Abizaid and George Casey, the two top generals on Iraq. The new offensive, assuming it doesn't peter out through a slow arrival of soldiers, or become enfeebled by "Iraqi leadership" in its execution, envisions a too-small U.S. force doing too much. Recent remarks by Defense Secretary Robert Gates--predicting troop reductions within a year, and saying that we might not need an additional five brigades in Baghdad for a successful operation--are a frightening echo of the self-defeating, undermanned optimism that came from the U.S. military under Mr. Gates's predecessor.
The good news is that by emphasizing a military, not political, strategy to diminish Iraq's debilitating violence, the president has correctly set aside one of the primary factors destroying the Shiite Arab center. While waiting for a "political solution" to the Sunni insurgency, we watched Shiite timidity and patience turn to anger--and to a revenge which now threatens the integrity of the Shiite-led Iraqi government. Gens. Abizaid and Casey had gambled that they could stand up an effective Iraqi military and police against the Sunnis before violence threatened everything in Baghdad. That bet collapsed with the destruction of the Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006--but the administration kept playing the same hand as if nothing had happened. The reversal of this soft-power, politics-not-troops mentality is an essential step forward.
Still, David Petraeus, who will succeed Gen. Casey as the overall boss in Iraq and who is one of America's finest, most adaptable commanders, may have to perform a miracle to compensate for this shortfall in manpower, especially if the required five brigades for Baghdad take months to arrive, and if Washington allows the offensive to move forward before he is even in charge. The president can pre-empt these lethal problems by ensuring Gen. Petraeus's rapid arrival in Iraq and by allowing him to determine how many soldiers he needs.
Nevertheless, there is a dismaying hesitancy in the military's and the White House's deliberations on this conflict. Although the president wants a new approach, the Pentagon, the State Department and even the National Security Council appear wedded to the past. The contradiction between what the president says and what his government does has never been greater. We need to move rapidly: The enemy is digging in and the drift to full-scale civil war is gaining speed.
The administration needs to rethink its understanding of Iraqi culture and politics, as the "new" strategy still contains ideas that have catastrophically guided American officials in the Green Zone ever since Sunni Arab insurgents started killing Americans in significant numbers. U.S. officials still believe they must soon see sectarian reconciliation, a reversal of de-Baathification, and a nonsectarian, equitable distribution of oil wealth.
All these achievements are meant to placate the aggrieved Sunni Arabs, who represent 15% of the population. But no one knows how many Sunni Arabs sympathize with their brethren who've been killing Shia. It certainly seemed like a very large number before the Shiites started counterattacking through their militias. The statements of Iraqi Sunni Arab organizations, the coverage of the Iraqi Sunni press and the region's Sunni Arab media, which often quotes and echoes the opinions of Iraqi Sunnis, suggest strongly that there is substantial communitarian support for both domestic and foreign suicide bombers.
For the serious ex-Baathists, Sunni supremacists and Iraqi Sunni fundamentalists--the lethal hardcore of the insurgency--it's still a good bet that they're not into democratic negotiations. They probably don't think much at all about an equitable distribution of oil revenues--or wanting their jobs back in the new army's officer corps.
De-Baathification for the Shiites and the Sunnis is really about only one thing: the army. But from the moment the U.S. started building a more representative Iraqi military in 2003, there was no way in hell the old Baathist Sunni officer corps could come back. And now, with the Shiites killing Sunnis, even the most enlightened of the proscribed Baathist officers (this isn't a large group) know that return would be suicide. No one knows how many Sunni Arabs would turn against their uncompromising, murderous brethren and align themselves with Shiites if the right "deal" were struck. It's a very good guess that such men, if they exist in any number, would get mowed down by their radical compatriots.
If the U.S. and Iraqi governments are going to bring peace to the "Sunni triangle," they must break the back of the insurgency. A minority, used to the prerogatives of a communitarian dictatorship, the Sunnis have been trying to derail the new Iraq: They must come to know that they will lose everything if they don't abandon violence as their principal political tool. They must know that if they choose to cease their violent opposition, they will not be murdered for doing so. This means, as it has always meant, a combined American and Shiite Iraqi occupation of major Sunni Arab cities. If the Sunni community hasn't hopelessly gone into a dominance-or-death opposition, then it could still come to its senses, provided the violent hardcore among them is neutralized and the Shiites and the Kurds allow them sufficient access to oil wealth. Shiite death squads have certainly taught the Sunnis of Baghdad that there are worse things than infidel U.S. troops in their neighborhoods.
Baghdad is the first step. And as retired general Jack Keane and the military historian Frederick Kagan have been pointing out, restoring security in Baghdad will take at least 18 months and all the troops the president pledged. To quote Gen. Keane: "We need all five brigades in Baghdad as soon as possible. It will take three to four months to clear neighborhoods of death squads and insurgents, and at least the rest of the year to establish proper security for the population." This is going to be a long, hard slog. And the Americans, not the Iraqis, are going to have to lead it.
The president's stated contention--that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's army and police will lead efforts to cleanse the city, while the Americans just support them--will produce dismal results. Mr. Maliki's pride doesn't win battles. George Bush has been fond of underscoring the counterinsurgency success in Tal Afar, in which the Iraqi army played an important supporting role. If Gen. Petraeus is really put into a supporting role in the Battle of Baghdad, then we've lost already.
Gen. Petraeus will have to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr. The thuggish son of Iraq's most revered clerical family, he has become for many Shiites in Baghdad a rapturously praised defender. This esteem is merited: He, not any American general, increased the security of the average Shiite in the capital. And if he is smart, he'll attack the Americans before they have the chance to deploy much new strength. If the Americans successfully down Sunni insurgents in the capital, then they will go after Mr. Sadr.
But the U.S. military should absolutely not go after Mr. Sadr first. We may barely have sufficient forces to handle a one-front war against Sunni insurgents and holy warriors. We need to show the Shiite community, which by no means has embraced Mr. Sadr's radicalism en masse, that the Battle of Baghdad's primary thrust isn't against the capital's large Shiite ghetto.
The key here is how Shiites view the first encounter. If it goes against the insurgents, then a subsequent attack on Mr. Sadr and his militia might not provoke a large-scale uprising. And he just may play along. He and his forces were mauled by the Americans in 2004. Since then they haven't been particularly bold in attacking U.S. soldiers. Mr. Sadr has recently manifested some statesmen-like behavior, and has been more correct in his behavior toward Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual guide of Iraq's Shia and a bulwark of moderation. Yet Washington ought to plan on Mr. Sadr hitting U.S. forces--another reason why Gen. Petraeus, who appears acutely sensitive to the Sadr conundrum, should be given as many brigades as the U.S. can rapidly pull together.
Wars are often decided by one battle, where the genius and resources of one commander proves decisive. We are undoubtedly at that point in Iraq. The Bush administration should ensure that Gen. Petraeus has everything he needs, and that any opposition inside the military to him and a larger, longer counterinsurgency campaign is squelched. America and Iraq probably won't get a second chance.
Mr. Gerecht is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics
on: January 18, 2007, 09:54:57 AM
Shades of Gray
By JOHN FUND
January 18, 2007; Page A16
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Ted Kennedy, the nation's most persistent backer of nationalized health care, must be smiling at the irony. Almost four decades after he first proposed the idea, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Kennedy relative by marriage, is touting his own version of universal coverage, and, if adopted, the idea could go nationwide quickly. It's no wonder critics are already dubbing the ostensibly Republican chief executive "Schwarzenkennedy."
This isn't the first time Mr. Kennedy has found a Republican to carry water for him. In 1971, after Medicare spending had increased by more than 70% in five years (although the number of people enrolled grew by only 6%), Richard Nixon declared a "health-care cost crisis" and worked with Mr. Kennedy to propose mandatory employer-provided health insurance. The idea foundered, but a modified version now has been revived by Mr. Schwarzenegger, who wants to require that every person buy health insurance, or be covered by an employer or the government. Massachusetts has a more modest law in place, and an adviser to Mitt Romney helped Schwarzenegger aides on their plan.
Liberals are overjoyed at the about-face by a governor who in 2005 vetoed a Democratic bill that would have merely expanded the state's coverage of children, saying the $300 million price tag was too high. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez praises the governor's new proposal: "This is a plan Assembly Democrats could have written."
Indeed, they already have -- and Mr. Schwarzenegger fiercely opposed it at the time. In 2003, then-Gov. Gray Davis, fighting to stave off his recall, signed a law mandating employers with 20 or more employees provide health coverage or pay into a state fund that would provide it. After Mr. Davis was recalled, Mr. Schwarzenegger helped lead an effort to repeal what he called a "job-killing health-care tax." In 2004, 51% of voters agreed and repealed universal coverage in the same election in which George W. Bush lost the state by 10 percentage points and the highly liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer was re-elected by 20 points.
But the next year, Mr. Schwarzenegger suffered a stinging defeat as public employee unions spent $130 million in a special election to defeat four reform initiatives he supported. A chastened governator swung left by hiring as top aides Susan Kennedy and Daniel Zingale, two former deputy chiefs of staff to the recalled Mr. Davis; Jason Kinney, a Davis speechwriter, joked that he had decided "to finish the second term of Gray Davis." No one is laughing now. The behind-the-scenes architects of much of the governor's plan were Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Zingale, who also served as Mr. Davis's director of managed health care.
Last November, Gov. Schwarzenegger won landslide re-election in part by winning 91% of Republicans with an ironclad pledge not to raise taxes. He pounded Phil Angelides, his Democratic opponent, for wanting to raise taxes by $7 billion to pay for universal health care. But now the estimated cost of the Schwarzenegger plan to cover California's uninsured, including two million illegal aliens, is $12 billion. State subsidies for people to buy insurance will extend to those earning up to $50,000 a year, more than California's median income. "He's creating a welfare state where more than half the people are in the wagon being pulled than outside the wagon pulling," says one health-care analyst.
As bad as the policy implications are, the governor's plan may be fatally flawed, politically. He insists it doesn't raise taxes, despite billions in new charges on doctors, hospitals and employers. He prefers to call the new revenue "in-lieu fees" and "coverage dividends." "He excoriated Phil Angelides, rightly, for proposing the same tax increases he has put on the table," says GOP state Sen. Tom McClintock. "He is now pushing the second largest tax increase in California history. I won't be able to trust anything he says."
Whether the new revenue is a tax or not is important, because if it is a tax the plan must garner a very difficult two-thirds vote in both legislative houses. Barring that, the California Supreme Court will have trouble with the concept. A fee on employers who don't offer health insurance probably requires only a majority vote. However, the imposition of a levy on the gross revenues of doctors and hospitals is almost certainly a tax that would require two-thirds approval.
Then there are the feds. The $5 billion a year in extra federal Medicaid money, which the governor is banking on, is shaky. An even greater barrier is Erisa, the 1974 federal pension law that preempts all state laws that regulate employee benefits. Last summer, a federal judge threw out Maryland's so-called "Wal-Mart law" requiring large firms to spend 8% of their payroll on health care because "state laws which impose health or welfare mandates on employers are invalid under Erisa." Just yesterday a federal appeals court upheld the ruling voiding the Maryland law.
Rather than pursue a legally dubious universal coverage proposal, Mr. Schwarzenegger should have pursued the universal access he used to tout. He could sign up more of the nearly one million Californians eligible for current health programs but not yet enrolled. The 49 coverage mandates that make insurance so expensive (Idaho has only 13) could be reduced and residents allowed to buy coverage from other states. Nurse practitioners could be allowed to set up their own clinics. Instead, the governor's plan piles on a new mandate that bars insurers from turning down anyone based on health status or age. When New Jersey instituted a similar rule in 1993, premiums jumped 500%.
Mr. Schwarzenegger insists he is pursuing a centrist course that borrows from both the right and left. But more realistically, he is imitating Richard Nixon's old strategy of throwing rhetorical bones to his right while attempting to appease the left with liberal programs. Emmet John Hughes, an Eisenhower speechwriter who knew Nixon well, once said he "judged any declaration of speech not by its content but by its impact." That explains Nixon's dramatic lurches into or toward wage price controls, a guaranteed annual income and mandatory employer health insurance.
Arnold Schwarzenegger used to claim he admired Ronald Reagan most "because he stuck by his principles when others wouldn't." But with his Rube Goldberg health plan Mr. Schwarzenegger has demonstrated that at his core he prefers roles more suited to Tricky Dick than the Gipper. Should he succeed, the long-term dream of nationalized health care held by Ted Kennedy, and Hillary Clinton, will be closer to reality than ever.
Mr. Fund is a columnist for OpinionJournal.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: January 18, 2007, 09:51:29 AM
January 18, 2007; Page A16
If Republicans are wondering how best to shorten their time in the minority, they could do worse than to build on this week's Senate earmark victory. That reform success proves how good policy translates into good politics.
The Senate on Tuesday passed significant earmark reform, 98-0. But that unanimous tally masks the bitter battle that preceded the vote. When Republican freshmen Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint first launched an effort last summer to make earmarks more transparent, they struggled. Republicans had to be dragged into even minimal reform, and among their first acts after losing the election was to attempt to slip thousands more earmarks into their lame-duck spending bills.
Still, minority status has a way of focusing the mind, and combined with continued DeMint-Coburn shaming, Senate Republicans appear to have re-embraced some principles. When Majority Leader Harry Reid last week attempted to water down House Democrats' earmark reform, Messrs. Coburn and DeMint rallied enough fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) to outmaneuver the spenders. Red-faced at getting caught trying to submarine their own party's plan for reform, Senate Democrats did an about-face and jumped on the earmark-reform bandwagon.
The result was a mini-competition as to which side of the aisle was tougher on earmarks, and a final bill that goes beyond even the House reform. Senator DeMint passed (98-0) an amendment that broadens the definition of an earmark; even those slipped into last-minute conference reports will have to be disclosed. Under the original Senate legislation, 95% of earmarks would have escaped scrutiny.
More amazing was Democrats' new enthusiasm for oversight. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin -- who started off trying to tank Mr. DeMint's reform -- finished by passing an amendment (also 98-0) that requires lawmakers to post their earmark requests on the Internet 48 hours before a vote. (The House version of the bill simply requires a public disclosure form.) California Democrat Dianne Feinstein also joined in, passing by voice vote a provision that would bar lawmakers from including earmarks in the classified parts of a bill or a conference report unless they also included language in unclassified terms describing the project, funding levels and sponsor. Classified reports were among the ways that former Rep. Duke Cunningham -- now in federal prison -- hid his earmark payoffs.
None of this is to suggest earmarks will disappear in Washington. The real test will be whether lawmakers can restrain themselves from inserting pork-barrel projects. The news isn't encouraging. We hear federal agency telephones have been ringing off the hook, as Congressmen use back-channels to secure earmarks that they'd rather not appear in public.
Still, the reform is a good start. Republicans made headlines with their demands last week, and the news stories were a welcome change for a public appalled by Congress's spend-happy ways. If conservatives had shown this sort of commitment to their small-government ideals back when it mattered, they might still be in the majority.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Education/Parenting
on: January 18, 2007, 09:36:38 AM
Aztecs vs. Greeks
Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise.
BY CHARLES MURRAY
Thursday, January 18, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
If "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can become theoretical physicists, then we're talking about no more than a few people per thousand and perhaps many fewer. They are cognitive curiosities, too rare to have that much impact on the functioning of society from day to day. But if "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can stand out in almost any profession short of theoretical physics, then research about IQ and job performance indicates that an IQ of at least 120 is usually needed. That number demarcates the top 10% of the IQ distribution, or about 15 million people in today's labor force--a lot of people.
In professions screened for IQ by educational requirements--medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia--the great majority of people must, by the nature of the selection process, have IQs over 120. Evidence about who enters occupations where the screening is not directly linked to IQ indicates that people with IQs of 120 or higher also occupy large proportions of positions in the upper reaches of corporate America and the senior ranks of government. People in the top 10% of intelligence produce most of the books and newspaper articles we read and the television programs and movies we watch. They are the people in the laboratories and at workstations who invent our new pharmaceuticals, computer chips, software and every other form of advanced technology.
Combine these groups, and the top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence.
How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.
But never mind. A large proportion of gifted children are born to parents who value their children's talent and do their best to see that it is realized. Most gifted children without such parents are recognized by someone somewhere along the educational line and pointed toward college. No evidence indicates that the nation has many children with IQs above 120 who are not given an opportunity for higher education. The university system has also become efficient in shipping large numbers of the most talented high-school graduates to the most prestigious schools. The allocation of this human capital can be criticized--it would probably be better for the nation if more of the gifted went into the sciences and fewer into the law. But if the issue is amount of education, then the nation is doing fine with its next generation of gifted children. The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.
We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist. And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.
The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one's own intellectual limits and fallibilities--in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today's education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, "I can't do this." Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them. That level of demand cannot fairly be imposed on a classroom that includes children who do not have the ability to respond. The gifted need to have some classes with each other not to be coddled, but because that is the only setting in which their feet can be held to the fire.
The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level.
The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good.
The encouragement of wisdom requires an advanced knowledge of history. Never has the aphorism about the fate of those who ignore history been more true.
All of the above are antithetical to the mindset that prevails in today's schools at every level. The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments. They should not be taught to be equally respectful of Aztecs and Greeks; they should focus on the best that has come before them, which will mean a light dose of Aztecs and a heavy one of Greeks. The primary purpose of their education should not be to let the little darlings express themselves, but to give them the tools and the intellectual discipline for expressing themselves as adults.
In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. But we have that option only in the choice of our elected officials. In all other respects, the government, economy and culture are run by a cognitive elite that we do not choose. That is the reality, and we are powerless to change it. All we can do is try to educate the elite to be conscious of, and prepared to meet, its obligations. For years, we have not even thought about the nature of that task. It is time we did.
The goals that should shape the evolution of American education are cross-cutting and occasionally seem contradictory. Yesterday, I argued the merits of having a large group of high-IQ people who do not bother to go to college; today, I argue the merits of special education for the gifted. The two positions are not in the end incompatible, but there is much more to be said, as on all the issues I have raised.
The aim here is not to complete an argument but to begin a discussion; not to present policy prescriptions, but to plead for greater realism in our outlook on education. Accept that some children will be left behind other children because of intellectual limitations, and think about what kind of education will give them the greatest chance for a fulfilling life nonetheless. Stop telling children that they need to go to college to be successful, and take advantage of the other, often better ways in which people can develop their talents. Acknowledge the existence and importance of high intellectual ability, and think about how best to nurture the children who possess it.
Mr. Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This concludes a three-part series which began on Tuesday.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: January 18, 2007, 09:33:45 AM
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
The Democratic Field
It's Hillary versus everybody else.
Thursday, January 18, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Illinois Senator Barack Obama's announcement this week that he's likely to enter the Presidential race adds a dash of glamour and excitement to the Democratic field. But all of his media attention doesn't change the basic truth of the 2008 primary contest: The race is between Hillary Rodham Clinton and everybody else.
New York's junior Senator hasn't announced yet, but her troops have long been massing, ready to march on her orders. And what a political machine it is, starting with her husband, who has made it clear he is aching for her to run. Psychoanalyzing the Clintons is perilous, but we suspect the former President doesn't like the way his years in office ended, with impeachment, the Marc Rich pardon and Al Gore's failure to deliver a third symbolic term. A victory for his wife would be a kind of political redemption for him too.
Mrs. Clinton brings her own considerable strengths, not least intelligence and self-discipline. She has performed far more smoothly in the Senate than many observers expected, and she hasn't been a polarizing figure in New York (winning 67% of the vote in November).
Then there are those Clinton legions--of fund-raisers, union chiefs, party bosses, think tank operatives, media consultants. Mrs. Clinton blew through more than $30 million during her all but uncontested Senate re-election campaign, and she will have little trouble raising another $100 million or more. Longtime aide Harold Ickes--famous for his silent depositions in Clinton II--is the seasoned hand on money matters and he'll also bring on Big Labor. Meanwhile, former White House chief of staff John Podesta has set up the Center for American Progress, from which she can poach left-leaning policy ideas.
From her national perch on the Armed Services Committee, Mrs. Clinton has so far also walked a remarkable tightrope on the Iraq war, only recently coming out for some sort of "cap" on the number of troops. A major story over the coming year will be whether she can resist the defeatist tug of her party's antiwar left as she tries to win the Democratic nomination.
Which brings up her biggest liability--the fear in many Democratic hearts that she's not "electable." Mrs. Clinton carries much of the scandal baggage of her husband's tenure without much of his political charisma. If one potential Democratic theme is to run against the "divisive" Bush Republicans, Hillary is not your ideal "uniter." Perhaps American voters won't want to hear about Arkansas, et cetera, all over again, but then is that a risk Democrats want to take?
This is where Mr. Obama comes in, bidding to be the un-Hillary. At age 45, he's already managed the remarkable feat of writing his own autobiography, literally and politically. He's applauded for saying he's proud that he did inhale, and he has the virtue of being a genuinely fresh face. But campaigns have a way of filling in a candidate's resumes in ways other than they design, including their positions on actual issues. Mr. Obama is already moving left on national security--which is dangerous ground for a political rookie amid what the Pentagon calls "the long war" on terror.
North Carolina's John Edwards is another vigorous contender, though the erstwhile Vice Presidential candidate failed to deliver his home state to John Kerry last time around. This time he's raising the decibels on his "two Americas" campaign theme, hoping to catch some of that Hubert Humphrey political magic. If he can sell this message as a millionaire trial lawyer, he'll have earned the nomination.
The rest of the Democratic field includes two governors--Iowa's Tom Vilsack and New Mexico's Bill Richardson--who have solid state records, and Mr. Richardson also has foreign-policy credentials. But both will have trouble breaking through the fund-raising barriers erected by the campaign-finance limits they themselves have supported. This is a shame, because both men have something to offer. And then there is the usual gaggle of Senators--Dodd, Biden and even Kerry--who are running because . . . well, because that seems to be what their DNA has programmed them to do.
If we were betting on a wild card challenger, we'd look instead to Al Gore. The former Vice President has been coy about his intentions. But he might be getting a ton of free publicity for his global warming "documentary" come Oscar time, and there's little doubt he could raise money if he got in. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, there are a lot of Democrats who feel passionately about him and his near-win in 2000.
There are cycles in politics, and, after eight years of Republicans in the White House, Democrats in 2008 will have the public's normal desire for change on their side. On the other hand, they will also have to show they can be trusted on national security in a post 9/11 world, especially running against the likes of Republicans John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. Mrs. Clinton's studied middle-ground on security suggests she understands that. The main Democratic drama of the coming months will be whether her party really trusts that she and her husband have learned enough not to repeat the mistakes of the 1990s.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: January 17, 2007, 03:01:10 PM
January 17, 2007; Page A18
The myth persists in some media circles that the federal budget deficit is "surging" or ballooning or something terrible -- all of which is served up as ammunition for those in Congress who want a tax increase. At the risk of being drummed out of the guild, we thought you'd rather have the real story.
The deficit has in fact declined by some $165 billion over the past two fiscal years, and according to the most recent data has continued to fall in the first quarter of fiscal 2007. The latest Treasury estimates for January show that tax receipts in December were $18 billion higher than a year earlier, helping to boost the budget surplus for the month to $40 billion, up from $11 billion a year ago. December is typically a good month for revenues due to year-end tax payments.
Meanwhile, for the first three months of fiscal 2007 through December, revenues climbed 8.1%, building on double-digit revenue increases in the previous two years. Corporate income taxes were up a remarkable 22.2% in the first fiscal quarter, showing that the government continues to grab a nice chunk of the rising business profits that so many of our politicians like to deplore. Individual income taxes rose 8.8%, thanks to strong wage and salary growth. Much of this revenue comes from "the rich," believe it or not.
In the most surprising budget news, federal spending was nearly flat in the first fiscal quarter. This was despite a 22.1% increase in Medicare spending due largely to the new prescription drug benefit, and a 10.7% increase in defense. Those increases were offset by lower spending for flood insurance and disaster assistance compared with the peak of post-Katrina payments a year ago. So the first quarter deficit was $85 billion, down sharply from $119 billion a year earlier.
All in all, despite huge outlays for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nation's fiscal picture is brightening. We hate to ruin the press corps's day with such cheerful news, but there it is.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Politica-Economia en Latino America
on: January 17, 2007, 02:57:31 PM
Pues, faltando participacion en espanol, he aqui algo en ingles:
Hugo and Mahmoud
January 17, 2007; Page A18
We've known for some time that Hugo Chávez is a menace to the economic well-being of his own people. But the question that seems increasingly urgent is whether he's becoming a threat to U.S. security interests -- both in the Western Hemisphere and beyond.
Specifically, we'd like to know what Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Bill Delahunt make of Mr. Chávez's weekend summit with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian President stopped by Caracas on Saturday as part of a four-day engagement with Latin America's new leftist governments. On Sunday, the Iranian communed with Nicaragua's new boss, Daniel Ortega, and then on Monday he hit the inauguration of Ecuador's new pro-Chávez President Rafael Correa.
The Caracas visit was Mr. Ahmadinejad's second in four months. "This is just a prelude of what we will do," declared Mr. Chávez, in a televised speech announcing the creation of a joint $2 billion fund to finance development and other projects. "This large and strategic fund, brother, is going to be converted into a mechanism of liberation," he added, saying their goal is to build "a network of alliances."
In Managua, the Iranian also signed a "broad cooperation accord" with Mr. Ortega. Mr. Chávez openly funded the Sandinista's Presidential campaign last year, and he earlier supported Evo Morales in Bolivia. Venezuelan soldiers have reported that they are under orders to give Colombian rebels safe haven, and Mr. Chávez signed contracts last year to buy Russian MiGs and open a Kalishnakov factory at home.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan is using his recent election victory to consolidate his grip on the economy. A week ago, he announced he would nationalize the country's electricity and telephone companies; he already controls the oil business. His goal here is to redistribute income but especially to shrink the private economy in order to reduce the space in which any political opposition can operate.
The Caracas Stock Exchange Index fell 16% last week, but that didn't phase Señor Chávez. He's moving to withdraw the license of a prominent independent television network, and he has asked Congress to grant him temporary executive power to rule by decree. "The world should know: Our revolution is not turning back," he said. "This is the path our boat is on: socialism. Country, socialism, or death."
The world should have known this a long time ago but too many people chose to ignore it. Mr. Chávez took office in 1999 on a promise to end corruption and injustice. By 2000, human rights groups warned of a deterioration in constitutional protections, and Mr. Chávez began importing Cuban security agents along with Cuban doctors and teachers to spread propaganda.
Each time Mr. Chávez has faced resistance, he has tightened the screws. Price and capital controls and property seizures became state policy. Employees of the state-owned oil company and its contractors were fired if they opposed the government; political opponents were jailed.
All the while, Mr. Chávez has had American enablers who excused his growing repression, or blamed it on a reaction to U.S. policy. Foremost among them has been Mr. Dodd, who has defended Mr. Chávez as "democratically elected" despite his clear trend toward authoritarianism. In 2004, the circumstances surrounding a recall referendum were so anti-democratic that the European Union refused to act as an observer. Jimmy Carter nonetheless blessed the outcome amid heavy irregularities, and the U.S. State Department endorsed the process. Other politicians, such as Mr. Delahunt, embraced and flattered Mr. Chávez for his PR stunt of offering cut-rate oil to poor Americans.
Perhaps it's time these Americans paid attention to the kind of "socialism" and "revolution" that their support is helping Mr. Chávez to build in Venezuela.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: January 17, 2007, 08:11:54 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Back-Channel Negotiations Between Israel and Syria
Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Tuesday that Syria and Israel held secret meetings in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006, and that the two have developed a framework for a peace agreement. Highlights of the deal include Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights to pre-1967 borders -- in exchange for retaining control over the use of water from the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret -- and an end to Syrian support for Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as Syrian moves to distance the country from Iran. The report said the meetings were conducted primarily by academics, with the full knowledge of senior Israeli and Syrian authorities. A few hours after the story was released, officials from both countries issued denials, labeling the report "absolute nonsense," a "bluff" and "completely false."
That Syria and Israel have been holding back-channel talks should hardly come as a surprise. Lacking the strategic depth to sufficiently ensure its national security, Israel has long been in the business of quiet diplomacy with its Arab neighbors. Jordan and Egypt both engaged in secret meetings with Israel well before their respective peace agreements were made public. An Israeli-Syrian deal, however, is still far off in the distance.
Ruled by Alawites -- who practice an offshoot of Shiite Islam -- Syria is a minority-based regime in the Sunni Arab world. The Syrian government has a history of keeping its distance from its Arab neighbors, despite its calls for Arab nationalism, seeking instead a closer relationship with its Shiite allies in Tehran. The Syrians have developed a strong alliance with Iran through Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which serves Syrian interests by keeping pressure on Israel as well as keeping the Lebanese political, security and intelligence apparatus under Syrian control. Hezbollah's ability to gridlock the Lebanese government through mass protests and block any moves to hold Syrian leadership accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri is a current case in point.
Syria's insurance policy against Israel comes through its support for nonstate militant assets in the region, namely Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Syria's sponsorship of these groups also allows it to maintain leverage in the region by making itself an integral part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and any flare-ups in Lebanon. Without a sufficient deterrent capability, Syria is unwilling to surrender this leverage -- and the Israelis know this.
At the same time, Israel is not ready to let go of the Golan Heights, a 15-by-32-mile territory seized by Israeli troops during the 1967 Six Day War. The Golan is of enormous strategic value to Israeli defenses, as its boundaries encompass the 7,296-foot Mount Hermon. Prior to Israel's creation in 1948, Syrian forces used this highland to attack northern Jewish villages. After Israel seized the Golan in 1967, Mount Hermon became a key observation post for Israel to use to point its guns at any hostile invader approaching the country's northeastern border. Apart from its military importance, the Golan Heights also provides Israel with roughly one-third of its water supply.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad inherited his foreign policy agenda from his father, Hafez al Assad. It stipulates that Syria must consolidate its control over Lebanon, maintain its influence over the Arab-Israeli conflict, preserve its regional status and regain the Golan Heights from Israel. Carefully managing Syria's relations with the United States to avoid provoking regime change also was a key part of al Assad's strategy to ensure Syrian national security. Though Syria is keenly interested in retaking the Golan, it will not sacrifice its militant assets without sufficient security guarantees from the United States and Israel.
The atmosphere of distrust between Syria and Israel has been exacerbated by the intensifying U.S.-Iranian standoff over Iraq. With Iran well on its way to joining the nuclear club and consolidating its gains in Iraq, the Syrians see Iran as an attractive ally in the region. Tehran is just as eager to develop Syria into an Iranian satellite, and has greatly expanded its military and economic assistance for the country in an effort to earn the Syrians' trust.
But the ruling clerics in Tehran are well aware that Syria's loyalties are flexible, and that the al Assad regime will look after its own interests before sticking its neck out for Iran. This was exemplified in the summer conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, during which Syria was extremely careful to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Iran's distrust of the al Assad regime will become particularly critical as Iran moves deeper into hot water with its plans for Iraq and its nuclear program. The Iranians fear that, should it face a serious threat to the survival of the al Assad regime, Syria could switch loyalties down the road and join the fold of Arab states making peace with Israel.
It is this weakness in the Syrian-Iranian alliance that Western governments will try to exploit, and the Haaretz report on the Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations appears to work toward that objective. In conjunction with the revised U.S. strategy on Iraq, the Israelis have carefully timed a series of leaks about Israeli military plans to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities as part of a psychological warfare strategy to undermine Iranian confidence. In order to beef up this campaign, Israel can fuel distrust between Iran and Syria by publicizing its back-channel dealings with the al Assad regime. These leaks will be met with a downpour of denials, but the intended damage already will have been done; Iran and Syria will continue to second-guess each other as the risk of pursuing an increasingly belligerent policy reaches dangerous levels.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: January 17, 2007, 06:26:20 AM
Disagree. He is very young, and has very little experience at the national level. He has only one statewide race-- the one two years ago which put him in the Senate. Even this is much less than it seems. The original Republican candidate, whose name slips my mind, dropped out of the race when his divorcing wife made apparently founded accusations about him in strip clubs or something like that. So at the last minute, bomb thrower and carpetbagger Alan Keyes stepped in. Don't get me wrong: I love AK (don't agree with everything he says, but possibly one of the most principled and articulate men in American politics today) but for him to step in very late, very underfunded, and being his very uncompormising self did not make for much of a challenge for Osama.
I caught Osama on , , , the Jay Leno show I think it was. On a personal level a very appealing fellow, and he seems to manifest well the desire of many American people to proceed without personal rancor towards the opposition, but his actual positions are quite the standard liberal democratic fare.
My prediction, he will run a while, be well liked by the Dem faithful, do surprisingly well against Lady Evita, and then, due in part to the fact that he will not have been personally nasty towards her, will be swept up in grand unity ticket with him as VP candidate.
President Bush's many unprincipled domestic policies and his perceived incompetence in leading the Iraqi front of the Islamo Fascist war combined with the unprincipled Republican Congress have left the Republicans in array.
Tax and regulate McCain?
I had strong hopes for Newt Gingrich, but some recent moves of his (e.g. a special on FOX saying he was dedicating himself to the return of God to the American political sphere or some comletely unsound strategy--politically speaking-- like that) read to me like he has decided not to run.
There is a good chance that Reps will seek the equivalent of "Dem-lite" RINO Gov. Schwarzenegger of CA.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: January 16, 2007, 09:13:21 PM
GEOPOLITICAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT
Rhetoric and Reality: The View from Iran
By George Friedman
The Iraq war has turned into a duel between the United States and Iran. For the United States, the goal has been the creation of a generally pro-American coalition government in Baghdad -- representing Iraq's three major ethnic communities. For Iran, the goal has been the creation of either a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad or, alternatively, the division of Iraq into three regions, with Iran dominating the Shiite south.
The United States has encountered serious problems in creating the coalition government. The Iranians have been primarily responsible for that. With the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June, when it appeared that the Sunnis would enter the political process fully, the Iranians used their influence with various Iraqi Shiite factions to disrupt that process by launching attacks on Sunnis and generally destabilizing the situation. Certainly, Sunnis contributed to this, but for much of the past year, it has been the Shia, supported by Iran, that have been the primary destabilizing force.
So long as the Iranians continue to follow this policy, the U.S. strategy cannot succeed. The difficulty of the American plan is that it requires the political participation of three main ethnic groups that are themselves politically fragmented. Virtually any substantial group can block the success of the strategy by undermining the political process. The Iranians, however, appear to be in a more powerful position than the Americans. So long as they continue to support Shiite groups within Iraq, they will be able to block the U.S. plan. Over time, the theory goes, the Americans will recognize the hopelessness of the undertaking and withdraw, leaving Iran to pick up the pieces. In the meantime, the Iranians will increasingly be able to dominate the Shiite community and consolidate their hold over southern Iraq. The game appears to go to Iran.
Americans are extremely sensitive to the difficulties the United States faces in Iraq. Every nation-state has a defining characteristic, and that of the United States is manic-depression, cycling between insanely optimistic plans and total despair. This national characteristic tends to blind Americans to the situation on the other side of the hill. Certainly, the Bush administration vastly underestimated the difficulties of occupying Iraq -- that was the manic phase. But at this point, it could be argued that the administration again is not looking over the other side of the hill at the difficulties the Iranians might be having. And it is useful to consider the world from the Iranian point of view.
The Foundation of Foreign Policy
It is important to distinguish between the rhetoric and the reality of Iranian foreign policy. As a general principle, this should be done with all countries. As in business, rhetoric is used to shape perceptions and attempt to control the behavior of others. It does not necessarily reveal one's true intentions or, more important, one's capabilities. In the classic case of U.S. foreign policy, Franklin Roosevelt publicly insisted that the United States did not intend to get into World War II while U.S. and British officials were planning to do just that. On the other side of the equation, the United States, during the 1950s, kept asserting that its goal was to liberate Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union, when in fact it had no plans, capabilities or expectations of doing so. This does not mean the claims were made frivolously -- both Roosevelt and John Foster Dulles had good reasons for posturing as they did -- but it does mean that rhetoric is not a reliable indicator of actions. Thus, the purple prose of the Iranian leadership cannot be taken at face value.
To get past the rhetoric, let's begin by considering Iran's objective geopolitical position.
Historically, Iran has faced three enemies. Its oldest enemy was to the west: the Arab/Sunni threat, against which it has struggled for millennia. Russia, to the north, emerged as a threat in the late 19th century, occupying northern Iran during and after World War II. The third enemy has worn different faces but has been a recurring threat since the time of Alexander the Great: a distant power that has intruded into Persian affairs. This distant foreign power -- which has at times been embodied by both the British and the Americans -- has posed the greatest threat to Iran. And when the element of a distant power is combined with one of the other two traditional enemies, the result is a great global or regional power whose orbit or influence Iran cannot escape. To put that into real terms, Iran can manage, for example, the chaos called Afghanistan, but it cannot manage a global power that is active in Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously.
For the moment, Russia is contained. There is a buffer zone of states between Iran and Russia that, at present, prevents Russian probes. But what Iran fears is a united Iraq under the influence or control of a global power like the United States. In 1980, the long western border of Iran was attacked by Iraq, with only marginal support from other states, and the effect on Iran was devastating. Iran harbors a rational fear of attack from that direction, which -- if coupled with American power -- could threaten Iranian survival.
Therefore, Iran sees the American plan to create a pro-U.S. government in Baghdad as a direct threat to its national interests. Now, the Iranians supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003; they wanted to see their archenemy, former President Saddam Hussein, deposed. But they did not want to see him replaced by a pro-American regime. Rather, the Iranians wanted one of two outcomes: the creation of a pro-Iranian government dominated by Iraqi Shia (under Iran's control), or the fragmentation of Iraq. A fragmented Iraq would have two virtues. It would prove no danger to Iran, and Iran likely would control or heavily influence southern Iraq, thus projecting its power from there throughout the Persian Gulf.
Viewed this way, Iran's behavior in Iraq is understandable. A stable Iraq under U.S. influence represents a direct threat to Iran, while a fragmented or pro-Iranian Iraq does not. Therefore, the Iranians will do whatever they can to undermine U.S. attempts to create a government in Baghdad. Tehran can use its influence to block a government, but it cannot -- on its own -- create a pro-Iranian one. Therefore, Iran's strategy is to play spoiler and wait for the United States to tire of the unending conflict. Once the Americans leave, the Iranians can pick up the chips on the table. Whether it takes 10 years or 30, the Iranians assume that, in the end, they will win. None of the Arab countries in the region has the power to withstand Iran, and the Turks are unlikely to get into the game.
The Unknown Variables
Logic would seem to favor the Iranians. But in the past, the Iranians have tried to be clever with great powers and, rather than trapping them, have wound up being trapped themselves. Sometimes they have simply missed other dimensions of the situation. For example, when the revolutionaries overthrew the Shah and created the Islamic Republic, the Iranians focused on the threat from the Americans, and another threat from the Soviets and their covert allies in Iran. But they took their eyes off Iraq -- and that miscalculation not only cost them huge casualties and a decade of economic decay, but broke the self-confidence of the Iranian regime.
The Iranians also have miscalculated on the United States. When the Islamic Revolution occurred, the governing assumption -- not only in Iran but also in many parts of the world, including the United States -- was that the United States was a declining power. It had, after all, been defeated in Vietnam and was experiencing declining U.S. military power and severe economic problems. But the Iranians massively miscalculated with regard to the U.S. position: In the end, the United States surged and it was the Soviets who collapsed.
The Iranians do not have a sterling record in managing great powers, and especially in predicting the behavior of the United States. In large and small ways, they have miscalculated on what the United States would do and how it would do it. Therefore, like the Americans, the Iranians are deeply divided. There are those who regard the United States as a bumbling fool, all set to fail in Iraq. There are others who remember equally confident forecasts about other American disasters, and who see the United States as ruthless, cunning and utterly dangerous.
These sentiments, then, divide into two policy factions. On the one side, there are those who see Bush's surge strategy as an empty bluff. They point out that there is no surge, only a gradual buildup of troops, and that the number of troops being added is insignificant. They point to political divisions in Washington and argue that the time is ripe for Iran to go for it all. They want to force a civil war in Iraq, to at least dominate the southern region and take advantage of American weakness to project power in the Persian Gulf.
The other side wonders whether the Americans are as weak as they appear, and also argues that exploiting a success in Iraq would be more dangerous and difficult than it appears. The United States has substantial forces in Iraq, and the response to Shiite uprisings along the western shore of the Persian Gulf would be difficult to predict. The response to any probe into Saudi Arabia certainly would be violent.
We are not referring here to ideological factions, nor to radicals and moderates. Rather, these are two competing visions of the United States. One side wants to exploit American weakness; the other side argues that experience shows that American weakness can reverse itself unexpectedly and trap Iran in a difficult and painful position. It is not a debate about ends or internal dissatisfaction with the regime. Rather, it is a contest between audacity and caution.
The Historical View
Over time -- and this is not apparent from Iranian rhetoric -- caution has tended to prevail. Except during the 1980s, when they supported an aggressive Hezbollah, the Iranians have been quite measured in their international actions. Following the war with Iraq, they avoided overt moves -- and they even were circumspect after the fall of the Soviet Union, when opportunities presented themselves to Iran's north. After 9/11, the Iranians were careful not to provoke the United States: They offered landing rights for damaged U.S. aircraft and helped recruit Shiite tribes for the American effort against the Taliban. The rhetoric alternated between intense and vitriolic; the actions were more cautious. Even with the Iranian nuclear project, the rhetoric has been far more intense than the level of development seems to warrant.
Rhetoric influences perceptions, and perceptions can drive responses. Therefore, the rhetoric should not be discounted as a driving factor in the geopolitical system. But the real debate in Iran is over what to do about Iraq. No one in Iran wants a pro-U.S. government in Baghdad, and blocking the emergence of such a government has a general consensus. But how far to go in trying to divide Iraq, creating a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and projecting power in the region is a matter of intense debate. In fact, cautious behavior combined with extreme rhetoric still appears to be the default position in Tehran, with more adventurous arguments struggling to gain acceptance.
The United States, for its part, is divided between the desire to try one more turn at the table to win it all and the fear that it is becoming hopelessly trapped. Iran is divided between a belief that the time to strike is now and a fear that counting the United States out is always premature. This is an engine that can, in due course, drive negotiations. Iran might be "evil" and the United States might be "Satan," but at the end of the day, international affairs involving major powers are governed not by rhetoric but by national interest. The common ground between the United States and Iran is that neither is certain it can achieve its real strategic interests. The Americans doubt they can create a pro-U.S. government in Baghdad, and Iran is not certain the United States is as weak as it appears to be.
Fear and uncertainty are the foundations of international agreement, while hope and confidence fuel war. In the end, a fractured Iraq -- an entity incapable of harming Iran, but still providing an effective buffer between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula -- is emerging as the most viable available option.
© Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Interrogation methods
on: January 16, 2007, 03:42:12 PM
From the Early Bird:
January 16, 2007
Interrogation Research Is Lacking, Report Says
Few Studies Have Examined U.S. Methods
By Josh White, Washington Post Staff Writer
There is almost no scientific evidence to back up the U.S. intelligence community's use of controversial interrogation techniques in the fight against terrorism, and experts believe some painful and coercive approaches could hinder the ability to get good information, according to a new report from an intelligence advisory group.
The 374-page report from the Intelligence Science Board examines several aspects of broad interrogation methods and approaches, and it finds that no significant scientific research has been conducted in more than four decades about the effectiveness of many techniques the U.S. military and intelligence groups use regularly. Intelligence experts wrote that a lack of research could explain why abuse has been alleged at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq.
"Since there had been little or no development of sustained capacity for interrogation practice, training, or research within intelligence or military communities in the post-Soviet period, many interrogators were forced to 'make it up' on the fly," wrote Robert A. Fein, chairman of the study, published by the National Defense Intelligence College. "This shortfall in advanced, research-based interrogation methods at a time of intense pressure from operational commanders to produce actionable intelligence from high-value targets may have contributed significantly to the unfortunate cases of abuse that have recently come to light."
The report explores scientific knowledge on interrogation in the wake of reported abuse around the globe. The study, sponsored by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity, was posted yesterday on the Federation of American Scientists' Web site, at http:www.fas.org/irp/dni/educing.pdf.
In it, experts find that popular culture and ad hoc experimentation have fueled the use of aggressive and sometimes physical interrogation techniques to get those captured on the battlefields to talk, even if there is no evidence to support the tactics' effectiveness. The board, which advises the director of national intelligence, recommends studying the matter.
"There is little systematic knowledge available to tell us 'what works' in interrogation," wrote Robert Coulam, a research professor at the Simmons School for Health Studies in Boston. Coulam also wrote that interrogation practices that offend ethical concerns and "skirt the rule of law" may be narrowly useful, if at all, because such practices could undermine the legitimacy of government action and support for the fight against terrorism.
The Bush administration has long advocated the ability to use aggressive interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects. After abuse came to light at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and the Navy's prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Congress forced the government to limit its approaches to long-standing military doctrine but allowed a loophole that lets the CIA continue such techniques.
The Army's new field manual on intelligence, approved in September, specifically bans some of the most aggressive techniques -- such as "waterboarding," beatings, sensory deprivation and depriving a detainee of food -- and draws clear boundaries for all military personnel who participate in interrogations. Army officials abandoned more coercive techniques because of the abuse scandals and evidence that Army and contract interrogators had developed approaches in the field based on vague guidance.
The new study finds that there may be no value to coercive techniques.
"The scientific community has never established that coercive interrogation methods are an effective means of obtaining reliable intelligence information," wrote Col. Steven M. Kleinman, who has served as the Pentagon's senior intelligence officer for special survival training.
Kleinman wrote that intelligence gathered with coercion is sometimes inaccurate or false, noting that isolation, a tactic U.S. officials have used regularly, causes "profound emotional, psychological, and physical discomfort" and can "significantly and negatively impact the ability of the source to recall information accurately."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: January 16, 2007, 11:32:54 AM
RUSSIA/IRAN: Russia has completed transfers of the Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said. The Tor-M1 is a high-accuracy missile designed to intercept cruise missiles as well as both manned and unmanned aircraft. Despite U.N. sanctions on Iran, Russia insists that the contract was in line with international law and that the system is for defensive purposes only.