Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 'America Alone'
on: December 20, 2006, 05:24:20 PM
This datum from Stratfor.com today supporting Steyn's thesis:
JAPAN: Japan's population will suffer a 25 percent decline, dropping from 127.8 million in 2005 to 95.2 million in 2050, the Health Ministry reported. This is more than the previously forecast 21 percent decline. The decrease is a result of delayed marriages and falling birth rates. The latest report says the number of senior citizens will double to 40 percent of the population and the population under 14 years of age will fall from 13.8 percent to 8.6 percent.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: December 19, 2006, 08:07:21 PM
Mexico: Illusory Victories in Michoacan
Mexican officials said Dec. 18 they have arrested several major players in the drug cartels operating in the violence-plagued southwestern state of Michoacan. The arrests are part of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's effort to act on a campaign promise to aggressively target the cartels. Despite the dozens of arrests resulting from the operation, the sweep will result in only minimal long-term damage to the cartels.
Security forces operating in Mexico's southwestern state of Michoacan have seized more than 100 weapons, 300 pounds of marijuana seeds and 17 pounds of opium poppy seeds, and have arrested more than 50 individuals suspected of involvement in drug trafficking. The seizures and arrests came as part of Operacion Conjunta Michoacan (OCM), an anti-cartel operation now entering its second week, Mexican officials said Dec. 18. The suspects include midlevel members of both the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.
The arrests are part of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's effort to act on a campaign promise to aggressively target the cartels. And while the operation's results might seem impressive, the sweep will have little effect on the cartels' strategic positions in the long run.
Among the arrestees was Alfonso Barajas Figueroa, aka "Ugly Poncho," who was captured Dec. 16 in the town of Apatzingan, where he commanded a unit of approximately 35 Zetas -- the Gulf cartel's enforcers. Although Mexican authorities are calling him a "primary operator," he was not part of the Gulf cartel or Zeta national command structure. Elias Valencia, of the rival Valencia cartel, part of Sinaloa, was caught Dec. 15 along with four associates at a mountain ranch near Aguililla. (Many leaders in the Valencia cartel share the surname "Valencia.")
Two alleged "sicarios," or hired assassins, working for the Valencia cartel named Leonel Lopez Guizar and Rosalio Mendoza Gonzalez also were arrested. Finally, alleged Sinaloa cartel lieutenant Jesus Raul Beltran, who served under top cartel leader Ignacio Coronel Villarreal, was arrested Dec. 16 in Guadalajara. Raul Beltran reportedly tried to bribe the authorities $1 million not to arrest him.
Despite the high-profile arrests, crackdowns like OCM could be opportunities for cartels to offer up certain members in order to create diversions, or to have the police dispose of overly ambitious members without risking fighting within the cartel.
The operation also will have a minimal impact on the drug smugglers' organizations. The cartels are large intricate groups often made up of supporting alliances of smaller cartels, such as Sinaloa. Thus, even if the arrest of a leader or other figure damages one part of the organization, another part of the group can assume the damaged part's role. The cartels also are often compartmentalized so that one section's removal does not compromise the remainder of the group. Further hardening the illicit groups against law enforcement efforts, the cartels' organizational structures are robust. They are distributed horizontally, and are based on family relationships and personal alliances. Because of this, multiple figures can fill leadership vacuums when high-ranking members are arrested
Thus, while Calderon's efforts in Michoacan might initially bear fruit, their long-term effect on Mexico's drug war will be minimal. With so much attention being paid to Michoacan, the various cartels there could simply move to other states. And as for Michoacan itself, the only real possibility of relief from drug violence would come if one cartel were so weakened by OCM that its rival could expel it from the state.
Ultimately, the loss of midlevel operators will not cripple either the Gulf or Sinaloa cartels in Michoacan. A significant Mexican federal forces presence will therefore have to remain in the state for a long time in order to deny the area to the cartels.www.stratfor.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: American Politics
on: December 19, 2006, 11:44:04 AM
WSJ Political Diary:
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi mystified even some veteran political watchers by picking a string of internal fights since her party won control of Congress last month. Late last week she revealed the mystery behind one of these dust-ups -- why she was willing to endure so much controversy to pick a House Intelligence Committee chairman who met her specifications.
Ms. Pelosi has let it be known she's planning to dramatically reshape the committee to make it a potent force for clashing with the Bush administration over its handling of the war on terror. Starting in January, the Intelligence Committee will have a lot more say over how much money is spent on spy agencies, breaking down the traditional separation between appropriators and overseers so her hand-picked chairman will be in a strong position to try to run the intelligence agencies in competition with the president.
Ms. Pelosi drew a lot of criticism for not selecting as its chairman the most senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, fellow Californian Rep. Jane Harman. Ms. Harman is a defense hawk who hasn't used her seat on the committee to launch partisan attacks. Instead, Ms. Pelosi had to back down from naming her first choice, the scandal-dogged Alcee Hastings, to the job. Her second choice, Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, quickly made clear he wasn't picked for his expertise in global matters either. He flunked one of his first press interviews when Congressional Quarterly stumped him on the difference between Sunnis and Shiites and what side of Islam's central divide groups like al Qaeda or Hezbollah fall on.
Mideast expert Danielle Pletka, formerly a GOP Congressional staffer, told the Houston Chronicle: "If you don't really care enough about the challenge of Islamic extremism and terrorism to learn the basics, then perhaps when offered a plum position, you should say no. That goes against the grain in a town that likes titles, but it is the honorable course." Rest assured, however, that Mr. Reyes has one aspect of the job down pat: He knows where his marching orders will be coming from.
-- Brendan Miniter
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 19, 2006, 08:18:31 AM
Thank you for that C-Stray Dog-- we certainly won't be hearing that from MSM.
Geopolitical Diary: Al-Samarraie's Second Prison Break
Former Iraqi Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarraie broke out of prison the afternoon of Dec. 17, reportedly with the help of an American security company operating in Baghdad. It was al-Samarraie's second prison break from the heavily fortified Green Zone in the past two months.
Why would a U.S. security contractor help an Iraqi convict twice break out of jail? There is no clear answer, but a few conclusions can be drawn.
Al-Samarraie served as electricity minister under former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government. Before that, he worked in Chicago as a manager at KCI Engineering, where he built up strong ties to the Republican Party before returning to Iraq after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The United States enlisted al-Samarraie in the fall of 2002 to help create a State Department-funded postwar strategy for Iraq.
Al-Samarraie also is a Sunni with Iraqi-U.S. citizenship who draws his roots from Anbar province, the main hotbed of Sunni insurgent violence, which made him an attractive candidate for a ministry position. He cultivated an extensive network with prominent Sunni tribe leaders in Anbar, and has worked with U.S. and Iraqi officials to co-opt Sunni nationalist insurgents into the political process.
But al-Samarraie also had dollar signs in his eyes when he took the ministry position. Despite his critical links to the Sunni nationalist insurgency, al-Samarraie was convicted on one of 13 corruption charges and sentenced to a two-year jail term in October. He still has to face an Iraqi court for the remaining 12 charges for pocketing approximately $1.5 billion from phony construction contracts, which could very well link back to his business buddies in Chicago. Al-Samarraie's contacts in Washington, however, apparently agreed to give him a "get-out-of-jail-free card" in October, when a few armed American security officials snuck al-Samarraie out of the courtroom through a tunnel from the basement of the building and into a safe house in the Green Zone. After he told Arab satellite stations that he was in U.S. custody, U.S. officials reportedly returned al-Samarraie to the Iraqi prison guards for unknown reasons.
Over the next couple months, al-Samarraie asked U.S. and Iraqi officials to release him, saying Shiite gunmen would kill him while in custody. Shiite militiamen apparently tried to kill him and Allawi, who lives next-door to al-Samarraie, in September 2005; a car bomb was found behind Allawi's house. A roadside bomb also went off in February near al-Samarraie's convoy in Baghdad, wounding three of his bodyguards. Even before he went to jail, al-Samarraie hired a private U.S. security contractor for protection.
After spending less than two months in prison, al-Samarraie's pleas for freedom were answered Dec. 17, when a group of American security officials arrived in two GMC vehicles at the jail where he was incarcerated, held jail guards at gunpoint and then whisked the convict away without firing a shot, said Judge Radhi Radhi, a senior anti-corruption official in Iraq.
Al-Samarraie is evidently still important enough for U.S. security contractors to get the go-ahead and break him out of prison once again. His prison break comes at a time when Washington is desperate for solutions to help alleviate the sectarian violence in Iraq and bring some semblance of control to a foreign policy blunder that has largely paralyzed the U.S. military and government. Al-Samarraie may be a crook, but he also is a key figure in the Sunni political bloc that could aid the Americans in getting the Sunnis on board with a deal to co-opt more Baathists into the political system.
Al-Samarraie could have been released as part of a political bargain with the Sunni political leadership, or as a means of re-enlisting him to act as a go-between for the Americans to deal with the Sunni insurgents. Either way, we cannot help but notice that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced on Monday that his government has decided to welcome back former Sunni Baathists who served in the Iraqi army under Hussein's rein. The reintegration of Sunni Baathists is a major concession for the Shiite-dominated and Iranian-influenced government to make, which has a logical interest in ensuring that Sunnis are prevented from reasserting themselves politically or militarily in post-Hussein Iraq. Nonetheless, it appears that the Shia have taken a big step forward by throwing out this concession to the Sunnis. And if Washington wants this latest attempt at a political resolution to bear fruit, it will have to enlist the aid of influential Sunni mediators, such as al-Samarraie.
A War That Abhors a Vacuum
By BEN CONNABLE
Ben Connable is a major in the Marine Corps.
The New York Times
December 18, 2006
THE niceties are up for debate: phased or partial withdrawal from Iraq would
entail pulling troops back to their bases across the country, or
leapfrogging backward to the nearest international border, or redeploying to
bases in nearby countries.
But whatever the final prescription, the debate must include a sober look at
the street-level impact of withdrawal. What will become of Iraqi villages,
towns and cities as we pull out? Although past is not necessarily prologue,
recent experience in Anbar Province may be instructive.
American units have already withdrawn from the western Euphrates River
valley - twice, in fact. As the insurgency heated up in early 2004, the
Seventh Marine Regiment pulled up stakes and went to fight insurgents in
eastern Anbar, leaving the rest of the province in the hands of a battalion
of troops. The Marines balanced obvious risk against the possible reward of
overwhelming some of the insurgent groups in the east.
The consequences were immediate and bloody. Insurgents assumed control of
several towns and villages. They tortured and executed police officers,
local politicians, friendly tribal leaders and informants. They murdered
contractors who had worked with the Americans or the Iraqi government. They
tore down American-financed reconstruction projects and in a few cases
imposed an extreme version of Islamic law. Many Iraqi military units
collapsed in the absence of United States support.
The insurgents celebrated their self-described victory and exploited the
withdrawal for propaganda purposes. Baathist-led insurgents used the
opportunity to establish training camps and weapons caches in the farmland
and along the river banks while other groups, including Al Qaeda, smuggled
in fighters, suicide bombers and money to support operations in Ramadi,
Falluja and Baghdad. Western Iraq became a temporary haven for criminals,
terrorists and thousands of local thugs who made up de facto mini-regimes in
the absence of a stabilizing force.
When the Seventh Marines returned to western Anbar it was essentially forced
to retake some of the towns it once controlled. Many local Iraqis were
openly hostile; the battle for the hearts and minds of the population was
set back months, if not years. With the politicians murdered, local civil
administration was almost nonexistent and any influence held by the central
government was lost.
The Seventh Marine Regiment pulled up stakes again in November 2004 to join
the second fight for Falluja. Conscious of the damage done by the earlier
withdrawal, the Marines left behind more troops in an effort to stem the
inevitable surge of insurgent and criminal gangs; Iraqi forces were not yet
ready to assume control.
Despite this Marine presence, the results were similar. What had been
rebuilt in the summer crumbled in the fall.
The two withdrawals left the western Euphrates River valley in a shambles.
At the end of 2005 the Marines were forced to conduct sweep and clear
operations from Anbar's capital, Ramadi, to the Syrian border town of
Husayba. As they pushed west they uncovered hundreds of weapons caches,
elaborate insurgent propaganda centers, carefully camouflaged training
camps, suicide vehicle factories and complex criminal networks that were
feeding a steady stream of money to insurgents and terrorists across the
country. Marine units settled back in, spread out and brought attack levels
to unprecedented lows.
Since 2005, the situation in Anbar has significantly deteriorated. But as
bad as things have become, American and Iraqi forces retain some degree of
control in even the most turbulent areas. The border cities of Husayba and
Qaim are relatively stable and have effective security and government.
Falluja, also stable, is a model for Iraqi-American military cooperation.
Advisers are embedded with Iraqi units across the province.
American-supported tribes are beginning to combat Al Qaeda in Iraq in the
east. Anbar is down but not out, thanks to the American troops along the
American presence might be likened to a control rod in a nuclear reactor:
Leave it in place and the potential energy of the insurgents and criminals
is mostly kept in check; remove it and the energy becomes kinetic.
Withdrawal of United States presence from any town or city in Anbar will
almost certainly lead to the creation of safe havens for western Iraq's
impenetrable snarl of foreign fighters, nationalist insurgents and local
thugs. Many abandoned cities and towns would come to closely resemble the
Falluja of mid-2004.
If American forces conduct even a phased withdrawal before the full
certification of Iraqi Army battalions, those units incapable of sustaining
independent operations would be forced to pull back alongside their minders,
or collapse as their logistics and fire support lifelines disappeared. Most
local police forces would scatter, be co-opted or slaughtered wholesale, as
they were in 2004.
Insurgents of all stripes would make the most of the combined American and
Iraqi withdrawal, harassing the departing convoys with homemade bombs and
small-arms fire. Videos of insurgents dancing in the streets would become
prevalent on the Internet and international television. No public relations
campaign could succeed in painting an early phased withdrawal as anything
but a strategic defeat.
"Redeployed" in large bases far from the enemy centers of gravity, American
troops wouldn't be able to keep insurgent groups from forming
semi-conventional units. This pattern has repeated itself countless times
across Iraq and follows historic guerrilla-warfare models: insurgents
exploit any safe haven to strengthen and train their forces. The longer they
are left alone, the stronger they become. As our presence in the countryside
diminishes, our ability to gather intelligence and to protect valuable
infrastructure, communications lines and friendly tribal areas will
Should the Iraqi Army stay in place as American units withdraw, the American
advisers embedded within these units probably would have to be removed,
leaving nobody to control air support, coordinate unit pay from Baghdad,
supervise the monthly convoys to take troops home on leave, prevent gross
violations of the Geneva Convention or shore up shaky leadership. Given
patient support, most of these units eventually will develop the capacity to
conduct independent operations. However, some adviser teams already report
that their Iraqi counterparts have said they intend to desert if the
Americans leave too soon.
Although Anbar may be the most violent province in Iraq per capita, it is
relatively free of the sectarian tensions found in Baghdad and the center.
The confusion caused by withdrawal would be compounded as religious, militia
and political loyalties divided inadequately prepared military and police
units. Full-scale ethnic killing would become a very real possibility.
For some, the collapse of Iraqi society into Hobbesian mayhem is inevitable
no matter how many American troops remain on the ground. A few argue that
disintegration of the Iraqi state actually would bring about the national
catharsis that seems so elusive today - that absolute civil war would be a
This cold calculus ignores the very real impact of an American withdrawal on
the people we now protect. Any debate that does not consider the bloody
reality we would leave in our wake does a disservice to the people of Iraq
and the troops who have fought so hard to defend them.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: December 19, 2006, 08:13:05 AM
The Smoky Bomb Threat
By PETER D. ZIMMERMAN
Published: December 19, 2006
THE exotic murder-by-polonium of the former K.G.B. spy Alexander Litvinenko has embroiled Russia, Britain and Germany in a diplomatic scuffle and a hunt for more traces of the lethal substance. But it also throws into question most of the previous analyses of “dirty bombs,” terrorist attacks using radioactive isotopes wrapped in explosives (or using other dispersion techniques) to spread radioactive material in crowded areas.
Essentially all analysts, myself included, played down the possibility of using alpha radiation — fast-moving helium nuclei ejected during the radioactive decay of certain isotopes, such as of polonium 210, the substance that killed Mr. Litvinenko — as a source of dirty bombs. We concentrated instead on isotopes that emit penetrating gamma rays, which are basically super-powered packets of light, hard to shield and effective at a yard or more.
The alpha radiation from polonium can be easily shielded — by a layer of aluminum foil, a sheet or two of paper, or the dead outer layer of skin. And so, the reasoning went, alpha radiation could not hurt you as long as the source stayed outside your body. Exactly. Mr. Litvinenko was apparently killed by polonium that he ate or drank or inhaled. That source was so physically small that it was hard to see, perhaps the size of a couple of grains of salt and weighing just a few millionths of a gram.
Dirty bombs based on gamma emitters, analysts have learned, can’t kill very many people. Mr. Litvinenko’s death tells us that “smoky bombs” based on alpha emitters very well could.
Polonium 210 is surprisingly common. It is used by industry in devices that eliminate static electricity, in low-powered brushes used to ionize the air next to photographic film so dust can be swept off easily, and in quite large machines placed end-to-end across a web of fabric moving over rollers in a textile mill. It is even used to control dust in clean rooms where computer chips and hard drives are made.
It may be difficult to get people to eat polonium; it isn’t hard to force them to breathe it. The problem for a radiological terrorist is to get his “hot” material inside people’s bodies where it will do the most harm. If the terrorist can solve that problem, then alpha radiation is the most devastating choice he can make. Precisely because alphas emit their nuclei so quickly, they deposit all of their energy in a relatively small number of cells, killing them or causing them to mutate, increasing the long-term risk of cancer.
The terrorist’s solution lies in getting very finely divided polonium into the air where people can breathe it. Without giving away any information damaging to national security, I see several fairly simple ways to accomplish this: burn the material, blow it up, dissolve it in a lot of water or pulverize it to a size so small that the particles can float in the air and lodge in the lungs.
It would be unwise for me to dwell on the details of just how one goes about getting a hot enough fire or breaking polonium into extremely fine “dust.” In the end, however, the radioactive material will appear like the dust from an explosion, or the smoke from a fire. My point is to demonstrate the urgent need for new thinking in the regulatory arena, not to give away important information.
Air containing such radioactive debris would appear smoky or dusty, and be dangerous to breathe. A few breaths might easily be enough to sicken a victim, and in some cases to kill. A smoky bomb exploded in a packed arena or on a crowded street could kill dozens or hundreds. It would set off a radiological emergency of a kind not seen before in the United States, and the number of people requiring life support or palliative care until death would overwhelm the number of beds now available for treating victims of radiation. First responders dashing unprotected into the cloud from a smoky bomb might be among the worst wounded. Fire and police departments around the country will need alpha radiation detectors, since the counters they carry now cannot see alphas.
Some of the steps involved with making a good smoky bomb from polonium would be dangerous for the terrorists involved, and might cost them their lives. That, unfortunately, no longer seems like a very high barrier.
What can we do to stop them? We must make it far less easy for them to acquiring polonium in deadly amounts. Polonium sources with about 10 percent of a lethal dose are readily available — even in a product sold on Amazon.com. Only modest restraints inhibit purchase of significantly larger amounts of polonium: as of next year, anyone purchasing more than 16 curies of polonium 210 — enough to make up 5,000 lethal doses — must register it with a tracking system run by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But this is vastly too high — almost no purchases on that scale are made by any industry.
The commission (and the International Atomic Energy Agency as well) is said to be considering tighter regulations to make a repeat of the Litvinenko affair less probable. There is talk that it might tighten the polonium reporting requirement by a factor of 10, to 1.6 curies. That’s better, but still not strict enough.
The biggest problem is that the regulatory commission’s regulations do not restrict the quantity of polonium used in industry. This may make it quite easy for terrorists to purchase large amounts of one of the earth’s deadliest substances. A near-term goal should to require specific licensing of any person or company seeking to purchase alpha sources stronger than one millicurie, about a third of a lethal dose. A longer-term goal ought to be eliminating nearly all use of polonium in industry through other technologies.
That is a technical challenge and would cost some money, but it would certainly be less expensive than coping with the devastation of a smoky bomb.
Peter D. Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist, is a professor of science and security in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. He was chief scientist of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2001 to 2003.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq study group
on: December 18, 2006, 09:46:02 PM
Morris offers good intel on Democrats and their doings.
Here Ralph Peters offers something a bit more pertinent to the realities of Iraq.
FIGHTING TO WIN
By RALPH PETERS
December 18, 2006 -- OUR military should come with a can't-miss-it label: Think Before Using. Faced with calls - some sincere, others politically desperate - to rush more soldiers to Baghdad, our overstretched Army is ready to salute and do as the president orders.
But the Army leadership has one reasonable request: A clear mission.
Here in Washington, the brigade of civilian "experts" insists that the answer to our Iraq problem is to surge our forces from stateside bases back to Baghdad to restore security. Sounds good . . . until you ask them exactly how they would use those troops.
What would the specific tasks be? "Restore security" is too vague - we need to identify no-nonsense objectives. And which new tactics would be authorized? Would the rules of engagement change?
How would we handle prisoners, given that a crackdown would generate tens of thousands (and the Iraqi system releases the worst offenders)? What if the Maliki government rejects our plan?
At that point, the think-tank boys give you a deer-in-the-headlights look and spurt empty generalities. Our military is supposed to figure out the pesky details.
But it's the details that make the difference between succeeding and failing. If you don't nail down the goals - and the methods to reach them - you're ducking the make-or-break issues. Our soldiers can't evade such questions.
Generalities and platitudes won't fix Iraq. But they will kill our men and women in uniform to no good purpose. Before we send them on such a difficult mission, we should at least be willing to face the difficult questions.
Army generals worry that frantic politicos want to send more troops to Iraq as a p.r. stunt, to appear to be taking decisive action. Our uniformed leadership is rightly loathe to have our troops used to give anyone's approval ratings a temporary boost. They'll do what they're ordered to do and do it well. They just want the mission to have a chance of success that justifies the human and strategic cost.
Could an increase of 20,000 to 40,000 troops make a difference?
Yes - but only if they're assigned a clear, achievable mission and our government stands behind them solidly as they carry it out. Sending more troops in the vague hope that it will magically improve the situation would be a travesty.
Iraq isn't hopeless - but it's harder every day to maintain hope. The number of troops certainly matters, but, as this column long has argued, the vital issue is how our troops are used. If we're serious about defeating our enemies this time, more troops could help. But there's no excuse for simply deploying more IED targets in uniform.
Which brings us to the one approach that could make Baghdad a secure, livable city: Zero tolerance.
Rudy Giuliani had that one right, as New Yorkers know. Crack down on petty violators, and violent crime drops, too. Of course, fixing Baghdad would require a lot more than taking on turnstile jumpers - but the principle is the same, if the scale is different.
We've never been willing to do all it takes to win. Now the clock's running out. Without a comprehensive crackdown, Baghdad (and Iraq) will be lost irrevocably in 2007. If we stayed on for a decade, we'd only be keeping the patient on life-support.
Suppose we do ask our under-strength, under-funded Army to send 40,000 more troops to secure Baghdad. Below are just a few examples of the kind of hard-to-swallow and hard-to-do measures President Bush would need to back, if the deployment were meant as more than a forlorn hope:
* Zero tolerance for weapons possession in the streets or in vehicles. The authorities must have a monopoly on force.
* Foot patrols - soldiers must get out of their vehicles and "walk the beats." Initially, this could cause a spurt in casualties - but there's no alternative to knowing the turf. Once average citizens as well as our enemies know we're serious and that we're staying on the block, attacks will drop. Presence rules. We have to occupy neighborhoods.
* Automatic, no-early-release prison terms for the possession, transfer or transport of military weapons and related paraphernalia.
* Rigid enforcement of all public-space laws, from shutting down black markets in gasoline to enforcing traffic codes.
* Temporary movement restrictions, with passes required for any person desiring to leave his neighborhood and enter another. Identify who belongs where.
* Simultaneous crackdowns on Shia militia and Sunni insurgent strongholds. Establish the principle that we go where we want, when we want - and stay as long as we want.
* Thorough searches of every building in Baghdad. No safe havens - not even mosques (trusted Iraqis can help). Structures used as weapons-storage facilities or safe houses for armed factions to be leveled.
* Disarmament of all private security elements in Baghdad not vetted by U.S. authorities. Foreign security contractors subject to Iraqi law.
If we're unwilling to take such stern measures, we won't make durable progress, no matter how many troops we send.
Who would resist such a program? There's the problem. The partisan Maliki government would refuse to go along with a crackdown on Shia militias. Unless we're willing to overrule the regime we recently celebrated, none of this can happen.
And, of course, the media would accuse us of a war crime every five minutes. The global media want Iraq to fail and revel in the current level of suffering. If we're unwilling to defy the media, Iraq is finished.
Oh, and that increase in troop strength would have to last two years.
It all comes back to President Bush. If he won't lay out clear goals, then approve a serious plan to achieve them, sending more soldiers to Iraq would only worsen our problems in the long term. If a troop boost failed to produce results, it would further encourage our enemies while crippling our worked-to-the-bone ground forces.
Send more troops? Only if we mean it.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit the Fight."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: December 18, 2006, 09:40:48 PM
Some details...below..note the relationships in the 2 imams from MA...Yash
TERRORISM INDICATORS FROM PAKISTAN - INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO. 165
By B. Raman
(A collation of reports carried by the Pakistani media)
JIHADIS PLAN REPRISAL ATTACK
Militants belonging to banned jihadi outfits are planning suicide attacks on army installations in Pakistan and foreign troops in Afghanistan in revenge for the air strike on a Bajaur madrassa on October 30, 2006. According to reports submitted by intelligence agencies to the Interior Ministry, Maulvi Inayatur Rehman and Maulana Faqir Mohammad of the Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) have pledged before their supporters to target VIPs in Pakistan and US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The bombed Bajaur madrassa was run by the TNSM and is thought to have been used as a training camp for militants. British and US diplomats and nationals were also possible targets of the militants. Leaders of the Harkatul Mujahideen (HUM), Lashker-e-Jhangvi (LEJ)and Khudamul Islam have also pledged to cooperate with the TNSM and called for a joint strategy. These banned militant organisations have procured explosives and recruited and trained a number of suicide bombers. The training and enrolment of suicide bombers is the sole responsibility of the LEJ. The suicide bombers are most likely to hit targets in the guise of beggars with explosive material weighing 2.5-3.3kg fastened around their bodies, say the reports.
The suicide bombers could also target army installations and units in the tribal areas, Peshawar, Nowshera, Risalpur, Dir, DI Khan, Abbottabad, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Jhelum, Khariaan, Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad and Karachi. In the light of these reports, the Interior Ministry has ordered the police to tighten security around important personalities. The Islamabad, Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir administrations have also been directed to check people who had previously provided shelter to militants.-----DAILY TIMES of Lahore, dated December 18, 2006.
THREAT OF HELICOPTER-BORNE ATTACKS
2. The intelligence agencies have unearthed a plan of the jihadi organisations to hijack helicopters used by courier services and humanitarian relief organisations and use them for launching terrorist strikes. They have told the Interior Ministry that the jihadis might also try to hijack helicopters of the Civil Aviation Authority and the Maritime Security Agency. The jihadi organisations have formed a special task force for carrying out these operations. They are also planning to kidnap and kill senior government officials in emulation of the tactics followed by the jihadis in Iraq.----DAILY TIMES, dated December 4, 2006
NEO TALIBAN: SUICIDE TERRORISM TRAINING IN PAKISTAN
3. According to Sayed Ansari, a spokesman for the Afghan National Directorate of Security, 17 suicide attackers were arrested in Afghanistan in September, 2006, before they could carry out their suicide missions. He said: "All the detained have confessed that they had received training for launching deadly suicide attacks against individuals and institutions in Afghanistan from Arab, Chechen and Uzbeck instructors on the Pakistan side of the border. "The bombers were being trained at Shamshatoo, an Afghan refugee camp near Peshawar, and at another place near Data Khel in North Waziristan.--- POST of Peshawar, dated October 20, 2006.
NEO TALIBAN: WINTER & POST-WINTER PLANS
4. With the onset of winter, the NATO forces and the Neo Taliban are expected to bunker down till next spring, but the Neo Taliban will continue with its suicide missions and hit and run guerilla activities. The Neo Taliban militia is planning to take refuge in the mountains that traverse the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and plan the next stage of their struggle, which will be a countrywide Islamic Intifada campaign in Afghanistan. All former Mujahideen commanders will be urged to join it to throw out the foreign troops from the Afghan soil. The forthcoming Islamic Intifada will be both national and international. While organising a national uprising, it will seek to make Afghanistan once again the base for the global jihad as it was before 9/11. Dr.Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama bin Laden in Al Qaeda, has assembled a special team to implement this idea. A key role will be played by Mulla Mehmood Allah Haq Yar, who was sent to Northern Iraq by Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Taliban, before 9/11 to undergo training in a training camp of the Iraqi Ansar-ul-Islam. Mulla Yar returned to Afghanistan from Iraq in 2004 and was inducted by Mulla Omar into a special council of commanders. The council was given the special task of mobilising all foreign jihadis in Pakistani territory for paticipating in the jihad in Afghanistan. A major step towards the launching of the Islamic Intifada was the establishment in September, 2006, of an Islamic Emirate of Waziristan to bring under one umbrella the various jihadi groups operating in the border areas. Many Neo Taliban supporters in Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment believe that the Intifada to be launched in April, 2007, would bring about the downfall of the Hamid Karzai Government and the return of the Neo Taliban to power.---- POST of Peshawar,dated October 20,2006
THE NEO TALIBAN BACK IN SOUTH WAZIRISTAN
5. At a meeting of the Shura of the Neo Taliban held at Wana in South Waziristan on November 26, 2006, Mullah Nazir was appointed as the commander-in-chief of all Mujahideen groups operating in South Waziristan. He is in his 40s and belongs to the Kakakhail sub-tribe of the Wazir Tribe. He enjoys the total support of Mullah Mohammad Omar and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar of the Hizb-e-Islami as well as of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam of Pakistan. He had fought against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan and returned to Waziristan from Afghanistan in November, 2001. He started operating in Waziristan along with Naik Mohammad, Haji Omar, Muhammad Sharif, Mullah Abdul Aziz, and Maulvi Abbas. Of the various Mujahideen groups operating in South Waziristan, the Haji Omar group, the Noor Islam group, the Halimullah group, the Saifuddin group, the Meta Khan group, the Malang group, and the Javed group have accepted the leadership of Mullah Nazir and agreed to fight jointly under him. The Iftikhar group and the Ghulam Jan group, which refused to accept his leadership, have been dissolved by the Neo Taliban. The Shura also appointed a three-member committee consisting of Bakht Khan Giyankhail from Afghanistan, an Arab (name not given), and an Uzbeck (name not given) to advise Mullah Nazir in his operations. He has been told that he should not take any action without its approval. ---POST of December 1, 2006
RE-ORGANISATION OF LASHKAR-EJHANGVI (LEJ)
6. The intelligence agencies have informed the Interior Ministry that Matiur Rehman, the 32-year-old explosive expert close to Al Qaeda, has been tasked with re-organising the cells of the LEJ all over Pakistan. He belongs to Bahawalpur, which is also the home town of Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM). He is one of the prime suspects in the plot discovered by the British Police on August 10,2006, to blow up a number of US-bound planes. He is also a wanted suspect in the cases relating to the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist in Karachi in January-February, 2002, the two assassination attempts on Gen.Pervez Musharraf at Rawalpindi in December, 2003, the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Shukat Aziz (then Finance Minister) at Fateh Jhang in June 2004, and the explosion outside the US Consulate in Karachi in March 2006 in which a US diplomat was killed. The LEJ, which has become the favourite organisation of intending jihadis, is estimated to have carried out 500 terrorist strikes all over Pakistan since its formation in 1996, resulting in the death of over 1500 persons. It was also strongly suspected in the Nishtar Park suicide bombing in Karachi in April, 2006, in which 58 people, including many Barelvi leaders, were killed and in the May 2005 suicide attack on a Shia congregation at the Bari Imam shrine of Islamabad in which 25 Shias were killed. When the Taliban was in power in Kabul, the LEJ had set up its headquarters near Kabul and its training centres in Afghan territory. After the fall of the Taliban, it shifted to Pakistani territory. Initially, its preferred modus operandi (MO) was to attack its targets from moving motor-bikes. It then started using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with timers, hand-grenades and machine guns. Of late, it follows the MO of throwing hand grenades on a crowd and then opening fire with a machine gun or carrying out a suicide attack on those fleeing. It operates in cells of not more than two to seven trained volunteers. The trained volunteers are called "the armoured corps of jihad". After training, the volunteers are advised to return to their normal avocations and await instructions till they are called for an operation. They are told that while following their normal avocations, they should not keep beards and should dress normally so that they do not attract attention to themselves and should not indulge in any unlawful activities. Muhammad Ajmal alias Akram Lahori is believed to be its Saalar-e-Aala (Commander-in-chief). He and two of his associates were arrested in June, 2002, and prosecuted before an anti-terrorism court on a charge of killing Dr. Safdar, a Shia doctor of Karachi. The court sentenced them to death, but they were acquitted on appeal by the Sindh High Court on November 30, 2005.---POST of November 25, 2006.
RASHID RAUF: CURIOUSER & CURIOUSER
7. Rashid Rauf, a 25-year-old Mirpuri from Birmingham related by marriage to Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, who was arrested by the Pakistani authorities in August, 2006, and projected as close to Al Qaeda and as the Pakistan-based co-ordinator of the alleged conspiracy to blow up a number of US-bound planes originating from the UK, has been acquitted of terrorism charges by Judge Safder Hussan Malik of the Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on December 13, 2006.He has transferred the case of Rashid Rauf to the city's District and Sessions Court for trial on charges of false impersonation, document forging and possession of material capable of being used as explosives. The prosecution had argued that Rauf's possession of 29 bottles of hydrogen peroxide underlined his intent to make bombs. However, Rauf's lawyer had argued that the chemical compound was also a recognised antiseptic used to clean wounds. The Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz has said that he would contest the ATC verdict and pursue the case, especially relating to hydrogen peroxide, in the sessions court under the same charges. A senior security official familiar with the case said that Rauf could be detained without charge for up to a year under the Security of Pakistan Act.-----DAILY TIMES, dated December 14, 2006.
(Please see the previous article on Rashid Rauf at http://www.saag.org/papers21/paper2052.html
HM DEPUTY CHIEF RELEASED
8. Karamatullah Awan, deputy chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), has returned home after being detained for six months by security officials. He refused to disclose the identity of his captors and how he had been treated during his detention. He said that he had been released a few days ago, but stopped short of giving the exact date. "Contact the Jamaat-e-Islami provincial chief if you want more details on the issue," said Awan. The HM deputy leader and two others had been taken into custody six months ago, but his companions were freed after four months.-----DAILY TIMES , dated December 16,2006.
ANOTHER NOTORIOUS TERRORIST RELEASED
9. Law-enforcement agencies have released Maulana Abdul Jabbar, chief of the banned Khudamul Furqan, after almost three years in detention. Jabbar was arrested with his close aides on charges of attacking President Musharraf on December 14, 2003 in Rawalpindi. "Jabbar was released recently after a long detention," sources told Daily Times. The sources said that Khudamul Furqan militants were suspected to be behind terrorist attacks on churches in Pakistan. Maulana Jabbar started his militant career by joining the Harkatul Ansar, headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, in the early 1980s and stayed in Afghanistan till the fall of the Taliban government there. He later joined the Jaish-e-Mohammad formed by Maulana Masood Azhar, but after developing differences with Azhar, Jabbar formed the Khudamul Furqan. Jabbar is an expert in Afghan affairs, heading the Afghan cell of each militant group he was in, and maintained close contacts with Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders.---DAILY TIMES, dated November 13, 2006.
LET CHIEF'S RELATIVES ARRESTED IN US
10. Two imams recently arrested in the US for visa violations and released on bail in Boston are related to Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), now operating as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD).The 33 arrests made in November, 2006, were part of a wide swoop carried out by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in eight states and the district of Columbia in connection with an ongoing investigation into a specific visa fraud scheme that was designed to help large numbers of illegal aliens, primarily from Pakistan, fraudulently obtain religious worker visas to enter or remain in the United States. The two imams, Hafiz Muhammad Hannan and Hafiz Muhammad Masood are related to Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. Masood is his brother and Hannan his brother-in-law. Masood is an imam at the Islamic Centre of New England, Sharon, Massachusetts, while Hannan is an imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell, Massachusetts. . Masood's son, Hassan was also arrested. Another member of the family, Imam Hafiz Mahmood Hamid, who is the brother of both Hafiz Saeed and Hafiz Masood, has also been arrested.Hafiz Masood came on a student exchange visa to the Boston University in 1988 and studied there till 1990, but stayed on, violating his visa status. Hafiz Hannan came to the US and applied for a religious worker visa which was granted. He made his application through one Muhammad Khalil of Brooklyn, New York. In 2004, Khalil was convicted of visa fraud and is currently in prison.---DAILY TIMES, dated December 8,2006.
FATWA TO KILL DANISH CARTOONIST
11. The chief priest of Peshawar's Mohabbat Khan Mosque, Khateeb Maulana Muhammad Yousuf Qureshi, said on December 13, 2006, that a fatwa (decree) issued by him for killing the Danish cartoonist who had drawn caricatures of the Holy Prophet last year continues to remain in force and would not be withdrawn. "We have put a price on the blasphemer's head, and will pay one million dollars to the person who kills him," Qureshi told the "Daily Times".----DAILY TIMES, dated December 14,2006.
FUND COLLECTION BY BANNED TERRORIST ORGANISATIONS
12. US authorities have expressed their concern to the Pakistani authorities over the fact that banned or suspected terrorist organisations such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa ( the parent organisation of the LET), Al Rashid Trust etc continue to collect funds in Pakistan through advertisements in the Urdu press. Following this, the authorities have advised the Urdu press not to accept advertisements from such organisations.---POST of November 25, 2006.
TAKING JIHAD TO NEPAL
13. The Pakistani authorities arrested at Karachi on October 17 one Shafiq Alam Falahi, a resident of Basantpur in Nepal, on a charge of unauthorised fund collection for a madrasa being run by him at Basantpur. He was subsequently released following the intervention of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), which clarified that he had come along with 10 other Muslims from Nepal at its invitation with valid visas for fund collection for the Basantpur madrasa. The JEI also clarified that they had been coming every year for fund collection.---DAILY TIMES of October 18, 2006
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Angelina to play Dagny Taggart
on: December 18, 2006, 08:21:42 PM
It was published almost 50 years ago, and has sold millions of copies. But only now is Ayn Rand's controversial individualist novel "Atlas Shrugged" about to become a movie starring Angelina Jolie.
Ed Hudgins, editor of the New Individualist, tells me that the screenplay adapting the 1,100-page epic novel is only a couple weeks away from completion. Production is set to begin next year with the release of the film in 2008.
Mr. Hudgins says fans of Atlas should be pleased that the adaptation is being authored by Randall Wallace, the scriptwriter for "Braveheart," Mel Gibson's epic tale of Scottish freedom fighters. "I was fascinated by Rand's book. It was original and provocative," Mr. Wallace told Daily Variety.
For her part, Ms. Jolie has told friends that she finds the character of Dagny Taggart the most powerful female role she can imagine playing. While Ms. Jolie adheres to conventional liberal politics, she is nonetheless a big fan of Rand's sweeping story-telling abilities.
Originally, the plan of producers Howard and Karen Baldwin was to follow the example of the makers of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," and adapt Rand's sprawling work into a three-part movie. But they were finally convinced that the story should be seen at one sitting, albeit at great length. I guess that means that the speech by anti-collectivist hero John Galt -- which runs to 72 pages in the novel -- will have to be trimmed just a bit.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / E. Coli
on: December 18, 2006, 05:25:39 PM
Anyone have the other side on this?
E. Coli's Enablers
December 18, 2006; Page A16
The recent E. coli outbreaks are playing as a familiar morality tale of too little regulation. The real story is a much bigger scandal: How special interests have blocked approval of a technology that could sanitize fruits and vegetables and reduce food poisoning in America.
The technology is known as food "irradiation," a process that propels gamma rays into meat, poultry and produce in order to kill most insects and bacteria. It is similar to milk pasteurization, and it's a shame some food marketer didn't call it that from the beginning because its safety and health benefits are well established. The American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have all certified that a big reduction in disease could result from irradiating foods.
Says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota: "If even 50% of meat and poultry consumed in the United States were irradiated, the potential impact on foodborne disease would be a reduction in 900,000 cases, and 350 deaths." A 2005 CDC assessment agrees: "Food irradiation is a logical next step to reducing the burden of food borne diseases in the United States."
We asked several leading health scientists whether food irradiation could have prevented the E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants. "Almost certainly, yes," says Dennis Olson, who runs a research programs on food irradiation at Iowa State University. A recent study by the USDA's Agriculture Research Service confirms that "most of the fresh-cut (minimally processed) fruits and vegetables can tolerate a radiation of 1.0 kGy, a dose that potentially inactivates 99.999% of E. coli."
So what's stopping irradiation? The answer is a combination of political pressure, media scare tactics and bureaucratic and industry timidity. And it starts with organic food groups and such left-wing pressure groups as Public Citizen that have engaged in a fright campaign to persuade Americans that irradiation causes cancer and disease. Something called the Stop Food Irradiation Project tells consumers to tell grocers not to carry irradiated foods.
The liberal-leaning Consumer Reports gave credence to these claims in a 2003 article suggesting that the chemicals formed in meat as a result of irradiation may cause cancer. Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook has served on the Consumer Reports board. Eric Schlosser, author of the best-selling "Fast Food Nation," also disparages irradiation as an "exotic technology" developed "while conducting research for the Star Wars antimissile program." Scary.
None of these mythologies has ever been substantiated by science. The Centers for Disease Control concluded its investigation by noting: "An overwhelming body of scientific evidence demonstrates that irradiation does not harm the nutritional value of food, nor does it make the food unsafe to eat." According to Paisan Loaharanu, a former director at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, "The safety of irradiated foods is well established through many toxicological studies. . . . No other food technology has gone through more safety tests than food irradiation."
The Food and Drug Administration bears some of the blame for bending to political pressure and slowing the spread of food irradiation. The food processing industry requested permission to apply irradiation to enhance the safety of produce in 1999, but seven years later the agency still hasn't approved this "food additive." The FDA does allow irradiation for meat, but it requires warning labels that send a message to consumers that eating such beef or chicken is risky. Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health points out that the FDA would be wiser to require that meats and produce that aren't irradiated have a safety warning label. Those are the potentially unsafe foods.
Somehow this side of the story never seems to make it into the mainstream media. Instead, the press replays the familiar yarn that the E. coli outbreaks are caused by budget cuts and government collusion with industry. In fact, FDA spending on food safety has increased to $535 million in 2006 from $354 million in 2001, a 51% increase. (See nearby chart.) In any case, such inspections and more regulations can never hope to prevent E. coli as well as irradiation does. The government couldn't possibly hire enough inspectors to track the many sources of fresh produce in the U.S.
Over the past 50 years, the U.S. has reduced by roughly half the death and illness from foodborne disease. Yet 325,000 Americans are still hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from contaminated food. Today only about 1% of our meat and produce is irradiated, though the technology was invented here. Such nations as India, Mexico and Thailand are starting to irradiate most of the food they export to the U.S., which means that produce from abroad could be safer than that grown here. The real scandal of these E. coli outbreaks is that public safety has taken a back seat to political correctness and bureaucratic delay at the FDA.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: US Dollar
on: December 18, 2006, 03:31:57 PM
The dollar is dropping hard and fast and arguably is about the breakdown past previous lows. In this light does Iran's decision to price everything in Euros, portend a worsening of this dynamic? I have seen it plausibly reasoned that the action taken by Iran today is irrelevant, but still I wonder. What happens to the US if the dollar loses its status as THE international currency? How much have we benefitted from seignorage? What will need to happen to US interest rates to support the dollar? And if we do it, what consequences in the US economy? Does housing turn down from flat? Does the US consumer shift to hoard mode? Does the market peak, maybe with a stampede for the exits?
The Adventure continues, , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 18, 2006, 10:57:16 AM
I loathe Sen. Hillary Evita Clinton, but this seems like a responsible piece:
An Oil Trust for Iraq
By HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON and JOHN ENSIGN
December 18, 2006; Page A16
Every day, American troops in Iraq continue to sacrifice while serving bravely and magnificently under deteriorating circumstances. And every day, the Iraqi people are paying an enormous price for the future of that country as well -- a future that, by all accounts, is in jeopardy. For the sake of our soldiers and for the future of Iraq, it is time we place greater rights and responsibilities of citizenship in the hands of the Iraqi people. This includes a stake in oil revenues, which are central to political reconciliation and an end to the sectarian violence.
Recent news reports suggest that Iraqi officials are nearing a compromise on how to divide Iraq's substantial oil revenues, based on population, among the various regions in the country. As part of the final compromise regarding oil revenues, we believe that the distribution of funds should be structured in a way that helps the Iraqi people directly.
We have urged for three years that the Bush administration pursue an Iraq Oil Trust, modeled on the Alaskan Permanent Fund, guaranteeing that every individual Iraqi would share in the country's oil wealth. Oil revenues would accrue to the national government and a significant percentage of oil revenues would be divided equally among ordinary Iraqis, giving every citizen a stake in the nation's recovery and political reconciliation and instilling a sense of hope for the promise of democratic values.
The implications would be vast.
• The future of Iraq's oil reserves remains at the heart of the political crisis in Iraq, as the regional and sectarian divides in Iraq play out over the division of resources and revenues. As the Iraq Study Group writes, "The politics of oil has the potential to further damage the country's already fragile efforts to create a unified central government." An Iraq Oil Trust would chart an equitable path forward for dividing oil revenues in a way that transcends the divide among Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis.
• As report after report indicates, one of the challenges to building Iraq's oil revenues has been insurgent attacks against oil infrastructure. A distribution of revenues to all Iraqis would mean they would have a greater incentive to keep the oil flowing, help the economy grow, reject the insurgency, and commit to the future of their nation.
• While demonstrating that the U.S. is not in Iraq for oil, an Iraq Oil Trust would also inhibit corruption and the concentration of oil wealth in the hands of a privileged few.
• Finally, an Iraq Oil Trust would demonstrate the values at the heart of democratic governance: Individuals would have the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Indeed, the study group reports, "Iraqis have not been convinced that they must take responsibility for their own future." By trusting ordinary Iraqis, ordinary Iraqis would in turn gain greater trust in the national government while seeing something positive about the future at a time when positive signs have been few and far between.
Of course, there are obstacles to putting an Iraq Oil Trust in place, from the ability to perform a census to the capacity to distribute funds. But these obstacles do not seem so daunting when compared to the implications of not taking all the steps we can to find a political solution.
There is a bipartisan consensus about the importance of placing in the hands of Iraqis greater control over their own destiny. Sadly, with Iraq riven by sectarian strife, terrorism, insurgency, corruption and day-to-day criminality and violence, the ability of Iraqis to determine their own future seems to be in jeopardy. In order to build popular support for an end to the chaos, ordinary Iraqis must believe that keeping the nation unified holds the promise of a brighter future for their families. An Iraq Oil Trust will be an important step in the right direction.
Now is the time to act. We are at a critical juncture in our nation's policy toward Iraq. In the aftermath of the Iraq Study Group report, the administration is conducting several reviews of our Iraq policy. We should seize this moment and chart a course that places greater responsibility in the leaders and citizens of Iraq. It's time to put our trust where our democratic values lie: in the Iraqi people.
Mrs. Clinton, a Democratic senator from New York, and Mr. Ensign, a Republican senator from Nevada, are members of the Senate Armed Services committee. Mrs. Clinton is the author of "It Takes a Village," rereleased last week by Simon & Shuster to mark the book's 10th anniversary.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: December 18, 2006, 10:43:08 AM
Geopolitical Diary: The Palestinian Struggles
Hamas and Fatah struck a cease-fire agreement Sunday in an attempt to end one of the bloodiest weeks of feuding in the Palestinian territories. The violence was touched off Dec. 11 after suspected Hamas gunmen killed the children of one of Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' top aides. It culminated in Hamas supporters firing rockets and mortars at Abbas' residence, Palestinian television stations and members of the presidential guard.
However politically necessary the cease-fire agreement might have been, the struggle is still far from over. Since taking office in January, the Hamas-led government has been suffering under economic sanctions -- and the suitcases of cash smuggled in from Iran and other donors in the Arab world have done little to ease the pain. As intended by Israel and the Western powers, the sanctions have steadily whittled away at Hamas' support base: A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah showed that 61 percent of Palestinians favor holding early elections -- as Abbas recently suggested. Fatah would get 42 percent of the vote and Hamas would get 36 percent.
That said, it is not a foregone conclusion, even within the Fatah leadership, that early elections would bring the Hamas government down. Despite the financial desperation, there is a pervasive belief within the territories that the outside world never gave the Hamas leadership a chance to govern effectively. The party's populist image and hard-line stance against Israel still appeal deeply to large segments of the Palestinian population. Should Abbas force an early election, Hamas would encourage its supporters to boycott the polls. This certainly would give Fatah the numbers it needs to reclaim the government, but the party would be hampered by perceptions of illegitimacy.
At the same time, Hamas knows that the longer the political and economic stalemate continues, the more disillusioned the populace will become.
For economic sanctions to be lifted, the Quartet has demanded that Hamas disarm and politically recognize the state of Israel. But both are anathema to Hamas: It cannot disarm because, like Hezbollah, it needs to maintain its legitimacy as a militant resistance movement -- and Israel is the state whose existence it resists.
The geography of Israel is key here. So long as the Jewish state refrains from formally demarcating its borders, any recognition of Israel in its current shape by Hamas would be an implicit admission that Israel has a rightful claim to territory seized during the Six-Day War of 1967 -- the war that carved up the region in such a way as to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. For this reason, Hamas has insisted that a return to the pre-1967 borders is a precondition for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
For the Israelis, of course, this precondition is a nonstarter. In their view, the religious and historical significance of the land Israel occupies in the West Bank outweighs the value of any concessions in the name of a truce. Israel's reluctance to acknowledge its own pre-1967 borders came to light this month in a textbook controversy, when Education Minister Yuli Tamir -- a Labor Party member who advocates dismantling Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories -- ordered that maps in all future textbooks show the Green Line, an armistice boundary that separated Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the 1967 war. The move generated a storm among Israel's political conservatives, who argue that the Israeli position should be defined as complete rejection of any return to the pre-1967 borders.
Intransigence is an all too common theme in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Neither side has the means to discard the political constraints that keep significant negotiations from taking place. With the understanding that the peace process will remain in a stalemate, then, Israel benefits from the frictions between Hamas and Fatah. So long as the Palestinians are busy fighting each other, they will be less concerned with orchestrating attacks against Israel. Any talk of a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah, therefore, likely will meet with an Israeli military offensive or assassination attempt designed to exacerbate intra-Palestinian feuding.www.stratfor.com
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The Snaggletooth Variations:
on: December 16, 2006, 11:50:40 AM
We have just finished editing our newest DBMA DVD. It is titled "The Snaggletooth Variations" (TSV).
TSV builds upon "Combining Stick & Footwork". CSF was the first DVD for Dog Brothers Martial Arts and was the first DVD after our "Real Contact Stickfighting" series. As a fighter and as a teacher, it is my experience that most people do not move their feet well in good integration with their hitting during a fight. It is also my experience that most peole feel incredibly caucasian when going through the training necessary to achieve skills that will actually appear in the adrenal state. This is why CSF took a "basic building blocks" kind of approach.
TSV on the other hand, although it starts with the "basic power combo", which is something I regard as extremely important, practical and accessible to people relatively early on their path in popping their opponents' bubbles and cracking them in the head, has the bulk of its material aimed at intermediate and advanced practitioners and fighters. The concepts, material, and training progression will take some time for most people to absorb.
It is intensely bilateral, both in its footwork and its stickwork. It is both single stick and double stick-- but in the double stick, due to the progression, either stick can and does act as single stick.
Bilateralism is the foundation for 360 degree skills. It works with the "attacking block" concept (and if you have already worked with our "Attacking Blocks" DVD, this will help).
As it progresses, TSV "breaks the mirror". The "mirror" is our term for patterns whereing the right always meets the right, the left always meets the left, etc. Breaking the mirror means that left meets right or vice versa. Breaking the mirrior means that merges are part of the repertoire, not just meets.
In TSV I am assisted by Guro Lonely Dog, who as is always is the case, does an outstanding job.
Because there is a strong taste of Lameco in the material, the extras footage includes an interesting portion a lesson of Punong Guro Edgar Sulite training Salty Dog in my backyard.
The Adventure continues,
PS: Now we have to design the box cover.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: December 16, 2006, 09:43:51 AM
December 15th, NY Times
From Head Scarf to Army Cap
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Tex. — Stomping her boots and swinging her bony arms, Fadwa Hamdan led a column of troops through this bleak Texas base.
Fadwa Hamdan belongs to the rare class of Muslim women who have signed up to become soldiers trained in Arabic translation.
Faith and War
This is the third and final article in an occasional series looking at the experiences of Muslims and the United States military.
For Recruiter, Saying ‘Go Army’ Is a Hard Job (October 7, 2006)
Sorting Out Life as Muslims and Marines (August 7, 2006)
Only six months earlier, she wore the head scarf of a pious Muslim woman and dropped her eyes in the presence of men. Now she was marching them to dinner.
“I’m gonna be a shooting man, a shooting man!” she cried, her Jordanian accent lost in the chanting voices. “The best I can for Uncle Sam, for Uncle Sam!”
The United States military has long prided itself on molding raw recruits into hardened soldiers. Perhaps none have undergone a transformation quite like that of Ms. Hamdan.
Forbidden by her husband to work, she raised five children behind the drawn curtains of their home in Saudi Arabia. She was not allowed to drive. On the rare occasions when she set foot outside, she wore a full-face veil.
Then her world unraveled. Separated from her husband, who had taken a second wife, and torn from her children, she moved to Queens to start over. Struggling to survive on her own, she answered a recruiting advertisement for the Army and enlisted in May.
Ms. Hamdan’s passage through the military is a remarkable act of reinvention. It required courage and sacrifice. She had to remove her hijab, a sacred symbol of the faith she holds deeply. She had to embrace, at the age of 39, an arduous and unfamiliar life.
In return, she sought what the military has always promised new soldiers: a stable home, an adoptive family, a remade identity. She left one male-dominated culture for another, she said, in the hope of finding new strength along the way.
“Always, I dream I have power on the inside, and one day it’s going to come out,” said Ms. Hamdan, a small woman with delicate hands and sad, almond eyes.
She belongs to the rare class of Muslim women who have signed up to become soldiers trained in Arabic translation. Such female linguists play a crucial role for the American armed forces in Iraq, where civilian women often feel uncomfortable interacting with male troops.
Finding Arabic-speaking women willing to serve in the military has proved daunting. Of the 317 soldiers who have completed training in the Army linguist program since 2003, just 23 are women, 13 of them Muslim.
Ms. Hamdan wrestled with the decision for two years. Only in the Army, she decided, would she be able to save money to hire a lawyer and finally divorce her husband. She yearned to regain custody of her children and support them on her own. She thought of going to graduate school one day.
But when Ms. Hamdan finally enlisted, she was filled with as much fear as determination. There was no guarantee, with her broken English and frail physique, that she could meet the military’s standards or survive its rigors.
“This is different world for me,” she said at the time.
‘This Is the Army’
It was around midnight on May 31 when a yellow school bus brought Ms. Hamdan and 16 other new soldiers to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, a spread of parched grass and drab, low-lying buildings.
Ms. Hamdan had not scored high enough on the required English examination to go directly to basic training, so she was sent here for intensive language instruction.
At Lackland, soldiers enlisted in the Army linguist program known as 09-Lima have 24 weeks to improve their English and pass the exam. In that time, they follow a strict military regimen. They rise at 5 a.m. for physical training. They march to class. They drop to the ground for punitive push-ups.
When the bus arrived at the barracks that evening, Ms. Hamdan said, she hopped out first, her camouflage cap pulled low on her head.
Standing by the metal stairs was Sgt. First Class Willie Brannon, an imposing 48-year-old man with a stern jaw and a leveling stare. He ordered the soldiers to change into shorts. Ms. Hamdan explained softly that she was Muslim and could not do this.
“This is the Army,” he replied. “Everybody’s the same.”
Ms. Hamdan burst into tears.
The issue had arisen at the base before, and some of the Muslim women had been permitted to wear sweat pants instead of shorts. Officially, it would be Ms. Hamdan’s choice.
(Page 2 of 4)
But from the sidelines came two opposing directives, one in English and the other in Arabic. The drill sergeants wanted Ms. Hamdan to get used to wearing shorts, while several of the male Muslim soldiers tried to shame her into refusing.
“You’re not supposed to show your legs,” they told her.
For three weeks, she wore the blue nylon shorts, hitching up her white socks. Then she switched to sweat pants, even as the summer heat surpassed 100 degrees.
It helped, Ms. Hamdan thought, that there were so many similarities between Islam and the Army.
The command “Attention!” reminded her of the first step in the daily Muslim prayer, when one must stand completely still.
Soldiers, like Muslims, were instructed to eat with one hand. The women ate by themselves, and always walked with an escort, as Muslim women traditionally traveled.
The Army taught soldiers to live with order. They folded their fatigues as women folded their hijabs, and woke before sunrise as Ms. Hamdan had done all her life. They always marched behind a flag, as Muslims did in the days of the Prophet.
Nothing felt more familiar than the military’s emphasis on respect. Soldiers learned to tuck their hands behind their backs when speaking to superiors.
When Ms. Hamdan tried this with Sergeant Brannon, she thought of her father. Her eyes automatically dropped to the floor, with customary Muslim modesty.
“Look me in the eye,” the sergeant said. It was a command he had learned to deliver with care.
Sergeant Brannon, an African-American Baptist from North Carolina, had never met a Muslim before coming to Lackland. He soon concluded that the Muslim women in his charge had survived greater struggles outside the military than anything they would face inside it.
“They’ve been through a lot,” he said.
Life Before the Service
Fadwa Hamdan was always a touch rebellious.
One of seven children, she was raised by her Palestinian parents in Amman, Jordan. Her father worked as a government irrigation official while her mother stayed at home with the children. They expected the same of their daughters.
But as a teenager, Ms. Hamdan rejected her many suitors. She wanted to see the world. At 19, she said, she secretly volunteered as a nurse with the Jordanian police, infuriating her parents. That same year, a visiting Palestinian doctor who lived in New York spotted her in the street.
He tracked down her home address, and spoke to her father. The next day, Ms. Hamdan learned she was engaged.
“Your dream has come true,” Ms. Hamdan recalls her mother saying. “You’re leaving Jordan.”
Ms. Hamdan joined her husband in Staten Island in 1987. She felt nothing for him. He was 10 years her senior, and she found him stiff and dictatorial. He only let her leave the house with him, she said. If she upset him, he refused to speak to her for months.
She had children to fill the void. She became more religious, and began wearing the face veil known as a niqab. Eventually, the family moved to Saudi Arabia.
Weeks after Ms. Hamdan delivered her fifth child in 2000, she learned from her mother-in-law that her husband was taking a second wife in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Ms. Hamdan was shocked.
“I couldn’t talk,” she said.
The next summer, on a family vacation in Amman, her husband disappeared one evening with three of their children, she said. Days later she located two of her boys in Saudi Arabia, and learned that the new wife would be joining them.
Ms. Hamdan’s 8-year-old girl had been left with her grandparents in Ramallah. She tried to get the girl back, but her husband had kept the child’s passport, she said.
When reached by telephone in Saudi Arabia, a man answering to her husband’s name said, “This is her choice and I don’t have anything to do with it,” apparently referring to her decision to join the Army. Then he hung up.
It never occurred to Ms. Hamdan to seek a divorce. She feared that it would bring shame to her family. From Jordan, she fought for legal custody of the children. In 2002, a judge ruled that she could keep the three youngest children, but allotted her a meager alimony, not enough to cover their schooling. Reluctantly, she returned them to their father.
Alone in Amman, she felt like an outcast.
“The neighbors, they look at me,” she said.
(Page 3 of 4)
In September 2002, she moved to Queens to live with her brother and his wife. She returned to wearing a regular head scarf, or hijab, and started classes at a local community college. One night she came home late, she said, and her brother told her to leave. “She did not follow the rules of the house,” the brother, Sam Saeed, said in an interview.
Ms. Hamdan did not know where to turn. Her father had refused to speak to her since she left Jordan. Over the next 10 days, she rode the subway at night and slept on a park bench in Queens. Finally, she walked into a hair salon in Brooklyn and approached a Lebanese Muslim woman.
“She was hysterical crying,” said the woman, Helena Buiduon.
Ms. Hamdan stayed with Ms. Buiduon until she found her own apartment. She taught the Koran to children and worked in a doctor’s office while earning an associate’s degree in medical assistance.
Her life remained a struggle. She lived in a small, drafty apartment in the Bronx. Other Muslim immigrants found her puzzling.
Some people suggested that she was a “loose woman,” she recalled, a notion that amused her given how little she wanted another relationship.
“I can’t feel anything for anybody,” she said. “I lived like jail. Just imagine you have a bird and the door is open. You think he will go back to this jail again? Never. He’s just flying.”
In 2003, she spotted an ad for the Army in an Arabic-language magazine. She met with a recruiter but cut the conversation short after learning she would have to remove her head scarf before enlisting.
Secretly, though, she kept imagining a new, military life. In March, she made up her mind.
“I broke the law with God,” she said of her decision to remove her hijab. “I had to.”
She put her belongings in storage. She began lifting 20-pound weights. She slipped off her veil in public a few times. She felt naked.
Two days before she left, she stopped by her brother’s video shop in Queens to say goodbye.
Mr. Saeed was kneeling in prayer, as a Spanish rap video blasted from a television set. He stiffened at the sight of Ms. Hamdan, then kissed her on the cheek. They had not seen each other all year. Within minutes, an argument began.
“She’ll never make it,” Mr. Saeed said, looking away from his sister.
“Oh yeah?” she replied, her eyes widening.
“A Muslim woman is not allowed to travel alone,” he said.
“What about working?” she said, her voice quivering. “Look at your wife, she works!”
“She likes to spend time here,” he said.
Ms. Hamdan ran from the store crying.
“She won’t make it,” Mr. Saeed told a reporter after she left. “Woman always weak. She need a man to protect her.”
Later, when Ms. Hamdan heard what her brother had said, she was silent.
“Why didn’t he protect me?” she said.
What Happens Next
Life at Lackland — where soldiers cannot chew gum, wear makeup or leave the base — reminded Ms. Hamdan of her marriage.
“Sometimes, when I’m by myself, I wonder how I have stayed here for six months,” she said as she sat outside her barracks one recent evening. “But I did it.”
She was among 39 men and women in the Army linguist program, in a company of 119 soldiers. The rest were immigrants from around the globe, there to improve their English in the hopes of entering boot camp.
Everyone, it seemed, had a sad story.
The women talked quietly after the lights went out. A Sudanese woman had come to the United States after most of her family died in a bombing in Khartoum. A 23-year-old woman had lost her Iranian mother in an honor killing.
A teenage Iraqi girl cried herself to sleep every night. She, like many other soldiers, began referring to Ms. Hamdan as “Mom.”
“They come into my arms,” said Ms. Hamdan, who was older than most of the others.
She missed being a mother, yet she rarely talked about her own children. She was learning not to cry, and that was a subject that broke her down. Privately, she called them in Saudi Arabia twice a week with 20-minute phone cards, four minutes per child.
As the summer wore on, it became clear that Ms. Hamdan was floundering in her English studies. She failed the exam repeatedly.
Physically, though, she was growing stronger. Push-ups and sit-ups no longer scared her. She found she was a fast runner.
(Page 4 of 4)
On Aug. 10, she won the one-mile race for female soldiers in seven minutes flat, in sweat pants. The next week, she became a squad leader and bay commander, directing a column of soldiers during marches and keeping order in the female barracks.
Days later, she decided to wear the shorts again.
“What, we have a new soldier here?” Sergeant Brannon called out as she walked deliberately down the stairs.
“I am going to show the men I’m like them,” she told him later. “I’m a man now.”
“No, you’re not a man” he said.
“Yes, I’m a man.”
“No,” he said. “You’re a strong-willed woman.”
That became his nickname for her: strong-willed woman.
As Ms. Hamdan’s status rose with the drill sergeants, so did her standing among the soldiers.
“Sometimes I’m tough on them,” she said one recent weekday as she patrolled her floor. The women smiled from their bunk beds. “I like everything clean.”
Another morning, she sat in the mess hall, eating her daily breakfast of Froot Loops followed by nacho-cheese Doritos. A drill sergeant called out that the group had three minutes to finish, just as a clean-shaven soldier walked past Ms. Hamdan with a tray full of food. She shot him a hard look.
“Three minutes,” she repeated. “You hear that?”
The greatest shift for Ms. Hamdan came in her relationship with the male soldiers. They stopped taunting her about wearing shorts. When she gave orders, they listened.
“It seems like a heavy burden has been lifted from her,” Sergeant Brannon said.
Yet even as she felt herself changing, she remained steady in her faith. She never stopped praying five times a day. She attended the base’s mosque each Friday and fasted through the holy month of Ramadan.
On a recent Friday, she sat with her eyes closed on the mosque’s embroidered carpet, wearing a white veil and skirt over her Army fatigues.
“Staying on the straight path is not an easy matter, except for those who Allah helps to do so,” the Egyptian imam said in Arabic over a loudspeaker.
In November, Ms. Hamdan’s English score was still too low, by 11 points, even though she was performing better on the weekly quizzes. She was given a one-month extension, and one more chance.
She took her last exam in December, and failed again. She ran from her classroom.
“Don’t come looking for me,” she recalled telling a startled drill sergeant.
By herself, Ms. Hamdan began walking across the base. Tears streamed down her face as she reached the two-story, concrete building that had long been her refuge.
She climbed the stairs of the mosque. Alone, she knelt on the carpet and prayed. Finally, she sat in silence. She felt at peace.
Ms. Hamdan will be discharged on Dec. 15. She is unsure of what the future holds. She may stay in Texas and look for a job. She may no longer wear a hijab in public. All she knows is that she is different now, and no less a Muslim for it.
“I can face men,” she said. “I can fight. I can talk. I don’t keep it inside.”
She thought for a moment.
“I changed myself,” she said. “I’m a new Fadwa. Strong female. I like this.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: December 16, 2006, 09:15:16 AM
The following piece by a Syrian was written for what I understand to be a major Indian newspaper. Interesting.
A bitter struggle for power in Iran
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - Much is being written in the international media about the twin elections in Iran, which take place on Friday. Some, like veteran Iranian journalist Amir Taheri, are expecting the "first major political defeat" for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
One election will be for municipalities, the other for the Council of Experts (COE). This congressional body of 86 ayatollahs selects the supreme leader of Iran and supervises his activities. Members have to be experts in Islamic jurisprudence so they can debate
Islamic law, and see that the grand ayatollah does not violate the Holy Koran.
The COE can hire and fire the supreme leader, a post held since 1989 by the strong and all-powerful Ayatollah Ali al-Khamenei. It is currently headed by the old and ailing Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, who has re-nominated himself for office but stands a very slim chance of succeeding since he is supported neither by Ahmadinejad nor by Khamenei.
For this reason, Ahmadinejad has his eyes set on winning elections for the COE, which are by direct votes for an eight-year term. Khamenei, who is 66 and also in frail health, is likely to be ousted - if Ahmadinejad gets his way - before the new council's term expires in 2014.
By all accounts, the president does not like the overpowering influence that Khamenei has on Iranian politics. Some expect that if the president's list wins the elections, they would ask Khamenei to step down on the grounds of ill health.
The man earmarked to replace Khamenei by the president is Ahmadinejad's ideological mentor, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghli Misbah Yazdi. Born in 1934, the radical cleric studied in Qom and was educated in Islam by none other than Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic in 1979. He graduated with honors from the religious seminary in 1960 and worked as editor-in-chief of a anti-Shah journal called "Revenge".
He was also a member of the board of directors at an influential religious school in Iran. In recent years, he has headed the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute and is a current member of the outgoing COE. During the 1990s he rose to fame for seriously challenging the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, arguing that contact with the West is un-Islamic and claiming that the reformists were straying from the pure revolutionary ideals of Khomeini.
He encouraged disobedience to Khatami through his writings and sermons on Fridays, prompting the former president to describe him as a "theotrician of violence". Yazdi's day in the sun came when his student Ahmadinejad was voted to power in August 2005. To him, Western culture means "misleading ideas" and it resembles injecting Iran "with the AIDS virus".
If this man becomes the new leader of Iran, all talk about curbing Ahmadinejad's powers and re-engaging Iran in dialogue with the West will come to an abrupt end. But luckily for opponents of the Iranian president, his ambitions face strong obstacles from within Iranian politics. These have been created by the Khamenei-backed Guardian Council.
This body is made up of 12 officials (six being clerics appointed directly by the supreme leader) and has ultimate executive, judiciary and electoral authority. The remaining six members are lawyers appointed by a judicial authority, which in turn is approved or vetoed by Khamenei.
Although Khamenei originally supported Ahmadinejad's rise to power in 2005, the two men have parted on a variety of issues and the president sees Khamenei as an obstacle to his powers at the presidency. He wants - but cannot so long as Khamenei is in power - to clip the wings of the supreme leader. Khamenei, a smart man by all accounts who also served as president in the 1980s, realizes the threat coming from Ahmadinejad. That is why he ordered his supporters - all 12 members of the Guardian Council - to veto most of the 493 candidates running for elections on Friday who are declared supporters of the president.
Among those vetoed are Yazdi's son. They also banned any woman from standing for office at the CEO. All reformists running for office were also rejected because they are trying to pass an amendment in the Iranian constitution allowing non-clerics into the CEO - something that Khamenei curtly refuses as well.
Other candidates turned down include pro-business and modernizing clerics supportive of former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who challenged Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2005. The very fact that Khamenei and the Guardian Council allowed Rafsanjani to run for the CEO, given his animosity toward the wild policies of Ahmadinejad, is also an indicator that they want to make life more difficult for the president.
Victory for Rafsanjani, however, is doubtful, since both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are opposed to him, and it is rumored that he is in favor of reaching a deal with the United States on Iran's nuclear program. In short, Khamenei has engineered elections that guarantee continuity of his post as the grand master of Iranian elections. Iranian observers are saying that out of the 86 seats contested at the CEO, only 17 new members will be voted into office. The remaining 69 clerics will all be pro-Khamenei.
For the above reasons, along with a recent Iranian poll affiliated with the Rafsanjani-led Expediency Council, show that the future is not promising for Ahmadinejad. Khamenei, however, has not come out to challenge Ahmadinejad - at least not yet - and insists on being a godfather to all Iranians. He has even called on all able citizens to vote, saying that it is a national and religious duty.
Despite that, Iranian observers claim that voter turnout will be no more than 49%. The poll showed that out of the Iranians surveyed, 90% said that their support for the president had diminished over the past 16 months. This was made clear by student demonstrators on December 11 at the Amir Kabir University of Iran, when young men burned pictures of Ahmadinejad and raised slogans that read "death to the dictator".
Unable to crack down on the rioters, for fear of losing support in the upcoming elections, Ahmadinejad did not arrest or harass them. On the contrary, he released a statement saying that he was pleased by the demonstrations. They reminded him of his student days under the Shah in the 1970s when students were prohibited from expressing their views.
If he fails to control the COE, however, Ahmadinejad plans to take the municipality elections through a list of candidates headed by his sister, Parvan Ahmadinejad. Her list is called "The Enchanting Scent for Services", and it is campaigning on the same youth-related issues that Ahmadinejad touted when he was voted in in 2005. The ambitious president, however, will not be satisfied unless he wins the COE.
One might ask, how is it that this president, who surprised the world with his victory in 2005, finds himself in a difficult position today, unable to impose his will on Iranian society? Is the Ahmadinejad myth a fabrication created by the US? Is the superman president really human - and weak - after all? Perhaps the Americans concentrated on Ahmadinejad more than they should have, because the real powerbroker in Iran is Khamenei - not Ahmadinejad.
It is Khamenei who supports Hezbollah and Khamenei, rather than the president, who is stubborn when it comes to Iran's nuclear issue. Ahmadinejad is simply a figure of state who has limited domestic authority and by no means is a dictator like Saddam Hussein. He achieved victory not because of his revolutionary views, nor for his support and conviction in the Islamic Revolution, but rather because of his promises to grassroots Iranians. By rhetoric, action, dress and origin, he mirrored their plight and realities.
But Ahmadinejad promised more than he could deliver, forgetting during election time that he was not the ultimate ruler and would have to share power with the Majlis (parliament), the Guardian Council, the COE - and Khamenei.
Young Iranians, born after the revolution of 1979, had not experienced the autocracy of the Shah and were (and still are) unimpressed by the revolutionary rhetoric of the 1980s. They wanted a president who could provide jobs for the university-educated Iranians who were unemployed. They wanted a leader who could combat the 16% unemployment rate ( 21.2% among women and 34% in the 15-19 age group.)
Currently, 800,000 Iranian youth enter the job market every year and Ahmadinejad would have to double job creation efforts to meet this staggering number. This would require huge investment and an economic growth rate of more than 6% per year. Iran's economy is now down to 1.9%, after growth of 4.8% for 2004-2005.
One slogan devised under Ahmadinejad read: "$550 for every Iranian citizen", Ahmadinejad also won because he was Khamenei's man since the supreme leader did not want to deal with a political strongman like Rafsanjani. It was believed that Ahmadinejad would follow Khamenei's orders and not defy him.
Rafsanjani, however, would have worked with Khamenei as an equal. The supreme leader wanted someone he could manipulate. For the exact same reasons, he is now working against Ahmadinejad, who apparently no longer wants to be manipulated or overpowered.
Rather than criticize Ahmadinejad, the US could bide its time and see how Friday's polls play out. Change can be achieved - through evolution of the Iranian regime and its own system of checks-and-balances - rather than revolution, or war.
Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.
(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: US Dollar
on: December 16, 2006, 09:05:50 AM
The Bush team is harranging China to allow its currency to revalue.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/14/AR2006121400681.html
Here's how this issue stacks up for me:
1) As a general rule, seeking to export unemployment through competitive devaluations is quite stupid. I think Jude Wanniski's writings on this point quite sound.
2) The balance of trade between between two countries is as relevant as the balance of trade between California and Maine. This is even more the case wherein one of the countries in question strongly restricts, as China does, capital outflows-- at least this is my understanding. If I am correct with regard to this last point, the balance of trade is even less meaningful than is normally the case.
3) While we might differ on how to measure it (gold, basket of commodities, balance of trade, purchasing power parity,exchange rates, per Austrian economics, etc) what matters is that stability of value of the currency. It seems pretty clear that regardless of the measurement used, right now we have developed quite a bit of momentum towards printing too many dollars. This is profoundly unwise.
Thus, this conversation with China is a great foolishness on out part.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: December 15, 2006, 04:21:10 PM
Second post of the day on this thread:
DIABETES BREAKTHROUGH; TORONTO SCIENTISTS CURE DISEASE IN MICE: In a discovery that has stunned even those behind it, scientists at a Toronto hospital say they have proof the body's nervous system helps trigger diabetes, opening the door to a potential near-cure of the disease that affects millions of Canadians. Diabetic mice became healthy virtually overnight after researchers injected a substance to counteract the effect of malfunctioning pain neurons in the pancreas."I couldn't believe it," said Dr. Michael Salter, a pain expert at the Hospital for Sick Children and one of the scientists. "Mice with diabetes suddenly didn't have diabetes any more."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: December 15, 2006, 09:46:29 AM
The Healthy Americans Act
It's been some time since I've run across a genuinely new health care proposal, but the comprehensive reform legislation Ron Wyden's unveiled today is just such a beast. Wyden, a gangly goofball of a Senator who last turned heads for his tax reform ideas, must have decided fully restructuring the tax code was thinking too small, so this morning, he took over the Senate Finance Committee's hearing room, brought in an array of union leaders, CEOs, and health wonks, and argued to totally scrap the employer-based health system.
Here's how it would work: The Healthy Americans Act of 2007 would begin by dissolving all employer-based insurance. Instead, it would mandate that every employer who had covered his employees in 2006 convert the total they spent on insurance into salary increases creating, in one day, the single largest pay raise America has ever seen. Now, why would employers go along with that? Well, legislatively they'd have to, but, as Len Nichols explained to me, they'll also want to: Health costs are accelerating, every year costs 10 or so percent more than they ear before. By freezing the total at what employers paid in 2006, Wyden's plan would exempt them from 2007's increase.
Meanwhile, an individual mandate would be implemented, forcing every American to purchase one of the options offered by their state's newly formed Health Help Agency (HHA). The HHA's will have a menu of private insurance plans, all of which must provide coverage equal to or better than the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Plan used by Congress. All plans will be community rated by the state, meaning an end to adverse selection and preexisting condition problems. The only acceptable variables for price will be geography, family size, and smoking status. Subsidies will be offered up to 400 percent of the poverty line, will full coverage provided to those below 100 percent. Employers will contribute through a set equation related to business size and yearly profits. There's quite a bit more, but that's the basic outline.
I have to spend some more time with the legislation ("c'mon baby, open up to me, tell me your secrets..."), but my snap reaction is heavily favorable. It isn't everything I'd want, but imposing the combination of community rating and an insurance floor will be a huge step forward. The cost stability offered to employers seems very, very savvy, as does the forced conversion of 2006 health costs into salary increases. The Lewin Group, the gold standard in health care actuarial data (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence), has evaluated the plan. Their conclusion? The plan would cover more than 99 percent of Americans, we'd save $4.8 billion in the first year and $1.48 trillion over the next decade. How's that sound? To me, it sounds like precisely the sort of big thinking Democrats need to be doing now that they're back in the majority.
For those want to dive in, there are more materials at Wyden HQ.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: December 15, 2006, 09:32:14 AM
Administration to Drop Effort to Track if Visitors Leave
By RACHEL L. SWARNS and ERIC LIPTON
Published: December 15, 2006
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 — In a major blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to secure borders, domestic security officials have for now given up on plans to develop a facial or fingerprint recognition system to determine whether a vast majority of foreign visitors leave the country, officials say.
Domestic security officials had described the system, known as U.S. Visit, as critical to security and important in efforts to curb illegal immigration. Similarly, one-third of the overall total of illegal immigrants are believed to have overstayed their visas, a Congressional report says.
Tracking visitors took on particular urgency after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when it became clear that some of the hijackers had remained in the country after their visas had expired.
But in recent days, officials at the Homeland Security Department have conceded that they lack the financing and technology to meet their deadline to have exit-monitoring systems at the 50 busiest land border crossings by next December. A vast majority of foreign visitors enter and exit by land from Mexico and Canada, and the policy shift means that officials will remain unable to track the departures.
A report released on Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, restated those findings, reporting that the administration believes that it will take 5 to 10 years to develop technology that might allow for a cost-effective departure system.
Domestic security officials, who have allocated $1.7 billion since the 2003 fiscal year to track arrivals and departures, argue that creating the program with the existing technology would be prohibitively expensive.
They say it would require additional employees, new buildings and roads at border crossings, and would probably hamper the vital flow of commerce across those borders.
Congress ordered the creation of such a system in 1996.
In an interview last week, the assistant secretary for homeland security policy, Stewart A. Baker, estimated that an exit system at the land borders would cost “tens of billions of dollars” and said the department had concluded that such a program was not feasible, at least for the time being.
“It is a pretty daunting set of costs, both for the U.S. government and the economy,” Mr. Stewart said. “Congress has said, ‘We want you to do it.’ We are not going to ignore what Congress has said. But the costs here are daunting.
“There are a lot of good ideas and things that would make the country safer. But when you have to sit down and compare all the good ideas people have developed against each other, with a limited budget, you have to make choices that are much harder.”
The news sent alarms to Congress, where some Republicans and Democrats warned that suspending the monitoring plan would leave the United States vulnerable.
Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who is a departing subcommittee chairman on the House International Relations Committee, said the administration could not say it was protecting domestic security without creating a viable exit monitoring system.
“There will not be border security in this country until we have a knowledge of both entry and exit,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “We have to make a choice. Do we want to act and control our borders or do we want to have tens of millions of illegals continuing to pour into our country?”
Representative Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who is set to lead the Homeland Security Committee, also expressed concern.
“It is imperative that Congress work in partnership with the department to develop a comprehensive border security system that ensures we know who is entering and exiting this country and one that cannot be defeated by imposters, criminals and terrorists,” Mr. Thompson said in a statement Thursday.
In January 2004, domestic security officials began fingerprint scanning for arriving visitors. The program has screened more than 64 million travelers and prevented more than 1,300 criminals and immigration violators from entering, officials said.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials often call the program a singular achievement in making the country safer. U.S. Visit fingerprints and photographs 2 percent of the people entering the country, because Americans and most Canadians and Mexicans are exempt.
Efforts to determine whether visitors actually leave have faltered. Departure monitoring would help officials hunt for foreigners who have not left, if necessary. Domestic security officials say, however, it would be too expensive to conduct fingerprint or facial recognition scans for land departures. Officials have experimented with less costly technologies, including a system that would monitor by radio data embedded in a travel form carried by foreigners as they depart by foot or in vehicles.
Tests of that technology, Radio Frequency Identification, found a high failure rate. At one border point, the system correctly identified 14 percent of the 166 vehicles carrying the embedded documents, the General Accountability Office reported.
The Congressional investigators noted the “numerous performance and reliability problems” with the technology and said it remained unclear how domestic security officials would be able to meet their legal obligation to create an exit program.
Some immigration analysts said stepping away from the program raised questions again about the commitment to enforce border security and immigration laws.
A senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, Jessica Vaughn, said the government had long been too deferential to big businesses and travel groups that raised concerns that exit technology might disrupt travel and trade.
“I worry that the issue of cost is an excuse for not doing anything,” said Ms. Vaughn, whose group advocates curbing immigration. Domestic security officials said they still hoped to find a way to create an exit system at land borders. “We would to do more testing,” a spokesman for the department, Jarrod Agen, said. “We are evaluating the initial tests to determine how to move forward.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: December 15, 2006, 09:27:09 AM
A Pentagon Agency
Is Looking at Brains --
And Raising Eyebrows
December 15, 2006; Page B1
In a request issued in October, a government agency asked researchers for "innovative" ways to monitor the brain as it learns and acquires skills, such as by tracking when brain waves flip from those characteristic of novices to those of experts, and noninvasive ways to speed up the process.
In February, the agency said it was interested in ways to use EEGs to detect when a brain had found what it was looking for in a photograph, such as a familiar face in a crowd.
As part of the same program, the agency awarded Lockheed Martin $650,000 in August to develop technology to monitor a brain's cognitive activity in real time and, if the device senses overload, make changes such as slowing the flow of data the brain is receiving.
In a progress report to the agency's "Augmented Cognition" program, a company said in September that it had completed development of a portable, wearable system of sensors that assess cognitive function, producing a readout showing how a brain's pattern of thought-related activity deviates "from that of the normal population."
The requests came from, and the report went to, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Established in 1958, Darpa is best known for inventing the forerunner of the Internet. For decades it lavished most of its support on physics. But lately, as part of its mission to maintain U.S. military superiority "by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research," the agency has expanded into neuroscience.
Can the folks who brought you the Internet also bring you ways to look into brains -- and do you want them to?
Darpa has good reason to fund neuroscience. Discoveries and new technologies such as noninvasive imaging to detect what the mind is doing might help analysts, pilots and grunts process and react better to barrages of data, and allow real-time assessment of head injuries on the battlefield. Brain-computer interfaces in which thoughts are electronically translated into signals that operate a computer or prosthetic limb might improve rehab for soldiers suffering grievous injuries.
As with other "dual use" technologies, however, the findings and gizmos born of Darpa's brain research may well find their way into civilian life, and in ways that trouble some ethicists. Darpa's interest in neuroscience is "extensive and growing," says Jonathan Moreno of the University of Virginia, a former adviser on biodefense to the Department of Homeland Security. "There are reasons to be concerned about what uses these discoveries might be put to."
The Augmented Cognition program, for instance, seeks technologies that will "measure and track a subject's cognitive state in real time." The agency is partway there. One prototype helmet monitors brain states, which may include those associated with anger, aggression, anxiety, fatigue, deception -- in principle, any mental state -- and transmit the data wirelessly to a command center.
In battle, that would let commanders redeploy soldiers who are in no state to fight or carry out certain missions; you might not want a soldier who is boiling over with rage to search civilians. How an office supervisor, airport screener or job interviewer might make use of the technology is left to the reader's imagination.
A Darpa project using fMRI imaging of brain activity applies the discovery that recognizing a face or place you've seen before triggers a characteristic pattern of cortical activity. Do you recognize this terrorist training camp? This terrorist? The benefits could be huge. As with polygraphs and fingerprint analysis, however, technologies can be widely deployed without a solid scientific foundation about their rate of false positives, with the result that they send the innocent to prison.
In a new book, "Mind Wars," Prof. Moreno describes a Darpa project on a drug called CX717, which enables sleep-deprived people to maintain memory and cognitive function. In a world where students take Ritalin to give them a boost on the SAT and Provigil to pull all-nighters, there is no reason to think CX717, if it passes more tests, will be confined to military pilots on long-haul flights. If the drug doesn't succeed in keeping a sleep-deprived brain sharp, maybe Darpa-funded research on neurostimulation -- little zaps of electricity to improve cognitive performance -- will.
Presumably, workers and students will have the legal right to reject such "enhancements," Prof. Moreno says. Soldiers might not. Should they? Will employers or others pressure people to accept better thinking through technology? Will the use of such "augmented cognition" by business competitors have the same effect as steroids in baseball, where the perception that everyone is using them exerts pressure to do the same, to keep the playing field level? There has been virtually no debate on the ethical questions raised by the brave new brain technologies.
Ever since the atomic bomb, physicists have known that their work has potential military uses, and have spoken up about it. But on the morality of sending orders directly to the brain (of a soldier, employee, child, prisoner ...), or of devices that read thoughts and intentions from afar, neuroscientists have been strangely silent. The time to speak up is before the genie is out of the bottle.
• You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Islamo-fascismo en Latino America
on: December 15, 2006, 12:51:23 AM
V= Hide Post
Tri-border transfers 'funding terror'
The tri-border area, where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, is a lawless region where drugs trafficking, gun running and counterfeit goods are rife.
The BBC has now found documents showing the suspicious transfer of large sums of money to the Middle East, which investigators believe goes to fund terrorism. The BBC's Andrew Bomford reports from Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.
It didn't look like the global centre of a business sending billions of dollars overseas, but on the first floor of the dingy-looking shopping arcade, if you could get past the two guards blocking the stairs, there it was - a shop, looking like a pawnbrokers, called Telefax.
According to Paraguayan and American investigators, Telefax, owned by a Lebanese businessman called Kassem Hijazi, is responsible for transferring huge sums of laundered money overseas and hiding the identities of the people responsible.
The money is believed to be the proceeds of crime - anything from drug smuggling, to gun running, to counterfeit goods to tax evasion.
"From the evidence and documentation we saw, it was clear that this man was moving large sums, hundreds of millions of dollars, through its doors, in its own name, hiding the identities of who was truly the owners of the money," said Carlos Maza, of the US Department of Homeland Security.
"Kassem Hijazi is a serious player who more than anything else has found the vulnerability in the Paraguayan system, the ability to control how money is moved through its banking system."
But US investigators are particularly worried that some of this money goes to fund terrorism as well as militant organisations like Hezbollah and Hamas.
Robert Morgenthau, the New York District Attorney, has prosecuted a number of American banks for moving millions of dollars from the tri-border area to what he suspects are terrorist bank accounts in the Middle East.
"We've found money going to the Arab Bank in Ramallah," he told the BBC.
"The Arab Bank is well known as one of the banks used by terrorist organisations. But that's part of the frustration. You don't know who's sending the money and you don't know who's receiving it."
The BBC saw company accounts for Telefax showing a business with an annual turnover of just $50,000.
But a large number of money transfer documents, obtained in a series of raids by Paraguayan prosecutors, show Telefax making international transfers worth ten times that amount almost on a daily basis.
The owner of Telefax, Kassem Hijazi, agreed to do an interview with the BBC.
The people I work with are friends, not terrorists
He produced a large amount of the prosecution paperwork allegedly showing thousands of money transfers, but claimed that every single one of the documents had been forged.
"The proof is here," Mr Hijazi said, indicating the transfer documents.
"They have to prove that I've done it. Even the prosecutor says the documents are false, not us, the prosecutor. I wasn't transferring money abroad. It's the money exchange houses that send the money, and they've forged the documents. We don't do transfers abroad."
Mr Hijazi did admit to using numbers instead of names for his clients, effectively hiding their identities, but he said that was merely to make his paperwork easier.
The BBC examined a number of the transfer documents and saw large amounts of money, around $10m, moving to Lebanon in the space of a year.
Three transfers, for $100,000, $70,000, and $42,200, went in the space of two days to companies in Beirut which did not appear to exist.
Adolfo Marin, the original prosecutor in the case, said it was very difficult to investigate the money transfers because the banks in Beirut were dominated by Hezbollah.
"I have no idea what they can export to us from Lebanon, so necessarily the money that goes to Lebanon is not for imports," he said. "So it is possible to formulate a hypothesis about the probability of money laundering and links with terrorism."
Kassem Hijazi strongly denied any involvement in terrorist financing. "It's absurd," he said.
"It doesn't happen here. The people I work with are friends, not terrorists. They've been investigated and if there was some evidence they would have been charged."
'Helping our brothers'
This view was supported by Sheik Taleb Jomha, the Muslim leader of the 30,000-strong Lebanese community in the tri-border area.
"I am not telling you a secret when I say that Iran and Syria are supporting Hezbollah," he said.
"Iran has the ability to send weapons and rockets, not us. They say money is moving from here to the Middle East. That's right. But not to help political or military groups, but to help our brothers and sisters who need help."
Kassem Hijazi is not facing charges of money laundering or even terrorist financing.
In Paraguay, funding terrorism is not a crime, and the law on money laundering is out of date, making it difficult to achieve a prosecution.
A new law has been languishing, unapproved, in the country's Congress for more than two years.
In the meantime, Mr Hijazi has been accused of tax evasion, which he also denies, and is expected to face trial in 2007.
Story from BBC NEWS:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/americas/6179085.stm
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Romney
on: December 14, 2006, 10:00:31 PM
If I could get 1 to 1,000 odds here in Las vegas I would bet on Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee and 2008 winner of Olympic Um Presidential Gold! Eric
Romney strategy pays off quickly
Multistate tactic overcomes limits
By Scott Helman and Chase Davis, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent | June 11, 2006
Governor Mitt Romney is financing the early stages of his potential presidential campaign with a novel, multistate fund-raising operation that is allowing him to maximize legal donations, outflank top Republican competitors, and minimize public scrutiny.
Since July 2004, Romney has set up affiliates of his political action committee, the Commonwealth PAC, in five states. By having donors spread their contributions across the various affiliates, Romney has been able to effectively evade the $5,000-per-donor annual contribution limit that applies only to federal committees, which most presidential aspirants set up to build initial support for their candidacies.
The multistate system is helping Romney raise money quickly from relatively few contributors, and foster valuable political relationships around the country. It also is a strategy several potential opponents for the Republican nomination cannot use: Federal office-holders, under new campaign finance rules, are barred from operating such state affiliates.
That means possible 2008 competitors such as Senators John McCain of Arizona and George Allen of Virginia have to rely solely on their federal PACs and thus cannot accept more than $5,000 from any contributor each year.
``I think it's a brilliant strategy," said Rich Bond, a former Republican National Committee chairman and a McCain supporter. ``It's fully compliant with the law, yet allows Romney to deploy political assets in a comprehensive fashion."
Globe graphics: Wallets behind Romney Romney fund-raising
A review by the Globe of Commonwealth PAC campaign finance filings indicates that more than 100 donors have given a total of $1.6 million to Romney's various PAC organizations over the past two years. It is a relatively small amount compared to what Romney would need for a presidential campaign -- President Bush raised $273 million in 2004, for example -- but the creation of a fund-raising network will help establish Romney in monied circles that will be crucial if he decides to run for the White House.
A few supporters and their families have given roughly $100,000 or more to Commonwealth PAC, but many donors have made large contributions to several affiliates at a time. On March 30, for example, Florida investment adviser Lee Munder gave $5,000 to Romney's federal PAC, $18,250 to his Iowa affiliate, $18,250 to the one in Michigan, and $3,500 to the one in South Carolina, campaign finance records show.
The Commonwealth PAC is a so-called leadership PAC, which politicians often establish in advance of their official candidacies to finance cross-country travel, maintain a staff, and distribute tactical campaign contributions to local politicians in key states. The money these committees raise is far less than what it takes to mount a formal presidential campaign, but the committees are crucial to building name recognition and a network of donors early on. (Candidates cannot use leadership PAC money to finance their campaigns once they officially declare.)
Romney's multistate strategy, made possible by a campaign finance law that McCain helped write, was crafted by the governor's former advisers Mike Murphy and Trent Wisecup, ``and a smart lawyer or two," according to a person with knowledge of the plans.
One of those lawyers was Benjamin L. Ginsberg, who was a top lawyer for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004.
The 2008 presidential election cycle is the first full cycle in which the new campaign finance rules apply, and Romney appears to be taking advantage of them more than other potential candidates. New York Governor George Pataki, a Republican, and former Virginia governor Mark Warner, a Democrat, each have state affiliates of their PACs, but only in one or two places.
``It's been well-documented that being a governor is an ideal office from which to seek the presidency, and the McCain-Feingold law has just magnified that," said FEC chairman Michael Toner, adding that such a system is ``a potential leg up for office-holders such as Governor Romney that their federal counterparts do not have."
Romney has PAC affiliates in Iowa, Michigan, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and, formerly, in Arizona. Particularly beneficial to Romney are the affiliates in Iowa and Michigan, where there are no limits on how much an individual can give. (Donors can give up to $3,500 in South Carolina and up to $5,000 in New Hampshire.)
But the multistate setup is not necessarily helpful to voters, who have to hunt down public campaign finance filings in several places to see who has given to the Commonwealth PAC, said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that tracks money in politics.
``Setting up individual committees in multiple states makes it hard for the public to learn who's supporting a campaign financially," Ritsch said.
Asked about how Romney's fund-raising strategy differed from those of other potential candidates, Spencer Zwick, who oversees Commonwealth PAC finances, wrote in an e-mail, ``I'm not familiar with how other political leaders structure their political action committees. Furthermore, all of our fund-raising and donation activity, whether it's in connection with a state or the federal PAC, is fully disclosed and available for public inspection."
Romney said last week he was ``very pleased" with how PAC fund-raising was going, but he played down the amount of money he was taking in, saying it pales in comparison to what would be necessary to run for reelection as governor.
``There's no particular reason to raise vast amounts," he said. ``This is being used to support Republican candidates around the country, and it's not something where you're trying to create records or large numbers."
Zwick said he would not discuss fund-raising targets with the media. He said in an earlier e-mail that their focus for the first half of the year was raising money and the focus in the second half will be distributing it.
It is evident Romney has recently been raising money at quite a clip: He hosted at least three PAC fund-raisers last week, in Michigan, Utah, and California, and plans to host another tomorrow in Logan, Utah.
The Globe's review of campaign records offers a glimpse into the early donors Romney is attracting. They come from more than a dozen states -- one met Romney at a cocktail party and has backed him since, another hails from a family that's known his for almost 100 years, and others know him from his days as a venture capitalist.
Kem Gardner is a Utah developer who, along with family members, has given more than $100,000 to the Commonwealth PAC, records show. Gardner said he has known Romney since both lived in Belmont in the 1980s, and that he and many other supporters stand ready to do much more.
``We just hope he gives us an opportunity to work for him," said Gardner, who calls himself ``a good, mainstream Democrat." ``He can count on my support in a big way."
Another leading contributor is Jon M. Huntsman, a fellow Mormon whose father-in-law, David Haight, grew up with Romney's father, George, in Oakley, Idaho. Huntsman and his sons have contributed more than $130,000, records show.
``I've pushed him and encouraged him and done everything that I think our family could to move [him] to the next level and be an actual candidate," said Huntsman, whose son, Jon Jr., is governor of Utah.
Together, Gardner and Huntsman represent two important fund-raising bases for Romney as he eyes the presidency: Utahns and fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Romney is well known in Utah chiefly because he ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which was widely seen as headed for disaster until he took over. Utah residents have given more than $680,000 to his PAC affiliates, more than any other state. Romney is also one of the best-known members of the Mormon church, which has about 5.7 million members in the United States.
Another Romney donor, Robert Lichfield of Utah, is a controversial figure as the founder of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, which runs boarding schools for struggling teens. At least seven of the organization's schools have closed following allegations of child abuse, the Associated Press reported in October. Lichfield, a frequent Republican contributor, has given Commonwealth PAC $25,000, according to records.
Some political specialists caution that potential presidential candidates cannot be too dependent on a small group of big contributors. That's because once candidates officially declare their intentions, they are permitted to accept only about $2,000 from individuals for the primary cycle and another $2,000 for the general election.
``You can't rely on big donors, because running for president you've got to have a strong network of people around the country who are willing to go out to their friends and neighbors and ask them to join them in the effort," said Jack Oliver, who was finance director for Bush when he first ran for office in 2000.
Romney also recently revamped the Commonwealth PAC website (www.thecommonwealthpac.com
) to allow online contributions. Contributors also can print out a document to send in with checks; it asks that donors first give to the federal PAC; then it lists the state affiliates, noting any contribution limits.
Possible opponents such as McCain and Allen have their advantages, too. Both have already raised money for federal office that they could transfer to a presidential campaign. In McCain's case, he has broad name recognition from his presidential run in 2000.
Craig Goldman, executive director of McCain's PAC, Straight Talk America, said that while his group is aware of Romney's multistate strategy, McCain's PAC has raised $4 million by soliciting checks from $5 to $5,000.
``We're very happy where we are fund-raising," he said.
Allen's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, said Allen has been focused on his reelection to the Senate this year and has not devoted that much attention to his leadership PAC, Good Government for America. Told of Romney's strategy, Wadhams said, ``Wow. Well, that's pretty creative, no doubt about it."
Scott Helman can be reached at email@example.com
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 14, 2006, 07:58:55 PM
IRAQ: IT'S TIME TO TAKE SIDES
By RALPH PETERS
December 14, 2006 -- AMERICAN diplomats and politically correct gener als
want to be honest bro kers in the Middle East, to achieve peace through
forbearance and negotiated compromises. It may be the most-hopeless dream in
the history of foreign affairs.
The deadly hatred goes too deep between Shia and Sunni (killing Jews is just
for practice). You can't broker peace between fanatics.
East of Athens, you have to pick a side and stick to it, no matter how it
behaves toward its enemies. Restraint is viewed as weakness; olive branches
signal cowardice, and aid is seen as a bribe.
Although Israel's existence is increasingly threatened, the unavoidable
struggle is between Sunni and Shia. Transcending their internal fault lines
- for now - these two competing forms of Islam are already at war in Iraq.
It's only a matter of time until the fighting spreads.
The question isn't "How can we stop it?" We can't. Even delaying the
confrontation may come at too high a price. The right question is "How do we
make sure we're on the winning side?"
The dynamism is with the Shia. Oppressed for centuries, Arab Shia have found
their strategic footing. Tehran's backing helps, but the rise of Shia power
is not synonymous with Iranian power - unless our old-school diplomacy makes
East of Suez and west of Kabul, Sunni Arab dominance is waning. To future
historians, al Qaeda may appear little more than the death-rattle of a
collapsing order. Jordan may have a future - if that future is guaranteed by
the West - but Syria's grandiose ambitions are unsustainable, and it's
difficult to imagine the long-term survival of the decayed Saudi royal
Now the Saudis are threatening us: If we turn our backs on Iraq's Sunni
Arabs, Riyadh says it will fund the insurgents.
The threat might carry more weight if Saudis weren't already funding Iraq's
Sunni butchers. And note that Saudi Arabia hasn't threatened to intervene
militarily - the playboy princes know that their incompetent armed forces
would collapse if sent to Iraq.
It's time to call Riyadh's bluff.
Having made whores of innumerable politicians on both sides of the aisle in
Washington, the Saudis still hope to steer American policy the way they did
before their citizens attacked us on 9/11.
Now they demand American protection for those Iraqis who have done their
best to kill our troops, instigate a religious civil war, slaughter the
innocent and destroy any hope Iraq has of a better future.
You bet we can always count on our Saudi pals to look out for our interests.
Perhaps we should reciprocate by threatening to fund the discontented Shia
who live atop the richest Saudi oil fields.
The Saudis could have undercut the insurgency in Iraq in 2003. Instead, they
backed it - because they refused to give up the old order in which the Sunni
Arabs - less than 20 percent of Iraq's population - ruled in Baghdad. But
Riyadh's policy of channeling funds through private donors didn't fool
anybody who didn't want to be fooled.
The Saudi (and Syrian) tactics backfired: Enraging Iraq's Shia only made the
weakness of the Sunni position obvious. Now only the presence of our troops
- whom the Sunnis continue to attack - protects Iraq's Sunnis from a
massacre. Isn't it time to stop defending those who murder our troops?
Our wrongheaded attempt to placate Iraq's Sunni Arabs failed utterly. Some
military officers suffering from client-itis argue that their Sunnis really
are on our side. But we need to face the facts: For all of Muqtada al-Sadr's
Shia shenanigans, it's the Sunni Arabs who have destroyed Iraq.
We've tried all of the politically correct negotiations-and-aid nonsense.
Now it's time to take sides.
Unfortunately, Washington's impulse will be to continue squandering the
blood of our troops to preserve the - doomed - existing order in the Middle
East, to keep borders intact and the region's miserable kings, sheikhs,
emirs and presidents-for-life in power.
Our political leaders are lazy creatures of habit who default to
yesteryear's failed theories in any crisis. New ideas just upset them.
So any attempt to disengage from our Sunni Arab enemies to back the
ascendant Shia will hit plenty of roadblocks in D.C. The slam-on-the-brakes
question will always be, "Do you want to strengthen Iran?" (Unless, of
course, you're a congressman responsible for intelligence oversight, in
which case all those pesky Sunni/Shia, Iran/Iraq details are beneath your
Equating "Shia" with "Iran," then writing off the Shia option would be
strategic idiocy (in other words, business as usual). Instead, we need to
ask ourselves how we can wean the region's Shia - including restive young
Iranians - from Tehran's breast.
Some Iraqi Shia do feel an affinity for Iran - but many don't; Arabs find
Persians racist and condescending.
Here's the critical issue: How do we channel the unstoppable rise of Shia
power into a course that doesn't threaten us? (One answer: Don't pander to
their deadly enemies, such as Iraq's Sunni insurgents).
And if the terrified Saudis want us to rescue their nasty backsides again,
let's ask just what they plan to do for us in return - then let's see them
actually do it.
But our response to any threat from Riyadh should be a public smackdown.
Without our support, the Saudis are defenseless. Let's stop pretending we're
the ones who need help.
We have to shift onto the winning side of history. Increasingly, that
doesn't look "Sunni side up." Yes, face down Iran. But do it wisely, by
cooperating with those Shia who fear Tehran's imperial ambitions - rather
than alienating them for the sake of Jim Baker's Saudi friends.
We've tried to be fair, and we failed. Now let's concentrate on winning.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit The Fight."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / US Dollar
on: December 14, 2006, 04:26:04 PM
The exchange rate of the US dollar is a powerful indicator of many fundamental forces.
How Dangerous is the Dollar Drop?
By Christian Reiermann
Is an end of an era looming in the foreign exchange markets? The dollar has been depreciating against the euro for weeks. Currency experts and the German government don't yet see this as cause for alarm. The US currency's role as a lead currency isn't as important as it used to be, they say.
Christmas on Wall Street: Credit-based prosperity.
Like most central bankers, Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), has a penchant for cryptic comments. Injecting a certain degree of incomprehensibility is a signal to the professionals that he's competent. And when it comes to laymen, industry jargon has the desired effect of generating the necessary respect.
Last Thursday the public was treated to yet another example of Trichet's convoluted speaking style. A number of risks, the ECB president said, could jeopardize a generally favorable economic outlook in the euro zone. They included, according to Trichet, "concerns regarding possible uncontrolled developments triggered by global economic imbalances."
What Europe's most powerful protector of the currency was actually saying was this: The gradual decline of the dollar in the foreign currency markets in recent weeks could pose a threat to the economy. What Trichet was also trying to broadcast is that the ECB has recognized and is aware of the threat.
Nevertheless, the European Central Bank in Frankfurt again increased its key interest rate on Thursday by a quarter percentage point to 3.5 percent, which makes the euro more attractive to international investors. The central bankers had no choice but to take the step, having already announced their intentions weeks ago.
Experts have been predicting for some time that the dollar would eventually go into a nosedive, and now that time seems to have come. The US currency has lost five percent of its value against the euro since late October, and 13 percent since the beginning of the year. The euro is currently fluctuating around a value of $1.33, which is only 3 cents away from its all-time high in 2004. And yet Trichet's counterpart Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has done nothing but look on as the dollar plunges.
A sea change appears to be taking place on the international financial markets. For years, global capital flowed in only one direction, with $2 billion going into the United States every day. Investors viewed the world's largest economy not only as a bastion of stability, but also as a place that promised the best deals, the most lucrative returns and the highest growth rates.
Caption: SPIEGEL0650 Seite Bollen Datum: 11. Dezember 2006
The Americans, for their part, welcomed foreign investment. For them, it was almost a tradition to save very little and spend more than they earned -- essentially achieving affluence on credit. Foreigners financed the Americans' almost obsessive consumer spending, which spurred worldwide economic growth for years.
Because the US government was unable to fall back on the savings of its citizens, it too was forced to finance its budget deficit with foreign capital. Both consumer spending and the federal deficit kept the dollar high, because the rest of the world was practically scrambling to invest in the United States.
This phase seems to have come to an end, at least for the time being. "There are fundamental weaknesses in the American economy. This could not continue in the long term," says Alfred Steinherr, chief economist at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW).
Investors pulling out
Investors worldwide are becoming sceptical and starting to pull their money out of the United States. They have realized that a people and a country cannot live beyond their means in the long term. The US dollar's exchange rate is starting to crumble as a result of this withdrawal.
The depreciation is causing growing concern about what will happen to the global economy if the United States loses its role as an engine of growth. If German cars, machinery and services become more expensive, will the German economic recovery end before it has really started?
The German government isn't worried yet, at least not officially. Nevertheless, experts in the finance and economics ministries have been keeping a close eye on developments. Although they continue to believe that the changes still fall within the scope of long-term averages, they don't rule out that the situation could worsen.
They believe that a first critical threshold for the competitiveness of the German economy will be reached at an exchange rate of about $1.36 per euro, and that Germany could see major difficulties at rates in the neighborhood of $1.50. If there is turbulence in the foreign currency markets, the government in Berlin will find itself in an especially challenging position. In early 2007, Germany will assume the chairmanship of the so-called G8 group of seven major industrialized nations plus Russia.
Worried about the dollar: The guardian of the euro, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet.
The G8 has repeatedly engaged in crisis management to deal with problems in the international financial system. It did so in the 1980s, when the combined forces of the G8 were needed to put a stop to the soaring dollar. It stepped in with equal verve a few years to forestall a decline in the American currency with the so-called Louvre Accord.
There are two principal causes behind the most recent development. Both have to do with the fact that Europe is becoming more attractive for international investors compared to the United States. On the one hand, interest rates in Europe and the United States are moving in opposite directions. "The ECB will continue to raise its key rates next year, whereas interest rates appear to have peaked in the USA," says Joachim Scheide, an expert on the economy at the Global Economic Institute (IFW) in the northern German city of Kiel. This means that financial investments denominated in euros are yielding higher interest and are in greater demand internationally, which in turn leads to a rise in the euro.
The prospects for growth are also shifting. The US economy is cooling off. The government recently lowered its 3.3 percent growth forecast for 2007. If Americans consume less as a result of a decline in foreign capital investment, the United States could even face a prolonged period of more modest growth.
Germany has shed 'sick man' image
By contrast the euro zone economy is robust. Germany, in particular, has surprised many with a stream of good economic news. Unemployment dropped below the psychologically critical threshold of four million in November. The Ifo business climate index, which measures the expectations of businesses, is at its highest point in 15 years, while consumer confidence has reached a five-year high.
In the last quarter of this year Germany, long considered the sick man of Europe, will have transformed itself into an engine of economic growth. According to analysts at Postbank, Germany's annual growth, projected at 3.4 percent, will even exceed that of the United States this year.
This is the kind of news that fuels the expectations of investors who now prefer to invest their money in the euro zone. The result is an increase in the exchange rate for the European Union's common currency. But how will the decline in the dollar's value affect future economic development? Could it cause a major imbalance in the global economy, or will the global economy, and Germany, get off lightly?
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Pessimists are quick to come out of the woodwork whenever a major shift in the financial markets approaches. Many economists and bank analysts, especially in the United States, believe that the correction will happen very suddenly, with the dollar depreciating by 10 to 30 percent within a short period of time.
This would inevitably cause an adjustment crisis. Growth rates would plunge worldwide and a global recession, coupled with a drastic jump in unemployment, could follow.
This doomsday scenario is by no means the majority view. Some experts, especially in Germany, are more optimistic. "The US trade deficit has grown in the course of a few years," says IFW expert Scheide. "It will also gradually decline over a period of several years."
Scheide expects the dollar to lose another 10 percent in value against the euro in the next five years, a scenario that would be much easier to handle for the German and European economies. Companies would have sufficient time to adjust to changes in exchange rates. "In that case even an exchange rate of 1.40 wouldn't be disastrous," said DIW analyst Steinherr.
Germany is a good example of how effectively this can work. Despite the fact that the dollar has lost half of its value against the euro since 2002, exports have not been adversely affected. Indeed, they even increased from €651 billion ($861 billion) to €786 billion ($1.04 triilion). The Germany economy exported more than ever before in October.
Another reason is that the dollar zone is no longer as important for German exports as it was only a few decades ago. Leaving aside exceptions such as the auto industry, other regions of the world have long since become more important to the German economy than the United States, where Germany now sells less than one-tenth of its exports. Germany exports more than 40 percent of its goods and services to other countries within the euro zone, 13 percent to eastern Europe and nine percent to Asia. The turbulence surrounding the dollar has had virtually no effect on German exports to neighboring European countries. Most of the EU's new members have tied their currencies to the euro, and exchange rate risks evaporated for western Europe with the introduction of the euro.
The euro even prevents the kinds of major upheavals in Europe that occurred in the past whenever the dollar fell. When that happened, German businesses and consumers were routinely forced to bear a greater burden of adjustment than the economies of neighboring countries. In the past, if the German mark gained 10 percent in value against the dollar, the French franc or the Italian lira would only gain six or seven percent. As a result, the German mark was overvalued relative to other European currencies, which translated into economic disadvantages for the German economy.
This mechanism was eliminated when the euro was introduced. Now all member states carry the same burden.
The consequences of a declining dollar for the German and European economy will be determined in large part by the way other currencies develop relative to the dollar. "It would be fatal if only the euro were to rise," says DIW analyst Steinherr. "Then it would only be the euro zone that would have to bear the burden of adjustment." But the foreign currency markets suggest a different development, as the dollar is also losing value in relation to other important currencies.
Trade boom: containers in Hamburg port.
The British pound, for example, rose to new highs last week. Even more importantly, the currencies of east Asian growth regions are also appreciating against the dollar. The Thai Baht, for example, gained about 15 percent against the dollar in 2006, while the South Korean Won gained 10 percent. Even the Chinese Yuan, which slavishly followed the dollar in the past, gained more than three percent. Virtually every economy is bearing part of the burden of adjustment.
The decline in the dollar also has its advantages. For Germany, the greatest advantage is that Germans pay less for oil. The oil price is mainly set in dollars worldwide. If the dollar declines, the same amount of oil costs Europe fewer euros, and the money the Europeans save can be spent on other goods.
A similar dynamic applies to exports from the dollar zone. If the decline in the dollar continues, computers, software licenses and machinery from the United States will become less expensive. Both developments would represent a windfall for companies and people in the euro zone, because the same amount of money would buy more goods.
The perils of a currency crash are not nearly as great as they were in the days of the dollar's absolute dominance 30 or 40 years ago. Globalization has led to the development of a number of growth centers in the world economy which share the burden of turbulence. Gone are the days when an American finance minister could boast: "The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: December 14, 2006, 10:28:06 AM
MEXICO: The Mexican federal preventative police force has doubled in size because of the transfer of 10,000 troops from the army and navy, El Universal reported. The move is part of President Felipe Calderon's campaign to combat crime in Mexico.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: December 14, 2006, 07:57:31 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Maintaining U.S. Space Dominance
Robert Joseph, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, publicly insisted on Wednesday that the United States opposes any ban on the weaponization of space. He was careful, however, to say that the United States will continue to abide "scrupulously" by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans the placement of nuclear weapons in space.
This comes as no surprise as it has been the position of the U.S. military for years. In 1957, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Thomas D. White forecast that, "Whereas those who have the capacity to control the air control the land and sea beneath it, so in the future it is likely that those who have the capability to control space will likewise control the Earth's surface." The 2004 Air Force Counterspace Operations doctrine lays out the "five Ds" of targeting an adversary's space system: deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction.
Maintaining the high ground has always been the foundational principle of military strategy. Space is the ultimate high ground. The U.S. military advantage rests heavily on space -- from navigation and communication to intelligence (including MASINT) and the detection of a nuclear attack. Space assets guide the most accurate munitions in the inventory and allow bombing missions to be re-tasked mid-flight. The importance of space to the U.S. military's overwhelming advantage cannot be overstated.
As such, official U.S. policy states in no uncertain terms that, "Purposeful interference with U.S. space systems will be viewed as an infringement on our sovereign rights" and could warrant a retaliatory use of force.
In the coming years, U.S. dominance of space will be challenged, and the United States intends to maintain its advantage. During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Russian-built jamming systems attempted to locally disrupt the United States' global positioning system (GPS). They failed -- and were destroyed by GPS-guided bombs. This was one of the earliest attempts to challenge the United States in space warfare.
The Chinese reportedly have tried to blind or disable U.S. satellites with ground-based lasers. The United States has not officially recognized any Chinese attempt to interfere with its satellites in orbit. But, while targeting a fast-moving satellite and hitting it with a focused laser beam through the varying layers of the atmosphere is a difficult proposition to say the least, even the prospect of such an incident has not gone unnoticed.
The U.S. Air Force -- which controls the majority of U.S. space assets -- takes these potential threats seriously and views them as an indication of things to come. The Air Force has already adjusted the design architecture of its next-generation satellites in an attempt to counter such interference.
There is no doubt that the United States will vigorously defend its advantage in space -- and it will not hesitate for even a moment to use offensive force against an adversary's space assets.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Invitation to dialog to Muslims
on: December 13, 2006, 07:52:15 PM
I've just marked this site for further exploration.
From a Muslim outlook, imams have missed the point on flight behavior
December 11, 2006
M. Zuhdi Jasser
The first thing one must understand about this whole hullabaloo with the Muslim imams taken off a Phoenix-bound plane in Minneapolis is that it most definitely was not about the right to prayer or freedom of worship.
And much as the imams and their handlers may try, it is certainly not about victimization.
But because the case of the six imams (five from the Valley) and US Airways Flight 300 has taken on a life of its own, it would be helpful to look and see what lessons can be gleaned from this story.
All of us as Americans have endured the incremental inconveniences of air travel since 9/11. From 3-ounce fluid limits to random searches, those of us with the first name Mohammed can also attest to humbling profiling. Most of us are quite willing to endure all this because we know the inherent dangers of flying in the world today.
There is little argument that American airport concourses have become clinics of anxiety-laden travelers who have become vigilant in spotting anything out of the ordinary. This vigilance and anxiety is even more acutely felt by U.S. Transportation Security Administration agents and airline crews. They will never be rewarded for a safe flight. But they will be globally vilified for one lax call that leads to tragedy.
Into this highly charged environment comes this incident of the imams returning from their conference. To ignore the larger context is to virtually live in an airtight bubble.
The preponderance of evidence points to some troubling coincidences during flight preparation, regardless of where we stand on this issue. The distribution of their seats, while in fact random, raised concern. Changing seats after boarding, rather than before, raised concern. Conversations in Arabic after boarding raised concern. Seatbelt extenders raised concern. However, no passengers refused to board after seeing and hearing the imams pray aloud at the gate. Taken individually, each of the reported actions could be something any of us would do. However, in totality, although unfortunate in retrospect, it remains hard to fault a cautious crew who must act with little information to ensure a safe flight.
But let us look at the response of the imams since the incident.
They rushed toward the media never looking back. They have taken their story of victimization to every soft media they could find. They then stoked the same tired Muslim flames of victimization through their own political pulpits in mosques around the Valley.
Organizations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and the Muslim American Society also immediately jumped on board, even before the imams' flight reached Phoenix the next day, and began whipping up the drums of victimization. Their handlers flew in from across the country staging rallies and pray-ins so they could teach the American people about this supposed tragedy of injustice.
As a devout Muslim, I have watched this painfully protracted saga unravel, fearing what comes next. The media, especially print media, have bent over backward to hear minorities' fears. Yet public opinion has not seemed to budge in favor of the imams. The lesson here lies in why. It has to do with credibility.
We are all creatures of passion. This fiasco has stirred the passionate cry of victimization from the Muslim activist community and imam community. But where were the news conferences, the rallies to protest the endless litany of atrocities performed by people who act supposedly in my religion's name? Where are the denunciations, not against terrorism in the abstract, but clear denunciations of al-Qaida or Hamas, of Wahhabism or militant Islamism, of Darfurian genocide or misogyny and honor killings, to name a few? There is no cry, there is no rage. At best, there is the most tepid of disclaimers. In short, there is no passion. But for victimization, always.
Only when Americans see that animating passion will they believe that we Muslims are totally against the fascists that have hijacked our religion. There is only so much bandwidth in the American culture to focus upon Islam and Muslims. If we fill it with our shouts of victimization, then the real problems from within and outside our faith community will never be heard.
Though this was not about prayer, let us look at the prayer itself: certainly a central part of our faith both alone and in congregation. The Quran teaches Muslims that God did not make our faith to be too difficult. Thus, during travel, many of us pray alone in silence when we cannot find a private place or where public display is not appropriate.
Prayer is an intimate thing, five times a day for Muslims. It is a personal conversation with God and not about showing others how devout we are.
Congregational prayers are preferred, but in travel (as three of the imams did apparently do) they can be combined upon their arrival in Phoenix.
Alija Izetbegovic, former president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, once said he was never so close to God in his prayers as a Muslim as he was during his solitary confinement for 12 years as a political prisoner struggling for liberty under Josip Broz Tito's oppression.
These imams would do well to learn from President Izetbegovic. He further understood the separation of religion and politics.
He understood God teaches us in the Quran that our religion is based upon intention and that if we perceive that the public situation is not conducive to our congregational prayer, that a forgiving God will understand.
Because these imams and their handlers just don't get it, it's time we Muslims found leadership and organizations that do.
Our predicament is unique, fragile and precarious. We Muslims are a relatively new minority in a nation that gives us freedoms that no other Muslim nation would allow.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, a radical subset of our faith community is seeking to destroy the basis for this liberty.
Either we predominantly direct our passions against these radicals or Americans will not count us as allies in this consuming struggle.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Santorum part three
on: December 13, 2006, 07:29:59 PM
Winston Churchill, in June of 1940--I will close with this, for my colleagues who have been patiently waiting--Winston Churchill, in 1940, addressed the British people as Britain stood alone:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.
Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to do our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ``This was their finest hour.''
This is the call of this generation. This is America's hour. This is the hour that we need leadership, Churchillian leadership, who had a keen eye for the enemy and a resolve in spite of the political climate to confront it. I ask my colleagues to stand and make this America's finest hour. I regret that the new Secretary of Defense is not up to the task, in my opinion. I hope others are.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Santorum part two
on: December 13, 2006, 07:29:14 PM
So it is today. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. What Iran has found and the Islamic fascists have found is there are plenty of enemies of the United States. In fact, they had a meeting just this year a couple of months ago in Havana, Cuba. The nonaligned states met. There were 100 nations. On their agenda was to redefine the word ``terror'' to include ``the U.S. occupation of Iraq'' and the ``Israeli invasion'' of Lebanon. Of course, there was no mention about the incursion of Hezbollah. They found solace with these countries. We saw it played out at the United Nations just a couple of weeks later where President Ahmadinejad, President Hugo Chavez, to thunderous applause of many in the United Nations community, demonized America. But another member of that crew of nonaligned nations was North Korea.
I mentioned before that Iran is pursuing a nuclear program. They are indeed pursuing a nuclear program, and there have been many intelligence reports published that have suggested there were Iranian scientists there the day North Korea exploded their nuclear weapon. In fact, the scientist who had been working with North Korea, AQ Kahn, is the same scientist who has been working with Iran in the development of their nuclear program. Some have suggested that they are working collaboratively and jointly in their development of nuclear weapons which, of course, would have put Iran's nuclear program well ahead of where everyone believes it to be.
So we have not only the Islamic fascists led by Iran, but we now have an alliance between Iran and North Korea; North Korea, which is a threat in their own right, now with nuclear weapons and their increasing ability to deliver them with long-range missiles, including the development of, as they hope to do, ICBMs which could reach the United States of America.
We confronted North Korea as soon as they detonated their explosives. We had a U.N. resolution confronting them. North Korea condemned that nuclear U.N. resolution and called it ``a declaration of war'' and threatened the United States by declaring:
We will deliver merciless blows without hesitation to whoever tries to breach our sovereignty and right to survive under the excuse of carrying out a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Not only do we have a threat of North Korea now launching a nuclear weapon, but we have the clear threat of North Korea and Iran proliferating nuclear technology. In addition, as Iran, working with North Korea, develops their nuclear program, and as the world sits fecklessly by and lets them do it, others in the region legitimately have their tensions increased and have talked about the need for those nations to develop nuclear weapons,
Thus starting an arms race in a region of the world where it is the last place we want a nuclear arms race.
Finally, we have the issue of whether this nuclear material that is being developed in both North Korea and Iran will end up in the hands of terrorists, to be delivered in a nonconventional way. North Korea is a new threat on the horizon, but it is not alone. In fact, North Korea has expressed direct support for Iran's nuclear development program and stressed that the United States and the West have no right to defy such a program.
The Iranians have also commented officially on friendly ties between Tehran and Pyongyang after the Islamic revolution, saying Iran ``highly praises North Korea for its steadfastness against the domineering policies of the United States.''
But the threat goes even further. Ahmadinejad, with Kim Jong Il, like Mussolini and Hitler, intends to conquer Western civilization. Again, that is not Hitler. But they also, like the Soviets under Nikita Khrushchev, see the advantage of placing weapons of mass destruction within short ranges of the United States.
Obviously, one likely candidate would be Venezuela. I don't know of any regime currently that is more vehement and more anti-American than Hugo Chavez and the regime in Venezuela, so it probably comes as no surprise that Ahmadinejad and Chavez have had meetings, and they are now aligned and allies and working together and have, in fact, formed a defense pact between the two countries.
Venezuela is a serious threat not just because of their relationship within Iran but because of what it has attempted to do throughout the region, as well as its own potential threat.
Just a few weeks ago there was an election in Nicaragua, right before our election, where Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega won the election, took a congratulatory call from Hugo Chavez, who said:
We're happy here. We're very proud of you.
Now, like never before, the Sandinista revolution and the Bolivarian revolution unite, to construct the future, socialism of the 21st century.
Chavez made no secret about his support for Ortega or his support for the new rulers in Bolivia. Chavez is doing all he can to build military power and might and influence in the region of the world that is uncomfortably close to the United States.
As we know, Chavez has been clear about his disdain for America. What we don't know is what Venezuela has been up to. I suspect that most Members of this Senate do not know that Venezuela is the leading buyer of foreign arms and military equipment in the world today, that Chavez is building an army of more than 1 million soldiers. I suspect most in this Senate do not know that over the next year he plans to spend $30 billion to build 20 military bases in neighboring Bolivia which will dominate the borders of Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, assembling those military bases on the borders of the countries I just mentioned. These military bases, while they will be manned by Bolivian soldiers, will be commanded by Venezuelan and Cuban officers.
How does he do this? How is he able to accomplish what Fidel Castro has been seeking to accomplish now for 4 1/2 decades? The answer to that, of course, is very simple. It is a three-letter word: oil. Oil and its huge profits are financing this, just like oil and its huge profits are advancing Islamic fascism in the Middle East. It is no wonder again that Venezuela and Iran have formed an oil pact. Why? As they have clearly said before, oil is a ``geopolitical weapon,'' according to Chavez. He also said:
I could easily order the closing of the refineries we have in the United States. I could easily sell that oil that we sell to the United States to other countries of the world ..... to real friends and allies like China.
They have even closer relationships with the Islamic fascists in Iran. A recent congressional report found that Hezbollah may right now have established bases in Venezuela which have issued thousands of visas to people from places such as Cuba and the Middle East, possibly giving them passports to a vague United States border security.
To make matters worse, we see, with the help of Venezuela, Cuba and China are now exploring for oil within 50 miles of the coast of the United States, while the Senate blocks a measure to allow us to explore for oil within 100 miles of our own shore. So while China, Cuba, and Venezuela draw oil from our shores, we stand idly by and let them do it to arm against us.
Let's not overlook the role of Russia in working with all of these governments--Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. Last summer, Russia signed an arms deal with Venezuela to the tune of $1 billion. Last month, Russia began deliveries to Iran of highly sophisticated SA-15 anti-aircraft missiles valued at $700 million. The purpose of these missiles? To defend Iran's nuclear program. That shouldn't come as a surprise. Russia has consistently opposed the efforts of the United States to sanction the other enemy, North Korea, for their nuclear programs, and has insisted on diluting the effects of every resolution that was passed condemning North Korea. The Russians claim sanctions don't work. Yet, oddly enough, they just imposed sanctions on their neighbor, Georgia.
Yes, we live in a very complex time and we have enemies who are very dangerous, in which their relationships are growing, and so with it their commensurate power to confront terrorists of the world, and the rest of the world sits and hopes and hopes that we can negotiate our way out of this problem; that since we are people of reason and rational folks, we can deal with them on that level. Have we forgotten our history? We have been in this situation before.
I have titled this address ``The Gathering Storm of the 21st Century.'' It is not a coincidence that I do so in harkening to the book written by Winston Churchill, ``The Gathering Storm,'' talking about the lead-up to World War II. Just like Britain in 1940, after the fall of France, we are engaged with a struggle now with the enemy--alone. Just like Britain in 1940, we entreated the rest of the world to join us against this evil, and the world fell silent. For a year and a half until Pearl Harbor, and actually long after that, since the United States was certainly not prepared for war, Britain fought this battle alone. And with the exception of the State of Israel, we are fighting this battle alone, and I suspect we will for quite some time. So what lesson can we learn? What lesson can we learn from history? What we know is America is very reticent to get involved in wars, and rightfully so. In the First World War, we only entered after a German U-boat sank American civilian and commercial ships in the North Atlantic. World War I was the war to end all wars. After the defeat of the German armies, it seemed as if peace was going to be with us for a long time. But it did not last a generation. As I said, we ended up with the situation in World War II. But even after the fall of Europe to the Nazis and the Italian fascists, America stood by, hoping this problem would go away.
It was not until Pearl Harbor that things changed.
The Cold War was only after Stalin's aggression in the Middle East in Greece that we decided to engage and recognize that the Soviet Union was not our friend as many thought after World War II but, in fact, our new foe. And now, after the fall of the Soviet Union we thought we would have a peace dividend, peace for a long time, and we find that other forces of evil have cropped up to confront us.
If it were not for the fact of September 11, we would be allowing that to continue today. But we engaged the enemy because they attacked us directly here at home. But now we are growing tired. We are wearying of the battle. I said earlier that these Islamic fascists understand us better than we understand them. They understand our history better than we understand their history. They need not look long to see how quickly America tires of confrontation and conflict and death.
And so they plan and, more importantly, they kill, every day. It is recorded here every day, and support for this war goes down every day. And they check another box in Tehran.
Winston Churchill wrote in ``The Gathering Storm'' a short description of the gathering storm:
How the English-speaking peoples, through their unwisdom, carelessness and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm.
We are at such a moment. Are we going to allow the wicked to rearm? We paid a terrible price for waiting. We lock at each war, each major conflict, we paid a terrible price for waiting. In many cases, it was a price paid in America. In many other cases it was a price paid in countries around the world. Are we going to pay that price at some day in the future or are we going to confront this enemy?
If we learned anything from the 20th century, it should be this lesson: When leaders say they are prepared to kill millions of people to achieve their goal, we must take them at their word. The enemy before us that I have described has said it clearly, repeatedly, and pointedly, and even more threateningly, because this is an enemy who doesn't see death as a tragic consequence of the war; they see it as their objective of war.
The ayatollah and the mullahs of Iran have repeatedly said that the object of jihad is not success, it is death. It is reaching the next level. It is ending this miserable life which we have on Earth and in pursuit of jihad, guaranteeing yourself eternal life with Allah.
Here in America, we refuse to recognize, many, that we are at war with this great evil.
We shrink from the recognition of identifying the enemy and confronting them, whether they be the Islamic fascists led by Iran or the socialist rulers of North Korea and Venezuela. We are sleep-walking through the storm, as we have done in the past. We pretend it is not happening or that it is simply because of the incompetency of the current administration or of a member of that administration.
But how do those who deny this evil propose to save us from these people? By negotiating through the U.N. or directly with Iran? By firing Don Rumsfeld, now getting rid of John Bolton? That is going to solve the problem? These people are now going to be nice to us because we removed these people who were agitating them or causing problems? Maybe relocating our troops to Okinawa or Kuwait or some other place will get these people to simply leave us alone? Maybe if we just abandon Iraq and Afghanistan to the chaos and slaughter of Islamic fascists, their thirst for blood will be met? Or maybe it is just engaging in one-on-one discussions with Iran and North Korea and other reasonable dictators?
No, I do not think any of those things will work. And history has proved they have not worked. We need to begin to confront our enemies. And that does not mean we have to launch a military mission into the countries I spoke of. But we have to do more than just adjust tactics in Iraq. If the focus of the next year and a half is simply adjusting tactics within Iraq, it will fail. It will fail. We must go after the regimes that recruit, pay, train, and arm their surrogate militias in Iraq. Again, I am not talking about military confrontation; I am talking about political and economic warfare to bring down the terror regimes in Tehran and their satellite puppet state in Syria. The best way to do that is to work with their own people who want freedom.
I talked about the Iran Freedom and Support Act, but there is much more we need to do. We need to implement it. And we need to use the public diplomacy apparatus we have to motivate and change the hearts and minds. A free Iran will change the world because it will deprive the terrorists of the single greatest source of support and isolate the likes of Hugo Chavez and Kim Jong-il.
Why is a free Iran and a free Iraq so essential? Because neither the United States of America nor any of our Western allies can defeat radical Islamic fascism on our own. We cannot defeat radical Islamic fascism. The only thing we can do is, through democracy-building and through support of moderate Islam, give those who truly seek the true meaning, the true moderate meaning of Islam the opportunity to be successful in suppressing its radical elements. We have to create that environment, and we have not in Iraq because Iran and Syria have not let us.
I remember reading commentaries from so many people talking about that things went well originally in Iraq. It seems like things were going OK, and then, after a year or so, it really started to turn south. Well, immediately after we were there, the Iranians were scared to death of us and dared not play in that sandbox. But they quickly surmised that we were not serious, that we were not going to confront this evil, so they began what we now see.
We need to counter Hugo Chavez. We need to do more to develop closer relationships with the countries in Central and South America, through trade and through diplomatic negotiations. We must fight for the hearts and minds of Central and South America, and we must do so much more deliberately and aggressively than we have. (Marc: I just don't see us as being in a position to do this) We have to do more to confront North Korea and its threat. That includes options, particularly missile defense. Finally, we have to confront the root cause of all of this, the root cause being oil.
There is one regret I have of not coming back here. It is--and my colleagues know I can be somewhat single-minded--to focus the attention of this body and this country on energy security. It is lunacy, it is suicidal to continue to allow the energy markets at the levels they are right now given the fact that a vast majority of those energy dollars are going to people who want to kill us and destroy everything we believe in. We can no longer play games with our energy security.
I spent a lot of time talking about this war, and I have fought very hard to pass legislation, both the Syrian Accountability Act and the Iran Freedom and Support Act, that will try to hurt our enemies and strengthen our country. I will do my best, after I leave this place, to continue to confront these enemies and to give the United States the opportunity to succeed in this war.
Osama bin Laden said:
In the final phase of the ongoing struggle, the world of the infidels was divided between two superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union. Now we--
Now we have defeated and destroyed the more difficult and the more dangerous of the two.
Understand what bin Laden is saying. ``We,'' these Islamic fascists--they claim they defeated the Soviet Union, not Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, not Pope John Paul II, but Islamic fascism, the mujahedin in Afghanistan. History will make a plausible case for this assertion that, in fact, they had a lot to do with defeating the Soviet Union. But he continues with one final sentence:
Dealing with the pampered and effeminate Americans will be easy.
You see, they think they understand us. They think they know how to get to America. Open a paper every day and see what their tactic is. Open a paper every day, turn on a television every day, turn on your radio every day, sign on to the Internet every day and see what their tactic is and see how they believe they will defeat us.
I believe we need strong leadership to confront this greatest enemy that we have. The stakes are high, too high not to join together--Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, American, European--to confront this dangerous enemy. We must stop them.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Geo Political matters
on: December 13, 2006, 07:27:08 PM
Santorum's Farewell Speech--The Full Text
12/7/06 | Rick Santorum
Mr. President, I rise today to talk about why I voted against Dr. Gates and lay out in detail the concerns I have about the security posture of the United States today and how I do not believe that Dr. Gates is the appropriate choice to confront them. While I think he certainly has a lot of positive qualities, and in normal times I would certainly defer to the President's judgment on this, we are not in normal times. I believe we need a Secretary--and I think we need leaders in this country, particularly the Secretary--who has insight into the nature of our enemy and is willing to provide the vision necessary, not just for our people in the military but the country, on how to defeat them. On one particular vital aspect of that vision I think he is in error, and that error causes me to object and to vote no to his nomination.
What I would like to do is lay out what I see as the problem confronting America and the complexity of that problem, which I think has grown more complex since the last time that we have been in this Chamber, over 6 weeks ago. I would like to go back to two speeches I gave last summer, one at the National Press Club, and the other at the Pennsylvania Press Club--one obviously in Washington, the other in Harrisburg. I gave those speeches because I thought it was important that at a time when our country is at war and our country is struggling with this war that we have a better definition as to who the enemy is and what we need to do about it. I made that issue, the issue I discussed in these two speeches and subsequent speeches during my campaign, the centerpiece of the campaign. Many political advisers suggested to me that this was a wrong tactic in a State where the favorabilities for the war and the President were in the low thirties to make this the centerpiece and, in fact, draw divisions between myself and the President where I put myself in a position which some suggested was to the right of the President. But I thought it was important for the country and for me personally as a U.S. Senator to address the issues that I thought were critical to the time.
So I went out and gave two speeches about the importance of defining our enemy. If there has been a failing--obviously, for the last several weeks and months we have been talking about the failings of the administration with respect to the policies within Iraq--I would make the argument that the larger failing, not just of the administration but of the Members of Congress and leaders in this country, is that we have not had the courage to stand up and define the enemy as to who they are and study and understand them and explain to the American people who they are.
I defined the enemy back at the National Press Club speeches as Islamic fascism. I said that is the biggest issue of our time, this relentless and determined radical enemy that is not just a group of rag-tag people living in caves but, in fact, people with an ideology, a plan, and increasingly the resources to carry out that plan, as well as, increasingly, a bigger and larger presence throughout the Islamic world, these radical Islamic fascists.
As I said, I understand this is an unpopular war. When I stepped forward to define the enemy as radical Islamic fascists, I was ridiculed by the media and others, saying that my words were too harsh, saying that at worst my defining the enemy was incorrect, at best it was inflammatory. But I did so because I believe words matter. If you are going to confront an enemy you have to understand who that enemy is and you have to communicate that to the people of America. And we must do that.
Many people talk about this war as if it is an attempt simply to create fledgling democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. While this may be an appealing possible outcome, we all must recognize that Iraq and Afghanistan are battlefields in a much more complex and broader war. That includes every continent with the exception of Antarctica. The war is at our doorstep, and it is fueled, as I mentioned, literally and figuratively by the evil of Islamic fascism.
Whether we know it or not, they have been at war with us, and the State of Iran specifically has been at war with us, since 1979 when they declared war against the United States. They have not rescinded that declaration. So when we talk about engaging Iran as the Secretary, the new, future Secretary of Defense has talked about, we are talking about engaging someone who is at war with us, who has declared war with us, and who has been at war and, and as I will talk about here, and I think it has been widely reported in the press, has been doing a lot to substantiate the claim that they have been at war with us.
But this threat is not exclusively based in Iran. It is gaining strength and spreading throughout every region of the world. I have addressed the issue of Islamic fascism but have not yet spoken to the subject of Iraq. Iraq is the central front in the war on Islamic fascism. However, contrary to the Iraqi Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton commission, the answer to this problem can be found--the answer to Iraq can be found not in Iraq but in Iran. It is Iran and its client State of Syria that serve as the principal instigators and fomenters of the conflict in Iraq today.
The President gets advice from the CIA that the opposition in Iran is weak and divided and therefore we should do nothing in Iran because we have no alternative. We have no one we can use in Iraq to confront the Iranian Government to cause any kind of changes. So the President gets advice from his intelligence team that we are without options in Iran.
The Pentagon advises the President and says we don't know if we have the resources to open up a new battlefield or confront, militarily, Iran, and therefore we have limited options in Iran.
The State Department--yes, State Department--they think that Iran is the solution to the problem; that negotiating with them and getting them to be our pals can in effect solve the problems; so confronting Iran would be the absolutely wrong thing to do in solving the problem in Iraq.
So the President is being advised by all of his minions that Iran and confrontation with Iran is not an option, as we heard from the testimony of the new Secretary of Defense.
Let's look at other interested parties as we look at how we solve the problem in Iraq and dealing with Iran. The American media seems to be very focused and spends a lot of time talking about how poorly things are going in Iraq. They report daily--not just recently but repeatedly for the past 3 years, daily--the body count in Iraq. It is the lead and has been virtually every single day for 3 years.
Is their interest in shifting focus and covering the problems in Iran? Not if we can drive home a story like this in Iraq.
Republicans and Democrats, leaders in the Congress, why don't they focus and talk more about Iran? Democrats, if you look through--as unfortunately many Republicans and Democrats do--look at it through the eyes of politics, why would we change focus and focus on Iran as the problem? We saw from the last election there is grand political advantage of keeping the focus on Iraq and the problems in Iraq. Why aren't the Republicans, then, stepping forward and pointing to the difficulty and problems that Iran is causing in Iraq and call for confrontation? If we saw anything from the last election, the American public has no appetite for a broadening of this war, increasing the complexity of this war. You might be seen as warmongering, digging us deeper and more dangerously into a region of the world that we would rather not be in in the first place.
So what do we have? We have the Baker-Hamilton report which is a prescription for surrender. It is just a matter of time. It is certainly not a prescription for victory. Nowhere does it mention, other than of course that we would like victory, nor is there a prescription for victory in that report.
So now we have the slow process of how we exit ourselves because we have no option to confront the real problem. We have no willingness on the part of any level of Government to confront it. So we are destined at this point to focus on something that is insolvable without confronting Iran, and that is the war in Iraq.
Who are these Iranians? Who are these Islamic fascists? I do not mean to exclude Sunni Islamic fascists because they were the principal--or they were the first, let's put it that way--in launching the war against the United States. I should not say the first. They were the first in recent times--certainly 9/11--in launching the war.
So this is not just a Shia problem, but it is increasingly becoming a Shia-dominated field as they continue to spread control in Iran with their influence and money. But let's not leave out Saudi Arabia and others that have used their resources to foment Islamic fascism all over the world with their resources--Sunni Islamic fascism.
So where are we? What can we do to confront this problem?
The interesting thing is that this problem is growing--I don't know about exponentially, but I don't know of a single country in the Middle East where the threat of radical Islam has not grown over the last 30 years, since Iran took over control--since the radicals took over control in Iran, the last 27 years. Every capital, every regime is feeling the pressure. And not just since 2003, but systematically over the years we have seen, particularly in Arab Muslim countries and Middle Eastern Muslim countries, this rise. But, again, not exclusive: Indonesia, Malaysia--this is not exclusive to the Arab world. Obviously Iran, which is Persia.
So what have we seen over the past 6 months? We saw a situation in the central synagogue in Prague where the Islamic fascists intended to carry out, on Rosh Hashanah, a mass kidnaping when large numbers of Jews would be celebrating the new year. When the world's attention now was focused on Prague, they designed to make impossible demands and then blow up the synagogue and everyone within it. Those people were not marked for death because they supported the war in Iraq. They were not marked for death because they oppressed these Islamic fascists. They were targeted because they were Jews. This is evil.
Islamic terrorists organized an assault on civilian aircraft leaving London, planning to blow up 10 or more planes this summer as they flew over the North Atlantic. You may not know that two of those participants were a husband and a wife, a husband and a wife who were going to board that plane and explode that plane over the North Atlantic while holding in their arms their 6-month-old child.
This is evil.
Islamic terrorists slaughter innocent Iraqis every single day on both sides of the divide within Islam. As we know, in recent days they beheaded an orthodox priest and crucified a 14-year-old boy guilty of nothing but being Christian.
This is evil.
Almost everyone has now heard of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the fact that he denies the existence of the Holocaust and called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the Earth. But he has been remarkably clear about his mission, remarkably clear about his messianic vision of a Shiite religion, his vision to destroy the Western world and impose a caliphate on the world in which the world would submit to Islam or die in the process.
Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism?
Then he answered himself:
But you had best know this slogan and this goal is attainable and surely can be achieved.
So do we have any questions about the nature of our enemy? Do we have any questions about the capability of this oil-rich country? Yet just this past week President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent an open letter, a conciliatory letter, to the American people, addressed to the ``noble'' American people. He called on America to withdraw from Iraq and end support for Israel, and, of course, to convert to Islam. This man may be a fanatic, but let me assure you he is not a stupid fanatic. This man understands and studies America. The Islamic fascists respect us enough to get to know us. They respect us enough so they know what buttons to push and how hard to push them. They respect us enough to figure out what it will take to defeat us.
I wish that were the case for the American people.
He couched his warning in the words that are familiar and comfortable with Americans--``freedom,'' trying to appeal that he would be free of this illegitimate regime in his mind, which is the current administration, and we would free them of this burden of fighting. It is a great appeal and many would like to see the end of this war, but we should not be fooled.
Our troops in Iraq are being killed by Iranian weapons today paid for with Iranian money smuggled into Iraq by Iranian logistics and utilized by Iranian-trained terrorists.
A couple of years ago you needed a security clearance to know this. Now, if you care to know, if you want to know this uncomfortable truth about Iran, you can know it. Iran is the centerpiece in the assault against us and other countries in the civilized world, which is why I fought so hard for passage of the Iran Freedom and Support Act.
I stood on the Senate floor at this very desk and argued in May or June of this year for passage of the Iran Freedom and Support Act. I said we should not be negotiating with Iran, that we should be confronting Iran.
Bernard Lewis tells a familiar opinion that he has. He tells a lot of them. He said that the oddity in particular of the Arab and Middle Eastern Islamic world is that the more we have strong relations with the government in an Arab Muslim country the more the people of that country hate us; and the more that we stand up and confront leadership of those countries the more the people like us. Is it no wonder he recounts on the day of 9/11 when there was but one Middle Eastern Muslim capital there was a candlelight vigil in support of those who died on 9/11, and that was in Tehran, Iran.
It is not hard to understand when you have regimes throughout the Middle East who oppress their people that when you stand up and confront those regimes and call them the evil they are the people understand and respect your honesty, agree with you, and support you.
This summer when we attempted to negotiate with Iran, we told the people of Iran that we are not on their side, that we want to make deals with people who oppress them, who torture them, who enslave them, who abuse them, and who kill them. That is why we should not have entered into any negotiations in spite of the entreaties of Europe with this evil regime in Iran. We should confront them, and only confront them. If we want the support of the people of Iran, we have to earn it with the integrity of our mission, and we are not doing that.
So I stood up on the floor of the Senate and said we needed to confront Iran, that we needed to fund full democracy groups, that we needed to use the public airwaves and the Internet to disseminate information to cause a change in the Government of Iran, and that we needed to sanction them. And this administration opposed me. The Senate opposed me by, I think, a 54-to-46 vote. That is why I continue to work on the Iran Freedom and Support Act.
Over the intervening months, what happened? Iran did as I predicted on this floor back in the spring--they played us along. They said: Well, you know we will negotiate with you as long as we can continue to produce nuclear materials and continue our nuclear program. So we negotiated and we negotiated and they developed and they developed. So finally in September of this year, enough people on both sides of the aisle and enough people in the administration finally were convinced that this was not a viable strategy anymore. What did we gain? We passed the Iran Freedom and Support Act, which probably surprised most people in this Chamber. We passed it unanimously--one of the last things we did before we broke. Most Americans don't know it. Unfortunately, most in the Middle East don't know it. I suspect if we went into the bowels of the State Department they may know it, but they are not going to do a damned thing about it because that is not their intent. They do not want to do anything about it. My guess is they will take that money and spend it on a lot of conferences and studies on what we should do instead of giving it to the bus drivers who went on strike as a strike fund so they can stand up to the government. Instead of giving it to dissent groups so they can disseminate information, instead of actively engaging we will appease. We will study, we will delay, and they will have time to further build.
But we did pass the bill. That would be on one of my to-do lists in the next Congress.
Is this bill going to be enforced? Are we going to confront Iran? Are we going to try to do something or are we going to sit by and allow them to develop these weapons? They are not developing them alone. No, there are a lot of reports that they are working with others around the world. Who are those others? I talk about Islamic fascism, and I keep focusing on that. But, unfortunately, over the past several months it is increasingly clear to me that the situation is becoming even more complex. We are not just facing a group of people who are in the Middle East desiring to overthrow the world and oppose a caliphate on us, but they have allies--unlikely allies in some respects, unlikely allies as the German Nazis and Japanese imperialists who had very conflicting ideologies but had a common purpose, and that was destroy the West, destroy the English-speaking world and the Western world, and put it under the domination of those countries.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Immigration
on: December 13, 2006, 03:45:30 PM
Charles Murray on Immigration
What's my position on immigration? Well, since apparently someone asked (and I have never published anything on immigration), here goes.
Regarding illegal immigration:
1. Making laws about who gets to become a citizen, under what circumstances, is a legitimate function of the state.
2. Protecting borders is a legitimate function of the state.
3. Enforcing the law is a central function of the state.
4. Immigration reform must begin first with enforcement of existing immigration law. If it takes a wall, so be it.
5. And while I'm at it, I'll mention that English should be the only language in which public school classes are taught (except for teaching English as a foreign language) and in which the public's business is conducted.
Regarding legal immigration:
1. Immigration is one of the main reasons-I'm guessing the main reason apart from our constitution-that we have remained a vital, dynamic culture, but immigration of a particular sort: Self-selection whereby people come here for opportunity. That self-selection process used to apply to everyone. It still applies to the engineers and computer programmers and entrepreneurs who come here from abroad, but it is diluted for low-job-skill workers by the many economic benefits of just being in the United States. Most low-job-skill immigrants work very hard. But Milton Friedman was right: You can't have both open immigration and a welfare state. The tension between the two is inescapable.
2. Massive immigration of legal low-skill workers is problematic for many reasons, and some of them have to do with human capital. Yes, mean IQ does vary by ethnic group, and IQ tends to be below average in low-job-skill populations. One can grant all the ways in which smart people coming from Latin American or African countries are low-job-skill because they have been deprived of opportunity, and still be forced to accept the statistical tendencies. The empirical record established by scholars such as George Borjas at Harvard cannot be wished away.
3. I am not impressed by worries about losing America's Anglo-European identity. Some of the most American people I know are immigrants from other parts of the world. And I'd a hell of a lot rather live in a Little Vietnam or a Little Guatemala neighborhood, even if I couldn't read the store signs, than in many white-bread communities I can think of.
4. When it comes to the nitty-gritty, I would get rid of reuniting-families provisions, get rid of the you're-a-citizen-if-you're-born-here rule, and make immigrants ineligible for all benefits and social services except public education for their children. Everybody who immigrates has to be on a citizenship track (no guest workers). And I would endorse a literacy requirement. Having those measures in place, my other criteria for getting permission to immigrate would be fairly loose. Just having to get through the bureaucratic hoops will go a long way toward reinstalling a useful self-selection process. But, to go back to basics: None of this works unless illegal immigration is effectively ended.
I suppose other libertarians will disagree, but I don't see a single item in this approach that runs against the principles of classical liberalism.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: December 13, 2006, 03:43:37 PM
MEXICO: Former Mexican Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal Carranza and former President Vicente Fox will pay a political price for their role in the unrest in the southern state of Oaxaca, Guillermo Zavaleta, the president of Mexico's Congressional Justice Commission and a deputy from the National Action Party, said. Zavaleta said he believes Abascal has a "great responsibility" for the Oaxaca unrest because he took more than three months to respond to the growing violence.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: December 13, 2006, 10:46:10 AM
Congress Doubles US Weapons Storage in Israel
Wednesday, December 13, 2006 / 22 Kislev 5767
In the last day before its recess Friday, the US House of Representatives and Senate approved loan guarantees to Israel and the doubling of US arms stored in Israel for emergency use.
The new Department of State Authorities Act of 2006 adds three years to the US provision of loan guarantees to Israel (until 2011), also including an aid package for Israel separate from the annual US aid package to the Jewish state.
In 2002 Israel requested loan guarantees from the United States to help it deal with the economic affects of the Oslo War and to prepare for the US war in Iraq. In 2003, Congress approved $9 billion in guarantees over three years.
Loan guarantees are not grants, rather the US is merely cosigning loans for Israel in the event that Israel were to default. This results in better terms on the loans, but has come at a price. Israel sends most of the money directly back into the US economy.
Additionally, a condition of the guarantees is that the money may not be spent on development of any of the areas Israel liberated in the 1967 Six Day War, meaning Judea, Samaria and half of Jerusalem. In addition, whatever the amount of government funds Israel decides to spend in those areas is deducted from the guarantees.
So far, Israel has used $4.6 billion of the $9 billion in US loan guarantees, which were first extended until 2008 and now until 2011.
The Act serves the US as well, doubling the funds allotted to the existing program whereby America stores arms and equipment in classified US facilities in Israel, called War Reserve Stockpiles (WRS).
A WRS is a collection of war materials held in reserve in pre-positioned storage to be used if needed in wartime. America maintains war reserve stocks around the world, mainly in NATO countries, but in some major non-NATO allies as well.
With Friday’s approval, the bill still requires the signature of US President George W. Bush, which should not be a problem, as the move was initiated by his administration.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Immigration
on: December 13, 2006, 09:48:05 AM
Of an Entrepreneur
Mr. Hairston's Stucco Workers
Quit to Become His Rivals;
Illegals Drive Prices Down
A Wife's Political Riposte
By MIRIAM JORDAN
December 13, 2006; Page A1
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- About five years ago, the journey of Starletta and William Hairston from the underclass to the upper class hit a roadblock.
Both were born to poor black Southern families. William, a stucco subcontractor, built a thriving business beautifying houses in the gated communities on this resort island, a magnet for wealthy retirees seeking a laid-back lifestyle by the sea. Starletta, a former flight attendant, won accolades for her community activism.
Then Hilton Head suddenly saw a wave of illegal immigrant workers from Mexico. Mr. Hairston, 54 years old, initially hired the Hispanic newcomers for his stucco business, helping it flourish. But soon, some of those same workers splintered off to form their own businesses, undercutting Mr. Hairston with lower bids to capture jobs. The Hairstons' net income plunged from roughly $500,000 in 1997 to about $70,000 in 2005, according to the couple.
To stay afloat, the Hairstons remortgaged their house twice and sold a condominium and a plot of land. Mr. Hairston now hustles for jobs in Charlotte, N.C., and beyond, looking for better opportunities. Meanwhile, Starletta Hairston, 53, won election to the Beaufort County Council, where she has joined a wave of local officials around the country trying to pass new laws cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Amid the debate over illegal immigration, one of the most contentious questions is whether unauthorized workers from Mexico and other Latin American countries displace U.S. workers, especially low-wage workers in agriculture, cleaning and construction.
The Hairstons' saga shows that the issue is not just about low-paid workers, but also entrepreneurs who set out to make their own fortune. As an ambitious small-business man, Mr. Hairston helped himself to undocumented immigrant labor and thrived with it. But as more immigrants flocked to the area and acquired skills, some of them harnessed their own entrepreneurial drive and became competitors.
CAST YOUR VOTE
Question of the Day: What is the net effect of illegal immigration on the U.S. economy?Mr. Hairston got his start in the plastering business in his native North Carolina. His business took off in Atlanta in the late 1980s when construction in the city boomed. Mr. Hairston married Starletta, the daughter of a maid who raised eight children alone, in 1985. The next year they had a son, William III. The couple restored a dilapidated boarding house in downtown Atlanta and moved in.
By the mid-1990s, stucco jobs increasingly took Mr. Hairston and his predominantly black crew from Atlanta to Hilton Head Island. Mr. Hairston fell in love with the moss-draped oak trees and intercoastal waterways inhabited by snowy egrets. Golf and hotels had turned the area into a resort mecca, and in the mid-1990s, a housing boom in the area allowed Beaufort County to boast the fastest growth and lowest unemployment in the state. "There was tons of work ... and only a couple stucco contractors in the whole area," recalls Mr. Hairston, a tall, strong man who sports a shaved head and a goatee. For some time, he commuted from Atlanta, living in motels or houses that he rented for himself and his employees. "He was a good subcontractor," says Ellis Smith, owner of Sandcastle Constructors, a local home builder for whom Mr. Hairston did several stucco jobs.
Mr. Hairston eventually convinced Starletta to leave Atlanta for Hilton Head. Mrs. Hairston had just had the couple's second son, Skylor, when she arrived in 1993. In Hilton Head, the Hairstons were far from their roots. They rented houses in tony gated communities. Typically the only black family, the couple says they endured complaints from white neighbors who didn't like seeing company trucks parked in the driveway or their son's plastic playhouse in the yard.
Mr. Hairston's business thrived. He says there was more work than he could keep up with, and a dearth of locals willing to do the heavy lifting required of stucco work: mixing and lugging buckets of cement, for example. "It was hard to find people willing to work sunrise to sunset," says Mr. Hairston. Many people, he added, only "worked long enough to keep their trailer lights on."
Latin American immigrants were just starting to trickle into the area, as word spread that jobs in construction and hospitality were plentiful. Immigrants were increasingly bypassing traditional gateways, like California and Texas, to seek work in the Southeast.
So Mr. Hairston, who until then had mostly relied on black labor, hired a handful of Mexicans. He says they were diligent and eager to learn. They were "prepared to acquire basic knowledge and not afraid to try" new work, says Mr. Hairston. When he needed more hands, his Mexican workers sent for their relatives back home and elsewhere in the U.S. Mr. Hairston says they presented Social Security numbers, and he in turn paid taxes and workers' compensation although he acknowledges some of them had probably entered the U.S. illegally.
In 1997 the stucco business made $971,000, according to the Hairstons' tax return. To handle his blossoming business, Mr. Hairston rented a large office with four rooms, two restrooms and warehouse space behind it. He bought a condominium and a plot of land as investments. Flush with success, the Hairstons broke ground on a 7,600-square-foot, three-story house with an ornate gold-and-black gate, a cherub fountain in the front and a large swimming pool in the back.
As Hilton Head prospered, more and more Mexican immigrants flocked there. From 1% of the population in 1995, Latinos accounted for 11% of Hilton Head's 34,000 residents in 2000, according to census figures. Officials peg the current Latino population at about 15%.
One immigrant who prospered was Fidel Serrano.
After eking out a living as a baker at a doughnut shop in Houston for five years, Mr. Serrano moved to Hilton Head Island in 1994, joining two brothers who had recently settled there. "There was plenty of work and life was calmer here for the kids," recalls Mr. Serrano, a native of Mexico. Mr. Serrano, his wife, two sons and two brothers rented a rundown two-room trailer, for which they collectively paid $600 a month.
Mr. Serrano began to work in stucco, perfecting his skills as an employee of Mr. Hairston's Pro Plastering & Stucco. He says he earned $8 to $10 an hour during the two-and-a-half years he worked for Mr. Hairston. In the beginning, Mr. Serrano recalls, Mr. Hairston still employed several black workers. But gradually Mr. Hairston came to rely more on Mr. Serrano and other Mexican immigrants. "We showed up for work every day and we were dedicated," Mr. Serrano recalls.
On His Own
Around 2000, Mr. Serrano struck out on his own, working as a subcontractor to Mr. Hairston. He supplied Mr. Hairston with crews for several jobs. "I was able to train the workers," who were all Spanish speakers, he recalls. Mr. Hairston typically paid him about 25% of the value of the contract for the job, he says. Mr. Serrano says that he pays taxes on all his workers, as well as workman's compensation.
Mr. Hairston says that for a while it didn't bother him that some of his Latino workers, like the Serranos, struck out on their own. "I never thought I would be competing against them," he says. But he felt particularly stung when he encountered one of his workers -- who had asked for two weeks off -- working on an $80,000 job on a high-end house that Mr. Hairston's company had bid for.
Mr. Hairston's business gradually began to unravel. Mr. Hairston "would bid and another guy who used to work for him would bid on the same job," recalls Greg Goldberg, another builder, who is currently president of the local home builders' association. Mr. Goldberg himself says he hired some of Mr. Hairston's former workers.
Mr. Hairston says that he never knew by how much he was undercut because the bidding process in construction isn't open. Builders often approach two or three subcontractors and invite them to make an estimate for a project. The builders rarely reveal the value of the winning bid to the losing parties.
Mr. Hairston says that he found himself losing bid after bid. Longtime customers didn't want him, he says -- a fact the contractors confirm. "We get happy with a subcontractor that does good work and we'll use him all the time," says Mr. Smith of Sandcastle Constructors. Currently, he employs Premium Stucco, owned by Fidel Serrano, Mr. Hairston's former employee. "They do an excellent job,'" he says, noting that they are working on a $2 million house that his company is building.
Mr. Serrano received his green card last year and bought a three-bedroom house. Most of his jobs are in luxurious gated communities, some of the same ones where Mr. Hairston thrived a decade ago. "Work is the only thing you can do to better yourself," Mr. Serrano says. "We aren't expecting the government or anyone to support us." He says that Mr. Hairston does good work and declines to comment about his former boss's financial difficulties.
In addition to facing competition from former workers, Mr. Hairston says he also faced competition from subcontractors hiring illegal immigrants and paying them under the table. Mr. Hairston says that while he hired undocumented workers he paid payroll taxes and workman's compensation for them which added about 20% to his labor costs.
Other subcontractors agree they are being undercut by competitors who hire illegal immigrants off the books. Danny Miller, who runs a stucco business called Two Brothers, says that "on a weekly" basis, his company loses bids for jobs to contractors who hire illegal immigrants. "That pretty much explains it all," says Mr. Miller.
At Sea Island Supply, owner Ron Sandlin remembers when mainly blacks and whites came in to buy brick, stucco and masonry materials. Now, his clientele is 85% Hispanic. He and his staff are taking Spanish lessons at a local college.
Though construction in Hilton Head continued to boom, Mr. Hairston closed his business office in 2002. He began to seek jobs in other markets. By 2003, revenue from Mr. Hairston's stucco business had fallen to $182,000 from $971,000 six years earlier.
As their fortunes were souring, Mrs. Hairston, a Republican who had become involved in community activities, decided to run for a seat on the 11-member County Council of Beaufort County. Her long hair usually adorned with a headband, she campaigned on improving conditions in impoverished areas. In a runoff, she defeated her white male Republican opponent by 50 votes and took office in January 2003.
Shortly after taking office, Mrs. Hairston requested a meeting with Hilton Head Mayor Tom Peeples, himself a residential developer. "William didn't understand why he couldn't win any bids. I thought, 'Let's find out what we can do,' " recalls Mrs. Hairston. "We went in there to say we were willing to work with him," says Mr. Hairston. Mr. Peeples told them that it was about who could give him the best price, according to the couple.
Mr. Peeples didn't reply to several messages left at his business office and voice mail.
Gradually, Mrs. Hairston found a new political inspiration: the immigration issue. "I saw inequities," she says, adding she also felt illegal immigrant workers were being exploited. Others see her motivation differently: "Starletta got bitter because of her husband's business," says Juan Campos, a Hilton Head restaurateur and Latino activist. Mrs. Hairston says she isn't motivated by her husband's plight, noting that Mr. Hairston no longer does business in the area.
In September, Mrs. Hairston presented a draft of an "illegal immigration relief ordinance" to the County Council. Under the ordinance, companies that knowingly hire undocumented laborers could have their business licenses revoked. The ordinance would require that all businesses volunteer to participate in a federal government pilot program that verifies whether a Social Security number matches an individual's name. It would bar illegal immigrants from getting a business license.
If the ordinance passes, "costs for yard service, green fees and house painting might escalate marginally for a while," Mrs. Hairston says, but "we will hold the moral and ethical high ground."
The County Council voted overwhelmingly to move the proposal forward in the first and second readings. But after loud opposition from Hispanic residents and many employers, the council instead approved on Monday a watered-down version called "lawful employment ordinance," which is less controversial and mainly reinforces existing federal and county employment codes. The council is to take its final vote on Dec. 27.
Whether the ordinance passes or not, it's not helping the Hairstons now. Starletta Hairston lost a Republican primary in June and will go off the council next year. William Hairston hasn't bid on a job in Beaufort County for at least two years. Instead he flies to North Carolina every week, where he says he uses a native-born, mostly black crew.
Mr. Hairston remains in touch with some of his old workers. A few months ago, Paul Serrano, who with his brother Fidel left to form a rival stucco company, approached Mr. Hairston to help him secure a green card which would put Paul Serrano on the path to citizenship and allow him to travel back and forth legally to Mexico to visit his elderly mother who is ill.
Mr. Hairston agreed to fill out forms attesting to his former employee's business skills and good character. He says he did it as an act of compassion but acknowledges the larger irony.
"He's my competition and I just signed papers to get him legal," says Mr. Hairston. "I'm making it possible for him to live the American dream."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia
on: December 13, 2006, 08:29:40 AM
Herewith we begin a thread dedicated to Russia with a piece from today's WSJ:
By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.
• Putin Puzzle Revisited
• The Market to End All Markets
• Buy This Newspaper!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Holman W. Jenkins Jr. is a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and writes editorials and the weekly Business World column.
Mr. Jenkins joined the Journal in May 1992 as a writer for the editorial page in New York. In February 1994, he moved to Hong Kong as editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal's editorial page. He returned to the domestic Journal in December 1995 as a member of the paper's editorial board and was based in San Francisco. In April 1997, he returned to the Journal's New York office. Mr. Jenkins won a 1997 Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished business and financial coverage.
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Jenkins received a bachelor's degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and studied at the University of Michigan on a journalism fellowship.
Mr. Jenkins invites comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Putin Puzzle Revisited
December 13, 2006; Page A19
You have to admire the perseverance of Western energy investors in Russia, whom no amount of homicide, arbitrary contract abrogation or naked shakedowns can discourage.
Though Shell is being muscled out of a $20 billion deal to develop a Far East oil and gas field, and though American minority shareholders got wiped out along with Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the seizure of Yukos, Western money continues to take its chances on Russia out of desperation more than anything else. The world may be rich in hydrocarbons but opportunities for Western corporations are vanishing behind closed nationalist doors in country after country, where governments increasingly monopolize the development and production of oil.
Western investors have gotten accustomed to overlooking a lot in Russia, but they may be unwise to overlook the sensational polonium murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Putin's presidency is constitutionally mandated to end in 2008 when new elections will be held. But who is Putin's Putin? Mr. Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin by promising that, whatever purges Mr. Putin might carry out, Mr. Yeltsin and his family would be shielded. Mr. Yeltsin was old, ill, alcoholic and Mr. Putin's offer must have seemed one he couldn't refuse. Mr. Putin is young and vigorous, and has no reason to put his fate in the hands of a successor or successors who wouldn't be able to guarantee his lifelong immunity even if they wanted to.
In turn, if Mr. Putin amends the constitution to keep himself in power, it could provoke international repercussions that could undermine the assumptions on which much international investment is based.
To wit: For a lot of reasons, investors have been able to assume that, whatever happened in Russia, their home governments would at least be supportive of their investment efforts. President Bush pronounced Mr. Putin a friend, and needs Russian support for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan. German politicians have pushed and cajoled energy firms to increase ties to Russia. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder even sits on the supervisory board of a Gazprom affiliate. All this reflects a Western calculation that Russia has nuclear weapons; Russia is a potential nightmare; Russia has energy the world needs. We must cling to Mr. Putin as an acceptable partner and hope for the best.
The Litvinenko murder, rightly described as the first case of nuclear terrorism, opens up a can of worms. The world media is enthralled with the story. Several British and German bystanders show traces of polonium poisoning. The heat will be on investigators to get to the bottom of the matter, and such investigations have a way of running beyond the power of governments to keep the lid down.
More threatening to Mr. Putin, Litvinenko wrote a book linking him to the original sin of modern Russian politics, a string of apartment bombings in 1999 in Moscow and other cities that killed hundreds. The bombings were blamed on Chechen terrorists, letting acting President Putin launch the second Chechen war and helping him win election in his own right. There soon followed a series of homicides and arrests and constitutional moves that shut down prospects of journalistic and legislative investigation into whether the bombings had actually been a government provocation.
Now, there was some eye-rolling when this column two years ago noted parallels between Mr. Putin's career and Saddam Hussein's. Saddam came to power after the early retirement of his mentor, who (like Mr. Yeltsin) promptly became invisible. Saddam's first act was to start a war. Etc.
But the real point was that Saddam became a hostage of his miscalculations, especially overestimating the power Iraq's oil gave him to manipulate other governments. Mr. Putin's best option, perhaps his only option, is to play out his hand, putting his chips on Western governments to cover up for him. Last week the Duma gave preliminary approval to a law that would directly grant the president power to impose economic sanctions on foreign nationals. The Jamestown Foundation, which monitors Russian politics, reports: "The proposed legislation, 'On Special Economic Measures in Case of an International Emergency Situation,' would let the president freeze trade contracts, stop financial transactions, prohibit tourism, and impose other economic sanctions."
Sen. Richard Lugar, who sees which way events are moving, late last month gave a speech in Latvia warning NATO urgently to adopt the position that energy sanctions imposed on a member state are an act of war against NATO itself.
Put yourself in Mr. Putin's shoes. It's hard to see how, except by holding onto power and trying to use it to control his circling enemies, he could hope to avoid becoming a target of political or legal retribution sooner or later. He's riding high in domestic polls, thanks to a recovering economy, no small thing. But the Litvinenko murder may have been the thread that begins the unknitting. The real threat has always been Ryazan. That's the Russian city where, on Sept. 22, 1999, a resident noticed men unloading bags of "sugar" into the basement of a large apartment block. The sugar was the explosive RDX; the men were Russian federal security agents. Moscow claimed the incident was a training exercise, but the apartment bombings, which had killed 300 of Mr. Putin's subjects, suddenly stopped.
Western governments have been nothing if not resolute in turning away from Ryazan and the evidence of the crime that allegedly underwrote Mr. Putin's rise to power. Western leaders might prefer, all things considered, to see him remain in power rather than deal with the consequences of Ryazan. But it is not in the nature of the world that such a mystery can be concealed forever, or its consequences ducked.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Conan the B. & Robert Howard
on: December 13, 2006, 08:16:53 AM
Perhaps Sun Helmet, who was an artist for the Conan comics from Marvel (I proudly have an autographed cover he did in my office) can share some additional insight , , ,
From Pen to Sword
Conan the Barbarian was first a literary figure.
BY JOHN J. MILLER
Wednesday, December 13, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
Actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger recently won an easy re-election as California's governor. His movie-screen alter ego, Conan the Barbarian, never had to bother with yawping masses of voters--but he seems no less popular these days, judging from a revival movement that's winning a new generation of fans for one of the best-known characters that American literature has produced.
If Conan isn't first remembered as a literary figure, it's because the culture has embraced him so completely on film, in comic books, and as an icon of thick-muscled, sword-wielding manhood. Yet he got his start on the printed page as the invention of Robert E. Howard, a rural Texas pulp writer who lived from 1906 to 1936.
Enthusiasts have celebrated Howard's centenary all year long with pilgrimages to the tiny town of Cross Plains, where a family home has been turned into a shrine-like museum, plus the release of several anthologies of stories and a new biography, "Blood & Thunder," by Mark Finn. These festivities culminated at the World Fantasy Convention in Austin, Texas, last month when a group of devotees announced the establishment of the Robert E. Howard Foundation, which hopes to arrange for the publication of everything its namesake ever wrote--an estimated 3.5 million words of prose and poetry.
The Conan stories make up only a small fraction of this huge output: There are 21 of them, including a novel, and they were written at breakneck speed between 1932 and 1935. As with everything by Howard, their quality varies dramatically: A fantasy classic such as "Beyond the Black River" remains a riveting tale that undermines popular notions of frontier progress and manifest destiny; "The Vale of Lost Women," however, is a clunky piece of hackwork that would be instantly forgotten were it not for the fame of its star character.
Yet the stories share a fundamental power because Howard was a skilled action-adventure storyteller. So were a lot of other pulp writers, of course. What ultimately set Howard apart was a dazzling imagination that dreamed up the sword-and-sorcery subgenre of fantasy literature before anybody had heard about J.R.R. Tolkien and his hobbits.
With Conan, Howard created a protagonist whose name is almost as familiar as Tarzan's. In his influential essay on Howard, Don Herron credits the Texan with begetting the "hard-boiled" epic hero, and doing for fantasy what Dashiell Hammett did for detective fiction. Suddenly, the world--even a make-believe one such as Conan's Hyboria--was rendered seamier and more violent, and Howard described it in spare rather than lush prose.
Conan has a knack for locating damsels in distress, but he is no knight in shining armor who piously obeys a code of chivalry. Instead, he is a black-haired berserker from a wild and wintry land called Cimmeria. He has little patience for social conventions he doesn't understand. "The warm intimacies of small, kindly things, the sentiments and delicious trivialities that make up so much of civilized men's lives were meaningless to him," wrote Howard in "Beyond the Black River." Conan occasionally thinks his way out of a problem, but more often he reaches for a weapon and slashes his way out. "There's nothing in the universe cold steel won't cut," he boasts.
The Conan stories don't unfold in a straight, sequential narrative. Each one is a stand-alone episode from an action-packed life. Howard once claimed that he wasn't creating "these yarns" as much as "simply chronicling [Conan's] adventures as he told them to me."
In the tales, Conan takes his turn as a thief, pirate, mercenary, tribal chieftain and, finally, king. He is never comfortable in any of these roles. You can take the boy out of Cimmeria, but you can't take Cimmeria out of the boy: Just about everywhere Conan goes and no matter what he does, he is an outsider who follows only a rough sense of personal honor. He has been called an existential hero because he feels no responsibility to be anything other than his authentic, barbaric self. "I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content," he says in "Queen of the Black Coast."
Conan's view of life is predictably bleak and brutal: "In this world men struggle and suffer vainly, finding pleasure only in the bright madness of battle; dying, their souls enter a gray, misty realm of clouds and icy winds, to wander cheerlessly throughout eternity," he says. "I seek not beyond death."
Neither did Howard. When he learned that his mother had slipped into a fatal coma, he typed a four-line couplet: "All fled, all done/So lift me on the pyre/The feast is over/And the lamps expire." Then he went to his car and shot himself in the head. He was 30 years old.
Fans sometimes speculate about what would have happened if Howard hadn't committed suicide--and kept on writing into, say, the years of the Reagan presidency. Would he have gone on to write westerns, a genre in which he dabbled and displayed a growing interest? Would he have matured as an author?
Whatever the case, Howard did leave behind a big pile of material--much more than many writers who live twice as long. In addition to Conan, there are stories about Solomon Kane, a Puritan swashbuckler; Kull, a warrior from Atlantis; and Bran Mak Morn, the king of an ancient race. Many aficionados consider "Worms of the Earth" and "The Dark Man," a pair of Bran Mak Morn stories, to be his finest.
Since 2003, Del Rey has issued definitive texts on each of these heroes, based on Howard's own manuscripts rather than the edited and bowdlerized versions that have appeared elsewhere. Three of these collections contain everything Howard ever wrote on Conan, including previously unpublished story fragments. With October's release of "Kull: Exile of Atlantis," the sixth in the series, Del Rey says it has put out more than 200,000 of these books.
A small industry of armchair scholars has made it possible. "We've gone pro," says Leo Grin, the editor of a journal and blog called "The Cimmerian." Yet they've also had to battle for respectability. "The comics and the movies have brought in fans, but they've also been an albatross," says Rusty Burke, an editor of the Del Rey books. "We're maybe 10 or 20 years behind H.P. Lovecraft."
Last year, Lovecraft, another 1930s pulp writer, slithered his way into the literary canon when the Library of America issued a definitive book of his influential horror fiction. Howard is not nearly as cerebral as Lovecraft, but Lovecraft never seized the Zeitgeist with a character like Conan.
The albatross may grow heavier before it grows lighter: Dark Horse Comics calls Conan one of its best-selling titles, Funcom will launch a highly anticipated online game next year, and Warner Bros. reportedly wants to make a new flick. All of this will expand Howard's growing fan base.
One thing seems certain: After Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest of us are long gone, Conan will still be wandering, sword in hand and ready to excite ever more readers.
Mr. Miller writes for National Review and is the author of "A Gift of Freedom."