Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: McCain
on: August 25, 2008, 09:09:32 AM
Not that I agree, but here is Bill Kristol's take on this:
A Joe of His Own?
By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Published: August 24, 2008
The anguished cries of Hillary supporters pierced the midday calm here on Saturday, as Barack Obama confirmed that his vice presidential choice was not Clinton, who got about 18 million votes this year running against him, but rather Joe Biden, who gained the support of a few thousand caucusgoers in Iowa before dropping out of the race.
(OK, I didn’t personally hear any anguished cries from my work space near the Pepsi Center. But I’m an empathetic guy — I felt as if I could hear them.)
McCain operatives were pleased by the Biden selection, which they considered, as one said to me, “a pick from weakness.” Still, it complicates McCain’s vice presidential calculations.
The two leading G.O.P. prospects have been Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. But with Biden’s foreign policy experience as a contrast, could McCain assure voters that the young Pawlenty is ready to take over, if need be, as commander in chief? Also, Biden is a strong and experienced debater. Pawlenty is unproven. If he is the choice, there will be many anxious Republicans in the run-up to the vice presidential debate in St. Louis on Oct. 2.
Romney might match up better against Biden in debate. But it’s clear that the Obama-Biden campaign is moving aggressively to embrace a traditional Democratic populist economic message. Such a message will have appeal this year — especially, one supposes, against a doubly multimansioned G.O.P. ticket of McCain and Romney.
If not Pawlenty or Romney, how about a woman, whose selection would presumably appeal to the aforementioned anguished Hillary supporters? It’s awfully tempting for the McCain camp to revisit the possibility of tapping Meg Whitman, the former eBay C.E.O., Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. But the first two have never run for office, and Palin has been governor for less than two years.
So what’s to be done? McCain could well decide the obstacles to Pawlenty and Romney aren’t insuperable, and pick one of them. He could choose a different Republican governor or ex-governor, senator or congressman. Or he could decide that Obama’s conventional pick of Biden allows him to seize the moment by making a bold choice. He could select the person he would really like to have by his side in the White House — but whose selection would cause palpitations among many of his staffers and supporters: the independent Democratic senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman could hold his own against Biden in a debate. He would reinforce McCain’s overall message of foreign policy experience and hawkishness. He’s a strong and disciplined candidate.
But he is pro-abortion rights, and having been a Democrat all his life, he has a moderately liberal voting record on lots of issues.
Now as a matter of governance, there’s no reason to think this would much matter. McCain has made clear his will be a pro-life administration. And as a one-off, quasi-national-unity ticket, with Lieberman renouncing any further ambition to run for the presidency, a McCain-Lieberman administration wouldn’t threaten the continuance of the G.O.P. as a pro-life party. In other areas, no one seriously thinks the policies of a McCain-Lieberman administration would be appreciably different from those, say, of a McCain-Pawlenty administration.
Would McCain-Lieberman have a better prospect of winning than the more conventional alternatives? If they could get over the early hurdles of a messy convention and an awful lot of conservative angst and anger, I’ve come to think so.
Obama and Biden will try to frame the presidential race as a normal Democratic-Republican choice. If they can do that, they should win. That would be far more difficult against a McCain-Lieberman ticket. The charge that McCain would merely mean a third Bush term would also tend to fall flat. And an unorthodox “country first” Lieberman selection would reinforce what has been attractive about McCain, and what has allowed him to run ahead of — though not yet enough ahead of — the generic Republican ballot.
A Lieberman pick should help with ticket splitters. But can such a ticket hold the support of pro-lifers, conservatives and Republicans? If you’re conscientiously pro-life, you will have reservations about a pro-abortion-rights V.P. If you’re a proud conservative, Lieberman hasn’t been one. If you’re a loyal Republican, you’d much prefer someone from within the ranks.
But if you’re pro-life, conservative and/or Republican, you certainly don’t want Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid running the country. If a McCain-Lieberman ticket is the best way to thwart that prospect, you could probably learn to live with it — even perhaps to like it.
And Hillary supporters could protest Obama’s glass ceiling by voting for John McCain and the Democratic Party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: East Europe can defend itself
on: August 25, 2008, 02:49:21 AM
Eastern Europe Can Defend Itself
By MAX BOOT
August 25, 2008; Page A13
Eastern Europeans are rightly alarmed about the brazenness and success of the Russian blitzkrieg into Georgia. For many living in Russia's shadow, this is reviving traumatic memories -- of 1968 for Czechs, 1956 for Hungarians, 1939 for Poles. It does not help that senior Russian generals are threatening to rain nuclear annihilation on Ukraine and Poland if they refuse to toe the Kremlin's line.
Even those states which, unlike Georgia and Ukraine, are already in NATO can take scant comfort. As Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, says, "Parchments and treaties are all very well, but we have a history in Poland of fighting alone and being left to our own devices by our allies."
Warsaw's response has been to draw closer to the United States, by rapidly concluding an agreement in long drawn-out negotiations over the basing of U.S. interceptor missiles on Polish soil. That's a good start, but it's a move of symbolic import only. The small number of interceptors are designed to shoot down an equally small number of Iranian missiles -- not the overwhelming numbers that Russia deploys. Poland and other states should be under no illusion they can count on the U.S. in a crisis. In the past we left Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the lurch. More recently we haven't done much to help Georgia.
The only thing that the frontline states can count on is their own willingness to fight for independence. But willingness alone is not enough. They also need the means to fight, and at the moment they don't have them. We have already seen how the tiny Georgian armed forces -- with fewer than 30,000 men -- were routed by the Russian invaders.
What gets ignored is that Georgia, although a small country (population: 4.6 million), has the potential to do far more for its defense. According to the CIA's World Factbook, Georgia has over 900,000 men between the ages of 16 and 49. It could easily create a larger military force than it has, but that would require spending more on defense. By the CIA's estimate, its defense budget was just 0.59% of GDP in 2005.
Georgia's military spending has grown in recent years, but not Eastern Europe's. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, only one country in Eastern Europe spends more than 2% of GDP on defense. That would be Bulgaria at 2.2%. Romania is in second place at 1.9%, followed by Poland at 1.8%. Nor do these countries maintain large standing forces. Poland has 7.9 million males of military age but only 127,266 active-duty personnel in its armed forces. Hungary could mobilize 1.9 million men but has only 32,300 in uniform. Bulgaria has 1.3 million potential soldiers but only 40,747 actual soldiers. And so on.
There is one exception to this demilitarizing trend. Russia, which has more than a million soldiers under arms, has been increasing its defense budget from the lows of the immediate post-Soviet era. Based on official figures it spends at least 2.5% of GDP on its military. But if you add in expenditures on paramilitary forces and other items, the total comes closer to 4% -- roughly the same percentage that the U.S. is spending.
Small states have often shown the ability to humble great powers. In 1920, under the inspired leadership of Marshal Josef Pilsudski, the Poles staged a brilliant counterattack to save Warsaw and drive the Red Army off their soil. In the winter war of 1939-1940 the plucky Finns held off Soviet invaders, forcing the Kremlin to settle for a slice of its territory rather than all of it. More recently, the Afghan mujahedeen drove the Red Army out of their country altogether, thereby helping to bring down the Soviet Union.
But if they have any hope of emulating such feats -- or, more precisely, of deterring the Russians from threatening them in the first place by making it clear that they could emulate such feats -- today's Eastern Europeans have to do much more to prepare a robust defense. They should double their military spending to make themselves into porcupine states that even the Russian bear can't swallow.
The U.S. can help, as we helped the Afghans in the 1980s and as the French helped the Poles in 1920. That will require a readjustment in our military assistance strategy, which has been to create in Eastern Europe miniature copies of our own armed forces. Our hope, largely realized, has been that these states will help us in our own military commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. But in addition to developing NATO-style expeditionary capacity, these states need to be able to conduct a defense in depth.
That means having large reserves ready for fast call-up and plenty of defensive weapons -- in particular portable missile systems such as the Stinger and Javelin capable of inflicting great damage on Russia's lumbering air and armor forces. That's more important than fielding their own tanks or fighter aircraft. We should offer to sell them these relatively inexpensive defensive systems, and to provide the advisory services to make the best use of them. But the first step has to be for the Eastern Europeans to make a larger commitment to their own defense.
Mr. Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author, most recently, of "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today" (Gotham Books, 2006).
See all of today's
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Military Life, The Return and Crafty Dog??
on: August 25, 2008, 02:14:41 AM
Our thanks and gratitude for stepping up for our country in these troubled times. And respects on the PT!
Sounds like I need to get you into our Military/LEO website. Email me and I will send you what you need.
The reverse grip reverse edge material is Southnark's influence-- yes the same one whose PUC DVD we sell in our catalog.
This has been an influence on me btw, the idiom of movement is now something that is part of what I do and teach.
The Adventure continues!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics
on: August 24, 2008, 10:46:27 AM
This from internet friend and superb economist of supply side orientation Scott Grannis:
The NY Times published a lengthy article on Obama's economic policies
a few days ago: "How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy." One
friend has summarized the article like this: "Barack Obama, a Free-
Market Loving, Big-Spending, Fiscally Conservative Wealth
Redistributionist." The article goes to great lengths to sound fair
and unbiased, but in typical NYT fashion, it is neither. I've take
some time to rebut some of the points raised in the article, since I
think it's very important to understand the faulty logic and lack of
economic understanding that informs many liberal notions of how weak
the economy supposedly is and what the best ways to fix it are.
To begin with, the opening section of this article is just plain wrong
about how bad the economy is. A well-respected UCLA professor, Ed
Leamer, says that, using the using the criteria developed by the NBER
for classifying recessions, the economy is not currently in a
recession. In order for this to be a recession, he says, "things would
have to get a lot worse." This is hardly a situation where one might
claim, as the article does, that "the economy has stopped working."
The article's claim that most families are making less today than they
did in 2000 is simply not true, and it is also not true that family
income has failed, for the first time, to rise substantially in an
economic expansion. Real disposable personal income has risen 17.5% in
the current expansion. I'll take that to the bank any day as a sign of
progress. This is a shameless misrepresentation of the facts, but it
is not surprising given that the article was supposedly fact-checked
by the economic geniuses at the NY Times.
The article implies that people have only been able to keep buying
things thanks to assuming massive amounts of new debt. But according
to the Federal Reserve, debt service burdens for US households (the
ratio of debt payments to disposable personal income) have risen from
13.0% to 14.1% in the current expansion. That's not my definition of
huge or even significant.
Yes, there are significant debt defaults occurring, but the article
neglects to mention one very important fact: a debt default involves a
transfer of wealth. The defaulting party is relieved of a debt burden,
while the creditor loses a future income stream. In addition, for
every house that was bought and financed at the peak of the real
estate cycle a few years ago, there was a seller that walked away with
a small fortune.
And by all means this remains a very prosperous country. The net worth
(total assets minus total liabilities) of US households has risen from
$40 trillion in 2001 to almost $60 trillion today. How in the world
the NY Times fact-checkers could square that statistic with the doom
and gloom in the article is beyond my ability to understand or
justify. Even if defaulted mortgages total $1 trillion (way up at the
upper end of estimates), that would only equate to less than 2% of
households' aggregate net worth.
Then the article goes on to imply that since the economy is already a
shambles and McCain's economic policies are basically a rehash of
Bush's policies, we can't expect things to get a lot better. Obama
"has more-detailed proposals but a less obvious ideology." And that
presumably is a good thing.
One of the most important things for Obama is to redistribute income
from rich to not-rich, because he believes that income inequality is a
new and serious problem, and likely the most serious problem the
economy faces today. Yet serious researchers (Alan Reynolds being one)
have pointed out that what looks like a growing gap between rich and
poor is actually not. And if it looks like the upper income earners
have gained a disproportionately larger share of the income pie in the
past decade, that overlooks the fact that those who were upper income
earners 10 years ago are for the most part not upper income earners
today; this is a very fluid economy.
Obama puts income redistribution ahead of deficit reduction. But he
also plans to reduce the deficit, mainly by cutting military spending.
This was in fact one of the two keys behind Clinton's deficit
reduction (the other being a windfall of tax receipts thanks to the
tech sector boom). I would simply note that the massive reduction in
military spending during the Clinton years left us extremely
vulnerable by 2001. I would argue that McCain is the only candidate
who can credibly promise to make significant reductions in non-defense
The article praises Obama for his general acceptance of free-market
principles that he picked up while at Chicago. But, it gushes, he
still realizes that markets aren't perfect and need fixing. This is
the position that all liberals are forced to adopt, since free market
economies have been wildly successful over time. Critics of the free
market point to its failures: budget deficits, income inequality, and
the current financial crisis. In essence, this is like saying that you
like freedom, but only in limited quantities. Where do you draw the
line? In any event, most of the liberal arguments against the free
market are based on faulty logic. For example, the deficit has nothing
to do with the free market, but everything to do with politicians that
can't stop spending money. I've already argued, as have many others,
that income inequality is not only misleading, but not even a bad
thing to begin with as along as all incomes are rising. The current
financial crisis has a lot to do with mistakes made by the Federal
Reserve years ago, and to the failure of borrowers to realize that
they were paying way too much for their homes and taking on way too
much debt in the process. So Obama is going to apply all sorts of
remedies for the economy's supposed ills, but he has misdiagnosed the
problem. And let's not forget that for every new government program
designed to "fix" some supposed failing of the free market, there are
at least a few unintended consequences that typically show up.
As a case in point, Obama's tax proposals are designed to reduce the
burden of taxes on the lower and middle class, but they would actually
make things worse for those people because his proposals will sharply
increase marginal tax rates. This will make it much harder for the
poor to get rich, a perfect example of unintended consequences to tax-
rate engineering. See this article for proof, it is really impressive.
"Obama’s give-and-take tax policy results in marginal tax rates of 34
percent to 39 percent in the $31,000 to $45,000 income range for this
family. That’s an increase of 13 percentage points or more from the
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
on: August 24, 2008, 09:46:19 AM
Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
GEOPOLITICAL DIARY: THE IMPLICATIONS OF A RUSSO-SYRIAN PARTNERSHIP
Syrian President Bashar al Assad arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for a two-day visit
during which he will meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Al Assad's
invitation to Moscow was announced shortly after Russia began its military offensive
against Georgia. The timing was no coincidence, and Damascus fully intends to ride
Russia's wave of resurgence into regional prominence.
Russia and Syria had a close defense relationship during the Cold War, when the
Soviet Union maintained a naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian
coast and facilities at Syrian ports. In those days, Syria used its relationship
with Russia to protect itself from the threat of Israel. But that patronage dried up
even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Syrian defense structures -- its
air defense network, for example -- began falling into disrepair.
Syria's relationship to Russia under former President Vladimir Putin was not nearly
as accommodating as it was during the Cold War, and the Syrians have spent a great
deal of energy chasing armament deals with Russia, with no luck. For years -- but
especially after the September 2007 Israeli air raid that essentially sidestepped
the entire Syrian air defense network -- Damascus has grown more desperate for a
comprehensive upgrade to its air defense network. But talks with Russia have failed
to gain traction, and the Syrians have grown weary of being strung along. With
Russia's assertion of power in the Caucasus, however, Syria sees a chance to break
out of its diplomatic isolation.
Given U.S. sensitivity to developments in the Middle East, Syria is well positioned
to give Russia ways to meddle in Washington's affairs. The threat of increased
Russian weapons sales to Iran and Syria, coupled with Wednesday's hints of a Russian
carrier returning to the Mediterranean, are all useful tactics in sending Washington
a very clear message: Russia is a great power capable of influencing matters well
beyond its own borders.
For Damascus, Russia's resurgence is a great opportunity to strengthen its security
relationship with Moscow. Primarily, by reviving its ties with Russia, Syria could
compel Israel, the United States and Turkey to accelerate efforts to pull Damascus
out of the diplomatic cold. This would give Syria the political recognition and
influence that it has long craved; more importantly, Syria would gain physical
Thus far, there have been no concrete reports of any major deals struck during al
Assad's trip to Moscow. However, Newsru.com, a subsidiary of Russia's NTV news
group, reported that al Assad has said he is ready to host a Russian base off the
Syrian coast again. Though the establishment of such a base of operations so far
beyond Russia's periphery would certainly be dramatic, there are limits to how far
Russia can go in the Middle East. Tactically speaking, a Russian fleet based in the
Mediterranean would essentially be surrounded by NATO allies, and hemmed in by
Turkish territory. The sheer superiority of U.S., Turkish, NATO and Israeli naval
assets in the region puts any small deployment at a severe disadvantage.
Furthermore, any extension of Russian influence in the Middle East must balance the
needs of several actors -- all of whom are in delicate negotiations with one
another. For instance, the Russians and the Israelis have their own ongoing
negotiations in which Israel has reportedly appealed to Moscow to continue
restricting weapons sales to Syria and Iran in exchange for Israel's restraint in
providing military assistance to Georgia. This is a significant barrier to a real
Damascus-Moscow security deal, as Russia is heavily invested in maintaining control
But Syria's hopes for a real alignment with Russia are only part of the cascade of
reactions as nations internalize Russia's renewed assertiveness. First and foremost,
of course, are the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran over the
future of Iraq. Iran is currently calculating its options; obviously, it must
carefully balance its relations with Russia and its talks with the United States.
And Iran would like to expand its arms deals with Russia dramatically, but fears
Russia's resurgence in the Caucasus. Turkey is also in play. As a NATO member and
neighbor of Georgia, Turkey finds itself right in the middle of the U.S.-Russian
rivalry and must seek a balance.
More than anything else, Syria's ability to exploit the Russian comeback in the
Caucasus will depend on just how drastically Russia plans to upset U.S. foreign
policy at this stage in the game. Syria certainly has assets to offer Moscow, but
Russia will be considering much more than just Syria as it moves forward from this
Copyright 2008 Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Movies of interest
on: August 24, 2008, 08:27:20 AM
UPDATE: Stressed Tony Jaa abandons ‘Ong Bak 2,’ tearfully vows return
By Mark Pollard • July 28, 2008
This is not the kind of entertainment news I like to write about but it could have a far-reaching impact on the future of Thai action cinema and its greatest champion. In confirmation of swelling rumors and reports emerging from Thailand over the last several weeks, Variety now reports that international action star Tony Jaa has walked away unannounced from production on his directorial debut, ONG BAK 2, just as it was reaching the final stretch of production and was being marketed overseas at Cannes with an impressive promotional video.
Somsak Techaratanaprasert, a spokesman for the film’s production company, Sahamongkol, held a press conference and stated that the film would be completed on time for its scheduled release on December 5th.
Prachya Pinkaew, director of the original ONG BAK confirmed that he will be stepping in to complete what remains of the shoot and edit the entire footage.
“Jaa has little experience directing,” said Pinkaew. “He’s spent nearly $7.8 million. The film is almost finished, so I’ll try to see what I can do with the footage that he’s shot.”
Meanwhile, rumors have been flying around in the Thai media speculating on reasons for Jaa’s absence since June. Techaratanaprasert put to rest suggestions that the star had run away with the film’s investment capital.
“I guarantee that this is not a case of financial fraud, and I have no intention of pursuing any legal action against him,” Techaratanaprasert said. “We’re running behind schedule, and some of our international contracts have been cancelled because of that. I know he loves this film very much, so I just want him to finish the film because there’s only a little work left.”
Jaa’s family have reportedly come forth to suggest that the star has been under great stress and literally retreated into the jungle. Fans of Jaa who are familiar with his background will know that he was raised in a rural part of North Eastern Thailand where he and his family raised elephants.
In other words, Jaa has pulled a Dave Chappelle. Chappelle is the popular American comedian who, at the height of his fame, abruptly walked off the set of his hit Comedy Central series in 2005 to retreat in South Africa. He eventually cited stress and disagreements with the show’s producers as reasons.
What makes this situation far worse is that Jaa was the star and the director of a feature film so all production literally ground to a halt. Making matters worse, other sources in Thailand are suggesting that Jaa ran the film way over budget. I haven’t confirmed these numbers but the roughly $2.7 million budget approved by the investors may have swelled to as much as $8 million.
Additional rumors suggest misuse of the budget and frustration from Jaa over his contract.
As an outside observer, it looks to me like Jaa took on too much responsibility too quickly and at the wrong time. Unlike many of his Hong Kong peers, Jaa has had a very short rise to superstardom in an industry that lacks the same mature support network of Hong Kong’s once thriving action filmmaking community. It took over 20 years and dozens of movies for Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung to reach the level of international fame that Jaa has managed to claim after only starring in a few movies. Years of working alongside dozens of equally talented stunt actors and filmmakers gave the Hong Kong stars all the time they needed to learn, not only the craft of filmmaking but also the business of it.
It’s still too early and there is still too little information to accurately project how this will all shake out. It looks fairly certain that ONG BAK 2 will be completed but what becomes of it is anyone’s guess. Uncertainty like this is like the plague to potential buyers. It’s going to hurt overseas sales and distribution.
Artistically speaking, the film will not be the same once Pinkaew gets his hands on it. I can’t say if it will be worse or better. However, that promo footage showed tremendous potential for Jaa to surpass Pinkaew as an action director. Then again, Jaa’s current actions cast doubt on how much involvement he had with the creation of that promo.
If Jaa wasn’t up to the task of directing and starring I just wish he would have had the good judgment to say something before accepting the task. When offered the chance to direct a big screen version of THE GREEN HORNET, Kevin Smith wisely admitted the limits of his directing ability and bowed out graciously instead of getting in over his head.
Yet even the best directors stumble. Terry Gilliam, one of the most gifted filmmakers of our time has had production nightmares throughout his career, none worse than the disaster that befell his ill-fated take on “Don Quixote.”
Unfortunately, this current situation with Tony Jaa could be career ending for a number of reasons. Investors will be less likely to back him now while overseas distributors will be even more cautious. Likewise, you can’t walk out on hundreds of people all depending on you and not expect to garner some ill will. I doubt he wants his action film career to end and certainly none of the millions of fans he has around the world do.
We can only hope that this situation will get sorted out and Jaa gets his head screwed back on. He’s still the best martial arts star of his generation and it would be a shame to see his talents thrown away due to lack of stress and financial management. I’ve long been concerned about the level of support he’s receiving in Thailand. There are undoubtedly a lot of good people working in the industry there but I wonder if its time for Jaa to move on to Hollywood where his action might get dumbed down but at least he’ll have enough support and guidance to carry on. He could always take that experience back to Thailand, much as Yuen Woo-ping and Jet Li have done.
UPDATE: Tony Jaa came out of hiding for the first time since walking off the set of ONG BAK 2 to give a tearful interview for local Thai TV where he said that he was ready to return to work. Meanwhile, local tabloids are having a pitiful field day with the unfolding drama by latching onto rumors that Jaa is obsessed with black magic. The star actually had to address these rumors and deny them during the interview. Blogging on the interview, Wise Kwai’s Thai Film Journal calls it a soap opera and says, “it’s painful to see [Jaa] like this.”http://www.kungfucinema.com/?p=2594
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: August 24, 2008, 08:02:36 AM
Friday , August 22, 2008
Hundreds of Christian theology students have been living in tents since a mob of angry Muslim neighbors stormed their campus last month wielding bamboo spears and hurling Molotov cocktails. The incident comes amid growing concern that Indonesia's tradition of religious tolerance is under threat from Islamic hard-liners.
In talks since the attack, the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology has reluctantly agreed to shut its 20-year-old campus in east Jakarta, accepting an offer this week to move to a small office building on the other side of the Indonesian capital.
"Why should we be forced from our house while our attackers can walk freely?" asked the Rev. Matheus Mangentang, chairman of the 1,400-student school.
The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which relies on the support of Islamic parties in Parliament, is struggling to balance deep Islamic traditions and a secular constitution. With elections coming next April, the government seems unwilling to defend religious minorities, lest it be portrayed as anti-Islamic in what is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.
The July 25 attack, which injured 18 students, was the culmination of years of simmering tensions between the school and residents of the Kampung Pulo neighborhood.
Senny Manave, a spokesman for the Christian school, said complaints were received from neighbors about prayers and the singing of hymns, which they considered disturbing evangelical activity.
Several neighbors refused to comment, saying they feared that could further strain relations. A prominent banner, signed by scores of people, has been hung over an entrance to the neighborhood.
"We the community of Kampung Pulo demand the campus be closed and dissolved," it says.
The assault began around midnight, when students woke to the crash of stones falling on their dormitory roof as a voice over a loudspeaker at a nearby mosque cried "Allah Akbar," or "God is great" in Arabic.
The unidentified speaker urged residents to rise up against their "unwanted neighbors," said Sairin, the head of campus security, who goes by a single name.
The attack followed a claim that a student had broken into a resident's house, but police dismissed the charge.
Uneasy relations date to 2003, when neighbors began to protest the school's presence. Last year, residents set fire to shelters for construction workers to try to stop the campus from expanding deeper into the neighborhood. Some also questioned the legality of the school's permit.
Christian lawmaker Karol Daniel Kadang accused property speculators of provoking last month's incident to clear the land for more profitable use, after the school refused to sell out.
He also blamed the government for failing to build interfaith relations, which he and others believe are beginning to fray.
"People are still tolerant, but there is a growing suspicion among Muslims of others," said Prof. Franz Magnis-Suseno, a Jesuit priest who has lived in Indonesia for half a century.
He added that the police have failed to prevent both attacks on minorities and the forced closure of Christian churches and nontraditional mosques by mobs incited by radical Muslims.
"The state has some responsibility for this growing intolerance, namely by not upholding the law," he said.
A mob stormed a church service last Sunday in another east Jakarta neighborhood, forcing dozens of Christian worshippers to flee, said Jakarta Police Chief Col. Carlo Tewu. No arrests have been made.
Since being driven from campus, nearly 600 female students have been sleeping under suspended tarps at a nearby scout camp, where they had to dig trenches to keep water out during downpours. Classes are held with megaphones in the sweltering summer heat, under trees or the tarps. A similar number of male students live in a guesthouse. The remainder have returned to their families.
Food, water and school supplies are donated by church groups and community charities.
"We feel like refugees in our own country," said Dessy Nope, 19, a second-year student majoring in education. "How can you study here? I only followed 20 percent of my last lesson. It's difficult to concentrate."
Christians have not been the only targets for Muslim hard-liners, who this year set fire to mosques of a Muslim sect, Ahmadiyah, that they consider heretical.
In June, the government ordered members of the sect to return to mainstream Islam, sparking concern among activists who fear the state is interfering in matters of faith and caving in to the demands of radicals.
"We're living in a country where there are many religions, but the government cannot prevent the actions of fundamentalist groups," said Manave, the school spokesman. "The government cannot protect minorities."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / police chief killed in first day on job
on: August 24, 2008, 07:49:36 AM
SOURCE = http://www.khou.com/topstories/stori...f.5e63638.html
Mexican police chief slain 24 hours after replacing predecessor
03:15 PM CDT on Saturday, August 23, 2008, Associated Press
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- A northern Mexican town’s police chief was killed Friday just 24 hours after replacing a predecessor whose slaying had prompted the rest of the force to quit out of fear of drug gangs.
Jesus Blanco Cano’s bullet-ridden body was found at a ranch near the town of Villa Ahumada in Chihuahua state, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of El Paso, Texas, said Alejandro Pariente, a spokesman for the regional deputy attorney general’s office.
He had been beaten, blindfolded and his hands were tied behind his back. Twelve bullet casings were found at the scene.
Cano, 40, had been on the job for just a day. The previous police chief, two other officers and three residents were killed in May when 70 gunmen barged into Villa Ahumada, a town virtually taken over by drug gangs.
The rest of its 20-member police force quit in fear, forcing the Mexican military to take over. The town had slowly been recruiting new police and was without a police chief until Blanco took the job. The troops eventually left.
Mayor Fidel Chavez met Friday with state police, but nobody at this office could be reached for comment. Chavez had fled after the May attack, taking refuge in the state capital of Chihuahua City, but he returned after soldiers recovered the town.
Mexico’s powerful drug cartels have stepped up attacks against police in response to a military and police crackdown, beheading some officers and killing others outside their homes. Several towns and cities, particularly in the north, have struggled to hold together their police forces.
The mayor of Ciudad Juarez, a town just north of Villa Ahumada, announced a plan this week to recruit soldiers to replenish its depleting police force. Many police in Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, have been killed after their names appeared on hit lists left in public. Others whose names appeared on the lists have quit.
Since taking office in 2006, President Felipe Calderon has sent more than 25,000 troops and federal police to retake drug hotspots across the country.
But homicides, kidnappings and shootouts have only increased. In Chihuahua state –home base of the powerful Juarez drug cartel— more than 800 people have been killed this year, a surge from less than 400 during the first half of 2007.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: McCain
on: August 24, 2008, 07:36:28 AM
OK, now that BO has chosen the loquacious Joe Biden, whom do we think that McC should choose?
I confess to thinking that Romney has many merits
a) strong economics-- a major issue in this campaign, and a weak area of McC. Romeny can articulate pro-growth free market economics well
b) running a Senator's staff is not preparation for running the executive branch, whereas Romney has his quality experience in the private sector, with the Olympic Games in Utah, and as gov of MA
c) Romney can be a pit bull for McC against the calumnies that surely will continue to grow
d) given concern about McC's age, it is important that he can be seen as ready to step in
He also has cons:
a) has said tough things about McC and the MSM will use them in an effort to neutralize all the things Biden has said about BO
b) a non-issue for me, but apparently a lot of people are concerned about the Mormon thing.
c) he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and the BO team will contrast that with their version of BO's life story, McC's 7 homes
Republicans as children of patrician privilege blah blah
Whom do others here think McC should pick?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: August 24, 2008, 07:05:00 AM
Given the author's credentials, a particularly potent find BBG.
I suspect that part of the reason that so many people who should know better, indeed, DO know better, let the shoddy thinking go unchallenged is that they are concerned that man is overwhelming his environment and will use anything, honest or not, to get man to change his ways.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
on: August 23, 2008, 08:53:47 AM
A friend whom I have found to be an intelligent student of these matters writes me as follows-- I find the article to be very interesting a worthy of considerable reflection:
Incidentally, last weekend in NY I had a chance to spend time with some politically
"kulturny" people, including a lady who is Georgian - and is involved in that
countrie's politics. She thought that the very worst possible scenario for the
Georgian people would be if Russia and NATO would decide to fight out this issue on
Georgian soil. That would cause devastation.
Found this article by "Spengler". Along with Stratfor analyses, I think this is one
of the more insightful essays on this subject. If the graphs do not show up, use
Central AsiaAug 19, 2008Americans play Monopoly, Russians chessBy SpenglerOn the
night of November 22, 2004, then-Russian president - now premier - Vladimir Putin
watched the television news in his dacha near Moscow. People who were with Putin
that night report his anger and disbelief at the unfolding "Orange" revolution in
Ukraine. "They lied to me," Putin said bitterly of the United States. "I'll never
trust them again." The Russians still can't fathom why the West threw over a
potential strategic alliance for Ukraine. They underestimate the stupidity of the
West.American hardliners are the first to say that they feel stupid next to Putin.
Victor Davis Hanson wrote on August 12  of Moscow's "sheer diabolic brilliance"
in Georgia, while Colonel Ralph Peters, a columnist and television commentator,
marveled on August 14 , "The Russians are alcohol-sodden barbarians, but now and
then they vomit up a genius ... the empire of the czars hasn't produced such a
frightening genius since [Joseph] Stalin." The superlatives recall an old
observation about why the plots of American comic books need clever super-villains
and stupid super-heroes to even the playing field. Evidently the same thing applies
to superpowers.The fact is that all Russian politicians are clever. The stupid ones
are all dead. By contrast, America in its complacency promotes dullards. A deadly
miscommunication arises from this asymmetry. The Russians cannot believe that the
Americans are as stupid as they look, and conclude that Washington wants to destroy
them. That is what the informed Russian public believes, judging from last week's
postings on web forums, including this writer's own.These perceptions are dangerous
because they do not stem from propaganda, but from a difference in existential
vantage point. Russia is fighting for its survival, against a catastrophic decline
in population and the likelihood of a Muslim majority by mid-century. The Russian
Federation's scarcest resource is people. It cannot ignore the 22 million Russians
stranded outside its borders after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, nor, for
that matter, small but loyal ethnicities such as the Ossetians. Strategic
encirclement, in Russian eyes, prefigures the ethnic disintegration of Russia, which
was a political and cultural entity, not an ethnic state, from its first origins.The
Russians know (as every newspaper reader does) that Georgia's President Mikheil
Saakashvili is not a model democrat, but a nasty piece of work who deployed riot
police against protesters and shut down opposition media when it suited him - in
short, a politician in Putin's mold. America's interest in Georgia, the Russians
believe, has nothing more to do with promoting democracy than its support for the
gangsters to whom it handed the Serbian province of Kosovo in February.Again, the
Russians misjudge American stupidity. Former president Ronald Reagan used to say
that if there was a pile of manure, it must mean there was a pony around somewhere.
His epigones have trouble distinguishing the pony from the manure pile. The
ideological reflex for promoting democracy dominates the George W Bush
administration to the point that some of its senior people hold their noses and
pretend that Kosovo, Ukraine and Georgia are the genuine article.Think of it this
way: Russia is playing chess, while the Americans are playing Monopoly. What
Americans understand by "war games" is exactly what occurs on the board of the
Parker Brothers' pastime. The board game Monopoly is won by placing as many hotels
as possible on squares of the playing board. Substitute military bases, and you have
the sum of American strategic thinking.America's idea of winning a strategic game is
to accumulate the most chips on the board: bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a
pipeline in Georgia, a "moderate Muslim" government with a big North Atlantic Treaty
Organization base in Kosovo, missile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic,
and so forth. But this is not a strategy; it is only a game score.Chess players
think in terms of interaction of pieces: everything on the periphery combines to
control the center of the board and prepare an eventual attack against the
opponent's king. The Russians simply cannot absorb the fact that America has no
strategic intentions: it simply adds up the value of the individual pieces on the
board. It is as stupid as that. But there is another difference: the Americans are
playing chess for career and perceived advantage. Russia is playing for its life,
like Ingmar Bergman's crusader in The Seventh Seal.Dull people know that clever
people are cleverer than they are, but they do not know why. The nekulturny Colonel
Ralph Peters, a former US military intelligence analyst, is impressed by the
tactical success of Russian arms in Georgia, but cannot fathom the end-game to which
these tactics contribute. He writes, "The new reality is that a nuclear, cash-rich
and energy-blessed Russia doesn't really worry too much whether its long-term future
is bleak, given problems with Muslim minorities, poor life-expectancy rates, and a
declining population. Instead, in the here and now, it has a window of opportunity
to reclaim prestige and weaken its adversaries."Precisely the opposite is true: like
a good chess player, Putin has the end-game in mind as he fights for control of the
board in the early stages of the game. Demographics stand at the center of Putin's
calculation, and Russians are the principal interest that the Russian Federation has
in its so-called near abroad. The desire of a few hundred thousand Abkhazians and
South Ossetians to remain in the Russian Federation rather than Georgia may seem
trivial, but Moscow is setting a precedent that will apply to tens of millions of
prospective citizens of the Federation - most controversially in Ukraine.Before
turning to the demographics of the near abroad, a few observations about Russia's
demographic predicament are pertinent. The United Nations publishes population
projections for Russia up to 2050, and I have extended these to 2100. If the UN
demographers are correct, Russia's adult population will fall from about 90 million
today to only 20 million by the end of the century. Russia is the only country where
abortions are more numerous than live births, a devastating gauge of national
despair.Under Putin, the Russian government introduced an ambitious natalist program
to encourage Russian women to have children. As he warned in his 2006 state of the
union address, "You know that our country's population is declining by an average of
almost 700,000 people a year. We have raised this issue on many occasions but have
for the most part done very little to address it ... First, we need to lower the
death rate. Second, we need an effective migration policy. And third, we need to
increase the birth rate."Russia's birth rate has risen slightly during the past
several years, perhaps in response to Putin's natalism, but demographers observe
that the number of Russian women of childbearing age is about to fall off a cliff.
No matter how much the birth rate improves, the sharp fall in the number of
prospective mothers will depress the number of births. UN forecasts show the number
of Russians aged 20-29 falling from 25 million today to only 10 million by
2040.Russia, in other words, has passed the point of no return in terms of
fertility. Although roughly four-fifths of the population of the Russian Federation
is considered ethnic Russians, fertility is much higher among the Muslim minorities
in Central Asia. Some demographers predict a Muslim majority in Russia by 2040, and
by mid-century at the latest.Part of Russia's response is to encourage migration of
Russians left outside the borders of the federation after the collapse of communism
in 1991. An estimated 6.5 million Russians from the former Soviet Union now work in
Russia as undocumented aliens, and a new law will regularize their status. Only
20,000 Russian "compatriots" living abroad, however, have applied for immigration to
the federation under a new law designed to draw Russians back.That leaves the 9.5
million citizens of Belarus, a relic of the Soviet era that persists in a
semi-formal union with the Russian Federation, as well as the Russians of the
Western Ukraine and Kazakhstan. More than 15 million ethnic Russians reside in those
three countries, and they represent a critical strategic resource. Paul Goble in his
Window on Eurasia website reported on August 16:..............Moscow retreated after
encountering fierce opposition from other countries, but semi-legal practices of
obtaining Russian citizenship that began in former Soviet republics in the early
1990s continue unabated. There is plenty of evidence that there are one to two
million people living in the territory of the former Soviet Union who have de facto
dual citizenship and are reluctant to report it to the authorities. Russia did
little to stop the process. Moreover, starting in 1997, it encouraged de facto dual
citizenship................Russia has an existential interest in absorbing Belarus
and the Western Ukraine. No one cares about Byelorus. It has never had an
independent national existence or a national culture; the first grammar in the
Belorussian language was not printed until 1918, and little over a third of the
population of Belarus speaks the language at home. Never has a territory with 10
million people had a sillier case for independence. Given that summary, it seems
natural to ask why anyone should care about Ukraine. That question is controversial;
for the moment, I will offer the assertion that partition is the destiny of
Ukraine.Even with migration and annexation of former Russian territory that was lost
in the fracture of the USSR, however, Russia will not win its end-game against
demographic decline and the relative growth of Muslim populations. The key to
Russian survival is Russification, that is, the imposition of Russian culture
andRussian law on ethnicities at the periphery of the federation. That might sound
harsh, but that has been Russian nature from its origins.Russia is not an ethnicity
but an empire, the outcome of hundreds of years of Russification. That Russification
has been brutal is an understatement, but it is what created Russia out of the
ethnic morass around the Volga river basin. One of the best accounts of Russia's
character comes from Eugene Rosenstock-Huessey (Franz Rosenzweig's cousin and
sometime collaborator) in his 1938 book Out of Revolution. Russia's territory
tripled between the 16th and 18th centuries, he observes, and the agency of its
expansion was a unique Russian type. The Russian peasant, Rosenstock-Huessey
observed, "was no stable freeholder of the Western type but much more a nomad, a
pedlar, a craftsman and a soldier. His capacity for expansion was tremendous."In
1581 Asiatic Russia was opened. Russian expansion, extending even in the eighteenth
century as far as the Russian River in Northern California, was by no means
Czaristic only. The "Moujik", the Russian peasant, because he is not a "Bauer" or a
"farmer", or a "laborer", but a "Moujik", wanders and stays, ready to migrate again
eventually year after year.Russia was never a multi-ethnic state, but rather what I
call a supra-ethnic state, that is, a state whose national principle transcends
ethnicity. A reader has called my attention to an account of the most Russian of all
writers, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, of his own Russo-Lithuanian-Ukrainian
background:..........I suppose that one of my Lithuanian ancestors, having emigrated
to the Ukraine, changed his religion in order to marry an Orthodox Ukrainian, and
became a priest. When his wife died he probably entered a monastery, and later, rose
to be an archbishop. This would explain how the Archbishop Stepan may have founded
our Orthodox family, in spite of his being a monk. It is somewhat surprising to see
the Dostoyevsky, who had been warriors in Lithuania, become priests in Ukraine. But
this is quite in accordance with Lithuanian custom. I may quote the learned
Lithuanian W St Vidunas in this connection: "Formerly many well-to-do Lithuanians
had but one desire: to see one or more of their sons enter upon an ecclesiastical
career." ............................Dostoyevsky's mixed background was typically
Russian, as was the Georgian origin of Joseph Stalin.Russia intervened in Georgia to
uphold the principle that anyone who holds a Russian passport - Ossetian, Akhbaz,
Belorussian or Ukrainian - is a Russian. Russia's survival depends not so much on
its birth rate, nor on immigration, nor even on prospective annexation, but on the
survival of the principle by which Russia was built in the first place. That is why
Putin could not abandon the pockets of Russian passport holders in the Caucusus.
That Russia history has been tragic, and its nation-building principle brutal and
sometimes inhuman, is a different matter. Russia is sufficiently important that its
tragedy will be our tragedy, unless averted.The place to avert tragedy is in
Ukraine. Russia will not permit Ukraine to drift to the West. Whether a country that
never had an independent national existence prior to the collapse of communism
should become the poster-child for national self-determination is a different
question. The West has two choices: draw a line in the sand around Ukraine, or trade
it to the Russians for something more important.My proposal is simple: Russia's help
in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism in the Middle East is of
infinitely greater import to the West than the dubious self-determination of
Ukraine. The West should do its best to pretend that the "Orange" revolution of 2004
and 2005 never happened, and secure Russia's assistance in the Iranian nuclear issue
as well as energy security in return for an understanding of Russia's existential
requirements in the near abroad. Anyone who thinks this sounds cynical should spend
a week in Kiev.Russia has more to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran than the United
States, for an aggressive Muslim state on its borders could ruin its attempt to
Russify Central Asia. Russia's strategic interests do not conflict with those of the
United States, China or India in this matter. There is a certain degree of rivalry
over energy resources, but commercial rivalry does not have to turn into strategic
enmity.If Washington chooses to demonize Russia, the likelihood is that Russia will
become a spoiler with respect to American strategic interests in general, and use
the Iranian problem to twist America's tail. That is a serious risk indeed, for
nuclear proliferation is the one means by which outlaw regimes can pose a serious
threat to great powers. Russia confronts questions not of expediency, but of
existence, and it will do whatever it can to gain maneuvering room should the West
seek to "punish" it for its actions in Georgia.One irony of the present crisis is
that Washington's neo-conservatives, by demanding a tough stance against Russia, may
have harmed Israel's security interests more profoundly than any of Israel's
detractors in American politics. The neo-conservatives are not as a rule Jewish, but
many of them are Jews who have a deep concern for Israel's security - as does this
writer. If America turns Russia into a strategic adversary, the probability of
Israel's survival will drop by a big
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Go Guerilla!
on: August 23, 2008, 08:26:03 AM
No thread is ideal for this piece, but this one seems plausible for it.
Georgia's Guerrilla Option
Russia's attack on Georgia raises the question of how weak states can defend
themselves against strong states.
The Russian assault on Georgia holds a number of important lessons. As a
weak state facing a regional hegemon committed to its dismemberment and
isolation, Georgia sought to integrate into NATO and other trans-Atlantic
institutions, hoping that powerful friends would defang the Russian threat.
But as Robert D. Kaplan argued earlier this week, European dependence on
Russian energy exports gives Russia a great deal of political leverage. Fear
of provoking Russia led European states to resist accepting Georgia as a
member of NATO last year, and it has deterred them from taking strong action
to punish Russia for its actions in the current crisis.
Georgia's military humiliation also suggests that smaller powers that seek
protection under the American security umbrella will increasingly have to go
it alone. Constraints on American power - the ongoing U.S. military presence
in Iraq and Afghanistan, a renewed distaste for armed intervention on the
part of the American public, even the yawning size of the federal budget
deficit - will most likely lead the next president to look inward, to seek
conciliation over confrontation even if that means giving inconvenient
allies the cold shoulder. One has to assume that Taiwan has watched the
tepid American response to Russia's power-grab very closely.
As for Russia, its actions in Georgia make a great deal of sense when viewed
through the lens of petro-politics. As military analyst John Robb
e.html> notes, Russia's coercive efforts in its so-called "Near Abroad" have
generally been prompted by a desire to control the flow of energy to the
rich democracies. Estonia tried to scuttle the creation of a pipeline that
would cut them out of transit revenues, so the Russians orchestrated a
series of thuggish cyberattacks. Ukraine tried to control the pipelines
crossing its sovereign territory, which led the Russians to cut off the
energy spigot. When a pipeline running from Azerbaijan to Georgia to the
Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey threatened to displace traffic from
an exisiting Russian pipeline, the Russians sabotaged Georgia's energy
infrastructure. The only thing new about the Russian aggression we've seen
this past week is that it's been overt.
So what are the Georgias of the world to do? Weak states might take a page
from the most fearsome non-state actors: guerrillas and criminal gangs.
During its 2006 military campaign in Lebanon, Israeli forces severely
degraded Hezbollah's military capabilities, but Hezbollah survived.
Hezbollah continued to use a variety of asymmetric attacks throughout the
conflict to spread fear throughout Israel's civilian population. The
resilience of Israeli society saw to it that Hezbollah could do no lasting
damage, but Hezbollah exacted a stiff price all the same.
It would be sheer insanity for Georgia to wage a Hezbollah-style terror
campaign against Russian civilians. But in a detailed scenario about the
Chechen fight for independence, John Robb devised a potentially very
effective strategy that draws on the guerrilla playbook. Just as Russia
disrupted Georgia's critical infrastructure in 2006, Georgia might consider
identifying key economic chokepoints - ports, power plants, long-distance
electrical transmission lines, and of course natural gas pipelines - and
training unconventional military forces to deliver crippling blows. While
Russia would be prepared for a few discrete acts of sabotage, they would
have a hard time dealing with a rolling, unpredictable series of attacks
targeting multiple locations. By disrupting Russia's infrastructure, Georgia
could inflict severe pain at relatively low cost. Moreover, Europe would be
impacted as well - which would make the European public think twice about
acquiescing to Russia's thuggish tactics in its own backyard.
To be sure, Russia might then decide to level Georgia - but they'd have to
do so with their economy and ruins and their international reputation in
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Eygptian on Sudanese passport builds drone
on: August 23, 2008, 07:57:26 AM
Predator Drone On L.I. Sparks Terror Investigation
Investigators said the drone was being designed to carry 600 pounds of explosives
POSTED: 1:36 pm EDT August 22, 2008
UPDATED: 2:16 pm EDT August 22, 2008
NEW YORK -- By Jonathan Dienst
A predator drone being built by an engineer on Long Island sparked a large counter-terrorism investigation across the New York area, officials tell WNBC.com. Police said they had stumbled upon overnight testing of the drone at a little-used airstrip in Calverton, Long Island.
The investigation began in February of last year, when investigators first learned testing of the drone was underway. Officials said the drone was being designed to carry more than 600 pounds of explosives.
"It could be in the air for 8-10 hours and there's potential harm if it is carrying a large amount of toxic material," NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in explaining why his department's counterterrorism officials were concerned.
Police surveillance video obtained by News 4 New York shows a white van rolling onto the tarmac, a small group of men jumping out and ground testing the unmanned flight vehicle.
Kelly said the engineer building the drone never reported his work to any agency including the Federal Aviation Administration or local authorities. Investigators said concern increased for a time when they learned the man behind the project was an Egyptian national who had entered the U.S. on a Sudanese passport.
"It was such a bizarre set of circumstances," said New York State Homeland Security Director Michael Balboni. "Of course we watched it as closely as we did anything that was on our radar screen."
NYPD officials worked with Suffolk County police and the FBI to determine there were no ties to terror. Under questioning, the engineer said he was an inventor hoping to sell this drone model to the U.S. military. NYPD Lieutenant William McGroarty said during the investigation they had other questions.
"What if this individual could not sell to the military?” McGroarty asked. “Would he then turn and sell it to the highest bidder?"
The military uses unmanned aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan. But security officials worry about terrorists acquiring them. Earlier this year, Homeland Security officials issued a general bulletin warning they could be used "as an improvised explosive device.”
In this case, police said there is no evidence any laws were broken as the drone was tested on the ground. Officials said if it had gone into the air without prior FAA approval, it could have been considered a crime.
While there are no terror links, police said their investigation continues. The engineer, who News 4 New York will not name because he was not charged, did not respond to numerous requests for comment. His drone project has now been taken over by a Maryland-based company that has registered with the FAA, officials said. One investigator said the engineer, at best, had showed poor judgment in trying to do the project in a manner that raised so many alarms.
After repeated requests for information about this investigation, law enforcement agencies agreed to talk about the case to highlight the city's "Operation Century." This NYPD program enables city and suburban police to better share threat information. Officials said the drone investigation is one recent example of how Suffolk County police officials quickly engaged the NYPD's counter-terrorism division to help investigate the report of a predator drone sighting.
"Regional cooperation is the order of the day. Law enforcement gets it and is communicating more than ever before," Kelly said.http://www.wnbc.com/news/17266645/detail.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Filibuster PRoof
on: August 23, 2008, 07:17:05 AM
The risks of BO heading a filibuster proof majority seem to me an strong point that McC should be making.
2008; Page A13
Here's an intriguing thought: The John McCain-Barack Obama fight isn't this season's biggest political story. That honor should be reserved for the intense Democratic push to win a filibuster-proof Senate majority.
Democrats know this is a huge prize, and they are throwing at least as much money and sweat into that effort as they are into electing Mr. Obama. What isn't clear is that voters are as aware of the stakes. An unstoppable Democratic Senate has the potential to alter the balance of power in Washington in ways not yet seen.
A quick recap of the numbers: Republicans must defend 23 seats, compared to 12 for the Democrats. Of those GOP slots, 10 are at potential risk: Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Mississippi, Maine and North Carolina. The Democrats claim only one vulnerable senator this year, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu. Depending on how big a day the party has in November, it is at least conceivable Democrats could get the nine seats they need to hit the magic 60.
The nation has had prior almighty Senates, of course, and it hasn't been pretty. Free of the filibuster check, the world's greatest deliberative body tends to go on benders. It was a filibuster-proof Democratic majority (or near to it, in his first years) that allowed FDR to pass his New Deal. It was a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate that allowed Lyndon Johnson to pass his Great Society.
Note, however, that it could have been worse. These were days with more varied political parties. Rebellious Democrats teamed up with Republicans to tangle with Roosevelt. Johnson ran the risk that the GOP would ally with Southern Democrats. There was some check.
As Karl Rove pointed out to me recently, the real risk of a 2009 filibuster-proof Senate is that the dissidents are gone. According to Congressional Quarterly, in 1994 Senate Democrats voted with their party 84% of the time. By 1998, that number was 86%. CQ's most recent analysis, of votes during the George W. Bush presidency, showed Democratic senators remained united 91% of the time. Should he get his 60 seats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be arguably more influential than the president.
Sure, 60 votes isn't enough to override a presidential veto. But a filibuster-proof majority would put Mr. Reid in almost complete control of the agenda. That holds equally true whether we have a President McCain or a President Obama.
A lot of voters are drawn to Mr. Obama's promises of bipartisanship. But with a filibuster-proof Senate, what Mr. Obama promised will be of secondary concern. Even if the presidential hopeful is sincere about working across the aisle (and that's a big if), Ted Kennedy, Pat Leahy, Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold will prefer to do things their way. They'll be looking for opportunities to let their former rookie Senate colleague know who is in charge.
Mr. Reid won't necessarily need 60 votes to hold Washington's whip hand. With a contingent of blue-state Republicans (think Maine's Olympia Snowe), Mr. Reid could peel off votes and have an "effective" filibuster with just 57 or 58 seats. That may not be enough to accomplish every last item on his wish list, but close.
That wish list? Take a look at what House Democrats (who aren't burdened with a filibuster) unilaterally passed last year: The biggest tax increase in history; card check, which eliminates secret ballots in union organizing elections; an "energy" bill that lacks drilling; vastly expanded government health insurance; new powers to restrict pharmaceutical prices. Add to this a global warming program, new trade restrictions (certainly no new trade deals) and fewer private options in Medicare.
This explains why Congressional Democrats currently aren't moving spending bills, or energy bills, or anything. They are waiting for next year, when they hope to no longer have to deal with pesky Republicans. This also explains the Senate's paltry judicial confirmations this Congress. They want more vacancies. With a filibuster-proof majority, Democrats could reshape the judiciary under a President Obama, or refuse to confirm any Antonin Scalia-type appointments made by a President McCain.
Party leaders feel the Senate GOP can remain an effective opposition if it holds Democrats to 55 seats. If Republicans can continue to ride the energy debate, that just might be possible. As it is, they are feeling more confident about even tough fights in states like Colorado, Oregon or Minnesota.
Then again, it's a long way to November. Anything can happen. And if Congressional Democrats have their way, that "anything" will be undiluted power in Washington.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / 2 civilians and LEO stop mad bomber
on: August 21, 2008, 08:34:02 AM
Police: Man with bombs 'ready for war' with city
(CNN) -- A police officer and two civilians subdued an armed man who drove to a California probation office with 11 crude bombs, 70 loaded magazines and more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition, police said.
The man, Michael Solano, 54, of Sacramento, was out of jail on bail for a July 18 incident in which police said an explosive device was found in his vehicle at the probation office.
"This guy was ready for war," Yreka Police Chief Brian Bowles said in a written statement. "We were very lucky this guy was stopped and nobody was killed yesterday."
The incident occurred Tuesday afternoon, when people saw Solano acting suspiciously near the Siskiyou County Probation Department and called police, Bowles said.
Solano aimed a gun at an officer, police said. Two civilians then jumped into the fray and, with the officer, subdued Solano and wrestled the gun away, police said.
During the scuffle, Solano repeated that he wanted to be killed and reached for the officer's gun and Taser stun gun, Bowles said.
Solano was handcuffed and searched. Police found a pipe bomb in his shoe, Bowles said. A neighborhood near the probation office was evacuated after Solano told police that he had 10 bombs in his car parked nearby, authorities said.
The bombs were "fragmentation grenades," loaded with nails and BBs, Bowles said. In all, police discovered 70 loaded magazines, more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition, one stolen pistol and two assault weapons. They also found in Solano's car three other weapons, including one with a silencer, surveillance equipment, a tactical vest and clothing with face masks, Bowles said.
Solano was jailed in lieu of $2 million bail, police said. He was charged with possession of a destruction device, transportation of a destruction device and resisting police officer by force, attempting to take an officer's firearm and assault with a firearm on a peace officer. He is facing additional charges, authorities said.
Bowles thanked Brett Duncan and and Darrell Bourne of Yreka, who he said helped subdue Solano.
"We are lucky that the quick response from officers and help from the citizens saved us from a very serious incident," he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Russian Tactical Nukes
on: August 21, 2008, 12:50:51 AM
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Russia's Nuclear Threat Is More Than Words
By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
August 21, 2008; Page A11
What lies behind Moscow's willingness to crush Georgia with overwhelming force? Analysts have highlighted Russia's newfound economic confidence, its determination to undo its humiliation of the 1990s, and its grievances over Kosovo, U.S. missile-defense plans involving Poland and the Czech Republic, and the eastward expansion of NATO.
But there may be another major, overlooked element: Has a shift in the nuclear balance between the U.S. and Russia helped embolden the bear?
Under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which went into force in 1994, both the U.S. and the USSR made radical cuts in their strategic nuclear arsenals -- that is, in weapons of intercontinental range. The 2002 Moscow Treaty pushed the numbers down even further, until each side's strategic nuclear umbrella was pocket-size.
Yet matters are very different at the tactical, or short-range, level. Here, the U.S., acting unilaterally and with virtually no fanfare, sharply cut back its stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear warheads. As far back as 1991, the U.S. began to retire all of its nuclear warheads for short-range ballistic missiles, artillery and antisubmarine warfare. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, not one of these weapons exists today. The same authoritative publication estimates that the number of tactical warheads in the U.S. arsenal has dwindled from thousands to approximately 500.
Russia has also reduced the size of its tactical nuclear arsenal, but starting from much higher levels and at a slower pace, leaving it with an estimated 5,000 such devices -- 10 times the number of tactical weapons held by the U.S. Such a disparity would be one thing if we were contending with a stable, postcommunist regime moving in the direction of democracy and integration with the West. That was the Russia we anticipated when we began our nuclear build-down. But it is not the Russia we are facing today.
Not only has Russia retained a sizable nuclear arsenal, its military and political leaders regularly engage in aggressive bluster about expanded deployment and possible use, and sometimes they go beyond bluster. Six months ago, Russia began sending cruise missile-capable Bear H bombers on sallies along the coast of Alaska.
As recently as July, the newspaper Izvestia floated the idea that Moscow would station nuclear weapons in Cuba if the U.S. went ahead with the deployment of an antiballistic missile radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland. Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, chief of Russia's strategic missile command, has openly spoken about aiming nuclear-tipped missiles at those two countries. Vladimir Putin has warned Ukraine that if it were to join NATO, "Russia will have to point its warheads at Ukrainian territory." Not long before that, Mr. Putin cheerfully described a series of ballistic-missile flight tests as "pleasant and spectacular holiday fireworks."
Such cavalier language stands in striking contrast to the restrained approach of American leaders. "I am committed to achieving a credible deterrent with the lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs," said President George W. Bush in 2001, in one of his rare pronouncements on the subject. "My goal is to move quickly to reduce nuclear forces." Mr. Bush has kept his word and moved quickly. But has he moved wisely? And given the pugnacious Russia that has suddenly emerged, what is the strategic legacy that he will leave for his successor?
The Russians are steadily acquiring economic and military power, and are not afraid to use threats and force to get their way. Even as they abide by the terms of various treaties, while we are standing still they are finding ways to develop new and highly advanced ground- and submarine-based intercontinental missiles, along with modern submarines to carry and launch them.
As in the Cold War, nuclear weapons are central to the Russian geopolitical calculus. "The weak are not loved and not heard, they are insulted, and when we have [nuclear] parity they will talk to us in a different way." These words are not from the dark days of communist yore. Rather, they were uttered last year by Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, and they perfectly capture the mentality we and Russia's neighbors are up against.
Mr. Schoenfeld is the senior editor of Commentary.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: August 21, 2008, 12:15:52 AM
""serial felons" A rather strong term. I don't remember either Bill or Hillary (don't know about the
rest of the family) ever being found guilty of any felony. Maybe I am wrong?"
Well apart from the perjury conviction, no. That said, I mean this accusation in complete seriousness. In my strongly held opinion these two are despicable criminals.
One small example: Hillary's $97,000 in commodity trading was a payoff from Tyson Foods, the largest employer in the state of AK to the wife of gubernatorial candidate Bill. I've read a serious article by the head of IRS commodity trading fraud division during the years in question and in my mind there is no doubt about this. Another small example: Selling presidential pardons. Another small example: Taking $345,000 from Loral Satellite's Bernie Schwartz to bury an investigation into Loral giving the Chinese secret rocket technology by moving it from State Dept review to Commerce Dept. Another small example: Hubster Webbell taking $700,000 from the Chinese fronts the Riady's of Indonesia in return for WH's silence on Hillary's law firm's billing crimes-- the records of which we mysteriously found in her office after the statute of limitations expired. Raising money from the Taiwainese in return for sending a US carrier through the straits between them and China.
There's plenty more. The Clinton's are dirty to the core.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor
on: August 20, 2008, 07:05:00 PM
Violence in Juarez Persists
The bloody turf battles that have been waged for the better part of this year in the northern state of Chihuahua — and in the border city of Ciudad Juarez in particular — continued this past week. The usual cadence of violence in the state was punctuated by two particularly brutal incidents. In the first, eight men armed with assault rifles fired shots at the outside of a drug rehabilitation clinic in Juarez, then entered the building and opened fire again, killing eight people and wounding six others. In the second, at least 13 people — including a 1-year-old child — were killed when a dozen armed men entered a dance hall in Bocoyna, Chihuahua state, and fired indiscriminately at about 100 people celebrating a family gathering. Details of the family’s identity were not released, making it difficult to assess why the family would have been targeted.
The attack on the drug rehab center follows a similar attack during the previous week that left two dead. If the attacks were designed as intimidation to ensure a market of addicts for local distribution of narcotics, it is more likely that a local street gang would have conducted them — as they would have more to lose than would major drug trafficking cartels with markets north of the border. It is also possible, however, that those managing the clinics engaged in other activities detrimental to a cartel or local gang, or refused to cooperate with a local cartel presence. Regardless, the confluence of various criminal groups in the Juarez area and their struggle for control of the city will ensure that incidents like this continue.
Sinaloa Cartel Activities in Central America
Authorities in Costa Rica announced this past week the arrest of a Cuban-American and a Costa Rican believed to control overland drug trafficking routes in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua for the Sinaloa cartel. Authorities seized more than 600 pounds of cocaine from a warehouse during the arrest. The capture follows the seizure earlier this past week in Nicaragua of more than 1.5 tons of cocaine that belonged to a then-unidentified Mexican cartel, as well as the arrest of several Mexican nationals in Panama in possession of more than 150 pounds of cocaine. Authorities do not know how long the cartel had operated the route, but suggested that the Mexicans had only recently arrived in Central America. Reportedly, a lack of trust on their part drove them to more closely oversee the smuggling operation.
The increasing presence of Mexican drug traffickers in Central America is a shift that we have observed over the past year, as maritime and airborne routes to Mexico have become more difficult to use without detection. Several details of these most recent investigations offer keen tactical insight into how drugs are moved from South America to Mexico. Drugs on the route detected in this case, for example, enter Costa Rica via highway through an international port of entry and are kept several days in a safe-house near the border. The shipment is then transported overland across the entire country, entering Nicaragua on horse or on foot at a remote part of the international border. The shipment is then carried to the inland Lake Nicaragua, where is it picked up by boat and transferred to another vehicle as it continues on to Honduras.
Besides these tactical details, this incident offers an opportunity to consider the overall state of the drug trade. It is a testament to the current power of Mexican cartels in general that it is the Mexican groups — and not Colombian groups or others — that have extended their reach into Central America. This reach will not only prove useful for drug trafficking purposes, but also probably will be exploited for delivering drugs to the emerging consumer markets in much of Latin America. The shifts in cartel activity are also a testament to improvements in Mexican aerial and maritime interdiction.
Federal Police on Strike
Several hundred federal police agents in four states carried out a brief work stoppage Aug. 15, demanding additional days off, better pay and more powerful weapons. The strikes — which were carried out by agents assigned to Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, and Tabasco states — left some airport posts in Guanajuato and highway checkpoints elsewhere temporarily abandoned. The Aug. 15 strikes appear to have been a response to the announcement from Mexico City this past week that federal agents would no longer accrue vacation days, therefore making more agents available for duty. The strikes also follow a demonstration this past week by more than 700 federal agents attending a training academy in San Luis Potosi who walked out of class in protest of lax security at the academy. (Several agents have been kidnapped and ambushed in recent weeks while attending the academy.)
Work stoppages, protests and walkouts have become common among state and local Mexican police forces over the past year, as an increase in cartel attacks on police has made the job too dangerous for officers to settle for the salary and working hours they signed on for. Strikes by federal police agents, however, are much less frequent — and their spread could potentially have a devastating impact on the government’s strategy in the cartel war. One clue as to how the government might react to expanded strikes can be drawn from an example we highlighted last week. Following the killing of four federal agents in Michoacan state, a federal police commander there alluded to agents’ concern for safety when he reassuringly announced the arrival of reinforcements and a “change in strategy” to prevent future targeting of agents. A more cautious approach to combating the country’s drug cartels is simply one option of many, which President Felipe Calderon’s administration are likely considering to prevent this latest headache from becoming a more pressing concern.
(click to view map)
A group of alleged drug cartel enforcers verbally threatened reporters in the parking lot of a newspaper building in Nogales, Sonora state.
Three men driving along a highway in Durango state died when they were shot by men armed with assault rifles.
One person died and another was wounded when the vehicle they were traveling in failed to stop at a highway checkpoint in Sonora state. Authorities said the checkpoint — located just a few miles from a federal policy building — had been erected by an organized criminal group.
Authorities discovered the body of a police commander in Huaniqueo, Michoacan state, who was reported kidnapped several days before.
A deputy police chief in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo state, and his bodyguard died when they were shot outside the chief’s home.
Federal authorities revealed that six officials in the anti-organized crime unit (SIEDO) of the federal attorney general’s office were arrested the previous week on charges of spying for the Beltran Leyva drug trafficking organization. An investigation that began several months ago based on military intelligence uncovered a Beltran Leyva counterintelligence ring inside SIEDO that was leaking classified information on cases and upcoming operations.
A deputy police chief in Tepalcatepec, Michoacan state, died when he was shot multiple times by armed men traveling in a vehicle.
Two federal police officers died during a firefight with armed men along a highway in Sinaloa state.
The body of an evangelical pastor who was kidnapped July 23 was found buried behind a safe-house in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. The kidnappers initially demanded $200,000, but the family could only pay about $20,000.
The charred body of an unidentified man who had apparently been shot multiple times was found in the tourist town of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco state.
Two owners of a shipping company were kidnapped simultaneously in separate incidents in Poza Rica, Veracruz.
A group of approximately 20 armed men traveling in 10 vehicles evaded capture after a prolonged pursuit by police in Tijuana, Baja California state.
A firefight between military forces and armed men in Rincon de Romos, Aguascalientes state, left at least one soldier and two gunmen dead.
Authorities in Sonora state reported that a gunbattle between smuggling gangs in Cananea left one person dead and at least three wounded.
Authorities in Aguascalientes state reported the kidnapping of four people, including the police chief of Tepezala, a judge and police commander in the state capital Aguascalientes.
A severed, blindfolded head was found in Ecatepec, Mexico state.
One person died and another was wounded in a firefight between alleged alien smuggling groups in Mexicali, Baja California state.
At least 25 homicides were reported in separate incidents in Chihuahua state during a 36-hour period.
Two police officers were wounded in an apparent assassination attempt in Puebla, Puebla state, during which gunmen fired more than 80 rounds. Some reports indicate the officers were bodyguards for a deputy state attorney general.
Hit men suspected of having ties to a drug cartel opened fire on a family gathering in the town of Creel, Chihuahua state, near the U.S. border, killing 13 people. Masked gunmen fired on the dance hall where a family gathering was taking place. The Mexican government sent 160 federal police and soldiers to the town after the attack.
A firefight between federal police and gunmen traveling in three vehicles along a highway in Colima state left at least one dead.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran's "satellite launch"
on: August 20, 2008, 12:52:35 PM
What Tehran claimed was a successful launch of a “dummy” satellite Aug. 16 is being disputed by Washington — even as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offers to help other Muslim countries launch their own satellites. Despite the likely failure of the launch, the emergence of a multiple-stage satellite-launch vehicle in Iran is a significant event for both Tehran and Washington.
Iran’s claim that it successfully launched a “dummy” satellite Aug. 16 aboard its Safir Omid (“Envoy of Hope”) satellite-launch vehicle (SLV) was followed by two significant developments only days later. On Aug. 18, Tehran offered to help other Muslim nations put their own satellites into orbit, while the United States reported that the Iranian launch failed when the SLV’s second stage began to behave erratically. While the Safir Omid may indeed prove to have limited capability, the Iranian launch attempt was a noteworthy event nonetheless.
The Iranian Missile Program
Iran: The Latest Satellite Launch
United States: The Future of Ballistic Missile Defense
Stratfor has long held that the ability to launch a satellite should not be considered beyond the reach of Iran’s scientists and engineers — an assertion we base largely on the North Korean example. Indeed, cooperation between Tehran and Pyongyang in missile development has been extensive, which means that the former can benefit significantly from the latter’s experience and design work. Based on this cooperation, Tehran already has the raw tools at its disposal to potentially achieve a successful launch.
Both countries’ missile programs rely heavily on the Soviet Scud design, which is itself based largely on the World War II German V-2, the world’s first true ballistic missile. The Scud design heritage is clearly evident in the base of the Iranian SLV’s first stage, where both the external fins (visible in the photo below, marked with Roman numerals) and the mountings for the exhaust vanes are evident.
VAHIDREZA ALAI/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being shown the Safir Omid satellite-launch vehicleThe width of the SLV suggests that its first stage is based on Iran’s Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile, and the distinctively tall height and slenderness that characterize the Iranian SLV is remarkably similar to the North Korean Taepodong-1. The main difference in outward appearance is the width of the second stage.
(click image to enlarge)
This height and slenderness is generally considered to be inefficient by Western engineers. But the Scud is what Pyongyang and Tehran have to work with. Although the design has certainly been stretched further than it ever should have been, Pyongyang very nearly demonstrated in 1998 that it would get the job done.
The payload capacity, in all likelihood, is extremely limited — Iran is likely toying with the capability to orbit a radio transmitter smaller than Sputnik. What’s more, Iranian Scud-extrapolations do not appear to have demonstrated a meaningful level of accuracy to be useful as a military weapon. The limitations of the old Scud design also place upper limits on accuracy. Even if the missile could carry a larger payload, it is unlikely that the payload could be delivered with sufficient accuracy to threaten a specific target smaller than a major urban area. (And Iran’s ability to build a crude nuclear device, much less a weapon capable of being mounted on such a missile, remains in question.)
But SLVs have profound implications for a country’s long-range ballistic missile program. It is now clear that Tehran is tinkering with what appears to be a workable design based on North Korean experience that incorporates a second stage. Although the United States claims the second stage performed erratically, this may suggest that separation and ignition were indeed achieved — a significant step.
Iran has more or less hit a wall in terms of the distance it can cover with a single-stage ballistic missile. To further extend its reach, it must master missile staging. If it eventually succeeds in doing so, Tehran will demonstrate that capability to its domestic audience in the form of a nationalism-inspiring SLV. It will also give credence to Washington’s ballistic missile defense efforts in Europe.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD WSJ
on: August 20, 2008, 12:27:06 PM
Coming from Mayor Daley's Chicago, Barack Obama's promise to transcend the "old politics" has always been viewed with skepticism by Democratic Party bosses. During Pennsylvania's hard-fought Democratic primary in March, Mr. Obama said: "We're not going to pay for votes, or pay for turnout." He was referring to the practice of handing out "street money" -- i.e. cash paid to partisan workers to get out the vote. Mr. Obama wound up losing Pennsylvania badly, with many party leaders blaming his failure to provide the traditional lubrication. One ward leader told me he expected Mr. Obama would change his tune in November if he became the party's nominee.
Indeed he has. The Philadelphia Daily News quotes Congressman Bob Brady, chairman of the city's Democratic Party, as saying street money is now back in vogue. "They [the Obama campaign] told me there are going to be resources here. That's what we do in Philadelphia; we pay people to work," Mr. Brady said.
Mr. Brady went on to say that by his calculations, Mr. Obama needs a massive Philadelphia win in order to carry the state's 21 electoral votes because he doesn't have the support in central and western Pennsylvania that Al Gore or John Kerry enjoyed. "I think we're going to need that because of the middle part of the state. McCain plays right in there," he said.
Of course, the massive size of Democratic margins in Philadelphia (often exceeding half a million votes) has regularly been a subject of controversy. A key state legislative victory by Democrats was thrown out by a federal judge a few years back due to massive vote fraud. The rolls of city voters have for years contained more registrations than the city contains people over 18, according to Census data. These excess registrations represent an open invitation to turn "street money" into phantom votes if a sufficient number of the living kind can't be drummed up.
For all the hype about his successful Internet campaign, it appears Mr. Obama has reluctantly decided that the "old politics" has it uses after all and must now be embraced.
-- John Fund
Even Cowgirls Give the Blues
In filling a nomination slot for their state's vacant House seat yesterday, Wyoming Republicans rejected a moderate candidate who had backed John Kerry over George Bush in favor of a female conservative who was born on a local ranch.
Businessman Mark Gordon was a much-touted symbol of a "kinder, gentler" Republican Party, and campaigned as a relative moderate for the seat now held by retiring Rep. Barbara Cubin. He was an early favorite for the GOP nomination based on a huge fundraising advantage over former state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis. But then Mr. Gordon's political record came tumbling out. Ms. Lummis issued a mailer noting that Mr. Gordon had been "a board member of the Sierra Club" in the 1990s and had supported Democratic nominee John Kerry for president in 2004. "Just what kind of a Republican is he?" the mailer asked.
Mr. Gordon fought back, calling the attack "incendiary" and "designed to throw people off." But his high-flying campaign never recovered. Ms. Lummis won a clear 46% to 38% victory yesterday, sweeping the state's "cow counties."
She must now face Democrat Gary Trauner, who won 49% of the vote against Ms. Cubin in 2006. But he may have a tougher time this year because Ms. Lummis lacks the incumbent's political baggage and because Mr. Trauner suffers from his own "authenticity" issues as an MBA graduate from New York University who moved to Wyoming in the 1990s to become an Internet entrepreneur. Bottom line: This fall's contest looks like a classic contest between the Old West and the New West. My money is on the cowgirl.
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day I
"I got [Senator Evan Bayh] the keynote speech at the `96 Democratic convention, and for three weeks, I played telephone tag with him to try and put on anti-Dole negatives in the speech, but he wouldn't go negative, he wouldn't attack anybody, he was going to be absolutely virginal. So finally, we ended up scheduling his keynote at midnight because there was nothing in it. . . . If [Barack Obama] wants an attack dog for vice president, this is not the guy" -- former Clinton political consultant Dick Morris, ruminating on Fox News on the prospect of Evan Bayh as a Democratic vice presidential candidate.
Quote of the Day II
"First, various regulators put pressure on lenders to loosen underwriting standards for minorities and low-income borrowers. That provided the kindling for the housing bubble. Next, increasing numbers of borrowers started speculating in homes. These borrowers were attracted by adjustable-rate mortgages, because they expected to sell the homes for a profit before the rates adjusted. The fact that we now have such a large inventory of unoccupied homes is consistent with the view that many of the new owners were speculators, not owner-occupants. . . . Although I think it is important to point out the role that government policy played in forcing regulated institutions to relax underwriting standards, I do not think that the private sector is blameless here. There was some very serious mispricing of risk going on" -- economist and blogger Arnold Kling, on the origins of a subprime meltdown.
John McCain may not have the media choir behind him anymore, but he's been on a roll lately and it's starting to show. According to a Reuters/Zogby poll released this morning, the Arizona Senator has finally pulled ahead of Democrat Barack Obama by 46% to 41% among likely voters. Just last month, the same poll showed Mr. Obama ahead by seven points.
"There is no doubt the campaign to discredit Obama is paying off for McCain right now," pollster John Zogby said in a statement. "This is a significant ebb for Obama."
In the same poll, Mr. McCain earned a nine-point edge on the question of which candidate would make a better manager of the economy. Policy shifts could be taking a toll on Obama support, Mr. Zogby notes, especially with the far left of the Democratic Party. "That hairline difference between nuance and what appears to be flip-flopping is hurting him with liberal voters."
Though it was widely skewered by media commentators, a McCain ad comparing Mr. Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton appears now to have been a breakthrough moment just as many Americans were tuning in to the fall race. Mr. McCain followed up with a strong performance at Pastor Rick Warren's presidential forum on Saturday. Even if voters didn't watch, they heard about Mr. McCain's performance from Team Obama -- which accused him of cheating.
Still, Tuesday's Gallup and Quinnipiac polls both showed Mr. Obama continuing to lead, but the race is clearly in flux. A separate Gallup tracking poll out today shows the contest narrowing to a tie in the last five days. "The mainstream media spent months ignoring the National Enquirer's scoop about John Edwards' mistress," writes Robert Stacy McCain, assistant national editor for the Washington Times, in a new posting at the American Spectator Web site. "Now they're ignoring a potentially bigger Democratic scandal: The political incompetence of Team Obama."
That may be an overstatement given the number of handwringing stories about Mr. Obama's failure to "close the deal." But Team McCain is starting to deserve come credit too.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor
on: August 20, 2008, 12:24:30 PM
Geopolitical Diary: The Georgian-Russian Conflict and a Return to Iran
August 20, 2008 | 0139 GMT
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Iranians waited, starving for attention. When last we visited them, the Iranians had met with the United States and the rest of the permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia, had concluded a meeting at which the Iranians were supposed to deliver their answer to demands that they freeze their uranium enrichment program. The United States had given Iran two weeks to provide a clear and satisfactory answer. After the meeting, the United States announced that the Iranians had failed to deliver and therefore new sanctions would be imposed, per prior agreement with the members of the negotiating group.
Just before this, of course, the United States and Israel had very publicly increased the pressure on Iran, carefully orchestrating a sense of impending attack. The Israelis had staged a mock attack on Greece to demonstrate their military capabilities and the United States had carefully released information about the secret exercise’s existence. Reports circulated of Israeli aircraft operating at U.S. air bases in Iraq. The Internet was awash with rumors of a massive U.S. fleet on its way to the Persian Gulf to blockade Iranian ports. Let us pause here for a moment and address all those who wrote in to us asking why we didn’t mention this fleet. For the record, we didn’t write about it because there is no fleet. It was just one of those things that make the blogosphere an exciting place to visit.
Moving forward. At the time, we regarded these threats by the United States as bluffs, but the possibility of sanctions against Iran as very real. And then Georgia intervened. Now, bluffing the Russians on Georgia took precedence over bluffing the Iranians and the U.S. administration went quiet on Iran. Moreover, the very real possibility of additional sanctions has become less real, since the Russians were a key element to those sanctions. If the Russians don’t participate, the Iranians will have to buy European goods through the Russians, an inconvenience with a mark-up but hardly a threat to their national security.
Therefore, as we return to the Iranian crisis, it becomes important to consider what the Russians are going to do and the questions that arise therefrom. First, given the response from NATO on Tuesday that it is still prepared to give NATO membership to Georgia in the future, we ask — are the Russians prepared to participate in the Iranian sanctions regime called for by the United States? Second, and far more important, what is the red line for the Russians? To be more precise, at what point in the American response on NATO do the Russians decide to counter by increasing arms shipments to the Iranians, including the advanced S-300 air defense system, as well as resume supplying nuclear technology for Tehran’s civilian reactor? The United States is at the point where it needs to decide which issue takes priority, Georgia or Iran. We do not see an easy way for the United States to press the Russians on Georgia while also expecting Russian cooperation on Iran.
The Iranians also have important decisions to make. In our view, the Iranians had basically made the decision, in part because they felt isolated from all great powers, to accept the neutralist solution in Iraq and negotiate some settlement on the nuclear program. Now the Iranians must be thoughtfully considering the Russian position toward them and watching to see how far U.S.-Russian relations deteriorate and whether they can recruit an ally. If they can, then all bets on Iraqi stability could be off. Meanwhile, Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr re-emerged from the shadows Tuesday threatening to help drive the Americans from Iraq. That is usually a sign that Iran is testing the water.
Our guess is that the Americans will deal with the problem at hand, which is Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That will mean that after a period of delivering strong messages to the Russians, the United States will back off from doing anything that will cause the Russians to retaliate in Iran. In turn, we will soon see warnings made to Russia replaced by warnings made to Iran, and Russia, having started to reshape its sphere of influence, will resume its cooperation with the United States. Thus, we would expect to see Iran on the front pages again shortly.
If this doesn’t happen, if the administration keeps pounding the Russians and leaves the Iranians back at the ranch, then a very quick and strategic re-evaluation has taken place and we are in a different place indeed. Thus, we will likely see the next phase of this evolution unfold on the front page of the New York Times and Washington Post when the administration leaks new, highly secret plans to attack Iran.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / 85 year old woman makes intruder call cops
on: August 20, 2008, 12:06:18 PM
Armed 85-year-old woman makes intruder call cops
August 19, 2008 - 11:23pm
POINT MARION, Pa. (AP) - An 85-year-old woman boldly went for her gun and busted a would-be burglar inside her home, then forced him to call police while she kept him in her sights, police said. "I just walked right on past him to the bedroom and got my gun," Leda Smith said.
Smith heard someone break into her home Sunday afternoon and grabbed the .22-caliber revolver she had been keeping by her bed since a neighbor's home was burglarized a few weeks ago.
"I said 'What are you doing in my house?' He just kept saying he didn't do it," Smith said.
After the 17-year-old boy called 911, Smith kept holding the gun on him until state police arrived at her home in Springhill Township, about 45 miles south of Pittsburgh.
The boy will be charged with attempted burglary and related offenses in juvenile court, Trooper Christian Lieberum said. He was not identified because of his age.
"It was exciting," Smith said. "I just hope I broke up the (burglary) ring because they have been hitting a lot of places around here."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Quotes of note:
on: August 20, 2008, 09:41:39 AM
“We do not want a deterioration of international relations, we want to be respected. We want our people, our values to be respected. We have always been a peace-loving state. Practically there is not a single occasion in the history of the Russian or Soviet state when we first started military actions. We have not attacked anyone, we only secured the rights and dignity of people as peacekeepers.” —Russia president Dimitry Medvedev
“I could care less about the color of Barack Obama’s skin, but the thinness of it is starting to wear on me.” —Dennis Miller
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Taranto
on: August 20, 2008, 09:11:09 AM
Talk About Audacity!
By JAMES TARANTO
August 19, 2008
Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars this morning, Barack Obama delivered an amazing show of chutzpah. John McCain had addressed the VFW yesterday, and as the Associated Press reports, he was predictably critical of Obama:
McCain . . . said Obama "tried to legislate failure" in the Iraq war and had put his ambition to be president above the interests of the United States. He said the Illinois senator did this by pushing for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq and by voting in the Senate against a major appropriations bill to help fund the troop increase.
Here is Obama's reply:
"One of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism. I have never suggested that Sen. McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same. . . ."
Of course, if Obama were to accuse McCain of picking his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition, everyone would laugh, because it obviously is not true. By contrast, there is quite a bit of evidence that Obama has placed political expediency above national security (for an excellent example, see our item yesterday on his shifting explanations for his original opposition to the liberation of Iraq).
In politics one often hears the charge of hypocrisy: My opponent criticizes me for X, but he has done Y, which is just as bad or worse. Obama's argument here, though, is roughly opposite in form. He concedes that McCain is above reproach on this particular subject and therefore demands that McCain treat him as if he were beyond reproach. Obama's acknowledgment of a McCain virtue is well and good, but it does not mitigate or excuse his own shortcoming.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: August 20, 2008, 09:08:38 AM
August 19, 2008
Pervez Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan for nearly nine years, was forced to resign Monday in the face of moves by the South Asian country’s recently elected coalition government to impeach him. Musharraf’s resignation has been a long time coming, with stops along the way over the last nine months during which he was forced to give up control over the military and then the government.
Almost immediately following his announcement, Pakistanis took to the streets to celebrate, demanding that he be tried for crimes against the nation. Musharraf’s personal fate is of no consequence to the continuity (or discontinuity) in the geopolitics of Pakistan. But the conditions in which he fell from power have wide-ranging geopolitical implications not just in his country, but for U.S. policy toward Southwest Asia.
His exit from the scene symbolizes an end of an era for many reasons. The former Pakistani leader was the pointman in U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in Washington’s war against jihadism, which many Pakistanis — both within the government and in wider society — feel has destabilized their country. Now, the country’s democratic government must search for the elusive balance between domestic and foreign policy considerations. This will prove challenging for all the stakeholders in the post-Musharraf state. It also will complicate (to put it mildly) U.S. efforts to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
A far greater implication of the decline and fall of the Musharraf regime, however, is that the process has altered the nature of the Pakistani state. Until fairly recently, the Pakistani state was as robust as its army’s ability either directly to govern the country or to maintain oversight over civilian administrations. Policies pursued under the Musharraf government generated two very different kinds of potent opposition to the state, however. The state found itself caught between democratic forces on the one hand and Islamist militant forces on the other, something compounded by a deteriorating economic situation.
As a result, for the first time in the history of the country, the army is no longer in a position to step in and impose order as before. Recognizing that any attempt to impose order militarily on a growing crisis of governance would only further destabilize the country, the army’s new leadership has put its weight behind the civilian government. But since Pakistani civilian institutions historically have never really functioned properly, serious doubts about the viability of the newly democratic Pakistan arise.
Musharraf’s decision to quit has greatly empowered parliament, but the legislature is a collection of competing political forces that for most of their history have engaged in zero-sum games. Meanwhile, the civil-military imbalance — despite the desire of the army to back the government — remains a source of tension within the political system. Moreover, at a time when parliament really has yet to consolidate power, the rise of an assertive judiciary is bound to further complicate governance.
Islamabad will be searching for pragmatic prescriptions to balance the domestic sentiment against the war against jihadism with the need to play its role as a U.S. ally and combat the extremism that also threatens Pakistan. At the same time, however, the legislature and the newly empowered judiciary will be playing an oversight role over the actions of the government in keeping with public sentiment. It will emphasize due process, which will force the hands of the government in the fight against both transnational and homegrown militancy. In other words, an already weakened state will be further handicapped in dealing with the need to combat a growing jihadist insurgency.
The multiple problems Pakistan faces now that the military no longer can simply step in and stabilize the system underscore the potentially dangerous situation in the South Asian country. And this has obvious and grave geopolitical implications for the wider region and the United States.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia's foreign minister writes
on: August 20, 2008, 09:02:50 AM
America Must Choose
Between Georgia and Russia
By SERGEY LAVROV
August 20, 2008
In some Western nations an utterly one-sided picture has been painted of the recent crisis in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict. The statements of American officials would lead one to conclude that the crisis began when Russia sent in its troops to support its peacekeepers there.
Meticulously avoided in those statements: The decision of Tbilisi to use crude military force against South Ossetia in the early hours of Aug. 8. The Georgian army used multiple rocket launchers, artillery and air force to attack the sleeping city of Tskhinvali.
Some honest independent observers acknowledge that a surprised Russia didn't respond immediately. We started moving our troops in support of peacekeepers only on the second day of Georgia's ruthless military assault. Yes, our military struck sites outside of South Ossetia. When the positions of your peacekeepers and the civilian population they have been mandated to protect are shelled, the sources of such attacks are legitimate targets.
Our military acted efficiently and professionally. It was an able ground operation that quickly achieved its very clear and legitimate objectives. It was very different, for example, from the U.S./NATO operation against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999, when an air bombardment campaign ran out of military targets and degenerated into attacks on bridges, TV towers, passenger trains and other civilian sites, even hitting an embassy.
In this instance, Russia used force in full conformity with international law, its right of self-defense, and its obligations under the agreements with regard to this particular conflict. Russia could not allow its peacekeepers to watch acts of genocide committed in front of their eyes, as happened in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica in 1995.
But what of the U.S.'s role leading up to this conflict? U.S. involvement with the Tbilisi regime—past and future—must be addressed to fully understand the conflict. When the mantra of the "Georgian democratic government" is repeated time and time again, does it mean that by U.S. standards, a democratic government is allowed to act in brutal fashion against a civilian population it claims to be its own, simply because it is "democratic"?
Another real issue is U.S. military involvement with the government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Did Washington purposely encourage an irresponsible and unpredictable regime in this misadventure? If the U.S. couldn't control Tbilisi's behavior before, why do some in the U.S. seek to rush to rearm the Georgian military now?
Russia, by contrast, remains committed to a peaceful resolution in the Caucasus.
We'll continue to seek to deprive the present Georgian regime of the potential and resources to do more mischief. An embargo on arms supplies to the current Tbilisi regime would be a start.
We will make sure that the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan endorsed in Moscow on Aug. 12 is implemented, provided the parties to the conflict cooperate in good faith. So far we are not sure at all that Tbilisi is ready. President Saakashvili keeps trying to persuade the world that the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali was destroyed not by the Georgian attack but by the Russian forces who, according to Mr. Saakashvili, bombed the city after they entered it.
Russia is committed to the ongoing positive development of relations with the U.S. That kind of agenda is set forth in the Foreign Policy Concept—the framework document that sets out the basic directions of Russia's foreign policy—recently approved by President Dmitry Medvedev.
However, it must be remembered that, as between any other major world powers, our bilateral relationship can only advance upon the basis of reciprocity. And that is exactly what has been missing over the past 16 years. I meant precisely that when I said that the U.S. will have to choose between its virtual Georgia project and its much broader partnership with Russia.
The signs are ominous. Several joint military exercises have been cancelled by the Americans. Now Washington suggests our Navy ships are no longer welcome to take part in the Active Endeavour counterterrorism and counterproliferation operation in the Mediterranean. Washington also threatens to freeze our bilateral strategic stability dialogue.
Of course, that strategic dialogue has not led us too far since last fall, including on the issue of U.S. missile defense sites in Eastern Europe and the future of the strategic arms reduction regime. But the threat itself to drop these issues from our bilateral agenda is very indicative of the cost of the choice being made in Washington in favor of the discredited regime in Tbilisi. The U.S. seems to be eager to punish Russia to save the face of a failed "democratic" leader at the expense of solving the problems that are much more important to the entire world.
It is up to the American side to decide whether it wants a relationship with Russia that our two peoples deserve. The geopolitical reality we'll have to deal with at the end of the day will inevitably force us to cooperate.
To begin down the road of cooperation, it would not be a bad idea to do a very simple thing: Just admit for a moment that the course of history must not depend entirely on what the Georgian president is saying. Just admit that a democratically elected leader can lie. Just admit that you have other sources of information—and other objectives—that shape your foreign policy.
Mr. Lavrov is the foreign minister of the Russian Federation.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: August 20, 2008, 08:58:24 AM
In a similar vein:
Obama: the New Jimmy Carter
Wednesday, August 20, 2008 8:45 AM
By: Dick Morris & Eileen McGann Article Font Size
Last week raised important questions about whether Barack Obama is strong enough to be president. On the domestic political front, he showed incredible weakness in dealing with the Clintons, while on foreign and defense questions, he betrayed a lack of strength and resolve in standing up to Russia's invasion of Georgia.
This two-dimensional portrait of weakness underscores fears that Obama might, indeed, be a latter-day Jimmy Carter.
Consider first the domestic and political. Bill and Hillary Clinton have no leverage over Obama. Hillary can?t win the nomination. She doesn?t control any committees. If she or her supporters tried to disrupt the convention or demonstrate outside, she would pay a huge price among the party faithful.
If Obama lost ? after Hillary made a fuss at the convention ? they would blame her for all eternity (just like Democrats blame Ted Kennedy for Carter?s defeat). But, without having any leverage or a decent hand to play, the Clintons bluffed Obama into amazing concessions.
Hillary will get to play a film extolling her virtues produced by Harry Bloodworth Thomason. Bill will speak on Wednesday night. Hillary?s name will be placed into nomination. She will get to have nominating and seconding speeches on her behalf. And, on Thursday night, the last night of the convention, the roll call will show how narrowly Obama prevailed.
So Obama gave away Tuesday night, Wednesday night and part of Thursday night to the Clintons. It will really be their convention. A stronger candidate would?ve called their bluff and confined the Clintons to one night on which both Hillary and Bill spoke (he would have outshone her). He would have blocked a roll call by allowing a voice vote to nominate by acclimation. He would have stood up to the Clintons and recaptured his own convention.
If Obama can?t stand up to the Clintons, after they have been defeated, how can he measure up to a resurgent Putin who has just achieved a military victory? When the Georgia invasion first began, Obama appealed for ?restraint? on both sides.
He treated the aggressive lion and the victimized lamb even-handedly. His performance was reminiscent of the worst of appeasement at Munich, where another dictator got away with seizing another breakaway province of another small neighboring country, leading to World War II.
After two days, Obama corrected himself, spoke of Russian aggression and condemned it. But his initial willingness to see things from the other point of view and to buy the line that Georgia provoked the invasion by occupying a part of its own country betrayed a world view characterized by undue deference to aggressors.
We know so little about Obama. His experience is so thin that it?s hard to tell what kind of a president he?d be. While he nominally has been in the Senate for four years, he really only served the first two and consumed the rest of his tenure running for president and disregarding his Senate duties.
So we have no choice but to scrutinize his current transactions and statements for some clue as to who he is and what he?d do. In that context, his reaction to the first real-time foreign-policy crisis he faced as a nominee leaves his strength in doubt. So does his palsied response to the Clintons? attempt to make Denver a Clinton convention.
Is Obama an over-intellectualizing Hamlet who is incapable of decisive, strong action? With Iran on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons and Russia resurgent, there isn?t much room for on-the-job learning.
© 2008 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia's relation to Europe
on: August 20, 2008, 08:47:45 AM
NATO's 'Empty Words'
August 20, 2008; Page A18
"Empty words." That's how Moscow glibly dismissed NATO's criticism yesterday of Russia's continued occupation of Georgia. The Russians may be bullies, but like all bullies they know weakness when they see it.
The most NATO ministers could muster at their meeting in Brussels was a statement that they "cannot continue with business as usual" with Russia. There was no move to fast-track Georgia's bid to join NATO, nor a pledge to help the battered democracy rebuild its defenses.
Asked about NATO reconstruction aid, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer pointedly said, twice, that it would go for "civilian infrastructure." So here we have a military alliance going out of its way to stress that it will not be providing any military aid. The alliance didn't even cancel any cooperative programs with Russia, though Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said "one can presume" that "this issue will have to be taken into view." That must have the Kremlin shaking.
NATO leaders also failed to mention Ukraine, another applicant for NATO membership that has angered Moscow in recent years and could become its next target. Also missing was any indication that the alliance would begin making long-delayed plans for defending the Baltic member states and other countries on its eastern flank in case of attack. The only good news of the day was that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will eventually send up to 100 monitors, albeit unarmed, to Georgia.
Meanwhile, Russia found new ways to ignore the West and punish the Georgians who are actually abiding by a cease-fire. After exchanging prisoners with Georgia, Russian troops took about 20 Georgians prisoner after briefly retaking the oil port of Poti, blindfolded them and held them at gunpoint. Russia also sank another Georgian navy vessel and stole four U.S. Humvees that had been used in U.S.-Georgian training exercises and were waiting to be shipped out of the country.
All of this continues the Russian pattern of the past week, in which it agrees to a cease-fire and promises to withdraw, only to leave its forces in place while continuing to damage Georgia's military and even its civilian centers. Russian commanders had the cheek to suggest that a return to the troop placements before war broke out on August 8 means that 2,000 Georgian soldiers would have to return to Iraq, from which they had been airlifted home.
One of Moscow's goals is clearly to humiliate Georgia enough to topple President Mikheil Saakashvili, so he can be replaced with a pliable leader who will "Finlandize" the country, to borrow the old Cold War term for acquiescing to Kremlin wishes. In the bargain, it is also betting it can humiliate the West, which will give the people of Ukraine real doubts about whether joining NATO is worth the risk of angering Moscow. Judging by NATO's demoralizing response on Tuesday, the Kremlin is right.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gorbachev says:
on: August 20, 2008, 07:39:55 AM
By MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
Published: August 19, 2008
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THE acute phase of the crisis provoked by the Georgian forces’ assault on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, is now behind us. But how can one erase from memory the horrifying scenes of the nighttime rocket attack on a peaceful town, the razing of entire city blocks, the deaths of people taking cover in basements, the destruction of ancient monuments and ancestral graves?
Russia did not want this crisis. The Russian leadership is in a strong enough position domestically; it did not need a little victorious war. Russia was dragged into the fray by the recklessness of the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili. He would not have dared to attack without outside support. Once he did, Russia could not afford inaction.
The decision by the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, to now cease hostilities was the right move by a responsible leader. The Russian president acted calmly, confidently and firmly. Anyone who expected confusion in Moscow was disappointed.
The planners of this campaign clearly wanted to make sure that, whatever the outcome, Russia would be blamed for worsening the situation. The West then mounted a propaganda attack against Russia, with the American news media leading the way.
The news coverage has been far from fair and balanced, especially during the first days of the crisis. Tskhinvali was in smoking ruins and thousands of people were fleeing — before any Russian troops arrived. Yet Russia was already being accused of aggression; news reports were often an embarrassing recitation of the Georgian leader’s deceptive statements.
It is still not quite clear whether the West was aware of Mr. Saakashvili’s plans to invade South Ossetia, and this is a serious matter. What is clear is that Western assistance in training Georgian troops and shipping large supplies of arms had been pushing the region toward war rather than peace.
If this military misadventure was a surprise for the Georgian leader’s foreign patrons, so much the worse. It looks like a classic wag-the-dog story.
Mr. Saakashvili had been lavished with praise for being a staunch American ally and a real democrat — and for helping out in Iraq. Now America’s friend has wrought disorder, and all of us — the Europeans and, most important, the region’s innocent civilians — must pick up the pieces.
Those who rush to judgment on what’s happening in the Caucasus, or those who seek influence there, should first have at least some idea of this region’s complexities. The Ossetians live both in Georgia and in Russia. The region is a patchwork of ethnic groups living in close proximity. Therefore, all talk of “this is our land,” “we are liberating our land,” is meaningless. We must think about the people who live on the land.
The problems of the Caucasus region cannot be solved by force. That has been tried more than once in the past two decades, and it has always boomeranged.
What is needed is a legally binding agreement not to use force. Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly refused to sign such an agreement, for reasons that have now become abundantly clear.
The West would be wise to help achieve such an agreement now. If, instead, it chooses to blame Russia and re-arm Georgia, as American officials are suggesting, a new crisis will be inevitable. In that case, expect the worst.
In recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush have been promising to isolate Russia. Some American politicians have threatened to expel it from the Group of 8 industrialized nations, to abolish the NATO-Russia Council and to keep Russia out of the World Trade Organization.
These are empty threats. For some time now, Russians have been wondering: If our opinion counts for nothing in those institutions, do we really need them? Just to sit at the nicely set dinner table and listen to lectures?
Indeed, Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here’s the independence of Kosovo for you. Here’s the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here’s the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?
There is much talk now in the United States about rethinking relations with Russia. One thing that should definitely be rethought: the habit of talking to Russia in a condescending way, without regard for its positions and interests.
Our two countries could develop a serious agenda for genuine, rather than token, cooperation. Many Americans, as well as Russians, understand the need for this. But is the same true of the political leaders?
A bipartisan commission led by Senator Chuck Hagel and former Senator Gary Hart has recently been established at Harvard to report on American-Russian relations to Congress and the next president. It includes serious people, and, judging by the commission’s early statements, its members understand the importance of Russia and the importance of constructive bilateral relations.
But the members of this commission should be careful. Their mandate is to present “policy recommendations for a new administration to advance America’s national interests in relations with Russia.” If that alone is the goal, then I doubt that much good will come out of it. If, however, the commission is ready to also consider the interests of the other side and of common security, it may actually help rebuild trust between Russia and the United States and allow them to start doing useful work together.
Mikhail Gorbachev is the former president of the Soviet Union. This article was translated by Pavel Palazhchenko from the Russian.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Canada
on: August 19, 2008, 10:22:48 PM
Tuesday , August 19, 2008
By Steve Brown
This is part of the America's Future series airing on FOX News Channel, looking at the challenges facing the country in the 21st century.
BRANTFORD, Ontario — Once home to inventor Alexander Graham Bell and hockey great Wayne Gretzky, the small Canadian city of Brantford is now home to a terrorist — and the Canadian government might not do anything about it.
Forty years ago, Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad, a former teacher, joined the terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
On Dec. 26, 1968, Mohammad and another gunman launched an attack on an El Al airliner at Athens International Airport. The two ran up on the tarmac firing guns and, throwing grenades at the passenger jet, wounded a flight attendant as she opened an emergency exit and killed a 50-year-old passenger, Leon Shirdan.
The gunmen were captured, tried and convicted in Greek court, and they were sentenced in 1970 to serve 17 years in prison. But they were released just months later after the PFLP hijacked an Olympic Airways flight and demanded their release as part of a hostage exchange.
In 1987, when a much grayer Mohammad arrived at Canada's doorstep, his entry visa made no mention of his terrorist act. Canadian authorities later determined Mohammad was a convicted terrorist, and they ordered him out of the country.
Yet Mohammad, having repeatedly appealed government orders for his expulsion, has extended his stay for 20 years. He still resides in the same house in Brantford.
"You have many sources to know what you want to know, but don't ask me anything," Mohammad, now 65, said when confronted by FOX News.
The Canadian government has also played a large part in Mohammad's stay; Canada will not send its deportees — even convicted terrorists and murderers — just anywhere .
"The rule is you can't send someone back to [face] torture," said Lorne Waldman, Mohammad's former attorney.
Mohammad's family left for Lebanon after the state of Israel was formed, and despite a government recommendation that he be sent to Lebanon, the Canadian government believes he may be tortured or ill-treated if returned there. Canada will not send him to Israel, and no other country has stepped forward to take him.
These days, Mohammad lives in his Brantford home, tending the fruit trees in his back yard. Despite the terrorist attack he launched in 1968, he is not deemed a threat to public safety.
When asked by FOX News whether he regretted his crime, he would not answer.
"[It's] not your business. [It's] not your business," he said. "This is not your business."
Mohammad calls himself a freedom fighter, not a terrorist. Either way, he is living free in Canada, which doesn't seem to bother his neighbors.
"No, I'm not concerned," said Gayle Cunningham, who lives nearby. "Maybe I should be. Should I be? I don't know."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ review of Trick or Treatment
on: August 19, 2008, 03:54:46 PM
By SCOTT GOTTLIEB
August 19, 2008; Page A15
Trick or Treatment
By Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, M.D.
(Norton, 342 pages, $24.95)
When I was practicing medicine in the Elmhurst section of New York about five years ago, my colleagues and I confronted an epidemic of liver damage among the recently arrived Chinese immigrants who live there. We put these patients through an exhaustive battery of tests for conventional sources of hepatitis, the most likely culprit, but found none. The mysterious illness, we decided, must have been caused by the folk therapies, usually herbal, that our patients often used but rarely disclosed to their doctors. There was little we could do but counsel them to stop. Instead of following our professional advice, though, they usually just added new herbs to their regimen, hoping to solve their liver problems but sometimes making themselves even more ill.
The Elmhurst epidemic was a classic example of the clash -- both cultural and scientific -- between "alternative" and conventional medicine. In this case, the inability of doctors to treat a liver ailment strengthened the false faith of patients in other cures. Usually, alternative medicine is a harmless distraction. And some treatments actually do offer benefits. But going outside modern medical practice also carries dangers.
Luckily, hundreds of studies have examined the purported benefits of various alternative-medicine treatments. In "Trick or Treatment," Simon Singh and Dr. Edzard Ernst report on the results. Ginseng has been proposed as a cure-all for everything from cancer to common colds, but there's no evidence that it does any good. Shiatsu massage appears to be a "waste of effort and expense," the authors say. Many aspects of traditional Chinese medicine, like the use of the herbs aristolochia and liquorice, are potentially harmful. Aromatherapy can relieve stress, but there is not a lick of evidence that it can treat a specific illness. Chelation therapy -- a legitimate method of removing heavy metals such as lead or mercury from the body, but now pitched in alternative-medicine circles as a cure for heart disease and other ailments -- is "disproven, expensive, and dangerous," according to Mr. Singh and Dr. Ernst. They urge patients "not to use this treatment."
Some alternative remedies, it should be said, do appear to have value. There is evidence that St. John's Wort can help mild depression, although probably not as well as conventional antidepressants. Echinacea may be able to help relieve symptoms of the common cold, and perhaps reduce the length of illness, but so can many better understood conventional remedies that are sold over the counter. "It seems bizarre," the authors note, in light of the disappointing results, "that alternative treatments are touted as though they offer marvelous benefits."
Dr. Ernst is not a dispassionate observer. He is a pioneer in the field of complementary medicine -- a branch of the medical profession whose practitioners prescribe selective alternative treatments. But he is also a scourge of too-large claims made for his field. Based at the University of Exeter in England, he leads a research group that has spent 15 years studying alternative remedies, trying to separate snake oil from science. Mr. Singh, his co-author, is a science journalist whose books include "Fermat's Enigma" and "Big Bang." Together they conclude, after cataloging the evidence, that most of the popular forms of alternative medicine are "a throwback to the dark ages." Too many alternative practitioners, they say, are "uninterested in determining the safety and efficacy of their interventions."
And safety is a real concern. "Chiropractors who manipulate the neck can cause a stroke . . . some herbs can cause adverse reactions or can interfere with conventional drugs." The authors are particularly hard on homeopathy, the practice of using ultradilute solutions of common substances. The solutions are so dilute, though, that they are often little more than water. "Homeopathic remedies, which of course contain no active ingredient, can be dangerous if they delay or replace a more orthodox treatment," Mr. Singh and Dr. Ernst write, calling homeopathy "the worst therapy encountered so far -- it is an implausible therapy that has failed to prove itself after two centuries and some 200 clinical studies."
"Trick or Treatment" includes a brisk history of our evidence-based approach to medicine, tracing the development of the modern clinical trial from its earliest days, when scurvy was shown to be caused by insufficient vitamin C and bleeding was debunked as a medical cure. Unfortunately, the evidence of clinical trials is largely ignored when it comes to alternative medicine.
So the treatments persist: Americans spend an astonishing $3 billion annually on chiropractors and about $1.5 billion on homeopathy, not to mention billions more for herbal remedies. Government is complicit: Most states mandate health-insurance coverage for chiropractic visits, and many states direct insurers to cover the cost of acupuncture -- another remedy with far fewer benefits than are commonly claimed for it.
Why is there so much blind faith? Mr. Singh and Dr. Ernst blame media hype, celebrities and even certain doctors -- complementary-medicine doctors for shading facts but also, importantly, conventional doctors whose high-handedness breeds patient frustration, opening the door to the seductions of alternative medicine.
"Alternative medicine is not so much about the treatments we discuss in this book," the authors write, "but about the therapeutic relationship. Many alternative practitioners develop an excellent relationship with their patients that helps to maximize the placebo effect of an otherwise useless treatment." To bring all treatments in line with rigorous science, an "excellent relationship" between doctor and patient is a good place to start.
Dr. Gottlieb, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is a former official at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.