“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Elliot Spitzer Claims No Connection with Driver's License and Voting. Spitzer is a Liar.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with voting."

This is an application form to vote in New York State. By filling in this form and providing a New York State driver's license, you can participate in the direction and fate of The United States of America. Any illegal immigrant can now get a New York State driver's license. They can get on a plane in New York City and fly to Washington DC. They can now evade any internal security installed by the federal government. They can get a voter's registration card. Elliot Spitzer is also a liar of the first order. Look at the form for applying to vote in New York State and then read this transcript from CNN.

HETRY: One of your most vocal opponents has of course been right here in the walls of CNN, Lou Dobbs. He actually went as far last week as to call you an idiot before apologizing for saying that on the air.

Let's hear what he said last night.


I really don't care anymore about what this governor, this arrogant abuser of his office -- and the just absolute disdain with which he holds both the truth and the citizens of the state of New York. This man is sitting here putting together a three-tier system in which he is going to give voter registration privileges to people he knows are illegal?


CHETRY: Do illegal immigrants get voter registration privileges?

SPITZER: Look, I'm not going to demean myself by getting into a back and forth with somebody who on TV spews venom, hate and fundamental misinformation. Of course not. He knows it.

This has absolutely nothing to do with voting. This is something seven other states do for security.

The director of Homeland Security has said we improve security by knowing who is there. As I said, it's beneath me, it's beneath my office, to, in any way, involve myself with Lou Dobbs. And I think his knowing spread of venom is beneath CNN as well.

CHETRY: Now, so just that we're clear, though, if you're undocumented you will not be able to vote even if you do get this ID?

SPITZER: Of course not. Voting is limited to citizenship. This is getting a driver's license so we know who is driving so that fewer accidents and more security. Security is what we are about. Understand, we got into 9/11 because people wanted to ignore the problem. We're not ignoring the problem of the million people here in New York. We're confronting it.

Confronting it by saying they're here, let's know who they are, give them licenses, let us forge a system that permits us to improve security, which is precisely what the federal government has said we would do. Seven other states have done it.

The sort of racist venom that has underlined much of the criticism I think is shameful because what we are really talking about here is security and how we run our society.

CHETRY: Governor Spitzer, I'm glad you came on our show and had a chance to share your side. We appreciate it.

Thanks for being with us.

Should British Liberals Just Be Put Up Against the Wall?

There are many ways to purge a society or a think tank, not that there is anything wrong with it.

Christmas should be 'downgraded' to help race relations says Labour's favourite think tank
Last updated at 22:26pm on 31st October 2007

National celebration: But could Christmas soon be 'downgraded'?

Christmas should be downgraded in favour of festivals from other religions to improve race relations, says an explosive report.

Labour's favourite think-tank says that because it would be hard to 'expunge' Christmas from the national calendar, 'even-handedness' means public organisations must start giving other religions equal footing.

The leaked findings of its investigation into identity, citizenship and community cohesion also propose:

• 'Birth ceremonies', at which state and parents agree to 'work in partnership' to bring up children

• Action to 'ensure access' for ethnic minorities to 'largely white' countryside

• An overhaul of Britain's 'imperial' honours system

• Bishops being thrown out of the House of Lords

• An end to 'sectarian' religious education

• Flying flags other than the Union Jack.

The report by the Institute for Public Policy Research was commissioned when Nick Pearce, now head of public policy at Downing Street, was its director.

IPPR has shaped many Labour policies, including ID cards, bin taxes and road pricing.

The report robustly defends multiculturalism - the idea that different communities should not be forced to integrate but should be allowed to maintain their own culture and identities.

And it says immigrants should be required to acquire some proficiency in English and other aspects of British culture 'if - but only if - the settled population is willing to open up national institutions and practices to newcomers and give a more inclusive cast to national narratives and symbols'.

It adds: 'Even-handedness dictates that we provide public recognition to minority cultures and traditions.

'If we are going to continue as a nation to mark Christmas - and it would be very hard to expunge it from our national life even if we wanted to - then public organisations should mark other religious festivals too.

'We can no longer define ourselves as a Christian nation, nor an especially religious one in any sense.

'The empire is gone, church attendance is at historically low levels, and the Second World War is inexorably slipping from memory.'

The report, written by IPPR advisers Ben Rogers and Rick Muir, calls on Ministers to launch an 'urgent and upfront campaign' promoting a 'multicultural understanding of Britishness'.

'Multiculturalism can be shown to provide for a fairer and more liberal society and does not necessarily lead to social division and community conflict, as its critics have claimed,' it says.

Councils must act to 'ensure children mix and are able to form friendships with pupils from different backgrounds'.

The report adds: 'Any liberal state should recast the civic oaths and national ceremonies, or institutions like Parliament and the monarchy, in a more multi-religious or secular form and make religious education less sectarian.'

The presence of bishops in the House of Lords, for instance, is condemned as an 'anachronism' that should be removed.

The system in which parents are required to register a new baby at a register office is dismissed as 'purely bureaucratic'.

The occasion should be transformed into a 'public rite', using citizenship ceremonies for immigrants as a model, the report says.

'Parents, their friends and family and the state [would] agree to work in partnership to support and bring up their child.'

Rural Britain, the report complains, 'remains a largely white place'.

Much more needs to be done to 'ensure access' to the countryside for black and ethnic minority groups, disabled people and children from inner-city areas.

Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative spokesman on community cohesion, said: 'Their comments betray a breathtaking misunderstanding of what it is to be British. These proposals could actually damage cohesion.'

She added: 'You don't build community cohesion by throwing out our history and denying the fundamental contribution Christianity has played and does play to our nation.

'As a British Muslim I can see that - so why others can't just staggers me.'

And she attacked ceremonies to mark the registration of a baby.

'The thought of Gordon Brown sharing responsibility with me for bringing up my children sends a shiver down my spine. I thought we got rid of communism?'

Is Google Worth $700 a Share?

Is it possible that this company's stock could actually be worth this kind of money? Or is this more market insanity?
Google stock barrels through $700

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer

Google Inc.'s stock price barreled through $700 for the first time Wednesday, propelled by a belief that the Internet search leader will become even more profitable as it plants its products and services in new markets.

The Mountain View-based company's shares traded as high as $704.79 in morning trading before falling back to $703.87, up $9.10 for the session. It took less than a month for the stock to leap from $600 to $700, building upon a fervor that has lifted Google's market value by more than 30 percent since mid-September.

During that 6 1/2-week stretch, Google has created an additional $53 billion in shareholder wealth. That dwarves the total $41 billion market value of another Internet icon, Yahoo Inc., which had a 4-year head start on Google.
The article is all about the speculative frenzy but not a word about actual earnings. These are volatile days with money running from one market to the other. After the tech bubble, the vast amounts of capital rushed into real estate until that bubble burst, now with interest rates dropping, money looks for the best return which today is the stock market but mindless speculation will only lead to more misery. The Fed is expected to drop interest rates again today. Although this is at the expense of the falling dollar that money is going somewhere and it appears that the Stock Markets are the benefactors. With so many American families holding stocks, this could be very good for the US economy if the Market doesn't go totally insane. Mortgage holders have been refinancing and another round of rate cuts will allow even more people to free up money with lower interest rates. If we can tolerate higher oil prices for just a little longer...

The US Should Not Outsource Sovereignty. What's Up with the US Navy ?

Getting LOST
By James Inhofe
October 30, 2007 Washington Times

What if I were to tell you that at this very moment in the halls of the Senate, legislation is being considered that will govern 70 percent of the earth's surface, threaten the very sovereignty of our country and, worse, without the efforts of a select few, would have become law years ago? What if I added that our enemies are waiting in the wings for us to make this historic blunder by accepting legislation that effectively cedes our autonomy to international organizations such as the United Nations?

If you are of the small percentage of Americans who has heard of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or simply the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST), I congratulate you on being ahead of the curve. If you have not heard of LOST, you soon will, as we are gearing up in the Senate for a fight against one of the most far-reaching international challenges to American sovereignty we have ever faced.

LOST was conceived in the late 1970s as a way of governing all activities that occur on and beneath the surface of the world's oceans. The treaty's central aims, those of defining the corridors of water surrounding a country and standardizing the rules of navigation through these corridors, are innocent enough and are probably needed to govern and safeguard the ever-increasing use of the high seas. It is for this reason that the U.S. Navy, as is often touted, has given its endorsement of the treaty. The rules concerning navigation, however, only act as a cover for the treaty's true intent — to subvert the overwhelming economic and military advantages of the United States.

Why then would the Navy support such a treaty? Part of the endorsement stems from the fact that the Navy is highly supportive of the aforementioned rules of navigation. The Navy also argues, and textually it is true, that military activities are exempted. Certainly, if this were the case, many of the fears I have expressed would be allayed. However, this will not prove to be the case.

"Military activities," though exempted, are not defined in the text of the treaty. What is military in nature to the Navy may not be interpreted in the same manner by an international tribunal or arbitration panel overseeing such a case. Before you know it, military exercises would be deemed as threats against the maritime ecosystem, stronger sonar designed to combat quieter enemy submarines would be deemed damaging to marine wildlife, and activities conducted within the territorial waters of another country would be intelligence or propaganda operations, not necessarily "military." Private contractors, who are currently being employed to deliver military assets into areas of operations, would also be deemed ineligible for an exemption. All of these activities would be subject to compulsory dispute resolution before an international tribunal.

It is important to note that no foreign or international entity could actually force the United States into any international court. The United States could go on about its business as if everyone else in the world is misinterpreting the treaty — but our standing in the world would suffer because of this.

No matter how right we may be in our conduct on the high seas, this treaty will give our enemies the opportunity to stand in front of the United Nations and criticize the United States for its unwillingness to fulfill its treaty obligations. We do not need a treaty that puts our standing in the world in this predicament. Our enemies are waiting for this opportunity.

Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, is a member of the Armed Services Committee and ranking member if the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Worried About Iranian Arms in Iraq? Look Closer to Home. Say Venezuela.

An Su-30MK is more fun than a machete

Iraq and Afghanistan may be worthy endeavors but they sure are sucking up a lot of oxygen from other US interests. Latin America is our home turf. There are enough natural and human resources in the Americas and enough shared culture and values to enrich an area that stretches to both polar regions. Create stability and growth in all American countries and you create opportunities and wealth. The US clearly has greater interests in Venezuela than in Kosovo and would be far better off buying from Mexican or Nicaraguan factories than from factories in Guangzhou. When will that lesson be learned?

Published: Monday, October 29, 2007
Bylined to: Reporters

Moscow expects doubling or trebling of Russia's weapons sales to Venezuela

Moscow expects a doubling or trebling of Russia's weapons sales (currently amounting to US$4 billion) in agreements with Venezuela over the next few years, according to Russian state arms exporting agency Rosoboronexport executive Serguei Ladiguin.

"We have initialed agreements for US$4 billion with Venezuela and we are to at least double or treble this sum," Ladiguin told Russian television in a direct broadcast from Caracas, where he was taking part in Venezuela-Russia bilateral cooperation meetings.

Ladiguin stressed that Russia and Venezuela are drafting supply agreements for warships, warplanes and helicopter gunships, as well as a wide range of weapons for the Army.
Reported by Interfax, Ladiguin reminded his audience that Moscow is actually supplying Su-30 warplanes, different types of helicopter gunships and cargo choppers, as well as Kalashnikov rifles to Venezuela and that Russia is also building three military manufacturing facilities in Venezuela ... one Kalashnikov manufacturing plant, an ammunutions factory and one helicopter maintenance and repair workshops.

Over the last few years, Venezuela has made significant weapon purchases from Russia, including 24 Su-30MK warplanes, 50 helicopter gunships and cargo choppers, Tor-M1 anti-aircraft defense systems and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles.

Ladiguin confirmed that Rosoboronexport has an interest in consolidating its position in the Latin American marketplace.

"We do believe our company can offer a lot to Latin America, particularly in transferring certain technologies and supplying a number of equipment, not only military items."

Republicans, Grow a Backbone. Sieze the Moment.

Events in the World are presenting an opportunity to positively change the US Social Security System. The Democrats, handcuffed by their doctrinaire rhetoric, cannot make the bold move. Republicans can change the subject of the campaign and form a winning strategy based on the financial security of American pensioners. The opportunity, discussed in our previous post, has to do with the recent formation of sovereign funds , by countries bursting with US dollars. The article below is telling: ...
About two dozen countries have established sovereign wealth funds, including Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Kuwait, Australia and Russia. While precise data about each of the funds can be difficult to obtain, most Wall Street analysts agree that the value of the funds has reached about $2 trillion and is likely to grow at least fivefold by 2012."

The US may be in deficit, but the US Social Security System is in surplus. The political ball is there to be snatched up. The US has to get into the game and while the rest of the world is recycling their surplus, we can solve the unfunded liability of the social security system at a time when many American families are losing anticipated equity growth in their homes.

Oil and Trade Gains Make Major Investors Of Developing Nations

By David Cho and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 30, 2007; Page A01

The government of Libya, flush with oil, has amassed $40 billion and is ready to put it in play on Wall Street. China recently acquired a huge stake in one of the biggest names in U.S. finance. Tiny Qatar is adding $1 billion a week to its investment coffers and is trying to buy the leading grocer in Britain.

Developing nations, especially in Asia and the Middle East, are aggressively stockpiling some of the largest concentrations of investment money in history. The cash hoards, called sovereign wealth funds, are controlled not by state-run companies or private investors but by governments.

These investment pools are equal to or even bigger than the largest pension and private-equity funds in the United States, and many are highly secretive about their activities. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has an estimated $875 billion to invest, while China's first stab at a sovereign wealth fund, which started last month, has $200 billion. The largest private-equity firm has about $90 billion under management.

Sovereign wealth funds have been around for decades. But enriched by the surge in the price of oil, which settled at a record $93.53 yesterday, and the trade gap between the United States and Asia, these funds have grown to gigantic proportions. This has alarmed U.S. politicians and regulators, some of whom held a series of meetings on the topic here this month. Some on Wall Street say the growing prominence of these funds portends a fundamental shift in financing power away from Western nations.

"It's evidence of the emergence of the developing world as an economic superpower and . . . of a shift of economic power away from the United States," said Alex Patelis, head of international economics at Merrill Lynch.

In the past, these funds had largely been content to hold safe, low-yielding investments such as U.S. Treasurys. Now, with the expectation that Treasury yields could be low for years and the recent weakening in the U.S. dollar, they are seeking higher returns and taking bigger risks.

Some are buying stakes in key industries in the United States and Europe, including banks, ports, stock exchanges and energy companies. Others are looking beyond opportunities in the West, shoring up Asian banks and building Africa's infrastructure.

The new, more aggressive investing strategy is reigniting nationalistic sentiments around the world. Germany has been alarmed at Russia's move to acquire stakes in pipeline and utility companies. New Zealand opposed an effort by Dubai investors to take over a major airport.

In the United States, lawmakers reacted strongly against a state-run Chinese firm that tried to take over a U.S. oil company in 2005 and a Dubai firm that wanted to buy U.S. seaports last year. But the response to sovereign wealth funds has been more mixed.

Few eyebrows on Capitol Hill were raised when Dubai paid $825 million for U.S. clothing retailer Barneys in June and followed it with a 19.9 percent stake in the Nasdaq Stock Market last month. But some officials are concerned about what other kinds of businesses might be bought by governments that are secretive about their investment activities. It would be difficult to know whether these countries are just aiming to make money or have ulterior motives.

The emergence of sovereign funds "challenges us to ask whether these many benefits of markets and private ownership will be threatened if government ownership in the economy . . . becomes more significant," said Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox at a speech at Harvard University last week. "When the regulator and the regulated are one and the same, deference to [sovereign wealth funds] can all too easily trump vigorous and neutral enforcement."

"You can see already in 10 to 20 years these funds are going to lead to a sophisticated asset-management system in Asia and the Middle East," said Patelis, of Merrill Lynch. "We already have huge interest among our clients to link up with these funds. Everybody wants us to introduce them."...
the rest here

Laterals Heard Round the World. Division III college football game between Trinity and Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In 2004, the Democrats Opposed Putting Social Security Funds in Stocks. Since then, SP500 Goes from 1040-1500. Up 44%.

The big thing today, that sends shivers down the spines of Democrats, are sovereign funds. These are mostly US currency and US treasury bonds held by the Arabs, Chinese, Russian and other Asian government central banks. The sovereign funds exceed two trillion dollars. The Communists, wisely, have decided to do something useful with their piles. They are going to invest them, hopefully in the US market.

We had a chance to get in on the action but our Democratic rulers and masters in Washington are counter-intuitive. They unlike, the Chinese, do not trust the market, except of course for their own private equities. The Democrats scared our Republicans poopless over the surplus social security funds. Privately, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Edwards and Democratic money man George Soros, have piles of money, and the piles gets bigger and bigger, because they are invested in US stocks and bonds. They denied that benefit to American pensioners.

That was easy for them to do in America because of one persistent American surplus, economic illiteracy. We have that by the bazillions.

No one can beat us in mass stupidity when it comes to to misunderstanding our own economic and capitalist system, courtesy of the trillions spent on US public education.

Maybe we will catch on when the surpluses in social security run out. Here is what the Republicans should be reminding the American public about what the leftist Democrats said in 2004:

Twelve Reasons Why Privatizing Social Security is a Bad Idea
Greg Anrig, Jr., Bernard Wasow, The Century Foundation, 12/14/2004

Addressing Social Security’s potential long-term financing challenges by taking the dramatic step of diverting its payroll taxes to create new personal accounts will have drastic consequences for federal finances, future retirees, and those who rely on the system the most. Learn more about twelve major reasons why less costly and less painful reforms should be considered instead.

Reason #1: Today's insurance to protect workers and their families against death and disability would be threatened.

Reason #2: Creating private accounts would make Social Security's financing problem worse, not better.

Reason #3: Creating private accounts could dampen economic growth, which would further weaken Social Security's future finances.

Reason #4: Privatization has been a disappointment elsewhere.

Reason #5: The odds are against individuals investing successfully.

Reason #6: What you get will depend on whether you retire when the market is up or down.

Reason #7: Wall Street would reap windfalls from your taxes.

Reason #8: Private accounts would require a new government bureaucracy.

Reason #9: Young people would be worse off.

Reason # 10: Women stand to lose the most.

Reason #11: African Americans and Latin Americans also would become more vulnerable under privatization.

Reason #12: Retirees will not be protected against inflation.

Marijuana is a Leaf. Is Heroin Just Sap?

'Marijuana is not a drug, it's a leaf,' says Schwarzenegger
By Ciar Byrne, Arts and Media Correspondent Independent
Published: 29 October 2007

Already facing enough problems with the wild fires that have swept California, the state's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have stepped into a new row by claiming that marijuana is not a drug. In an interview with GQ magazine, the Hollywood star turned governor of California insisted: "I didn't take any drugs."

The interviewer, former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan, put it to the star that he had admitted smoking marijuana in the past. In Pumping Iron, the bodybuilding documentary which launched his career 30 years ago, he was shown taking a drag on a spliff.

"That is not a drug. It's a leaf," said Austrian-born Mr Schwarzenegger, 60. "My drug was pumping iron, trust me," he added.

When George Butler's critically acclaimed 1977 documentary Pumping Iron was re-released in 2002, before Mr Schwarzenegger ran for governor of California, he was unconcerned by the scene showing him smoking marijuana, saying – in a pointed reference to former US president Bill Clinton who claimed never to have inhaled: "I did smoke a joint and I did inhale. The bottom line is that's what it was in the Seventies, that's what I did. I have never touched it since." Mr Schwarzenegger said that it was not necessarily a matter of public interest whether politicians had taken class-A drugs.

He said: "What would you rather have? A politician taking the stuff and not saying, but making the best decisions and improving things? Or a politician who names the drugs he or she has taken but makes lousy decisions for the country?"

The Republican governor, renowned for his green policies, said Washington had not done enough on the environment. "So we pick up the slack and show the rest of the world America is not just Washington. There are 600 mayors in America who have joined the Kyoto treaty. For us, it is very important that America gets back the great reputation it once had."

He said: "I think we have to do everything we can as a country to get out of the Iraq war, and to take a lead on the environment."

Despite his insistence that the US must finish the war in Iraq, Mr Schwarzenegger included Tony Blair in a list of the greatest leaders in history, alongside Nelson Mandela, John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Rotten Fruit of Secular Society

  • a clockwork (mechanical, artificial, robotic) human being (orange - similar to orang-utan, a hairy ape-like creature), and
  • the Cockney phrase from East London, "as queer as a clockwork orange" - indicating something bizarre internally, but appearing natural, human, and normal on the surface


British man jailed for urinating on disabled woman as she lay dying in street

The Associated Press

LONDON — A man who urinated on a disabled woman as she lay dying in the street while his friend filmed the incident was sentenced Friday to three years in prison.

Anthony Anderson, 27, was found guilty of the charge of outraging public decency in the attack on Christine Lakinski, 50, who collapsed in a street in Hartlepool, northeast England, in July.

Lakinski, who had physical and learning disabilities, fell and hit her head while walking home. A post mortem determined she died of pancreatic failure.

Prosecutors said Anderson, who was celebrating his birthday with friends, kicked Lakinski on the foot, poured a bowl of water over her, then urinated on her as a friend filmed the assault on a mobile phone. He also sprayed her with shaving foam in the attack which lasted half an hour.

Prosecuter Sue Jacobs said one of the group shouted "This is YouTube material" during the attack.

The group left Lakinski motionless on the sidewalk and called an ambulance about 20 minutes later after they got ready to go to a nightclub. Paramedics arrived around an hour after Lakinski collapsed and found no sign of life.

Anderson, a former soldier, pleaded guilty last month. At the end of the trial his lawyer, Paul Cleasby, apologized to Lakinski's family on behalf of his client.

"He cannot explain why he did it," Cleasby said.

Judge Peter Fox called the episode "a shockingly sad story."

"You violated this woman in an incredible way and the shocking nature of your acts over a prolonged period of time must mean that a prison sentence of greater length is appropriate in this case," he said in passing the sentence at Teesside Crown Court.
He can't explain why he did it? Maybe this will: England has a drinking problem. When I read this story my first thought was A Clockwork Orange.

Set in a future England (ca. 1995, imagined from 1965), the film follows the life of a teenage boy named Alex DeLarge (McDowell) whose pleasures are classical music (most especially Beethoven), rape, and ultraviolence. He is leader of a small gang of thugs, whom he refers to as his "droogs" (from the Russian word друг meaning friend or buddy). Alex narrates most of the film in "nadsat"; the fractured, contemporary adolescent argot comprising Slavic (especially Russian), English, and Cockney rhyming slang. The boy Alex is irreverent and abusive of others; he lies to his parents to skip school and has an expensive stereo sound deck blasting a classics recordings collection.

After drinking narcotic-laden milk at the Korova Milk Bar, Alex and his droogs beat an old drunken tramp (an Irish immigrant) under a motorway flyover. They then proceed to a derelict casino, where a rival gang led by Billyboy are about to rape a woman. A fight between the two gangs ensues; Alex and his droogs emerge victorious and leave before the police arrive. Alex and the gang steal a Durango 95 (a fictional sports car) for a drive into the countryside, where he leads his droogs in a home invasion, beating a reclusive writer named Mr. Alexander and raping his wife while singing and dancing to "Singin' in the Rain".
It is a sad thing to watch a society as it's soul dies but that's what we are witnessing throughout the world today. The rotten fruit of secular society.

What is Achievable in Afghanistan?

How does he do it?

Shortly after the Northern Alliance and US special ops routed the Taliban, there was great optimism for a new and changed Afghanistan. At a minimum, Afghanistan was to be prevented from hosting training camps for terrorism. There was hope for a more open and tolerant society. It was recognized that Europe also had an interest in a stable Afghanistan and Nato would provide the military mantle. 

Without willing cooperation from the Afghan people, no long term solution will work in Afghanistan.

Is there an internal political arrangement that can be a basis for stability and governance of Afghanistan? Can such a convention succeed without representation and participation of the loathsome Taliban? I doubt it. 

The US is having a difficult enough time getting and maintaining participation from other Nato allies. President Karzai holds authority by a thread from his very handsome shawl. Forget about what we would all prefer. US policy should be based on pragmatism and achieving the achievable at a tolerable price. Fire at will.

Afghans see mounting attacks, civilian deaths as NATO failure

  • Taliban using roadside explosions, suicide attacks to target troops
  • ‘Unwarranted house searches’ creating bad blood between troops and civilians

By Daud Khattak Pakistan Daily Times

KABUL: Scared of the increasing number of attacks on Afghan and foreign troops, NGO workers and government officials, kidnapping of foreigners, and the growing number of civilian casualties in military operations by emboldened Taliban rebels, many Afghans are questioning the role of NATO and the US-led coalition in bringing peace and stability to their country.

While the fledgling Afghan police and army are an easy target for militants in volatile southern and southeastern parts of the country, the well-armed NATO and US-led Coalition troops, numbering around 50,000, are not safe either inside their bases.

New tool: Copying tactics from Iraqi insurgents, Taliban in Afghanistan are now using roadside explosions and suicide attacks to target foreign and local troops instead of engaging in direct conflict.

The kidnapping of two Germans - one of them was later killed and the other freed recently - in July from the Jaghato district of Maidan Wardak, 40 kilometres south of Kabul, and that of 23 Koreans in Qarabagh district of Ghazni, points to the fact that even highways and cities in close proximity to Kabul are no longer secure.

Kabul University analyst and Professor Wadir Safi said the situation was drifting towards anarchy. “Unfortunately, the international community missed the opportunity of bringing peace to Afghanistan during the Bonn Conference,” he told Daily Times.

He said the non-inclusion of Taliban in the Bonn Process and giving representation to warlords accused of human rights violations had been a costly blunder. To remedy the situation, he suggested, the best option was to invite Taliban and other dissidents to meaningful negotiations.

Bad blood: Besides rising militant attacks, mounting civilian casualties and house searches by NATO and coalition troops are also creating resentment among Afghans. Safi said the “unwarranted house searches” run counter to Afghan culture.

Foreign forces often storm into houses in the Pashtun-dominated southern provinces, an act that has been fuelling anger against them. As for the civilian casualties, he said the Afghans, who welcomed the foreign troops as saviours, now wanted them out of the landlocked country.

Seven civilians were reported dead and more were wounded as NATO aircraft pounded an area in Jalrez, a district of Maidan Wardak province, two days before Eid. The district was once again bombed on October 22 and locals claimed 11 members of a family perished in the imprecise airstrike.

However, NATO officials said no civilians had died in the bombing. Major Charles Anthony, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, told Daily Times that investigations into the bombardment proved no civilian was killed or injured.

Asked about the killing of residents in ground operations or what ISAF calls “incidents of mistaken identity,” Major Anthony replied the NATO-led forces always try to avoid civilian deaths in its operations. However, he hastened to add the Taliban were using civilians as human shields.

On the situation growing out of widespread insecurity in the provinces and rising collateral damage in military operations, analyst Muhammad Hasan Haqyar feared it could lead to a total collapse of the system.

About the Taliban claim that dozens of districts in the volatile southern and southeastern regions were under their control, Haqyar said the writ of the Afghan government was mainly restricted to Kabul or only a few provinces.

While the southern and eastern parts are controlled by the Taliban or men loyal to the Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, powerful commanders are in control in the northern and western parts of the country.

NATO restricted: Haqyar claimed NATO troops had virtually been restricted to their bases in main cities and did not dare chase rebels in mountainous terrain or other places where they had pockets of support. “The most they (NATO/coalition) can do is to bomb areas and that usually results in large-scale civilian deaths.”

The gravity of the situation can be gauged from a recent speech of President Hamid Karzai, who literally broke into tears while lashing out at the foreign troops for “killing our children, women and the elderly in airstrikes”. He was referring to civilian casualties in the lawless Helmand province.

Besides Karzai, his international backers and the United Nations have also expressed concern over the mounting civilian casualties time and again. Reacting to a fresh incident outside Kabul, a UN spokesman told journalists at a news conference last week “civilian casualties in military operations are intolerable”.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Like Old Family Portraits in the Flea Market

Marrakech, Morocco by Winston Churchill
given to Harry Truman in 1951.

From the Associated Press:

LONDON — A painting by Winston Churchill, which President Truman called one of his "most valued possessions" after receiving it as a gift from the British prime minister in 1951, will be sold at Sotheby's, the auction house said Saturday.

Churchill, a respected amateur artist, painted "Marrakech" in about 1948 during one of his frequent trips to Morocco. It shows one of the city's gates against the backdrop of the Atlas mountains.

In a note accompanying the gift, Churchill described the painting, now valued at up to $1.03 million, as "about as presentable as anything I can produce."

Truman wrote in response: "I shall treasure the picture as long as I live and it will be one of the most valued possessions I will be able to leave to (daughter) Margaret when I pass on."

The painting has remained in Truman's family since he died in 1972, and is being sold by his daughter, Margaret Truman Daniel. It will be auctioned Dec. 13 at Sotheby's in London.

Churchill's paintings, mostly English countryside scenes and other landscapes done in oil, have recently attracted substantial prices at auction.

In July, his painting "Chartwell Landscape with Sheep," was sold by Sotheby's for $2.06 million, a record for the artist. In December, another Moroccan landscape, "View of Tinherir," a gift from Churchill to U.S. Gen. George C. Marshall, was bought for more than $1.23 million.

Francis Christie, a specialist in 20th-century art at Sotheby's, said "Marrakech" was "a superb example of Churchill at his very best."

We live our lives gathering little treasures along the way and when we're gone, their intrinsic meanings and values die with us and our treasures wind up in flea markets.

From the Swat Valley of Pakistan

Maulana Fazlullah. We have a name and a location.

Pakistan militants behead guards
Militants in north-west Pakistan have beheaded six security officials and killed seven civilians in apparent reprisals for an army attack.

The army attack on the stronghold of pro-Taleban militant Maulana Fazlullah on Thursday left at least 17 soldiers and a number of civilians dead.

The bodies of the guards reportedly had notes saying they were American agents.

Swat is one of a number of areas near the Afghan border where militants have been gaining control in recent months.

Leaflets dropped

Reports say the civilians who were killed were dragged out of a minibus.

A local resident told Associated Press news agency the bodies of the security officials had notes on them reading: "It is the fate of an American agent. Whoever works for America will face the same fate."

Sirajuddin, a spokesman for Maulana Fazlullah, said the killings were carried out by "common people, who support us because we only want enforcement of Islamic laws".

Security forces dropped leaflets on Saturday urging residents to "eliminate extremism and terrorism from the Swat valley".

Eyewitnesses said Thursday's violence started when troops were airlifted to positions on the hilltops surrounding Maulana Fazlullah's stronghold.

The cleric said earlier this week that he was leaving the area.

On Wednesday the army deployed 2,500 more troops to the region to combat the rising militancy.

Maulana Fazlullah has reportedly used radio broadcasts to call for jihad, or holy war, against the Pakistani authorities.

In July at least 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a militant attack in Swat.

It was part of a wave of attacks on the army in response to the security forces' storming of the radical Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, that left more than 100 people dead.

USS Cole Bombing Mastermind Jamal al-Badawi Freed.

"He was such a good boy."

Our very good friends, the Yemenis, have dismayed, dis pleasured and disappointed us by releasing the mastermind of the Cole bombing.

Yes, it is deplorable, but what are we to do? Are they kidding us? Are we that ridiculous? Of course we are.

I always marveled at Ron Goldman's father, "Fred the Fearless," and wondered why he did not take up golf, substitute a sawed off shotgun for a two iron and take OJ Simpson out starting at his ankles. No not Fred Goldman, he went after OJ's Rolex.

Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and 39 injured and and there is a quandary as to what to do? Simple. Do the manly thing. Take his Rolex.

Justice Department 'dismayed' over release of USS Cole bombing leader

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. law enforcement officials Friday blasted Yemen's release of one of the leaders of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. soldiers.

The release of Jamal al-Badawi, a mastermind in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, has outraged U.S. officials.

"We are dismayed and deeply disappointed in the government of Yemen's decision not to imprison [Jamal al-Badawi]," said a Justice Department statement issued by the Department's National Security Division.

"We have communicated our displeasure to Yemeni officials," the statement said.

The statement pointedly referred to al-Badawi as one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists and noted prosecutors in New York City want to get their hands on him.

"He was convicted in Yemeni courts and has been indicted in the Southern District of New York," the Justice Department said. Officials said the decision is not consistent with cooperation between counterterrorism officials of the United States and Yemen.

Al-Badawi -- who had escaped prison last year -- was freed after turning himself in two weeks ago, renouncing terrorism and pledging allegiance to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, according to news reports.

Witnesses said al-Badawi was "receiving well-wishers at his home" in Aden, Yemen, according to The Associated Press in Sana, Yemen.

Former New York City Mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani promptly called for the U.S. government to cancel $20 million in aid to Yemen for releasing al-Badawi.

The retired former commander of the Cole called the release "disappointing."

"In the war on terrorism, actions speak stronger than words, and this act by the Yemeni government is a clear demonstration that they are neither a reliable nor trustworthy partner in the war on terrorism," said Cmdr. Kirk Lippold.

U.S. law enforcement officials close to the case privately expressed outrage over the release of al-Badawi.

"He's got American blood on his hands. He confessed to what he did ... and they let him go," said one official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

"This will not be the last we hear of him," another federal official under the same restriction told CNN's Kelli Arena.

The Justice Department said U.S. officials will try to work with the Yemeni government "to ensure al-Badawi is held accountable for his past actions."

Suicide bombers on a boat attacked the guided missile destroyer USS Cole on October 12, 2000, in the harbor at Aden. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and 39 injured.

Al-Badawi, convicted in 2004 and sentenced to death, previously escaped from prison in 2003, before his trial, and was recaptured in 2004. In 2006, he escaped again with 22 others, and had been at large since then.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Stand Up or Bow Down

US/Turkish relations have been going downhill for quite some time but the Pelosi/Lantos debacle while ill-timed is not a casus belli. Hopefully that kerfuffle has blown over for now, but let's face it, fundamentalist Islam is on the ascendant and will use any excuse or provocation to excite the Umma. It just so happens that Israel and lately the US have been the least submissive. Naturally, this will draw the greatest ire from not only the Islamists but also from the dhimmis. But what can you do?

Actually, the US is caught in the middle of Euro/Turkish relations. It is Europe which has signaled the Turks that they are unacceptable in the EU. Europe should be the focus of Turkish wrath but it serves both Turkey and the EU to deflect the hostilities away from the near neighbors and onto the convenient bully, the US. Afterall, everyone is doing it. This may maintain the status quo for a while yet but ultimately the Muslim world (and Europe) will have to decide (like Algeria did) whether they are going to stand up to the Islamists or bow down before them. Things don't look so good for the moderate Muslim world but as for Europe, I wouldn't bet any money on it either way.

The problem is that Petraeus has not yet found his President Lincoln.

The War Was Right, the President Was Wrong
Looking back on the decision to go to Iraq.

Jonathan Rauch | October 19, 2007 Reason Magazine
Five years ago, Congress and President Bush made the most consequential and, as now seems more likely than not, unfortunate decision of this country's still young century. On October 16, 2002, Bush signed a resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Should war supporters apologize?

Democrats certainly think so. In the five years since then, many of them have said "I told you so" -- many more, in fact, than told us so. In a recent paper, Gary C. Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California (San Diego), unearthed figures suggesting that some Democrats have edited their memories. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, 46 percent of them favored the war, according to an average of a dozen surveys. In 2006, only 21 percent of them said they had favored the war. Hmm. Do the math.

Those 25 percent of Democrats who were for the war until they had always been against it were probably not dissembling. They were just being human. "Memory is a self-justifying historian," says Carol Tavris, a social psychologist and a co-author (with Elliot Aronson) of the recent book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. "Our memories are a better indication of what we believe and how we see ourselves today than of what actually happened."

I believe her, because I was not above a little memory repair myself. Recently, after a book review of mine appeared in The Washington Post, an angry reader wrote, "It will come as no surprise that Rauch was an advocate of invading Iraq." Who, me? I recalled myself as an agonized fence-sitter, more anti-anti-war than pro-war (an important distinction, you understand), maybe marginally in favor but more worried than convinced.

Just double-checking, I reread my columns from the period and promptly found one, from February 2004, in which I described myself as an, er, "advocate of the war." Gee. Imagine that.

So let me say for the record: I was wrong. Like most Americans, I have long since come to believe that the Iraq war was a strategic mistake -- with luck. (Without luck, it will be a strategic calamity.) But let me also say what I was wrong about.

In that February 2004 article, I called the war a "justified mistake." When a cop shoots a robber who has murdered in the past and who brandishes what looks like a gun, we blame the robber, not the cop -- even if it turns out that the robber was brandishing a toy or a cellphone. The robber was asking for it, and so was Saddam Hussein.

That answer, although still reasonable, no longer seems as convincing. Since 2004, it has become clearer that the Bush administration's prewar hype portrayed the intelligence on Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction as solider and starker than it really was. Not enough people, including people in the media, asked enough hard questions. I should have been more skeptical of the WMD hard sell. That was mistake No. 1.

Mistake No. 2 was forgetting the difference between experts and poseurs. Over the past few years, it has become clearer that the hazards of the U.S. occupation of Iraq were not unforeseeable. In fact, quite a few people foresaw them. And warned about them. And went unheeded. Partly that was because the Bush administration wasn't interested, but partly it was because a lot of us in the media gave a lot of ink and airtime to pontificators who had never been to Iraq, who had never fought in a war or served in an embassy or worked on a reconstruction team, and who did not know Iraq's language, culture, people, leaders, history, or region. Other than that, they were experts.

In 2002 and 2003, of course, there was no way of knowing which of countless forecasts and opinions would prove correct. The experts were divided; sometimes fresh-eyed amateurs see what jaded experts miss; the previous U.S. Iraq policy was no big success. All true. Still, the fact that so many of the war's sturdiest proponents were journalists and pundits -- in other words, hacks, like me -- should have rung more alarm bells. That was mistake No. 2.

Those, however, were small mistakes compared with the fundamental one. It was not, really, a mistake about the war at all. It was a mistake about the president.

Fool me twice, shame on me. In 1990, I was fooled once. In the prelude to the Persian Gulf War, I misjudged President George H.W. Bush. In those days, America's most resounding recent military triumphs had been against the Lilliputian forces of Panama and Grenada, against which weighed the 1975 defeat in Vietnam, the 1980 fiasco of Desert One (President Carter's failed hostage-rescue attempt in Iran), and the 1983 humiliation in Lebanon (where U.S. forces turned tail after losing more than 200 marines to a Hezbollah truck bomb). Saddam Hussein's forces looked formidable and well entrenched in 1990. The sandstorms looked forbidding. And President George H.W. Bush looked hapless. I opposed the war.

The U.S. military proved virtuosic, the Iraqi military proved worthless, the desert proved tractable, and, much the most important, the elder Bush proved dazzling. He marshaled an unprecedented coalition. He won decisively in hours. He quit while he was ahead. He even got other countries to pay. He should not have stood by as Saddam savagely put down postwar rebellions; but otherwise his performance was masterly, not least in its realism and restraint.

As I came to the 2002-2003 Iraq debate, I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. Another Bush was president, and the younger one looked as decisive as his father had once seemed dotty. This, after all, was the George W. Bush who had impressively rallied the nation and the world after September 11.

His foreign-policy team looked easily the equal of his father's, or anybody's. Vice President Cheney was the wise man of Washington and the elder Bush's successful Defense secretary. Secretary of State Colin Powell was the magisterial architect of the Gulf War. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was the man whose plan had worked like a charm in Afghanistan. If Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, was not the equal of her 1990 predecessor, Brent Scowcroft, she was no lightweight. Surely if any war Cabinet could inspire confidence, this was it.

Wrong again. Zero for two.

George W. Bush had more than his share of bad luck in Iraq. He bet that Saddam would have an active nuclear or at least biological-weapons program; that Iraq's social and physical infrastructure would be functional; that the war would be short. None of those bets was crazy, but he lost all three.

Still, a good gambler never bets more than he can afford to lose; he scrubs the odds with a sharp eye on the worst case; he hedges to give himself options. Above all, he keeps abreast of the game.

Bush placed too large a bet, padded the odds, and didn't hedge. Worst of all, he never caught up with the state of play. Again and again, he and his team were too slow in understanding and reacting to events, if they reacted at all. They were late to react to wholesale looting; late to understand the scale of the effort and to commit sufficient forces (arguably they still haven't); late to recognize they confronted an insurgency and to fight it with proven counterinsurgency tactics; late to recognize the emergence of a Shiite-Sunni civil war. Today, almost five years on, they are still behind the curve: As Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., plausibly argues, Bush clings to an insistence on a strong central government in Baghdad, despite that strategy's failure and signs that regionalism would work better.

Some optimists say that in Army Gen. David Petraeus, Bush has finally found his Gen. Grant. That may or may not be true, but it is beside the point. The problem is that Petraeus has not yet found his President Lincoln.

Judging presidents' wartime performance before the war starts is hard. No one could have known in 1860 that Lincoln, a lawyer and military novice, would develop into a commander-in-chief of genius. As lessons go, "Don't misjudge the president before committing to a war" is roughly as useful as "Buy low, sell high."

It does, however, provide some insight into the key mistake of five years ago. In February, asked for the umpteenth time to recant her war vote, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., for the umpteenth time refused. "The mistakes were made by the president," she said. In 2004, she said, "I do not regret giving the president authority.... What I regret is the way the president used the authority."

She had a fair point. She might have sharpened it by saying what I have come to say: I do not regret giving the president authority; I regret giving this president authority. I am sorry. I made a mistake five years ago. But not about the vote. About the leader.

Redheads in Our Ancient Past

Neanderthals 'were flame-haired'
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, Murcia, Spain

Some Neanderthals were probably redheads, a DNA study has shown.
Writing in Science journal, a team of researchers extracted DNA from remains of two Neanderthals and retrieved part of an important gene called MC1R.

In modern people, a change - or mutation - in this gene causes red hair, but, until now, no one knew what hair colour our extinct relatives had.

By analysing a version of the gene in Neanderthals, scientists found that they also have sported fiery locks.

"We found a variant of MC1R in Neanderthals which is not present in modern humans, but which causes an effect on the hair similar to that seen in modern redheads," said lead author Carles Lalueza-Fox, assistant professor in genetics at the University of Barcelona. "In Neanderthals, there was probably the whole range of hair colour we see today in modern European populations, from dark to blond right through to red," said Dr Carles Lalueza-Fox.

Though once thought to have been our ancestors, the Neanderthals are now considered by many to be an evolutionary dead end.

They appear in the fossil record about 400,000 years ago and, at their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters dominated a wide range spanning Britain and Iberia in the west, Israel in the south and Siberia in the east.

Our own species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa, and displaced the Neanderthals after entering Europe about 40,000 years ago. The last known evidence of Neanderthals comes from Gibraltar and is dated to between 28,000 and 24,000 years ago.

Selective pressure

Until relatively recently, scientists could turn only to fossils in order to learn what Neanderthals were like. But recent pioneering work has allowed scientists to study DNA from their bones.

Genetics could shed light on aspects of Neanderthal biology that are not preserved in fossils. These include external appearance - such as hair, skin and eye colour - cell chemistry and perhaps even cognitive ability.

This will help scientists address key questions, such as why we inherited the Earth and not them.

Genes for skin colour and hair colour are obvious early targets for scientists engaged in these efforts.

In modern people from equatorial areas, dark skin and hair is needed to guard against skin cancer caused by strong UV radiation from the Sun.

By contrast, pale skin - along with red or blond hair - appears to be the product of lower levels of sunlight present in areas further from the equator such as Europe.

"Once you go out of Africa, the selective pressure from UV radiation disappears. So any mutation that falls into the MC1R gene is allowed to survive and spread through a population," said Dr Lalueza-Fox, speaking at the Climate and Humans conference in Murcia, Spain.

But people with fair skin are able to generate more vitamin D, which may have given them an evolutionary advantage in northern regions.

Altered chemistry

The latest research suggests that similar adaptations were evolved independently by Neanderthals and modern Europeans in response to similar environmental circumstances.

All humans carry the MC1R gene, but modern redheads possess an altered, or mutated, version of it.

This rare variant doesn't work as effectively as more common forms of the gene. This loss of function alters the chemistry of the cell, producing red hair and pale skin.

In the latest study, the authors retrieved fragments of the MC1R sequence from Neanderthal bones found at Monte Lessini in Italy and from remains unearthed at El Sidron cave in northern Spain. DNA is notoriously difficult to obtain from very old specimens such as these.

"This was a bit like finding a needle in a genomic haystack. I couldn't believe we found it the first time. I asked my friends to repeat the results. Eventually the variant was found in two separate Neanderthals in three different labs," said Dr Lalueza-Fox.

Unique variant

The researchers found that Neanderthals carried a unique variant of the gene not present in modern humans.

In order to test what effect it had on hair and skin colour, the researchers inserted the Neanderthal variant into a human cell called a melanocyte.

Melanocytes produce the dark pigment called melanin which gives skin, hair and eyes their colour.

The researchers saw the same loss of function in the Neanderthal form of MC1R as they did in modern variants of the gene which produce red hair.

"In Neanderthals, there was probably the whole range of hair colour we see today in modern European populations, from dark to blond right through to red," Dr Lalueza-Fox told the BBC News website.

To Dr Lalueza-Fox, the observation that the Neanderthal version of the gene is not found in modern humans suggests they did not interbreed with each other, as some scientists have proposed.

Primitive speech

Dr Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, commented: "It's extremely interesting - it makes us understand a bit more about who the Neanderthals were.

"It suggests there may be a propensity towards the reduction of melanin in populations away from the tropics. If the Neanderthal and modern variants are different, it may be a good example of parallel, or convergent evolution - a similar evolutionary response to the same situation."

"Neanderthal genetics is going to give us a lot more information. This is the tip of the iceberg."

In a separate study, published in the journal Current Biology, Dr Lalueza-Fox and colleagues extracted the DNA sequence for a gene called FoxP2 from Neanderthals.

Modern people have several changes in this gene that are absent in our relatives the chimpanzees. This suggests that FoxP2 may have been an important gene in the evolution of language, something which separates us from the great apes.

The researchers found that Neanderthals shared these key mutations in FoxP2 with modern humans, suggesting they had some of the prerequisites for language and speech.

An ongoing project to sequence the entire Neanderthal genome was recently hit by the discovery that samples had been contaminated with modern human DNA.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kosovo, Will the Cesspool of Europe Overflow, Again?

The Russians just want to be helpful.
Kosovo: the heat is on
Posted by Harry de Quetteville on 25 Oct 2007 at 14:51 Telegraph

Kosovo is bubbling up again. It's easy to write it off as a grim wasteland of economic gloom, bureaucratic stagnation and seemingly the world's entire collection of discarded plastic bags.

But it's worth remembering that this is in the centre of Europe, a two and a half flight from London. There are still 17,000 NATO soldiers there, keeping the peace. Come December they might really have to start earning their corn.

December 10th is the deadline for the last, of last ditch, final (honestly) talks between Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership to sort out a future for the place.

You will remember that though ethnically Kosovo is 9/10ths Albanian, it is a province of Serbia. And a cherished province at that. Kosovo separatist and Serb forces dispatched by Slobodan Milosevic fought a war there in 1999 until NATO jumped in and drove out the Serbs.

Since then it’s been administered mostly by the UN. And nothing has happened, nothing has changed. The Serbs are willing to let Kosovo be autonomous, the ethnic Albanians want nothing short of independence. There is no deal.

What is the difference between autonomy and independence? Not a huge amount, but, crucially, combustible notions like pride, history, and nationhood.

The ramifications of failure are huge.

A poll this week suggests Serbia's government will collapse over Kosovo. Now the current Serbian government, filled with 'moderate hardliners' (I love that phrase) like Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica may not seem very appetising. But it is a lot better than the hardline hardliners, like Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the Radical party.

To give you a sense of nationalist sentiment in Serbia, The Radicals won elections earlier this year. It's the biggest party, but isn’t in power because it couldn't form a majority government. Nikolic is only in charge because official leader Vojislav Šešelj is in the Hague charged with war crimes.

Then there is Russia, which backs its traditional ally Serbia in wanting to keep Kosovo. Earlier this week a Russian diplomat said that independence for Kosovo would set a "precedent" which could see Abkhazia and South Ossetia break away from rival Georgia.

Instability in the Balkans and instability in the Caucasus can be a recipe for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

So hold on to your hat. Kosovo may seem boring now, as the diplomats shuttle around for yet more negotiations. But it might get pretty interesting soon.

Dangerously so.

Syrian Nuclear Site Clean-up?

If it was nuclear, how did they expect to get away with that?

Satellite Photos Show Cleansing of Syria Site
The site believed to have been attacked by Israel last month no longer bears any traces of what some analysts said appeared to have been a partly built nuclear reactor.
More here

Can China Teach Washington and the Democrats, Capitalism?

Here is the Democratic Idea to help

Minimum-Tax Fix May Cost Buyout Firms, Hedge Funds $48 Billion

By Ryan J. Donmoyer and Alison Fitzgerald Bloomberg

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel said he will propose a $48 billion tax increase on executives of hedge funds and private-equity firms to help pay for curbing the alternative minimum tax this year.

The New York Democrat said the proposal would more than double the tax rate on so-called carried interest, the compensation that executives at buyout and venture-capital firms, as well as real estate and oil and gas partnerships, receive for managing investments. It also would require hedge- fund managers to pay tax on income they defer in offshore accounts, he said....

The Chinese Way:

China Says Economy Grew 11.5%

Published: October 24, 2007
BEIJING (AP) -- China's sizzling economy grew 11.5 percent in the third quarter, surging ahead despite official efforts to cool the boom. China's growth rate put the nation on track to overtake Germany as the world's third-largest, according to data reported on Thursday.

The growth rate from the same period a year earlier exceeded forecasts but was below the 11.9 percent reported in the previous quarter. China's economic growth was driven by a double-digit surge in exports and soaring investment in factories and other fixed assets despite repeated increases in interest rates this year.

Growth for the first nine months of the year was 11.5 percent, the same rate recorded for the first half of the year, the National Bureau of Statistics reported.

"The domestic economy is maintaining fast development," bureau spokesman Li Xiaochao said at a news conference.

The communist government wants to maintain rapid growth to ease poverty but worries that a runaway expansion and overspending on real estate and other assets could ignite a financial crisis.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What is Going on in Afghanistan?

The former United Nations High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina delivered his dire prediction after being proposed as a new "super envoy" role in Afghanistan.

Lord Ashdown said: "We have lost, I think, and success is now unlikely."

The main reason for this lack of progress is the continuing failure of many Nato states to provide sufficient numbers of combat troops.

As Robert Gates, the American Defence Secretary, remarked recently, the alliance has more than two million soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen at its disposal, but only a fraction of that number is available to participate in the most important mission in Nato's history because of the national caveats that the governments of many member states have imposed on their forces deploying to areas where they might be in danger of suffering casualties.

Not surprisingly, this issue tops the agenda at this week's meeting of Nato ministers in the Netherlands, which is also discussing the crisis over Turkey's threat to invade northern Iraq.

Afghanistan is lost, says Lord Ashdown
By Tom Coghlan Telegraph
Last Updated: 1:50am BST 25/10/2007

Nato has "lost in Afghanistan" and its failure to bring stability there could provoke a regional sectarian war "on a grand scale", according to Lord Ashdown.

The former United Nations High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina delivered his dire prediction after being proposed as a new "super envoy" role in Afghanistan.

Lord Ashdown said: "We have lost, I think, and success is now unlikely."

The assessment will be considered extreme by some diplomats but timely by those pressing for more resources for Nato operations.

Lord Ashdown added: "I believe losing in Afghanistan is worse than losing in Iraq. It will mean that Pakistan will fall and it will have serious implications internally for the security of our own countries and will instigate a wider Shiite [Shia], Sunni regional war on a grand scale.

"Some people refer to the First and Second World Wars as European civil wars and I think a similar regional civil war could be initiated by this [failure] to match this magnitude."

Lord Ashdown, 66, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, was speaking in advance of a Nato summit in the Dutch town of Noordwijk yesterday.

Britain and the US infuriated by the lack of assistance granted by allies to those countries with forces operating in Afghanistan.

The tensions are particularly acute given that members pledged a year ago that they would do everything within their power to ensure "success" in the country.

With a growing sense in Kabul that the reconstruction and military efforts are lacking focus, Britain and the US are pushing for the creation of a super envoy and are looking for a political heavyweight to fill the role.

Both countries consider that Tom Koenigs, the current UN special representative to Kabul who is a former regional politician in Germany, lacks the international standing to fulfil such a role. He will complete his posting by Christmas.

It is understood that the super envoy would have the existing duties of the UN representative but also greater powers to co-ordinate the rebuilding of the country after decades of war. Progress in reconstruction and development - especially in the violent south - has been sporadic and considered largely unsatisfactory by the international community.

However, there remains widespread discussion over the precise remit that the new figure would have, particularly in relation to any oversight they might have of Nato operations and Operation Enduring Freedom, the US's separate mission.

A spokesman at the British Embassy in Kabul told The Daily Telegraph: "There is an important role for the United Nations to play in co-ordinating efforts in Afghanistan and we would like to see the international effort better co-ordinated."

A senior diplomat who declined to be named said: "The overall leadership here is that of President Karzai.

"So whoever takes on this role needs to be able to co-ordinate the international community but also serve the interests and structures of a sovereign state."

Apart from Lord Ashdown, candidates under consideration for the new enhanced role include Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, the serving French foreign minister, and Jaroslav Kaczynski, the former Polish prime minister who lost Sunday's general election.

Protesters yelled "We saw the tape, we saw the tape."

Please watch this video and describe what you have seen. The boy, Martin Lee Anderson later died and as a result, the State of Florida did away with its boot camp system, awarded the boys parents $5 million and tried seven of the guards for Aggravated Felony Manslaughter. The guards were acquitted. Today 700 protestors marched on the Federal Courthouse. Protesters yelled, ''We saw the tape! We saw the tape!'' Now that you've seen the tape did you see a "rain of blows and kicks"? as an editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat claimed .

Wondering Why Republicans are Having a Problem?