“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."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Canada Demands Backup In Afghanistan or They Leave.

Will the Nato coalition last in Afghanistan?

Canada's demand gets attention

NATO defence ministers set to discuss Kandahar mission ultimatum

Jan 30, 2008
OTTAWA–Canada's Afghanistan ultimatum will be at the top of the agenda when NATO defence ministers meet in Lithuania in one week's time, a spokesperson for the military alliance said yesterday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week that Canada's 2,500 soldiers in Kandahar must be backed up by an additional 1,000 troops from another country or he will pull out of the Afghan mission in February 2009.

NATO spokesperson James Appathurai said he is optimistic NATO can find more soldiers, but indicated that Harper's threat has caused some alarm at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

"Clearly there is an issue in Kandahar and this will certainly be discussed in Vilnius," he said, referring to the Lithuanian capital where defence ministers will gather on Feb. 7 and 8.

The comments came as Washington endorsed Harper's criticism that NATO's efforts have not been adequate in Afghanistan, particularly in Kandahar province.

The Pentagon has long complained European militaries are not sending enough soldiers or sharing enough of the risk in Afghanistan, and a spokesperson said yesterday that NATO could not count on the U.S. to carry a heavier load.

The U.S. is deploying 3,200 marines to Afghanistan in March, 2,200 of whom will be sent to Kandahar and other dangerous southern provinces.

But that rotation will only last seven months, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell said in Washington. "That's as much and as deep as we're going at this point," he said. "We've done, as I made clear, what we can do."

Harper has vowed to lead a diplomatic effort to convince Canada's NATO partners to make greater contributions to the multinational force, and his efforts are focused on a major meeting of the alliance in Bucharest in April.

But Canada will also get help from Washington, Morrell said.

"You will hear from us, as we get closer to Vilnius and Bucharest, a desire to have our allies who are providing combat forces to the efforts in Afghanistan ... see what more they can do," he said. "So, hopefully, we'll make some progress there that will help the Canadians extend their commitment to the mission."

Last week's report by former Liberal minister John Manley on the future of the Afghan mission painted a gloomy picture of disjointed United Nations and NATO efforts and of poor co-ordination of aid and development dollars. But it also said the Canadian mission was bound to fail, and should be ended, if Canada did not get military help, plus transport helicopters and unmanned aerial surveillance craft.

"We obviously have taken good note of what Harper has said and we have read the Manley report very carefully. We share the view that Afghanistan needs long-term support, and that includes military support," Appathurai said.

He said 10 countries have already promised to boost the number of soldiers they have on the ground in Afghanistan, including Poland.

"I don't think there is any reason to call into question NATO's credibility. The mission continues to increase in size and continues to achieve success," he said.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Anybody But McCain

Thoughts on the Republican candidates.

I am sorry that early on, I dismissed Congressman Paul as a nut, but honestly, you can't listen to the man and not see that he is very intelligent with very sound positions and has the best interests of the country at heart. I have grown to respect him and I'm glad that he is in the race.

Governor Huckabee, too, is a surprise. He is an extremely capable politician and carries his own in any debate. He has a great sense of humor and seems to have a good grasp of the issues.

I like the business skills and experience that George Romney brings to the table. I believe that these abilities and insights will serve the country well in the coming years.

Senator McCain has served his country. He deserves the accolades and thanks due any veteran who made the sacrifices he made for his country. He was right about more troops for Iraq. He says he learned his lesson about immigration. He will see that a fence is built before any more reforms are proposed. But I'm sorry, I remember the two weeks last year when he and Lindsey Graham along with George Bush and Teddy Kennedy tried their damnest to push the Comprehensive Immigration Reform down the throats of America. I'm sorry Senator, those wounds are too fresh in my mind and coupled with issues such as McCain-Feingold, the gang of fourteen, your stance on "torture", and your big government attitude, I just can't support you. I would vote for any Republican candidate before I voted for you.

NATO Schmato

This is hard to believe:
Afghanistan may plunge into 'failed state,' experts warn

by P. Parameswaran2 hours, 2 minutes ago

Insurgency-wracked Afghanistan will become a failed state if urgent steps are not taken to tackle a deteriorating security situation and lackluster reconstruction and governance efforts, experts warned in separate reports Wednesday.

"Urgent changes are required now to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failing or failed state," said one report from the Atlantic Council of the United States, led by retired Marine Corps general James Jones.

It said Taliban militant control of the sparsely populated parts of Afghanistan was "increasing" and civil reforms, reconstruction, and development work "have not gained traction" across the country, especially in the south.

"To add insult to injury, of every dollar of aid spent on Afghanistan, less than ten percent goes directly to Afghans, further compounding reform and reconstruction problems," the report said.

Southern Afghanistan has seen the worst violence since the Taliban were ousted from power in the US-led invasion in 2001 following the September 11 terror attacks masterminded by Al-Qaeda, whose leaders were given sanctuary by the Taliban.

As US and NATO-led troops wage an uphill battle now to keep the Taliban at bay, civil sector reform "is in serious trouble" despite immense resources poured into the country and nearly seven years of efforts, the report said.

"If Afghanistan fails, the possible strategic consequences will worsen regional instability, do great harm to the fight against Jihadist and religious extremism," the report said.

It would also "put in grave jeopardy NATO's future as a credible, cohesive and relevant military alliance," it said, asking NATO nations unable to contribute more troops to redouble civilian reconstruction aid.

Europe needs to "wake up" to this crisis, said David Abshire, head of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, which examines the performances of the US presidents and relate its findings to present challenges.

The center's Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by Jones and former UN ambassador Thomas Pickering, said the "light footprint" in Afghanistan needed to be replaced with the "right footprint" by the United States and its allies.

The group called for the appointment of a US special envoy for Afghanistan, charged with coordinating all aspects of US policies toward it.

It also wanted the US administration and the Congress to "decouple" Iraq and Afghanistan in the legislative process and in the management of these conflicts in the executive branch.

US Senator John Kerry warned that Afghanistan could snowball into Vietnam-like turmoil.

"Absent a new focus and a transformed strategy, I fear that may be happening again in Afghanistan," said the ex-Vietnam War hero as he launched the expert reports at Capitol Hill.

Recent polls in Afghanistan reflect skepticism over the ability of Kabul and the international community to tackle critical problems such as insecurity, weak governance, widespread corruption, a poor economy and unemployment.

Reacting to the reports, the US State Department said there had been "real progress" since the Taliban ouster and underlined the need for NATO and others to maintain strong commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan and improving security.

"We know what a failed state in Afghanistan looks like. That was Afghanistan under the Taliban prior to 2001. Afghanistan today does not look like that," said department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"There has been real progress where Afghanistan was six years ago. Is there a long way to go? Absolutely," he said.
I'll be shocked if the Euros do anything significant. Despite cajoling and shaming, the Europeans have shown no interest in doing anything more than they done all along. Why don't we just let NATO go by the wayside? Oh, after Iran is dealt with.

The Choice: McCain, Hillary or Obama?

Think about it.

It is a little late to be complaining that McCain is not Republican enough. For seven years the Republicans have not been Republican enough. The Republican oligarchs had an ample opportunity to discipline themselves in Congress. They did not. They failed miserably in some very important areas and none other than in way out of control government spending.

For seven years we had a Republican President that could not find his veto pen. It was a Republican Administration that failed to enforce US immigration laws, and it was a Republican Administration with no leadership skills that failed to maintain a Republican majority in Congress. None of that was McCain's doing. A US Senator is a party of one.

The choice is becoming very narrow and parochial. Who will serve your interests better, McCain, Hillary or Obama? The Iranians must be asking themselves the same question. I doubt any Republican can win, but I have no doubt as to what happens if the Democrats do. I have as much enthusiasm for McCain as I did for Ford and Bob Dole, but Romney just does not seem to have the horsepower that is still left in JMAC. A Supreme Court dominated by those chosen by Hillary or Obama will be a disaster for conservatives.

There are some others who will be even less happy to see a John McCain candidacy. Maybe the Iranians would even have a Reagan-Carter moment, when they released US hostages on Reagan's inauguration day. Look at the sunny side, eh Rat?

Talk radio impugns McCain's liberal record
By Donald Lambro Washington Times
January 30, 2008

Conservative talk radio is ganging up on presidential candidate John McCain, attacking him for joining Democrats to push liberal legislation and opposing bedrock Republican positions from tax cuts to immigration.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be the favorite of conservative talk-radio stars and stands to benefit from their distaste for the Arizona senator, who is running neck and neck with Mr. Romney in the race for the presidential nomination.

While most polls show the two men in a dead heat in key primary and caucus contests across the nation, the campaign battle on talk radio has turned into a lopsided offensive against Mr. McCain, whose positions on illegal aliens, President Bush's tax cuts, oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and campaign-finance regulation have infuriated conservative commentators.

"I don't think talk radio has changed their core views. Look at Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Mark Levin and myself, all center-right conservatives generally supportive of the Republicans," talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt told The Washington Times.

"I think if you were to poll that universe of talkers, you would find they would be anti-McCain-Feingold [on campaign finance]; anti-McCain-Kennedy [on immigration], except for Medved; pro-oil exploration in ANWR; and supporters of the Bush tax cuts," Mr. Hewitt said as he ticked off bills the Arizona senator has championed or opposed in the Senate.

"So the hostility toward the McCain legislative record shouldn't surprise anyone," the founder of the conservative Townhall Web site said.

Mr. Hewitt also told the Associated Press yesterday that "Senator McCain is a great American, a lousy senator and a terrible Republican. He has a legislative record that is not conservative. In fact, it is anti-conservative." He said he would support Mr. Romney "if I was voting today."

For weeks, Mr. Limbaugh, the king of talk radio, also has pounded Mr. McCain as a Republican who deserted his party's positions on core issues — from his earlier opposition to the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 to his support with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, for an immigration bill that would have given illegal aliens a path to citizenship.

This week, Mr. Limbaugh went after the senator for his alliance with environmentalists and his opposition to President Bush's push to open ANWR's vast oil reserves to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

"McCain has been an active promoter of the global-warming hysteria — for which he has been lauded by radical environmentalists — and he is a co-sponsor of a leftist scheme for energy rationing," the famed talkmeister told his more than 20 million listeners last week.

"If anybody has any doubts whatsoever, my differences with Senator McCain are substantive," he said. "When you boil this down, this really is between McCain and Romney right now."

Not all of the leading conservative talk-radio hosts oppose Mr. McCain, though even some of his supporters admit his anti-conservative positions often have pushed them to the edge of endurance.

"I've been getting a lot heat from listeners for defending McCain, even though I acknowledge the many disagreements I've had with him. I've been getting a constant barrage from my audience. It's getting really heated," Bill Bennett said yesterday.

"I admire the heck out of John McCain and disagree with him on at least half a dozen serious matters," Mr. Bennett said. "He is a war hero, he has been consistently pro-life, he put his campaign in hostage to the success of the surge in Iraq, he's been a consistent hawk on pork-barrel spending, and can win in November."

But the former drug czar and education secretary said the intensity of the anti-McCain calls to his radio program show he does not have the support of his party's conservative base.

"What rankles me the most is his tendency to criticize our side first. Why bash us, why not bash Hillary Clinton? He's got to have some of the fire that Democrats have for Republicans, but we don't see it," he said. "If he is the nominee, he's got to fix things with the base of the party, because you can't have a convention with these kinds of feelings."

Does he have a breaking point over the senator's candidacy? "Ask me tomorrow," he replied.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

European Press Reviews of US Presidential Election

A fair amount of the articles we use for comment come from European news sources. I thought it would be interesting to see how they view the process. This from: The American Thinker


European Press and the Presidential Election
By Soeren Kern

The outcome of the US presidential election affects the lives of millions of people around the world. So it's probably not surprising that many Europeans are resentful that only Americans will have a say in it. European media are saturated with election coverage that is heavily biased in favor of the Democrats. And, as in past elections, European elites are also demanding the right to help choose the next occupant of the White House. What follows is a brief survey of what some Europeans are saying about the American way of democracy.

An editorial in the Brussels-based, center-right De Standaard articulates a view shared by many Europeans:

"American presidential elections are not ‘home affairs'. American decisions have repercussions all over the globe.... Hence, the world should be given the right to vote."

This view is echoed by the London-based, conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph. A column titled ‘If Only We Could Vote for the Next US President' argues:

"Many Britons will feel it would be rather nice to have a vote, too. Well, maybe not a whole vote: I would settle for one worth 50 per cent of those cast by American citizens. After all, since we are a strategic colony of the US, it would be nice to have even a marginal say in how the empire chooses to dispose our goodwill and our blood and treasure."

What European elites really seem to want is the right to "help" Americans choose the "correct" candidate. And if newspaper headlines are any indication, that person is, overwhelmingly, Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Indeed, across the continent, European elites are infatuated with Obama, who is now a cult figure.

In Germany, the center-right Berliner Morgenpost proclaims that Obama is ‘The New Kennedy' while the centrist tabloid Bild says that ‘This Black American Has Become the New Kennedy!'

The left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau compares Obama not only to Kennedy, but also to Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt

"Obama is the candidate of the idealists.... Obama also happens to be the candidate of choice for the foreign press.... Many in Europe would like nothing more than a ‘European' America."

In the Netherlands, the left-leaning De Volkskrant reports that the US primaries are giving the Dutch "goose bumps.... Obama has the authenticity that the Dutch electorate craves."

In France, the center-left Libération says the new leader of the French Socialist Party should be someone with Obama's profile:

"The French Left seeks a charismatic leader, age 46, of mixed race, to deliver a message of hope and unity. At a time when American Democrats are discovering their new hero, it would be a good time for the Socialist Party and their friends to find a Barack Obama to end their internal quarrels."

Meanwhile, in an online poll at the center-left Le Nouvel Observateur, Obama has an overwhelming 60 percent of the 2,680 votes cast, double Clinton's 30 percent. The late President Kennedy is lagging behind, with only 4 percent of the votes.

In Britain, the centrist Times of London confirms that the Tories are suffering an identity crisis by reporting that

"Tories and Labour both hope for a sprinkling of Barack Obama's stardust. Ripples of excitement from the campaign of the presidential contender have crossed the Atlantic, and British politicians are agog."

After months of glorifying Obama, European media have tried to portray his losses to New York Senator Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire and Nevada as part of an elaborate conspiracy to keep a black man from becoming the 44th president of the United States. After Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, for example, the Milan-based, center-right Il Giornale reported that Obama was the victim of vote-rigging.

In Germany, the Financial Times Deutschland opines:

"there is something narcissistic at the heart of the idea that Clinton was breaking down at the thought that America might be recklessly throwing away the chance to be governed by her. Chronic egocentrism, narcissism, self-pity-these are exactly the qualities that to this day make Bill Clinton so hated by his enemies."

The state-sponsored Deutsche Welle argues that although Clinton's victory in New Hampshire is being put down to her display of ‘genuine' emotion, it is actually a further example of "US politics descending into self-parody."

France, meanwhile, dispatched its ambassador to keep an eye on campaign events in New Hampshire.

"There's a lot of interest in France in this election.... The administration in Paris wants regular reports," says France's ambassador to the United States.

In an essay titled ‘The End of the Obama Revolution', Der Spiegel laments:

"All of those people who've been dreaming of America's first black president now have to slowly wake up. It'll happen one day, hopefully, but not in this election."

The Times of London says:

"For all his talk of changing America's face to the world and rebuilding old alliances, Mr Obama has been notably reluctant to engage, particularly with Europe. As British and European leaders ponder the meaning and consequences of Mr Obama's sudden rise, perhaps they should be asking instead how much they really matter to him."

Good point.

Indeed, another Times of London story frets that:

"Obama has made only one brief official visit to London-and none elsewhere in Western Europe...."

In an 800-word rant titled ‘American Primary System Fails to Impress Europeans', Deutsche Welle implies that if Germans cannot help Americans vote Obama into office, then the US political system itself must be flawed. DW asserts that American democracy is "atavistic. It's outdated. It doesn't really reflect democracy in a modern sense." The story goes on to say that America would be better off if it adopted a parliamentary system, just like the one in (surprise!) Germany.

Some Europeans are beginning to wake up to the reality that a Democrat in the White House might not be in their best interests.

The Hamburg-based, conservative-leaning Die Welt offers the most forthright analysis of the implications for Europe of a Clinton victory.

"For Germany, it greatly matters who finally wins the presidential race. The Clintons are not naive admirers of Germany and/or Europe. As heirs to an unpopular war in Iraq, the Clintons, after returning to the White House, would demand military coalition troop support from Europe. Indeed, as early as 2004, Gerhard Schroeder was warned that the worst possible outcome of his anti-Iraq war stance would have been a John Kerry victory. Because then the German chancellor would have had a friendly, but pushy partner in the White House who would have quickly put an end to Berlin's anti-American politicking by asking for assistance in Baghdad."

According to the London-based Economist,

"Nor is European enthusiasm for either candidate likely to survive the election of Mrs Clinton, Mr Obama, or whoever else becomes president. The person who gets voters' nod will rule as an American, promoting American interests around the world-and no doubt disappointing many watchers from abroad. For Europeans to imagine anything else would be naive indeed."

In Spain, El Diario Exterior argues that an Obama victory could be especially counter-productive for the European Left, because it will show that America is not the racist state that European elites say it is:

"The [European] Left, which likes to attribute to the United States an imperialist foreign policy and discrimination against blacks and Hispanics, is not as happy about the rise of Obama as one would expect. On sending the message that they are ready to elect an African American, a part of American society is exhibiting an attitude much less prejudiced than is commonly attributed to this country."

The article goes on to remind readers that Europe's multicultural Socialist utopia has failed to beget its own Obama.

After seeing American democracy in high gear, European publics are fretting about the relative lack of democracy at home. As the Paris-based International Herald Tribune points out in a column titled ‘Don't Look for Democracy in the EU Presidency',

"unlike America's presidential primary elections, the start of Europe's presidential selection process foretells very little to do with revivifying democracy."

It continues:

"The choice of the European president is true to the EU's historical character. Rather than a popular vote, the selection process will belong to the council of chiefs of state and government...."

Finally, London's leftwing Guardian concedes that America is doing something right for a change. In a rare case of introspection and self-criticism, the paper admonishes Britons that

"reflecting on the wide-open campaign of 2008, it's obvious that British critics-and European critics generally-are guilty of smug superiority and ignorance in writing off the strengths of the American system.... Instead of dismissing American democracy in our snooty way, we need to ask what we can learn."

Now that's a thought!

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tomorrow's a Big Day

Can McCain Control His Temper?

By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Monday, January 28, 2008 4:20 PM PT

Election 2008: John McCain claims his temper is not an issue. "I don't think I would have the support of so many of my colleagues if that were the case." Who are these supportive colleagues?

Related Topics: Election 2008

They certainly do not include Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. Over the weekend, he announced he cannot endorse his colleague for the White House and is endorsing Gov. Mitt Romney instead.

"The thought of him being president sends a cold chill down my spine," Cochran said. "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

Perhaps Cochran can't appreciate the maverick in McCain. But the same can't be said of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a noted reformer and friend of whistle-blowers. Grassley said in a recent interview that he was so upset by a McCain tirade that he didn't speak to him "for a couple of years." McCain got in his face and shouted an obscenity at him.

(Grassley says they're on friendly terms now and thinks McCain has the qualifications to be president. But he stressed he's not making an endorsement.)

McCain admits he's rubbed some senators the wrong way. But he explains that what they really don't like is his tough stand against farm subsidies and "pork barrel" spending.

If that were the case, we'd say more power to him. But it seems McCain goes ballistic on anyone who disagrees with him. And he's not just verbally abusive, but physically threatening.

He got in the grille of Sen. Richard Shelby — an inch away from the Alabama Republican's face — after Shelby voted against the 1989 nomination of John Tower as defense secretary. "I was madder than hell when I accosted him," McCain admits, half boasting.

"In his world, it's very difficult to have a simple policy disagreement," said American Conservative Union chairman David Keene. "Everything becomes personal. His position is right, and everyone else's is basically evil."

Lest anyone think McCain, now 71, has mellowed, he got in another altercation just last year. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, got full frontal McCain over an immigration bill, according to reports in Roll Call and the Washington Post.

McCain, who supported amnesty for illegals, accused his colleague of making a "chickensh**" argument to try to sink the bill. "F*** you!" McCain shouted at Cornyn during the negotiations. "I know more about this than anyone else in the room."

"Idiot" and "liar" are among his other favorite put-downs. McCain's "finger-in-your-eye" style has alienated even allies on the Hill.

He quips he "didn't win Miss Congeniality." But outside of wielding the gavel of the Senate Commerce Committee, he didn't win any top leadership posts, either, despite 25 years in Congress. In effect, the abrasive lawmaker was marginalized throughout his career.

While good leaders don't always win popularity contests, that's not exactly a vote of confidence for somebody who's now running to lead the free world.

McCain has burned a lot of bridges. If he does not work well with others in the Senate, including among those in his own party, how can he count on bringing them on board his executive agenda? How can he run a Cabinet and bring together international coalitions?

To be sure, there's an upside to anger when dealing with the kind of enemy we now face.

We appreciate that McCain, who was dead right about the surge, is willing to stare down "radical Islamic extremists." We want them to fear our commander in chief. It helps if they believe he's got his finger on the button, so to speak, as the Soviets believed with President Reagan.

Difference is, Reagan didn't have an itchy trigger finger. His recently published diaries confirm that he skillfully used firm diplomacy behind the scenes. We're not so sure McCain can control his bellicosity.

Reagan disarmed Mikhail Gorbachev with his charm. When McCain says he looks Vladimir Putin in the eye and all he sees is "a K, a G and a B," it may not be just a line he uses in debates.

We have our issues with McCain, but none more important than presidential temperament. Is he fit for the highest office in the land?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kite-powered Cargo Ships

Incrementally, each small invention on energy conservation will probably accomplish more than hoping and waiting for one super break-through on replacing petroleum. The plug in electric car like the proposed Chevy Volt, where one drives the first forty miles before the gasoline engine kicks in, seems sensible and practical for most people in urbanized areas. Why not sail assisted cargo ships? 

Kite-Pulled Ship Saves Big By Going Retro
The sail flies at a height of about 300 meters (980 feet)

The world's first kite-powered cargo ship set sail on Tuesday, Jan. 22, from Germany to Venezuela. Its makers hope to prove that using earth-friendly energy can also mean saving a fortune.

Sailboats are anything but modern -- unless we're talking about the MS Beluga Skysails, which is now chugging across the Atlantic Ocean with the help of a 160-square-meter (1,722-square-foot) computer-controlled kite.

The contraption's inventor, 35-year-old Stephen Wrage, said supplementing the ship's diesel engine with wind power should cut its daily fuel bill by 20 percent -- at a time when oil has exceeded $90 (62 euros) a barrel.

Turning to alternative energy sources like wind power, an ancient tool in ocean travel, also reduces the ship's CO2 output.

"During the next few months, we will finally be able to prove that our technology works in practice and significantly reduces fuel consumption and emissions," said Wrage, founder and president of the Hamburg-based company SkySails.

The kite, shaped like a paraglider, flies up to 300 meters (980 feet) high to be able to pull the 10,000-ton vessel. It cost about 500,000 euros to make, not counting the five years of research Wrage and his colleagues put into it.

Yield for cash

The world's 55,000 cargo ships transport 90 percent of its goods
Though freight ships are the world's most important commercial transport method, carrying 90 percent of all traded goods, they were excluded from the UN's climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol. Experts have advocated that the industry -- which produced 5 percent of the world's total carbon emissions -- be included in the successor treaty, to take effect after Kyoto expires in 2012.

But as long as oil prices remain high, ship companies already have a hefty incentive to reduce their fuel consumption. Many have already made effective efforts to save fuel by mandating slower speeds in their fleets.

Hamburg-based logistics company Hapag-Lloyd, for example, reduced the standard speed of its ships from 23.5 to 20 knots in the second half of last year and reported "significant savings."

"Before, ships would speed up to 25 knots from the standard 23.5 to make up if time was lost in crowded ports," said company spokesman Klaus Heims. "We calculated that five knots slower saves up to 50 percent in fuel and it had the added effect of cutting carbon dioxide emissions immediately."

More sail, more savings

The sails will have to get a lot bigger before they can be used commercially
There are lots more ways for ships to push down their fuel consumption and drive up their savings, Hermann Klein from Germanischer Lloyd classification society told Reuters news agency.

Using weather forecasts to select optimal routes, cleaning the ships regularly to remove sediments that would cause resistance and using fuel additives for better performance would benefit the company's budget and the earth, Klein said, adding that opting for slower-speed engines with greater fuel efficiency makes more sense than running high-power engines at a slower pace.

Wrage and his SkySails company, however, expect many shipping firms to choose kite power, should the maiden voyage turn out to be a success.

Larger kites could cut fuel usage by 30 to 50 percent, Wrage said. The company hopes to double the size of the kites to 320 square meters and then expand them again to 600 square meters by 2009. They intend to fit 1,500 ships with the sails by 2015.

The Clintons Shrinks in Stature. Kennedy Chooses Obama.

It was inevitable that Obama would have to diminish the Clinton legacy in order for him to find his break-out point but I did not expect Bill Clinton to hand it to him. Hand it to him he did. Obama seized the moment and converted Bill and Hillary to remnants of the past. Now, no one has questioned that the past may start looking good compared to the future present. A lot can happen between now and then. The Clinton machine will grind on and should not be taken for granted, but last night I heard the shrill of a bad bearing or two. I confess that the more I see Obama, the more I understand the phenomenon.

Caroline Kennedy sees Obama carrying on JFK legacy
January 27, 2008
BY MONIFA THOMAS Staff Reporter/

Former first daughter Caroline Kennedy has thrown her support behind Sen. Barack Obama, calling him the presidential candidate most capable of carrying on the legacy of her late father, John F. Kennedy.

Caroline Kennedy's endorsement is a key one for Obama, whose camp has sought to portray him as a worthy heir to the former president's "Camelot" image.

Yet it remains to be seen whether Kennedy's uncle and Democratic party heavyweight Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) will also come out in favor of Obama ahead of the Feb. 5 primaries.

In a column today in the New York Times, titled ''A president like my father,'' Caroline Kennedy said she is backing Obama because he offers the same uplifting message of hope and change that her father did when he ran for president in 1960.

"I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president -- not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans," Kennedy wrote in the editorial.

She also credited Obama with making "the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning."

Obama, who scored a big win Saturday in South Carolina, issued a statement calling it "a special privilege to have [Kennedy's] endorsement because I've always believed that Caroline's father was one of our greatest presidents."

It isn't the first time the daughter of an iconic politician has helped boost Obama in an important race.

In an interesting parallel, Sheila Simon, daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon, vouched for Obama on her father's behalf in a powerful TV ad that some strategists say helped Obama win his U.S. Senate seat.

Son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi Did What?

"Say it ain't so."

No, not even the Middle east can be that FUBAR can it? If this is true then please check your hope chest at the door because there isn't any. I am taking a walk along the beach and will be back for coffee after sun rise. The howler monkeys are restless and curiosity beckons. Don't let it get any more nuts while I'm gone.

Gadhafi son tied to Iraq bombing
By Robert H. Reid Washington Times
January 27, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — A son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is behind a group of foreign and Iraqi fighters responsible for this week's devastating explosion in northern Iraq, a security chief for Sunni tribesmen who rose up against al Qaeda said yesterday.

At least 38 persons were killed and 225 wounded Wednesday when a huge blast destroyed about 50 buildings in a Mosul slum. The next day, a suicide bomber killed the provincial police chief and two other officers as they surveyed the blast site.

Col. Jubair Rashid Naief, who also is a police official in Anbar province, said those attacks were carried out by the Seifaddin Regiment, composed of about 150 foreign and Iraqi fighters who slipped into the country several months ago from Syria.

Col. Naief said the organization, which is working with al Qaeda in Iraq, was supported by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, 36, the eldest son of the Libyan leader.

"I am sure of what I am talking about, and it is documented," Col. Naief said, adding that he is "100 percent sure" of the younger Mr. Gadhafi's role with the terror group.

A man who answered the phone at Col. Gadhafi's office in Tripoli, Libya, said he was not immediately available for comment on the accusation.

Col. Naief said his information about the Seifaddin Regiment and the younger Mr. Gadhafi's purported role came from "reliable sources" maintained by his Anbar Awakening Council within the ranks of al Qaeda in Mosul and elsewhere.

He said the information was passed to the U.S. military two or three months ago.

"They crossed the Syrian border nearest to Mosul within the last two to three months," Col. Naief said of the Seifaddin Regiment. "Since then, they have taken up positions in the city and begun blowing up cars and launching other terror operations."

The Anbar Awakening Council is an alliance of Sunni tribes in the western province that turned against al Qaeda and began working with U.S. forces. The council is credited with the sharp drop in violence in Anbar, once the main base for the insurgents.

Many of the council's fighters are thought to have been insurgents themselves until they began receiving money from the Americans to turn their guns on their former extremist allies.

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment about Col. Naief's claim.

The Washington Post last week quoted U.S. military officials as saying that 19 percent of the foreign fighters in Iraq come from Libya. Overall, North Africans account for 40 percent of the foreign-fighter ranks, the newspaper said.

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, however, seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, Mr. Gadhafi has reached out to the West to soften Libya's image and return it to the international mainstream.

Known in Libya as "the Engineer," he won praise last year for helping release five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who were jailed in Libya for purportedly infecting Libyan children with HIV.

Educated at a British university and fluent in English, German and French, he also has gained exposure as head of the Gadhafi International Association for Charitable Organizations, a nongovernmental network concerned with issues like human rights and education.

Mr. Gadhafi was quoted by the Austrian Press Agency last year as warning Europeans against more attacks by radical Islamists.

"The only solution to contain radicalism is the rapid departure of Western troops from Iraq as well as Afghanistan, and a solution to the Palestinian question," he was quoted as saying.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama Wins South Carolina With 80% of Black Vote


Fox declares Obama the winner in South Carolina. It looks as if it all comes down to race. Tribalism is after all the natural state of things. If white liberals would understand that, than at least we could have an honest understanding of reality. The key will be black woman voters. If they break solidly for Obama, then Obama is the black candidate, for better or worse. this is probably good news for Republicans. They never get black voters anyway and politically owe the blacks nothing. The more Obama becomes the black candidate, the more he loses that special thing he started with in Iowa.

Jim Cramer on the Stimulus Package

The Stimulator

The plan put together by The President and Congress is no more well thought out and will probably be as effective as most other big Washington ideas. Jim Cramer has a better idea.
This actually makes some sense but is missing an important component. How do you stimulate housing and not face the same problem again? It seems to me that there has been way too much investment in housing and too much use of housing to encourage spending over savings. Add a component that addresses that issue and Cramer may be on to something.

The Phony Stimulus
The Bush economic plan is a $150 billion debacle. Here's a cheaper, more effective, and longer-lasting alternative.

By James J. Cramer NYmag Published Jan 24, 2008

Everybody likes "free" money. So it's no wonder that President Bush's plan to give up to $1,200 per family to taxpayers to get the economy moving again will sail through Congress. The logic seems compelling: We face a looming recession because the consumer isn't spending. Give 'em some money to spend! The president's team is hailing the plan as a cheap $150 billion shot in the arm that will check the downturn and get the economy rolling again.

Do you mind if I'm blunt and say that this is the stupidest, most wasteful, and least effective idea possible to reverse the decline in the U.S. economy, a decline that is pulling the rest of the world down with it? The only stimulus this package will generate is a boost to the bottom lines of Men's Wearhouse or Nike or maybe Apple, as if what really ails America is slowing suit, sneaker, and iPod sales. The stimulus plan shows, once again, the cluelessness of this administration about how the economy works, something I find especially depressing given that Hank Paulson, the Treasury secretary who was no lightweight when he ran Goldman Sachs, should know better. He must know the plan will do nothing, other than get some politicians reelected, because it doesn't address the core issue: the decline of home prices in America and the broader financial impact of that decline. Until homes sell for $1,200, this plan's not worth the paper the rebate checks will be printed on.

The fact is, we can attack the root of the crisis, mortgage-related problems, for far less money and resurrect the economy much faster with a couple of simple ideas. First, let's take a hard look at the real cause of the problem: We have too many defaulting mortgages and home-equity loans from people who bought homes-some on speculation, some because they actually wanted to live in them-and could not afford the purchase price. Encouraged by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and current chairman Ben Bernanke, home buyers used exotic mortgages that required them to put little money down to purchase homes that were quickly appreciating in value. Millions of home buyers then took home-equity loans on top of their mortgages to capitalize on that appreciation. Now that home values are declining nationwide and mortgage rates are being reset higher, the buyers can't afford to pay either their first mortgage or the home-equity loan and are facing defaults and foreclosures that threaten to leave them destitute.

It's tempting to suggest an Agricultural Adjustment Act type of program under which we actually obliterate excess homes that can't be sold. That would certainly restore home-price appreciation, but Toll Brothers houses cost a whole lot more than pigs or corn, and even the winners in that game might find that solution excessive.

But there's another strategy that's by far the cheapest and most immediate way to deal with the problem: The Federal Reserve needs to cut the federal-funds rate, the short-term rate that it lowered last week to 3.5 percent, in half, to 1.75 percent, and it needs to do it now. That would be a huge shock treatment that would send mortgage rates plunging and allow home buyers from the 2005-2007 vintage, where the real problems are, to escape the death spiral of adjustable mortgage resets (those rates are pegged to the federal-funds rate). For those who have put down little or no equity and are hanging on, the Federal Housing Administration also needs to guarantee a refinanced mortgage at a much lower rate, which it will be able to do without much risk if the federal-funds rate is cut that low. The FHA is already set up to make just this kind of guarantee (and funded to absorb potential losses). Meanwhile, a huge number of people with good incomes and equity in their homes will be able to refinance their existing mortgages, which would put far more spending money in people's pockets than a onetime $1,200 check. In fact, in many cases it could produce that kind of savings every month.

With short rates this low, people would also come off the sidelines to take advantage of the glut and buy homes. Some would say that the short-term teasers that would be available could cause the same problems we had in the last go-round. But the unscrupulous lenders who made those loans are almost all wiped out, so that's not an issue, and only creditworthy borrowers would be able to take advantage of the new loans, so there is no moral hazard there. Bankers have at last learned to give loans that actually have a chance of being paid back to their own banks instead of shipped off to Wall Street as part of a residential-mortgage bond that no one trusts or wants anymore.

Finally, to ensure that mortgage money is available, banks have to be able to quantify their current losses on their –residential-–mortgage bonds. Right now, most of the toxic instruments the banks hold that might go belly-up are insured by two large financial insurers, Ambac and MBIA. The losses on these pieces of paper are so much greater than those companies can absorb that the banks can't count on getting paid from them in the event of a default. The uncertainty is paralyzing the major banks. What the federal government should do is guarantee the insurance that has already been written, taking warrants in both companies, à la the successful Chrysler bailout of the eighties. If we are worried about the cost of those guarantees, we can limit it, allowing only a 50-cents-on-the-dollar payout on the insurance. With this guarantee in place, banks would be free to make the loans they can't afford to make now and get the economy moving again. Given the low rates that they would have to pay to depositors (they're also keyed to the federal-funds rate), banks could lend at 5 percent, a good deal for borrowers, and still make terrific profits that could be used to offset the losses they would have to take on the portion of their bad loans that are not guaranteed.

What about inflation? We only need a temporary dip in rates, just long enough to refinance everyone, then we can take rates back up again. Frankly, the mortgage mess is so deflationary it wouldn't hurt to have a few months of inflation.

Why hasn't a plan like this been suggested before? We have a Fed that only recently woke up to the crisis and is so ridiculously independent despite its obvious incompetence that it can't be counted on to take rates to levels that would make my plan work. When this problem is fixed, and rates are then brought up higher once refinancing is in place, Congress should investigate why the Fed keeps getting it wrong and whether the power and independence of these unelected academics is a good thing, considering their endless recklessness. Meanwhile, you can spend $150 billion making sure that the mall is jammed for a couple of Saturdays. Or you can spend virtually nothing by slashing rates and offering mortgage-insurance guarantees to banks and get the country moving within a matter of months. It's the free solution to a trillion-dollar problem that will never be cured by a bogus stimulus boondoggle.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Will Hamas Do Next?

Breakout into Israel' ahead

Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem | January 26, 2008

A SENIOR Hamas official warned yesterday that the next breakout from the Gaza Strip could be into Israel, with 500,000 Palestinians attempting to march towards the towns and villages from which they or their parents fled or were expelled 60 years ago.

"This is not an imaginary scenario and many Palestinians would be prepared to sacrifice their lives," said Ahmed Youssef, political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.

Israeli minister Ze'ev Boim said the threat must be taken seriously in light of the successful Hamas breakout into Egyptian territory on Wednesday, adding: "We must learn from what has just happened there."

Egypt moved last night to end the great Gaza breakout, which had reverberated throughout the region as all sides tried to come to grips with its implications.

Egyptian security forces announced by loudspeaker in towns near the border with the Gaza Strip that it would be closed from 3pm (midnight AEDT), with an unknown number of Palestinians still in Egypt.

Riot police turned water cannon on Palestinians trying to cross into Egypt, despite Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak saying earlier that he would not allow the people of Gaza to starve.

Hamas, riding high on its operational success, sought to parlay it into political gain by seeking Egyptian approval for new border arrangements that would give Hamas for the first time a role in the vital crossing point at Rafah, between Gaza and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Israeli security officials said Hamas and other militant groups had already exploited the breach in the border wall to send "numerous" armed men into Sinai with the aim of infiltrating into Israel along the long, largely undefended, border between Sinai and Israel.

The Israeli road running the length of the border was yesterday shut to civilian traffic and the army deployed reinforcements in the area.

The officials said the militants were eager to hit back at Israel for heavy casualties in Israeli attacks in recent weeks and that attacks from Sinai were likely to come within the next two weeks.

Israeli civilians on vacation along Sinai's Red Sea coast were advised to return to Israel for fear Palestinian militants would try to seize them as hostages.

Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilna'i said yesterday the breakout into Egypt was an opportunity for Israel to rid itself of its responsibility to supply Gaza with electricity and water and to serve as a channel for Gaza's imports and exports.

"When Gaza is open to the other side we lose responsibility for it," he said. "We want to disconnect from it."

Egypt, however, has made it clear it does not want responsibility for the troublesome strip, whose Islamic militants are ideological partners of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. It particularly does not want indirect responsibility for the rockets fired from the strip into Israel.

The crossing point had been closed since Hamas's seizure of the Gaza Strip last June.

If Mr Mubarak were to allow new border arrangements with Hamas that would permit a free flow of people and goods, it would violate Egypt's agreement with the international "Quartet" -- the US, UN, European Union and Russia -- for a border terminal without Hamas involvement and with cameras permitting Israel to monitor the crossing.

However, Mr Mubarak would find it hard, not least for his image in the Arab world, to be seen as party to a renewed siege of the Palestinians.

Israel says it will continue its siege until the rocket firing ceases, with an invasion of Gaza a likelihood if the rocketing does not cease.


Hamas challenges Egypt's bid to close Gaza border

Fri Jan 25, 2008 5:11pm EST

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces greatly reduced their presence along the breached Gaza border late on Friday after Palestinian militants defied their attempts to seal the gaps by bulldozing a new opening.

Thousands of Palestinians crossed unhindered from Hamas-run Gaza as the Egyptians pulled back, rushing to stock up on food and fuel and shop for other goods which are in short supply because of Israel's blockade of the strip.

Adel Salman, an Egyptian government employee who lives near the border point said he had seen truckloads of police leaving.

"Palestinian movement is passing through the gate without any opposition from Egyptian security forces," Salman said.

An Egyptian security source said the forces pulled back from crossing points after a security man was shot and wounded.

Tens of thousands of Gaza Palestinians have crossed into Egypt since militants blew up a border wall on Wednesday to get around a blockade that Israel said it had imposed to try to counter cross-border rocket fire.

The fall of the Rafah wall has also punched a new hole in a U.S.-backed campaign to curb the clout of Hamas and strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, nearly eight months after the Islamist group routed Abbas's Fatah forces in Gaza.

The Egyptian government faces a difficult balancing act.

It does not want to be seen as aiding the Israeli blockade, but is under U.S. and Israeli pressure to take control. It also fears the spread of Islamist influence and the effects of becoming home to so many undocumented Palestinians.

On Friday, Egyptian forces began placing barbed wire and chain-link fences to stop more people crossing. But Hamas militants, cheered on by crowds of Gazans, used a bulldozer to flatten sections of the chain and concrete fence.

Tensions flared at one point when Palestinians threw stones at Egyptian police, who responded with batons and water cannon.

The Egyptian state news agency MENA said 22 Egyptian security men were injured while trying to contain the crowd. Egyptian security sources at the border said seven security men were injured, 6 by stones and one shot in the foot.


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in an interview to be published on Saturday, urged Hamas and Abbas's Fatah to end their differences and invited both sides to meet.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, speaking in Damascus, accepted the invitation. "I and all the brothers in the Hamas leadership welcome participating and will seek to make the dialogue a success," he told Reuters.

But a Fatah lawmaker in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Abbas holds sway, said talks would be a waste of time as long as Hamas continued to control Gaza.

"There is a Palestinian consensus that Hamas should give up its control of Gaza and fall into line with President Abbas, without this the talks would be a waste of time," lawmaker Abdallah Abdallah said.

Abbas has sought U.S. and Israeli support to take control of all of the border crossings, a move Hamas hopes to prevent.

By challenging Egyptian efforts to re-close the Gaza border, Hamas hoped to win assurances from Cairo that it would have a say in any future agreement to oversee the border crossings, including the one with Egypt at Rafah, Hamas sources say.

Israeli officials said Abbas planned to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday, seeking support for controlling the crossings and for renewed peace talks despite the setbacks.

Citing the breach in Gaza's southern border, some top Israeli officials have advocated cutting Israel's remaining links with the coastal territory and putting the onus on Egypt.

Hamas sources said the group decided to open a new section in the border fence to increase pressure on Egypt.

Israel, which occupied Gaza in 1967, pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005 but still controls the strip's northern and eastern borders, airspace and coastal waters.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Yusuf in Rafah, Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Egypt, and Cynthia Johnston in Cairo; and Avida Landau and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Adam Entous in Jerusalem; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

Mr. Musharraf's Busman's Holiday

Even as he tries to "get away" and rub shoulders with the world's movers and shakers in Davos, Pervez Musharraf's troubles mount in Pakistan.

Musharraf has been making the rounds of Europe, reassuring everyone that elections back home will be free, fair and transparent.

He says that Pakistan is a modern, nuclear country. Investors must know that Pakistan is stable and growing economically and is no "banana republic."

Musharraf says that the strategy against al-Qaeda is to "defeat them militarily. They have no right to be in Pakistan, they're foreigners. The Taliban are our own people and we must ween the population from militant Taliban. Secondly, do not allow any militant cross border movement and do not allow anyone to support cross border movement."

Musharraf says that there is total cooperation at both the strategic and tactical levels between US and Paki intelligence. There is total cooperation, he says, on both sides of the border. He says that al-Qaeda has been eliminated from Paki cities and valleys where they once numbered in the hundreds. Now, "in much smaller numbers," they are taking refuge in the mountains.

While he was away in Europe and his army was in the middle of a counter strike against high-jacking militants, Musharraf was blindsided by "some of his own." Retired senior Paki officers declared that Musharraf is the irritant in the umma and should step down. The question is, are these retirees speaking for themselves or do they represent the views of the active military as well?

Well, of course, every Islamo-moonbat knows he's our stooge and the statement by SecDef Gates (offering US help) probably didn't help Musharraf's cause but everyone's hoping that nothing will happen to derail the February parliamentary elections.

What happens after February? Well, we're taking one day at a time.

BTW - Don't miss the last paragraph of the article...
Pakistani Forces Battle Border Militants
Jan 25 09:52 AM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery targeted militant hide-outs in the country's northwest on Friday, killing up to 30 rebels, a military statement said.

Two paramilitary troopers also died in the attack on Dara Adam Khel, a town in North West Frontier province, a day after a group of suspected militants hijacked four truckloads of supplies including ammunition and other military materials.

Also on Friday, Pakistan's government responded angrily to a group of retired military commanders who appealed to President Pervez Musharraf to resign in order to promote democracy and combat religious militancy.

The timing of the call appeared designed to embarrass Musharraf, who was in Europe on a tour aimed at reassuring Western leaders about his ability to restore democracy and prevail in the escalating combat between government troops and Taliban rebels along Pakistan's mountainous border with Afghanistan.

Information Minister Nisar Memon described the retired military officials' call as unconstitutional, and said he was "dismayed at such lack of understanding of national issues by people who have held important positions in the past."

On Tuesday, Pakistan Ex-Servicemen's Society urged the U.S.-backed leader to resign immediately "in the supreme national interest," in a statement signed by more than 100 retired generals, admirals, air marshals, other senior officers and enlisted ranks.

Memon said that rather than issuing "irresponsible press statements," the group should focus on improving the welfare of retired military personnel.

On Friday, a former top intelligence official joined the calls for Musharraf to leave office, saying there was a "widespread belief in the country that you and your government has now become a huge part of the problem."

"While the army and paramilitary (forces) are deployed to fight in many parts of North West Frontier Province, the police and rangers are busy beating up civil society in the city streets," Masood Sharif, a former head of Pakistan's main domestic intelligence agency, said in a letter to the president.

While the group of retired servicemen does not speak for active officers, its tough stance could help erode military support for Musharraf, who was commander of the army until stepping down last month and whose popularity has waned considerably in the past year.

Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum, Musharraf described his critics as "insignificant personalities" whom he had dismissed from service.

He vowed that his government would carry on the fight against terrorism, and said parliamentary elections scheduled for Feb. 18 would be free and transparent.

This fall, Musharraf purged the Supreme Court which was poised to scupper his recent re-election by a pliant parliament and briefly suspended the constitution, setting back expectations of a restoration of democracy. The top court's chief justice remains under house arrest, along with other prominent judges and lawyers.

The political turmoil comes as Pakistan's army is increasingly engaged in combat with pro-Taliban militants in the tribal areas and other parts of North West Frontier Province.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that the United States was willing to send a small number of combat troops to Pakistan to help fight the insurgency there if Pakistani authorities asked for such help.

Gates said the Pakistani government has not requested any additional help in the weeks since al-Qaida and affiliated extremists have intensified their actions inside Pakistan. He stressed that the United States would respect the Pakistanis' judgment on the utility of American military assistance.

Also Friday, Pakistan successfully test-fired a medium-range, nuclear- capable ballistic missile, the military said, in one of the country's routine tests of the missiles in its arsenal.

Time flies. Last year at this time, Musharraf was in Davos with a new book out and I predicted that he was going to "cash in" and get out. He didn't. We didn't know then what would happen in the next year and we don't know what the coming year will bring. But one thing is for certain. We'll know more in six months.

Artificial Life is Not Artificial

..."Scientists are one step closer to constructing a living, synthetic organism that has the potential for social, economic, and ecological disruption - and society is not at all prepared for that."

As Tony Soprano once warned: "Once you join this family, there is no going back." Such will be the case with so-called artificial life. A movie is artificial life. You can turn it on and then off. Once the DNA is out of the bottle, it is not going back. Mankind has not been very adept at exotic species. Rabbits in Australia, gypsy moths in America, and the European introduction of various diseases to the Americas caused tremendous havoc and suffering. They were not artificial life as much as unfamiliar life. Aids is thought to be an exotic cross species invasion.

The term artificial life is half right and half wrong. It is life, created by humans and untempered and untried by time. When that life is introduced, it may be an opening to many wonderful things, but it may be the source of some exotic red tide that can go inter-continental and change the very nature of life as we know it. Once it joins our family, there is no going back.


Artificial life being created
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor Telegraph
Last Updated: 7:01pm GMT 24/01/2008

Experiments to create the first man-made organism have started in the wake of the successful creation of the genetic code of a living thing from laboratory chemicals.

The first artificial genetic code - the software of life - and how to make it from scratch from four kinds of chemical is unveiled today by an American team, marking the completion of the second of three steps towards the dawn of synthetic life.

Sequence of images of the synthetic genome created by Craig Venter's team
Efforts to finish the final step of transplanting the synthetic DNA into a cell are under way, though it takes some weeks to work out if a transplant has been successful.

A team of 17 researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, describes in the journal Science how it has successfully created the largest man-made DNA structure, indeed the largest synthetic molecule, the circular genetic code of an artificial bacterium that it is now trying to breed in the lab.

The scientists led by the human genome pioneer Dr Craig Venter want to create new kinds of bacterium, living chemical factories if you like, to make new types of bugs which can be used as green fuels to replace oil and coal, digest toxic waste or absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

The feat will trigger excitement and unease in equal measure along with widespread debate about the ethics of creating new species, which Dr Venter believes will be a major step in the history of our species. One critic of what some call Synthia put it more trenchantly: "God has competition."

Rumours have circulated for weeks that they have achieved the feat but, speaking from Davos, Switzerland, Dr Venter tells The Daily Telegraph: "No we have not. There are a number of serious constraints on that happening and we are working diligently to get rid of them.

If we had succeeded it would be part of this paper. As soon as we have it, I doubt that we would be able to keep it a secret. Nor would we want to."

But he believes success is only "a matter of time."

The genetic codes - genomes - of all organisms are written in the chemical language of DNA and Dr Venter's team used lab methods to make all 582,970 letters of a slightly modified version of the genome of a genital bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium JCVI-1.0.

The name underlines how Dr Venter wants to rewrite the software of life so it can still run on the hardware of an existing bacterial cell.

Standard methods can only make tiny DNA snippets. Today's technical tour de force, the fruits of an effort launched at the start of 2003, has created a huge ring of DNA that is more than 10 times bigger than earlier attempts, a milestone towards the goal of creating a fully-synthetic organism that is able to self replicate.

To achieve today's "very exciting" milestone, his team made DNA fragments in the lab into larger pieces using new methods for the assembly and reproduction of the DNA segments. After several years of work perfecting chemical assembly, the team found they could harness the process that cells use to repair damage to their chromosomes to complete the job.

The team, which now includes Dan Gibson, Clyde Hutchison and the Nobel laureate Ham Smith, has already started its attempt to create a living cell based entirely on the synthetic DNA code as part of an effort to find out which of its genes are essential for life, crucial for efforts to understand how life works.

"This extraordinary accomplishment is a technological marvel," said Dr Venter, paying tribute to his team that has "dedicated the last several years to designing and perfecting new methods and techniques that we believe will become widely used to advance the field of synthetic genomics."

The letters of DNA-- chemical building blocks called adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thiamine (T) - are not easy chemicals to artificially synthesise into chromosomes. As the strands of DNA get longer they get increasingly brittle, making them more difficult to work with.

Before today's publication, the largest synthesised piece of DNA contained only 32,000 letters of code. Ham Smith says: "We have shown that building large genomes is now feasible and scalable so that important applications such as biofuels can be developed." However, such work would use other kinds of bacteria.

Jim Thomas of the ETC group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) called on Dr Venter to slow down so that society could take on board the wider implications.

"Venter is claiming bragging rights to the world's longest length of synthetic DNA, but size isn't everything. The important question is not 'how long?' but 'how wise?'" says Thomas.

"While synthetic biology is speeding ahead in the lab and in the marketplace, societal debate and regulatory oversight is stalled and there has been no meaningful or inclusive discussion on how to govern synthetic biology in a safe and just way. In the absence of democratic oversight profiteering industrialists are tinkering with the building blocks of life for their own private gain. We regard that as unacceptable."

"The Venter Institute calls this synthetic life version 1.0 and acknowledges that it doesn't quite work yet - however, society shouldn't wait for the next upgrade - the stakes are far too serious," explains Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group.

"This news means scientists are one step closer to constructing a living, synthetic organism that has the potential for social, economic, and ecological disruption - and society is not at all prepared for that."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hugh Hewitt & Rush Limbaugh

I enjoy listening to Hugh Hewitt. His radio show is intelligent and he draws from a broad spectrum that includes many thet he does not agree with. I agree with Hewitt much of the time, but not all. Rush Limbaugh is someone that is more of a used to be. There is rarely a surprise from Rush and he has become too much of a cult figure for my taste. He is the Paul McCartney of talk radio, a billionaire, someone I used to listen to, but of not much interest to me now.

Limbaugh and Hewitt are going all out against McCain and Huckabee. Does it really matter? I am not sure anymore. Talk to me.

Deal for economic rescue package closer

By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer

House Democratic and Republican leaders are looking for imminent agreement with the White House on an emergency package to jolt the economy out of its slump after negotiators on all sides made significant concessions at a late-night bargaining session.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to drop increases in food stamp and unemployment benefits during the Wednesday meeting in exchange for gaining a rebates of at least $300 for each person earning a paycheck, including low-income earners who make too little to pay income taxes.

Families with children would receive an additional $300 per child, subject to an overall cap of perhaps $1,200, according to a senior House aide who outlined the deal on condition of anonymity in advance of formal adoption of the whole package.

Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, had yet to reach agreement on a package of tax breaks for businesses after estimates showed a tentative business tax agreement could exceed $70 billion, far more than had been expected, the aide and a Democratic lobbyist said.

Pelosi and Boehner appeared optimistic as they left their third extended negotiating session of the day with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. "We'll have more to say tomorrow," Boehner said. "We're hopeful."

Kudos to Hamas

You've got to hand it to the Palestinians. No one knows how to manipulate the media and public opinion like they do. Two days ago, they were in the world's headlines pleading that the Israelis were threatening the lives of babies in hospital neo-natal units.

They set the stage, they rehearsed their parts, they followed their script and now they have successfully pulled off their latest production.

Egypt starts controlling Gazan crowds

By OMAR SINAN and SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Writer 8 minutes ago

Egyptian officials began trying to control the masses of Palestinians flooding from the Gaza Strip Thursday, stopping some from moving deeper into Egypt but not attempting to reseal the breached border.

Helmeted riot officers with dogs used batons to beat the hoods of Egyptian cars and trucks offering rides to Palestinians seeking goods in towns out of walking range.

Dozens of Egyptian guards pushed their way through the crowds but did nothing to halt the thousands of Palestinians moving over the wreckage of a metal wall brought down by explosives a day earlier.

"We are trying to organize the flow — incoming and exiting — of all these people," a guard who did not provide his name told a reporter walking through the passage from Egypt to Gaza.

U.S. and Arab officials said Wednesday that Egypt had assured the United States it would soon reseal its border with the Gaza Strip. An Arab diplomat said Egypt told the U.S. it expected the Palestinians' exodus from Gaza to end by midday Thursday, but a senior U.S. official said Egypt has not been precise about when it will stop the flow.

The crush of people at the border appeared to increase at midday, with Gazans saying they feared the Egyptian authorities would soon close the crossing.

"Everyone is rushing into Egypt before they seal it off," said Mohammed Abu Amra, a Palestinian man walking with crutches. He slipped and fell as he passed into Egypt.

"I fell because everyone is pushing, everyone is rushing," he said, dusting off his pants.

"The Egyptians started doing good deeds by letting us in. For God's sake, why don't they keep allowing us to pass through?"

Israel, meanwhile, said it would not send emergency shipments of fuel on Thursday, as it had initially promised earlier in the week. The fuel is needed to run Gaza City's power plant, which had shut down after Israel imposed a complete closure on Gaza last week, in response to rocket attacks.

The Palestinian Energy Authority said the Gaza plant would have to shut down again by Sunday, unless shipments are renewed.

An Israeli defense official said the border breach "reduces pressure on us a little" to provide the basics in Gaza. When Israel initially imposed a complete blockade last week, tacitly backed by Egypt, international aid groups voiced concern about an impending humanitarian crisis.

Israel is still trying to get clarification from Egypt on if and when it plans to close the border, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

In downtown Rafah, Palestinians could be seen buying cows, camels and horses and leading them back through the passage into Gaza. Men loaded with electronics equipment struggled to step through the broken opening.

Egyptian drivers idled their pickup trucks just inside Egyptian territory, charging incoming Palestinians $3.60 for a ride into downtown Rafah and neighboring El Arish.

Others carted cement bags, motorcycles, generators, gasoline gerrycans and canned food toward Gaza to be unloaded and handed over the border.

Several Egyptian armored vehicles towed cars away from a lot on the Egyptian side of the border, attaching ropes to empty pickups and dragging them hundreds of yards away.

Egyptian police were also deployed on main shopping thoroughfares and in alleyways in Rafah, but they did not attempt to force Palestinians to leave the city.

The border breach has been a boon to Hamas, the militant group whose hold on Gaza was made more difficult by border closures. The closures, which were tightened after Hamas seized control of Gaza by force in June, have led to severe shortages of cement, cigarette and other basic goods.

Hamas has used the border breach — which was carefully planned, with militants weakening the metal wall with blow torches about a month ago — to push its demand for reopening the border passages, this time with Hamas involvement. Such an arrangement would in effect end the international sanctions against the Islamic militants.

Hamas government spokesman Taher Nunu suggested Thursday that Hamas would seek a role in a future on the Gaza-Egypt border.

"An open border like this has no logic," he said. "We are studying the mechanism of having an official crossing point."

It appears unlikely Egypt will acquiesce. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been under intense public pressure at home in recent days to alleviate the suffering of Gazans under blockade. However, Egypt would likely be reluctant to have an open border with a territory ruled by Islamic militants.

Israel, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation, has expressed concern that militants and weapons might be entering Gaza to bolster rocket launchings toward Israel, and said responsibility for restoring order lies with Egypt.

The United States also expressed concern about the border breach. Hamas called on its bitter rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, to help come up with new arrangements for Gaza's crossings.

Meanwhile, trucks and donkey carts pulled up to the Egyptian side, where goods were unloaded, carried across to the Gazan side and put in waiting trucks.

Gaza businessman Abu Omar Shurafa received a shipment of 100 tons of cement, seizing an opportunity to stock up before the border closes again.

"Everyone is exerting all efforts to stock the reserves for six to seven months. We have to find a way to continue living," he said.

Still, he was also hopeful that this could be the beginning of a new arrangement. "A solution has to be like this," he said, referring to the flow of goods from Egypt.

"We just want freedom," said Adel Tildani, who was bringing his mother-in-law from Egypt into Gaza to meet grandchildren she had never seen before. "I don't need to buy anything. Freedom is more important."

Hamdi al-Masri returned from Egypt to Gaza with several canisters of diesel fuel. He had walked more than six miles to reach an Egyptian town where fuel was not sold out.

Egyptian Ahmed Talaat, 23, crossed into Gaza to visit a sister he had not seen in six years. The town of Rafah was divided in two when Israel captured the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war, and crossing the border has become increasingly difficult over the years.

The opening of the border began before dawn Wednesday, when masked gunmen used 17 explosive charges to tear down the border wall — erected in 2001 by Israel when it controlled Gaza.

After news of the breach spread, people across Gaza boarded buses and piled into rickety pickup trucks heading for Egypt. It was a rare chance to escape Gaza's isolation.

By nightfall Wednesday, more than 1,000 Gazans had reached El-Arish, about 37 miles south of Rafah, walking the streets and shopping in stores that stayed open late.

Egyptian security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to talk to the media, said that Palestinians were not being allowed to travel further south than El-Arish.

Israeli tanks raided the northern Gaza Strip overnight and razed an area where militants launch rockets, the army said. Troops shot a Palestinian who fired an anti-tank missile at the forces, the army spokesman said. Israeli radio stations said the man was killed. Palestinian medics could not immediately reach the area to ascertain the man's condition.