Sunday, February 28, 2010

Television Lends Itself to Our Electing an Adjective!

In David Halberstam's: "The Fifties" he discusses the impact of television on the presidential Kennedy-Nixon election and writes: "...this was the first time in which it would become the dominating force..."

Speaking of Kennedy, Halberstam writes: "Kennedy had been a natural on television - from the start the camera liked him. He was attractive, he did not posture, and he was cool by instinct. Television was a cool medium-the more overheated a candidate, the less well he did on it..."

Dean Acheson was not impressed by either Nixon or Kennedy and wrote Truman: "...Both are surrounded by clever people who dash off smart memoranda, but it is not all pulled together on either side by or into a man. The ideas are too contrived... These two... bore the hell out of me."

I quote these parts of Halberstam's last chapter because it goes a long way towards explaining why Obama beat McCain. Cool style sells on TV. The candidate may be an empty suit but the camera does not pick up depth just surface. The observer has to impute and/or conclude from what the eye sees and is shown.

It is also, among other reasons, why Reagan blew out Carter, maybe why GW beat Gore and Kerry etc.

It is as if some dumb TV camera determines who will be our next president. Scary thought isn't it.

I am not glossing over, in the most recent campaign, the public angst over GW, the stupidity of McCain's many campaign actions and decisions and the biased press and media because they were present and added weight. But, it is down right frightening that, because of one's ability to appear 'attractive,' 'cool, 'fresh,' 'youthful' etc., we are quite likely to elect an adjective than a substantive person.

Humor about Israeli uniqueness. (See 1 below.)

Now it can be revealed - N Korean yellow cake was heading for Syrian when plant attacked. Subsequently re-shipped to Iran.(See 2 below.)

Israeli diplomats visiting China try to get them to sign off on Iranian sanctions. Possibly making some progress? (See 3 below.)

Following in the footsteps of Tammy Wynette, Pelosi stands by her man - Rangel. I thought she would because she needs the black vote and does not want to infuriate the black caucus.

New Pelosi test seems to be if violating rules does not endange the nation then ethics out the window anbd not an issue.

I would throw out both Pelosi and Rangel.(See 4 and 4a below.)

Tracking the economy - shadows are evident. Stagflation prospects on the horizon? (See 5, 5a and 5b below.)
Obama down but not out according to Bill Kristol. (See 6 below.)

But Obama's presidency is shrinking according to Fred Barnes. (See 6a below.)

Obama, like one of his predecessors, has a problem with that something called a 'vision thing.' (See 7 below.)

Obama to Brits - Falk 'Em! (See 8 below.)
Contrast! (See 9 below.)

Politics at its best. (See 10 below.)
For next two weeks out more than in so plan on relief from memos. Going to attend funeral of father of very dear friend, then away for our anniversary and then I am in a regional 'over 70' tennis tournament.

1) Israel is a country surrounded on all sides by enemies, but the
people's headaches are caused by the neighbors upstairs.

Israel is a country where the same drivers who cusses you and flips you
the bird will immediately pull over and offer you all forms of help if
you look like you need it.

Israel is the only country in the world with bus drivers and taxi
drivers who read Spinoza and Maimonides..

Israel is the only country in the world where no one cares what rules
say when an important goal can be achieved by bending them.

Israel is the only country in the world where reservists are bossed
around and commanded by officers, male and female, younger than their
own children.

Israel is the only country in the world where "small talk" consists
of loud, angry debate over politics and religion.

Israel is the only country in the world where the coffee is already
so good that Starbucks went bankrupt trying to break into the local

Israel is one of the few places in the world where the sun sets into
the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel is the only country in the world whose soldiers eat three sets
of salads a day, none of which contain any lettuce (which is not
really a food), and where olives ARE a food and even a main course in
a meal, rather than something one tosses into a martini.

Israel is the only country in the world where one is likely to dig
a cellar and hit ancient archaeological artifacts.

Israel is the only country in the world where the leading writers in
the country take buses.

Israel is the only country in the world where graffiti is in Hebrew.

Israel is the only country in the world where the "black folks"
walking around all wear yarmulkes.

Israel is the only country in the world that has a National Book Week,
during which almost everyone attends a book fair and buys books.

Israel is the only country in the world where the ultra-Orthodox Jews
beat up the police and not the other way around.

Israel is the only country in the world where bank robbers kiss the
mezuzah as they leave with their loot.

Israel is one of the few countries in the world that truly likes and
admires the United States.

ahead of the United States and
decades ahead of Europe. >

Israel is the only country in the world where everyone on a flight
gets to know one another before the plane lands.

In many cases, they also get to know the pilot and all about his
health or marital problems.

Israel is the only country in the world where no one has a foreign
accent because everyone has a foreign accent.

Israel is the only country in the world where people cuss using dirty
words in Russian or Arabic because Hebrew has never developed them.

Israel is the only country in the world where patients visiting
physicians end up giving the doctor advice.

Sunsets in Jerusalem are gorgeous every evening.

Israel is the only country in the world where people read English,
write Hebrew, and joke in Yiddish.
2)North Korean yellowcake was bound for Syria when Israel struck plant

At the time of Israel's bombardment of the Syrian-Iranian plutonium plant under construction in northern Syria on September 2007, 45 tons of North Korean yellowcake, enough for several nuclear bombs, was on its way to the plant, Japanese intelligence sources have revealed. It was this information that prompted the Israeli attack with president George W. Bush's approval.
he administration in Washington sought not merely to prevent a large consignment of weapons-grade material from reaching Syrian hands, but equally to make it clear to Pyongyang that the US meant to enforce the UN Security Council ban on its nuclear proliferation activities.

Right after the Israeli bombardment, Syrian president Bashar Assad is said to have urgently advised the North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Il to turn the uranium-laden ship around because the Americans and Israelis would likely attack it or seize its cargo if it reached the Mediterranean.

Two years later, in the summer of 2009, that same yellowcake consignment was secretly reshipped to Iran, attesting to the integral nuclear partnership between Tehran and Damascus.

So, even without 1,950 kilo- stock of enriched uranium Iran has produced at Natanz, the Islamic Republic has piled up enough material to make three or five bombs or warheads. Revelation of the North Korean delivery suggests Tehran may have more secret enriched uranium hoards, probably from black market sources, such as Central Asia.

The New York Times Sunday, Feb. 28, reported that IAEA inspectors were taken by surprise two weeks ago when Iran moved almost its entire fuel stockpile in Natanz above ground.

According to one theory, Iran was taunting the Israelis to strike first; according to another, it was escalating the confrontation with the West to extract more concessions in negotiations. But some US nuclear and intelligence experts opt for a simpler explanation: Iran has announced its intention of enriching low-grade uranium up to 20 percent purity and has now moved its stock to a new site for reprocessing.

The real question, according to sources, is not how much banned enriched material has been observed and recorded by international inspectors, but how much is hidden in caches concealed from and undeclared to the IAEA.
3) China 'seriously considering' Israeli push for Iran sanctions
By Barak Ravid

Israeli delegation to Beijing presented China with evidence that Iran is developing nuclear arms.

Chinese officials said they will seriously consider Israel's request to impose sanctions on Iran, a senior diplomatic source told Haaretz.

A delegation led by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon and central bank chief Stanley Fischer tried last week to persuade China to support sanctions on Iran by offering "the full intelligence picture available to Israel."

The Israeli officials also said a nuclear Iran would push up oil prices - the Chinese depend on Iran for a significant chunk of their imported oil.

Israel is trying to recruit China's support for a fourth round of sanctions on Iran, and the UN Security Council is due to vote on the issue in the coming months. At the very least, Israel wants to ensure that China does not oppose the sanctions when they come to vote.

Israel also wants to make sure that China supports the report on Iran published by the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano. Unlike his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, Amano discussed in his report the possibility that Iran might secretively be developing nuclear weapons. The IAEA's annual conference is set to open in Vienna today.

A senior diplomatic source told Haaretz that the delegation's main aim was to present to the Chinese evidence that Iran was developing nuclear arms. China's official position is that Iran has a right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful, civilian purposes and that there is no proof Iran has a military nuclear program.

Most detailed overview in years

"The Chinese were given the full intelligence picture Israel has about the Iranian nuclear program, which clearly shows Iran is developing nuclear weapons," the source said.

"The delegation also stressed how concerned Israel was, and that all options must remain on the table," the source added.

The delegation that set out for Beijing in coordination with the U.S. administration also included senior officials in the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council and the defense establishment.

It met with a number of Chinese officials, the top one being State Councilor Dai Bingguo.

According to the source, the Israelis spent two hours presenting the Chinese with an overview of the intelligence information Israel has on Iran's nuclear program. This was the most detailed overview given by Israel to China in more than three years, since prime minister Ehud Olmert's visit in January 2007.

The Israeli delegation concluded with a positive feeling, the source said, with the Chinese saying they will seriously consider the information they received. The source said the talks were conducted in a friendly atmosphere, and the Chinese stressed the importance of Chinese-Israeli relations and their desire to develop these ties further.

Fischer detailed the implications a nuclear Iran would have for the world economy, stressing a dramatic rise in oil prices. Alternatives to importing oil from Iran were also discussed.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia and the United States proposed to China that it buy oil from Arab states at much lower prices than oil imported from Iran.

China is also concerned about possible sanctions because of its deals with Iran on developing railroads, tunnels and oil fields. These contracts are expected to be highly profitable, so the Chinese fear that sanctions would put them at risk.

4)Pelosi Stands by Her Chairman
By Susan Davis,

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave no indication that her support was wavering for embattled Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, in the wake of his admonishment by the House ethics panel last week.

“It said he did not knowingly violate House rules. So that gives him some comfort,” the speaker told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. Rangel was publicly admonised by the panel for violating House rules by failing to properly disclose financial details of trips he took to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

The ethics panel didn’t find sufficient evidence to conclude Rangel knew that misleading information was provided to the ethics committee before the trips were approved. His office said in a statement last week that the ethics committee “found the chairman himself had no actual knowledge that the trip in fact violated House rules.”

A growing number of House lawmakers, including some Democrats, have said Rangel should resign his post heading the powerful tax-writing committee until the matter is fully addressed.

Pelosi on Sunday wouldn’t concede the chairman should step aside if more admonishments were to come down from the ethics panel. Rangel is under other ethics investigations involving his personal disclosure forms on his financial assets.

“Well, why don’t we just give him a chance to hear what the independent, bipartisan” ethics panel finds, she said. “They work very hard to reach their conclusions and we obviously [know] there’s more to come here.”

The speaker admitted that the case didn’t look good to the public. “No, it doesn’t,” she said. “But the fact is, what Mr. Rangel has been admonished for is not good. It was a violation of the rules of the House.”

However, she added: “It was not something that jeopardized our country in any way.

4a)Relieve the Chairman of His Gavel

Congressman Charles Rangel was far from humbled after the ethics committee admonished him for taking corporate-paid Caribbean junkets in violation of the House ethics code. Rather, the New York Democrat berated the panel’s leaders on the House floor.

The moment was characteristic of Mr. Rangel’s arrogance throughout the investigation, which continues into more serious allegations about his official behavior. It is one more reason why Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who championed ethics reform — should stop protecting him and relieve him of his crucial role as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

The ethics committee found that the trips — ostensibly for information gathering — by Mr. Rangel and four other members of the Congressional Black Caucus were financed by major corporations with money funneled through a charity affiliated with The New York Carib News. It said that two of Mr. Rangel’s staff members knew about the back-door financing but hid that fact when the committee was asked to pre-approve the trips.

Mr. Rangel protested he did not know and “common sense” should dictate that he not be held responsible. The committee properly concluded that he should be admonished for his staffers’ blatant misconduct.

The affair remains something of a tangled ethics web. All five junketeers were ordered to repay the costs of about $11,800, yet only Mr. Rangel was criticized. And a former counsel to the ethics committee was found to have leaked panel secrets to Carib News charity officials during the inquiry. The committee said “false and misleading” testimony from charity workers would be referred to the Department of Justice.

This should galvanize the committee to conclude its snail-paced inquiry into Mr. Rangel’s behavior, including: his acceptance of rent-subsidized apartments from a Manhattan real estate developer; his failure to pay taxes on rental income from a villa in the Dominican Republic; and his soliciting of a $1 million donation — to a university center named after him — from a corporation with business before Congress. Mr. Rangel, the House’s designated master of fiscal accountability, already deserves to be stripped of his gavel.

New York Times Editorial.
5)Economy Watch: Three indicators spell trouble for the recovery
By Frank Ahrens

There is an old joke in journalism that if three of anything happens, you've got a trend story, no matter how vaguely tied together the three things may be.

In economics, however, three data points can tell you something. Consider three events last week:

-- On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that January new-home sales dropped 11.2 percent from December, plunging to their lowest level in nearly 50 years.

-- On Tuesday, the Conference Board reported that February consumer confidence fell sharply from January, driven down by the survey's "present situation index" -- how confident consumers feel right now -- which hit its lowest mark since the 1983 recession. On Friday, the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey also showed a falloff from January to February.

-- On Thursday, the government's report on new jobless claims filed during the previous week shot up 22,000, which was exactly opposite of what economists predicted. Forecasters expected new jobless claims to drop by about 20,000.

Taken together, what do these reports tell us?

We've got a long way to go to get out of this economic mess, and we may be actually losing a little ground.

"The economy is extremely mixed with manufacturing being the only area that has shown signs of legit improvement because of inventory restocking and export growth," said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist with Miller Tabak. "Consumer confidence being weak and the jobless claims data still reflect a difficult labor market with much uncertainty on the part of business to hire because of the unclear economic outlook."

In what is perhaps the best description I've seen, Boockvar said the U.S. economy is "lumpy."

Any recovery we are experiencing is wobbly, has an uncertain future and will not come about with a burst of new job creation. We know from past recoveries that unemployment has remained high for months -- if not quarters -- following the official end of each recession. Economists predict that unemployment will hang at between 9 and 10 percent for the remainder of 2010.

That means that Americans will have to spend their way to recovery, as 70 percent of the gross domestic product is based on consumer spending. But with stubbornly high unemployment, a spending surge should not be counted on, at least until the seasonal one at the end of the year, and that goes on credit cards, which presents a whole other set of problems.

About the only thing this economy has going for it right now is surprisingly low inflation. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress last week that his central bank foresees low inflation for the rest of this year, which at least will keep prices down. If we had inflation on top of high unemployment, we would see the return of Jimmy Carter-era "stagflation," a noxious combination of stagnant economic growth and high prices.

Of the three pieces of data that we're focusing on, the new-home sales figure is probably the most troubling, because it could represent a step backward in the recovery. Consumers can say one thing to a survey, but they vote with their pocketbooks. If they don't feel confident about the economy, they stop buying new homes.

Sales of new homes make up only about 25 percent of the entire housing market, but they are closely tied to construction and manufacturing jobs, and shine a light on the health of those sectors. The fact that new-home sales dropped so precipitously in January even with low mortgage rates and an extension (and expansion) of the government-subsidized home-buyer credit tells you just how weak demand is. Sales of new homes peaked in July and have been slipping ever since.

This crisis began with plummeting housing prices. It will not end until housing prices hit bottom, and they're not there, yet.

On the unexpected rise in new jobless claims numbers, the more optimistic are blaming the snow: They say the most recent claims number was boosted by a processing backlog, because government offices were closed during the nationwide snowstorms and couldn't process new jobless complaints at a steady rate.

But take a look at the four-week moving average of new jobless claims, which smooths out volatility. That number is up 6,000 to 473,750. That's going the wrong way.

Some perspective: One year ago, new jobless claims were numbering 670,000 per week. They now stand at 70 percent of that. That's good. But they seem to be stuck where they are. Indeed, they may be inching back up. It's almost impossible to create new private-sector jobs in an economy that's still shedding them at current levels.

Also, we need to understand that these three pieces of data are highly interlinked and feed off one another. They do not occur in their own vacuums. With the nation's official unemployment rate at 9.7 percent (and the truer measure of unemployment at 16.5 percent), everything in this economy is pivoting on jobs. Each new person who loses his job -- and files a claim -- is one less person who is likely to buy a new house, or much of anything else, for that matter. And, if that person is one of the 5,000 who was contacted by the Conference Board's survey, then it's a good bet that person will say he is pessimistic about the economy. As the chain goes on, don't forget employers are feeling less optimistic about the economy, which makes them more likely to contract and lay off workers.

Also, we need to look at the world outside these three pieces of data. The stock market rallied 60 percent from the March 2009 bottom to mid-November of last year. Since then, it's done little but go sideways. People -- investors, traders, holders of retirement accounts -- notice that. It changes the way they think. The euphoria of the 2009 rally is over. It has been replaced by caution, uncertainty and a hard-to-shake sense that we haven't hit bottom yet.

And that, as much as anything, is what's holding back economic recovery.

Or, as Boockvar succinctly put it: "Whatever recovery we think we are having is still not believed by those who are trying to generate it."

5a)America, the fragile empireHere today, gone tomorrow -- could the United States fall that fast?
By Niall Ferguson

For centuries, historians, political theorists, anthropologists and the public have tended to think about the political process in seasonal, cyclical terms. From Polybius to Paul Kennedy, from ancient Rome to imperial Britain, we discern a rhythm to history. Great powers, like great men, are born, rise, reign and then gradually wane. No matter whether civilizations decline culturally, economically or ecologically, their downfalls are protracted.

In the same way, the challenges that face the United States are often represented as slow-burning. It is the steady march of demographics -- which is driving up the ratio of retirees to workers -- not bad policy that condemns the public finances of the United States to sink deeper into the red. It is the inexorable growth of China's economy, not American stagnation, that will make the gross domestic product of the People's Republic larger than that of the United States by 2027.

As for climate change, the day of reckoning could be as much as a century away. These threats seem very remote compared with the time frame for the deployment of U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan, in which the unit of account is months, not years, much less decades.

But what if history is not cyclical and slow-moving but arrhythmic -- at times almost stationary but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?

Great powers are complex systems, made up of a very large number of interacting components that are asymmetrically organized, which means their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when complex systems "go critical." A very small trigger can set off a "phase transition" from a benign equilibrium to a crisis -- a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse.

Not long after such crises happen, historians arrive on the scene. They are the scholars who specialize in the study of "fat tail" events -- the low-frequency, high-impact historical moments, the ones that are by definition outside the norm and that therefore inhabit the "tails" of probability distributions -- such as wars, revolutions, financial crashes and imperial collapses. But historians often misunderstand complexity in decoding these events. They are trained to explain calamity in terms of long-term causes, often dating back decades. This is what Nassim Taleb rightly condemned in "The Black Swan" as "the narrative fallacy."

In reality, most of the fat-tail phenomena that historians study are not the climaxes of prolonged and deterministic story lines; instead, they represent perturbations, and sometimes the complete breakdowns, of complex systems.

To understand complexity, it is helpful to examine how natural scientists use the concept. Think of the spontaneous organization of termites, which allows them to construct complex hills and nests, or the fractal geometry of water molecules as they form intricate snowflakes. Human intelligence itself is a complex system, a product of the interaction of billions of neurons in the central nervous system.

All these complex systems share certain characteristics. A small input to such a system can produce huge, often unanticipated changes -- what scientists call "the amplifier effect." Causal relationships are often nonlinear, which means that traditional methods of generalizing through observation are of little use. Thus, when things go wrong in a complex system, the scale of disruption is nearly impossible to anticipate.

There is no such thing as a typical or average forest fire, for example. To use the jargon of modern physics, a forest before a fire is in a state of "self-organized criticality": It is teetering on the verge of a breakdown, but the size of the breakdown is unknown. Will there be a small fire or a huge one? It is nearly impossible to predict. The key point is that in such systems, a relatively minor shock can cause a disproportionate disruption.

Any large-scale political unit is a complex system. Most great empires have a nominal central authority -- either a hereditary emperor or an elected president -- but in practice the power of any individual ruler is a function of the network of economic, social and political relations over which he or she presides. As such, empires exhibit many of the characteristics of other complex adaptive systems -- including the tendency to move from stability to instability quite suddenly.

The most recent and familiar example of precipitous decline is the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the benefit of hindsight, historians have traced all kinds of rot within the Soviet system back to the Brezhnev era and beyond. Perhaps, as the historian and political scientist Stephen Kotkin has argued, it was only the high oil prices of the 1970s that "averted Armageddon." But this did not seem to be the case at the time. The Soviet nuclear arsenal was larger than the U.S. stockpile. And governments in what was then called the Third World, from Vietnam to Nicaragua, had been tilting in the Soviets' favor for most of the previous 20 years.

Yet, less than five years after Mikhail Gorbachev took power, the Soviet imperium in central and Eastern Europe had fallen apart, followed by the Soviet Union itself in 1991. If ever an empire fell off a cliff, rather than gently declining, it was the one founded by Lenin.

If empires are complex systems that sooner or later succumb to sudden and catastrophic malfunctions, what are the implications for the United States today? First, debating the stages of decline may be a waste of time -- it is a precipitous and unexpected fall that should most concern policymakers and citizens. Second, most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises. Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed as the United States contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $1.5 trillion -- about 11% of GDP, the biggest since World War II.

These numbers are bad, but in the realm of political entities, the role of perception is just as crucial. In imperial crises, it is not the material underpinnings of power that really matter but expectations about future power. The fiscal numbers cited above cannot erode U.S. strength on their own, but they can work to weaken a long-assumed faith in the United States' ability to weather any crisis.

One day, a seemingly random piece of bad news -- perhaps a negative report by a rating agency -- will make the headlines during an otherwise quiet news cycle. Suddenly, it will be not just a few policy wonks who worry about the sustainability of U.S. fiscal policy but the public at large, not to mention investors abroad. It is this shift that is crucial: A complex adaptive system is in big trouble when its component parts lose faith in its viability.

Over the last three years, the complex system of the global economy flipped from boom to bust -- all because a bunch of Americans started to default on their subprime mortgages, thereby blowing huge holes in the business models of thousands of highly leveraged financial institutions. The next phase of the current crisis may begin when the public begins to reassess the credibility of the radical monetary and fiscal steps that were taken in response.

Neither interest rates at zero nor fiscal stimulus can achieve a sustainable recovery if people in the United States and abroad collectively decide, overnight, that such measures will ultimately lead to much higher inflation rates or outright default. Bond yields can shoot up if expectations change about future government solvency, intensifying an already bad fiscal crisis by driving up the cost of interest payments on new debt. Just ask Greece.

Ask Russia too. Fighting a losing battle in the mountains of the Hindu Kush has long been a harbinger of imperial fall. What happened 20 years ago is a reminder that empires do not in fact appear, rise, reign, decline and fall according to some recurrent and predictable life cycle. It is historians who retrospectively portray the process of imperial dissolution as slow-acting. Rather, empires behave like all complex adaptive systems. They function in apparent equilibrium for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly, they collapse.

Washington, you have been warned.

Niall Ferguson is a professor at Harvard University and Harvard Business School, and a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. His latest book is "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World." A longer version of this essay appears in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs.

5b)Our own Greek tragedy
By Mark Steyn

While President Obama was making his latest pitch for a brand new, even more unsustainable entitlement at the health care "summit," thousands of Greeks took to the streets to riot. An enterprising cable network might have shown the two scenes on a continuous split screen - because they're part of the same story. It's just that Greece is a little further along in the plot: They're at the point where the canoe is about to plunge over the falls. America is further upstream and can still pull for shore, but has decided instead that what it needs to do is catch up with the Greek canoe. Chapter One (the introduction of unsustainable entitlements) leads eventually to Chapter 20 (total societal collapse): The Greeks are at Chapter 17 or 18.

What's happening in the developed world today isn't so very hard to understand: The 20th century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to. In America, the feckless insatiable boobs in Washington, Sacramento, Albany and elsewhere are screwing over our kids and grandkids. In Europe, they've reached the next stage in social democratic evolution: There are no kids or grandkids to screw over. The United States has a fertility rate of around 2.1, or just over two kids per couple. Greece has a fertility rate of about 1.3: 10 grandparents have six kids have four grandkids - i.e., the family tree is upside down. Demographers call 1.3 "lowest-low" fertility - the point from which no society has ever recovered. And compared to Spain and Italy, Greece has the least worst fertility rate in Mediterranean Europe.

So you can't borrow against the future because, in the most basic sense, you don't have one. Greeks in the public sector retire at 58, which sounds great. But, when 10 grandparents have four grandchildren, who pays for you to spend the last third of your adult life loafing around?

By the way, you don't have to go to Greece to experience Greek-style retirement: The Athenian "public service" of California has been metaphorically face-down in the ouzo for a generation. Still, America as a whole is not yet Greece. A couple of years ago, when I wrote my book "America Alone," I put the Social Security debate in a bit of perspective: On 2005 figures, projected public pensions liabilities were expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8 percent of GDP. In Greece, the figure was 25 percent. In other words, head for the hills, Armageddon, outta here, The End. Since then, the situation has worsened in both countries. And really the comparison is academic: Whereas America still has a choice, Greece isn't going to have a 2040 - not without a massive shot of Reality Juice.

Is that likely to happen? At such moments, I like to modify Gerald Ford. When seeking to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences, President Ford liked to say: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." Which is true enough. But there's an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn't big enough to get you to give any of it back. That's the point Greece is at. Its socialist government has been forced into supporting a package of austerity measures. The Greek people's response is: Nuts to that. Public sector workers have succeeded in redefining time itself: Every year, they receive 14 monthly payments. You do the math. And for about seven months' work - for many of them the workday ends at 2:30 p.m. When they retire, they get 14 monthly pension payments. In other words: Economic reality is not my problem. I want my benefits. And, if it bankrupts the entire state a generation from now, who cares as long as they keep the checks coming until I croak?

We hard-hearted, small-government guys are often damned as selfish types who care nothing for the general welfare. But, as the Greek protests make plain, nothing makes an individual more selfish than the socially equitable communitarianism of big government. Once a chap's enjoying the fruits of government health care, government-paid vacation, government-funded early retirement, and all the rest, he couldn't give a hoot about the general societal interest. He's got his, and to hell with everyone else. People's sense of entitlement endures long after the entitlement has ceased to make sense.

The perfect spokesman for the entitlement mentality is the deputy prime minister of Greece. The European Union has concluded that the Greek government's austerity measures are insufficient and, as a condition of bailout, has demanded something more robust. Greece is no longer a sovereign state: It's General Motors, and the EU is Washington, and the Greek electorate is happy to play the part of the United Auto Workers - everything's on the table except anything that would actually make a difference. In practice, because Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland are also on the brink of the abyss, a "European" bailout will be paid for by Germany. So the aforementioned Greek deputy prime minister, Theodoros Pangalos, has denounced the conditions of the EU deal on the grounds that the Germans stole all the bullion from the Bank of Greece during the Second World War. Welfare always breeds contempt, in nations as much as inner-city housing projects. How dare you tell us how to live! Just give us your money and push off.

Unfortunately, Germany is no longer an economic powerhouse. As Angela Merkel pointed out a year ago, for Germany, an Obama-sized stimulus was out of the question simply because its foreign creditors know there are not enough young Germans around ever to repay it. Over 30 percent of German women are childless; among German university graduates, it's over 40 percent. And for the ever dwindling band of young Germans who make it out of the maternity ward, there's precious little reason to stick around. Why be the last handsome blond lederhosen-clad Aryan lad working the late shift at the beer garden in order to prop up singlehandedly entire retirement homes? And that's before the EU decides to add the Greeks to your burdens. Germans, who retire at 67, are now expected to sustain the unsustainable 14 monthly payments per year for Greeks who retire at 58.

Think of Greece as California: Every year an irresponsible and corrupt bureaucracy awards itself higher pay and better benefits paid for by an ever-shrinking wealth-generating class. And think of Germany as one of the less profligate, still just about functioning corners of America such as my own state of New Hampshire: Responsibility doesn't pay. You'll wind up bailing out anyway. The problem is there are never enough of "the rich" to fund the entitlement state, because in the end, it disincentivizes everything from wealth creation to self-reliance to the basic survival instinct, as represented by the fertility rate. In Greece, they've run out Greeks, so they'll stick it to the Germans, like French farmers do. In Germany, the Germans have only been able to afford to subsidize French farming because they stick their defense tab to the Americans. And in America President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are saying we need to paddle faster to catch up with the Greeks and Germans. What could go wrong?

Mark Steyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller "America Alone" (Regnery, 2006).
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------6)Curb Your ExhilarationObama's down, but not out.
BY William Kristol

"There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.” Republicans and conservatives have recently had reason to appreciate the truth of Winston Churchill’s statement. President Obama and the Democratic Congress had a real shot at transforming American politics and public policy into European-style social democracy. When Obama spoke to Congress a year ago, on February 24, 2009, it certainly seemed he would have a chance to succeed.

Last week—one year later—he was on the defensive at his own health care “summit” thanks to the massive public hostility to his health care proposal.

What a difference a year makes.

Republicans deserve some credit. From the beginning of this Congress, GOP leaders kept their heads, staked out their positions sensibly, and held their members united in opposition to Obama’s project. Meanwhile, conservative policy analysts and polemicists made the arguments against elements of that project more compellingly than might have been expected. But Republicans and conservatives don’t deserve the bulk of the credit for stopping—or at least significantly slowing down—Obama before he was able to do as much damage as he intended.

Who does?

(1) President Obama himself. As one wag commented, Obama turned out to be quite an effective community organizer. But the community he organized was a majority of the American people in opposition to his agenda of big-government liberalism.

(2) Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Republicans, -facing overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, should thank their lucky stars to have squared off against an ideologically blinkered speaker of the House and a short-tempered, incompetent majority leader of the Senate.

(3) Conservative and independent grassroots activists. It’s this simple: No Tea Parties, no defeat of Obamacare. It wasn’t just the practical and political effect of the demonstrations across the nation. It was the example of people not being intimidated by elite opinion, the example of their willingness to fight what was supposed to be an inevitable new era of liberal big government, and the enterprise that self-generating and self-organizing activists showed in resisting the Obama agenda. A year ago, Republicans were confused and conservatives dispirited. The Tea Parties did more than anyone else to change this. For all that may be problematic about some aspects of this new activism, the fact remains that the Grand Old Party owes Tea Partiers much more than they owe Republicans—which is why the condescension of some GOP elites toward them is not only unseemly but foolish.

(4) The American people. The voters took control of Congress away from Republicans in 2006 and took the White House away in 2008. But despite the financial crisis, they didn’t fall for the siren song of much bigger government. Despite their wish for the new president to succeed, they didn’t succumb to the temptation—or to the urging of liberal elites—to give him a blank check. Rahm Emanuel’s remark just after the election—you never want to let a serious crisis to go to waste—cynically assumed that the American public could be easily manipulated. Instead, Emanuel’s dimestore Machiavellianism may have doomed the Obama presidency. Conservatives should learn the lesson of Emanuel’s failure and reaffirm their faith in the wisdom of the American people.

So we’ve, at least for now, dodged the bullet. It’s exhilarating. But now comes more hard work. In Virginia and New Jersey last year and in Massachusetts in January, Republicans went on the offensive. They need to stay on the offensive, overcoming their natural stolid conservatism. They need to welcome upstart candidates and unorthodox political strategies. They need to be open to new formulations of issues. In the pages of newspapers and magazines, conservatives have begun to lay out sensible and appropriately modest (as befits a congressional-year election) policy proposals that contrast with the Democrats’. This needs to be pushed ahead, steadily and relentlessly, through November 2010.

Then the big task of 2011: framing a post-financial crisis, post-Obama governing vision for the country. And then the task of 2012: finding a candidate, and winning the chance to govern. All of that lies ahead. For now, a little exhilaration is in order. But only a little.

6a)He's No FDR:Barack Obama’s shrinking presidency.
BY Fred Barnes

President Obama spent seven hours last week acting like a committee chairman, not a president. Rather than preside over the nationally televised health care “summit” of Democratic and Republican members of Congress, Obama was a participant. He big-footed Democrats and responded to Republican statements himself. He talked and talked and talked, considerably more than anyone else and for a total of two hours. When Obama delivered a concluding monologue, the TV cameras panned to a drowsy and bored group of senators and House members, the Republicans especially.

Did Obama lower the presidency to the level of mere legislator? Perhaps. But I think Obama’s behavior at the summit answers a separate question, one that’s lingered since he was elected more than 15 months ago. Is Obama the new FDR? The answer is no.

If Franklin Delano Roosevelt were president today, the summit never would have happened. As the top priority on his agenda, liberal health care reform would have been enacted already. For Obama, the summit was a last-gasp attempt to revive his moribund legislation. More than likely, it will fail.

The reason is tied to what is probably the greatest difference between FDR and Obama. Roosevelt took command of Washington. Obama hasn’t. “FDR became the father of the modern presidency by moving the Chief Executive to the center of the American political universe,” John Yoo writes in his new book on presidential power, Crisis and Command. “Roosevelt’s revolution radically shifted the balance of power among the three branches of government.”

Obama has weakened the presidency and strengthened the power of Congress—a shift in the other direction. FDR seized legislative authority. The bills that Congress passed in his first 100 days and beyond were produced by the Roosevelt administration and ratified reflexively by Congress. There’s a reason you probably don’t know who Henry Rainey and Joe Robinson were. They were rubber stamps, Rainey as House speaker, Robinson as Senate majority leader.

But in Obama’s Washington, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid are powerhouses. The job of actually writing bills—the economic stimulus, health care, cap and trade, the omnibus appropriation—was turned over to them and their colleagues. To put it more bluntly, Obama has abdicated where FDR ruled like a king (at least in his first year in the White House).

Roosevelt’s strategy worked. Obama’s hasn’t. The FDR agenda passed, though the Supreme Court later struck down important parts of it. Except for the stimulus, Obama’s top priorities haven’t passed. FDR moved on, in 1935 and 1936, to getting the so-called Second New Deal (Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act) enacted. Obama’s future looks less rosy.

It’s clear that Roosevelt had an ambitious vision and a far more expansive idea of the presidency than Obama has. When I first heard the tale that Obama had told congressional Democrats to write the bills and he’d sell them, I thought it was apocryphal. Now I’m not so sure. Obama seems to see presidential power as purely rhetorical.

Two appealing aspects of Roosevelt’s public style have not been duplicated by Obama. He hasn’t come close. “In contrast to presidents who inundate the nation with words, Roosevelt rationed his broadcasts,” writes presidential historian Fred Greenstein in The Presidential Difference. He gave four fireside chats his first year, then fewer. In a letter cited by Greenstein, FDR said “the public psychology cannot be attuned for long periods of time to a constant repetition of the highest note in the scale.”

Obama, in contrast, talks incessantly on practically any subject. He was interviewed at halftime of the recent Duke-Georgetown basketball game on—you guessed it—basketball. He has debased the value of the “exclusive” interview with the president by granting so many. Obama is ubiquitous, and always talking. He’s lost his connection with millions of Americans, who’ve tuned him out. He’s sparked a political backlash. FDR didn’t until his second term.

Then there’s the mystery of FDR the man. “The man behind the style was an enigma,” Greenstein writes. This created a mystique and enhanced his influence. Obama is relatively transparent and has less clout. When he tries to promote a deal in public or intimidate an opponent—he tried both at last week’s summit—he comes across as a bossy senator or chief of staff.

To Obama’s credit, he hasn’t claimed to be the reincarnation of FDR. At a fundraiser last year, he said he’d put his “first four months (in office) up against any prior administration since FDR.” The “since” gets Obama off the hook. The FDR issue has been raised mostly by friendly liberals in the media.

It’s an unfair comparison. Roosevelt’s reputation for imposing a liberal makeover on America is impossible to match. But Obama has tried. And in one significant way he’s been successful. Like FDR, he’s broadened the size and scope of the federal government. Should his health care and cap and trade bills pass, along with the authority to seize any financial institution whose collapse would be “a systemic risk” to the economy, Obama would put himself in FDR’s class as a supersizer of Washington’s power. He’s not there yet.

By following another Roosevelt example, Obama has bought trouble. FDR thought government spending would spur economic recovery. It didn’t. And his surge in regulation and tax increases actually impeded economic growth and job creation.

So, too, with Obama. Same policies, same result. Yet he appears puzzled why there were 4 million fewer jobs in the country after a year of his presidency. Liberal critics such as economist Paul Krugman insist FDR’s stimulus wasn’t large enough and neither is Obama’s. Conservatives believe Obama’s policies are wrong, and what works are across-the-board individual and corporate tax cuts. Either way, Obama comes up short.

For Obama, the most brutal disparity between him and FDR is likely to come in November. After the Democratic landslide of 1932, Democrats won still more seats in Congress in 1934. In this year’s midterm congressional elections, that’s an outcome Obama can only dream about.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.
7)We must not discard greatest innovator in history: U.S. will lose its hard-earned technology edge

Except in wartime, there has never been another government program that produced as much technological innovation as the U.S. space program, and there likely never will be. No other program has so successfully infused the economy, rallied the nation, inspired youngsters toward academic achievement or established the U.S. as the world leader in technology.

In spite of this, on Feb. 1, President Barack Obama announced the cancellation of the Constellation program of exploration, leaving NASA, for the first time in history, without a specific mission. It is as if President Gerald Ford had canceled the space shuttle program in 1975, just as the last Apollo mission was being flown. The shuttle orbiter development was well under way at the time, but that did not save us from a six-year gap before the next American was launched into space.

Today there is no realistic successor for human spaceflight waiting in the wings.

The biggest consequence of that first gap was the best and brightest of the NASA engineers and scientists leaving to seek more challenging jobs. It took years to rebuild the professional team that would eventually launch 134 shuttle missions and construct the most amazing engineering project in history — the International Space Station.

The space shuttle program not only maintained our preeminence in space, it raised our technical expertise and further increased our prestige among the developed nations of the world — precisely the same reasons the Chinese are now working toward landing a man on the moon.

Congress is our last hope of putting a stop to the dismantling of a once great agency. Members of Congress are concerned about job losses and the economic impact, but in the long run they are not nearly as costly as the loss of an inspirational vision for the next generation of space scientists, engineers and explorers. You have only to look at Lewis and Clark, our westward expansion and Armstrong and Aldrin landing on the moon to know exploration is in our blood. We should be proud of it. Americans need a frontier.

While NASA and some others are trying to put the best positive spin on the budget proposal, the negative fallout is building. Personnel requirements for the agency's new direction will do little to mitigate the tremendous losses from this foolish cancellation without a replacement in hand. The real loss, as in the 1970s, will be those trained and experienced engineers who are already leaving for more inspiring pursuits.

Spokesmen are trying to rationalize the debilitating cuts in the agency's programs. They claim the “$6 billion increase over the next five years demonstrates President Obama's strong commitment to space exploration.” That is just over 1 percent a year, and $2.5 billion of it is committed to the shutdown of Constellation, the same amount proposed for research on how global warming is affecting the Earth.

The $19 billion for 2011 is less than 0.5 percent of the proposed federal budget, one-ninth of what it was at its peak in the 1960s. The $300 million increase eliminates the program of human space exploration and sentences the agency to the same starvation diet it has existed on for the past several decades. NASA needs a $3 billion increase to continue operating a viable human space program.

NASA spin is touting “new technology development programs to expand the capabilities of future explorers”— in-orbit fuel depots, rendezvous and docking, closed-loop life support systems, heavy-lift research and development of new engines, propellants, materials and combustion processes. These may sound new to someone unfamiliar with what NASA has been doing for 50 years, but (with one exception) they are pursuits for which NASA already has an unmatched reputation. Each of these would have played an essential role in the now canceled Constellation program. Without the focus of a specific mission, the raison d'ĂȘtre for these technologies is now “to advance the field of space science.”

In the place of the canceled Ares and Orion hardware, we now have increased support for education, increased spending on the discredited global warming hypocrisy and subsidies to several new commercial rocket companies. And, oh yes, don't forget a new outreach program to Muslim countries without established space programs.

In canceling Constellation with nothing to take its place, the president is saying the U.S. should not have its own human space program and is directing funds to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, or COTS. If NASA wants to participate in human spaceflight, it will have to be through contractors.

Market realities
NASA has always contracted for most of its hardware and service needs. Some of the contractors were successful in private industry, and sometimes the government was the sole customer. A company dependent solely on government grants, contracts and guarantees is not a free-market, private enterprise.

To succeed in the private sector a company must raise capital, develop a product, sell it at a profit and show a return on investment commensurate with the risk within a reasonable time frame. Unfortunately, space will not be an attractive commercial opportunity for the foreseeable future. Space exploration is a costly precursor to uncovering commercial opportunities, and it will be decades before a private investor can expect a return commensurate with the risk of exploration.

Until we find a way to make a profit in space, governments and countries are the only institutions able to afford space exploration and live with the extremely long-term returns. That is why NASA must continue to develop the next-generation human space system, whatever form that system may take. Human space systems cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of scientific return per dollar spent. Dominance in space gives our country credibility or leverage in so many other forms than economic gains; scientific discovery, understanding of the universe, international prestige, military stature and being seen as a country that can do anything we set our minds to.

Limited effect
The COTS program — companies selling services to NASA — made some sense with NASA still in the exploration business, doing the applied research and expanding the envelope of space travel beyond the moon. It would be very difficult for private companies to replicate the singular competence NASA has developed. Even if COTS-created vehicles are successful, they will be woefully inadequate for near-term needs and will do nothing for exploration.

Only government programs — regardless of country — will get humans to the moon and beyond. Space exploration is an activity from which monetary profits cannot be generated, leaving contractors supplying government programs that do not have to show a profit. After 50 years in space, how many lunar or interplanetary space probes have been launched by commercial space companies?

We have been told by the agency that future exploration programs, such as returning to the moon or going to Mars, will be a global effort, not an American one. That may sound appealing with respect to sharing costs and other resources, but it virtually guarantees those programs will take longer, cost more and render them vulnerable to political bickering — like the International Space Station. As a result of the political decision to make the Russians a full partner, the ISS has cost the U.S. $10billion more, was two years late and required that the station be placed in an orbit unacceptable for most alternative uses.

Have we really degenerated as a country to the point where we can no longer fund our own exploration? Did we spend $460 billion becoming pre-eminent in space, only to stupidly surrender it? What does our new dependence on other countries to send Americans into space say about our culture, society and prospects for the future?

NASA was always considered in a class by itself. Now, when the world is becoming increasingly dependent on space-based systems, we seem bent on slipping back into mediocrity. How do you rationalize surrendering our pre-eminence in space? The last time a country voluntarily gave up its pre-eminent position in exploration was when the Ming government recalled the Chinese fleets in 1433. That critical error condemned China to worldwide stagnation for centuries.

NASA has always been a mission-driven agency that attracted a particular kind of individual. It focused on the objective, determined the obstacles, solved the problems and, in the end, accomplished the impossible. We all benefit from the technological fallout to our economy and our growing stature in the world. Continuing NASA's program of exploration requires three things: the technology, the resources and the will to do it. We have plenty of the first two, but have we lost the will?

Cunningham piloted the first manned Apollo mission in 1968 and is author of The All-American Boys.
8)American neutrality on the Falklands is a symptom of US foreign policy drift
By James Corum

The Bush administration got a lot of things wrong – but at least they usually had some idea of who America’s adversaries were and who America’s friends were. For example, Bush’s policy of maintaining the special relationship with Britain was a simple recognition of the close bonds of alliance, friendship and interests that the British and Americans have had since World War I.

In contrast, Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are apparently clueless about some of the most basic aspects of foreign policy: supporting one’s friends and fencing in one’s adversaries. The declaration of neutrality on the issue of the sovereignty of the Falklands issued by the US State Department is clear proof of the uselessness of the Obama administration.

In the grand scheme of things it makes little sense for America to give moral support to the Kirchner government in Argentina. Kirchner is no friend of the US and Kirchner’s government is in deep domestic trouble for its gross mismanagement of the economy and its attempts to suppress the press criticism of the regime at home. One has to wonder what benefit America gets out of hurting Britain on this issue. Perhaps Obama thinks that the more Leftist Latin American regimes will somehow approve of the US. If that is the case, he is truly mistaken, as most Latin American nations dislike the Argentineans, and have little sympathy for the mess Argentina got into over the Falklands.

But this mess is just typical of the drift in US foreign policy – if one can say that it even HAS a coherent foreign policy these days. As I said, at the core of the problem is a simple inability to recognise and support our friends over adversaries. In his first year in office Obama made numerous apologies for America’s past to the Third World, he effusively greeted the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, he bowed low to the Saudi ruler, and called for a “reset” of relations with Russia – all the while implying that America was at fault for all these problems. At the same time he rudely undermined the security of America’s Eastern European allies by cancelling the ballistic missile defence with no notice and no prior discussion, he failed to push for a free trade agreement with Colombia – America’s strongest ally in South America – and he supported Chavez’s allies when they tried (luckily unsuccessfully) to unseat a democratic and pro-US government in Honduras.

A big part of the problem is a Secretary of State who is a lightweight as far as foreign policy is concerned. Obama brought Hillary Clinton into the cabinet for domestic policy considerations. He needed to put Mrs Clinton – and her husband – under tight control. As a powerful senator from New York, she would probably have taken over as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party and been able to challenge Obama’s “Chicago Gang” for control of the party.

Despite the acclaim that America’s mainstream media has heaped on Hillary Clinton over the years, her foreign policy background and experience before becoming Secretary of State was to accompany her husband on foreign trips and preside over “first wives” dinners for the spouses of visiting heads of state. One learns a lot about protocol and ceremonies – but this is no preparation for the real work of making policy. Clinton has no experience or education in foreign policy. She speaks no foreign languages and has never lived abroad. She lacks the intellectual temperament to be a foreign policy leader. Like Obama, she has long surrounded herself with sycophants.

On assuming office, Obama’s vision of foreign policy was simple: he would repudiate past American policies and the whole world would melt before the president’s charm. The administration somehow thought that we really didn’t have enemies with agendas completely hostile to our own – there were just countries that had become offended by US actions and they would happily cooperate with America as soon as the evil Republicans were gone. Well, it hasn’t worked – and there was no Plan B.

With a president overwhelmed by domestic problems, Hillary Clinton has failed to step in and set a foreign policy vision. Simply put, she does not have the brains or the experience to develop a coherent foreign policy vision for America. This is how we get policy mistakes on issues such as the sovereignty of the

James Corum is Dean of the Baltic Defence College in Estonia. He has taught at American and British staff colleges and is the author of seven books on military history and counter-insurgency. He is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Reserve (rtd) and has 28 years' experience as an army officer.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------These 2 pictures make some kind of statement!

Here is what President Obama needs set up to talk to a few school children. Not much room for kids. Still needs to have five (5) teleprompters.

The secret service guy in back keeps his eyes out for any terrorist-type 8-year-olds, with tea-party parents.

Here's what the last guy needed:


10) Senator Conrad, the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said
yesterday that reconciliation can only be used if the House passes the
Senate bill first. As Sen. Conrad declared, "I don't know of any way, I
don't know of any way where you can have a reconciliation bill pass
before the bill that it is meant to reconcile passes." Neither do I.

Then, the kicker: "When reminded that House Democrats don't want to do
health care in that order, Conrad said bluntly: 'Fine, then it's dead.'"

Now, the Speaker finds herself in the position of having to pass a bill
she says she does not have the votes to pass.

Without passing the Senate bill she can't pass, the Speaker can't do
reconciliation. (See Sen. Conrad, above.)

OK. Now, this next part is really, really important.

The Speaker and the White House find themselves in this position because
of Senator DeMint (R-SC). He insisted that Senator McConnell object to
the appointment of the House-Senate Conferees, thus preventing a
Conference on the bill.

The inability of the Dems to have a House-Senate Conference then forced
the Speaker to have a House floor vote on the Senate bill, which she
can't pass. And there the process has been stuck. Has not moved an inch
since Sen. DeMint's objection. It can't, she does not have the votes.

The Speaker could fix the Senate bill on the House floor by amendment,
then pass the Senate bill amended and fixed, but then it would have to
go back to the Senate, where it would have to get 60 yes votes, or die.
Since it will not get 60 votes ever again in the Senate, it will die -
if the Speaker tries the amend the Senate bill on the House floor and
send it back to the Senate route.

When Senator DeMint (R-SC) denied the Speaker the ability to fix the
bill in Conference, he put the Speaker and the White House in their
current box. If there had been a House-Senate Conference, then the House
could have fixed the bill without a floor vote and the bill could have
changed, without having to send it back to the Senate to face 60 vote

But now, they can't have a conference, and the Speaker and the White
House must pass the unpassable Senate bill, in order to even try

When the Democrats finally admit ObamaCare is dead, historians should
note, this is the single act that killed it. And it was such an artistic
assassination of the bill.

Even with a city full of people watching the process, and who all saw
the House and Senate Conference be denied, all the chattering heads and
analysts did not understand what it meant, until it was too late."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Politically/Fiscally - Big Apple Rotten To The Core?

A former CIA agent writes about recent contemporary assassination methods. Technology has changed the world and its connection with assassinations. Did Mossad bungle? Did they even do it? Dubai believes so as do many other nation's whose passports were faked.(See 1 below.)
Current psychiatry needs to lay on a couch and be analyzed. (See 2 below.)
First California, then New York. The Wall Street Journal's Editorial suggests New Jersey should move over but I would rebut - New Jersey may be back on track while Michigan remains in a death spiral. Is what is happening in our states symptomatic of bigger problems? I would argue yes.

Spending more on welfare attracts more to welfare. Allowing unions to control services drives up costs. Tolerating corruption and The Mafia to run businesses and intimidate other legitimate ones also increases costs.

The solution - raise taxes. This drives wealthier out and the loop feed back approach breeds spiral down consequences.

Let's be very simplistic and relate New York's political behaviour pattern to a family structure. Soon you will have a dysfunctional and ruined family.

Yet, this is what Obama, Pelosi and Reid are prescribing for our nation. Buy votes of Congressional members, pay off unions, fail to support choice education, present a weak face to adversaries, impose complex government solutions, raise taxes, heighten uncertainty and then wonder why investors are fleeing, capitalists are unwilling to borrow to expand, un-employment remains high, deficits soar and social rot spreads.(See 3 below.)
Letter I sent to local paper and cogent response from one of my son-in-laws. (See 4 below.)
Marjah now deemed more or less cleared of Taliban. (See 5 below.)
GW, in act of vengeance , sends Tsunami towards Hawaii - warns Obama to quit 'messin' with me!

Hawaii's Governor refuses to blame GW despite warning from Obama they may be cut off from health care largess! (See 6 below.)
More than a little difference between a Republic and a Democracy.In the former soveriegnty rests in the individual and the latter with the group. Ben Franklin allegedly once said to a scullery maid as he left Constitution Hall: 'we have a Republic if we can keep it.' Lately we have been doing a lousy job. (See 7 below.)
Randall Hoven chooses not to compromise when it comes to voting for moderate Republicans. (See 8 below.)
The Administration is seeking to resore full diplomatic relations with Syria on the one hand, then turns around and warns Syria to quit supplying Hezballah with arms transfers. (See 9 below.)
IAF engages in training for rapid refueling. I have been told the IAF has the capability of sending over 100 planes on a mission to Iran should the need arise. (See 10 below.)
1)A Perfectly Framed Assassination:Stepped-up surveillance technology may be tipping the scales in the cat-and-mouse game between spies and their targets. Robert Baer on the current state of spycraft

It was a little after 9 p.m. when a Palestine Liberation Organization official stepped out of the elevator into the lobby of Paris's Le Meridien Montparnasse, a modern luxury hotel that caters to businessmen and well-heeled tourists. The PLO official was going to dinner with a friend, who was waiting by the front desk. As they pushed out the Meridien's front door, they both noticed a man on a divan looking intently at them. It was odd enough that at dinner they called a contact in the French police. The policeman advised the PLO official to go directly back to the hotel after dinner and stay put. The police would look into it in the morning.

When the PLO official and his friend came back from dinner, the man on the divan was gone, and the Meridien's lobby was full of Japanese tourists having coffee after a night on the town. From here the accounts differ; in one version, a taxi blocked off traffic at the end of the street that runs in front of the Meridien, apparently to hold up any police car on routine patrol. In another, the traffic on the street was light.

What is certain is that as soon as the PLO official stepped out of the passenger side of the car, two athletic men in track suits came walking down the street, fast. One of them had what looked like a gym bag. When the friend of the PLO official got out of the car to say goodbye, he noticed the two but didn't think much of it. They looked French, but other than that it was too dark to see more.

One of the men abruptly lunged at the PLO official, pinning him down on the hood of the car. According to the PLO official's friend, one of the men put his gym bag against the head of the PLO official and fired two quick rounds into the base of his neck, killing him instantly. There was a silencer on the weapon. The two fled down the street and disappeared into an underground garage, never to be seen again.

That was 1992. And the world of assassins has changed a lot in the intervening years.

I knew the PLO official, and his assassins have yet to be found. Israel's Mossad security agency was quickly assumed to be behind the killing. Israel had accused the PLO official of having been a member of Black September, and his assassination seemed to be the last in an Israeli campaign to hunt down the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympic attack. So far so good, but unable to identify even the nationality of the assassins, the French could do nothing but grumble. With no casings from the pistol found, no closed-circuit TV coverage in front of the Meridien, and no good description of the assassins, the French could not even send a strong diplomatic protest to the Israelis. If Israel indeed assassinated the PLO official, it got away with it cleanly.

Fast forward 18 years to the assassination of Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on Jan. 20, and it is a graphic reminder of just how much the world has changed. Nearly the entire hit was recorded on closed-circuit TV cameras, from the time the team arrived at Dubai's airport to the time the assassins entered Mr. Mabhouh's room. The cameras even caught team members before and after they donned their disguises. The only thing the Dubai authorities have been unable to discover is the true names of the team. But having identified the assassins, or at least the borrowed identities they traveled on, Dubai felt confident enough to point a finger at Israel. (Oddly enough several of the identities were stolen from people living in Israel.)

Dubai had on its side motivation—Mr. Mabhouh had plotted the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers and reportedly played a role in the smuggling of Iranian arms into Gaza. And none of this is to mention that the Mabhouh assassination had all the hallmarks of an Israeli hit: a large team, composed of men and women, and an almost flawless execution. If it had been a Russian hit, for instance, they would have used a pistol or a car bomb, indifferent to the chaos left behind.

After Dubai released the tapes, the narrative quickly became that the assassination was an embarrassing blunder for Tel Aviv. Mossad failed spectacularly to assassinate a Hamas official in Amman in 1997— the poison that was used acted too slowly and the man survived—and it looks like the agency is not much better today. Why were so many people involved? (The latest report is that there were 26 members of the team.) Why were identities stolen from people living in Israel? Why didn't they just kill Mr. Mabhouh in a dark alley, one assassin with a pistol with a silencer? Or why at least didn't they all cover their faces with baseball caps so that the closed-circuit TV cameras did not have a clean view?

The truth is that Mr. Mabhouh's assassination was conducted according to the book—a military operation in which the environment is completely controlled by the assassins. At least 25 people are needed to carry off something like this. You need "eyes on" the target 24 hours a day to ensure that when the time comes he is alone. You need coverage of the police—assassinations go very wrong when the police stumble into the middle of one. You need coverage of the hotel security staff, the maids, the outside of the hotel. You even need people in back-up accommodations in the event the team needs a place to hide.

I can only speculate about where exactly the hit went wrong. But I would guess the assassins failed to account for the marked advance in technology. Not only were there closed-circuit TV cameras in the hotel where Mr. Mabhouh was assassinated and at the airport, but Dubai has at its fingertips the best security consultants in the world. The consultants merely had to run advanced software through all of Dubai's digital data before, during and after the assassination to connect the assassins in time and place. For instance, a search of all cellular phone calls made in and around the hotel where Mr. Mabhouh was assassinated would show who had called the same number—reportedly a command post in Vienna. It would only be a matter then of tracking when and where calls were made from these phones, tying them to hotels where the team was operating or staying.

Not completely understanding advances in technology may be one explanation for the assassins nonchalantly exposing their faces to the closed-circuit TV cameras, one female assassin even smiling at one. They mistook Dubai 2010 for Paris 1992, and never thought it would all be tied together in a neat bow. But there is no good explanation why Israel, if indeed it was behind the assassination, underestimated the technology. The other explanation—the assassins didn't care whether their faces were identified—doesn't seem plausible at all.

When I first came into the CIA as a young field operative, there was an endless debate about whether assassinations were worthwhile. The CIA was humiliated by its failed attempts to kill Fidel Castro in the early 1960s, and embarrassed by the accusation that it was complicit in the murder of Chile's President Salavador Allende in 1973.

In the mid-1970s the Church-Pike committees investigating the CIA put an end to CIA assassinations. Since then every CIA officer has been obligated to sign Executive Order 12,333, a law outlawing CIA assassinations. It had—at least until 9/11—a chilling effect on everything CIA operatives did, from the informants they ran to the governments they dealt with. I myself ran afoul of E.O. 12,333.

In March 1995 I was brought back from northern Iraq, accused of having tried to assassinate Saddam Hussein. It was true there had been a running fight between the Kurds and Saddam's army in the north, but if there had been a real attempt on Saddam's life I wasn't aware of it. And neither was the FBI, which was ordered by the White House to investigate the CIA for an illegal assassination attempt. The lesson I walked away with was that the word assassination terrified the White House, more than even Saddam. And as far as I can tell, it still does to a degree.

Post-9/11 the CIA got back into the assassination business, but in a form that looks more like classic war than the Hollywood version of assassination. The CIA has fired an untold number of Hellfire missiles at al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of its most spectacular assassinations was that of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan's Taliban, last year. In addition to the intended targets, thousands of other people have been killed. What strikes me, and what makes it so different from the assassination of the PLO official in Paris and Mr. Mabhouh in Dubai, is that the assassinations are obscured by the fog of war. Western TV cameras are not allowed in to film the collateral damage, and that's not to mention we're all but at war with Pakistan's Pashtun who live in these mountains.

Israel's conflict in the West Bank and Gaza is less than clear cut in the sense that Israel is not at war with the Palestinians, or even really with Hamas. It is at war with Hamas militants, people who have shed Israeli blood. The Israelis know who they are, and as a matter of course send hit squads into Gaza and the West Bank to kill them. The Israelis call it "targeted killings"—assassination by any other name.

A couple of years ago I visited the house where the Israeli military assassinated a Palestinian militant in the West Bank. It was in a makeshift refugee camp, where you could touch houses on both sides of the path only by raising your arms. The place was teeming with people. How the Israeli team got in, assassinated the militant and got out without any casualties, I will never know. The point is that the Israelis have become very good at it.

If in fact Mossad assassinated Mr. Mabhouh in Dubai, it no doubt modeled its planning on targeted killings in Palestinian areas—with the use of overwhelming force, speed and control of the environment. The problem with Dubai, which should be painfully obvious to Tel Aviv, is that it is not the West Bank. Nor is Paris now with its web of closed-circuit TV cameras and the ability of the French to track prepaid telephones. The art of assassination, the kind we have seen over and over again in Hollywood movies, may be as passĂ© as killing people by arsenic or with a garrote. You just can't get away with it anymore.

In America's war on terror, there has been a conspicuous absence of classical assassination. The closest thing to it was when the CIA kidnapped an Egyptian cleric in Milan and rendered him to Egypt in 2003. Most of the CIA agents behind the rendition were identified because, like the assassins in Dubai, the agents apparently did not understand that you can't put a large team on the ground in a modern country and not leave a digital footprint. It took a matter of days for the Italian prosecutors to trace their supposedly sterile phone to their hotels, and from there to their true-name email accounts and telephone calls to family. We might as well have let Delta Force do it with helicopters with American insignia on the side.

Israel has yet to feel the real cost of the hit in Dubai. But the longer it is covered in the press, the higher the cost.

And was Mr. Mabhouh worth it? Other than taking revenge for killing the two Israeli soldiers, he will be quickly replaced. Arms dealing is not a professional skill, and as long as Hamas's militants are at war with Israel they will find people to buy arms and smuggle them into Gaza. In short, it's looking more and more like Mr. Mabhouh's assassination was a serious policy failure.

In cold prose, it sounds inhuman, but there should be a cost-benefit calculation in deciding whether to assassinate an enemy. With all of the new technology available to any government who can afford it, that cost has gone up astronomically. Plausible deniability is out the window. Obviously, if we had known with any specificity 9/11 was coming, we would have ignored the high cost and tried to assassinate Osama bin Laden. And there's certainly an argument to be made that we should have assassinated Saddam Hussein rather than invade Iraq. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that assassination is justified if it keeps us out of a war. But short of that, it's not. The Mabhouhs of the world are best pursued by relentless diplomatic pressure and the rule of law.

—Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is the author of "See No Evil" and "The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower."
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------2)Psychiatry Needs Therapy: A manual's draft reflects how diagnoses have grown foggier, drugs more ineffective.

To flip through the latest draft of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, in the works for seven years now, is to see the discipline's floundering writ large. Psychiatry seems to have lost its way in a forest of poorly verified diagnoses and ineffectual medications. Patients who seek psychiatric help today for mood disorders stand a good chance of being diagnosed with a disease that doesn't exist and treated with a medication little more effective than a placebo.

Psychopharmacology, or the treatment of the mind and brain with drugs, has come to dominate the field. The positive side is that many illnesses respond readily to medication. The negative side is that the pharmaceutical industry seeks the largest possible market for a given drug, and advertises huge diseases, such as major depression and schizophrenia, the scientific status of which makes insiders uneasy.

In the 1950s and '60s, when psychiatry was still under the influence of the European scientific tradition, reasonably accurate diagnoses still sat at center stage. If you felt blue, uneasy and generally jumpy, "nerves" was a common diagnosis. For the psychotherapeutically oriented psychiatrists of the day, "psychoneurosis" was the equivalent of nerves. There was no point in breaking these terms down: clinicians and patients alike understood "a case of nerves," or a "nervous breakdown."

Our psychopathological lingo today offers little improvement on these sturdy terms. A patient with the same symptoms today might be told he has "social anxiety disorder" or "seasonal affective disorder." The increased specificity is spurious. There is little risk of misdiagnosis, because the new disorders all respond to the same drugs, so in terms of treatment, the differentiation is meaningless and of benefit mainly to pharmaceutical companies that market drugs for these niches.

For those more seriously ill, contemplating suicide or pacing restlessly and saying "It's all my fault," melancholia was the diagnosis of choice. The term has been around for donkey's years.

All the serious disorders of mood were once lumped together technically as "manic-depressive illness"—and again, there was little point in differentiating, because medications such as lithium that worked for mania were also sometimes effective in forestalling renewed episodes of serious depression.

Psychopharmacology—the treatment of disorders of the mind and brain with drugs—was experiencing its first big push, and a host of effective new agents was marketed. The first blockbuster drug in psychiatry appeared in 1955 as Wallace Lab's Miltown, a "tranquilizer" of the dicarbamate class. The first of the "tricyclic antidepressants" (because of their chemical structure) was launched in the U.S. in 1959, called imipramine generically and Tofranil by brand name. It remains today the single most effective antidepressant on the market for the immediate treatment of serious depression.

In the 1960s an entirely different class of drugs appeared, the benzodiazepines, indicated for anxiety rather than depression. (But one keeps in mind that these indications are more marketing devices than scientific categories, because most depression entails anxiety and vice versa.) In the benzodiazepine class, Librium was launched for anxiety in 1960, Valium in 1963. Despite an undeserved reputation for addictiveness, the benzos remain today one of the most useful drug classes in the history of psychiatry. They are effective across the entire range of nervous illnesses. In one World Health Organization study in the early 1990s, a sample of family physicians world-wide prescribed benzos for 28% of their depressed patients, 31% of their anxious patients; the figures are virtually identical. In the 1950s and '60s physicians had available drugs that truly worked for diseases that actually existed.

And then the golden era came to an end. The 1978 article of British psychiatrist Malcolm Lader on the benzos as "the opium of the masses" would be a good landmark. The patents expired for the drugs of the 1950s and '60s, and the solid diagnoses were all erased from the classification in 1980 with the appearance of the third edition of the DSM series, called "DSM-III." It was largely the brainchild of Columbia University psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, an energetic and charismatic individual who had been schooled in psychometrics. But his energy and charisma nearly led psychiatry off a cliff.

Mr. Spitzer was discouraged with psychoanalysis, and wanted to come up with a new illness classification that would ditch all the old Freudian concepts such as "depressive neurosis" with their implication of "unconscious psychic conflicts." Mr. Spitzer and company wanted diagnoses based on observable symptoms rather than on speculation about the unconscious mind. So he, and members of the Task Force that the American Psychiatric Association designated, set out to devise a new list of diagnoses that correspond to natural disease entities.

Yet Mr. Spitzer ran smack against the politics of the American Psychiatric Association, still heavily influenced by the psychoanalysts. Mr. Spitzer proposed such diagnoses as "major depression" and "dysthymia," diagnoses that were themselves highly heterogeneous, lumping together a number of different kinds of depression. But the terms turned out to be politically acceptable.

So in DSM-III there was a lot of horse-trading. The biologically oriented young Turks got a depression diagnosis—major depression—that was divorced from what they considered the psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo. And the waning but still substantial number of analysts got a diagnosis—dysthymia—that sounded like their beloved "neurotic depression," that had been the mainstay of psychoanalytic practice. Psychiatry ended up with two brand-new depression diagnoses with criteria so broad that huge numbers of people could qualify for them.

There was one more bow to psychoanalysis: DSM-III continued to make depression separate from anxiety (because the analysts thought anxiety the motor that drove everything). And in homage to several influential figures in European psychiatry, DSM-III brought in "bipolar disorder," a condition alternating between depression and mania thought separate from "major depression."

A word of explanation: The evidence is very strong that the depression of "major depression" and the depression of "bipolar disorder" are the same disease. Experienced clinicians know that in chronic depressive illness many patients will have an episode of mania or hypomania; it is implausible that such an event would change the patient's diagnosis completely from "major depression" to "bipolar disorder," given that they are classified as quite different illnesses.

These rather technical issues in the classification of disease had enormous ramifications in the real world. Bipolar disorder became divorced from unipolar disorder. And anxiety—the original indication for the benzos—became soft-pedaled because the benzos were thought, incorrectly, to be highly addictive, and anxiety became associated with addiction.

Major depression became the big new diagnosis in the 1980s and after, replacing "neurotic depression" and "melancholia," even though it combined melancholic illness and non-melancholic illness. This would be like incorporating tuberculosis and mumps into the same diagnosis, simply because they are both infectious diseases. As well, "bipolar disorder" began its relentless on-march, supposedly separate from plain old depression.

New drugs appeared to match the new diseases. In the late 1980s, the Prozac-type agents began to hit the market, the "SSRIs," or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa and Lexapro. They were supposedly effective by increasing the amount of serotonin available to the brain.

The SSRIs are effective for certain indications, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and for some patients with anxiety. But many people believe they're not often effective for serious depression, even though they fit wonderfully with the heterogeneous concept of "major depression." So, hand in hand, these antidepressants and major depression marched off together into the sunset. These were drugs that don't work for diseases that don't exist, as it were.

The latest draft of the DSM fixes none of the problems with the previous DSM series, and even creates some new ones.

A new problem is the extension of "schizophrenia" to a larger population, with "psychosis risk syndrome." Even if you aren't floridly psychotic with hallucinations and delusions, eccentric behavior can nonetheless awaken the suspicion that you might someday become psychotic. Let's say you have "disorganized speech." This would apply to about half of my students. Pour on the Seroquel for "psychosis risk syndrome"!

DSM-V accelerates the trend of making variants on the spectrum of everyday behavior into diseases: turning grief into depression, apprehension into anxiety, and boyishness into hyperactivity.

If there were specific treatments for these various niches, you could argue this is good diagnostics. But, as with other forms of anxiety-depression, the SSRIs are thought good for everything. Yet to market a given indication, such as social-anxiety disorder, it's necessary to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on registration trials to convince the FDA that your agent works for this disease that previously nobody had ever heard of.

DSM-V is not all bad news. It turns the jumble of developmental syndromes for children into a single group of "autism spectrum disorders," which makes sense because previously, with Asperger's as a separate disease, it was like trying to draw lines in a bucket of water. But the basic problems of the previous DSM series are left untouched.

Where is psychiatry headed? What the discipline badly needs is close attention to patients and their individual symptoms, in order to carve out the real diseases from the vast pool of symptoms that DSM keeps reshuffling into different "disorders." This kind of careful attention to what patients actually have is called "psychopathology," and its absence distinguishes American psychiatry from the European tradition. With DSM-V, American psychiatry is headed in exactly the opposite direction: defining ever-widening circles of the population as mentally ill with vague and undifferentiated diagnoses and treating them with powerful drugs.

The New Abnormal
A selection of new ailments in the planned manual.

Hoarding: This is defined as "persistent difficulty discarding or parting with personal possessions, even those of apparently useless or limited value, due to strong urges to save items."

Mixed Anxiety-Depression: "The patient has the symptoms of major depression…accompanied by anxious distress." The combination of depression and anxiety has been recognized clinically for years; only now does it make it into the handbook.

Binge Eating: This means eating "an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances," in addition to having "a sense of lack of control over eating."

Minor Neurocognitive Disorder: "Evidence of minor cognitive decline from a previous level of performance," a commonplace occurrence for anybody over 50.

Temper Dysregulation Disorder With Dysphoria: A new definition for all children with outbursts of temper. It is seen as a way to avoid using the term "bipolar."

—Edward Shorter is professor of the history of medicine and psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Toronto. His latest book, written with Max Fink, "Endocrine Psychiatry: Solving the Riddle of Melancholia," is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
3)The Decline of New York: It's enough to make Groucho Marx cry

Move over, New Jersey, you're getting a run for your tax money as the nation's most dysfunctional state from the once great mecca of commerce and finance known as New York. Politics in the Empire State has become a carnival of spendthrifts, sexual miscreants and the all-purpose ethically challenged.

In the latest sign that the Apocalypse is upon Albany, New York Governor David Paterson announced yesterday that he won't seek election to a full term in November only two weeks after he had announced that he would. Mr. Paterson, a Democrat who became governor in March 2008 after Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal, has spent the past two years lurching from one fiasco to the next.

He's currently being investigated for awarding a lucrative casino contract to a political backer. And this week he was accused of contacting a woman who was seeking a protective order against one of his aides. State police are reported to have pressured the woman to drop her complaint.

Mr. Paterson's troubles have been catnip for "Saturday Night Live," but the state's voters are laughing to keep from crying. New York's budget deficit is an estimated $8.2 billion, due in no small part to state spending that has risen by nearly 70%, or $35 billion, over the past decade. The recent financial crisis has exposed the state's overreliance on tax revenue from Wall Street.

Mr. Paterson has promised several times to stop this, only to give in to the legislature and tax and spend again. He'll now be the lamest of lame ducks, and if he wanted to do the public at least one good turn he'd resign early and let the state be run through next year by his Lieutenant Governor, Richard Ravitch, who is at least competent.

This mess is all part of the culture of Albany, arguably the most corrupt legislature on Earth. Last June, the state government was paralyzed for more than a month when Democratic Senators Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate joined the Republican caucus, making it unclear which party was in control. Eventually, both men returned to the Democratic side of the aisle.

Mr. Espada would later be investigated for not living in his district and funneling state money to health clinics that he operates. Mr. Monserrate was later convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. Two weeks ago the Senate voted 53-8 to expel Mr. Monserrate over his conviction, which reminds us in reverse of Groucho Marx's famous line about not wanting to belong to a club that would have him. You know you're special when even the Albany legislature won't have you, though Mr. Espada did vote to keep Mr. Monserrate around, perhaps to deflect investigator attention.

Meanwhile, this sense of entitlement also seems to extend to New York's Congressional delegation. Democrat Charles Rangel of Manhattan was admonished yesterday by the House ethics committee for taking junkets to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008 that his staff knew were financed by corporations. The committee said staff aides tried to tell him three times about the corporate sponsors.

Mr. Rangel replied yesterday that the committee's "conclusion is wrong on the facts and unsupported by the law." He added that, "If Members are to be charged with knowledge of everything that each of their staffs know or should know, Members will be blind-sided with ethics problems." That's his defense.

Mr. Rangel is also being probed for his use of multiple rent-stabilized apartments, for failing to pay taxes on rental income from a property he owns in the Dominican Republic, and for belatedly reporting half a million dollars in personal assets on his official House disclosure forms.

He has refused to step down as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and has had the full support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. When former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was admonished by the House in 2004, Mrs. Pelosi had demanded that he resign as GOP leader. Needless to say, Republicans are enjoying this one.

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan and in the spirit of the current New York state of mindlessness, Mr. Spitzer is said to be plotting a comeback. As gossip columnist Cindy Adams of the New York Post likes to say, "Only in New York, kids, only in New York." Alas.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------4) Permit me to pose a rather impolitic question.

Our elected servants apparently are quite happy with their health care program(s.) If that be factually correct, then what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Thus, why can't us 'pee-ons' be given access to the same health care package our elected servants have? It should not take 2800 plus pages of complex gobbledygook to draft. In fact these elected dolts could simply pass a resolution expanding their plan to cover their constituents. Also, think how enthralled this would make Greens saving all those trees to make reams of pulp .

I am sure there is a simple answer - probably would cost too much!

Maybe someone can ask our president when he visits this week if he is submitting to any questions?

Son-in-law: "Better yet, why not scrap their plan altogether and force them to use the coverage their ridiculous laws impose on the rest of us? Maybe then we'll get some real 'change'."
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------5)Troops clear last pockets of resistance in Marjah

Marines and Afghan troops cleared the last major pocket of resistance in the former Taliban-ruled town of Marjah on Saturday — part of an offensive that is the run-up to a larger showdown this year in the most strategic part of Afghanistan's dangerous south.

Although Marines say their work in Marjah isn't done, Afghans are bracing for a bigger, more comprehensive assault in neighboring Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban where officials are talking to aid organizations about how to handle up to 10,000 people who could be displaced by fighting.

"I was in Kabul, and we were talking that Kandahar will be next, but we don't know when," said Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar. He's begun working with international aid groups to make sure the next group of displaced Afghans have tents, water containers, medicine, food, blankets, lamps and stoves.

"Hopefully things will go smoothly, that people have learned lessons from the Marjah operation," he said.

Shortages of food and medicine have been reported during the 2-week-old Marjah operation. The international Red Cross evacuated dozens of sick and injured civilians to clinics outside the area. The U.N. says more than 3,700 families, or an estimated 22,000 people, from Marjah and surrounding areas have registered in Helmand's capital of Lashkar Gah 20 miles (30 kilometers) away.

Walid Akbar, a spokesman for the Afghan Red Crescent Society, said government aid was mostly received by those who made it to Lashkar Gah, Akbar said. Those stuck outside the city are getting little help, he said.

The Marjah offensive has been the war's biggest combined operation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban's hard-line regime. It's the first major test of NATO's counterinsurgency strategy since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 new American troops to try to reverse Taliban gains.

The operation in Marjah is the tactical prelude to the bigger operation being planned for later in Kandahar, the largest city in the south and the former Taliban headquarters, according to senior officials with the Obama administration. It was from in and around Kandahar that Taliban overlord Mullah Omar ruled Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Bringing security to Kandahar city is a chief goal of NATO operations this year, according to the officials, who spoke to reporters in Washington on Friday on condition of anonymity so they could discuss national security issues. If this year's goal is to reverse the Taliban's momentum and give Afghan government an opportunity to take control, then NATO-led forces have to get to Kandahar this year, one official said.

On Saturday, after a four-day march, Marines and Afghan troops who fought through the center of Marjah linked up with a U.S. Army Stryker battalion on the northern outskirts of the former Taliban stronghold.

"Basically, you can say that Marjah has been cleared," said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment.

Lima Company's more than 100 heavily armed Marines, along with nearly as many Afghan army soldiers, spent days advancing north, searching every compound for possible Taliban holdouts.

There were no Taliban in sight, and the Marines didn't fire a shot during the final advance — except at a couple of Afghan guard dogs who threatened the unit.

The Marines' hookup with the Army battalion means the operation is somewhere between the clear and hold phases, although suspected Taliban fighters remain on the western outskirts of town.

Marine spokesman Capt. Abe Sipe said that while armed resistance has "fallen off pretty dramatically" in the past four to five days, the combined forces expect to face intermittent attacks for at least two more weeks.

"We are not calling anything completely secure yet," Sipe said.

Capt. Abdelhai Hujum, who spent two decades with various Afghan militias before joining the nascent Afghan National Army, said he suspected most of the local Taliban buried their guns and blended with the civilian population.

"They're not stupid. I'd do the same if I saw a company of U.S. Marines coming my way," said Hujum, commander of an Afghan unit.

"I can sense them all around us," Hujum said Friday as squads of Afghan troops and some Marines stormed a mosque where a child had said eight insurgents were preparing an ambush. Villagers exhibited hostility. One threw a stone at a Marine waiting outside. Still, there wasn't a single rifle or Taliban insurgent in sight.

On Saturday, Marine sniffer dogs and metal detectors found a cache of explosives and weapons as they finished clearing out a northern Marjah neighborhood. The cache, detonated by a bomb squad, contained over 80 pounds of homemade explosives, half a dozen rocket-propelled grenades, Chinese-made rockets, artillery rounds and other bomb-making materials.

"It made a pretty big boom," said Staff Sgt. Paul Bui, 20, from El Monte, California.

Bui and other explosives experts said the cache was hidden in freshly upturned earth near a canal, appearing to confirm residents' accounts that Taliban fighters had fled just a few days earlier.

Establishing a credible local government is a key component of NATO's strategy for Marjah, a longtime Taliban logistical hub and heroin-smuggling center. Earlier in the week, the government installed a new administrator, and several hundred Afghan police have started patrolling newly cleared areas of Marjah and southern Helmand.

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, told The Associated Press on Saturday that success in Marjah would be measured by whether its people, who have lived for years under Taliban rule, eventually feel secure.

"The president was very clear before the operation that we have to convince the people of Marjah that we'll bring them security, we'll bring them good governance and life will be better for them than under the Taliban," Omar said.

While the insurgents laid low in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban struck Friday in the capital of Kabul, killing at least 16 people in assaults on two small hotels in Kabul. Half the dead were foreigners. The attack served as a reminder that the insurgents still have the strength to launch attacks — even in the capital.

At least six of the victims were Indian citizens whose bodies were returned home Saturday on a military jet sent from New Delhi.

An Indian statement said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was "outraged" at the attack. Karzai telephoned Singh on Saturday to express regret and promise his government would take extra security measures, the presidential office said.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------6)Hawaii Gov signs disaster declaration: Tsunami threatens Hawaii, most of Pacific rim .

Hawaii's Gov. Linda Lingle has declared a state of emergency as the island chain prepares for possible tsunami damage.

She told a news conference Saturday at the state civil defense center inside Diamond Head Crater that the declaration would allow the release of disaster funds. She says the U.S. Pacific Command is standing by to help.

She says authorities are deciding whether to close wastewater pumping stations on Oahu and Maui to prevent damage from seawater.

Lingle says leprosy patients from the Kalaupapa settlement on Molokai have been moved from an isolated area on a peninsula to higher ground. Helicopters are standing by if they need to be shifted elsewhere.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------7)REPUBLIC vs. DEMOCRACY

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."


In the Pledge of Allegiance we all pledge allegiance to our Republic, not to a democracy. "Republic" is the proper description of our government, not "democracy." I invite you to join me in raising public awareness regarding that distinction.
A republic and a democracy are identical in every aspect except one. In a republic the sovereignty is in each individual person. In a democracy the sovereignty is in the group.

Republic. That form of government in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the people, to whome those powers are specially delegated. [NOTE: The word "people" may be either plural or singular. In a republic the group only has advisory powers; the sovereign individual is free to reject the majority group-think. USA/exception: if 100% of a jury convicts, then the individual loses sovereignty and is subject to group-think as in a democracy.]

Democracy. That form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens directly or indirectly through a system of representation, as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy. [NOTE: In a pure democracy, 51% beats 49%. In other words, the minority has no rights. The minority only has those privileges granted by the dictatorship of the majority.]

The distinction between our Republic and a democracy is not an idle one. It has great legal significance.

The Constitution guarantees to every state a Republican form of government (Art. 4, Sec. 4). No state may join the United States unless it is a Republic. Our Republic is one dedicated to "liberty and justice for all." Minority individual rights are the priority. The people have natural rights instead of civil rights. The people are protected by the Bill of Rights from the majority. One vote in a jury can stop all of the majority from depriving any one of the people of his rights; this would not be so if the United States were a democracy. (see People's rights vs Citizens' rights)

In a pure democracy 51 beats 49[%]. In a democracy there is no such thing as a significant minority: there are no minority rights except civil rights (privileges) granted by a condescending majority. Only five of the U.S. Constitution's first ten amendments apply to Citizens of the United States. Simply stated, a democracy is a dictatorship of the majority. Socrates was executed by a democracy: though he harmed no one, the majority found him intolerable.

Government. ....the government is but an agency of the state, distinguished as it must be in accurate thought from its scheme and machinery of government. ....In a colloquial sense, the United States or its representatives, considered as the prosecutor in a criminal action; as in the phrase, "the government objects to the witness." [Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, p. 625]

Government; Republican government. One in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the people, to whome those powers are specially delegated. In re Duncan, 139 U.S. 449, 11 S.Ct. 573, 35 L.Ed. 219; Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162, 22 L.Ed. 627. [Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, p. 626]

Democracy. That form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens directly or indirectly through a system of representation, as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy. Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, pp. 388-389.

Note: Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, can be found in any law library and most law offices.

Notice that in a Democracy, the sovereignty is in the whole body of the free citizens. The sovereignty is not divided to smaller units such as individual citizens. To solve a problem, only the whole body politic is authorized to act. Also, being citizens, individuals have duties and obligations to the government. The government's only obligations to the citizens are those legislatively pre-defined for it by the whole body politic.

In a Republic, the sovereignty resides in the people themselves, whether one or many. In a Republic, one may act on his own or through his representatives as he chooses to solve a problem. Further, the people have no obligation to the government; instead, the government being hired by the people, is obliged to its owner, the people.

The people own the government agencies. The government agencies own the citizens. In the United States we have a three-tiered cast system consisting of people ---> government agencies ---> and citizens.

The people did "ordain and establish this Constitution," not for themselves, but "for the United States of America." In delegating powers to the government agencies the people gave up none of their own. (See Preamble of U.S. Constitution). This adoption of this concept is why the U.S. has been called the "Great Experiment in self government." The People govern themselves, while their agents (government agencies) perform tasks listed in the Preamble for the benefit of the People. The experiment is to answer the question, "Can self-governing people coexist and prevail over government agencies that have no authority over the People?"

The citizens of the United States are totally subject to the laws of the United States (See 14th Amendment of U.S. Constitution). NOTE: U.S. citizenship did not exist until July 28, 1868.

Actually, the United States is a mixture of the two systems of government (Republican under Common Law, and democratic under statutory law). The People enjoy their God-given natural rights in the Republic. In a democracy, the Citizens enjoy only government granted privileges (also known as civil rights).

There was a great political division between two major philosophers, Hobbes and Locke. Hobbes was on the side of government. He believed that sovereignty was vested in the state. Locke was on the side of the People. He believed that the fountain of sovereignty was the People of the state. Statists prefer Hobbes. Populists choose Locke. In California, the Government Code sides with Locke. Sections 11120 and 54950 both say, "The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them." The preambles of the U.S. and California Constitutions also affirm the choice of Locke by the People.

Thomas Jefferson said that liberty and ignorance cannot coexist.* Will you help to preserve minority rights by fulfilling the promise in the Pledge of Allegiance to support the Republic? Will you help by raising public awareness of the difference between the Republic and a democracy?
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------8)To Be or Not to Be Conservative
By Randall Hoven

Should conservatives support moderate Republicans? I provide here pragmatic arguments for supporting more conservative Republicans right now.

To be clear, I am talking about the value of voting for the more conservative candidates in Republican primaries. I am not talking about a third party or the general election. Such cases can be made, but I do not make them here.

The counterargument is that if we support the more conservative candidate, we risk losing to an extremely liberal Democrat. We make perfect the enemy of the good.

One supposed example of such a case was provided recently by Senator Orrin Hatch. According to the Salt Lake Tribune,

Hatch blamed extreme conservatives for the 2008 defeat of Sen. Gordon Smith, a politically moderate but fiscally conservative Republican from Oregon. Hatch said if the Tea Party had not backed a constitutionalist candidate in that race, Smith wouldn't have lost to Democrat Jeff Merkley, whom Hatch described as "the most liberal senator," by 45,000 votes.

Merkley received 49% of the vote, Smith received 46%, and David Brownlow, the Constitution Party candidate, received 5%. The Hatch calculation was that if the third-party voters had gone for Smith, he would have won 51-49 over Merkley.

The result was that instead of a senator with an American Conservative Union score of 33, we have one with an ACU score of 4. (Smith's 2008 ACU score put him one point above Mary Landrieu [32] and nine points below Arlen Specter [42], both Democrats now.)

I now present my arguments, both specifically against this Gordon Smith example and also more generally.

First, the Gordon Smith example refers to support for a third-party candidate in the general election. That is a straw man. What most of us are talking about is whom conservatives should support in Republican primaries. That, at least, is the only case I'm making now.

Secondly, the third party in this case was the Constitution Party, not the Tea Party at all. To associate the Constitution Party with the Tea Party movement was an irresponsible leap of logic.

Third, the phrase "politically moderate but fiscally conservative" is simply inaccurate (as it almost always is). The National Journal breaks down vote scores into economic, social, and foreign categories. The NJ's economic score for Gordon Smith (54) was actually below his social score (60). His foreign score was even lower (46). The next four economic scores below him belonged to Susan Collins (53), Evan Bayh (52), Mary Landrieu (51) and Clair McCaskill (49), the last three being Democrats. Gordon Smith was moderate on everything and conservative on nothing.

Fourth, conservatives and moderates make up 75% of all of us, and even 70% of Oregonians. Why should we have to choose between candidates who are between 4% and 33% conservative?

The way to avoid a Gordon Smith type outcome is to remove the Gordon Smith candidate in the primary and replace him with someone more conservative. Yet the GOP's continued support for incumbents and favored candidates works precisely against such a thing.

If conservatives vote for Republicans no matter what, the GOP receives no signal that it must move right. Then the GOP learns nothing, drifts left, and keeps nominating ever-more-liberal candidates as long as they are at least a hair more conservative than the Democrats. Where does that lead?

It leads to 2001-2006, when Republicans had the presidency, the House, and the Senate, and they accomplished nothing on the domestic front except

No Child Left Behind,
Campaign Finance Reform,
Prescription coverage under the already-bankrupt Medicare system,
Jim Jeffords,
Lincoln Chafee,
Arlen Specter, and
Ignominious electoral defeat in 2006 and 2008.

You get more of what you consistently vote for.

Finally, there can be a short-term reason to vote for the more conservative Republican in a primary, even if you think he or she has a lower chance of winning the general election than the moderate Republican. There is a fundamental calculation in any one race that can be made in a cold, rational manner.

BEGIN MATH WARNING (Skip to end of MATH WARNING if you are math-phobic.)

The game-theory, or decision-theory, payoff matrix is given here. (MBAs learn how to do this in graduate school. Engineers learn it in one of their easy classes.)

Payoff to Conservatives For Four Possible Outcomes

Republican Wins
Democrat Wins

Conservative Republican

Moderate Republican

If we had our choice among all possible outcomes, we would of course choose the "Good" one: The conservative Republican wins. But we do not have that choice. The voting comes in two steps: the primary and the general election. In a primary, we choose only between Republicans. And which Republican we choose also affects the probability that that Republican will win the general election.

The new payoff matrix is four probabilities. In a primary, we get to choose only between the two rows. I define "Pc" as the probability that the conservative Republican would win the general election over the Democrat and "Pm" as the probability that the moderate one would.

Expected Payoff to Conservatives For Four Possible Outcomes

Republican Wins
Democrat Wins

Conservative Republican
Pc X Good
(1-Pc) X Bad

"Moderate" Republican
Pm X Fair
(1-Pm) X Bad

If we choose the Conservative Republican, our total expected payoff is the sum of the two possibilities in that row.

(Pc X Good) + [(1-Pc) X Bad]

We want to choose the row with the highest expected payoff: the best chance of having the most conservative officeholder after the election. If you trust my algebra, we should choose the moderate Republican in the primary if

Pm/Pc > (Good - Bad)/(Fair - Bad)

If you followed this so far, you are now wondering what numbers to put in. For Good, Bad, and Fair, we could use, say, ACU scores. Let's use a real primary race as an example: the McCain-Hayworth race.

McCain's lifetime ACU score is 82, but his most recent score was only 65. I'm going to give him a generous score of 70, which replaces "Fair" in the formula. Hayworth's lifetime score was 97, with his last two years being 96 and 100. So "Good" will be 97. I'll assign a typical Democrat ACU score of 10 for "Bad."

Our decision criterion is then

Pm/Pc > (97 - 10)/(70 - 10) = 1.45

We should vote for McCain if we think his chances of beating the Democrat are at least 1.45 times better than Hayworth's.

McCain has a good chance of winning the general election -- let's say 90%. Then by the above formula, if conservatives think Hayworth has at least a 62% chance of winning the general election, they should vote for him; otherwise, they should vote for McCain.

(Frankly, this analysis makes it a pretty close call, or even favors McCain. I can assure you that that was not my intention. But you don't have to use my numbers. Maybe ACU scores are not what you consider the best measures of "goodness," after all.)

END OF MATH WARNING (You may now proceed to the meaning of all this math.)

I admit that the mathematical approach was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but not totally. The idea is that this can be looked at rationally. We might not know all the numbers required for the rational calculation, but the lesson is this:

It is not necessarily stupid to vote for the more conservative candidate in a Republican primary, even knowing his or her chances of winning the general election are lower than the moderate's chances.

The "right" decision depends on how good, bad, or indifferent we think the candidates are and their relative chances of winning in the general election. But the calculation is not a no-brainer. It depends.

And even that formulaic approach is purely for a single race, trying to maximize the "conservativeness" of your next office holder. If we look at the longer term, there are stronger reasons to favor the more conservative candidates having to do with signals from the voters and learning by the GOP.

Essentially, voting for the more conservative candidates is the only way conservatives can send a signal to the GOP to move right. If the party does not learn this the easy way in the primaries, then it could very well learn it the hard way in the general elections. I would say that 2008 was a hard lesson for the GOP. Did they learn anything?
9)U.S. warns Syria: Stop arming Hezbollah immediately
By Barak Ravid, Natasha Mozgovaya, Avi Issacharoff and Jack Khoury

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington.

Meanwhile, the United States asked both Syria and Israel to lower the temperature and avoid an escalation in the region.

The decision to call Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha to the State Department was relatively unusual. In a statement, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman asked the Syrian ambassador to meet.

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.

The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns' visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns' meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.

A senior diplomatic source who was briefed on the meeting with the Syrian ambassador said that one goal was to calm tensions between Syria and Israel.

The meeting with the ambassador was preceded by meetings in Washington between U.S. officials and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. On Thursday, U.S. officials met with their Israeli counterparts at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

The diplomatic source noted that Barak's meetings in Washington focused on arms transfers from Syria to Hezbollah.

"Barak stressed that the quantities of arms smuggled have increased, and there have also been significant upgrades in the quality of weapons," the source told Haaretz.

The source said the meeting with the Syrian ambassador dealt with the arms transfers to Hezbollah and the recent meeting in Damascus between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.

In its message to Assad, the United States asked that Syrian cooperation with Hezbollah cease and that arms transfers to the radical Lebanese Shi'ite group end immediately.

At the Foreign Ministry on Thursday, U.S. and Israeli officials discussed the tension along the northern border. The Israeli team was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and the Americans were headed by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

A senior Israeli official said the Americans warned against a further deterioration on the border that could lead to a conflagration because of a miscalculation by either side.

Israeli officials asked the Americans to tell the Syrians that Israel had no plans to attack and wanted to calm the situation.

The Israeli officials insisted that Iran was behind the tensions and blamed Tehran for inciting Syria and Assad, as well as claiming that Israel had plans to go on the offensive.

Meanwhile, Barak, speaking in Washington on U.S.-Israeli ties, said he understood the "differences in perspective" between the two countries, adding that "I do not think that we need to coordinate each step."

"I understand that we are not the United States, and the U.S., I believe, recognizes that they are not in our situation," he said. "I do not want to talk in terms of time limits, but I do not think that any development in the region can put the existence of Israel into question. I do not accept any such assessments."

Barak also commented on the possibility of peace with Syria, describing it as "a strategic interest of Israel. And we all know what is on the table and what decisions each side must make."

The defense minister said that "if we navigate carefully, I consider this to be more an opportunity than a threat. However, we are powerful enough to deal with any deterioration along our northern border if this happens. We are not interested in this and we will not initiate it, but we follow what is happening in Lebanon, and the time has come to deal with it with greater determination."

Referring to Lebanon, Barak said that "it is a bizarre anomaly that it is a member of the United Nations but has a militia, with members of parliament and ministers, and an arsenal of 45,000 missiles and rockets that can hit all of Israel," he said.

"And they say they are ready to deploy it like in the past. We cannot accept this, we do not intend to chase down every individual terrorist, but we will consider the government of Lebanon, the country's infrastructure, as part of the equation with which we are confronted."

Also on Thursday, Ahmadinejad met with Nasrallah at the Syrian presidential palace. According to Hezbollah station Al-Manar, senior aides on both sides were present.

According to the report, the two leaders discussed the developments in the region and "the repeated threats of the Zionists against Syria and Lebanon."

The report did not indicate whether a meeting was held between the Iranian president, Nasrallah and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal, who is based in Syria.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------10) IAF trains for rapid refueling

In preparation for long-range missions and possible conflict with Iran, the Israel Air Force has expanded its training programs to include rapid refueling operations on runways.

It’s a dangerous practice since the aircraft’s engines are running while the fuel nozzle is still connected to the jets. The training is for both pilots and ground crews and it is being done to enable the aircraft to carry as much fuel as possible for long-range missions.

Fuel nozzles are traditionally disconnected from fighter aircraft while they are still parked in hangers and before they are rolled out to the runway, where they usually wait for several minutes before takeoff and while burning fuel. The new protocol includes keeping fuel trucks on the runway, having ground personnel reattach the nozzle and fuel the aircraft to the maximum fullness, disconnecting seconds before takeoff.

“We understand that many of our threats and challenges require us to develop a long-range capability,” one senior IAF officer explained. “Part of our preparation includes knowing how to fuel our aircraft so they can have as much fuel as possible.”

Last week, the IAF inaugurated a new unmanned aerial vehicle called the Heron TP. With the same wingspan as a Boeing 737, the Heron TP is Israel’s largest and most sophisticated drone, weighing 4,650 kg. and capable of flying for 36 hours while carrying a payload of hundreds of kilograms. The Heron will increase the IAF’s long-range capabilities, mainly in intelligence and surveillance, and according to foreign reports could also have missile strike capabilities.

Meanwhile on Saturday, The New York Times reported that Iran recently moved almost its entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium to an above-ground facility. According to a recent report by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, close to two tons of low-enriched nuclear uranium was moved all at once from storage deep underground to a facility where it can be enriched to a 20-percent level, putting the material just a jump away from the 80-to-90% that is required for nuclear weapons.

Iran’s action, which according to the report has confused Western officials, exposes the material to an air strike or even to ground-based sabotage.

The Times quoted one official as saying the move was tantamount to painting a bull’s-eye on the stockpile.

The paper raised several possible explanations, primarily that Iran might have run out of suitable storage containers for the radioactive material and was forced to move it all at once. It would, however, not require the entire two tons to enrich uranium for the aging reactor in Teheran where it makes medical isotopes.

Other explanations raised by the paper include the possibility that the Islamic Republic actually wants Israel to attack, since that would likely unite the Iranian people behind the regime and silence the opposition Green Movement and the demonstrations protesting against the results of June’s presidential election.

Teheran, the Times said, might be using the move as leverage against the West and as part of a threat to further enrich its entire stockpile if the international community did not reduce its pressure on the Islamic Republic.