Monday, March 31, 2008

ELECTION 2008 - A Republican Speaks

Even though I have not made any choice as of this date, the following is a comment from that other "Republican Maverick" that is very telling. A Republican willing to consider the welfare of our nation ahead of party interests.

"Hagel: Barack Best to Unite Country" Politics, Huffington Post

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said last night that, among the 3 remaining candidates, he thought Barack Obama had the best chance of bringing the country together. While he did not dismiss McCain (he's done that in the Senate) or Clinton (she's had some success in the Senate, not as much as McCain), he said that he believed that Barack Obama, for generational reasons, could best bring the country together.

Hagel also stated that he believes the inventory of problems the next President will face is unprecedented and that that is why it is so important that the country be brought together so that it could really solve problems. Although Hagel did not endorse Obama, he did not rule out the possibility.

Hagel, who is retiring from the Senate and, for awhile, from public life, pointed to data showing 81% of the country believe we are on the "wrong-track", that registration numbers show Republicans to be in the teens and Independents higher than Democrats, and that trust in Congress and the President is at all time lows.

"In a democracy", said Hagel, "people push something else out there" to take the place or transform institutions. He believes that that is what this election will ultimately be about.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

ON THE LITE SIDE - British Humor

The Only Way to Understand the Press

POLITICS - Equal Treatment Under the Law, In Bush World


aka Sink-or-Swim Peons

CONSTITUTION - Second Amendment

First, I personally believe the Second Amendment does give individuals the right to own "arms."

But, there are some very good arguments for the other view expressed in prior Supreme Court decisions. This is one of them.

"Let the Golden Age End" by publius, Obsidian Wings


If I were the plaintiffs in the Heller Second Amendment case, I would file an amicus brief with nothing but the HBO John Adams mini-series attached. Looking back to 18th century Boston, it’s much easier to see how guns and militias provided important checks on government overreach. The problem, though, is that the colonial era has passed. The expansive gun rights of that era would have far different effects in post-industrial urban society.

...the broader point is that several strands of conservative jurisprudence seem to assume a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Specifically, they assume a world where urbanization and industrialization hasn’t happened.

...I think, turns on the type of place you live in. If your world is 18th century Massachusetts, then broad gun rights make a lot of sense. If your world is a densely-populated housing project in the Bronx, then broad gun rights make much less sense. Indeed, they create very dangerous environments. And if your world is rural Montana, then the policy rationale shifts back the other way. Given these variations, it seems like the obvious answer is to defer to legislatures (which requires a more collective view). The elected leaders of Montana can do what they want, while DC can do what it wants. And long as Congress doesn't ban militias, we're all good.

The broader point, though, is that the analysis should acknowledge changing conditions. Extreme gun rights advocates like to pretend we all live in John Adams’ world. In that world, millions of complete strangers don’t live right on top of each. There, militias actually do further liberty. In our world, however, things are different. Millions of strangers are in fact clustered together. In our world, nuclear-powered industrialized armies have far more formidable weapons than muskets and cannons.

To be clear, I’m not saying we should ban guns. I’m just saying the Second Amendment is an artifact from a different era, and that its artifact-ness should influence our reading of it. More specifically, the fact that it’s a relic of the musket era should, at the least, allow modern legislatures some leeway in interpreting it.

The full article deals with the whole issue of how our Constitution should be interpreted. Strict-intent (of our Founding Fathers) vs seeing our Constitution as a "living" document.

IRAQ - The Southern War

"Five Things You Need to Know to Understand the Latest Violence in Iraq" by Joshua Holland & Raed Jarrar, AlterNet 3/27/2008

Heavy fighting has spread across Shia-dominated enclaves in Iraq over the past two days. The U.S.-backed regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered 50,000 Iraqi troops to "crack down" -- with coalition air support -- on Shiite militias in the oil-rich and strategically important city of Basra, U.S. forces have surrounded Baghdad's Sadr City and fighting has been reported in the southern cities of Kut, Diwaniya, Karbala and Hilla. Basra's main bridge and an oil pipeline connecting it to Amara were destroyed Wednesday. Six cities are under curfew, and acts of civil disobedience have shut down dozens of neighborhoods across the country. Civilian casualties have reportedly overwhelmed poorly equipped medical centers in Baghdad and Basra.

There are indications that the unilateral ceasefire declared last year by the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is collapsing. "The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," one militiaman loyal to al-Sadr told the Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher by telephone from Sadr City. Dagher added that the "same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store."

A political track is also in play: Sadr has called on his followers to take to the streets to demand Maliki's resignation, and nationalist lawmakers in the Iraqi Parliament, led by al-Sadr's block, are trying to push a no-confidence vote challenging the prime minister's regime.

The conflict is one that the U.S. media appears incapable of describing in a coherent way. The prevailing narrative is that Basra has been ruled by mafia-like militias -- which is true -- and that Iraqi government forces are now cracking down on the lawlessness in preparation for regional elections, which is not. As independent analyst Reider Visser noted:

On closer inspection, there are problems in these accounts. Perhaps most importantly, there is a discrepancy between the description of Basra as a city ruled by militias (in the plural) ... [and the] facts of the ongoing operations, which seem to target only one of these militia groups, the Mahdi Army loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. Surely, if the aim was to make Basra a safer place, it would have been logical to do something to also stem the influence of the other militias loyal to the local competitors of the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [SIIC], as well as the armed groups allied to the Fadila party (sic) (which have dominated the oil protection services for a long time). But so far, only Sadrists have complained about attacks by government forces.

The conflict doesn't conform to the analysis of the roots of Iraqi instability as briefed by U.S. officials in the heavily-fortified Green Zone. It also doesn't fit into the simplistic but popular narrative of a country wrought by sectarian violence, and its nature is obscured by the labels that the commercial media uncritically apply to the disparate centers of Iraqi resistance to the occupation.

The "crackdown" comes on the heels of the approval of a new "provincial law," which will ultimately determine whether Iraq remains a unified state with a strong central government or is divided into sectarian-based regional governates. The measure calls for provincial elections in October, and the winners of those elections will determine the future of the Iraqi state. Control of the country's oil wealth, and how its treasure will be developed, will also be significantly influenced by the outcome of the elections.

It's a relatively straightforward story: Iraq is ablaze today as a result of an attempt to impose Colombian-style democracy on the unstable country: Maliki's goal, shared by the like-minded allies among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that dominate his administration, and with at least tacit U.S. approval, is to kill off the opposition and then hold a vote.

To better understand the nature of this latest round of conflict, here are five things one needs to know about what's taking place across Iraq.

1. A visible manifestation of Iraq's central-but-under-teported political conflict (not "sectarian violence")

Iraq, which had experienced little or no sectarian-based violence prior to the U.S. invasion, has been plagued with sectarian militias fighting for the streets of Iraq's formerly heterogeneous neighborhoods, and "sectarian violence" has become Americans' primary explanation for the instability that has plagued the country.

But the sectarian-based street-fighting is a symptom of a larger political conflict, one that has been poorly analyzed in the mainstream press. The real source of conflict in Iraq -- and the reason political reconciliation has been so difficult -- is a fundamental disagreement over what the future of Iraq will look like. Loosely defined, it is a clash of Iraqi nationalists -- with Muqtada al-Sadr as their most influential voice -- who desire a unified Iraqi state and public-sector management of the country's vast oil reserves and who forcefully reject foreign influence on Iraq's political process, be it from the United States, Iran or other outside forces.

The nationalists now represent a majority in Iraq's parliament but are opposed by what might be called Iraqi separatists, who envision a "soft partition" of Iraq into at least four semi-autonomous and sectarian-based regional entities, welcome the privatization of the Iraqi energy sector (and the rest of the Iraqi economy) and rely on foreign support to maintain their power.

We've written about this long-standing conflict extensively in the past, and now we're seeing it come to a head, as we believed it would at some point.

2. U.S. is propping up unpopular regime; Sadr has support because of his platform

One of the ironies of the reporting out of Iraq is the ubiquitous characterization of Muqtada al-Sadr as a "renegade," "radical" or "militant" cleric, despite the fact that he is the only leader of significance in the country who has ordered his followers to stand down. His ostensible militancy appears to arise primarily from his opposition to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

He has certainly been willing to use violence in the past, but the "firebrand" label belies the fact that Sadr is arguably the most popular leader among a large section of the Iraqi population and that he has forcefully rejected sectarian conflict and sought to bring together representatives of Iraq's various ethnic and sectarian groups in an effort to create real national reconciliation -- a process that the highly sectarian Maliki regime has failed to accomplish.

It's vitally important to understand that Sadr's popularity and legitimacy is a result of his having a platform that's favored by an overwhelming majority of Iraqis.

Most Iraqis:

  • Favor a strong central government free of the influence of militias.

  • Oppose, by a 2-1 margin, the privatization of Iraq's energy sector -- a "benchmark toward progress according to the Bush administration.

  • Favor a U.S. withdrawal on a short timeline (PDF) (most believe the United States plans to build permanent bases -- both are issues about which the Sadrists have been vocal.

  • Oppose al Qaeda and the ideology of Osama Bin Laden and, to a lesser degree, Iranian influence on Iraq's internal affairs.

With the exception of their opposition to Al Qaeda, the five major separatist parties -- Sunni, Shia and Kurdish -- that make up Maliki's governing coalition are on the deeply unpopular side of these issues. A poll conducted last year found that 65 percent of Iraqis think the Iraqi government is doing a poor job, and Maliki himself has a Bush-like 66 percent disapproval rate.

As in Vietnam, the United States is backing an unpopular and decidedly undemocratic government in Iraq, and that simple fact explains much of the violent resistance that's going on in Iraq today.

3. "Iraqi forces" are, in fact, "Iranian- (and U.S.-) backed Shiite militias"

Every headline this week has featured some variation of the storyline of "Iraqi security forces" battling "Shiite militias." But the reality is that it is a battle between Shite militias -- separatists and nationalists -- with one militia garbed in Iraqi army uniforms and supported by U.S. airpower, and the other in civilian clothes.

It has always been the great irony of the occupation of Iraq that "our" man in Baghdad is also Tehran's. Maliki heads the Dawa Party, which has long enjoyed close ties to Iran, and relies on support from SIIC, a staunchly pro-Iranian party, and its powerful Badr militia. The "government crackdown" is an escalation of a long-simmering conflict in the south between the Badr Brigade, the Sadrists and members of the Fadhila Party, which favors greater autonomy for Basra but rejects SIIC's vision of a larger Shiite-dominated regional entity in Southern Iraq.

4. Colombia-style democracy

Basra has been engulfed in a simmering conflict since before the British pulled their troops back to a remote base near the airport and turned over the city to Iraqi authorities. But the timing of this crackdown is not coincidental; Iraqi separatists -- Dawa, SIIC and others -- are expected to do poorly in the regional elections, while the Sadrists are widely anticipated to make significant gains. It is widely perceived by those loyal to Sadr that this is an attempt to wipe out the movement he leads prior to the elections and minimize the influence that Iraqi nationalists are poised to gain.

The United States, for its part, continues to take sides in this conflict -- in addition to providing airpower, U.S. forces are enforcing the curfew in Sadr City -- rather than playing the role of neutral mediator. That's because the interests of the Bush administration and its allies are aligned with Maliki and his coalition. That they are not aligned with the interests of most Iraqis is never mentioned in the Western press, but is a key reason why Bush's definition of "victory" -- the emergence of a legitimate and Democratic state that supports U.S. policy in the region -- has always been an impossible pipedream.

5. Chip off the old block: Maliki's attempt to criminalize dissent

It's unclear whether Sadr has lifted the cease-fire entirely, or simply freed his fighters to defend themselves. He continues to call for peaceful resistance.

Whatever the case may be, it's not entirely accurate to say that he "chose" this conflict. The reality is that while his army was holding the cease-fire, attacks on and detentions of Sadrists have continued unabated. Sadr renewed the cease-fire last month, but he did so over the urging of his top aides, who argued that their movement was threatened with annihilation. He later authorized his followers to carry weapons "for self-defense" to head off a mutiny within his ranks.

Ahmed al-Massoudi, a Sadrist member of Parliament, last week "accused the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his Dawa Party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) of planning a military campaign to liquidate the Sadrists."

The lawmaker told Voices of Iraq that Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's "SIIC and the Dawa Party have held meetings with officers of the militias merged recently into security agencies to launch a military campaign outwardly to impose order and law, but the real objective is to liquidate the Sadrist bloc." "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is directly supervising this scheme with officers from the Dawa Party and the SIIC," he added. Despite his close ties with Tehran and deep involvement in Shiite militia activity, Hakim has been invited to the White House, where he was feted by Bush himself.

Sadr called for nationwide civil disobedience that would have allowed his followers to flex some political muscle in a nonviolent way. His orders, according to Iraqi reports were to distribute olive branches and copies of the Koran to soldiers at checkpoints.

The Maliki regime responded by saying that individuals joining the nationwide strike would be punished and that those organizing it are in violation of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Act issued in 2005. A spokesman for the prime minister promised to punish any government employees who failed to show up for work.

This is consistent with a long-term trend: the U.S.-backed government's obstruction of Iraqi efforts to foster political reconciliation among diverse groups of Iraq nationalists. (Read more about this here.)

Propaganda and the surge

The Maliki regime has set an ultimatum demanding that the militias -- the nationalist militias -- lay down their arms within the next two days or face "more serious consequences." Al-Sadr has also issued an ultimatum: The government must cease its attacks on his followers, or his followers will escalate. It is an extremely dangerous situation, especially given the fact that the main U.S. resupply routes stretch from Baghdad through the Shia-dominated southern provinces.

But the precariousness of the situation appears to be of little concern to the military command, which issued a statement saying that the violence was a result of the success of the U.S. troop "surge" (Bush called the "crackdown" a "bold decision'' that shows the country's security forces are capable of combating terrorists). It's yet another example of the administration putting U.S. geostrategic (and economic) interests ahead of Iraqi reconciliation and democratic governance.

The much-touted troop "surge" had little to do with the drop in violence in recent months -- it didn't even correlate with the lull chronologically and was certainly a minor causal factor at best. A number of factors led to the reduced violence, but Sadr's cease-fire had the greatest impact. Nonetheless, the Maliki regime, backed by the United States, continued a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Sadr's followers, denied them space to peacefully resist the occupation and forced his hand.

Given the degree to which the coalition has continued to stir a hornets' nest, we may be seeing a perfect illustration of the dangers of believing one's own propaganda play out as Iraq is once again set aflame.

IRAQ WAR - Perpetuation of Error

Emperor Bush, and now John McCain, just will not learn nor acknowledge that the perpetuation of an error is wrong. The now well known error that we should not have invaded Iraq in the first place, and that the invasion has strengthened al Qaida and Iran.

Their answer is to continue sacrificing American lives and wealth, ad infinitum.

"Bush Given Iraq War Plan With a Steady Troop Level" by Steven Lee Myers & Thom Shanker, New York Times

Troop levels in Iraq would remain nearly the same through 2008 as they have been through most of the five years of war there, under plans presented to President Bush on Monday by the senior American commander and the top American diplomat in Iraq, senior administration and military officials said.

Mr. Bush announced no final decision on future troop levels after the video briefing by the commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the diplomat, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. The briefing took place on the day when the 4,000th American military death of the war was reported and just after the invasion’s fifth anniversary.

But it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president. That ensures that the question over what comes next will remain in the center of the presidential campaign through Election Day.

General Petraeus, speaking to Mr. Bush by secure video conference during a two-hour meeting of the National Security Council, recommended putting off decisions on further troop reductions for a month or two after the departure in July of five extra brigades sent last year to help secure the nation, the officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about internal deliberations.

There would be more frequent reviews after that to see when withdrawals might be allowed to resume, without any predetermined outcome and, given the time required to put troops into motion, little likelihood of big reductions on short timetables.

During the briefing to the president, General Petraeus laid out a number of potential options, the officials said, but avoided using the term “pause.” That word has gained traction here in Washington over recent weeks to describe the plateau in troop levels that is widely expected to last through the fall elections and perhaps beyond.

Instead, he described the weeks after the departure of the extra brigades ordered to Iraq in January 2007 as a period of “consolidation and evaluation,” a phrase first used publicly by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during a visit to Iraq in February.

The officials said that Mr. Bush and General Petraeus, recognizing public and Congressional wariness about the toll of the war, would publicly hold out the possibly of withdrawing more troops, but only if conditions allowed it. Mr. Bush, in particular, is eager to end his presidency with the appearance that things are getting better in Iraq.

A review of conditions in Iraq roughly once a month, as opposed to the large, formal reviews that have taken place every six months, would be likely to prevent long debates like the one that began almost the moment General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker reported to Congress last September on the progress of the troop increase up to that point. The withdrawal of the additional troops began in December and will be completed in July.

The two men are to appear on Capitol Hill again on April 8 and 9.

These more frequent reviews are advocated, officials said, by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by the military’s Central Command, which is responsible for operations across the region, including those in Afghanistan. The reviews would determine how many more brigades, if any, could be ordered out of Iraq in the final months of the Bush presidency.

Reducing the troops in Iraq as much as is feasible has been a priority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are to brief Mr. Bush this week. The Joint Chiefs have argued in favor of finding ways to ease the strain of the war in Iraq on military training and morale and to balance General Petraeus’s plans for Iraq with the need to prepare for other potential conflicts. A decision to suspend further reductions has already prompted criticism from Democrats in Congress, especially as the presidential primary campaign has intensified.

The two Democratic candidates, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, have proposed more rapid withdrawals of troops, though on different timelines. The Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, has advocated following a policy close to that of President Bush’s.

Mr. Bush on Monday addressed the milestone of the 4,000th death during a brief statement at the State Department, where he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior aides. In a statement that began haltingly, he expressed his sympathies for the families of those killed, both soldiers and diplomats, and sought to put their deaths in historical context.

“I have vowed in the past, and I will vow so long as I’m president, to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain; that, in fact, there is a outcome that will merit the sacrifice that civilian and military alike have made; that our strategy going forward will be aimed at making sure that we achieve victory,” he said.

By many accounts, the addition of five combat brigades last year, which raised the American troop level to a peak of nearly 170,000 from 132,000, was a factor in helping reduce violence in Iraq. But Mr. Bush and his aides are described as wary of risking the gains.

Mr. Bush, according to officials, could decide to make no further reductions in troops after the departure this summer of the last of the additional troops, leaving roughly 140,000. That number includes the 15 combat brigades in Iraq before the troop increase, as well as additional support, training and other units that are expected to stay.

Senior Army planning officers say it typically takes about 45 days to withdraw a combat brigade, meaning that only two or three more brigades — at most — could be withdrawn before the end of the year, which would leave troop levels far above 100,000.

At the same time, a fresh brigade now on the rotation schedule for Iraq would need to know 70 to 90 days in advance of a change in plans, in particular as heavy equipment is loaded long before the troops step onto transport planes.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, as part of a study ahead of their report to Mr. Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday, have been analyzing how those brigades that may not be sent to Iraq can be used best, with options including greater attention to training as well as whether missions or elsewhere can be bolstered.

Another factor that may complicate the decisions on troop levels this fall is the anticipation of provincial elections across Iraq in October. For each previous nationwide election, American force levels actually were increased significantly to provide security for the voting.

Michele A. Flournoy, president of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan research organization, said that many factors weighed on General Petraeus and other commanders as they considered recommendations to the president. Those included the coming Iraqi regional elections, as well as the period of transition that will follow the American election in November.

Ms. Flournoy expressed concern that some officials, lawmakers and analysts were already looking beyond the Bush presidency, when, she said, the administration needed to keep pressing for more meaningful progress by the Iraqi government to provide security and bridge ethnic and sectarian divisions.

Referring to the troop increase ordered last year, she said, “The only happy ending to the surge is for it to produce some strategic results, which it has yet to do.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

ECONOMY - The Opening Salvo, Regulation vs. GOP Non-Regulation

"Split Is Forming Over Regulation of Wall Street" by Edmund L. Andrews & Stephen Labaton, New York Times

As Congress and the Bush administration struggle to contain the housing and credit crises — and prevent more Wall Street firms from collapsing as Bear Stearns did — a split is forming over how to strengthen oversight of financial institutions after decades of deregulation.

The administration and Democratic lawmakers in Congress agree that the meltdown in credit markets exposed weaknesses in the nation’s tangled web of federal and state regulators, which failed to anticipate the effect of so many new players in the industry.

In Congress, Democrats are drafting bills that would create a powerful new regulator — or simply confer new powers on the Federal Reserve — to oversee practices across the entire array of commercial banks, Wall Street firms, hedge funds and nonbank financial companies.

The Treasury Department is rushing to complete its own blueprint for overhauling what is now an alphabet soup of federal and state regulators that often compete against each other and protect their particular slices of the industry as if they were constituents.

But the two sides strongly disagree about whether, after decades of a freewheeling encouragement of exotic new services and new players like hedge funds, the pendulum should swing back to tighter control.

This is just the opening paragraphs in this 2-page article.

The GOP's stance has always been regulation hampers business, even when unregulated business practices hurt the citizenry or our economy.

And this does not even address the inequity of using tax payer dollars to bail out Bear Stearns (which I agree we should do) but not using more tax dollars to help individual citizens with their mortgage problems. Typical big-business first, people last.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


This is one of the Science Fiction writers, along with Asimov and Heinlein, that started me loving SiFi in general. I will sorely miss him.

"Arthur C. Clarke, 90; scientific visionary, acclaimed writer of '2001: A Space Odyssey'" by Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times

Arthur C. Clarke, who peered into the heavens with a homemade telescope as a boy and grew up to become a visionary titan of science-fiction writing and collaborated with director Stanley Kubrick on the landmark film "2001: A Space Odyssey," has died. He was 90.

The knighted British-born writer died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had made his home for decades, after experiencing a cardio-respiratory attack, his secretary, Rohan De Silva, told Reuters.

Clarke wrote scores of fiction and nonfiction books (some in collaboration) and more than 100 short stories -- as well as hundreds of articles and essays. Among his best-known science-fiction novels are "Childhood's End," "Rendezvous With Rama," "Imperial Earth" and "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Deemed a scientific prophet, Clarke foretold an array of technological notions in his works such as space stations, moon landings using a mother ship and a landing pod, cellular phones and the Internet.

"Nobody has done more in the way of enlightened prediction," science-fiction author Isaac Asimov once wrote.

"I'd say he was the major hard science-fiction writer -- that is, the writer of science fiction that is scientifically scrupulous -- in the second half of the 20th century," UC Irvine physics professor Gregory Benford, an award-winning science-fiction author who collaborated with Clarke on the 1990 science-fiction novel "Beyond the Fall of Night," told The Times in 2005.

George Slusser, author of the 1978 book "The Space Odysseys of Arthur C. Clarke" and curator emeritus of UC Riverside's Eaton Collection -- the world's largest publicly accessible collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and utopian fiction -- ranks Clarke as one of the three greatest science-fiction writers of all time.

"Clarke, along with Asimov and [ Robert A.] Heinlein, is unique in that his human dramas are determined by advances in science and technology," Slusser, a professor of comparative literature, said in 2005. "He places his characters in a near future where science has changed the way we live and the possibilities for adventure.

"Clarke incarnates the essence of [science fiction], which is to blend two otherwise opposite activities into a single story, that of the advancement of mankind."

His remarkable record of foreseeing future technologies led him to be known as "the godfather of the telecommunications satellite."

A radar pioneer in the Royal Air Force during World War II, Clarke wrote a 1945 article in Wireless World magazine in which he outlined a worldwide communications network based on fixed satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 22,300 miles -- an orbital area now often referred to as the Clarke Orbit.

Clarke's seminal article, for which he received $40, was published two decades before Syncom II became the world's first communications satellite put into geosynchronous orbit in 1963.

For pioneering the concept of communications satellites, Clarke received a number of honors, including the 1982 Marconi International Fellowship and the Charles A. Lindbergh Award.

His literary career soared with the success of his 1951 nonfiction book "The Exploration of Space" and his critically acclaimed 1953 science-fiction classic "Childhood's End."

"Rendezvous with Rama," his 1973 novel about a space probe sent to explore an enormous celestial object speeding through the solar system that turns out to be a mysterious alien spacecraft, was one of Clarke's greatest critical successes.

It won the prestigious Nebula, Hugo and John W. Campbell awards for best novel, as well as the British Science Fiction Associate Award, the Locus Award and the Jupiter Award.

His collaboration with Kubrick to create a work about man's place in the universe began in 1964 when he was in New York City to complete his work on the Time/Life book "Man and Space."

What I want," Kubrick repeatedly told Clarke, "is a theme of mythic grandeur."

Inspired in part by Clarke's short story "The Sentinel," about the discovery of an alien artifact on the moon, the two men began their collaboration with weeks of brainstorming sessions.

"Perhaps because Stanley realized that I had low tolerance for boredom, he suggested that before we embarked on the drudgery of the script, we let our imaginations soar freely by writing a complete novel, from which we would later derive the script," Clarke wrote in the foreword to the millennial edition of "2001: A Space Odyssey."

This is just the first page of the 3 page article.

Obama on Race and Politics

For those who did not view,
long but well worth the watch.

"Mr. Obama’s Profile in Courage" Editorial Opinion, New York Times 3/19/2008

There are moments — increasingly rare in risk-abhorrent modern campaigns — when politicians are called upon to bare their fundamental beliefs. In the best of these moments, the speaker does not just salve the current political wound, but also illuminates larger, troubling issues that the nation is wrestling with.

Inaugural addresses by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt come to mind, as does John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religion, with its enduring vision of the separation between church and state. Senator Barack Obama, who has not faced such tests of character this year, faced one on Tuesday. It is hard to imagine how he could have handled it better.

Mr. Obama had to address race and religion, the two most toxic subjects in politics. He was as powerful and frank as Mitt Romney was weak and calculating earlier this year in his attempt to persuade the religious right that his Mormonism is Christian enough for them.

It was not a moment to which Mr. Obama came easily. He hesitated uncomfortably long in dealing with the controversial remarks of his spiritual mentor and former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who denounced the United States as endemically racist, murderous and corrupt.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama drew a bright line between his religious connection with Mr. Wright, which should be none of the voters’ business, and having a political connection, which would be very much their business. The distinction seems especially urgent after seven years of a president who has worked to blur the line between church and state.

Mr. Obama acknowledged his strong ties to Mr. Wright. He embraced him as the man “who helped introduce me to my Christian faith,” and said that “as imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me.”

Wisely, he did not claim to be unaware of Mr. Wright’s radicalism or bitterness, disarming the speculation about whether he personally heard the longtime pastor of his church speak the words being played and replayed on YouTube. Mr. Obama said Mr. Wright’s comments were not just potentially offensive, as politicians are apt to do, but “rightly offend white and black alike” and are wrong in their analysis of America. But, he said, many Americans “have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagree.”

Mr. Obama’s eloquent speech should end the debate over his ties to Mr. Wright since there is nothing to suggest that he would carry religion into government. But he did not stop there. He put Mr. Wright, his beliefs and the reaction to them into the larger context of race relations with an honesty seldom heard in public life.

Mr. Obama spoke of the nation’s ugly racial history, which started with slavery and Jim Crow, and continues today in racial segregation, the school achievement gap and discrimination in everything from banking services to law enforcement.

He did not hide from the often-unspoken reality that people on both sides of the color line are angry. “For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation,” he said, “the memories of humiliation and fear have not gone away, nor the anger and the bitterness of those years.”

At the same time, many white Americans, Mr. Obama noted, do not feel privileged by their race. “In an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero-sum game,” he said, adding that both sides must acknowledge that the other’s grievances are not imaginary.

He made the powerful point that while these feelings are not always voiced publicly, they are used in politics. “Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan coalition,” he said.

Against this backdrop, he said, he could not repudiate his pastor. “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community,” he said. “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother.” That woman whom he loves deeply, he said, “once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street” and more than once “uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

There have been times when we wondered what Mr. Obama meant when he talked about rising above traditional divides. This was not such a moment.

We can’t know how effective Mr. Obama’s words will be with those who will not draw the distinctions between faith and politics that he drew, or who will reject his frank talk about race. What is evident, though, is that he not only cleared the air over a particular controversy — he raised the discussion to a higher plane.

IRAQ WAR - When You Live In Bush World.....

EXHIBIT A: "Bush "Envious" Of Soldiers Serving "Romantic" Mission In Afghanistan" Huffington Post 3/13/2008

President Bush let his inner adventurer out while discussing the state of the war in Afghanistan with military and civilian personnel. While those in Afghanistan detailed the logistical and diplomatic problems via teleconference, the President took a much more whimsical approach to their mission. Via Reuters:

"I must say, I'm a little envious," Bush said. "If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed."

"It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks," Bush said.

Meanwhile, over 40 Taliban insurgents were killed in a battle in Southern Afghanistan, and six Afghani civilians were killed in a suicide bombing aimed at an American convoy.

EXHIBIT B: "Bush's Battlefield Envy" by Dan Froomkin, Washington Post

President Bush wishes that he could be alongside the troops in Iraq -- except that he's too old.

At least that's what he reportedly told a blogger embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. In the first session of its kind, Bush spent almost an hour on Friday talking with 10 so-called "milbloggers," including two who participated by video conference from a military base outside Baghdad.

"N.Z. Bear," one of the eight guests sitting around a table with Bush at the White House, reported: "Responding to one of the bloggers in Iraq he expressed envy that they could be there, and said he'd like to be there but 'One, I'm too old to be out there, and two, they would notice me.'"

Maybe Bush was just making idle chit-chat. But this would not be the first time the president has appeared unaware of the hardships his war has caused hundreds of thousands of American troops -- while expressing a misguided sense of bravado.

He certainly hasn't ever put himself in harm's way. The president who avoided serving in Vietnam as a young man has made only three visits to Iraq since declaring that major combat operations were over more than four years ago. All three of the visits were unannounced and featured extensive security.

Bush's total time in country? Less than 15 hours.

Bush's first trip was a two-and-a-half-hour visit to the Baghdad airport on Thanksgiving 2003, where he teared up at the sight of the soldiers and was famously photographed posing with a prop turkey.

In June 2006, Bush spent five hours visiting Iraqi political leaders in Baghdad, although he didn't let the prime minister know he was coming.

During his most recent trip, two weeks ago, Bush was on the ground for seven hours, never leaving the confines of a military base known as Camp Cupcake, a heavily fortified American outpost for 10,000 troops with a 13-mile perimeter.

At the same time, the White House has depicted Bush as being on the front lines. In a June 14 briefing, Hearst columnist Helen Thomas asked press secretary Tony Snow if there were "any members of the Bush family or this administration in this war?"

Snow's response: "Yes, the President. The President is in the war every day."

Thomas said she meant "on the front lines."

This is just the first page of the 5 page article.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

IRAQ - What Bush & the GOP Don't Want To Hear

"Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida" by Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers 3/10/2008

An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.

The Pentagon-sponsored study, scheduled for release later this week, did confirm that Saddam's regime provided some support to other terrorist groups, particularly in the Middle East, U.S. officials told McClatchy. However, his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime.

The new study of the Iraqi regime's archives found no documents indicating a "direct operational link" between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaida before the invasion, according to a U.S. official familiar with the report.

He and others spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because the study isn't due to be shared with Congress and released before Wednesday.

President Bush and his aides used Saddam's alleged relationship with al Qaida, along with Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, as arguments for invading Iraq after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed in September 2002 that the United States had "bulletproof" evidence of cooperation between the radical Islamist terror group and Saddam's secular dictatorship.

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell cited multiple linkages between Saddam and al Qaida in a watershed February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council to build international support for the invasion. Almost every one of the examples Powell cited turned out to be based on bogus or misinterpreted intelligence.

As recently as last July, Bush tried to tie al Qaida to the ongoing violence in Iraq. "The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is a crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children, many of whom are Muslims," he said.

The new study, entitled "Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents", was essentially completed last year and has been undergoing what one U.S. intelligence official described as a "painful" declassification review.

It was produced by a federally-funded think tank, the Institute for Defense Analysis, under contract to the Norfolk, Va.-based U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Spokesmen for the Joint Forces Command declined to comment until the report is released. One of the report's authors, Kevin Woods, also declined to comment.

The issue of al Qaida in Iraq already has played a role in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, mocked Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, recently for saying that he'd keep some U.S. troops in Iraq if al Qaida established a base there.

"I have some news. Al Qaida is in Iraq," McCain told supporters. Obama retorted that, "There was no such thing as al Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade." (In fact, al Qaida in Iraq didn't emerge until 2004, a year after the invasion.)

The new study appears destined to be used by both critics and supporters of Bush's decision to invade Iraq to advance their own familiar arguments.

While the documents reveal no Saddam-al Qaida links, they do show that Saddam and his underlings were willing to use terrorism against enemies of the regime and had ties to regional and global terrorist groups, the officials said.

However, the U.S. intelligence official, who's read the full report, played down the prospect of any major new revelations, saying, "I don't think there's any surprises there."

Saddam, whose regime was relentlessly secular, was wary of Islamic extremist groups such as al Qaida, although like many other Arab leaders, he gave some financial support to Palestinian groups that sponsored terrorism against Israel.

According to the State Department's annual report on global terrorism for 2002 — the last before the Iraq invasion — Saddam supported the militant Islamic group Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a radical, Syrian-based terrorist group.

Saddam also hosted Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, although the Abu Nidal Organization was more active when he lived in Libya and he was murdered in Baghdad in August 2002, possibly on Saddam's orders.

An earlier study based on the captured Iraqi documents, released by the Joint Forces Command in March 2006, found that a militia Saddam formed after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the Fedayeen Saddam, planned assassinations and bombings against his enemies. Those included Iraqi exiles and opponents in Iraq's Kurdish and Shiite communities.

Other documents indicate that the Fedayeen Saddam opened paramilitary training camps that, starting in 1998, hosted "Arab volunteers" from outside of Iraq. What happened to the non-Iraqi volunteers is unknown, however, according to the earlier study.

The new Pentagon study isn't the first to refute earlier administration contentions about Saddam and al Qaida.

A September 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Saddam was "distrustful of al Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al Qaida to provide material or operational support."

The Senate report, citing an FBI debriefing of a senior Iraqi spy, Faruq Hijazi, said that Saddam turned down a request for assistance by bin Laden which he made at a 1995 meeting in Sudan with an Iraqi operative.

Bold emphasis mine.

Of course, since this report does not fit in Bush World, the Administration will continue to insist on a link between Saddam and al Qaida. And the GOP sheep, and its new leader McCain, will parrot the mantra.

Monday, March 17, 2008

ECONOMY - America Becoming Second Tier

"False promise of free lunch" by Walter Williams & Bryan D. Jones, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Bush policies put U.S. on road to second-tier economy and vanishing middle class

As the United States teeters on the verge of recession, the emerging view is that the branches of government responded with notable swiftness to enact an economic stimulus package. Glowing accounts of the striking bipartisanship came forth from the president and congressional leaders of both political parties as well as mainstream analysts.

Quick, however, is not necessarily good. The stimulus package does not come close to bringing the biggest bang for the buck, despite widespread agreement among respected economists across the political spectrum about the most effective options.

One-third of the costs go for a business tax break that cannot help, while two options rejected by the Bush Republicans -- extending the unemployment benefits and increasing food stamps -- are actually six times more effective in stimulating economic activity per dollar of costs than the costly business tax break.

Rather than see the stimulus package as a political and economic success, we see it as a mark of the continued failure of the political system to face problems and design policies directed at ameliorating them.

First, the experience with the economic stimulus package shows clearly that the federal government now lacks the capacity to cope with the massive economic problems that are pushing the nation toward second-class economic status.

Second, the source of this inability is the unshakable ideological belief of President Bush and the Republican Party that income tax cuts are the cure-all for the nation's economic problems. This core belief led to a flawed stimulus package, a repeat of the bad logic leading to the administration's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Third, the 2008 legislation has many of the same flaws as the earlier tax cuts that put the U.S. on the path toward fiscal insolvency, left the middle class in the worst financial straits in the post-World War II era, and brought the widest income inequality since the 1920s-effects we document clearly in our new book, "The Politics of Bad Ideas: The Great Tax Cut Delusion and the Decline of Good Government in America."

We watched in horror as the president and Congress traveled the same road to pass the ineffective economic stimulus package. It seems like we are seeing the movie sequel titled TAX CUT DISASTER III.

As in the first two movies, the ideological commitment to the Great Tax Cut Delusion has been buttressed by Bush's refusal to look at plain evidence of how severely the 2001 and 2003 income tax cuts damaged the fiscal balance sheet of the nation and the health of its economy. This intransigence has been aided and abetted by the continuing reluctance of the congressional Democrats to take a stand against Bush's destructive tax cuts.

A stimulus package similar to the final bill had been negotiated in the House by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the House Republican leader John A. Boehner of Ohio. It provided full rebates for most tax filers of $600 for individuals up to $75,000 of income, $1,200 for couples up to $150,000 and $300 per child.

Those earning at least $3,000 a year but paying no income taxes receive $300 per individual and $600 per couple. The main business tax cut allows for "accelerated depreciation."

There is widespread agreement among respected economists of different political persuasions on the impact of available options for stimulating the economy.

Mark Landi, the chief economist of, has assessed various tax and spending changes by determining the increased economic activity per dollar of cost. The greater the increase in economic activity for each $1 of outlay, the greater will be the effectiveness.

Landi found the most effective option to be a temporary increase in food stamp benefits that yields $1.73 additional economic activity per dollar of cost. A close second is extending unemployment benefits at $1.64 in increased activity for each $1 paid to the eligible unemployed.

The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Peter Orszag, observed: "Food stamp and unemployment benefits can affect spending after two months, rebates would affect spending at the end of 2008." The Congressional Budget Office rated options on three criteria: cost-effectiveness, timeliness and certainty of effect. Unemployment benefits and food stamps were the only options to win CBO's highest rating as an effective stimulus in all three categories. No other option received the top rating in more than one category.

Accelerated depreciation write-offs -- the main tax cut for business in both the House and Senate --yields $0.27 in economic activity per dollar of tax cut. Thus, its impact per dollar of cost generates one-sixth as much economic activity as that of a dollar in food stamps or unemployment benefits. And the tax cuts cannot be implemented until late spring or summer at the earliest, while unemployment insurance and food stamps could have an effect almost immediately.

Democrats and Republicans made important trade offs in the House package. But the latter shaped the package both by forcing through the roughly $50 billion for business and blocking any benefits for food stamp and unemployment insurance benefits. The $50 billion for benefits to business that the Republicans demanded as the "price" for their support of the stimulus package rendered the $150 billion legislation marginally effective at best.

Senate Democrats lost in their fight for food stamps and unemployment insurance. The GOP won again in the case of a $300 payment to 20 million Social Security recipients and 250,000 disabled veterans after strong protests from the aged and veterans lobbies. The House quickly agreed to add a $300 rebate to the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, sought to bluff the Republicans. He threatened to put up for vote only the Senate bill that included unemployment insurance benefits and the House legislation without the $300 rebates for Social Security recipients and disabled veterans. But he backed down and the Republicans added not only the $300 tax rebates but an amendment disqualifying illegal immigrants.

One can view the legislation as a victory over gridlock and partisan bickering. The stimulus package gained wide praise as a good bill mainly because it seemed to feature the kind of hard work and compromise by the two parties that had vanished in the Bush presidency. Yet the final legislation is an overwhelming victory for Bush's tax cut ideology over sane economic reasoning.

Why did the Republicans refuse to use the two most effective options developed by highly reputable experts? We can find no explanation in any of the usual suspects: The package was not sensibly designed to stimulate the economy, and, if politicians are held accountable for economic performance, it was not designed to help them stay in office.

In particular, Republican true believers refused to deviate from what the authors call "The Great Tax Delusion," in which tax cuts are the optimum fix for economic ills whatever the "facts on the ground."

Republican tax cut dogma rules out budget expenditures such as unemployment benefits or any other highly effective spending programs on ideological grounds alone. In contrast, the belief in the force of business incentives to stimulate investment is impervious to either economic reasoning or sound evidence showing how poorly this option works.

A September 2007 report by the major Wall Street investment firm of Goldman-Sachs made the point that companies invest money on hand if the expected returns are likely to exceed the costs of a new project, "and that usually requires growth in demand strong enough to put pressure on existing resources."

In the case at hand, it does not take training in graduate level economics, only a little common sense, to figure out that the declining demand in the current downturn makes investments unattractive even if funds are available.

Research gave the same answer. In their Federal Reserve study of the effects of the accelerated depreciation incentives initiated in 2002 and increased in 2003 to stimulate the weak economy, the researchers found "only a very limited impact" at best on new investment.

The Democrats did force the Republicans to improve the economic stimulus package somewhat, but The Great Tax Delusion still dominated the final legislation. Despite this, the economic stimulus package -- a replay of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that warrants the label TAX CUT DISASTER III --won praise as the kind of bipartisanship needed in the federal government.

Putting the business benefits in the final legislation is the opposite of real bipartisanship. Bush intransigence and the Democrats timidity produced a bill that had none of highly effective stimulus options and wasted one-third of the total funds on business benefits shown to be ineffective by economic reasoning and research on a similar earlier effort.

The almost-uniform praise by the chattering classes and the press of a process that led to a flawed economic stimulus legislation as exemplary bipartisanship is deeply disturbing, bordering on a national delusion.

Rather than coming to praise this process, we'd like to bury it. It is just one more depressing example that the federal government lacks the will to cope with the major economic problems that threaten the United States.

For seven years, the Bush's tax cut ideology has trumped reality, harmed the nation's economy and its governing institutions, and pushed the middle class into the worst financial mess since the Great Depression.

The Great Tax Cut Delusion and its false promise of a free lunch for the American people must be cast aside as a patent medicine dangerous for the nation's health. If not, we risk speeding rapidly toward a second tier economy and a vanishing middle class.

Of course, the problem with the GOP is that they live in Bush World where Raganomics is king, even though it did not deliver its promises.

From the USENET article that lead to this post:

"The Great Tax Cut Delusion and its false promise of a free lunch for the American people must be cast aside as a patent medicine dangerous for the nation's health."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

IRAQ - Another Casualty

"Mideast military chief resigns after magazine article" The Raw Story

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Admiral William Fallon, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, is resigning.

Gates said Fallon had asked Gates for permission to retire and that Gates agreed.

Fallon was the subject of an article published last week in Esquire magazine that portrayed him as opposed to President Bush's Iran policy. It described Fallon as a lone voice against taking military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

First paragraph from Esquire article

If, in the dying light of the Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it'll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it'll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon, although all of his friends call him "Fox," which was his fighter-pilot call sign decades ago. Forty years into a military career that has seen this admiral rule over America's two most important combatant commands, Pacific Command and now United States Central Command, it's impossible to make this guy--as he likes to say--"nervous in the service." Past American governments have used saber rattling as a useful tactic to get some bad actor on the world stage to fall in line. This government hasn't mastered that kind of subtlety. When Dick Cheney has rattled his saber, it has generally meant that he intends to use it. And in spite of recent war spasms aimed at Iran from this sclerotic administration, Fallon is in no hurry to pick up any campaign medals for Iran. And therein lies the rub for the hard-liners led by Cheney. Army General David Petraeus, commanding America's forces in Iraq, may say, "You cannot win in Iraq solely in Iraq," but Fox Fallon is Petraeus's boss, and he is the commander of United States Central Command, and Fallon doesn't extend Petraeus's logic to mean war against Iran.

Another example of the Bush-is-NEVER-wrong policy. So our military has another casualty of his Iraq War, military expertise. Why? How dare he disagree with Bush! Experts don't count in Bush World (unless they agree).

Friday, March 07, 2008

IRAQ WAR - The Ripoff of the American Public, Again

"Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore" by Farah Stockman, Boston Globe

The article leads off with this....

CAYMAN ISLANDS - Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation's top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.

You may want to take an antacid before reading the rest of the article.

HYBRID CARS - Getting Closer to What's Needed

"GM to make lithium-ion powered hybrid cars" CNN Technology

General Motors Corp. says it expects to bring its first lithium-ion battery powered hybrid engine system to market in North America in 2010.

The world's largest automaker by sales was to announce the hybrid system Tuesday at the Geneva International Motor Show, saying the new battery will deliver three times the power of GM's current nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

Automakers and battery companies across the globe have been racing to develop lithium-ion technology, seen by many as the key to mass producing hybrid vehicles powered by conventional and electric motors.

The batteries also are essential in producing the next generation of electric cars.

Daimler AG plans to introduce a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its Mercedes-Benz flagship S-Class luxury sedan that also uses a lithium-ion battery starting next year.

Lithium-ion technology already is widely used in consumer electronics, but now is being adapted to meet demanding automotive requirements. The batteries are lighter than other batteries, but cost and concerns about overheating have delayed their use.

Lithium-ion batteries common in laptops are smaller, yet more powerful than the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in gas-electric hybrids like Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius.

The GM and Daimler announcements in Geneva indicate increasing confidence about lithium-ion technology.

In addition, Toyota said in December it was preparing to start mass producing lithium-ion batteries for low-emission vehicles.

GM said the new hybrid system eventually will spread worldwide, and it expects sales volumes to exceed 100,000 vehicles per year. The system would build on GM's current hybrids, reducing engineering costs and the cost to consumers, the company said.

The battery system would be paired with a wide range of GM engines, including turbocharged gasoline, diesel and biofuel power plants. It would be used in multiple GM models across all brands, but the company would not say which models would get the new system.

The new system will produce a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in fuel economy over what a nonhybrid vehicle would get in 2010, GM spokesman Brian Corbett said.

The company said the hybrid system would debut in North America before the Chevrolet Volt, which is an electric car with a small conventional motor used to recharge the batteries. The company hopes to bring the Volt to market in 2010 as well.

GM said in a statement that the new hybrid system would save fuel by turning the engine off at idle and cutting off fuel during deceleration. It would offer brief electric-only power, the company said in a statement.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

HOMELAND SECURITY - Internal Problems

"Crimes by Homeland Security agents stir alert" by Jay Weaver & Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald


Agency managers say these cases (in full article) reflect individual criminal behavior, not the culture of the agencies.

But some longtime employees said administrative incidents, like hostile confrontations or heavy drinking, may reflect the low morale and intense rivalries following the merger of federal agencies under Homeland Security.

Some employees from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service are the most vocal in their complaints. They bitterly denounce employees who came from the old Customs Service for "seizing control" of both CBP and ICE, "lording it over" former INS employees and showing disdain toward immigration-related work.

Expected to improve efficiency, the merger has instead spawned tension. Both Border Protection and Customs Enforcement scored near the bottom in a 2007 survey of employee satisfaction at 222 federal government agencies.

"It's become a cultural clash, tensions between officers from the merged agencies," said a Customs and Border Protection officer who asked not to be identified because he did not have authorization to speak publicly. "There's low morale and tension. Some people drink; others take it out on their colleagues or supervisors. It's no fun anymore."

Homeland Security, an invention of the Bush Administration that was created in response to 9/11, one has to wonder how anyone could believe such a huge bureaucracy could be more efficient. How could so many different organizational cultures be put under one "roof" and not generate more problems than they solve?

And this from a party (GOP) that believes in "small" government, or says they do.

That other organizations should contribute personal to Homeland Security I could agree with. But the FBI and FEMA should never have been put under control of the Homeland Security Department. These two agencies, at the least, should maintain independence (especially funding) from Homeland Security because they have a different mission.

The FBI must legally investigate federal crime so the Justice Department can successfully prosecute federal crime.

FEMA deals with disasters within the USA, the majority of which have nothing to do with terrorism. Further, this is one agency that should be returned to a Presidential Cabinet post.

Both these agencies could be mandated by law to contribute expert personnel to Homeland Security but maintain independence necessary to carry out their own missions.

Monday, March 03, 2008

MIDDLE EAST - American Policy Faces Political IEDs

"Gaza Pitfalls in Every Path" by HELENE COOPER, New York Times

Ever since the militant Islamist organization Hamas took over Gaza eight months ago, President Bush’s peace plan for the Middle East has been to prop up the more moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the hopes that Palestinians would rally behind him as man who could bring them statehood and make Hamas irrelevant.

But Israel’s military and economic pressure on Gaza, the menacing rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and the ensuing chaos that reached new heights this weekend have highlighted a fundamental tangle in that plan: As long as Hamas controls Gaza, it can subvert negotiations between Israelis and moderate Palestinians whenever it sees fit.

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the region on Monday, a trip planned for weeks, she is confronting very few options in achieving President Bush’s stated goal of peace between Israel and a new Palestinian state that includes both the West Bank, where Mr. Abbas’s government sits, and Gaza.

“She’s walking into a buzz saw,” said Aaron David Miller, author of “The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace.” “You cannot make peace with half of the Palestinian polity and go to war with the other half.”

On Sunday, as violence spilled over from Gaza into the West Bank, a spokesman for Mr. Abbas said talks with Israel had been suspended.

In many ways, the latest crisis, in which Israeli aircraft and troops have attacked Palestinian positions in northern Gaza after long-range rockets from Gaza hit the large Israeli city of Ashkelon, looks like the Lebanon war of July 2006, when Israel bombed Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

The Israelis are also facing criticism similar to that made during the Lebanon war — that their response has been disproportionate and killed many civilians, including children. And just as Israel faced tough decisions on Lebanon, the United States finds itself with dwindling choices, none considered attractive.

Ms. Rice could encourage Israel to increase the strikes against Hamas in the hopes of destroying its leadership in Gaza. But Israel tried that with Hezbollah in Lebanon and failed, leaving Hezbollah leaders to assert when the war was over that they had stood up to Israel.

Even if Israel did go all out to defeat Hamas in Gaza, the problem of what comes after would remain. For instance, would Israeli forces stay in Gaza, or would they be replaced by an international force from the already stretched NATO or the United Nations?

Ms. Rice’s other alternative — encouraging Israel to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas — has pitfalls, Middle East experts say, because that would further legitimize Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization. Martin Indyk, the former United States ambassador to Israel, said such a cease-fire would further undermine Mr. Abbas and make it look like Hamas is the entity with which Israel and the West should be negotiating.

“Excluding them doesn’t work, and including them doesn’t work, either,” Mr. Indyk said. “So what do you do? This is a situation that does not lend itself to a sensible policy.”

With the rocket attacks on Israel, Hamas has demonstrated power to threaten peace talks simply by inciting a strong Israeli response and making it impossible for Mr. Abbas to sit by and do nothing. On Sunday, the day after Israeli aircraft and troops attacked Gaza, resulting in the biggest one-day death toll in more than a year, Mr. Abbas announced that he was suspending the peace negotiations in protest.

Mr. Abbas’s options, too, are limited, Palestinian experts say, given that the peace negotiation with Israel is his main selling point for his claim that he is the only one who can bring the Palestinians a deal with Israel.

A senior Bush administration figure acknowledged on Sunday that Ms. Rice “is playing a really bad hand.” So far, the Bush administration is adhering to a position very similar to the one it used during the Lebanon war.

As with Hezbollah, Ms. Rice is standing behind Israel’s right to defend itself. Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said late Saturday that the United States wanted to see “an end to violence and all acts of terrorism directed against innocent civilians.” But, he noted, “there is a clear distinction between terrorist rocket attacks that target civilians and action in self defense.”

As with the Lebanon war, Ms. Rice is, at the same time, trying to prop up a besieged “moderate” leader — this time, Mr. Abbas instead of the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora. But — just as with Hezbollah — she cannot stop the rocket attacks onto Israel from Gaza because the United States does not talk to Hamas.

“This is beyond her capacity, and beyond even the capacity of a secretary of state like Kissinger or Baker,” said Mr. Miller, who served as a Middle East negotiator for the last three presidents. “This is rooted in a fundamental problem that we haven’t acknowledged: Israel cannot make peace with a divided Palestine.”

Even within Israel, many experts are echoing that view. A few weeks ago, Hamas claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the Negev desert town of Dimona, the first such attack in more than a year. Shlomo Brom, a retired general at the Institute for National Security Studies, said the bombing was meant “to send a clear message” to Mr. Abbas, Israel and the United States that there will be no normalization of life without Hamas.

Mr. Brom advocates dialogue with Hamas. But the United States and Israel have refused to deal with Hamas leaders unless the organization forswears violence and acknowledges Israel’s right to exist.

So Ms. Rice will try to press surrogates, including Egypt, to lean on Hamas, administration officials say. And she will sharply criticize rocket attacks on civilian Israeli targets, and publicly charge Hamas with hiding behind civilians in Gaza. She will meet with Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in the West Bank, and with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.

Ali Abunimah, a research fellow at the Palestine Center, a Washington-based advocacy group, derided the American strategy of ignoring Hamas: “You can’t talk to them. You can’t deal with them. You just cover your ears, close your eyes and pretend they don’t exist.”

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

The Palestine-Israeli Issue is the foundation of the distrust of America by Arab nations. This is outside Fundamentalist Islamic Terrorism in which the issue is the creation of Iran-style Islamic States in addition to hatred of everything American or Western.

WALL STREET - City/State Bond Ratings Hurting Americans

"States and Cities Start Rebelling on Bond Ratings" by JULIE CRESWELL and VIKAS BAJAJ, New York Times

Does Wall Street underrate Main Street?

A growing number of states and cities say yes. If they are right, billions of taxpayers’ dollars — money that could be used to build schools, pave roads and repair bridges — are being siphoned off in the financial markets, where the recent tumult has driven up borrowing costs for many communities.

A complex system of credit ratings and insurance policies that Wall Street uses to set prices for municipal bonds makes borrowing needlessly expensive for many localities, some officials say. States and cities have begun to fight back, saying they can no longer afford the status quo given the slackening economy and recent market turmoil.

Municipal bonds, often considered among the safest investments, sank along with stocks last week, darkening the already grim mood in the markets. Several big hedge funds unloaded bonds as banks further tightened credit to contain the damage from mounting losses on home mortgages and other loans.

States and cities rarely dishonor their debts. The bonds they sell to investors are generally tax-free and much safer than those issued by corporations. But some officials complain that ratings firms assign municipal borrowers low credit scores compared with corporations. Taxpayers ultimately pay the price, the officials say, in the form of higher fees and interest costs on public debt.

“Taxpayers are paying billions of dollars in increased costs because of the dual standard used by the rating bureaus,” said Bill Lockyer, treasurer of California, who is leading a nationwide campaign to change the way the bonds are rated. California, one of the largest issuers of municipal bonds, is rated A; Mr. Lockyer said the state should be triple A.

The state is soliciting support from other municipalities for a letter it intends to send to the ratings agencies, arguing that municipal bonds should be rated on the same scale as the one used for corporate bonds.

Because of their relatively weak credit scores, more than half of all municipal borrowers buy insurance policies that safeguard their bonds in the unlikely event that they fail to pay the debt. California, for instance, paid $102 million to insure more than $9 billion in general obligation debt between 2003 and 2007.

Ratings agencies like Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings are paid a second time to evaluate the insured bonds.

Officials at ratings firms and bond insurance companies defend the system, saying it gives investors the information they need to buy bonds with confidence. The recent turmoil, they say, highlights the need for insurance. They further add that rating municipal bonds like corporate debt would not save taxpayers much money, if any.

The outcry in the municipal market comes at a difficult time for the ratings firms and bond insurers. S.& P., Moody’s and Fitch Ratings have drawn criticism for assigning their highest grades to securities tied to subprime mortgages, only to downgrade them later as defaults surged and the investments tumbled in value.

The plunging fortunes of bond guarantors, meantime, have cast doubt over the value of the insurance policies municipalities buy.

“We are learning essentially that the emperor may have no clothes, that there is no real reason to require these towns to have insurance in many instances,” said Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut, who is investigating the ratings firms on antitrust grounds. “And it simply serves the bottom lines of the ratings agencies, the insurers or both.”

The House Financial Services Committee plans to examine how municipal bonds are rated at a hearing on March 12.

At every rating, municipal bonds default less often than similarly rated corporate bonds, according to Moody’s. In fact, since 1970, A-rated municipal bonds have defaulted far less frequently than corporate bonds with top triple-A ratings. Furthermore, when municipalities do default, investors usually receive some — or even all — of their money back, unlike in most corporate bankruptcies.

But critics like Mr. Lockyer and Mr. Blumenthal face an uphill battle to change the Wall Street system. Upgrading municipal ratings would dramatically alter the landscape of the $2.6 trillion market; Moody’s estimates that more than half of the market would be rated triple A or double A using the corporate scale. Triple-A securities are considered nearly as safe as Treasury bonds issued by the federal government.

Moreover, some bond specialists caution that this is the wrong time to rerate municipal bonds. The slowing economy and faltering housing market are squeezing state and city tax revenue. At the same time, public pension liabilities keep rising. Facing budget shortfalls, states like California, New Jersey and Arizona are cutting services.

This is from the 1st page of the 2-page article.

This highlights the culture of Wall Street, which is prejudiced to big corporate business, where state and city bonds are not considered as corporate entities. Wall Street considers corporate entities as those who trade stocks on Wall Street, and do NOT consider municipal bonds = stocks.

But, when consulting every 401k investment advise I've used, state/city bonds are recommended as the safe, long term, investment of choice, along with US Bonds. There is a disconnect on Wall Street between financial advice given to consumers and how Wall Street handles state/city bonds.