Monday, April 30, 2007
Democrat Debate Bared a Lot More Than You Think:
By Kevin Hassett
April 30 (Bloomberg) -- When eight Democratic candidates for president debated last week in Orangeburg, South Carolina, they took sides on almost nothing yet agreed unanimously that the U.S. should get out of Iraq. That was about it.
If you want a Hollywood analogy, think of that scene in the movie ``Airplane'' where everyone takes turns slapping a hysterical passenger. Then let that passenger be President George W. Bush.
If it's economic substance you were looking for, you went to the wrong place. John Edwards extolled the wonders of his health-care plan. Senator Barack Obama pretended impressively to have one (which he does not). New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson mumbled something about the minimum wage.
Still, even with the wriggling and evading, the debate told us a lot about the Democratic campaign.
Before the debate, everyone knew that the Democratic field has three tiers. The first tier (the Frontrunners) includes Senator Hillary Clinton and Obama; the second (the Challengers) includes Edwards and Richardson, and the third tier (the Impossibles) includes Senators Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.
We know a lot more now. How did each of them do?
Mike Gravel: If more viewers than usual stayed to watch through the end of the debate, there is no question that Gravel was the reason. He was angry, combative and unbalanced, at one point breaking the all-time presidential-debate creepiness record by screaming to Obama that he should tell us who he intends to nuke. Obama missed a golden opportunity to score with viewers when he evaded the question, rather than giving them the answer they craved: ``France.'' (Grade: F)
Dennis Kucinich: I have a theory about Kucinich. I think the other candidates should pool their money and finance his candidacy, because anyone, man or beast, standing next to Kucinich on stage will appear presidential by comparison. Kucinich's problem, however, is that Gravel came out of nowhere to steal his place as the strangest candidate. The train-wreck- loving crowd will clearly give their money to Gravel, and you should expect Kucinich to be gone from the field within six months. (Grade: F)
Joe Biden: Biden gave the shortest and best answer of the night. When asked whether he could be disciplined enough to control his legendary verbosity, he answered with one word, ``yes.'' He made it through the debate without a gaffe, a first for him, but otherwise failed to distinguish himself. (Grade: C)
The Nuremberg Factor
Christopher Dodd: Dodd reminded voters of the wonderful job his father did serving as a counsel at the Nuremberg trials. On that he scored enormous points with everyone who watched the Nuremberg trials. He will be gone before Kucinich. (Grade: D)
Bill Richardson: It seems that every primary season some governor comes out of nowhere to steal the nomination. Richardson showed in this debate that it might well happen again. He was genuine and tough, the kind of guy who could pull the troops out of Iraq without looking wimpy. If he has a couple of more debates this good, money will start flowing his way. (Grade: A+)
John Edwards: Edwards deserves credit for being the most substantive candidate. He discussed his proposals to provide universal health care and raise taxes with details the others lacked. He talked about his efforts to unionize workers, and otherwise harm the economy, showing clear affinity for his base.
About Those Haircuts, Senator
He seemed completely unprepared, however, for a question about his $400 haircuts. He responded to that by talking about how poor he was when he was growing up, pointing to his dad in the audience. Telling America how terrible a provider your dad was, while he is watching, is something you might expect from Gravel or Kucinich, but a real loser for a major candidate. (Grade: C-)
Barack Obama: Obama was as jittery as an aged Katharine Hepburn, and gave away the natural advantage of his tremendous intellect by failing to provide any specifics. He shied away from engaging frontrunner Clinton and appeared timid and uninformed. His candidacy can't afford another appearance this bad. (Grade: F)
Hillary Clinton: We learned in this debate that Clinton has a tremendous advantage. The other candidates are shy of confronting her, either because they think she is the presumptive nominee, or because they don't want to appear to be bullying a woman. She showed genuine emotion when discussing her trip to Columbine High School, scene of the 1999 massacre, and impressive humility concerning her own failings. (Grade: A)
If the Democratic primaries continue along the path they began last week, then Richardson is the only thing between Clinton and coronation.
US snubs Russian request for joint moon exploration: space chief
Apr 29 12:07 PM US/Eastern
The head of Russia's space agency Sunday said the US has rebuffed an offer from Moscow to jointly explore the moon, while announcing a separate contract with NASA for nearly one billion dollars for the International Space Station.
Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency that Russia had proposed pooling resources to explore the moon.
"We were ready to cooperate but for unknown reasons, the United States have said they will undertake this programme themselves," he said.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in December said it envisaged setting up a manned base, possibly on the moon's south pole, by around 2020, powered by sunlight and perhaps hydrogen and oxygen, with astronauts cruising over the lunar surface in pressurized rovers.
Perminov said Roskosmos had meanwhile signed with NASA a "contract for nearly one billion dollars" -- an unprecedented sum -- to supply cargo shuttles between now and 2011 for the US segment of the International Space Station.
The US-led ISS draws upon the scientific and technological resources of 16 nations: Canada, Japan, Russia, 11 nations of the European Space Agency and Brazil.
I don't know if ol'Willie knew he'd be describing the breadth of all Empires when he penned this line. But damn, the Bard was right on for what's coming at us!
"Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.
Kingdoms are clay..."
- William Shakespeare
Switzerland and the gun
BBC NewsSunday, April 29, 2007 (REPOST)
Guns are deeply rooted within Swiss culture - but the gun crime rate is so low that statistics are not even kept.
The country has a population of six million, but there are estimated to be at least two million publicly-owned firearms, including about 600,000 automatic rifles and 500,000 pistols.
This is in a very large part due to Switzerland's unique system of national defence, developed over the centuries.
Instead of a standing, full-time army, the country requires every man to undergo some form of military training for a few days or weeks a year throughout most of their lives.
Between the ages of 21 and 32 men serve as frontline troops. They are given an M-57 assault rifle and 24 rounds of ammunition which they are required to keep at home.
Once discharged, men serve in the Swiss equivalent of the US National Guard, but still have to train occasionally and are given bolt rifles. Women do not have to own firearms, but are encouraged to.
In addition to the government-provided arms, there are few restrictions on buying weapons. Some cantons restrict the carrying of firearms - others do not.
The government even sells off surplus weaponry to the general public when new equipment is introduced.
Guns and shooting are popular national pastimes. More than 200,000 Swiss attend national annual marksmanship competitions.
But despite the wide ownership and availability of guns, violent crime is extremely rare. There are only minimal controls at public buildings and politicians rarely have police protection.
Mark Eisenecker, a sociologist from the University of Zurich told BBC News Online that guns are "anchored" in Swiss society and that gun control is simply not an issue.
Some pro-gun groups argue that Switzerland proves their contention that there is not necessarily a link between the availability of guns and violent crime in society.
But other commentators suggest that the reality is more complicated.
Switzerland is one of the world's richest countries, but has remained relatively isolated.
It has none of the social problems associated with gun crime seen in other industrialised countries like drugs or urban deprivation.
Despite the lack of rigid gun laws, firearms are strictly connected to a sense of collective responsibility.
From an early age Swiss men and women associate weaponry with being called to defend their country.
Americans pay artificially high prices for sugar. Congress should consider a quota buyout.
April 30, 2007
IF YOU ADDED the combined annual revenues of the 75 corporate giants, trade associations and lobbying firms that jointly urged Congress last week to reform U.S. sugar policy, they would surpass the gross domestic product of most countries. Yet when stacked against the political power of the $3.8-billion-a-year U.S. sugar industry, even the combined forces of Coca-Cola, Unilever and the United States Chamber of Commerce look like pedestrians trying to stop a tank. We wish them the best of luck.American consumers pay about twice the world market price for sugar, thanks to a complicated system of price supports and import quotas. It isn't just sugar prices that are affected — any food or beverage maker that uses a sweetener faces higher manufacturing costs, which they pass on to their customers. That's why such a vast collection of corporate interests is lining up against the government subsidies.Congress is negotiating the 2007 farm bill, which will set U.S. agricultural support levels for the next five years. So far, the bill is not shaping up to be much of an improvement over the 2002 version, a $20-billion-a-year extravaganza of agribusiness welfare. Despite the heavy damage that sugar policy has inflicted on consumers and the environment, the odds of reform this year are slim. That's because, for the anti-sugar lobby, this is just one concern of many; for sugar growers, it's a life-and-death battle. Sugar is grown in 19 states, and growers contribute heavily to congressional campaigns.But even if Congress can't find the courage to beat sugar growers, it might be able to buy them out. Not long ago, peanuts and tobacco enjoyed similar protections — the government artificially inflated their prices by restricting imports and setting quotas on how much domestic producers could grow. But in 2002, the government bought back production quotas from peanut farmers, then made a similar deal with tobacco growers in 2004. In essence, these farmers gave up all market protections in exchange for set payments over a finite number of years.Such agreements shift the burden of farm protection from consumers to taxpayers, which isn't much of a bargain in the short term. But once the payments run out, taxpayers are off the hook. It's an investment in sane agricultural policy, lower food prices and fair trading partnerships.Sugar policy remains one of the worst examples of U.S. protectionism. Congress should give quota buyouts a closer look.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO DOWNSIZE DC?
Monday, April 30, 2007
We hope this is a message you'll want to share with friends. Maybe we can start a very important, national conversation . . .
Search the web and you will easily find much discussion of why the federal government should be downsized. Do another search for material on how to make that downsizing actually happen and you won't find much.
Isn't there something wrong with this picture?
What's the point of focusing only on what should be done and spending almost no time on figuring out how to actually do it?
Things are different here at Downsize DC. If you could listen to our internal discussions you would find a constant focus on how to accomplish the goal.
What would it take to Downsize DC? We think about this question constantly. And we'd like to encourage you to do the same.
For us, the answer comes down to two, interrelated factors: visibility and size.
For an idea to triumph it must first be seen and heard as often as its competitors. How can such visibility be achieved? It must be purchased by those who support the idea. http://www.downsizedc.org/contribute.shtml
Your idea must have as many supporters as its competitors.
It really is that simple. No matter what other mechanisms you prefer for bringing about the desired change you will still need massive visibility and a huge army.
Do you want to elect a bunch of candidates? Then you'll need the same visibility as your competitors, and as many supporters too.
Do you want to badger Congress into submission, as we prefer, then you'll need the same things.
If YOU want to Downsize DC then this is what YOU will need: universal visibility and a huge army.
So what's YOUR goal? What are YOUR numbers? How large of an army do YOU think YOU'LL need, and how much money will YOU need to achieve the visibility YOU require?
You see, this isn't just about us, it's also about YOU.
Shouldn't YOU have PERSONAL goals for both of these areas, visibility and an army, and shouldn't YOU be working constantly toward achieving those goals?
We have our own goals for both of these areas, and we think its important to YOU, PERSONALLY, to have such specific goals too.
You don't need to tell us what your numbers are, and we're not going to share ours either. It's all guesswork anyway at this point. But having such numbers, such PERSONAL goals, serves to focus the mind and keep things moving in the right direction.
The fact that so little is said about this subject by those who desire to downsize the federal government is, in our opinion, the major reason why things are NOT moving in the right direction.
You have a better chance of hitting a target if you aim at it. We have a target: universal visibility and a huge army. What's YOUR target?
We also think we have a HUGE advantage when it comes to hitting our target. We don't . . .
* Have to convince our huge army to agree on a political party,
* Or a particular set of candidates,
* Or, even more challenging; elect a majority of such candidates to office,
* And then, after all that, convince our preferred candidates to do what we elected them to do.
Instead, we just skip to that last step -- getting elected people to do the right thing. We think this approach is the easiest way to recruit the army. With the army we can obtain the visibility and get the right results in Congress, regardless of parties or personalities.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
By Peter Zeihan
Continuity is something that has been hard to find in Europe of late. The Big Three European powers -- France, Germany and the United Kingdom -- are all experiencing not only leadership transitions, but regime shifts that are altering their own political systems and those of Europe and Eurasia as a whole. These changes in turn are unplugging the historical deep freeze that has retarded events in Europe and the former Soviet world. Change, fast and furious, is returning to Europe.The leadership changes are furthest along in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel displaced Gerhard Schroeder in November 2005. And while imminent, they are yet to come in the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Tony Blair is widely expected to step down within a few weeks in favor of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.But first, the issue of the day: France.Voting out GaullismThe lack of interest among French presidential candidates in carrying on France's Gaullist legacy is a crushing defeat for outgoing President Jacques Chirac, Gaullism's flag bearer. Since coming to power as prime minister in 1973, Chirac almost dogmatically has pursued the Gaullist goals of an internationally vibrant and indispensable France that uses Europe as a platform from which to influence global affairs. Such a belief system often led Paris to stand apart from the West during the Cold War, and more directly in opposition to Washington since the Cold War's end. With these elections, that period of French exceptionalism draws to a close.The two finalists in the election drama are center-right Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal. Barring a dramatic reversal of fortunes, Sarkozy is the man to beat. The first round combined vote for all leftist candidates was only about 37 percent -- the lowest in the history of the Fifth Republic -- while the 12 percent who voted for hard-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen are almost guaranteed to throw their support behind Sarkozy, who netted 31 percent. That leaves the main election tussle to come over the 18.6 percent of voters supporting Francois Bayrou, a centrist who is ideologically far closer to Sarkozy than Royal. Polls pitting Sarkozy against Royal have consistently highlighted a stable Sarkozy advantage for months. The final round will be held May 10.A France under Sarkozy will be a different place. Sarkozy is about as pro-American and pro-market as a Frenchman can be (which by the American political thermometer still puts him slightly left of center). His biggest challenge in the short term will be proving that he is actually master of his domain. While he is not a Gaullist himself, he is still the heir to the Gaullist legacy. His Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party is the same one that Chirac once led, and the Gaullism and statism that have defined the Fifth Republic remain very much alive within French institutions. Luckily for the next president (assuming it is Sarkozy), the UMP holds 357 of the National Assembly's 599 seats without any allies. Sarkozy has a very wide margin of error for his plans -- which is a good thing for him, considering that his ideas about economic reform most certainly rub French nationalists the wrong way.In the longer term, his challenge is far greater. For the past 50 years, to be French was to be in charge of Europe. Sarkozy will be the first French leader to acknowledge that EU expansions into Northern and Central Europe have made that stance unrealistic. In fact, the trick will be to forge a new European balance of power that does not see France fall wholly under the shadow of a re-emerging Germany. That will be no small challenge. Germans outnumber Frenchmen by four to three and the German economy is larger by a similar proportion -- and that is despite the last 18 years of largely substandard German economic growth.The Bigger PictureThe three most powerful European leaders of today -- Schroeder, Chirac and Blair, all of whom led their respective countries for the bulk of the post-Cold War period -- are leaving office more or less at the same time. These men also stand out as arguably the three major European leaders most supportive of European integration (Blair was certainly the most pro-European leader ever to come out of London). Their collective departure heralds the demise of the integrationist impulse in Germany, and the re-emergence of more traditional balance-of-power politics.The Russians certainly are working to prepare themselves for such an evolution. During the post-Cold War era, the Kremlin saw the European Union (which in both Russian and French minds meant France with German backup) as a power center to be engaged independently of the United States. But the failure of the EU constitution in 2004, the departure of Schroeder in 2005 and now the imminent departure of Chirac have led Russian policymakers to the distasteful conclusion that, in terms of power politics, the European Union no longer exists -- and certainly not as an anti-American bulwark.Consequently, Russia also is evolving -- both politically and strategically. The Yeltsin-era experiment with democracy is just as finished as the Putin-era experiment with Westernization. Political and economic consolidation under the rubric of the state is the order of the day, and far from seeking ways to integrate with Europe, the Russians are now operationalizing means of expanding their options.Energy exports constitute the most substantial portion of this new worldview. A new energy network to Asia is (belatedly) under construction in an effort to mitigate Russia's current dependence on European markets. Infrastructure shifts in the west are designed to minimize Russian dependence on any transit states -- particularly Ukraine, Poland and Belarus -- by shipping crude out of Russian ports. Another new policy is to dangle energy supplies in front of individual powers in an effort to take advantage of the lack of a common front in Europe, so far with some success in Portugal, Hungary, Slovakia and Greece. (Incidentally, the Russian strategy of divide and conquer is remarkably similar to what the Americans have been doing in Eurasia for decades.) Such Russian insinuations are not passing unnoticed -- and are triggering backlashes of their own. For example, the European Union fast-tracked Bulgarian and Romanian membership -- made official Jan. 1 -- in part to lock down the Balkans. Now any Russian influence into the Balkans will need to circumvent the union geographically as well as politically.In Central Europe, Polish reactions to all things Russian are the stuff of legend and have single-handedly stalled negotiations with Moscow on a range of issues from transport to law enforcement. And the Czech Republic, typically far more moderate and considerate of Russian concerns, has joined Poland in participating in the United States' nascent ballistic missile defense program.Even the neutrals are repositioning. Finland and Sweden, long seeking a solution that balances their security needs with their Russian exposure, announced April 15 that they would join NATO's rapid-reaction force, perhaps as a prelude to formal NATO membership. Their current security policies -- like the EU structure -- exist to serve a different geography. With Russia far weaker than it was during the Cold War, and in their mind also more aggressive, the time could be approaching to formally abandon neutral status. (In Sweden's case, the economic benefit of making its cash- and customer-poor indigenous defense industry part and parcel of the NATO supply chain is no small reason either.) But it really does all come back to the French elections. Gaullism has been Europe's de facto ruling force for half a century. The process of abandoning Gaullism has triggered a cascading series of fundamental realignments across Eurasia, realignments that the Cold War -- and the American/Soviet occupation that accompanied it -- delayed for more than 50 years. History is moving again in Europe.
The Coming Era of Russia's Dark Rider
Russian opposition members rallied in Moscow's Pushkin Square on April 14. The so-called Dissenters' March was organized by Other Russia, an umbrella group that includes everyone from unrepentant communists and free-market reformers to far-right ultranationalists whose only uniting characteristic is their common opposition to the centralization of power under President Vladimir Putin's administration. Minutes after the march began, the 2,000 or so protesters found themselves outnumbered more than four to one by security forces. They quickly dispersed the activists, beating and briefly detaining those who sought to break through the riot-control lines. Among those arrested were chess-champion-turned-political-activist Garry Kasparov and Maria Gaidar, the daughter of Russia's first post-Soviet reformist prime minister. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov only avoided arrest because his bodyguards helped him to escape. A Reuters crew was permitted to capture the events and disseminate them to the West. A day later, another protest, albeit far smaller, was broken up in a similar way in St. Petersburg, though Kasparov was detained before the protest even began. What gives? The protests were insignificant in both numerical and political terms. Moreover, with all that is going on in the world right now, the last thing the Putin government needs is to attract negative attention to itself. The answer becomes apparent when one considers Russia's point in its historical cycle and the mounting pressures on Putin personally that have nothing whatsoever to do with "democracy." The Russian Cycle At the risk of sounding like a high school social studies teacher (or even George Friedman), history really does run in cycles. Take Europe for example. European history is a chronicle of the rise and fall of its geographic center. As Germany rises, the powers on its periphery buckle under its strength and are forced to pool resources in order to beat back Berlin. As Germany falters, the power vacuum at the middle of the Continent allows the countries on Germany's borders to rise in strength and become major powers themselves. Since the formation of the first "Germany" in 800, this cycle has set the tempo and tenor of European affairs. A strong Germany means consolidation followed by a catastrophic war; a weak Germany creates a multilateral concert of powers and multi-state competition (often involving war, but not on nearly as large a scale). For Europe this cycle of German rise and fall has run its course three times -- the Holy Roman Empire, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany -- and is only now entering its fourth iteration with the reunified Germany. Russia's cycle, however, is far less clinical than Europe's. It begins with a national catastrophe. Sometimes it manifests as a result of disastrous internal planning; sometimes it follows a foreign invasion. But always it rips up the existing social order and threatens Russia with chaos and dissolution. The most recent such catastrophe was the Soviet collapse followed by the 1998 financial crisis. Previous disasters include the crushing of Russian forces in World War I and the imposition of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk; the "Time of Troubles," whose period of internal warfare and conspiracy-laden politics are a testament to the Russian predilection for understatement; and near annihilation under the Mongol occupation. Out of the horrors of defeat, the Russians search desperately for the second phase of the cycle -- the arrival of a white rider -- and invariably they find one. The white rider rarely encapsulates what Westerns conceive of as a savior -- someone who will bring wealth and freedom. Russian concerns after such calamities are far more basic: they want stability. But by Russian standards, the white rider is a rather optimistic fellow. He truly believes that Russia can recover from its time of trial, once a level of order is restored. So the Russian white rider sets about imposing a sense of consistency and strength, ending the free fall of Russian life. Putin is the current incarnation of Russia's white rider, which puts him in the same category as past leaders such as Vladimir Lenin and, of course, Russia's "Greats": Catherine and Peter. Contrary to portrayals of him by many in the Western media, Putin is not a hard-nosed autocrat set upon militarization and war. He is from St. Petersburg, Russia's "window on the West," and during the Cold War one of his chief responsibilities was snagging bits of Western technology to send home. He was (and remains) fully cognizant of Russia's weaknesses and ultimately wanted to see Russia integrated as a full-fledged member of the Western family of nations. He also is pragmatic enough to have realized that his ideal for Russia's future and Russia's actual path are two lines that will not converge. So, since November 2005, Putin has been training two potential replacements: First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov. At this point, nearly a year before Russia's next presidential election, determining which one will take over is a matter of pure guesswork. Also unclear is what role, if any, Putin will grab for himself -- up to and including a continuation of his presidency. The question of who takes over in March 2008 is generating much interest and debate among Kremlinologists. It clearly matters a great deal both politically and economically, though geopolitically the discussion misses the point. The real takeaway is that Russia's current white horse period is coming to an end. Putin's efforts to stabilize Russia have succeeded, but his dreams of Westernizing Russia are dead. The darkness is about to set in. The Dark Rider In the third phase of the Russian cycle, the white rider realizes that the challenges ahead are more formidable than he first believed and that his (relative) idealism is more a hindrance than an asset. At this point the white rider gives way to a dark one, someone not burdened by the white rider's goals and predilections, and willing to do what he feels must be done regardless of moral implications. The most famous Russian dark rider in modern times is Josef Stalin, of course, while perhaps the most consuming were the "Vasilys" of the Vasily Period, which led to the greatest civil war in Russian medieval history. In particularly gloomy periods in Russia's past (which is saying something) the white rider himself actually has shed his idealism and become the dark rider. For example, Ivan the IV began his rule by diligently regenerating Russia's fortunes, before degenerating into the psychotic madman better known to history as Ivan the Terrible. Under the rule of the dark rider, Russia descends into an extremely strict period of internal control and external aggression, which is largely dictated by Russia's geographic weaknesses. Unlike the United States, with its deep hinterland, extensive coasts and lengthy and navigable river networks, Russia's expansive barren landscape and lack of maritime transport options make trade, development and all-around life a constant struggle. Russia also lacks any meaningful barriers to hide behind, leaving it consistently vulnerable to outside attack. Understanding that this geographic reality leaves Russia extremely insecure is critical to understanding Russia's dark periods. Once the dark rider takes the state's reins, he acts by any means necessary to achieve Russian security. Internal opposition is ruthlessly quashed, economic life is fully subjugated to the state's needs and Russia's armies are built furiously with the intent of securing unsecurable borders. That typically means war: As Catherine the Great famously put it: "I have no way to defend my borders except to extend them." After a period of unification and expansion under the dark rider, Russia inevitably suffers from overextension. No land power can endlessly expand: the farther its troops are from core territories, the more expensive they are to maintain and the more vulnerable they are to counterattack by foreign forces. Similarly, the more non-Russians who are brought under the aegis of the Russian state, the less able the state is to impose its will on its population -- at least without Stalin-style brute force. This overextension just as inevitably leads to stagnation as the post-dark rider leadership attempts to come to grips with Russia's new reality, but lacks the resources to do so. Attempts at reform transform stagnation into decline. Stalin gives way to a miscalculating Nikita Khrushchev, a barely conscious Leonid Brezhnev, an outmatched Mikhail Gorbachev and a very drunk Boris Yeltsin. A new disaster eventually manifests and the cycle begins anew. Why the Crackdown? The April 14-15 protests occurred at an inflection point between the second and third parts of the cycle -- as the white rider is giving way to a dark rider. Past Russian protests that involved 2,500 total people at most would have been allowed simply because they did not matter. The Putin government has a majority in the rubber-stamp Duma sufficient to pass any law or constitutional change in a short afternoon of parliamentary fury. All meaningful political parties have been disbanded, criminalized or marginalized; the political system is fully under Kremlin control. The Kasparov/Kasyanov protests did not threaten Putin in any meaningful way -- yet in both Moscow and St. Petersburg a few dozen people were blocked, beaten and hauled off to court. This development was no accident. Roughly 9,000 riot police do not spontaneously materialize anywhere, and certainly not as the result of an overenthusiastic or less-than-sober local commander. A crackdown in one city could be a misunderstanding; a crackdown in two is state policy. And one does not send hundreds of batons swinging but allow Reuters to keep filming unless the objective is to allow the world to see. Putin chose to make these protests an issue. Putin, then, is considering various groups and rationalizing his actions in the context of Russia's historical cycle:
The West: Putin certainly does not want any Western capital to think he will take exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky's recent threats of forcible revolution lying down. Berezovsky says violence is a possibility -- a probability even -- in the future of regime change in Russia? Fine. Putin can and did quite easily demonstrate that, when it comes to the application of force in internal politics, the Russian government remains without peer.
The people: Putin knows that governance is not so much about ruling as it is about managing expectations. Russians crave stability, and Putin's ability to grant that stability has earned him significant gravitas throughout Russia as well as a grudging respect from even his most stalwart foes. He is portraying groups such as the Other Russia as troublemakers and disturbers of the peace. Such explanations make quite attractive packaging to the average Russian.
The opposition: It is one thing to oppose a wildly powerful and popular government. It is another thing when that government beats you while the people nod approvingly and the international community barely murmurs its protest. Putin has driven home the message that the opposition is not just isolated and out of touch, but that it is abandoned.
The Kremlin: Just because Putin is disappointed that his dreams are unattainable, that does not mean he wants to be tossed out the proverbial airlock. Showing any weakness during a transition period in Russian culture is tantamount to surrender -- particularly when Russia's siloviki (nationalists) are always seeking to rise to the top of the heap. Putin knows he has to be firm if he is to play any role in shaping Russia during and after the transition. After all, should Medvedev and Ivanov fail to make the grade, someone will need to rule Russia -- and the only man alive with more experience than Putin has a blood-alcohol level that precludes sound decision-making.
Zimbabwe. We are certainly unafraid to take shots at the U.S. economy…but this little “moment of Zen” puts our woes in serious perspective. In his continuing effort to wreck the country, Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe is now presiding over a 1700% inflation rate.
Ron Paul Supporters at McCain Event in New Hampshire
"Also present yesterday were a half-dozen supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who held signs on the perimeter of the area set aside for the event. Paul, a staunch advocate for smaller government, is perhaps the most right-leaning GOP candidate in the race."Union Leader, 04/26/07
The world is not running out of oil just yet, but it is BEGINNING to run out of oil. The downward slope from "more-than-enough" to "barely enough" could produce wrenching macro-economic adjustments for many nations of the world, including the U.S. But this downward slope will also produce innumerable opportunities for oil-focused investors, especially those investors who focus on the oil services sector.
Dr. Ali Samsam Bakhtiari of Iran is one of the many leading energy analysts who believe that world oil production "peaked" in 2006. Dr. Bakhtiari believes that the world is now entering a phase of irreversible decline in conventional oil production.
Depletion is outstripping new discovery and reserve growth, he asserts, and this trend will continue indefinitely. He believes that the world's daily oil output will fall from its present level of about 85 million barrels of oil per day to about 55 million barrels of oil per day by 2020. That is, there will be a 35% decline in available conventional oil within a mere 13 years from now. If he's right, the world will change profoundly.
But declining oil production does not mean "we are running out of oil." Rather, going forward, oil will become increasingly difficult to locate and extract… and it will become increasingly valuable. But 55 million barrels per day is still one heck of a lot of oil, and life on Earth will go on in some form or another, if the nations of the world do not kill each other while fighting over access to petroleum supplies.
The point to keep in mind is that from now until long into the future, there will still be oil wells pumping oil from oil fields.
Yes, that's right, you have to get the oil out of the ground. And when it comes to developing that oil deposit, you need oil service companies. Oil service companies provide what the name appears to describe -- drilling services, down-hole logging, well completion services and production monitoring.
So the oil service companies are not in the business of owning -- or even attempting to claim title to -- the oil in or coming out of the ground. They make their money providing the services and technical support to the producing entity. Oil service companies, therefore, carry almost no geological or political risk.
If you own a company that explores for oil, you run the risk of exploration failure. But the oil service company gets paid for performing the services whether the well is a dry hole or not. If you own an oil exploration company, you also run the risk that some hostile or capricious foreign regime will simply steal all or part of your reserves.
But if the political climate becomes too burdensome, the oil service company can just pull up stakes, exit the unfriendly locale and watch from the sidelines while the bureaucrats mess things up for a few years.
This is a growing problem. Russia, for example, might browbeat Shell Oil Co. into surrendering most of Shell's share in the Sakhalin-2 project. Or the government of Venezuela might seize control of production facilities from the likes of Chevron or Exxon Mobil. But the "new owners" will still require, say, drill bits from Baker Hughes, wireline services from Schlumberger or well completion services from Halliburton.
There are many such oil service companies out there, and it almost seems unfair to single out just a few of them, because there are so many good ones. For those of you who want to own an index fund of oil service companies, there are two that I like quite a bit: Oil Services HOLDRs (OIH: AMEX) and the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Oil Equipment Index (IEZ: NYSE).
The OIH currently holds18 companies, the top four of which are Baker Hughes (BHI), Transocean (RIG), Schlumberger (SLB) and Halliburton (HAL). Together, these four stocks represent about 40% of the OIH portfolio. The IEZ index also tracks the performance of the oil equipment and services sector of the U.S. stock market. It includes companies that are suppliers of equipment or services to oil fields and offshore platforms, such as drilling, exploration, engineering, logistics, seismic information services and platform construction. There is a lot of overlap in ownership between these two index funds.
But if you want to own one or more of the three biggest and best individual companies in the oil service sector, you have to look long and hard at the larger names that provide oil field services to the industry on a global level. The companies to which I refer are Schlumberger (SLB: NYSE), Baker Hughes (BHI: NYSE) and Halliburton (HAL: NYSE). These three companies are considered by many to be the gold standard of the oil service industry.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because these firms are part of the oil business that they are somehow old-fashioned, knuckle-dragging industrial behemoths. All three companies are world leaders in oil field technology, and all of them fund aggressive research and development (R&D) programs. They employ thousands of people with advanced technical degrees, and, overall, keep many patent attorneys and patent examiners busy with their thousands of patent filings every year.
The oil service sector funds (OIH and IEZ), as well as the specific stocks that I discussed above (SLB, HAL and BHI), have all had significant run-ups in the past two months, as the price of oil recovered from its January lows. Are these stocks "too high to buy" right now? In all candor, this is a close call for me.
Since I believe that the world crossed the "peak" of conventional oil production in the summer of 2006, I also believe that the long-term price trend for oil is up, up and up Thus, from a long-term view, all of these oil service stocks are still cheap. But over the short-term, anything goes.
So here is my advice: Start nibbling on these stocks now. But be prepared to pounce and buy aggressively on any general market retreat or pullback. As the rush to find and develop the earth's scarce oil reserves intensifies, the oil services companies are the ones whose numbers will be on the "speed dial" of every major oil exploration company in the world.
Site of Colorado. Indian massacre honored
SAND CREEK MASSACRE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE, Colo.
The site pays tribute to the 150 Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians killed in their sleep by state militia in a misdirected act of vengeance. Descendants of some victims were on hand today with several hundred people at the ceremony on Colorado's rolling hills.
Cottonwood trees along the creek mark the site of the killings.
After a prayer and a blessing for the troops in Iraq, members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes chanted and played drums.
When the attack started, Southern Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle hurriedly hoisted a U-S flag above his lodge, but to no avail.
At the ceremony, former Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, said "If there were any savages that day, it was not the Indian people."
Plasma shield may stun and disorientate enemies
17:29 26 April 2007
NewScientist.com news service
The US Army hopes, within a few years, to deploy a plasma shield – a machine that generates a protective screen of dazzling mid-air explosions – to stun and disorient an enemy.
The device uses a technology known as dynamic pulse detonation (DPD). A short but intense laser pulse creates a ball of plasma, and a second laser pulse generates a supersonic shockwave with the plasma to generate a bright flash and a loud bang.
The Plasma Acoustic Shield System will eventually combine a dynamic pulse detonation laser with a high power speaker for hailing or warning, and a dazzler light source. PASS has already been demonstrated by the system's makers, Stellar Photonics.
"It uses a programmed pattern of rapid plasma events to create a sort of wall of bright lights and reports (bangs) over the coverage area," says Keith Braun of the US Army's Advanced Energy Armaments Systems Division at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, US, where the system is being tested.
Braun puts the maximum range of the system at around a hundred metres. But he says the PASS laser is unlikely to be used as a weapon, in its current format, since it lacks sufficient power. Unlike other high-power lasers which burn a target, the DPD relies on a shockwave. Braun says it would take several minutes to burn through a piece of paper using the laser.
"It is fair to say that any stunning or disabling of a target individual would require additional force on target," says Braun. "The current state-of-the-art in portable, rugged laser systems is not at the point of sufficient power."
However, he does not rule out the possibility altogether: "This type of capability is at the core of what we eventually expect from the technology."
Indeed, PASS may be the first step towards a man-portable, tuneable laser weapon that could be used in both non-lethal and lethal modes. Stellar Photonics, which has a $2.7 million contract to build PASS , plans to develop smaller and more powerful versions in future.
Speed of light
The company has also pitched a portable laser rifle, which would be lethal, to the US Army. It would weigh about fifteen kilograms, would have a range of more than a mile, and could have numerous advantages over existing rifles – better accuracy and the ability to hit a moving target at the speed of light.
It could also be used in non-lethal mode, "offering the individual soldier a first response non-lethal alternative, with the capability to go lethal should the situation call for that level of response", says Braun. But extensive testing of its effects on humans would need to be carried out before it could be legitimately used as a non-lethal weapon.
Some other high-energy laser systems, like the Airborne Laser (a missile defence system being developed by Boeing) rely on large chemical lasers, firing a continuous beam, and the chemicals used are both toxic and corrosive. PASS will use a solid-state laser, which only needs a supply of electricity, but the engineering challenges are still significant, says Braun.
"The biggest problems with mobile laser systems in the field are the power supply concerns, overall size of the laser and optics, and the tolerance for those optics to endure rapid changes in temperature, airborne particulate and the kinds of vibrations a military platform imparts on its load." Says Braun.
The PASS laser is due to be tested in 2008, with testing of the full prototype PASS turret on a vehicle in 2009.
Connecticut Company Launches 'Scotty' into Space
UPHAM, N.M. (1010 WINS) -- The cremated remains of actor James Doohan, who portrayed "Scotty'' of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, and Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper sailed into suborbital space Saturday morning aboard a rocket launched from the southern New Mexico desert. It marked the first successful launch from Spaceport America, a commercial spaceport being developed in Upham, N.M.Suzan Cooper and Wende Doohan fired the rocket carrying their husbands' ashes. It took off at 8:56 a.m. local time and disappeared into the atmosphere within 12 seconds.``Go baby, go baby,'' said Eric Knight, UP Aerospace Inc. of Farmington, Conn., while standing among the crowd of onlookers.The rocked landed at White Sands Missile Range shortly after 9 a.m.``We nailed it. We stuck the landing,'' said Knight, whose company launched the first rocket from the desert site in September.But that Spaceloft XL rocket crashed into the rugged desert after spiraling out of control about 9 seconds after liftoff. Company officials blamed the failure on a faulty fin design. A Spaceloft SL-2 rocket, with a fourth fin added for stability, carried the remains, which were loaded into the rocket last month.Family members paid $495 to place a few grams of their relatives' ashes on the rocket. Celestis, a Houston company, contracted with UP to send the cremated remains into space. Charles Chafer, chief executive of Celestis, said last month that a CD with more than 11,000 condolences and fan notes was placed on the rocket with Doohan's remains.Doohan died in July 2005 at age 85. The remains of Gene Roddenberry, who created ``Star Trek,'' were sent into space in1997.Saturday's launch from the fledgling spaceport, currently concrete slab in a patch of desert more than 50 miles north of Las Cruces, continues to keep the New Mexico project ahead of its nearest competitor in the West Texas desert.Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, is said to be developing a spaceport north of Van Horn, Texas. Bezos' Blue Origin is working to develop manned spaceflight for space tourists.British billionaire Richard Branson also has announced plans to launch a space tourism company, which is expected to have its headquarters at the New Mexico spaceport.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
By Lewis Page
Published Wednesday 25th April 2007 18:32 GMT
The US Navy will put nearly $10m into development of "man-made lightning" blaster weapons.
In a release dated yesterday, Arizona-based company Ionatron announced that it had won a contract worth $9,839,094 to develop its Laser Induced Plasma Channel™ (LIPC) technology. The funds were supplied by the Naval Surface Warfare Centre, Crane division. NSW-Crane is well-known as a supplier of gadgets and weapons to the elite, secretive Navy SEALs among others.
Ionatron describes LIPC as "man-made lightning". It notes that electrical air-gap spark discharges are nothing new, but until now it has been very hard to make them travel any distance or point them at a target. But the firm's engineers reckon they've potentially got the problem cracked, using precursor laser pulses to burn a conductive tunnel through the air down which an electrical charge can easily jump.
The technology could be applied in a number of ways, perhaps most obviously as an improvement on existing Taser cattle-prod dartguns, used by police to electrocute malefactors into submission as opposed to simply shooting them. Ionatron reckon their lightning zappers could "replace guns as the weapon of choice in close-range defense."
But there'll be no need for plods or soldiers of the future to give up on killing people altogether. "Lethal configurations are also available," the company assures us.
Of course, electrical pulse weapons could well be more effective against electronics-based targets than human ones. Ionatron has previously been involved in efforts to use vehicle-mounted LIPC blasters to fry the circuitry of roadside bombs or landmines in Iraq. But in the end the US Army turned the kit down, reportedly (http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/128630) disliking the carrying platforms rather than the ray-guns themselves.
That said, the idea of pouring a high-voltage electric current into a bomb's firing circuit seems pretty much certain to risk detonating it; and if that's all you want to achieve, there are simpler ways of doing it. The phrase "we have become the terrorist, haven't we sir," oft-heard from critical training staff in bomb-disposal schools, springs to mind.
With this most recent injection of funds, however, it seems that LIPC zap-beam technology certainly hasn't died off. US forces may yet take the field packing directed lightning blasters to supplement their fearful array of flying disco dazzle-cannon (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/21/us_strobe_robots/), crowd-griddling microwave-oven guns (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/01/25/microwave_weapon/) and vomit-ray phasers (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/03/07/us_navy_project_cookie_toss/).
Never a dull moment with the American weapons boffins. ®
Governor signs bill defying U.S. ID law
By The Associated PressHELENA - Gov. Brian Schweitzer said "no, nope, no way, hell no" Tuesday to national driver's licenses, signing into law a bill supporters say is one of the strongest rejections to the federal plan.The move means the state won't comply with the Real ID Act, a federal law that sets a national standard for driver's licenses and requires states to link their record-keeping systems to national databases.Though several states have either passed or are considering resolutions or bills against the act, Montana is the first state to outright deny its implementation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union."This is the first one saying, 'We're not doing it,' " said Scott Crichton of the Montana ACLU.The federal law says the federally approved identification cards eventually would be necessary to board airplanes or enter federal buildings."We also don't think that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., ought to tell us that if we're going to get on a plane we have to carry their card, so when it's scanned through they know where you went, when you got there and when you came home," said Schweitzer, a Democrat."This is still a free country and there are no freer people than the people that we have in Montana."The federal government has never been popular with Montanans. The federal Patriot Act was a common whipping boy on the campaign trail last year, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle lined up this year against the Real ID Act.Montana's lawmakers had two bills opposed to the Real ID Act to consider this session: one opposing it, another to nullify it.The one opposing the act, sponsored by Rep. Brady Wiseman, D-Bozeman, and signed by the governor, was unanimously approved by both chambers, while the other bill was seen as unconstitutional and was rejected by a Senate committee.Wiseman said getting support for his bill was an easy sale."Nobody in Montana thinks we should have this thing, so it became easy. There was never an argument, and I never had to persuade anybody," he said.He said he's been urging members of the state's congressional delegation to support efforts to repeal the Real ID Act.Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he is pushing national legislation to repeal the Real ID Act."Montanans are speaking loud and clear on this issue and its time for Capitol Hill to listen," Tester said in a statement.Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., originally supported the federal legislation, but said Tuesday that he is now against it.Rehberg said he originally supported the act because it was recommended by the Sept. 11 Commission as a way to strengthen national security, and he thought it was what most Montanans wanted."The Legislature has disagreed, the governor has disagreed and I will accept and support their position," Rehberg said.
By Wu Xueer and Xu Poheng
Epoch Times Staff
Apr 24, 2007
- A Milestone Crippling the CCP—20 Million Quit Thursday, April 19, 2007
- 20 Million and Counting… Tuesday, April 17, 2007
- Volunteer Discusses Chinese People's True Feelings About Quitting the Communist Party Friday, April 13, 2007
HONG KONG—On April 21, 2007, over 1,500 people in Hong Kong participated in a rally and parade in support of over 20 million people having withdrawn from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The event was organized by the Global CCP Renunciation Center and The Epoch Times .
"The CCP has already completely rotten that it has decayed," declared Chairman Szeto Wah of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China. He went on to explain that the irreversible tidal wave of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law will definitely bury the CCP.
CCP Will Be Buried By the Tide of Democracy
Szetso pointed out that this despotic autocracy— a one-party dictator-driven communist political power—cannot escape from the law of history. "The communist regimes left in the world include only North Korea, China, Vietnam and Cuba, proving that the tidal wave of democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law cannot be reversed," said Szetso. "Communist regimes are bound to be buried by this tide."
"There have been over 20 million people having withdrawn from the CCP and its affiliated organizations," said Szetso. If it were not due to a carefully closed-up environment, fear and hesitation, he believes that the number of withdrawals would be many times more. Currently, many CCP members have already quit the party in their ideology, and remain loyal due to a handful of vested interests."
A Hong Kong resident gives a thumbs up in support of the parade. (Li Ming/The Epoch Times)
"There will not be a democratic China if the CCP does not disintegrate," concluded Szeto.
A guest speaker, Lin Yongran, District Councilor for the Democratic Party said, "In fact, the CCP is very weak now." Lin believes that, through diplomatic means, the CCP can continue to lure foreign governments with economic interests, thereby lessening their condemnation of the CCP on the international stage. Lin explained that, driven by profits, the U.S. and Europe now rarely protest or criticize the CCP's violation of human rights.
Lin also pointed out that many believe China's current economy is prospering, yet in reality, only a small and elite group truly benefits. As CCP policy only allows wealth to these few individuals, the lives of many in China are still quite difficult. Lin stressed that there cannot be a good standard of living without a good political system.
Lin also said that now no CCP member supports communism. He hopes that current CCP members will break away from the organization and put an end to rampant corruption in the country. He believes that this will lead to China's true prosperity.
After the rally, a parade in support of the over 20 million people who have withdrawn from the CCP was led by the "mighty Tian Guo Marching Band." Starting from the territory's Victoria Park, the parade passed through Wanchai, Admiralty, Central, Sheung Wan, and ended with a protest in front of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong's Special Administrative Region in Sai Wan.
Most political polls ask people what they think of issues, politicians, and policies.
Not this one.
This is a different kind of opinion survey.
It asks people what they think of Big Government itself.
Can this simple and direct poll help people discover what they really think of Big Government?
Can this 60-second opinion poll grab the attention of people who don't follow politics, who don't like politics - and open their minds to liberty and small government?
Can this opinion poll reach Americans who want small government - and don't realize it?
Yes, it can. But don't take my word for it. Try it out - and see for yourself.
Will you help me with a simple experiment? Will you do 4 easy things?
Take the survey yourself. Read the brief discussion that follows.
Forward the survey link to 4 of your friends who are advocates of freedom and small government. Ask them to take the "What's Your REAL Opinion of Big Government?" survey and look over the discussion that follows.
Forward the survey link to 4 of your NON-POLITICAL friends, family members, or co-workers, and ask them to do the same thing.
Ask each of them to let you know their score and their reaction to the survey. If they say anything interesting, please let me know.
You're in for some fun.
"What's your REAL Opinion of Big Government?"
Click here: http://www.centerforsmallgovernment.com/survey.cfm
In my mind, Capitalism has a lot more upside than Socialism. For socialists, the game is rigged so that nobody really wins.
DEFENDING CAPITALISM'S INTEGRITY
Friday, April 27, 2007
For most of its history the capitalist economic system has been both admired and criticized. Its capacity for making productivity possible in human communities is unparalleled and hardly anyone can deny this. Even the late American Marxist, Robert Heilbroner, famous for his book The Worldly Philosophers, acknowledged this after the fall of the Soviet Union. He wrote in The New Yorker Magazine that "... Ludwig von Mises ... had written of the 'impossibility' of socialism, arguing that no Central Planning Board could ever gather the enormous amount of information needed to create a workable economic system. ... It turns out, of course, that Mises was right. ..." And Mises, of course, was one of the most consistent, uncompromising defender of pure, laissez-faire capitalism.
Yet, even after the demise of the Soviet system of socialism—the only type that ever aspired to be a fully consistent version of that kind of political economy, with full collective ownership of the means of production (including, as Heilbroner himself noted in his own book, Marxism, For and Against, human labor)—many keep criticizing the fully free market system of capitalism.~ Libertarianism, which is the broader political equivalent of it, also gets this criticism, namely, that it has no room for a safety net for those in dire straits, those who are helpless, indigent, needy, unprepared to deal with market processes, etc. This is the usual mantra of the critics. More extreme versions of them, of course, don't like anything about capitalism and want some kind of dreamlike fully egalitarian system where the wealth is nearly evenly distributed, even if this means the complete destruction of productivity in such a human community. Better we are all equal and poor than we are unequal and most of us quite well off, with some even extraordinarily wealthy.
Never mind this last alternative—it's a loser for sure and only some dreamers who would attempt to remake human nature support it. But what about those who find fault with full, laissez-faire capitalism because of its refusal to allow government to provide for those in dire straits and such? Don't they have a point?
Yes, they do—but they make inferences from it that do not follow. It is possible in a fully capitalist system for some to remain left out. There can be innocent hard luck cases, there is no doubt about that. What doesn't follow is that government ought to do something about this. Instead, free men and women would have to muster the resolve to lend a hand where that's needed. And it's rank cynicism to deny that they would—after all, it is precisely in semi-capitalist systems that charity and philanthropy thrive today! Furthermore, to think that such help would not be forthcoming undermines the very idea that it is used to support, namely, that democratic governments can step in and do the job. That's because such governments are a reflection of the population, if they really are democratic. Which means if the people are mean and heartless, government would be so in spades.
But even beyond these replies to the critics, there is the problem that once the principles of a fully free society are compromised in the legal system, all hell breaks loose. Even if government might be effective in lending its hand to those in dire straits, as soon as it would do this nearly everyone in society would insist that their agenda deserves support, too. There is no way to hold back this logic—a legal system that allows favoritism for even the most extraordinarily needy will be unable to resist yielding to the pleas of all others, and all others would mount massive lobbying efforts to achieve this. All of it is all too evident in current welfare states across the globe and it produces financial crises and more poverty everywhere than what a fully capitalist system would likely produce.
The bottom line is that a fully free society is really the best idea for human community life and even the hard luck cases are more likely to benefit from it than they would from societies with government interference.
Friday, April 27, 2007
By JACOB RESNECK, Enterprise Staff Writer
Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2007
SARANAC LAKE — Despite opposition from many Congress members in border states, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to require everyone crossing the border from Canada and Mexico to produce a valid passport by January 2008.The rule is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, passed by Congress in 2004 to strengthen border security. But last year, Congress inserted language in an appropriations bill pushing back the deadline from Jan. 1, 2008 until June 1, 2009. Nevertheless, Homeland Security officials say they are proceeding with the old deadline.“There may be some effort on your congressional members to revisit the deadlines, but we’re working from what’s already been established as a deadline — and that deadline is January 2008,” said Homeland Security spokesman Ross Knocke in Washington.U.S. Rep. John McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor, continues to rail against the impending passport rule, which he said Homeland Security is not ready to implement without disrupting cross-border travel and commerce between the U.S. and Canada.“You’ve got this sentiment in the nation that our border is too porous,” McHugh said Tuesday from Washington. “We would argue that we agree, but there are things we can do without destroying our trading relationships with America’s number-one partner.”McHugh, whose congressional district includes all of New York’s northern border from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain, has co-sponsored legislation with Louise Slaughter, D-Rochester, requiring Homeland Security and the U.S. State Department to meet certain requirements before bringing in the passport rule.In February, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced similar legislation in the Senate.Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Hudson, is one of at least 30 co-sponsors of the legislation that has bipartisan support, mostly from border states. “What this act requires is a much more thoughtful approach to make sure that our economy is protected and that the residents in our communities continue to move freely when they need to,” Gillibrand said Tuesday from the floor of the House of Representatives.Introduced in February as the Protecting American Commerce and Travel Act (PACT), the bill would require the federal government to complete a pilot program testing secure, state-issued driver’s licenses as an alternative to a passport requirement.Already a pilot program for the state of Washington is in the works, but it won’t be completed before 2008.The bill also requires that Homeland Security and the State Department:¯develop a wallet-sized passport card that would cost no more than $20 and take no longer 10 days to issue¯improve existing fast-track crossing systems such as NEXUS and FAST — primarily used by the trucking industry and regular commuters ¯complete a cost-benefit analysis on the impact of tightened border controls¯exempt U.S. and Canadian citizens under 17 from the passport rule as well as students under 19 years old on supervised school trips¯report to Congress regularly on the progress of implementing the new regulations.The bill notes that only 27 percent of Americans have valid passports, compared to about 40 percent of Canadians who hold passports.The bill has received support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and travel industry groups, McHugh noted.North Country to lobby in WashingtonBack in the North Country, business leaders are taking the lead in lobbying against the passport rule’s effect on the North Country economy. On May 9 and 10, a delegation of North Country and Canadian leaders will travel to Washington to meet with congressional leaders.“We’ve asked for an independent economic impact assessment on the new rule,” said Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce CEO Garry Douglas, organizer of the annual Washington trip. “They absolutely refuse to do that because, believe it or not, they say there will be no economic impact. I don’t know how they can say such things with a straight face, but there you have it.”Douglas is the author of a report that said cross-border trade accounted for $1.53 billion of the Clinton County economy in 2004.“We ought to be real careful before we mess with that,” Douglas said.State Olympic Regional Development Authority CEO Ted Blazer will also be a member of the 15-member delegation to Washington. He said ORDA recognizes the contribution of Canadian tourism for its Olympic venues and ski centers.“With closer equalization of the (currency) exchange rate and with our upgraded facilities in the last two years, we’re very attractive,” Blazer said. “It’s only two hours or less to the lower rim of Montreal.”In the winter, Canadian tourism accounts for close to 20 percent of visitors to ORDA venues, Blazer noted.“It’s been an increase in the last few years, which I think is very encouraging,” he added.Also booked for the tip is Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sylvie Nelson. Raised in Quebec, Nelson said Canadians are sometimes intimidated by the increased security on the border, which she said hurts Adirondack tourism.“When you look at Quebecers coming into the U.S., there’s a whole intimidation factor as well; there’s a lot of anxiety,” Nelson said.Nelson quoted Canadian press reports that cross-border tourism has dipped to levels not seen since the SARS virus scare in 2003. She said she suspects the reason is anxiety and misconceptions that the passport rule —implemented this year for air and sea travel — is already in effect at land crossings.“There’s already rumors that you need a passport, and there’s been so much talk and changes,” she said. “Saranac Lake will definitely be affected negatively by that.”Homeland Security officials like Knocke argue that there can be no economic prosperity without national security.“There is clearly a recognition that life along the border is unique and it’s not uncommon for border residents to cross a couple of times again for business or pleasure,” Knocke said. “But there could be a tremendous economic burden, if they want to consider the economic consequences of being wrong and, God forbid, having some sort of attack on our country.”Such arguments are not swaying North Country congressional members, however.“At the end of the day, I am very concerned about homeland security issues, but there has been no evidence that requiring passports on the northern border would make us safer,” Gillibrand said.
Feds threaten Texas over superhighway funds plan
Transportation Department opposes bills delaying NAFTA project
Posted: April 27, 20071:00 a.m. Eastern
By Jerome R. Corsi
© 2000 WorldNetDaily.com-->© 2007 WorldNetDaily.com
The Federal Highway Administration has threatened Texas with the loss of federal highway funds if the state continues with its legislative plan for a two-year funding moratorium on construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor.
In the 4-page letter, FHWA Chief Counsel James D. Ray advises Michael Behrens, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, some of the pending legislative proposals, if signed into law, "could affect the State’s eligibility for receiving Federal-aid highway funds."
Ray praises Texas for being "the nation's leader in developing new transportation facilities through public private partnerships."
(Story continues below)
But the letter expresses concern that the Texas Legislature is nearing passage of a two-year moratorium blocking planned Trans-Texas Corridor toll-road projects.
"We do not see the benefit of a moratorium if the State has already committed to legislation for a continuation of the program," Ray wrote, adding, "If Texas looses (sic) the initiative it now has, private funds now flowing to Texas will go elsewhere."
"We stand ready to work with Texas officials to ensure continued compliance with all of the applicable Federal laws and regulations. We wish to make sure that Texas can continue to receive the full benefits available under the Federal-aid Highway Program," he concluded.
David Stall, co-founder of the website CorridorWatch.org, alerted WND the federal agency was preparing the letter.
During a Wednesday morning teleconference, James Ray, chief counsel and acting deputy director of the FHWA, reportedly told the Trans-Texas Corridor Citizens Advisory Committee that the federal agency was preparing a letter to place the Texas Department of Transportation on notice that the proposed action by the Texas Legislature would jeopardize access to federal highway funds.
The Trans-Texas Corridor Citizens Advisory Committee is a group of citizens organized by the state transportation department to offer advice on projects concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor.
The federal agency did not respond to WND requests for comment, but Stall had an opinion.
"As you might guess, we greatly object to federal interference in state affairs and the attempt to influence public policy at the state level," Stall told WND via e-mail.
Stall told WND that Ray's letter was prompted by a request from Texas Rep. Mike Krusee, Williamson County, who sent a note to the FHWA asking for an opinion specifically on HB1892, the House version of the moratorium.
Krusee, a Republican, is a long-time supporter of the TTC toll-road project. In November 2006, he was re-elected with barely 50 percent of the vote in a campaign in which his TTC support was contested.
WND has reported previously that two different bills have passed the Texas House and Senate, and both are aimed at imposing a two-year moratorium on all public-private partnerships that would involve construction of new toll roads financed and operated by private foreign investment groups.
The large margins by which the moratorium bills have been approved suggest the legislature has the votes to override an anticipated veto by Gov. Rick Perry.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
By James G. Neuger
April 26 (Bloomberg) -- NATO voiced ``grave concern'' over Russian President Vladimir Putin's threat to pull out of a Cold War-era arms control treaty, as the strategic confrontation between the two former enemies escalated.
Putin stopped abiding by a 1990 conventional arms pact and said Russia might abandon it altogether, accusing the U.S. of upsetting Europe's strategic balance by widening its military presence on former Soviet territory.
``That message was met by concern, grave concern, disappointment and regret,'' North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a press conference in Oslo after a meeting of alliance foreign ministers.
Russia is striking back against U.S. plans for missile- defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, warning that President George W. Bush is triggering a new arms race that would destabilize Europe.
The U.S. defended the missile-defense plans again today, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the system is designed to guard against attacks from countries like Iran and would have too little firepower to menace Russia.
Poland would be the site for 10 missile interceptors, and an early-warning radar system would be located in the Czech Republic. The U.S. is negotiating with both countries over basing rights for the system, due to be fully operational by 2013.
``The Russians have thousands of weapons,'' Rice told a press conference in Oslo. ``The idea that you can somehow stop Russian strategic nuclear deterrent with a few interceptors just doesn't make sense.''
`Actions,' Not Words
Russia will stop abiding by the 1990 arms-control agreement, known as the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and may withdraw from it altogether, Putin said in his annual state of the nation address in Moscow.
``It is finally time for our partners to contribute to reducing arms in actions and not words,'' Putin said. Putin blamed NATO for not ratifying a 1999 update to the treaty.
NATO says it won't ratify as long as Russia maintains a military presence in Georgia and Moldova. The treaty sets limits on tanks, artillery pieces, combat vehicles, combat aircraft and helicopters.
``These are treaty obligations, and everyone is expected to live up to treaty obligations,'' Rice said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov carried Putin's message to the NATO meeting in Oslo, accusing the Western alliance of ``continuing the search for an enemy'' in the post- Cold War era.
``We cannot be unconcerned by the fact that NATO military infrastructure is creeping up to our borders,'' Lavrov said. The U.S. would ``radically change the security situation in Europe.''
Russia has balked at a U.S. offer for wide-ranging cooperation on missile defense, which would include the conduct of joint research, the sharing of radar imagery and the staging of joint exercises.
Putin has tried since February to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its European allies in NATO over the American plan for missile-defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
``I'm not sure the violent protests coming from Russia are actually only due to the missile-defense system,'' Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said. ``They have excellent knowledge of missile defense, so they know it is not a danger to them. They have political aims and are using this as a tool.''
American overtures to Russia are partly intended to overcome opposition to the missile-defense program in Europe. The proportion of Czechs opposed to the radar site rose to 68 percent in April from 61 percent in February, according to a CVVM survey released this week.
NATO allies are also questioning how the U.S. will defend the southern flanks of the alliance -- Turkey plus parts of Greece and Bulgaria -- that the planned long-range system would leave exposed to a shorter-range Iranian attack.
NATO is working on a smaller-scale system to protect troops in the field against enemy missiles. Alliance officials last week discussed using that system to plug any holes in the American coverage.