Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Beijing Blues

A rising power is plagued by doubts.
By Fareed Zakaria | NEWSWEEK

Published Jun 4, 2010

From the magazine issue dated Jun 14, 2010

Over the last few months, foreign diplomats have privately groused to me about a world power's arrogant foreign policy. Except that they're talking about China, not the United States. A senior official from a developing country said, on background so as not to anger Beijing, "Chinese officials used to meet with us with a great sense of solidarity and warmth. Now they read us a list of demands." Diplomats in Beijing report that Chinese officials now treat them differently than they did just a few years ago. One complained that even getting meetings with senior officials had become difficult. "People I used to see routinely now refuse to give me an appointment," one said to me in Beijing last week.

Some of this is understandable. Success breeds confidence, as Americans well know. And China has been very successful. By common consent, the country has come out on top after the global economic crisis. Its massive fiscal stimulus is building a new generation of infrastructure, its banks are stable, its consumers have high savings rates, and the government keeps piling up reserves, which now total almost $2.5 trillion. But in a series of discussions with people in and out of the Chinese government last week, I was struck less by arrogance than by the doubt, uncertainty, and apprehension that seemed to be plaguing the Chinese.

My interlocutors remained confident about the regime's technical ability to handle the economy. While Wall Street frets about an overheating China, most people here seemed sure that the government would be able to adjust to keep growth steady—as it has in the past. Worried about a frothy real-estate market in Beijing? Well, banks have been ordered to stop giving mortgages, and property taxes are set to be raised. Beijingers now cannot buy more than one apartment per family. Once the froth subsides the rules will, in all likelihood, be revoked.

But a series of deeper changes is also underway. China has seen dramatic labor protests in recent weeks, from strikes at a Honda factory to grim accounts of suicide at the vast Foxconn complex, where iPhones are assembled. One scholar calls this "the end of the world-factory model," under which China would be the globe's low-wage manufacturer. "Our economy can't keep squeezing labor benefits because workers are unwilling to accept it," says Chang Kai, director of the Renmin University's Labor Institute.

This is a far cry from the attitude of the government only a few years ago, when officials warned that if Chinese workers asked for pay raises, businesses would move to Vietnam and Cambodia. In 2003 Zhang Zhixiong, deputy chairman of the labor union for Hyundai in Beijing, said, "Strikes in China jeopardize the country's reputation," and promised there would be none. Now Lee Chang-hee, at Beijing's International Labor Office, predicts that unions and collective bargaining are inevitably going to become part of China's landscape, driving up wages.

The quotations in the paragraphs above all come from China Daily, an English-language newspaper published by the government. Nothing like this would have appeared in any language five years ago in China, and the debate gets even more honest in private. A Chinese businessman said to me over lunch in Beijing, "In many ways the financial crisis and the discrediting of the American model has been bad for us. You see, we don't really have an ideology anymore. We don't know what we believe in. We used to think it was some version of the American Dream—liberalize, open up, grow. But then you had your crisis. We can say, it proves we're strong. But where do we go now?"

The angst is being exacerbated by China's ongoing political transition, in which the top leadership will be replaced in two years, and in which for the first time, the new president and premier will have no personal connection with or blessing from Deng Xiaoping, the architect of modern China. This has broader consequences. China knows it is now a great power and demands that it be respected and listened to. But short of protecting its narrow interests, the regime still doesn't seem sure what it wants internationally. What are its broader foreign-policy goals? Are they allies or rivals of the United States? What kind of a world does it hope to shape?

China is entering a new era, but seems ideologically and operationally ill prepared for it. That might explain why Beijing has been hesitant and halting in its attitudes on nuclear proliferation, North Korea, and Iran. It is less arrogant than ambivalent, something the United States also knows well from its own early history as a great power.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Day the War Came Back to Moscow - By Anna Nemtsova | Foreign Policy

The Day the War Came Back to Moscow - By Anna Nemtsova | Foreign Policy

What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous?

Published: March 30, 2010

ALMOST every month for the past two years, Chechen suicide bombers have struck. Their targets can be anything from Russian soldiers to Chechen police officers to the innocent civilians who were killed on the subway in Moscow this week. We all know the horror that people willing to kill themselves can inflict. But do we really understand what drives young women and men to strap explosives on their bodies and deliberately kill themselves in order to murder dozens of people going about their daily lives?

Chechen suicide attackers do not fit popular stereotypes, contrary to the Russian government’s efforts to pigeonhole them. For years, Moscow has routinely portrayed Chechen bombers as Islamic extremists, many of them foreign, who want to make Islam the world’s dominant religion. Yet however much Russia may want to convince the West that this battle is part of a global war on terrorism, the facts about who becomes a Chechen suicide attacker — male or female — reveal otherwise.

The three of us, in our work for the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, have analyzed every Chechen suicide attack since they began in 2000, 42 separate incidents involving 63 people who killed themselves. Many Chechen separatists are Muslim, but few of the suicide bombers profess religious motives. The majority are male, but a huge fraction — over 40 percent — are women. Although foreign suicide attackers are not unheard of in Chechnya, of the 42 for whom we can determine place of birth, 38 were from the Caucasus. Something is driving Chechen suicide bombers, but it is hardly global jihad.

As we have discovered in our research on Lebanon, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, suicide terrorist campaigns are almost always a last resort against foreign military occupation. Chechnya is a powerful demonstration of this phenomenon at work.

In the 1990s, the rebels kicked out tens of thousands of Russian troops who had been sent to the region to prevent Chechnya, a republic within the Russian Federation, from declaring independence. In 1999, the Russians came back — this time with more than 90,000 troops — and waged a well-documented scorched-earth campaign, killing an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 civilians out of a population of about 1 million. Ordinary guerrilla tactics and hostage-taking — the keys to ousting the Russians the first time — now got the rebels nowhere. New tactics were employed and women were central from the start.

On June 7, 2000, two Chechen women, Khava Barayeva and Luiza Magomadova, drove a truck laden with explosives into a Russian special forces building in Alkhan-Yurt, Chechnya; while the Russians insist only two soldiers were killed, the Chechen rebel claim of more than two dozen fatalities seems more likely.

This was the first Chechen suicide attack and showed the many advantages of female suicide bombers. They were deadly, as Chechen female attackers generally are, killing an average of 21 people per attack compared to 13 for males. Perhaps far more important, they could inspire others to follow in their footsteps, women and men alike.

Ms. Barayeva made a martyr video, as many suicide bombers do before their attacks. While warning Russia that she was attacking for Chechen independence, she also directed a powerful message clearly meant to provoke men to make similar sacrifices out of a sense of honor. She pleaded for Chechen men to “not take the woman’s role by staying at home”; so far, 32 men have answered her call.

Just as important, Ms. Barayeva is considered responsible for inspiring a movement of “black widows” — women who have lost a husband, child or close relative to the “occupation” and killed themselves on missions to even the score. In total, 24 Chechen females ranging in age from 15 to 37 have carried out suicide attacks, including the most deadly — the coordinated bombings of two passenger flights in August 2004 that caused 90 deaths and (according to Russian authorities) the subway blasts on Monday that killed nearly 40.

The bombers’ motives spring directly from their experiences with Russian troops, according to Abu al-Walid, a rebel leader who was killed in 2004. “These women, particularly the wives of the mujahedeen who were martyred, are being threatened in their homes, their honor [is] being threatened,” he explained in a video that appeared on Al Jazeera. “They do not accept being humiliated and living under occupation.”

And female suicide attackers have one more advantage: They can often travel inconspicuously to their targets. A July 2003 investigative report by the Russian news magazine Kommersant-Vlast found that a potential female suicide bomber could easily avoid public suspicion. Just days after a Chechen suicide bomber, Zarema Muzhakhoyeva, tried but failed to blow up a Moscow cafe in 2003, one of the magazine’s journalists — wearing a niqab, tightly clutching a black satchel to her chest, and behaving in a nervous manner — was able to get a table at the same cafe without ever being questioned. Perhaps not surprisingly, Chechen women have carried out 8 of the 10 suicide attacks in Moscow.

Although we are still learning the details of Monday’s bombings, there were warnings that a major attack in Russia was coming. Twice this year one of Chechnya’s leading rebel commanders, Doku Umarov, issued video statements warning of attacks in Russia proper. “The Russians think the war is distant,” he said. “Blood will not only spill in our towns and villages but also it will spill in their towns ... our military operations will encompass the entirety of Russia.” He also made clear that his campaign was not about restoring any Islamic caliphate, but about Chechen independence: “This is the land of our brothers and it is our sacred duty to liberate these lands.”

With so many Chechen suicide attacks, one could easily be forgiven for being skeptical about the prospects for a lasting peace. Yet, a closer examination of the conflict’s history suggests solutions that both sides may be able to accept.

The trajectory of Chechnya’s suicide campaign reveals a stark pattern: 27 attacks from June 2000 to November 2004, no attacks until October 2007, and 18 since. What explains the three-year pause?

The answer is loss of public support in Chechnya for the rebellion, for two reasons. The first was revulsion against the 2004 Beslan school massacre in which Chechen rebels murdered hundreds of Russian children. “A bigger blow could not have been dealt on us,” one of the separatists’ spokesmen said at the time. “People around the world will think that Chechens are beasts and monsters if they could attack children.” Second, the Russians pursued a robust hearts-and-minds program to win over the war-torn population. Military operations killed significantly fewer civilians. Amnesty was granted to rebel fighters and nearly 600 Chechen separatists surrendered in 2006 alone.

Unfortunately, the Russians then over-reached. Starting in late 2007, Moscow pressured the pro-Russian Chechen government of Ramzan Kadyrov to stamp out the remaining militants. It complied, pursuing an ambitious counterterrorism offensive with notably harsh measures of its own.

Suspected rebels were abducted and imprisoned, their families’ houses were burned, and there were widespread accusations of forced confessions and coerced testimony in trials. An investigation by The Times in February 2009 reported claims of extensive torture and executions under the Kadyrov administration, and detailed “efforts by Chechnya’s government to suppress knowledge of its policies through official lies, obstruction and witness intimidation.” There is one more riddle to explain: Why did the current wave of Chechen suicide attacks gain force in the spring of 2009 after Russia announced an end of all its military operations in Chechnya? Because the Kadyrov government’s counterterrorism measures had grown so harsh that some had actually begun to view Moscow as a moderating force in the region.

Still, the picture is clear: Chechen suicide terrorism is strongly motivated by both direct military occupation by Russia and by indirect military occupation by pro-Russia Chechen security forces. Building on the more moderate policies of 2005 to 2007 might not end every attack, but it could well reduce violence to a level both sides can live with.

Because the new wave of Chechen separatists see President Kadyrov as a puppet of the Kremlin, any realistic solution must improve the legitimacy of Chechnya’s core social institutions. An initial step would be holding free and fair elections. Others would include adopting internationally accepted standards of humane conduct among the security forces and equally distributing the region’s oil revenues so that Chechnya’s Muslims benefit from their own resources.

No political solution would resolve every issue. But the subway attacks should make clear to Russia that quelling the rebellion with diplomacy is in its security interests. As long as Chechens feel themselves under occupation — either directly by Russian troops or by their proxies — the cycle of violence will continue wreaking havoc across Russia.

Robert A. Pape is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. Lindsey O’Rourke is a doctoral student there, and Jenna McDermit is an undergraduate majoring in anthropology.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Moscow Times
Dmitry Gets No Respect

Dmitry Gets No Respect

President Dmitry Medvedev plays an unconvincing tough guy. And the more he tries to act tough, the weaker he looks.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The War on Drugs is Doomed

They say that the first step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging that you have one. It is therefore good news that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a delegation to Mexico tomorrow to talk with officials there about efforts to fight the mob violence that is being generated in Mexico by the war on drugs. U.S. recognition of this shared problem is healthy.

But that's where the good news is likely to end.

Violence along the border has skyrocketed ever since Mexican President Felipe Calderón decided to confront the illegal drug cartels that operate there. Some 7,000 troops now patrol Juárez, a city of roughly one million. Yet even militarization has not delivered the peace. The reason is simple enough: The source of the problem is not Mexican supply. It is American demand coupled with prohibition.

It is doubtful that this will be acknowledged at tomorrow's meeting. The drug-warrior industry, which includes both the private-sector and a massive government bureaucracy devoted to "enforcement," has an enormous economic incentive to keep the war raging. In Washington politics both groups have substantial influence. So it is likely that we are going to get further plans to turn Juárez into a police state with the promise that more guns, tanks, helicopters and informants can stop Mexican gangsters from shoving drugs up American noses.

Last week's gangland-style slaying of an unborn baby and three adults who had ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juárez has drawn attention to Mrs. Clinton's trip. The incident stunned Americans. Yet tragic as they were, statistically those four deaths don't create even a blip on the body-count chart. The running tally of drug-trafficking linked deaths in Juárez since December 2006 is more than 5,350. There has also been a high cost to the city's economy as investors and tourists have turned away.

Even with low odds of a productive outcome, though, Mexico can't afford to write off tomorrow's meeting. It is an opportunity that, handled correctly, could provide for a teachable moment. I suggest that one or two of Mexico's very fine economists trained at the University of Chicago by Milton Friedman sit down with President Obama's team to explain a few things about how markets work. They could begin by outlining the path that a worthless weed travels to become the funding for the cartel's firepower. In this Econ 101 lesson, students will learn how the lion's share of the profit is in getting the stuff over the U.S. border to the American consumer. In football terms, Juárez is first and goal.

Mexico hasn't always been an important playing field for drug cartels. For many years cocaine traffickers used the Caribbean to get their product to their customers in the largest and richest market in the hemisphere. But when the U.S. redoubled its efforts to block shipments traveling by sea, the entrepreneurs shifted to land routes through Central America and Mexico.

Mexican traffickers now handle cocaine but traditional marijuana smuggling is their cash cow, despite competition from stateside growers. In a February 2009 interview, then-Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora told me that half of the cartel's annual income was derived from marijuana.

This is especially troubling for Mexican law enforcement because marijuana use, through medical marijuana outlets and general social acceptance, has become de facto legal in the U.S., and demand is robust. The upshot is that consumption is cool while production, trafficking and distribution are organized-crime activities. This is what I called in a previous column, "a stimulus plan for Mexican gangsters."

The Americas in the News
Get the latest information in Spanish from The Wall Street Journal's Americas page.
In much of the world, where institutions are weak and folks are poor, the high value that prohibition puts into drugs means that the thugs rule. Mr. Medina Mora told me in the same 2009 interview that Mexico estimated the annual cash flow from U.S. drug consumers to Mexico at around $10 billion, which of course explains why the cartels are so well armed and also able to grease the system. It also explains why Juárez is today a killing field.

Supply warriors might have a better argument if the billions of dollars spent defoliating the Colombian jungle, chasing fast boats and shooting down airplanes for the past four decades had reduced drug use. Yet despite passing victories like taking out 1980s kingpin Pablo Escobar and countless other drug lords since then, narcotics are still widely available in the U.S. and some segment of American society remains enthusiastic about using them. In some places terrorist organizations like Colombia's FARC rebels and al Qaeda have replaced traditional cartels.

There is one ray of hope for innocent victims of the war on drugs. Last week the Journal reported that Drug Enforcement Administration agents were questioning members of an El Paso gang about their possible involvement in the recent killings in Juárez. If the escalation is now spilling over into the U.S., Americans may finally have to face their role in the mess. Mrs. Clinton's mission will only add value if it reflects awareness of that reality.

Write to O'

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Al-Qaeda in Nigeria: Grazing in the Sahara

Al-Qaeda in Nigeria: Grazing in the Sahara

Twitter doesn’t start a revolution, people do / The Christian Science Monitor -

Twitter doesn’t start a revolution, people do / The Christian Science Monitor -

Is Goodluck Jonathan the Answer to Nigeria's Woes?

Is Goodluck Jonathan the Answer to Nigeria's Woes?

Will Nigeria Survive?

By Gwynne Dyer

There are notable differences between Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, and Umaru Yar'Adua, the current president (more or less) of Nigeria.

For one thing, Yar'Adua did not found the League of Nations or win the Nobel Peace Prize, whereas Wilson did.

For another, Wilson was the president of Princeton University before he entered politics, whereas Umaru Yar'Adua's highest academic post was a lecturer in chemistry at the College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria, Kaduna State. But there is one striking similarity between the two men.

In 1919, about halfway through his second term as president, Wilson suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side and blind in his left eye. He never recovered sufficiently to resume carrying out the duties of the president ― but almost nobody knew it at the time.

Wilson's wife Edith safeguarded his position by allowing almost nobody else access to him for the last 17 months of his term. Even the vice-president and the cabinet almost never got in to see him. In effect, it was she who acted as the country's chief executive.

More recently, last November, President Yar'Adua unexpectedly left Nigeria for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia ― and didn't come back. He had made no arrangements for the vice-president to take over his duties while he was gone, but he remained abroad for three months, in a hospital bed and virtually incommunicado, while the business of government was paralyzed in Africa's most populous country.

Very little information was released about the precise nature of his illness, either. He already had serious kidney problems, but this time it was said that he had been struck down by acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart.

As the weeks passed and the unmade decisions piled up in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, suspicions grew that he was on life support and might never resume power again.

Finally, last month, the Nigerian Senate declared that Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan should become the acting president and carry out Yar'Adua's duties until such time as he might recover.

Soon afterwards Yar'Adua was flown back into Nigeria and driven to the presidential villa in the middle of the night.

Statements by his aides pointedly refer to ``Vice-President" Jonathan, implying that Yar'Adua is back in charge.

However, he spent his first week home in the back of an ambulance, while an intensive care facility was built inside the presidential villa.

His wife Turai has taken control of his agenda, and is allowing almost nobody in to see him. Even Goodluck Jonathan has been turned away repeatedly.

Yar'Adua's return, however incapacitated he may be, has severely undermined Jonathan's ability to take major decisions. He may be the acting president, but he cannot actually act. And so the paralysis in Nigeria deepens.

What is really going on here is the latest round in the perpetual power struggle among Nigeria's ultra-rich elites.

Political power matters greatly to them, since their wealth mainly derives from stealing the resources of the state, and in practice the competition is between the northern elite, who are Muslim, and the southern elite, who are Christian. Yar'Adua is a Muslim; Jonathan is a Christian.

It is a competition that has sometimes come close to tearing the country apart, and the animosities it generates play out at street level in the form of occasional massacres that seem to be religious in motivation.

Mass murders of Christian villagers in Plateau state early this month, for example, were probably retaliation for a similar mass killing of Muslims in January ― and the tit-for-tat massacres actually go back for many years.

But neither at the national nor at the village level is this struggle really about religious differences.

The desperate attempt to keep a (probably comatose) Umaru Yar'Adua in power is happening because replacing him in mid-term with Goodluck Jonathan violates a gentleman's agreement in the ruling party that Muslim and Christian leaders should alternate in power so that everybody who matters gets a fair turn at the trough.

Similarly, the massacres in Plateau state, which lies on the border between northern, Muslim Nigeria and the southern, Christian half of the country, are actually due to a conflict over land between the local farmers (whose Berom ethnic group happens to be Christian), and Fulani-speaking pastoralists who happen to be Muslim.

A struggle for power at the top, a struggle for land at the bottom, both defined as Muslims vs. Christians: It sounds like a formula for breaking Nigeria in two.

But it will probably never happen so long as Nigerian politics remains a conspiracy of the rich against the poor.

The northern elite plays the Muslim card repeatedly to preserve its monopoly of power in the northern states, but it will never stop collaborating with the southern elite to maintain the status quo, because all the oil is in the south.

The two groups compete fiercely over the division of the spoils, but if the north ever really seceded from Nigeria, the northern elite would lose its access to the oil revenues that keep it rich.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mexican drug gangs use U.S. national parks as pot fields

SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. (AP) — Not far from the waterfalls of Yosemite and in the middle of California’s redwood forests, Mexican drug gangs are quietly commandeering U.S. public land to grow millions of marijuana plants and using smuggled immigrants to cultivate them.

Marijuana has been grown on public lands for decades, but Mexican traffickers have taken it to a whole new level: using armed guards and tripwires to safeguard sprawling plots that in some cases contain tens of thousands of plants offering a potential yield of more than 30 tons of pot a year.

“Just like the Mexicans took over the methamphetamine trade, they’ve gone to mega, monster gardens,” said Brent Wood, a supervisor in the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. He said Mexican traffickers have “supersized” the marijuana trade.

Interviews conducted by the Associated Press with law enforcement officials across the country found that Mexican gangs are largely responsible for a spike in large-scale marijuana farms over the past several years.

Local, state and federal agents found about a million more pot plants each year between 2004 and 2008, and authorities estimated that 75 percent to 90 percent of the new marijuana farms can be linked to Mexican gangs.

In 2008 alone, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, police across the country confiscated or destroyed 7.6 million plants from about 20,000 outdoor plots.

Growing marijuana in the United States saves traffickers the risk and expense of smuggling pot across the border and allows gangs to produce crops closer to local markets.

Distribution also becomes less risky. Once the marijuana is harvested and dried on the hidden farms, drug gangs can drive it to major cities, where it is distributed to street dealers and sold along with pot that was grown in Mexico.

About the only risk to the Mexican growers, experts say, is that a stray hiker or hunter could stumble onto a hidden field.

The remote plots are nestled under the cover of thick forest canopies in places such as Sequoia National Forest, or hidden high in the rugged-yet-fertile Sierra Nevadas. Others are secretly planted on remote stretches of Texas ranchland.

All of the sites are far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow far more potent marijuana. Farmers of these fields use illegal fertilizers to help the plants, and the use cloned female plants to reduce the amount of seed in the bud that is dried and eventually sold.

Mexican gang plots can often be distinguished from those of domestic-based growers, who usually cultivate much smaller fields with perhaps 100 plants and no security measures.

Some of the fields tied to the drug gangs have as many as 75,000 plants, each of which can yield at least a pound of pot annually, according to federal data reviewed by the AP.

Sequoia National Forest in central California is covered in a patchwork of pot fields, most of which are hidden along mountain creeks and streams, far from hiking trails. It’s the same in the nearby Yosemite, Sequoia and Redwood National Parks.

Even if they had the number of people necessary to police the vast wilderness, authorities say terrain and weather conditions often keep them from finding the farms, except accidentally.

Many of the plots are encircled with crude explosives. The plots are patrolled by guards brandishing machine guns who survey the perimeter from the ground and from perches high in the trees.

The farms are growing in sophistication and are increasingly cultivated by illegal immigrants, many of whom have been brought to the United States from Michoacán state.

Growers once slept among their plants, but many of them now have campsites up to a mile away equipped with separate living and cooking areas.

“It’s amazing how they have changed the way they do business,” Wood said. “It’s their domain.”

Drug gangs have also imported marijuana experts and unskilled labor to help find the best land or build irrigation systems, Wood said.

Moyses Mesa Barajas had just arrived in eastern Washington state from Michoacán when he was approached to work in a pot field. He was taken almost immediately to a massive crop hidden in the Wenatchee National Forest, where he managed the watering of the plants.

He was arrested in 2008 in a raid and sentenced to more than six years in federal prison. Several other men wearing camouflage fled before police could stop them.

“I thought it would be easy,” Barajas told the AP in a jailhouse interview. “I didn’t think it would be a big crime.”

Scott Stewart, vice president for tactical intelligence at Stratfor, a global intelligence company in Austin, Texas, said recruiters look for people who still have family in Mexico so they can use them as leverage to keep the farmers working — and to keep them quiet.

“If they send Jose from the hometown and Jose rips them off, they are going to go after Jose’s family,” Stewart said. “It’s big money.”

When the harvest is complete, investigators say, pot farm workers haul the product in garbage bags to drop-off points that are usually the same places where they get resupplied with food and fuel.

Agents routinely find the discarded remnants of camp life when they discover marijuana fields. It’s not uncommon to discover pots and pans, playing cards and books, half-eaten bags of food and empty beer cans.

But the growers leave more than litter to worry about. They often use animal poisons that can pollute mountain streams and groundwater meant for legitimate farmers and ranchers.

Because of the tree cover, armed pot farmers have a tactical advantage over law enforcement agents.

“They know the terrain better than we do,” said Lt. Rick Ko, a drug investigator with the Sheriff’s Office in Fresno, Calif. “Before we even see them, they can shoot us.”

“If we are getting 40 to 50 percent (of fields), I think we are doing well,” said Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Dave Peltomaa. “I really don’t think we are close to 50 percent. We don’t have the resources.”

Vast amounts of pot are still smuggled into the United States from Mexico. Federal officials report nearly daily hauls of several hundred to several thousand pounds seized along the border. But drug agents say the boom in domestic growing is a sign of diversification by traffickers.

Officials say arrests of farmers are rare, though the Sheriff’s Office in Fresno did nab more than 100 suspects during two weeks of raids last summer. But when field hands are arrested, most tell authorities only about their specific job.

When asked who hired him, Mesa repeatedly told an AP reporter, “I can’t tell you.”

Washington State Patrol Lt. Richard Wiley said hired hands either do not know who the boss is or are too frightened to give details.

“They are fearful of what may happen to them if they were to snitch on these coyote people,” Wiley said of the recruiters and smugglers who bring marijuana farmers into the country. “That’s organized crime of a different fashion. There’s nothing to gain from (talking), but there’s a lot to lose.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Legalization of Drugs

In the U.S. one of the most commonly talked about subjects in politics is the legalization of drugs. The illegal use of drugs in the U.S. has been outlawed since the 20th century. This ban on illegal substances has lead to many consequences for the country such as violence, crime, and the "War on Drugs." These consequences not only harm the economy, but they also harm the lives of citizens.

The most popularly used illegal substance is a plant called marijuana. It goes by many other names such as "weed" or "bud" or even "grass." Smoking of marijuana was popular during the 1970's when the Vietnam War was going on and it was being protested against. Other illegal substances include cocaine (popular during the 1980's,) heroin, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs. The abuse of these substances can cause major brain damage and other damage to the body. Many of these drugs are highly addictive and ruin the lives of the users once they are hooked.

The United States is at a "war on drugs" with drug dealers and suppliers because of the distribution of marijuana to the states from Mexico. Marijuana is illegally smuggled into the U.S. and sold amongst drug dealers.

If the government legalized any substance it should be marijuana. It is the least lethal of all the substances banned in the U.S. and they would be able to profit off of it. The government could allow companies to sell the drug to people at a controlled potency that would be safe for the consumer and they would be able to safely obtain it. This would help the government because then they could tax the sales and gain revenue. Also this would stop the need for it to be smuggled into the United States from Mexico. This then would lower the crime and violence rate.

Other substances I believe though should always be outlawed like heroin and methamphetamine because of the effects they have on the body and the people around the users of them. If any substances were to be legalized, it should be marijuana.

The government legalizing the sale of marijuana would cause less crime, violence, and smuggling in the U.S. They would not only lower those rates, but also make revenue off the taxes on the drug.

Herkenham, M. "InfoFacts: Marijuana". NIDA. 2-28-10

Pope, HG. "Marijuana". Drug Information Online. 2-28-10

Melis, M. "Heroin". 2-28-10

Melis, M. "Cocaine - Crack Cocaine". 2-28-10

Melis, M. "Methamphetamine". 2-28-10

Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Britain, a Gift Registry for Divorces

In Britain, a Gift Registry for Divorces

Study: Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?

Study: Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?

Not Labour v Tory, but Gordon v Dave

Today, at the Tories' spring conference in Brighton, David Cameron will deliver what will be widely and hysterically trailed as the "speech of his life". Well, he's delivered a fair few of those in the past four years, and he certainly has a talent for the genre. The Tory leader has grown used to the hyperbole that precedes such performances. Which is not to say that he is blasé about today's address. Far from it: this will be a speech without notes, and – given the Tories' position in the opinion polls – it has to be a belter.

What has gone wrong, and how bad is it? Here we have a Prime Minister plausibly accused of intimidating his junior staff, and a serving Chancellor of the Exchequer willing to declare (in a remarkable interview with Jeff Randall on Sky) that his boss unleashed the "forces of hell" upon him in August 2008 as punishment for telling the truth about the economic crisis. Last month, Gordon Brown fought off yet another coup attempt – the fourth or fifth of his brief premiership, depending upon how you are counting. Although microscopic growth has returned, the painful symptoms of recession are still being felt across the land. Against such a background, oughtn't the Conservative Party to be 20 points ahead in the polls, rather than six or seven?

Lord Mandelson – using language that only he could get away with – accused the Tories of "willy wobbling all over the place". While the Cameroons would certainly deny any such "wobbling", they make little attempt in private to conceal their concern about the polls so close to election day – a mere 66 days, assuming Gordon goes to the country on May 6. Indeed, it would be odd if they were not concerned. For an Opposition on the brink of office, after many years in the wilderness, the polls at this stage are meant to be the calming influence that stops them going crazy with nerves. No such luck for the Tories in 2010: this one is going to the wire.

The manifest danger for the party is that all manner of false conclusions will be drawn from the narrowing of the polls. As ever, the poll wobble is being used to attack the modernising strategy that (as is so easily forgotten) got the party back into contention after three comprehensive general election defeats. Not enough tough promises, say others. It is important that the Conservatives have a plausible fiscal policy, but I very much doubt that an even longer list of the spending cuts they intend to make will improve their poll position.

Imagine Pete and Dud at the pub.

Pete: You know, Dud. These Tories wouldn't know a Laffer Curve if it crossed the road to punch them.

Dud: Too right, Pete. And I'll tell you something for nothing.

Pete: What's that then, Dud?

Dud: Until those Bullingdon boys produce a list of spending efficiencies
of the sort that will preserve Britain's triple-A credit rating, rather than the paltry £7 billion cuts that Osborne came up with at the last conference ...

Pete: Only £7 billion! It's a bleedin' insult!

Dud: Yeah. Until they do that, I'm sticking with the Natural Law Party.

Pete: As well you should, Dud. As well you should, etc etc.

Officially, at least, the two main parties have arrived at the same analysis. In his campaign launch speech last weekend, the PM said that the coming contest was not a referendum on the past but "a big choice; a choice about who's best for Britain's future". In an article in yesterday's Times, George Osborne agreed, using slightly different language, that the election had to be more than "a referendum on the Labour Party" and must instead be "a choice between five more years of Gordon Brown, or change with David Cameron and the Conservatives".

This, it has long seemed to me, is the clearest and most obvious route to victory for the Tories, but not one they have explicitly and unambiguously embraced until now. Whenever I give a presentation on politics, I use what I call my Kent Dorfman slide. There is a scene in National Lampoon's Animal House, you may recall, when the Delta House pledge committee is considering its candidates: up comes the slide of Kent "Flounder" Dorfman's pudgy features, and the entire room erupts in horror, objects are thrown, people scream. That is pretty much the effect that Gordon Brown's picture now has on an audience.

The question the Tories should urge the voters to ask when they go into the polling booth is not "Labour or Tory?" but "Cameron or Brown?". Last week's ICM poll in The Guardian showed that the Conservatives had fallen to 37 points, only seven ahead of Labour. But when the same respondents were asked who would make the best Prime Minister, Cameron soared to 42 per cent, way ahead of Brown on 28 per cent. The lesson is that the Tories have a positive interest in running this election as a battle between two quasi-presidential candidates, rather than between two national political movements.

Some of Mr Cameron's colleagues feel he has been a bit diffident, a bit distracted in recent days. They should perhaps bear in mind that last Thursday was the first anniversary of the death of his son, Ivan – a milestone that would leave the strongest of men subdued and introspective.

What is true, as Janet Daley argues (left), is that the Tory leader has to exude a clearer urgency of mission in his speech today: the "fierce urgency of now" as Barack Obama put it on the campaign trail, echoing Martin Luther King. There is a longing for a simple, authentic statement of leadership. "We need to see 'Dave Unplugged'," as one of his advisers puts it. And how much more so in the three television debates between the party leaders.

This will be a volatile election, thrillingly so. I am not sure the public is in the mood to let anyone "seal the deal" just yet: the sky-high disgrace of the expenses scandal saw to that. This time, the electorate will make Cameron sweat until the last vote is counted: there will be no Blairesque moment of national acclamation, no long-choreographed festival on the morning after the election. In these poll figures, the punters are sending the Tory leader a clear and impatient signal. They want to see him match their fury, to be their tribune: not the smooth spokesman of an alternative elite, or a scandalised economist, obsessed only with the detail of the deficit. They want a rebel leader, the head of a resistance movement. "This election is going to be a really bloody punch-up," in the words of one Shadow Cabinet member. That's for sure. Seconds out, round one.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Con of "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance

"The choice, despite what some say, really is between having a free
country and having an officially religious nation." A debate occurring in
America is whether "under God" should be included in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Some American citizens believe it should be kept, while others have their
reasons to exterminate it. In a country with many different traditions and
beliefs, is including God in the Pledge fair to every citizen? Is it
Constitutional? To some American citizens, the answer would be "no".

In 1892, Francis Bellamy created the Pledge of Allegiance. His
version of the Pledge was, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic
for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Many argue that "under God" in the Pledge is tradition, but it was actually
added in 1954 during the Cold War. Americans against "under God" believe that it
should be removed and put back to its' original state.

Some Americans would also agree that "under God" goes against the
Constitution. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion", states the First Amendment. Some believe that the founders of the
Constitution wanted to exclude religion from state to promote freedom of
religion to every citizen so persecution would not occur.

"Love of country is not, nor should it be, measured by a citizen's
religious belief or lack thereof." Some would argue that stating God in the
Pledge is stating ones' love for him, not the country. They would argue that the
Pledge was created as a patriotic statement, not a pledge to God. For many
non-believers, "under God" is against what they believe, and it's not respectful
to those beliefs. Some are affended by the inclusion of "under God" in the
Pledge and want it taken out.

Though there is an option for children stating the Pledge in
schools, some parents believe their children will conform anyway. Their children
would say the Pledge out of fear of being different or unpatriotic. Many believe
that exterminating "under God" overall would solve this problem.

To accept the Pledge the way it is or to create change is a decision
many Americans against "under God" in the Pledge go through. For America to be a
"religious" country or to be a "free choice" country, "Under God" goes against
the separation of Church and State amendment in the Constitution, but it's
ultimately the government's decision to change it.

"The Issues - Pros and Cons of "under God""Kids World.2000-2009

"Is "under God" in the American Pledge of Allegiance appropriate or should it be
eliminated?" DebatePedia. 25 January 2010


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Video Games and Violence Con


Video Games Cause Violence-Con

                This long fought over controversy over whether or not video games influence violence can be defended by statistics and facts for both sides of the issue. The cons of video games and violence are as listed .

           1. Over-dependence on video games could lead to social isolation, because kids often play alone.

           2.  Practicing violent acts may lead to aggressive behavior over watching TV.

           3. Women are often portrayed as weaker characters that are helpless or sexually provocative.

            4. Game environments are often based on plots of violence, aggression, and gender bias.    

           5. Many games only offer an arena of weapons, killings, kicking, stabbing, and shooting.  

           6. More often games do not offer action that requires independent thought or creativity. 

           7. Games can confuse reality and fantasy. 

           8. In many violent games, players must become more violent to win.

           9. Academic achievements may be negatively related to over-all time spent playing video games.

               Some of the effects of video games are: 1. they involve a constant hurting and/or killing of others. 2. There is no punishment for killing. 3. The more you kill the more you are rewarded. 4. The killing was almost always seen as justified.  All these things seem to lead to the fact that killing is an acceptable method of solving problems (he hurt someone I love, so I'm going to go over to his house and kill him), or that violence is okay. Similar to constantly being exposed to television violence, video game can also lead to a desensitization of violence. The exposure to violence in video games can also lower a child's feelings towards others or to a point where they begin to see other people as objects rather than real people.  Kids being constantly exposed to this kind of violence in video games can lead to being aggressive later.

              Older players know the difference between reality and fantasy. They know the differences between right and wrong. They are aware that the violence being shown in video games is not real. So you would expect that violent video games would not affect them. However, violent games do affect older audiences. In kids, violence in video games caused an increase in aggression, but for older audiences the aggression was showed in different ways. Kids expressed their aggression in behavior or physical play. College students expressed their aggression through increased hostility on a test or heart rate.

                A common effect that video games have among its players is that it develops high adrenaline rates that can lead to hyper-aggressiveness as well as symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Frequent playing of these games that increases your adrenaline can lead to stimulus addiction. Stimulus addiction is a common response among children immersed in violent games. People suffering from stimulus addiction need stronger and stronger stimulation to read the same emotional experience, sometimes leading to a search for more violence games.

                This leads to the question: "Does violence in video games lead to violence in the real world?" Many parents worry that violent games not only cause rude behaviors in their children, but if it will cause violent behavior in them as well. Research done in 1998 has found that in a group of 5 to 7 year old, children imitated during free play what they had been just exposed to on video games. The children who played active but non-violent games showed that in their play, while children who played games with violent themes showed more aggression. This resembles the "monkey see, monkey do" behavior that most kids do. Females tended to be more stimulated than males. This is probably due to the fact that males tend to be more exposed to violence in general, making an increase in aggression more in females. A Stanford University study found that when third and fourth graders television and video game consumption were reduced to less than seven hours per week for 20 weeks, their verbal aggression decreased by 50% and their physical aggression decreased by 40%. There are many cases that show how players of violent video games exhibit increases in aggression, especially in younger audiences. However, there are very few cases showing how playing violent video games leads or was the cause of violent behavior. The most compelling argument condoning violence in video games comes from Lt Col. David Grossman. Grossman spent over 25 years learning and studying how to enable soldiers to kill and used video games as a tool to enable soldiers to kill. He states that "Children don't naturally kill; they learn it from violence in the home and, most pervasively, from violence as entertainment in television, movies, and interactive video games. We are teaching children to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. We are rewarding them for killing people. And we are teaching them to like it."

                Those against violence in video and computer games say that they would like to see them censored. However, censorship of video games can't be done due to the First Amendment. It is though illegal to distribute obscene or offensive video games to children, including video games harmful to minors.

               People have been talking about the ESRB system as well. The National Institute on Media and the Family decided to figure out how accurate the ESRB ratings were. The panel discovered that based on violent and sexual content, 32% of the games rated E (Everyone) were either questionable or inappropriate for 3-7 year olds, and that 57% of the T (Teen) rated games were deemed questionable or inappropriate for 12-17 year olds. So in conclusion, it would seem that it would better for the parents themselves to determine if the game is appropriate for their child and not solely purchase a violent game based on the ESRB rating. The other rating system is the Recreational Software Advisory Council system (RSAC). The RSAC is similar to the ESRB except that it rates computer games instead of consoles games. Nintendo and Sega have their own rating systems. So all rating systems are different and can be viewed differently.

                    A statistic fact has been recorded that the typical American child watches 28 hours of television a week and by the age of 18 will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence.  To prove that statistic, the following cons of violence leads to video games have been argued from critics and researchers all over the world:

            1. Increasing reports of bullying can be partially attributed to the popularity of violent video games. The 2008 study Grand Theft Childhood reported that 60% of middle school boys who played at least one Mature-rated game hit or beat up someone, compared to 39% of boys that did not play Mature-rated games.

            2. Video games often reward players for simulating violence, and thus enhance the learning of violent behaviors. Studies suggest that when violence is rewarded in video games, player's exhibit increased aggressive behavior compared to players of video games where violence is punished.

           3. Violent video games desensitize players to real-life violence. It is common for victims in video games to disappear off screen when they are killed or for players to have multiple lives. In a 2005 study, violent video game exposure has been linked to reduced P300 amplitudes in the brain, which is associated with desensitization to violence and increases in aggressive behavior.

          4. A 2000 FBI report includes playing violent video games in a list of behaviors associated with school shootings.

          5. Violent video games teach youth that violence is an acceptable conflict-solving strategy and an appropriate way to achieve one's goals. A 2009 study found that youth who play violent video games have lower belief in the use of nonviolent strategies and are less forgiving than players of nonviolent video games.

          6. Violent video games cause players to associate pleasure and happiness with the ability to cause pain in others.

          7. Young children are more likely to confuse fantasy violence with real world violence, and without a framework for decision making, they may repeat the actions they see in violent video games.

          8. Violent video games require active participation, repetition, and identification with the violent character. With new game controllers allowing more physical interaction, the immersive and interactive characteristics of video games can increase the likelihood of youth violence.

           9. Playing violent video games increases aggressive behavior and arousal. A 2009 study found that it takes up to four minutes for the level of aggressive thoughts and feelings in children to return to normal after playing violent video games. It takes five to ten minutes for heart rate and aggressive behavior to return to baseline. Video games that show the most blood generate more aggressive thoughts. When blood is present in video games, there is a measurable increase in arousal and hostility.

          10.Playing violent video games cause the development of aggressive behavioral scripts. A behavioral script is developed from the repetition of actions and affects the subconscious mind. An example of a common behavioral script is a driving script that tells drivers to get in a vehicle, put on a seat belt, and turn on the ignition. Similarly, violent video games can lead to scripts that tell youth to respond aggressively in certain situations. Violence in video games may lead to real world violence when scripts are automatically triggered in daily life, such as being nudged in a school hallway.

           11. A 1998 study found that 21% of games sampled involved violence against women. Exposure to sexual violence in video games is linked to increases in violence towards women and false attitudes about rape such as that women incite men to rape or that women secretly desire rape.

            12. Violent video games can train youth to be killers. The US Marine Corps licensed Doom II in 1996 to create Marine Doom in order to train soldiers. In 2002, the US Army released first-person shooter America's Army to recruit soldiers and prepare recruits for the battlefield.

              It is obvious to observe the harmful affects that can be caused by video games. There are always two sides to an argument, and somtimes the negatives can outweigh the positives in certain situations. So out of all the negatives presented in this case,they show the outcome that killing is an acceptable method of solving problems, or that violence is okay, when in reality it is not. Hopefully everyone can now realize the other side of the argument that is being portrayed as no big deal, is in reality a very big deal.


Works Cited

Cesarone, Bernard. "Video Games and Children." Video Game Use. Kid Source, 20 Apr. 2000. Web. 3 Feb. 2010.


Holmes, Leonard. "Violent Video Games Produce Violent Behavior." Mental Health., 9 Nov. 2005. Web. 3 Feb. 2010.


Kalning, Kristin. "Does game violence make teens aggressive?" Technology and Science. MSNBC, 8 Dec. 2006. Web. 3 Feb. 2010.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Video steers student into texting foes' camp

Teen steers into texting foes' camp
By Martha Stoddard

LINCOLN — Like most of her friends, Jillian Humphries used to consider herself a whiz at sending text messages from behind a steering wheel.

“For most of us, texting and driving was a daily event,” the Benson High School student told state lawmakers.

The teenager reformed her ways after seeing a graphic video made in the United Kingdom. The video is a dramatization of a head-on crash caused by a teen driver sending a text message.

Now, although Humphries admits it is a daily test of will, she neither texts nor talks on a cell phone while driving.

She appeared Tuesday before the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee to support a bill that would ban texting while driving in Nebraska.

Legislative Bill 845, introduced by State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff, would apply to drivers of all ages.

Under the bill, a first offense would mean a $200 fine and the loss of three points on one's driver's license. The fine would be $300 for a second offense and $500 for a third or subsequent offense.

Harms said texting while driving has become a widespread problem and is getting worse.

“It's a tragedy waiting to happen, not only in this nation, but in this great state,” he said. “I believe lives are at stake every day.”

He said the growing popularity of text messaging has led to growing concern about driving safety.

The number of text messages sent monthly has exploded from 7.2 billion in 2005 to 135.2 billion last year, according to CTIA, a wireless telecommunications industry group.

Nearly one in five people who own cell phones admitted, in a 2008 survey, to reading or sending texts while driving.

The result is that texting caused between 200,000 and 1 million accidents during 2008, according to an analysis by the National Safety Council.

The council estimated that about 1 percent of drivers were texting at any given moment in 2008 but that such drivers accounted for between 3 percent and 18 percent of accidents.

Harm said Nebraska would not be the first state to ban texting by drivers.

Nineteen other states ban texting by all drivers, while nine ban it for young drivers. Nebraska bans texting and cell phone use by teens with learner's permits or provisional driver's licenses.

Bans also apply to federal employees who drive government vehicles and to commercial truck and bus drivers.

And just Tuesday, an Iowa House committee approved a limited ban on people texting while driving.

Harms noted that he is often asked whether a ban could be enforced. He said law enforcement officials say they can usually tell whether someone is texting by their erratic driving. Texting drivers will speed up, slow down or veer into another lane.

No one appeared in opposition to LB 845. The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

The committee also heard testimony on a bill that would ban cell phone use by school bus drivers, including employees of private companies that drive students under a contract with a school. LB 697 was proposed by a group of students from Lincoln East High School.