Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Anti-bullying
on: November 07, 2010, 06:56:47 AM
With exactly the political shadings that one would expect from the NY Times
In School Efforts to End Bullying, Some See Agenda
By ERIK ECKHOLM
HELENA, Mont. — Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common
victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their
antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance, explaining that some
children have “two moms” or will grow up to love members of the same sex.
Mary Decker, left, Michael Gengler and Tess Dufrechou are members of the
Helena High School Gay-Straight Alliance, which supported revisions to the
sex education and antibullying curriculum in the school district in Helena,
The school district in Helena, Mont., revised its new teaching guidelines on
sex education and tolerance, after parents criticized them as being too
explicit and an endorsement of homosexuality.
Among the original goals:
Grade 1: “Understand human beings can love people of the same gender and
people of another gender.”
Grade 5: “Understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to
vaginal, oral or anal penetration.”
The final version eliminated those goals and added a vaguer one:
Grades K to 5: “Recognize that family structures differ.”
The final version also added language emphasizing that same-sex marriage is
Grade 6: “In Montana, marriage is between a man and woman. Other states
allow marriage between adults of the same gender.”
A goal in the original and final plans:
Grade 6: “Recognize that acceptance of gender role stereotypes can limit a
But such efforts to teach acceptance of homosexuality, which have gained
urgency after several well-publicized suicides by gay teenagers, are
provoking new culture wars in some communities.
Many educators and rights advocates say that official prohibitions of slurs
and taunts are most effective when combined with frank discussions, from
kindergarten on, about diverse families and sexuality.
Angry parents and religious critics, while agreeing that schoolyard
harassment should be stopped, charge that liberals and gay rights groups are
using the antibullying banner to pursue a hidden “homosexual agenda,”
implicitly endorsing, for example, same-sex marriage.
Last summer, school officials here in Montana’s capital unveiled new
guidelines for teaching about sexuality and tolerance. They proposed
teaching first graders that “human beings can love people of the same
gender,” and fifth graders that sexual intercourse can involve “vaginal,
oral or anal penetration.”
A local pastor, Rick DeMato, carried his shock straight to the pulpit.
“We do not want the minds of our children to be polluted with the things of
a carnal-minded society,” Mr. DeMato, 69, told his flock at Liberty Baptist
In tense community hearings, some parents made familiar arguments that
innocent youngsters were not ready for explicit language. Other parents and
pastors, along with leaders of the Big Sky Tea Party, saw a darker purpose.
“Anyone who reads this document can see that it promotes acceptance of the
homosexual lifestyle,” one mother said at a six-hour school board meeting in
Barely heard was the plea of Harlan Reidmohr, 18, who graduated last spring
and said he was relentlessly tormented and slammed against lockers after
coming out during his freshman year. Through his years in the Helena
schools, he said at another school board meeting, sexual orientation was
never once discussed in the classroom, and “I believe this led to a lot of
the sexual harassment I faced.”
Last month, the federal Department of Education told schools they were
obligated, under civil rights laws, to try to prevent harassment, including
that based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But the agency did not
address the controversy over more explicit classroom materials in grade
Some districts, especially in larger cities, have adopted tolerance lessons
with minimal dissent. But in suburban districts in California, Illinois and
Minnesota, as well as here in Helena, the programs have unleashed fierce
“Of course we’re all against bullying,” Mr. DeMato, one of numerous pastors
who opposed the plan, said in an interview. “But the Bible says very clearly
that homosexuality is wrong, and Christians don’t want the schools to teach
subjects that are repulsive to their values.”
The divided Helena school board, after four months of turmoil, recently
adopted a revised plan for teaching about health, sex and diversity. Much of
the explicit language about sexuality and gay families was removed or
replaced with vague phrases, like a call for young children to “understand
that family structures differ.” The superintendent who has ardently pushed
the new curriculum, Bruce K. Messinger, agreed to let parents remove their
children from lessons they find objectionable.
In Alameda, Calif., officials started to introduce new tolerance lessons
after teachers noticed grade-schoolers using gay slurs and teasing children
with gay or lesbian parents. A group of parents went to court seeking the
right to remove their children from lessons that included reading “And Tango
Makes Three,” a book in which two male penguins bond and raise a child.
The parents lost the suit, and the school superintendent, Kirsten Vital,
said the district was not giving ground. “Everyone in our community needs to
feel safe and visible and included,” Ms. Vital said.
Some of the Alameda parents have taken their children out of public schools,
while others now hope to unseat members of the school board.
After at least two suicides by gay students last year, a Minnesota school
district recently clarified its antibullying rules to explicitly protect gay
and lesbian students along with other target groups. But to placate
religious conservatives, the district, Anoka-Hennepin County, also stated
that teachers must be absolutely neutral on questions of sexual orientation
and refrain from endorsing gay parenting.
Rights advocates worry that teachers will avoid any discussion of
gay-related topics, missing a chance to fight prejudice.
While nearly all states require schools to have rules against harassment,
only 10 require them to explicitly outlaw bullying related to sexual
orientation. Rights groups including the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education
Network, based in New York, are promoting a federal “safe schools” act to
make this a universal requirement, although passage is not likely any time
In School Efforts to End Bullying, Some See Agenda
Published: November 6, 2010
(Page 2 of 2)
Candi Cushman, an educational analyst with Focus on the Family, a Christian
group, said that early lessons about sexuality and gay parents reflected a
political agenda, including legitimizing same-sex marriage. “We need to
protect all children from bullying,” Ms. Cushman said. “But the advocacy
groups are promoting homosexual lessons in the name of antibullying.”
The school district in Helena, Mont., revised its new teaching guidelines on
sex education and tolerance, after parents criticized them as being too
explicit and an endorsement of homosexuality.
Among the original goals:
Grade 1: “Understand human beings can love people of the same gender and
people of another gender.”
Grade 5: “Understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to
vaginal, oral or anal penetration.”
The final version eliminated those goals and added a vaguer one:
Grades K to 5: “Recognize that family structures differ.”
The final version also added language emphasizing that same-sex marriage is
Grade 6: “In Montana, marriage is between a man and woman. Other states
allow marriage between adults of the same gender.”
A goal in the original and final plans:
Grade 6: “Recognize that acceptance of gender role stereotypes can limit a
Ellen Kahn of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, which offers a
“welcoming schools” curriculum for grade schools, denied such motives.
“When you talk about two moms or two dads, the idea is to validate the
families, not to push a debate about gay marriage,” Ms. Kahn said. The
program involves what she described as age-appropriate materials on family
and sexual diversity and is used in dozens of districts, though it has
sometime stirred dissent.
The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which runs teacher-training programs and
recommends videos and books depicting gay parents in a positive light, has
met opposition in several districts, including the Chicago suburb of Oak
Julie Justicz, a 47-year-old lawyer, and her partner live in Oak Park with
two sons ages 6 and 11. Ms. Justicz saw the need for early tolerance
training, she said, when their older son was upset by pejorative terms about
gays in the schoolyard.
Frank classroom discussions about diverse families and hurtful phrases had
greatly reduced the problem, she said.
But one of the objecting parents, Tammi Shulz, who describes herself as a
traditional Christian, said, “I just don’t think it’s great to talk about
homosexuality with 5-year-olds.”
Tess Dufrechou, president of Helena High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, a
club that promotes tolerance, counters that, “By the time kids get to high
school, it’s too late.”
Only a handful of students in Helena high schools are openly gay, with
others keeping the secret because they fear the reactions of parents and
peers, students said.
Michael Gengler, one of the few to have come out, said, “You learn from an
early age that it’s not acceptable to be gay,” adding that he was
disappointed that the teaching guidelines had been watered down.
But Mr. Messinger, the superintendent, said he still hoped to achieve the
original goals without using the explicit language that offended many
“This is not about advocating a lifestyle, but making sure our children
understand it and, I hope, accept it,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Taoism in China today-2
on: November 07, 2010, 06:53:11 AM
Third post of the morning
Page 4 of 5)
Last year, Zhu invited several dozen European and North American scholars of
Chinese religion on an all-expenses-paid trip to participate in a conference
in Beijing. The group stayed in the luxurious China World Hotel and were
bused to Henan province to visit Taoist sites. Demonstrating his political
and financial muscle, Zhu arranged for the conference’s opening session to
be held in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, the Stalinesque conference
center on Tiananmen Square. It is usually reserved for state events, but
with the right connections and for the right price, it can be rented for
private galas. In a taped address to participants, Zhu boasted that “I’ll
spend any amount of money” on Taoism.
Zhu’s chief adviser, Li Jinkang, says the goal is to keep Taoism vital in an
era when indigenous Chinese ideas are on the defensive. “Churches are
everywhere. But traditional things are less so. So Chairman Zhu said: ‘What
about our Taoism? Our Taoism is a really deep thing. If we don’t protect it,
then what?’ ”
Balancing this desire with the imperatives of China’s political system is
tricky. While the Communist Party has allowed religious groups to rebuild
temples and proselytize, its own members are supposed to be good Marxists
and shun religion. Like many big-business people, Zhu is also a party
member. Two years ago, he became one of the first private business owners to
set up a party branch in his company, earning him praise in the pages of the
Communist Party’s official organ, People’s Daily. He has also established a
party “school” — an indoctrination center for employees. His company’s Web
site has a section extolling his party-building efforts and has a meeting
room with a picture of Mao Zedong looking down from the wall. Although it
might seem like an odd way to mix religion and politics, Taoism often
deifies famous people; at least three Taoist temples in one part of China
are dedicated to Chairman Mao.
Until recently, Zhu mostly ignored the contradiction, but he has become more
cautious, emphasizing how he loved Taoist philosophy and playing down the
religion. Still, Zhu continues to support conventional Taoism. His staff
takes courses in a Taoist form of meditation called neigong, and he has sent
staff members to document religious sites, like the supposed birthplace of
Laotzu, who is worshiped as a god in Taoism. He also has close relations
with folk-religious figures and plans to establish a “Taoist base” in the
countryside to propagate Taoism. “The ancients were amazing,” Zhu says.
“Taoism can save the world.”
WHEN ABBESS YIN started to rebuild her nunnery in 1991, she faced serious
challenges. Her temple was located on Mount Mao, among low mountains and
hills outside the eastern metropolis of Nanjing. It had been a center of
Taoism from the fourth century until 1938, when Japanese troops burned some
of the temple complex. As on Mount Yi, communist zealots completed the
destruction in the 1960s. Her temple was so badly damaged that the forest
reclaimed the land and only a few stones from the foundation could be found
in the underbrush.
Unlike Mount Yi, Mount Mao is an extensive complex: six large temples with,
altogether, about 100 priests and nuns. Just a 45-minute drive from Nanjing
and two hours from Shanghai, it is a popular destination for day-trippers
wanting to get out of the city. Even 20 years ago, when Abbess Yin arrived,
tourism-fueled reconstruction was in full swing on Mount Mao. Two temples
had escaped complete destruction, and priests began repairing them in the
1980s. The local government started charging admission, taking half the gate
receipts. But the Taoists still got their share and plowed money back into
reconstruction. More buildings meant higher ticket prices and more
construction, a cycle typical of many religious sites. Although pilgrims
began to avoid the temples because of the overt commercialism, tourists
started to arrive in droves, bused in by tour companies that also got a cut
of gate receipts. Last year, ticket sales topped $2.7 million.
Abbess Yin opted for another model. Trained in Taoist music, she set up a
Taoist music troupe that toured the Yangtze River delta in a rickety old
bus, stopping at communities that hired them to perform religious rituals.
When I first met her in 1998, she used the money to rebuild one prayer hall
on Mount Mao but refused to charge admission. Word of her seriousness began
to spread around the region and abroad. Soon, her band of nuns were
performing in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
More nuns began to join. In the Quanzhen school of Taoism, which Abbess Yi
follows, Taoist clergy members live celibate lives in monasteries and
nunneries, often in the mountains. (In the other school, known as Zhengyi,
they may marry and tend to live at home, making house calls to perform
ceremonies.) For Abbess Yin’s young nuns, her temple provided security and
calm in a world that is increasingly complicated. “Here, I can participate
in something profound,” said one nun who asked to be identified only as
Taoist Huang. “The outside world has nothing like this.” For Abbess Yin, the
young people are a chance to mold Taoists in the image of her master. “The
only people who are worth having are older than 80 or younger than 20.”
Page 5 of 5)
Even now, Abbess Yin’s temple is low-key. There are no tourist attractions
like cable cars, gift shops, teahouses or floodlit caves — and, unlike at
most temples, still no admission fee. The atmosphere is also different.
While in some temples, priests seem to spend most of their time hawking
incense sticks or offering to tell people’s fortunes, her nuns are quiet and
demure. Maybe this is why even in the 1990s, when her temple was reachable
only by a dirt road, locals said it was ling — that it had spirit and was
effective. In 1998, I saw a group of Taiwanese visitors abandon their bus
and walk two miles to the temple so they could pray. “This is authentic,”
one told me. “The nuns are real nuns, and it’s not just for show.”
With a growing reputation came donations. One reason that city people often
underestimate Taoism is that its temples are mostly in the mountains, and
its supporters rarely want to discuss their gifts. But one way to gauge its
support is to look at the lists of benefactors, which are carved on stone
tablets and set up in the back of the temple. In Abbess Yin’s temple, some
tablets record 100,000 yuan ($15,000) donations, while others show 10,000
yuan gifts. But even those making just 100 yuan contributions get their
names in stone. With the donations came the current plan to build the $1.5
million Jade Emperor Hall halfway up the mountain, making the Mount Mao
complex visible for miles around. It is due to open on this weekend, with
Taoists from Southeast Asia and across China expected to participate.
Abbess Yin’s success led the China Taoist Association to invite her to
Beijing for training. She learned accounting, modern management methods and
the government’s religious policy. Earlier this year she was placed on one
of the association’s senior leadership councils. She has also begun speaking
out on abuses on the religious scene, urging greater strictness inside
Taoist temples and less emphasis on commerce. Many Taoists, she wrote in an
essay reprinted in an influential volume, have become obsessed with making
money and aren’t performing real religious services but just selling
incense. Too many traveled around China, using temples as youth hostels
instead of as places to study the Tao or to worship.
“Taoism is a great tradition, but our problem is we’ve had very fast growth,
and the quality of priests is too low,” she told me. “Some people don’t even
know the basics of Taoism but treat it like a business. This isn’t good in
THE DAY AFTER Abbess Yin’s standoff with the official, the big event on
Mount Yi was due to start. She arrived early, making sure her nuns were
ready at 7. The muddy path was now covered with stones that farmers had just
hosed down, making them glisten in the early-morning sun. Workers scraped
paint off the floor, inflated balloons and hung banners, while a television
crew set up its equipment to film the politicians.
Inside the Jade Emperor Pavilion, the nuns milled around, checking one
another’s clothes and hair. All, including the abbess, were wearing their
white tunics and black knee breeches. They pulled on fresh blue robes and
pink capes, while the abbess donned a brilliant red gown with a blue and
white dragon embroidered on the back. She and her top two lieutenants
affixed small golden crowns to their topknots. She was now transformed into
a fashi, or ritual master. Something was about to happen.
Abbess Yin walked over to a drum about two feet in diameter and picked up
two wooden sticks lying on top. She began pounding in alternating rhythms.
The nuns knew their roles by heart and lined up in two rows, flanking the
statue of the Jade Emperor, golden and beautiful, the god’s eyes beatific
slits and his mouth slightly parted as if speaking to the people below.
Still, for now the statue was just a block of wood. The ceremony would
change that. It is called kai guang or “opening the eyes” — literally,
opening brightness. Abbess Yin could open them, but it would take time.
Five minutes passed and sweat glistened on her forehead. Then, six of the
nuns quietly took their places and started to play their instruments. A
young woman plucked the zither, while another strummed the Chinese lute, or
pipa. Another picked up small chimes that she began tinkling, while a nun
next to her wielded a cymbal that she would use to punctuate the ceremony
with crashes and hisses. Abbess Yin stopped drumming and began to sing in a
high-pitched voice that sounded like something out of Peking Opera. Later
during the ceremony she read and sang, sometimes alone and at other times
with the nuns backing her. Always she was in motion: kneeling, standing,
moving backward, turning and twirling, the dragon on her back seeming to
come alive. It was physically grueling, requiring stamina and concentration.
During the occasional lull, a young nun would hand her a cup of tea that she
delicately shielded behind the sleeve of her robe and drank quickly.
Gradually, people began to pay attention. The wives of several officials
stood next to the altar and gawked, first in astonishment and then with
growing respect for the intensity of the performance. When a police officer
suggested they move back, they said: “No, no, we won’t be a bother. Please,
we have to see it.” Workers, their jobs finished, sat at the back. Within an
hour, about 50 onlookers had filled the prayer hall.
On cue, at 10:30, she stopped. A group of local leaders had assembled
outside the hall. They announced the importance of the project and how they
were promoting traditional culture. A ribbon was cut, applause sounded and
television cameras whirred. Then the group piled into minibuses and rolled
down to the valley for the hotel lunch.
The speeches were barely over when Abbess Yin picked up again. As the
ceremony reached its climax, more and more people began to appear, seemingly
out of nowhere, on the barren mountain face. Four policemen tried to keep
order, linking arms to barricade the door so the nuns would have space for
the ceremony. “Back, back, give the nuns room,” one officer said as the
crowd pressed forward. People peered through windows or waited outside,
holding cameras up high to snap pictures. “The Jade Emperor,” an old woman
said, laying down a basket of apples as an offering. “Our temple is back.”
Abbess Yin moved in front of the statue, praying, singing and kowtowing.
This is the essence of the ritual — to create a holy space and summon the
gods to the here and now, to this place at this moment.
Shortly after noon, when it seemed she had little strength left, Abbess Yin
stopped singing. She held a writing brush in one hand and wrote a talismanic
symbol in the air. Then she looked up: the sun was at the right point,
slanting down into the prayer room. This was the time. She held out a small
square mirror and deflected a sunbeam, which danced on the Jade Emperor’s
forehead. The abbess adjusted the mirror slightly and the light hit the god’s
eyes. Kai guang, opening brightness. The god’s eyes were open to the world
below: the abbess, the worshipers and the vast expanse of the North China
Plain, with its millions of people racing toward modern China’s elusive
goals — prosperity, wealth, happiness.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Taoism in China today
on: November 07, 2010, 06:52:21 AM
YIN XINHUI reached the peak of Mount Yi and surveyed the chaos. The
47-year-old Taoist abbess was on a sacred mission: to consecrate a newly
rebuilt temple to one of her religion’s most important deities, the Jade
Emperor. But there were as yet no stairs, just a muddy path up to the
pavilion, which sat on a rock outcropping 3,400 feet above a valley. A team
of workers was busy laying stone steps, while others planted sod, trees and
flowers. Inside the temple, a breeze blew through windows that were still
without glass, while red paint flecked the stone floor.
The revival of ancient religious practices in China is partly about belief —
and partly about money.
“Tomorrow,” she said slowly, calculating the logistics. “They don’t have
much ready. . . .” Fortunately, a dozen of her nuns had followed her up the
path. Dressed in white tunics and black trousers, their hair in topknots,
the nuns enthusiastically began unpacking everything they would need for the
next day’s ceremony: 15 sacred scriptures, three golden crowns, three bells,
two cordless microphones, two lutes, a zither, a drum, a cymbal and a sword.
Soon the nuns were plucking and strumming with the confidence of veteran
performers. Others set up the altar and hung their temple’s banner outside,
announcing that for the next few days, Abbess Yin’s exacting religious
standards would hold sway on this mountain.
The temple she was to consecrate was born of more worldly concerns. Mount Yi
is in a poor part of China, and Communist Party officials had hit upon
tourism as a way to move forward. They fenced in the main mountain, built a
road to the summit and declared it a scenic park. But few tourists were
willing to pay for a chance to hike up a rocky mountain. Enter religion.
China is in the midst of a religious revival, and people will pay to visit
holy sites. So the local government set out to rebuild the temple, which was
wrecked by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, modestly rebuilt then
torn down when the park was first constructed. Officials commissioned a
30-foot statue of the Jade Emperor, had it hauled to the peak and encased in
the brilliant red pavilion. They then built a bell and a drum tower, as well
as another set of halls devoted to minor deities.
All that was missing was a soul. For that, the temple had to be properly
consecrated. The officials got in touch with Abbess Yin, widely regarded as
a leading expert in Taoist ritual, and soon she was driving the 350 miles
from her nunnery to Mount Yi.
As her rehearsals drew to a close, the abbess went over the next day’s
schedule with a local official. All was in good shape, he said, except for
one detail. Government officials were due to give speeches at 10:30 a.m. She
would have to be finished by then, he said.
“No,” she replied. “Then it won’t be authentic. It takes four hours.” Could
she start earlier and wrap up by then? No, the sun won’t be in the right
position, she replied. The official peered up from the schedule and took a
good look at her — who was this?
Abbess Yin smiled good-naturedly. At a little over five feet tall, she was
solidly built, with a full, smooth face tanned from spending much of her
life outdoors in the mountains. Her dress was always the same plain blue
robe, and she did not wear jewelry or display other signs of wealth. She
shunned electronics; her temple did not have a phone or Internet access. But
over the past 20 years she had accomplished a remarkable feat, rebuilding
her own nunnery on one of Taoism’s most important mountains. Unlike the
temple here on Mount Yi — and hundreds of others across China — she had
rejected tourism as a way to pay for the reconstruction of her nunnery,
relying instead on donors who were drawn to her aura of earnest religiosity.
She knew the real value of an authentic consecration ceremony and wasn’t
about to back down.
The official tried again, emphasizing the government’s own rituals: “But
they have planned to be here at 10:30. The speeches last 45 minutes, and
then they have lunch. It is a banquet. It cannot be changed.”
Page 2 of 5)
She smiled again and nodded her head: no. An hour later the official
returned with a proposal: the four-hour ceremony was long and tiring; what
if the abbess took a break at 10:30 and let the officials give their
speeches? They would cut ribbons for the photographers and leave for lunch,
but the real ceremony wouldn’t end until Abbess Yin said so. She thought for
a moment and then nodded: yes.
The construction of holy sites (like the Taoist complex on Mount Mao) is
seen by officials as a boon for the tourism industry.
RELIGION HAS LONG played a central role in Chinese life, but for much of the
20th century, reformers and revolutionaries saw it as a hindrance holding
the country back and a key reason for China’s “century of humiliation.” Now,
with three decades of prosperity under their belt — the first significant
period of relative stability in more than a century — the Chinese are in the
midst of a great awakening of religious belief. In cities, yuppies are
turning to Christianity. Buddhism attracts the middle class, while Taoism
has rebounded in small towns and the countryside. Islam is also on the rise,
not only in troubled minority areas but also among tens of millions
elsewhere in China.
It is impossible to miss the religious building boom, with churches, temples
and mosques dotting areas where none existed a few years ago. How many
Chinese reject the state’s official atheism is hard to quantify, but numbers
suggest a return to widespread religious belief. In contrast to earlier
surveys that showed just 100 million believers, or less than 10 percent of
the population, a new survey shows that an estimated 300 million people
claim a faith. A broader question in another poll showed that 85 percent of
the population believes in religion or the supernatural.
Officially, religious life is closely regulated. The country has five
recognized religions: Buddhism, Islam, Taoism and Christianity, which in
China is treated as two faiths, Catholicism and Protestantism. Each of the
five has a central organization headquartered in Beijing and staffed with
officials loyal to the Communist Party. All report to the State
Administration for Religious Affairs, which in turn is under the central
government’s State Council, or cabinet. This sort of religious control has a
long history in China. For hundreds of years, emperors sought to define
orthodox belief and appointed many senior religious leaders.
Beneath this veneer of order lies a more freewheeling and sometimes chaotic
reality. In recent months, the country has been scandalized by a Taoist
priest who performed staged miracles — even though he was a top leader in
the government-run China Taoist Association. His loose interpretation of the
religion was hardly a secret: on his Web site he used to boast that he could
stay underwater for two hours without breathing. Meanwhile, the government
has made a conscious effort to open up. When technocratic Communists took
control of China in the late 1970s, they allowed temples, churches and
mosques to reopen after decades of forced closures, but Communist suspicion
about religion persisted. That has slowly been replaced by a more
laissez-faire attitude as authorities realize that most religious activity
does not threaten Communist Party rule and may in fact be something of a
buttress. In 2007, President Hu Jintao endorsed religious charities and
their usefulness in solving social problems. The central government has also
recently sponsored international conferences on Buddhism and Taoism. And
local governments have welcomed temples — like the one on Mount Yi — as ways
to raise money from tourism.
This does not mean that crackdowns do not take place. In 1999, the
quasi-religious sect Falun Gong was banned after it staged a 10,000-person
sit-down strike in front of the compound housing the government’s leadership
in Beijing. That set off a year of protests that ended in scores of Falun
Gong practitioners dying in police custody and the introduction of an
overseas protest movement that continues today. In addition, where religion
and ethnicity mix, like Tibet and Xinjiang, control is tight. Unsupervised
churches continue to be closed. And for all the building and rebuilding,
there are still far fewer places of worship than when the Communists took
power in 1949 and the country had less than half the population, according
to Yang Fenggang, a Purdue University professor who studies Chinese
religion. “The ratio is still radically imbalanced,” Yang says. “But there’s
now a large social space that makes it possible to believe in religion.
There’s less problem believing.”
Taoism has closely reflected this history of decline and rebirth. The
religion is loosely based on the writings of a mythical person named Laotzu
and calls for returning to the Dao, or Tao, the mystical way that unites all
of creation. Like many religions, it encompasses a broad swath of practice,
from Laotzu’s high philosophy to a riotous pantheon of deities: emperors,
officials, thunder gods, wealth gods and terrifying demons that punish the
wicked in ways that make Dante seem unimaginative. Although scholars once
distinguished between “philosophical Taoism” and “religious Taoism,” today
most see the two strains as closely related. Taoist worshipers will often go
to services on important holy days; they might also go to a temple, or hire
a clergy member to come to their home, to find help for a specific problem:
illness and death or even school exams and business meetings. Usually the
supplicant will pray to a deity, and the priest or nun will stage ceremonies
to summon the god’s assistance. Many Taoists also engage in physical
cultivation aimed at wellness and contemplation, like qigong breathing
exercises or tai chi shadowboxing.
As China’s only indigenous religion, Taoism’s influence is found in
everything from calligraphy and politics to medicine and poetry. In the
sixth century, for example, Abbess Yin’s temple was home to Tao Hongjing,
one of the founders of traditional Chinese medicine. For much of the past
two millenniums, Taoism’s opposite has been Confucianism, the ideology of
China’s ruling elite and the closest China has to a second homegrown
religion. Where Confucianism emphasizes moderation, harmony and social
structure, Taoism offers a refuge from society and the trap of material
success. Some rulers have tried to govern according to Taoism’s principle of
wuwei, or nonaction, but by and large it is not strongly political and today
exhibits none of the nationalism found among, say, India’s Hindu
Page 3 of 5)
During China’s decline in the 19th and 20th centuries, Taoism also weakened.
Bombarded by foreign ideas, Chinese began to look askance at Taoism’s
unstructured beliefs. Unlike other major world religions, it lacks a Ten
Commandments, Nicene Creed or Shahada, the Muslim statement of faith. There
is no narrative comparable to Buddhism’s story of a prince who discovered
that desire is suffering and sets out an eightfold path to enlightenment.
And while religions like Christianity acquired cachet for their association
with lands that became rich, Taoism was pegged as a relic of China’s
But like other elements of traditional Chinese culture, Taoism has been
making a comeback, especially in the countryside, where its roots are
deepest and Western influence is weaker. The number of temples has risen
significantly: there are 5,000 today, up from 1,500 in 1997, according to
government officials. Beijing, which had just one functioning Taoist temple
in 2000, now has 10. The revival is not entirely an expression of piety; as
on Mount Yi, the government is much more likely to tolerate temples that
also fulfill a commercial role. For Taoists like Abbess Yin, the temptation
is to turn their temples into adjuncts of the local tourism bureau. And
private donors who have helped make the revival possible may also face a
difficult choice: support religion or support the state.
Zhengzhou is one of China’s grittiest cities. An urban sprawl of 4.5
million, it owes its existence to the intersection of two railway lines and
is now one of the country’s most important transport hubs. The south side is
given over to furniture warehouses and markets for home furnishings and
construction materials. One of the biggest markets is the five-story Phoenix
City, with more than four million square feet of showrooms featuring real
and knockoff Italian marble countertops, German faucets and American lawn
furniture. Living in splendor on the roof of this mall like a hermit atop a
mountain is one of China’s most dynamic and reclusive Taoist patrons, Zhu
Zhu is a short, wiry man of 50 who says he once threw a man off a bridge for
the equivalent of five cents. “He owed me the money,” he recalled during a
nighttime walk on the roof of Phoenix City. “And I did anything for money:
bought anything, sold anything, dared to do anything.” But as he got older,
he began to think more about growing up in the countryside and the rules
that people lived by there. His mother, he said, deeply influenced him. She
was uneducated but tried to follow Taoist precepts. “Taoist culture is
noncompetitive and nonhurting of other people,” he says. “It teaches
following the rules of nature.”
Once he started to pattern his life on Taoism, he says, he began to rise
quickly in the business world. He says that by following his instincts and
not forcing things — by knowing how to be patient and bide his time — he was
able to excel. Besides Phoenix City, he now owns large tracts of land where
he is developing office towers and apartment blocks. Although he is reticent
to discuss his wealth or business operations, local news media say his
company is worth more than $100 million and have crowned him “the king of
building materials.” Articles almost invariably emphasize another aspect of
Zhu: his eccentric behavior.
That comes from how he chooses to spend his wealth. Instead of buying
imported German luxury cars or rare French wines, he has spent a large chunk
of his fortune on Taoism. The roof of Phoenix City is now a
200,000-square-foot Taoist retreat, a complex of pine wood cabins, potted
fruit trees and vine-covered trellises. It boasts a library, guesthouses and
offices for a dozen full-time scholars, researchers and staff. His Henan
Xinshan Taoist Culture Propagation Company has organized forums to discuss
Taoism and backed efforts at rebuilding the religion’s philosophical side.
He says he has spent $30 million on Taoist causes, a number that is hard to
verify but plausible given the scope of his projects, including an office in
Beijing and sponsorship of international conferences. His goal, he says, is
to bring the philosophical grounding of his rural childhood into modern-day
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Doug Noland
on: November 06, 2010, 08:26:56 PM
The biggest economic problem we have today is that the US Federal Reserve is run by ideologues that will likely never back away from their erroneous recession-fighting ideas. This is a serious problem because QE2 isn't going to do anything positive for the real US economy, so the Fed will likely decide that yet more QE is necessary. As Noland says, below: "The dilemma for the Fed is that the financial and economic environment will dictate that their policies have minimal impact on both U.S. employment and growth, while providing a major impetus for additional global Monetary Disorder."
Even worse than that, most of the central banks in the world are operating according to the same principles. The Bank of Japan must be run by total lunatics (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE6A406520101105
). I now believe that putting an end to loose money policies is a political impossibility, because the bust side of the cycle will be so severe that politicians and the monetary cranks in central banks will reverse themselves whenever they get the first glimpse of reality. Continued insanity will seem comfortable to these fools until a crisis completely beyond their control intervenes.
The late-July arrival of St. Louis Federal Reserve President Bullard’s monetary policy white paper commenced serious discussion regarding “QE2.” From August lows, the S&P500 has gained almost 18%, the S&P400 Mid-Caps 21%, and the small cap Russell 2000 25%. Notably, many global market prices have enjoyed even more robust inflation. Gold is up 19% and silver has surged 50%. The Shanghai Composite has rallied 22%. India’s Sensex index rose 18% to a record high. Copper is up 23% from August lows. Cotton has surged 80%, sugar 82%, and corn 46%. The Goldman Sachs Commodities index has gained 21% from mid-August lows.
In Bill Gross’s latest, he posits that the Fed is “pushing on a string.” This is not the case. The current backdrop has little-to-no similarity to the 1930’s; the world is definitely not today stuck in a Credit collapse and deflationary quagmire. Instead, much of the globe is facing an unrelenting onslaught of financial inflows and heightened inflationary pressures. Faltering dollar confidence is the prevailing force behind troubling inflationary pressures and strengthening Bubble Dynamics.
Increasingly, “emerging” economy Credit systems have succumbed to overheating, while key developed economies are locked into a perilous cycle of massive non-productive government debt expansion. Our unsound debt, liquidity and currency dynamics ensure that excess flourishes throughout global Credit systems. Bubbles are today left to run uncontrolled and undisciplined by a market hopelessly distorted by liquidity overabundance. Fed policies seemingly ensure that global liquidity goes from extraordinary to extreme overabundance.
The Fed may today be alone in “quantitative easing” through the purchase of domestic government obligations. Our central bank, however, has considerable global company when it comes to monetization and liquidity creation. From Bloomberg’s tally we know that global central bank international reserve positions have inflated $1.5 TN over the past 12 months. That last thing the global financial system needs is an additional shot of liquidity and reason to believe that dollar devaluation will be accelerated.
In post-announcement analysis of the Fed’s commitment to another $600bn of Treasury purchases, Bill Gross commented on CNBC that “the biggest risk is inflation down the road.” I again disagree with Mr. Gross. The greatest risk is a destabilizing crisis of confidence for our nation’s debt obligations. Our system doubled total mortgage debt in just over six years during the mortgage/Wall Street finance Bubble. Washington is now on track to double the federal debt load in just over 4 years. Federal Reserve policy remains instrumental in accommodating a precarious Credit Bubble at the heart of our monetary system.
It seems again worth highlighting a couple key sentences from ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet’s July 22, 2010 op-ed piece in the Financial Times, “Stimulate no more – it is now time for all to tighten”: “…Given the magnitude of annual budget deficits and the ballooning of outstanding public debt, the standard linear economic models used to project the impact of fiscal restraint or fiscal stimuli may no longer be reliable. In extraordinary times, the economy may be close to non-linear phenomena such as a rapid deterioration of confidence among broad constituencies of households, enterprises, savers and investors.”
The Bernanke Fed is playing with fire here. QE1 was implemented in an environment of deleveraging, impaired global financial systems and acute economic contraction. And, importantly, the dollar was enjoying strong performance in the marketplace as global risk markets suffered from de-risking and general outflows. QE1 had a stabilizing influence, as it worked to accommodate financial sector de-leveraging.
The QE2 backdrop is altogether different. Global markets are these days demonstrating robust inflationary biases. Risk embracement is back in vogue – speculation is rife. The “emerging economies” and global risk markets have been on the receiving end of massive financial (“hot money”) flows. Meanwhile, the dollar has been under heavy selling pressure with heightened risk of a crisis of confidence. This week’s market activity supported my view that the environment would seem to dictate that QE2 will only exacerbate increasingly unwieldy financial flows and unstable global markets.
It has been critical to my analysis that current reflation dynamics are different in kind from those that for the past two decades provided the Federal Reserve the most potent mechanism for domestic monetary stimulus. In today’s post-mortgage finance Bubble and housing mania backdrop, the Fed has lost much of its capacity to inflate household net worth and spending. The robust inflationary biases – and fledgling Bubbles – are now in global markets and economies. The “Core to Periphery” financial flow dynamic has become deeply embedded.
The key dynamic today is one where deep structural U.S. impairment elicits an unprecedented monetary response from our central bank. Yet the markets anticipate that this liquidity will seek out the inflating asset classes and most robust global economies. This week, gold climbed to a record high, crude oil to a two-year high, and copper to a 28-month high. The Shanghai Composite jumped 5.1% this week and India’s Sensex was up 4.9%. So far, indications support the view that the Fed’s move will further stimulate unfolding global booms.
Whether it is Asia or the commodities/natural resources economies, QE2 will exacerbate the already powerful financial flows and Bubble fuel. The U.S. economy is poorly structured to benefit from these new global financial flows, inflation and growth dynamics. There may be some gain from inflating U.S. stock prices. Yet the struggling consumer sector is going to get smacked with higher food and energy prices.
In his Thursday op-ed in the Washington Post – “What the Fed did and why: supporting the recovery and sustaining price stability” – Chairman Bernanke argued that “the Federal Reserve has a particular obligation to help promote increased employment and sustain price stability.” The dilemma for the Fed is that the financial and economic environment will dictate that their policies have minimal impact on both U.S. employment and growth, while providing a major impetus for additional global Monetary Disorder. A strong case can be made that QE2 will only worsen already unprecedented global imbalances. Global policymakers must be at their wits’ end.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Rubbing chicken bones together as effective as antibiotics
on: November 06, 2010, 08:59:39 AM
Worried about an impending public health crisis, government officials are considering offering financial incentives to the pharmaceutical industry, like tax breaks and patent extensions, to spur the development of vitally needed antibiotics.
While the proposals are still nascent, they have taken on more urgency as bacteria steadily become resistant to virtually all existing drugs at the same time that a considerable number of pharmaceutical giants have abandoned this field in search of more lucrative medicines. The number of new antibiotics in development is “distressingly low,” Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said at a news conference last month. The world’s weakening arsenal against “superbugs” has prompted scientists to warn that everyday infections could again become a major cause of death just as they were before the advent of penicillin around 1940.
“For these infections, we’re back to dancing around a bubbling cauldron while rubbing two chicken bones together,” said Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease specialist at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center in Torrance, Calif.
For example, scientists have become alarmed by the spread from India of a newly discovered mutation called NDM-1, which renders certain germs like E. coli invulnerable to nearly all modern antibiotics. About 100,000 Americans a year are killed by infections acquired in hospitals, many resistant to multiple antibiotics. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the best known superbug, now kills more Americans each year than AIDS.
While the notion of directly subsidizing drug companies may be politically unpopular in many quarters, proponents say it is necessary to bridge the gap between the high value that new antibiotics have for society and the low returns they provide to drug companies.
“There is a market failure,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who said he was considering introducing legislation. “We need to look at ways to spur development of this market.”
Mr. Waxman will lose his committee chairmanship with the Republicans having won control of the House this week. But the idea of spurring antibiotic development appears to have some bipartisan support. Representative Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican and a physician, recently introduced the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now bill, which would provide certain antibiotics with five extra years of protection from generic competition and speed the reviews of new antibiotics by the Food and Drug Administration.
Besides tax breaks and extra protection from competition, other ideas policy makers are considering include additional federal funding of research and guaranteed purchases by the government of new antibiotics. Measures like these are already used to encourage the development of drugs for rare diseases, through the Orphan Drug Act, and for illnesses like malaria that primarily afflict poor countries.
The Obama administration is also taking some steps. The federal agency that oversees development of treatments for bioterrorism agents like anthrax is broadening its scope to encompass more common infections. In August, the agency, known as the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, awarded its first such “multi-use” contract, giving an initial $27 million to a company called Achaogen to develop an antibiotic that could be used for plague and tularemia as well as antibiotic-resistant infections.
The Department of Health and Human Services is considering creating an independent fund that would invest in small bio-defense companies. Antibiotic-resistant germs would be one priority, according to a report that the department issued in August.
The European Union is also working on a plan, based on proposals from the London School of Economics. A year ago, the United States and the European Union formed a task force on antibiotic resistance.
Despite the activity, there is no consensus on what would work best and little discussion of how much such measures would cost.
A paper issued last month by the Office of Health Economics, a consulting firm owned by the British pharmaceutical industry’s trade group, suggested that incentives exceeding $1 billion per drug would be required.
Some critics say the case for incentives is not yet persuasive. There are signs that the drug industry is picking up its efforts on its own, in response to perceived need. The number of antibiotics in clinical trials has climbed sharply in the last three years, reversing a steady decline that began in the 1980s, according to figures from the F.D.A. The efforts are being led by small companies, which can be satisfied with smaller sales.
Ramanan Laxminarayan, who directs the Extending the Cure project on antibiotic resistance at Resources for the Future, a policy organization, said the government should focus on conserving the effectiveness of existing antibiotics. That could be done by preventing unnecessary use in people and farm animals and requiring better infection control measures in hospitals.
“There’s not a recognition yet that we should think about antibiotics as a natural resource and we should conserve them like we do fish,” Mr. Laxminarayan, an economist, said. Kevin Outterson, an associate professor of law at Boston University, said one way to encourage both new development and conservation would be to pay drug companies to develop new antibiotics but not to aggressively market them. Incentives, he said, “must be conditioned on the companies’ changing their behavior.”
Only five new antibiotics were approved by the F.D.A. from 2003 through 2007, down from 16 in the period from 1983 to 1987. A survey last year by European health authorities found only 15 antibiotics in clinical trials that offered some promise of going beyond what is available today.
Only five of the 13 biggest pharmaceutical companies still try to discover new antibiotics, said Dr. David M. Shlaes, a consultant to the industry and the author of a new book “Antibiotics: The Perfect Storm.”
One reason is that antibiotics are typically taken for a week or two and usually cure the patient. While that makes them cost-effective for the health system, it also makes them less lucrative to drug companies than medicines for diseases like cancer or diabetes, which might be taken for months, or even for life, because they do not cure the patient.
“There’s this perverse disincentive against antibiotics because they work so well,” said J. Kevin Judice, chief executive of Achaogen.
Another factor is that new antibiotics are likely to be used only sparingly at first, to stave off the emergence of resistance. While that might be medically appropriate, it reduces the ability of a drug company to recoup its investment, said Dr. Barry I. Eisenstein, a senior vice president at the antibiotic maker Cubist Pharmaceuticals. Another factor discouraging investment, some experts say, is that the F.D.A. recently made it harder for new antibacterial drugs to win approval.
Leading the call for incentives has been the Infectious Diseases Society of America, whose members are infectious disease specialists. It is calling for a “10 by ‘20” initiative to develop 10 new antibiotics by 2020. The initiative, which is more an aspiration than a plan, has been endorsed by numerous other medical societies.
But so far there is little consumer support. “We don’t have any patient groups for Acinetobacter,” said Robert J. Guidos, the society’s vice president for public policy and government relations, referring to a drug-resistant bacterium. Patient groups concerned about superbugs tend to focus on reducing the spread of infections in hospitals.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main trade group for big drug companies, has not taken a position on incentives because not all members are in the antibiotic business, said David R. Brennan, the chief executive of AstraZeneca and former chairman of the trade group.
Mr. Brennan, whose company is still in the antibiotic business, said that at a minimum, new antibiotics should be given longer protection from generic competition to make up for the fact that they are used sparingly when they go on sale. “Give us more time at the back end,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq returns-9
on: November 06, 2010, 08:17:35 AM
I just spent 5-minutes hiding under my desk while 2-4 mortars landed not too awful far away (echoes can make it hard to tell). They sure didn't seem too far off.....
It never ceases to amaze me how many security "experts" here don't even have the talent or skills that a switched on mall cop might have in the USA....
Well, several ________ (guys from the office) just came into my office because they heard I had a "complaint." (How does a serious question on matters of life and death become a "complaint?").
Anyway, the bottom line is that at this moment in time and space there is no procedure for ensuring that "convicts" (in other words cooperating witnesses no matter their custody status) are searched prior to entry onto the compound.
Despite the incident in Khost on 12/30/2009, I guess there are still those who believe such could never happen to them.
Urgent - Two Katyusha rockets hit Baghad’s fortified “Green Zone”
November 6, 2010 - 09:50:37
BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: Two Katyusha rockets fell Saturday on west Baghdad’s fortified “Green Zone,” where the main offices of the Iraqi government, U.S., British and other Western embassies exist, a security source said.
“The rockets fell on Baghdad’s Green Zone, but the human and material losses were not known,” he said, adding that police forces have managed to discover the area, where the rockets were fire from, on a building in Aqaba bin-Naf’i'e square in central Baghdad.
Apparently several more fell just outside the Green Zone, which since it's rather small would actually make sense as to why they all sounded so close.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Stpehen Field
on: November 05, 2010, 05:18:45 PM
Hat tip to BBG for this very nice little piece which I paste here:
Happy birthday, Stephen J. Field!
Today is the birthday of one of the great figures in the history of American liberty—Stephen Johnson Field, who was born on this day in 1816.
Field was born into an illustrious family; his brother, Cyrus, laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable (and is mentioned in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), and his other brother, David Dudley Field, was perhaps the most famous and influential lawyer in his day. But unlike his brothers, Stephen came west to California in 1849, arriving in San Francisco, where he started a law firm. It failed quickly, and he moved to Marysville, where he was soon elected alcalde—something similar to mayor. After serving in the state legislature, Field was elected to the California Supreme Court in 1857, and soon achieved wide respect, although he clashed with his colleague, Chief Justice David S. Terry. When Terry shot and killed California Senator David Broderick in a duel two years later, Field replaced him as Chief Justice of California.
In 1863, needing a western Democrat for the Supreme Court, Abraham Lincoln appointed Stephen Field to the new 10th seat, making him the first Californian on the Supreme Court. Field soon distinguished himself as a defender of economic freedom and a friend to the Chinese immigrants who were so severely persecuted in California at the time. While riding circuit in the state, for instance, Field struck down the San Francisco “queue ordinance.” This was a law requiring any person who was thrown in jail to first have his head shaved. Although the government claimed this was a health measure intended to prevent lice infestation, Field recognized that it was really an attempt to allow the cutting off of the Chinese workers’ long hair braids, or queues, that they prized for traditional reasons: “we cannot shut our eyes to matters of public notoriety and general cognizance,” Field wrote. “When we take our seats on the bench we are not struck with blindness, and forbidden to know as judges what we see as men.” Ho Ah Kow v. Nunan, 12 F. Cas. 252, 255 (C.C.D. Cal. 1879).
Field was a champion of the individual’s right to earn a living without unreasonble interference by the government. (Which is why I dedicated my book to him.) In a persuasive dissenting opinion in Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. (4 Otto.) 113 (1877), Field argued that a law limiting how much the owners of grain silos could charge for storing grain was a violation of the due process clause, because it violated the owners’ right to do with their property as they pleased—not to protect the general public, but simply to benefit a group that managed to exercise greater political influence than their rivals. The Court majority devised a new test, saying that any business “affected with a public interest” could be regulated by the government in this way, but Field pointed out that the storage of grain was simply “a private business,” and if the legislature could dictate the prices owners could charge simply by declaring that the business is “affected with a public interest,” then “all property and all business in the State are held at the mercy of a majority of its legislature,” which might just as easily
fix the rent of all tenements used for residences, without reference to the cost...[or set prices for] cotton, woollen, and silken fabrics, in the construction of machinery, in the printing and publication of books and periodicals, and in the making of utensils of every variety, useful and ornamental; indeed, there is hardly an enterprise or business...in which the public has not an interest in the sense in which that term is used by the court...and the doctrine which allows the legislature to interfere with and regulate the charges which the owners of property thus employed shall make for its use...has never before been asserted, so far as I am aware, by any judicial tribunal in the United States.
Field rightly saw that Munn would open the door to a flood of government control over businesses, and in the decade that followed (virtually every state held a constitutional convention in the 1870s) legislatures declared industries willy-nilly to be affected with a public interest so that bureaucrats could control large segments of industry. Likewise, in what is probably his most famous opinion—his dissent in The Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873)—Field insisted that the privileges or immunities clause protected, among other rights, the right to engage in a business without unreasonable government interference—a right protected by the common law for more than two and a half centuries at that time.
It’s ironic that Progressive legal theorists like Roscoe Pound later accused the pro-free market judges like Field of being “formalists.” Field was anything but a formalist, as the quote from the queue case suggests. In Cummings v. Missouri, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 277 (1867), he struck down a Missouri law that required people to swear they’d never been a supporter of secession before they could take certain jobs. This scheme was just a clever attempt at double-punishment for the same offense, Field wrote, and
what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly. The Constitution deals with substance, not shadows. Its inhibition was levelled at the thing, not the name. It intended that the rights of the citizen should be secure against deprivation for past conduct by legislative enactment, under any form, however disguised. If the inhibition can be evaded by the form of the enactment, its insertion in the fundamental law was a vain and futile proceeding.
Field ended up serving on the Court longer than any other justice except John Marshall. (William O. Douglas later surpassed him.) During that time, his influence on American law was profound—far greater than is usually recognized by legal historians. Upon his retirement from the bench, Field explained that in his view, the Supreme Court was actually the most democratic of the branches of the government, because while the legislature represents the will of temporary majorities that change over time, the Supreme Court’s job is to preserve the Constitution—the true will of the people—and protect it from legislatures that often abuse their constituents and ignore their constitutional limits.
Field also had a very colorful personal life. He ran for President several times while serving on the Supreme Court, and he’s the only Supreme Court justice ever arrested for murder. David Terry—the Chief Justice of California who had resigned after killing Senator Broderick—threatened Field’s life after Field ruled against Terry’s girlfriend in a divorce case. Field was then assigned a bodyguard, a U.S. Marshal named David Neagle. Not long afterwards, when Field was traveling through Lathrop, California, on judicial business, he happened upon David Terry, who walked up to Field and slapped him in the face. Marshal Neagle immediately pulled out his revolver and shot Terry dead. Although the sheriff arrested both Field and Neagle on murder charges, Field was immediately released and never charged. Neagle, however, was charged, and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that the Marshal could not be tried under state law.
For more on this remarkable figure, check out Paul Kens’ book Stephen Field: Shaping Liberty from The Gold Rush to The Gilded Age, or Carl Brent Swisher’s book Stephen Field: Craftsman of The Law. Field also wrote a memoir of his early days in California. And not long ago I visited his gravesite.http://sandefur.typepad.com/freespace/2010/11/happy-birthday-stephen-j-field.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy
on: November 05, 2010, 05:11:37 PM
So, if someone were to tap a phone line without permission, what would happen? Certainly any intel obtained or evidence derived therefrom would be inadmissable as evidence, but what else would actually happen?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Anti-semitism & Jews
on: November 05, 2010, 04:55:12 PM
Now that is a very interesting question. I don't think they made a point of it, but I can't remember any VWs, BMWs, or Mercedes in the garage of any of my extended family-- some of whom were well-to-do.
I remember the first time I did a seminar in Switzerland. The dominant language was German (and Swiss German which is quite different. I am told a German usually does not understand Swiss German, but the Swiss Germans also speak German) which naturally served as an NLP anchor to every WW2 Euro theater movie memory that I ever had (and remember I am a born and raised New York City Jew). The specific trigger for my emotions was one particular man who was the viusal archetype of a death camp guard. A moment of deep introspection was triggered. Of course he actually was a very nice person!-- as was everyone there and I had a wonderful time.
While I think the DBMA/Dog Brothers message attracts the kind of people for whom this most certainly is NOT an issue, I think on a continent wide level anti-semitism never died ouot. In part out of fear of the Muslims within Europe and in part out of desire to model modern multi-culteralism, the Pravdas of mainstream Euro media have fed a stream of poppycock about Israel and Jews which has been imbibed as naturally and thoughtlessly as a fish breathes water.
Tragically, I think it is ready to be sparked in the fertile fields of human nature for scapegoating when times are bad the old hatred lurks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed
on: November 05, 2010, 04:39:34 PM
""Who do you think all these maids, grass cutters, nail hammerers, housekeepers, apple pickers are going to vote for?" - They sound like very dedicated, principled, hard working people in a country where people can jump classes and quintiles in less than a generation. I would think they would support economic freedoms but one good leader or candidate can not always cut through the rest of the noise they are hearing, and no one is really trying."
In the big picture we can say "We will unleash you to succeed!" but THEN we must be able to specifically name the leashes that hold them back and what we are going to do to cut them.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: In search of stability in Somalia
on: November 05, 2010, 11:58:56 AM
Recognizing the continuing limitations of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia, the international community is exerting pressure on the government to reach some level of basic functionality. To do this requires a new approach to stability in the chaotic country, where political infighting has rendered the TFG dysfunctional and the leading Islamist insurgent group is capitalizing on the government’s misfortune. The two-pronged approach involves both political and military maneuvering, while the immediate task at hand is to reduce political tensions in Mogadishu.
On Oct. 31, the Somali parliament approved the appointment of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as the new prime minister of the struggling Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu. A response to pressure from the international community, the move is part of a new multi-pronged approach to stabilizing Somalia by creating space for Somali politicians and technocrats to deliver essential services in Mogadishu and reducing space for leading Islamist insurgent group al Shabaab, essentially isolating it in a geographic triangle in southern Somalia. The approach is a work in progress, however, and it is rife with spoilers.
Recognizing the continuing limitations of the TFG, the United States, Ethiopia and United Kingdom (among other European countries) are exerting pressure on the government to reach some level of basic functionality. Under the current administration of TFG President Sharif Ahmed, political infighting over patronage and job security has rendered the government unable to provide security or deliver jobs and public services. Al Shabaab has taken full advantage of the TFG’s failures by waging a propaganda campaign, trying to show that areas under its control have some basic level of security — however brutal it may be — while anarchy reigns in TFG-controlled areas.
The immediate task at hand for the United States and other countries with a vested interest in a stable Somalia is to bring at least a temporary end to TFG political infighting. The parliamentary approval of the new TFG prime minister is a move in this direction, at least within the Ahmed administration and between the administration and the rival TFG bloc led by parliamentary speaker Sharif Hassan. Mohamed will now be expected to form a new Cabinet, and outside pressure is being applied to reduce the size of the TFG Cabinet to fewer than 30 seats, with each presenting planning documents and basic budgets. Expectations for TFG performance are low; wanted at the very least is some progress in delivering basic services in Mogadishu.
Turf battles between the president and speaker are only part of the tensions within the TFG. Always a primary source of conflict is the distribution of power and patronage — the chief means of sustenance in the country — among the dominant and minor clans that make up Somali society. Another point of contention is the relationship between the TFG and its regional and international backers, without which the TFG would not exist. While some Somali politicians in Mogadishu want to achieve Somali objectives, this must be done in concert with outside stakeholders — neighboring countries as well as the United States — which are the driving force behind the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a regional U.N.-approved peacekeeping initiative.
In the event the Ahmed-led TFG fails to make even minimal gains in creating jobs and providing services, the United States and other outside stakeholders are considering an alternative administrative structure to the TFG, which has a mandate that expires in August 2011. This alternative structure is not yet worked out, but it may involve installing in Mogadishu a technocratic template that would have no political component and would be responsible only for delivering public services. (More about the security component below.) Instead of having a presidential administration and parliament that seem more interested in political perks than in governing, the government in Mogadishu would consist of administrative agencies with such duties as running schools and clinics and operating the seaport and airport. Distinguishing this structure from the TFG, however, will be difficult, since the successful delivery of jobs and services, not to mention security, will certainly have political ramifications.
To counter Somali critics who will complain that not having an arena for political debate would be unjust, the international community will emphasize the importance of political cooperation with the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland, which have political systems that are functioning and could be someday considered a model for southern Somalia. Political debate will not be taken away, just separated from the task of governance until Mogadishu can show some semblance of stability.
The Military Approach
While political and economic solutions in Mogadishu are being pursued, a military approach is also in play to provide the necessary security. There are several components to this, and U.S. restraint is being applied so the military strategy does not outrun the political strategy, which would risk a popular backlash against the notion that Somalia is being occupied by foreign aggressors. Al Shabaab and other Somali nationalists would be all too happy to take advantage of such a backlash to gain greater grassroots support for their insurgencies.
(click here to view interactive graphic)
The new military approach is similar to an offensive strategy floated in late 2009 that involved the same constellation of forces operating essentially in the same areas, although this time the idea is not to defeat al Shabaab, only to isolate the group in a triangular area of southern Somalia bounded by the towns of Kismayo, Baidoa and Marka. Currently, most of the peacekeepers in Somalia are AMISOM forces, numbering around 8,000 troops, drawn from Uganda and Burundi and deployed in Mogadishu. There is talk of boosting the force level to 20,000 troops, although STRATFOR sources say the true aim is to deploy a total of 12,000 to 13,000 troops and only in Mogadishu (AMISOM has dropped any pretense of planning to deploy troops to other towns and cities in central and southern Somalia). AMISOM calculates that such a force would be sufficient to displace al Shabaab from Mogadishu and confine it to its triangular stronghold in the south.
To help keep al Shabaab contained, Kenya would maintain a blocking position along its border with Somalia. There are still an estimated 3,000 ethnic-Somali Kenyans trained by the Kenyan army deployed on the Kenyan side of the border, fighters who are not expected to invade Somalia. In addition, there is the 1,500-strong Kenya Wildlife Service that was trained by the British, making it a special operations-capable force with expertise in “bush tracking” and the ability to capture any fleeing high-value targets.
Ethiopia also maintains its own forces and allied Somali militias along its border with Somalia. Operations by the Ahlu Sunnah Waljamaah militia and other district-level militias in central Somalia are meant to maintain a buffer that will contain al Shabaab in the area. At this point, neither the Ethiopians nor their proxies in central Somalia have pushed beyond this buffer zone to deploy deeper into al Shabaab territory. Ethiopian and U.S. political and security cooperation with Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug is meant to constrain any al Shabaab movements north from Mogadishu.
U.S. military support in the region is meant to interdict al Shabaab’s supply chain by obtaining and sharing actionable intelligence with Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian allies and striking high-value al Shabaab targets. U.S. forces operate mainly out of Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, with forward operating bases in Ethiopia and Kenya.
There is also a proposal by the African Union to establish an air and sea blockade against Somalia, specifically al Shabaab installations and most notably the port at Kismayo. However, no country has volunteered to participate in such a blockade, including South Africa, which has the largest and most capable navy on the continent and has been looked to for leadership in the proposed effort. STRATFOR sources report an overall lack of political will for what would surely be a difficult and complicated operation.
Spoilers to this dual-track political and military approach include Somali and regional actors. Somali politicians, including top TFG leaders, are driven now by a need for immediate survival. Knowing that their political careers could end by next August (once Somali politicians leave office their career prospects are essentially over), members of the TFG, including President Ahmed, are playing multiple sides against each other. Ahmed refuses to be beholden exclusively to Ethiopian paymasters and instead is accepting payoffs from regional interests, including Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. His recent power play to force the resignation of former Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, an ally of Speaker Hassan, was a move to reduce the influence of Ethiopia in the TFG (Hassan is an Ethiopian client).
While the approval of Mohamed as the new TFG prime minister created a temporary truce in the Mogadishu government, it also strengthened Ahmed’s hand at the expense of Ethiopia. Ahmed now relies more on a small group of Somali training clerics called the Ahlu Sheikhs, whose origin goes back to the Islamic Courts Union. Aware that Ahmed is not the client it thought he was, Ethiopia must now rely more on its proxy militias in central Somalia. This is not to say that Ethiopian influence in Mogadishu has waned. Ahmed (along with all other Somali politicians) knows his political and physical survival depends on a working accommodation with Ethiopia, which will never stop trying to protect its national security interests in Somalia, unlike other countries like Uganda that have only secondary interests in the country. Likewise, Addis Ababa cannot declare war on the TFG, even if it has little confidence in whoever occupies Villa Somalia. Ethiopia unilaterally occupied much of central and southern Somalia from late 2006 to early 2009 and engendered much grassroots opposition in the process. It would be futile for Ethiopia to repeat this exercise and much easier for it to work through proxies, although such a strategy is not foolproof.
Weakness is inherent in Somalia’s TFG, as is difficulty in selecting and implementing the right policies. In fact, there is no perfectly right policy that can be implemented in Somalia. There must always be compromise among groups of seemingly opposing political interests. The prime-ministerial reshuffle is meant to end the TFG infighting for the time being and is seen as only a temporary setback for Ethiopia. It also means Ahmed now has some breathing room — and no excuses — to deliver much-needed government services to the people of Mogadishu and deny the TFG’s growing grassroots public relations value to al Shabaab.
Read more: A Multi-pronged Approach to Stability in Somalia | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / UN Human Rights Council on the US
on: November 05, 2010, 11:14:50 AM
U.N. Human Rights Council Takes Aim at New Target: United States
By George Russell
Published November 05, 2010
The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.
It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.
Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, told it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.
Some of these allegations, and many more, come from Americans themselves — especially from a stridently critical network of U.S. organizations whose input dominates the U.N. digest of submissions from “civil society” that are part of the council’s background reading.
For the first time ever, the U.S. came under the Human Rights Council’s microscope as part of the its centerpiece activity, the “Universal Periodic Review,” a rotating examination of the human rights failings and strong points of every country in the world, from North Korea to Norway, by the council's members.
For two hours, council members got to say whatever they wish, good and ill, about the country that has done the most in the past 40 years to establish human rights as a global theme.
The anticipation was that that ill-wishers were planning to pack the line to the speaker’s podium, with complaints from some Western human rights organizations that Cuba, Venezuela and Iran were seeking to “hijack” the microphone and stack the speaker’s list with U.S. critics.
But what really is under review is the gamble by the Obama administration to join the council in the first place, rather than shun it in disdain, as the Bush administration did, along with its predecessor, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, because of its roster of despotic members and unbridled antagonism toward Israel.
The Universal Periodic Review, in which all countries great and small submit to human rights commentary by their peers, is supposed to help install the principle of observing human rights in the farthest reaches of the international community.
But it was also a one-sided fiasco, along the lines of such previous toxic human rights extravaganzas as the U.N.’s 2001 “World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,” and its 2006 follow-up, which turned into orgies of anti-Israeli posturing and helped to lead to the previous U.N. Human Rights Commission crackup.
So who is supposed to benefit from the U.S. submission to the UPR process?
According to Jim Kelly, director of international affairs for the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies and founder of a blog called Global Governance Watch, the main beneficiaries are likely to be the interest groups that take part in the exercise. “The fact is, they are demanding that the U.S. comply with rights that are already addressed by our own democratic system and laws,” he argues. “They are simply trying to get us to adopt U.N. standards instead of our own. It’s not as if by our participating in the human rights process Cuba is going to clean up its act.”
But according to the U.S. State Department, which led a delegation of high-level American diplomats and government officials to Geneva, the Periodic Review is a major opportunity for Washington to lead the rest of the world by example.
“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.
“For us, upholding the process is very important.”
The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”
That was a reference to the important—and often harshly critical—role being played in the U.S. Universal Periodical Review by American human rights interest groups, or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), also known in U.N. parlance as “stakeholders.”
The Obama administration has gone to elaborate lengths to consult with such groups in advance of the Geneva meeting. The State Department, has led delegations from a variety of government departments (including Labor, Homeland Security, Education and Justice) to consult with such groups in Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Harlem, and Albuquerque, according to an official at State.
Those NGOs will also get a chance to “engage” with the U.S. delegation in Geneva at what the State Department calls a “first ever town hall meeting,” after the Human Rights Council, composed of national governments, makes its views known. “Many countries stack the room with NGOs that are government controlled,” the State Department official told Fox News, adding that the U.S. obviously doesn’t.
“We hope that the Periodic Review process will be one that sheds new light on issues,” the official added, including “what we learn from our own NGOs, which we take seriously.”
How seriously the NGOs should be taken is indeed, an important part of the question surrounding the human rights tableau in Geneva. For one thing, 103 submissions by those NGOS about U.S. human rights practices—very broadly defined—are already included in the official documentation of the Universal Periodic Review itself.
In that sense, their contents provide a kind of rough road map to the rhetoric that the U.S. may face in the days—and even years—ahead, because the Universal Periodic Review process will be repeated indefinitely into the future, and is supposed to analyze progress from session to session.
According to a dense summary of the submissions circulated by the U.N. in advance of Friday's meeting, the NGOs offering briefs for this Review run a familiar gamut from the American Bar Association and British-based Amnesty International to such specialized groups as the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
They also include an array of submissions from college legal faculties and their advocacy offshoots; environmental coalitions; and a smattering of other non-American organizations such as the Federation of Cuban Women, based in the Castro dictatorship. (The women’s group objects on human rights grounds to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.)
Even relatively conservative and centrist organizations are represented in submissions by the Heritage Foundation, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, and the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty.
CLICK HERE FOR THE U.N. SUMMARY OF SUBMISSIONS
Yet despite their apparent diversity, many of the submissions, as summarized briefly in the U.N. document, point to a number of common themes:
--The U.S. needs to sign, ratify and implement a wide number of United Nations-sponsored human rights conventions, whatever reservations various U.S. governments or courts have had to them;
-- All these treaties and conventions should be “self-executing,” meaning that no subsequent U.S. government action should be required for them to go into effect—regardless of the U.S. constitutional separation of powers, and the separation of powers between federal and state governments;
--the U.S. should have national human rights institutions to coordinate and enforce human rights compliance;
--racial, economic and social disparities are still endemic in the U.S. despite its own civil rights laws, and need to be eliminated to meet “international standards” embodied in U.N. treaties. Amnesty International, for example, charges that “racial disparities continue to exist at every stage [U.S.] in the criminal justice system,” and calls for laws to bar “racial profiling in law enforcement.”
The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, an offshoot of New York University’s law school, goes further, and argues that since 9/11, “the U.S. has institutionalized discriminatory profiling against members of Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Middle-Eastern communities.” The organization calls for federal laws against profiling “on all grounds, with no exceptions for national security and an in-depth audit of government databases/watchlists.”
--barbaric treatment of citizens by U.S. police is allegedly rife. Again according to Amnesty, U.S. police and custody officials “are rarely prosecuted for abuses,” prison conditions “remain harsh in many states,” and “electroshock weapons are widely used against individuals who do not pose a serious threat, including children, the elderly and people under the influence of drink or drugs.”
--U.S. social conditions are dismal. One submission claims, according to the U.N. summary, that 30% of the U.S. population “lacks an adequate income to meet basic needs,” while another notes that “there is an unequal access in the U.S. to basic amenities such as adequate food, shelter, work, healthcare and education. There is also a lack of affordable housing, job shortages and income insecurity, particularly among minorities and women.”
-- native peoples on American soil are badly neglected and need the protection of international treaties, and the U.S. treats immigrants and asylum-seekers badly. At least one organization recommends a ban on deporting indigenous peoples from anywhere in the Americas.
The sheer welter and volume of accusations, recriminations and prescriptions aimed at the U.S. that are embedded in the U.N. summary, however, obscures one important fact—an extraordinary number of them, Fox News has discovered, come from just a single source out of the 103 submissions cited in the U.N. document.
Indeed, no fewer than 60 of 162 footnote citations in the summary—37 percent of the entire total-- refer to a back-up document from a single organization, known as the U.S. Human Rights Network, or USHRN.
The 60 footnotes often cite other submissions as well, but no other organization contributing in the Human Rights Council summary comes close to USHRN as a source for accusations against U.S. behavior. (The energetic Amnesty International, by contrast, finishes in second place with just 23 footnote citations.)
Which raises the question: what, exactly, is the U.S. Human Rights Network?
According to its 423-page submission to the Geneva meeting—actually, 23 separate position papers bound together with a 15 page “overarching report,” or executive summary, USHRN was formed in 2003 as a “new model for U.S.-based human rights advocacy.”
Its intention is to “raise awareness of the human rights network within the broader social justice movement, to create linkages between traditional human rights and social justice organizations, and to facilitate sharing of information and resources among a broader network of activists.”
USHNR’s website is a little more specific: it is an agglomeration of nearly 300 activist organizations whose ultimate aim, “full U.S. compliance with universal human rights standards—will require the development of a broad-based, democratic movement that is dedicated to the long-term goal of transforming U.S. political culture.”
Funding for the network and its Geneva submission apparently comes from the Human Rights Fund, an umbrella group whose steering committee of philanthropies include the Ford Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Overbrook Foundation and an anonymous donor.
Among the network’s membership are some prominent and familiar organizations: the American Friends Service Committee, Fordham University Law Center, the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.
But most of USHNR’s members are a hodge-podge of relatively unknown and local organizations, like the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle, the Progressive Action Alliance (“a group of progressives in the southeast Texas area”), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and many more.
Some of them are also apparently non-American, like Rebuild Green, whose own website is entirely in German.
What they apparently share, according to their mammoth Human Rights Council submission, is a militant vision of the U.S. as a malignant force. “In the years since UNHRN’s inception,” the document declares, “constitutional protections for U.S. citizens and non-citizens have diminished, economic conditions for working and poor people in the U.S. have deteriorated, and repression has increased.”
Several of the position papers included in the submission are a lot more militant than that, and also seem to emerge from some radical left-wing time tunnel. One of the papers, entitled “Political Repression—Political Prisoners,” harks back to the 1970s to indict the FBI through Operation COINTELPRO for “maiming, murdering, false prosecutions and frame-ups, destruction and mayhem throughout the country.”
It cites the Feds for targeting such far-left organizations as the Puerto Rican Independence Front, the Black Panther Party, the Weather Underground, the American Indian Movement, the Black Liberation Army, as well as “peace activists and everyone in between,” and says that “many of today’s political prisoners” in the U.S. were jailed indefinitely as a result. That repression has increased, the paper argues since 9/11.
The political repression paper demands an “immediate criminal investigation into the conspiracy,” and also new trials for two now-aged left-wing activists jailed on murder charges, Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier.
The repression paper was authored by the National Conference of Black Lawyers and the Malcolm X Center for Self Determination, neither of which are listed among USHRN’s member organizations. It is endorsed by a host of other organizations, however, including at least that is not only a USHRN member, but is also cited in the U.N. summary as the author of a separate submission to the Periodic Review. This seems to indicate that USHRN’s collective viewpoint is being augmented by other, nominally independent contributors to the Review.
Yet another position paper, on “The Continuum of Domestic Repression” in the U.S., asserts that “today, police still routinely make unfounded mass arrests and detentions to keep people off the streets and out of the eye of the media which tends to be accommodating.” It further condemns the use of high-security detention measures against terrorists such as Sayed Fahad Hashmi , a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen who pled guilty this year to conspiracy for providing support to Al Qaeda. Hashmi, the paper says, was held in high-security custody for three years. The paper says such treatment is “typical of how terrorism suspects are being treated in U.S. prisons and courts.”
The “Continuum” paper was submitted by the African American Institute for Policy Studies & Planning, the October 22 Coalition, and the Ida B. Wells Media Institute. None of them are listed on the USHRN website as member organizations.
However, an organization called the Afrikan Amerikan Institute for Policy Studies and Planning, Inc., which calls itself “a volunteer Grassroots, community based think tank created more than 10 years ago,” and is based in Greenville, South Carolina, claims on its website that the Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination, co-author of the other repression paper in the USHRN portfolio, is one of its projects. The Coordinator/President-CEO of the Afrikan Amerikan Institute is Efia Nwangaza, a onetime Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate.
On its website, the Oct. 22 Coalition gives its full name as “The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.” According to its website, its birth “came out of conversations” among a group of radical activists, including a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Since 1996, the Coalition has organized national days of protest annually on its name day, and uses a post office box in New York’s East Village as a focal point for organizing. (The October 22 date, the website says, does not have a “significance in its own right.” The protesters wanted a day when “students would be back in school, and before the elections.”)
The USHRN position paper on U.S. labor relations, however, was submitted by much better-known mainstream organizations. Among them: the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the United Steelworkers and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). None are listed as USHRN members.
Among other things, the labor paper points to declining U.S. union membership as a function of discriminatory U.S. labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act, and declares that “core internationally established labor rights are not adequately protected by state and federal laws that govern the American workplace” and adds that “workers have resorted to international fora to seek redress.”
It says that corporate harassment, threats, unlawful interrogations and retaliatory firings are “standard practice” in U.S. union organizing, and calls on the U.S. to obey “pertinent international instruments” to, among other things, adopt the Employee Free Choice Act, commonly known as “card check,” to ensure all workers get full federal and state labor law protection “regardless of migration status.” It also calls on U.S. governments give broader latitude to allowing public sector labor strikes.
The sheer expanse of the USHRN effort virtually guaranteed it would have a major impact on the U.N.’s summary documentation for the November 5 Periodic Review—and so, apparently, did the Network’s heavy participation in the State Department’s cross-country “consultations” in the lead-up to the review.
In an acknowledgement at the front of the document USHRN executive director Ajamu Baraka, lauds two of his workers for efforts across the country where they “continually held the State Department to its commitments even though corralling federal officials was not part of their job description.”
Baraka himself is no stranger to strenuous efforts on behalf of his causes. A onetime director of Amnesty International USA’s southern regional director and head of its anti-death penalty campaign, he has been described as “a veteran grassroots organizer with roots in the Black Liberation movement, anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity struggles.”
Personally hailed, according to various reports, by then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, as a human rights activist, Baraka was also listed in May 2000 as an attendee of the first U.N. preparatory committee meeting to lay the groundwork for the Durban World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. He apparently attended as a delegate of the World Peace Council, an organization created in the early days of the Cold War, and which now describes itself as “an anti-imperialist, democratic, independent and non-aligned international movement of mass action.”
George Russell is executive editor of Fox News
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq returns-8
on: November 05, 2010, 12:10:26 AM
The job description for many of the existing Police Advisor/Police Trainer positions is written such that somebody who has experience as a deputy sheriff in a podunk county in the USA, somebody who barely ever sees anything more than a medium sized city (if that) and patrols hundreds of square miles by himself, suddenly has some expertise in training and advising police officers in large cities in war torn zones. Maybe it's just me but simply don't see the connection between experince possessed and skills required.
Now if a lawman has spent time over here (e.g. Reserve duty), then I would probably feel differently. But absent that I just don't see how 20-years service patrolling Podunk, TN, gives you the experience and knowledge to train and advise the Baghdad police force.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Another on Ron Paul's subcommittee assignment
on: November 05, 2010, 12:04:54 AM
by Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON | Thu Nov 4, 2010 6:14pm EDT
(Reuters) - Republican Representative Ron Paul on Thursday said he will push to examine the Federal Reserve's monetary policy decisions if he takes control of the congressional subcommittee that oversees the central bank as expected in January.
"I think they're way too independent. They just shouldn't have this power," Paul, a longtime Fed critic, said in an interview with Reuters. "Up until recently it has been modest but now it's totally out of control."
Paul is currently the top Republican on the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees domestic monetary policy, and is likely to head the panel when Republicans take control of the chamber in January.
That could create a giant headache for the Fed, which earlier this year fended off an effort headed by Paul to open up its internal deliberations on interest rates and monetary easing to congressional scrutiny.
Paul, who has written a book called "End the Fed," has been a fierce critic of the central bank's efforts to boost the economy through monetary policy.
"It's an outrage, what is happening, and the Congress more or less has not said much about it," he said.
Paul said his subcommittee would also push to examine the country's gold reserves and highlight the views of economists who believe that economic downturns are caused by bad monetary policy, not the vagaries of the free market.
Global organizations like the International Monetary Fund also will come under scrutiny, he said.
"Eventually we're going to have monetary reform. I do not believe the dollar can be the reserve standard of the world," said Paul, who has called for returning the United States to a currency backed by gold or silver.
Many economists say that the Fed's decisive actions during the 2008 financial crisis prevented the deep recession that followed from turning into a depression. But grassroots outrage over the bank bailouts and other Fed actions helped propel many Republican candidates to victory in Tuesday's congressional elections -- including Paul's son, Rand Paul, who will represent Kentucky in the Senate.
"With a lot of new members coming and the problems getting worse rather better, there's going to be a lot more people who are going to be looking for answers," Paul said.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The FMs black hole
on: November 04, 2010, 12:35:02 PM
By NICK TIMIRAOS
The total cost to rescue and then overhaul mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could reach $685 billion, according to estimates published Thursday by Standard & Poor's.
Fannie and Freddie have already cost taxpayers nearly $134 billion, but S&P analysts said Thursday that the government could ultimately be forced to inject $280 billion into the firms because of a slowdown in the housing market.
Any entities that might replace Fannie and Freddie would need new start-up funding that would go beyond the money already committed.
A consensus of academics, industry officials and investors has coalesced around the idea of using the government to provide explicit guarantees for securities backed by mortgages that meet certain standards. Tough questions loom over how those guarantees would be structured and priced and what entities would provide them.
Analysts estimate that it would cost an additional $400 billion to sufficiently capitalize any entities that would take the place of Fannie and Freddie. Those capital levels could be lower, at around $225 billion, if the government were to retain ownership in any surviving entity.
"As it stands now, we believe that addressing the [companies'] problems is likely to be an expensive repair job for U.S. taxpayers," wrote S&P analysts Daniel Teclaw and Vandana Sharma.
While mortgage delinquencies have eased in recent quarters, analysts warned that high unemployment, a weak economy, and a sluggish housing market could prompt costs to rise "substantially" over the next year. "It's no secret that a better economy would help ease the [firms'] predicament," the report said.
The S&P loss estimates are higher than those made last month by the firms' federal regulator. The Federal Housing Finance Agency said that the taxpayer tab for the companies is on pace to reach $154 billion under the current home-price forecast. If the economy enters a double-dip recession and home prices fall more than 20%, the cost to taxpayers could reach $259 billion.
The government took over the troubled housing-finance giants two years ago through a legal process known as conservatorship. The Treasury has promised to inject unlimited sums through 2012 and nearly $300 billion after that in order to maintain a positive net worth and to avoid triggering liquidation.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post 11/4/10
on: November 04, 2010, 11:39:36 AM
Alexander's Essay – November 4, 2010
The Cause of Liberty
"Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions. The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the tyranny mediated against them." --George Washington
2012 Battle PlanHaving taken a moment to account for the considerable battleground gained in the most significant political offensive between Liberty and tyranny in three decades -- the fight being led by the Tea Party movement against the institution of statism headed by Barack Hussein Obama and his Socialist Bourgeoisie -- we must now press on, as there is no time for rest.
The ranks of conservatives in our national Congress, and in our state executive and legislative branches across the nation, were greatly strengthened in Tuesday's midterm election, but those campaigns were just the beginning of a movement to restore Liberty.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Excessive taxation ... will carry reason and reflection to every man's door, and particularly in the hour of election."
Indeed, taxation was a factor in the seating of House and Senate conservatives, but as was the case with the original Tea Party in December of 1773, these victories were driven by a renewed concern for not just taxation, but taxation without representation.
The new Tea Party movement is much more than a coalition of fiscally conservative Independents and those still under the banner of the Republican Party. This movement is, at its foundation, a philosophical federation of American Patriots who are, first and foremost, bound together by a devotion to the Essential Liberty defined in our Declaration of Independence and the Rule of Law enshrined in our Constitution.
The renewal of this timeless battle between Liberty and tyranny has reanimated the political contests of our era, yet the conventional spin from pundits and news-cycle talkingheads indicates that they have yet to realize that there is much more than "a political pendulum swing" afoot with the legions of American Patriots who now identify with the organic Tea Party movement.
Of course, Obama and his Leftist cadres can't comprehend it either. He insists, "The reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country is scared." He says further that those who do not support statism have an inability to "think clearly," and that his detractors' "basic political strategy has been to count on you having amnesia."
May Obama and his ilk continue to cling to those delusions...
Likewise, there are some so-called "moderate" House and Senate Republicans who are nearly as delusional -- those who think they'll be able to return to "business as usual" with a restored Republican majority. If they try to do just that, they'll face the same formidable challenge Democrats now face, because the ranks of conservatives in the House and Senate have been refortified with outspoken constitutional constructionists like Allen West, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and dozens of others. Some of these Patriots unseated Democrats who had held office for decades, and others tossed Republican moderates onto the trash heap of mediocrity.
Establishment Republicans in the GOP are poised to declare "Mission Accomplished" and insist that the "New and Improved GOP" will hold to its stated principles this time around. Patriots won't adopt a "wait and see" strategy, however. Establishment Republicans had their opportunity when they held both the House and Senate under George W. Bush -- and they failed miserably. Instead, we'll insist that they revitalize the Reagan Model for Restoration now.
The re-energized movement for Liberty demands that our elected representatives, regardless of their political affiliation, act in accordance with their sacred oaths to "Support and Defend" our Constitution, and that they reduce the bloated size, function and cost of the central government to comport with its limited constitutional mandate and limited authority.
In the 2012 election and those which follow, we will root up and toss out Democrats and Republicans who fail to honor their oaths. There can be no doubt, though, that Obama and his party will do everything in their power to prevent the decentralization of the Socialist regime they have created.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy
on: November 04, 2010, 10:38:03 AM
As was noted in the China thread, China's claims to the islands in question appear to have genuine legitimacy. As I see it, the true point was not the posturing of hosting three party talks, the true point/question was whether the US would consider itself treaty bound to defend Japan if these islands were attacked.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california
on: November 04, 2010, 10:27:46 AM
1) Lets keep the OK Sharia C'l amendment issue on the Sharia thread or the C'l issues thread on the SCH forum.
2) Doug: My intended point was not that AGW is an externality, rather that the structure of the analysis needs to be based around that concept. As I noted
"a) the science of the purported injury is quite dubious,
b) the proffered solution won't have any effect on the problem, "
I think we are on the same page here.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The world looks at BO after the elections
on: November 04, 2010, 10:18:28 AM
The World Looks at Obama After the U.S. Midterm Election
November 4, 2010
By George Friedman
The 2010 U.S. midterm elections were held, and the results were as expected: The Republicans took the House but did not take the Senate. The Democrats have such a small margin in the Senate, however, that they cannot impose cloture, which means the Republicans can block Obama administration initiatives in both houses of Congress. At the same time, the Republicans cannot override presidential vetoes alone, so they cannot legislate, either. The possible legislative outcomes are thus gridlock or significant compromises.
U.S. President Barack Obama hopes that the Republicans prove rigidly ideological. In 1994, after the Republicans won a similar victory over Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich attempted to use the speakership to craft national policy. Clinton ran for re-election in 1996 against Gingrich rather than the actual Republican candidate, Bob Dole; Clinton made Gingrich the issue, and he won. Obama hopes for the same opportunity to recoup. The new speaker, John Boehner, already has indicated that he does not intend to play Gingrich but rather is prepared to find compromises. Since Tea Party members are not close to forming a majority of the Republican Party in the House, Boehner is likely to get his way.
Another way to look at this is that the United States remains a predominantly right-of-center country. Obama won a substantial victory in 2008, but he did not change the architecture of American politics. Almost 48 percent of voters voted against him. Though he won a larger percentage than anyone since Ronald Reagan, he was not even close to the magnitude of Reagan’s victory. Reagan transformed the way American politics worked. Obama did not. In spite of his supporters’ excitement, his election did not signify a permanent national shift to the left. His attempt to govern from the left accordingly brought a predictable result: The public took away his ability to legislate on domestic affairs. Instead, they moved the country to a position where no one can legislate anything beyond the most carefully negotiated and neutral legislation.
Foreign Policy and Obama’s Campaign Position
That leaves foreign policy. Last week, I speculated on what Obama might do in foreign affairs, exploring his options with regard to Iran. This week, I’d like to consider the opposite side of the coin, namely, how foreign governments view Obama after this defeat. Let’s begin by considering how he positioned himself during his campaign.
The most important thing about his campaign was the difference between what he said he would do and what his supporters heard him saying he would do. There were several major elements to his foreign policy. First, he campaigned intensely against the Bush policy in Iraq, arguing that it was the wrong war in the wrong place. Second, he argued that the important war was in Afghanistan, where he pledged to switch his attention to face the real challenge of al Qaeda. Third, he argued against Bush administration policy on detention, military tribunals and torture, in his view symbolized by the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
In a fourth element, he argued that Bush had alienated the world by his unilateralism, by which he meant lack of consultation with allies — in particular the European allies who had been so important during the Cold War. Obama argued that global hostility toward the Bush administration arose from the Iraq war and the manner in which Bush waged the war on terror. He also made clear that the United States under Bush had an indifference to world opinion that cost it moral force. Obama wanted to change global perceptions of the United States as a unilateral global power to one that would participate as an equal partner with the rest of the world.
The Europeans were particularly jubilant at his election. They had in fact seen Bush as unwilling to take their counsel, and more to the point, as demanding that they participate in U.S. wars that they had no interest in participating in. The European view — or more precisely, the French and German view — was that allies should have a significant degree of control over what Americans do. Thus, the United States should not merely have consulted the Europeans, but should have shaped its policy with their wishes in mind. The Europeans saw Bush as bullying, unsophisticated and dangerous. Bush in turn saw allies’ unwillingness to share the burdens of a war as meaning they were not in fact allies. He considered so-called “Old Europe” as uncooperative and unwilling to repay past debts.
The European Misunderstanding of Obama
The Europeans’ pleasure in Obama’s election, however, represented a massive misunderstanding. Though they thought Obama would allow them a greater say in U.S. policy — and, above all, ask them for less — Obama in fact argued that the Europeans would be more likely to provide assistance to the United States if Washington was more collaborative with the Europeans.
Thus, in spite of the Nobel Peace Prize in the early days of the romance, the bloom wore off as the Europeans discovered that Obama was simply another U.S. president. More precisely, they learned that instead of being able to act according to his or her own wishes, circumstances constrain occupants of the U.S. presidency into acting like any other president would.
Campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, Obama’s position on Iraq consisted of slightly changing Bush’s withdrawal timetable. In Afghanistan, his strategy was to increase troop levels beyond what Bush would consider. Toward Iran, his policy has been the same as Bush’s: sanctions with a hint of something later.
The Europeans quickly became disappointed in Obama, especially when he escalated the Afghan war and asked them to increase forces when they wanted to withdraw. Perhaps most telling was his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, where he tried to reach out to, and create a new relationship with, Muslims. The problem with this approach was that that in the speech, Obama warned that the United States would not abandon Israel — the same stance other U.S. presidents had adopted. It is hard to know what Obama was thinking. Perhaps he thought that by having reached out to the Muslim world, they should in turn understand the American commitment to Israel. Instead, Muslims understood the speech as saying that while Obama was prepared to adopt a different tone with Muslims, the basic structure of American policy in the region would not be different.
Why Obama Believed in a Reset Button
In both the European and Muslim case, the same question must be asked: Why did Obama believe that he was changing relations when in fact his policies were not significantly different from Bush’s policies? The answer is that Obama seemed to believe the essential U.S. problem with the world was rhetorical. The United States had not carefully explained itself, and in not explaining itself, the United States appeared arrogant.
Obama seemed to believe that the policies did not matter as much as the sensibility that surrounded the policies. It was not so much that he believed he could be charming — although he seemed to believe that with reason — but rather that foreign policy is personal, built around trust and familiarity rather than around interests. The idea that nations weren’t designed to trust or like one another, but rather pursued their interests with impersonal force, was alien to him. And so he thought he could explain the United States to the Muslims without changing U.S. policy and win the day.
U.S. policies in the Middle East remain intact, Guantanamo is still open, and most of the policies Obama opposed in his campaign are still there, offending the world much as they did under Bush. Moreover, the U.S. relationship with China has worsened, and while the U.S. relationship with Russia has appeared to improve, this is mostly atmospherics. This is not to criticize Obama, as these are reasonable policies for an American to pursue. Still, the substantial change in America’s place in the world that Europeans and his supporters entertained has not materialized. That it couldn’t may be true, but the gulf between what Obama said and what has happened is so deep that it shapes global perceptions.
Global Expectations and Obama’s Challenge
Having traveled a great deal in the last year and met a number of leaders and individuals with insight into the predominant thinking in their country, I can say with some confidence that the global perception of Obama today is as a leader given to rhetoric that doesn’t live up to its promise. It is not that anyone expected his rhetoric to live up to its promise, since no politician can pull that off, but that they see Obama as someone who thought rhetoric would change things. In that sense, he is seen as naive and, worse, as indecisive and unimaginative.
No one expected him to turn rhetoric into reality. But they did expect some significant shifts in foreign policy and a forceful presence in the world. Whatever the criticisms leveled against the United States, the expectation remains that the United States will remain at the center of events, acting decisively. This may be a contradiction in the global view of things, but it is the reality.
A foreign minister of a small — but not insignificant — country put it this way to me: Obama doesn’t seem to be there. By that he meant that Obama does not seem to occupy the American presidency and that the United States he governs does not seem like a force to be reckoned with. Decisions that other leaders wait for the United States to make don’t get made, the authority of U.S. emissaries is uncertain, the U.S. defense and state departments say different things, and serious issues are left unaddressed.
While it may seem an odd thing to say, it is true: The American president also presides over the world. U.S. power is such that there is an expectation that the president will attend to matters around the globe not out of charity, but because of American interest. The questions I have heard most often on many different issues are simple: What is the American position, what is the American interest, what will the Americans do? (As an American, I frequently find my hosts appointing me to be the representative of the United States.)
I have answered that the United States is off balance trying to place the U.S.-jihadist war in context, that it must be understood that the president is preoccupied but will attend to their region shortly. That is not a bad answer, since it is true. But the issue now is simple: Obama has spent two years on the trajectory in place when he was elected, having made few if any significant shifts. Inertia is not a bad thing in policy, as change for its own sake is dangerous. Yet a range of issues must be attended to, including China, Russia and the countries that border each of them.
Obama comes out of this election severely weakened domestically. If he continues his trajectory, the rest of the world will perceive him as a crippled president, something he needn’t be in foreign policy matters. Obama can no longer control Congress, but he still controls foreign policy. He could emerge from this defeat as a powerful foreign policy president, acting decisively in Afghanistan and beyond. It’s not a question of what he should do, but whether he will choose to act in a significant way at all.
This is Obama’s great test. Reagan accelerated his presence in the world after his defeat in 1982. It is an option, and the most important question is whether he takes it. We will know in a few months. If he doesn’t, global events will begin unfolding without recourse to the United States, and issues held in check will no longer remain quiet.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california
on: November 03, 2010, 11:20:02 PM
Not quite sure I see it that way in this case. In my analytical framework, pollution is an external diseconomy and as such is a violation of the natural laws of the free market, hence an area where government action is permissable.
The problem here is:
a) the science of the purported injury is quite dubious,
b) the proffered solution won't have any effect on the problem, and
c) it will destroy a lot of economic activity.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Sharia 101
on: November 03, 2010, 11:16:59 PM
Well, completely apart from whatever I may think on the merits FWIW I think the law will be strongly challenged. The level of scrutiny required will probably be strict scrutiny and that is a tough standard to meet when the judge is inclined for you to fail.
Look at how the courts have intervened in gay marriage, gays in the military, etc in contravention of longstanding tradition, state law, initiatives by the people (didn't Prop 8 in CA modify the State Constitution? I'm not sure, , ,) etc etc I really don't see how a challenge to this law will not get serious consideration.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california
on: November 03, 2010, 11:43:05 AM
Whitman didn't vote for much of her adult life, and her schpiel was pretty much identical to our current disastrous governor-- and delivered as robotically as he read his lines as an actor. No substance there that I could discern, nor much ideological integrity-- just like our current governor.
Fiorina let Boxer paint her with the job-offshoring and the profiteering labels; very stupid. Also she looked pathetic about 10 days before the election when she was repeatedly asked by a FOX interviewer to name ONE spending cut and could not do so.
Amongst the many of our stupidities yesterday was to reject the postponement of our unilateral global warming law.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The dash for the exits accelerates
on: November 03, 2010, 11:35:19 AM
The United States placed Jundallah, a Sunni-Balochi Islamist group active in Iran, on its list of international terrorist entities Nov. 3. In its statement, the U.S. State Department said Jundallah was engaged in a variety of terrorist activities confirmed by the group’s leadership. In recent years, Jundallah has emerged as the most lethal rebel group fighting Iran via its use of suicide attacks targeting Shiite mosques and even the leadership of the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Washington’s apparently sudden move to declare Jundallah a terrorist organization, which Tehran previously has accused Washington and its European and Arab allies of backing, represents a huge gesture toward Iran. Washington likely made the move in hopes of reaching an understanding on the balance of power in the Persian Gulf region after U.S. forces exit Iraq. The step follows a number of recent events. These included a preliminary understanding between Iran and the United States regarding a new power-sharing formula in Iraq in the form of a government led by incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Washington seeking Iranian input in the process toward a settlement in Iraq, Iranian cooperation in Afghanistan, and Iran not creating instability in Lebanon.
Declaring Jundallah a terrorist organization is also part of the Obama administration’s efforts to reach an overall bilateral understanding with Tehran. This has become especially urgent given the new Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which will force Obama to show progress on the foreign policy front if he wants to be re-elected. All eyes will now be on Iran for its reaction and/or a reciprocal gesture, particularly on the nuclear issue — for which talks are scheduled for this month — and on the Sunni share of power in the Iraqi government.
Read more: The U.S. Reaches Out to Iran on Jundallah | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A tentative handover
on: November 03, 2010, 10:50:38 AM
second post of the morning
The indeterminate state of the war in Afghanistan continues, with reports of progress by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the south and southwest and Taliban reversals elsewhere in the country.
In Helmand province, U.S. Marines have reportedly begun to hand over control of small outposts in Nawa-i-Barakzayi district to Afghan security forces. The U.S. Marines have been operating in Helmand for several years now, reinforcing British, Canadian, Danish and Dutch troops who have been holding the line in some of the territory held most tenaciously by the Taliban. Yet despite an influx of combat troops into the province, ISAF units are still spread extremely thin.
(click here to enlarge image)
Despite this dispersal of forces, some important gains appear to have been achieved in denying key bases of support and income to the Taliban. The handing over of outposts to Afghan security forces is the next step toward what amounts to the exit strategy of “Vietnamization.” By any measure, however, this is a small and isolated step. As the winter takes hold and the White House begins to review the efficacy of the current counterinsurgency focus for a report that will be issued next month, the pace and scale of these handovers will be important in gauging their effect. The United States has set a very tight timetable for itself in Afghanistan, and the only way it can stick to it is for Afghan security forces to rapidly step up and take the point in providing day-to-day security district by district. This not only will free up ISAF troops to concentrate their focus and attempt to achieve faster results elsewhere but it will also set the stage for Afghan security forces to operate and function independently, thereby reducing the overall demand for ISAF forces in the country.
Handing over smaller, isolated outposts can reduce the vulnerability of ISAF troops as well as the logistical requirements of sustaining Western forces as opposed to indigenous forces. In many cases, this means the transition could free up forces disproportionate to the size and significance of the outpost itself. The transition could also reflect local understandings being reached that are far more important to the security of the area than the makeup and nationality of forces that occupy the position.
And the most critical part of the handover is not the physical transition but what happens afterward. Obviously, military positions are not turned over to new units without due consideration. And one important consideration in the localized landscape of Afghanistan can be the makeup of an “indigenous” unit, whether it consists mainly of outsiders recruited and trained elsewhere and then shipped in or reflects the area’s distinct demographics and loyalties. This dynamic can either consolidate or undermine the conditions that led to the ISAF handover in the first place.
Going to the Other Side
Farther north, in Ghazni province, as many as 19 Afghan police officers — essentially the entire unit in Khogyani district — apparently defected to the Taliban earlier this week. The local police chief does not appear to have been involved, but the police station reportedly broke radio contact with the provincial government early Nov. 1. When Afghan security forces arrived hours later, the officers and their vehicles, weapons, uniforms and supplies had all disappeared and the police station was burned to the ground. The Taliban claimed all the officers had joined their cause.
The factors leading up to this incident are unclear, but the story is hardly an unprecedented one. For every Taliban contingent that comes over to the government/ ISAF side there is an example of a government contingent going the other way. Police units are particularly vulnerable to acts of coercion and intimidation by the Taliban — particularly in isolated areas far from reinforcements — and are all too often poorly equipped and supported. That, coupled with the perception that the ISAF is on its way out, forces Afghan security personnel to fend for themselves day-to-day and to think very seriously about the long-term implications of loyalty.
The modern history of conflict in Afghanistan is rife with the changing of sides. Hizb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a notorious case in point. He fought against the Soviets and even served as the country’s prime minister after the overthrow of the Marxist regime, but he was also quick to change loyalties when it is to his advantage. The ongoing fragility of security in Iraq is a reminder of how tenuous even significant security gains can be. And in Iraq, the demographics are far less complex than they are in Afghanistan, where tribal and ethno-sectarian conflict are not so cut and dry. The Taliban “movement” is a diffuse and diverse phenomenon that finds its support at the grassroots level, and though they practice and enforce a particularly severe form of Islamism, the Taliban are more naturally attuned to local sensitivities and issues.
Durability of the Transition
And this is where the durability of the transition from ISAF to Afghan security forces really comes into question. The Taliban represent a strong and enduring reality in Afghanistan — one that perceives itself as winning. In a world where locals cannot trust either the ISAF or Kabul to guarantee their security, Afghan troops in isolated areas as well as local residents must be concerned about their safety where there is no meaningful ISAF or Afghan security presence day-to-day.
The ISAF is hindered by its alliance with the regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is widely perceived as being not only corrupt but also distant and uninterested in providing for local needs (or unable to do so). Indeed, some of Kabul’s successes (including recent operations in the city of Kandahar and the surrounding districts of Argandab, Panjwai and Zhari) reportedly have involved local warlord militias that exist outside the aegis of the Afghan security apparatus and beyond Kabul’s control. These forces are often more capable and aggressive than official government units, but the question of their loyalty remains an issue, and there are long-term implications in creating, supporting and strengthening independent militias in a country that already has too many of them.
The overarching U.S. strategy of crafting the conditions for a withdrawal make near-term and even potentially short-lived gains important. But the long-term gains are what count, and the United States continues to suffer from its alliance with an artificial, weak and compromised central government in a country where all politics really is local.
Just as the Vietnamization strategy hangs on wider regional arrangements with countries like Pakistan and Iran, the successful handover of an isolated outpost depends on local political accommodations. And the durability of the security transition just beginning in southern and southwestern Afghanistan will be an important gauge of the time and space that actually has been created by the surge of forces into Afghanistan.
Read more: A Week in the War: Afghanistan, Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2010 | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Chronicle 11/03/10
on: November 03, 2010, 10:46:23 AM
Chronicle · November 3, 2010
"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." --James Madison
"Republicans celebrating yesterday's ballot-box drubbing of Democrats should not be lulled into thinking their virtues carried the day. The election was first and foremost a referendum on the policies of President Obama and congressional Democrats. That verdict was clear: The American people want change. Not the empty phrases promising 'change' that scrolled across Mr. Obama's teleprompter during the 2008 campaign. By now, voters have realized there is no difference between the statist policies of FDR and LBJ and those on offer from BHO. The public is demanding an immediate change away from the big-government direction of Congress and this administration. That's why California Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi's brief four-year grasp on the speaker's gavel will come to an end in January. ... Newly elected Tea Partiers are likely to remain true to their platform of reducing taxation and regulation so that the economy might have room to grow. But if history is any guide, establishment Republicans will need to be continually reminded why they were given a governing majority. The Republican congressional sweep in 1994 promised to shake up the way things had been done for decades, and the new majority delivered in the early years. By 2006, Republicans lost their way. Instead of standing on principle, most devolved into business-as-usual politicians desperate to retain office by spreading around the public's money in earmarks and other pork. They lost sight of why they went to Washington in the first place, and their fall was inevitable. When the contest is over who can spend the most, Democrats are going to win every time. Republicans who run on a message of fiscal restraint have a chance because Americans realize families and individuals will be the ones paying for the government's spending spree for decades to come. That's why fiscal conservatism has now carried the day. Should the new Congress hold true to the principles of limited government, Republicans will build upon a lasting majority as future ballots are cast for them, rather than against their opponents." --The Washington Times
It's Morning in America
"Well, the big difference here and in '94 was you've got me." So said Barack Obama earlier this year on the campaign trail. He made a difference alright, just not the one Democrats were hoping to see.
As of this writing, Republicans are expected to pick up between 60 and 70 House seats. They needed 39 to gain control of the chamber and oust Nancy Pelosi from the speakership. In the Senate, the GOP picked up at least six seats, with three races too close to call. Democrats will hold onto the Senate, however, with at least 51 seats.
Republicans also picked up at least 10 governorships from Democrat control: Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Along with numerous state house pickups, Republicans are now in position to control redistricting after the 2010 census.
Here are a few highlights (and lowlights) from congressional races. Republicans picked up Barack Obama's former Senate seat in Illinois, but lost Joe Biden's in Delaware. Marco Rubio easily won Florida's Senate seat over two challengers, while Republicans ousted Democrat incumbents in Wisconsin (Russ Feingold) and Arkansas (Blanche Lincoln).
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the night was that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid beat Tea Party-backed challenger Sharron Angle. Then again, on the bright side, inept Harry Reid is still the Democrat leader.
On the House side, half of the Blue-Dog caucus of so-called "conservative" Democrats lost, dropping their numbers from 54 to 26. Of course, only 24 of those 54 voted against ObamaCare, which gives us an idea of just how "conservative" the caucus is. Numerous other Democrats went down in defeat, including longtime incumbents and even some committee chairmen.
We'll have more as the week unfolds, but to be clear, yesterday was not an embrace of the Republican Party. Far from it. But it was certainly a repudiation of Barack Obama, who personalized the election around his cult of personality. He even told Latinos that they should be inspired to "punish" their "enemies" on Election Day. More important, it was a rebuke of Democrats' hard push to the left with ObamaCare, cap and trade, financial regulation, looming tax increases for all Americans and massive deficit spending.
Yesterday, voters stood athwart history and yelled, "Stop!"
(To submit reader comments click here.)
"I think that the message is unmistakable that the Obama agenda is dead. ... [N]ow it will depend on how Obama proceeds. He has now tried a two-year experiment in hyper-liberalism, and the country has said no." --columnist Charles Krauthammer
"Democrats will spin Harry Reid's victory and cling to it like the American people allegedly cling to their Bibles and guns, but I see a huge silver lining here for conservatives. ... Yes, Reid would have made a great trophy on the GOP's mantle. But cheer up: He's even better as a leader of Senate Democrats -- depending on your point of view." --columnist Stephen Spruiell
"I so want to believe that the tea party marks the beginning of a comeback for small government. But I'm probably deluding myself. I know that big government usually wins. Remember the last time the Republicans took power? They promised fiscal responsibility, and for six of George W. Bush's eight years, his party controlled Congress. What did we have to show for it? Federal spending increased by 54 percent. That's more than any president in the last 50 years." --columnist John Stossel
"[T]he GOP still faces significant challenges. Heck, an electoral bonanza notwithstanding, Republicans are still fairly unpopular. But if the first half of the Obama presidency proves anything, it is that straight-line predictions lead to political hubris. Events change and attitudes change with them, for every demographic." --columnist Jonah Goldberg
"The Constitution cannot protect us and our freedoms as a self-governing people unless we protect the Constitution. That means zero tolerance at election time for people who circumvent the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. Freedom is too precious to give it up in exchange for brassy words from arrogant elites." --economist Thomas Sowell
"America, its founding principles, its Constitution, its robust liberty tradition and its strength are being stolen out from under us by a man who has no appreciation for America's greatness and who has contempt for ordinary Americans (we're 'enemies'), whom he considers beneath him and unworthy of their sovereign prerogative to preserve this nation. The people have had enough. Consequently, absent unimaginable, comprehensive voter fraud ... we're going to see an unprecedented housecleaning." --columnist David Limbaugh
Clinging to "hope": "Across the board, things have gotten better over the last two years. The question is can we keep that up. We can only keep it up if I've got the friends and allies in Congress, in statehouses. So even though my name is not on the ballot, my agenda -- our agenda -- is going to be dependent on whether folks turn out to vote today." --Barack Obama
Delusional: "The early returns show so far that a number of Democrats are coming out and we are on pace to maintain the majority in the House of Representatives." --soon to be former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Nial) early on election night
"We see high levels of energy on the Democratic side, we saw this early on in the early vote that were submitted, the Democratic votes, the early projections and now you are seeing strong turnouts by Democrats across the country in voting today. All this talk we heard from Washington trying to project the outcome of this election was so obviously immature. This is not over. Voters are sending the opposite message." --Democrat Congressional Committee Chairman Chris VanHollen (D-MD)
Huh? "I still carry this missionary zeal to transform the world." --California Governor-elect Jerry Brown, who seemed to be smoking something that didn't end up being legalized
Bitterly clinging to elitist thinking: "It's absurd. We've lost our minds. We're in a period of know-nothingism in the country, where truth and science and facts don't weigh in. It's all short-order, lowest common denominator, cheap-seat politics." --Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
Faith in government: "Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive." --Joe Biden
Believable ... and scary: "We have done things that people don't even know about." --Barack Obama
Unfortunately, no: "Am I the last person in America who still adores President Obama?" --Slate columnist Curtis Sittenfeld
Who said it is? "A right-wing Republican takeover of Congress and state capitals isn't something to accept with indifference." --Newsweek's Jonathan Alter
Taxes are just great: "No one will talk about taxes. They are terrified. Somehow the religion, the anti-tax religion has gotten so bad that if you -- if anybody says, 'We're just going to have to [raise taxes],' I mean, it's as if, you know, you killed a baby or something." --CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl (That shouldn't be a problem for your side, which advocates killing babies every day.)
Inevitable Nazi reference: "I mean it isn't far from what we saw in the '30s, where all of a sudden, political parties started showing up in uniform." --MSNBC's Chris Matthews