Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North Korea
on: March 17, 2008, 05:19:59 AM
Salvaging Our North Korea Policy
By JOHN R. BOLTON
March 17, 2008
There are signs, albeit small ones, that the Bush administration may be reaching the end of its patience with the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. These signs could prove illusory. But as it nears its end, the administration has a serious responsibility: It must not leave its successor with an ongoing, failed policy. At a minimum, President Bush should not bequeath to the next president only the burned-out hulk of the Six-Party Talks, and countless failed and violated North Korean commitments.
Since they were conceived in spring 2003, the Six-Party Talks have stumbled around inconclusively. And for the last 13 months, Pyongyang has ignored, stalled, renegotiated and violated the Feb. 13, 2007 agreement.
Throughout all this "negotiation," which has mostly consisted of our government negotiating with itself, North Korea has benefited enormously. It's been spared the truly punishing sanctions that concerted international effort might have produced. In large part because of the appeasement policies of the two previous South Korean governments, Pyongyang has not felt the full impact of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) on its outward proliferation efforts. The U.S. has muzzled its criticism of North Korea's atrocious oppression of its own citizens. And, perhaps most humiliatingly of all, the U.S., in a vain effort at chasing the mirage, gave up its most effective pressure point -- the financial squeeze -- allowing Pyongyang renewed access to international markets through institutions like Banco Delta Asia.
In fact, the protracted Six-Party Talks have provided Kim Jong-il with the most precious resource of all: the time to enhance, conceal and even disperse his nuclear weapons programs. Time is nearly always on the side of the would-be proliferator, and so it has proven here. In exchange for five years of grace to North Korea, the U.S. has received precious little in return.
Pyongyang is now stonewalling yet again on its promise to disclose fully the details of its nuclear programs, including its uranium enrichment efforts and its outward proliferation. The successful Israeli military strike against a Syrian-North Korean facility on the Euphrates River last September highlighted the gravity of the regime's unwillingness to do anything serious that might restrict its nuclear option.
President Bush should spend the next 10 months rectifying the Six-Party concessions and put North Korea back under international pressure -- efforts that would be welcomed by Japan, and South Korea's new, far more realistic President Lee Myung-bak. Here are the steps to take:
- Declare North Korea's repeated refusal to honor its commitments, especially but not exclusively concerning full disclosure of its nuclear programs, unacceptable. This is the easiest step, and the most obvious. It can happen immediately. Accept no further partial "compliance," as the State Department continuously tries to do. Make public what we know about the North's Syria project, and its uranium enrichment and missile programs, so our 2008 presidential candidates can have a fully-informed debate.
- Suspend the Six-Party Talks, and reconvene talks without North Korea. Although the talks could be jettisoned altogether, continuing them without the North allows Japan, South Korea and the U.S. to begin applying real pressure to China, the one nation with the capacity to bring Pyongyang's nuclear program to a halt. China has feared to apply such pressure, worried that it could collapse Kim Jong-il's regime altogether -- an accurate assessment of the regime's limited staying power. Nonetheless, the effect of Chinese reticence has been to preserve Kim and his nuclear program. It is vital that China know this policy is no longer viable.
- Strengthen international pressure on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Ramp up PSI cooperation with South Korea. Remind Russia of its own voluntarily-assumed obligations as a PSI core member. Remind China as well to comply with the sanctions imposed on North Korea by U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718 (which followed the North's 2006 ballistic missile and nuclear tests), and honor its other counterproliferation obligations. Tell them we will be watching with particular care, and that Chinese failure to increase pressure on North Korea will have implications in Sino-American bilateral relations. We can make this point privately to China rather that trumpet it publicly, but it should be made without ambiguity.
- Squeeze North Korea economically. Return the regime to limbo outside the international financial system, and step up action against its other illicit activities, such as trafficking in illicit narcotics and counterfeiting U.S. money. These and other "defensive measures" are nothing more than what any self-respecting nation does to protect itself, and the U.S. should never have eased up on them. Even now they can have a measurable impact on Kim Jong-il's weak and unsteady regime.
- Prepare contingency plans for humanitarian relief in the event of increased North Korean refugee flows or a regime collapse. Both China and South Korea have legitimate concerns about the burdens they would face if the North collapsed, or if increased internal economic deprivation spread instability. America and Japan should make it plain that they will fully shoulder their share of providing humanitarian supplies and assistance if either happened. Moreover, President Lee should increase pressure on Pyongyang -- by reiterating that South Korea will fully comply with its own constitution and grant full citizenship to any refugees from the North, however they make their way to the South.
Doubtless there are other steps. President Bush will not likely be able to solve the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Nonetheless, he still has time to implement policies that will allow him to leave office with the nation back on offense -- thereby affording his successor the chance to vindicate a return to the original Bush administration national security strategy.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster/Threshold Editions, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin, Jefferson
on: March 17, 2008, 05:14:12 AM
"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang
-- Benjamin Franklin (at the signing of the Declaration of
Independence, 4 July 1776)
Reference: Our Sacred Honor, Bennett (29) and Respectfully Quoted
"To restore... harmony,... to render us again one people acting
as one nation should be the object of every man really a patriot."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Thomas McKean, 1801)
Reference: 63 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Ford Edition, 8:78
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Drug Trade Tyranny on the border
on: March 17, 2008, 05:13:13 AM
Drug Trade Tyranny on The Border
Mexican Cartels Maintain Grasp With Weapons, Cash and Savagery
In Mexico, a Fight Against Drugs and Fear
Drawing on firepower, savage intimidation, and cash, drug cartels have come
to control key parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, as Mexican troops wage a
multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords.
» LAUNCH PHOTO GALLERY
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 16, 2008; Page A01
The killers prowled through Loma Bonita in the pre-dawn chill.
In silence, they navigated a labyrinth of wood shacks at the crest of a dirt
lane in the blighted Tijuana neighborhood, police say. They were looking for
Margarito Saldaña, an easygoing 43-year-old district police commander. They
found a house full of sleeping people.
Neighbors quivered at the crack of AK-47 assault rifles blasting inside
Saldaña's tiny home. Rafael García, an unemployed laborer who lives nearby,
recalled thinking it was "a fireworks show," then sliding under his bed in
In murdering not only Saldaña, but also his wife, Sandra, and their
12-year-old daughter, Valeria, the Loma Bonita killers violated a rarely
broken rule of Mexico's drug cartel underworld: Family should remain free
from harm. The slayings capped five harrowing hours during which the
assassins methodically hunted down and murdered two other police officers
and mistakenly killed a 3-year-old boy and his mother.
The brutality of what unfolded here in the overnight hours of Jan. 14 and
early Jan. 15 is a grim hallmark of a crisis that has cast a pall over the
United States' southern neighbor. Events in three border cities over the
past three months illustrate the military and financial power of Mexico's
cartels and the extent of their reach into a society shaken by fear.
More than 20,000 Mexican troops and federal police are engaged in a
multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords, a conflict that
is being waged most fiercely along the 2,000-mile length of the U.S.-Mexico
border. The proximity of the violence has drawn in the Bush administration,
which has proposed a $500 million annual aid package to help President
Felipe Calder¿n combat what a Government Accountability Office report
estimates is Mexico's $23 billion a year drug trade.
A total of more than 4,800 Mexicans were slain in 2006 and 2007, making the
murder rate in each of those years twice that of 2005. Law enforcement
officials and journalists, politicians and peasants have been gunned down in
the wave of violence, which includes mass executions, such as the killings
of five people whose bodies were found on a ranch outside Tijuana this
Like the increasing number of Mexicans heading over the border in fear, the
violence itself is spilling into the United States, where a Border Patrol
agent was recently killed while trying to stop suspected traffickers.
Drawing on firepower, savage intimidation and cash, the cartels have come to
control key parts of the border, securing smuggling routes for 90 percent of
the cocaine flowing into the United States, according to the State
Department. At the same time, Mexican soldiers roam streets in armored
personnel carriers, attack helicopters patrol the skies, and boats ply the
"The situation is deteriorating," Victor Clark, a Tijuana human rights
activist and drug expert, said in an interview. "Drug traffickers are waging
a terror campaign. The security of the nation is at stake."
Dominated by a Private Army
More than 1,900 miles southeast of Tijuana, the city of Reynosa stretches
along the Rio Grande across from south Texas. This is Gulf cartel country, a
region dominated by the cartel's private army, Los Zetas. Their arsenal
befits a military brigade, exceeding those of some Mexican army units.
Led by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, Los Zetas are a highly disciplined
mercenary squad composed of former elite Mexican troops, including officers
trained by the U.S. military before they deserted. The group has become an
obsession of Calderon's administration, which has sent more than a thousand
troops to Reynosa and neighboring cities.
Soldiers crowd the slender canal bridges that crisscross Reynosa, stopping
drivers at random and staring across the cityscape with their fingers on the
triggers of heavy weapons. The tense atmosphere has led to mistakes.
On Feb. 16, soldiers fatally shot Sergio Meza Varela, a 28-year-old with no
apparent ties to the drug trade, when the car he was riding in didn't stop
at a checkpoint. "You're scared to leave your house," Alejandra Salinas,
Meza's cousin, said in an interview outside the family tire shop. "We're
just in the way."
In Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, the growing Sinaloa cartel is
fighting rivals over smuggling routes. But in Reynosa, police say, only
Mexican soldiers threaten the Gulf cartel's control.
To prepare for battle, Los Zetas have stocked safe houses with antitank
weapons, assault rifles, grenades and other heavy weapons, including some
that Mexican law enforcement authorities believe once belonged to the U.S.
"How can I fight them?" said Juan Jose Muniz Salinas, Reynosa's police
chief. "It's impossible."
On Feb. 7, soldiers stormed the dusty "El Mezquito" ranch outside Miguel
Aleman, west of Reynosa, and found one of the largest illegal arsenals in
recent memory: 89 assault rifles, 83,355 rounds of ammunition, and plastic
explosives capable of demolishing buildings. Two days later in nearby Nuevo
Laredo, soldiers found a weapons cache that included eight military uniforms
to be used as disguises.
The mounting evidence that cartels have infiltrated many border police
forces has prompted drastic action.
In Reynosa, soldiers disarmed the entire police force in January, leaving
them without weapons for 19 days while ballistics tests were conducted.
Police officers, who make $625 a month, were also forced to provide voice
samples for comparison with recordings of threats made over police radios,
Mayor Oscar Luebbert Guti¿rrez said in an interview.
"It wasn't worth it," said Mu¿iz Salinas, the police chief. "They come after
us, but it's other authorities that are really involved. Look at the state
police, the federal police and the military."
The Enemy Is in the House
It was New Year's Day in Tijuana, the hilly city at America's busiest border
crossing. City workers prepped for celebrations, but Jesus Alberto Rodriguez
Meraz and Saul Ovalle Guerrero, both veteran police officers, had other
They were going to get rich.
The officers stole one ton of marijuana from the Arellano Felix drug cartel.
But before they could sell the load they were kidnapped. Four days later
their bodies were found, Tijuana's new police chief, Jesus Alberto Capella,
said in an interview.
The killings barely registered in Mexico, numbed by an avalanche of at least
30 police officer murders in the past three months and dozens more in the
past year. Their case illuminates the pervasive police corruption created by
One of every two police officers murdered in Mexico today is directly
involved with drug gangs, according to estimates by police officials,
prosecutors and drug experts.
Capella, nicknamed "Tijuana Rambo" because he fought his way out of an
assassination attempt shortly before taking office, estimates that 15
percent of the city's 2,300 police officers work for drug cartels, earning a
monthly stipend as body guards, kidnappers or assassins. In Baja California
alone, Mexican justice officials estimate that 30 percent of the local and
federal police force is on a cartel payroll.
"We have the enemy in our house," Capella said.
The killings in Loma Bonita here were related to a police corruption case,
Capella and other police officials said. A few days earlier, Tijuana police
had killed an officer working as a bodyguard for a drug gang that tried to
rob an armored car.
Cartel assassins, using police radios, vowed revenge. Within a week,
Saldana, his family, and two other officers had been murdered.
Some of the killings have come with specific messages taunting Mexican
During one week in mid-February, six bodies were found with signs lashed to
them that included information such as the phone number and address of the
Mexican army office set up to receive tips about organized crime. According
to analysts, such "narco-messages," some of which are carved into the
bodies, are intended to keep residents from reporting tips.
The decline of the Arellano Felix cartel's dominance of Tijuana has had the
unexpected effect of deepening police corruption.
After one brother was assassinated and two others were arrested, a war
erupted because the cartel's new leadership -- including a sister,
Enedina -- refused to share territory with the Sinaloa cartel, a police
official said on condition of anonymity. Once loyal to the Arellano Felix
cartel, some police officers switched sides.
"The police became armed wings of the warring cartels," the police official
At the same time, tighter border enforcement following the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks has made it harder for cartels to smuggle drugs into the
United States. So the cartels developed a local market by giving out free
samples of drugs, according to Clark, the Tijuana-based drug expert and
human rights activist.
The estimated number of addicts in Tijuana doubled from 100,000 in 2004 to
200,000 in 2007, Clark said. The number of small stores or houses where
drugs are sold increased fivefold -- to 20,000 outlets -- over that time.
Each outlet pays protection money to police, so their proliferation meant
In response, authorities in Baja California and several other border states
have begun giving police lie-detector tests. The questions range from the
innocuous to queries such as "Have you ever worked with a drug trafficker?"
Rommel Moreno Manjarrez, Baja California's attorney general, said in an
interview that out of every 1,000 officers tested, 700 fail.
"It's impossible for the narco to succeed without the help of the police,"
he said. "The success that the narco has been having is because of the
Transformed by Drug Money
About 20 minutes south of Tijuana, high-rise condominiums line the coast
near Rosarito Beach. Once a sleepy hideaway for Hollywood stars, the town
had over time exploded into a gaudy party magnet, drawing tourists to the
beach and the studio where the movies "Titanic" and "Master and Commander"
Rosarito's further transformation has been propelled by drug money and
culture, turning the surfer's haven into a key transshipment point for
cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines. City hall is now an armed
encampment. Soldiers in armored personnel carriers guard the front entrance.
The new police chief, Jorge Eduardo Montero Alvarez, now occupies an office
inside the cordon. His headquarters was rendered uninhabitable by a December
Investigators believe Rosarito Beach police -- working on behalf of the drug
gangs -- were behind the attack, which killed one of Montero Alvarez's
bodyguards. Days later, Mexican soldiers disarmed the entire 149-officer
Rosarito police force.
"I'm more afraid of the police than the narcos," said Jorge Luis Quinones, a
Rosarito Beach physician and businessman, reflecting a feeling that has
built for years among many of the surrounding area's 150,000 residents.
In June 2006, three Rosarito Beach police officers were beheaded. For Hugo
Torres Chabert, scion of the wealthy family that founded the famed Rosarito
Beach Hotel, it was a grim wakeup call.
Convinced that almost every level of the city's government had become
tainted with drug money, Torres Chabert ran for mayor and won. Soon after
taking office last December, he fired 80 of the city's 500 employees. But he
says he hasn't been able to press for arrests for lack of evidence.
"They were corrupt, but not stupid," he said.
To the children of Rosarito Beach, narco gunmen had already became local
heroes because they drove the fanciest cars, wore the latest styles and
acted like they owned the town. "Black commandos," the drug cartel hit men,
began openly flashing their weapons, snorting cocaine and strutting through
the beach town.
"It became impossible to avoid drug dealers -- your kids go to school with
their kids," Aurelio Casta¿eda, a Rosarito Beach bar owner and merchants
association official, said in an interview. "You'd go to a bathroom in a
bar, and they'd be selling cocaine. They don't even try to hide it, and
there was nothing you could do about it, nobody you could turn to."
Castaneda's once-busy bar, El Torito, is often empty. He says his business
is down 80 percent since 2001, when Rosarito Beach's drug violence spiked,
scaring off most surfers and other tourists.
Beyond the flash of the bars and hotels, Rosarito Beach is a warren of
impoverished neighborhoods where developers, after paying off city
officials, did not bother to install water lines or electrical connections.
The dismal living conditions created fertile recruiting grounds for drug
traffickers, who have found many willing to "mule" their product across the
border for $500 a trip.
But great quantities of drugs stay in Rosarito and are sold at hundreds of
convenience stores or private homes that thrive under police protection. Not
long ago, a Baja California journalist began digging into the problem. The
cartels found out and, in a series of phone calls, threatened to kill him.
It wasn't the first time. He'd had enough. Terrified, the journalist left
"I was saying to myself, 'This is an important subject,' " the journalist
said on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety. "But I wasn't
willing to lose my life over it."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 17, 2008, 05:05:04 AM
Notable & Quotable
March 17, 2008
Gerald Posner writing at HuffingtonPost.com:
I'm still in the Barack camp. But, as a vocal supporter, I'd like just a couple of answers about the flap over Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr, the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the Chicago megachurch where the Obamas have been members for 20 years.
Guilt by association is totally unwarranted. Barack is not responsible for Wright's views. However, how he responds to those views -- and whether he is being straight with us, the voters -- is critical as to whether he should lead our country.
The key issue for me, as both a supporter and as a reporter, revolves around what I view as Wright's most incendiary comments, those implying that America -- because of its own actions -- deserved the 9/11 terror attacks.
Wright made his comments on September 16, only 5 days after the deadly strikes in New York and Washington. He said, in part, "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. . . ."
. . . .If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright's post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there -- by 9/11 they were there more than a decade -- and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright's views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright's vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly. Barack -- a sitting Illinois State Senator -- would have been one of the first to hear about it.
Can't you imagine the call or conversation? "Barack, you aren't going to believe what Revered Wright said yesterday at the church. You should be ready with a comment if someone from the press calls you up."
But Barack now claims he never heard about any of this until after he began his run for the presidency, in February, 2007.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Economic crisis over US dollar?
on: March 17, 2008, 04:34:47 AM
The Buck Stops Where?
March 17, 2008
In the credit market panic that began in August, we have now reached the point of maximum danger: A global run on the dollar that could become a rout. As the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee prepares to meet tomorrow, this should be its major concern.
Yet the conventional wisdom -- on Wall Street and in Washington -- continues to be precisely the opposite. In this view, the Fed is "behind the curve" and needs to cut interest rates even faster and further than it has. Never mind that this is precisely the path the Fed has followed since August, yet the crisis has grown worse and now bids to tank the larger economy. Does it make sense to do more of what isn't working?
* * *
The Fed's main achievement so far has been to stir a global lack of confidence in the greenback. By every available indicator, investors are fleeing the dollar for other currencies and such traditional safe havens as gold and commodities. Oil has surged to $110 a barrel, up from under $70 as recently as September. Gold is above $1,000 an ounce, up from $700 in September, and food prices are soaring across the board. The euro has hit record heights against the buck, and for the first time the dollar has fallen below the level of the Swiss franc.
Speculators are adding to this commodity boom, betting that the Fed has thrown price stability to the wind in order to ease U.S. housing and credit woes. The problem is that dollar weakness is making both of these problems worse. The flight from the dollar has made U.S.-based investments less attractive, at a time when the U.S. financial system urgently needs to raise capital. And the commodity boom is translating into higher food and energy prices that are robbing American consumers of discretionary income. In the name of avoiding a recession, reckless monetary policy has made one more likely.
Meanwhile, and disconcertingly, we keep hearing new explanations for the virtues of dollar weakness. One of the most popular is that the increase in commodity prices has nothing to do with the dollar but is merely a change in "relative prices" -- commodities compared to other goods -- caused by surging global demand.
No doubt strong world growth explains part of the commodity price rise this decade. But the dollar price of oil has surged by some 60% since September, even as U.S. growth has slowed sharply. If the dollar had merely retained its value against the euro, oil would be in the neighborhood of $70 a barrel. Dollar weakness explains a large part of the oil price surge.
We are also told that the U.S. is merely importing inflation from the rest of the world, such as China. Import prices have surged nearly 14% in the last year, but that is mainly recycling the inflation that the Federal Reserve has inspired. Like other countries that have linked their monetary policies to the U.S., China has been importing inflation due to dollar weakness. Its official price level has tripled in a year, and it is now letting the yuan rise more rapidly against the dollar to slow that domestic inflation.
Kuwait has already dropped its dollar peg to stem its inflation, and other Persian Gulf countries may follow suit. These are all signs that the world is losing confidence in the Fed's commitment to price stability.
Another excuse is that a weak dollar is useful because it helps to boost exports, and thus reduces the U.S. trade deficit. Exports have certainly been strong, but exports in goods are being more than offset by the rising cost of oil imports. In January, the U.S. trade gap actually widened thanks to oil imports. In any case, rising exports won't comfort Americans whose standard of living falls due to rising import prices.
Then there is the "just deserts" school, which claims that dollar weakness is the inevitable result of America living beyond its means for so long. This road-to-perdition view is especially popular in Europe and the U.S. media. To believe it, however, you have to conclude that the world was willing to ignore the U.S. trade deficit for decades only to awaken in horror now.
The truth is that, as ever, the fate of the dollar is in our own hands. Inflation is always a monetary phenomenon, determined by the supply and demand for a currency. The supply of dollars is controlled by a monopoly known as the Federal Reserve, and at any moment the Fed can produce more or fewer dollars. The Fed can also influence the demand for dollars by maintaining a commitment to price stability, or it can reduce that global demand by squandering its anti-inflation credibility the way it is now. Once squandered, it is difficult to regain -- as we learned the hard way in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Bush Administration is also not helping confidence in the dollar. While President Bush is doing well to fight protectionism and higher taxes, his Administration continues to give the impression that it quietly favors a weak dollar. Yes, the official Treasury mantra is that it prefers a "strong dollar." But that mantra was the same when the dollar was strong and oil was $20 a barrel in the 1990s as it is now when oil is $110 and the dollar is weaker than at any time since the 1970s.
Last week Mr. Bush dared to wander from this script and told the Nightly Business Report that a strong dollar "helps deal with inflation" and rued its weakness against the euro. He was quickly reeled in by his advisers, and in his Friday speech at the New York Economic Club Mr. Bush reverted to the boilerplate language that investors now interpret as favoring a weak currency.
* * *
Which brings us to tomorrow's Fed meeting. The markets are expecting another cut of 50-75 points in the benchmark fed funds rate, and if recent history is a guide will immediately price into futures another 50-point cut down the road. The stock market may rally, until it once again decides that easier money can't remedy what is fundamentally a problem of bank solvency. That problem can only be resolved by financial institutions and regulators coming to grips with the losses, raising more capital to cushion the blow, and closing or selling those banks that can never recover. That will require a more aggressive, and pre-emptive, regulatory role for the Fed -- and that we would applaud.
What the U.S. and world economy don't need is a Fed that continues to insist that inflation expectations are "well-anchored" when everyone else knows they aren't. The Fed needs to restore its monetary credibility, or today's panic could become tomorrow's crash.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Earmarks
on: March 16, 2008, 09:06:51 PM
Earmarks as Usual
March 15, 2008; Page A10
For Congressional Appropriators, Thursday night's vote cashiering the earmark moratorium was an embarrassment of riches, with some 71 Senators endorsing Capitol Hill's spending culture. For everyone else, it was merely embarrassing.
The amendment, sponsored by Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), would have imposed a one-year earmark freeze, and it seemed to be gaining momentum earlier in the week, even cheered on by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But the Appropriations empire struck back, twisting every arm to preserve its spending privileges. The measure was voted down after being ruled "non-germane" to the budget. That's as good a measure as any of the Congressional mentality: Apparently earmarks, which totaled $18.3 billion for 2008, aren't relevant to overall spending.
Just three Republican Appropriators voted for the amendment, including surprise support from longtime skeptic Mitch McConnell. No such shockers from the Democrats, with all Appropriators going against and only six Senators bucking the party line, especially Missouri's Claire McCaskill, one of the more courageous antipork champions.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton no doubt backed the moratorium to insulate themselves against one of John McCain's signature themes. But they're also bending to the broader political winds. In an election year, voters understand the waste and corruption that pork enables, leading even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say, "I'm losing patience with earmarks."
That Mr. McCain's Republican colleagues fail, or refuse, to recognize the political potency is not a good sign. More GOP Senators voted against the moratorium than voted for it, proving that they are just as complacent about pork as most Democrats. And this vote comes on the heels of offenses like appointing ranking GOP Appropriator Thad Cochran ($837 million in pork last year) to the earmark-reform "working committee." The Republicans appear to be settling in comfortably with their minority status.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: McCain
on: March 16, 2008, 08:33:25 PM
Second post of the day:
The Conservative Case for McCain
By MARK SANFORD
March 15, 2008; Page A10
Last week, I asked David Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, why he is quitting his job to travel the country on a "fiscal wake-up tour." His answer: Because we have only five to 10 years to address the federal government's looming shortfalls before we're faced with a fiscal crisis.
In about a decade, the twin forces of demographics and compound interest will leave few options for solving the fiscal mess Washington has created. By then, our options will all be ugly. We could make draconian spending cuts, or impose large tax increases that will undermine our economy in the competitive global marketplace. Or we could debase the value of the dollar by printing a large amount of money. This would shrink the overall value of the federal government's debt. It would also wipe out the value of most Americans' savings.
Mr. Walker is right. And I join many others in saying that federal spending is now as significant an issue as the war on terror, federal judgeships and energy independence. The U.S. stands at a fiscal crossroads -- and the consequences of inaction, or wrongful action, will be real and severe.
Fortunately, the presidential election offers us a real choice in how to address the fiscal mess. To use a football analogy, we're at halftime; and the question for conservatives is whether to get off the bench for the second half of the game.
I sat out the first half, not endorsing a candidate, occupied with my day job and four young boys at home. But I'm now stepping onto the field and going to work to help John McCain. It's important that conservatives do the same.
It's easy to get caught up in the pursuit of political perfection, and to assume that if a candidate doesn't agree with you 100% of the time, then he doesn't deserve your support. In fact, Mr. McCain is a lot closer to 100% than many conservatives realize. He has never voted for a tax increase in his 25 years in Congress. He holds an 83% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. He is listed as a taxpayer hero by Citizens Against Government Waste. And he is supported by noted conservatives Phil Gramm, Jack Kemp and others.
The process of iron sharpening iron is good for the GOP. But now, I believe, the time has passed for focusing on what divides us.
There is a yawning gulf between the viewpoints of Mr. McCain and those of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Nowhere is this more evident than on the critical issue of the steady collapse of our government's financial house.
Since 2000, the federal budget has increased 72%, to $3.1 trillion from $1.8 trillion. The national debt is now $9 trillion -- more than the combined GDP of China, Japan and Canada. Add in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security commitments, and as a nation we are staring at more than a $50 trillion hole -- an invisible mortgage of $450,000 for every American family.
Hope alone won't carry us through the valley of the shadow of debt. The fact that neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama has made cost-cutting a part of their political vocabulary is a clear indication that they would increase spending. In fact, Mrs. Clinton has already proven skillful at snagging pork. Over the past few years alone, she has attached some $2.2 billion in earmarks to federal spending bills. Mr. McCain has asked for exactly $0 in earmarks.
And while Mr. Obama's oratorical skills have been inspiring, his proposals would entail roughly the same $800 billion in new government spending that Mrs. Clinton proposes. To his credit, Mr. Obama admits that his spending proposals will take more than three clicks of his heels to fund. He would pay for his priorities with a bevy of tax increases which he hopes taxpayers won't notice.
But taxpayers will notice. Mr. Obama plans to raise taxes on capital gains, dividends and corporate profits. He wants to hike estate taxes by 50%. And he wants to eliminate the cap on payroll taxes. These tax hikes would increase the burden borne by individuals and decrease the competitiveness of our economy.
I was elected to Congress in 1994 as part of a Republican Revolution that captured control of both the House and Senate. A number of us tried to apply the brakes to the Washington spending train. We didn't succeed. Six years later, I left Washington convinced that only a chief executive willing to use the presidential bully pulpit could bring spending under control.
Now, in John McCain, the GOP has a standard-bearer who would be willing to turn the power of the presidency toward controlling federal spending. Mr. McCain has one of the best spending records in Congress, and has never shied away from criticizing government pork-barrel spending.
The contrast between the two opposing teams is stark. It is time for the entire conservative squad to step onto the field. Who will join me in helping our team get the ball and move it down the field?
Mr. Sanford, a Republican, is the governor of South Carolina.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Spitzer Affair
on: March 16, 2008, 08:28:22 PM
After the Spitzer Storm
By E.J. MCMAHON
March 15, 2008; Page A10
In the long and storied political history of New York State, few things were ever as inevitable as Eliot Spitzer's election to the governor's office. As state attorney general, he already loomed as governor-presumptive before the Republican incumbent, Gov. George Pataki, confirmed in the summer of 2005 that he would not seek a fourth term. By November 2006, Mr. Spitzer's landslide (69%) victory over an articulate but underfunded Republican opponent was a foregone conclusion.
There were warning signs about his dark side. But to many New Yorkers, prosecutorial nastiness seemed to be just what was needed to reform the decadent political culture of Albany -- a place seldom mentioned in print without the modifier "dysfunctional."
Indeed, given his record, the millions who cast their ballots for him had reason to expect that Hurricane Eliot would tear up, root and branch, all that was wrong in the capital. What they got instead was more like a parking lot whirlwind -- stirring up the trash and pushing around shopping carts, but leaving no fundamental change in its wake.
Within days of taking office, Mr. Spitzer seemed to be feuding with everyone in sight. Personality issues aside, his "reform" agenda was muddled at best. On fiscal issues, jaws dropped even in Democratic circles when the new governor listed "spending control" among the hallmarks of his first budget -- which ended up boosting spending by 7%. Mr. Spitzer pledged himself to a record multiyear increase in aid to the state's public schools, already the best-financed in the country. He proposed well over $2 billion in tax and fee hikes, while denying that he had called for anything other than "loophole-closers." His much-publicized fight over Medicaid "cuts" boiled down to a dispute over marginal changes. And he added thousands of positions to the state payroll.
New York's fiscal year begins unusually early, on April 1, so this year's budget negotiations with the state legislature were about to enter a crucial period when news of Client 9 broke on Monday afternoon. And now the Spitzer storm has blown out to sea.
He leaves behind a state whose troubles are best summarized by a single population statistic: Since 2000, more than a million New Yorkers have moved to other states, the biggest outmigration loss in the nation. The Empire State's net population has been propped up only by foreign immigrants, most of whom settle in New York City. Various economic indexes consistently rank New York's business and tax climate among the worst in the nation.
To a great degree, New York owes its sclerotic government and slow economic growth to its status as the nation's most heavily unionized state. Roughly half of those union members work in the public sector, and a growing number of the rest are employed in the heavily government-subsidized health-care industry. Organized labor's clout in Albany has never been stronger -- and in various ways, Mr. Spitzer was feeding it.
The power of the unions -- combined with well organized lobbying by hospitals and nursing homes -- also explains why New York continues to maintain the nation's most expensive Medicaid program, spending nearly twice the per-recipient average for all states.
The burden of the bloated public sector weighs most heavily on the upstate region. High taxes, plus high business costs for energy and small group insurance, make it difficult to revive communities beaten down by the decline of manufacturing employment. The Bush tax cuts helped New York City and its surrounding suburbs to recover strongly, if belatedly, from recession and terrorist attacks earlier in the decade. But Wall Street -- the heart of New York's economy and the state's revenue base -- is now reeling from the credit market crisis.
The responsibility for dealing with these problems now falls to Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who will be sworn in as governor in just days. Prior to joining Mr. Spitzer's ticket, during a 21-year career in the state Senate's Democratic minority, Mr. Paterson became best known for two things: He is legally blind, and he is the probably the wittiest, most agreeable politician in the state Capitol.
Mr. Paterson, who will be the state's first African-American governor, got his start as the protégé of a circle of older, Harlem-based politicians including his father, former state senator and secretary of state Basil Paterson; U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel; and David Dinkins, who was city clerk and Manhattan borough president before his disastrous single term as mayor.
During the 1990s, Mr. Paterson dutifully voted for Republican-sponsored state tax cuts because they were included in bipartisan budget deals. But as Senate minority leader in 2005 and 2006, he was the prime sponsor of a bill that would have increased New York City's top income tax rate by 22%, to fund a school class-size reduction initiative. He co-sponsored a proposed $2.7 billion state income tax increase to pay for even higher school spending, and a big personal tax exemption for public school teachers. Neither bill went anywhere -- but both may provide a telling glimpse into Mr. Paterson's thinking.
Then again, while Mr. Paterson has close ties to labor unions as well as Democratic Party warhorses like Rep. Rangel, he also has supported an expansion of charter schools, and has shown an affinity for a newer generation of change-oriented urban politicians like Newark, N.J.'s Mayor Corey Booker, to whose campaign he steered a $10,000 contribution in 2006.
Mr. Paterson takes office in difficult circumstances well liked, and with a large store of goodwill. After all the hope and hype surrounding Mr. Spitzer upon his arrival, expectations have descended from the stratosphere. At this point, New Yorkers would settle for competence.
Mr. McMahon is the director of the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Asian youths" beat up priest
on: March 16, 2008, 07:45:38 PM
March 16, 2008
Asian youths in 'faith hate' attack on priest
An Anglican priest is in hospital after he was beaten up and insulted in what appears to be a “faith hate” assault by Asian youths.
Canon Michael Ainsworth, 57, was kicked and punched in the head and left with deep cuts, bruising and two black eyes in the grounds of his historic church in east London after he asked three Asian youths there to be quiet.
The attack at the 18th-century St George in the East Church in Stepney follows a number of apparently anti-Christian attacks in recent months in the same area.
Alan Green, area dean for Tower Hamlets, said: “It was a nasty cowardly attack. There were several groups in the churchyard and two from one group attacked him and the other group came and helped him back to the house.
“He was kicked and punched in the head as he lay on the ground, I believe that what was shouted was ‘you ********** priest’ before they attacked him.”
A Metropolitan police spokesman said: “The suspects are Asian . . . and the incident is being investigated as an alleged faith hate crime.”
The church had previously been targeted when a brick smashed a window during a service. Allan Ramanoop, a member of the parochial church council, said: “On one occasion, youths shouted: ‘This should not be a church, this should be a mosque, you should not be here’.
“The youths are anti-Christian. It’s terrible what they have done to Canon Ainsworth. We’ve never had violence like that before.”
A parishioner raised the alarm after the attack on March 5, but the youths had fled by the time police arrived.
The church was consecrated in 1729 and designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. It was severely damaged during the blitz but rebuilt in the 1960s.
Ainsworth was discharged from hospital but has now gone back in. Yesterday, he was visited in St Bartholomew’s hospital by his wife Jan, who is also a priest as well as being the Church of England’s chief education officer.
She said her husband was concerned publicity about the attack could fuel inter-faith tensions. “He does not want the level of fuss and attention. I think he feels it’s quite difficult in the local area.”
The Met recorded an upsurge in attacks against Muslims after the July 2005 bombings in London. There are also numerous attacks against Jews but, according to police statistics, relatively few Christians are attacked because of their faith. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/com...cle3559768.ece
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan on McCain
on: March 16, 2008, 01:53:12 PM
By PEGGY NOONAN
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March 14, 2008 9:26 p.m.; Page W16
It's a tale of two houses. One is dilapidated, old. Everyone in the neighborhood is used to it, and they turn away when they pass. A series of people lived in it and failed to take care of it. It's run down, needs paint. The roof sags, squirrels run through the eaves. A haunted house! No, more boring. Just a house someone . . . let go.
But over here, a new house on a new plot. It's rising from the mud before your eyes. It has interesting lines, a promising façade, and when people walk by they stop and look. So much bustle! Builders running in and out, the contractors fighting with each other—"You wouldn't even have this job if it weren't for the minority set-aside!" And everyone hates the architect, who put a port-o-potty on the lawn.
But: You can't take your eyes off it. "Something being born, and not something dying." Maybe it will improve the neighborhood. Maybe the owners will be nice.
If the old house is the Republicans and John McCain, and the new house is the Democrats and their presidential candidates, or at least one of them, what can Mr. McCain do? How can he better his position? What can he do to help his house?
You know what he has in his favor. He's gentleman Johnny McCain, hero, maverick. He has more knowledge on national defense in his pinky than the others will have, after four years in the White House, in their entire bodies. He's the one who should be answering the phone at 3 a.m. But "This is no country for old men." He feels like the past. He paints himself as George W. Bush's third term. Who wants that? Mr. Bush himself just wants the brown, brown grass of home.
The base is tired. Republicans feel their own kind of unease at Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. Talk about wanting to stand athwart history yelling stop. They're not in a mood to give money. Remember the phrase "broken glass Republicans?" The number of Republicans so offended, so wounded, actually, as citizens, by the Clinton years, that they'd crawl across broken glass to elect George Bush? They existed in 2004, too. Now a lot of them wouldn't crawl across a plush weave carpet to vote for a Republican. They're looking around. Look at that new house they're building . . .
What can Mr. McCain do, right now? He might start with a little refurbishing of himself. A good friend of his told me Mr. McCain's number one problem is "a lack of discipline." Mr. McCain is up at 6 a.m. and works it hard 'til midnight, but he lacks "discipline of the mind." He defined this as "not thinking about the answer to the question, not being serious, just popping off. He does it in part to charm and amuse the press. Before this is over they'll kill him with it." Former Sen. Phil Gramm, he said, is the only person around Mr. McCain who has the "heft" to get him to focus. Everyone else is in awe, or loves him too much, or doesn't see the problem. But it's crucial, he said, that Mr. McCain embrace a new seriousness—no more "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," no more Hey, we could be there for a hundred years.
The friend said he thought Mr. McCain is showing a certain "complacency" because he's already got what he wanted. "He's got Bush's people bowing, he's got the conservatives coming back, the establishment bowing. He's satisfied. He's finally got it!" But you have to want the presidency or the people won't give it to you. You have to fight for it. I asked if Mr. McCain really wanted it, really hungered. He shrugged. He didn't know.
* * *
Everything the friend said pinged off things I've observed of the McCain campaign. I'd add this. One always wonders with Mr. McCain: What exactly does he feel passionately about, what great question? Or rather, what does he stand for, really? For he often shows passion, but he rarely speaks of meaning. The issues that summon his full engagement are issues on which he's been challenged by his party and others. McCain, to McCain, is defined by his maverickness. That's who he is. (It's the theme of his strikingly good memoir, "Worth the Fighting For.") He stands up to power. He faces them down. It's not only a self image, it's a self obsession.
But it has left him seeming passionate only about those issues on which he's been able to act out his maverickness, such as campaign finance and immigration. He's passionate about McCain-Feingold because . . . because people don't understand how right he is, and how wrong they are. He's passionate not about immigration itself but about how he got his head handed to him when he backed comprehensive reform, about which he was right by the way. He's passionate about Iraq because America can't cut and run, as it did in Vietnam, to the subsequent heartbreak of good people, and heroes. But this is not philosophy, it's autobiography.
Issues removed from his personal drama, from the saga of John McCain, don't seem to capture his interest to any deep extent.
* * *
He has positions, but a series of separate, discrete and seemingly unconnected stands do not coherence make. Mr. McCain, in public, does not dig down to the meaning of things, to why he stands where he stands, to what understanding of life drives his political decisions. But voters hunger for coherence, for a philosophical thread that holds all the positions together.
Where Mr. McCain's friend says, "be disciplined," I'd say, "Get serious." What is the meaning of things? What is the guiding philosophy? Who has he read besides Hemingway? (And he's read him—he loves him to an almost scary degree.) Is there a little Burke in there? The Federalist papers? John Kenneth Galbraith?
On Iraq, for instance. The surge has worked, but what has it worked to do? Has it made us safe to be there 20 years? Is that good? Why are we there? Were we right to go in? What overall view of the world, of strategy, of American meaning, is being expressed in Iraq? Who are we in the world? What do we mean to do in the 21st century? And in what way does this connect to a philosophical view of life, of the meaning of being here on earth as Americans?
In the most successful political careers there is a purpose, a guiding philosophy. Not an ideology—ideology is something imposed from above, something abstract dreamed up by an intellectual. Philosophy isn't imposed from above, it bubbles up from the ground, from life. And its expression is missing with Mr. McCain. Political staffs inevitably treat philosophy as the last thing, almost an indulgence. But it's the central fact from which all else flows. Staffs turn each day to scheduling, advance, fundraising, returning the billionaire's phone call. They're quick to hold the meeting to agree on the speech on the economy. But they don't, can't, give that speech meaning and depth. Only the candidate can, actually.
Philosophy is the foundation. All the rest is secondary, a quick one-coat paint job on a house with a sagging roof.
If Mr. McCain got serious and told us how he views life, and politics, and America's purpose in the world, people just may start to look at the old house again, see it new. Who knows, maybe with work it could be turned into a mansion.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / LA Times: Gays fear an influx of hate
on: March 16, 2008, 01:43:47 PM
No doubt which side the reporter is on
Slaying raises tension between homosexuals and the Sacramento area's growing Slavic evangelical ranks.
By Eric Bailey, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 16, 2008
FOLSOM, CALIF. -- One punch was all it took. One punch to forever divide. One punch to kill a young man.
On a hot summer afternoon along a placid lakefront in the Sacramento suburbs, Satender Singh had come with a group of fellow Fijians to celebrate his promotion at an AT&T call center. Three married couples and Singh, a lighthearted 26-year-old, drank and hooted and danced a crazy conga line to East Indian music.
An innocent outing? Not in the eyes of the Russian family a few picnic tables away.
Andrey Vusik, 29, fresh from morning church services with his young children in tow, stared with disgust as Singh danced and hugged the other men while their wives giggled. To the Russian, Singh seemed rude and inappropriate, a gay man putting on an outrageous public display.
Angry stares led to an afternoon of traded insults. As the long day slid toward dusk, the tall Russian immigrant approached with a friend to demand an apology. Singh refused. Vusik threw a single punch.
Singh's head smacked into a concrete walkway. The joyful young man with the musical laugh died four days later of brain injuries.
Now, half a year after that angry Sunday afternoon at Lake Natoma, 15 miles east of the state Capitol, the case remains anything but resolved.
Vusik, a father of three, fled the U.S. and remains a fugitive, charged with involuntary manslaughter. Authorities suspect he is on the run in Russia, and the FBI has joined the hunt. Meanwhile, a young friend of Vusik -- Alex Shevchenko -- faces trial next month on hate-crime http, accused of helping to inflame the confrontation last July 1 and then hurling a bottle as he fled.
The tragedy has exacerbated tensions between Sacramento's gay community and the region's booming population of Slavic evangelical Christians, whose most vocal congregants in recent years have mobilized on the streets and statehouse steps to protest homosexuality.
Shevchenko did not throw a punch, but he could face three years behind bars if convicted. Slavic leaders say the 21-year-old is being scapegoated. They say an isolated tragedy is being used to ostracize their community of refugees from the former Soviet Union.
"This was not a hate crime; this was a street fight," said Roman Romasco, executive director of the Slavic Assistance Center in Sacramento. "From a street fight, they try to make a big case. From a little spark, they try to make a big fire. But you cannot blame the whole community over this."
Gay rights activists in Sacramento, which has one of the larger per capita gay populations in the U.S., believe Singh's death is the inevitable result of an organized campaign of homophobia imported from the old Soviet republics.
"The roots of what these guys did to Satender Singh can be traced to what's being preached in their churches," said Jerry Sloan, founder of Project Tocsin, a Sacramento-based group that monitors the religious right. "Some sitting in those pews believe they've heard it straight from God: that homosexuality is an abomination."
With as many as 100,000 newcomers from republics such as Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, the Sacramento region has one of the nation's largest concentrations of Soviet immigrants. Most began arriving in the late 1980s -- about a third of them conservative evangelical Christians seeking religious freedom.
The influx has created a thriving Russian community with Russian-language newspapers, cable TV and radio shows, as well as 70 Slavic churches -- nearly all adherents of a fundamentalist creed that condemns homosexuality.
Those beliefs, preached from the pulpit and voiced in Russian-language media, did not attract much attention until 2005, when a vocal crowd of Slavic evangelicals mounted a protest at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.
In the years since, they have become the most aggressive anti-gay contingent in the region. Holding signs and wearing T-shirts proclaiming "Sodomy is a Sin," they have mounted protests against state legislation, rallied at school board meetings and picketed fundraisers for politicians backed by gay-rights groups.
Sometimes their protests have taken a more personal tack.
Nathan Feldman, 30, said Slavic protesters have shoved him and spit on him at gay-pride events. Feldman said he lost his job at a jewelry store after a Ukrainian co-worker discovered he was gay and lied to get him fired. That wasn't all. A vandal scrawled graffiti on a trash dumpster outside his apartment: "Nathan Feldman, Die for AIDS."
"All of this has been going on way before Satender was killed," said Feldman, now a reporter for a gay-focused cable news show.
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Local politicians have warned Slavic churches to tone down the rhetoric. State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said in a newspaper opinion piece that "radical fundamentalists" have pinned a bull's-eye on the gay community. "Tragically now, the threat of violence has become reality, as manifested in this murder."
Since Singh's death, civil-rights groups have expressed concern that Russian enclaves in such West Coast cities as Sacramento, Portland and Seattle have become spawning grounds for virulent anti-gay sentiment.
A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report said many of the region's most vocal Slavic activists are followers of an international anti-gay group called Watchmen on the Walls. Formed just a few years ago, the group has established a potent presence among Slavic evangelicals in the U.S. and abroad.
Using battle-tinged rhetoric, the Watchmen have called for evangelicals to step aggressively into the political realm to fight what they see as a gay agenda threatening the traditional family.
They held a convention in Sacramento -- attended by several dozen devotees -- just a few months before the Singh killing.
The founders include Alexey Ledyaev, pastor of New Generation Church -- a Latvian-based denomination with more than 200 satellite congregations, including one in Sacramento -- and Scott Lively, an anti-gay activist and attorney with California roots who wrote "The Pink Swastika," a book linking Nazi Germany's Third Reich to homosexuality.
Vlad Kusakin, the host of a Sacramento Russian-language radio show and publisher of a Slavic newspaper that circulates in several West Coast cities, has appeared at Watchmen conventions.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has added the Watchmen to its list of hate groups, which includes such organizations as the Aryan Nations and the Golden State Skinheads.
"The rationale is the extreme viciousness of the group's anti-gay propaganda," said Mark Potok, director of the center's Intelligence Project.
Lively said in an e-mail that Watchmen do not promote or condone violence and are being unfairly subjected to a "hate-themed smear campaign." As for gay people, he said, "The public sympathy they enjoy as a political movement cannot survive honest scrutiny of their lifestyle or agenda."
Shevchenko's trial is set for April 29. Michael Long, his attorney, said the facts don't warrant hate-crime charges. Vusik initially asked Singh and his friends to stop their sexually explicit dancing, the attorney said, but the Fijians refused and called the Russians "white trash."
"I'm sure if it had been two straight people doing simulated sexual acts, they would have felt the same way," Long said. "This wasn't about evangelical versus gay. The Russians just wanted a peaceful picnic, and the Fijians were being obnoxious."
Singh's friends and family have tiptoed around questions of his sexual orientation. Since arriving from Fiji, he mostly stayed in the closet, gay activists say, occasionally hitting bars to dance.
His circle of friends was big and grew easily. One co-worker told mourners at a memorial service about a phone message Singh had left, a few words laced together by his lilting laugh. She vowed never to erase it.
Singh had gone to the lakefront with three couples, all straight. One of the women was pregnant.
A video shot by one of Singh's friends that afternoon shows him dancing with both men and women, grinding hips and at one point being theatrically swatted on the rear by a male friend holding a leafy stick.
Vusik, who worked in auto exports, was barbecuing with his wife, Tatyana, their children and a sister-in-law, Dasha. Shevchenko, Dasha's boyfriend, joined the group later.
Witnesses told authorities that the two camps on the shoreline traded insults for hours.
Details of the confrontation were sketched out during a preliminary hearing.
One witness said she heard the Fijians name-calling first.
Others said the Russians were the aggressors. Vusik allegedly told one of Singh's friends he wanted the "faggot" to "say sorry to me."
Late in the day, Vusik and Shevchenko approached to ask for that apology. Singh refused. Arguing erupted anew around the picnic table. Prosecutors say Vusik threw a cup of beer at one of Singh's friends, Singh stood up and Vusik punched him.
Gay activists continue to insist that the homicide was no random act of violence. Some say murder charges should have been filed. With several gay-pride events planned in the capital city in April, they worry about more trouble.
Marghe Covino, a veteran Sacramento civil rights activist and member of the Satender Justice Coalition -- formed after Singh's death -- said 60 gay people were murdered in Russia last year.
"People here feel targeted. They feel unsafe," she said. "All it will take is one more angry person to pick up a rock. Or pick up a gun."email@example.com
What I get here is the deceased was doing some pretty flagrant humping in front of the Russian's family, including young children. Fathers, mothers, what would you feel? What would you do?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / LAPD's assault on SWAT
on: March 16, 2008, 01:37:49 PM
From the Opinion section of the LA Times:
Would you rather have an elite fighting force made up of the best cops, or of officers who 'look like L.A.'?
By Robert C.J. Parry
March 16, 2008
On a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 2005, Jose Peña fueled himself with cocaine and grabbed a 9-millimeter pistol. Waving the gun at the head of his 19-month-old daughter, Suzie, he told the LAPD officers who arrived at the scene that he was Tony Montana -- the character played by Al Pacino in "Scarface" -- and that he was going to kill his daughter and himself. He'd already shot at her sister and at the police, so the threat was believable.
The situation was straightforward: If an LAPD SWAT crisis negotiator couldn't dispel Peña's narcotic fantasies, the little girl's life would rest with a SWAT rescue team's ability to cross a 50-foot alley, access the building, find and enter the room he was in and save Suzie before Peña pulled the trigger.
Now imagine for a moment that you were in Suzie Peña's position. Would you want the police SWAT team coming through the door to be the best of the best -- the toughest, most highly trained, most elite tacticians in the Los Angeles Police Department -- or would you want the team to "look like L.A."? Would you want rescuers who had not lost a hostage in three decades, or would you want a team with heartwarming, multicultural diversity?
The answer is pretty obvious, no? You'd want the best. That's what Suzie got, and even so, the results were tragic. According to the L.A. district attorney's office, Jose Peña emerged from the building and a gunfight ensued. When Peña retreated to his office, four SWAT officers crossed the alley in a matter of seconds, entered the building, took fire through the walls -- fire that struck one officer -- and entered Peña's office. There, they exchanged more shots with the gunman, who was standing behind a desk with Suzie. In the chaos, both Jose and Suzie Peña were killed.
Suzie is the only hostage ever lost by LAPD SWAT during its 35 years.
Shortly after her death, Police Chief William J. Bratton appointed a board of inquiry to examine the incident. Its mission, he said, was to investigate the officers' tactics and other factors in the shooting. "For the safety of the public and officers, we need to understand intimately what transpired in that incident," he said at the time.
In fact, the board did nothing of the sort. None of the SWAT officers from the Peña shooting were even interviewed by the panel, according to multiple sources. Indeed, the board's eight members included fewer tactical experts (one) than attorneys (three). In its final report, the board acknowledged that it had been "ultimately precluded from gaining a full and complete understanding of what transpired in Peña until after this report was finalized."
What's more, Assistant Chief Sharon Papa privately promised the team shortly after the incident that the report would be aired openly, according to officers who were present. That didn't happen either. The final report -- completed 15 months ago -- has not been released. Many senior department officials have never seen it, and Times reporters have repeatedly requested it but have been turned down. I received a copy earlier this month from a source.
The report shows that instead of fulfilling Bratton's promises, the board used the Peña case (with Bratton's encouragement) as a way to push for a series of politically correct changes within SWAT -- changes that many cops believe will have absolutely no benefit and that they believe will endanger the lives of citizens and cops alike.
From the start -- before the panel examined any evidence -- Bratton made it clear that increasing SWAT's diversity was particularly important to him. In November 2005, he privately addressed the board about his goals for their inquiry. The final report quotes him: "I'm looking to create change within SWAT. The qualifications to get in are stringent. But are they too stringent? There are no women and few African Americans.... Are there artificial barriers for getting into SWAT that the 'good old boys' network has maintained?"
Bratton's assertion that SWAT has few African Americans is not accurate. Eight of the 63 SWAT members are black, sources say, -- even after the death of Officer Randal Simmons on Feb. 7. That's 12.6% in a department that is 12% African American.
Nevertheless, in keeping with Bratton's wishes, the final report devotes substantial space to how to bring in female and black officers. "The absence of women ... and the low number of African Americans in SWAT should be addressed and dealt with, and the membership of SWAT should be reflective of the community," the report says, although it offers no qualitative or quantitative evidence that this change would save a single life or lead to a single suspect's apprehension. The unit, the report says, has become "insular, self-referential and resistant to change."
The report goes on to say that "there is no task in SWAT that a woman could not perform" and that the selection criteria has "underemphasized negotiating skills, patience, empathy and flexibility while overemphasizing physical prowess and tactical acumen."
But SWAT officers who have actually entered houses to rescue hostages from killers (as they did Feb. 7 in Winnetka, resulting in the death of Simmonsand the wounding of Officer James Veenstra) say there is no such thing as overemphasizing tactical acumen or physical prowess for such assignments.
Yes, they say, there are probably women on the force who could and should be admitted to SWAT, but they should be required to meet the same standards as other applicants and should be chosen for skill, not for diversity. The reality, SWAT members say, is that the standards for tactical success apply to everyone equally. Upper-body strength is vital to holding a 12-pound rifle stone-steady to hit a deranged killer while avoiding his hostage in a whirlwind of chaos.
In general, the final board report offers little or no persuasive evidence as to why SWAT should change. "SWAT performs in a disciplined and exemplary manner consistent with its fine reputation," the report acknowledges. "It has been and remains a source of great pride within the LAPD."
In fact, according to the report itself, out of 3,771 missions SWAT has performed from 1972 to 2005, suspects have been apprehended without any "untoward" incident in 83% of the cases. (The report does not define "untoward.") It notes that SWAT members have killed a suspect only 31 times in 33 years -- that's less than 1% of all engagements, often with the city's most deranged and violent criminals.
What's more, SWAT has lost only one hostage -- Suzie Peña -- and the way to ensure it doesn't happen again is to maintain and raise standards, not to lower them out of political correctness.
None of that matters, though, to the brass. "Bratton wants a woman on SWAT regardless of whether she's 110 pounds soaking wet and completely incapable of pulling 200 pounds of Jimmy Veenstra and his gear out of a house in the middle of a gunfight," said one officer who survived the Winnetka shootout in which Veenstra was extracted by his teammates while under fire.
Based on the findings of the report, the LAPD has just instituted a new selection process for SWAT, according to a SWAT veteran who helped in the redesign. Instead of picking cops on the basis of their ability to handle weapons and stress, the new standards specifically exclude video-based shooting simulator evaluations and "Hogan's Alley," a daunting series of pop-up targets representing armed crooks and hostages. A simulated raid with flash-bang devices that previously disqualified many candidates who accidentally shot the "hostage" is also gone.
The new test's only physical challenges are a modest physical fitness qualification and a modified obstacle course. "My preteen daughter could pass that," one officer said. Applicants' scores will now largely come from an oral interview conducted by non-SWAT and non-LAPD supervisors. In essence, the test is largely subjective.
Another coming change that SWAT officers criticize is one that would allow officers from anywhere in the department to apply to SWAT, rather than limiting it (as it has historically been limited) to officers from the elite Metropolitan Division. SWAT had argued to the board that continued selection from Metro was "a nearly fail-safe way to select the best of the best," and the final board report acknowledged that using only applicants from Metro "has produced remarkable cohesion, consistency, mutual trust and commonality of outlook."
But the board of inquiry ultimately claimed that including people from other divisions "could bring a wider perspective and greater gender and racial diversity." So the plan to broaden the pool of applicants is expected to go into effect next year.
There are a variety of innocuous recommendations in the board report, such as improvements in risk management, trend analysis and data analysis. The report calls for new accountability measures, including "Compstat-like accountability." (Compstat is Bratton's signature system for tracking crime trends.) The report also recommends providing all personnel with take-home cars, something the team has requested for years.
But it is the change in the selection process and the opening up of SWAT to applicants from outside Metro that have motivated SWAT officers' wives to launch an unusual e-mail campaign directed at Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, stating in part: "We are concerned with the safety of our husbands ... if they are expected to go into these highly dangerous situations with someone who got in under a compromised standard."
The report says, "SWAT culture and insularity pose a certain danger to the LAPD and the Los Angeles community as a whole." But the report is based on misconceptions.
SWAT is not a lily-white redoubt of old prejudices. Simmons and Veenstra (who is of Asian ancestry) illustrate this. Suzie Peña's attempted rescuers had names like Perez, Sanchez and Gallegos. Bratton may not know this; at the annual SWAT dinner, I saw him come in and talk to a couple of senior managers and deputy chiefs for 30 minutes and then leave, having barely acknowledged the officers -- black, white, Latino or otherwise. That evening, he forfeited his last chance to talk to Simmons, who died 10 days later.
SWAT is too important to this city to be weakened in the name of political correctness. Unless the Police Commission or other officials act, the LAPD will make social experimentation a higher priority than tactical excellence.
Robert C.J. Parry is a businessman working on a book about his experiences in the Army National Guard in Iraq.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why Shariah-2
on: March 16, 2008, 11:10:02 AM
Page 4 of 6)
Of course, merely declaring the ruler subject to the law was not enough on its own; the ruler actually had to follow the law. For that, he needed incentives. And as it happened, the system of government gave him a big one, in the form of a balance of power with the scholars. The ruler might be able to use pressure once in a while to get the results he wanted in particular cases. But because the scholars were in charge of the law, and he was not, the ruler could pervert the course of justice only at the high cost of being seen to violate God’s law — thereby undermining the very basis of his rule.
In practice, the scholars’ leverage to demand respect for the law came from the fact that the caliphate was not hereditary as of right. That afforded the scholars major influence at the transitional moments when a caliph was being chosen or challenged. On taking office, a new ruler — even one designated by his dead predecessor — had to fend off competing claimants. The first thing he would need was affirmation of the legitimacy of his assumption of power. The scholars were prepared to offer just that, in exchange for the ruler’s promise to follow the law.
Once in office, rulers faced the inevitable threat of invasion or a palace coup. The caliph would need the scholars to declare a religious obligation to protect the state in a defensive jihad. Having the scholars on his side in times of crisis was a tremendous asset for the ruler who could be said to follow the law. Even if the ruler was not law-abiding, the scholars still did not spontaneously declare a sitting caliph disqualified. This would have been foolish, especially in view of the fact that the scholars had no armies at their disposal and the sitting caliph did. But their silence could easily be interpreted as an invitation for a challenger to step forward and be validated.
The scholars’ insistence that the ruler obey Shariah was motivated largely by their belief that it was God’s will. But it was God’s will as they interpreted it. As a confident, self-defined elite that controlled and administered the law according to well-settled rules, the scholars were agents of stability and predictability — crucial in societies where the transition from one ruler to the next could be disorderly and even violent. And by controlling the law, the scholars could limit the ability of the executive to expropriate the property of private citizens. This, in turn, induced the executive to rely on lawful taxation to raise revenues, which itself forced the rulers to be responsive to their subjects’ concerns. The scholars and their law were thus absolutely essential to the tremendous success that Islamic society enjoyed from its inception into the 19th century. Without Shariah, there would have been no Haroun al-Rashid in Baghdad, no golden age of Muslim Spain, no reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul.
For generations, Western students of the traditional Islamic constitution have assumed that the scholars could offer no meaningful check on the ruler. As one historian has recently put it, although Shariah functioned as a constitution, “the constitution was not enforceable,” because neither scholars nor subjects could “compel their ruler to observe the law in the exercise of government.” But almost no constitution anywhere in the world enables judges or nongovernmental actors to “compel” the obedience of an executive who controls the means of force. The Supreme Court of the United States has no army behind it. Institutions that lack the power of the sword must use more subtle means to constrain executives. Like the American constitutional balance of powers, the traditional Islamic balance was maintained by words and ideas, and not just by forcible compulsion.
So today’s Muslims are not being completely fanciful when they act and speak as though Shariah can structure a constitutional state subject to the rule of law. One big reason that Islamist political parties do so well running on a Shariah platform is that their constituents recognize that Shariah once augured a balanced state in which legal rights were respected.
From Shariah to Despotism
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But if Shariah is popular among many Muslims in large part because of its historical association with the rule of law, can it actually do the same work today? Here there is reason for caution and skepticism. The problem is that the traditional Islamic constitution rested on a balance of powers between a ruler subject to law and a class of scholars who interpreted and administered that law. The governments of most contemporary majority-Muslim states, however, have lost these features. Rulers govern as if they were above the law, not subject to it, and the scholars who once wielded so much influence are much reduced in status. If they have judicial posts at all, it is usually as judges in the family-law courts.
In only two important instances do scholars today exercise real power, and in both cases we can see a deviation from their traditional role. The first is Iran, where Ayatollah Khomeini, himself a distinguished scholar, assumed executive power and became supreme leader after the 1979 revolution. The result of this configuration, unique in the history of the Islamic world, is that the scholarly ruler had no counterbalance and so became as unjust as any secular ruler with no check on his authority. The other is Saudi Arabia, where the scholars retain a certain degree of power. The unfortunate outcome is that they can slow any government initiative for reform, however minor, but cannot do much to keep the government responsive to its citizens. The oil-rich state does not need to obtain tax revenues from its citizens to operate — and thus has little reason to keep their interests in mind.
How the scholars lost their exalted status as keepers of the law is a complex story, but it can be summed up in the adage that partial reforms are sometimes worse than none at all. In the early 19th century, the Ottoman empire responded to military setbacks with an internal reform movement. The most important reform was the attempt to codify Shariah. This Westernizing process, foreign to the Islamic legal tradition, sought to transform Shariah from a body of doctrines and principles to be discovered by the human efforts of the scholars into a set of rules that could be looked up in a book.
Once the law existed in codified form, however, the law itself was able to replace the scholars as the source of authority. Codification took from the scholars their all-important claim to have the final say over the content of the law and transferred that power to the state. To placate the scholars, the government kept the Shariah courts running but restricted them to handling family-law matters. This strategy paralleled the British colonial approach of allowing religious courts to handle matters of personal status. Today, in countries as far apart as Kenya and Pakistan, Shariah courts still administer family law — a small subset of their original historical jurisdiction.
Codification signaled the death knell for the scholarly class, but it did not destroy the balance of powers on its own. Promulgated in 1876, the Ottoman constitution created a legislature composed of two lawmaking bodies — one elected, one appointed by the sultan. This amounted to the first democratic institution in the Muslim world; had it established itself, it might have popularized the notion that the people represent the ultimate source of legal authority. Then the legislature could have replaced the scholars as the institutional balance to the executive.
But that was not to be. Less than a year after the legislature first met, Sultan Abdulhamid II suspended its operation — and for good measure, he suspended the constitution the following year. Yet the sultan did not restore the scholars to the position they once occupied. With the scholars out of the way and no legislature to replace them, the sultan found himself in the position of near-absolute ruler. This arrangement set the pattern for government in the Muslim world after the Ottoman empire fell. Law became a tool of the ruler, not an authority over him. What followed, perhaps unsurprisingly, was dictatorship and other forms of executive dominance — the state of affairs confronted by the Islamists who seek to restore Shariah.
A Democratic Shariah?
The Islamists today, partly out of realism, partly because they are rarely scholars themselves, seem to have little interest in restoring the scholars to their old role as the constitutional balance to the executive. The Islamist movement, like other modern ideologies, seeks to capture the existing state and then transform society through the tools of modern government. Its vision for bringing Shariah to bear therefore incorporates two common features of modern government: the legislature and the constitution.
The mainstream Sunni Islamist position, found, for example, in the electoral platforms of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, is that an elected legislature should draft and pass laws that are consistent with the spirit of Islamic law. On questions where Islamic law does not provide clear direction, the democratically chosen legislature is supposed to use its discretion to adopt laws infused by Islamic values.
The result is a profound change in the theoretical structure underlying Islamic law: Shariah is democratized in that its care is given to a popularly elected legislature. In Iraq, for example, where the constitution declares Shariah to be “the source of law,” it is in principle up to the National Assembly to pass laws that reflect its spirit.
Page 6 of 6)
In case the assembly gets it wrong, however, the Islamists often recommend the judicial review of legislative actions to guarantee that they do not violate Islamic law or values. What is sometimes called a “repugnancy clause,” mandating that a judicial body overturn laws repugnant to Islam, has made its way into several recent constitutions that seek to reconcile Islam and democracy. It may be found, for example, in the Afghan Constitution of 2004 and the Iraqi Constitution of 2005. (I had a small role advising the Iraqi drafters.) Islamic judicial review transforms the highest judicial body of the state into a guarantor of conformity with Islamic law. The high court can then use this power to push for a conservative vision of Islamic law, as in Afghanistan, or for a more moderate version, as in Pakistan.
Islamic judicial review puts the court in a position resembling the one that scholars once occupied. Like the scholars, the judges of the reviewing court present their actions as interpretations of Islamic law. But of course the judges engaged in Islamic judicial review are not the scholars but ordinary judges (as in Iraq) or a mix of judges and scholars (as in Afghanistan). In contrast to the traditional arrangement, the judges’ authority comes not from Shariah itself but from a written constitution that gives them the power of judicial review.
The modern incarnation of Shariah is nostalgic in its invocation of the rule of law but forward-looking in how it seeks to bring this result about. What the Islamists generally do not acknowledge, though, is that such institutions on their own cannot deliver the rule of law. The executive authority also has to develop a commitment to obeying legal and constitutional judgments. That will take real-world incentives, not just a warm feeling for the values associated with Shariah.
How that happens — how an executive administration accustomed to overweening power can be given incentives to subordinate itself to the rule of law — is one of the great mysteries of constitutional development worldwide. Total revolution has an extremely bad track record in recent decades, at least in majority-Muslim states. The revolution that replaced the shah in Iran created an oppressively top-heavy constitutional structure. And the equally revolutionary dreams some entertained for Iraq — dreams of a liberal secular state or of a functioning Islamic democracy — still seem far from fruition.
Gradual change therefore increasingly looks like the best of some bad options. And most of today’s political Islamists — the ones running for office in Morocco or Jordan or Egypt and even Iraq — are gradualists. They wish to adapt existing political institutions by infusing them with Islamic values and some modicum of Islamic law. Of course, such parties are also generally hostile to the United States, at least where we have worked against their interests. (Iraq is an obvious exception — many Shiite Islamists there are our close allies.) But this is a separate question from whether they can become a force for promoting the rule of law. It is possible to imagine the electoral success of Islamist parties putting pressure on executives to satisfy the demand for law-based government embodied in Koranic law. This might bring about a transformation of the judiciary, in which judges would come to think of themselves as agents of the law rather than as agents of the state.
Something of the sort may slowly be happening in Turkey. The Islamists there are much more liberal than anywhere else in the Muslim world; they do not even advocate the adoption of Shariah (a position that would get their government closed down by the staunchly secular military). Yet their central focus is the rule of law and the expansion of basic rights against the Turkish tradition of state-centered secularism. The courts are under increasing pressure to go along with that vision.
Can Shariah provide the necessary resources for such a rethinking of the judicial role? In its essence, Shariah aspires to be a law that applies equally to every human, great or small, ruler or ruled. No one is above it, and everyone at all times is bound by it. But the history of Shariah also shows that the ideals of the rule of law cannot be implemented in a vacuum. For that, a state needs actually effective institutions, which must be reinforced by regular practice and by the recognition of actors within the system that they have more to gain by remaining faithful to its dictates than by deviating from them.
The odds of success in the endeavor to deliver the rule of law are never high. Nothing is harder than creating new institutions with the capacity to balance executive dominance — except perhaps avoiding the temptation to overreach once in power. In Iran, the Islamists have discredited their faith among many ordinary people, and a similar process may be under way in Iraq. Still, with all its risks and dangers, the Islamists’ aspiration to renew old ideas of the rule of law while coming to terms with contemporary circumstances is bold and noble — and may represent a path to just and legitimate government in much of the Muslim world.
Noah Feldman, a contributing writer for the magazine, is a law professor at Harvard University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is adapted from his book “The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State,” which will be published later this month.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why Shariah
on: March 16, 2008, 11:08:15 AM
A Harvard Prof writes in the NY Times:
By NOAH FELDMAN
Published: March 16, 2008
Last month, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a nuanced, scholarly lecture in London about whether the British legal system should allow non-Christian courts to decide certain matters of family law. Britain has no constitutional separation of church and state. The archbishop noted that “the law of the Church of England is the law of the land” there; indeed, ecclesiastical courts that once handled marriage and divorce are still integrated into the British legal system, deciding matters of church property and doctrine. His tentative suggestion was that, subject to the agreement of all parties and the strict requirement of protecting equal rights for women, it might be a good idea to consider allowing Islamic and Orthodox Jewish courts to handle marriage and divorce.
The practical application of Shariah in most Muslim countries (as here, in this Egyptian courtroom) is in matters of family law.
Then all hell broke loose. From politicians across the spectrum to senior church figures and the ubiquitous British tabloids came calls for the leader of the world’s second largest Christian denomination to issue a retraction or even resign. Williams has spent the last couple of years trying to hold together the global Anglican Communion in the face of continuing controversies about ordaining gay priests and recognizing same-sex marriages. Yet little in that contentious battle subjected him to the kind of outcry that his reference to religious courts unleashed. Needless to say, the outrage was not occasioned by Williams’s mention of Orthodox Jewish law. For the purposes of public discussion, it was the word “Shariah” that was radioactive.
In some sense, the outrage about according a degree of official status to Shariah in a Western country should come as no surprise. No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.
In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.
In the Muslim world, on the other hand, the reputation of Shariah has undergone an extraordinary revival in recent years. A century ago, forward-looking Muslims thought of Shariah as outdated, in need of reform or maybe abandonment. Today, 66 percent of Egyptians, 60 percent of Pakistanis and 54 percent of Jordanians say that Shariah should be the only source of legislation in their countries. Islamist political parties, like those associated with the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, make the adoption of Shariah the most prominent plank in their political platforms. And the message resonates. Wherever Islamists have been allowed to run for office in Arabic-speaking countries, they have tended to win almost as many seats as the governments have let them contest. The Islamist movement in its various incarnations — from moderate to radical — is easily the fastest growing and most vital in the Muslim world; the return to Shariah is its calling card.
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How is it that what so many Westerners see as the most unappealing and premodern aspect of Islam is, to many Muslims, the vibrant, attractive core of a global movement of Islamic revival? The explanation surely must go beyond the oversimplified assumption that Muslims want to use Shariah to reverse feminism and control women — especially since large numbers of women support the Islamists in general and the ideal of Shariah in particular.
Is Shariah the Rule of Law?
One reason for the divergence between Western and Muslim views of Shariah is that we are not all using the word to mean the same thing. Although it is commonplace to use the word “Shariah” and the phrase “Islamic law” interchangeably, this prosaic English translation does not capture the full set of associations that the term “Shariah” conjures for the believer. Shariah, properly understood, is not just a set of legal rules. To believing Muslims, it is something deeper and higher, infused with moral and metaphysical purpose. At its core, Shariah represents the idea that all human beings — and all human governments — are subject to justice under the law.
In fact, “Shariah” is not the word traditionally used in Arabic to refer to the processes of Islamic legal reasoning or the rulings produced through it: that word is fiqh, meaning something like Islamic jurisprudence. The word “Shariah” connotes a connection to the divine, a set of unchanging beliefs and principles that order life in accordance with God’s will. Westerners typically imagine that Shariah advocates simply want to use the Koran as their legal code. But the reality is much more complicated. Islamist politicians tend to be very vague about exactly what it would mean for Shariah to be the source for the law of the land — and with good reason, because just adopting such a principle would not determine how the legal system would actually operate.
Shariah is best understood as a kind of higher law, albeit one that includes some specific, worldly commands. All Muslims would agree, for example, that it prohibits lending money at interest — though not investments in which risks and returns are shared; and the ban on Muslims drinking alcohol is an example of an unequivocal ritual prohibition, even for liberal interpreters of the faith. Some rules associated with Shariah are undoubtedly old-fashioned and harsh. Men and women are treated unequally, for example, by making it hard for women to initiate divorce without forfeiting alimony. The prohibition on sodomy, though historically often unenforced, makes recognition of same-sex relationships difficult to contemplate. But Shariah also prohibits bribery or special favors in court. It demands equal treatment for rich and poor. It condemns the vigilante-style honor killings that still occur in some Middle Eastern countries. And it protects everyone’s property — including women’s — from being taken from them. Unlike in Iran, where wearing a head scarf is legally mandated and enforced by special religious police, the Islamist view in most other Muslim countries is that the head scarf is one way of implementing the religious duty to dress modestly — a desirable social norm, not an enforceable legal rule. And mandating capital punishment for apostasy is not on the agenda of most elected Islamists. For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for Shariah is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law.
The Sway of the Scholars
To understand Shariah’s deep appeal, we need to ask a crucial question that is rarely addressed in the West: What, in fact, is the system of Islamic law? In his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad was both the religious and the political leader of the community of Muslim believers. His revelation, the Koran, contained some laws, pertaining especially to ritual matters and inheritance; but it was not primarily a legal book and did not include a lengthy legal code of the kind that can be found in parts of the Hebrew Bible. When the first generation of believers needed guidance on a subject that was not addressed by revelation, they went directly to Muhammad. He either answered of his own accord or, if he was unsure, awaited divine guidance in the form of a new revelation.
With the death of Muhammad, divine revelation to the Muslim community stopped. The role of the political-religious leader passed to a series of caliphs (Arabic for “substitute”) who stood in the prophet’s stead. That left the caliph in a tricky position when it came to resolving difficult legal matters. The caliph possessed Muhammad’s authority but not his access to revelation. It also left the community in something of a bind. If the Koran did not speak clearly to a particular question, how was the law to be determined?
The answer that developed over the first couple of centuries of Islam was that the Koran could be supplemented by reference to the prophet’s life — his sunna, his path. (The word “sunna” is the source of the designation Sunni — one who follows the prophet’s path.) His actions and words were captured in an oral tradition, beginning presumably with a person who witnessed the action or statement firsthand. Accurate reports had to be distinguished from false ones. But of course even a trustworthy report on a particular situation could not directly resolve most new legal problems that arose later. To address such problems, it was necessary to reason by analogy from one situation to another. There was also the possibility that a communal consensus existed on what to do under particular circumstances, and that, too, was thought to have substantial weight.
This fourfold combination — the Koran, the path of the prophet as captured in the collections of reports, analogical reasoning and consensus — amounted to a basis for a legal system. But who would be able to say how these four factors fit together? Indeed, who had the authority to say that these factors and not others formed the sources of the law? The first four caliphs, who knew the prophet personally, might have been able to make this claim for themselves. But after them, the caliphs were faced with a growing group of specialists who asserted that they, collectively, could ascertain the law from the available sources. This self-appointed group came to be known as the scholars — and over the course of a few generations, they got the caliphs to acknowledge them as the guardians of the law. By interpreting a law that originated with God, they gained control over the legal system as it actually existed. That made them, and not the caliphs, into “the heirs of the prophets.”
Among the Sunnis, this model took effect very early and persisted until modern times. For the Shiites, who believe that the succession of power followed the prophet’s lineage, the prophet had several successors who claimed extraordinary divine authority. Once they were gone, however, the Shiite scholars came to occupy a role not unlike that of their Sunni counterparts.
Under the constitutional theory that the scholars developed to explain the division of labor in the Islamic state, the caliph had paramount responsibility to fulfill the divine injunction to “command the right and prohibit the wrong.” But this was not a task he could accomplish on his own. It required him to delegate responsibility to scholarly judges, who would apply God’s law as they interpreted it. The caliph could promote or fire them as he wished, but he could not dictate legal results: judicial authority came from the caliph, but the law came from the scholars.
The caliphs — and eventually the sultans who came to rule once the caliphate lost most of its worldly influence — still had plenty of power. They handled foreign affairs more or less at their discretion. And they could also issue what were effectively administrative regulations — provided these regulations did not contradict what the scholars said Shariah required. The regulations addressed areas where Shariah was silent. They also enabled the state to regulate social conduct without having to put every case before the courts, where convictions would often be impossible to obtain because of the strict standards of proof required for punishment. As a result of these regulations, many legal matters (perhaps most) fell outside the rules given specifically by Shariah.
The upshot is that the system of Islamic law as it came to exist allowed a great deal of leeway. That is why today’s advocates of Shariah as the source of law are not actually recommending the adoption of a comprehensive legal code derived from or dictated by Shariah — because nothing so comprehensive has ever existed in Islamic history. To the Islamist politicians who advocate it or for the public that supports it, Shariah generally means something else. It means establishing a legal system in which God’s law sets the ground rules, authorizing and validating everyday laws passed by an elected legislature. In other words, for them, Shariah is expected to function as something like a modern constitution.
The Rights of Humans and the Rights of God
So in contemporary Islamic politics, the call for Shariah does not only or primarily mean mandating the veiling of women or the use of corporal punishment — it has an essential constitutional dimension as well. But what is the particular appeal of placing Shariah above ordinary law?
The answer lies in a little-remarked feature of traditional Islamic government: that a state under Shariah was, for more than a thousand years, subject to a version of the rule of law. And as a rule-of-law government, the traditional Islamic state had an advantage that has been lost in the dictatorships and autocratic monarchies that have governed so much of the Muslim world for the last century. Islamic government was legitimate, in the dual sense that it generally respected the individual legal rights of its subjects and was seen by them as doing so. These individual legal rights, known as “the rights of humans” (in contrast to “the rights of God” to such things as ritual obedience), included basic entitlements to life, property and legal process — the protections from arbitrary government oppression sought by people all over the world for centuries.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO's mom: "A FreeSprited Wanderer who set BO's Path"
on: March 16, 2008, 10:37:23 AM
The NY Times does its part for the BO candidacy
In the capsule version of the Barack Obama story, his mother is simply the white woman from Kansas. The phrase comes coupled alliteratively to its counterpart, the black father from Kenya. On the campaign trail, he has called her his “single mom.” But neither description begins to capture the unconventional life of Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, the parent who most shaped Mr. Obama.
Kansas was merely a way station in her childhood, wheeling westward in the slipstream of her furniture-salesman father. In Hawaii, she married an African student at age 18. Then she married an Indonesian, moved to Jakarta, became an anthropologist, wrote an 800-page dissertation on peasant blacksmithing in Java, worked for the Ford Foundation, championed women’s work and helped bring microcredit to the world’s poor.
She had high expectations for her children. In Indonesia, she would wake her son at 4 a.m. for correspondence courses in English before school; she brought home recordings of Mahalia Jackson, speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And when Mr. Obama asked to stay in Hawaii for high school rather than return to Asia, she accepted living apart — a decision her daughter says was one of the hardest in Ms. Soetoro’s life.
“She felt that somehow, wandering through uncharted territory, we might stumble upon something that will, in an instant, seem to represent who we are at the core,” said Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mr. Obama’s half-sister. “That was very much her philosophy of life — to not be limited by fear or narrow definitions, to not build walls around ourselves and to do our best to find kinship and beauty in unexpected places.”
Ms. Soetoro, who died of ovarian cancer in 1995, was the parent who raised Mr. Obama, the Illinois senator running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He barely saw his father after the age of 2. Though it is impossible to pinpoint the imprint of a parent on the life of a grown child, people who knew Ms. Soetoro well say they see her influence unmistakably in Mr. Obama.
They were close, her friends and his half-sister say, though they spent much of their lives with oceans or continents between them. He would not be where he is today, he has said, had it not been for her. Yet he has also made some different choices — marrying into a tightly knit African-American family rooted in the South Side of Chicago, becoming a churchgoing Christian, publicly recounting his search for his identity as a black man.
Some of what he has said about his mother seems tinged with a mix of love and regret. He has said his biggest mistake was not being at her bedside when she died. And when The Associated Press asked the candidates about “prized keepsakes” — others mentioned signed baseballs, a pocket watch, a “trophy wife” — Mr. Obama said his was a photograph of the cliffs of the South Shore of Oahu in Hawaii where his mother’s ashes were scattered.
“I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book — less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life,” he wrote in the preface to his memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” He added, “I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her.”
In a campaign in which Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has made liberal use of his globe-trotting 96-year-old mother to answer suspicions that he might be an antique at 71, Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, invokes his mother’s memory sparingly. In one television advertisement, she appears fleetingly — porcelain-skinned, raven-haired and holding her toddler son. “My mother died of cancer at 53,” he says in the ad, which focuses on health care. “In those last painful months, she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well.”
‘A Very, Very Big Thinker’
He has described her as a teenage mother, a single mother, a mother who worked, went to school and raised children at the same time. He has credited her with giving him a great education and confidence in his ability to do the right thing. But, in interviews, friends and colleagues of Ms. Soetoro shed light on a side of her that is less well known.
“She was a very, very big thinker,” said Nancy Barry, a former president of Women’s World Banking, an international network of microfinance providers, where Ms. Soetoro worked in New York City in the early 1990s. “I think she was not at all personally ambitious, I think she cared about the core issues, and I think she was not afraid to speak truth to power.”
Her parents were from Kansas — her mother from Augusta, her father from El Dorado, a place Mr. Obama first visited in a campaign stop in January. Stanley Ann (her father wanted a boy so he gave her his name) was born on an Army base during World War II. The family moved to California, Kansas, Texas and Washington in restless pursuit of opportunity before landing in Honolulu in 1960.
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Courtesy of the Obama Family
Ms. Soetoro, right, during her trip to Indonesia from 1988 to 1992. She married an Indonesian, moved to Jakarta and became an anthropologist.
The Long Run
A Mother’s Influence
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Ms. Soetoro during her field trip from 1988 to 1992. She died in 1995 of cancer.
In a Russian class at the University of Hawaii, she met the college’s first African student, Barack Obama. They married and had a son in August 1961, in an era when interracial marriage was rare in the United States. Her parents were upset, Senator Obama learned years later from his mother, but they adapted. “I am a little dubious of the things that people from foreign countries tell me,” the senator’s grandmother told an interviewer several years ago.
The marriage was brief. In 1963, Mr. Obama left for Harvard, leaving his wife and child. She then married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian student. When he was summoned home in 1966 after the turmoil surrounding the rise of Suharto, Ms. Soetoro and Barack followed.
Those choices were not entirely surprising, said several high school friends of Ms. Soetoro, whom they remembered as unusually intelligent, curious and open. She never dated “the crew-cut white boys,” said one friend, Susan Blake: “She had a world view, even as a young girl. It was embracing the different, rather than that ethnocentric thing of shunning the different. That was where her mind took her.”
Her second marriage faded, too, in the 1970s. Ms. Soetoro wanted to work, one friend said, and Mr. Soetoro wanted more children. He became more American, she once said, as she became more Javanese. “There’s a Javanese belief that if you’re married to someone and it doesn’t work, it will make you sick,” said Alice G. Dewey, an anthropologist and friend. “It’s just stupid to stay married.”
That both unions ended is beside the point, some friends suggested. Ms. Soetoro remained loyal to both husbands and encouraged her children to feel connected to their fathers. (In reading drafts of her son’s memoir, Mr. Obama has said, she did not comment upon his depiction of her but was “quick to explain or defend the less flattering aspects of my father’s character.”)
“She always felt that marriage as an institution was not particularly essential or important,” said Nina Nayar, who later became a close friend of Ms. Soetoro. What mattered to her, Ms. Nayar said, was to have loved deeply.
By 1974, Ms. Soetoro was back in Honolulu, a graduate student and raising Barack and Maya, nine years younger. Barack was on scholarship at a prestigious prep school, Punahou. When Ms. Soetoro decided to return to Indonesia three years later for her field work, Barack chose not to go.
“I doubted what Indonesia now had to offer and wearied of being new all over again,” he wrote in his memoir. “More than that, I’d arrived at an unspoken pact with my grandparents: I could live with them and they’d leave me alone so long as I kept my trouble out of sight.” During those years, he was “engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America.” Ms. Soetoro-Ng recalled her mother’s quandary. “She wanted him to be with her,” Ms. Soetoro-Ng said. But she added: “Although it was painful to be separated from him for his last four years of high school, she recognized that it was perhaps the best thing for him. And she had to go to Indonesia at that time.”
That time apart was hard for both mother and son.
“She longed for him,” said Georgia McCauley, who became a friend of Ms. Soetoro in Jakarta. Barack spent summers and Christmas vacations with his mother; they communicated by letters, his illustrated with cartoons. Her first topic of conversation was always her son, her female friends said. As for him, he was grappling with questions of racial identity, alienation and belonging.
“There were certainly times in his life in those four years when he could have used her presence on a more daily basis,” Ms. Soetoro-Ng said. “But I think he did all right for himself.”
Fluent in Indonesian, Ms. Soetoro moved with Maya first to Yogyakarta, the center of Javanese handicrafts. A weaver in college, she was fascinated with what Ms. Soetoro-Ng calls “life’s gorgeous minutiae.” That interest inspired her study of village industries, which became the basis of her 1992 doctoral dissertation.
"She loved living in Java,” said Dr. Dewey, who recalled accompanying Ms. Soetoro to a metalworking village. “People said: ‘Hi! How are you?’ She said: ‘How’s your wife? Did your daughter have the baby?’ They were friends. Then she’d whip out her notebook and she’d say: ‘How many of you have electricity? Are you having trouble getting iron?’ ”
She became a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development on setting up a village credit program, then a Ford Foundation program officer in Jakarta specializing in women’s work. Later, she was a consultant in Pakistan, then joined Indonesia’s oldest bank to work on what is described as the world’s largest sustainable microfinance program, creating services like credit and savings for the poor.
Visitors flowed constantly through her Ford Foundation office in downtown Jakarta and through her house in a neighborhood to the south, where papaya and banana trees grew in the front yard and Javanese dishes like opor ayam were served for dinner. Her guests were leaders in the Indonesian human rights movement, people from women’s organizations, representatives of community groups doing grass-roots development.
“I didn’t know a lot of them and would often ask after, ‘Who was that?’ ” said David S. McCauley, now an environmental economist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila, who had the office next door. “You’d find out it was the head of some big organization in with thousands of members from central Java or someplace, somebody that she had met some time ago, and they would make a point of coming to see her when they came to Jakarta.”
An Exacting Idealist
As a mother, Ms. Soetoro was both idealistic and exacting. Friends describe her as variously informal and intense, humorous and hardheaded. She preached to her young son the importance of honesty, straight talk, independent judgment. When he balked at her early-morning home schooling, she retorted, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”
When Barack was in high school, she confronted him about his seeming lack of ambition, Mr. Obama wrote. He could get into any college in the country, she told him, with just a little effort. (“Remember what that’s like? Effort?”) He says he looked at her, so earnest and sure of his destiny: “I suddenly felt like puncturing that certainty of hers, letting her know that her experiment with me had failed.”
Ms. Soetoro-Ng, who herself became an anthropologist, remembers conversations with her mother about philosophy or politics, books, esoteric Indonesian woodworking motifs. One Christmas in Indonesia, Ms. Soetoro found a scrawny tree and decorated it with red and green chili peppers and popcorn balls.
“She gave us a very broad understanding of the world,” her daughter said. “She hated bigotry. She was very determined to be remembered for a life of service and thought that service was really the true measure of a life.” Many of her friends see her legacy in Mr. Obama — in his self-assurance and drive, his boundary bridging, even his apparent comfort with strong women. Some say she changed them, too.
“I feel she taught me how to live,” said Ms. Nayar, who was in her 20s when she met Ms. Soetoro at Women’s World Banking. “She was not particularly concerned about what society would say about working women, single women, women marrying outside their culture, women who were fearless and who dreamed big.”
The Final Months
After her diagnosis, Ms. Soetoro spent the last months of her life in Hawaii, near her mother. (Her father had died.) Mr. Obama has recalled talking with her in her hospital bed about her fears of ending up broke. She was not ready to die, he has said. Even so, she helped him and Maya “push on with our lives, despite our dread, our denials, our sudden constrictions of the heart.”
She died in November 1995, as Mr. Obama was starting his first campaign for public office. After a memorial service at the University of Hawaii, one friend said, a small group of friends drove to the South Shore in Oahu. With the wind whipping the waves onto the rocks, Mr. Obama and Ms. Soetoro-Ng placed their mother’s ashes in the Pacific, sending them off in the direction of Indonesia
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam in Spain
on: March 16, 2008, 10:15:10 AM
Its the NY Times, so the tone of the piece is what you would expect. Still some worthy point to be gleaned.
LLEIDA, Spain — As prayer time approached on a chilly Friday afternoon and men drifted toward the mosque on North Street, Hocine Kouitene hauled open its huge steel doors.
As places of worship go, the crudely converted garage leaves much to be desired, said Mr. Kouitene, vice president of the Islamic Association for Union and Cooperation in Lleida, a prosperous medieval town in northeastern Spain surrounded by fruit farms that are a magnet for immigrant workers. Freezing in winter and stifling in summer, the prayer hall is so cramped that the congregation, swollen to 1,000 from 50 over the past five years, sometimes spills onto the street.
“It’s just not the same to pray in a garage as it is to pray in a proper mosque,” said Mr. Kouitene, an imposing Algerian in a long, black coat and white head scarf. “We want a place where we can pray comfortably, without bothering anybody.”
Although Spain is peppered with the remnants of ancient mosques, most Muslims gather in dingy apartments, warehouses and garages like the one on North Street, pressed into service as prayer halls to accommodate a ballooning population.
The mosque shortage stems partly from the lack of resources common to any relatively poor, rapidly growing immigrant group. But in several places, Muslims trying to build mosques have also met resistance from communities wary of an alien culture or fearful they will foster violent radicals.
Distrust sharpened after a group of Islamists bombed commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing 191 people, and in several cities, local governments, cowed by angry opposition from non-Muslims, have blocked Muslim groups from acquiring land for mosques.
The result, Muslim leaders say, is that some Muslims feel anchorless and marginalized.
“A proper mosque would act as a focus, a reference point for Islam here,” said Mohammed Halhoul, spokesman for the Catalan Islamic Council. A quarter of Spain’s Muslims live in Catalonia, the northeastern region that is home to Lleida, but the area has no real mosques.
“I feel like a Catalan,” Mr. Halhoul said, “except when it comes to the question of the mosque.”
Muslims ruled much of Spain for centuries, but after they were ultimately vanquished in the 1400s, their mosques were either left to ruin or converted into churches. Since then, fewer than a dozen new mosques have been built to serve Spain’s Muslim population, which has grown in the past 10 years to about one million from about 50,000 as immigrants have poured into the country.
That rise has coincided with a decline in church attendance in overwhelmingly Catholic Spain, giving new echo to an old rivalry between the two religions. It was the Catholic king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, who defeated the last Moorish ruler in Spain in 1492 and oversaw the expulsion of Jews and Muslims. Now, as churches struggle to draw a dwindling flock, Muslim prayer halls are overflowing.
“The reality of this country has changed much faster than that of other countries,” Ángel Ros, Lleida’s mayor, said in an interview. “A process that took 30 years in Italy or France has taken 10 years in Spain.”
Lleida is a case in point: a city whose 13th-century cathedral looms from a fortified hilltop over plains that produce half of Spain’s pears and apples, it has drawn a flood of immigrants. They now make up nearly a fifth of the city’s 125,000 residents, compared with 4 percent in 2000. A quarter of them are from Muslim countries. Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, has replaced Saturday as a day off in addition to Sunday on many local farms.
The North Street prayer hall faced opposition from the outset. Marta Roigé, head of the local neighborhood association, said residents tried to block it five years ago by renting the garage themselves, but backed down after the landlord started a bidding war. They have since sued the local council to close it down on the basis that it is a health and safety hazard.
“The tension has grown as the numbers have grown,” Ms. Roigé said. “They’ve set up shops, butchers, long-distance call centers and restaurants.” These businesses, catering to Muslim immigrants, line the surrounding streets.
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The New York Times
The immigrant population has soared recently in Lleida.
She added: “They are radicals, fundamentalists. They don’t want to integrate.”
Muslim leaders, however, say the lack of proper mosques is one barrier to integration. And Spanish authorities and Muslim leaders say the potential for extremism would be easier to monitor at fewer, larger mosques than at the 600 or so prayer halls scattered throughout the country.
Some Muslim leaders believe the tide is starting to turn in their bid to return minarets to Spanish skylines. Following a pact between the Islamic Association and Lleida’s town hall in December, the city may become the first in Catalonia to build a mosque.
The association secured a 50-year lease on a plot of government land on the edge of town, and Mr. Kouitene says the group hopes to break ground next year if it can raise the money.
Several other Muslim communities are on the verge of similar breakthroughs. In the southern city of Seville, Muslims are close to obtaining a plot of land for a mosque after years of bitter local resistance; in 2005 protesters dumped a pig’s head on a plot originally chosen.
Meanwhile, the ruling coalition in Catalonia submitted a bill in the regional parliament in December that would oblige local governments to set aside land for mosques and other places of worship. Representatives of Muslim organizations hope it will inspire a similar national law.
“People are realizing the world has changed and they can’t look the other way,” said Mohammed Chaib, a member of the Catalan parliament and the only Muslim lawmaker in Spain.
Some Catholic clerics see things differently. Cardinal Luis Martínez Sistach, archbishop of Barcelona, opposes the bill, which would entitle all religious groups to land on an equal basis. He argues that Catholicism requires different rules.
“A church, a synagogue or a mosque are not the same thing,” he said, according to the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC. The bill, he said, “impinges on our ability to exercise a fundamental right, that of religious liberty.”
While no law on religious land use exists, the wealthy Catholic Church faces no difficulty acquiring land, experts in law and religion say.
Álex Seglers, an expert on church-state relations, is skeptical that the bill will be effective. The bill is vague and gives local governments too much discretion over what land it provides to which group, he says.
For the worshipers at North Street, the next big hurdle is money. Spain’s secular state cannot finance religious buildings, though it has a special arrangement to subsidize the Catholic Church.
“We have a saying in our religion,” Mr. Kouitene said. “Anywhere there are even a few Muslims, you must build a mosque for joint prayer. Otherwise, the devil rules in that place.”
Mayor Ros, for one, welcomes the building.
“We used to have a dominant religion, and now we have many religions and we have to find a way of respecting that fact,” he said. “Churches were the great public works of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance. Now I see a day when every large city in Spain will have a mosque.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 15, 2008, 09:49:23 PM
March 14, 2008
Obama and the Minister
By RONALD KESSLER
March 14, 2008; Page A19
In a sermon delivered at Howard University, Barack Obama's longtime minister, friend and adviser blamed America for starting the AIDS virus, training professional killers, importing drugs and creating a racist society that would never elect a black candidate president.
The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor of Mr. Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, gave the sermon at the school's Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel in Washington on Jan. 15, 2006.
Trinity United Church of Christ/Religion News Service
Sen. Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright
"We've got more black men in prison than there are in college," he began. "Racism is alive and well. Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. No black man will ever be considered for president, no matter how hard you run Jesse [Jackson] and no black woman can ever be considered for anything outside what she can give with her body."
Mr. Wright thundered on: "America is still the No. 1 killer in the world. . . . We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers . . . We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children while trying to get public opinion turned against Castro and Ghadhafi . . . We put [Nelson] Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God."
His voice rising, Mr. Wright said, "We supported Zionism shamelessly while ignoring the Palestinians and branding anybody who spoke out against it as being anti-Semitic. . . . We care nothing about human life if the end justifies the means. . . ."
Concluding, Mr. Wright said: "We started the AIDS virus . . . We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty. . . ."
Considering this view of America, it's not surprising that in December Mr. Wright's church gave an award to Louis Farrakhan for lifetime achievement. In the church magazine, Trumpet, Mr. Wright spoke glowingly of the Nation of Islam leader. "His depth on analysis [sic] when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye-opening," Mr. Wright said of Mr. Farrakhan. "He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest."
After Newsmax broke the story of the award to Farrakhan on Jan. 14, Mr. Obama issued a statement. However, Mr. Obama ignored the main point: that his minister and friend had spoken adoringly of Mr. Farrakhan, and that Mr. Wright's church was behind the award to the Nation of Islam leader.
Instead, Mr. Obama said, "I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree." Trumpet is owned and produced by Mr. Wright's church out of the church's offices, and Mr. Wright's daughters serve as publisher and executive editor.
Meeting with Jewish leaders in Cleveland on Feb. 24, Mr. Obama described Mr. Wright as being like "an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with." He rarely mentions the points of disagreement.
Mr. Obama went on to explain Mr. Wright's anti-Zionist statements as being rooted in his anger over the Jewish state's support for South Africa under its previous policy of apartheid. As with his previous claim that his church gave the award to Mr. Farrakhan because of his work with ex-offenders, Mr. Obama appears to have made that up.
Neither the presentation of the award nor the Trumpet article about the award mentions ex-offenders, and Mr. Wright's statements denouncing Israel have not been qualified in any way. Mr. Obama nonetheless told the Jewish leaders that the award to Mr. Farrakhan "showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community." That is an understatement.
As for Mr. Wright's repeated comments blaming America for the 9/11 attacks because of what Mr. Wright calls its racist and violent policies, Mr. Obama has said it sounds as if the minister was trying to be "provocative."
Hearing Mr. Wright's venomous and paranoid denunciations of this country, the vast majority of Americans would walk out. Instead, Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle have presumably sat through numerous similar sermons by Mr. Wright.
Indeed, Mr. Obama has described Mr. Wright as his "sounding board" during the two decades he has known him. Mr. Obama has said he found religion through the minister in the 1980s. He joined the church in 1991 and walked down the aisle in a formal commitment of faith.
The title of Mr. Obama's bestseller "The Audacity of Hope" comes from one of Wright's sermons. Mr. Wright is one of the first people Mr. Obama thanked after his election to the Senate in 2004. Mr. Obama consulted Mr. Wright before deciding to run for president. He prayed privately with Mr. Wright before announcing his candidacy last year.
Mr. Obama obviously would not choose to belong to Mr. Wright's church and seek his advice unless he agreed with at least some of his views. In light of Mr. Wright's perspective, Michelle Obama's comment that she feels proud of America for the first time in her adult life makes perfect sense.
Much as most of us would appreciate the symbolism of a black man ascending to the presidency, what we have in Barack Obama is a politician whose closeness to Mr. Wright underscores his radical record.
The media have largely ignored Mr. Obama's close association with Mr. Wright. This raises legitimate questions about Mr. Obama's fundamental beliefs about his country. Those questions deserve a clearer answer than Mr. Obama has provided so far.
Mr. Kessler, a former Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reporter, is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com and the author of "The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack" (Crown Forum, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 14, 2008, 01:21:05 PM
What is confusing to me here is that in Euro America, the second name is the middle name and the third name is the family name, whereas in Latino names, the second name is the family name and the third name is the maternal family name.
Thus my name is Marc Frederick Denny in Euro, but in Latino it is Marc Denny S____. (left bland for security reasons)
What is the case in Barack's case?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Clinton Runaround
on: March 14, 2008, 01:17:18 PM
Have you ever been to a government office to pick up a document -- your driver's license, say -- only to be sent to another window, where the clerk sends you to another window, where a clerk sends you back to the first to start all over again?
That's what it feels like these days asking Bill and Hillary Clinton about their White House records. Last weekend, USA Today reported that it had finally received some records from the Clinton Presidency four years after making a Freedom of Information Act request. Except that hundreds of pages pertaining to the handling of Bill Clinton's 140 last-minute pardons had been redacted or withheld by the helpful folks at the National Archives.
The Archives told USA Today that they had referred all the excluded and redacted material to lawyer Bruce Lindsey, the longtime keeper of Clinton secrets who's responsible for vetting the records. But Mr. Lindsey refused; apparently he doesn't want to second-guess the Archives. The Clintons themselves, meanwhile, say that everything is in the hands of the Archives and Mr. Lindsey, even though the Archives are acting pursuant to Bill's personal instructions, and those instructions include a provision to allow Mr. Lindsay to second-guess the Archivists.
If you can't easily follow all that, maybe that's the idea.
Last October, NBC's Tim Russert asked Hillary Clinton about the White House records at a debate. Her answer: "The Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves." So, while she is "fully in favor" of releasing the records from her time in the White House, those bureaucrats were holding things up. As for the records that her husband had requested remain under seal until 2012, as permitted under the law, "That's not my decision to make," she said. In other words, you'll have to ask at Window 14.
Then in February, Mr. Russert asked again, noting that the Archives had actually turned over 10,000 pages of documents about Hillary Clinton's schedule as first lady to the Clintons for their review, and they were sitting on them. Her answer was again, in effect, "It's not my job."
Those scheduling records are now due to be made public later this month, but the pardon records are stuck in limbo. The Archivists say that it's up to Mr. Lindsey, but also that Mr. Lindsey won't look at them. The Clintons say its up to the Archives, and Mr. Lindsey -- well, his window is closed, we guess.
Then there's the question of the donors to the Clinton Foundation, which raised more than $135 million last year alone. Hillary Clinton says she's in favor of a law that would require disclosure of the donors to Presidential foundations. So what about voluntarily disclosing while a candidate what she favors making mandatory after she's elected? "Well, you'll have to ask them," she said back in September, referring to the foundation. Who runs the foundation? Why, Bruce Lindsey, of course.
So, has Mrs. Clinton suggested that Mr. Lindsey and Bill do the disclosure that she claims to favor? "Well," she told Mr. Russert in New Hampshire in September, "I don't talk about my private conversations with my husband." In other words, this window is now also closed -- at least until the election is over.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 14, 2008, 01:15:57 PM
Home Alone on Earmarks
John McCain may be cruising to a presidential nomination, but he holds limited clout in the chamber he has worked in for over 20 years. Last night, the Senate turned back one of his pet projects, a proposed one-year moratorium on earmarks.
The vote, which technically was on a procedural motion, wasn't even close, with 71 senators voting against the motion by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, and 29 in favor. Mr. McCain, who has made opposition to pork-barrel spending a highlight of his presidential campaign, couldn't even sway a majority of GOP Senators to his side. He did bag a surprise supporter in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, who has traditionally defended earmarks.
Democratic Senators clearly are betting that attacks on pork-barrel spending won't resonate with voters this fall. Only three Democrats joined with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, last-minute converts to the anti-pork barrel cause.
Senator McCain said the defeat of the moratorium proved Congress was "the last bastion in America that doesn't get it" regarding government spending. "It wasn't the war in Iraq that caused [the GOP] to lose in 2006, it was the wasteful, pork-barrel spending," he told reporters. "Ask any county Republican chairman in America. Ask any Republican operative in America."
Senator McCain says he still plans to target outrageous government spending as a campaign issue. He just won't be doing it with much support from his Senate colleagues, which may help him even more easily portray himself as someone who would shake up Beltway practices.
-- John Fund
How efficient is the Clinton campaign machine? According to RadarOnline, Hillary Clinton's crack Web team had purged Eliot Spitzer's endorsement from the campaign site less than an hour after the New York Times broke the story of his "involvement" with a prostitution ring Monday.
So far, Mrs. Clinton has declined to comment on the Governor's alleged assignations, beyond a terse remark that her thoughts were with his family. But she probably won't be able to dodge the issue if Mr. Spitzer is indicted -- or if a debate catches fire in the media over prostitution, misogyny and related gender concerns. This is touchy territory for Mrs. Clinton, given her own husband's philandering. A Monica-esque debate about powerful older men and vulnerable young women would hardly be a convenient subject right now for the Clinton campaign.
Mrs. Clinton may have airbrushed the New York Governor from her campaign site, but with at least two debates coming up before the crucial Pennsylvania primary, Mrs. Clinton will be lucky if she doesn't have to offer a more elaborate denunciation of Mr. Spitzer's actions.
-- Brian M. Carney
Minister of Hate
Mitt Romney was constantly challenged about the tenets of his Mormon faith and its past treatment of blacks, and finally under pressure had to give a speech in which he discussed the influence of his religious beliefs on his political actions.
Barack Obama says on the campaign trail that his campaign transcends race, but he has refused to discuss beyond cursory comments what he thinks about his own pastor's wild hate speech -- speech that includes dark racial overtones.
Mr. Obama has attended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church for some 20 years, and has attended countless sermons there. But when a Jewish group in Ohio confronted him with a list of outrageous statements by Rev. Wright, including calling on blacks to sing "God Damn America" for giving the minority community drugs and engaging in "state terrorism," Mr. Obama more or less waved away the objections.
"I don't think my church is actually particularly controversial," he told the group. He said Rev. Wright "is like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," adding that everyone has someone like that in their family.
Mr. Obama won't comment specifically on Rev. Wright's denunciations of the United States, but he did authorize a campaign aide to say that he "repudiated" those comments.
But in presidential politics, that won't be good enough. In a summary of Wright sermons that Ron Kessler offers in today's Wall Street Journal, it's clear that Mr. Obama's pastor has done far more than merely speak favorably of Louis Farrakhan. On the Sunday after 9/11, Rev. Wright mounted his pulpit and claimed that the U.S. itself had brought on the attacks because of its own history of terrorism. "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," he told his congregation. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human."
At some point, in some venue, Mr. Obama is going to have to give a speech directly addressing his longtime pastor's views and answering a simple question: Why didn't he find another church that didn't include a leader who so frequently engaged in such hate speech?
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day I
"The Democrats also must enjoy this bit of trivia: They now control the district that includes the birthplace and boyhood home of the late President Ronald Reagan, the leading Republican icon of our day. But it is the practical political details of the GOP's loss in Illinois 14 that suggest how far the party has slipped.... For starters, it's not just that Hastert long-dominated the district. He personally had the current district drawn in hopes of securing the Republican Party's longstanding hold.... Prior to the 2006 turning point in national partisan politics, the idea of Democrat Foster winning in this improbable place might have seemed laughable" -- Congressional Quarterly's Bob Benenson on this week's special election victory of Democrat Bill Foster in a seat held by retired former GOP House Speaker Denny Hastert.
Quote of the Day II
"The pillars of American liberalism -- the Democratic Party, the universities and the mass media -- are obsessed with biological markers, most particularly race and gender. They have insisted, moreover, that pedagogy and culture and politics be just as seized with the primacy of these distinctions and with the resulting 'privileging' that allegedly haunts every aspect of our social relations. They have gotten their wish. This primary campaign represents the full flowering of identity politics. It's not a pretty picture. Geraldine Ferraro says Obama is only where he is because he's black. Professor Orlando Patterson says the 3 a.m. phone call ad is not about a foreign policy crisis but a subliminal Klan-like appeal to the fear of 'black men lurking in the bushes around white society.' Good grief." -- Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Counting Down the Blue Dogs
November poses daunting prospects for the House GOP. Until yesterday, only five Democrats were retiring from their seats, while 24 Republicans were leaving. Now comes the sixth Democratic retirement, and this one may be a gift to Republicans.
Alabama Rep. Bud Cramer, of Huntsville, is calling it quits after nine terms. Among the last of the Blue Dogs, he easily held down a seat in his state's 5th district despite a heavy Republican lean. George W. Bush won 60% of the vote in 2004 even as Mr. Cramer was reelected with the 73%. As recently as January he was obliged to tell AP he wasn't thinking of changing parties: "I've always been a conservative Democrat who's been a bit of a thorn in the side of our leadership. I'll continue to be a thorn in the side of our leadership."
A thorn no more. His departure not only puts his party at high risk of losing a seat; he will be missed by its dwindling number of conservative voices and also by Nasa, which always had a friend on the appropriations committee. Mr. Cramer's announcement was undoubtedly intended to catch both Democrats and Republicans by surprise. With a June primary scheduled, would-be successors will have to make up their minds quickly and file for an April 4 deadline. Should he choose to make one, Mr. Cramer's endorsement would likely be especially influential in such a contest.
He says only that he's retiring to "spend more time with my family and begin another chapter in my life." Mr. Cramer may not have been thrilled with the direction of his now-majority party under ultraliberal Nancy Pelosi, but a likelier motive for leaving is to make some money. He has spent the past 36 years as an army tank officer, county prosecutor and Member of Congress, none of which (under normal circumstances) is highly lucrative.
-- Holman W. Jenkins Jr.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Romney on Hannity
on: March 13, 2008, 08:12:36 PM
A couple of nights ago Mitt Romney was interviewed at length by Sean Hannity.
I was VERY impressed by the man. He spoke with a depth that spoke to me of spiritual grounding. Amongst other things, he essentially offered himself to be McCain's Veep. Given the heated battle between the two men, this can seem hard to imagine if you hadn't seen the interview, but the way Romney handled himself in the interview made it seem quite plausible indeed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: March 13, 2008, 07:57:14 PM
James Taranto will return Monday, March 17. While he's away, please enjoy complimentary access to the WSJ's subscription newsletter, Political Diary.
March 13, 2008
Is a 'Dump Hillary' Movement Starting to Crystallize?
Hillary Clinton doesn't easily apologize. But she did last night, telling a group of more than 200 black newspaper editors that she was sorry about comments made by her supporters that have upset African-Americans.
"I am sorry if anyone was offended," she said of remarks by her husband comparing Barack Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary to that of Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. "We can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama."
She went on to "repudiate" remarks that Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter and 1984 Democratic vice-presidential running-mate, made suggesting Mr. Obama would not have been so successful if he were white. Mrs. Clinton pointed out that Mrs. Ferraro had resigned her post with the Clinton finance committee.
Mrs. Clinton made her retreat on the same night that one of her most stalwart liberal supporters turned on her. In a blistering "special comment" tacked on to his MSNBC show, host Keith Olbermann accused Mrs. Clinton of "now campaigning as if Barack Obama were the Democrat, and you were the Republican." Mr. Olbermann didn't mince words -- he accused Clinton advisers of sending "Senator Clinton's campaign back into the vocabulary of David Duke." He tagged Team Clinton with "slowly killing the chances for any Democrat to become president" with its divisive campaign tactics.
While Ms. Ferraro's words were certainly inartful, no one in their right mind believes they should be compared with the rhetoric of David Duke. The fact that former Clinton allies such as Mr. Olbermann are becoming so apoplectic is a sure sign that Mrs. Clinton is wearing out her welcome on the primary stage in many quarters.
-- John Fund
On School Choice, New Guv Is Anything But a Knee-Jerk Democrat
Lt. Gov. David Paterson will become New York's governor next Monday at noon. But while news reports have focused on the trailblazing aspects of his rise -- he will become the state's first African-American governor and the first legally blind governor of any state -- Albany politicos are talking about how policy priorities will change under Mr. Paterson.
On many levels, Mr. Paterson is likely to be even more liberal than Eliot Spitzer. Rick Brookhiser of National Review calls him "liberal to the marrow." The new governor opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and wants to revise the state's harsh Rockefeller-era drug laws. Last year, he stirred up controversy when he appeared to endorse a proposal to let legal residents who were non-citizens have the right to vote. Even pro-immigrant Mayor Mike Bloomberg refused to join that crusade, asking: "If voting is given to everybody, what's the point of becoming a citizen?" On taxes, Mr. Paterson is likely to be even more in favor than Mr. Spitzer of redistribution and tax hikes targeted at the "wealthy."
But on at least one issue, Mr. Paterson breaks from liberal orthodoxy. He is passionately in favor of school choice and has even spoken at two conferences held by the Alliance for School Choice. At one, he pulled off the rare feat of quoting both Martin Luther King Jr. and individualistic philosopher Ayn Rand approvingly in the same speech.
Here's hoping Mr. Paterson puts education reform ahead of tax policy as he draws up his list of priorities.
-- John Fund
It Pours, Man, It Pours
The news just keeps getting worse for Republicans in Congress: After losing a Congressional seat that once belonged to former Speaker Dennis Hastert in Illinois, the party lost what may have been a winnable seat in Indiana. Adding insult to injury, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $1.2 million losing the Illinois race and yet didn't spend a penny in Indiana despite its candidate getting slammed by the NRCC's heavy-spending Democratic counterpart.
But members of the House Republican Caucus aren't ready to pack it in and go home just yet. The party raised $8.6 million at an annual dinner in Washington last night, headlined by President Bush, exceeding even the $7.5 million goal set for the shindig. And members of Congress let it be known they consider the loss of the former Hastert seat an aberration that can be blamed on the candidate.
While the loss was a blow, GOP leaders blamed dairy owner and wealthy businessman Jim Oberweis for being a flawed candidate. "Jim Oberweis went from being perceived [as] the tenacious guy to just being a wealthy individual looking for a gig," one Republican Member of Congress said. "There's nothing the NRCC is going to do about that. To lay [the loss] on the doorstep of the NRCC, it would be inaccurate."
In turn, a strategist familiar with the Illinois campaign suggested Mr. Oberweis lost because Democrats effectively tied him to President Bush, even casting the special election as an opportunity to vote against the current administration. That has to be troubling to national Republican leaders, who have long maintained that Mr. Bush will not be on the ballot, and thus not a factor, in 2008.
Shrugging off the Bush albatross would be difficult enough if the party were on an equal financial footing with Democrats. But that's hardly the case. Even after last night's dinner (and assuming they spent nothing on the dinner), the NRCC still trails House Democrats by more than $20 million in cash on hand. The job of defending a stunning number of vulnerable open seats will be even more difficult if the GOP has an empty checking account.
-- Reid Wilson, RealClearPolitics.com
Quote of the Day I
"[T]he percentage of Republican identifiers voting in Democratic nomination contests has increased significantly in recent weeks -- from 4 percent in states that held primaries in January and February to 9 percent in the March 4 primaries to 12 percent in Mississippi on Tuesday.... Overall, 9 percent of the Mississippi Democratic primary voters were self-identified Republicans who voted for Clinton.... But did these Republicans just turn out to assist McCain by prolonging the Democratic fight or boosting a candidate they consider easier to beat? The exit poll suggests another motivation. These Clinton Republicans also expressed very negative views of Barack Obama... [so] the primary motivation of Clinton's Mississippi Republicans may be a desire to stop Barack Obama, although many may be motivated by tactical shenanigans as well" -- Mark Blumenthal, editor and publisher of Pollster.com, writing in the National Journal.
Quote of the Day II
"I met Eliot Spitzer during his first semester in law school, my first year teaching criminal law at Harvard. He was smart and ambitious, which certainly didn't set him apart from the rest of his classmates at Harvard. What did, and what brought him to my door, was that he was interested in a career in politics.... Maybe he was absent the day we discussed the Mann Act. But I don't think so.... Eliot Spitzer knew better, but he clearly forgot that the rules apply to everyone. Especially him. Now, the face in the mirror is the one that did him in. Poor Eliot. I do feel sorry for him. But there are some things you can't teach, some things that can only be learned through painful experience. Hubris is what it's called" -- Susan Estrich, former campaign manager for Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988, reflecting on her time teaching Eliot Spitzer at Harvard Law School.
Getting Religion on Earmarks, Slowly
Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both become last-minute converts to a proposal to declare a moratorium on earmarks, the pork-barrel projects dropped into legislation with little scrutiny or oversight. But don't expect Democratic Senate leaders to follow them as the moratorium comes to a vote on the Senate floor today.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois is a big booster of Mr. Obama, but he declares himself "disappointed" in his Illinois colleague's embrace of the moratorium proposed by GOP Senator Jim DeMint. Similarly, New York Senator Chuck Schumer has parted ways with Hillary Clinton over the proposed time-out on earmarks. Mr. Schumer privately expressed disgust when Senator DeMint held a news conference outside the Capitol building that featured a man in a 6-foot-tall pink pig suit ridiculing Congressional excess.
No wonder, then, Mr. Obama raised the eyebrows of more than a few Democratic colleagues when he announced this week that Congress' "earmark culture" was broken and "needs to be re-examined and reformed." Republican Senate leaders now are in danger of being outflanked unless they step up the pace and embrace the DeMint moratorium themselves. Yet the Hill newspaper reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is delaying any statement on earmarks until a task force he appointed two months ago to study the subject reports back to him. Missouri Republican Kit Bond isn't on the task force but had a succinct summary description of the moratorium idea: "Stupid." Statements like that have spending foes worrying that the task force is simply designed to punt on reform.
For his part, Mr. DeMint says his colleagues are acting like addicts who refuse to admit they have a problem. He told Politico.com this week: "We need to go cold turkey." Anything less would be "like telling an alcoholic, 'Don't drink as much.'"
Jay Leno: New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has admitted that he has been involved in a prostitution ring. This is the same man who when he was attorney general went after the prostitution rings. So apparently for not giving him good service. ... [This] means Hillary Clinton [is] now only the second angriest wife in the state of New York. ... Neither Barack nor Hillary can win the nomination outright. You know, because it’s so close. So Hillary’s kind of caught between Barack and a hard place. ... Technically, neither of them can win. It shows you how bad it’s gotten for the Democrats. Forget winning the general election, they can’t even win their own election. ... You know, there’s talk in some Democratic circles of letting the states of Michigan and Florida re-vote. Today, Al Gore said, “Oh, now you think of this! Great!” ... They’re talking about a re-vote primary where people would mail in their ballots. That’s a great idea, combine the reliability of the people in Florida who count the ballots with the efficiency of the Post Office. What could go wrong there?
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Medecina Privada
on: March 13, 2008, 07:16:39 PM
"El chavismo parece estrechar su cerco sobre los profesionales que ejercen la medicina privada. A los insultos y ofensas que hoy les dedicó Hugo Chávez se une una disparatada noticia que publicó hoy el “Diario Vea” y que va en la misma dirección: “se van del país” y eso es inmoral … ¿Pasará a ser ilegal?
El presidente Chávez, en el acto de bienvenida a un grupo de estudiantes de Medicina Comunitaria celebrado este martes en Caracas, ha calificado de “apátridas” y de “personas que venden su alma al diablo” a los médicos venezolanos que prefieren trabajar en Europa antes que hacerlo en Venezuela.
Con un profundo desprecio hacia esa postura, el Presidente ha dicho que “aquí eso se puede hacer”, imaginamos que en una comparación referencial a Cuba donde no se puede hacer porque a los cubanos no se les permite salir del país.
Así pues, la decisión de un ser humano, en el ejercicio de su sagrada libertad en un mundo cada vez más globalizado, ha merecido los duros calificativos del Presidente hacia este grupo de ciudadanos.
No es sorpresa que el Presidente insulte, ofenda y desprecie y menos a los médicos que ejercen en el sector privado, quienes se han sufrido diversas arremetidas del Primer Mandatario.
El Diario Vea publicó también este martes un artículo sobre lo que llama “Fuga de Médicos”.
El disparatado artículo afirma que el Colegio de Médicos recibiría 3 millones de Euros por cada médico que va a trabajar a Europa, pero habla por sí mismo.
La pregunta que deja en el ambiente es si después de tachar la actividad de un médico de decidir trabajar en el exterior, se calificará, en el futuro, como ilegal."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The wheel turns
on: March 13, 2008, 05:32:27 PM
This article was sent to me by someone who has been to Afg. more than twice. The piece does manage to leave out the little matter that after being helped by us against the Russians it hosted the preparations of a brutal terrorist attack upon us.
Afghanistan comes full circle as NATO seeks Russian help
By SCOTT TAYLOR On Target
Mon. Mar 10
ONE OF THE most ironic twists to the ongoing mission in Afghanistan emerged from the NATO meetings held in Brussels last week. With member countries either reluctant or unable to add military resources, NATO is now seeking assistance from Russia, its erstwhile Cold War enemy and one-time "evil occupier" of Afghanistan. In fact, the irony is so thick that we should first roll back decades’ worth of propaganda and start at the very beginning.
NATO was formed in 1949 as a collective self-defence alliance to prevent any encroachment of the Soviet Union into Western Europe. The Soviets responded to this by creating their own defensive coalition of Communist countries (the Warsaw Pact) to protect them from any eastward expansion of NATO’s influence. The nuclear arms race was at its zenith and even Europeans, still recovering from the massive destruction and carnage of the Second World War, understood the importance of maintaining large conventional armies. Troops and tanks were regarded as a preferable deterrent to an apocalyptic mushroom cloud.
The impasse that resulted in Europe did not prevent the U.S. and Soviets from waging war by proxy in non-aligned Third World countries around the world. Afghanistan, in fact, became a key battleground for the CIA and the KGB. Since it bordered the Soviet Union’s central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the U.S. knew that Moscow could not afford to ignore events in impoverished and underdeveloped Afghanistan.
Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, Soviet engineers undertook several major infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, including the construction of the Salang tunnel through the Hindu Kush Mountains, which provided the first viable access between the country’s northern and southern provinces. A full-scale program was introduced to train Afghan army officers and a large number of economic aid packages were extended to Kabul’s Communist government.
The Americans decided things were going a little too smoothly for the Kremlin, so they decided to stir things up a little. By arming and funding Afghan Muslim extremists who were already resisting the social changes, the Americans sought to draw the Soviets into a full-scale military intervention. By 1979 events had escalated to the point where the instability, lawlessness and flourishing drug trade along their shared border could no longer be ignored by the Kremlin. Following a coup staged by the KGB in Kabul, the newly appointed Afghan Communist president invited Soviet troops to deploy a security assistance force to help him stabilize Afghanistan.
It would have been high-fives all around for the CIA planners watching the Soviet tank columns rolling south through the Salang tunnel. The Russian bear had taken the bait and put his paw squarely on the American trap. On the surface, the U.S. vehemently denounced the invasion of Afghanistan and in protest they pulled their athletes out of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Behind the scenes, the U.S. ramped up military aid to the Afghan guerrillas and assisted in bringing in foreign mujahedeen fighters — such as a young Saudi Arabian zealot named Osama bin Laden — to bleed the Soviets white.
The stated objectives of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan were to provide a secure environment, equality for women, a centralized education and medical system, and the training of a self-sufficient Afghan army. While this may sound eerily similar to the current wish list for the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, a friend of mine at the American embassy was quick to point out one fundamental difference: "The (Soviets) were Communists," he emphatically stated, as if that in itself made any further explanation unnecessary.
The U.S. plan worked like a charm and by the time the last of the Russian troops retreated out of Afghanistan in 1989, they had left behind 50,000 dead comrades, the Moscow treasury was bankrupt and the Soviet Union was in a state of dissolution. The U.S.-equipped Afghan warlords finally triumphed over the Communist regime in Kabul and then turned on each other in an orgy of destruction and bloodletting. Whatever Soviet-built infrastructure was still intact in Kabul in 1996 was destroyed when the Taliban movement forced the mujahedeen warlords north of the Hindu Kush.
In the wake of 9-11, the planners in the White House must have suffered from short-term memory loss as they rushed to throw their troops into the very same trap they had built to destroy the Soviets. After using military force to topple the Taliban, the Americans appointed Hamid Karzai as president. His first act as leader was to invite the U.S.-led coalition to deploy a security assistance force to prop up his regime.
Unlike the Soviets, the Americans didn’t need to deploy in support of this request — they were already on the ground.
Now into the seventh year of their occupation and with the American economy on the point of collapse, NATO is looking to Russia for help in transporting troops and equipment into Afghanistan. (Any source of this assertion?) With the skyrocketing oil prices boosting the Russian ruble to dizzy new heights and no one asking for their troops to fight and die in Afghanistan, it would seem that the wheel of fate has turned a full circle.
If you want to drive this point home, go out and rent an old copy of Rambo III. That’s the sequel wherein Sylvester Stallone fights alongside the guerrillas, and the final credits dedicate the movie to "the brave mujahedeen in Afghanistan."
I kid you not.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton; Govt overstepping bounds
on: March 13, 2008, 05:15:22 PM
"If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its
authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people,
whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have
formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the
Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify."
-- Alexander Hamilton (Federalist No. 33, 3 January 1788)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Superbugs
on: March 13, 2008, 05:11:01 PM
The War on Superbugs
Lots of bad news—so little good news
By G.W. (Bill) Riedel, Ph.D.
Special to the Epoch Times Mar 13, 2008
Bacteriophages are one answer to the superbug crisis. (Ada Fitzgerald-Cherry/The Epoch Times)
A report entitled: "The Epidemic of Antibiotic-Resistant Infections" published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2008:46, Jan. 15, page 155 starts as follows: "We are in the midst of an emerging crisis of antibiotic resistance for microbial pathogens in the United States and throughout the world."
As of the year 2000 an estimated 70,000 deaths due to nosocomially acquired [hospital acquired], drug-resistant infections occurred per year in hospitals throughout the United States. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus seriously sickened more than 94,000 Americans in 2005 and almost 19,000 died, more than the 17,000 Americans who died of AIDS-related causes. As more bacteria become resistant to the old antibiotics there are few new antibiotics being developed because most pharmaceutical companies have withdrawn from research for new antibiotics, in part because developing new antibiotics is a slow and costly process.
In Canada the official body counters tell us that "an estimated 220,000 patients who walk through the doors of hospitals each year suffer the unintended and often devastating consequences of an infection," and they estimate that 8,000 to 12,000 Canadian patients die annually from such infections. That would mean that from January 1, 2000 to April 30, 2008 there will have been 100,000 Canadian victims of superbug infections.
Against so much bad news it would be logical that the news media would jump on any opportunity to publish any good news. So when the Bacteriophage 2008 meeting in Herefordshire was chosen for the release of initial Phase II clinical trail data of the first fully-regulated clinical trail to test whether phage therapy really works as a treatment option for superbug infections, one would have expected a media flurry, especially since the trail reported positive results.
To date only two such reports can be found when using Google-News with the string "phage therapy." The first report, which this author found was entitled: "Technology to defeat bacterial infections shows positive results" and was published by Disease/Infection News, 25-Feb-2008 at http://www.news-medical.net/print_article.asp?id=35541
In this trail the U.K. company Biocontrol Ltd. used bacteriophages against Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, which are often resistant to traditional antibiotics. Over a 17-month period a double-blind Phase II trail took place at a specialist London hospital involving 24 patients with chronic ear infections that were not responding to antibiotic treatments. Significant improvements amounting to a mean 50 percent reduction in symptoms were noted as compared to a mean of only 20 percent in the control group who did not receive phages. The company now plans to perform Phase III trails for the ear treatment as soon as possible and is looking at the future possibility of treating patients with cystic fibrosis where lung infections with Pseudomonas aeruginosa are common and dangerous.
Dr. Riedel, firstname.lastname@example.org
, has a Ph.D. in Microbiology/Food Science. He has held various positions in research, industrial food science, and consumer product regulatory affairs in Canada.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dershowitz on The Spitzer Affair
on: March 13, 2008, 11:59:08 AM
The Entrapment of Eliot
By ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ
March 13, 2008
The federal criminal investigation that has led to Eliot Spitzer's resignation as governor of New York illustrates the great dangers all Americans face from vague and open-ended sex and money-transaction statutes.
Federal law, if read broadly, criminalizes virtually all sexual encounters for which something of value has been given. Federal money-laundering statutes criminalize many entirely legitimate and conventional banking transactions. Congress enacted these laws to give federal prosecutors wide discretion in deciding which "bad guys" to go after.
Generally, wise and intelligent prosecutors use their discretion properly -- to target organized crime, terrorism, financial predation, exploitation of children and the like. But the very existence of these selectively enforced statutes poses grave dangers of abuse. They lie around like loaded guns waiting to be used against the enemies of politically motivated investigators, prosecutors and politicians.
There is no hard evidence that Eliot Spitzer was targeted for investigation, but the story of how he was caught does not ring entirely true to many experienced former prosecutors and current criminal lawyers. The New York Times reported that the revelations began with a routine tax inquiry by revenue agents "conducting a routine examination of suspicious financial transactions reported to them by banks." This investigation allegedly found "several unusual movements of cash involving the Governor of New York." But the movement of the amounts of cash required to pay prostitutes, even high-priced prostitutes over a long period of time, does not commonly generate a full-scale investigation.
We are talking about thousands, not millions, of dollars. We are also talking about a man who is a multimillionaire with numerous investments and purchases. The idea that federal investigators would focus on a few transactions to corporations -- that were not themselves under investigation -- raises as many questions as answers.
Even if Mr. Spitzer's derelictions were serendipitously discovered as a result of routine, computerized examination of bank transactions, the dangers inherent in selective use of overbroad criminal statutes remain. Money laundering, structuring and related financial crimes are designed to ferret out organized crime, drug dealing, terrorism and large-scale financial manipulation. They were not enacted to give the federal government the power to inquire into the sexual or financial activities of men who move money in order to hide payments to prostitutes.
Once federal authorities concluded that the "suspicious financial transactions" attributed to Mr. Spitzer did not fit into any of the paradigms for which the statutes were enacted, they should have closed the investigation. It's simply none of the federal government's business that a man may have been moving his own money around in order to keep his wife in the dark about his private sexual peccadilloes.
But the authorities didn't close the investigation. They expanded it, because they had caught a big fish in the wide net they had cast.
In this case, they wiretapped 5,000 phone conversations, intercepted 6,000 emails, used surveillance and undercover tactics that are more appropriate for trapping terrorists than entrapping johns. Unlike terrorism and other predatory crimes, prostitution is legal in many parts of the world and in some parts of the U.S. Even in places like New York, where it is technically illegal, johns are rarely prosecuted. Prostitution rings operate openly, advertising "massage" and "escort" services in the back pages of glossy magazines, local newspapers and television sex channels.
If the federal government really wanted to shut down these operations, they could easily do it without a single wiretap or email intercept. All they would have to do is get an undercover agent to answer the ads, arrange for the "escort" to go from New York to New Jersey and be arrested. But many in law enforcement would much rather reserve these statutes for selective use against predetermined targets.
In this case, if the serendipitous bank audit really led federal agents to Mr. Spitzer, and Mr. Spitzer led them to the Emperor's Club, and federal prosecutors really wanted to get the Club, they could easily have sent an undercover cop to pose as a john, instead of tapping phones and reading emails -- tactics designed to catch and embarrass Mr. Spitzer with his own recorded words, which could be, and were, leaked to the media. As this newspaper has reported: "It isn't clear why the FBI sought the wiretap warrant. Federal prostitution probes are exceedingly rare, lawyers say, except in cases involving organized-crime leaders or child abuse. Federal wiretaps are seldom used to make these cases . . ."
Lavrenti Beria, the head of Joseph Stalin's KGB, once quipped to his boss, "show me the man and I will find the crime." The Soviet Union was notorious for having accordion-like criminal laws that could be adjusted to fit almost any dissident target. The U.S. is a far cry from the Soviet Union, but our laws are dangerously overbroad.
Both Democrats and Republicans have targeted political adversaries over the years. The weapons of choice are almost always elastic criminal laws. And few laws are more elastic, and susceptible to abuse, than federal laws on money laundering and sex crimes. For the sake of all Americans, these laws should be narrowed and limited to predatory crimes with real victims.
Mr. Dershowitz teaches law at Harvard University and is the author of "Finding Jefferson" (Wiley, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama on offense
on: March 13, 2008, 11:45:40 AM
Obama on Offense
By DOROTHY RABINOWITZ
March 13, 2008
It came as a relief to hear, in the last few days, that both Democratic candidates were now about to go on the attack, though pundits agreed such low tactics had been forced on Barack Obama. There's something reassuring about the usual election season blather over negative campaigning. That relief is a response, mostly, to any whiff of normality promising to emerge in the current Democratic race.
Still, the prospects are thin, given the rapturous response Mr. Obama has enjoyed at the hands of a good part of the press -- attitudes so obvious that the usual stern media denials that their coverage was other than objective have been hard to find. Anyone who doubts this bias has only to look at the past week's charges that Hillary Clinton and company have been playing the race card -- the latest in a series of such accusations made by Obama surrogates, carried forward by the media.
Of those offenses, the most memorable, perhaps, concerned Bill Clinton's challenge to the record Sen. Obama claimed regarding his long opposition to the Iraq war, which Mr. Clinton called "a fairy tale." In short order, word was put out that the former president had insulted black Americans and their high hopes for this election, by use of this disparaging term, "fairy tale." Mr. Clinton, some charged, had denigrated Mr. Obama's entire candidacy as a fantasy.
There was, too, the Martin Luther King/Lyndon Johnson saga. Here Hillary Clinton's incontestably accurate comment -- that it had taken the action of a president, Lyndon Johnson, to pass the Civil Rights Act, and thus bring to fruition the goal to which Dr. King had devoted his life -- ignited storms of outrage, furious commentaries on how Sen. Clinton had played a sly race card, diminishing Dr. King's importance in comparison to that of the white president.
In all, the pattern of these charges may well suggest a race card in play, only it wasn't the Clintons who were playing it.
The latest charge arose from a "60 Minutes" interview a week ago, in which Mrs. Clinton was supposedly contriving a way to suggest that Mr. Obama is in fact a secret Muslim. In the stories carried elsewhere in the media, the case against her rests on five words.
The entire "60 Minutes" exchange -- showing her effort to answer interrogator Steve Kroft's persistent questions -- would have been more instructive. Because, as in so many interrogations, an emphatic no -- when the investigator is looking for another answer -- is never enough.
Mr. Kroft: "You don't believe that Sen. Obama is a Muslim?"
Mrs. Clinton: "Of course not. I mean, you know, there is no basis for that. I take him on the basis of what he says. You know, there isn't any reason to doubt that."
Kroft: "You said you take Sen. Obama at his word that he's not. . . . You don't believe that he's. . . ."
Clinton: "No, no. There's nothing to base that on, as far as I know."
Kroft: "It's just scurrilous . . .?"
Clinton: "Look, I have been the target of so many ridiculous rumors that I have a great deal of sympathy for anybody who gets, you know, smeared with the kind of rumors that go on all the time."
The now famous five words, "as far as I know" come trailing a sentence showing an interviewee clearly trying to fill space -- babbling, as we all do, when there's nothing more to say and the persistent interrogator requires, nevertheless, more talk. Clearly, that "as far as I know" is chatter, without import, in the midst of emphatic declarations rejecting the notion that Mr. Obama is Muslim.
Without import except, of course, to the cadres prepared to find in those words material for the manufacture of another story of a Clinton outrage. To do so requires reporting only the sentence in which the phrase appears, while leaving out all that came before and after. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert did precisely that in a column on Saturday, charging that those five words represented "one of the sleaziest moments of the campaign to date."
Mr. Herbert is far from alone in this stunning assessment -- a measure of the fevers that have swept so many journalists away in the course of this campaign.
Mr. Obama, in the meantime, has now found occasion to try going on the attack against Mrs. Clinton as he has been urged -- though not without trepidation from supporters worried about the effect on his image as an inspirational leader and voice of a new politics. Could he even do such things? Yes he could.
As he showed in an angry speech this week, in which he lashed out at Mrs. Clinton for raising the possibility that he could serve as vice president, the worriers were right. The candidate will have to find, at the very least, an attack mode other than the preening and petulance on display Monday.
For all of Mr. Obama's celebrated speeches, his capacity to attract and arouse crowds, we know mostly his public persona -- a presence confident, forward-looking, thoughtful. Of his actual attitudes, social and political, his views about the nation he plans to lead, those lengthy speeches have revealed remarkably little, other than a belief that American hearts are filled to bursting with their yearning for change. We shall see.
His closest adviser, Michelle Obama, has left little doubt about her views of American society, and its people. These views have received relatively scant coverage, other than in the brief period that followed her observation on the campaign trail in Wisconsin a few weeks back, when the wife of the candidate told crowds that she was, for the first time in her life, "proud" of her country. It was an attention-getting pronouncement quickly amended and recast, once the uproar of amazement began to be heard.
Everyone can have an untoward moment under the pressures of campaigning. It was obvious, nonetheless, that this was no blip, no failure to express her real thought. She said exactly what she'd wanted to say. And for doing so Mrs. Obama expected no amazed response. The comment reflected her deeply held, grim view of American society, one she was accustomed to sharing with others who thought likewise. Why should it not have come tripping from the tongue?
It was, furthermore, just one of numerous such revelatory statements she has regularly made. In speeches on the campaign trail she has held forth on her view of America, which is, as she describes it, a country that is "downright mean" and "driven by fear." She recently waxed irate over the American attention to security interests, arguing that we should be "changing the conversation" and building diplomatic relations "instead of protecting ourselves against terrorists." A minor note, to be sure, though it's to be hoped that a President Obama will not turn to this closest adviser for her views on the national defense.
A New Yorker profile published last week quotes numerous stump speech pronouncements, among them Mrs. Obama's assertion that most Americans' lives have gotten worse since she was a girl. "So if you want to pretend like there was some point in the last couple of decades when your life was easy, I want to meet you."
In short, not only is existence in America a desperate proposition for most citizens -- anyone claiming to have led a satisfactory one not sunk in the hell that is American life is, quite simply, lying. America is, she has elsewhere informed audiences, a nation whose "souls are broken."
It is a vision striking for its consistent hostility to any notion that Americans have cause for optimism and pride in their country: striking, too, for the stark and obvious absence, in this graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, of any sense of the reasons Americans might revere their nation and consider themselves fortunate to be its citizens.
Doubtless we shall hear more about Mrs. Obama's views as the campaign goes on. In the meantime, we can only imagine how this will all play out in the event of an Obama presidency. First Lady Michelle Obama would certainly encounter foreign reporters who have attentively covered the campaign and who have questions to ask. One of them may well be, "Madame First Lady, would you care to tell us more about your oft-stated view of America as a nation whose soul is broken? And a word, if you would about the desperate lives lived by most Americans?"
The response would be interesting to hear.
Ms. Rabinowitz is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Spitzer Affair
on: March 12, 2008, 11:27:57 AM
Eliot the 'Enforcer'
By JOHN FUND
March 12, 2008; Page A21
As the political career of Eliot Spitzer melts down, many will lament that what the governor on Monday called his "progressive politics" fell victim to his personal foibles. If only he hadn't made mistakes in his private life, they will moan, New York could have been redeemed from its squalid, special-interest dominated stagnation.
That's nonsense. More is at issue here than a mere private mistake. The governor's frequent use of a prostitution ring was of public concern -- because, notes Henry Stern, head of the watchdog group New York Civic, "people could easily have blackmailed him, you can't have that if you're governor."
True enough, New York's dysfunctional and secretive state government desperately needs fumigation, with both political parties sharing in the blame. But Mr. Spitzer's head-butting approach to redemption -- involving the arbitrary use of power and bully-boy tactics -- was no improvement. As for reform, his first budget grew state spending at three times the rate of inflation, and is a major reason the state now faces a $4.5 billion deficit. When the governor tried to reform the state's bloated Medicaid program, the health-care workers' union ran a TV campaign against him, and he quickly caved.
Mr. Spitzer seemed to excel only in the zeal with which he would go after perceived adversaries. Last summer, his staff infamously used the state police to track the movements of Joe Bruno, the Republican president of the state senate, in an effort to destroy his career. Mr. Spitzer then ferociously fought investigators who wanted to examine his office's email traffic for evidence the governor himself may have been involved. His approval rating in New York, a strongly Democratic state, fell to 27%.
Despite that wakeup call, months after the Bruno incident Mr. Spitzer called up a close ally of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This source told me that the governor asked him to deliver what the ally considered a threatening and insulting message to the mayor. The Bloomberg confidant, who like many sources commenting on Mr. Spitzer refused to be named, advised the governor to reconsider if that was the message he really wanted to send, but the governor insisted.
No doubt more examples of Mr. Spitzer's dubious behavior will now find their way into the media. But his career as a prosecutor provided plenty of warning signs he was destined for trouble, and each of his political campaigns featured clear attempts to circumvent campaign-finance laws. For example, in 1998 Mr. Spitzer admitted to the New York Times that he had skirted state election laws by failing to disclose a last-minute infusion of cash into his 1994 campaign for attorney general from his wealthy father.
Such chicanery wasn't an auspicious launching pad for his own investigations of corporate misbehavior. He certainly did expose some malfeasance and shady dealing. But historian Fred Siegel notes that he quickly moved on to "less and less substantial" and appropriate targets in search of headlines. And he used New York's Martin Act, a uniquely harsh law allowing prosecutors to declare almost anything a "fraud," and no requirement on their part to prove criminal intent, to trample the due-process rights of anyone blocking his path to the TV cameras.
Companies almost always agreed to Mr. Spitzer's demands that they pay stiff fines and change the way they operated -- all without any trials or judicial determinations that they had done anything wrong. "It became a kind of blackmail," Mr. Siegel says, "in which he said to companies, if you don't put my friends in high positions in your company I'll drag you through the mud."
"He was the investigator, the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner," says Thomas Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He notes that Mr. Spitzer would frequently settle with corporate higher-ups, who were wealthy enough to pay millions in fines, and then go after their lower-level employees. Those individuals were often found not guilty at trial -- but these courtroom defeats, as Mr. Spitzer learned from the experience of that other hyperactive prosecutor, Rudy Giuliani, would generate few headlines.
Mr. Spitzer cloaked his naked devaluation of the rule of law with gauzy rhetoric that was perfectly pitched to make many liberals ignore his strong-arm tactics. He harshly criticized advocates of judicial restraint such as Antonin Scalia as believing in "a dead piece of paper." In a Law Day ceremony, Mr. Spitzer was blunt: "I believe in an evolving Constitution. . . . A flexible Constitution allows us to consider not merely how the world was, but how it ought to be."
He was vague as to just what his Brave New World would look like. "One of the things that I enjoy about going to Washington is the opportunity of testifying, chapter after chapter, that self-regulation has failed," he said to reporters, adding, "What is it to be replaced with? I'm not sure."
Still, he was pretty sure of his blowtorch tactics. In 2005, Mr. Spitzer revealingly told TV host Stephen Colbert in all seriousness that as a kid he was the "enforcer" on his soccer team, the guy who "took people out."
An enduring lesson of the Spitzer meltdown should be that crusaders of all types who operate outside the rule books themselves merit a gimlet eye of scrutiny. An enduringly popular symbol in our culture is the man on the white horse who comes to clean up the town and purge it of its errant ways. But in the harsh reality of politics, for every selfless Lone Ranger who arrives on his trusty steed and does good, there are many more budding Napoleons who harshly impose their will -- and fall prey to vices they pledged to root out.
Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues
on: March 12, 2008, 11:24:05 AM
Spitzer's Media Enablers
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
March 12, 2008; Page A21
The fall of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer holds many lessons, and the press will surely be examining them in coming months. But don't expect the press corps to delve into the biggest lesson of all -- its own role as his enabler.
Journalists have spent the past two days asking how a man of Mr. Spitzer's stature would allow himself to get involved in a prostitution ring. The answer, in my mind, is clear. The former New York attorney general never believed normal rules applied to him, and his view was validated time and again by an adoring press. "You play hard, you play rough, and hopefully you don't get caught," said Mr. Spitzer two years ago. He never did get caught, because most reporters were his accomplices.
Journalism has many functions, but perhaps the most important is keeping tabs on public officials. That duty is even more vital concerning government positions that are subject to few other checks and balances. Chief among those is the prosecutor, who can use his awesome state power to punish, even destroy, private citizens.
Yet from the start, the press corps acted as an adjunct of Spitzer power, rather than a skeptic of it. Many journalists get into this business because they want to see wrongs righted. Mr. Spitzer portrayed himself as the moral avenger. He was the slayer of the big guy, the fat cat, the Wall Street titan -- all allegedly on behalf of the little guy. The press ate it up, and came back for more.
Time magazine bestowed upon Mr. Spitzer the title "Crusader of the Year," and likened him to Moses. Fortune dubbed him the "Enforcer." A fawning article in the Atlantic Monthly in 2004 explained he was "a rock star," and "the Democratic Party's future." In an uncritical 2006 biography, then Washington Post reporter Brooke Masters compared the attorney general to no less than Teddy Roosevelt.
What the media never acknowledged is that somewhere along the line (say, his first day in public office) Mr. Spitzer became the big guy, the titan. He had the power to trample lives and bend the rules, while also burnishing his own political fortune. He was the one who deserved as much, if not more, scrutiny as onetime New York Stock Exchange chief Dick Grasso or former American International Group CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg.
What makes this more embarrassing for any self-respecting journalist is that Mr. Spitzer knew all this, and played the media like a Stradivarius. He knew what sort of storyline they'd be sympathetic to, and spun it. He knew, too, that as financial journalism has become more competitive, breaking news can make a career. He doled out scoops to favored reporters, who repaid him with allegiance. News organizations that dared to criticize him were cut off. After a time, few criticized anymore.
Instead, reporters felt obligated to run with whatever he handed them. Consider the report in the wake of a 2005 op-ed in this newspaper by John Whitehead. A respected Wall Street figure, Mr. Whitehead dared to criticize Mr. Spitzer for his unscrupulously zealous pursuit of Mr. Greenberg. Mr. Spitzer later threatened Mr. Whitehead, telling him in a phone call that "You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done." Some months later, after more Spitzer excesses, Mr. Whitehead had the temerity to write another op-ed describing what Mr. Spitzer had said.
Within a few days, the press was reporting (unsourced, of course) that Mr. Whitehead had defended Mr. Greenberg a few weeks after a Greenberg charity had given $25 million to the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation -- a group Mr. Whitehead chaired. So Mr. Whitehead's on-the-record views were met with an unsourced smear implying bad faith. The press ran with it anyway.
In 2005, Mr. Spitzer went on national television to suggest that Mr. Greenberg had engaged in criminal activity. It was front-page news. About six months later, on the eve of a Thanksgiving weekend, Mr. Spitzer quietly disclosed that he lacked the evidence to press criminal charges. That news was buried inside the papers.
What makes this history all the more unfortunate is that the warning signs about Mr. Spitzer were many and manifest. In the final days of Mr. Spitzer's run for attorney general in 1998, the news broke that he'd twisted campaign-finance laws so that his father could fund his unsuccessful 1994 run. Mr. Spitzer won anyway, and the story was largely forgotten.
New York Stock Exchange caretaker CEO John Reed suggested Mr. Spitzer hadn't told the truth when he said that it was Mr. Reed who wanted him to investigate Mr. Grasso's pay. The press never investigated.
Mr. Spitzer's main offense as a prosecutor is that he violated the basic rules of fairness and due process: Innocent until proven guilty; the right to your day in court. The Spitzer method was to target public companies and officials, leak allegations and out-of-context emails to a compliant press, watch the stock price fall, threaten a corporate indictment (a death sentence), and then move in for a quick settlement kill. There was rarely a trial, fair or unfair, involved.
On the substance, his court record speaks for itself. Most of Mr. Spitzer's high-profile charges have gone up in smoke. A New York state judge threw out his case against tax firm H&R Block. He lost his prosecution against Bank of America broker Ted Sihpol (whom Mr. Spitzer threatened to arrest in front of his child and pregnant wife). Mr. Spitzer was stopped by a federal judge from prying confidential information out of mortgage companies. Another New York judge blocked the heart of his suit against Mr. Grasso. Mr. Greenberg continues to fight his civil charges. The press was foursquare behind Mr. Spitzer in all these cases, and in a better world they'd share some of his humiliation.
Instead, remarkably, they continue to defend him. Ms. Masters, his biographer, was on CNN the day Mr. Spitzer's prostitution news broke, reassuring viewers that the governor really was a "lovely" guy. Other news reporters were reporting what a "tragedy" it was that such a leading light in the Democratic Party could come to such an ignoble end.
There's little that's tragic about Mr. Spitzer, unless you consider his victims (which would appear to include his own family). The press would do well to meditate on that, and consider how many violations they winked at and validated over the years. Politicians don't exist to be idolized by the press, at least not by any press corps doing its job.
Ms. Strassel, who covered Eliot Spitzer's investigations, now writes the Journal's Potomac Watch column from Washington.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: March 12, 2008, 11:20:26 AM
Hard to decide which thread for this piece-- here it is:
The Pentagon vs. Petraeus
March 12, 2008; Page A20
Yesterday's resignation of Admiral William Fallon as Centcom Commander is being portrayed as a dispute over Iran. Our own sense is that the admiral has made more than enough dissenting statements about Iraq, Iran and other things to warrant his dismissal as much as early retirement. But his departure will be especially good news if it means that President Bush is beginning to pay attention to the internal Pentagon dispute over Iraq.
A fateful debate is now taking place at the Pentagon that will determine the pace of U.S. military withdrawals for what remains of President Bush's term. Senior Pentagon officials -- including, we hear, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, Army Chief of Staff George Casey and Admiral Fallon -- have been urging deeper troop cuts in Iraq beyond the five "surge" combat brigades already scheduled for redeployment this summer.
Adm. William Fallon, during testimony on Capitol Hill in May, 2007.
Last month Mr. Gates agreed to a pause in these withdrawals, so that General David Petraeus could assess whether the impressive security gains achieved by the surge can be maintained with fewer troops. But now the Pentagon seems to be pushing for a pause of no more than four to six weeks before the drawdowns resume.
It's possible the surge has so degraded the insurgency -- both of the al Qaeda and Shiite varieties -- that the U.S. can reduce its troop presence to some undetermined level without inviting precisely the conditions that led to the surge in the first place. The withdrawal of one combat brigade from Iraq in December hasn't affected the stunning declines in insurgent attacks and Iraqi civilian deaths over the past year.
Then again, a spate of recent attacks -- including a suicide bombing Monday that left five GIs dead in Baghdad and a roadside bombing yesterday that killed 16 Iraqis -- is a reminder that the insurgency remains capable of doing great damage. An overly hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces would give it more opportunities to do so. It could also demoralize Iraq forces just when they are gaining confidence and need our help to "hold" the areas gained by the "clear, hold and build" strategy of the surge.
This ought to be apparent to Pentagon generals. Yet their rationale for troop withdrawals seems to have less to do with conditions in Iraq and more with fear that the war is putting a strain on the military as an institution. These are valid concerns. Lengthy and repeated combat deployments have imposed extraordinary burdens on service members and their families. The war in Iraq has also diverted scarce funds to combat operations rather than investment -- much of it long overdue -- in military modernization.
But these concerns are best dealt with by enlarging the size of the Army and Marine Corps and increasing spending on defense to between 5% and 6% of gross domestic product from the current 4.5% -- about where it was at the end of the Cold War. By contrast, we can think of few things that would "break" the military more completely -- in readiness, morale and deterrent power -- than to leave Iraq in defeat, or in conditions that would soon lead to a replay of what happened in Vietnam.
This Pentagon pressure also does little to help General Petraeus. The general is supposed to be fighting a frontal war against Islamist militants, not a rearguard action with Pentagon officials. We understand there is a chain of command in the military, and General Petraeus is precisely the kind of team player who would respect it.
That's why as Commander in Chief, Mr. Bush has a particular obligation to engage in this Pentagon debate so that General Petraeus can make his troop recommendations based on the facts in Iraq, not on pressure from Washington. It was Mr. Bush's excessive deference to the Army's pecking order that put lackluster generals such as Ricardo Sanchez in charge when the insurgency was forming, and that prevented General Petraeus from assuming command in Iraq until it was nearly too late. Having successfully resisted pressure from Congressional Democrats for premature troop withdrawals, it would be strange indeed for Mr. Bush to cave in to identical pressure from his own bureaucracies.
As a political matter, an overly rapid drawdown would also only complicate the choices the next President will have to make about troop levels, whether that's John McCain or one of the Democratic contenders. Mr. Bush owes it to his successor to bequeath not only a stable Iraq, but also policy options that don't tempt disaster. Preserving a troop cushion that allows for future withdrawals without jeopardizing current gains would do just that.
That's a decision that rests with Mr. Bush alone, who in seven years as President has often proved more adept and determined in fighting enemies abroad than imposing discipline on his own, so often wayward, Administration.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Stock Market
on: March 11, 2008, 10:37:15 PM
From the freebie Friday letter:
The Week /EZCH, NETL, SIGM, CAVM, and RMI
Gilder Telecosm Forum Member (3/1/08): George, What has changed to make
you view NetLogic (NETL) as having better long-term prospects?
George Gilder, Gilder Telecosm Forum (3/1/08): Comparing NetLogic (NETL)
with Sigma (SIGM) and Cavium (CAVM), and I have come to the conclusion
that NetLogic will be needed for IPv6 and that IPv6 will prevail over the
next decade. EZchip (EZCH) and NetLogic can work together where multiple
fast lookups are required.
EZchip has an architecture that can accommodate 7 layers, but 7 layer
processing will not happen for several years and when it does, TCAMs
(ternary content addressable memories) and so called knowledge processors
will be complementary for the first phases....
Cavium is a proven company pioneering in the largest but also most
competitive markets. It is in the upper layer processor field that is also
contested by the new Cisco (CSCO) control plane devices, LSI Corp. (LSI),
Applied Micro Circuits (AMCC), other control plane processors, RMI and all
the multicore multiprocessor innovators out there, from Intel (INTC) and
AMD (AMD) to Tilera and dozens of others.
To read more of George Gilder's posts and those of the Gilder Telecosm
Forum members, visit http://www.gildertech.com/
and become a Forum member
You'd think I'd have learned by now.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Vehicle issues
on: March 11, 2008, 07:53:29 PM
Great to see the participation on this. The process of collective analysis helps us all.
A hearty amen on room to maneuver the car! I believe I averted a carjacking one time precisely with this technique.
As far as using the car as a weapon, perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I am picturing the car already turned off when the excrement hits the fan and the driver's window down. Who knows, perhaps the key was already removed from the ignition? Question: Under these circumstances with a vigorous assault coming in through the window, could you start your car up and get it in gear?
Also a hearty amen on the merits of a serious dog-- but not everyone wants or can have such an animal in his/her life.
I find it hard to second guess the woman getting out of the car. Her man was under attack and behind the reactionary curve. Is she just supposed to sit there and do nothing?
Backing into parking spaces is a traffic infraction here in LA-- apparently lots of arguments get going when someone wants to back into a space and the following car has pulled up too close for this to be possible.
Tire iron? Great tool-- are legal issues presented by keeping it in the cab of the truck?. If stored in back in the spare tire well it probably is not accessible in timely manner.
In some 30 states, CCW is an option for those who take the time to go through the necessary process.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Book on John Adams
on: March 11, 2008, 07:29:42 PM
A friend writes:
I'm halfway through the book John Adams, by David McCullough. This is the second time I've read it, I picked it back up when I heard HBO was doing a series based on the book. This book is a must read for anyone that wants to feel and breathe in the nature of the times of the American Revolution, as well as get inside the head of one of our Founding Fathers. It's hard to imagine the extremes of the times and the circumstances that shaped the mind, that shaped a nation. It received a very much deserved Pulitzer when it came out in 2001. You folks in Europe will be interested as well, Adams, spent much of the war in Europe trying to get assistance in supporting the effort to break from England.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 11, 2008, 12:31:05 PM
Just What the Doctor Ordered
House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel has been spending time in the hospital with the flu the last few days, but he is likely to have gotten a real morale booster yesterday with the news of Gov. Eliot Spitzer's meltdown.
Mr. Rangel, who has represented Harlem in Congress for 38 years, is known to hold the prickly governor in minimal high regard. He has often snidely referred to Mr. Spitzer as "the smartest man in the world," a reference to the governor's well-known arrogance.
Should Mr. Spitzer resign, Mr. Rangel would also be in the catbird's seat. Lt. Gov. David Paterson, a former state senator from Harlem, is a longtime protege of Mr. Rangel and would likely grant his mentor wide influence over patronage and fiscal issues. "Rangel could have instant access to Paterson anytime of the day or night," is how one New York Democratic leader evaluates Mr. Rangel's likely importance in a Patterson administration.
So if Mr. Rangel makes an even swifter recovery from the flu than is expected, there will be good reasons for that new spring in his step and twinkle in his eye.
-- John Fund
Deus Ex Machine Politics
There is little chance that New York will be competitive in the presidential race this year, but the Spitzer scandal will breathe new life into New York's battered GOP. Poised to fill the governor's seat is Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat who has little name recognition and lacks the force of personality that animated Mr. Spitzer's political career. Mr. Paterson, an ally of Rep. Charlie Rangel, will likely be a seat-warmer while both parties prepare to battle for the governor's mansion in 2010. Democrat Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will likely now become the de facto leader of his party in the state.
Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader Joe Bruno, a veteran political infighter, will take the lieutenant governor's seat, giving him a larger platform to use for Republican advantage. He could run for governor himself in two years. But it's more likely that he'll find someone else within his party to carry the Republican banner. If Rudy Giuliani wants to get back into the game, this is his chance. There's also a possibility that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg could be interested. And then there's John Spencer, the former mayor of Yonkers who ran against Hillary Clinton for senate in 2006. He has a fundraising base, knows what it takes to run a statewide campaign and has executive experience.
A little more than a year ago, Eliot Spitzer's gubernatorial landslide (69%) was the biggest the state had ever seen. New York seemed on a path to becoming a one-party state. Democrats tightened their grip on the state's General Assembly, won every state-wide elective office and even won in a few upstate congressional districts that traditionally favor Republicans. This year, led by Mr. Spitzer, Democrats looked likely to win control of the last vestige of Republican power in New York, the state Senate. How quickly things change. Republicans now see an opening to reverse their fortunes in New York, only helped if Mr. Spitzer tries to cling to office. It remains to be seen if the state and national GOPs are up to seizing the opportunity.
-- Brendan Miniter
Quote of the Day
"In lead stories Monday night about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer being linked to a prostitution ring, neither ABC's World News nor the NBC Nightly News verbally identified Spitzer's political party. Must mean he's a liberal Democrat -- and he is. CBS anchor Katie Couric, however, managed to squeeze in a mention of his party. On ABC, the only hints as to Spitzer's party were a few seconds of video of Spitzer beside Hillary Clinton as they walked down some steps and a (D) on screen by Spitzer's name over part of one soundbite. NBC didn't even do that. While ABC and NBC failed to cite Spitzer's political affiliation in the four minutes or so each network dedicated to the revelations, both managed to find time to applaud his reputation and effectiveness as the Empire State's Attorney General before becoming Governor" -- Brent Baker of the conservative Media Research Institute.
Follow the Money
The fall of Eliot Spitzer, caught in the roll-up of a high-end prostitution ring, is bound to be an occasion for a great deal of dime-store psychoanalysis about what led to his self-destructive behavior.
But perhaps the most interesting detail isn’t the all-too-familiar tale of a politician imagining himself immune to the laws and standards he prescribes for others. The most interesting detail is how he got caught.
The New York Governor, who made his bones doggedly pursuing alleged financial crimes, was undone by his own bankers. The financial transactions by which he endeavored to conceal his payments to the Emperors Club were unusual enough that they prompted a referral by his bank to the IRS, which in turn brought in the FBI and ultimately the prosecutors. Based on the information currently available, Mr. Spitzer himself was the thread that began the unraveling of the Emperor's Club prostitution ring.
Prosecutors are supposed to know better. But in this case, Mr. Spitzer appears to have left behind precisely the kind of paper trail that he once used himself in pursuit of Wall Street malefactors, real or imagined. The latest burble from the TV talking heads this morning now suggests that Mr. Spitzer is delaying his resignation as leverage for a favorable plea bargain. If so, he apparently learned at least one thing from his years as a dictator of humiliating plea bargains to those caught up in his publicity-seeking investigations. All the more ironic, then, that the Sheriff of Wall Street gave himself away with his slippery financial dealings, rather than his sordid appetites, ending in his disgrace.
-- Brian M. Carney
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Split from Georgia?
on: March 11, 2008, 12:08:22 PM
It appears that the blowback from Kosovo continues.
Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said March 11 that Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions will secede if Georgia becomes a member of NATO, Reuters reported. Rogozin said that Abkhazia and South Ossetia “do not intend to join NATO.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Water
on: March 11, 2008, 11:43:42 AM
Amid Water Shortage,
Australia Looks to the Sea
By PATRICK BARTA
March 11, 2008; Page A1
PERTH, Australia -- As global water shortages loom, this remote city on Australia's parched western coast is giving desalination -- the arduous process of removing salt from sea water -- new clout.
Opened in late 2006, Perth's $360 million desalination plant sucks in roughly 50,000 gallons of the Indian Ocean every minute. It then runs that water through special filters that separate out the salt, yielding some 25,000 gallons of drinkable water -- enough to meet nearly a fifth of Perth's current demand.
Perth is pushing desalination as a way to feed the city's water needs and keep parks -- including Kings Park, above -- green.
For decades, critics dismissed desalination as a costly boondoggle that burns colossal amounts of energy, including dirty fuels like coal. Technologically complex, it's also far more expensive than tapping other water sources. The few major desalination plants that did make it to fruition went up mainly in the Middle East, which had energy -- and money -- to burn.
Perth's facility squarely tackles both environmental and financial concerns. It gets around the issue of noxious emissions by harnessing power from a wind farm. By relying primarily on renewable energy -- a recent trend in desalination -- the plant releases fewer dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Upgraded systems remove salt more efficiently than past processes, making operating costs less daunting.
Despite higher water bills for consumers, officials here deem the project so successful that they plan to build a second, $875 million desalination plant. Once online, it will allow Perth to source as much as a third of its water from the ocean and significantly cut its dependence on rain-fed reserves.
Not long ago, "desalination was something you'd do only when you didn't have any other choice," says Jim Gill, chief executive of Water Corp., Perth's state-owned water supplier. Now, "there just aren't that many sources left."
Patrick Barta visits Perth for a look at how the city aims to cope with a growing water shortage through desalination of sea water.
Perth's plunge into desalination comes at a critical time, when water is emerging as the world's next major natural-resources challenge. Water use, like oil, is surging as economic growth takes off in China, India and elsewhere. According to the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, about a fifth of the world's population, or more than 1.2 billion people, already lives in areas with insufficient supply.
Due to changing rainfall patterns linked to climate change, many places -- including parts of Australia, the American Southwest, India and Western Europe -- are getting as much as 10% less rain than they used to. There's also a global push to expand agriculture, the world's biggest guzzler of water, to meet growing food and alternative energy demand.
As many as 75 major desalination projects are in various stages of development world-wide, including a $300 million facility north of San Diego. Although large-scale desalination is still unpopular in the U.S., local officials and private investors are pressing to build plants in other states such as Texas and Massachusetts.
Several Australian cities are adding massive desalination plants. The largest, near Melbourne, carries a price tag of more than $2.5 billion. Similar facilities are envisioned in Spain and India. And London is planning a $400 million plant along the River Thames.
Environmentalists worry that the combined impact of these plants will be devastating, especially if they run on power generated by cheap coal. Big desalination plants can burn through enough electricity annually to power more than 35,000 homes a year.
Last June, WWF, the international conservation organization, released a major report challenging the desalination boom. It cited a potentially "major misdirection of public attention, policy and funds."
Yet WWF staffers acknowledge there could be a place for some desalination plants -- so long as certain criteria are met. First, however, they want cities to exhaust other options, such as water recycling. If plants are eventually called for, the WFF wants to see them built like the one in Perth.
"Perth is going to be the model for desalination in the developed world," says Tom Pankratz, an industry consultant in Houston. Although other facilities might not employ the same renewable sources for power, most of the newer ones are trying to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, says Mr. Pankratz, including the latest plants in London and Sydney. "Everyone is thinking that's going to be the way of the future."
Surrounded by desert, this remote Western Australia city is booming as a center for mining iron ore and other valuable commodities. By some estimates, Perth is attracting as many as 750 families a week, and now has a population in excess of 1.3 million.
But in recent years, water supplies have shrunk as rainfall levels declined -- possibly due to factors related to global warming. In the 1980s, annual inflows into reservoirs fell to less than 300 billion liters a year; by the late 1990s, the figure was down to fewer than 150 billion liters.
Leading the charge for desalination was Mr. Gill, 61 years old, a self-taught expert on climate change. A native Australian, he received a master's degree in public administration from Harvard and worked for many years at Western Australia's railway system before joining the Water Corp., the state-owned company, in the mid-1990s. His hobbies include trekking deep into the Australian Outback to see aboriginal rock paintings in their original setting.
He says he noticed the sharp drop-off in available water after studying historical charts at Water Corp. Then, in 2001, Perth had one of its worst droughts ever. Reservoirs were less than 25% full and officials worried the city would run out of water completely.
Water Corp. executives ordered residents to restrict garden sprinkler use to two days a week. One scuttled idea involved towing, and melting down, an iceberg from Antarctica.
Officials also mulled the case for desalination. Mr. Gill's engineers had studied it before as part of a long-term planning process, and had concluded the method was viable. But they didn't think it would be needed until 2020 at the earliest.
At first analysis, the cost seemed "horrifying," Mr. Gill recalls. According to David Lloyd Owen, a water expert at United Kingdom-based consulting firm Envisager, even the cheapest desalinated water can cost eight times more than traditional groundwater sources, which can be tapped for as little as five cents per cubic meter.
Mr. Gill changed his mind after desalination experts in Germany and elsewhere acquainted him with the latest technological improvements. He also saw that other water sources were becoming more expensive to exploit -- making desalination look more attractive.
Most modern facilities use a process known as reverse osmosis. This involves pushing water under high pressure through porous membranes that filter out the salt. Energy is needed to raise the pressure and then force the water through the membranes.
In recent years, engineers have developed better membranes that capture salt more effectively than before, and they've improved "pre-treatment" methods to remove large particles from water before it goes through the process. Newer facilities also use "energy recovery devices" that allow them to recycle as much as 90% of the energy that's expended.
Working to Convert
By 2003, Mr. Gill was working to convert a dubious public. Homeowners fretted over potentially higher water bills, which stood to rise by as much as 12%. Environmentalists warned that saline discharge would turn a nearby bay into a giant salt lake.
Perth's newspapers blasted the project in editorials and cartoons. Critics insisted the idea didn't address Perth's long-term water problems, which they say require more efforts to promote conservation.
Desalination "is exactly like taking an aspirin for a tumor," says Jorg Imberger, director of the Centre for Water Research at the University of Western Australia in Perth. He believes people are simply using too much water. While the Perth plant was under consideration, he says, he phoned the state premier directly to voice his complaints.
Mr. Gill, meanwhile, responded to naysayers by warning that Water Corp. might impose a total sprinkler ban if water supplies didn't improve.
To counter environmental opposition, his team considered planting thousands of trees to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
But the real breakthrough came with a plan to use renewable power from a $165 million wind farm. The project's developers, which include private investors and a government-owned power company, had wanted to build the facility for years, but needed a big customer.
Making sure the desalination plant didn't burn fossil fuels was necessary to "defuse one of the key arguments against" it, Mr. Gill says. The eco-friendly design "also suited our values."
Mr. Gill cultivated unusual allies, including members of Perth's gardening industry. He also circulated charts and diagrams to the public showing the huge drop in water supply -- an effort that won over Geoff Gallop, then the state premier. Government officials approved the plant in late 2004.
"I wanted to make sure we had water security," says Mr. Gallop, now a professor at the University of Sydney.
The plant was up and running by late 2006. Situated in a bland industrial park 45 minutes south of the city, it includes a first-stage facility that removes silt and other impurities from water that's piped in from the adjacent, azure-blue sea. The water is then moved into a giant building the length of a football field where it is pressurized and sent through membranes in high-tech vessels.
The resulting water is treated with chlorine to meet health standards and piped into a reservoir that feeds into the local water supply. Leftover salt is flushed back into the ocean, where it disperses.
The facility even includes a tap where visitors can take a quick slurp. "Tastes better with whiskey," says project manager John Stansfield. When the process is finished, the water has a salt-free taste.
The Facility's Value
Some Perth residents still question the facility's value. Advocates for the poor say that lower-income citizens, including many Aboriginals, can't afford to pay more for water.
"Why are we building desalination plants to help wealthy people have gardens?" asks Irina Cattalini, director of social policy at the Western Australian Council of Social Service, an advocacy group.
Other desalination foes worry that Perth's success may be inspiring other cities to follow suit, but with lesser regard for any environmental toll.
At the Garden Affair, a small garden center in one of Perth's wealthier neighborhoods, some patrons indicated they have no intention of cutting back their water use -- even if the additional supply comes at a higher price.
"In the long run, we have to have the water, don't we?" said Lorraine Cook, a 65-year-old retiree who was shopping there one recent afternoon.
"I'd rather have a garden that uses more water" than have to give up azaleas, roses and other such plants, said Joanna Gage, a 45-year-old compliance manager at a financial-services company.
Even some of the country's biggest critics of desalination have warmed up to the Perth facility -- including, to a degree, Mr. Imberger of the University of Western Australia. Desalination "gives you security," he acknowledges. And he's pleased about the use of renewable energy.
Mr. Gill and others agree that desalination isn't perfect. "The price of water will probably go up over time, but it's scarce -- I think people realize that," says Mr. Gallop, the former state premier. "We're in a new world now."
Write to Patrick Barta at email@example.com