Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / LEI
on: August 21, 2009, 08:55:06 AM
Leading economic indicators (LEI) rose for the fourth consecutive month in July, with help from an improving employment and productivity picture. Still, data indicated weakness for housing and the consumer.
“The indicators suggest that the recession is bottoming out, and that economic activity will likely begin recovering soon. The Coincident Economic Index was flat in July – the first time it did not register a decline since October 2008. The Leading Economic Index, which has increased for four consecutive months, suggests that the CEI will turn positive soon.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: August 21, 2009, 01:38:54 AM
In a related vein to BBG's post, here's this from Stratfor:
Thursday, August 20, 2009 STRATFOR.COM Diary Archives
Of Afghan Warlords and Polling Places
AFGHANISTAN’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION will take place on Thursday — the second such vote since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Provincial council elections also will take place, but the main event is the presidential vote — in which incumbent Hamid Karzai faces stiffer competition than he experienced in the 2004 election. Though he is expected to win another term, he will have to go through a second round if he does not secure more than 50 percent of the votes outright.
The possibility of the second round, which would come on Oct. 1, stems from the strong challenge posed by Karzai’s former foreign minister, Tajik politician Abdullah Abdullah, who the polls say could win around 25 percent of the vote. Abdullah has been able to attract considerable support by promising development in Afghanistan; he is also promoting the fact that he is half Pashtun in an effort to cross ethnic lines. But there is no way around Afghanistan’s hard-core geopolitical reality — in which power is a function of ethno-regional warlordism.
Despite being Pashtun from his father’s side, Abdullah’s Tajik political identity places significant obstacles in his path as he seeks to make inroads into the Pashtun community. His efforts to put some distance between himself and his past association with the warlords of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance actually have cost him support within his own Tajik constituency. On the other hand, despite Karzai’s initial rise as a leader trying to move the country away from its Taliban and warlord past, the incumbent president in the last seven years has learned that in order to maintain one’s position in Kabul, it is necessary to balance with the regions through deals with strongmen there.
“Political parties have not supplanted ethnic- and tribal-based warlordism. On the contrary, warlordism determines electoral outcomes.”
This is why, despite the growing opposition within his own Pashtun community (especially from the Taliban) and from across the country, Karzai has been able to limit the degree to which his position has weakened. Karzai remains an ineffective ruler, but he is a survivor — and he has been able to survive because of his ability to perfect the art of wheeling and dealing with warlords. His co-opting of top Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek warlords Muhammad Qasim Fahim, Karim Khalili and Abdul Rashid Dostum likely will allow him to secure re-election.
What we have here is a clear indication that the underlying geopolitical nature of Afghanistan has not been altered by attempts to steer the country toward democratic politics. Political parties have not supplanted ethnic- and tribal-based warlordism. On the contrary, warlordism determines electoral outcomes.
Consequently, from the United States’ point of view, the outcome of Thursday’s election is not critical. Regardless of outcome, it will not solve the core issue facing Afghanistan: the intensifying Taliban insurgency, which is a far greater challenge than that posed by warlordism. As far as Washington is concerned, Thursday’s election must be gotten through so that the fragile status quo is maintained and all parties concerned can get back to the business of dealing with the threat posed by the Pashtun jihadists. Dealing with the Taliban obviously entails a military component, but the Obama administration has openly acknowledged that, ultimately, if there is to be a solution to the Taliban insurgency, it will involve a political settlement.
Given the objectives of the Taliban, any political settlement would not come in the form of a democratic framework, and especially not Western-style democracy. Ironically, it is the politics of warlordism that could provide a framework for calming down the insurgency. A wedge will not be driven between pragmatic Taliban elements and the more hard-line ideological types because the pragmatists play by the rules of a Western-style political system; rather it would materialize as deals are cut with various Taliban commanders who would be willing to lay down arms in exchange for recognition of their domains of power.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Terror Alert manipulation
on: August 21, 2009, 12:06:39 AM
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Former US homeland security chief Tom Ridge charges in a new book that top aides to then-president George W. Bush pressured him to raise the "terror alert" level to sway the November 2004 US election.
Then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and attorney general John Ashcroft pushed him to elevate the color-coded threat level, but Ridge refused, according to a summary from his publisher, Thomas Dunne Books.
"After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector," Ridge is quoting as writing in "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... And How We Can Be Safe Again."
Some of Bush's critics had repeatedly questioned whether the administration was using warnings of a possible attack to blunt the political damage from the unpopular Iraq war by shifting the debate to the broader "war on terrorism," which had wide popular appeal.
Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, was the first secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security that the US Congress created in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes.
He also says that Bush's homeland security adviser at the White House, Fran Townsend, called his department ahead of an August 1, 2004 speech to ask Ridge to include a reference to "defensive measures ... away from home" -- language that he read as being a reference to the Iraq war.
In those remarks, Ridge said he was raising the threat alert level for the financial services sector in New York City, northern New Jersey, and Washington DC, and went on to praise Bush's leadership against extremism.
"The reports that have led to this alert are the result of offensive intelligence and military operations overseas, as well as strong partnerships with our allies around the world, such as Pakistan," said Ridge.
"Such operations and partnerships give us insight into the enemy so we can better target our defensive measures here and away from home," he said at the time.
He later publicly acknowledged that much of the information underpinning the new alert was three years old, stoking Bush critics' charges of political manipulation.
Ridge also details his frustration after the White House rejected his suggestion to establish department of homeland security offices in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, and -- long before Hurricane Katrina -- New Orleans, according to the summary.
He also says he urged his successor, Michael Chertoff, to reconsider the appointment of Michael Brown as the head of the Federal Emergency Response Agency (FEMA), whose response to the killer storm drew widespread criticism.
Ridge also charges that he was often "blindsided" during daily morning briefings with Bush because the FBI withheld information from him, and says he was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Israeli Arms and Russian Intentions
on: August 20, 2009, 01:22:38 AM
Wednesday, August 19, 2009 STRATFOR.COM Diary Archives
Israeli Arms and Russian Intentions
ISRAELI PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, at Medvedev’s summer resort in Sochi on Tuesday. During their four-hour visit, the Russian president reiterated that Moscow is against “nuclear weapons in Iranian hands.” He also said he wanted to upgrade the Russo-Israeli strategic relationship to the same level as Russia’s relations with Germany, France and Italy.
Medvedev evidently planned to flatter Peres for the cameras during this visit. By putting Israel level with three major European powers — all of which are closely intertwined with Russian political, military and economic interests — he publicly signaled intentions to bring Israel as close to Moscow and as far from Washington as possible. Before Peres’ visit, Russian leaders had had a series of high-profile meetings with the Germans, the Turks and the Poles. The Russian invitation to Israel — yet another critical U.S. ally — is a reminder to Washington that the U.S. alliance system, designed to counter Russia, could be on shaky ground.
“The last thing Moscow wants is for Israel, which has a strong defense relationship with Georgia and Ukraine, to arm U.S. allies in the former Soviet periphery.”
But Israel is an especially tricky country for Russia to deal with. The two countries usually maintain civil relations and would prefer to leave each other alone, but their geopolitical vulnerabilities bring them into conflict from time to time. Now is one of those times.
A tiny country surrounded by hostile powers, Israel requires an external security guarantor — a role the United States currently serves — for its survival. Russia, on the other hand, is a massive country that is constantly concerned with the threat of Western encroachment. By pushing for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine and ballistic missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, the United States poses a critical threat to Russian national security. The common link for Israel and Russia is the United States.
The Russians are already engaged in an intense standoff with Washington. The last thing Moscow wants is for Israel, which has a strong defense relationship with Georgia and Ukraine, to arm U.S. allies in the former Soviet periphery. But the Israelis are also watching Washington’s rebuffs of Moscow’s demands. Considering how poorly U.S.-Russian negotiations are going, Moscow could turn the screws on Washington by boosting critical defense support for Iran.
Such a prospect is obviously very unsettling for the Israelis, and Peres was likely on a mission during this visit to secure a guarantee from Medvedev that Russia will refrain from arming Iran — with Israel backing away from arms sales to Georgia and Ukraine in return. Whether Peres got that guarantee is unclear, but there was something else on Tuesday that had us questioning Russia’s plans for the Middle East.
While Peres was in Sochi, STRATFOR received a message from a high-level Russian source indicating that the Russo-Israeli relationship was wounded in 2008, when Israel allegedly was shipping weapons to Ukraine and Georgia. The Israelis abruptly halted those shipments after coming to a compromise with the Russians, in the lead-up to the Russo-Georgian war last August. However, the source said, Israel later resumed defense sales to Ukraine and Georgia and also has pending deals with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, where Russia dominates the arms market. Moreover, the source claimed there was an additional concern about Israeli weapons being found in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan — Russia’s restive republics in the Caucasus.
The abundance of Israeli weapons floating around the region makes it entirely possible that Israeli arms are turning up in the Caucasus. But the source made it clear that the Russians suspect Israel of directly interfering in Russian territory. The Israelis know they can push the Russians by selling weapons to former Soviet states, but arming rebels within Russia proper is a highly sensitive issue for Moscow. It is a risk the Israelis are not likely to take, given their concerns over Russia’s defense relationship with Iran. Still, we can’t shake the idea that this accusation against Israel could have been disseminated for a very specific purpose. While Medvedev charmed Peres in public, he might have had a very different message for the Israeli president in private.
Regardless of whether Israel is actually sending arms directly into Russia, we must be aware of the potential for Russia to simply use such an accusation as justification to follow through on threats concerning Iran. The Kremlin essentially would telling Washington, via the Israelis, that if U.S. allies interfere in its sphere of influence, Russia will respond in a critical arena like the Middle East, where the United States is already heavily entrenched. At the very least, this could be a message to Israel and the United States to back off — or else. At most, the “or else” could imply that operations are already under way to destabilize the Middle East. We simply do not know for sure either way, but it’s a possibility we need to consider.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Eyes as windows to stroke potential
on: August 19, 2009, 01:44:51 PM
A friend writes:
Never mind that “windows to your soul” stuff—your eyes may reveal your risk of stroke.
In a study of 3,654 people, Australian scientists took retinal photographs of participants’ eyes, then tracked their medical records for seven years. The finding: Those with microscopic damage to their ocular blood vessels were 70 percent more likely to have a hemorrhagic stroke—the type where a blood vessel bursts—than those without any damage.
“Blood vessels in the eyes are structurally similar to those in the brain,” says lead author Paul Mitchell, M.D., speculating that a congenital weakness in one area might be mirrored in the other.
Ask your ophthalmologist to snap a “stereoscopic retinal photograph” at your next eye exam and send the images to a neurologist, especially if you have a family history of stroke.
Another friend responds:
We opthalmologists do this analysis for decades ourselves, calling this "fundus hypertonicus"(hypertension). This name was given about 100 years ago when we thought that arterial hypertension was the cause. Hypertension can be the cause for the damage of the blood vessels, but there are also other causes. The striking point is that blood vessels of the retina are blood vessels of our brains from the anatomical point of view. Usually neurologists ask us for a diagnosis as we see a multiple number of blood vessels than neurologists do. It is routine for literally every patient. Neurologists have problems in diffential diagnosis in relation to opthalmological diseases. And patients with fundus hypertonicus seem to be prone to a variety of non-neurological diseases, which makes the observation not interesting for neurologists alone.
If your opthalmologist spots a fundus hypertonicus, he/she won't send you to the neurologist but preferably to a specialist for internal medicine to find the cause of the damage of your vessels. Usually it it not the damage of the retinal vessels alone but a damage of the vessel system. Question No 1: which vessels are affected (between top and toe) Question No 2: Why is that so?
From the many thousands of retinal bood vessels I have seen, there were a significant number with fundus hypertonicus. Above a certain age stadium I was quite common but people were usually without a serious disease. Stadium III had the usual mix of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, angina pectoris, very heavy smoking and some more. There was only one patient I remember. He is a friend of mine. There was nothing special, no complaints and he wanted the usual check up. I diagnosed a fundus hypertonicus (I forgot the stadium, guess it was more than II), sent him to the internal medicine department, they diagnosed an aneurisma of the Aorta. The aneurima was operated and maybe I saved his life. But incidents like this are rare, very rare.
And - there are a lot of strokes without fundus hypertonicus.
Now a bit statistics: let us presume there are 1,827 patients (of the 3654) with damage of blood vessels and 1,827 without, the same age groups and the same risk groups. The group without damage has 10 stoke in 7 years, the group with damage 17. That is a difference of about 1 stroke per 1827 patients/per year. As these patiens often suffer from other artheriosclerosis diseases the retinal changes are self explaining, just adding another observation. .....
For the layman this sounds a bit different than the 70%. Presenting these 70% alone is misleading at best. I would like to see whole the study, the original.
The same statistical trap we can observe with breast cancer screening. Just a couple of days ago a review went through the press, a review which was a bit more critical than the usual bla bla.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Domestic terrorist still licensed to fly
on: August 19, 2009, 09:47:26 AM
Fugitive Still Licensed to Fly by the F.A.A. Sign in to Recommend
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: August 18, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a $50,000 reward for a Seattle man it says is a domestic terrorist. But that has not kept him from keeping his pilot’s license or from trying to sell his airplane online, apparently because the Transportation Security Administration has not compared the F.B.I.’s wanted list with the Federal Aviation Administration’s list of licensed pilots.
6 Considered Threats Kept Licenses for Aviation (June 26, 2009) The pilot, Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, 31, was indicted with 10 other people in January 2006, in Eugene, Ore., on charges that they committed arson, destroyed an electric tower and other acts of domestic terrorism. Credit for those acts and others were claimed by two groups, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front.
The F.B.I. says Mr. Dibee may have fled to Syria.
According to F.A.A. records, Mr. Dibee still owns a single-engine airplane, a 1977 Grumman/American Cheetah. He is also trying to sell the plane on the Internet for $39,000.
The New York Times learned that Mr. Dibee still has his license and his plane from a database processing company, Safe Banking Systems, which in June released the names of six other people with F.A.A. licenses who had been charged or convicted of terrorism crimes or otherwise were considered a threat to national security.
After the names were released, the Transportation Security Administration suspended the six licenses and said it would take steps to weed out other pilots who posed security risks from among the nearly four million names in the F.A.A.’s public database.
Last week, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee and its aviation subcommittee sent a letter to the Transportation Security Administration and the F. A. A. asking whether the two agencies were reconsidering which lists to use to match against the list of pilots. The letter referred to “apparent weaknesses in the existing vetting system.”
The Transportation Security Administration did not provide details on whether it is doing anything different since the disclosure of the six cases.
Laura J. Brown, a spokeswoman for the F.A.A., which rescinds licenses when told to by the Transportation Security Administration, said her agency had, in fact, revoked “several” licenses since June, though she declined to say how many.
The Transportation Security Administration has been hampered in identifying some individuals because of variations in how their names were transliterated from Arabic. For example, the list that Safe Banking Services published in June included the man in prison for blowing up Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The man, who at the time was a licensed aircraft dispatcher, was listed on his F.B.I. wanted poster as Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, but by the F.A.A. as Abdelbaset Ali Elmegrahi.
But Mr. Dibee was born in Seattle, and the F.B.I. poster and F.A.A. records spelled his name the same way and had the same birthday for him, Nov. 10, 1967.
With such a straightforward match, David M. Schiffer, president of Safe Banking Systems, said it was “highly unlikely” that, despite assurances in June, the Transportation Security Administration was matching the publicly available F.B.I. list with the publicly available F.A.A. list.
Through Ms. Brown, the F.A.A. spokeswoman, the Transportation Security Administration said it could not comment on specific cases because it might “jeopardize ongoing investigations and/or violate the privacy rights of the individual.” Ms. Brown did not elaborate.
The Transportation Security Administration said that while it did not routinely consult the F.B.I. wanted list, it used “a more robust list that incorporates the F.B.I. list, as well as many other lists.” The agency said that it “continuously assesses vetting performance and adjusts its vetting engines accordingly.”
Congress created the Transportation Security Administration, making it part of the Homeland Security Department and responsible for reviewing the list of people holding F.A.A. licenses, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the F.A.A. was stripped of most security responsibility.
The four senators who sent a letter to the Transportation Security Administration and the F.A.A. last Friday were John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the Commerce Committee; Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the committee’s ranking Republican member; Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the aviation subcommittee; and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican member.
The letter said the two agencies had agreed to a 90-day plan to improve their performance.
According to officials familiar with current procedure, the F.A.A. checks daily for changes to the Transportation Security Administration’s No-Fly List and Selectee Flight List, and matches that against the list of licensed pilots; and once a week, the names of new student pilots are checked against those lists. But the quality of those lists is not clear.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Elderly athletes
on: August 19, 2009, 09:44:50 AM
For Older Athletes, Drug Question Emerges
Angela Jimenez for The New York TimesThomas Rice, 81, left, Robert Bruce, 81, and Edward Cox, 82, competed in the 100-meter run at a U.S.A. Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships event in East Stroudsburg, Pa., in June.
By JOHN LELAND
Published: August 18, 2009
In his apartment outside Philadelphia, Frank Levine pulled a list of prescription medications from his refrigerator, his hands shaking slightly. There was metformin HCl and glipizide for his diabetes; lisinopril for his blood pressure; and Viagra.
“I need it,” he said recently.
Mr. Levine, who is 95 and has had operations on both knees, in June set the American record in the 400-meter dash for men ages 95 to 99, only to see it broken at the U.S.A. Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships a few weeks later. “Nothing counts unless you’re first,” he said.
Mr. Levine belongs to a generation of track and field athletes who are breaking records for speed, distance and endurance at ages once considered too old for competition. In a sport tarnished by doping scandals, the older athletes raise anew the question of what constitutes a natural body for people who are at an age when drugs are a part of life.
“Who’s 75 years old and not taking medications?” asked Gary Snyder, national chairman of U.S.A. Track & Field’s masters committee, which will oversee more than 100 competitions this year for athletes over age 30.
Most drugs like Mr. Levine’s are not banned for competitors, but some common treatments for asthma, menopause and inflammation contain steroids that can disqualify athletes if they do not get written medical exemptions.
“I’m sure there are folks taking something like Manny,” Mr. Snyder said, referring to Manny Ramirez, the baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers who this year was suspended 50 games for violating the sport’s drug policy. “But most are using drugs for medical reasons.”
Ray Feick, 77, said he suspected “two or three” peers of using steroids to enhance their performance, including one shot-putter who suddenly was able to beat him. “My buddies and I talk about it,” he said. “It’s not fair to the age bracket and not fair to their body. And one by one, they drop out.”
U.S.A. Track & Field, the sport’s governing body, has a zero tolerance policy for doping but does not test for drugs at masters events because it is too expensive — about $500 per athlete and an additional $10,000 to take a testing organization to the meet, Mr. Snyder said.
But there is testing at the World Masters Championship, which took place this year in Lahti, Finland, in late July and early August. In 1999, the American sprinter Kathy Jager, 56, was stripped of her medals and barred from competition for two years after she tested positive for anabolic steroids, which she ascribed to her use of a popular menopause treatment called Estratest HS.
“When we set records, the Europeans look at us like, ‘Oh sure, so-and-so is taking stuff,’ ” Mr. Snyder said.
For Rosalyn Katz, 67, a thrower from Queens who said she did not take any medications, the question of drug use is beside the point. On a recent morning, Ms. Katz, a retired school administrator, and her training partner, Neni Lewis, 49, were throwing heavy weights in a city park. Ms. Lewis’s hammer throw hooked too far to the left and hung from a tree branch like a 9-pound Christmas ornament. The two women throw before 7 a.m. twice a week, all year round.
“I don’t think anyone taking asthma medication is going to throw or run any better,” Ms. Katz said. “I think they’re doing it because they can’t breathe.”
Like many other women who compete past age 60, Ms. Katz said she had not had a track and field program available to her in high school and college and had never thrown until she was close to 50.
Mr. Levine, similarly, did not start running until he was 65. With his wife in a nursing home, a friend suggested running together, then training for a marathon. He ran 18 marathons before dropping to shorter distances. He said he did not think his peers took drugs except medicinally.
“You have a whole new crew of people over 70 who are part of the world,” Mr. Levine said. “In 1950, you were old when you were 50. Now I feel old when I have to use my fingers.”
Of his accomplishments as an older athlete, he said: “I’m disappointed rather than amazed, because my times have slowed up considerably. I feel good. So the body has slowed.”
In his youth, Mr. Levine won a Golden Gloves flyweight boxing title, and his competitive juices have not let up. At his apartment building he recently greeted a visitor by asking, “Do you want to take the stairs or the elevator?” He lives on the seventh floor.
In masters competitions, athletes are grouped in five-year age brackets. Mr. Levine has just graduated into the 95 to 99 class, which he views as an advantage since he is now the kid in the bracket. “It makes you look forward to getting older,” he said.
The Rev. Champion Goldy, 92, a runner and thrower from Haddonfield, N.J., said his goal was to run the 100-meter dash when he was 100. Mr. Goldy, a Methodist minister, said he relished the camaraderie on the circuit but dreaded the inevitable absences at meets.
“You say, ‘Where’s so-and-so?’ ” he said. “And then you get the word around, and then they go, ‘Oh, he had a heart attack and died.’ Or ‘he got cancer.’ ”
In 2002, Mr. Goldy ran the 100-meter dash with a centenarian named Everett Hosack. Mr. Goldy said that as they got in their stances, he told Mr. Hosack, who died in 2004, “Everett, you better get down here and get this race started.”
“He said, ‘Man, if I get down there, I’ll never get up again,’ ” Mr. Goldy said.
Even with the camaraderie, though, there is occasional distrust. Tom Rice, 81, said he was put off by seeing peers with suspiciously muscular builds.
“I said, how ridiculous is that — they’ve got to be taking something,” said Mr. Rice, who takes Zocor for high cholesterol and hydrochlorothiazide for high blood pressure, neither of which is banned.
“I can’t even imagine that at this age,” he said. “It’s not the Olympics. Guys get so whacked out that they want to take pills to destroy their health just so they can get a medal that’s a little bit better than they might have earned.”
Yet even for clean athletes, the goal is to exceed what people expect of older bodies. After setting the age-group record in the 400-meter run in 3 minutes 20 seconds at the regional championships in East Stroudsburg, Pa., on June 27 — Michael Johnson holds the world record at 43.18 seconds — Mr. Levine was exhausted and elated.
“Everything I can do, I did,” he said. “Every ounce of strength, every mental effort. In my mind, if I knew it was a possibility that I would die because I was speeding or pushing, I think I would do it. Stupidity, but I think that’s true of a lot of athletes.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The One
on: August 19, 2009, 09:12:51 AM
And it came to pass in the Age of Insanity that the people of the land called America , having lost their morals, their initiative, and their will to defend their liberties, chose as their Supreme Leader that person known as "The One".
He emerged from the vapors with a message that had no meaning; but He hypnotized the people telling them, "I am sent to save you. My lack of experience, my questionable ethics, my monstrous ego, and my association with evil doers are of no consequence. For I shall save you with Hope and Change. Go, therefore, and proclaim throughout the land that he who preceded me is evil, that he has defiled the nation, and that all he has built must be destroyed."
And the people rejoiced, for even though they knew not what "The One" would do, he had promised that it was good; and they believed.
And "The One" said "We live in the greatest country in the world. Help me change everything about it!".
And the people said, "Hallelujah! Change is good!"
Then He said, "We are going to tax the rich fat-cats."
And the people said, "Sock it to them, and redistribute their wealth."
And the people said, "Show us the money!".
And then He said, "Redistribution of wealth is good for everybody."
And Joe, the plumber asked, "Are you kidding me? You're going to steal my money and give it to the deadbeats?"
And "The One" ridiculed and taunted him, and Joe's personal records were hacked and publicized.
One lone reporter asked, "Isn't that Marxist policy?"
And she was banished from the kingdom!
Then a citizen asked, "With no foreign relations experience, and having zero military experience or knowledge, how will you deal with radical terrorists?"
And "The One" said, "Simple. I shall sit with them and talk with them, and show them how nice we really are, and they will forget that they ever wanted to kill us all!"
And the people said, "Hallelujah! We are safe at last, and we can beat our weapons into free cars for the people!"
Then "The One" said, "I shall give 95% of you lower taxes."
And one, lone voice said, "But 40% of us don't pay ANY taxes."
So "The One" said, "Then I shall give you some of the taxes the fat-cats pay!"
And the people said, "Hallelujah! Show us the money!"
Then "The One" said, "I shall tax your Capital Gains when you sell your homes!"
And the people yawned, and the slumping housing market collapsed.
And He said, "I shall mandate employer- funded health care for EVERY worker and raise the minimum wage. And I shall give every person unlimited healthcare and medicine and transportation to the clinics."
And the people said, "Give me some of that!"
Then he said, "I shall penalize employers who ship jobs overseas."
And the people said, "Where's my rebate check?"
Then "The One" said, "I shall bankrupt the coal industry, and electricity rates will skyrocket!"
And the people said, "Coal is dirty, coal is evil, no more coal! But we don't care for that part about higher electric rates."
So "The One" said, "Not to worry. If your rebate isn't enough to cover your expenses, we shall bail you out. Just sign up with ACORN, and your troubles are over!"
Then He said, "Illegal immigrants feel scorned and slighted. Let's grant them amnesty, Social Security, free education, free lunches, free medical care, bi-lingual signs, and guaranteed housing."
And the people said, "Hallelujah!!" And they made him King!
And so it came to pass that employers, facing spiraling costs and ever-higher taxes, raised their prices and laid off workers. Others simply gave up and went out of business and the economy sank like a rock dropped from a cliff. The banking industry was destroyed. Manufacturing slowed to a crawl. And more of the people were without means of support.
Then "The One" said, "I am the "The One" - The Messiah -and I'm here to save you! We shall just print more money so everyone will have enough!"
But our foreign trading partners said unto Him, "Wait a minute. Your dollar is not worth a pile of camel dung! You will have to pay more."
And the people said, "Wait a minute. That is unfair!"
And the world said, "Neither are these other idiotic programs you have embraced. Lo, you have become a Socialist state and a second-rate power. Now you shall play by our rules!"
And the people cried out, "Alas, alas!! What have we done?"
But yea verily, it was too late. The people set upon "The One" and spat upon him and stoned him, and his name was dung.
And the once mighty nation was no more; and the once proud people were without sustenance or shelter or hope.
And the Change "The One" had given them was as like unto a poison that had destroyed them and like a whirlwind that consumed all that they had built.
And the people beat their chests in despair and cried out in anguish, "Give us back our nation and our pride and our hope!"
But it was too late, and their homeland was no more.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on Novak
on: August 19, 2009, 06:59:48 AM
One irony of Robert Novak's long and admirable career as a journalist is that he wasn't a curmudgeon, though he played one on TV. In person, he was warm, loyal to friends and especially generous to young writers, even if he was fearless and unsparing toward the public officials he devoted his life to covering—or, to put it more accurately, uncovering. Novak, who died yesterday at age 78, was among America's greatest political reporters.
Novak first made a mark covering the Senate and House Ways and Means Committee for this newspaper. In 1963, he joined Rowland Evans to form a column-writing duo that broke more stories than many journalists write. Over a half-century career that ended only last year with a diagnosis of brain cancer, Novak afflicted politicians of all parties with his remarkable sourcing and nose for news.
He was attracted to LBJ, but over time he became increasingly skeptical of the political class and its habit of accruing power to itself. He was a staunch anti-Communist and became an advocate for supply-side economics. His column probably reached the apex of its influence during the Reagan years, as he chronicled the battles between the Gipper's true believers and the GOP establishment that sought to defeat them. He preferred the believers.
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.All of this earned Novak the moniker of "conservative" in Washington's taxonomy, but above all he brought to his work a reporter's skepticism about the powerful. This is in contrast to most modern Washington journalists, who have become apologists for the federal government's dominance in American life. Novak was as hard on Republicans who failed to live up to their small-government principles as he was on Democrats who sought to expand the welfare state.
In recent years, Novak became a target of the political left, both because of his gruff TV persona (he let people call him the "prince of darkness") and especially for his 2003 column that "outed" CIA analyst Valerie Plame. The Plame scoop was merely another case of Novak doing his job, and he protected his source (then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage) and behaved honorably even as others in the press corps abandoned First Amendment principles to cheer on a special prosecutor willing to throw reporters in jail.
Late in his life, Novak converted to Catholicism and we trust his faith provided solace in his final months. We are confident that St. Peter will soon be demanding to know who among the saints told Novak about how much the Angel Gabriel spent on his new halo.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Team Kali Tudo
on: August 18, 2009, 07:09:29 PM
What MHouston was referring to was this:
(form the thread on the DBMA Assn forum yesterday)
At today's "Kali Tudo" (tm) class Kenny Johnson came to help out. For those of you not familiar with the name, he is a world class MMA-wrestling coach. You saw him as Noguiera's MMA-wrestling coach on Spike's "TUF", and he regular works with people like Anderson Silva, BJ Penn and others of that ilk. After our two hour class, he left to train Anderson.
I know KJ from Rigan Machado's place. I took a wrestling lesson from him several months ago to clean up a wrestling based hold that I learned from Rico Chiaparelli; no problem with how Rico taught it!-- simply I was running into a particular problem that I wanted to solve as well as work on my underhooks, which have always been a bit of a mystery to me.
He was intrigued by the moves I was putting on top of what he was showing me and we began to spar on various occasions. He is a gentleman as we play (good thing or I could get hurt!).
Today's session was videoed and may appear in future DB Productions.
The Adventure continues!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 32d CD of CA; Congresswoman Jane Harman (this is my district)
on: August 18, 2009, 06:56:52 PM
If there was ever a time in the last 50 years to do something that time is NOW.
Rally in Front of Jane Harman’s District Office
2321 E. Rosecrans Avenue
El Segundo, CA 90245
Phone: (310) 643 3636
Date and Time: August 21, 2009 4pm to 6pm
Stop the Government takeover of Healthcare. www.SouthBayTeaParty.com
Don't Tell Me It Can't Be Done - Celebrate Freedom America
TEA PARTY CONVENTION with Bands, Speakers, and Personalities
Sunday Aug 30, 6 to 8 PM, Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
Join (we hope) 1,400 people all saying NO to Government Healthcare and Spending. www.DontTellMeItCantBeDone.com
- Click to see, hear, and find out more about this great event and KRLA AM870 emcee Kevin James, says, “See you there”.
Buy tickets today before they are all gone. Tickets Use code SPTP to get a 10% discount and raise money for the South Bay Tea Party
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Oleg Atbashian: Laughing
on: August 18, 2009, 12:18:53 AM
Laughing at the Contradictions of Socialism in America
Posted By Oleg Atbashian On March 5, 2009
There was a time in recent American history when certain Soviet jokes didn’t work in translation — not so much because of the language differences, but because of the lack of common sociopolitical context. But that is changing. As President Obama is preparing us for a great leap towards collectivism, I find myself recollecting forgotten political jokes I shared with comrades while living in the old country under Brezhnev, Andropov, and Gorbachev. (I was too young to remember the Khrushchev times, but I still remember the Khrushchev jokes.) I also noticed that the further America “advances” back to the Soviet model, the more translatable the old Soviet jokes become. Not all Soviet advancements have metastasized here yet, but we have four more glorious years to make it happen.
One of my favorite political jokes is this:
The six dialectical contradictions of socialism in the USSR:
There is full employment — yet no one is working.
No one is working — yet the factory quotas are fulfilled.
The factory quotas are fulfilled — yet the stores have nothing to sell.
The stores have nothing to sell — yet people got all the stuff at home.
People got all the stuff at home — yet everyone is complaining.
Everyone is complaining — yet the voting is always unanimous.
It reads like a poem — only instead of the rhythm of syllables and rhyming sounds, it’s the rhythm of logic and rhyming meanings. If I could replicate it, I might start a whole new genre of “contradictory six-liners.” It would be extremely difficult to keep it real and funny at the same time, but I’ll try anyway.
Dialectical contradictions are one of the pillars in Marxist philosophy, which states that contradictions eventually lead to a unity of opposites as the result of a struggle. This gave a convenient “scientific” excuse for the existence of contradictions in a socialist society, where opposites were nice and agreeable — unlike the wild and crazy opposites of capitalism that could never be reconciled. Hence the joke.
Then I moved to America, where wild and crazy opposites of capitalism were supposedly at their worst. Until recently, however, the only contradictions that struck me as irreconcilable were these:
America is capitalist and greedy — yet half of the population is subsidized.
Half of the population is subsidized — yet they think they are victims.
They think they are victims — yet their representatives run the government.
Their representatives run the government — yet the poor keep getting poorer.
The poor keep getting poorer — yet they have things that people in other countries only dream about.
They have things that people in other countries only dream about — yet they want America to be more like those other countries.
Without capitalism there’d be no Hollywood — yet filmmakers hate capitalism.
Filmmakers hate capitalism — yet they sue for unauthorized copying of their movies.
They sue for unauthorized copying — yet on screen they teach us to share.
On screen they teach us to share — yet they keep their millions to themselves.
They keep their millions to themselves — yet they revel in stories of American misery and depravity.
They revel in stories of American misery and depravity — yet they blame the resulting anti-American sentiment on conservatism.
They blame the anti-American sentiment on conservatism — yet conservatism ensures the continuation of a system that makes Hollywood possible.
I never thought I would see socialist contradictions in America, let alone write about them. But somehow all attempts to organize life according to “progressive” principles always result in such contradictions. And in the areas where “progressives” have assumed positions of leadership — education, news media, or the entertainment industry — contradictions become “historically inevitable.”
If one were accidentally to open his eyes and compare the “progressive” narrative with facts on the ground, one might start asking questions. Why, for instance, if the war on terror breeds more terrorists, haven’t there been attacks on the U.S. soil since 2001? Why, if George W. Bush had removed our freedom of speech, was nobody ever arrested for saying anything? And if Obama has returned us our freedoms, why was a man harassed by police in Oklahoma for having an anti-Obama sign in his car? Why would anyone who supports free speech want to silence talk radio? And why is silencing the opposition called the “Fairness Doctrine”?
After the number of “caring,” bleeding-heart politicians in Washington reached a critical mass, it was only a matter of time before the government started ordering banks to help the poor by giving them risky home loans through community organizers. Which resulted in a bigger demand, which resulted in rising prices, which resulted in slimmer chances of repaying the loans, which resulted in more pressure on the banks, which resulted in repackaging of bad loans, which resulted in a collapse of the banks, which resulted in a recession, which resulted in many borrowers losing their jobs, which resulted in no further mortgage payments, which resulted in a financial disaster, which resulted in a worldwide crisis, with billions of poor people overseas — who had never seen a community organizer, nor applied for a bad loan — becoming even poorer than they had been before the “progressives” in the U.S. government decided to help the poor.
As if that were not enough, the same bleeding hearts are now trying to fix this by nationalizing the banks so that they can keep issuing risky loans through community organizers. In other words, to prevent the toast from landing buttered side down, they’re planning to butter the toast on both sides and hope that it will hover in mid-air. Which also seems like a sensible alternative energy initiative.
If that doesn’t fix the problem, there’s always the last resort of a liberal: blame capitalism. It’s always a win-win. Today government regulators may be blaming capitalism for the crisis caused by their dilettantish tampering with the economy, but who do you think they will credit after market forces resuscitate the economy?
Years ago, living in America made me feel as though I had traveled in a time machine from the past. But after the recent “revolutionary” changes have turned reality on its head — which is what “revolution” literally means — I’m getting an uneasy feeling I had come from your future.
As your comrade from the future, I also feel a social obligation to help my less advanced comrades in the American community, and prepare them for the transition to the glorious world of underground literature, half-whispered jokes, and the useful habit of looking over your shoulder. Don’t become a nation of cowards — but watch who might be listening.
Let’s start with these few.
Liberals believe they’re advancing people’s power — yet they don’t believe people can do anything right without their guidance.
People can’t do anything right — yet the government bureaucracy can do everything.
The government bureaucracy can do everything — yet liberals don’t like it when the government takes control of their lives.
Liberals don’t like it when the government takes control of their lives — yet they vote for programs that increase people’s dependency on the government.
They vote for programs that increase people’s dependency on the government — yet they believe they’re advancing people’s power.
Bush and the media:
The media said Bush was dumb — yet he won over two intelligent Democrats.
He won over two intelligent Democrats — yet the media said his ratings were hopeless.
The media said his ratings were hopeless — yet the 2004 electoral map was red.
The 2004 electoral map was red — yet the media said his policies failed.
The media said his policies failed — yet the economy grew and the war was won.
The economy grew and the war was won — yet the media said we needed “change.”
Liberals have been in charge of education for 50 years — yet education is out of control.
Education is out of control — yet liberal teaching methods prevail.
Liberal teaching methods prevail — yet public schools are failing.
Public schools are failing — yet their funding keeps growing.
Their funding keeps growing — yet public schools are always underfunded.
Public schools are always underfunded — yet private schools yield better results for less .
Private schools yield better results for less — yet public education is the only way out of the crisis.
Foreign radicals hate America — yet they’re all wearing American blue jeans.
They’re all wearing American blue jeans — yet they disdain American culture.
They disdain American culture — yet they play American music, movies, and video games.
They play American music, movies, and video games — yet they call Americans uncivilized.
They call Americans uncivilized — yet they expect Americans to defend their civilization.
They expect Americans to defend their civilization — yet they think American capitalism is outdated.
They think American capitalism is outdated — yet most of their countries require American handouts.
(* Some Democrat politicians have similar opinions about their redneck constituents — yet they won’t shut up about how proud they are to have their mandate.)
Liberals and taxes:
Liberals want to help the poor — yet they won’t give money to charities.
They won’t give money to charities — yet they’d like the government to become a gigantic charity.
They’d like the government to become a gigantic charity — yet the money has to be taken from people by force.
The money has to be taken from people by force — yet they call it welfare.
They call it welfare — yet higher taxes make everyone poorer.
Higher taxes make everyone poorer — yet liberals find ways not to pay taxes.
Liberals find ways not to pay taxes — yet they get to be chosen to run the government.
Liberals and the CIA:
The CIA is a reactionary institution — yet its agents always leak information that helps liberals politically.
CIA agents always leak information that helps liberals politically — yet liberals say the CIA is clueless.
Liberals say the CIA is clueless — yet in their movies the CIA is running the world.
In their movies the CIA is running the world — yet they tell us that better intelligence could have prevented the war.
Better intelligence could have prevented the war — yet “enhanced interrogations” of captured terrorists must not be allowed.
Love and marriage:
Sex differences are the result of social conditioning — yet homosexuality is biological.
Homosexuality is biological — yet everybody is encouraged to experiment with it.
Everybody is encouraged to experiment with it — yet venereal diseases are treated at the taxpayers’ expense.
Venereal diseases are treated at the taxpayers’ expense — yet taxpayers have no right to impose standards since there are no moral absolutes.
There are no moral absolutes — yet gay marriage is an absolute must.
Gay marriage is an absolute must — yet family is an antiquated tool of bourgeois oppression.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / O'Grady in the WSJ
on: August 17, 2009, 11:40:25 AM
Hugo Chávez took a break last week from lobbying Washington on behalf of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to travel to Quito, Ecuador, for a meeting of South American heads of state.
There he launched a virulent assault on the U.S. military, reiterated his commitment to spreading revolution in the region, and threatened the continent with war. Mr. Zelaya was by his side.
The Venezuelan's tirade against the U.S. and its ally Colombia raised the question yet again of what the U.S. could possibly be thinking in pushing Honduras to reinstate Mr. Zelaya. He was removed from office by the Honduran Congress in June because he violated the country's constitution and willfully incited mob violence.
But that's not the only thing that made him unpopular at home. He also had become an important ally of Mr. Chávez and was quite obviously being coached to copy the Chávez power grab in Venezuela by undermining Honduras's institutional checks and balances.
If Honduras has been able to neutralize Mr. Chávez, it's something to celebrate. A Chávez-style takeover of institutions in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua has quashed political pluralism, free speech and minority rights in those countries. There is now a heavy presence of Cuban state intelligence throughout the Venezuelan empire. Mr. Zelaya literally has become a fellow traveler of Mr. Chávez, leaving no doubts about the course he would put Honduras on if given the chance.
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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez salutes Raul Castro while Argentine President Cristina Kirchner looks on in Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 11.
.Among the theories making the rounds about Mr. Obama's motivations in trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back, there is the hypothesis that this administration is tacking hard to the left. Mr. Obama has expressed the same views on Honduras as Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), who holds that the interim government must be forced to reinstate Mr. Zelaya and who has, over more than two decades in office, consistently allied himself with socialist causes in Latin America.
The Americas in the News
Get the latest information in Spanish from The Wall Street Journal's Americas page.
.As a U.S. senator, Mr. Kerry has the luxury of treating Latin America like his playground, as Democrats have done for decades, foisting on it ideas that Americans reject. Venezuelans still recall how Connecticut's Chris Dodd played the role of chief Chávez cheerleader in the Senate while the strongman was consolidating power.
But Mr. Obama is the president and commander in chief, and millions of people in this hemisphere are counting on the U.S. to stand up to Venezuelan aggression. Playing footsie under the table with Mr. Chávez on Honduras while the Venezuelan is threatening the peace isn't going to fly in a hemisphere that prefers liberty over tyranny.
Both Colombian and U.S. officials allege that the Venezuelan National Guard and high-ranking members of Mr. Chávez's government are in cahoots with criminal enterprises that run drugs in South America. The evidence suggests an alliance between the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)—the largest exporter of cocaine from that country—and members of Mr. Chávez's cabinet. There is also evidence in documents and video captured from the FARC that the rebels have influence at high levels of the Ecuadoran government.
The cocaine business is a big revenue raiser for the terrorist organization and for its business partners on the continent. This is why Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has agreed to allow U.S. drug-surveillance planes to use Colombian military bases.
In Quito, Mr. Chávez flew into a rage about that agreement. "The U.S. is the most warlike government in the world," he told his South American peers and Mr. Zelaya. "The Yankee military pays no mind to its president," he said, artfully exempting Barack Obama from blame. "In Colombia [the U.S. military] has immunity. They can rape women, they can kill and they can destroy in every direction. You can't do anything to them. It's horrible."
The military-bases agreement is far more limited than what Mr. Chávez claimed, but he wasn't about to miss an opportunity to ratchet up the tension. "The winds of war are starting to blow," he warned.
His counterparts didn't buy it. Colombia was not condemned in Quito, largely because key members of the group didn't want their own sovereign decisions subject to continental review. But Mr. Chávez is not going away. He has pledged to continue with efforts to destabilize surviving democracies.
Honduras remains a target. Argentina is also in his sights. In an interview with the Argentine daily La Nación, he spoke of his alliance with Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner. "We are going to work to reinforce the Caracas-Buenos Aires axis, which is a central axis," Mr. Chávez said. "Like the Caracas-Quito axis, the Caracas-Buenos Aires axis is fundamental for the integration."
The U.S. war on drugs has been a colossal failure because of the large cocaine market in the U.S. The tragedy—beyond the violence it creates—is that criminal enterprises, flourishing because of U.S. customers, wreak havoc on frail institutions. That's bad enough. But the Obama administration pours salt in that gaping wound by refusing to support the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement our ally has asked for, and now by backing Mr. Chávez's Honduran pawn.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Principium Imprimis
on: August 17, 2009, 11:21:30 AM
Second post of the day
Principium Imprimis -- First Principles
From Patriot Post Vol. 09 No. 32; Published 13 August 2009 | Print Email PDF
"Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties, and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of people, it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates...to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them." --John Adams
It's back to business this week, having just returned from two weeks of traveling with my family. This was our fifth road trip to explore America in as many years, and the time we spend together in close quarters, discovering new sites and sharing new adventures, is priceless.
This fortnight was one of respite for me, only in the sense that I leave the laptop at the office and avoid all sources of news for its duration. This allows a much needed-break away from the rigors of current events and policy analysis so I can focus on my family and those along the road. The pace we keep on these trips, however, defies any notion of rest and relaxation.
This was the last of our "Discover America" excursions, having previously visited all other regions of our great nation except Hawaii's beautiful beaches -- and top secret birth certificate repositories. This summer's expedition included Alaska for the first week and Left Coast states for the second.
In Alaska, we flew the summit of Mt. McKinley and had a face to face with a Brown Bear in Denali. We dined at the Talkeetna Roadhouse made famous by that quintessential Alaskan bush pilot, Don Sheldon. I even cracked a few ribs on the ice of Godwin Glacier, having been deposited there during a sharp turn of a dogsled. Adding insult to injury, the musher, my oh-so-funny 10-year-old son, waved good-bye as he and the team sped away. On a more pleasant note, we ran into Sarah Palin's daughters and infant grandson in a Wasilla discount store (I guess they really are just plain folks).
To top it off, we were hosted by the command personnel of the 90th Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf AFB, whose F-22s were engaged in Red Flag Alaska. (Yes, the entire fighter community is concerned about the discontinuation of our only Generation 5 fighter, especially since Russia and China have Gen5 fighters coming up.)
We flew down to Seattle, Washington, where the sunset on Mt. Rainier was spectacular. The Oregon coastal water was COLD, and California's redwoods were even more majestic than I remembered them. We spent two days in San Francisco, including a visit to one of the nation's most liberal antique news outlets, The San Francisco Chronicle, where -- I am not making this up -- the reception desk staff had Fox News on the big screen. My 15-year-old son concluded that he saw enough strange people in San Fran to last a lifetime so, after washing thoroughly, we departed for Yosemite. On the last leg of our trip, we drove from 10,000 feet above sea level in the High Sierra to elevation -282 feet at Badwater, Death Valley, a geographic transition that amazed our kids.
I am pleased to report that we all returned home intact, with the exception of a couple of ribs.
As with our previous trips around the nation, we were heartened to find strong contingents of Patriots everywhere we went -- yes, even in San Francisco. However, my concern about our country's heritage of liberty being squandered by future generations was certainly reaffirmed.
The urban centers of America, and to a lesser extent the rural areas, are littered with young people who are, genuinely, adrift. Many seem to be seeking a mooring they didn't receive during childhood, and they're finding it in destructive personal habits and contemporaneous identity movements, including political movements that are an affront to liberty.
This sad state of affairs, for so many young people, can be attributed to the failure of three institutions -- marriage, church and government education.
There is no question that the most significant contributing factor undermining the social stability of our nation is the dissolution of marriages and consequently, the fracture of traditional family structure.
The malignant culture of divorce is, in my opinion, the greatest national security threat that we face, and it places in peril the legacy of Liberty purchased by our Founders with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, and bequeathed to us. Indeed, the effluent of divorce is manifest in the election of politicians like Barack Obama and the cult-like minions who worship him.
The failure of our religious and academic institutions, however, is also a dire threat.
Like millions of young people across the nation, our children, our legacy, will be returning to schools this month -- fortunately, excellent schools with strong faith-based foundations. Unfortunately, most other young people will return to educational warehouses that are mere shadows of what they are intended to be, especially since God has been expelled from the academy.
As I reflect on John Adam's observation about "wisdom and knowledge ... being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties," I am reminded that there was no erroneous "separation of church and state" doctrine in his time.
The nation's oldest academic institution, Harvard University, was established in 1636 and named for Puritan minister John Harvard. The university claims that it was "never formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination," though all its presidents were Puritan ministers until 1708. A 1643 college brochure identified Harvard's purpose: "To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches." The university's Charter of 1650 calls for "the education of the English and Indian youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness."
Harvard alumnus John Adams, Class of 1755, wrote in 1776, "It is the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the SUPREME BEING, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe."
For its part, Yale University was established in 1701 by royal charter as The Collegiate School. This was through the efforts of colonial Congregationalist ministers, who had sought since the 1640s to establish a college in New Haven. The charter was granted for an institution "wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences [and] through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State."
Yale alumnus Noah Webster, Class of 1778, a devout Christian and outspoken Federalist, considered "education useless without the Bible." In the forward of the 1828 Webster's American Dictionary, he wrote, "In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed.... No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people."
Princeton University was originally founded in 1746 as the College of New Jersey, and established by royal charter for "the Education of Youth in the Learned Languages and in the Liberal Arts and Sciences." It was unique in that the charter allowed the attendance of "any Person of any religious Denomination whatsoever." The absence of official denominational affiliation or criteria for attendance did not, however, connote the absence of strong denominational ties. To the contrary, Princeton was founded by "New Light" Presbyterians of the Great Awakening for the purpose of training Presbyterian ministers. Jonathan Dickinson, a Presbyterian minister and leader of the Great Awakening of the 1730s, was the school's co-founder and first president.
Princeton alumnus James Madison, Class of 1771, observed, "The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it."
In regard to the exclusion of religious instruction from academia, George Washington said in his Farewell Address (1796): "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness - these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in the Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the opposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Short of another American Revolution to remove by force the dictators of tyranny who now occupy the thrones of the once proud Party of Jefferson, our nation's liberty cannot long endure the prevailing culture of self-idolatry unless we, as a people, return to our First Principle -- putting God first.
We are sorely in need of a Great Awakening to the Light and Truth, which is the only eternal assurance of Liberty. Indeed, Veritas vos Liberabit -- "The Truth will set you free."
As Thomas Jefferson warned, "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?" That conviction is enumerated in the preambles of every state constitution of our Union.
As I think back over the last two weeks, I'm reminded of the immutable examples along my family's "Discover America" path of how God has changed the lives of even the most destitute. The most memorable of these was a young waitress in the small town of Trinidad, California. When she heard we were from Tennessee, she happily proclaimed she was from Alabama. My wife asked what had brought her to California and she said that between the ages of 12 and 18 she had been addicted to methamphetamines and other drugs, but that a family member enrolled her in a faith-based drug treatment service in Eureka, California. There, she met and married her husband, a former gang banger from South Central LA.
"We have been drug-free for more than three years," she told us, "and are now youth pastors in our local church."
Traveling through these United States in recent years, and meeting fellow patriots and citizens from all walks of life, affirms my conviction that if there is to be a peaceful transfer of Liberty to our posterity, then we must return to First Principles. The primacy of constitutional authority must be restored to ensure Liberty, opportunity, prosperity and civil society; the primacy of traditional families and timeless values must be restored as the foundation of our culture; and the primacy of faith must be restored in order to retain the conviction that, as Jefferson put it, our "liberties are the gift of God."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters)
on: August 17, 2009, 11:08:02 AM
From the DBMAA forum:
In 1774 the colonies established the Continental Congress to coordinate their efforts against British rule. In 1776 the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. In 1781, while the war was still on going the C.C. formed the first constitution and the states ratified it; this was the Articles of Confederation. As a confederation it allowed each state to be sovereign and independent, with the states being supreme over the national government. The Articles reflected the fears of having a powerful, distant central government, after all they were fighting to get away from just such a government. The leaders at the time thought that given any power at all the new government would grow to be too strong and individual liberty would again be lost. They understood that individuals would have more of a chance to influence and maintain control over a state government than they would a central government.
After the end of the war it became clear that in their effort to keep the national government from becoming to powerful, they had weakened it to the point where it couldn't act on things of national interest with any effectiveness and they also realized that some states were using their power to the detriment of other member states. The Continental Army had been disbanded after the war and treaties signed but Britain still had outposts in the northwest and a standing army in Canada. Spain still claimed the entire Mississippi river valley and control shipping down the Mississippi to the Gulf and posed a threat to trade; and just as well, the Barbary pirates were seizing American ships and sailors on the high seas. Then on the domestic front was the huge war debt to be paid and problems with trade between the states and other governments. If Congress made a trade deal with another nation the states could ignore it, put tariffs on the goods and so on. Most states held elections every year which led to pandering. Politicans would pass laws to forgive debts, change laws on the whims of a single wealthy complaintant just to ensure they were reelected. In other words there was and excess of democracy.
All of this was of great concern but when Shay's Rebellion happened in 1786/87 it put the fear into them that their nation was about to fall apart. The states were becoming tyrannical and at the same time inciting mob rule. In short the government was too decentralized to ensure either peace or prosperity among the states. The Congress could not raise an army because it could not draft individuals or impose a tax to finance it; Congress could not enforce any treaty or trade agreement and was dependent on the states, who put their own self interests above all others. Things had gotten so bad that Nathaniel Gorham, the president of the C.C., wrote to Prince Henry of Prussia, telling him that there has been a failure of all our free institutions and asked if he would agree to become King of America. The Prince refused.
It was under these conditions that in 1787, just three months after Shay's Rebellion, that Congress convened to revise the Articles. The states picked 74 delegates to send and 55 showed up. Rhode Island didn't send anyone out of fears that they would no longer be able to forgive debts to its farmers. Patrick Henry of Kentucky said, "I think I smelt a rat", when asked why he wouldn't attend. Many felt that this was leading up to a betrayal of the spirit of 76 and that the liberty they fought long and hard for was about to be stolen out from under them.
The first thing the delegates agreed upon was that a new constitution was needed instead of a revised Articles of Confederation, so they started from scratch. They continued to fear creating a distant government with too much power; all the reasons they rebelled against British rule was still very vivid in their hearts and minds and they were not throwing those away. The consensus from the start was to have limited government, some want more some wanted less and there were compromises galore but the over riding factor was on limits that protected individual liberty and preserved states rights. They did not want a national government that wielded all the power but had enough power to be effective. Out of this came federalism and separation of powers and checks and balances. These were meant to constrain and contain the new government, to secure individual liberty and rights. They agreed on the three branches, the legislative, executive, and judiciary. Madison said, "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." To further establish protections for liberty they took away the question of who had sovereignty by giving it to the people. This is what Lincoln was referring to and he did not invent the idea of a government for the people by the people. They also set terms in the House to two years and in the Senate to six to reduce pandering but still keep them answerable to the people and their states. Until the seventeenth amendment was adopted, the Senate seats were appointed by the state's legislators. Term limits were set by elections, if the people kicked you out, the number of terms you served was limited.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington
on: August 17, 2009, 09:28:32 AM
Good stuff there Freki!
"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency." --George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
on: August 17, 2009, 09:23:42 AM
Still hoping for a substantive discussion of my two questions:
1) What is to be done about people with pre-existing conditions who cannot get health insurance?
2) What happens now when an insurance company discontinues insurance when someone develops a problem? Is this right? What should be done?
Folks, we need to be able to answer these questions and others like them. Simply going NO to BO's liberal fascist agenda will not be enough.
In a similar vein, here is this:
Published: August 16, 2009
When Democratic congressmen dream these days, they’re tongue-tied in town halls, fumbling with their microphones while they’re shouted down by slavering, pitchfork-wielding Limbaugh listeners.
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Susan Etheridge for The New York Times
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A new blog from The New York Times that tracks the health care debate as it unfolds.
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But Barack Obama is wiser than most Democratic congressmen, and his nightmares are savvier. Instead of right-wing protesters, he dreams about old people.
He’s in the White House briefing room, presiding over a health care press conference. In the front row are the ancients of the D.C. media, and behind them is a sea of septuagenarians: some in wheelchairs, some clutching walkers, some dragging dialysis machines and the rest holding up Medicare cards like lighters at a Doors concert.
And everybody has a question.
If the Democratic Party’s attempt at health care reform perishes, senior citizens will have done it in, not talk-radio listeners and Glenn Beck acolytes. It’s the skepticism of over-65 Americans that’s dragging support for reform southward. And it’s their opposition to cost-cutting that makes finding the money to pay for it so difficult.
That’s because they’re the ones whose benefits are on the chopping block. At present, Medicare gives its recipients all the benefits of socialized medicine, with few of the drawbacks. Once you hit 65, the system pays and pays, without regard for efficiency or cost-effectiveness.
For liberals trying to find the money to make health insurance universal, these inefficiencies make Medicare an obvious place to wring out savings. But you can’t blame the elderly if “savings” sound a lot like “cuts.” When the president talks about shearing waste from Medicare, and empowering an independent panel to reduce the program’s long-term costs — well, he isn’t envisioning a world where seniors get worse care, but he’s certainly envisioning a world in which they receive less of it.
This is politically perilous, to say the least — and Republicans have noticed.
Conservatives have marshaled various briefs against the Democratic health care proposals. They’ve argued that the plans will be too expensive, that they’ll cramp innovation and raise premiums for the already-insured, that they’ll encourage employers to drop coverage and discourage them from hiring.
These arguments have been effective, up to a point. But they aren’t nearly as effective as warning senior citizens that Barack Obama wants to take away their health care.
That’s why Republicans find themselves tiptoeing into an unfamiliar role — as champions of old-age entitlements. The Democrats are “sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare,” Mitch McConnell declared. They want to “cannibalize” the program to pay for reform, John Cornyn complained. It’s a “raid,” Sam Brownback warned, that could result in the elderly losing “necessary care.”
The controversy over “death panels” is just the most extreme manifestation of this debate. Obviously, the Democratic plans wouldn’t euthanize your grandmother. But they might limit the procedures that her Medicare will pay for. And conservative lawmakers are using this inconvenient truth to paint the Democrats as enemies of Grandma.
You can understand why Republicans, after decades of being demagogued for proposing even modest entitlement reforms, would relish the chance to turn the tables. But this is a perilous strategy for the right.
Medicare’s price tag, if trends continue, will make a mockery of the idea of limited government. For conservatives, no fiscal cause is more important than curbing this exponential growth. And by fighting health care reform with tactics ripped from Democratic playbooks, and enlisting anxious seniors as foot soldiers, conservatives are setting themselves up to win the battle and lose the longer war.
Maybe Republicans will be able to cast themselves as the protectors of entitlements today, and then impose their own even more sweeping reforms tomorrow. That’s the playbook that McConnell, Brownback and others seem to have in mind: first, save Medicare from Obama; then, save Medicare from itself.
But for now, their strategy means the country suddenly has two political parties devoted to Mediscaring seniors — which in turn seems likely to make the program more untouchable than ever.
And if you think reform is tough today, just wait. We’re already practically a gerontocracy: Americans over 50 cast over 40 percent of the votes in the 2008 elections, and half the votes in the ’06 midterms. As the population ages — by 2030, there will be more Americans over 65 than under 18 — the power of the elderly and nearly elderly may become almost absolute.
In this future, somebody will need to stand for the principle that Medicare can’t pay every bill and bless every procedure. Somebody will need to defend the younger generation’s promise (and its pocketbooks). Somebody will need to say “no” to retirees.
That’s supposed to be the Republicans’ job. They should stick to doing it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe
on: August 16, 2009, 08:10:54 PM
Swimmers are told to wear burkinis
British swimming pools are imposing Muslim dress codes in a move described as divisive by Labour MPs.
By Patrick Sawer
Published: 9:00PM BST 15 Aug 2009
UK councils running restricted swimming session for Muslims
Under the rules, swimmers – including non-Muslims – are barred from entering the pool in normal swimming attire.
Instead they are told that they must comply with the "modest" code of dress required by Islamic custom, with women covered from the neck to the ankles and men, who swim separately, covered from the navel to the knees.
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Muslim dentist 'refused to treat woman unless she wore headscarf'
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Michael Phelps and swim suits under spotlight at US championships
The phenomenon runs counter to developments in France, where last week a woman was evicted from a public pool for wearing a burkini – the headscarf, tunic and trouser outfit which allows Muslim women to preserve their modesty in the water.
The 35-year-old, named only as Carole, is threatening legal action after she was told by pool officials in Emerainville, east of Paris, that she could not wear the outfit on hygiene grounds.
But across the UK municipal pools are holding swimming sessions specifically aimed at Muslims, in some case imposing strict dress codes.
Croydon council in south London runs separate one-and-a half-hour swimming sessions for Muslim men and women every Saturday and Sunday at Thornton Heath Leisure Centre.
Swimmers were told last week on the centre's website that "during special Muslim sessions male costumes must cover the body from the navel to the knee and females must be covered from the neck to the ankles and wrists".
There are similar rules at Scunthorpe Leisure Centre, in North Lincolnshire, where "users must follow the required dress code for this session (T-shirts and shorts/leggings that cover below the knee)".
In Glasgow, a men-only swimming session is organised by a local mosque group at North Woodside Leisure Centre, at which swimmers must be covered from navel to knee.
At a women-only class organised by a Muslim teacher at Blackbird Leys Swimming Pool, Oxford, to encourage Muslim women to learn to swim, most participants wear "modest" outfits although normal costumes are permitted.
The dress codes have provoked an angry reaction among critics who say they encourage division and resentment between Muslims and non-Muslims, putting strain on social cohesion.
Ian Cawsey, the Labour MP for the North Lincolnshire constituency of Brigg and Goole, said: "Of course swimming pools have basic codes of dress but it should not go beyond that.
"I don't think that in a local authority pool I should have to wear a particular type of clothes for the benefit of someone else. That's not integration or cohesion."
Labour MP Anne Cryer, whose Keighley, West Yorkshire constituency has a large number of Muslims, said: "Unfortunately this kind of thing has a negative impact on community relations.
"It's seen as yet another demand for special treatment. I can't see why special clothing is needed for what is a single-sex session."
Muslim swimming sessions are also held at a number of state schools around the country. At Loxford School in Ilford, east London, a local Muslim group organises weekly sessions for Muslim men, with the warning that "it is compulsory for the body to be covered between the navel and the knees.
"Anyone not adhering to the dress code or rules within the pool will not be allowed to swim".
The practice of holding special Muslim swimming sessions has led to non-Muslims being turned away.
David Toube, 39 and his five year old son Harry were last year refused entry to Clissold Leisure Centre, in Hackney, east London, after being told the Sunday morning swimming session was for Muslim men only.
Council officials later said staff had made a mistake and both Mr Toube, a corporate lawyer, and his son should have been admitted.
After discovering the rules at Thornton Heath one Croydon resident, 34-year-old Alex Craig, said: "I think it is preposterous that a council should be encouraging this type of segregation over municipal facilities.
"Surely if Muslims want to swim then they should just turn up with their modest swimwear at the same time as everyone else."
Douglas Murray, director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, last night condemned the practice. He said: "This kind of thing is extremely divisive.
"Non-Muslims see these extremist demands as an example of Muslims wanting things to fit into their lifestyle, when there aren't similar things organised for Hindus, Buddhists or Jews.
"It also puts moderate Muslims in an awkward position as it suggests, wrongly, that they are not devout enough, simply because they choose not to cover themselves in a shroud in a pool."
A press officer at Croydon council, which introduced Muslim-only swimming in 2006, claimed that the wording on the website was a mistake and the dress code should be regarded as a suggestion rather than a requirement.
The website was late changed to remove the reference to the dress code.
However, an official at the leisure centre said the dress code remained compulsory.
Earlier, defending the segregation policy, a Croydon council spokesman said: "We appreciate that certain religious groups, such as Muslims, have strict rules on segregation for activities including sports, so in response to requests from the local community, we have been running these sessions at Thornton Heath Leisure Centre."
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude
on: August 16, 2009, 07:56:21 PM
Awesome GD-- give her a hearty woof from the Tribe!
As for me, today I am grateful to have gotten together with my friend and djembe teacher Henrik in at a yoga school Topanga Canyon today where 5 of us played African drums for the women in the class to dance to. LOTS of fun!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An expat goes for a checkup
on: August 16, 2009, 07:42:05 PM
GM: How do YOU think those questions should be answered?
Sent to me by a friend who is to the right of Attila the Hun:
August 16, 2009
Health Care in Britain: An Expat Goes for a Checkup
By SARAH LYALL
LONDON - There are times when, viewed from afar, American political discourse looks like nothing more than a huge brawl conducted by noisy, ill-informed polemicists. This is one of them, as Britain found last week when the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking was, bizarrely, drawn into the raucous debate over the health care proposals of President Obama and Congress.
Mr. Hawking, 67, has Lou Gehrig's disease, is paralyzed, speaks through a voice synthesizer and needs a great deal of medical attention. He also lives in Britain. This makes him a spectacularly unfortunate choice to pick as an example of the evils of the National Health Service, which has provided free health care - to him, and to millions of other people here - for 61 years.
But that is what Investor's Business Daily did on Aug. 3, in an editorial opposing Mr. Obama's proposals by accusing him of wanting to institute an N.H.S.-style system in America. Mr. Hawking "wouldn't have a chance in the U.K.," the newspaper declared, because the health service would declare his life "essentially worthless."
The paper printed a correction, and Mr. Hawking issued a statement saying that, actually, the health service had helped keep him alive.
Debates about health care are often personal. Policy is full of statistics - mortality rates, spending per capita, cost of drugs, length of hospital stays - and full of hysterical predictions of what disasters change will bring. But in discussing which system is best, patients turn to their own experiences and those of their families, friends and acquaintances. People believe in the hospital and doctors where they had good outcomes; they deplore those that have let them down.
As an American who now lives in Britain, occasionally writes about the health service, and uses public and private medicine here (as well as back home, occasionally), I have seen firsthand the arguments from all sides. Certainly, as someone who in the 1980s paid $333 to have an emergency room doctor at Georgetown University Hospital remove a piece of toilet paper from my ear after I had unsuccessfully tried to use it as an earplug, I applaud a system that is free.
Founded in 1948 during the grim postwar era, the National Health Service is essential to Britain's identity. But Britons grouse about it, almost as a national sport. Among their complaints: it rations treatment; it forces people to wait for care; it favors the young over the old; its dental service is rudimentary at best; its hospitals are crawling with drug-resistant superbugs.
All these things are true, sometimes, up to a point.
The N.H.S. is great at emergency care, and great at pediatric care. My children have enjoyed thorough treatment for routine matters - vaccines, eye tests and the like. A friend who had cancer received the same drugs and the same treatment, I was assured, as she would have in the United States. When, heartbreakingly, she died, her family was not left with tens of thousands of dollars of outstanding bills, or with the prospect of long, bitter fights with hardened insurance companies.
But there are limits. Without an endless budget, the N.H.S. does have to ration care, by deciding, for instance, whether drugs that might add a few months to the life of a terminal cancer patient are worth the money. Its hospitals are not always clean. It is bureaucratic. Its doctors and nurses are overworked. Patients sometimes are treated as if they were supplicants rather than consumers. Women in labor are advised to bring their own infant's diapers and their own cleaning products to the hospital. Sick people routinely have to wait for tests or for treatment.
Because resources are finite and each region allocates care differently, waiting times can vary widely from place to place. So can treatment, as in the United States, regardless of how it is paid for.
Limited in what treatments they can offer, doctors sometimes fail to advise patients of every option available - or every possible complication. American doctors, conversely, often seem strangely alarmist about your future and overeager to prescribe more expensive treatment.
After I had my first baby, Alice, a National Health nurse came to my house regularly to weigh and examine her and to lecture me about breast-feeding. It was all free, a matter of course. The baby seemed to have mild eczema, but the nurse was relaxed about it. When I took Alice, at 3 months, to New York and we went to a Park Avenue pediatrician for a minor, unrelated complaint, the doctor seemed unaccountably exercised.
"This baby has ECZEMA!" he said accusingly, pointing to a few reddish spots. "What are you doing about it?"
Britons are well aware of the limitations of their system. But do they appreciate having the N.H.S. held up by Americans on the right as Exhibit A in discussions of the complete failure of socialized medicine? Do they want to hear that it is "Orwellian," that it is a breeding ground for terrorism, or that, in the words of Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, it would refuse to treat everyone from "Granny" to Senator Edward M. Kennedy?
No, they do not.
Like squabbling family members who band together against outside criticism, Britons have reacted to the barrage of American attacks on the N.H.S. with collective nationalist outrage.
A new Twitter campaign, "We Love the NHS," has become one of the most popular topics on the site, helped by Prime Minister Gordon Brown himself, as well as the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, David Cameron.
Mr. Brown's eyesight was saved by a National Health surgeon after a rugby accident when he was in college; Mr. Cameron's 6-year-old son, Ivan, who died in February, was severely disabled and received loving care from the service.
The Twitter campaign is full of testimonials from recipients of successful treatment for brain abscesses, complicated pregnancies, mangled toes, liver disease, hernias, car accidents, nervous breakdowns, cancer - you name it.
For me, the health service was a godsend when my husband suffered a severe stroke in the 1990s. He got exemplary critical care; I did not get a bill. It was only in the aftermath - when I learned that, unusually in Britain, my husband's job came with private health insurance - that I came to realize what it could and could not do. A little over one in 10 Britons have some sort of private supplemental insurance; others pick and choose when to use the N.H.S. and when to pay out of pocket for the top specialists or speedier care.
Told my husband needed a sophisticated blood test from a particular doctor, I telephoned her office, only to be told there was a four-month wait.
"But I'm a private patient," I said.
"Then we can see you tomorrow," the secretary said.
And so it went. When it came time for my husband to undergo physical rehabilitation, I went to look at the facility offered by the N.H.S. The treatment was first rate, I was told, but the building was dismal: grim, dusty, hot, understaffed, housing 8 to 10 elderly men per ward. The food was inedible. The place reeked of desperation and despair.
Then I toured the other option, a private rehabilitation hospital with air-conditioned rooms, private bathrooms and cable televisions, a state-of-the-art gym, passably tasty food and cheery nurses who made a cup of cocoa for my husband every night before bed.
We chose the private hospital, where the bills would be paid in their entirety by insurance. My husband lived there for nearly two months. We saw the other patients only when they were in the gym for treatment when my husband was. Most of them seemed to be from rich countries in the Middle East. Perhaps they were the only ones who could afford to pay.
Sarah Lyall, a London correspondent for The Times, is author of "The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / National Guard
on: August 16, 2009, 09:57:55 AM
Pentagon, governors clash over reserve units
The Defense Department is engaged in a turf war with the nation's governors, who object to plans for greater Pentagon control over Reserve units called up to assist with natural disasters. Unless governors remain in control, "strong potential exists for confusion in mission execution and the dilution of governors' control over situations with which they are more familiar and better capable of handling than a federal military commander," according to the National Governors Association. But the Pentagon responds that reservists already are under federal command during national emergencies such as terrorist attacks, and that the new proposal is simply an extension of that authority. "This provision would in no way impede or undermine or inadvertently reduce the authority that governors exercise under the United States Constitution," says Paul Stockton, the Pentagon's assistant secretary for homeland defense. Google/The Associated Press (8/13)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Whole Foods
on: August 15, 2009, 07:28:31 PM
The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare
Eight things we can do to improve health care without adding to the deficit.
By JOHN MACKEY
"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out
of other people's money."
With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people's money. These deficits are simply not sustainable. They are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation, or they will bankrupt us.
While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction—toward less government control and more individual empowerment. Here are eight reforms that would greatly lower the cost of health care for everyone:
• Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees' Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.
Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health-care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan's costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of worker satisfaction.
• Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.
• Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.
• Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.
• Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.
• Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor's visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?
• Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.
• Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?
Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America
Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.
Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor's Business Daily. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million.
At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund. Our Canadian and British employees express their benefit preferences very clearly—they want supplemental health-care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments. Why would they want such additional health-care benefit dollars if they already have an "intrinsic right to health care"? The answer is clear—no such right truly exists in either Canada or the U.K.—or in any other country.
Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.
Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.
Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat. We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.
Health-care reform is very important. Whatever reforms are enacted it is essential that they be financially responsible, and that we have the freedom to choose doctors and the health-care services that best suit our own unique set of lifestyle choices. We are all responsible for our own lives and our own health. We should take that responsibility very seriously and use our freedom to make wise lifestyle choices that will protect our health. Doing so will enrich our lives and will help create a vibrant and sustainable American society.
Mr. Mackey is co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / More heat on Beck
on: August 15, 2009, 07:22:58 PM
Glenn Beck claims science czar John Holdren proposed forced abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population
As evidence that the country is closer to socialist than capitalist these days, radio and talk show host Glenn Beck recently made this claim about John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:
"I mean, we've got czars now," Beck said during his July 22, 2009, program. "Czars like John Holdren, who has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population."
Political figures like Holdren, who are little-known by most Americans, make easy targets. And Beck's biting quick hit on Holdren provides a healthy enough dose of outrage on which to hang his argument.
But is it true?
Beck's allegation has its roots in a book Holdren co-authored with Paul and Annie Ehrlich more than three decades ago called Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment .
Conservative bloggers have quoted the book extensively, and often out of context, to make the point that Holdren has advocated positions such as the ones Beck stated.
We obtained the book to see exactly what Holdren, then a young man, wrote (or co-wrote). The book is just over 1,000 pages, and it clearly makes that case that an explosion in population presented a grave crisis. Although it is a textbook, the authors don't shy away from presenting a point of view. As the preface states, "We have tried throughout the book to state clearly where we stand on various matters of controversy."
In a section on "Involuntary Fertility Control," Holdren and the other authors discuss various "coercive" means of population control — including putting sterilants in the drinking water. But they stop well short of advocating such measures.
Here's a few excerpts:
"The third approach to population limitation is that of involuntary fertility control. Several coercive proposals deserve discussion, mainly because some countries may ultimately have to resort to them unless current trends in birth rates are rapidly reversed by other means. ...
"Adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods is a suggestion that seems to horrify people more than most proposals for involuntary fertility control. Indeed, this would pose some very difficult political, legal, and social questions, to say nothing of the technical problems. No such sterilant exists today, nor does one appear to be under development. To be acceptable, such a substance would have to meet some rather stiff requirements: it must be uniformly effective, despite widely varying doses received by individuals, and despite varying degrees of fertility and sensitivity among individuals; it must be free of dangerous or unpleasant side effects; and it must have no effect on members of the opposite sex, children, old people, pets, or livestock. ...
"Again, there is no sign of such an agent on the horizon. And the risk of serious, unforeseen side effects would, in our opinion, militate against the use of any such agent, even though this plan has the advantage of avoiding the need for socioeconomic pressures that might tend to discriminate against particular groups or penalize children."
Later, the authors conclude, "Most of the population control measures beyond family planning discussed above have never been tried. Some are as yet technically impossible and others are and probably will remain unacceptable to most societies (although, of course, the potential effectiveness of those least acceptable measures may be great).
"Compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea, but the alternatives may be much more horrifying. As those alternatives become clearer to an increasing number of people in the 1980s, they may begin demanding such control. A far better choice, in our view, is to expand the use of milder methods of influencing family size preferences, while redoubling efforts to ensure that the means of birth control, including abortion and sterilization, are accessible to every human being on Earth within the shortest possible time. If effective action is taken promptly against population growth, perhaps the need for the more extreme involuntary or repressive measures can be averted in most countries."
And here's the part that some have interpreted as Holdren advocating for forced abortions.
“To date, there has been no serious attempt in Western countries to use laws to control excessive population growth, although there exists ample authority under which population growth could be regulated. For example, under the United States Constitution, effective population-control programs could be enacted under the clauses that empower Congress to appropriate funds to provide for the general welfare and to regulate commerce, or under the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Such laws constitutionally could be very broad. Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society. Few today consider the situation in the United States serious enough to justify compulsion, however."
This comes in a section discussing population law. The authors argue that compulsory abortions could potentially be allowed under U.S. law "if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society." Again, that's a far cry from advocating or proposing such a position.
In the book, the authors certainly advocate making abortions readily accessible for women who want to get them. But they never advocate forced abortions. Big difference.
In response to the comments from Beck and others, Holdren's office issued this statement: "The quotations used to suggest that Dr. Holdren supports coercive approaches to limiting population growth were taken from a 1977 college textbook on environmental science and policy, of which he was the third author. The quoted material was from a section of the book that described different possible approaches to limiting population growth and then concluded that the authors’ own preference was to employ the noncoercive approaches before the environmental and social impacts of overpopulation led desperate societies to employ coercive ones. Dr. Holdren has never been an advocate of compulsory abortions or other repressive means of population limitation."
Holdren's office also provided a statement from Annie and Paul Ehrlich, the co-authors: "We have been shocked at the serious mischaracterization of our views and those of John Holdren in blog posts based on misreadings of our jointly-authored 1000-page 1977 textbook, ECOSCIENCE. We were not then, never have been, and are not now 'advocates' of the Draconian measures for population limitation described — but not recommended — in the book's 60-plus small-type pages cataloging the full spectrum of population policies that, at the time, had either been tried in some country or analyzed by some commentator.
Under questioning by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., during his Senate confirmation hearing, Holdren said he "no longer thinks it's productive to focus on optimum population for the United States. ... I think the key thing today is that we need to work to improve the conditions that all of our citizens face economically, environmentally, and in other respects. And we need to aim for something that I have for years been calling 'sustainable prosperity.'"
Vitter continued with his line of question, asking directly, "Do you think determining optimal population is a proper role of government?"
Said Holdren: "No, senator, I do not. ... I think the proper role of government is to develop and deploy the policies with respect to economy, environment, security, that will ensure the well-being of the citizens we have."
But with regard to Beck's claim that Holdren "has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population," the text of the book clearly does not support that. We think a thorough reading shows that these were ideas presented as approaches that had been discussed. They were not posed as suggestions or proposals. In fact, the authors make clear that they did not support coercive means of population control. Certainly, nowhere in the book do the authors advocate for forced abortions.
Some have argued that Holdren's view of the imminent and grave global dangers posed by overpopulation should provide pause, given Holdren's current view that global warming now presents imminent and grave global dangers. That's a matter for reasoned debate.
But in seeking to score points for a political argument, Beck seriously mischaracterizes Holdren's positions. Holdren didn't advocate those ideas then. And, when asked at a Senate confirmation hearing, Holdren said he did not support them now. We think it's irresponsible to pluck a few lines from a 1,000-page, 30-year-old textbook, and then present them out of context to dismiss Holdren's long and distinguished career. And we rate Beck's claim Pants on Fire!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Gene for less sleep
on: August 15, 2009, 07:06:00 PM
Scientists Identify Why Some People Thrive on Fewer Hours of Sleep
Friday, August 14, 2009
Scientists have discovered a gene that helps a mother and daughter stay alert on about six hours sleep a night, two hours less than the rest of their family needs.
It's believed to be a very rare mutation, not an excuse for the rest of us who stay up too late. But the finding, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, offers a new lead to study how sleep affects health.
The National Institutes of Health says adults need seven hours to nine hours of sleep for good health. Regularly getting too little increases the risk of health problems, including memory impairment and a weakened immune system. A major 2006 study estimated that as many as 30 million Americans suffer chronic insomnia, and millions more have other sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.
University of California, San Francisco, researchers have long hunted genes related to how and when people sleep. In 2001, they discovered a mutation that puts its carriers' sleep patterns out of whack: These people regularly go to bed around 7:30 p.m. and wake around 3:30 a.m.
Now the same team has found a gene involved in regulating length of sleep. In one family, the 69-year-old mother and her 44-year-old daughter typically go to bed around 10 p.m., and Mom rises around 4 and her daughter around 4:30, with no apparent ill effects. The rest of the family has typical sleep patterns.
Blood tests showed the women harbored a mutation in a gene named DEC2 that's involved in regulation of circadian rhythms, the body's clock.
A check of more than 250 stored DNA samples didn't find another carrier.
Then lead researcher Ying-Hui Fu, a neurology professor, and colleagues bred mice and fruit flies that carried the mutation. Sure enough, the flies' activity and brain-wave measurements on the mice showed those with the mutation slept less — and the mice needed less time to recover from sleep deprivation.
The result: A model that "provides a unique opportunity" to study the effects of different amounts of sleep, Fu concluded.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / If President Bush had , , ,
on: August 15, 2009, 11:13:57 AM
If George W. Bush had made a joke at the expense of the Special
Olympics, would you have approved?
If George W. Bush had given Gordon Brown a set of inexpensive and
incorrectly formatted DVDs, when Gordon Brown had given him a
thoughtful and historically significant gift, would you have approved?
If George W. Bush had given the Queen of England an iPod
containing videos of his speeches, would you have thought this
embarrassingly narcissistic and tacky?
If George W. Bush had bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, would you have
If George W. Bush had visited Austria and made reference to the
nonexistent "Austrian language," would you have brushed it off as a
If George W. Bush had filled his cabinet and circle of advisers with people
who cannot seem to keep current on their income taxes, would you have
If George W. Bush had been so Spanish illiterate as to refer to "Cinco de
Cuatro" in front of the Mexican ambassador when it was the fourth of May
(Cuatro de Mayo), and continued to flub it when he tried again, would you
have winced in embarrassment?
If George W. Bush had misspelled the word advice would you have
hammered him for it for years like Dan Quayle and potatoe as "proof"
of what a dunce he is?
If George W. Bush had burned 9,000 gallons of jet fuel to go plant a single
tree on "Earth Day," would you have concluded he's a hypocrite?
If George W. Bush's administration had okayed Air Force One flying
low over millions of people followed by a jet fighter in downtown
Manhattan causing widespread panic, would you have wondered whether
they actually "get" what happened on 9-11?
If George W. Bush had been the first President to need a teleprompter
installed to be able to get through a press conference, would you have
laughed and said this is more proof of how he is inept he is on his own and
is really controlled by smarter men behind the scenes?
If George W. Bush had failed to send relief aid to flood victims throughout
the Midwest with more people killed or made homeless than in New Orleans,
would you want it made into a major ongoing political issue with claims of
racism and incompetence?
If George W. Bush had ordered the firing of the CEO of a major corporation,
even though he had no constitutional authority to do so, would you have
If George W. Bush had proposed to double the national debt, which
had taken more than two centuries to accumulate, in one year, would
you have approved?
If George W. Bush had then proposed to double the debt again within 10
years, would you have approved?
If George W. Bush had reduced your retirement plan's holdings of
GM stock by 90% and given the unions a majority stake in GM, would you
If George W. Bush had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to
take Laura Bush to a play in NYC, would you have approved?
So, tell me again, what is it about Obama that makes him so brilliant and
impressive? Can't think of anything? Don't worry. He's done all this in 5
months -- so you'll have three years and seven months to come up with an
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: August 15, 2009, 10:15:52 AM
Iran’s plummeting birth rates
Despite its fundamentalist Islamic reputation Iran has experimented with birth control with some unexpected, and unwelcome, consequences.
If demography is destiny, the family of Farzaneh Roudi is a snapshot of Iran’s past, present and future. A program director at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington DC, Ms Roudi was born in Iran. Her grandmother had 11 children, her father had 6 and she has 2.
Her profile is not unusual in Iran, where women give birth to fewer than 2 children, on average. This is one of the most remarkable demographic shifts in world history. Its fertility rate has declined from 7 children per woman in 1980 to 1.9 today – a decline of 70 percent in the space of a single generation. And about 80 percent of married women in Iran use contraception -- the highest rate among all the countries in the Middle East.
These staggering statistics confound stereotypes about Iran. Even though the Western media depicts this nation of 70 million as a teeming cauldron of Islamic fundamentalism and social and moral conservatism, the trend to lower birthrates began long ago. In 1967 Mohammad Reza Shah signed the Tehran Declaration. This acknowledged family planning as a human right and programs were quickly established. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution which booted out the Shah, they were dismantled for being pro-Western. But contraceptive use was not totally banned and Imam Khomeini and other Ayatollahs did grant fatwas allowing it as a health measure.
Then came the calamitous eight-year between Iran and Iraq, in which Iran suffered as many as a million casualties. In these drastic circumstances, a large population was regarded as an asset and the government promoted large families.
But after the war, there was a 180-degree turn. Shocked by the rapidly growing population, the government vigorously promoted family planning as a path to economic development. Women were encouraged to space births and to stop at three. Although there was no overt coercion, a 1993 social engineering law penalised large families by terminating family allowances, health benefits and maternity leave for families with four or more children.
The result was unprecedented. Iran’s fertility figures skidded dramatically. The fertility rate for women in rural areas dropped from 8 children per woman in 1977 to 2 children in 2006. According to the leading expert on Iranian demography, Professor Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, of the University of Teheran, simultaneously young couples were delaying having children, married women were spacing births further apart, and older women stopped bearing children.
Even the Shi’ite clergy supported this massive social change. Imam Khomeini and other ayatollahs granted fatwas allowing contraceptive use.
In fact, nowadays there seems to be a national consensus that small families are good families. Back in 2006 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had called for a baby boom. "I am against saying that two children are enough. Our country has a lot of capacity. It has the capacity for many children to grow in it. It even has the capacity for 120 million people," he declared. "Westerners have got problems. Because their population growth is negative, they are worried and fear that if our population increases, we will triumph over them."
But this fizzled. His advisors had a quiet word with him and Ahmadinejad turned his mind to other ways of threatening the West.
In any case, Iranian families nowadays resemble the despised Westerners, Ms Roudi told MercatorNet. "Life is not easy nowadays. A lot of the time in the cities both husband and wife work. Their kids have piano classes or karate classes. It’s very normal for families to have only 1 or 2 kids. If you see a young family with 3 children -– that’s a big family."
As a result, Iran’s population profile looks remarkably like a Christmas tree, with a huge bulge between the ages of 15 and 30. Ms Roudi believes that this may help to explain the upheaval in Tehran after the recent disputed election. Most of the protesters were young people.
"Unemployment and high costs of living, coupled with social and political restrictions, have made it increasingly difficult for young Iranians. The sudden uprising that erupted following the disputed presidential election of June 12 is a manifestation of all the underlying frustrations," she writes in the PRB’s population blog.
Paradoxically, they may be frustrated by Iran’s extraordinary achievement in educating its youth. "The successful Iranian uphill battle to improve education in spite of exploding numbers of youngsters and without international assistance must be viewed as a major achievement in human development," writes Professor Abbasi in a recent report. And to further shake Western preconceptions, 65 percent of students admitted to government universities in 2007 were women.
Appalling repression and electoral manipulation after the recent election has entrenched the hold of President Ahmadinejad and his conservative allies on power. But eventually the extraordinary bulge of educated youth will transform Iran, Professor Abbasi, who also teaches at Australian National University, told MercatorNet. "The rapid improvement of education in Iran is likely to generate powerful forces toward more democratic rights," he feels. "There is a high probability that over the coming years, Iran will transform naturally into a modern democracy."
The youth bulge could benefit Iran’s economy. Demographers speak of a "demographic dividend" -– a not-to-be-repeated large number of energetic, well-educated young workers who can contribute to economic growth. Unfortunately unemployment amongst 18 to 30-year-olds is running at about 25 percent. This means that the regime is squandering its opportunity.
There are other shadows, as well. One is drug addiction amongst youth.
Even though it sends drug dealers to the gallows, Iran could have as many as 2 million addicts – nearly 3% of the total population. No other country in the world even comes close to that figure.
"Drug addiction is going up by a horrible rate," a doctor told the Los Angeles Times. "When I was young, in a village or a poor neighborhood you'd hear people say, 'I know an addict.' But now drugs are so pervasive, people say, 'I know somebody who is not an addict.' You criminalise beer, you criminalise girlfriends. You close everything to the young, but the young need a way open, an outlet. We doctors are so angry and frustrated at the government."
And then there is the ticking time-bomb of population ageing. By mid-century, these youthful protesters will be frail and elderly as the bulge works its way to the top of the population pyramid. As in Western Europe and other countries with below-replacement fertility, there will be a relatively small working-age population to support them. The question is how Iran’s government will finance their old age. "I’m sure they will not be prepared," sighed Professor Abbasi.
Iran, like many other countries, is discovering that reducing fertility brings unexpected changes.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. For more about demography on MercatorNet, visit our Demography is Destiny blog.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: August 15, 2009, 10:13:34 AM
Good post Rachel.
Why oh why can't Israel negotiate with and trust these people?
Hamas crushes challenge by al-Qaida-inspired group
AP � Members of a militant Islamic group Jund Ansar Allah, stand guard as their leader Abdel-Latif Moussa, �
By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer � 14 mins ago
RAFAH, Gaza Strip � The leader of an al-Qaida-inspired group in the Gaza Strip blew himself up during a shootout Saturday with Hamas security forces, ending hours of violence sparked by a rebellious sermon at a mosque near the Egyptian border.
At least 24 people were killed in clashes with the shadowy group, which posed one of the biggest challenges to Hamas since the militant group seized power in Gaza two years ago.
The fighting broke out Friday when Hamas security men surrounded a mosque in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on the Egyptian border where about 100 members of Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God, were holed up.
Flares lit up the sky overnight as Hamas machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades slammed into the mosque. The militants inside returned fire with automatic weapons and grenades of their own.
The head of the radical Islamic group, Abdel-Latif Moussa, detonated an explosives vest he was wearing when fighting resumed after dawn Saturday, said Ihab Ghussein, a Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman.
"The so-called Moussa has committed suicide ... killing a mediator who had been sent to him to persuade him and his followers to hand themselves over to the government," Ghussein said.
He said the fighting ended later in the morning. Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said a total of 24 people, including six Hamas police officers and an 11-year-old girl, were killed and 150 were wounded.
The group's Web site vowed revenge: "We swear to God to avenge the martyrs' blood and we will turn their women into widows."
Hamas also confirmed the death in the fighting of one of its high-level commanders, Abu Jibril Shimali, whom Israel said orchestrated the capture three years ago of Sgt. Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier who is still being held by Hamas.
The fighting appeared to confirm Hamas' iron rule in Gaza despite a punishing Israeli and Egyptian blockade that keeps all but basic humanitarian supplies from entering the impoverished seaside territory.
It also underscored the group's determination not to allow opponents with differing ideologies to gain a foothold in Gaza. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are together supposed to make up a future Palestinian state, but Hamas' bloody seizure of Gaza in 2007 created rival governments in the two territories � located on opposite sides of Israel � that are complicating Palestinian efforts to gain independence.
Jund Ansar Allah claims inspiration from al-Qaida's ultraconservative brand of Islam but no direct links have been confirmed.
The confrontation was triggered when the leader of the group defied Gaza's Hamas rulers by declaring in a Friday prayer sermon that the territory was an Islamic emirate.
Jund Ansar Allah and a number of other small radical groups seek to enforce an even stricter version of Islamic law in Gaza than that advocated by Hamas.
These groups are also upset that the Hamas regime has honored a cease-fire with Israel for the past seven months.
Hamas says it does not impose its religious views on others, but only seeks to set a pious example for people to follow.
Radical splinter groups such as Jund Ansar Allah call for a global jihad against the entire Western world, while Hamas maintains its struggle is only against the Israeli occupation.
"They are inspired by unbalanced ideologies and in the past they carried out a number of explosions targeting Internet cafes and wedding parties," said Ghussein, adding that the groups do not have any external ties.
The hard-line groups are perhaps the most serious opposition Hamas has faced since it seized control of Gaza and ousted its rivals in the Fatah movement in a five-day civil war in June 2007.
Hamas security blocked all roads to Rafah and declared the town a closed military zone. They said they have arrested about 40 members of the group so far.
Hamas is also investigating the launching of 11 homemade rockets from Gaza into Egypt on Friday. Only five of the rockets detonated, injuring a young girl, said Egyptian security forces.
Saeb Erekat, a senior peace negotiator with Israel and a member of the rival Fatah group in the West Bank, described the situation in Gaza as "alarming."
"Gaza is going down the drain in chaos and lawlessness," he told the AP.
Jund Ansar Allah first came to public attention in June after it claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to attack Israel from Gaza on horseback.
In July, three Muslim extremists from the group holed themselves up in a building in southern Gaza, surrendering to Hamas police only after a lengthy standoff.
It is unclear how many adherents Jund Ansar Allah or other similar extremist groups have in Gaza.http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090815/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_palestinians_gaza_shootout
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Death Panels
on: August 15, 2009, 10:09:14 AM
I have my questions about Sarah, but she remains someone keeping an eye on. She certainly has the right enemies
By JAMES TARANTO
The first we heard about Sarah Palin's "death panels" comment was in a conversation last Friday with an acquaintance who was appalled by it. Our interlocutor is not a Democratic partisan but a high-minded centrist who deplores extremist rhetoric whatever the source. We don't even know if he has a position on ObamaCare. From his description, it sounded to us as though Palin really had gone too far.
A week later, it is clear that she has won the debate.
President Obama himself took the comments of the former governor of the 47th-largest state seriously enough to answer them directly in his so-called town-hall meeting Tuesday in Portsmouth, N.H. As we noted Wednesday, he was callous rather than reassuring, speaking glibly--to audience laughter--about "pulling the plug on grandma."
The Los Angeles Times reports that Palin has won a legislative victory as well:
A Senate panel has decided to scrap the part of its healthcare bill that in recent days has given rise to fears of government "death panels," with one lawmaker suggesting the proposal was just too confusing.
The Senate Finance Committee is taking the idea of advance care planning consultations with doctors off the table as it works to craft its version of healthcare legislation, a Democratic committee aide said Thursday.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the committee, said the panel dropped the idea because it could be "misinterpreted or implemented incorrectly." . . .
The Palin claim about "death panels" was so widely discredited that the White House has begun openly quoting it in an effort to show that opponents of the healthcare overhaul are misinformed.
You have to love that last bit. The fearless, independent journalists of the Los Angeles Times justify their assertion that the Palin claim was "widely discredited" with an appeal to authority--the authority of the White House, which is to say, the other side in the debate. One suspects the breathtaking inadequacy of this argument would have been obvious to Times reporters Christi Parsons and Andrew Zajac if George W. Bush were still president. And of course this appears in a story about how the Senate was persuaded to act in accord with Palin's position--which doesn't prove that position right but does show that it is widely (though, to be sure, not universally) credited.
James Taranto on Palin and the "death panel" debate.
.One can hardly deny that Palin's reference to "death panels" was inflammatory. But another way of putting that is that it was vivid and attention-getting. Level-headed liberal commentators who favor more government in health care, including Slate's Mickey Kaus and the Washington Post's Charles Lane, have argued that the end-of-life provision in the bill is problematic--acknowledging in effect (and, in Kaus's case, in so many words) that Palin had a point.
If you believe the media, Sarah Palin is a mediocre intellect, if even that, while President Obama is brilliant. So how did she manage to best him in this debate? Part of the explanation is that disdain for Palin reflects intellectual snobbery more than actual intellect. Still, Obama's critics, in contrast with Palin's, do not deny the president's intellectual aptitude. Intelligence, however, does not make one immune from hubris.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Poland
on: August 15, 2009, 09:58:52 AM
Warsaw's Reality on the North European Plain
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGERLA MERKEL will travel to Sochi, Russia, on Friday to meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, one day after her personal intervention seems to have pushed a deal on German auto maker Opel to a Russian-backed bid. General Motors Corp. reportedly agreed in principle on Thursday with Canadian auto parts manufacturer Magna International to sell its stake in the troubled Opel unit. The Magna bid is backed by state-owned Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, and would include close cooperation between Opel and GAZ, the second-largest Russian car manufacturer.
While GM was worried that the deal would transfer U.S. technology incorporated into Opel to the Russians, Merkel personally lobbied for the deal, spurning GM’s delay and pressuring the U.S. company to accept the Canadian-Russian bid over a rival Belgian offer. The agreement is only one of a number of recent business deals that illustrate the burgeoning economic relations between Russia and Germany.
“Given its geography, Poland historically has had only two foreign policy strategies”
For Germany, the business deals with Russia are a way to increase demand for German exports, particularly for automobiles and heavy machinery that account for the majority of German manufacturing. Since exports account for 47 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product, the Russian market is an important part of Berlin’s strategy to get out of the current recession. For Russia, the deals are meant both as a means of modernizing the Russian economy and as a way to increase Moscow’s political influence with Berlin. As the trade links crystallize, Berlin and Moscow will not be tied together solely by natural gas exports.
This is undoubtedly going to make Poland uncomfortable. If a newly assertive Germany, which for 60 years has not been allowed to have an opinion in matters of foreign policy, chooses not to be hostile to a resurgent Russia, then the situation for Poland becomes difficult. Warsaw is located on the North European Plain — Europe’s superhighway of conquest — directly between Berlin and Moscow. As such, the Poles are categorically fearful of a Russian-German alliance.
Given its geography, Poland historically has had only two foreign policy strategies. The first, employed when Warsaw is in a powerful position, is to use the lowlands of the North European Plain to its own advantage and expand as much as possible, particularly into Ukraine, the Baltic States and Belarus. This is the aggressive Poland of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which in the 16th century was one of the most powerful and largest countries in Europe. As an example of its power, it was only through the intervention of Polish King Jan III Sobieski that Vienna, and thus Europe by extension, was saved from the Ottomans in 1683.
The second strategy, favored when Warsaw feels threatened, is to find an ally outside of the region determined to guarantee Polish independence. This was the case with Napoleonic France in the early 19th century and with the United Kingdom between the two world wars. This is also the situation today, with Poland hoping that the United States will commit to it with the ballistic missile defense (BMD) installation. BMD, from Poland’s perspective, would mean having U.S. troops on its soil, which would extend the alliance between the two countries past what Warsaw sees as nebulous guarantees of NATO.
However, the United States currently is not looking to challenge Russia overtly. Washington is concentrating on Iran, and the last thing the United States wants is for Russia to counter American moves in Poland by supporting Iran through transfer of military technology, nuclear or conventional.
This makes Warsaw nervous: If Poland cannot employ one of its two favored strategies, it tends to cease to exist as a country. The various partitions of Poland, all in the late 18th century, are still fresh in Warsaw’s collective memory. At that time, a rising Prussia and a surging Russian Empire (along with Austria) broke Poland bit by bit until it no longer existed on the European map. The same situation, also well remembered, was the consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, which led to the combined Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.
That historical event will bring the current leaders of Poland, Russia and Germany together on Sept. 1 in Gdansk, Poland. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has invited Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ceremonies mark the 70-year anniversary of the World War II invasion.
The meeting is indicative of the balancing act that Warsaw is forced to play, lacking a clear signal from the United States on its commitment to Poland. It is also a signal to Washington that, although the invasion occurred 70 years ago, Poland is still stuck in the middle — between of Moscow and Berlin — on the North European Plain.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread
on: August 15, 2009, 09:33:18 AM
Well, I'm real glad my wife is a great cook , , , and she handles technology for us and the reality side of the DB business and is very active in our children's school (e.g. teaches "Hands on Art", for the Health program etc)
While people certainly are free to come up with whatever arrangements make most sense for them, I suspect that absent PC pressures most of the time the woman will be more home family oriented and the man more go out and bring home the bacon. IMHO in general when the more this paradigm is deviated from, the lower the birth rate; this creates a situation of contracting populations.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ Star Wars
on: August 15, 2009, 08:36:46 AM
Never has Ronald Reagan's dream of layered missile defenses—Star Wars, for short—been as politically out of favor as in the Age of Obama. Nor as close, at least technologically, to becoming realized.
The latest encouraging news came Thursday courtesy of the Misssile Defense Agency. The Airborne Laser prototype aircraft this week found, tracked, engaged and simulated an intercept with a missile seconds after liftoff. It was the first time the Agency used an "instrumented" missile to confirm the laser works as expected. Next up this fall will be the first live attempt to bring down a ballistic missile, but this test confirms how far along this innovative effort has come.
Along with space-based weapons, the Airborne Laser is the next defense frontier. The modified Boeing 747 is supposed to send an intense beam of light over hundreds of miles to destroy missiles in the "boost phase," before they can release decoys and at a point in their trajectory when they would fall back down on enemy territory. It's a pioneering use of directed energy in defense. The laser complements the sea- and ground-based missile defenses that keep proving themselves in tests.
Yet the Obama Administration isn't buying it. Funding for missile defense was cut in the 2010 budget by some 15%—$1.2 billion to $1.6 billion, depending on how you calculate it. The number of ground-based interceptors was reduced. The Missile Defense Agency's budget for the Airborne Laser is to be slashed in half, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pulled the plug on buying a second plane. The Pentagon says the program will have three tries to hit a live missile, or be killed altogether.
As the Administration keeps defense spending growth flat, while breaking the bank on its domestic priorities, Secretary Gates has to make hard choices. But he might try harder to convince his boss at the White House that Star Wars isn't a sci-fi fantasy. That's what critics used to say about stealth aircraft as well.
With time, and inevitable setbacks, the technology to make layered missile defenses a reality is being proven to work. The Airborne Laser could be—unless prematurely vaporized—an important part of a system to protect America and its allies from rogue states and their nuclear missiles.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Dodd whitewash
on: August 15, 2009, 08:32:19 AM
As the old Irish toast goes, may your sins be judged by the Senate ethics committee. Actually that's not an Irish toast but it must be the fervent hope of every politician who received a "Friend of Angelo" loan from former Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo. Late last week the six Senators on the ethics panel dismissed complaints against Senators Kent Conrad and Chris Dodd with a mere admonishment about the appearance of impropriety.
The three Republican and three Democratic Senators say they conducted an exhaustive probe and inspected 18,000 pages of documents. They say they found "no substantial credible evidence as required by Committee rules" that the Senators received mortgage rates or services that weren't commonly available to the public, and thus did not violate the Senate gift ban.
We'll have to take their word that the evidence wasn't "substantial," because they didn't release those documents, nor did they encourage Mr. Dodd to release any of his records. Readers will recall that in February Mr. Dodd staged a peek-a-boo release with selected reporters but did not allow anyone to have copies of the documents. If the evidence was so clear-cut, why the months of stonewalling?
The Associated Press may have the answer. AP recently noted that among the peek-a-boo papers were two documents titled, "Loan Policy Analysis." Reports AP, "The documents had separate columns: one showing points 'actl chrgd' Dodd — zero; and a second column showing 'policy' was to charge .250 points on one loan and .375 points on the other. Another heading on the documents said 'reasons for override.' A notation under that heading identified a Countrywide section that approved the policy change for Dodd."
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Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd
.How does Mr. Dodd explain that one? He may not have had to. The Senate ethicists don't seem to have required either Mr. Dodd or Mr. Conrad to provide sworn testimony. In its letters to Messrs. Conrad and Dodd, the committee referred to the "depositions" it collected from Countrywide employees, but it described only "responses" and "explanations" from the Senators. Mr. Dodd never spoke to committee members or staff, and never communicated directly with them.
When committee Senators wrote to Mr. Dodd to get answers to their questions about his VIP loans, they received a response signed by his attorney Marc Elias of Perkins Coie. We remember former Senator Robert Torricelli providing a sworn deposition before he was admonished by the committee in 2002. Perhaps he should have tried the Dodd strategy.
As for Mr. Conrad, his staff won't say if the Senator answered questions directly or let his lawyers handle it. Either way, he has to be thrilled that his colleagues found no violation of Senate rules, even after he acknowledged last summer that he had received a benefit and promptly donated $10,500 to charity.
We'd also like to know what committee members thought of Robert Feinberg, the former Countrywide loan officer who told us last year that Mr. Dodd received, and knew he was receiving, preferential treatment. The Washington Post reported last month that Mr. Feinberg told the same thing, under oath, to Senate investigators and said that Mr. Conrad also knew he was receiving special treatment. Mr. Feinberg said the same to the minority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Does the committee think he's lying, or that his testimony simply wasn't "substantial" enough? Again, we don't know because the letters released by the ethics committee don't mention Mr. Feinberg.
Mr. Dodd is running for his sixth term next year and will no doubt claim this as vindication. Voters will have to decide if a Banking Committee Chairman who allowed himself even to be considered a VIP by the nation's foremost subprime lender deserves it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-Georgia, Turkey, Caucasus
on: August 15, 2009, 08:20:15 AM
I'm still hoping for a post from a forum member who is well-informed about Georgia.
In the meantimes, here is this-- it is from the NYT, so caveat lector:
South Ossetia Tries to Disarm Its Citizens
Russians and South Ossetians fought together last August north of Tskhinvali, during the brief war against Georgia.
By ELLEN BARRY
Published: August 14, 2009
TSKHINVALI, Georgia — For years, there was not much difference between a civilian and a soldier in South Ossetia, which was embroiled in a long struggle to separate from Georgia.
David G. Sanakoyev, for example, wore a tie during the day. As South Ossetia’s ombudsman for human rights, he handled complaints about prison conditions or unlawful firings. Three times a week, after work, he changed into camouflage and took up a position at the territory’s border, rotating in and out of combat duty until morning.
Then he put his suit back on, and returned to his desk — a pattern interrupted only once, he recalled, when he was shot through the thigh in a Georgian ambush.
This has been the strange way of life inside South Ossetia, on and off, since the end of the Soviet Union. The tiny population of this valley — factory workers, university students, farmers and smugglers — has been turned into a loosely organized fighting force, deployed along the boundary that separates South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled territory.
Now, with Russia guaranteeing its security, South Ossetia is asking residents to turn in their weapons voluntarily. The police have opened 50 criminal prosecutions for illegal weapons and plan to offer $300 to $400 for each Kalashnikov rifle, a top official said.
The program is a test of confidence, a year after the war between Russia and Georgia.
Mr. Sanakoyev said he had never owned a gun but felt it was still too early to disarm.
“Life has changed,” he said. “But inside, you don’t yet feel that life has changed.”
Twenty years ago, few people in this valley were armed. The first clash between Ossetians and Georgians was fought with wooden bats and hunting rifles in 1989, after an estimated 12,000 Georgian demonstrators surrounded Tskhinvali to protest its first separatist bid. In the two days of violence that followed, six people died, according to Human Rights Watch.
That began a great surge of arming. Timur Tskhovrebov, then working as a tomato farmer, became “a specialist in stealing from Soviet warehouses,” he recalled, with a broad, reminiscent smile. The commander of a 10-man local militia, he would bribe a sentry, throw a mattress over the barbed-wire fence, and clamber in and out, arms loaded with weapons, for two hours until the next sentry arrived.
“This is only one way,” said Mr. Tskhovrebov, 51. “It’s the most honest way. You just steal them.”
As they withdrew into Russian territory, Soviet troops were ready to make deals, in any case. A Kalashnikov could be traded for a Zhiguli or Lada car or, in the case of villagers, a cow. Whole arsenals, put up for sale in Chechnya, supplied South Ossetia.
Irina Kozayeva, a 74-year-old woman with a cloud of hennaed hair, recalled the awe she felt at her first major purchase: a 12.7-caliber machine gun, a World War II-era weapon often mounted on Soviet tanks and capable of shooting down aircraft.
“When I saw it, I closed the door and laid it down on the rug,” she said. “I almost fainted. The sight of such a weapon can make you crazy.”
Ossetians’ attachment to their weapons grew fierce during those years, said Dmitri Medoyev, South Ossetia’s ambassador to Russia. Before the first clashes, authorities in Georgia had stripped many Ossetian hunters of their rifles, and then the Soviet Army twice betrayed Ossetia by withdrawing its forces, Mr. Medoyev said, so “we, the population, cannot trust anyone.”
In addition to a small army, Tskhinvali contrived a defense based on the Swiss armed forces, in which every adult man was required to show up, prepared to fight, during periods of tension.
For an Ossetian, Mr. Medoyev said, “a weapon is an essential part of daily life, his worldview, his accessory, if you will.” Asked how many guns were owned privately, he said, “As many as there are people in the population, that’s how many weapons there are.”
“Of course,” he added, “I’m not counting small children.”
But conditions have changed since last August, said Vitaly G. Gassiyev, South Ossetia’s first deputy interior minister. At a brand-new Russian base in Tskhinvali, dozens of tanks and self-propelled artillery are lined up a few minutes’ drive from Georgian positions, making it unlikely that Ossetian volunteers will be called to the front anytime soon.
By disarming, Mr. Gassiyev said, South Ossetia was using the lessons Russia had learned in the north Caucasus, where wars left a residue of crime, with “guns in hands and lots of uncontrolled elements.”
Two weeks ago, the call went out for people to turn in their arms voluntarily. So far, the police have collected or confiscated 100 machine guns — among them 15 American-made M-4 carbines, presumably lost by Georgian soldiers — and 110 pounds of explosives. In the near future, the police are planning to offer citizens from $370 to $470 in exchange for turning in guns and other weapons.
“I think the project will work without question,” Mr. Gassiyev said. “There is a guarantee of security now.”
When the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe tried to sell this idea to Ossetia’s populace several years ago, it was met with ridicule, recalled Magdalena Frichova, who monitored the conflict in South Ossetia for 10 years for the International Crisis Group. But last year’s war has transformed the dynamics in Ossetia, she added, and Russia may feel a need to ensure control in a region where small militias have thrived.
“This is the fear for the Russians, that it’s going to become like the north Caucasus,” Ms. Frichova said. “You have all these armed groups that aren’t under a command.”
Nerves were still strung tight last week at a border post south of Tskhinvali. The Russian border patrol was nowhere in sight, and two Ossetian men, one in camouflage, were watching cows grazing in no man’s land, waiting for something to happen, just as they have for 18 years. A Georgian police post in Ergneti was visible through the summer foliage. Five days before, the two men said, a rocket-propelled grenade was shot from the Georgian side and exploded in the air.
“If you call someone your brother, but he shoots at you, is he still your brother?” said the man in camouflage, his face weathered by the sun. “For 18 years, they have devoured us. They are jackals, jackals.” He refused to give his name.
His friend, Timur, 39, had left military service after the war, and was watching in slacks and a turtleneck. This year has been quiet, he allowed, but not calm, not yet. Asked about the government’s program to collect weapons, he grinned mischievously.
“Officially, I have given up my gun,” he said.