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25001  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizens defend themselves/others. on: February 24, 2008, 12:43:44 PM
Jeanne Assam tells of her gunfight

http://www.officer.com/web/online/Top-News-Stories/Colorado-Security-Officer-Recalls-Encounter-With-Church-Gunman/1$40322
25002  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Living, Training, and Fighting with Eyeglasses on: February 24, 2008, 09:49:21 AM
Woof All:

At my wife's urging I finally got around to something I should have done many years ago-- I went to the eye doctor.

Apparently I am 20/70 for near range and 20/30 for far range.  I now have blended bi-focals for my desk, aorund the house, and another pair that are for out and about (beyond arm's length).

My wife had me get silver frames "to go with my hair" (Ouch!   )

Anyway, its a whole new world-- things are much sharper!

So as I start this chapter, and figuring out how to live with glasses (e.g. developing habits so that I don't lose them--the
f@#$%ng things are expensive!) it occurs to me that there are issues regarding fighting, training etc. 

Any tips?

TAC,
Crafty Dog
25003  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / After serving they fight to become citizens on: February 24, 2008, 07:45:15 AM

Its the NY Times, so caveat lector
==========================


Despite a 2002 promise from President Bush to put citizenship applications for immigrant members of the military on a fast track, some are finding themselves waiting months, or even years, because of bureaucratic backlogs. One, Sgt. Kendell K. Frederick of the Army, who had tried three times to file for citizenship, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq as he returned from submitting fingerprints for his application.

 
Reach of War
 
Alan Zale for The New York Times
Abdool Habibullah, an ex-marine, is waiting to hear about his application. “If what I’ve done for this country isn’t enough for me to be a citizen, then I don’t know what is,” he said.

About 7,200 service members or people who have been recently discharged have citizenship applications pending, but neither the Department of Defense nor Citizenship and Immigration Services keeps track of how long they have been waiting. Immigration lawyers and politicians say they have received a significant number of complaints about delays because of background checks, misplaced paperwork, confusion about deployments and other problems.

“I’ve pretty much given up on finding out where my paperwork is, what’s gone wrong, what happened to it,” said Abdool Habibullah, 27, a Guyanese immigrant who first applied for citizenship in 2005 upon returning from a tour in Iraq and was honorably discharged from the Marines as a sergeant. “If what I’ve done for this country isn’t enough for me to be a citizen, then I don’t know what is.”

The long waits are part of a broader problem plaguing the immigration service, which was flooded with 2.5 million applications for citizenship and visas last summer — twice as many as the previous year — in the face of 66 percent fee increases that took effect July 30. Officials have estimated that it will take an average of 18 months to process citizenship applications from legal immigrants through 2010, up from seven months last year.

But service members and veterans are supposed to go to the head of the line. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush signed an executive order allowing noncitizens on active duty to file for citizenship right away, instead of having to first complete three years in the military. The federal government has since taken several steps to speed up the process, including training military officers to help service members fill out forms, assigning special teams to handle the paperwork, and allowing citizenship tests, interviews and ceremonies to take place overseas.

At the same time, post-9/11 security measures, including tougher guidelines for background checks that are part of the naturalization process, have slowed things down.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which checks the names of citizenship applicants against those in its more than 86 million investigative files, has been overwhelmed, handling an average of 90,000 name-check requests a week. In the fiscal year that ended in September, the F.B.I. was asked to check 4.1 million names, at least half of them for citizenship and green card applicants, a spokesman said.

“Most soldiers clear the checks within 30 to 60 days, or 60 to 90 days,” said Leslie B. Lord, the Army’s liaison to Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that processes citizenship applications. “But even the soldier with the cleanest of records, if he has a name that’s very similar to one that’s in the F.B.I. bad-boy and bad-girl list, things get delayed.”

Such explanations are why Mr. Habibullah has decided that once he does become a citizen — if he ever becomes a citizen — he will change his name.

“I figured that’s part of the reason things got delayed,” he said. “You know, that I have a Muslim name.”

Thousands of Muslim civilians have also found themselves waiting months or years for background checks, and have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Denver. But advocates for the immigrant service members said that those with pending applications are from a variety of backgrounds and that they do not suspect a pattern of discrimination against Muslims.

Some 31,200 members of the military were sworn in as citizens between October 2002 and December 2007, according to the immigration service, but a spokeswoman, Chris Rhatigan, said she could not determine how long it took for them to be naturalized since the agency does not maintain a database tracking military cases.

================

Page 2 of 2)



Over all, 312,000 citizenship or green card applications are pending name checks, including 140,000 that have been waiting more than six months, immigration officials said. This month, immigration authorities eased background-check requirements for green cards, saying that if applicants had been waiting more than six months, they could be approved without an F.B.I. check, and approvals could be revoked later “in the unlikely event” that troubling information was found.

Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
 
Mr. Mohammed on duty in Iraq, where he was in the Army.

Reach of War
Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times
Michelle Murphy, whose son Sgt. Kendell K. Frederick was killed in Iraq before his citizenship application was approved.

After hearing complaints from at least half a dozen service members over the past three months, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York has drafted a bill to create a special clearinghouse to ensure that applications from active and returning members of the military are processed quickly and smoothly. A spokesman said several other lawmakers reported hearing many similar stories.

“These are men and women who are risking their lives for us,” Mr. Schumer said in a telephone interview. “They’ve met all the requirements for citizenship, they have certainly proved their commitment to our country, and yet they could lose their lives while waiting for a bureaucratic snafu to untangle.”

In interviews, immigration lawyers and military officials said that in general, the naturalization process takes service members between six months and a year, which is about half the current average wait for civilians. But some cases drag on much longer because of background-check delays or because applications are misplaced, or notices are mailed to stateside addresses after an applicant has been deployed, causing appointments to be missed.

“You try to resolve these things amicably, reaching out to the military, reaching out to immigration officials, but you hit roadblock after roadblock,” said David E. Piver, a Pennsylvania lawyer who filed at least six petitions in federal court over the past five years on behalf of service members experiencing longer than usual delays on their citizenship applications.

“It’s usually not any substantive issue that’s causing those delays,” he said. “What it boils down to are bureaucratic snafus.”

Feyad Mohammed, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago who lives with his parents in Richmond Hill, Queens, was naturalized last month — four years after he filed the first of four citizenship applications, and six months after his honorable discharge from the Army as a sergeant.

Mr. Mohammed first applied in 2004, after he returned from the first of his two tours in Iraq. But the application seemed to have been lost; when he checked after a few months, he said, no one at the immigration service could tell him where it was or even if it had been received. He filed again in 2005, but missed his interview several months later; it had been scheduled in Iraq, during his second combat tour, but he was home on leave on the appointed day.

After he was discharged in July 2007, Mr. Mohammed filed another application. The paperwork was returned because he had not included a check covering the processing fee, he said, ignoring a Bush administration initiative that exempts combat veterans from application fees for up to a year after discharge. It was then that Mr. Mohammed reached out to Senator Schumer’s office, which helped him file a fourth, and final, time.

When he was sworn in Jan. 25 at the federal courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn, Mr. Mohammed said, he felt “relieved.”

“I was a citizen,” he said. “I could finally move on with my life.”

But Sergeant Frederick, a 21-year-old immigrant from Trinidad, would be awarded citizenship only posthumously, on the day of his burial. He is one of more than 90 immigrant service members to be naturalized after losing their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Sergeant Frederick’s mother, Michelle Murphy, said that he had filed his citizenship application a year before he was deployed to Iraq in 2005, but that his application was sent back to her Maryland home three times — once because of incomplete biographical information, again because he had left a box unchecked, and once more because he had not paid the fee.

Finally, Ms. Murphy said, Sergeant Frederick received a letter saying that the fingerprints he had included with his application could not be read and that he needed to submit new ones. She contacted immigration officials, who arranged for him to submit a new set of fingerprints on Oct. 19, 2005, near his base in Tikrit. On the way back from the appointment, his convoy hit a roadside bomb.

“If somebody is fighting for a country, if he’s deployed, if he’s in the middle of a war, it shouldn’t be that hard for them to become a citizen,” Ms. Murphy, 42, said in a telephone interview.

After his death, the immigration service began accepting enlistment fingerprints with service members’ citizenship applications, provided applicants authorized the military to share their files with immigration officials. A bill to make such sharing automatic has been passed by the House and is pending a final Senate vote.

In the meantime, Mr. Habibullah is working as an aircraft hydraulics mechanic in Connecticut, though he hopes to get a better-paying job in the federal government once he is naturalized. In October, Mr. Habibullah’s father and grandmother became citizens in separate ceremonies, though they applied fully two years after he did.

Mr. Habibullah has passed the citizenship test and been interviewed, and he said he does not know what to do to move his application through the backlog faster.

“Every time I ask about it, I get the same answer: it’s pending the background check,” Mr. Habibullah said as he looked over his military medals, which are displayed on a wall in the Mount Vernon, N.Y., apartment he shares with his wife and 1-month-old son. “I’m at the point right now that I’ve almost given up on it.”
25004  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Balkans on: February 24, 2008, 07:37:20 AM
Third article of the morning giving the case against our support of Kosovo secession.  Again, the reliability of the source is unknown.
====================

Genocide in Kosovo
Albanian Skenderbeg Division



The historical and political precedents for the creation of a greater Sqiperia or Greater Albania was set during World War II when the Kosovo and Metohija regions along with territory Southwest of lake Skutari from Montenegro and the western region of Southern Serbia, or Juzna Srbija (now part of Macedonija), were annexed to Albania by the Axis powers led by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, under a plan devised by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler to dismember and to destroy the Serbian Nation and people, which the Germans and Italians perceived as the main threat to the axis powers and to the Third Reich in the Balkan.
On April 7, 1939, Italian troops invaded and occupied Albania forcing the Albanian ruler King Zog I Ahmed Bey Zogu, to flee to Greece. Italy formally annexed into the Kingdom of Italy under the Italian king Victor Immanuel and established a military government and viceroy. The Italian began a program to colonize the country when thousands of settlers emigrated to Albania. An Albanian Fascist Party was established with Albanian Black skirts based on Italian models. The Albanian Army consisted of three infantry brigades of 12 000 men.
On October 28 1940, Italy invaded Greece from Albania with 10 Italian divisions and the Albanian Army but were driven back.

Germany sought to assist the Italian-Albanian offensive by operation Alpine Violet, a plan to move a corps of tree German mountain divisions to Albania by air and sea. Instead German built up a heavy concentration of the German Twelfth Army on the northwest Greek Border with Bulgaria, from where the German invasion was launched.
On April 6, 1941, Nazi Germany and the axis powers invaded Yugoslavia, Operation Punishment, and Greece forcing the capitulation of Yugoslavia on the 17th, and Greece on the 23rd. Yugoslavia was subsequently occupied and dismembered. The Axis powers established a greater Albania or greater Shqiperia at the expense of Serbia and Montenegro. Territory from Montenegro was annexed to Greater Albania. From Serbia, the Kosovo and Metohija were ceded to greater Albania, along with the western part of Southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija), now part of Macedonia, an area which was part of Stara Srbija (Ancient Old Serbia). This Kosovo-metohija region and the surrounding territory annexed to Greater Albania was called "New Albania".
To create an ethnically pure Shqiptar Kosovo, which Albanian called "Kosova", the Shqiptari (Albanians) launched a widescale campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Ethnic Serbs in the Kosovo-Metohija regions were massacred, and their homes were burned, and survivors were brutally driven out and expelled in policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
The Balli Kombetar (BK or National Union) was an Albanian nationalist group led by Midhat Fresheri and Ali Klissura whose political objective was to in incorporate Kosovo-Metohija into a Greater Albania and to ethnically cleanse the region of Orthodox Serbs

The Abanian Committee of Kosovo organized massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian inhabitants of Kosovo- Metohuja. A contemporary report described the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Serbs as follows:
Armed with material supplied by the Italians, the Albanians hurled themselves against helpless settlers in their homes and villages. According to the most reliable sources, the Albanian burned many Serbian settlements, killing some of the people and driving out others who escaped to the mountains. At present other Serbian settlement are being attacked and the property of individuals and of communities is either being confiscated or destroyed. It is not possible to ascertain at the present time the exact number of victims of those atrocities, but it may be estimated that at least between 30.000 and 40.000 perished.
Bedri Pejani, the Muslim leader of the Albanian National committee, called for the extermination of Ortodox Serbian Cristians in Kosovo Metohija and for a union of a Greater Albania with Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia, into a great Islamic state. The grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Husseini was presented to Pejani a plan which he approved as a being in the interest of Islam. The Germans however rejected the plan.
On September 3, 1943, Italy capitulated by signing an armistice with the Allies. The German were now forced to occupy Albania with the collapse of the Italian forces. The Germans sent the 100th Jaeger Division from Greece and the 297th Infantry Division from Serbia and the German 1st Mountain Division to occupy Albania. These troops were organized into the XXI Mountain Corps which was under the command of General Paul Bader.

Additional security forces for the interior were needed, however, to free up Germans troops for defense of the coastline. The decision was made to form an Albanian SS mountain division for this purpose. In April in 1944, recruitment for the Albanian SS division began under direction of the newly formed Albanian Nazi party, which has been formed through the efforts of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Acting upon instructions of Reichsfuehrer SS Henrich Himmler, the SS main office ordered the formation of an Albanian volunteer mountain division on April 17, 1944. SS Brigadefuehrern and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum, who Headed the Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, oversaw the forming and training of the division.
The SS high Command planed to create a mountain division of 10.000 men. The Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, in conduction with the Albanian National Committee, listed 11.398 possible recruits for the Waffen SS mountain division. Most of these recruits were "kossovars", shqiptar Ghegs from Kosovo Metohija in Serbia. The Shqiptar Tosks were found mainly in southern Albania. Most of the Shqiptar collaborators with the nazi forces were theNazi forces were the so-called Kossovars, ethnic Shqiptars from the Kosmet of Serbia. The Nazi German-sponsored Albanian gendarmes, special police and para-military units were made up by Kossovars. The Kossovars were under the direct control of the Albanian Interior Minister Xhafer Deva.
The Skanderbeg Division was formed and trained in Kosovo and was made up mostly of muslim Shqiptar Kossovars. There were only a small number of Albanians from Albania proper in the division. The Skanderbeg Mountain Division of the Wafen SS was thus essentially a Kosovo or Kosmet Division. The Division was stationed and operated in Kosovo and other Serbian regions almost exclusively.

Its a long article but worth reading............. the rest is here -------> http://www.kosovo.net/skenderbeyss.html
25005  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Balkans on: February 24, 2008, 07:35:13 AM
The reliability of this source is unknown to me.  I post it as an example of part of the case being made that our support of Kosovo independence is a mistake.  Note the date.
===========================

Albanians and Afghans fight for the heirs of to Bosnia's SS past



Daily Telegraph, 29 December 1993
By Robert Fox in Fojnica (Bosnia)
"DOCUMENTS!" shouted a man in a beret with an insignia in green Arabic script outside the UN house in the Bosnian mountain town of Fojnica. He was hostile and demanded our presence at the police station.
Later the police chief apologised, but made clear that authority had passed to the men with the Koranic texts hanging from their fatigues.
Last summer Muslim and Croat leaders in Fojnica asked the WN to declare it a "zone of peace". Since then war has ravaged the town, bringing murder, mayhem and exile to at least half its original population of 12,000. Different, and alien, forces are now in charge -- some of the toughest in the Bosnian Muslim army.
These are the men of the Handzar division. "We do everything with the knife, and we always fight on the frontline," a Handzar told one UN officer.
Up to 6000-strong, the Handzar division glories in a fascist culture. They see themselves as the heirs of the SS Handzar division, formed by Bosnian Muslims in 1943 to fight for the Nazis. Their spiritual model was Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who sided with Hitler.
According to UN officers, surprisingly few of those in charge of the Handzars in Fojnica seem to speak good Serbo-Croatian. "Many of them are [Muslim] Albanian, whether from Kosovo (the Serb province where Albanians are the majority) or from Albania itself."
They are trained and led by veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, say UN sources. The strong presence of native Albanians is an ominous sign. It could mean the seeds of war are spreading south via Kosovo and into Albania, thence to the Albanians of Macedonia.
Pakistani fundamentalists are known to have had a strong hand in providing arms and a small weapons industry for the Bosnian Muslims.
Hardline elements of the Bosnian army, like the Handzar, appear to have the backing of an increasingly extreme leadership in Sarajevo, represented by Mr Ejup Ganic, Foreign Minister, Mr Haris Silajdzic, Prime Minister, and Mr Enver Hadjihasanovic, the new army chief.
The Handzars are working closely with other units around Fojnica, preparing for the long assault on Kiseljak to the east and Prozor to the west, a campaign likely to last years.
The first political act in this new operation appears to have been the murder of the two monks in the monastery. Last month Brother Nikola Milicevic, 39, and Brother Mato Migic, 56, were surprised by a four-man squad.
After an argument, Brother Nikola was shot dead on the spot. His colleague was only wounded, but finished off by a shot in the neck.
Mysteriously, the police guard disappeared a few minutes before. The murder squad withdrew after the killings.
The Provincial for the Franciscans of Bosnia, Petar Andjelovic, demanded an explanation. He received condolences from President Alija Izetbegovic and a note from the police in Sarajevo that the matter was under investigation.
The Provincial is convinced this was a political murder to deepen the division between Croats and Muslims. He also believes it was sanctioned by Sarajevo.
"I can say that for the moment all responsibility for this killing falls at the door of the Bosnian army," he told an Italian Catholic magazine last week. "Somebody very powerful must have organised this."
The way the Handzars have settled in Fojnica suggests they are playing for a long war. The town is self-sufficient in meat, vegetables and cereals. The terrain is ideal for guerrilla operations.
More significant is the nature of the Handzars, and the influences of the Albanians in their command, and the support from Pakistan. These suggest, politically and militarily, the war in Bosnia has spread - under the dozing eyes of the West.

http://www.srpska-mreza.com/Bosnia/again-hanjar.html
25006  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / We bombed the wrong side? on: February 24, 2008, 07:29:37 AM
We bombed the wrong side?

by Lewis MacKenzie



National Post, 6 April 2004
www.globalresearch.ca 11 April 2004
The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/MAC404A.html

Five years ago our television screens were dominated by pictures of Kosovo-Albanian refugees escaping across Kosovo's borders to the sanctuaries of Macedonia and Albania. Shrill reports indicated that Slobodan Milosevic's security forces were conducting a campaign of genocide and that at least 100,000 Kosovo-Albanians had been exterminated and buried in mass graves throughout the Serbian province. NATO sprung into action and, in spite of the fact no member nation of the alliance was threatened, commenced bombing not only Kosovo, but the infrastructure and population of Serbia itself -- without the authorizing United Nations resolution so revered by Canadian leadership, past and present.

Those of us who warned that the West was being sucked in on the side of an extremist, militant, Kosovo-Albanian independence movement were dismissed as appeasers. The fact that the lead organization spearheading the fight for independence, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was universally designated a terrorist organization and known to be receiving support from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda was conveniently ignored.
The recent dearth of news in the North American media regarding the increase in violence in Kosovo compared to the comprehensive coverage in the European press strongly suggests that we Canadians don't like to admit it when we are wrong. On the contrary, selected news clips on this side of the ocean continue to reinforce the popular spin that those dastardly Serbs are at it again.
A case in point was the latest crisis that exploded on March 15. The media reported that four Albanian boys had been chased into the river Ibar in Mitrovica by at least two Serbs and a dog (the dog's ethnic affiliation was not reported).Three of the boys drowned and one escaped to the other side. Immediately, thousands of Albanians mobilized and concentrated in the area of the divided city. Attacks on Serbs took place throughout the province resulting in an estimated 30 killed and 600 wounded. Thirty Serbian Christian Orthodox churches and monasteries were destroyed, more than 300 homes were burnt to the ground and six Serbian villages cleansed of their occupants. One hundred and fifty international peacekeepers were injured.

Totally ignored in North America were the numerous statements from impartial sources that said there was no incident between the Serbs, the dog and the Albanian boys. NATO Police spokesman Derek Chappell stated on March 16 that it was "definitely not true" that the boys had been chased into the river by Serbs. Chappell went on to say that the surviving boy had told his parents that they had entered the river alone and that three of his friends had been swept away by the current. Admiral Gregory Johnson, the overall NATO commander, further stated that the ensuing clashes were "orchestrated and well-planned ethnic cleansing" by the Kosovo-Albanians. Those Serbs forced to leave joined the 200,000 who had been cleansed from the province since NATO's "humanitarian" bombing in 1999. The '"cleansees" have become very effective "cleansers."

In the same week a number of individuals posing as Serbs ambushed and killed a UN policeman and his local police partner. During the firefight one of them was wounded which caused an immediate switch from Serbian to Albanian as he screamed, "I've been hit"! The UN pursued the attackers and tracked them to an Albanian-run farm where they discovered weapons and the wounded Albanian who had died from his wounds. Four Albanians were arrested. Once again, the ambush had been reported in the United States but not the follow-up which clearly indicated yet another orchestrated provocation by the Albanian terrorists.
Kosovo is administered by the UN, the very organization many Canadians have indicated they would like to see take over from the United States in Iraq. The fact the UN cannot order its civilian employees to go or stay anywhere -- they have to volunteer -- combined with recent history that saw the UN abandon Iraq after a single brutal attack on their compound in Baghdad and the reality that Kosovo, under the organization's administration, is a basket case, disqualifies it from consideration for such a role.

Since the NATO/UN intervention in 1999, Kosovo has become the crime capital of Europe. The sex slave trade is flourishing. The province has become an invaluable transit point for drugs en route to Europe and North America. Ironically, the majority of the drugs come from another state "liberated" by the West, Afghanistan. Members of the demobilized, but not eliminated, KLA are intimately involved in organized crime and the government. The UN police arrest a small percentage of those involved in criminal activities and turn them over to a judiciary with a revolving door that responds to bribes and coercion.
The objective of the Albanians is to purge all non-Albanians, including the international community's representatives, from Kosovo and ultimately link up with mother Albania thereby achieving the goal of "Greater Albania." The campaign started with their attacks on Serbian security forces in the early 1990s and they were successful in turning Milosevic's heavy-handed response into worldwide sympathy for their cause. There was no genocide as claimed by the West -- the 100,000 allegedly buried in mass graves turned out to be around 2,000, of all ethnic origins, including those killed in combat during the war itself.

The Kosovo-Albanians have played us like a Stradivarius. We have subsidized and indirectly supported their violent campaign for an ethnically pure and independent Kosovo. We have never blamed them for being the perpetrators of the violence in the early '90s and we continue to portray them as the designated victim today in spite of evidence to the contrary. When they achieve independence with the help of our tax dollars combined with those of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, just consider the message of encouragement this sends to other terrorist-supported independence movements around the world.
Funny how we just keep digging the hole deeper!

Maj-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, now retired, commanded UN troops during the Bosnian civil war of 1992.
25007  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Nat Geo Documentary on the Dog Brothers: Fight Club on: February 23, 2008, 11:14:37 PM
Thank you.

What is the URL for the discussion on the Krav forum?
25008  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: February 23, 2008, 10:03:40 PM
Islamic Charities Draw More Scrutiny
By GLENN R. SIMPSON
February 23, 2008; Page A4

Counterterrorism officials in the U.S. and the Middle East, who in recent years have shut down several Islamic charities accused of financing terrorist organizations, now are pursuing what they describe as a second constellation of such groups.

Key figures who avoided the initial legal dragnet in 2001 and 2002 have continued to raise funds that help Islamic militants in the Palestinian territories, Iraq and other conflict areas, counterterrorism officials in Washington and the Middle East said in recent interviews. The officials said Islamic fund-raisers have taken donor files and moved from one group to another a step ahead of the authorities, officials said.

•  The News: Counterterrorism officials who shut down Islamic charities that they accused of funding terrorist organizations are targeting a second group of charities.
•  The Background: Officials say Islamic fund-raisers have taken donor files and moved from one group to another, remaining a step ahead of authorities.
•  The Controversy: Over the last six years, little evidence has emerged directly connecting charities to individual acts of terrorism."Government can come in and close down the charity, but the donor list still exists," said prosecutor Pat Roane, the Justice Department's point man on terrorism financing. "The donor list is gold."

Islamic charities became a major focus after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when U.S. officials concluded the charities played a large role in sustaining the infrastructure of radical Islamic groups. Using a set of new laws, the U.S. Treasury froze the assets of numerous groups in the U.S. and overseas.

But over the last six years little evidence has emerged directly connecting charities to individual acts of terrorism, and Muslim leaders and civil libertarians have charged that the government is over-reaching in pursuing the charities.

Questions about the government's approach arose particularly after prosecutors failed in some high-profile trials to prove that charities were connected to terrorists or terrorist organizations. The charities' leaders and their supporters say they send money from American Muslims to legitimate social and aid organizations in the Middle East.

One scholar, Ibrahim Warde of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, argues in a 2007 book, "The Price of Fear," that the connection between charities and terrorism is largely a myth.

Government officials, while acknowledging that charities' role in individual attacks seems to be slight, say evidence from several of the criminal cases have demonstrated direct ties between charities and terrorist groups, including al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Kenneth Wainstein, the Justice Department national-security chief, said in an interview that intelligence reports continue to find that charities are being used by terrorist groups to provide both funds and logistics help, such as with visas and work permits in conflict zones. Mr. Wainstein and other officials say many of an estimated six million Muslims in the U.S. follow the tenets of their faith and give generously to charities that promote Islam and provide welfare to needy Muslims in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, but the funds often are diverted to other purposes in these war zones to underwrite items such as communications, logistics and medicine for groups fighting the U.S. military or U.S. allies.

In the years after Sept. 11, the Justice Department now alleges, fund-raising efforts in the U.S. shifted to at least two existing groups that were missed in the initial sweep: a charity in Boston called Care International, and another in Columbia, Mo., called the Islamic American Relief Agency. Care International's officers were recently convicted of tax fraud in Boston federal court, while backers of the Missouri group are under indictment for similar offenses. In the Care International case, prosecutors presented evidence that the group was an extension of Osama bin Laden's original outpost in the U.S., a Brooklyn-based Islamic organization. But Mr. Warde criticized prosecutors for not charging any of the defendants with terrorism support. The Care International officers are expected to appeal.

A month after the government shut down many top charities in December 2001, Islamic fund-raisers set up a new group in Toledo, Ohio, called Kindhearts, which the Treasury in 2006 shut down and identified in a public statement as "the progeny of Holy Land Foundation and Global Relief Foundation," two defunct charities that the U.S. designated as supporters of terrorism. Two other charities, Kinder USA and Life for Relief and Development, remain under investigation but have denied any ties to terrorism.

Terrorism investigators say Islamic charity fund-raisers are more sophisticated than they originally realized. Khalil Jassemm, the founder of one group under investigation, self-published a 494-page guide to running such groups -- "Islamic Perspective on Charity, a Comprehensive Guide for Running a Muslim Nonprofit In the U.S." -- that walks charity officials through the numerous laws governing such groups. The book was made available by The Investigative Project, a Washington nonprofit that researches terrorism issues.

Mr. Jassemm founded Life for Relief and Development. Terrorism investigators say some of its personnel are supporters of the Islamic Party of Iraq and in 2006 was raided by the FBI in Michigan and by the U.S. military in Iraq. A spokesman for the charity said Mr. Jassemm has left the group and now lives in Jordan. He didn't respond to an email request for a meeting. The group says it isn't affiliated with any political groups in Iraq.

Officials say the moves against the organizations have aroused anger and opposition among many American Muslims and some civil-liberties advocates -- creating what counterterrorism officials acknowledge is a public-relations problem.

For one thing, critics have chided the government for keeping much of its evidence of terrorist connections secret and resorting to nonterrorism charges, such as tax and money-laundering violations, to put the leaders of some charities out of business.

Prosecutors say, though, that they won't abandon tactics that have brought results. "We incapacitate the bad guys," said Justice's Mr. Wainstein. "It might not be the sexiest way of doing it, and if we get criticized, so be it."

One big problem, some front-line prosecutors said, is that intelligence can show signs of terrorism support, but it is difficult to obtain the kind of unambiguous evidence that will stand up in court to prove money ended up with terrorists overseas. "Once it hits a foreign bank, it is gone to us," said one federal prosecutor who asked not to be named.

Write to Glenn R. Simpson at glenn.simpson@wsj.com
wsj
25009  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 23, 2008, 09:59:37 PM
New Pakistani Leaders, U.S., at Odds on Militants
Key Parties Seek Talks
With Islamic Forces;
Americans Urge Battle
By YOCHI DREAZEN in Washington and ZAHID HUSSAIN in Pakistan
February 23, 2008; Page A4

The U.S. wants Pakistan to take stronger measures against Islamic militants who are threatening the stability of neighboring Afghanistan. But the country's new leaders are already signaling that they would prefer a softer approach.

With Pakistan being hit by a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks, including a car bomb Friday that killed at least 12 people, U.S. policymakers believe senior Pakistani military officials have come to see Islamic violence as a serious threat to the country's future and may now be willing to mount an aggressive campaign against the religious militants responsible for the bloodshed.

•  The News: The U.S. wants Pakistan to take stronger measures against Islamic militants who are threatening the stability of neighboring Afghanistan.
•  The Background: Policy makers believe Pakistani officials have come to see Islamic violence as a serious threat and may be willing to mount an aggressive campaign against the militants.
•  The Other Side: The country's new leaders already are signaling that they would prefer a softer approach.Pakistan's unpopular president, Pervez Musharraf, has expressed concern about the possible "Talibanization" of his country by al-Qaeda and Taliban militants and periodically ordered his military to battle the extremists.

But key officials in Pakistan's two main opposition parties -- the Pakistan People's Party, led by the widower of assassinated former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League of ex-Premier Nawaz Sharif -- say that they want instead to open talks with the Islamic militants operating along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

"We will use force wherever it is necessary, but will also use other means to veer them away from extremism," said Asif Ali Zardari, Ms. Bhutto's widower and the leader of the PPL.

The two parties swept to victory in the past week's parliamentary elections and are working together to form a new government. They spent Friday mulling candidates for prime minister.

The Bush administration is using the violence to prod Pakistan to take steps it has long resisted, like giving the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations commandoes a freer hand to hunt Islamic militants within Pakistan and agreeing to have larger numbers of American military trainers deploy to Pakistan to help the country's army prepare for a long-term struggle against Islamic guerillas.

Pentagon officials have also publicly expressed a willingness to mount joint combat operations with the Pakistani military, should Pakistan request such assistance.

 
"If I was wearing a different hat and was in the Pakistani military, I would be deeply concerned about the unrest and the lack of stability and security that appears to be caused by Talibanization," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, who commands the Army's 101st Airborne Division, which is deploying to Afghanistan this spring.

The push comes amid mounting American concern about the situation in the largely lawless tribal regions along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, which have devolved into safe havens for Islamic militants carrying out attacks inside both countries. Senior American commanders had long worried that an unstable Afghanistan had the potential to spark unrest inside Pakistan but now worry just as much about instability inside Pakistan spilling over into Afghanistan.

U.S. officials worry that Pakistan's next government may try to back out of agreements Mr. Musharraf made with the Pentagon on operations in the tribal areas, including the mobilization of a tribal military unit and the aggressive use of American Predator drones to attack terrorist targets.

"We're not saying that the leader has to be Musharraf," said a U.S. official working on Pakistan. "But we're concerned that politics could end up distracting" Pakistan from the growing threat posed by the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The Pakistani armed forces have long believed that India posed the biggest threat to Pakistani national security, and senior Pakistani officials may be unwilling -- or unable -- to reorient their military towards a protracted conflict with Islamic militants inside their own borders.

"The Pakistani armed forces are trained to fight India and fighting pro al-Qaeda insurgents in the tribal areas is a completely new experience for them," a senior Pakistani official acknowledged.

James Dobbins, an analyst at the Rand Corp. who served as the Bush administration's first envoy to Afghanistan, said many Pakistani leaders fundamentally disagree with American officials about the magnitude of the threat posed by Islamic violence. "The popular attitude towards the attacks is that they are a reaction to the U.S. war on terror rather than an intended threat to the Pakistani sovereignty and government," he said.

Pakistani officials say that they have nearly 30,000 troops battling militants in northwest Pakistan and in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, as well as an additional 70,000 deployed on the entire 1,500-mile-long border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The size of that deployment, they argue, shows that the country is already serious about battling Islamic extremists.

Still, Pakistani commanders acknowledge that their forces have struggled to oust the well-entrenched militants, who have inflicted heavy casualties on the Pakistani troops and shown resiliency in the face of Pakistani and U.S. strikes.

A senior Pakistani commander said that the army's morale had plummeted after a long series of tactical setbacks, including the killings of hundreds of troops by suicide bombers who struck their convoys, camps and mess halls, and the videotaped beheadings of some of the soldiers who fell into the hands of the militants. "This challenge cannot be met until the army's standing is restored," the officer said.

WSJ
25010  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Virtual Fence on: February 23, 2008, 09:42:18 PM
U.S. Curbs Big Plans
For Border Tech Fence
By EVAN PEREZ and AUGUST COLE
February 23, 2008; Page A1

WASHINGTON -- The government yesterday officially unveiled its $20 million "virtual fence," touted for months as one of the most effective ways to secure America's leaky U.S.-Mexico border.

But the problems that have plagued the high-tech barrier mean that the fence's first 28 miles will also likely be its last. The Department of Homeland Security now says it doesn't plan to replicate the Boeing Co. initiative anywhere else. A spokeswoman says there are no plans to expand the project beyond its first phase, although Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says "some elements" of the project may be used in other locations.

 
Nine tall towers punctuate the fence.
The effective mothballing of the concept is a setback for the government's border-protection efforts, an embarrassment for politicians backing the idea of an electronic fence and a blow to Boeing, the project's designer. It will also do little to settle the fractious politics of immigration, which continue to reverberate around the campaign trail.

The virtual fence, called Project 28, came up during Thursday's debate in Austin, Texas, when both Democratic presidential candidates expressed their support for a high-tech alternative to the federal government's construction of a 12-foot-tall physical fence. That project, begun last year, has elicited outcry from Texas property owners and local officials.

"Let's deploy more technology and personnel, instead of the physical barrier," said New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama of Illinois agreed: "There may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. But for the most part, having [the] border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that's going to be the better approach." Both senators had earlier voted for legislation mandating 700 miles of physical fence in sections of California, Arizona and Texas.

It's unlikely that any administration will be able to embark on an immigration revamp until it can persuade skeptical Republicans it can effectively police the border. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and likely presidential nominee, sponsored a comprehensive immigration bill last year that collapsed due to strong opposition from his own party. He has since said he supports securing the border before tackling more controversial immigration proposals, such as providing a way for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status in the U.S.

Project 28 was based on off-the-shelf technology tied together by Boeing. Cameras and radar mounted atop 98-foot towers would pick out smugglers and illegal immigrants from miles away, allowing fewer agents to patrol a given stretch of border. Command centers and mobile communications systems were also part of the contract.

But getting all these elements to work together harmoniously has proven problematic. Project 28's technology problems included software integration issues and difficulty getting the towers' cameras to synch with the radar systems. The radar had trouble identifying objects amid desert scrub and trees. Rain posed problems to the surveillance systems, and concerns persist that the towers are tempting targets for increasingly well-armed drug gangs looking to shut down the system.

At his news conference yesterday, Mr. Chertoff played down the technological problems, which he likened to finding problems during a house inspection that aren't significant enough to nullify a purchase contract. "I have personally witnessed the value of this system, and I have spoken directly to the border-patrol agents who are involved in operating that system over the last few months and who have seen it produce actual results in terms of identifying and allowing the apprehension of people who are illegally smuggling across the border," he said.

A Boeing spokeswoman says Project 28 "is a proof of concept. The concept works." The company is nonetheless changing how it produces the technology. There will be more hardware and software testing at special centers, instead of relying on fixes made at the border, the spokeswoman says.

Government officials had great ambitions for the project. Although it's unlikely that the entire border would be policed electronically, there are potentially 6,000 miles of the U.S. border with Canada and Mexico that could have been covered by advanced systems. That work would be worth billions of dollars. Success in the U.S. could also have led to overseas customers who want to use technology to track cross-border traffic and smuggling.

Last month during a tour, customs and border-patrol officials showed Attorney General Michael Mukasey the rugged terrain that Project 28 oversees. A Homeland Security Blackhawk helicopter soared above a vast expanse of breathtaking jagged desert peaks, amid which Project 28 towers stood their sentinel watch over the border. "Admittedly, we gave Boeing some of the roughest parts of the border to work with," a border-patrol official told the attorney general, explaining what he said were many problems the system had encountered.

In August, Boeing replaced the manager of Project 28. For months, Boeing and Homeland Security wouldn't say when the work was going to be complete. In early December, the government said it was closing in on taking delivery. But that same month, the government gave Boeing another $64 million contract to fix the "common operating picture," which lets agents in vehicles see imagery from the towers' surveillance systems. Yesterday's announcement marked the final end of the testing period.

Homeland Security officials took possession of the system over the objections of Congress, which has been critical of the department and of Boeing for the problems that have bedeviled the program. "We are no safer and out millions of dollars," said Democratic Pennsylvania Congressman Christopher Carney, oversight chairman in the House Homeland Security committee. "We were led to believe that this was going to be a Beta test for a virtual fence for the border. Certainly this is not the force multiplier it was supposed to be."

Laura Keehner, a Homeland Security spokeswoman, said, "Those who choose to criticize without seeing the technology firsthand are merely bystanders of the product and have no idea how hard our border patrol is working to keep America safe. We would not have accepted it if it didn't work."

In the meantime, construction of the physical barrier continues. On Friday, Mr. Chertoff said the government has already built about 300 miles of fence and is on pace to build about 670 miles by the end of the year.
WSJ
25011  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North Korea on: February 23, 2008, 09:35:44 PM
Gen. Burwell B. Bell
The North Korean Threat
By MELANIE KIRKPATRICK
February 23, 2008; Page A9

On the Acela between
New York and Washington

The Cold War may be over, but Gen. Burwell B. (B.B.) Bell is still on duty. This American soldier is serving in the one place on the planet where that conflict hasn't ended, and where it has the potential to turn "hot" in the blink of an eye: the Korean Peninsula. With a new president taking over in Seoul on Monday promising to take a tougher line with Pyongyang, it's a good moment to revisit the subject of the North's military capabilities -- and the South's readiness.

In Pentagon lingo, Gen. Bell is "triple-hatted." He commands the 28,500 U.S. forces in South Korea, the combined U.S.-South Korean forces in time of war, and the United Nations forces that have been stationed south of the 38th parallel since 1953, when the armistice in the Korean War was signed. As such, he is probably the world's leading expert on North Korea's military strength.

 
That's the topic we start with as we chat aboard the express train taking the general and his entourage from New York to Washington, where he'll report to the president the next day. The general is in plain clothes -- for security reasons, U.S. military officers don't travel in uniform -- but that doesn't stop passengers from staring at the straight-backed men in buzz cuts as we climb aboard at Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan. We are escorted by local police officers and two of the soldiers who have been patrolling Penn Station since the 9/11 attacks.

In light of all the publicity given the six-party disarmament talks, it's interesting that the first words out of Gen. Bell's mouth don't include "nuclear." "First and foremost, I'm worried . . . about the conventional threat that the North Korean military poses to South Korea," he says.

"What worries me is that North Korea is a 'military first' country where all their resources and their focus goes into the maintenance of the military apparatus . . . This is a very large military, over a million men under arms in a very small country of only 22 million people. That means . . . [at] any time 5% of the whole country, regardless of age, [is] serving on active duty."

The North Korean army is in the midst of its winter training cycle right now, the general says. He notes that Pyongyang didn't bother to inform the U.N. command in advance, as required under the armistice accord. "Every time we conduct a large exercise, 30 days before that exercise . . . we inform them just like we're supposed to. . . . But they don't afford us with the same privileges. I will tell you that. We have to find out through other means what they are up to." Six-party negotiators take note: Kim Jong Il is not in the habit of keeping promises.

Gen. Bell describes the North Korean military as deployed in a "threatening posture" with "about 70% of their force within 90 miles of the demilitarized zone." Their equipment is old -- the Russians and the Chinese have stopped supplying them -- and training is poor. The army's capabilities have deteriorated in recent years, he says -- a factor, some argue, in Kim Jong Il's reluctance to give up his nuclear program. The North Korean dictator knows his army's potential to hammer the South with conventional arms isn't as good as it used to be.

Even so, Gen. Bell says, the North Koreans "certainly have the capability of bringing aerial fires, rocket and conventional cannon artillery to bear against Seoul . . . They don't need to bring any guns forward. So, they can certainly, at a moment's notice, engage targets in Seoul, should they choose to." He adds: "There would be casualties. But I will tell you, our purpose is to quickly eliminate that threat." Some of the missiles, many believe, would be carrying chemical weapons.

On the nuclear threat, Gen. Bell states bluntly, "We don't know what we don't know." North Korea tested a nuclear device in October 2006, but, he says, it is "totally unclear to me" whether the country has the capability of delivering a nuclear weapon on a missile. That's why the six-party talks are important, he says, even though the North Koreans refused to declare their nuclear programs on Dec. 31, as they had promised. Why did they miss the deadline?

"I can't speculate," the general responds, but "I assume that they want something that they're going to negotiate for." They've "slowed the process down, and it's disquieting, but nevertheless they're still disabling their [Yongbyon nuclear] reactor. That process has gone forward. . . . We've got people up there, the five parties, [and] there are people supervising, observing [the] removal of these fuel rods."

Things are "pretty quiet" along the DMZ these days, Gen. Bell says, though there's "a flare-up every now and then" and "there is some kind of engagement with a North Korean citizen once or twice a month" -- usually a ship straying into South Korean waters. Most such visitors want to be repatriated, he says -- any North Korean may stay in South Korea if he wishes -- but "we see defections from their military from time to time."

Overall, he says, North Korea specializes in "wild cyclical flows in behavior" -- what he characterized in Senate testimony last year as "alternating provocations and engagement overtures." Lately, however, "they haven't shown that kind of aggressive provocative stuff." Kim Jong Il has even invited the New York Philharmonic to visit later this month, he notes. "That sounds really nice, doesn't it? Meanwhile, his army is training like crazy in their forward position." Sarcasm noted.

Gen. Bell addressed the Korea Society earlier in the day on the subject of the South's readiness to take more responsibility for its own defense. He stresses this point in our conversation.

The Republic of Korea's military "is world class," he says. Or, as he told the Korea Society, in language that befits his native Oak Ridge, Tenn. (and explains why Bell impersonators abound at the Pentagon), "This beast can hunt." To translate from the Tennessean: "I proclaim loudly and clearly that the capacities of the [South] Korean forces are second to none on the globe, and it would not be wise for the North Koreans to test that."

The South Korean army has already largely replaced the U.S. Second Infantry Division along the DMZ. And on April 17, 2012, the South will take full responsibility for its own defense in wartime, with the U.S. military in a supporting role -- 59 years after the end of the Korean War. Meanwhile, the U.S. base in the heart of downtown Seoul is being moved south.

South Korea's anti-American President Roh Moo-hyun leaves office Monday, and while any man with four stars on his shoulders knows better than to publicly diss the leader of a U.S. ally, it's not hard to see that Gen. Bell is counting the days. "The alliance weathered a couple of storms recently," he told the Korea Society, "but it's got to rain a little for the flowers to grow."

This particular flower is called Lee Myung-bak. He's the former businessman, legislator and mayor of Seoul who is the president-elect. The general calls Mr. Lee "pro-American" and notes that he was elected "by an overwhelming majority" of voters on a platform that promised to improve relations with the U.S.

Gen. Bell points to a recent poll showing that 77% of South Koreans support having U.S. troops in their country. To Americans who say the U.S. should pack up and go home, he says, "The Republic of Korea several years ago sent a message to Americans that perhaps we weren't welcome . . . But I can flat tell you that those days are behind us."

Gen. Bell thinks the U.S. military will have a role on the peninsula even after reunification of the two Koreas. The alliance "has purpose throughout the 21st century and beyond," he says. "The mutual defense treaty between the two nations has merit outside the single context of North Korea."

A rising China goes unmentioned here. "It's not to anybody's advantage to create a security vacuum which could lead to misunderstanding and even conflict," the general says. "You know, when you look at the history in that area of the world it's replete with conflict after conflict after conflict. It's been very quiet for 55 years and there's no reason why it ought not to be throughout this century and beyond." He also notes that 25% of the world's trade goes through Northeast Asia.

Gen. Bell is the senior-most general in the U.S. Army, and Korea is his last posting before retirement. He began his military career in 1969 as a second lieutenant in a cavalry unit in the Fulda Gap. It was the height of the Cold War.

"Bad Hersfeld, Germany," he says, "12 kilometers from the East-West German border. Unbelievable military apparatus just across the border, facing us." Thirty-nine years later and 5,000 miles east, it's deja vu along the DMZ.

Gen. Bell talks of the "negative Cold War environment" that pertains in the North, the global economic miracle that has passed it by, and the "tortured" people. He expresses the hope that North Korea will "take down that wall," as the East Germans did. But "until then, we've got to deter and be ready."

Ms. Kirkpatrick is a deputy editor of the Journal's editorial page.

WSJ
25012  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma on: February 23, 2008, 09:31:40 PM
And here is Peggy's piece:

Try a Little Tenderness
February 22, 2008; Page W14
Barack Obama's biggest draw is not his eloquence. When you watch an Obama speech, you lean forward and listen and think, That's good. He's compelling, I like the way he speaks. And afterward all the commentators call him "impossibly eloquent" and say "he gave me thrills and chills." But, in fact, when you go on the Internet and get a transcript of the speech and print it out and read it--that is, when you remove Mr. Obama from the words and take them on their own--you see the speech wasn't all that interesting, and was in fact high-class boilerplate. (This was not true of John F. Kennedy's speeches, for instance, which could be read seriously as part of the literature of modern American politics, or Martin Luther King's work, which was powerful absent his voice.)

Mr. Obama is magnetic, interacts with the audience, leads a refrain: "Yes, we can." It's good, and compared with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, neither of whom seems really to enjoy giving speeches, it comes across as better than it is. But is it eloquence? No. Eloquence is deep thought expressed in clear words. With Mr. Obama the deep thought part is missing. What is present are sentiments.

Our country can be greater, it holds unachieved promise, our leaders have not led us well. "We struggle with our doubts, our fears, our cynicism." Fair enough and true enough, but he doesn't dig down to explain how to become a greater nation, what specific path to take--more power to the state, for instance, or more power to the individual. He doesn't unpack his thoughts, as they say. He asserts and keeps on walking.

So his draw is not literal eloquence but a reputation for eloquence that may, in time, become the real thing.

But his big draw is this. In a country that has throughout most of our lifetimes been tormented by, buffeted by, the question of race, a country that has endured real pain and paid in blood and treasure to work its way through and out of the mess, that for all that struggle we yielded this: a brilliant and accomplished young black man with a consensus temperament, a thoughtful and peaceful person who wishes to lead. That is his draw: "We made that." "It ended well."

People would love to be able to support that guy.

His job, in a way, is to let them, in part by not being just another operative, plaything or grievance-monger of the left-liberal establishment and left-liberal thinking. By standing, in fact, for real change.

Right now Mr. Obama is in an awkward moment. Each day he tries to nail down his party's leftist base, and take it from Mrs. Clinton. At the same time his victories have led the country as a whole to start seeing him as the probable Democratic nominee. They're looking at him in a new way, and wondering: Is he standard, old time and party line, or is he something new? Is he just a turning of the page, or is he the beginning of a new and helpful chapter?

Mr. Obama did not really have a good week, in spite of winning a primary and a caucus, and both resoundingly. I don't refer to charges that he'd plagiarized words from a Deval Patrick speech. He borrowed an argument that was in itself obvious--words matter--and used words in the public sphere. In any case Mrs. Clinton has lifted so many phrases and approaches from Mr. Obama, and other candidates, that her accusation was like the neighborhood kleptomaniac running through the street crying, "Thief! Thief!"

His problem was, is, his wife's words, not his, the speech in which she said that for the first time in her adult life she is proud of her country, because Obama is winning. She later repeated it, then tried to explain it, saying of course she loves her country. But damage was done. Why? Because her statement focused attention on what I suspect are some basic and elementary questions that were starting to bubble out there anyway.

* * *

Here are a few of them.

Are the Obamas, at bottom, snobs? Do they understand America? Are they of it? Did anyone at their Ivy League universities school them in why one should love America? Do they confuse patriotism with nationalism, or nativism? Are they more inspired by abstractions like "international justice" than by old visions of America as the city on a hill, which is how John Winthrop saw it, and Ronald Reagan and JFK spoke of it?

Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised--so raised in the liberal cocoon--that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?

Why is all this actually not a distraction but a real issue? Because Americans have common sense and are bottom line. They think like this. If the president and his first lady are not loyal first to America and its interests, who will be? The president of France? But it's his job to love France, and protect its interests. If America's leaders don't love America tenderly, who will?

 
And there is a context. So many Americans right now fear they are losing their country, that the old America is slipping away and being replaced by something worse, something formless and hollowed out. They can see we are giving up our sovereignty, that our leaders will not control our borders, that we don't teach the young the old-fashioned love of America, that the government has taken to itself such power, and made things so complex, and at the end of the day when they count up sales tax, property tax, state tax, federal tax they are paying a lot of money to lose the place they loved.

And if you feel you're losing America, you really don't want a couple in the White House whose rope of affection to the country seems lightly held, casual, provisional. America is backing Barack at the moment, so America is good. When it becomes angry with President Barack, will that mean America is bad?

* * *

Michelle Obama seems keenly aware of her struggles, of what it took to rise so high as a black woman in a white country. Fair enough. But I have wondered if it is hard for young African-Americans of her generation, having been drilled in America's sad racial history, having been told about it every day of their lives, to fully apprehend the struggles of others. I wonder if she knows that some people look at her and think "Man, she got it all." Intelligent, strong, tall, beautiful, Princeton, Harvard, black at a time when America was trying to make up for its sins and be helpful, and from a working-class family with two functioning parents who made sure she got to school.

That's the great divide in modern America, whether or not you had a functioning family, and she apparently came from the privileged part of that divide. A lot of white working-class Americans didn't come up with those things. Some of them were raised by a TV and a microwave and love our country anyway, every day.

Does Mrs. Obama know this? I don't know. If she does, love and gratitude for the place that tries to give everyone an equal shot would seem to be in order.
WSJ
25013  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times conspiracy? on: February 23, 2008, 09:18:52 PM
Question:  Let me see if I have the timeline on this correct:  The NYTimes was siiting on its McCain-Lobbyist story at the same time it was endorsing him?  The better to set up a Dem victor?
25014  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Peggy Noonan on: February 22, 2008, 07:02:16 PM
4th post of the day

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Try a Little Tenderness
February 22, 2008
Barack Obama's biggest draw is not his eloquence. When you watch an Obama speech, you lean forward and listen and think, That's good. He's compelling, I like the way he speaks. And afterward all the commentators call him "impossibly eloquent" and say "he gave me thrills and chills." But, in fact, when you go on the Internet and get a transcript of the speech and print it out and read it--that is, when you remove Mr. Obama from the words and take them on their own--you see the speech wasn't all that interesting, and was in fact high-class boilerplate. (This was not true of John F. Kennedy's speeches, for instance, which could be read seriously as part of the literature of modern American politics, or Martin Luther King's work, which was powerful absent his voice.)

Mr. Obama is magnetic, interacts with the audience, leads a refrain: "Yes, we can." It's good, and compared with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, neither of whom seems really to enjoy giving speeches, it comes across as better than it is. But is it eloquence? No. Eloquence is deep thought expressed in clear words. With Mr. Obama the deep thought part is missing. What is present are sentiments.

Our country can be greater, it holds unachieved promise, our leaders have not led us well. "We struggle with our doubts, our fears, our cynicism." Fair enough and true enough, but he doesn't dig down to explain how to become a greater nation, what specific path to take--more power to the state, for instance, or more power to the individual. He doesn't unpack his thoughts, as they say. He asserts and keeps on walking.

So his draw is not literal eloquence but a reputation for eloquence that may, in time, become the real thing.

But his big draw is this. In a country that has throughout most of our lifetimes been tormented by, buffeted by, the question of race, a country that has endured real pain and paid in blood and treasure to work its way through and out of the mess, that for all that struggle we yielded this: a brilliant and accomplished young black man with a consensus temperament, a thoughtful and peaceful person who wishes to lead. That is his draw: "We made that." "It ended well."

People would love to be able to support that guy.

His job, in a way, is to let them, in part by not being just another operative, plaything or grievance-monger of the left-liberal establishment and left-liberal thinking. By standing, in fact, for real change.

Right now Mr. Obama is in an awkward moment. Each day he tries to nail down his party's leftist base, and take it from Mrs. Clinton. At the same time his victories have led the country as a whole to start seeing him as the probable Democratic nominee. They're looking at him in a new way, and wondering: Is he standard, old time and party line, or is he something new? Is he just a turning of the page, or is he the beginning of a new and helpful chapter?

Mr. Obama did not really have a good week, in spite of winning a primary and a caucus, and both resoundingly. I don't refer to charges that he'd plagiarized words from a Deval Patrick speech. He borrowed an argument that was in itself obvious--words matter--and used words in the public sphere. In any case Mrs. Clinton has lifted so many phrases and approaches from Mr. Obama, and other candidates, that her accusation was like the neighborhood kleptomaniac running through the street crying, "Thief! Thief!"

His problem was, is, his wife's words, not his, the speech in which she said that for the first time in her adult life she is proud of her country, because Obama is winning. She later repeated it, then tried to explain it, saying of course she loves her country. But damage was done. Why? Because her statement focused attention on what I suspect are some basic and elementary questions that were starting to bubble out there anyway.

* * *

Here are a few of them.

Are the Obamas, at bottom, snobs? Do they understand America? Are they of it? Did anyone at their Ivy League universities school them in why one should love America? Do they confuse patriotism with nationalism, or nativism? Are they more inspired by abstractions like "international justice" than by old visions of America as the city on a hill, which is how John Winthrop saw it, and Ronald Reagan and JFK spoke of it?

Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised--so raised in the liberal cocoon--that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?

Why is all this actually not a distraction but a real issue? Because Americans have common sense and are bottom line. They think like this. If the president and his first lady are not loyal first to America and its interests, who will be? The president of France? But it's his job to love France, and protect its interests. If America's leaders don't love America tenderly, who will?

 
And there is a context. So many Americans right now fear they are losing their country, that the old America is slipping away and being replaced by something worse, something formless and hollowed out. They can see we are giving up our sovereignty, that our leaders will not control our borders, that we don't teach the young the old-fashioned love of America, that the government has taken to itself such power, and made things so complex, and at the end of the day when they count up sales tax, property tax, state tax, federal tax they are paying a lot of money to lose the place they loved.

And if you feel you're losing America, you really don't want a couple in the White House whose rope of affection to the country seems lightly held, casual, provisional. America is backing Barack at the moment, so America is good. When it becomes angry with President Barack, will that mean America is bad?

* * *

Michelle Obama seems keenly aware of her struggles, of what it took to rise so high as a black woman in a white country. Fair enough. But I have wondered if it is hard for young African-Americans of her generation, having been drilled in America's sad racial history, having been told about it every day of their lives, to fully apprehend the struggles of others. I wonder if she knows that some people look at her and think "Man, she got it all." Intelligent, strong, tall, beautiful, Princeton, Harvard, black at a time when America was trying to make up for its sins and be helpful, and from a working-class family with two functioning parents who made sure she got to school.

That's the great divide in modern America, whether or not you had a functioning family, and she apparently came from the privileged part of that divide. A lot of white working-class Americans didn't come up with those things. Some of them were raised by a TV and a microwave and love our country anyway, every day.

Does Mrs. Obama know this? I don't know. If she does, love and gratitude for the place that tries to give everyone an equal shot would seem to be in order.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary
 
25015  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology on: February 22, 2008, 06:41:34 PM
Unleashing the 'Exaflood'
By BRET SWANSON and GEORGE GILDER
February 22, 2008; Page A15

Two decades ago, Sun Microsystems prophesied: "The network is the computer." Today, BitTorrent video and 3D graphics flood the Internet, Apple iPhones tap the Net's computing power, and PC-king Microsoft pursues Net-centric Yahoo. Sun's mantra has become reality.

But as the Internet booms and moves to the center of the global economic sphere, it draws proportional attention from politicians and regulators. In Congress and at the FCC, legislators and lawyers think they can manage overflowing Net traffic and commerce better than the network companies themselves. Next week, the FCC is meeting en banc at Harvard Law School to consider two petitions that seek to ban network "traffic management." The meeting's host, Rep. Ed Markey, has renewed his pursuit of a far-reaching Internet regulatory regime known as "net neutrality."

These regulatory efforts overlook a fundamental shift: An upsurge of technological change and a rising tide of new forms of data are deeply transforming the Internet's capabilities and uses.

The first phase of the Net was the original Arpanet research project that connected a few, and then a few thousand, scientists. The second phase brought the Internet to the masses, with the advent of the World Wide Web, the graphical browser and email in the mid-1990s. Internet traffic boomed 100-fold between 1994 and 1996. In the third phase of Net evolution, network architecture and commercial business plans reflect the dominance of rich video and interactive media traffic.

The third wave is now swelling into an exaflood, or torrent, of Internet and Internet Protocol (IP) traffic. There's YouTube, IPTV, high-definition images and "cloud computing" -- in which individuals and businesses use the centralized computing resources of Google and IBM data centers, instead of the local computing resources of their own PCs or office systems. Not to mention the ubiquitous mobile camera.

To give you an idea of the scope, an exabyte (a one-quintillion byte unit of information or computer storage) is 50,000 times larger than a digitized Library of Congress. By the end of 2006, annual U.S. Internet traffic was around 10 exabytes.

As new fiber-optic wireline and 3G wireless networks from AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox and Cogent bring us real broadband for the first time, the nature and volume of Net traffic is changing dramatically. By mid-2007, Microsoft Video Calling was generating as many bytes as the entire Internet in 1997.

Cisco's newest video-conferencing system requires 15 megabits per second in each direction. A one-hour conference call could thus produce 13.5 gigabytes, which is more than a high-definition movie. Just 75 of these Cisco conference calls would equal the entire Internet traffic of the year 1990.

Netflix, which is gradually moving from the post office to the Net, last year shipped 1.8 million DVDs every day. If converted to high definition, Netflix would have mailed 5.8 exabytes of motion pictures, or almost half the size of the entire U.S. Internet of 2007.

Building on rapid advances in Nvidia and ATI graphics processors, one 3D multiplayer game (such as Second Life or World of Warcraft) with one million users could generate more than an exabyte per year of network traffic, or almost a tenth of last year's U.S. Internet volume.

In a new Discovery Institute report, we estimate that, by 2015, U.S. IP traffic will reach an annual total of 1,000 exabytes, or one million million billion bytes. The U.S. Internet will thus be 50 times larger by 2015, equal to 50 million Libraries of Congress. This will require some $100 billion in new Internet infrastructure in the U.S. over the next five years.

We need a dramatic expansion in raw capacity, or bandwidth, and also fine-grained traffic management capabilities to ensure robust service for increasingly demanding consumers. But none of this can happen if we regulate complex network traffic engineering and experimental business plans.

All networks use some form of traffic management, whether crude or complex. As our colleague Ken Ferree notes, every industry, from grocery store "express lines" to "singles" ski-lift lines, attempts to shape and manage demand. Today's communications networks buffer, label, parse, schedule, prioritize, route, switch, modify, replicate, police and meter the bits flowing through their links and nodes. New pricing schemes that charge per byte consumed might also help to manage supply and demand on the Internet.

The petitions under consideration at the FCC and in the Markey net neutrality bill would set an entirely new course for U.S. broadband policy, marking every network bit and byte for inspection, regulation and possible litigation. Every price, partnership, advertisement and experimental business plan on the Net would have to look to Washington for permission. Many would be banned. Wall Street will not deploy the needed $100 billion in risk capital if Mr. Markey, digital traffic cop, insists on policing every intersection of the Internet.

Capacious, big-bandwidth networks will transcend many of today's specific complaints. As raw capacity expands, more and more applications and users can peacefully coexist. But inevitably, sophisticated network users with innovative applications will find creative ways to push the boundaries of capacity on certain network links, and some bits will be shuffled and queued.

The network is now a global computer made up of hardware, software and human minds. But this new, fast-changing and highly organic computer is no more easily regulated than were the circuits, storage, memory and protocols of a mainframe or PC. Leaving it to Washington agencies and committees to engineer the exaflood would be an act of unimaginable folly.

Mr. Swanson is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Global Innovation at The Progress & Freedom Foundation. Mr. Gilder is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.

25016  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama's Cash Games on: February 22, 2008, 06:36:38 PM
Obama's Cash Games
February 22, 2008; Page A14
Too soft to withstand a Republican assault. Too vague to know how he'd govern. Those two big raps on Barack Obama can now be shelved. The Illinois senator this week provided his first, highly illuminating, example of how he'd operate in the Oval Office. It's clear he's as crafty as Hillary Clinton.

This case study has to do with that great love of good-government types, campaign finance. Last year, Mr. Obama sparked his campaign by pressuring Republicans to join him in a pledge to use only public money in a general election. Last week, when rival and fellow pledge-taker John McCain reminded him of that promise, Mr. Obama refused to go "locking" himself into an agreement.

 
This "No, We Can't" moment is supposedly a function of the Obama campaign's belief that it can massively out-raise Mr. McCain, and wants no public financing limits. The more cynical (and likelier) case is that Mr. Obama is using this in hopes of handicapping Mr. McCain in the upcoming months -- well before the general election begins.

Whatever the motive, this is a telling first example of the actual cash value of Mr. Obama's soaring words. From the start, Mr. Obama's promises to reform government, to make campaign finance more transparent, to weed out "moneyed special interests" have been integral to Obamamania.

This is no mere side issue, but the stuff on which the senator lifts crowds. "Now I know some will say we can't make this change," he thundered in one "transparency" talk on lobbyists. "That the culture of corrosive influence in politics is too sprawling to spotlight . . . That's not how I see it . . . Making government accountable to the people isn't just a cause of this campaign -- it's been a cause of my life for two decades."

Consider, too, that this is one of the few instances in which Mr. Obama did more than talk. His campaign won rave reviews when it last year forwarded a proposal to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to allow candidates to defensively raise money for a general election, but give it back if both sides agreed to public money. Mr. Obama then committed to taking public funds if his competitor did. This was a key moment in the Obama rise, a supposed example of his "fresh thinking."

Where is that "fresh thinking" now? Mr. Obama made his pledge when his campaign and fund-raising prospects were unknown. Today, the charismatic candidate is inching closer to the nomination. He is said to be collecting money at a clip of a million dollars a day. Liberal bloggers are pressuring him to keep this advantage. And Mr. Obama, with nary a whiff of remorse for the "cause of his life," has changed gears.

"This should be a warning for anyone caught up in Obama rhetoric," says Todd Harris, a Republican strategist. "When that rhetoric meets political expediency, it's not the rhetoric that wins." What makes this even wilier gamesmanship is that it is far from clear that it's in Mr. Obama's interest to forgo public financing. He instead appears to be using the threat that he is a money powerhouse to contain Mr. McCain now.

Bradley Smith, former head of the FEC and current chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, notes that one reason nominees take public financing in the general election (President Bush and John Kerry did) is that it is a fab financial deal. Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama would each receive about $85 million to spend in the two months between conventions and Nov. 4. That's a whopping $1.4 million a day, and about as much as Mr. Obama spent last year.

Mr. Smith points out that even a red-hot Obama would struggle to best Mr. McCain's $85 million. It takes money to raise money, so he'd need closer to $100 million to realize $85 million. Even under public financing, Mr. McCain can raise about $20 million in private funds, which Mr. Obama would also have to match. And the Democrat would need to do all this while simultaneously staying competitive in a primary fight that could conceivably last through the summer. Do the math and he'd probably need to gin up $200 million over eight months, a near-impossible feat. "What he's probably doing is using this as leverage," says Mr. Smith.

 
How so? The answer may be found in the op-ed Mr. Obama penned this week in USA Today in response to criticism. In it, Mr. Obama said he still wants to "aggressively pursue such an agreement," but dramatically raises the stakes. Any "solidly constructed" agreement, in his mind, would now have to go beyond public dollars, and also "limit fundraising help" from "outside groups" and "address the amounts that Senator McCain . . . will spend for the general election while the Democratic primary contest continues." Hmmm.

Mr. Obama knows Republican 527 groups are scooping up cash and will soon unleash it to Mr. McCain's advantage. He knows Mr. McCain's greatest asset is the next few months, when he'll be able to define himself and his opponents while Democrats slap away at each other. So Mr. Obama is proposing a new ethical challenge to Mr. McCain, one that conveniently hobbles his rival. You can call this savvy, and it might reassure voters who've wondered if Mr. Obama has the fists to tangle with the big boys. But you can't call it high-minded or visionary.

Mr. McCain is pounding Mr. Obama on his pledge, and that's to be expected. But he'll have to tread carefully. Too much focus on the public money question will only remind Republicans he is the goody-two-shoes coauthor of McCain-Feingold. A bigger risk is that Mr. McCain -- who is now being hit on his ethical record -- will fall for this and unilaterally disarm in an effort to burnish his credentials. Doing so won't help him win his base, or an election. (His bigger concern should be sorting out the FEC mess he's created with his November campaign loan.)

The real shame is that voters must suffer through all this. As two believers in complex campaign-finance laws, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama helped create a system that now requires both to engage in games over 527 spending and tax subsidies. If they really believed in better government, they'd call for a system in which donors can give what they want, so long as it is transparent. That's called having faith in your citizens, and it would be change we could believe in.
WSJ
25017  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action on: February 22, 2008, 11:50:12 AM
Profiles of valor: USAF Tech. Sgt. Sudlow
United States Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Sudlow of Pandora, Ohio, toured in Iraq leading the 424th Medium Truck Detachment on supply convoys that logged more than 434,000 miles on some of the world’s most dangerous roads. The cargo in Sudlow’s convoys allowed Coalition forces to maintain their operational tempo and complete their respective missions. Despite the constant threat of IEDs and car bombs, Sudlow and Detachment 424 escorted 4,680 tractor-trailers and protected 2,300 foreign-national drivers. By taking the initiative to upgrade the convoy vehicles under his command with “Go-Lights” and sirens, Sudlow substantially increased the safety of his men and their chances of success. Sudlow also helped capture a group of thieves who had stolen military and civilian equipment from his convoy. For his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the military’s fourth-highest combat award.
25018  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ PD on: February 22, 2008, 11:14:48 AM
The Spirit of Mary Mapes Lives On

Expect the John McCain campaign to attack the "liberal media" as part of its strategy to overcome the innuendo-rich New York Times story alleging that the Arizona Senator had questionable ties with a telecom lobbyist.

The Times has had the story since last December when the Drudge Report published a bare-bones outline of the paper's investigation. After top-flight Washington lawyer Robert Bennett was wheeled in by Team McCain and the Senator hotly denied the report's thesis to New York Times Editor Bill Keller, the story disappeared. So why has it returned now just as Mr. McCain has wrapped up the GOP nomination?

The New Republic confirms that it was set to run a major story by reporter Gabe Sherman on how the lobbyist story was handled by the Times newsroom. McCain aide Charlie Black says it looks as if the paper decided it would rather hobble the thinly-sourced story out now rather than be subjected to criticism from media peers for "covering" it up.

Even so, you can expect some of that criticism to persist. The New Republic's Noam Scheiber writes on the magazine's blog: "The [New York Times] story reads to me like it had originally been much more ambitious, but had its guts ripped out somewhere along the way. The obvious question is whether those guts will ever trickle out now that this story has surfaced."

You can expect a lot of reporters to begin their own digging into the relationship between Mr. McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Assuming no major revelations emerge, the McCain campaign should be able to weather the controversy given the hostility the Republican base feels towards the New York Times. I just wouldn't count on a lot of warmth in relations between the Times and the McCain forces in the months ahead. Indeed, the McCain campaign is promising to "go to war" with the Times in its efforts to knock down the story.

-- John Fund

Luckabee

Has Mike Huckabee been delaying his pull-out from the presidential race in order to see if something untoward happens to John McCain, such as today's New York Times story linking the Arizona senator to a female lobbyist?

At a recent breakfast with Washington reporters, Mr. Huckabee admitted that, absent a "stumble," his rival would get the GOP nomination. Perhaps the New York Times story was the "stumble" Mr. Huckabee was waiting for. If so, unless more damning revelations are on their way, the vague innuendo of the Times piece seems insufficient to improve the former Arkansas governor's chances.

But the Times story is likely to embolden Mr. Huckabee to stay in the race at least through Texas. Exit polls in Wisconsin this week found that 42% of GOP voters didn't think Mr. McCain's positions were "conservative enough." If that's the case in Wisconsin, what about deeply-red Texas? Huckabee aides believe their candidate still has an outside chance of upsetting Mr. McCain, so it looks as if Mike Huckabee will be bedeviling the frontrunner at least until Texas votes on March 4.

-- John Fund

Campaign Finance Fallout

For a textbook case on the problems with campaign finance regulation, look no further than this morning's New York Times. The Grey Lady suggests Republican Presidential frontrunner John McCain had an improper relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, although the story doesn't offer much in the way of evidence. For good measure, the paper also dredges up Mr. McCain's role in the decades-old Keating Five scandal to tarnish his more recent squeaky-clean reputation as a scourge of "special interests" and cleanser of money from politics.

Here's the irony: Lobbyists and other moneyed interests have been pouring enough cash into Mr. McCain's campaign that he can effectively answer the attacks. Given the strict fund-raising law that he coauthored, that might not have been possible had the Times story landed last summer when his campaign was out of favor with large numbers of donors.

Mr. McCain raised $11.7 million in January, largely from individual contributors -- money that he can spend on TV spots, radio ads and direct mailings and to pay campaign professionals to work the press and counter the Times allegations. Having money to spend is tantamount to having a chance to be heard amidst the booming media echo chamber. Notice that though the Times itself mentions Mr. McCain's denial of romantic involvement with Ms. Iseman in the fourth paragraph, it doesn't bother to quote a response from Team McCain until the 49th paragraph.

Mr. McCain is lucky he's the front-runner and has a wide funding-raising base. Under the onerous restrictions of McCain-Feingold, which would have prohibited him from raising large sums quickly from a handful of dedicated supporters, another candidate would have a hard time being heard over the media din. Indeed, if the Times had held back its story until Nov. 1, 2008, even a well-financed frontrunner would have been limited in his ability to respond -- because the law tightly restricts advertising just before an election.

-- Joseph Sternberg

Tsunama

Calling Sen. Barack Obama's 10 victories since February 5 a "winning streak" severely understates what has taken place since Super Duper Tuesday.

Mr. Obama has not only defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton; he has crushed her. Not including the Virgin Islands, for which exact results are not yet available, Obama has won eight states and Washington, D.C., by an average of 32 percentage points.

Mr. Obama's 17-point win Tuesday in Wisconsin was his smallest margin of victory among the nine elections. He carried Hawaii and the District of Columbia by more than 50 points, and Virginia by a surprisingly large 29 points. He won Nebraska by 36 points and Washington State by 37 points, carrying every one of Washington's 39 counties. This monumental stomping over the past two weeks has given Mr. Obama a lead of about 160 pledged delegates, according to the latest RealClearPolitics count.

Conventional wisdom -- and polls -- suggest this run of lopsided victories will not continue through the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio, where Mrs. Clinton's support among Latinos and labor unions, respectively, presumably allows her a strong shot at winning both states. However, Mrs. Clinton's lead has begun to slip in recent days, with Mr. Obama pulling even in the two most recent Texas polls. Get ready to throw conventional wisdom out the window one more time this year: The gravitational force of Obamamania might pull even Texas and Ohio out of Hillary's orbit in the next two weeks.

-- Kyle Trygstad, RealClearPolitics.com

Oh Brother

Fidel Castro always has been notorious for giving his little brother Raúl the dirty work. Some things never change.

With Fidel's announcement that he will not accept the role of "president" for another term when the national assembly meets on Sunday, Raúl inherits the power just as things appear to be coming unglued. One such warning came from a group of university students several weeks ago.

Attending university in Cuba has always implied a willingness to support, or at least passively accept, the Castro dictatorship. Fail to conform and there is no chance of higher education. That's why students and student leaders have typically tended to be patsies for the regime. Yet when Ricardo Alarcón, speaker of the Cuban national assembly and a Fidel loyalist, went to the Computer Sciences University in January, he was met by a group of students who publicly challenged government policies. In comments that were captured on video tape, they criticized the Cuban electoral system, the pricing of many consumer goods in scarce U.S. dollars, restrictions on travel abroad, lack of Internet access and the prohibition against Cubans staying at resort hotels in their own country.

Shockwaves reverberated throughout the island. Not long after, the mother of one of the students reported that her son had been detained by state security. He later appeared on national television to deny that he had come under any pressure from the regime. He added that any critical comments made by the students were merely suggestions for "improving socialism."

The Cuban people, of course, know better, but more and more are willing to speak such heresies, which is perhaps something Fidel took into account when he decided to step down. It's too early to call it a burgeoning free-speech movement, but sooner than he thinks, Raúl may face an unappetizing choice: Ratchet up repression to preserve the now-questioned Castro dictatorship or tolerate more open dissent in hope of some kind of honeymoon with the U.S. and other Western nations.

-- Mary Anastasia O'Grady



25019  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The English Language on: February 22, 2008, 11:04:05 AM
David Gordon kindly reminds me of this:

http://eutrapelia.blogspot.com:80/2005/09/pause-celebre.html
25020  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma on: February 22, 2008, 10:45:34 AM
Foraging for Taliban AKs?!?  WTF?!?

http://fallbackbelmont.blogspot.com/2008/02/democratic-debate.html
25021  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history on: February 22, 2008, 08:53:22 AM
His and Her Finances
February 22, 2008; Page A14
Stonewalling and secrecy helped Bill and Hillary Clinton win the White House without a thorough enough vetting in 1992. Now they're trying to do it again, this time by not disclosing either their income tax returns or the donor list for the Clinton Foundation.

All of this has become the target of greater attention since Mrs. Clinton loaned her struggling campaign $5 million last month. She waited until after the crucial Super Tuesday voting to disclose this news, and initially described the loan as "my money." Campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson then clarified that the cash had come from Mrs. Clinton's 50% "share" of the couple's joint resources.

 
Is America a great country or what? Only seven years ago the Clintons were swimming in legal bills. They've since cashed in on their celebrity to pay off a $2 million mortgage on their Washington D.C. home, and are now able to lend $5 million to Mrs. Clinton's campaign. The Senator has had her own success, earning more than $5 million for her "Living History" memoir. But the real income source has been the former President, who has been giving $450,000 speeches, and in general parlaying his political fame into personal riches.

Mr. Clinton is now trying to unwind a business relationship with billionaire pal Ron Burkle. This deal made him a partner -- along with the ruler of Dubai -- in the Yucaipa Global Fund. How much did Mr. Clinton earn from a partnership with men whose business interests might be affected by the policy actions of a President Hillary Clinton? The Clintons and their accountant know, but the public doesn't.

 
Mr. Clinton has also been raising cash for the Clinton Foundation, which funds his charitable activities and Presidential library. The foundation has raised more than $500 million, but Mr. Clinton has refused to release a donor list.

What we do know is that Mr. Clinton has allowed donors to use his influence to advance their business interests. That was the case with Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining financier, who won a huge mining concession in Kazakhstan after Mr. Clinton flew all the way to Almaty to introduce him to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Bloomberg reported this week that Mr. Clinton has also been a frequent flyer on Mr. Giustra's corporate jet.

Mr. Giustra later donated $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation and has pledged $100 million more. As the New York Times has reported, Mr. Clinton used his trip to praise Mr. Nazarbayev's bid to head the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, even as Senator Clinton was slamming the country's record on corruption and elections. If Mr. Clinton's personal business is going to affect U.S. foreign policy, he ought to tell the world who his benefactors are.

We've seen this nondisclosure before. During the 1992 campaign, the Clintons claimed to be coming clean by releasing their tax returns from 1980 forward. But they steadfastly refused to release their returns for prior years, and only later did we learn that 1978 and 1979 were the tax years when Mrs. Clinton reported her 10,000% cattle-futures trading profit. Remember Red Bone and Jim Blair, and how she claimed she had made the investment on her own after reading the Wall Street Journal? For that matter, remember the other characters who provided cash for the Clintons in return for nights in the Lincoln Bedroom, among other things?

Senator Clinton has said she'll make her tax returns public only if she wins the Democratic nomination. Mr. Clinton has said he'll disclose his future donors only if she is President. Once again they're trying to block disclosure until it's too late to inform the judgment of voters.

Mr. Obama has released his tax returns and has suggested Mrs. Clinton do the same because "the American people deserve to know where you get your income from." If the Clintons continue to keep his and her finances under wraps, the public would be wise, given their history, to assume they have something to hide.

WSJ
25022  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The English Language on: February 22, 2008, 08:45:30 AM
Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location
 Cary Conover for The New York Times
Neil Neches, on a No. 5 train, underneath the placard that has earned him plaudits for his proper use of the semicolon.
 
By SAM ROBERTS
Published: February 18, 2008
Correction Appended

It was nearly hidden on a New York City Transit public service placard exhorting subway riders not to leave their newspaper behind when they get off the train.

“Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.”

Semicolon sightings in the city are unusual, period, much less in exhortations drafted by committees of civil servants. In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism.

Americans, in particular, prefer shorter sentences without, as style books advise, that distinct division between statements that are closely related but require a separation more prolonged than a conjunction and more emphatic than a comma.

“When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life,” Kurt Vonnegut once said. “Old age is more like a semicolon.”

In terms of punctuation, semicolons signal something New Yorkers rarely do. Frank McCourt, the writer and former English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, describes the semicolon as the yellow traffic light of a “New York sentence.” In response, most New Yorkers accelerate; they don’t pause to contemplate.

Semicolons are supposed to be introduced into the curriculum of the New York City public schools in the third grade. That is where Mr. Neches, the 55-year-old New York City Transit marketing manager, learned them, before graduating from Tilden High School and Brooklyn College, where he majored in English and later received a master’s degree in creative writing.

But, whatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how.

In fact, when Mr. Neches was informed by a supervisor that a reporter was inquiring about who was responsible for the semicolon, he was concerned.

“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said.

One of the school system’s most notorious graduates, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer who taunted police and the press with rambling handwritten notes, was, as the columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote, the only murderer he ever encountered who could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver. (Mr. Berkowitz, by the way, is now serving an even longer sentence.)

But the rules of grammar are routinely violated on both sides of the law.

People have lost fortunes and even been put to death because of imprecise punctuation involving semicolons in legal papers. In 2004, a court in San Francisco rejected a conservative group’s challenge to a statute allowing gay marriage because the operative phrases were separated incorrectly by a semicolon instead of by the proper conjunction.

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker, pronounced the subway poster’s use of the semicolon to be “impeccable.”

Lynne Truss, author of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” called it a “lovely example” of proper punctuation.

Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, praised the “burgeoning of punctuational literacy in unlikely places.”

Allan M. Siegal, a longtime arbiter of New York Times style before retiring, opined, “The semicolon is correct, though I’d have used a colon, which I think would be a bit more sophisticated in that sentence.”

The linguist Noam Chomsky sniffed, “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”

New York City Transit’s unintended agenda notwithstanding, e-mail messages and text-messaging may jeopardize the last vestiges of semicolons. They still live on, though, in emoticons, those graphic emblems of our grins, grimaces and other facial expressions.

The semicolon, befittingly, symbolizes a wink.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 19, 2008
An article in some editions on Monday about a New York City Transit employee’s deft use of the semicolon in a public service placard was less deft in its punctuation of the title of a book by Lynne Truss, who called the placard a “lovely example” of proper punctuation. The title of the book is “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” — not “Eats Shoots & Leaves.” (The subtitle of Ms. Truss’s book is “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.”)

25023  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYTimes: Clinton donors PO'd on: February 22, 2008, 08:28:06 AM
Nearly $100,000 went for party platters and groceries before the Iowa caucuses, even though the partying mood evaporated quickly. Rooms at the Bellagio luxury hotel in Las Vegas consumed more than $25,000; the Four Seasons, another $5,000. And top consultants collected about $5 million in January, a month of crucial expenses and tough fund-raising.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s latest campaign finance report, published Wednesday night, appeared even to her most stalwart supporters and donors to be a road map of her political and management failings. Several of them, echoing political analysts, expressed concerns that Mrs. Clinton’s spending priorities amounted to costly errors in judgment that have hamstrung her competitiveness against Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

“We didn’t raise all of this money to keep paying consultants who have pursued basically the wrong strategy for a year now,” said a prominent New York donor. “So much about her campaign needs to change — but it may be too late.”

The high-priced senior consultants to Mrs. Clinton, of New York, have emerged as particular targets of complaints, given that they conceived and executed a political strategy that has thus far proved unsuccessful.

The firm that includes Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, and his team collected $3.8 million for fees and expenses in January; in total, including what the campaign still owes, the firm has billed more than $10 million for consulting, direct mail and other services, an amount other Democratic strategists who are not affiliated with either campaign called stunning.

Howard Wolfson, the communications director and a senior member of the advertising team, earned nearly $267,000 in January. His total, including the campaign’s debt to him, tops $730,000.

The advertising firm owned by Mandy Grunwald, the longtime media strategist for both Mrs. Clinton and Bill Clinton, the former president, has collected $2.3 million in fees and expenses, and is still owed another $240,000.

“Fees and payments are in line with industry standards,” Mr. Wolfson said. “Spending priorities have been consistent with overall strategic goals.”

But some Democrats are now asking if the money spent on a campaign that appears to be sputtering — $106 million so far — was worth it.

“It’s easy to be critical, but had she won Iowa, none of this would have mattered. It wouldn’t have mattered what she spent because money would have come pouring in,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant and a veteran of Mr. Clinton’s successful 1996 re-election bid. “But the fact that she did not has made everyone focus on where the dollars went — and where they think the money should’ve gone.”

Mrs. Clinton came into January with a cash advantage over Mr. Obama, with about $19 million available for the primary, compared with about $13 million for him. She wound up spending at roughly the same rate as Mr. Obama, about a million dollars a day, but because she performed dismally compared to him in raising money, she ended the month essentially in the red and was forced to lend her campaign $5 million, while he had $19 million for the coming contests.

Over all, Mrs. Clinton has spent more than $35 million on media, polling and consulting. A comparison with Mr. Obama’s spending is difficult because of the ways the campaigns labeled expenses, but it appears he spent about $40 million in those areas.

In other notable expenditures during the lean month of January, Mrs. Clinton paid $275,000 to Sunrise Communications, a South Carolina firm that was supposed to turn out black voters for her and collected nearly $800,000 in total. She lost that state to Mr. Obama by a wide margin. Even small expenses piled up in January: the campaign spent more than $11,000 on pizza and $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts runs.

Mr. Penn, the chief strategist, said in an interview that, since 2001, he no longer owned any of the political consulting firm of Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. He said the firm’s fees were capped at $20,000 a month and that the “great bulk” of the payments went for direct mail.

Joe Trippi, who was a senior adviser to John Edwards’s presidential campaign, said he believed that the Clinton team had made two fundamental errors.

First, he argued, Mrs. Clinton built a top-down fund-raising operation that relied on a core group of donors to write checks early on for the maximum amount, $4,600 for the primary and the general election, which left few of them to go back to when money became tight. Mr. Obama, by contrast, focused on building a network of small donors whose continued ability to give has been essential to his success this winter.

========================

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And second, Mr. Trippi said, the Clinton campaign spent money as though the race were going to be over after a handful of states had voted and was not prepared for a contest that would stretch for months.

“The problem is she ran a campaign like they were staying at the Ritz-Carlton,” Mr. Trippi said. “Everything was the best. The most expensive draping at events. The biggest charter. It was like, ‘We’re going to show you how presidential we are by making our events look presidential.’ ”

For instance, during the week before the Jan. 19 caucuses in Nevada, the Clinton campaign spent more than $25,000 for rooms at the Bellagio in Las Vegas; nearly $5,000 was spent at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas that week. Some staff members also stayed at Planet Hollywood nearby.

From the start of the campaign, some donors had concerns about the Clinton team’s ability to manage money.

Patti Solis Doyle, Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign manager until she was replaced on Feb. 10, also ran her Senate re-election bid in 2006. That campaign spent about $30 million even though Mrs. Clinton faced only token Democratic and Republican opposition.

“The Senate race spending in 2006 was an omen for a lot of us inside the campaign, but Hillary assured us that her presidential bid would be the best run in history,” said one major Clinton fund-raiser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations within the campaign.

Yet the Clinton campaign at times found itself spending money on items that were not ultimately helpful. As part of their get-out-the-vote effort in Iowa, the campaign came up with a plan to have a local supermarket deliver sandwich platters to pre-caucus parties. It spent more than $95,384 on Jan. 1 at Hy-Vee Inc., a local grocery chain in West Des Moines, Iowa, in addition to buying loads of snow shovels to clear the walks for caucusgoers. Mrs. Clinton came in third in the Jan. 3 caucus. It did not snow.

Mr. Obama’s fund-raising surged after his Iowa victory. In January, he brought in more than $2.50 for every $1 she was given, and from Jan. 5 to Feb. 5, Mr. Obama spent nearly $16 million on political advertisements — more than $4 million more than Mrs. Clinton, according to a survey by the Campaign Media Analysis Group at TNS Media Intelligence. Mr. Obama broadcast 3,000 more advertisements than she did, and he was able to air those ads not only in the states that were immediately up for grabs but also in contests on Feb. 5 and beyond.

For instance, Mr. Obama spent nearly $480,000 on 1,331 spots in Missouri; he won the state’s primary, a closely fought contest and a national political bellwether, by one percentage point.

Mr. Obama’s campaign is not without highly paid consultants. His top media strategist is David Axelrod, whose firm received $175,000 in January and has collected $1.2 million over all. Mr. Obama’s polling is spread between four firms that have received $2.8 million collectively.

“Obviously, some campaigns are more careful and wise with their money than others,” Jim Jordan, a Democratic consultant who ran John Kerry’s presidential campaign until November 2003. “But these budgetary post-mortems tend to follow a familiar pattern; winners are by definition smart, and losers are dumb and wasteful. In truth, campaign budgeting is hard and complicated and three-dimensional and just impossible to understand without the full time-and-place context of the whole race.”

25024  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson on Washington on: February 22, 2008, 08:14:25 AM
"His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one
would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble."

-- Thomas Jefferson (on George Washington in a letter to Dr. Walter
Jones, 2 January 1814)

Reference: Jefferson: Writings, Peterson ed., Library of America
(1319)
25025  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: FDA vs. medical freedom on: February 21, 2008, 08:26:39 AM
A Moral Test for the FDA
February 21, 2008; Page A16
WSJ
Some 40,000 women died from breast cancer in 2007. Almost unbelievably, the federal government may block one of the disease's more promising therapies for no other reason than the Food and Drug Administration's obsolete, even antimodern, regulations and approval models. Since the lives of terminally ill patients are in the balance, this is fundamentally a moral test -- and one, true to type, that the FDA may well flunk.

At issue is the biologic medicine Avastin, which interferes with the growth and spread of tumors through the body by choking off their blood supply. Manufactured by Genentech, Avastin was approved for colorectal cancer in 2004 and lung cancer in 2006, and it's been shown effective for treating recurrent or metastatic breast cancer. But in December, the FDA's Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 5-4 against approval. The FDA is not bound by such decisions but usually follows them, and a final ruling is expected by Saturday.

A denial in this case would not only be unscientific but unethical. It's not as though the panel or the larger FDA bureaucracy don't recognize or acknowledge Avastin's real benefits. Rather, the FDA's lords of medicine may conclude that those benefits don't matter. And they don't matter, as the panel argued, because they don't fall into the categories that the FDA generally uses to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a drug.

In clinical trials, Avastin demonstrated the longest reported "progression-free survival" for patients with advanced breast cancer. That means they live longer before their disease spreads or worsens. An initial study submitted to the FDA showed that Avastin in combination with Taxol (another cancer therapy) delayed the growth of tumors by about 11 months -- some five and half months longer than Taxol alone. Additionally, more than twice as many patients experienced significant tumor shrinkage.

In February, Genentech also released the preliminary findings of a more rigorous follow-up study, including the FDA's "gold standard" of randomized and placebo-controlled clinical trials. It again confirmed that Avastin improves progression-free survival, though the full results have not yet been made public.

In other words, dying patients live nearly twice as long on average before their disease gets worse, and maybe longer. It translates into an improvement in quality of life by delaying the onset of symptoms. But only in a few isolated contemporary cases has the FDA deemed progression-free survival as a relevant "end point" for approval. There's no reason besides the FDA's complacency and archaic procedures; a recent review by the agency's own Science Board concluded that "evaluation methods have remained largely unchanged over the last half-century."

Extending life is the FDA's acid test for any anticancer agent, but studies designed to prove it take years and thousands of patients to get large average effects. In the Avastin study, women lived slightly longer, a median of 26.5 months compared with 24.8 with Taxol alone. But those results weren't proved statistically significant to FDA satisfaction. Advanced therapies, however, often prove more effective among targeted populations and in some patients over others. Perhaps that's why, as the Journal's Marilyn Chase reported yesterday, even two members of the oncology panel may recant their nay votes.

At the very least, approval criteria should be broadened beyond crude mortality rates. Between the 1950s and early 1980s, when the treatments for cancer were far more limited, the FDA considered the response of tumors to treatment adequate to make judgments. Some of the most important chemotherapy drugs for cancer and autoimmune diseases gained approval during that period -- cyclophosphamide, tamoxifen and others. Many are still used today, including to treat breast cancer. But it took years, sometimes decades, to learn how to use and dose them effectively once they were on the market.

No doubt thousands of lives were saved or improved by such trial and error, which is another name for medical progress. That's precisely what the FDA's bureaucratic culture, led by oncology drug chief Richard Padzur, is now obstructing. Another major culprit is political pressure from Congress, where Members know they can always get headlines by calling for a crackdown on Big Pharma or exploiting public safety anxieties. Never mind patient interest.

* * *
Patients with limited options shouldn't be denied drugs that may improve what life they have left, even if it doesn't extend life in the end. Thousands of breast-cancer sufferers, on the advice of their oncologists, are currently taking Avastin "off label," and an adverse FDA decision this week will make it far more difficult for them to do so. It would also be the latest moral indictment of everything that's wrong with the FDA.

25026  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / thomas Paine on: February 21, 2008, 08:24:10 AM
"Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in
its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an
intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same
miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country
without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that
we furnish the means by which we suffer."

-- Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776)

Reference: Thomas Paine: Collected Writings , Foner ed., Library
of America (6)
25027  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-Africa on: February 21, 2008, 08:08:29 AM
This from the WSJ could just as easily have gone in the Media Matters thread:

Geldof Praises Bush
February 20, 2008
President Bush is visiting Africa, and the Washington Times's Fishwrap blog reports he is being joined by Bob Geldof, "an Irish rock and roll singer and longtime social activist who has helped, along with U2 rocker Bono, raise awareness about need in Africa":

Mr. Geldof has remained closely engaged with African affairs since then, and he spoke off the cuff to reporters today who were waiting for a press conference with Mr. Bush and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement.
Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, "has done more than any other president so far."
"This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion."
"What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said.
Mr. Geldof said that the president has failed "to articulate this to Americans" but said he is also "pissed off" at the press for their failure to report on this good news story.
"You guys didn't pay attention," Geldof said to a group of reporters from all the major newspapers.
Apparently they still aren't paying attention. Apart from the Times, the only press reference we could find to Geldof's comments was an editorial in the conservative Investor's Business Daily.

For the past 2½ years or so, we've been hearing endlessly that Americans hate President Bush, that even those who don't hate him disapprove of him, that even those who don't disapprove of him are tired of him, and that his presidency is an unqualified failure. Now comes a surprising dissent from that view, and hardly anyone pays attention. It's a man-bites-dog story, but the press corps looks more like a herd of sheep.
25028  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Muslims Students debate inclusion on: February 21, 2008, 08:00:01 AM
This is exactly the sort of subject where the NYT can be at its most disingenuous, but we search for Truth, so caveat lector.
======================

SAN JOSE — Amir Mertaban vividly recalls sitting at his university’s recruitment table for the Muslim Students Association a few years ago when an attractive undergraduate flounced up in a decidedly un-Islamic miniskirt, saying “Salamu aleykum,” or “Peace be upon you,” a standard Arabic greeting, and asked to sign up.

Amir Mertaban has pointed out that hypocrisy can factor into some conservative responses by association members.
Mr. Mertaban also recalls that his fellow recruiter surveyed the young woman with disdain, arguing later that she should not be admitted because her skirt clearly signaled that she would corrupt the Islamic values of the other members.

“I knew that brother, I knew him very well; he used to smoke weed on a regular basis,” said Mr. Mertaban, now 25, who was president of the Muslim student group at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, from 2003 to 2005.

Pointing out the hypocrisy, Mr. Mertaban won the argument that the group could no longer reject potential members based on rigid standards of Islamic practice.

The intense debate over whether organizations for Muslim students should be inclusive or strict is playing out on college campuses across the United States, where there are now more than 200 Muslim Students Association chapters.

Gender issues, specifically the extent to which men and women should mingle, are the most fraught topic as Muslim students wrestle with the yawning gap between American college traditions and those of Islam.

“There is this constant tension between becoming a mainstream student organization versus appealing to students who have a more conservative or stricter interpretation of Islam,” said Hadia Mubarak, the first woman to serve as president of the national association, from 2004 to 2005.

Each chapter enjoys relative autonomy in setting its rules. Broadly, those at private colleges tend to be more liberal because they draw from a more geographically dispersed population, and the smaller numbers prompt Muslim students to play down their differences.

Chapters at state colleges, on the other hand, often pull from the community, attracting students from conservative families who do not want their children too far afield.

At Yale, for example, Sunnis and Shiites mix easily and male and female students shocked parents in the audience by kissing during the annual awards ceremony. Contrast that with the University of California, Irvine, which has the reputation for being the most conservative chapter in the country, its president saying that to an outsider its ranks of bearded young men and veiled women might come across as “way Muslim” or even extremist.

But arguments erupt virtually everywhere. At the University of California, Davis, last year, in their effort to make the Muslim association more “cool,” board members organized a large alcohol-free barbecue. Men and women ate separately, but mingled in a mock jail for a charity drive.

The next day the chapter president, Khalida Fazel, said she fielded complaints that unmarried men and women were physically bumping into one other. Ms. Fazel now calls the event a mistake.

At George Washington University, a dodge ball game pitting men against women after Friday prayers drew such protests from Muslim alumni and a few members that the board felt compelled to seek a religious ruling stating that Islamic traditions accept such an event.

Members acknowledge that the tone of the Muslim associations often drives away students. Several presidents said that if they thought members were being too lax, guest imams would deliver prayer sermons about the evils of alcohol or premarital sex.

Judgment can also come swiftly. Ghayth Adhami, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, recalled how a young student who showed up at a university recruitment meeting in a Budweiser T-shirt faced a few comments about un-Islamic dress. The student never came back.

Some members push against the rigidity. Fatima Hassan, 22, a senior at the Davis campus, organized a coed road trip to Reno, Nev., two hours away, to play the slot machines last Halloween. In Islam, Ms. Hassan concedes, gambling is “really bad,” but it was men and women sharing the same car that shocked some fellow association members.

 


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“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Ms. Hassan said. “I am chill about that whole coed thing. I understand that in a Muslim context we are not supposed to hang out with the opposite sex, but it just happens and there is nothing you can do.”

But as Saif Inam, the vice president of the chapter at George Washington put it, “At the end of the day, I don’t want God asking me, ‘O.K. Saif, why did you organize events in which people could do un-Islamic things in big numbers?’ ”
The debate boils down to whether upholding gender segregation is forcing something artificial and vaguely hypocritical in an American context.

“As American Islam gets its own identity, it is going to have to shed some of these notions that are distant from American culture,” said Rafia Zakaria, a student at Indiana University. “The tension is between what forms of tradition are essential and what forms are open to innovation.”

American law says men and women are equal, whereas Muslim religious texts say they “complement” each other, Ms. Zakaria said. “If the law says they are equal, it’s hard to see how in their spiritual lives they will accept a whole different identity.”

The entire shift of the association from a foreign-run organization to an American one took place over arguments like this.

The Americans won out partly because the number of Muslim American college students hit a critical mass in the late 1990s, and then, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, foreign students, fearful of their visas being revoked, started avoiding a group that was increasingly political.

Some critics view strict interpretation of the faith as part of the association’s DNA. Organized in the 1960s by foreign students who wanted collective prayers where there were no mosques, the associations were basically little slices of Saudi Arabia. Women were banned. Only Muslim men who prayed, fasted and avoided alcohol and dating were welcomed. Meetings, even idle conversations, were in Arabic.

Donations from Saudi Arabia largely financed the group, and its leaders pushed the kingdom’s puritan, Wahhabi strain of Islam. Prof. Hamid Algar of the University of California, Berkeley, said that in the 1960s and 1970s, chapters advocated theological and political positions derived from radical Islamist organizations and would brook no criticism of Saudi Arabia.

That past has given the associations a reputation in some official quarters as a possible font of extremism, but experts in American Islam believe college campuses have become too diverse and are under too much scrutiny for the groups to foster radicals.

Zareena Grewal, a professor of religion and American studies at Yale, pointed to several things that would repel extremists. Members are trying to become more involved in the American political system, Professor Grewal said, and the heavy presence of women in the leadership would also deter them. Members “are not sitting around reading ‘How to Bomb Your Campus for Dummies,’ ” she said.

Its leaders think the organization is gradually relaxing a bit as it seeks to maintain its status as the main player for Muslim students.

“There were drunkards in the Prophet Muhammad’s community; there were fornicators and people who committed adultery in his community, and he didn’t reject them,” Mr. Mertaban said. “I think M.S.A.’s are beginning to understand this point that every person has ups and downs.”
25029  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Free healath care kills in UK on: February 21, 2008, 07:43:05 AM
LONDON — Created 60 years ago as a cornerstone of the British welfare state, the National Health Service is devoted to the principle of free medical care for everyone. But recently it has been wrestling with a problem its founders never anticipated: how to handle patients with complex illnesses who want to pay for parts of their treatment while receiving the rest free from the health service.

Although the government is reluctant to discuss the issue, hopscotching back and forth between private and public care has long been standard here for those who can afford it. But a few recent cases have exposed fundamental contradictions between policy and practice in the system, and tested its founding philosophy to its very limits.

One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.

By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor.

“He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.

“I said, ‘Where does that leave me?’ He said, ‘If you pay for Avastin, you’ll have to pay for everything’ ” — in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.

Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament.

“That way lies the end of the founding principles of the N.H.S.,” Mr. Johnson said.

But Mrs. Hirst, 57, whose cancer was diagnosed in 1999, went to the news media, and so did other patients in similar situations. And it became clear that theirs were not isolated cases.

In fact, patients, doctors and officials across the health care system widely acknowledge that patients suffering from every imaginable complaint regularly pay for some parts of their treatment while receiving the rest free.

“Of course it’s going on in the N.H.S. all the time, but a lot of it is hidden — it’s not explicit,” said Dr. Paul Charlson, a general practitioner in Yorkshire and a member of Doctors for Reform, a group that is highly critical of the health service. Last year, he was a co-author of a paper laying out examples of how patients with the initiative and the money dip in and out of the system, in effect buying upgrades to their basic free medical care.

“People swap from public to private sector all the time, and they’re topping up for virtually everything,” Dr. Charlson said in an interview. For instance, he said, a patient put on a five-month waiting list to see an orthopedic surgeon may pay $250 for a private consultation, and then switch back to the health service for the actual operation from the same doctor.

“Or they’ll buy an M.R.I. scan because the wait is so long, and then take the results back to the N.H.S.,” Dr. Charlson said.

In his paper, he also wrote about a 46-year-old woman with breast cancer who paid $250 for a second opinion when the health service refused to provide her with one; an elderly man who spent thousands of dollars on a new hearing aid instead of enduring a yearlong wait on the health service; and a 29-year-old woman who, with her doctor’s blessing, bought a three-month supply of Tarceva, a drug to treat pancreatic cancer, for more than $6,000 on the Internet because she could not get it through the N.H.S.

Asked why these were different from cases like Mrs. Hirst’s, a spokeswoman for the health service said no officials were available to comment.

In any case, the rules about private co-payments, as they are called, in cancer care are contradictory and hard to understand, said Nigel Edwards, the director of policy for the N.H.S. Confederation, which represents hospitals and other health care providers. “I’ve had conflicting advice from different lawyers,” he said, “but it does seem like a violation of natural justice to say that either you don’t get the drug you want, or you have to pay for all your treatment.”


Page 2 of 2)

Karol Sikora, a professor of cancer medicine at the Imperial College School of Medicine and one of Dr. Charlson’s co-authors, said that co-payments were particularly prevalent in cancer care. Armed with information from the Internet and patients’ networks, cancer patients are increasingly likely to demand, and pay for, cutting-edge drugs that the health service considers too expensive to be cost-effective.

“You have a population that is informed and consumerist about how it behaves about health care information, and an N.H.S. that can no longer afford to pay for everything for everybody,” he said.

Professor Sikora said oncologists were adept at circumventing the system by, for example, referring patients to other doctors who can provide the private medication separately. As wrenching as it can be to administer more sophisticated drugs to some patients than to others, he said, “if you’re a doctor working in the system, you should let your patients have the treatment they want, if they can afford to pay for it.”

In any case, he said, the health service is riddled with inequities. Some drugs are available in some parts of the country but not in others. Waiting lists for treatment vary wildly from place to place. Some regions spend $280 per capita on cancer care, Professor Sikora said, while others spend just $90.

In Mrs. Hirst’s case, the confusion was compounded by the fact that three other patients at her hospital were already doing what she had been forbidden to do — buying extra drugs to supplement their cancer care. The arrangements had “evolved without anyone questioning whether it was right or wrong,” said Laura Mason, a hospital spokeswoman. Because their treatment began before the Health Department explicitly condemned the practice, they have been allowed to continue.

The rules are confusing. “It’s quite a fine line,” Ms. Mason said. “You can’t have a course of N.H.S. and private treatment at the same time on the same appointment — for instance, if a particular drug has to be administered alongside another drug which is N.H.S.-funded.” But, she said, the health service rules seem to allow patients to receive the drugs during separate hospital visits — the N.H.S. drugs during an N.H.S. appointment, the extra drugs during a private appointment.

One of Mrs. Hirst’s troubles came, it seems, because the Avastin she proposed to pay for would have had to be administered at the same time as the drug Taxol, which she was receiving free on the health service. Because of that, she could not schedule separate appointments.

But in a final irony, Mrs. Hirst was told early this month that her cancer had spread and that her condition had deteriorated so much that she could have the Avastin after all — paid for by the health service. In other words, a system that forbade her to buy the medicine earlier was now saying that she was so sick she could have it at public expense.

Mrs. Hirst is pleased, but up to a point. Avastin is not a cure, but a way to extend her life, perhaps only by several months, and she has missed valuable time. “It may be too bloody late,” she said.

“I’m a person who left school at 15 and I’ve worked all my life and I’ve paid into the system, and I’m not going to live long enough to get my old-age pension from this government,” she added.

She also knows that the drug can have grave side effects. “I have campaigned for this drug, and if it goes wrong and kills me, c’est la vie,” she said. But, she said, speaking of the government, “If the drug doesn’t have a fair chance because the cancer has advanced so much, then they should be raked over the coals for it.”
25030  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Communicating with the Muslim World on: February 21, 2008, 07:10:36 AM
Islam at the Ballot Box
By AMIR TAHERI
February 21, 2008; Page A17

Pakistan's election has been portrayed by the Western media as a defeat for President Pervez Musharraf. The real losers were the Islamist parties.

The latest analysis of the results shows that the parties linked, or at least sympathetic, to the Taliban and al Qaeda saw their share of the votes slashed to about 3% from almost 11% in the last general election a few years ago. The largest coalition of the Islamist parties, the United Assembly for Action (MMA), lost control of the Northwest Frontier Province -- the only one of Pakistan's four provinces it governed. The winner in the province is the avowedly secularist National Awami Party.

 
Despite vast sums of money spent by the Islamic Republic in Tehran and wealthy Arabs from the Persian Gulf states, the MMA failed to achieve the "approaching victory" (fatah al-qarib) that Islamist candidates, both Shiite and Sunni, had boasted was coming.

The Islamist defeat in Pakistani confirms a trend that's been under way for years. Conventional wisdom had it that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the lack of progress in the Israel-Palestine conflict, would provide radical Islamists with a springboard from which to seize power through elections.

Analysts in the West used that prospect to argue against the Bush Doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle East. These analysts argued that Muslims were not ready for democracy, and that elections would only translate into victory for hard-line Islamists.

The facts tell a different story. So far, no Islamist party has managed to win a majority of the popular vote in any of the Muslim countries where reasonably clean elections are held. If anything, the Islamist share of the vote has been declining across the board.

Take Jordan. In last November's general election, the Islamic Action Front suffered a rout, as its share of the votes fell to 5% from almost 15% in elections four years ago. The radical fundamentalist group, linked with the Islamic Brotherhood movement, managed to keep only six of its 17 seats in the National Assembly. Its independent allies won no seats.

In Malaysia, the Islamists have never gone beyond 11% of the popular vote. In Indonesia, the various Islamist groups have never collected more than 17%. The Islamists' share of the popular vote in Bangladesh declined from an all-time high of 11% in the 1980s to around 7% in the late 1990s.

In Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas -- the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood -- won the 2006 general election with 44% of the votes, far short of the "crushing wave of support" it had promised. Even then, it was clear that at least some of those who run on a Hamas ticket did not share its radical Islamist ideology. Despite years of misrule and corruption, Fatah, Hamas's secularist rival, won 42% of the popular vote.

In Turkey, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won two successive general elections, the latest in July 2007, with 44% of the popular vote. Even then, AKP leaders go out of their way to insist that the party "has nothing to do with religion."

"We are a modern, conservative, European-style party," AKP leader and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan, likes to repeat at every opportunity. In last July's general election, the AKP lost 23 seats and, with it, its two-third majority in the Grand National Assembly.

AKP's success in Turkey inspired Moroccan Islamists to create a similar outfit called Party of Justice and Development (PDJ). The PDJ sought support from AKP "experts" to prepare for last September's general election in Morocco. Yet when the votes were counted, the PDJ collected just over 10% of the popular vote, winning 46 of the 325 seats.

Islamists have done no better in neighboring Algeria. In the latest general election, held in May 2007, the two Islamist parties, Movement for a Peaceful Society and Algerian Awakening, won less than 12% of the popular vote.

In Yemen, one of the Arab states where the culture of democracy has struck the deepest roots, a series of elections in the past 20 years has shown support for Islamists to stand at around 25% of the popular vote. In the last general election in 2003, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform won 22%.

Kuwait is another Arab country where the holding of reasonably fair elections has become part of the national culture. In the general election in 2006, a well-funded and sophisticated Islamist bloc collected 27% of the votes and won 17 of the 50 seats in the National Assembly.

In Lebanon's last general election in 2005, the two Islamist parties, Hezbollah (Party of God) and Amal (Hope) collected 21% of the popular vote to win 28 of the 128 seats in the parliament. This despite massive financial and propaganda support from the Islamic Republic in Iran, and electoral pacts with a Christian political bloc led by the pro-Tehran former Gen. Michel Aoun.

Many observers do not regard Egypt's elections as free and fair enough to use as a basis for political analysis. Nevertheless, the latest general election, held in 2005, can be regarded as the most serious since the 1940s, if only because the Islamist opposition was allowed to field candidates and campaign publicly. In the event, however, Muslim Brotherhood candidates collected less than 20% of the popular vote, despite widespread dissatisfaction with President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule.

Other Arab countries where elections are not yet up to acceptable standards include Oman and Bahrain. But even in those countries, the Islamists have not done better than anywhere else in the region. In Tunisia and Libya, the Islamists are banned and thus have not put their political strength to the electoral test.

Afghanistan and Iraq have held a series of elections since the fall of the Taliban in Kabul and the Baath in Baghdad. By all standards, these have been generally free and fair elections, and thus valid tests of the public mood. In Afghanistan, Islamist groups, including former members of the Taliban, have managed to win around 11% of the popular vote on the average.

The picture in Iraq is more complicated, because voters have been faced with bloc lists that hide the identity of political parties behind a blanket ethnic and/or sectarian identity. Only the next general election in 2009 could reveal the true strength of the political parties, since it will not be contested based on bloc lists. Frequent opinion polls, however, show that support for avowedly Islamist parties, both Shiite and Sunni, would not exceed 25% of the popular vote.

Far from rejecting democracy because it is supposed to be "alien," or using it as a means of creating totalitarian Islamist systems, a majority of Muslims have repeatedly shown that they like elections, and would love to join the global mainstream of democratization. President Bush is right to emphasize the importance of holding free and fair elections in all Muslim majority countries.

Tyrants fear free and fair elections, a fact illustrated by the Khomeinist regime's efforts to fix the outcome of next month's poll in Iran by pre-selecting the candidates. Support for democratic movements in the Muslim world remains the only credible strategy for winning the war against terror.

Mr. Taheri is author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
25031  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Karl Rove goes after BO on: February 21, 2008, 06:56:26 AM
WSJ

Obama's New Vulnerability
By KARL ROVE
February 21, 2008; Page A17

In campaigns, there are sometimes moments when candidates shift ground, causing the race to change dramatically. Tuesday night was one of those moments.

Hammered for the 10th contest in a row, Hillary Clinton toughened her attacks on Barack Obama, saying he was unready to be commander in chief and unable to back his inspiring words with a record of action and leadership.

 
John McCain also took on Mr. Obama, with the Arizona senator declaring he would oppose "eloquent but empty calls for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people."

Mr. McCain, too, raised questions about Mr. Obama's fitness to be commander in chief. Mr. McCain pointed to Mr. Obama's unnecessary sabre-rattling at an ally (Pakistan) while appeasing our adversaries (Iran and Syria). Mr. McCain also made it clear that reining in spending, which is a McCain strength and an Obama weakness, would be a key issue.

Mr. Obama had not been so effectively criticized before. In the Democratic contest, John Edwards and Mrs. Clinton were unwilling to confront him directly or in a manner that hurt him. Mr. McCain was rightly preoccupied by his own primary. On Tuesday night, things changed.

Perhaps in response to criticisms that have been building in recent days, Mr. Obama pivoted Tuesday from his usual incantations. He dropped the pretense of being a candidate of inspiring but undescribed "post-partisan" change. Until now, Mr. Obama has been making appeals to the center, saying, for example, that we are not red or blue states, but the United States. But in his Houston speech, he used the opportunity of 45 (long) minutes on national TV to advocate a distinctly non-centrist, even proudly left-wing, agenda. By doing so, he opened himself to new and damaging contrasts and lines of criticism.

Mr. McCain can now question Mr. Obama's promise to change Washington by working across party lines. Mr. Obama hasn't worked across party lines since coming to town. Was he a member of the "Gang of 14" that tried to find common ground between the parties on judicial nominations? Was Mr. Obama part of the bipartisan leadership that tackled other thorny issues like energy, immigration or terrorist surveillance legislation? No. Mr. Obama has been one of the most dependably partisan votes in the Senate.

Mrs. Clinton can do much more to draw attention to Mr. Obama's lack of achievements. She can agree with Mr. Obama's statement Tuesday night that change is difficult to achieve on health care, energy, poverty, schools and immigration -- and then question his failure to provide any leadership on these or other major issues since his arrival in the Senate. His failure to act, advocate or lead on what he now claims are his priorities may be her last chance to make a winning argument.

Mr. McCain gets a chance to question Mr. Obama's declaration he won't be beholden to lobbyists and special interests. After Mr. Obama's laundry list of agenda items on Tuesday night, Mr. McCain can ask why, if Mr. Obama rejects the influence of lobbyists, has he not broken with any lobbyists from the left fringe of the Democratic Party? Why is he doing their bidding on a range of issues? Perhaps because he occupies the same liberal territory as they do.

The truth is that Mr. Obama is unwilling to challenge special interests if they represent the financial and political muscle of the Democratic left. He says yes to the lobbyists of the AFL-CIO when they demand card-check legislation to take away the right of workers to have a secret ballot in unionization efforts, or when they oppose trade deals. He won't break with trial lawyers, even when they demand the ability to sue telecom companies that make it possible for intelligence agencies to intercept communications between terrorists abroad. And he is now going out of his way to proclaim fidelity to the educational unions. This is a disappointment since he'd earlier indicated an openness to education reform. Mr. Obama backs their agenda down the line, even calling for an end to testing, which is the only way parents can know with confidence whether their children are learning and their schools working.

These stands represent not just policy vulnerabilities, but also a real danger to Mr. Obama's credibility and authenticity. He cannot proclaim his goal is the end of influence for lobbies if the only influences he seeks to end are lobbies of the center and the right.

Unlike Bill Clinton in 1992, Mr. Obama is completely unwilling to confront the left wing of the Democratic Party, no matter how outrageous its demands, no matter how out of touch it might be with the American people. And Tuesday night, in a key moment in this race, he dropped the pretense that his was a centrist agenda. His agenda is the agenda of the Democratic left.

In recent days, courtesy of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Mr. Obama has invoked the Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Franklin Roosevelt to show the power of words. But there is a critical difference between Mr. Obama's rhetoric and that of Jefferson, King and FDR. In each instance, their words were used to advance large, specific purposes -- establishing a new nation based on inalienable rights; achieving equal rights and a color-blind society; giving people confidence to endure a Great Depression. For Mr. Obama, words are merely a means to hide a left-leaning agenda behind the cloak of centrist rhetoric. That garment has now been torn. As voters see what his agenda is, his opponents can now far more effectively question his authenticity, credibility, record and fitness to be leader of the free world.

The road to the presidency just got steeper for Barack Obama, and all because he pivoted on Tuesday night.

Mr. Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
25032  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma on: February 21, 2008, 06:48:37 AM
Obama's Teamster 'Diplomacy'
February 21, 2008; Page A16
Barack Obama has pledged to "renew American diplomacy." Except, apparently, when it might interfere with an endorsement from the Teamsters.

President James Hoffa bestowed the powerful union's blessing on Mr. Obama yesterday, not so coincidentally only days after the Senator declared his opposition to the pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. In a statement inserted in the Congressional Record last week, Mr. Obama said he believes the pact doesn't pay "proper attention" to America's "key industries and agricultural sectors" like cars, rice and beef. Opposition to free-trade deals is now a union litmus test, especially for the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union, which endorsed the Senator last Friday.

 
Try squaring Mr. Obama's views on the FTA with his criticism of the Bush Administration for not negotiating with unfriendly regimes, taken straight from an online position paper: It "makes us look arrogant, it denies us opportunities to make progress, and it makes it harder for America to rally international support for our leadership." Or consider this promise from his Asia policy paper: Mr. Obama "will maintain strong ties with allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia" and "work to build an infrastructure with countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity."

Consider also that Seoul is willing to open up some of its own politically sensitive industries, such as banking and cars, for the FTA. Mr. Obama might take a look at a report last fall from the International Trade Commission, which says the FTA is expected to boost U.S. GDP by $10 billion to $12 billion annually and that the impact on American employment would be "negligible." In exchange, consumers in both countries would enjoy lower prices and a wider range of goods.

Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has put a lot of political capital behind the trade pact and President-elect Lee Myung-bak is also a strong supporter. The men, who represent opposing parties, don't agree on much but they have agreed to push the FTA through the National Assembly as early as this week. A U.S. "no" would be a huge embarrassment for them -- and for American "diplomacy."

WSJ
25033  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants on: February 20, 2008, 11:11:16 PM
Its been a while since Ann wrote something that I respected, but I find this one dead on:
===============

How to Keep Reagan Out of Office
by Ann Coulter

Posted: 02/20/2008 Print This
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Inasmuch as the current presidential election has come down to a choice among hemlock, self-immolation or the traditional gun in the mouth, now is the time for patriotic Americans to review what went wrong and to start planning for 2012.

How did we end up with the mainstream media picking the Republican candidate for president?

It isn't the early primaries, it isn't that we allow Democrats to vote in many of our primaries, and it isn't that the voters are stupid. All of that was true or partially true in 1980 -- and we still got Ronald Reagan.

We didn't get Ronald Reagan this year not just because there's never going to be another Reagan. We will never again get another Reagan because Reagan wouldn't run for office under the current campaign-finance regime.

Three months ago, I was sitting with a half-dozen smart, successful conservatives whose names you know, all griping about this year's cast of presidential candidates. I asked them, one by one: Why don't you run for office?

Of course, none of them would. They are happy, well-adjusted individuals.

Reagan, too, had a happy life and, having had no trouble getting girls in high school, had no burning desire for power. So when the great California businessman Holmes Tuttle and two other principled conservatives approached Reagan about running for office, Reagan said no.

But Tuttle kept after Reagan, asking him not to reject the idea out of hand. He formed "Friends of Reagan" to raise money in case Reagan changed his mind.

He asked Reagan to give his famous "Rendezvous With History" speech at a $1,000-a-plate Republican fundraiser in Los Angeles and then bought airtime for the speech to be broadcast on TV days before the 1964 presidential election.

The epochal broadcast didn't change the election results, but it changed history. That single broadcast brought in nearly $1 million to the Republican Party -- not to mention millions of votes for Goldwater.

After the astonishing response to Reagan's speech and Tuttle's continued entreaties, Reagan finally relented and ran for governor. In 1966, with the help, financial and otherwise, of a handful of self-made conservative businessmen, Reagan walloped incumbent Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, winning 57 percent of the vote in a state with two Democrats for every Republican.

The rest is history -- among the brightest spots in all of world history.

None of that could happen today. (The following analysis uses federal campaign-finance laws rather than California campaign-finance laws because the laws are basically the same, and I am not going to hire a campaign-finance lawyer in order to write this column.)

If Tuttle found Ronald Reagan today, he couldn't form "Friends of Reagan" to raise money for a possible run -- at least not without hiring a battery of campaign-finance lawyers and guaranteeing himself a lawsuit by government bureaucrats. He'd also have to abandon his friendship with Reagan to avoid the perception of "coordination."

Tuttle couldn't hold a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Reagan -- at least in today's dollars. That would be a $6,496.94-a-plate dinner (using the consumer price index) or a $19,883.51-a-plate dinner (using the relative share of GDP). The limit on individual contributions to a candidate is $2,300.

Reagan's "Rendezvous With History" speech would never have been broadcast on TV -- unless Tuttle owned the TV station. Independent groups are prohibited from broadcasting electioneering ads 60 days before an election.

A handful of conservative businessmen would not be allowed to make large contributions to Reagan's campaign -- they would be restricted to donating only $2,300 per person.

Under today's laws, Tuttle would have had to go to Reagan and say: "We would like you to run for governor. You are limited to raising money $300 at a time (roughly the current limits in 1965 dollars), so you will have to do nothing but hold fundraisers every day of your life for the next five years in order to run in the 1970 gubernatorial election, since there clearly there isn't enough time to raise money for the 1966 election."

Also, Tuttle would have to tell Reagan: "We are not allowed to coordinate with you, so you're on your own. But wait -- it gets worse! After five years of attending rubber chicken dinners every single day in order to raise money in tiny increments, you will probably lose the election anyway because campaign-finance laws make it virtually impossible to unseat an incumbent.

"Oh, and one more thing: Did you ever kiss a girl in high school? Not even once? If not, then this plan might appeal to you!"

Obviously, Reagan would have returned to his original answer: No thanks.

Reagan loved giving speeches and taking questions from voters. The one part of campaigning Reagan loathed was raising money. Thanks to our campaign-finance laws, fundraising is the single most important job of a political candidate today.

This is why you will cast your eyes about the nation in vain for another Reagan sitting in any governor's mansion or U.S. Senate seat. Pro-lifers like to ask, "How many Einsteins have we lost to abortion?" I ask: How many Reagans have we lost to campaign-finance reform?

The campaign-finance laws basically restrict choice political jobs, like senator and governor -- and thus president -- to:

(1) Men who were fatties in high school and consequently are willing to submit to the hell of running for office to compensate for their unhappy adolescences -- like Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. (Somewhere in this great land of ours, even as we speak, the next Bill Clinton is waddling back to the cafeteria service line asking for seconds.)

(2) Billionaires and near-billionaires -- like Jon Corzine, Steve Forbes, Michael Bloomberg and Mitt Romney -- who can fund their own campaigns (these aren't necessarily sociopaths, but it certainly limits the pool of candidates).

(3) Celebrities and name-brand candidates -- like Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Bush, Giuliani and Hillary Clinton (which explains the nation's apparent adoration for Bushes and Clintons -- they've got name recognition, a valuable commodity amidst totalitarian restrictions on free speech).

(4) Mainstream media-anointed candidates, like John McCain and B. Hussein Obama.

What a bizarre coincidence that a few years after the most draconian campaign-finance laws were imposed via McCain-Feingold, our two front-runners happen to be the media's picks! It's uncanny -- almost as if by design! (Can I stop now, or do you people get sarcasm?)

By prohibiting speech by anyone else, the campaign-finance laws have vastly magnified the power of the media -- which, by the way, are wholly exempt from speech restrictions under campaign-finance laws. The New York Times doesn't have to buy ad time to promote a politician; it just has to call McCain a "maverick" 1 billion times a year.

It is because of campaign-finance laws like McCain-Feingold that big men don't run for office anymore. Little men do. And John McCain is the head homunculus.

You want Reagan back? Restore the right to free speech, and you will have created the conditions that allowed Reagan to run.
25034  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA DVD: "The Dos Triques Formula" on: February 20, 2008, 05:36:43 PM
We've started work on a movie, so this is moving a little more slowily.  Still we expect to have it out in about 3 weeks.
25035  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma on: February 20, 2008, 05:34:14 PM
Obama's church: More about Africa than God?
Chicago congregation has 'non-negotiable commitment' to 'mother continent'
Posted: January 09, 2008
1:00 am Eastern



By Ron Strom
WorldNetDaily.com


While some election commentators are looking carefully at the level of devotion Sen. Barack Obama has to Islam, it is the strong African-centered and race-based philosophy of the senator's United Church of Christ that has some bloggers crying foul.


Obama and Wright
Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is where Obama was baptized as a Christian two decades ago, even borrowing the title for one of his books, "The Audacity of Hope," from a sermon by his senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

The first paragraph of the "About Us" section of the church's website mentions the word "black" or "Africa" five times:
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian. ... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
Focus on the African continent continues in two of the 10-point vision of the church:
A congregation committed to ADORATION.
A congregation preaching SALVATION.
A congregation actively seeking RECONCILIATION.
A congregation with a non-negotiable COMMITMENT TO AFRICA.
A congregation committed to BIBLICAL EDUCATION.
A congregation committed to CULTURAL EDUCATION.
A congregation committed to the HISTORICAL EDUCATION OF AFRICAN PEOPLE IN DIASPORA.
A congregation committed to LIBERATION.
A congregation committed to RESTORATION.
A congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY.
Commented Florida blogger "Ric" in discussing vision No. 4: "Commitment to Africa? I thought Christians were to have a commitment to God alone?"
The blogger continued: "First off just by this 10-point layout describing Barack Obama's church, we see that on some issues they are not clear. Even though it sounds good to the reader, it still leaves one guessing and not knowing where they truly stand as a congregation.

"Second, the church seems to place Africa and African people before God, and says nothing about other races in their community or a commitment to help the people in their community.

adsonar_placementId=1270202;adsonar_pid=663759;ads onar_ps=1451068;adsonar_zw=300;adsonar_zh=250;adso nar_jv="ads.adsonar.com";"Third, the church seems to promote communism by the term they use called 'economic parity.' Is this what Barack Obama truly believes?"
On another page on the website, Pastor Wright explains his theology, saying it is "based upon the systematized liberation theology that started in 1969 with the publication of Dr. James Cone's book, 'Black Power and Black Theology.'

"Black theology is one of the many theologies in the Americas that became popular during the liberation theology movement. They include Hispanic theology, Native American theology, Asian theology and Womanist theology."

Wright rebuts those who might call his philosophy racist, saying, "To have a church whose theological perspective starts from the vantage point of black liberation theology being its center is not to say that African or African-American people are superior to any one else.

"African-centered thought, unlike Eurocentrism, does not assume superiority and look at everyone else as being inferior."

The church's official mission statement says it has been "called by God to be a congregation that is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that does not apologize for its African roots!"

The Jan. 6 Sunday bulletin had an announcement about how to register for the winter Bible study held by the "Center for African Biblical Studies."
Another page in the 36-page bulletin announced the "Black and Christian New Member Class." All those wanting to become full-fledged members of Trinity "MUST complete your new member class!" warned the announcement, which included a schedule of class times. There was no mention of what class a prospective member might take if he or she were not black.

Demonstrating the church's quest toward "economic parity," one of the associate pastors, the Rev. Reginald Williams Jr., wrote a blurb in the bulletin decrying the powers that be for not making "fresh food stores" available in the black neighborhoods of Chicago.

Wrote Williams in a discussion of infant mortality in the black community: "In West Englewood, one of the five worst areas in the city, McDonald's restaurants abound, while fresh food stores are lacking. The same resources should be made available in each and every neighborhood in this city.

"This is an issue which we must all attack. We must push our policymakers for programs for health education, good stores for proper nutrition and access to health care."

The thought for the day on the same page was a quote from former Rep. Shirley Chisholm: "Health is a human right, not a privilege to be purchased."

Obama recently talked about his faith with the Concord, N.H., Monitor.
"I've always said that my faith informs my values, and in that sense it helps shape my worldview, and I don't think anyone should be required to leave their religious sensibilities at the door," Obama told the paper last week. "But we have to translate those concerns into a universal language that can be subject to argument and doesn't turn into a contest of any one of us thinking that God is somehow on our side."

The candidate told the Monitor he doesn't buy everything his pastor proclaims, saying: "There are some things I agree with my pastor about, some things I disagree with him about. I come from a complex racial background with a lot of different strains in me: white, black, I grew up in Hawaii. I tend to have a strong streak of universalism, not just in my religious beliefs, but in my ethical and moral beliefs."

Obama's popularity has soared in the last several days, with journalists from NBC even admitting to getting caught up in the "feel good" aura of the campaign.

As WND reported, the network's Brian Williams noted on MSNBC yesterday: ""[Reporter] Lee [Cowan] says it's hard to stay objective covering this guy. Courageous for Lee to say, to be honest. ... I think it is a very interesting dynamic."

25036  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 20, 2008, 04:09:25 PM
Congress recessed without renewing authority for eavesdropping because Democrats bowed to trial lawyers' demands not to grant retroactive immunity from lawsuits for phone companies that helped U.S. intelligence agencies. It shows greater Democratic reliance on contributions from trial lawyers than their vulnerability on the national security issue.

Robert Novak
25037  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / No, you have it backwards on: February 20, 2008, 03:45:07 PM
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080220/..._cartoons_dc_1


Quote:
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed his predecessor's line on cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday, saying free speech should respect religious sensitivities.

"The Secretary-General strongly believes that freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly and in a way that respects all religious beliefs," his spokeswoman Marie Okabe told reporters.

The cartoon issue has returned to prominence after Denmark's five major daily newspapers last week republished one of 12 drawings of the Prophet that angered Muslims around the world in 2006.

They did so as a protest against a plot to murder one of the cartoonists who originally published the drawings in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Most Muslims consider depictions of the Prophet offensive.

In a statement two years ago at the height of the cartoon uproar, the spokesman for then secretary-general Kofi Annan said Annan "believes that the freedom of the press should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions."

In the last few days, Danish lawmakers have canceled a trip to Iran, the Egyptian government has protested to the Danish ambassador in Cairo and Indonesian Muslims have demonstrated outside the Danish Embassy in Jakarta over the cartoons.
 
=======================

NO, RELGION MUST RESPECT FREE SPEECH angry angry angry
25038  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia on: February 20, 2008, 03:43:22 PM
Stratfor has had its eye on the Kosovo situation for some time now (see the Balkans thread, closely related to this post here) and regards it as having some serious implications for Russian behavior e.g. note my post regarding Georgia in the Balkan thread today.
======
George Friedman

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday. The United States and many, but not all, European countries recognized it. The Serbian government did not impose an economic blockade on — or take any military action against — Kosovo, although it declared the Albanian leadership of Kosovo traitors to Serbia. The Russians vehemently repeated their objection to an independent Kosovo but did not take any overt action. An informal summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was announced last week; it will take place in Moscow on Feb. 21. With Kosovo’s declaration, a river was crossed. We will now see whether that river was the Rubicon.

Kosovo’s independence declaration is an important event for two main reasons. First, it potentially creates a precedent that could lead to redrawn borders in Europe and around the world. Second, it puts the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany in the position of challenging what Russia has defined as a fundamental national interest — and this at a time when the Russians have been seeking to assert their power and authority. Taken together, each of these makes this a geopolitically significant event.

Begin with the precedent. Kosovo historically has been part of Serbia; indeed, Serbs consider it the cradle of their country. Over the course of the 20th century, it has become predominantly Albanian and Muslim (though the Albanian version of Islam is about as secular as one can get). The Serbian Orthodox Christian community has become a minority. During the 1990s, Serbia — then the heart of the now-defunct Yugoslavia — carried out a program of repression against the Albanians. Whether the repression rose to the level of genocide has been debated. In any case, the United States and other members of NATO conducted an air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 until the Yugoslavians capitulated, allowing the entry of NATO troops into the province of Kosovo. Since then, Kosovo, for all practical purposes, has been a protectorate of a consortium of NATO countries but has formally remained a province of Serbia. After the Kosovo war, wartime Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic died in The Hague in the course of his trial for war crimes; a new leadership took over; and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia itself ultimately dissolved, giving way to a new Republic of Serbia.

The United Nations did not sanction the war in Kosovo. Russian opposition in the U.N. Security Council prevented any U.N. diplomatic cover for the Western military action. Following the war — in a similar process to what happened with regard to Iraq — the Security Council authorized the administration of Kosovo by the occupying powers, but it never clearly authorized independence for Kosovo. The powers administering Kosovo included the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and other European states, organized as the Kosovo Force (KFOR).

While the logic of the situation pointed toward an independent Kosovo, the mechanism envisioned for the province’s independence was a negotiated agreement with Serbia. The general view was that the new government and personalities in Belgrade would be far more interested in the benefits of EU membership than they would be in retaining control of Kosovo. Over nearly a decade, the expectation therefore was that the Serbian government would accede to an independent Kosovo in exchange for being put on a course for EU membership. As frequently happens — and amazes people for reasons we have never understood — nationalism trumped economic interests. The majority of Serbs never accepted secession. The United States and the Europeans, therefore, decided to create an independent Kosovo without Serbian acquiescence. The military and ethnic reality thus was converted into a political reality.

Those recognizing Kosovo’s independence have gone out of their way specifically to argue that this decision in no way constitutes a precedent. They argue that the Serbian oppression of the late 1990s, which necessitated intervention by outside military forces to protect the Kosovars, made returning Kosovo to Serbian rule impossible. The argument therefore goes that Kosovo’s independence must be viewed as an idiosyncratic event related to the behavior of the Serbs, not as a model for the future.

Other European countries, including Spain, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus, have expressly rejected this reasoning. So have Russia and China. Each of these countries has a specific, well-defined area dominated by a specific ethnic minority group. In these countries and others like them, these ethnic groups have demanded, are demanding or potentially will demand autonomy, secession or integration with a neighboring country. Such ethnic groups could claim, and have claimed, oppression by the majority group. And each country facing this scenario fears that if Kosovo can be taken from Serbia, a precedent for secession will be created.

The Spanish have Basque separatists. Romania and Slovakia each contain large numbers of Hungarians concentrated in certain areas. The Cypriots — backed by the Greeks — are worried that the Turkish region of Cyprus, which already is under a separate government, might proclaim formal independence. The Chinese are concerned about potential separatist movements in Muslim Xinjiang and, above all, fear potential Taiwanese independence. And the Russians are concerned about independence movements in Chechnya and elsewhere. All of these countries see the Kosovo decision as setting a precedent, and they therefore oppose it.

Europe is a case in point. Prior to World War II, Europe’s borders constantly remained in violent flux. One of the principles of a stable Europe has been the inviolability of borders from outside interference, as well as the principle that borders cannot be redefined except with mutual agreement. This principle repeatedly was reinforced by international consensus, most notably at Yalta in 1945 and Helsinki in 1973.

Thus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia could agree to separate, and the Soviet Union could dissolve itself into its component republics, but the Germans cannot demand the return of Silesia from Poland; outsiders cannot demand a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland; and the Russians cannot be forced to give up Chechnya. The principle that outside powers can’t redefine boundaries, and that secessionist movements can’t create new nations unilaterally, has been a pillar of European stability.

The critics of Kosovo’s independence believe that larger powers can’t redraw the boundaries of smaller ones without recourse to the United Nations. They view the claim that Yugoslavia’s crimes in Kosovo justify doing so as unreasonable; Yugoslavia has dissolved, and the Serbian state is run by different people. The Russians view the major European powers and the Americans as arrogating rights that international law does not grant them, and they see the West as setting itself up as judge and jury without right of appeal.

This debate is not trivial. But there is a more immediate geopolitical issue that we have discussed before: the Russian response. The Russians have turned Kosovo into a significant issue. Moscow has objected to Kosovo’s independence on all of the diplomatic and legal grounds discussed. But behind that is a significant challenge to Russia’s strategic position. Russia wants to be seen as a great power and the dominant power in the former Soviet Union (FSU). Serbia is a Russian ally. Russia is trying to convince countries in the FSU, such as Ukraine, that looking to the West for help is futile because Russian power can block Western power. It wants to make the Russian return to great power status seem irresistible.

The decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence in the face of Russian opposition undermines Russian credibility. That is doubly the case because Russia can make a credible argument that the Western decision flies in the face of international law — and certainly of the conventions that have governed Europe for decades. Moscow also is asking for something that would not be difficult for the Americans and Europeans to give. The resources being devoted to Kosovo are not going to decline dramatically because of independence. Putting off independence until the last possible moment — which is to say forever, considering the utter inability of Kosovo to care for itself — thus certainly would have been something the West could have done with little effort.

But it didn’t. The reason for this is unclear. It does not appear that anyone was intent on challenging the Russians. The Kosovo situation was embedded in a process in which the endgame was going to be independence, and all of the military force and the bureaucratic inertia of the European Union was committed to this process. Russian displeasure was noted, but in the end, it was not taken seriously. This was simply because no one believed the Russians could or would do anything about Kosovar independence beyond issuing impotent protestations. Simply put, the nations that decided to recognize Kosovo were aware of Russian objections but viewed Moscow as they did in 1999: a weak power whose wishes are heard but discarded as irrelevant. Serbia was an ally of Russia. Russia intervened diplomatically on its behalf. Russia was ignored.

If Russia simply walks away from this, its growing reputation as a great power will be badly hurt in the one arena that matters to Moscow the most: the FSU. A Europe that dismisses Russian power is one that has little compunction about working with the Americans to whittle away at Russian power in Russia’s own backyard. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko — who, in many ways, is more anti-Western than Russian President Vladimir Putin and is highly critical of Putin as well — has said it is too late to “sing songs” about Kosovo. He maintains that the time to stop the partition of Kosovo was in 1999, in effect arguing that Putin’s attempts to stop it were ineffective because it was a lost cause. Translation: Putin and Russia are not the powers they pretend to be.

That is not something that Putin in particular can easily tolerate. Russian grand strategy calls for Russia to base its economy on the export of primary commodities. To succeed at this, Russia must align its production and exports with those of other FSU countries. For reasons of both national security and economics, being the regional hegemon in the FSU is crucial to Russia’s strategy and to Putin’s personal credibility. He is giving up the presidency on the assumption that his personal power will remain intact. That assumption is based on his effectiveness and decisiveness. The way he deals with the West — and the way the West deals with him — is a measure of his personal power. Being completely disregarded by the West will cost him. He needs to react.

The Russians are therefore hosting an “informal” CIS summit in Moscow on Friday. This is not the first such summit, by any means, and one was supposed to be held before this but was postponed. On Feb. 11, however, after it became clear that Kosovo would declare independence, the decision to hold the summit was announced. If Putin has a response to the West on Kosovo, it should reveal itself at the summit.

There are three basic strategies the Russians can pursue. One is to try to create a coalition of CIS countries to aid Serbia. This is complex in that Serbia may have no appetite for this move, and the other CIS countries may not even symbolically want to play.

The second option is opening the wider issue of altering borders. This could be aimed at sticking it to the Europeans by backing Serbian secessionist efforts in bifurcated Bosnia-Herzegovina. It also could involve announcing Russia’s plans to annex Russian-friendly separatist regions on its borders — most notably the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and perhaps even eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. (Annexation would be preferred over recognizing independence, since it would reduce the chances of Russia’s own separatist regions agitating for secession.) Russia thus would argue that Kosovo’s independence opens the door for Russia to shift its borders, too. That would make the summit exciting, particularly with regard to the Georgians, who are allied with the United States and at odds with Russia on Abkhazia and other issues.

The third option involves creating problems for the West elsewhere. An Iranian delegation will be attending the summit as “observers.” That creates the option for Russia to signal to Washington that the price it will pay for Kosovo will be extracted elsewhere. Apart from increased Russian support for Iran — which would complicate matters in Iraq for Washington — there are issues concerning Azerbaijan, which is sandwiched between Russia and Iran. In the course of discussions with Iranians, the Russians could create problems for Azerbaijan. The Russians also could increase pressure on the Baltic states, which recognized Kosovo and whose NATO membership is a challenge to the Russians. During the Cold War, the Russians were masters of linkage. They responded not where they were weak but where the West was weak. There are many venues for that.

What is the hardest to believe — but is, of course, possible — is that Putin simply will allow the Kosovo issue to pass. He clearly knew this was coming. He maintained vocal opposition to it beforehand and reiterated his opposition afterward. The more he talks and the less he does, the weaker he appears to be. He personally can’t afford that, and neither can Russia. He had opportunities to cut his losses before Kosovo’s independence was declared. He didn’t. That means either he has blundered badly or he has something on his mind. Our experience with Putin is that the latter is more likely, and this suddenly called summit may be where we see his plans play out.
25039  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: February 20, 2008, 11:36:58 AM
Exit polls in Wisconsin paint a grim picture for Hillary Clinton. Some 53% of Democratic voters thought she engaged in unfair negative campaigning, and fully 35% said they would be unhappy if she were the Democratic nominee. Such findings will certainly have an impact on the superdelegates who are likely to ultimately to decide the Democratic nomination and who believe electability is Job One for any nominee.

Almost as disturbing for Mrs. Clinton was her collapse among key demographic groups that supported her in earlier primaries. She only tied Mr. Obama among white women in Wisconsin, while losing white men 59% to 38%. She lost voters without college degrees and lost every age group except senior citizens. Mr. Obama won a staggering 71% of voters under the age of 30, a group that turned out in record numbers for a primary.

Apply that template to the upcoming March 4 contests in Ohio and Texas: Mrs. Clinton looks likely to lose both of those states, which would severely diminish her chances of swaying superdelegates into her corner with an argument that she can win the crucial big states in the fall.

Even if Mrs. Clinton recovers and does well from here on out, she would have to win 65% of the remaining delegates in order to regain the lead from Barack Obama. That near-impossibility effectively means that any superdelegates who ultimately support her would have to do so in full knowledge that they are voting for the candidate who was not the first choice of Democratic voters.

-- John Fund

Obama's Advantage: Flex-Time Workers

Ever since her drubbing in the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton has complained that fixed-time, low-turnout caucus events give advantages to her opponent while she does better in primaries where more voters have a say. "You have a limited period of time on one day to have your voices heard," she has told reporters. "That is troubling to me.... People who work during that time -- they're disenfranchised."

Well, some evidence has surfaced that she may have a point. Ten days ago, Washington State Democrats selected all 78 of their delegates proportionately through a caucus system. Mr. Obama won a crushing 68% majority.

Then yesterday, Democrats trouped to the polls again and voted in a beauty contest presidential primary that won't allocate a single delegate. Still, many more voters participated and this time Mr. Obama won again, but despite his incredible momentum and favorable publicity since Super Tuesday, he won only 50% of the vote.

But while Mrs. Clinton can take home a talking point from last night's Washington state results, that doesn't explain her crushing defeat in Wisconsin, a state that held an open primary and from which she withdrew ad money after her internal polls showed her falling victim to Obamamania. Bottom line: Obamamania increasingly knows few boundaries no matter whether Democrats vote in a caucus or a primary.

-- John Fund

Not Yet Gone, Certainly Not Forgotten

Last week Arizona Representative John Shadegg's announcement that he would retire from the House caused a collective groan from the conservative movement. Mr. Shadegg, who was elected as part of the 1994 Contract with America class, said he was "burned out," and no longer felt he could be an effective voice for free markets and entitlement reform.

But -- put away those hankies. Mr. Shadegg may be staying after all.

After his stunning announcement, conservative leaders banded together and decided they had to persuade him to stick around. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana worked the inside game, telling his colleague, "We can't win without you. You're vital to the conservative movement." Mr. Pence and a handful of others, including Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Michigan's Peter Hoekstra, drafted a letter on behalf of their House colleagues asking Mr. Shadegg to stay. "Within 3 hours, we had some 140 signatures," Mr. Pence tells me. "People were coming up to me asking, 'How do I get on the letter?'"

More than two dozen Republicans are retiring this year, but only one has been implored by colleagues to stay with words like these from the Pence letter: "We fear that without you and the long-term perspective you bring to every debate, our battles will be difficult to win. This is especially true in the area of health care where you are one of the leading experts.... The Republican Conference needs you here, the Conservative Movement needs you here, and the country needs you here."

Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner and other leading outside conservatives have circulated a similar letter. In a phone conversation last weekend, Mr. Shadegg told me he's "truly moved" by the expressions of support and will reconsider. Mr. Pence put it best when he quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said of General Grant: "I cannot spare the man, he fights."

-- Stephen Moore

Quote of the Day

"If you examine [Barack Obama's] agenda, it is completely ordinary, highly partisan, not candid and mostly unresponsive to many pressing national problems.... The contrast between his broad rhetoric and his narrow agenda is stark, and yet the press corps -- preoccupied with the political 'horse race' -- has treated his invocation of 'change' as a serious idea rather than a shallow campaign slogan. He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't" -- Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.

Exculpating the Machines

In her campaign to unseat Florida Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, Democrat Christine Jennings suffered a harsh blow last week from an unlikely source -- the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

Ms. Jennings claims she actually won the seat two years ago in a closely fought election. But Mr. Buchanan was declared the winner by 369 votes and Ms. Jennings was left to argue foul play. Picking up on the controversy, and looking to pad their new majority in the House, some Democrats in Congress even wanted to block Mr. Buchanan from taking his seat.

It didn't help that Mr. Buchanan had won a seat that was being vacated by Republican Katherine Harris, a bête noire to Democrats because of her role in Florida's 2000 presidential election controversy. It also didn't help that the voters used new electronic voting machines that did not leave a paper trail and that 18,000 voters in Sarasota County who cast votes in other races somehow failed to record a vote in the Congressional race. These "undervotes," amounting to 12% of the ballots cast in the county, fueled accusations that this was yet another "stolen" election in Florida.

But now the GAO, after an exhaustive study under the direction of a bipartisan House Committee, concludes that there was no foul play. GAO investigators closely inspected the machines used in the election, comparing their software to copies put in escrow before the election -- and the software matched up. The GAO also ran hundreds of tests to simulate what voters would have seen inside the voting booth. Finally, the GAO deliberately miscalibrated some of the machines to see if they could be fooled into missing votes. They couldn't.

What about the mystery of the "undervotes," which were three times higher in Sarasota than in other counties? They remain a mystery, but the GAO concluded that no machine error was involved, and that a confusing ballot design probably deterred some voters from voting in the House race.

-- Brendan Miniter

PD of the WSJ
25040  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Balkans on: February 20, 2008, 11:07:04 AM
Could this be the beginning of Russia's reply?!?

Some countries might recognize the sovereignty of Georgian breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia before the end of 2008, RIA Novosti reported Feb. 20, citing South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity. Russia likely will not be the first to recognize the regions’ independence, Kokoity said. He added that the regions should first become independent through legislation, then integrate themselves with Russia as much as possible.

stratfor
25041  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wasn't quite sure where to put this one on: February 20, 2008, 11:03:57 AM
Summary
In the wake of the Feb. 12 assassination of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah, the organization has instructed its operatives to exercise caution when using cell phones to avoid becoming targets of Israeli attacks. Due to advancements in electronic surveillance, however, Hezbollah will have to do a lot more to evade the deadly cell phone ping.

Analysis
Hezbollah has plenty of reasons to be paranoid in the wake of the Feb. 12 assassination of top commander Imad Mughniyah. Not only does Israel possibly have more targeted assassinations in store, but Hezbollah cannot be sure of the origin of the leak that sacrificed its most seasoned and innovative operative.

There are indications that Hezbollah suspects the leak came from Syrian intelligence. When Hezbollah officials like Mughniyah travel to Damascus, they inform the Syrian authorities just before they cross the border into Syria. Once they are inside the country, Syrian intelligence vehicles escort them to their destination. This is not to say that the Syrian regime necessarily was complicit in the attack –- Hezbollah remains a key asset for Damascus — but there is a possibility that a foreign intelligence agency such as the Israeli Mossad recruited an asset within the Syrian intelligence network. This could explain why Syria has maintained a highly defensive posture following the assassination, making almost daily announcements about the progress of the bombing investigation and indirectly blaming Israel and Western-backed Arab governments in the region.

Following the assassination, Hezbollah has severely tightened security in Lebanon and temporarily curtailed the travel of any key officials to Syria. Stratfor has learned that the Hezbollah leadership also has instructed its cadres to be extremely vigilant in their movements and use of mobile phones. Hezbollah operatives are under strict orders not to answer phone calls from unknown callers. Instead, the operatives must first change locations and then return the calls if necessary.

The reason for these instructions is the relative ease with which a hostile intelligence agency can triangulate a target’s location by exploiting the structure of GSM networks. Using either mobile identification or multilaterization, the location of the target phone can be determined within the network. Of these two methods, multilaterization (more commonly known as phone pinging) is more precise, yielding accuracies within five meters of the location of the phone. Hezbollah is operating on the logic that when a call is received, a hard connection is made with the tower and the target’s location immediately can be pinpointed. However, if the target first moves to a different location before returning the call (preferably in an area with fewer network contact points, towers and receivers to enlarge the target scope), the mobile user likely will be harder to locate and will be exposed to less risk.

Mobile phone networks are not particularly useful for tracking moving targets on the street, unless the phones being used have GPS modules. However, this tactic still can help pinpoint facilities or verify that a target is at a particular location (such as the building where Mughniyah allegedly held a meeting with Hamas and Syrian intelligence officials) prior to the launch of a planned attack.

This exploitation of phones also can be applied to those that rely on satellite networks. A case in point is the April 1996 assassination of Dzhokhar Musayevich Dudayev, the first president of Chechnya, in the heyday of the first Chechen war. Rumor has it that Dudayev was compromised by then-colleague Vladislav Surkov (who now is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff) before the latter switched sides and allied with the Kremlin. Through Surkov, the Russian security establishment obtained Dudayev’s personal phone numbers and triangulated his precise location while he was using his satellite phone in southern Chechnya; Russian forces later dropped a 500-pound bomb on the safe house where he was hiding.

Given that the instructions for cell phone use were given to Hezbollah operatives in the immediate aftermath of the Mughniyah assassination, there is a distinct possibility that a simple cell phone ping is what gave away Mughniyah’s location. That said, Mughniyah was obsessed with operational security and likely was well aware of the risks involved in using a cell phone. Nicknamed “the Fox,” Mughniyah probably was not one to fall for such a trap.

High-value targets like Mughniyah usually carry multiple cell phones and change the SIM cards frequently to avoid being traced. There is always the possibility that a compromised Syrian intelligence offer fitted Mughniyah’s phone with a SIM card for the attackers to trace, but it would have been far easier for the source simply to inform the perpetrators of the time and location of Mughniyah’s meeting. There is also the distinct possibility that software was installed on his cell phone to facilitate targeting his location. This could have been done by someone with access to his phone or, given the right resources, it could have been installed on the phone remotely from another phone or a computer without his knowledge. Once the software is installed, it can calculate the user’s location within the network and send this information to a preset place, either via e-mail or using SMS. However, this is dependent on the surveillant knowing the phone number for the SIM card, as well as the phone or SIM card having enough memory available to copy the program.

Moreover, seasoned operatives like Mughniyah often are familiar with the U.S. government’s cell phone tracking abilities, in addition to the practice of using multilaterization and network exploitation to pinpoint a target’s location. These methods utilize the signals used by networks and phones to communicate and exchange data when they are connected. Phones often receive redundant signals while connected, which ensures that continuous communication can occur even while the user is moving considerable distances. The strength of the signals varies with the distance between the device and the tower or communication point, allowing a phone to be located within a particular network. By calculating either the strength of the tower signals being received by the phone or the time it takes them to reach the device, the phone’s location can be triangulated. The owner of the phone does not even need to be using it for this to take place, but it must be connected to the network. The most effective way to beat this system, therefore, is to remove either the battery or the SIM card — or both — from the phone when it is not in use.

The FBI also has earned the U.S. government several lawsuits by turning criminals’ cell phones into microphones and transmitters for eavesdropping. This process, known as using a roving bug, can be carried out by getting the mobile provider to remotely install a piece of software on a handset without the owner’s knowledge that activates the microphone — even if the target is not on a call.

The instructions given to Hezbollah operatives on cell phone use thus reflect a high degree of naiveté on the part of Hezbollah’s leadership. Even the Hamas leaders, who also have gone underground for fear of Israeli reprisal attacks, have taken far more logical measures to avoid detection. According to a Feb. 12 Al Hayat report, high-value Hamas targets are prohibited from using cell phones. A center in Gaza has also been created to filter landline calls for these leaders, and callers must enter a pass code before their calls will go through.

Despite the security risks associated with cell phone use, the devices have become as much of a necessity for militant organizations like Hezbollah as they have for businessmen. Counterterrorism operations can continue to benefit from this and further advances in electronic surveillance technology. Hezbollah operatives, meanwhile, will have to take more extraordinary measures to avoid having their phone conversations end with a boom.

stratfor

25042  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 20, 2008, 10:51:28 AM
The Unilateral Disarmament Democrats: Putting Trial Lawyers Ahead of Your Family's Safety
by Newt Gingrich
 
It's hard to think of an action that has put as many lives at risk as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D.-Calif.) declaration of unilateral disarmament in the War on Terror last week.

By refusing to renew our ability to monitor terrorist communications overseas, Speaker Pelosi has put Americans at risk. She has blinded our counterterrorism capability and shut down America's most sophisticated defenses against the irreconcilable wing of Islam. As of midnight last Saturday, the law governing America's defense is totally inadequate to stop terrorists.

Why? Because the Democratic left believes lining the pockets of trial lawyers is more important than stopping terrorists.

Suing Telecom Companies for Helping Keep America Safe

At issue is the extension of the Protect America Act that was passed last August to allow U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor foreigner-to-foreigner communications without a warrant. Congress has known for six months that this ability under the Protect America Act was set to expire on Sunday. So last week, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority, the Senate passed legislation to prevent the authority from lapsing.

But the House Democratic leadership, led by Speaker Pelosi, refused to let the House vote on the bill. This led to a House GOP walk out led by Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), who said, "We will not stand idly by and watch the floor of the United States House of Representatives be abused for pure, political grandstanding at the expense of our national security."

Why? Not because the bill lacked bipartisan support, but because it lacked trial lawyer support. The Senate-passed bill contains a provision granting immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that have been cooperating with the government in the War on Terror.

Instead of putting her fellow Democrats in a position where they have to make a public vote in favor of trial lawyers over the safety of Americans, Speaker Pelosi opted to leave Washington for vacation.

'The President Just Wants to Protect American Telephone Companies'

As Robert Novak reported Monday, the trial lawyers -- the Democrats' most important source of political contributions -- have filed dozens of lawsuits seeking millions of dollars against phone companies for helping keep us safe by responding to the request of intelligence agencies to provide critical information about suspected terrorist communications without a warrant.

The continued cooperation of the telecom companies in monitoring terrorist communications is crucial to America's defense, which is why the Senate bill contained the immunity provision.

The simple fact is that if a company cooperates with the United States government in tracking down terrorists, it should receive our thanks and gratitude, not a lawsuit.

But some Democrats evidently don't agree. Note that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) chose to attack the bill and the President's support for it by siding with the trial lawyers: "This is not about protecting Americans. The President just wants to protect American telephone companies."

The House's Unilateral Disarmament Contrasts Sharply With the Senate's Leadership

Speaker Pelosi's and the House Democratic leadership's unilateral disarmament contrasts sharply with the Senate Democrats who joined in the bipartisan 68-vote majority to strengthen America's defenses against terrorism.

The Senate bill was a compromise between Senate Democrats and the White House. As former Justice Official Andy McCarthy put it: "Democrats surely did not want to give President Bush this legislative victory, and President Bush certainly did not want to cave on these issues. But both sides compromised precisely because they understood that failing to do so, failing to preserve current surveillance authority, would endanger the United States."

Senate Democrats such as Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jim Webb (Va.) deserve thanks for putting the safety of America ahead of their partisan political interests.

The Law Was Never Meant to Protect Foreign Terrorists

So what is the state of our national defenses as I write this today?

The Protect America Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that was passed in 1978 to protect people inside the United States from being monitored by U.S. intelligence without a warrant proving they were agents of a foreign government.

This point is crucial: FISA was never meant to apply to foreigners outside the United States communicating with other foreigners outside the United States.

For 30 years, this was the understanding of the law. But a court case last year said that foreigner-to-foreigner overseas communications now have FISA protections -- that is, they require a warrant before they can be monitored -- because technology has changed and these non-U.S. communications now technically may pass through U.S. channels in the global telecommunications network.

The result is that for U.S. intelligence to monitor suspected terrorist communications between a Pakistani and an Afghani, they have to go through the time-consuming, bureaucratic procedure of having the attorney general and others approve lengthy affidavits proving that the targets are agents of a foreign power.

As of Midnight Saturday, American Lives Are at Risk

So as of midnight last Saturday, if U.S. intelligence discovers a new terrorist threat, it must spend valuable time preparing bureaucratic documents and seeking approval of busy officials before their communications can be monitored. By the time they've jumped through the bureaucratic hoops forced on them by House Democrats, it may be too late.

What's more, American telecommunications companies are less inclined to cooperate with intelligence officials because they lack protection from lawsuits under the law.

In short, Americans are at greater risk today than we were four days ago.

But Don't Take My Word for It -- Listen to the Intelligence Professionals

But don't just take my word for it. Here's what Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell -- an intelligence professional who served under President Clinton as well as President Bush -- told "Fox News Sunday":

"Our situation now, when the terrorist threat is increasing because they've achieved -- al Qaeda's achieved de facto safe haven in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan -- the threat is going up.

"And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture their communications to thwart their planning.

"...[Our country is in] increased danger, and it will increase more and more as time goes on. And the key is the -- if you think about the private sector global communications, many people think the government operates that.

"Ninety-eight percent of it is owned and operated by the private sector. We cannot do this mission without help and support from the private sector. And the private sector, although willingly helped us in the past, are now saying, 'You can't protect me. Why should I help you?'"

Obama and Clinton Were AWOL on Protecting Americans

The potential threat to our safety is so great that the situation calls for leaders of all political parties to come together to call for Congress to act -- without delay -- to restore these crucial authorities to U.S. intelligence.

Senators and presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama missed the vote that passed the Senate to extend the Protect America Act. But they now have an obligation to keep America safe by joining President Bush in calling for the House return to Washington and pass the Senate bill.

No presidential primary, no 12-day vacation, is more important than the safety and security of our country.

Our leaders and would-be leaders must act.

The United States Congress by its inaction has created a gap in our national defense. A gap we can now only hope will not be filled by our enemies. Congress has the solemn responsibility not to put politics over American security. The President should implore Congress, as a national security priority, to return to Washington and pass the Protect America Act to give our intelligence agencies the tools they need to defeat our enemies.

  Your friend,
 
 Newt Gingrich

P.S. -- The FISA issue in the Congress is another stark reminder of the need to move beyond red-versus-blue partisan bickering.
25043  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-Africa on: February 20, 2008, 10:27:32 AM
I must admit that it is quite nice to see our President visit countries where the people seem genuinely warm towards America and towards him.

Many folks in the circles I often hang out in grumble about foreign aid, but my understanding is that on a % of GDP basis it is actually quite low.  Apart from the fuzzies of it all, it occurs to me that for reasons of geo-political good will that American generousity could be a good thing.
25044  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: February 20, 2008, 10:14:33 AM
During the Clinton era there were a lot of stories about her being a real foul mouthed c*nt to the people who worked for her.  Recently a deep LEO friend told me about being on a detail which included Secret Service, one of whom confided a little story , , ,
25045  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: February 20, 2008, 08:43:16 AM
WSJ

Health Questions for the Candidates
By BETSY MCCAUGHEY
February 20, 2008; Page A15

On March 4, voters in the Texas Democratic primary will choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The battle is shaping up to be a health-care Alamo. Twenty five percent of people living in the Lone Star state are uninsured, according to the U.S. Census. That's the highest rate of any state.

 
Sen. Clinton has issued the challenge, telling Sen. Obama "I'll see you in Texas." She promises to provide health coverage for "every single one of the nation's 47 million uninsured," and she accuses Sen. Obama of offering a "band aid" solution that would leave about a third of those 47 million uncovered.

In preparation for the Texas showdown, Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama will debate this Thursday night in Austin -- and both candidates have called for less oratory and more specifics. With that in mind, here are some of the questions they should be asked:

- Sen. Clinton: When you pledge to cover every one of the 47 million uninsured, do you include recent and future newcomers to the United States, legal and illegal?

The recent rise in the uninsured is due primarily to new arrivals and their U.S.-born children, and it is happening mostly in the five border states, according to the Center for Immigration Studies and U.S. Census data. In Texas, the cost of caring for these newcomers and children has been paid by local and state taxes, with little help from the federal government. For example, 39% of babies born in Parkland Hospital in Dallas are children of illegal immigrants. County taxpayers foot the bill.

At the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, doctors are thrust into an ethical crisis. The hospital provides charity care to all. Its budget is at breaking point, and the hospital has had to lay off workers. In December, the hospital proposed that doctors triage cancer patients based on immigration status rather than medical need. But Galveston doctors say they are bound by their oath to heal, and that border control is Washington, D.C.'s problem.

Texas, as a border state, has specific problems, but also some typical ones. Of the nine million children in the U.S. considered "uninsured," six million are already eligible for government programs such as Medicaid or Schip, but their parents have not signed them up.

 
- Sen. Obama: You have said that you will require all parents to have health insurance for their children. What will you do to enforce this law?

In Texas, 850,000 children are eligible but not enrolled. The available programs provide check-ups, prescription drugs, hospital care, and dental care. The state runs radio ads, hands out brochures in several languages, and partners with community organizations to inform parents about these programs, but parents still fail to act.

- Sen. Clinton: a question about young adults. They think of themselves as invincible and are not apt to buy insurance. Your "mandate" would force them to do so, and more than that, to pay the same premium as middle aged people whose health care needs generally are much greater. You defend the one-price rule as "shared responsibility," but isn't it an unjust, hidden tax on the younger generation?

Today in Austin, Texas a 25-year-old man can buy a $1,000 deductible policy for $70, according to e-healthinsurance.com. A 55-year-old man pays $270 for the same policy. In nearly all states, young adults currently get price breaks, and for good reason. They need, on average, about $1,500 a year in health care. Your health plan bars insurers from giving these price breaks to the young.

- Sen. Obama: You have pledged to make health insurance "affordable." Texas lawmakers have made insurance less affordable by requiring that every plan include in vitro fertilization, acupuncture, marriage counseling and some 50 other features. This is like passing a law saying that the only car you're permitted to buy is a fully loaded luxury sedan.

Would you allow Texans (and all of us who live in states with similarly costly insurance requirements) to shop for cheaper insurance outside our own state?

- Sen. Clinton: You promise that "everyone who is already insured will be able to keep the coverage they have today." Yet your proposal says all health plans must cover services "experts deem necessary."

About 4.5 million people have high-deductible insurance, because it costs less and allows them to make their own decisions about where and when to get medical care. But when Massachusetts passed mandatory health insurance, people with high-deductible plans were forced to switch to more expensive medical policies to meet that state's definition of insurance.

Will that also happen under your proposal?

- Sens. Obama and Clinton: Some doctors and hospitals are worried about your plans to make electronic record-keeping compulsory. What will be the penalty for a doctor who doesn't get computerized?

In the California primary debate, Sen. Clinton claimed a Rand study shows that savings due to information technology could pay for half of her $110-billion-a-year universal health coverage plan. What the Rand study actually says is that information technology will produce savings, estimated at $77 billion a year, but not until year 15 -- and not necessarily for the thousands of doctors and hospitals who are forced to spend $125 billion (Rand's estimate) up front for the equipment.

- Sens. Obama and Clinton: Both your proposals call for limits on the profit margins of insurance companies. Attacking the most unpopular industry in America may sound politically attractive, but if profit margins are legally capped, investors will flee to other industries and private insurance could become a thing of the past. That would leave only a government-run health-care system.

Do you believe the nation should take that risk?

Ms. McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, is an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
25046  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 20, 2008, 08:26:34 AM
WSJ

Beyond Musharraf
By HUSAIN HAQQANI
February 20, 2008; Page A15

Pakistan has never voted a military ruler out of office. That could change following Monday's parliamentary elections. Though President Pervez Musharraf was not on the ballot, the election was about his fate.

The people voted overwhelmingly against Mr. Musharraf. Even though the election was held under rules that favored his political allies, almost every candidate who served in his government lost. So did all major leaders of the Kings Party that Mr. Musharraf cobbled together with the help of his security services soon after taking power in a 1999 military coup. The Islamists, who Mr. Musharraf used as bogeymen to garner Western support, were trounced. This is good news for everyone worried about an Islamist takeover of the world's only nuclear-armed, Muslim-majority nation.

 
The result was a posthumous victory for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. This victory vindicated the sacrifice of every Pakistani who was imprisoned or exiled during eight years of autocratic rule but continued demanding freedom. Bhutto returned to the country seeking its return to democracy, only to be assassinated by terrorists on Dec. 27.

Pakistan's powerful army, now under the command of Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, is beginning to distance itself from politics. The army's refusal to side with Mr. Musharraf's political allies sealed their fate. Now, the army must help put Pakistan back on the constitutional path by undoing the arbitrary constitutional amendments decreed by Mr. Musharraf as army chief a few days before he relinquished his command.

The depth of opposition to Mr. Musharraf, coupled with his tendency to change or break rules to stay in power, had raised serious concerns that Mr. Musharraf would manipulate the election results in favor of his allies. In the end, international pressure, represented by the presence of three prominent U.S. senators -- John Kerry (D., Mass.), Joe Biden (D., Del.) and Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) -- on Election Day helped stay Mr. Musharraf's hand. Mr. Musharraf also seemed to think that tilting the rules in his party's favor would be enough for victory, and thus fraud on polling day would be unnecessary.

That does not mean, however, that Mr. Musharraf might not still try to manipulate the situation to cling to power. He could try and create rifts between the various opposition parties by negotiating separately with them, and by using his intelligence services to bribe or blackmail individual politicians. Late last year, Mr. Musharraf had himself "elected" president by Pakistan's outgoing parliament, which was itself chosen through a dubious election in 2002. He then fired 60% of superior court judges to forestall judicial review of the presidential election.

Trying such antics again would be a disastrous mistake. Some members of the Bush administration have repeatedly described Mr. Musharraf as an indispensable ally in the war against terrorism. Economic and military assistance from the U.S. and other Western countries has been crucial for Mr. Musharraf's political survival thus far, and has probably contributed to his arrogance.

This might be the moment for Mr. Musharraf's Western backers to help him understand that annulment or alteration of the election results would plunge Pakistan deeper into chaos. Mr. Musharraf should not only abide by the verdict of his people but also recognize that Pakistan -- not he -- is the crucial ally the world needs to defeat terrorists.

Pakistan faces an al-Qaeda-backed insurgency along its border with Afghanistan, which is spilling over into other parts of the country. Any attempt by Mr. Musharraf to insist on retaining absolute power -- rather than allowing opposition leaders Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari to return Pakistan to normal constitutional governance -- would only anger the vast majority of Pakistanis who have just voted for moderate, antiterrorist parties. The ensuing chaos could strengthen the violent Islamist insurgents.

Pakistan's two major opposition parties -- the pro-Western, center-left Pakistan Peoples Party now led by Bhutto's widower Asif Zardari, and the center-right Pakistan Muslim League -- together could have a two-thirds majority in the 342-seat National Assembly. Mr. Musharraf's allies have been virtually wiped out. The opposition can now form a government that is no longer subservient to Mr. Musharraf.

Even if he remains president, Mr. Musharraf will no longer remain the most powerful man in Pakistan. He has said in the past that he would rather step down than face the ignominy of being impeached by the newly elected parliament, which is now possible. The opposition would be well advised to exercise restraint. At the same time, Mr. Musharraf would have to reverse many of his arbitrary decisions in order to qualify for the opposition's minimal cooperation.

Since 9/11, Mr. Musharraf has marketed himself to the West as the man most capable of saving Pakistan from a radical Islamist takeover. But under his rule Pakistan has become more vulnerable to terrorists than before. Mr. Musharraf's government has squandered good will through its arbitrary actions against the political opposition and judiciary. Furthermore, only a small sliver of the country's 160 million people have benefited from the economic achievements of the past eight years.

The recent election campaign was marred by violence, which the government blames on terrorists. But the targets of violence have been the secular opposition parties -- the most notable victim being Bhutto, who became an icon of democracy for Pakistanis after her assassination. Opposition politicians justifiably questioned why the terrorists have not attacked pro-Musharraf groups, if he was the one fighting terror.

Mr. Musharraf must now accept the consequence of defeat, and work out an honorable exit or a workable compromise with the opposition. The two parties that have emerged with popular support from this election should get full backing from the international community in restoring democracy to Pakistan. This might prove more effective in combating terrorism than continuing to prop up a discredited and despised dictator.

Mr. Haqqani, professor of international relations at Boston University, is co-chair of the Hudson Institute's Project on Islam and Democracy. He is the author of the Carnegie Endowment book, "Pakistan Between Mosque and Military" (2005), and served as an adviser to former prime ministers, including Benazir Bhutto.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
25047  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hezbollah's coming attack on: February 20, 2008, 08:15:49 AM
Stratfor

Hezbollah Retribution: Beware the Ides of March
February 19, 2008 | 1613 GMT
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

Following the Feb. 12 assassination of Imad Mughniyah, one of Hezbollah’s top military commanders, many threats and warnings have been issued concerning a retribution attack against Israel, which has been blamed for — or credited with — the attack. The threats have come from Hezbollah and Iranian leaders, while the warnings have come from the Israeli and U.S. governments.

Although the unfolding story continues to make headlines, the warnings we have seen have not included any time frame. This means that most of the people concerned about them will be on alert in the near term but will, as is human nature, begin to relax as time passes and no retaliatory attack materializes. Organizations such as Hezbollah, however, typically do not retaliate immediately. Even in a case of a government with a professional and well-armed military, retaliatory strikes take time to plan, approve and implement. For example, nearly two weeks passed before U.S. cruise missiles struck targets in Afghanistan and Sudan following the Aug. 7, 1998, al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Even an organization such as Hezbollah that has created contingency attack plans needs time to dispatch operatives, conduct surveillance, gather materials, construct a bomb and then employ it. Indeed, a review of Hezbollah’s past retaliatory attacks demonstrates a lag of at least a month between the causi belli and the retaliatory attacks. In our estimation, therefore, any Hezbollah retaliatory strike will occur in mid-March at the earliest, though Hezbollah sympathizers not acting as part of the organization could respond more rapidly with attacks that require less planning and preparation.

Because of the lag time, by the time the real period of danger approaches, many of the deterrent security measures put in place immediately after the warnings were issued will have been relaxed and security postures at potential targets will have returned to business as usual. This natural sense of complacency will greatly aid Hezbollah if and when it decides to retaliate.

With this in mind, let’s examine the recent threats and warnings and compare them against Hezbollah’s historical retaliatory strikes to determine what a Hezbollah retaliatory strike might look like.

Threats and Warnings
Israeli sources have said the Israeli government placed its diplomatic posts on higher alert Feb. 13 following threats of retaliation over the Mughniyah assassination. Israeli officials believe Hezbollah is unlikely to launch attacks within Israel, but rather is more likely to attack Israeli diplomatic posts.

Inside the United States, the FBI has put its domestic terrorism squads and joint terrorism task force agents on alert for any threats against synagogues and other potential Jewish targets in the United States. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security also have sent a bulletin to state and local law enforcement authorities advising them to watch for potential retaliatory strikes by Hezbollah, and the bureau has made contact with potential domestic targets to convey this warning. The FBI also is stepping up its preventative surveillance coverage on known or suspected Hezbollah operatives in an attempt to thwart any plot inside the United States.

Many state and major local police agencies also have issued warnings and analytical reports pertaining to a potential Hezbollah retaliatory attack. These departments obviously take the threat very seriously and believe their warnings are highly justified.

Although the attack against Mughniyah raised the possibility of retaliatory strikes, much of the concern is the result of the response to the killing from Hezbollah and its sponsors. For example, when Hezbollah Secretary General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah spoke at Mughniyah’s funeral, he said Mughniyah’s assassination is a further incentive to proceed with the jihad against Israel and that the timing, location and method of Mughniyah’s assassination indicate that the state of Israel (referred to as Zionists by Nasrallah) wants open war. Nasrallah then said, “Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open.”

Hezbollah lawmaker Ismail Sukeyir said, “Hezbollah has the right to retaliate anywhere in the world and in any way it sees fit.” Hezbollah leader in South Lebanon Sheikh Nabil Kauk is reported to have said, “It won’t be long before the conceited Zionists realize that Imad Mughniyah’s blood is extremely costly, and it makes history and brings about a new victory.”

Hezbollah was not the only organization to make threats. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander-in-chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari reportedly noted in a condolence letter to Nasrallah, “In the near future, we will witness the destruction of the cancerous existence of Israel by the powerful and competent hands of the Hezbollah combatants.” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in Damascus on Feb. 15 that Mughniyah’s death had breathed new life into Islamic resistance and vigilance.

Although Hezbollah has not conducted an attack outside of the region in many years, it possesses the infrastructure, capability and talent to do so today. As we have said, we believe that Hezbollah is a far more capable and dangerous organization than al Qaeda at the present time. That said, Hezbollah has changed considerably since the 1980s. It no longer is just an amorphous resistance organization. Rather, it is a legitimate political party and a significant player in Lebanese politics. Some believe this change in Hezbollah’s nature will change its behavior and that it will not conduct retaliatory strikes as it did following the 1992 Israeli assassination of Hezbollah Secretary General Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi. However, Hezbollah and its supporters have issued nearly continuous and very vocal calls for retribution for the Mughniyah assassination. Some U.S. counterterrorism sources have even characterized these cries as “unprecedented.” Certainly they are more strident and numerous than those following the loss of any Hezbollah cadre member in recent memory.

Such an outcry is significant because it places a considerable amount of pressure on the Hezbollah leadership to retaliate. Indeed, Hezbollah may be concerned that it is now has infrastructure that can be attacked, but its survival of sustained airstrikes during the 2006 conflict with Israel could lead it to believe its infrastructure can weather Israeli retaliatory strikes. However, we believe it is unlikely at this point that Hezbollah will do anything that it calculates will precipitate another all-out war with Israel.

In addition to the pressure being created by the cries for retribution, another factor, reciprocity, will help to shape Hezbollah’s response. Although reciprocity generally relates to diplomatic relations and espionage/counterespionage operations, the concept will figure prominently in any strikes to avenge the death of Mughniyah.

Perhaps one of the best historical examples of reciprocity is the response to the Feb. 16, 1992 al-Musawi assassination. Following a 30-day mourning period, Hezbollah operatives destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) on March 17, killing 29 people and injuring hundreds. The team that conducted the attack was assisted by the Iranian Embassy, but reportedly was directed by Mugniyah, who was an early pioneer in the use of VBIEDs and a master of their construction and deployment.

Another case of reciprocity began June 2, 1994, when Israeli forces, responding to an increase in Hezbollah ambush activity along the border, launched a major airstrike targeting Hezbollah’s Ein Dardara training camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The strike destroyed the camp and reportedly killed 30 to 50 Hezbollah personnel. That raid came two weeks after Israeli forces abducted Mustafa Al Dirani, a leader with the Hezbollah-affiliated Amal militia and the person who allegedly provided the intelligence Israel needed for the Ein Dardara strike.

Then, on July 18, 1994, a large VBIED leveled the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds in an operation that has been credited to Mughniyah’s planning. Eight days later, two VBIEDs detonated outside of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish nongovernmental organization office in London, causing no fatalities but injuring 26 people.

Tactical Factors
One of the tactics Hezbollah has used successfully throughout its existence is a combination of ambiguity, stealth and confusion. The group frequently prefers to hide its hand, or sow confusion by claiming its attacks using pseudonyms, such as Islamic Jihad Organization or Organization for the Oppressed of the Earth. Any retribution attack against Israeli targets, therefore, will likely be conducted in such a way as to hide any direct links to the organization and be designed to obscure Hezbollah’s responsibility — or at least create some degree of plausible deniability. One example of this was the group’s use of Palestinian rather than Lebanese operatives in the 1994 London bombings.

Another tactical factor worth consideration is that Hezbollah uses an “off-the-shelf” method of planning. This is a method of planning used by the military commands of many countries in which several hypothetical targets are selected and attack plans for each are developed in advance. This advance planning gives the Hezbollah leadership several plans to choose from when considering and authorizing an attack — and it allows the group to hit hard and fast once a decision has been made to strike — far more quickly that if it had to plan an operation from scratch.

In the years since Hezbollah’s last overseas attack, its operatives have been seen conducting surveillance in many parts of the world (including the United States) — at times, triggering arrests — but no attacks have ensued. Therefore, it is believed that these operatives have been observed conducting surveillance for use in preliminary operational planning for hypothetical, future attacks. It is believed that the leadership of Hezbollah’s military wing has a large selection of off-the-shelf plans that it can choose from should it decide to mount attacks anywhere in the world. In all probability, therefore, targets for off-the-shelf plans already have been mapped. Ironically, many of these plans that might be activated in retribution for Mughniyah’s death could have been designed by Mughniyah himself.

As far as timing goes, using the Buenos Aires and London attacks as a gauge, we believe Hezbollah, should it choose to retaliate, would be able to attack within four to five weeks — perhaps around the infamous Ides of March — and probably not too much sooner due to operational considerations. However in the time between now and mid-March, Hezbollah operatives likely will be conducting surveillance to tune up a number of off-the-shelf plans in expectation of having a particular plan activated. As we have discussed on many occasions, surveillance is conducted at various stages of the attack cycle, and it is during these periods of surveillance that operatives are vulnerable to detection. Detecting surveillance on a potential target will be an indication that the target is being considered, though certainly Hezbollah will also conduct surveillance on other targets in an effort so sow confusion as to its ultimate plans.

However, detecting this surveillance in the early stages allows potential target sets and geographical locations to be determined and the potential targets hardened against attack. Because of this, law enforcement officials and security managers responsible for the security of a facility or person that conceivably might be targeted by Hezbollah should find countersurveillance and surveillance detection assets especially valuable during the next several weeks.

The Coming Attack?
If an attack is launched, we anticipate that it will have to be a spectacular one in order to meet the requirements of reciprocity, given that Mughniyah was very important to Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors. Merely killing an Israeli soldier or two in an ambush will not suffice. Also, in keeping with Hezbollah’s proclivity toward using a hidden hand, the attack will likely be conducted by a stealthy and ambiguous cell or cells and have no direct connections to the organization. Also, as we have seen in prior attacks, if a hardened target such as an Israeli embassy or VIP is not vulnerable, a secondary soft target can be selected. The AMIA bombing is a prime example of this and should serve as a warning to Jewish community centers and other non-Israeli government targets everywhere that even non-Israeli Jewish targets are considered fair game.

Operationally, Hezbollah would prefer to hit a target that is unsuspecting and easy to attack. That is why we would not be surprised to see an attack in Asia, Latin America or even Africa. Hezbollah’s 1994 attacks in London were not very effective due to the small size of the devices — a result of the difficulty of obtaining explosives in the United Kingdom. Due to their lack of spectacular results, not many people remember the twin VBIED attacks in London, but they do remember the spectacular AMIA attack. Such nonmemorable attacks hardly are what Hezbollah would hope for, and are certainly not the spectacular retaliation it would want in this case. In order to create such a spectacular result with a VBIED, it likely would attack in a place where it has an established infrastructure, a suitable target and access to explosives.

One other thing to consider is that Israeli diplomatic facilities do not have the same level of physical security that most U.S. facilities do, and in many places are located in office buildings or even in ordinary houses. In places like San Salvador, there is absolutely no comparison between the U.S. Embassy, which was built to Inman standards, and the Israeli Embassy. In other words, like Buenos Aires in 1992, Israeli diplomatic facilities are relatively easy targets in many parts of the world.

Of course, Hezbollah might not be planning one of Mughniyah’s signature VBIED attacks. As we saw on 9/11, spectacular attacks can come in forms other than a VBIED. While Mughniyah was a VBIED expert, he also was a consummate out-of-the-box thinker. Therefore, it is just possible that the retribution attacks would be carried out in a novel, yet spectacular, manner. Hezbollah has feared for several years now that the Israelis would assassinate Nasrallah or another senior leader, meaning that Mughniyah and the other Hezbollah operational planners have had plenty of time to contemplate their response — and it could be quite creative.

At the present time, Hezbollah is far larger and more geographically widespread than ever before, with a global array of members and supporters who are intertwined with sophisticated finance/logistics and intelligence networks. Also, thanks to Iran, Hezbollah has far more — and better-trained — operational cadres than ever before. The Hezbollah cadre also is well experienced in skullduggery, having conducted scores of transnational militant operations before al Qaeda was even formed. It is a force to be reckoned with. Beware the Ides of March indeed.
25048  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Canadian plot on: February 20, 2008, 06:28:38 AM
I just stumbled across this piece from 20 months ago:
==============


http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2006/06/08/amiruddin08062006.html
Teacher witnessed transformation of some bomb-plot suspects
Last Updated Thu, 08 Jun 2006 18:06:10 EDT
CBC News
A Muslim religious leader in Toronto who knows some of those charged in the
suspected bomb plot says the young men underwent rapid transformations from
normal Canadian teenagers to radicalized introverts.


      Alleged bomb-plot suspects in a Brampton courtroom on Tuesday. (John
Mantha/CBC)
Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin got to know Saad Khalid, 19, and some of the other
alleged conspirators at a local mosque.

Khalid was arrested last Friday at a warehouse, where he and another suspect
allegedly took delivery of what they thought was ammonium nitrate, a
fertilizer, and the same substance used in the deadly Oklahoma City bombing
in 1995.

Fifteen others are also facing charges connected to the alleged plot.

Entered mosque to pray

Amiruddin says Khalid used to come to his mosque to pray, sometimes in the
company of Zakaria Amara and Fahim Ahmad, two of the alleged ringleaders.

"They would enter into the mosque to pray, and they would pray in a very
aggressive manner, and they would come in military fatigues and military
touques and stuff.  It looked to me that they were watching a lot of those
Chechnyan jihad videos online and stuff."

Amiruddin is a teacher of Sufism, a traditional brand of Islam that rejects
the ideology of jihad. Amiruddin says the group was seduced by hardline
propaganda financed by the Saudi government and promoting a strict, Wahhabi
brand of Islam.

He says the Saudis have flooded Canada with free Qur'ans, laced with
jihadist commentary.

"In the back of these Qur'ans that are being published in Saudi Arabia, you
have basically essays on the need for offensive jihad and the legitimacy of
offensive jihad and things like that.  Very alarming stuff," he said.

Amiruddin said many mainstream Muslim organizations in Canada are really
part of the problem, standing by as extremist propaganda spreads in the
mosques.

He cites the Al-Rahman centre in Mississauga, Ont., which he links to the
Al-Maghrib Institute, which runs a popular educational website. It's
nominally run out of Ottawa, but Amiruddin says it's really a Saudi
operation.

Recruiting young teens

Amiruddin says Khalid underwent a rapid transition from a clean-cut Canadian
teenager to a long-haired, radicalized introvert.

He says the young men would pray by themselves, and try to recruit younger
teens to the fundamentalist Wahhabi view.

Amiruddin says Khalid stopped coming to the mosque after he befriended
43-year-old Qayyum Abdul Jamal, another key suspect, who once preached that
Canadian forces were in Afghanistan to rape Muslim women.

Amiruddin also has a theory as to why Khalid may have been open to such
influences.

"His mother passed away and let's say within the first month of his mom
passing away, his girlfriend, who was not Muslim, dumped him. And then from
that within a year you have this radical turnaround right?  Even Fahim
Ahmad, he was in love with a girl who constantly rejected him, right?  Maybe
he was just looking for love?  I can't say for certain, but this was
something I found common with these young guys."
25049  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Free Speech vs. Islamic Fascism (formerly Buy DANISH!!!) on: February 20, 2008, 06:08:55 AM
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday February 17 2008 on p40 of the World news section. It was last updated at 00:06 on February 17 2008.


Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, is refusing to remove medieval artistic depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, despite being flooded with complaints from Muslims demanding the images be deleted.
More than 180,000 worldwide have joined an online protest claiming the images, shown on European-language pages and taken from Persian and Ottoman miniatures dating from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, are offensive to Islam, which prohibits any representation of Muhammad. But the defiant editors of the encyclopaedia insist they will not bow to pressure and say anyone objecting to the controversial images can simply adjust their computers so they do not have to look at them.
The images at the centre of the protest appear on most of the European versions of the web encyclopaedia, though not on Arabic sites. On two of the images, Muhammad's face is veiled, a practice followed in Islamic art since the 16th century. But on two others, one from 1315, which is the earliest surviving depiction of the prophet, and the other from the 15th century, his face is shown. Some protesters are claiming the pictures have been posted simply to 'bait' and 'insult' Muslims and argue the least Wikipedia can do is blur or blank out the faces.
Such has been the adverse reaction, Wikipedia has been forced to set up a separate page on its site explaining why it refuses to bow to pressure and has also had to set up measures to block people from 'editing' the pages themselves.
In a robust statement on the site, its editors state: 'Wikipedia recognises that there are cultural traditions among some Muslim groups that prohibit depictions of Muhammad and other prophets and that some Muslims are offended when those traditions are violated. However, the prohibitions are not universal among Muslim communities, particularly with the Shia who, while prohibiting the images, are less strict about it.
'Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group.
'So long as they are relevant to the article and do not violate any of Wikipedia's existing policies, nor the law of the US state of Florida where Wikipedia's servers are hosted, no content or images will be removed because people find them objectionable or offensive.'
The traditional reason given for the Islamic prohibition on images of prophets it to prevent them from becoming objects of worship in a form of idolatry. But, say the editors, the images used were examples of how Muhammad has been depicted by various Islamic sects through history and not in a religious context.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology...ia.islam/print
25050  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO on guns on: February 20, 2008, 06:03:47 AM
Second post of the AM:

I've read that BO wants a federal law to override the CCW laws of 30 states.  Here's more on his proposals about guns-- not every single idea is bad, but a few of them really are:

------

http://volokh.com/posts/1203389334.shtml


His record isn't likely to win back the rural "pro-gun" voters who've fled to the Republicans in recent years, likely costing Gore the election in 2000. From the Chicago Defender, Dec. 13, 1999:
Sweeping federal gun control legislation proposed by Sen. Barack Obama (D-13th) would increase the penalties on gun runners who are flooding Chicago's streets with illegal weapons.


At an anti-gun rally held at the Park Manor Christian Church, 600 E. 73rd St., headed by the Rev. James Demus, Obama also said he's backing a resolution being introduced into the City Council by Alds. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Ted Thomas (15th), Leslie Hairston (5th) to call for a "shot-free" millennium celebration.

Obama outlined his anti-gun plan that includes increased penalties for the interstate transportation of firearms. The maximum penalty now for bringing a gun across the border is 10 years in prison. Obama is proposing to make it a felony for a gun owner whose firearm was stolen from his residence which causes harm to another person if that weapon was not securely stored in that home. [!!!]

He's proposing restricting gun purchases to one weapon a month and banning the sale of firearms at gun shows except for "antique" weapons. Obama is also proposing increasing the licensing fee to obtain a federal firearms license.
He's also seeking a ban on police agencies from reselling their used weapons even if those funds are used to buy more state-of-the-art weapons for their agencies. Obama wants only those over 21 who've passed a basic course to be able to buy or own a firearm.

He's proposing that all federally licensed gun dealers sell firearms in a storefront and not from their homes while banning their business from being within five miles of a school or a park. He's also banning the sale of 'junk" handguns like the popular Saturday Night Specials.

Obama is requiring that all people working at a gun dealer undergo a criminal background check. He's also asking that gun manufacturers be required to develop safety measures that permit only the original owner of the firearm to operate the weapon purchased.

Additionally, he wants an increase of the funds for schools to teach anger management skills for youth between the ages of 5-13. Obama is also seeking to increase the federal taxes by 500 percent on the sale of firearm, ammunition [sic] -- weapons he says are most commonly used in firearm deaths.
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