Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times: Containment strategy
on: March 18, 2008, 02:19:32 PM
U.S. Adapts Cold-War Idea to Fight Terrorists
By ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER
Published: March 18, 2008
WASHINGTON — In the days immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, members of President Bush’s war cabinet declared that it would be impossible to deter the most fervent extremists from carrying out even more deadly terrorist missions with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
Since then, however, administration, military and intelligence officials assigned to counterterrorism have begun to change their view. After piecing together a more nuanced portrait of terrorist organizations, they say there is reason to believe that a combination of efforts could in fact establish something akin to the posture of deterrence, the strategy that helped protect the United States from a Soviet nuclear attack during the cold war.
Interviews with more than two dozen senior officials involved in the effort provided the outlines of previously unreported missions to mute Al Qaeda’s message, turn the jihadi movement’s own weaknesses against it and illuminate Al Qaeda’s errors whenever possible.
A primary focus has become cyberspace, which is the global safe haven of terrorist networks. To counter efforts by terrorists to plot attacks, raise money and recruit new members on the Internet, the government has mounted a secret campaign to plant bogus e-mail messages and Web site postings, with the intent to sow confusion, dissent and distrust among militant organizations, officials confirm.
At the same time, American diplomats are quietly working behind the scenes with Middle Eastern partners to amplify the speeches and writings of prominent Islamic clerics who are renouncing terrorist violence.
At the local level, the authorities are experimenting with new ways to keep potential terrorists off guard.
In New York City, as many as 100 police officers in squad cars from every precinct converge twice daily at randomly selected times and at randomly selected sites, like Times Square or the financial district, to rehearse their response to a terrorist attack. City police officials say the operations are believed to be a crucial tactic to keep extremists guessing as to when and where a large police presence may materialize at any hour. “What we’ve developed since 9/11, in six or seven years, is a better understanding of the support that is necessary for terrorists, the network which provides that support, whether it’s financial or material or expertise,” said Michael E. Leiter, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
“We’ve now begun to develop more sophisticated thoughts about deterrence looking at each one of those individually,” Mr. Leiter said in an interview. “Terrorists don’t operate in a vacuum.”
In some ways, government officials acknowledge, the effort represents a second-best solution. Their preferred way to combat terrorism remains to capture or kill extremists, and the new emphasis on deterrence in some ways amounts to attaching a new label to old tools.
“There is one key question that no one can answer: How much disruption does it take to give you the effect of deterrence?” said Michael Levi, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of a new book, “On Nuclear Terrorism.”
The New Deterrence
The emerging belief that terrorists may be subject to a new form of deterrence is reflected in two of the nation’s central strategy documents.
The 2002 National Security Strategy, signed by the president one year after the Sept. 11 attacks, stated flatly that “traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents.”
Four years later, however, the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism concluded: “A new deterrence calculus combines the need to deter terrorists and supporters from contemplating a W.M.D. attack and, failing that, to dissuade them from actually conducting an attack.”
For obvious reasons, it is harder to deter terrorists than it was to deter a Soviet attack.
Terrorists hold no obvious targets for American retaliation as Soviet cities, factories, military bases and silos were under the cold-war deterrence doctrine. And it is far harder to pinpoint the location of a terrorist group’s leaders than it was to identify the Kremlin offices of the Politburo bosses, making it all but impossible to deter attacks by credibly threatening a retaliatory attack.
But over the six and a half years since the Sept. 11 attacks, many terrorist leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, have successfully evaded capture, and American officials say they now recognize that threats to kill terrorist leaders may never be enough to keep America safe.
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So American officials have spent the last several years trying to identify other types of “territory” that extremists hold dear, and they say they believe that one important aspect may be the terrorists’ reputation and credibility with Muslims.
Counterterrorism officials seek ways to deter attacks by Al Qaeda’s leaders, Osama bin Laden, left, and Ayman al-Zawahri.
Under this theory, if the seeds of doubt can be planted in the mind of Al Qaeda’s strategic leadership that an attack would be viewed as a shameful murder of innocents — or, even more effectively, that it would be an embarrassing failure — then the order may not be given, according to this new analysis.
Senior officials acknowledge that it is difficult to prove what role these new tactics and strategies have played in thwarting plots or deterring Al Qaeda from attacking. Senior officials say there have been several successes using the new approaches, but many involve highly classified technical programs, including the cyberoperations, that they declined to detail.
They did point to some older and now publicized examples that suggest that their efforts are moving in the right direction.
George J. Tenet, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his autobiography that the authorities were concerned that Qaeda operatives had made plans in 2003 to attack the New York City subway using cyanide devices.
Mr. Zawahri reportedly called off the plot because he feared that it “was not sufficiently inspiring to serve Al Qaeda’s ambitions,” and would be viewed as a pale, even humiliating, follow-up to the 9/11 attacks.
And in 2002, Iyman Faris, a naturalized American citizen from Kashmir, began casing the Brooklyn Bridge to plan an attack and communicated with Qaeda leaders in Pakistan via coded messages about using a blowtorch to sever the suspension cables.
But by early 2003, Mr. Faris sent a message to his confederates saying that “the weather is too hot.” American officials said that meant Mr. Faris feared that the plot was unlikely to succeed — apparently because of increased security.
“We made a very visible presence there and that may have contributed to it,” said Paul J. Browne, the New York City Police Department’s chief spokesman. “Deterrence is part and parcel of our entire effort.”
Terrorists hold little or no terrain, except on the Web. “Al Qaeda and other terrorists’ center of gravity lies in the information domain, and it is there that we must engage it,” said Dell L. Dailey, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief.
Some of the government’s most secretive counterterrorism efforts involve disrupting terrorists’ cyberoperations. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, specially trained teams have recovered computer hard drives used by terrorists and are turning the terrorists’ tools against them.
“If you can learn something about whatever is on those hard drives, whatever that information might be, you could instill doubt on their part by just countermessaging whatever it is they said they wanted to do or planned to do,” said Brig. Gen. Mark O. Schissler, director of cyberoperations for the Air Force and a former deputy director of the antiterrorism office for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Since terrorists feel safe using the Internet to spread ideology and gather recruits, General Schissler added, “you may be able to interfere with some of that, interrupt some of that.”
“You can also post messages to the opposite of that,” he added.
Other American efforts are aimed at discrediting Qaeda operations, including the decision to release seized videotapes showing members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely Iraqi group with some foreign leaders, training children to kidnap and kill, as well as a lengthy letter said to have been written by another terrorist leader that describes the organization as weak and plagued by poor morale.
Even as security and intelligence forces seek to disrupt terrorist operations, counterterrorism specialists are examining ways to dissuade insurgents from even considering an attack with unconventional weapons. They are looking at aspects of the militants’ culture, families or religion, to undermine the rhetoric of terrorist leaders.
For example, the government is seeking ways to amplify the voices of respected religious leaders who warn that suicide bombers will not enjoy the heavenly delights promised by terrorist literature, and that their families will be dishonored by such attacks. Those efforts are aimed at undermining a terrorist’s will.
“I’ve got to figure out what does dissuade you,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the Joint Chiefs’ director of strategic plans and policy. “What is your center of gravity that we can go at? The goal you set won’t be achieved, or you will be discredited and lose face with the rest of the Muslim world or radical extremism that you signed up for.”
Page 3 of 3)
Efforts are also under way to persuade Muslims not to support terrorists. It is a delicate campaign that American officials are trying to promote and amplify — but without leaving telltale American fingerprints that could undermine the effort in the Muslim world. Senior Bush administration officials point to several promising developments.
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Asheik, gave a speech last October warning Saudis not to join unauthorized jihadist activities, a statement directed mainly at those considering going to Iraq to fight the American-led forces.
And Abdul-Aziz el-Sherif, a top leader of the armed Egyptian movement Islamic Jihad and a longtime associate of Mr. Zawahri, the second-ranking Qaeda official, has just completed a book that renounces violent jihad on legal and religious grounds.
Such dissents are serving to widen rifts between Qaeda leaders and some former loyal backers, Western and Middle Eastern diplomats say.
“Many terrorists value the perception of popular or theological legitimacy for their actions,” said Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser. “By encouraging debate about the moral legitimacy of using weapons of mass destruction, we can try to affect the strategic calculus of the terrorists.”
As the top Pentagon policy maker for special operations, Michael G. Vickers creates strategies for combating terrorism with specialized military forces, as well as for countering the proliferation of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
Much of his planning is old school: how should the military’s most elite combat teams capture and kill terrorists? But with each passing day, more of his time is spent in the new world of terrorist deterrence theory, trying to figure out how to prevent attacks by persuading terrorist support networks — those who enable terrorists to operate — to refuse any kind of assistance to stateless agents of extremism.
“Obviously, hard-core terrorists will be the hardest to deter,” Mr. Vickers said. “But if we can deter the support network — recruiters, financial supporters, local security providers and states who provide sanctuary — then we can start achieving a deterrent effect on the whole terrorist network and constrain terrorists’ ability to operate.
“We have not deterred terrorists from their intention to do us great harm,” Mr. Vickers said, “but by constraining their means and taking away various tools, we approach the overall deterrent effect we want.”
Much effort is being spent on perfecting technical systems that can identify the source of unconventional weapons or their components regardless of where they are found — and letting nations around the world know the United States has this ability.
President Bush has declared that the United States will hold “fully accountable” any nation that shares nuclear weapons with another state or terrorists.
Rear Adm. William P. Loeffler, deputy director of the Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction at the military’s Strategic Command, said Mr. Bush’s declaration meant that those who might supply arms or components to terrorists were just as accountable as those who ordered and carried out an attack.
It is, the admiral said, a system of “attribution as deterrence.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Part Two
on: March 18, 2008, 01:43:34 PM
This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.
But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.
This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.
There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.
And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.
She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.
She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.
Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.
Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”
“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.
But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 18, 2008, 01:42:48 PM
Here's BO's speech in response to the gathering firestorm over his reverend's rabblerousing and related matters:
OBAMA SPEECH IN FULL: A MORE PERFECT UNION
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008/ 10:17:53 ET
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”
Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.
The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.
This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.
Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.
This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.
And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.
On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way
But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:
“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”
That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.
But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.
Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.
Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.
This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.
And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 18, 2008, 12:44:42 PM
Liberals: Show Us the Money!
Liberals may rail about money in politics, but liberal groups this year are pulling out all the stops to raise money outside the normal Democratic Party structure in order win back the White House and solidify their control of Congress.
Today, two large labor groups -- the AFL-CIO and Change to Win -- will team up with the left-wing MoveOn.org and the housing advocacy group ACORN to announce plans to spend a whopping $150 million this fall. "In '04 the right mobilized its base and its resources," Bob Borosage, a co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future, told the Associated Press. "Well, we've continued to build and expand and gotten more enthusiastic and more mobilized and their coalition has collapsed."
Conservatives would beg to differ about that. They note that their own fundraising has finally started to pick up since John McCain became the presumptive GOP nominee. They also say Democrats are wasting a lot of resources on the trench warfare between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over which candidate will win the Democratic nomination.
But there's no denying there's a lot of new liberal money flooding the system. John Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Clinton, has set up a group called The Fund for America, which plans to raise and spend $100 million. Among its heavy contributors are George Soros, who ponied up $2.5 million last year, and the Service Employees International Union, which gave an equal amount.
All in all, liberals apparently have decided to counter what they have long perceived as a vast right-wing conspiracy with a vast financial conspiracy of their own creation. Perhaps that's why talk of new campaign finance reform laws was almost absent from the Democratic Party primary debates this year.
-- John Fund
McCain's Warning to Immigration Hotheads
John McCain has a message for Republican candidates who are planning to run on strong anti-immigration themes this fall. Pay attention to recent election defeats by get-tough candidates and modulate your message accordingly.
Mr. McCain told National Public Radio on Monday that he believes noisy anti-immigration rhetoric helped defeat Republicans in several high-profile border state races in Texas and Arizona. He also singled out Pennsylvania, where Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania lost re-election in 2006, and Illinois, where Jim Oberweis stunned the GOP this month by losing the special election to fill the seat of former House Speaker Denny Hastert.
"Senator Santorum emphasized that issue [immigration] and lost by a large number," Mr. McCain told NPR. "We just had a loss of Denny Hastert's seat out in Illinois. The Republican candidate out there, I am told, had very strong anti-immigrant rhetoric also, so I would hope that many of our Republican candidates would understand the political practicalities of this issue."
Mr. Oberweis lost for a variety of reasons, but his high-octane immigration rhetoric clearly didn't help him as he lagged well behind normal GOP totals in the suburban Chicago seat. As a millionaire he spent big bucks from his own pocket airing an ad decrying how Washington politicians "can't seem to fix" the problem and calling for "tougher sanctions" on employers and illegal immigrants. Mr. Oberweis ran similar ads during his 2004 primary race for U.S. Senate, which he also lost.
Indeed, the Oberweis electoral track record is such that many local GOP leaders are urging him to step aside and allow the Republican he beat in the special election primary, State Senator Chris Lauzen, to replace him when the former Hastert seat comes up again in November. But Mr. Oberweis is nothing if not proud and insists he has a good chance of evening the score by defeating the new Democratic incumbent Bill Foster this fall. Nonetheless, Congressional Quarterly now rates the race in the normally Republican seat as Mr. Foster's to lose.
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day
"Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright drives a wedge into the central contradiction of Obama's campaign -- an orthodox liberal politician who rose to prominence in a left-wing milieu in Chicago and has never broken with his party on anything of consequence is campaigning on unifying the country. There is nothing particularly unifying about Obama's past and his voting record. The senator has risen on his words, and will be hard-pressed to talk his way out of his long, jarring association with the gleefully divisive Rev. Wright" -- National Review editor Rich Lowry.
Putting the 'Super' Back in Superdelegate
Kudos to Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth. When asked recently why he is supporting Barack Obama for president, the first-term Democrat dispensed with the usual civic-minded blather and instead said the Illinois Senator was the best candidate to help him hold onto his seat in Congress. "In my district, there's no question Barack would be better," Mr. Yarmuth told Congressional Quarterly last week. In 2006, Mr. Yarmuth defeated incumbent Republican Ann Northup by fewer than 6,000 votes in a district that usually trends Republican. In that race, black voters made up just 10% of the electorate. If Mr. Obama is at the top of the ticket, "my guess is it will be three-to-five percent higher," Mr. Yarmuth said, which could tip the race in his favor in a rematch against Ms. Northup.
Mr. Yarmuth isn't the only one. CQ identifies four Indiana Democrats who are likely to support Mr. Obama in hopes of saving their seats in Congress. Reps. Andre Carson, Baron Hill, Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth are all freshmen congressmen from districts that could swing Republican in a competitive year.
Naturally, this is music to the Obama campaign's ears. His staff has tried to make a high principle out of the idea that superdelegates should rigidly vote as their districts do -- which, of course, defeats the purpose of having superdelegates in the first place. From 1954 until 1994, Democrats managed to win more than 50% of the popular vote in a presidential election just once, when Lyndon Johnson crushed Barry Goldwater in 1964, despite Democrats' nearly uninterrupted dominance of Congress during the period. Indeed, no Democratic candidate since then has hit the 50% mark, though Al Gore came close in 2000. This history suggests the party base is better at dutifully reelecting Congressmen than at picking presidential winners. Had they learned this history better, Democrats might be sticking with the plan to let superdelegates use their own judgment.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: March 18, 2008, 11:50:34 AM
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
15% (no change)
How does this affect you? If you sell your home and make a profit, you will pay 28% of your gain on taxes. If you are heading toward retirement and would like to down-size your home or move into a retirement community, 28% of the money you make from your home will go to taxes. This proposal will adversely affect the elderly who are counting on the income from their homes as part of their retirement income.
15% (no change)
How will this affect you? If you have any money invested in stock market, IRA, mutual funds, college funds, life insurance, retirement accounts, or anything that pays or reinvests dividends, you will now be paying nearly 40% of the money earned on taxes if Obama or Clinton become president. The experts predict that 'Higher tax rates on dividends and capital gains would crash the stock market yet do absolutely nothing to cut the deficit.'
Single making 30K - tax $4,500
Single making 50K - tax $12,500
Single making 75K - tax $18,750
Married making 60K- tax $9,000
Married making 75K - tax $18,750
Married making 125K - tax $31,250
(reversion to pre-Bush tax cuts)
Single making 30K - tax $8,400
Single making 50K - tax $14,000
Single making 75K - tax $23,250
Married making 60K - tax $16,800
Married making 75K - tax $21,000
Married making 125K - tax $38,750
(reversion to pre-Bush tax cuts)
Single making 30K - tax $8,400
Single making 50K - tax $14,000
Single making 75K - tax $23,250
Married making 60K - tax $16,800
Married making 75K - tax $21,000
Married making 125K - tax $38,750
How does this affect you? No explanation needed. This is pretty straight forward.
(No change, Bush repealed this tax)
keep the inheritance tax
keep the inheritance tax
How does this affect you? Many families have lost businesses, farms and ranches, and homes that have been in their families for generations because they could not afford the inheritance tax. Those willing their assets to loved ones will not only lose them to these taxes.
NEW TAXES BEING PROPOSED BY BOTH CLINTON AND OBAMA
* New government taxes proposed on homes that are more than 2400 square feet
* New gasoline taxes (as if gas weren't high enough already)
* New taxes on natural resources consumption (heating gas, water, electricity)
* New taxes on retirement accounts
and last but not least....
* New taxes to pay for socialized medicine so we can receive the same level of medical care as other third-world countries!!!
Can you afford Clinton or Obama?
(in case you want more information on Obama's tax and spend agenda:
If Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) Could Enact All Of His Campaign Proposals, Taxpayers Would Be Faced With Financing $874.35 Billion In New Spending Over One White House Term:
Updated February 14, 2008: Obama's National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank Will Cost $60 Billion Over Ten Years; Equal To $6 Billion A Year And $24 Billion Over Four Years. Obama: 'I'm proposing a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years.' (Sen. Barack Obama, Remarks On Economic Policy, Janesville, WI, 2/13/08)
Obama's Health Care Plan Will Cost Up To $65 Billion A Year; Equal To $260 Billion Over Four Years. '[Obama] campaign officials estimated that the net cost of the plan to the federal government would be $50 billion to $65 billion a year, when fully phased in, and said the revenues from rolling back the tax cuts were enough to cover it.' (Robin Toner and Patrick Healy, 'Obama Calls For Wider And Less Costly Health Care Coverage,' The New York Times, 5/30/07)
Obama's Energy Plan Will Cost $150 Billion Over 10 Years, Equal To $15 Billion Annually And $60 Billion Over Four Years. 'Obama will invest $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial-scale renewable energy, invest in low-emissions coal plants, and begin the transition to a new digital electricity grid.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com
, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 25)
Obama's Tax Plan Will Cost Approximately $85 Billion A Year; Equal To $340 Billion Over Four Years. '[Obama's] proposed tax cuts and credits, aimed at workers earning $50,000 or less per year, would cost the Treasury an estimated $85 billion annually.' (Margaret Talev, 'Obama Proposes Tax Code Overhaul To Help The Poor,' McClatchy Newspapers, 9/19/07)
Obama's Plan Would Raise Taxes On Capital Gains And Dividends, And On Carried Interest. Obama's tax plan includes: 'ncreasing the highest bracket for capital gains and dividends and closing the carried interest loophole.' (Obama For America, 'Barack Obama: Tax Fairness For The Middle Class,' Fact Sheet, www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/8/08)
Obama's Economic Stimulus Package Will Cost $75 Billion. 'Barack Obama's economic plan will inject $75 billion of stimulus into the economy by getting money in the form of tax cuts and direct spending directly to the people who need it most.' (Obama For America, 'Barack Obama's Plan To Stimulate The Economy,' Fact Sheet, www.barackobama.com, 1/13/08)
Obama's Early Education And K-12 Package Will Cost $18 Billion A Year; Equal To $72 Billion Over Four Years. 'Barack Obama's early education and K-12 plan package costs about $18 billion per year.' (Obama For America, 'Barack Obama's Plan For Lifetime Success Through Education,' Fact Sheet, www.barackobama.com, 11/20/07, p. 15)
Obama's National Service Plan Will Cost $3.5 Billion A Year; Equal To $14 Billion Over Four Years. 'Barack Obama's national service plan will cost about $3.5 billion per year when it is fully implemented.' (Obama For America, 'Helping All Americans Serve Their Country: Barack Obama's Plan For Universal Voluntary Citizen Service,' Fact Sheet, www.barackobama.com, 12/5/07)
Obama Will Increase Our Foreign Assistance Funding By $25 Billion. 'Obama will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, and he will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion to achieve that goal.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 53)
Obama Will Provide $2 Billion To Aid Iraqi Refugees. 'He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find a safe-haven.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 51)
Obama Will Provide $1.5 Billion To Help States Adopt Paid-Leave Systems. 'As president, Obama will initiate a strategy to encourage all 50 states to adopt paid-leave systems. Obama will provide a $1.5 billion fund to assist states with start-up costs and to help states offset the costs for employees and employers.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 15)
Obama Will Provide $1 Billion Over 5 Years For Transitional Jobs And Career Pathway Programs, Equal To $200 Million A Year And $800 Million Over Four Years. 'Obama will invest $1 billion over five years in transitional jobs and career pathway programs that implement proven methods of helping low-income Americans succeed in the workforce.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 42)
Obama Will Provide $50 Million To Jump-Start The Creation Of An IAEA-Controlled Nuclear Fuel Bank. Obama: 'We must also stop the spread of nuclear weapons technology and ensure that countries cannot build -- or come to the brink of building -- a weapons program under the auspices of developing peaceful nuclear power. That is why my administration will immediately provide $50 million to jump-start the creation of an International Atomic Energy Agency-controlled nuclear fuel bank and work to update the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.' (Sen. Barack Obama, 'Renewing American Leadership,' Foreign Affairs, 7-8/07)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Howl of Respect to Robert Haldane
on: March 17, 2008, 03:58:31 PM
Robert Haldane, 83; led troops that found Viet Cong tunnels
Robert Haldane, an Army officer who led the battalion that discovered the infamous Cu Chi tunnels during the Vietnam War, died of cancer March 5 at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 83.
Lt. Gen. Haldane was a lieutenant colonel Jan. 7, 1966, when he was in charge of the American infantry contingent of the 8,000-man U.S.-Australian Operation Crimp. His troops came under fire as soon as they landed near a rubber plantation about 25 miles northwest of Saigon and were mystified when the large numbers of enemy soldiers seemed to vanish in relatively open terrain.
click to enlarge
For three days, the battalion combed the area. They found a large trench, cache after cache of rice and salt, a classroom for 100 men, minefields, foxholes and antiaircraft artillery emplacements. The area was clearly home to a regiment-size force, but few Viet Cong were seen. Yet snipers continually harassed the Americans from within their own lines.
It wasn't until Sgt. Stewart L. Green sat on a nail, which turned out to be attached to a wooden trap door perforated with air holes, that an ingeniously camouflaged tunnel entrance was found. Green, a wiry 130-pound soldier, dropped into the tunnel and reported spotting 30 Viet Cong hiding just feet below the U.S. troops.
Haldane ordered red smoke grenades dropped into the entrance, and within minutes, "reports came in from every direction of red smoke appearing from numerous holes in the ground," according to "Infantry in Vietnam" (1967), edited by Albert N. Garland. The smoke didn't rout the enemy, so Haldane ordered his troops to pump in a nonlethal riot control gas. The Viet Cong stayed put. Finally, Green reentered the tunnel with a demolitions specialist, placed explosive charges and hurried out of the tunnel before the blasts.
The tunnels twisted and turned to minimize the effect of explosions and to restrict assaults. They also contained booby traps. Ventilation holes were disguised as anthills. In the tunnels, baskets of grenades hid trap doors to three lower levels. Service records of 148 Viet Cong were found, as well as operating rooms, supply dumps, armories -- everything needed to keep a large fighting force supplied.
The 125 miles of tunnels were later the scene of fierce hand-to-hand combat as American "tunnel rats" fought the Viet Cong in the dark, vermin-infested earth. In Operation Cedar Falls in 1967, 30,000 U.S. troops tried to destroy the tunnels, but historical sources say the Viet Cong used the remaining parts of the underground complex as a staging area during the 1968 Tet Offensive. In 1970, B-52s dropped thousands of delayed-fuse bombs that buried deep into the ground before exploding, which finally ended the tunnels' utility. The remnants of the Cu Chi tunnels are now a major tourist attraction in Vietnam.
Even as the tunnels were being discovered, fierce fighting raged in the area. Haldane was awarded the Silver Star for his actions Jan. 15, 1966, when he rushed an enemy position while under fire to give first aid to wounded troops. The Viet Cong blocked his efforts to evacuate the wounded. His Silver Star citation said that, "armed only with a .45-caliber pistol, Lt. Col. Haldane fearlessly charged the principal Viet Cong strong point, firing his weapon as he ran forward. His dauntless courage inspired his men to complete the assault, and ensured the successful evacuation of the casualties as well as the seizure of the objective."
Haldane served a second tour in Vietnam in 1968 as commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division.
A native of Glen Rock, N.J., born in 1924, Haldane served in the Army Air Forces in England during World War II. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1947 and served in Germany, the United States and Korea before going to Vietnam in 1965.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 17, 2008, 01:28:46 PM
Barack Obama insists he wasn't present at his local church when his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made incendiary remarks attacking America. Mr. Obama also insists he wasn't aware of many of Rev. Wright's controversial opinions.
His claims may already be unraveling. Ron Kessler of Newsmax.com reports that on July 22 of last year, Mr. Obama was at Mr. Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ. He was observed in the pews by Jim Davis, a freelance reporter for Newsmax, and was also seen to be nodding in agreement with the fiery minister's remarks. In his sermon that day, Mr. Wright condemned America as the "United States of White America" and said young blacks were "dying for nothing" in Iraq. He called the Iraq war an "illegal" war based on lies and "fought for oil money." The Obama campaign says that the candidate did not attend church services that day, flying instead to speak to an Hispanic group in Chicago. Mr. Kessler stands by his story.
Still more evidence has surfaced that Mr. Obama likely knew a great deal about the content of his pastor's sermons. Last year, the New York Times reported Mr. Obama personally called Mr. Wright to tell him he was being disinvited from giving the public invocation at the announcement of Mr. Obama's candidacy. Mr. Obama explained the move by pointing out to his pastor that a recent Rolling Stone story called "The Radical Roots of Barack Obama" had reprinted excerpts from Wright sermons. "You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we've decided is that it's best for you not to be out there in public," was Rev. Wright's recollection of what Mr. Obama told him.
The Rolling Stone story included the following Wright quote describing the United States: "We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns and the training of professional KILLERS.... We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.... We conducted radiation experiments on our own people.... We care nothing about human life if the ends justify the means!... GAWD! Has GOT! To be SICK! OF THIS S***!"
At least one member of Rev. Wright's church apparently had her fill of such rhetoric. Oprah Winfrey, a staunch backer of Mr. Obama, began attending the church in 1984. But sometime in the mid-1990s, Christianity Today reports the superstar abruptly stopped going. It may well have had something to do with her desire to distance herself from his fiery speech. Rev. Wright criticized her absence, claiming that Ms. Winfrey has broken with his notion of "traditional faith."
Mr. Obama took a different path. He not only remained in the church, but in 2001, the same year Ms. Winfrey left, had his daughter Natasha baptized by Rev. Wright. The question more and more people are asking is: Why?
-- John Fund
When Eliot Spitzer was New York's attorney general, he used to bat ideas around with his staff on how criminals could try to evade detection. One day, as Brooke Masters of the Financial Times reports, the conversation veered away from how someone would, say, evade price-fixing laws to how someone might use prostitutes without getting caught. Mr. Spitzer had an instant opinion: "You don't do it in your own community."
That may explain the former governor's habit of using prostitutes on road trips -- whether to Washington, D.C., Texas or Florida. While it's true Mr. Spitzer was less likely to be recognized in those places, he also knew that his security detail was cut by half or more when he left the state -- thus rendering it easier to give them the slip. In addition, as a lawyer, Mr. Spitzer would have known that the state police troopers accompanying him were only sworn to uphold the laws of New York State. A prominent figure in state government told me that Mr. Spitzer may well have thought that if he only purchased the services of prostitutes while violating out-of-state laws, his troopers would be more forgiving if they learned about it and less prone to talk.
As Mr. Spitzer's arrogance, secret life and penchant for perverting the law in order to bully all around him come into focus, it's clear which New Yorker of times past he most resembles: the late Roy Cohn, the nasty underling of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who after his patron's fall from power became an infamous operator in New York legal circles. One hopes that one difference between Mr. Spitzer and Cohn is that the latter continued to do a lot of damage after the McCarthy years. Perhaps we can count ourselves lucky if Mr. Spitzer now disappears into obscurity as a functionary of his family's real estate business.
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day I
"This is a psychologically broken administration: exhausted, passive, prematurely aged, self-defeated. It is lying on the mat moaning as its opponents kick it, unwilling/unable to block a blow or raise a hand in self-defense. The indifference to quality of personnel -- always a problem -- has now become the defining characteristic of the administration. The president continues to imagine he is pursuing one set of policies. But because he allows retiring principals to be succeeded by their deputies, and then those deputies to be followed by their deputies, he has passively acquiesced in allowing his administration to be staffed by people who regard his policies as at best impossible, at worst actively wrong. And then he is surprised when his administration does the opposite of what he wished! Of course it does! If you won't steer the car, it won't go where you want!" -- David Frum, former speechwriter for President Bush, writing at NationalReview.com.
Quote of the Day II
"You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He's just killed the Republican brand" -- GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, retiring this year after 14 years in office, on the political legacy of President Bush.
Bearish on Bush
Perhaps President Bush should be named in the lawsuits soon to be filed by Bear Stearns shareholders over the knockdown sale of their company to JP Morgan for two dollars a share.
In superintending the sale, the Federal Reserve's bogey was bucking up short-term financial confidence -- understandably, it wasn't focused on getting top dollar for Bear's probably still quite valuable, if temporarily unfinanceable, portfolio of mortgage and other debt. And if confidence is profoundly shaky at the moment, Mr. Bush's unimpressive performance at the New York Economic Club on Friday hardly did anything to help. Nor did his brief comments this morning. Ben Bernanke, who in public carefully stays within his lane, undoubtedly would like to shake Mr. Bush by the lapels and shout that if the Fed is left to solve the mortgage disaster alone, the likely consequence will be a collapsing dollar and an inflationary crisis on top of a mortgage crisis.
What could the administration contribute? How about pulling together the incipient bipartisan consensus for a cut in our exceptionally high corporate income taxes? As Chicago fund manager Seymour Lotsoff points out in his invaluable newsletter, currency markets tend to reflect a judgment about "where a rational and unbiased long term investor would choose to place his money. Right now the U.S. is not such a place." With such a tax cut, he predicts, the dollar would "reverse course and head toward the sky."
Some kind of mortgage bailout also seems inevitable, but Washington is profoundly misguided if it thinks what's needed is a bailout that keeps subprime borrowers in their homes. A great deal of housing debt was created in the last few years to give speculative buyers nominal title to homes that they no longer want. The shortest road back from this perdition would be to foreclose and demolish a lot of these houses, with taxpayer money if necessary.
When politicians understand that, they may finally have something useful to contribute. Mr. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson tout "Hope Now" and other federal initiatives but wonder why so few homeowners are taking advantage. It's because many subprime borrowers only want to get as far away from their houses as possible. Putting to the bulldozer some large, unoccupied housing tracts especially in overbuilt parts of California, Nevada and a handful other states would do a lot more to fix the underlying problem than any heroic action Mr. Bernanke can take through the Fed's discount window.
-- Holman W. Jenkins Jr.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Double Standard
on: March 17, 2008, 01:14:17 PM
The Barack Obama Double Standard
By Doug Patton
March 17, 2008
Imagine in 1999, that a videotape had come to light showing the pastor of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's church making vicious, hateful comments about America and cruel, racist statements about Americans of color.
Suppose this preacher had given a lifetime achievement award to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and had traveled to Europe with Duke to meet with neo-Nazi terrorists.
Now try to envision that the candidate's family had attended this church for more than twenty years, that George and Laura Bush had been married there, by this pastor, and that the Bush daughters had been baptized by him.
Picture George Bush titling his autobiography after a phrase in one of this minister's sermons, writing that the man was his mentor, and then putting him on the presidential campaign staff as a trusted advisor and confidant.
Say it came to light that for several years George W. Bush had been friends with Eric Rudolph, the notorious Olympic Park bomber and anti-abortion terrorist. Furthermore, let's suppose that Bush had remained friends with Rudolph over the years and still considered him a colleague today.
Now imagine Laura Bush, on the campaign trail for her husband, telling supporters and the national media that America is "mean" and that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of her country.
Is there a doubt that Republican officeholders would have run from the Bush campaign like rats from a burning barn, that he would have become the political leper of the 2000 campaign? And what about the media? They virtually crucified candidate Bush that year for daring to give a speech at Bob Jones University, which had once banned interracial dating. I cannot imagine the field day they would have had with something like this.
And yet excuses are made for Barack Obama, who now finds himself in exactly this situation. Obama's pastor of more than two decades - the man who married Barack and Michelle Obama, who christened their daughters, who inspired the title of the candidate's book, "The Audacity of Hope," - is now at the center of a storm that would have destroyed the candidacy of any Republican the day the story broke.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for the last 36 years, has been caught on tape denouncing the United States and the white race in terms that should shock and disgust every thinking American. Wright and the church swear allegiance to the "mother country" - Africa. (Presumably this includes the Obama family.)
Rather than trying to infuse his congregation with hope and encouragement, Wright poisons them with vitriol about how the U.S. government has tried to commit genocide against the black community using drugs and the AIDS virus as weapons of choice.
"Don't say God bless America," Wright screams in one sermon. "God damn America!"
Wright, representing the church, bestowed a lifetime achievement award on Louis Farrakhan, the racist leader of the Nation of Islam. In the 1980s, Wright traveled to Libya with Farrakhan to meet with Muammar Gaddafi.
If Barack Obama has not been paying attention in church, it is apparent that his wife, Michelle, has. Campaigning for her husband recently, she said that for the first time in her adult life, she is finally proud of her country. In a separate speech, she said America is "a mean country."
Obama is friends with William Ayers, an admitted domestic terrorist with the Weather Underground, which declared war on the United States and claimed responsibility for bombing several government buildings, including the Pentagon and the State Department building, in the 1970s. In an interview with The New York Times, ironically published on the morning of September 11, 2001, Ayers was quoted as saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."
Now a tenured professor at the University of Chicago (only in America!), Ayers met Barack Obama in the 1990s. They have remained friends ever since.
We are judged not just by our words, but by the company we keep. The litmus test should not be whether or not everyone a candidate knows is ideal. That is an impossible standard. The true measure of a man is in his ability to choose friends with which he can be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder, not those about whom he must equivocate and for whom he must apologize.
Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a political speechwriter and public policy advisor. His weekly columns are published in newspapers across the country and on selected Internet web sites, including Human Events Online, TheConservativeVoice.com and GOPUSA.com, where he is a senior writer and state editor. Readers may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: March 17, 2008, 11:09:55 AM
Second post of the morning
“We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times.” —George Washington
Quote of the week
“The Democratic party is very close to being the [Communist-controlled Progressive] party of Henry Wallace... Today’s left sees the world pretty much in the same terms as the Stalinists did. What has happened is that it has lost its faith in the working class, so its agenda is entirely negative. They’ve dropped the dictatorship of the proletariat and they all say they’re democrats, but so did Lenin. The vast bulk of the American left is a Communist left and they’ve introduced some fascist ideas like ‘identity politics,’ which is straight out of Mussolini. They don’t talk about the working class, they talk about women and race. There’s not much that they’ve learned from the history of the 20th century.” —David Horowitz
New & notable legislation
Speaking of posturing and preening, Democrats brought to the House floor Tuesday a vote on so-called “ethics reform” —H.R. 1031, which passed 229-182 by dubious maneuverings. The measure creates an independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), no longer self-policing House members but instead relying on an OCE composed of six board members, none of whom are sitting lawmakers. This new “ethics” office could conduct partisan witch hunts against members based on accusations from outside groups and individuals, which could then go forward to the full congressional ethics committee for further investigation. What’s most interesting, though, is that the voting on this purported improvement in congressional “ethics” seems to have itself violated new “ethical” rules put in place by the Democrats—holding the voting open longer than officially specified in order to change the outcome. That’s correct—House Democrat leaders could get this passed only by an ethical violation, and House Republican Leader John Boehner has called for an investigation into the floor actions.
Former Hastert seat goes to Democrats
Bad news for Republicans’ election prospects: Democrat Bill Foster won the special election to fill former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s congressional seat this week, defeating Republican Jim Oberweis with 53 percent of the vote. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen was quick to frame the race as a predictor of the national mood by noting that Barack Obama campaigned for Foster and Oberweis had the support of Hastert and John McCain. “The people of Illinois have sent an unmistakable message that they’re tired of business as usual in Washington,” Obama wrote in a letter. This may be true if putting yet another millionaire businessman in Congress is now being considered a rejection of “business as usual.”
Campaign watch: Fighting for votes
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has stepped out of the decision-making process regarding the unseated primary delegates in Florida and Michigan. Rather than acting like, well, a chairman, and making a decision on the matter, Dean is letting the states come up with ideas on how to fix the mess that could sway the Democrat nomination. Naturally, everyone involved in this process has an allegiance to either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
Counting the delegates as they currently stand doesn’t make sense to Obama’s supporters, because he didn’t campaign in either Florida or Michigan after the DNC punished the two states for moving their primaries earlier than Super Tuesday. In fact, Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan. Clinton won a majority of the delegates in both states—though she would be well advised not to crow too much about having won Michigan, where her closest competitor, “Uncommitted,” received 40 percent of the vote. Of course, Clinton wants to count the delegates as it stands because she desperately needs every single one she can get her entitled hands on.
Obama won big again in Mississippi this week, 61 percent to 37 percent, putting further pressure on Clinton to do something—anything—to stay in the running. Look for some parlor tricks from Team Hillary as the debate over what to do with Florida and Michigan heats up.
Never one to consider himself a backbencher, professional race hustler Al Sharpton has wormed his way into the fight by threatening to sue the DNC if Florida’s primary results are allowed to stand at the convention. Sharpton has met with state residents who claim they skipped the primary because they believed their votes wouldn’t count. While he claims to have no preference in the race, Sharpton’s move clearly favors Obama. Of course, the current proposal is for a mail-in redo in Florida. As late-night comedian Jay Leno joked, “That’s a great idea, combine the reliability of the people in Florida who count the ballots with the efficiency of the Post Office. What could go wrong there?”
From the Left: The candidates’ race
Geraldine Ferraro stepped down from Hillary Clinton’s finance committee this week after Barack Obama’s presidential campaign objected to comments made by the former congresswoman and 1984 vice presidential candidate. To the surprise of nearly everyone, the offending statement was actually quite perceptive: “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” Ferraro said. “And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” To which The Wall Street Journal responded, “Her remarks reveal little more than a firm grasp of the obvious... There is no disputing that Mr. Obama’s skin color has been a political boon for him to date.” Yet the avowedly “post-racial” Obama campaign decided to dispute it anyway by playing the race card, resulting in Ferraro’s resignation.
In the same “controversial” interview, Ferraro made another statement that again demonstrated uncommon insight: “I was reading an article that said young Republicans are out there campaigning for Obama because they believe he’s going to be able to put an end to partisanship. Dear God! Anyone that has worked in the Congress knows that for over 200 years this country has had partisanship—that’s the way our country is.” Against all odds, it seems that the truth becomes a Democrat’s ally only when said Democrat is losing to another Democrat.
Admiral Fallon resigns Central Command
CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon was relieved this week by President Bush for insubordination, although the President had enough respect for his 41 years of service to the Navy that he allowed him to resign. Since taking over CENTCOM in March 2007, Admiral Fallon had built up a significant record of offering opinions and making statements that were at odds with the administration. While a recent Esquire Magazine article probably overplayed the idea of Fallon as “a lone voice of reason trying to forestall war with Iran,” Fallon in fact missed few opportunities to cross the White House when it came to Iran. Fallon also reportedly butted heads with General David Petraeus, Commander of Multi-National Forces Iraq and a White House favorite, although both Fallon and Petraeus deny any significant clashes. Fallon’s replacement has not yet been named.
The usual suspects made the usual asinine statements following Fallon’s resignation, claiming that he had been fired for offering honest but unwelcome advice to the President. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Stalingrad) said, “It’s distressing... President Bush’s oft-repeated claims that he follows the advice of his commanders rings hollow if our commanders don’t feel free to disagree with the President.” Kennedy, who served two years in the U.S. Army, doubtless knows that subordinates offer disagreements to their seniors in private, not in public. The subordinates then either publicly support their seniors’ policies, or they resign. One wonders how Kennedy would react to his chief of staff disagreeing with him in a Boston Globe article, for instance.
While we are not sad to see Admiral Fallon go given his soft stance on Iran, we do take this opportunity to thank a man who gave 41 years of highly distinguished service to his country. Admiral Fallon was one of the few remaining Vietnam veterans on active service and was the Navy’s senior aviator. His awards include, among numerous others, the Defense Distinguished Service medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal. We wish him well in his future endeavors.
Homeland Security front: Tortured politics
Two security items captured the headlines this week. In the first, Congress failed to override President Bush’s veto of a bill that would severely restrict CIA interrogation techniques—namely barring waterboarding—limiting them to the same techniques used by military interrogators.
The limits placed on the military are designed for interrogating armed combatants in traditional military scenarios. However, even the Army Field Manual (FM 34-52) clearly states that in Low Intensity Combat, “Specific applications of the general principles and techniques must be varied to meet local peculiarities.” Insurgent forces are not protected by the Geneva Convention beyond the basic protections of Article 3, which does prohibit “torture.” Congress and international law are pretty clear on what constitutes torture, and there is no credible evidence that the CIA is violating that limitation in any way. Waterboarding is simply a nice propaganda ploy used equally by Democrats and al-Qa’ida sympathizers to embarrass the President.
The second proposed bill would place more restrictions on terrorist surveillance, while it also fails to protect telecommunication companies from litigation surrounding such surveillance—a pre-condition on which the President has held firm. Civil litigation, and all the civil discovery rules that apply, could quickly reveal and undermine the intelligence capabilities we currently employ. The plaintiff-friendly financial burden this bill could place on those companies that chose to cooperate would effectively end the program. A House vote could take place Friday.
The bottom line: These two bills are nothing but partisan political games designed to fire up the Democrats’ anti-war base. President Bush is right for holding firm, and if they could understand the term, we would say shame on Sen. Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for playing politics with national security.
Profiles of valor: U.S. Army Lt. Peterson
U.S. Army Lt. Timothy C. Peterson went to Iraq in 2006 with the 321st Engineer Battalion and spent a year leading his platoon in route clearance throughout Anbar province—not exactly an easy task. In pre-surge Iraq, jihadis in Anbar routinely attacked coalition forces. Peterson recalled of his earlier missions, “We’d only go at night because it was too dangerous during the day,” adding that almost every night they were shot at and came across IEDs. His soldiers’ duty was to disarm the IEDs.
In the first phases of the surge, the 321st was on 24-hour patrol for days at a time. During one such stretch, another platoon was hit by an IED, which disabled the lead vehicle. Peterson and three members of his unit took their Buffalo MRAP truck and assumed command of the patrol. As they moved further into hostile territory, Peterson’s Buffalo was hit by a series of IEDs, crippling the vehicle and injuring all four occupants. For his bold actions in leading the convoy, Peterson was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, and his third Purple Heart. After recovery, he resumed the lead on an arduous patrol schedule. He tells of an Iraq that is vastly improved because of the surge. Soldiers walked freely during the daytime and citizens were no longer afraid to assist them. As he left Iraq, Peterson said, “Things were changing, what we were doing was working... For the people that lived there, there was a transition.” Due to the courage he displayed and the success of his missions, Peterson was also awarded the Bronze Star.
BUSINESS & ECONOMY
The trouble with Iraq’s money
U.S. auditors reported to Congress this week that Iraq is riding oil revenues to a large budget surplus because it isn’t spending much of its own money. “The Iraqis have a budget surplus; we have a huge budget deficit,” said U.S. Comptroller General David Walker. “One of the questions is who should be paying.” On one point, we agree with the Democrats: “They ought to be able to use some of their oil to pay for their own costs and not keep sending the bill to the United States,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-WV). However, the Associated Press reports that “Democrats say the assessment is proof that the Iraq war as a waste of time and money.” On the contrary, Operation Iraqi Freedom is part of our critical national interest. If one is looking for a waste of time and money, start with practically any other endeavor of the federal government—Social Security, Medicare, counting grizzly bears, etc. As for Iraq, one of the problems with spending the surplus, according to U.S. officials, is that the Iraqi government can’t always allocate the money without it being wasted or stolen by corrupt officials. On that point, we offer this solution: How about reimbursing the $45 billion the U.S. has spent rebuilding Iraq? After all, there aren’t any corrupt officials in Washington.
From the Leftjudiciary: CA court v. homeschool
A California appeals court ruling has created a major hurdle for parents without teaching credentials who want to homeschool their children. In a child-welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and parents who had been homeschooling their eight children, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled that California law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home. Failure to comply could result in the criminal prosecution of the parents, though State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell promises to not enforce the ruling.
According to the court, California parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children, though they failed to point out the constitutional right the government has to educate your children. The court’s opinion states, “A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare,” quoting from a 1961 case on a similar issue. Does this sound slightly familiar? Recall the Elian Gonzalez case in 2000.
A 1978 Cuban Law mandates that parents and teachers raise children with a “Communist personality,” and it forbids “influences contrary to communist development.” The “Code of the Child,” a government mandated handbook for raising and educating children, includes passages such as these: from Article 3—the purpose of education is to “foster in youth the ideological values of communism;” from Article 8—“Society and the state work for the efficient protection of youth against all influences contrary to their communist formation.” Any adult who violates the “Code of the Child” can be imprisoned.
Given the “patriotism” in places like San Francisco and Berkeley, it is fair to ask what is taught about “good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation” in California’s mandated education system. It seems that, on this one, the California court would have felt right at home in Cuba.
Around the nation: Violence for animals
More news from California... Regents at the University of California in Los Angeles recently filed a lawsuit for an injunction against several animal-rights groups in an attempt to disrupt violent tactics used against university scientists involved in animal research. Scientists have reported use of explosives, firecrackers and middle-of-the-night visits by activists who threatened to burn down their homes. Named in the suit are UCLA Primate Freedom, the Animal Liberation Brigade and the Animal Liberation Front, plus five individuals associated with the organizations.
While a legal battle may bring the issue of such violence to the public spotlight, it is doubtful that a court ruling will keep scientists safe. “If killing [animal-research scientists] is the only way to stop them, then I said killing them would certainly be justified,” said a spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office. Despite the presence of hired security for one UCLA scientist’s home, he worried enough about his family’s safety that he has given up animal research altogether.
As violence against scientists escalates, so does concern about filling biomedical-research positions. “I do hear scientists say that they have open positions and nobody to fill them because it’s animal research,” said Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research. We think we’re finally getting the hang of this tolerance thing.
In the continuing saga of District of Columbia v. Heller, 39 of Montana’s elected officials have signed a resolution declaring that a Supreme Court ruling against the individual right of gun ownership would give their state grounds for leaving the union. It seems that when Montana’s settlers signed a statehood contract in 1889, one of the conditions was that the federal government agreed that individuals had the right to keep and bear arms. If the Supreme Court rules that firearm ownership is merely a state or “collective” right, Montana officials say that the statehood contract will have been breeched. “The U.S. would do well to keep its contractual promises to the states that the Second Amendment secures an individual right now as it did upon execution of the statehood contract,” Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson said in a letter to The Washington Times. The Times also notes that the “collective right” interpretation of the Second Amendment doesn’t hold water in Montana because the state didn’t have a militia in the 1880s. “It’s pretty disingenuous as an argument,” Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said. “At the time, they had no image of what a National Guard was. But history and logic don’t always prevail in these matters.” Indeed. Our advice to the Supreme Court is that before they upset somebody with their ruling, they might want to consider which side has the guns.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: March 17, 2008, 09:26:56 AM
THE FOUNDATION: RELIGION AND MORALITY
“Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness.” —Samuel Adams
“Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” —Saint Patrick
“Well, Seamus Wright, I’ll keep this brief. On St. Patrick’s Day, you should spend time with saints and scholars, so of course, you know, I have two more stops I have to make. I turned back to the ancient days of Ireland to find a suitable toast, and I think I have found it. St. Patrick was a gentleman who through strategy and stealth drove all the snakes from Ireland. Here’s toasting to his health—but not too many toastings lest you lose yourself and then forget the good St. Patrick and see all those snakes again. I believe that, you know, let those who love us, love us, and those who don’t love us, let God turn their hearts. And if He won’t turn their hearts, let Him turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limp. May you have warm words on a cold evening and a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door.” —Ronald Reagan (17 March 1988) joshing then-House Speaker Jim Wright
“The most unresolved problem of the day is precisely the problem that concerned the founders of this nation: how to limit the scope and power of government. Tyranny, restrictions on human freedom, come primarily from governmental restrictions that we ourselves have set up.” —Milton Friedman
“I was, in many ways, luckier than kids are today. Many parents didn’t have the dough to spoil their kids with material junk. Peer pressure has always existed, but most kids in the ‘70s couldn’t use materialism as a means to express it. No, parents used their limited means to give us only what we needed. And what every kid needs more than stuff is love and stability and a mother and father who are always there for him. Lucky for me, my parents provided an abundance of that. And that was even more valuable than a Schwinn Orange Krate spider bike, the most coveted two-wheeled machine in the history of kid-dom.” —Tom Purcell
“Liberals have for years been talking about how they are really the champions of the Constitution. They’re not, but they talk like they are. And year after year people fawn over their claims and vote for them because they actually believe that acting counter to almost everything the Constitution itself stands for is supporting and preserving the Constitution. The Constitution is a pretty simple document. It says that the federal government has very limited authority. And it goes on to say that every authority not granted to the federal government through it is reserved by the States and the people.” —J.J. Jackson
OPINION IN BRIEF
“The presidential campaign currently underway has missed the historically rare opportunity to engage the candidates for president in a serious discussion about how they would respond to a very likely impending recession brought on by twin banking and currency crises... After all, in 10 months, one of them—either McCain, Obama or Clinton—will be president and quite likely will be facing one of the worst financial and economic conditions of recent decades. Instead, we get yet more discussion on who is for hope, who has experience, and who is better able to answer the phone at 3 a.m. Why not have a novel three-way debate on one of the networks for two hours and see what the three great minds who would be president have to say about what they would do if the likely turns out to happen?... I have the first question for them. Since World War I, economic historians divide the world’s financial history into three parts: interwar (1919-1939); the Bretton Woods period (1945-1971); and the present period. In reaction to the Great Depression of the interwar period, Bretton Woods provided strict regulations of financial institutions. As a result, there were few financial crises. Then we liberalized and deregulated during the present period and have had several deep crises. Questions for the candidates: In 2009, should we re-regulate or not? And should we try to ease the pain of the crisis if it comes or let natural economic forces clear out the dry rot and find the natural bottom? No points for slogans. Extra credit for honest, thoughtful responses. Or we continue with Obama’s people suggesting Hillary is a monster and her people suggesting Obama is a Muslim (and McCain off in the margin somewhere).” —Tony Blankley
“The sub-prime mortgage collapse is another tale of unintended consequences. The crisis has its roots in the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, a Carter-era law that purported to prevent ‘redlining’ —denying mortgages to black borrowers—by pressuring banks to make home loans in ‘low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.’ Under the act, banks were to be graded on their attentiveness to the ‘credit needs’ of ‘predominantly minority neighborhoods.’...[T]o earn high ratings, banks were forced to make increasingly risky loans to borrowers who wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage under normal standards of creditworthiness. The CRA, made even more stringent during the Clinton administration, trapped lenders in a Catch-22. ‘If they comply,’ wrote Loyola College economist Thomas DiLorenzo, ‘they know they will have to suffer from more loan defaults. If they don’t comply, they face financial penalties... which can cost a large corporation like Bank of America billions of dollars.’ Banks nationwide thus ended up making more and more ‘sub-prime’ loans and agreeing to dangerously lax underwriting standards—no down payment, no verification of income, interest-only payment plans, weak credit history. If they tried to compensate for the higher risks they were taking by charging higher interest rates, they were accused of unfairly steering borrowers into ‘predatory’ loans they couldn’t afford. Trapped in a no-win situation entirely of the government’s making, lenders could only hope that home prices would continue to rise, staving off the inevitable collapse. But once the housing bubble burst, there was no escape. Mortgage lenders have been bankrupted, thousands of sub-prime homeowners have been foreclosed on, and countless would-be borrowers can no longer get credit. The financial fallout has hurt investors around the world. And all of it thanks to the government, which was sure it understood the credit industry better than the free market did, and confidently created the conditions that made disaster unavoidable.” —Jeff Jacoby
“In this age, when it is considered the height of sophistication to be ‘non-judgmental,’ one of the corollaries is that ‘personal’ failings have no relevance to the performance of official duties. What that amounts to, ultimately, is that character doesn’t matter. In reality, character matters enormously, more so than most things that can be seen, measured or documented. Character is what we have to depend on when we entrust power over ourselves, our children, and our society to government officials. We cannot risk all that for the sake of the fashionable affectation of being more non-judgmental than thou. Currently, various facts are belatedly beginning to leak out that give us clues to the character of Barack Obama. But to report these facts is being characterized as a ‘personal’ attack. Barack Obama’s personal and financial association with a man under criminal indictment in Illinois is not just a ‘personal’ matter. Nor is his 20 years of going to a church whose pastor has praised Louis Farrakhan and condemned the United States in both sweeping terms and with obscene language. The Obama camp likens mentioning such things to criticizing him because of what members of his family might have said or done. But it was said, long ago, that you can pick your friends but not your relatives. Obama chose to be part of that church for 20 years. He was not born into it. His ‘personal’ character matters, just as Eliot Spitzer’s ‘personal’ character matters—and just as Hillary Clinton’s character would matter if she had any.” —Thomas Sowell
RE: THE LEFT
“Patriotism is a species of unity that has some redeeming moral and philosophical substance to it. In America, patriotism—as opposed to, say, nationalism—is a love for a creed, a dedication to what is best about the ‘American way.’ Nationalism, a romantic sensibility, says, ‘My country is always right.’ Patriots hope that their nation will make the right choice. If you read the speeches of leading Democrats before the Vietnam War, it’s amazing how comfortable they were with patriotic rhetoric... ‘Suicide’ might be strong, but the Left certainly amputated itself from full-throated patriotic sentiment. Most Democrats speak mellifluously about unity but get tongue-tied or sound as if they’re just delivering words plucked from a political consultant’s memo when they talk of patriotism... When Democrats do speak of patriotism, it is usually as a means of finding fault with Republicans, corporations or America itself. Hence the irony that questioning the patriotism of liberals is a grievous sin, but doing likewise to conservatives is fine... Better that our politics be an argument about why and how we should love our country, not about whether some do and some don’t.” —Jonah Goldberg
“Obama’s 100-day agenda would be designed, in part, to improve America’s global image. But there is something worse than being unpopular in the world—and that is being a pleading, panting joke. By simultaneously embracing appeasement, protectionism and retreat, President Obama would manage to make Jimmy Carter look like Teddy Roosevelt. Which is why President Obama would probably not take these actions—at least in the form he has pledged. Sitting behind the Resolute desk is a sobering experience that makes foolish campaign promises seem suddenly less binding. But it is a bad sign for a candidate when the best we can hope is for him to violate his commitments. And that’s a good sign for John McCain.” —Michael Gerson
FOR THE RECORD
“So now we are in this silly situation, in which at one time Obama was happy enough to remind some that his middle name was Hussein and now it is a slur for other less well-intentioned to do so; in which his wife’s browbeating of America was salve to guilty liberals and now it is considered illiberal to question her assumptions; in which a candidate who rose to prominence as a ‘black’ candidate and garners majority margins of 90% among African-American against a very liberal female opponent insists that he has transcended race and to suggest otherwise is, well, racist. Nothing is new in all this: all candidates expand beyond their base and try to play down their former zealotry, on issues as diverse as abortion to guns to gay rights. But what is unique is that the usual flak that meets a politician’s readjustments and opportunism in the case of Obama is additionally questioned as being racist or at least insensitive.” —Victor Davis Hanson
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 5 Years later
on: March 17, 2008, 05:54:57 AM
5 years later, the NY Times gives some of the players a chance to reflect:
Where Was the Plan?
By L. PAUL BREMER III
Published: March 16, 2008
FIFTEEN months before the 9/11 attacks, the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism, on which I served as chairman, reported to the president and the American people that we faced a new and terrible threat: the nexus between states that supported terrorism and killers who wanted to murder Americans by the thousands and were prepared to die doing it.
For decades, American administrations from both parties had designated Saddam Hussein’s Iraq a terrorist state. He supported and lauded Palestinian terrorists. He had developed, and used, weapons of mass destruction against his own citizens. He had contemptuously refused to comply with 17 Security Council resolutions demanding he come clean on those programs.
Our soldiers were magnificent in liberating Iraq. But after arriving in the country, I saw that the American government was not adequately prepared to deal with the growing security threats. Looting raged unchecked in major cities. By late 2003, as the insurgency and terrorism grew, it became clear that the coalition also lacked an effective counterinsurgency strategy.
Our troops on the ground were valiant and selfless, but prewar planning provided for fewer than half the number of troops that independent studies suggested would be needed in Iraq. And we did not have a plan to provide the most basic function of any government — security for the population. Terrorists, insurgents, criminals and the Iraqi people got the impression that the coalition would not, or could not, protect civilians.
I should have pushed sooner for a more effective military strategy, because from 2004 to the end of 2007, Al Qaeda took advantage of this gap, using indiscriminate killings that provoked Shiite militias to respond in kind. The vicious spiral was finally reversed by the change in strategy the president put in place a year ago.
L. Paul Bremer III is a former presidential envoy to Iraq.
Too Heavy a Hand
By RICHARD PERLE
Published: March 16, 2008
AFTER defeating the Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan and replacing it with a fledgling democracy, the Bush administration turned its attention to the risk that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was thought to pose to a nation still reeling from the attacks of 9/11.
I shared the administration’s belief that Iraq not only possessed the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, it also had a hidden stockpile of them. Responsible for two wars with more than a million dead, involved for decades with terrorist groups, routinely rewarding suicide bombers with cash, unwilling to document the disposition of chemical and biological weapons ( some of which he had actually used), Saddam Hussein forced the question: Should we leave him in place and hope for the best, or destroy his regime in a lightning strike and thereby end the risk that he might collaborate with terrorists to enable an attack even more devastating than 9/11?
The right decision was made, and Baghdad fell in 21 days with few casualties on either side. Twenty-five million Iraqis had been liberated and the menace of Saddam’s monstrous regime eliminated.
Then the trouble began. Rather than turn Iraq over to Iraqis to begin the daunting process of nation building, a group including Secretary of State Colin Powell; the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice; and the director of central intelligence, George Tenet — with President Bush’s approval — reversed a plan to do that.
Instead, we blundered into an ill-conceived occupation that would facilitate a deadly insurgency from which we, and the Iraqis, are only now emerging. With misplaced confidence that we knew better than the Iraqis, we sent an American to govern Iraq. L. Paul Bremer underestimated the task, but did his best to make a foolish policy work. I had badly underestimated the administration’s capacity to mess things up.
I did not believe the American-led coalition could prudently leave Iraq the day Baghdad fell. Coalition troops were essential to support a new Iraqi government. But I was astonished (and dismayed) that we did not turn to well-established and broadly representative opponents of Saddam Hussein’s regime to assume the responsibilities of an interim government while preparing for elections. Our troops could have remained, under the terms of a transparently negotiated agreement, to help the people of Iraq build their own society, something we didn’t know how to do and should never have tried. After five years of terrible losses, they may now be getting that chance.
Richard Perle was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
By ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER
Published: March 16, 2008
IN April 2003, just after American troops secured Baghdad, Iraqis looted the Iraqi national museum. American soldiers nearby made no effort to stop them, much less provide a guard. We either did not have enough soldiers to protect the museum, or we did not care enough to try.
This failure was simply a “matter of priorities,” according to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thought it was a “stretch” to attribute the theft and destruction of priceless Mesopotamian artifacts to “any defect in the war plan.”
Our government knew how to destroy but not how to build. We had toppled a regime, and in coming months we would dismantle Saddam Hussein’s bureaucracy and disband his army. But we did so with absolutely no understanding of how to build a liberal democracy, or even a stable, rights-regarding government with broad popular support.
Such a government requires a prosperous economy, a secure society and sufficient cultural unity to allow everyday interaction among different ethnic groups in workplaces, schools, hospitals, the army and the police. Protecting the symbols of a common and proud heritage is Democracy Building 101 — at least for anyone who understood anything about Iraqi history and culture.
Americans are still living with the aftermath of this ignorance, and we will be for decades to come. In 2003 and 2004, experts debated whether it would take one year or three to rebuild Iraq. Now we debate whether it will take 10 to 15 years or whether it can be done at all.
Those broken and stolen statues from the museum are the enduring symbols of what has gone so wrong. They were easy to smash, so hard to repair.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.
So Much for Good Intentions
By KENNETH M. POLLACK
Published: March 16, 2008
WHAT matters most now is not how we entered Iraq, but how we leave it. If we leave behind an Iraq more stable and less threatening to its neighbors than the one we toppled, I think the intelligence community’s (and my own) mistakes about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration’s exaggerations of that threat and its baseless insistence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda will all lose their edge — even though they will not, and should not, be forgotten.
If we leave behind a raging civil war in which the Iraqi people are incomprehensibly worse off than they had been under Saddam Hussein and the Middle East more threatened by the chaos spilling over from Iraq than they ever were by the dictator’s arms, then no one will care how well-intentioned our motives.
For that reason, what I most wish I had understood before the invasion was the reckless arrogance of the Bush administration. I had inklings of it to be sure, and warned of the inadequacy of some of what I saw. But I did not realize that as skillfully, cautiously and patiently as George H. W. Bush’s administration had handled its Iraq war, that was how clumsy, careless and rash George W. Bush’s administration would treat its own.
Kenneth M. Pollack was a former director of Persian Gulf affairs at the National Security Council. He is a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
There is No Freedom Gene
By DANIELLE PLETKA
Published: March 16, 2008
THE mantra of the antiwar left — “Bush lied, people died” — so dominates the debate about the run-up to the Iraq war that it has obscured real issues that deserve examination. After all, for those of us who supported the war, rebutting arguments about weapons of mass destruction has become reflexive. We point to all the United Nations Security Council resolutions, the International Atomic Energy Agency statements, the C.I.A. analyses, the Silberman-Robb report, the Senate Intelligence Committee findings — if we were wrong, we were in good and honest company.
But what about the mistaken assumptions that remain unexamined? Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well. I was wrong. There is no freedom gene, no inner guide that understands the virtues of civil society, of secret ballots, of political parties. And it turns out that living under Saddam Hussein’s tyranny for decades conditioned Iraqis to accept unearned leadership, to embrace sect and tribe over ideas, and to tolerate unbridled corruption.
Some have used Iraq’s political immaturity as further proof the war was wrong, as if somehow those less politically evolved don’t merit freedoms they are ill equipped to make use of. We would be better served to understand how the free world can foster appreciation of the building blocks of civil society in order to help other victims of tyranny when it is their turn.
Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Worries over being Slimed
By NATHANIEL FICK
Published: March 16, 2008
OUR Marine platoon stayed up late to listen on a hand-cranked shortwave radio as Colin Powell testified before the United Nations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It was February 2003, and we were camped in the northern Kuwaiti desert, awaiting orders to invade Iraq.
The prospect of being “slimed” — and having to battle through a chemical attack — dominated every part of our planning. We wore heavy charcoal suits to protect us from chemicals, taped nerve-agent-detection paper to the windshields of our vehicles, and practiced jabbing antidote needles into our thighs.
We made bets not on whether it would happen, but when. We didn’t know what line we had to cross to provoke Saddam Hussein into using weapons of mass destruction — maybe the border, the Euphrates, the Tigris or the doorway to his presidential palace — and so the overriding objective was speed: get to Baghdad and cut the head off the snake.
Our conviction was strengthened on the second day of the war, when we interrogated an Iraqi officer found carrying a gas mask, rubber gloves and nerve agent antidotes. Did he really believe we would use chemical weapons against Iraq? No, he replied, but he expected that Saddam Hussein would use them against us, and his unit would be caught in the cross-fire.
This deception twisted our priorities dangerously out of whack. Methodically clearing areas of enemy fighters, and then securing them to protect the populace, seemed like a risky luxury in March and April. By August, with the insurgency in bloom, it had become a colossal missed opportunity.
The weapons, we now know, were some combination of relic, bluster and ruse. We focused on the nerve-agent feint, and got roundhoused by the insurgent hook. I wish we could all go back to those nights in the Kuwaiti desert, when a more sober assessment could have changed the way we fought, and maybe lessened the likelihood that we’d still be fighting five years later.
Nathaniel Fick is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.”
Congress in Recess
By PAUL D. EATON
Published: March 16, 2008
MY greatest surprise was the failure on the part of Congress to assert itself before the executive branch. That failure assured continued problems for the military in the face of a secretary of defense who proved incompetent at fighting war.
Had Congress defended the welfare of our armed forces by challenging the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the vice president and the secretary of defense, our Army and Marine Corps would not be in the difficult position we find them in today.
The Republican-dominated Congress failed us by refusing to hold the necessary hearings and investigations the Army desperately needed. Without hearings, the Army could not advance its case for increasing the number of troops and rearming the force. The result is an Army and Marine Corps on the ropes, acres and acres of broken equipment, and tour lengths of 15 months because we have too few troops for the tasks at hand.
Paul D. Eaton is a retired Army major general who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004. He is an adviser to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
The Army grew into the job
Published: March 16, 2008
FROM the moment the Bush administration took office, I argued against its apparent preference for high-tech, small-footprint wars, which continued a decade of movement in that direction by senior military leaders and civilian experts. In 2002, I questioned the common triumphalism about American operations in Afghanistan, and particularly the notion of applying the “Afghanistan model” of low-manpower, high-precision operations in Iraq. I supported the 2003 invasion despite misgivings about how it would be executed, and those misgivings proved accurate.
However, the most surprising phenomenon of the war has been the transformation of the United States military into the most discriminate and effective counterinsurgency force the world has ever seen, skillfully blending the most advanced technology with human interactions between soldiers and the Iraqi people. Precision-guided weapons allowed our soldiers and marines to minimize collateral damage while using our advantages in firepower to the full.
Once we pushed most of our combat forces into close interactions with the Iraqi people, the information they obtained ensured that the targets they hit were the right ones. Above all, the compassion and concern our soldiers have consistently shown to civilians and even to defeated and captured enemies have turned the tide of Iraqi opinion.
Within a year, our forces went from imminent defeat to creating the prospect of success, using a great deal of firepower, killing and capturing many enemies, but binding the local population to us at the same time. The intellectual framework came from Gens. David Petraeus and Ray Odierno and their advisers. But the deep understanding, skill and compassion that made it work came from service members and the many civilians who put their lives at risk for the benefit of their country and Iraq.
Frederick Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Worse than LBJ's Team
ANTHONY D. CORDESMAN
Published: March 16, 2008
IN fairness to the Bush administration, I did not expect that we would discover no meaningful activity in rebuilding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and no Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda. I also never predicted, after the insurgency began, that the extremists in Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia would so alienate Sunnis and tribes in western Iraq that a combination of the “surge, win and hold” military tactics, American-led nation-building efforts that focused on local and provincial needs, and the cease-fire declared by Moktada al-Sadr could create today’s new opportunity for “victory.”
In balance, however, the most serious surprise was that what appeared to be the American A-Team in national security ignored years of planning and months of interagency activity before the war, and the United States had no meaningful plan for stability operations and nation building after the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. Relying on sectarian exiles with strong ties to Iran, disbanding the security forces and starting the process of de-Baathification were all obvious disasters, as were the creation of closed-list national elections and the failure to quickly hold local and provincial elections.
It was even more of a surprise to watch the Bush administration fail, from 2003 to 2006, to come to grips with creating effective counterinsurgency programs, focused aid and development efforts, political accommodation and effective Iraqi forces. As a Republican, I would never have believed that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would waste so many opportunities and so much of America’s reputation that they would rival Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy for the worst wartime national security team in United States history.
Anthony D. Cordesman is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela
on: March 17, 2008, 05:23:12 AM
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
March 17, 2008; Page A16
At the tender age of 23 years, Yon Goicoechea is arguably President Hugo Chávez's worst nightmare.
Mr. Goicoechea is the retiring secretary general of the university students' movement in Venezuela. Under his leadership, hundreds of thousands of young people have come together to confront the strongman's unchecked power. It is the first time in a decade of Chávez rule that a countervailing force, legitimate in the eyes of society, has successfully managed to challenge the president's authority.
The students' first master stroke came in the spring of last year, when they launched protests against the government's decision to strip a television station of its license. The license was not restored but the group was energized. In June it began six months of demonstrations -- one with as many as 200,000 people -- to build opposition to a referendum on a constitutional rewrite that would have given Mr. Chávez dictatorial powers. When Mr. Chávez was defeated in the referendum, many observers attributed it to those marches and to student oversight at the polls, which reduced voter fraud.
Yet in an interview with me in Washington last week, the baby-faced Mr. Goicoechea, slumped on a sofa in blue jeans and a rumpled shirt, insisted that the shifting political winds have little to do with him. "We have generated a consciousness in the youth that doesn't depend on me. I could be dead or living in another county and it would go on. We have already won the future."
The revelation two weeks ago, that Mr. Chávez is working with the Colombian terrorists known as the FARC, sent chills up the spines of democrats throughout the hemisphere. Yet Mr. Chávez is likely to remain in power until Venezuelans themselves decide he should go. That is probably not going to happen until the electorate is offered something other than going back to the corrupt rule that existed before Mr. Chávez came to power. This is why Mr. Goicoechea, despite the self-effacing manner, attracts so much attention from his compatriots.
Mr. Chávez won the presidency in 1998 largely because Venezuelans were fed up with the ruling political and economic elite. Over 40 years of so-called democracy, the traditional parties had manipulated the law to grant themselves privilege and loot state coffers. When voters gambled on Mr. Chávez, it seems to have been more about rejecting the status quo than embracing the fiery newcomer.
No one understands this reality better than Mr. Goicoechea. He agrees that the country needs a new direction. "The chavistas are not wrong when they complain about exclusion," he told me. "To deny that these problems exist is to deny that there is a President Chávez, and to deny that he is a product of what came before him."
This may seem obvious, but until now it has not been the language of most of the Venezuelan opposition. Instead, the political debate largely has been a screaming match about power. Mr. Goicoechea takes a different stance, stressing reconciliation. He speaks about understanding the grievances of the disenfranchised, and looking for common ground that can give rise to solutions. The student leader says that two ideals hold his movement together: liberty and democracy, both of which he says have been absent in Venezuela for a long time. "Populism is not democracy."
I ask him if he wants to restore the country's institutions. "No, we want to build institutions. To say that we are restoring institutions would be to say that we had democracy before President Chávez, and I don't think so. We may have had an independent Supreme Court, but the poor had no access."
Mr. Goicoechea sees the current state of affairs as a continuation of the past, with different players. "Mr. Chávez says that his government serves the lower-income classes, but the reality is that the system still only serves those in the middle and high-income classes." That resonates with people.
Ensuring access to legal institutions, so that all Venezuelans are guaranteed the protections of the state, is for Mr. Goicoechea the path to "social justice." As an example he cites Petare, a notoriously poor Caracas barrio. "Private property rights protection does not exist there," he says. "No one owns their own land, even though the laws say that you earn that right if you live there for a certain number of years. We will have a true revolution in Venezuela when we have strong, liberal institutions that defend the rights of the people."
It is perhaps a sign of Mr. Goicoechea's effectiveness that he has received "all kinds of threats" against himself and his family. Last year he and a group of students were the targets of a small explosion set off at a public forum. At the same event, an attendee who disagreed with his ideas snuck up behind him and, when he turned around, punched him in the nose. "It's not important that they broke my nose," he says, but that the incident highlights the problem of intolerance. He says that his high profile mostly protects him, but ordinary people don't enjoy such protection. For them, violence and intimidation mean they cannot express themselves.
This is why the student movement is so important. It doesn't pretend to provide a political alternative, but its critical mass and organization now give voice to many who had come to fear expressing dissent under chavismo. This is a crucial step toward what many young Venezuelans hope will some day be a free society.
So what's next on the students' agenda? One issue they will raise this year is the government's ruling that disqualifies some 400 Venezuelans -- adversaries of chavismo -- from running for office in the November elections. This, Mr. Goicoechea points out, is a violation of the political rights of all Venezuelans. He insists that the students are not trying to defeat the president, and that they respect his office. "But the president of Venezuela is not more than me. He must respect that we are citizens too."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North Korea
on: March 17, 2008, 05:19:59 AM
Salvaging Our North Korea Policy
By JOHN R. BOLTON
March 17, 2008
There are signs, albeit small ones, that the Bush administration may be reaching the end of its patience with the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. These signs could prove illusory. But as it nears its end, the administration has a serious responsibility: It must not leave its successor with an ongoing, failed policy. At a minimum, President Bush should not bequeath to the next president only the burned-out hulk of the Six-Party Talks, and countless failed and violated North Korean commitments.
Since they were conceived in spring 2003, the Six-Party Talks have stumbled around inconclusively. And for the last 13 months, Pyongyang has ignored, stalled, renegotiated and violated the Feb. 13, 2007 agreement.
Throughout all this "negotiation," which has mostly consisted of our government negotiating with itself, North Korea has benefited enormously. It's been spared the truly punishing sanctions that concerted international effort might have produced. In large part because of the appeasement policies of the two previous South Korean governments, Pyongyang has not felt the full impact of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) on its outward proliferation efforts. The U.S. has muzzled its criticism of North Korea's atrocious oppression of its own citizens. And, perhaps most humiliatingly of all, the U.S., in a vain effort at chasing the mirage, gave up its most effective pressure point -- the financial squeeze -- allowing Pyongyang renewed access to international markets through institutions like Banco Delta Asia.
In fact, the protracted Six-Party Talks have provided Kim Jong-il with the most precious resource of all: the time to enhance, conceal and even disperse his nuclear weapons programs. Time is nearly always on the side of the would-be proliferator, and so it has proven here. In exchange for five years of grace to North Korea, the U.S. has received precious little in return.
Pyongyang is now stonewalling yet again on its promise to disclose fully the details of its nuclear programs, including its uranium enrichment efforts and its outward proliferation. The successful Israeli military strike against a Syrian-North Korean facility on the Euphrates River last September highlighted the gravity of the regime's unwillingness to do anything serious that might restrict its nuclear option.
President Bush should spend the next 10 months rectifying the Six-Party concessions and put North Korea back under international pressure -- efforts that would be welcomed by Japan, and South Korea's new, far more realistic President Lee Myung-bak. Here are the steps to take:
- Declare North Korea's repeated refusal to honor its commitments, especially but not exclusively concerning full disclosure of its nuclear programs, unacceptable. This is the easiest step, and the most obvious. It can happen immediately. Accept no further partial "compliance," as the State Department continuously tries to do. Make public what we know about the North's Syria project, and its uranium enrichment and missile programs, so our 2008 presidential candidates can have a fully-informed debate.
- Suspend the Six-Party Talks, and reconvene talks without North Korea. Although the talks could be jettisoned altogether, continuing them without the North allows Japan, South Korea and the U.S. to begin applying real pressure to China, the one nation with the capacity to bring Pyongyang's nuclear program to a halt. China has feared to apply such pressure, worried that it could collapse Kim Jong-il's regime altogether -- an accurate assessment of the regime's limited staying power. Nonetheless, the effect of Chinese reticence has been to preserve Kim and his nuclear program. It is vital that China know this policy is no longer viable.
- Strengthen international pressure on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Ramp up PSI cooperation with South Korea. Remind Russia of its own voluntarily-assumed obligations as a PSI core member. Remind China as well to comply with the sanctions imposed on North Korea by U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718 (which followed the North's 2006 ballistic missile and nuclear tests), and honor its other counterproliferation obligations. Tell them we will be watching with particular care, and that Chinese failure to increase pressure on North Korea will have implications in Sino-American bilateral relations. We can make this point privately to China rather that trumpet it publicly, but it should be made without ambiguity.
- Squeeze North Korea economically. Return the regime to limbo outside the international financial system, and step up action against its other illicit activities, such as trafficking in illicit narcotics and counterfeiting U.S. money. These and other "defensive measures" are nothing more than what any self-respecting nation does to protect itself, and the U.S. should never have eased up on them. Even now they can have a measurable impact on Kim Jong-il's weak and unsteady regime.
- Prepare contingency plans for humanitarian relief in the event of increased North Korean refugee flows or a regime collapse. Both China and South Korea have legitimate concerns about the burdens they would face if the North collapsed, or if increased internal economic deprivation spread instability. America and Japan should make it plain that they will fully shoulder their share of providing humanitarian supplies and assistance if either happened. Moreover, President Lee should increase pressure on Pyongyang -- by reiterating that South Korea will fully comply with its own constitution and grant full citizenship to any refugees from the North, however they make their way to the South.
Doubtless there are other steps. President Bush will not likely be able to solve the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Nonetheless, he still has time to implement policies that will allow him to leave office with the nation back on offense -- thereby affording his successor the chance to vindicate a return to the original Bush administration national security strategy.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster/Threshold Editions, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin, Jefferson
on: March 17, 2008, 05:14:12 AM
"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang
-- Benjamin Franklin (at the signing of the Declaration of
Independence, 4 July 1776)
Reference: Our Sacred Honor, Bennett (29) and Respectfully Quoted
"To restore... harmony,... to render us again one people acting
as one nation should be the object of every man really a patriot."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Thomas McKean, 1801)
Reference: 63 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Ford Edition, 8:78
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Drug Trade Tyranny on the border
on: March 17, 2008, 05:13:13 AM
Drug Trade Tyranny on The Border
Mexican Cartels Maintain Grasp With Weapons, Cash and Savagery
In Mexico, a Fight Against Drugs and Fear
Drawing on firepower, savage intimidation, and cash, drug cartels have come
to control key parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, as Mexican troops wage a
multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords.
» LAUNCH PHOTO GALLERY
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 16, 2008; Page A01
The killers prowled through Loma Bonita in the pre-dawn chill.
In silence, they navigated a labyrinth of wood shacks at the crest of a dirt
lane in the blighted Tijuana neighborhood, police say. They were looking for
Margarito Saldaña, an easygoing 43-year-old district police commander. They
found a house full of sleeping people.
Neighbors quivered at the crack of AK-47 assault rifles blasting inside
Saldaña's tiny home. Rafael García, an unemployed laborer who lives nearby,
recalled thinking it was "a fireworks show," then sliding under his bed in
In murdering not only Saldaña, but also his wife, Sandra, and their
12-year-old daughter, Valeria, the Loma Bonita killers violated a rarely
broken rule of Mexico's drug cartel underworld: Family should remain free
from harm. The slayings capped five harrowing hours during which the
assassins methodically hunted down and murdered two other police officers
and mistakenly killed a 3-year-old boy and his mother.
The brutality of what unfolded here in the overnight hours of Jan. 14 and
early Jan. 15 is a grim hallmark of a crisis that has cast a pall over the
United States' southern neighbor. Events in three border cities over the
past three months illustrate the military and financial power of Mexico's
cartels and the extent of their reach into a society shaken by fear.
More than 20,000 Mexican troops and federal police are engaged in a
multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords, a conflict that
is being waged most fiercely along the 2,000-mile length of the U.S.-Mexico
border. The proximity of the violence has drawn in the Bush administration,
which has proposed a $500 million annual aid package to help President
Felipe Calder¿n combat what a Government Accountability Office report
estimates is Mexico's $23 billion a year drug trade.
A total of more than 4,800 Mexicans were slain in 2006 and 2007, making the
murder rate in each of those years twice that of 2005. Law enforcement
officials and journalists, politicians and peasants have been gunned down in
the wave of violence, which includes mass executions, such as the killings
of five people whose bodies were found on a ranch outside Tijuana this
Like the increasing number of Mexicans heading over the border in fear, the
violence itself is spilling into the United States, where a Border Patrol
agent was recently killed while trying to stop suspected traffickers.
Drawing on firepower, savage intimidation and cash, the cartels have come to
control key parts of the border, securing smuggling routes for 90 percent of
the cocaine flowing into the United States, according to the State
Department. At the same time, Mexican soldiers roam streets in armored
personnel carriers, attack helicopters patrol the skies, and boats ply the
"The situation is deteriorating," Victor Clark, a Tijuana human rights
activist and drug expert, said in an interview. "Drug traffickers are waging
a terror campaign. The security of the nation is at stake."
Dominated by a Private Army
More than 1,900 miles southeast of Tijuana, the city of Reynosa stretches
along the Rio Grande across from south Texas. This is Gulf cartel country, a
region dominated by the cartel's private army, Los Zetas. Their arsenal
befits a military brigade, exceeding those of some Mexican army units.
Led by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, Los Zetas are a highly disciplined
mercenary squad composed of former elite Mexican troops, including officers
trained by the U.S. military before they deserted. The group has become an
obsession of Calderon's administration, which has sent more than a thousand
troops to Reynosa and neighboring cities.
Soldiers crowd the slender canal bridges that crisscross Reynosa, stopping
drivers at random and staring across the cityscape with their fingers on the
triggers of heavy weapons. The tense atmosphere has led to mistakes.
On Feb. 16, soldiers fatally shot Sergio Meza Varela, a 28-year-old with no
apparent ties to the drug trade, when the car he was riding in didn't stop
at a checkpoint. "You're scared to leave your house," Alejandra Salinas,
Meza's cousin, said in an interview outside the family tire shop. "We're
just in the way."
In Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, the growing Sinaloa cartel is
fighting rivals over smuggling routes. But in Reynosa, police say, only
Mexican soldiers threaten the Gulf cartel's control.
To prepare for battle, Los Zetas have stocked safe houses with antitank
weapons, assault rifles, grenades and other heavy weapons, including some
that Mexican law enforcement authorities believe once belonged to the U.S.
"How can I fight them?" said Juan Jose Muniz Salinas, Reynosa's police
chief. "It's impossible."
On Feb. 7, soldiers stormed the dusty "El Mezquito" ranch outside Miguel
Aleman, west of Reynosa, and found one of the largest illegal arsenals in
recent memory: 89 assault rifles, 83,355 rounds of ammunition, and plastic
explosives capable of demolishing buildings. Two days later in nearby Nuevo
Laredo, soldiers found a weapons cache that included eight military uniforms
to be used as disguises.
The mounting evidence that cartels have infiltrated many border police
forces has prompted drastic action.
In Reynosa, soldiers disarmed the entire police force in January, leaving
them without weapons for 19 days while ballistics tests were conducted.
Police officers, who make $625 a month, were also forced to provide voice
samples for comparison with recordings of threats made over police radios,
Mayor Oscar Luebbert Guti¿rrez said in an interview.
"It wasn't worth it," said Mu¿iz Salinas, the police chief. "They come after
us, but it's other authorities that are really involved. Look at the state
police, the federal police and the military."
The Enemy Is in the House
It was New Year's Day in Tijuana, the hilly city at America's busiest border
crossing. City workers prepped for celebrations, but Jesus Alberto Rodriguez
Meraz and Saul Ovalle Guerrero, both veteran police officers, had other
They were going to get rich.
The officers stole one ton of marijuana from the Arellano Felix drug cartel.
But before they could sell the load they were kidnapped. Four days later
their bodies were found, Tijuana's new police chief, Jesus Alberto Capella,
said in an interview.
The killings barely registered in Mexico, numbed by an avalanche of at least
30 police officer murders in the past three months and dozens more in the
past year. Their case illuminates the pervasive police corruption created by
One of every two police officers murdered in Mexico today is directly
involved with drug gangs, according to estimates by police officials,
prosecutors and drug experts.
Capella, nicknamed "Tijuana Rambo" because he fought his way out of an
assassination attempt shortly before taking office, estimates that 15
percent of the city's 2,300 police officers work for drug cartels, earning a
monthly stipend as body guards, kidnappers or assassins. In Baja California
alone, Mexican justice officials estimate that 30 percent of the local and
federal police force is on a cartel payroll.
"We have the enemy in our house," Capella said.
The killings in Loma Bonita here were related to a police corruption case,
Capella and other police officials said. A few days earlier, Tijuana police
had killed an officer working as a bodyguard for a drug gang that tried to
rob an armored car.
Cartel assassins, using police radios, vowed revenge. Within a week,
Saldana, his family, and two other officers had been murdered.
Some of the killings have come with specific messages taunting Mexican
During one week in mid-February, six bodies were found with signs lashed to
them that included information such as the phone number and address of the
Mexican army office set up to receive tips about organized crime. According
to analysts, such "narco-messages," some of which are carved into the
bodies, are intended to keep residents from reporting tips.
The decline of the Arellano Felix cartel's dominance of Tijuana has had the
unexpected effect of deepening police corruption.
After one brother was assassinated and two others were arrested, a war
erupted because the cartel's new leadership -- including a sister,
Enedina -- refused to share territory with the Sinaloa cartel, a police
official said on condition of anonymity. Once loyal to the Arellano Felix
cartel, some police officers switched sides.
"The police became armed wings of the warring cartels," the police official
At the same time, tighter border enforcement following the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks has made it harder for cartels to smuggle drugs into the
United States. So the cartels developed a local market by giving out free
samples of drugs, according to Clark, the Tijuana-based drug expert and
human rights activist.
The estimated number of addicts in Tijuana doubled from 100,000 in 2004 to
200,000 in 2007, Clark said. The number of small stores or houses where
drugs are sold increased fivefold -- to 20,000 outlets -- over that time.
Each outlet pays protection money to police, so their proliferation meant
In response, authorities in Baja California and several other border states
have begun giving police lie-detector tests. The questions range from the
innocuous to queries such as "Have you ever worked with a drug trafficker?"
Rommel Moreno Manjarrez, Baja California's attorney general, said in an
interview that out of every 1,000 officers tested, 700 fail.
"It's impossible for the narco to succeed without the help of the police,"
he said. "The success that the narco has been having is because of the
Transformed by Drug Money
About 20 minutes south of Tijuana, high-rise condominiums line the coast
near Rosarito Beach. Once a sleepy hideaway for Hollywood stars, the town
had over time exploded into a gaudy party magnet, drawing tourists to the
beach and the studio where the movies "Titanic" and "Master and Commander"
Rosarito's further transformation has been propelled by drug money and
culture, turning the surfer's haven into a key transshipment point for
cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines. City hall is now an armed
encampment. Soldiers in armored personnel carriers guard the front entrance.
The new police chief, Jorge Eduardo Montero Alvarez, now occupies an office
inside the cordon. His headquarters was rendered uninhabitable by a December
Investigators believe Rosarito Beach police -- working on behalf of the drug
gangs -- were behind the attack, which killed one of Montero Alvarez's
bodyguards. Days later, Mexican soldiers disarmed the entire 149-officer
Rosarito police force.
"I'm more afraid of the police than the narcos," said Jorge Luis Quinones, a
Rosarito Beach physician and businessman, reflecting a feeling that has
built for years among many of the surrounding area's 150,000 residents.
In June 2006, three Rosarito Beach police officers were beheaded. For Hugo
Torres Chabert, scion of the wealthy family that founded the famed Rosarito
Beach Hotel, it was a grim wakeup call.
Convinced that almost every level of the city's government had become
tainted with drug money, Torres Chabert ran for mayor and won. Soon after
taking office last December, he fired 80 of the city's 500 employees. But he
says he hasn't been able to press for arrests for lack of evidence.
"They were corrupt, but not stupid," he said.
To the children of Rosarito Beach, narco gunmen had already became local
heroes because they drove the fanciest cars, wore the latest styles and
acted like they owned the town. "Black commandos," the drug cartel hit men,
began openly flashing their weapons, snorting cocaine and strutting through
the beach town.
"It became impossible to avoid drug dealers -- your kids go to school with
their kids," Aurelio Casta¿eda, a Rosarito Beach bar owner and merchants
association official, said in an interview. "You'd go to a bathroom in a
bar, and they'd be selling cocaine. They don't even try to hide it, and
there was nothing you could do about it, nobody you could turn to."
Castaneda's once-busy bar, El Torito, is often empty. He says his business
is down 80 percent since 2001, when Rosarito Beach's drug violence spiked,
scaring off most surfers and other tourists.
Beyond the flash of the bars and hotels, Rosarito Beach is a warren of
impoverished neighborhoods where developers, after paying off city
officials, did not bother to install water lines or electrical connections.
The dismal living conditions created fertile recruiting grounds for drug
traffickers, who have found many willing to "mule" their product across the
border for $500 a trip.
But great quantities of drugs stay in Rosarito and are sold at hundreds of
convenience stores or private homes that thrive under police protection. Not
long ago, a Baja California journalist began digging into the problem. The
cartels found out and, in a series of phone calls, threatened to kill him.
It wasn't the first time. He'd had enough. Terrified, the journalist left
"I was saying to myself, 'This is an important subject,' " the journalist
said on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety. "But I wasn't
willing to lose my life over it."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 17, 2008, 05:05:04 AM
Notable & Quotable
March 17, 2008
Gerald Posner writing at HuffingtonPost.com:
I'm still in the Barack camp. But, as a vocal supporter, I'd like just a couple of answers about the flap over Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr, the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the Chicago megachurch where the Obamas have been members for 20 years.
Guilt by association is totally unwarranted. Barack is not responsible for Wright's views. However, how he responds to those views -- and whether he is being straight with us, the voters -- is critical as to whether he should lead our country.
The key issue for me, as both a supporter and as a reporter, revolves around what I view as Wright's most incendiary comments, those implying that America -- because of its own actions -- deserved the 9/11 terror attacks.
Wright made his comments on September 16, only 5 days after the deadly strikes in New York and Washington. He said, in part, "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. . . ."
. . . .If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright's post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there -- by 9/11 they were there more than a decade -- and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright's views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright's vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly. Barack -- a sitting Illinois State Senator -- would have been one of the first to hear about it.
Can't you imagine the call or conversation? "Barack, you aren't going to believe what Revered Wright said yesterday at the church. You should be ready with a comment if someone from the press calls you up."
But Barack now claims he never heard about any of this until after he began his run for the presidency, in February, 2007.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Economic crisis over US dollar?
on: March 17, 2008, 04:34:47 AM
The Buck Stops Where?
March 17, 2008
In the credit market panic that began in August, we have now reached the point of maximum danger: A global run on the dollar that could become a rout. As the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee prepares to meet tomorrow, this should be its major concern.
Yet the conventional wisdom -- on Wall Street and in Washington -- continues to be precisely the opposite. In this view, the Fed is "behind the curve" and needs to cut interest rates even faster and further than it has. Never mind that this is precisely the path the Fed has followed since August, yet the crisis has grown worse and now bids to tank the larger economy. Does it make sense to do more of what isn't working?
* * *
The Fed's main achievement so far has been to stir a global lack of confidence in the greenback. By every available indicator, investors are fleeing the dollar for other currencies and such traditional safe havens as gold and commodities. Oil has surged to $110 a barrel, up from under $70 as recently as September. Gold is above $1,000 an ounce, up from $700 in September, and food prices are soaring across the board. The euro has hit record heights against the buck, and for the first time the dollar has fallen below the level of the Swiss franc.
Speculators are adding to this commodity boom, betting that the Fed has thrown price stability to the wind in order to ease U.S. housing and credit woes. The problem is that dollar weakness is making both of these problems worse. The flight from the dollar has made U.S.-based investments less attractive, at a time when the U.S. financial system urgently needs to raise capital. And the commodity boom is translating into higher food and energy prices that are robbing American consumers of discretionary income. In the name of avoiding a recession, reckless monetary policy has made one more likely.
Meanwhile, and disconcertingly, we keep hearing new explanations for the virtues of dollar weakness. One of the most popular is that the increase in commodity prices has nothing to do with the dollar but is merely a change in "relative prices" -- commodities compared to other goods -- caused by surging global demand.
No doubt strong world growth explains part of the commodity price rise this decade. But the dollar price of oil has surged by some 60% since September, even as U.S. growth has slowed sharply. If the dollar had merely retained its value against the euro, oil would be in the neighborhood of $70 a barrel. Dollar weakness explains a large part of the oil price surge.
We are also told that the U.S. is merely importing inflation from the rest of the world, such as China. Import prices have surged nearly 14% in the last year, but that is mainly recycling the inflation that the Federal Reserve has inspired. Like other countries that have linked their monetary policies to the U.S., China has been importing inflation due to dollar weakness. Its official price level has tripled in a year, and it is now letting the yuan rise more rapidly against the dollar to slow that domestic inflation.
Kuwait has already dropped its dollar peg to stem its inflation, and other Persian Gulf countries may follow suit. These are all signs that the world is losing confidence in the Fed's commitment to price stability.
Another excuse is that a weak dollar is useful because it helps to boost exports, and thus reduces the U.S. trade deficit. Exports have certainly been strong, but exports in goods are being more than offset by the rising cost of oil imports. In January, the U.S. trade gap actually widened thanks to oil imports. In any case, rising exports won't comfort Americans whose standard of living falls due to rising import prices.
Then there is the "just deserts" school, which claims that dollar weakness is the inevitable result of America living beyond its means for so long. This road-to-perdition view is especially popular in Europe and the U.S. media. To believe it, however, you have to conclude that the world was willing to ignore the U.S. trade deficit for decades only to awaken in horror now.
The truth is that, as ever, the fate of the dollar is in our own hands. Inflation is always a monetary phenomenon, determined by the supply and demand for a currency. The supply of dollars is controlled by a monopoly known as the Federal Reserve, and at any moment the Fed can produce more or fewer dollars. The Fed can also influence the demand for dollars by maintaining a commitment to price stability, or it can reduce that global demand by squandering its anti-inflation credibility the way it is now. Once squandered, it is difficult to regain -- as we learned the hard way in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Bush Administration is also not helping confidence in the dollar. While President Bush is doing well to fight protectionism and higher taxes, his Administration continues to give the impression that it quietly favors a weak dollar. Yes, the official Treasury mantra is that it prefers a "strong dollar." But that mantra was the same when the dollar was strong and oil was $20 a barrel in the 1990s as it is now when oil is $110 and the dollar is weaker than at any time since the 1970s.
Last week Mr. Bush dared to wander from this script and told the Nightly Business Report that a strong dollar "helps deal with inflation" and rued its weakness against the euro. He was quickly reeled in by his advisers, and in his Friday speech at the New York Economic Club Mr. Bush reverted to the boilerplate language that investors now interpret as favoring a weak currency.
* * *
Which brings us to tomorrow's Fed meeting. The markets are expecting another cut of 50-75 points in the benchmark fed funds rate, and if recent history is a guide will immediately price into futures another 50-point cut down the road. The stock market may rally, until it once again decides that easier money can't remedy what is fundamentally a problem of bank solvency. That problem can only be resolved by financial institutions and regulators coming to grips with the losses, raising more capital to cushion the blow, and closing or selling those banks that can never recover. That will require a more aggressive, and pre-emptive, regulatory role for the Fed -- and that we would applaud.
What the U.S. and world economy don't need is a Fed that continues to insist that inflation expectations are "well-anchored" when everyone else knows they aren't. The Fed needs to restore its monetary credibility, or today's panic could become tomorrow's crash.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Earmarks
on: March 16, 2008, 09:06:51 PM
Earmarks as Usual
March 15, 2008; Page A10
For Congressional Appropriators, Thursday night's vote cashiering the earmark moratorium was an embarrassment of riches, with some 71 Senators endorsing Capitol Hill's spending culture. For everyone else, it was merely embarrassing.
The amendment, sponsored by Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), would have imposed a one-year earmark freeze, and it seemed to be gaining momentum earlier in the week, even cheered on by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But the Appropriations empire struck back, twisting every arm to preserve its spending privileges. The measure was voted down after being ruled "non-germane" to the budget. That's as good a measure as any of the Congressional mentality: Apparently earmarks, which totaled $18.3 billion for 2008, aren't relevant to overall spending.
Just three Republican Appropriators voted for the amendment, including surprise support from longtime skeptic Mitch McConnell. No such shockers from the Democrats, with all Appropriators going against and only six Senators bucking the party line, especially Missouri's Claire McCaskill, one of the more courageous antipork champions.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton no doubt backed the moratorium to insulate themselves against one of John McCain's signature themes. But they're also bending to the broader political winds. In an election year, voters understand the waste and corruption that pork enables, leading even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say, "I'm losing patience with earmarks."
That Mr. McCain's Republican colleagues fail, or refuse, to recognize the political potency is not a good sign. More GOP Senators voted against the moratorium than voted for it, proving that they are just as complacent about pork as most Democrats. And this vote comes on the heels of offenses like appointing ranking GOP Appropriator Thad Cochran ($837 million in pork last year) to the earmark-reform "working committee." The Republicans appear to be settling in comfortably with their minority status.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: McCain
on: March 16, 2008, 08:33:25 PM
Second post of the day:
The Conservative Case for McCain
By MARK SANFORD
March 15, 2008; Page A10
Last week, I asked David Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, why he is quitting his job to travel the country on a "fiscal wake-up tour." His answer: Because we have only five to 10 years to address the federal government's looming shortfalls before we're faced with a fiscal crisis.
In about a decade, the twin forces of demographics and compound interest will leave few options for solving the fiscal mess Washington has created. By then, our options will all be ugly. We could make draconian spending cuts, or impose large tax increases that will undermine our economy in the competitive global marketplace. Or we could debase the value of the dollar by printing a large amount of money. This would shrink the overall value of the federal government's debt. It would also wipe out the value of most Americans' savings.
Mr. Walker is right. And I join many others in saying that federal spending is now as significant an issue as the war on terror, federal judgeships and energy independence. The U.S. stands at a fiscal crossroads -- and the consequences of inaction, or wrongful action, will be real and severe.
Fortunately, the presidential election offers us a real choice in how to address the fiscal mess. To use a football analogy, we're at halftime; and the question for conservatives is whether to get off the bench for the second half of the game.
I sat out the first half, not endorsing a candidate, occupied with my day job and four young boys at home. But I'm now stepping onto the field and going to work to help John McCain. It's important that conservatives do the same.
It's easy to get caught up in the pursuit of political perfection, and to assume that if a candidate doesn't agree with you 100% of the time, then he doesn't deserve your support. In fact, Mr. McCain is a lot closer to 100% than many conservatives realize. He has never voted for a tax increase in his 25 years in Congress. He holds an 83% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. He is listed as a taxpayer hero by Citizens Against Government Waste. And he is supported by noted conservatives Phil Gramm, Jack Kemp and others.
The process of iron sharpening iron is good for the GOP. But now, I believe, the time has passed for focusing on what divides us.
There is a yawning gulf between the viewpoints of Mr. McCain and those of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Nowhere is this more evident than on the critical issue of the steady collapse of our government's financial house.
Since 2000, the federal budget has increased 72%, to $3.1 trillion from $1.8 trillion. The national debt is now $9 trillion -- more than the combined GDP of China, Japan and Canada. Add in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security commitments, and as a nation we are staring at more than a $50 trillion hole -- an invisible mortgage of $450,000 for every American family.
Hope alone won't carry us through the valley of the shadow of debt. The fact that neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama has made cost-cutting a part of their political vocabulary is a clear indication that they would increase spending. In fact, Mrs. Clinton has already proven skillful at snagging pork. Over the past few years alone, she has attached some $2.2 billion in earmarks to federal spending bills. Mr. McCain has asked for exactly $0 in earmarks.
And while Mr. Obama's oratorical skills have been inspiring, his proposals would entail roughly the same $800 billion in new government spending that Mrs. Clinton proposes. To his credit, Mr. Obama admits that his spending proposals will take more than three clicks of his heels to fund. He would pay for his priorities with a bevy of tax increases which he hopes taxpayers won't notice.
But taxpayers will notice. Mr. Obama plans to raise taxes on capital gains, dividends and corporate profits. He wants to hike estate taxes by 50%. And he wants to eliminate the cap on payroll taxes. These tax hikes would increase the burden borne by individuals and decrease the competitiveness of our economy.
I was elected to Congress in 1994 as part of a Republican Revolution that captured control of both the House and Senate. A number of us tried to apply the brakes to the Washington spending train. We didn't succeed. Six years later, I left Washington convinced that only a chief executive willing to use the presidential bully pulpit could bring spending under control.
Now, in John McCain, the GOP has a standard-bearer who would be willing to turn the power of the presidency toward controlling federal spending. Mr. McCain has one of the best spending records in Congress, and has never shied away from criticizing government pork-barrel spending.
The contrast between the two opposing teams is stark. It is time for the entire conservative squad to step onto the field. Who will join me in helping our team get the ball and move it down the field?
Mr. Sanford, a Republican, is the governor of South Carolina.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Spitzer Affair
on: March 16, 2008, 08:28:22 PM
After the Spitzer Storm
By E.J. MCMAHON
March 15, 2008; Page A10
In the long and storied political history of New York State, few things were ever as inevitable as Eliot Spitzer's election to the governor's office. As state attorney general, he already loomed as governor-presumptive before the Republican incumbent, Gov. George Pataki, confirmed in the summer of 2005 that he would not seek a fourth term. By November 2006, Mr. Spitzer's landslide (69%) victory over an articulate but underfunded Republican opponent was a foregone conclusion.
There were warning signs about his dark side. But to many New Yorkers, prosecutorial nastiness seemed to be just what was needed to reform the decadent political culture of Albany -- a place seldom mentioned in print without the modifier "dysfunctional."
Indeed, given his record, the millions who cast their ballots for him had reason to expect that Hurricane Eliot would tear up, root and branch, all that was wrong in the capital. What they got instead was more like a parking lot whirlwind -- stirring up the trash and pushing around shopping carts, but leaving no fundamental change in its wake.
Within days of taking office, Mr. Spitzer seemed to be feuding with everyone in sight. Personality issues aside, his "reform" agenda was muddled at best. On fiscal issues, jaws dropped even in Democratic circles when the new governor listed "spending control" among the hallmarks of his first budget -- which ended up boosting spending by 7%. Mr. Spitzer pledged himself to a record multiyear increase in aid to the state's public schools, already the best-financed in the country. He proposed well over $2 billion in tax and fee hikes, while denying that he had called for anything other than "loophole-closers." His much-publicized fight over Medicaid "cuts" boiled down to a dispute over marginal changes. And he added thousands of positions to the state payroll.
New York's fiscal year begins unusually early, on April 1, so this year's budget negotiations with the state legislature were about to enter a crucial period when news of Client 9 broke on Monday afternoon. And now the Spitzer storm has blown out to sea.
He leaves behind a state whose troubles are best summarized by a single population statistic: Since 2000, more than a million New Yorkers have moved to other states, the biggest outmigration loss in the nation. The Empire State's net population has been propped up only by foreign immigrants, most of whom settle in New York City. Various economic indexes consistently rank New York's business and tax climate among the worst in the nation.
To a great degree, New York owes its sclerotic government and slow economic growth to its status as the nation's most heavily unionized state. Roughly half of those union members work in the public sector, and a growing number of the rest are employed in the heavily government-subsidized health-care industry. Organized labor's clout in Albany has never been stronger -- and in various ways, Mr. Spitzer was feeding it.
The power of the unions -- combined with well organized lobbying by hospitals and nursing homes -- also explains why New York continues to maintain the nation's most expensive Medicaid program, spending nearly twice the per-recipient average for all states.
The burden of the bloated public sector weighs most heavily on the upstate region. High taxes, plus high business costs for energy and small group insurance, make it difficult to revive communities beaten down by the decline of manufacturing employment. The Bush tax cuts helped New York City and its surrounding suburbs to recover strongly, if belatedly, from recession and terrorist attacks earlier in the decade. But Wall Street -- the heart of New York's economy and the state's revenue base -- is now reeling from the credit market crisis.
The responsibility for dealing with these problems now falls to Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who will be sworn in as governor in just days. Prior to joining Mr. Spitzer's ticket, during a 21-year career in the state Senate's Democratic minority, Mr. Paterson became best known for two things: He is legally blind, and he is the probably the wittiest, most agreeable politician in the state Capitol.
Mr. Paterson, who will be the state's first African-American governor, got his start as the protégé of a circle of older, Harlem-based politicians including his father, former state senator and secretary of state Basil Paterson; U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel; and David Dinkins, who was city clerk and Manhattan borough president before his disastrous single term as mayor.
During the 1990s, Mr. Paterson dutifully voted for Republican-sponsored state tax cuts because they were included in bipartisan budget deals. But as Senate minority leader in 2005 and 2006, he was the prime sponsor of a bill that would have increased New York City's top income tax rate by 22%, to fund a school class-size reduction initiative. He co-sponsored a proposed $2.7 billion state income tax increase to pay for even higher school spending, and a big personal tax exemption for public school teachers. Neither bill went anywhere -- but both may provide a telling glimpse into Mr. Paterson's thinking.
Then again, while Mr. Paterson has close ties to labor unions as well as Democratic Party warhorses like Rep. Rangel, he also has supported an expansion of charter schools, and has shown an affinity for a newer generation of change-oriented urban politicians like Newark, N.J.'s Mayor Corey Booker, to whose campaign he steered a $10,000 contribution in 2006.
Mr. Paterson takes office in difficult circumstances well liked, and with a large store of goodwill. After all the hope and hype surrounding Mr. Spitzer upon his arrival, expectations have descended from the stratosphere. At this point, New Yorkers would settle for competence.
Mr. McMahon is the director of the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Asian youths" beat up priest
on: March 16, 2008, 07:45:38 PM
March 16, 2008
Asian youths in 'faith hate' attack on priest
An Anglican priest is in hospital after he was beaten up and insulted in what appears to be a “faith hate” assault by Asian youths.
Canon Michael Ainsworth, 57, was kicked and punched in the head and left with deep cuts, bruising and two black eyes in the grounds of his historic church in east London after he asked three Asian youths there to be quiet.
The attack at the 18th-century St George in the East Church in Stepney follows a number of apparently anti-Christian attacks in recent months in the same area.
Alan Green, area dean for Tower Hamlets, said: “It was a nasty cowardly attack. There were several groups in the churchyard and two from one group attacked him and the other group came and helped him back to the house.
“He was kicked and punched in the head as he lay on the ground, I believe that what was shouted was ‘you ********** priest’ before they attacked him.”
A Metropolitan police spokesman said: “The suspects are Asian . . . and the incident is being investigated as an alleged faith hate crime.”
The church had previously been targeted when a brick smashed a window during a service. Allan Ramanoop, a member of the parochial church council, said: “On one occasion, youths shouted: ‘This should not be a church, this should be a mosque, you should not be here’.
“The youths are anti-Christian. It’s terrible what they have done to Canon Ainsworth. We’ve never had violence like that before.”
A parishioner raised the alarm after the attack on March 5, but the youths had fled by the time police arrived.
The church was consecrated in 1729 and designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. It was severely damaged during the blitz but rebuilt in the 1960s.
Ainsworth was discharged from hospital but has now gone back in. Yesterday, he was visited in St Bartholomew’s hospital by his wife Jan, who is also a priest as well as being the Church of England’s chief education officer.
She said her husband was concerned publicity about the attack could fuel inter-faith tensions. “He does not want the level of fuss and attention. I think he feels it’s quite difficult in the local area.”
The Met recorded an upsurge in attacks against Muslims after the July 2005 bombings in London. There are also numerous attacks against Jews but, according to police statistics, relatively few Christians are attacked because of their faith. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/com...cle3559768.ece
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan on McCain
on: March 16, 2008, 01:53:12 PM
By PEGGY NOONAN
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March 14, 2008 9:26 p.m.; Page W16
It's a tale of two houses. One is dilapidated, old. Everyone in the neighborhood is used to it, and they turn away when they pass. A series of people lived in it and failed to take care of it. It's run down, needs paint. The roof sags, squirrels run through the eaves. A haunted house! No, more boring. Just a house someone . . . let go.
But over here, a new house on a new plot. It's rising from the mud before your eyes. It has interesting lines, a promising façade, and when people walk by they stop and look. So much bustle! Builders running in and out, the contractors fighting with each other—"You wouldn't even have this job if it weren't for the minority set-aside!" And everyone hates the architect, who put a port-o-potty on the lawn.
But: You can't take your eyes off it. "Something being born, and not something dying." Maybe it will improve the neighborhood. Maybe the owners will be nice.
If the old house is the Republicans and John McCain, and the new house is the Democrats and their presidential candidates, or at least one of them, what can Mr. McCain do? How can he better his position? What can he do to help his house?
You know what he has in his favor. He's gentleman Johnny McCain, hero, maverick. He has more knowledge on national defense in his pinky than the others will have, after four years in the White House, in their entire bodies. He's the one who should be answering the phone at 3 a.m. But "This is no country for old men." He feels like the past. He paints himself as George W. Bush's third term. Who wants that? Mr. Bush himself just wants the brown, brown grass of home.
The base is tired. Republicans feel their own kind of unease at Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. Talk about wanting to stand athwart history yelling stop. They're not in a mood to give money. Remember the phrase "broken glass Republicans?" The number of Republicans so offended, so wounded, actually, as citizens, by the Clinton years, that they'd crawl across broken glass to elect George Bush? They existed in 2004, too. Now a lot of them wouldn't crawl across a plush weave carpet to vote for a Republican. They're looking around. Look at that new house they're building . . .
What can Mr. McCain do, right now? He might start with a little refurbishing of himself. A good friend of his told me Mr. McCain's number one problem is "a lack of discipline." Mr. McCain is up at 6 a.m. and works it hard 'til midnight, but he lacks "discipline of the mind." He defined this as "not thinking about the answer to the question, not being serious, just popping off. He does it in part to charm and amuse the press. Before this is over they'll kill him with it." Former Sen. Phil Gramm, he said, is the only person around Mr. McCain who has the "heft" to get him to focus. Everyone else is in awe, or loves him too much, or doesn't see the problem. But it's crucial, he said, that Mr. McCain embrace a new seriousness—no more "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," no more Hey, we could be there for a hundred years.
The friend said he thought Mr. McCain is showing a certain "complacency" because he's already got what he wanted. "He's got Bush's people bowing, he's got the conservatives coming back, the establishment bowing. He's satisfied. He's finally got it!" But you have to want the presidency or the people won't give it to you. You have to fight for it. I asked if Mr. McCain really wanted it, really hungered. He shrugged. He didn't know.
* * *
Everything the friend said pinged off things I've observed of the McCain campaign. I'd add this. One always wonders with Mr. McCain: What exactly does he feel passionately about, what great question? Or rather, what does he stand for, really? For he often shows passion, but he rarely speaks of meaning. The issues that summon his full engagement are issues on which he's been challenged by his party and others. McCain, to McCain, is defined by his maverickness. That's who he is. (It's the theme of his strikingly good memoir, "Worth the Fighting For.") He stands up to power. He faces them down. It's not only a self image, it's a self obsession.
But it has left him seeming passionate only about those issues on which he's been able to act out his maverickness, such as campaign finance and immigration. He's passionate about McCain-Feingold because . . . because people don't understand how right he is, and how wrong they are. He's passionate not about immigration itself but about how he got his head handed to him when he backed comprehensive reform, about which he was right by the way. He's passionate about Iraq because America can't cut and run, as it did in Vietnam, to the subsequent heartbreak of good people, and heroes. But this is not philosophy, it's autobiography.
Issues removed from his personal drama, from the saga of John McCain, don't seem to capture his interest to any deep extent.
* * *
He has positions, but a series of separate, discrete and seemingly unconnected stands do not coherence make. Mr. McCain, in public, does not dig down to the meaning of things, to why he stands where he stands, to what understanding of life drives his political decisions. But voters hunger for coherence, for a philosophical thread that holds all the positions together.
Where Mr. McCain's friend says, "be disciplined," I'd say, "Get serious." What is the meaning of things? What is the guiding philosophy? Who has he read besides Hemingway? (And he's read him—he loves him to an almost scary degree.) Is there a little Burke in there? The Federalist papers? John Kenneth Galbraith?
On Iraq, for instance. The surge has worked, but what has it worked to do? Has it made us safe to be there 20 years? Is that good? Why are we there? Were we right to go in? What overall view of the world, of strategy, of American meaning, is being expressed in Iraq? Who are we in the world? What do we mean to do in the 21st century? And in what way does this connect to a philosophical view of life, of the meaning of being here on earth as Americans?
In the most successful political careers there is a purpose, a guiding philosophy. Not an ideology—ideology is something imposed from above, something abstract dreamed up by an intellectual. Philosophy isn't imposed from above, it bubbles up from the ground, from life. And its expression is missing with Mr. McCain. Political staffs inevitably treat philosophy as the last thing, almost an indulgence. But it's the central fact from which all else flows. Staffs turn each day to scheduling, advance, fundraising, returning the billionaire's phone call. They're quick to hold the meeting to agree on the speech on the economy. But they don't, can't, give that speech meaning and depth. Only the candidate can, actually.
Philosophy is the foundation. All the rest is secondary, a quick one-coat paint job on a house with a sagging roof.
If Mr. McCain got serious and told us how he views life, and politics, and America's purpose in the world, people just may start to look at the old house again, see it new. Who knows, maybe with work it could be turned into a mansion.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / LA Times: Gays fear an influx of hate
on: March 16, 2008, 01:43:47 PM
No doubt which side the reporter is on
Slaying raises tension between homosexuals and the Sacramento area's growing Slavic evangelical ranks.
By Eric Bailey, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 16, 2008
FOLSOM, CALIF. -- One punch was all it took. One punch to forever divide. One punch to kill a young man.
On a hot summer afternoon along a placid lakefront in the Sacramento suburbs, Satender Singh had come with a group of fellow Fijians to celebrate his promotion at an AT&T call center. Three married couples and Singh, a lighthearted 26-year-old, drank and hooted and danced a crazy conga line to East Indian music.
An innocent outing? Not in the eyes of the Russian family a few picnic tables away.
Andrey Vusik, 29, fresh from morning church services with his young children in tow, stared with disgust as Singh danced and hugged the other men while their wives giggled. To the Russian, Singh seemed rude and inappropriate, a gay man putting on an outrageous public display.
Angry stares led to an afternoon of traded insults. As the long day slid toward dusk, the tall Russian immigrant approached with a friend to demand an apology. Singh refused. Vusik threw a single punch.
Singh's head smacked into a concrete walkway. The joyful young man with the musical laugh died four days later of brain injuries.
Now, half a year after that angry Sunday afternoon at Lake Natoma, 15 miles east of the state Capitol, the case remains anything but resolved.
Vusik, a father of three, fled the U.S. and remains a fugitive, charged with involuntary manslaughter. Authorities suspect he is on the run in Russia, and the FBI has joined the hunt. Meanwhile, a young friend of Vusik -- Alex Shevchenko -- faces trial next month on hate-crime http, accused of helping to inflame the confrontation last July 1 and then hurling a bottle as he fled.
The tragedy has exacerbated tensions between Sacramento's gay community and the region's booming population of Slavic evangelical Christians, whose most vocal congregants in recent years have mobilized on the streets and statehouse steps to protest homosexuality.
Shevchenko did not throw a punch, but he could face three years behind bars if convicted. Slavic leaders say the 21-year-old is being scapegoated. They say an isolated tragedy is being used to ostracize their community of refugees from the former Soviet Union.
"This was not a hate crime; this was a street fight," said Roman Romasco, executive director of the Slavic Assistance Center in Sacramento. "From a street fight, they try to make a big case. From a little spark, they try to make a big fire. But you cannot blame the whole community over this."
Gay rights activists in Sacramento, which has one of the larger per capita gay populations in the U.S., believe Singh's death is the inevitable result of an organized campaign of homophobia imported from the old Soviet republics.
"The roots of what these guys did to Satender Singh can be traced to what's being preached in their churches," said Jerry Sloan, founder of Project Tocsin, a Sacramento-based group that monitors the religious right. "Some sitting in those pews believe they've heard it straight from God: that homosexuality is an abomination."
With as many as 100,000 newcomers from republics such as Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, the Sacramento region has one of the nation's largest concentrations of Soviet immigrants. Most began arriving in the late 1980s -- about a third of them conservative evangelical Christians seeking religious freedom.
The influx has created a thriving Russian community with Russian-language newspapers, cable TV and radio shows, as well as 70 Slavic churches -- nearly all adherents of a fundamentalist creed that condemns homosexuality.
Those beliefs, preached from the pulpit and voiced in Russian-language media, did not attract much attention until 2005, when a vocal crowd of Slavic evangelicals mounted a protest at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.
In the years since, they have become the most aggressive anti-gay contingent in the region. Holding signs and wearing T-shirts proclaiming "Sodomy is a Sin," they have mounted protests against state legislation, rallied at school board meetings and picketed fundraisers for politicians backed by gay-rights groups.
Sometimes their protests have taken a more personal tack.
Nathan Feldman, 30, said Slavic protesters have shoved him and spit on him at gay-pride events. Feldman said he lost his job at a jewelry store after a Ukrainian co-worker discovered he was gay and lied to get him fired. That wasn't all. A vandal scrawled graffiti on a trash dumpster outside his apartment: "Nathan Feldman, Die for AIDS."
"All of this has been going on way before Satender was killed," said Feldman, now a reporter for a gay-focused cable news show.
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Local politicians have warned Slavic churches to tone down the rhetoric. State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said in a newspaper opinion piece that "radical fundamentalists" have pinned a bull's-eye on the gay community. "Tragically now, the threat of violence has become reality, as manifested in this murder."
Since Singh's death, civil-rights groups have expressed concern that Russian enclaves in such West Coast cities as Sacramento, Portland and Seattle have become spawning grounds for virulent anti-gay sentiment.
A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report said many of the region's most vocal Slavic activists are followers of an international anti-gay group called Watchmen on the Walls. Formed just a few years ago, the group has established a potent presence among Slavic evangelicals in the U.S. and abroad.
Using battle-tinged rhetoric, the Watchmen have called for evangelicals to step aggressively into the political realm to fight what they see as a gay agenda threatening the traditional family.
They held a convention in Sacramento -- attended by several dozen devotees -- just a few months before the Singh killing.
The founders include Alexey Ledyaev, pastor of New Generation Church -- a Latvian-based denomination with more than 200 satellite congregations, including one in Sacramento -- and Scott Lively, an anti-gay activist and attorney with California roots who wrote "The Pink Swastika," a book linking Nazi Germany's Third Reich to homosexuality.
Vlad Kusakin, the host of a Sacramento Russian-language radio show and publisher of a Slavic newspaper that circulates in several West Coast cities, has appeared at Watchmen conventions.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has added the Watchmen to its list of hate groups, which includes such organizations as the Aryan Nations and the Golden State Skinheads.
"The rationale is the extreme viciousness of the group's anti-gay propaganda," said Mark Potok, director of the center's Intelligence Project.
Lively said in an e-mail that Watchmen do not promote or condone violence and are being unfairly subjected to a "hate-themed smear campaign." As for gay people, he said, "The public sympathy they enjoy as a political movement cannot survive honest scrutiny of their lifestyle or agenda."
Shevchenko's trial is set for April 29. Michael Long, his attorney, said the facts don't warrant hate-crime charges. Vusik initially asked Singh and his friends to stop their sexually explicit dancing, the attorney said, but the Fijians refused and called the Russians "white trash."
"I'm sure if it had been two straight people doing simulated sexual acts, they would have felt the same way," Long said. "This wasn't about evangelical versus gay. The Russians just wanted a peaceful picnic, and the Fijians were being obnoxious."
Singh's friends and family have tiptoed around questions of his sexual orientation. Since arriving from Fiji, he mostly stayed in the closet, gay activists say, occasionally hitting bars to dance.
His circle of friends was big and grew easily. One co-worker told mourners at a memorial service about a phone message Singh had left, a few words laced together by his lilting laugh. She vowed never to erase it.
Singh had gone to the lakefront with three couples, all straight. One of the women was pregnant.
A video shot by one of Singh's friends that afternoon shows him dancing with both men and women, grinding hips and at one point being theatrically swatted on the rear by a male friend holding a leafy stick.
Vusik, who worked in auto exports, was barbecuing with his wife, Tatyana, their children and a sister-in-law, Dasha. Shevchenko, Dasha's boyfriend, joined the group later.
Witnesses told authorities that the two camps on the shoreline traded insults for hours.
Details of the confrontation were sketched out during a preliminary hearing.
One witness said she heard the Fijians name-calling first.
Others said the Russians were the aggressors. Vusik allegedly told one of Singh's friends he wanted the "faggot" to "say sorry to me."
Late in the day, Vusik and Shevchenko approached to ask for that apology. Singh refused. Arguing erupted anew around the picnic table. Prosecutors say Vusik threw a cup of beer at one of Singh's friends, Singh stood up and Vusik punched him.
Gay activists continue to insist that the homicide was no random act of violence. Some say murder charges should have been filed. With several gay-pride events planned in the capital city in April, they worry about more trouble.
Marghe Covino, a veteran Sacramento civil rights activist and member of the Satender Justice Coalition -- formed after Singh's death -- said 60 gay people were murdered in Russia last year.
"People here feel targeted. They feel unsafe," she said. "All it will take is one more angry person to pick up a rock. Or pick up a gun."email@example.com
What I get here is the deceased was doing some pretty flagrant humping in front of the Russian's family, including young children. Fathers, mothers, what would you feel? What would you do?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / LAPD's assault on SWAT
on: March 16, 2008, 01:37:49 PM
From the Opinion section of the LA Times:
Would you rather have an elite fighting force made up of the best cops, or of officers who 'look like L.A.'?
By Robert C.J. Parry
March 16, 2008
On a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 2005, Jose Peña fueled himself with cocaine and grabbed a 9-millimeter pistol. Waving the gun at the head of his 19-month-old daughter, Suzie, he told the LAPD officers who arrived at the scene that he was Tony Montana -- the character played by Al Pacino in "Scarface" -- and that he was going to kill his daughter and himself. He'd already shot at her sister and at the police, so the threat was believable.
The situation was straightforward: If an LAPD SWAT crisis negotiator couldn't dispel Peña's narcotic fantasies, the little girl's life would rest with a SWAT rescue team's ability to cross a 50-foot alley, access the building, find and enter the room he was in and save Suzie before Peña pulled the trigger.
Now imagine for a moment that you were in Suzie Peña's position. Would you want the police SWAT team coming through the door to be the best of the best -- the toughest, most highly trained, most elite tacticians in the Los Angeles Police Department -- or would you want the team to "look like L.A."? Would you want rescuers who had not lost a hostage in three decades, or would you want a team with heartwarming, multicultural diversity?
The answer is pretty obvious, no? You'd want the best. That's what Suzie got, and even so, the results were tragic. According to the L.A. district attorney's office, Jose Peña emerged from the building and a gunfight ensued. When Peña retreated to his office, four SWAT officers crossed the alley in a matter of seconds, entered the building, took fire through the walls -- fire that struck one officer -- and entered Peña's office. There, they exchanged more shots with the gunman, who was standing behind a desk with Suzie. In the chaos, both Jose and Suzie Peña were killed.
Suzie is the only hostage ever lost by LAPD SWAT during its 35 years.
Shortly after her death, Police Chief William J. Bratton appointed a board of inquiry to examine the incident. Its mission, he said, was to investigate the officers' tactics and other factors in the shooting. "For the safety of the public and officers, we need to understand intimately what transpired in that incident," he said at the time.
In fact, the board did nothing of the sort. None of the SWAT officers from the Peña shooting were even interviewed by the panel, according to multiple sources. Indeed, the board's eight members included fewer tactical experts (one) than attorneys (three). In its final report, the board acknowledged that it had been "ultimately precluded from gaining a full and complete understanding of what transpired in Peña until after this report was finalized."
What's more, Assistant Chief Sharon Papa privately promised the team shortly after the incident that the report would be aired openly, according to officers who were present. That didn't happen either. The final report -- completed 15 months ago -- has not been released. Many senior department officials have never seen it, and Times reporters have repeatedly requested it but have been turned down. I received a copy earlier this month from a source.
The report shows that instead of fulfilling Bratton's promises, the board used the Peña case (with Bratton's encouragement) as a way to push for a series of politically correct changes within SWAT -- changes that many cops believe will have absolutely no benefit and that they believe will endanger the lives of citizens and cops alike.
From the start -- before the panel examined any evidence -- Bratton made it clear that increasing SWAT's diversity was particularly important to him. In November 2005, he privately addressed the board about his goals for their inquiry. The final report quotes him: "I'm looking to create change within SWAT. The qualifications to get in are stringent. But are they too stringent? There are no women and few African Americans.... Are there artificial barriers for getting into SWAT that the 'good old boys' network has maintained?"
Bratton's assertion that SWAT has few African Americans is not accurate. Eight of the 63 SWAT members are black, sources say, -- even after the death of Officer Randal Simmons on Feb. 7. That's 12.6% in a department that is 12% African American.
Nevertheless, in keeping with Bratton's wishes, the final report devotes substantial space to how to bring in female and black officers. "The absence of women ... and the low number of African Americans in SWAT should be addressed and dealt with, and the membership of SWAT should be reflective of the community," the report says, although it offers no qualitative or quantitative evidence that this change would save a single life or lead to a single suspect's apprehension. The unit, the report says, has become "insular, self-referential and resistant to change."
The report goes on to say that "there is no task in SWAT that a woman could not perform" and that the selection criteria has "underemphasized negotiating skills, patience, empathy and flexibility while overemphasizing physical prowess and tactical acumen."
But SWAT officers who have actually entered houses to rescue hostages from killers (as they did Feb. 7 in Winnetka, resulting in the death of Simmonsand the wounding of Officer James Veenstra) say there is no such thing as overemphasizing tactical acumen or physical prowess for such assignments.
Yes, they say, there are probably women on the force who could and should be admitted to SWAT, but they should be required to meet the same standards as other applicants and should be chosen for skill, not for diversity. The reality, SWAT members say, is that the standards for tactical success apply to everyone equally. Upper-body strength is vital to holding a 12-pound rifle stone-steady to hit a deranged killer while avoiding his hostage in a whirlwind of chaos.
In general, the final board report offers little or no persuasive evidence as to why SWAT should change. "SWAT performs in a disciplined and exemplary manner consistent with its fine reputation," the report acknowledges. "It has been and remains a source of great pride within the LAPD."
In fact, according to the report itself, out of 3,771 missions SWAT has performed from 1972 to 2005, suspects have been apprehended without any "untoward" incident in 83% of the cases. (The report does not define "untoward.") It notes that SWAT members have killed a suspect only 31 times in 33 years -- that's less than 1% of all engagements, often with the city's most deranged and violent criminals.
What's more, SWAT has lost only one hostage -- Suzie Peña -- and the way to ensure it doesn't happen again is to maintain and raise standards, not to lower them out of political correctness.
None of that matters, though, to the brass. "Bratton wants a woman on SWAT regardless of whether she's 110 pounds soaking wet and completely incapable of pulling 200 pounds of Jimmy Veenstra and his gear out of a house in the middle of a gunfight," said one officer who survived the Winnetka shootout in which Veenstra was extracted by his teammates while under fire.
Based on the findings of the report, the LAPD has just instituted a new selection process for SWAT, according to a SWAT veteran who helped in the redesign. Instead of picking cops on the basis of their ability to handle weapons and stress, the new standards specifically exclude video-based shooting simulator evaluations and "Hogan's Alley," a daunting series of pop-up targets representing armed crooks and hostages. A simulated raid with flash-bang devices that previously disqualified many candidates who accidentally shot the "hostage" is also gone.
The new test's only physical challenges are a modest physical fitness qualification and a modified obstacle course. "My preteen daughter could pass that," one officer said. Applicants' scores will now largely come from an oral interview conducted by non-SWAT and non-LAPD supervisors. In essence, the test is largely subjective.
Another coming change that SWAT officers criticize is one that would allow officers from anywhere in the department to apply to SWAT, rather than limiting it (as it has historically been limited) to officers from the elite Metropolitan Division. SWAT had argued to the board that continued selection from Metro was "a nearly fail-safe way to select the best of the best," and the final board report acknowledged that using only applicants from Metro "has produced remarkable cohesion, consistency, mutual trust and commonality of outlook."
But the board of inquiry ultimately claimed that including people from other divisions "could bring a wider perspective and greater gender and racial diversity." So the plan to broaden the pool of applicants is expected to go into effect next year.
There are a variety of innocuous recommendations in the board report, such as improvements in risk management, trend analysis and data analysis. The report calls for new accountability measures, including "Compstat-like accountability." (Compstat is Bratton's signature system for tracking crime trends.) The report also recommends providing all personnel with take-home cars, something the team has requested for years.
But it is the change in the selection process and the opening up of SWAT to applicants from outside Metro that have motivated SWAT officers' wives to launch an unusual e-mail campaign directed at Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, stating in part: "We are concerned with the safety of our husbands ... if they are expected to go into these highly dangerous situations with someone who got in under a compromised standard."
The report says, "SWAT culture and insularity pose a certain danger to the LAPD and the Los Angeles community as a whole." But the report is based on misconceptions.
SWAT is not a lily-white redoubt of old prejudices. Simmons and Veenstra (who is of Asian ancestry) illustrate this. Suzie Peña's attempted rescuers had names like Perez, Sanchez and Gallegos. Bratton may not know this; at the annual SWAT dinner, I saw him come in and talk to a couple of senior managers and deputy chiefs for 30 minutes and then leave, having barely acknowledged the officers -- black, white, Latino or otherwise. That evening, he forfeited his last chance to talk to Simmons, who died 10 days later.
SWAT is too important to this city to be weakened in the name of political correctness. Unless the Police Commission or other officials act, the LAPD will make social experimentation a higher priority than tactical excellence.
Robert C.J. Parry is a businessman working on a book about his experiences in the Army National Guard in Iraq.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why Shariah-2
on: March 16, 2008, 11:10:02 AM
Page 4 of 6)
Of course, merely declaring the ruler subject to the law was not enough on its own; the ruler actually had to follow the law. For that, he needed incentives. And as it happened, the system of government gave him a big one, in the form of a balance of power with the scholars. The ruler might be able to use pressure once in a while to get the results he wanted in particular cases. But because the scholars were in charge of the law, and he was not, the ruler could pervert the course of justice only at the high cost of being seen to violate God’s law — thereby undermining the very basis of his rule.
In practice, the scholars’ leverage to demand respect for the law came from the fact that the caliphate was not hereditary as of right. That afforded the scholars major influence at the transitional moments when a caliph was being chosen or challenged. On taking office, a new ruler — even one designated by his dead predecessor — had to fend off competing claimants. The first thing he would need was affirmation of the legitimacy of his assumption of power. The scholars were prepared to offer just that, in exchange for the ruler’s promise to follow the law.
Once in office, rulers faced the inevitable threat of invasion or a palace coup. The caliph would need the scholars to declare a religious obligation to protect the state in a defensive jihad. Having the scholars on his side in times of crisis was a tremendous asset for the ruler who could be said to follow the law. Even if the ruler was not law-abiding, the scholars still did not spontaneously declare a sitting caliph disqualified. This would have been foolish, especially in view of the fact that the scholars had no armies at their disposal and the sitting caliph did. But their silence could easily be interpreted as an invitation for a challenger to step forward and be validated.
The scholars’ insistence that the ruler obey Shariah was motivated largely by their belief that it was God’s will. But it was God’s will as they interpreted it. As a confident, self-defined elite that controlled and administered the law according to well-settled rules, the scholars were agents of stability and predictability — crucial in societies where the transition from one ruler to the next could be disorderly and even violent. And by controlling the law, the scholars could limit the ability of the executive to expropriate the property of private citizens. This, in turn, induced the executive to rely on lawful taxation to raise revenues, which itself forced the rulers to be responsive to their subjects’ concerns. The scholars and their law were thus absolutely essential to the tremendous success that Islamic society enjoyed from its inception into the 19th century. Without Shariah, there would have been no Haroun al-Rashid in Baghdad, no golden age of Muslim Spain, no reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul.
For generations, Western students of the traditional Islamic constitution have assumed that the scholars could offer no meaningful check on the ruler. As one historian has recently put it, although Shariah functioned as a constitution, “the constitution was not enforceable,” because neither scholars nor subjects could “compel their ruler to observe the law in the exercise of government.” But almost no constitution anywhere in the world enables judges or nongovernmental actors to “compel” the obedience of an executive who controls the means of force. The Supreme Court of the United States has no army behind it. Institutions that lack the power of the sword must use more subtle means to constrain executives. Like the American constitutional balance of powers, the traditional Islamic balance was maintained by words and ideas, and not just by forcible compulsion.
So today’s Muslims are not being completely fanciful when they act and speak as though Shariah can structure a constitutional state subject to the rule of law. One big reason that Islamist political parties do so well running on a Shariah platform is that their constituents recognize that Shariah once augured a balanced state in which legal rights were respected.
From Shariah to Despotism
Page 5 of 6)
But if Shariah is popular among many Muslims in large part because of its historical association with the rule of law, can it actually do the same work today? Here there is reason for caution and skepticism. The problem is that the traditional Islamic constitution rested on a balance of powers between a ruler subject to law and a class of scholars who interpreted and administered that law. The governments of most contemporary majority-Muslim states, however, have lost these features. Rulers govern as if they were above the law, not subject to it, and the scholars who once wielded so much influence are much reduced in status. If they have judicial posts at all, it is usually as judges in the family-law courts.
In only two important instances do scholars today exercise real power, and in both cases we can see a deviation from their traditional role. The first is Iran, where Ayatollah Khomeini, himself a distinguished scholar, assumed executive power and became supreme leader after the 1979 revolution. The result of this configuration, unique in the history of the Islamic world, is that the scholarly ruler had no counterbalance and so became as unjust as any secular ruler with no check on his authority. The other is Saudi Arabia, where the scholars retain a certain degree of power. The unfortunate outcome is that they can slow any government initiative for reform, however minor, but cannot do much to keep the government responsive to its citizens. The oil-rich state does not need to obtain tax revenues from its citizens to operate — and thus has little reason to keep their interests in mind.
How the scholars lost their exalted status as keepers of the law is a complex story, but it can be summed up in the adage that partial reforms are sometimes worse than none at all. In the early 19th century, the Ottoman empire responded to military setbacks with an internal reform movement. The most important reform was the attempt to codify Shariah. This Westernizing process, foreign to the Islamic legal tradition, sought to transform Shariah from a body of doctrines and principles to be discovered by the human efforts of the scholars into a set of rules that could be looked up in a book.
Once the law existed in codified form, however, the law itself was able to replace the scholars as the source of authority. Codification took from the scholars their all-important claim to have the final say over the content of the law and transferred that power to the state. To placate the scholars, the government kept the Shariah courts running but restricted them to handling family-law matters. This strategy paralleled the British colonial approach of allowing religious courts to handle matters of personal status. Today, in countries as far apart as Kenya and Pakistan, Shariah courts still administer family law — a small subset of their original historical jurisdiction.
Codification signaled the death knell for the scholarly class, but it did not destroy the balance of powers on its own. Promulgated in 1876, the Ottoman constitution created a legislature composed of two lawmaking bodies — one elected, one appointed by the sultan. This amounted to the first democratic institution in the Muslim world; had it established itself, it might have popularized the notion that the people represent the ultimate source of legal authority. Then the legislature could have replaced the scholars as the institutional balance to the executive.
But that was not to be. Less than a year after the legislature first met, Sultan Abdulhamid II suspended its operation — and for good measure, he suspended the constitution the following year. Yet the sultan did not restore the scholars to the position they once occupied. With the scholars out of the way and no legislature to replace them, the sultan found himself in the position of near-absolute ruler. This arrangement set the pattern for government in the Muslim world after the Ottoman empire fell. Law became a tool of the ruler, not an authority over him. What followed, perhaps unsurprisingly, was dictatorship and other forms of executive dominance — the state of affairs confronted by the Islamists who seek to restore Shariah.
A Democratic Shariah?
The Islamists today, partly out of realism, partly because they are rarely scholars themselves, seem to have little interest in restoring the scholars to their old role as the constitutional balance to the executive. The Islamist movement, like other modern ideologies, seeks to capture the existing state and then transform society through the tools of modern government. Its vision for bringing Shariah to bear therefore incorporates two common features of modern government: the legislature and the constitution.
The mainstream Sunni Islamist position, found, for example, in the electoral platforms of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, is that an elected legislature should draft and pass laws that are consistent with the spirit of Islamic law. On questions where Islamic law does not provide clear direction, the democratically chosen legislature is supposed to use its discretion to adopt laws infused by Islamic values.
The result is a profound change in the theoretical structure underlying Islamic law: Shariah is democratized in that its care is given to a popularly elected legislature. In Iraq, for example, where the constitution declares Shariah to be “the source of law,” it is in principle up to the National Assembly to pass laws that reflect its spirit.
Page 6 of 6)
In case the assembly gets it wrong, however, the Islamists often recommend the judicial review of legislative actions to guarantee that they do not violate Islamic law or values. What is sometimes called a “repugnancy clause,” mandating that a judicial body overturn laws repugnant to Islam, has made its way into several recent constitutions that seek to reconcile Islam and democracy. It may be found, for example, in the Afghan Constitution of 2004 and the Iraqi Constitution of 2005. (I had a small role advising the Iraqi drafters.) Islamic judicial review transforms the highest judicial body of the state into a guarantor of conformity with Islamic law. The high court can then use this power to push for a conservative vision of Islamic law, as in Afghanistan, or for a more moderate version, as in Pakistan.
Islamic judicial review puts the court in a position resembling the one that scholars once occupied. Like the scholars, the judges of the reviewing court present their actions as interpretations of Islamic law. But of course the judges engaged in Islamic judicial review are not the scholars but ordinary judges (as in Iraq) or a mix of judges and scholars (as in Afghanistan). In contrast to the traditional arrangement, the judges’ authority comes not from Shariah itself but from a written constitution that gives them the power of judicial review.
The modern incarnation of Shariah is nostalgic in its invocation of the rule of law but forward-looking in how it seeks to bring this result about. What the Islamists generally do not acknowledge, though, is that such institutions on their own cannot deliver the rule of law. The executive authority also has to develop a commitment to obeying legal and constitutional judgments. That will take real-world incentives, not just a warm feeling for the values associated with Shariah.
How that happens — how an executive administration accustomed to overweening power can be given incentives to subordinate itself to the rule of law — is one of the great mysteries of constitutional development worldwide. Total revolution has an extremely bad track record in recent decades, at least in majority-Muslim states. The revolution that replaced the shah in Iran created an oppressively top-heavy constitutional structure. And the equally revolutionary dreams some entertained for Iraq — dreams of a liberal secular state or of a functioning Islamic democracy — still seem far from fruition.
Gradual change therefore increasingly looks like the best of some bad options. And most of today’s political Islamists — the ones running for office in Morocco or Jordan or Egypt and even Iraq — are gradualists. They wish to adapt existing political institutions by infusing them with Islamic values and some modicum of Islamic law. Of course, such parties are also generally hostile to the United States, at least where we have worked against their interests. (Iraq is an obvious exception — many Shiite Islamists there are our close allies.) But this is a separate question from whether they can become a force for promoting the rule of law. It is possible to imagine the electoral success of Islamist parties putting pressure on executives to satisfy the demand for law-based government embodied in Koranic law. This might bring about a transformation of the judiciary, in which judges would come to think of themselves as agents of the law rather than as agents of the state.
Something of the sort may slowly be happening in Turkey. The Islamists there are much more liberal than anywhere else in the Muslim world; they do not even advocate the adoption of Shariah (a position that would get their government closed down by the staunchly secular military). Yet their central focus is the rule of law and the expansion of basic rights against the Turkish tradition of state-centered secularism. The courts are under increasing pressure to go along with that vision.
Can Shariah provide the necessary resources for such a rethinking of the judicial role? In its essence, Shariah aspires to be a law that applies equally to every human, great or small, ruler or ruled. No one is above it, and everyone at all times is bound by it. But the history of Shariah also shows that the ideals of the rule of law cannot be implemented in a vacuum. For that, a state needs actually effective institutions, which must be reinforced by regular practice and by the recognition of actors within the system that they have more to gain by remaining faithful to its dictates than by deviating from them.
The odds of success in the endeavor to deliver the rule of law are never high. Nothing is harder than creating new institutions with the capacity to balance executive dominance — except perhaps avoiding the temptation to overreach once in power. In Iran, the Islamists have discredited their faith among many ordinary people, and a similar process may be under way in Iraq. Still, with all its risks and dangers, the Islamists’ aspiration to renew old ideas of the rule of law while coming to terms with contemporary circumstances is bold and noble — and may represent a path to just and legitimate government in much of the Muslim world.
Noah Feldman, a contributing writer for the magazine, is a law professor at Harvard University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is adapted from his book “The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State,” which will be published later this month.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why Shariah
on: March 16, 2008, 11:08:15 AM
A Harvard Prof writes in the NY Times:
By NOAH FELDMAN
Published: March 16, 2008
Last month, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a nuanced, scholarly lecture in London about whether the British legal system should allow non-Christian courts to decide certain matters of family law. Britain has no constitutional separation of church and state. The archbishop noted that “the law of the Church of England is the law of the land” there; indeed, ecclesiastical courts that once handled marriage and divorce are still integrated into the British legal system, deciding matters of church property and doctrine. His tentative suggestion was that, subject to the agreement of all parties and the strict requirement of protecting equal rights for women, it might be a good idea to consider allowing Islamic and Orthodox Jewish courts to handle marriage and divorce.
The practical application of Shariah in most Muslim countries (as here, in this Egyptian courtroom) is in matters of family law.
Then all hell broke loose. From politicians across the spectrum to senior church figures and the ubiquitous British tabloids came calls for the leader of the world’s second largest Christian denomination to issue a retraction or even resign. Williams has spent the last couple of years trying to hold together the global Anglican Communion in the face of continuing controversies about ordaining gay priests and recognizing same-sex marriages. Yet little in that contentious battle subjected him to the kind of outcry that his reference to religious courts unleashed. Needless to say, the outrage was not occasioned by Williams’s mention of Orthodox Jewish law. For the purposes of public discussion, it was the word “Shariah” that was radioactive.
In some sense, the outrage about according a degree of official status to Shariah in a Western country should come as no surprise. No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.
In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.
In the Muslim world, on the other hand, the reputation of Shariah has undergone an extraordinary revival in recent years. A century ago, forward-looking Muslims thought of Shariah as outdated, in need of reform or maybe abandonment. Today, 66 percent of Egyptians, 60 percent of Pakistanis and 54 percent of Jordanians say that Shariah should be the only source of legislation in their countries. Islamist political parties, like those associated with the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, make the adoption of Shariah the most prominent plank in their political platforms. And the message resonates. Wherever Islamists have been allowed to run for office in Arabic-speaking countries, they have tended to win almost as many seats as the governments have let them contest. The Islamist movement in its various incarnations — from moderate to radical — is easily the fastest growing and most vital in the Muslim world; the return to Shariah is its calling card.
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How is it that what so many Westerners see as the most unappealing and premodern aspect of Islam is, to many Muslims, the vibrant, attractive core of a global movement of Islamic revival? The explanation surely must go beyond the oversimplified assumption that Muslims want to use Shariah to reverse feminism and control women — especially since large numbers of women support the Islamists in general and the ideal of Shariah in particular.
Is Shariah the Rule of Law?
One reason for the divergence between Western and Muslim views of Shariah is that we are not all using the word to mean the same thing. Although it is commonplace to use the word “Shariah” and the phrase “Islamic law” interchangeably, this prosaic English translation does not capture the full set of associations that the term “Shariah” conjures for the believer. Shariah, properly understood, is not just a set of legal rules. To believing Muslims, it is something deeper and higher, infused with moral and metaphysical purpose. At its core, Shariah represents the idea that all human beings — and all human governments — are subject to justice under the law.
In fact, “Shariah” is not the word traditionally used in Arabic to refer to the processes of Islamic legal reasoning or the rulings produced through it: that word is fiqh, meaning something like Islamic jurisprudence. The word “Shariah” connotes a connection to the divine, a set of unchanging beliefs and principles that order life in accordance with God’s will. Westerners typically imagine that Shariah advocates simply want to use the Koran as their legal code. But the reality is much more complicated. Islamist politicians tend to be very vague about exactly what it would mean for Shariah to be the source for the law of the land — and with good reason, because just adopting such a principle would not determine how the legal system would actually operate.
Shariah is best understood as a kind of higher law, albeit one that includes some specific, worldly commands. All Muslims would agree, for example, that it prohibits lending money at interest — though not investments in which risks and returns are shared; and the ban on Muslims drinking alcohol is an example of an unequivocal ritual prohibition, even for liberal interpreters of the faith. Some rules associated with Shariah are undoubtedly old-fashioned and harsh. Men and women are treated unequally, for example, by making it hard for women to initiate divorce without forfeiting alimony. The prohibition on sodomy, though historically often unenforced, makes recognition of same-sex relationships difficult to contemplate. But Shariah also prohibits bribery or special favors in court. It demands equal treatment for rich and poor. It condemns the vigilante-style honor killings that still occur in some Middle Eastern countries. And it protects everyone’s property — including women’s — from being taken from them. Unlike in Iran, where wearing a head scarf is legally mandated and enforced by special religious police, the Islamist view in most other Muslim countries is that the head scarf is one way of implementing the religious duty to dress modestly — a desirable social norm, not an enforceable legal rule. And mandating capital punishment for apostasy is not on the agenda of most elected Islamists. For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for Shariah is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law.
The Sway of the Scholars
To understand Shariah’s deep appeal, we need to ask a crucial question that is rarely addressed in the West: What, in fact, is the system of Islamic law? In his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad was both the religious and the political leader of the community of Muslim believers. His revelation, the Koran, contained some laws, pertaining especially to ritual matters and inheritance; but it was not primarily a legal book and did not include a lengthy legal code of the kind that can be found in parts of the Hebrew Bible. When the first generation of believers needed guidance on a subject that was not addressed by revelation, they went directly to Muhammad. He either answered of his own accord or, if he was unsure, awaited divine guidance in the form of a new revelation.
With the death of Muhammad, divine revelation to the Muslim community stopped. The role of the political-religious leader passed to a series of caliphs (Arabic for “substitute”) who stood in the prophet’s stead. That left the caliph in a tricky position when it came to resolving difficult legal matters. The caliph possessed Muhammad’s authority but not his access to revelation. It also left the community in something of a bind. If the Koran did not speak clearly to a particular question, how was the law to be determined?
The answer that developed over the first couple of centuries of Islam was that the Koran could be supplemented by reference to the prophet’s life — his sunna, his path. (The word “sunna” is the source of the designation Sunni — one who follows the prophet’s path.) His actions and words were captured in an oral tradition, beginning presumably with a person who witnessed the action or statement firsthand. Accurate reports had to be distinguished from false ones. But of course even a trustworthy report on a particular situation could not directly resolve most new legal problems that arose later. To address such problems, it was necessary to reason by analogy from one situation to another. There was also the possibility that a communal consensus existed on what to do under particular circumstances, and that, too, was thought to have substantial weight.
This fourfold combination — the Koran, the path of the prophet as captured in the collections of reports, analogical reasoning and consensus — amounted to a basis for a legal system. But who would be able to say how these four factors fit together? Indeed, who had the authority to say that these factors and not others formed the sources of the law? The first four caliphs, who knew the prophet personally, might have been able to make this claim for themselves. But after them, the caliphs were faced with a growing group of specialists who asserted that they, collectively, could ascertain the law from the available sources. This self-appointed group came to be known as the scholars — and over the course of a few generations, they got the caliphs to acknowledge them as the guardians of the law. By interpreting a law that originated with God, they gained control over the legal system as it actually existed. That made them, and not the caliphs, into “the heirs of the prophets.”
Among the Sunnis, this model took effect very early and persisted until modern times. For the Shiites, who believe that the succession of power followed the prophet’s lineage, the prophet had several successors who claimed extraordinary divine authority. Once they were gone, however, the Shiite scholars came to occupy a role not unlike that of their Sunni counterparts.
Under the constitutional theory that the scholars developed to explain the division of labor in the Islamic state, the caliph had paramount responsibility to fulfill the divine injunction to “command the right and prohibit the wrong.” But this was not a task he could accomplish on his own. It required him to delegate responsibility to scholarly judges, who would apply God’s law as they interpreted it. The caliph could promote or fire them as he wished, but he could not dictate legal results: judicial authority came from the caliph, but the law came from the scholars.
The caliphs — and eventually the sultans who came to rule once the caliphate lost most of its worldly influence — still had plenty of power. They handled foreign affairs more or less at their discretion. And they could also issue what were effectively administrative regulations — provided these regulations did not contradict what the scholars said Shariah required. The regulations addressed areas where Shariah was silent. They also enabled the state to regulate social conduct without having to put every case before the courts, where convictions would often be impossible to obtain because of the strict standards of proof required for punishment. As a result of these regulations, many legal matters (perhaps most) fell outside the rules given specifically by Shariah.
The upshot is that the system of Islamic law as it came to exist allowed a great deal of leeway. That is why today’s advocates of Shariah as the source of law are not actually recommending the adoption of a comprehensive legal code derived from or dictated by Shariah — because nothing so comprehensive has ever existed in Islamic history. To the Islamist politicians who advocate it or for the public that supports it, Shariah generally means something else. It means establishing a legal system in which God’s law sets the ground rules, authorizing and validating everyday laws passed by an elected legislature. In other words, for them, Shariah is expected to function as something like a modern constitution.
The Rights of Humans and the Rights of God
So in contemporary Islamic politics, the call for Shariah does not only or primarily mean mandating the veiling of women or the use of corporal punishment — it has an essential constitutional dimension as well. But what is the particular appeal of placing Shariah above ordinary law?
The answer lies in a little-remarked feature of traditional Islamic government: that a state under Shariah was, for more than a thousand years, subject to a version of the rule of law. And as a rule-of-law government, the traditional Islamic state had an advantage that has been lost in the dictatorships and autocratic monarchies that have governed so much of the Muslim world for the last century. Islamic government was legitimate, in the dual sense that it generally respected the individual legal rights of its subjects and was seen by them as doing so. These individual legal rights, known as “the rights of humans” (in contrast to “the rights of God” to such things as ritual obedience), included basic entitlements to life, property and legal process — the protections from arbitrary government oppression sought by people all over the world for centuries.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO's mom: "A FreeSprited Wanderer who set BO's Path"
on: March 16, 2008, 10:37:23 AM
The NY Times does its part for the BO candidacy
In the capsule version of the Barack Obama story, his mother is simply the white woman from Kansas. The phrase comes coupled alliteratively to its counterpart, the black father from Kenya. On the campaign trail, he has called her his “single mom.” But neither description begins to capture the unconventional life of Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, the parent who most shaped Mr. Obama.
Kansas was merely a way station in her childhood, wheeling westward in the slipstream of her furniture-salesman father. In Hawaii, she married an African student at age 18. Then she married an Indonesian, moved to Jakarta, became an anthropologist, wrote an 800-page dissertation on peasant blacksmithing in Java, worked for the Ford Foundation, championed women’s work and helped bring microcredit to the world’s poor.
She had high expectations for her children. In Indonesia, she would wake her son at 4 a.m. for correspondence courses in English before school; she brought home recordings of Mahalia Jackson, speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And when Mr. Obama asked to stay in Hawaii for high school rather than return to Asia, she accepted living apart — a decision her daughter says was one of the hardest in Ms. Soetoro’s life.
“She felt that somehow, wandering through uncharted territory, we might stumble upon something that will, in an instant, seem to represent who we are at the core,” said Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mr. Obama’s half-sister. “That was very much her philosophy of life — to not be limited by fear or narrow definitions, to not build walls around ourselves and to do our best to find kinship and beauty in unexpected places.”
Ms. Soetoro, who died of ovarian cancer in 1995, was the parent who raised Mr. Obama, the Illinois senator running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He barely saw his father after the age of 2. Though it is impossible to pinpoint the imprint of a parent on the life of a grown child, people who knew Ms. Soetoro well say they see her influence unmistakably in Mr. Obama.
They were close, her friends and his half-sister say, though they spent much of their lives with oceans or continents between them. He would not be where he is today, he has said, had it not been for her. Yet he has also made some different choices — marrying into a tightly knit African-American family rooted in the South Side of Chicago, becoming a churchgoing Christian, publicly recounting his search for his identity as a black man.
Some of what he has said about his mother seems tinged with a mix of love and regret. He has said his biggest mistake was not being at her bedside when she died. And when The Associated Press asked the candidates about “prized keepsakes” — others mentioned signed baseballs, a pocket watch, a “trophy wife” — Mr. Obama said his was a photograph of the cliffs of the South Shore of Oahu in Hawaii where his mother’s ashes were scattered.
“I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book — less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life,” he wrote in the preface to his memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” He added, “I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her.”
In a campaign in which Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has made liberal use of his globe-trotting 96-year-old mother to answer suspicions that he might be an antique at 71, Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, invokes his mother’s memory sparingly. In one television advertisement, she appears fleetingly — porcelain-skinned, raven-haired and holding her toddler son. “My mother died of cancer at 53,” he says in the ad, which focuses on health care. “In those last painful months, she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well.”
‘A Very, Very Big Thinker’
He has described her as a teenage mother, a single mother, a mother who worked, went to school and raised children at the same time. He has credited her with giving him a great education and confidence in his ability to do the right thing. But, in interviews, friends and colleagues of Ms. Soetoro shed light on a side of her that is less well known.
“She was a very, very big thinker,” said Nancy Barry, a former president of Women’s World Banking, an international network of microfinance providers, where Ms. Soetoro worked in New York City in the early 1990s. “I think she was not at all personally ambitious, I think she cared about the core issues, and I think she was not afraid to speak truth to power.”
Her parents were from Kansas — her mother from Augusta, her father from El Dorado, a place Mr. Obama first visited in a campaign stop in January. Stanley Ann (her father wanted a boy so he gave her his name) was born on an Army base during World War II. The family moved to California, Kansas, Texas and Washington in restless pursuit of opportunity before landing in Honolulu in 1960.
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Courtesy of the Obama Family
Ms. Soetoro, right, during her trip to Indonesia from 1988 to 1992. She married an Indonesian, moved to Jakarta and became an anthropologist.
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Ms. Soetoro during her field trip from 1988 to 1992. She died in 1995 of cancer.
In a Russian class at the University of Hawaii, she met the college’s first African student, Barack Obama. They married and had a son in August 1961, in an era when interracial marriage was rare in the United States. Her parents were upset, Senator Obama learned years later from his mother, but they adapted. “I am a little dubious of the things that people from foreign countries tell me,” the senator’s grandmother told an interviewer several years ago.
The marriage was brief. In 1963, Mr. Obama left for Harvard, leaving his wife and child. She then married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian student. When he was summoned home in 1966 after the turmoil surrounding the rise of Suharto, Ms. Soetoro and Barack followed.
Those choices were not entirely surprising, said several high school friends of Ms. Soetoro, whom they remembered as unusually intelligent, curious and open. She never dated “the crew-cut white boys,” said one friend, Susan Blake: “She had a world view, even as a young girl. It was embracing the different, rather than that ethnocentric thing of shunning the different. That was where her mind took her.”
Her second marriage faded, too, in the 1970s. Ms. Soetoro wanted to work, one friend said, and Mr. Soetoro wanted more children. He became more American, she once said, as she became more Javanese. “There’s a Javanese belief that if you’re married to someone and it doesn’t work, it will make you sick,” said Alice G. Dewey, an anthropologist and friend. “It’s just stupid to stay married.”
That both unions ended is beside the point, some friends suggested. Ms. Soetoro remained loyal to both husbands and encouraged her children to feel connected to their fathers. (In reading drafts of her son’s memoir, Mr. Obama has said, she did not comment upon his depiction of her but was “quick to explain or defend the less flattering aspects of my father’s character.”)
“She always felt that marriage as an institution was not particularly essential or important,” said Nina Nayar, who later became a close friend of Ms. Soetoro. What mattered to her, Ms. Nayar said, was to have loved deeply.
By 1974, Ms. Soetoro was back in Honolulu, a graduate student and raising Barack and Maya, nine years younger. Barack was on scholarship at a prestigious prep school, Punahou. When Ms. Soetoro decided to return to Indonesia three years later for her field work, Barack chose not to go.
“I doubted what Indonesia now had to offer and wearied of being new all over again,” he wrote in his memoir. “More than that, I’d arrived at an unspoken pact with my grandparents: I could live with them and they’d leave me alone so long as I kept my trouble out of sight.” During those years, he was “engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America.” Ms. Soetoro-Ng recalled her mother’s quandary. “She wanted him to be with her,” Ms. Soetoro-Ng said. But she added: “Although it was painful to be separated from him for his last four years of high school, she recognized that it was perhaps the best thing for him. And she had to go to Indonesia at that time.”
That time apart was hard for both mother and son.
“She longed for him,” said Georgia McCauley, who became a friend of Ms. Soetoro in Jakarta. Barack spent summers and Christmas vacations with his mother; they communicated by letters, his illustrated with cartoons. Her first topic of conversation was always her son, her female friends said. As for him, he was grappling with questions of racial identity, alienation and belonging.
“There were certainly times in his life in those four years when he could have used her presence on a more daily basis,” Ms. Soetoro-Ng said. “But I think he did all right for himself.”
Fluent in Indonesian, Ms. Soetoro moved with Maya first to Yogyakarta, the center of Javanese handicrafts. A weaver in college, she was fascinated with what Ms. Soetoro-Ng calls “life’s gorgeous minutiae.” That interest inspired her study of village industries, which became the basis of her 1992 doctoral dissertation.
"She loved living in Java,” said Dr. Dewey, who recalled accompanying Ms. Soetoro to a metalworking village. “People said: ‘Hi! How are you?’ She said: ‘How’s your wife? Did your daughter have the baby?’ They were friends. Then she’d whip out her notebook and she’d say: ‘How many of you have electricity? Are you having trouble getting iron?’ ”
She became a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development on setting up a village credit program, then a Ford Foundation program officer in Jakarta specializing in women’s work. Later, she was a consultant in Pakistan, then joined Indonesia’s oldest bank to work on what is described as the world’s largest sustainable microfinance program, creating services like credit and savings for the poor.
Visitors flowed constantly through her Ford Foundation office in downtown Jakarta and through her house in a neighborhood to the south, where papaya and banana trees grew in the front yard and Javanese dishes like opor ayam were served for dinner. Her guests were leaders in the Indonesian human rights movement, people from women’s organizations, representatives of community groups doing grass-roots development.
“I didn’t know a lot of them and would often ask after, ‘Who was that?’ ” said David S. McCauley, now an environmental economist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila, who had the office next door. “You’d find out it was the head of some big organization in with thousands of members from central Java or someplace, somebody that she had met some time ago, and they would make a point of coming to see her when they came to Jakarta.”
An Exacting Idealist
As a mother, Ms. Soetoro was both idealistic and exacting. Friends describe her as variously informal and intense, humorous and hardheaded. She preached to her young son the importance of honesty, straight talk, independent judgment. When he balked at her early-morning home schooling, she retorted, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”
When Barack was in high school, she confronted him about his seeming lack of ambition, Mr. Obama wrote. He could get into any college in the country, she told him, with just a little effort. (“Remember what that’s like? Effort?”) He says he looked at her, so earnest and sure of his destiny: “I suddenly felt like puncturing that certainty of hers, letting her know that her experiment with me had failed.”
Ms. Soetoro-Ng, who herself became an anthropologist, remembers conversations with her mother about philosophy or politics, books, esoteric Indonesian woodworking motifs. One Christmas in Indonesia, Ms. Soetoro found a scrawny tree and decorated it with red and green chili peppers and popcorn balls.
“She gave us a very broad understanding of the world,” her daughter said. “She hated bigotry. She was very determined to be remembered for a life of service and thought that service was really the true measure of a life.” Many of her friends see her legacy in Mr. Obama — in his self-assurance and drive, his boundary bridging, even his apparent comfort with strong women. Some say she changed them, too.
“I feel she taught me how to live,” said Ms. Nayar, who was in her 20s when she met Ms. Soetoro at Women’s World Banking. “She was not particularly concerned about what society would say about working women, single women, women marrying outside their culture, women who were fearless and who dreamed big.”
The Final Months
After her diagnosis, Ms. Soetoro spent the last months of her life in Hawaii, near her mother. (Her father had died.) Mr. Obama has recalled talking with her in her hospital bed about her fears of ending up broke. She was not ready to die, he has said. Even so, she helped him and Maya “push on with our lives, despite our dread, our denials, our sudden constrictions of the heart.”
She died in November 1995, as Mr. Obama was starting his first campaign for public office. After a memorial service at the University of Hawaii, one friend said, a small group of friends drove to the South Shore in Oahu. With the wind whipping the waves onto the rocks, Mr. Obama and Ms. Soetoro-Ng placed their mother’s ashes in the Pacific, sending them off in the direction of Indonesia
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam in Spain
on: March 16, 2008, 10:15:10 AM
Its the NY Times, so the tone of the piece is what you would expect. Still some worthy point to be gleaned.
LLEIDA, Spain — As prayer time approached on a chilly Friday afternoon and men drifted toward the mosque on North Street, Hocine Kouitene hauled open its huge steel doors.
As places of worship go, the crudely converted garage leaves much to be desired, said Mr. Kouitene, vice president of the Islamic Association for Union and Cooperation in Lleida, a prosperous medieval town in northeastern Spain surrounded by fruit farms that are a magnet for immigrant workers. Freezing in winter and stifling in summer, the prayer hall is so cramped that the congregation, swollen to 1,000 from 50 over the past five years, sometimes spills onto the street.
“It’s just not the same to pray in a garage as it is to pray in a proper mosque,” said Mr. Kouitene, an imposing Algerian in a long, black coat and white head scarf. “We want a place where we can pray comfortably, without bothering anybody.”
Although Spain is peppered with the remnants of ancient mosques, most Muslims gather in dingy apartments, warehouses and garages like the one on North Street, pressed into service as prayer halls to accommodate a ballooning population.
The mosque shortage stems partly from the lack of resources common to any relatively poor, rapidly growing immigrant group. But in several places, Muslims trying to build mosques have also met resistance from communities wary of an alien culture or fearful they will foster violent radicals.
Distrust sharpened after a group of Islamists bombed commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing 191 people, and in several cities, local governments, cowed by angry opposition from non-Muslims, have blocked Muslim groups from acquiring land for mosques.
The result, Muslim leaders say, is that some Muslims feel anchorless and marginalized.
“A proper mosque would act as a focus, a reference point for Islam here,” said Mohammed Halhoul, spokesman for the Catalan Islamic Council. A quarter of Spain’s Muslims live in Catalonia, the northeastern region that is home to Lleida, but the area has no real mosques.
“I feel like a Catalan,” Mr. Halhoul said, “except when it comes to the question of the mosque.”
Muslims ruled much of Spain for centuries, but after they were ultimately vanquished in the 1400s, their mosques were either left to ruin or converted into churches. Since then, fewer than a dozen new mosques have been built to serve Spain’s Muslim population, which has grown in the past 10 years to about one million from about 50,000 as immigrants have poured into the country.
That rise has coincided with a decline in church attendance in overwhelmingly Catholic Spain, giving new echo to an old rivalry between the two religions. It was the Catholic king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, who defeated the last Moorish ruler in Spain in 1492 and oversaw the expulsion of Jews and Muslims. Now, as churches struggle to draw a dwindling flock, Muslim prayer halls are overflowing.
“The reality of this country has changed much faster than that of other countries,” Ángel Ros, Lleida’s mayor, said in an interview. “A process that took 30 years in Italy or France has taken 10 years in Spain.”
Lleida is a case in point: a city whose 13th-century cathedral looms from a fortified hilltop over plains that produce half of Spain’s pears and apples, it has drawn a flood of immigrants. They now make up nearly a fifth of the city’s 125,000 residents, compared with 4 percent in 2000. A quarter of them are from Muslim countries. Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, has replaced Saturday as a day off in addition to Sunday on many local farms.
The North Street prayer hall faced opposition from the outset. Marta Roigé, head of the local neighborhood association, said residents tried to block it five years ago by renting the garage themselves, but backed down after the landlord started a bidding war. They have since sued the local council to close it down on the basis that it is a health and safety hazard.
“The tension has grown as the numbers have grown,” Ms. Roigé said. “They’ve set up shops, butchers, long-distance call centers and restaurants.” These businesses, catering to Muslim immigrants, line the surrounding streets.
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The immigrant population has soared recently in Lleida.
She added: “They are radicals, fundamentalists. They don’t want to integrate.”
Muslim leaders, however, say the lack of proper mosques is one barrier to integration. And Spanish authorities and Muslim leaders say the potential for extremism would be easier to monitor at fewer, larger mosques than at the 600 or so prayer halls scattered throughout the country.
Some Muslim leaders believe the tide is starting to turn in their bid to return minarets to Spanish skylines. Following a pact between the Islamic Association and Lleida’s town hall in December, the city may become the first in Catalonia to build a mosque.
The association secured a 50-year lease on a plot of government land on the edge of town, and Mr. Kouitene says the group hopes to break ground next year if it can raise the money.
Several other Muslim communities are on the verge of similar breakthroughs. In the southern city of Seville, Muslims are close to obtaining a plot of land for a mosque after years of bitter local resistance; in 2005 protesters dumped a pig’s head on a plot originally chosen.
Meanwhile, the ruling coalition in Catalonia submitted a bill in the regional parliament in December that would oblige local governments to set aside land for mosques and other places of worship. Representatives of Muslim organizations hope it will inspire a similar national law.
“People are realizing the world has changed and they can’t look the other way,” said Mohammed Chaib, a member of the Catalan parliament and the only Muslim lawmaker in Spain.
Some Catholic clerics see things differently. Cardinal Luis Martínez Sistach, archbishop of Barcelona, opposes the bill, which would entitle all religious groups to land on an equal basis. He argues that Catholicism requires different rules.
“A church, a synagogue or a mosque are not the same thing,” he said, according to the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC. The bill, he said, “impinges on our ability to exercise a fundamental right, that of religious liberty.”
While no law on religious land use exists, the wealthy Catholic Church faces no difficulty acquiring land, experts in law and religion say.
Álex Seglers, an expert on church-state relations, is skeptical that the bill will be effective. The bill is vague and gives local governments too much discretion over what land it provides to which group, he says.
For the worshipers at North Street, the next big hurdle is money. Spain’s secular state cannot finance religious buildings, though it has a special arrangement to subsidize the Catholic Church.
“We have a saying in our religion,” Mr. Kouitene said. “Anywhere there are even a few Muslims, you must build a mosque for joint prayer. Otherwise, the devil rules in that place.”
Mayor Ros, for one, welcomes the building.
“We used to have a dominant religion, and now we have many religions and we have to find a way of respecting that fact,” he said. “Churches were the great public works of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance. Now I see a day when every large city in Spain will have a mosque.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 15, 2008, 09:49:23 PM
March 14, 2008
Obama and the Minister
By RONALD KESSLER
March 14, 2008; Page A19
In a sermon delivered at Howard University, Barack Obama's longtime minister, friend and adviser blamed America for starting the AIDS virus, training professional killers, importing drugs and creating a racist society that would never elect a black candidate president.
The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor of Mr. Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, gave the sermon at the school's Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel in Washington on Jan. 15, 2006.
Trinity United Church of Christ/Religion News Service
Sen. Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright
"We've got more black men in prison than there are in college," he began. "Racism is alive and well. Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. No black man will ever be considered for president, no matter how hard you run Jesse [Jackson] and no black woman can ever be considered for anything outside what she can give with her body."
Mr. Wright thundered on: "America is still the No. 1 killer in the world. . . . We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers . . . We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children while trying to get public opinion turned against Castro and Ghadhafi . . . We put [Nelson] Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God."
His voice rising, Mr. Wright said, "We supported Zionism shamelessly while ignoring the Palestinians and branding anybody who spoke out against it as being anti-Semitic. . . . We care nothing about human life if the end justifies the means. . . ."
Concluding, Mr. Wright said: "We started the AIDS virus . . . We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty. . . ."
Considering this view of America, it's not surprising that in December Mr. Wright's church gave an award to Louis Farrakhan for lifetime achievement. In the church magazine, Trumpet, Mr. Wright spoke glowingly of the Nation of Islam leader. "His depth on analysis [sic] when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye-opening," Mr. Wright said of Mr. Farrakhan. "He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest."
After Newsmax broke the story of the award to Farrakhan on Jan. 14, Mr. Obama issued a statement. However, Mr. Obama ignored the main point: that his minister and friend had spoken adoringly of Mr. Farrakhan, and that Mr. Wright's church was behind the award to the Nation of Islam leader.
Instead, Mr. Obama said, "I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree." Trumpet is owned and produced by Mr. Wright's church out of the church's offices, and Mr. Wright's daughters serve as publisher and executive editor.
Meeting with Jewish leaders in Cleveland on Feb. 24, Mr. Obama described Mr. Wright as being like "an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with." He rarely mentions the points of disagreement.
Mr. Obama went on to explain Mr. Wright's anti-Zionist statements as being rooted in his anger over the Jewish state's support for South Africa under its previous policy of apartheid. As with his previous claim that his church gave the award to Mr. Farrakhan because of his work with ex-offenders, Mr. Obama appears to have made that up.
Neither the presentation of the award nor the Trumpet article about the award mentions ex-offenders, and Mr. Wright's statements denouncing Israel have not been qualified in any way. Mr. Obama nonetheless told the Jewish leaders that the award to Mr. Farrakhan "showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community." That is an understatement.
As for Mr. Wright's repeated comments blaming America for the 9/11 attacks because of what Mr. Wright calls its racist and violent policies, Mr. Obama has said it sounds as if the minister was trying to be "provocative."
Hearing Mr. Wright's venomous and paranoid denunciations of this country, the vast majority of Americans would walk out. Instead, Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle have presumably sat through numerous similar sermons by Mr. Wright.
Indeed, Mr. Obama has described Mr. Wright as his "sounding board" during the two decades he has known him. Mr. Obama has said he found religion through the minister in the 1980s. He joined the church in 1991 and walked down the aisle in a formal commitment of faith.
The title of Mr. Obama's bestseller "The Audacity of Hope" comes from one of Wright's sermons. Mr. Wright is one of the first people Mr. Obama thanked after his election to the Senate in 2004. Mr. Obama consulted Mr. Wright before deciding to run for president. He prayed privately with Mr. Wright before announcing his candidacy last year.
Mr. Obama obviously would not choose to belong to Mr. Wright's church and seek his advice unless he agreed with at least some of his views. In light of Mr. Wright's perspective, Michelle Obama's comment that she feels proud of America for the first time in her adult life makes perfect sense.
Much as most of us would appreciate the symbolism of a black man ascending to the presidency, what we have in Barack Obama is a politician whose closeness to Mr. Wright underscores his radical record.
The media have largely ignored Mr. Obama's close association with Mr. Wright. This raises legitimate questions about Mr. Obama's fundamental beliefs about his country. Those questions deserve a clearer answer than Mr. Obama has provided so far.
Mr. Kessler, a former Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reporter, is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com and the author of "The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack" (Crown Forum, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 14, 2008, 01:21:05 PM
What is confusing to me here is that in Euro America, the second name is the middle name and the third name is the family name, whereas in Latino names, the second name is the family name and the third name is the maternal family name.
Thus my name is Marc Frederick Denny in Euro, but in Latino it is Marc Denny S____. (left bland for security reasons)
What is the case in Barack's case?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Clinton Runaround
on: March 14, 2008, 01:17:18 PM
Have you ever been to a government office to pick up a document -- your driver's license, say -- only to be sent to another window, where the clerk sends you to another window, where a clerk sends you back to the first to start all over again?
That's what it feels like these days asking Bill and Hillary Clinton about their White House records. Last weekend, USA Today reported that it had finally received some records from the Clinton Presidency four years after making a Freedom of Information Act request. Except that hundreds of pages pertaining to the handling of Bill Clinton's 140 last-minute pardons had been redacted or withheld by the helpful folks at the National Archives.
The Archives told USA Today that they had referred all the excluded and redacted material to lawyer Bruce Lindsey, the longtime keeper of Clinton secrets who's responsible for vetting the records. But Mr. Lindsey refused; apparently he doesn't want to second-guess the Archives. The Clintons themselves, meanwhile, say that everything is in the hands of the Archives and Mr. Lindsey, even though the Archives are acting pursuant to Bill's personal instructions, and those instructions include a provision to allow Mr. Lindsay to second-guess the Archivists.
If you can't easily follow all that, maybe that's the idea.
Last October, NBC's Tim Russert asked Hillary Clinton about the White House records at a debate. Her answer: "The Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves." So, while she is "fully in favor" of releasing the records from her time in the White House, those bureaucrats were holding things up. As for the records that her husband had requested remain under seal until 2012, as permitted under the law, "That's not my decision to make," she said. In other words, you'll have to ask at Window 14.
Then in February, Mr. Russert asked again, noting that the Archives had actually turned over 10,000 pages of documents about Hillary Clinton's schedule as first lady to the Clintons for their review, and they were sitting on them. Her answer was again, in effect, "It's not my job."
Those scheduling records are now due to be made public later this month, but the pardon records are stuck in limbo. The Archivists say that it's up to Mr. Lindsey, but also that Mr. Lindsey won't look at them. The Clintons say its up to the Archives, and Mr. Lindsey -- well, his window is closed, we guess.
Then there's the question of the donors to the Clinton Foundation, which raised more than $135 million last year alone. Hillary Clinton says she's in favor of a law that would require disclosure of the donors to Presidential foundations. So what about voluntarily disclosing while a candidate what she favors making mandatory after she's elected? "Well, you'll have to ask them," she said back in September, referring to the foundation. Who runs the foundation? Why, Bruce Lindsey, of course.
So, has Mrs. Clinton suggested that Mr. Lindsey and Bill do the disclosure that she claims to favor? "Well," she told Mr. Russert in New Hampshire in September, "I don't talk about my private conversations with my husband." In other words, this window is now also closed -- at least until the election is over.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 14, 2008, 01:15:57 PM
Home Alone on Earmarks
John McCain may be cruising to a presidential nomination, but he holds limited clout in the chamber he has worked in for over 20 years. Last night, the Senate turned back one of his pet projects, a proposed one-year moratorium on earmarks.
The vote, which technically was on a procedural motion, wasn't even close, with 71 senators voting against the motion by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, and 29 in favor. Mr. McCain, who has made opposition to pork-barrel spending a highlight of his presidential campaign, couldn't even sway a majority of GOP Senators to his side. He did bag a surprise supporter in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, who has traditionally defended earmarks.
Democratic Senators clearly are betting that attacks on pork-barrel spending won't resonate with voters this fall. Only three Democrats joined with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, last-minute converts to the anti-pork barrel cause.
Senator McCain said the defeat of the moratorium proved Congress was "the last bastion in America that doesn't get it" regarding government spending. "It wasn't the war in Iraq that caused [the GOP] to lose in 2006, it was the wasteful, pork-barrel spending," he told reporters. "Ask any county Republican chairman in America. Ask any Republican operative in America."
Senator McCain says he still plans to target outrageous government spending as a campaign issue. He just won't be doing it with much support from his Senate colleagues, which may help him even more easily portray himself as someone who would shake up Beltway practices.
-- John Fund
How efficient is the Clinton campaign machine? According to RadarOnline, Hillary Clinton's crack Web team had purged Eliot Spitzer's endorsement from the campaign site less than an hour after the New York Times broke the story of his "involvement" with a prostitution ring Monday.
So far, Mrs. Clinton has declined to comment on the Governor's alleged assignations, beyond a terse remark that her thoughts were with his family. But she probably won't be able to dodge the issue if Mr. Spitzer is indicted -- or if a debate catches fire in the media over prostitution, misogyny and related gender concerns. This is touchy territory for Mrs. Clinton, given her own husband's philandering. A Monica-esque debate about powerful older men and vulnerable young women would hardly be a convenient subject right now for the Clinton campaign.
Mrs. Clinton may have airbrushed the New York Governor from her campaign site, but with at least two debates coming up before the crucial Pennsylvania primary, Mrs. Clinton will be lucky if she doesn't have to offer a more elaborate denunciation of Mr. Spitzer's actions.
-- Brian M. Carney
Minister of Hate
Mitt Romney was constantly challenged about the tenets of his Mormon faith and its past treatment of blacks, and finally under pressure had to give a speech in which he discussed the influence of his religious beliefs on his political actions.
Barack Obama says on the campaign trail that his campaign transcends race, but he has refused to discuss beyond cursory comments what he thinks about his own pastor's wild hate speech -- speech that includes dark racial overtones.
Mr. Obama has attended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church for some 20 years, and has attended countless sermons there. But when a Jewish group in Ohio confronted him with a list of outrageous statements by Rev. Wright, including calling on blacks to sing "God Damn America" for giving the minority community drugs and engaging in "state terrorism," Mr. Obama more or less waved away the objections.
"I don't think my church is actually particularly controversial," he told the group. He said Rev. Wright "is like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," adding that everyone has someone like that in their family.
Mr. Obama won't comment specifically on Rev. Wright's denunciations of the United States, but he did authorize a campaign aide to say that he "repudiated" those comments.
But in presidential politics, that won't be good enough. In a summary of Wright sermons that Ron Kessler offers in today's Wall Street Journal, it's clear that Mr. Obama's pastor has done far more than merely speak favorably of Louis Farrakhan. On the Sunday after 9/11, Rev. Wright mounted his pulpit and claimed that the U.S. itself had brought on the attacks because of its own history of terrorism. "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," he told his congregation. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human."
At some point, in some venue, Mr. Obama is going to have to give a speech directly addressing his longtime pastor's views and answering a simple question: Why didn't he find another church that didn't include a leader who so frequently engaged in such hate speech?
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day I
"The Democrats also must enjoy this bit of trivia: They now control the district that includes the birthplace and boyhood home of the late President Ronald Reagan, the leading Republican icon of our day. But it is the practical political details of the GOP's loss in Illinois 14 that suggest how far the party has slipped.... For starters, it's not just that Hastert long-dominated the district. He personally had the current district drawn in hopes of securing the Republican Party's longstanding hold.... Prior to the 2006 turning point in national partisan politics, the idea of Democrat Foster winning in this improbable place might have seemed laughable" -- Congressional Quarterly's Bob Benenson on this week's special election victory of Democrat Bill Foster in a seat held by retired former GOP House Speaker Denny Hastert.
Quote of the Day II
"The pillars of American liberalism -- the Democratic Party, the universities and the mass media -- are obsessed with biological markers, most particularly race and gender. They have insisted, moreover, that pedagogy and culture and politics be just as seized with the primacy of these distinctions and with the resulting 'privileging' that allegedly haunts every aspect of our social relations. They have gotten their wish. This primary campaign represents the full flowering of identity politics. It's not a pretty picture. Geraldine Ferraro says Obama is only where he is because he's black. Professor Orlando Patterson says the 3 a.m. phone call ad is not about a foreign policy crisis but a subliminal Klan-like appeal to the fear of 'black men lurking in the bushes around white society.' Good grief." -- Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Counting Down the Blue Dogs
November poses daunting prospects for the House GOP. Until yesterday, only five Democrats were retiring from their seats, while 24 Republicans were leaving. Now comes the sixth Democratic retirement, and this one may be a gift to Republicans.
Alabama Rep. Bud Cramer, of Huntsville, is calling it quits after nine terms. Among the last of the Blue Dogs, he easily held down a seat in his state's 5th district despite a heavy Republican lean. George W. Bush won 60% of the vote in 2004 even as Mr. Cramer was reelected with the 73%. As recently as January he was obliged to tell AP he wasn't thinking of changing parties: "I've always been a conservative Democrat who's been a bit of a thorn in the side of our leadership. I'll continue to be a thorn in the side of our leadership."
A thorn no more. His departure not only puts his party at high risk of losing a seat; he will be missed by its dwindling number of conservative voices and also by Nasa, which always had a friend on the appropriations committee. Mr. Cramer's announcement was undoubtedly intended to catch both Democrats and Republicans by surprise. With a June primary scheduled, would-be successors will have to make up their minds quickly and file for an April 4 deadline. Should he choose to make one, Mr. Cramer's endorsement would likely be especially influential in such a contest.
He says only that he's retiring to "spend more time with my family and begin another chapter in my life." Mr. Cramer may not have been thrilled with the direction of his now-majority party under ultraliberal Nancy Pelosi, but a likelier motive for leaving is to make some money. He has spent the past 36 years as an army tank officer, county prosecutor and Member of Congress, none of which (under normal circumstances) is highly lucrative.
-- Holman W. Jenkins Jr.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Romney on Hannity
on: March 13, 2008, 08:12:36 PM
A couple of nights ago Mitt Romney was interviewed at length by Sean Hannity.
I was VERY impressed by the man. He spoke with a depth that spoke to me of spiritual grounding. Amongst other things, he essentially offered himself to be McCain's Veep. Given the heated battle between the two men, this can seem hard to imagine if you hadn't seen the interview, but the way Romney handled himself in the interview made it seem quite plausible indeed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: March 13, 2008, 07:57:14 PM
James Taranto will return Monday, March 17. While he's away, please enjoy complimentary access to the WSJ's subscription newsletter, Political Diary.
March 13, 2008
Is a 'Dump Hillary' Movement Starting to Crystallize?
Hillary Clinton doesn't easily apologize. But she did last night, telling a group of more than 200 black newspaper editors that she was sorry about comments made by her supporters that have upset African-Americans.
"I am sorry if anyone was offended," she said of remarks by her husband comparing Barack Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary to that of Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. "We can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama."
She went on to "repudiate" remarks that Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter and 1984 Democratic vice-presidential running-mate, made suggesting Mr. Obama would not have been so successful if he were white. Mrs. Clinton pointed out that Mrs. Ferraro had resigned her post with the Clinton finance committee.
Mrs. Clinton made her retreat on the same night that one of her most stalwart liberal supporters turned on her. In a blistering "special comment" tacked on to his MSNBC show, host Keith Olbermann accused Mrs. Clinton of "now campaigning as if Barack Obama were the Democrat, and you were the Republican." Mr. Olbermann didn't mince words -- he accused Clinton advisers of sending "Senator Clinton's campaign back into the vocabulary of David Duke." He tagged Team Clinton with "slowly killing the chances for any Democrat to become president" with its divisive campaign tactics.
While Ms. Ferraro's words were certainly inartful, no one in their right mind believes they should be compared with the rhetoric of David Duke. The fact that former Clinton allies such as Mr. Olbermann are becoming so apoplectic is a sure sign that Mrs. Clinton is wearing out her welcome on the primary stage in many quarters.
-- John Fund
On School Choice, New Guv Is Anything But a Knee-Jerk Democrat
Lt. Gov. David Paterson will become New York's governor next Monday at noon. But while news reports have focused on the trailblazing aspects of his rise -- he will become the state's first African-American governor and the first legally blind governor of any state -- Albany politicos are talking about how policy priorities will change under Mr. Paterson.
On many levels, Mr. Paterson is likely to be even more liberal than Eliot Spitzer. Rick Brookhiser of National Review calls him "liberal to the marrow." The new governor opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and wants to revise the state's harsh Rockefeller-era drug laws. Last year, he stirred up controversy when he appeared to endorse a proposal to let legal residents who were non-citizens have the right to vote. Even pro-immigrant Mayor Mike Bloomberg refused to join that crusade, asking: "If voting is given to everybody, what's the point of becoming a citizen?" On taxes, Mr. Paterson is likely to be even more in favor than Mr. Spitzer of redistribution and tax hikes targeted at the "wealthy."
But on at least one issue, Mr. Paterson breaks from liberal orthodoxy. He is passionately in favor of school choice and has even spoken at two conferences held by the Alliance for School Choice. At one, he pulled off the rare feat of quoting both Martin Luther King Jr. and individualistic philosopher Ayn Rand approvingly in the same speech.
Here's hoping Mr. Paterson puts education reform ahead of tax policy as he draws up his list of priorities.
-- John Fund
It Pours, Man, It Pours
The news just keeps getting worse for Republicans in Congress: After losing a Congressional seat that once belonged to former Speaker Dennis Hastert in Illinois, the party lost what may have been a winnable seat in Indiana. Adding insult to injury, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $1.2 million losing the Illinois race and yet didn't spend a penny in Indiana despite its candidate getting slammed by the NRCC's heavy-spending Democratic counterpart.
But members of the House Republican Caucus aren't ready to pack it in and go home just yet. The party raised $8.6 million at an annual dinner in Washington last night, headlined by President Bush, exceeding even the $7.5 million goal set for the shindig. And members of Congress let it be known they consider the loss of the former Hastert seat an aberration that can be blamed on the candidate.
While the loss was a blow, GOP leaders blamed dairy owner and wealthy businessman Jim Oberweis for being a flawed candidate. "Jim Oberweis went from being perceived [as] the tenacious guy to just being a wealthy individual looking for a gig," one Republican Member of Congress said. "There's nothing the NRCC is going to do about that. To lay [the loss] on the doorstep of the NRCC, it would be inaccurate."
In turn, a strategist familiar with the Illinois campaign suggested Mr. Oberweis lost because Democrats effectively tied him to President Bush, even casting the special election as an opportunity to vote against the current administration. That has to be troubling to national Republican leaders, who have long maintained that Mr. Bush will not be on the ballot, and thus not a factor, in 2008.
Shrugging off the Bush albatross would be difficult enough if the party were on an equal financial footing with Democrats. But that's hardly the case. Even after last night's dinner (and assuming they spent nothing on the dinner), the NRCC still trails House Democrats by more than $20 million in cash on hand. The job of defending a stunning number of vulnerable open seats will be even more difficult if the GOP has an empty checking account.
-- Reid Wilson, RealClearPolitics.com
Quote of the Day I
"[T]he percentage of Republican identifiers voting in Democratic nomination contests has increased significantly in recent weeks -- from 4 percent in states that held primaries in January and February to 9 percent in the March 4 primaries to 12 percent in Mississippi on Tuesday.... Overall, 9 percent of the Mississippi Democratic primary voters were self-identified Republicans who voted for Clinton.... But did these Republicans just turn out to assist McCain by prolonging the Democratic fight or boosting a candidate they consider easier to beat? The exit poll suggests another motivation. These Clinton Republicans also expressed very negative views of Barack Obama... [so] the primary motivation of Clinton's Mississippi Republicans may be a desire to stop Barack Obama, although many may be motivated by tactical shenanigans as well" -- Mark Blumenthal, editor and publisher of Pollster.com, writing in the National Journal.
Quote of the Day II
"I met Eliot Spitzer during his first semester in law school, my first year teaching criminal law at Harvard. He was smart and ambitious, which certainly didn't set him apart from the rest of his classmates at Harvard. What did, and what brought him to my door, was that he was interested in a career in politics.... Maybe he was absent the day we discussed the Mann Act. But I don't think so.... Eliot Spitzer knew better, but he clearly forgot that the rules apply to everyone. Especially him. Now, the face in the mirror is the one that did him in. Poor Eliot. I do feel sorry for him. But there are some things you can't teach, some things that can only be learned through painful experience. Hubris is what it's called" -- Susan Estrich, former campaign manager for Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988, reflecting on her time teaching Eliot Spitzer at Harvard Law School.
Getting Religion on Earmarks, Slowly
Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both become last-minute converts to a proposal to declare a moratorium on earmarks, the pork-barrel projects dropped into legislation with little scrutiny or oversight. But don't expect Democratic Senate leaders to follow them as the moratorium comes to a vote on the Senate floor today.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois is a big booster of Mr. Obama, but he declares himself "disappointed" in his Illinois colleague's embrace of the moratorium proposed by GOP Senator Jim DeMint. Similarly, New York Senator Chuck Schumer has parted ways with Hillary Clinton over the proposed time-out on earmarks. Mr. Schumer privately expressed disgust when Senator DeMint held a news conference outside the Capitol building that featured a man in a 6-foot-tall pink pig suit ridiculing Congressional excess.
No wonder, then, Mr. Obama raised the eyebrows of more than a few Democratic colleagues when he announced this week that Congress' "earmark culture" was broken and "needs to be re-examined and reformed." Republican Senate leaders now are in danger of being outflanked unless they step up the pace and embrace the DeMint moratorium themselves. Yet the Hill newspaper reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is delaying any statement on earmarks until a task force he appointed two months ago to study the subject reports back to him. Missouri Republican Kit Bond isn't on the task force but had a succinct summary description of the moratorium idea: "Stupid." Statements like that have spending foes worrying that the task force is simply designed to punt on reform.
For his part, Mr. DeMint says his colleagues are acting like addicts who refuse to admit they have a problem. He told Politico.com this week: "We need to go cold turkey." Anything less would be "like telling an alcoholic, 'Don't drink as much.'"
Jay Leno: New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has admitted that he has been involved in a prostitution ring. This is the same man who when he was attorney general went after the prostitution rings. So apparently for not giving him good service. ... [This] means Hillary Clinton [is] now only the second angriest wife in the state of New York. ... Neither Barack nor Hillary can win the nomination outright. You know, because it’s so close. So Hillary’s kind of caught between Barack and a hard place. ... Technically, neither of them can win. It shows you how bad it’s gotten for the Democrats. Forget winning the general election, they can’t even win their own election. ... You know, there’s talk in some Democratic circles of letting the states of Michigan and Florida re-vote. Today, Al Gore said, “Oh, now you think of this! Great!” ... They’re talking about a re-vote primary where people would mail in their ballots. That’s a great idea, combine the reliability of the people in Florida who count the ballots with the efficiency of the Post Office. What could go wrong there?
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Medecina Privada
on: March 13, 2008, 07:16:39 PM
"El chavismo parece estrechar su cerco sobre los profesionales que ejercen la medicina privada. A los insultos y ofensas que hoy les dedicó Hugo Chávez se une una disparatada noticia que publicó hoy el “Diario Vea” y que va en la misma dirección: “se van del país” y eso es inmoral … ¿Pasará a ser ilegal?
El presidente Chávez, en el acto de bienvenida a un grupo de estudiantes de Medicina Comunitaria celebrado este martes en Caracas, ha calificado de “apátridas” y de “personas que venden su alma al diablo” a los médicos venezolanos que prefieren trabajar en Europa antes que hacerlo en Venezuela.
Con un profundo desprecio hacia esa postura, el Presidente ha dicho que “aquí eso se puede hacer”, imaginamos que en una comparación referencial a Cuba donde no se puede hacer porque a los cubanos no se les permite salir del país.
Así pues, la decisión de un ser humano, en el ejercicio de su sagrada libertad en un mundo cada vez más globalizado, ha merecido los duros calificativos del Presidente hacia este grupo de ciudadanos.
No es sorpresa que el Presidente insulte, ofenda y desprecie y menos a los médicos que ejercen en el sector privado, quienes se han sufrido diversas arremetidas del Primer Mandatario.
El Diario Vea publicó también este martes un artículo sobre lo que llama “Fuga de Médicos”.
El disparatado artículo afirma que el Colegio de Médicos recibiría 3 millones de Euros por cada médico que va a trabajar a Europa, pero habla por sí mismo.
La pregunta que deja en el ambiente es si después de tachar la actividad de un médico de decidir trabajar en el exterior, se calificará, en el futuro, como ilegal."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The wheel turns
on: March 13, 2008, 05:32:27 PM
This article was sent to me by someone who has been to Afg. more than twice. The piece does manage to leave out the little matter that after being helped by us against the Russians it hosted the preparations of a brutal terrorist attack upon us.
Afghanistan comes full circle as NATO seeks Russian help
By SCOTT TAYLOR On Target
Mon. Mar 10
ONE OF THE most ironic twists to the ongoing mission in Afghanistan emerged from the NATO meetings held in Brussels last week. With member countries either reluctant or unable to add military resources, NATO is now seeking assistance from Russia, its erstwhile Cold War enemy and one-time "evil occupier" of Afghanistan. In fact, the irony is so thick that we should first roll back decades’ worth of propaganda and start at the very beginning.
NATO was formed in 1949 as a collective self-defence alliance to prevent any encroachment of the Soviet Union into Western Europe. The Soviets responded to this by creating their own defensive coalition of Communist countries (the Warsaw Pact) to protect them from any eastward expansion of NATO’s influence. The nuclear arms race was at its zenith and even Europeans, still recovering from the massive destruction and carnage of the Second World War, understood the importance of maintaining large conventional armies. Troops and tanks were regarded as a preferable deterrent to an apocalyptic mushroom cloud.
The impasse that resulted in Europe did not prevent the U.S. and Soviets from waging war by proxy in non-aligned Third World countries around the world. Afghanistan, in fact, became a key battleground for the CIA and the KGB. Since it bordered the Soviet Union’s central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the U.S. knew that Moscow could not afford to ignore events in impoverished and underdeveloped Afghanistan.
Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, Soviet engineers undertook several major infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, including the construction of the Salang tunnel through the Hindu Kush Mountains, which provided the first viable access between the country’s northern and southern provinces. A full-scale program was introduced to train Afghan army officers and a large number of economic aid packages were extended to Kabul’s Communist government.
The Americans decided things were going a little too smoothly for the Kremlin, so they decided to stir things up a little. By arming and funding Afghan Muslim extremists who were already resisting the social changes, the Americans sought to draw the Soviets into a full-scale military intervention. By 1979 events had escalated to the point where the instability, lawlessness and flourishing drug trade along their shared border could no longer be ignored by the Kremlin. Following a coup staged by the KGB in Kabul, the newly appointed Afghan Communist president invited Soviet troops to deploy a security assistance force to help him stabilize Afghanistan.
It would have been high-fives all around for the CIA planners watching the Soviet tank columns rolling south through the Salang tunnel. The Russian bear had taken the bait and put his paw squarely on the American trap. On the surface, the U.S. vehemently denounced the invasion of Afghanistan and in protest they pulled their athletes out of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Behind the scenes, the U.S. ramped up military aid to the Afghan guerrillas and assisted in bringing in foreign mujahedeen fighters — such as a young Saudi Arabian zealot named Osama bin Laden — to bleed the Soviets white.
The stated objectives of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan were to provide a secure environment, equality for women, a centralized education and medical system, and the training of a self-sufficient Afghan army. While this may sound eerily similar to the current wish list for the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, a friend of mine at the American embassy was quick to point out one fundamental difference: "The (Soviets) were Communists," he emphatically stated, as if that in itself made any further explanation unnecessary.
The U.S. plan worked like a charm and by the time the last of the Russian troops retreated out of Afghanistan in 1989, they had left behind 50,000 dead comrades, the Moscow treasury was bankrupt and the Soviet Union was in a state of dissolution. The U.S.-equipped Afghan warlords finally triumphed over the Communist regime in Kabul and then turned on each other in an orgy of destruction and bloodletting. Whatever Soviet-built infrastructure was still intact in Kabul in 1996 was destroyed when the Taliban movement forced the mujahedeen warlords north of the Hindu Kush.
In the wake of 9-11, the planners in the White House must have suffered from short-term memory loss as they rushed to throw their troops into the very same trap they had built to destroy the Soviets. After using military force to topple the Taliban, the Americans appointed Hamid Karzai as president. His first act as leader was to invite the U.S.-led coalition to deploy a security assistance force to prop up his regime.
Unlike the Soviets, the Americans didn’t need to deploy in support of this request — they were already on the ground.
Now into the seventh year of their occupation and with the American economy on the point of collapse, NATO is looking to Russia for help in transporting troops and equipment into Afghanistan. (Any source of this assertion?) With the skyrocketing oil prices boosting the Russian ruble to dizzy new heights and no one asking for their troops to fight and die in Afghanistan, it would seem that the wheel of fate has turned a full circle.
If you want to drive this point home, go out and rent an old copy of Rambo III. That’s the sequel wherein Sylvester Stallone fights alongside the guerrillas, and the final credits dedicate the movie to "the brave mujahedeen in Afghanistan."
I kid you not.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton; Govt overstepping bounds
on: March 13, 2008, 05:15:22 PM
"If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its
authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people,
whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have
formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the
Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify."
-- Alexander Hamilton (Federalist No. 33, 3 January 1788)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Superbugs
on: March 13, 2008, 05:11:01 PM
The War on Superbugs
Lots of bad news—so little good news
By G.W. (Bill) Riedel, Ph.D.
Special to the Epoch Times Mar 13, 2008
Bacteriophages are one answer to the superbug crisis. (Ada Fitzgerald-Cherry/The Epoch Times)
A report entitled: "The Epidemic of Antibiotic-Resistant Infections" published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2008:46, Jan. 15, page 155 starts as follows: "We are in the midst of an emerging crisis of antibiotic resistance for microbial pathogens in the United States and throughout the world."
As of the year 2000 an estimated 70,000 deaths due to nosocomially acquired [hospital acquired], drug-resistant infections occurred per year in hospitals throughout the United States. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus seriously sickened more than 94,000 Americans in 2005 and almost 19,000 died, more than the 17,000 Americans who died of AIDS-related causes. As more bacteria become resistant to the old antibiotics there are few new antibiotics being developed because most pharmaceutical companies have withdrawn from research for new antibiotics, in part because developing new antibiotics is a slow and costly process.
In Canada the official body counters tell us that "an estimated 220,000 patients who walk through the doors of hospitals each year suffer the unintended and often devastating consequences of an infection," and they estimate that 8,000 to 12,000 Canadian patients die annually from such infections. That would mean that from January 1, 2000 to April 30, 2008 there will have been 100,000 Canadian victims of superbug infections.
Against so much bad news it would be logical that the news media would jump on any opportunity to publish any good news. So when the Bacteriophage 2008 meeting in Herefordshire was chosen for the release of initial Phase II clinical trail data of the first fully-regulated clinical trail to test whether phage therapy really works as a treatment option for superbug infections, one would have expected a media flurry, especially since the trail reported positive results.
To date only two such reports can be found when using Google-News with the string "phage therapy." The first report, which this author found was entitled: "Technology to defeat bacterial infections shows positive results" and was published by Disease/Infection News, 25-Feb-2008 at http://www.news-medical.net/print_article.asp?id=35541
In this trail the U.K. company Biocontrol Ltd. used bacteriophages against Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, which are often resistant to traditional antibiotics. Over a 17-month period a double-blind Phase II trail took place at a specialist London hospital involving 24 patients with chronic ear infections that were not responding to antibiotic treatments. Significant improvements amounting to a mean 50 percent reduction in symptoms were noted as compared to a mean of only 20 percent in the control group who did not receive phages. The company now plans to perform Phase III trails for the ear treatment as soon as possible and is looking at the future possibility of treating patients with cystic fibrosis where lung infections with Pseudomonas aeruginosa are common and dangerous.
Dr. Riedel, firstname.lastname@example.org
, has a Ph.D. in Microbiology/Food Science. He has held various positions in research, industrial food science, and consumer product regulatory affairs in Canada.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dershowitz on The Spitzer Affair
on: March 13, 2008, 11:59:08 AM
The Entrapment of Eliot
By ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ
March 13, 2008
The federal criminal investigation that has led to Eliot Spitzer's resignation as governor of New York illustrates the great dangers all Americans face from vague and open-ended sex and money-transaction statutes.
Federal law, if read broadly, criminalizes virtually all sexual encounters for which something of value has been given. Federal money-laundering statutes criminalize many entirely legitimate and conventional banking transactions. Congress enacted these laws to give federal prosecutors wide discretion in deciding which "bad guys" to go after.
Generally, wise and intelligent prosecutors use their discretion properly -- to target organized crime, terrorism, financial predation, exploitation of children and the like. But the very existence of these selectively enforced statutes poses grave dangers of abuse. They lie around like loaded guns waiting to be used against the enemies of politically motivated investigators, prosecutors and politicians.
There is no hard evidence that Eliot Spitzer was targeted for investigation, but the story of how he was caught does not ring entirely true to many experienced former prosecutors and current criminal lawyers. The New York Times reported that the revelations began with a routine tax inquiry by revenue agents "conducting a routine examination of suspicious financial transactions reported to them by banks." This investigation allegedly found "several unusual movements of cash involving the Governor of New York." But the movement of the amounts of cash required to pay prostitutes, even high-priced prostitutes over a long period of time, does not commonly generate a full-scale investigation.
We are talking about thousands, not millions, of dollars. We are also talking about a man who is a multimillionaire with numerous investments and purchases. The idea that federal investigators would focus on a few transactions to corporations -- that were not themselves under investigation -- raises as many questions as answers.
Even if Mr. Spitzer's derelictions were serendipitously discovered as a result of routine, computerized examination of bank transactions, the dangers inherent in selective use of overbroad criminal statutes remain. Money laundering, structuring and related financial crimes are designed to ferret out organized crime, drug dealing, terrorism and large-scale financial manipulation. They were not enacted to give the federal government the power to inquire into the sexual or financial activities of men who move money in order to hide payments to prostitutes.
Once federal authorities concluded that the "suspicious financial transactions" attributed to Mr. Spitzer did not fit into any of the paradigms for which the statutes were enacted, they should have closed the investigation. It's simply none of the federal government's business that a man may have been moving his own money around in order to keep his wife in the dark about his private sexual peccadilloes.
But the authorities didn't close the investigation. They expanded it, because they had caught a big fish in the wide net they had cast.
In this case, they wiretapped 5,000 phone conversations, intercepted 6,000 emails, used surveillance and undercover tactics that are more appropriate for trapping terrorists than entrapping johns. Unlike terrorism and other predatory crimes, prostitution is legal in many parts of the world and in some parts of the U.S. Even in places like New York, where it is technically illegal, johns are rarely prosecuted. Prostitution rings operate openly, advertising "massage" and "escort" services in the back pages of glossy magazines, local newspapers and television sex channels.
If the federal government really wanted to shut down these operations, they could easily do it without a single wiretap or email intercept. All they would have to do is get an undercover agent to answer the ads, arrange for the "escort" to go from New York to New Jersey and be arrested. But many in law enforcement would much rather reserve these statutes for selective use against predetermined targets.
In this case, if the serendipitous bank audit really led federal agents to Mr. Spitzer, and Mr. Spitzer led them to the Emperor's Club, and federal prosecutors really wanted to get the Club, they could easily have sent an undercover cop to pose as a john, instead of tapping phones and reading emails -- tactics designed to catch and embarrass Mr. Spitzer with his own recorded words, which could be, and were, leaked to the media. As this newspaper has reported: "It isn't clear why the FBI sought the wiretap warrant. Federal prostitution probes are exceedingly rare, lawyers say, except in cases involving organized-crime leaders or child abuse. Federal wiretaps are seldom used to make these cases . . ."
Lavrenti Beria, the head of Joseph Stalin's KGB, once quipped to his boss, "show me the man and I will find the crime." The Soviet Union was notorious for having accordion-like criminal laws that could be adjusted to fit almost any dissident target. The U.S. is a far cry from the Soviet Union, but our laws are dangerously overbroad.
Both Democrats and Republicans have targeted political adversaries over the years. The weapons of choice are almost always elastic criminal laws. And few laws are more elastic, and susceptible to abuse, than federal laws on money laundering and sex crimes. For the sake of all Americans, these laws should be narrowed and limited to predatory crimes with real victims.
Mr. Dershowitz teaches law at Harvard University and is the author of "Finding Jefferson" (Wiley, 2007).