Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action
on: February 22, 2008, 11:50:12 AM
Profiles of valor: USAF Tech. Sgt. Sudlow
United States Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Sudlow of Pandora, Ohio, toured in Iraq leading the 424th Medium Truck Detachment on supply convoys that logged more than 434,000 miles on some of the world’s most dangerous roads. The cargo in Sudlow’s convoys allowed Coalition forces to maintain their operational tempo and complete their respective missions. Despite the constant threat of IEDs and car bombs, Sudlow and Detachment 424 escorted 4,680 tractor-trailers and protected 2,300 foreign-national drivers. By taking the initiative to upgrade the convoy vehicles under his command with “Go-Lights” and sirens, Sudlow substantially increased the safety of his men and their chances of success. Sudlow also helped capture a group of thieves who had stolen military and civilian equipment from his convoy. For his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the military’s fourth-highest combat award.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ PD
on: February 22, 2008, 11:14:48 AM
The Spirit of Mary Mapes Lives On
Expect the John McCain campaign to attack the "liberal media" as part of its strategy to overcome the innuendo-rich New York Times story alleging that the Arizona Senator had questionable ties with a telecom lobbyist.
The Times has had the story since last December when the Drudge Report published a bare-bones outline of the paper's investigation. After top-flight Washington lawyer Robert Bennett was wheeled in by Team McCain and the Senator hotly denied the report's thesis to New York Times Editor Bill Keller, the story disappeared. So why has it returned now just as Mr. McCain has wrapped up the GOP nomination?
The New Republic confirms that it was set to run a major story by reporter Gabe Sherman on how the lobbyist story was handled by the Times newsroom. McCain aide Charlie Black says it looks as if the paper decided it would rather hobble the thinly-sourced story out now rather than be subjected to criticism from media peers for "covering" it up.
Even so, you can expect some of that criticism to persist. The New Republic's Noam Scheiber writes on the magazine's blog: "The [New York Times] story reads to me like it had originally been much more ambitious, but had its guts ripped out somewhere along the way. The obvious question is whether those guts will ever trickle out now that this story has surfaced."
You can expect a lot of reporters to begin their own digging into the relationship between Mr. McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Assuming no major revelations emerge, the McCain campaign should be able to weather the controversy given the hostility the Republican base feels towards the New York Times. I just wouldn't count on a lot of warmth in relations between the Times and the McCain forces in the months ahead. Indeed, the McCain campaign is promising to "go to war" with the Times in its efforts to knock down the story.
-- John Fund
Has Mike Huckabee been delaying his pull-out from the presidential race in order to see if something untoward happens to John McCain, such as today's New York Times story linking the Arizona senator to a female lobbyist?
At a recent breakfast with Washington reporters, Mr. Huckabee admitted that, absent a "stumble," his rival would get the GOP nomination. Perhaps the New York Times story was the "stumble" Mr. Huckabee was waiting for. If so, unless more damning revelations are on their way, the vague innuendo of the Times piece seems insufficient to improve the former Arkansas governor's chances.
But the Times story is likely to embolden Mr. Huckabee to stay in the race at least through Texas. Exit polls in Wisconsin this week found that 42% of GOP voters didn't think Mr. McCain's positions were "conservative enough." If that's the case in Wisconsin, what about deeply-red Texas? Huckabee aides believe their candidate still has an outside chance of upsetting Mr. McCain, so it looks as if Mike Huckabee will be bedeviling the frontrunner at least until Texas votes on March 4.
-- John Fund
Campaign Finance Fallout
For a textbook case on the problems with campaign finance regulation, look no further than this morning's New York Times. The Grey Lady suggests Republican Presidential frontrunner John McCain had an improper relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, although the story doesn't offer much in the way of evidence. For good measure, the paper also dredges up Mr. McCain's role in the decades-old Keating Five scandal to tarnish his more recent squeaky-clean reputation as a scourge of "special interests" and cleanser of money from politics.
Here's the irony: Lobbyists and other moneyed interests have been pouring enough cash into Mr. McCain's campaign that he can effectively answer the attacks. Given the strict fund-raising law that he coauthored, that might not have been possible had the Times story landed last summer when his campaign was out of favor with large numbers of donors.
Mr. McCain raised $11.7 million in January, largely from individual contributors -- money that he can spend on TV spots, radio ads and direct mailings and to pay campaign professionals to work the press and counter the Times allegations. Having money to spend is tantamount to having a chance to be heard amidst the booming media echo chamber. Notice that though the Times itself mentions Mr. McCain's denial of romantic involvement with Ms. Iseman in the fourth paragraph, it doesn't bother to quote a response from Team McCain until the 49th paragraph.
Mr. McCain is lucky he's the front-runner and has a wide funding-raising base. Under the onerous restrictions of McCain-Feingold, which would have prohibited him from raising large sums quickly from a handful of dedicated supporters, another candidate would have a hard time being heard over the media din. Indeed, if the Times had held back its story until Nov. 1, 2008, even a well-financed frontrunner would have been limited in his ability to respond -- because the law tightly restricts advertising just before an election.
-- Joseph Sternberg
Calling Sen. Barack Obama's 10 victories since February 5 a "winning streak" severely understates what has taken place since Super Duper Tuesday.
Mr. Obama has not only defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton; he has crushed her. Not including the Virgin Islands, for which exact results are not yet available, Obama has won eight states and Washington, D.C., by an average of 32 percentage points.
Mr. Obama's 17-point win Tuesday in Wisconsin was his smallest margin of victory among the nine elections. He carried Hawaii and the District of Columbia by more than 50 points, and Virginia by a surprisingly large 29 points. He won Nebraska by 36 points and Washington State by 37 points, carrying every one of Washington's 39 counties. This monumental stomping over the past two weeks has given Mr. Obama a lead of about 160 pledged delegates, according to the latest RealClearPolitics count.
Conventional wisdom -- and polls -- suggest this run of lopsided victories will not continue through the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio, where Mrs. Clinton's support among Latinos and labor unions, respectively, presumably allows her a strong shot at winning both states. However, Mrs. Clinton's lead has begun to slip in recent days, with Mr. Obama pulling even in the two most recent Texas polls. Get ready to throw conventional wisdom out the window one more time this year: The gravitational force of Obamamania might pull even Texas and Ohio out of Hillary's orbit in the next two weeks.
-- Kyle Trygstad, RealClearPolitics.com
Fidel Castro always has been notorious for giving his little brother Raúl the dirty work. Some things never change.
With Fidel's announcement that he will not accept the role of "president" for another term when the national assembly meets on Sunday, Raúl inherits the power just as things appear to be coming unglued. One such warning came from a group of university students several weeks ago.
Attending university in Cuba has always implied a willingness to support, or at least passively accept, the Castro dictatorship. Fail to conform and there is no chance of higher education. That's why students and student leaders have typically tended to be patsies for the regime. Yet when Ricardo Alarcón, speaker of the Cuban national assembly and a Fidel loyalist, went to the Computer Sciences University in January, he was met by a group of students who publicly challenged government policies. In comments that were captured on video tape, they criticized the Cuban electoral system, the pricing of many consumer goods in scarce U.S. dollars, restrictions on travel abroad, lack of Internet access and the prohibition against Cubans staying at resort hotels in their own country.
Shockwaves reverberated throughout the island. Not long after, the mother of one of the students reported that her son had been detained by state security. He later appeared on national television to deny that he had come under any pressure from the regime. He added that any critical comments made by the students were merely suggestions for "improving socialism."
The Cuban people, of course, know better, but more and more are willing to speak such heresies, which is perhaps something Fidel took into account when he decided to step down. It's too early to call it a burgeoning free-speech movement, but sooner than he thinks, Raúl may face an unappetizing choice: Ratchet up repression to preserve the now-questioned Castro dictatorship or tolerate more open dissent in hope of some kind of honeymoon with the U.S. and other Western nations.
-- Mary Anastasia O'Grady
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history
on: February 22, 2008, 08:53:22 AM
His and Her Finances
February 22, 2008; Page A14
Stonewalling and secrecy helped Bill and Hillary Clinton win the White House without a thorough enough vetting in 1992. Now they're trying to do it again, this time by not disclosing either their income tax returns or the donor list for the Clinton Foundation.
All of this has become the target of greater attention since Mrs. Clinton loaned her struggling campaign $5 million last month. She waited until after the crucial Super Tuesday voting to disclose this news, and initially described the loan as "my money." Campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson then clarified that the cash had come from Mrs. Clinton's 50% "share" of the couple's joint resources.
Is America a great country or what? Only seven years ago the Clintons were swimming in legal bills. They've since cashed in on their celebrity to pay off a $2 million mortgage on their Washington D.C. home, and are now able to lend $5 million to Mrs. Clinton's campaign. The Senator has had her own success, earning more than $5 million for her "Living History" memoir. But the real income source has been the former President, who has been giving $450,000 speeches, and in general parlaying his political fame into personal riches.
Mr. Clinton is now trying to unwind a business relationship with billionaire pal Ron Burkle. This deal made him a partner -- along with the ruler of Dubai -- in the Yucaipa Global Fund. How much did Mr. Clinton earn from a partnership with men whose business interests might be affected by the policy actions of a President Hillary Clinton? The Clintons and their accountant know, but the public doesn't.
Mr. Clinton has also been raising cash for the Clinton Foundation, which funds his charitable activities and Presidential library. The foundation has raised more than $500 million, but Mr. Clinton has refused to release a donor list.
What we do know is that Mr. Clinton has allowed donors to use his influence to advance their business interests. That was the case with Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining financier, who won a huge mining concession in Kazakhstan after Mr. Clinton flew all the way to Almaty to introduce him to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Bloomberg reported this week that Mr. Clinton has also been a frequent flyer on Mr. Giustra's corporate jet.
Mr. Giustra later donated $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation and has pledged $100 million more. As the New York Times has reported, Mr. Clinton used his trip to praise Mr. Nazarbayev's bid to head the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, even as Senator Clinton was slamming the country's record on corruption and elections. If Mr. Clinton's personal business is going to affect U.S. foreign policy, he ought to tell the world who his benefactors are.
We've seen this nondisclosure before. During the 1992 campaign, the Clintons claimed to be coming clean by releasing their tax returns from 1980 forward. But they steadfastly refused to release their returns for prior years, and only later did we learn that 1978 and 1979 were the tax years when Mrs. Clinton reported her 10,000% cattle-futures trading profit. Remember Red Bone and Jim Blair, and how she claimed she had made the investment on her own after reading the Wall Street Journal? For that matter, remember the other characters who provided cash for the Clintons in return for nights in the Lincoln Bedroom, among other things?
Senator Clinton has said she'll make her tax returns public only if she wins the Democratic nomination. Mr. Clinton has said he'll disclose his future donors only if she is President. Once again they're trying to block disclosure until it's too late to inform the judgment of voters.
Mr. Obama has released his tax returns and has suggested Mrs. Clinton do the same because "the American people deserve to know where you get your income from." If the Clintons continue to keep his and her finances under wraps, the public would be wise, given their history, to assume they have something to hide.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The English Language
on: February 22, 2008, 08:45:30 AM
Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location
Cary Conover for The New York Times
Neil Neches, on a No. 5 train, underneath the placard that has earned him plaudits for his proper use of the semicolon.
By SAM ROBERTS
Published: February 18, 2008
It was nearly hidden on a New York City Transit public service placard exhorting subway riders not to leave their newspaper behind when they get off the train.
“Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.”
Semicolon sightings in the city are unusual, period, much less in exhortations drafted by committees of civil servants. In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism.
Americans, in particular, prefer shorter sentences without, as style books advise, that distinct division between statements that are closely related but require a separation more prolonged than a conjunction and more emphatic than a comma.
“When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life,” Kurt Vonnegut once said. “Old age is more like a semicolon.”
In terms of punctuation, semicolons signal something New Yorkers rarely do. Frank McCourt, the writer and former English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, describes the semicolon as the yellow traffic light of a “New York sentence.” In response, most New Yorkers accelerate; they don’t pause to contemplate.
Semicolons are supposed to be introduced into the curriculum of the New York City public schools in the third grade. That is where Mr. Neches, the 55-year-old New York City Transit marketing manager, learned them, before graduating from Tilden High School and Brooklyn College, where he majored in English and later received a master’s degree in creative writing.
But, whatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how.
In fact, when Mr. Neches was informed by a supervisor that a reporter was inquiring about who was responsible for the semicolon, he was concerned.
“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said.
One of the school system’s most notorious graduates, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer who taunted police and the press with rambling handwritten notes, was, as the columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote, the only murderer he ever encountered who could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver. (Mr. Berkowitz, by the way, is now serving an even longer sentence.)
But the rules of grammar are routinely violated on both sides of the law.
People have lost fortunes and even been put to death because of imprecise punctuation involving semicolons in legal papers. In 2004, a court in San Francisco rejected a conservative group’s challenge to a statute allowing gay marriage because the operative phrases were separated incorrectly by a semicolon instead of by the proper conjunction.
Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker, pronounced the subway poster’s use of the semicolon to be “impeccable.”
Lynne Truss, author of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” called it a “lovely example” of proper punctuation.
Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, praised the “burgeoning of punctuational literacy in unlikely places.”
Allan M. Siegal, a longtime arbiter of New York Times style before retiring, opined, “The semicolon is correct, though I’d have used a colon, which I think would be a bit more sophisticated in that sentence.”
The linguist Noam Chomsky sniffed, “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”
New York City Transit’s unintended agenda notwithstanding, e-mail messages and text-messaging may jeopardize the last vestiges of semicolons. They still live on, though, in emoticons, those graphic emblems of our grins, grimaces and other facial expressions.
The semicolon, befittingly, symbolizes a wink.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 19, 2008
An article in some editions on Monday about a New York City Transit employee’s deft use of the semicolon in a public service placard was less deft in its punctuation of the title of a book by Lynne Truss, who called the placard a “lovely example” of proper punctuation. The title of the book is “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” — not “Eats Shoots & Leaves.” (The subtitle of Ms. Truss’s book is “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.”)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYTimes: Clinton donors PO'd
on: February 22, 2008, 08:28:06 AM
Nearly $100,000 went for party platters and groceries before the Iowa caucuses, even though the partying mood evaporated quickly. Rooms at the Bellagio luxury hotel in Las Vegas consumed more than $25,000; the Four Seasons, another $5,000. And top consultants collected about $5 million in January, a month of crucial expenses and tough fund-raising.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s latest campaign finance report, published Wednesday night, appeared even to her most stalwart supporters and donors to be a road map of her political and management failings. Several of them, echoing political analysts, expressed concerns that Mrs. Clinton’s spending priorities amounted to costly errors in judgment that have hamstrung her competitiveness against Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
“We didn’t raise all of this money to keep paying consultants who have pursued basically the wrong strategy for a year now,” said a prominent New York donor. “So much about her campaign needs to change — but it may be too late.”
The high-priced senior consultants to Mrs. Clinton, of New York, have emerged as particular targets of complaints, given that they conceived and executed a political strategy that has thus far proved unsuccessful.
The firm that includes Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, and his team collected $3.8 million for fees and expenses in January; in total, including what the campaign still owes, the firm has billed more than $10 million for consulting, direct mail and other services, an amount other Democratic strategists who are not affiliated with either campaign called stunning.
Howard Wolfson, the communications director and a senior member of the advertising team, earned nearly $267,000 in January. His total, including the campaign’s debt to him, tops $730,000.
The advertising firm owned by Mandy Grunwald, the longtime media strategist for both Mrs. Clinton and Bill Clinton, the former president, has collected $2.3 million in fees and expenses, and is still owed another $240,000.
“Fees and payments are in line with industry standards,” Mr. Wolfson said. “Spending priorities have been consistent with overall strategic goals.”
But some Democrats are now asking if the money spent on a campaign that appears to be sputtering — $106 million so far — was worth it.
“It’s easy to be critical, but had she won Iowa, none of this would have mattered. It wouldn’t have mattered what she spent because money would have come pouring in,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant and a veteran of Mr. Clinton’s successful 1996 re-election bid. “But the fact that she did not has made everyone focus on where the dollars went — and where they think the money should’ve gone.”
Mrs. Clinton came into January with a cash advantage over Mr. Obama, with about $19 million available for the primary, compared with about $13 million for him. She wound up spending at roughly the same rate as Mr. Obama, about a million dollars a day, but because she performed dismally compared to him in raising money, she ended the month essentially in the red and was forced to lend her campaign $5 million, while he had $19 million for the coming contests.
Over all, Mrs. Clinton has spent more than $35 million on media, polling and consulting. A comparison with Mr. Obama’s spending is difficult because of the ways the campaigns labeled expenses, but it appears he spent about $40 million in those areas.
In other notable expenditures during the lean month of January, Mrs. Clinton paid $275,000 to Sunrise Communications, a South Carolina firm that was supposed to turn out black voters for her and collected nearly $800,000 in total. She lost that state to Mr. Obama by a wide margin. Even small expenses piled up in January: the campaign spent more than $11,000 on pizza and $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts runs.
Mr. Penn, the chief strategist, said in an interview that, since 2001, he no longer owned any of the political consulting firm of Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. He said the firm’s fees were capped at $20,000 a month and that the “great bulk” of the payments went for direct mail.
Joe Trippi, who was a senior adviser to John Edwards’s presidential campaign, said he believed that the Clinton team had made two fundamental errors.
First, he argued, Mrs. Clinton built a top-down fund-raising operation that relied on a core group of donors to write checks early on for the maximum amount, $4,600 for the primary and the general election, which left few of them to go back to when money became tight. Mr. Obama, by contrast, focused on building a network of small donors whose continued ability to give has been essential to his success this winter.
Page 2 of 2)
And second, Mr. Trippi said, the Clinton campaign spent money as though the race were going to be over after a handful of states had voted and was not prepared for a contest that would stretch for months.
“The problem is she ran a campaign like they were staying at the Ritz-Carlton,” Mr. Trippi said. “Everything was the best. The most expensive draping at events. The biggest charter. It was like, ‘We’re going to show you how presidential we are by making our events look presidential.’ ”
For instance, during the week before the Jan. 19 caucuses in Nevada, the Clinton campaign spent more than $25,000 for rooms at the Bellagio in Las Vegas; nearly $5,000 was spent at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas that week. Some staff members also stayed at Planet Hollywood nearby.
From the start of the campaign, some donors had concerns about the Clinton team’s ability to manage money.
Patti Solis Doyle, Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign manager until she was replaced on Feb. 10, also ran her Senate re-election bid in 2006. That campaign spent about $30 million even though Mrs. Clinton faced only token Democratic and Republican opposition.
“The Senate race spending in 2006 was an omen for a lot of us inside the campaign, but Hillary assured us that her presidential bid would be the best run in history,” said one major Clinton fund-raiser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations within the campaign.
Yet the Clinton campaign at times found itself spending money on items that were not ultimately helpful. As part of their get-out-the-vote effort in Iowa, the campaign came up with a plan to have a local supermarket deliver sandwich platters to pre-caucus parties. It spent more than $95,384 on Jan. 1 at Hy-Vee Inc., a local grocery chain in West Des Moines, Iowa, in addition to buying loads of snow shovels to clear the walks for caucusgoers. Mrs. Clinton came in third in the Jan. 3 caucus. It did not snow.
Mr. Obama’s fund-raising surged after his Iowa victory. In January, he brought in more than $2.50 for every $1 she was given, and from Jan. 5 to Feb. 5, Mr. Obama spent nearly $16 million on political advertisements — more than $4 million more than Mrs. Clinton, according to a survey by the Campaign Media Analysis Group at TNS Media Intelligence. Mr. Obama broadcast 3,000 more advertisements than she did, and he was able to air those ads not only in the states that were immediately up for grabs but also in contests on Feb. 5 and beyond.
For instance, Mr. Obama spent nearly $480,000 on 1,331 spots in Missouri; he won the state’s primary, a closely fought contest and a national political bellwether, by one percentage point.
Mr. Obama’s campaign is not without highly paid consultants. His top media strategist is David Axelrod, whose firm received $175,000 in January and has collected $1.2 million over all. Mr. Obama’s polling is spread between four firms that have received $2.8 million collectively.
“Obviously, some campaigns are more careful and wise with their money than others,” Jim Jordan, a Democratic consultant who ran John Kerry’s presidential campaign until November 2003. “But these budgetary post-mortems tend to follow a familiar pattern; winners are by definition smart, and losers are dumb and wasteful. In truth, campaign budgeting is hard and complicated and three-dimensional and just impossible to understand without the full time-and-place context of the whole race.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson on Washington
on: February 22, 2008, 08:14:25 AM
"His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one
would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble."
-- Thomas Jefferson (on George Washington in a letter to Dr. Walter
Jones, 2 January 1814)
Reference: Jefferson: Writings, Peterson ed., Library of America
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: FDA vs. medical freedom
on: February 21, 2008, 08:26:39 AM
A Moral Test for the FDA
February 21, 2008; Page A16
Some 40,000 women died from breast cancer in 2007. Almost unbelievably, the federal government may block one of the disease's more promising therapies for no other reason than the Food and Drug Administration's obsolete, even antimodern, regulations and approval models. Since the lives of terminally ill patients are in the balance, this is fundamentally a moral test -- and one, true to type, that the FDA may well flunk.
At issue is the biologic medicine Avastin, which interferes with the growth and spread of tumors through the body by choking off their blood supply. Manufactured by Genentech, Avastin was approved for colorectal cancer in 2004 and lung cancer in 2006, and it's been shown effective for treating recurrent or metastatic breast cancer. But in December, the FDA's Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 5-4 against approval. The FDA is not bound by such decisions but usually follows them, and a final ruling is expected by Saturday.
A denial in this case would not only be unscientific but unethical. It's not as though the panel or the larger FDA bureaucracy don't recognize or acknowledge Avastin's real benefits. Rather, the FDA's lords of medicine may conclude that those benefits don't matter. And they don't matter, as the panel argued, because they don't fall into the categories that the FDA generally uses to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a drug.
In clinical trials, Avastin demonstrated the longest reported "progression-free survival" for patients with advanced breast cancer. That means they live longer before their disease spreads or worsens. An initial study submitted to the FDA showed that Avastin in combination with Taxol (another cancer therapy) delayed the growth of tumors by about 11 months -- some five and half months longer than Taxol alone. Additionally, more than twice as many patients experienced significant tumor shrinkage.
In February, Genentech also released the preliminary findings of a more rigorous follow-up study, including the FDA's "gold standard" of randomized and placebo-controlled clinical trials. It again confirmed that Avastin improves progression-free survival, though the full results have not yet been made public.
In other words, dying patients live nearly twice as long on average before their disease gets worse, and maybe longer. It translates into an improvement in quality of life by delaying the onset of symptoms. But only in a few isolated contemporary cases has the FDA deemed progression-free survival as a relevant "end point" for approval. There's no reason besides the FDA's complacency and archaic procedures; a recent review by the agency's own Science Board concluded that "evaluation methods have remained largely unchanged over the last half-century."
Extending life is the FDA's acid test for any anticancer agent, but studies designed to prove it take years and thousands of patients to get large average effects. In the Avastin study, women lived slightly longer, a median of 26.5 months compared with 24.8 with Taxol alone. But those results weren't proved statistically significant to FDA satisfaction. Advanced therapies, however, often prove more effective among targeted populations and in some patients over others. Perhaps that's why, as the Journal's Marilyn Chase reported yesterday, even two members of the oncology panel may recant their nay votes.
At the very least, approval criteria should be broadened beyond crude mortality rates. Between the 1950s and early 1980s, when the treatments for cancer were far more limited, the FDA considered the response of tumors to treatment adequate to make judgments. Some of the most important chemotherapy drugs for cancer and autoimmune diseases gained approval during that period -- cyclophosphamide, tamoxifen and others. Many are still used today, including to treat breast cancer. But it took years, sometimes decades, to learn how to use and dose them effectively once they were on the market.
No doubt thousands of lives were saved or improved by such trial and error, which is another name for medical progress. That's precisely what the FDA's bureaucratic culture, led by oncology drug chief Richard Padzur, is now obstructing. Another major culprit is political pressure from Congress, where Members know they can always get headlines by calling for a crackdown on Big Pharma or exploiting public safety anxieties. Never mind patient interest.
* * *
Patients with limited options shouldn't be denied drugs that may improve what life they have left, even if it doesn't extend life in the end. Thousands of breast-cancer sufferers, on the advice of their oncologists, are currently taking Avastin "off label," and an adverse FDA decision this week will make it far more difficult for them to do so. It would also be the latest moral indictment of everything that's wrong with the FDA.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / thomas Paine
on: February 21, 2008, 08:24:10 AM
"Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in
its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an
intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same
miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country
without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that
we furnish the means by which we suffer."
-- Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776)
Reference: Thomas Paine: Collected Writings , Foner ed., Library
of America (6)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-Africa
on: February 21, 2008, 08:08:29 AM
This from the WSJ could just as easily have gone in the Media Matters thread:
Geldof Praises Bush
February 20, 2008
President Bush is visiting Africa, and the Washington Times's Fishwrap blog reports he is being joined by Bob Geldof, "an Irish rock and roll singer and longtime social activist who has helped, along with U2 rocker Bono, raise awareness about need in Africa":
Mr. Geldof has remained closely engaged with African affairs since then, and he spoke off the cuff to reporters today who were waiting for a press conference with Mr. Bush and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement.
Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, "has done more than any other president so far."
"This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion."
"What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said.
Mr. Geldof said that the president has failed "to articulate this to Americans" but said he is also "pissed off" at the press for their failure to report on this good news story.
"You guys didn't pay attention," Geldof said to a group of reporters from all the major newspapers.
Apparently they still aren't paying attention. Apart from the Times, the only press reference we could find to Geldof's comments was an editorial in the conservative Investor's Business Daily.
For the past 2½ years or so, we've been hearing endlessly that Americans hate President Bush, that even those who don't hate him disapprove of him, that even those who don't disapprove of him are tired of him, and that his presidency is an unqualified failure. Now comes a surprising dissent from that view, and hardly anyone pays attention. It's a man-bites-dog story, but the press corps looks more like a herd of sheep.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Muslims Students debate inclusion
on: February 21, 2008, 08:00:01 AM
This is exactly the sort of subject where the NYT can be at its most disingenuous, but we search for Truth, so caveat lector.
SAN JOSE — Amir Mertaban vividly recalls sitting at his university’s recruitment table for the Muslim Students Association a few years ago when an attractive undergraduate flounced up in a decidedly un-Islamic miniskirt, saying “Salamu aleykum,” or “Peace be upon you,” a standard Arabic greeting, and asked to sign up.
Amir Mertaban has pointed out that hypocrisy can factor into some conservative responses by association members.
Mr. Mertaban also recalls that his fellow recruiter surveyed the young woman with disdain, arguing later that she should not be admitted because her skirt clearly signaled that she would corrupt the Islamic values of the other members.
“I knew that brother, I knew him very well; he used to smoke weed on a regular basis,” said Mr. Mertaban, now 25, who was president of the Muslim student group at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, from 2003 to 2005.
Pointing out the hypocrisy, Mr. Mertaban won the argument that the group could no longer reject potential members based on rigid standards of Islamic practice.
The intense debate over whether organizations for Muslim students should be inclusive or strict is playing out on college campuses across the United States, where there are now more than 200 Muslim Students Association chapters.
Gender issues, specifically the extent to which men and women should mingle, are the most fraught topic as Muslim students wrestle with the yawning gap between American college traditions and those of Islam.
“There is this constant tension between becoming a mainstream student organization versus appealing to students who have a more conservative or stricter interpretation of Islam,” said Hadia Mubarak, the first woman to serve as president of the national association, from 2004 to 2005.
Each chapter enjoys relative autonomy in setting its rules. Broadly, those at private colleges tend to be more liberal because they draw from a more geographically dispersed population, and the smaller numbers prompt Muslim students to play down their differences.
Chapters at state colleges, on the other hand, often pull from the community, attracting students from conservative families who do not want their children too far afield.
At Yale, for example, Sunnis and Shiites mix easily and male and female students shocked parents in the audience by kissing during the annual awards ceremony. Contrast that with the University of California, Irvine, which has the reputation for being the most conservative chapter in the country, its president saying that to an outsider its ranks of bearded young men and veiled women might come across as “way Muslim” or even extremist.
But arguments erupt virtually everywhere. At the University of California, Davis, last year, in their effort to make the Muslim association more “cool,” board members organized a large alcohol-free barbecue. Men and women ate separately, but mingled in a mock jail for a charity drive.
The next day the chapter president, Khalida Fazel, said she fielded complaints that unmarried men and women were physically bumping into one other. Ms. Fazel now calls the event a mistake.
At George Washington University, a dodge ball game pitting men against women after Friday prayers drew such protests from Muslim alumni and a few members that the board felt compelled to seek a religious ruling stating that Islamic traditions accept such an event.
Members acknowledge that the tone of the Muslim associations often drives away students. Several presidents said that if they thought members were being too lax, guest imams would deliver prayer sermons about the evils of alcohol or premarital sex.
Judgment can also come swiftly. Ghayth Adhami, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, recalled how a young student who showed up at a university recruitment meeting in a Budweiser T-shirt faced a few comments about un-Islamic dress. The student never came back.
Some members push against the rigidity. Fatima Hassan, 22, a senior at the Davis campus, organized a coed road trip to Reno, Nev., two hours away, to play the slot machines last Halloween. In Islam, Ms. Hassan concedes, gambling is “really bad,” but it was men and women sharing the same car that shocked some fellow association members.
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“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Ms. Hassan said. “I am chill about that whole coed thing. I understand that in a Muslim context we are not supposed to hang out with the opposite sex, but it just happens and there is nothing you can do.”
But as Saif Inam, the vice president of the chapter at George Washington put it, “At the end of the day, I don’t want God asking me, ‘O.K. Saif, why did you organize events in which people could do un-Islamic things in big numbers?’ ”
The debate boils down to whether upholding gender segregation is forcing something artificial and vaguely hypocritical in an American context.
“As American Islam gets its own identity, it is going to have to shed some of these notions that are distant from American culture,” said Rafia Zakaria, a student at Indiana University. “The tension is between what forms of tradition are essential and what forms are open to innovation.”
American law says men and women are equal, whereas Muslim religious texts say they “complement” each other, Ms. Zakaria said. “If the law says they are equal, it’s hard to see how in their spiritual lives they will accept a whole different identity.”
The entire shift of the association from a foreign-run organization to an American one took place over arguments like this.
The Americans won out partly because the number of Muslim American college students hit a critical mass in the late 1990s, and then, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, foreign students, fearful of their visas being revoked, started avoiding a group that was increasingly political.
Some critics view strict interpretation of the faith as part of the association’s DNA. Organized in the 1960s by foreign students who wanted collective prayers where there were no mosques, the associations were basically little slices of Saudi Arabia. Women were banned. Only Muslim men who prayed, fasted and avoided alcohol and dating were welcomed. Meetings, even idle conversations, were in Arabic.
Donations from Saudi Arabia largely financed the group, and its leaders pushed the kingdom’s puritan, Wahhabi strain of Islam. Prof. Hamid Algar of the University of California, Berkeley, said that in the 1960s and 1970s, chapters advocated theological and political positions derived from radical Islamist organizations and would brook no criticism of Saudi Arabia.
That past has given the associations a reputation in some official quarters as a possible font of extremism, but experts in American Islam believe college campuses have become too diverse and are under too much scrutiny for the groups to foster radicals.
Zareena Grewal, a professor of religion and American studies at Yale, pointed to several things that would repel extremists. Members are trying to become more involved in the American political system, Professor Grewal said, and the heavy presence of women in the leadership would also deter them. Members “are not sitting around reading ‘How to Bomb Your Campus for Dummies,’ ” she said.
Its leaders think the organization is gradually relaxing a bit as it seeks to maintain its status as the main player for Muslim students.
“There were drunkards in the Prophet Muhammad’s community; there were fornicators and people who committed adultery in his community, and he didn’t reject them,” Mr. Mertaban said. “I think M.S.A.’s are beginning to understand this point that every person has ups and downs.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Free healath care kills in UK
on: February 21, 2008, 07:43:05 AM
LONDON — Created 60 years ago as a cornerstone of the British welfare state, the National Health Service is devoted to the principle of free medical care for everyone. But recently it has been wrestling with a problem its founders never anticipated: how to handle patients with complex illnesses who want to pay for parts of their treatment while receiving the rest free from the health service.
Although the government is reluctant to discuss the issue, hopscotching back and forth between private and public care has long been standard here for those who can afford it. But a few recent cases have exposed fundamental contradictions between policy and practice in the system, and tested its founding philosophy to its very limits.
One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.
By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor.
“He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.
“I said, ‘Where does that leave me?’ He said, ‘If you pay for Avastin, you’ll have to pay for everything’ ” — in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.
Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.
Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament.
“That way lies the end of the founding principles of the N.H.S.,” Mr. Johnson said.
But Mrs. Hirst, 57, whose cancer was diagnosed in 1999, went to the news media, and so did other patients in similar situations. And it became clear that theirs were not isolated cases.
In fact, patients, doctors and officials across the health care system widely acknowledge that patients suffering from every imaginable complaint regularly pay for some parts of their treatment while receiving the rest free.
“Of course it’s going on in the N.H.S. all the time, but a lot of it is hidden — it’s not explicit,” said Dr. Paul Charlson, a general practitioner in Yorkshire and a member of Doctors for Reform, a group that is highly critical of the health service. Last year, he was a co-author of a paper laying out examples of how patients with the initiative and the money dip in and out of the system, in effect buying upgrades to their basic free medical care.
“People swap from public to private sector all the time, and they’re topping up for virtually everything,” Dr. Charlson said in an interview. For instance, he said, a patient put on a five-month waiting list to see an orthopedic surgeon may pay $250 for a private consultation, and then switch back to the health service for the actual operation from the same doctor.
“Or they’ll buy an M.R.I. scan because the wait is so long, and then take the results back to the N.H.S.,” Dr. Charlson said.
In his paper, he also wrote about a 46-year-old woman with breast cancer who paid $250 for a second opinion when the health service refused to provide her with one; an elderly man who spent thousands of dollars on a new hearing aid instead of enduring a yearlong wait on the health service; and a 29-year-old woman who, with her doctor’s blessing, bought a three-month supply of Tarceva, a drug to treat pancreatic cancer, for more than $6,000 on the Internet because she could not get it through the N.H.S.
Asked why these were different from cases like Mrs. Hirst’s, a spokeswoman for the health service said no officials were available to comment.
In any case, the rules about private co-payments, as they are called, in cancer care are contradictory and hard to understand, said Nigel Edwards, the director of policy for the N.H.S. Confederation, which represents hospitals and other health care providers. “I’ve had conflicting advice from different lawyers,” he said, “but it does seem like a violation of natural justice to say that either you don’t get the drug you want, or you have to pay for all your treatment.”
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Karol Sikora, a professor of cancer medicine at the Imperial College School of Medicine and one of Dr. Charlson’s co-authors, said that co-payments were particularly prevalent in cancer care. Armed with information from the Internet and patients’ networks, cancer patients are increasingly likely to demand, and pay for, cutting-edge drugs that the health service considers too expensive to be cost-effective.
“You have a population that is informed and consumerist about how it behaves about health care information, and an N.H.S. that can no longer afford to pay for everything for everybody,” he said.
Professor Sikora said oncologists were adept at circumventing the system by, for example, referring patients to other doctors who can provide the private medication separately. As wrenching as it can be to administer more sophisticated drugs to some patients than to others, he said, “if you’re a doctor working in the system, you should let your patients have the treatment they want, if they can afford to pay for it.”
In any case, he said, the health service is riddled with inequities. Some drugs are available in some parts of the country but not in others. Waiting lists for treatment vary wildly from place to place. Some regions spend $280 per capita on cancer care, Professor Sikora said, while others spend just $90.
In Mrs. Hirst’s case, the confusion was compounded by the fact that three other patients at her hospital were already doing what she had been forbidden to do — buying extra drugs to supplement their cancer care. The arrangements had “evolved without anyone questioning whether it was right or wrong,” said Laura Mason, a hospital spokeswoman. Because their treatment began before the Health Department explicitly condemned the practice, they have been allowed to continue.
The rules are confusing. “It’s quite a fine line,” Ms. Mason said. “You can’t have a course of N.H.S. and private treatment at the same time on the same appointment — for instance, if a particular drug has to be administered alongside another drug which is N.H.S.-funded.” But, she said, the health service rules seem to allow patients to receive the drugs during separate hospital visits — the N.H.S. drugs during an N.H.S. appointment, the extra drugs during a private appointment.
One of Mrs. Hirst’s troubles came, it seems, because the Avastin she proposed to pay for would have had to be administered at the same time as the drug Taxol, which she was receiving free on the health service. Because of that, she could not schedule separate appointments.
But in a final irony, Mrs. Hirst was told early this month that her cancer had spread and that her condition had deteriorated so much that she could have the Avastin after all — paid for by the health service. In other words, a system that forbade her to buy the medicine earlier was now saying that she was so sick she could have it at public expense.
Mrs. Hirst is pleased, but up to a point. Avastin is not a cure, but a way to extend her life, perhaps only by several months, and she has missed valuable time. “It may be too bloody late,” she said.
“I’m a person who left school at 15 and I’ve worked all my life and I’ve paid into the system, and I’m not going to live long enough to get my old-age pension from this government,” she added.
She also knows that the drug can have grave side effects. “I have campaigned for this drug, and if it goes wrong and kills me, c’est la vie,” she said. But, she said, speaking of the government, “If the drug doesn’t have a fair chance because the cancer has advanced so much, then they should be raked over the coals for it.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Communicating with the Muslim World
on: February 21, 2008, 07:10:36 AM
Islam at the Ballot Box
By AMIR TAHERI
February 21, 2008; Page A17
Pakistan's election has been portrayed by the Western media as a defeat for President Pervez Musharraf. The real losers were the Islamist parties.
The latest analysis of the results shows that the parties linked, or at least sympathetic, to the Taliban and al Qaeda saw their share of the votes slashed to about 3% from almost 11% in the last general election a few years ago. The largest coalition of the Islamist parties, the United Assembly for Action (MMA), lost control of the Northwest Frontier Province -- the only one of Pakistan's four provinces it governed. The winner in the province is the avowedly secularist National Awami Party.
Despite vast sums of money spent by the Islamic Republic in Tehran and wealthy Arabs from the Persian Gulf states, the MMA failed to achieve the "approaching victory" (fatah al-qarib) that Islamist candidates, both Shiite and Sunni, had boasted was coming.
The Islamist defeat in Pakistani confirms a trend that's been under way for years. Conventional wisdom had it that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the lack of progress in the Israel-Palestine conflict, would provide radical Islamists with a springboard from which to seize power through elections.
Analysts in the West used that prospect to argue against the Bush Doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle East. These analysts argued that Muslims were not ready for democracy, and that elections would only translate into victory for hard-line Islamists.
The facts tell a different story. So far, no Islamist party has managed to win a majority of the popular vote in any of the Muslim countries where reasonably clean elections are held. If anything, the Islamist share of the vote has been declining across the board.
Take Jordan. In last November's general election, the Islamic Action Front suffered a rout, as its share of the votes fell to 5% from almost 15% in elections four years ago. The radical fundamentalist group, linked with the Islamic Brotherhood movement, managed to keep only six of its 17 seats in the National Assembly. Its independent allies won no seats.
In Malaysia, the Islamists have never gone beyond 11% of the popular vote. In Indonesia, the various Islamist groups have never collected more than 17%. The Islamists' share of the popular vote in Bangladesh declined from an all-time high of 11% in the 1980s to around 7% in the late 1990s.
In Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas -- the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood -- won the 2006 general election with 44% of the votes, far short of the "crushing wave of support" it had promised. Even then, it was clear that at least some of those who run on a Hamas ticket did not share its radical Islamist ideology. Despite years of misrule and corruption, Fatah, Hamas's secularist rival, won 42% of the popular vote.
In Turkey, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won two successive general elections, the latest in July 2007, with 44% of the popular vote. Even then, AKP leaders go out of their way to insist that the party "has nothing to do with religion."
"We are a modern, conservative, European-style party," AKP leader and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan, likes to repeat at every opportunity. In last July's general election, the AKP lost 23 seats and, with it, its two-third majority in the Grand National Assembly.
AKP's success in Turkey inspired Moroccan Islamists to create a similar outfit called Party of Justice and Development (PDJ). The PDJ sought support from AKP "experts" to prepare for last September's general election in Morocco. Yet when the votes were counted, the PDJ collected just over 10% of the popular vote, winning 46 of the 325 seats.
Islamists have done no better in neighboring Algeria. In the latest general election, held in May 2007, the two Islamist parties, Movement for a Peaceful Society and Algerian Awakening, won less than 12% of the popular vote.
In Yemen, one of the Arab states where the culture of democracy has struck the deepest roots, a series of elections in the past 20 years has shown support for Islamists to stand at around 25% of the popular vote. In the last general election in 2003, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform won 22%.
Kuwait is another Arab country where the holding of reasonably fair elections has become part of the national culture. In the general election in 2006, a well-funded and sophisticated Islamist bloc collected 27% of the votes and won 17 of the 50 seats in the National Assembly.
In Lebanon's last general election in 2005, the two Islamist parties, Hezbollah (Party of God) and Amal (Hope) collected 21% of the popular vote to win 28 of the 128 seats in the parliament. This despite massive financial and propaganda support from the Islamic Republic in Iran, and electoral pacts with a Christian political bloc led by the pro-Tehran former Gen. Michel Aoun.
Many observers do not regard Egypt's elections as free and fair enough to use as a basis for political analysis. Nevertheless, the latest general election, held in 2005, can be regarded as the most serious since the 1940s, if only because the Islamist opposition was allowed to field candidates and campaign publicly. In the event, however, Muslim Brotherhood candidates collected less than 20% of the popular vote, despite widespread dissatisfaction with President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule.
Other Arab countries where elections are not yet up to acceptable standards include Oman and Bahrain. But even in those countries, the Islamists have not done better than anywhere else in the region. In Tunisia and Libya, the Islamists are banned and thus have not put their political strength to the electoral test.
Afghanistan and Iraq have held a series of elections since the fall of the Taliban in Kabul and the Baath in Baghdad. By all standards, these have been generally free and fair elections, and thus valid tests of the public mood. In Afghanistan, Islamist groups, including former members of the Taliban, have managed to win around 11% of the popular vote on the average.
The picture in Iraq is more complicated, because voters have been faced with bloc lists that hide the identity of political parties behind a blanket ethnic and/or sectarian identity. Only the next general election in 2009 could reveal the true strength of the political parties, since it will not be contested based on bloc lists. Frequent opinion polls, however, show that support for avowedly Islamist parties, both Shiite and Sunni, would not exceed 25% of the popular vote.
Far from rejecting democracy because it is supposed to be "alien," or using it as a means of creating totalitarian Islamist systems, a majority of Muslims have repeatedly shown that they like elections, and would love to join the global mainstream of democratization. President Bush is right to emphasize the importance of holding free and fair elections in all Muslim majority countries.
Tyrants fear free and fair elections, a fact illustrated by the Khomeinist regime's efforts to fix the outcome of next month's poll in Iran by pre-selecting the candidates. Support for democratic movements in the Muslim world remains the only credible strategy for winning the war against terror.
Mr. Taheri is author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Karl Rove goes after BO
on: February 21, 2008, 06:56:26 AM
Obama's New Vulnerability
By KARL ROVE
February 21, 2008; Page A17
In campaigns, there are sometimes moments when candidates shift ground, causing the race to change dramatically. Tuesday night was one of those moments.
Hammered for the 10th contest in a row, Hillary Clinton toughened her attacks on Barack Obama, saying he was unready to be commander in chief and unable to back his inspiring words with a record of action and leadership.
John McCain also took on Mr. Obama, with the Arizona senator declaring he would oppose "eloquent but empty calls for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people."
Mr. McCain, too, raised questions about Mr. Obama's fitness to be commander in chief. Mr. McCain pointed to Mr. Obama's unnecessary sabre-rattling at an ally (Pakistan) while appeasing our adversaries (Iran and Syria). Mr. McCain also made it clear that reining in spending, which is a McCain strength and an Obama weakness, would be a key issue.
Mr. Obama had not been so effectively criticized before. In the Democratic contest, John Edwards and Mrs. Clinton were unwilling to confront him directly or in a manner that hurt him. Mr. McCain was rightly preoccupied by his own primary. On Tuesday night, things changed.
Perhaps in response to criticisms that have been building in recent days, Mr. Obama pivoted Tuesday from his usual incantations. He dropped the pretense of being a candidate of inspiring but undescribed "post-partisan" change. Until now, Mr. Obama has been making appeals to the center, saying, for example, that we are not red or blue states, but the United States. But in his Houston speech, he used the opportunity of 45 (long) minutes on national TV to advocate a distinctly non-centrist, even proudly left-wing, agenda. By doing so, he opened himself to new and damaging contrasts and lines of criticism.
Mr. McCain can now question Mr. Obama's promise to change Washington by working across party lines. Mr. Obama hasn't worked across party lines since coming to town. Was he a member of the "Gang of 14" that tried to find common ground between the parties on judicial nominations? Was Mr. Obama part of the bipartisan leadership that tackled other thorny issues like energy, immigration or terrorist surveillance legislation? No. Mr. Obama has been one of the most dependably partisan votes in the Senate.
Mrs. Clinton can do much more to draw attention to Mr. Obama's lack of achievements. She can agree with Mr. Obama's statement Tuesday night that change is difficult to achieve on health care, energy, poverty, schools and immigration -- and then question his failure to provide any leadership on these or other major issues since his arrival in the Senate. His failure to act, advocate or lead on what he now claims are his priorities may be her last chance to make a winning argument.
Mr. McCain gets a chance to question Mr. Obama's declaration he won't be beholden to lobbyists and special interests. After Mr. Obama's laundry list of agenda items on Tuesday night, Mr. McCain can ask why, if Mr. Obama rejects the influence of lobbyists, has he not broken with any lobbyists from the left fringe of the Democratic Party? Why is he doing their bidding on a range of issues? Perhaps because he occupies the same liberal territory as they do.
The truth is that Mr. Obama is unwilling to challenge special interests if they represent the financial and political muscle of the Democratic left. He says yes to the lobbyists of the AFL-CIO when they demand card-check legislation to take away the right of workers to have a secret ballot in unionization efforts, or when they oppose trade deals. He won't break with trial lawyers, even when they demand the ability to sue telecom companies that make it possible for intelligence agencies to intercept communications between terrorists abroad. And he is now going out of his way to proclaim fidelity to the educational unions. This is a disappointment since he'd earlier indicated an openness to education reform. Mr. Obama backs their agenda down the line, even calling for an end to testing, which is the only way parents can know with confidence whether their children are learning and their schools working.
These stands represent not just policy vulnerabilities, but also a real danger to Mr. Obama's credibility and authenticity. He cannot proclaim his goal is the end of influence for lobbies if the only influences he seeks to end are lobbies of the center and the right.
Unlike Bill Clinton in 1992, Mr. Obama is completely unwilling to confront the left wing of the Democratic Party, no matter how outrageous its demands, no matter how out of touch it might be with the American people. And Tuesday night, in a key moment in this race, he dropped the pretense that his was a centrist agenda. His agenda is the agenda of the Democratic left.
In recent days, courtesy of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Mr. Obama has invoked the Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Franklin Roosevelt to show the power of words. But there is a critical difference between Mr. Obama's rhetoric and that of Jefferson, King and FDR. In each instance, their words were used to advance large, specific purposes -- establishing a new nation based on inalienable rights; achieving equal rights and a color-blind society; giving people confidence to endure a Great Depression. For Mr. Obama, words are merely a means to hide a left-leaning agenda behind the cloak of centrist rhetoric. That garment has now been torn. As voters see what his agenda is, his opponents can now far more effectively question his authenticity, credibility, record and fitness to be leader of the free world.
The road to the presidency just got steeper for Barack Obama, and all because he pivoted on Tuesday night.
Mr. Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: February 21, 2008, 06:48:37 AM
Obama's Teamster 'Diplomacy'
February 21, 2008; Page A16
Barack Obama has pledged to "renew American diplomacy." Except, apparently, when it might interfere with an endorsement from the Teamsters.
President James Hoffa bestowed the powerful union's blessing on Mr. Obama yesterday, not so coincidentally only days after the Senator declared his opposition to the pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. In a statement inserted in the Congressional Record last week, Mr. Obama said he believes the pact doesn't pay "proper attention" to America's "key industries and agricultural sectors" like cars, rice and beef. Opposition to free-trade deals is now a union litmus test, especially for the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union, which endorsed the Senator last Friday.
Try squaring Mr. Obama's views on the FTA with his criticism of the Bush Administration for not negotiating with unfriendly regimes, taken straight from an online position paper: It "makes us look arrogant, it denies us opportunities to make progress, and it makes it harder for America to rally international support for our leadership." Or consider this promise from his Asia policy paper: Mr. Obama "will maintain strong ties with allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia" and "work to build an infrastructure with countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity."
Consider also that Seoul is willing to open up some of its own politically sensitive industries, such as banking and cars, for the FTA. Mr. Obama might take a look at a report last fall from the International Trade Commission, which says the FTA is expected to boost U.S. GDP by $10 billion to $12 billion annually and that the impact on American employment would be "negligible." In exchange, consumers in both countries would enjoy lower prices and a wider range of goods.
Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has put a lot of political capital behind the trade pact and President-elect Lee Myung-bak is also a strong supporter. The men, who represent opposing parties, don't agree on much but they have agreed to push the FTA through the National Assembly as early as this week. A U.S. "no" would be a huge embarrassment for them -- and for American "diplomacy."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: February 20, 2008, 11:11:16 PM
Its been a while since Ann wrote something that I respected, but I find this one dead on:
How to Keep Reagan Out of Office
by Ann Coulter
Posted: 02/20/2008 Print This
Inasmuch as the current presidential election has come down to a choice among hemlock, self-immolation or the traditional gun in the mouth, now is the time for patriotic Americans to review what went wrong and to start planning for 2012.
How did we end up with the mainstream media picking the Republican candidate for president?
It isn't the early primaries, it isn't that we allow Democrats to vote in many of our primaries, and it isn't that the voters are stupid. All of that was true or partially true in 1980 -- and we still got Ronald Reagan.
We didn't get Ronald Reagan this year not just because there's never going to be another Reagan. We will never again get another Reagan because Reagan wouldn't run for office under the current campaign-finance regime.
Three months ago, I was sitting with a half-dozen smart, successful conservatives whose names you know, all griping about this year's cast of presidential candidates. I asked them, one by one: Why don't you run for office?
Of course, none of them would. They are happy, well-adjusted individuals.
Reagan, too, had a happy life and, having had no trouble getting girls in high school, had no burning desire for power. So when the great California businessman Holmes Tuttle and two other principled conservatives approached Reagan about running for office, Reagan said no.
But Tuttle kept after Reagan, asking him not to reject the idea out of hand. He formed "Friends of Reagan" to raise money in case Reagan changed his mind.
He asked Reagan to give his famous "Rendezvous With History" speech at a $1,000-a-plate Republican fundraiser in Los Angeles and then bought airtime for the speech to be broadcast on TV days before the 1964 presidential election.
The epochal broadcast didn't change the election results, but it changed history. That single broadcast brought in nearly $1 million to the Republican Party -- not to mention millions of votes for Goldwater.
After the astonishing response to Reagan's speech and Tuttle's continued entreaties, Reagan finally relented and ran for governor. In 1966, with the help, financial and otherwise, of a handful of self-made conservative businessmen, Reagan walloped incumbent Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, winning 57 percent of the vote in a state with two Democrats for every Republican.
The rest is history -- among the brightest spots in all of world history.
None of that could happen today. (The following analysis uses federal campaign-finance laws rather than California campaign-finance laws because the laws are basically the same, and I am not going to hire a campaign-finance lawyer in order to write this column.)
If Tuttle found Ronald Reagan today, he couldn't form "Friends of Reagan" to raise money for a possible run -- at least not without hiring a battery of campaign-finance lawyers and guaranteeing himself a lawsuit by government bureaucrats. He'd also have to abandon his friendship with Reagan to avoid the perception of "coordination."
Tuttle couldn't hold a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Reagan -- at least in today's dollars. That would be a $6,496.94-a-plate dinner (using the consumer price index) or a $19,883.51-a-plate dinner (using the relative share of GDP). The limit on individual contributions to a candidate is $2,300.
Reagan's "Rendezvous With History" speech would never have been broadcast on TV -- unless Tuttle owned the TV station. Independent groups are prohibited from broadcasting electioneering ads 60 days before an election.
A handful of conservative businessmen would not be allowed to make large contributions to Reagan's campaign -- they would be restricted to donating only $2,300 per person.
Under today's laws, Tuttle would have had to go to Reagan and say: "We would like you to run for governor. You are limited to raising money $300 at a time (roughly the current limits in 1965 dollars), so you will have to do nothing but hold fundraisers every day of your life for the next five years in order to run in the 1970 gubernatorial election, since there clearly there isn't enough time to raise money for the 1966 election."
Also, Tuttle would have to tell Reagan: "We are not allowed to coordinate with you, so you're on your own. But wait -- it gets worse! After five years of attending rubber chicken dinners every single day in order to raise money in tiny increments, you will probably lose the election anyway because campaign-finance laws make it virtually impossible to unseat an incumbent.
"Oh, and one more thing: Did you ever kiss a girl in high school? Not even once? If not, then this plan might appeal to you!"
Obviously, Reagan would have returned to his original answer: No thanks.
Reagan loved giving speeches and taking questions from voters. The one part of campaigning Reagan loathed was raising money. Thanks to our campaign-finance laws, fundraising is the single most important job of a political candidate today.
This is why you will cast your eyes about the nation in vain for another Reagan sitting in any governor's mansion or U.S. Senate seat. Pro-lifers like to ask, "How many Einsteins have we lost to abortion?" I ask: How many Reagans have we lost to campaign-finance reform?
The campaign-finance laws basically restrict choice political jobs, like senator and governor -- and thus president -- to:
(1) Men who were fatties in high school and consequently are willing to submit to the hell of running for office to compensate for their unhappy adolescences -- like Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. (Somewhere in this great land of ours, even as we speak, the next Bill Clinton is waddling back to the cafeteria service line asking for seconds.)
(2) Billionaires and near-billionaires -- like Jon Corzine, Steve Forbes, Michael Bloomberg and Mitt Romney -- who can fund their own campaigns (these aren't necessarily sociopaths, but it certainly limits the pool of candidates).
(3) Celebrities and name-brand candidates -- like Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Bush, Giuliani and Hillary Clinton (which explains the nation's apparent adoration for Bushes and Clintons -- they've got name recognition, a valuable commodity amidst totalitarian restrictions on free speech).
(4) Mainstream media-anointed candidates, like John McCain and B. Hussein Obama.
What a bizarre coincidence that a few years after the most draconian campaign-finance laws were imposed via McCain-Feingold, our two front-runners happen to be the media's picks! It's uncanny -- almost as if by design! (Can I stop now, or do you people get sarcasm?)
By prohibiting speech by anyone else, the campaign-finance laws have vastly magnified the power of the media -- which, by the way, are wholly exempt from speech restrictions under campaign-finance laws. The New York Times doesn't have to buy ad time to promote a politician; it just has to call McCain a "maverick" 1 billion times a year.
It is because of campaign-finance laws like McCain-Feingold that big men don't run for office anymore. Little men do. And John McCain is the head homunculus.
You want Reagan back? Restore the right to free speech, and you will have created the conditions that allowed Reagan to run.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: February 20, 2008, 05:34:14 PM
Obama's church: More about Africa than God?
Chicago congregation has 'non-negotiable commitment' to 'mother continent'
Posted: January 09, 2008
1:00 am Eastern
By Ron Strom
While some election commentators are looking carefully at the level of devotion Sen. Barack Obama has to Islam, it is the strong African-centered and race-based philosophy of the senator's United Church of Christ that has some bloggers crying foul.
Obama and Wright
Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is where Obama was baptized as a Christian two decades ago, even borrowing the title for one of his books, "The Audacity of Hope," from a sermon by his senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
The first paragraph of the "About Us" section of the church's website mentions the word "black" or "Africa" five times:
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian. ... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
Focus on the African continent continues in two of the 10-point vision of the church:
A congregation committed to ADORATION.
A congregation preaching SALVATION.
A congregation actively seeking RECONCILIATION.
A congregation with a non-negotiable COMMITMENT TO AFRICA.
A congregation committed to BIBLICAL EDUCATION.
A congregation committed to CULTURAL EDUCATION.
A congregation committed to the HISTORICAL EDUCATION OF AFRICAN PEOPLE IN DIASPORA.
A congregation committed to LIBERATION.
A congregation committed to RESTORATION.
A congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY.
Commented Florida blogger "Ric" in discussing vision No. 4: "Commitment to Africa? I thought Christians were to have a commitment to God alone?"
The blogger continued: "First off just by this 10-point layout describing Barack Obama's church, we see that on some issues they are not clear. Even though it sounds good to the reader, it still leaves one guessing and not knowing where they truly stand as a congregation.
"Second, the church seems to place Africa and African people before God, and says nothing about other races in their community or a commitment to help the people in their community.
adsonar_placementId=1270202;adsonar_pid=663759;ads onar_ps=1451068;adsonar_zw=300;adsonar_zh=250;adso nar_jv="ads.adsonar.com";"Third, the church seems to promote communism by the term they use called 'economic parity.' Is this what Barack Obama truly believes?"
On another page on the website, Pastor Wright explains his theology, saying it is "based upon the systematized liberation theology that started in 1969 with the publication of Dr. James Cone's book, 'Black Power and Black Theology.'
"Black theology is one of the many theologies in the Americas that became popular during the liberation theology movement. They include Hispanic theology, Native American theology, Asian theology and Womanist theology."
Wright rebuts those who might call his philosophy racist, saying, "To have a church whose theological perspective starts from the vantage point of black liberation theology being its center is not to say that African or African-American people are superior to any one else.
"African-centered thought, unlike Eurocentrism, does not assume superiority and look at everyone else as being inferior."
The church's official mission statement says it has been "called by God to be a congregation that is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that does not apologize for its African roots!"
The Jan. 6 Sunday bulletin had an announcement about how to register for the winter Bible study held by the "Center for African Biblical Studies."
Another page in the 36-page bulletin announced the "Black and Christian New Member Class." All those wanting to become full-fledged members of Trinity "MUST complete your new member class!" warned the announcement, which included a schedule of class times. There was no mention of what class a prospective member might take if he or she were not black.
Demonstrating the church's quest toward "economic parity," one of the associate pastors, the Rev. Reginald Williams Jr., wrote a blurb in the bulletin decrying the powers that be for not making "fresh food stores" available in the black neighborhoods of Chicago.
Wrote Williams in a discussion of infant mortality in the black community: "In West Englewood, one of the five worst areas in the city, McDonald's restaurants abound, while fresh food stores are lacking. The same resources should be made available in each and every neighborhood in this city.
"This is an issue which we must all attack. We must push our policymakers for programs for health education, good stores for proper nutrition and access to health care."
The thought for the day on the same page was a quote from former Rep. Shirley Chisholm: "Health is a human right, not a privilege to be purchased."
Obama recently talked about his faith with the Concord, N.H., Monitor.
"I've always said that my faith informs my values, and in that sense it helps shape my worldview, and I don't think anyone should be required to leave their religious sensibilities at the door," Obama told the paper last week. "But we have to translate those concerns into a universal language that can be subject to argument and doesn't turn into a contest of any one of us thinking that God is somehow on our side."
The candidate told the Monitor he doesn't buy everything his pastor proclaims, saying: "There are some things I agree with my pastor about, some things I disagree with him about. I come from a complex racial background with a lot of different strains in me: white, black, I grew up in Hawaii. I tend to have a strong streak of universalism, not just in my religious beliefs, but in my ethical and moral beliefs."
Obama's popularity has soared in the last several days, with journalists from NBC even admitting to getting caught up in the "feel good" aura of the campaign.
As WND reported, the network's Brian Williams noted on MSNBC yesterday: ""[Reporter] Lee [Cowan] says it's hard to stay objective covering this guy. Courageous for Lee to say, to be honest. ... I think it is a very interesting dynamic."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: February 20, 2008, 04:09:25 PM
Congress recessed without renewing authority for eavesdropping because Democrats bowed to trial lawyers' demands not to grant retroactive immunity from lawsuits for phone companies that helped U.S. intelligence agencies. It shows greater Democratic reliance on contributions from trial lawyers than their vulnerability on the national security issue.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / No, you have it backwards
on: February 20, 2008, 03:45:07 PM
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed his predecessor's line on cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday, saying free speech should respect religious sensitivities.
"The Secretary-General strongly believes that freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly and in a way that respects all religious beliefs," his spokeswoman Marie Okabe told reporters.
The cartoon issue has returned to prominence after Denmark's five major daily newspapers last week republished one of 12 drawings of the Prophet that angered Muslims around the world in 2006.
They did so as a protest against a plot to murder one of the cartoonists who originally published the drawings in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
Most Muslims consider depictions of the Prophet offensive.
In a statement two years ago at the height of the cartoon uproar, the spokesman for then secretary-general Kofi Annan said Annan "believes that the freedom of the press should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions."
In the last few days, Danish lawmakers have canceled a trip to Iran, the Egyptian government has protested to the Danish ambassador in Cairo and Indonesian Muslims have demonstrated outside the Danish Embassy in Jakarta over the cartoons.
NO, RELGION MUST RESPECT FREE SPEECH
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: February 20, 2008, 03:43:22 PM
Stratfor has had its eye on the Kosovo situation for some time now (see the Balkans thread, closely related to this post here) and regards it as having some serious implications for Russian behavior e.g. note my post regarding Georgia in the Balkan thread today.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday. The United States and many, but not all, European countries recognized it. The Serbian government did not impose an economic blockade on — or take any military action against — Kosovo, although it declared the Albanian leadership of Kosovo traitors to Serbia. The Russians vehemently repeated their objection to an independent Kosovo but did not take any overt action. An informal summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was announced last week; it will take place in Moscow on Feb. 21. With Kosovo’s declaration, a river was crossed. We will now see whether that river was the Rubicon.
Kosovo’s independence declaration is an important event for two main reasons. First, it potentially creates a precedent that could lead to redrawn borders in Europe and around the world. Second, it puts the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany in the position of challenging what Russia has defined as a fundamental national interest — and this at a time when the Russians have been seeking to assert their power and authority. Taken together, each of these makes this a geopolitically significant event.
Begin with the precedent. Kosovo historically has been part of Serbia; indeed, Serbs consider it the cradle of their country. Over the course of the 20th century, it has become predominantly Albanian and Muslim (though the Albanian version of Islam is about as secular as one can get). The Serbian Orthodox Christian community has become a minority. During the 1990s, Serbia — then the heart of the now-defunct Yugoslavia — carried out a program of repression against the Albanians. Whether the repression rose to the level of genocide has been debated. In any case, the United States and other members of NATO conducted an air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 until the Yugoslavians capitulated, allowing the entry of NATO troops into the province of Kosovo. Since then, Kosovo, for all practical purposes, has been a protectorate of a consortium of NATO countries but has formally remained a province of Serbia. After the Kosovo war, wartime Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic died in The Hague in the course of his trial for war crimes; a new leadership took over; and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia itself ultimately dissolved, giving way to a new Republic of Serbia.
The United Nations did not sanction the war in Kosovo. Russian opposition in the U.N. Security Council prevented any U.N. diplomatic cover for the Western military action. Following the war — in a similar process to what happened with regard to Iraq — the Security Council authorized the administration of Kosovo by the occupying powers, but it never clearly authorized independence for Kosovo. The powers administering Kosovo included the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and other European states, organized as the Kosovo Force (KFOR).
While the logic of the situation pointed toward an independent Kosovo, the mechanism envisioned for the province’s independence was a negotiated agreement with Serbia. The general view was that the new government and personalities in Belgrade would be far more interested in the benefits of EU membership than they would be in retaining control of Kosovo. Over nearly a decade, the expectation therefore was that the Serbian government would accede to an independent Kosovo in exchange for being put on a course for EU membership. As frequently happens — and amazes people for reasons we have never understood — nationalism trumped economic interests. The majority of Serbs never accepted secession. The United States and the Europeans, therefore, decided to create an independent Kosovo without Serbian acquiescence. The military and ethnic reality thus was converted into a political reality.
Those recognizing Kosovo’s independence have gone out of their way specifically to argue that this decision in no way constitutes a precedent. They argue that the Serbian oppression of the late 1990s, which necessitated intervention by outside military forces to protect the Kosovars, made returning Kosovo to Serbian rule impossible. The argument therefore goes that Kosovo’s independence must be viewed as an idiosyncratic event related to the behavior of the Serbs, not as a model for the future.
Other European countries, including Spain, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus, have expressly rejected this reasoning. So have Russia and China. Each of these countries has a specific, well-defined area dominated by a specific ethnic minority group. In these countries and others like them, these ethnic groups have demanded, are demanding or potentially will demand autonomy, secession or integration with a neighboring country. Such ethnic groups could claim, and have claimed, oppression by the majority group. And each country facing this scenario fears that if Kosovo can be taken from Serbia, a precedent for secession will be created.
The Spanish have Basque separatists. Romania and Slovakia each contain large numbers of Hungarians concentrated in certain areas. The Cypriots — backed by the Greeks — are worried that the Turkish region of Cyprus, which already is under a separate government, might proclaim formal independence. The Chinese are concerned about potential separatist movements in Muslim Xinjiang and, above all, fear potential Taiwanese independence. And the Russians are concerned about independence movements in Chechnya and elsewhere. All of these countries see the Kosovo decision as setting a precedent, and they therefore oppose it.
Europe is a case in point. Prior to World War II, Europe’s borders constantly remained in violent flux. One of the principles of a stable Europe has been the inviolability of borders from outside interference, as well as the principle that borders cannot be redefined except with mutual agreement. This principle repeatedly was reinforced by international consensus, most notably at Yalta in 1945 and Helsinki in 1973.
Thus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia could agree to separate, and the Soviet Union could dissolve itself into its component republics, but the Germans cannot demand the return of Silesia from Poland; outsiders cannot demand a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland; and the Russians cannot be forced to give up Chechnya. The principle that outside powers can’t redefine boundaries, and that secessionist movements can’t create new nations unilaterally, has been a pillar of European stability.
The critics of Kosovo’s independence believe that larger powers can’t redraw the boundaries of smaller ones without recourse to the United Nations. They view the claim that Yugoslavia’s crimes in Kosovo justify doing so as unreasonable; Yugoslavia has dissolved, and the Serbian state is run by different people. The Russians view the major European powers and the Americans as arrogating rights that international law does not grant them, and they see the West as setting itself up as judge and jury without right of appeal.
This debate is not trivial. But there is a more immediate geopolitical issue that we have discussed before: the Russian response. The Russians have turned Kosovo into a significant issue. Moscow has objected to Kosovo’s independence on all of the diplomatic and legal grounds discussed. But behind that is a significant challenge to Russia’s strategic position. Russia wants to be seen as a great power and the dominant power in the former Soviet Union (FSU). Serbia is a Russian ally. Russia is trying to convince countries in the FSU, such as Ukraine, that looking to the West for help is futile because Russian power can block Western power. It wants to make the Russian return to great power status seem irresistible.
The decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence in the face of Russian opposition undermines Russian credibility. That is doubly the case because Russia can make a credible argument that the Western decision flies in the face of international law — and certainly of the conventions that have governed Europe for decades. Moscow also is asking for something that would not be difficult for the Americans and Europeans to give. The resources being devoted to Kosovo are not going to decline dramatically because of independence. Putting off independence until the last possible moment — which is to say forever, considering the utter inability of Kosovo to care for itself — thus certainly would have been something the West could have done with little effort.
But it didn’t. The reason for this is unclear. It does not appear that anyone was intent on challenging the Russians. The Kosovo situation was embedded in a process in which the endgame was going to be independence, and all of the military force and the bureaucratic inertia of the European Union was committed to this process. Russian displeasure was noted, but in the end, it was not taken seriously. This was simply because no one believed the Russians could or would do anything about Kosovar independence beyond issuing impotent protestations. Simply put, the nations that decided to recognize Kosovo were aware of Russian objections but viewed Moscow as they did in 1999: a weak power whose wishes are heard but discarded as irrelevant. Serbia was an ally of Russia. Russia intervened diplomatically on its behalf. Russia was ignored.
If Russia simply walks away from this, its growing reputation as a great power will be badly hurt in the one arena that matters to Moscow the most: the FSU. A Europe that dismisses Russian power is one that has little compunction about working with the Americans to whittle away at Russian power in Russia’s own backyard. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko — who, in many ways, is more anti-Western than Russian President Vladimir Putin and is highly critical of Putin as well — has said it is too late to “sing songs” about Kosovo. He maintains that the time to stop the partition of Kosovo was in 1999, in effect arguing that Putin’s attempts to stop it were ineffective because it was a lost cause. Translation: Putin and Russia are not the powers they pretend to be.
That is not something that Putin in particular can easily tolerate. Russian grand strategy calls for Russia to base its economy on the export of primary commodities. To succeed at this, Russia must align its production and exports with those of other FSU countries. For reasons of both national security and economics, being the regional hegemon in the FSU is crucial to Russia’s strategy and to Putin’s personal credibility. He is giving up the presidency on the assumption that his personal power will remain intact. That assumption is based on his effectiveness and decisiveness. The way he deals with the West — and the way the West deals with him — is a measure of his personal power. Being completely disregarded by the West will cost him. He needs to react.
The Russians are therefore hosting an “informal” CIS summit in Moscow on Friday. This is not the first such summit, by any means, and one was supposed to be held before this but was postponed. On Feb. 11, however, after it became clear that Kosovo would declare independence, the decision to hold the summit was announced. If Putin has a response to the West on Kosovo, it should reveal itself at the summit.
There are three basic strategies the Russians can pursue. One is to try to create a coalition of CIS countries to aid Serbia. This is complex in that Serbia may have no appetite for this move, and the other CIS countries may not even symbolically want to play.
The second option is opening the wider issue of altering borders. This could be aimed at sticking it to the Europeans by backing Serbian secessionist efforts in bifurcated Bosnia-Herzegovina. It also could involve announcing Russia’s plans to annex Russian-friendly separatist regions on its borders — most notably the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and perhaps even eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. (Annexation would be preferred over recognizing independence, since it would reduce the chances of Russia’s own separatist regions agitating for secession.) Russia thus would argue that Kosovo’s independence opens the door for Russia to shift its borders, too. That would make the summit exciting, particularly with regard to the Georgians, who are allied with the United States and at odds with Russia on Abkhazia and other issues.
The third option involves creating problems for the West elsewhere. An Iranian delegation will be attending the summit as “observers.” That creates the option for Russia to signal to Washington that the price it will pay for Kosovo will be extracted elsewhere. Apart from increased Russian support for Iran — which would complicate matters in Iraq for Washington — there are issues concerning Azerbaijan, which is sandwiched between Russia and Iran. In the course of discussions with Iranians, the Russians could create problems for Azerbaijan. The Russians also could increase pressure on the Baltic states, which recognized Kosovo and whose NATO membership is a challenge to the Russians. During the Cold War, the Russians were masters of linkage. They responded not where they were weak but where the West was weak. There are many venues for that.
What is the hardest to believe — but is, of course, possible — is that Putin simply will allow the Kosovo issue to pass. He clearly knew this was coming. He maintained vocal opposition to it beforehand and reiterated his opposition afterward. The more he talks and the less he does, the weaker he appears to be. He personally can’t afford that, and neither can Russia. He had opportunities to cut his losses before Kosovo’s independence was declared. He didn’t. That means either he has blundered badly or he has something on his mind. Our experience with Putin is that the latter is more likely, and this suddenly called summit may be where we see his plans play out.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: February 20, 2008, 11:36:58 AM
Exit polls in Wisconsin paint a grim picture for Hillary Clinton. Some 53% of Democratic voters thought she engaged in unfair negative campaigning, and fully 35% said they would be unhappy if she were the Democratic nominee. Such findings will certainly have an impact on the superdelegates who are likely to ultimately to decide the Democratic nomination and who believe electability is Job One for any nominee.
Almost as disturbing for Mrs. Clinton was her collapse among key demographic groups that supported her in earlier primaries. She only tied Mr. Obama among white women in Wisconsin, while losing white men 59% to 38%. She lost voters without college degrees and lost every age group except senior citizens. Mr. Obama won a staggering 71% of voters under the age of 30, a group that turned out in record numbers for a primary.
Apply that template to the upcoming March 4 contests in Ohio and Texas: Mrs. Clinton looks likely to lose both of those states, which would severely diminish her chances of swaying superdelegates into her corner with an argument that she can win the crucial big states in the fall.
Even if Mrs. Clinton recovers and does well from here on out, she would have to win 65% of the remaining delegates in order to regain the lead from Barack Obama. That near-impossibility effectively means that any superdelegates who ultimately support her would have to do so in full knowledge that they are voting for the candidate who was not the first choice of Democratic voters.
-- John Fund
Obama's Advantage: Flex-Time Workers
Ever since her drubbing in the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton has complained that fixed-time, low-turnout caucus events give advantages to her opponent while she does better in primaries where more voters have a say. "You have a limited period of time on one day to have your voices heard," she has told reporters. "That is troubling to me.... People who work during that time -- they're disenfranchised."
Well, some evidence has surfaced that she may have a point. Ten days ago, Washington State Democrats selected all 78 of their delegates proportionately through a caucus system. Mr. Obama won a crushing 68% majority.
Then yesterday, Democrats trouped to the polls again and voted in a beauty contest presidential primary that won't allocate a single delegate. Still, many more voters participated and this time Mr. Obama won again, but despite his incredible momentum and favorable publicity since Super Tuesday, he won only 50% of the vote.
But while Mrs. Clinton can take home a talking point from last night's Washington state results, that doesn't explain her crushing defeat in Wisconsin, a state that held an open primary and from which she withdrew ad money after her internal polls showed her falling victim to Obamamania. Bottom line: Obamamania increasingly knows few boundaries no matter whether Democrats vote in a caucus or a primary.
-- John Fund
Not Yet Gone, Certainly Not Forgotten
Last week Arizona Representative John Shadegg's announcement that he would retire from the House caused a collective groan from the conservative movement. Mr. Shadegg, who was elected as part of the 1994 Contract with America class, said he was "burned out," and no longer felt he could be an effective voice for free markets and entitlement reform.
But -- put away those hankies. Mr. Shadegg may be staying after all.
After his stunning announcement, conservative leaders banded together and decided they had to persuade him to stick around. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana worked the inside game, telling his colleague, "We can't win without you. You're vital to the conservative movement." Mr. Pence and a handful of others, including Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Michigan's Peter Hoekstra, drafted a letter on behalf of their House colleagues asking Mr. Shadegg to stay. "Within 3 hours, we had some 140 signatures," Mr. Pence tells me. "People were coming up to me asking, 'How do I get on the letter?'"
More than two dozen Republicans are retiring this year, but only one has been implored by colleagues to stay with words like these from the Pence letter: "We fear that without you and the long-term perspective you bring to every debate, our battles will be difficult to win. This is especially true in the area of health care where you are one of the leading experts.... The Republican Conference needs you here, the Conservative Movement needs you here, and the country needs you here."
Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner and other leading outside conservatives have circulated a similar letter. In a phone conversation last weekend, Mr. Shadegg told me he's "truly moved" by the expressions of support and will reconsider. Mr. Pence put it best when he quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said of General Grant: "I cannot spare the man, he fights."
-- Stephen Moore
Quote of the Day
"If you examine [Barack Obama's] agenda, it is completely ordinary, highly partisan, not candid and mostly unresponsive to many pressing national problems.... The contrast between his broad rhetoric and his narrow agenda is stark, and yet the press corps -- preoccupied with the political 'horse race' -- has treated his invocation of 'change' as a serious idea rather than a shallow campaign slogan. He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't" -- Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.
Exculpating the Machines
In her campaign to unseat Florida Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, Democrat Christine Jennings suffered a harsh blow last week from an unlikely source -- the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.
Ms. Jennings claims she actually won the seat two years ago in a closely fought election. But Mr. Buchanan was declared the winner by 369 votes and Ms. Jennings was left to argue foul play. Picking up on the controversy, and looking to pad their new majority in the House, some Democrats in Congress even wanted to block Mr. Buchanan from taking his seat.
It didn't help that Mr. Buchanan had won a seat that was being vacated by Republican Katherine Harris, a bête noire to Democrats because of her role in Florida's 2000 presidential election controversy. It also didn't help that the voters used new electronic voting machines that did not leave a paper trail and that 18,000 voters in Sarasota County who cast votes in other races somehow failed to record a vote in the Congressional race. These "undervotes," amounting to 12% of the ballots cast in the county, fueled accusations that this was yet another "stolen" election in Florida.
But now the GAO, after an exhaustive study under the direction of a bipartisan House Committee, concludes that there was no foul play. GAO investigators closely inspected the machines used in the election, comparing their software to copies put in escrow before the election -- and the software matched up. The GAO also ran hundreds of tests to simulate what voters would have seen inside the voting booth. Finally, the GAO deliberately miscalibrated some of the machines to see if they could be fooled into missing votes. They couldn't.
What about the mystery of the "undervotes," which were three times higher in Sarasota than in other counties? They remain a mystery, but the GAO concluded that no machine error was involved, and that a confusing ballot design probably deterred some voters from voting in the House race.
-- Brendan Miniter
PD of the WSJ
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Balkans
on: February 20, 2008, 11:07:04 AM
Could this be the beginning of Russia's reply?!?
Some countries might recognize the sovereignty of Georgian breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia before the end of 2008, RIA Novosti reported Feb. 20, citing South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity. Russia likely will not be the first to recognize the regions’ independence, Kokoity said. He added that the regions should first become independent through legislation, then integrate themselves with Russia as much as possible.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wasn't quite sure where to put this one
on: February 20, 2008, 11:03:57 AM
In the wake of the Feb. 12 assassination of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah, the organization has instructed its operatives to exercise caution when using cell phones to avoid becoming targets of Israeli attacks. Due to advancements in electronic surveillance, however, Hezbollah will have to do a lot more to evade the deadly cell phone ping.
Hezbollah has plenty of reasons to be paranoid in the wake of the Feb. 12 assassination of top commander Imad Mughniyah. Not only does Israel possibly have more targeted assassinations in store, but Hezbollah cannot be sure of the origin of the leak that sacrificed its most seasoned and innovative operative.
There are indications that Hezbollah suspects the leak came from Syrian intelligence. When Hezbollah officials like Mughniyah travel to Damascus, they inform the Syrian authorities just before they cross the border into Syria. Once they are inside the country, Syrian intelligence vehicles escort them to their destination. This is not to say that the Syrian regime necessarily was complicit in the attack –- Hezbollah remains a key asset for Damascus — but there is a possibility that a foreign intelligence agency such as the Israeli Mossad recruited an asset within the Syrian intelligence network. This could explain why Syria has maintained a highly defensive posture following the assassination, making almost daily announcements about the progress of the bombing investigation and indirectly blaming Israel and Western-backed Arab governments in the region.
Following the assassination, Hezbollah has severely tightened security in Lebanon and temporarily curtailed the travel of any key officials to Syria. Stratfor has learned that the Hezbollah leadership also has instructed its cadres to be extremely vigilant in their movements and use of mobile phones. Hezbollah operatives are under strict orders not to answer phone calls from unknown callers. Instead, the operatives must first change locations and then return the calls if necessary.
The reason for these instructions is the relative ease with which a hostile intelligence agency can triangulate a target’s location by exploiting the structure of GSM networks. Using either mobile identification or multilaterization, the location of the target phone can be determined within the network. Of these two methods, multilaterization (more commonly known as phone pinging) is more precise, yielding accuracies within five meters of the location of the phone. Hezbollah is operating on the logic that when a call is received, a hard connection is made with the tower and the target’s location immediately can be pinpointed. However, if the target first moves to a different location before returning the call (preferably in an area with fewer network contact points, towers and receivers to enlarge the target scope), the mobile user likely will be harder to locate and will be exposed to less risk.
Mobile phone networks are not particularly useful for tracking moving targets on the street, unless the phones being used have GPS modules. However, this tactic still can help pinpoint facilities or verify that a target is at a particular location (such as the building where Mughniyah allegedly held a meeting with Hamas and Syrian intelligence officials) prior to the launch of a planned attack.
This exploitation of phones also can be applied to those that rely on satellite networks. A case in point is the April 1996 assassination of Dzhokhar Musayevich Dudayev, the first president of Chechnya, in the heyday of the first Chechen war. Rumor has it that Dudayev was compromised by then-colleague Vladislav Surkov (who now is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff) before the latter switched sides and allied with the Kremlin. Through Surkov, the Russian security establishment obtained Dudayev’s personal phone numbers and triangulated his precise location while he was using his satellite phone in southern Chechnya; Russian forces later dropped a 500-pound bomb on the safe house where he was hiding.
Given that the instructions for cell phone use were given to Hezbollah operatives in the immediate aftermath of the Mughniyah assassination, there is a distinct possibility that a simple cell phone ping is what gave away Mughniyah’s location. That said, Mughniyah was obsessed with operational security and likely was well aware of the risks involved in using a cell phone. Nicknamed “the Fox,” Mughniyah probably was not one to fall for such a trap.
High-value targets like Mughniyah usually carry multiple cell phones and change the SIM cards frequently to avoid being traced. There is always the possibility that a compromised Syrian intelligence offer fitted Mughniyah’s phone with a SIM card for the attackers to trace, but it would have been far easier for the source simply to inform the perpetrators of the time and location of Mughniyah’s meeting. There is also the distinct possibility that software was installed on his cell phone to facilitate targeting his location. This could have been done by someone with access to his phone or, given the right resources, it could have been installed on the phone remotely from another phone or a computer without his knowledge. Once the software is installed, it can calculate the user’s location within the network and send this information to a preset place, either via e-mail or using SMS. However, this is dependent on the surveillant knowing the phone number for the SIM card, as well as the phone or SIM card having enough memory available to copy the program.
Moreover, seasoned operatives like Mughniyah often are familiar with the U.S. government’s cell phone tracking abilities, in addition to the practice of using multilaterization and network exploitation to pinpoint a target’s location. These methods utilize the signals used by networks and phones to communicate and exchange data when they are connected. Phones often receive redundant signals while connected, which ensures that continuous communication can occur even while the user is moving considerable distances. The strength of the signals varies with the distance between the device and the tower or communication point, allowing a phone to be located within a particular network. By calculating either the strength of the tower signals being received by the phone or the time it takes them to reach the device, the phone’s location can be triangulated. The owner of the phone does not even need to be using it for this to take place, but it must be connected to the network. The most effective way to beat this system, therefore, is to remove either the battery or the SIM card — or both — from the phone when it is not in use.
The FBI also has earned the U.S. government several lawsuits by turning criminals’ cell phones into microphones and transmitters for eavesdropping. This process, known as using a roving bug, can be carried out by getting the mobile provider to remotely install a piece of software on a handset without the owner’s knowledge that activates the microphone — even if the target is not on a call.
The instructions given to Hezbollah operatives on cell phone use thus reflect a high degree of naiveté on the part of Hezbollah’s leadership. Even the Hamas leaders, who also have gone underground for fear of Israeli reprisal attacks, have taken far more logical measures to avoid detection. According to a Feb. 12 Al Hayat report, high-value Hamas targets are prohibited from using cell phones. A center in Gaza has also been created to filter landline calls for these leaders, and callers must enter a pass code before their calls will go through.
Despite the security risks associated with cell phone use, the devices have become as much of a necessity for militant organizations like Hezbollah as they have for businessmen. Counterterrorism operations can continue to benefit from this and further advances in electronic surveillance technology. Hezbollah operatives, meanwhile, will have to take more extraordinary measures to avoid having their phone conversations end with a boom.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: February 20, 2008, 10:51:28 AM
The Unilateral Disarmament Democrats: Putting Trial Lawyers Ahead of Your Family's Safety
by Newt Gingrich
It's hard to think of an action that has put as many lives at risk as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D.-Calif.) declaration of unilateral disarmament in the War on Terror last week.
By refusing to renew our ability to monitor terrorist communications overseas, Speaker Pelosi has put Americans at risk. She has blinded our counterterrorism capability and shut down America's most sophisticated defenses against the irreconcilable wing of Islam. As of midnight last Saturday, the law governing America's defense is totally inadequate to stop terrorists.
Why? Because the Democratic left believes lining the pockets of trial lawyers is more important than stopping terrorists.
Suing Telecom Companies for Helping Keep America Safe
At issue is the extension of the Protect America Act that was passed last August to allow U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor foreigner-to-foreigner communications without a warrant. Congress has known for six months that this ability under the Protect America Act was set to expire on Sunday. So last week, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority, the Senate passed legislation to prevent the authority from lapsing.
But the House Democratic leadership, led by Speaker Pelosi, refused to let the House vote on the bill. This led to a House GOP walk out led by Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), who said, "We will not stand idly by and watch the floor of the United States House of Representatives be abused for pure, political grandstanding at the expense of our national security."
Why? Not because the bill lacked bipartisan support, but because it lacked trial lawyer support. The Senate-passed bill contains a provision granting immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that have been cooperating with the government in the War on Terror.
Instead of putting her fellow Democrats in a position where they have to make a public vote in favor of trial lawyers over the safety of Americans, Speaker Pelosi opted to leave Washington for vacation.
'The President Just Wants to Protect American Telephone Companies'
As Robert Novak reported Monday, the trial lawyers -- the Democrats' most important source of political contributions -- have filed dozens of lawsuits seeking millions of dollars against phone companies for helping keep us safe by responding to the request of intelligence agencies to provide critical information about suspected terrorist communications without a warrant.
The continued cooperation of the telecom companies in monitoring terrorist communications is crucial to America's defense, which is why the Senate bill contained the immunity provision.
The simple fact is that if a company cooperates with the United States government in tracking down terrorists, it should receive our thanks and gratitude, not a lawsuit.
But some Democrats evidently don't agree. Note that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) chose to attack the bill and the President's support for it by siding with the trial lawyers: "This is not about protecting Americans. The President just wants to protect American telephone companies."
The House's Unilateral Disarmament Contrasts Sharply With the Senate's Leadership
Speaker Pelosi's and the House Democratic leadership's unilateral disarmament contrasts sharply with the Senate Democrats who joined in the bipartisan 68-vote majority to strengthen America's defenses against terrorism.
The Senate bill was a compromise between Senate Democrats and the White House. As former Justice Official Andy McCarthy put it: "Democrats surely did not want to give President Bush this legislative victory, and President Bush certainly did not want to cave on these issues. But both sides compromised precisely because they understood that failing to do so, failing to preserve current surveillance authority, would endanger the United States."
Senate Democrats such as Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jim Webb (Va.) deserve thanks for putting the safety of America ahead of their partisan political interests.
The Law Was Never Meant to Protect Foreign Terrorists
So what is the state of our national defenses as I write this today?
The Protect America Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that was passed in 1978 to protect people inside the United States from being monitored by U.S. intelligence without a warrant proving they were agents of a foreign government.
This point is crucial: FISA was never meant to apply to foreigners outside the United States communicating with other foreigners outside the United States.
For 30 years, this was the understanding of the law. But a court case last year said that foreigner-to-foreigner overseas communications now have FISA protections -- that is, they require a warrant before they can be monitored -- because technology has changed and these non-U.S. communications now technically may pass through U.S. channels in the global telecommunications network.
The result is that for U.S. intelligence to monitor suspected terrorist communications between a Pakistani and an Afghani, they have to go through the time-consuming, bureaucratic procedure of having the attorney general and others approve lengthy affidavits proving that the targets are agents of a foreign power.
As of Midnight Saturday, American Lives Are at Risk
So as of midnight last Saturday, if U.S. intelligence discovers a new terrorist threat, it must spend valuable time preparing bureaucratic documents and seeking approval of busy officials before their communications can be monitored. By the time they've jumped through the bureaucratic hoops forced on them by House Democrats, it may be too late.
What's more, American telecommunications companies are less inclined to cooperate with intelligence officials because they lack protection from lawsuits under the law.
In short, Americans are at greater risk today than we were four days ago.
But Don't Take My Word for It -- Listen to the Intelligence Professionals
But don't just take my word for it. Here's what Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell -- an intelligence professional who served under President Clinton as well as President Bush -- told "Fox News Sunday":
"Our situation now, when the terrorist threat is increasing because they've achieved -- al Qaeda's achieved de facto safe haven in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan -- the threat is going up.
"And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture their communications to thwart their planning.
"...[Our country is in] increased danger, and it will increase more and more as time goes on. And the key is the -- if you think about the private sector global communications, many people think the government operates that.
"Ninety-eight percent of it is owned and operated by the private sector. We cannot do this mission without help and support from the private sector. And the private sector, although willingly helped us in the past, are now saying, 'You can't protect me. Why should I help you?'"
Obama and Clinton Were AWOL on Protecting Americans
The potential threat to our safety is so great that the situation calls for leaders of all political parties to come together to call for Congress to act -- without delay -- to restore these crucial authorities to U.S. intelligence.
Senators and presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama missed the vote that passed the Senate to extend the Protect America Act. But they now have an obligation to keep America safe by joining President Bush in calling for the House return to Washington and pass the Senate bill.
No presidential primary, no 12-day vacation, is more important than the safety and security of our country.
Our leaders and would-be leaders must act.
The United States Congress by its inaction has created a gap in our national defense. A gap we can now only hope will not be filled by our enemies. Congress has the solemn responsibility not to put politics over American security. The President should implore Congress, as a national security priority, to return to Washington and pass the Protect America Act to give our intelligence agencies the tools they need to defeat our enemies.
P.S. -- The FISA issue in the Congress is another stark reminder of the need to move beyond red-versus-blue partisan bickering.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-Africa
on: February 20, 2008, 10:27:32 AM
I must admit that it is quite nice to see our President visit countries where the people seem genuinely warm towards America and towards him.
Many folks in the circles I often hang out in grumble about foreign aid, but my understanding is that on a % of GDP basis it is actually quite low. Apart from the fuzzies of it all, it occurs to me that for reasons of geo-political good will that American generousity could be a good thing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
on: February 20, 2008, 08:43:16 AM
Health Questions for the Candidates
By BETSY MCCAUGHEY
February 20, 2008; Page A15
On March 4, voters in the Texas Democratic primary will choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The battle is shaping up to be a health-care Alamo. Twenty five percent of people living in the Lone Star state are uninsured, according to the U.S. Census. That's the highest rate of any state.
Sen. Clinton has issued the challenge, telling Sen. Obama "I'll see you in Texas." She promises to provide health coverage for "every single one of the nation's 47 million uninsured," and she accuses Sen. Obama of offering a "band aid" solution that would leave about a third of those 47 million uncovered.
In preparation for the Texas showdown, Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama will debate this Thursday night in Austin -- and both candidates have called for less oratory and more specifics. With that in mind, here are some of the questions they should be asked:
- Sen. Clinton: When you pledge to cover every one of the 47 million uninsured, do you include recent and future newcomers to the United States, legal and illegal?
The recent rise in the uninsured is due primarily to new arrivals and their U.S.-born children, and it is happening mostly in the five border states, according to the Center for Immigration Studies and U.S. Census data. In Texas, the cost of caring for these newcomers and children has been paid by local and state taxes, with little help from the federal government. For example, 39% of babies born in Parkland Hospital in Dallas are children of illegal immigrants. County taxpayers foot the bill.
At the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, doctors are thrust into an ethical crisis. The hospital provides charity care to all. Its budget is at breaking point, and the hospital has had to lay off workers. In December, the hospital proposed that doctors triage cancer patients based on immigration status rather than medical need. But Galveston doctors say they are bound by their oath to heal, and that border control is Washington, D.C.'s problem.
Texas, as a border state, has specific problems, but also some typical ones. Of the nine million children in the U.S. considered "uninsured," six million are already eligible for government programs such as Medicaid or Schip, but their parents have not signed them up.
- Sen. Obama: You have said that you will require all parents to have health insurance for their children. What will you do to enforce this law?
In Texas, 850,000 children are eligible but not enrolled. The available programs provide check-ups, prescription drugs, hospital care, and dental care. The state runs radio ads, hands out brochures in several languages, and partners with community organizations to inform parents about these programs, but parents still fail to act.
- Sen. Clinton: a question about young adults. They think of themselves as invincible and are not apt to buy insurance. Your "mandate" would force them to do so, and more than that, to pay the same premium as middle aged people whose health care needs generally are much greater. You defend the one-price rule as "shared responsibility," but isn't it an unjust, hidden tax on the younger generation?
Today in Austin, Texas a 25-year-old man can buy a $1,000 deductible policy for $70, according to e-healthinsurance.com. A 55-year-old man pays $270 for the same policy. In nearly all states, young adults currently get price breaks, and for good reason. They need, on average, about $1,500 a year in health care. Your health plan bars insurers from giving these price breaks to the young.
- Sen. Obama: You have pledged to make health insurance "affordable." Texas lawmakers have made insurance less affordable by requiring that every plan include in vitro fertilization, acupuncture, marriage counseling and some 50 other features. This is like passing a law saying that the only car you're permitted to buy is a fully loaded luxury sedan.
Would you allow Texans (and all of us who live in states with similarly costly insurance requirements) to shop for cheaper insurance outside our own state?
- Sen. Clinton: You promise that "everyone who is already insured will be able to keep the coverage they have today." Yet your proposal says all health plans must cover services "experts deem necessary."
About 4.5 million people have high-deductible insurance, because it costs less and allows them to make their own decisions about where and when to get medical care. But when Massachusetts passed mandatory health insurance, people with high-deductible plans were forced to switch to more expensive medical policies to meet that state's definition of insurance.
Will that also happen under your proposal?
- Sens. Obama and Clinton: Some doctors and hospitals are worried about your plans to make electronic record-keeping compulsory. What will be the penalty for a doctor who doesn't get computerized?
In the California primary debate, Sen. Clinton claimed a Rand study shows that savings due to information technology could pay for half of her $110-billion-a-year universal health coverage plan. What the Rand study actually says is that information technology will produce savings, estimated at $77 billion a year, but not until year 15 -- and not necessarily for the thousands of doctors and hospitals who are forced to spend $125 billion (Rand's estimate) up front for the equipment.
- Sens. Obama and Clinton: Both your proposals call for limits on the profit margins of insurance companies. Attacking the most unpopular industry in America may sound politically attractive, but if profit margins are legally capped, investors will flee to other industries and private insurance could become a thing of the past. That would leave only a government-run health-care system.
Do you believe the nation should take that risk?
Ms. McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, is an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: February 20, 2008, 08:26:34 AM
By HUSAIN HAQQANI
February 20, 2008; Page A15
Pakistan has never voted a military ruler out of office. That could change following Monday's parliamentary elections. Though President Pervez Musharraf was not on the ballot, the election was about his fate.
The people voted overwhelmingly against Mr. Musharraf. Even though the election was held under rules that favored his political allies, almost every candidate who served in his government lost. So did all major leaders of the Kings Party that Mr. Musharraf cobbled together with the help of his security services soon after taking power in a 1999 military coup. The Islamists, who Mr. Musharraf used as bogeymen to garner Western support, were trounced. This is good news for everyone worried about an Islamist takeover of the world's only nuclear-armed, Muslim-majority nation.
The result was a posthumous victory for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. This victory vindicated the sacrifice of every Pakistani who was imprisoned or exiled during eight years of autocratic rule but continued demanding freedom. Bhutto returned to the country seeking its return to democracy, only to be assassinated by terrorists on Dec. 27.
Pakistan's powerful army, now under the command of Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, is beginning to distance itself from politics. The army's refusal to side with Mr. Musharraf's political allies sealed their fate. Now, the army must help put Pakistan back on the constitutional path by undoing the arbitrary constitutional amendments decreed by Mr. Musharraf as army chief a few days before he relinquished his command.
The depth of opposition to Mr. Musharraf, coupled with his tendency to change or break rules to stay in power, had raised serious concerns that Mr. Musharraf would manipulate the election results in favor of his allies. In the end, international pressure, represented by the presence of three prominent U.S. senators -- John Kerry (D., Mass.), Joe Biden (D., Del.) and Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) -- on Election Day helped stay Mr. Musharraf's hand. Mr. Musharraf also seemed to think that tilting the rules in his party's favor would be enough for victory, and thus fraud on polling day would be unnecessary.
That does not mean, however, that Mr. Musharraf might not still try to manipulate the situation to cling to power. He could try and create rifts between the various opposition parties by negotiating separately with them, and by using his intelligence services to bribe or blackmail individual politicians. Late last year, Mr. Musharraf had himself "elected" president by Pakistan's outgoing parliament, which was itself chosen through a dubious election in 2002. He then fired 60% of superior court judges to forestall judicial review of the presidential election.
Trying such antics again would be a disastrous mistake. Some members of the Bush administration have repeatedly described Mr. Musharraf as an indispensable ally in the war against terrorism. Economic and military assistance from the U.S. and other Western countries has been crucial for Mr. Musharraf's political survival thus far, and has probably contributed to his arrogance.
This might be the moment for Mr. Musharraf's Western backers to help him understand that annulment or alteration of the election results would plunge Pakistan deeper into chaos. Mr. Musharraf should not only abide by the verdict of his people but also recognize that Pakistan -- not he -- is the crucial ally the world needs to defeat terrorists.
Pakistan faces an al-Qaeda-backed insurgency along its border with Afghanistan, which is spilling over into other parts of the country. Any attempt by Mr. Musharraf to insist on retaining absolute power -- rather than allowing opposition leaders Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari to return Pakistan to normal constitutional governance -- would only anger the vast majority of Pakistanis who have just voted for moderate, antiterrorist parties. The ensuing chaos could strengthen the violent Islamist insurgents.
Pakistan's two major opposition parties -- the pro-Western, center-left Pakistan Peoples Party now led by Bhutto's widower Asif Zardari, and the center-right Pakistan Muslim League -- together could have a two-thirds majority in the 342-seat National Assembly. Mr. Musharraf's allies have been virtually wiped out. The opposition can now form a government that is no longer subservient to Mr. Musharraf.
Even if he remains president, Mr. Musharraf will no longer remain the most powerful man in Pakistan. He has said in the past that he would rather step down than face the ignominy of being impeached by the newly elected parliament, which is now possible. The opposition would be well advised to exercise restraint. At the same time, Mr. Musharraf would have to reverse many of his arbitrary decisions in order to qualify for the opposition's minimal cooperation.
Since 9/11, Mr. Musharraf has marketed himself to the West as the man most capable of saving Pakistan from a radical Islamist takeover. But under his rule Pakistan has become more vulnerable to terrorists than before. Mr. Musharraf's government has squandered good will through its arbitrary actions against the political opposition and judiciary. Furthermore, only a small sliver of the country's 160 million people have benefited from the economic achievements of the past eight years.
The recent election campaign was marred by violence, which the government blames on terrorists. But the targets of violence have been the secular opposition parties -- the most notable victim being Bhutto, who became an icon of democracy for Pakistanis after her assassination. Opposition politicians justifiably questioned why the terrorists have not attacked pro-Musharraf groups, if he was the one fighting terror.
Mr. Musharraf must now accept the consequence of defeat, and work out an honorable exit or a workable compromise with the opposition. The two parties that have emerged with popular support from this election should get full backing from the international community in restoring democracy to Pakistan. This might prove more effective in combating terrorism than continuing to prop up a discredited and despised dictator.
Mr. Haqqani, professor of international relations at Boston University, is co-chair of the Hudson Institute's Project on Islam and Democracy. He is the author of the Carnegie Endowment book, "Pakistan Between Mosque and Military" (2005), and served as an adviser to former prime ministers, including Benazir Bhutto.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hezbollah's coming attack
on: February 20, 2008, 08:15:49 AM
Hezbollah Retribution: Beware the Ides of March
February 19, 2008 | 1613 GMT
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
Following the Feb. 12 assassination of Imad Mughniyah, one of Hezbollah’s top military commanders, many threats and warnings have been issued concerning a retribution attack against Israel, which has been blamed for — or credited with — the attack. The threats have come from Hezbollah and Iranian leaders, while the warnings have come from the Israeli and U.S. governments.
Although the unfolding story continues to make headlines, the warnings we have seen have not included any time frame. This means that most of the people concerned about them will be on alert in the near term but will, as is human nature, begin to relax as time passes and no retaliatory attack materializes. Organizations such as Hezbollah, however, typically do not retaliate immediately. Even in a case of a government with a professional and well-armed military, retaliatory strikes take time to plan, approve and implement. For example, nearly two weeks passed before U.S. cruise missiles struck targets in Afghanistan and Sudan following the Aug. 7, 1998, al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Even an organization such as Hezbollah that has created contingency attack plans needs time to dispatch operatives, conduct surveillance, gather materials, construct a bomb and then employ it. Indeed, a review of Hezbollah’s past retaliatory attacks demonstrates a lag of at least a month between the causi belli and the retaliatory attacks. In our estimation, therefore, any Hezbollah retaliatory strike will occur in mid-March at the earliest, though Hezbollah sympathizers not acting as part of the organization could respond more rapidly with attacks that require less planning and preparation.
Because of the lag time, by the time the real period of danger approaches, many of the deterrent security measures put in place immediately after the warnings were issued will have been relaxed and security postures at potential targets will have returned to business as usual. This natural sense of complacency will greatly aid Hezbollah if and when it decides to retaliate.
With this in mind, let’s examine the recent threats and warnings and compare them against Hezbollah’s historical retaliatory strikes to determine what a Hezbollah retaliatory strike might look like.
Threats and Warnings
Israeli sources have said the Israeli government placed its diplomatic posts on higher alert Feb. 13 following threats of retaliation over the Mughniyah assassination. Israeli officials believe Hezbollah is unlikely to launch attacks within Israel, but rather is more likely to attack Israeli diplomatic posts.
Inside the United States, the FBI has put its domestic terrorism squads and joint terrorism task force agents on alert for any threats against synagogues and other potential Jewish targets in the United States. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security also have sent a bulletin to state and local law enforcement authorities advising them to watch for potential retaliatory strikes by Hezbollah, and the bureau has made contact with potential domestic targets to convey this warning. The FBI also is stepping up its preventative surveillance coverage on known or suspected Hezbollah operatives in an attempt to thwart any plot inside the United States.
Many state and major local police agencies also have issued warnings and analytical reports pertaining to a potential Hezbollah retaliatory attack. These departments obviously take the threat very seriously and believe their warnings are highly justified.
Although the attack against Mughniyah raised the possibility of retaliatory strikes, much of the concern is the result of the response to the killing from Hezbollah and its sponsors. For example, when Hezbollah Secretary General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah spoke at Mughniyah’s funeral, he said Mughniyah’s assassination is a further incentive to proceed with the jihad against Israel and that the timing, location and method of Mughniyah’s assassination indicate that the state of Israel (referred to as Zionists by Nasrallah) wants open war. Nasrallah then said, “Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open.”
Hezbollah lawmaker Ismail Sukeyir said, “Hezbollah has the right to retaliate anywhere in the world and in any way it sees fit.” Hezbollah leader in South Lebanon Sheikh Nabil Kauk is reported to have said, “It won’t be long before the conceited Zionists realize that Imad Mughniyah’s blood is extremely costly, and it makes history and brings about a new victory.”
Hezbollah was not the only organization to make threats. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander-in-chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari reportedly noted in a condolence letter to Nasrallah, “In the near future, we will witness the destruction of the cancerous existence of Israel by the powerful and competent hands of the Hezbollah combatants.” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in Damascus on Feb. 15 that Mughniyah’s death had breathed new life into Islamic resistance and vigilance.
Although Hezbollah has not conducted an attack outside of the region in many years, it possesses the infrastructure, capability and talent to do so today. As we have said, we believe that Hezbollah is a far more capable and dangerous organization than al Qaeda at the present time. That said, Hezbollah has changed considerably since the 1980s. It no longer is just an amorphous resistance organization. Rather, it is a legitimate political party and a significant player in Lebanese politics. Some believe this change in Hezbollah’s nature will change its behavior and that it will not conduct retaliatory strikes as it did following the 1992 Israeli assassination of Hezbollah Secretary General Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi. However, Hezbollah and its supporters have issued nearly continuous and very vocal calls for retribution for the Mughniyah assassination. Some U.S. counterterrorism sources have even characterized these cries as “unprecedented.” Certainly they are more strident and numerous than those following the loss of any Hezbollah cadre member in recent memory.
Such an outcry is significant because it places a considerable amount of pressure on the Hezbollah leadership to retaliate. Indeed, Hezbollah may be concerned that it is now has infrastructure that can be attacked, but its survival of sustained airstrikes during the 2006 conflict with Israel could lead it to believe its infrastructure can weather Israeli retaliatory strikes. However, we believe it is unlikely at this point that Hezbollah will do anything that it calculates will precipitate another all-out war with Israel.
In addition to the pressure being created by the cries for retribution, another factor, reciprocity, will help to shape Hezbollah’s response. Although reciprocity generally relates to diplomatic relations and espionage/counterespionage operations, the concept will figure prominently in any strikes to avenge the death of Mughniyah.
Perhaps one of the best historical examples of reciprocity is the response to the Feb. 16, 1992 al-Musawi assassination. Following a 30-day mourning period, Hezbollah operatives destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) on March 17, killing 29 people and injuring hundreds. The team that conducted the attack was assisted by the Iranian Embassy, but reportedly was directed by Mugniyah, who was an early pioneer in the use of VBIEDs and a master of their construction and deployment.
Another case of reciprocity began June 2, 1994, when Israeli forces, responding to an increase in Hezbollah ambush activity along the border, launched a major airstrike targeting Hezbollah’s Ein Dardara training camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The strike destroyed the camp and reportedly killed 30 to 50 Hezbollah personnel. That raid came two weeks after Israeli forces abducted Mustafa Al Dirani, a leader with the Hezbollah-affiliated Amal militia and the person who allegedly provided the intelligence Israel needed for the Ein Dardara strike.
Then, on July 18, 1994, a large VBIED leveled the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds in an operation that has been credited to Mughniyah’s planning. Eight days later, two VBIEDs detonated outside of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish nongovernmental organization office in London, causing no fatalities but injuring 26 people.
One of the tactics Hezbollah has used successfully throughout its existence is a combination of ambiguity, stealth and confusion. The group frequently prefers to hide its hand, or sow confusion by claiming its attacks using pseudonyms, such as Islamic Jihad Organization or Organization for the Oppressed of the Earth. Any retribution attack against Israeli targets, therefore, will likely be conducted in such a way as to hide any direct links to the organization and be designed to obscure Hezbollah’s responsibility — or at least create some degree of plausible deniability. One example of this was the group’s use of Palestinian rather than Lebanese operatives in the 1994 London bombings.
Another tactical factor worth consideration is that Hezbollah uses an “off-the-shelf” method of planning. This is a method of planning used by the military commands of many countries in which several hypothetical targets are selected and attack plans for each are developed in advance. This advance planning gives the Hezbollah leadership several plans to choose from when considering and authorizing an attack — and it allows the group to hit hard and fast once a decision has been made to strike — far more quickly that if it had to plan an operation from scratch.
In the years since Hezbollah’s last overseas attack, its operatives have been seen conducting surveillance in many parts of the world (including the United States) — at times, triggering arrests — but no attacks have ensued. Therefore, it is believed that these operatives have been observed conducting surveillance for use in preliminary operational planning for hypothetical, future attacks. It is believed that the leadership of Hezbollah’s military wing has a large selection of off-the-shelf plans that it can choose from should it decide to mount attacks anywhere in the world. In all probability, therefore, targets for off-the-shelf plans already have been mapped. Ironically, many of these plans that might be activated in retribution for Mughniyah’s death could have been designed by Mughniyah himself.
As far as timing goes, using the Buenos Aires and London attacks as a gauge, we believe Hezbollah, should it choose to retaliate, would be able to attack within four to five weeks — perhaps around the infamous Ides of March — and probably not too much sooner due to operational considerations. However in the time between now and mid-March, Hezbollah operatives likely will be conducting surveillance to tune up a number of off-the-shelf plans in expectation of having a particular plan activated. As we have discussed on many occasions, surveillance is conducted at various stages of the attack cycle, and it is during these periods of surveillance that operatives are vulnerable to detection. Detecting surveillance on a potential target will be an indication that the target is being considered, though certainly Hezbollah will also conduct surveillance on other targets in an effort so sow confusion as to its ultimate plans.
However, detecting this surveillance in the early stages allows potential target sets and geographical locations to be determined and the potential targets hardened against attack. Because of this, law enforcement officials and security managers responsible for the security of a facility or person that conceivably might be targeted by Hezbollah should find countersurveillance and surveillance detection assets especially valuable during the next several weeks.
The Coming Attack?
If an attack is launched, we anticipate that it will have to be a spectacular one in order to meet the requirements of reciprocity, given that Mughniyah was very important to Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors. Merely killing an Israeli soldier or two in an ambush will not suffice. Also, in keeping with Hezbollah’s proclivity toward using a hidden hand, the attack will likely be conducted by a stealthy and ambiguous cell or cells and have no direct connections to the organization. Also, as we have seen in prior attacks, if a hardened target such as an Israeli embassy or VIP is not vulnerable, a secondary soft target can be selected. The AMIA bombing is a prime example of this and should serve as a warning to Jewish community centers and other non-Israeli government targets everywhere that even non-Israeli Jewish targets are considered fair game.
Operationally, Hezbollah would prefer to hit a target that is unsuspecting and easy to attack. That is why we would not be surprised to see an attack in Asia, Latin America or even Africa. Hezbollah’s 1994 attacks in London were not very effective due to the small size of the devices — a result of the difficulty of obtaining explosives in the United Kingdom. Due to their lack of spectacular results, not many people remember the twin VBIED attacks in London, but they do remember the spectacular AMIA attack. Such nonmemorable attacks hardly are what Hezbollah would hope for, and are certainly not the spectacular retaliation it would want in this case. In order to create such a spectacular result with a VBIED, it likely would attack in a place where it has an established infrastructure, a suitable target and access to explosives.
One other thing to consider is that Israeli diplomatic facilities do not have the same level of physical security that most U.S. facilities do, and in many places are located in office buildings or even in ordinary houses. In places like San Salvador, there is absolutely no comparison between the U.S. Embassy, which was built to Inman standards, and the Israeli Embassy. In other words, like Buenos Aires in 1992, Israeli diplomatic facilities are relatively easy targets in many parts of the world.
Of course, Hezbollah might not be planning one of Mughniyah’s signature VBIED attacks. As we saw on 9/11, spectacular attacks can come in forms other than a VBIED. While Mughniyah was a VBIED expert, he also was a consummate out-of-the-box thinker. Therefore, it is just possible that the retribution attacks would be carried out in a novel, yet spectacular, manner. Hezbollah has feared for several years now that the Israelis would assassinate Nasrallah or another senior leader, meaning that Mughniyah and the other Hezbollah operational planners have had plenty of time to contemplate their response — and it could be quite creative.
At the present time, Hezbollah is far larger and more geographically widespread than ever before, with a global array of members and supporters who are intertwined with sophisticated finance/logistics and intelligence networks. Also, thanks to Iran, Hezbollah has far more — and better-trained — operational cadres than ever before. The Hezbollah cadre also is well experienced in skullduggery, having conducted scores of transnational militant operations before al Qaeda was even formed. It is a force to be reckoned with. Beware the Ides of March indeed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Canadian plot
on: February 20, 2008, 06:28:38 AM
I just stumbled across this piece from 20 months ago:
Teacher witnessed transformation of some bomb-plot suspects
Last Updated Thu, 08 Jun 2006 18:06:10 EDT
A Muslim religious leader in Toronto who knows some of those charged in the
suspected bomb plot says the young men underwent rapid transformations from
normal Canadian teenagers to radicalized introverts.
Alleged bomb-plot suspects in a Brampton courtroom on Tuesday. (John
Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin got to know Saad Khalid, 19, and some of the other
alleged conspirators at a local mosque.
Khalid was arrested last Friday at a warehouse, where he and another suspect
allegedly took delivery of what they thought was ammonium nitrate, a
fertilizer, and the same substance used in the deadly Oklahoma City bombing
Fifteen others are also facing charges connected to the alleged plot.
Entered mosque to pray
Amiruddin says Khalid used to come to his mosque to pray, sometimes in the
company of Zakaria Amara and Fahim Ahmad, two of the alleged ringleaders.
"They would enter into the mosque to pray, and they would pray in a very
aggressive manner, and they would come in military fatigues and military
touques and stuff. It looked to me that they were watching a lot of those
Chechnyan jihad videos online and stuff."
Amiruddin is a teacher of Sufism, a traditional brand of Islam that rejects
the ideology of jihad. Amiruddin says the group was seduced by hardline
propaganda financed by the Saudi government and promoting a strict, Wahhabi
brand of Islam.
He says the Saudis have flooded Canada with free Qur'ans, laced with
"In the back of these Qur'ans that are being published in Saudi Arabia, you
have basically essays on the need for offensive jihad and the legitimacy of
offensive jihad and things like that. Very alarming stuff," he said.
Amiruddin said many mainstream Muslim organizations in Canada are really
part of the problem, standing by as extremist propaganda spreads in the
He cites the Al-Rahman centre in Mississauga, Ont., which he links to the
Al-Maghrib Institute, which runs a popular educational website. It's
nominally run out of Ottawa, but Amiruddin says it's really a Saudi
Recruiting young teens
Amiruddin says Khalid underwent a rapid transition from a clean-cut Canadian
teenager to a long-haired, radicalized introvert.
He says the young men would pray by themselves, and try to recruit younger
teens to the fundamentalist Wahhabi view.
Amiruddin says Khalid stopped coming to the mosque after he befriended
43-year-old Qayyum Abdul Jamal, another key suspect, who once preached that
Canadian forces were in Afghanistan to rape Muslim women.
Amiruddin also has a theory as to why Khalid may have been open to such
"His mother passed away and let's say within the first month of his mom
passing away, his girlfriend, who was not Muslim, dumped him. And then from
that within a year you have this radical turnaround right? Even Fahim
Ahmad, he was in love with a girl who constantly rejected him, right? Maybe
he was just looking for love? I can't say for certain, but this was
something I found common with these young guys."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Free Speech vs. Islamic Fascism (formerly Buy DANISH!!!)
on: February 20, 2008, 06:08:55 AM
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday February 17 2008 on p40 of the World news section. It was last updated at 00:06 on February 17 2008.
Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, is refusing to remove medieval artistic depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, despite being flooded with complaints from Muslims demanding the images be deleted.
More than 180,000 worldwide have joined an online protest claiming the images, shown on European-language pages and taken from Persian and Ottoman miniatures dating from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, are offensive to Islam, which prohibits any representation of Muhammad. But the defiant editors of the encyclopaedia insist they will not bow to pressure and say anyone objecting to the controversial images can simply adjust their computers so they do not have to look at them.
The images at the centre of the protest appear on most of the European versions of the web encyclopaedia, though not on Arabic sites. On two of the images, Muhammad's face is veiled, a practice followed in Islamic art since the 16th century. But on two others, one from 1315, which is the earliest surviving depiction of the prophet, and the other from the 15th century, his face is shown. Some protesters are claiming the pictures have been posted simply to 'bait' and 'insult' Muslims and argue the least Wikipedia can do is blur or blank out the faces.
Such has been the adverse reaction, Wikipedia has been forced to set up a separate page on its site explaining why it refuses to bow to pressure and has also had to set up measures to block people from 'editing' the pages themselves.
In a robust statement on the site, its editors state: 'Wikipedia recognises that there are cultural traditions among some Muslim groups that prohibit depictions of Muhammad and other prophets and that some Muslims are offended when those traditions are violated. However, the prohibitions are not universal among Muslim communities, particularly with the Shia who, while prohibiting the images, are less strict about it.
'Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group.
'So long as they are relevant to the article and do not violate any of Wikipedia's existing policies, nor the law of the US state of Florida where Wikipedia's servers are hosted, no content or images will be removed because people find them objectionable or offensive.'
The traditional reason given for the Islamic prohibition on images of prophets it to prevent them from becoming objects of worship in a form of idolatry. But, say the editors, the images used were examples of how Muhammad has been depicted by various Islamic sects through history and not in a religious context.http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology...ia.islam/print
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO on guns
on: February 20, 2008, 06:03:47 AM
Second post of the AM:
I've read that BO wants a federal law to override the CCW laws of 30 states. Here's more on his proposals about guns-- not every single idea is bad, but a few of them really are:
His record isn't likely to win back the rural "pro-gun" voters who've fled to the Republicans in recent years, likely costing Gore the election in 2000. From the Chicago Defender, Dec. 13, 1999:
Sweeping federal gun control legislation proposed by Sen. Barack Obama (D-13th) would increase the penalties on gun runners who are flooding Chicago's streets with illegal weapons.
At an anti-gun rally held at the Park Manor Christian Church, 600 E. 73rd St., headed by the Rev. James Demus, Obama also said he's backing a resolution being introduced into the City Council by Alds. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Ted Thomas (15th), Leslie Hairston (5th) to call for a "shot-free" millennium celebration.
Obama outlined his anti-gun plan that includes increased penalties for the interstate transportation of firearms. The maximum penalty now for bringing a gun across the border is 10 years in prison. Obama is proposing to make it a felony for a gun owner whose firearm was stolen from his residence which causes harm to another person if that weapon was not securely stored in that home. [!!!]
He's proposing restricting gun purchases to one weapon a month and banning the sale of firearms at gun shows except for "antique" weapons. Obama is also proposing increasing the licensing fee to obtain a federal firearms license.
He's also seeking a ban on police agencies from reselling their used weapons even if those funds are used to buy more state-of-the-art weapons for their agencies. Obama wants only those over 21 who've passed a basic course to be able to buy or own a firearm.
He's proposing that all federally licensed gun dealers sell firearms in a storefront and not from their homes while banning their business from being within five miles of a school or a park. He's also banning the sale of 'junk" handguns like the popular Saturday Night Specials.
Obama is requiring that all people working at a gun dealer undergo a criminal background check. He's also asking that gun manufacturers be required to develop safety measures that permit only the original owner of the firearm to operate the weapon purchased.
Additionally, he wants an increase of the funds for schools to teach anger management skills for youth between the ages of 5-13. Obama is also seeking to increase the federal taxes by 500 percent on the sale of firearm, ammunition [sic] -- weapons he says are most commonly used in firearm deaths.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: February 20, 2008, 05:43:55 AM
Obama has a history of hiding his behaviors from others.
This is a deal-breaker of a red flag in anyone, not just a political officeholder.
Furthemore, BHO's association with a known CPUSA member would prohibit him as a civilian or .mil from getting a security clearance. http://www.aim.org/aim-column/obamas-communist-mentor/
In his biography of Barack Obama, David Mendell writes about Obama's life as a "secret smoker" and how he "went to great lengths to conceal the habit."
But what about Obama's secret political life? It turns out that Obama's childhood mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, was a communist.
In his books, Obama admits attending "socialist conferences" and coming into contact with Marxist literature. But he ridicules the charge of being a "hard-core academic Marxist," which was made by his colorful and outspoken 2004 U.S. Senate opponent, Republican Alan Keyes.
However, through Frank Marshall Davis, Obama had an admitted relationship with someone who was publicly identified as a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). The record shows that Obama was in Hawaii from 1971-1979, where, at some point in time, he developed a close relationship, almost like a son, with Davis, listening to his "poetry" and getting advice on his career path. But Obama, in his book, Dreams From My Father, refers to him repeatedly as just "Frank."
The reason is apparent: Davis was a known communist who belonged to a party subservient to the Soviet Union. In fact, the 1951 report of the Commission on Subversive Activities to the Legislature of the Territory of Hawaii identified him as a CPUSA member. What's more, anti-communist congressional committees, including the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), accused Davis of involvement in several communist-front organizations.
Trevor Loudon, a New Zealand-based libertarian activist, researcher and blogger, noted evidence that "Frank" was Frank Marshall Davis in a posting in March of 2007.
Obama's communist connection adds to mounting public concern about a candidate who has come out of virtually nowhere, with a brief U.S. Senate legislative record, to become the Democratic Party frontrunner for the U.S. presidency. In the latest Real Clear Politics poll average, Obama beats Republican John McCain by almost four percentage points.
AIM recently disclosed that Obama has well-documented socialist connections, which help explain why he sponsored a "Global Poverty Act" designed to send hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. foreign aid to the rest of the world, in order to meet U.N. demands. The bill has passed the House and a Senate committee, and awaits full Senate action.
But the Communist Party connection through Davis is even more ominous. Decades ago, the CPUSA had tens of thousands of members, some of them covert agents who had penetrated the U.S. Government. It received secret subsidies from the old Soviet Union.
You won't find any of this discussed in the David Mendell book, Obama: From Promise to Power. It is typical of the superficial biographies of Obama now on the market. Secret smoking seems to be Obama's most controversial activity. At best, Mendell and the liberal media describe Obama as "left-leaning."
But you will find it briefly discussed, sort of, in Obama's own book, Dreams From My Father. He writes about "a poet named Frank," who visited them in Hawaii, read poetry, and was full of "hard-earned knowledge" and advice. Who was Frank? Obama only says that he had "some modest notoriety once," was "a contemporary of Richard Wright and Langston Hughes during his years in Chicago..." but was now "pushing eighty." He writes about "Frank and his old Black Power dashiki self" giving him advice before he left for Occidental College in 1979 at the age of 18.
This "Frank" is none other than Frank Marshall Davis, the black communist writer now considered by some to be in the same category of prominence as Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. In the summer/fall 2003 issue of African American Review, James A. Miller of George Washington University reviews a book by John Edgar Tidwell, a professor at the University of Kansas, about Davis's career, and notes, "In Davis's case, his political commitments led him to join the American Communist Party during the middle of World War II-even though he never publicly admitted his Party membership." Tidwell is an expert on the life and writings of Davis.
Is it possible that Obama did not know who Davis was when he wrote his book, Dreams From My Father, first publishedin 1995?That's not plausible since Obama refers to him as acontemporary of Richard Wright and Langston Hughes and says he saw a book of his black poetry.
The communists knew who "Frank" was, and they know who Obama is. In fact, one academic who travels in communist circles understands the significance of the Davis-Obama relationship.
Professor Gerald Horne, a contributing editor of the Communist Party journal Political Affairs, talked about it during a speech last March at the reception of the Communist Party USA archives at the Tamiment Library at New York University. The remarks are posted online under the headline, "Rethinking the History and Future of the Communist Party."
Horne, a history professor at the University of Houston, noted that Davis, who moved to Honolulu from Kansas in 1948 "at the suggestion of his good friend Paul Robeson," came into contact with Barack Obama and his family and became the young man's mentor, influencing Obama's sense of identity and career moves. Robeson, of course, was the well-known black actor and singer who served as a member of the CPUSA and apologist for the old Soviet Union. Davis had known Robeson from his time in Chicago.
As Horne describes it, Davis "befriended" a "Euro-American family" that had "migrated to Honolulu from Kansas and a young woman from this family eventually had a child with a young student from Kenya East Africa who goes by the name of Barack Obama, who retracing the steps of Davis eventually decamped to Chicago."
It was in Chicago that Obama became a "community organizer" and came into contact with more far-left political forces, including the Democratic Socialists of America, which maintains close ties to European socialist groups and parties through the Socialist International (SI), and two former members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), William Ayers and Carl Davidson.
The SDS laid siege to college campuses across America in the 1960s, mostly in order to protest the Vietnam War, and spawned the terrorist Weather Underground organization. Ayers was a member of the terrorist group and turned himself in to authorities in 1981. He is now a college professor and served with Obama on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago. Davidson is now a figure in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, an offshoot of the old Moscow-controlled CPUSA, and helped organize the 2002 rally where Obama came out against the Iraq War.
Both communism and socialism trace their roots to Karl Marx, co-author of the Communist Manifesto, who endorsed the first meeting of the Socialist International, then called the "First International." According to Pierre Mauroy, president of the SI from 1992-1996, "It was he [Marx] who formally launched it, gave the inaugural address and devised its structure..."
Apparently unaware that Davis had been publicly named as a CPUSA member, Horne said only that Davis "was certainly in the orbit of the CP [Communist Party]-if not a member..."
In addition to Tidwell's book,Black Moods: Collected Poems of Frank Marshall Davis,confirming Davis's Communist Party membership, another book, The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946, names Davis as one of several black poets who continued to publish in CPUSA-supported publications after the 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact. The author, James Edward Smethurst, associate professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, says that Davis, however, would later claim that he was "deeply troubled" by the pact.
While blacks such as Richard Wright left the CPUSA, it is not clear if or when Davis ever left the party.
However, Obama writes in Dreams From My Father that he saw "Frank" only a few days before he left Hawaii for college, and that Davis seemed just as radical as ever. Davis called college "An advanced degree in compromise" and warned Obama not to forget his "people" and not to "start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit." Davis also complained about foot problems, the result of "trying to force African feet into European shoes," Obama wrote.
For his part, Horne says that Obama's giving of credit to Davis will be important in history. "At some point in the future, a teacher will add to her syllabus Barack's memoir and instruct her students to read it alongside Frank Marshall Davis' equally affecting memoir, Living the Blues and when that day comes, I'm sure a future student will not only examine critically the Frankenstein monsters that US imperialism created in order to subdue Communist parties but will also be moved to come to this historic and wonderful archive in order to gain insight on what has befallen this complex and intriguing planet on which we reside," he said.
Dr. Kathryn Takara, a professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who also confirms that Davis is the "Frank" in Obama's book, did her dissertation on Davis and spent much time with him between 1972 until he passed away in 1987.
In an analysis posted online, she notes that Davis, who was a columnist for the Honolulu Record, brought "an acute sense of race relations and class struggle throughout America and the world" and that he openly discussed subjects such as American imperialism, colonialism and exploitation. She described him as a "socialist realist" who attacked the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Davis, in his own writings, had said that Robeson and Harry Bridges, the head of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and a secret member of the CPUSA, had suggested that he take a job as a columnist with the Honolulu Record "and see if I could do something for them." The ILWU was organizing workers there and Robeson's contacts were "passed on" to Davis, Takara writes.
Takara says that Davis "espoused freedom, radicalism, solidarity, labor unions, due process, peace, affirmative action, civil rights, Negro History week, and true Democracy to fight imperialism, colonialism, and white supremacy. He urged coalition politics."
Is "coalition politics" at work in Obama's rise to power?
Trevor Loudon, the New Zealand-based blogger who has been analyzing the political forces behind Obama and specializes in studying the impact of Marxist and leftist political organizations, notes that Frank Chapman, a CPUSA supporter, has written a letter to the party newspaper hailing the Illinois senator's victory in the Iowa caucuses.
"Obama's victory was more than a progressive move; it was a dialectical leap ushering in a qualitatively new era of struggle," Chapman wrote. "Marx once compared revolutionary struggle with the work of the mole, who sometimes burrows so far beneath the ground that he leaves no trace of his movement on the surface. This is the old revolutionary ‘mole,' not only showing his traces on the surface but also breaking through."
Let's challenge the liberal media to report on this. Will they have the honesty and integrity to do so?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Balkans
on: February 20, 2008, 05:15:26 AM
The Birth of Kosovo
February 18, 2008; Page A18
When Slovenia declared independence in 1991, Belgrade sent in tanks. When Croatia and Bosnia did the same, the Serbs started wars that left a quarter million dead. So Serbia's resort to violent rhetoric in response to Kosovo's declaration of independence yesterday counts as a kind of Balkan progress.
The newborn isn't out of danger, with Serbia and Russia wishing Kosovo ill. But the presence of NATO troops, and expected swift recognition by the U.S. and major European powers, ought to calm nerves and end the last territorial dispute in the Balkans. By taking the lead during the 1999 aerial war that forced Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansers from Kosovo and now on independence, the U.S. is shepherding one more Muslim nation to freedom—not that it will get credit for it in the Islamic world.
The proliferation of small states since the fall of communism has made Europe more stable and democratic, from Estonia to Macedonia. A sovereign Kosovo, which follows the entry of even tinier Montenegro into the club of nations, can be a force for good in the region and in the wider Europe. Though lawyers may quibble, Kosovo differs in no way from the other stand-alone parts of Yugoslavia that won their freedom after 1991, and are now better off for it. Serbian lobbyists portray the Kosovars as Muslim terrorists, but that strains credulity, given their moderate and secular practice of Islam (and Christianity) and their stated commitment to democracy.
Kosovar leaders say they want their country to join the European Union and NATO, which would open their borders to free trade and bring them into European security structures. The Kosovar Albanians also seem aware that their new state will be judged on their protection of minority Serbs and willingness to make up with former enemies. International oversight and scrutiny can help ensure these promises are kept. Western chaperones will also have to watch the fragile multiethnic constructs in nearby Bosnia and Macedonia, where separatists may try to use Kosovo independence to push for a breakup.
Russia has called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to revoke the independence declaration. With no troops or permanent interests on the ground, however, Moscow may be happy merely to score political points against the West—and then, as usual, abandon the Serbs to their fate.
Serbia is the sole former Yugoslav state that is not on track to integrate with the West. Responsible for and unapologetic about so much bloodletting in the 1990s, it doesn't seem to realize that history has moved on. The furious reaction to Kosovo independence has been redolent of Milosevic's "Greater Serbia" nationalism. In a televised address on the weekend, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica blamed the U.S. for "this violence," stoking the Serb sense of grievance.
Some European countries want to indulge the Serbs, offering them fast-track membership in the EU. In return, Serb politicians have threatened to freeze EU talks and downgrade relations with countries that recognize Kosovo—in short, most of the West. If the Serbs want to live through yet another lost decade, that is their choice to make.
The one Serbian politician brave enough to challenge Serbian historical nationalism was the late Prime Minister Zoran Djinjic, who was killed in 2003. Serbia needs another leader who can acknowledge the country's cultural and historical links to Kosovo, while accepting its neighbor's desire for freedom. One doesn't cancel the other. Germans appreciate Gdansk's role in their history without calling for another invasion of Poland, and Poles treasure Vilnius but accept Lithuania's freedom.
Serbian President Boris Tadic, who barely beat an ultranationalist in elections this month, has pledged to "do everything in [Serbia's] power to revoke the unilateral and illegal declaration of independence" – short of military action, he added. Mr. Tadic also said Serbia wants to join the EU. Brussels can help Serbia's re-education by insisting that any progress on membership be conditional on Belgrade's recognition of Kosovo. It can also insist, as the EU has for the past 13 years, that Serbia hand over indicted war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic for trial.
The EU's great achievement has been to bring World War II enemies into a club committed to peace and prosperity. It's now the Balkans' turn. Kosovo's independence opens the way to bringing this region into Europe, which is a victory for everyone, including the Serbs.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: February 20, 2008, 05:13:12 AM
Mr. President, Don't Forget Iran
By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
February 19, 2008; Page A19
Dear Mr. President: A few months ago, it became possible to hear members and supporters of your administration going around Washington and saying that the question of a nuclear-armed Iran "would not be left to the next administration." As a line of the day, this had the advantage of sounding both determined and slightly mysterious, as if to commit both to everything and to nothing in particular.
That slight advantage has now, if you will permit me to say so, fallen victim to diminishing returns. The absurdly politicized finding of the National Intelligence Estimate -- to the effect that Iran has actually halted rather than merely paused its weapons-acquisition program -- has put the United States in a position where it is difficult even to continue pressing for sanctions, let alone to consider disabling the centrifuge and heavy-water sites at Natanz, Arak and elsewhere.
Over the course of the next year, you will have to decide whether this question will indeed be left to become a problem for the succeeding administration. As matters now stand, the U.S. is in the not-unfamiliar position of appearing to be more bellicose than it actually is. The picture is complicated by the fact that, unlike Iraq in the past or North Korea today, Iran can boast quite an impressive "civil society" movement, which would like both to replace the current ramshackle theocracy and to adopt better and closer relations with the U.S.
In other words, Iran is running on two timetables. The first one -- the gradual but definite emergence of a democratization trend among the young and the middle class -- is something that we can gauge but not determine. The second one -- the process by which a messianic regime lays hold of the means to manufacture apocalyptic weaponry -- could move rather faster, and is partly designed in any case to insulate the mullahs from regime change.
Is it possible that these two apparently discrepant elements can be brought into a more, shall we say, synergistic relationship, and that the U.S. can regain the initiative that has (yet again!) been lost to it by the actions of its own intelligence bureaucracy? The answer is yes.
Consider our advantages. To begin with, all visitors to Tehran report an extraordinary level of sympathy with the U.S. among the general population. On my own visit to the country, I was astonished by the sheer number of people who had relatives overseas, and who wished they could join them. Most especially among the young, pro-American cultural and musical "statements" are as common as they were in Eastern Europe before 1989.
We have removed from power the two most hated enemies, not of the Iranian mullahs alone, but of the Iranian people. It is true that many Iranians feel nervous about having American forces on their Afghan and Iraqi frontiers, but it is equally true that our ability to demolish the Taliban and the Saddam Hussein tyrannies has greatly impressed many Iranians. Iranians are acutely aware of the backwardness of their country. Iran may be floating on a lake of oil, but still conducts much the same backward, rug-and-pistachio economy that it was operating when the mullahs seized power almost 30 years ago.
Changing my gear and tone a little, I want to mention another kind of advantage altogether. Iran is scheduled to suffer from a devastating earthquake in the very near future. Its capital, Tehran, is built on a cobweb of fault-lines: a predicament not improved by the astonishing amount of illegal and uninspected construction that takes place, thanks to corruption and incompetence, within its perimeter.
I want to underline what might be called a seismic imperative. A serious earthquake in Iran could wreak untold damage not just on the Iranian people but on their neighbors, and the clerical regime is doing nothing to prepare for this eventuality or to protect against it.
In the aftermath of the 2003 earthquake that rocked Bam, American search-and-rescue teams performed prodigies of valor and skill and became so popular locally that the news of their achievements had to be hushed up by the regime's less-than-perfect censorship. Consider, then, the "public diplomacy" impact of a serious public offer to Iran, made through international media and from the podium (so often usurped by the clownish Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) of the United Nations. The U.S. could propose the following: a commitment to help Iran protect its centers of population and its key installations against an earthquake. Along with the provision of expertise and advice would come a request for inspections of key facilities, especially those which might, if ruptured, pose a Chernobyl-type threat to neighboring countries.
At one stroke, this would make a strong appeal, on a matter of urgent material interest, to the general Iranian public. It would point a contrast between our priorities and those of the regime. And it would position us, before the fact, for something not unlike the well-improvised post-tsunami operation mounted by the U.S. Navy in Indonesia.
In the same speech it ought to be said that the U.S. and its allies -- committed as they are to assisting Iran to acquire a peaceful nuclear energy capability, and alarmed as they are by signs of a deceptive strategy in this regard -- would like to be sure that our negotiating partners truly represent the Iranian people. It could even be said that our intervention in Iraq, and the consequent liberation of the Shiites, will prove to have long-term positive consequences.
I have heard it argued that any carrot-shaped initiatives directed at Tehran constitute a reward for the regime's bad behavior, and might even encourage the harder-line mullahs to believe that their intransigence had paid off. But I don't think that this can be said for the proposals outlined above, which are directed at the Iranian people, and which in effect offer them considerable benefits in exchange for something that the majority of them appear to desire in any case, namely political and social transparency.
It's eternally fashionable in Washington (and elsewhere) to contrast "diplomatic" initiatives with "saber-rattling" ones. What this naïve dichotomy overlooks is the plain fact that without the known quantity of the American saber, few if any diplomatic movements would be possible. If the moment comes when you, Mr. President, feel that a "Nixon-in-China" initiative is required, and an offer of direct dealing with Iran and the Iranians is warranted, it will be important for you to find some telling words in which to phrase an acknowledgment of those facts.
The current period of suspended animation cannot be protracted indefinitely. In our own current election, every serious candidate has stated that the outcome of a nuclear theocracy is simply not acceptable. It will indeed need to be decided, and in the lifetime of your administration, whether we aim merely to negate that intolerable ambition, or whether we have the ingenuity to make this the occasion for a wider and deeper engagement, consummating the progress made in Iraq and Afghanistan and confirming it in the keystone society that lies between them.
Mr. Hitchens is a Vanity Fair columnist. An expanded version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of World Affairs.
See all of today's editorials
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Our Founding Fathers:
on: February 20, 2008, 05:07:16 AM
"I am not a Virginian, but an American."
-- Patrick Henry (speech in the First Continental Congress,
6 September 1774)
Reference: Patrick Henry: Life Corerespondence and Speeches, Wirt,
ed., vol. 1 (220); original Life and Works of John Adams, vol. 2
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica
on: February 20, 2008, 05:04:55 AM
Recibido de un amigo Venezolano:
Date: February 19, 2008 7:38:50 PM GMT-04:30
Subject: FW: Analisis Economico. R. Bottome.
Lusinchi II - 01/08/2008
A finales de los 80, el Gobierno de Lusinchi alcanzó una ilusión
de crecimiento que se basó en un nivel de gastos que superaba los
recursos de los que disponía y logró contener las distorsiones,
por algún tiempo, a través de los controles de precios y del tipo
de cambio. El esquema colapsó en enero de 1989. Sobrevino una
maxidevaluación, la inflación se disparó hasta 81% y la economía
se contrajo 10%. El Gobierno de Chávez está repitiendo los errores
de Lusinchi y todo indica que la economía colapsará en 2008,
exactamente igual que en 1989
Las señales de peligro están por todas partes. El crecimiento de
la economía se detiene. Las presiones inflacionarias aumentan.
Cada vez es más difícil obtener dólares al cambio oficial para
pagar las importaciones y el servicio de la deuda.
La fiesta está a punto de acabar. El extraordinario auge que
Venezuela ha disfrutado durante cuatro años gracias al petróleo se
está quedando sin aliento. En cuestión de un año, o dos a lo sumo,
la economía estará hundida en una profunda recesión, acompañada
por una crisis de Balanza de Pagos, una fuerte devaluación del
bolívar y una inflación descomunal.
Igual que en el Gobierno de Jaime Lusinchi de 1984-89, el de Hugo
Chávez ha alcanzado una ilusión de crecimiento y prosperidad que
se sustenta en un masivo gasto público. Igual que Lusinchi, Chávez
ha tratado de contener las distorsiones resultantes a través de
controles de precios y de cambio. El Gobierno de Lusinchi también
logró "estirar" las reservas internacionales del Banco Central, a
través de un procedimiento por el cual se "garantizaba" a los
importadores el acceso a dólares al cambio oficial a través de la
emisión de "cartas de crédito del Banco Central" con las que el
tenedor tenía derecho a cambiar bolívares por dólares al cambio
oficial seis meses después de la fecha de emisión de la carta de
Aunque todos ellos funcionaron, más o menos, por un tiempo, los
controles del Gobierno de Lusinchi fracasaron a principios de
1989, desencadenándose una profunda recesión (la economía no
petrolera cayó 9,6%), una devaluación masiva (de Bs.7,50:$ y Bs.
14,50:$ a Bs.43:$) y una inflación galopante (81%). Es más, el
Banco Central no pudo honrar el grueso de las cartas de crédito
por un monto de $6,9 millardos que estaban pendientes para ese
momento, viéndose muchos negocios forzados a la quiebra. Podría
haber sido peor si no hubiera sido por la rápida aplicación de un
programa de ajustes ortodoxo, aprobado por el Fondo Monetario
Ahora la historia vuelve a repetirse. La inflación sigue en
ascenso mientras las presiones de la oferta y la demanda están
ahogando los controles de precios. La Balanza de Pagos está en
déficit. Tras casi dos años de relativa estabilidad, el tipo de
cambio paralelo casi triplica el oficial de Bs.2.150:$. Las
cuentas fiscales del Gobierno cada vez tienen más cifras en rojo.
Todo apunta hacia una recesión de gran envergadura en 2008.
El análisis de la situación actual es complicado debido a la grave
falta de información confiable. El Gobierno ha publicado
estimaciones del presupuesto del gobierno central para este año,
pero no ha revelado ninguna información sobre el "presupuesto
paralelo", el cual incluye el gasto de Fonden ($16,5 millardos
dentro y fuera de Venezuela, durante 2006-2007) y el "programa de
inversión social" de PDVSA ($13,3 millardos sólo en 2006). Sin
embargo, existen muchos indicios de que los presupuestos
"combinados" se encuentran en graves problemas.
1) Aumento de impuestos: A partir del 15 de octubre, se aumentaron
los impuestos a las ventas de licores (de 10,0% a 20,0%), cerveza
(de 8.5,% a 15,0%) y cigarrillos (de 45% a 70%). Más importante
aún es que el Gobierno decretó un punitivo Impuesto a las
Transacciones Financieras (ITF), el cual es verdaderamente una
mina de oro. Está generando hasta Bs.2,0 billones este año y se
espera que aporte otros Bs.12,3 billones en 2008. Dado que el 1,5%
de impuesto se grava en cada etapa de la cadena de producción y
distribución, también es un impuesto altamente inflacionario.
Gracias al "efecto cascada", se anticipa que el 1,5 de ITF aumente
costos y, por ende, precios, al menos en 5,0%. Sólo se puede
suponer que el Gobierno estaba desesperado por los ingresos
adicionales que están generando estos impuestos: los gobiernos
normalmente no aumentan impuestos de 4 a 6 semanas antes de una
2) Endeudamiento marcadamente mayor: La deuda externa del sector
público alcanzó un total de $35,2 millardos para el 30 de
septiembre, de acuerdo con el Banco Central, una asombrosa cifra
de $8,3 millardos (30,8%) para lo que va de año. El sector público
se incrementó otros $1,55 millardos durante octubre y noviembre,
para un total de $9,85 millones hasta la fecha este año, una
cantidad equivalente a casi el doble del déficit proyectado
actualmente del gobierno central para 2007.
3) Ventas de activos: Durante los 12 últimos meses, PDVSA vendió
alrededor de $2,0 millardos de activos, incluyendo, entre otros,
el 41,2% de participación de Citgo en la refinería Lyondell en
Houston, dos pequeñas refinerías en Estados Unidos y las
instalaciones de almacenamiento Borco en Bahamas. Con el precio
del petróleo marcando máximos históricos, estas ventas son un
indicio claro de que en PDVSA y, por consiguiente, en el gobierno
central están cortos de dinero.
En pocas palabras, el Gobierno sigue publicando cifras que
sugieren que sus cuentas fiscales están en orden, pero sus
acciones sugieren otra cosa. En conjunto, los nuevos impuestos, un
endeudamiento marcadamente mayor y ventas de activos hacen pensar
en un Gobierno que está raspando la olla, que se está esforzando
por manejar un déficit fiscal que se está saliendo de control.
Otras variables macroeconómicas apuntan a que el asunto va más
allá de una crisis fiscal:
4) Balanza de Pagos: De acuerdo con el Banco Central, las reservas
internacionales del país se encuentran, básicamente, estables,
manteniéndose más o menos en equilibrio la entrada y salida de
divisas, a pesar de las importaciones récord de más de $42
millardos. Sin embargo, los empresarios se quejan por las cada vez
mayores demoras de Cadivi. Conindustria, por ejemplo, estima que
el atraso asciende ahora a los $18 millardos. De ser así, se puede
inferir que la Balanza de Pagos está registrando un déficit de $18
millardos. Además, PDVSA o la nación tienen que presentarse con
varios millardos de dólares para comprar bonos y ajustar las
cuentas con los socios de las asociaciones estratégicas y otros
que fueron obligados a migrar hacia empresas mixtas.
5) Tipo de cambio: A Bs.2.150:$, el bolívar está excesivamente
sobrevaluado. Las estimaciones de paridad competitiva fluctúan
entre Bs.4.000:$ y Bs.7.000:$. En los dos últimos meses, el dólar
permuta ha variado entre Bs.5.500:$ y un poco más de Bs.7.000:$.
Una brecha tan grande entre el tipo de cambio oficial y el
paralelo es una clara señal de que se avecinan problemas.
6) PDVSA: La estatal petrolera está cada vez está en menor
capacidad para generar el dinero que el Gobierno requiere para
financiar sus programas de gasto. En parte, se debe a la
incapacidad de la compañía para invertir lo suficiente en mantener
y aumentar la capacidad de producción. También se debe a que la
industria ha sido incapaz de reemplazar los 20.000 gerentes y
técnicos excelentemente capacitados que fueron despedidos porque
no estaban comprometidos con la revolución bolivariana. Y,
finalmente, también se debe a que el Gobierno de Chávez ha
despojado a la mayoría de sus socios extranjeros de la capacidad,
y responsabilidad, de operar las instalaciones que esos mismos
socios habían establecido durante la década que va desde mediados
de los 90 hasta mediados de la década del 2000. De acuerdo con
informaciones de la OPEP y de la Agencia Internacional de Energía
(AIE), Venezuela está produciendo en este momento alrededor de 2,4
millones de b/d, lo que significa que PDVSA "perdió" alrededor de
1,8 millones de b/d de capacidad de producción en ocho años, una
pérdida que fue compensada sólo parcialmente por los 800.000 b/d
de capacidad nueva que activaron las antiguas contratistas de
servicios y las asociaciones estratégicas de la Faja Petrolífera
del Orinoco. Pero podría ser peor: fuentes de la industria señalan
que la producción cayó a 2,1 millones de b/d, es decir alrededor
de 300.000 b/d por debajo de las estimaciones de la OPEP y la AIE.
Tomando en conjunto elementos como el déficit fiscal, un tipo de
cambio sobrevaluado, un déficit de la Balanza de Pagos y una
empresa petrolera estatal cada vez más ineficiente, debería ser
obvio que se avecina una crisis de proporciones considerables.
También es evidente que la forma más sencilla para resolver esta
crisis es a través de una fuerte devaluación del bolívar:
normalmente, una devaluación beneficia a los exportadores (reciben
más bolívares por sus dólares) mientras que penaliza a los
importadores (tienen que pagar más). En Venezuela, el Estado es el
principal beneficiario de una devaluación, pues a él corresponde
el grueso de las exportaciones de la nación. Y las ganancias
extraordinarias atribuibles a la devaluación son precisamente lo
que el Gobierno necesita para aumentar el gasto y financiar el
Pero una devaluación de esta naturaleza desencadenaría el caos
dentro del sector privado, especialmente si, como parece probable,
una gran parte del retraso de Cadivi en el otorgamiento de divisas
termina siendo liquidada al nuevo tipo de cambio (Bs.4.000:$ o
Bs.F.4,00:$). Esta situación sería muy parecida a lo que sucedió
con los empresarios en 1989, quienes pagaron los platos rotos
cuando el Banco Central no honró alrededor de $6,9 millardos de
sus "cartas de crédito").
Una devaluación también implicaría aumentos de precios. Los
controles actuales de precios ya están demostrando que son
inútiles pues la mayoría de los bienes de consumo básicos se están
vendiendo a más del doble del precio regulado, lo que significa
que el impacto de una devaluación probablemente sería transferido
rápidamente a los consumidores.
De esta manera, la inflación podría llegar fácilmente a 50%,
incluso 75%, este año.
Finalmente, dado que la expansión actual de la economía se ha
fundamentado en el consumo y no en la producción, cabría anticipar
una fuerte contracción, del orden de 10%, más o menos.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: February 20, 2008, 04:44:13 AM
1. The March 2008 issue of the AELE Monthly Law Journal is online, with three new articles:
* Enforceability of Civil Liability Release Agreements
* Regulation of Off-Duty Activities - Sexual Conduct
* Legal Issues Pertaining to Inmate Property
Access the Law Journal's menu page at http://www.aele.org/law/MLJ2008MAR.html
2. The March 2008 issues of AELE's three periodicals have been uploaded. The current issues, back issues since 2000, three 30+ year case digests, and a search engine are FREE. Everyone is welcome to read, print or download AELE publications without charge. The main menu is at: http://www.aele.org/law
Among 100 different cases noted, there are several that warrant mention here:
*** Law Enforcement Liability Reporter ***
* Firearms Related: Intentional Use
Officer who fatally shot a a man outside his home was entitled to qualified immunity when the decedent had threatened to commit violent acts, was armed with a knife, refused to comply with repeated orders to drop the knife, and raised the knife blade above his shoulder and pointed it towards officers. Larsen v. Murr, #06-1094, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 25 (10th Cir.).http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/10th/061094p.pdf
* Restraint Asphyxia
Deputy sheriffs were not entitled to qualified immunity in a lawsuit claiming that they used excessive force in removing a morbidly obese man from a courtroom after he was found in contempt of court, causing him to die after several deputies allegedly placed themselves on his back while he was on the floor. Richman v. Sheahan, #07-1487, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 200 (7th Cir.). Viewable at: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/7th/071487p.pdf
*** Fire and Police Personnel Reporter ***
* Disciplinary Interviews
Divided Ninth Circuit panel rejects a civil rights suit brought by deputies that were required to remain on duty to assist superiors with a criminal investigation of an unlawful use of force. They were paid overtime, were allowed to contact counsel and were not treated like criminal suspects.
"A law enforcement officer is not seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment simply because a supervisor orders him to remain at work after the termination of his shift or to come into the station to submit to questioning about the discharge of his duties as a peace officer."
Dissenting judge noted that the deputies "weren't told they were free to leave, and they weren't told they didn't have to answer questions." Aguilera v. Baca, #05-56617, 510 F.3d 1161 (9th Cir.). Viewable at: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/9th/0556617p.pdf
*** Jail and Prisoner Law Bulletin ***
Two Rastafarian and three Muslim inmates lose their suit challenging a policy prohibiting them from wearing beards. The Fourth Circuit cited a need to suppress contraband, to maintain discipline, security, health and safety, and to prevent inmates from quickly changing their appearance. McRae v. Johnson, #06-7548, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 246 (4th Cir.). Viewable at http://pacer.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinion.pdf/067548.U.pdf
3. The Massachusetts Municipal Police Institute has published a 102 page Search Warrant Applications Manual, prepared by MPCA General Counsel Jack Collins. Although focused on Massachusetts law, it can be used as a model to prepare a similar document for other states. It can be downloaded in PDF format at:http://www.municipalpoliceinstitute.org/documents/SEARCH_WARRANT_APPLICATIONS_MANUAL_Illustrated.pdf
4. Jack Collins also has authored two recent articles for Police Chief magazine:
* Salary Exempt Employees under the FLSA, Jan. 2008
* Handling Discrimination Retaliation Claims, Dec. 2007
Downloadable at http://policechiefmagazine.org/
AELE's 2008 seminar brochures are on the website at http://www.aele.org/Seminars.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF
on: February 19, 2008, 11:03:04 AM
A male patient is lying in bed in the hospital, wearing an oxygen mask
over his mouth and nose, still heavily sedated from a difficult, four
hour, surgical procedure.
A young nurse appears to give him a partial sponge bath.
"Nurse," he mumbles, from behind the mask, "Are my testicles black?"
Embarrassed, the young nurse replies, "I don't know, sir, I'm only here
to wash your upper body and feet."
He struggles to ask again, "Nurse, are my testicles black?"
Concerned that he might elevate his vital signs from worry about his
testicles, she overcomes her embarrassment & sheepishly pulls back the
covers. She raises his gown, holds it in one hand and carefully takes his
testicles in the other, lifting and moving them around. Then she takes a
close look & gently replaces his gown & bedding. "There's nothing
wrong with them, sir."
With difficulty, the man pulls off his oxygen mask, smiles at her and says
slowly, "Thank you very much. That was really wonderful, but, listen
very, very closely.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Webster
on: February 19, 2008, 06:09:02 AM
"It is an object of vast magnitude that systems of education should
be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge
of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American
youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them
with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable
attachment to their own country."
-- Noah Webster (On Education of Youth in America, 1790)
Reference: The Learning of Liberty, Prangle and Prangle (126);
original Noah Webster: Schoolmaster to America, Harry Warfel (42)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: February 19, 2008, 02:32:01 AM
Friday, 15 February 2008
From Obama Says US Must End Gun Violence:
Feb 15, 12:14 PM (ET)
By NEDRA PICKLER
MILWAUKEE (AP) - Barack Obama says the country must do "whatever it takes" to eradicate gun violence but believes in the right to bear arms.
Obama says he's offered his Senate office to help Northern Illinois University with the investigation into a campus shooting rampage. The shooting happened in his home state. Obama was campaigning in neighboring Wisconsin.
The senator, a former constitutional law instructor, says he believes the Second Amendment to the Constitution grants individual gun rights.
But he says it's subject to commonsense regulations like background checks.
I just have to ask: After everything he has said and done, does he actually think we believe or trust him?
More on the Constitutional Right to Sporting Goods
Monday, 04 February 2008
From the AP:
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic Sen. Barack Obama assured Western voters Saturday he believes in Jesus as well as the rights of gun owners.
The presidential candidate warned people about hoax e-mails they may get saying he’s secretly a Muslim who might want to destroy the United States.
“I’ve been going to the same church for 20 years, praising Jesus,” the Illinois senator told more than 10,000 people packed into Boise State’s basketball arena. He is a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago…
…”And then there are people who say, ‘well he doesn’t believe in the Second Amendment,’ even though I come from a state — we’ve got a lot of hunters in downstate Illinois. And I have no intention of taking away folks’ guns.”
Obama didn’t mention that he does support gun control and has a record of voting for it in the Illinois Senate. He backed limiting handgun purchases to one a month, but he made no attempts to ban them. Today, he stands by his support for controls while trying to reassure hunters that he has no interest in interfering with their access to firearms.
Well I have a few questions:
Barack, do you support my right to carry bowling balls? How about those extra-heavy, 15 pound, assault balls?
Do you support my right to shoot someone in my apartment who has invaded, unannounced and uninvited pointing a knife or gun at me?
How about if I live in the Chicago slums?
How about if I live downstate a mile from my nearest neighbor, 20 miles from the nearest cop?
These questions may seem completely unrelated, but according to Barack, they are not.
According to Barack, the Second Amendment is about hunting traditions from rural areas and has nothing to do with individual's rights.
And according to Barack, hunters should have access go guns while those in the inner city should be restricted because of the danger.
I am not sure where is he going with this or how he might attempt to accomplish it, but it sounds like we are heading back towards the racist roots of gun control.
Obama Calls for Permanent Assault Weapons Ban to Combat Inner-City Violence
Saturday, 19 January 2008
Hat tip to Traction Control from Fox News :
Sunday, July 15, 2007
He also said government should support and fund more after-school programs to keep kids off the streets. But some of the burden must also be shouldered by residents who need to do more to raise and protect at-risk children, he added."We have an entire generation of young men in our society who have become products of violence, and we are going to have to break the cycle," Obama said. "There are too many young men out there who have gone down the wrong path."He later added, "There's a reason they go out and shoot each other, because they don't love themselves. And the reason they don't love themselves is because we are not loving them enough."
CHICAGO — Standing before a church congregation that has witnessed inner-city violence firsthand, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Sunday that more must be done to end a social ill that is "sickening the soul of this nation."
Obama told churchgoers at the Vernon Park Church of God on Chicago's South Side that too many young lives are being claimed by violence and more must be done to combat the problem.
"From South Central L.A. to Newark, New Jersey, there's an epidemic of violence that's sickening the soul of this nation," the Illinois senator told the crowd. "The violence is unacceptable and it's got to stop."
Nearly three dozen Chicago students have been killed this year, according to Chicago Public Schools. Obama said that figure is higher than the number of Illinois serviceman who've died in Iraq in 2007.
"We need to express our collective anger through collective action," Obama said.
He said the government needs to permanently reinstate an assault weapons ban and close regulatory loopholes that protect unscrupulous gun dealers.
He also said government should support and fund more after-school programs to keep kids off the streets. But some of the burden must also be shouldered by residents who need to do more to raise and protect at-risk children, he added.
"We have an entire generation of young men in our society who have become products of violence, and we are going to have to break the cycle," Obama said. "There are too many young men out there who have gone down the wrong path."
He later added, "There's a reason they go out and shoot each other, because they don't love themselves. And the reason they don't love themselves is because we are not loving them enough."
From the New York Post
Wednesday, 26 December 2007
GOING BARACK & FORTH
FLIPS AFTER '96 ON EXECUTIONS, GUNS
December 23, 2007 -- Barack Obama has been flip-flopping like a carp on a boat deck, changing his position over the years on everything from the death penalty to the Patriot Act to Cuba, a review of his record shows.
The Illinois senator's views became markedly more conservative as he drew close to running for president.
On the death penalty, for instance, the Oprah heartthrob was a strong foe back in 1996 when he ran for the Illinois state Senate, according to a questionnaire from a political activist group that he filled out at the time. The answers were reviewed by The Associated Press.
But this year, he's been throwing some red meat to pro-execution voters around the country by saying he supports pulling the switch on those who commit particularly heinous crimes.
On gun control, Obama changed direction since 1996, when he called for a ban on all handgun possession and sales in Illinois.
In 2004, on another questionnaire, he backed off, saying a ban is "not politically practicable."
And so on....Going Barack and Forth
D.C. Gun Ban Constitutional!
Friday, 23 November 2007
But the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said that he "...believes that we can recognize and respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and the right of local communities to enact common sense laws to combat violence and save lives. Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional."
From the Chicago Tribune.
The Joyce Foundation
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
The Joyce Foundation is a liberal, charitable foundation that, among other things, funds gun control groups. According to Wikipedia :
Since 2003, the Joyce Foundation has paid grants totaling over $12 million to gun control organizations and for research into gun violence prevention. The largest single grantee has been the Violence Policy Center, which received $4,154,970 between 1996 and 2006, and calls for an outright ban on handguns, semi-automatic and other firearms, and substantial restrictions on gun owners.
Conveniently, the Joyce Foundation has a list of the gun control funding grants here .
The Joyce Foundation's Annual Reports list Barack Obama as one of the 12 members of the Board of Directors from 1998 until 2001 .
From a Very Unexpected Source: The Daily Kos
Monday, 06 August 2007
Obama gunning to lose in 2008.
Nobody said that winning the Congress with a BlueDog approach would make for an easy honeymoon -- just witness the party's rage over this week's vote (myself included) -- but no-one can challenge that our win in 2006 has begun the change that this nation sorely needed. But as if right on time to scuttle our success, news comes out that Obama has finally begun to talk about firearms and gun control and frankly, the position he is taking will only mean the loss of BlueDog, rural, libertarian leaning, and gun owning Democrats...
So many of us have been waiting for more clarity on many of Obama's positions and one of those has been his position on American gun ownership. This month he is making himself clearly heard:
Obama delivers message tough on guns
Just days prior to announcing his urban agenda aimed at combating urban poverty, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama entered Vernon Park Church of God on July 15 to a thunderous applause from a supportive crowd with a message challenging the gun lobby, criticizing the Bush administration and issuing a call to action for Black men.
“Our playgrounds have become battlegrounds. Our streets have become cemeteries. Our schools have become places to mourn the ones we’ve lost,” said the Illinois senator. “I’m sick and tired of seeing our young people gunned down.”
Sen. Obama decried the inaction on the part of the Bush administration to ban assault rifles, mentioning that the nearly three dozen children killed in Chicago this year is higher than the number of Illinois servicemen who have died in Iraq.
The clear implication of this statement is that Obama belives that Chicago's violent crimes are to be solved at a national level -- since Chicago & IL already have VERY tough gun control laws that have not stopped their crime problems--, and to be solved by gun control legislation specifically mentioning the 1994 "Assault Weapons Ban" and blaming Bush for that ban's lack of renewal.
Read more at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/8/6/104556/3837
The Right to Bear Sporting Goods
Friday, 15 June 2007
The Blue Steel Democrats blog Senator Obama's Position on Gun Ownership Rights.
Obama says U.S. needs to review gun policies
Sunday, 22 April 2007
April 20, 2007
NASHUA, N.H. --Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said this week's shooting at Virginia Tech highlights serious shortcomings with gun control.
"We're still selling handguns to crazy people," Obama said during a campaign stop at a Nashua senior center on Friday. "We're supposed to have a system that these people are screened out. What's clear is the background check system in this case failed entirely."
Actually, the perp was never involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, so was not a prohibited person on those grounds.
Read more at http://www.boston.com/news/local/new_hampshire/articles/2007/04/20/obama_says_us_needs_to_review_gun_policies/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: February 19, 2008, 02:26:33 AM
BO meets with Bloomberg?!?http://wcbstv.com/topstories/barack.obama.michael.2.599317.html
NEW YORK (CBS) ― Just when the speculation seemed to simmer to silence, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has once again turned up the heat on the presidential hot stove.
The Independent mayor had a mystery breakfast meeting in Manhattan Friday morning with Democratic candidate Barack Obama, a move that could irk the Hillary Clinton campaign seeing as, after all, New York is her turf.
Bloomberg has repeatedly asserted he plans to complete his entire mayoral term and keep out of the presidential race, but he sure knows how to tease the masses.
Obama and Bloomberg met on a coffee date, scheduled because of their "mutual interest." The billionaire mayor and the Illinois senator chatted over eggs and potatoes early Friday at the New York Luncheonette on East 50th Street.
"We are trying to push our agenda because it helps New Yorkers, and because what's worked in New York will work elsewhere," said Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser. "There are a lot of people we'd like to speak to and we're going to continue to press our case."
Security closed the diner to regular customers while the politicians were there.
Members of the media gathered outside the glass window next to the booth where the pair appeared to partake in quite the serious conversation, with Obama keeping his index and middle fingers glued to his temple as he listened intently to an animated Bloomberg.
After the 45 minute meal, Obama picked up the $17.34 check, and he left a generous $10 tip, according to their waitress, Judith Perez.
"When I took the order, I was very nervous," she admitted.
Obama and Bloomberg then said their goodbyes, leaving in separate cars without addressing the media throng.
Loeser said among the topics discussed were global warming, homeland security, education, and the economy. He added that Bloomberg wasn't there for any other agenda such as joining forces as Obama's wingman against Clinton.
Thursday night, Obama made his first trip to Harlem as a presidential candidate, and the Apollo Theater was a packed with a sold out crowd charged just $50 each to see him. Before his visit to the Apollo, Obama paid his respects to one of Harlem's top powerbrokers in Rev. Al Sharpton, who says he hasn't decided who he is supporting.
Still the meeting sent a warning to Clinton that Harlem could be up for grabs.
"I trust him," said Harlem resident Angela Dews. "Hillary is slick. Democrats are taking us for granted."
By having breakfast with Obama, Bloomberg is doing what he said he would do while not running for president and dropping his Republican party affiliation: he is injecting himself into the national dialogue to try to influence the debate.
"I am going to speak out on those issues," Bloomberg said in June. "By not being affiliated with a party I think I'm going to have a better opportunity to do that."
Obama "is a person who is not only setting policy in the senate, he's also one of the handful of people who are shaping the national debate," Loeser said.
A spokesman for Obama, Robert Gibbs, said the men share a similar view: that Washington has been consumed by partisan politics.
Earlier this week, Bloomberg dined with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, so today's mysterious photo-op with the Democrat Obama may be his way of showing how non-partisan he is in the presidential race.
Bloomberg speaks well of her publicly, but there is speculation he wanted to annoy Clinton, because she did not endorse him when he ran for mayor as a Republican. The two last met at the Sept. 11 anniversary ceremony, and their last private meeting was in March, Loeser said.
CBS 2's Magee Hickey, Marcia Kramer, and Steve Fink contributed to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kosovo
on: February 19, 2008, 02:18:56 AM
The Russian press (which is to say, the state-controlled media) was deathly quiet about Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia on Monday. Even the basic reports of states’ initial recognitions of Kosovo showed up hours late.
Historically, when Russian newspapers are silent, it means one of two things: First, there could be a total lack of consensus and direction among Moscow’s upper leadership regarding what to do — which typically sets the stage for a palace coup. Such silence reigned after the Cuban Missile Crisis and just before the fall of Nikita Khrushchev, as well as after the 1999 NATO-Yugoslav War, which led to Vladimir Putin’s rise. Second, the Kremlin could have a major plan on which it is about to act. Such quietness also preceded the building of the Berlin Wall and the 1979 attack against Afghanistan.
In the face of the major powers’ recognition of an independent Belgrade, Moscow needs to repair the image of Russian power — both in the former Soviet Union and in Europe itself. But it is not enough simply to expand and entrench Russia’s influence somewhere. To regain its credibility, Russia must strike back at those that made Kosovar independence possible: the European Union and NATO.
This eliminates many of Russia’s options. For example, pushing hard in Georgia by annexing the Caucasian state’s two separatist regions might represent a kind of victory for the Kremlin and serve certain Russian interests, but at the end of the day, Georgia is a peripheral concern for the Europeans. Russia needs to move in a region in which Europe has a direct stake.
The list of possibilities is brutally short. There really are only three points where Russian options significantly overlap with European vulnerabilities. The first is Ukraine, which the Europeans have marked for eventual EU membership. But “eventual” is the key word here; while Ukraine is high on Europe’s “to-integrate” list, real work has not yet begun there. Additionally, Russia already is neck-deep in Ukrainian politics, so any surge might prove difficult to identify. Russia needs far more than a token victory — it needs to hit where Europe can feel the impact.
The second option is the Finnish frontier. The European who has taken point for the bulk of the EU Kosovo policy is Martti Ahtisaari, who served as prime minister of Finland — and, incidentally, held the rotating presidency of the European Union — when the first Kosovo crisis erupted in 1998. He has since served as the U.N. mediator on the Kosovo issue. The EU plan for Kosovo’s guided independence largely is his brainchild. Add in a century of complex relations between Finland and Russia, and a Finno-Russian crisis could fit the bill.
But there are problems with this strategy. Russia has no real tools for pressuring Finland, shy of a military invasion. Moscow is angry, but it does not want to start a hot war, and Finland’s military exists for but one reason: to defend against a Russian attack. During the Cold War, Russia was powerful enough to cow Finland into neutrality, but Russian power is no longer sufficient enough to intimidate Helsinki to that degree. In the aftermath of a Russian defeat over Kosovo, a Russian military move against Finland actually could result in a close NATO-Finland relationship that might even include NATO membership for Helsinki. This only would compound Russia’s humiliation.
The final option involves the three Baltic republics: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. These former Soviet states house substantial Russian minorities, and each has a reputation for seizing whatever opportunity it can to twist the Russian tail. Unlike Finland, the Baltics are not militarily capable of attempting a reasonable independent defense. The only thing preventing a Russian move against the Baltics is the risk of a NATO or EU reaction — all three Baltic states are members of both organizations. Yet, unlike the former Warsaw Pact states of Central Europe, the Baltics lack the infrastructure connections to the core of Europe that would enable them to be defended easily by NATO allies. They sport no NATO bases of military significance, and the only NATO member with a meaningful expeditionary capability is the United States, which has all of its deployable troops locked down in Iraq.
Russia hardly needs to conquer these three states to prove its point. Simply using military force to settle a minor border dispute — even one over a space as small as a few acres — would be sufficient. Russia needs to pick a fight it can win, as well as one that humiliates NATO and the European Union. The Baltics could provide the only potential crisis that delivers both.
Moscow has always thought that NATO security guarantees are not worth the paper they are written on. If Russia is to avoid being pushed not only out of the Balkans but also eventually out of its own periphery — and if Putin is going to secure his own skin (to say nothing of his legacy) — the Kremlin might finally have to test that position.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Condemned Afghan man's defenders seal his fate (WTF?)
on: February 18, 2008, 08:38:24 PM
LATimes. Note the *ssbackwards thought process of the article-- no surprise, its the Left Angeles Times.
CLASH OF VALUES: Afghans in Jalalabad protest the death sentence of student and journalist Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, convicted for downloading an Internet article questioning a Muslim precept. A Western outcry may stiffen conservatives’ resolve.
An international outcry is brewing on behalf of the 23-year-old, condemned to death on blasphemy laws. But protests may increase religious conservatives' resolve to assert their independence.
By Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 18, 2008
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Family members describe Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh as a frightened young man, sitting in a cramped Afghan prison cell alongside 30 hard-core criminals, hoping an apology will save him from execution for blasphemy.
But to the outside world, the 23-year-old student and journalist has become a cause: a symbol of Afghanistan's clashing constitutional commitments to freedom of expression yet also to Islamic law that allows apostasy to be punished by death. His sentence, imposed after a closed-door trial during which he was not permitted a lawyer or a hearing, has become a rallying cry for foreign critics who want Afghanistan to hew to international norms on human rights.
The question now is whether international protests will save Kaambakhsh from a firing squad, or instead stiffen the spines of religious conservatives who fear that Afghanistan's morals are being diluted by imported Western values.
The student's troubles began when he downloaded an article written by an Iranian writer living in Europe that questioned the Islamic precept of allowing men to take several wives. Kaambakhsh, a journalist in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, was arrested in October after he circulated copies of the article at the city's Balkh University.
He was convicted and sentenced to death on Jan. 22. Kaambakhsh has told his family he expects to die, but many Afghans expect the death sentence to eventually be rescinded. The student still has the right to appeal to two higher courts and, as a last resort, President Hamid Karzai has authority to commute his penalty to a jail term.
"We have talked to experts in Sharia [Islamic] law who say there are no executions for blasphemy when the accused apologizes," said Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, the condemned man's brother. "And my brother has apologized lots of times."
But many Afghans also say the mounting international pressure against the death sentence is creating a populist backlash against foreign meddling in the country's justice system. That hostility complicates matters for Karzai, whose room to maneuver is already limited by his deepening unpopularity and the perception that he is a U.S. puppet.
"These are the worst kinds of cases for Karzai," said Sherin Aqa Manawi, deputy head of the Ulema Council, Afghanistan's central body of religious scholars. "It was a normal case before the courts until the West made it into a big deal. But when the West interfered, they cornered Karzai.
"He is caught between showing the West that he's bringing democracy and human rights to Afghanistan," said Manawi, "and on the other hand showing Afghans that he supports their religious leaders."
Kaambakhsh's brother calls the sentence "a very emotional decision by the court," whose prosecutor and judges lacked the sophistication to understand the difference between downloading an article and writing it.
"The judges did not even know the difference between a keyboard and a monitor," Ibrahimi said.
Afghans who are aware of the debate are divided over the sentence. Some, -- such as Ahmad Romal, a 21-year-old Kabul University student -- argue, "If there is no death penalty, then these kinds of un-Islamic activities will continue."
Others say the sentence represents the religious extremism that was supposed to have been banished with the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. "We shouldn't let anyone implement laws like the Taliban did," said Mohammed Abraham, 65, a former teacher. "I hope they forgive him and give him a chance."
Organizations ranging from the United Nations mission in Afghanistan to Reporters Without Borders have joined a Western chorus urging Karzai to spare Kaambakhsh.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband raised the case with the Afghan president during meetings this month in Kabul. And NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned last week in a major speech to a security conference in Munich, Germany, that "there should be understanding from our Afghan friends that we have great difficulty to accept a death sentence for a young journalist for downloading an article from the Internet."
"Public support in our societies for our soldiers' presence in Afghanistan will erode," he said, "if we do not agree on the universal values we are defending, together with our Afghan friends."
Karzai has said only that "at the end of the day, justice will be done in the right way."
Afghan critics of Kaambakhsh's death sentence fear that the foreign pressure could prove counterproductive.
"The international community should know that Afghanistan has its rules and laws," said Habiba Danesh, a parliament member who agrees that Kaambakhsh should have been allowed a defense lawyer and an open trial. Still, she said, "Afghanistan should be left to make its decision in light of its judicial system."
There is also lingering ill will from a 2006 case in which an Islamic court passed a death sentence against Abdur Rahman, a Muslim who converted to Christianity. After a storm of international protest led by the Bush administration, his conviction was dismissed for technical reasons and Rahman fled to Italy.
Some Afghans still argue that Rahman escaped justice. And they are suspicious about Kaambakhsh's motives. Manawi of the Ulema Council accuses many young journalists of "intentionally creating trouble in order to get famous, or even as a way to get citizenship in Western countries."
The condemned man's brother said pressure on Karzai from foreign governments can be helpful if it remains low-key. Letters to Karzai and the Supreme Court are fine, Ibrahimi said. But a drumbeat of foreign criticism could further sour public opinion.
"Afghans are an emotional people, and they take decisions emotionally. If there is pressure from outside, and people see it on TV, it will cause a big reaction by fundamentalist groups. Fundamentalist groups want to make an example of this case. They want to shock young Afghans. The mullahs can turn people against my brother," he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Our Founding Fathers:
on: February 18, 2008, 01:25:34 PM
Second post of the morning, from the LA Times:
A tussle over the founding fathers' words
BEN THERE: A portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Wright. Scholars are transcribing and annotating the writings of Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
It will take decades for historians to finish editing the volumes. But some scholars want them online now.
By Sarah D. Wire, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 18, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The names and public acts of the founding fathers are familiar to many Americans, but their thoughts have remained largely a mystery.
"People think it would be difficult to touch them as who they were," historian David McCullough told a recent Senate hearing. "And it is, except in what they wrote."
For 65 years, scholars have been compiling, transcribing and annotating the writings of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. By the time the work is completed in 2049, the letters, diaries, official papers and other writings of the historical figures will be chronicled in 341 volumes, each 600 to 800 pages.
On Feb. 7, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from scholars, librarians and others seeking to improve public access to the papers while the bound volumes are finished over the next 41 years. The consensus was that the papers should be available online, but there was little agreement on how -- and how rapidly -- that should be accomplished.
Brian Lee, a spokesman for the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provides financial support for the project, said in an interview that it was crucial to get the papers online quickly, and the fastest way to do that was "in the form of nonedited papers."
Such a move concerns historians, who gain as much from the editors' annotations of each detail as from the original words. "The footnotes are pure gold," McCullough told the panel. "Many are masterpieces of close scholarship."
Editing the documents is not a process that can be rushed, scholars said.
First, the documents are gathered from archives, libraries, private homes and other depositories. Then an editor transcribes each page, which may be blurred, faded or damaged.
After that, the transcription is annotated to identify each significant person, event and place mentioned in the text.
Editors then compare it with all other known texts of the document and note any variations.
Such close study is costly and time-consuming. So far, nearly $60 million in private and public money has been spent on the project. Rebecca W. Rimel, president and chief executive of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has contributed more than $7.5 million, told the Senate panel that about one volume per founding father is completed each year.
The bound, annotated copies will be most beneficial to scholars, said Stanley N. Katz, a professor of public affairs at Princeton University and chairman of Papers of the Founding Fathers Inc., an umbrella group that raises money for the project.
But he acknowledged that the public would have easier access to the documents if they were online.
About two-thirds of the volumes have been published. Because Hamilton was only 49 when he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, he left fewer papers than the other five. The collection of his writings is the only one to be completed. One volume of the Hamilton papers costs $180; the complete set of 27 volumes is $2,600.
"We don't imagine any individual is going to buy these series," Katz said last week.
There is a split over where to put the online versions. Papers of the Founding Fathers supports digitization of "fully verified, scrupulously accurate texts" on a fee-based website at the University of Virginia Press. The Pew Charitable Trusts supports placing unannotated documents, along with digitized versions of the volumes as they are produced, "on a single, easily accessible and searchable website, such as that of the Library of Congress."
"It ought to be free to everyone," Rimel told the panel. "These are the founders' words."
In a September 2006 letter to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the editors of the five ongoing projects -- based at the University of Virginia, Princeton and Yale universities, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation -- said that if they were given $13 million, all of the papers could be searchable online through a single database within five years.
The editors' plan would digitize the papers of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison and make them available through Rotunda, an online publication service of the University of Virginia Press.
Franklin's and Hamilton's would be added online later. The plan calls for increasing staff and office space, as well as improving coordination among the five projects, which work independently.
Rotunda began digitizing the published volumes of the Washington papers in 2004, paid for by Mount Vernon and the University of Virginia. Even without a secure source of funding, the online project is moving forward, with Adams' papers due next month and Jefferson's and Madison's expected in the next year.
The price for access to all four presidents' papers has not been set. It is expected to be a sliding scale. For example, to gain access to the Washington papers already on the Rotunda site, individuals and high schools pay a one-time fee of $663, with prices increasing to $6,630 for large research universities.
"Once a library buys it, they have it forever," said Penelope J. Kaiserlian, director of the University of Virginia Press.
But the cost could prevent the public from getting the papers, said Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for library services at the Library of Congress.
She urged the senators to support placing an online version, including unannotated papers, at her institution, which she said already had digitized copies of the presidential papers of Washington, Jefferson and Madison.
"The scholarly editions in their current form are serving the scholarly community well, but we serve a different audience," she said.
Historians emphasized that placing the information online or speeding the process should not be allowed to affect the quality of the work.
The papers' editors, McCullough told the committee, "are the best in the business, and the high quality of the work they do need not [and] must not be jeopardized or vitiated in order to speed up the rate of production. There really should be no argument about that."
McCullough, who said he supported increased funding so that additional staff could be hired, noted that he had relied extensively on the founding fathers' papers for two of his bestselling books, "1776" and the Pulitzer-winning "John Adams."
"Their value is unassailable, immeasurable. They are superbly edited. They are thorough. They are accurate," he said, adding: "I know how essential the papers are to our understanding those great Americans and their time."