Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Communicating with the Muslim World
on: July 25, 2007, 11:50:30 AM
Wasn't quite sure in which thread to put this one.
Support for suicide bombings against civilians has fallen sharply across the Muslim world since 2002, a major survey has suggested.
However, 70% of Palestinians interviewed said they believed such attacks were sometimes justifiable.
The Global Opinion Trends survey, by the US-based Pew Research Centre, polled 45,000 people in 47 countries.
It also found widespread optimism in poor countries that the next generation will enjoy better lives.
And it suggested that people viewed the US as the most friendly country in the world and the most feared.
In Lebanon, Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia, the proportion of Muslims who support suicide bombing has declined by half or more since 2002.
But in areas of conflict, the results are different - 70% of Palestinians said that suicide bombings against civilians were sometimes justifiable.
There is also declining support among Muslims for Osama Bin Laden. In Jordan, just 20% express a lot or some confidence in Bin Laden, down from 56% four years ago.
However, the survey found broad concern among Muslims that tensions between Sunni and Shia are not limited to Iraq and represent a growing problem for the Muslim world.
The survey also suggests that as countries and families grow richer, optimism increases, as well as support for ruling governments.
In Latin America, the poll results indicate that despite the electoral success of a new generation of left-wing leaders, the majority of respondents believe that people are better off living in a market economy.
Story from BBC NEWS:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/h...as/6914959.stm
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica
on: July 25, 2007, 11:23:58 AM
Finally, there is Latin America's most bombastic autocrat, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. We have not heard much from Chavez for several months, not because he has stopped his rhetorical entertainment but because his political grip on Venezuela has become so tight that there really is not much to talk about. The opposition is weak and divided; the populace is either scared by Chavez's AK-47-armed thugs or has been bought off by his subsidies; and the bulk of the economic elite is busy relocating to Miami.
As such, our net assessment of Venezuela has been that Chavez will continue to rule unopposed until his economic policies run the country into the ground and his support base -- which includes the aforementioned AK-47-armed thugs -- turns on him. When Chavez took office in 1999, Venezuelan oil output stood at a record 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd). Between support for stricter quotas for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a political purge of the state oil company and subsequent malign neglect of the energy sector, the country now produces slightly less than 2.4 million bpd. Toss in oil's standard volatility and sooner or later Venezuela's finances -- along with Chavez's presidential fortunes -- are going to crash.
But something else happened Tuesday that could hasten Chavez's end: The Venezuelan president now is openly picking fights with the Catholic Church. Chavez lashed out at Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, after Maradiaga said in an interview with the Venezuelan press that Chavez "seems to think that he is a god and can trample over others."
In response, Chavez pulled out the old rhetoric he normally reserves for the Bush administration, calling the cardinal an "imperialist clown." Tensions between Chavez and the Church have been building for weeks, but this exchange made it deeply personal.
Without getting into the details of the cardinal's logic, the nature of the interview or an analysis of Chavez's personality, let us say this was not a particularly bright move. The Catholic Church is many things, but it is not geopolitically insignificant. The Church's moral authority -- to say nothing of the ability of an organization with 1 billion members to gather, disseminate and act upon intelligence -- is massive, particularly in Latin America.
Historically, when the Church has felt it necessary, it has wielded remarkable political power and contributed to regime changes the world over, including the demise of the now-fallen Soviet superpower. It is a foe that Chavez does not need. And, if push comes to shove, it is a foe he probably cannot beat.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Negotiations with Iran
on: July 25, 2007, 11:01:30 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Progress on Iraq
In a meeting preceded by the diplomatic equivalent of a handful of cayenne pepper to the eye, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker met for seven hours on Tuesday with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, and an Iraqi delegation in Baghdad's Green Zone. This is the second round of direct public U.S.-Iranian talks over Iraq following a May 27 meeting, which also was held in the Iraqi capital.
Crocker astutely laid the groundwork for good relations ahead of the meeting, accusing the Iranians of increasing their backing of Shiite militia death squads, while the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued similarly warm statements lambasting the United States for using "psychological warfare."
Remember when Stratfor said that both sides ultimately want to bury the hatchet in order to prevent an Iraqi nightmare, but that they cannot do so until they have prepped their respective publics for regular contact with "the enemy"? Obviously, we are not there yet.
Luckily, the cayenne cloud was largely a smokescreen for what appears to be some real progress in the "full and frank" negotiations. While the talks theoretically were limited to Iraq, they quickly expanded to include other "bilateral issues" -- code for Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran hopes to use as a trump card for extracting concessions from Washington in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iran separately -- and simultaneously -- agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to send nuclear inspectors by the end of July to Iran's heavy-water reactor site in Arak. This kind of reactor is valued primarily for its ability to quickly produce large amounts of plutonium, an element that is critical to the production of mushroom clouds. It is no coincidence that Iran is putting up a cooperative front on the nuclear issue just as the Iraq talks move forward.
More important, Iran and the United States now appear to have made enough progress to begin implementing agreements from the May meeting. After the second round of talks, Crocker said the U.S., Iraqi and Iranian governments plan to create a security committee to discuss containing violence in Iraq, addressing everything from "support for violent militias" to al Qaeda to border security.
Translation: The two countries will create a purge committee; the United States will kill any Iraqi Sunnis who do not cooperate, while the Iranians do the same to rebellious Iraqi Shia.
Now that the expectations have been set, the coming days will give us an idea of who will sit on this committee and when it will begin operations. But there is still one large task at hand. After all, though Washington clearly has more cards to play with the Sunnis, and the Iranians pull substantial weight among the Shia, this does not mean compliance will come easily. We use the words "purge" and "kill" for good reason; there are many in (and beyond) Iraq who are terrified of any U.S.-Iranian detente.
Directly after Tuesday's meeting in Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari telephoned his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moualem, to brief him on the talks and set up a working meeting with Iraq's regional neighbors to coordinate security. At the very least, this development suggests that Damascus is interested in helping out (for its own reasons, of course) -- and having that particular loose end tied up means the Iraq security plan might actually have better than a snowball's chance in hell of working.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: July 25, 2007, 10:13:36 AM
What makes you assume that CNN chose the questions fairly?
“These are not debates, these are auditions. By definition, the psychology of an audition reduces the person auditioning and raises the status, for example, of Chris Matthews... I have no interest in the current political process. I have no interest in trying to figure out how I can go out and raise money under John McCain’s insane censorship rules so I can show up to do seven minutes and twenty seconds at some debate.” —Newt Gingrich
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: July 25, 2007, 10:08:08 AM
I found this article to be very interesting and thought the victory comments of Erdogan hit the right notes.
Turkey's Illiberal Seculars
By MUSTAFA AKYOL
July 25, 2007
ISTANBUL -- Sunday's general elections in Turkey were seen by some commentators as the vote that would shape the upcoming decades of this overwhelmingly Muslim and yet resolutely secular republic. While it was widely expected that the incumbent Justice and Development Party, also known by its Turkish initials, AKP, would come out as the strongest party, very few predicted the extent of its victory. The AKP gained 46.6% of the votes and 340 seats in a parliament of 550 -- an astounding electoral triumph that has many implications for Turkey and the broader Islamic world.
Although the AKP has been in power since 2002 and has carried out a very successful program of political and economic liberalism -- in the classic sense -- Turkey's staunchly secular establishment never fully trusted the party that had started as a liberal offshoot of a more radical Muslim movement. While the AKP leaders define themselves as "conservatives," Turkey's secularists continue calling them "Islamist," a label designed to tarnish their image, at home and abroad, as Taliban-style Muslim totalitarians. Therefore the political battle in Turkey, which reached its tipping point when Turkish generals issued a harsh "secularism memorandum" on the night of April 27, has commonly been defined as a power struggle between "Islamists" and "secularists." For the uninitiated foreigner, it is easy to presume that the former is bigoted and xenophobic, and the latter is open-minded and pro-Western.
The true picture is exactly the opposite. While the AKP is a strong proponent of free markets, civil liberties and Turkey's European Union bid, the secularist opposition, led by the People's Republican Party, rejects all these objectives. The secularists actually think that most of the liberal reforms the AKP has spearheaded during the EU process are in fact part of a plot cooked up by Western "imperialists" designed to dilute Turkey's national sovereignty. A series of recent bestsellers by a die-hard secular conspiracy theorist, Ergun Poyraz, is a good indicator of this zeitgeist. His "investigative" books make the paranoid argument that the AKP leaders -- and their head-scarved wives -- are in fact crypto-Jews who collaborate with the "Elders of Zion" to destroy Turkey's secularism.
The correct way of interpreting Turkey's power struggle would in fact be to define it as a conflict between liberal Muslims and illiberal secularists. The mindset of the latter camp is shaped by a very rigid and outmoded ideology, which is known as "Kemalism." The term comes from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the hero of Turkey's war of liberation, and the founder of the modern-day Turkish republic. Although Atatürk was undoubtedly a great leader, he never claimed to have a political theory. And yet that's precisely what his followers ascribed to him. After his death, a personality cult was created around this "Supreme Leader," and his policies were turned into everlasting principles. One such principle is "statism," which dictates that the economy should be managed by the state. That's why most contemporary Kemalists fiercely oppose privatization and foreign direct investment.
Turkey's much debated principle of secularism -- which, unlike the First Amendment in the U.S., leaves very little room for religious freedom -- is another sacred pillar of Kemalism that reflects the mood of the early 20th century. At the time, most European thinkers believed that religion was an irrational myth that must be replaced by science during the course of modernization. Hence Kemalists not only want to keep religion out of the state -- a principle that the AKP accepts -- but out of society altogether. Today, many philosophers and social scientists believe that religion and modernity are indeed compatible. But the Kemalists neither know of nor care about such novel concepts. For them, all the basic truths that the Turks require have already been decreed by Mustafa Kemal. All the nation needs to do is to safeguard this transmitted wisdom.
While the Kemalists have frozen themselves in this unholy scholasticism, Turkey's more devout Muslims, who have been regarded for decades as the underclass, have caught up with and even outdone the secularist nomenclature in terms of modernization. They have integrated far better into the globalized world. Additionally, the more they realized that free countries such as the U.S. or Britain give their Muslim citizens all the religious freedoms that are absent in Turkey, the more they appreciated Western style democracy. That's why Turkey's flourishing Muslim bourgeoisie and the rising Muslim intelligentsia have become defenders of democracy and liberalism. Kemalists oppose both, and, in return, praise "the Republic," which has become a euphemism for secularist oligarchy.
The main argument of the secularist camp is that AKP leaders are Islamic-oriented, and when Islam influences politics in any form, it becomes a tyrannical force. While it is certainly true that the synthesis of Islam and totalitarianism -- a lethal blend that has created al Qaeda and its ilk -- is horrific, the synthesis of Islamic values with liberal democracy might well be a blessing. Perhaps that's why the AKP's policies toward the Kurds are much more tolerant and generous: While the Kemalists still wish to turkify all Kurds -- an 80-year-old policy which derives from the cult of Turkishness, the secular alternative to Islam -- Mr. Erdogan's party respects Kurdish identity and refers to the common Ottoman past of the Turks and the Kurds. No wonder that in Sunday's elections, the AKP won a great victory in Kurdish cities, and gained more votes than the Kurdish nationalists who ran as independent candidates.
Interestingly, when compared to the Kemalists, the AKP is much more tolerant to Turkey's non-Muslim minorities, too. That's why some prominent Turkish Christians, including the Armenian Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan, declared their sympathy for the ruling party before the elections. Once again, the values of the Ottoman/Islamic tradition, which represent the peaceful co-existence of the three monotheistic faiths, seem to be more pluralistic than the Kemalist principles that require a strictly homogeneous nation.
In short, the AKP's election victory is good news for all those who wish for a more open and democratic Turkey. It might also be a source of inspiration for other Muslim nations who have been suppressed throughout the 20th century by either secular autocrats or Islamist tyrannies. Now the AKP proves that a political movement led by devout Muslims can embrace capitalism, democracy and secularity. That's precisely the example that the Muslim world needs to see.
Mr. Akyol is the deputy editor of the Turkish Daily News.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The death of Mehsud
on: July 24, 2007, 10:23:43 PM
Pakistan: The Implications of a Jihadist Commander's Death
One of the most senior Pakistani Taliban commanders active in the country's tribal belt, Abdullah Mehsud, killed himself July 24 during a raid in the province of Balochistan. Mehsud's rank, along with the timing and location of his death, provide several insights into the problems that thwart effective counterjihadist efforts. In the past, the elimination of a high-value target helped Pakistan satisfy U.S. concerns; however, Mehsud's death will increase the pressure on Islamabad to show more progress.
Perhaps the most publicly renowned Pakistani Taliban commander, Abdullah Mehsud, killed himself July 24 by detonating a hand grenade in order to avoid capture from a house in the town of Zhob in Balochistan province. Mehsud's two brothers and a third Taliban leader were arrested in the raid provincial police conducted on the house, which allegedly belongs to a senior leader of the country's main Islamist political coalition, the Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal (MMA).
Mehsud's status, the circumstances of his death and the timing of the incident point to a number of problems associated with counterjihadist operations in Pakistan. For starters, it is hard to swallow the idea that authorities just happened to stumble upon the intelligence pertaining to Mehsud's whereabouts and then caught up with him within hours of U.S. threats of unilateral action against jihadists in northwestern Pakistan. The likely reason the government was able to track down Mehsud quickly is that Pakistani intelligence has at its disposal certain resources that it brings to bear in a very selective and limited manner in response to domestic and foreign policy needs.
The historic links between jihadist forces and Pakistani intelligence have led to contacts that both sides recently have been using in their war against one another. The jihadists have been aggressive in using their connections to the state's security and intelligence apparatuses to conduct their operations. The state, however, is only now beginning to employ its connections within the murky jihadist universe to undercut the militants.
Clearly, Pakistani intelligence has been in touch with elements who had information concerning Mehsud's whereabouts. These elements with ties to both sides were called upon to offer their assistance at a difficult time, and they obliged. This is not the first time this has happened. As recently as May 14, Pakistani authorities made a similar demonstration of abilities when they relayed intelligence to Afghan and NATO forces about the whereabouts of the Afghan Taliban's senior-most commander, Mullah Dadullah, who was then killed in an operation.
While not as illustrious as Dadullah, Mehsud was the best-known Pakistani Taliban commander operating in the Waziristan agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The 30-something-year-old Mehsud, who lost one leg while fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan before the extremist movement seized Kabul in 1996, had quite a jihadist career. He was among those jihadists who surrendered to northern alliance forces in the city of Kunduz in late 2001, after which he was transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. U.S. military officials released him in March 2004 after concluding that Mehsud did not pose a threat.
After returning to the tribal belt, Mehsud resumed his old activities and, after the killing of another top Pakistani Taliban commander, Nek Mohammed, emerged as a major figure. Mehsud was behind the abduction of Chinese engineers in 2004 shortly after his return and a rash of suicide attacks against Pakistani security forces. Like his predecessor, Mehsud struck and then scrapped a peace deal with Islamabad. He was also reportedly engaged in the recent fighting between jihadists and pro-government tribal militias. In the wake of the Red Mosque operation, Mehsud declared war against the Pakistani state and is believed to have been behind the latest wave of suicide attacks against security forces.
There are two noteworthy aspects of the location where Mehsud was tracked down. First, it is in the Pashtun corridor in the northwestern part of Balochistan, which runs roughly between FATA's South Waziristan agency to the north and the provincial capital of Quetta in the south. The town of Zhob -- the likely location of Taliban leader Mullah Omar -- is in this area. Second, the house where Mehsud killed himself belongs to Sheikh Mohammed Ayub, who is allegedly the district leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F) -- led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the opposition in Pakistan's parliament. JUI-F is not only the largest component within the MMA alliance, it also holds the majority of Cabinet positions in Balochistan's coalition government with the pro-Musharraf ruling Pakistan Muslim League party. The leader of JUI-F in the province, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, who has a close relationship with the Musharraf government, said the house's owner was no longer with the party since he had been expelled four months ago because of indiscipline.
Regardless of whether Ayub is still part of the JUI-F, Mehsud's capture from Ayub's house is a classic representation of the fluid nexus involving radical Islamists of various shades and the Pakistani state. These complex relationships are what allow jihadists to sustain themselves and their activities and at the same time prevent the Pakistani state from effectively pushing ahead with counterjihadist efforts.
Pakistan's elimination of Mehsud -- just days, if not hours, after the highest political offices in Washington threatened Islamabad with unilateral military action against jihadists in northwestern Pakistan -- will not elicit as much praise from the United States as it will trigger increased pressure to "do more." This is because, from the U.S. viewpoint, it is clear that the Pakistanis can do a whole lot more in the war against jihadists. Also, Mehsud was more of a threat to the Pakistanis than to Afghanistan, NATO or the United States. There is still the matter of going after al Qaeda and the real Taliban in Afghanistan, and there will be both more action against high-value targets and more jihadist attacks in the coming days.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Catch & Release
on: July 24, 2007, 12:04:15 PM
PAKISTAN: A high-ranking pro-Taliban tribesman was killed today after Pakistani forces surrounded him in the southwestern part of Balochistan province, an Interior Ministry spokesman told Reuters. Abdullah Mehsud was accused of kidnapping two Chinese engineers not long after being released from Guantanamo Bay detention center in 2004.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: July 24, 2007, 07:15:43 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Pakistan Reacts to U.S. Call for Action
U.S. forces on Monday moved a day closer to launching a major military operation into Pakistan -- or more accurately, the Pakistani public and government came to realize that the United States was not kidding when, last week, it broached the topic of launching major operations into Pakistan.
The U.S. government -- and Stratfor -- remain convinced that the apex leaders of al Qaeda, those behind the 9/11 attacks, currently are hiding out in northwest Pakistan. And with the government of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on the ropes largely due to its own devices, the United States no longer feels the need to go around the issue. The U.S. message is fairly simple: Take care of the problem, or we will.
The message has definitely been received. The topic of a pending U.S. invasion was all the Pakistani press could discuss Monday, and the unfortunate Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman who was given the task of addressing the issue stumbled trying to hit that balance between bluster and calm.
U.S. foreign policy has become hopelessly bogged down in all things Iraq of late, with precious little bandwidth left for anything else. So it is no small accomplishment that the United States has finally broken through the noise and gotten the attention of the Pakistani government. After all, Pakistan has enough crises in various states of percolation these days to outfit an entire continent.
A partial -- and by no means conclusive -- list of Pakistani problems includes the legal and political crisis that stems from Musharraf's now unsuccessful attempts to sack the country's chief justice; the debate over Musharraf's position as military chief; Musharraf's controversial re-re-election bid; competing opposition party demands for fresh parliamentary elections; fallout from the Red Mosque protests and raids; the insurgency in Balochistan; the chaos of ethnic politics in Karachi; the split within -- and Islamist-riddled nature of -- the intelligence agencies; the social divide over the very nature of the republic; the rising power of extremists in general; and the identity crisis that comes natural in a country whose name is actually an acronym.
Make no mistake. It is not as if the United States is looking forward to a Pakistan operation. Any such operation would need to secure and segment a large tract of land before additional forces could come in and scour it bit by bit. This would not be a snatch and grab, but a major sweep through a large area. The United States would not be looking for an army, but instead for a handful of individuals that would include Osama bin Laden. That sort of operation would require thousands of troops -- and is not something that could be done quickly and quietly. U.S. forces would swiftly find themselves in direct conflict with local tribes and perhaps even the Pakistani military -- not to mention that any incursion into Pakistan would also energize the Taliban in Afghanistan to attack from behind. And if the Pakistani government did start to totter, Washington would have to make a very uncomfortable decision about what to do about the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
Getting out would be even worse. The troops that would be used are all in southeast Afghanistan -- part of an operation that is logistically possible without the go-ahead from Islamabad. So immediately after doing a tour of the wonders of northwest Pakistan, the Defense Department would then need to figure out how to get its people -- and likely the other coalition forces still in Afghanistan -- out of the landlocked South Asian state as well.
Like we said, this is nothing the United States is champing at the bit to do. Actually, the United States would much rather have Pakistan take care of the issue itself. And there is nothing like the threat of invasion to slice through a list of Pakistani problems and seize people's attention.
But seize their attention the United States has done. Now the question will be whether the chaos that is Pakistani politics can solidify for an internal housecleaning that precludes the need for Washington to decide whether this was an ultimatum or a bluff.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics
on: July 24, 2007, 07:06:58 AM
Second post of the morning
A Tax Cure for Health Care
By ALLAN B. HUBBARD
July 24, 2007; Page A15
There aren't many issues in Washington that everyone can agree on these days. But here's one: Our health-care system needs serious reform.
Deciphering the forms you get when you take your child to the doctor is very difficult. Small business owners who provide health insurance for their employees struggle to afford skyrocketing costs. Many communities don't have a single practicing ob-gyn because the risk of lawsuits has run them out of town.
The problems are clear, yet there is great disagreement about what to do about them. What we need is an honest look at what's right with our health-care system, what's wrong with it and what we can do to improve it.
Let's start with what's right. America's private system of medicine is the world's finest. It taps into the efficiency and flexibility of competition and markets. It puts doctors and patients in charge -- not government. It gives us the world's most talented doctors and nurses, the most advanced hospitals and the most promising medical research. Americans with access to this system receive outstanding care -- and people from around the world come here to benefit from it.
Of course, there's also a big problem. Access to high quality private health care is getting so expensive that many can't afford it. Growing numbers of Americans depend on the government for coverage. That creates a bureaucratic maze for them, and weakens the system of private medicine for all. As President Bush summed it up recently: "America's health care is too costly, it's too confusing, it leaves too many people uninsured."
So how do we fix the system? The president agrees with the many members of Congress -- Democratic and Republican -- who believe we have an obligation to ensure that poor kids have health insurance. The State Children's Health Insurance Program (Schip) has been covering poor kids for 10 years and now is up for reauthorization. The president supports reauthorization, his budget boosts funding for poor children in Schip, and he is prepared to sign a bill with appropriate funding increases.
The president differs from some in Congress on how to cover children in middle-class families and other Americans. For example, one bill, sponsored by Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), would expand Schip dramatically beyond what it is intended to do. And it would be a dangerous step down the path of government-run health care, ultimately resulting in fewer options and lower quality care for American families.
The Baucus-Grassley proposal would expand Schip to cover many children who are not actually poor. A family of four making $82,600 would be eligible for taxpayer-funded health insurance.
It would also cause many people to drop their good private coverage and move to taxpayer-funded, government-run health care. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that for every two people who would join Schip under this bill, one would drop his/her private health insurance -- a striking example of "crowd-out" that is contrary to the purpose of the program.
Finally, this bill would run up a huge tab -- $71 billion over 10 years -- and would impose new tobacco taxes to pay for it. But even a large tax hike won't pay for this bill's vast expansion of the Schip program. Instead, the bill resorts to a massive budget gimmick to hide its true costs. This trick makes it appear that Schip's costs under this legislation will steadily increase from $5 billion this year to $16 billion in 2012 and will then suddenly drop to $3.5 billion a year -- a steep fall that won't happen of course because millions of kids would lose coverage.
In short, the Baucus-Grassley bill would weaken the part of American health care that is working well -- our private system of medicine -- while doing little to address the real problem for most Americans, which is the cost of care.
If Congress really wants to talk about reforming American health care and getting more people covered, there is a smarter way -- a way to build on the strengths of our private system while addressing its shortcomings. And it starts with addressing one of the root causes of the problems in health care -- the federal tax code.
The problem is straightforward: Under today's tax code, people who are fortunate enough to get health insurance through their jobs get a big tax break -- but those who have to buy coverage on their own get no tax break at all. That is not fair, and it is not wise. It makes it impossible for millions of Americans who work for small businesses or who are self-employed to afford health insurance. And it drives up the cost of coverage for us all.
So President Bush has proposed to level the playing field for health insurance. Under his plan, every family with private health coverage would receive a standard tax deduction of $15,000 -- no matter where they get their health insurance. This deduction would encourage more people to buy their own health insurance, just like the mortgage interest deduction encourages more people to buy their own homes. Some have suggested that a flat tax credit could also achieve the president's goal of leveling the playing field, and he has signaled that he would be open to that option.
These tax reforms are simple, but their effect would be revolutionary. More than 100 million people who are now covered by employer-provided insurance would see lower tax bills right away. Those who now purchase health insurance on their own would get a tax benefit for the first time. And millions of others who have no health insurance would be able to purchase private coverage.
To reduce the ranks of the uninsured even more, President Bush has also proposed to make federal help available to states that ensure all their citizens have access to basic private health insurance.
There are sharp contrasts between the president's plan to reform the tax code and the Baucus-Grassley proposal. Reforming the tax code would bring more affordable health insurance to 100 million Americans, while Baucus-Grassley will not change the cost of coverage for most people. Reforming the tax code would reduce the ranks of the uninsured by as many as 20 million, while Baucus-Grassley would cut the uninsured by fewer than four million. And reforming the tax code would achieve these goals without increasing taxes, while Baucus-Grassley would mean more taxes, more spending and more control for federal bureaucrats in Washington.
For taxpayers, families, patients and businesses, the choice is clear. Therefore President Bush will continue to work with members of both parties for reforms that make health care more affordable and more available for all Americans while continuing to support Schip for poor kids.
Mr. Hubbard is assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology
on: July 24, 2007, 06:57:35 AM
By ROBERT M. MCDOWELL
July 24, 2007; Page A15
American consumers are poised to reap a windfall of benefits from a new wave of broadband deployment. But you would never know it by the rhetoric of those who would have us believe that the nation is falling behind, indeed in free fall.
Looming over the horizon are heavy-handed government mandates setting arbitrary standards, speeds and build-out requirements that could favor some technologies over others, raise prices and degrade service. This would be a mistaken road to take -- although it would hardly be the first time in history that alarmists have ignored cold, hard facts in pursuit of bad policy.
Exhibit A for the alarmists are statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD says the U.S. has dropped from 12th in the world in broadband subscribers per 100 residents to 15th.
The OECD's methodology is seriously flawed, however. According to an analysis by the Phoenix Center, if all OECD countries including the U.S. enjoyed 100% broadband penetration -- with all homes and businesses being connected -- our rank would fall to 20th. The U.S. would be deemed a relative failure because the OECD methodology measures broadband connections per capita, putting countries with larger household sizes at a statistical disadvantage.
The OECD also overlooks that the U.S. is the largest broadband market in the world, with over 65 million subscribers -- more than twice the number of America's closest competitor. We got there because of our superior household adoption rates. According to several recent surveys, the average percentage of U.S. households taking broadband is about 42%; the EU average is 23%.
Furthermore, the OECD does not weigh a country's geographic size relative to its population density, which matters because more consumers may live farther from the pipes. Only one country above the U.S. on the OECD list (Canada) stretches from one end of a continent to another like we do. Only one country above us on this list is at least 75% rural, like the U.S. In fact, 13 of the 14 countries that the OECD ranks higher are significantly smaller than the U.S.
And if we compare many of our states individually with some countries that are allegedly beating us in the broadband race, we are actually winning. Forty-three American states have a higher household broadband adoption rate than all but five EU countries. Even large rural western states such as Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and both Dakotas exhibit much stronger household broadband adoption rates than France or Britain. Even if we use the OECD's flawed methodology, New Jersey has a higher penetration rate than fourth-ranked Korea. Alaska is more broadband-saturated than France.
The OECD conclusions really unravel when we look at wireless services, especially Wi-Fi. One-third of the world's Wi-Fi hot spots are in the U.S., but Wi-Fi is not included in the OECD study unless it is used in a so-called "fixed wireless" setting. I can't recall ever seeing any fixed wireless users cemented into a coffee shop, airport or college campus. Most American Wi-Fi users do so with personal portable devices. It is difficult to determine how many wireless broadband users are online at any given moment, since they may not qualify as "subscribers" to anyone's service.
In short, the OECD data do not include all of the ways Americans can make high-speed connections to the Internet, therefore omitting millions of American broadband users. Europe, with its more regulatory approach, may actually end up being the laggard because of latent weaknesses in its broadband market. It lacks adequate competition among alternative broadband platforms to spur the faster speeds that consumers and an ever-expanding Internet will require.
Europe also suffers from a dearth of robust competition from cable modem and fiber. Cable penetration is only about 21% of households. In the U.S., cable is available to 94% of all households. Also, the U.S. is home to the world's fastest fiber-to-home market, with a 99% annual growth rate in subscribers compared with a relatively anemic 13% growth rate in Europe.
In fact, the European Competitive Telecommunications Association reported last fall that Europe is experiencing a significant slowdown in the annual growth rate of broadband subscriptions, falling to 14% from 23% annual growth. Growth stalled in a number of countries, including Denmark and Belgium (4% in each country). And France -- a relative star -- exhibited just 10% growth. Yet all of these nations are "ahead" of us on the much-talked-about OECD chart.
Here in the U.S., the country that is allegedly "falling behind," broadband adoption is accelerating. Government studies confirm that America's broadband growth rate has jumped from 32% per year to 52%. With new numbers expected shortly, we anticipate a continued positive trend. Criticisms of our definition of "broadband" being too lax are already irrelevant as over 50 million subscribers are in the 1.5 to 3.0 megabits-per-second "fast lane."
Our flexible and deregulatory broadband policies provide opportunities for American entrepreneurs to construct new delivery platforms enabling them to pull ahead of our international competitors. For instance, newly auctioned spectrum for advanced wireless services will spark unparalleled growth and innovation.
Soon, we will auction even more spectrum in the broadcast TV bands to spur more broadband competition. In addition, we are in the midst of testing powerful new technologies to use in spectrum located in the "white spaces" between broadcast TV channels.
This is all wonderful news for our future. In a competitive market, consumer demand compels businesses to innovate. History has proven that, just when we think we are going to "run out" of spectrum, some brilliant entrepreneur finds a way to use the airwaves more efficiently.
By some estimates, since Marconi's first radio transmission 110 years ago spectrum capacity has doubled every two and a half years, while the cost of delivering information over wireless platforms has dropped by half every 42 months.
When the Internet was just used for email and static websites, dial-up services satisfied consumer demand. But when Napster came along, we saw a huge spike in cable modem and DSL take-up rates -- necessary tools in the art of stealing music. (Please obtain your music legally!)
Today, video applications are tugging hard on America's broadband infrastructure. YouTube alone uses as much bandwidth today as the entire Internet did in 2000. Not surprisingly, our broadband adoption rate continues to increase concurrently with the proliferation of this latest "killer app."
Consumers don't buy fat pipes for their own sake; they buy applications and content that require fat pipes. As consumer demand for more bandwidth-intensive applications and content increases, so does the incentive for network owners to provide more bandwidth. While America is on the right track, we can and will do more. We are creating more competition through the construction of new delivery platforms. We are clearing away unnecessary regulatory underbrush that may inhibit investment needed to fund more competition. We are also creating an atmosphere of regulatory certainty and parity.
When it comes to broadband policy, let's put aside flawed studies and rankings, and reject the road of regulatory stagnation. In the next few years, we will witness a tremendous explosion of entrepreneurial brilliance in the broadband market, if the government doesn't micromanage. Belief in entrepreneurs and a light regulatory touch is the right broadband policy for America.
Mr. McDowell is a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Guardian
on: July 24, 2007, 06:47:54 AM
Sunday July 15, 2007
Violence ebbing. Wealth returning. Can this be Iraq?
The clamour is growing in America and Britain for troops to be brought home. Violence grips large parts of the country. But elsewhere the green shoots of recovery are showing through the rubble
Peter Beaumont in Iraq
An Iraqi youth sells kites. Photograph: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty
The cycle of murder and vengeance grinds quickly in Iraq. Last week, in the western city of Tal Afar, it was all over in 10 minutes.
No one saw how Jamil Salem Jamil, aged 19, arrived. If he was driven to his target, then the car stayed out of sight. A slim Sunni youth, with a thick crop of black hair above his elongated features, he walked down the alley to the house where Khosheed Abbas, a policeman, his fiancee, Mariam Azzideen, and their families, all Shias, were sitting down to a simple wedding feast.
When Jamil tried to force his way into courtyard of the house, Khosheed bundled him away, saving his fiancee and several dozen family members. But not himself. As Jamil staggered back he detonated his suicide vest, cutting down four of the family, including two young children, one of them, Bushyr, a girl aged six.
And in an Iraq still gripped by sectarian violence these things are not so easily concluded.
As Jamil and his victims died, another family in this mixed Shia-Sunni neighbourhood was also sitting down to eat. They were Sunnis this time, living 100 metres distant, the family of Jihan Salah, also 19, who was standing in her family's courtyard behind locked metal doors.
When Khosheed's father came looking for someone to shoot - came looking for a Sunni - that person was Jihan.
So Jamil's limbs, yellow and waxy, were gathered like branches and tossed into a gutter, and the bodies of the others taken to the morgue. It is one defining image of Iraq, horrible and too familiar. Yet it is not the only one.
For there are two Iraqs in evidence these days: not just the one where weddings are bombed and young women murdered in reply. The other Iraq is harder to dramatise but it is equally real. It is a place where boring, ordinary things take place. And in taking place become extraordinary in the context of conflict.
Last week it was the opening of a new $20 million government centre next to Tal Afar's ancient ruined fort. The day before Jamil detonated his explosives' belt, the sheiks and dignitaries came in and crowded through the building's corridors, muttering approvingly as they examined its new painted walls, the photocopiers, printers and computers - some of them still wrapped in plastic - sitting on the brand new desks.
Last week the debate over whether to pull out of Iraq took on an urgent new intensity as the struggle between the Democrat-led Congress and the White House of President George W Bush finally reached a head.
Driven by a presidential election cycle, six years of building animosity in US politics has finally been focused on the lightning rod that is Iraq. After four years of war, perhaps more than 650,000 Iraqi dead, it has finally come to a single question of accounting: which of the two Iraqs is winning, the Iraq of death or an Iraq that looks to peace?
It is a false dichotomy. For the two Iraqs - for now at least - are co-existent. It is a dangerous one too. For the expectation that America may be crumbling over Iraq - and may leave soon - has acted as an accelerant where the violence is worst, leading General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, to warn that in the worst areas the summer may see a mini-Tet offensive designed to push US politics over the brink.
In practical terms there is a gulf between the politics in Washington and the views of the generals on the ground. For while the Democrats are pushing for rapid withdrawal that would see most US troops out by April next year, the commander of the forces in the country's north, General Benjamin Mixon, has made clear that it would take 18 months to safely reduce just half of his forces. However, he believes Nineveh could be handed over by this autumn.
In his office in the northern city of Mosul, Mixon's deputy, General Frank Wiercinski, is convinced that, in his divisional area at least - if not in Baghdad - a long sought-for stabilisation is finally occurring. 'There is a line I think that separates the areas that are becoming more secure from those where there is still heavy fighting. And I think that line is moving slowly south now through Diyala.'
'In my personal opinion it is not the time to pull out. We are at the apex. The war out there that is going on is with Iraqis in the lead and I don't feel we can just say: "See you!"'
And while in Iraq it has usually been the best policy to deal with officials with a strong dose of scepticism following the years of pronouncements of victory around the corner, for now at least there appears to be corroborating evidence that in the north, the war may be drawing, ever so slowly, towards some kind of close.
In Mosul, which once hosted 21,000 US soldiers in the city, now only a single battalion, in the mid-hundreds, remains inside the city, matched by an equivalent drop in attacks. And it is not only in Mosul that security is improving. The sense that things are getting better is reflected in Nineveh Province. In two years US troop levels around Tal Afar, once the heartland of al-Qaeda, have been reduced from 6,000 to 1,200.
The general trend for acts of violence - despite some spikes - also has been steadily decreasing. Indeed, until Jamil Salem Jamil detonated his human bomb there had not been a suicide vest attack in Tal Afar since 14 January.
And there are other striking indicators. The last time that I flew across this area, two years ago, what agriculture there was was sporadic. Now it has turned golden with a vast expanse of freshly cut wheat fields that have turned the flat plains that touch the Kurdish foothills into a vast prairie, using almost every patch of viable land.
But the other Iraq lingers here strongly too. Despite two years of effort, organised destabilising violence still exists, largely displaced out of the urban centres to the villages of Nineveh's plain. From their hideouts there, insurgents have turned their attention to hitting infrastructure, attacking roads, bridges and power lines with the aim of separating its rival population groups.
But ask Iraqis or Americans what the biggest problem is in both Tal Afar and Mosul and they will mention the government of Iraq. All of which raises two critical questions: whether what has happened in Iraq's north can be sustained, and whether - with the same time available - it is applicable elsewhere.
'It would be the easiest thing,' says Lt Col Malcolm Frost, the squadron commander of 3/4th US Cavalry in Tal Afar, 'to put a stake in the ground and declare victory here in Nineveh. But there are three or four things needed for the conditions to be set for a withdrawal. And my biggest problem is to get support and linkages from the central Iraqi government. So far we have not seen a single dollar from the 2007 budget get down to this level.'
Tal Afar too has struggled to get deliveries of food, propane and gas. And Frost is cautious about extrapolating the advances made by applying 'clear, hold, build' in Tal Afar, where it was pioneered over two years, to Baghdad.
'There is an order of magnitude at work here. Tal Afar measures 3km by 3km and has a population of 200,000. I don't know the precise troop and force configuration in Baghdad and whether it can work. But the holding is the difficult part. And in Baghdad you have to hold everywhere at once.'
It is 1am in Zafraniya, a Shia stronghold in southern Baghdad. When the men of the 2/17 Field Artillery rush into the Salah household, it is quickly clear something is wrong. The tip-off says there are injured senior members of Moqtadr al-Sadr's Shia militia - the Jaish al Mahdi - hiding here. The men are anxious, shouting at the family. The address and the family name are right, but everything else seems wrong.
Crucifixes hanging on the wall and devotional prints; photographs of christenings and first communions. Later after the apologies have been delivered, one of the men speculates on the reason for the false tip. Sectarian malice, perhaps, could be a motive against a middle-class Christian family - to unsettle them and force them out.
More worrying is the feeling that it is a ruse perpetrated by the Jaish al-Mahdi itself to test the response time of the soldiers for a future ambush, of the kind that is becoming increasingly more common. If Tal Afar was bad and now improving, then Zafraniya is its mirror opposite, one of the successes of the Baghdad surge that is turning corrosively dangerous again.
For if there is renewed violence in Zafraniya, then some of it at least is paradoxically a direct consequence of the surge's earlier gains. Then - in February and March - Moqtadr al-Sadr ordered the withdrawal of the leadership of his organisation to put them out of the way of the US surge. Other leaders who remained in the Jaish al-Mahdi's second most powerful base inside Baghdad were detained, weakening the organisation until Sadr ordered the renewal of hostilities with US forces to re-establish his own power.
In the sometimes lethal power struggle that followed in the organisation, the violence has been directed increasingly at US forces by aspirant new leaders keen to demonstrate through violence their claim to authority.
It is a crucially important point. For in the glib parsing of Iraq into broad ideological themes and targets and benchmarks, something of the nature of the country's chaotic violence has been lost. How often, when you peel away the nature of each killing it is so often motivated by family and tribe and sect - by malice and greed. How it is personal.
By Friday the same question was being asked about Jamil Salem Jamil. 'Clearly he was a member of al-Qaeda,' says General Qais Kalaf of the Iraqi Army in Tal Afar. 'He had a suicide vest. But it seems he was known in neighbourhood. He chose that family. There was some personal grudge at work.'
In the end it is no consolation of the relatives of last week's dead, including the family of Jihan Salah. 'What did this have to do with us?' asked Maha Mohammed, the mother of Jihan. 'What did we do? We were only trying to eat our meal.'
So the two Iraqs continue to collide.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Syria seizing pieces of Lebanon
on: July 24, 2007, 06:26:57 AM
Syria Occupies Lebanon. Again.
A land grab proportionally equivalent to a foreign power occupying Arizona.
BY BRET STEPHENS
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
As of this minute, Syria occupies at least 177 square miles of Lebanese soil. That you are now reading about it for the first time is as much a scandal as the occupation itself.
The news comes by way of a fact-finding survey of the Lebanese-Syrian border just produced by the International Lebanese Committee for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, an American NGO that has consultative status with the U.N. Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the authors have requested anonymity and have circulated the report only among select government officials and journalists. But its findings cannot be ignored.
In meticulous detail--supplemented by photographs, satellite images, archival material and Lebanese military maps predating Syria's 1976 invasion (used as a basis of comparison with Syria's current positions)--the authors describe precisely where and how Lebanon has been infiltrated. In the area of the village of Maarboun, for instance, the authors observed Syrian military checkpoints a mile inside Lebanon. In the Birak al-Rassass Valley, they photographed Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. On the outskirts of the village of Kossaya they found a heavily fortified camp belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in violation of U.N. resolutions and Lebanese demands.
This is a story to which I can contribute my own testimony. In May 2005 I paid a visit to Lebanon, just a month after Syria had announced that it had fully withdrawn its 14,000 troops from Lebanon in compliance with Resolution 1559. The rumor in Beirut was that a company of 200 or so elite Syrian soldiers remained encamped within Lebanon near the Druze village of Deir al-Ashaer. I decided to have a look. After a long drive over rutted roads, I found it.
Or rather, what I found was a hillside outpost that I was able to enter without crossing any apparent international border. The man in charge was a Syrian intelligence officer who "invited" me into a sweltering tent while he phoned his commanders for instruction. After a few tense minutes of silence with the soldiers inside, the officer reappeared, explained that the camp was 50 yards inside Syrian territory, and ordered me to go. From there I went to the village, where the mayor insisted the camp was several hundred yards inside Lebanon.
Who was right? Inclined as I was to believe the mayor, it was hard to sort out contending claims over remote parcels of land. A week later, then Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the U.N. had "verified all [Syrian military units] had withdrawn, including [from] the border area." It seemed that was the end of the story.
I should have known then that anything "verified" by the U.N. must be checked at least twice. I should have known, too, that anything to which Mr. Annan devoted his personal attention would inevitably become worse. Last September, Mr. Annan paid a visit to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after the latter had declared he would treat any attempt by the U.N. to deploy peacekeepers along the Lebanese-Syrian border as a "hostile act." To defuse the impasse, Mr. Annan simply accepted Mr. Assad's assurances that Syria would police its border and prevent arms smuggling. "I think it can happen," said the diplomat at a press conference. "It may not be 100%, but it will make quite a lot of difference if the government puts in place the measures the government has discussed with me."
What happened, predictably, was the opposite. In May, Fatah al-Islam, a terrorist group whose leadership was imported from Damascus, attacked Lebanese army outposts outside the Palestinian refugee camps of Nahr El-Bared and Biddawi, causing a bloody standoff that continues till this day. In June, current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report citing numerous instances of arms smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah and the PFLP. Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that he once again has missiles that can reach Tel Aviv--missiles he could only have obtained via Syria. Israel confirms his claims.
Mr. Ban's report is notable for its clarity and seriousness. Taken together with the border report, it paints an alarming picture. Though the land grabs are small affairs individually, they collectively add up to an area amounting to about 4% of Lebanese soil--in U.S. terms, the proportional equivalent of Arizona. Of particular note is that the area of Syrian conquest dwarves that of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms. The farms, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967 and which amount to an area of about 12 square miles, are claimed by Hezbollah as belonging to Lebanon--a useful pretext for it to continue its "resistance" against an Israeli occupation that ended seven years ago.
Needless to say, Hezbollah--which purports to fight for Lebanese sovereignty--makes no similar claims against Syria. For his part, Mr. Assad refuses to agree to a demarcation of his border with Lebanon, just as he refuses to open an embassy in Beirut. The ambiguity serves him well: He can seize Lebanese territory without anyone appearing to take notice, supply terrorist camps without quite harboring the terrorists, and funnel arms to Hezbollah at will--all without abandoning the fantasy of "Greater Syria" encompassing Lebanon, the Golan Heights and Israel itself.
It would, of course, be nice to see the Arab world protest this case of illegal occupation, given its passions about the subject. It would also be nice to see the media report this story as sedulously as it has the controversy of the Shebaa Farms. Don't hold your breath on either score. In the meantime, the only countries in a position to help Lebanon are France and the U.S. They could strike a useful blow by closing their embassies in Damascus until such time as Damascus opens an embassy--with all that it implies--in Beirut.
Mr. Stephens is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. His column appears in the Journal Tuesdays.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics
on: July 24, 2007, 06:22:11 AM
Wisconsin reveals the cost of "universal" health care.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
When Louis Brandeis praised the 50 states as "laboratories of democracy," he didn't claim that every policy experiment would work. So we hope the eyes of America will turn to Wisconsin, and the effort by Madison Democrats to make that "progressive" state a Petri dish for government-run health care.
This exercise is especially instructive, because it reveals where the "single-payer," universal coverage folks end up. Democrats who run the Wisconsin Senate have dropped the Washington pretense of incremental health-care reform and moved directly to passing a plan to insure every resident under the age of 65 in the state. And, wow, is "free" health care expensive. The plan would cost an estimated $15.2 billion, or $3 billion more than the state currently collects in all income, sales and corporate income taxes. It represents an average of $510 a month in higher taxes for every Wisconsin worker.
Employees and businesses would pay for the plan by sharing the cost of a new 14.5% employment tax on wages. Wisconsin businesses would have to compete with out-of-state businesses and foreign rivals while shouldering a 29.8% combined federal-state payroll tax, nearly double the 15.3% payroll tax paid by non-Wisconsin firms for Social Security and Medicare combined.
This employment tax is on top of the $1 billion grab bag of other levies that Democratic Governor Jim Doyle proposed and the tax-happy Senate has also approved, including a $1.25 a pack increase in the cigarette tax, a 10% hike in the corporate tax, and new fees on cars, trucks, hospitals, real estate transactions, oil companies and dry cleaners. In all, the tax burden in the Badger State could rise to 20% of family income, which is slightly more than the average federal tax burden. "At least federal taxes pay for an Army and Navy," quips R.J. Pirlot of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce business lobby.
As if that's not enough, the health plan includes a tax escalator clause allowing an additional 1.5 percentage point payroll tax to finance higher outlays in the future. This could bring the payroll tax to 16%. One reason to expect costs to soar is that the state may become a mecca for the unemployed, uninsured and sick from all over North America. The legislation doesn't require that you have a job in Wisconsin to qualify, merely that you live in the state for at least 12 months. Cheesehead nation could expect to attract health-care free-riders while losing productive workers who leave for less-taxing climes.
Proponents use the familiar argument for national health care that this will save money (about $1.8 billion a year) through efficiency gains by eliminating the administrative costs of private insurance. And unions and some big businesses with rich union health plans are only too happy to dump these liabilities onto the government.
But those costs won't vanish; they'll merely shift to all taxpayers and businesses. Small employers that can't afford to provide insurance would see their employment costs rise by thousands of dollars per worker, while those that now provide a basic health insurance plan would have to pay $400 to $500 a year more per employee.
The plan is also openly hostile to market incentives that contain costs. Private companies are making modest progress in sweating out health-care inflation by making patients more cost-conscious through increased copayments, health savings accounts, and incentives for wellness. The Wisconsin program moves in the opposite direction: It reduces out-of-pocket copayments, bars money-saving HSA plans, and increases the number of mandated medical services covered under the plan.
So where will savings come from? Where they always do in any government plan: Rationing via price controls and, as costs rise, waiting periods and coverage restrictions. This is Michael Moore's medical dream state.
The last line of defense against this plan are the Republicans who run the Wisconsin House. So far they've been unified and they recently voted the Senate plan down. Democrats are now planning to take their ideas to the voters in legislative races next year, and that's a debate Wisconsinites should look forward to. At least Wisconsin Democrats are admitting how much it will cost Americans to pay for government-run health care. Would that Washington Democrats were as forthright.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe
on: July 23, 2007, 06:26:43 PM
Bringing this over from the Gathering thread, plus a few more names.
Ascending to the grand exalted status of Dog Brother:
New Candidate Dog Brothers:
Greame "C-Scotty Dog" Higgins
Tim "C-Scurvy Dog" Ferguson
Oli "C-Ghost Dog" Schaer
Fred "C-Sun Dog" Hernandez
Byron "C-Guide Dog" Stoops
Dog Tony "Taz" Caruso
"Kitty" Linda Matsumi
Dog Meynard Ancheta
Dog Tom Stillman
Dog Ole Fredricksen - Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
Dog Jeremy Lowen - Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
Dog Greg Moody- San Diego CA
"Higher Consciousness through Harder Contact!" (c)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mil-blogs: Michael Yon and others (support our troops)
on: July 23, 2007, 06:10:57 PM
Second post of the day:
July 19, 2007: While Saudi Arabia is not happy with how Shia Arabs have taken control of Iraq, and appear able to hold on to it, they are pleased with how the fighting in Iraq has greatly depleted the number of al Qaeda backers inside Saudi Arabia. Over 5,000 Saudi Islamic radicals are believed to have died in Iraq so far. For the last four years, up to half the suicide bombers have been Saudis, and about half the 135 foreigners currently held in U.S. military prisons over there, are Saudis. Currently, American intelligence believes about 45 percent of the foreign fighters (less than ten percent of all terrorists there) are Saudis. The next largest group is Syrians and Lebanese (15 percent), followed by North Africans (10 percent). The other 30 percent are from all over, including Europe.
The Saudis themselves are coy about how all those Saudi Islamic radicals got into Iraq. The Saudi border with Iraq is heavily patrolled, and not easy to get across, no matter which direction you are going. But the Saudis have refused calls to crack down on their young men going to Syria or Jordan, and crossing from there into Iraq.http://fallbackbelmont.blogspot.com/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: July 23, 2007, 06:10:00 PM
Doug, I tried but couldn't get it to play for me.
Anyway, here's this:
Iraq Report: Taji Tribes Turn on Mahdi Army and al Qaeda
Operation Phantom Thunder and the Baghdad Security Plan continue to place pressure on al Qaeda in Iraq, allied Sunni insurgent groups, the Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed Special Group. In Baghdad, junior al Qaeda in Iraq operatives are reportedly cooperating with Coalition forces and a series of car bombs hit a Shia area of the capital. In the Belts, U.S. and Iraqi forces maintain aggressive operations against al Qaeda and insurgent cells as both Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in and around Taji have banded together to fight the Mahdi Army and al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the U.S. captured two more members of the Special Group and have indicated that Iran is now smuggling Chinese made weapons into Iraq.
A Soldier from the 1st Cavalry Division clears
an al Qaeda prison camp south of Baqubah, Iraq.
The London Times reported that junior al Qaeda in Iraq foot soldiers are turning on their leaders and acting as informants in the Baghdad district of Doura. "The ground-breaking move in Doura is part of a wider trend that has started in other al-Qaeda hotspots across the country and in which Sunni insurgent groups and tribal sheiks have stood together with the coalition against the extremist movement," the Times said. The low level operatives have become disgusted with al Qaeda's tactics of brutality.
A series of four bombings over the past two days resulted in 14 killed and 37 wounded. Sunday's attack near the al-Khilani square in central Baghdad consisted of a motorcycle bomb; two were killed and 18 wounded in the strike. Three car bombs ripped through Shia neighborhood in Karradah. One bomb was aimed at a police patrol and another hit an outdoor market. Twelve were killed and 19 wounded in the attacks.
penetrated a meeting of th
U.S. forces continue the process of turning tribal leaders and Sunni insurgent groups against al Qaeda in Iraq. The latest success came in Salahadin province, where 25 Sunni and Shia tribes in and around the city of Taji banded together to fight both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdi Army. Taji is just 12 miles north of Baghdad and sits along the strategic supply lines to the northern provinces.
Salahadin tribes formed the Salahadin Awakening in late May, and al Qaeda in Iraq has targeted the group in an effort to destroy disrupt its activities. Yesterday, five senior tribal leaders were killed and 12 wounded when a suicide bomber e Taji council. The Mahdi Army has attacked family members of the group as well.
Iraqi army forces are targeting al Qaeda's network in the Taji region. Iraqi troops conducted an air assault northwest of Taji on July 20. The target was "a suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq leader suspected of numerous crimes including a recent attack that destroyed a bridge on a primary Iraqi transportation route" in the Habbaniyah area in Anbar province.
"He is also allegedly responsible for facilitating foreign fighters and the planning and execution of multiple improvised explosive device attacks in Ramadi and other areas. The insurgent leader and his cell are also suspected of murdering and intimidating Iraqi citizens, conducting oil smuggling operations, and committing a string of highway robberies in an effort to fund al Qaeda activities."
U.S. soldiers also freed three Iraqis being held hostage at an insurgent safe house south of Samarra. Four insurgents were captured during the raid.
Diyala, Babil and Anbar
Operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and allied insurgent groups are ongoing in the belts of Diyala, Northern Babil and Anbar province. In the city of Miqdadiyah in Diyala, Coalition forces killed nine insurgents and captured eight during a series of raids and patrols. An insurgent safe house and several weapons caches were also found in the region.
In northern Babil province, the recently launched Operation Marne Avalanche in the Iskandariyah region has resulted in four insurgents killed and 37 captured over the course of four days. In a separate operation Iraqi soldiers arrested a member of an al Qaeda kidnapping ring on July 18.
In Anbar province, tribal leaders in the city of Zaidon have turned on al Qaeda and established local security forces.
Iranian-backed Special Group
The Iranian-backed, Qods Force-directed Special Group continues to remain a high priority for Coalition and Iraqi forces. On Sunday, Coalition forces captured "two suspected terrorists that may be affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) from Iran in a raid Sunday near the Iranian border East of Baghdad," Multinational Forces Iraq said. "The suspects may be associated with a network of terrorists that have been smuggling Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs), other weapons, personnel and money from Iran into Iraq."
On July 22, U.S. troops found a cache that contained an explosively formed penetrator and parts to make more, along with home made explosives, in the West Rashid district in Baghdad. Also, Iran is believed to be smuggling Chinese made rockets into Iraq, Admiral Mark Fox said in a recent briefing.
The daily raids against al Qaeda’s leadership and facilitator cells resulted in one al Qaeda operative killed and 26 captured over the past two days. Sunday's operations in Baghdad, Mosul, Fallujah, and Yusifiyah resulted in one al Qaeda operative killed and 14 captured. Twelve al Qaeda operatives were captured on Monday during raids in Mosul, Baghdad, Yusifiyah, and Tarmiyah.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues
on: July 23, 2007, 05:54:43 PM
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (Reuters) - As many U.S. cities and states arrest illegal immigrants in raids and toughen laws against them, a Connecticut city is offering to validate them under a controversial, first-in-the-nation ID card program.
Starting Tuesday, New Haven will offer illegal immigrants municipal identification cards that allow access to city services such as libraries and a chance to open bank accounts.
Supporters say the cards will improve public safety and give undocumented workers protections now afforded legal residents. Critics contend it will unleash a flood of illegal immigration, straining services and wasting taxpayer money.
New Haven officials overwhelmingly approved the program last month in a 25 to 1 vote.
Backers and detractors alike say the program appears to fill a vacuum after Congress failed to act on immigration reform, leaving many towns and cities to struggle with how to deal with a growing undocumented population.
Kica Matos, who administers the program for New Haven, said undocumented workers are often targeted by thieves and robbed because they carry cash, a result of not being able to open a bank account.
"Part of the reason they can't open bank accounts is because they don't have forms of identification that were valid," she said.
She said two banks had already agreed to accept the new city card, which will be offered to all New Haven residents, as legitimate identification sufficient for opening an account.
Local Latino advocacy group Junta for Progressive Action estimates 3,000 to 5,000 illegal immigrants live in the city of 124,000 people, many from Mexico, Ecuador and Guatemala.
Yale University Law School, based in New Haven, helped research the city's idea and volunteered legal services. Several immigrants' rights groups also helped build up local support for the identification cards.
Opponents hope to rally the public against it. Southern Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Reform says the ID cards will change "the entire country as we know it" and is organizing a protest on Tuesday at city hall.
"There are millions of illegal aliens right around us that when these ID cards are available to them, they will rush to them and get some identification that will allow them to go to other cities," said Ted Pechinski, who leads the group.
North Carolina-based Americans for Legal Immigration PAC has circulated a flier in 40 states urging illegal workers to move to New Haven, said its president William Gheen.
"Maybe New Haven needs to learn, if they want the illegals, then they'll get the illegals," he said.
His flier, in English and Spanish, says: "Come to New Haven CT for sanctuary. Bring your friends and family members quickly."
Officials in several cities including New York and San Francisco have expressed interest in possibly starting similar programs, said Matos.
The new ID, she added, does not easily identify a person as an illegal immigrant. "That is the last thing that we want to have happen," she said. The card was created with several features to appeal to all residents, including a debit component and access to city services such as parks.
Fatima, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, said she is eager to apply for the card. "The ID will help me because it's a way to be in this country and get people to know who you are, especially for people who crossed the border and lost their papers," she said. "I feel safe here in New Haven."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Unorganized Militia
on: July 23, 2007, 01:34:20 PM
Man drives himself to hospital with butcher knife lodged in chest
Brutal stabbing lands man in hospital with knife still in chest
MEMPHIS - An East Memphis man drove himself four miles to Germantown
Methodist Hospital after he was stabbed with a butcher knife in the chest.
It happened at the Butterfield Apartment Village on Roxbury Wednesday
According to the victim's daughter, this all started because of some lewd
comments made by a group of guys.
53-year-old Greg Shackelford told police he overheard a group of guys near
his apartment complex Tuesday, making suggestive comments about his
17-year-old daughter Allie. He says he confronted them and flipped them off.
She says he overreacted.
"He'd said he'd had a bad day at work, was upset," she said.
That should've been the end of it, but it wasn't. Shackelford told police
the same men he'd confronted the day before attacked him on his front porch.
One held him down, while the other stabbed him with a butcher knife in the
"It went straight down in front of his heart, directly in front of his
heart," said ex-wife Diane Sprague. "It's a miracle he survived."
"They were trying to kill him, almost got his heart over something so
stupid," said Allie Shackelford.
It's a crime that has these family members shaking their heads, wondering
why things had to escalate.
"How dare you attack someone out their front door over something so
ridiculously minor," said Sprague. It's sad our city's come to this."
Police are still investigating the case. So far they haven't named any
suspects. Meanwhile, Shackelford is in intensive care at the Med in serious
condition. He's expected to make a full recovery.
Ohio man prevents girl's assault four years after foiling a robbery
Monday, May 21, 2007
CLEVELAND Don Lewis was walking home from his job at an auto shop one night
earlier this month when he heard a girl cry for help and saw a man
struggling with her.
Many would have passed without getting involved, fearing for their safety.
Not Lewis. He chased the assailant for six blocks, called police and stopped
a crime - for the second time in recent years.
"Lewis should be applauded," Lorain County Sheriff's Capt. Richard Resendez
said. "And God bless him that nothing bad happened."
Residents of the city's Old Brooklyn neighborhood also have been praising
Lewis, who stopped the assault on a 13-year-old girl. The suspect is being
held on $1 million bond in the attack.
"My customers have been calling me, saying, 'You're a hero!' " said Lewis,
who operates D&C Customizing, an auto repair shop. "No, I'm not. I have
three daughters. I would have wanted someone to do the same thing for them
if they were in that situation. We have to watch out for each other."
It wasn't the first time that the 35-year-old Lewis had intervened when
someone was about to become the victim of a crime.
In 2003, Lewis helped foil a robbery at a pharmacy. Police reports confirm
that a thief tried to grab money from the cash register shortly before the
Lewis was standing behind the thief and, with the help of other customers,
wrestled the man to the floor and held him until police arrived.
"It really upset me," Lewis said of the robbery attempt. "I have to work
like crazy for my money. I've been working since I was 10, cutting grass and
pulling weeds. And here is this guy who wants to walk in and steal it. It
Lewis acted instinctively in both cases, following the values he learned
from his parents. Also, he acted out of anger that "little punks who think
they can do whatever they want" are mistreating residents of one of the city's
He never thought that he might be hurt while stopping the crime. Police are
glad he got involved.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Thou Shall , , ,
on: July 23, 2007, 12:19:32 PM
You Can't Ring Her Bell
Ye shall abstain from wearing a ring inscribed with the Biblical admonition that "ye should abstain from fornication"
That was the ruling of a British High Court earlier this month against 16-year-old Lydia Playfoot, a teenager who took her West Sussex secondary school to court for banning her from wearing her chastity ring. The school has a strict anti-jewelry policy. But Ms. Playfoot, a Christian, could not help but notice the school's tolerance for Muslim and Sikh students, who were allowed to wear their headscarves and Kara bracelets.
Ms. Playfoot argued the ring was a religious symbol protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects "freedom of thought, conscience, and religion." The High Court didn't agree. Judge Michael Supperstone held that "whatever the ring is intended to symbolize, it is a piece of jewelry." Ms. Playfoot's publicity was largely positive in the beginning, but recent news reports have accused her parents of seeking controversy for the sake of a chastity ring campaign they run. A British tabloid also revealed that a key staffer in the campaign is a lingerie model and the live-in girlfriend of a minor right-wing British politician. The staffer had been jailed once for harassing the family of a child who accused singer Michael Jackson of molestation.
If all this makes Britain sound increasingly like Southern California, the legal bottomline remains: The law in Britain has turned decidedly against Christian chastity rings, but hijabs continue to be protected. Nor would many be optimistic about Ms. Playfoot's chances on appeal, given another indicator of Britain's bizarre ideas about freedom in schools. Winston Churchill's grandson, Parliament Member Nicholas Soames, is currently battling against the "madness" of a recent government move to drop Gandhi, Hitler, Stalin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Churchill from mandatory history lessons for 11-14 year olds. The government's rationale? Teachers and schools need more flexibility and "freedom."
Political Journal WSJ
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Somehow, one doubts that
on: July 23, 2007, 12:16:17 PM
this is what the FD advocates have in mind
“I want to present a hypothetical here. I know this would not happen, but I’ll offer a compromise, the Limbaugh compromise, to the Democrats in the Senate and in the House... I will agree to pull our troops out of Iraq if you Democrats will agree to my conditions after the defeat... When al-Qa’ida celebrates after we pull out, after we admit defeat, every TV image of al-Qa’ida celebrating must be a split screen. On one side, al-Qa’ida celebrating; on the other side, I want pictures of Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin smiling and congratulating themselves. When al-Qa’ida slaughters Iraqis after we pull out and we see the pictures of this on TV, every TV image must show a split screen. On one side of the screen, the bloody slaughter scenes; on the other side of the screen, pictures of smiling Harry Reid, smiling Chuck Schumer, smiling Carl Levin congratulating each other with big laughs... I think that’s a reasonable compromise, and I’ve offered it here in all sincerity. If the left will agree to this compromise, I will join them in calling for a pullout from Iraq.” --Rush Limbaugh
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 'America Alone'
on: July 23, 2007, 12:14:17 PM
“In London last week, the Optimum Population Trust called for Britons to have ‘one child less’ because the United Kingdom’s ‘high birth rate is a major factor in the current level of climate change, which can only be combated if families voluntarily limit the number of children they have.’ ‘Climate change is now widely regarded as the biggest problem facing the planet,’ says Professor John Guillebaud. ‘We’re nearing the point of no return and people are feeling increasingly desperate and helpless. The answer lies in our own hands... We have to recognize that the biggest cause of climate change is climate changers—in other words, human beings, in the UK as well as abroad.’ As the professor sees it, having fewer children is ‘the simplest, quickest and most significant thing any of us could do to leave a sustainable and habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.’ The best thing we can do for our children is not to have them.” —Mark Steyn
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Size of the fight in the dog , , ,
on: July 23, 2007, 09:43:55 AM
second post of morning:
MASONVILLE, Colo. - Zoey is a Chihuahua, but when a rattlesnake lunged at her owners' 1-year-old grandson, she was a real bulldog.
Booker West was splashing his hands in a birdbath in his grandparents' northern Colorado back yard when the snake slithered up to the toddler, rattled and struck. Five-pound Zoey jumped in the way and took the bites.
"She got in between Booker and the snake, and that's when I heard her yipe," said Monty Long, the boy's grandfather.
The dog required treatment and for a time it appeared she might not survive. Now she prances about.
"These little bitty dogs, they just don't really get credit," Booker's grandma Denise Long told the Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald.http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070723/ap_on_fe_st/odd_chihuahua_rattlesnake
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues
on: July 23, 2007, 09:41:54 AM
Left Angeles Times:
Some in Congress pushing for reinstatement of Fairness Doctrine
The influence wielded by conservative talk show hosts draws calls to reinstate the policy.
By Jim Puzzanghera, Times Staff Writer
July 23, 2007
WASHINGTON — It was the decision that launched a thousand lips.
In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission stopped requiring broadcasters to air contrasting views on controversial issues, a policy known as the Fairness Doctrine. The move is widely credited with triggering the explosive growth of political talk radio.
Now, after conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage helped torpedo a major immigration bill, some in Congress have suggested reinstating the Fairness Doctrine to balance out those powerful syndicated voices.
That has unleashed an armada of opposition on the airwaves, Internet blogs and in Washington, where broadcasters have joined with Republicans to fight what they call an attempt to zip their lips.
Opponents of the Fairness Doctrine said it would make station owners so fearful of balancing viewpoints that they'd simply avoid airing controversial topics — the "chilling effect" on debate that the FCC cited in repealing the rule two decades ago.
"Free speech must be just that — free from government influence, interference and censorship," David K. Rehr, president of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, wrote to lawmakers.
There's little chance the fairness doctrine will return in the near future, as FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin publicly opposes it and the White House wrote to broadcasters last week assuring them that Bush would veto any legislation reinstating it. But the issue has renewed debate about how far the government should go in regulating the public airwaves.
Some Democrats say conservative-dominated talk radio enables Republicans to mislead the public on important issues such as the Senate immigration reform bill.
"These are public airwaves and the public should be entitled to a fair presentation," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is considering whether the Fairness Doctrine should be restored.
Republicans say that the policy would result in censorship and warn that it could return if Democrats win the White House in 2008.
"This is a bad idea from a bygone era," Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said at a news conference last week with five other Republicans announcing legislation to block reenactment of the policy.
The FCC enacted the Fairness Doctrine in 1949 to ensure the "right of the public to be informed" by presenting "for acceptance or rejection the different attitudes and viewpoints" on controversial issues. The policy was upheld in 1969 by the Supreme Court because the public airwaves were a "scarce resource" that needed to be open to opposing views.
Broadcasters disliked the rule, which put their federal station license at risk if they didn't air all sides of an issue. Michael Harrison, who hosted a weekend talk show on the former KMET-FM in Los Angeles from 1975 to 1985, said the policy kept him from giving his opinions on controversial topics.
"I would never say that liberals were good and conservatives were bad, or vice versa. We would talk about, "Hey, all politicians are bad," or "It's a shame that more people don't vote," said Harrison, who publishes Talkers magazine, which covers the talk radio industry. "It was more of a superficial approach to politics."
The Fairness Doctrine ended during the Reagan administration. In a 1985 report, the FCC concluded the policy inhibited broadcasters from dealing with controversial issues and was no longer needed because of the growth of cable television.
"Many, many broadcasters testified they avoided issues they thought would involve them in complaints," recalled Dennis Patrick, who was chairman of the FCC in 1987 when it repealed the policy. "The commission concluded that the doctrine was having a chilling effect."
The decision was controversial. Congress passed a law in 1987 reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, but Reagan vetoed it.
Shortly afterward, Limbaugh, then a little-known Sacramento disc jockey, emerged as a conservative voice on radio stations nationwide. Another failed congressional attempt to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine in 1993 was dubbed the "Hush Rush" bill.
A 1997 study in the Journal of Legal Studies found that the percentage of AM radio stations with a news, talk or public affairs format jumped to 28% in 1995 from 7% in 1987. Liberal talk radio efforts, such as Air America, have struggled to get ratings.
The Fairness Doctrine seemed dead and buried. Then in January, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is running for president, announced that with Democrats back in the House majority, he planned to hold hearings on reviving the policy because media consolidation has made it harder for some voices to be heard.
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And this spring, conservative talk show hosts unleashed a campaign against the Senate immigration bill, which would have given the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Their listeners flooded the Capitol with complaints, and the bill failed last month on a procedural vote.
Bill supporters immediately lashed out at talk radio.
"Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with the problem," said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). And Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said they favored restoring the Fairness Doctrine.
"We have more power than the U.S. Senate and they know it and they're fuming," conservative talk show host Savage said in an interview. The liberal bent of the mainstream media more than compensates for conservative dominance of AM talk radio, he said.
"We're going to have government snitches listening to shows," he said. "And what are they going to do, push a button and then wheel someone into the studio and give their viewpoint?"
But Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.) said the rest of the media presented a balanced view of controversial issues, and the Fairness Doctrine would simply reimpose that requirement on talk radio.
Hinchey is readying legislation to reinstitute the doctrine as part of a broad package of media ownership reforms.
"It's important that the American people make decisions for themselves based upon the ability to garner all the information, not just on what somebody wants to give them," he said.
Republicans have seized on comments like that.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a former radio talk show host, proposed an amendment last month prohibiting the FCC from spending money to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine. It passed 309 to 115 after a parade of Republicans took to the House floor to blast calls to restore the policy. Democrats branded the vote a political stunt. Republicans tried to propose a similar amendment in the Senate last week, but Democrats blocked it .
Republicans vow to continue pressing the issue.
"The American people love a fair fight, and so do I," Pence said. "But there's nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Chinese pollution reaches US
on: July 23, 2007, 07:44:53 AM
Huge Dust Plumes
From China Cause
Changes in Climate
July 20, 2007; Page B1
One tainted export from China can't be avoided in North America -- air.
An outpouring of dust layered with man-made sulfates, smog, industrial fumes, carbon grit and nitrates is crossing the Pacific Ocean on prevailing winds from booming Asian economies in plumes so vast they alter the climate. These rivers of polluted air can be wider than the Amazon and deeper than the Grand Canyon.
"There are times when it covers the entire Pacific Ocean basin like a ribbon bent back and forth," said atmospheric physicist V. Ramanathan at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.
A GLOBAL POLLUTION PROBLEM
• Can the U.S. help stop global traffic in aerosol pollution? And what's the international responsibility here? Share your thoughts in an online forum.On some days, almost a third of the air over Los Angeles and San Francisco can be traced directly to Asia. With it comes up to three-quarters of the black carbon particulate pollution that reaches the West Coast, Dr. Ramanathan and his colleagues recently reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
This transcontinental pollution is part of a growing global traffic in dust and aerosol particles made worse by drought and deforestation, said Steven Cliff, who studies the problem at the University of California at Davis.
Aerosols -- airborne microscopic particles -- are produced naturally every time a breeze catches sea salt from ocean spray, or a volcano erupts, or a forest burns, or a windstorm kicks up dust, for example. They also are released in exhaust fumes, factory vapors and coal-fired power plant emissions.
Courtesy SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and ORBIMAGE
A satellite view from 2001 shows dust arriving in California from Asian deserts. Concentrations of dust are visible to the south, near the coastline (lower right); To the west the dust is mixed with clouds over open ocean. This dust event caused a persistent haze in places like Death Valley, California, where skies are usually crystal clear.
Over the Pacific itself, the plumes are seeding ocean clouds and spawning fiercer thunderstorms, researchers at Texas A&M University reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March.
The influence of these plumes on climate is complex because they can have both a cooling and a warming effect, the scientists said. Scientists are convinced these plumes contain so many cooling sulfate particles that they may be masking half of the effect of global warming. The plumes may block more than 10% of the sunlight over the Pacific.
But while the sulfates they carry lower temperatures by reflecting sunlight, the soot they contain absorbs solar heat, thus warming the planet.
Asia is the world's largest source of aerosols, man-made and natural. Every spring and summer, storms whip up silt from the Gobi desert of Mongolia and the hardpan of the Taklamakan desert of western China, where, for centuries, dust has shaped a way of life. From the dunes of Dunhuang, where vendors hawk gauze face masks alongside braided leather camel whips, to the oasis of Kashgar at the feet of the Tian Shan Mountains 1,500 miles to the west, there is no escaping it.
Courtesy SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE.
A satellite image from 2005 shows a plume of dust flowing from China to the north of the Korean Peninsula and over the Sea of Japan. Such plumes can cross the Pacific and scatter dust across the Western U.S.
The Taklamakan is a natural engine of evaporation and erosion. Rare among the world's continental basins, no river that enters the Taklamakan ever reaches the sea. Fed by melting highland glaciers and gorged with silt, these freshwater torrents all vanish in the arid desert heat, like so many Silk Road caravans.
Only the dust escapes.
In an instant, billows of grit can envelope the landscape in a mist so fine that it never completely settles. Moving east, the dust sweeps up pollutants from heavily industrialized regions that turn the yellow plumes a bruised brown. In Beijing, where authorities estimate a million tons of this dust settles every year, the level of microscopic aerosols is seven times the public-health standard set by the World Health Organization.
Once aloft, the plumes can circle the world in three weeks. "In a very real and immediate sense, you can look at a dust event you are breathing in China and look at this same dust as it tracks across the Pacific and reaches the United States," said climate analyst Jeff Stith at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. "It is a remarkable mix of natural and man-made particles."
Carlye Calvin, UCAR
Jeff Stith of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a principal investigator on the Pacific Dust Experiment.
This spring, Dr. Ramanathan and Dr. Stith led an international research team in a $1 million National Science Foundation project to track systematically the plumes across the Pacific. NASA satellites have monitored the clouds from orbit for several years, but this was the first effort to analyze them in detail.
For six weeks, the researchers cruised the Pacific aboard a specially instrumented Gulfstream V jet to sample these exotic airstreams. Their findings, to be released this year, involved NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and nine U.S. universities, as well as the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan, Seoul National University in Korea, and Lanzhou University and Peking University in China.
The team detected a new high-altitude plume every three or four days. Each one was up to 300 miles wide and six miles deep, a vaporous layer cake of pollutants. The higher the plumes, the longer they lasted, the faster they traveled and the more pronounced their effect, the researchers said.
Until now, the pollution choking so many communities in Asia may have tempered the pace of global warming. As China and other countries eliminate their sulfate emissions, however, world temperatures may heat up even faster than predicted.
• Email email@example.com
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Guatemala
on: July 23, 2007, 07:38:11 AM
Train Wreck in Guatemala
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
July 23, 2007; Page A14
Henry Posner III is an American entrepreneur who has revitalized rail systems in Peru, Argentina, Mozambique and Malawi. He also has been working since 1996 to revive rail service in Guatemala. But now Mr. Posner's Pittsburgh-based company, Railroad Development Corp., is suspending operations in the Central American country, charging that the government has violated RDC's 50-year concession contract and refused to enforce the company's property rights.
"Because of the government's action and the lack of the rule of law in Guatemala, we have no other alternative," Mr. Posner wrote in a letter to customers, investors and employees on July 6.
Americas columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady discusses an American's fraught attempt to develop the country's railroads.
For Guatemala, the matter is more serious than a simple dispute about a state concession. Mr. Posner, who is chairman of RDC, is taking his beef to international arbitration under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (Cafta) and asking for $65 million in lost revenues and investments. In its complaint to the Cafta panel, the company also charges that there is method to the government's maddening mistreatment of the company: It wants to "redistribute to certain Guatemalan private-sector companies the benefits of the right-of-way, without compensation."
If the American businessman prevails, the case will reinforce the country's traditional image as a banana republic uninterested in equality under the law and ready to trample property rights whenever it is politically expedient. What else are investors to conclude if it turns out that President Oscar Berger's "right-of-center" government, which pays lip service to property rights, has unilaterally abrogated a lawful contract? This would be a blow to all Guatemalans, who need investment in their country if they are to benefit from and compete within Cafta.
Transportation infrastructure is crucial to economic development in any country and Guatemala is no exception. In the early part of the 20th century the country had a national railway that was largely the product of investment by an affiliate of United Fruit. It was nationalized in the 1960s and over three decades run into the ground. By 1996, it was completely defunct.
That left the country's distribution system entirely reliant on a costly, polluting highway system subject to congestion, accidents and rampant hijacking. In 1997 Guatemala held a World Bank-style, sealed-bid tender process for the concession that was to restart the dead railroad. RDC won. In December 1999, Ferrovías Guatemala's first train chugged out of the Atlantic coastal city of Puerto Barrios on its maiden journey to the capital. Mr. Posner says that the concession included the right-of- way on the old rail line that runs out to the Pacific at Puerto Quetzal, north to Mexico and south to El Salvador as well, and that RDC promised "best efforts" to get the Pacific side going.
In 2005 the railroad shipped some 150,000 tons of traffic -- mostly steel, as well as containers -- on the Atlantic route but it was having a lot of trouble with the government. Mr. Posner says the terms of the concession included a government pledge to remove squatters from the railroad right-of-way and to redirect half of the lease payments from railroad-owned assets toward track maintenance and improvements. The squatters were never resettled elsewhere -- photographs support this claim -- and, he says, the lease revenue "disappeared and we had to replace it."
In 2005, RDC tried to get Guatemala to go to binding arbitration as provided for under the concession. But the government refused, arguing that it was not bound to do so. The government also says that the company has not kept up its side of the agreement by investing in the country. While Mr. Posner says his company has invested $15 million in the railroad, President Berger has said that the concessionaires "have not invested one cent." In August 2006, the government declared the concession "harmful" to the interests of Guatemala and moved to confiscate the railroad's rolling stock and equipment. The company says this inflicted further damage on it as investor confidence plummeted and its ability to access credit markets was strained.
Still, Mr. Posner says the railroad could have continued to operate were it not for Guatemala's indifference toward another of its property rights. The company's business plan had included charging for use of the right-of-way for electricity distribution, pipelines, fiber optics and the like. This was stipulated in the concession and would have subsidized rail operations. But while some local companies paid for that use, others began free riding along the right-of-way. When RDC appealed through the Guatemalan legal system for protection in the matter, the courts sided with the commercial squatters. This signaled the market that what is essentially theft would be tolerated, and RDC lost an important source of revenue.
The World Bank hasn't been much help either. It declared Ferrovías Guatemala's property a "category A environmental problem" because of the squatters and refused to lend to it. Mr. Posner says the bank's position was that he had to prove to the satisfaction of the squatters that RDC has done no harm. "That's like handing someone a loaded gun while you open your wallet and negotiating from there," Mr. Posner says. No wonder no one takes the Bank seriously. It lends to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim but when it comes to defending property rights it runs for cover.
Most troubling in all of this is the charge in RDC's Cafta complaint that in driving the company out of the country, the government seeks to satisfy special interests. There is talk that a cross-country rail system designed to compete with the Panama Canal would be a big money maker as Asia booms. And while Mr. Posner dismisses that idea, he notes that the rail right-of-way is immensely valuable for more than simply hauling freight. Whatever the reason for breaking the concession, it's hard to see how it won't harm Guatemala's image with foreign investors at a time when the country ought to be courting them.
• Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: July 23, 2007, 07:34:16 AM
China's Space Weapons
By ASHLEY J. TELLIS
July 23, 2007; Page A15
On Jan. 11, 2007, a Chinese medium-range ballistic missile slammed into an aging weather satellite in space. The resulting collision not only marked Beijing's first successful anti-satellite (ASAT) test but, in the eyes of many, also a head-on collision with the Bush administration's space policies.
As one analyst phrased it, U.S. policy has compelled China's leaders to conclude "that only a display of Beijing's power to launch . . . an arms race would bring Washington to the table to hear their concerns." This view, which is widespread in the U.S. and elsewhere, misses the point: China's ASAT demonstration was not a protest against the Bush administration, but rather part of a maturing strategy designed to counter the overall military superiority of the U.S.
Since the end of the Cold War, Chinese strategists have been cognizant of the fact that the U.S. is the only country in the world with the capacity -- and possibly the intention -- to thwart China's rise to great power status. They also recognize that Beijing will be weak militarily for some time to come, yet must be prepared for a possible war with America over Taiwan or, in the longer term, over what Aaron Friedberg once called "the struggle for mastery in Asia." How the weaker can defeat the stronger, therefore, becomes the central problem facing China's military strategy.
Chinese strategists have struggled to find ways of solving this conundrum ever since the dramatic demonstration of American prowess in Operation Desert Storm. And after carefully analyzing U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf, Kosovo and Afghanistan, they believe they have uncovered a significant weakness.
The advanced military might of the U.S. is inordinately dependent on a complex network of space-based command, control, communications, and computer-driven intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that enables American forces to detect different kinds of targets and exchange militarily relevant information. This network is key to the success of American combat operations. These assets, however, are soft and defenseless; while they bestow on the American military definite asymmetric advantages, they are also the source of deep vulnerability. Consequently, Chinese strategists concluded that any effort to defeat the U.S. should aim not at its fundamental strength -- its capacity to deliver overwhelming conventional firepower precisely from long distances -- but rather at its Achilles' heel, namely, its satellites and their related ground installations.
Consistent with this calculus, China has pursued, for over a decade now, a variety of space warfare programs, which include direct attack and directed-energy weapons, electronic attack, and computer-network and ground-attack systems. These efforts are aimed at giving China the capacity to attack U.S. space systems comprehensively because, in Chinese calculations, this represents the best way of "leveling the playing field" in the event of a future conflict.
The importance of space denial for China's operational success implies that its counterspace investments, far from being bargaining chips aimed at creating a peaceful space regime, in fact represent its best hope for prevailing against superior American military power. Because having this capacity is critical to Chinese security, Beijing will not entertain any arms-control regime that requires it to trade away its space-denial capabilities. This would only further accentuate the military advantages of its competitors. For China to do otherwise would be to condemn its armed forces to inevitable defeat in any encounter with American power.
This is why arms-control advocates are wrong even when they are right. Any "weaponization" of space will indeed be costly and especially dangerous to the U.S., which relies heavily on space for military superiority, economic growth and strategic stability. Space arms-control advocates are correct when they emphasize that advanced powers stand to gain disproportionately from any global regime that protects their space assets. Yet they are wrong when they insist that such a regime is attainable and, therefore, ought to be pursued.
Weaker but significant challengers, like China, simply cannot permit the creation of such a space sanctuary because of its deleterious consequences for their particular interests. Consequently, even though a treaty protecting space assets would be beneficial to Washington, its specific costs to Beijing -- in the context of executing China's national military strategy -- would be remarkably high.
Beijing's attitude toward space arms control will change only given a few particular developments. China might acquire the capacity to defeat the U.S. despite America's privileged access to space. Or China's investments in counterspace technology might begin to yield diminishing returns because the U.S. consistently nullifies these capabilities through superior technology and operational practices. Or China's own dependence on space for strategic and economic reasons might intensify to the point where the threat posed by any American offensive counterspace programs exceed the benefits accruing to Beijing's own comparable efforts. Or the risk of conflict between a weaker China and any other superior military power, such as the U.S., disappears entirely.
Since these conditions will not be realized anytime soon, Washington should certainly discuss space security with Beijing, but, for now, it should not expect that negotiation will yield any successful agreements. Instead, the U.S. should accelerate investments in solutions that enhance the security of its space assets, in addition to developing its own offensive counterspace capabilities. These avenues -- as the Bush administration has correctly recognized -- offer the promise of protecting American interests in space and averting more serious threats to its global primacy.
Mr. Tellis is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism
on: July 23, 2007, 07:30:08 AM
Second post of the morning:
Speak and Be Sued
July 23, 2007; Page A14
A rider of New York City's subways would have to have his nose stuck way deep in his morning newspaper to avoid seeing the anti-terrorism placards urging: "If you see something, say something." Now, if some Democrats in Washington have their way, the signs will need to be amended to read, "If you see something and say something, prepare to be sued."
That's the message the six "flying imams" tried to deliver in November when suspicious behavior got them thrown off a US Airways flight from Minneapolis -- and the passengers who blew the whistle on them threatened with lawsuits. And that's the message endorsed by Democrats in Congress who are pressuring a conference committee to remove language from the final homeland security bill that would confer civil immunity on citizens who "in good faith" report suspicious behavior to authorities.
This "John Doe provision" passed the House in March by a bipartisan vote that included every Republican and 105 Democrats. Opponents argue that it "could invite racial and religious profiling," as Senator Patrick Leahy said last week.
When it looked like Democrats would use a technicality to strip the John Doe provision out of the bill, Republicans forced a vote last week by adding it as an amendment to the education bill. The amendment was rejected on procedural grounds in a late-night session Thursday by a vote of 57-39, three short of the supermajority needed to pass. Democrats voting in favor of the provision included New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer.
The fate of "John Doe" now falls to the conference committee, headed by Senator Joe Lieberman, who supports the provision, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, who opposes it. This week the committee is expected to release the final version of the homeland security bill, implementing the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Leading Democrats -- including Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers -- continue to work behind the scenes to scuttle the immunity clause, throwing up procedural obstacles and insisting that other committees must have a say.
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority said last week that the subway tipline had received 1,944 reports in 2006. We'll never know precisely how many terrorist acts may have been prevented because of those workaday whistleblowers. But as the Fort Dix plot -- uncovered by a retail clerk -- proves, vigilance works.
Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who drafted the John Doe provision, asks how Democrats "can possibly say they're passing 'the ultimate comprehensive homeland security bill' while eliminating the provision that protects people who report terrorist activity." Good question.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Southwick Stonewall
on: July 23, 2007, 07:27:16 AM
The Southwick Stonewall
July 23, 2007; Page A14
It isn't easy to get Republican moderate Senator Arlen Specter into a fighting partisan mood. But Democrats are achieving this rare feat as they continue to block nearly every nomination by President Bush to the federal appeals courts.
After six months in charge of the Senate, Democrats have approved exactly three appellate court judges. Last Tuesday, the White House announced four more appellate nominees, taking to nine the number now in a Senate holding pattern. Several circuits are in dire need of new judges to cover the work load, but Democrats are betting they can drag things out long enough so Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama get to fill these posts.
It's important to understand how unusual this is. The Senate and White House have often been run by different parties in the last two years of a Presidency, and at least some judicial nominees have been confirmed. In the last two Reagan years, Democrats confirmed 16. And in the last two Bill Clinton years, Republicans confirmed 15.
During the Clinton years, then-ranking minority member Patrick Leahy was the one deploring judicial vacancies. In February 2000, he lamented that "The Senate is back to a pace of confirming one judge a month. That is not acceptable, does not serve the interests of justice and does not fulfill our constitutional responsibilities." Hmmm. One a month sounds lightening-quick compared to the pace under Senator Leahy's own Judiciary Committee. And that complaint of stalling tactics came seven months closer to a Presidential election than we are today.
The current Senate stonewall has been on particular display in the case of Mississippi State judge Leslie Southwick to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And that's what has Mr. Specter, the ranking Republican on Judiciary, fired up. Recently he called some conservative activists into his office to disclose that after Judge Southwick was nominated in January, Mr. Specter received explicit promises from Democrats that the nominee would get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
Judge Southwick's nomination was once considered a consensus choice. No one disputes his qualifications, and as a judicial moderate he had been unanimously approved by Democrats for a seat on the federal district court. But the judge has since run afoul of what appears to be a new Democratic racial litmus test for judges from the South. "Mississippi has never had an African-American on the circuit even though it has the largest African-American population of any state," Mr. Leahy remarked last month. Perhaps Mr. Bush could nominate someone more racially suitable, he suggested.
In case this racial quota idea didn't fly, Democrats have also played the familiar race card. Of particular "concern," they claimed, was Judge Southwick's concurrence in a Mississippi decision regarding an employee who wasn't fired after using a racial slur in comments about a co-worker. That case was one of more than 6,000 opinions that Judge Southwick signed or joined. But let's take a closer look, shall we?
Though the racial slur makes the headlines, that's not what the court's ruling condoned. The decision in Richmond v. Mississippi Dept. of Human Services was narrow, affirming the ruling of an employment board created by Mississippi law and given broad latitude to set hiring and firing policies across the state. In reviewing the board's decisions, Mississippi courts must follow specific parameters -- they can only overturn based on a finding of legal error or "arbitrary and capricious" judgment. In other words, by affirming the board's decision, the court's ruling was not on whether it considered racial name-calling grounds for firing, but whether the state board had made distinct and material errors.
Many from Judge Southwick's past have stepped forward to support him. His former African-American law clerk A. La'Verne Edney spoke with particular dismay at the racial charges. "It did not matter the parties' affiliation, color or stature," she wrote about his judicial approach, "what mattered was the law." Now a partner in a Mississippi law firm, Ms. Edney added: "It is unfortunate that there are some who have made [Judge Southwick] the chosen sacrifice to promote agendas and have set out to taint all that [he] has worked so hard to accomplish."
Mr. Leahy's posse maintains that the broader point is the need for more African-Americans on the bench. But African-American judicial nominees don't fare well at the hands of Democrats either. When President Bush nominated Janice Rogers Brown to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, liberal activists called her nomination "window-dressing." Claude Allen's nomination to the Fourth Circuit was opposed by the NAACP. And Justice Clarence Thomas is regularly denounced by those who claim to care about diversity on the bench.
It's hard to get straight answers on this subject, so we were glad for a recent article in the Afro-American Newspapers that at least had the benefit of honesty. "[Judge] Southwick," the paper noted, "is considered by civil rights groups to be too conservative to serve on the Fifth Circuit." That breaks the Democratic code, and we hope Mr. Specter and Republicans are willing to make judicial nominations a very public brawl.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Theory
on: July 23, 2007, 07:20:41 AM
Contempt and Congress
The Democrats' attack on executive privilege shows blatant disregard for the Constitution.
BY JOHN YOO
Monday, July 23, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
Republicans aren't exactly racing to defend President Bush's assertion of executive privilege against Congress's investigation of his firing of nine U.S. attorneys. This leaves former political director Sara Taylor and Harriet Miers, former White House counsel, facing possible contempt sanctions. If this sword of Damocles drops, an important constitutional showdown between the branches might well reach the Supreme Court.
Rather than run from this fight, supporters of the constitutional system ought to stand firm with the president. Presidents, Congresses, and the courts have long accepted a president's right to keep internal executive discussions confidential. Even when the Supreme Court ordered Richard Nixon to hand over the Watergate tapes, it recognized "the necessity for protection of the public interest in candid, objective, and even blunt or harsh opinions in Presidential decisionmaking."
Without secrecy, the government can't function. No one thinks conversations between federal judges and their clerks, or members of Congress and their staff, ought to be aired publicly without good reason. The same goes for presidents--even if their poll ratings are low.
Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Polk, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Truman, Eisenhower (whose administration invented the phrase "executive privilege") Kennedy and Reagan, among others, have kept executive deliberations secret from congressional inquiries, usually over matters of diplomacy, national security and law enforcement. Courts have recognized that discussions among their senior advisors, not just meetings when presidents are in the room, also receive protection. So why aren't Republicans fighting to defend executive privilege now?
Those who made their bones investigating the Clinton administration's misdeeds might squirm over Mr. Bush's assertion of privilege today. But then, Democrats who supported President Bill Clinton's assertions of executive privilege in the '90s are being hypocritical by jumping all over Mr. Bush now, too.
The issues at stake are light years from those of the Clinton years. Mr. Clinton was fighting claims of sexual harassment brought by Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, an independent counsel corruption investigation into Whitewater, and his extracurricular relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Mr. Clinton asserted executive secrecy to protect his personal affairs. This is legally important because the federal courts of appeals have held that the privilege only applies to communications between the president and his advisers on "official government matters."
Mr. Clinton's personal recklessness undermined executive privilege for all future presidents. At worst, today's flap might ultimately show some lax management, or partisanship, but the hiring or firing of U.S. attorneys for any or no reason is squarely within a president's constitutional prerogative. Mr. Clinton's groundless claims of privilege don't invalidate assertions of executive privilege for all time. Pundits who imply otherwise are just blowing partisan smoke.
Some Senate Democrats say Mr. Bush is just "stonewalling" and insinuate that he must be trying to hide something, as Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) has darkly intoned. But as he well knows, executive privilege traces its lineage to George Washington. In 1796, the House of Representatives demanded all his papers related to the controversial Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Washington refused, saying that the Constitution barred the House from the making of treaties. Firing U.S. attorneys and any other executive officers, including those requiring Senate approval, rests beyond the constitutional powers of Congress, and totally within those of the presidency. This has been true since the first cabinet departments were established in 1789.
The Supreme Court held in 1959 that, "Since Congress may only investigate into those areas in which it may potentially legislate or appropriate, it cannot inquire into matters which are within the exclusive province of one or the other branches of the Government." In the 1974 Watergate tapes case, the Supreme Court said that the president's right to protect information is strongest when law enforcement, national security or his other constitutional powers are involved. Under that rule, Mr. Leahy has no right to see the president's communications about the firing of federal attorneys, the nomination of John Roberts or Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court or the reduction of Scooter Libby's sentence.
That doesn't mean the president's power is limitless. Congress can conduct oversight needed to pass legislation. On the fig leaf that Congress is superintending the Justice Department's funding or statutory authorities, DOJ has accommodatingly turned over thousands of documents and made its senior staff available for testimony. Congress can always engage in good old-fashioned horse trading to get its way. If Senate Democrats really cared to see any of Mr. Bush's communications, as opposed to lobbing allegations of "scandal" endlessly on the front pages, they could refuse to confirm any new U.S. attorneys, high officials or judges until they got what they wanted. Not bothering suggests that there is no real wrongdoing here, just an intent to keep the scandal machine running.
Presidents can't invoke executive privilege to protect information needed for a criminal investigation, except perhaps if national security is at stake. Kenneth Starr pursued Mr. Clinton not for harassing Paula Jones, or having a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but because Mr. Clinton apparently committed perjury and obstructed criminal investigations. Senate Democrats have yet to show that the firings have arguably violated a single law. Dumb and bad politics, maybe--criminal, no. If Senate Democrats really thought there was any crime here, then they ought to find somebody maliciously or politically prosecuted by a new U.S. attorney, or an FBI agent forced to drop a good case because of a new U.S. Attorney's partisan agenda. There is nothing criminal about a president's changing law-enforcement priorities, or replacing his political appointees with new blood.
Republicans unhappy with Mr. Bush for one reason or another don't care to use up their own political capital for an unpopular president. Others expect the administration to crumble at the end of the face-off, and who wants to be stuck defending a loser just because it's the principled thing to do?
But the odds are that Mr. Bush will win this fight. Even if a few Republicans defect, he has the Constitution on his side. His poll numbers may be low, but Congress's are even lower. Congressional Democrats have failed to follow through on the reforms promised in the 2006 campaign. They're too preoccupied with investigating rather than legislating. If the House or Senate vote contempt motions against Ms. Taylor or Ms. Miers, a U.S. Attorney must enforce them, and since they're all Bush appointees, nothing should come of it. The president has every right to order his prosecutors not to bring charges against officials who defend his legitimate constitutional claims. And what if the case gets to court? Vice President Dick Cheney prevailed in 2004 before the Supreme Court against efforts to learn the workings of his Energy Task Force.
With his domestic agenda exhausted, Mr. Bush has nothing to lose defending the rights of future presidents under the Constitution.
Mr. Yoo is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He served in the Justice Department from 2001-03.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / States register dangerous dogs
on: July 23, 2007, 06:50:41 AM
RICHMOND, Va. — Bear is a golden retriever-shepherd who attacked a bicyclist. Dee Dee, a pit bull mix, killed a cat. Cody, a Labrador mix, bit the neighbor.
Dog Bite Law Web site
Virginia's Dangerous Dog Registry
Bibliography of Articles on Dog Bites
Their mug shots, misdeeds and home addresses went online this month at the Virginia Dangerous Dog Registry, a new Web page modeled after the state’s sex offender registry. It lets residents find dogs in their county that have attacked a person or an animal, and that a judge has decided could cause injury again.
Created after dogs killed a toddler and an 82-year-old woman in separate incidents in the last two years, Virginia’s registry is part of a growing effort by states to deal with dogs deemed dangerous. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia hold owners legally liable if their dogs maim or kill, and in 2006, Ohio became the first state to enact a breed ban, though it was later overturned.
In the last two years, nearly 100 municipalities have taken similar steps — banning pit bulls, Rottweilers, English bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers, or passing regulations that require owners to use muzzles or short leashes in public, according to the American Kennel Club.
Last month, Texas responded to a November 2005 mauling death of a 76-year-old woman by enacting some of the harshest criminal penalties for delinquent dog owners, making it a felony with a possible 10-year prison sentence for anyone whose dog seriously injures a person while off its leash.
But lawmakers taking steps to deal with growing concerns have struggled to ensure public safety without impinging on the privacy and property rights of dog owners. Several of the measures have been overturned in the courts, and many national dog owner and veterinarian associations say the bans are difficult to enforce and ineffective since, they say, if one breed is banned, dog owners seeking aggressive dogs will simply begin fostering fierceness in other breeds.
After the indictment of the Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who is accused of running a dog-fighting ring from his property in Virginia, the Humane Society estimated that more than 30 percent of dogs in animal shelters were pit bulls, many of them trained as fighting dogs and later abandoned on the streets. That is up from 2 or 3 percent of the shelter population that were pit bulls 15 years ago, the officials said.
“Of course it’s a serious concern when you have more people wanting and training aggressive dogs, and more of those dogs are being abandoned,” said John Goodwin, an expert on animal fighting with the Humane Society.
Counties in Florida and New York have also created publicly accessible dangerous dog registries like the one in Virginia, and legislators in Hawaii are considering one. Critics of the registries say that by publicizing the home addresses of dangerous dogs, they invite harassment by neighbors and invade the privacy of dog owners. Seventeen states now have a “one bite rule” protecting dog owners from liability for the first attack.
“It seems a little unfair to single out a dog if they haven’t done something in the past,” said Jacqueline Short, 40, who lives in Newport News, Va. She is Bear’s owner and says the bicyclist was her pet’s first biting offense.
Now that Bear has been officially designated a dangerous dog, he must be muzzled and walked on a short leash when he is taken in public. But Ms. Short says the toughest requirement has been the $100,000 liability insurance that she now has to carry, which costs about $1,000 a year.
“Courts need to look at the dog’s history and the severity of the incident,” Ms. Short said, “and if the dogs haven’t shown aggression in the past then that should be taken into account before they are considered dangerous.”
Even with stiffer penalties, animal control departments are often understaffed and under-financed and therefore unable to apply the laws.
“Leash laws don’t work because they’re not enforced,” said Mary Hill, the sister of Lillian Stiles, who was killed in Texas in November 2005 by a pack of dogs and whose death inspired the state’s law.
Ms. Hill, who likes to exercise regularly, said she was often frustrated by dogs left off their leashes that chase and harass runners and walkers.
Each year, roughly 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs and about 800,000, half of them children, seek medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On average, a dozen people die each year from dog attacks, according to the center. In 2003, 32 people died from dog-related incidents.
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From 1979 to 1998, more than half of the dog-related fatalities were caused by pit bulls and Rottweilers, according to a study published in 2000 in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Randall Lockwood, a senior vice president of the association and one of the authors of that study, said it was a mistake to make policy decisions based on dog-related fatalities, because they are so rare.
“In the ’70s, Dobermans were the scary dogs of choice, and they were involved in more fatalities,” Mr. Lockwood said. “And later, German shepherds and St. Bernards used to be the ones involved in attacks, which is probably why Stephen King chose to make Cujo a St. Bernard, not a pit bull.” Fatalities are, above all, a reflection of the type of dog that is popular at a given time among people who want to own an aggressive status symbol, he said.
Pit bulls have undoubtedly become that symbol in recent years, and communities that have tried to ban them have run into problems. At least 12 states prohibit local municipalities from passing breed-specific legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Critics say the bans are costly and impractical to enforce since breeds are often difficult to identify and dogs are often of mixed breed.
In March 2006, Ohio’s law banning pit bulls was overturned on the grounds that the state could not prove that pit bulls were inherently more dangerous than other breeds.
In Virginia, 75 to 100 dogs have been declared dangerous by a judge, and many of them have been euthanized or moved out of state.
But victims say the insurance is actually the most important part of Virginia’s new law.
Betty Greene’s mother, Dorothy Sullivan, 82, was killed by a neighbor’s three pit bulls that entered her yard. Ms. Greene said she had heard from a number of victims of dog attacks who, more often than not, ended up having to pay for their hospital bills.
The three pit bulls were euthanized and the owner was sentenced to three years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, Ms. Greene said.
“There is no way to explain the grief,” she said. “It’s even worse when the victim has to pay for the lawyers, the death, the hospital bills.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism
on: July 23, 2007, 06:41:33 AM
Unlikely Adversary Arises to Criticize Detainee Hearings
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
Published: July 23, 2007
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Stephen E. Abraham’s assignment to the Pentagon unit that runs the hearings at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, seemed a perfect fit.
A lawyer in civilian life, he had been decorated for counterespionage and counterterrorism work during 22 years as a reserve Army intelligence officer in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His posting, just as the Guantánamo hearings were accelerating in 2004, gave him a close-up view of the government’s detention policies.
It also turned him into one of the Bush administration’s most unlikely adversaries.
In June, Colonel Abraham became the first military insider to criticize publicly the Guantánamo hearings, which determine whether detainees should be held indefinitely as enemy combatants. Just days after detainees’ lawyers submitted an affidavit containing his criticisms, the United States Supreme Court reversed itself and agreed to hear an appeal arguing that the hearings are unjust and that detainees have a right to contest their detentions in federal court.
Some lawyers say Colonel Abraham’s account — of a hearing procedure that he described as deeply flawed and largely a tool for commanders to rubber-stamp decisions they had already made — may have played an important role in the justices’ highly unusual reversal. That decision once again brought the administration face to face with the vexing legal, political and diplomatic questions about the fate of Guantánamo and the roughly 360 men still held there.
“Nobody stood up and said the emperor’s wearing no clothes,” Colonel Abraham said in an interview. “The prevailing attitude was, ‘If they’re in Guantánamo, they’re there for a reason.’ ”
The curtain on the hearings had been pulled back a bit previously, when the Pentagon, under pressure, released some transcripts. But by stepping forward, Colonel Abraham gave the Supreme Court and the public a look from an insider at a process that remains heavily shielded.
He expanded on that account in a series of recent conversations at his law office here, offering a detailed portrait of a system that he described as characterized by superficial efforts to gather evidence and frenzied pressure to conduct hundreds of hearings in a few months.
Most detainees, he said, have no realistic way to contest charges often based not on solid information, but on generalizations, incomplete intelligence reports and hints of terrorism ties.
“What disturbed me most was the willingness to use very small fragments of information,” he said, recounting how, over his six-month tour, he grew increasingly uneasy at what he saw. In the interviews, he often spoke coolly, with the detachment of a lawyer, but as time wore on grew agitated as he described his experiences.
Often, he said, intelligence reports relied only on accusations that a detainee had been found in a suspect area or was associated with a suspect organization. Some, he said, described detainees as jihadist without detail.
Pentagon officials have dismissed his criticisms as biased and said he was not in the position to have seen the entire process work.
As an intelligence officer responsible for running the central computer depository of evidence for the hearings, he said, he saw many of the documents in hundreds of the 558 cases. He also worked as a liaison with intelligence agencies and served on one three-member hearing panel.
All of which has left Colonel Abraham, 46, a civilian business lawyer who has lately been busy with a lawsuit between makers of pomegranate juice, with a central role in the public debate over Guantánamo. His account has been widely discussed in Congress, the administration and the press. On Friday, a federal appeals court judge took note of it in describing what she said were problems with the Pentagon’s hearing process.
He has been called a whistleblower and a traitor. On July 26, he is to testify before a House committee.
His road to notoriety, he says, is entirely of a piece with his biography. A political conservative who says he cried when Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency, he says he has remained a reservist throughout his adult life to repay the country for the opportunities it offered his family. His father is a Holocaust survivor who emigrated after the Second World War.
“It is my duty,” Colonel Abraham said of his decision to come forward.
Pentagon officials say his account indicates that he misunderstood the purpose of the hearings, known as combatant status review tribunals or C.S.R.T.’s, which the officials say “afford greater protections for wartime detainees than any nation has ever provided.”
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler of the Navy, said that Colonel Abraham’s “apparently biased insinuations” did not indicate bad faith or improper behavior by military officials.
Page 2 of 3)
“In his capacity as database manager during his brief stint on active duty several years ago,” Commander Peppler said, “Lieutenant Colonel Abraham was not in a position to have a complete view of all the evidence used in the C.S.R.T.’s, as well as the process as a whole.”
Colonel Abraham arrived at the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants during a chaotic period in September 2004.
The plan for the hearings had come from the highest levels of the Pentagon after two Supreme Court rulings on June 28, 2004, put the Bush administration on the defensive over its detainee policies.
One ruling suggested that detainees would be entitled to hearings “before a neutral decision maker.” The other said detainees could have federal courts review their detentions. Nine days later, Paul D. Wolfowitz, then deputy defense secretary, issued an order creating the C.S.R.T.’s.
Colonel Abraham had already served a year on active duty after the 2001 terrorist attacks. At Pearl Harbor, he had been cited for exceptionally meritorious service as “lead counterterrorism analyst,” burnishing a record that included a citation for leading a counterespionage operation in the 1980s that ended with the detention of three Soviet agents.
A divorced father of a 7-year-old daughter, he was not looking for a posting. But a commander suggested that his skills were needed: the hearing program was entering its busiest period, with more than 200 people gathering evidence and running the hearings at an office near the Pentagon and in Guantánamo.
It was obvious, Colonel Abraham said, that officials were under intense pressure to show quick results. Quickly, he said, he grew concerned about the quality of the reports being used as evidence. The unclassified evidence, he said, lacked the kind of solid corroboration he had relied on throughout his intelligence career. “The classified information,” he added, “was stripped down, watered down, removed of context, incomplete and missing essential information.”
Many detainees implicated other detainees, he said, and there was often no way to test whether they had provided false information to win favor with interrogators.
He said he was prohibited from discussing the facts of cases. But public information, much of it obtained through lawsuits, includes examples of some of the points he made.
In a hearing on Oct. 26, 2004, a transcript shows, one detainee was told that another had identified him as having attended a terrorism training camp.
The detainee asked that his accuser be brought to testify. “We don’t know his name,” the senior officer on the hearing panel said.
At another hearing, later reviewed by a federal judge, a Turkish detainee, Murat Kurnaz, was said to have been associated with an Islamic missionary group. He had also traveled with a man who had become a suicide bomber.
“It would appear,” Judge Joyce Hens Green wrote in 2005, “that the government is indefinitely holding the detainee — possibly for life — solely because of his contacts with individuals or organizations tied to terrorism and not because of any terrorist activities that the detainee aided, abetted or undertook himself.”
In a third hearing, an Afghan detainee said he had indeed been a jihadist — during the 1980s war against the Soviet Union, when a lot of Afghans were jihadists. Was that what the accusation against him meant, he asked, or was it referring to later, during the American war?
“We don’t know what that time frame was, either,” the tribunal’s lead officer replied.
During one of the recent interviews, Colonel Abraham said that the general accusations that detainees were jihadists without much more alarmed him.
“As an intelligence agent, I would have written ‘junk statement’ across that,” he said.
Critics of the administration’s detention policies have questioned the hearings’ fairness, noting that detainees are not permitted lawyers and cannot see much of the evidence. Pentagon officials have said such criticism is not meaningful because a combatant status hearing “is not a criminal trial.” They note that 38 of the 558 cases ended in decisions favorable to the detainees.
But Colonel Abraham said that in meetings with top officials of the office, it was clear that such findings were discouraged. “Anything that resulted in a ‘not enemy combatant’ would just send ripples through the entire process,” he said. “The interpretation is, ‘You got the wrong result. Do it again.’ ”
Page 3 of 3)
He said his concerns about the fairness of the hearings had grown as time passed. “The hearings amounted to a superficial summary of information, the quality of which would not have withstood scrutiny in any serious law-enforcement or intelligence investigation,” he said.
While in Washington, he stayed with a sister, Susan J. Borschel, a real estate lawyer. Last week, she recalled Colonel Abraham’s saying that he was troubled by the way the Pentagon was running the hearings. It was a notable observation, she said, from a “law and order” man.
Soon, Colonel Abraham said in one of the conversations, he began to worry that involvement in the process might be improper for a lawyer because there were so many shortcuts. “There were too many assumptions. Too many presumptions,” he said. He said he had expressed his concerns to supervising officers.
His law partner, Steven Fink, said that would not have been unusual. “You will get his opinion whether you want it or not,” Mr. Fink said.
Colonel Abraham’s misgivings reached a peak in December 2004.
On Dec. 10, he wrote a letter to Rear Adm. James M. McGarrah, who was running the hearings operation. In the letter, a copy of which he provided to The New York Times, Colonel Abraham asked to be released from his assignment, saying participation “may be in conflict with my obligations as an attorney.” He said he had never received an official response.
He finished his tour, which ended in March. He came back to his life in Newport Beach and, he said, more or less forgot about Guantánamo.
As it turned out, lawyers at his sister’s firm, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, began representing detainees in 2006. Though she is not involved, she mentioned that her brother had worked on the hearings.
Last month, one of the lawyers, Matthew J. MacLean, a former Army lawyer, called Colonel Abraham and asked him to look at an affidavit filed in May by Admiral McGarrah.
Colonel Abraham said the admiral’s affidavit, describing the hearing process as orderly and considered, had convinced him that he had to step forward. He began to describe his experience.
“This was it,” Mr. MacLean said last week, “the first evidence of how these tribunals operated from the inside.”
Mr. MacLean called Colonel Abraham for the first time on June 8. The detainees’ lawyers filed his seven-page affidavit in court on June 22. It was sharply critical of the hearings and the evidence they used, saying “what purported to be specific statements of fact lacked even the most fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence.” On June 29, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the detainees’ case.
One of the tribunals the lawyers have learned more about since then was the one on which Colonel Abraham sat. Documents they have gathered show that he was assigned to the panel in November 2004. The detainee was a Libyan, captured in Afghanistan, who was said to have visited terrorist training camps and belonged to a Libyan terrorist organization.
By a vote of 3 to 0, the panel found that “the detainee is not properly classified as an enemy combatant and is not associated with Al Qaeda or Taliban.”
Two months later, apparently after Pentagon officials rejected the first decision, the detainee’s case was heard by a second panel. The conclusion, again by a vote of 3 to 0, was quite different: “The detainee is properly classified as an enemy combatant and is a member of or associated with Al Qaeda.”
Colonel Abraham was never assigned to another panel.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Help our troops/our cause:
on: July 22, 2007, 10:52:25 AM
Disabled soldier feels abandoned by Army
Ordeal crushed his body, then his spirit
By Nancy Montgomery, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Sunday, July 22, 2007
Nancy Montgomery / S&S
Sgt. Archie Hennessey, crushed by a piece of rebar he was ordered to lift during an Army Special Forces selection course in September and now being medically separated from the Army, leans against a pillar for support in an unguarded moment as his daughter, Summer, plays hide-and-seek.
Nancy Montgomery / S&S
Sgt. Archie Hennessey, with his daughter, Summer, says he feels betrayed that the Army classified him as only 10 percent disabled.
Related story: Veterans, advocates: Army shortchanges on disabilities
HEIDELBERG, Germany – If you’re a soldier reporting to Special Forces Assessment and Selection, “You should be at 100 percent physical ability with zero percent stress level,” the Army says.
Sgt. Archie Hennessey was.
He had trained for months before going on temporary duty from the Heidelberg Military Intelligence Detachment, 2nd MI Battalion, 66th MI Group, to the monthlong selection program at Fort Bragg, N.C., in September and was ready for the challenge.
“I could put 70 pounds on my back and run for 20 miles,” he said. “I could pick up [my daughter] with one arm and my wife with the other.”
But a week or so into the course, an accident changed everything.
Hennessey and other soldiers were ordered to hoist thousands of pounds of rebar from a construction site onto their shoulders and clear it away.
“Finally, we get it lifted up,” Hennessey recalled. “I was the third guy on it. The first guy tripped. I tried to hold it up, and it sort of crushed me.”
Hennessey stayed at Fort Bragg four more days.
“At that point, I needed help getting up. I didn’t have control of my bladder,” he said.
As bad as that sounds, it was just the beginning of a health decline that’s changed Hennessey’s body, his sense of himself and his future.
Hennessey, 34, not only won’t become a Special Forces medic as he had planned, but he’s also soon to become a civilian with what he says is chronic back pain and disability. He’s made a dozen trips to the emergency room in past months, needs a cane to get around and takes handfuls of painkillers daily.
“Sometimes I can walk, but sometimes I can’t get out of bed,” Hennessey said. “My leg will just give out. The pain gets to me. It does.”
Worst of all, he said, is what he views as the Army’s abandonment of him: a classification that he’s just 10 percent disabled, entitling him to a medical discharge and severance pay of about $10,000.
“I guess I’m just dumbfounded,” he said. “ ‘Here’s 10 percent. Get out of the Army.’ ”
Hennessey’s medical records say he suffers from “lumbar neuritis,” or inflamed nerve tissues in the low back as a result of the injury that he says is debilitating.
But an Army Physical Evaluation Board in Washington, D.C., this month decided that while he was unfit for duty because of the injury and should be discharged, his disability rating was 10 percent. That meant he would receive severance pay calculated on his base pay and three years’ active-duty service.
Hennessey said an official told him, “ ‘You’ve only invested three years in the Army. What do you expect them to do?’ ”
“I said, ‘I expect them to do what’s right.’ I said, ‘What about me not being able to walk sometimes, not being able to work?’ ”
His commander, Capt. Darren A. Spaulding, wrote in a letter to the Physical Evaluation Board that, prior to the injury, “Sgt. Hennessey’s performance was superb. But now, Sgt. Hennessey experiences continuous pain during the day.”
If Hennessey had been classified as 30 percent disabled, he’d have received much more compensation. Thirty percent is the threshold for troops with less than 20 years of service to receive retirement disability pay and the other military benefits that come with it.
“If you receive 30 percent or higher, you get a disability check for the rest of your life,” said Maj. Orlando Rummans, patient administration chief for the Europe Regional Medical Command, Command Surgeon.
Hennessey said the most important thing for him would have been health-care benefits for him and his family.
“I feel like I’ve done every single thing that’s been asked of me. You expect them to take care of you,” Hennessey said. “But then it turns out, it’s a business.”
Hennessey is appealing his rating at a formal Physical Evaluation Board in Washington on July 30.http://stripes.com/article.asp?secti...&article=47551
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pon Paul Part Two
on: July 22, 2007, 08:46:27 AM
Page 3 of 5)
In the first days of 1995, just weeks after the Republican landslide, Paul
traveled to Washington and, through DeLay, made contact with the Texas
Republican delegation. He told them he could beat the Democratic incumbent
Greg Laughlin in the reconfigured Gulf Coast district that now included his
home. Republicans had their own ideas. In June 1995, Laughlin announced he
would run in the next election as a Republican. Laughlin says he had
discussed switching parties with Newt Gingrich, the next speaker, before the
Republicans even took power. Paul suspects to this day that the Republicans
wooed Laughlin to head off his candidacy. Whatever happened, it didn't work.
Paul challenged Laughlin in the primary.
"At first, we kind of blew him off," recalls the longtime Texas political
consultant Royal Masset. " 'Oh, there's Ron Paul!' But very quickly, we
realized he was getting far more money than anybody." Much of it came from
out of state, from the free-market network Paul built up while far from
Congress. His candidacy was a problem not just for Laughlin. It also
threatened to halt the stream of prominent Democrats then switching
parties - for what sane incumbent would switch if he couldn't be assured the
Republican nomination? The result was a heavily funded effort by the
National Republican Congressional Committee to defeat Paul in the primary.
The National Rifle Association made an independent expenditure against him.
Former President George H.W. Bush, Gov. George W. Bush and both Republican
senators endorsed Laughlin. Paul had only two prominent backers: the tax
activist Steve Forbes and the pitcher Nolan Ryan, Paul's constituent and old
friend, who cut a number of ads for him. They were enough. Paul edged
Laughlin in a runoff and won an equally narrow general election.
Republican opposition may not have made Paul distrust the party, but beating
its network with his own homemade one revealed that he didn't necessarily
need the party either. Paul looks back on that race and sees something in
common with his quixotic bid for the presidency. "I always think that if I
do things like that and get clobbered, I can excuse myself," he says.
Anyone who is elected to Congress three times as a nonincumbent, as Paul has
been, is a politician of prodigious gifts. Especially since Paul has real
vulnerabilities in his district. For Eric Dondero, who plans to challenge
him in the Republican Congressional primary next fall, foreign policy is
Paul's central failing. Dondero, who is 44, was Paul's aide and sometime
spokesman for more than a decade. According to Dondero, "When 9/11 happened,
he just completely changed. One of the first things he said was not how
awful the tragedy was . . . it was, 'Now we're gonna get big government.' "
Dondero claims that Paul's vote to authorize force in Afghanistan was made
only after warnings from a longtime staffer that voting otherwise would cost
him Victoria, a pivotal city in his district. ("Completely false," Paul
says.) One day just after the Iraq invasion, when Dondero was driving Paul
around the district, the two had words. "He said he did not want to have
someone on staff who did not support him 100 percent on foreign policy,"
Dondero recalls. Paul says Dondero's outspoken enthusiasm for the military's
"shock and awe" strategy made him an awkward spokesman for an antiwar
congressman. The two parted on bad terms.
A larger vulnerability may be that voters want more pork-barrel spending
than Paul is willing to countenance. In a rice-growing, cattle-ranching
district, Paul consistently votes against farm subsidies. In the very
district where, on the night of Sept. 8, 1900, a storm destroyed the city of
Galveston, leaving 6,000 dead, and where repairs from Hurricane Rita and
refugees from Hurricane Katrina continue to exact a toll, he votes against
FEMA and flood aid. In a district that is home to many employees of the
Johnson Space Center, he votes against financing NASA.
The Victoria Advocate, an influential newspaper in the district, has
generally opposed Paul for re-election, on the grounds that a "lone wolf"
cannot get the highway and homeland-security financing the district needs.
So how does he get re-elected? Tim Delaney, the paper's editorial-page
editor, says: "Ron Paul is a very charismatic person. He has charm. He does
not alter his position ever. His ideals are high. If a little old man calls
up from the farm and says, 'I need a wheelchair,' he'll get the damn
wheelchair for him."
Paul may have refused on principle to accept Medicare when he practiced
medicine. He may return a portion of his Congressional office budget every
year. But his staff has the reputation of fighting doggedly to collect
Social Security checks, passports, military decorations, immigrant-visa
extensions and any emolument to which constituents are entitled by law.
According to Jackie Gloor, who runs Paul's Victoria office: "So many times,
people say to us, 'We don't like his vote.' But they trust his heart."
In Congress, Paul is generally admired for his fidelity to principle and
lack of ego. "He is one of the easiest people in Congress to work with,
because he bases his positions on the merits of issues," says Barney Frank,
who has worked with Paul on efforts to ease the regulation of gambling and
medical marijuana. "He is independent but not ornery." Paul has made a habit
of objecting to things that no one else objects to. In October 2001, he was
one of three House Republicans to vote against the USA Patriot Act. He was
the sole House member of either party to vote against the Financial
Antiterrorism Act (final tally: 412-1). In 1999, he was the only naysayer in
a 424-1 vote in favor of casting a medal to honor Rosa Parks. Nothing
against Rosa Parks: Paul voted against similar medals for Ronald Reagan and
Pope John Paul II. He routinely opposes resolutions that presume to advise
foreign governments how to run their affairs: He has refused to condemn
Robert Mugabe's violence against Zimbabwean citizens (421-1), to call on
Vietnam to release political prisoners (425-1) or to ask the League of Arab
States to help stop the killing in Darfur (425-1).
Every Thursday, Paul is the host of a luncheon for a circle of conservative
Republicans that he calls the Liberty Caucus. It has become the epicenter of
antiwar Republicanism in Washington. One stalwart member is Walter Jones,
the North Carolina Republican who during the debate over Iraq suggested
renaming French fries "freedom fries" in the House dining room, but who has
passed the years since in vocal opposition to the war. Another is John
(Jimmy) Duncan of Tennessee, the only Republican besides Paul who voted
against the war and remains in the House. Other regulars include Virgil
Goode of Virginia, Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland and Scott Garrett of New
Jersey. Zach Wamp of Tennessee and Jeff Flake, the Arizonan scourge of
pork-barrel spending, visit occasionally. Not all are antiwar, but many of
the speakers Paul invites are: the former C.I.A. analyst Michael Scheuer,
the intelligence-world journalist James Bamford and such disillusioned
United States Army officers as William Odom, Gregory Newbold and Lawrence
Wilkerson (Colin Powell's former chief of staff), among others.
In today's Washington, Paul's combination of radical libertarianism and
conservatism is unusual. Sometimes the first impulse predominates. He was
the only Texas Republican to vote against last year's Federal Marriage
Amendment, meant to stymie gay marriage. He detests the federal war on
drugs; the LSD guru Timothy Leary held a fundraiser for him in 1988.
Sometimes he is more conservative. He opposed the recent immigration bill on
the grounds that it constituted amnesty. At a breakfast for conservative
journalists in the offices of Americans for Tax Reform this May, he spoke
resentfully of being required to treat penurious immigrants in emergency
rooms - "patients who were more likely to sue you than anybody else," having
children "who became automatic citizens the next day." (Paul champions a
constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship.) While he backs free
trade in theory, he opposes many of the institutions and arrangements - from
the World Trade Organization to Nafta - that promote it in practice.
Paul also opposes abortion, which he believes should be addressed at the
state level, not the national one. He remembers seeing a late abortion
performed during his residency, years before Roe v. Wade, and he maintains
it left an impression on him. "It was pretty dramatic for me," he says, "to
see a two-and-a-half-pound baby taken out crying and breathing and put in a
The Owl-God Moloch
Paul's message is not new. You could have heard it in 1964 or 1975 or 1991
at the conclaves of those conservatives who were considered outside the
mainstream of the Republican Party. Back then, most Republicans appeared
reconciled to a strong federal government, if only to do the expensive job
of defending the country against Communism. But when the Berlin Wall fell,
the dormant institutions and ideologies of pre-cold-war conservatism began
to stir. In his 1992 and 1996 campaigns, Pat Buchanan was the first
politician to express and exploit this change, breathing life into the motto
"America First" (if not the organization of that name, which opposed entry
into World War II).
Page 4 of 5)
Like Buchanan, Paul draws on forgotten traditions. His top aides are
unimpeachably Republican but stand at a distance from the party as it has
evolved over the decades. His chief of staff, Tom Lizardo, worked for Pat
Robertson and Bill Miller Jr. (the son of Barry Goldwater's
vice-presidential nominee). His national campaign organizer, Lew Moore,
worked for the late congressman Jack Metcalf of Washington State, another
Goldwaterite. At the grass roots, Paul's New Hampshire primary campaign
stresses gun rights and relies on anti-abortion and tax activists from the
organizations of Buchanan and the state's former maverick senator, Bob
Paul admires Robert Taft, the isolationist Ohio senator known during the
Truman administration as Mr. Republican, who tried to rally Republicans
against United States participation in NATO. Taft lost the Republican
nomination in 1952 to Dwight Eisenhower and died the following year. "Now,
of course," Paul says, "I quote Eisenhower when he talks about the
military-industrial complex. But I quote Taft when he suits my purposes
too." Particularly on NATO, from which Paul, too, would like to withdraw.
The question is whether the old ideologies being resurrected are neglected
wisdom or discredited nonsense. In the 1996 general election, Paul's
Democratic opponent Lefty Morris held a press conference to air several
shocking quotes from a newsletter that Paul published during his decade away
from Washington. Passages described the black male population of Washington
as "semi-criminal or entirely criminal" and stated that "by far the most
powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort is the Israeli government."
Morris noted that a Canadian neo-Nazi Web site had listed Paul's newsletter
as a laudably "racialist" publication.
Paul survived these revelations. He later explained that he had not written
the passages himself - quite believably, since the style diverges widely
from his own. But his response to the accusations was not transparent. When
Morris called on him to release the rest of his newsletters, he would not.
He remains touchy about it. "Even the fact that you're asking this question
infers, 'Oh, you're an anti-Semite,' " he told me in June. Actually, it
doesn't. Paul was in Congress when Israel bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear plant
in 1981 and - unlike the United Nations and the Reagan administration -
defended its right to do so. He says Saudi Arabia has an influence on
Washington equal to Israel's. His votes against support for Israel follow
quite naturally from his opposition to all foreign aid. There is no sign
that they reflect any special animus against the Jewish state.
What is interesting is Paul's idea that the identity of the person who did
write those lines is "of no importance." Paul never deals in disavowals or
renunciations or distancings, as other politicians do. In his office one
afternoon in June, I asked about his connections to the John Birch Society.
"Oh, my goodness, the John Birch Society!" he said in mock horror. "Is that
bad? I have a lot of friends in the John Birch Society. They're generally
well educated, and they understand the Constitution. I don't know how many
positions they would have that I don't agree with. Because they're real
strict constitutionalists, they don't like the war, they're hard-money
people. . . . "
Paul's ideological easygoingness is like a black hole that attracts the
whole universe of individuals and groups who don't recognize themselves in
the politics they see on TV. To hang around with his impressively large
crowd of supporters before and after the CNN debate in Manchester, N.H., in
June, was to be showered with privately printed newsletters full of
exclamation points and capital letters, scribbled-down U.R.L.'s for Web
sites about the Free State Project, which aims to turn New Hampshire into a
libertarian enclave, and copies of the cult DVD "America: Freedom to
Victor Carey, a 45-year-old, muscular, mustachioed self-described "patriot"
who wears a black baseball cap with a skull and crossbones on it, drove up
from Sykesville, Md., to show his support for Paul. He laid out some of his
concerns. "The people who own the Federal Reserve own the oil companies,
they own the mass media, they own the International Monetary Fund, the World
Bank, they're part of the Bilderbergers, and unfortunately their spiritual
practices are very wicked and diabolical as well," Carey said. "They go to a
place out in California known as the Bohemian Grove, and there's been
footage obtained by infiltration of what their practices are. And they do
mock human sacrifices to an owl-god called Moloch. This is true. Go research
Two grandmothers from North Carolina who painted a Winnebago red, white and
blue were traveling around the country, stumping for Ron Paul, defending the
Constitution and warning about the new "North American Union." Asked whether
this is something that would arise out of Nafta, Betty Smith of Chapel Hill,
N.C., replied: "It's already arisen. They're building the highway. Guess
what! The Spanish company building the highway - they're gonna get the
tolls. Giuliani's law firm represents that Spanish company. Giuliani's been
anointed a knight by the Queen. Guess what! Read the Constitution. That's
Paul is not a conspiracy theorist, but he has a tendency to talk in that
idiom. In a floor speech shortly after the toppling of the Taliban in
Afghanistan, he mentioned Unocal's desire to tap the region's energy and
concluded, "We should not be surprised now that many contend that the plan
for the U.N. to 'nation-build' in Afghanistan is a logical and important
consequence of this desire." But when push comes to shove, Paul is not among
the "many" who "contend" this. "I think oil and gas is part of it," he
explains. "But it's not the issue. If that were the only issue, it wouldn't
have happened. The main reason was to get the Taliban out."
Last winter at a meet-the-candidate house party in New Hampshire, students
representing a group called Student Scholars for 9/11 Truth asked Paul
whether he believed the official investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks was
credible. "I never automatically trust anything the government does when
they do an investigation," Paul replied, "because too often I think there's
an area that the government covered up, whether it's the Kennedy
assassination or whatever." The exchange was videotaped and ricocheted
around the Internet for a while. But Paul's patience with the "Truthers," as
they call themselves, does not make him one himself. "Even at the time it
happened, I believe the information was fairly clear that Al Qaeda was
involved," he told me.
"Every Wacko Fringe Group In the Country"
Page 5 of 5)
One evening in mid-June, 86 members of a newly formed Ron Paul Meetup group
gathered in a room in the Pasadena convention center. It was a varied crowd,
preoccupied by the war, including many disaffected Democrats. Via video link
from Virginia, Paul's campaign chairman, Kent Snyder, spoke to the group "of
a coming-together of the old guard and the new." Then Connie Ruffley,
co-chairwoman of United Republicans of California (UROC), addressed the
crowd. UROC was founded during the 1964 presidential campaign to fight off
challenges to Goldwater from Rockefeller Republicanism. Since then it has
lain dormant but not dead - waiting, like so many other old right-wing
groups, for someone or something to kiss it back to life. UROC endorsed Paul
at its spring convention.
That night, Ruffley spoke about her past with the John Birch Society and
asked how many in the room were members (quite a few, as it turned out). She
referred to the California senator Dianne Feinstein as "Fine-Swine," and got
quickly to Israel, raising the Israeli attack on the American Naval signals
ship Liberty during the Six-Day War. Some people were pleased. Others walked
out. Others sent angry e-mails that night. Several said they would not
return. The head of the Pasadena Meetup group, Bill Dumas, sent a desperate
letter to Paul headquarters asking for guidance:
"We're in a difficult position of working on a campaign that draws
supporters from laterally opposing points of view, and we have the added
bonus of attracting every wacko fringe group in the country. And in a Ron
Paul Meetup many people will consider each other 'wackos' for their beliefs
whether that is simply because they're liberal, conspiracy theorists,
neo-Nazis, evangelical Christian, etc. . . . We absolutely must focus on Ron's
message only and put aside all other agendas, which anyone can save for the
next 'Star Trek' convention or whatever."
But what is "Ron's message"? Whatever the campaign purports to be about, the
main thing it has done thus far is to serve as a clearinghouse for voters
who feel unrepresented by mainstream Republicans and Democrats. The
antigovernment activists of the right and the antiwar activists of the left
have many differences, maybe irreconcilable ones. But they have a lot of
common beliefs too, and their numbers - and anger - are of a considerable
magnitude. Ron Paul will not be the next president of the United States. But
his candidacy gives us a good hint about the country the next president is
going to have to knit back together.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT on Ron Paul
on: July 22, 2007, 08:41:05 AM
Second post of the morning:
The Antiwar, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Drug-Enforcement-
Administration, Anti-Medicare Candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul
By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Published: July 22, 2007
Whipping westward across Manhattan in a limousine sent by Comedy Central's
"Daily Show," Ron Paul, the 10-term Texas congressman and long-shot
Republican presidential candidate, is being briefed. Paul has only the most
tenuous familiarity with Comedy Central. He has never heard of "The Daily
Show." His press secretary, Jesse Benton, is trying to explain who its host,
Jon Stewart, is. "He's an affable gentleman," Benton says, "and he's very
smart. What I'm getting from the pre-interview is, he's sympathetic."
"GQ wants to profile you on Thursday," Benton continues. "I think it's worth
"GTU?" the candidate replies.
"GQ. It's a men's magazine."
"Don't know much about that," Paul says.
Thin to the point of gauntness, polite to the point of daintiness, Ron Paul
is a 71-year-old great-grandfather, a small-town doctor, a self-educated
policy intellectual and a formidable stander on constitutional principle. In
normal times, Paul might be - indeed, has been - the kind of person who is
summoned onto cable television around April 15 to ventilate about whether
the federal income tax violates the Constitution. But Paul has in recent
weeks become a sensation in magazines he doesn't read, on Web sites he has
never visited and on television shows he has never watched.
Alone among Republican candidates for the presidency, Paul has always
opposed the Iraq war. He blames "a dozen or two neocons who got control of
our foreign policy," chief among them Vice President Dick Cheney and the
former Bush advisers Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, for the debacle. On
the assumption that a bad situation could get worse if the war spreads into
Iran, he has a simple plan. It is: "Just leave." During a May debate in
South Carolina, he suggested the 9/11 attacks could be attributed to United
States policy. "Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us?" he
asked, referring to one of Osama bin Laden's communiqués. "They attack us
because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years."
Rudolph Giuliani reacted by demanding a retraction, drawing gales of
applause from the audience. But the incident helped Paul too. Overnight, he
became the country's most conspicuous antiwar Republican.
Paul's opposition to the war in Iraq did not come out of nowhere. He was
against the first gulf war, the war in Kosovo and the Iraq Liberation Act of
1998, which he called a "declaration of virtual war." Although he voted
after Sept. 11 to approve the use of force in Afghanistan and spend $40
billion in emergency appropriations, he has sounded less thrilled with those
votes as time has passed. "I voted for the authority and the money," he now
says. "I thought it was misused."
There is something homespun about Paul, reminiscent of "Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington." He communicates with his constituents through birthday cards,
August barbecues and the cookbooks his wife puts together every election
season, which mix photos of grandchildren, Gospel passages and neighbors'
recipes for Velveeta cheese fudge and Cherry Coke salad. He is listed in the
phone book, and his constituents call him at home. But there is also
something cosmopolitan and radical about him; his speeches can bring to mind
the World Social Forum or the French international-affairs periodical Le
Monde Diplomatique. Paul is surely the only congressman who would cite the
assertion of the left-leaning Chennai-based daily The Hindu that "the world
is being asked today, in reality, to side with the U.S. as it seeks to
strengthen its economic hegemony." The word "empire" crops up a lot in his
This side of Paul has made him the candidate of many people, on both the
right and the left, who hope that something more consequential than a mere
change of party will come out of the 2008 elections. He is particularly
popular among the young and the wired. Except for Barack Obama, he is the
most-viewed candidate on YouTube. He is the most "friended" Republican on
MySpace.com. Paul understands that his chances of winning the presidency are
infinitesimally slim. He is simultaneously planning his next Congressional
race. But in Paul's idea of politics, spreading a message has always been
just as important as seizing office. "Politicians don't amount to much," he
says, "but ideas do." Although he is still in the low single digits in
polls, he says he has raised $2.4 million in the second quarter, enough to
broaden the four-state campaign he originally planned into a national one.
Paul represents a different Republican Party from the one that Iraq,
deficits and corruption have soured the country on. In late June, despite a
life of antitax agitation and churchgoing, he was excluded from a Republican
forum sponsored by Iowa antitax and Christian groups. His school of
Republicanism, which had its last serious national airing in the Goldwater
campaign of 1964, stands for a certain idea of the Constitution - the idea
that much of the power asserted by modern presidents has been usurped from
Congress, and that much of the power asserted by Congress has been usurped
from the states. Though Paul acknowledges flaws in both the Constitution (it
included slavery) and the Bill of Rights (it doesn't go far enough), he
still thinks a comprehensive array of positions can be drawn from them:
Against gun control. For the sovereignty of states. And against
foreign-policy adventures. Paul was the Libertarian Party's presidential
candidate in 1988. But his is a less exuberant libertarianism than you find,
say, in the pages of Reason magazine.
(Page 2 of 5)
Over the years, this vision has won most favor from those convinced the
country is going to hell in a handbasket. The attention Paul has captured
tells us a lot about the prevalence of such pessimism today, about the
instability of partisan allegiances and about the seldom-avowed common
ground between the hard right and the hard left. His message draws on the
noblest traditions of American decency and patriotism; it also draws on what
the historian Richard Hofstadter called the paranoid style in American
Paul grew up in the western Pennsylvania town of Green Tree. His father, the
son of a German immigrant, ran a small dairy company. Sports were big around
there - one of the customers on the milk route Paul worked as a teenager was
the retired baseball Hall of Famer Honus Wagner - and Paul was a terrific
athlete, winning a state track meet in the 220 and excelling at football and
baseball. But knee injuries had ended his sports career by the time he went
off to Gettysburg College in 1953. After medical school at Duke, Paul joined
the Air Force, where he served as a flight surgeon, tending to the ear, nose
and throat ailments of pilots, and traveling to Iran, Ethiopia and
elsewhere. "I recall doing a lot of physicals on Army warrant officers who
wanted to become helicopter pilots and go to Vietnam," he told me. "They
were gung-ho. I've often thought about how many of those people never came
Paul is given to mulling things over morally. His family was pious and
Lutheran; two of his brothers became ministers. Paul's five children were
baptized in the Episcopal church, but he now attends a Baptist one. He doesn't
travel alone with women and once dressed down an aide for using the
expression "red-light district" in front of a female colleague. As a young
man, though, he did not protest the Vietnam War, which he now calls "totally
unnecessary" and "illegal." Much later, after the United States invaded Iraq
in 2003, he began reading St. Augustine. "I was annoyed by the evangelicals'
being so supportive of pre-emptive war, which seems to contradict everything
that I was taught as a Christian," he recalls. "The religion is based on
somebody who's referred to as the Prince of Peace."
In 1968, Paul settled in southern Texas, where he had been stationed. He
recalls that he was for a while the only obstetrician - "a very delightful
part of medicine," he says - in Brazoria County. He was already immersed in
reading the economics books that would change his life. Americans know the
"Austrian school," if at all, from the work of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig
von Mises, two economists who fled the Nazis in the 1930s and whose
free-market doctrines helped inspire the conservative movement in the 1950s.
The laws of economics don't admit exceptions, say the Austrians. You cannot
fake out markets, no matter how surreptitiously you expand the money supply.
Spend more than you earn, and you are on the road to inflation and tyranny.
Such views are not always Republican orthodoxy. Paul is a harsh critic of
the Federal Reserve, both for its policies and its unaccountability. "We
first bonded," recalls Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, "because we
were both conspicuous nonworshipers at the Temple of the Fed and of the High
Priest Greenspan." In recent weeks, Paul's airport reading has been a book
called "Financial Armageddon." He is obsessed with sound money, which he
considers - along with the related phenomena of credit excess, bubbles and
uncollateralized assets of all kinds - a "sleeper issue." The United States
ought to link its currency to gold or silver again, Paul says. He puts his
money where his mouth is. According to Federal Election Commission
documents, most of his investments are in gold and silver and are worth
between $1.5 and $3.5 million. It's a modest sum by the standards of major
presidential candidates but impressive for someone who put five children
through college on a doctor's (and later a congressman's) earnings.
For Paul, everything comes back to money, including Iraq. "No matter how
much you love the empire," he says, "it's unaffordable." Wars are expensive,
and there has been a tendency throughout history to pay for them by
borrowing. A day of reckoning always comes, says Paul, and one will come for
us. Speaking this spring before the libertarian Future of Freedom Foundation
in Reston, Va., he warned of a dollar crisis. "That's usually the way
empires end," he said. "It wasn't us forcing the Soviets to build missiles
that brought them down. It was the fact that socialism doesn't work. Our
system doesn't work much better."
Under the banner of "Freedom, Honesty and Sound Money," Paul ran for
Congress in 1974. He lost - but took the seat in a special election in April
1976. He lost again in November of that year, then won in 1978. On two big
issues, he stood on principle and was vindicated: He was one of very few
Republicans in Congress to back Ronald Reagan against Gerald Ford for the
1976 Republican nomination. He was also one of the representatives who
warned against the rewriting of banking rules that laid the groundwork for
the savings-and-loan collapse of the 1980s. Paul served three terms before
losing to Phil Gramm in the Republican primary for Senate in 1984. Tom DeLay
took over his seat.
Paul would not come back to Washington for another dozen years. But in the
time he could spare from delivering babies in Brazoria County, he remained a
mighty presence in the out-of-the-limelight world of those old-line
libertarians who had never made their peace with the steady growth of
federal power in the 20th century. Paul got the Libertarian Party nomination
for president in 1988, defeating the Indian activist Russell Means in a
tough race. He finished third behind Bush and Dukakis, winning nearly half a
million votes. He tended his own Foundation for Rational Economics and
Education (FREE) and kept up his contacts with other market-oriented
organizations. What resulted was a network of true believers who would be
his political base in one of the stranger Congressional elections of modern
A Lone Wolf
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Giuliani and Race: NY Times
on: July 22, 2007, 07:29:31 AM
Of course the NY Times is always a suspect source, but here is a longish piece on Giuliani and his time as mayor of NY with regard to race relations:
Giuliani and Race; NY Times
Those were grim days for race relations in New York City, the early 1990s. There were nearly 2,000 murders each year, blacks and whites died in high-profile racial killings, and a riot held a divided Brooklyn neighborhood in thrall for three dangerous nights.
The Long Run
The Race Factor
This is the first article in a series on the lives and careers of the 2008 presidential contenders.
On Jan. 9, 1994, another match landed in this tinderbox: a caller reported a burglary at a Harlem mosque. The police ran in, and Nation of Islam guards threw punches and broke an officer’s nose.
The mosque’s minister, accompanied by the Rev. Al Sharpton, drove downtown to register their outrage with the police commissioner, a street theater ritual grudgingly tolerated by past mayors.
Except the new mayor — Rudolph W. Giuliani, fresh off his November victory over the city’s first black mayor, David N. Dinkins — decreed that no one would meet with Mr. Sharpton. No more antics, no more provocations.
“I’ve taken a golden opportunity to act like a sensible mayor rather than a mayor who will be moved in any direction,” he said. “I’m an observer of the last 10 years of this city, and I hope to God we don’t continue in that direction.”
More than any other Republican running for president, Mr. Giuliani has confronted the question of race, that most torturous of American legacies.
His 1993 mayoral campaign slogan, often repeated, of “one city, one standard,” emphasized his view that no ethnic or racial group should expect special treatment. And he spoke with a stunning bluntness about what he saw as the failings of the city’s black leadership.
His handling of the mosque fracas set the tone. In the years to come, Mr. Giuliani would rebuff not just the histrionic Mr. Sharpton but nearly every high-ranking black official in the city, even those of moderate politics: congressmen, a state comptroller, influential ministers.
But grabbing hold of the race dial proved easier than turning it to his will.
“I never thought Rudy Giuliani was a racist,” said Fran Reiter, one of Mr. Giuliani’s deputy mayors. “But he was obsessed with the notion there were certain groups he couldn’t win over. And he wasn’t even going to try.”
Black leaders, Mr. Giuliani said in 1994, had to “learn how to discipline themselves in the way in which they speak” if they expected to chat with him. The city’s welfare-state philosophy, he said later, was racist and “enslaved” black New Yorkers.
“We in this city went through years and years of subdividing people, and that became the most important thing, the subdivision people belonged to,” Mr. Giuliani said.
Certainly he knew such words resonated with white voters who formed the backbone of his electoral coalition. What is less certain is whether a man raised and schooled in a white world understood the force with which his harshest words rained down on black New Yorkers.
New York City is 45 percent white and 27 percent black, according to 2000 Census figures.
“He was not patronizing, he was not naïve and I admired that,” said Michael Meyers, president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, who once advised him. “But he could play on the edge of old racial antipathies.”
Mr. Giuliani’s policies, too, stirred anger. His decision to drive down the welfare rolls by cutting benefits and tightening eligibility standards and his deep cuts in social agencies infuriated many. Black voters applauded the drop in crime, but rough police tactics often inflamed tensions.
Mr. Giuliani did not respond to repeated requests made in the last few weeks to discuss his views on race.
Mr. Giuliani, aides say, found a city in the early 1990s where most of the departments affecting the lives of black New Yorkers from schools to welfare to public safety were dysfunctional. Too many citizens expected government to coddle them, and too many black leaders, said Peter Powers, one of Mr. Giuliani’s oldest friends and his first deputy mayor, were afraid to work publicly with a white Republican mayor.
So Mr. Giuliani was intent on marginalizing these critics — even if he had to shun much of the black establishment. Mr. Powers said: “You are talking about some of the people who had been around for a while. Maybe we thought someone else deserved that role.”
Perhaps. But black leaders say Mr. Giuliani, in declining to talk with them, succeeded in isolating himself.
“He just drew a line and said, ‘Anyone who represents the black community, all of the elected officials, are irresponsible and I won’t meet with you,’ ” said former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, a black Democrat who had a long record of building alliances with whites. “If you’re the leader of the city, you really can’t justify that.”
Good Will, Evaporated
It is one of the more intriguing “what ifs” in city politics. In 1989, a Republican adviser leaned across a lunch table and put this proposition to Bill Lynch, a liberal graybeard: Would Mr. Lynch, who is black, consider working in the mayoral campaign of Rudolph W. Giuliani?
That was not so incongruous an offer as it sounds now. Many saw the incumbent, Mayor Edward I. Koch, then seeking a fourth term, as a racially divisive figure.
Page 2 of 4)
“They thought Rudy could form a winning black-white Catholic coalition,” Mr. Lynch recalled. “They figured if they could attract someone like me, they could pull African-American voters because Koch was anathema to blacks.”
Mr. Giuliani gave a fiery speech in 1992 to hundreds of rowdy police officers who were protesting Mayor Dinkins's policies.
The Long Run
The Race Factor
This is the first article in a series on the lives and careers of the 2008 presidential contenders.
Mr. Lynch instead managed the campaign of Mr. Dinkins, who upset Mr. Koch in the 1989 Democratic primary.
The Giuliani of this period was longer on ambition than fixed views. He was liberal on homelessness and attacked Mr. Koch for calling Mr. Dinkins “a Jesse Jackson Democrat.” These, he said, were racial “code words.”
Some nights Mr. Giuliani went to Bushwick and Brownsville, neighborhoods ravaged by crack, talking to men and women trapped behind triple-locked apartment doors.
“He was trying to learn, in a very linear way, the way that poor people live,” recalled one guide, Michael Gecan, an organizer with East Brooklyn Congregations, a church-based community organizing group.
Mr. Giuliani was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, on May 28, 1944. When he was 7, his family became part of the postwar migration to Long Island, eventually settling in North Bellmore, which was 99.7 percent white. He would return to the city to attend Bishop Loughlin High School and Manhattan College, schools that were 99 percent white. He became a passionate Democrat, devoted to John and Robert Kennedy as the civil rights struggle dominated the news.
“What we saw on television horrified us,” Mr. Powers recalled of the battle against Jim Crow laws. “When people kind of suggest, ‘You’re a bunch of white guys,’ it’s as if we didn’t live through America at that time. That’s ludicrous.”
As a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, Mr. Giuliani worked with black ministers to jail corrupt police officers and invited Mr. Sharpton to talk about the plague of crack. “He was not an ideologue, and he had no problem meeting,” Mr. Sharpton said. “Let me tell you, I was a lot more radical then.”
By early 1989, New York magazine wrote of Mr. Giuliani, “He is perhaps the only white politician in town who draws a positive emotional response — hugs and cheers — in Harlem.”
Most of that good will evaporated in the heat of the campaign. Mr. Dinkins became the Democratic nominee; his candidacy was laden with black aspiration and the promise of racial peace. Mr. Giuliani steered right and attacked hard.
When Mr. Dinkins called Mr. Giuliani, who served in the Justice Department, a “Reagan Republican,” he fired back. His campaign ran an ad in a Jewish newspaper with a photo of Mr. Dinkins and Mr. Jackson, a year after Mr. Jackson made a comment widely seen as anti-Semitic. Mr. Giuliani began calling Mr. Dinkins “a Jesse Jackson Democrat.”
Mr. Giuliani lost in 1989 and did not stop running until the next election was over. His political task seemed clear. He could not count on peeling black votes from a black mayor. So he cultivated Jews, ethnic whites and the Hispanic middle class.
With New York pitched into deep recession, its descent hastened by crack and racial disturbances, a campaign riven by race seemed inevitable. “There were people in his camp pushing him hard to tie race to crime,” said Fred Siegel, a historian at Cooper Union who once advised Mr. Giuliani. “I don’t know if this was moral or practical, but Giuliani was having none of it,” Mr. Siegal recalled. “He was insistent that crime was about behavior, not race.”
Still, Mr. Giuliani took a fateful step that would for years prompt questions about his racial sensitivities. In September 1992, he spoke to a rally of police officers protesting Mr. Dinkins’s proposal for a civilian board to review police misconduct.
It was a rowdy, often threatening, crowd. Hundreds of white off-duty officers drank heavily, and a few waved signs like “Dump the Washroom Attendant,” a reference to Mr. Dinkins. A block away from City Hall, Mr. Giuliani gave a fiery address, twice calling Mr. Dinkins’s proposal “bullshit.” The crowd cheered. Mr. Giuliani was jubilant.
“If you’re acculturated to like cops, you don’t necessarily see 10,000 white guys who don’t vote in the city, don’t write political checks and love you for the wrong reason,” an aide said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is working with the Giuliani presidential campaign.
Mr. Dinkins has not forgotten that sea of angry cops. “Rudy was out there inciting white cops to riot,” Mr. Dinkins said in a recent interview.
Mr. Giuliani said he never saw racist signs. “One of the reasons those police officers might have lost control is that we have a mayor who invites riots,” he said at the time. The Giuliani campaign later conducted a “vulnerability study” to identify their candidate’s weaknesses in 1993. This study, obtained by Wayne Barrett, author of “Rudy!” — an investigative biography — offers an unsparing critique: “Giuliani’s shrieking performance at the cop rally may be his greatest political liability this year. Giuliani has yet to admonish those who attacked the mayor with racist code words on signs and banners. Why not?”
Tough Approach on Crime
Page 3 of 4)
Determined to assault the liberal trenches, Mr. Giuliani never blanched at giving offense. He lopped the welfare rolls by 500,000, laid off thousands of black political appointees seen as too liberal and hired hundreds of more conservative whites seen as loyal to his political agenda. And he sent two schools chancellors — one black, one Hispanic — spinning out of town.
In 1995, he proposed cutting welfare benefits, and suggested that many of the poor might profitably leave town. “A natural consequence of a reduction in benefits might very well be that that would happen,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding, “That would be a good thing.”
Mr. Giuliani has written in his book “Leadership” about his belief in the cleansing power of confrontational words. Nor is he enamored of compromise. Asked in 2000 about reaching out to black leaders, he shook his head and said, “What happens when you engage in the dialogue is, you compromise.”
Yet at first, he made inroads into the black community. He endorsed Democratic Gov. Mario M. Cuomo in 1994, which won him applause in black churches. He tackled the sensitive business of removing from 125th Street, Harlem’s shopping strip, the street peddlers who drove many black merchants to distraction.
Izak-El M. Pasha, the imam of the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, ignored other black leaders and helped the mayor with the peddlers.
“Church leaders tried to tell me ‘Man, you can’t be meeting with Giuliani!’ ” said Mr. Pasha, who struck up a friendship with the mayor. “I didn’t care. If you’re not willing to accept he has a strong personality, you have a problem.”
A record plunge in homicides earned the mayor a larger measure of good will. Black New Yorkers appreciated safer neighborhoods and applauded that thousands more of their young men remained alive.
“Rudy’s gift is that he could identify with people who felt trapped by crime,” Mr. Meyers said.
By 1997, Mr. Giuliani’s job approval rating in the black community stood at 42 percent, according to a New York Times poll.
But within these victories lay the seed of a problem. Even as crime dropped by 60 percent, officers with the street crime unit stopped and frisked 16 black males for every one who was arrested, according to a report by the state attorney general. Then came three terrible episodes that raised a pointed question for black New Yorkers: Was crime reduction worth any cost?
One hot night in August 1997, police officers grabbed Abner Louima, a black security guard, during a tussle in Flatbush. Mr. Louima exited a precinct house bleeding after officers jammed a broken broomstick into his rectum and his mouth.
Mr. Giuliani, who was running for re-election, was eloquent in his disgust. “These charges are shocking to any decent human being,” he said.
He created a task force to examine police-community relations, and invited adversaries to join. But Mr. Giuliani swamped his Democratic opponent that November. When his task force released a report the next March, Mr. Giuliani belittled its findings as “making very little sense.”
He endorsed just one suggestion, to change a deputy commissioner’s title. “We can change it from ‘affairs’ to ‘relations,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said.
Two police shootings of unarmed black men followed, one death upon another. In February 1999, the police fired 41 bullets at Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant. They said they thought he was reaching for a gun; he was trying to pull out his wallet. A year later, an undercover officer sidled up to Patrick Dorismond, an off-duty security guard, and asked to buy marijuana. Mr. Dorismond took offense; punches flew. Another undercover officer shot him.
Mayor Giuliani released the dead man’s juvenile arrest record. Mr. Dorismond, he said, was no “altar boy.” In fact, he had been an altar boy at a Brooklyn church.
There were marches and a civil disobedience campaign — Mr. Dinkins and Representative Charles B. Rangel were arrested. Mr. Powers, the mayor’s friend, said Mr. Giuliani fell victim to racial provocateurs and an amnesiac city. “A lot of the people in the minority community forgot all the good he did in lowering crime,” he said. “Rudy got demonized.”
With the city perched on edge, the mayor asked to meet with the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood of St. Paul Community Baptist Church. Once they had talked often; Mr. Youngblood, who is black, accompanied Mr. Giuliani on those long-ago trips to Bushwick apartments. But Mr. Giuliani had not taken his calls in years.
Page 4 of 4)
Mr. Youngblood is a leader in East Brooklyn Congregations, an organizing group that prides itself on a cool-eyed view of power. Unhappy with Mr. Giuliani but willing to talk, a half-dozen ministers trooped to City Hall, where they found an angry but chastened mayor.
“We said: ‘We don’t do photo ops,’ ” Mr. Youngblood recalled. “ ‘You must apologize to the Dorismond family.’ ”
Mr. Giuliani turned sharply.
“You don’t understand,” two ministers recall Mr. Giuliani saying. “I have to visit the families of police officers who are shot.”
A minister replied: “Yes, Mr. Mayor, but we have to funeralize the people they shoot. You are not alone, O.K.?”
Mr. Giuliani later expressed regret without precisely apologizing. His approval rating among blacks had fallen to 7 percent by April 2000, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.
A Damaged Agenda
The question lingers in conversation with black officials: Did Mr. Giuliani have a black problem, or did blacks just not get him?
He dueled with no end of white officials. Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, a fellow Republican? He’s “running a protection racket.” Gov. George E. Pataki? “Needs his head examined.” The Manhattan borough president, Ruth W. Messinger? She has “really jerky” ideas.
But Ms. Reiter, the former deputy mayor, said a mayor could not assume words register the same for every group. “One city, one standard is fine but unrealistic,” she said. “There are groups, for reasons of history, treated differently, and it happens every day.” Ignore that, she says, and a leader risks tone-deafness.
In the summer of 1999, Mr. Giuliani attended an Urban League fund-raiser at the Sheraton in Manhattan. He strode through the ballroom as though leaning into a strong wind.
“I want to apologize for leaving early,” he said. “It’s very, very hard for me to get a cab.” The ballroom fell silent. Then he went fishing for laughs, and found none. “You think I’m kidding? Have you ever tried to hail a cab in New York?”
He seemed unaware that many in this audience knew perfectly well what it was to hail a taxi that would not stop.
The city did not boil over on Mr. Giuliani’s watch; neither did it unite behind him.
But Mr. Sharpton, whose hand was behind most anti-Giuliani demonstrations, boycotts and attempted embarrassments, said Mr. Giuliani damaged his own agenda by failing to cultivate black allies.
“Rudy wanted to send a message that he wasn’t going to talk with the bad guys,” he said, referring to himself. “Well, guess what? The good guys couldn’t emerge because he wouldn’t talk to them either.”
Save for immigration, Mr. Giuliani rarely fields questions about race on the campaign trail. Republican voters, who are overwhelmingly white, have clamored to hear about 9/11 and terror; a few of Mr. Giuliani’s supporters discuss Mr. Sharpton, mainly as a punch line.
But in a general election, Mr. Giuliani might have to answer questions about his ability to work with black leaders. “His old racial rhetoric could turn off suburban voters,” notes Henry Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant.
Mr. Giuliani asserts that black people are not mysterious to him, even if they find him a puzzle.
“In the case of the African-American community, I understand it really well,” he told a black editorial writer at The Daily News in 1999. “There’s no point trying to educate people that I’m not a racist any more than I’m not a criminal.”
If people can’t figure me out, he added, “that’s their problem.”
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizen-Police interactions
on: July 22, 2007, 07:03:43 AM
Good point about knowing your rights!
The problem is that I have never seen a simple statement of what the police can and cannot do. What are the criteria that must be met before they can they search me? My car? My home?
What should I do if the officer is NOT meeting these criteria so as to protect my rights? And not get hurt/killed?
CWS, can you/would you help us out here?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: July 21, 2007, 09:31:46 AM
That's very interesting.
What are the symptoms and consequences of inadequate Vitamin D?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Slavery in Islam
on: July 21, 2007, 09:11:34 AM
I just ran across this four year old piece, which is followed by something current:
Author of Saudi Curriculums Advocates Slavery
Shaikh Saleh Al-Fawzan
(Washington)… November 7, 2003 …The main author of the Saudi religious curriculum expressed his unequivocal support for the legalization of slavery in one of his lectures recorded on a cassette and obtained exclusively by SIA news.
Leading government cleric Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan is the author of the religious books currently used to teach 5 million Saudi students, both within the and in Saudi schools aboard – including those in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
“Slavery is a part of Islam,” he says in the tape, adding: “Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long there is Islam.”
Government spokesman Adel Al-Jubeir and other officials have repeatedly claimed religious curriculums are being reformed, but Al-Fawzan’s books continued to be used according to the minister of education’s statements published by Al-Watan daily September 14th, 2003.
Al-Fawzan is member of the Senior Council of Clerics, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, a member of the Council of Religious Edicts and Research, the Imam of Prince Mitaeb Mosque in Riyadh, and a professor at Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University, the main Wahhabi center of learning in the country.
Al-Fawzan refuted the mainstream Muslim interpretation that Islam worked to abolish slavery by introducing equality between the races.
“They are ignorant, not scholars,” he said of people who express such opinions. “They are merely writers. Whoever says such things is an infidel.”
Al-Fawzan’s most famous book, “Al-Tawheed – Monotheism”, is taught to Saudi high school students. In it, he says that most Muslims are polytheists, and their blood and money are therefore free for the taking by “true Muslims.”
Among Al-Fawzan’s other controversial beliefs is the right to ban the marriage of Arab women to non- Arab Muslims, according to his book “Al-Mulkhas Al-Fiqhee” (“Digest of Law”). He has also issued a fatwa forbidden the watching of TV.
Al-Fwazan is also is a leading opponent of those who seek to introduce change to the Saudi school curriculum. He also claimed that elections and demonstrations are western imitations.
According to Saudi liberal writer and scholar Sheikh Hassan Al-Maliki, Al-Fawzan threatened him with beheading if he continued in his criticism of the extremist Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Al-Maliki, who worked for the ministry of education, was fired after he wrote a 50- page paper criticizing Al-Fawzan’s book “Al-Tawheed”.
The Persistence of Islamic Slavery
By Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | July 20, 2007
The International Criminal Court recently issued warrants for the arrest of Ahmed Haroun, the minister for humanitarian affairs of Sudan, and Ali Kosheib, a leader of that country’s notorious janjaweed militia. The Sudanese government has refused to hand over the two for prosecution. Charges include murder, rape, torture and “imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty.” Severe deprivation of liberty is a euphemism for slavery. Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly observed not long ago that in Sudan, “slavery, sanctioned by religious zealots, ravaged the southern parts of the country and much of the west as well.”
Muslim slavers in the Sudan primarily enslave non-Muslims, and chiefly Christians. According to the Coalition Against Slavery in Mauritania and Sudan (CASMAS), a human rights and abolitionist movement, “The current Khartoum government wants to bring the non-Muslim black South in line with Sharia law, laid down and interpreted by conservative Muslim clergy. The black animist and Christian South has been ravaged for many years of slave raids by Arabs from the north and east and resists Muslim religious rule and the perceived economic, cultural, and religious expansion behind it.”
The BBC reported in March 2007 that slave raids “were a common feature of Sudan’s 21-year north-south war, which ended in 2005….According to a study by the Kenya-based Rift Valley Institute, some 11,000 young boys and girls were seized and taken across the internal border -- many to the states of South Darfur and West Kordofan….Most were forcibly converted to Islam, given Muslim names and told not to speak their mother tongue.” One modern-day Sudanese Christian slave, James Pareng Alier, was kidnapped and enslaved when he was twelve years old. Religion was a major element of his ordeal: “I was forced to learn the Koran and re-baptised “Ahmed.” They told me that Christianity was a bad religion. After a time we were given military training and they told us we would be sent to fight.” Alier has no idea of his family’s whereabouts. But while non-Muslims slaves are often forcibly converted to Islam, their conversion does not lead to their freedom. Mauritanian anti-slavery campaigner Boubacar Messaoud explains: “It’s like having sheep or goats. If a woman is a slave, her descendants are slaves.”
Anti-slavery crusaders like Messaoud have great difficulty working against this attitude because it is rooted in the Qur’an and Muhammad’s example. The Muslim prophet Muhammad owned slaves, and like the Bible, the Qur’an takes the existence of slavery for granted, even as it enjoins the freeing of slaves under certain circumstances, such as the breaking of an oath: “Allah will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom” (5:89). But while the freeing of a slave or two here and there is encouraged, the institution itself is never questioned. The Qur’an even gives a man permission to have sexual relations with his slave girls as well as with his wives: “The believers must (eventually) win through, those who humble themselves in their prayers; who avoid vain talk; who are active in deeds of charity; who abstain from sex, except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess, for (in their case) they are free from blame…” (23:1-6). A Muslim is not to have sexual relations with a woman who is married to someone else – except a slave girl: “And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hands possess. It is a decree of Allah for you” (4:24).
In the past, as today, most slaves in Islam were non-Muslims who had been captured during jihad warfare. The pioneering scholar of the treatment of non-Muslims in Islamic societies, Bat Ye’or, explains the system that developed out of jihad conquest:
The jihad slave system included contingents of both sexes delivered annually in conformity with the treaties of submission by sovereigns who were tributaries of the caliph. When Amr conquered Tripoli (Libya) in 643, he forced the Jewish and Christian Berbers to give their wives and children as slaves to the Arab army as part of their jizya [tax on non-Muslims]. From 652 until its conquest in 1276,
Nubia was forced to send an annual contingent of slaves to Cairo. Treaties concluded with the towns of Transoxiana, Sijistan, Armenia, and Fezzan (Maghreb) under the Umayyads and Abbasids stipulated an annual dispatch of slaves from both sexes. However, the main sources for the supply of slaves remained the regular raids on villages within the dar-al-harb [House of War, i.e., non-Islamic regions] and the military expeditions which swept more deeply into the infidel lands, emptying towns and provinces of their inhabitants.
Historian Speros Vryonis observes that “since the beginning of the Arab razzias [raids] into the land of Rum [the Byzantine Empire], human booty had come to constitute a very important portion of the spoils.” As they steadily conquered more and more of Anatolia, the Turks reduced many of the Greeks and other non-Muslims there to slave status: “They enslaved men, women, and children from all major urban centers and from the countryside where the populations were defenseless.” The Indian historian K. S. Lal states that wherever jihadists conquered a territory, “there developed a system of slavery peculiar to the clime, terrain and populace of the place.” When Muslim armies invaded India, “its people began to be enslaved in droves to be sold in foreign lands or employed in various capacities on menial and not-so-menial jobs within the country.”
Slaves faced pressure to convert to Islam. In an analysis of Islamic political theories, Patricia Crone notes that after a jihad battle was concluded, “male captives might be killed or enslaved…Dispersed in Muslim households, slaves almost always converted, encouraged or pressurized [sic] by their masters, driven by a need to bond with others, or slowly, becoming accustomed to seeing things through Muslim eyes even if they tried to resist.” Thomas Pellow, an Englishman who was enslaved in Morocco for twenty-three years after being captured as a cabin boy on a small English vessel in 1716, was tortured until he accepted Islam. For weeks he was beaten and starved, and finally gave in after his torturer resorted to “burning my flesh off my bones by fire, which the tyrant did, by frequent repetitions, after a most cruel manner.”
Slavery was taken for granted throughout Islamic history, as it was, of course, in the West as well up until relatively recent times. Yet while the European and American slave trade get stern treatment attention from historians (as well as from reparations advocates and guilt-ridden politicians), the Islamic slave trade, which actually lasted longer and brought suffering to a larger number of people, is virtually ignored. (This fact magnifies the irony of Islam being presented to American blacks as the egalitarian alternative to the “white man’s slave religion” of Christianity.) While historians estimate that the transatlantic slave trade, which operated between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, involved around 10.5 million people, the Islamic slave trade in the Sahara, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean areas began in the seventh century and lasted into the nineteenth, and involved 17 million people.
And when pressure came to end slavery, it moved from Christendom into Islam, not the other way around. There was no Muslim William Wilberforce or William Lloyd Garrison. In fact, when the British government in the nineteenth century adopted the view of Wilberforce and the other abolitionists and began to put pressure on pro-slavery regimes, the Sultan of Morocco was incredulous. “The traffic in slaves,” he noted, “is a matter on which all sects and nations have agreed from the time of the sons of Adam...up to this day.” He said that he was “not aware of its being prohibited by the laws of any sect” and that the very idea that anyone would question its morality was absurd: “No one need ask this question, the same being manifest to both high and low and requires no more demonstration than the light of day.”
However, it was not the unanimity of human practice, but the words of the Qur’an and Muhammad that were decisive in stifling abolitionist movements within the Islamic world. Slavery was abolished only as a result of Western pressure; the Arab Muslim slave trade in Africa was ended by the force of British arms in the nineteenth century.
Besides being practiced more or less openly today in Sudan and Mauritania, there is evidence that slavery still continues beneath the surface in some majority-Muslim countries as well -- notably Saudi Arabia, which only abolished slavery in 1962, Yemen and Oman, both of which ended legal slavery in 1970, and Niger, which didn’t abolish slavery until 2004. In Niger, the ban is widely ignored, and as many as one million people remain in bondage. Slaves are bred, often raped, and generally treated like animals.
A shadow cast by the strength and perdurability of Islamic slavery can be seen in instances where Muslims have managed to import this institution to the United States. A Saudi named Homaidan Al-Turki, for instance, was sentenced in September 2006 to 27 years to life in prison, for keeping a woman as a slave in his home in Colorado. For his part, Al-Turki claimed that he was a victim of anti-Muslim bias. He told the judge: “Your honor, I am not here to apologize, for I cannot apologize for things I did not do and for crimes I did not commit. The state has criminalized these basic Muslim behaviors. Attacking traditional Muslim behaviors was the focal point of the prosecution.” The following month, an Egyptian couple living in Southern California received a fine and prison terms, to be followed by deportation, after pleading guilty to holding a ten-year-old girl as a slave. And in January 2007, an attaché of the Kuwaiti embassy in Washington, Waleed Al Saleh, and his wife were charged with keeping three Christian domestic workers from India in slave-like conditions in al-Saleh’s Virginia home. One of the women remarked: “I believed that I had no choice but to continue working for them even though they beat me and treated me worse than a slave.”
All this indicates that the problem of Islamic slavery is not restricted to recent events in the Sudan; it is much larger and more deeply rooted. The United Nations and human rights organizations have noted the phenomenon, but nevertheless little has been done to move decisively against those who still hold human beings in bondage, or aid or tolerate others doing so. The UN has tried to place peacekeeping forces in Darfur, over the objections of the Sudanese government, but its remonstrations against slavery in Sudan and elsewhere have likewise not resulted in significant government action against the practice. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also noted the problem, but as HRW observes, “the government of Sudan has stonewalled on the issue of slavery, claiming it was a matter of rival tribes engaging in hostage taking, over which it had little control. That is simply untrue, as myriad reports coming out of southern Sudan have made abundantly clear.” For Islamic slavery to disappear, a powerful state would have to move against it decisively, not with mere words, and accept no equivocation of half-measures. In today’s international geopolitical climate, nothing could be less likely.
 Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996, p. 108.
 Speros Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century, Berkeley, 1971. P. 174-5. Quoted in Bostom, Legacy of Jihad, p. 87.
 K. S. Lal, Muslim Slave System in Medieval India, Aditya Prakashan, 1994. P. 9.
 Patricia Crone, God’s Rule: Government and Islam, Columbia University Press, 2004. Pp. 371-372. Quoted in Bostom, Legacy of Jihad, p. 86.
 Giles Milton, White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam’s One Million White Slaves, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. P. 84.
 Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad, Prometheus, 2005, pp. 89-90.
 Quoted in Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 1994. Reprinted at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/med/lewis1.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: July 21, 2007, 08:44:30 AM
Israel's new president on Iran's nuclear program--and his own.
BY JUDITH MILLER
Saturday, July 21, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
JERUSALEM--Shimon Peres had not even been sworn in as Israel's ninth president last Sunday when he began making news. While vowing to use his new post to "unify" his deeply polarized country and "speak to all Israelis," Mr. Peres told the Associated Press only hours before his induction that Israel must "get rid of" the territories it has occupied for 40 years and, by implication, the Jewish settlements he helped create. A majority of Israelis agreed with him, he asserted.
"Even before entering his job, he is doing everything to divide the nation . . . and playing into the hands of his friends--the murderers of the PLO," said Zvi Hendel, a Knesset member who represents the influential settler movement. When Mr. Peres took the oath of office in Israel's parliament later that day, a few outraged parliamentarians, unlike most Knesset members, Cabinet officials and 1,000 guests at the nostalgic ceremony, refused to stand, much less applaud.
The provocative declaration was vintage Mr. Peres. In a single sentence, the 83-year-old veteran of veterans--he has held virtually every available possible cabinet job, some of them twice--signaled his determination to use what has traditionally been a ceremonial post to press for peace, fight poverty and promote issues he has long seen as vital to Israel's national security. "The Jews have never been satisfied, neither personally nor collectively," he told me. "And they are right to be so. When you're satisfied, you become a bore."
Judging by its debut, President Peres's tenure will not be boring. During our 90-minute interview and subsequent lunch, at a hotel not far from the Knesset, Mr. Peres seemed to revel in his role as presidential provocateur.
Was he worried about an Iranian atomic bomb? I asked the man who led Israel's successful, once-secret effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
"Terrorism and the warming of the earth are the two great threats to Israel," he began.
Yes, he insisted, the warming of the "earth's refrigerator" ranks second only to terrorism in terms of threat. One day, Israeli homes, factories and cars will run on solar energy. "Better to depend on the sun than the Saudis," he said.
Israel's top threat, however, is nuclear terrorism. Now that President Bush has "boldly and courageously" toppled Saddam Hussein--he declined to give advice about whether, how and when Mr. Bush should bring American forces home--the theocratic rulers in Tehran are Israel's greatest challenge. Iran "wants to destroy all that is modern. But it is a failed state," he said. When the mullahs seized power after the 1979 revolution, Iran had 30 million people; today it has 70 million.
"The regime cannot feed them," Mr. Peres said. There is corruption and drugs, and Persians are barely 50% of the population." The regime, like the Soviet Union, will eventually fail.
But would it do so before acquiring atomic weapons?
"Will the Muslim world enter the modern age before Iran and terrorists get the bomb?" he said, answering a question with a question. No one knows, he continued.
The prospect of nuclear arms controlled by fanatical mullahs and the terrorists they support threatens not only Israel, but all states. "So the world will unite against them," he said. If there is a united front against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "he will lose."
Europe, including Russia, will apply financial pressure on Tehran, he predicted. Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he had recently met, "understands" the threat. "He knows that Chechnya has a Muslim majority and that Russia is losing population," according to Mr. Peres. Meanwhile, the election of Angela Merkel in Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy in France, and the emergence of Labour's Gordon Brown in Britain means "there is a different Europe now."
Mr. Peres went on to say that using military force against Iranian nuclear targets would be premature, since it is possible that Iran could still be deterred by peaceful means. But military action is not off the table. If peaceful deterrence fails, "the red line" on force has to be set by a united front. "It would be the greatest mistake for Israel to draw that line," he warned.
Is Tehran not justified in seeking nuclear weapons given Israel's development of them?
Mr. Peres bristled. "Pakistan did it before us, and India," he asserted, apparently referring to the nuclear tests of those two countries. (Israel has never acknowledged testing a weapon.) His comment would seem to be a departure, by the way, from Israel's steadfast refusal to publicly confirm or deny its possession of what analysts estimate is a nuclear arsenal of some 300 weapons. And "Dimona helped us achieve peace with Egypt," he added, referring to the site of the country's largest nuclear reactor. "Sadat said it openly."
It's preposterous to compare Israel and Iran, Mr. Peres continued. While Israel is determined "not to be the first to introduce nuclear bombs in the Middle East," he said, returning to Israel's deliberate ambiguity regarding its nuclear capabilities--a policy he helped formulate in 1963 as deputy defense minister, and for which he was fiercely criticized--"Iran's leadership says openly they want to wipe us out."
While Mr. Peres said he wanted Tehran to worry about his country's intentions and capabilities, he added that Israel might not be troubled by a nuclearized Iran under non-militant stewardship. "We learned to live with Pakistan," he said. An Iran ruled by moderates "would be a different thing altogether." The peace process itself, or "peace processes," as he called them, are to some extent leadership-dependent.
Mr. Peres doubted, for instance, that peace would be possible with a Syria led by Bashar Assad. As long as Mr. Assad keeps encouraging radical Shiite Hezbollah and undermining Lebanon's integrity, "President Bush is right to resist direct negotiations," he said.
At the same time, Mr. Peres insisted there is now "a good opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians" whose militant Islamic party, Hamas, has rejected the West-Bank-based leadership and seized control of Gaza, the impoverished home of 1.5 million Palestinians.
"We must choose the PLO or Hamas," he said, referring with little nostalgia to the party founded and led by the late Yasser Arafat, who in 2000 finally torpedoed the Oslo peace process that Mr. Peres had secretly launched as Yitzhak Rabin's deputy in the early 1990s. In the Oslo Accords of 1993, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to divide the land that both claimed--precisely where was one of several key issues deliberately left to be clarified in "final status" talks that did not occur.
Though Mr. Rabin--Mr. Peres's long-time rival--Arafat, and he won the Nobel prize for what was then hailed prematurely as the end of the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict, Oslo crashed and burned in 2000 in a resurgence of Palestinian violence.
"Let the Gazans do whatever they want," Mr. Peres said. "We shouldn't stop delivering water or electricity and other basic necessities to them. But if Hamas fires at us, they should not expect thank-you notes. We will strike back. And we will negotiate with the West Bank Palestinian Authority wherever they are," he said. Such negotiations would be no favor to the Palestinians, Mr. Peres insisted.
Mr. Peres left the Labor Party where he had spent most of his political life to join former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new Kadima faction, he said, only after Mr. Sharon had accepted his argument that the land had to be divided. Israel had little choice, he argued: Continued occupation of the territories would result either in a non-Jewish Israeli state, or a nondemocratic one, or both. "We cannot defeat or manage the territories," Mr. Peres asserted.
As he discussed Israel's fateful choices and his own policy preferences, Mr. Peres sounded more like a ruling prime minister than a ceremonial president. And with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's approval ratings in the single digits, Mr. Peres is in fact likely to enjoy more political latitude than he would have under a strong, popular leader.
Does he think that Mr. Olmert's government will survive the upcoming report by a commission investigating his disastrous stewardship of last summer's Lebanon war, as well as the various corruption investigations against the prime minister?
"I wouldn't exclude it," Mr. Peres replied--hardly the ringing endorsement that Mr. Olmert gave him in lobbying Knesset members to support his presidency.
But Mr. Olmert's embrace of Mr. Peres was also coolly calculated--aimed not only at strengthening his faltering Kadima, but eliminating a potential rival for Israel's top job. Even at his advanced age, associates said, Mr. Peres had flirted with the notion of becoming prime minister again, the post Israelis had denied him after Rabin's assassination in 1996.
Despite Israel's mistakes and failings, Mr. Peres said, its greatest days are ahead, thanks to globalization. Israel's once agriculture-based economy has been "revolutionized by 15,000-20,000 young people" who have replaced vegetables and fruit with high-tech exports, a once-mocked Peres "vision." "It's the individual capacity to create that counts today," he said. "It's a Jewish age."
In a globalized world, Jews will excel, Mr. Peres went on to say. His own son is but one example. Nehemia Peres, known as "Chemi," 49, the youngest of his three children, heads a venture capital firm called Pitango which is headquartered in one of the glass skyscrapers in Herzliya, a Tel Aviv suburb. Founded in 1993, Pitango now employs 35 people and has invested some $1.2 billion in 130 hi-tech, high-growth start-up companies owned by young Israelis at home and abroad.
"My father is not just a dreamer, he's a doer," said Chemi Peres, 49, the morning after his father's swearing in. "I've seen enough of his dreams come true--Dimona, the development of an indigenous aircraft industry, peace with Egypt and Jordan, an economy of Israeli billionaires"--not exactly the dream of Israel's founders--"in which $2 billion a year is invested each year in over 1,000 companies." And all despite the lack of peace with the Palestinians.
The elder Mr. Peres might have been elected president seven years ago, but the Knesset rejected him in favor of Moshe Katzav, a lackluster former minister from the conservative Likud Party. This was his father's most frustrating and humiliating defeat, Chemi Peres said.
But Mt. Katzav, like President Ezer Weizman before him, was forced out of office by scandal. On the day of Mr. Peres's induction, Mr. Katzav was reportedly closeted with his lawyers discussing a plea bargain in which he had acknowledged charges of forcible indecent assault and sexual harassment in lieu of graver accusations of having raped former female employees.
Some Israelis quietly fear that this presidency, too, may end in tears. Mr. Peres, who will turn 84 in August, is the oldest person ever to hold the post. He would be 91 if he completes two three-and-a-half year terms. "I'm healthy," Mr. Peres replied when I asked about this concern. "I was 12 pounds when born. I nearly killed my mother."
Most Israelis welcomed Mr. Peres's inauguration as president last week. They may be hoping he can restore to the now tarnished office dignity and honor at home, as well as its lost stature and moral authority abroad. But it says something disturbing that, despite the country's impressive prosperity and scientific achievements, there is no one younger on the political scene to play this role.
Ms. Miller, a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, is a writer based in New York.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / A Conversation
on: July 21, 2007, 08:28:49 AM
An exchange from an email group of which I am a member. "Scott" is Scott Grannis, noted supply side economist:
Pat is pointing out is that a house purchase triggers other consumption purchases -- furniture, appliances, and so on. The production of these consumption items creates wealth. The people who saved and then built the lumber mills, cement factories, steel factories, appliance factories, housing construction firms, and all the rest are the people we can thank for the bounty of goods available.
The people who buy houses should be exchanging the value of their production -- whatever it might be --- for the production by residential housing constructors and all the other goods makers in the chain of residential housing activity. Normally, that would be the only way to buy a house. Or, a house buyer could borrow money from somebody else who produced something of equivalent value.
Unfortunately, we have evolved a system where mortgage money is created out of thin air and the house buyer uses that new money to bid houses away from other buyers. It's true, as Scott said, that the more desirable neighborhoods can see price increases without monetary inflation -- but that would normally be accompanied by falling prices in less desirable neighborhoods. With rampant credit inflation anybody willing to borrow can move up to a more desirable neighborhood or buy that first house. The result is rising house prices almost everywhere.
By the way, buying stock on the secondary stock market adds nothing to the country's productive capacity. It adds no wealth. The secondary markets are price-discovery markets. A security's price presumably gives us the current valuation of the "factors of production" -- one key to the capitalism's effectiveness. In a socialist economy the factors of production are not privately owned and there is no way to set meaningful prices. The result is an inability, for example, to decide whether it is economically desirable to build a new factory or rejuvenate an old one -- i.e. "economic calculation" is impossible.
Unfortunately, if a capitalistic country's price discovery mechanisms are distorted by inflation it causes analogous difficulties. Entrepreneurs look at distorted prices and make poor economic decisions. All you have to do is look at all the record breaking deals financed by debt to see that our price setting mechanisms have been distorted to some unknown degree by our ongoing credit expansion.
Tom, I'm as worried about inflation as anyone I know in the professional money management business, but I think your concerns go over the top. My inflation credentials, by the way, go back to the 4 years I lived in Argentina during the late 1970s. I lived and breathed hyperinflation for years, and I've spent many years since then studying how and why it happened.
It is simply not true that "mortgage money is created out of thin air" as you say. If that were the case then the US money supply would be growing by staggering amounts. Instead, money supply (M1 or M2, take your pick) is growing at very modest rates that are completely consistent with low inflation (i.e., less than 6%). If you take out a mortgage to buy a house, essentially 100% of the money you receive comes out of the pocket of someone else. Almost no one buys a house these days the old-fashioned way ( i.e., from a bank), which means banks are not out there creating money thanks to the fractional reserve system. Very few banks these days are in the business of making AND HOLDING mortgages in their portfolios. Lots of banks make mortgages, but the vast majority are sold to other investors like my firm. Very few, very few hold those mortgages in their portfolios. That's the only way that money can be created out of thin air. That the money supply is growing slowly is pretty much proof of this.
I've talked about this before, but you and other Austrians are obsessed with the notion of credit bubbles and credit inflation. What you don't seem to understand is that credit expansion these days is a private sector phenomenon and has nothing to do with monetary policy or inflation. If I create a business that has a high probability of creating a future cash flow stream, I can monetize that cash flow by issuing a bond. Someone buys that bond from me with cash. That cash is not created out of thin air. It is simply existing cash that changes hands. If my new business runs aground, then my expected cash flows fail to materialize and I default on the bond. The guy who owns the bond is out of luck. No new money was created in this process.
As for inflation, the Fed can create that by setting interest rates too low. It doesn't require money expansion, it just requires interest rates (which are the only thing the Fed attempts to control) that are too low. Low interest rates undermine the demand for money, and falling money demand results in a more rapid circulation of money, and it is rising money velocity that fuels higher prices. You can observe this process by watching the declining value of the dollar and the rising gold price, and rising prices for hard assets such as real estate and commodities. What we have now is a mild but persistent inflation that could easily last for several more years. But it's definitely not an inflation like what we saw here in the 1970s. Of course, if the dollar were to fall another 15-20% then I might change my assessment, but that remains to be seen.
And as a side note, it is perfectly legitimate for home prices to rise if interest rates fall. A home is like any asset that produces future benefits: the present value of those benefits is their discounted present value. Lower interest rates boost the value of any productive asset.
I understand your points, but let me point out a couple of things and ask some other questions. From Doug Noland's last weekly report: "M2 (narrow) "money" increased $4.5bn to a record $7.264 TN (week of 7/2). Narrow "money" has expanded $220bn y-t-d, or 6.0% annualized, and $438bn, or 6.4%, over the past year."
Isn't a 6.4% growth rate in M2 rather significant? If it is true that the great majority of that new money goes into real estate construction or various forms of speculative finance, it seems that rate of money creation could distort the relevant prices to a huge degree -- and that is what the Austrian theory says is the cause of malinvestment and economic .
It's true, as you say, that when the banks sell off loans that action prevents those loans from adding to the M2 balances. But banks do keep some loans! Also, many mortgage backed security buyers are highly leveraged hedge funds or other leveraged speculators -- and their leverage is normally obtained from a bank. If the M2 data is correct, the net result is a "moderate" rate of monetary increase instead of a sky rocketing rate -- but 6.4% is sufficient to damage to our economy and transfer countless billions of wealth to the financial players.
When the Fed sets interest rates "too low" the inflationary mechanism, I believe, is primarily the impetuous given to credit expansion. Sure credit creation is a "private sector" phenomenon, but the private sector credit machine is coordinated and protected by the policies of the Fed and the US government. The result is absolutely bizarre behavior by people who are running multi-gazillion dollar enterprises in this industry. I am sure you saw this quote from the Citigroup CEO:
July 10 – Financial Times (Michiyo Nakamoto and David Wighton): "Chuck Prince yesterday dismissed fears that the music was about to stop for the cheap credit-fuelled buy-out boom, declaring that Citigroup was 'still dancing'. The Citigroup chief executive told the Financial Times that the party would end at some point but there was so much liquidity at the moment it would not be disrupted by the turmoil in the US subprime mortgage market. He also denied that Citigroup, one of the biggest providers of finance to private equity deals, was pulling back, in spite of problems with some financings. 'When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you've got to get up and dance. We're still dancing,' he said… 'The depth of the pools of liquidity is so much larger than it used to be that a disruptive event now needs to be much more disruptive than it used to be. At some point, the disruptive event will be so significant that instead of liquidity filling in, the liquidity will go the other way. I don't think we're at that point.'"
The Austrian-School economists seem to be obsessed with inflation and credit expansions because their theory tells them that these are the mechanisms that lead directly to boom/bust cycles. The theory very explicitly explains why these consequences pertain, and I have yet to see anyone in the mainstream debunk this explanation. If you know of such a paper, I would love to see it.
In the past year M2 has grown 6.2%; in the past two years 5.5% (annualized); in the past three years 4.9% (annualized).
During the period in which U.S. inflation slowed from double digits (1980) to just 1% (mid 2002), M2 grew at a 6.0% annualized pace. During that same period, nominal GDP grew at a 6.3% pace and real GDP grew at a 3.0% pace (which is exactly the expected long-run growth rate of the economy). Money thus shrunk a bit relative to the size of the economy. The Fed was fighting inflation, and it worked, and it didn't kill or threaten the economy.
With M2 currently growing around 6% or a bit less (M1 hasn't grown at all for over two years, MZM is up at a 6.0% pace over the past two years), needless to say it's hard to make the case that rapid money growth is threatening higher inflation, at least based on the historical evidence. Current growth rates of money are entirely consistent with low inflation and a normal expansion of the economy.
If we are to have rising inflation with 6% M2 growth, we will need a rising velocity of money. There is indeed evidence of this, and it is the case that inflation has risen, albeit moderately, in the past three years--from a low of 1% to today's 2.5-3%.
Higher inflation coming on the heels of very low inflation, and perhaps even some deflation in the late 1990s and early 2000s, could well have stimulated the demand for real assets such as homes and gold and commodities. Lower interest rates, a by-product of collapsing inflation, were also responsible for stimulating the demand for housing.
Contrary to popular belief (and this is indeed heretical even among economists), declining inflation stimulates the demand for money and slows money velocity. Rising inflation tends to do the opposite. People don't want to hold a lot of money when prices are rising. So M2 growth tends to be slow when inflation is rising, and fast when inflation is falling. So just observing the growth of M2 tells you little about what the Fed is doing, or whether money growth is inflationary. Indeed, it is entirely possible that rapid credit and money expansion could occur alongside low and stable inflation. That is what we saw, in fact in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In any event, let's stipulate that there is a huge expansion of credit in the private sector, and that easy access to credit has fueled a housing boom. If the Fed is doing its job and keeping inflation low, that housing boom will not have very long legs. If prices rise too much they will eventually fall. Lenders will lose a bundle, there will be lots of foreclosures, etc. Sound familiar?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: July 21, 2007, 08:19:23 AM
Afghanistan: A Possible Move by a Political Survivor
Reuters, citing Afghan television, reported July 19 that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Afghan insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami, has issued a signed statement saying his group will cease fighting U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces, and that it will resume political activities. If the statement is true -- and not one invented by the Afghan government and foreign agents, as a purported spokesman for Hekmatyar later claimed -- it indicates Hekmatyar is changing sides -- again. Given the beating his Taliban and al Qaeda allies have been taking at the hands of U.S. and NATO forces, Hekmatyar could be trying to cut his losses and maneuver himself into a more advantageous position on Afghanistan's political scene.
It does seem unusual for Hekmatyar to announce a major shift in his strategy and allegiance in a written statement. In May 2006, when he declared his allegiance to the Taliban and al Qaeda, he did so in a videotaped message. Furthermore, Hekmatyar's latest position seems out of context given his recent condemnation of the United States and its allies. On July 12, via a purported spokesman, he strongly condemned the storming of Islamabad's Red Mosque by Pakistani security forces, calling it part of a "crusader war" against Muslims by U.S. President George W. Bush and his allies. Hekmatyar, a northerner from Kunduz province, also called for a revolt against Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Furthermore, rumors of changing alliances are often floated by both sides in Afghanistan in an effort to keep each other off balance. These factors, however, do not necessarily mean that Hekmatyar's cease-fire statement is bogus. He rarely appears in public or issues statements using the Internet or other media. In addition, as a Sunni militant leader, Hekmatyar would have to have gone on record as condemning the Red Mosque siege in order to maintain his credentials and legitimacy.
In recent months, the Taliban and their allies have been unable to dictate the tempo of combat in Afghanistan as they did in 2006, when NATO troops new to the country took over from more experienced U.S. units. Since then, NATO -- particularly the Britons and Canadians in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces -- has had more success at preventing insurgent attacks and destroying large Taliban formations. In response to this, the Taliban and their allies have been adopting tactics such as suicide bombings and assassination attempts, rather than traditional Afghan methods of fighting.
Hekmatyar has always been a survivor. He has been a military and political figure in Afghanistan since before the 1979 Soviet invasion, which is no small achievement. Shifting allegiances has been one of his main methods of staying alive in the region's tumultuous political and militant environment. Over the years, he has sought refuge in Pakistan and Iran when various Afghan governments have hunted him. He also has been a CIA asset, has fought with and then against Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud before the Taliban came to power, and has fought against the Taliban. Before this latest statement, his most recent shift in allegiance occurred when the Taliban and al Qaeda were increasing attacks against U.S., NATO and Afghan forces, and Hekmatyar was trying to take advantage of the situation. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been trying to reach out to the various insurgent factions in Afghanistan in an effort to divide them. Indeed, Hekmatyar apparently has been considering ending his alliance with the Taliban for some time.
Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami group, which operates on the Afghan-Pakistani border, is a minor player among Afghan militias and militant groups. Over the years, it has lost many leaders and members as a result of combat, shifting alliances and desertions. For Hekmatyar to remain a viable player among Afghanistan's factions, he has to use his political -- rather than his military -- weight.
If Hekmatyar believes the insurgency is going badly at the moment, it would not be surprising to see him try to better position himself on the Afghan political scene -- and declaring a cease-fire would be one way to go about it. In doing so, Hekmatyar would be giving Karzai little, since his group is not a major player. Given Karzai's beleaguered position, however, any apparent defection from the insurgency is a welcome development.
For an insurgency like the Taliban's to win, it just has to survive. The current military situation in Afghanistan is certainly subject to change, and could be altered by a single dramatic event. However, to survive for as long as he has in Afghan politics, Hekmatyar has to think and move in the short term, rather than the long term.