December 31, 2004

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


Lessons for Democrats (E. J. Dionne Jr., December 31, 2004, Washington Post)

[B]ad years offer useful lessons. Here are a few:

• Relentlessness pays off. President Bush won reelection by ignoring the conventional wisdom that vicious attacks on your opponent don't work and turn off voters. As soon as John Kerry won the Democratic nomination, Bush's campaign went on the attack and never stopped. It worked. [...]

• Cultural hypocrisy should be exposed. I cannot understand why liberals who regularly criticize the excesses of the economic market let conservatives get away with being the advocates of "traditional values."

When television networks and Hollywood exploit sex to make money, why aren't liberals asking why the free market so revered by the right wing promotes values the very same right wing claims to despise? The coarsening of the culture that traditionalist conservatives denounce is abetted by the very media concentration that economic conservatives defend. Why are liberals so tongue-tied in exposing this contradiction?

Boy, some old dogs really just can't learn anything, huh? The Democrats accused the President of everything from draft-dodging to being controlled by a little black box and he turned it around and handed them their heads--Mr. Dionne wants more of the same? And does he really think the GOP is going to shy away from an opportunity to hammer Hollywood, which is a 100% Democrat constituency?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


Martha Stewart Loses Decorating Contest (Fox News, December 31, 2004)

Martha Stewart, who built a billion-dollar media empire based on her holiday and home decorating tips, was unable to lead her team to victory in a prison decoration contest, a magazine reported.

Stewart and a team of fellow inmates at a federal prison camp in Alderson, W.Va., crafted paper cranes to be hung from the ceiling, People magazine reported in an article posted on its Web site Wednesday.

They lost out to a competing team that built a nativity scene showing "pictures of snow-covered hills and sleds and clouds on the wall," the magazine quoted an inmate as saying.

Each team was given $25 worth of glitter, ribbons, construction paper and glue to build a display based on the theme "Peace on Earth," the magazine said.

It seems safe to say Ms Stewart hasn't been born-again behind bars. Cranes?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


Late Shoppers Help Online Retailers Sell More (Griff Witte, December 31, 2004, Washington Post)

Online retailers sold $14.8 billion worth of goods and services between Nov. 1 and Dec. 26, a 29 percent increase over the comparable period in 2003, according to statistics released this week by ComScore Networks, which tracks online spending. The increase was particularly pronounced in the week before Christmas, when online sales hit $1.22 billion, 53 percent higher than the corresponding week last year.

"We expected a solid season," said ComScore senior vice president Daniel E. Hess. "But the results for the final two weeks are far beyond our expectations." [...]

The late strength of online sales mirrored the trend for retailers overall this holiday season. Sales in November were disappointing, spawning fears that Christmas 2004 would be less than joyous for merchants. But the procrastinators showed up with a vengeance in late December and managed to provide most retailers with strong results and needed momentum heading into the new year.

Although online sales make up only a single-digit percentage of the retail business, they have a powerful effect on consumer choices, with many people researching prices and selection on the Web before they hit the stores. Hess said 90 million people a week visited at least one retail Web site in the lead-up to Christmas.

With shortages reported for some popular items such as Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod, many consumers racing against the clock -- and against other shoppers -- opted this year for a hybrid retail experience that involved both highways and high-tech. At Best Buy, for example, the company's customers made frequent use of a feature that allowed them to reserve a particular item online, and then get in the car and pick it up at a local store.

Sears offered much the same service. "When the holidays were getting close, it became an important option for those not wanting to leave anything to chance," Sears spokeswoman Rochelle Mangold said.

The popularity of gift cards this year also contributed to high rates of online shopping, since they could be ordered anytime and show up in the recipient's e-mail inbox within seconds.

The folks who were fretting about the "slowdown" on the Saturday after Thanksgiving sounded especially silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:25 PM


A state of chaos: George Bush has purged the last of his father's senior advisers, handing over control to his neocon allies (Sidney Blumenthal, December 30, 2004, The Guardian)

[B]ush has unceremoniously and without public acknowledgement dumped Brent Scowcroft, his father's closest associate and friend, as chairman of the foreign intelligence advisory board. The elder Bush's national security adviser was the last remnant of traditional Republican realism permitted to exist within the administration. [...]

Bush has long resented his father's alter ego. Scowcroft privately rebuked him for his Iraq follies more than a year ago - an incident that has not previously been reported. Bush "did not receive it well", said a friend of Scowcroft.

In A World Transformed, the elder Bush's 1998 memoir, co-authored with Scowcroft, they explained why Baghdad was not seized in the first Gulf war: "Had we gone the invasion route, the US could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."

Hopefully this is all true rather than just another one of Grassy Knoll's fantasies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


The legacy of Y2K (Michael Socolow, December 31, 2004, Boston G;lobe)

From the distance of five years, the Y2K bug now appears a manifestation of our anxieties about our dependence on technology. We didn't know then -- and most of us still do not know -- anything about the systems that keep ATMs working, airplanes flying, and traffic lights flashing. Once these communications systems threatened us with failure we were forced to acknowledge our faith in incomprehensibly complex technologies.

That kind of questioning evaporated once our systems proved reliable. Our machines served us well, and our faith was restored. Y2K reaffirmed our confidence in the technologies of everyday life.

From today's perspective the Y2K fears seem humorous. Yet to dismiss the moment as meaningless is to miss its wider import. There is one significant, yet far less well-known legacy of the Y2K scare. In the late 1990s, as computer programming companies were hired to check literally billions of lines of computer code, they faced an impossible task. How could such large volumes of code be checked in a cost-efficient and timely manner? How could a work force be put together for such a technically skilled yet labor-intensive (and tedious) job?

The answer to that question is the true legacy of Y2K. That skilled and cheap work force was discovered overseas. Over the previous decade technical schools in India and elsewhere produced a dependable and talented labor pool from which American programmers began to draw. There was a large expansion in the H1-B visa program, as the best and brightest from around the globe assisted us in solving our computer problems.

That work force proved so cost-effective and reliable that technology companies took notice after the millennium turned. To save money they continued to use this work force; the economic downturn in 2001 intensified this outsourcing of computer work. High salaried programming and quality control jobs, previously filled by Americans, moved to other countries.

The other, unfortunately induplicable, legacy of Y2K was that it forced the modernization of nearly every computer system in the United States, which likely fueled much of the productivity revolution of the late 90s. It would be helpful to cook up a new scare every five years or so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Human Hand behind earthquake and Tsunami? It is time for Indian Navy to investigate! (Balaji Reddy, December 29, 2004, India Daily)

Was this an earthquake creation experiment that ran out of control? Many countries are working on methods of creating massive earthquakes as means to defeat the enemy. The technologically advanced countries are working on this project.

If an earthquake and Tsunami can be created artificially and directed to a specific enemy, it can literally create havoc to the enemy. Weather control, controlling tectonic plate movements, electromagnetic wave simulated weaponry are all on the table of many countries.

Many all around the world are puzzled with the fact that Tsunamis never happen in South Asia. Also is perplexing is the fact that Tsunamis traveled 1000 miles at a speed of 500 miles an hour and smashed the coastal lines of South and South east Asia where Tsunamis do not happen.

There are technologies on the research table that is used to create electromagnetic effects to release the gravitational effects which can cause this kind massive earth movements.

Another astonishing feature of this earthquake and Tsunami is the amount by which the Kar Nicobar Islands have displaced. The level of devastation simulates 10 or higher Richter scale earthquake.

Was this a show down by a country to show the region what havoc can be created?

We do not have the answers to this.

Now that those straw huts and fishing villages are wiped away no one can stop our plan for world domination!

What's interesting is that there's really no difference between such a lunatic claim and the equally absurd one that "God did this to them," To God, an age-old question (Reuters, 12/31/04)

It is one of the oldest, most profound questions, posed by some of the most learned minds of every faith throughout the course of human history.

It was put eloquently this week by an old woman in a devastated village in southern India’s Tamil Nadu. “Why did you do this to us, God?” she wailed. “What did we do to upset you?”

Perhaps no event in living memory has confronted the world’s great religions with such a basic test of faith as this week’s tsunami, which indiscriminately slaughtered Indonesian Muslims, Indians of all faiths, Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhists and tourists who were Christians and Jews.

In temples, mosques, churches and synagogues across the globe, clerics are being called upon to explain: How could a benevolent God visit such horror on ordinary people?

When God uses floods to serve His purposes He's rather direct about explaining why.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Sudanese Government, Southern Rebels Sign Final Peace Accords (VOA News, 31 December 2004)

The Sudanese government and southern rebels have signed peace accords, marking the completion of a deal to end 21 years of civil war.

One of the accords signed Friday is a permanent cease-fire, while the other covers details of how the final peace deal will be implemented.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South African President Thabo Mbeki attended the ceremony in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, where previous talks have yielded several partial agreements.

Friday's signing fulfills a pledge by the government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army to reach an agreement by the end of 2004.

East African Customs Union Launched (Cathy Majtenyi, 31 December 2004, VOA News)
Officials in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda simultaneously launched the East African Customs Union, which goes into effect Saturday. This program is expected to increase regional and global trade.

Kenyan assistant finance minister, Henry Obwacha, told reporters in Nairobi the tariff agreement among the three countries effectively establishes the area as a trading bloc that will improve the lives of people living there.

"We have pursued economic integration in order to attract investments and stimulate economic activity in our region," he said. "Through the East African Community, we seek to remove barriers to trade, facilitate movement of people, money, and capital."

The Customs Union sets up a single market of more than 90 million people with a combined gross domestic product of around $30 billion.

Colombian rebel extradited to U.S. on drug, terror charges (Associated Press, December 31, 2004)
Top Marxist rebel Ricardo Palmera was extradited to the United States on Friday, becoming the first leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to face U.S. drug and terrorism charges, officials said.

Army commandos with assault rifles and U.S. DEA agents escorted Palmera, wearing handcuffs and a bulletproof jacket, to a U.S. government plane at a military airfield outside Bogota. The plane took off minutes later.

President Alvaro Uribe had given the FARC until Thursday to free 63 hostages or see Palmera, a former FARC negotiator known by the alias Simon Trinidad, stand trial in a U.S. federal court in Washington. The FARC never responded to the ultimatum.

Ukraine Looks to New Year for Pro-Western Political Course (Lisa McAdams, 31 December 2004, VOA News)
In a rare departure from tradition, the apparent winner of Ukraine's weekend presidential election, pro-reform opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, has invited the leader of last year's peaceful "Rose Revolution" in Georgia to spend New Year's in Kiev.

Mikhail Saakashvili, who led the massive opposition street protests in Tbilisi that swept long-time Communist leader Eduard Shevardnadze from power, accepted Mr. Yushchenko's invitation. He said he felt it very important to be in Kiev at, what he called," this decisive time in Ukraine's history."

Mr. Saakashvili, who attended college in Kiev, was the first foreign leader to congratulate Mr. Yushchenko on his apparent victory earlier this week. In a televised message broadcast on Ukrainian television, Mr. Saakashvili sent his best wishes in fluent Ukrainian to Mr. Yushchenko and the Ukrainian people for what he called their glorious victory.,/blockquote>
Just the start of what's shaping up to be peace-happy new year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


Experts say response to tsunami could hurt or help US image in SE Asia. (CSMonitor Daily Update, 12/31/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


'04 fourth year to set record for the fewest births (Japan Times, 1/01/05)

About 1.107 million babies were born in Japan in 2004, roughly 17,000 fewer than the previous year and the fourth straight year in which a record low was set, government estimates showed Friday.

According to figures released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, natural population growth, which is gained by subtracting the number of deaths from births, came to 83,000, the lowest figure since the end of World War II.

The government has already predicted that Japan's population will start to shrink in 2007, and the latest figures prove the nation is indeed on the threshold of contraction.

The ministry's estimates showed that 1.024 million people died during the year, the second-largest number in the postwar era after 1947 and the second consecutive year deaths have exceeded 1 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


Liberty Quotes (12/31/04)

"Human freedom involves the capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight."
-- Rollo May (1909-1994)

Which, revealingly, materialism denies we can do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


Gay marriage 'rights' (Thomas Sowell, December 31, 2004, Townhall)

Of all the phony arguments for gay marriage, the phoniest is the argument that it is a matter of equal rights. Marriage is not a right extended to individuals by the government. It is a restriction on the rights they already have.

People who are simply living together can make whatever arrangements they want, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. They can divide up their worldly belongings 50-50 or 90-10 or whatever other way they want. They can make their union temporary or permanent or subject to cancellation at any time.

Marriage is a restriction. If my wife buys an automobile with her own money, under California marriage laws I automatically own half of it, whether or not my name is on the title. Whether that law is good, bad, or indifferent, it is a limitation of our freedom to arrange such things as we ourselves might choose. This is just one of many decisions that marriage laws take out of our hands.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the life of the law is not logic but experience. Marriage laws have evolved through centuries of experience with couples of opposite sexes -- and the children that result from such unions. Society asserts its stake in the decisions made by restricting the couples' options.

Society has no such stake in the outcome of a union between two people of the same sex.

Gay marriage asdvocates have confused our increased willingness as a society to tolerate aberrance, so long as it's kept private, with the idea that we have a public interest in institutionalizing and protecting such transgressive behaviors. All we asked in exchange for not prosecuting/persecuting them was that they stop asking for our imprimatur. It's a deal, oddly, of which they seem incapable of upholding their end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:20 AM

END THE BEGUINE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Artie Shaw, Star Bandleader of Swing Era, Dies at 94 (Associated Press, December 30, 2004)

Artie Shaw, clarinetist and bandleader whose recording of "Begin the Beguine" epitomized the Big Band era, died today at the age of 94, the manager of his orchestra said.

Shaw had been ill for some time, orchestra manager Will Curtis said, but he did not know the specific cause of death.

At his peak in the 1930s and '40s, Shaw pulled in a five-figure salary per week and ranked with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller as the bandleaders who made music swing. But he left the music world largely behind in the mid-'50s and spent much of the second half of his life devoted to writing and other pursuits.

Brother Dryfoos informs us: "He stopped playing in the 50's and his last recordings with small groups were among his best ever. He also manage to marry both Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, so you've got to give the guy serious props. He was a brilliant, well-read, articulate man, who was more interested in being a musician than in being a pop star. When he realized he couldn't separate the two, he stopped playing."

We'd only add that the Mother Judd was on Password with him in the '60s and won, until the other star she had to play with tripped her up.

(Artie Shaw and the Mother Judd, February 26, 1963)

ARTIE SHAW | 1910-2004: A Jazz Icon and Iconoclast Who Despised His Fame (Claudia Luther, December 31, 2004, LA Times)

Benny Goodman, another clarinetist bandleader of the swing era and a rival, was perhaps more famous, which galled Shaw. But Shaw's innovations, musical depth and swinging style placed him firmly in the pantheon of 20th century big band and jazz musicians.

"He was a real master of the clarinet, virtually incomparable in the beauty of his tone and unique in his flawless control," said composer Gunther Schuller, who has written extensively about jazz.

Highest on many music buffs' lists — and Shaw's own — is the so-called 1949 band, one of his last, which expanded its scope well beyond the big band genre and other popular music that had begun to entrap Shaw with their success. The short-lived band recorded " 'S Wonderful," among other tunes.

By then, however, Shaw was so far ahead of his fans musically that he was forced to fire the musicians in order to hire a band that played the sort of popular songs Shaw hated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


White's death should put NFL on alert (RICK TELANDER, December 31, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

Huge football players -- huge humans -- are not healthy.

White died probably from a heart attack triggered by a little-understood disease called sarcoidosis, which, in his case, caused inflammation of his heart and lungs.

But the situation apparently was compounded by White's sleep apnea.

With sleep apnea, caused by relaxed tissue in the throat or neck blocking the air passageway, a person goes without oxygen for extended periods while sleeping, waking up constantly through the night to gasp for air, often putting the cardiovascular system under severe stress.

Older men have sleep apnea more than younger men.

Very heavy men, with very large necks, have it most of all.

And the NFL caters to very heavy men.

And Reggie White was very heavy.

Apnea can be very dangerous and I don't just say that because it's how the Wife puts groceries on our table.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


More complaints of scofflaw teachers (ROSALIND ROSSI, 12/31/04, Chicago Sun-Times)

Complaints about city teachers and other public school employees living illegally outside Chicago tripled during the last school year, fueling a sizable increase in the number of beefs to the Chicago Schools Inspector General, officials said Thursday.

Chicago public school teachers were caught living as far away as Plainfield, Lockport and even in posh Glencoe, according to Inspector General James Sullivan's annual report, released Thursday.

The 38-page report summarizes the biggest volume of investigations in a year since the Chicago Schools Inspector General's Office was created in 1994. [...]

Almost all CPS employees hired after 1996 must live in the city, and this school year, principals were ordered to make sure new hires move into the city within six months of their starting date. Schools CEO Arne Duncan insists the system has been able to recruit more and better qualified teachers, despite the residency requirement.

But Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, contends investigating residency fraud is "a waste of time."

"If you want quality teachers, your ZIP code shouldn't matter,'' Stewart said. "What kind of morale do you have in your building when a disgruntled employee, anyone in your building, can turn you in just because of where you live?''

The kind where the teachers actually have to care about the low quality education they're providing to those in the zip code?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


Vatican paper raps Sri Lanka on Israeli aid (correction) (, 12/30/04)

The following is a corrected version of a story that appeared on earlier this week, in which a crucial error in translation caused a serious misinterpretation of the news. CWNews apologizes for the error.

Vatican, Dec. 28 ( - The Vatican newspaper has denounced a decision by Sri Lanka to reject emergency aid offered by the Israeli government. Sri Lanka declined the Israeli aid because it would have been furnished by a military team.

Calling for "a radical and dramatic change of perspective" among people "too often preoccupied with making war," L'Osservatore Romano chastised the government of the stricken Asian nation for putting unnecessary restrictions on an Israeli offer to furnish medical help.

This was one of those stories that revealed much about those who grasped at the original in order to bash Catholics and nothing about the Vatican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Clemente Jr. sends aid to tsunami victims in tribute of father (Dec. 30, 2004, wire reports)

Roberto Clemente's son is sending money, clothing and medical supplies to south Asia's tsunami victims.

The aid was originally headed for Nicaragua to honor the anniversary of his late father's ill-fated humanitarian flight 32 years ago.

"My father always said, 'If you have an opportunity to make things better and you don't then you are wasting your time on earth,"' Roberto Clemente Jr. said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press from Puerto Rico on Thursday. [...]

Clemente Jr. was 7 when his father was killed. He said the death still haunts him because he had a premonition of his father's crash and pleaded with him not to get on the plane.

"I carry the guilt to this day of not doing enough to stop him," Clemente Jr. said. "He said, 'Don't worry, I'll see you when I get back."'

Clemente's cargo plane crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico shortly after takeoff apparently because it was too heavy with supplies, his son said. His body was never recovered.

When Clemente Jr. turned 39 this year -- his father was 38 when he died -- he decided it was time to re-enact his father's "flight for humanity" to complete his mission.

He teamed with Project Club Clemente, a New York organization dedicated to the ballplayer's humanitarian projects, and held a dinner dance and food drive to raise money for the flight.

While he was in Puerto Rico finalizing plans, the earthquake and tsunami hit in southern Asia -- on the same day the earthquake rocked Nicaragua in 1972. He said he feels this is an omen.

Clemente Jr. said he is spearheading a campaign with the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico to help the victims of south Asia.

Donations can be made in Clemente's name to: the International Disaster Fund, American Red Cross, P.O. Box 9021067, San Juan, PR 00902.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Doubts linger as Gregoire win certified (David Postman, 12/31/04, Seattle Times)

As has been the case since Election Day, much of the attention is focused on King County. Republicans are asking questions about why the county's list of registered voters who cast valid ballots in the election shows about 3,500 fewer people than the total number of votes certified in the race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


U.S. Aid Generous and Stingy: It depends on how the numbers are crunched -- total dollars or a slice of the overall economy. (Sonni Efron, December 31, 2004, LA Times)

A different key measure of international generosity was devised by the Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy magazine. It ranked rich countries' contributions to the poor in terms of contributions through aid, trade, investment, technology, security, technology and the environment. Countries got points for the quality as well as the quantity of their aid and contributions.

On that scale, the U.S. ranked seventh out of 21 nations, behind Canada, Britain, Australia, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Japan, which is one of the world's largest aid donors but collects huge interest payments on its development loans, ranked last.

The scale found that U.S. contributions of pure foreign aid was relatively much lower than other countries'. The U.S. scored higher on immigration and trade. Allowing foreigners and foreign products into the country are considered measures of how much a rich country is willing to help poorer ones.

But the study upended the commonly held view that shortfalls in U.S. government aid for the global poor were made up by private American contributions.

It found that U.S. government foreign aid in 2002 worked out to 13 cents per American a day. Private donations from U.S. citizens amounted to 5 cents per person a day.

But in 16 other countries, governments gave more. And in three other countries — Switzerland, Ireland and Norway — private citizens gave more.

The Norwegian government gave $1.02 per citizen a day while private giving came to 24 cents a day.

Cronin said that U.S. per capita giving would never match that of Norway, a nation of 4.5 million. On the other hand, the United States makes many other contributions that are hard to quantify in dollar terms, he said, including using its military prowess for worldwide peacekeeping operations that benefit others, or airlifting tsunami relief supplies to remote areas and sending in ships that desalinate water.

How many troops do they have on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, South Korea, the Philippines, Colombia, Darfur....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Hospitals Fail Nurse Head Count: Fifteen of 28 institutions checked by the state this year after complaints were filed were found to be violating required nurse-to-patient ratios. (Jia-Rui Chong, December 31, 2004, LA Times)

State regulators discovered that more than half the hospitals they checked were in violation of California's strict nurse-to-patient ratios, a Times analysis of records found.

The inspection reports indicate that hospitals are having the greatest difficulty meeting ratio requirements in specific departments: emergency rooms, medical-surgical wards and telemetry units where heart patients are monitored.

The state looked into allegations of nurse staffing violations at 28 hospitals between last Jan. 1, when a new state law took effect, and the end of October, the most recent records available.

If Americans aren't willing to do the necessary training to fill what will be high demand jobs, we'll end up importing them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Sharon Deputy Calls for Wider Withdrawals From West Bank
: Israel should brace for failure in talks with Palestinians, the official says. The government, however, insists that its policy has not changed. (Ken Ellingwood, December 31, 2004, LA Times)

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview published Thursday that the government should pull settlers and soldiers from additional areas of the West Bank after the partial withdrawal planned for next year. [...]

Israel has "no choice of sitting and doing nothing" after next year's planned withdrawal, Olmert told the Jerusalem Post. "Israel's interest requires a disengagement on a wider scale than what will happen as part of the current disengagement plan."

Olmert said Israel should be prepared for failure in negotiations with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is widely favored to win the election for Palestinian Authority president next month. Abbas, considered a pragmatist, has made it clear that he hopes to revive talks with Israel.

In case of a breakdown in negotiations, Olmert said, "Israel will continue to progress, by carrying out unilateral moves, including the possibility of further withdrawals that are in the interest of the state."

Olmert is a staunch Sharon ally who has advocated withdrawal from the West Bank more pointedly than the prime minister. Olmert, who has previously floated trial balloons to gauge reaction to possible shifts in government policies, spoke publicly of abandoning settlements before Sharon did last year.

Nothing has given unilateralism a better name than the Sharon?Bush/Sharansky policy towards Palestine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Honk! The quiet progress of Iraq.: Many Iraqi families have been able to afford cars as the government has doubled the salary of its million or so workers. (David R. Francis, 12/30/04, CS Monitor)

You can tell things are changing in Iraq by the traffic. Thousands of families have bought used cars from abroad - clogging city streets and boosting smog. Many Iraqi families have been able to afford the cars - and move from poverty to middle-class respectability - because the government has doubled the salary of its million or so workers.

It's a sign that, despite the daily mayhem caused by the insurgency, Iraq's economy is quietly gearing up from its war-time low in 2003. How quickly it's picking up speed - and whether the momentum is adequate to dampen the insurgency by providing jobs for idle Iraqi men - is hotly contested. What's clear is that oil alone won't turn the tide: Small business and manufacturing need to revive.

Iraq's economy has expanded 40 to 50 percent this year from war-depressed 2003, says Alan Larson, undersecretary for economics in the US State Department. He predicts double-digit growth in 2005.

The irony of course is that an infrastructure as deteriorated and destroyed as Iraq's gives a nation a golden opportunity to rebuild in the most modern fashion and leap ahead of its competition, as Japan and Germany did after WWII. The question is whether the Shi'a can seize the opportunity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Superpower no more? (Clifford D. May, December 30, 2004, Townhall)

Is the United States a superpower?

For years, we've assumed this was true. It was an easy assumption to make based on the amount of money we spend on our military and the high-tech weapons we've developed, from stealth bombers to precision missiles to satellites that can read license plates.

But to be a superpower means being able to impose your will, by force of arms when necessary.

This isd inane in numerous ways, but we'll take just two:

(1) Search the history books high and low and you'll find no one who argues that Britain ceased to be a great power when it lost America, or the Soviet Union when it couldn't control Yugoslavia or America when it failed to get the Soviets out of Eastern Europe.

(2) All of the difficulties of fighting an insurgency disappear when it takes power. from a purely military standpoint nmothing would be better than for Zargawi to establish a government. Once they're in the open they're easy targets, as were the Baathists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


That 'Sluggish' Economy: It's still the strongest in the world. (Opinion Journal, December 30, 2004)

According to the November forecast of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, gross domestic product in the U.S. is expected to increase by 4.4% in 2004. Elsewhere, the OECD predicts growth of 4% for Japan, 2.7% for the U.K., 2.1% for France and 1.2% for Germany. For the 12-country euro zone, the figure is 1.8%. To put matters in historical perspective, the last time Japan, Britain, France and Germany had growth rates at or in excess of 4.4%, the years were 1990, 1994, 1989 and 1991, respectively.

But, some say, America's current economic performance is sluggish compared with its past performance. So let's look at the data again. From 1997 through 2000--the great Clinton go-go years--U.S. growth averaged 4.25%. For Mr. Clinton's first term, the average was 3.3%. For the eight years of the Reagan presidency, it was 3.4%. By what standard, then, can this year's forecasted 4.4% be described as sluggish?

Maybe it can be argued that it's been sluggish in terms of job gains. It is true that in 2004 there were some months when job growth failed to meet expectations, although there were other months when expectations were exceeded.

Here again, however, it's worth putting things in an international perspective. Overall, the U.S. economy has added 2.3 million jobs since the third quarter of 2003, bringing the unemployment rate down to 5.4% from 6% in October 2003. In Germany, the unemployment rate is 10%; in France it's 9.5%. For the 27 countries of the OECD, the average unemployment rate is 6.8%. Only Britain and Japan, among the major economies, have unemployment rates lower than the U.S. [...]

Even more revealing are the figures for long-term (12 months-plus) unemployment, as the nearby table shows. Here again, the U.S. looks good. Put simply, about 90% of Americans who lose their job can expect to find another within a year. Lose your job in Europe, and you face far more daunting odds.

All right, but hasn't the U.S. spent its way out of recession, leading to dangerously high levels of debt? Well, again, no. Household debt may be at an all-time high of nearly $10 trillion. But net household worth is also at an all-time high of $46 trillion.

We do need to tweak that job creation number upwards to keep the climate hospitable to immigrants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


For the Chinese masses, an increasingly short fuse: China is having more trouble than at any time since the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989 maintaining social order (Joseph Kahn, December 31, 2004, The New York Times)

The encounter, at first, seemed purely pedestrian. A man carrying a bag passed a husband and wife on a sidewalk. The man's bag brushed the woman's pant leg, leaving a trace of mud. Words were exchanged. A scuffle ensued.

Easily forgettable, except that one of the men, Yu Jikui, was a lowly porter. The other, Hu Quanzong, boasted that he was a ranking government official. Hu beat Yu using the porter's own carrying stick, then threatened to have him killed.

For this Yangtze River port city, the script was incendiary. Onlookers spread word that a senior official had abused a helpless porter. By nightfall, tens of thousands of people had swarmed Wanzhou's central square, where they toppled official vehicles, pummeled police officers and torched City Hall.

Minor street quarrel provokes mass riot. China's Communist Party, obsessed with enforcing social stability, has few worse fears. Yet the Wanzhou uprising, which occurred on Oct. 18, is one of nearly a dozen major incidents of spontaneous social unrest in the past three months, many sparked by government corruption, police abuse and the unequal riches accruing to the powerful and well-connected.

"People can see how corrupt the government is while they barely have enough to eat," said Yu, reflecting on the uprising that made him an instant proletarian hero and later forced him into seclusion. "Our society has a short fuse, just waiting for a spark."

Yeah, but what's the disintegration of your nation compared to our current accounts deficit?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Blair says 'No' to plea for G8 emergency summit as the death toll passes 125,000 (GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN, 12/31/04, The Scotsman)

Mr Blair has also faced calls from the Conservatives to cut short his holiday in Egypt to take charge of Britain’s response to the crisis, but Downing Street has insisted that he is in regular contact with Cabinet colleagues who are leading Britain’s actions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Yankees Continue Refurbishing With a Luxury Unit: Proving they don't need Dodgers' help, New York, Arizona agree on trade to bring Johnson to Bronx. (Tim Brown, December 31, 2004, LA Times)

According to a baseball official familiar with the negotiations, the Yankees will get Johnson, who has grown impatient with the rebuilding Diamondbacks but would waive his no-trade clause only for the Yankees.

In return, the Diamondbacks will get Vazquez, left-hander Brad Halsey, catcher Dioner Navarro and about $9 million, ostensibly to cover much of Vazquez's salary next season.

The terms are expected to be forwarded to Commissioner Bud Selig as soon as today. Selig must approve the trade because of the cash involved.

The players must undergo and pass physical examinations. As compensation for lifting his no-trade clause, Johnson is expected to negotiate a two-year contract extension worth about $32 million with the Yankees, to be settled in a 72-hour window granted by the commissioner's office. Because of those details, the trade is not expected to be announced until next week. [...]

Along with Johnson, who could cost them $16 million in each of the next three seasons, the Yankees signed free-agent pitchers Carl Pavano (four years, $40 million) and Jaret Wright (three years, $21 million) and traded for relievers Mike Stanton and Felix Rodriguez. They also signed second baseman Tony Womack and are in the bidding for center fielder Carlos Beltran, expected to be the most expensive free agent of the off-season.

Even without Beltran, the Yankee payroll will be well more than $200 million, some of that tied up in Jason Giambi, who is due at least $82 million over the next five seasons, but whose status is unclear after he allegedly admitted steroid use in a federal grand jury hearing. The Yankees' pursuit of free-agent first baseman Tino Martinez would suggest Giambi's immediate future in New York, at least, is in doubt.

He's 41 and doesn't exactly have the mechanics of Seaver/Koosman/Ryan.

December 30, 2004

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 PM


GOP's Soft Sell Swayed the Amish: Unlikely Voters Cast Lot With Bush (Evelyn Nieves, December 30, 2004, Washington Post)

Yes, the Republicans, true to their vow to leave no vote unwooed, came to Lancaster County hoping to win over the famously reclusive Old Order Amish -- who shun most modern ways -- along with their slightly less-strict brethren, the Mennonites. Democrats laughed at the very idea. The Amish had no use for politics. Were the Republicans that desperate? But the GOP effort, underscored by President Bush's meeting with some Amish families in early July, did the trick.

"Yup, we voted this time," said an elder Old Order Amish man approached at his home-based quilt shop on Route 340. He had a beard that straggled down to his chest and bright blue eyes. His first name, he said, is Amos, but in keeping with the Amish edict against calling attention to oneself, he would not give his last name.

"I didn't vote for the last 30 years," he said, puffing on a pipe. "But Bush seemed to have our Christian principles." [...]

In recent months, reports of child abuse in Amish country have made local papers and national news. The reality show "Amish in the City" has brought a slew of curiosity seekers asking all kinds of questions. (Do you take showers? Read newspapers? Ride buses? Yes, yes and yes.) And the plain people have daily worries as well. "We've been worrying about liquor and beer being sold in the grocery stores," said Sam, a gazebo maker and writer who said he would "get into trouble" if his last name was printed.

"We were down," Sam said, "and when the president visited, it cheered us right up. We got a firsthand look at him, and it really warmed our hearts."

In short, as Sam and half a dozen other Amish men explained (women were hard to find, and harder to talk to), Bush won votes with a time-honored campaign convention: He showed up. On July 9 his campaign bus rolled down Route 340, hoping to fire up the base in Republican Lancaster County. The Amish, watching the spectacle from the road, became part of it.

"We came out," Amos said. "We were about 70 people. One of his security said he wanted to meet us and invited us to meet with him across the road at Lapp's Electric."

"They knew we didn't like publicity," said Amos, smiling at the recollection. "So the president met with us all in an office at Lapp's. He shook everyone's hand -- even the littlest ones in their mother's arms -- and he told us all he hoped we would exercise our right and vote."

Did Bush ask them to vote for him?

"Nope," Amos said. "That's another thing we liked about him."

You can't find this story surprising if you were paying attention, Bush quietly meets with Amish here; they offer their prayers (Jack Brubaker, 7/16/04, Lancaster New Era)
President Bush met privately with a group of Old Order Amish during his visit to Lancaster County last Friday. He discussed their farms and their hats and his religion.He asked them to vote for him in November.

The Amish told the president that not all members of the church vote but they would pray for him.

Bush had tears in his eyes when he replied. He said the president needs their prayers. He also said that having a strong belief in God is the only way he can do his job.

This story has not been reported before. You might think an observant press follows the president everywhere, especially during a re-election campaign, but no reporter attended this meeting.

Sam Stoltzfus, an Old Order historian and writer who lives in Gordonville, spoke with a number of people present at the session with the president.

He related what happened to the Scribbler, saying the Amish “caught Bush’s heart.’’

The 20-minute meeting with Bush occurred immediately after the president addressed a select audience at Lapp Electric Service in Smoketown Friday afternoon.

An Amish woman who lives on a farm across Witmer Road from Lapp Electric that morning had presented a quilt to the president with a card thanking him for his leadership of the country.

Bush said he would like to talk to the quilter and her family.

So the Secret Service invited the family to meet the president. Friends wanted to come along, and the entire assembly eventually numbered about 60. They were evenly divided between adults and children of all ages.

The group walked together across the road to Lapp Electric.

Stoltzfus reports: “It took a while to get them through the metal detectors as these were farmers and shop men, with vice grips, pocket knives, and nuts and bolts in their pockets. Some ladies had baby gear. All pockets had to be emptied.’’

When the Amish were “found not to be a serious threat to national security,’’ they were allowed inside the office area of Lapp Electric and waited about 30 minutes for the president to appear.

“Babies got restless. Children squirmed,’’ Stoltzfus reports. “Suddenly the president and five Secret Service men stepped into the room. One housewife said, ‘Are you George Bush?’’’

The president replied in the affirmative and shook hands all around, asking the names of all. He especially thanked the “quilt frau,’’ who operates her own business selling quilts and crafts.

“He seemed relaxed and just like an old neighbor,’’ says Stoltzfus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM

"OUT"ING THE DEMOCRATS (via GraniteProf):

On Nov. 2, GOP Got More Bang For Its Billion, Analysis Shows (Thomas B. Edsall and James V. Grimaldi, December 30, 2004, Washington Post)

In the most expensive presidential contest in the nation's history, John F. Kerry and his Democratic supporters nearly matched President Bush and the Republicans, who outspent them by just $60 million, $1.14 billion to $1.08 billion.

But despite their fundraising success, Democrats simply did not spend their money as effectively as Bush. That is the conclusion of an extensive examination of campaign fundraising and spending data provided by the Federal Election Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and interviews with officials of the two campaigns and the independent groups allied with them.

In a $2.2 billion election, two relatively small expenditures by Bush and his allies stand out for their impact: the $546,000 ad buy by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush campaign's $3.25 million contract with the firm TargetPoint Consulting. The first portrayed Kerry in unrelentingly negative terms, permanently damaging him, while the second produced dramatic innovations in direct mail and voter technology, enabling Bush to identify and target potential voters with pinpoint precision.

Those tactical successes were part of the overall advantage the Bush campaign maintained over Kerry in terms of planning, decision making and strategy. The Kerry campaign, in addition to being outspent at key times, was outorganized and outthought, as Democratic professionals grudgingly admit.

Other than that how did you enjoy the election, Mr. Soros?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Bush 'Undermining UN with Aid Coalition' (Jamie Lyons, 12/30/04, The Scotsman)

United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster.

The president has announced that the US, Japan, India and Australia would coordinate the world’s response.

But former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN.

“I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” she said.

Imagine for a moment that you've just been through what the tsunami victims have been through and you're told that you can either get help from Kofi Annan or the US, Japan, India and Australia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Why the Democrats Keep Losing (Joshua Muravchik, January 2005, Commentary)

The era of Democratic dominance in the 20th century was shaped by the muscular presidency of Franklin Roosevelt—activist at home as well as abroad. FDR’s New Deal defined a domestic liberalism that consisted of government intervention in the economy to provide jobs and social insurance. Its constituency was blue-collar, and its exemplars, after Roosevelt, were Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson.

This tradition was ruptured in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when the movement against the Vietnam war redefined liberalism around the issues of peace, race, and freedom of “lifestyle,” and on behalf of a new constituency of college students and graduates. The new liberalism was effective in defeating the old liberalism in the battle for control of the Democratic party, but it proved pitifully weak against the Republicans.

In the 30 to 40 years following this transformation, only two Democrats captured the White House. The first was Carter in 1976 and the second was Clinton. Both were governors from the South who were taken for conservatives and who labored to reinforce that impression. Carter, as one of his long-time associates explained at the time, liked to “campaign conservative and govern liberal.” It was a formula that could work for one election with any given electorate. He used it to become governor of Georgia, then forsook reelection to run for the presidency. For this it also proved successful, but when he sought reelection, his true colors having been revealed, he was roundly trounced by the upstart Reagan.

Clinton’s was a more complicated story. He campaigned in 1992 as a “New Democrat,” code for “not a liberal.” Once in office, he too shifted abruptly to the Left, but, perhaps to his good fortune, retribution came down on him faster than on Carter. In the mid-term elections of 1994, the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich touting his “contract with America,” won a stunning sweep, impelling the agile Clinton to execute a sharp turn back to the center. Announcing that “the age of big government is over,” he signed conservative legislation on welfare reform and the “defense of marriage, and spoke out for stronger anti-crime measures,” V-chips on televisions, school uniforms, and restrictions on teen smoking. In short, he made himself the champion of what were then called “family values,” more or less the same issues that in the 2004 exit polls acquired the label “moral values.”

Liberals, like one-time Kennedy aide Richard N. Goodwin, protested that “the venerable principles of the party . . . have been abandoned.” But few Democratic politicians were willing to argue with Clinton’s success. “We’re all New Democrats now,” declared the then House minority leader Richard Gephardt.

One lingering illustration of the change was the bipartisan support for the war against terrorism following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Not only did most Democrats support the Republican President in using force to oust Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, but Senate Democrats voted to authorize the more controversial war in Iraq by 29 to 21. By comparison, when Bush’s father had sought authorization for war in 1990 in the face of Iraq’s outright aggression against Kuwait, only ten Democratic Senators had voted “yea” to 45 “nays.” (In the House, Democrats opposed the recent war by a ratio of three to two; they had opposed the first Gulf war by more than two to one.)

But no sooner had the presidential sweepstakes opened than the Democrats’ newfound hawkishness started to fade. Howard Dean, an obscure Vermont governor, leaped to the head of the pack by positioning himself as the party’s antiwar candidate. Conversely, contenders like Gephardt and Senator Joseph Lieberman, who supported the war on terror and in Iraq, soon saw their campaigns founder. Only Kerry managed to withstand the Dean momentum and eventually subdue it. He tilted his message toward the antiwar camp by voting in the Senate against an $87-billion appropriation of funds for the occupation and reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, and, much to the relief of the party establishment, succeeded in besting Dean in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

Kerry, however, was a peculiar standard-bearer for Democratic centrism. He was from Massachusetts, the only state that had voted for George McGovern in 1972, and analyses of congressional voting records, whether by non-partisan sources like National Journal or by liberal groups like Americans for Democratic Action, showed him to be one of the Senate’s most liberal members. As Newsweek’s correspondent described it, Kerry was “a little hurt that Dean had run as the ‘movement’ candidate against” him, since he “still saw himself as the reform-minded antiwar protester who had . . . tossed away his ribbons.”

The reference was to a 1971 demonstration sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a radical group of which Kerry was the most prominent leader. In 1970 and again in 1971, he had traveled to Paris to meet with representatives of North Vietnam and the Vietcong, and he had returned as an ardent advocate of their official “eight-point peace plan.” While working hand in hand with the Communists, he accused American forces of war crimes “committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.”

The publicity Kerry garnered as an antiwar spokesman was his springboard to public office. He served first in local and state government, but on winning election to the Senate in 1984 he declared that his “passion” remained the “issue of war and peace.” As his first major foreign-policy cause, he championed the “nuclear freeze.” He sought cancellation of numerous American weapons systems, both nuclear and conventional, railing against what he called “the military-industrial corporate welfare complex.” He criticized the U.S. intervention in Grenada as “a bully’s show of force,” and made himself one of the two most implacable Senate critics of aid to anti-Communist guerrillas in Nicaragua.

This dovishness lasted throughout the cold war but did not end with it. When Saddam Hussein swallowed up Kuwait in 1990, Kerry was one of the Democrats voting no on the use of force against him. And in 1995, he was one of 29 Senators to oppose lifting the embargo on Bosnian Muslims facing ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Serbs.

A record like this would have been too much baggage to carry in a presidential race even in normal times, much less with the nation at war. But Kerry held a trump card of sorts—his four months of perilous service captaining a Swift Boat in Vietnam—and he played it artfully. First, he arranged for the respected historian Douglas Brinkley to publish a 500-page book at the start of the election year based on Kerry’s own war-time diaries, chronicling those intense days in vivid detail. Then, he made his service in the Navy the theme of the Democratic convention: the dais appeared designed to evoke a nautical setting, the stage was jammed with officers, and Kerry introduced himself with a salute and the corny declaration, “I’m reporting for duty.”

The stratagem seemed to be working perfectly. Unfortunately for Kerry, it also roiled a group of veterans still bitter over his antiwar declamations, including a few of his old mates and commanders who had come in for rough treatment in Brinkley’s book. They organized Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, published a book of their own, and produced a string of TV ads impeaching Kerry’s war record and decrying his antiwar activities. In the ads, former POW’s testified that they had endured torture for refusing to make the kind of war-crimes accusations against American forces that Kerry had tossed around so blithely. While some of Kerry’s fellow sailors appeared by his side at campaign stops, a larger number of the Swift Boat crewmen associated themselves with his detractors.

The response from Kerry’s supporters in the press was quick in coming. The New York Times weighed in with a 3,500-word, front-page article debunking the claims of the Swift Boat ads as “riddled with inconsistencies” and revealing, as if this meant anything, that the group had received donations from some individuals who also helped finance Republican causes. Thereafter, Times news stories mentioning the Swift Boat group regularly carried the description, “whose past accusations have frequently been unsubstantiated,” or similar words. But the Times’s indictment cast doubt only on what these veterans said about the battles in which Kerry had won his medals. The more important part of their case focused on his antiwar activities, and on this the paper was notably quiet.

In fact, no doubt fell on the Swift Boat veterans’ charges on this score, whereas it was Kerry himself who misrepresented his record. He had, for example, denied being present at a climactic November 1971 leadership meeting of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which debated whether the group should launch a campaign of assassination of U.S. political leaders. The proposal was voted down, but the very fact that it was seriously considered shows just how far out VVAW was. When FBI files (released under the Freedom of Information Act) revealed that Kerry had indeed been present at the meeting, he changed his story, admitting he may have been there but claiming he had “no personal recollection” of it. The FBI files, however, show Kerry to have been a main protagonist in two days of ferocious debate, culminating in his withdrawal from leadership of the group. This was high drama, a turning point in his career—and impossible to forget.

Nor was this the only untruth that Kerry told about Vietnam. Again and again over 25 years, in news interviews and in one dramatic speech on the Senate floor, he claimed that he had been sent across the Vietnamese border into Cambodia on a secret and illegal mission that was “seared” in his memory. Kerry’s Swift Boat mates called this into question, and it emerged that he had simply made up the story out of whole cloth. The Times passed lightly over this episode, as if the lies or fantasies of a man who might be President were less newsworthy than the “unsubstantiated” statements of his critics.

Despite the Times, the veterans’ broadside was probably the turning point of the campaign. It punctured Kerry’s image as a hero, and it reinforced questions about his suitability to lead the country in wartime. These questions stemmed not only from his past but also from his recent stance, or rather stances, on the Iraq war.

Kerry’s vote against the $87-billion appropriation was hard to square with his prior vote to authorize the war. His explanations only made things worse—like his famous statement that “I actually did vote for the 87 billion before I voted against it,” or his assertion that he had voted to authorize force because he believed it would help avert the use of force. As if this were not confusing enough, Kerry told an interviewer in August that if he had to do it over again, knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he would have supported the war nonetheless; and then he unleashed the campaign slogan that Iraq was “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” To Kerry, Iraq showed that the U.S. should meet a “global test” before using force, but in 1990, after the elder Bush had passed the global test by winning authorization from the UN Security Council, Kerry voted against the use of force anyway—and then in 2004 he said that, despite that vote, he had actually been in favor of the use of force.

The Times’s election postmortem put the best face on it: “Kerry[’s] nuanced statements about Iraq gave the [Republicans] an opening . . . to attack him as a ‘flip-flopper.’” [...]

Asked in a Newsweek poll whether Kerry was too liberal, 48 percent said yes while 45 percent said no. The same poll asked if Bush was too conservative. Thirty-seven percent said yes, 58 percent said no. A Gallup poll, with a question worded somewhat differently, showed a smaller discrepancy but pointed in the same direction.

This difference was crucial. Thirty-four percent of voters described themselves as conservative, and they went for Bush overwhelmingly. Twenty-one percent called themselves liberals, and they overwhelmingly preferred Kerry. As always, moderates were the largest bloc (45 percent), and they tilted modestly toward the Democrat (54 to 45); but that was not enough to overcome the 3-to-2 ratio of conservatives to liberals. Unsurprisingly, four-fifths of the voters who said their family’s financial situation was better now than four years ago favored Bush, and the same proportion of those who said they were worse off favored Kerry. But even this most personal and self-interested of indicators was a less powerful vote-determinant than ideology.

The exit poll yielded many interesting and suggestive correlations. Men preferred Bush by 11 percentage points, while women preferred Kerry by 3, adding up to a “gender gap” of 14 points. This was dwarfed, however, by a 33-point “marriage gap,” with married voters favoring Bush by 15 points while the unmarried favored Kerry by 18. There was also a large church-going gap. Those who said they attended religious services one or more times per week went for Bush 61 to 39; those who attended only occasionally preferred Kerry 53 to 47; and those who never attended gave Kerry a margin of 62 to 36. A majority of Hispanics voted for the Democrat, but a much smaller one than four years earlier. Other minority groups—Asians, blacks, Jews—also backed Kerry, but again gave Bush a little more support than last time.

It was in light of these numbers that Democrats after the election began to ask themselves what to do, and where to look, next. A few voices urged their party rightward. The Times’s Nicholas Kristof cited the model of Tony Blair’s revivification of the British Labor party, adding: “I wish that winning were just a matter of presentation, but it’s not. It involves compromising on principles.” A group of Senators from states that voted for Bush announced the formation of a new organization, Third Way, aimed at pushing the party away from the Left. This was reminiscent of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM), created in 1972 following George McGovern’s disastrous loss to Richard Nixon, and of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), established in 1984 following Mondale’s loss to Reagan.

But neither of those earlier groups succeeded in overcoming the weight of opinion among party activists and thinkers. CDM was soundly defeated by party liberals, while the DLC was largely coopted by liberal Democratic politicians who flocked to its “moderate” banner without much changing their stands on issues.

Other voices urged the party leftward. The Times’s Bob Herbert warned that “Some Democrats are casting covetous eyes on voters whose values, in many cases, are frankly repellent.” His colleague Paul Krugman argued in a similar vein that “rather than catering to voters who will never support them, the Democrats . . . need to become equally effective at mobilizing their own base.” And Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s campaign manager, argued that what has done in the Democrats has been “ignoring their base” by “running to the middle.”

This group is likely to be reinforced by the considerable muscle of organized labor within the party. Once, under the leadership of George Meany and Lane Kirkland, the labor movement provided ballast for Democratic centrists against the party’s Left. But a decade ago the Left triumphed within the labor movement itself, ousting Kirkland from the presidency of the AFL-CIO in favor of John Sweeney, a member of Democratic Socialists of America. Sweeney failed in his pledge to make the movement grow, and today he is being pressed by insurgents who stand even further to the Left.

Still other Democrats called on their party to adopt the language of values and religion, as if these were foreign tongues that could be mastered through effort. E.J. Dionne urged “religious moderates and progressives to insist that social justice and inclusion are ‘moral values’ and that war and peace are ‘life issues.’” The liberal columnist Harold Meyerson said the party should put forward candidates “who can wrap the values of tolerance in the language of faith.” A consortium of liberal church groups released a poll purporting to show that what the largest number of Americans think of as moral issues are the war in Iraq, “greed and materialism,” and “poverty and economic justice.”

All of this seemed to rest on the premise that religious voters or those emphasizing values do not really know their own minds, and it rightly earned a reprimand from Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel: “People aren’t going to hear what we say until they know that we don’t approach them as Margaret Mead would an anthropological experiment.”

Mr. Kerry was caught on the horns of a dilemma which, instructively, is unique to the Democrats. In order to secure either party's nomination you have to cater to its activists and true believers; but when a Democrat does so they generally have to jog so far to the Left as to make themselves unpalatable to the nation as a whole. Here it is important to note that not only did Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton position themselves as conservatives, but each had the good fortune to have his main threat come from further Right--Scoop Jackson in '76 and Paul Tsongas in '92. When Al Gore ran Left, in an inexcplicable over-reaction to Bill Bradley, he squandered what should have been an easy victory in 2000.

Consider, on the other hand, that lurching Right enabled George H. W. Bush, a notorously weak candidate, to win in '88; got Bob Dole far closer to beating Bill Clinton in '96 than anyone would have dreamed possible; and did not prevent George W. Bush from beating a popular incumbent vice president in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

Whatever else may be true of the two parties, it appears that a Democrat has to run Right and a Republican can not ever be so far Right that it will hurt his prospects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Pentagon Said to Offer Cuts in the Billions (ERIC SCHMITT, 12/30/04, NY Times)

The Pentagon plans to retire one of the Navy's 12 aircraft carriers, buy fewer amphibious landing ships for the Marine Corps and delay the development of a costly Army combat system of high-tech arms as part of $60 billion in proposed cuts over the next six years, Congressional and military officials said Wednesday.

The proposed reductions, the details of which are still being fine-tuned and which would require Congressional approval, result from White House orders to all federal agencies to cut their spending requests for the 2006 fiscal year budgets, which will be submitted to lawmakers early next year.

Since the November elections, the White House has been under growing pressure to offset mounting deficits and at the same time pay for the unexpectedly high costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which combined now amount to more than $5 billion a month.

The proposed Pentagon cuts, which include sharply reducing the program for the Air Force's F/A-22 fighter and delaying the purchase of a new Navy destroyer, would for the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks slow the growth in Pentagon spending, which has risen 41 percent in that period, to about $420 billion this year. Military and Congressional officials said the Pentagon was looking to trim up to $10 billion in the 2006 budget alone.

The budget-cutting is likely to foreshadow additional reductions of weapons designed in the cold war and the revamping of America's arsenal as the Pentagon prepares for its quadrennial review of military weapons and equipment to address current and long-term security threats, including the insurgency in Iraq and a possibly resurgent China.

That's why Don Rumsfeld's job is safe, but the War on Terror having been won, cuts should be far deeper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


What transition costs? (Robert Novak, December 30, 2004, Townhall)

In the more than 41 years that I have been writing columns, nothing has generated more unfavorable comment from conservatives than my Dec. 6 report on Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's Social Security plan. He would finance the transition costs for private Social Security accounts by raising payroll taxes. Of all the outraged critics from the Right who contacted me, economist Larry Hunter had the most pungent rebuttal: "There are no transition costs."

If that is so, I asked Hunter, can you write me a one-page explanation to buttress your remarkable claim? Nearly a month later, he gave me three single-spaced typewritten pages plus four colored graphs. Actually, they portray an increase in federal expenditures forced by private accounts -- that is, transition costs. Hunter's point: There would be no long-term net transition costs. Doing nothing will cost much more, beginning as early as 35 years from now. (Hunter's analysis will be published by the Institute for Policy Innovation.)

That amounts to no real transition costs. The problem with this argument is that we are talking about red ink far into the future when nearly everybody now debating the issue will be dead.

Isn't that the point--such debt never has to be repaid. The Brits haven't paid for the Napoleonic War yet--hasn't seemed to do much harm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


Disparity of Change: China's Northeast, once the nation's proud industrial belt, has lagged behind other areas in seizing on market reforms and is suffering high unemployment. (Don Lee, December 30, 2004, LA Times)

The contrasting picture on Corruption Street illustrates the challenges Beijing faces as it pushes to revitalize the once-proud industrial belt, crack down on bribery and fraud in government and regain the trust of people living in a region with the highest unemployment rate in China. [...]

"In the Northeast, the big problem is that we don't have a lot of private economy in manufacturing and high-end service businesses such as finance and accounting," said Song Donglin, deputy director of the economics school at Jilin University in Changchun, a center of China's auto manufacturing.

Lack of access to financial services discourages outside investment, he added, and makes it difficult for laid-off workers to find jobs or start businesses.

"If the Northeast cannot develop," he said, "it will impose very negative influences to the sustainable development of China's economy."

Realistically, such massive revitalization is only likely to follow the devastation of a war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Sales of Existing Homes Surge to a Record High: The year-over-year increase in November is 13.2%, with the median price rising 10.4%. (Roger Vincent, December 30, 2004, LA Times)

Sales of previously owned homes in the U.S. climbed to a record high in November as low interest rates and a rising economy kept pulling buyers into the market.

Existing-home sales rose 13.2% from a year earlier to a 6.94-million annual rate, the National Assn. of Realtors reported Wednesday. The previous high was 6.92 million in June. Buyers paid more too: The median price rose 10.4% to $188,200.

November sales in the West increased 16.6%, the most of any region. Every region showed gains year over year, although sales in the Northeast slipped 1.3% from October to November. [...]

Several factors are keeping the market bubbling, including low mortgage rates.

"Mortgage interest rates dropped a quarter of a percentage point in late summer and then stabilized," said David Lereah, chief economist for the Washington-based real estate trade group. "Coupled with a growing labor market and a rising economy, this created optimal conditions for the housing sector."

Fixed 30-year mortgage rates averaged 5.72% last week, up from 5.69% the previous week, the Mortgage Bankers Assn. said Wednesday. That helped send mortgage application activity down 1.7%.

Mortgage rates are still relatively low on a historical basis and are at the same level as a year ago. When they finally start a widely predicted rise, the market will slow, said Keitaro Matsuda, senior economist at Union Bank of California, but for now "it seems to be relatively healthy, going strong."

Note both the Feds loss of control over mortgage rates and that the only decline occurred in the only place in the country that has a state losing population.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Bond market surprises analysts, ends low on high note: The economic recovery was supposed to put the damper on bonds' stellar run. But this year's bond market defied expectations. (RACHEL BECK, 12/30/04, Associated Press)

The bond market wasn't supposed to finish out the year this way. With the dollar slumping, the U.S. economy improving and the Federal Reserve taking action to keep growth in check, the good times were supposed to fizzle.

But that didn't happen. In fact, it turns out the yield on the 10-year Treasury note -- the benchmark for everything from mortgage rates to how much corporations have to pay to borrow money -- might close out 2004 lower than where it started.

Sure, that's higher than the near half-century lows that the yield dropped to more than a year and a half ago, but this market hasn't been performing over the last 12 months like anyone expected.

It's starting to sound a bit like a broken record when you talk about bonds. Over the last year or so, there have been forecasts predicting an imminent retreat leading to prices dropping and yields rising -- they move in opposite directions.

And at points along the way, it has looked like the pullback was beginning. Then the market would switch course.

This seesawing has surprised many market watchers, who believed it was inevitable that yields would surge as more bearish factors loomed over the bond market.

The bond market appears appears to have figured out deflation, even if few others have.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Group holds fast to Kerry cause with Beacon Hill vigil (Donovan Slack, December 29, 2004, Boston Globe)

The election is long over. A new year is starting, and even most of the more ardent liberals are moving on. But in Louisburg Square this week, one determined group isn't quite ready to let go. About a half dozen supporters of John Kerry are holding vigil in front of his house, still hoping for a Kerry presidency.

The little knot of demonstrators, calling themselves the Coalition Against Election Fraud, stood shivering in the cold yesterday, hoisting signs and pressing fliers into the hands of bewildered passersby. Taxi drivers, neighbors digging cars out of the snow, and Beacon Hill residents who happened to be strolling by were subjected to earnest pleas to join the cause.

''Who knows? Maybe we'll overturn the election," said Sheila Parks, a vigil organizer.

A: Everyone else.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Mass. Governor to File Death Penalty Bill (STEVE LeBLANC, December 29, 2004, Associated Press)

Hoping to bring capital punishment to Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney is preparing to file a death penalty bill early next year that he says is so carefully written it will guarantee only the guilty are executed.

Based in part on the findings of a death penalty panel he appointed, the bill would limit capital punishment to the "worst of the worst" crimes including terrorism, the murder of police officers, murder involving torture and the killing of witnesses. It also would use evidence such as DNA testing to protect the innocent.

Romney wants his death penalty bill to be a model for other states.

"The weakness in the death penalty statutes in other states, of course, is the fear that you may execute someone who is innocent. We remove that possibility," Romney said.

Massachusetts is one of a dozen states without capital punishment. The bill fulfills one of the Republican governor's key campaign pledges, but faces a skeptical Democrat-controlled state Legislature.

Taking 70-30 social issues to the voters helps the GOP in MA and Mr. Romney in the '08 primary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM

Recipe of the day (Dallas Morning News, 12/30/04)

Fiesta Pork Tenderloin with Oven-Roasted Vegetables

1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin
2 small baking potatoes, quartered
2 small green and/or red bell peppers, sliced
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 pkg (1.25 oz.) fajita seasoning mix
Garnish with salsa and sour cream


PREHEAT oven to 400 degF. Line roasting pan or 15x10-inch jelly-roll pan
with foil.

PLACE tenderloin, potatoes, bell peppers, onion, oil and seasoning mix
in large

BAKE, stirring vegetables halfway through, for 40 to 45 minutes or until
tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 170 degF and potatoes are
tender. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish as desired.

December 29, 2004

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


How five newcomers could change Senate: Staunch GOP conservatives shift from the tightly organized House to the prestigious club of 100. (Gail Russell Chaddock, 12/30/04, CS Monitor)

Call them the five horsemen of the Republican Revolution: incoming US Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, John Thune of South Dakota, and David Vitter of Louisiana.

Their arrival in the US Senate next week gives a powerful boost to both fiscal and social conservatives on issues ranging from judicial nominations and abortion rights to tax reform. It also tips the number of former House members in the Senate to 52 percent - the first time it has passed a majority. More than just an additional five GOP votes, they bring a hard-driving style and ideological focus that is at odds with the collegial culture of the Senate.

"The big question is to what extent they will maintain their House attitudes and behavior ... and the uncompromising, disputatious positions that House members are likely to take," says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

There's already speculation about how this group will interact with Republican colleagues, especially the moderates who often swayed key votes in the last Congress. They could transform the tone of an institution that has been tottering between its clubby past and the more disciplined, partisan style of the US House.

The Senate could use some hard driving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


The Birth of a 'Latino Race' (Ian Haney López, December 29, 2004, LA Times)

What's behind the Census Bureau seeking suddenly to drop the "other race" option, a fixture of every census since 1910? And why should Latinos see retaining this option as a victory? The answers touch on the latest wrinkles in the politics of race and demography in the United States.

First, some background: Historically, "other race" served as a catchall — a category for those who did not fit easily into the official census races, which today are white, black, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American. For the bureau, "other race" indicates not a discrete population group but an accounting trick. In tabulating racial populations, the "other race" numbers are simply reallocated to the official categories, and data on the characteristics of this population are not compiled. This made statistical sense so long as those denominated "other" represented a small number and a miscellaneous mixture of racial outliers, not a distinct social group.

But in 1980 the Census Bureau introduced two changes that completely transformed the nature of this category: First, it added to its race question a companion item, inquiring of all Americans whether they were ethnically "Hispanic." Second, it moved to a system of racial self-reporting. Instead of census enumerators assigning racial identities, the bureau asked every person filling out census forms to identify his or her own race.

Suddenly, the "other race" population exploded, increasing tenfold. And 97% of those claiming to be "some other race" also identified themselves as "Hispanic."

Creating a new race category wasn't what the bureau had in mind. In 1990 and 2000, in hopes of reducing the number of Latinos identifying as "other," it tried to convey more clearly that its ethnicity and race questions should be answered independently. But to no avail. Today, about 6% of Americans, or more than 1 in 20, count themselves as "some other race," and the overwhelming majority of them are Latinos. Like it or not, nearly half of the Latino population considers itself a race.

That means, of course, that many Latinos still see themselves as members of the bureau's usual racial categories. According to Brown University professor John Logan's analysis of the census and survey data, Latinos generally divide themselves into three racial camps. There are black Latinos, who identify as Latino ethnically and as black racially. This group, steady at just under 3% of the Latino population since 1980, numbers nearly a million in the United States. Next come white Latinos, who grew from 9 million in 1980 to just shy of 18 million in 2000. This doubling did not, however, keep pace with the growth of the Latino population as a whole. The proportion of Latinos claiming to be white has steadily declined, from 64% in 1980 to just under 50% in 2000.

Then there are those Logan calls "Latino Hispanics," who identify as "Hispanic" on the ethnicity question and as "other" on the race item. This population has steadily gained among all Latinos, from 34% in 1980 to nearly 47% in 2000.

The bureau hasn't said much publicly about this trend, or about why it sought to do away with the "other race" category. It claims to be primarily concerned with the rising number of people opting out of its official categories. But one can't help but ponder deeper implications.

The irony is that activists see claiming racial status as a way of grabbing political power but instead the confusion it causes over how many Latinos there actually are here and in what numbers they turn out to vote has diminished their clout.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Talk Swirling of North Korean Regime Collapse: Since Kim ordered his portraits removed from buildings in the capital, activists flooded the Net with unsubstantiated rumors of instability. (Barbara Demick, December 29, 2004, LA Times)

"We are seeing a lot of fabricated tales going around lately," said Woo Jung Chang, an editor of the Chosun Monthly, an influential Seoul-based magazine.

"There is a lot of wishful thinking when it comes to predictions of North Korea's collapse," agreed Nicholas Eberstadt, a North Korea expert with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.

The subject of North Korea's stability is most sensitive in South Korea, where polls show that people are less fearful of a communist invasion than they are of a messy collapse that could send streams of hungry refugees across the border.

The South Korean government is so touchy about the issue that it recently threatened to prosecute an opposition assemblyman who publicly discussed the contingency plan for a North Korean collapse.

The strategy, which dates to the 1960s but has been revised, calls for the establishment of an interim civilian government to fill the vacuum that would be left by the collapse of the Pyongyang government and for emergency refugee shelters to be set up near the demilitarized zone separating the two nations.

"This is a realistic scenario and something we need to plan for and refine in detail…. Instead, we're not even allowed to talk about it," said the assemblyman, Chung Moon Hun.

At least officially, the South Korean government insists that such plans are unnecessary.

"It seems there's almost no possibility North Korea will collapse," President Roh Moo-hyun said in a sharply worded statement this month.

Like his Nobel laureate predecessor, Kim Dae Jung, Roh has pursued a number of projects designed to bolster the North Korean economy. This month, the two Koreas held a ceremony to celebrate the start of production at an industrial park in Kaesong, just north of the DMZ.

But Roh's stance is drawing fire from conservatives who accuse him of propping up a morally and economically bankrupt regime.

Michael Horowitz, a former Reagan administration official who has been one of the most articulate U.S. advocates of toppling Kim, shocked the South Korean media during a recent visit here when he accused Roh of "making love to a corpse."

As Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have both demonstrated, talk of the collapse produces it.

Posted by David Cohen at 11:27 AM


Aid Grows Amid Remarks About President's Absence (John F. Harris and Robin Wright, Washington Post, 12/29/04)

The Bush administration more than doubled its financial commitment yesterday to provide relief to nations suffering from the Indian Ocean tsunami, amid complaints that the vacationing President Bush has been insensitive to a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.
For better or worse, the President does not think that he was elected to be pain-feeler-in-chief.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Trucker sued over crash where fetus was killed (KELLYN BROWN, 12/29/04, Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

An Idaho man already accused of negligently rolling his tractor-trailer last year has now been sued by a woman who lost her unborn child in the accident.

Brian Sala, 50, and his employer at the time, trucking company Edwards Brothers Inc., are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Fatima Zukic was 35 weeks pregnant when Sala tipped his tractor-trailer on U.S. Highway 191 on August 7, 2003. [...]

Soon after the accident, the Gallatin County attorney's office filed misdemeanor charges against Sala, accusing him of negligent endangerment for driving too fast and possessing marijuana.

He is not charged in connection with the death of the unborn child. Under Montana law, a fetus is not considered a human life. It says "a human being is a person who has been born and is alive.

Blue America obviously hasn't grasped it yet, but in many ways Conner Peterson was the Man of the Year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM



1010 WINS has learned that "Law and Order" star Jerry Orbach has died of prostate cancer at the age of 69. His manager, Robert Malcolm confirmed Orbach's death this morning.

Farewell, Lumiere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


The Next Economy (Robert J. Samuelson, December 29, 2004, Washington Post)

We are undergoing a profound economic transformation that is barely recognized. This quiet upheaval does not originate in some breathtaking technology but rather in the fading power of forces that have shaped American prosperity for decades and, in some cases, since World War II. As their influence diminishes, the economy will depend increasingly on new patterns of spending and investment that are still only dimly apparent. It is unclear whether these will deliver superior increases in living standards and personal security. What is clear is that the old economic order is passing. [...]

Here are four decisive changes:

• The economy is bound to lose the stimulus of rising consumer debt. Household debt -- everything from home mortgages to credit cards -- now totals about $10 trillion, or roughly 115 percent of personal disposable income. In 1945, debt was about 20 percent of disposable income. For six decades, consumer debt and spending have risen faster than income. Home mortgages, auto loans and store credit all became more available. In 1940, the homeownership rate was 44 percent; now it's 69 percent. But debt can't permanently rise faster than income, and we're approaching a turning point. As aging baby boomers repay mortgages and save for retirement, debt burdens may drop. The implication: weaker consumer spending.

We're normally very deferential to Mr. Samuelson, but his point here seems confusing: In 1945, GDP was $223.2 billion and Household Net Worth was $727.6 billion--today those numbers are something like $11 trillion and $47 trillion. Given such numbers, and the fact that Household Net Worth is measured after debt is subtracted, isn't doubt far less of a problem now than then?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Politics Without God?: Reflections on Europe and America (George Weigel, DEC. 24, 2004,

At the far western end of the axis that traverses Paris from the Louvre down the Champs Elysées and through the Arc de Triomphe is the Great Arch of La Défense. Designed by a sternly modernist Danish architect, the Great Arch is a colossal open cube: almost 40 stories tall, faced in glass and 2.47 acres of white Carrara marble. Its rooftop terrace offers an unparalleled view of the French capital, past the Tuilleries to the Ile de la Cité, Sante Chapelle, and Notre-Dame.

The arch's three-story high roof also houses the International Foundation for Human Rights. For President François Mitterrand planned the Great Arch as a human rights monument, something suitably gigantic to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Thus, in one guidebook, the Great Arch was dubbed "Fraternity Arch." That same guidebook, like every other one I consulted, emphasized that the entire Cathedral of Notre-Dame would fit comfortably inside the Great Arch.

All of which raised some questions, as I walked along that terrace in 1997. Which culture would better protect human rights and secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this rational, geometrically precise, but essentially featureless cube? Or the culture that produced the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the asymmetries and holy "unsameness" of Notre-Dame and the other great Gothic cathedrals of Europe?

Those questions have come back to me, if in different forms, as I've tried to understand Europe in recent years. How, for example, should one understand the fierce argument in Europe over whether a new constitutional treaty for the European Union should include a reference to the Christian sources of European civilization? Why did so many European intellectuals and political leaders deem any reference to the Christian sources of contemporary Europe civilization a threat to human rights and democracy?

Was there some connection between this internal European debate over Europe's constitution-making and the portrait in the European press of Americans (and especially an American president) as religious fanatics intent on shooting up the world? Was there a further connection between this debate and the fate of Rocco Buttiglione's candidacy for the post of Commissioner of Justice on the European Commission?

Understanding these phenomena requires something more than a conventional political analysis. Nor can political answers explain the reasons behind perhaps the most urgent issue confronting Europe today -- the fact that Western Europe is committing demographic suicide, its far-below-replacement-level birthrates creating enormous pressures on the European welfare state and a demographic vacuum into which Islamic immigrants are flowing in increasing numbers, often becoming radicalized in the process.

My proposal is that Europe is experiencing a crisis of cultural and civilizational morale whose roots are also taking hold in some parts quarters of American society and culture. Understanding and addressing this crisis means confronting the question posed sharply, if unintentionally, by those guidebooks that boast about the alleged superiority of the Great Arch to Notre-Dame: the question of the cube and the cathedral, and their relationship to both the meaning of freedom and the future of democracy. [...]

Probing to the deeper roots of Europe's crisis of civilizational morale is important for understanding Europe today and for discerning whatever promising paths of European renewal there may be. Getting at the roots of "Europe's problem" is also important for understanding a set of problems Americans may face in the not-too-distant future. And that means that both Europeans and Americans must learn to think in new ways about the dynamics of history.

During 13 years of research and teaching in east central Europe, I've been impressed by what might be called the Slavic view of history. You can find it in a great thinker who lived in the borderland between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Vladimir Soloviev, who challenged the fashionable nihilism and materialism of the late 19th century.

You can find it in 19th-century Polish novelists, poets and playwrights, who, breaking with the Jacobin conviction that "revolution" meant a complete rupture with the past, insisted that genuine "revolution" meant the recovery of lost spiritual and moral values. You can find it in such intellectual leaders of the anti-communist resistance in east central Europe as Karol Wojtyla, Václav Havel and Václav Benda, who all argued that "living in the truth" could change what seemed unchangeable in history.

The common thread among these disparate thinkers is the conviction that the deepest currents of "history" are spiritual and cultural, rather than political and economic. "History" is not simply the byproduct of the contest for power in the world -- although power plays an important role in history. And "history" is certainly not the exhaust fumes produced by the means of production, as the Marxists taught.

Rather, "history" is driven by culture -- by what men and women honor, cherish, and worship; by what societies deem to be true and good and noble; by the expressions they give to those convictions in language, literature and the arts; by what individuals and societies are willing to stake their lives on.

Poland is one embodiment of this way of thinking, which Poles believe has been vindicated empirically by their own modern history. For 123 years, from 1795 to 1918, the Polish state was erased from Europe. Yet during that century and a quarter the Polish nation survived with such vigor that it could give birth to a new Polish state in 1918. And despite the fact that the revived Polish state was then beset for 50 years by the plagues of Nazism and communism, the Polish nation proved strong enough to give a new birth of freedom to east central Europe in the Revolution of 1989.

How did this happen? Poland survived -- better, Poland prevailed -- because of culture: a culture formed by a distinctive language, by a unique literature, and by an intense Catholic faith (which, an its noblest and deepest expressions, was ecumenical and tolerant, not xenophobic, as so many stereotypes have it). Poles know in their bones that culture is what drives history over the long haul.

This "Slavic view of history" is really a classically Christian way of thinking about history, whose roots can be traced back at least as far as St. Augustine and "The City of God." Yet, it is the Slavs who have been, in our time, the most powerful exponents of this "culture-first" understanding of the dynamics of the world's story. [...]

If democratic institutions and procedures are the expressions of a distinctive way of life based on specific moral commitments, then democratic citizenship must be more than a matter of following the procedures and abiding by the laws and regulations agreed upon by the institutions A democratic citizen is someone who can give an account of his or her commitment to human rights, to the rule of law and equality before the law, to decision-making by the majority and protection of the rights of minorities. Democratic citizenship means being able to tell why one affirms "the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law," to cite the preamble to the European constitution. Who can give such an account?

Here is one of the richest ironies involved in the question of the cube and the cathedral. The original charge against Christians in the Roman empire was that they were "atheists": people who were "a-theos," people who had abandoned the gods of Rome and who were thus a threat to public life and public order. To be a-theos was to stand outside and over-against the political community.

The "Christophobia" of contemporary European high culture turns this indictment inside out and upside down: Christianity cannot be acknowledged as a source of European democracy because the only public space safe for pluralism, tolerance, civility, and democracy is a public space that is thoroughly a-theos.

It is all very strange. For the truth of the matter is that European Christians can likely give a more compelling account of their commitment to democratic values than their fellow Europeans who are a-theos -- who believe that "neutrality toward worldviews" must characterize democratic Europe. A postmodern or neo-Kantian "neutrality toward worldviews" cannot be truly tolerant; it can only be indifferent.

Absent convictions, there is no tolerance; there is only indifference. Absent some compelling notion of the truth that requires us to be tolerant of those who have a different understanding of the truth, there is only skepticism and relativism. And skepticism and relativism are very weak foundations on which to build and sustain a pluralistic democracy, for neither skepticism nor relativism, by their own logic, can "give an account" of why we should be tolerant and civil.

In contrast to this thin account of tolerance -- we should be tolerant because it works better -- there is the argument for tolerance given by Pope John Paul II in his 1989 encyclical letter on Christian mission, "Redemptoris Missio" [The Mission of the Redeemer]. There the Pope taught that "The Church proposes; she imposes nothing." The Catholic Church respects the "other" as an "other" who is also a seeker of truth and goodness; the Church only asks that the believer and the "other" enter into a dialogue that leads to mutual enrichment rather than to a deeper skepticism about the possibility of grasping the truth of things.

The Catholic Church believes it to be the will of God that Christians be tolerant of those who have a different view of God's will, or no view of God's will. Thus Catholics (and other Christians who share this conviction) can "give an account" of their defense of the "other's" freedom, even if the "other," skeptical and relativist, finds it hard to "give an account" of the freedom of the Christian.

A great deal of effort has been expended trying to determine why Old Europe and Blue America react with such hysteria to Red America generally and George W. Bush in particular--extending Mr. Weigel's argument just a bit, the reaction seems more understandable if we consider these cubists to be stuck in the midst of the crisis and looking out, with fear and envy, at the equanimity and confidence of their neighbors in the cathedral.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Human brain result of 'extraordinarily fast' evolution: Emergence of society may have spurred growth (Alok Jha, December 29, 2004, The Guardian)

The sophistication of the human brain is not simply the result of steady evolution, according to new research. Instead, humans are truly privileged animals with brains that have developed in a type of extraordinarily fast evolution that is unique to the species.

"Simply put, evolution has been working very hard to produce us humans," said Bruce Lahn, an assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"Our study offers the first genetic evidence that humans occupy a unique position in the tree of life." [...]

"Human evolution is, in fact, a privileged process because it involves a large number of mutations in a large number of genes.

"To accomplish so much in so little evolutionary time - a few tens of millions of years - requires a selective process that is perhaps categorically different from the typical processes of acquiring new biological traits."

As for how all of this happened, the professor suggests that the development of human society may be the reason.

In an increasingly social environment, greater cognitive abilities probably became more of an advantage.

"As humans become more social, differences in intelligence will translate into much greater differences in fitness, because you can manipulate your social structure to your advantage," he said.

What makes this especially amusing is that, even in their own attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of Natural Selection, they're not just arguing that we're a product of Intelligent Design but that we, in effect, are designed by our own intelligence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Japan sends slow-growth signals (Todd Zaun, December 29, 2004, The New York Times)

Although the unemployment rate declined, the reason for the drop was that there were fewer people looking for work, not an increase in the number of jobs. The economy shed 150,000 jobs in November, and some 450,000 people dropped out of the labor market.

The increase in industrial production was the first in three months, but the pace was a bit slower than had been expected. Economists had forecast that production would grow 1.9 percent. [...]

The Japanese economy grew at an annual rate of just 0.2 percent in the third quarter after shrinking 0.6 percent in the second quarter, according to revised growth figures released earlier in the month. The abrupt slowdown from a 6.8 percent annual growth rate in the first quarter of this year came as increases in exports and capital investment slowed.

The sudden deceleration raised concern that Japan would slip back into a recession. [...]

Consumption, which accounts for more than half of the economy, has been weak amid a long slump in income growth, and there are few signs of that changing soon.

Household spending sank 0.9 percent in November from a month earlier as people spent less on food and clothing, according to another government report released on Tuesday. Consumption is unlikely to pick up until incomes begin to rise, and although that is not happening yet, there are signs the labor market is getting tighter. That could push wages higher, if it continues. [...]

Meanwhile, the government said that consumer prices declined 0.2 percent in November from a year earlier, extending a six-year run of deflation in Japan.

How high would you have to push wages before it made sense for folks to buy stuff that always costs less next month than this? And how can companies raise wages when they have no ability to recoup them via price hikes?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Dicta: Establishing Jurisprudence (Dahlia Lithwick, 12-01-2004, The American Lawyer)

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a pair of cases testing the constitutionality of displays of the Ten Commandments on government property. The Court finally agreed to reconcile conflicting lower rulings-concerning the display of a six-foot monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol in one case, and another involving framed copies of the commandments on Kentucky courthouse walls. The two cases have legitimate differences: The Texas display is part of a collection, the Kentucky "collection" sprung up to protect the display. The Texas monument is in a "museum-like" setting. The Kentucky display is on a court wall. The Texas Commandments monument was a gift, and has stood uncontested for decades. But underlying all the details is a profound problem: a tendency to disregard the religious in our religion cases.

Having avoided this issue for decades, the Court must now reexamine the carnage left in the wake of its batty establishment clause jurisprudence-a line of cases effectively holding that it's okay for the state to erect Christmas crèches and such on public property, so long as the ratio of Santas to Sponge Bobs in the manger is roughly equivalent. As a result of this lack of guidance, lower courts have been forced to take the religious display cases to mean it's fine to display the Decalogue, so long as it's lost in a clutch of other "historical" documents. Copies of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, Christopher Columbus's traveler's checks-all this stuff somehow immunizes a religious display from endorsing or advancing religion; perhaps because all that clutter endorses and advances only headaches.

As a result of this line of inquiry, courts across the land have upheld religious displays using what Justice Anthony Kennedy once dubbed "the jurisprudence of minutiae"-the theory that public land becomes more like a "museum" if you've amassed enough tchotchkes for God. This constitutional compromise only ensures both sides will be offended: Atheists are still affronted that the state is promoting any religious symbols, believers are annoyed that cherished icons are awash in a sea of knickknacks. [...]

What if we could rewind constitutional history and erase the idea that the folks promoting religion in these cases are actually promoting secular historicism or ceremonial deism? (After all, some American law also has roots in the Napoleonic Code, but we’re not clamoring to erect courthouse monuments to Napoleon.) What if we could concede that Chief Justice William Rehnquist was right in his dissent in a public prayer case when he noted the majority opinion “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life”? The concession would force us to answer the normative question: Is there anything other than hostility to religion available under current jurisprudence? It would force us to determine whether we want meaningful and powerful religious symbols in public spaces, rather than defining the problem away by theorizing those symbols have little or no religious meaning.

Such an acknowledgment would force the Court to go back and tackle the real question animating these religion cases: Does the Constitution truly erect a “wall” between church and state, or is this, as most citizens maintain, a politically correct overcompensation?

Why not just read the Constitution and look at how the Founding generation treated religion in government? Given that George Washington invoked God at

Such an acknowledgment would force the Court to go back and tackle the real question animating these religion cases: Does the Constitution truly erect a “wall” between church and state, or is this, as most citizens maintain, a politically correct overcompensation?
Why not just read
the Constitution and look at how the Founding generation dealt with religion when they were setting up and running the State?

Given that George Washington invoked God in his Inaugural Address, the first official utterance of the new Republic, and that the first act of the first Congress was to hire chaplains, it seems safe to say the "wall" is a figment of the Left's imagination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Tsunamis may be unifying event (Daniel Altman, December 29, 2004, International Herald Tribune)

In Sri Lanka, for example, the challenge posed by a natural disaster could conceivably help create common ground between the government and the Tamil rebels who control much of the northern part of the country.

"This has affected a very narrow strip all the way around the coast," said Alessandro Pio, the country director for the Asian Development Bank in Colombo. "It's a disaster that affects both the north and the south, both of the parties in the civil war."

As a result, Pio said, cooperation between the two sides may be logical or even necessary from a logistical standpoint.

The effects of such cooperation could be far-reaching. Five years ago, earthquakes in Greece and Turkey began a political thaw that has arguably culminated in Turkey's candidacy for the European Union.

In Indonesia, the government this week lifted a ban on international aid to Aceh, where separatists have been fighting a guerrilla war for a quarter-century.

"I'm hoping that this will generate a certain feeling of national unity in trying to respond together to this adversity," Pio said of Sri Lanka's tragedy. "That's really one of the pivot factors in terms of the economy taking off on a higher growth path."

In India, despite the fact that the tsunamis were the first for decades, they may become part of an ongoing learning process for dealing with natural catastrophes. In particular, they present an opportunity for the government to show that it is serious about preparing homes, businesses, public buildings and other infrastructure for future disasters.

"In general, the approach to disaster management in India has changed considerably," said G Padmanabhan, an emergency analyst at the United Nations Development Program in Delhi. He said that building laws and regulations had been modified to require disaster-proof construction, but that more officials needed training in enforcement and engineering techniques.

"The government has recently started programs to train people," he said. "I hope in the reconstruction process they will enforce these, so we don't recreate this vulnerability."

As Chesterton put it:
"Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and, eclipse….For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


In a Clueless Party (Michael Gecan, December 29, 2004, Washington Post)

Thirty-two years ago, in the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago, I believe I witnessed the destruction -- actually, the self-destruction -- of the Democratic Party. I was attending a rally for George McGovern. The place was packed. And the stage held scores of Chicago pols -- red-faced aldermen and county committeemen in dark suits.

There were the usual speeches from the usual Democratic functionaries, but the warm-up act for the candidate was not some tongue-tied Polish pol from the Northwest Side. Onto the stage strode an actor everyone knew -- Warren Beatty. He was a vision -- handsome, tanned, long-haired and dressed almost entirely in black leather. He dramatically discarded his floor-length leather coat, only to reveal leather pants and shirt. The crowd inhaled, gasped and burst into applause. The faces of the pols onstage went white with shock or red with rage.

Beatty is now a married man, with a family, back in California, but the Democratic Party is still the same star-struck, celebrity-driven, immature mess that it was in 1972.

Less mature than Warren Beatty has to be the harshest thing anyone's ever said about the Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Director of Analysis Branch at the C.I.A. Is Being Removed (DOUGLAS JEHL, 12/29/04, NY Times)

The head of the Central Intelligence Agency's analytical branch is being forced to step down, former intelligence officials say, opening a major new chapter in a shakeup under Porter J. Goss, the agency's chief.

The official, Jami Miscik, the agency's deputy director for intelligence, told her subordinates on Tuesday afternoon of her plan to step down on Feb. 4. A former intelligence official said that Ms. Miscik was told before Christmas that Mr. Goss wanted to make a change and that "the decision to depart was not hers."

Ms. Miscik has headed analysis at the agency since 2002, a period in which prewar assessments of Iraq and its illicit weapons, which drew heavily on C.I.A. analysis, proved to be mistaken. Even before taking charge of the C.I.A., Mr. Goss, who was a congressman, and his closest associates had been openly critical of the directorate of intelligence, saying it suffered from poor leadership and was devoting too much effort to monitoring day-to-day developments rather than broad trends.

Ms. Miscik's departure is the latest in a series of high-level ousters that have prompted unease within the C.I.A. since Mr. Goss took over as director of central intelligence in September. Of the officials who worked as top deputies to Mr. Goss's predecessor, George J. Tenet, at least a half-dozen have been fired or have retired abruptly, including the agency's No. 2 and No. 3 officials. Much of the top tier of the agency's clandestine service is also gone.

Keeping on anyone above the level of janitor is a mistake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


One-third moved out of CHA ghettos (KATE N. GROSSMAN, December 29, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

Five years into the Chicago Housing Authority's 10-year plan to overhaul public housing, one-third of the people that once lived in CHA high-rise ghettos have moved out.

About half the 25,000 units the CHA promised to rehab or rebuild by 2010 are done. And the agency has increased funding to help families meet stiff new work requirements to qualify to live in mixed-income developments.

The agency's "Plan for Transformation," CEO Terry Peterson says, is taking shape.

"Without a doubt there was skepticism" when we started, said Peterson, who has headed the CHA since 2000. "But I said from Day One we would keep our promises."

But even Peterson acknowledges the going hasn't been easy, and that finishing the plan won't be any easier. [...]

"Some of the hardest work is still outstanding, absolutely," said Robin Snyderman, housing director for the Metropolitan Planning Council. "But it's appropriate that the time was taken to do the thorough planning and find the partners. . . . There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears going into this."

And the foundation is there, Snyderman noted. Handsome new town houses and three-flats are sprouting up at nearly every redevelopment site, including some of the most notorious projects such as the Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini-Green.

And despite fears otherwise, reputable private developers are building these communities, the city is pitching in with new streets and parks, and middle-income families are lining up to rent the units, drawn by good locations, reasonable rents and strict rules.

This week, nine years after planning began, the first families moved into Oakwood Shores, a collection of attractive brick three-flats near 38th and Ellis on the South Side built to replace three CHA sites. The buildings, with decorative stonework and wrought-iron fences, stand on the footprint of several demolished high-rise eyesores.

"This is unbelievable," Wanda Lee said Tuesday as she marveled at the new white carpeting, stove and refrigerator in her apartment. Lee, a former Madden Park resident, and her four children moved in Monday night.

At first, she was skeptical. "I really didn't believe they would build anything," she said.

But now Lee, 28, a single mom on public aid, hopes the move will start a new chapter in her life: "I want to go on to bigger and better things because we have a nice place. It's a new start for me."

The key will be to make them owners of such places, with all the responsibility and opportunity that entails, rather than renters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Former US attorney general joins Saddam defence team (AFP, 29 December 2004)

Former US attorney general and left-wing activist Ramsey Clark is to join the defence team of Saddam Hussein, a spokesman for the toppled Iraqi president’s lawyers said on Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


A rude ’05 awakening for Germans (Carter Dougherty, December 29, 2004, International Herald Tribune)

Hans Schmidt spends a lot of time these days with a yellow paperback book, full of paper clips and dog-eared pages, that helps him grope his way through Germany's labyrinthine system of unemployment benefits. But at the end of the maze, Schmidt knows he will find a lot less money than he once had.

Schmidt, a computer specialist, was recently laid off from a medium-sized company near Frankfurt. His wife, Sabine, has been unemployed for over a year and will now lose her benefits entirely as Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's groundbreaking changes to the country's unemployment regime kick in on Jan. 1.

The changes will more than halve the take-home pay the Schmidt household once enjoyed from a comfortable €2,350 to about €1,050.

"I find all this an absolutely unfair system now," said Schmidt, who concedes he is concealing his real name because he wants to sue to get his job back. "I paid taxes for years to finance social assistance, and now it's gone."

Multiply this example by several million, add in a hefty dose of frustration and resignation, and that about approximates the mood of the German work force this holiday season, the traditional mulled wine and roasted chestnuts aside. On Jan. 1, 4.5 million unemployed Germans - 10.8 percent of the work force - will be wrenched into a new world of dwindling benefits.

"This is the end of the Germany that I grew up with," said Martin Bongards, an unemployed sociologist and activist in the town of Marburg. "This country I knew no longer exists."

What morning in Europe isn't a rude awakening?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Why is the Divine waiting to hear from you? (Rabbi David Aaron, 12/29/04, Jewish World Review)

If you pray in order to change G-d's mind, then, please for G-d's sake, don't pray. We don't want to change G-d's mind. And thank G-d we can't change G-d's mind because G-d has made up His mind long time ago. G-d only and always loves us and seeks to give us the greatest good. As Psalmist praised, "His compassion (unconditional love) is upon all His creatures."

Of course, G-d hears our prayers and answers but He is waiting for us to hear our prayers and mean them. Prayer is not passive, it is proactive. Through prayer we must inspire ourselves to take action and make changes within ourselves, our community and the world. When we change ourselves for the good we let G-d's never-changing love for us and His abundant blessings become manifest in our lives.

This lesson has never been better illustrated than in the film Bruce Almighty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Mrs Foley's diary solves the mystery of Hess (Michael Smith, 27/12/2004, Daily Telegraph)

A brief entry in the diary of the wife of a British spy has led to the discovery of the true story behind one of the greatest mysteries of the Second World War - the bizarre 1941 flight to Britain of Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess. [...]

[T]he diary has revealed that MI6 was not only heavily involved in the run-up to Hess's flight but even planned "a sting operation" aimed at luring Hess or another prominent German into bogus peace talks with Britain.

The diary belonged to the wife of Frank Foley, the former MI6 head of station in Berlin, who was to become more famous for his work in getting "tens of thousands" of Jews out of Germany.

It was Foley, as the leading German expert in MI6, who was in charge of the year-long debriefing of the deputy führer. This much is known from Foreign Office files released to the National Archives some years ago.

Hess flew to Britain in a Messerschmitt-110 on May 10, 1941, intent on making contact with the Duke of Hamilton, who he believed would help him mediate a peace deal whereby Britain would join Nazi Germany in a war against the Soviet Union. It was a hopeless mission based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the British establishment.

Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime prime minister, was convinced that it had produced an intelligence windfall for Britain.

But Churchill was wrong. The debriefing was a wasted effort. Hess knew astonishingly little and, to make matters worse, Foley swiftly realised he was mad.

Hess's greatest value lay in the propaganda use the British could have made of him, but their Germanophobia was too great to accept the windfall.

December 28, 2004

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


America, the Great Santa: America`s support for Sunday`s tsunami victims should remind us how twisted the Hate America Left`s view of this country really is. (Ben Johnson, 12/27/04, FrontPage)

Upon hearing the news, America characteristically rushed to help. Yesterday, outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell promised a $15 million aid package and stated this is only a downpayment on America’s goodwill. “We also have to see this not just as a one-time thing,” he said. “Some 20-plus thousand lives have been lost in a few moments, but the lingering effects will be there for years.” He then affirmed America is in the reconstruction effort “for the long haul.”

In addition to this aid package, President Bush has dispatched military planes to the area, sent a 21-person USAID contingent of disaster relief specialists, and offered to send troops stations in Okinawa, Japan, to help Thai victims.

By way of contrast, the 25-member European Union, the world largest trader whose combined economy is larger than that of the United States, will deliver $4 million.

Nonetheless, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland labeled these efforts “stingy.”

Aside from betraying abhorrent manners, the UN bureaucrat’s comments sounded a common theme of the Left: No matter how much time, money, or resources America commits to a humanitarian effort – and no matter how demonstrably unselfish our motives – greedy capitalist America never lifts a finger to help the downtrodden. Indeed, by our disproportionate consumption of the world’s resources and contributions to environmental degradation, we are the cause of the world’s suffering.

General Powell sounded quite furious when he spoke this morning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Alternative to fading away (MASAMICHI HANABUSA, 12/28/04, The Japan Times)

In the annals of mankind, various nations that rose and fell over centuries are recognized for what they left for posterity. The Romans laid the foundations of Western civilization with Roman Law and built the infrastructure that enabled the spread of Christianity. The world owes the British for the parliamentary system of democracy. The Americans will probably go down in history as the nation that developed the most destructive military power.

Seen on the scale of millennia, the Japanese have developed a unique continuous civilization, absorbing various foreign cultures. But as things stand now, Japan may register in history as a nation that saw a spectacular rise for a while in the 20th century but then faded away with the gradual decline of its population.

There is, however, a very important enterprise for which the Japanese may be recognized centuries from now. The Japanese people could contribute toward the realization of political, economic and cultural equality among the peoples of the world. If future generations of Japanese make a conscious effort to continue the achievements of their forebears, this enterprise may give our people a place on the honor roll of world history.

With the exception of Darwinists, who have to believe it for their own dogmatic reasons, is there anyone who thinks Japan will realize that alternative? Or that it will much register in history after it's gone?

Posted by David Cohen at 7:52 PM


Military Judges’ Benchbook For Trial of Enemy Prisoners of War Headquarters (Legal Services, Department of the Army Pamphlet 27–9–1, 4 October 2004)

1–1. Purpose and scope.

A. Purpose. This Military Judges’ Benchbook for Trial of Enemy Prisoners of War (EPWs) [footnote omitted] sets forth certain procedural steps required in the trial by court-martial of persons protected by the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of August 12, 1949 (GC III), including certain civilian personnel protected by the GC III. Under Article 102, GC III, EPWs can be validly sentenced only if they are sentenced under (1) the same court system and (2) the same procedures as members of the armed forces of the Detaining Power (DP) AND if (3) the court follows the provisions of Chapter 3, Penal & Disciplinary Sanctions, GC III. This Benchbook modifies DA Pam 27-9, Military Judges’ Benchbook, to incorporate the provisions of Chapter 3, GC III.

Alberto Gonzales is being criticized for suggesting that the Geneva Convention is archaic and quaint. It is hard to know what else to call an international agreement that requires that prisoners be given cigarettes -- behavior that, if it were not required, would probably be banned. More seriously, the Geneva Convention requires that prisoners be housed in the same type of accomodation as soldiers of the detaining power, that they shall be paid for their wages at the rate paid to soldiers of the detaining power for doing similar work and, as we see here, that they are entitled to the same justice as the detaining power offers to its own people.

In other words, we would have to treat Iraqi prisoners like Americans, while they can treat American prisoners like Iraqis. How long before we see this point made on the recruiting posters of our enemies?

Posted by David Cohen at 7:25 PM


Hotline Succeeding In Foiling Iraqi Insurgents (Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service, 12/28/04)

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Hammond, the division's assistant commander for support, said the tips hotline received more than 400 calls during the past few months. These enabled the coalition to take prompt action — from freeing several women who had been kidnapped for ransom to identifying and destroying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices Hammond said "were rigged and ready to explode."

Billboards throughout Baghdad promote the hotline as a way for the Iraqi people to "fight the war in secret" without fear of reprisal, Hammond said. Because of a campaign of intimidation aimed at Iraqis helping to move their country forward, "people were virtually paralyzed to reach out for help," he noted. Now, thanks to the hotline campaign, "people today are picking up the phone and calling us. They are sharing information," the general said.

Hammond said the hotline and its success have "hit a nerve with the insurgents" who regularly vandalize billboards promoting the campaign. But Hammond said the 200 billboards around Iraq are replaced as quickly as they're destroyed. "I'm not going to stop," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM

THE HORROR... (via Tom Corcoran):

Pinkos Getting Nuttier (Ralph R. Reiland, 12/28/2004, American Spectator)

You'd think today's socialists would be a little more cautious when it comes to preaching about the merits of centralized planning, a bit more wary about putting the state in charge of every nook and cranny of daily life, given the way things have turned out over the past century.

It wasn't just the bad economics, the sight of people queuing up in the Soviet Union each morning to stand in line for hours for bread before the shelves went bare, or the decade-long waits for drab apartments. Worse was the price of pounding every doubter and straggler into line, the slaughter by the bodyguards of collectivism of the millions who failed to proclaim the nonexistent virtue of a failed system, the elimination of millions who failed to buy the idea that a man's mind was nothing compared to the collective wisdom of the state.

The final tally, the grand total of those killed in the Marxist-Leninist war of class genocide against private property, individuality, profit and the market, is variously estimated at between 80 million and 110 million, with as many as 65 million in China, 25 million in the former Soviet Union, 1.7 million in Cambodia, and on and on.

It was the world's most full-scale totalitarianism, an ideology that had come to rule a third of mankind, a revolutionary vision of egalitarianism and virtue that turned into, in the words of Martin Malia, professor of history emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, who died last month, the "most colossal case of political carnage in history." [...]

Such, however, is not the case, as evidenced by the call for grandiose state intrusion in the most private of matters in the November-December 2004 issue of the Internationalist Socialist Review. The crisis described in America is that of an escalating "class attack" by the bourgeoisie in which "more and more responsibility for children's welfare has been placed on individual families."

Start leaving child welfare to families and there's no telling where your society could end up...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


A Very Dangerous Democrat: An Encounter with Senator Charles Schumer (ALAN SINGER, CounterPunch)

On Sunday, December 19, 2004, I had a startling exchange with New York Senator Charles Schumer at the Hofstra University graduation. Schumer has a habit of appearing at graduation at the last minute uninvited, speaking to the audience about his experience as a recent college graduate, and then immediately escaping from the podium. I hoped to speak with him on a number of occasions but have never had the opportunity. This year he arrived while faculty were lining up to enter the arena. I approached him and asked, "Are you reconsidering your position on the war in Iraq now that the justifications presented by the Bush administration have all proved to be false?" He immediately became agitated and starting shouting aggressively. I will paraphrase the exchange as best as I can.

At first, Senator Schumer demanded to know what I would do. I replied, "The Bush administration policies have destabilized that entire region of the world. I would work with European allies to find a way to leave immediately."

He accused me of being a "fool"...

Favoring the pre-9-11 status quo in the Middle East isn't foolish--it's evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


Susan Sontag, Writer and Social Critic, Dies at 71 (MARGALIT FOX, 12/28/04, NY Times)

Susan Sontag, the internationally renowned novelist, essayist and critic whose impassioned advocacy of the avant-garde and equally impassioned political pronouncements made her one of the most lionized presences - and one of the most polarizing - in 20th-century letters, died today in New York. She was 71 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was complications of acute myelogenous leukemia, her son, David Rieff, said. Ms. Sontag, who died at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, had been ill with cancer intermittently for 30 years, a struggle that informed one of her most famous books, the critical study "Illness as Metaphor" (1978).

Ms Sontag personified the reasons that Americans hold intellectuals in contempt.

SUSAN SONTAG AND THE EVIL OF BANALITY (Srdja Trifkovic, 12/30/04, Chronicles)

Susan Sontag died of leukaemia in New York on December 29 at the age of 71. The obituarists described her as "one of America's most influential intellectuals, internationally renowned for the passionate engagement and breadth of her critical intelligence and her ardent activism in the cause of human rights." (The Financial Times, Dec. 30) Her essays "expanded the universe of subjects it was 'all right' for intellectuals to take seriously," such as drugs, porn, and pop, ensuring that we'd "get used to these as intellectual topics."

All of which is one way of saying that Ms. Sontag has made a solid contribution to the degrading of our cultural and intellectual standards over the past four decades. But unlike some other purveyors of bad ideas, such as Voltaire, who could present them in eloquent prose, Sontag was unable to write a decent sentence. Take this gem for style and contents:

"The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballet et al., don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history. It is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself" (Partisan Review, winter 1967, p. 57).

A week after the non-whites struck at the cancer's epicenter on September 11, 2001, Ms. Sontag asserted in The New Yorker, that this "monstrous dose of reality" was squarely a consequence of specific American actions, and paid tribute to the courage of those willing to sacrifice their lives in order to kill others: "In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."

Courage means doing the right thing in the face of fear. Ms. Sontag's standard of "courage," based on an actor's readiness to die in pursuit of his objectives, makes sense only in the universe of an atheistic adorer of the self who cannot face the thought of self-annihilation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Long Live the Free Republic of Gotham: Don't say it can't be done. But first, we need to get over our Abe Lincoln obsession and revisit the Constitution. (Christopher Ketcham, 12/27/04, NY Press)

For anyone watching history and thinking ahead in the wake of November 2, the secession of New York City from the United States of America is no longer a question of ambiguities but practicalities, not a question of why but how. Yet the city's pundits and politicos continue to agonize playfully over the former while avoiding the real issue, which is constitutional, because it brings a tingle to the genitals without requiring anyone getting dirty. What's more narcissistically sexy than being culturally better endowed than an entire nation, but also impotent before the mass?

We can dispense with the hypocrisy of the greedhead megalomaniac New Yorker who thinks himself more enlightened than the average American because he goes to the Met and shits in fancy porcelain to Architectural Digest instead of to TV Guide in the moldy pan of a ranch-house in Phoenix or Cleveland. No, the nationwide balance, growing larger every day, of greedhead megalomaniacs merely apes, in cheaper finery, New York's corporatism, faddism and materialism as formerly enshrined in two glass towers. Before they burned to the ground, the Twin Towers stood over the nation as the symbol of empire; then, as an Alamo stand against the savages. Their fall sent America to Afghanistan and then Iraq in defense of the city on the hill: New York as epitome of American civilization.

And we are. The reason is that we make lots of money, and we do it in blazing-hot pursuit of life, liberty and happiness; though, granted, our government tempers that enthusiasm more generously than elsewhere in the nation (budgeting for health, education, labor, the environment, education and public transit—sharing the wealth). Money—who's making it, who's taking it—has always been and always will be the only argument for American rebellion; it was the predicate for the original New World secession from the English empire in 1775. If taxation without representation was the complaint then, it remains the rub today. Mayor Bloomberg's office claims that New York City sends as much as $11.4 billion more to Congress than it receives in services. The current hacks in the White House opt—among many other indignities—to blow our prodigious revenue on the occupation of Iraq, which as of May 2004 had cost New Yorkers $2.1 billion. The darker burden, of mortal consequence, is the vast terrorist recruitment the war has spawned, with New York—dense, vital—still the most coveted target.

The city's match with the state government in Albany is equally rapine. The New York State legislature for the most part represents the ingrate pawing of upstate cretins while netting an estimated $3.5 billion more annually from hardworking city taxpayers than it returns in spending on city services and infrastructure. Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who in 2003 floated a secession proposal for the establishment of New York City as the 51st state, claims that independence from the Albany thieves—the first step in secession from the odious United States—would gain the soon-to-be Free Republic of Gotham a billion-dollar annual budget surplus, with vastly reduced business, property and personal income taxes.

Secession dreams always have a curious aspect to them--advocates blithely assume that just because the rest of us might consider ourselves well rid of such people that we'd let them keep our territory in the bargain. If they want out of the United States they can leave--we'll keep the island.

Posted by David Cohen at 3:35 PM


Shopping for War (Bob Herbert, NYTimes, 12/27/04)

You might think that the debacle in Iraq would be enough for the Pentagon, that it would not be in the mood to seek out new routes to unnecessary wars for the United States to fight.
Bob Herbert, for whom it is always 1968, argues, in effect, that military intelligence is an oxymoron and that we would all be much safer if human intelligence were left entirely in the hands of the secular humanists at CIA. Others have done a better job than I could of showing why this column is nonsense and, indeed, as we've discussed here before, Ronald Reagan's CIA chief, Bill Casey, famously said that, if you want good intelligence, first you start a war.

Even when used to introduce errant nonsense, however, we must not allow talk of the "Iraq debacle" to go unchallenged. Thus, our litany of lessons to remember:

  • The invasion of Iraq was undertaken for good and sufficient reasons, all of which have grown stronger with hindsight.

  • The invasion itself was spectacularly successful.

  • The occupation has also been a success thus far.
  • War is to be decried and, if possible, avoided. It would be much better if our enemies would simply do as we wish without our having to kill them. That American soldiers must die for our freedoms is tragic, while their sacrifice is humbling. None of that, however, changes the fact that this war is just and sacrifice has been rewarded with success.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


    Sins of the Father: DUBYA IS BAD. HIS FATHER WAS WORSE. (Tom Frank, 12.27.04, New Republic)

    Even his foreign policy was unprincipled and heedless--at least when the stakes were low. When officers in Panama's army attempted a coup against the country's dictator, Manuel Noriega, Bush, who had openly advocated such a revolt, now couldn't decide whether to intervene or stand aside. In the end, he managed to do neither, ordering American troops in the country (the canal had not yet been transferred to Panamanian sovereignty) to set up a pair of roadblocks but otherwise wringing his hands. After the press criticized him for timidity, Bush had second thoughts and, a few weeks later, invaded the country. He was, increasingly, a silly man in a serious job.

    Other world events just made Bush look small. When the Berlin Wall fell, Bush, taken by surprise, reacted with caution, if not exactly reflection: "I don't think any single event is the end of what you might call the Iron Curtain. But clearly, this is a long way from the harsh days of the--the harshest Iron Curtain days--a long way from that."

    Indeed, Bush's presidency may have faded into welcome insignificance had Saddam Hussein not invaded Kuwait in August 1990. At the time, Bush had gone through a rough summer. It was mainly because he had chosen to break his campaign pledge of "Read my lips: no new taxes," leading to the New York Post headline, "Read My Lips--I Lied." In 1988, Bush had repeated his tax promise at every campaign stop--getting the crowds to chant it with him--and pummeled Dukakis for refusing to make a similar pledge. (He'd also eliminated Bob Dole from the GOP primaries with the same tactic.) Now the bill was due.

    With Saddam, however, Bush proved that, at least in the realm of foreign affairs, he could occasionally act with seriousness and resolve. Because war was the desired end--without one, Iraq could withdraw and remain a threat--Bush laid out demands in a manner designed to prevent Saddam from negotiating his way to a settlement. In the meantime, he assembled a large military coalition blessed by the United Nations. The offensive began in January, and, by February of the following year, Iraq had been driven out of Kuwait. It was an astonishing rout.

    But Bush also had to figure out how he wanted to end the war. Marching to Baghdad would splinter the coalition, but leaving Saddam in power meant trouble, too. So Bush chose to encourage a rebellion in the Iraqi military, in the hope that a new Sunni strongman might emerge to replace Saddam. While the fighting raged, Bush suggested in February 1991 that Iraqis "take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside." Radio broadcasts later linked to the CIA encouraged Iraqis to overthrow Saddam. Things didn't go as planned, however. Shia and Kurds bravely accepted the invitation to rise up, but Saddam's army officers didn't, turning their guns instead on the rebels.

    Faced with the prospect of supporting a Shia rebellion--and the possible creation of a Shia state, which friends such as Saudi Arabia opposed--Bush suddenly found the prospect of Saddam's ouster less appealing. So he changed his mind. Saddam, happy to have a free hand, employed helicopter gunships to kill tens of thousands of Shia and Kurds as American forces in the region stood by. By early April, millions of Kurds were fleeing the massacres and crowding into refugee camps in neighboring Turkey, and Bush was starting to come under fire in Washington. "We went over there for a moral purpose," argued Senator Al Gore at the time, "and now we are insisting that our American forces stand by and watch as helicopter gunships, responding to the orders of Saddam Hussein, open fire on innocent men, women, and children--even firing on hospitals--simply because these people who are being killed responded to our request that they rise up against Saddam Hussein."

    Bush, in response to such criticism, said he naturally felt "frustration and a sense of grief for the innocents that are being killed brutally, but we are not there to intervene ... that is not our purpose. It never was our purpose." Even when all twelve members of the European Community (yes, even France was tougher than Bush on this one) argued for placing humanitarian considerations above territorial ones--to create safe enclaves in Iraq, say, for those fleeing Saddam--Bush remained obdurate. "The objectives ... never included the demise and destruction of Saddam personally," Bush explained to reporters. Sorry if there was any misunderstanding.

    You can't really blame the senior President Bush--there's never been a good Realist presidency, but the elites keep insisting it'll work eventually.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


    A Rare Tsunami, and a Change in Geography: The quake created the Indian Ocean's first wave of its kind in more than a century, and it moved the entire island of Sumatra 100 feet. (Thomas H. Maugh II, December 27, 2004, LA Times)

    The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off Indonesia on Sunday morning moved the entire island of Sumatra about 100 feet to the southwest, pushing up a gigantic mass of water that collapsed into a tsunami and devastated shorelines around the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

    The quake was the largest since a magnitude 9.2 temblor struck Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1964 and was one of the biggest ever recorded by scientists. It triggered the first tsunami in the Indian Ocean since 1883, civil engineer Costas Synolakis of USC said.

    Sunday's temblor, which occurred off Sumatra's northwestern tip in an active geological region, ruptured an estimated 600-mile-long stretch of the Earth beneath the Indian Ocean. The quake caused one side of the fault to slide past the other, much like seismologists expect the San Andreas fault to do when the "Big One" hits California.

    One of the most delicious inanities to which Darwinists resort in the attempt to demonstrate that skepticism about their faith is only religious, not rational, is the claim that other processes we've not observed are not similarly doubted: "like the separation and drift of the continents." this, of course, ignores the fact that seismic activity is incessant and continental drift routine, as with the recent unfortunate movement of Sumatra. Meanwhile, mankind eagerly awaits the first ever instance of speciation from Natural Selection...

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


    In China, Turning the Law Into the People's Protector (Philip P. Pan, December 28, 2004, Washington Post)

    What happened in the Fuyang case highlights a momentous struggle underway in China between a ruling party that sees the law as an instrument of control and a society that increasingly believes it should be used for something else: a check on the power of government officials and a guardian of individual rights. How this conflict unfolds could transform the country's authoritarian political system.

    More than a quarter-century after launching economic reforms while continuing to restrict political freedom, the Chinese Communist Party remains in firm control of the courts. Most judges are party members, appointed by party leaders and required to carry out party orders. But the government's claims of support for legal reform and human rights, and an influx of information about Western legal concepts, have fueled public demands for a more independent judiciary.

    China's citizens are asserting their rights and going to court in record numbers. About 4.4 million civil cases were filed in the last year, more than double the total a decade ago. Behind this surge in legal activity is a belief that everyone, even party officials, can be held accountable under the law, a belief promoted by a new generation of lawyers, judges and legal scholars trained after the death of Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong.

    The party appears torn by this rising legal consciousness. It recognizes the value of an impartial judicial system to resolve disputes in a country with growing social tensions and an emerging capitalist economy, and it sees the potential of citizen lawsuits to curb corruption and improve governance. But it is also afraid that rule of law and independent courts might threaten its monopoly on power.

    The people want British law and the Party wants French.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 AM


    Comedian George Carlin Enters Rehab (Reuters, December 28, 2004)

    Comedian George Carlin, a counter-culture hero who gained fame with routines about drugs and dirty words, said Monday he was undergoing treatment for excessive use of alcohol and prescription painkillers.

    "I'm going into rehab because I use too much wine and Vicodin," Carlin, 67, whose latest book "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?" is a national bestseller, said in a statement. "No one told me I needed this; I recognized the problem and took the step myself."

    The announcement came weeks after the veteran stand-up comic caused a stir at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas with a performance that questioned the intellect of people who visit the resort city.

    According to media accounts of the incident, Carlin's bit about "moronic" Vegas tourists touched off a bitter, profane exchange with members of the audience, including one woman who shouted "Stop degrading us."

    Carlin has acknowledged having battled cocaine addiction in the 1980s but said he quit on his own by tapering off the drug. He also has suffered three heart attacks.

    No one can poke fun at the cows we truly hold sacred, like Vegas.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


    Europeans realize they need to humor Bush (John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, December 27, 2004, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

    Paradoxically, the very thing that neoconservatives detest most about European diplomacy -- that Machiavellian willingness to cut deals with anyone -- is now working in Bush's favor. But there is arguably more to this sea change than just a grumpy acceptance of the status quo. From a European perspective, three things are making it easier to warm to the Bush White House.

    One is the death of Yasser Arafat. No issue divides Europe and the United States more keenly than the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. For the last few years, Europeans have criticized Bush for failing to put enough pressure on Israel to get out of the occupied territories and for refusing to deal with Arafat. But since Arafat's death, Europeans and Americans have been able to find common ground: supporting Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza, putting pressure on Israel to let the Palestinians hold elections and, covertly, backing Mahmoud Abbas to become the next Palestinian leader.

    A second reason is Europe's growing worries about Islamic terrorism. The murder last month of Theo van Gogh, a provocative Dutch filmmaker, at the hands of an Islamic militant has been called Europe's 9/11. Though the two events are obviously not fully comparable, American conservatives, such as Francis Fukuyama and Bernard Lewis, have found a wider audience recently for the idea that radical Islam is inimical to European traditions of tolerance.

    The third force is the reappearance, albeit in a milder form, of the threat that kept the transatlantic alliance together for half a century. The Russian bear is growling again. The Ukrainian election -- complete with its KGB-style poisoning of the opposition leader and heavy-handed electoral fraud -- has reminded European diplomats of Vladimir V. Putin's determination to control his "near abroad."

    European bankers, who have invested a fortune in Russia, have been spooked by the state-sponsored bankruptcy of Yukos, once hailed as Russia's most Western company. These worries are magnified by the growing influence of the eight new members of the European Union from Central Europe, all of which are instinctively much more anti-Russian (and pro-American). [...]

    Many European leaders once swallowed the Michael Moore version of history: that Bush was an ignorant interloper who stole the White House. His thumping reelection, however, shows that he represents a large body of conservative American opinion.

    In short, Europeans are getting used to the idea that it is not Bush who is the exception, but the United States itself that is exceptional -- and that if they want to deal with this exceptional superpower they need to humor it rather than rile it.

    It's obviously in Europe's interest to come crawling to us, but why is it in our interests to reattach the parasite?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM

    LIVE THE MANDATUM NOVUM (via Mike Daley):

    Asian Disaster Relief Via Evangelical Agency (Scott Ott, Scrappleface)


    Billions in Aid Needed for Devastated Areas..."

    A note to ScrappleFace readers from Scott Ott:

    In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami which has struck people around the Bay of Bengal, in addition to your prayers for the victims' families you may be looking for a trustworthy organization through which you can help with disaster relief. Other bloggers have provided links to the Red Cross, UN agencies and Indian government agencies, but if you're interested in giving through an agency that is committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through effective disaster relief, read on...

    I have worked, briefly, side-by-side with crews from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief during a flood in Missouri and after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief crews are organized, energetic and effective. They bring not only food, water, shelter and cleaning supplies to victims quickly, but they bring the kind of comfort that can only come from a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. They do not discriminate on any basis. Their help is freely available to all, without a litmus test or sermon.

    Although I'm no longer a Southern Baptist, this morning I spoke with Terry Henderson, director of disaster relief for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and with an employee of the International Missions Board of the SBC. As of about 10:30 a.m. Eastern they told me that the SBC has people on the ground in the disaster region conducting needs assessment. Their work is complicated by the fact that many Christian missionaries in predominantly-Muslim countries must be discrete in order to avoid arrest and even death.

    I encouraged Mr. Henderson to set up a PayPal account to receive donations, however, I'm guessing that a large organization like the SBC is unlikely to do this.

    UPDATE: Here's the link where you can make a donation to Disaster Relief using your credit card.

    Here's the link to the Disaster Relief website (It's technically part of the SBC's North American Missions Board (NAMB) but its ministry is global).

    In the meantime, if you want to give now through an evangelical disaster relief agency, here are two options--one offline and one online:

    1) Send a check to Disaster Relief (memo: "Asia Tsunami") to the following address:
    Disaster Relief
    Southern Baptist Convention
    Box 6767
    Richmond, VA 23233

    100 percent of your tax-deductible contribution will go to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.

    2) If you would rather give by PayPal now, instead of waiting for SBC to get a PayPal link (which, as I said, may not happen), I have prevailed upon the board of missions of the Bible Fellowship Church, the denomination to which I belong, to set up a PayPal link and then forward contributions to SBC Disaster Relief and/or other reliable Christian disaster relief organizations. Bible Fellowship Church Board of Missions will keep none of the money and will send you a receipt for tax purposes.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


    Palestinian elections: chance for a model democracy: The Jan. 9 vote wouldn't be possible without hard work and reforms of the past two years. (Timothy Rothermel, 12/27/04, CS Monitor)

    For those who have worked over the years helping Palestinians strengthen their public institutions, the fact that the machinery is in place to carry out elections, as well as to provide other services expected of an efficient and democratic government, comes as no surprise. In fact, elections considered free and fair by the international community were carried out by the Palestinian Authority in those 1996 elections, and it remains one of the handful of governments in the region with a democratically chosen head of state. The development of these institutions has come about in spite of occupation, an economy in a downward spiral, and the deaths of almost 4,000 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis in the past four years.

    Insofar as elections are concerned, 67 percent of the Palestinian voting population was registered during a voter-registration drive in spite of East Jerusalem disruptions in September and October. That's a far higher percentage of registered voters than in virtually all countries in the region, none of which are under occupation; higher than in several long established democracies in Europe; and about the same as in the US.

    Registration is important and demonstrates, yet again, the capacity of Palestinian institutions and the democratic will of the Palestinian people. Whether Palestinians are actually able to vote come Jan. 9 and later will depend on their unfettered mobility and lack of intimidation in reaching approximately 2,000 polling stations in the West Bank and Gaza that will be available, as well as their ability to conduct political campaigns.

    But it was not within the past few weeks that electoral machinery has sprung into life. As part of the Palestinians' own reform process, which was started in June 2002, electoral reform has been high on the Palestinian public agenda...

    Leave us put together our heads and try to figure out: what changed in June 2002 to make all this happen?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


    Jobs forecast sees more 'help wanted' signs across US: According to economists and employment analysts, the job picture will be brighter next year. (Ron Scherer, 12/28/04, CS Monitor)

    In Huntsville, Ala., a defense contractor is looking for computer whizzes who can help the company simulate weapons systems. A hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, will be hiring 30 to 40 doctors and another 250 nurses, technicians, and clerks to back up the new MDs. And in San Francisco an online auto insurance company plans to double its 550-person workforce next year and will be looking for claims adjusters and customer-service specialists.

    These are just some of the "hot" employment areas where job applicants will find someone to read their résumés. And these companies are far from alone: According to economists and employment analysts, the job picture will be brighter next year. Already, job bulletin boards like are seeing an uptick in postings, with some cities experiencing significant jumps over last year.

    Expectations are for the unemployment rate to fall from the current 5.4 percent to as low as 5 percent. More important, the economy could be creating up to 225,000 new jobs each month, more than enough to absorb the 125,000 workers who enter the labor force each month.

    "It may be the best year since 2000 in terms of the general job market," predicts Mark Zandi of "There will rising labor force participation and fewer underemployed."

    A growing economy is obviously good in itself, but even more important it makes radical reforms like those the President is proposing less frightening to people.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM

    BEST OF '04:

    Hookie Awards, Part 2 (DAVID BROOKS, 12/28/04, NY Times)

    On Saturday I handed out the first batch of Hookie Awards. These prizes, determined by a rigorously subjective scientific formula, go to some of the important political essays of 2004, and celebrate the legacy of great public intellectuals like Sidney Hook, Daniel Bell and Irving Howe.

    So here's the second batch...

    MORE (from the Archives):
    The Hookie Awards (DAVID BROOKS, 12/25/04, NY Times)

    Some people say that the age of the public intellectuals is over, that there are no longer many grand thinkers like Lionel Trilling or Reinhold Niebuhr, writing ambitious essays for the educated reader. It's true that there are fewer philosophes writing about the nature and destiny of man, but there are still hundreds of amazing essays written every year.

    In celebration of that fact, and in case you're looking for some mind-expanding holiday reading, I've decided to create the Hookie Awards. Named after the great public intellectual Sidney Hook, they go to the authors of some of the most important essays written in 2004.

    I should mention that essays for The New York Times and other newspapers are not eligible for these prizes, and that if you go to the Web site version of this column, at, you will find links to the winning essays.

    Here is the first batch of Hookie Laureates...

    Here are a few we liked that he missed:


    The Neoconomists: The Bush administration's other revolutionaries. (Daniel Altman, May 10, 2004, Slate)

    Health Savings Accounts great plan for health care (Terry Savage, January 22, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

    Fear of Hell Might Fire Up the Economy (Kevin L. Kliesen and Frank A. Schmid, July 29, 2004, Regional Economist)

    The End Of the Age Of Inflation (Robert J. Samuelson, December 2, 2004, Washington Post)

    WHY GOLD? (James Surowiecki, 2004-11-22, The New Yorker)

    The 50¢-a-Gallon Solution (GREGG EASTERBROOK, 5/25/04, NY Times)


    The prisoners' conscience (Natan Sharansky, Jerusalem Post, June 6th, 2004)

    Ronald Reagan's creative destruction (Spengler, Jun 7, '04, Asia Times)

    THE UNKNOWABLE: Ronald Reagan’s amazing, mysterious life. (Edmund Morris, The New Yorker, 6/21/04)

    In Solidarity: The Polish people, hungry for justice, preferred "cowboys" over Communists. (LECH WALESA, June 11, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

    Freedom's Team: How Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II won the Cold War. (John Fund, June 7, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

    The Intellectual Origins of Ronald Reagan's Faith (Paul Kengor, Ph.D., April 30, 2004, Heritage Lecture)

    Reaganism: The Gipper's brand of conservatism is unique to America. (JOHN MICKLETHWAIT AND ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, June 8, 2004, Wall Street Journal)


    President Bush has already left a big mark on history (David Shribman, Oct 8, 2004, Concord Monitor)

    BUSHSPEAK: The President’s vernacular style. (PHILIP GOUREVITCH, 2004-09-06, The New Yorker)

    George Bush and the Treacherous Country (Steve Erickson, 2/13/04, LA Weekly)

    Bush Brought a Gift for the Pope (Sandro Magister, www.chiesa)

    Ideology vs. Practicality - A Hamiltonian GOP? (Adam Yoshida, September 10, 2004, Insight)

    A New GOP? (James W. Ceaser and Daniel DiSalvol, Fall 2004, Public Interest)


    The Fruits of Appeasement (Victor Davis Hanson, Spring 2004, City Journal)

    The Muslim Renovatio and U.S. Strategy (Michael Vlahos, 04/27/2004, Tech Central Station)

    The coming of Shia Iraq: After 500 years of Sunni rule, Iraq's election will finally hand power to the Shia majority. (Bartle Bull, November 2004, Prospect)

    A World Without Power (Niall Ferguson, July/August 2004, Foreign Policy)

    The Politics of the Gang (Lee Harris, 03/02/2004, Tech Central Station)

    The Media and Medievalism (Robert D. Kaplan, December 2004, Policy Review)

    Gulliver’s travails: The U.S. in the post-Cold-War world (John O’Sullivan, October 2004, New Criterion)

    America Unlimited: The Radical Sources of the Bush Doctrine (Karl E. Meyer, Spring 2004, World Policy Journal)

    Why Is Bermuda Richer Than Venezuela? (Carlos A. Ball, 06/01/2004, Tech Central Station)

    Four Surprises in Global Demography (Nicholas Eberstadt, August 20, 2004, AEI Online)

    Hating America (Bruce Bawer, Spring 2004, Hudson Review)


    A Friendly Drink in a Time of War (Paul Berman, Winter 2004, Dissent)

    The Cult of Che: Don't applaud The Motorcycle Diaries. (Paul Berman, Sept. 24, 2004, Slate)

    A DEMOCRATIC WORLD: Can liberals take foreign policy back from the Republicans? (GEORGE PACKER, 2004-02-09, The New Yorker)

    The Case for George W. Bush: i.e., what if he's right? (Tom Junod, Aug 01 '04, Esquire)


    The Fire Next Time (Joseph Bottum, Spring 2004, The Public Interest)

    The Real Inquisition: Investigating the popular myth. (Thomas F. Madden, 6/18/04, National Review)

    The atheist sloth ethic, or why Europeans don't believe in work (Niall Ferguson, 07/08/2004, Daily Telegraph)

    The Enemies of Religious Liberty (James Hitchcock, February 2004, First Things)

    Our Union’s Jewish State (David Klinghoffer, 3/17/04, The Forward)

    The evil that men do (Theodore Dalrymple, 3/20/04, The Spectator)

    Bad and bored (Theodore Dalrymple, 9/04/04, The Spectator)

    The Future Belongs to the Fecund (James Pinkerton, 09/01/2004, Tech Central Station)

    Athens and Jerusalem: Reflections on Hellenism and the Gospel (Dr. John Mark Reynolds, 7/16/04, Orthodoxy Today)

    Aquinas for the Democratic Age: a review of Liberty, Wisdom, and Grace: Thomism and Democratic Political Theory, by John P. Hittinger (Robert Kraynak, Spring 2004, Claremont Review of Books)

    That Other Church: Let's face it: Secularism is a religion. Let's treat it as such. (David Klinghoffer, 12/21/2004, Christianity Today)

    One nation under God: The US is powerful and religious; the EU is weak and secular. Mark Steyn wonders whether it is any coincidence (Mark Steyn, 3/15/04, The Spectator)

    A democratic & republican religion (Marc M. Arkin, Summer 2004, New Criterion)

    Prince Charles: Could the anti-Enlightenment views of King Charles III destroy the "welfare monarchy"? (Tristram Hunt, June 2004, Prospect uk)

    The incoming sea of faith: atheism has been discredited by the collapse of communism and the postmodern need for tolerance (Alister McGrath, 9/18/04, The Spectator)

    The Trouble with Libertarianism (Edward Feser, 07/20/2004, Tech Central Station)


    If we wanted to be straight, we would be: Attempts to identify a genetic basis for homosexuality refuse to accept that sexual desire is a social construct (Julie Bindel, December 14, 2004, The Guardian)

    Homosexual "Marriage" and Civilization (Orson Scott Card, February 15, 2004, The Rhinoceros Times)


    Planet with a Purpose: If Earth is an organism getting ever more complex, doesn't that mean humans might have been made for a reason? (Robert Wright, BeliefNet)

    The Malthusian Trap (Benjamin Marks, November 23, 2004,

    The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories (Stephen C. Meyer, August 28, 2004, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington)


    The Perpetual Adolescent: And the triumph of the youth culture. (Joseph Epstein, 03/15/2004, Weekly Standard)

    George S. Schuyler and Black History Month(s) (Nicholas Stix, February 23, 2004, Mich News)

    The Middle Ages of reason: It was the medieval world that dragged us into the future, not the reactionary Renaissance (Terry Jones, February 8, 2004, The Observer)

    Traducing Solzhenitsyn (Daniel J. Mahoney, August/September 2004, First Things)

    The Scientist and the Poet (Paul A. Cantor, Winter 2004, New Atlantis)

    Remembering the Warsaw Uprising: Sixty years later, a look back at the longest and bloodiest urban insurgency of the Second World War. (Maciej Siekierski, Fall 2004, Hoover Digest)

    In Warsaw, a 'Good War' Wasn't (Anne Applebaum, June 2, 2004, Washington Post)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


    Old Songs Generate New Cash for Artists (BEN SISARIO, 12/28/04, NY Times)

    The amount paid by SoundExchange, the sole collector and distributor of these royalties, is a fraction of what is made in royalties by composers and publishers from traditional radio, but it has grown significantly in recent years with the rise and expansion of the satellite radio services XM and Sirius.

    The main difference with the new royalties, though, is that they are paid not to composers and publishers but to the performers - the singers and musicians in a song - and the copyright holder of the recording, which in most cases is a record label.

    SoundExchange, a nonprofit agency in Washington, is authorized by the United States Copyright Office to collect royalties from digital broadcasters and pay them directly to performing artists. Founded in 2000 and initially part of the Recording Industry Association of America, SoundExchange made its first payments in 2001 and, after a slow beginning, has begun to double its annual collections; in 2005 it expects to collect and allocate $35 million.

    But the biggest obstacle the agency faces, it says, is getting the word out to artists and registering them for payment. These royalties for new and unfamiliar formats are a category of payment that performing artists in the United States have never had: a performance right.

    "This is a brand-new right," said John Simson, the executive director of SoundExchange. "A lot of artists are unaware of it, and we're working against 80 years of a music industry without a performance right." (In Europe and elsewhere around the world, performing artists are paid a royalty for radio play, but because the United States has not paid the fee in the past, it has generally not been reciprocated by other countries.)

    In a practice well known to musicians and record companies but obscure to the public at large, traditional radio - or "terrestrial radio," as it is now known in the music industry - pays a royalty only to a song's publishers and composers, not to its performers or the owners of the recording itself. "When a typical Beatles song gets played on traditional radio," Mr. Simson said, "John and Paul get paid royalties, but not George or Ringo."

    Musicians and record labels have long complained of this arrangement. In the 1990's, two federal laws established a royalty for performers for Web and satellite radio and digital music services like Muzak, DMX and Music Choice. The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 established for the first time that the performers of a song and the copyright holder of the recording would be paid a special royalty separate from those paid to songwriters and publishers.

    The rate for this royalty, set by the librarian of Congress, is 7 cents per song per 100 listeners, for most digital services. In the abbreviated nine-month accounting period of 2004, SoundExchange (which does not pay the composer or the publisher of a song; those royalties are paid by other agencies) distributed $17.5 million collected from satellite and Web broadcasters, Mr. Simson said.

    That number is still tiny compared with the royalties paid from traditional radio - about $350 million a year, according to industry estimates - but it is growing fast.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


    A Young Doctor's Hardest Lesson: Keep Your Mouth Shut (KENT SEPKOWITZ, M.D., 12/28/04, NY Times)

    [L]ast month, my wife and I bumped into an acquaintance of hers while walking along the street. The person, unbeknownst to my wife, is a patient of mine, someone whom I treat for a chronic infection. After the patient and I shared a moment of mutual panic, we three chatted amicably and moved on.

    Except, that evening, my wife kept asking me why I was being so quiet and, well, boring. And I suddenly saw the problem: doctors are waterlogged with secrets, hundreds of them, thousands of them.

    Each day brings a new batch: patients' admissions about drug use or sexual indiscretion, a hidden family, a long-held dream, an ancient heartache, undisclosed H.I.V. infection.

    Over the years, this begins to add up, the bulge expands, the joints get stiff. Yet the secret - the consequences of our ever-expanding repository of others' secrets - remains, well, secretive. The situation simply is not addressed, not at the start, middle, or the end of a career.

    The most difficult aspect of a training doctor's life is not suddenly bearing witness to someone else's pain and death; it is not adjusting to arduous work hours; it is not the imposing amount to be learned and synthesized. These surely are intense, life-transforming endeavors but are still related to other experiences.

    No, the biggest shock along the road to becoming a doctor is the startling revelation that you can ask and the patient will tell anything.

    The hard part is shutting them up.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


    Rising prescription drug use points to deeper problems: Balancing medication for minor and serious ailments is a challenge amid an aging, heavier populace and aggressive marketing tactics. (Elizabeth Large, December 27, 2004, Baltimore Sun)

    When Margaret Herlth wakes up in the morning, 13 prescription drugs and two over-the-counter supplements are as much a part of her routine as a first cup of coffee. That's a lot of pills, but not a highly unusual number for an 80-year-old with serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease and breathing difficulties.

    "They do make me feel better if I take them," says Herlth, who lives in southwest Baltimore. "I've been in and out of the hospital so many times. Each time they give me new pills, but they never take any away."

    These days, if you're elderly, a medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs is par for the course. But even relatively young, healthy adults may be prescribed medicine as a preemptive strike to lower their cholesterol and blood pressure, to deal with a touch of arthritis, to ward off osteoporosis, to stop the symptoms of seasonal allergies or to fight depression.

    Many people add to the list by taking herbal supplements. They also reach for the Advil bottle at the first sign of a headache and chew antacids when they get heartburn.

    This month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported its latest data on prescription drug use. The agency estimates that nearly half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug and one in six takes at least three. Over the last decade, the percentage of people taking one or more prescription medicines has increased from 39% to 44%.

    We're a medicated society, of course. But the sheer number of drugs we take suggests that we may be an overmedicated society.


    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


    A Devil's Island for Our Times: How can we let this evil persist? (Robert Scheer, December 28, 2004, LA Times)

    It is time to invade Cuba and put an end to what has become another Devil's Island in the annals of government-sanctioned torture. The barbaric treatment of political prisoners on the island is made no more palatable by being conducted in the name of an ideology that claims to be liberating the world from its shackles.

    Mr. Scheer undoubtedly thinks this is devastatingly clever, but all most of us will take away from the piece is that he would happily use military force to stop America from spreading democracy whereas he's always opposed using it to liberate Cuba from Castro's tyranny. That certainly confirms our dismal view of the Left, but can hardly be an argument intended to appeal to his fellow citizens.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM

    ...AND LOWER...:

    Slump in Oil Likely to Pull Gas Lower: California pump prices hit a 10-month low. Crude futures fall on weak demand and warm weather forecasts. (Elizabeth Douglass, December 28, 2004, LA Times)

    California gasoline prices have fallen to their lowest level since February, and steep declines Monday in petroleum futures pointed to cheaper gas ahead.

    The statewide average cost of self-serve regular slipped 3.9 cents over seven days to $2.01 a gallon, according to a weekly survey released Monday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Ten straight weeks of price decreases have cut 39 cents off the average cost of gasoline in the state.

    Though an increasing number of stations are offering regular at $1.99 a gallon — or lower — the averages for Los Angeles, San Francisco and the state as a whole haven't been under $2 since Feb. 16, EIA figures showed. And the new average is 41.5 cents higher than last year.

    Nationwide, the average fell 2.4 cents to $1.791 a gallon, 31.3 cents above year-earlier levels, the EIA said.

    Analysts attributed the recent decline to weaker seasonal demand for gasoline as well as growing inventories across the country of oil, gasoline and other fuels.

    Two additional factors — a new forecast for warmer weather in the East and word that storms and airport glitches cut holiday demand for gasoline and jet fuel — sparked a dramatic sell-off in oil-related commodities Monday at the New York Mercantile Exchange.

    "Everything really got hit hard today," said Eric Bolling, an independent trader on the Nymex. "The trend is down … and there's no reason for it to stop right now."

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:47 AM


    Main Sunni party pulls out of Iraqi election (Michael Howard, The Guardian, December 28th, 2004)

    Iraq's largest mainstream Sunni Muslim party pulled out of the election race yesterday, saying the violence plaguing areas north and west of Baghdad made a "free and fair vote" on January 30 impossible.

    "We are withdrawing," said Mohsen Abdel Hamid, leader of the Iraqi Islamic party, as he announced the latest setback to plans to stage the country's first credible elections.

    "We are not calling for a boycott, but we said we would take part only if certain conditions had been met and they have not," he said.

    The moderate Islamist party wanted the poll postponed by up to six months, hoping that huge security problems and a lack of public awareness about the vote in Sunni Arab-dominated areas could be rectified.

    The party has emerged as the most moderate political group among the Sunni population. It had a seat on the now defunct governing council and was part of the interim government.[...]

    A western diplomat in Baghdad said: "The effective disenfranchisement of the Sunni Arabs could have dire consequences for the political security of Iraq. We can't afford to marginalise the Sunnis even further. It will do nothing to stem the rising tide of factionalism and sectarianism."

    The Bush administration is reportedly looking at ways to guarantee Sunni politicians seats in the national assembly, as well as a senior office of state.

    But Iraq's interim leaders know any decision to delay or skew the result could alienate leading figures among the Shia majority, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. "We are damned if we go ahead, and damned if we delay," said an Iraqi minister who requested anonymity. He said the government appeared to be "in a state of flux" over the timing.

    An aide to the ayatollah said: "[Sistani] does not want a delay in the election. The Iraqi people have been waiting for too long."

    He played down concerns that a Sunni boycott would deny the election legitimacy: "If some people decide not to participate then they cannot claim that the elections are illegitimate. We cannot be held hostage by the Ba'athists and the Sunni terrorists."

    Assuming there is any truth to this, is it wise for Washington to try and play Founding Father of Iraqi federalism?

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:23 AM


    From America's heartland: Europe drops out of the picture
    (Wayne Merry, International Herald Tribune, December 28th, 2004)

    Beyond economics, however, Europe pretty much drops off the radar screen. The European popular obsession with American power and influence has no counterpart in America, even among people with strong interest in international issues. Europe simply stopped being an issue when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. Europe as the locus of American attention and anxiety during the cold war is entirely a thing of the past. Among students, interest in the cold war ranks with Vietnam and well below the American Civil War.

    I suspect most Europeans - with their daily diet of news, views and theories about America - would be surprised how utterly asymmetric is the interest. Americans care very much about the external world, but about the trouble spots (the Middle East, North Korea, Africa), transnational issues (terrorism, nuclear proliferation, AIDS, environment), and countries seen to be of the future (China and India). Europe is not a problem, not global, and of the past. A nice place to visit, but pricey.

    Politically, beyond the lonely figure of Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, no European looms large in American eyes. Even President Jacques Chirac of France is seen as a nuisance rather than a force to be reckoned with. There is a realistic understanding - albeit accompanied by annoyance - that Europe will do the minimum in Iraq. There is also a strong sense that it is time for Europe to look after its own defense and to pay its own security bills.

    While Americans would prefer a more active European partner in dealing with the challenges of tomorrow, they don't expect it. In part, this reflects a different view of what those challenges may be. Americans share European concerns about global ecology, health and poverty, but worry more about terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons and "rogue states." They would like multilateral solutions, but doubt there will be any real substitute for traditional power.

    Americans perceive a Europe that values comfort and safety, but that is also in long-term demographic decline and disengagement from unpleasant realities. War may no longer be part of European life (for which Americans think they merit some of the credit), but in American eyes it is a fantasy to project this reality on the wider world.

    One of the psychological fallouts of multilateral trans-nationalism is how it provides a chimera of importance and influence to smaller nations and especially to their politicians and diplomats. Countries like Canada and the Nordics are notorious for dreaming up grand initiatives to cure the world’s ills and setting out to market them at never-ending multilateral meetings. They aren’t all useless or ill-founded, but domestic politics and the conceit that they flow from a more virtuous wellspring than anything the powerful can come up with quickly corrupts them and results in a single-minded focus on process and rhetoric. Their sponsors often end up looking like desperate itinerant salesmen trying to push goods past their stale date.

    The traditional European powers now seem to be in the game. One of regular news items of 2004 was Jacques Chirac in some remote and savage land flogging something called “multipolarity” to the point of making a complete ass of himself, as when he described the spread of French as an environmental issue before an undoubtedly puzzled Vietnamese audience. The Germans have rediscovered the joys of wandering the globe to preach for peace, and all of them, including Britain, seemed bound and determined to play a role in the Middle East for what reason nobody knows. That they are being played for useful fools by Iran seems to have escaped them completely.

    Europe still has economic clout, and may well for a long time, but trade is trade and it is easy to wildly overestimate its role in geopolitics, as Europe itself found out in 1914. (It is ironic that a continent that has always disdained Americans for their commercial pre-occupations now measures its worth and influence almost entirely by the quality of its gadgets.) Americans would be wise to try and put the sense of betrayal over Iraq behind them and accept that European impotence will continue to spawn chest-thumping, meddlesome behaviours and increasingly defiant assertions of importance. It is a function of decline and is part of both human nature and that famous European modesty we all know and love. Given the challenges that lie ahead with Russia, China, India, Korea, Japan, the Middle East and Latin America, (not to mention the pathologies of Africa), they simply aren’t worth the sweat. They are not really allies anymore, at least not in any substantive sense. Better to see them as a lion sees his cubs–a member of some atavistically-defined family who one can’t stop worrying about but who merits a fearsome swat from time to time.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


    Censors ease up on Syrian press: New information minister encourages more critical media in a country known for its censored press. (Nicholas Blanford, 12/28/04, CS Monitor)

    Syria's press has been regarded as little more than a banal mouthpiece for the state since the 1963 coup by the ruling Baath Party. The state's stranglehold on the media began to loosen in the wake of Bashar al-Assad becoming president in 2000. In 2002, the first privately owned political weekly, Abyad wa Aswad (White and Black), was granted a license and has since become a keen critic of government performance. "The general trend is for change now.... If we want this country to progress, we have to focus on the bad points," says Ayman al-Daquq, who edits the magazine.

    Two years ago, satellite dishes became legal, granting Syrians access to television channels from around the world. The number of foreign magazines and newspapers distributed in Syria has almost doubled.

    But the pace of change increased from October following a cabinet reshuffle. The new interior minister, Ghazi Kenaan, a former general in military intelligence, voiced what most Syrians thought when he declared the local press "unreadable."

    Mr. Dakhlallah, former editor of Al-Baath, the mouthpiece of the Baath Party, began telephoning journalists and urging them to adopt a bolder approach, taking the traditionally cautious Syrian reporters by surprise.

    Mr. Haydar of Al-Arabiya says that for the first time he is free to record interviews with people from banned political parties on previously taboo subjects. "They say how they want to abolish the security law, free political prisoners, see the return of exiles, and hold free elections," he says. "I don't feel the tension while working anymore. I can go on air at any moment and talk about anything."

    The information minister is supervising the restructuring of some media institutions, combining the organizations that publish the Al-Baath and Al-Thawra dailies. Reporters at Tishreen have been told they can no longer copy articles straight from the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. Al-Thawra is building a fresh reputation for running hard-hitting stories on social issues.

    Ministers, who once avoided the media, are now obliged to talk to the press. Two weeks ago, Mr Kenaan, the interior minister, gave a statement to the press within an hour of a bomb blast that almost killed a Palestinian militant, an unusually swift reaction from a traditionally cautious regime.

    The changes are like a jolt of electricity to older reporters who are finding that holding onto their jobs will depend on future performance. "The old school [of reporters] can't understand the change. Now the good are being singled out from the bad," says Mr. al-Daquq, the editor of Abyad wa Aswad.

    Just three years after 9-11 the pace of liberalization in the Middle East is so rapid that putative experts on the region can't even acknowledge it.

    December 27, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 PM


    Gonzales's Journey: From the Stands to the Heights: Migrant Workers' Son Worked Way to Air Force Academy, Harvard, a Top Law Firm -- and Government (Sylvia Moreno, December 28, 2004, Washington Post)

    One Saturday afternoon this May, Alberto R. Gonzales addressed the 2004 graduating class of Rice University and talked about growing up in an impoverished household on the north edge of Houston.

    His parents, former migrant workers, had only eight years of schooling between them and barely spoke English. The family of 10 lived in a small two-bedroom house with no hot water and no telephone. There was no tradition of education in the family, only of working hard to scrape by.

    Gonzales took his first job at 12 to help support the family, and as he carried trays of soft drinks in the upper deck of Rice Stadium on football Saturdays he aspired to a better life. "I would stare over the stadium walls and watch the Rice students stroll back to the colleges, and I wondered what it would be like to be one of you, a Rice student," Gonzales said.

    He went on to be one of them and much more. "In many ways, Al embodies the American dream," says President Bush, who often talks about the real-life Horatio Alger aspects of Gonzales's life.

    Today, Gonzales is Bush's nominee for attorney general, the nation's top law enforcement officer. He is the first Hispanic named to the post.

    The journey reflects a life of extraordinary achievement for this child of migrants. Gonzales is a Rice alumnus; a graduate of Harvard Law School; a former partner in Houston's largest law firm, Vinson & Elkins; a top appointee in Bush's gubernatorial administration in Texas; and, for the past four years, the White House counsel to Bush.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 PM


    Hamas gains grassroots edge: Hamas made significant gains against the ruling Fatah party in Thursday's municipal elections. (Ben Lynfield, 12/27/04)

    Huddling near a gas heater in the mayor's office of this small town near Bethlehem, Fatah campaign manager Atef Rabaya is still reeling.

    "I'm trying to wake up from this shock," he says. "The Imams in the mosques must have persuaded people to sympathize with the Islamists."

    The shock that Mr. Rabaya was dealt was the stunning victory by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, in his town of Obadeiah, in Thursday's municipal elections.

    The elections, the first phase of polling that is to eventually include all West Bank and Gaza Strip municipalities, saw Hamas score victories against the ruling Fatah movement, which nevertheless carried a majority of the councils.

    When Hamas candidates assume office shortly, it will be the biggest hold on power for a movement that until now has functioned largely as an opposition - and is perhaps best known for its suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

    "This is the first time Hamas will take responsibility in the society," says Hafez Barghouthi, editor of the Palestinian Authority (PA) affiliated al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper. "It is the first time it will have to go beyond criticism of the PA, to work in the field like a party responsible for coordinating daily life, and as a party with a duty to society."

    Which is the genius of imposing statehood on the Palestinians.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 PM


    The new status quo (Michael Barone, December 27, 2004, Townhall)

    Looking back on election year 2004, I am struck by how many of the constituencies supporting Democratic candidates oppose, rather than seek, change -- how they are motivated not by ideas about how to change the future, but by something like nostalgia for the past.

    Take black Americans, the most heavily Democratic constituency -- 88 percent to 11 percent for John Kerry in the 2004 NEP exit poll. Blacks have been voting for Democratic presidential candidates by similar margins since 1964, when Republican Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act.

    That was a big issue, then. And never mind that a higher proportion of Republicans than Democrats voted for the bill in Congress -- Goldwater did oppose it. But the Civil Rights Act has long since become uncontroversial, racial discrimination disapproved and integration of schools, workplaces and public accommodations widely accepted. Yet 40 years later, the image of the Republican Party as unsympathetic to equal rights for blacks seems to persist. Black voters seem still focused on a moment in history 40 years ago.

    Or look at the antiwar constituency, an important part of the Democratic coalition in 2004. These voters denounce the war in Iraq in much the same terms, with much the same arguments, that they denounced, or have heard that their elders denounced, the American military effort in Vietnam. We're in a quagmire, committing atrocities, doomed to failure.

    Right down to the signs and slogans, antiwar rallies seem a re-enactment of the tie-dyed past. In the waning days of the campaign, John Kerry and John Edwards slyly suggested that George W. Bush would bring back the military draft.

    The war in Iraq is different from the war in Vietnam in so many respects that it is hard to know where to start listing the ways. But for some large portion of Democratic voters, it will forever be 1968.

    On the economic front as well, Democrats seem to be looking more to the past than the future. The Social Security system as it exists is obviously not sustainable: There will be too few workers supporting too many retirees. It will be in good shape, some Democrats argue, until 2042, so there is no need to worry for it. But people who turn 67 in 2042 were 29-year-old workers and voters in the 2004 election. An argument that concedes that Social Security will be in trouble when they reach retirement age can hardly be expected to appeal to them. But these Democrats see no need to change a system created in 1935.

    It's always dawn for the Aquarians.

    Posted by David Cohen at 1:05 PM


    Understanding Terror Networks (Marc Sageman, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/1/04)

    But after 2001, when the U.S. destroyed the camps and housing and turned off the funding, bin Laden was left with little control. The movement has now degenerated into something like the internet. Spontaneous groups of friends, as in Madrid and Casablanca, who have few links to any central leadership, are generating sometimes very dangerous terrorist operations, notwithstanding their frequent errors and poor training. What tipped the Madrid group to operation was probably the arrest of some of their friends after the Casablanca bombing. Most of them were Moroccans and the Moroccan government asked the Spaniards to arrest several militants. So the group was activated, wanting to do something. Their inspiration—the document “Jihad al-Iraq”— probably was found on the Web. Six of its 42 pages argued that if there were bombings right before Spanish election, it could effect a change of government and the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq, the expulsion of the “far enemy” from a core Arab state. From conception to execution, the operation took about five weeks.

    We hear that Al Qaeda plans its attacks for years and years. It may have before 9-11, but not anymore. Operatives in caves simply cannot communicate with people in the field. The network has been fairly well broken by our intelligence services. The network is now self-organized from the bottom up, and is very decentralized. With local initiative and flexibility, it’s very robust. True, two-thirds to three- quarters of the old leaders have been taken out, but that doesn’t mean that we’re home free. The network grows organically, like the Internet. We couldn’t have identified the Madrid culprits, because we wouldn’t have known of them until the first bomb exploded.

    So in 2004, Al Qaeda has new leadership. In a way today’s operatives are far more aggressive and senseless than the earlier leaders. The whole network is held together by the vision of creating the Salafi state. A fuzzy, idea-based network really requires an idea-based solution. The war of ideas is very important and this is one we haven’t really started to engage yet.

    This is a nice overview of who Al Qaeda is, what it does and how it is evolving in response to our successes in the war on terrorism. It is well-worth reading the whole thing. The take-home lesson won't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention: Al Qaeda has recruited most successfully from the Arab middle and upper classes. There is a reservoir of young men, alienated both from their own stifled culture and from the west, who turn towards extremism as a way to create a world from which, they think, they will not be alienated. Al Qaeda is, at bottom, a particularly silly form of utopianism.

    I should also note that the first and best explication I have seen of the dynamic by which exposure to western culture turns young Muslim men into extremists came in a comment here by M. Ali Choudhury. If I remember correctly, he claimed to have been saved from extremism by soccer, which is at best a matter of opinion.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


    The Year Of Blogging Dangerously (Edward B. Driscoll, Jr., 12/27/04, Tech Central Station)

    [F]rom the home office in San Jose, California, allow me to present, via my 1972 IBM Selectric and my jammies, the top ten events that ricocheted through the Blogosphere in 2004. They're presented in order of importance, not chronologically; no doubt, you'd assemble a very different list; but I trust you'll agree with at least some of these choices. [...]

    6. The Exit Polls: On Election Tuesday, depending on whom you want to believe, either the networks or the Kerry camp released mid-afternoon polling data to several extremely prominent Websites, including Matt Drudge on the right, and Anna Marie Cox's Wonkette Weblog on the left. The result added even more of a roller coaster quality to an already manic day, leaving Kerry voters temporarily euphoric, and Bush supporters in a state of sullen disillusionment.

    Even as the Democrats started doing victory laps on Election eve, Bill Kristol came on FOX News's coverage and just buried the exit polls--the first time anyone on the networks did so. One would assume he was being coached by the White House, but it was interesting that the blogs had the story hours earlier.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


    Scent of victory for Yushchenko as Ukraine shifts to the West: The 'Orange Revolution' is set to sweep the pro-Western presidential candidate to power (Jeremy Page, 12/27/04, Times of London)

    UKRAINE’S opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, claimed victory early today in a re-run of a presidential election that has polarised the nation and rekindled Cold War-style rivalry between Russia and the West.

    Mr Yushchenko told his supporters that Ukraine was turning over a new political page, after partial results projected him winning an easy victory over his opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, the Prime Minister.

    Exit polls had predicted a crushing defeat for Mr Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Prime Minister, whose victory in last month’s flawed election was overturned amid opposition protests dubbed the “Orange Revolution”.

    “Today, Ukraine is beginning a new political life I am aware of the extent of responsibility and I will be worthy of your trust,” Mr Yushchenko said at his campaign headquarters.

    With ballots from just over 40 per cent of precincts counted, Mr Yushchenko was leading by 56.7 per cent to 39.5 per cent, election officials said. After the polls closed, tens of thousands of opposition supporters descended on Independence Square in Kiev, where they protested for two weeks after the previous vote. With fireworks bursting overhead, they celebrated the almost certain victory of their candidate.

    In contrast, the streets of Mr Yanukovych’s power base, Donetsk, were largely empty.

    “We can now move faster towards Europe. Ukraine will have democracy not just on paper but in reality,” said Volodya Geroseomenko, 32, a railway worker wrapped in an orange pro-Yushchenko cloak and waving an orange flag.

    History just keeps on Ending.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


    Stop Doubting Thomas (Jonathan Turley, December 27, 2004, LA Times)

    Over the course of the last decade, Thomas has quietly assembled an impressive power base in Washington, built the old-fashioned way — one appointment at a time. He maintains the highest degree of influence while preserving the lowest possible profile.

    He has secured top positions for his clerks and associates throughout the government, from the White House counsel's office to the Justice Department to the United States Sentencing Commission. This cadre also includes an array of academic leaders, like Berkeley law professor (and former Justice official) John Yoo and media figures like talk-show host Laura Ingraham.

    On Capitol Hill, Thomas is often seen lunching with congressional leaders, and he makes strategic appearances at conservative conferences. Various federal appellate and district judges (including Democrats) owe their confirmations to Thomas, who interceded with the Senate Republicans on their behalf.

    The Washington Post told one story of how he works in behalf of conservative African American lawyers. A lawyer named Brian Jones was being vetted as assistant attorney general for civil rights — a plum job. Jones unexpectedly got a call at a pizzeria shortly before his interview. Thomas was reportedly direct: "Don't take that job." "What job?" Jones asked. "You know the job I'm talking about." Thomas considered it a "black job" and did not want Jones stereotyped, as Thomas had been as civil rights chief and chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. [...]

    I disagree with many of his opinions, but Thomas is neither an embarrassment nor a dolt — at least no more so than most of the other justices on the court. He is, however, a patient man — and time is on his side.

    Remember what happened to the last guy the Democrats thought was a moron.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


    Sovereignty for a New Century
    : When a country fails to protect its people, other nations must act. (John D. Podesta, December 27, 2004, LA Times)

    Since the end of World War II, governments around the world have been given virtual carte blanche to mistreat their citizens without fear of outside interference. Despite numerous well-meaning resolutions on the importance of global human rights and the well-being of individuals, the principle of state sovereignty has been deemed paramount; the United Nations Charter includes a clear prohibition on interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states.

    But in today's world, indifference is not an option. The principle of sovereignty must not only guarantee nations the right to be secure within their borders, it also must hold them responsible for safeguarding the security of their citizens.

    As we are seeing in Darfur, Sudan — where government-backed militias have driven more than 1 million civilians from their homes over the last 18 months — conflicts within less powerful, often dysfunctional states can turn whole nations into killing fields.

    In Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, millions died and countless others were maimed or raped as the world looked on and did little or nothing. It is true that these outrages did not pose an immediate threat to our national security, but they did diminish our humanity.

    This month, a high-level 16-member panel on "threats, challenges and change" organized by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the world to accept its "responsibility to protect." To back up this mission, it called for an expanded Security Council with greater authority to protect people at risk, even the right of armed intervention if necessary. The panel's recommendations are based on a groundbreaking 2001 report by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, a Canadian initiative that took up Annan's call for new thinking on these issues.

    Both reports concluded that in extreme cases, the principle of sovereignty and nonintervention must give way to protection.

    This line should be crossed only in cases in which we face massive loss of life, ethnic cleansing or, indeed, genocide. Armed intervention should be considered only when other means have proved ineffective, and the force used should be proportionate to the task.

    Tony Blair and George Bush have ended the age of sovereignty, the rest of the West will come along slowly. Mr. Podesta provides a good example of someone trying to grope towards making the Left decent again, but it's easy to see how far he has to go. The idea that we have no right to stop a regime that's killing tens or hundreds of thousands for political reasons, rather than ethnic, and that we have to wait until some magic tipping point where the body count becomes "massive" leaves tyranny too much leeway for evil.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


    New GOP Senators May Back Filibuster Limits: Others say a rule change to prevent Democrats from blocking judicial nominees would be at odds with renewed efforts at bipartisanship. (Nick Anderson, December 27, 2004, LA Times)

    Sen.-elect John Thune (R-S.D.) said he wanted to put an end to the Democratic tactic of filibustering high-profile judicial nominees — which involves essentially talking the nominations to death without allowing an up or down confirmation vote.

    Senate Republican leaders, bolstered by the party's Nov. 2 victories, are weighing a move to deny Democrats the right to filibuster judicial nominees indefinitely in the coming Congress. The issue is especially sensitive since Bush's announcement last week that he would renominate seven people for appellate courts who were stymied by filibusters during the last Congress — and in light of the possibility of upcoming Supreme Court vacancies.

    "I'm open to supporting that kind of a rule change where judges are concerned," Thune said. He acknowledged that it would be "somewhat controversial, and everybody would argue, and certainly the minority would argue against that."

    Sen.-elect Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), appearing with Thune, said he too would seek to end "apparent obstruction" by Democrats. "I think if it continues, then we have to look at those rules and some of the precedents that exist to move these appointments to the floor and have them debated for confirmation," Isakson said.

    But Sen.-elect Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) said a Republican bid for a rule change would poison the atmosphere of the Senate just when Bush was seeking to move a second-term agenda.

    "I think it's going to be a bloody fight," Salazar said on the CBS show, "and I would hope that it can be avoided, and I would ask my colleagues to try to avoid that in the U.S. Senate. I think that the best thing to do is for the president to have consultation both with Republicans and with Democrats prior to making the appointments."

    Mr. Salazar appears to be reading a different Constitution.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


    Bush Plan Could Imperil Tax Write-Off for New York (IAN URBINA, 12/27/04, NY Times)

    As the Bush administration looks to revamp the tax code, New York officials say they are particularly worried about one idea being considered: eliminating the federal deduction for state and local taxes.

    If the president pursues this plan, New York State would lose about $37 billion per year in federal tax deductions, more than almost any other state, according to Internal Revenue Service data. The change would affect about 3.2 million households in New York, three-quarters of which are middle- and low-income, tax records indicate.

    "This change would be one of the worst things for New York to came out of Washington in a long time," said Senator Charles E. Schumer. "But if they take this route they can expect a serious fight."

    With a 7.7 percent maximum state income tax rate, the second-highest in the country behind California's 9.3 percent, New York would be especially affected because its residents use those taxes to take large federal deductions. About 38 percent of households in New York file for some sort of federal deduction of state and local taxes.

    New York City residents, who also pay city income taxes, would be especially hard hit as they could expect an 11 percent increase in the amount they pay the I.R.S., or an increase of about $3.4 billion, said Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the city's Independent Budget Office.

    Beyond New York, eliminating the federal deduction for state and local taxes would also affect residents in New Jersey and Connecticut. Among the state and local taxes that could no longer be claimed as a deduction would be property taxes, which are particularly high in the New York City region. [...]

    For some, that is just the point. "If you believe, as I do, that the state and local deductions encourage higher spending in states," said Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, "then abolishing the deduction will help bring this spending down and will also cause people to demand lower taxation."

    They didn't vote for him, did they?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


    At Least 13,000 Die in Tsunami: Waves Generated by 9.0 Quake Cut a Swath in Southern Asia; Many Are Reported Missing (Shankhadeep Choudhury and Paul Watson, December 27, 2004, LA Times)

    A series of towering waves triggered by a massive undersea earthquake killed more than 13,000 people Sunday, wiping out whole villages and hammering resorts across thousands of miles of coastline in South Asia and beyond.

    Survivors described walls of water between 10 and 20 feet high toppling buildings and sweeping away victims from Indonesia to the Maldives. Even in Somalia, 3,000 miles from the quake's epicenter, nine deaths from the tsunami were reported.

    The catastrophe began when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the world's biggest in 40 years, struck just before 7 a.m. beneath the Indian Ocean 155 miles southeast of Banda Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

    The quake, about 200 times as powerful as the 1994 Northridge temblor, spawned tsunami waves that traveled at high speed through a region that lacks any warning system. Ocean buoys in a tsunami warning network can alert people to a lethal wave's approach hours before it hits, giving them time to move to higher ground.

    Possibly the worst-hit country was Sri Lanka, a war-ravaged island off the southern tip of India, where wave after wave of surging tides created rivers of seawater that carried people away along with cars and the rubble of collapsing buildings. More than 6,000 people died there.

    In Indonesia, health officials said more than 4,400 people were killed on Sumatra, most of them in the northern province of Aceh, where entire villages were swept away and bodies were lodged in trees. Many of the dead were children, officials said.

    Nearly 2,300 were reported killed in India, 600 in Thailand, including tourists, and more than 40 in Malaysia. In the Maldives, more than 30 were dead and two-thirds of the capital, Male, was underwater. A dozen people in Myanmar and at least two in Bangladesh also died. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless.

    At least three Americans were among the dead, two in Sri Lanka and one in Thailand, the State Department said.

    And we just had our one thousandth combat death in Iraq.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:49 AM


    Blame The New Yorker (Walter Kirn, New York Times, December 26th, 2004)

    Now that America's urbane sophisticates have had to acknowledge their status as a fringe group so out of touch with mainstream moral values, tournament bass fishing, Nascar and Christian rock that their electoral and cultural clout is marginally less than that of Casper, Wyo., legions of self-doubting highbrows are asking themselves how this decline into decadence occurred.

    Because of what enfeebling bad habit did the proud and potent thinking class that gave us F.D.R. and J.F.K. fade into a cynical, ironic, smirking bunch of spiritual weaklings headed up by Al Franken and Michael Moore? Was the problem attending movies instead of church? Deserting Burger King for Whole Foods Market? No, I've concluded. The blame lies elsewhere. The seduction of America's elites by the vices of humanism and skepticism can only be blamed on the New Yorker cartoon, an agent of corruption more insidious than LSD or the electric guitar.

    As we are reminded here frequently, all good humor is conservative. How any modern progressive can take himself seriously after reading these cartoons is beyond comprehension. My all time favorite is from the mid-eighties: A huge fire-breathing dragon is up at a podium addressing an audience of hundreds of identical knights-in-armor, and says: “While there are still profound differences between us, I’m sure we can all agree that just my presence here today marks a major breakthrough.”


    December 26, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 PM


    Yushchenko Leading in Ukranian Exit Polls (The Associated Press, December 26, 2004)

    Exit polls projected an easy victory Sunday for opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko in a bitter campaign that required an unprecedented three ballots and Supreme Court intervention to pick a new Ukrainian leader.

    Elated opposition supporters flooded Kiev's Independence Square, the center of protests after the Nov. 21 election that was beset with fraud allegations and eventually annulled. Music blared from loudspeakers and fireworks lit up the sky. In Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's home base of Donetsk, the streets were largely empty, with only a few people stumbling home from the bars.

    The three exit polls projected Yushchenko winning by at least 15 percentage points, and with ballots from just more than 30 percent of precincts counted he was leading with 57.43 percent to 38.89 percent for Yanukovych, election officials said. Final official results were not expected until Monday.

    A dejected-appearing Yanukovych, who had the backing of the outgoing Ukrainian president and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, refused to concede defeat in a newsconference begun before the polls closed.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


    It Seemed Like a Scene From the Bible (Michael Dobbs, December 27, 2004, Washington Post)

    WELIGAMA, Sri Lanka, Dec. 26 -- Disaster struck with no warning out of a faultlessly clear blue sky.

    I was taking my morning swim around the island that my brother Geoffrey, a businessman, had bought on a whim a decade ago and turned into a tropical paradise 200 yards from one of the world's most beautiful beaches.

    I was a quarter way around the island when I heard my brother shouting at me, "Come back! Come back! There's something strange happening with the sea." He was swimming behind me, but closer to the shore.

    I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. All seemed peaceful. There was barely a ripple in the sea. My brother's house rests on a rock 60 feet above the level of the sea.

    Then I noticed that the water around me was rising, climbing up the rock walls of the island with astonishing speed. The vast circle of golden sand around Weligama Bay was disappearing rapidly, and the water had reached the level of the coastal road, fringed with palm trees.

    As I swam to shore, my mind was momentarily befuddled by two conflicting impressions -- the idyllic blue sky and the rapidly rising waters.

    In less than a minute, the water level had risen at least 15 feet, but the sea remained calm, with barely a wave in sight.

    Within minutes, the beach and the area behind it had become an inland sea that rushed over the road and poured into the flimsy houses on the other side. The speed with which it all happened seemed like a scene from the Bible, a natural phenomenon unlike anything I had experienced.

    As the waters rose at an incredible rate, I half expected to catch sight of Noah's Ark.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


    We are all pagans now (Mary Wakefield, 12/18/04, The Spectator)

    The sky was already murky at 4 p.m. when I locked my bike outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. Inside, it was even murkier: wood-panelled corridors stretched off into the gloom, men in grey suits were wedged together, smoking Bensons and drinking bitter. No one looked even slightly like an Arch Priest of the Council of British Druid Orders. At 4:10 I found a separate little bar near the back of the pub. As I walked in, a big man with round shoulders and grey hair stared at me and I saw the corner of a magazine poking out from inside his coat. As I watched, the whole cover slowly emerged: a yellowy-purple watercolour of a fairy, and the title: The Witchtower. ‘Steve?’ I said. He nodded.

    We bought bitter, found somewhere to sit, and began what turned out to be a three-hour crash course in modern paganism, one of the fastest-growing religions in Britain.

    ‘It’s time for us pagans to make ourselves heard,’ said Steve. Steve is founder of Pebble (the liaison committee for British paganism) which has given all the various pagan factions — Witches, Druids, Heathens, Voodoo Priestesses, Shamans, Chaos Magicians — an official voice. ‘Look at the 2001 census,’ he said, ‘the results have just been published. We’re the seventh largest religion in the country — there are at least 40,000 of us. It’s time that we were taken seriously.’ What sort of people are pagans? I asked. ‘Ooh, every sort: lawyers, teachers, nurses, pensioners, students. There are lots in the Civil Service,’ said Steve, who works for the Charity Commission. ‘There’s even one writing regularly for the Daily Telegraph.’ Who? Steve chuckled, raised his eyebrows and took a pull on his pint of Pride. Anne Robinson? I thought; Bill Deedes? I asked, ‘What is a pagan these days anyway?’

    ‘Well,’ said Steve, relaxing, ‘the first thing is that we’re not Satanists and we don’t sacrifice babies.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘The Devil is a Christian concept. We worship the ancient, pre-Christian gods and goddesses. A pagan is defined as a follower of a polytheistic nature-based religion which incorporates beliefs and rituals from ancient traditions.’ As he laid a line of Golden Virginia on to a Rizla, I examined Steve closely for signs of in-leagueness with the Devil. There were rolls of grime under his fingernails and some red scratches on his right hand.

    So, can a modern pagan just pick any god to worship? I asked. Egyptian? Roman? African? Are there any rules? Steve put his hands self-consciously under the table, ‘No rules,’ he said. ‘Being a pagan is about being free from institutional rules. And the gods? Once you start seeking they choose you, really. Everyone has their own path...

    Anyone who believes they aren't bound by rules and institutions richly deserves burning.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


    'Minister of Defense' Reggie White dies at age 43 (AP, 12/26/04)

    Reggie White, one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, died Sunday of a massive heart attack at his home near Huntersville, N.C.
    He turned 43 last week.

    "Today our beloved husband, father and friend passed away," White's wife, Sara, said in a statement through a family pastor. "His family appreciates your thoughts and prayers as we mourn the loss of Reggie White. We want to thank you in advance for honoring our privacy."

    A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, White played a total of 15 years with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina.

    Nicknamed the "Minister of Defense," White retired in 2000 as the NFL's all-time leader in sacks with 198.

    So passes a great conservative.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


    Blair preparing to send troops to Sudan's Darfur region (AFP, 12/26/04)

    Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) has ordered the military to prepare to deploy up to 3,000 soldiers to the conflict-torn Sudanese region of Darfur.

    The Independent on Sunday newspaper, without quoting sources, said the deployment would be discussed next month with senior military officials.

    "When you decide to make an intervention you have got to be able to move fast," it quoted an unnamed minister as saying.

    Any deployment would be undertaken as part of a new European Union rapid reaction force, it said.

    Together with the African Union they should be able to handle this without our having to redeploy American forces there.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


    Religion and American foreign policy: In the United States, evangelicals are the neo-cons of Christianity, says John Hulsman. With its streak of religious certitude, we should never underestimate the centrality of moralism to the country’s foreign policy. (John C. Hulsman, 21 - 12 - 2004, Open Democracy)

    By all standards measuring religious fervour – church-going, beliefs, and the role of religion in one’s everyday life – the US seems to hail from a different planet from that of its European allies. In terms of the advanced industrial societies, the United States is by far the most religious. Nor does this trend show any signs of abating. While polling has Europeans becoming ever less connected to religion in their daily lives, America, if anything, grows more devout. This is particularly true of evangelical Christians, whose numbers are increasing at the fastest rate in the country. It is this group who give secular Europeans the willies. Evangelicals tend to be confident in their faith, express their religious feelings (here is the crux of the matter) freely, and are eager to have you adopt their religious orientation. In terms of Christianity, evangelicals are the neo-cons of the movement.

    This is a point Javier Solana, former secretary-general of Nato and European commissioner for foreign affairs acutely commented on earlier this year. Differences regarding religion are a major part of the values divide between America and Europe. This has obvious foreign-policy ramifications. It is little wonder that evangelicals in the Republican base from the first supported neo-conservative impulses in the Bush administration. Both groups have a messianic streak not common to standard conservative thinking. Both, as with Wilsonians in the Democratic party, see moralism as a key component of international relations. And both see the world largely in terms of good and evil, right and wrong. [...]

    [U]nderestimate evangelicals and other American utopian movements at your peril. For in many ways, Thomas Paine is not that far off. Certainly in the latter days of 1918, at Normandy, and during the cold war, American exceptionalism was a vital factor in motivating Washington to do what would have seemed hopelessly naïve to harder-eyed realists. In 1918, why should America intervene in a European war? In the dark days of 1940-41, why should it support the UK economically and with material when such largesse was bound to fall in the hands of a victorious Hitler? In the post-1945 world, why should the US risk nuclear annihilation to buttress our resentful impoverished allies (the UK and France) and our erstwhile enemies (Germany and Italy)?

    Yes, in each case I as a realist think it was in America’s interests to behave as we did. But you understand little about the country if you don’t acknowledge that “because it was the right thing to do” was also part of the answer lying behind American foreign-policy initiatives. Europeans may be uncomfortable with moralism (goodness knows I am) and the deep wellsprings of religion such views emanate from in American society. But there is little doubt we have all benefited from the “naïve” optimism that has enabled America to do amazing, beneficial things not just for itself, but also for all mankind.

    Quite insightful except for one common mistake--Mr. Hulsman puts the cart before the ass. As our theoconservatism is the enduring feature of American history, it should be obvious that the neocons are a part of the wider movement, not vice versa. Indeed, neoconservatism is best viewed as a kind of Evangelicalism for non-Christians.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 PM


    President Bush And The Little Girl (PHYLLIS CHESLER & NANCY H. KOBRIN, 12/22/2004, Jewish Press)

    [W]hat crucial clues have [Islamic and western analysts] failed to notice about Osama`s tape?

    Osama taunted President Bush, tried to shame him -- a typical Arab Islamic technique of punishment, manipulation, and control (Islam is a shame and honor society). Perhaps Osama believed that this would persuade Americans to vote for Senator Kerry and not for the "shamed" President. Osama said: "We never thought the high commander of the U.S. would leave 50,000 of his citizens in both towers to face the horrors by themselves when they most needed him because he thought listening to a child [this was poorly translated from the Arabic as it had to have specified female child] discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than paying attention to planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers which gave us three times the time to execute the operation, thanks be to God."

    Again, he was not telling the truth. Nothing could have stopped the planes. But now, he gives himself away, both culturally and autobiographically. Osama is scornful, contemptuous -- heartbroken? -- because President Bush dared to patiently listen to a "little girl" for many minutes when he should have been paying attention to what he, Osama, had just done: Crash two planes into the Twin Towers and another plane into the Pentagon.

    Incredibly, Osama seems to be competing with a little girl for President Bush`s attention. Where Osama comes from, girls (and women) simply do not count. Only grown men and boys do. It is an insult that President Bush does not immediately pay attention to Osama. Worse: Perhaps President Bush`s quiet and visible commitment to literacy for girls as well as boys actually enrages Osama. Why do girls need an education anyway?

    Or is Osama somehow undone by President Bush`s ability to contain his emotions in order not to frighten the classroom children? In Osama`s world, grown men are allowed to become emotionally "hysterical"; the fact that this may frighten, even traumatize children, does not matter. (Think of the Islamic Arab street and the hysterical quality of the funerals of homicidal suicide bombers, replete with fully armed, masked men and ullulating, veiled women.) Arab Muslim adults do not have to contain their emotions and remain calm; they can act out both privately and publicly, and in front of the children.

    In demanding that President Bush pay attention to Osama, is Osama somehow confusing Mr. Bush with his own Yemeni father, Mohammed, who had ten wives and 54 children? Osama was the seventeenth of twenty four sons -- how much positive paternal attention could he have received? (Also, his father died when he was only ten years old).

    More important, Osama`s mother, Hamida, was a Syrian whose father gave her to Mohammed bin Laden as part of a business deal. Hamida was known as "Al Abeda" (the slave.) But she was also known for being outspoken and western. (She liked designer pants suits by Chanel). Poor Hamida was also the fourth wife -- an unlucky position since Mohammed bin Laden engaged in the convenient practice of divorcing his fourth wife so he could remarry. (Muslims can only have four legal wives). In addition, Mohammed bin Laden punished Hamida by permanently exiling her to another city. He did so when Osama was not yet two years old.

    Osama was brought up by a stepmother, Mohammed`s first wife, Al-Khalifa. Thus Osama not only lost his mother at a very young age, he had to live with her devalued status as a woman, a "slave," a divorced wife, and an admirer of western couture. Osama had to overcome not only the "shame" that all Arab Muslim men unconsciously suffer, namely, being of (devalued) woman born; he also had to overcome the shame of being abandoned by a divorced, "slave" and pro-Western mother.

    Are we saying that Osama`s tape can be reduced entirely to autobiographical ravings? Of course we're not. But we cannot afford to neglect this dimension. Focusing precisely on such childhood and cultural variables will be crucial in any attempt to bring democracy and freedom to this barbarous region. The overall status of women, as well as specific practices such as polygamy, female illiteracy, veiling, stonings to death, and Arab honor killings all shape Arab Muslim psychology and national character. It is important that Americans and Israelis understand such Arab and Muslim cultural values in order to understand how these values have affected someone like Osama bin Laden -- and there are more like him where he came from.

    We really miss an opportunity in treating these guys like serial killers. Imagine the futile fury you could whip them up to if the Administration made this kind of analysis a central talking point?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


    Common Denominator: Using sophisticated mathematical models, a group of four economists has proven that a country's legal history greatly affects its economy. At least they think they've proven it. How their sweeping theory has roiled the legal academy. (Nicholas Thompson, Jan/Feb 2005, Legal Affairs)

    MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA COULDN'T BE CALLED TWINS, but they might be called siblings. The adjacent Southeast Asian nations possess similar natural resources and their citizens speak similar languages and follow similar strains of Islam. But Malaysia's economy is prospering while Indonesia's is floundering. Malaysia's stock market is far more vibrant than its neighbor's, and its average resident is three times richer.

    Economists might explain these divergent paths by pointing to the countries' different responses to the Asian financial crisis of the mid-1990s. Sociologists might find a cultural explanation in the close-knit community of Chinese immigrants who are the most powerful force in Malaysia's business community. Historians might point out that Malaysia's struggle for independence was much less bloody than Indonesia's.

    Another explanation lies in the countries' legal systems, however. Malaysia was a British colony and its legal system is based on the common law: the set of rules, norms, and procedures that has guided the legal system of England and the British Empire for about nine centuries. Indonesia was a Dutch colony and its legal system derives from French civil law, a set of statutes and principles written under Napoleon in the early 19th century and imposed upon the lands he conquered, including the Netherlands.

    According to research published by a group of scholars beginning in 1998, countries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently. While the scholars conducting the research are economists rather than lawyers, their theory has jolted the legal academy, leading to the creation of a new academic specialty called "law and finance" and turning the authors of the theory into the most cited economists in the world over the past decade. [...]

    THE IDEA THAT LEGAL ORIGIN CAN EXPLAIN NATIONAL MARKET DIFFERENCES comes from four economists who are referred to in their field by the acronym LLSV: Rafael La Porta of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes of the Yale School of Management, Andrei Shleifer of Harvard's economics department, and Robert Vishny of the University of Chicago's business school. [...]

    LLSV's main tool was regression analysis, a mathematical technique in which many variables are plugged into a program that sorts out which ones are correlated and which ones are not. Using regression analysis, for example, you could plug in the heights, weights, and eye colors of 100 people. The results would show that height and weight are correlated (the taller you are, the more you're likely to weigh) but that weight and eye color are not.

    Using this tool, "Law and Finance" showed that common law countries protect both shareholders and creditors better than civil law countries do, and they also tend to be less corrupt. LLSV took dozens of specific financial indicators--ranging from key gauges, like the odds that a company's assets will be confiscated by the state, to smaller measures, like whether shareholders can vote at company meetings--and regressed them all against legal origin. The regressions showed that the measures that indicate high investor and creditor protection or low corruption connect to common law origin, just as height connects to weight. The measures that represent low protection and high corruption connect to civil law origin.

    The regression didn't show that common law necessarily makes people richer, but it did represent a crucial link in a chain of logic that could connect legal origin to prosperity. When shareholders have more rights, people are more likely to invest in markets, because they have more protections against dishonest executives. When creditors have more rights, they are more likely to lend money, which spurs markets to grow. And when countries are free from corruption, investors put more money into them. The LLSV scholars weren't the first to recognize that shareholder and creditor rights spur economic growth, or that corruption stunts it, but they were the first to connect these conditions to a country's legal system and to do so using cold, hard numbers. [...]

    The most compelling theory they've developed has to do with the power both systems afford their judiciaries. Common law judges are, on balance, far more powerful than their counterparts in civil law countries. Since judges tend to be a country's most reliable check on the other parts of its government, common law countries grant less power to their executives than civil law countries do. And in developing nations, corruption is generally perpetuated from the top.

    The difference in the power that the two systems grant their judges is rooted in their respective histories. French civil law derives from the Napoleonic code, published in 1804 by scholars eager to wrest power from the judiciary. Before the country's revolution, France's courts had earned reputations for elitism and corruption. Influenced by popular discontent with much of the judiciary, Napoleon attempted to write a statutory code that was essentially judge-proof. Judges draw their influence from their power to interpret laws. Napoleon's code stripped them of this prerogative; his code favored the writing of a new law over a judge's interpretation of an old one. Consequently, compared to common law countries, civil law countries have weak judiciaries�and long statute books.

    Common law was similarly influenced by a violent revolution that pitted the people against the crown. But in the years leading up to England's Glorious Revolution in the late 17th century, the judiciary tended to side with the people and against the Stuarts, who had tried to eliminate an independent judiciary. When the revolution came, the new government gave the judiciary far more power than France did a century later. Courts could interpret laws and even overrule the executive branch.

    Legal historians didn't need LLSV to tell them all this. They knew that common and civil law countries differ fundamentally in the roles that judiciaries play. But LLSV was hardly content just to recite the old histories and anecdotes. They went back to their calculators and, in a 2003 paper titled "Judicial Checks and Balances," they demonstrated mathematically that common law countries give judges more independence, which in turn correlates with the sound economic policies they had examined in "Law and Finance."

    Which is why the damage the Warren and Burger Courts did, by claiming for themselves the power of superlegislatures, is so potentially catastrophic. People have to have faith that the courts will be fairly conservative in their exercise of power or they won't trust them with it.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


    The Architect: Theo Epstein had to bury the fan inside him before he could boldly assemble the team that defied history. But what comes next may be even tougher. (Neil Swidey, December 26, 2004, Boston Globe Magazine)

    [T]here is evidence that the fraternity of baseball executives still doesn't quite know what to make of Young Theo. Sure, he is no longer discounted as the untested, stats-obsessed kid with a laptop that he was two years ago, when, at 28, he became the youngest GM in the history of the game. But he has yet to be fully embraced by an establishment still dominated by men who have logged decades sitting on wooden benches in crappy ballparks. He is not like them, not only because of his youth but also because he enjoys a public following and first-name recognition that rival his star players'. Maybe this helps explain why, when the award for Executive of the Year is announced - an honor the GMs bestow on one of their own - Epstein doesn't even garner enough votes to crack the top three.

    The ballots break differently when it comes to the Globe Magazine's "Bostonian of the Year" honor. True, baseball is only a game. But it's impossible to name an achievement in the past year that brought as much universal and unifying joy to New England as the long, long overdue Red Sox triumph. Many deserve credit, but one man coolly remade the team, then guided it with boldness and backbone. That Epstein, in just his second year on the job, succeeded where his more seasoned predecessors over eight decades had failed only makes the accomplishment more remarkable.

    Outside of the GM fraternity, Epstein gets more attention than he'd like these days, and that's despite his insistence on turning down million-dollar book deals and repeated requests to bring his good looks and local-boy-made-good story to Leno, Conan, and Kimmel. Jed Hoyer, one of Epstein's deputies, marvels at his boss's resolve. "As high as his stature is, if he wanted to, it could be so much higher," Hoyer says. "It would be very easy for him to really cash in." Epstein says he's uncomfortable being singled out for a team effort and unwilling to surrender his privacy. Hoyer offers an additional reason: "Theo knows that baseball is a business that can humble you in a hurry."

    Seeing the Red Sox win the series brought Epstein incalculable joy. And relief. "Best feeling I've ever had" is how he puts it. He smiles broadly as he recalls the bus ride the team took from Logan to Fenway the morning after beating St. Louis, how people hopped out of their cars on the highway and stood waving and hugging one another. "It was the first time it really struck us how directly this was going to be shared, by the whole city, the whole region," he says. "It was incredible."

    While New England continues to bask in the afterglow, with commuters still accessorizing their Brooks Brothers suits with BoSox caps, Epstein has moved on. In fact, he can't get there fast enough. He's determined to avoid the complacency that can be as much a part of the worldchampionship package as the giant trophy.

    Bask too long, and he risks being forced to confront the question hanging unmistakably in the air: What do you do when your wildest professional dream has come true - and you're only 30?

    Bask too long, and the man who helped bring historic happiness to Red Sox Nation by assembling this year's lovable, series-grabbing squad might somehow lose the resolve to do what he knows may be necessary if the team is to be more than a one-hit wonder: dismantle this year's lovable, series-grabbing squad.

    "There's no room for sentiment," he says.

    Then explain signing Varitek.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


    China's Elite Learn to Flaunt It While the New Landless Weep (JOSEPH KAHN, 12/25/04, NY Times)

    Chateau Zhang Laffitte is no ordinary imitation. It is the oriental twin of Château Maisons-Laffitte, the French architect François Mansart's 1650 landmark on the Seine. Its symmetrical facade and soaring slate roof were crafted using the historic blueprints, 10,000 photographs and the same white Chantilly stone.

    Yet its Chinese proprietor, a Beijing real estate developer named Zhang Yuchen, wanted more. He added a manicured sculpture garden and two wings, copying the palace at Fontainebleau. He even dug a deep, broad moat, though uniformed guards and a spiked fence also defend the castle.

    "It cost me $50 million," Mr. Zhang said. "But that's because we made so many improvements compared with the original."

    Rising out of the parched winter landscape of suburban Beijing, like a Gallic apparition, the chateau is a quirky extravagance intended to catch the eye of China's new rich. They can rent its rooms and, later, buy homes amid the ponds, equestrian trails and golf course on Mr. Zhang's 1.5-square-mile estate.

    It is even more conspicuous to its nearest neighbors, 800 now landless peasants who used to grow wheat on its expansive lawns.

    In a generation, China's ascetic, egalitarian society has acquired the trappings and the tensions of America in the age of the robber barons. A rough-and-tumble form of capitalism is eclipsing the remnants of socialism. Those who have made the transition live side by side with those who have not, separated by serrated fences and the Communist Party.

    Those betting on China's future are, among other foiolish risks, putting an awful lot of faith in its oligarchs being treated better than the Russians' are after the Party falls.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


    China Expands. Europe Rises. And the United States . . . (FRED KAPLAN, 12/26/04, NY Times)

    The European Union, in many respects, is looking more and more like this new tycoon. Its currency, the euro, has risen in value by 35 percent against the dollar in the last three years.

    Again, that is not necessarily bad. In theory, a falling dollar makes American exports cheaper, attracting demand that then boosts the dollar; a rising euro crimps European exports, which then lowers the euro; equilibrium is restored. In reality, this process unfolds slowly and shakily: in October, for instance, American exports rose, but American imports soared, too.

    A more serious consequence of the dollar's fall is that the euro has become more rewarding for foreign investors, and they are reacting accordingly. In 2001, Middle Eastern oil-producing countries kept 75 percent of their currency reserves in dollars; now the figure is 61 percent, with much of the rest in euros. Chinese and Russian central bankers are also shifting reserves. This trend, at some point, could set off a spiral: the dollar declines, causing further sell-offs, leading to a further decline, and so on.

    When the dollar has fallen in the past, the United States was a net creditor and there was no serious rival currency. Neither condition holds true now. As The Economist recently put it, "Never before has the guardian of the world's main reserve currency been its biggest net debtor."

    Financiers and diplomats are beginning to ask: How much longer will the dollar remain the world's principal reserve currency? One could also ask, how much longer can the United States remain, as Madeleine Albright put it, "the indispensable country" of world politics?

    This year, the United States spent nearly as much on its military as all other countries combined. No other nation possesses, or aspires to, anything like the reach of American armed forces.

    Yet, if someday the United States finds that it can no longer count on foreigners to bankroll its deficits, it may also find that it can no longer afford a globe-spanning military.

    No one actually read Paul Kennedy's book, just kept it by the bed for a few months--like Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind and Norman Mailer's Harlot's Ghost--so he can be excused for not understanding it at all.

    But two rather simple numbers amply illustrate the inanity of his argument here:

    (1) Eurozone growth for 2005 is, probably overoptimistically, projected at 2%, or half that of the U.S.. The same central bank policies that are keeping the euro at artificially high levels are helping stifle Europe's economy.

    (2) The U.S. spent $450 billion out of a GDP of $12 trillion on its military this year. Mr. Kennedy made the case that if a nation were: allocating over the long term more than 10 percent of gross national product (GNP) to armaments, that is likely to limit its growth rate.” In other words, if history is our guide, we'd have to triple defense spending and maintain it at that level for a period of years before we risked decline as a result. Recall that during the Cold War, a period during which we likewise expanded our economic lead over the rest of the world, we averaged a spending level of 7% on defense for close to fifty years.

    Just as Mr. Kennedy's book was little more than a quarrel with Reaganism and the winning of the Cold War, so too is Mr. Kaplan grining an ax against George Bush and the decision to radically transform the Middle East rather than treat al Qaeda as a criminal matter. The truth is that the War on Terror has been waged, and very nearly won already, without our so much as having to break a national sweat.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


    Big Farms Reap Two Harvests With Subsidies a Bumper Crop: As subsidies increase despite higher incomes for big farms, some say that the subsidy system has never made less sense. (TIMOTHY EGAN, 12/26/04, NY Times)

    [A]t a time when big harvests and record farm income should mean that Champagne corks are popping across the prairie, the prosperity has brought with it the kind of nervousness seen in headlines like the one that ran in The Omaha World-Herald in early December: "Income boom has farmers on edge."

    For despite the fact that farm income has doubled in two years, federal subsidies have also gone up nearly 40 percent over the same period - projected at $15.7 billion this year, and $130 billion over the last nine years. And that bounty is drawing fire from people who say that at this moment of farm prosperity, the nation's subsidy system has never made less sense.

    Even those deeply steeped in the system acknowledge it seems counterintuitive. "I struggle with the same question: how the hell can you have such high government payments if farmers had such a great year?" said Keith Collins, the chief economist for the Agriculture Department.

    The answer lies in the quirks of the federal farm subsidy system as well as in the way savvy farmers sell their crops. Mr. Collins said farmers use the peculiar world of agriculture market timing to get both high commodity prices and high subsidies.

    "The biggest reason is with record crops, prices have fallen," he said. "And farmers are taking advantage of that."

    A farmer can sell his crop early at a high price, say, in a futures contract, and still collect a subsidy check after the harvest from the government if prices are down over all. The money is not tied to what the farmer actually received for his crop. The farmer does not even have to sell the crop to get the check, only prove that the market has dropped below a certain set rate.

    "For those who can milk the system, it's been a great year," said Kent Miller, whose German great-grandparents were pioneers near this tiny town. Mr. Miller is a small operator who says he barely made a profit this year on his 3,000 acres of wheat and millet.

    Still, while Mr. Miller is a critic of the system, he is not forgoing aid.

    Trying again to get rid of subsidies would give Dick Lugar something to do.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


    Stores slash prices further the day after Christmas (ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, December 26, 2004, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

    The nation's merchants cut prices even deeper on Sunday, the day after Christmas, in hopes of squeezing more sales out of what's winding up to be an unimpressive holiday season.

    After struggling with disappointing holiday sales, retailers were cheered by stronger sales at the nation's malls this past week, but are relying even more on shoppers to do more buying-- and less returning-- in the week after Christmas to meet their sales goals. And with the ever increasing popularity of gift cards, merchants hope customers will quickly use their gift cards, which are recorded as sales only when they are redeemed.

    The only few bright spots have been online shopping, with sales at the high end of projections, and luxury stores, which have continued with robust sales from their well-heeled customers, who have benefited from the economy's recovery.

    That means merchants are once again finding themselves in the same position as they were last year, relying on the final days before and post-holiday sales to save the season. Last year, a late spending surge gave struggling retailers a better-than-expected holiday season, delivering them solid gains over the year-ago period.

    There's no room in a deflationary economy for the kind of profit margins they were trying to gouge out. A small, entirely subjective, and hideously self-referential example: The Wife sent me to Borders the other night to get 12 x $25 gift certificates for hospital staff; figured I could hide a book on such a big bill; Marilynne Robinson' Gilead is getting great reviews so I checked it out--$23; came home and ordered it from Amazon for $13.80.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


    Bigotry's harvest (Caroline Glick, 12/24/04, THE JERUSALEM POST)

    The moral dimension of the proposed destruction of Israeli communities in Gaza and northern Samaria is one that has received scant attention over the past year since Sharon adopted the Labor Party's plan of retreat and expulsion as his own. Indeed, although it was one of the implicit assumptions of the 1993 Oslo process, the fact that a precondition for a final peace accord with the PLO was that all Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza would be ethnically cleansed has rarely been mentioned. As for Sharon's withdrawal plan for Gaza and northern Samaria, everyone from US National Security Council Middle East Adviser Elliott Abrams to Labor Party leader Shimon Peres to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to British Prime Minister Tony Blair have all noted that the plan, if enacted, will provide a precedent for the destruction of all or most of the remaining Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria with their population of some 250,000 Israelis.

    THIS WEEK, the public debate shifted its attention for the first time in 11 years to the question of whether it is moral to ethnically cleanse the territories of their Jewish residents and force all Israelis to live within the cease-fire lines from 1949. With the publication of an open letter from Binyamin Regional Council head Pinhas Wallerstein calling for mass civil disobedience against the proposed ethnic cleansing of Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria, the question of the morality of the plan has exploded onto the public stage.

    Wallerstein wrote, "The government of Israel has approved the first reading of the immoral law that paves the way for the crime of the displacement of Jews from their homes. The law does not provide those targeted for expulsion with even the minimal human right – to oppose their displacement from their homes. I call for the public to break the expulsion law and to be ready to pay the price of going to jail."

    Wallerstein's call, which was adopted by the entire organized leadership of the Israeli communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, caused some dozen members of Knesset to sign a declaration stating that they will oppose the enactment of the law even at the price of losing their parliamentary immunity from prosecution and going to jail.

    Gaza residents caused a public outcry when they taped orange Stars of David to their clothes this week. The hue and cry of the politicians on the Right and on the Left said that in using symbols from the Holocaust they were besmirching the memory of the victims of Europe's genocide of its Jews. It would seem that those who decried the residents' symbol have forgotten what a metaphor is. The point was not that Sharon is Adolf Hitler or that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is Adolf Eichmann. The point of the protest was that Israel is the first Western state to call for the forced removal of Jews from their homes, simply because they are Jews, since the Holocaust and that there is something morally atrocious about the notion that for peace to come –- to Israel and to those bombing Israel –- it is necessary for entire regions to be rendered Judenrein. And again, as leaders in Israel and throughout the world have stated, the expulsion from Gaza and northern Samaria is simply a preview of coming attractions for what awaits those who live in Judea and the rest of Samaria.

    There's a simple enough solution--let these unbigoted settlers, who care only about their homes, stay and be governed by Palestinians.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 AM

    Quiet Demise of the U.S.' Ultimate Weapon Is Bittersweet for Its Keepers
    : The crews trained to maintain and launch the MX missile reflect on its role as a deterrent. (David Kelly, December 26, 2004, LA Times)

    They wait silently beneath these rolling ranchlands, invisible to passing cars, impervious to cattle lumbering overhead but ready to fly in an instant.

    A small metal rod protruding from the ground often is the only hint of what's below. Come too close, and a silent alarm triggers an instant response from heavily armed guards.

    At stake is the security of America's — and perhaps the world's — ultimate weapon of mass destruction: the MX missile. The 71-foot-high missile, also called the Peacekeeper, can travel halfway around the world before striking within 400 feet of its target.

    Since 1986, the weapons have been the quintessentially quiet neighbor in these parts, keeping to themselves but capable of enormous destruction if provoked. Now the hulking rockets that confounded the Soviet Union, prompted street protests in Europe, inspired Hollywood thrillers and terrified millions are fading away.

    For the last two years, MX numbers have shrunk from 50 to 13. By next December, none will be left. And their demise has been bittersweet for the crews trained to care for and, if necessary, launch them.

    "There is a nostalgia in seeing something so powerful go away," said Capt. Carrie Owen, a missile operator at the Romeo One Launch Control Center located 60 feet below the wind-swept plains of eastern Wyoming. "We are all so proud to be a part of it."

    It would have been wiser to use them on the nuclear facilities of Iran, N. Korea, Pakistan and France.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


    Mexico's Economy Is Vrooming: North America's hottest auto market is now south of the border, thanks to a stable peso, lots of young drivers and pent-up demand. (Marla Dickerson, December 26, 2004, LA Times)

    Dressed in a blazing pink jacket with purse to match, car shopper Erika Amador Martinez is the embodiment of Mexico's auto market — sizzling.

    The lawyer from Puebla arrived at an auto show here this month to browse among dozens of models. Topping her list is a Ford EcoSport, a sport utility vehicle that she covets for its practicality, not to mention the kicky red paint job.

    "I'll pay part in cash and finance the rest," said the 27-year-old, who is tired of cadging rides from her boyfriend. "It's a lot easier to buy a car than it was a few years ago."

    Armed with credit and spoiled for choice, consumers like Amador have turned Mexico into North America's hottest auto market. Although sales in the United States and Canada have stalled, Mexico is experiencing double-digit percentage increases in 2004, with buyers projected to purchase a record 1.05 million new vehicles by year's end.

    That's more cars and trucks than will have been sold in Australia by the end of this year and in all but a few European countries. Some expect Mexico to overtake Canada in annual vehicle sales by the end of the decade.

    The auto boom is indicative of a rebounding economy, lots of young drivers and years of pent-up demand. Banks scorched by Mexico's mid-1990s peso crisis are back and lending billions of dollars to consumers, whose choices rival anything in U.S. showrooms. Lured by free trade agreements and Mexico's sales potential, nearly 40 car brands are fighting for a piece of the market.

    Already a major vehicle manufacturer and exporter, with companies such as Ford, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, Honda and Toyota operating plants here, Mexico's growing domestic market could provide an added incentive for automakers to expand production in the country.

    If the economies of Latin America continue at this pace, Tom Tancredo will have to mow his own lawn.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


    Bush Team Prepares to Swing Budget Ax: The president says he will not raise taxes to keep his promise to cut the deficit. So what will take a hit? Medicare and Medicaid look likely. (Joel Havemann, December 26, 2004, LA Times)

    For years, government has been about singling out winners for favored treatment in spending and tax policy. That era is about to end — and the change could be painful.

    The budget surpluses of 1998 to 2001 enabled Washington to make funds available for such favored causes as domestic security, medical research and prescription drugs under Medicare. The government also slashed taxes for a variety of groups, including two-earner couples and the wealthy.

    But the surpluses have turned into record deficits. President Bush is not about to take back his tax cuts, but in setting spending levels in the budget that he will deliver to Congress in the new year, he will single out a loser — perhaps several — for every winner. [...]

    The Office of Management and Budget is measuring progress in Bush's pledge to cut the deficit not in its absolute size but in its size relative to the national economy.

    Thus, the budget office says, Bush must cut the deficit from 4.5% of U.S. economic output — its level in fiscal year 2004 as estimated a year ago — to 2.25% in fiscal year 2009.

    A quick tour of the government spending landscape shows a terrain inhospitable to budget cutters.

    Roughly, federal outlays can be divided into five equal pieces. One slice is Social Security, which has been politically off-limits to budget cutters since 1983. A second contains Medicare and Medicaid, which also have resisted cuts.

    The government's other support programs — food stamps, unemployment compensation and others — go in a third piece, as do interest payments on the debt. Interest payments are outside Congress' control, and other support programs are politically as well as technically difficult to adjust.

    The other two pieces of the budget are easier to manipulate in the short term. One of them consists of defense and domestic security, where the Bush administration has until recently shown no tendency to skimp.

    So most of the pressure to cut spending lands on the final fifth of the budget — the so-called domestic discretionary programs. These consist of a wide variety of projects, such as an abandoned mine reclamation fund and a zero-down mortgage program run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    Even eliminating this category of spending would not have balanced the 2004 budget.

    "If they don't put entitlements or tax cuts on the table, they'll get nowhere," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog group. "No matter how tight the spending is in the areas they're willing to clamp down on, they're not going to get very far."

    This much Bush has made clear over and over again: He will not raise taxes in order to keep his promise to cut the deficit. He has said he has two major tax goals for his second term: making the temporary tax cuts of his first term permanent, and simplifying the tax code.

    Bush's tax cuts have contributed to a sharp reduction in revenue as a share of the U.S. economy. In fiscal year 2004, which ended in September, the government took 16.2% of the nation's economic output, its lowest level since 1959.

    With al Qaeda neutralized and elections coming next month in Iraq, it's time to gut defense again.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


    In Clerics' Iran, Children of the Revolution Seek Escape
    : Repelled by theocratic rule, some youths turn to drugs or suicide, music or the mountains. (Megan K. Stack, December 26, 2004, LA Times)

    Their cheeks were bitten by the threat of snow, but the sisters didn't have anywhere else to go. They'd coated their faces with makeup and painted their eyelashes until they looked too heavy to blink, gaudy faces to offset drab denims and black coats. This afternoon, their spirits hung as low as the brooding clouds over the mountains.

    "This country is very dirty," said Mansureh, a pale 23-year-old who answers telephones at a law firm because she wasn't accepted to a university. "Nobody likes the regime, especially the youth. There are so many restrictions, we can't do anything."

    It was Friday afternoon, time for prayers in the Islamic Republic, but the sisters and hundreds of other young Iranians trekked into the mountains on the outskirts of Tehran instead. Droves of twentysomethings flooded the rocky paths as if they were headed somewhere in particular — a concert or a rally. But there was nothing at the top; they were simply climbing their way out of the smoggy urban mazes.

    The mountains were alive with hormones and directionless potential. Forget black robes and beards; these young Iranians dressed as if they'd just come from a rave, with faded running shoes and aviator glasses shoved high into their hair. They slouched along, glassy-eyed and smoking cigarettes. Many of them looked stoned. Boys and girls held hands. The winter light slanted through the dying trees. The mood was nihilistic.

    "I think the government wants the youth to be on drugs so they keep quiet," said Mansureh's sister, a 17-year-old high school student who also gave only her first name, Mona. "They say it's a problem, but they're the ones importing it."

    As their government squares off against the West and vague rumors of outside intervention run in the streets, the youth of Tehran move through the months as if dreaming, passing moodily from pop culture to Persian traditions, groping for their place in the world. Conversations with dozens of young adults in Tehran painted an overwhelming picture of a generation lost, disaffected and stained by longing.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:20 AM


    Tempest of rage shakes Sikh temple
    (The Guardian, December 26th, 2004)

    Jagdeesh Singh is a Sikh who believes his religion is grossly misrepresented. Since 11 September 2001, the 34-year-old has been unable to leave his house without someone screaming 'Osama bin Laden' at him. He was once attacked by two men in Coventry who shouted 'Paki Bin Laden' as they hit and kicked him to the ground.

    'It is hardly surprising that Sikhs are sensitive about this play,' he said. 'We live every day with racism based on misinformation. You have to balance the desire for freedom of expression with the fact that it could provoke even greater prejudice.'

    Singh was referring to the controversial play Behzti (Dishonour), which depicts rape and murder inside a gurdwara, a Sikh temple. The production was cancelled by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre last Monday after a week of peaceful protests by the Sikh community erupted into violence. Bricks were thrown through theatre windows as police struggled to hold back an angry crowd.

    A spokeswoman for the theatre said it had a 'commitment to artistic freedom', but also 'a duty of care to its audiences, staff and performers'. The play was pulled, 'purely on safety grounds,' she said. Others were not so sure.

    The play's author, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, was reported to be in hiding last week after receiving death threats. Sikh leaders called this weekend for protesters to withdraw any such threats.

    The battle became one between freedom of speech and respect for beliefs. But are the two incompatible? Leading figures from the arts world jumped to Bhatti's defence. Actors, writers and directors - including Prunella Scales, Tariq Ali and Jude Kelly - signed a letter published in the Guardian on Thursday expressing their support for the playwright. The statement, which had 700 signatories, said: 'It is a legitimate function of art to provoke debate and sometimes to express controversial ideas. Those who use violent means to silence it must be vigorously opposed.'

    Women's groups were also dismayed by the cancellation. They called it a 'challenging play' that dealt with important issues about oppression of women.

    For Jagdeesh Singh, however, the battle is being fought on the wrong territory. This is not about suppressing criticism; it is about the type of criticism and how it is portrayed. Singh is not an illiberal stick-in-the-mud; he wants to see more debate about women's rights within Sikhism.

    He brings horrific personal experience to that debate. In December 1998 his sister, Surjit Kaur Athwal, went to India with her mother-in-law and never returned. She had told her husband she was going to leave him. Singh believes there is evidence that she was the victim of an honour killing and has been campaigning for justice ever since.

    'I want to see issues within the Sikh community, such as honour killings, discussed more than anybody,' he insisted. 'There have been plays welcomed and financially supported by the Sikh community that have looked at alcohol abuse, family breakdown and problems between old and young Sikhs.

    'If Bhatti had looked at any of these issues, that would be excellent. But she went for something completely cold. It is a badly conceived, badly organised play that is out of context and could have grave consequences for the perception of Sikhs in Britain.'

    Many young Sikhs told The Observer they were outraged by the play and the subsequent press reaction. Jaswant Singh Bhangu, a 25-year-old flight lieutenant from Wolverhampton, is clean-shaven, does not wear a turban and considers himself a moderate Sikh. But he was so upset that he was ready to join the protest last Monday when the play was cancelled.

    'I do not think people realise how important the gurdwara is. More than half of all Sikhs go there once or twice a week. There is so much misrepresentation of our religion and we suffer racism.'

    It is hard to shake the suspicion that the anti-religious artistic and intellectual communities, bored by the milquetoast responses to anti-Christian efforts like Pis-Christ, are now setting their sights on Islam, Sikhism and other faiths. In the West, most adherents of these faiths are immigrants, and it is easy to see how secular progressives will demand they suffer and shrug off blasphemy as a kind of test of their civic loyalty and adaptability. As we saw in Holland, it is a dangerous, racist game that can only end in community division and social alienation, if not worse.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:07 AM


    Believe it or not, they're all the same species (Robert Matthews, The Telegraph, December 26th, 2004)

    It is one of the best-known stories in science: the evolution of mankind from ape-like creatures to modern humans via knuckle-grazing cave-dwellers. Now it has been blown apart by the first comprehensive study of all the fossils, which has revealed that they are probably all variants of Homo sapiens. [...]

    Professor Maciej Henneberg, of the University of Adelaide, a world authority on fossil human anatomy, made the discovery after analysing the skull sizes and estimated body weights for all of the 200 identified specimens of human-like fossils known as hominims. These span the entire history of humans, from the emergence of so-called Australopithecines with an upright stance more than four million years ago to neolithic modern humans from around 10,000 years ago.

    Prof Henneberg found that the fossils show clear evidence of evolution, with substantial increases in both skull sizes and body-weight. However, he also found that the fossils show no evidence of being anything other than a single species which had grown bigger and smarter over time. According to Prof Henneberg, the much-vaunted differences in fossil size used to identify "new" species all lie within the normal range expected for one species. [...]

    Other authorities hailed Prof Henneberg's findings as a much-needed reality check. "Clearly there is a need to be more aware of the possibility of variation - but that is not the inclination today," said Geoffrey Harrison, emeritus professor of biological anthropology at the University of Oxford. "It has been a problem because the discoverers have usually put so much effort into finding the evidence, so they want it to be important".

    Professor Chris Stringer, a leading expert on human fossils at the Natural History Museum, London, said even Neanderthals were not significantly different in skull or body size from modern humans. However, he added that they do differ in other details, such as inner ear bones.

    He said: "The argument they are a different species is, of course, only a hypothesis, but comparisons of skull shape published recently certainly show they are as different from us as monkeys and apes are different from each other".

    According to Prof Henneberg, there are fewer than 30 examples of Neanderthals on which to base any conclusions. What evidence there is, however, is consistent with Neanderthals being from the same species as modern humans.

    He added that the never-ending announcements of new species said more about those making the claims than about human evolution. "The problem is there are far more palaeontologists than fossil specimens".

    December 25, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 PM


    MPs in push to cut top tax rate (Steve Lewis and Samantha Maiden, 24dec04, The Australian)

    AN influential group of Coalition MPs is urging the Howard Government to embrace a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul tax and welfare and boost national savings.

    Seizing on the Government's sweeping election victory, the Liberal MPs and senators are calling for significant cuts in personal and company taxes and reintroduction of welfare reforms stalled by a hostile Senate.

    A group of about 25 backbenchers has begun mapping out a reform agenda that will add to pressure on the Howard Government from business and welfare groups to boost productivity and workplace participation by removing disincentives in the tax and welfare systems.

    The MPs argue that the combination of projected budget surpluses of $24billion over the next four years and the Coalition's control of both parliamentary chambers opens the way for a cut in the top marginal rate and new incentives to smooth the path from welfare to work.

    Victorian senator Mitch Fifield, a former senior adviser to Peter Costello, said the group's "bottom line" was simple: "We want to cut taxes."

    And he argued that lowering the top marginal rate of 47per cent to a rate closer to the company rate of 30per cent was desirable. [...]

    "The whole objective from a tax point of view is to encourage workplace participation but also boost national savings," he said.

    It's a race to see who can reform most.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 PM


    Health savings accounts on rise: Tax-free device gains acceptance (Bruce Japsen, December 25, 2004, Chicago Tribune)

    Years of double-digit increases have made the cost of health care so overwhelming that the federal government is allowing consumers to set aside tax-free money in health savings accounts--a shelter like those for major expenses such as retirement or a college education.

    The accounts, known as HSAs, were created a year ago by the Medicare reform law signed by President Bush. They are expected to proliferate in 2005 as consumers learn more about them and how they can blunt the effects of cost increases projected at more than 10 percent next year. .

    Insurers say they have sold a few thousand HSAs this year, largely to individuals and small businesses, but they are expecting a large jump next year as midsize to large employers adopt the concept. By 2006, more than 70 percent of employers are considering offering them, according to a survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

    The tax-sheltered accounts allow people with high-deductible health insurance plans to set aside money each year for medical care and carry over money not used from one year to the next. They are also portable and follow people from job to job.

    Money in the health savings account can be used to pay for doctor visits, drugs, co-payments or other medical services that are not covered until the deductible is met.

    Early purchasers of these accounts say they save money because their high-deductible plans typically have lower premiums than traditional managed-care plans.

    Nothing better illustrates the revolutionary nature and political genius of the first Bush term than that his opponents on the Left and critics on the Right barely comprehend his two most important reforms--the HSAs he slipped by Congress in the Medicare bill and the vouchers in NCLB.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


    Statesmen for these times (Martin Gilbert, December 26, 2004, The Observer)

    People often ask how history will remember our generation of leaders in comparison with Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Many comment that today's leaders look small compared with the giants of the past. This is, I believe, a misconception.

    In their day, both Churchill and Roosevelt were frequently criticised, often savagely, by their countrymen, including legislators who had little knowledge of the behind-the-scenes reality of the war.

    The passage of time both elevates and reduces reputations. Today there is a cult of Churchill, particularly in the United States, but also far greater scholarly criticism, which regards him, increasingly, as a flawed war leader. The same is true of Roosevelt: his recent biographers are constantly revealing - to their satisfaction, at least - feet of clay.

    Although it can easily be argued that George W Bush and Tony Blair face a far lesser challenge than Roosevelt and Churchill did - that the war on terror is not a third world war - they may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill. Their societies are too divided today to deliver a calm judgment, and many of their achievements may be in the future: when Iraq has a stable democracy, with al-Qaeda neutralised, and when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are independent democracies, living side by side in constructive economic cooperation.

    If they can move this latter aim, to which Bush and Blair pledged themselves on 12 November, it will be a leadership achievement of historic proportions.

    Roosevelt and Churchill are tragic figures, because they left Communism in place to disfigure the remainder of the 20th Century. As Iraq and Palestine head towards elections and reform engulfs even Egypt and Saudi Arabia it seems fair to ask whether any such cancerous "-ism" will remain by the time Tony Blair and George Bush are done.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 PM


    Labour facing a house tax 'grenade' (Gaby Hinsliff, December 26, 2004, The Observer)

    Middle-class protests over paying inheritance tax and ever rising levels of stamp duty are a potential political 'hand grenade', Labour's newest election strategist warns today, adding that the government would be 'foolish' to ignore them.

    Shaun Woodward, the former Tory MP who defected to Labour, has been brought on to Tony Blair's election team because of his unique insight into Tory advertising guru Maurice Saatchi, with whom he worked closely on the Tories' 1992 campaign.

    He has already submitted a detailed analysis to the Prime Minister on the likely plan of attack and is singling out tax as an area where Labour is potentially vulnerable.

    Rising house prices in London and the South East mean thousands of families have now risen above the threshold of owning assets worth more than £263,000 - making them liable for the 40 per cent tax on what they leave their children, a levy once associated with the landed gentry.

    'Inheritance tax has the ability to resonate with people, particularly in marginal constituencies, and particularly when we consider the numbers of people now [worth] in excess of the threshold,' Woodward told The Observer .

    'I am not talking about well-off middle-class people, I'm talking about people in the Eighties who bought their [council] house which today is worth around the limit. We would be very foolish if we as the governing party dismissed it as something which should be addressed.

    'I think what you are going to see from the Tories are issues like inheritance tax [and] stamp duty thrown in like hand grenades.'

    It gets harder and harder to tell where George Bush ends and Tony Blair begins.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


    Economic Rally for Argentines Defies Forecasts (LARRY ROHTER, 12/26/04, NY Times)

    When the Argentine economy collapsed in December 2001, doomsday predictions abounded. Unless it adopted orthodox economic policies and quickly cut a deal with its foreign creditors, hyperinflation would surely follow, the peso would become worthless, investment and foreign reserves would vanish and any prospect of growth would be strangled.

    But three years after Argentina declared a record debt default of more than $100 billion, the largest in history, the apocalypse has not arrived. Instead, the economy has grown by 8 percent for two consecutive years, exports have zoomed, the currency is stable, investors are gradually returning and unemployment has eased from record highs - all without a debt settlement or the standard measures required by the International Monetary Fund for its approval.

    Argentina's recovery has been undeniable, and it has been achieved at least in part by ignoring and even defying economic and political orthodoxy. Rather than moving to immediately satisfy bondholders, private banks and the I.M.F., as other developing countries have done in less severe crises, the Peronist-led government chose to stimulate internal consumption first and told creditors to get in line with everyone else.

    "This is a remarkable historical event, one that challenges 25 years of failed policies," said Mark Weisbrot, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal research group in Washington. "While other countries are just limping along, Argentina is experiencing very healthy growth with no sign that it is unsustainable, and they've done it without having to make any concessions to get foreign capital inflows."

    The notion that bankers won't race to lend you money just because you didn't repay a few loans is as absurd as the rest of the orthodoxy about debt.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 PM


    Vote Turkey this Christmas (Norman Stone, 12/18/04, The Spectator)

    [T]he average age in Turkey is about 26, and over the past generation the Turks have been learning how to do capitalism. In 1960 the Koreans exported wigs, and had a GDP per head somewhat below Turkey’s. The Turks took rather longer about such progress (politics was a mess), but they are getting there, and there are now world-class Turkish firms, with interests all over the place, which could pay off the national debt tomorrow if the call came. If you take the road from Istanbul to Cappadocia, you pass one huge lorry after another ferrying goods to Germany (they are sometimes to be seen, even in England; nowadays, in Wales, there are Turkish ceramics factories — a phenomenon that we cannot have seen since the 16th century when Ottoman traders dealt in Cornish tin). Now, Turkey is still, overall, quite a poor country, and there are huge differences between the plush parts of Istanbul or Izmir, where you might think you were anywhere in Mediterranean Europe, and S?rnak or Hakkari in the Kurdish south-east, where — drugs traders apart — you might think you were in the Third World, producing nothing but children. But Korea was like that 50 years ago, and what Europe now has on its doorstep is a country not only Korea-like in potential, but with a long, long history, entirely missed by critics, of co-operation with Christianity and with Europe.

    This is perhaps the most misunderstood thing of all. The Turks are Muslim, yes, but there is an enormously long tradition of collaboration with Christianity. Louis de Bernières has written a very good novel about this — Birds Without Wings — which takes the history of a Greek-Turkish small town in Mediterranean Anatolia in the period of the first world war. Critics — the Economist’s, for instance — wondered why he had spent ten years between his last novel and this one. I can tell that critic the answer: it is a very very complicated story, and Louis de Bernières has done an enormous amount of homework, from the high politics of the Turkish war of independence to the nature of local cooking and the shape of local superstitions. But the central point is that the local Christians and Muslims got along very well — quite a bit of intermarriage, with much blurring of the edges when it came to religion. There are nowadays in the Greek press articles about how the Anatolian Greeks resented the invasion by mainlanders in 1919: they smashed the balance that generation after generation had established. The end of the Greek presence in Anatolia is a horrible story, and the chief devil in it is Lloyd George, who egged on the mainland Greeks to invade, commit ethnic-cleansing atrocities, polarise things, lose, and preside over the departure of the million or so Anatolian Greeks. In de Bernières’s words, ‘You do not piss off the Turks.’ True, they are not good at all when it comes to public relations — lying does not come naturally to them — and in any saloon bar it can be very tiresome to have to tell people that they did not do an Auschwitz on the Greeks or the Armenians, who have been much better organised with their hard-luck stories. The Armenian diaspora can be especially tiresome, trying to make us believe that they had their very own Holocaust. In 1914 their leader, Boghos Nubar Pasha, was offered a place in the Turkish cabinet. Can you imagine Hitler making Chaim Weizmann the same offer?

    The fact was that Christians had been part of the Ottoman empire from the start. Was the initial Ottoman state in the early 14th century a creation of Warriors for the Faith, as its best-known historian in England, Paul Wittek, supposed? No, the first Osman was elected chief by the other three leaders, who were Byzantine cowboys. Did the Ottoman dynasty, Caliphs of all Islam, marcher lords of the horizon, etc., descend from the Prophet? No, they were three-quarters Balkan Christian in origin. A 12th-century Byzantine princess, Anna Comnena, remarked that the population of Anatolia consisted of Greeks, barbarians and what she called mixo-varvaroi, and a famous Arab traveller, Ibn Batuta, tut-tutted about the lax ways of the Turks — wine and women well in evidence. He would tut-tut even more, now. There are Christmas lights and trees all over Ankara, Christmas shopping is the usual European epidemic, and Santa Claus is around, only the celebrations are theoretically for the New Year.

    But there is nothing new in this. When Constantinople fell to the Turks, the nephews of the last emperor became governor-general of the Balkans and admiral of the Ottoman fleet, while their first cousin, Zoe, famously married the Tsar (it was not, incidentally, to give Muscovy a title to Byzantium: the aim was to convert the Tsar to Catholicism, Zoe having been brought up by the Pope). In 1453 the Sultan’s first port of call was to the Orthodox Patriarch, Gennadius, and a treaty was drawn up. The two were natural allies, because the Orthodox detested the Latins, who had taken over the Byzantine economy (the Galata Tower, one of Istanbul’s landmarks, was built by the Genoese, not against the Turks, but against the Venetians, who were trying to take over the Black Sea trade). A Grand Logothete remarked famously, ‘Better the Sultan’s turban than the Cardinal’s hat’, and when Othello’s Cyprus fell to the Turks in 1571 the Orthodox peasants cheered them on, as a relief from Latin feudalism. The Turks made the Patriarch a pasha. They remembered their nomadic origins, and a badge of honour was a horsetail on the coach. The Sultan had four, and the Patriarch rode around with three. He became the largest landowner in the empire (this subject is splendidly explored in Stephen Runciman’s best book, The Great Church in Captivity) and the document was drawn up in Greek, addressed to megas authentes, ‘great sovereign’, which was how you addressed the Byzantine emperor. The Turkish ear, incidentally, which has affinities with the Japanese, could not manage this very easily, and turned authentes into effendi, an honorific widely bestowed. There is a very good Greek book on this, Dimitri Kitzikis’s L’empire ottoman. The general line is that the Ottoman empire, when it worked, was a sort of Byzantium with attitude. Quite why it declined is a good question.

    But the Ottoman decline was mirrored in Spain, the European country that Turkey most resembles. Spain had a thousand years of Islam, Old Castile is similar to the Anatolian plateau in barrenness, and where Turkey has Kurds and Armenians, Spain has Basques and Catalans. Europeanisation in both countries involved a sort of civil war (Charles Esdaile’s splendid Peninsular War deals with this) because Counter-Reformation Catholicism in Spain laid the same kind of obscurantist burden that the ulema imposed on Turkey — throwing the telescopes from the Galata Tower because it was impious to penetrate God’s secrets, or closing a school of mathematics for gunners on the same grounds. In Spain the civil war came to a head in the 1930s; Turkey headed it off with the Atatürk reforms, which have given her a literate, healthy population and an Islam that is easy to live with, and has produced a political party quite similar to the Christian Democratic ones in Europe. Islamic mayors have also, incidentally, been quite helpful about the restoration of Christian churches, and even saved the Anglican one from deconsecration by the bishop of Gibraltar. It is now full, most Sundays.

    Spain has been a considerable success story, and there is no reason for Turkey not to repeat the feat.

    Spain illustrates the problem--the EU will do more damage to Turkey than good. They should join NAFTA instead.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 PM


    The secret of long life... go to church (Elizabeth Day 26/12/2004, Daily Telegraph)

    Those who made their annual trip to church on Christmas day will have to think again. Research shows that regular churchgoers live longer than non-believers.

    A 12-year study tracking mortality rates of more than 550 adults over the age of 65 found that those who attend services at least once a week were 35 per cent more likely to live longer than those who never attended church.

    The research also found that going to church boosted an elderly person's immune system and made them less likely to suffer clogged arteries or high blood pressure.

    Susan Lutgendorf, psychology professor at the University of Iowa, who carried out the study, said: "There's something involved in the act of religious attendance, whether it's the group interaction, the world view or just the exercise to get out of the house. There's something that seems to be beneficial."

    It'll come as a blow to the secularists to find that they could do more by tending their own souls than by sacrificing the souls of others in search of stem cells and replacement organs and the like.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


    Gay penguins found in aquariums (Japan Times, 12/26/04)

    A group of researchers said it has found a number of same-sex pairs of penguins at aquariums and zoos around Japan.

    The group, led by Keisuke Ueda, a professor of behavioral ecology at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, attributed the phenomenon to the difficulty of finding partners of the opposite sex because facilities only have an average of 20 birds, with uneven numbers of males and females.

    The same thing happens if you put them in a prison, boys' boarding school, or the British Navy.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:01 PM


    Northern Christmas comes with gonorrhea warning (Canadian Press, December 24th, 2004)

    With a spike in the number of Yukoners infected with gonorrhea, the territory's Department of Health and Social Services is distributing condoms as Christmas presents with the message, “Wrap it for someone you love.”

    Now, there is a governmental promotion of Christmas that really would offend Jews and Muslims. At least, we hope it would.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


    Our TEXAN OF THE YEAR: Karl Rove: The man who is building a Republican majority (WAYNE SLATER, December 24, 2004, The Dallas Morning News)

    Editor's note: Today the editorial board names Karl Rove, the chief political adviser to President George W. Bush, as The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year for 2004. He has the distinction of following in the footsteps of his boss, who was our 2003 choice, and therefore ineligible for consideration this year. After making its decision, the editorial board turned to Dallas Morning News political reporter Wayne Slater, one of the country's leading Rove experts, to analyze for our readers why Karl Rove mattered so much this past year.

    The president, that famous giver of nicknames, bestowed a new one after his re-election on Karl Christian Rove: The Architect.

    A perfect tribute. It was Mr. Rove – master strategist and political grenadier – who drew up the plan to win George W. Bush a second term in the White House and bird-dogged every detail to victory. He honed the central theme of the presidential campaign. He built the biggest, shiniest, most elaborate voter-identification and turnout machine in history. And in the process, he advanced an audacious goal of making the GOP America's permanent majority party.

    In selecting The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year, the editorial board sought someone of uncommon character who demonstrated both leadership and vision in 2004, who exemplified a trailblazing instinct and ability to navigate adversity. In these, Mr. Rove emerged as one of the most creative and influential political figures of our time. His work for the president helped assure the Bush agenda will affect Americans for the next four years. His desire for a Republican-dominated realignment of government could affect us for decades.

    To be sure, candidates win elections, not consultants, and Mr. Bush proved the better candidate in 2004. But even the best candidate needs a savvy adviser, someone to match a leader's strengths with the mood of the moment. Bill Clinton had his James Carville, Woodrow Wilson his Col. House and President McKinley a nimble political guru-in-chief named Marcus Hanna.

    Mr. Rove might very well be the best of the bunch. [...]

    In making its decision, the editorial board said that his second-to-none tactical skills were not the only thing that earned Mr. Rove Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year status, but an uncommon political vision in which he has cast Mr. Bush's political success as part of something larger: a permanent Republican revolution of U.S. politics.

    The blueprint started in Texas in the 1980s, where as a young political acolyte in the camp of Republican Gov. Bill Clements, Mr. Rove wrote a memo anticipating the GOP takeover of the Lone Star State.

    He was right. And two decades later, he's taken the thing national.

    Although he never graduated from college, Mr. Rove has proven himself an adept student of history. He finds particular meaning in the election in 1896 of William McKinley that launched a fundamental realignment of American politics. With Mr. McKinley began a 30-year run of near-exclusive Republican rule in the White House, ending only with Franklin Roosevelt and another fundamental realignment.

    It's a model – an enduring Republican majority lasting decades – that Mr. Rove would like to duplicate in the 21st century.

    In Washington, Republicans have indeed become the majority party. The party controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. It controls a majority of governorships. And the results of the 2004 race suggest that the ideological center of the nation has moved toward Mr. Bush, who captured 51 percent of the vote. The shift is not wholly of Mr. Rove's making, but it is consistent with his larger design.

    (And by the way, over 20 years in Texas, Mr. Rove was instrumental in turning Democrat-dominated Texas into a state where the GOP today holds every statewide office and both Senate seats, as well as dominating the courts and the Legislature. When U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay spearheaded the successful drive to redraw congressional boundaries in Texas, he found a Legislature and state leadership friendly to his purpose – thanks in part to Karl Rove's handiwork.)

    A few days after the November election, Mr. Rove appeared on Fox News and was asked whether the outcome had the same kind of potential as the McKinley victory in 1896 to give a governing majority to the Republican Party for decades.

    "It does. We'll only tell with time," he said. "It was an election that realigned American politics years afterwards. And I think the same thing will be here."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


    Information in the Holographic Universe: Theoretical results about black holes suggest that the universe could be like a gigantic hologram (Jacob D. Bekenstein, 7/14/03, Scientific American)
    Ask anybody what the physical world is made of, and you are likely to be told "matter and energy."

    Yet if we have learned anything from engineering, biology and physics, information is just as crucial an ingredient. The robot at the automobile factory is supplied with metal and plastic but can make nothing useful without copious instructions telling it which part to weld to what and so on. A ribosome in a cell in your body is supplied with amino acid building blocks and is powered by energy released by the conversion of ATP to ADP, but it can synthesize no proteins without the information brought to it from the DNA in the cell's nucleus. Likewise, a century of developments in physics has taught us that information is a crucial player in physical systems and processes. Indeed, a current trend, initiated by John A. Wheeler of Princeton University, is to regard the physical world as made of information, with energy and matter as incidentals.

    This viewpoint invites a new look at venerable questions. The information storage capacity of devices such as hard disk drives has been increasing by leaps and bounds. When will such progress halt? What is the ultimate information capacity of a device that weighs, say, less than a gram and can fit inside a cubic centimeter (roughly the size of a computer chip)? How much information does it take to describe a whole universe? Could that description fit in a computer's memory? Could we, as William Blake memorably penned, "see the world in a grain of sand," or is that idea no more than poetic license?

    Remarkably, recent developments in theoretical physics answer some of these questions, and the answers might be important clues to the ultimate theory of reality. By studying the mysterious properties of black holes, physicists have deduced absolute limits on how much information a region of space or a quantity of matter and energy can hold. Related results suggest that our universe, which we perceive to have three spatial dimensions, might instead be "written" on a two-dimensional surface, like a hologram. Our everyday perceptions of the world as three-dimensional would then be either a profound illusion or merely one of two alternative ways of viewing reality. A grain of sand may not encompass our world, but a flat screen might. [...]

    The proliferation of variations on the holographic motif makes it clear that the subject has not yet reached the status of physical law. But although the holographic way of thinking is not yet fully understood, it seems to be here to stay. And with it comes a realization that the fundamental belief, prevalent for 50 years, that field theory is the ultimate language of physics must give way. Fields, such as the electromagnetic field, vary continuously from point to point, and they thereby describe an infinity of degrees of freedom. Superstring theory also embraces an infinite number of degrees of freedom. Holography restricts the number of degrees of freedom that can be present inside a bounding surface to a finite number; field theory with its infinity cannot be the final story. Furthermore, even if the infinity is tamed, the mysterious dependence of information on surface area must be somehow accommodated.

    Holography may be a guide to a better theory. What is the fundamental theory like? The chain of reasoning involving holography suggests to some, notably Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, that such a final theory must be concerned not with fields, not even with spacetime, but rather with information exchange among physical processes. If so, the vision of information as the stuff the world is made of will have found a worthy embodiment.

    In the same way that materialists ultimately have nothing to fall back on but Samuel Johnson's proof: "I refute it thus!" So too we all sense something inchoate in the Universe that is neither mere matter nor energy. Call it information if you wish. But here is how it was written a couple thousand years ago: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. " (John 1:1)
    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


    WASHINGTON COMEBACK (Robert Novak, 12/25/04, Townhall)

    Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, facing a potentially difficult 2006 second term election in the state of Washington, may have mixed reactions to Republican State Sen. Dino Rossi apparently being counted out in the 2004 election for governor.

    Democratic State Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire was an overwhelming favorite for governor, but Rossi was ahead in the recount until court rulings favored the Democrats. The only proven statewide candidate for the Republicans, Rossi would be the GOP's best Senate bet against Cantwell.

    Cantwell goes into the 2006 campaign in poor financial shape. According to federal filings, Cantwell's campaign committee on Sept. 30 was $2.5 million in debt with $264,000 cash on hand.

    Republicans in WA would surely rather have him as governor, but for the rest of us it's good news on the road to 60 in '06.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


    What’s the matter with Massachusetts? The Democrats are far too dependent on it. Go Midwest, young man. (Michael Lind, 01.04.05, American Prospect)

    Is the Democratic Party becoming the New England party? In 2004, the candidates who dominated the Democratic presidential primaries, beginning with the one in New Hampshire, were Howard Dean of Vermont and John Kerry of Massachusetts. In 2004, as in 1988, the Democrats nominated a liberal Massachusetts politician to run against a conservative member of the Bush family from Texas. And each time, the Texan won a majority of the popular vote as well as the electoral vote. This time, the senator from Massachusetts lost in part because the decision by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to legalize gay marriage galvanized socially conservative voters across the nation, who turned out to pass 11 state referenda against gay marriage.

    Outside of selected cities, the core region of the Democratic Party is New England. The Democratic Party is also the minority party at all levels of government.

    These two facts are not unrelated. Throughout American history, national parties too closely identified with New England have repeatedly been marginalized. This has been the fate of the Federalist Party, the Whig Party, and the old Republican Party at its nadir, between the 1930s and the 1960s. And it is the fate that threatens the Democratic Party today -- unless it takes conscious and aggressive steps to constitute itself once again as a regionally diverse coalition of interests that can become a majority party. [...]

    Today, outside of big cities with large black and immigrant populations, the Democratic Party is slowly being confined to Greater New England. The political heirs of the Federalists, the Whigs, and the Progressives, today’s Democrats are in danger of following those parties into oblivion.

    It would be a mistake for the Democrats to think that they can regain a national majority by changing their policies or their style to appeal to more red-state voters. A new majority cannot be built on bland compromises between blue-state liberalism and red-state conservatism. Nor can northeastern or West Coast politicians successfully reinvent themselves as heartland types.

    What is necessary is to recast the Democrats as, in effect, a loose federation of regional parties. All successful majority parties have had regional wings. This is true even in today’s Republican Party, which, though heavily dominated by right-wing southerners, includes socially liberal governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and George Pataki of New York, pragmatic internationalists like Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, and moderate New England senators such as Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chaffee.

    Today’s Democratic minority is defined in the public mind by identity-politics groups -- blacks, Latinos, feminists, gays and lesbians -- and economic-interest groups, like unions. A majority Democratic Party would be defined, in contrast, by its regional wings: northeastern Democrats, West Coast Democrats, Great Plains Democrats, midwestern Democrats, and even some southern Democrats. The regional factions would agree on a brief national platform that is chiefly economic. But they would be free to express their regional differences in the areas of values and foreign policy.

    At present, the Democratic Party is a socially liberal party that welcomes both economic conservatives and economic liberals. But in a country with a center-right majority on social issues and a center-left majority on economic issues of interest to the broad middle class and working class, this is exactly backward: Defining liberalism in terms of social liberalism is a formula for minority status. According to various polls, the number of self-described liberals in the United States is no more than 18 percent or 20 percent. Public attitudes on race, gay rights, and other subjects have been getting more liberal with each generation, but widespread opposition to unqualified abortion rights and gay marriage shows the limits to this trend. The religious right cannot and should not be courted. But in the foreseeable future, the Democrats have no chance of regaining a majority without the votes of many moderate traditionalists. [...]

    The model for a regionally diverse majority coalition of Democrats should be the Lincoln Republicans between the 1860s and the 1930s. Lincoln Republicans were able to build upon their core constituency in Greater New England to construct a national majority that lasted, with a few interruptions, from the end of Reconstruction to the New Deal. They did so by adding many Jacksonian populists in the border South and Midwest to their political base of former Whigs in the Northeast.

    There is no equivalent in today’s American politics to the question of slavery in the territories, which united former Whigs and Jacksonian populists in the 1850s.

    As so often with Mr. Lind, this is a terribly muddled piece. The GOP has, of course, always been the party of capitalism, which is why it dominated from the Civil War to the Great Depression, but had trouble recovering from that spectacular failure. Nearly twenty five years of uninterrupted growth since Ronald Reagan introduced supply-side economics has finally put the Democrats' New Deal advantage behind us and the nation has reverted to a rather free market philosophy, though enough of a Depression legacy endures that it has to be combined with a social safety net--thus George Bush's Ownership Society. Democrats, on the other hand, oppose both free enterprise and market-based welfare programs. Their message won't sell until the next econmomic collapse.

    Meanwhile, though Mr. Lind despises religion, the panoply of conservative Christian issues--abortion, homosexuality, cloning, prayer in schools, etc.--is almost exactly equivalent to the question of slavery. They're moral issues around which you can rally a broad swath of the nation. At least Republicans can. As even Mr. Lind notes, there is no prospect of putting together a majority for the anti-Christian side on social issues.

    Where does all that leave Democrats? Exactly where he started the essay--they're a regional party that appeals only to secular elites with a slathering of residual ethnic support thrown in. Even that latter seems unlikely to endure for too long, as blacks can't feel too comfortable in the party of abortion, sexual license, and separationism. The question isn't whether they can appeal beyond the East and West Coasts but how much longer they can hold on even there.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


    Immigration bill won't come easy in new Congress: Definition of 'reform' highlights conflicts members will face. (Michael Doyle, December 25, 2004, Sacramento Bee)

    Everyone considers immigration reform a top priority when Congress reconvenes next month.

    But no one agrees what "reform" means.

    "I fully understand the politics of immigration reform," President Bush assured reporters this week.

    Many lawmakers, including the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, call tougher enforcement the centerpiece of reform. Many others interpret reform as a code word for a guest-worker program that puts illegal immigrants on track toward a green card.

    This apparent contradiction could doom legislation. Or perhaps Capitol Hill's long immigration stalemate could be broken by some deft combination of getting tough and giving hope.

    "A lot of people have said that could be a good compromise," Mariposa Republican Rep. George Radanovich said. "It depends on who you want to please to get a bill passed."

    That was the gimmick that enabled Ronald Reaggan to get a bill through, pretend there'll be enforcement in exchange for amnesty. Of course, the key is that serious enforcement is too intrusive and expensive to be tolerated by Americans in general and Republicans in particular, so they let it die quietly.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


    Spitzer, in a Shift, Will Yield Inquiries to U.S. Regulators (PATRICK O'GILFOIL HEALY, 12/25/04, NY Times)

    After nearly three years of high-profile prosecutions of investment banks, mutual funds and insurance companies, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York said yesterday that he is ready to cede those investigations to federal regulators.

    Mr. Spitzer said he believed the era of state attorneys general crusading against misdeeds on Wall Street was ending. He said he was concerned that 50 different investigations would balkanize regulations, and added that once-lax federal agencies had become more aggressive about rooting out fraud and wrongdoing.

    The shift, first reported in The Financial Times, represents a remarkable turnabout for Mr. Spitzer, who has built a reputation as a giant-killer with his investigations of Merrill Lynch, one of the country's largest brokerage firms; Marsh & McLennan, the world's largest insurance broker; and Richard A. Grasso, the former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

    His decision comes just two weeks after he declared his candidacy for governor of New York in 2006, a campaign in which he will need to raise large sums to be competitive. Traditionally, many of those donations in a governor's race come from Wall Street...

    He's established what he is, now we'll just haggle over his price.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


    Huygens Probe Takes Plunge
    (John Johnson, December 25, 2004, LA Times)

    The Frisbee-shaped Huygens probe successfully separated from the Cassini spacecraft Friday and began a risky 2.5-million-mile journey to the surface of Saturn's bizarre, smog-choked moon Titan.

    Applause burst out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory shortly after 7:24 p.m., when scientists received word from NASA's Deep Space Network tracking stations in Spain and Goldstone, Calif., that the Huygens probe had cast off after a seven-year piggyback ride on the Cassini spacecraft. All systems were said to have performed flawlessly in the separation.

    "Today's release was another successful milestone in the Cassini-Huygens odyssey," said David Southwood of the European Space Agency, which built the Huygens probe. "Now all of our hopes and expectations are focused on getting the first [close-up] data from a new world we've been dreaming of exploring for decades."

    That data won't come for another three weeks, during which time the 9-foot-diameter Huygens probe will chase down Titan and then, if everything goes as planned, hurl itself through the thick, nitrogen-methane atmosphere before crashing into a surface that could consist of anything from a sticky chemical sludge to poison oceans.

    Titan has beguiled scientists for years because it is unlike any other place in the solar system. The only moon with an atmosphere, Titan is also of interest because it is thought to resemble the early Earth, before plant life formed and began pumping oxygen into the atmosphere.

    Too frigid at minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit to grow life itself, Titan is a kind of frozen museum piece of what an early, Earth-like planet might look like.

    Were it not like Earth.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


    In Bethlehem, a Soft Stirring of Optimism
    : As violence between Israelis and Palestinians eases, the city dares hope that it can revive the tourism industry that once sustained it. (Laura King, December 25, 2004, LA Times)

    In this Christmas season of hopes and fears, the little town of Bethlehem finds itself suspended somewhere between the two.

    With lamplight glowing softly on ancient stones and the musty fragrance of incense penetrating the damp winter chill, Palestinian Christians, foreign dignitaries and a smattering of tourists celebrated midnight Mass on Friday in the basilica built on the spot where tradition says Jesus was born.

    The holiday is marked by its usual disorienting Holy Land melange of army roadblocks and candlelight carols, twinkling lights and olive-drab armored vehicles.

    But there has been some cause for tentative optimism this year: the dramatic easing of the day-to-day violent conflict with Israel, coupled with greater Palestinian aspirations to democracy in the wake of Yasser Arafat's death.

    December 24, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


    Power center driven by religion to reshape nation (Doug Oplinger and Dennis J. Willard, , Nov. 19, 2004, Akron Beacon Journal)

    Founded in 1983 as a legal-aid society for home-schooling parents, [Home School Legal Defense Association] has become much more. It has taken on the appearance of a political party in its own right, with an evangelical Christian mission to shape the American culture and change the face of government, the news media and international affairs.

    While many Americans know little or nothing about home schooling and HSLDA, the resources of this new army of northern Virginia played an important role in the moral-values campaign that ushered George W. Bush into a second term and elected conservative Republicans to Congress.

    The Home School Legal Defense Association has its own political leadership, its own fund-raising structure, a carefully screened battalion of college students and thousands of volunteers across the country who share a conservative vision of saving America from its sinful ways.

    Charitable donations from some of America's wealthiest conservatives and dues from the organization's 81,000 member families are the financial backbone.

    HSLDA leaders control a political action committee.

    Families who buy memberships for the legal protection also are buying into an organization that takes positions on behalf of states' and individual rights. It works against liberal judges and politicians, homosexual rights and abortion. [...]

    Patrick Henry College is the training camp of the home-schooled fundamentalist Christian movement.

    The school requires its students to commit nearly half of their junior and senior years to fieldwork for political interests. Because charitable contributions support the four-year-old college, the political involvement pushes the legal limits for a nonprofit organization.

    In the school's short history, Patrick Henry students already have worn a path down Route 7 to the nation's capital. Last spring, they claimed seven of the 100 college internships at the White House, the Bush administration confirmed. They also worked with U.S. intelligence agencies and such conservative think tanks as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

    Patrick Henry's students permeate all levels of government, writing e-mail alerts to members of Congress on behalf of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum or handling questions from citizens back home for U.S. senators. On weekends, it's not unusual for the Republican National Committee to transport students to distant locations to help with targeted campaigns.

    Michael Farris is president of Patrick Henry College and chairman and chief counsel of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

    Education Week magazine has named him one of the 100 most important faces in education in the 20th century.

    Farris was a leader in Pat Buchanan's 1992 effort to be a viable third-party presidential candidate. The ordained minister and lawyer has argued -- and won -- pivotal cases before the U.S. and state supreme courts regarding religious freedom and individual rights.

    "We're the balance'' in higher education, Farris said in an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal. "You won't find people here who are advocating socialism or Marxism. That's not the case in most colleges. You will find people there that are socialists.

    "We are unashamedly Christians, trying to train high-level, academically qualified students who have a deep Christian conviction who will go out and do good things for this world,'' Farris said. "You will not find political correctness here in any way, shape or form.''

    Once the secular State loses its monopoly over the minds of children...

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


    Signs of reconciliation
    Hostility between the American public and Islam resides in fiction as much as fact
    (Mustafa El-Feki, al-Ahram Weekly)

    I have just spent several weeks in New York, during which time a single question was on my mind: will the wave of anti- Arab and anti-Muslim hostility persist or recede? The US president has just approved the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, in accordance with which the State Department will be charged with monitoring anti-Semitism around the world and rating countries on their treatment of Jews. I could not help but wonder whether the American mind and heart could ever sufficiently expand to press for the application of that law to other religions and ethnic groups, to Islam and Arabs, targets of a vicious campaign of defamation. The question appears to have been answered by the re-election of the Republican administration for another four years, consolidating the influence of the neo-conservatives on the White House policy and the prospect of more violence in this part of the world in the name of the fight against terrorism and the spread of democracy.

    As I contemplated the present situation and its implications for the future during my stay in the US I registered a number of impressions. Above all I would venture to suggest there is no inherent incompatibility between Islam and the US as a state and no real cause for difference between Muslim peoples and Americans. Both have deeply held religious beliefs and cherish their spiritual sensibilities, nothing disturbing in itself. What is disturbing, though, is the gap in mutual confidence and understanding that has developed in the last few years, and the impact this has had on the global political climate and international relations.

    It is useful to recall that Americans and Islam sided together against the communist belt that stretched across the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and both fought against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. This fact puts paid to the notion that there are profound or deeply rooted contradictions between Islam and the US. Indeed, one still recalls President Dwight Eisenhower's remarks on the occasion of the inauguration of the Islamic Centre in Washington in 1959 in which he underscored the feelings of mutual affection and the aspiration to closer cooperation between the two peoples.

    During my stay in the US I observed that the American people are not obsessed with the question of Islam, but they are keen to learn more about what is being depicted as a new adversary in the media and by some centres of power, especially those we perhaps mistakenly term Christian Zionists.

    This is just the most terrible sort of nonsense. Nothing more clearly distinguishes the current conflict than the extraordinary regard we've taken for the lives of civilians in the countries we've attacked, for the sensibilities of the Arab and Islamic publics in general, and the assiduousness with which our public officials have sought to protect our own Muslim community from any backlash related to 9-11 and the ensuing wars. That's not to say that there is no Islamophobia (whether justifiable or not) present in any of our public discourse, just that we have been so cautious about protecting against its effects that it is absurd to characterise it as a societal problem of vicious defamation on a par with the truly vile anti-Semitism that plagues much of the Middle East. Even more despicable is to suggest that the re-election of George W. Bush, who has bent over backwards to make it clear that our quarrel is with only an aberrant form of Islam, represents an indifference to some imagined anti-Arab/anti-Muslim campaign.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


    Groups on Right Say Christmas Is Under Attack (Dana Milbank, December 24, 2004, Washington Post)

    Many of the conservative Christian groups that led the fight this year to ban same-sex marriage are sounding an alarm about efforts to block Christmas celebrations.

    Representatives of the groups -- including the Alliance Defense Fund, the Thomas More Law Center and Liberty Counsel -- say the two issues, and other pending fights over public display of the Ten Commandments and teaching of evolution, are linked by a belief among religious conservatives that traditional values are under siege in the United States.

    "The sentiment is the same for the same-sex marriage battle or for Christmas: It's the pervasive idea among religious people that traditional values are under attack from all different angles," said Erik Stanley, chief counsel for the Liberty Counsel.

    Those on the other side of these battles say the Christian groups are wildly exaggerating the threats from a phantom enemy for the purpose of mobilizing evangelicals to contribute funds (some groups are explicitly using the Christmas issue to raise money) or to become politically active.

    Ban on creche mobilizes neighborhood (Robert Preer, December 16, 2004, Boston Globe)
    For the first time in more than 75 years, a Nativity scene is absent from the front of the Balch Elementary School, and some South Norwood residents are unhappy about it.

    ''My family has pictures of my father as a child being photographed in front of the creche at the Balch School," said Paul Eysie, a lawyer and member of the South Norwood Committee. ''The community has been using that place for over 100 years."

    Activists from the close-knit neighborhood about a mile south of downtown Norwood are trying to find a way to bring about a return of the creche, which was banished as a result of a lawsuit filed a year ago by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and four Norwood residents.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


    Pipeline to the President For GOP Conservatives: Give and Take Flows Through Public Liaison Aide (Jim VandeHei, December 24, 2004, Washington Post)

    [Tim] Goeglein, a 40-year-old who looks as if he would be carded trying to buy a beer, is deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison, one of four White House political departments run by uberstrategist Karl Rove. Yet Goeglein's role is much more central to how this president operates -- and wins elections -- than the job title suggests, according to several Republicans outside and inside the White House.

    It is Goeglein's job to make sure conservatives are happy, in the loop and getting their best ideas before the president and turned into laws. With Goeglein's assistance, Christian conservatives, for instance, were successful in lobbying Bush to push for abstinence-first funding to combat AIDs and speak out against the persecution of Christians in Sudan, according to Charles W. Colson, an evangelical Christian who works closely with Bush and Goeglein.

    "My experience has been a lot of times when we have had serious questions and we needed administration backing to get them through . . . if we call Tim, all of a sudden things get through," said Colson, who was a public liaison under President Richard M. Nixon. [...]

    John F. Kennedy created the concept of a public liaison, Nixon institutionalized the office and Republicans say Bush has perfected it.

    Funny how such a moron is better at implementing even the ideas of others than they were, huh?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


    Jesse Jackson: Bush Would Have Left Jesus Homeless (Newsmax, 12/24/04)

    President Bush has implemented economic policies that resemble those of the Roman Empire, which forced the baby Jesus into homelessness on the night of his birth, former civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a pre-Christmas rant late Thursday.

    "In the last [Bush] budget, we cut housing again, and that was Jesus' dilemma."

    The lack of public housing?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM


    The Struggle for the Middle East: Iraq, Iran, and democracy. (Reuel Marc Gerecht, 01/03/2005, Weekly Standard)

    Though it is impossible to dissect precisely the Sunni Arab mentality that has fueled the insurgency, it's not too hard to see the two most influential mind-sets. One is that of the antidemocratic sectarian, who has used violence as a means of "negotiating" a future political position that a one man, one vote democracy would deny. These Sunni Arabs essentially want to create a pre-1970s Lebanon model in Iraq, where the Sunni community enjoys power, prestige, and wealth beyond what its numbers, accomplishments, and economic capacity warrant. These folks are the "pragmatists" among the Sunni Arab insurgents, since it is just possible to imagine them working out some deal with the Shiites and Kurds. Any workable deal would leave them vastly weaker than they were under Saddam, but this group just might compromise since their attachment to Iraq is sufficiently mundane--family, friends, property--that they would not want to risk losing it completely. Prime Minister Allawi gambled that these "pragmatists" were a decisive majority among the Arab Sunni elite and among the insurgents actually fighting.

    The second mind-set is that of the Arab Sunni supremacist. These folks can be either Baathists or religious fundamentalists. They would rather be dead, or live permanently in exile, than accept an Iraqi state where Arab Shiites and Kurds rule. Rhetorically, if not financially, this group receives more support from the Sunni Arab world, which likes to depict these diehards as Iraq's finest patriots. Allawi gambled that the "pragmatists" would sell out the "supremacists."

    None of the prime minister's bets has paid off because the lines between the "pragmatists" and the "supremacists" are often blurred, ideologically and familially. Also the itch to try violence as a means to win, not just draw or place, has been greater than what Allawi apparently expected. And once the violence starts, it's hard to stop. An emotional chain reaction sets in that further clouds the difference between "pragmatists" and "supremacists."

    Where do we go from here? In all probability, we're stuck with Allawi's "deal" unless the January 30 elections can somehow change the dynamic and tactics. This could happen. A substantial Sunni vote in the January 30 elections would gut the legitimacy the insurgents are vying for inside Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world. The Sunni Arab elite who have either sided with the insurgents or are sitting "neutral" on the sidelines would get a loud wake-up call that they have misjudged the flock. If the Sunni Arabs vote in the elections, or, more important, if they abstain en masse, Allawi may see the light (he no doubt will see it before the CIA does), and start intimidating, not negotiating with, the "pragmatists."

    Allawi and the Americans ought to make it perfectly clear that the Shia are coming (after the elections, even the diehard Sunnis may begin to appreciate the writing on the wall) and the Arab Sunni elite has at most a year to join the new Iraq. In the meantime, he and the Americans (and if not he, then the Americans) should talk openly and regularly about how the new Iraqi army will be overwhelmingly Shiite and Kurdish since the Sunni Arabs have given them no choice. We have to ratchet up the pressure on the Arab Sunni community, especially on its elite, while prominent Iraqi Shiites--real ones, not the Allawi, ex-Baathist look-alikes--appeal to the Sunnis behind the scenes to join the new nation. The Sunni Arabs have to know--they have to feel it in their bones--that they are on the verge of losing everything in Iraq. Allawi's grand gambit has done the opposite: It has produced self-confident, smiling faces among men who are actually enjoying the war (often safely ensconced in fine hotels in neighboring Arab states).

    In the end, the Sunnis will not win a civil war. Inevitably the Iraqi Shia, diehard nationalists who will not long tolerate Sunni terrorist bombing campaigns in the South, will militarily organize themselves to defeat the Sunnis on their own turf. But their victory would likely be ferocious. Latent Shiite anger over decades of brutal Sunni oppression would probably come to the fore, empowering the most radical and cold-hearted among the Shiites. The democratic experiment and its most influential proponent, the moderate Shiite religious establishment, would both likely collapse amid the violence. The creation of an Iranian-aided Iraqi Hezbollah would become a distinct possibility. If the most radical and dictatorial came to the fore among both Sunni and Shiite Arabs, the Kurds would sensibly conclude that any association with Arab Iraqis was unhealthy. The de facto separation of Kurdistan could become de jure. Jordan and Saudi Arabia, two staunchly Sunni anti-Shiite states, could start throwing weaponry and money at any Sunni group that can shoot. A very ugly outcome.

    Kurdistan was always going to become independent eventually, Hizbullah is evolving into a normal political party, and the Iranians recognize that Khomeinism has failed, so while a Shi'ite/Sunni war in Iraq would be briefly ugly, it's not at all clear that it would not serve our interests and theirs.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


    Stem Cells and the Reagan Legacy (Gilbert Meilaender, Summer 2004, New Atlantis)

    Moments after Ron Reagan had completed his “nonpartisan” speech recommending (though he did not say so) cloning for purposes of embryonic stem cell research, I was channel surfing on my minimal cable package in search of comment on the speech. For my sins I landed on MSNBC, where Campbell Brown was interviewing (on the convention floor) Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado.

    Rep. DeGette earnestly assured Campbell and the rest of us that what Ron Reagan had recommended was simply using “spare” embryos that had been produced—but, as it turned out, not needed—for in vitro fertilization procedures. These embryos, destined for destruction anyway, were what Ron Reagan had recommended be used to bring about the cures that Rep. DeGette was confident lay in the future if only we forged ahead with research.

    Campbell Brown seemed satisfied; at any rate, she raised no questions about Rep. DeGette’s analysis of and response to the speech. I, however, was amazed, and uncertain which would be the more charitable reaction to Rep. DeGette: Should I assume that she was knowledgeable but duplicitous? Or should I assume that her comments were entirely straightforward, even though utterly mistaken? Probably it is more charitable—and closer to the truth—to conclude that Rep. DeGette simply didn’t know what she was talking about.

    Rep. DeGette was probably not alone in failing to understand what Ron Reagan was actually recommending; for, he never used the words that embryonic stem cell research advocates now avoid like the plague. What words? “Cloning.” And “embryo.” Yet, the procedure he described (that would, he implied, within another ten years give each of us our “own personal biological repair kit”) was precisely cloning. One takes an ovum, removes its nucleus and replaces it with the nucleus of the person to be cloned. The resulting product is then stimulated in such a way that it begins the cell division that characterizes the earliest stages of embryonic development of a human being—and then, bingo, we get embryonic stem cells. But, of course, we get them because this procedure results in an embryo, which is destroyed in order to procure those cells.

    Clearly, Ron Reagan had been getting some coaching. When stem cell research first became a controverted topic, proponents tended to speak of “therapeutic cloning” (as opposed to “reproductive cloning”), trusting that the positive overtones of “therapeutic” would outweigh public distaste for anything called cloning. When this turned out not to be the case, proponents turned instead to sanitized technical language—speaking of somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce stem cells, but not of cloning or of embryos. That Ron Reagan knows this is deceptive was clear from the rest of his speech. After all, were no embryos involved or destroyed in this process, there would have been no need for him to argue that these “cells” “are not, in and of themselves, human beings.” And were it not a cloning procedure that he was describing and recommending, he could not have stated that it would eliminate the risk of tissue rejection.

    Opponents of embryonic stem cell research have regularly noted that its advocates slip back and forth between talking of research carried out with “spare” IVF embryos and research using cloned embryos created solely and explicitly for research. The reason is simple: What researchers really want is what Ron Reagan recommended—cloned embryos for research. But, sensing that the public may be more receptive for now to research using “spare” embryos (doomed to destruction in any case, as we are always told), proponents often prefer to start there, all the while deriding “slippery slope” arguments which suggest and predict that we will not in fact stop there. At any rate, it should be clear that anyone who wants to join the cause that Ron Reagan set forth—and who, unlike Rep. DeGette, understands what he was saying—is supporting research using cloned embryos.

    Were we actually to take seriously what Ron Reagan said, we would, I think, be stunned by its hubris, its utter lack of any sense of human limits. (And this speech was delivered, we should recall, at a convention intent on arguing that—with respect to war in Iraq—President Bush lacked the wisdom to sense the limits of what could be done and, instead, placed his trust in technical might alone.) Speaking of “a wide range of fatal and debilitating illnesses: Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma, spinal cord injuries and much more,” Ron Reagan opined: “It may be within our power to put an end to this suffering. We only need to try.”

    Our inability really to think through such promises was demonstrated almost immediately by a comment made by Andrea Mitchell, serving on a panel moderated—if that can possibly be the right word—by Chris Matthews (MSNBC again). What struck her—and impressed her—was that Ron Reagan had not mentioned Alzheimer’s, the disease that had so recently taken the life of President Reagan. For, she asserted, it was one of the few diseases where embryonic stem cell research had not been helpful (as if it had been helpful with many others). What she should have said, of course, is that researchers doubt that embryonic stem cells will be useful for treating Alzheimer’s and that they have more hope with respect to some (though not all) of the other conditions Ron Reagan had listed, even though research has yet to confirm such hopes. (Nor did she—or Ron Reagan—seem to realize the serious obstacles that stand in the way of using cloning to treat an autoimmune disease such as juvenile diabetes. The immune system that has produced diabetes by destroying the body’s insulin-producing cells is also likely to reject identical cells that have been cloned and reinserted.) But such technical issues do not yet get us to the hopes and fears—pathos mixed with hubris—that generate Ron Reagan’s call for research.

    The deeper issue, which begs for analysis and critique, is the commitment to a kind of limitless war on disease. “We only need to try.” Why is it that those so certain that we cannot remake the world and rid it of political ills by applying American power and technical know-how are equally certain of our ability to wage successful war on one disease after another? Why is it that those so impressed with our need to accept moral limits when waging war, and so critical of American hubris, seem tone-deaf to the possibility that moral limits might rightly be placed upon the experiments by which we wage war against illness and suffering?

    Evidently, if one knows oneself to be on the side of what is desirable and good, no moral limits need apply.

    As Hawthorne says of the scientist Aylmer, in his story, The Birthmark:
    [H]e was confident in his science, and felt that he could draw a magic circle round her within which no evil might intrude.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


    Democrats Weigh De-emphasizing Abortion as an Issue (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 12/24/04, NY Times)

    On abortion, Democrats said they were particularly frustrated that Republicans portrayed them as out of step on the issue during the campaign, noting that polls show a majority of Americans support at least some access to legal abortion.

    "All these issues that put us into the extreme and not the mainstream really hurt us with the heartland of the country," said Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party leader who managed Al Gore's campaign in 2000. "Even I have trouble explaining to my family that we are not about killing babies."

    Howard Dean, campaigning two weeks ago in Orlando, Fla., to succeed Terry McAuliffe as Democratic national chairman, drew nods of approval from Democratic state party leaders when he urged the party to embrace Democrats who oppose abortion.

    "We ought not turn our back on pro-life people, even though the vast majority of people in this party are pro-choice," Dr. Dean said. "I don't have any objection to someone who is pro-life, if they really dedicated to the welfare of children."

    "If somebody is willing to stick with us who is pro-life, that means they are the right kind of pro-life person," said Dr. Dean, the former governor of Vermont. "What I don't want to do is to have a national message that makes it impossible for you to be a conservative, or to be a progressive who can't win."

    And Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said Republicans had "been successful at painting the view of the pro-choice movement as abortion on demand - and nothing can be farther from the truth."

    So why not join with Republicans in getting rid of Roe v. Wade and returning to the majorities the determination of what limits, if any, to place on abortion?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM

    Goldwynism (GOLD-wi-niz-em) noun (

    A humorous statement or phrase resulting from the use of incongruous
    or contradictory words, situations, idioms, etc.

    [After Samuel Goldwyn (1879-1974), Polish-born US film producer, known
    for such remarks. Born Schmuel Gelbfisz, he changed his name to Samuel
    Goldfish after he went to UK, and to Samuel Goldwyn after moving to the US.]

    Here are some examples of Goldwynisms:

    o Include me out.
    o When I want your opinion I will give it to you.
    o I'll give you a definite maybe.
    o If I could drop dead right now, I would be the happiest man alive.
    o Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.
    o I may not always be right, but I am never wrong.
    o In two words im-possible.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


    The Whovel (Peter Rojas, Dec 24, 2004, Engadget)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


    Going All the Way: An atheist "converts" to intelligent design. Why so timid, Mr. Flew? (ANDREW KLAVAN, December 24, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

    Joining the Episcopal Church was the culmination of 35 years of thought and reading, periods of atheism, agnosticism, deism, Zen. And while it seems a tremendous act of presumption for me to pit my line of reasoning against that of a famous philosopher like Prof. Flew, I can't help thinking this may be one of those situations in which, as St. Paul wrote, "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise."

    Well, I am decidedly one of God's foolish things, so I'd like to put forward why it seems to me that science and science-based philosophy just miss the point when it comes to these matters--that Prof. Flew, indeed, is missing the point even now.

    Perhaps the argument for nonbelief most identified with the professor was what he called "the presumption of atheism." Here, atheism is understood in its negative sense: The atheist doesn't assert that there is no God; he simply doesn't accept that a legitimate and meaningful concept of God exists. For such an atheist, the burden of proof lies, as it does in law, with those who make the positive assertion--that is, for those who believe.

    The presumption of atheism seems to me to be at the heart of all scientific reasoning about religion. And as I'm someone who loves and believes in science, it was a major stumbling block for me most of my life. After all, why would anyone believe without proof in that for which there is no evidence in the first place?

    It was in my re-reading of the Romantic poets William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge that I felt this stumbling block dissolve. What finally occurred to me--what tipped the scales in favor of baptism--was that the presumption of atheism proceeds without respect for the human experience of God's presence. Thinkers like Prof. Flew dismiss this experience because they make the mistake of applying the scientific method of analysis, of taking things apart, to an inner life that can only be known as a whole.

    The Demiurge’s Laugh (1913) (Robert Frost)
    IT was far in the sameness of the wood;
    I was running with joy on the Demon’s trail,
    Though I knew what I hunted was no true god.
    It was just as the light was beginning to fail
    That I suddenly heard—all I needed to hear:
    It has lasted me many and many a year.

    The sound was behind me instead of before,
    A sleepy sound, but mocking half,
    As of one who utterly couldn’t care.
    The Demon arose from his wallow to laugh,
    Brushing the dirt from his eye as he went;
    And well I knew what the Demon meant.

    I shall not forget how his laugh rang out.
    I felt as a fool to have been so caught,
    And checked my steps to make pretence
    It was something among the leaves I sought
    (Though doubtful whether he stayed to see).
    Thereafter I sat me against a tree.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM


    US may strike at Ba'athists in Syria (Janine Zacharia, Dec. 24, 2004, THE JERUSALEM POST)

    The US is contemplating incursions into Syrian territory in an attempt to kill or capture Iraqi Ba'athists who, it believes, are directing at least part of the attacks against US targets in Iraq, a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post.

    The official said that fresh sanctions are likely to be implemented, but added that the US needs to be more "aggressive" after Tuesday's deadly attack on a US base in Mosul. The comment suggested that the US believes the attack on the mess tent, in which 22 people were killed, may have been coordinated from inside Syrian territory.

    "I think the sanctions are one thing. But I think the other thing [the Syrians] have got to start worrying about is whether we would take cross-border military action in hot pursuit or something like that. In other words, nothing like full-scale military hostilities. But when you're being attacked from safe havens across the border – we've been through this a lot of times before – we're just not going to sit there.

    "You get a tragedy [like the attack in Mosul] and it reminds people that it is still a very serious problem. If I were Syria, I'd be worried," the senior administration official said.

    Another US official said that sentiment reflects a "growing level of frustration" in Washington at Syria's reluctance to detain Ba'athists and others who are organizing attacks from Syrian territory. The official cautioned, however, that whether to take cross-border military action is still a matter of discussion within the administration and that a military incursion is still "premature."

    The senior official said US anger increased substantially after a prolonged incursion into Fallujah last month, which revealed "how much of the insurgency is now being directed through Syria."

    Plunging into Syria in early January would distract the terrorists from trying to disrupt Iraqi elections and get U.S. troops out of the way.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


    Militants 'wanted Bush re-elected' (December 24, 2004, CNN)

    A French journalist held hostage in Iraq for four months says his captors wanted U.S. President George W. Bush re-elected because it would help promote their cause.

    Georges Malbrunot, who was released Tuesday along with fellow journalist Christian Chesnot, told CNN the Iraqi militants "need someone tough against them, it's like boxing."

    John Kerry being most like Marvis Frazier.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


    Meditations on the War … and on Donald Rumsfeld (Nicholas Stix, 22 December 2004, Intellectual Conservative)

    Well, it’s official: Don Rumsfeld has been declared the fall guy for the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the War in Iraq. What was that, you ask? “Who made the declaration?” Why, it was those unlikely bedfellows, William Kristol, the New York Times, and Norman Schwarzkopf (Gen., US Army, ret.).

    Apparently, everything that has gone wrong in Iraq, has been President Rumsfeld’s fault: He sent insufficient numbers of men to fight the war, he was responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib, and worst of all, he was insufficiently deferential to the G.I. who asked him at a December 8 public assembly in Kuwait why all U.S. supply vehicles are not armored. What was once seen as refreshing candor is now attacked as “flippancy.”

    Don Rumsfeld is a tough guy who doesn’t need me playing sob sister … but I will, anyway. The man certainly has flaws, which include being deaf to any subordinate who has original ideas, and fails to sing along with his choir of admirers; and using an auto-signature machine to sign letters to the families of soldiers killed in action. And yet, as far as I can see, the new campaign to run the Secretary out of Washington on a rail -- how many have there been? I’ve lost track -- has nothing to do with any screw-ups of his.

    It's about the failure of areligious neoconservatism to grasp the differences between Shi'ism and Sunni Islam.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


    China hits all-time low on Japan pop charts: Japanese ill-will toward China has hit a historic low that could undermine booming economic ties. It's mutual, though. Thorns include official visits to a Japanese war shrine, Beijing's exploitation of disputed maritime resources, a Chinese submarine intrusion - and both sides' rekindled nationalism and mutual misperceptions. (J Sean Curtin, 12/25/04, Asia Times)

    According to the just-released annual Japanese government opinion survey, the number of Japanese people who feel affinity with China has fallen sharply, hitting an all-time low of 37.6%, This represents a dramatic 10.3-percentage-point drop from last year. The results are being seen as yet another indication that despite booming economic ties, Japan-China relations are in trouble. For more than three years Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has pursued a controversial China policy that has put Japanese neo-nationalism ahead of good political relations with Beijing, seriously straining bilateral ties. [...]

    Government officials says China's slump in the yearly Japanese Cabinet Office survey reflects the current poor state of Sino-Japanese relations and is the result of recent disputes, such as China's development of natural-gas fields in the East China Sea near Japan's disputed maritime boundary and Koizumi's contentious annual visits to the war-tainted Yasukuni Shrine.

    Beijing sees the Yasukuni Shrine as the spiritual symbol of Japan's brutal wartime regime, viewing prime-ministerial patronage as unacceptable in the same way Israel would not tolerate German leaders visiting a Nazi memorial. The Chinese leadership has singled out Koizumi's shrine excursions as the main factor holding back bilateral political ties. Debate over the issue has aroused nationalist passions in both countries. Yasukuni is a memorial to Japan's war dead; 14 Class A war criminals are enshrined there as well.

    Government officials also blame China's popularity nosedive on Chinese soccer fans' hostile jeering of the Japanese national team during the China-hosted Asia Cup soccer tournament this year.

    At last something good comes of soccer.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


    A Man's Quest Reverberates Up and Down State: Seeking a yard decoration, John Kolstad ends up a bell maker, helping restore El Camino Real's markers. (Bob Pool, December 24, 2004, LA Times)

    Nearly 100 years after they first appeared, the El Camino Real bells are back.

    An ambitious campaign to restore the highway markers along the 700 miles of California's "Royal Road" reached Los Angeles this month.

    Cast-iron replicas of the mission-style bell that directed motorists in the early 1900s along California's first north-south highway have been installed on poles shaped like shepherd's crooks along the Ventura and Hollywood freeways from Westlake Village to downtown Los Angeles.

    Authorities say as many as 650 bells placed at two-mile intervals may eventually mark the storied footpath. Also known as the King's Highway, the route between San Diego and Sonoma was launched in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra.

    A former Whittier resident's search for one of the old bells to use as a backyard garden decoration helped trigger the highway markers' renaissance.

    Fifty-three-year-old mortgage broker John Kolstad lives in the Bay Area city of Saratoga. But he has never forgotten his curiosity over an original El Camino Real bell that stood near his childhood home.

    "When I was young, I lived in Whittier near the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Colima Road. I'd always see this old bell on the corner surrounded by new buildings," Kolstad said. "I couldn't figure out why it was there, until one day in the fourth grade I went to the San Gabriel Mission and found one there."

    It's an outrageous establishment of religion...

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


    In GOP They Trust
    : Murrieta is a city of affordable housing and deep conservatism -- a reminder that beyond the coasts, California is trending Republican. (Maria L. La Ganga, December 24, 2004, LA Times)

    Here in the stout heart of red California, voters snort with disdain when they hear that President Bush's strong victory caught America's Democrats by surprise. Not a single Murrieta precinct swung Sen. John Kerry's way in the bitterly fought 2004 election; in many parts of town, 70% or more of the electorate cast ballots for Bush — a strong show of red unity in one of America's bluest states.

    The same values that drew voters here to Bush in the first place also led many of them to Murrieta, the self-proclaimed gem of the Temecula Valley, where streets are safe, schools are good and housing is more affordable than in many other parts of California.

    Churches outnumber bars here some 15 to one, 40% of the residents are of school age, and 71% are white. Murrieta's population has quadrupled since 1990, as thoroughbred ranches and chaparral-covered hills due east of Orange County have given way to subdivisions with names like Pacific Oaks, Sedona, Meadowlane.

    "People come here with their families, and they want a conservative lifestyle that they can re-create," said Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Seyrato, who moved here nearly 15 years ago with his wife from Los Angeles County so they could buy a house and start a family. "We were able to recapture the fresh neighborhood of the '60s feel…. It had a lot of promise out here."

    Boomtown California is Republican California, and this 13-year-old city of 77,661 could be its capital — bustling with earth-moving equipment and flag men, bristling with signs that promise "Coming Soon!" and "Starting in the $200,000's," Murrieta is all road construction and just-framed subdivisions and a parade route that navigates delicately through the confusion.

    Bush lost California resoundingly last month, so it is easy to forget that more people voted for him in this state than in any other in America. With population and political clout clustered in Democratic Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area, it's also easy to overlook the rapid spread of conservative California.

    Since 1992, the number of California counties with more registered Republicans than voters of any other party has nearly tripled, from 13 to 37 out of 58. That growth has shaped exurbs such as Murrieta, where "we're red. We're getting redder … [and] the Democrats don't even bother to organize," said Shaun Bowler, professor of political science at UC Riverside.

    Embracing instead of fighting Mexican immigrants and using social issues and school vouchers to appeal to blacks would make Republicans the majority there even before demographics does.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


    Vaccine Surplus Is Flu Scare's Ill Effect (David Pierson, December 24, 2004, LA Times)

    After months of strictly limiting who can get a flu shot, public health officials in California are left with far more available vaccine than they expected and are urging more people to get inoculated before the medicine reaches the end of its shelf life.

    Demand for the shots, which just a few months ago was so high that seniors citizens waited in line for hours, has dropped off significantly in recent weeks, prompting fears that private doctors and clinics will stop ordering the vaccine even though many people who got inoculated last year have not this year.

    Of the 540,000 doses of vaccine set aside by the federal government for California doctors, physicians have ordered only 370,000. That leaves about 170,000 doses unclaimed, and officials say the vaccine is good only until the end of this flu season. [...]

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40% to 49% of the 10 million Californians at high risk have received the shot this year. Health officials believe that is about the same figure as last year.

    In other words, there never was a shortage.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


    Poppins on the Loose: Lock Up Your Children (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, 12/24/04, NY Times)

    Mary Poppins, in memory, is the ideal nanny. With her cartoony eyelashes, slightly Carnaby style and jauntily splayed feet, she delivers that polemic about sugar, turns chores into pleasure and wins infatuated devotion from her charges. The mother is not threatened by her, the father is not attracted to her and - all in all - the Poppins stint with the Banks family is the most edifying nanny story in a genre that is currently characterized by tales of anxiety and woe.

    That's at least how I remember Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins," which had its premiere in 1964 and went on to win five Academy Awards. The reality is somewhat different. If it's been awhile, see for yourself on the Disney Channel, which will televise the remastered version in convenient time for the movie's 40th anniversary, the release of the DVD and a new musical that opened earlier this month in London.

    In this trippy, effects-heavy, pro-pollution movie - soot is a source of great amusement - the nanny does indeed represent a blessing for Mr. and Mrs. Banks, but not because she's good at her work (you even get the feeling it's not a career with her), but because she whisks the kids out of their hair and then manipulates the parents into changing their ways. [...]

    Mary's first shortcoming as a nanny, in fact, is that she ignores the lady of the house, Mrs. Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns), with whom she never shares a significant scene. She evidently doesn't take Mrs. Banks's political activism seriously. Mrs. Banks is a saucer-eyed, doll-faced "suffragette," copiously satirized, whose opening number is about the silly thrill of feminine civil disobedience. "She was carried off to prison!" she trills, of a friend. "Singing and scattering pamphlets the whole way!"

    Though like Mrs. Banks, Mary Poppins wears the bloomers that define her as uppity, nothing she does suggests an opinion on suffrage, and her creed of cheerful duty suggests that she thinks her trouble-making patroness is wasting time.

    The indictment of the father's materialism and the mother's political activism being further proof that all comedy is conservative.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


    California company sells cloned cat, generating ethics debate (PAUL ELIAS, December 22, 2004, AP)

    The first cloned-to-order pet sold in the United States is named Little Nicky, an eight-week-old kitten delivered to a Texas woman saddened by the loss of a cat she had owned for 17 years.

    The kitten cost its owner $50,000 and was cloned from a beloved cat, named Nicky, that died last year. Nicky's owner banked the cat's DNA, which was used to create the clone.

    "He is identical. His personality is the same," the woman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

    The company, Sausalito-based Genetic Savings and Clone, made her available to speak to reporters only on condition that her name or hometown not be used. The woman said she fears being the target of groups opposed to cloning. [...]

    Genetic Savings and Clone has been behind the creation of at least five cats since 2001, including the first one created. It hopes to deliver as many as five more clones to customers who have paid the company's $50,000 fee. By the end of next year, it hopes to have cloned as many as 50 cats.

    The company is backed by John Sterling, founder of the University of Phoenix, who has funneled more than $10 million into the company, which has yet to turn a profit.

    It'll surprise no one to hear that Mr. Sterling is part of the cabal, along with George Soros and the rest, who spent tens of millions trying to defeat George W. Bush so that they can impose their amoral agenda on America.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


    Wayne Shorter: 'Happening,' and Meandering, a Burst at a Time (BEN RATLIFF, 12/24/04, NY Times)

    THERE'S a classic story about Wayne Shorter in "Footprints," a new biography by Michelle Mercer. It's told by Hal Miller, a jazz historian who sometimes traveled on tour with Weather Report, the band Mr. Shorter played with from 1971 to 1985.

    "I remember I asked Wayne for the time," Mr. Miller recounts. "He started talking to me about the cosmos and how time is relative." The band's keyboardist, Joe Zawinul, advised Mr. Miller not to bother asking the saxophonist and composer things like that. "It's 7:06 p.m.," he snapped.

    Mr. Shorter, 71, may get oracular in his everyday conversations, but jazz musicians are often this way, to one degree or another. And while there is no better way to find out what's going on in their music than to ask, you have to find the right way in. Talking about music objectively, while not listening to it, is to superimpose one form over another: it pits the literary or critical endeavor against the musical. Asking a creative musician pointed questions about his discography can be dull, and asking him about the implications of an interval that he has written, or a solo he has improvised, can be nearly rude: he didn't make it to talk about it, he made it to play it.

    After reading "Footprints," which may be the closest we will come to an autobiography of one of the greatest composers and improvisers in jazz, I contacted Mr. Shorter. I proposed that we listen together to something that he admired, as long as it wasn't his own, as a way into having a conversation about music and, ultimately, about his own work. ("Footprints," a new two-disc retrospective of Mr. Shorter's music, was released by Sony to coincide with Ms. Mercer's biography, which is being published by Tarcher/Penguin.)

    Last month, when Mr. Shorter finished a European tour with his quartet, we got together at his home in Aventura, Fla., a thicket of tall condominium towers near the ocean.

    Since going back on the road with an acoustic jazz quartet in 2001, Mr. Shorter has built up a consensus of awe seldom encountered in the stylistically splintered world of jazz. He has been playing his own compositions - from his days with the mid-60's Miles Davis Quintet to his pieces from later solo records - and reminding everyone that there is a way of writing tunes for a hardcore jazz group that have a much broader imagination. Many of his melodies, dressed in odd phrase lengths and piquant harmonies, seem to come from a rarefied place outside jazz and seem too fragile to be bruised in a nightclub setting. But they have become part of the current jazz musician's basic vocabulary.

    "I've got something good for you," he said, shortly after showing me the view from the living room and pointing out where Whitney Houston and Sophia Loren had apartments. He held up an EMI Classics boxed set of Ralph Vaughan Williams, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

    I had been expecting classical music; some of his recent works have been rearrangements, for orchestra and jazz quartet, of Villa Lobos and Sibelius. I thought he might pick Stravinsky, the bebopper's idol. But this choice made sense, too: the English composer Vaughan Williams, directly or indirectly, influenced many postwar film composers, and if there's one artistic stimulus that Mr. Shorter always seems open to, it is the movies.

    Small and cheery, dressed in I'm-not-going-outside-today clothes and bedroom slippers, Mr. Shorter struggled to set up his Krell home-theater pre-amp to play a CD. I was forming a suspicion that he didn't often listen to music. "Hey, man, the Krell: you ever see the movie 'Forbidden Planet'?" he asked. "There was this planet full of people called the Krells. The explorers from Earth didn't see anybody when they arrived. But they all went to sleep one night in their spacecraft, and you hear the first sound of special effects that really came to the fore in movies - this Chrrmmm! Chroooom! And you see the ground that's been depressed by huge footprints. ..."

    He first chose the opening of Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 1: "A Song for All Seas, All Ships" (1910), with orchestra and choir singing lines taken from Walt Whitman. After the fanfare, 20 seconds into the piece, as the strings began to rise dramatically, Mr. Shorter smiled. "Life, that's what he's saying," he said. "It's a metaphor for life."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


    Accustomed to excess, Japan faces a shortage (Todd Zaun and Wayne Arnold The New York Times, December 24, 2004, NY Times)

    It has been a very long time since Japan has experienced shortages of anything.

    So it was a big surprise last month when Nissan Motors was forced to temporarily idle much of its production because it could not get hold of enough steel. Since then, Suzuki Motor said a lack of steel would force it, too, to shut down assembly lines for a few days this month. Even Toyota Motor said it had had to make adjustments in the kind of steel it buys to ensure supplies remain steady.

    The shortfall in steel is unusual in a country that for most of the past decade has been dealing with problems of excess - too many workers, unused plants and more banks than needed - but analysts and executives say it is a problem that could become increasingly common.

    Although widespread shortages are not expected, analysts say the supply of steel is likely to remain tight for at least the next six months, a situation that could drive steel prices higher, and in turn, raise costs for carmakers, construction companies and other industries that depend heavily on steel.

    So far, shortages have been limited to the high-grade steel used as automotive sheet metal. But strong demand, particularly in China, for everything from ships to office towers to home appliances is driving steel prices broadly higher, with some markets recording 60 percent increases over the past year.

    "This is not a problem that can be solved in the short term," said Takeo Fukui, chief executive of Honda Motor. Strong demand in China, India and elsewhere combined with limits on how fast steel production can be raised, he said, means supplies will remain tight for "one, two or maybe several more years."

    After years of consolidation in the global steel industry, many producers are operating near peak capacity. In Japan, where the number of large steel manufacturers has dwindled because of mergers, the industrywide capacity utilization rate is now 15 percent higher than the average rate of the past 26 years, according to statistics from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

    Which is why the survival of your domestic steel industry can't be left to the market--it doesn't matter much if the Japanese can't make cars--plenty of other countries will--but it would matter if we couldn't get steel for weapon-systems.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


    26 West Bank towns hold local elections (Greg Myre, December 24, 2004, The New York Times)

    The voting was smooth and orderly Thursday as Palestinians in 26 West Bank towns and villages voted in municipal elections, an encouraging development for Palestinians who are holding a presidential ballot in just over two weeks.

    The turnout was large, and no major glitches or security problems were reported. The Fatah movement, founded by Yasser Arafat and the dominant force in Palestinian politics for decades, was expected to make the strongest showing. However, it faces a challenge from the Islamic movement Hamas, which is participating in elections for the first time. Arafat died Nov. 11.

    "You are deciding on the running of your own municipal affairs in a democratic manner without outside interference and under the shadow of the problems created by the Israeli occupation," Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the favorite in the presidential election, said in a statement.

    In Jericho, the largest town to hold an election on Thursday, voters described it as an important step toward greater democracy and political reforms among Palestinians as they seek to establish a state.

    "This is the start of our democracy," said Jaffer Saeed, an accountant. "Israel is always claiming to be the only democracy in the Middle East. We want to show we can be a proper democracy."

    As the contest with Israel shifts from territory to who has the more legitimate government, the Realists and Islamaphobes take another blow to the head.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


    Americans and Religion: Eighty-four percent of Americans identify with a Christian religion (Frank Newport, 12/23/04, GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

    The arrival of Christmas and the beginning of a new year provide Gallup an opportunity to review a year's worth of data on Americans and their religion, with a special focus on Christmas. Here are 10 interesting observations: [...]

    3. Most Americans -- regardless of religious affiliation -- celebrate Christmas. [...]

    4. More than 8 in 10 Americans are Christians.

    About 84% of Americans identify with some form of Christianity -- including those who say they are Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, or some other Christian religion. The rest of the American adult population has no religious identification (9%), identifies with a non-Christian religion (5%), or has no answer at all when asked about their religion. [...]

    7. Those with no religious preference are likely to be liberal, Democrats, younger, and to live in the West.

    The 9% of Americans who say they do not identify with any religion whatsoever tend to be politically liberal, Democrats, independents, younger, living in the West, students, and those who are living with someone without being married. [...]

    10. Religion is very important to a majority of Americans.

    Religion is very important to about 6 out of 10 Americans, while another quarter say that religion is fairly important in their lives. Only 16% of Americans in 2004 said that religion was not very important to them.

    Democrats have cornered the market on the 16%.

    December 23, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 PM


    KOIZUMI'S PYONGYANG CONUNDRUM: Public wants sanctions -- but at what price? (By KANAKO TAKAHARA, 12/24/04, Japan Times)

    A large section of the public responded with predictable fury to recent revelations that a set of remains handed by North Korea to Japanese officials were not, as Pyongyang had claimed, those of abductee Megumi Yokota.

    While roughly three out of four respondents to recent opinion polls feel that Japan should slap economic sanctions on Pyongyang, government officials and academics remain unconvinced by the merits of this course of action.

    On Friday, the government is expected to disclose various documents, including Yokota's medical records, that Japanese officials analyzed after they were brought over from Pyongyang last month. It will also formally convey to North Korea the results of DNA tests carried out on the remains purported to be those of Yokota.

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is stuck between a rock and a hard place: While public pressure is mounting for the government to adopt a stronger posture, the imposition of sanctions could hurt Japan.

    Act like a real nation--regime change.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


    Rumsfeld Makes Surprise Visit to Iraq (ROBERT BURNS, 12/23/04, AP)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived here before dawn Friday amid tight security at an air base in northern Iraq where an insurgent's attack on a military dining hall killed 14 U.S. troops and eight other people earlier this week.

    Hoping to raise holiday spirits and demonstrate compassion for soldiers' sacrifices, Rumsfeld landed in darkness and walked immediately from his plane to a combat surgical hospital where many of the bombing victims were treated.

    Posted by David Cohen at 7:14 PM


    Santa ordered disrobed at Hampton 'holiday' dance (Jerry Miller, Manchester Union Leader, 12/23/04)

    A student dressed as Santa Claus was told to remove the suit and white beard when he arrived at a Hampton Academy Junior High School dance last Friday.

    SAU 21 Superintendent of Schools James Gaylord yesterday said, "This was not appropriate dress for this dance."

    Nancy Serpis, chairman of the Hampton School Board, echoed Gaylord, insisting the dance was a "holiday" event and that dressing as Santa Claus was "inappropriate." . . .

    Principal Fred Muscara, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is quoted telling a Hampton newspaper: "It was a holiday party. It was not a Christmas party. There is a separation of church and state. We have a lot of students that go to Hampton Academy Junior High that have different religions. We have to be sensitive to that."

    They'd be on more solid ground if they argued that they didn't want to promote Coca Cola at a school function.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


    Santa Rally Continues on Strong Durable Goods Data (Fox News, December 23, 2004)

    "Right now, there's just no selling going on," said Todd Leone, managing director of equity trading at SG Cowen Securities. "There's a lot of money being put to work before the end of the year, and I think that despite whatever news we get, we'll just continue drifting up."

    Stocks rallied through the holiday-shortened week, with investor optimism remaining high. The Dow reached new 3 1/2-year highs for three straight sessions, while the S&P saw its second straight high. The Nasdaq, struggling with disappointing earnings and outlooks from technology firms, failed to break the multiyear high set last Wednesday.

    For the week, the Dow rose 1.66 percent, the Nasdaq advanced 1.19 percent, and the S&P 500 gained 1.33 percent.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


    Bush to Renominate 20 Judges Whom Democrats Have Resisted (DAVID STOUT, 12/23/04, NY Times)

    President Bush plans to renominate 20 candidates for federal judgeships who have been unable to win confirmation in the Senate, the White House said today, in a signal that the president is ready for a showdown early next year. [...]

    The White House said 16 of the 20 the candidates were nominated more than a year ago and have not had a yes-or-no vote in the Senate.

    One of the names Mr. Bush will place in nomination again is that of William H. Pryor Jr., the former Alabama attorney general, for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta. Last February, Mr. Bush installed Mr. Pryor on that court by using the presidential power to name judges for temporary terms when Congress is in recess. Under that procedure, Mr. Pryor's judgeship would expire next year, unless he wins Senate confirmation.

    Democrats have contended that Mr. Pryor's fervent advocacy of greater Christian influence in government and his opposition to legalized abortion make him an unsuitable judge. But Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader, has called him "a man of integrity committed to the rule of law."

    Another candidate whom Mr. Bush will renominate is Judge Priscilla Richman Owen of the Texas Supreme Court, for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans. In blocking her thus far, Democrats have said her anti-abortion and pro-business views have colored her decisions. But Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, has called her "a wonderful person, an academic judge" and qualified in every way to be on the federal court.

    Still another who will be renominated is Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court, for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the tribunal that is often seen as a springboard for the United States Supreme Court.

    So, as the Democrats seek to pretend they've moderated their abortion absolutism the President forces them to confront twenty judges they'd blocked exclusively because of concerns about Roe v. Wade--makes Machiavelli look like a Campfire Girl.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


    God the Rebel (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

    That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point - and does not break.

    In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may tempt himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane.

    In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God.

    And now let the revolutionists of this age choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


    Where I come from, our homes are still our castles (Joyce Lee Malcolm, 31/10/2004, Daily Telegraph)
    If someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night you can presume he is not there to read the gas meter. But current British law insists that he have the freedom of the premises. When, last Christmas, thousands of Radio 4's Today listeners called for legislation authorising them to protect their homes by any means necessary, the proposal was immediately denounced as a "ludicrous, brutal, unworkable, blood-stained piece of legislation". Until recently that "unworkable, blood-stained" legislation was the law of the land. There was no need to retreat from your home, or from any room within it. An Englishman's home was his refuge, and, indeed, his castle. But no more. Rather than permitting people to protect themselves, the authorities' response to the recent series of brutal attacks on home-owners has been to advise people to get more locks and, in case of a break-in, retreat to a secure room - presumably the bathroom - to call the police. They are not to keep any weapon for protection or approach the intruder. Someone might get hurt. If that someone is the intruder the resident will be sued by the burglar and vigorously prosecuted by the state. I heartily applaud The Sunday Telegraph's campaign to end this lamentable state of affairs. Happily for us Americans, English common law prevails in the US; our homes are still our castles. Californians, for example, are entitled to use force to protect themselves and their property. Legislation in Oklahoma which allowed the home-owner to use force no matter how slight the threat has reduced burglary by nearly half since it was passed 15 years ago. What British police condemn as "vigilante" behaviour has produced an American burglary rate less than half the English rate. And, while 53 per cent of English burglaries occur when someone is at home, only 13 per cent do in America, where burglars admit to fearing armed home-owners more than the police. Violent crime in the US is at a 30-year low. Whatever became of the Englishman's castle?
    He traded it for National Health.
    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


    Blair Calls for Conference on Mideast Peace: In visit, British prime minister meets with Sharon and the leader of the PLO. The proposed summit is to focus on Palestinian reforms. (Laura King, December 23, 2004, LA Times)

    As expected, Blair proposed holding an international peace conference in London early next year to shore up the new Palestinian government. Sharon, as was also expected, gave his blessing to the proposal but made it clear that Israel had no interest in participating. [...]

    At a news conference with Sharon in Jerusalem, Blair echoed the Israeli position that Palestinians had to take sweeping measures to dismantle violent groups before there could be any significant new peace effort. [...]

    At the news conference, Sharon made a point of pledging allegiance to a peace plan drafted by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. In recent months, that blueprint, or "road map," has taken a back seat to the Israeli leader's plan to dismantle the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

    The dismantling isn't part of the road to two states?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


    Where Osama bin Laden went wrong (Vikram Sood, 12/24/04, Asia Times)

    By the middle of 2001, the Taliban, along with their friends in al-Qaeda and the powerful Pakistani establishment, had begun to get weary of the unending resistance from the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. That wily commander and Tajik leader, Ahmad Shah Masoud, just would not give up. He continued to do battle from his stronghold in the far north - in Panjshir - where he had taken on the might of the Soviet empire and pushed it back.

    Masoud was the last obstacle to establishing Taliban rule in Afghanistan and making that country truly Islamic. He had to go. Months of planning and two assassins eventually succeeded in murdering Ahmed Shah Masoud on September 9, 2001. The country was up for grabs now, with the Taliban as the only real viable force in Afghanistan. They had the backing of Pakistan and the support of al-Qaeda. Strategic depth was a reality for the Pakistanis for a short period on September 9.

    From Afghanistan, the Islamists could fan out into the resource rich Central Asian republics from Kazakhstan to Turkmenistan. Why stop there? There was Chechnya beckoning, and the green flag of Islam would fly from Morocco to Pakistan and throughout parts of Europe. [...]

    Then September 11 happened. The United States and the world reacted with the utmost fury. The gains from Masoud's assassination for the terrorists dissipated in almost a flash.

    Let's assume Osama had never read about Admiral Yamamoto.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


    Settlement in Sight in Sudan (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/22/04)

    Suffering continues in war-ravaged western Sudan. But to the south, after 21 years of conflict, things are looking up.

    The Islamic government in Khartoum may be ready to initial a peace agreement with southern Sudanese rebels on or before a Dec. 31 deadline. There might even be a formal signing ceremony in Washington if all goes well during the next month.

    That can come, however, only after the government and the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement work out some pending questions.

    Bush administration officials consider the two conflicts linked, exacerbated by government policies, and they say unless the situation in western Sudan changes for the better, the proposal for a Washington ceremony will be off the table.

    Progress in Darfur is no less important than it is in the North-South conflict, says Michael Ranneberger, the No. 2 official in the State Department's African affairs bureau.

    ``The two situations are inextricably related and must be resolved in tandem. There are two tracks, but they must lead to the same place: peace and change in Sudan,'' Ranneberger said in the speech last week.

    It's easy enough to minimize the unprecedented effort the Administration put into the South, because Christian activists demanded it, but the effort in Muslim Darfur is indisputably just a case of doing the right thing because it's right.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


    Taking liberties (Mark Steyn, 1/01/05, The Spectator)
    Wired magazine ran an interesting featurette last month about a fellow called Hans Monderman, who’s been a highway engineer in northern Holland for the last three decades. A year or two back, he had an epiphany. As Wired’s Tom McNichol puts it, ‘Build roads that seem dangerous, and they’ll be safer.’

    In other words, all the junk on the streets — signs for everything every five yards, yellow lines, pedestrian crossings, stop lights, crash barriers, bike lanes — by giving the illusion of security actually makes driving more dangerous. The town of Christianfield in Denmark embraced the Monderman philosophy, removed all the traffic signs and signals from its most dangerous intersection, and thereby cut the number of serious accidents down to zero. These days, when you tootle towards the junction, there are no instructions from the transport department to tell you what to do; you have to figure it out for yourself, so you approach it cautiously and with an eye on what the other chaps in the vicinity are up to.

    I’m no civil engineer, but I am a small-government guy and when I’m asked ‘How small?’ I usually reply that I like to find a road when I get down to the end of my driveway in the morning. My assistant’s husband works for the town road crew and they do an excellent job. But, alas, on the state highways New Hampshire is going in the opposite direction to Mr Monderman. On formerly scenic Interstate 89, the discreet mile markers have been augmented by eye-level markers every fifth of a mile reminding you what road you’re on and that it’s been 0.2 miles since the last reminder. Until this summer, if you were on a bendy road following a river, you’d take the curves carefully lest you plunged over the edge and died in a gasoline fireball at the foot of the ravine. That happened to some poor fellow every 93 years or so, so now they’ve put up metal barriers along the picture-postcard river roads punctuated every couple of hundred yards by ugly-ass shock-absorbers that look like trash cans. So now you don’t have to worry about plunging into the river because the barrier will bounce you back into the road to be sliced in two by the logging truck. The uglification of New Hampshire’s highways is a good example of how, even in a small-government state, the preferred solution to any problem real or imaginary is more government.

    Mr Monderman’s thesis feels right to me — that by creating the illusion of security you relieve the citizen of the need to make his own judgments. That’s really the story of September 11.

    No one in their right mind actually believes that Mr. Steyn has the bevy of assistants he mentions from time to time--though if one of them were to quit the Wife thinks I need a job--but he gets bonus points for best use of that Wired article from the other day.
    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


    Democratic Leadership Rethinking Abortion (Peter Wallsten and Mary Curtius, December 23, 2004, LA Times)

    After long defining itself as an undisputed defender of abortion rights, the Democratic Party is suddenly locked in an internal struggle over whether to redefine its position to appeal to a broader array of voters.

    The fight is a central theme of the contest to head the Democratic National Committee, particularly between two leading candidates: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who supports abortion rights, and former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer, an abortion foe who argues that the party cannot rebound from its losses in the November election unless it shows more tolerance on one of society's most emotional conflicts.

    Roemer is running with the encouragement of the party's two highest-ranking members of Congress, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and incoming Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Dean, a former presidential candidate, is popular with the party's liberal wing.

    If Roemer were to succeed Terry McAuliffe as Democratic chairman in the Feb. 10 vote, the party long viewed as the guardian of abortion rights would suddenly have two antiabortion advocates at its helm. Reid, too, opposes abortion and once voted for a nonbinding resolution opposing Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

    Party leaders say their support for preserving the landmark ruling will not change.

    As the old saying goes: You can change the shade of the pig's lipstick, but that don't make it kosher.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


    Bernard Cornwell may be a prolific, best-selling author, but he's still trying to make a name for himself here (Alex Beam, December 23, 2004, The Boston Globe)

    There are places where Bernard Cornwell is a household name. His adopted home here on Cape Cod isn't one of them.

    The British-born Cornwell has sold 12 million copies of his famous Napoleonic-era Richard Sharpe adventure novels alone. In addition, he has written three other series, five thrillers, and five other novels that defy easy categorization, such as 1999's ''Stonehenge," billed as a ''story of love, rivalry, treachery, and a great, mysterious temple."

    Cornwell is a celebrity in his native England and almost as famous in Brazil and Japan. His books have been translated into 17 languages. But -- unlike, say, Stephen King -- he could walk the streets of Boston in complete anonymity. ''I am the least-known best-selling author in Massachusetts," he says. ''It's nice to come back here, where no one knows who you are."

    Cornwell's low profile in his adopted home is partly by design. From outward appearances, he lives modestly, in a weather-worn, gray-shingled Cape Cod house partially visible from the road. Upon entering, a visitor realizes that Cornwell in fact owns two homes on lots that are joined by a 49-foot-long covered lap pool. The second dwelling, hidden from the road by a long fence, has guest rooms and his oak-beamed, cathedral-ceilinged, 4,000-volume library and work space.

    His under-the-radar silhouette in the United States is not entirely intentional. In 1993, he launched a series of historical novels featuring Yale College dropout Nathaniel Starbuck, set during the Civil War. Asked if that was an attempt to duplicate the success of the Sharpe novels on American soil, Cornwell demurs a moment, and says, ''I suppose it was."

    He stopped writing the ''Starbuck Chronicles" series in the mid-1990s and turned his attention back to the Sharpe novels, which were starting to be filmed for British television. That series ran on PBS's ''Masterpiece Theatre" in 1993 and 1995 but did not trigger a surge of US book sales. His first and only New York Times bestseller was ''Sharpe's Havoc," published last year.

    It's worth recalling that even Patrick O'Brian wasn't Patrick O'Brian until Richard Snow called the Aubrey/Maturin books "the best historical novels ever written" on the front page of the January 6, 1991 NY Times Book Review, if then. But, at any rate, if you've not read Bernard Cornwell, especially the Sharpe novels, nor seen the BBC series, you're in for a real treat.

    N.B. those looking for real hidden treasure should turn to Allan Mallinson's Matthew Hervey series.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


    A Historic Moment for All Iraqis: Ballots will prove to be more powerful than bullets. (AYAD ALLAWI, December 23, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

    The elections next month will be transparent and competitive, supervised across the country by the thousands of brave workers of the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq, and by international organizations including the U.N. Iraqis will have over 250 different parties and political entities from which to choose--a far cry from the farcical referendum with Saddam as the single candidate who received 100% of the vote. They will be conducted in the open and under public scrutiny, and though these elections and the ones the year after will not by themselves create a democracy, they will be a major landmark event of huge significance. The resulting National Assembly will be one of the most important in our history--responsible for drafting our permanent constitution which will then be put to referendum for approval by the people. In addition, there will be voting for the 18 provincial councils and for the Kurdish Assembly, reflecting the important role of local government in the new democratic Iraq.

    For all these reasons, it is not surprising that there has been robust debate about the timing and modalities for these elections. The debate is a positive sign that Iraqis take these elections extremely seriously and understand their significance for the future of our country and indeed the wider region. Just as we and the vast majority of Iraqis are determined that the elections will go forward on time however, there are those--a combination of terrorists and loyalists of the former regime--who will attempt to derail the process with barbaric and cowardly acts of violence, such as the recent horrific bombings in Najaf and Karbala and the brutal murders of brave Iraqi election officials. Though such attacks may escalate in the coming weeks as we approach the elections, they cannot and will not be allowed to achieve their destructive aims. As Iraqis, we will refuse to be divided and cowed into fear by such criminals. We will stand firm.

    Ballots will prove far more powerful than bullets in the end, and the will of the peaceful majority of Iraqis will triumph over the terror tactics of a hateful few. To this mission, I and my colleagues from the Interim Government pledge ourselves, and we call upon the governments and citizens of our allies in the international community and our neighbors in the region to do their utmost to support Iraq at this critical juncture. A free and secure Iraq will be a victory for all peace-loving people, and we Iraqis face a historic opportunity that we shall not squander.

    The terrorists and loyalists certainly seem to grasp this, even if the Western Left does not.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


    In Europe, an antitrust setback for Microsoft (Paul Meller, December 23, 2004, The New York Times)

    Microsoft, the world's biggest software maker, was dealt a serious legal and logistical setback on Wednesday when a senior European judge ordered the company to immediately comply with a European Commission antitrust ruling that instructed the company to change the way it sells its Windows operating system in Europe.

    The order could prove to be a turning point for the software industry, because it forces Microsoft to change its successful strategy of bundling new features into its near-ubiquitous operating system, analysts said.

    Judge Bo Vesterdorf, president of the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, said that Microsoft's application for a suspension of the ruling until the end of the appeals process "is dismissed in its entirety," adding that the company failed to prove that the ruling would cause it irreparable harm, one of three requirements needed in order to suspend a commission ruling. [...]

    After a five-year investigation, the commission concluded in March that the company was abusing the dominant position of Windows in order to dominate two related software markets: the market for software that plays music and video, and the market for programs that run servers that link personal computers together.

    It's like Germany vs. the USSR--there's no one to root for, just some outcomes that are better than others.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


    Europe's Last Summer (David Fromkin, December 14, 2004, The Globalist)

    In 1901 — and in the 13 years that followed — the peoples of Western Europe and the English-speaking Americas were becoming consumers rather than warriors. They looked forward to more: more progress, more prosperity — more peace.

    To virtually everybody alive in the vibrant early years of the 20th century, nothing would have seemed further away than war. [...]

    For those with a comfortable income, the world in their time was more free than it is today.

    According to the historian A. J. P. Taylor, "until August 1914, a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state." You could live anywhere you liked and as you liked. You could go to practically anywhere in the world without anyone's permission.

    What Europe was building up toward was not a better world — but a smash-up, the accumulated explosive power that advanced science had developed was concentrated on the goal of mass destruction.

    For the most part, you needed no passports — and many had none. The French geographer André Siegfried traveled all around the world with no identification other than his visiting card — not even a business card, but a personal one.

    John Maynard Keynes remembered it, with wonder, as an era without exchange controls or customs barriers. You could bring anything you liked into Britain or send anything out.

    You could take any amount of currency with you when you traveled, or send (or bring back) any amount of currency — your bank did not report it to the government, as it does today.

    And if you decided to invest any amount of money in almost any country abroad, there was nobody whose permission had to be asked, nor was permission needed to withdraw that investment and any profits it may have earned when you wanted to do so.

    Even more than today, it was a time of free capital flows and free movements of people and goods.

    George Kennan remembers that before the 1914 war, Americans felt a sense of security “such as I suppose no people had ever had since the days of the Roman Empire."

    An outstanding current study of the world as of 2000 tells us that there was more globalization before the 1914 war than there is now —"much of the final quarter of the 20th century was spent merely recovering ground lost in the previous 75 years."

    Economic and financial intermingling and interdependence were among the powerful trends that made it seem that warfare among the major European powers had become impractical — and, indeed, obsolete.

    One could easily feel safe in that world. Americans felt it at least as much if not more than Europeans.

    The historian and diplomat George Kennan remembers that before the 1914 war, Americans felt a sense of security "such as I suppose no people had ever had since the days of the Roman Empire."

    They felt little need for government. Until 1913, when an appropriate amendment to the Constitution was ratified, the Congress was deemed to lack even the power to enact taxes on income.

    The core myth of Modernity is progress, which requires us to believe that we live lives vastly superior to those who came before us. Americans in particular have the obviously fanciful notion that they are freer now than ever before. One need only consider how unlikely it is that an ancestor would ever have had much contact with government of any kind to see the foolishness of this belief.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


    Bob Casey’s Revenge (William McGurn, January 2005, First Things)

    [P]erhaps the best explanation [of John Kerry's loss] was given by a Democrat who called this election more than a decade ago: Bob Casey, the governor of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1995.

    I didn’t know Governor Casey personally. But back in 1992, fate put me within a few feet of him inside Madison Square Garden during the Democratic National Convention. That was when Clinton officials refused a place at the podium for the Democratic governor of America’s fifth-largest state while also providing speaking slots for six pro-choice Republican women. To make sure the point was delivered, one of these was a pro-choice woman who had campaigned for Casey’s Republican opponent.

    On Election Day 2004, the silencing of Bob Casey thundered through America’s polling booths. In vain, Casey in 1992 had warned his fellow Democrats about allowing the Party to be become “little more than an auxiliary of NARAL.” In his autobiography he put it this way:

    Many people discount the power of the so-called “cultural issues”—and especially of the abortion issue. I see it just the other way around. These issues are central to the national resurgence of the Republicans, central to the national implosion of the Democrats, central to the question of whether there will be a third party. The national Democrats may, and probably will, get a temporary bump in the polls—even, perhaps, one more national election victory—from their reactive strategy as the defenders of the elderly and poor who rely on Medicare and Medicaid. But the Democrats’ national decline—or better, their national disintegration—will continue relentlessly and inexorably until they come to grips with these values issues, primarily abortion.

    As Democrats emerge from the electoral rubble, must not a few be noticing that Bob Casey has proved to be prophetic?

    The possibility, maybe even probability, exists that they've already come to grips with these issues and would rather decline as a national party than halt their personal declines into the moral abyss.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM

    180 MINUTE BLISS (via Ed Driscoll):

    VIDEO: In Depth: Tom Wolfe (Featured Program, A Weekly Look at Selected Book TV Programs, C-SPAN)

    LIVE Sunday, December 5 at 12pm author Tom Wolfe will be taking your phone calls and e-mails as our guest on In Depth.

    The video is available on-line.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


    Neocons vs. Rumsfeld (Robert Novak, December 23, 2004, Townhall)

    In the bowels of the Pentagon, the colleagues and subordinates of Donald Rumsfeld were not upset by Republican senators who were sniping at him. Instead, they complained bitterly about a call for his removal by a private citizen with no political leadership position: William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard. His position was, in effect, a declaration of war by the neoconservatives against the secretary of defense.

    The capital's feeding frenzy over Rumsfeld's fate did not begin until Kristol's Dec. 12 op-ed column in The Washington Post. While critical senators did not get to the point of demanding Rumsfeld's removal, Kristol did. He said the troops in Iraq "deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have." A firm declaration by a prominent Republican activist turned journalist who is the clarion of neoconservatism counts for more than equivocation by U.S. senators.

    Rumsfeld's civilian colleagues at the Pentagon are furious because they consider Kristol a manipulative political operative, critiquing the war in Iraq after years of promoting it. But his criticism has a broader base. Kristol long has called for big-government conservatism, which on the international sphere involves proactively pursuing democracy around the world. He and the other neocons do not want to be blamed for what has become a very unpopular venture in Iraq. Thus, it is important to get the word out now that the war in Iraq has gone awry because of the way Rumsfeld fought it.

    Ideologues never question their own ideas, only the application of them.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:24 AM


    Shariah law: FAQs (CBC, December 21st, 2004)

    In 1991, Ontario was looking for ways to ease the burdens of a backlogged court system. So the province changed its Arbitration Act to allow "faith-based arbitration" - a system where Muslims, Jews, Catholics and members of other faiths could use the guiding principles of their religions to settle family disputes such as divorce, custody and inheritances outside the court system.

    It's voluntary - both parties (a husband and wife) have to agree to go through the process. But once they do, the decisions rendered by the tribunal are binding.

    The Ontario government has been reviewing its Arbitration Act and on Dec. 20, 2004, it released a report conducted by former attorney general Marion Boyd. Among her 46 recommendations was that:

    The Arbitration Act should continue to allow disputes to be arbitrated using religious law, if the safeguards currently prescribed and recommended by this review are observed.

    Earlier in the year, the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice said it wanted to set up its own faith-based arbitration panels under the Arbitration Act, based on Shariah law.

    The proposal ran into opposition from women's groups, legal organizations and the Muslim Canadian Congress, which all warned that the 1,400-year-old Shariah law does not view women as equal to men.

    In her report, Boyd noted that some "participants in the Review fear that the use of arbitration is the beginning of a process whose end goal is a separate political identity for Muslims in Canada, that has not been the experience of other groups who use arbitration."

    This story continues to be reported under alarmist “Canada enacts Sharia law” kind of headlines. Would that the matter was that simple. It is obviously offensive and unconstitutional to bless private arbitration for Christians and Jews and prohibit it to Muslims. The choice seems to be either to live with it and bank on judicial review to keep matters under control or abolish it for all faiths.

    December 22, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 PM


    Repeat after me: Evidence that evolutionary change is not always a smooth process (The Economist, Dec 16th 2004)

    ONE of the most acrimonious disputes in biology is between those who believe that evolutionary change is a smooth and gradual process and those who think it happens suddenly—evolution by creeps versus evolution by jerks, as some of the protagonists unkindly put it. The gradualist model tends to be favoured by those who study things that are still alive, while the punctuated-equilibrium model, as the sudden-transition way of looking at the world is known in the trade, finds its support among those who study fossils, and who feel that the evidence from the rocks favours their view.

    Now, though, the jerks have some support from two researchers who are studying still-living organisms. John Fondon and Harold Garner work at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, in Dallas. They have been looking at the genetics of dog breeds. And they have found a mechanism of genetic change that could help to explain punctuated equilibria.

    The traditional, creeping-change model of evolution has natural selection working on the genes themselves. Genes carry the blueprints for proteins, the molecules that do most of the hard biochemical work in living creatures. Change the blueprint and you change the protein's function. Most changes will be damaging. But occasionally, by chance, one will be advantageous, and will spread through the population.

    Each such advantageous protein change, however, is likely to have only a small effect. So the creeps cannot see how sudden shifts can happen. But the jerks have come up with a possibility—that the pertinent changes are happening not in the genes themselves, but in the bits of DNA that regulate gene expression. These are places near genes at which special proteins that act as gene-switches can attach themselves in order to stimulate or suppress the activity of a gene. Changing the regulatory DNA leaves the proteins derived from a gene unaltered. They therefore continue to work properly. But the amount produced, or the time during development at which they are produced, is different. That could result in large changes in morphology, of the sort that would be obvious in the fossil record in the way that subtle biochemical shifts are not.

    In fairness to the blind adherents of Darwinism, who will be understandably upset at being trumped by jerks, it should be noted that there's nothing sillier than studying the effects of "natural" selection on a species we domesticated tens of thousands of years ago and have subjected to intense inteligent design ever since.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 PM


    Christmas Eve of Destruction (MAUREEN DOWD, 12/23/04, NY Times)

    In Iraq, as Yogi Berra would say, the future ain't what it used to be. [...]

    The White House's Iraqi policy has gone from a total charade to a limited modified hangout. Mr. Bush is conceding the obvious, that the Iraqi security forces aren't perfect, so he doesn't have to concede the truth: that Iraq is now so dire no one knows how or when we can get out.

    If this fiasco ever made sense to anybody, it doesn't any more.

    Well, other than to those pesky Iraqis themselves, Poll finds most Iraqis plan to vote, many optimistic about the future (WARREN P. STROBEL, 12/22/04, Knight Ridder Newspapers)
    Nearly three-quarters of Iraqis say they "strongly intend" to vote in next month's pivotal elections, and a small majority believe the country is headed in the right direction, according to a major new poll of Iraqi attitudes.

    The poll of nearly 2,200 people across most of Iraq found a resilient citizenry modestly hopeful that the Jan. 30 elections will improve life. Iraqis said pocketbook issues such as unemployment and health care are more pressing than the bloody insurgency that claims Iraqi and U.S. lives virtually every day.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


    The plot against Rudy (Rush & Molloy, December 21, 2004, NY Daily News)

    Conservatives continue to feast on Rudy Giuliani's misery.

    As Rudy begins to distance himself from the ethically challenged, briefly nominated Homeland Security chief wanna-be Bernard Kerik, some right-wing hardliners claim White House strategist Karl Rove devised the Kerik debacle to hurt Giuliani's presidential chances in '08.

    "Rove used Rudy and Kerik to tout Bush as the anti-terrorism candidate," says one Republican party player. "But Rudy is too socially liberal for the true-believers. So they let him shoot himself in the foot. Rove knew about Kerik's baggage - and that he could never be confirmed. But he went along with the nomination, betting that the heat would come down on Rudy, which it has." [...]

    While some think Giuliani could still be a contender in four years, others believe Rove and Bush have one man in mind for the Oval Office: brother Jeb Bush.

    "They're saying, 'We own the party now,'" says one source, "and we're not going to give it away."

    Speaks volumes that people think the White House this clever.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


    Mind the Gender Gap: Why Democrats are losing women at an alarming rate. (Anna Greenberg, 12.06.04, American Prospect)

    The erosion of support for Democratic candidates among women represents a political transformation from a time when voters, both working class and affluent, voted in ways consistent with their economic interests. Today, despite the economic interests, socially conservative, white, blue-collar women have moved increasingly into the Republican camp, primarily around social and cultural issues that include perceived moral decline, abortion and reproductive health, challenges to women’s traditional roles in society and family, and gay rights. This is not a recent development; it is the culmination of the increasing polarization around cultural issues that began in the 1970s and intensified in the 1990s.

    In this election, this trend proved true even among those blue-collar women voters who seemed most likely to vote for Kerry. White, older, blue-collar women are among the most economically insecure in our country, with deep concerns about health-care costs and retirement security. Those and other domestic topics dominated the campaign in the first part of 2004, at least in campaign advertising in the battleground states. During this period (February to April), Kerry led with white older women by an average of 7 points and white, older, non-college women by 2 points. By election day, Kerry lost white older women by 7 points and white, older, non-college women by 18 points. Even more striking, there was a 14-point gap between white, older, non-college women’s identification with the Democratic Party (4-point Democratic disadvantage) and their support for Kerry (18-point disadvantage).

    What happened over those months? Kerry lost ground with older, white, blue-collar women when the national discussion moved from health care, retirement, and other domestic priorities to security, the war on terrorism, and the war in Iraq. Starting with a Democratic convention focused on security and military experience, economic issues were largely absent from the national scene. In the absence of a real economic discussion, these voters swung to Bush as he tapped into their social conservatism, their support for his approach to the war on terrorism, and their admiration of his religious faith.

    The question Democrats seem to be asking themselves is: if economics is as central to our identity as human beings as the Left insists it is and if their economic prescriptions are as obviously superior to Republicans' as they insist they are, then how are voters so easily fooled into voting against their own self-interest? Their answer, almost inevitably, is: people are so stupid they don't even deserve our help.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:15 PM


    N.B. premier gets earful over sex ed (Chris Morris, Canadian Press, December 22nd, 2004)

    Hundreds of parents from across New Brunswick have sent Christmas cards to Premier Bernard Lord with an unusual yuletide message: scrap a controversial sex-ed program for young teens.

    A group of mothers from the Fredericton area delivered four gaily wrapped gift boxes to the premier's office on Tuesday, filled with roughly 700 cards from parents and individuals who are concerned about the province's new sex education curriculum for grades 6, 7 and 8.

    Elizabeth Wilson and Carrie Greene said that in addition to the cards the group collected during a 10-day campaign, more were sent directly to the premier's office and the provincial Education Department.

    "We are hoping that he (Lord) will do what's best to protect the innocence of children in New Brunswick," Wilson said. [...]

    The sex-ed curriculum, aimed at children between 11 and 13 years of age, deals frankly with such topics as masturbation, oral sex and sexual pleasure.

    Many of the parents who are unhappy about the program say it does not sufficiently stress abstinence.

    "It relies heavily on condom usage," said Wilson.

    "Abstinence should be a stated goal in this curriculum."

    New Brunswick isn't the only province where the explicit nature of modern sex education programs has stirred controversy.

    Concerns were raised about the adequacy of sex-ed programs in Prince Edward Island schools following the trial of a male high school athlete who was given oral sex by 12-and 13-year-old girls.

    The trial revealed the girls were part of a group of middle school students who routinely performed oral sex on high school boys, most of them elite athletes.

    Sandra Byers, chair of the psychology department at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a sex therapist, said incidents like the child oral-sex ring on the Island should set off alarms in schools and homes.

    She said kids in grades 6, 7 and 8 are not only talking about sex, they're starting to experiment.

    "We do not have a choice between kids having no information and correct information," she said in an interview.

    "The choice is between them having incorrect information and correct information."

    One has to be a warped and amoral fanatic to believe formal lessons to 11-13 year olds in masturbation, oral sex and sexual pleasure will somehow keep them from indulging in masturbation, oral sex and sexual pleasure. No doubt we will soon hear calls from the professionals that such matters must be taught to kindergarten pupils on the grounds that some of them have been caught playing doctor.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


    British Abortion Advocates Upset With New Pro-Life Education Secretary (Steven Ertelt, December 22, 2004,

    Abortion advocates and scientists who back embryonic stem cell research are upset that incoming Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is pro-life and opposes both practices.

    Kelly, who is Catholic, has voted against embryonic stem cell research as a member of the British parliament.

    That concerns Medical Research Council Professor Nancy Rothwell because Kelly will be responsible in part for shaping the medical training for future researchers.

    Geez, even Margaret Thatcher wasn't pro-life--Tony Blair really is the most conservative PM since WWI.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


    Value words, a linguist advises Democrats (Blair Anthony Robertson, December 22, 2004, Sacramento Bee)

    Writing in his new book, [George] Lakoff--[a linguistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley]--states: "Democrats are shocked or puzzled when voters do not vote their self-interest. 'How,' Democrats keep asking me, 'can any poor person vote for Bush when he hurts them so badly?' "

    Republicans might dispute the "hurt," but no one is arguing that their party's base stretches well beyond the rich and powerful these days. Lakoff argues that Republicans are succeeding because they have been carefully choosing words to frame issues around values. The strategy has left Democrats on the defensive in many areas.

    "Partial-birth abortion." "Tax relief." "Healthy Forests Initiative." "No Child Left Behind." Lakoff says the words are no accident.

    What's more, when Democrats argue against the issues and employ the same words and phrases, they are unwittingly reinforcing the conservative frame.

    That was the inspiration for the title of Lakoff's book: If you are told not to think of an elephant, you can't help but think of one.

    Lakoff says conservatives have been perfecting this strategy for 30 years, investing millions in think tanks and framing issue after issue in conservative terms.

    "They had gotten into people's brains. By repetition of language, they have actually changed people's brains and created a new common sense," Lakoff says while sipping on his coffee. [...]

    Lakoff argues in the new book that Republicans have masterfully crafted their frames to highlight "strict father" values while Democrats have failed to craft their ideas around the "nurturant parent" model.

    "In the 2000 election (Al) Gore kept saying that Bush's tax cuts would go only to the top 1 percent," Lakoff writes, "and he thought that everyone else would follow their self-interest and support him. But poor conservatives still opposed him ... they believed that those who had the most money - the "good" people - deserved to keep it as their reward for being disciplined. The bottom 99 percent of conservatives voted their conservative values, against their self-interest."

    Toward the end of "Don't Think of an Elephant," which is essentially a speech and some writings hastily pieced together, Lakoff offers advice on framing. For example, he suggests countering the conservatives' "strong defense" with "stronger America," "free markets" with "broad prosperity," and "smaller government" with "effective government."

    If the GOP base didn't extend beyond the rich and powerful they'd never win an election. But, beyond that obvious point, what are "strong defense", "free markets", and "smaller government" code for?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


    GOP-leaning states in line for more Congress seats (G. Scott Thomas, 12/22/04, American City Business Journals)

    Arizona, Florida, Texas and Utah would each gain one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives if districts were reapportioned today, according to an analysis by American City Business Journals.

    Iowa, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, would each lose a seat. [...]

    President Bush last month won all four states that would pick up electoral votes under ACBJ's scenario. He and Democrat John Kerry split the four states that would slip in the Electoral College: Bush won Iowa and Ohio, while Kerry won New York and Pennsylvania.

    Bush's victory in a reapportioned Electoral College would be 288-250, as opposed to his actual margin of 286-252 over Kerry.

    As it becomes increasingly difficult for a Democrat to be elected president, their best young moderates may well follow their national ambitions right out of the party.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


    Stocks continue rally (Associated Press, December 22, 2004)

    Wall Street extended its yearend rally Wednesday as a sharp drop in oil prices and a surprise uptick in the nation's gross domestic product pushed stocks higher.

    The market's buying momentum grew when crude oil futures plummeted in response to the Energy Department's report of an increase of 2.1 million barrels in the nation's petroleum reserve last week. Demand for gasoline also fell. [...]

    The GDP report gave many investors hope that the fourth-quarter reading will be stronger than expected. Analysts had feared that low job growth high energy prices would stifle economic growth. Oil prices, in particular, were seen as an extra drain on consumers' incomes, but the Commerce Department figure, along with the Energy Department's inventory report, assuaged some of those concerns.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


    Bush Plans a Media Blitz on Social Security (David Morgan, 12/22/04, Reuters)

    President Bush will spearhead an election-style public relations campaign early next year to try to convince Americans that Social Security is in urgent need of change but will keep dollar and cent details deliberately vague, analysts and officials say.

    With Bush's political capital riding on a successful overhaul of the popular retirement program, the White House and its allies plan to bombard the public with presidential speeches, television and radio ads, newspaper op-ed articles and grass-roots rallies between now and early 2005.

    "It's going to be a battle royal, very much like an election campaign but over an issue rather than a candidate," said Stephen Moore, executive director of Club for Growth, a Republican group that hopes to spend $15 million on a media campaign backing the White House. [...]

    Meanwhile, opponents accuse the White House of exaggerating the issue's urgency, saying it used a similar ploy to justify the war in Iraq by citing an urgent threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that have never been found.

    "The administration's blitz on Social Security is eerily reminiscent of the way they made their case for war," said David Wade, spokesman for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential nominee who sits on the Senate Finance Committee.

    So Senator Kerry will be stampeded into voting for this out of political expedience too?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


    INVASION VS. PERSUASION (George Packer, 2004-12-13, The New Yorker)

    President Bush has put the idea of spreading democracy around the world at the rhetorical heart of American foreign policy. No one should doubt that he and his surviving senior advisers believe in what they call the “forward strategy of freedom,” even if they’ve had to talk themselves into it. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Bush himself are latecomers to the idea; in earlier incarnations, they sounded a lot more like Henry Kissinger than like Woodrow Wilson. By now, though, it’s clear that, however clumsy and selective the execution, Bush wants democratization to be his legacy. So when his critics, here and abroad, claim that his rhetoric merely provides cynical cover for an American power grab, they misjudge his sincerity and tend to sound like defenders of the status quo. And when the Administration tries to wring every last sweet drop of partisan gain from its foreign policy (sincerity is not the same thing as honesty), critics are driven to conclude that “democracy” is just another word for “neoconservatism.”

    This is not a good position for the opposition to be in, either morally or politically. The best role for critics in the President’s second term will be not to scoff at the idea of spreading freedom but to take it seriously—to hold him to his own talk. The hard question isn’t whether America should try to enlarge the democratic order but how. [...]

    Not every country is lucky enough to be Ukraine, where internal opposition and quiet outside help will likely succeed in replacing a bad regime. But the ordeal in Iraq has shown that a war of liberation is a crude instrument for setting a country free. Democracy is not the absence of tyranny. It has to grow from within over time, and it requires far more care and feeding than Washington seems able to give.

    It's almost possible to pity the folks, like Mr. Packer, who yearn for a Decent Left; but then you realize that the idea of waiting for democracy to "grow from within over time" is nothing more than a prescription for neo-isolationism and turning a blind eye to tyranny. That's a perfectly honorable political position--indeed, it's paleoconservatism--and experience demonstrates that no one nation, no matter how blighted, is likely to avoid the end of history forever, but it continues to cede the idea of spreading democracy to the theocons and their neocon minions.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


    For God's sake (The Economist, Dec 9th 2004)

    JOHN CORNWELL, author of a new life of Pope John Paul II, would have made a fine devil's advocate when the pope's name is one day advanced for sainthood. Unfortunately, he will not be chosen, for John Paul II himself, some two decades ago, scrapped the custom of having a devout Catholic question the virtues of a candidate for beatification or canonisation. The old job of devil's advocate is now, in effect, performed by committee.

    Devil's advocates were supposed to be fair-minded, and in the past Mr Cornwell, a prolific writer on Catholic matters, has at times been anything but. As he admits, “Hitler's Pope” (1999), his biography of Pope Pius XII, lacked balance. “I would now argue,” he says, “in the light of the debates and evidence following ‘Hitler's Pope', that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans.”

    Chastened by this experience, Mr Cornwell is now a better biographer.

    All well and good in so far as it goes, which isn't nearly far enough, but what of all the credulous bigots who take it as gospel that Pius was some kind of crypto-Nazi thanks to the kind of bilge Mr. Cornwell and others peddled?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


    BURNT OUT: From New York to California, the frontline soldiers of marijuana reform are showing fatigue. Can Joe Bruno turn the tide? (Dan Neel , 12/21/04, NY Press)

    Marijuana Reform Party of New York State, has lost his passion for the job. Leighton has given up on further attempts to make the MRP a ballot-line political party in New York State. Failing twice to get the 50,000 votes necessary to do so has taken its toll.

    "I don't see us trying for a third time," says Leighton. "We shot our wad in 1998 and 2002. Both took a hell of a lot of effort."

    Leighton, who founded the MRP in 1997 and was a New York gubernatorial candidate in 2002, cites a daunting shift toward a more conservative political culture in explaining why he no longer sees significant pot reform in this country happening anytime soon. Early indications that the United States Supreme Court will issue an anti-pot opinion in the well-publicized case of Raich v. Ashcroft hasn't helped improve Leighton's mood.

    His motivation waning, Leighton has let the MRP web site become a museum piece. October 13, 2003 is the date of "Today's Featured Article" on the front page of the site. Multiple links to "incest porn" populate the otherwise empty reader-comment areas below some stories. Leighton says the site hasn't been updated in months. MRP contact numbers and locations have been shuttered. The main phone now rings at Leighton's house "because we've been hurting for resources," he confesses. [...]

    Leighton is just one example of the pessimism that has gripped the legalization community. Another is seen in the pot growers and distributors all over New York who feel things have moved backward for pot reform since today's retro-conservative domestic environment began hardening after Sept. 11.

    Even in California, where medicinal pot is supposed to be legal, the mood among those supposedly leading the way is downright gloomy.

    "The mood in this country is not very proactive to pot anymore. The social agenda has really changed," says Lynn Tucker, a Mendocino County grower who lives on a farm along California's Highway 20. [...]

    [L]eighton remains cynical. "The way I see it, what it's really going to take is some pro-pot celebrity or billionaire candidate to make any headway in pot legalization. Besides, I'm more worried about a dirty bomb here in New York City than I am about medical marijuana. One of our founders was a fireman in the World Trade Center and never came out. Sure, I'd love to have medical marijuana. It'd be great. But the movement peaked in the late 90s and things are changing."

    Legalization of dope is one of many social issues that libertarians thought inevitable but which conservatives were able to spike without breaking a sweat.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


    Blessed anti-Nazi cardinal (Uwe Siemon-Netto, 12/20/04, UPI)

    The Vatican cleared the way Monday for the first German clergyman to be beatified for his courageous opposition against Nazi mass murder.

    In the presence of Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for Causes of Saints promulgated a decree linking a miracle to Cardinal Clemens August Count von Galen (1978-1946) who in 1941 publicly denounced Hitler's euthanasia program.

    Under this policy, some 70,000 retarded and incurably ill Germans were murdered - or "given the coup de grace," as the Nazis called this euphemistically.

    On Aug. 3, 1941, von Galen thundered from the pulpit of St. Lambert's church in Muenster, which was his see:

    "Woe to men, woe to our German people, if God's holy Commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' is not only disobeyed but if this transgression is also tolerated and goes unpunished."

    Revered by faithful Catholics and Protestants alike as "the Lion of Muenster," this tall scion of one of Germany's oldest noble families will probably be beatified during the pope's visit at the World Youth Day in Cologne in August next year. [...]

    Before delivering one of the most powerful sermons in 20th-century Germany, he instructed one of his priests to take a change of clothing to prison should he be arrested.

    As it turned out, this did not become necessary because the Gestapo, Hitler's secret police, feared that the whole province of Westphalia would refuse to participate in the war effort should the Nazis lay hands on this popular prelate.

    "After the war we'll break the churches' backs and get rid of the bishop of Muenster in the process," declared propaganda minister Josef Goebbels.

    As Ms Siemon-Netto goes on to note, the beatification has resonance today as the struggle against Applied Darwinism continues.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


    Let's first tackle hunger and disease (Bjorn Lomborg, 23dec04, The Australian)

    At the 2004 Copenhagen Consensus project, 30 specialist economists joined forces with eight of the world's top economists -- including three Nobel laureates -- to make such a global priority list.

    The project's results were highly encouraging: we can do enormous good for the money we spend. The expert panel of economists found that HIV-AIDS, hunger, free trade and malaria should be the world's top priorities. More than 28 million cases of HIV-AIDS could be prevented by 2010. The cost would be $US27billion ($35 billion), with benefits almost 40 times as high.

    Providing micronutrients missing from more than half the world's diet would dramatically reduce diseases caused by iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A deficiencies. This would have an exceptionally high ratio of benefits to cost. The expense of establishing free trade would be dwarfed by benefits of up to $US2400 billion a year. Mosquito nets and effective medication could halve the incidence of malaria and would cost $US13 billion, with benefits at least five times the outlay. [...]

    Climate change is not the most urgent problem facing the world's poor majority. Their problems are truly basic. They are dying from easily preventable diseases. Their children are malnourished from a lack of basic micronutrients. They are prevented from exploiting opportunities in the global economy by lack of free trade. We have the solutions. We can prevent HIV-AIDS by handing out condoms and improving health education. We can prevent millions of malnutrition deaths by providing vitamin supplements. These are not space-age technologies but basic provisions.

    The message from the Copenhagen Consensus is that it is possible to solve some of the most serious challenges the world faces -- and that it not only is morally imperative but also would be a very good investment. We need to start doing the best things first.

    He's wrong about the condoms, of course, but the rest makes sense.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


    Cautious Capitalists (Robert J. Samuelson, December 22, 2004, Washington Post)

    Since their recent low in late 2001, after-tax corporate profits have surged by more than 70 percent; but business investment -- in new computers, software, machinery and buildings -- has revived only modestly, increasing about 18 percent. [...]

    The disconnect reflects a sea change in corporate psychology. Call it the return of "risk aversion" -- a fancy phrase for caution. In the late 1990s, the idea of risk virtually vanished. The business cycle was dead; stocks would always rise; globalization was good; the Internet was empowering; CEOs were heroes. Anybody could do anything. Not to worry. Now risk has revived with a vengeance.

    Executives often blame their new caution on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the federal law requiring companies to maintain stricter financial controls over their operations. Complying with the law is so time-consuming (it's said) that it's hard to concentrate on new business opportunities. At best this is a self-serving half-truth. The larger truth is that America's corporate elite has been scarred by the tech "bubble"; the recession; the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and corporate scandals. Everything has changed. The business cycle endures; stocks fall; globalization is hazardous (i.e. terrorism and high oil prices); the Internet is unnerving; CEOs are felons. [...]

    There are two ways to look at the new "risk aversion." One is that it's healthy. Everyone realizes that the wild spending of the late 1990s was wasteful. Why invest more when many industries still have surplus capacity? (Note: In November the Federal Reserve's capacity utilization index stood at 77.6, well below the 81.1 average from 1972 to 2003.) Companies also want to make better use of existing computers and software before buying more. This, too, makes sense. The economy may benefit from corporate caution. A slow rise in business investment spending sustains the recovery without promoting inflation or speculation.

    The other possibility is that it's a potential calamity. It sacrifices future growth for present profits and leaves the recovery too dependent on strong consumer spending. In the past year average home prices have risen 13 percent. Suppose there's a real estate "bubble" that, once popped, depresses consumer confidence and spending. Indeed, if the recovery stumbles for any reason, corporate caution could quickly make matters worse. Companies might react by cutting new hiring and investments. The slowdown would feed on itself.

    Of these possibilities, conventional wisdom favors the first. In 2005 the economy is expected to continue a solid if unspectacular advance. In reality we don't know. Psychology is much underrated as an economic driving force, precisely because it's so hard to measure. In the late 1990s the prevailing euphoria became self-fulfilling -- disastrously so. Now corporate caution could become self-fulfilling in the opposite way. That's not a certainty, but it is a risk.

    Hardly surprising that businessmen are a bit skittish when the Democratic Party and the MSM have villified them so fiercely. When the nation's leading newspaper says Enron was worse than 9-11 a rational executive might prefer not to end up like Osama.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


    Unto Canada, Too Few Children Are Born (David Frum, December 22, 2004, National Post)

    Christians this week celebrate the most important birthday in the history of the world. Christmas is a glad event even for those of us not of Christian faith. And yet there is a hint of sadness in all these nativity scenes: For in our day-to-day secular context, nativity is becoming a rarer and rarer event.

    Canada's birth rate now hovers at about 1.5 per woman. For people interested in the science of population, that simple statistic portends catastrophe. But statistics don't mean much to most people. Let's look at the raw numbers instead.

    In 1959, the peak year of the Baby Boom, almost 480,000 children were born in Canada--a country of about 17 million people. With rare exceptions, the number of births has been declining ever since. In 2002, there were only 328,000 children born to the 31 million people of Canada.

    Canada's population continues to rise of course, and will continue to rise for some time to come. Because Canada's population is so much bigger now than it was when today's elderly were born, births still exceed deaths by a substantial margin. But the number of deaths is increasing even as the number of births drops. Twelve years from now, the first of the Baby Boomers will turn 70, and after that the number of deaths will begin to increase rapidly.

    While the suicide of the rest of the West may seem almost incomprehensible to us here in America, it's worth considering that it's a perfectly rational decision not to want to bring a child into the rather ugly world the secularists have created.

    More holidays means more babies, government officials believe (AsiaNews, 12/22/04)

    The Japanese government is increasingly concerned the country’s plummeting birth rate will, on the long run, spell social and economic disaster. To counter it, it plans to insist workers take longer leaves, this according to leaked information reported in the daily Yomiuri. The set of measures the Ministry is expected to take has been dubbed ‘Angel Plan’.

    Although the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has refused any comment, officials are worried about the effects of a rapidly aging population.

    In the last financial year, the figure for the average number of children born to a Japanese woman during her lifetime fell to just 1.29, down from 1.32 in 2002 and 1.50 in 1994. This is well below the level of 2.08 needed to replenish the country's population.

    “It is a very complicated problem,” said Manabu Yoshida, a spokesman for the ministry, but “it is also a question of whether a man and a woman want to have children or not."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


    Census: Massachusetts loses population (AP, 12/22/04)

    Massachusetts is the only state to see a population decline over the last year.

    The Census Bureau says there were 38-hundred fewer people living in the Bay State.

    Population experts say the dip in Massachusetts could have been caused by an exodus of people leaving to escape rising costs in the Boston area.

    Meanwhile, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah and other states blessed with wide-open spaces are seeing steady population growth.

    Imagine what the Democratic Party's future Gibbon will make of their decision to nominate a senator from the only shrinking state in the Union for president in 2004?

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 10:58 AM


    Internationalisms, etc. (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, December, 2004)

    International affairs continues to be, in the phrase of Hans Morgenthau, “politics among nations.” The Augustinian sensibility of a Reinhold Niebuhr is still required for deflating utopianisms and recognizing interests in conflict, and to do so with a realism that does not succumb to cynicism. Moral judgment is necessary, as is the awareness of different moralities in conflict. Politics among nations may also be politics among cultures, resulting in, as Samuel Huntington put it, a clash of civilizations. In the war on terror, we have been too reticent in acknowledging the challenge posed by Islam’s culture, morality, and very different civilizational aspirations. It is understandable that political leaders are eager not to define the conflict in terms of religious warfare, but that does not require speaking of Islam as a religion of peace that a few fanatics have hijacked for their lethal purposes. We must hope that there are Muslim thinkers of influence who will succeed in setting it right, but there is something terribly wrong with Islam in its inability to get along with the non-Muslim world. Almost everywhere we witness what Huntington calls “the bloody borders of Islam.” Most Muslims, like most people everywhere, may be decent and lovers of peace. But as an Egyptian newspaper, addressing recent events with refreshing candor, told its Muslim readership, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all the terrorists are Muslim.” There is perhaps a better phrase than clash of civilizations, but we are in for a very long struggle.

    Americans and those on our side of the clash should stop depicting the struggle in terms that Niebuhr described as “the children of light against the children of darkness.” To be sure, there is a conflict between good and evil—as in the deliberate targeting of the innocent and the publicized beheadings of hostages. But, in the larger picture of world affairs, neither good nor evil is as unmixed as we would like to think. We need to abandon the conceit that they hate us only because of how wonderful we are—how free, how productive, how powerful, how rich, and (repeat ten times) how free. No doubt there is ressentiment, but it is ressentiment with a multitude of reasons that we need to understand, if not accept. Islam was for a thousand years a civilization of triumphant conquest, until it was forced into retreat and centuries of being dominated, humiliated, and manipulated by the West, which, it is never forgotten by Muslims, is the Christian West. As for our blessed freedom, it has also brought to the world pornography, abortion, irreligion, and rampant licentiousness in the name of liberty.

    On balance and considering the alternatives, America has been and is an influence for good in the world. Among the great and good things about America is our experiment in constitutional democracy that, while severely compromised, has not been ended. That experiment has been an inspiration for many others, but it is doubtful that it should be viewed as a global prescription, and certainly not a prescription we can compel others to accept. I believe that military action in removing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq could be morally justified on the basis of what was known then. Some of what almost all informed people thought they knew then has turned out not to be the case. Saddam Hussein’s presumed possession of and ability to use weapons of mass destruction is the most obvious instance. What is known in retrospect has led to long second thoughts, and not only about the competence of the intelligence services. I am not persuaded that post-war policies in Iraq have been, as so many claim, an unmitigated disaster. In fact, the timetable for post-war transition that was set out more than a year ago appears to be more or less on track. Of course mistakes were made and are being made. That comes with what is aptly called the fog of war. There is no reason why generals and their political superiors should publicly catalogue their mistakes, and many reasons why they shouldn’t, not least being the morale of the troops under their command. Those who condemn the war because soldiers and innocent civilians are killed and maimed are not being serious. That is what happens in war, and is a very good reason for avoiding war. War is always, as John Paul II said on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, a failure for mankind. There ought to be better ways of resolving conflicts and containing evil. But sometimes war is justified and necessary. There is a lively and legitimate argument about whether, knowing what we know now, this war was justified and necessary. That argument should be conducted in the awareness that leaders do not have the convenience of making decisions retrospectively. Wherever one comes down in that argument, it is to be hoped that the U.S. policy in Iraq succeeds, not least because for America to fail in such a momentous undertaking, and to be seen to have failed, would have ominous consequences for the future of world peace and stability.[...]

    With few exceptions, we are all internationalists now. We have little choice in the matter. Jefferson worried whether our form of government could survive expansion on a continental scale. Now, by force of both intention and happenstance, our sphere of power and responsibility has expanded far beyond that. The liberal internationalism of diminished sovereignty is an abdication of responsibility and would be neither in our interest nor in the interest of world peace. The internationalism of global crusading for democracy is a delusion fraught with temptations to the hubris that has been the tragic undoing of men and nations throughout history. We should, rather, think of ours as an internationalism of circumstance, whose obligations we will not shirk. Our first obligation is to repair and keep in good repair our constitutional order and the cultural and moral order on which it depends. That we cannot do unless we are prepared to defend ourselves, not going abroad to seek monsters to destroy but also not fearing to resist and counter those who would destroy us.

    An internationalism of circumstance, with its attendant duties, does not provide the thrilling drum rolls of the crusade or the glories of empire. Nor does it indulge dangerous dreams of escape into a new world order on the far side of national sovereignty. The world continues to be a world of politics among nations with, for better and worse, the United States as the preeminent nation for the foreseeable future. We cannot build nations, although we can at times provide encouragement and incentives for those determined to build their own. We cannot bestow democracy, but we can befriend those who aspire to democracy. We can build coalitions or act on our own for the relief of misery and the advancement of human rights, always having done the morally requisite calculation of our capacities and interests, and knowing that it is in our interest to be perceived as doing our duty. We can try to elicit, engage, and nurture constructive voices within Islam, recognizing that the Muslim future will be determined in largest part by those who seek to do what they believe to be God’s will in relation to the infidel, which will always mean us. Above all, we can strive to be a people more worthy of moral emulation, which includes, by no means incidentally, our dependability in rewarding our friends and punishing those who insist upon being our enemies. Finally, given our circumstance of preeminence and the perduring force of envy and resentment in a sinful world, we need not flaunt our power. Whenever possible, we should act in concert with other sovereign nations, and especially other democracies. Often America will have to lead, and sometimes have to act alone. When we do, we should not expect to be thanked, never mind loved. We frequently will be, as in fact we frequently are, but that is to be deemed no more than a bonus for being and doing what we should.

    Our December 2001 editorial “In a Time of War” observed: “The statement of a war aim signifies not only a purpose but also a terminal point. When will we know that it is over? President Bush has declared, ‘It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.’ After September 11, we are or should be in a permanent state of heightened vigilance, but we must not resign ourselves to being in a permanent state of war. Not immediately, but in due course, we need a clear statement on how we will know that the war is over and a just peace is reasonably secured. There may never be, and there should never be, a return to the last decade’s delusory holiday from the vicissitudes of history, but it seems probable that a democracy cannot survive and flourish in a permanent state of emergency.” That was three years ago. This is written before the outcome of the presidential election is known. John Kerry apparently believes that we are not, or at least should not be, at war. A Kerry presidency would likely move toward the internationalism of diminished sovereignty described above. If George W. Bush is reelected, we will need a new and more persuasive statement of an internationalism that is compatible with our interests and capacities, and that proposes a believable alternative to an America and a world in a permanent state of war.

    Admittedly, this vision is far removed from the Christmas angels’ announcement of peace on earth and good will among men. That promise is sacramentally anticipated in the City of God journeying through time toward the temple of the New Jerusalem by whose light the nations shall walk and to which the kings of the earth shall bring their glory (Revelation 21). Meanwhile, in the lesser but also real world short of that consummation, our responsibility is to attend, in the courage of our uncertainties and with a wisdom not untouched by providential guidance, to the politics among nations—which will seldom provide us with the choices we would prefer.

    It is striking how all this tempered wisdom seems to be mirrored in everything President Bush says and does.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


    "I Call the President Imam Bush": A Turning Point in Islamic and World History (Stephen Schwartz, 12/22/2004, Tech Central Station)

    Perhaps the biggest story left unreported in the West is the extraordinary exuberance about the Iraqi election, set for January 30, among Iraqi Shias.

    I know about this because I spend a great deal of time talking to Iraqi Shia religious leaders, some of whom commute back and forth between Iraq and the U.S. The effervescence among them must be experienced to be believed. One prominent Shia in the U.S. told me, "I call the president Imam Bush." (In Shia Islam, the imams are the chief religious guides throughout the history of the sect.) "He is a believer in God, he is just, and I believe he will keep his promise to hold a fair election on January 30," my interlocutor said. "He liberated Kerbala and Najaf [the Shia holy cities]. He has done more for Shias than anybody else in history."

    Shias comprise at least 65 percent of the Iraqi population. It is clear that the January 30 election will produce a Shia-majority government. The Iraqi Shias have produced a unity ticket for the elections under the direction of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Iraqi Shia cleric. Sistani has severely condemned any Shia who might obstruct the election. Sistani and his colleagues have managed to silence the disruptive Moqtada ul-Sadr in the interest of orderly elections.

    Still, even if they can anticipate a Shia sweep in Iraq, Westerners generally seem unable to grasp the full meaning, for the Islamic world, of such a fact. Unequivocal Arab Shia control over their holy sites will represent a major, new historical chapter. Notwithstanding superficial Western reportage and alarmist propaganda by Arab Sunnis, Arab Shias do not obey the commands of Iranian Shias. Iraqi Shias never accepted Khomeini's conception of clerical governance, which had no basis in Islamic doctrine, and was actually a heresy. There is no serious evidence that, if a Shia majority is brought to power in Iraq, a Khomeinist regime would be established.

    In addition, the Khomeinist scheme has been discredited in Iran itself, and that country's majority is trying to find a way out of it. Yet it is amazing to see Western media and politicians, as well as some Arab politicians and rulers, proclaiming the "menace" of Shia rule in Iraq. Naturally, the former Sunni elite who misruled Iraq with the support of Saddam, and Saudi-backed Wahhabi jihadists who hate Shias even more than they do Jews and Christians, seek to disrupt the electoral process in Iraq. But Westerners have no justification to back away from the commitment to elections in Iraq, merely on the basis of Sunni complaints or threats. Some Western experts warn that the triumph of the Shias would bring about a civil war in Iraq; but what other than a civil war is presently going on? Sunni terrorists wreak havoc and devastating bloodshed wherever they can. If anything, a definitive Shia victory would be a powerful incentive for Sunnis to cease their terrorism.

    The wider regional and global ripples of a Shia government in Iraq are likely to be as significant as the transfer of power itself. A nonclerical Shia regime in Baghdad, governing Kerbala and Najaf, would powerfully encourage completion of democratization in Iran. Its success would also draw Lebanese Shias away from the extremist clerical leadership of Hezbollah. A stable post-Ba'athist regime in Iraq could provide a significant model for Syrians as they work their way out of the Bashir Assad dictatorship. Above all, however, a Shia regime in Iraq will provide a stunning exemplar of Arab-Islamic pluralism, that is, an alternative to the model of Sunni monolithism found in Saudi Arabia, and which the Saudis have sought to export throughout the global community of Sunni Islam.

    The Future Iraq Deserves: A pluralist state built on a democratic social contract. (AHMAD CHALABI, December 22, 2004, Wall Street Journal)
    Iraq's people are already realizing their objective of free elections by mobilizing themselves electorally for the first time in 45 years. There are 80 blocs of lists or individuals that have already registered to take part. The number of registered voters is increasing by the day. This is a clear expression by the Iraqi people of their wish to participate in a legitimate political process, and to ensure that their voices will not be silenced as they were under Saddam.

    The United Iraqi Alliance list, consisting of most of the Shiite groups, is an important achievement for this new Iraq. It is a long way from the Shiite rejectionist position back in the early days of the Iraqi state, a position that Shiites have paid for ever since. Today, they are learning that their participation can only be ensured through a legitimate political process. This list is about active participation in a democratic process, not a subversion of elections for the sake of a theocratic Islamic state. It is wrong to assume that this process will be subverted by a pro-Iranian Islamic government. Iraq's Shiites are well aware that it was the U.S. and its allies that rid them of Saddam. This will remain the basis for a pragmatic relationship that dictates their interaction with Washington. They risk losing, rather than gaining, by doing otherwise.

    Iraqi Shiites are proud Arabs. They have deep roots in, and are committed to, Iraq. They are also members of a diverse community with differing political, social and cultural orientations. Their Shiism has been the first call for persecution. That is the very identity that has cost them so much. To rally along that identity as a first expression of their political voice is but natural. It is the first building block for a reasonably balanced state, as well as the first impediment to be overcome toward a non-sectarian future.

    Shiites [shE´Itz] Pronunciation Key [Arab., shiat Ali,=the party of Ali] (1upInfo)

    the second largest branch of Islam, Shiites currently account for 10–15% of all Muslims. Shiite Islam originated as a political movement supporting Ali (cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam) as the rightful leader of the Islamic state. The legitimacy of this claim, as initially envisioned by Ali's supporters, was based on Muhammad's alleged designation of Ali as his successor, Ali's righteousness, and tribal customs, given his close relation to the Prophet. Ali's right passed with his death in 661 to his son Hasan, who chose not to claim it, and after Hasan's death, to Husayn, Ali's younger son. The evolution into a religious formulation is believed to have been initiated with the martyrdom of Husayn in 680 at Karbala (today in Iraq), a traumatic event still observed with fervor in today's Shiite world on the 10th of the month of Muharram of the Muslim lunar year.

    The Shiite focus on the person of the Imam made the community susceptible to division on the issue of succession. The early Shiites, a recognized, if often persecuted, opposition to the central government, soon divided into several factions. The majority of the Shiites today are Twelve-Imam Shiites (notably in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, India, and Pakistan). Others are Zaydis (in Yemen), and the Ismailis (in India, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen). The central belief of Twelve-Imam Shiites is the occultation (or disappearance from view) of the 12th Imam. The 12th Imam is considered to be the only legitimate and just ruler, and therefore no political action taken in his absence can be fruitful. While this position has provided Shiite clerics with the means to survive an often hostile environment, the need for an alternative formulation capable of framing political militancy has fostered activist movements within the Shiite tradition, occasionally leading to dissidence: see Babism.

    Obviously the great unanswerable in the Middle East right now is whether Islam offers any coherent basis for liberal secular democratic government. It would seem that Shi'ism, at least based on the above, does provide such a basis, though we and they would need to cultivate some of these ideas.

    Two elements here are key:

    (1) That Shi'ites have not historically run states: when Christ said to render unto Caesar, it made clear that there is no theological imperative that the State in which a Christian resides be Christian itself. In fact, Christianity was a religion of slaves, not of masters. Judaism likewise was a slave religion and, for thousands of years, until the founding of Israel, had control of no State. No religion which has so little experience of governance is likely to craft a doctrine that requires theocracy or religious totalitarianism.

    This contrasts sharply with Islam, which in the Prophet's own life time became not merely a faith but a politics, as it took control of government. This allowed Islam to stray into a very destructive error, the adoption of the view that religion, politics, economics, etc., are all part of one seamless whole. It is by nature totalitarian, a statist religion.

    However, the Shi'ites background, not entirely dissimilar to that of Christians and Jews, suggests that they could be susceptible to the same ideology of separation. Indeed, many analysts argue that the Khomeinism of Iran was an aberration--the seizure of state power by the clerisy--and, with the Republic tottering after just 25 years, they'd appear to be right. That so many in Iran--the great white hope of Islamicism--are now demanding liberalization and closer ties to the West, holds out the possibility that this experiment in Islamic rule could evolve into a state that, though it would certainly retain a distinctly Islamic identity, more closely resembles what we think of as a liberal constitutional democracy, with consensual government tempered by restrictions on government power and protections for the rights of citizens, including non-Muslims.

    (2) The imperfection of the State, until the Hidden Imam returns: this closely parallels the Christian belief in the Second Coming and the Jewish faith in a Messiah. Added together with the defining sinfulness of human nature, you get a politics that assumes that Man is incapable of perfecting his own society. By way of contrast, the secular/humanist/rationalist creeds--Nazism, Communism, socialism, etc.--tend towards Utopianism (but achieve dystopias) precisely because they believe in the perfectibility of human affairs.

    Eric Hoffer explained well the importance of believing that politics won't render perfection, in his True Believer

    Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.

    It is the very disdain for Man that makes Judeo-Christianity the perfect growth medium for decent societies of free men. expecting less of us, they are happy with as much as we manage to achieve. Rationalists, believing that problems have solutions and that their own minds can render them, tend to an absolutism that justifies making men mere parts of social experiments.

    We see this same tendency in classical Islam, as Karen Armstrong explains it:

    In Islam, Muslims have looked for God in history. Their sacred scripture, the Koran, gave them a historical mission. Their chief duty was to create a just community in which all members, even the most weak and vulnerable, were treated with absolute respect. The experience of building such a society and living in it would give them intimations of the divine, because they would be living in accordance with God's will. A Muslim had to redeem history, and that meant that state affairs were not a distraction from spirituality but the stuff of religion itself. The political wellbeing of the Muslim community was a matter of supreme importance. Like any religious ideal, it was almost impossibly difficult to implement in the flawed and tragic conditions of history, but after each failure Muslims had to get up and begin again.

    Muslims developed their own rituals, mysticism, philosophy, doctrines, sacred texts, laws and shrines like everybody else. But all these religious pursuits sprang directly from the Muslims' frequently anguished contemplation of the political current affairs of Islamic society. If state institutions did not measure up to the Quranic ideal, if their political leaders were cruel or exploitative, or if their community was humiliated by apparently irreligious enemies, a Muslim could feel that his or her faith in life's ultimate purpose and value was in jeopardy. Every effort had to be expended to put Islamic history back on track, or the whole religious enterprise would fall, and life would be drained of meaning. Politics was, therefore, what Christians would call a sacrament: it was the arena in which Muslims experienced God and which enabled the divine to function effectively in the world. Consequently, the historical trials and tribulations of the Muslim community--political assassinations, civil wars, invasions, and the rise and fall of the ruling dynasties-were not divorced from the interior religious quest, but were of the essence of the Islamic vision. A Muslim would meditate upon the current events of their time and upon past history as a Christian would contemplate an icon, using the creative imagination to discover the hidden divine kernel. An account of the external history of the Muslim people cannot, therefore be of mere secondary interest, since one of the chief characteristics of Islam has been its sacralization of history.

    This belief that Man is capable of living in accordance with God's will probably has to be broken before Islam generally can support liberalized politics. It creates the preconditions where any divergence from societal norms and beliefs must be seen as endangering the souls of all. This can never be compatible with broad freedoms.

    However, if, as the Shi'a believe, society can not be perfected until the Hidden Imam reveals himself--if all of our efforts to create perfect government are doomed--then the kind of compromise and tolerance that free men require for the decent life can be achieved consistent with Shi'ism. Let the Shi'ite state start from the premise that the best it can hope to achieve is "half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect" and you have a healthy basis for liberal democracy. This is not to say that will happen, but it must be our hope and our efforts must be directed toward spreading this message, that the political system we're urging on them is implicit in their own faith.

    -ESSAY: The Shiite Factor: How Will Iraq’s Persecuted Majority Behave When the Saddam Era Is Over? (Mark LeVine, ABC News)
    -ESSAY: The Shiite Choice: Will they learn the lessons of their history? (Amir Taheri, July 11, 2003, National Review)

    Are the Shiites about to commit the mistake they made in 1920, when they excluded themselves from the government of the newly created state of Iraq? The question is not fanciful. At that time, Shiite religious and social leaders divided the community in two camps: one favoring negotiations with Britain, then the mandate power in Mesopotamia, and the other preaching a boycott of the "crusading power."

    The latter won the day after being endorsed by senior Shiite clerics in both Najaf and Qom.

    The British, determined to transform the mandate territory into a new state, ignored the Shiites and shaped the Iraqi state as they pleased. They imported a king from the Peninsula and set up a bureaucracy based on a few wealthy Sunni families and clans, many with Ottoman antecedents.

    The Iraqi Shiites found themselves in a strange situation. Their leaders told them that they owed no loyalty to the new state because the Hidden Imam did not create it. When the British set up the new Iraqi army, the Shiites again decided to stay away.

    Those early errors meant that the Shiites, though they accounted for more than 60 percent of the population, never received the share of political power they deserved. Of the 24 men who served as prime minister in successive Iraqi governments between 1921 and 2003, only seven were Shiites (and their total period of service did not exceed six years).

    The few Shiites who attained major positions in government often got hostile receptions from their own community. More importantly, none of the six men who became heads of state in Iraq was Shiite. The Shiites were also excluded from many key positions in the state apparatus and its decision-making organs.

    The decision to stay out of the army was equally disastrous. While the bulk of the army consisted of Shiite recruits, Sunni Muslim Arabs and other minorities dominated the officers' corps.

    Under the monarchy, Shiites were able to pretty much live their own lives, at least as far as religious rites were concerned. After the 1958 coup d'état, however, successive military regimes tried to control all aspects of Shiite life. In the final years of Saddam Hussein, the Shiite community experienced its darkest days.

    Millions of its members had been expelled from Iraq by Saddam or had fled into exile. Inside Iraq, most senior Shiite clerics were either in prison or under house arrest, many of their seminaries disrupted or permanently shut by the Baathist party. It is important for Iraqi Shiites to remember their tragic experience before they are plunged into another historic mistake by shortsighted and selfish leaders.

    -ARCHIVES: Middle East Article and Report Archive (Center for Security Policy)
    -DISCUSSION: Islam and Democracy: Possibilities, Challenges, and Risks of Bringing Democracy to Islamic Nations, Government, and People (Presentation at the Secretary's Open Forum, Washington, DC, June 16, 2003)
    -REVIEW: of The Arab Shia: The Forgotten Muslims, by Graham E. Fuller and Rend Rahim Francke (Robert Brenton Betts, Middle East Policy Council)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


    BELTWAY BACKTRACK: Has the leading gay-rights group in Washington lost its voice? (Michelangelo Signorile, 12/21/04, NY Press)

    AT FIRST THOUGHT, it's difficult to understand how the Human Rights Campaign, the Washington DC-based gay group that employs slick and high-powered lobbyists, could stumble into the p.r. disaster it did in recent weeks. It only becomes plausible when you remind yourself that those who live on Planet Beltway often don't have a clue about what's happening back on Earth.

    Soon after John Kerry's defeat, news leaked and spread via the gay blogs that HRC was axing its executive director, Cheryl Jacques, the former state senator who hailed from the bluest of the blue states and had been at HRC for less than a year. The group's board was sending her packing back to Massachusetts; the reasons cited were Jacques' supposed stridency—signing off on bumper stickers that said, "George Bush, You're Fired!"—and her post-election refusal to bend on the issue of marriage rights.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


    Tories' time: Harper's New Conservatives come long way in short period (LICIA CORBELLA, 12/22/04, Calgary Sun)

    "Three years ago, I was in the Sun's offices talking about running for a party, (the Alliance) that was in the midst of a civil war that had two caucuses, that nobody thought could get together let alone go anywhere," recalls [Stephen Harper, the leader of Canada's official opposition], who will be spending Christmas with extended family at the couple's northwest Calgary home before jetting off to Maui for a week in early January with their children, Ben, 8 and Rachel, 5.

    "Today I'm leading a united opposition that includes not just all the factions of that party but now two parties that have come together in a minority parliament where we're in, I think, a good position to win the next election.

    "At this time last year, the new caucus had never met and now it's doing really well. It's united and I think the front bench is really taking shape."

    Indeed, just 14 months ago, before Peter MacKay, then leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and Harper, leader of the Canadian Alliance, hammered out a deal to merge the two parties in Oct. 2003, pundits and politicos said such a marriage would never work.

    Then, when it happened, they said the various factions within each party would devour one another. Then, when the newly formed Conservative Party was happier and more united than the in-fighting Liberals, the pundits said such unity doesn't matter anyway because the Paul Martin juggernaut -- also described as the Paul Martin steamroller -- would flatten all competition and win the largest majority ever "in a cakewalk."

    The June election proved such projections wildly false. The once seemingly invincible Liberals won just 135 of Parliament's 308 seats with the Conservatives -- just months old -- pulling in 99. Prometheus Paul turned into Minority Martin and as Harper said maybe one of these days or months we'll get to see "if Mr. Martin actually has any idea why he wants to be Prime Minister."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


    The Right's Assault on Kofi Annan (IAN WILLIAMS, January 10, 2005, The Nation)

    Last June UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the media coverage of the so-called Oil for Food Scandal, "It's a bit like lynching, actually." By December the vigilantes were lining up, swinging their ropes. The neoconservative and paleoconservative assault on him and the UN has been like a slightly slower version of the Swift Boat veterans' campaign against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry--right down to the halfhearted and belated disavowals by George W. Bush.

    Listening to the cable pundits, you would never suspect that there is no proof at this point that Annan, or indeed anyone else at the UN, did anything wrong. Charges of corruption against UN official Benon Sevan are suspect at best, given that they come via Ahmad Chalabi, who was also the source of the discredited information about Iraq's illusory weapons, as well as the assurances that Iraqis would greet US and British forces as liberators. Nor is there any evidence that Annan used his influence to give Cotecna, a company that employed his son, the job of monitoring contracts under the oil-for-food program, and no proof that Cotecna did anything illegal or corrupt. Although Annan's son certainly let his father down by not telling him of Cotecna's continuing "non-compete" payments to him, paternal resignations in response to the sins of prodigal sons have not been a great American tradition--certainly not under the Bush dynasty.

    There are real questions about Saddam Hussein's oil sales, both inside and outside the oil-for-food program...

    That would be the United Nations' oil-for-food program, right?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


    Smallest baby born here: 8.6 ounces (JIM RITTER, December 22, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

    No baby as tiny as 8.6 ounces had ever survived before Rumaisa Rahman was born Sept. 19.

    U. of C. doctors excise 160-pound tumor from mom (LORI RACKL, December 22, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)
    Lucica Bungheze watched helplessly for years as the tumor on her back grew larger than she.

    The 160-pound bundle of nerve cells and blood vessels -- some measuring as wide as a thumb -- threatened to kill the 47-year-old Romanian mother, who became so disabled she could barely walk.

    Bungheze had almost given up when she saw a TV show depicting the plight of another woman -- a woman whose situation bore striking similarities. The Discovery Health Channel program chronicled University of Chicago physicians as they successfully removed a 200-pound tumor from Lori Hoogewind of Michigan.

    Last year, the team of U. of C. doctors traveled to Romania to do the same for Bungheze. And now it's the Romanian woman's success story that will be broadcast on Discovery Health Channel. The program, titled "160-lb Tumor," will air several times over the next few weeks, starting tonight at 7 p.m.

    To be a Democrat today is to believe that both are just clumps of cells.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM

    SON SET:

    Blues guitarist, singer Frank 'Son' Seals dies at 62 (JEFF JOHNSON, December 22, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

    The gruff-voiced, hard-edged Chicago blues guitarist-vocalist, who looked like a grizzly bear and reminded good friends of a teddy bear with his sly, self-deprecating humor, died Monday at age 62 of complications of diabetes.

    Mr. Seals' last 10 years were marked by misfortunes.

    His left leg was amputated below the knee in 1999 because of diabetes. He was hospitalized frequently for the disease in the last two years, and had taken insulin since the 1970s. Two years before the amputation, he was shot in the jaw by an ex-wife as he slept, forcing months of reconstructive surgery. More recently his motor home was destroyed by fire after a show in Miami, and his custom-made guitar was stolen.

    "The guy faced the most unbelievably life-shattering experiences, and you never heard him complain about it," said Dan Rabinovitz, a trumpet player in Mr. Seals' band from 1990-97 and a former Cook County assistant state's attorney now practicing law in Boston. [...]

    As the youngest of Jim Seals' 13 children, Frank Seals learned about the blues firsthand at his daddy's juke joint in Osceola, Ark. He was called "Little Son" in his hometown to distinguish him from "Son," his dad. Mr. Seals began playing professionally at age 12, first on the drums and soon after on guitar. While still in his teens, he toured as a drummer with Hooker and later with King, one of his primary influences.

    By the time he moved to Chicago in 1971, Mr. Seals had mastered many of King's guitar riffs. He took over Hound Dog Taylor's regular gigs at the Expressway Lounge on the South Side when Taylor's debut album for Chicago's Alligator Records took off and Taylor hit the road. [...]

    Mr. Seals played guitar "like his life depended on it," said Bruce Iglauer, Alligator founder and president. "Part of it was his sheer intensity. He didn't really play the guitar, he attacked it. And that's the way he approached his vocals, too. He didn't ask you to listen, he bullied you into it."

    Iglauer recalled that Mr. Seals was little-known to blues audiences when he arrived in Chicago. "When I first saw him, he was just playing little South Side joints," he said. He was one of those 50 cents or a dollar [cover charge] guys. He was playing with a borrowed guitar and amp. He recorded the first album for Alligator on a Norma, the Montgomery Ward's guitar brand, and he did the second on a Slivertone from Sears."

    Mr. Seals went on to help reshape the Chicago blues, expanding on the traditional Mississippi Delta roots by incorporating hard-rock elements. His raw, "all kill, no fill" style, as Iglauer describes it, found favor with a fan base that was increasingly white and based on the North Side.

    "Nobody could send a roomful of people over the edge in the midnight hour with a guitar like he could," Rabinovitz said. "When he wanted to throw down, nobody could touch him."

    Live & Burning is an especially good disc.

    SON SEALS, 62 (Joshua Cohen, 12/27/04, NY Press)

    Son Seals, 62 The passing of a figure on the level of Frank "Son" Seals brings out the Alan Lomax in all of us. Hentoff, Goldstein, even Norman Granz of Jazz at the Philharmonic fame—we do what urban Jews do best. We emcee. We introduce. We popularize. We consecrate precious column space to that other American minority we want to understand, but rarely do. Here we go again.

    In our post-electric, post-acoustic and post-electric-again blues world, an era rife with guitar heroes from the relatively traditional Buddy Guy to the softcore muzak of Eric Clapton, Son Seals stood out. His voice was hard, almost metallic—Charlie Patton with Gulf War Syndrome. His pickless guitar style—famously characterized by Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer as "all kill, no fill"—was undoubtedly the most laser-trained, no-f[']ing-around sound that America has heard from six strings since Hubert Sumlin began sucking a few decades ago. Son Seals, in the end, was the last gasp of the blues before the Jonny Lang/Stevie Ray Vaughn revival of the 80s and 90s, and the coopting of traditional black music by people like Moby, suburban-hippies Phish and the aural abortion that was Clapton Unplugged.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


    Departing NAACP Leader Has 'Man-to-Man' Talk With Bush (Michael A. Fletcher, December 22, 2004, Washington Post)

    President Bush and outgoing NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume met at the White House yesterday in what Mfume described as a frank, "man-to-man" discussion aimed at fixing the broken relationship between the president and the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.

    Joined by the president's chief political strategist Karl Rove, Bush and Mfume spent much of the nearly 40-minute conversation discussing the strained relationship between Bush and the NAACP. Last summer, Bush pointedly declined an invitation to address the organization's national convention for the fourth consecutive year, calling his relationship with the group "basically nonexistent." The NAACP said Bush was the first president since Warren G. Harding who did not address the civil rights group while in office.

    Mfume was invited to the White House last month after announcing his intention to step down after nine years as the NAACP's president and chief executive officer. Speaking to reporters, Mfume was careful to say that the private session -- which he had requested in a letter to Bush -- did not "constitute a meeting" between Bush and the NAACP. [...]

    Scott McClellan, Bush's press secretary, called the meeting an extension of the president's policy of working with people willing to work with him. "The president and Mr. Mfume have had a good relationship in the past," McClellan said, "and this meeting is an opportunity to talk about how we can work together in the future on shared priorities.

    Has any White House ever wielded the daggers more skillfully?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


    Fastest growth found in 'red' states (Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, 12/22/04, USA TODAY)

    Robust population growth continues to sweep the nation's Southern and Western states, according to estimates released Wednesday by the Census Bureau.

    If the trend continues at its current pace, states in the Northeast and Midwest that have been population powerhouses since the 19th century will lose their dominance to Sun Belt states by 2010.

    New York, now the third most populous state, will likely be overtaken by Florida in five years. New Jersey, the 10th-largest state, could be passed by North Carolina in three.

    "By 2010, none of the three most populous states will be in the North," says Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

    The USA's population on July 1 was 293.7 million, up 1% from July 1, 2003. If that growth rate holds, the nation will have 311.7 million people in 2010. That would put growth for the decade at about 10%, compared with 13.2% in the 1990s, the highest rate since the 1960s.

    In terms of demographics, America is nothing like the rest of the West and Red America nothing like Blue, which makes our politics unique too.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


    Hispanic men moved to Bush (Stephen Dinan, 12/22/04, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

    President Bush's jump in support from Hispanic voters this election from 2000 was almost entirely among Hispanic men, nearly half of whom voted for him this year, according to a study released yesterday.

    The new numbers from the National Annenberg Election Survey also continue to fuel the debate over exactly how much of the Hispanic vote Mr. Bush did win last month.

    A series of exit polls have shown that support ranging anywhere from 34 percent to 44 percent. But the Annenberg poll, taken in the eight weeks before the election and the two weeks afterward, found Mr. Bush garnering 41 percent support, including 46 percent support among Hispanic men and 36 percent support among Hispanic women.

    The Tancredists can't let that one stand.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


    India using Israeli drones to crush Kashmiris (Our Monitoring Desk, 12/22/04, The Nation [Pk])

    India is using most modern pilotless spy planes, which it has acquired from Israel, to crush the Mujahideen in Occupied Kashmir, reported Radio Tehran on Tuesday.

    India is using Israeli spy planes for secret surveillance of movement of Mujahideen, locating their positions and launching accurate attack on them in the held territory.
    India has also recently acquired most modern radar system from Israel.

    Meanwhile, the Indian army has finalised a deal worth about $40m with the Israel Military Industries (IMI) for the upgradation of its Russian-made rocket systems, reports Zee News.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


    The death of character (Les T. Csorba, December 22, 2004, Boston Globe)

    Character has always required a reality bigger than oneself -- a reality that impinges upon us from the outside. Such a reality is immune from our manipulation and dictates the boundaries of our life. Absent such restraint, pragmatism governs our leaders, for when reality becomes no bigger than the desires and dreams of individuals, personal survival and pleasure becomes the only true god. Character is irrelevant today not because people want it to be, or don't have enough role models to emulate. It is irrelevant because the concept of character is just that -- a disembodied concept.

    Character has been undercut by sensationalist media and salacious movies, the difficulty in distinguishing between image and substance, and the repeated moral failings of leaders. We look for flamboyance, not deep-rooted virtue. The result is cynicism. Trustworthy leadership cannot flourish where people no longer know how to trust.

    So, here is the tragedy of our times. We desperately need the very qualities we are extinguishing. Some belittle the many understated models of characters around us: promise-keepers, intentional parents, or the many role models in sport and business who do serve. We desire character, but, as a culture that doesn't reward or value it, we seek instead something more comfortable and utilitarian. Character succumbs to pragmatism. We recognize and exalt the former, but enjoy and practice the latter.

    To have a renewal of character is to demand a culture that constrains, limits, binds, and obligates.

    As Alan Keyes put it:
    Character is the accumulated confidence that individual men and women acquire from years of doing the right thing, over and over again, even when they don't feel like it. People with character understand that their lives are filled with events and choices that are significant, above all, not because of the short term success or failure of the search for money or position, but because the choices we make are actually making us into one kind of person, or another. Our life of choices is a life-long labor to make ourselves into a person who has begun to respond adequately to the awesome gift we received from God when He made us in His image.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


    Liberals must refight battles of the past (Paul Sabin, December 22, 2004, Boston Globe)

    PRESIDENT BUSH has inspired comparisons with his pre-World War II predecessors Warren Harding, William McKinley, and Herbert Hoover and shown that the great struggles in American history never end. As Bush's second term approaches, several pre-World War II domestic issues predominate.

    Bush's four signature domestic policy areas -- reforming the tax code, privatizing Social Security, rolling back congressional power, and developing energy resources -- take up political battles that seemed to be laid to rest for generations. Who thought that the progressive income tax, authorized by constitutional amendment in 1913, would be up for discussion or that the nation was prepared to revisit fundamental aspects of the New Deal's social compact for retirement security?

    Everyone who's been paying attention since Ronald Reagan nearly unseated Gerald Ford in 1976?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


    Q3's GDP revised a tick higher to 4.0% growth (Gregory Robb, Dec. 22, 2004, CBS

    Third quarter U.S. economic growth was revised slightly higher to a 4.0 percent annual rate from the 3.9 percent previously reported, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

    This is a rebound from the slower 3.3 percent growth rate seen in gross domestic product during the second quarter. The nation's economy grew at a 4.5 percent rate in the first quarter. Read full report.

    Growth has averaged a strong 4 percent rate over the past year.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


    Blair defends Middle East peace efforts (The Guardian, December 22, 2004)

    The prime minister, Tony Blair, today defended his plans for a Middle East conference in London next year, which will go ahead without Israeli participation.

    Speaking at a Jerusalem press conference with his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon, Mr Blair said the conference was designed to help Palestinians become a viable "partner for peace".

    He admitted there had been "enough talks and discussions" on Middle East peace, but said his forum offered practical help towards Palestinian efforts to make democratic and economic reforms and to promote security in the region.

    Remember all the stories seven weeks ago about Mr. Blair lean9ing on the President to push peace in the Middle East? Well, apparently he's leaning so hard he's completely adopted the Bush/Sharon line.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


    Democrats: Gregoire wins by 8 votes: Election officials dismiss claim as premature (CHRIS MCGANN AND CHRISTINE FREY, , December 22, 2004, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

    Democrat Christine Gregoire will defeat Republican Dino Rossi by eight votes in the governor's race recount when King County reports results today, state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said last night.

    "We are absolutely confident that she is going to be the next governor of the state of Washington," Berendt said.

    Both parties have been provided with daily tallies of the county's manual recount. Berendt said those updates and results from the county canvassing board's review of unclear ballots provided the data he needed to call the race.

    King County elections officials said Berendt's victory claim was premature and that the data the parties are seeing hasn't been reconciled.

    "I'm not going to call the election tonight," said King County Elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

    Doesn't Democratic Derangement Syndrome require that in an election this close the GOP will steal it?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


    The Case of the Ohio Recount: In the whodunit over who won it, the true villain is slipping away (Rick Perlstein, December 21st, 2004, Village Voice)

    The game is still afoot in Ohio. Taking advantage of a state law that allows presidential candidates to request an official recount if they finance it themselves, David Cobb of the Green Party and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarians raised $113,600 in mid November, largely from progressives nearly tapped out after the campaign. Last week, the part-time bureaucrats of Ohio's 88 county boards of elections started slogging through the results once more. Teams of progressive volunteers watching over the recounts began clocking 20-hour days.

    Meanwhile there have been the emotional hearings, led by ranking House Judiciary Committee member John Conyers, in which Ohio secretary of state and Bush-Cheney campaign co-chair Ken Blackwell was raked over the coals in absentia for answers to 36 questions about specific Election Day irregularities that Conyers posed to him in a now famous December 2 letter. The 36 questions are masticated endlessly in forums on—new outrages added each day, thousands of embittered idealists consuming the better part of their time in search of that elusive needle-in-haystack data point that will prove outright theft of the election. One lawyer, Cliff Arnebeck, even thinks he's found it, and has filed suit with the aim of kicking George W. Bush out of office.

    It's possible that their vindication will come, that what's already being referred to as the "vote fraud community"—the allusion is to the "JFK assassination research community"—won't disappear up its very own grassy knoll. But the charges producing the greatest heat online often turn out to have the most innocent explanations. The recount isn't amounting to much, either. Last week the Franklin County Board of Elections did discover one extra vote for Kerry—offset by the extra vote they found for Bush. The irregularities volunteers have pointed to in the recount process itself are often picayune.

    In many Americans' minds, it's not too hard to imagine, this will all be received as further evidence of the activist left's irrelevance.

    For a political party the definition of insanity might well be the insistence on proving yourself irrelevant to your fellow citizens.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM

    DEATH OF A CITIZEN (via Kevin Whited):

    Textbook critic dies, leaving noted career (KATHERINE SAYRE, December 21, 2004, Longview News Journal)

    Mel Gabler, a nationally-known conservative textbook critic who emphasized accuracy and a Christian perspective in examining school children's books, died Sunday. He was 89.

    Gabler and his wife, Norma, started reviewing classroom textbooks for accuracy and content more than 40 years ago after finding errors in one of their son's textbooks in 1961.

    The couple founded the nonprofit Educational Research Analysts, a conservative Christian-focused group, to examine textbooks up for adoption by the Texas State Board of Education and became familiar voices to state board members and textbook publishers.

    "There's no way of knowing a total impact of it, but certainly publishers have had to exercise a lot more editorial responsibility than they would have if Mr. Gabler had not done the work he did," said Neal Frey, a senior textbook analyst for the Gablers' group.

    The Gablers garnered national media attention throughout their careers, making an annual roll sheet of the number of factual errors found in history, math, science and other books each year. In 1973, they asked why in one history book, movie star Marilyn Monroe received six pages in a history book while the United States' first president George Washington had a few paragraphs.

    In 1992, Texas fined textbooks publishers about $1 million for hundreds of errors the Gablers found in 10 U.S. history books after publishers and the state had approved them.

    Last month, the Gablers' research group was at the forefront of a successful effort in Austin to force textbook publishers to define marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. The group had objected to, among other things, references to unspecific "married partners."

    A Journalist’s Tribute to Mel Gabler (George Archibald, 12/21/2004, CWA)

    Mel and Norma were the seeds of a veritable parent revolution for school improvement who used the Texas process for textbook adoption to press their case for accuracy and fairness in teaching our country's heritage -- all of it -- to our children. They stood almost alone for decades in building a grassroots parent movement in favor of textbooks and school curriculum that upheld decent social standards, basic principles of decentralized government that safeguard every person's individual freedom, the religious basis of our society that the liberal-left nihilists have tried so hard to censor from teaching and learning in our schools, and basic academic freedom and honesty.

    For decades, they and their allies questioned public school practices from a Christian conservative point of view. Mel and Norma stood against a self-proclaimed “religion” that called itself “secular humanism,” which through academic and education establishment proponents worked itself into K-12 school curriculum and textbooks in the 1960s and '70s.

    Well-financed advocates of secular humanism took on the Gablers, attacked them in professional educator publications, books written by college professors and graduate students, and in federally-funded congressional studies and testimony, but did not beat them.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


    Word of the Day (, December 22, 2004)

    moil \MOYL\, intransitive verb:
    1. To work with painful effort; to labor; to toil; to drudge. [...]

    Moil comes from Middle English moillen, "to soak, to wet,"
    hence "to soil, to soil one's hands, to work very hard," from
    Old French moillier, "to soften, especially by making wet,"
    ultimately from Latin mollis, "soft."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


    Path to Peace Runs Through Palestine: Iraq may grab the headlines, but conflict with Israel still drives Arab anger in the region. (David Hirst, December 22, 2004, LA Times)

    Since Yasser Arafat's death, there has been a shift of international attention away from Iraq to the other, older, most imperishable of Middle East crises. Tony Blair has urged the reelected President Bush to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he called "the single most pressing political challenge in our world today," while British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called it more important than Iraq itself. [...]

    There were plenty of warnings before the invasion that it would only inflame the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Blair himself clearly saw it would have been a very good idea to pave the way for the invasion with a serious attempt to persuade the Palestinians that redress was finally at hand. But the neoconservative hawks who drove U.S. policy reversed these priorities; the road to Jerusalem, and peace in the Holy Land, lay through Baghdad. So what, for Blair, would have been merely prudent risk-avoidance before the war now, in his postwar revival of it, looks more like a desperate bid to salvage what can be salvaged from a grim predicament that seems to get grimmer by the day.

    Bush did promise last month to invest political capital in the other Middle East crisis. But he was distinctly noncommittal about how. In any case, the whole history of Israeli-Palestinian peace-seeking suggests that of all American presidents, Bush — who has been blindly, unquestioningly supportive of Ariel Sharon's right-wing policies — is just about the least likely to listen, in a productive way, to what Blair or even his own Pentagon advisory board have to say.

    This is all so confusing. The President said true peace between Israel and Palestine would have to wait until a democratioc leadership replaced Arafat, but that in the meantime Mr. Sharon should go ahead with unilateral imposition of borders while we dealt with Saddam. Saddam and Arafat are gone. Bush and Sharon remain. Peace is at hand. But Mr. Hirst says the President should have listened to folks who counseled the opposite at every step?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


    Dow Hits Highest Level Since '01: Bargain hunting amid the year-end stock rally helps lift the blue-chip index to 10,759.43. (Tom Petruno, December 22, 2004, LA Times)

    For Wall Street, it was better late than never: The Dow Jones industrial average closed at a 3 1/2 -year high Tuesday, becoming the last major market index to top its best levels of last winter.

    The Dow jumped 97.83 points, or 0.9%, to 10,759.43. That eclipsed its previous 2004 peak of 10,737.70 set Feb. 11 and was its highest level since June 13, 2001.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


    Japan Issues Visa to Taiwan's Lee (Bruce Wallace, December 22, 2004, LA Times)

    An aging politician's desire to visit his alma mater has turned into a diplomatic confrontation between Japan and China, adding one more irritant to an already strained relationship between Asia's biggest powers.

    On Tuesday, Tokyo granted a 15-day tourist visa to former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, 81, who planned to arrive in Japan on Dec. 27 with his wife, daughter and granddaughter for what officials here described as a private holiday.

    Lee was one of four Chinese students given a scholarship to attend Kyoto University during Japan's 1895-1945 occupation of Taiwan, and he is expected to visit the school during a vacation scheduled to last until Jan. 2.

    But Japan's decision to allow Taiwan's feisty former president into the country has angered Beijing. China opposes any move seen as bestowing international legitimacy on Lee, who has remained a prominent advocate of Taiwanese independence from China since leaving office four years ago.

    The Chinese government had warned Japan that it faced a "fierce reaction" if it allowed Lee to visit, saying he would use the occasion to promote Taiwanese separatism.

    Kind of fun having the taunt the Chinese and North Koreans into apoplexy.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


    Living in the Dead Zone (MARTIN CRUZ SMITH, 12/22/04, NY Times)

    What amazes me is not that two elderly peasants have become invisible, but that Chernobyl itself has, as if it were a subject too awful to contemplate. In the rain, the sarcophagus, the 10-story steel-and-concrete box heroically constructed over Reactor 4, leaks like a radioactive sieve into groundwater that drains in the Pripyat River, which feeds the Dnepr, which is the drinking water for Kiev. Ninety percent of the core is still in the reactor, breaking down and heating up, and the station's managers say that the sarcophagus itself could collapse at any time.

    How dangerous would that be? Estimates of deaths from the explosion range from 41 to more than 300,000. The Zone of Exclusion is not an area of containment, no more than a circle drawn on the dirt would stop an airborne stream of plutonium, strontium, cesium-137. Seven million people live on contaminated land in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. People around the world carry in their chromosomes the mark of Chernobyl.

    We search in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, while a more likely danger is another explosion at Chernobyl. It may not be a meltdown, but it will be the mother of all dirty bombs. (A better sarcophagus is promised in five years, but at the site there is little sign of activity, let alone urgency.)

    And in all the drama of the recent election, the inspiring rallies in Independence Square, the spirited presidential debate on Monday and the apparent triumph of good over evil, the subject of another nuclear disaster rarely came up, and then mostly in nationalist rhetoric: it is an article of faith that the West forced Ukraine in 2000 to close the perfectly good reactors that remained at Chernobyl.

    You can't expect folks who insist that Gorbachev reformed communism to acknowledge Chernobyl, the perfect symbol its complete failure.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


    Bush Administration Gives Mixed View on Drug Imports (ROBERT PEAR, 12/22/04, NY Times)

    The Bush administration said Tuesday that commercial importation of some low-cost prescription drugs from Canada might be feasible. But the savings to consumers would be small, it said, and the federal government would have to spend hundreds of million dollars a year to ensure the drugs' safety.

    The administration said in a report to Congress that legalizing imports would probably hurt the development of new drugs for Americans.

    just drop the safety nmonitoring and it's a win/win.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


    Recipe of the day (Dallas Morning News, 12/22/04)

    Cheddar Sausage Frittata*

    5 servings

    1 pkg STOUFFER'S® frozen Macaroni and Cheese, defrosted
    1 tsp vegetable oil
    1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
    8 oz mild pork sausage, fully cooked, drained and crumbled
    3 eggs, whites and yolks separated
    1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
    1/4 cup diced roasted red pepper
    2 tbsp chopped onion
    2 tbsp all-purpose flour
    1 tsp Dijon mustard
    1/8 tsp ground pepper
    1/8 tsp salt


    HEAT oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook
    until lightly browned.

    COMBINE Macaroni and Cheese, sausage, mushrooms, egg yolks, 1/2 cup
    cheese, red pepper, onion, flour, mustard and black pepper in large bowl.

    BEAT egg whites with salt in mixing bowl until soft peaks form; fold
    whites into macaroni mixture. Transfer to greased 9-inch-round cake pan;
    top with remaining cheese.

    BAKE in preheated 400°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until knife
    inserted in center comes out clean.

    recipe archive

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


    Goodbye to All That? (TONY JUDT, January 3, 2005, The Nation)

    "Anti-Semitism" today is a genuine problem. It is also an illusory problem. The distinction between the two is one of those contemporary issues that most divide Europe from the United States. The overwhelming majority of Europeans abhors recent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions and takes them very seriously. But it is generally recognized in Europe that these attacks are the product of local circumstances and are closely tied to contemporary political developments in Europe and elsewhere. Thus the increase in anti-Jewish incidents in France or Belgium is correctly attributed to young people, frequently of Muslim or Arab background, the children or grandchildren of immigrants. This is a new and disconcerting social challenge and it is far from clear how it should be addressed, beyond the provision of increased police protection. But it is not, as they say, "your grandfather's anti-Semitism."

    As seen from the United States, however, Europe--especially "old," or Western, Europe--is in the grip of recidivism: reverting to type, as it were. Last February Rockwell Schnabel (the US ambassador to the European Union) spoke of anti-Semitism in Europe "getting to a point where it is as bad as it was in the 30s." In May 2002 George Will wrote in the Washington Post that anti-Semitism among Europeans "has become the second--and final?--phase of the struggle for a 'final solution to the Jewish Question.'" These are not isolated, hysterical instances: Among American elites as well as in the population at large, it is widely assumed that Europe, having learned nothing from its past, is once again awash in the old anti-Semitism.

    The American view clearly reflects an exaggerated anxiety. The problem of anti-Semitism in Europe today is real, but it needs to be kept in proportion. [...]

    It is increasingly clear to observers in France, for example, that assaults on Jews in working-class suburbs of big cities are typically driven by frustration and anger at the government of Israel.

    Setting aside, for now, the implication that "they asked for it," Mr. Judt is right that if you place Europe's hatred of Jews into a wider perspective you'd have to incorporate its rising Islamophobia, as witness the French scarf ban and the recent violence in Holland, and its equally virulent Christophobia. Anti-Semitism is a symptom, not the disease.

    -Evangelicals See Snags as French Stress Secularism (Tom Heneghan, 12/20/04, Reuters)

    Evangelical Christians in France face growing problems as authorities enforce secularism, favor Muslims or view them as supporters of President Bush, French Protestant leaders say.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


    The 10 trends that will shape 2005 (WILLIAM LYONS, 12/22/04, The Scotsman)

    MEN are becoming more like women, children want to be teenagers, and we are all spending more time in our homes - these are three of the ten "mega-trends" that are shaping the future of our consumer society.

    According to market analysts Datamonitor, the future of how and what we buy will be shaped by this series of shifting consumer values.

    In a new report, Global Consumer Trends, the key influences are revealed. These range from "age complexity" - adults seeking a teenage twist; and "gender complexity" - men becoming more feminised; to the increasing desire for "sensory experiences".

    Gavin Humphries, the author of the study, said that a "mega-trend" is when a trend hits the mass market across a number of different industry sectors.

    December 21, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 PM


    Another test of faith for China's hidden bishop (Damien McElroy, 19/12/2004m, Daily Telegraph)

    Bishop Julius Jia comes rushing through the lacquered rosewood door dressed like a Chinese peasant, his blue cotton Mao suit topped with a navy sailor's cap.

    The country's leading "underground" bishop has been flouting a ban on visiting members of his congregation and his disguise is vital for his safety.

    Only when the elderly leader of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Chinese Catholics, who must worship in secret, pulls his bishop's ring from his pocket and slips it onto his finger is he transformed into a religious figure.

    Christmas is coming - a season of celebration for most Roman Catholics but a time of even greater danger for Bishop Jia, who has been detained by the Chinese authorities on more than 30 occasions and spent more than 20 years in jail.

    His refusal to join Beijing's official Catholic church, which does not recognise the Pope, makes him a prime target of their anger.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 PM


    Plot clue is chronicle of a death foretold (Jack Malvern, 12/22/04, Times of London)

    THE actual contents of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are known only to J. K. Rowling, but she has let slip a handful of clues.

    One racing certainty is that at least one character will die, although the field is wide open for candidates. Bookmakers are predicting it will be Hagrid, Harry’s mentor.

    The author has given ambiguous answers to so many questions about specific characters’ longevity that Books 6 and 7 could resemble Titus Andronicus.

    Speculation is also rife about the identity of the Half-Blood Prince himself. Rowling has confirmed only that the prince is not Harry or Voldemort.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 PM


    Wal-Mart breaks price barrier with Linspire Linux laptop (INFOWORLD TECH WATCH, 12/21/04)

    Wal-Mart is offering a laptop that dives below the $500 pricepoint, and it's no accident the machine, from Linspire, runs a Linux-based operating system.

    The Balance laptop, at $498, enters a mass market at a price that will undoubtedly accelerate Linux adoption.

    The laptop comes with the OS, Internet suite, and Microsoft-file compatible office suite and can be used with both dial-up modems and broadband connections. The machine comes with a VIA C3, 1.0 GHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, which is expandable up to 512 MB with SODIMM (Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Modules). It includes a CD-ROM drive and a 14.1-inch LCD screen.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 PM


    Details Cloud Support For Social Security Plan (John F. Harris and Dana Milbank, December 22, 2004, Washington Post)

    President Bush has wide support for his argument that Social Security needs dramatic change to meet its obligations to future retirees, but there remains considerable skepticism about his plan to let people invest a portion of their contribution to the program in the stock market, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

    Since his Nov. 2 reelection victory, Bush has frequently said the results were an endorsement by voters of the most dramatic revision of the retirement program since its inception nearly 70 years ago. But the survey shows that his efforts to educate the public about the idea and convince them of the merits are at best incomplete.

    A strong majority, 63 percent, do not think Social Security will have enough money to pay the benefits they are entitled to, and 74 percent think the system faces either major problems or is in crisis -- as Bush has asserted. The president also has at least general support from 53 percent of the public for the concept of letting people control some of their contributions to invest in the market.

    That last number will only grow as the New Deal generation dies off.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 PM


    When the Right Is Right (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 12/22/04, NY Times)

    One of the most conservative, religious, fascinating - and, in many ways, admirable - politicians in America today is Sam Brownback, the senator from Kansas who is a leader of the Christian right.

    Sure, Mr. Brownback is to the right of Attila the Hun, and I disagree with him on just about every major issue. But 'tis the season for brotherly love, so let me point to reasons for hope. Members of the Christian right, exemplified by Mr. Brownback, are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad - thus creating opportunities for common ground between left and right on issues we all care about.

    So Democrats should clamber down from the window ledges, roll up their sleeves and get to work on some of these issues. Because I'm embarrassed to say that Democrats have been so suspicious of Republicans that they haven't contributed much on those human rights issues where the Christian right has already staked out its ground.

    Meanwhile, Democrats wonder where Kansas went wrong...

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


    Mobile Phone Radiation Harms DNA, New Study Finds (Reuters, 12/20/04)

    Radio waves from mobile phones harm body cells and damage DNA in laboratory conditions, according to a new study majority-funded by the European Union, researchers said on Monday. [...]

    The research project, which took four years and which was coordinated by the German research group Verum, studied the effect of radiation on human and animal cells in a laboratory.

    After being exposed to electromagnetic fields that are typical for mobile phones, the cells showed a significant increase in single and double-strand DNA breaks. The damage could not always be repaired by the cell. DNA carries the genetic material of an organism and its different cells.

    "There was remaining damage for future generation of cells," said project leader Franz Adlkofer.

    This means the change had procreated. [...]

    Because of the lab set-up, the researchers said the study did not prove any health risks. But they added that "the genotoxic and phenotypic effects clearly require further studies ... on animals and human volunteers."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


    Planned Parenthood Has Profitable Year: Group performed about 250,000 abortions and made $35 million in 2004. (Steve Jordahl, 12/21/04, Citizen Link)

    Abortions have increased, profits are up and federal dollars keep rolling in, according to the 2004 annual report of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

    The group performed almost a quarter million abortions last year and netted a profit of $35 million—despite closing some clinics—thanks to a lot of taxpayer funding.

    "We estimate that Planned Parenthood took in $104 million from doing abortions, and that that represented about one-third of the total income that they had from their clinics around the country," said Jim Sedlak, founder and president of STOPP International, an outreach of the American Life League.

    "Planned Parenthood insists as a business that every one of their clinics must make money or it gets closed down. It makes no difference what the federation as a whole is doing."

    Just think what that murderous harvest would be worth if John Kerry had won and they could sell the stem cells to the government for research.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


    Teen gang beats up Santa Claus (, December 22, 2004)

    A LOLLY-giving exercise by a Santa Claus in southern France turned sour when a group of greedy teenagers kicked him to the ground and beat him up for not handing over his sack of goodies, police said today.

    If ever a nation deserved a lump of coal.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


    Bashir, Osama 'in cave meeting' (Sian Powell, December 22, 2004, The Australian)

    EXTREMIST cleric Abu Bakar Bashir told a key Jemaah Islamiah operative that he had visited Osama bin Laden in his cave hideout in Afghanistan, a Jakarta court heard yesterday.

    In the first evidence of a direct link between the two men, the key prosecution witness, Nasir Abbas, told the court he had been with Bashir at a passing-out ceremony at a JI training camp in the southern Philippines, an event that is a central plank in the prosecution's case against Bashir. Abbas said he complained to Bashir about living conditions in the camp, where Bashir was visiting for 2-3 days to witness the graduation of 17 operatives at a camp in Mindanao.

    Bashir was not sympathetic. "He told me that on his trip to Afghanistan he met with Osama bin Laden," Abbas said, and then quoted Bashir saying: "We should be thankful because they live in a cave with minimal facilities and we are more comfortable."

    No wonder recruiting has gone to Hades.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


    Full text: Blair's statement in Baghdad: statement by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday's surprise visit to Baghdad, where he was greeted by his Iraqi counterpart Iyad Allawi. (BBC, 12/21/04))

    I feel a great sense of honour and also humility at being here and I would like to thank you for your leadership and the immense courage that you and your colleagues have shown.

    I've just visited members of the electoral commission and met some of their staff, and I said to them that I thought that they were the heroes of the new Iraq that's being created because here are people who are risking their lives every day in order to make sure that the people of Iraq get a chance to decide their own destiny democratically.

    And I'd just like to say this very strongly to the outside world, whatever people's feelings or beliefs about the removal of Saddam Hussein and the wisdom of that, there surely is only one side to be on in what is now very clearly a battle between democracy and terror.

    On the one side you have people who desperately want to make the democratic process work, and want to have the same type of democratic freedoms other parts of the world enjoy, and on the other side people who are killing and intimidating and trying to destroy a better future for Iraq.

    And I thought when I saw that... just how important it was for people to recognise this is now about the future.

    Interestingly, talking to some of the United Nations staff that were there as well - their very, very strong commitment to making sure the elections are held and also their belief from the work and the conversations they've had that people in Iraq actually do want to participate in this.

    So I hope very much, like you prime minister, it goes ahead on an inclusive basis - I'm sure it can do and should do.

    Also of course, as we build up the capability of the Iraqi security force - the police and the army and the other forces - of course that then brings forward the day when the multinational force can leave and then Iraq is there with the people in charge of their destiny, with Iraq in charge of its own future, and with Iraq as a stable and democratic partner for this region and for the wider world - and that is a vision that everybody, not just in Iraq but everybody in the whole of the international community should support.

    And as I say, I feel a sense of humility, I know it's a very tough challenge - you can see that and feel it being here.

    I'm sure that there are parts of Iraq that are very much calmer but here in Baghdad you feel the sense of the challenge and the difficulty that there is.

    I've nothing but admiration for you and for your colleagues and everyone here, whether from the international community or Iraqis who are trying to make this country better, and you deserve our praise and our support and also our gratitude because you're striking an important blow for democracy everywhere.

    Mr Blair and Mr Allawi also took questions from journalists:

    Q: Andrew Marr: Many thousands of people have died for this moment, including scores of British people, are you sure that this prize [word indistinct] was worth that price?

    Tony Blair: When I meet the people working alongside the United Nations - Iraqis in fear of their life every day, because they are trying to bring freedom and democracy to their people - when I see their courage and their determination and know that they speak for the vast majority of people in Iraq who want that democracy and freedom, then I know that we are doing the right thing.

    And whatever people felt about the original conflict, we the British aren't a nation of quitters. What's very obvious to me is that the Iraqi people here, they're not going to quit on this task either - they're going to see it through. And just imagine the difference that a stable and democratic Iraq would make - not just to people in Iraq but throughout the whole of the region and the world - now when I see that, yes, I believe we did the right thing.

    And I will also say this to you, there are people dying in Iraq but the reason people are dying is because of the terrorism and the intimidation and the people who are deliberately killing anyone trying to make this country better.

    Now what should our response be as an international community? Our response should be to stand alongside the democrats - the people who've got the courage to see this thing through - and help them see it through. I've got no doubt at all that that is the right thing for us to do.

    Iyad Allawi: May I just interject here. Of course we in Iraq do greatly appreciate the sacrifices of the British people - the brave soldiers of Britain and other friendly nations. I assure you that all were for a very good cause. It's a cause not only to bring democracy to Iraq and to the Iraqis but to ensure peace and stability in the region as well as in the world.

    We have been, all of us, engaged in war against terrorism... Britain stood very tall against Nazism and this was a worthwhile cause. I think what you are doing now is a great cause for humanity and for the future of the world. (...)

    Q: Journalist: Mr Allawi how worried are you that... democracy that you want in election is going to be meaningless because there are going to be so many, particularly Sunnis, who don't vote and would you in any circumstances consider postponing the elections - waiting for stability to be restored?

    Mr Allawi: No we are pressing ahead to have the elections on time. We are committed to have the elections on time. The majority of Iraqis are excited to have the elections on time. Definitely our enemies are determined to break our will - they will not prevail - we will not allow them to prevail.

    We are continuously engaged with the various constituencies of Iraqis to participate - we want it to be an inclusive election - we want everybody to be part of this election. We have been talking to the various elements and personalities - tribal leaders of all inclinations, backgrounds - to be part of the elections.

    We believe very strongly that as we move progressively in the political process, this would have an impact also on security - improving security. We have always expected that violence would increase as we approach the elections but I am sure that the Iraqi people with the help of our dear and good friends in the international community, we are going to be able to achieve this goal.

    Q: Female journalist: What guarantees or at least hopes are there that the situation will get better after the elections?

    Tony Blair: I think... I mean obviously as the prime minister has just [said] there has been a concerted attempt to try and break our will over the elections... And I think that everyone understands that obviously there will be violence that will continue even after an election.

    On the other hand, we will then have a very clear expression of democratic will. And what is interesting to me was talking to the United Nations officials here who were first of all absolutely committed to the electoral process and secondly said to me in the strongest terms that all the work they were doing in every part of the Iraqi community indicated people actually do want to participate. There is intimidation in certain areas but no shortage whatever of people's desire to participate in democratic elections.

    And as actually we saw in Afghanistan, once those elections take place, they have their own momentum. So I'm not in any sense dismissive of the problems - there are major problems, of course there are - but I think holding the elections will, as the prime minister was implying a moment or two ago, have its impetus towards greater security.

    Q: Nick Robinson, ITV News: Can you just give us a sense of your feelings today? You flew here in secrecy under armed protection into what is still a safe zone more than a year and a half after Saddam fell. Can you honestly say to yourself, this is what I meant to bring about when I said that we ought to invade Iraq?

    Tony Blair: That's a good question. I'll tell you exactly what I felt coming in. Security is really heavy - you can feel the sense of danger that people live in here.

    But what I felt more than anything else was this - the danger that people feel here is coming from terrorists and insurgents who are trying to destroy the possibility of this country becoming a democracy.

    Now where do we stand in that fight? We stand on the side of the democrats against the terrorists. And so when people say to me, well look at the difficulties, look at the challenges - I say well what's the source of that challenge - the source of that challenge is a wicked, destructive attempt to stop this man, this lady, all these people from Iraq, who want to decide their own future in a democratic way, having that opportunity.

    And where should the rest of the world stand? To say, well that's your problem, go and look after it, or you're better off with Saddam Hussein running the country - as if the only choice they should have in the world is a choice between a brutal dictator killing hundreds of thousands of people or terrorists and insurgents.

    There is another choice for Iraq - the choice is democracy, the choice is freedom - and our job is to help them get there because that's what they want. Sometimes when I see some of the reporting of what's happening in Iraq in the rest of the world, I just feel that people should understand how precious what has been created here is. And those people from that electoral commission that I described as the heroes of the new Iraq - every day... a lot of them aren't living in the Green Zone, they've got to travel in from outside - they do not know at any point in time, whether they're going to be subject to brutality or intimation even death and yet they carry on doing it. Now what a magnificent example of the human spirit - that's the side we should be on.

    Mr Allawi: I'd like to add a few points to what Prime Minister Blair has said. Iraqis do not see what happened as an invasion. As I clearly said that we deeply appreciate the commitment of the international community to have helped the Iraqi people to rid Iraq of a tyrant and to stand with us in fighting terrorism.

    Frankly, what you see now, the security, is a manifestation of a war that is being waged against us by evil forces. We have to stand firm, we have to stand tall, we have to defeat the insurgents. We have to defeat the evil forces, we have to defeat terror. And this is really to protect the whole world and the generations to come.

    We are adamant that we are going to proceed with the democracy, with the freedom, with the rule of law, with the respect of human rights - these are the important values that have been brought into Iraq. And for the first time the Iraqis feel the sense of liberty - it is a dream which has become true - we don't expect forces assembled against us just to stand idle to see this huge construction going ahead in a peaceful way. This what you see now, will disappear in the very near future.

    Q: Female journalist: You came to power six months ago... saying that Iraqis could do it better than the Americans. What went wrong?

    Mr Allawi: I still think that Iraqis will do it better - can do it better - than the multinational forces. We are deeply appreciative of the role of the multinational forces. We are moving ahead and building our own security.

    There are constraints, definitely for various reasons. But we are much better off than we were six months ago. We now have some army. We have some police. We are active. The Iraqi army and the Iraqi police spearheaded the cleaning up of Falluja.

    We are still developing our capabilities in the field of security and this is what we have been even discussing today in fact with Prime Minister Blair and we hope that we can expedite until such a point that the Iraqis themselves will be shouldering responsibility.

    Tony Blair: If I could just make one final point as well leading up to something that the prime minister has just said. He made the point that it was important for the future of the world, for the future of everyone not just Iraq - I want to emphasise that.

    Sometimes people say to me, what has this got to do with Britain's security? It has got this to do with Britain's security. If Iraq becomes a stable democratic country and we defeat the terrorism here which is the same type of terrorism that we face the world over - if we defeat it here, we deal a blow worldwide.

    If Iraq is a stable and democratic country, that is good for the Middle East and what is good for the Middle East is actually good for the world, including Britain - that's why it's important for us too.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM

    MANY WAYS TO HAVE A GOOD TIME (via Rick Turley):

    Parents, transgender models brawl at YMCA (Chicago Tribune, December 20, 2004)

    A scheduling mix-up is blamed for a weekend melee between parents of young children and participants at a transgender fashion show at a North Side YMCA, WGN-Ch. 9 reported.

    The incident happened Sunday morning at the New City YMCA, 1515 N. Halsted St., police said.

    Parents bringing their children to an early morning swim meet encountered people attending the fashion show, which had been going on since shortly before midnight, WGN reported.

    A scuffle broke out when some parents allegedly directed sexual slurs toward transgender models and guests, WGN reported. Chicago police and private security guards were called after someone threw a chair, and the sound was mistaken for gunfire. [...]

    A New City Y official attributed the incident to a "regrettable scheduling error"...

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


    That Other Church: Let's face it: Secularism is a religion. Let's treat it as such. (David Klinghoffer, 12/21/2004, Christianity Today)

    A 2004 survey of religion and politics revealed a religious minority that constitutes at least 7.5 percent of the American population. It referred to this informal denomination as "Secular."

    Sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the poll shows the fairly uniform political orientation of secularists: Only 21 percent regard themselves as politically conservative. A large majority, 79 percent, favor what the survey terms "gay rights" and support legal abortion.

    For each element in the Judeo-Christian family of faiths, secularism has its counterpart: a strict ethical code, albeit focusing on health issues ("Thou shalt not smoke," etc.); the use of shame when individuals disregard ethical rules (e.g. fat people); a related promise of eternal life through medical advances; a creation story (Darwinian evolution); and so forth. All that's missing is a deity, but not every religion has one, as the case of Zen Buddhism attests.

    The secular church is populous and dynamic, with a membership far exceeding that figure of 7.5 percent. Many individuals who identify nominally as Jews or Christians in fact are devout secularists.

    All this would be fine—after all, America is a big country with plenty of room for every spiritual predilection—but for the tendency of secularists to use aggressive means in advancing their political agenda and spreading their faith. [...]

    Americans outside the secular fold need to develop responses to the encroachments of secularism in the public square. Mutual understanding is key. Many secularists live in isolated enclaves (Beverly Hills, San Francisco, certain New York City neighborhoods, etc.) with few members of other faiths present. Some sort of interfaith dialogue, matching representatives of secularism with believing Jews, Christians, and members of other religions, would do some good.

    But it's not the entire solution. So that everyone can know where everyone else stands, it's time to start identifying the secular faithful as such. The word Secular should be capitalized, indicating a distinctive philosophical orientation. So, just as Mel Gibson is always referred to as a Catholic filmmaker, Michael Moore should be identified as a Secular one.

    No one need begrudge Darwinists and Rationalists their faith--everyone has to have one in order to remain sane--only their insistence that they deserve special treatment, that their church be established.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


    Nation Of Misers: Japan's worried consumers just won't do what the world wants them to: buy. (Christian Caryl, 12/27/04, Newsweek International)

    Japan has long been legendary for its tightfisted consumers, whose stubborn refusal to get out and spend has plagued the economy like a lingering nightmare. Yet this was the year that was supposed to change all that. The optimists had plenty of weighty arguments on their side. Corporate profits were reaching new highs. Employment was moving steadily upward. And Japan's once astronomical savings rate was showing signs of descending to earthly levels. In May consumer confidence hit its highest level in 13 years. Well-wishers prayed that newly adventurous consumers would lift the world's second largest economy out of the doldrums of deflation.

    They're still waiting. Consumer spending grew at a mere 0.9 percent in the third quarter, much worse than the government's own projection of 3.7 percent—undoubtedly a major reason third-quarter growth dwindled to an uninspiring 0.2 percent. And a closer look at the figures during the best part of the year reveals that much of the growth in GDP was driven by exports. If the past few months have shown anything, it's that Japanese consumers' reluctance to spend might have deeper roots than some analyses have allowed for.

    Stingy consumers in Japan are bad news for the rest of the world. Most analysts are now predicting 1.9 percent GDP growth in 2005, down from 2.5 percent in 2004. If they're right, Japan's public debt will remain high and Japan will continue to buy U.S. treasuries to finance its trade surplus with the United States. [...]

    Surveys suggest that consumers remain confident about the short-term, but pessimistic about their long-term prospects. More than a decade of recession, and a pension system that is groaning under the weight of government debt and a graying population, have left people with a deep sense of insecurity about the future.

    We have a future. They don't.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


    Glimmers Of Hope in The Arab World (Fareed Zakaria, December 21, 2004, Washington Post)

    Since Sept. 11, 2001, I've written a column once a year pointing out the good news, which is that Islamic extremism is losing. The movement, in all of its variations, has been unable to garner mass support in any Muslim country. While people in many countries still despise their governments -- and that of the United States -- this has not translated into support for Osama bin Laden's ideas. It doesn't mean the end of terrorism by a long shot. Small groups of people can do great harm in today's world. But it does mean that the political engine producing this religious radicalism is not gaining steam.

    In those places in the Muslim world where political life is open, the evidence is overwhelming. In the elections in Malaysia and Indonesia this year, secular parties trounced Islamic ones. Malaysia's case is particularly instructive. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ran on a platform of reform and good government, reckoning that voters cared more about ending corruption than enacting Islamic law. The result was a devastating defeat for the Islamist party, its worst showing in 30 years.

    In 2004, however, one can point to more than simply the absence of support for fundamentalism. There are glimmers of reform, even in the Arab world, the place that remains the locus of the problem. Governments are talking about changing their economic and even political systems. Some are doing more than talking. Jordan has begun serious economic reforms. Egypt, which remains the most tragic case of lost potential in the Arab world, could be rousing from its slumber. An energetic new prime minister has appointed a team with strong reformist credentials, including businessmen in the cabinet (a first in Egypt). The reforms they have proposed are bold and far-reaching. Markets are taking note: Egyptian stocks are up 100 percent this year.

    Glimmers? Iraq and Palestine will begin 2005 with genuine elections. Mr. Zakaria would have laughed if you'd told him that on September 12th, 2001.

    -Intifada Fatigue: As Palestinians prepare to elect a new president, they're facing the failure of the armed uprising and are hopeful that favorite Mahmoud Abbas can end their misery. (Dan Ephron, 12/27/04, Newsweek International)
    -Last Days of the Taliban?: The one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar cruises the Afghan countryside on a motorbike trying to rally his troops. But his guerrillas may be tiring of the fight. (Sami Yousafzai And Ron Moreau, 12/27/04, Newsweek International)
    Islam's Happy Faces: The year to come will witness changes both long-term and short, sharp and dramatic. Here are 10 leaders, scientists, executives and artists who will be at the forefront of it all. (Owen Matthews and Lorien Holland, 12/27/04, Newsweek International)

    Call them the new faces of the Islamic world. Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, 65, and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 50, are two Muslim leaders who have set out to prove that Islamic societies can be tolerant, democratic and prosperous—and that they can co-operate, instead of clash, with more developed Western countries. The nations they lead may be on different sides of the world, but the two prime ministers share similar challenges as they attempt to define what it means to be a modern Muslim nation. First, they are searching for ways to transcend fundamentalist doctrines—or what Abdullah calls "extremists on both sides [who] will drive our civilizations apart." But both men are also finding that the real key to creating a functional Muslim society lies not in theorizing, but in the nuts and bolts of good governance—promoting economic and judicial reform, stamping out corruption, opening their economies to competition and investment. Their shared goal is to ensure that while Islam is a part of their nation's identity, it does not set the entire agenda.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


    Science or Miracle?; Holiday Season Survey Reveals Physicians' Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles (BUSINESS WIRE, Dec. 20, 2004)

    A national survey of 1,100 physicians, conducted by HCD Research and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City over the past weekend, found that 74% of doctors believe that miracles have occurred in the past and 73% believe that can occur today.

    The poll also indicated that American physicians are surprisingly religious, with 72% indicating they believe that religion provides a reliable and necessary guide to life.

    Those surveyed represent physicians from Christian (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Christian and other), Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular) Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions.

    "The picture that emerges is one where doctors, although presumably more highly educated than their average patient, are not necessarily more secular or radically different in religious outlook than the public, stated Dr. Alan Mittleman, Director of The Finkelstein Institute. [...]

    Often, religious conviction, especially a belief in the miraculous, declines as level of education increases. This does not appear to hold true for physicians. Perhaps because of their frequent involvement with matters of life and death, physicians show significant openness to religion. Regarding their views on miracles and the source of the Bible:

    -- 37% physicians believe that the Bible's miracle stories are literally true while 50% believe they are metaphorically true. 12% indicated that they did not believe in the Bible's description of miracles

    -- 9% believe the Bible was written by God, 58% believe the Bible was inspired by God and 34% consider it human ancient literature.

    -- 55% believe that medical practice should be guided by religious teaching (44% do not)

    Religion and the practice of medicine

    Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey is that a majority of doctors (55%) said that they have seen treatment results in their patients that they would consider miraculous (45% do not). Most physicians pray for their patients as a group (51%). Even more, 59% pray for individual patients.

    67% encourage their patients to pray. Of those physicians, 5% did so for God to answer their prayers, 32% for psychological benefits and 63% for both reasons. 33% did not encourage their patients to pray.

    No one sees more clearly the inadequacies of science than scientists and the more concrete the science the more faith-filled the practitioner.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:37 PM


    Washington Post Co. Buying Web Magazine Slate (Howard Kurtz, December 21, 2004, Washington Post)

    The Washington Post Co. said today it is buying Slate in an effort to boost the newspaper company's online traffic but does not plan any editorial changes at the eight-year-old Web magazine.

    In announcing a deal to buy Slate from Microsoft Corp. for an undisclosed sum, said to be in the millions of dollars, Post executives said they would keep Jacob Weisberg as editor and most of the 30-person staff. Cliff Sloan, general counsel of Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, will also become publisher of the money-losing magazine when the deal takes effect next month.

    This would be the same Post that refuses to allow Free Republic to excerpt its stories and whose Newsweek site is one of the worst on the web?

    I actually stumbled across what looks like a feasible model for such folks to make money off their content--both Salon and The Economist now offer non-subscribers a daypass if you sit through a brief on-line ad. That seems a small enough thing to ask in exchange for what they provide.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


    Bush presses for reform on border policy (James G. Lakely, 12/21/04, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

    President Bush said yesterday he wants to reform immigration policy so that the Border Patrol will be "chasing crooks and thieves and drug-runners and terrorists," and not the thousands who cross the border every day to find work. [...]

    Conservatives have resisted the president's plan, arguing that it amounts to an amnesty for those who are currently breaking the law and that the relaxed rules could be exploited by terrorists.

    Mr. Bush assured critics that "one of the important aspects of my vision is that this is not automatic citizenship.

    "The American people must understand that," Mr. Bush said. "If somebody who is here working wants to be a citizen, they can get in line like those who have been here legally and have been working to become a citizen in a legal manner."

    While the press is more fascinated by the President grasping what used to be the third rail of American politics--Social Security--but has now become an excellent political issue for Republicans, the real excitement lies in his willingness to grasp the fourth rail--immigration--where racism and economic warfare bring Left and Right together to form a formidable majority in opposition to any reform whatsoever.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:15 PM


    China's Persecution of Women and Children: More of the Same (Joseph A. D'Agostino, Dec 21, 2004, Human Events)

    New House International Relations Committee hearings chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R.-N.J.) and held December 14 told the same old sad story: the Chinese government continues to persecute women who exceed their allotted quota of children. The same basic story has some new twists, however.

    Even domestic Chinese population experts now quietly admit that China's population control program coerces women. And, in a new low for the Communist Chinese regime, a peaceful protester against China's one-child policy, Mao Hengfeng, has been imprisoned and is being tortured. Beijing expects its women to submit quietly to the abortions and sterilizations required of them.

    Depending on the region, Chinese couples are allowed to have one or occasionally two children. That's it. Any woman who has more than her quota faces heavy "social compensation fees"--up to ten times annual household income in China--and often the following: loss of employment, loss of some health care coverage and educational opportunities for her children, imprisonment, forced abortion, and legally mandated sterilization. Her husband faces the same with the exception of the last two. China, with approximately one-fifth of the world's people, has 56% of the world's female suicides--and participants in the hearings said that they believed that the one-child policy contributes to that statistic.

    The World Bank estimates that Chinese women's suicide rate is five times the world average. "Five hundred women a day commit suicide in China," said Smith.

    They're only preceding the rest of the country off of the bridge.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


    6th Harry Potter book is done (HILLEL ITALIE, December 21, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

    Harry Potter readers, here's an extra special holiday gift: J.K. Rowling announced Monday that she has completed the sixth Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

    ''I know you all expected this to happen on Christmas Day, but I was sure that those of you who celebrate Christmas have better things to do on the day itself than fight your way into my study, whereas those of you who DON'T celebrate Christmas would definitely prefer not to wait until the 25th,'' the British author wrote in a message posted on her Web site.

    Rowling noted that while she is pregnant with her third child, she has had the time ''needed to tinker with the manuscript to my satisfaction and I am as happy as I have ever been with the end result. I only hope you feel it was worth the wait when you finally read it.''

    Rowling's U.S. publisher, Scholastic, said a release date would be announced today.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


    Gravity May Lose Its Pull
    : When conventional physics couldn't explain why space probes were acting strangely, one JPL scientist was determined to find the answer. (John Johnson, December 21, 2004, LA Times)

    It was in 1980 that John Anderson first wondered if something funny was going on with gravity.

    The Jet Propulsion Laboratory physicist was looking over data from two Pioneer spacecraft that had been speeding through the solar system for nearly a decade.

    Only something was off base. The craft weren't where they were supposed to be.

    Rather than traveling at a constant velocity of more than 25,000 mph toward the edge of the solar system, Pioneers 10 and 11 were inexplicably slowing down. Even factoring in the gravitational pull of the sun and its other planets couldn't explain what he was seeing.

    How could that be?

    At first, Anderson figured there must be a simple explanation. Maybe there was a malfunction on board the spacecraft. Maybe his calculations were wrong.

    Shy, bookish and soft-spoken, Anderson was not the type to call a news conference to announce that two U.S. spacecraft appeared to be disobeying the physical laws of the universe. [...]

    "I started plotting this anomalous acceleration toward the sun," Anderson said. In space science-speak, that meant the spacecraft were improbably slowing down.

    To be sure, the anomaly was small, just 8 X 10--8 centimeters/second2. That amounted to about 8,000 miles a year, a tiny fraction of the 219 million miles the spacecraft covered annually. The anomaly is about 10 billion times weaker than the Earth's gravity.

    But over time, even inches and meters add up.

    Today, after three decades, the difference is about 248,000 miles, the distance from Earth to the moon.

    Anderson, ever the cautious scientist, didn't tell anyone what he was seeing for a decade. Early on, the probes were still so close to the sun that he reasoned radiation and solar wind — streams of ionized gas spewing forth through the solar system — could be affecting them.

    The other possibility was a spacecraft "systematic" — an onboard mechanical problem. Prime suspects were gas leaks, along with releases of energy by the plutonium-powered radioisotope thermoelectric generators that provided electric power to the instruments.

    None of these candidates seemed capable of producing errors as large as Anderson was charting.

    There was one piece of evidence that seemed to support the idea that the anomaly could be real: It was almost exactly the same on both spacecraft. On the other hand, both Pioneers were built by the same company to identical specifications, so why shouldn't the same problem show up on both?

    As years passed, and the Pioneer probes moved away from the sun's influence, the anomaly didn't disappear — or change even one iota.

    Anderson was stumped. Unable to get the problem out of his head, he began spending his own time burrowing deeper into the numbers streaming back from space.

    He was still scratching his head when physicist Michael Martin Nieto at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico called up one day in 1994 looking for material for an upcoming speech about new developments in physics. Anything interesting going on?

    "Well, I've got this thing with Pioneer," Anderson said.

    "I almost fell off my chair," Nieto said. [...]

    "There are two possible explanations," Turyshev said. "The most plausible is systematics."

    The second possibility is new physics.

    "If it's new physics, the implications are truly tremendous," he said.

    So what would be the implications?

    One possibility is that invisible, so-called dark matter is holding the spacecraft back. Some cosmologists believe that dark matter exists because only 10% of the expected mass of the universe has been found. If 90% of the universe's mass and energy is invisible, maybe it could exert gravitational pull on spacecraft.

    Another possibility, even more fanciful, is that invisible dimensions of space are tugging at the Pioneers. This idea has its origin in string theory, an idea that suggests we are surrounded by far more than the three dimensions we know about. Some versions of string theory suggest there may be as many as 11 dimensions, most of which are curled up and hidden from us.

    As with dark matter, no hard evidence has been found proving the existence of vibrating strings far tinier than the smallest known particles.

    A third possibility is that gravity has been hiding secrets that three centuries of research have failed to uncover.

    Anderson and his colleagues have known for some time that the only way to prove the anomaly is to duplicate it with another spacecraft.

    So all we know is that gravity is fine-tuned here, at the center of the Universe.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


    Who can lead the Democrats? (Joan Vennochi, December 21, 2004, Boston Globe)

    ANYONE BUT Hillary. The political year ends with Democratic Party leaders searching for a new moral compass -- and concluding, foolishly, that morality is only a focus group away. Blaming the November loss on issues like abortion, they want to be for and against it. With finesse and spin, Democrats long to believe red-state voters will return to them in 2008 -- even though it didn't work in 2004.

    It definitely won't work if Hillary Clinton is leading the charge.

    Democrats lost the values debate, first to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, before losing ground to abortion and gay marriage. It explains why George W. Bush was able to sidle into the White House in the first place. Hillary Clinton is part of the party's problem, not part of the solution. Whether you view her as Bill Clinton's victim or co-conspirator, she helped take the country down the path of half-truths and bold lies, from "I didn't inhale" to "I did not have sexual relations with that woman . . . "

    The bumper stickers are correct. No one died when Clinton lied. But something was extinguished: respect for the office, the man, his wife, and the truth. It is difficult to imagine red state voters separating Hillary Clinton from the personal immorality of the Clinton presidency.

    Nothing more clearly demonstrated the Democrats divorce from morality than the vote on impeachment, when every single one of their Senators held that such immorality (never mind the concomitant illegality) was no bar to office.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


    Two Opponents of Abortion Are Tapped for Senate Judiciary Panel:
    Democrats Question Effect on Supreme Court Nominations (Charles Babington, December 21, 2004, Washington Post)

    Senate Republican leaders yesterday appointed two of Congress's most outspoken antiabortion members to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is bracing for potentially bruising hearings on nominations to the Supreme Court.

    Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Sen.-elect Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) will join the panel's eight returning Republicans next month, assuming the Republican Conference follows tradition and approves the leadership's committee assignments for all 55 GOP senators. The breakdown of Judiciary will be 10 Republicans and eight Democrats. [...]

    While Coburn and Brownback will be the committee's newest Republicans, their records suggest they may rank among the most outspoken on abortion.

    Coburn, an obstetrician, has advocated the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions. Last year, Brownback introduced the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which would have required a woman seeking an abortion to be told that the fetus might feel pain and that it could be given an anesthetic.

    Antiabortion groups hailed yesterday's appointments, while advocates of keeping abortion legal expressed dismay. "The color code for potential threats to the Constitution just went from orange to red," said Ralph G. Neas of People for the American Way. "It's hard to believe the Judiciary Committee could go any farther to the right, but it just did."

    Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said: "It appears the far right is massing troops on the border of Roe v. Wade."

    For good and ill, the nationally televised nomination hearings for the Supreme Court will make Dr. Coburn one of the best known senators.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


    India and Japan cozy up (Indrajit Basu, 12/22/04, Asia Times)

    When a high-level business delegation from Japan accompanied the Minister of Trade and Industry Shoichi Nakagawa to India in August, it made Japan-watchers sit up and take note. In contrast to countries such as India and the United States where businessmen often accompany diplomats, it is rare for Japanese businessmen to accompany their political leaders on official visits. And, it was the first time in more than five years that a business delegation from Japan came visiting India.

    Both countries, therefore, seized the opportunity to establish a couple of new initiatives that have never been attempted before: six Indian and five Japanese (including one Indo-Japanese joint venture) companies came together to form a non-profit organization called the India-Japan Initiative (IJI) for greater exchange of ideas and business. And, both proposed an Economic Partnership Agreement, which would supposedly go much beyond a vanilla, or ordinary, free trade agreement (FTA). [...]

    Japanese Ambassador to India Yasukuni Enoki, who has been spearheading his country's economic and business relations with India ever since he assumed office last year, also said India's emergence as a powerful nation in Asia is important for Japan. The country has never been politically comfortable with China, which makes it necessary for Japanese companies to spread and reduce the risks of their overseas investments that have remained focused largely on China for the last few years.

    A worthy task for the President's Second Term would be to more formally establish the Axis of Good.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


    ‘Denglish’ is on the march (Richard Bernstein, December 21, 2004, The New York Times)

    Not long ago, the airline Lufthansa made a bit of news when it changed its slogan from "There's No Better Way to Fly," in English, to the German, "Alles für diesen Moment," or "Everything for this Moment."

    What was the German national carrier doing with an English slogan aimed at its German clientele in the first place?

    Whatever it was doing, many companies in German have used English, or some mishmash of German and English - the not very beautiful term for this is Denglish, a combination of Deutsche and English - to appeal to their German customers. [...]

    [T]he news here in the land of Goethe, Schiller and Thomas Mann is that Denglish is on the march, and, as always, there are people who find it amusing, and others who find it sort of tragic.

    Thousands of languages are going the way of the dodo--there's no reason to believe the Germans won't take theirs with them to the beckoning grave.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


    In the Chinese countryside, fractured families (Jim Yardley, December 21, 2004, The New York Times)

    Yang Shan is in fourth grade and spends a few hours every day practicing her Chinese characters. Her script is neat and precise, and one day, instead of drills, she wrote letters to her parents and put them in the mail.

    "How is your health?" she asked.

    Shan, who is 10, then added a more pointed question: "What is happening with our family?"

    Her parents had left in March. Their absence was not new in Shan's short life. Her father, Yang Heqing, has left four times for work. He is now in Beijing on a construction site. Her mother, Ran Heping, has left three times.

    She is in a different city as a factory worker.

    Over the years, Shan's parents have returned to this remote village to bring money and reunite the family. They leave when the money is gone, as it was in March. Her father had medical debts and needed cash to see another doctor. Shan's school fees were due and her grandparents also needed help.

    "I think they are suffering in order to make my life better," Shan said of her parents. She added a familiar Chinese expression: "They are eating bitterness."

    For the Yang family and millions of others in the Chinese countryside, the only way to survive as a family is to not live as one. Migrant workers like Shan's parents are the mules driving the country's stunning economic growth.

    And the money they send home has become essential for jobless rural China.

    Yet even that money is no longer enough for families. Migrant wages have stagnated, education and health costs are rising and the rural social safety net has collapsed - a crushing combination and a major reason that the income divide is widening so rapidly in China at the expense of the rural poor.

    China is a pile of social pathologies held together only by an authoritarian government.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM

    Word of the Day (, 12/21/04)

    Darwinian (dar-WIN-ee-uhn) adjective [...]

    "P&G traditionally was known as a conservative fortress, pitting teams
    of employees against each other in a Darwinian struggle that sometimes
    seemed to place a higher priority on winning within P&G than beating
    competition or appealing to consumers."
    Cliff Peale; P&G Loses Stodginess to Build Profits; The Cincinnati
    Enquirer (Ohio); Dec 13, 2004.

    "(Lieutenant Harms) also observes subtler, almost Darwinian maneuvers by
    combat veterans to form teams of stronger soldiers to boost their chances
    of survival."
    Ann Scott Tyson; For Army, It's Operation Stretch; The Christian Science
    Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); Dec 9, 2004.

    One notes with hilarity that the sentences used to illustrate Darwinian share a common, and revealing, trait.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


    Make No Mistake (DAVID BROOKS, 12/21/04, NY Times)

    It was a series of unfortunate events. [...]

    It was unfortunate that Bush gave that speech on June 24, 2002, dismissing Yasir Arafat as a man who would never make peace. After all, the Europeans protested, while Arafat might be flawed, he was the embodiment of the Palestinian cause.

    It was a mistake to build the security fence, which the International Court of Justice called a violation of international law. Never mind that the fence cut terror attacks by 90 percent. It was the moral equivalent of apartheid, the U.N. orators declared.

    It was a mistake to assassinate the leaders of Hamas, which took credit for the murders of hundreds of Israelis. France, among many other nations, condemned these attacks and foretold catastrophic consequences.

    It was unfortunate that President Bush never sent a special envoy to open talks, discuss modalities and fine-tune the road map. As Milton Viorst wrote in The Washington Quarterly, this left "slim prospects" for any progress toward peace.

    It was unfortunate that Bush sided openly with Sharon during their April meetings in Washington, causing the European Union to condemn U.S. policy. It was unfortunate that Bush kept pushing his democracy agenda. After all, as some Israelis said, it is naïve to export democracy to Arab soil.

    Yes, these were a series of unfortunate events. And yet here we are in this hopeful moment. It almost makes you think that all those bemoaners and condemners don't know what they are talking about. Nothing they have said over the past three years accounts for what is happening now.

    It almost makes you think that Bush understands the situation better than the lot of them. His judgments now look correct. Bush deduced that Sharon could grasp the demographic reality and lead Israel toward a two-state solution; that Arafat would never make peace, but was a retardant to peace; that Israel has a right to fight terrorism; and that Sharon would never feel safe enough to take risks unless the U.S. supported him when he fought back.

    Bush concluded that peace would never come as long as Palestine was an undemocratic tyranny, and that the Palestinians needed to see their intifada would never bring triumph.

    Meanwhile, no one was more reliable for misunderstanding the course of these developments than the neocons and no one had more to do with their course than Natan Sharansky.

    December 20, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 PM


    Grand Strategy in the Second Term (John Lewis Gaddis, January/February 2005, Foreign Affairs)

    The narrowest gap between Bush's intentions and his accomplishments has to do with preventing another major attack on the United States. Of course, one could occur at any moment, even between the completion of this article and its publication. But the fact that more than three years have passed without such an attack is significant. Few Americans would have thought it likely in the immediate aftermath of September 11. The prevailing view then was that a terrorist offensive was underway, and that the nation would be fortunate to get through the next three months without a similar or more serious blow being struck.

    Connecting causes with consequences is always difficult--all the more so when we know so little of Osama bin Laden's intentions or those of his followers. Perhaps al Qaeda planned no further attacks. Perhaps it anticipated that the United States would retaliate by invading Afghanistan and deposing the Taliban. Perhaps it foresaw U.S. military redeployments from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Iraq. Perhaps it expected a worldwide counterterrorist campaign to roll up substantial portions of its network. Perhaps it predicted that the Bush administration would abandon its aversion to nation building and set out to democratize the Middle East. Perhaps bin Laden's strategy allowed for all of this, but that seems unlikely. If it did not, then the first and most fundamental feature of the Bush strategy--taking the offensive against the terrorists and thereby surprising them--has so far accomplished its purposes. [...]

    President Bush has insisted that the world will not be safe from terrorists until the Middle East is safe for democracy. It should be clear by now that he is serious about this claim: it is neither rhetorical nor a cloak for hidden motives. Democratization, however, is a long-term objective, so it is too early to assess accomplishments. What one can evaluate is the extent to which the Bush strategists have succeeded in a more immediate task they set for themselves: to clear the way for democratization by shattering a status quo in the Middle East that they believed had victimized the people of the region and had become a threat to the rest of the world.

    The regimes responsible for this situation had three characteristics. They were authoritarian: liberation from colonialism and its equivalents had left the region in a new kind of bondage to tyrannical or at least unrepresentative rule. Most of them benefited from the geological accident of where oil lay beneath the surface of the earth, so that the need to remain competitive within a global economy did not produce the political liberalization that it did almost everywhere else. And several of these regimes had cut deals with an Islamist religious establishment that had its own reasons for resisting change, thereby reinforcing a long-standing trend toward literal readings of the Koran that left little room for alternative interpretations. This unhealthy combination of authoritarianism, wealth, and religious literalism, the Bush administration maintained, fed frustrations for many and fueled rage in a few: that was enough to bring about September 11. Breaking this status quo would make the world safer in the short run and facilitate democratization in the long run.

    The shock and awe that accompanied the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were meant to begin this process, but Bush and his advisers did not rely solely on military means to sustain its momentum. They expected that September 11 and other terrorist excesses would cause a majority of Muslims to recoil from the extremists among them. They anticipated that the United States would be able to plant the seeds of democracy in the countries where it had deposed dictators, and that these would spread. They also assumed that the Middle East could not indefinitely insulate itself from the democratization that had already taken hold in much of the rest of the world.

    Divisions have indeed surfaced among Muslims over the morality and effectiveness of terrorism. Saudis have seen the terrorists they financed strike back at them. Well before Yasir Arafat's death, Palestinians were questioning what suicide bombing and a perpetual intifada had accomplished; now there is even more room for second thoughts. Iraqis have begun to speak out, if cautiously, against the hostage-taking and televised beheadings that have afflicted their country. And the Beslan massacre--the taking of a school in southern Russia, with the subsequent slaughter of more than 300 children and teachers--has raised doubts throughout the Middle East that terror directed against innocents can ever be justified when decoupled from any apparent political objective. [...]

    [W]hat of the region's insulation from the wave of democratization that has swept the globe? According to Freedom House statistics, no countries allowed universal suffrage in 1900. By 1950, 22 did, and by 2000, the number had reached 120, a figure that encompassed 62.5 percent of the world's population. Nor, as the examples of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Turkey suggest, is there reason to think that representative government and Islam are incompatible. Democratization has indeed been delayed in the Arab world, as Arabs themselves have begun to acknowledge. To conclude that it can never take hold there, however, is to neglect the direction in which the historical winds have been blowing. And the best grand strategies, like the most efficient navigators, keep the winds behind them.

    The second Bush administration will now have the opportunity to reinforce the movement--the shift in the status quo--that the first Bush administration started in the Middle East. A Kerry administration would probably have done the same. What September 11 showed was that the United States can no longer insulate itself from what happens in that part of the world: to do so would be to ignore clear and present danger. A conservative Republican administration responded by embracing a liberal Democratic ideal--making the world safe for democracy--as a national security imperative. If that does not provide the basis for a renewed grand strategic bipartisanship, similar to the one that followed Pearl Harbor so long ago, then one has to wonder what ever would.

    The reality of American politics is that it has only ever been the basis for bipartisanship when the government is being led by a Democrat (and not always then). Whenever there's a Republican in power the Democrats bail on him.

    Searching for Mr. Wilson (Michael Barone, December 20, 2004, Townhall)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 PM


    Philippine military verifying reported death of Abu Sayyaf leader (AFP, 20 December 2004)

    Philippine authorities are seeking to verify an intelligence report that the leader of the Al Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf group has been killed in an air raid, a military official said on Monday.

    One of the military’s “informants” had claimed Khadaffy Janjalani’s “body was severed (cut in half)” last month during an air strike on a rebel hideout in marshlands near the town of Datu Piang on southern Mindanao island, said Colonel Jerry Jalandoni, army chief in the area.

    He said the air raid took place on November 19, reportedly when Janjalani was meeting with members of regional extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, he said.

    “They were supposedly having a meeting with the JI (group) involved in the Bali bombing in 2002,” Jalandoni said, referring to the attack in the Indonesian island resort that killed 202 people.

    The Bali bombing was blamed on JI, the alleged Southeast Asian arm of the Al Qaeda.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM

    A 401k FOR DUMMIES:

    Trouble With Choices (Sebastian Mallaby, December 20, 2004, Washington Post)

    The economics of Social Security privatization get plenty of attention: how to think about transition costs, the effect on national savings, the risk of equity investment. But the political philosophy of privatization is often taken for granted: It's just assumed that, if the economics were neutral, people would be happier with private accounts than with a public program. Do we really know this to be true? Is an "ownership society" preferable to a "big government" one?

    People want control over their lives; they value their freedom. But the first reason to wonder whether "ownership" is always good is that it can be stressful. It may be true, as promoters of ownership like to say, that nobody ever washed a rented car; but renters are very happy not to have to get the hose out. If it's up to you to choose how to invest your pension account, agonizing over health stocks vs. Asian bonds may not be such a privilege.

    It's not just that financial planning is a dry topic to most folks. It's that modern life is overloaded with choices. In "The Paradox of Choice," the Swarthmore College psychologist Barry Schwartz shows how a certain measure of choice can be liberating but how too much is a treadmill -- sometimes even triggering depression. Freedom and choice are wonderful things that allow us to realize our human potential. But there's a limit to how many choices each of us has time to make, and most people in the rich world are pretty much maxed out already.

    Which is why these accounts won't have many choices and will need defaults based on your age. You should be allowed to choose a different option, but the immediate decision should be made for you. And you should not have a choice about being shifted into the more conservative option as you approach retirement age.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


    C-SPAN Highlights

    • C-SPAN Special: Thomas Barnett on "Pentagon's New Map" (8pm) - LIVE

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


    Three Shelby officials leave Democratic Party for GOP: Officials join GOP, say values differed (Elisabeth J. Beardsley, 12/18/04, The Courier-Journal)

    Three elected officials in the traditional Democratic stronghold of Shelby County defected yesterday to the Republican Party, the same day the local Democratic chairman resigned.

    The three officials cited varying reasons for their switch, including conflicts with national Democrats on such issues as abortion, guns and taxes, and said the GOP better represents their moral and economic values.

    "It certainly doesn't reflect my personal beliefs," Shelby County Attorney Chuck Hickman said of the Democratic Party, which he had been a member of for 24 years. He was joined by Simpsonville City Commissioner Cary Vowels and Shelby County Coroner Tommy Sampson.

    Four deputy coroners and Sampson's son, an emergency medical technician, also joined the GOP ranks during a ceremony on the Shelby County Courthouse steps.

    In what he said was a coincidence, Shelby County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Gary Walls submitted his resignation yesterday, citing dissatisfaction with the national party's drift to the left.

    Kerry Morgan, interim state Democratic Party chairwoman, said the officials who switched parties acted out of political opportunism.

    Good point.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 PM


    Feel-Good Politics: The therapeutic activism of (Chris Suellentrop, Dec. 8, 2004, Slate)

    "I feel good about being here," a member of the liberal online group told the San Francisco Chronicle last month, during one of the more than 1,600 house parties organized by MoveOn to determine what its members wanted to focus on after John Kerry's defeat in the presidential election. The 27-year-old woman might as well have been speaking for all of the 18,000 MoveOn members who participated across the country. The ideas that emerged, at least from the San Francisco meeting, weren't very practical—"including a boycott of all ATM machines from companies that produced the electronic voting machines, a national strike and changing the economic paradigm of the country from consumption and production by just 'not buying anything,' " the Chronicle reported—but that's because MoveOn, despite all appearances, has never been about practical politics. Rather, it's an exercise in group therapy.

    There are worse things to do in life than make people feel good, but most political organizations—especially ones that spend more than $30 million during an election and get called a left-wing Christian Coalition—have more concrete goals. MoveOn, however, isn't an organization so much as an outlet. It's a network of aggrieved liberals, connected by the central nervous system of the Internet, and it enables its members to convince themselves they're "doing something" when they're really not.

    Talking to each other at least keeps them from bothering normal people.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM



    POOR kids trapped in Niagara County's failing public schools are headed for an ambush — one being set, surprisingly enough, by the state Board of Regents.

    On Thursday, the Regents considered an application to open a charter school just outside economically depressed Niagara Falls City. The application is outstanding and comes with the state Education Department's enthusiastic endorsement — yet the Regents decided to defer their decision.

    Implicitly, it was a cave-in to the forces trying to establish veto power over all upstate charter schools: the teachers unions, district administrators and political hacks whose power is threatened when kids are allowed to opt out of the public-schools.

    The Regents claim they need to hear input from a "community forum" to be held in the next month in Niagara.

    Make no mistake: That will be a kangaroo court.

    The proposed Niagara Charter School has already more than met the requirement under state law to prove that it can fill its seats. Twice as many kids are waiting to get in as the school could accommodate in its first year — and when Richard Hague, the African-American pastor heading up the school, goes on the radio, more queue up.

    It looks like what the Regents — especially Regents Chancellor Robert Bennett, who represents the Niagara area and is under pressure as he seeks reappointment in 2005 — really want is political cover to tell the school "no."

    That is something Bennett & Co. will most likely get at any "community forum," which will undoubtedly be little more than a union rally, swamped by members of the Niagara Falls Teachers Union.

    You'll never improve education until you shift power from the providers' cartel to the consumers.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


    President Holds Press Conference (George W. Bush, Room 450, Dwight DC Eisenhower Executive Office Building, 12/20/04)

    Q Thank you, Mr. President. You've made Social Security reform the top of your domestic agenda for a second term. You've been talking extensively about the benefits of private accounts. But by most estimations, private accounts may leave something for young workers at the end, but wouldn't do much to solve the overall financial problem with Social Security.

    And I'm just wondering, as you're promoting these private accounts, why aren't you talking about some of the tough measures that may have to be taken to preserve the solvency of Social Security, such as increasing the retirement age, cutting benefits, or means testing for Social Security?

    THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I appreciate that question. First of all, let me put the Social Security issue in proper perspective. It is a very important issue -- but it's not the only issue, very important issue we'll be dealing with. I expect the Congress to bring forth meaningful tort reform. I want the legal system reformed in such a way that we are competitive in the world. I'll be talking about the budget, of course; there is a lot of concern in the financial markets about our deficits, short-term and long-term deficits. The long-term deficit, of course, is caused by some of the entitlement programs, the unfunded liabilities inherent in our entitlement programs. I will continue to push on an education agenda. There's no doubt in my mind that the No Child Left Behind Act is meaningful, real, reform that is having real results. And I look forward to strengthening No Child Left Behind. Immigration reform is a very important agenda item, as we move forward.

    But Social Security, as well, is a big item. And I campaigned on it, as you're painfully aware, since you had to suffer through many of my speeches. I didn't duck the issue like others have done have in the past. I said this is a vital issue and we need to work together to solve it. Now, the temptation is going to be, by well-meaning people such as yourself, John, and others here, as we run up to the issue to get me to negotiate with myself in public; to say, you know, what's this mean, Mr. President, what's that mean. I'm not going to do that. I don't get to write the law. I will propose a solution at the appropriate time, but the law will be written in the halls of Congress. And I will negotiate with them, with the members of Congress, and they will want me to start playing my hand: Will you accept this? Will you not accept that? Why don't you do this hard thing? Why don't you do that? I fully recognize this is going to be a decision that requires difficult choices, John. Inherent in your question is, do I recognize that? You bet I do. Otherwise, it would have been.

    And so I am -- I just want to try to condition you. I'm not doing a very good job, because the other day in the Oval when the press pool came in I was asked about this -- a series of question on -- a question on Social Security with these different aspects to it. And I said, I'm not going to negotiate with myself. And I will negotiate at the appropriate time with the law writers. And so thank you for trying. The principles I laid out in the course of the campaign, and the principles we laid out at the recent economic summit are still the principles I believe in. And that is nothing will change for those near our Social Security; payroll -- I believe you were the one who asked me about the payroll tax, if I'm not mistaken -- will not go up.

    And I know there's a big definition about what that means. Well, again, I will repeat. Don't bother to ask me. Or you can ask me. I shouldn't -- I can't tell you what to ask. It's not the holiday spirit. (Laughter.) It is all part of trying to get me to set the parameters apart from the Congress, which is not a good way to get substantive reform done.

    As to personal accounts, it is, in my judgment, essential to make the system viable in the out years to allow younger workers to earn an interest rate more significant than that which is being earned with their own money now inside the Social Security trust. But the first step in this process is for members of Congress to realize we have a problem.

    And so for a while, I think it's important for me to continue to work with members of both parties to explain the problem. Because if people don't think there's a problem, we can talk about this issue until we're blue in the face, and nothing will get done. And there is a problem. There's a problem because now it requires three workers per retiree to keep Social Security promises. In 2040, it will require two workers per employee to meet the promises. And when the system was set up and designed, I think it was, like, 15 or more workers per employee. That is a problem. The system goes into the red. In other words, there's more money going out than coming in, in 2018. There is an unfunded liability of $11 trillion. And I understand how this works. Many times, legislative bodies will not react unless the crisis is apparent, crisis is upon them. I believe that crisis is.

    And so for a period of time, we're going to have to explain to members of Congress that crisis is here. It's a lot less painful to act now than if we wait.

    Q Can I ask a follow up?

    THE PRESIDENT: No. (Laughter.) Otherwise, it will make everybody else jealous, and I don't want that to happen.


    Q Thank you, sir. Mr. President, on that point, there is already a lot of opposition to the idea of personal accounts, some of it fairly entrenched among the Democrats. I wonder what your strategy is to try to convince them to your view? And, specifically, they say that personal accounts would destroy Social Security. You argue that it would help save the system. Can you explain how?

    THE PRESIDENT: I will try to explain how without negotiating with myself. It's a very tricky way to get me to play my cards. I understand that. I think what you -- people ought to do is to go look at the Moynihan Commission report. The other day, in the discussions at the Economic Summit, we discussed the role of a personal account. In other words, what -- how a personal account would work. And that is, the people could set aside a negotiated amount of their own money in an account that would be managed by that person, but under serious guidelines. As I said, you can't use the money to go to the lottery, or take it to the track. There would be -- it's like the -- some of the guidelines that some of the thrift savings plans right here in the federal government.

    And the younger worker would gain a rate of return, which would be more substantial than the rate of return of the money now being earned in the Social Security trust. And over time, that rate of return would enable that person to be -- have an account that would make up for the deficiencies in the current system. In other words, the current system can't sustain that which has been promised to the workers. That's what's important for people to understand. And the higher rate of return on the negotiated amount of money set aside would enable that worker to more likely get that which was promised.

    Now, the benefits, as far as I'm concerned, of the personal savings account, is, one, it encourages an ownership society. One of the philosophies of this government is if you own something, it is -- it makes the country a better -- if more people own something, the country is better off; you have a stake in the future of the country if you own something. Secondly, it's capital available for -- when people save, it provides capital for entrepreneurial growth and entrepreneurial expansion, which is positive. In other words, it enhances savings. And, thirdly, it means that people can take their own assets, their own retirement assets, and pass them on, if they so choose, to their family members, for example. That's positive. That's a step.

    The Social Security system was designed in a, obviously, in an era that is long gone, and it has worked in many ways. It's now in a precarious position. And the question is whether or not our society has got the will necessary to adjust from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. And I believe the will will be there. But I'm under no illusions. It's going to take hard work. It's going to take hard work to convince a lot of people -- some of whom would rather not deal with the issue. Why deal with the issue unless there is a crisis? And some of whom have got preconceived notions about the benefits of what may be possible.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 PM


    US Reported Ready to Station Military Officers in Taipei (Benjamin Sand, 20 December 2004, VOA News)

    A new report claims Washington will soon replace its civilian defense experts on Taiwan with active-duty army personnel. The move would likely upset Chinese officials, who are sensitive to any foreign dealings with Taiwan.

    The report by Jane's Defense Weekly says the United States will break a 25-year precedent and station army officers in Taipei starting in mid-2005.

    Washington severed its diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 and moved its embassy to Beijing. Since then, the U.S. government has been represented in Taipei by a mission known as the American Institute in Taiwan, which is staffed by former diplomats, while civilian contractors have been used to liaise with Taiwan's military.

    The authoritative magazine says a bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 2002 allows for the posting of military personnel to Taiwan if it is deemed to be "in the national interest of the United States."

    The magazine says the new policy, which would likely strengthen U.S. military ties with Taiwan, reflects growing concern in Washington over China's military ambitions in the region.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


    Conference Board: LEI up 0.2% vs forecast 0.1% (Corbett B. Daly, 12/20/04, CBS.MW)

    The U.S. index of leading economic indicators rose for the first time in six months, the Conference Board said Monday. The 0.2 percent increase was slightly faster than expected. Economists polled by CBS MarketWatch had predicted the LEI would rise 0.1 percent in the month. "Although the LEI has declined for nearly half the year, the declines were relatively modest," said Ken Goldstein, economist for the Conference Board. "Even if economic performance early in 2005 proves sluggish, conditions could brighten by spring," Goldstein added.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


    Roads Gone Wild: No street signs. No crosswalks. No accidents. Surprise: Making driving seem more dangerous could make it safer. (Tom McNichol, December 2004, Wired)

    Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign - literally - that a road designer somewhere hasn't done his job. "The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there's a problem with a road, they always try to add something," Monderman says. "To my mind, it's much better to remove things."

    Monderman is one of the leaders of a new breed of traffic engineer - equal parts urban designer, social scientist, civil engineer, and psychologist. The approach is radically counterintuitive: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they'll be safer.

    Monderman and I are tooling around the rural two-lane roads of northern Holland, where he works as a road designer. He wants to show me a favorite intersection he designed. It's a busy junction that doesn't contain a single traffic signal, road sign, or directional marker, an approach that turns eight decades of traditional traffic thinking on its head.

    Wearing a striped tie and crisp blue blazer with shiny gold buttons, Monderman looks like the sort of stout, reliable fellow you'd see on a package of pipe tobacco. He's worked as a civil engineer and traffic specialist for more than 30 years and, for a time, ran his own driving school. Droll and reserved, he's easy to underestimate - but his ideas on road design, safety, and city planning are being adopted from Scandinavia to the Sunshine State.

    Riding in his green Saab, we glide into Drachten, a 17th-century village that has grown into a bustling town of more than 40,000. We pass by the performing arts center, and suddenly, there it is: the Intersection. It's the confluence of two busy two-lane roads that handle 20,000 cars a day, plus thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians. Several years ago, Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior - traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings - and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn't contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it's unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous - and that's the point.

    Monderman and I stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. "I love it!" Monderman says at last. "Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can't expect traffic signs and street markings to encourage that sort of behavior. You have to build it into the design of the road."

    Nothing makes a human being more dangerous than the illusion of safety.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


    A White (House) Chanukah: Some leaders of Jewish organizations were miffed that the White House chose to meet with a hand-picked group of rabbis -- and predominantly Orthodox ones at that -- rather than appointed heads of leading Jewish groups, as is usually the custom. (Debbie Maimon, 12/20/04, Jewish World Review)

    Some leaders of Jewish organizations were miffed that the White House chose to meet with a hand-picked group of rabbis —and predominantly Orthodox ones at that —rather than appointed heads of leading Jewish groups, as is usually the custom.

    "The predominance of Orthodox members in the meeting indicated the president's identification with Jews who practice their religion," said Rabbi E.B. Freedman of Detroit, who worked on getting out Michigan's Jewish vote for Bush in November's election. He and his wife attended the White House Chanukah party and were deeply impressed with President Bush's obvious efforts to accommodate his Orthodox guests.

    "The president is a religious man who cherishes religious beliefs and values in others as well. Never before have Jews felt so at home in the White House," Rabbi Freedman said. That feeling was palpable when a spontaneous minyan (religious service) for afternoon prayers formed after the meeting's conclusion, and again, when about thirty people later assembled for Evening Prayers in the Red Room.

    "There is a strong sense that in the Bush White House, prayer is looked upon very warmly," Rabbi Freedman commented. He said that when shaking the president's hand, he told Bush that he recites Psalm 120 for him daily. "That is the best gift you could give us," President and Mrs. Bush responded.

    Like the NAACP, such Jewish organizations are stumped by a flak-catcher who won't be mau-maued.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


    Frist draws the line on filibusters (ROBERT NOVAK, December 20, 2004, Chicago SUN-TIMES)

    A scenario for an unspecified day in 2005: One of President Bush's judicial nominations is brought to the Senate floor. Majority Leader Bill Frist makes a point of order that only a simple majority is needed for confirmation. The point is upheld by the presiding officer, Vice President Dick Cheney. Democratic Leader Harry Reid challenges the ruling. Frist moves to table Reid's motion, ending debate. The motion is tabled, and the Senate proceeds to confirm the judicial nominee -- all in about 10 minutes.

    This is the ''nuclear option'' that creates fear and loathing among Democrats and weak knees for some Republicans, including conservative opinion leaders. Ever since Frist publicly embraced the nuclear option, he has been accused of abusing the Senate's cherished tradition of extended debate. In truth, during six years as majority leader, Democrat Robert C. Byrd four times detonated the nuclear option to rewrite Senate rules.

    Thus, Frist would set no precedent, would not contradict past Republican behavior and would not strip the GOP of protection as a future Senate minority.

    Be nice to invoke it first for Miguel Estrada and Janice Rogers Brown.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


    Into the deep (CINDY PEARLMAN, December 20, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

    The life dramatic with Bill Murray came to a turning point a few years ago, when the Chicago native and comedy icon decided that he didn't care about being a movie star anymore.

    "I don't like feeling the pressure of having to be the biggest star in the world," Murray says. "I don't want to get stuck feeling desperate. I don't want to be that actor guy in a bar drinking and saying, 'When the hell am I gonna get another movie?' "

    The man who often shies away from interviews speaks from the heart on a cold winter morning in the Big Apple.

    "I've had a great run," he says. "And I've been taking these jobs where I don't necessarily get paid a lot of money, but I work with people who are good, and I do what I want to do."

    Dressed in gray sweats for breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park, Murray smiles slyly. "I also figured that maybe one of these smaller movies would hit one day and I'd get whatever I need in terms of being noticed."

    He certainly got his wish last year with "Lost in Translation," which earned him a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination.

    Interesting that Mr. Murray, with a reputation as little more than a goofy cut-up, stars in one of the best movies in recent years, Groundhog Day, and in the most emotionally affecting scene in film history, when he takes Scarlett Johansson's foot.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


    Gold coins are glittering mystery for Salvation Army (JAN DENNIS, December 20, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

    The Salvation Army has mined gold from its red holiday kettles for nearly a quarter century, anonymous gifts of gold coins that have tapped a rich vein of urban legend.

    Agency officials say it's a mystery. They don't know why the gold coins -- some worth hundreds of dollars -- end up in bell ringers' kettles each year, they say, but they have their theories.

    The coin droppers might have been helped by the relief agency in the past. Or they might just like the thrill of seeing the anonymous donation play out in the media, said Cliff Marshall, spokesman for the Metropolitan Division of the Salvation Army, which oversees the corps in Chicago and its suburbs.

    One woman called last summer to say her late mother had left coins in the kettles each year because she like the buzz it created.

    But that call is the only clue to the Chicago coins' source, Marshall said, and it doesn't explain the more than 300 coins found in area kettles over the last 23 years.

    Posted by Brooke Judd at 10:35 AM


    Anybody got any suggestions for a snowblower or powershovel that's easy enough to work that even an over-literate but mechanically-challenged layabout husband could figure out how to operate (without maiming himself or three little children)?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


    House of Cards for Black Law Students (Richard H. Sander, December 20, 2004, LA Times)

    Traditionally, critics of affirmative action have focused either on its unfairness to those groups that don't receive preferences (usually whites and Asians) or on the inherent conflict between racial preferences and the legal ideal of colorblindness.

    Over the last few years, however, a new and potentially even more damaging line of inquiry has emerged: the idea that racial preferences may materially harm the very people they are intended to benefit.

    For instance, researchers Stephen Cole and Elinor Barber found that racial preferences at Ivy League colleges had a large and negative effect on the academic aspirations of black students.

    The mechanism worked like this: Blacks admitted to elite schools with large preferences had more trouble competing with their classmates, and tended to get lower grades. Low grades, in turn, sapped the confidence of students, persuading them that they would not be able to compete effectively in PhD programs. As a result, blacks at Ivy League schools were only half as likely as blacks at state universities to stick with plans for an academic career.

    Dartmouth psychologist Rogers Elliot and three co- authors found that the same problem was keeping blacks out of the sciences.

    Black students who received preferential admissions were at such a strong academic disadvantage compared with their classmates that fully half of those interested in the sciences tended to switch to majors with easier grading and less competition. Again, the net effect of preferential policies was to "mismatch" blacks with their academic environments.

    Anyone who thinks either side in this debate actually cares about the black students must have just fallen off the turnip truck--it's about flexing political muscle.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM

    JURASSIC PORK (via Tom Corcoran):

    FDR Is Dead: Time to move on. (Jonah Goldberg, 12/17/04, National Review)

    Of course, liberal mythology about the New Deal legend is, uh, legendary. Still, it's worth noting that the New Deal surely prolonged the Depression and did far less for poverty than the textbooks claim. The first point is not even particularly controversial. The second is debatable. But what isn't in dispute among scholars is that it was World War II, not the New Deal, that served to pull America out of its economic doldrums.

    But in all the propaganda about FDR, a more salient point has been conveniently lost. It would be entirely in keeping with FDR's legacy to rip apart the Social Security system if there was even a chance that it could be improved. The overarching theme of FDR's entire governing philosophy, constantly touted by virtually his entire Brain Trust, was "experimentalism."

    When Raymond Moley, a leading early Brain Truster, was asked to provide a philosophical justification for FDR's approach to government, he — along with nearly all of the New Dealers — cited Pragmatism. Moley even noted that FDR had studied under William James, the founder of Pragmatism, at Harvard. The historian Eric Goldman wrote of FDR, "he trusted no system except the system of endless experimentation." FDR himself made this point time and time again. "I have no expectation of making a hit every time I come to bat," he explained in a fireside chat. At Oglethorpe University, FDR declared, "this country needs bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." And always and everywhere, FDR emphasized the important thing was to take action first, and fix the problems later.

    Well, here's the problem. Social Security was launched when there were more than 40 workers carrying the costs of each retiree. Today there are three workers for each Social Security recipient, and we're heading to a 2-1 ratio soon. It sounds to me that, whatever its original merits, the experiment has run its course. FDR "batted" Social Security farther than most of his ideas. But it would be nice to believe that the man who derided "horse and buggy thinking" and who most famously said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" would look at all of this fear-mongering about how Social Security is the "third rail" of American politics with disdain (though he might have liked it, given his penchant for demagoguery).

    As long as Democrats are being so regressive, why not just reform SS to match it's shape whebn originally passed, with benefits starting at the age of average life expectancy, etc.?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


    ID cards defend the ultimate civil liberty: From preventing benefit fraud to winning the War on Terror, why I am supporting today’s Bill (CHARLES CLARKE, 12/20/04, Times of London)

    I HAVE long been a strong supporter of the benefits of identity cards. I became convinced of the advantages as a weapon in fighting crime when I was Police Minister from 1999 to 2001. I backed David Blunkett’s proposals when we discussed them in Cabinet and as Education Secretary I told the Home Affairs Select Committee last April of my personal support for the principle.

    That is why I will today propose that the House of Commons gives a second reading to the Identity Cards Bill. I have been urged by opponents of this measure — such as Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats — to “pause for thought” in the entirely forlorn hope that I will abandon the whole idea.

    However, I believe that — quite apart from the security advantages — there will be enormous practical benefits. ID cards will potentially make a difference to any area of everyday life where you already have to prove your identity — such as opening a bank account, going abroad on holiday, claiming a benefit, buying goods on credit and renting a video. The possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity — in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics — will offer significant benefits.

    Moreover, their help in tackling fraud will save tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Some £50 million a year is claimed illegally from the benefits systems using false identities. This money can be far better spent improving schools and hospitals and fighting crime and antisocial behaviour.

    This drive towards secure identity is, of course, happening all over the world.

    When the Founders set out to secure our liberties they not only pledged their Sacred honors to one another but then signed the Declaration of Independence and published it for all to see. Today's fatuous civil libertarians insist that liberty depends on an imagined right to hide your identity.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


    To Stay Afloat, Maryland Democrats Better Swim in the Mainstream (Tim Maloney, December 12, 2004, Washington Post)

    The national Democratic Party is ailing, but the diagnosis of its illness is in dispute. Explanations include the war, the presidential nominee, the tactics, even the evangelicals. It certainly wasn't the money: Democrats outspent Republicans in the five battleground states.

    Democratic leaders now are trying to become more fluent with the "language of faith," as if all that was needed was a religious Berlitz course. Meanwhile, psychiatrists in Florida are treating despondent Democrats diagnosed with "post-election selection trauma." (No joke.) While some Democrats are in treatment, others are in denial. For example, Howard Dean is exploring a run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee. This thrills Maryland Republicans, who would love to hang the "Deaniac" label around the neck of moderate Democratic candidates. The Maryland GOP smells blood in the 2006 local elections.

    John Kerry may have won 56 percent of Maryland's popular vote, but he also lost 20 of the state's 47 legislative districts and 18 of 23 counties, some resoundingly. That's why Maryland Democrats need to establish their own identity and not wait for the national party to find itself.

    Republicans control most county seats in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore; they also are competitive in all but three other jurisdictions: Prince George's and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City, where Democratic strength is concentrated. Ironically, local Republican victories in the other 21 jurisdictions usually have come at the expense of moderate Democrats, driving the party farther to the left. [...]

    Unfortunately, the Maryland Democratic Party still acts like the monopoly it used to be. But Democratic legislative leaders do not have the luxury of fighting among themselves. Nor can the party afford a bitter gubernatorial primary between Doug Duncan and Martin O'Malley.

    The party faces cultural challenges too. Democrats are losing young voters, white men, Catholics and outer suburban and rural voters. This can't be cured by linguistic miracles or economic populism. Indeed, to many voters, "progressives" are liberals who are afraid to say so.

    If, for instance, the Democrats insists on being the party of gay marriage or partial-birth abortion, they are slamming the door on many moderates. These voters sympathize with traditional Democratic goals, but they have become unenthusiastic Republicans because they no longer recognize the party of their parents and grandparents.

    If Maryland Democrats want some moderate inspiration, they need only look south to Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a pro-business Democrat.

    Maryland Democrats have a moderate pro-business governor now--why change your party when you can change parties?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


    Fundamentalism begins at home: A French author on how new forms of Islam owe more to Western identity politics than to the Koran. (Josie Appleton, 12/17/04, Spiked)

    In Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, the French sociologist Olivier Roy criticises this 'confused' and 'sterile' debate. 'It is based on an essentialist view', he tells me, 'the idea that Islam is this or that. But you can find anything in Islam. The problem is not what is in the Koran, but what people think is in the Koran'. His concern is to look at the lived reality of Islam, rather than its canonical or historical background. For example, in the book he argues that the idea that Islamic suicide attacks are an attempt to win virgins in paradise is 'not very helpful. Why should Muslims have discovered only in 1983 that suicide attacks are a good way to enter paradise?'.

    In a decade of research for the book, Roy travelled throughout the Middle East, searched Islamic websites on the internet, and studied Muslim immigrants in France. Far from having roots in the seventh century, he found that new religious forms are a response to Westernisation - to the modernisation of Muslim societies, and the migration of increasing numbers of Muslims to the West.

    Roy deals with everything from the nihilism of al-Qaeda to the French schoolgirls determined to wear veils; from personal Islamic webpages to Pakistan's madrasas (religious schools). What new breeds of Islam have in common is their focus on the fulfilment of the self, rather than on community obligations. In these terms, re-Islamicisation is the recourse of isolated, Westernised individuals seeking to find a spiritual pattern and meaning for their lives.

    In traditional Islamic societies, religion is tied up with culture: with the food people eat, the mosques at which they pray, their social and political networks. Modernisation has led to a weakening of family and community ties and the undermining of religious authorities. Increasingly Islam is becoming detached from Middle Eastern culture, and the Koran is being seen through the spectrum of individual needs and desires - in his book, Roy notes that cyberspace is full of people that could be 'Mr Anybody' pronouncing on what 'Islam means…'.

    These more individualised forms of Islam are linked to fundamentalist violence. 'Dutch public opinion is blaming foreign culture for the murder of Theo van Gogh', Roy tells me, 'but if you look at the background of the guy who did that, he is fluent in Dutch, he is a Dutch citizen, and you even have two converts from an American father and a Dutch mother who played a big role in the plot. Clearly the more radical violence is linked to the deterritorialisation and globalisation of Islam'.

    Islam, like Judeo-Christianity, needs to be more fundamental and less modern.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


    Debate on Malpractice Looms for Senate: The question of limits on malpractice lawsuits is likely to be one of the first of President Bush's campaign issues that Congress takes up in the new year. (DAVID E. ROSENBAUM, 12/20/04, NY Times)

    "We've done it before, and it's a pretty well-worn path," said John P. Feehery, the spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

    Seven times since Republicans gained control of Congress in 1995, the House has passed legislation to curb medical malpractice claims. Each time the measure has been blocked in the Senate, falling well short of the 60 votes needed to bring the matter to a vote.

    With their larger majority in the Senate after last month's elections, Republican leaders say they expect to prevail next year.

    "This is a majority priority," Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said in an interview. "I am convinced that over this Congress, we will have a meaningful federal solution."

    Democrats say they still have the votes to stop the legislation.

    Win or lose, it's a great issue for the GOP because it so estranges Democrats from business and so closely identifies the Democratic Party with shysterism.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


    A Not So Wonderful Life (MAUREEN DOWD, 12/19/04, NY Times)

    In keeping with her recent trend of turning the column over to family, Ms Dowd would appear to have let her pet monkey write this mess.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


    Resident Thinker Given Free Rein In White House: Official Promotes Role of Ideas in Politics (Dan Balz, December 13, 2004, Washington Post)

    Pete Wehner has the rarest of White House jobs. He is paid to read, to think, to prod, to brainstorm -- all without accountability. He recalls the words of White House senior adviser Karl Rove when he interviewed for the job: "He said my job is to bug him."

    Wehner runs the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives (or the Office of Strategery, as it is known inside the building after a "Saturday Night Live" skit spoofing the president's mangling of the English language). The OSI was Rove's idea, created shortly after President Bush was elected in 2000. It is the smallest unit in the Rove empire, with six employees, and represents the closest thing the White House has to an in-house think tank.

    The office, tucked away on the fourth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, conducts research on the presidency -- looking for historical patterns or analogies to guide the administration's strategic thinking. A current folder on Wehner's desk is labeled: "2d Term/Analysis." It is a compendium of how other presidents often went wrong in their second terms, history Bush hopes not to repeat.

    But Wehner also takes Rove's words literally, peppering Rove and other White House officials with e-mails and memos analyzing current trends, highlighting issues that may be ripening or framing arguments to advance the president's policies. Recent works include an analysis of the 2004 election and a memo reflecting on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's comments about freedom, democracy and the Middle East.

    Wehner also examined why the 43rd president of the United States has become such a polarizing political figure, after having arrived in Washington with a promise to unite the country and change the tone in Washington. "My view, as I read history, is that almost all consequential figures -- political figures -- are polarizing figures," he said, because they are bold and tackle significant issues. [...]

    "Pete really believes in the power of ideas in American politics," Gerson said. "It's the reason he takes such care to make arguments. There are plenty of people at the White House who write talking points. There are very few who make sustained arguments. He doesn't overstate, and his arguments have a lot of integrity."

    He is known in the circle of conservative writers and think-tank analysts, but is little known to the wider world compared with White House luminaries such as Rove or national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. But Wehner has the ability to highlight and put into discussion ideas, arguments and issues by the power of his arguments and by his connections.

    "One reason Pete really is important is that he has very close relations with both Karl and Mike, and that's two of the five or six most important people in the Bush White House," said William Kristol, editor and publisher of the conservative Weekly Standard, who worked with Wehner at the Education Department.

    A small picture of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby hangs near Wehner's desk. He practically memorized many of Kennedy's speeches, listening to tapes of them when he was younger, and as he described his office, Wehner recalled a quotation from Kennedy in January 1960. The president, Kennedy said, "must reopen channels of communication between the world of thought and the seat of power."

    Wehner said he hopes that one legacy of the OSI will be the inculcation of "intellectual seriousness" in the White House.

    "I'm not sure you can leave that for another [administration], but this should be an office that engages ideas in a serious way, that approaches criticisms in an intellectually honest way," he said.

    Given those ambitions, Wehner was asked whether he finds it ironic or is infuriated that Bush is stereotyped, fairly or not, as a president who is not interested in ideas and is not intellectually curious. "I'm not," he said, "because in the end, the truth wills out."

    Bush is changing the political and intellectual landscape, Wehner argued, ticking off the president's education policy that has asserted a strong federal role from a conservative perspective, as well as the concept of compassionate conservatism. Personal savings accounts for Social Security represent another break with conventional thinking.

    On foreign policy, he cited Bush's controversial doctrine of preemption -- noting that, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Kennedy articulated a similar doctrine. Wehner said Bush's determination to spread democracy to the Middle East represents a break with decades of thinking about that region.

    "You can't judge those things in real time," Wehner said. "You have to wait and let history make its judgment -- and reality take hold." He argued that Reagan was judged harshly during his presidency but since has been treated more favorably -- and he believes the same will hold for Bush. Wehner said: "I think he's on the right side of history and is on the right side of the important debates of our time, and he's comfortable in that."

    -ESSAY: A Screwtape Letter for the Twenty-first Century: What a senior devil might think about religion and politics (Peter Wehner)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


    Debt gallops in Japan (Richard Hanson, 12/20/04, Asia Times)

    "We have achieved a lot," said a senior Ministry of Finance (MOF) official on Monday while presenting the heavily debt-ridden central government budget for fiscal 2005. The ministry proposed a 82.1 trillion yen (US$790 billion) draft national budget for next year, up 0.1% from the initial fiscal 2004 budget. This is the third straight year of such an increase as the rising cost of servicing the national and local debt grows faster than policy-driven spending cuts.

    All that bragging about achievement may sound a bit cheeky for a government whose outstanding national debt is expected to reach 774 trillion yen by the end of next year. This will amount to some 1.51 times the value of Japan's gross domestic product (GDP). Moreover, the government is faced with fresh worries about the economic recovery that had been picking up in the past couple of years.

    For comparison sake, the U.S. debt is whatever the % expression of 7.5/12 would be.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


    Retiree accounts gaining adherents (Charles Stein, December 20, 2004, Boston Globe)

    In 1978, Peter Ferrara decided to write his third-year paper at Harvard Law School on the subject of Social Security. A self-professed conservative libertarian, Ferrara argued that the system would eventually run into financial trouble and that the best way to fix it was to let people put money into personal accounts that could be invested in stocks and bonds.

    A fledgling free-market think tank called the Cato Institute heard about the paper and published it the next year as a book called ''Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction." The book didn't get much attention, and even Ferrara concedes his proposals were dismissed ''as right-wing ideas."

    Twenty-five years later, Ferrara's ideas are still popular among conservatives, but they are no longer being dismissed. Far from it. President Bush has made Social Security his top domestic priority, and he has endorsed personal accounts as part of fixing the system. Opinion polls suggest that roughly half the American people support the concept.

    It is not clear private accounts will win support in Congress.

    ''I wouldn't bet the ranch," said Edward Crane, president of Cato. What is clear is that over the past two decades the idea has moved from the political fringe toward the political mainstream.

    It was pushed along by a determined group of free-market true believers, who over time have changed the terms of the debate -- in part by painting a very dark picture of the finances of the traditional Social Security system.

    Their cause was aided immeasurably by a development no one could have predicted: the rise of an investor culture. The bull market of the 1980s and 1990s and the spread of 401(k) pension plans created a large class of people who think of themselves as investors and are comfortable managing their own money.

    ''Many people see this as a matter of choice and personal empowerment," said John Zogby, a pollster who tracks the issue.

    Voters eventually get what they want.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


    Santa Clausewitz, a minor Chinese god (Spengler, 12/20/04, Asia Times)

    Something like a folie a deux unites US neo-conservatives who fear China with America-haters who hope that China will undermine US world influence. Before radical Islam appeared on the radar, the likes of William Kristol and Robert Kagan warned in 1996 of the "emergence of China as a strong, determined, and potentially hostile power". As recently as December 13, Mark Helprin complained in that "China is now powerful and influential enough ... to make American world dominance inconceivable". Nonsense. It is China's success that is inconceivable without US world dominance. If US financial markets were to break up, China would go into a tailspin.

    The neo-conservatives take exception to China's political system, which no one will mistake for Anglo-Saxon democracy. By the same token, the anti-imperialists claim that China offers an alternative to the US model, proof that economic success does not depend upon the Anglo-Saxon legal template. Ideology overwhelms reason in both arguments. China's success leans upon US financial markets, which cannot exist without Anglo-Saxon law. The Chinese are willing to take risks in China precisely because they can share local risk with international investors, while keeping their own savings safe in the United States.

    The Chinese are famous for caution with respect to core savings, and just as famous for gambling with money they can afford to lose. No nation saves more of its income; if one believes the official numbers, Chinese salt away nearly half their earnings. The United States makes it possible for Chinese to take risks and stay safe at the same time.

    China's half-trillion dollars of foreign-exchange reserves, according to the same critics, display China's strength and the United States' weakness. On the contrary: the reserves are there because the government of China knows that the Chinese trust US banks rather than Chinese ones, and wisely keep a hoard of rainy-day savings in US funds. China cannot invest its savings at home until such time as Chinese laws, regulations, and politics give rise to a banking system as strong as America's, that is, until China's legal system looks a lot more Anglo-Saxon.

    At which point China will have ceased to exist.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


    Iceland’s wounded ideals (Sarah Lyall, December 20, 2004, NY Times)

    It was not just that three Icelandic peacekeepers had been wounded in a suicide bombing in an area known as being dangerous to foreigners.

    What was almost more disturbing was the television images beamed back from the scene, showing the "peacekeepers" armed and dressed in full military gear, in apparent contradiction of their strictly civilian status.

    The incident touched off an unusual round of soul-searching in this pacifist nation.

    Was Iceland, which carefully avoids becoming directly involved in overseas hostilities, gradually slipping into combat mode? Were its peacekeepers really becoming soldiers?

    The center-right coalition government hastily explained that although the peacekeepers in Kabul were under the command of NATO, they had not been acting in a military capacity, and had worn military clothing and carried weapons merely for protection in a dangerous place.

    But that did not mollify critics on the left, particularly when they learned that the peacekeepers had been hurt, apparently, while on a mission to buy a rug for a commanding officer in Kabul's notorious Chicken Street, crowded that day with Afghan shoppers. It appeared, too, that they had attracted the bomber's attention by lingering there too long, and too ostentatiously.

    While the Icelanders' wounds were minor, a young Afghan girl and a woman, an American translator, were killed.

    Stefan Palsson, chairman of the campaign against military bases, a peace group, said that the photographs that came back to Iceland shocked a lot of people, particularly older Icelanders raised in a strictly nonmilitary tradition.

    "Icelanders used to be proud of not having an army," he said. "It was a big source of national pride."

    Palsson said the peacekeeping force was in danger of becoming an army in all but name. "It acts like one, it is part of the army system, and the peacekeepers have weapons, wear uniforms and undertake duties similar to the soldiers working next to them," he said.

    Iceland, a tiny country with a population of about 290,000, has both a deeply felt tradition of pacifism and a foreign policy based on the notion of peaceful international cooperation.

    In World War II, the country put its defense in the hands of Britain and the United States in exchange for their use of its land for military bases.

    You can see them feeling as if they're cunning and manipulative, but what kind of people would be proud to have only others do the killing and dying to defend them?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM

    Liberty Quotes (12/20/04)

    Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.
    --William Penn (1644-1718)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


    RED SLUTS, BLUE SLUTS: TV's top-rated 'Desperate Housewives,' seamlessly crosses the red/blue divide. But don't get too hopeful -- it may be liberal on the surface, but it's Conservative at its core. (Richard Goldstein, 12/16/04, The Nation)

    Despite its gleeful attitude toward fornication, this show is popular in Bush country. It even grabs men who never watch such sudsy stuff. One reason is its subject: babes behaving badly. These sexy suburban sisters don't have faggot friends – or careers, like most women in sitcoms today. And this trad but funky set-up suits the Monday Night Football crowd just fine (as the risqué locker-room visit by one of the show's stars, Nicollette Sheridan, attests). Yet Housewives also appeals to gay men and feminists: the Sex and the City set. How can the same package attract such a diverse audience? Even more remarkably, how can it succeed in such a chastened cultural climate?

    At first glance, Housewives is a pungent rebellion against the ideal of America the Wholesome. Set in the proverbial suburban byway of Wisteria Lane, the show features more unhappy couples than a Doctor Phil special. With a knowing smirk, it showcases infidelity, treachery and outright schadenfreude. If that sounds like a scathing indictment of Bush time, it also plays as a critique of Godless narcissism. This two-edged tenor is what allows the show to cross over from red to blue. Housewives is liberal on the surface but conservative at the core.

    The show's creator, Marc Cherry, calls himself a Republican. But that didn't stop him from honing his skills on The Golden Girls, a vastly popular sitcom in 1985 (and a harbinger of the Clinton years, if you ask me). It revolved around a group of sexually active retired women, a radical premise back then and a frisson even now. Thirteen years later, Sex and the City turned this formula into the definitive hip urban comedy of the '90s. The women in both shows never paid for their sins, though they struggled with the complications of their lives. Through it all, they maintained an antic, lusty attitude and a real sense of sisterhood. That's still the stance of liberal sitcoms.

    But conservative eras instill a much harsher mood. To meet that demand, Cherry took the libidinous style of Sex and the City and combined it with the breathy excess of Reagan-era dramas like Dallas and Dynasty. Now that spirit is back, with blazing push-up bras. Desperate Housewives has the same lurid venality, the same cartoony ambience and the same over-the-top bitchiness. Its tone is titillating rather than droll. Its characters inspire ridicule rather than empathy. Their transgressions are sinful rather than soulful. And a sense of imminent retribution hovers over Wisteria Lane like the Satan ex machina in a cautionary tale.

    Religious conservatives are perfectly willing to be entertained by immorality; they only require that it be punished, at least eventually. As for wives who trespass against their husbands, bring 'em on – as long as they act like sluts rather than sexual adventurers. Such creatures are inevitable in a world where faith has been forgotten along with the knowledge of right and wrong. If that's your take on Housewives, it can be relished as a sendup of the polluted world.

    It is this same moralistic dynamic that made noir a quintessential American art form.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


    In Iraq: One Religion, Two Realities: Sunni, Shiite Sermons Leave No Room for Dialogue on Election or Insurgents (Anthony Shadid, December 20, 2004, Washington Post)

    Each week in Baghdad, sermons to the faithful offer a tale of two Fridays. Both sermons -- one Sunni, the other Shiite -- dwell on the issues that color Baghdad's weary life: the insurgency, elections planned for next month and the U.S. military presence. But the messages are so diametrically opposed as to speak to two realities and two futures for the country.

    In Um al-Qura, built by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as the Mother of All Battles Mosque, the insurgency is celebrated as an act of resistance against a faithless and deceitful American occupier. In no less strident rhetoric, at the venerated Baratha mosque, that same insurgency is condemned as wicked and senseless violence waged by loyalists of Hussein and foreigners. Elections are subjugation at the Sunni sermon, liberation at the Shiite one. And at each, the community's patience, the preachers insist, is wearing dangerously thin after yet another provocation or slight.

    Since the fall of Hussein in April 2003, Iraqi communities have resisted the impulse to settle scores, some of which are based on grievances dating back decades, even centuries. But in the words that fill the halls of Baratha and Um al-Qura are signs of what some in Iraq fear may lie ahead. Across a divide between sects who split in a 7th-century dispute over leadership of the Muslim community, each sermon offers the same combustible mix. Sharing little, the sermons leave scant room for dialogue, even less for compromise. There is utter certainty, blessed by God and justified by faith.

    And on any Friday in Baghdad, neither side seems to hear the other. [...]

    Across town at the Baratha mosque, in a Shiite neighborhood, a similar market springs up every Friday outside the mosque's entrance, near barricades to deter car bombs. There are rows of other books -- on the life of Shiite saints or the teachings of the grand ayatollahs whose words carry the force of law among Shiites. Posters celebrate them, both the living (Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani) and the dead (Mohammed Bakir Hakim, killed in a car bomb in 2003, and Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, assassinated in 1999).

    On the entrance to Baratha, said to have been built before the city of Baghdad and one of its most revered Shiite sites, a leaflet condemns attacks by insurgents in a restive region south of Baghdad, on the way to the sacred city of Najaf.

    "The terrorists have failed!" it intoned.

    "The killers of today are the same killers of yesterday," the prominent Shiite preacher, Jalaledin Saghir, declared Friday at the mosque, built of concrete and gray stone, its two minarets topped by green domes.

    In a style almost conversational, Saghir was frank: The insurgency celebrated at Sunni mosques amounts to "terrorism," and the attacks are no more than a cover for men loyal to Hussein or followers of Wahhabism, a militant Sunni sect implacably hostile to Shiites. There was less ambiguity here, little symbolism.

    The avowedly pious men behind it, he said in another sermon, wear "the beards of devils and the gowns of hypocrites."

    With his own white turban and tunic and beard colored gray, Saghir is the clerical equivalent of a showman. He mixes humorous asides with stern admonitions, sarcasm with righteousness. He dismissed Arab foreign ministers as a'rab -- a term that suggests uncultured Bedouins. He ridiculed the insurgents for calling themselves mujaheddin -- sacred fighters. He belittled their tactics, casting the insurgency as little more than a futile attempt to block the ascendancy of the long-oppressed Shiite majority.

    "Did they think they could fight the enemy's technology with their Kalashnikovs?" he asked.

    In another sermon, the preacher ridiculed an insurgent attack on a mobile phone office in Baghdad. On this Friday, as with others, his ire was directed almost overwhelmingly at the militants, with few words leveled against U.S. forces.

    "It seems that the mobile phone is an infidel device," he mocked. "Anyone who owns it is considered an infidel."

    The criticism of the insurgency is a preamble to the real issue at hand for Iraq's Shiites: elections on Jan. 30, which will choose a 275-member parliament that will oversee the writing of a constitution. Banners along the mosque's entrance portray the vote as a decisive moment in the community's history. "Participating in elections is a religious, national and moral duty." Or, more directly: "The enemy of Iraqi is the enemy of democracy, justice and elections."

    "Today we have a duty and tomorrow we have a duty -- urging the people and persuading them to participate in the election," Saghir told the worshipers, who spilled along a red carpet into the courtyard outside. "This is a duty!"

    The sectarian lens can sometimes blur the nuances in Iraqi politics, and elections are no different. Unlike the mainstream clergy, the movement of Moqtada Sadr, a young, populist Shiite cleric, has remained ambivalent about the vote. Some Sunni groups such as the influential Iraqi Islamic Party have defied calls for a boycott by registering for the ballot. But along with the insurgency, elections represent perhaps the sharpest fault line through Iraq's sectarian landscape. In the broadest sense, the disdain for the election among politicized Sunnis is matched only by the enthusiasm among religious Shiites.

    Since Sistani, the grand ayatollah, insisted that voting was a duty, the Shiite clergy have mobilized to carry out his edict. They have held lectures, organized meetings and, most powerfully, delivered the message in Friday sermons.

    "We should go forward in the path of elections," Saghir insisted.

    For Shiites, the elections are a way to inherit by peaceful means power that was long monopolized by Sunnism, who make up about a fifth of the country's population. For some Shiites, the elections will undo mistakes made when Iraq was founded. In 1920, the Shiite clergy led a revolt against the British occupation after World War I. Once it was put down, the clergy kept up their opposition, rejecting Shiite participation in elections that followed and discouraging a role in the government and its institutions, which were soon dominated by Sunnis.

    Among Iraqi Shiites, this history remains resonant. The sermons at Baratha roam from the founding of Islam and the death of 7th-century Shiite martyrs to more modern oppression. On Friday, Saghir criticized charges by some politicians that Iraq's Shiites were unduly influenced by neighboring Iran, an overwhelmingly Shiite country. This was the language of Hussein, he said, and it mimicked the tired rhetoric he used in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. In the Shiite narrative, modern and ancient mingle, and the past shapes the present.

    The Silent Majority: A roundup of the past two weeks' good news from Iraq. (ARTHUR CHRENKOFF, December 20, 2004, Wall Street Journal)
    The newest member of the international democratic leaders club, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, recently had some words of encouragement and advice for the Iraqi people on their hard road to a better future: "They must go to polls. They must take this opportunity, elect their people to parliament, and have a government of their own, and have peace. . . . The major lesson in Afghanistan was that the Afghan people wanted change, from the tyranny of terrorism. The Iraqi people also will gain nothing if they allow these people to come from outside and destroy their lives."

    We will know soon enough to what extent the Iraqis as a whole have listened to this advice, but as of six weeks before the vote, the indications are that the "silent majority" is keen for the election to mark a clean break from the past and a beginning of a new Iraq. It's not just in the political sphere that Iraqis, with the assistance of coalition forces, governments and organizations, are trying to make progress. In the economy, reconstruction, infrastructure, health and education, cultural life, and security, work continues every day, often under dangerous and difficult circumstances and just as often considered not newsworthy enough to compete with the insurgency and the growing pains of a country just starting to lift itself up after three decades under the boot of a bloodthirsty megalomaniac. Below are some of these stories of the past two weeks:

    If the Sunni can't reconcile themselves to life in a democratic Shi'astan then they're the enemy and will need to be treated as such.

    Religious Hostility Surfacing (Alissa J. Rubin, December 20, 2004, LA Times)

    Iraq's Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders alike downplay the role of sectarian or ethnic hatred in the country's bloody insurgency. But the gruesome killings illustrate how incidents that are often portrayed as reprisals against government supporters are sometimes motivated by sectarian animosities and understood by the victims and perpetrators as acts of religious vengeance.

    In this respect the slaughter near the town of Latifiya is similar to scores of such incidents that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis, most of them Shiites but also some Kurds and now some Sunnis as well.

    Whether these acts of violence will explode into civil warfare is an ominous question. The answer will probably be determined by people such as the elders of Abbasiyat. So far, religious leaders have stopped them from seeking retribution. But for the sheiks of the Dohan tribe and others like them, the impulse toward revenge may well prevail.

    "We asked Sayyid Ali Sistani to give us permission to liberate Latifiya by ourselves and not wait for the government," said Sheik Dohan, using the honorific accorded to Sistani, the most senior religious leader of the country's Shiites. "But they would not let us do that."

    No one wants to admit there is the making of a civil war in the bloodshed. If asked, most clergymen — Sunni and Shiite — and politicians will deny that the violence is imbued with sectarian or ethnic hatred. They will insist that to the extent there are killings, they are being carried out by non-Muslims or by a few people who in no way represent the population.

    "If you look deep into our history, 7,000 years of history, we never, ever had a single incident of unrest built on ethnicity or sect or religion," said interim President Ghazi Ajil Yawer on NBC's "Meet the Press" last month. The Sunni leader was apparently overlooking Saddam Hussein's bloody campaigns against the Kurds and Shiites.

    But Western diplomats who have watched sectarian struggles elsewhere in the Arab world say they fear that the fight ultimately will be between a predominantly Sunni insurgency and Iraqi security forces made up mostly of Shiites and ethnic Kurds. The Shiites, after more than 30 years of repression by Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime, probably will find it difficult to restrain themselves.

    "The Sunnis will be under the boot of a Kurd and Shiite security force with a leavening of Sunnis," said a Western diplomat who has spent many years in the region. "In the end, the 20% of the population which is Sunni cannot fight off the other 80%, and the Shias will find it difficult to forget the history — how the Sunnis treated them when the Sunnis were in power."

    The only real question is how much blood gets spilt before the Sunni accept the inevitable.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


    Democratic Nation-Building, Brick by Brick: Iraq is the wrong way to do it. Here's what works. (Timothy Garton Ash, December 19, 2004, LA Times)

    How does one promote democracy?

    We know the wrong way: Iraq. But what's the right way? What means are effective and justified? There's a whole library on the criteria for military intervention; almost nothing on those for promoting democracy.

    The question is prompted by controversy about the role of Western money in Ukraine's "Orange Revolution," but it goes far beyond that. The Bush administration has put "the democratization of the wider Middle East" at the top of its foreign policy agenda for the next four years. Do we disagree with the end or simply Washington's proposed means?

    To kick-start this important debate, here's a very preliminary attempt to lay out a few first principles:

    1. War is not justified simply to promote democracy. So the Iraq war was wrong. It would have been justified, in my view, if Saddam Hussein had been committing a genocide against his people at the time we went to war, or if he really was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons — but he wasn't, so it wasn't. Using the promotion of democracy as the main justification for that war risks giving democracy a bad name.

    Applying Mr. Garton Ash's standard, America has never fought a justifiable war and I can't think offhand of any other nation that ever has.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:04 AM


    Doomed to Repeat History (Yevgenia Albats, Moscow Times, December 20th, 2004)

    The other day my 16-year-old daughter was completing a paper on the politics of Josef Stalin when she admitted that lately she had been feeling increasingly ashamed in her high-school history class.

    I reminded her that every country has a few chapters in its history that it would prefer to forget.

    "The British weren't always exactly benevolent toward their colonies, to put it mildly," I said. "The French have plenty of reason to be ashamed of their actions in Algeria and at home during World War II. The United States did awful things to Native and African-Americans. The Germans created the most efficient system of human extermination in history."

    "That's all true," she replied, "but those countries did all those things, condemned them, and have been moving forward ever since, while in Russia it's just the opposite."

    I dropped her off at school. During the drive back I came up with all sorts of arguments to present to her when she got home -- the Soviet Union's role in defeating Nazi Germany, Yury Gagarin and the glory of being the first country in space, and, of course, Tolstoy and Chekhov and all the masterpieces of Russian literature.

    But then I realized that this was all beside the point. The point is that while every country's history is a mixed bag, some have had the courage to confront their past, to repent and to learn from their mistakes, while Russia keeps moving in circles.

    It is interesting how Nazism, Shintoism and apartheid were all closely linked to national cultural predispositions and resulted in painful self-analyses and contrition for national sins, while Marxism is still widely seen (on both the left and right) as a free-floating scourge imposed from outside or above for which nobody other than a few cruel leaders really bears any blame.

    December 19, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 PM


    Israeli peace overture follows Gaza destruction: In the wake of Operation Orange Iron, the Sharon government approves a Palestinian prisoner release. (Ben Lynfield, 12/20/04, CS Monitor)

    Operation Orange Iron, which the army says was aimed at halting a surge of mortar firings against Jewish settlements and army positions, was the largest military operation since Yasser Arafat's death last month. Eleven Palestinians were killed, four of them civilians, and 47 wounded, according to medical officials. One Thai worker was killed and 17 people wounded by more than 30 mortars and rockets during the week preceding the operation, the army says. One Israeli soldier was wounded during the operation, said the army, adding that troops came under fire from antitank missiles and faced explosive devices.

    The army statement said that "uninhabited structures used by Palestinians to fire shells and rockets were destroyed."

    From the vantage point of Palestinian analysts, the operation is an indication that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is intent upon undermining Mahmoud Abbas, the leading candidate to succeed Mr. Arafat, who advocates an end to the armed intifada. In the perspective of Israeli analysts, the incursion had a similar objective to previous Gaza operations: avoiding the appearance that next year's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip constitutes a running away under fire.

    The incursion came amid a tide of statements stressing that there is a unique opportunity for peace after the death of Arafat, who was viewed by Israel and the US as the main obstacle to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.

    Sunday, in accordance with a deal struck between Egypt and Israel this month that led to the release of accused Israeli spy Azzam Azzam, Israel approved the release of 170 jailed Palestinians. Sharon said the decision to free the Palestinians was a "goodwill gesture" toward Egypt, which he says has become an important stabilizing force in the transformation to the post-Arafat Palestinian era.

    Israeli officials also said the decision to release the prisoners was to show that Israel wants to "create an atmosphere of reconciliation" with the Palestinians leading to the Jan. 9 election to replace Arafat, according to the Associated Press.

    In remarks published in Der Spiegel over the weekend, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak said 2005 could become a year of "great opportunity" for peace. That followed up remarks by Sharon that 2005 poses "an opportunity for a historic breakthrough with the Palestinians."

    It's not going to be a negotiated peace, but an acceptance of Israeli terms for a Palestinian state.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


    Stock market back in the game, modestly: Since the end of October, when it became clearer that Bush would win, the market has perked up. (Ron Scherer, 12/20/04, CS Monitor)

    After collapsing and floundering for about three years, the stock market is finishing 2004 with a solid 8 or 9 percent gain, following a gain of more than 25 percent last year. Some commentators are also optimistic that the elements are falling into place to make 2005 a positive year as well.

    The improving health of financial assets has important implications for the economy. It makes it easier for big companies to raise capital to build new factories, which creates new jobs. Entrepreneurs find it easier to raise money to start new businesses. And companies are back to buying other companies, a form of financial Darwinism, which might strengthen the economy.

    Moreover, consumers hear the nightly newscasters talk about stock prices on the rise instead of falling every day. "It's making a big impact on people's sense of wealth, an impact on their spending," says Rod Smyth, chief investment strategist for Wachovia Securities in Richmond, Va.

    Since the market hit bottom on Oct. 9, 2002, it's added by some estimates about $3 trillion in value to investors' net worth. For example, an investment of $10,000 in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index on Oct. 10, 2002, would be worth $15,406 today. [...]

    Investors seemed to be enthusiastic about President Bush's reelection. Since the end of October, when it became clearer Mr. Bush would win, the market has perked up. "I think it's because they view him as relatively light-handed as far as regulatory matters are concerned. He'll be retaining the tax cuts and pressing for tort reform and trying to privatize part of Social Security," says Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International. "All of that is considered pro-market."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 PM


    Social Security reform ‘could hit high earners' (Andrew Balls, December 19 2004, Financial Times)

    Bush administration officials on Sunday refused to rule out the possibility that high-income earners would be required to make larger payroll tax contributions as part of Social Security reform.

    John Snow, Treasury secretary, left the door open to an increase in the payroll tax base in an interview on Fox News. “We don't have a detailed plan yet,” he said. “What the president said was no increase in rates.” Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, said President George W. Bush did not want to see the payroll tax rate increase but refused to comment on the tax base.

    The payroll tax, which funds Social Security, is levied at a 12.4 per cent rate on the first $87,900 (€66,000, £45,243) of annual employment earnings. Raising the threshold above that level would increase the tax payments made by higher earners.

    Congressional Republicans, including senator Lindsey Graham and congressman Jim Kolbe, have called for a significant increase in the payroll tax maximum to help reform the pensions system.

    If we aren't going to have a privatized system, at a minimum all earnings should be taxed and the program should be means tested.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


    PERSON OF THE YEAR 2004: George W. Bush: For sticking to his guns (literally and figuratively), for reshaping the rules of politics to fit his ten-gallon-hat leadership style and for persuading a majority of voters that he deserved to be in the White House for another four years, George W. Bush is TIME's 2004 Person of the Year (NANCY GIBBS and JOHN F. DICKERSON, 12/19/04, TIME)

    "I've had a lot going on, so I haven't been in a very reflective mood," says the man who has just replaced half his Cabinet, dispatched 12,000 more troops into battle, arm wrestled lawmakers over an intelligence bill, held his third economic summit and begun to lay the second-term paving stones on which he will walk off into history. Asked about his re-election, he replies, "I think over the Christmas holidays it'll all sink in."

    As he says this, George W. Bush is about to set a political record. The first TIME poll since the election has his approval rating at 49%. Gallup has it at 53%, which doesn't sound bad unless you consider that it's the lowest December rating for a re-elected President in Gallup's history. That is not a great concern, however, since he has run his last race, and it is not a surprise to a President who tends to measure his progress by the enemies he makes. "Sometimes you're defined by your critics," he says. "My presidency is one that has drawn some fire, whether it be at home or around the world. Unfortunately, if you're doing big things, most of the time you're never going to be around to see them [to fruition], whether it be cultural change or spreading democracy in parts of the world where people just don't believe it can happen. I understand that. I don't expect many short-term historians to write nice things about me."

    Yet even halfway through his presidency, Bush says, he already sees his historic gamble paying off. He watched in satisfaction the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "I'm not suggesting you're looking at the final chapter in Afghanistan, but the elections were amazing. And if you go back and look at the prognosis about Afghanistan—whether it be the decision [for the U.S. to invade] in the first place, the 'quagmire,' whether or not the people can even vote—it's a remarkable experience." Bush views his decision to press for the transformation of Afghanistan and then Iraq—as opposed to "managing calm in the hopes that there won't be another September 11th, that the Salafist [radical Islamist] movement will somehow wither on the vine, that somehow these killers won't get a weapon of mass destruction"—as the heart of not just his foreign policy but his victory. "The election was about the use of American influence," he says. "I can remember people trying to shift the debate. I wanted the debate to be on a lot of issues, but I also wanted everybody to clearly understand exactly what my thinking was. The debates and all the noise and all the rhetoric were aimed at making very clear the stakes in this election when it comes to foreign policy."

    In that respect and throughout the 2004 campaign, Bush was guided by his own definition of a winning formula. "People think during elections, 'What's in it for me?'" says communications director Dan Bartlett, and expanding democracy in Iraq, a place voters were watching smolder on the nightly news, was not high on their list. Yet "every time we'd have a speech and attempt to scale back the liberty section, he would get mad at us," Bartlett says. Sometimes the President would simply take his black Sharpie and write the word freedom between two paragraphs to prompt himself to go into his extended argument for America's efforts to plant the seeds of liberty in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

    An ordinary politician tells swing voters what they want to hear; Bush invited them to vote for him because he refused to. Ordinary politicians need to be liked; Bush finds the hostility of his critics reassuring. Challengers run as outsiders, promising change; it's an extraordinary politician who tries this while holding the title Leader of the Free World. Ordinary Presidents have made mistakes and then sought to redeem themselves by admitting them; when Bush was told by some fellow Republicans that his fate depended on confessing his errors, he blew them off.

    For candidates, getting elected is the test that counts. Ronald Reagan did it by keeping things vague: It's Morning in America. Bill Clinton did it by keeping things small, running in peaceful times on school uniforms and V chips. Bush ran big and bold and specific all at the same time, rivaling Reagan in breadth of vision and Clinton in tactical ingenuity. He surpassed both men in winning bigger majorities in Congress and the statehouses. And he did it all while conducting an increasingly unpopular war, with an economy on tiptoes and a public conflicted about many issues but most of all about him.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


    Islam shaping a new Europe: Staking out their place in Europe (Evan Osnos, December 19, 2004, Chicago Tribune)

    For the first time in history, Muslims are building large and growing minorities across the secular Western world--nowhere more visibly than in Western Europe, where their numbers have more than doubled in the past two decades. The impact is unfolding from Amsterdam to Paris to Madrid, as Muslims struggle -- with words, votes and sometimes violence--to stake out their place in adopted societies.

    Disproportionately young, poor and unemployed, they seek greater recognition and an Islam that fits their lives. Just as Egypt, Pakistan and Iran are witnessing the debate over the shape of Islam today, Europe is emerging as the battleground of tomorrow.

    "The French are scared," said Tair Abdelkader, 38, a regular at the tented mosque whose light blue eyes and ebony beard are the legacy of a French mother and Algerian father. "In 10 years, the Muslim community will be stronger and stronger, and French political culture must accept that."

    By midcentury, at least one in five Europeans will be Muslim. That change is unlike other waves of immigration because it poses a more essential challenge: defining a modern Judeo-Christian-Islamic civilization. The West must decide how its laws and values will shape and be shaped by Islam.

    For Europe, as well as the United States, the question is not which civilization, Western or Islamic, will prevail, but which of Islam's many strands will dominate. Will it be compatible with Western values or will it reject them?

    Center stage in that debate is France, home to the largest Islamic community on the continent, an estimated 5 million Muslims. Here the process of defining Euro-Islam is unfolding around questions as concrete as the right to wear head scarves and as abstract as the meaning of citizenship, secularism and extremism.

    That just reflects a lack of understanding of demographics. The rapid decline of native Europeans and the dependence on Muslim immigrants means Europe will indeed become an Islamic civilization, regardless of which strand prevails. However, higher native birthrates and massive Hispanic immigration, along with American particularism, mean that Islam in America will rather easily be shaped to conform to Judeo-Christianity.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


    Researchers Stunned By Scope of Slayings: Further Studies Needed, Most Agree (Donna St. George, December 19, 2004, Washington Post)

    In the mid-1990s, Cara Krulewitch sat in a dark, cramped file room in the office of the D.C. medical examiner, poring over autopsies for days that became weeks, then months. She was an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assigned to the District.

    Krulewitch wanted to see whether maternal deaths were being undercounted, as was common elsewhere across the country. Granted access to confidential death files, she assumed she would find more deaths from medical complications of pregnancy -- embolism, infection, hemorrhage -- than anyone knew.

    What she stumbled upon instead was a surprising number of homicides: 13 of 30 maternal deaths, more than 40 percent. "I was just stunned," she recalled. "You assume it's a quirk in the numbers. A blip."

    Krulewitch dug into medical archives and came across a 1992 journal article from Chicago and a 1995 study from New York City. In both, homicide had emerged as a significant cause of maternal death. It was difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend: Were pregnant women being killed in notable numbers?

    "I didn't understand it at all," said Krulewitch, whose study was published in the Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health. [...]

    Even now, studies that analyze maternal homicide are relatively rare.

    One of the most comprehensive studies came from Maryland, where researchers used an array of case-spotting methods, expecting to find more medical deaths than the state knew about. Instead they discovered that homicide was the leading cause of death, a finding published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    In 2002, Massachusetts weighed in with a study that also showed homicide as the top cause of maternal death, followed by cancer. Two of three homicides involved domestic violence. "This is clearly a major health problem for women," said Angela Nannini, who led the study.

    A culture which treats pregancy as an illness rather than a blessing and says men have no obligation to the mothers of their children can hardly be surprised when these vile notions are acted upon.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


    Rights Groups Reassess Strategies: Black, Hispanic Organizations to Undergo Leadership Changes (Darryl Fears, December 19, 2004, Washington Post)

    At year's end, the leaders of the nation's largest African American and Hispanic civil rights organizations will step down on the same day -- a first. But despite the common timing, the transitions highlight differences in the two organizations' outlooks and agendas.

    The National Council of La Raza has already chosen Janet Murguia, a former University of Kansas administrator, to replace departing president Raul Yzaguirre. The NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, is searching for a successor to Kweisi Mfume, who announced his resignation Nov. 30. [...]

    At the NAACP, the committee searching for Mfume's successor is being led by Julian Bond, the organization's chairman, who dismissed recent reports that his fiery rhetoric did not mesh with his president's attempts at diplomacy. [...]

    The day after this year's U.S. presidential election, for example, Mfume sought to end the chilly relationship between the White House and the NAACP with a congratulatory letter. But Bond had repeatedly disparaged Bush and his party over the years -- in the days leading up to November's voting, he said the Republicans "draw their most rabid supporters from the Taliban wing of American politics" -- and now the IRS is investigating whether his remarks during the campaign violated the NAACP's tax-exempt status.

    Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, suggested that Mfume, whose fundraising acumen helped lift the NAACP out of millions in debt in the mid-1990s, was too diplomatic, and that a leader more like Bond was needed at a time when, he said, the White House sought to politically marginalize African Americans. [...]

    At La Raza, a change in strategy is in the works. Yzaguirre, the group's president for more than 30 years, approached issues and politics with direct confrontation. "My posture has been we are going to award our friends and come down on our enemies," Yzaguirre said. "We are going to speak out on [Bush's] policies if they hurt our people."

    But Murguia, who served as deputy director for legislative affairs for the Clinton White House and as a liaison between the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign and constituent groups in 2000, said she is planning to improve La Raza's relations with the White House.

    "One of the first lessons you learn in Washington is you have to work with people on both sides of the aisle," she said. "I am certainly going to take every opportunity I can to reach out to this administration."

    When other Hispanic groups criticized Bush's decision to appoint White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a Mexican American, as attorney general, La Raza praised the chance to see a Latino in such a powerful role. The group also welcomed the president's choice of Carlos M. Gutierrez, a Cuban American and the former chief executive officer of Kellogg Co., to run the Commerce Department.

    "I've been very happy with some of the Cabinet choices that have been made," Murguia said. "I'm an advocate for the Hispanic community."

    Only the NAACP could manage to make the black civil rights movement even more marginal than it is today.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


    God’s Beloved: A Defense of Chosenness (Meir Soloveichik, Winter 2005, Azure)

    One of Judaism’s central premises is that God has a unique love for the Jewish people, in the merit of its ancestor Abraham, whom God loved millennia ago. This notion may make many readers uncomfortable, as they may feel that a righteous God would love all human beings, and therefore all peoples, equally and in the same way. Nevertheless, the notion of God’s special love for Israel must be stated and understood, for without it one cannot comprehend much that is unique about Judaism’s moral vision.

    There is no question that to speak of the Jews as a “chosen nation” is to speak of their being charged with a universal mission: Communicating the monotheistic idea and a set of moral ideals to humanity. In designating Israel as a “nation of kingly priests” and a “light unto nations,” God, according to the medieval exegete Obadiah Seforno, commanded the Jews to “teach to the entire human race, so that they may call in the name of God, to serve him together.”

    It is, however, often overlooked that the doctrine of Israel’s chosenness also contains a strongly particularistic idea: That God chose the Jewish people for this mission out of his love for their forefather Abraham. [...]

    [A] powerful contrast emerges between the respective scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. The God of the Hebrew Bible, while a benevolent ruler of all nations, is described as bestowing a preferential love upon Israel. Or, as Rabbi Akiva explains inthe Ethics of the Fathers,every man is beloved, “for he was created in the image of God,” yet even more beloved is Israel, “for they are called the children of God, as it is written, ‘you are children to the Lord your God.’” The Gospels, on the other hand, do not focus on God’s love for Israel, and speak instead of a God whose love is universal: Jesus redeemed a sinful humanity, John informs us, “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God’s loving election is now no longer focused on the children of Abraham, but on the world. Everyone, Jesus argued, may be counted among God’s elect: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Paul, in like manner, authors an epistle addressed to “all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” In God’s loving election, Paul argues, “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek,” and all “are one in Christ Jesus.”

    This, then, is the debate that has divided Jews and Christians for two thousand years: Is God’s covenantal devotion universal or exclusive? The question relates not only to how we understand humanity’s religious obligations. The quality of God’s covenantal love is inextricably intertwined with the most profound questions about the kind of love that human beings are supposed to feel. The difference between the Jewish and Christian views about divine love, it will emerge, reflects a no less profound disagreement about what, exactly, it means to love.

    Perhaps the most influential theologian to reflect on the nature of divine love in the past century was the Swedish thinker Anders Nygren. Nygren’s central work, Agape and Eros (1953), begins by describing the different depictions of divine love found in Jewish and Christian Scripture; Nygren Notes that while “in Judaism love is exclusive and particularistic,” Christian love “overleaps all such limits; it is universal and all-embracing.” In explaining the Christian perspective, Nygren contrasts human love, which he refers to as eros, with agape, the Greek word used by the New Testament to refer to God’s love of man. A human being loves his beloved, according to Nygren, because he is drawn to some aspect of the beloved, something which he finds worth loving. God’s agape, however, is “unmotivated”-that is, it is bestowed regardless of the beloved’s worth and value. It is a love that demands nothing in response, no return on the emotional investment. Nor is it grounded in anything particular about the human being. Rather, God bestows love upon all humanity out of pure generosity. Unlike human love, Nygren concludes, God’s love “has nothing to do with desire and longing.”

    God’s love is altogether spontaneous. It does not look for anything in man that could be adduced as motivation for it. In relation to man, divine love is “unmotivated.” It is this love, spontaneous and “unmotivated”-having no motive outside itself, in the personal worth of men-which characterizes also the action of Jesus in seeking out the lost and consorting with “publicans and sinners”…. In Christ there is revealed a divine love which breaks all bounds, refusing to be controlled by the value of its object, and being determined only by its own intrinsic nature. According to Christianity, “motivated” love is human; spontaneous and “unmotivated” love is divine.

    In support of this assertion, Nygren points to the Christian obligation to love your enemies. In the Gospels, Jesus instructs his followers to love even the egregiously evil, for all human beings are equally loved by God:

    You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    It is precisely because divine love is unmotivated, Nygren argues, that God’s agape is bestowed upon saint and sinner alike. Thus God’s love, as depicted by Jesus, makes no distinction between Hitler and Stalin, on the one hand, and Mother Teresa on the other. After all, Paul’s doctrine of original sin depicts a wretched humanity mired in moral depravity, from which only Christ’s death on the cross can extricate it. Paul argues that all human beings enter this world evil at heart, all are enemies of the Lord, and all are thoroughly unworthy of God’s love-yet all are recipients of God’s love, nevertheless.

    It is wrong, Nygren insists, to say that God loves the righteous because they are righteous. For God loves no one because of who he is; rather, he loves all despite who they are:

    When God’s love is shown to the righteous and godly, there is always the risk of our thinking that God loves the man on account of his righteousness and godliness. But this a denial of agape-as if God’s love for the “righteous” were not just as unmotivated and spontaneous as his love for the sinner! As if there were any other divine love than spontaneous and unmotivated agape! It is only when all thought of the worthiness of the object is abandoned that we can understand what agape is.

    God, therefore, according to Nygren, cannotlove humanity as human beings love each other. His love could not possibly be grounded in a specific, love-worthy aspect of his beloved. It is instead an ethereal, un-human, unmotivated love that God bestows upon humanity. “To the question, ‘Why does God love?’ there is only one right answer,” Nygren concludes: “Because it is his nature to love.”

    Judaism, in contrast, argues against such a sharp distinction between divine and human love. After all, man was created in the image of God; the way we love is a reflection of the way God loves. Thus, as with human love, God can desire to enter into a relationship with us; he can indeed be drawn to some aspect of our identity. [...]

    It is not unreasonable to suggest that this, indeed, was the key to Jewish survival: The belief that the individual Jew must maintain his Jewishness because he is the beloved of God. This belief found expression not simply in creed but also in Jewish practice. The dedication of generations of Jews to Jewish law was not out of a blind sense of duty, but out of a firm belief that these laws were the expression of the Creator’s special love for the Jewish people, and their betrayal would be a betrayal of that love. It is this belief, perhaps above all else, which sustained Jewish communities through the hardships of exile, persecution, and pogrom. And it may still.

    This is all so idea rich you barely know where to start, but one important corollary is that if each of us can be forgiven and saved through the intervention of Christ with God on our behalf--if there is no special group singled out by God--then by what right can we hate our fellow men? If the way we love is a reflection of the way God loves, must not the question of whether we hate depend too on whether He does? And if, as even Judaism has to concede, Man in general was Created in His Image, then what sense would it make for Him to hate us?

    Is not Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn likely close to the mark when he says:

    Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

    Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: they struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM

    FURTHER HYPERING THE POWER (via The Other Brother):

    YEAR 2025: Army's Futuristic Uniform: What should Soldiers expect by the year 2025? According to the 24th Army Science Conference, future warriors may be wearing high-tech uniforms that field liquid armor, 360-degree situational awareness technology, plus virtual reality screens that enable them to navigate an environment by projecting maps on the ground. (Sgt. Lorie Jewell
    Army News Service)

    Dressed in black from head to toe and wearing a helmet that allows barely a glimpse of his face, Staff Sgt. Raul Lopez looked like something out of a science fiction thriller.

    Lopez, an infantry Soldier stationed at the Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts, spent four days in what could be the Army uniform of the future at the 24th Army Science Conference, explaining the technology behind it.

    The black fabric of the form-fitting suit would be made through the wonder of nanotechnology, which involves manipulating atoms and molecules to create things at the nanometer scale. That's about 50,000 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of hair. Soldiers wearing the suit would have the ability to blend into any environment, like a chameleon.

    The helmet is the main hub of the uniform, where "all of the action happens," Lopez said. A tiny video camera in front provides 360-degree situational awareness. A series of sensors inside give the Soldier three-dimensional audiological hearing and the ability to amplify specific sounds, while lowering the volume of others.

    Complete voice translation is also provided, for what the Soldier hears and what he or she says. Night vision sensors, minimized to the size of pencil erasers, are also in the helmet. Maps and other situational awareness information are projected on the inside of the visor, while everything the Soldier sees and hears is sent in real time up to higher headquarters.

    "It's all voice activated," Lopez said. "I can tell it to show me where my buddies are, and it projects it on the visor."

    Virtual reality technology would also play a part in helping the Soldier navigate an environment by projecting maps on the ground surrounding him or her.

    We're also in the last generation of manned fighter planes. we just keep advancing while the rest deteriorate.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


    Gödel and Einstein: Friendship and Relativity (PALLE YOURGRAU, 12/17/04, Chronicle of Higher Education)

    Washed up onto America's shores by the storm of Nazism that raged in Europe in the 1930s, the two men awakened to find themselves stranded in the same hushed academic retreat, the Institute for Advanced Study, the most exclusive intellectual club in the world, whose members had only one assigned duty: to think. But Gödel and Einstein already belonged to an even more exclusive club. Together with another German-speaking theorist, Werner Heisenberg, they were the authors of the three most fundamental scientific results of the century.

    Each man's discovery, moreover, established a profound and disturbing limitation. Einstein's theory of relativity set a limit -- the speed of light -- to the flow of any information-bearing signal. And by defining time in terms of its measurement with clocks, he set a limit to time itself. It was no longer absolute but henceforth limited or relative to a frame of measurement. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics set a limit on our simultaneous knowledge of the position and momentum of the fundamental particles of matter. This was not just a restriction on what we can know: For Heisenberg it signified a limit to reality. Finally, Gödel's incompleteness theorem -- "the most significant mathematical truth of the century," as it would soon be described in a ceremony at Harvard University -- set a permanent limit on our knowledge of the basic truths of mathematics: The complete set of mathematical truths will never be captured by any finite or recursive list of axioms that is fully formal. Thus, no mechanical device, no computer, will ever be able to exhaust the truths of mathematics. It follows immediately, as Gödel was quick to point out, that if we are able somehow to grasp the complete truth in this domain, then we, or our minds, are not machines or computers. (Enthusiasts of artificial intelligence were not amused.)

    Einstein, Gödel, Heisenberg: three men whose fundamental scientific results opened up new horizons, paradoxically, by setting limits to thought or reality. Together they embodied the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. Mysteriously, each had reached an ontological conclusion about reality through the employment of an epistemic principle concerning knowledge. The dance or dialectic of knowledge and reality -- of limit and limitlessness -- would become a dominant theme of the 20th century. Yet Gödel's and Einstein's relation to their century was more uneasy than Heisenberg's.

    The zeitgeist took root most famously in quantum mechanics. Here Gödel and Einstein would find themselves in lonely opposition to Heisenberg, who, on the wrong side in the war of nations, chose the winning team in the wars of physics. Heisenberg was champion of the school of positivism, known in quantum physics as the Copenhagen interpretation, in deference to Heisenberg's mentor, Niels Bohr. What had been a mere heuristic principle in Einstein's special relativity -- deducing the nature of reality from limitations on what can be known -- became for Heisenberg a kind of religion, a religion Gödel and Einstein had no wish to join. Some, however, claimed to see in Gödel's theorem itself an echo of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The group did not include Gödel. [...]

    If Einstein succeeded in transforming time into space, Gödel would perform a trick yet more magical: He would make time disappear. Having already rocked the mathematical world to its foundations with his incompleteness theorem, Gödel now took aim at Einstein and relativity. Wasting no time, he announced in short order his discovery of new and unsuspected cosmological solutions to the field equations of general relativity, solutions in which time would undergo a shocking transformation. The mathematics, the physics, and the philosophy of Gödel's results were all new. In the possible worlds governed by these new cosmological solutions, the so-called "rotating" or "Gödel universes," it turned out that the space-time structure is so greatly warped or curved by the distribution of matter that there exist timelike, future-directed paths by which a spaceship, if it travels fast enough -- and Gödel worked out the precise speed and fuel requirements, omitting only the lunch menu -- can penetrate into any region of the past, present, or future.

    Gödel, the union of Einstein and Kafka, had for the first time in human history proved, from the equations of relativity, that time travel was not a philosopher's fantasy but a scientific possibility. Yet again he had somehow contrived, from within the very heart of mathematics, to drop a bomb into the laps of the philosophers. The fallout, however, from this mathematical bomb was even more perilous than that from the incompleteness theorem. Gödel was quick to point out that if we can revisit the past, then it never really "passed." But a time that fails to "pass" is no time at all.

    Einstein saw at once that if Gödel was right, he had not merely domesticated time: He had killed it. Time, "that mysterious and seemingly self-contradictory being," as Gödel put it, "which, on the other hand, seems to form the basis of the world's and our own existence," turned out in the end to be the world's greatest illusion. In a word, if Einstein's relativity theory was real, time itself was merely ideal. The father of relativity was shocked. Though he praised Gödel for his great contribution to the theory of relativity, he was fully aware that time, that elusive prey, had once again slipped his net.

    But now something truly amazing took place: nothing. Although in the immediate aftermath of Gödel's discoveries a few physicists bestirred themselves to refute him and, when this failed, tried to generalize and explore his results, this brief flurry of interest soon died down. Within a few years the deep footprints in intellectual history traced by Gödel and Einstein in their long walks home had disappeared, dispersed by the harsh winds of fashion and philosophical prejudice. A conspiracy of silence descended on the Einstein-Gödel friendship and its scientific consequences. [...]

    Only in the last few years has this child, the Gödel universe, received any glimmer of recognition. This comes from the redoubtable Stephen Hawking. Revisiting the rotating Gödel universe, Hawking was moved to deliver the highest of compliments. So threatening did he find Gödel's results to the worldview of sober physicists that he put forward what amounts to an anti-Gödel postulate. If accepted, Hawking's famous chronology-protection conjecture would precisely negate Gödel's contribution to relativity. So physically unacceptable did Hawking find conclusions like Gödel's that he felt compelled to propose what looks like an ad hoc modification of the laws of nature that would have the effect of ruling out the Gödel universe as a genuine physical possibility.

    Hawking's attempt to neutralize the Gödel universe shows how dangerous it is to break the conspiracy of silence that has shrouded the Gödel-Einstein connection. Not only does this mysterious silence hide from the world one of the most moving and consequential friendships in the history of science, it also keeps the world from realizing the true implications of the Einstein revolution. It is one thing to overturn, as Einstein did, Newton's centuries-old conception of the absoluteness and independence of space and time. It is quite another to demonstrate that time is not just relative but ideal.

    Yesterday, on NPR Morning Edition Saturday, there was an amusing discussion of the concept of infinity with the mathematician Keith Devlin, in which he mentioned, just in passing, that String Theory is an attempt to banish infinity from physics. If the Einstein/Godel relationship is ignored, that's nothing compared to the ferocity with which the implications of Heisenberg's insight is denied. And, of course, Rationalists run like Frenchmen from the implications of the totality of science and the application of reason to Reason.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM

    60% JUSTICE:

    President Bush and the court: What kind of justices will he nominate? (Stuart Taylor Jr., December 19, 2004, San Diego Union Tribune)

    A lot of liberals, and a lot of conservatives, think that President Bush is speaking in code when he says he would nominate to the Supreme Court "strict constructionists" who would "faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench."

    Just as liberal activist judges have driven millions of moderates into the Republican fold, conservative activist judges could drive them back out. Karl Rove must know this. So must Bush.

    After all, didn't Bush once cite Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his model justices? And haven't they both voted to overrule Roe v. Wade? To uphold laws making homosexual acts criminal? To outlaw government use of racial preferences? To allow state-sponsored school prayers (at least at graduations and football games)? To require states to subsidize religious instruction (at least in some contexts)? To overrule Miranda v. Arizona? To strike down many federal laws as violating states' rights?

    Mr. Taylor is too smart to think such rulings wouldn't be popular with the electorate.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


    U.S. CPI rises 0.2% in November (Corbett B. Daly, Dec. 17, 2004, CBS MarketWatch)

    The so-called core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, also rose 0.2 percent, matching October's increase.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM

    GNOSTIC POPPINS (via Mike Daley)

    Nanny knows: Profile: Mary Poppins (Daily Telegraph, 19/12/2004)

    Mary Poppins arrives at the front door of 17 Cherry Tree Lane on a gust of wind. The question that has bugged readers ever since is: where from? The Banks family's otherwise presentable new nanny appears to have no references or previous addresses - not even a fast-tracked visa.

    The 1964 Walt Disney film version of P L Travers's novel conveniently ignored the question of Mary's provenance, as, to an almost equal degree, does Cameron Mackintosh's new West End stage version, which opened to raves last week. To some extent this is excusable. "I never explain anything," says Mary in the story, but in attempting to make sense of her it is the kind of thing we need to know.

    For the real Mary is an arch-unsettler of delicate middle-class sensibilities; a darker, edgier character than the one played by Julie Andrews in the movie. At the risk of knotting literary cross-currents, she could have blown in from Hogwarts.

    The passage of the book that describes Mary taking human form from a vague shape "tossed and bent under the wind", bears a striking resemblance to one in The Voice of Silence, a densely occult tome written by the 19th-century mystic thinker Madame Blavatsky. Here an account is given of a yogi-like being, "formed of the wind; as a cloud from which limbs have sprouted out". Pauline Travers's mentor and onetime lover, George "AE" Russell, a fashionable Irish poet and intellectual of the 1930s, was a lifelong devotee of Blavatsky. He appears to have convinced Pauline that she was a fairy, and versed her in the codes of magic and mythology and the texts of esoteric religions.

    Much of this knowledge later went into the seven Mary Poppins books that Travers wrote between 1934 and 1988.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM

    NOT OF:

    More Southern Baptists shun public education (Duncan Mansfield, 12/03/04, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

    Frustration with public education appears to be growing among the nation's Southern Baptists, with supporters of Christian schools and home schooling arguing that "if God is absent from the classroom, their children should leave, too."

    "What has happened is not so much that the Christians are leaving the public schools as that the public schools have left the Christians," Ed Gamble, a school administrator, says.

    Mr. Gamble is executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, an Orlando, Fla.-based group that supports the more than 600 Southern Baptist schools created in the past eight years.

    "As the public schools have become increasingly secular and increasingly intolerant of things Christian, people who are openly Christian have said, 'I guess they are not part of our team anymore,' ."

    The number of conservative Christian schools grew by nearly 11 percent between 1999-2000 and 2001-2002, to 5,527, according to the U.S. Department of Education's latest statistics.

    At that rate, Christian schools are growing faster than private schools as a whole, and have increased their share to nearly 1 in 5 private schools in the country.

    Vouchers. Vouchers. Vouchers.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


    A Tribute to a Baritone Who Loved Baseball (DANIEL J. WAKIN, 12/16/04, NY Times)

    There was Robert Merrill, Jewish boy from Brooklyn, singing "If I Were a Rich Man." There was Robert Merrill the Yankee fan singing the national anthem at a stadium in the Bronx. And of course there was Robert Merrill pouring out effortless, resonant tones in baritone arias from "La Traviata," "Carmen" and "La Forza del Destino."

    The many faces of Merrill were memorialized at a tribute yesterday at the Juilliard School, 59 years to the day after his Metropolitan Opera debut. Merrill died on Oct. 23, at 87, and hundreds of friends, family members and opera fans came to honor him. They watched an array of television, film and audio clips of the singer on a giant screen over the stage.

    After each performance showing Merrill's dancing eyebrows, gleaming eyes and flashing white smile, the audience applauded as though seeing the man live.

    Colleagues and admirers spoke as well, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the orchestra leader Skitch Henderson and the soprano Leontyne Price. The young and up-and-coming tenor Matthew Polenzani was in the audience, as was the pianist Byron Janis.

    A celebration of Merrill's career, the afternoon also evoked a time when an opera star could render meaningless the distinction between high and popular culture.

    The clips showed him keeping pace with a mugging Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in a 1979 television excerpt and dancing arm in arm with his friend Richard Tucker, the tenor, in a pops performance of "To Life" from "Fiddler on the Roof." There were comedic bits with Louis Armstrong and Anne Bancroft.

    And the tribute celebrated the deep New York connections of Merrill, who was born Moishe Miller (his parents had changed their name from Millstein) in Brooklyn. One clip had Merrill singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The New York accent leaked through: "Crack-uh-jack" and "bawl-game."

    Mr. Giuliani said he shared three passions with the singer: New York, opera and baseball. He said he often greeted Merrill at Yankee Stadium, where for decades fans heard the Merrill version of the national anthem, and he invited him four times to Gracie Mansion to celebrate Yankee World Series victories. "He was a hero of mine," Mr. Giuliani said.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


    Democrats eye softer image on abortion: Leaders urge more welcome for opponents (Susan Milligan, December 19, 2004, Boston Globe)

    Leading Democrats, stung by election losses, are signaling they want the party to embrace antiabortion voters and candidates, softening the image of the party from one fiercely defensive of abortion rights to one that acknowledges the moral and religious qualms some Americans have about the issue.

    House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who is one of the most ardent supporters of abortion rights in Congress, has encouraged Tim Roemer, a former representative with a strong voting record against abortion, to run for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. The Democrats' new Senate minority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, opposes abortion rights.

    No prominent Democrat has suggested that the party change its long-held stance that a woman should have the right to an abortion if she chooses.

    realistically the Democrats have to remain the pro-death party or face a challenge from another party on the Left, but the recognition that it hurts them nationally is a signal moment in our politics. 25 years ago, Ronald Reagan was considered positively bizarre for opposing abortion. Indeed, it was considered sufficient to doom his candidacy.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


    A shift in P.R. tactics, to bin Laden light (Don Van Natta, Jr., 12/19/04, The New York Times)

    What does Osama bin Laden want?

    The vexing question emerged again last week with the release of an audiotape on which a man believed to be the al-Qaida leader applauds the Dec. 6 attack against the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, and urges the toppling of the Saudi royal family.

    The tape indicated that bin Laden has apparently moved the fomenting of a revolution in his Saudi homeland toward the top of his lengthy and ambitious wish list, which also includes the reversal of American foreign policy in the Middle East, the retreat of the American military from the Arabian Peninsula and the creation of a Palestinian homeland.

    Bin Laden has advocated these changes before. What intelligence officials and terrorism experts find particularly remarkable in this and other recent statements is a shift from the raw anger and dark imagery of the post-9/11 days. [...]

    Perhaps most striking is bin Laden's expression of frustration. Speaking directly to Americans in the pre-election address, he complained that his rationale for waging war against the United States was repeatedly mischaracterized by President Bush and consequently misunderstood by most Americans.

    The tone and retreat are most consistent with Osama being dead and al Qaeda defeated.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


    2004: The Year of 'The Passion' (FRANK RICH, 12/19/04, NY Times)

    In Newsweek's "Birth of Jesus" holiday cover article — not to be confused with Time's competing "Secrets of the Nativity" cover — a poll found that 84 percent of American adults call themselves Christian, 82 percent see Jesus as the son of God, and 79 percent believe in the Virgin Birth. Though by a far slimmer margin, the presidential election reinstalled a chief executive who ostentatiously invokes a Christian Almighty. As for "The Passion of the Christ," it achieved the monetary landslide of a $370 million domestic gross (second only to the cartoon saviors Shrek and Spider-Man).

    Yet if you watch the news and listen to certain politicians, especially since Election Day, you'll hear an ever-growing drumbeat that Christianity is under siege in America. Like Mr. Gibson, the international movie star who portrayed himself as a powerless martyr to a shadowy anti- Christian conspiracy in the run-up to the release of "The Passion," his fellow travelers on the right detect a sinister plot — of secularists, "secular Jews" and "elites" — out to destroy the religion followed by more than four out of every five Americans.

    We've lost track of how many timesd in 2004 Mr. Rich used his prominent column in Americas leading paper to attack Christians generally, Mel Gibson specifically, and The Passion--for which Mr. Gibson had trouble finding a distributor--directly. The plot obviously isn't secret--it's quite public and the Times helps lead it.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


    Thatcherism - Stateside (Fraser Nelson, 12/19/04, The Scotsman)

    After revolutionising America’s foreign policy, the Bush administration now intends to give domestic policy the same overhaul. They have a mission: radical welfare state reform. And they have a name for it: Thatcherism.

    Ever since being returned with a 3.5 million-vote majority, Bush’s aides have been deciding how best to use the momentum. A president with more votes than any other in history has a duty to use such authority in a second term. There is also a feeling of discovery. The victory was on a record turnout: the American public is far more conservative than even Rove’s figures projected. After defeating liberalism, he needs a creed to bury it.

    After a long ideological search, Rove has chosen Britain in the 1980s. Then Margaret Thatcher took on a left-wing consensus, and embarked on an epoch-defining war which the President now aspires to wage in the US.

    Scotland on Sunday attended a rare White House briefing on this agenda, rich in language Bush is unlikely to repeat to Tony Blair. The White House’s stated mission is "to make this young century a conservative century" by example. Aides from the Thatcher government are being courted by Bush speechwriters. Rove, himself, has been pouring over her speeches and has distilled Thatcherism in a new label: ‘ownership society’.

    To Bush, this is the theme for a huge project: privatising the welfare state which Franklin D Roosevelt designed in the Depression of the 1930s.

    The important thing is how far down this road they thrust us in the first term, in particular by putting vouchers in NCLB and HSA's in the Medicare bill.

    Good Plan, Republicans. But It Didn't Work In Britain. (Jonathan Rauch, , Dec. 17, 2004, National Journal)

    The idea of an "ownership society" is not new. In August of 1949, 23-year-old Margaret Roberts, out of Oxford and standing for office for the first time, addressed (according to a British newspaper) a "garden meeting of Young Conservatives at the home of Mr. J.E. Brittenden" in Orpington, Kent. "We Conservatives," said Margaret Thatcher, as she would later be known, "want power more widely diffused through private ownership, so that you never get more power in the hands of the government than you get in the hands of the people."

    Republicans hope an ownership agenda will create a conservative majority. That was also Thatcher's plan.

    Years later, she and her party acted upon her vision, and the economic results were good. But politically, things worked out badly. Very badly. The story has more than a little relevance for America's Republicans today. [...]

    In 1976, soon after Thatcher attained the Conservative leadership, the party published a manifesto titled "The Right Approach." It called for giving the people "more power as citizens, as owners, and as consumers," by "lowering taxes when we can, by encouraging homeownership, by taking the first steps toward making this country a nation of worker-owners, by giving parents a greater say in the better education of their children." That should sound familiar. When it came to power in 1979, the Thatcher government made good on its word by selling off 1.7 million public-housing units, privatizing public industries, and creating tax and insurance incentives to encourage people to switch to "portable personal pensions."

    The economy responded. Entrepreneurial energy began to pulse through Britain's sclerotic veins. Meanwhile, the Labor Party was reeling. It detested the Thatcher agenda but lacked new ideas and the will to break with its left-wing union base; it staggered from one weak leader to the next. The Labor Party appeared to be in terminal decline.

    What the Tories then discovered is what ruling parties all too easily forget: There is no position more treacherous than having a parliamentary majority without a popular majority. With undivided power goes undivided credit, but also undivided blame. Worse, the possession of a parliamentary majority may embolden the party's extremists and lull the party away from the center, thus blocking, rather than advancing, progress toward a popular majority.

    In Britain, the public liked the results of Thatcher's policies but never really bought into her ideology of self-reliance. Most people saw no need to choose between independence and government support. "Whatever works," was their view.

    That, of course, is the key difference. The Tories, under Ms Thatcher, were never a conservative party, nevermind Britain a nation interested in self-reliance.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


    Bush Named Time's Person of 2004 (SAM DOLNICK, 12/19/04, Associated Press)

    After winning re-election and "reshaping the rules of politics to fit his 10-gallon-hat leadership style," President George Bush for the second time was chosen as Time magazine's Person of the Year.

    The magazine's editors tapped Bush "for sharpening the debate until the choices bled, for reframing reality to match his design, for gambling his fortunes — and ours — on his faith in the power of leadership."

    For good or ill, no one man has ever had--and exercised--such power to reframe reality in every corner of the globe.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


    Governor's Race So Close, Yet So Divisive
    : Washington Republican Dino Rossi is up by 42 votes. But disputes persist over the recount and votes never counted. (Sam Howe Verhovek, December 19, 2004, LA Times)

    As things stand now, Republican Dino Rossi is the governor-elect, by 42 votes of the nearly 2.9 million cast, a hairbreadth margin of 0.0015%. If the contest were a 100-meter dash, Rossi would be ahead of Democrat Christine Gregoire by about 1 millimeter.

    But the race is not over, and an unprecedented hand recount of the previous machine-fed tallies has unearthed roughly 500 additional votes for each candidate — as well as a mysterious trove of some 735 still-sealed, never-before-counted absentee ballots here in largely Democratic King County.

    Those votes, which county officials say went unopened due to a computer malfunction compounded by a clerical error, could be the key to a victory for Gregoire, the state attorney general, over Rossi, a state senator.

    Democrats say, "Let's count all the votes." Republicans smell a rat.

    It's probably too much to ask that it's called Box 13.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


    Battle Lines Form on Social Security: Democrats are finding unity in their opposition to private retirement accounts, building an obstacle to Bush's move to change the program. (Janet Hook, December 19, 2004, LA Times)

    The Social Security debate is providing the first big test of how Democrats in Congress plan to play out their role as the heavily outnumbered opposition party. If their actions so far are any indication, they are not going to be cowed into cooperating with President Bush.

    Democrats are overwhelmingly opposed to Bush's plan to allow younger workers to divert some Social Security payroll taxes to private investment accounts.

    In the wake of their drubbing in the 2004 elections, they are still sorting out exactly how to wage this fight. But they sharpened their attack last week, in response to a two-day White House economic conference intended to showcase the argument for major change in Social Security.

    Democrats deployed leading members of Congress to attack the most basic of Bush's premises: They argued that the program's problem was not as dire as Bush had claimed — and that private accounts would make the problem worse.

    Liberal interest groups, including the AFL-CIO and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, also mobilized last week to join the opposition. [...]

    Democrats are probably more unified than ever in their opposition to private accounts. Some respected Democrats had been sympathetic to the idea in the past, but most are no longer on Capitol Hill. Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana is retiring at the end of this year. Rep. Charles W. Stenholm of Texas lost his reelection bid. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska left Congress in 2000. Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York died last year.

    There are now a handful of moderate Democrats, mostly from states Bush won in 2004, who are trying to keep an open mind about private accounts. A leader of that faction is Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), who is trying to develop a Democratic alternative to Bush's plan that does not expose retirees to financial risk and that does not finance the cost of transition to a new system entirely by government borrowing.

    "I don't think it is sufficient for Democrats just to say no," Carper said.

    Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic think tank, said it would be damaging for the party to be seen as hostile to "reform."

    "Having simply tried to demonize privatization in three successive elections and not having tremendous results, they have to try something better," Marshall said. "They have to develop a progressive alternative for reforming Social Security."

    But Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Sacramento), a party leader on the issue, is taking a different tack. In a conference call with reporters last week, he steadfastly refused to discuss a Democratic alternative to solving Social Security's problems.

    Bad enough the Democrats have manuevered themselves onto the slender siude of this wedge, but depending on their most dated and corrupt special interests to fight it is insane.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:42 AM


    Why women are better astronauts than men (James Reynolds , The Scotsman, December 18th, 2004)

    If space scientists had known better at the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969, the mission’s defining legacy might have read "one small step for a woman, one giant leap for womankind".

    New medical research has revealed that the mental and physical characteristics of women mean they are far better suited to long-term space travel than men. As a result, one medical expert has now claimed there is a very strong case for an all-female cosmonaut crew on the first mission to put humans on Mars.

    William Rowe, a professor of medicine at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo, in the United States, said: "A manned trip to the Red Planet should, in fact, be womanned."

    Prof Rowe has published new research in the journal Mens Health and Gender, which focused on the hormonal and physical make-up of women under 30 years of age, and concludes that they are far better suited to long-term, long-distance travel than men.

    Ok, let’s calm down and think this through. Maybe if we cede space to them we can take back business and government.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


    In Kerik, Bush Saw Values Crucial to Post-9/11 World (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 12/19/04, NY Times)

    President Bush first met Bernard B. Kerik near the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center on Sept. 14, 2001, a day that instantly changed Mr. Bush's relationship with a city he had never much liked.

    More important for Mr. Kerik, who was then the New York City police commissioner, the day forged his relationship with the president and helped lead to his nomination to Mr. Bush's cabinet this month.

    The bond between the president and the former police commissioner was a major factor, Republicans say, in Mr. Bush's decision to nominate Mr. Kerik for homeland security secretary. Although no one has suggested that the relationship was close, Republicans called it warm and based on equal parts self-interest and admiration. [...]

    [M]r. Kerik, Republicans said, was just the kind of plain-talking law-and-order man held in regard by the president.

    "The president loves cops," said a Republican close to the White House who insisted on anonymity because he did not want the president and his advisers to know he was talking about the collapse of a cabinet nomination. "They're not pretentious, they do a hard job, they don't get paid a lot of money, they're real people and they live in a world that is fairly black and white, with good guys and bad guys. And that's the way President Bush looks at the world."

    All of which, as cop memoir after cop show has shown us over the years, makes them susceptible to the kind of corner-cutting and moral compromise that Mr. Kerik is accused of.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:01 AM


    Violence against women: The unacknowledged casualties of war (Irene Khan, International Herald Tribune, December 18th, 2004)

    Throughout history, women's bodies have been considered the legitimate booty of victorious armies. Custom, culture and religion built an image of women as bearing the "honor" of their communities, so that destroying a woman's physical integrity became a means by which to terrorize, demean and "defeat" entire populations, as well as to punish, intimidate and humiliate women. [...]

    International justice is the key to ending impunity. Even though the ICC will only be able to try a limited number of cases, high profile international prosecution could deal a strong blow to the prevailing culture of impunity.

    By trying prominent leaders who either encouraged or ignored sexual violence, the ICC will send a message that there is no longer a carte blanche to commit these heinous acts. It will shame states into acknowledging the problem and promoting action through their national courts. Most important, it will give hope to thousands of women.

    The ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has made a welcome commitment to investigate cases of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Next year when prosecutions are expected to begin, many women's groups and human rights organizations will be watching.

    To make the international justice system work, governments must take concrete steps to support the ICC, for instance by enacting necessary legislation, assisting the ICC prosecutor in his investigations, sharing evidence with him and providing protection to witnesses. [...]

    The United States has been vociferous in condemning killings and rape in Sudan, but it has been even more active in undermining the authority and jurisdiction of the ICC, for instance through impunity agreements for its own troops. Enabling the ICC to prosecute the crimes in Darfur could be an opportunity for the U.S. administration to recognize the ICC not as some international conspiracy against its troops and leaders, but as a real tool to promote justice for women who have been the victims of the worst forms of brutality.

    It is not possible to separate rape from civilian atrocities generally and those who are concerned with this issue would do well to remember it is usually a complement to the wanton slaughter of men and children. Ms. Khan’s sweeping historical generalizations are simply wrong but, like most tranzis, she is more concerned with ushering in the perennial abstract dream of world federalism than with actually protecting women. To do this, she must distort history egregiously and ignore the sources of the very evil she wishes to eradicate.

    For the last two hundred years, the armies of the United States and the other Anglospheric countries have waged many brutal wars without any notion of “booty” and without inflicting atrocities on civilians. From the first moment of victory, they set out consciously to protect and provide rather than rape and pillage. The Civil War was unspeakably bloody and saw both barbaric guerilla struggles and the gross mistreatment of prisoners, but there is no record of condoning the abuse of women as spoils of war, and both sides regularly court-martialed soldiers who assaulted or even propositioned women, including black women. Few stories are more poignant than the desperate efforts of Germans and other Central Europeans to reach Allied lines before World War 11 ended. They knew they would be surrendering to a civilized enemy more likely to feed them than violate them.

    To be sure, there have been lots of individual exceptions to the rule, but so intolerant are both the publics and high commands of such behaviour, political opponents are often able to use such cases to attack the war generally by shaming the whole nation. The combination of free democracy and Judaeo-Christian morality has wrought a miracle in the annals of war. Never have enemy armies had so much to fear. Never have enemy civilians had so little.

    Yet all this is beyond the ken of the likes of Irene Khan, whose dangerous dreams are built on the notion that we should transfer power and authority from the civilized to the barbarous.

    December 18, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 PM


    Kurdistan offers a happier picture of Iraq liberation (Jack Fairweather, 18/12/2004, Daily Telegraph)

    A wedding is being held at the newly built Sheraton hotel in Irbil. The Kurdish bride and groom sit blinking into a video camera, their family clustered around. In the background, American contractors are drinking Turkish beer.

    This place of smiles and shining marble is the Iraq that was meant to be after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

    It existed for a brief moment after the invasion when American soldiers were at first greeted as liberators. Now the only place still deeply grateful for getting rid of the dictator is in the north of the country, in Kurdistan, a sanctuary for contractors, Baghdad officials and lost American ideals.

    Western businessmen move freely around the region's capital, Irbil, and American soldiers eat in restaurants without their body armour. In the crowded foyer of the Sheraton, Kurdish businessmen and politicians discuss reconstruction work.

    After the 1991 Gulf war, the Kurdish areas - long victim of Saddam's Arabisation policies - lived in turbulent but slowly prospering autonomy, protected by the no-fly zones enforced by Britain and America. They are now booming.

    Since the 2003 invasion the regional economy has had more than £100 million in investment, channelled mostly into building houses, roads, water-treatment systems, and two new university campuses.

    Most of the money has come from the regional government, although western firms have also moved north from Baghdad looking for reconstruction contracts.

    A British businessman, Richard Hadler, said: "I recently told a business seminar in London: "You can come to Kurdistan. There are dangers involved, but on the whole it is stable. And there's a lot of work to be done.' "

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 PM


    Scouts' sales tactic outside ACLU becomes pop smash: After radio celebrity plugs Chesterfield troop's booth, popcorn orders top $28,000 (MARK BOWES, December 17, 2004, Richmond TIMES-DISPATCH)

    A friendly jab at the American Civil Liberties Union has turned into a financial bonanza for a tiny nine-member Boy Scout troop from Chesterfield County.

    Troop 828, with an unexpected boost on Wednesday from nationally syndicated talk show host Glenn Beck, watched its struggling popcorn sales explode.

    Scouts at a downtown booth had to call for fresh supplies. A Web site was flooded with orders from buyers in 39 states.

    At last count, sales had topped $28,000. That set a record for the Boy Scouts' Heart of Virginia Council.

    Last year the troop sold less than $300 worth of popcorn.

    The windfall came after Beck got wind of the Scouts' decision to set up a booth near the ACLU's Virginia headquarters in downtown Richmond.

    For years the ACLU has raised legal questions as to how closely the government should be aligned with the Boy Scouts of America.

    "We're kind of a conservative troop," said Scoutmaster Jim Carpenter, whose two-year-old unit meets at St. Joseph Catholic Church. "They're a very devout group of young men, and God and country are extremely important to them."

    "And at one of our Monday night meetings, they decided that it would be real cool to sell popcorn in front of the ACLU. This was their idea. We're a boy-run troop."

    Scouts or gays just isn't a tough choice.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


    LOST IN THE FALLOUT: In 1983, he likely saved the world. Where is he now? (Mark Mcdonald, 12/17/04, Knight Ridder News Service)

    The man who saved America -- and probably the world -- is living out his days on a measly pension in a dank apartment in a forlorn suburb of Moscow. He has a bad stomach, varicose veins and a mangy spotted dog named Jack the Ripper.

    Stanislav Petrov has a small life now. He takes Jack for walks, makes a medicinal tea from herbs he picks in a nearby park and harangues his 34-year-old son about getting off the computer and finding a girlfriend.

    There was a time when Petrov, now 65 and a widower, was almost larger than life. He was a privileged member of the Soviet Union's military elite, a lieutenant colonel on the fast track to a generalship. He was educated, squared away and trustworthy, and that's why he was in the commander's chair on Sept. 26, 1983, the night the world nearly blew up.

    Tensions were high: Weeks earlier, on Sept. 1, Soviet fighters had shot down a Korean airliner, killing all 269 people aboard.

    Petrov was in charge of the secret bunker where a team of 120 technicians and military officers monitored the Soviet Union's early-warning system. It was just after midnight when a new satellite array known as Oko, or The Eye, spotted five U.S. missiles heading toward Moscow. The Eye discerned that they were Minuteman II nuclear missiles.

    Petrov's computer was demanding that he follow the prescribed protocol and confirm an incoming attack to his superiors. A red light on the computer that read START! kept flashing at him. And there was this baleful message: MISSILE ATTACK!

    Petrov had written the emergency protocol himself, and he knew he should immediately pick up the hot line at his desk to tell his superiors that the Motherland was under attack.

    He also knew that time was short. The senior political and military chiefs in the Kremlin would have only about 12 minutes to wake up, get to their phones, digest Petrov's information and decide on a counterattack.

    Hard to believe there are still folks around who think Soviet equipment would have worked well enough to do much damage to anyone but themselves.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


    Bill Moyers Gets In the Last Word (Tom Shales, December 18, 2004, Washington Post)

    Bill Moyers has always taken the high road, but it got a little lonely up there. In a country where political discourse grows ever more shrill, his voice was more and more easily drowned out. Last night, at the age of 70 and on the eve of his 50th wedding anniversary, Bill Moyers took the high road home.

    Moyers said not goodbye but "farewell" as he took leave of "Now," the program he has hosted for the past three years on PBS. The show will continue in a few weeks with another host, but Moyers's presence will be an irreplaceable loss. Watching the final program, which consisted of a report on the dominance of right-wing ranting in TV and radio and an interview with Anthony Romero, head of the ACLU, one may have felt guilty about not having supported Moyers more loyally as he kept fighting the good fight.

    His is one of the few liberal voices left in broadcasting....

    So if you leave with your foes in complete control of the field how can you be said to have had the last word?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


    Conviction Politics: One Democratic hero emerged from November 2. His fellow Democrats should study up on why. (Rick Perlstein, 12.06.04, American Prospect)

    Here is a better first step to retaking red-state voters. We talk about southern culture, blue-collar culture, NASCAR culture -- which overlaps, in complicated ways, with evangelical culture. Certainly one tenet they all share is this: When somebody punches you in the gut, you don’t smile, stride halfway between his position and yours, and say that maybe the guy has a point. Behaving like that is precisely what has made the Democrats look so unsympathetically unfocused and confused to so many people. You have to convince them that you’ve got a fighting faith, too. Or else you can’t fight.

    Fortunately, we do have one: “that government can help provide us with the basic tools we need to live out the American dream.”

    Language like this would sound crazy -- paleoliberal crazy -- if this were not a direct quote from a speech the other day from the only Democratic hero to emerge from the mess on November 2: Barack Obama. Amid all the talk of Obama’s shimmering appeal to a post-racial future, his light touch on the stump, and his language of faith and family and responsibility -- all the things that convinced centrists he was fundamentally one of them -- what most commentators managed to ignore was that the core of Obama’s politics is traditional economic liberalism.

    He delivered that message up and down the state, even in its conservative southern portions -- rather like in an earlier Illinois Senate race. In the second Lincoln-Douglas debate, Stephen Douglas said his opponent would be singing a different, conservative tune once he was “trotted down into Egypt” -- using the nickname that signified downstate Illinois’ cultural affinity to the slaveholding South. Abraham Lincoln, like Barack Obama, pulled no punches on his core economic message -- anywhere. The difference is that Obama won where Lincoln lost. Obama has a winning message, one whose time is ripe: that government can help people overcome their economic vulnerability. Kerry was not able to forthrightly deliver that message.

    This is not to slight Obama’s extraordinary skill at framing his liberal convictions on economics in ways that offended no one’s cultural sensibilities: in terms of faith, family, and patriotism. He did it, however, while never splitting the difference with the Republicans programmatically.

    One of the great delights of 2005 will be to watch whether folks like Mr. Perlstein turn on Mr. Obama as he becomes the Administration's point person on the other side of the aisle or whether Mr. Obama forsakes his national ambitions to carry water for the Left.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


    Peace with Israel? (David Warren, 12/18/04, Ottawa Citizen)

    Perhaps the reason we are reading comparatively less about "Israel/Palestine" lately is that there is so much real news, and so much of it is astounding, and hopeful. The media are allergic to good news, and run from it as from holy water. The greatest single piece of good news was presented as if it were a tragedy -- Arafat is gone. As became immediately evident, he was blocking the only possible way forward to the "two-state solution" that all but the terrorists claim to support.

    Abu Mazen -- whom we should really start calling by his real name, Mahmoud Abbas -- quickly emerged as Arafat's successor, without carnage, at least without much, and looks certain to win the January election [...]

    Mr. Abbas's recent trip to Kuwait, in which he apologized on behalf of all Palestinians for the support Saddam Hussein had received from them, was the surest indication of a new Palestinian approach to survival. It was also an indirect acknowledgement of a new order of things in the Middle East: that the shift of Iraq from fair-weather friend of Jihadis, to mortal enemy, is likely to stick, with (mostly positive) repercussions across the region.

    You can'tr really expect the press to acknowledge that George Bush and Ariel Sharon have solved the Palestine problem, can you?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


    Cuban Authorities Retaliate Against US Christmas Display (Jim Teeple, 17 December 2004, VOA News)

    Cuban authorities have erected a huge poster across from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that depicts U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq. The move follows a warning by Cuban authorities to U.S. diplomats to take down Christmas decorations on the building that included a reference to dissidents jailed by the communist state.

    Castro must get all his news from the MSM if he thinks we'll mind that one.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


    Asian Democracy Gains Ground in 2004 (Heda Bayron, 17 December 2004, VOA News)

    More than a billion Asians cast their votes this year to elect new leaders. Analysts say these exercises show that democracy is flourishing in the region. Nevertheless, for many people, democracy remains an elusive goal.

    Asia has been on the path of democratization since the mid-1980s. People did away with dictatorships in the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, and much later, Indonesia.

    The region continued to see major gains in democracy this year. Elections were held in seven Asian countries and in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

    Indonesia held its first direct presidential elections. The orderly transition of power in Southeast Asia's most populous nation, disproved predictions six-years ago that Indonesia would disintegrate without the authoritarian leadership of former president Suharto.

    Afghanistan also held landmark presidential elections - this, after years of war and then rule by the theocratic and restrictive Taleban. Though far from peaceful, experts say the election was a major step in the country's rehabilitation.

    Major ballots also took place in Mongolia, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, and Australia.

    Old enough to remember why the inscrutable Asiatics were supposed to be less inclined to freedom than us white folk? Like the Eastern Europeans before them and the Arabs now.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM


    Stem cells from fat used to repair girl's skull: Doctors report damaged bone grew back after surgery (The Associated Press, Dec. 17, 2004)

    Surgeons have used stem cells from fat to help repair skull damage in a 7-year-old girl in Germany, in what’s apparently the first time such fat-derived cells have been exploited to grow bone in a human.

    Darn, and the Left had so hoped to exploit cells from dead children to do things like get rid of fat.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


    First Amendment Chicken Little: E.J. Dionne gets hysterical. (Jack Shafer, Dec. 17, 2004, Slate)

    I'm a First Amendment extremist, and I ordinarily salute anybody who stands up for the first law. But I draw the line at alarmists like Dionne, who thrust their fingers into the air to discover "chilling effects" in the everyday conflicts between the state and press. A stiff breeze of government harassment has always blown on American journalists. (I wonder if he'd be in such high dudgeon—or even note the First Amendment threat—if the Miller-Cooper cases weren't in Washington.)

    As press scholar Stephen Bates noted earlier this month in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, the government has demanded that reporters surrender the identities of their confidential sources for at least 150 years, and reporters have been defying them for just as long—often going to jail in protest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press documents dozens of cases in the last 30 years in which the courts have jailed or fined reporters for resisting subpoenas aimed at their sources or information.

    Drawing on Reporters Committee statistics, Bates found that none of the 18 reporters jailed between 1984 and 2000 spent more than three weeks in jail and nine were released within a day. The longest time served by a journalist for contempt of a grand jury appears to be five and a half months, he writes. No reporter wants to go to jail, but in the long run I'd wager that such acts of civil disobedience are more effective in protecting press freedom than all the bleating columns by Dionne and his ilk.

    Will Miller and Cooper go to jail? Los Angeles Times reporter Richard B. Schmitt found a sliver of good news for the defendants at their Dec. 8 hearing before an appeals court panel. Although the majority opinion in Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) seems to rule out any legal "privilege" for journalists to ignore lawful subpoenas, Judge David S. Tatel noted in his questions to prosecutors that since that case, the states and the U.S. Congress have passed legislation carving out all sorts of privileges for journalists and other professionals. And in 1996 the Supreme Court found that psychotherapists had an absolute right to keep their conversations with patients secret from a grand jury. Without endorsing the notion, Tatel asked prosecutors, if psychotherapists, why not journalists? If Miller and Cooper lose this round, as I'm guessing they will, their lawyers will surely present this logic to the Supreme Court.

    Even if Miller and Cooper are jailed, it won't be lights out for the First Amendment any more than the Branzburg ruling spelled the end of free speech. If Dionne weren't such a showboater, he'd acknowledge that First Amendment rights have actually expanded over the last 100 years, giving journalists the constitutional right to access courts, official records, and open meetings, just to name a few. (See this First Amendment site for more good news.) The rights haven't come free, though. People like Paul Branzburg have had to fight for them..

    The problem with unnamed sources, in particular, is that we readers have no way to judge their agendas, and they always have them. Mr. Schafer was on NPR yesterday and offered his own standard of good journalism, one which would avoid such sources and borders on being truly objective: a story should be duplicable by a succeeding reporter. In other words, you should provide information in such a way that whoever comes after you, by following that info, would likely reach the same conclusions. Using secret sources obviously makes that unlikely and therefore casts doubt on the reliability of the original story. There's no benefit to society in protecting inherently unreliable journalism.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


    Chancellor praises Bush for leading war on terror (The Scotsman, 12/18/04)

    CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown has praised United States President George W Bush for leading the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq.

    Speaking in New York last night, Mr Brown applauded the world’s biggest economy for bouncing back after the September 11 atrocities.

    He said: "In Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world I can assure you that Tony Blair and I are determined this alliance endures, prospers and advances from strength to strength.

    "Let me acknowledge the debt the world owes to the US for your leadership, not just in the world economy but in the fight against international terrorism.

    "Three years after September 11, I am deeply impressed by the resilience and bravery in the face of tragedy. Indeed, America has shown by the actions of all its people that while buildings can be destroyed, values are indestructible."

    Can't help him in the battle for leadership of Labour, so he must mean it, which makes you respect him all the more.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


    I Wasn't Looking Down on Middle America (Robert Kuttner, December 18, 2004, Washington Post)

    The other day columnist George F. Will took a swipe at what he called "Kuttnerism" -- the sin of liberal condescension toward middle Americans.

    Will's column began, "Some liberals cannot control their insuppressible reflex to look down their upturned noses at the American electorate." He added, "Kuttner could not resist a spasm of moral vanity. He had to disparage 'middle America,' which means most of America, as so bigoted it denies the humanity of gays."

    Surely the erudite Will must know that throughout our history, large numbers of Americans have been prejudiced against blacks, Jews, Catholics, Indians, Hispanics and gays, as well as against liberated women.

    There's not much hope for a left so obtuse that it equates sin with race, as even past victims of racism object to the comparison.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


    Woman says she killed mother-to-be, stole baby (MARGARET STAFFORD, December 18, 2004, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

    A baby girl that had been cut out of her mother's womb was found after a frantic search, and authorities arrested the woman they say strangled the mother and stole the child.

    The child was found Friday in seemingly good health in an eastern Kansas home. A red Toyota similar to a description offered earlier by police was in the driveway.

    Lisa M. Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kan., was arrested later Friday and charged with kidnapping resulting in death.

    Today's Democratic Party is, of course, premised on the "right" to do the opposite.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


    A.C.L.U.'s Search for Data on Donors Stirs Privacy Fears (STEPHANIE STROM, 12/18/04, NY Times)

    The American Civil Liberties Union is using sophisticated technology to collect a wide variety of information about its members and donors in a fund-raising effort that has ignited a bitter debate over its leaders' commitment to privacy rights.

    Some board members say the extensive data collection makes a mockery of the organization's frequent criticism of banks, corporations and government agencies for their practice of accumulating data on people for marketing and other purposes.

    Daniel S. Lowman, vice president for analytical services at Grenzebach Glier & Associates, the data firm hired by the A.C.L.U., said the software the organization is using, Prospect Explorer, combs a broad range of publicly available data to compile a file with information like an individual's wealth, holdings in public corporations, other assets and philanthropic interests.

    Not that there's any such thing as a right to privacy to begin with, but there's obviously none in terms of your dealings with non-governmental entities. If you're afraid of having the ACLU know who you are, don't join.

    Posted by David Cohen at 12:01 PM


    Sex Industry Funded Campaign Against New Stadium (Mark Segraves, WTOP Radio, 12/17/04)

    The sex industry funded part of a campaign that opposes the construction of a new baseball stadium on the Anacostia waterfront. . . .

    And, WTOP Radio has learned up to 20 percent of the $50,000 came from Robert Siegel, . . . a major landowner on the South Capitol stadium site, an area that Siegel calls "D.C.'s unofficial Red Light district."

    He owns 11 properties, several of which house gay nightclubs. He also owns a gay porn shop and adult theaters.

    Baseball, politics and sex -- an All-American trifecta.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


    The Fox Is in Microsoft's Henhouse (and Salivating) (RANDALL STROSS, 12/19/04, NY Times)

    FIREFOX is a classic overnight success, many years in the making. [...]

    Until now, the Linux operating system was the best-known success among the hundreds of open-source projects that challenge Microsoft with technically strong, free software that improves as the population of bug-reporting and bug-fixing users grows. But unless you oversee purchases for a corporate data center, it's unlikely that you've felt the need to try Linux yourself.

    With Firefox, open-source software moves from back-office obscurity to your home, and to your parents', too. (Your children in college are already using it.) It is polished, as easy to use as Internet Explorer and, most compelling, much better defended against viruses, worms and snoops.

    Microsoft has always viewed Internet Explorer's tight integration with Windows to be an attractive feature. That, however, was before security became the unmet need of the day. Firefox sits lightly on top of Windows, in a separation from the underlying operating system that the Mozilla Foundation's president, Mitchell Baker, calls a "natural defense."

    For the first time, Internet Explorer has been losing market share.

    It'll be fun to watch what criminal lengths MicroSoft will go to in order to stop these guys--it's never been able to compete in a free market.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


    Oh sister, oh brother (December 18, 2004, Sydney Morning Herald)

    Chilla Bulbeck, professor of women's studies at the University of Adelaide, asked 420 year 11 and 12 students from South Australia and Western Australia to imagine they were 80 years old. In looking back at their lives, they wrote of sex, marriage, children, career, affairs - even murder.

    Bulbeck also sought to replicate and compare the essays of those collected in 1970 by author and feminist Anne Summers.

    "I wanted to see why feminism was failing. Was feminism dead?" Bulbeck asked. So, a generation later, what has changed?

    Well, men still want sex, wealth, fast cars and sport. Women still want romance, marriage and family - but in the 21st century they also want a career.

    Where the 1970 girl imagined not being in the workforce very long, girls today seek education, a husband and to balance work and children.

    They expect their male counterparts will have a similar vision but - judging by most of the essays - they are wrong.

    As George Gilder put it:
    The crucial process of civilization is the subordination of male sexual impulses and biology to the long-term horizons of female sexuality. The overall sexual behavior of women in the modern world differs relatively little from the sexual life of women in primitive societies. It is male behavior that must be changed to create a civilized order.

    Yet "women's liberation," and now "gay liberation," tried to remove precisely those restraints that civilize men.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM

    ONCE YOU POP... (via Jim Yates):

    The Olestra Detox Diet?: Fake fat appears to spur body's excretion of toxins
    Betterhumans, 12/17/2004)

    The fake fat olestra spurs the excretion of toxins from the body, report researchers who have treated a PCB-laden woman with fat-free Pringles.

    Some studies have shown that olestra, used as a fat substitute in some foods, can help eliminate fat-soluble pollutants such as dioxin.

    Researchers at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine in Ohio and the University of Western Australia, in a not-yet-published study, say they have treated a woman with PCB toxicity over a two-year period using olestra in the form of fat-free Pringles. They report that the woman's chloracne disappeared and the levels of PCB in her fat tissue dropped dramatically.

    As Mr. Yates points out, this raises the prospect of treating Viktor Yushchenko with a fat-free Pringles diet.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


    Hamas May Give Peace a Chance (SCOTT ATRAN, 12/18/04, NY Times)

    TWO unlikely factors - the maneuverings of Hamas, a group the United States considers a chief sponsor of terrorism, and a widespread fear of chaos among Palestinians - are combining to create some hope in the runup to next month's election to choose Yasir Arafat's successor as head of the Palestinian Authority.

    The best news is that Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Arafat's successor as leader of the Fatah faction, has emerged as the candidate favored not only by Israel and the United States, but also by the European Union and, most surprisingly, by Hamas. On Tuesday, Mr. Abbas (who is also known as Abu Mazen) called for an end to the four-year-old intifada, saying that the "the use of weapons is harmful and it should stop."

    Hamas leaders, who would be expected to fight against any such compromise, actually worked behind the scenes to undermine the candidacy of Mr. Abbas's main rival, Marwan Barghouti, the jailed intifada leader who is a beacon to the younger generation of Fatah militants. He withdrew from the race on Sunday.

    Although Mr. Barghouti is in spirit closer than Mr. Abbas to Hamas, the group's leaders decided that his candidacy was interfering with formation of a Palestinian political consensus and could have led to political anarchy. The fact is, with the intifada bearing little fruit in terms of Israeli concessions, Hamas is now embroiled in infighting. Its West Bank leaders are leaning toward historic compromise, while its Gaza militants want to step up violence.

    People need to reconcile themselves to the likelihood that Hamas will one day run Palestine, but by then they'll just be another political party.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


    In custody, Aziz ready to name names: Saddam’s foreign minister may finger U.N. officials in oil-for-food scandal (Lisa Myers & the NBC investigative unit, Dec. 17, 2004, MSNBC)

    David Kay — a former U.S. adviser in Iraq — spent months questioning Aziz and others. He says Aziz quickly turned on Saddam and could testify at any trial.

    "He talks about direct orders to murder, to assassinate, to kill," says Kay.

    NBC News has learned U.N. investigators probing corruption in the U.N. oil for food program were scheduled to question Aziz last week. That session was delayed for security reasons.

    The U.N. investigation — led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker — is looking into Saddam's alleged diversion of oil money that was supposed to go for food to U.N. officials and politicians in key countries.

    U.S. officials say Aziz already has implicated the French and others, claiming payoffs were made with the understanding that recipients would support Iraq on key matters before the U.N.

    "He pointed to specific individuals in Russia and France, in the United States — that received favorable treatment," says David Kay.

    Now, sources tell NBC News that Aziz has indicated he's finally ready to talk about alleged bribes to U.N. officials. U.N. investigators refuse to comment. [...]

    Once Saddam's tireless defender, Aziz is now singing a very different tune, to please his new keeper.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


    What They Believe: The religious dimensions to Ukraine's protests and passions. (ADRIAN KARATNYCKY, December 17, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

    Interspersed with earnest youths, families and grandmothers who braved subzero temperatures at daily rallies for Mr. Yushchenko were nuns bearing orange sashes, proto-deacons and priest-monks.

    The scene at Kiev's Independence Square was part political rally, part rock concert and part fireworks display. But it was also a religious experience. Each day's protest opened with prayer. On weekends, religious leaders held liturgies and prayer services for Orthodox Christians (whose adherents represent more than 60% of the population), Eastern Rite Catholics (10%), Protestants, evangelicals, Jews and Muslims. (Some 25% of Ukrainians say they are nonreligious.)

    Mr. Yushchenko, who typically ends his speeches with "Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Ukrainian People, and Glory to the Lord, Our God," is a devout Orthodox Christian from northeastern Ukraine who regularly takes confession and communion. His faith is reinforced by his American-born wife, Katya Chumachenko, who last week told the Chicago Tribune: "We're strong believers in God, and we strongly believe that God has a place for each one of us in this world, and that he has put us in this place for a reason."

    Such sentiments echo the way that President Bush has spoken of his own faith. And like Mr. Bush, Mr. Yushchenko is careful to sound an ecumenical tone in his public remarks. At a Dec. 6 interfaith gathering, Mr. Yushchenko observed that "the spiritual harmony that rules among religious leaders on the platform is an image of the spiritual harmony present in Independence Square."

    As a result of such careful balancing, Mr. Yushchenko's cause has strong backing from two influential religious leaders: Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of the Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholic Church, who on Dec. 6 declared that "at the root of the crisis is an immoral regime which has deprived Ukrainian people of their legitimate rights and dignity." A leader of Kiev's Jewish community, Anatoly Shyhai, has told pro-Yushchenko protesters that Jews see the Ukrainian state as "an independent, democratic and European country at the apex of rights and interfaith amity." Thus religious values have become an important part of Mr. Yushchenko's moral appeal and his campaign to cleanse Ukraine of high-level corruption and crime.

    Don't let that get around or the EU and Democrats will oppose the revolution.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


    The Chinese currency isn't the threat it's made out to be. (JONATHAN ANDERSON, December 17, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

    Let's start with a few basics. What would you say if you opened the newspapers tomorrow to discover that Italy had reinstated its currency, the lira, and decided to peg its exchange rate to the euro or the dollar at a rate 15% more depreciated than the current one?

    I suspect most people would scratch their heads at the move, and then conclude that it wouldn't have a substantial impact on their own lives. After all, Italy is still relatively small compared to the global economy, and 15% undervaluation doesn't seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things.

    But if that's the case, then why all the attention on China? After all, at $1.2 trillion, Italian GDP is roughly the size of China's, and Italy's total foreign-trade value of $750 billion is only slightly smaller than that of the mainland. And 15% is a reasonable estimate for the extent of medium-term undervaluation of the yuan.

    First-world manufacturers love to point to artificially cheap Chinese wages as the most imminent threat on the global scene. However, the fact of the matter is that artificially cheap Italian wages would hurt them much more. Why? Because most Italian industrial workers are in sectors like autos, chemicals, machinery and technology--sectors competing head-to-head with those in Italy's wealthy neighbors, where even small changes in pricing could shift orders and production between one country and another. By contrast, Chinese export workers make textiles, toys, sporting goods and light electronics, i.e., industries the developed countries mostly gave up a long time ago.

    You can see this in the global-trade data. Chinese exports have been penetrating European, Japanese and U.S. markets at a headline growth rate of 35% per year--but total Asian exports have not. Overall Asian market share has in fact grown very slowly, which means that for each additional dollar industrialized consumers spend on Chinese imports, imports from the rest of Asia actually fall. This is not because China is "outcompeting" its Asian neighbors; rather, Asian countries have simply moved low-end processing and assembly functions to China, as a final stop on the production chain before shipping off to Wal-Mart or Tesco.

    Of course, China benefits from the migration of low-wage assembly functions to the mainland--but this does not mean that the Chinese authorities are cynically manipulating their currency to extract maximum advantage over competitors. Quite the opposite; remember that the government introduced the renminbi peg to keep the currency from weakening in the post-Asian crisis years. In other words, the real effect of the peg was to stop Chinese wages from getting cheaper, which would have hurt other low-income economies in the region. The yuan has only come under significant strengthening pressure in the last two years.

    What about all those forex reserves? Over the past 12 months, the PBoC purchased more than $170 billion in reserves, or roughly $15 billion per month. And they didn't do so out of some maniacal drive to accumulate a big pile of cash. Far from it; $15 billion per month happens to be the current price of keeping the yuan constant. As long as they maintain a fixed exchange-rate regime, the central bank is forced to intervene in the foreign exchange market to buy up excess dollars--or, alternatively, sell dollars if there is a shortfall in the marketplace. Five years ago, the forex market was roughly balanced, and the PBoC could manage the renminbi peg without buying or selling at all. Two years ago, the bank was buying up $4 billion per month. Since then, the number has tripled.

    And this scares a lot of traders in the street. The People's Bank generally parks at least two-thirds of its funds in U.S. Treasuries or other dollar assets; if China were to let the yuan strengthen, they wouldn't have to buy up as many reserves. Even if the authorities moved very gradually, for example initially shifting to a "basket" regime, they might want to move their reserves into other currencies like the euro and the yen. Either way, a change in the exchange-rate regime means a drop in Chinese support for the dollar, at a time when China seems to be the main source of funding for overstretched U.S. consumers.

    This is a compelling story, but probably a misguided one. To see why, ask yourself the question: Where do those billions in reserves come from every month? Over the past year, roughly half of China's forex reserve inflows came from portfolio capital, including so-called hot money flows. In effect, Chinese banks and firms have been drawing down their asset positions abroad, or borrowing money in foreign markets, and bringing these funds back to the mainland, in part to speculate on a possible renminbi move.

    But this means that as private agents move out of dollars and into yuan, the PBoC is buying up the dollars and pumping them right back into the U.S. The net effect on U.S. markets from these transactions is . . . virtually zero! This is an overly simplified explanation, but very close to the mark nonetheless. Despite the apparent size of the headline reserve accumulation, China's true support for the dollar is much smaller.

    Because of these distorting factors, economic theory doesn't pay much attention to what central banks are doing; instead, the crucial gauge is relative current account positions. If the U.S. is running a large current account deficit, then someone else must be running a large surplus--and it is these surplus economies that really "matter" for the dollar at the end of the day. What do the numbers look like? This year the U.S. current account deficit is expected to reach $600 billion. Meanwhile, China is running a current account surplus of $40 billion, i.e., only one-fifteenth the size of the U.S. imbalance.

    Who accounts for the most of the U.S. deficit? Japan, Taiwan and Korea together should recorded a surplus of around $230 billion this year; throw in Singapore and Malaysia for good measure and the figure increases to $275 billion. You get the picture: China is a relatively small player on the global scene, and its neighbors are much more important in determining the fate of the U.S. economy.

    This still leaves us with the undisputed fact that the People's Bank of China already holds a large pile of dollar assets (estimated at $350 billion or more). If the PBoC woke up tomorrow and decided to sell its holdings and buy euro or yen instead, the negative impact on the dollar would be enormous. But why would they? They already hold a fairly diversified asset portfolio, including a sizeable amount of euro instruments, so an adjustment in the renminbi peg away from the dollar should not require a big rebalancing of positions. And keep in mind that central banks are conservative policy institutions, not hedge funds, and it doesn't serve China's interests in the least to be seen shaking up G3 currency markets.

    The bottom line? It's surprisingly difficult to argue that the Chinese renminbi exchange rate--or the exchange regime--has had any substantial impact on the way the rest of the world works.

    Hard to believe that the obsessive overestimation of the threat from China is anything more than a remnant of Yellow Menace racism.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


    TEA,SYMPATHY,AND SISTANI EXPLAINS THE TOP CLERIC IN IRAQ — a nice guy, really (Nibras Kazimi, NY Sun)

    Although his pictures show him as a stern, frowning and terribly serious authority figure, Sistani is actually a really nice guy. Image in public life is everything, and the marji’ya, or Shia religious establishment, goes for the austere, long-suffering look. A narrow and wellguarded alley through Najaf’s rundown Old City takes you to a nondescript home with an outer courtyard and an outer waiting room called the barrani, which also serves as classroom and town hall. Tea is served as elderly graduate students bearing the distinctive Mongol features of Afghani Shias sit around leafing through voluminous texts preparing for that day’s lecture. You are then led to an inner room with faded blue-green walls that are lit up with white fluorescent tubes. Sistani struggles up to meet you and it is customary to make a show of kissing his hands,which in a sign of humility he denies by quickly jerking them back. With his eyes twinkling mischievously, Sistani articulates witty and light-hearted nuggets of wisdom and political savvy in a heavy Iranian accent while stroking his long, bushy beard.

    Anyone hoping for success in Iraq should thank their lucky stars for the existence of a man like Sistani at this historical juncture.

    Sistani and the marji’ya in Najaf are a pillar of Iraqi civil society. They do not wield political authority or seek it, but they have immense influence on those who do, perfectly in line with the very essence of the Iraqi perception of civil society institutions. The pope sitting in the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church do not run Italy’s customs offices, but they certainly carry clout and can make themselves heard in the same manner as the socialist-controlled trade unions. Understanding the intricacies of marji’ya and how it works may be too much to ask of Western journalists and stringers sniffing around for stories in liberated Iraq, but they can see the marji’ya in action when even a hint of Sistani’s opinion on a certain matter can send hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demonstrating peacefully on Baghdad’s streets.

    And Sistani wants them to demonstrate and support the vision he shares with the Bush administration: a peaceful, democratic, and just Iraq. This vision is anathema to the fellows running the insurgency, or in other words, the Sunnis. Their power structure and monopoly of all facets of the state, inherited from their role as flunkies for the Ottoman Empire and then on from their role as willing “collaborators” with the British occupation post–World War I, has totally collapsed. They found themselves in a world that they cannot understand. Their surnames,Tikriti, Rawi, Aani, Duleimi and their earlier versions, Pachachi, Kaylani, and Al-Sadoun, no longer ring of authority.

    But the concept of power is undergoing a paradigm shift in the Middle East, and Iraq is the first Arab incubator for this newborn revolution. Power now is all about votes and voter turnout.

    The Arab Shias of Iraq are the majority sect in their country, whatever the Sunnis claim to the contrary.And not for lack of trying; the Sunni sectarian apartheid regime deported hundreds of thousands and experimented with outright genocide to bring down Shia numbers. This particular fear of the “Shia majority” is precisely why the Arab Sunnis are terrified of elections à la the new American promises of democracy. The Sunni agenda is thus muddled and riddled with confusion and a sense of shock at losing power. It is an agenda rooted in fear of the future and that fear turns them into hesitant and resentful partners in a new and democratic Iraq, an Iraq they do not recognize and, as yet, understand.

    The Shias have sighted the Promised Land of democracy over the horizon and, shepherded by Sistani, are ready to subscribe to P. Diddy’s dictum of Vote or Die. Of course, they can also get to power through the short-cut of civil war and its evil logic of killing more of the other side and winning. The Sunnis, in desperation, have tried to lure the Shias into that time-buying gambit. What happened during the religious commemoration of Ashura within the holy shrines of Kazimayn and Kerbala last year was an event as traumatic and dangerous as September 11, 2001, from the perspective of Shias worldwide. It is as if a terrorist blew up the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Were it not for a fatwa from Sistani calming people down and instructing them not to take out their justified anger on their Sunni brethren, then that event would have been the spark of a civil war that would have seen the Sunnis evicted from Baghdad and witnessed the consequential dismemberment of Iraq. Recent fatwas against vigilante action in the newly-labeled Triangle of Death north of Babil province, where Sunnis and Shias live side by side, have also averted a disaster.

    One hopes that, unlike Moses or Martin Luther King, the Ayatollah gets there with them.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


    Sharon strikes deal with Labor Party, giving boost to Gaza plan (Steven Erlanger, December 18, 2004, The New York Times)

    Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel struck a deal Friday night with the opposition Labor Party to join his Likud government, which is likely to ensure that Sharon can carry out his plan to dismantle all Israeli settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the West Bank.

    The deal was first reported in the Israeli media, and confirmed by aides to Sharon. An official agreement is expected to be signed Sunday, after the Jewish sabbath. But the deal must first be approved by Labor's central committee, where the debate is likely to be spirited.

    The negotiations with Labor were bitter, but preordained to succeed, given Labor's conviction that Sharon's Gaza plan was a crucial step to a final settlement with the Palestinians and could fail without support. While the Gaza plan divided Sharon's Likud party, Labor and other leftist parties vowed to support him so long as he remained committed to pulling settlers out of Gaza.

    And so, we have the Left demanding that Mr. Sharon continue his unilateral course as the Palestinians race to elect a sufficiently legitimate leadership that they might be allowed to participate in determining a final settlement--the geopolitical manuevering that brought us to this point has been brilliant.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:52 AM


    Nearly one-half of Americans favour restricting Muslims' rights: poll (National Post, December 17th, 2004)

    Nearly one-half of Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans, a national poll indicates.

    The survey conducted by Cornell University also found Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.

    Researchers also found respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim-Americans. [...]

    The survey showed 27 per cent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they live with the U.S. government. Twenty-two per cent favoured racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. And 29 per cent thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising.

    From a headline that held out the exciting promise of calls for forced deportations, internment camps and denials of habeas corpus, it's a real drag to descend in a few paragraphs to basic wartime security measures that don't restrict anyone’s freedom in any significant way.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:30 AM


    Germans despair as rising dole queues cast gloomy shadow (Kate Connolly, The Telegraph, December 18th, 2004)

    When he set up his film production company in Berlin, Raphael Socha had every reason to call it Hope and Glory.

    "We were brimming with enthusiasm about what we could do here in this exciting city after the fall of the wall, full of hope about the new chances Germany had," he said

    Now, 11 years later, Mr Socha, 50, and his business partner and wife, Anja Padel, 41, are turning their backs on Germany, despite several successes.
    Bemoaning its stagnant economy, lack of flexibility, negativity and over-regulation, all of which they say is strangling their business, the couple will move to north London in February.

    "Germany has huge potential, but it needs to motivate itself," says Ms Padel. "We have no desire to stay in a country which is suffering from a chronic bad mood."

    Meanwhile, American intellectuals like
    Jeremy Rifkin
    continue to tout the superiority of Euro-dreams from their comfortable stateside academic perches.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:57 AM


    Celebrex risk alarms arthritis sufferers (Carolyn Abraham, Globe and Mail, December 18th, 2004)

    Thousands of Canadians who rely on a new generation of painkillers have been left in medical limbo after the world's biggest drug maker warned yesterday that yet another blockbuster medication may pose serious safety risks.

    Just three months after the popular arthritis and pain medication Vioxx was pulled off the market for increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, Pfizer Inc. announced that Celebrex, the drug billed as the safe alternative, had been suspended from use in a clinical trial after it too was found to raise the risk of cardiovascular problems and deaths when taken at high doses.

    Canadians filled nearly three million prescriptions for Celebrex last year. The drug has been taken by an estimated 26 million people worldwide, usually for arthritis, but also for pain linked to everything from sprains to tendinitis. Many have switched to the medication since Vioxx, made by Merck & Co., vanished from pharmacies after Sept. 30.

    At the same time, the New England Journal of Medicine released a report yesterday that calls for clinicians to stop prescribing Pfizer's Bextra, another popular new-generation painkiller, on the grounds that it too may increase "cardiotoxicity."

    Together, the new developments are fuelling growing concern that this entire new class of anti-inflammatory medications known as COX-2 inhibitors, which were initially touted as wonder drugs of the biotech age, may simply be bad news for the heart. They are also bound to raise further concerns about the regulations that bring new drugs to market and how well they're monitored once they hit the shelves.

    Health Canada itself acknowledged in a statement yesterday that "there has been a lack of published safety data regarding use for longer than one year of selective COX-2 inhibitor (drugs)" including Bextra, Mobicox and Celebrex, whose generic name is celecoxib. Based on the information available, Health Canada said there may indeed be an increased cardiovascular risk linked to these medications, particularly in patients who have other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking or diabetes.[...]

    The U.S. National Institutes of Health said in a statement that it suspended the use of Celebrex after discovering that patients taking the drug during a long-term cancer study faced a 2.5-fold increase of "major fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events," compared to those taking a placebo. Health Canada's Vlk noted that the risk climbed to an increase of 3.4-fold when the dose rose to 800 milligrams.

    Perhaps the folks who have been ingesting all this stuff will take comfort in seeing proof that science is self-correcting.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:18 AM


    In praise of ‘Jesusland’ (Mark Steyn, The Spectator, December 18th, 2004)

    ...for as long as I can remember, the pre-eminent eco-doom-monger on Canadian TV has been a chap called David Suzuki, who, in a poignant comment on the state of my country, recently made the ‘Top Ten Greatest Canadians Of All Time’ list. A while back, Suzuki wrote a column called ‘We Are All Animals Here’, beginning as follows:

    ‘The sign in the shopping mall said, “No animals allowed.” As I read it, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It reflected a failure to admit or unwillingness to acknowledge our biological nature. We are animals and have a taxonomic classification: Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Chordata; Class: Mammalia; Order: Primates; Family: Hominidae; Genus: Homo; Species: sapiens.

    ‘Our reluctance to acknowledge our animal nature is indicated in our attitude to other animals. If we call someone a worm, snake, pig, chicken, mule or ape, it is an insult. Indeed, to accuse someone of being a “wild animal” at a party is a terrible insult.’

    But apparently not at his pad; Suzuki, even at a sober wine-and-cheese do, is literally a party animal. This kind of standard ecoblather certainly has animal qualities if only in the sense that it’s barking. Everyone knows what the sign in the mall means. It may be distressing to Suzuki, but the world we live in is defined not by what we have in common with worms, snakes and pigs, but by what separates us. For the purposes of comparison, consider the Eighth Psalm:

    ‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him...? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea.’

    Now you can say that’s a lot of Judaeo-Christian hooey. But the Psalmist, regardless of whether he got it from God or winged it off the top of his head, has characterised the reality of our existence better than the environmentalists and scientists. The Eighth Psalm describes the central fact of our world — our dominion over the sheep and oxen, yea, and all the party animals. It was a lot less plausible when it was written, when man’s domain stretched barely to the horizon, when ravenous beasts lurked in the undergrowth, when the oceans were uncharted and the maps dribbled away with the words ‘Here be dragons...’. But, over the millennia, the Eighth Psalm has held up, which is more than you can say for the average 1970s bestseller predicting the oil would run out by 1998 and the Maldives would be obliterated by global warming.

    It’s easy, in an otherwise wholly secular West, to mock the religiosity of Jesusland. But if eternal salvation remains unproved, the suspension of disbelief required of Eutopian secularists grows daily. If you were one of those ‘redneck Christian fundamentalists’ the world’s media are always warning about, you might think the Continent’s in for what looks awfully like the Four Horsemen of the Euro-Apocalypse: Famine — the end of the lavishly funded statist good times; Death — the self-extinction of European races too selfish to breed; War — the decline into bloody civil unrest that these economic and demographic factors will bring; and Conquest — the recolonisation of Europe by Islam.

    But it goes without saying that Europeans are far too rational and enlightened to believe in such outmoded notions as apocalyptic equestrians.

    There is a story that Roger Bacon, an early hero of scientific inquiry, interrupted a theological argument on how many teeth a horse has by suggesting they all just go out into the yard and count them. Today, more and more, it is the faithful who rely on everyday experience and common sense to interpret the world around them while “science” loses its way wallowing in increasingly fantastic abstract theories.

    (BTW, this issue of the Spectator is a rich one and well worth a relaxed perusal. Dalrymple in particular is on his game.)

    December 17, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


    Poking pins in Pinochet (R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., December 17, 2004, Washington Times)

    In the body of the Times' article, the word "communist" never appeared, only "Marxists." For all the untutored reader might know, Gen. Pinochet's victims might have been the country's librarians or butterfly collectors.

    That word, "Marxists," appeared in a quote from Gen. Pinochet who said a year ago on a Spanish-language television show: "Everything I did I would do again. Who am I supposed to ask for forgiveness? They are the ones who have to ask me for forgiveness, them, the Marxists." The old boy came to power in 1973. For six months before he took over, politicians and private citizens in large numbers had been imploring the military to deliver Chile from President Salvador Allende, a romantic and incompetent Marxist pseudo-intellectual who spent his last year in a drunken haze while economic chaos spread.

    For the next 17 years Gen. Pinochet, his military and his secret police waged war against leftists, usually within Chile but occasionally abroad through a series of political assassinations. Gen. Pinochet's political assassinations were not as numerous as those practiced by Soviet satellite countries. Nor was his war as bloody as Generallisimo Francisco Franco's war against communists and other leftists in the 1930s, but it was brutal enough to offend civil libertarians everywhere, including me.

    Yet, like Franco, he did return his country to democracy. How many communists have done that? Moreover communism accounted for scores of millions of innocent victims in the 20th century. Gen. Pinochet's regime allegedly accounted for 4,000, not all of them peace-loving progressives. How many has Fidel Castro murdered, tortured, and jailed? Today Mr. Castro remains a bloody tyrant and far more of a problem beyond his shores than the general with the absurd sunglasses and 18th-century uniforms ever was.

    It's hard to think of a living leader who did more to improve his nation--socially, economically, and politically--than the General.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


    Tight Little Cabinet (David S. Broder, December 15, 2004, Washington Post)

    President Bush's second-term Cabinet choices pronounce a clear preference for continuity and control. The striking thing about his reshuffle is the priority he has given to familiarity and loyalty over fresh ideas and novel perspectives.

    Huh? It can't happen due to the nature of bureaucracies and the disastrous civil service protections the progressives stuck us with, but imagine for a moment that just CIA, State and Education were to have forced upon them the ideas and perspectives of George W. Bush. It would mark the most radical transformation in each departments history. Mr. Broder would appear to be one of those who think bureaucrats should represent the special interests they are supposed to oversee rather than the administration we elect.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


    Here's One Use Of U.S. Power Jacques Can't Stop: "American influence" is the great white whale of the 21st century. (DANIEL HENNINGER, December 17, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

    We see where a curator at France's Pompidou Center says his museum is opening a branch in Hong Kong, because "U.S. culture is too strong" there, and "we need to have a presence in Asia to counterbalance the American influence." With the Pompidou Center?

    "American influence" is the great white whale of the 21st century, and Jacques Chirac is the Ahab chasing her with a three-masted schooner. Along for the ride is a crew that includes Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Vladimir Putin, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, Kofi Annan, the Saudi royal family, Robert Mugabe, the state committee of Communist China and various others who have ordained themselves leaders for life. At night, seated around the rum keg, they talk about how they have to stop American political power, the Marines or Hollywood.

    The world is lucky these despots and demagogues are breaking their harpoons on this hopeless quest. Because all around them their own populations are grabbing the one American export no one can stop: raw technology. Communications technologies, most of them developed in American laboratories (often by engineers who voted for John Kerry), have finally begun to effect an historic shift in the relationship between governments and the governed. The governed are starting to win.

    Rounding out the analogy, only Ishmael's get are likely to survive the wreckage of the French ship of state.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


    After three decades, Bill Moyers calls it a career (Associated Press, December 17, 2004)

    'I was just in the editing room, working on the last piece," Bill Moyers said. "I thought: 'I've done this so many times, and each one is as difficult as the last one.' Maybe finally I've broken the habit."

    It hasn't been so much a habit for Moyers as a truth-telling mission during his three decades as a TV journalist. But today at 9 p.m. on KTCA, Channel 2, he will sign off from "Now," the weekly PBS newsmagazine he began in 2002, as, at 70, he retires from television. "Now" will continue with Moyers' co-host, David Brancaccio, taking over.

    "I'm going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee," Moyers said. "We have an ideological press that's interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that's interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don't have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people."

    The mainstream media is shedding dead wood faster than the Titanic did deckchairs, but the results may not differ much in the long run.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


    Flu Shot Supply Grows, but Demand Withers (REBECCA COOK, 12/17/04, AP)

    In October and November Americans stood in line for hours to get one of the precious few flu shots. But now that more vaccine is available - with a few million more doses expected from British and German suppliers - demand is dwindling.

    Rod Watson had to cancel 1,000 flu-shot clinics in four states when the national vaccine shortage cut off his supply two months ago. Now Watson has flu shots aplenty - and he can't give them away.

    Ronald Reagan used to tell a Soviet joke about a guy who gets on a bread line that's several blocks long, but they run out before they get to him. So he goes and gets on a toilet paper line and they run out too. And so on and so forth. Finally he just stands in front of a brick wall and in no time there's a queue three blocks long behind him. After they've been standing there awhile someone asks him: "What are we waiting for anyway?" He answers: "Nothing. I just wanted to be first for once."

    If the media and Democrats had been as hysterical about a proctoscope shortage as they were about the flu vaccine there'd have been lines of folks grabbing their ankles.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:14 PM


    Sixty years ago at dawn (Paul Greenberg, December 16, 2004, Townhall)

    According to the German battle plan, Bastogne was to be overrun on the second day of the operation; it never was. General Anthony McAuliffe's one-word response to the German commander's surrender terms would become a classic summation of American defiance: "Nuts!"

    Forced to split up and go around isolated pockets of American resistance, the German advance slowed. Unlike 1940, there was no breakout. Methodically, the Allied command drew up new defensive lines, then held. And to the South, Patton was turning the whole Third Army on a dime and hurtling to the rescue . . . .

    Before it was over, the Battle of the Bulge would involve three German armies, the equivalent of 29 divisions; three American armies, or 31 divisions; and three British divisions augmented by Belgian, Canadian and French troops.

    More than a million men would be drawn into the battle. The Germans would lose an estimated 100,000 irreplaceable troops, counting their killed, wounded and captured; the Americans would suffer some 80,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed - that's a rate of 500 a day - and 23,554 captured.

    But the Allied forces held. And the war went on, moving across the Rhine and then into the heartland of the enemy. Against all bitter expectations, the conflict in the European theater would be over in four months.

    There's a different kind of war on now, but war itself remains the same brutal experience. And it invokes the same admixture of fear and desperation, bloody miscalculation and incredible heroism, over-confidence and unchanging defeatism.

    Which puts us in mind of something we wrote some time ago.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 PM


    Karaoke Revolution: The fatty new Xbox version is ready and primed for your singing pleasure. (Ed Lewis, November 16, 2004,

    Since the karaoke phenomenon took off in the U.S. in the early 1990s, there have been several decent attempts at bringing the late-night bar-scene event home. Over in Japan, where it's pronounced "kah-ah-oh-kay," the portable karaoke machine has practically become standard picnic equipment, second to the portable grill. While these machines did their job decently, the technology was the equivalent of gluing a PA to a tape deck. Get an instrumental track and off you went. It was clear that a change was needed, a big change. Dare I say it, a revolution, a Karaoke Revolution.

    Having delivered three versions of Karaoke Revolution to the PS2, Konami finally turns to the Xbox. Essentially a remake of the first game on PS2, the plainly titled Xbox version, Karaoke Revolution, brings the hard-edged action gaming crowd a little light-heartedness with this superb singing game. Not merely content to scroll text across the screen with some backing music and stock footage, Karaoke Revolution brings the genre to a new level by judging your performance, providing several modes of play, and packing the virtual juke box with great songs.

    Rob Holt's story about this game on NPR the other night made it sound like so much fun it made us wish we had an Xbox, whatever that is.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM

    WHAT NEOCONS THINK HE THINKS (via Glenn Dryfoos):

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


    Cell phones in the air: Convenience or curse? (Rick Hampson, 12/16/04, USA TODAY)

    Just when air travel seems to have become our national gripe, along comes a possibility to make us appreciate flight as we now know it: A cabin full of people talking, loudly and simultaneously, on their cell phones.

    Watched It Happened One Night yesterday evening, a worthy reminder of the social capital we lose through things like public cell phone use and non-public transportation.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


    Changing for the Better -- or Worse?: In Policy Proposals, Bush Offers Dueling Views on Economy (Jonathan Weisman, December 17, 2004, Washington Post)

    Throughout a two-day conference on the economy, President Bush and his allies extolled the virtues of his tax cuts and "pro-growth" policies, which they said have lifted the nation from recession and propelled it well above its international economic competitors. If Washington adheres to the path of fiscal restraint while following the president's tax prescriptions, it was suggested, policymakers could secure powerful economic growth far into the future.

    Yet when the subject turned to the nation's legal or Social Security systems, the picture grew suddenly dark. Frivolous lawsuits have hobbled America's businesses and have put them at the mercy of their enlightened overseas competition, administration officials said. As for federal entitlements, a rising tide of retiring baby boomers will inevitably slow economic growth and bankrupt Social Security.

    "The crisis is now," Bush warned in his closing speech.

    Such contradictions emerged repeatedly, pointing up the delicate balancing act that Bush faces as he tries to sell his economic proposals. [...]

    "I'm frankly somewhat skeptical of this vision that we all have" of an aging work force cutting economic growth, James Glassman, J.P. Morgan Chase's senior U.S. economist, told the president in one of the few discordant notes of the conference. "If you think about it, we've been growing 3.5 percent to 4 percent per year since the Civil War. If we can match that performance in the next 50 years -- and I don't see why that's so hard to do -- then I think the fiscal challenge that we see in our mind's eye will be a lot less daunting than is commonly understood."

    By confining the economic discussions to discrete panels discussing specific subjects, conference organizers usually kept the contradictions from clashing head-on. But to an observer of the entire gathering, they were not hard to find.

    "The economy is in good shape. Employment is rising. Inflation is low. Our growth rate is nearly 4 percent, twice the rates of Europe and Japan," Harvard University economist Martin Feldstein said to open the conference Wednesday. [...]

    "Under the trustees' projections, growth is going to slow to half the pace we've been growing for 150 years," Glassman said in an interview. "That might be, but I don't know why I should believe that." [...]

    Other economists believe an economic slowdown is inevitable, as the number of retirees begins to surpass the number of workers. But in that case, stock market gains may also slow considerably from the market's historical 7.8 percent annual rate of return.

    Indeed, there is no crisis nor much sign of one on the horizon--the real reason for the reform is that it's just good policy to capture that 7.8% annual return on the money we're setting aside for retirement and take advantage of the magic of compound interest. By doing so there's every reason to believe that we could boost that historic growth number even higher, maybe to 5%...or higher. But good policy doesn't move legislation--crisis does.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


    What you see is what you get (Rabbi David Aaron, 12/17/04,

    "Daddy, where is G-d?"

    "Son, wherever you let Him in."
    —Attributed to Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz

    How do we open our souls' eyes to let G-d in?

    The Kabbalah says, "There is no king without a nation." This point requires deep exploration. It may make sense that, in the human world, a king is dependent on having subjects who acknowledge his sovereignty. The last Emperor of China ceased to be emperor when there were no longer people who bowed when he entered the room. Even after the Communist government had exiled him, as long as people recognized him and acknowledged him as their sovereign, he was, in a very real sense, still a king, albeit without the power to rule. But G-d is reality, so how can G-d be dependent on human acknowledgment.

    The world that you and I live in is a product of our perception of reality. The philosopher Immanuel Kant probed this concept. He asked: Do we see reality or do we see our perception of reality? Kant's answer, of course, is that we do not see reality, but only our perception of reality. In other words, is this world reality? No, this world is your perception of reality. Therefore, the focus and clarity of your consciousness will determine the kind of world you live in. [...]

    The world you live in is a product of what you are looking and willing to see. This is expressed in the Kabbalah classic - the Zohar's commentary on the story of Jacob as he's going to Egypt to be reunited with his long-lost son Joseph. Jacob has misgivings about leaving the land of Israel, even to see his beloved son. G-d appears to Jacob and says, "Jacob, don't worry. Joseph will close your eyes." The Zohar queries, what does this mean? According to Torah, when a person passes away, someone must close the eyes of the deceased. The Zohar explains that the colors and textures and shapes of this world exist in your eyes. In order to enter a new world, a higher world, after death, the soul must first leave this world. This world exists in one's eyes, so the eyes must be closed in order to take leave of this world and see a higher world. G-d is announcing to Jacob that he is going to die in Egypt and Joseph will be there to close his eyes to this world, so that he will be able to enter, i.e. see, the next world.

    Is the Zohar saying that this world is an illusion? No. The Zohar is saying that this world is your subjective perception. Your consciousness of reality determines the world you're in. Your consciousness of G-d determines how much of the light and the truth of G-d will be allowed into your world. To the extent that you acknowledge G-d, to that extent G-d will be in your life. This is a very crucial idea. Although G-d is, G-d is not revealed in your perceptual world unless you actively acknowledge and invite G-d in. [...]

    Each one of us has a choice. You can believe that this world is filled with the presence of G-d who cares about it and guides it. Or you can believe that this world is one big accident, a chaotic mess. The choice is yours. But remember what you believe is ultimately what you will see. What you believe creates the world you live in.

    The Talmudic Sages taught: "Everything is in the hands of G-d except awe of G-d."

    The Hebrew word for awe, year, means both "awe" and "will see." Everything is in the hands of G-d, except for our acknowledging and seeing and being in awe of G-d. If we are in awe we will see G-d. If we are not in awe, if we are not open to seeing G-d, then G-d is not in our world. It's that simple and that serious.

    This is the radical notion at the core of Western Civilization, particularly of the Anglosphere, that the only reason to believe in anything at all is aesthetic, but that the aesthetic justifies our faith.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


    Sharon says 2005 could bring 'historic breakthrough' to peace (Steven Erlanger, December 17, 2004, The New York Times)

    Next year could bring a "historic breakthrough" in Israel's relations with the Palestinians, a buoyant Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday, insisting that his plan to pull out of Gaza had united the country, even if it had divided his own party.

    Sharon said that his government would implement his proposal to dismantle all the Israeli settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the West Bank on schedule, and said that he wanted to coordinate it with a new, elected Palestinian leadership that turned its back on violence.

    "In 2005 we have the opportunity for an historic breakthrough in relations between us and the Palestinians, a breakthrough for which we have waited many years," Sharon told delegates to the annual Herzliya conference on policy and strategy.

    Israel also has the opportunity "to establish a new partnership with the international community in the struggle against terror and regional and global instability," he said.

    But to take advantage of those opportunities, he said, Israel "must take the initiative," adding: "This is the hour, this is the time. This is the national test."

    Against all the predictions of the Realist pundiotocracy, regime change worked.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


    We Are The '80's!: Live Aid then, and now. (Edward B. Driscoll, Jr., 12/17/2004, Weekly Standard)

    AFTER YEARS of being bootlegged, an official DVD of 1985's monster, 13-hour Live Aid concert was released this fall by organizer Bob Geldof. The proceeds will go to benefit the Band Aid Trust, with the noble goal of feeding the hungry in Ethiopia. To watch the DVD is to unearth a time capsule of 1980s pop culture.

    As the four-disc, ten-hour set shows, the concert was an incredible spectacle. Held at open-air stadiums on two continents--Philadelphia's JFK Stadium, and England's Wembley--the concert also utilized additional satellite hookups to Japan, Belgrade, Cologne, The Hague, and Melbourne. Organizers went so far as to fly Phil Collins across the Atlantic on the Concorde, so that he could play in both the United States and the Britain.

    The concertgoers certainly got their money's worth. While there were a few clinkers, most of the nearly 70 acts gave it their all. And as the DVDs demonstrate, the groups which came off best were, for the most part, seasoned road veterans to whom playing a stadium like JFK or Wembley was just another gig, even if another billion and a half people were watching at home: Elton John, U2, and Brian Ferry all put on good shows, as did Eric Clapton. While he and his veteran band had probably played "Layla" hundreds of times before, Clapton turned in some beautiful lead lines on the song's extended coda. For other groups, Live Aid was a swansong. In many respects, it represented the culmination of Queen's career. Freddie Mercury would largely

    vanish from the public eye a few years later, and be dead from AIDS by 1991.

    Of course, not everybody came off so well. A failed microphone meant that most of Paul McCartney's lyrics on "Let It Be" were inaudible; he overdubbed a new lead on the song for the DVDs. But not all mistakes could be covered up: Led Zeppelin, reuniting five years after the death of drummer John Bonham, delivered a dreadful set and refused to allow it to be included in the DVD.

    WHILE LIVE AID was a great day for pop music, it was meant to be more than that.

    Funny how the good bands did well and the bad ones badly.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM

    A HUMAN BEING (via Mike Daley):

    Woman Who Gives Abandoned Newborns a Decent Burial Wins $27 Million Jackpot (Gillian Flaccus, 12/07/04, Associated Press)

    All too often, the ring of Debi Faris-Cifelli's cell phone means there is another abandoned newborn at the morgue, another forsaken child for her to name and bury in a shoebox-size coffin under a white cross in the California desert.

    Last week, though, Faris-Cifelli - who has had to rely on donations, grants and fund-raisers to give babies a decent burial - got a very different call.

    She had won the California lottery.

    The jackpot: $27 million.

    "Maybe it's the children saying, 'Thank you' for taking care of them when nobody else would," Faris-Cifelli said, bubbling with laughter. "It's a gift and one for which we feel an awesome responsibility."

    The money could not come at a better time for Faris-Cifelli and her Garden of Angels, the tiny cemetery in the town of Calimesa where she has buried dozens of tiny children whose mothers didn't hear - or didn't care - about California's safe-haven law.

    Under the 2001 law, parents have three days to abandon infants without fear of prosecution. California is one of 46 states with such a law.

    Faris-Cifelli helped win passage of the law and has made it her life's work to spread the word that scared and confused parents should drop their newborns at firehouses and hospitals - not in trash cans and alleys.

    Ever heard a windfall recipient say it imposed a responsibility before?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


    The Stem Cell Chair to the Highest Bidder?
    (Francine Coeytaux and Susan Berke Fogel, December 17, 2004, LA Times)

    As the media, elected officials and even supporters of Proposition 71 — the stem cell initiative — are now recognizing, we Californians have just passed a highly flawed law. Concerns about transparency, accountability and conflicts of interest abound. California, the largest blue state, voted overwhelmingly to send a raspberry to Washington on stem cell research. We are the Golden State, the Left Coast, the cutting edge, and our next horizon, we decided, is embryonic stem cell research. And true to form, we didn't use the normal avenues to get there, preferring the initiative route to the legislative process.

    Today, the newly formed Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, or ICOC, meets to take its first public step: electing a chair and vice chair. This is the opportunity to show leadership, to elect a person who has a record of serving the public interest, who will ensure the highest levels of scientific integrity and stewardship of the enormous amounts of public money — $3 billion — provided by the law.

    But instead, the state is stumbling right out of the gate as all four of the elected officials charged with nominating the chairman lined up to reward Bob Klein, Proposition 71's chief author, campaigner and financier, by handing him the plum job — no competition, no public debate, no choices.

    It comes as no surprise that the "mandatory criteria for chairperson" mirrors Klein's own resume: After all, he wrote the law, designed the process and determined the criteria by which he would be nominated.

    What is surprising is that our elected officials are willing to anoint him.

    Who'd have dreamt that a law intended to debase your culture by allowing money to trump life would place money above accountability?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


    Weak Dollar Has a Silver Lining for L.A. Tourism (Debora Vrana and Ronald D. White, December 17, 2004, LA Times)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


    Looking Back, Looking Forward (Eric Foner, 12/20/04, The Nation)

    RARELY HAS A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION produced such widespread despair on the left. By any objective standard, George W. Bush has been among the worst Presidents in American history. One of the main purposes of elections in a democracy is to act as a check on those in power by confronting them with the possibility of being removed from office. If Bush can be re-elected after having alienated virtually the entire world, brought the country into war on false pretenses and mortgaged the nation's future to provide economic benefits to the rich, what incentive will other Presidents have to act more reasonably?

    None. The incentive lies in acting more like President Bush (and Reagan and, to some degree, Clinton)--unilateralist and moralist in foreign policy, free market oriented in economic policy, religious in social policy, and reformist on welfare policy.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


    'Osama' tape tells Saudis: prepare for coup (Michael Theodoulou, 12/17/04, Times of London)

    A MAN believed to be Osama bin Laden, speaking on a tape, urged his fighters to focus attacks on oil sites in the Gulf and Iraq and hailed the terrorists who attacked a US consulate in Saudi Arabia.

    He also gave warning to Saudi Arabia’s royal rulers that they faced being overthrown by a popular uprising and blamed them for the unrest in the oil-rich kingdom.

    “Take jihad [holy war] to stop [the Americans] getting hold of [the oil]. Concentrate your operations on the oil, in particular in Iraq and the Gulf,” said the voice on an audio tape posted on an Islamic website.

    The lengthy message was seen in part as an attempt to claw back lost ground in the propaganda war with the Saudi authorities.

    If Osama were both alive and still significant he'd distance himself from that consulate botch job.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


    BLOGGER CHALLENGE (Jim Hake, 12/17/04, Spirit of America)

    Our Blogger Challenge ended at midnight on Wednesday. Nearly 200 bloggers joined the effort and, as I type, raised $90,247. Incredible!!! There was a great flurry of activity in the final hours and, in amazing come-from-behind effort, Iraq the Model, jumped into the lead. Iraq the Model has raised $17,140 . The leading team is the Northern Alliance of Blogs. The Alliance has raised $12,135. Thanks to the bloggers we now have more than 11,000 contributors. A 10% increase in 2 weeks.

    We are still accepting checks and will have a final total and rankings next week. Thank you to all the bloggers that participated. It is an enormous contribution. Woooohoooooo!! We even had two foreign teams (that I know of) - from Canada and Spain.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


    Talks open on big boost in aid to Palestinians (Steven R. Weisman, December 17, 2004, The New York Times)

    The Bush administration has opened discussions with European and Arab countries on a four-year aid package of $6 billion to $8 billion for the Palestinian Authority that would be contingent on steps by Israel and the Palestinians to improve security and freedom of movement in Gaza and the West Bank, according to American and Palestinian officials.

    The aid package, to be funded by the United States, Europe, Arab countries and other donors, would be the largest per capita international aid program since World War II, according to the World Bank. American and other officials said the package was the subject of intense discussions at a donors meeting on Dec. 8 in Oslo, intended to bolster recent signs of progress in the Middle East.

    According to participants, the aim of the Oslo meeting was to help moderate Palestinian leaders after the death of Yasser Arafat and to prepare for the implementation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to pull settlers and forces out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

    To support the new Palestinian leaders and send a signal to European and Arab leaders to step up their own aid programs, the United States announced in Oslo that it would add to the $200 million it contributed indirectly to the Palestinians this year by channeling another $20 million directly to the Palestinian Authority.

    Nice how you can buy support for the "unacceptable" unilateralism of Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


    New civil rights chief talks good sense to me (Stanley Crouch,. 12/16/04, NY Daily News)

    We are in a new civil rights era, now that Gerald Reynolds has been chosen to replace Mary Frances Berry as the head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. [...]

    He says education is about moving oneself out of poverty and taking advantage of the freedoms wrought by the valor of the civil rights movement, one of the most heroic aspects of our national history.

    "What we must investigate," Reynolds asserts, "is what limits the quality of public education and keeps black and Hispanic students so far behind whites and Asians. We know the problems are not genetic. Is it teachers who are mediocre and sometimes incompetent, or is it lack of involvement of the students - or both? I think it is both.

    "The violence in black and Hispanic communities is a civil rights issue as well, even though people don't want to talk about it as such. We need to find out the successful techniques that have worked across the country that will take black and Hispanic kids to the top as opposed to holding them at the bottom."

    I agree. If we get well-researched recommendations on public education and violence from the new leadership of the Civil Rights Commission, we won't be doing too badly.

    One of the numerous achievements of the Bush presidency, so far, is recasting the civil rights discussion around educational achievement. The next step is to unify blacks and Hispanics with the GOP in establishing a universal voucher system.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


    The rise of reactionary liberalism (Rich Lowry, 12/17/04, Jewish World Review)

    "Please, don't change anything." That bids fair to become the liberal slogan for the early 21st century. Who knew government programs circa 2004 would have achieved an equipoise of perfection such that disturbing them in the slightest way would represent liberal heresy? And who would have guessed that "progressives" would become opponents of change so thoroughgoing that they would make Edmund Burke blush?

    Reactionary liberalism will be the order of the day in President Bush's second term. Take Social Security. The program was started in the 1930s. Back then, there were 41 workers for every retiree. Now, there are three workers for every retiree. Back then, life expectancy was significantly shorter than its current 78 years. In other words, in 70 years the world has changed, but the structure of Social Security hasn't — and liberals desperately want to keep it that way.

    Never mind that dozens of countries have implemented some version of the Bush-proposed private retirement accounts. "It's just too dangerous" will be the mantra. We don't have the reform acumen of a Kazakhstan! We don't have the risk-taking verve of a Denmark! We don't have the keen governmental competence of a Chile! We don't have the reckless faith in markets of a Sweden! No, no. We are Americans, and all we can manage is a defensive huddle around the status quo.

    The same basic argument will apply to tax reform, tort reform, health-care reform and further education reform...

    Stasis is the last refuge of a party with neither ideas nor the power to implement them.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


    Church faces implosion and life underground, says senior adviser (Ruth Gledhill, 12/11/04, Times of London)

    A SENIOR adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued an apocalyptic warning about the future of the Church of England, forecasting that Christianity in Britain will be driven underground and that the Church will fragment.

    In a private document presented this week to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr David Hope, Jayne Ozanne suggested that a time of great persecution was coming.

    She gave warning that the outlook for the established Church was not good and that the Church would continue to implode and self-destruct over gay clergy and other matters. She says that its future will be one of an underground movement comparable to resistance movements during the Second World War.

    Archbishop doubts nation's Christianity (Jonathan Petre, 13/12/2004, Daily Telegraph)
    The Church of England's second most senior figure said yesterday that he would be "hard-pushed" to describe Britain as a Christian country.

    The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, said people were less committed to the Church and secularist tendencies were on the increase.

    While many described themselves as Christians, how they expressed their Christianity had changed enormously, he said.

    "I would be hard-pushed to say we were a Christian country because of the secularist tendencies, the fact that commitment to the Christian church is less than it was," said Dr Hope.

    It's not at all clear that Christianity in Britain wouldn't benefit from going to ground and ridding itself of such modern accretions as acceptance of homosexuality. Returning to its roots would likely make it stronger, more coherent, and more attractive. As the secular culture around it rots a comeback would be rather easy.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


    How I started Family First (Phillip Adams, December 14, 2004, The Australian)

    LIFE, for me, has become intolerable. No, not because of John Howard's triumph, the Labor Party's woes or even last month's re-election of George Bush. But because I've recently discovered that I'm personally responsible for the Family First Party. [...]

    Here's how it happened. Believe it or not, I have a friend who's a Pentecostal minister in Western Australia. His church has grown so quickly that they should rebuild it with rubberised walls – so that it can be constantly expanded to accommodate the thousands upon thousands of new recruits, mainly drop-outs from more traditional congregations. It seems they've found the stony-faced style of worship within the stony walls of the Anglican church somewhat unexciting – and prefer to bounce around at my friend's establishment. Where worship seems indistinguishable from play and they're encouraged to behave like children in one of those pneumatic bouncing castles.

    Despite the fact that we dwell in different universes, my friend and I enjoy spirited religious debates and he's also fascinated by the world of the media. So I've taken him into the ABC and he's sat in on a few Late Night Live radio shows I host during weeknights, seeing how secular humanists go about their subversive works.

    Then, out of the blue, he invited me to a sort of Pentecostal jamboree in Melbourne, where hundreds of evangelical ministers would be debating theological matters and, as well, seeing how to increase their already burgeoning market share. Would I come along and address the gathering?

    It had to be one of the oddest invitations I've had. An atheist among the evangelicals. Or, as I would put it to them on the day, "a toothless lion in a den of Daniels". For on the principle that it's good to know thy enemy, if not to actually love them, I agreed to attend.

    I found them as likeable a group as most, and less monolithic than I'd anticipated. While conservative – frequently fundamentalist – not all of the ministers could be categorised as belonging to the religious Right. Some shyly confessed to views that verged on the progressive, at least on the odd issue. So although I'd expected to be greeted with cries of "Unclean! Unclean!" I was given a good hearing and, after the speech, a polite cross-examination from the floor.

    What I didn't know – a fact revealed to Compass – was that the front row of my audience included the evangelical movement's heaviest hitters, just a handful of blokes representing tens of thousands of the faithful. And they were intrigued by my opening remark.

    Which, according to them, went something like this. "Christ, if you blokes could all get together, my mob would be in big trouble."

    St Joan describes hearing her "voices". They instructed her to cover her peasant's smock with a suit of armour and lead a war against the Poms. Apparently my words had a similarly electric effect on the god-botherers who, afterwards, got together and said: "Adams is right! We should organise ourselves! Get political!"

    The rest is history. No, not history. It's a threat to the future.

    Actually, it means Australia might have a future.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


    When Winter Comes (VERLYN KLINKENBORG, 12/17/04, NY Times)

    No matter how unprepared I am, I always imagine preparing for a winter you can't muddle through. It's a deep, wooded season. Time pauses and then pauses again. The sun winks over the horizon, glinting on a snow-swept lake - just enough light to wake the chickadees.

    The eaves are low all around the house that this winter comes to, and I've surrounded the entire house with cordwood, leaving gaps for the windows and doors. Winter will go nowhere until I've burned through it all.

    I have no plans except to rake the snow off the roof after the next big blizzard, and carry out the ashes from the woodstove, and read everything I've ever meant to read.

    Of course, a daydream like this isn't really about winter or snow or firewood or even the feeling of having prepared every last thing that needs preparing. It's about something far more elemental, the time that moves through us day by day. It's an old human hope - to have a consciousness separate from the consciousness of time. But it's always a vain hope.

    I'll never get that much cordwood stacked, and never need to. Winter comes and goes in the same breath, condensing right before your face on a day when the temperature never gets up to 20 degrees.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


    Woody Guthrie's Hanukkah songs: Dust Bowl balladeer had ties to Judaism (AP, 12/06/04)

    Woody Guthrie was a dust bowl drifter, a guitar strummer and a proto-folkie who wrote enduring songs about America's workers and underdogs.

    He also was a longtime New York City resident who relished Jewish culture and wrote pages of unpublished lyrics about Hanukkah, Jewish history and spirituality.

    That "other" Guthrie is now in the spotlight, decades after his death.

    A batch of his Jewish lyrics has been dusted off, set to music and recorded by the Klezmatics, a New York City band that puts its unique spin on traditional Jewish klezmer music. The recently released "Happy Joyous Hanuka" CD includes loopy lines about dancing around the Hanukkah tree and a serious treatment of the Jews' bloody history.

    Arlo Guthrie, who's joining the Klezmatics to perform the songs in concert, said they show his father's musical vision was broader than the Great Plains and freight trains. Woody Guthrie, it seems, was equally comfortable writing about Tom Joad or Judah Maccabee. [...]

    Nora Guthrie remembers seeing Jewish-themed lyrics in the archive. But she never thought much about them until about six years ago as she listened to a concert by the Klezmatics and violinist Itzhak Perlman at Tanglewood in Massachusetts.

    The songs were in Yiddish, and her thoughts floated to Greenblatt -- her "Bubbie" (Yiddish for "grandmother") -- scratching her back and singing her to sleep as a child. She only found out later she was listening to songs by her own grandmother.

    Giving new thought to her dad's Jewish lyrics, she asked the Klezmatics to record them.

    Setting a legend's words to music can be intimidating -- like being asked to spruce up old John Lennon lyrics. But Klezmatics' trumpeter Frank London said the lyrics were inspiring too. He especially loved the sense of Coney Island Guthrie evoked through lines like "where the halvah meets the pickle, where the sour meets the sweet."

    "His words are really easy to set to music, because there's always a rhythm to them," London said. "There's always something to latch on to."

    The Klezmatics' Hanukkah CD is be the first of two. Songs on the next CD will touch on broader spiritual and historic themes.

    It's not the easiest thing in the world to find good Hanukkah cds.

    Happy Chanukah 2004 (Elliott Simon, 2004-12-02, All About Jazz)

    December 16, 2004

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 PM


    Buying Into Failure (PAUL KRUGMAN, December 17, 2004, NY Times)

    As the Bush administration tries to persuade America to convert Social Security into a giant 401(k)...

    Why wouldn't anyone who has a 401k--which is well over 40 million of us--want SS to be similar?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 PM


    Debunking 'Centrism' (DAVID SIROTA, January 3, 2005, The Nation)

    Looking out over Washington, DC, from his plush office, Al From is once again foaming at the mouth. The CEO of the corporate-sponsored Democratic Leadership Council and his wealthy cronies are in their regular postelection attack mode. Despite wins by economic populists in red states like Colorado and Montana this year, the DLC is claiming like a broken record that progressive policies are hurting the Democratic Party.

    From's group is funded by huge contributions from multinationals like Philip Morris, Texaco, Enron and Merck, which have all, at one point or another, slathered the DLC with cash. Those resources have been used to push a nakedly corporate agenda under the guise of "centrism" while allowing the DLC to parrot GOP criticism of populist Democrats as far-left extremists. Worse, the mainstream media follow suit, characterizing progressive positions on everything from trade to healthcare to taxes as ultra-liberal. As the AP recently claimed, "party liberals argue that the party must energize its base by moving to the left" while "the DLC and other centrist groups argue that the party must court moderates and find a way to compete in the Midwest and South."

    Is this really true? Is a corporate agenda really "centrism"? Or is it only "centrist" among Washington's media elite, influence peddlers and out-of-touch political class?

    The American Heritage Dictionary defines "centrism" as "the political philosophy of avoiding the extremes of right and left by taking a moderate position." So to find out what is really "mainstream," the best place to look is public polling data.

    No, the best place to look is exit-polling data. Political parties need to appeal to voters, not the public.

    Check out where the author thinks the "center" of America is on a variety of issues and you'll see a recipe for Democratic disaster.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 PM


    Meeting Muammar: Is Libya's leader "finished"? (Vivienne Walt, Dec. 16, 2004, Slate)

    More than two decades after President Reagan slapped an embargo against Qaddafi, Americans are back in full force, thanks to the leader's 2003 decision to abandon his quest for biological and chemical weapons and his earlier decision to extradite the two Libyan men suspected of the 1988 PanAm bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, one of whom was later convicted. Tripoli's swank $300-a-night Corinthia Hotel—built by savvy Maltese developers last year—is booked solid, and on many days the lobby resembles a U.S. corporate convention. One floor serves as temporary digs for the U.S. interest section, the precursor to a real embassy. It's no wonder that President Bush now touts Qaddafi as his one tangible post-9/11 success. "Look at Libya," Bush boasted to John Kerry back in October, during the first presidential debate, citing Qaddafi's decision to end his WMD program. "Libya understood that America and others will enforce doctrine."

    What Qaddafi "understood" isn't at all clear, however. The leader's campaign against militant Islam began years before 9/11, when he became jittery about the fundamentalists filtering into Libya from neighboring Sudan. Wandering around Interpol headquarters recently in Lyon, France, recently, I was directed to a wall display, where the public relations officer pointed out a framed copy of the first international arrest warrant issued for Osama Bin Laden, back in 1998. "Who requested it?" I asked. "Libya," he answered. When I flew from Tripoli to the giant oil fields in the Sahara desert, workers told me they have their beards closely shaved before they take weekend trips to the capital. "We'll be arrested immediately if we look like we're extremists," said one.

    Rather than being won over by Bush's threat of enforcing doctrine, it seems more likely that Qaddafi finally got the advice that had seemed obvious all along: Go for the money. That counsel came largely from his 32-year-old son Seif Al-Islam, who is now a doctoral student at the London School of Economics and who's widely regarded as Qaddafi's political heir (an outcome longed for in the West). When I met Seif in Tripoli, I asked whether his father had really joined Bush's war on terror. It was one of the few moments in which the cool, hip son snapped in anger. "If you're talking about these global networks, we are far away from these. They have their cells in America and Europe. They are targeting the West," he said in rapid-fire sentences. "We are away from the war. We shouldn't be part of that war." Earlier, Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem had told me that the government finally saw its WMD program was a hugely expensive waste of time "that didn't even necessarily make us safer!"

    The recognition that true safety lay in friendship with the U.S. and economic development at home is a victory no matter how you slice it.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 PM


    Stop griping and reform, Dutchman tells EU (Graham Bowley, December 16, 2004, International Herald Tribune)

    As Europe struggles to combat economic weakness, national governments should seize the moment to push through crucial supply-side restructuring rather than complaining about the strength of the euro, said Gerrit Zalm, chairman of the European Union's group of finance ministers.

    "The reform agenda is indeed the only agenda for Europe," Zalm, who is also the Dutch finance minister, said in an interview Tuesday night. "All the discussion about the demand side of the economy is rather irrelevant." [...]

    "If you look at the long term, exchange-rate policies never made a country a big success or a big failure. The essential issue in Europe is on the supply side," he said. "We are not flexible enough, the welfare state is too generous, the labor market is not functioning well enough."

    During the past six months, Zalm, in his role as head of the EU finance ministers' group, has presided over a rancorous debate about overhauling rules governing how European countries steward their public finances.

    The Stability and Growth Pact, which sets the fiscal rules for countries that use the euro, is seen as crucial to defending the credibility of the currency. But some nations have complained that it hinders their efforts at encouraging economic growth by setting strict deficit targets that limit their ability to support growth through spending.

    Political momentum for changing the pact grew this year, after big countries including Germany and France argued that their fiscal efforts to combat feeble growth made it impossible to avoid pushing their budget deficits above 3 percent of gross domestic product, the limit set by the pact.

    Bowing to pressure, Brussels this autumn agreed to allow countries more time to straighten their finances during periods of sluggish growth.

    In a final message before the Netherlands hands over the EU presidency to Luxembourg, Zalm said the proposed changes had not yet undermined the credibility of the pact. But he warned that further measures championed by countries, including Germany and Italy, to exclude some areas of spending from the rules risked destroying the pact's reputation completely.

    Zalm, whose government is one of the chief critics of attempts to water down the pact, said there were outstanding questions that risked "burying the pact."

    "You get the Germans bringing forward their net contribution to the EU budget, Britain bringing forward its investment, Italy its research and development, Greece its defense spending," he said. "Then you are completely out of control and the pact is gone."

    And with it the "strong" euro that fools are rushing into.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 PM


    Any Japan Economic Penalties Mean 'War,' N. Korea Says (Bruce Wallace, December 16, 2004, LA Times)

    North Korea's dictatorship lashed out at the Japanese government Wednesday with a warning that any move to impose economic sanctions on Pyongyang would be seen as a "declaration of war."

    It would help greatly if the North declared war first and gave us the pretext for regime change.

    MORE (via Jim Yates):
    Top general's son defected to U.S. base in Japan, then disappeared (World, December 15, 2004)

    The only son of one of North Korea's top generals has defected with his family and is in the hands of U.S. intelligence officials, according to secret reports from the Japan Defense Agency. [...]

    A Japan Defense Agency operative in the North Korean industrial port of Chongjin reportedly saw Oh Se-Uk, who holds the rank of brigadier general, board a speedboat with a group of Koreans of Japanese ancestry who had earned the trust of North Korean authorities. [...]

    Analysts here view the younger Oh's defection as a sign of the gradual weakening of Kim Jong-Il's regime. Sons and other relatives of Kim Jong-Il have been engaged in a power struggle in which relatives have reportedly been purged.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 PM


    Jordan's new female workforce (Orly Halpern, 12/17/04, CS Monitor)

    Over the past decade thousands of women like Fatima have rejected traditional family roles to find work in the garment industry here, which has boomed since Jordan, Israel, and the US signed a joint trade deal in 1996 establishing Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs). The agreement allowed Jordanian factories operating within the QIZs to export goods - manufactured with some Israeli materials - to the US duty-free.

    The agreement was largely seen as a way for the US to reward Jordan for making peace with their Jewish neighbor and as an incentive to Arab businessmen and governments to begin building economic ties with their Jewish neighbor. Jordan's annual exports to the US rose from $2 million in 1994 to almost $1 billion this year.

    "More than 25,000 Jordanians are working ... and a new sort of culture is being established where girls are going to work, they are supporting their families and raising the standard of living," said former Jordanian trade minister, Dr. Mohammed Halaiqa.

    Partly encouraged by the success in Jordan, Egypt on Tuesday signed as similar agreement with the US and Israel establishing QIZs there. Egypt had resisted signing until now out of anger at Israel and because Egypt wanted a comprehensive free-trade agreement with the US rather than the restricted access provided by the QIZs, analysts say.

    But the US insisted on an Egyptian agreement with Israel first and in recent months, Egyptian and Israeli relations have warmed as never before, largely at the prodding of the US.

    Now, Egyptian officials like Foreign Trade Minister Rachid Mohammed Rachid say they see the deal with the Israelis as a first step towards a Free Trade Agreement with America.

    Mr. Rachid acknowledged that the Egyptian public views Israel darkly, but said he was confident that the economic benefits will win most Egyptians over. "The fact the Jordanian experience next door has been quite positive" convinced Egypt to go ahead, he said Tuesday.

    The much feared post-9-11 clash of civilzations turned into a walkover some time in late 2001.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


    Indians lead the pack in America's ethnic mix (CHIDANAND RAJGHATTA, DECEMBER 16, 2004, Times of India)

    Indians are the best-educated and highest-earning people among all major ethnic groups in the United States, including native-born Americans. They are also the youngest and most likely to be white collar professionals.

    These are among the bragging rights conferred in a new study "We The People: Asian Americans in the United States" released on Wednesday by the US Census Bureau. Based on the year 2000 census, the report provides a handsome snapshot of the fastest growing immigrant community in the United States. [...]

    [I]t is in the area of education and professional achievement that the Indians are a class apart. According to the study, 63.9 per cent of Indians have a Bachelor's degree or more, compared to 44 per cent for Asians and a nationwide 24.4 per cent who have a Bachelor's degree or more.

    Indians were also most likely to be employed - 79.1 per cent Indian men and 54 per cent Indian women were part of the US labor force. Indians had the highest percentage of people (60 per cent) in management, professional and related services compared to 44 per cent overall for Asians and 34 per cent nationwide.

    The study also bears out the oft-repeated claim of Indians being among the highest earners. Indian men had the highest year round full-time median earnings ($51,900) eclipsing the Japanese ($50,900) and well ahead of the national average ($37,057) and the Asian average ($40,650).

    Separately, Indian women were only marginally behind Japanese women in median earnings ($35,998 vs $35,173). Overall, the Japanese had the highest median family income ($70,849) followed closely by Indians ($70,708). Both were way ahead of the national average of $50,046.

    Bobby Jindal may be the most significant House freshman ever.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


    Media finally face the truth on Shepard case (Michael Medved, 12/06/04, Jewish World Review)

    Though mainstream media eagerly embraced Shepard as a victim of homophobia, both killers described a robbery gone wrong that had no connection to sexual orientation.

    Indeed, the trial transcript gave no evidence that the two meth-crazed perpetrators — who had brutalized several straight victims in the days, and even the hours, before they assaulted Shepard — had been motivated by homophobia. Nonetheless, all three of the TV movies about Shepard portrayed his death as a "hate crime," as did "The Laramie Project," a play performed across the country in high schools and other venues.

    For gay activists, Shepard remains such a convenient martyr that they can't face the increasingly obvious facts about his tragic death.

    Like the myth of black church burnings, it's most interesting for the misuse the media made of it.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


    THE PICTURE PROBLEM: Mammography, air power, and the limits of looking. (MALCOLM GLADWELL, 2004-12-06, The New Yorker)

    At the beginning of the first Gulf War, the United States Air Force dispatched two squadrons of F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets to find and destroy the Scud missiles that Iraq was firing at Israel. The rockets were being launched, mostly at night, from the backs of modified flatbed tractor-trailers, moving stealthily around a four-hundred-square-mile “Scud box” in the western desert. The plan was for the fighter jets to patrol the box from sunset to sunrise. When a Scud was launched, it would light up the night sky. An F-15E pilot would fly toward the launch point, follow the roads that crisscrossed the desert, and then locate the target using a state-of-the-art, $4.6-million device called a lantirn navigation and targeting pod, capable of taking a high-resolution infrared photograph of a four-and-a-half-mile swath below the plane. How hard could it be to pick up a hulking tractor-trailer in the middle of an empty desert?

    Almost immediately, reports of Scud kills began to come back from the field. The Desert Storm commanders were elated. “I remember going out to Nellis Air Force Base after the war,” Barry Watts, a former Air Force colonel, says. “They did a big static display, and they had all the Air Force jets that flew in Desert Storm, and they had little placards in front of them, with a box score, explaining what this plane did and that plane did in the war. And, when you added up how many Scud launchers they claimed each got, the total was about a hundred.” Air Force officials were not guessing at the number of Scud launchers hit; as far as they were concerned, they knew. They had a four-million-dollar camera, which took a nearly perfect picture, and there are few cultural reflexes more deeply ingrained than the idea that a picture has the weight of truth. “That photography not only does not, but cannot lie, is a matter of belief, an article of faith,” Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner have written. “We tend to trust the camera more than our own eyes.” Thus was victory declared in the Scud hunt—until hostilities ended and the Air Force appointed a team to determine the effectiveness of the air campaigns in Desert Storm. The actual number of definite Scud kills, the team said, was zero.

    The problem was that the pilots were operating at night, when depth perception is impaired. lantirn could see in the dark, but the camera worked only when it was pointed in the right place, and the right place wasn’t obvious. Meanwhile, the pilot had only about five minutes to find his quarry, because after launch the Iraqis would immediately hide in one of the many culverts underneath the highway between Baghdad and Jordan, and the screen the pilot was using to scan all that desert measured just six inches by six inches. “It was like driving down an interstate looking through a soda straw,” Major General Mike DeCuir, who flew numerous Scud-hunt missions throughout the war, recalled. Nor was it clear what a Scud launcher looked like on that screen. “We had an intelligence photo of one on the ground. But you had to imagine what it would look like on a black-and-white screen from twenty thousand feet up and five or more miles away,” DeCuir went on. “With the resolution we had at the time, you could tell something was a big truck and that it had wheels, but at that altitude it was hard to tell much more than that.” The postwar analysis indicated that a number of the targets the pilots had hit were actually decoys, constructed by the Iraqis from old trucks and spare missile parts. Others were tanker trucks transporting oil on the highway to Jordan. A tanker truck, after all, is a tractor-trailer hauling a long, shiny cylindrical object, and, from twenty thousand feet up at four hundred miles an hour on a six-by-six-inch screen, a long, shiny cylindrical object can look a lot like a missile. “It’s a problem we’ve always had,” Watts, who served on the team that did the Gulf War analysis, said. “It’s night out. You think you’ve got something on the sensor. You roll out your weapons. Bombs go off. It’s really hard to tell what you did.”

    You can build a high-tech camera, capable of taking pictures in the middle of the night, in other words, but the system works only if the camera is pointed in the right place, and even then the pictures are not self-explanatory. They need to be interpreted, and the human task of interpretation is often a bigger obstacle than the technical task of picture-taking. This was the lesson of the Scud hunt: pictures promise to clarify but often confuse. The Zapruder film intensified rather than dispelled the controversy surrounding John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The videotape of the beating of Rodney King led to widespread uproar about police brutality; it also served as the basis for a jury’s decision to acquit the officers charged with the assault. Perhaps nowhere have these issues been so apparent, however, as in the arena of mammography. Radiologists developed state-of-the-art X-ray cameras and used them to scan women’s breasts for tumors, reasoning that, if you can take a nearly perfect picture, you can find and destroy tumors before they go on to do serious damage. Yet there remains a great deal of confusion about the benefits of mammography. Is it possible that we place too much faith in pictures?

    It's science though.....

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


    Gov targets violent video games (DAVE MCKINNEY, December 16, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

    With "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" atop many gift-giving lists, Gov. Blagojevich wants state lawmakers to do more to keep such violent and sexually explicit video games out of the hands of kids.

    In an assault on the video gaming industry, the governor today will call on lawmakers to approve new restrictions subjecting retailers to potential jail time and fines of up to $5,000 if they sell or rent violent or sexually charged video games to those younger than 18.

    "What they're doing is targeting video games with graphic sex and excessive violence to children, just like the tobacco industry targeted children with the Joe Camel advertising campaign," Blagojevich said. "It's all about making money."

    This is an excellent values issue and one the GOP should quickly swipe.

    Posted by Robert Schwartz at 6:14 PM


    The President's Conference on the Economy has focused the attention of pundits everywhere on the many issues confronting us today, including the "Twin Deficits" of the Federal Budget and Trade and the sad estate of the Dollar. The New York Times, that fountain of conventional wisdom, wimpered:

    The United States, by any measure - trade, the federal budget, personal consumption - is by far the world's biggest debtor. The need to borrow in the face of an already weak dollar portends higher prices and higher interest rates. . . A cheaper dollar would not be as threatening if it was part of a comprehensive strategy to close the trade deficit. For instance, the United States must demonstrate to our trading partners and the currency markets that it intends to reduce the federal budget deficit - thereby lessening its need to borrow from abroad and reducing downward pressure on the dollar. Unless and until it does so, the United States will lack the credibility and the authority to press for changes that need to occur in other countries to balance out global trade. There are alternatives to a single-minded pursuit of a weak dollar fix. What is lacking is the leadership to pursue them.

    Later in the same paper I read that France and Germany would not be punished by the EUnics for running persistent budget deficits in excess of 3% of their GDPs. A light went off. If budget deficits are driving the Dollar down, why aren't they having the same effect on the Euro? What about the Yen? Doesn't Japan run deficits also? So I started to research the yen and it just got worse so keep reading.

    Budget Deficits: Old Theories v. New Facts (Alan Reynolds, September 22, 2004,
    The Economist (11 September 2004) repeats the editors' habitual lecturing about a "reckless" U.S. budget deficit, which amounts to 3.6 percent of GDP. In a related essay, C. Fred Bergsten recycles his ill-fated "hard landing" scares of the 1980s, based on a metaphysical assertion that "larger budget deficits will produce larger American trade deficits . . .. [and] higher interest rates."

    The statistical tables at the back of The Economist, by contrast, tell a different tale. Budget deficits in France and Germany are just as large as in the U.S., and the budget gap in Japan is twice as large. Yet all three countries have a current account surplus, not "twin deficits." And the interest rate on 10-year government bonds is only 1.6 percent in Japan.

    Australia, by contrast, has maintained budget surpluses since 1998. Yet Australia's current account deficit is larger than that of the United States, as it was in all but one of the past six years. Australia's 10-year interest rate is 5.6 percent -- substantially higher than the U.S. rate of 4.2 percent. Canada, with a budget surplus since 1997, also has a higher interest rate than the U.S, 4.7 percent. These are regular patterns, not anomalies.

    From 1994 through 2003, annual budget deficits averaged 5.8 percent of GDP in Japan, compared with 1.6 percent in the U.S. If budget deficits really increased interest rates and current account deficits, then Japan should be experiencing high interest rates and a large current account deficit by now. Countries with budget surpluses, like Australia, should be experiencing much lower interest rates and current account surpluses. The facts obviously don't fit the conventional theory. . .

    Perspective: Dollar Disorientation Affects Even Conservative Analysts (Alan Reynolds, December 3, 2004,
    . . . The editor of ConservativeBattleline, Don Devine, writes that "entitlements (Social Security and Medicare) must be restrained if confidence is to be restored in the dollar." Does he think the euro is up because Europe is shrinking the welfare state?

    Devine was impressed that Japan's prime minister "bluntly told Bush he must deal with American twin deficits in government spending and trade to stabilize the currency." He failed to notice the irony of a Japanese official lecturing an American about budget deficits.

    The U.S. budget deficit is 3.7% of GDP, the same as Germany's and France's. Japan's budget deficit exceeded 6% of GDP for the past five years and is now above 7%. If budget deficits explained trade deficits or interest rates, Japan would have the largest trade deficit and highest interest rates.

    Conservative columnist Bruce Bartlett likewise found the dollar a handy new rationale for his year-old prediction of "a significant tax increase..."

    Bartlett's thesis that a smaller budget deficit would strengthen the dollar by shrinking the current account deficit is false. The U.S. dollar has declined as much against the Australian dollar as against the euro, yet Australia's current account deficit is larger than ours.

    Besides, current account deficits are unrelated to budget deficits here or there. The U.S. current account deficit was 0.8% of GDP in 1992, when the budget deficit was 4.7% of GDP. After the budget moved into surplus, the current account ballooned to 2.3% of GDP in 1998, 3.1% in 1999 and 4.2% in 2000. . .

    Bartlett notes that foreigners invested $829 billion in the U.S. last year alone, with just $249 billion of that accounted for by foreign central banks. The investment by foreign central banks worries him because it "threatens foreign central banks with large capital losses if U.S. interest rates rise..."

    That is their problem, not ours. But it certainly argues against foreign central banks trying to raise U.S. interest rates by selling Treasury securities. That wouldn't work anyway. U.S. budget deficits added hundreds of billions to the world supply of Treasuries since 2001, yet interest rates fell to record lows. . .

    Bartlett also worries that future declines in the dollar "could lead to a sharp drop in the stock market and a spike in interest rates..."

    The presumption that a lower dollar must sink stocks is incorrect. At the end of last year, The Economist reported its measure of the dollar's value had fallen by 13.8% in 2003, but the U.S. S&P 500 stock index had risen by 26.1% and the Nasdaq by 50.2%. Far from repelling foreign investors, a lower dollar makes U.S. assets a bargain in euro or yen. Foreign bargain-hunting tends to drive U.S. stock and bond prices higher in dollars. . .

    Bartlett nonetheless warns: "A further fall of the dollar . . . will raise the prices we pay for foreign goods. This will boost inflation..."

    The dollar has been falling for 3 1/2 years, so where's the inflation.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps a price index of imported goods, with the year 2000 equal to 100. In October, the price index for crude oil was at 150.9. But the price index for all other imports was only 99.8 -- up 2.8% from a year earlier, yet lower than 2000. Aside from cars (102.6), the price index for consumer goods was only 98.4. . .

    There are doubtless many things worth worrying about, but the old "twin deficits" and "hard landing" theme that a budget deficit leads to trade deficits and hence to some ill-defined catastrophe is not one of them.

    The Dangerous Dollar (Robert J. Samuelson, November 17, 2004, Washington Post)
    George Bush hasn't much discussed what could be his biggest economic problem. It's not budget deficits or jobs. It's the possible crash of the dollar on foreign exchange markets. . . Worse, there are no obvious ways to prevent it. Nor is it certain how big the threat is. . .

    The dollar lubricates the world economy, having replaced gold as the major international currency. . . In 1990 the U.S. current account deficit was $79 billion, or 1.4 percent of gross domestic product. In 2004, it's expected to hit an unprecedented $665 billion, or 5.6 percent of GDP, says economist Nariman Behravesh of Global Insight. The ballooning deficit has two basic causes.

    First, the American economy has grown faster than other advanced economies. Since 1990 U.S. economic growth has averaged 3 percent annually, compared with 2 percent for the European Union and 1.7 percent for Japan. America's higher growth sucks in imports; Europe's and Japan's slower growth hurts U.S. exports.

    Second, the global demand for dollars props up its exchange rate, making U.S. exports more expensive and U.S. imports cheaper. Indeed, many countries, particularly in Asia, fix their currencies to keep their exports competitive in the U.S. market. Instead of allowing surplus dollars to be sold on foreign exchange markets -- lowering the dollar's value -- government central banks in Japan, China and other Asian countries have purchased more than $1 trillion of U.S. Treasury securities. Private investors have also bought lots of U.S. stocks and bonds. All told, foreigners own about 13 percent of U.S. stocks, 24 percent of corporate bonds and 43 percent of U.S. Treasury securities.

    Up to a point, this arrangement benefits everyone. The world gets needed dollars; Americans get more imports, from cars to clothes. But we may now have passed that point. Hazards may outweigh benefits. The world may be receiving more dollars than it wants. A sell-off could spill over into the stock and bond markets and cause a deep global recession. . .

    Note, however, that the dollar's vulnerability is a symptom of something else: the addiction of Europe and Asia to exporting to the United States. If their economies grew faster on their own, the massive U.S. payments deficits wouldn't have emerged. The dollar would have quietly drifted down. Foreigners would have invested less in the United States, because they'd have more investment opportunities at home. But Europe suffers from suffocating taxes and regulations. Japan has long favored export-led growth. And about 35 percent of China's exports go to the United States, says economist Nicholas Lardy.

    There's a stubborn contradiction. The world may be getting more dollars than it wants, b